Dystopian · Fantasy

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

 “If I am a sword, I am a sword made of glass, and I feel myself beginning to shatter.”

 

glassswordTo be honest, I’m at odds about how I feel about this book. On the one hand, I totally enjoyed it. On the other, a friend who also received an ARC expressed disappointment about certain developments in the story (mainly when it comes to developments regarding the rebellion and the New Bloods), and I don’t disagree. I guess I see how Glass Sword may have fallen short of our expectations, but somehow, it didn’t bother me as much as it did her. Because when it comes to books, and YA in particular, I mostly expect to be entertained, and if it did that well, that’s good enough for me.

Continue reading “Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard”

Dystopian · Science Fiction

Q&A with Amy Ewing

Last year I did a simple Q&A with Amy Ewing (author of The Jewel, which I wrote about here) for our store Christmas catalog. I didn’t post it here, for the same reason I never post the capsule reviews I write for the store here, but since it’s nearly time for our 2015 Christmas catalog to be out (which would usually be sometime in mid-November), I decided that it’s time to share this here. Just click on the image to see the larger version 🙂

Q&A With Amy Ewing

 

Contemporary · Dystopian · Fantasy · Romance

Mini-Reviews: Asking For It, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Scorpion Rules, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Wrath & the Dawn, A Thousand Nights

Asking For It
Louise O’Neill
Quercus

This is one of those books that are very good, but also extremely difficult to read. Emma is beautiful, popular, and a top student – until the morning she wakes up on the porch of her house, with no memory of what happened to her and how she got there. Then she saw the photographs that showed what happened in graphic detail. Rape is already a difficult subject matter, but this book also goes into slut-shaming and victim blaming, and how so many of us are willing to throw young girls under the bus so as not to ruin the lives of young men, because their lives are more important, because it wasn’t “rape rape” if she was drunk, if she took drugs, if she dressed a certain way, if she acted a certain way… right? It really brings up the idea of consent and how all the other things shouldn’t matter.

Throughout most of the first half of this book I was annoyed or enraged by how Emma acted, or how she treated the people around her, but by the end of it, IT STILL WASN’T HER FAULT, and I do appreciate how the book brings that to light. It doesn’t change how difficult it is to read, and how frustrating the ending was, but I suppose that that’s also how these stories often conclude in real life.

simonvsSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray

I wrote a rant once in my zine about how there ought to be more queer romances that are just happy and fun, you know – plain escapism, without all the angst and drama that usually accompanies LGBTIQAP+ fiction. This book probably falls under that category.

Not that it’s drama-free. Simon, not-really-out but not-really-bothered-about-it, was being blackmailed by class clown Martin. While he didn’t think his parents would care if he was gay, he also didn’t want the drama that came with coming out. (He made a good point about straight people never having to “come out”.) And if he was out, it might compromise his anonymous online friend, Blue, who definitely needed to stay in the closet more than Simon did. So Simon went along with Martin’s demands, while trying to focus on figuring Blue’s identity and trying not to alienate his friends and having everything blow up in his face. As far as cutesy romances go, this was VERY CUTE, and I enjoyed it very much.

Continue reading “Mini-Reviews: Asking For It, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Scorpion Rules, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Wrath & the Dawn, A Thousand Nights”

Dystopian · Fantasy

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

anemberintheashesFirst of all I have to say that this isn’t the type of book I’d usually pick out for myself. It isn’t that I’d be completely uninterested; it’s just that it’s one of those that sound too similar to others I’ve read. It’s a high fantasy, and a dystopian YA – and like most dystopian YA, the worldbuilding is easy to poke holes into, but enjoyable and intriguing enough if I left it alone. Anyway, the reason I did want to read it is because of the author – I’ve enjoyed reading Sabaa Tahir’s tweets, and these days I’d try most POC YA authors, because I realise that my reading lists are still distressingly white.

The world we are introduced to is inspired by Ancient Rome, with a sort of Middle Eastern twist (which I don’t see other people mentioning, so is it just me? But, but – deserts and storytellers and ghuls and efrits!) with a caste system that I understand more easily than others, because it’s similar to caste systems I know in real life. The Scholars once ruled the Empire, until the Martials took over the rule with brute force. What remains of the Scholars now live in quarters or squats, surviving any way they can – they aren’t allowed to learn to read, and may only do physical work. This is how Laia lives with her brother Darin and their grandparents, until the day the Mask (the Martial Empire’s law enforcement and assassins) raids their house, kills their grandparents, and takes Darin away.  Continue reading “An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir”

Dystopian · Fantasy

Blog Tour: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Review)

“Red in the head, Silver in the heart.” – Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard

redqueenI think that for the better part of last year, I’ve been telling everybody that would listen that I’m looking forward to this book. It really isn’t often that I highly anticipate YA fantasy that aren’t sequels – especially now that I’m reading more and more “grown-up” SF and middle-grade fantasy – so the fact that this was on my radar at all says a lot about it. Still, I read a lot of YA SF/F. I knew what to expect, more or less. These days everything’s blurbed as “X meets Y”, and compared to whatever is the most popular/best-selling book in their respective genres. Contemporary? “Readers of John Green and Rainbow Rowell will love this book,” or they’ll “for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”Genre? I don’t see a lot of Twilight comparisons anymore, but there sure are a lot of series “for fans of Hunger Games.”  All of which can be okay, if tiring, and can backfire on the book if it turned out nothing like the books they’re compared to, no matter how well they stand on their own.

