Archives

The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1) by Traci Chee
Published September 13th 2016 by Putnam
Source: FC from Publisher
Rating: ★★★½☆

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

I was on hiatus when all the buzz for The Reader happened, so I didn’t actually know this existed until recently, but I’m glad I decided to pick this up! I was sold at “swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger,” and the book proved to be a really fun read.

The writing’s really suitable for fantasy – a little mysterious, a little lofty, a little wry, alternating between lines like “people passed stories from mouth to mouth like kisses, or plagues…” to characters huffing, “Yes, I’ll read now. But if Captain Cat continues to act like a yellow-bellied coward, we’re skipping it” (which by the way, is me at all the waffling main characters of numerous books. Get moving!!).

And really, reading the book was like a mini adventure or a treasure hunt of its own. I’m not sure if the book’s design is the same across all editions, but I have the hardcover edition, and I love the little intricacies of the design! I don’t want to give too much away, but just as the story dropped little fragments and clues and left the reader to gather them all up and piece them together at the end, so did the book’s designs, which really added to the reading experience.

The setting is lush and sprawling across the pages, and the plot is rather intricately layered – it was really cool to see all the parts that I thought were insignificant and/or unrelated come together at the end – but if I had to pick a favorite, the experience of reading The Reader would be the best part. The Reader’s just one of those books that just work really nicely in physical book form: the design is well-planned to match the story, and then the story sweeps you along so that every little thing about the design of the book in your hand is heightened by Sefia’s experience with the book in her hand. And that was really pretty cool. Although I do have to mention – while it was lovely to see Sefia fall in love with books – eyes wide and dreamy, unlike my own 0 to 100 experience – the whole “this is a book” thing got repetitive after a while, and then annoying after that. So while I loved the idea of a book about books, there was a point where the novelty wore off. Maybe somewhere around here? –

“Reading herself in the book.
Reading herself reading herself in the book.
Reading herself reading herself reading herself…
Maybe someone was reading her right now, and if she looked up, she would see their eyes staring down at her, following her every move. Maybe someone was reading the reader.”

(And then, a couple paragraphs later, cue: “THIS IS A BOOK.” /sighs/)

I also really enjoyed the romance. Really, really enjoyed the romance. Maybe in part because it was light and fair and barely-there, given life by the plot instead of the other way around, as is common with a lot of reads. Mostly, though, because of Archer, resident cinnamon roll who could kill you, but is still a cinnamon roll who deserves all the love and happiness in this world because he’s pure and deadly and sweet as fuck.

“He could not remember wanting anything so badly as he wanted to kiss her now. To be that close to her, mouth to mouth, testing the shapes of her teeth and her lips. It was as if he’d never really wanted anything, and now this wanting blazed inside him like a lamp, the light reflecting out of him as bright as a beam from a lighthouse.

But he didn’t dare.

He looped his arms over the rails, and made his sign for the book.

And Sefia began to read to him, her voice clear and strong in the wind, and that was enough. It didn’t matter what the book or the legends said. What mattered was that he and Sefia were there, legs kicking idly off the edge of the quarterdeck, with the breeze and the bright afternoon sun pouring over them. What mattered was that they were together… and he was happy.”

Kind, lovely, cute, dangerous cinnamon roll. Yep.

I also really loved the chapter (section?) “The Boy from the Sea – Harison’s Favorite Song,” which was just three short stanzas but made me feel all sorts of bittersweet and sad, but I’ve already quoted two things and this review’s already more than long enough as is, so: page 325 of the hardcover! Please read it.

I did have a few other small bones to pick with the book, though. For one, there were a couple glaring inconsistencies, most of which surrounding Sefia’s book knowledge. I found it really strange that she didn’t know about books and reading, but was somehow able to teach herself to read? I get that she remembered a little from what she’d seen from her parents when she was very little, but I can’t imagine how she’d be able to come up with the proper sounds just by looking at letters she doesn’t recognize? Also, she didn’t know what a book was, but the word and meaning of a bookmark seemed to come to her very naturally… how?

And, then while it was pretty cool to have all the pirate inserts, and Lon’s chapters… I felt like they weren’t that necessary for the overarching plot? It was intriguing at the beginning, but as the story went on, they began to feel more and more like filler chapters – and I’ll admit to skipping and skimming parts of them. If those parts were cut down a little, and more scenes were introduced into the climax, particularly around Tanin’s big part, then I think the story would’ve read more cohesively and smoothly.

