Archive for the ‘5 Shuriken Stars’ Category

Random Book Reviews #2

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

I had to put this book down so many times to stop myself from crying. I mean the writing was gorgeous and the relationship formation was the most adorable thing I have ever read in my life and the character situations were tragic and contrasting and I loved the dual POV and the character diversity.

So yeah: 5 shuriken stars.

Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins

This book is like a big stinking pile of sugar. It’s like a sugar high. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s just so cheesy (oh god, look at me, mixing flavours like that). Didn’t stop me from reading it, though, because it was very fun (and very frustrating – like come on Anna of course he fancies you you’re the protagonist). But I was looking for a cheesy rom com and I found a cheesy rom com so I can’t really complain.

3.5 shuriken stars.

Hollow City – Ransom Riggs

I like this series, but I’m still not in love with it. It’s all quite calm at the moment. I never feel very much tension in anything that’s happening, and I don’t feel particularly invested in any of the characters (though I do like Olive and Horace).

I still want to pick up the next book, because it’s an enjoyable series and I love the format of the photographs in the story, but I am still waiting for that emotional click.

4 shuriken stars.

Nimona – Noelle Stevenson

Where have you been all my life?

The world was clever. The dialogue was amazing. The drawing style is fantastic. The characters though… don’t even get me started on how much I love the characters and their relationships. I was also really impressed by the plotting, because I came for the humour, but I was blown away by the themes and where the story went. Oh, and I was close to tears by the end.

The best part is that you can preview it online for free right now, so go do that if you haven’t!

5 shuriken stars.

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I’m wary to tell you anything about this one, but I really liked it. There’s a ‘twist’ (though quite an obvious one, hence the air quotes), and it’s good. Also another really emotional one, with an interesting unreliable narrator and I liked the use of time-jumps (though are they called flashbacks if the whole book is technically a flashback?).

4.5 shuriken stars.

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The Secret History – Donna Tartt

I’m sort of in love with this book.

I only read it yesterday, so I’m not sure how long it’s going to hold onto me, but right now I still feel like I’m inside the book even though I’ve finished it. There’s no more story left and yet I can’t stop thinking about it.

Summary

An elitist group of classics students murder their friend. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, that’s in the prologue. It’s discovering the why of the murder instead of the who.

At least, I was.

Pros

Addictive

The first few pages or so of this massive book is quite light, comparatively. Then, as the murder creeps closer and closer, we watch things slowly and predictably spiral out of control. Gradually, the story builds in intensity, and you are sucked into it, unable to stop reading.

This is a 600+ page book that I read in, like, a day?It flies by. Don’t be put off by the size, you will read it so quickly that you won’t even notice you’re at the end until you keep trying to flip pages but there’s nothing left.

Characters

I am not even going to try to explain how much I cared about these characters.

They are not good people. They are really not good people. Donna Tartt makes this clear that these characters are incredibly problematic, yet you want them to be as happy as possible. You wince when bad things happen to them. They are all incredibly flawed, and it’s not the type of fault where it strengthens another part of their character or comes as a consequence of some overwhelming good quality. Genuinely, you would not want to get close to any of these people. And not just because they might murder you.

And yet you still love them so much. Almost irrationally so. I don’t know how she does it, but it worked.

The Writing

Was gorgeous. Her writing has some quality to it that makes you want to keep reading the next sentence, and the next one, and the next one. It seems to have some rhythmic quality, some inner momentum, which keeps everything moving and you want to keep reading right along with it.

I don’t know what it is about it, but I love it.

This book, by the way, is so damn quotable. I wanted to underline everything, but then I was too invested in the story to stop and get a pencil.

The Greek

I feel like I learned stuff when I read this. I think. Or at least I’m interested in finding out stuff about it now. God, they make Greek sound so damn cool. It’s like when Sherlock first came out and everyone was buying those long black coats.

Cons

This will consume all of your time. It may ruin you for whatever other book you want to read.

