Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3)A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, the greatest character in this series has got to be Holland. I have always liked his character since book 1 despite all those nefarious deeds he committed. He’s just got something deeply flawed but endearing about him, and truly, I’m so happy that Schwab finally gave him the screentime and story that he deserved. What happened to him still leaves a somewhat bittersweet taste in my mouth, but I know it’s necessary to show how he became who he is. For some reason, I’m drawn to broken, fragile people and I really appreciate that Schwab obviously took great care in crafting him. He’s truly the MVP in this book and he was the most memorable character for me.

Now, about the story, I think there were places when the plot obviously lagged. There was a lot of rising action and it took much longer than I expected for it to finally culminate. However, the pacing picked up, and it was very quick and heart-pounding. The author really made those frenetic action scenes worth savoring because when fights happened, they were very good. There was a lot of foreshadowing and I think it worked nicely as subplots. Most readers may foresee these certain events but it’s really more about the unfolding of events rather than the surprise element of plot twists. The plot got very dark, of course, but the love lines in the book really elevated the book’s sweet side and bring a respite from the macabre. Some things worked out better and easier than I would have thought and most of the time, I didn’t feel as connected with secondary characters. I felt much more angst when something minor happens to the main characters compared to something major to these secondary characters. While understandable, I think that will be something Schwab will improve in ample time as she hones her writing craft. Already, I see a great improvement in her writing style from her first adult novel Vicious. In the end, I am satisfied with the ending of this wonderful trilogy. I wish there was more but the way it ended is fitting and does justice to all the characters. I would love to hear more about Holland and White London but I think that those stories are closed for now. However, there’s definitely a set-up for more adventures if Schwab truly wishes to revisit these beloved characters, so we’ll see!

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Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss (The Winner's Trilogy, #3)The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Fantasy books rarely close on such a sweet note. I’m unused to a happy, hopeful ending. (Oh, you authors have broken my heart time over time with all your shenanigans.)

The Winner’s Crime ended on such a grim note that I wondered how the situation could resolve itself. Realistically speaking, war can only hold off imperialism for so long and the odds are not in Arin’s quaint colony’s favor. So even if he wins this spat, Valoria will return one day to conquer this nation again. However, brute force and guerilla warfare may leave scars that will desist Valoria from stepping on their land for a while. That doesn’t leave many choices. However, Arin and Kestrel are a force to be reckoned with and they are the perfect couple and tag team to tackled this dilemma. Arin is smart. Kestrel is smarter. With these limited resources at hand, the author really made them work hard for a happy ending.

“What formation would the general use,” Roshar had asked her, “for a march along a road of that width?”
Kestrel had paused, fingers on the worn map.
“She can’t know for certain,” Arin said.
“Here’s what I would do if I were him,” she said…

At the start of the book, Arin is return to his home heartbroken but not without a measure of hope to move on and deal with the looming war at hand. He struck me as a resilient character and this is such an apt description because he talked a lot about learning from his mistakes. He began to harden his heart to war’s brutality and although he bounced back from all these mishaps, he changed cynically. He’s determined and resourceful, but the author shows that he is merciful towards Valorian female warriors. In one scene, he hesitates in a moment of weakness which causes him to sustain an injury from a random Valorian female soldier. I liked that he still retains that core of decency and I don’t question his actions because this is wartime.

“But this was your true self,” he said. “Intelligent, brave, manipulative. Kind. You made no effort to hide who you were. Then I found that I wanted you to hide it. This was the luxury of your position, wasn’t it, that you didn’t have to hide? It was the doomed nature of mine, that I did. And that’s true. Sometimes a truth squeezes you so tightly you can’t breathe. It was like that. But it also wasn’t, because there was another reason it hurt to look at you. You were too likable. To me.”

Kestrel is worse off than she was in the previous books. I really felt for her pain and misery, and I understood why it was better to forget rather than torment herself with memories of her past. In all honesty, she is the better for her experience because her fundamental self is unchanged. She has been strong, tactical, and persistently independent with what she has to work with. As a general’s daughter, she lives up to her name and continues to play wargames despite her mental hardships. Arin coddles her with his protectiveness so it’s interesting seeing the dynamics between the two. True, Kestrel deeply cares about Arin but she is not as easily swayed by emotions. She does not let emotion color her decisions. However, she is by no means an ice queen. She is deeply traumatized by her recent experiences and suffers through a huge identity crisis. Much of it is internal and she does not express much of it physically.

