Howl’s Moving Castle (Howl’s Moving Castle #1) by Diana Wynne Jones
Published August 1st 2001 by Harper Trophy (first published April 1986)
Source: Audiobook gifted
Rating: ★★★★☆

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

“Well, he’s fickle, careless, selfish, and hysterical… He’s a mess.”

This was magical.

Howl is the most extra, sullen drama queen – “Help me, someone! I’m dying from neglect up here!” – thoughtless and vain yet sweet and thoughtful; Michael is a good, sweet little bean doing his best amidst the chaos; Calcifer is a sulky, grumpy fire demon, ready for said chaos; Sophie is self-deprecating but headstrong and savage, self-asserting and a bit of a busybody, independent and no-nonsense and, honestly, the best; together, they were the best kind of messy, and I‌ love them all.

“She felt he ought with that face to have been more unsure of himself”

And, honestly, I’m not just saying this because I‌ loved the Ghibli movie. In fact, they’re rather drastically different:‌ the movie is innocent and dreamy and sweepingly romantic, whereas this is far more whimsical, Sophie much more nosy and snarky, the plot chock-full of sentient objects and muttering fire-demons and the dreaded green slime. The book and movie are like… distant cousins? with elements of the same thing, but diverging executions, and utterly engaging in their own ways.

I love the subtle magics, and the little pieces of foreshadowing – the hats, the stick, the skull, the dog, the door, and so on – that come together so easily and perfectly, and the seemingly effortless depth and sprawl of the worldbuilding.

If I‌ had to point out a weakness, I‌’d say that the writing style can lean toward distant or stiff at times, but is revived with sprinkles of Sophie’s upright but wry sense of humor.

Howl’s Moving Castle is fantastic, and the audiobook version just as so. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in reading this, I’d highly recommend you do!

“I think we ought to live happily ever after.”

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
Published January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes—a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love—and that love violates the fair folks’ ruthless laws. Now both of their lives are forfeit, unless Isobel can use her skill as an artist to fight the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

I didn’t really intend for my past week’s reads to all be books on the fae, but somehow that’s the way it turned out, and, well, I’m really not complaining. Give me aaaallllll the fae books!!

But. So. Yes. An Enchantment of Ravens.

“Somehow I’ve even grown fond of your – your irritating questions, and your short legs, and your accidental attempts to kill me.”

The writing is really. Smooth? Is that the word?‌ I can’t think up a better one at the moment, but it flows so nicely, one thing into the other, a gentle, meandering sort of prose that’s really just suited to the story – reads like a real fairytale. An Enchantment of Ravens isn’t without its flaws – and yeah, there are many, starting but not limited to the jolt that was the beginning of their relationship, the fact that Rook is endearing but childishly so, and Isobel is headstrong and mature, her feet firmly on the ground, and call me a cynic but that all but spells a recipe for future disaster, the entirely transparent “morally grey” character, and the entirely too neat, glossing, two-paragraph summary that was the ending – but the writing leads you gently through them, has you enjoying the story just the same.

The worldbuilding is dynamic and glamorously rich, Gadfly’s court a balance of luxurious and unsettling, and Isobel’s family unruly and endearing and so, so precious. An Enchantment of Ravens treats arts, treats Crafts with the gentlest, daintiest hand – the descriptions of Isobel’s creations, especially while she was painting them, almost made me want to pick up the brush as well. I‌ mean.‌ Until I remember that I’m absolutely positively awful at the fine arts. Miserably so, really. A tragedy.

Rook’s a little surly, entirely‌ vain, but it works for him. Maybe a little too well. It’s adorable, really, and throughout the novel, all I‌ could picture was a disgruntled-looking raven with his head halfway-stuck through a barely-opened window, or in the later chapters, as the book so aptly puts it, a cat watching its favorite furniture get moved without its permission. (Also, Rook re: his not-brown-but-copper outfit is me re: my fifty shades of navy shirts)

Isobel is practical and dependable, clever and adaptable. She’s careful and considerate in an almost crafty sort of way. I‌ wish her all the best things in life, including omelets for breakfast every morning, to her heart’s desire.

