Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3) by Richelle Mead

 Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy, #3) 

Synopsis: Rose knows it is forbidden to love another guardian. Her best friend, Lissa - the last Dragomir princess - must always come first. Unfortunately, when it comes to gorgeous Dimitri Belikov, some rules are meant to be broken...

Then a strange darkness grows in Rose's mind, and ghostly shadows warn of a terrible evil drawing nearer to the Academy's iron gates. The immortal undead are closing in, and they want vengeance for the lives Rose has stolen. In a heart-stopping battle to rival her worst nightmares, Rose will have to choose between life, love, and the two people who matter most...but will her choice mean that only one can survive?

Date Published: November 13, 2008
Published By: Razorbill
Number of Pages: 443
Rating: 4/5

I'm going to start this review off by saying that I genuinely do like reading the Vampire Academy series. It's light, fluffy vampire lit that's not meant to be taken too seriously. But there were a few things in this installment in the series that irked me that I just have to get off my chest. As a result, this review will probably come across as negative but that doesn't mean that I'm not enjoying this series. It just means that I'm being nitpicky and overanalytical and bitchy. But I'm still entitled to my opinion.

So let's start off with what I did like about Shadow Kiss. First, I liked how the world was expanded when Rose, Lissa, and co. had to travel to see Queen Tatiana. We got to see the inner workings of the vampire Court (and, also, a vampire court) and it was a really compelling part of the story. I also loved the interaction between Rose and the Queen. It was so cool to see Rose stand up to this major bitch. Not sure it was the wisest decision, but it was badass to read about nonetheless.

Also, I'm loving Adrian's character. (More please!) He's a Bad Boy but in a sarcastic, funny way not in a dark, brooding way. As far as I am concerned, he is criminally underused in this story. I'll admit I like him a little bit more than Principle Love Interest Dimitri Belikov. Adrian's just so much more fun.

And that's one of the problems I wanted to talk about - the romance between Rose and Dimitri. I don't know if it's because I'm over the whole 'forbidden love' trope or what, but I am not really invested in their relationship. Like, at all. More and more, it's starting to feel a little bit 'Twilighty' to me. I get it, you guys are so in love with each other, and you'll die without each other and blah, blah, blah but honestly? I cannot figure out why they like each other. I mean, Dimitri doesn't seem to have much of an actual personality. Besides the fact that he's stoic and responsible (except he's not) and he likes cowboy novels. But Rose is all like 'oh, he's such a badass' and 'OMG he's so hot' and 'oh, I cannot possible love anybody else.' And I'm still trying to figure out how she appeals to him. 

So, these two are inexplicably in love and it all builds up to the Cabin Scene. If you've read the book, you'll know what I'm talking about. If you haven't and don't want to know, stop reading because SPOILER ALERT!

Rose and Dimitri have sex. And it is the most boring thing ever. 

I understand that it's Young Adult and, typically, sex in YA is only alluded to or written in very vague terms. But, come on. I've read kissing scenes that were hotter. This is an actual line that was used: 'I wish I had the words to describe sex, but nothing I can say would really capture how amazing it was.'

Well, try, honey, because right now, I am drier than a bone. 

So that's my rant about the romantic aspect of Shadow Kiss. A couple of other quibbles:

-Rose starts to see ghosts - but she doesn't tell anybody at first because she thinks people won't believe her. Seriously? In a series about vampires and magic and the undead, ghosts are unbelievable? I'm sorry, but that's stupid. I felt like it was just something added in to stretch out the plot.

-the Strigoi are the most boring evil vampires I've ever read about it. They don't seem that scary and, even though they are considered so dangerous that Moroi have to be guarded throughout their entire lives - apparently they're not that hard to kill.

Let me end this review with something positive. I liked the twist at the end and I'm really glad Richelle Mead made a bold choice as to what direction to take the series in. I think the next few books will only get better. At least, I hope so. 

Sorry for being so bitchy. Feel free to argue with me in the comments. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See 

Synopsis: Maurie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure's reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum's most valuable and dangerous jewel. 

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure's converge. 