She remembered how she’d wanted to explain to him that it had rattled her to try to slip into her father’s mind, to know that the general’s mind and her own felt upsettingly similar. She’d wanted to put her fear inside a white box and give it to Arin.
You, too, she would tell him. I fear for you. I fear for me if I lost you.
War is no place for fear, said the memory of her father’s voice.
“Take care,” she’d told Arin.
He’d smiled.

Arin, on the other hand, is irrational when it comes to Kestrel. I kept waiting throughout the book for it to come back to bite him in the rear but it seems that there were no severe consequences. Sure, there are some grave risks taken and several heartrending moment in which they suffered grievous wounds. However, they survived relatively unscathed. I think I should feel happy, right? I guess I’m so used to being tricked and handed bittersweet endings that The Winner’s Kiss almost seems like a miracle. But a gift is a gift and I’LL TAKE IT.

Thanks, Marie Rutkoski for writing a wonderful book filled with sweet moments, tender declarations of love, and gory descriptions of appendages lopped off.

Review: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

That was a spectacular story packed with so much action, ferocity, and amazing twists.
I’ve noticed over the years how my pet peeves and certain tropes have tended to make me biased. This is a biased review. This book is not perfect and it’s bound to contain a lot of flaws since it’s a whopping 650 pages long. And let me tell you, it will take a while to get through but the time it takes to read will fly by.

Spoilers for previous books ahead:

I’ve always placed the utmost importance on plotting and there was so much going on that I’m awed by how the author still manages to squeeze a lot of character development in. There’s new characters introduced and things have definitely changed while Aelin was away in Wendlyn. One of the first things that stood out to me was how Chaol became so embittered. Right from the beginning of Aelin and Chaol’s interaction, I noticed how he acted as if he had a chip on his shoulder; well, that was new. Of course, he went through many losses, heartbreak, and exile but while it only made Aelin stronger, he did not seem to recover to it. This peeved me because the author wrote such a dynamic character who had a lot to figure out but he was not consistent in Queen of Shadows. He felt like a completely different person molded to fit the author’s purpose. He was no longer a staunch supporter of Aelin as he had been in Crown of Midnight. Is this because Rowan replaced his role? I think so. Basically, he was not needed anymore. He’s still important, of course, but he’s pushed to the sideline since he has no magic whatsoever to boast of so he’s practically useless.

Now on to the juicy, good stuff:
There’s a lot of action, devious planning, and underhanded tactics going on. Whereas I had thought the struggle to be two-way, it turns out there were hidden enemies (King of the Assassins, anyone) that emerged to trouble/help Aelin. Adarlan is plagued with debauched characters and I liked how Aelin showed her dogged determination and cunning when she dealt with them. From what Chaol and the title hinted at, it seems that Aelin is more of an anti-hero than the standard YA heroine. She kills but her methods are orthodox to her upbringing which means it’s super gory, unladylike, and very polarizing. Readers like me drank it up like crazy because we finally have a ‘fire-breathing bitch queen’. The author pulls all the punches and there line between good and evil becomes blurred. In order for Aelin to keep up with her enemies, she has to be more ruthless than them and always one step ahead. Despite the facade she carried, it’s very obvious that she’s tired and heavily burdened. That’s why I’m ecstatic that the supporting characters who join her court are strong and able to take care of her.

I’ve been wondering when Aelin would receive the tight-knit group of rebels that she sorely needed. She lost Sam and then she lost Nehemia. Dorian had bigger things to worry about than her, and Chaol wasn’t able to monitor her well, so thank goodness for her new court! The plot flowed very well because it was driven heavily by the characters and anyone who’s read these books will know how active the characters are. Especially Aelin who is always scheming; she’s still overly protective of her friends so that means there’s so many plans going on right under their nose.

There’s also Manon Blackbeak who had worried me initially due to the moral direction she seemed to take. For those who had anticipated a convergence of these two’s perspective, rest assured because they do meet. Albeit it was a bit delayed than expected since they didn’t meet at all in HoF, the culmination of the wait is well worth it. I enjoyed how diverse these two’s personalities are and yet how similar their upbringings were. I loved the quote “You were made, made into monsters.” It’s like two sides of the same coin because Manon is a witch and Aelin is a fae and yet they are both very fierce and loving in their own right. Manon becomes more fleshed out and readers learn more about her Second and Third-in-Command. It’s a moving story, actually and I enjoyed her point of view much more than I did in Heir of Fire.