(I had this niggling thought throughout the novel, stronger in hindsight, that Isobel’s too much Rook’s savior, too much Rook’s caretaker for them to live happily-beyond-the-ending. Also, another niggling-thought-turned-clear-hindsight-revelation: the plot’s pretty convoluted?‌ It sets off doing one thing, but halfway through shifts axes completely? The journeying and court-hopping was interesting to read about, but woah – in hindsight, that wasn’t what was explained to us at all.)

An Enchantment of Ravens had an almost melodramatic flourish at times, but it was coupled with bursts of oddity – goat sister arguments, Rook’s unexpected and disgruntled childishness and/or vanity, Isobel sitting on a sword to end an argument – that, somehow, the overall tone didn’t seem too bad, too over-the-top.

So, all in all, An Enchantment of Ravens wasn’t a perfect read, but the writing was beautiful and engaging and, dare I say, made up or otherwise covered for a significant portion of the story’s faults. It’s pretty. It’s whimsical. And that cover?‌ To die for.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Published January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

I‌ don’t think Holly Black’s books have ever been a hit or a miss for me – I’ve found her books all fairly middling, and The Darkest Part of the Forest was no different.

The beginning was fairytale-mysterious: a faerie boy, asleep in a glass coffin in the woods. There were changelings and strange notes and knights and protective mothers, and the twist at the end was both fitting and surprising. There was bits of high-school, bits on growing up, and bits of crackle-dark faerie fantasy all mixed together. The setting of Fairfolk, in particular, was my favorite thing, and how it managed to combine all the whimsy and eerie strangeness of The Darkest Part of the Forest’s fantastical elements with more mundane parts of an entirely ordinary town.

I‌ also really appreciated Hazel and Ben’s relationship. Often, I‌ find sibling relationships are portrayed as all or nothing, as siblings who share eVERYTHING with each other, or siblings who are so cold and distant you’d think them strangers. Hazel and Ben are close, but their relationship navigates its bumps and craters; there are secrets and jealousies and worries, just as there are lighthearted ribbing and support and care.

But, an okay read, a middling book, you may ask? And, yes. Quite honestly, I‌ think I‌ was more in love with the idea than the execution. Though at the opening, the writing is perfectly atmospheric and fairytale-ambling, it gradually grows to feel dry. Hazel was strong and brave… but hard to read at times, not an easy person to sympathize with at others, and dry. Ben was even harder to grasp as a character than Hazel was, and though the book certainly tried on both their behaves, to paint them in favorable and relatable lights, I just felt oddly detached. There was nothing inherently wrong with them, but nothing that really worked for them, either. It’s a little strange because the book spends so much time describing the siblings though the eyes of the other, and so we know so much about the two, but, still, they don’t seem to have much personality. I felt a little bad for Jack, the cinnamon roll character Doing His Best, but he was just… kind of… there? for most of the story? And Severin, for all his gorgeous introductions and mysterious circumstances, once awakened, was dull and dry and dry, dry, dry.

The pacing wanders in the beginning, skips a little, and then s l o w s. The attempts and build-up to the climax feel lost under the loose pieces of everything else. There’s not a lot of tension, and the stakes, though mentioned, don’t actually seem very significant. Toward the end, there came a point where I‌ was just tempted to skim through the rest because of how little substance each page was coming to actually cover.

Hazel and Ben’s respective romantic relationships, too, felt… off?‌ Lacked build-up. Like neither of them really developed from anything, but somehow they were there, they happened. (Though, the ending really was pretty cute-)

“Well fine, then. I‌ could send you out to win my favor. Possibly on a quest involving bringing a large mug of coffee and a doughnut. Or the wholesale slaughter of all my enemies. I‌ haven’t decided which.”

TL;DR: while I‌ liked the individual ideas and elements, as well as the setting and the first half of the book, The Darkest Part of the Forest gradually grew to feel dry, and a little tedious.

Ironskin (Ironskin #1) by Tina Connolly
Published October 2nd 2012 by Tor Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.

It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain—the ironskin.

When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation”—a child born during the Great War—Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.

Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio…and come out as beautiful as the fey.

Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life—and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.

I’ve never read Jane Eyre, but fey and steampunk were my first YA book loves, and so it was pretty hard to resist Ironskin (and, that description of Rochart’s studio in the synopsis! woow). Ultimately, though, I‌ ended up waffling between stars because none of them felt quiiiite right.

