DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1): Review

8490112Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1) by Laini Taylor
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on September 27, 2011
Genres: young adult, paranormal romance, fantasy
Pages: 422
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★


Mm. Hmm.

I’m chewing my lip at what to say here, folks. It’s been almost a year since I read this book, and I don’t feel much toward it. Except disappointment.

This book has been on my radar for years. Almost all my favorite reviewers love it and Laini Taylor. They praise the vivid world-building, the complex love story, the enchanting way Taylor weaves her words. About 25% through the book, I almost found myself agreeing with them.

But then the romance happened, and my reaction to the rest of the book can be described in just one word: Huh?

Taylor gives us a lush, atmospheric setting for her novel: Prague. We learn about Karou, the unusual girl with the blue hair; her friend, Zuzana; Karou’s work collecting teeth for her chimera father figure, Brimstone, and his cohorts, the family Karou never had. And, on top of it all, there’s an angel named Akiva in Prague, looking for Brimstone and Karou–an angel who may know more about Karou than she knows about herself.

All in all, it’s a captivating, unique story, and it drew me right in, because I’ve never quite read anything like it. The setting, the writing, the mythology–all of it was unique and engaging, and I wanted more.

But that’s where my praises for this book end. Because then the romance takes center stage, and this book goes from fascinating paranormal story to a book about star-crossed lovers who, you guessed it, were star-crossed in a previous life, as well, causing a rift between their two worlds.

Maybe I could get behind this if it was something that’s not incredibly overdone in YA paranormal literature. But Karou and Akiva’s first romance wasn’t even very interesting, because there wasn’t anything to base it off of. Karou saves Akiva during a battle between his kind and hers, and all of the sudden, he’s in love? I don’t know. The progression seemed too hasty for me, and, seeing as the majority of this book’s appeal rests on your ability to engage in the romance from about 30% on, such a progression resulted in my growing disinterest with the story.

Then, some other drama gets thrown into the book (no spoilers here) which threatens the existence of Karou and Akiva’s relationship. Again, this is normal. This is okay. Maybe it might peeve me a little bit, but it wouldn’t bother me too much if we hadn’t spent so much time building up this romance instead of focusing on the other aspects of the story. Why are the doors closing? Exactly what does Brimstone do? I want to know more about him and the chimera and their relationship with Karou. I wanted to see more of Prague and all its magic. I wanted Karou to show us more of her abilities. As far as I was concerned, the romance, while initially intriguing, can take a hike. As soon as the “star-crossed lovers” slant is given to it, their relationship becomes incredibly generic. And tiresome, because we’ve seen this type of relationship before.

In short: With creative mythology, spell-binding prose, and interesting characters, this book had great potential to be an engaging, fresh look at angels and demons in a modern-day/fantasy setting. However, by focusing more on a cliched, overwhelmingly star-crossed romance, this book inadvertently hides the qualities that make it so unique for a story element not impressive enough to take the place of those qualities. I’m disappointed in this decision, and probably won’t be continuing the series.

RONIT & JAMIL: Review

30317423Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 21, 2017
Genres: young adult, realistic fiction, contemporary romance, poetry, retellings
Pages: 192
Format: Hardcover
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Rating:


This rating is not what you think.

Or maybe it’s not what I would think it to be; usually, for me, one-star reviews mean that the reviewer didn’t just dislike the book they’re reviewing–they hated it.

But I didn’t hate this book. I was just underwhelmed by it.

Ronit & Jamil is pitched as a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the midst of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Not only is this conflict a current issue–it’s divisive, and it’s affecting both ethnic relations between Arabs and Jews and U.S. foreign policy. So divisive, current, and important–but not widely covered. Not in YA literature, at least. I’m also part Syrian, and my heritage has partially influenced my cultural interactions with others whose families are involved in this conflict.

So I was really looking forward to this story, both as a unique approach to Shakespearean retellings and as a provoker of discussion. This story promised to address the question posed in its first pages: Whose land is it, really? And is there ever hope for peace in a two-state solution?

