Sunday, March 25, 2018

Neal Shusterman Does it Again

Not gonna lie, I thought I would grow out of my YA phase by now but I find myself reverting right back into it as college gets worse (and it has gotten a lot worse). I guess I had an urge to cut ties with the genre in an attempt to mold a more sophisticated mindset now that I'm - you know *clears throat, straightens jacket* - an adult. Of course, I've realized that buying a bunch of self-help and better living autobiographies won't actually foster my maturity if I can't help falling asleep before the second chapter anyway.

Ever since I read Unwind, Neal Shusterman has made quite a remarkable impression as one of my favorite authors. Whereas Rainbow Rowell is known for her feel good romances, Neal Shusterman has a way of leaving his readers truly amazed by the endless possibilities that stem from his imagination.

Scythe is no exception. The premise is that humans have surged into a future where immortality is now possible with the technology that we've achieved. Yet, since there's nothing controlling an exponentially growing population, there are professional reapers called 'scythes' who choose people to kill everyday. This is their cure to control a world of immortals. Just by that alone - how are you not enticed by a refreshing take on life and death??

The plot is wonderfully executed (LOL) and the characters have just the right amount of depth to them that you find yourself getting attached to the protagonists and hoping for the demise of the antagonists. The story is told from multiple perspectives, which interweave to produce an adventurous fantasy/sci-fi whirlwind.

Shusterman has literary trademarks that I find interesting to note because they're so consistent, I feel like I would be able to identify his work even if he wrote it anonymously:

  1. multiple characters, multiple perspectives
  2. main protagonists usually involve one boy and one girl who somehow become romantically involved with one another 
  3. the romance is well done carrying a realistic love/hate undertone; it's there to propel the story and engage the readers in fun companionship. it's not overly irrational or sappy. 
  4. the girls are not merely there to assist the boys. they are analytical and strong and not annoying and overall badass 
  5. countless "what happens next?" moments. due to the nature of his unprecedented ideas, there is never really a cookie-cutter way to predict how his stories unfold. every twist and turn is surprising and keeps you hooked 
  6. unfortunately, if there was a siiiiiingle "eh" thing that I would say about Shusterman's novels, it's that the first of the series is typically the best and after that, it just seems like he doesn't know how to wrap it up (but maybe that's just me) they're still good though! 
No matter what anyone says, there's no doubt - the man's a genius. 

I recommend Scythe 100%; it's definitely now one of my favorites of all time. 

Goodreads Summary: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28954189-scythe?from_search=true
Rating: 5/5 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: Warcross (Contains Spoilers)

Whoa, it's been such a long time! So many things have happened since we last posted:
For one, Alyssa is in Scotland right now starting her year at St. Andrews (😱 🙌 ). We are both on our way to trudge through our second year of undergrad. And no big deal, but Alyssa has also been working on like 3 different novels nonstop - it's crazy!

Things that haven't changed:
I'm still in a pretty deep reading slump, which is why I felt compelled to write a review on Warcross by Marie Lu!

The fact that I've been able to finish this in less than a span of three months is a big feat on its own. Something about Marie Lu's characterization and world building always pulls me in, and this one was no exception. I loved the colorful, futuristic, alternate universe of New York and Tokyo. It's the first time I've read about something technologically advanced that isn't automatically deemed as a dystopian. If you loved Legend by Marie Lu as much as I did, you would know that it's difficult to restrain yourself from comparing any novel by her to June and Day's story. I found myself doing exactly this and realized that right off the bat, Warcross immerses itself quite well in the sci-fi genre. In fact, almost all the action scenes are based on virtual reality, so depending on whether or not you would like that concept, you'll find yourself either loving the refreshing way she describes these scenes or being frustrated that the tech-savvy jargon is a bit harder to grasp.

Like I said, I really love, admire, and trust Marie Lu's writing, so when an insta-romance appeared between the two main characters, I was a little dubious with the way she approached it. Because of Day and June, I was used to a love story with a gradual arc and unpredictable complexity. Something about Emika and Hideo (the main characters in Warcross) was just too easy for me to believe it completely - almost to the point where the romance got stale, became nothing but pages of lustful kisses and secret rendezvous that proved to be irritatingly irrelevant to the main plot arc. I should have known a plot twist was in the works though.

