Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell, Book 2
Book 1: Shadowfell review

Tags: young adult, middle grade, fantasy, magic


With an accelerated timeline, Neryn is ready to seek out the four ancient Guardians of Alban to ask for their help in teaching her to become the best Caller she can be, in order to help the Rebel forces (and her friends) of Shadowfell to overthrow King Keldec. But the learning is not easy: Neryn struggles to come to terms with her power and influence, and can’t figure out where her feelings for Flint fit into this greater cause…if they can at all.


RAVEN FLIGHT was not as engaging for me as Shadowfell—but the thing is, they’re not all that different from one another. Neryn is still this can-do-no-wrong protagonist who, if not liked instantly by all she meets, at least can quickly win them over with her earnest naivete. The plot is straightforward quest involving long distances traveled and new characters met.

In RAVEN FLIGHT, we learn more about what exactly makes Keldec so evil. And boy is the man frightening! In one of the most riveting scenes in the story, Neryn is forced to witness Keldec’s cruelties to his subjects from front-row seats. This insight into Keldec’s rule is horrifying, yet really upped the stakes for me as a reader in cheering the painfully perfect Neryn on to success.

Unfortunately, perfection gets old, and Neryn’s personality grated on me a lot more in this installment than previously. I think I’m past the age when I can immerse myself in a protagonist who’s flawless—not in that put-together way, but in the one-girl-can-defeat-the-whole-world way. This is a straightforward fantasy geared, I think, more towards readers new to fantasy than to any others.

Cover discussion: *looks at it for the first time* Hah, kiddingbutnotreallykidding. Ah, I get it. It depicts a scene from the book, which is decent... but to be honest, I really just picked this up because it had JM's name on the cover. We should do a test to see what having JM's name on a book cover will enable me to overcome in terms of outrageous cover designs...

Knopf / July 9, 2013 / Hardcover / 416pp. / $16.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

That Thing You Didn't Know About New Moms' Bodies...

I revived myself.

So I have long been in awe of Kate Middleton because she has stellar, if upper-class, fashion sense. I fully admit to shedding a tear or two when the birth announcement was made, and beaming when watching video of Kate, William, and Baby Cambridge's first appearance together. A lot of online news outlets have already pointed out how wonderful it was that Kate chose that polka-dot dress for the reveal, like she was carrying on Diana's legacy. And I like that (and I love that dress, omigod), but what I loved more was how the dress hugged the shape of her post-baby bump.

There is huge pressure in our society for new mothers to immediately get back in shape after giving birth. Crazy supermodels and other Hollywood celebrities constantly show up in the tabloid news cycles sporting perfect bodies mere months after birth. Meanwhile, I can clearly recall being in middle school and watching my mom, a petite woman with biceps bigger than mine, trying to work out the soft pooch at her belly, left over from when she gave birth to my youngest brother...eight years prior. With Hollywoodized images affixed in our minds as what the ideal new mother should look like, I imagine legions of mothers battling self-esteem issues and self-disgust for not looking like those perfect pictures, while their Average-Joe husbands hang out in kitschy sports bars, adding more beer to their rotund bellies and bemoaning why their once-attractive wives have now become dumplings.

I have no doubt that Kate Middleton will get back into her old shape in no time, she just seems like that sort of person, but I admire how she was unafraid to pick a dress that showed the parts of post-birth that most celebrities would never dare reveal and, in fact, many of us may have never before seen in the media. Kate will never be a "normal woman," but right now, she's an international face going through normal-woman parts of life, and I think she made such a brave and role-model-worthy decision to show us the beautiful truth about post-partum women's bodies.

I promise a book-related post next. :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The (Un)State of My Mind

This is probably not what you come to a book blog to read about, but.

So you may remember how, just a few weeks ago, I was shuffling between multiple countries and planning for a great backpacking expedition. You may remember coming across a post introducing my new travel blog, and basically just a whole bunch of references about exciting plans I had to spend several months to a year traveling and living out of my backpack.

As of last week, I am back at my parents' house in New Jersey.

What happened?


There is no easy way for me to write this.

One day earlier this month, I woke up in a hostel in Beijing and knew that I was sad, that I had been sad for a while. There had been days of gray skies and rain, and days of Beijing traffic and crowds, of sticky sweat that left flakes of darkness on my skin when I scratched at it. Traveling no longer felt shiny and exciting, but rather like something that I had go through the motions of doing.

My sadness isn't something that comes and goes. It has always hovered, unblinking and unfazed, in the dark section of the entranceway to my mind. It's a sadmonsterdog that doesn't need any particular kind of nourishment and follows me around wherever I go. When the sun is shining brightly enough and casts that corner into enough shadow, I can pretend that my sadness isn't there, that the light and life are enough to make me a normal, un-sad person. But if the sun is not out in full force, then I have to look into the void of this sad-thing that threatens to crush me with its need whenever it gets the chance.