Also, bless Kaltain, one of the most underrated characters in the first book! She’s a sort of anomaly because she is one of the people who was truly discarded and forgotten about. I’m glad the author included her in QoS because she wasn’t necessarily a bad character in ToG and I wondered what was happening to her. Let’s just say she’s stronger than anyone anticipated and she knows more than she lets on. There’s a lot of female empowerment especially with Lysandra who is a blast from the past for Aelin. I really liked her because she defied all stereotypes and female norms sanctioned in place for a woman of her ranking. She’s a prostitute and yet she has a free will along with her own motives. When Aelin lost Nehemia, Lysandra was the perfect person to heal the scars in her heart.

I think a lot of people have been holding out hopes for a Rowan cameo. He’s there, alright. I like him more because he’s become more expressive. However, I think it’s a bit unrealistic because he was formally so cold towards Aelin. Now he is like a cinnamon roll but he’s still deadly.

Conclusion:

Magic is very powerful. The plot contained a lot of twists and turns that I myself didn’t even see coming. A lot of mysteries were uncovered and we find out why affairs are the way they were. So there actually was more to the king than I thought. Seriously, I just assumed he was an ambitious young man who simply turned greedy and evil from power.

Spoiler (highlight to see but DON’T LOOK IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK YET):So the talking skull knocker didn’t mention the duke following the king down to explore the tombs! I’m wondering what’s going on because that’s super fishy since that means Elena also withheld that bit of crucial information. ~

Anyways, please comment your thoughts on the book and let me know what you think.
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Review: Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War (Shattered Sea, #3)Half a War by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was by far the easiest series to finish reading! There’s just something so compelling about Joe Abercrombie’s stories which immerses me into the characters and the world. It’s one of those rare occasions where I wish for a sequel or more books in the series. In every book, there’s a different protagonist although the previous ones all play a heavy role in the current book. From Yarvi to Thorn Bathu to Skara, these are all complex characters who change drastically throughout the plotlines; I am startled to discover how differently they act over time. It’s interesting to see what war can do to a person when push comes to shove and desperate times call for desperate measures.

The titles have all carried intelligent meanings for the story starting as Half a King for Yarvi, to Half the World for Thorn, and to Half a War for Skara. Where war was foreshadowed in the first book, it was imminent and prevented in the second, but it became inevitable in the third. I loved the gradual progression and great pacing of the whole series. Joe is one fantastic master storyteller and honestly, he deserve all the recognition he gets in the fantasy genre.

This the real fantasy filled with gritty elements of the battle field, ship invasions, and war strategies. Skara gets orphaned within the first few pages and becomes queen immediately. However, she’s queen of a conquered land so she ends up running. She’s made out to be a victim of circumstances and a weakling who has nothing to her name. I loved how much perseverance and spunk she had. She has the gift of words and years of teaching has made her cunning and practical; she’s ambitious, all right. I love that the books all contain strong female characters that can easily rival the male ones. I see a parallel between her situation and Yarvi’s when they both lost everything and had to climb their way back up. However, they are quite different even though they both seek revenge and are willing to go the extra mile to do so. Yarvi is proud and it’s been seen time and again through the series; it’s one of the steady parts of his personality. Skara, on the other hand, does not prioritize pride. I love how they act as two sides of the same coin and sometimes are foils to each other. It’s interesting because they play mind games and there’s a lot of intrigue with both of their underhanded tactics.

There is romance but it’s very realistic romance; it’s not a love story if that’s what readers are looking for. Fantasy and war is always on the forefront so I liked how the author also portrayed how love was being affected by it. People want to seek fame and glory in battle but they also want to keep love; this is the prime dilemma of Koll. I’d say Koll was not a strong character to start out with but he continued to surprise me with some hidden iron depths. Without proper guidance, he’s a lost boy trying to grow into a man. I see a lot of what youths go through in today’s society reflected in his choices and worries. He is very indecisive and he admits himself that he is a coward. In my opinion, he’s braver for admitting what he’s afraid of. Which is why I’m more satisfied when he gets the happy ending that he actually wanted.