I loved the moody, gloomy, whispery, dark atmosphere of the story! The writing was so wonderfully atmospheric and just clicked into place alongside the fey, steampunk, fantastical, and historical elements. And, at some places, Ironskin really delivered:‌ the idea behind the fey-cursed war victims and the iron masks to limit the curses (such as curses of rage!) were fresh and fascinating.

I‌t was hard to keep up with the author’s intentions, however, and in every sense. Though the parts of the world-building that I‌ did grasp were interesting, there were a lot of parts of the world-building and background set-up that simply fell through the cracks; rather than on solid foundations, the story felt settled on tenuous ground. There were a lot of things about the fey, a lot of secondary characters, and even some actions made by the main characters that were confusing, out of place, or otherwise awkward and seemingly ill-fitted to the plot, even though the result was that things lined up the way they had to for the next stage in the story’s development.

And, the characters?‌ The characters! Jane was sweet and put-together, but lacked the presence of a main character – she felt pretty thin, if that makes sense. Rochart’s character is dark and brooding, but falls leagues short of the “mysterious and alluring” category, and plunges headfirst into “moody and creepy.” His character is confusing, his characterization weak, and his romance? with Jane made me really confused – they barely know each other!! They said like two things to each other outside of his daughter, and he was a major moody creep for all of it!!! Dorie had the potential to be an interesting character, but her plot thread was start-stop jerky, uneven, and confusing, as if most of it was just a build-up to Rochart’s own “reveal,” but everything was foreshadowed and emphasized so heavily that the cat was basically out of the bag before it really even got into it. On a whole, though, I‌ don’t have too much to say about the characters, primarily because they didn’t seem to carry any depth at all. It was hard to care – in either which way – for them, Jane and Rochart included, when they didn’t feel like much of anything.

And, to wrap things up, the ending too was hard to follow: a lukewarm flavor like the rest of the story, with considerable helpings of confusion.

Ironskin was wonderfully atmospheric and littered with fascinating elements, but ultimately bogged down by confusing plot choices and one-dimensional characters.

全息網遊,這個女主屌炸天 by 云早
Published 2017
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

創建人物時被係統隨機到一個奇葩名字之後,為了避免被現實裏的小夥伴們認出來,沈靜玢破罐子破摔把自己的外貌下調到最低,成為遊戲最醜。誰知道,這年頭連遊戲NPC也看臉怎麽破!不過還好幸運值夠高,隱藏任務,神級寵物,極品裝備排著隊的送上門。就連男神也是自己送上門!

I picked this one up out of curiosity. A lot of people recommended it as having similar elements to other novels I really enjoyed, so I decided to give it a go, but found that those elements didn’t quite work this time around.

The gameplay had the potential to be interesting, but it was full of holes (if that kind of game operated IRL, they would’ve been flamed off the internet). I thought the idea of disgruntled workers operating some of the special NPCs was pretty funny, but, overall, everything was kicked aside, propped up in the background as a pretty scenery for petty love squabbles and assertions of SJB and ZCN’s greatness and superiority, which wasn’t. Wasn’t great.

SJB? She’s super bland for the lack of a better word. She’s got the potential to be cool, or relatable, but she doesn’t end up swinging in any which way mainly because of how she’s written, as a picture-perfect perfection, high up in a place no mortals can touch. I really enjoyed her interactions with her brother, because they were the only snapshots of personality we were able to glean from her, the author otherwise keeping her tightly locked up in a box that blared “THIS MC IS BEAUTIFUL AND PERFECT AND CAN DO EVERYTHING” every other page.

ZCN is a Male Love Interest, as well as the Only One Suitable for SJB, and the author will do their best to remind you of that at every possible turn, and then some. He isn’t the worst, but he isn’t the best. He’s very… standard – he’s got all the elements typical of a love interest, but the way he’s portrayed, like with SJB, sucks any potential personality out of him.

Their relationship makes a lot of sense logically, and, emotionally? HA. Trick question – there is no emotion.

It’s happened: I’ve become old and jaded and grumpy. Hm – maybe not quite, but definitely tired.

