Saturday, June 29, 2019

Truly Devious & The Woman in the Window

Starting off the summer with some crime novels! Not gonna lie, with the excitement/anxiety of school being over, a bunch of distractions have been making my reading life a little dry. The only reason I got to finish these two books is because work still allots me a good hour or two of free time and I have no choice but whip out a book and pretend like I'm doing something scholarly.

I honestly don't remember much from reading Truly Devious, just that the story was heavily driven by setting, instead of mysterious events (which is what I tend to see in adult thriller books). I'm not sure if it was simply because I wasn't in the mood yet again, but I wasn't really invested in the characters and the storyline. I didn't care too much if the killer was caught or if the missing people were eventually found, which might be entirely my fault who knows but that's never a good sign when reading, right? Anyway, I did remember feeling annoyed because I felt like none of the big questions were answered by the time I finished it since this is the first installment in the series. I hate it when books do that man! When they leave you hanging because another one is bound to be released anyway >:( I do wanna give props to Maureen Johnson because I didn't know she wrote mystery! I always read her books in middle school but they were romance, contemporary and it's pretty nice seeing her in different genres.

Next! The Woman in the Window! This one, I did take notes on. A half-inked post it note is on my screen right now because I knew I had to write things down for the sake of remembering the good parts. First of all, I LOVE the way A.J. Finn writes. (I just looked up the author and oh my goodness I was under the impression that it was a girl this whole time but it's actually A MAN! why does this surprise me? and why do i feel like my whole review has been warped?....whatever) He is so SO good with describing things in an eerily beautiful way like I jotted down a couple quotes from the first hundred pages to give you an idea:

"legs shrink-wrapped in Lululemon" (page 3)
"pale ridge of her spine, her shoulder blades like stunted wings" (page 4)
"swollen with longing" (page 46)
"smear yourself along his sofa" (page 76)
"steeples her fingers" (86) i think i wanted to include this because i liked the word 'steeple'
"pulpy sunset, dregs of dusk" (93)

I'm not sure if I've said this before but one of the trends in thriller books is that the beginning is often kind of slow. It's a lot of careful character and world building, to make sure every detail is placed before the action happens. And usually, the action doesn't actually start picking up until well over halfway of the book. So the thing I appreciated and the thing that kept me reading this particular story was the writing style. Very addicting syntax, in my opinion.

Other things I liked: I thought it depicted agoraphobia really terrifyingly well. I wouldn't know because I don't have it BUT it did give me a glimpse of why this fear is present in some people and how much it actually affects their lives. Scary stuff! The pacing was really fast too, which I liked. Each chapter is less than 10 pages long which helps me flip through them quicker because I feel like I'm getting somewhere. Oh! Also, I really liked the main character. Usually, it's rare for me to because you can never really trust the main characters in thriller novels since they might very well be the crazy ones (doesn't mean I'm ruling that archetype out for this one) but I felt for her! Her guilt and longing for her family; her little odd quirks (reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant in some ways); her flaw in trusting people too quickly; her LONELINESS. I think that's why it's crazy for me to know that the writer was actually a man, just because he slipped into the female psyche pretty well. I would say that I wasn't really surprised at any of the plot twists. I don't know why but I always figured it out right before the twist happened - like literally the page before, I'd be able to guess. But it doesn't mean it was a bad book! I really enjoyed it actually.

Truly Devious : 2/5 stars
The Woman in the Window : 4/5 stars

Monday, May 27, 2019

Again, but Better (aka the point where I stop trying to be creative with titles)

It's hard to ignore how special this story is considering we know the author so well. I've watched Christine for a while, ever since her comedy sketch about pronouncing Hermione "Her-my-own". It's really cool seeing her actually complete her novel and the fact that she documented the entire thing on her YouTube channel?? That in itself is extremely inspiring and admirable and I commend her for it!! The story was cute and quirky enough for me to get through in two days. The plot itself was pretty interesting, kind of a version of 17 Again but in classic '90s romcom atmosphere.

I would say, it was really hard distinguishing Christine from the main character Shane. Shane's voice, her likes and dislikes, her quirks, her blog, everything is Christine. They are one in the same, and I think because of that, it was a little weird to read? It read more like a fanfic at times, which (I was telling Alyssa) isn't bad, no hate on fanfiction, but I do think there's a difference between fanfiction and books on the shelves. And you can't really get around the countless years of experience and skill practice to improve your writing, so in this case, it was apparent that this was a 'beginner' novel if that makes sense? I sound really mean and hypocritical I mean what do I know - but I think it's worth noting the interesting results of birthing a book from internet stardom like this, ya know? Because this has rarely been done before, I would assume that it's just one of those things that you can't really see coming when you already have an audience who knows you so well as an author.

That being said, it was really cool getting to read a product I watched video to video in the making. Congrats to Christine and I can't wait to read the next one!

Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Cruel Prince

I feel like this is a hit or miss among readers and sadly, it was a miss for me. I don't know - I just never got fully invested with the story or its characters. Although the Faerie world is cool, I didn't care much for it? I think a big dictator of my appeal to a story is the character composition and in here, it was kind of...not that interesting. Maybe it was a little too cliche or juvenile for my taste. I feel really mean but it was hard for me to get through this one - even when the romance peaked, I wasn't charmed by it in the slightest, which is weird because I'm very easily charmed.

But it could also be that I wasn't in the mood for this type of story? I don't know.