Half a War ends on a lighter note despite several major characters dying and soldier casualties. Not everyone gets their happy ending but that’s how the real world works. It’s quite like how The Hunger Games series ended which may piss people off. But not everything is unicorns, rainbows, and cupcakes. As the author said, “Every victory is someone’s defeat.”

I’m excited to read The Blade Itself especially for more of those sarcastic quips and intense battles.

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The Shattered Sea series

ARC Review: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
This book will be published in August 4, 2015.
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’m sure we’ve all dealt with book hangovers at one point in our life. You know that feeling when you miss a particular style of writing or an author’s quirks? It’s not even about hating that a book ended or having an empty feeling in our guts. I guess this is why I had highly anticipated reading Rebecca Stead’s newest book. When I read her Newbery Medal book, I felt emotionally drained from the ending and how bittersweet it was. Fear not, Stead fan!! Goodbye Stranger is a welcome home party with a new set of quirky characters and challenges!
I didn’t think much of middle school because it’s such a bad stage and kids are going through puberty so hormones are flying like crazy and people are plain mean to each other for no reason. Rebecca Stead understands that perfectly. The whole ‘awkward silence’ and painful moments of social humiliation and ‘uncool moves.’

The voice of our protagonist Bridge resonated with me because we all have that one friend (Em) who grew up too fast and is now part of the cool crowd. In its barest bones, this is about everyday life and navigating the social perils of seventh grade. That’s the year that means you’re not the top of the pile but neither are you the fresh-faced newbies. Stead gets it. Seventh grade is just plain grueling and making friends outside of your grade is even more difficult especially (for Em) if your crush runs in an 8th grade friend circle. Lucky for her, she’s in JV soccer and she’s good at it so up she goes to joined multiple friend groups. There’s a lot of hidden moments that boast of independence. Little actions that speak louder than words. The friendship between the trio is like super-glue strong and I loved how the author didn’t have to say it but instead showed it in each and every interactions. I believe that different people can become great friends and although it usually starts with similarities, it’s not what holds a bond together. I can attest through my 19 years of socializing and I can see that although I align myself with people like me, I enjoy making friends who are the complete opposite from me.

Some of the best epiphanies that Stead writes about is the time Bridge spends with Sherm. She says it should be awkward and I agree because they barely know each other and to more stress on it, conversation is two-way. It’s always safer to carry on a conversation with 3 or more people because that means there’s an extra person to continuously stimulate and extend a conversation. Bridge, luckily, instantly connects with Sherm and their conversations are easy and flow naturally. This, THIS is what I’ve been trying to find and it’s a rare occurrence that I can talk so comfortably with another person without feeling the need to come up with ‘topic-starters’. I’m not an awkward person but it just so happens that I get off on a rough start with strangers because I feel pressure to grill them about their life histories. I loved that Bridge and Sherm share a laidback relationship. Those are usually hard-won and come only after long periods of association.

Although Bridge is the main character, the drama mostly revolves around Emily and her encounters with peer pressure and double standards. The blurb says double standards and damn right, there is! Tab, the other best friend in the trio, is highly involved in feminism and learns a lot about the portrayals and reactions towards girls and boys. Girls can easily be labeled as a slut, whore, skank, but boys just downright get off the hook. I liked that there was lots of girl power and emphasis on the fact that clothing does not define a girl. I remember one passage in which Em complained why it was only okay if a girl took pictures in her bikini at a beach. Anywhere else entails baggage and judgment from others.

Schools need more books like this rather than The Scarlet Letter because people can actually relate to it and understand how messed up society is. It easily pertains to today’s curriculum and comparisons can be made to incidents of double standards. What a girl can wear to school is severely limited compared to a boy. It’s been unfair on so many levels and tell me why is it that a girl can’t wear shorts/skirts above the knees while guys strut around with their pants sagging and half their butts hanging out?