My reading tastes have changed, and changed most dramatically over the course of the past year or so. I used to gravitate toward Chinese novels like 一生一世,美人骨 by 墨宝非宝, Japanese novels like 東京レイヴンズ by あざの 耕平 and 心霊探偵八雲 by 神永学 and 魔法科高校の劣等生 by 佐島 勤, and English books a la Mythos Academy by Jennifer Estep and Penryn & the End of Days by Susan Ee and Death Sworn by Leah Cypess. Grand books in the largest of senses, on the biggest of stages, saving the world from one large tragedy or another, be it publicly or silently. Teenage superhero novels, if you will, with a dash of romance.

I still enjoy those types of novels. But lately, more and more, I’ve found myself gravitating toward another kind of read, and noticed this especially when I attempted to clean up my to-read list on Goodreads. Recently, it’s been Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally and The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand; 你是我的荣耀 by 顾漫 and 我不喜歡這世界, 我只喜歡你 by 喬一; 魔女の宅急便 by 角野 栄子 and 窓際のトットちゃん by 黒柳 徹子. Recently, it’s become quieter books – in a sense – books about saving yourself. I’ve gravitated toward character-driven stories, about learning about yourself, about growing up, and about growing old. (It probably has roots in the changes and experiences in my own life, but I’m hardly about to start playing armchair psychologist.)

In an attempt to tackle my ever-ballooning to-read list, I tried blowing through a couple reads over the past few weeks, but found that some of the books I would’ve been so excited and in love with three, four, five years ago, when I first purchased/received them, no longer struck the same chords. It’s… a little strange? A little sad. A little nostalgic, even. Not to mention, I’ve tumbled ass-first out of the typical YA age bracket, and some of the books have, inevitably, begun to feel a little less relatable, and a little less “for me” – because they aren’t quite, not directly, not anymore.

(I wish we could make the NA bracket A Thing.)

But, there will always be books, and more books, and entire sections and genres of books to explore. A shift in reading tastes is nothing groundbreaking, really, and hardly profound. It was just interesting to have shifted like so, slowly, without noticing, and then to have suddenly, via cleaning up my to-read list on Goodreads, turned around and looked back the way I came – and noticed. Woah.

我不喜欢这世界,我只喜欢你 is one of my all-time favorite c-novels, so how could I not watch the drama adaption? Plus, the lead is Janice Wu, and her smile is one of the most adorable things. So.

I’m stupid attached to the original novel title, and was really sad about the drama cutting out the “But… But I don’t like the entire world, I only like you” line!!! It was everything!!!!! “Le Coup De Foudre,” in light of that, is pretty cute – a thunderbolt, literally, or, figuratively, love at first sight – but, seeing as the entire story was about gradual feelings and growing up and growing together, it didn’t seem to fit as well?

And in a similar vein, whilst the drama kept the main cast the same as that of the novel, the drama became really tragic. Both follows, in the most general of terms, the MC’s journey from childhood to adulthood, and her concurrent relationship with her crazy-smart childhood desk-mate, YM, who eventually becomes her husband. The book dealt with some heavy stuff, namely the MC’s insecurities and the childhood incidents that lent a hand to some of them, but the MC’s cheerful, forward-facing personality brightened things up and lent a strong note of hope to it. The book touches briefly on the MC’s father, but never goes into quite so much heartbreaking detail, focusing instead on the family the MC has in her hard-working mother and silly, doting brother. The drama adds it’s own spin to this frame: instead of the MC having back issues because of a spinal surgery due to scoliosis, the MC’s surgery was prompted because she had an abusive, alcoholic father, who went too far one night. Instead of a silly older brother, GC is a slightly older twin in the same class, who’s still a little silly, but now a lot girl-crazy. The drama introduces a new character to the MC’s family: their friendly local policeman, who falls in love with the MC and becomes their fiercely protective, equally silly step-father. The MC’s recollections in the novel were colored by a hope and cheer you only gain in hindsight; the drama untangles the scenes in the moment, and takes on a far more somber tone, especially given it’s new additions, focusing far more on the MC’s tragic family occurrences and her perceived shortcomings. Neither is better than the other – though I have to say, in my own biased opinion, that I drastically preferred the novel’s choices – it’s just interesting to note how different interpretations of the same character can change the story so dramatically.

