Review: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare

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My rating: 4/5

Summary: 

Emma Carstairs has finally avenged her parents. She thought she’d be at peace. But she is anything but calm. Torn between her desire for her parabatai Julian and her desire to protect him from the brutal consequences of parabatai relationships, she has begun dating his brother, Mark. But Mark has spent the past five years trapped in Faerie; can he ever truly be a Shadowhunter again?

And the faerie courts are not silent. The Unseelie King is tired of the Cold Peace, and will no longer concede to the Shadowhunters’ demands. Caught between the demands of faerie and the laws of the Clave, Emma, Julian, and Mark must find a way to come together to defend everything they hold dear—before it’s too late. (x)

My thoughts:

This book wrecked me at the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the LA Shadowhunter world. It was interesting seeing Kit deal with his Herondale identity and seeing him find a place with Livvy and Ty. He also provided commentary on how Shadowhunters get things wrong with people who aren’t neurotypical. The conflict with the Cohort and the Centurions was very timely and obviously influenced by real-world events. I think the strength of this series is exploring the prejudices that Shadowhunters have and how it really has screwed people over, particularly Annabel Blackthorn and Mark and Helen Blackthorn. It’ll be really interesting to see where the last book goes and see if any lasting changes in Shadowhunter society happens.

I’m not a big fan of romantic drama, so I still wasn’t impressed with Emma and Julian’s dilemma. (It would have been so much easier if Emma and Cristina were girlfriends. A lot of their interactions really make it seem like they should be a couple. Just saying.) I honestly think it’s a bigger conflict than it needs to be and, quite frankly, it’s boring.

**Major spoilers**

I was completely devastated by Livvy’s death. I rarely cry over books and this one had me in tears. It was a shocking way to end the novel and it makes the wait for the next book almost unbearable.

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May Wrap-Up

Books:

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

After five years of hearing just how bad this book is, I decided I wanted to see for myself. It’s the most famous piece of Twilight fan fiction and I felt I might as well read it, since I missed the “My Immortal” train in the Harry Potter fandom.

Honestly, it surprised me. It was a quick and easy read, probably because it was originally fanfic. With fanfic, you don’t need to spend a lot of time on exposition; you can just jump right in to two people falling for each other. Another thing that surprised me was that it was obviously Twilight fanfic. Usually with Twilight all-human AUs, the plot is so far removed from canon. Fifty Shades, however, actually does incorporate lines and plot points from the Twilight. 

Obviously, Ana and Christian’s relationship is problematic, but honestly a lot of what happens in Fifty Shades happens in other books too. Often this book is framed like it is the Only Book Ever to have these issues. The thing that shocked me most was that Christian got into BDSM at 15 because of his mother’s friend and as an adult, he’s still friends with her. I don’t remember anyone ever talking about how Christian experienced statutory rape.

Total “inner goddess” count: 54

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas

3/5

I had hoped that Maas’s writing style from Empire of Storms was a one-time thing, but it carried over into ACOWAR. The choppy sentences really frustrated me, especially toward the end. Honestly, I skimmed over a large portion of the final fight because I couldn’t be bothered to read through it. I wish this book was edited again to smooth over the choppiness. Example:

“The Weaver had waited. Hiding here. Until we arrived.” <- This literally did not need to be broken up like that. If it was a one-time thing, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much. Choppiness can add to the effect, especially in an action-heavy scene. But stuff like this happened all throughout the book.

Despite this, I did enjoy the characters. Rhysand addressing his court before the final battle made me cry. The relationships of Rhysand’s court are really what saved this book for me.

I think I am done with Maas’s worlds for now. I might get Tower of Dawn from the library when it comes out. We’ll see.

 

Book Review: The Hate U Give

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5/5

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life. (x)

This book was one of the most anticipated books of 2017 and rightly so.

Starr is a compelling character and I could really get into her point of view and understand how she sees the world. It’s easy to think that a book on such a topic would come out preachy, with little character development, but that is not the case here. It does examine the tough topic of racism and privilege, all while having the characters feel like real people.

What I really loved was how present Starr’s parents were throughout the story, which is often not the case in YA (especially in YA fantasy). One of my favorite scenes was when Starr and her dad were talking about Tupac and the meaning of “thug life.”

When Starr was interviewed about the night Khalil was shot, I teared up at the point where she wondered if the police officer was going to shoot her too. It was very raw and gave you a glimpse into life under police brutality.

Definitely pick this up – it is a much needed narrative about racism and police brutality, all with compelling and real characters.

Favorite quote: “Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing that.”

