ARC Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Disclaimer: Thank you to NetGalley and Random House (Delacorte Press) for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

And I Darken (The Darken Trilogy, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Hardcover, 475 pages
Expected publication: June 28th 2016 by Delacorte Press
Summary: NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

The entire book was way too long for my liking. It spanned the birth of Lada up to her teenage years.


They watched as the head gardener slit an opening into each man and then, with practiced efficiency, inserted the long, thick wooden stakes. The men were lifted into the air, and the stakes planted into the holes in the ground. Lada saw how the men’s own weight would slowly pull them down, forcing the stakes higher and higher along their spines until they finally exited through the throat.

 

The history and culture of the Ottoman Empire is richly told and I was greatly immersed in that time period. The writing wasn’t bad but my eyes glazed over several times during the passages. For some reasons, it doesn’t flow that well but I can see that it is indeed well-thought out. Each sentence had impact and conveyed the proper mood.

“You cannot lose something you do not own. Take me with you.”
With a frustrated growl, he tore the veil from her hair and threw it to the ground. “You look ridiculous. Armor suits you far more than silk.”
Lada put a hand to his check. His skin was soft and hot, always hot, as though he burned brighter than a normal person. Her voice came out a low purr, so like Huma’s she startled herself. “Take me with you, and I will wear armor the whole time.”

There was a lot of focus on building characters’ flaws and amplifying its fallacies. Mehmed is obsessed with Constantinople and his rabid desire to conquer it does not bode well.

Lada laughed. “Then do not try, little sheep. Ted to your flock. Patrol your borders. No one ever said you had to take Constantinople. It is only a dream.”
Mehmed’s eyes burned when he looked up at her. “It is not simply my dream.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know all about your precious prophet’s dream.”

He seems like a future villain although growing up, he’s been made out to be a have a lot of potential to fulfill his duties as the future sultan. His weakness is his confidence that has no basis because he is still untried and ignorant of court politics. Radu went through the most complicated development because his dexterity with words should have favored him with friends in his childhood. Weak in strength, he relies much on his sister, Lada, for protection but he learns quickly on that she won’t cut him some slack. Lada, the protagonist, is vicious and temperamental; she is quite the foil for Radu. Whereas his long lashes and large doe eyes can charm the hell out of everyone, people tend to skirt around Lada and avoid any interaction with her. She is clumsy with words and always lashes out when she is angry, embarrassed, and/or hurt. I’m rather disappointed that she’s not the brightest but she more than makes up for it with her brawn. She does have extensive knowledge and skill with tactics and strategy but she’s often blindsided by emotion in personal relationships.

Radu and Lada are Mehmed’s rocks that have stayed throughout his childhood up to his emerging adulthood. With such steadiness for years, change is bound to rock this foundation of friendship by the end of the book. There were many things that I predicted would happen and White foreshadowed the future through the trio’s thoughts. I wished that she had left much of unsaid and kept the reader in the dark to give a better reading experience. The long years that White documented gave her a lot of freedom with dredging up momentous events that impacted each character severely. In a way, reading the first hundred pages was a laborious task that I had to force myself to go through. I felt that much of it was page-filler and made for an unnecessarily longer book.

The politics is interesting but nothing too complex. Now that we have most of the worldbuilding out of the way, I hope that the focus in the sequel will be on events that propels Lada to acquire the name Vlad the Impaler. Yes, we never did get to that part in the first book. This novel encompasses a wide span of years from 1435 in Transylvania to the 1450’s. By the time the book ends, Lada and Radu are around 16 and 15 years old, respectively. I, on the other hand, aged an approximate 5 hours finishing this book.

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Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Becky Albertalli honestly gets kids. She understands us on a deep level and Simon is like my spirit animal. Leah, on the other hand, is my inner fangirl and she’s literally so shameless with her cosplay of Tohru from Fruits Basket and all the anime plushies.


I admit this book is not one I would voluntarily pick up on my own will. The cover doesn’t really scream ‘BUY ME’ and the title is confusing because it gives no hints as to the plott. However, the clothes on the guy is contemporary and that’s a genre I generally steer clear of.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against contemporary YA but I think I’m past my prime because it no longer interests me. I’m not in high school anymore and I can’t seem to get immersed in high school YA nowadays. It was never really my cup of tea because I had always enjoyed the fantasy genre more. Besides, I’ve basically read them all: the cliques, tropes, mysterious guy, gossip, and drama all ensconced within a classroom.

So I’m pleasantly surprised by this book because Simon is a refreshing character with his own unique traits. People have pegged him as the theater geek but he knows he is more than that. He is also more than just a gay character. As a teenager, identity crisis is very real and no one knows it better than Simon. He believes that he is always changing and he’s afraid of who he’s becoming because he doesn’t ‘feel’ the same.

It’s not even about me being gay, because I know deep down that my family would be fine with it. We’re not religious. My parents are Democrats. My dad likes to joke around, and it would definitely be awkward, but I guess I’m lucky. I know they’re not going to disown me. And I’m sure some people in school would give me hell, but my friends would be fine. Leah loves gay guys, so she’d probably be freaking thrilled. But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.

His innate fear of change doesn’t stop him from trying new things aka beer, parties, and making new friends. Simon and his group of friends have the best types of interactions: they’re casual, they talk about everything and nothing, and they bond through their experiences. Ahhh, it reminds me of my happy-go-lucky days.