As it often happens with any adaption, there were some things I wasn’t… on board with, however. The biggest being: HWY’s personality changed so much? She went from outrageous and silly in the novels to whiny and irrational in the drama, which I really didn’t like because she was such a headstrong and fun person in the novels. I’m glad they kept the sneaker wedding gift scene though! HWY’s relationship with the MC was one of the most precious parts of the novel, and I’m glad the drama was able to retain some of that.

ALSO. Ugh. The reason for YM and the MC’s cold war during their university years? It made sense in the novel – YM confessed to her, in his own quiet way, but the MC wasn’t on his wavelength. They missed each other, and, caught up in their own things, ended up drifting apart for a few years, only to find their way back to each other once they were older, more sure of themselves. At the core of the novel was the MC’s reflection of herself, and a youth she characterized with sharp edges, edges that she said she had to learn to smooth herself before she was ready for a relationship like the one she had with YM, so it made sense. The drama, however, blew it up: YM kept pressuring the MC to study abroad with her, despite her not having the grades or the financial means. The former, she can change, but the latter proves a struggle. This, atop the other drama-exclusive elements added to the MC’s story – her father, her step-father, and her family situation – shoves a barrier between YM and the MC, at least in her eyes, cumulating in the MC standing outside the restaurant YM asked her to meet him in, but unable to go inside, plagued by thoughts of not being “good enough.” It places YM as forceful, the polar opposite of understanding, and irrational; it places the MC as timid and insecure. But these problems are never addressed later, merely magically fixed and shoved aside. It’s an element purely devised for the drama and, in the process, destroys the author’s original intentions in tying together central themes of her story. Yes, I had strong feelings about this – thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the addition of YM’s childhood friend, but I liked how she and the MC became friends – the barbecue scene in which she admits that she’s never really had that sort of friendship, after which the MC’s first reaction is to call HWY so all three of them can become friends, following which they hype each other up and decide to drunkenly ring up their S/Os and air out all their grievances, while the other two offer drunken support in the background, was the funniest thing, but also super sweet – and after a while, her personality was pretty endearing? Cute. I can’t relate to her rich people struggles but I could appreciate her views and efforts. And, holy shit, the actress was so pretty??? And super expressive????? I can’t believe it’s only her first drama.

But the SIBLING RELATIONSHIP!!! (Although, and this is going to go off on a tangent real quickly, but I’m always amazed by sibling relationship portrayals in dramas, novels, and the like? My brother and I are close, but not like the MC and GC are – which is to say, we’re really fucking weird. Making-faces-across-the-table, strange-noises-instead-of-proper-greetings, ridiculous-fight-stances-at-completely-random-times, sports-style-commentary-while-shoving-responsibilities-on-the-other kind of really fucking weird.) This was one of the only things I think the drama managed to preserve, from the novel, in its entirety: the MC’s relationship with GC, and their bickering but entirely supportive and ever-dependable relationship, from childhood to adulthood. There are friends, there are significant others, there are parents, there are relatives, and there are siblings, and each relationship operates and acts slightly different from the next, which is a nuance I think the drama was really good at expressing.

I also love how they tried to include as many small tidbits as possible, though! Like the saxophone scene! And the feasibility report/PPT scene! The first half of the drama was particularly somber at times, and the little tidbits, whilst giving us a glimpse into the characters’ daily lives, and presenting little rays of hope for a light at the end of the struggle, managed to balance things out.

All in all? Le Coup de Foudre was a pretty good drama. I really liked the chosen actors and actresses, and the portrayed relationships, and outside the contexts of the novel, the storyline, though it leaned heavily into drama and melancholy, was solid. Compared to the original novel, 我不喜欢这世界,我只喜欢你, it couldn’t quite hold up, but we can’t always have it all.

(Someday, I will write a Short and Concise Blog Post, but clearly today is not that day. Thank you for making it down this far <3 Do let me know what you thought if you’ve seen Le Coup de Foudre – isn’t Janice Wu adorable??? – and/or let me know of your c-drama recs! I’m always on the lookout for a c-drama with a cute romance^^)

Pulse by Danielle Koste
Published January 1st 2018 by Danielle Koste
Source: Purchased from Author
Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Rowan Platts is addicted to success.