This story doesn’t answer those questions. There are mentions of peace and conflict and bombs (although, some of this might be metaphorical; kind of difficult to tell when the book is written verse [I’ll come back to that]). There are moments where Ronit and Jamil question why coexistence is so impossible, and why enmity between the two nations has become so prevalent and potent, it’s practically its own family tradition. But these questions are not developed more–they are touched on briefly, and then left to dissolve in to the backs of readers’ minds.

It seems what I’m trying to say is that this story’s priorities were focused more on the romance than on an important contemporary socio-political issue. But what I’m trying to say is that…actually, I don’t know. I’m really not sure where this story’s priorities were, and I think that’s one of its major faults.

Am I supposed to focus on the romance? It’s barely developed. Ronit and Jamil go from acknowledging the others’ existence to having the hots for each other and running away together. Their connection is so brief and underdeveloped that I have no idea why they fell for each other, or why either loves the other so much they would run away from their former lives and their family. I also had difficulty telling the two of them apart; despite their different ethnicities and the variations that result (different ways of addressing their parents/talking about food, etc.), their voices were almost identical. What makes it even more confusing is that Ronit is the girl here, and Jamil is the boy; I thought at least I could rely on the beginning letters of their names to distinguish who was who (R=Romeo, J=Juliet), but here, it’s swapped, I think. Even now, I don’t know. I barely remember the characters themselves.

Am I supposed to focus on the conflict between Israel and Palestine? This book acknowledges that conflict exists, but more words are wasted describing food, running errands, and kissing than on covering this conflict. If you’re going to include an issue like this as a springboard for discussion, please use it for something. Conflict is conflict–it is meant for causing change. Conflict is a force, not a setting. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not be mitigated to a backdrop for two lovers if you’re not going to address the nuances that make this conflict so messy. You could set this book anywhere else, and very little would need to be changed to tell the same story.

Ronit & Jamil‘s failure to develop both its characters and its conflict as real, engaging, and relatable renders this story ineffective–as commentary, as a retelling, and even as a book of good poetry; nothing about the prose in this book grabbed my attention. It’s a very quick read (I finished it in about two hours), but it’s forgettable–the last thing a book featuring such an important issue should be.

A CROWN OF WISHES (The Star-Touched Queen, #2): Review (ARC)


29939047A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen, #2)
by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on March 28, 2017
Genres: young adult, romance, fantasy, mythology
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback (ARC)
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Rating: ★★★¼


Hmm.

I enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen, although I had my grievances with it. It was tastefully-written and a lovely gateway into an enchanting world. I admired Gauri, and so when I heard she was getting her own book, I got super excited. (Also, a tournament of wishes? Sounds cool, right?)

I liked A Crown of Wishes, but I didn’t love it. Just like its predecessor, something seems missing in this book, and here, that missing X factor is time. We just don’t get enough time with these characters. I wanted more funny banter between Gauri and Vikram, more page time with that vanara (who really could have been a cool, humorous sidekick, if he’d been present for more of the story), more external conflict in the Tournament once Vikram and Gauri arrived.  I finished this book, and I still don’t feel I know the characters as well as I could have.

That being said, I enjoyed both Vikram and Gauri. Both are driven, distinct characters with good heads on their shoulders. Gauri is a warrior, but she’s not heartless. Vikram can’t wield weapons, but he’s cunning. It was a cool balance to read, and a nice twist on the stereotypical fantasy gender roles without being overbearing. I just wanted more on-screen bonding time between our two leads so I could root for their romance more enthusiastically. I’ve always been a slow-burner gal, so maybe that’s part of it, but I did feel like the romance moved too quickly.

The plot in this story is easier to follow than The Star-Touched Queen‘s: Gauri and Vikram compete in certain challenges to win one wish each. Maybe it’s because I hear “tournament” and think “Hunger Games,” but I felt the tournament wasn’t as present in the story as it was set up to be in the blurb. Yes, there are competitors and challenges, but we don’t really see much of the other competitors, and, while there are challenges, most are symbolic. Which is fine, just not filled with much action. Again, fine, but not what I expected.

This review makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy this book, but I did. I enjoyed the characters, and the writing is just as beautiful as always (a memo for anyone who might have been turned off by the writing in TSTQ: the prose is more tempered here). This novel is a story about magic and stories themselves–and about how we hold power over both. And, as both a reader and a storyteller, I found that delightful.