Also, if you don’t like pretentious kids not doing much for 600+ pages, then this might not be for you, because yes, it’s mostly build up. You know how it’s going to go. You know who they murder and it’s not really a mystery why they murder him.

But read the first chapter or two, see what you think. See if you get sucked in too.

(PS If you are instead looking for a dark college story full of action with problematic characters and supernatural elements  then you should look into Vicious by V.E. Schwab which is incredible and beautiful and awesome)

Quotes

  • “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”
  • “Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

This next one is long but bear with me. It’s the first quote I saw from this book, and it’s what made me immediately want to read it.

  • “It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

Overall

The real mystery here is what I’m going to rate this book because I didn’t make it obvious at all throughout all my raving.

5 shuriken stars.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

12813630I have not read much vampire fiction other than Twilight, so I’m not well-equipped to review this book, but screw that, I’m doing it anyway.

I finished this book a few minutes ago, and I’m still trying to process thought and put my mind back into reality, so I’m finding it hard to see how to describe this book.

Visceral is the first word I think of. Or maybe dark and seductive, though that sounds like I’m describing erotica (which I’m not – teen fiction, people). It was a strangely intense experience. Very rich and languorous and indulgent and impossible to say no to. It begs and begs for you to keep reading and you do, because, much like the characters, you have succumb to this gorgeous, horrific world.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, this book is damn good.

Summary

I’d rather give you the blurb I read, because it is perfect, and sums up the book better than anything else could.

“Coldtown was dangerous, Tana knew. A glamorous cage. A prison for the damned and anyone who wanted to party with them.”

I think that’s all you really need to know.

Cons

Other than it ending?

Other than me wanting a sequel super badly?

But yeah, I didn’t realise how interested I was in these characters until they disappeared. While it is a very good standalone, and the plot definitely has been concluded, the characters have a lot of potential for growth and I am desperate to read more.

Pros

 The writing

Oh my god that writing.

I am obviously not going to cover all the pros but this has to be said.

Oh my god can Holly Black write.

This is the first book by Holly Black that I’ve read, and I don’t know much about her books other than people like them. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was not this. It was not gorgeous sentences and vivid imagery and me wanting to quote everything.

That should be enough of a reason to read it.

All the Other Usual Stuff

Plot was awesome, characters were awesome, world was awesome, everything was awesome.

Especially liked the treatment of Gavriel and Tana’s relationship because thank god that was refreshing. There was acknowledgement of the difference between love and lust and the characters ended up actually being friends and there was a massive emphasis on the monstrous nature of Gavriel. Yes yes yes to all of it.

Quotes

  •  “Death’s favorites don’t die.”
  • “Clever girl. You play with fire because you want to be burnt.”
  • “We all wind up drawn to what we’re afraid of, drawn to try to find a way to make ourselves safe from a thing by crawling inside of it, by loving it, by becoming it.”
  • “Even from the beginning, that was the problem. People liked pretty things. People even liked pretty things that wanted to kill and eat them.”
  • “She wished it was an unfamiliar feeling, that ache, the urge that made her hit the gas when she ought to hit the brake.”

Overall

Holly Black makes me want to read vampire fiction. She also makes me want to avoid vampire fiction because I’ll constantly be comparing whatever I read to this book.

She also makes me want a sequel very, very badly.

5 shuriken stars.

2014 Wrap-Up

Before we set out in trying to somehow distil this year into five books, I’m going to say:

  • Each author can only appear once
  • It must be a novel (i.e. fiction, one story, mainly words)
  • One book per place

Now, without further ado, here’s my top five.

1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – I kept going back and forth between this one and The Virgin Suicides, but in the end, this one won out. All I have to say is READ IT.

2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – I didn’t expect the book to tear my heart out, but it did. Multiple times. I love the narrative style, and the concept, and the twist. Oh man, the twist.