If there's anything I'd praise, it'd be the world building! That was the most interesting part and I wanted to see more of the faerie world without the main character's narrow eyesight.

Rating: 1/5 stars
Goodreads summary:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A Christian Historical Romance

I read this because it was recommended by Tashapolis on YouTube and she described it as "really good" and the ratings across all markets were also pretty unanimous about it being "really good". This historical romance is based of the Book of Hosea from the Hebrew Bible.

The first half of the book, I'm not gonna lie, was so difficult for me to get through. I'll try not to spoil too much but the main character Sarah goes through so much hardship that it's almost unbearable to read from her eyes. I guess that would be my only warning: this isn't lighthearted! Very different from the rom-com novels I'm used to. I dreaded having to go back into this world just to dive back into her anguish and unfortunate circumstances. Like if I was having a bad day, I'd try to read this book and my day would just turn even more sorrowful because of what Sarah has to go through.

Anyway, for some reason, I convinced myself to keep going ('some reason' being that this was actually really hard to obtain from the library and also because I wanted to see why it had gotten such good ratings). The second half of the book was great. I think it totally made up for the first half and by the end, you understand as a reader why all that bad stuff had to happen, not unlike the feeling of looking back at your own bad experiences and accepting it was necessary to have gone through them. The conclusion and character arc was powerful enough to resolve everything into a satisfying read. It's a gigantic complex arc for character development and along with the characters, you feel every ounce of guilt, hate, self-loathe they feel, but also patience, faith, redemption, and serenity.

I keep repeating it but the characters are really well done. Francine Rivers is a master at working with character flaws and letting that be the groundwork for relatability within the audience. Every character in here I related to...and that's kinda weird considering this was written in the 1850s during the California gold rush. The thing that I definitely appreciated the most - and probably one of the main reasons why it's so acclaimed - is the message about God's undying love for sinners. I usually steer away from thinking about these things but the Biblical messages are constantly present and interweaved throughout the story and it's not something that sits lightly on your chest when you're trying to grasp the magnitude of that God-given love it's trying to illustrate.

To wrap it up, here's an accurate and beautiful art portrayal from THEJANARENEE

Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Fran's Review on Six of Crows 4 years after Lys's Review

Hello, I am here fresh from flipping through the last page of Leigh Bardugo's acknowledgements for Six of Crows. This is the link to Alyssa's original review in 2015 . Man, where do I start! The first thing I want to say is that Bardugo is an INCREDIBLE writer and it shows; I can't really pinpoint what she does differently and granted, every writer has their own renowned style, but stepping into the Grisha universe for the first time really astounded me. The world building was like no other and every nook and cranny seemed to be filled with real characters and real plot and a real world. Am I making sense? I'm trying to say it just seems like there's nothing that she didn't think of when building this empire and that's the reality of mastering the craft I guess, like you can just tell she's a writer and she knows what she's doing.

Going off of how vibrant and tangible this world is, it's the same way with her characters. They are all so fully-fleshed out and wonderfully executed (not literally) on paper. She uses the perfect amount of description to make us feel like we know them really well by the end of the book but also knows how to avoid over-saturating each chapter with too much dialogue or too much characterization (which I think is a common folly that just ends up making characters feel flat and boring) - I don't know everything just felt so well-done. Like if I was a teacher and if I was grading her work, damn I would send in my recommendation for some kind of special award right away.

So the book is told from multiple perspectives and it surrounds six characters, embarking on this crazy heist. The plot flashes from present time to the past and gently weaves in the background context to how they all end up in this scenario and why they are the way they are. I really appreciated that the plot was never predictable; I don't think I could ever figure out what was going to happen next and that proved to be something that kept me hooked 'till the very last page. I do want to say though that because this was my first taste of the Grisha universe, a lot of new information was thrust in my face and I didn't really know how to wrap my mind around it until a bit later when I thankfully forced myself to keep going.  It took my 153 pages to really get invested and involved in the story (I think a big part of that was because Avengers: End Game had been on my mind since I saw it, along with stress of school so it's all to say that reading this book was not really the first think I wanted to do but this is actually dipping into another topic that I will probably write about very soon so let's veer back before I get way too off track) and OF COURSE me being me, the one thing that nicked my attention in place was the teeeeeeeensiest tiiiiiiiiniest bit of romance that Bardugo dangles subtley over our heads from page 153 onward. Ugh, I'm sorry I'm such a sucker for that stuff I can't help it.

I'm going to agree with 2015 Lys and say that my favorite character was definitely Inej as well, specifically because she made being invisible feel FRICKIN COOL. Not being seen or heard when you enter the room? It's a potential point of insecurity that she turns into a superpower. My next favorite is Nina because she's sassy but badass and then Kaz because I can always believe he has the upper hand even when he doesn't (and I love those spurts of sudden vulnerability sprinkled throughout the story) then comes Jesper and Wyland tied with one another and then finally, Matthias.

I don't know why it took me so long to read Six of Crows but this is leading me to back track and say: I should've taken all of Lys's book recommendations to heart. In addition to Leigh Bardugo, I've devoured books that I didn't even realize Lys already wrote reviews for: from V.E. Schwab (This Savage Song) to Sarah J. Maas (ACOMAF series) to Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles and I am constantly in awe of how powerful and comforting stories like these can be. Plus, they're written incredibly well and definitely worth keeping on your shelf to refer back to whenever you want to know what good writing is like.

Rating: 5/5

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:
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:
Rating: 3.5/5