The only thing that was kind of a bummer was that Hideo's complexity didn't surface until the last ten pages or so. Because of that, I felt like I didn't receive the satisfaction of watching him grow. I did appreciate it a lot when Emika stayed true to her character, instead of caving into the tempting romance that usually dictates a lot of protagonists' alliances. To be honest, by the end of the book, I found myself being intrigued the most by Zero, the villain. His mysteriousness, meticulousness, and unpredictability aligned more with the interesting characters that Marie Lu usually has in her novels (aka Day).

I do wish that it wasn't such a cliff-hanger. There were so many loose ends that weren't tied by the end, which was why I gave the book a lower rating than I anticipated when I was first starting it. The beginning was the best part for me because all the excitement of being in this new, well-developed world was enough to keep turning the page. (Also, I think it's important to note that I was probably a bit biased. The story that I've been brewing up in my head for the past 2 years has some eerily similar aspects to Lu's world and I wanted to keep reading to figure out if it my story had in fact already been written by this best-selling author. Luckily - and with Alyssa's reassurance - it wasn't exactly the same, which gives me a HUGE relief.)

Emika Fan Art (image from Entertainment Weekly)


Goodreads Summary: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29385546-warcross?ac=1&from_search=true
Rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, April 9, 2017

A Lil Update


  

I am kinda...
like...
really miserable.

Not only because college life is difficult (aka when all the academic, social, financial, family complications come at you in one big kamekameha attack) but because I haven't really been reading or writing all that much anymore. Sure, a lot of it is because I don't have any free time for any leisure reading. But even when I do, I'm just not into it. When I'm reading a new novel, I feel like it's a waste of time. When I'm trying to write a fiction story, I feel guilty for not focusing on my problems in the real world. Either way, I just end up looking for something else to do because I get so frustrated that these hobbies don't give me the peace and satisfaction that I used to get from them.

Admitting that out loud feels like a sick punch to the throat - like I'm saying goodbye to the one thing that has been my comfort and security. I can't help but think about how I'll be like two, three, six years down the road. Will I ever get back into the whole fictional world again? Or does growing up require a trade off between imagination and success? Maybe it's because I'm a STEM major that I'm thinking this way? I can't even articulate my words correctly. I have no idea if this post is making the slightest bit of sense.

I do know that I feel really lost - not just with my career and academic work, but also with my inner self. Books and fictional worlds in general were (are) a big part of me and I don't know why I keep insisting to push them away but now, I get really sad and it's not as easy for me to jump into a new world to distract myself anymore.

Here's a couple of pictures that will hopefully counter the negativity of this update:

 
 

(If you see a nature post on my instagram, 99% of the time it's because I'm feeling blue-er than usual. I think it's a funny way to keep track of my emo social media moments lol) 

Friday, December 16, 2016

It's Been A While

Welp, I failed in all endeavors to update this blog while I was away at college. There were many times I felt the need to post something, but these actually take a lot of time and thought from me, and in the grind of school, those things aren't expendable, not like they were in high school and over break.

Now that I'm on winter break and don't have to think about school for a whole month, I figured I'd start these reviews (more like rants) again.

Being an English major and taking all humanities courses this past semester I had to do A LOT of reading. But here I will be focusing on my leisurely reading done over college, which wasn't a lot. I may eventually do a review on the Iliad or other words I thoroughly enjoyed during this semester, but the focus is on the three books I read during the past four months for nothing more than pure enjoyment:

  1. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
  2. A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
  3. A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab
(I actually just finished another one of Schwab's works, Vicious, but that was finished over break so it doesn't count here; review to come independently later)