Date Published: May 6, 2014
Published By: Scribner
Number of Pages: 530
Rating: 5/5

I have got to stop reading these stories set in World War II. They all end up breaking my heart! First, The Book Thief and now All the Light We Cannot See.

I will say that I found some striking similarities between the two books. Both take place during World War II, both feature children coming of age during the war, and both are written in a lyrical, poetic style. But All the Light We Cannot See has a vastly different plot from The Book Thief and so is not in anyway a ripoff.

I think I knew within the first 30 pages or so that this book would break me. Do you ever get that little stutter of emotion in your chest when you read something that moves you in some way? This happened to me a few times while I was reading this book and by the time I got to the ending, I was completely devastated. I knew there wasn't going to be some fairy-tale ending, but when I got to the climax of the book, I almost couldn't stand to go on, it was so heartbreaking. 

I fell in love with this book. I fell in love with Werner and Marie-Laure and their way of seeing the world. I loved seeing their sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them and it was horrifying to see how the war stripped them of their innocence. I think this book showed one of the more devastating consequences of war. It's not just about the lives lost or the environmental destruction: it's about how people, both civilians and soldiers alike, lose the sense that there is goodness in the world. 

This book isn't a total downer. There is a sense of hope and optimism throughout, even if it's subtle. I think one of the themes of the book is that we choose how we see the world, either with wonder or cynicism, hope or pessimism. It is completely up to us, no matter what the circumstances are. 

I cannot praise the writing style enough. The details are so vivid, the metaphors so descriptive and original that I had no problem picturing the story in my head. Anthony Doerr has said that it took him ten years to write this book and I can believe it - each sentence is crafted to perfection, each word carefully chosen so that the reader is left with the same sense of awe and wonder that the character's have in the story.

This book is a masterpiece. And I don't use that world lightly.

Highly, highly recommended to everyone, particularly if you enjoyed The Book Thief.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Review: East by Edith Pattou


Synopsis: Rose has always been different. Since the day she was born, it was clear she had a special fate. Her superstitious mother keeps the unusual circumstances of Rose's birth a secret, hoping to prevent her adventurous daughter from leaving home...but she can't suppress Rose's true nature forever.

So when an enormous white bear shows up one cold autumn evening and asks teenage Rose to come away with it - in exchange for health and prosperity for her ailing family - she readily agrees.

Rose travels on the bear's broad back to a distant and empty castle, where she is nightly joined by a mysterious stranger. In discovering his identity, she loses her heart - and finds her purpose - and realizes her journey has just only begun.

Date Published: September 1, 2003
Published By: HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 507
Rating: 4/5

East is a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a kind of Scandinavian version of Beauty and the Beast. I love how this book blends historical fiction and fantasy, grounding the magical elements in reality.

East is so wonderfully descriptive that you really get a sense of 'cold' when you're reading it. Pattou doesn't just describe the cold, she gives the reader the sense of being cold. It was these vivid details that transports the reader to a land of ice and snow. So you might want to bundle up while reading it.

What I found less vivid were the characters. I didn't really get a sense of Rose's personality. Yes, she has personality traits like being adventurous and independent and having a love for weaving and sewing but I just felt I was being told who Rose was instead of shown who she was. I just couldn't connect with her.

I was not invested in the romance between Rose and the White Bear at all. I didn't really get a sense of any sort of developing relationship between them, so when the White Bear is taken away by the Troll Queen, it feels like Rose only goes after him out of a sense of duty, not because she cares about him. And even when she did realize that she had feelings for him, it was just like 'okay, if you say so.'

Apart from these problems, East is a really good adventure story with lots of historical details and vivid description. Is it the best fairytale retelling I've ever come across? No. But it's certainly not the worst one, either. 

Review: Edinburgh by Alexander Chee


Synopsis: As a child, Fee is a gifted Korean-American soprano in a boys' choir in Maine. Silent after being abused by the director, he is unable to warn the other boys or protect his best friend, Peter, from the director's advances. Even after the director is imprisoned, Fee continues to believe he is responsible, and while he survives into adulthood, his friends do not. In the years that follow, he struggles to bury his guilt and grief, until he meets a beautiful young student who resembles Peter, and he is forced to confront the demons of his brutal past.