Here's what traveling is like when you're sad:

You wake up. You have three things on your itinerary for the day, but with the sky the silver of empty colors and the sun nowhere in sight, you know you don't have the energy and pare it down to two. You go to your first destination. The crowds are thick and loud. It's hot. Umbrellas threaten to snag in your hair and rip the strands out. It's hot. You're thirsty and there are always people in your photos and the color quality in them sucks anyway because everything's so gray and you just give up on seeing the site as well as the rest of your itinerary and go back to your hostel and curl up in bed with your computer, hating yourself.


Here's what blogging is like when you're sad:

You have IDEAS and WORDS running together in your head, and a blank screen and a blinking cursor before you. But between your head and the screen is a chorus of faceless voices, crying mocking questions that pierce your well-worn armor.

"Do you think that anything you write now is going to compare to what you wrote back when people actually read your blog, y'know, back when you actually posted things?"

"You are four months behind on reciprocating comments. Way to go with following blogging etiquette. Why can't you do anything right?"

"Wow, your reviews suck now. Just...don't. Stop trying. Stop trying to pretend you're good at it."

As more voices join in, the distance between you and your goal seems to stretch on and on and on, like a demented piece of Laffy Taffy. So instead, you close the lid of your laptop and put your head down on it and try to stop thinking anymore.


Here's what writing is like when you're sad:

You don't.


I don't need an official, clinical diagnosis to know what's wrong with me. I don't even want to write the word, I have such mixed feelings over it. The word, to me, has been perverted into a playground insult hurled by ignorant children or, worse, idiotic adults. When others casually use the word to describe how they feel when they don't get their first-choice iPhone color or their local bar doesn't have their favorite imported beer in stock, why would I want to use it to try and describe the blankness that causes me to spend hours at a time lying on the floor of my room, the black mirror that reflects back to me something so dark and twisted and vivid that I'm not sure if I'm looking at a reflection or if I am the substanceless reflection?

What good does it do for me to be all, "Yup, that's what I have, that's what I am" when it doesn't change the way I've felt since I was a freshman in high school? When it won't make a difference, because you've used the word before, and even after talking to People and the threat of medications, you're still afraid that your sadness is an inherent character defect, a birthmark that just won't go away because, well, it's not meant to?


I had limped through two Chinese cities and half a dozen hostels over the course of two weeks with the same kind of listlessness dragging down my awareness before I realized that to continue traveling when I felt this way was a complete and utter waste of everything. So I looked up plane tickets.

And now I'm here.

I've been trying to get back to what counts for me as normalcy. The process involves lying on my bed, sometimes sleeping, sometimes not. It involves motivating myself to force down unappetizing sustenance at set intervals throughout the day. Avoiding writing, responsibility, and writing-related responsibility, because the words that come out don't sound like me, and little sucks more than to not be able to express myself the way I want to. Playing the piano for hours, when I need more things that don't use words. Walking. Reading old journals and cry-laughing over how silly some parts sound, and how some things have not changed at all.

There are okay days, and then there are days where it's really not.


I just thought you should know.


I don't really know how to end this post.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton

Tags: young adult, supernatural, abuse


Elizabeth Caldwell doesn’t feel emotions . . . she sees them. Longing, Shame, and Courage materialize around her classmates. Fury and Resentment appear in her dysfunctional home. They’ve all given up on Elizabeth because she doesn’t succumb to their touch. All, that is, save one—Fear. He’s intrigued by her, as desperate to understand the accident that changed Elizabeth’s life as she is herself.

Elizabeth and Fear both sense that the key to her past is hidden in the dream paintings she hides in the family barn. But a shadowy menace has begun to stalk her, and try as she might, Elizabeth can barely avoid the brutality of her life long enough to uncover the truth about herself. When it matters most, will she be able to rely on Fear to save her? [summary from Goodreads]


Debut author Kelsey Sutton took a big risk in deciding to write about a protagonist who can’t feel any emotions. After all, one of the biggest criticisms of unsuccessful YA is about bland characters. And while there is an external reason for why Elizabeth is like a shell of a person, I am sorry to say that, instead of being a bold experiment in defying common YA problems by facing them head on, SOME QUIET PLACE merely fell into those very traps.

I’ll be straight with you: Elizabeth has no personality. And it’s not just her being her usual emotionless. She literally doesn’t have anything that distinguishes her from a blank slate other than what’s imposed on her from the outside. When describing Elizabeth, one has to resort to external descriptors: she has rotten parents, an absent brother, she likes to paint. This doesn’t tell us ANYTHING about Elizabeth. People need not be defined by the abuse of their families nor the fact that she paints with all the investment of one doing the dishes. Even sociopaths, who medically do not feel empathy, can have personalities. Elizabeth doesn’t, and that’s not a symptom of her problem.