In short: This book was magical, vibrant, and clever–much like a folk tale. It just wasn’t quite a home run for me.

Much thanks to St. Martin’s for the ARC. No compensation of any kind was exchanged for this review.

 

 

 

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN (The Star-Touched Queen, #1): Review

25203675The Star-Touched Queen (The Star-Touched Queen, #1) by Roshani Chokshi
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on April 26, 2016
Genres: young adult, romance, fantasy, mythology
Pages: 342
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★½ 


I had a hard time making up my mind as to whether or not I would read this book. When I first saw the cover, I thought the answer would be yes. Then I read the blurb and wasn’t sure if it would be my thing.

The answer changed to a probable no when I read a few negative reviews on Goodreads. One trusted reviewer was not a fan of the (in their opinion) overly-flowery prose, which they claimed did not make up for the lack of plot. The quotes this reviewer included in their review sounded more stilted than flowery, so I decided on yeah, no thanks.

But then I saw this book at the library, and my answer changed to just try it.

So, with so much going back and forth on this book, what is my final verdict of The Star-Touched Queen? Well, for one thing, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed the writing style. Roshani Chokshi uses very vivid imagery with vibrant, well-chosen words; you can see the sunsets she’s describing; you can taste the food the characters are eating; you can see the magic of this world unravel around you in spools. As a result, I loved the atmosphere of this book.

However, the writing style might not be for everyone, so I’d recommend checking out a sample on Amazon (or another online retail site)  to see if the prose is something you’d enjoy. I liked it, but that doesn’t mean everyone will.

As a result of such vivid prose, you get a lovely little glimpse of Bharata. It genuinely felt like  a real place to me, like maybe, if I traveled far away and hoped hard enough, maybe I’d find it. I enjoyed the whimsical feel; it gave this story a very fairy-tale-like atmosphere.

However, I couldn’t help but wish there were more side characters in the story after Maya leaves for Akaran. Amar is intriguing and mysterious and sweet (and I wanted wayyyy more of him than we got), but part of his mysterious identity means he’s absent in many parts of the story.

This leaves readers to accompany Maya in her explorations of her kingdom, which, while interesting in that it offers a few more clues to exactly what kind of kingdom Maya has inherited through her marriage, is not enough to make the plot move forward on its own. In most of these scenes, Maya is alone, and, while she’s a sensitive and compassionate girl I could easily sympathize with and root for, her musings alone are not enough to keep this plot going. The book loses momentum in its middle, and something else—perhaps another, more present side character—might have prevented my interest from meandering. Anything would have worked to keep me invested in the story.

This wandering about means the twist seemingly comes out of nowhere—and, don’t get me wrong, I was ripping through pages to get to the end because I was so concerned about Amar–which made the conclusion a little unsatisfying. I wanted more–about Amar, about Akaran, about Maya and her past. But, when I finished the book, it didn’t seem like I had very many answers to those questions.

Fantastical world-building, luscious prose, intriguing mythology, and an alluring love interest–this book has them all. But, in many ways, while The Star-Touched Queen enticed me with promises of a sweet, delectable fruit of a story, my desires were not fully satiated.

 

FINDING AUDREY: Review

23305614Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on June 9, 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary (romance), mental health/mental illness
Pages: 286
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★½


I haven’t read the Shopaholic series, I’ll admit, so this was my first Sophie Kinsella novel. But, after reading this, I might consider checking out her other books. Because I enjoyed this a lot.

This book gives us a glimpse into the life of Audrey Turner–a girl struggling with a severe anxiety disorder–and the life of the rest of the Turners. It’s a life full of Mom’s hilarious overdramatics, Dad’s awkward yet heartwarming quirks, and Audrey’s brother’s video-games. It’s a life Audrey’s brother’s friend Linus gets to experience when he starts coming over to the Turners’ to hang out. Linus and Audrey form a connection that allows Audrey to, in turn, connect with the outside world, and delve a little deeper into her anxiety, helping her grow.