I've been on the hunt for Song of Achilles since this summer but was only able to obtain the book just before I left for college. I brought it with me on my cross-country journey to a new state and new school but didn't start it until I got into the groove of college-level education, which was around mid-September, also coincidentally around the same time I finished the Iliad for my Greek and Roman Mythology class. 
The Song of Achilles was a beautifully written novel, unique despite its classic basis. I was actually able to write about the novel in my final paper for the course since the topic was on a modern retelling of myth. Here's a little excerpt: "While the entire plot of the Iliad can be traced back to the theme of its opening line, Achilles’s rage, the true meaning of Homer’s song is debated in modern times by Madeline Miller, author of Orange Prize-winning 2012 novel, The Song of Achilles. With the title itself being a clear parallel to the Iliad’s opening lines, it may come as a surprise that the novel is, first and foremost, a love story" 
And a love story it is--a tragic one. Even if a reader does know the outcome of Achilles and Patroclus (like me), the book is still an emotional rollercoaster, following events even after main characters' deaths. I was sobbing in my dorm through the last 60 pages, and then had to leave for a date party like 30 minutes later. I was a mess, and this book gave me the biggest book hangover I've felt probably since All for the Game trilogy from summer break. The love between Achilles and Patroclus was so raw yet soft and endearing, and its ultimate doom was a tragic arc to follow but mesmerizing all the same. I'm a masochist and would often pick the book off my shelf just to read through the scene of Achilles's reaction to Patroclus's death, a horrible event in both the Iliad and The Song of Achilles. Of course, I had some issues over how some heroes of the Trojan War were portrayed, but each retelling of mythology is entitled to its unique interpretation, and overall, I appreciated Miller's. 5/5

The next book I read for leisure didn't come until November. Until then, I'd spent my reading time on An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, an author I wholly appreciate as a person and as an activist in many issues, but for some reason, I could not for the life of me get into her acclaimed novel. Perhaps I'll try again later, but as of now I'm stuck at 60% and feel little inclination to finish the last 40.

Image result for a darker shade of magic coverAnyway, I finally finished another fun book in November, and that book was A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. This book was absolute magic. I can find no better word to embody this novel. I'd had on my Kindle since the first book went on sale for ~$2 on Amazon. I've been eyeing this book for a while, but I only started reading for the sake to get away from An Ember in the Ashes, which I was also reading on my Kindle. Soon, I found that this was the book I'd been looking for all semester, something wonderful and imaginative and magical. The characters are vivid and enjoyable and really come off the page, but I am personally partial to Lila Bard, the female lead of the series. Her quotes, such as "I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still", stuck with me, and I adored her as a person. I mean, it's pretty hard for me to not fall in love with a cross-dressing thief-pirate with a knack for making the worst decision and pulling them off. Also her thing for knives and magic is pleasant. I could go on forever and ever about Lila Bard and Kell and Rhy and the rest of this book with its beautiful and diverse worldbuilding, but I will keep this short and say that this was one of my favorite books of 2016, as was its sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. There is one scene in this that I pretty much have memorized, along with other scenes that were equally wonderful.I hungrily anticipate the third and final book, A Conjuring of Light!

5/5: A Darker Shade of Magic
5/5: A Gathering of Shadows


Friday, August 26, 2016

Mini Reviews: Mean Streak, The Wrath and the Dawn, & Slammed

Ahh, I haven't been on here in a while, so please excuse my very poorly-written reviews. None of them contain spoilers, but none of them contain summaries of the content either. (Feel free to click on the Goodreads link beforehand) It's basically just my thoughts on what I liked and disliked. I've been in a major reading slump this whole year, so I'm really grateful to have come across some great novels this summer.


Mean Streak by Sandra Brown is one of the first adult fiction novels I've read and I loved it. Not gonna lie, I mainly bought this book because it was only $3 in the bargain section at Barnes and Noble, but girrl let me tell you - this is such an exciting, action-packed read. There were so many plot twists and secrets that you can't help but keep turning the page. Since the book is definitely geared towards mature readers, I would definitely say that the romance is a lot more...intense (sex is not censored lol) so proceed with caution if you're not used to that stuff. On a more serious note, the problems that these characters have to deal with (marriage, affairs, death, rape, etc.) can be an eye-opener because no matter how far-fetched and ridiculous it may play out in a fictional story, these horrible things happen in real life to real people. Brown does a good job of manipulating the readers' feelings to suit the plot, and this played a big factor in leading us to certain conclusions while she's setting up something completely different without us knowing. You won't get bored with this book and I highly, highly recommend!!