Date Published: November 9, 2002
Published By: Picador
Number of Pages: 212
Rating: 4/5

Edinburgh is a poetic, sensitively told story about a boy who faces horrific abuse at the hands of his choir director and the resulting guilt he deals with well into adulthood. Chee doesn't indulge in graphic depictions of the abuse for shock value. The allusions to the abuse and the traumatic aftermath are horrifying enough to instill the reader with a sense of horror and revulsion.

The writing is lyrical and abstract, beautifully done, but, as a result, I sometimes felt the characters were a little vague and hard to connect with. 

There is a little bit of a twist to this story that I didn't see coming but once the revelation hits, it feels inevitable, bringing the story to its devastating conclusion.

Edinburgh is a sad story with little hope of a happy ending. But it is an important story and it deserves to be read. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Review: The Master Magician (The Paper Magician #3) by Charlie N. Holmberg

 The Master Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #3) 

Synopsis: Throughout her studies, Ceony Twill has harbored a secret, one she's kept from even her mentor, Emery Thane. She's discovered how to practice forms of magic other than her own - an ability long thought impossible.

While all seems set for Ceony to complete her apprenticeship and pass her upcoming final exam, life quickly becomes complicated. To avoid favoritism, Emery sends her to another magician for testing - a Folder who despises Emery and cares even less for his apprentice. To make matters worse, a murderous criminal from Ceony's past escapes imprisonment. Now she must track the power-hungry convict across England before he can take his revenge. With her life and loved ones hanging in the balance, Ceony must face a criminal who wields the one magic that she does not, and it may prove more powerful than all her skills combined. 

Date Published: June 2, 2015
Published By: 47North
Number of Pages: 200
Rating: 4/5

The third and final installment in The Paper Magician series is easily the best one. Ceony is practicing different types of magic in secret, an ability long thought impossible. Why is she doing it? Simply because she wants to and because she can. It's fascinating to see Ceony go from a reluctant paper magician's apprentice to an apprentice dabbling in all sorts of magic that even fully qualified Magicians can't do - not at the same time anyway. I love that Ceony is curious and willing to experiment with different kinds of magic while being wise enough to keep the secret to herself until the right moment. 

The relationship between Emery and Ceony has evolved to the point where they're an established couple - but this being the Victorian era, not much happens besides a few chaste kisses and sleeping in the same bed together one night when Ceony had a nightmare. So they're sleeping together but not sleeping together. Not yet, anyway. 

The plot is essentially the same as it was in the first two books - Ceony must hunt down a dangerous magician who is threatening her loved ones. However, the baddest of the villains was saved for this last book which makes for an exciting chase and a thrilling conclusion. I also liked the other part of the plot where Ceony must study for her final exam with a rival of Emery's who absolutely detests him and, by extension, her. It's fun to see Ceony go toe-to-toe with the stubborn Folder, who is determined to remain unimpressed by her, no matter what she does. 

All in all, I was quite satisfied with the ending. This is a nice, light fantasy - there's not a lot of angst, which is nice if you're tired of epic fantasies where your favorite characters are killed off every other chapter. (Nothing against those types of books - I'm just saying this series is nice if you're looking for something different.)

Review: The Glass Magician (The Paper Magician #2) by Charlie N. Holmberg

 The Glass Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #2) 

Synopsis: Now well into her apprenticeship with magician Emery Thane, twenty-year-old Ceony Twill is continuing to discover the joy of paper magic. She adores bringing her spells to life in surprising ways, from learning the power of distortion to creating a beloved paper dog. And she secretly hopes that the romance she foresaw blossoming between her and the peculiar yet strikingly handsome Emery finally becomes real.

But when one magician with a penchant for deadly scheming believes Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it...even if it tears apart the very fabric of the magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony, and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, she knows she must find the true limits of her powers...and keep her knowledge from falling into wicked hands.

Date Published: November 4, 2014
Published By: 47North
Number of Pages: 211
Rating: 4/5 

The second installment in The Paper Magician series has just as much magic and whimsy as the first book did - and with a touch more romance.