When I started on Red Queen, I was thinking that it could go one of two ways. I’m told that it’s blurbed as “Graceling meets The Selection.” I enjoyed The Selection, and haven’t read Graceling, although I’ve got a copy and know I’ll probably love it. When I started it, I kept thinking about it in terms of other YA books. I’d be like, “oh, this is more Hunger Games like, with the arena matches and all”, and “oh, it’s all about the romance and not enough about the dystopian world, like The Selection.” I was going back and forth like that throughout the whole book – which is not to say that I didn’t like it, because I do. Continue reading “Blog Tour: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Review)”

Books · Dystopian · Fantasy

Mini Reviews: The Here and Now, The Darkest Part of the Forest, Sorrow’s Knot, The Bane Chronicles

The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
hereandnowThis book was out in April, but I’ve only recently been presented with the upcoming paperback edition. I figured I wouldn’t mind reading it since I enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, although I never did read the rest of the series. This book is nothing like Sisterhood, though – it’s a science fiction (ish) story of a girl from a future where we’re dying of a horrible plague (dengue – really? REALLY?) traveling through time to live in 2010. She lives a quiet existence following the rules of her community, but when she falls for a boy named Ethan she begins to question those rules, and wonder if it’s possible to change the future. I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy this book, because reading it all the way through was anything but difficult. It was kind of fun, and I passed it to a colleague to read after me. It’s just that it’s also full of plot holes, instalove, and nowhere near complex enough for me. (3 out of 5 stars)

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
darkestpartoftheforestThis book is sort of a part of Holly Black’s A Modern Faerie Tale series, but it’s a standalone. I had really loved Tithe when I first read it, and eagerly snapped up Valiant and Ironside when they came out. I never did read the Spiderwick Chronicles, or Doll Bones, or Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but I thought the Curse Workers trilogy was brilliant and am constantly at odds on whether I prefer it to the Modern Faerie Tale books. I guess it’s always a case of “whichever book I most recently read”, when it comes to my favourite Holly Black. As of now, The Darkest Part of the Forest is the latest I’ve read by her, and it is the absolute best. It’s about Hazel, who grew up with her brother Ben in a small town where humans and faeries live among each other. The locals knew that the faeries are dangerous, but they also knew that most of the fae’s mischief are directed towards ignorant tourists. As children, Hazel and Ben hunted down “bad” faeries, the ones known to have hurt or killed humans. They also both loved the horned boy in the glass coffin by the woods, that never wakes throughout the years. Except that one day the boy wakes, and everything changes. Like the rest of her Modern Faerie Tale books, the fairies here are not at all cutesy or full of sweetness and light – there’s a distinct eerie inhumanness to them that I appreciate. I don’t remember finding the previous books particularly scary, but there’s one faerie – and a couple of scenes in particular – that really creeped me out in this one. (I’m just really weak against horror stuff, though.) I love all the characters, human and fae, and Hazel is now among my top ten favourite heroines. This book is due to be published in January 2015, and I’m just a tiny bit sad that I read it this year because it’s hard for the 2014 release YA fantasies to compete against this. I’m definitely planning to promote this like crazy once it’s out! (5 stars out of 5)

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow
sorrowsknotAnother of my favourite reads from this year, Sorrow’s Knot is a gorgeous, gorgeous book – so amazing that I want to make everyone I know that reads fantasy and/or YA to read this, but the cover. I don’t find the cover appealing at all, and it isn’t one that it’s easy to sell here. It’s one of the titles I ended up pulling from our Christmas list because of the cover, although I’m definitely including it in my January’s picks next year, with a capsule review in our store newsletter, which was hard to write because this is also one of those books that I just can’t articulate about somehow. Every time I try to talk about it I get like, “it’s just so… GORGEOUS, ugh, just READ IT ALREADY” and that’s how I feel. It’s beautiful and sad and well-written and I love the characters and the world-building and the message about how doing things the way it’s always been done isn’t always the best or right way to do things, we can learn and improve and do better and the friendships/relationships in this story! I want a sequel so badly. This is also another eerie, creepy sort of book, one that chills me a bit while reading (a reminder that I’m a wuss, not everyone may feel the same) and the division of powers between the three friends in here. I like that while storytelling is considered a feminine sort of thing to many of us, it is Cricket, the boy, who is a storyteller in this book, while Otter and Kestrel are a binder and ranger. I also like that this story flips things around and show exactly how powerful stories and storytelling can be, that this “feminine” power has great strength. And I know that I haven’t even touched on what this story is about, and I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can describe it anywhere near well enough, so here is a link to the book on GoodReads, go read the synopsis there and then go and read the book, you won’t regret it. (4 out of 5 stars)

