Recommend a… (first book in a series)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

I was going to recommend Hartman’s Seraphina, but considering how I gushed over it in a review yesterday, I think I will shine the spotlight on something else. Several titles came to mind: The Colour of Magic, Shadow & Bone, Harry Potter (a no-brainer), Divergent, Legend, and the list carries on. As always, I waver back and forth between options, so which book did I finally settle on as a recommendation?

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Published June 7th, 2011 | Quirk Books
Young Adult Fantasy

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I acknowledge that Riggs’s book is not for everyone. Varying opinions surround the photographs, which work in conjunction with the story-telling. These pictures are considered unnecessary, a poor construct way to build plot, or they simply aren’t “scary.” (If anything, I find the photographs serve as interesting (but not scary) visual aids, finely tied to the text. I have no issues with them.) For the record: I do see several faulty areas in the writing, places that I believe — had they been revised more — could have made a leap of improvement (such as the conclusion). I’d prefer to see a stronger foundation from which the story’s framework is built — a neater wrap-up of a novel, if you will.

At the start, Riggs succeeded to enmesh me into Jacob’s suspense and fear. This thrill, I thought, would last — it would remain a key factor in the story’s progression. Alas! That exciting rush and prickling unease subside, as Jacob’s journey becomes one of steadily paced intrigue. Where I think much disappointment stems from is how Riggs’s novel is showcased: “spine-tingling fantasy!” it says. I disagree, but that does not make this book any less interesting or worth checking out. I found myself absorbed into the characters, and I calmly anticipate book two (expected publication: 2o13). There are whispers of a film adaption as well!

  We answered with a cry of our own, both a victory yell and a lament, for everything lost and yet to be gained.

You can find my favorite Peculiar quotes or read my review here!

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Recommend a… (book you read this year!)

Recommend A… is a weekly meme run by Chick Loves Lit. Click here to check out future prompts and take part!

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Published October 1st, 2009 | Scholastic Press
Young Adult Realistic Fiction

From bestselling author Natalie Standiford, an amazing, touching story of two friends navigating the dark waters of their senior year.

New to town, Beatrice is expecting her new best friend to be one of the girls she meets on the first day. But instead, the alphabet conspires to seat her next to Jonah, aka Ghost Boy, a quiet loner who hasn’t made a new friend since third grade. Something about him, though, gets to Bea, and soon they form an unexpected friendship. It’s not romance, exactly – but it’s definitely love. Still, Bea can’t quite dispel Jonah’s gloom and doom – and as she finds out his family history, she understands why. Can Bea help Jonah? Or is he destined to vanish?

Given the choice to suggest one out of the eighty-six I’ve read this year (I’m on a roll, kind of…), I choose How to Say Goodbye in Robot. I could (and do) recommend The Hunger Games, I Sang to the Monster, The Book Thief, Between Shades of Gray (no fifty, and much more YA-appropriate)… The list goes on. However, Standiford’s book stands out among other YA contemporaries I’ve read, and I’m sad that I have no one to share it with.

A fair percentage of readers don’t understand the relationship between Bea and Jonah — the two become so intrinsically bound that their connection transcends mere friendship, and yet absolutely nothing romantic results from it. Frankly, I adore that. These two characters manifest an unconditional love for one another, developing an attachment that will last a lifetime. Trying to label the relationship, I find,  proves ineffectual; words can’t name it. (To discuss it, though…) One can say they sit somewhere between best friends and a couple, but — and I believe Jonah himself says something similar — they have something that tops both, and I enjoyed watching their friendship thrive and mature. While this book has imperfections, I found it overall heart-warming, funny, and bittersweet — it is a book I think about often and would love to re-read.

(Poor-quality picture-excerpt does not apologize.) See my How to Say Goodbye in Robot favorite quotes & excerpts.

Seraphina is out!

Hello on a Tuesday (July 10th, and so many book releases today!) — I hope everyone’s week is going well.

I hear a mighty fine book strutting around, and it just got its glamor shelved for reading. Unless you live in the future or were one of those lucky readers who grabbed an early copy, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina is officially out. In case you somehow missed the pre-release hype and you’re wondering What is a Seraphina? then check out the book trailer:

Just when you thought there was nothing new to say about dragons, it turns out there is, and plenty! Rachel Hartman’s rich invention never fails to impress — and to convince. It’s smart and funny and original, and has characters I will follow to the ends of the earth.
Ellen Kushner

You can also watch Rachel Hartman read a one-minute excerpt or read part of it here (Hartman’s out-loud reading can do with a little more pause, I think).