You can clearly see the relationship developing between Ceony and Emery - and not just on Ceony's side. Even though the book is mostly told from Ceony's perspective, it's obvious to the reader through Emery's actions towards Ceony that he is starting to fall for her. You see him becoming more attentive, more protective of her -and it's not just Ceony that notices this. Ceony's budding romance with Emery is met with stern disapproval from people who might just have enough influence to tear them apart. 

I will admit that the plot is very much like the first - Ceony takes it upon herself to go after an evil magician in order to protect those she loves most. But it's still a fun read, especially since we get to delve into different types of magic and how it's used. Glass magic is featured prominently (hence the title), along with fire and rubber magic. It was cool to see how glass magicians use mirrors to teleport themselves to different places - a plot device that is used throughout the novel, thanks to Ceony's friendship with another apprentice who specializes in  glass. 

Like in the last book, Ceony uses her magical abilities and quick thinking to avert disaster. Sadly, she finds that, despite her best efforts, she cannot save everyone. 

If you enjoyed the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with the series and reading The Glass Magician. 

Review: The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician (The Paper Magician Trilogy, #1) 

Synopsis: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she's bonded to paper, that will be her only magic...forever

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined - animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner - a practitioner of dark, flesh magic - invades the cottage and rips Thane's heart from his chest. To save her teacher's life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane's still-beating heart - and reveal the very soul of the man.

Date Published: September 1, 2014
Published By: 47North
Number of Pages: 222
Rating: 4/5 

The Paper Magician is a whimsical fantasy set in Victorian London that features a delightful and creative magic system, a strong female heroine and a little touch of romance. 

The magic system is established within the very first chapter. Magic can only manipulate man-made objects, like glass, paper, metal, and rubber. A magician must 'bond' to a certain type of object and then are able to manipulate it in a variety of different, interesting ways. It was such a treat to read about the different ways magicians manipulated paper. Two of my favorites were when Ceony learned how to make a scene from a book come to life just from reading aloud and when Magician Thane animated a little paper dog for Ceony that acted just like a real one. Ceony called him 'Fennel' and he became one of my favorite characters in this series. 

I wasn't just fond of Fennel, though. I love the main character, Ceony, and you know why? Because she is a strong female character who is able to think for herself and take action - while remaining feminine! Ceony has many traditionally feminine traits like modesty, a sense of decorum, and she knows her way around the kitchen. Yet, she is still able to speak her mind and rescue the guy in the end by relying on her wits and her gut instinct. This is so refreshing to see because sometimes I feel like too many people who write strong female characters (both in books and on screen) think that strength = masculine so they just give a female character masculine traits and call it a day. It's the 'Dude in a Dress' trope and it's getting a little tiresome. So I love that Ceony is an example of a strong, yet feminine, female character. 

The plot was interesting and moved along at a rapid pace (which is understandable considering the book is only 222 pages.) I liked the developing relationship between Thane and Ceony. I, personally, love student-teacher romances although the one in The Paper Magician is very chaste indeed. There's only a small hint of a romance developing later in the series. No kissing, no nothing - which is totally fine as it suited the story. 

The Paper Magician is great for readers of all ages looking for a light, whimsical fantasy. 

Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

 Crimson Bound 

Synopsis: When Rachelle was fifteen she was good - apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But when Rachelle was fifteen she was also reckless - straying from the forest path in the pursuit of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has giver her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand - the man she hates most - Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as they become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night? 

Date Published: May 5, 2015
Published By: Balzer + Bray
Number of Pages: 441
Rating: 4/5

I loved Rosamund Hodge's debut novel Cruel Beauty and was stoked to read her follow-up Crimson Bound, her retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. While I didn't fall in love with Crimson Bound like I did Cruel Beauty, I still thought it was an ambitious and well-written fairy tale retelling. 