The lack of personality is not just limited to the MC. Side characters are flat with (again) no personality of their own. Elizabeth’s father is the cardboard drunk and abusive character, while Elizabeth’s mother is the repressed and resentful housewife. Elizabeth’s best friend is the dying girl scared of dying. These are tropes, not to be confused with characteristics. With personality.

SOME QUIET PLACE furthermore falls into common YA pitfalls regarding its plot and mystery. Like too many other YAs that describe themselves as mysteries, SOME QUIET PLACE’s unfolding of its mystery is stuttering and unsatisfying. A great mystery reveals just enough hints in unexpected yet narratively consistent intervals to keep readers ensnared and invested. The “mystery” in this book—of what in Elizabeth’s past caused her to be the way she is—remains a mystery until its sudden anticlimax. The purported “hints” dropped throughout the book are not, actually, hints. “Hints” implies relevance to the plot and mystery; it’s not supposed to be a foray into a dull miniadventure leading into a dead end that the book insists to be a hint, but is in fact just pacing weakness, Insert Dramatic Red Herring Here. The so-called suspense in this book, unfortunately, was so unsatisfying as to frustrate me into apathy.

I could write more, but I’ll stop there and say this: It is completely possible to write from the point of view of a person who can’t feel emotions. But SOME QUIET PLACE was an amateur’s attempt, and sadly it wasn’t long before I realized that I could not feel anything towards Elizabeth and her predicament. And it’s not because I can’t feel emotions.

Similar Authors
Jackie Morse Kessler
Sarah Rees Brennan
Stephenie Meyer
Courtney Summers

Cover discussion: Isn't it luscious? I can practically feel the texture of that dress.

Flux / July 8, 2013 / Paperback / 336pp. / $9.99

e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Lunar Chronicles, Book 2

Book 1: Cinder review

Tags: young adult, sci-fi/fantasy/dystopian, France, retelling


Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother has gone missing. Everyone tells her to not worry about it, there’s nothing she can do, her grandmother is an individualistic kind of person, but Scarlet thinks there’s something more insidious behind her grandmother’s disappearance. The only person who will help her is a soft-spoken street fighter named Wolf, whom Scarlet hopes she can trust, but who may have an agenda of his own. Answers are discovered, but more questions raised, when they cross paths with Cinder, whose recent and widely publicized escape from a New Beijing prison just might start the war that the ruthless Lunar Queen has been waiting for.


Cinder was my unexpected enjoyable find of last year. After experiencing how effortlessly Marissa Meyer can weave together a convoluted yet exciting tale, I had high demands for the sequel, SCARLET. And in a way, SCARLET fulfilled them. In a way, it didn’t.

The good first: everything we liked about Cinder is in here, except perhaps even a notch better. In particular, the characters, old and new, major and supporting, are easy to cheer on. I mean, there are exceptions. Kai’s role is reduced to that of beleaguered new and helpless emperor under international pressure. Wolf, I’m sorry to say, did not appeal to me so much, not because I didn’t like his soft and shy personality (I did) so much as I have known many misunderstood love interests with wounded hearts of gold (see: many adult romance male leads). But when you weigh the slightly annoying—Kai and Wolf—against the good—Cinder’s resourcefulness and empathic internal struggle, Scarlet’s ferocity at protecting her loved ones, Thorne’s much-appreciated airheaded charm lightening the mood)—the good comes out on top.

That being said, one of the issues that some reviewers noted as a weakness in Cinder is even more apparent in SCARLET, and that is the world-building. I remember thinking the world-building in Cinder was decent, but in SCARLET I found it lacking. Don’t get me wrong: Meyer does a Richelle Mead-worthy job of setting up an elaborate yet believable backstory to the world’s current state, the one involving the Lunars and Princess Selene. But settings-wise, inadequate research and/or thought was glaringly apparent. At no point did the scenes in France distinguish themselves from what could’ve been going on in any other place in a future Earth. I wanted the book to show me its vision of what a future Earth divided into regions like the Eastern Commonwealth and European Federation, and experiencing strained relationships with Lunar, would look, feel, hear, taste, and smell like. What distinguishes Rieux, Scarlet’s hometown, from other places in the world? How does Paris fare several centuries from now, and how does its altered cityscape affect the characters’ movements and experiences?

Still, SCARLET was fast-paced and exciting. My attention started wavering around the end when everyone was running around killing each other in a very blankly drawn future Paris, but I’m still curious enough about how the Lunar/Princess Selene conflict will play out that I think I’ll continue to hang around this series. Read at the surface level, SCARLET is a successful rollicking good read. But I hope the series will pick up a bit on its world-building, for fear that those cracks will end up pulling the books down.

Similar Authors
Richelle Mead

Cover discussion: Oh hey, look, a publisher that didn't feel compelled to arbitrarily change the cover from hardcover to paperback. Hooray! I do like how this cover matches the one for Cinder, which I felt was memorable and powerful in its simplicity.

Feiwel & Friends / Feb. 5, 2013 / Hardcover / 464pp. / $17.99

Personal copy.


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