I’ve been told Seraphina has the power to spike your day with a little more cheer, so: if your week has been more nasty, rotten, and sleep-depriving than my upstairs neighbor, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a good book inflate a bad mood.

Cheers and happy reading!
x

Book Review: Shadow & Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy, #1)Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: ★★★★

Before reading Shadow & Bone: learn Ravkan pronunciations! You don’t want to end up like me and grow to love Genya as GEN-yah.

So, when can I read the second book? 2013, it says. Oh, well, that’s great, because I needed Siege and Storm two days ago when I finished Shadow & Bone. If I survive the prophesied apocalypse, I hope to not wait too long. No doubt I’ll quickly find another book to swoon over in time, but the Grisha trilogy is my current fascination.

Wait! I protested, but the Darkling was already turning away. I grabbed hold of his arm, ignoring the gasp that rose from the Grisha onlookers. “There’s been some kind of mistake. I don’t… I’m not…” My voice trailed off as the Darkling turned slowly to me, his slate eyes drifting to where my hand gripped his sleeve. I let go, but I wasn’t giving up that easily. “I’m not what you think I am,” I whispered desperately.

The Darkling stepped closer to me and said, his voice so low that only I could hear, “I doubt you have any idea what you are.”

I made several earlier attempts at reviewing Shadow & Bone, but I’m finding it awfully difficult. How can I convey the gratifying reading experience I had? Reading over my review, I believe I failed to capture it.

If you glance at Shadow & Bone‘s summary, a warning may signal. It may tell you the pages of this book offer nothing but an old plate of an often re-dressed premise: an unremarkable girl suddenly discovers a hidden strength, a power to help fight against an oppressive force and save her country. She’s in love with a boy who doesn’t seem to reciprocate the emotion, but you must be wary of the man lurking there on the side. That man is possibly the new love interest and — oh my — the villain. (I have to rephrase the last bit to better fit Shadow & Bone‘s antagonist: that’s the… villain? Are you sure? Because Bardugo does one hell of an excellent job at getting us to like him.)

Meet Alina Starkov: an orphan who never felt like she belonged anywhere but with her best friend, Mal. Not in the orphanage and certainly not in the First Army as a mapmaker. Her home is not a place but a person, but even this seems weakened as Alina and Mal prepare to enter the Unsea.

The Shadow Fold, or “Unsea,” — a long, dark swath — separates the land of Ravka from its only coastline, leaving those who travel through at the peril of flesh-eating creatures called Volcra. Alina Starkov, however, is the one who can change this. (Why? Because she’s Grisha extraordinaire. She’s Alina, the Sun Summoner!)

Inside the Fold and surrounded by Volcra, Alina’s convoy is attacked. Left and right, Volcra sink claws into bodies of men and women, carrying them further into shadowy depths where cries are eerily silenced. Before Mal becomes Volcra dinner, Alina unleashes a stunning power she never knew she had. A blast of light emerges, fighting off the Volcra swarm and saving many more lives than just Mal’s. Her ability and importance now recognized by the Darkling, Alina is whisked away to train and enhance her power as one of the elite Grisha.

“Do you think I care what you want? In a few hours’ time, every Fjerdan spy and Shu Han assassin will know what happened on the Fold, and they’ll be coming for you. Our only chance is to get you to Os Alta and behind the palace walls before anyone realizes what you are. Now, get in the coach.

He shoved me through the door and followed me inside, throwing himself down on the seat opposite me in disgust. The other Corporalki joined him, followed by the oprichniki guards, who settled on either side of me.

“So I’m the Darkling’s prisoner?”

“You’re under his protection.”

“What’s the difference?”

Ivan’s expression was unreadable. “Pray you never find out.”

Torn away from Mal and all that she knows, Alina finds herself, alone, thrust into the foreign Grisha hierarchy. For the first time, she begins to find her place without Mal by her side. Under Baghra’s tutelage and the Darkling’s support (or would you call it favoritism?), Alina’s power grows as her character develops. Alina will have to discipline control over her skills, unearth secrets that cloak the Darkling in mystery, and learn who truly holds power over Ravka.