There are several things this book did very well, and the first was the portrayal of mental illness. Audrey sees a therapist regularly, and this therapist reminds her–quite accurately–that recovery and progress with a mental illness is not linear; there are highs and lows no matter where you are in your life journey. (For those worried Linus will “fix” Audrey: He tries, thinking that mental illness is something that can be “fixed,” but, while Linus helps Audrey make progress, he doesn’t heal her. There’s a very important distinction there, and it makes for a very realistic portrayal of love and relationships with others: other people cannot fix us, but they can definitely make for smoother sailing.) This book shows us some of those highs and lows, taking a very real issue (anxiety) and giving us a very honest, accurate depiction of it.

The result is some great messages about anxiety, mental illness, and recovery in general:

I think what I’ve realized is, life is all about climbing up, slipping down, and picking yourself up again. And it doesn’t matter if you slip down. As long as you’re kind of heading more or less upwards. That’s all you can hope for. More or less upwards.

Another:

We don’t have to reveal everything to each other. It’s OK to be private. It’s OK to say no. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m not going to share that.’

It really hits anxiety and depression right on the mark. I can’t even begin to describe how accurate this is:

The trouble is, depression doesn’t come with handy symptoms like spots and a temperature, so you don’t realize it at first. You keep saying “I’m fine” to people when you’re not fine. You think you SHOULD be fine. You keep saying to yourself: “Why aren’t I fine?”

So, yes, I loved the way this book handled mental illness. I wish we had more books like these.

I also love the Turner family. They’re so strange, but so normal, too? Whose mom doesn’t freak out over the smallest things sometimes? Whose Dad doesn’t make awkward jokes? Whose parents don’t have more than their fair share of awkward moments? Whose children don’t roll their eyes at their parents when their parents are overracting (and aren’t they always? Love you, Mom. 😉 ) This book was so relatable, giving us a flawed, messy family in all its humorous glory. I laughed out loud for over half the book.

Linus is sweet, too. He’s understanding, relaxed, and, well…normal. He’s a normal boy, just like the Turners are a normal family. But somehow that makes all of them more special. I enjoyed Linus’s interactions with the Turners and with Audrey and her brother, specifically; they were fun to read. His romance with Audrey was also cute, if a bit rushed at the very end.

One thing I wish this book would have done (besides making the romance a liiiittle slower at the end) was dive a little deeper into what sparked Audrey’s anxiety. We know there’s an incident at school, but we don’t know much about it. The ending felt kind of abrupt, and I was left wanting more closure on how Audrey’s learning to cope with her disorder, just a tad more on how she’d come to accept it as a part of her. (And that acceptance is a constant process.) I felt a little cheated when I closed the book, because I didn’t get the opportunity to understand/experience Audrey’s anxiety as much as I’d hoped. The book could’ve dug just a little deeper, but we didn’t get there, which left me kind of bummed.

All in all, this is a funny, sweet story with an honest look into mental illness and family life. Pick it up if you’d like a heartwarming contemporary read, or you’re in the mood for a good laugh.

A COURT OF MIST AND FURY (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2): Review

17927395A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)  by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 3, 2016
Genres: young adult/new adult, romance, fantasy, retellings
Pages: 624
Format: Hardcover
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Rating: ★★★★½ 


AHHH. I’m so glad I stuck with this series. This book was so good. In fact, so far, it’s the only Fae book I’ve read and enjoyed.

After reading ACOTAR, I was apprehensive about reading ACOMAF. So many people liked the first book, but I didn’t, so if they loved the first book, would I?

I was worried the answer would be no. I didn’t love Tamlin and Feyre as a couple, but I was all right with them by the end of ACOTAR, so, going into ACOMAF I wasn’t sure about Rhysand as a love interest—both because my first impression of him was less than stellar, and because I don’t like change.

Don’t get me wrong: The first 100 pages or so of this book was boring. Feyre is preparing for her wedding to Tamlin (or, more accurately, watching other people prepare for her wedding to Tamlin), and both of them are still processing the trauma they experienced under the mountain—trauma that is driving a wedge between them and making Tamlin overprotective and uncaring. I commend Maas for being willing to show this trauma; characters are people, guys; if they go through something traumatic, it’s not like that trauma just disappears after the traumatic experiences ends. But I was still very uninterested in the story, and I wondered how I would get through 500 more pages of this. For the slightest moment, I doubted I’d finish the book.