But overall, I loved the idea of a book celebrating the magic of books, and with the really lovely reading experience, The Reader delivered! And, one more quote to end this review, because I can’t resist, and because this passage just stuck with me for a long time:

“I’d be lyin’ if I said I didn’t want to be part of that story… We got such a short time in this world, you know? Cut shorter by the blasted foolishness of men. Tavern brawls, rival outlaws, wars that claim the lives of thousands. Our existence is so small that most of us only matter to a handful of folks: the captain, the crew, maybe a couple others. But bein’ part of a story like that? A story that’d blow all others outta the water in its greatness and scope? It wouldn’t give me more time here, but if I were part of something like that, maybe my life wouldn’t be so small. Maybe I could make a difference before my time ran out. Maybe I’d matter.”

Death Sworn (Death Sworn #1) by Leah Cypess
Published March 4th 2014 by Greenwillow
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★½☆

When Ileni lost her magic, she lost everything: her place in society, her purpose in life, and the man she had expected to spend her life with. So when the Elders sent her to be magic tutor to a secret sect of assassins, she went willingly, even though the last two tutors had died under mysterious circumstances.

But beneath the assassins’ caves, Ileni will discover a new place and a new purpose… and a new and dangerous love. She will struggle to keep her lost magic a secret while teaching it to her deadly students, and to find out what happened to the two tutors who preceded her. But what she discovers will change not only her future, but the future of her people, the assassins… and possibly the entire world.

Because I’m quite the pessimist and always prefer my bad news before my good, I figured I’d start my review that way, too – bad before the good. Not that there wasn’t a lot of things to dislike about this book. Really, there wasn’t anything I particularly disliked about Death Sworn at all. It was just… light.

Death Sworn was a pleasant book – light on the romance, awesome characters, filled to the brim with secrets and conspiracies… it wasn’t a terrible book by any means. It was enjoyable, but I guess it just wasn’t the most impressive book.

This paragraph I’ve added in just now, after I’ve written the rest of this review, but now, mulling things over, I realize that Death Sworn has another noticeable flaw: world-building, or rather, the lack of it. I didn’t quite notice it when I was reading, or immediately afterwards – the writing and the story uses just the bare minimum and somehow makes it work – but Death Sworn lacked a lot of world-building details. We’re never really quite sure what’s going on beyond the caves where the book takes place, or really who any of the main power figures of the Empire are, though their names are scattered throughout the book. The Renegai (magicians) also remain quite a mystery for the duration of the novel, as does the whole magical system. Surprisingly, it didn’t take much away from my initial reading experience, but these were all things I’d like to know.

Also, I think it really says something about YA novels nowadays (or maybe just my crappy reading selection?) when I get extremely, irrationally happy when the main character, the single female, walks into a cavern filled with male assassins – most if not all of which have probably never seen a woman in their lives – and none of them looks her way. They’re assassins – they’re trained killers. They’ve got more to do than trip over themselves for some girl, no matter how kick-ass or beautiful she was. I also got extremely, irrationally happy when Ileni said something like “I love you, but I’m not stupid.” FINALLY. A heroine who can love while keeping her head on straight. Hallelujah. Where have you been my whole life. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I also think it’s quite sad to feel happy over things that should already exist.

I really liked Ileni, her level-headedness, and the way that, when something bad happens to her (and a lot does), she kind of just sucks it up and moves on, doing what she can. I know I’d fall apart and probably hide under a rock for a while, especially if I’m put in her situation: sent into a cave full of assassins without adequate magic to protect oneself with, but she has to trick and convince them that she does, for her own safety. Yep, if I was in a novel, I’d probably be that one crybaby helpless character who dies in the first chapter. Maybe the second, if I was lucky. But I digress. She knows her limitations and she doesn’t try to rely on miracles. She’s realistic, but she isn’t a bundle of negativity, and I liked that.

The romance was light, but a good kind of light. It was one that builds up slowly – they’re allies and have a lot more on their plate to worry about than love. Please excuse my laziness to walk upstairs and find my copy of Death Sworn for the exact quote, but I remember this one part when they begin realizing their feelings and Sorin freaks out and backs up a little, then says that basically meant that falling in love with Ileni was unavoidable, as she was the only girl he’s ever seen. That made me laugh a little. I liked how they were honest and awkward and they fit each other so nicely.