3. Vicious by V.E. Schwab – I honestly did not know whether this book was going to live up to the hype or not, but it exceeded expectations, and I want a movie. Or a sequel. Or both.

4. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Another one with a lot of hype, and for a good reason. This story combines fairytales and messy, wealthy families and gorgeous prose and it is probably the best young adult fiction I have read this year.

5. The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson – I could not exclude this amazing, spectacular, wonderful ending to a superb fantasy trilogy. I was so blown away by how well everything was wrapped up, and the bravery of the choices made in this series.

Unlike last year, I have quite a few honorary mentions.

In the non-fiction sphere, I fell in love with Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, and I have not ceased to recommend this book to absolutely everyone.

In the graphic novels category, the winners are Blankets by Craig Thompson and The Arrival by Shaun Tan, which are both well worth your time. There were a lot of strong competitors in this round but I did my best to narrow it down to those two which have gorgeous art styles, really interesting themes, and brilliant choices in telling their stories.

Amongst the short story collections, I chose Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro, which hit me hard in the heart. So hard, in fact, that I have a hard time rereading that collection because it makes me so damn emotional.

Hope you guys all had great reading years, and we will see you in 2015!

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

SPOILERS AHEAD (I mean I try to be vague but yeah SPOILERS)

When I finished this book (all the way back in July), I knew it was going to be one of my favourite books of the year.

It was that easy to tell.

Summary

Four teenagers meet every year on a beach. One year they try to do something really symbolic but are drunk off their asses and end up doing something really dumb instead.

Cons

That it is not popular enough. I know it is getting a lot of media attention, but more people need to read it. Everyone needs to read it, it is fantastic.

Pros

This book contains many of my favourite things: fairytales, beach holidays, excessively wealthy and corrupt families, foreshadowing, unreliable narrators, ambiguity, and lies.

I have a lot to say about this book but I don’t exactly know what it is yet. It also has been a really long time since I read it, but the book is so jam-packed full of interesting stuff that I want to discuss it with someone, anyone, so I can put my thoughts about it in order. So let’s try.

The Title

It is perfect for many reasons.

First, the use of the pronoun “We”. It cements the idea of these four teenagers being one, inseparable gang. Parts of a whole. As though their fates are tied together. We ride together, we die together kind of thing. We are not complete unless we are together.

“Were” is also perfect. Past tense. Very important.

And lastly, “Liars”, the most important word of all. Which I can barely even process without thinking of all those clever layers in the novel.

Lies & Liars

I don’t even know where to begin, and I’m definitely not going to cover everything, so let’s just keep this quick.

Cadence lies to herself. The kids all lie to each other. Their family is a big messy pile of lies, and their lifestyle itself is all convoluted and distorted by the lies. There are half-truths and brutal metaphors and twisty-turny narrative choices that all lead to this book being a wonderfully constructed thing full of lies and liars.

This subject could be an essay. But we don’t have time for that. Moving on!

In-Betweeny Bits

Did I mention that I love fairytale adaptations?

Those little snippets with Fairytale and Shakespearian influences were like nuggets of gold.

I loved them. Loved loved loved them.

The Writing

Freaking gorgeous.

That is all.

Cons

Yeah, I can’t think of any.

Quotes

  • “Be a little kinder than you have to.”
  • “If you want to live where people are not afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.”
  • “We are liars. We are beautiful and privileged. We are cracked and broken.”
  • “He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. I could have looked at him forever.”
  • “He was a person who couldn’t fake a smile but smiled often.”
  • “I’ll be fine, they tell me. I won’t die. It’ll just hurt a lot.”

Overall

In conclusion, this book is bloody brilliant. 5 shuriken stars.

Skulduggery Pleasant: The Dying of the Light – Derek Landy

It is August 28th 2014.

I have just finished the last Skulduggery Pleasant book.

I’m not posting this for a while, because it contains spoilers, and I want to give people some time to read it. But I have some thoughts that I need to get out of my head. This is not a review of sorts, it’s just me babbling a little.