But I pushed through, and now I understand why this book is so long. It pulls you in, slowly immersing you in a fascinating, cleverly-developed world full of culture and customs I loved reading about.

This book is an amazing insight into Maas’s Fae culture, and I loved every bit of it. I want to disappear into this world and become Fae, you guys. I would love it. And I can picture my life here, because I can picture the Day and Night courts, Rhys’s house, the cabins, Starfall. I said in my review of ACOTAR that I wanted more world-building, and here, Maas gives it in abundance.

I also loved the slow development of Feyre and Rhys’s relationship, both as friends, and as lovers. I liked how it wasn’t instant attraction, how each of them have burdens they’re struggling to bear and trauma to get over, but how they challenge each other in small ways —and big ones—so one helps the other become a better person.

I loved how Rhys was patient with Feyre, how he never forced her to do what she wasn’t comfortable with and how he trusted her to judge circumstances fairly. He listened to her opinions, respected her needs, and deferred to her for important decisions she needed to make about herself. He respected her and did not try to undermine. He was supportive of her choices, and I loved that. He treated her like a woman, not a girl. It’s a rare sight to see in YA fantasy—not that all male love interests in YA fantasy are actively working to subjugate their female protagonists, but seeing Rhysand instead actively working to help Feyre and others recognize her own power and influence–and honoring that power and influence—was refreshing.

But aside from that, I love Rhys. He’s cocky sometimes, sure, but he’s definitely not the corny bad boy I thought he was when I read ACOTAR. No, Rhys is a man (or, as much a man as a High Fae can be, I guess). He’s a ruler who cares about the safety and wellbeing of his people—a ruler who would made the ultimate sacrifice for his subjects, and, in many ways, already has. And, on top of that, he’s sensitive and caring and merciful, but strong, too. To me, Rhysand is the perfect example of a happy medium for a male love interest somewhere between “I man you woman” and “sobbing pile of gook.” He’s just so well-balanced, and I love how he pushed Feyre to come into her own—without undermining her needs and without dictating who she will become. The level of trust there is, again, so refreshing and wonderful to read. (I’ll never stop talking about this, will I?)

Also, Rhysand’s inner circle? I love them. Each member is just wonderful in their own way, all fierce, but all compassionate. I wish I had a group of friends like that—friends just as deadly as they are loyal.

There were a few scenes I felt were excessive in content, and the length to which Maas vilifies Tamlin was a bit much for me, but overall this was a wonderful read. It took some time for the book to grow on me, but once I was in, I was slowly submerged in something vivid and engaging and fun. The world-building, character relationships, and even the plot were all constructed so thoroughly that this book didn’t feel (more or less) 700 pages long. I almost wish there was more of it.

 

 

MY SOUL TO SAVE (Soul Screamers, #2): Review

6763961My Soul to Save (Soul Screamers, #2) by Rachel Vincent
Published by Harlequin Teen on December 29, 2009
Genres: young adult urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound

Rating: ★★½  


Uh oh. I’m in trouble.

I’m reviewing this book, and I can barely remember a thing about it.

Granted, I didn’t exactly read this yesterday, so it might be that time is working against my memory. But I think the more likely reason why I couldn’t remember much about this book is there’s not much worth remembering.

The idea itself was super cool: teenagers selling their souls for things like fame and fortune and immortality. I enjoyed how we got to see more of Tod and the reaper world. But everything else is dull and underwhelming, and, as much as I wanted to like the idea of hellions and the Underworld, I grew more bored and tired of it than intrigued.

The characters weren’t very special, either; again, I liked Tod, and I liked how we got to see more of Nash’s mom (she’s so cool) and Kaylee’s (I had to look up her name again) dad, but most of the book is spent in the company of Kaylee, Nash, Addison, and Emma, and they just weren’t exciting enough to hold my attention or interest.

I don’t want to bore you, too, so I’ll be brief: I was disappointed by this one, but in the this-is-kind-of-boring-and-I’m-not-invested way. I’m seriously considering not reading the next book.