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson
banechroniclesOMG is that GODFREY GAO on the cover. It looks close enough to Godfrey Gao as Magnus Bane in the Mortal Instruments film, doesn’t it. Okay, enough fangirling. Or maybe there will never be enough fangirling, because Godfrey Gao and Magnus Bane are both high up in my list. Magnus Bane is one of the minor characters in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series, and in this collection of short stories, he finally gets to be the main character. Since he is my favourite character in all of the books (think of a more sexed up Wizard Howl crossed over with Loki, and you’ll get Magnus) and it’s not even because he’s half-Indonesian, although that fact makes him even more awesome. Since Magnus Bane is an immortal, the stories in this collection chronicles his (mis)adventures from the 1700s to the present time of The City of Lost Souls, the fifth book in the Mortal Instruments series. My favourite stories are “Saving Raphael Santiago”, which details how he first met Raphael, my other favourite character in the series, and yes, also a minor character; “What Really Happened in Peru” which has piratical adventures involving Magnus and fellow warlock Ragnor Fell, among other things; and “The Course of True Love and First Dates” which is about Magnus’s first date with Alec.  (3 out of 5 stars)

Books · Dystopian

The Jewel by Amy Ewing

jewelIf Endgame was supposed to be like The Hunger Games, and The Iron Trial was supposed to be like Harry Potter, then the buzz for The Jewel was that it’s like “The Selection meets The Handmaid’s Tale“. In fact, a lot of the pre-pub reviews on GoodReads mentioned it as seeming to be “like The Selection, only better.”

I can see that. The US cover (not the one here – I read the UK version) certainly reminded me of The Selection, but nicer. And the book description conjured images of a dystopia full of beautiful dresses and an opulent lifestyle, with a huge gap between the rich and the poor. (It’s not really dystopia anymore, is it? It’s already happening now.) I was hopeful that The Jewel would be all that The Selection could have been, but wasn’t – showing its dystopian/political landscape better, and actually exploring the issues brought up by the dystopia instead of focusing too much on the romance aspect of the story. And for the first part of the book, it did that very well.

I loved it. Like most YA, I could probably poke lots of holes in the paper-thin worldbuilding, although I chose not to (where’s the fun in that when you can overlook it to enjoy the nice story instead?). I liked that it successfully portrayed how horrible the world was, right from the start, showing the girls that were to be surrogates being shipped off to be auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. These girls, born from the poorest circles of their society, had the abilities to use “Auguries” which allowed them control over the color, shape, and growth of things. This made them the perfect surrogates to the royal families that couldn’t have their own children (why, this was not explained, ugh).

Violet had a perfect score for the third Augury – growth. While it was in fashion to favour color and shape, the Duchess of the Lake purchased Violet due to this strength of hers. The description of Violet’s life in The Jewel (the royal, or richest circle of society) and the other women there – both the royals and the surrogates – really kept me going. Everything – from the parties she had to attend, to the doctor visits and the scheming of the royal women – were horrible, but not unbelievable. Even the royal women, who were the “villains” of this book, weren’t entirely unsympathetic, or predictable; the Electress, who was the only woman originally from a lower circle, was just as vicious as the ones born and bred in The Jewel, while the Duchess, in her moments of weakness, showed that she had thought more of the plight of her surrogates than expected.

And then, the romance. My main question here would be – was it necessary to have a romantic subplot? Really? The book was doing well as it was! But no, Violet HAD to meet some handsome guy and fall in INSTALOVE. WTF, Violet. WTF, Amy Ewing. Is this the same Violet from the first two-thirds of the book, even? Because THAT Violet wouldn’t have risked so much just for a freaking make-out session with someone she hardly knew. (Plus, if this book HAD to have a romance, I really would have preferred a slow-burn romance between Violet and Garnet, the Duchess’ son, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.)

Another unnecessary thing is the whole mysterious-disease-caused-the-royals-unable-to-have-babies part. Because if it’s there, it needed to be EXPLAINED. And it WASN’T. And that annoyed me, somewhat. I would have believed that they chose not to (or weren’t allowed to) bear their own children for stupid religious/”purity” obsessions like in The Handmaid’s Tale, OR if they just wanted to use surrogates because the Auguries promised better, stronger, more beautiful offspring. That would have been enough for me – I didn’t need some vague reference to some vague disease and then not explaining more.

So, was it better than The Selection? Yes and no. I enjoyed it more than The Selection; it’s a better dystopia, and addressed the complexities of the world more. But the romance part of the book is equally frustrating, without being as entertaining. Without the romance angle, this would have been a 4.5 star (out of five) book for me. With the romance, I’d have to dock a star, leaving it a 3.5, although I rounded it up to 4 stars on GoodReads.