I think the main thing though, was that Death Sworn was exactly my kind of book. Magic, assassins, light romance – you’d really have to screw up for me to dislike it. And what Death Sworn did was far from that.

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
Published October 6th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★½☆

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this book half as much as I ended up doing, which came as a really nice surprise. I was a little hesitant to pick this up at first seeing as I’d read and wasn’t a fan of another one of the author’s books, but A Madness So Discreet ended up working a lot better for me than Not a Drop to Drink. I loved the atmosphere, all the little subtleties, the characters and Grace’s relationships with them, and the satisfaction that the ending brought. On the other hand, though, I wasn’t too sold on the murder case Grace and the doctor tried to solve. It all felt a little too vague and a little too shallow, which did get me thinking that maybe the author took on a few more plot points than a single book of this length could handle. But all in all, I really enjoyed A Madness So Discreet.

A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
Published June 5th 2012 by Poppy
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Whitley Johnson’s dream summer with her divorcé dad has turned into a nightmare. She’s just met his new fiancée and her kids. The fiancée’s son? Whitley’s one-night stand from graduation night. Just freakin’ great.

Worse, she totally doesn’t fit in with her dad’s perfect new country-club family. So Whitley acts out. She parties. Hard. So hard she doesn’t even notice the good things right under her nose: a sweet little future stepsister who is just about the only person she’s ever liked, a best friend (even though Whitley swears she doesn’t “do” friends), and a smoking-hot guy who isn’t her stepbrother…at least, not yet. It will take all three of them to help Whitley get through her anger and begin to put the pieces of her family together.

I loved The DUFF and Shut Out, and I wanted to love this one too, but… wow. Ugh. Okay. Honestly, I feel like the main character just rubbed me in all the wrong ways. Whitley’s super pissy and obnoxious all the time, and blames everything she does on her parents and their problems and, okay, they’re far from great, but? Really? Bad backstory doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Her life’s been crummy, but the way she acted was detestable – the great majority of the characters around her too were pretty detestable. There’s slut-shaming and cyber-bullying, neither of which are ever really fully addressed (why). I skimmed a little to get to the end, mainly because I was hoping for it to do some drastic 180, but I’m pretty sure it went past the point of no return fairly early in, so all I was left feeling was increasingly angry.

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry
Published September 26th 2013 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Traded
Rating: ★★★½☆

Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.

Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas.

But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.

All the Truth That’s in Me is one of those books that are a little hard to rate. I really enjoyed the writing – personally, I really love the fluid timelines, the fragmented, sectioned chapters, and the sort of narrative that leaves many gaps, so that at the middle of the book, there are more questions than answers, and then even at the end, there are still some pieces that are left up to the imagination of the reader to fill in. The author made the transitions between past and present, and between one scene and another work wonderfully, so that even though a lot of the sections were rather quick and rather short, nowhere did the flow feel jarring. However, I do feel like the author took a few cop-outs here and there, and under-handled a few pieces of the story, which left the ending rather unsatisfying, and me slightly unsettled – and not the haunting, chilling unsettled this kind of story often brings, but the sort of feeling you get when the story’s skipped a few turns on its way to the goal – as if there was something crucial missing.

Isla and the Happily Ever After (Anna and the French Kiss #3) by Stephanie Perkins
Published August 14th 2014 by Dutton
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

This might partially be due to the fact that I’ve binge-read far too many contemporaries recently, but Isla and the Happily Ever After just didn’t carry that same spark Anna and the French Kiss did. I loved the cameos. I loved some of the banter (it’s a Stephanie Perkins novel, after all). But it wasn’t terribly impressive; it was missing something. For one, it was super cheesy – talk about overdone. But then it also didn’t feel authentic. Their story’s supposed to be one that’s started before the novel. They’ve got history and tension and all that good stuff, but it just didn’t feel convincing – just too hot and heavy too quickly and way too insta-love-y. I don’t know. The whole Kurt situation was also really weird, and the ending? Everything’s falling apart and broken and drowning in tears but then suddenly flip the page and everything’s sunshine and daisies again? I know it’s fiction, but would it be too much to ask for something a liiitle more realistic?