Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Genre: Fantasy
Features: Inter-dimensional travel, magic, strong female characters

 "Death comes for everyone . . . I'm not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here . . . I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."

"I'm not going to die," she said. "Not till I've seen . . . everything."

What do you get when you mix equal parts magic, inter-dimensional travel, strong female characters, and criminal activity, with a hint of romance? A Darker Shade of Magic, of course! I was drawn to this book because 1) it's been super popular among the Instagram reader community, and 2) there is not one, but four Londons (mega points for creativity, Schwab).

What did I like about this book? Well, the whole premise was highly original. Kell, the main character, can travel between 4 Londons—White London, Red London, Black London, and Grey London. Each London has a different relationship with magic, whether they embrace it, worship it, kill for it, or don't believe in it (not in that order). But Kell and one other character are the only ones able to travel between the Londons, which means they are messengers and ambassadors for the leaders (which leads to some interesting problems).

I also liked that the book wasn't all about romance—there was very little. Lila and Kell worked as a team. The book also dealt with brotherly relationships and caring for family, even if they are not your blood relatives. It also tackled the age-old question of "what do you do if you come into a lot of power, but it's an evil power," which naturally includes character motive investigation, willpower, and self discovery.

However, as with many hyped books, this one fell a little short of my expectations (hence, 3.5 stars). What went wrong? Let me share:

1) Dialogue – I didn't feel like it flowed naturally and was a tad cliche.

2) The Strong/Independent Female Main Character Trope – Lila Bard is a cool character, but I'm just a little tired of the whole tough girl characters who don't need a man or anyone else and don't embrace their uniquely feminine strengths. Why does a girl have to act like a man to get attention in the literary community? Why can't she be feminine and strong? *steps off soapbox*

3) Character/plot originality – Although the premise was unique, much of it felt like other YA lit fantasy that I had read before and that was better executed (e.g., Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows and the Grisha trilogy).

4) World building – I wanted more details. I can never have too much solid world building, and I think it's essential for fantasy to connect with the reader.

Overall, a fun read, but not quite a 4-star rating.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Thriller/General Fiction
Features: Crime, family, strong father/daughter relationships

"Their hearts were all cycling through the same madness—the discovery, the bliss, the loss, the despair—like planets taking turns in orbit around the sun. Each containing their own unique gravity. Their own force of attractions. Drawing near and holding fast to whatever entered their own atmosphere . . .  they would find love and lose love and recover from love and love again."

This was a thoroughly enjoyable book, containing all the essentials for a strong 4 star rating: lyrical writing, well-developed characters, and an engaging plot. The book's plot structure was unique too. The story jumps back and forth between the present with Samuel Hawley and his teen daughter, Loo, to the past with explanations of how Samuel—previously engaged in criminal activity—received his twelve bullet wounds.

What fascinated me about this book was getting into the head of someone who had broken the law and his fight for a relatively normal life and his family. What's it like to run from the law, to always be looking over your shoulder? This book gave me a taste of that. But this book is much more. It explores what happens when a criminal finds love, through a woman who walks into his life one day and their child, Loo. How far will one man go to protect those he loves and to secure a safe, happy life for them?

Overall, it was a really fun and beautiful read, showing the power of love and family despite hardships and past demons trying to squelch it.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

[I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: Diversity/Historical Fiction/General
Features: Chinese heritage, romance, older couples 

This book pleasantly surprised me. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the perfect mix of historical events, cultural diversity, sorrow and joy, solid writing, and a touching love story made this book a winner. The characters were well-developed; I really connected with them and rooted for them. I wanted to know that they had happy endings, that the dark times created something beautiful. The plot was well-paced too, and I found myself easily devouring the pages. I loved that the story affirmed that all things happen for a reason, that people and loving others are what matters most, and that good things can come out of bad situations and rock-bottom circumstances.

There were some great quotes too:

"We all have things we don't talk about . . . Even though more often than not, those are the things that make us who we are."

"There are people in our lives whom we love, and lose, and forever long for. They orbit our lives like Halley's Comet, crossing into our universe only once, or if we're lucky, twice in a lifetime. And when they do, they affect our gravity."

"My theory . . . is that the best, worse, happiest, saddest, scariest, and most memorable moments are all connected. Those are the important times, good and bad. The rest is just filler."

The book didn't earn a 5-star in my opinion because some of the situations seemed a little extreme or not realistic, as if the author forced the plot unnaturally to evoke an emotional response. I also felt like the ending was wrapped up a little too neatly and wasn't too realistic.

Overall, this novel wasn't easy to read (some of the content is mature and tragic), but I was glad I read it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a touching story with a multicultural and historical slant.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Rating: 4/5 stars
Genre: YA lit fantasy/romance
Features: Time travel, pirates, music  

“‘Know this, pirate,’ he said his hands gripping the railing, ‘you are my passenger, and I will be damned before I let any harm come to you.’”

“But she wondered if, in moving outside of the natural flow of time, they had forgotten the most crucial point of life—that it wasn’t meant to be lived for the past, or even the future, but for each present moment.”

“…a flower is no less beautiful because it does not bloom in the expected form. Because it lasts an hour, and not days.”

What do you get when you mixed equal parts time travel, pirates, music, and romance? Passenger, of course! This book had many fresh and interesting ideas that I don’t often see in YA lit, and it had more descriptive language than most books for young adults. I’ve read the reviews, and some people couldn’t get into it because the book seemed to drag. I, however, enjoyed the slightly slower pace and descriptive language. It was refreshing after reading many YA lit books written in present tense and short, choppy language. 

I almost thought of adding historical fiction to the genre listing for this book. Although the book isn’t about a historical event in the past exactly, the main characters do travel through different places and times like colonial America and WWII-era London. This adds a very unique element of conflict to the characters. Nicholas Carter, a main character, is the son of an African American slave woman and wealthy, powerful white man. He faces the prejudice and social constraints of the 1800s placed on Negro men. But because of time travel, a white girl from the 21st century is thrust into his world, which makes for some very interesting and unique relational struggles. Can love overcome society’s laws and expectations? This is much deeper than the source of most tension in YA lit couples. 

I loved that, as a reader, I was thrust into the world of ship sailing and pirates through the eyes of Nicholas, and the world of music through Etta. I found both worlds fascinating and enjoyed the descriptions and terminology unique to each. I’m pleased to say that Alexandra Bracken made her characters interesting, and the romance, for the most part was full of page-turning chemistry.
The questions I had about time travel and the characters, and the electric chemistry between the characters, kept me swiping left (as one does with an e-book). 

However, when I got about two-thirds into the book, the plot started to drag. The character chemistry was not as palpable and the explanations of time travel and the rules of what can/can’t happen and why began to bog down the story. I’ve decided that although I enjoy time travel reads, I’ll just have to accept an inherent element of confusing and unresolvable characteristics that comes with the beast.

Overall, this was an interesting book with dynamic characters and descriptions. Of course, Alexandra Bracken left Book 1 on a cliffhanger, so I’m onto reading Wayfarer now to see what happens to the characters.