I guess I'll start off by talking about the problems I had with this book. I found it a little hard to connect with the characters. Rachelle is a total badass, brave and resourceful but her character seemed a little confused to me. I wasn't sure if she liked being a warrior or if it troubled her. She seemed to go back and forth a lot. I understand a person could feel both things at the same time but I don't think it was portrayed very well. I found the love interest Armand to be a little bit boring to be honest. I didn't get a great sense of chemistry between the two and Rachelle made the inexplicable switch from loathing him to falling in love with him. Just all of sudden one night, she's like 'I'm in love with him.' And I was just like 'Really? Where the hell did that come from?' So the romance fell a little flat for me.

Another problem I had was that there is a lot of mythology in this book about the Great Forest and the Forestborn and the Bloodbound and the Devourer that it is a little hard to keep straight. There are two legendary warriors with two legendary swords, all with names I can't remember. It's all supposed to tie together in the end but, to be perfectly honest, I had no idea what happened in the end. Not a clue what was supposed to be going on or why it was happening. 

You're probably wondering why I gave this book 4 out of 5. I gave it a higher rating because I admire Rosamund Hodge's ambition in telling such a complex story with a lot of different moving parts and I love her writing. I just think Cruel Beauty worked a lot better than Crimson Bound. 

You know what I wish? I wish Crimson Bound had been a series instead of a standalone. At the very least, a duology because I think that would give her the space to develop the world and the mythology a little better. It was all just so dense and tightly packed into one novel that it was difficult to unravel. 

I am still a fan of Rosamund Hodge's work and I am eagerly awaiting her next book, which will actually be the first book in planned series. I think Hodge's undeniable creativity will be better suited to a series instead of standalones. 

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1) 

Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal but Tamlin - one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world. 

As Feyre dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility to a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it...or doom Tamlin - and his world - forever.

Date Published: May 5, 2015
Published By: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Number of Pages: 419
Rating: 5/5


This may be the most perfect book that I have ever read. It was as if Sarah J. Maas read my mind, discovered what my perfect book would be and then went on to write that book. That's how amazing this book is. It's got everything I love. First of all, it's a Beauty and the Beast retelling with an ACTUAL BEAST. Yes, technically, Tamlin is a shapeshifter capable of transforming into a beast and back to a man at will but he's still got an actual beast form! I have been waiting for someone to do a Beauty and the Beast retelling with an actual beast since the Disney movie and this is the only book so far that I've read that's done it perfectly. 

Second of all, the romance is super hot and romantic and is developed so perfectly. Feyre's developing feelings for Tamlin are realized at a realistic pace and it is so beautiful to see them fall in love with each other. I found myself really anticipating the moment when their first kiss would happen and when it did...*sigh*...I got butterflies. Tamlin + Feyre 4EVER

I should also mention that this is the most erotic YA novel that I've ever read. There are some pretty steamy scenes in this book, many of them as sexy, if not sexier, than what I've read before in adult romance novels. I found myself actually going back to read some of the *ahem* naughtier bits in the book. I don't think I've ever been compelled to have a book boyfriend before until I discovered Tamlin.  

And speaking of book boyfriends...ah, the lovely Rhysand. So hot, so dark, and such a great character. He's definitely the bad boy in the love triangle and I so want to see more of him. Usually, love triangles aren't my thing but Rhysand, Tamlin, and Feyre are all such great characters that I'm kind of hoping they all just end up together. (Threesome, perhaps?) 

I also loved the worldbuilding Sarah J. Maas developed in ACOTAR. The world is believable, populated by many different types of faeries with an interesting mythology behind it. I loved that the faerie world was broken up into different courts (The Summer Court, The Spring Court, The Night Court, etc.) It really gave the story an epic fantasy feel. And that's really what this book is: an epic fantasy with lots of romance, action, and great characters. 

And the writing: gorgeous, exquisite, lyrical, top-notch. I can't say enough good things about this book. This is the kind of book that makes me jealous because it's the kind of book I wish I had written. (And the cover? So goddamned beautiful it burns my eyes.)

I cannot wait for the sequel next year. I know there are going to be two more books in the series, but in all honesty, I want TEN more books in this series. And I want them NOW!

Everybody needs to read this book. READ IT! READ IT NOW!