Since this story takes place in a backwater town in Georgia, Albertalli shines light on relevant issues that exists in such an area. There’s the racism, bigotry, and anti-gay mindset which makes Simon reluctant to reveal his orientation.  Simon has a great support system and he has long come to terms with his sexual preference. He also has a multicultural group of friends. (That’s an A+ in my book for promoting diversity in books!) In that sense, he’s got most of his life figured out but it’s not ideal to come out of the closet in front of his non-progressive town. The plot was character-driven heavily and it was so sweet and cute (YES, IT WAS ADORABLE) to watch Simon grow and experience new things through his snarky, ingenuous perspective. His voice was hilarious and relatable. I really felt like a teenager again.

[Email to Blue:] So, I keep thinking about the idea of secret identities. Do you ever feel locked into yourself? I’m not sure if I’m making sense here. I guess what I mean is that sometimes it seems like everyone knows who I am except me. Okay, I’m glad you mentioned homecoming, because I totally forgot that Spirit Week is this week. Monday is Decades Day, right? I guess I should check online so I can avoid making an ass of myself. Honestly, I can’t believe they schedule Spirit Week right after Halloween. Creekwood really blows its load on costume days all at once. How do you think you’ll dress up for Monday? I know you’re not going to answer that. And I totally figured you’d be ogling the cheerleaders on Friday, because you’re all about the ladies. Me too, Blue. Me too.

Thank you Albertalli for mentioning how hard the job of a teacher is! Yes, teachers get some credit for doing a good job in this book and I’m elated because it gives me hope for positive representation in YA as a future teacher! (Oftentimes, teachers are insignificant and pushed aside in contemporary YA but we want our parts too!) I love the email exchanges between Simon and his secret guy, Blue. They’re very honest and open with each other which is rare because communication is so complicated in the real world right now. People be playing mind games whenever they text each other.

So should you read this book?

LGBTQ is an important topic and I’m glad to read a book that showcases it from a gay teen’s perspective. Sure, you can read books that have gay characters but it’s different when you are involved and reading about a gay main character. So yes, read this book and enjoy it not just as an LGBTQ book but as a book about high school, Oreos, romance, and Oliver! musicals.

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Review: Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat

Captive Prince: Volume Two (Captive Prince, #2)Captive Prince: Volume Two by C.S. Pacat

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The alternate title for this book is called Prince’s Gambit and I prefer it much more than the ‘Volume Two’ because it sums up this middle book so well.

Gambit <noun>: (in chess) an opening in which a player makes a sacrifice, typically of a pawn, for the sake of some compensating advantage.
A device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage.


 

Minor spoilers for Captive Prince: Book One

So who do you think is the gambit? Too bad, you won’t find out unless you read the book.
Laurent, hands down, dominates the game with the crazy tactics and strategies that he comes up with to subvert his enemies and stay three steps ahead of his uncle. The risk to his life is much more apparent as the Regent makes more indirect, daring attempts on Laurent. You thought Laurent was clever? WATCH THIS. He begins revealing just how deep his deceptions can go and readers see exactly how intelligent he is. Damen is also a warmonger and he’s very charismatic alongside Laurent. As a duo, they are a force to be reckoned with. They are very capable individuals that have commanding presences to capture the respect of an army.

Laurent said it as though producing from the depths the answer to a painstakingly weighed question. ‘I can do this alone. I know I can. It’s only that right now I can’t seem to…think, and I can’t…trust anyone else to stand up to me when I’m…like this. If you could give me three days, I–‘ He forcibly cut himself off.

Damen has always chafed under his shackles so it was eye-opening to see what he can do if Laurent gave him the keys. With a semblance of freedom, Damen shows his prowess…on the battlefield. HAAA, did you think I was going to say something else? Anyways, there’s a lot of sexual tension throughout the book and Pacat does it so well. The characters continue to develop and show a resilience in how they deal with tricky situations. The duo hit many problems along their travels but they stick together through them all. Although Laurent is secretive and holds many of his underhanded tactics close to heart, he still confides the most in Damen. Their slow buildup of trust was a wondrous thing to witness and in tough times, they really came to rely on each other’s strengths. I loved seeing Laurent push his army to their limits with drills and combat practices. Dealt with a rather lackluster set of cards, Laurent is showing his hidden sides that can transform even a rotten soldier into something respectable.

So then comes the huge elephant in the room. How can Damen tell Laurent that he is Prince Damien, the one he loathes for killing his brother?

He thought of Laurent’s delicate, needling talk that froze into icy rebuff if Damen pushed at it, but if he didn’t–if he matched himself to its subtle pulses and undercurrents–continued, sweetly deepening, until he could only wonder if he knew, if they both knew, what they were doing.

The story becomes much more centered on Damen on Laurent’s story; it’s really sweet to see that a relationship can blossom in the face of the tribulations that they face. In the fight for a king’s seat, they are both determined to ensure success. Damen is an asset to Laurent, a collaboration that many could not see taking place. The dynamics of their relationship is explored more deeply in this book because there’s just so much going on. Their interactions are always anticipatory for me because they’re polar opposites in many ways. Laurent is the icy, lean prince and Damen is the brutish, forceful one. How can  they deal with each other when they’re so different. I guess it’s true that opposites attract because chapter 19

Laurent’s fingers had tightened around the towel. There was a self-consciousness in him now, as though he had become aware of the strangeness of what he was doing: a prince serving a slave. Damen looked again at the cup of water, which Laurent had brought–for him, he realised.
Laurent’s flush deepened. Damen shifted to regard him better. He saw the angle of Laurent’s jaw, the tension in Laurent’s shoulders.

Laurent has a lot of tricks up his sleeves and he reminds me so much of a sterner, serious version of Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief by MWT.

Following the pattern of Captive Prince: Book One, here are more words that I had to look up: verisimilitude, immanence, percipient, abstemious

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