When she’s presented with the chance to work on a top secret project fronted by her idol, renowned virologist Dr. Margot Miller, Rowan signs her life away without second thought. The realization she’s gotten in over her head comes only after the subject of their study is revealed: a boy with a bad attitude and an uninhibited taste for human blood.

He’s a medical anomaly. Having the ability to crush metal with his bare hands and hear a heartbeat from across the room, it would make Rowan’s career if she was the one to discover what made him so unusual.

Easier said than done, with a subject who prefers snapping necks over answering questions.

So, IDC what they’re saying about vampires being an early 2000’s trend, over and done – give me a book about them and I’ll still read it happily. Enter, PULSE.

The premise was really cool! I really liked the idea of approaching the trope from a medical perspective, and appreciate the effort that went into setting up an overall atmosphere to match. But, while the writing didn’t hinder the story, and the set-up was interesting, the overall execution fell flat: it came off as a little lifeless and very pointed, littered with blatant tells that showed the author had a very specific idea in mind for this story, which isn’t in itself a bad thing, but when story elements are sacrificed to keep the story on a certain path, well, thats when things start to fall apart.

I‌ was in a scribbly sort of mood while reading PULSE and took notes, which I‌ do just about once every blue moon, so, brace yourself? And, if you’re in a long-rambling-review-reading sort of mood – let me explain.

I really liked Rowan at the start! Particularly, the unabashed way she strove for success; it was bold and driven in a way that I‌ found nothing short of admiring. It colors the way she sees a lot of things, like her very specific perception of Miller, because of it. Our introduction to her paints her as tenacious, hints at a morally questionable side, and sets the stakes.

But then Rowan meets Lyall, the story rEALLY starts, and that is when things start going a little awry.

Rowan comes off as driven for success, might I‌ say slightly manipulative, and with an almost callously selective moral compass at the beginning. But then, when we get to the talk about her reasons for wanting to break Lyall out, it seems to go against everything we’ve been suggested and everything that’s been established about her character. The complete 180 in her approach to the laboratory happenings might’ve been more fitting and less jarring had there been some sort of catalyst to her change of mind, something to force her to reflect, but that’s the thing – there is none. In the bigger picture, sure, there’s all her interactions with Lyall, but throughout the story, they’ve never affected Rowan herself so much as they’ve affected her perceptions of other people, if that makes sense? Rowan’s character is inconsistent, propped up by a suggested ideal by the author at the beginning, and then taken apart to suit the direction of the story as the plot progresses.

(And, the characters keep floating this idea that Rowen’s like Miller, but I‌ don’t see it at all? Rowan is an inconsistent plot-aid, and Miller is a one-dimensional villain.)

Rowan’s also prone to making unprompted leaps in logic, especially from single-instance observations. It’s the first thing you’re told when you set foot in lab – everything and anything you assert needs to be backed up, or someone’s going to come at your work with a pen, or a laptop, and tear you apart in 10000 characters or less. Okay, so maybe that last part applies strictly to my university’s internal system, but the sentiment still stands: no professor’s just going to… take your word for it, at face level – “I trust the look in your eyes” – a sentence or two without examining the evidence or without further discussion. At best, it’ll be “your hypothesis seems promising – let’s go.”

This review’s getting longer and longer, so cue: some more lab-related inconsistencies, rapid-fire.
> The insistence to wrap up Lyall’s vampirism in a Wikipedia-article conversation about hemoglobin, cringiness aside, is stark and confusing when held up to the writing’s later insistence on various descriptions of “the monster within.”
> Rowan and Lyall’s important conversations that took place within the lab, despite him being a literal test subject, just magically happen to not be recorded?
> No one in the lab cares about the actual LIVE SPECIMEN when they have… limited numbers? They’re all just. Willing to give up the live specimen? Because of a small set of numbers and the possibility of recreating him in the uncertain future? Thats. That’s not how any of this works?????
> No one calls Lyall a vampire – which is kind of weird, that they stumble across this super speedy and super strong guy who needs blood to survive and falls apart with blood thirst, and no one, not one of them, mentions anything about vampires? Like if some hat my lab was examining started talking and telling me I was a Slytherin, I’d be like what the fuck is that the sorting hat? Lets put all our cards on the table: a vampire is exactly what he is.