Review: Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

 Chasing Shadows 

Synopsis: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are closer than a family until a random act of violence shatters their world. A gunman shoots at their car, leaving Corey dead, Holly in a coma, and Savitri the sole witness to the crime.

When Holly wakes up, she is changed - determined to hunt down Corey's killer, whatever the cost. Savitri fears that Holly is running wild, losing her grip on reality. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?

Date Published: September 12, 2013
Published By: Ember
Number of Pages: 316
Rating: 4/5

Chasing Shadows is a well-written exploration of a strong friendship torn apart by senseless violence and devastating grief. It portrays two teenage girls struggling to hold on to their friendship and save each other while having to deal with their own psychological scars. The heartbreaking part is that, no matter how hard they try, their friendship, while not completely broken, will never be the same.

I loved how the book was mostly prose but some chapters were written in a graphic novel format. The mix of the two formats worked because a comic book character called the Leopardess features prominently in the story because Holly and Savitri read the comics. Holly even states in the beginning that sometimes she wishes she was the Leopardess. So the graphic novel elements of the story integrate seamlessly with the prose. 

While I was captivated by the drama of the story and interested in the characters, I didn't really connect with them. Still, it's an enjoyable read (if not a particularly happy one) and should please YA fans looking for a dramatic story with complex characters. 

Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood 

Synopsis: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual obsession is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A magnificent blending of the music, the mood, and the ethos that was the sixties with the story of one college student's romantic coming of age, Norwegian Wood brilliantly recaptures a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

Date Published: September 12, 2000 (English Translation)
Published By: Vintage Books
Number of Pages: 296
Rating: 5/5

Murakami's novels are usually filled with surreal elements and characters getting themselves into bizarre situations. That's why it was interesting to read a book by him that was, by Murakami standards, a rather straightforward love story. 

Yet, without Murakami's trademark surrealism, I still felt like the story was magical in a different sort of way. Murakami has a way of expressing thoughts and ideas that every person probably has throughout their lifetime in such a profound way that you wonder if Murakami is able to read minds. That's what I thought while reading Norwegian Wood. I couldn't believe the way the characters' ideas about society, life, and relationships so eerily matched up with mine. And this book was originally published before I was even born!

It's very easy to be hypnotized by Murakami's writing. While I was reading, I was so caught up in the story that everything around me kind of melted away and it was just me and the words on the page. When I inevitably had to put the book down, I felt myself having to adjust to reality, like waking from a very vivid dream.

That is the genius of Murakami's work. He creates another reality, another world that is so easy to get lost in that I found myself thinking about this book long after I had turned the final page. It is exquisite in its simplicity and you don't realize just how emotionally devastated you are until the final chapter. I'm not talking about sobbing uncontrollably on the floor. I'm talking about the quiet kind of devastation, the one that makes you sit still for a while where all you can do is pay attention to your own heartbeat. 

Review: Frostbite (Vampire Academy #2) by Richelle Mead

Frostbite (Vampire Academy, #2) 

Synopsis: Rose has serious guy trouble. Her gorgeous tutor, Dimitri, has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason has a huge crush on her, and she keeps getting stuck in her best friend Lissa's head while she's making out with her boyfriend, Christian.

Then a nearby Strigoi attack puts St. Vladimir's on high alert, and the Academy whisks its students away on a mandatory holiday ski trip. But the glittering winter landscape and posh Idaho resort only provide the illusion of safety. When three students run away to strike back against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. Only this time, Rose - and her heart - are in more danger than she ever imagined.

Date Published: April 1, 2008
Published By: Razorbill
Number of Pages: 327
Rating: 4/5

Another great installment in the Vampire Academy series that delves deeper into the mythology of the world and introduces new, interesting characters. 

It was nice to see a change of setting in this book. It just seemed like a very high-school kind of thing to have these characters go on a school trip to a ski resort. I almost think that happened in the Baby-Sitters Club. Although, I don't remember Kristy having to battle evil vampires along the way. And I don't think there was as much sex. But, I digress.