Let me just preface this by saying that I liked this book, and I love this series. It is fun, epic, and brilliantly plotted with fantastic continuity. The characters are well-developed and the humour is fabulous and you should all read it read it read it. The Dying of the Light was brilliant, and probably deserving of a full starred rating, but I will still touch on stuff that I personally (and this may just be me) thought could be improved.

The Supposed Tears

Perhaps my heart is made of steel, perhaps there is something wrong with me, but that ending was not nearly as sad as we were led to believe. Yes, it was shocking. And perhaps when we talk about the pain that book causes we talk about how we are constantly misled by the author to believe certain tragedies occur that actually don’t.

It was definitely clever, and I applaud it for that, but perhaps too easy. There is so much potential for new story, and perhaps that is done on purpose for extra stories/new books to come in the future, but at the moment, I don’t feel much conclusion. I want to know where our characters really ended up after the battle.

But maybe I’m just in denial of the series ending. I’m not sure yet.

The Ending

I was pretty much convinced that it was the most perfect book in existence, but then the ending happened, and I don’t know, it irked me. It must have irked me personally, as I know it didn’t annoy a lot of people. But honestly, and here’s the blunt truth of it all, Valkyrie and Skulduggery, as a romantic relationship, makes me uncomfortable.

He is old. Really old. That isn’t my problem with their relationship, though. He is far more mature than her. He is, mentally, an adult. He had a wife and kids. He has been through a whole lot more than she has, because of age and experience and just life in general. His mental age is around thirty, in my mind.

She is a teenage girl. She has had one boyfriend her entire life, and that wasn’t a very serious boyfriend either. She is not experienced. Yes, she’s gone through a lot of physical and emotional pain, but mentally, she is eighteen. She acts eighteen. For all intents and purposes, she is eighteen.

And there is my problem with the relationship. He is too old for her. He’s an adult, and has been for a long time, and she’s barely there.

So that’s why I don’t like the ending. I know not everyone feels that way, and I know opinions on characters’ maturity and whatnot differ, but that’s how I read it. I don’t know if it was planned from the beginning, or if it was implemented once Derek Landy saw the massive support in the Valduggery fandom. Giving romance to a relationship that 98% of your fanbase supports is a sure way to get approval on your book, and I am sure that I’m only annoyed by this because I’ve been in that 2% for years. I could see the path being laid down towards this particular relationship and I still chose to ignore it. But it’s far too late and I’m far too stubborn to change my mind now.

The Fourth Wall

While I don’t think references to the fans is a bad thing, I’ve never been particularly fond of it, either. I think it depends on the reference, and whether it is believable or not. But sometimes, when I can just feel an author throwing in a joke or a line that I know is there to make people go “oh look! the thing! he said the thing!”, it pulls me out of the world. Not breaking the fourth wall, but maybe shaking it. This all depends on context. Sometimes the little nods were perfect, more than perfect, and sometimes they threw me off a bit.

Death

This is a series that has never shied away from killing off characters. This ending reminded me that I was truly reading a middle-grade series.

I was expecting more death. Maybe I am too jaded that way. But if you’r going to promise for a book to tear out your heart, then you better live up to it.

Overall

Yes, a little disappointing. But it’s definitely personal problems that are influencing this choice. The book’s execution was very good, and the plot was good, and everything was very fun and cool and action-y. I put too many expectations on this book, but that’s what happens when its the ninth one. I was expecting more conclusion, more character development, and there’s only so much one can plausibly do.

Still my favourite middle-grade series though. Well, unless Blood of Olympus is completely utterly fabulous.

Vicious – V.E. Schwab

I’ll try to make this review short, but I make no promises.

Also, if you want a taster of what this book is like, you can read this short story for free and then go out and get this wonderful book.

Because believe me, you need this book in your life.

Summary

Victor and Eli are friends. 10 years later, not so much.

(Come on a magical journey and find out why.)