Rebecca also does this awesome thing called second-person narrative that she did in When You Reach Me and it was so intriguing because I can never resist a little mystery. The identity of the character is unknown because that person is referred to as ‘You’ and it steadily runs on the single day of Valentine’s Day. (Aside from that, the rest of the book progress chronologically.) I spent minutes on end speculating on the tantalizing clues that the author dropped. It didn’t take long for it to click but I still nonetheless relished the chapter of the character reveal to prove that I was correct. I gradually realized that the point of the unknown narrative was simply to show a different social situation apart from what Em, Tab, and Bridge dealt with. Although the Valentine’s Day narrator had a different life completely separate from the middle school, those two somewhat intersected in small unexpected ways. I enjoyed the dichotomy of the narrator’s life from Bridge’s and it made a juxtaposition of two person from diverse walks of life.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it in my When You Reach Me review but race plays a irrelevant factor throughout the book. Since the urban setting of Manhattan means diversity is all around, there’s a lot of holidays that need to be explained. Stead makes the point of bringing up Bridge’s nationality as Armenian and casually inserts a food from the country. I didn’t really pick up on the deliberateness of the situation because it was so tastefully done and the same went for Tab who was Indian. She joined the Hindi Club at school and her mother fasted for a moon holiday. It was actually very interesting and I liked how there was race but it was a thing that just is. Ethnicity is so hard for authors to deal with sometimes because they can either dispose of the whole ‘cultural background’ thing and just label a person and leave it at that. What a lot of people tend to forget is that culture partially defines a person and I, as a Chinese, have received quite a hefty amount of influence from Chinese culture. I admire the author’s tenacity in inclusion of cultural tidbits because sure, Goodbye Stranger, is a coming-of-age novel focused on friendship and love, but it can still incorporate other elements.

This all strengthens the book and I know I didn’t really talk about the plot and I really can’t because it’s something readers have to experience themselves. It’s complicated to explain the plot because it’s comprised of so many different plotlines and there’s so many stories involved that I don’t want to really spoil.

Thank you Wendy Lamb/Random House for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy through Netgalley.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin: Review

Where the Mountain Meets the MoonWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is gorgeous, no doubt about that. The full-color illustrations may not be the best or most artistic but I’ve got to give some credit to the author for rendering simple but picturesque embellishments.

Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal. The villagers called it Fruitless Mountain because nothing grew on it and birds and animals did not rest there.

Don’t let the cover fool you because it looks so laughingly childish that all adults within a 10-feet radius avoid it. For people who have daughters or sons in 3-5th grade, now is the time to pick up Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The writing still retains its poetic quality even though many sentences are grouped choppily to make it easy for readers to follow along. Lin is dexterous with metaphors and some of these similes forced me to go back and reread the sentence for the sheer description.

The streets were crowded and bustling; the city seemed to be bustling with people like boiling rice.

I had a jolly fun time reading this book because I recognized some of the legendary figures and myths from my childhood or other tales that I read from. The unpredictability certainly helps because children will eat this story up so quickly. For those unfamiliar with Chinese myths, the interspersed legends will be lots of fun and wow readers with cleverness. I tend to always enjoy books that have perfected the art of “metaphor-ing” so it’s no wonder that Markus Zusak pleased me immensely with The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger. Grace Lin also mixes this rare talent with her storytelling charisma to form a tale that is both savory and innovative to engage young readers.

The moon’s reflection fastened onto the water’s surface, and Minli saw why the pavilion was called Clasping the Moon. The image of the moon lay protected in the water like a glowing pearl…

Like the stone dust that the wind blew, thoughts kept circling in her head.

Aside from introducing the myths that surround China, the book paints a mural of values and teaches thankfulness, themes of love, and faith. Although Minli is off on a quest, there’s also a guardian who worries and wishes her to be safe.This makes the book more realistic in my eyes and also gives a fresh perspective on parents and emphasizes their love. I can definitely see why this book won the Newbery Honor Award and I’m glad this cultural text is available from nearly every library. The main character is a girl but she’s independent and very thoughtful of everyone. Without being fierce or feisty, she manages to befriend others and win over people with her determination. Do you see the positive impact this book can make on little girls and boys? Not more of those annoying or naive girls like Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, or Harriet the Spy. Hooray for Minli, Matilda, and Winnie Foster!

He seemed to dance in the air, and his happiness made her feel as light as the clouds around her.

Aside from seeing illustrations gracing each chapter title, the pages are thick and texts are sometimes in color. I don’t know, I may be biased because I like seeing color and I also love flipping thick pages and that’s why I hate mass market paperbacks which just suck in general. Anyways, I recommend this book to people still in primary/secondary school but old people like me are welcome to read it. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.