While we’re on the topic of weird jumps, they’ve literally been doing the same thing to Lyall for chapters, but suddenly halfway through Rowan decides to feel bothered by it and?‌ What changed??? (I’ll answer that rhetorical question nothing did; the entire story operates under a static set of stakes, but at choice points beneficial to the plot, the characters themselves suddenly decide that they’re going to start doing things differently.)‌ SO‌ THEN when Miller. Finally. Starts to feel off to Rowan, it’s nothing that Miller hasn’t done or said before. The scene’s literally just Miller being Miller, for the 100th+ page in a row, but somehow this?‌is the straw that broke the camel’s back? Rowan’s even helped and stood by Miller, her self-professed idol, against Phelps, her kindly mentor-professor-boss, before, in the face of arguably more blatantly Bad words and actions, but somehow it’s This Particular Scene that does it in for Rowan, and we have hardly any prompts as to why.

Lyall’s also a mess, characterization-wise. He’s a caricature to suit Rowan’s development and the story’s progression; his moods always reflect the best (and most predictable) way to move the plot forward – not necessarily contained to Lyall, the character. Case in point: his change of heart at the end. I’m doing my best to keep this review spoiler-free, so I’ll just say that, like a lot of things I’ve pointed out, there’s absolutely zero build-up and lead-in. Also, his entire relationship with Rowan.

So, honestly, thank fuck for Cameron, often the sole voice of reason, and also the one who finally asked “what makes alien boy so special?” because – add that to the list! – I have no clue.

And then, more specific things:

In the vein of not being very self-aware, the narration doesn’t always seem to follow Rowan, despite the chosen POV. I.e. when Rowan realizes that she’s in over her head, there’s a place in the narration that conveys this, and then the character directly conveys it again, a little while later, and it’s these little disconnects that makes the writing feel a little off, a little hard to get into.

Also, the dialogue feels stilted at times. Many conversations in PULSE don’t quite flow so much as they… jump?‌ From one thing to another, seemingly purposefully, because there’s always some big line, some big idea at the end that needs delivering, even if the conversation doesn’t start quite at the right point to deliver it. Certain lines like, for example, “Morality is the disease, and I’m the cure” – just by looking at it, written out here, you can see the proud jazz-hands flashing-neon-lights looky-looky-here but in-text, it lacks impact because it lacks the buildup and proper conversation placement.

So, PULSE. The premise was cool, but the execution was less than idea.

As of today, I have 79 reviews on this blog! I’ve got more than twice that amount up on Goodreads, but for the sake of my hands, I decided to just rifle through the posts I’ve published to Aerou, and… annnnnd!!

//drumroll//

Here’s: the list of 100 most commonly used words in my reviews!

(It is, predictably, a lot of adverbs – really, actually, just, etc, etc.)

But because I’m a nerd like that, I decided to analyze all my Aerou-published reviews to put together this little list, more for my personal entertainment than anything, really. It was fun to see the stats change each added reviews!

My book-related blogging patterns, much like my reading patterns, are pretty cyclic. I’d go through a period where I review a ton of books (and, inevitably, end up spamming my poor Goodreads friends and followers – whelp), and schedule in a ton of posts on my blog. Then, at some point, I’d hit a block with reviewing, slow down, and then take a break, as my scheduled posts slowly publish, one by one. Then, somewhere along the way, I’d pick up another book that left me with a strong impression – be it good or bad – or something, something that’d nudge me to scrawl down a short line or two on Goodreads, and then that “short line or two” would turn into one of these rambling blocks of essay, and the cycle would wash, rinse, repeat itself. Sometimes, there’d be a blogging break.

But because of the bouts of writing and the sprinkled-in breaks, groups of my reviews will share similar writing styles, and then a break hits, and after the break, my writing style might slightly change, and thus the next group of reviews would be in a slightly different style from the previous. It makes sense, but it was pretty cool seeing it live via the tracker when I was gathering this info, and really interesting to see how the kinds of words I frequently use changed over time.