Goodreads Summary: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20454672-mean-streak?from_search=true
Rating: 5/5
*Recommended for mature audiences (18+)

As someone who isn't a huge fanatic about fantasy novels, The Wrath and the Dawn (#1) and The Rose and the Dagger (#2) by Renee Ahdieh were surprisingly addicting. First of all, I didn't know that this duo-logy was supposed to be a retelling of Arabian Nights, until Alyssa told me. Second of all, I don't even know the premise of Arabian Nights, so it wouldn't have made a difference in my opinion of the novels anyway. The world is beautifully described; the middle-eastern culture is so richly & consistently portrayed in everything: language, wardrobe, names, etc. One of the things I couldn't get enough of was the relationship between the two main characters: Sharzhad and Khalid. Renee Ahdieh did a good job of showing that relationships are much more than possession, which is a very crucial message to send out to younger teens. It was because they were two parts of a whole. He did not belong to her. And she did not belong to him. It was never about belonging to someone. It was about belonging together.” -The Rose and the Dagger One of the notable themes that the author made sure to incorporate was feminism - and just how important it is in any culture. Sharzhad is an extremely strong character yet she's rational and doesn't lose her wits when she doesn't get what she wants. She can handle her own and doesn't need anyone to save her from anything. It contains a bit of mystery and magic as well, so if you're into that, check it out. (If you're not into that, check it out anyway. It's good.)

Goodreads Summary: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18798983-the-wrath-the-dawn?ac=1&from_search=true
Rating for both books: 4.5/5

Colleen Hoover! Such a well-known author in the contemporary genre. I don't know why I didn't pick up her books sooner. I read Slammed (#1) and Point of Retreat (#2) and they're the type of books that pull you out of an extremely long reading slump. At least, that's what happened in my case. I believe this is also categorized in adult fiction, but it's not as graphic as Sandra Brown's novels. This is mostly a romance/contemporary novel, unlike the books above which dabble in varying genres. Although that might sound appalling and boring to some people, trust me, it's not. Unless you don't like romance at all...then in that case, I wouldn't recommend this to you. The chemistry between the characters are so fun to read that it becomes normal to read one of these Hoover novels in a day. I'm a huge sucker for romance, but a lot of the times, I end up not finishing contemporary novels because it's too boring to go through. I was worried that this was how this book was going to turn out in the beginning because there's that instant, love-at-first-sight sort of passage within the first couple pages. However, the one thing that's different with this is that there are many plot twists and that factor is good enough to make you keep going. The characters have to deal with some heavy stuff like death, grief, and illness, which makes them very relatable and all the more better. One last thing I loved was the incorporation of spoken word poetry. In order to achieve the feeling of this, Hoover emphasizes different words by italicizing them or breaking them down - all so that you can try to hear it being performed as you're reading, which is very cool.

Goodreads Summary: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13372690-slammed?from_search=true
Rating for both books: 4/5

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pride Month and Literature

June is almost over, which puts me closer to going away for college, aka not having all the time in the world to read and write. But I'm excited for college!
This month has been...tumultuous. From Orlando, to Brexit, to every tragedy in between, this month hasn't been the kindest to the world. I'm not a very emotional person, but there have been moments during this month where I just want to fall on the floor and cry for every hurt people have felt and continue to endure for the sake of love. I support the LGBTQ+ community, I support the starry-eyed and hopeful youth, I support tolerant and loving people, I support love. Love is love, and if you don't believe that the rest of this post probably isn't for you (the blog probably isn't for you) 
With that said, this month I immersed myself in literature featuring LGBTQ+ leads. It started unintentionally, but when I did notice the trend, I carried it through the month.
It doesn't count but I read The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater back in May, and yeah...Pynch is the shit.

June reads:
1. King's Rising by CS Pacat
2. The Foxhole Court by Nora Sakavic 
3. The Raven King by Nora Sakavic
4. The King's Men by Nora Sakavic
5. Check, Please! updates by Ngozi (this is a webcomic, not a book but fuck it)
6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

And what do you know, every single one of these books features a main couple that is gay. 