As noted by several (intelligent) reviewers, Bardugo’s portrayal of Russian culture and language is not accurately presented. From what I gather, this has sent many people into an understandable upset. I, however, know little about Russia and took no notice of these blunders. Be warned: if you feel knowledgeable enough, you may also feel eager to whip out your editing pen.

Other reviewers state dissatisfaction toward Alina’s character and/or Bardugo’s writing style. Reading through the book, and as I reflect on the story, I find a scant amount of shortcomings (per my literary taste). The writing is fluid as the characters are layered and believable. Female and male characters alike are never forced into contrived, stereotypical roles to fit a strained storyline.

On that note, one aspect I did not expect in Shadow & Bone is the “romantic” subplot, and I can count a number of ways this could have gone wrong. To start: Bardugo could have wrung it dry into the realm of over-fluffed love stories that side-sweep stronger, more important narratives. Fortunately, Bardugo doesn’t do this, and Alina, as well as other characters, keep sight of what’s significant: the Border Wars, the looming end of Grisha age, and the danger Ravka suffers in face of the Fold. With larger details to focus on, the love interests unfolded naturally and felt organic rather than forced. The writing itself strikes me as well-balanced: detailed, but not superfluous. The story sails forward in smooth direction as everything falls into place.

This was his soul made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.

Book one of the Grisha trilogy truly is one complete story in an ongoing arc. Once I started I found it difficult to walk away, lured and eager to discover what awaited on the next page. It feels thrilling and sad to become so absorbed into a story that I dub real life as an annoyance. Trekking deeper into the story means I grow closer to the book’s end, but once the end is there it better do justice.

I pay particular attention to how authors conclude their books, keen on finding a sense of wholeness — that all there is to the story has been said, and that it is here: sitting on my lap and neatly packaged. Some authors fail to bundle their stories when one book is part of a continuing adventure. The story can end abruptly or teeter at an odd cliff-hanger. Leigh Bardugo, however, did not disappoint me, and I anticipate Siege and Storm‘s release. If I could time-travel into the future…

Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 6-10)

My e-mail has shot up to an unpleasant number and I’ve considered nuking my inbox. I’d like to say I’ve been busy with important real-life details, but even those have semi-spiraled out to a point beyond taming. Rather, I’ve been busy doing the usual, which involves anything I consider a distraction. Yet I implore: academics take some priority.

Partially consumed by Life’s sharp, nondiscriminatory teeth–swallowed and nearly eroded by its stomach acid–I briefly emerge. A mountain of schoolwork awaits review this weekend, as finals live in the future of next week. I feel diminished to a high schooler when I say, “Studying? Eww.” To succeed, my reading obsession calls for an interlude and I have difficulty accepting that (obviously). Since last Sunday, I have zipped through seven books, but in my defense: three were children’s books, one a short Lorca collection, and another a graphic novel. (If you want to include last Saturday, I have read ten.) Also in my defense: despite study time, I am no closer to grasping conic section formulas than I was a week ago. Math is always a cruel beast, and I doubt half of it will apply to my future job.

“Wow, glad I knew how to locate the foci to your parabolic-shaped Scabies rash,” said no one.

But here I am, ready to list off the remaining five books for the fifth YA quarterly challenge. To see books 1-5, click here. I commence: Continue reading

Quarterly Reading Challenge #5 (Books 1-5)

As some may know, I participated in the YA Book Club‘s May through March quarterly reading challenge. For anyone unfamiliar with these challenges, the GoodReads group issues a different challenge with new requirements for the duration of three months. Within those three months, members endeavor to read at least 10 young adult books.

In this post, I will cover the first five books and discuss the second half tomorrow. (Unless the tide sweeps me out into the Sea of Neglected Work, that is. In which case: books 6-10 will have a post sometime later in the week.) Without further ado: Continue reading

Book Review: Dead to You by Lisa McMann

Dead to YouDead to You by Lisa McMann

My rating: ★★★

Discussing Lisa McMann’s Dead to You under the assumption others have read it seems far easier than writing a review for people who haven’t. I will reveal spoilers and kill a reader’s curiosity if I prod further than the summary, which informs: seven-year-old Ethan is abducted off the sidewalk in front of his home. After nine years missing, the De Wilde family finally reunites with Ethan, now sixteen. But is it really their Ethan? It’s a question that lingers throughout the book, and it’s meant to be a force compelling you to continue reading.