So, here’s the list of words that’ve appeared most frequently throughout my reviews! (And also, perhaps, some words I should stop using so often)

  1. really
  2. all
  3. like
  4. book
  5. just
  6. about
  7. one
  8. read
  9. story
  10. little
  11. because
  12. more
  13. way
  14. much
  15. characters
  16. pretty
  17. other
  18. though
  19. things
  20. lot
  21. first
  22. character
  23. thing
  24. kind
  25. some
  26. love
  27. liked
  28. something
  29. feel
  30. while
  31. end
  32. going
  33. most
  34. think
  35. good
  36. time
  37. books
  38. know
  39. see
  40. only
  41. plot
  42. well
  43. after
  44. same
  45. quite
  46. even
  47. author
  48. super
  49. over
  50. every
  51. actually
  52. reading
  53. any
  54. definitely
  55. part
  56. two
  57. say
  58. loved
  59. between
  60. thought
  61. everything
  62. through
  63. here
  64. pages
  65. enough
  66. romance
  67. made
  68. make
  69. around
  70. whole
  71. people
  72. felt
  73. especially
  74. many
  75. rather
  76. never
  77. still
  78. writing
  79. maybe
  80. beginning
  81. few
  82. interesting
  83. best
  84. being
  85. half
  86. cute
  87. series
  88. together
  89. better
  90. right
  91. main
  92. okay
  93. probably
  94. ending
  95. nice
  96. start
  97. life
  98. bad
  99. everyone
  100. idea

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay
Published December 9th 2014 by Delacorte Press
Source: Publisher
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

(Gonna get this off my chest real quick: it’s on the first page or so, but Sleeping Beauty’s prince was already married?‌ UGH.)

The first third of Princess of Thorns was pretty solid. The character’s were fun, it wasn’t… quite like the synopsis – more like a high fantasy that had borrowed names from famous fairytales – but a good read just the same. The latter section, though, is where the cracks start to show, and everything starts to unravel.

Niklaas was kind of. Eh? Upon first their first meeting, but it was nice to see his character change. Actually, both he and Aurora are pretty bratty and lofty and cocky at times, but I‌ liked their easy exchanges, so it didn’t bother me in the slightest.

Rather, the world-building – or rather the lack of world–building bothered me the most. So there are. An enchanted circle of briars?‌ And fairies. And ogres. And another world? And something about magic-born children and briar-born children and portals to other worlds with ogre mothers in them, but it’s never quite explained, only glossed over in a very you’ll-understand-eventually sort of way that I‌ never quite understood. Ditto for Niklaas and Aurora’s curses. And their families. (Also, on the subject of things I don’t understand, Aurora doesn’t quite so much “dress up” as a guy upon first meeting Niklaas as she does “get mistaken for” a guy and I‌ still really don’t understand how that can happen when we see him emoting over her beautiful face and curves and whatnot later on?)

And, while we’re talking about Aurora and Niklaas, Aurora-and-Niklaas: the romance was kind of strange? They had really easy-going friendship vibes going on, and then Niklaas found out Aurora was a girl, and then suddenly Aurora was wondering if she had ~feelings~ for Niklaas. I’d understand the way he treated her changed after the realization – and was actually pretty surprised and found it a little strange that it hadn’t changed that much – but this slam-dunk into romance read awkwardly. The last part of the book literally books it (ha!) from best-bros to full-blown-romance with no development or progression in between.

Speaking of things that don’t exist – the stakes. It was fun to follow Aurora and Niklaas’s trip in the first half or so of the book. But her brother’s in prison, and we’re told that there are Big Bad Ogre Plans that’ll end the world. So, the stakes should be pretty high, and there should be a lot of tension and urgency, but the execution’s pretty easy-going? A lot of things just fall into place. Crimsin, the girl at the inn, for one, virtually just shows up and glosses them over a tight spot. Even the ending doesn’t seem that climactic because of the ~exciting twist~ and even Aurora at the end wasn’t really sure what happened but just ran with it.

(And, the highlight: Princess of Thorns is the oNLY‌ stand-alone fantasy on my bookshelf – can we please spare a moment to thank Princess of Thorns from relieving me from fantasy cliffhanger hell: THANK‌‌ YOU)