In Pacat's trilogy, you have a slow burn between Prince Damianos/Damen (bi) and Prince Laurent (gay). What I really enjoyed about Pacat's fantasy world was how normalized the LGBTQ+  features of the story were. In Vere, it's typical to be in same-sex relationship, and in Akielos it's up to your taste from what I can tell. And no one judged Laurent for sleeping with Damen because it was gay, but because he killed his brother, which is honestly such a better reason to question someone's relationship. But no matter their pasts, these two murdered me with the conclusion of the Captive Prince trilogy. Thinking over it now, I'm totally going to properly review King's Rising as the book deserves.

My last post was about All for the Games trilogy, so I won't go into too much detail. All I have to say is that the main relationship isn't all fluff and nice, but rarely are the best relationships. Both of these guys have their problems, but it's in the way they support and understand each other that makes them such a good fit. Neil and Andrew are both forces of nature, and sometimes it's a surprise one hasn't killed the other. Then you have to remember that Andrew only wants to commit murder 90% of the time he's with Neil (inside joke to the book, I'm sorry). Andrew has touching issues, which totally makes sense considering the sexual abuse he endured as a child, and Neil respects his boundaries fully, and it's so nice to see two people understand and accept each other. This couple took a long time to get together, but the building relationship between them in TFC and TRK are just as intriguing to follow and watch develop.

As alluded Check, Please! isn't a book, but a webcomic by super talented artist Ngozi. The webcomic is accessible via tumblr for free and please do yourselves a favor and READ IT. I got into this thanks to a stray post by someone I follow on tumblr. It spoiled the end of Year 2 for me but I didn't care because the whole story is amazing (and barely halfway over). There's still so much time for shit to go down, which makes me terrified because the main couple is so perfect and adorable and healthy. Like, if you compare Year 1 Jack Zimmermann to Year 3 Jack Zimmermann, you can see the change. Jack is currently engulfed in the glow of love, and he needs that more than anything as he starts his NHL career. There is underlying angst in this couple/story because they both have to keep the relationship a secret from everyone, including their best friends, for the sake of Jack's career. But man, cute as shit, and if you don't want to read this for the couple, read it for the characters!! The SMH team is full of hilarious and unique characters, and this comic is a national treasure. 

Finally, the book I got from Barnes and Noble yesterday at ~4 PM and finished just before midnight that same day...Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Now, let me tell you the feature of this book that really got me: identity. Chicano identity, sexual identity, just pure 'who am I' identity. As a Chicana, there was one word in this whole book that really got to me: pocho. In Spanish, it means half-assed Mexican. And never have I felt a single word hit me harder. I'm not going to talk about my struggles with cultural identity, but this book hit me hard. It probably would've hit me harder if I had read it a few years back, when I knew less about who I truly am. Now that I have a clue of what kind of person I am, the story didn't rip me to shreds as much as it once could've. That doesn't mean the story didn't kill me. Sáenz's writing style is short and seemingly simplistic, but with his words he carries depth and emotion. I would be smiling down at this book, then rubbing my eyebrows because 'holy hell did that just happen?', then on the verge of tears because this book got me in places not many other book have. Ari and Dante are totally different people that mesh together perfectly. From Dante's first words to Ari to the last damn chapter, I was routing for them. I am kind of upset I read this book so fast because it was totally unintentional. I got it at Barnes because I felt the need to go out and do something, and then next thing I know I'm in a severe book hangover in the dead of night, listening to Radiohead. But I was revived at the news that there will be sequel to this, and you can bet your ass that I am going to pre-order it and read it all in one day and probably turn into a pile of tears. I'm excited to see where Ari and Dante's journey and relationship goes in the sequel, and I'm sure I will be re-reading snippets of this book for a while.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe: 5/5 stars

Friday, June 24, 2016

All for the Game Trilogy



You know, I truly consider myself an avid reader. There are definitely people who run book blogs who read a lot faster than me (and put up better reviews) but I still think I'm a well-paced reader. That said I can't remember the last time I read a book in 24 hours...let alone for 3 days in a row.

Meet the series that changed that: All for the Game trilogy by Nora Sakavic
Book I. The Foxhole Court, finished 6.20
Book II. The Raven King, finished 6.21
Book III. The King's Men, finished 6.22

Spoilers to follow...