Cons

That the sequel doesn’t exist yet? Because I want one really badly.

Also the movie. I need that movie.

Pros

I don’t even know where to begin.

We’re obviously not going to cover everything, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book so I can’t remember everything (I would read it again but every sentence just breaks my heart and it’s hard to get through that much emotional pain again), so I just want to discuss a few things instead. I’m sure if you’ve read the book, then you already know all the wonderful things about it.

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a summary.

  • Characters = Awesome
  • Plot = Awesome
  • Themes = Awesome
  • Writing Style = Goddamn Beautiful

NOW WE ENTER INTO THE SPOILERS.

DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Powers

The four most important powers we see (from Serena, Sydney, Victor, and Eli) are extremely morbid. Serena deals in emotional pain, Victor in physical pain, Eli in physical injury, and Sydney in death. Victoria Schwab could have made the powers more neutral and used the common tropes we see in superhero and fantasy fiction (flight, elemental manipulation, etc.). Instead she chose very dark themes to centre these powers around. It is a dark book, and our two main characters have questionable morality, so it is very fitting.

Victor and Eli

Victor and Eli’s first act (or at least, early acts, as well as I can remember) whilst having their new found powers is  murder. They each kill someone the night Victor gets his powers, though Victor’s is accidental (which is arguable as he makes no move to resuscitate Angie afterwards) whereas Eli’s is deliberate (and terrifying). These characters are obviously not superheroes. They cause death without much remorse or compassion, and though their intentions are different, this similarity is more interesting. Two contrasting personalities that are equal parts ambitious and brilliant, both bent on revenge, and neither we can whole-heartedly route for.

While Victor is painted out as the natural villain (he is quiet, socially awkward, has the name and the dysfunctional family relationship), he becomes our main protagonist. Eli, on the other hand, must construct for himself a villainous character to fall into. Eli becomes the ‘villain’ (again, arguable, and far more interesting that way) of the book.

Whether the boys are villains or heroes is a tricky question, and is fantastically set out by Victoria Schwab. I flit back and forth between the two while reading, trying to figure out which one was worse than the other, but they are so different, yet so similar, that it’s impossible for me to decide. Is it a story of how a broken boy corrupted a perfect one, by pulling out the dark things he saw underneath? Or is it one of a manipulative student who ensnares his naive peer with promise of friendship?

Their ‘friendship’ is questionable, and I think it would need a reread for me to decide whether they really liked each other, or simply kept one another around because they were useful. You can very easily read it that way. Under their mutual respect was also a whole lot of jealousy.

Then again, I think of Eli and Victor’s deaths, and the other boys’ panicked reactions to those deaths, and I think that they must have cared for each other, even amongst the rivalry. Maybe because of it. Which just makes the present day all the more tragic.

Time-Jumps

The alternating between time periods is a brilliant device that establishes, right from the beginning, that this friendship will not work out, so the reader knows to start looking for the cracks. We know, right off the bat, that these two boys are extremely flawed – they will not develop into lovely, warm, redeemed men who ride into the sunset together. It will only get darker from here.

While the first half is mainly told from Victor’s POV, the second part opens up to more characters, most prominently (and importantly), Eli. As the second voice of the two appears, we start to really understand what sends both boys off into their respective destinies. Eli is as broken as Victor, and as much as Victor insists on their differences, they are frighteningly similar, too.

Overall

This review-thing is already longer than I wanted it to be, so let’s cut to the chase.

This book is brilliant.

You should read it.

If you want a light, exciting read about two boys that get superpowers and have to deal with the consequences, here you go.

If you want a deep, questioning book about friendship versus ambition, playing god, the ends justifying the means, and the nature of friendship, then take it.

If you want to cry a lot, salivate over beautiful writing, then cry some more, read it.

You can read it whatever way you want. And there are so many valid interpretations and so many wonderful things that you can take from it.

5 shuriken stars.

Time to sit back and wait impatiently for the sequel.