I love how this book has a bit more action than the first book and the danger is really ramped up, especially at the end. Rose grows up a lot in this book, making more mature decisions about her feelings and her relationships. She's still reckless and impulsive and snarky as hell, so she doesn't grow up too much which is nice. 

What I'm really waiting for in this series is the introduction of a Big Bad, a really great villain that the characters have to fight against until the end of the series. I think I kind of have an idea about who it's going to be but I'm not going to speculate too much here. All I'll say is that, if my guess is correct, then it will be a really interesting and bold direction to take this series.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Review: Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead

 Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy, #1)

Synopsis: Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth's magic. Her best friend Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir: a guardian whose blood is a powerful blend of vampire and human. Rose's life is dedicated to protecting Lissa from the dangerous Strigoi - the fiercest vampires, who will stop at nothing to make Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, a school for for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger...and Strigoi are always close by. 

Date Published: August 16, 2007
Published By: Razorbill
Number of Pages: 332
Rating: 4/5

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical when I started this series. I haven't really gotten along with some previous YA vampire novels. (*cough* Twilight *cough*). But I had heard some good things and decided to give it a shot. And I'm glad I did. Vampire Academy is tons of fun with lots of drama, romance, and action.

Rose is such a badass and I love her snarky POV. She's tough, brutally honest, and fiercely protective of the people she cares about - namely her best friend Lissa. I thought the friendship between Rose and Lissa was portrayed really well. They understand each other, they look out for each other and yet they sometimes have their problems because they're so different. It's really great to see a female friendship in a YA series that is really well done. 

A part I really liked about this book was the world-building. I loved how Richelle Mead created different types of vampires and different classes of vampires within those types. It made the world feel more real and believable, complex but still simple enough to keep track of. I liked seeing how all of the relationships in the novel were dependent upon what type of vampire someone was and how they fit into society. 

Another thing I like about this novel is that the teenagers are sexually active. Rose is still a virgin but thinks about sex and guys and enjoys being intimate with them. Lissa has already had sex with a previous boyfriend but is not portrayed as 'damaged' because she lost her virginity to the 'wrong' guy. I like this realistic portrayal of teenage sexuality, particularly in girls.

One thing I was not a fan of in this novel was the slut-shaming. Dimitri slut-shames Rose when he catches her making out with  Jesse. Rose is also slut-shamed by mean girl Mia and other people because people suspect her of being a 'blood whore.' And then Mia is slut-shamed for sleeping with two different guys in order to manipulate them. I understand that slut-shaming is a real thing that goes on in high school and I'm sure Mead's goal was to portray high school life as realistically as possible. However, I would've liked it if Rose or another character took issue with the slut-shaming itself instead of being offended at being called a slut. 

Other than that, I really enjoyed this first installment of the Vampire Academy series. I'd recommend this book to paranormal romance fans in general and fans of vampire stories in particular. 

Review: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

 The Castle of Otranto 

Synopsis: When a young prince tragically dies on the morning of his wedding day, there is shock and grief throughout the royal court. But there is an even greater surprise in store: the would-be groom's father is so afraid of dying without an heir that he decides to step in and marry the bride himself. 

And so unstoppable events are put in motion as the bride flees in terror through the dark, winding castle which hides a multitude of ancestral secrets and ancient prophecies on the verge of coming true. 

Date Published: Sometime in 1764
Published By: Hesperus Press Limited (2015 Edition)
Number of Pages: 109
Rating: 3/5

The Castle of Otranto is considered to be the very first gothic novel ever written. It has most of the elements found in classic gothic literature: a bit of horror, a bit of romance, castles, villains, priests, ghosts, and lots and lots of melodrama. 

Having been written in 1764, the language of the story is incredibly dramatic with lots of flowery language that is usually unfamiliar to modern day readers. Lots of 'thees' and 'thous' and 'thys' that reminded me of a Shakespeare play. Which actually makes a lot of sense because Walpole admitted to being heavily influenced by Shakespeare, referring to him as a 'truly original genius.' 

Even though this novel is short, it had so many twists and turns that it was sometimes hard to figure out what exactly was going on and it was hard to keep the characters straight. (The flowery language didn't help.) As a result, I found it difficult to connect with this story. Perhaps its just not the kind of novel that modern readers can really be interested in. Although Shakespeare is still popular, so go figure. 