Quickly paced, this books shuffles around the mystery of Ethan’s identity and past, and instead focuses on the ever-growing mountain of family tension. The abduction took the De Wilde’s world and flipped it upside down. While Gracie’s birth (“the replacement child”) may have put them as close to normalcy the family ever expected to reach, Ethan’s return sends the disquiet booming. Blake cannot understand why his older brother got into a stranger’s car, does not understand how Ethan’s memory as Ethan De Wilde is absent, and sets out to prove Ethan as a fraud. Adding to the drama, Blake blames Ethan for the abduction’s aftereffects, harboring (understandable) anger for feeling like the neglected child. Gracie–the youngest who was born after Ethan’s kidnapping–is adorable in her ignorance, like any child too young to fully grasp what is happening. As a witness to the life before and after the abduction, Blake does not share Gracie’s blissful fortune.

Ethan’s father proved difficult to assess at first because he’s quite a distant character, and I can’t be sure of his initial thoughts. Does he think this stranger is his missing child? He does appear to trust that Ethan is (at first), but doubt sprawls across his face and flashes in his eyes. It’s not always present or has lasting prominence, but it’s there drifting in the background like an afterthought. Hesitation virtually non-existent, the mother is willing to accept Ethan as her missing son and almost instantly denies a DNA test. She does, without a doubt, believe this boy is hers, and a mother knows her own child… Right? Or, maybe, she is a mother seeing and believing what she wants to. She’s so desperate to have her son back that she has gone blind, swatting away anything to the contrary like a pesky fly. But it is a pesky fly, one that troubles not just three of the De Wilde family, but Ethan himself.

Dead to You has been called a page-turner, and in a way it is. Typical emotion appropriate for the situation oozes out of each character, and despite that the narrative is Ethan’s perspective, everyone else is easy to see through and sympathize with. At the same time, McMann does not dwell too heavily on the negative aspects and bounces between Ethan’s romantic feelings toward Cami, what Blake’s rejection stirs up, and anxiety over Ethan’s new versus old life.

However, this story is nothing more to me than a family trying to maintain balance and composure while suppressing the idea that their real son is still lost. Ethan does not remember a single thing about his life pre-abduction, and what he does know comes from the De Wilde’s website. The only life Ethan remembers is the one he spent with his kidnapper, who, in time, abandoned Ethan at a shelter. He is someone who aches to be loved, and he finds that affection in Belleville with the De Wildes. The truth to the skepticism surrounding Ethan’s identity is made undeniable, for the hints make it all too clear beginning in chapter one. For me, reading this was like reading the manuscript of a Lifetime movie without the campy ending. What more is there to this story?

The book jacket says:

But there’s something that’s keeping his [Ethan’s] memory blocked.

Something unspeakable…

I kept waiting for the unspeakable “something” to show up, but it never came. There is a moment when a reporter interviews Ethan and I paused for thought:

Alexandra: Were you harmed? Abused?

Me: I guess you could say not physically harmed by my abductor, not really. But I don’t want to discuss that.

Alexandra: Not physically? What do you mean?

By that excerpt alone you may think, Was he sexually abused? It certainly crossed my mind. Victims of sexual abuse can feel hushed into silence by shame, embarrassment, and stigma, and it easily qualifies as something Ethan wouldn’t eagerly speak about. But the topic is dropped and never questioned or further poked at, so we can assume he was never harmed in such a way.

So, then, what is unspeakable? I don’t know. Ethan was neglected his entire life, and I understand how difficult it can be for a child–anyone, really–to admit to feeling unloved. He also doesn’t want to present his motherly figure (who’s his presumed abductor) in a negative light. But is all that really unspeakable? I don’t think it is, nor do I think Ethan’s longing to feel cared for and accepted are unspeakable. In my view, “unspeakable” hints toward something uncomfortable for its horrific nature.

This book made many poor attempts to keep me guessing about Ethan, but I had all the answers needed just by reading the first few chapters. The end confirms Ethan’s identity, yet it feels so abrupt that it’s difficult to acknowledge as the conclusion. I know the story after the ending is not the story McMann wanted to tell (or she would have written about that instead!), but given a decent number of extra pages and the end may have felt more final.

A little frustrated by the predictability, what I think McMann does accomplish is a strong sense of realistic fiction. No moments felt fabricated, as each character is presented with authenticity and made believable through their unique complexions. Although McMann doesn’t present anything new or different in Dead to You, not allowing it to stand out among many other similar stories, it is a fair way to pass time.