I picked up this series upon recommendations after completing the Captive Prince trilogy (I will maybe do a full review for King's Rising later, but to skip to the end I gave it 5/5 stars). I didn't know what to expect but it sure as hell wasn't this. It sounds typical, yes, but it's the truth. Part of me was prepared for a story taken over by 'the college experience' aka drinking, partying, hooking up. And while there were those elements in the book, it didn't consume the story. Another piece of me was expecting lighthearted tones despite the premise of the book. I laugh thinking about that expectation now because it was CRUSHED.

Pictured right: Foxhole fanart by squidwithelbows.tumblr.com. She's great check her out!! (Top to bottom: Neil Josten, Kevin Day, Andrew Minyard)

Every character in this series is a mess, which is exactly why they're brought together at Palmetto State to play Exy. I will not attempt to explain Exy to you but it is violent (like ice hockey violent) which makes it very exciting for a person like me. Contact sports are my shit to play and watch and now read about lol.
Back to characters. The team has a natural rift between them. There's the upperclassmen: Dan, Matt, Allison, and Renee. These guys have their own layers of problems (not with each other but themselves) but they have nothing on the other half of their team: the monsters, as the upperclassmen refer to them as.
Kevin, Andrew, Aaron, and Nicky. All of them have their shitty problems, probably with Nicky getting it off easiest with his homophobic and hyper-religious parents who think he is pure sin. Sounds pretty lame, but just read about everyone else's situations. But I love Nicky as the only open gay character in the first book. He's flirty despite having a boyfriend back in Germany but also the safest out of the monsters to approach. Out of the four I think he is the only one that would say hi to me. But that doesn't keep me from loving the monsters, especially Andrew!!
Andrew and Aaron are twin brothers, though they didn't know each other for most of their lives. If there wasn't the reminder that they are brothers, you would think they hate each other (and maybe they kind of do. Like I said, everyone is messed up). Andrew is dubbed a sociopath by even his own group and fits the part with his violent spells, calloused personality, and psychotic smile, as caused by his meds. I do not have the heart to spoil or talk about what happens to Andrew in TRK but to summarize: it crushed my spirit and this boy will always be very important to me as a character.
The protagonist of the series is Neil Josten. Just another boy with a messed up past and uncertain future? Yes! But while he has a screwed up past like his new teammates, his is a lot more lethal and deadly. As the only son of the Butcher, a notorious mobster who loves his cleaver and carved up bodies, Neil has been on the run for the last eight years. He was raised in a horrendous way that causes him to react differently to what seems to normal to us. He has a mental breakdown over getting a phone, guys. This boy is precious to me I mean just look at him (once again amazing art by squidwithelbows.tumblr.com)

I don't really know what made me so addicted to this book. Some of my favorite things to see and write about in stories is a group dynamic, and All for the Game nails this. The rift between the Foxes seems impossible to mend at the beginning of the series but by the last game of their season you see that they're a family. They may not all get along but that doesn't matter. They are jagged pieces that fit together to make a whole, beautiful family. Even before their win over the Ravens, Neil can see that his team is a home like he's never had before, and he's willing to fight for it, no matter how much it will hurt him. He went to Evermore Castle, literally the hellhole that is their enemy's lair, just to make sure Andrew got out of the hospital fine and the Foxes were safe over winter break. TRK destroyed me, from Neil turning himself over to the biggest demonic asshole to exist, Riko Moriyama, to Andrew in general. I think it might be my favorite book in the trilogy but that is very hard to say.

This series was suspenseful, wonderfully written by Sakavic, and composed of some of the best characters I've ever read. As I write this review, I realize that I can't embody the pure emotion I have for this series. I laid on the floor, blasting music and staring at the wall, after finishing TKM because it was over. This trilogy I sold my time and heart to for 3 days had met THE END. I haven't dared to open another book because this book hangover is severe. It is even affecting my writing, which is not appreciated but I would never have missed out on the opportunity to read this. I can genuinely say that this book series has impacted me as a person, reader, and writer.

The Foxhole Court- 5/5
The Raven King- 5/5
The King's Men- 5/5