I'd recommend it to readers who are interested in the origins of gothic fiction to see where the genre originated. For other readers, you're better off with Shakespeare or other classic fiction.

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

 The Girl on the Train 

Synopsis: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes and stops at the signal that allows her to watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She looks forward to it. She's even started to feel like she knows them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Noe everything's changed. Unable to keep her discovery to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good? 

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut. 

Date Published: January 13, 2015
Published By: Riverhead Books
Number of Pages: 316
Rating: 4/5

Touted as the new Gone Girl, the popularity of this debut novel has exploded this year, breaking book sales records and is already in the process of being made into a film. So does it live up to the hype?

I would say yes. But also, no.

Let me explain. I love Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. So, of course, I'm going to compare The Girl on the Train to it. And while I found it to be a compelling, psychological thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed, I still love Flynn's Girl just a little bit more. 

Okay, enough comparisons. Let's talk about the merits of the book itself.

The Girl on the Train is told from multiple perspectives, all of them female. They are all connected to each other in some way and all of them feel differently towards each other. Rachel's POV is the most prominent seeing as she is the main character. And here's something you need to know about Rachel: she might be one of the most unlikable characters I've ever read. She's a pathetic, jealous alcoholic who refuses to let go of the past. And yet, you still sympathize with her. You can't help but root for her, to not only solve the mystery but to get her life together. 

I would actually say that none of the characters in this book are particularly likable. And that's okay. Better than okay, it's refreshing to read about real people with all of their flaws laid bare on the page. It makes for a more interesting story. 

About the story itself: it's a competent mystery with lots of different twists and turns. There was one moment in the book that I found genuinely shocking. (And no, it wasn't the ending.) The ending itself...I kind of guessed it during the last hundred pages or so. I almost wish the twist was a little bit bigger, a little more unexpected. 

Overall, it really is a great thriller and I can definitely see why so many people are reading and enjoying this book. I'm excited to see the film version and I will definitely be reading whatever Paula Hawkins chooses to write next. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

August 2015 Reading Wishlist

 August 4

Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels by Haruki Murakami
Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels

Genre: Literary Fiction
Oh yeah! New Murakami! Well, technically not new seeing as this is a collection of two of his earliest novels. But it is the first time we see them translated into English. (At least, I think it's the first time.) Regardless, I am excited. Bring on the Japanese surrealism!

The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog by W. Bruce Cameron
The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog

Genre: Historical Fiction
Oh my god, why has no one else thought to publish a story about a man bonding with a wolf and creating the first domesticated dog! I don't know too much about this book but I bet you anything that it will be a tear-jerker. Anything to do with dogs usually is. 

Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories by China Mieville
Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Short Fiction
It's always something to look forward to when the master of the New Weird releases a collection of short fiction.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Stone #1) by N.K. Jemisin
The Fifth Season (The Broken Stone, #1)

Genre: Fantasy
Still have not read any of Jemisin's work, although I have collected every book she's written so far. This is the start to her new Broken Earth series which chronicles a world going through multiple extinction-level events.

Not After Everything by Michelle Levy
Not After Everything

Genre: YA Contemporary
A romance following two teens that were former childhood friends who are brought together after a tragic event.

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
A History of Glitter and Blood

Genre: YA Fantasy
War breaks out between  fairies and gnomes in this lyrical fantasy novel.

Dragonfish by Vu Tran

Genre: Mystery

August 11

Reawakened (Reawakened #1) by Colleen Houck
Reawakened (Reawakened, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

The Moment of Letting Go by J.A. Redmirski
The Moment of Letting Go

Genre: New Adult Romance

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Genre: Literary Fiction

August 18

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by Various Authors
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

Genre: YA Anthology-Horror

The Incarnations by Susan Barker
The Incarnations

Genre: Literary Fiction

August 25

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals #1) by Eleanor Herman
Legacy of Kings (Blood of Gods and Royals, #1)

Genre: YA Historical Fantasy

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Genre: YA Science Fiction