Book Review: “You’re Welcome, Universe”

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Synopsis:

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

Told with wit and grit by debut author Whitney Gardner, who also provides gorgeous interior illustrations of Julia’s graffiti tags, You’re Welcome, Universe introduces audiences to a one-of-a-kind protagonist who is unabashedly herself no matter what life throws in her way. (x)

This was a fun, quick read with a good intro into Deaf culture and street artist culture. The illustrations were beautiful added so much to the book.

My favorite thing about this book was that the main cause of heartache for Julia is her friendships with Jordyn and YP. Usually, heartache surrounds love interests and friendship is treated like it can’t hurt you like a romantic relationship can. This book shows you that friendships can hurt you and sometimes you can reconcile and sometimes it’s better to move on.

Favorite passage: “Listen, English is second language. I speak American Sign Language. It’s not English. It’s not charades, not miming. It’s a language.” – pg. 247

I love this because a lot of people really don’t understand that ASL is its own language. Like Julia says, it’s not charades or miming. It’s not based on English. (In fact, ASL has more in common with French Sign Language. British Sign Language – from another native English speaking country – is really different from ASL.) Gardner also makes sure to treat ASL like a language by not always saying “signed” after dialogue. She writes signing like it’s natural.

I would love to see more books like this one with Deaf main characters and strong friendships.

Book Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

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My Rating: 2/5

Synopsis: 

“The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

In this breathtaking fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, Aelin will have to choose what – and who – to sacrifice if she’s to keep the world of Erilea from breaking apart.” (X)

My Thoughts:

The biggest problem I had with this book that it seemed like there was a writing style change. A lot of the sentences were short and choppy and began with prepositions. I’ve been having trouble concentrating on reading lately and this choppiness did not help me at all. It’s why I eventually turned to the audiobook and why it has taken me months to finish. It got to the point where I wasn’t enjoying the story anymore because I was getting frustrated with how long it was taking me to read it.

Another problem I had was with the hyper-masculinity of the male characters. This is nothing new to Maas’s stories, but I had hoped that as she grew as an author, she would tone it down. Quite frankly, it’s getting really old. It seems really silly to have so many capable female characters and have the male characters reduced to snarling, territorial bastards over them. Not only do the fae males exhibit this behavior, but it was also thrust onto Dorian’s character as well. It felt like Dorian was being made into something he wasn’t and I was deeply uncomfortable by Dorian’s romance with Manon. Suddenly, Dorian was acting like some Christian Grey wannabe and Manon was suddenly acting submissive, which she had never done before.

It also seems like Maas is far more comfortable with male couples than she is with female couples (not that the male couples really play a big role in the plot, but they are mentioned with more frequency than female couples). It really would have been nice if Manon and Elide had become a couple, since their interactions in Queen of Shadows had that sort of chemistry.

Lysandra having to impersonate Aelin and sleep with Aedion to provide heirs for Terrasen is…really gross to be honest.

Aelin seeing Elena’s memories and figuring out she has to be the sacrifice sounded way too much like Deathly Hallows.

Lastly, I didn’t like how Chaol was left out of the narrative completely. Chaol isn’t really one of my most favorite characters, but he’s been a big part of the series up until now. To have him left out felt like there was something missing.

Overall, I don’t think this is the best book of the series. It missed opportunities to grow as a story and to be better than it has been.

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

On a continent ruled by three empires, some are born with a “witchery,” a magical skill that sets them apart from others.

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble–as two desperate young women know all too well.
Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her–but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch. (X)

My Thoughts:

What made me pick this up was the fact that a female friendship was the center of this book. For some reason, female friendship is rather rare in YA. Often the main female character is always paired off with a male love interest.

The bond between Safi and Iseult is very strong and even their journeys mirror each other. They are separated from each other because of political conflict and separated from their homes and they fight to get back to each other. This show of friendship is very important, because friendship is often devalued in favor of romance. I loved their banter and their brand of humor that was often misunderstood by outsiders. I also loved the fact that Safi and Iseult spent time with an older female, Evrane, who became like a mentor to them. I love that the two of them are the “chosen ones.”

The world building and political intrigue was very interesting, but at times it did feel a like it could have used a little more expanding; I sometimes lost sight of what exactly was the main conflict. I hope that in the next book, the Puppeteer will be explained and what exactly was the random scent Aeduan kept encountering.

Overall, it was a very entertaining read and, for me personally, a refreshing fantasy. I look forward to Windwitch!

Favorite Quotes: 

“This is easily the worst prayer I have ever heard,” Iseult declared.
“Weasels piss on you, Iz. I’m not done yet.” – pg. 25

“Why,” Safi asked Evrane, “have we never heard that before? We’ve studied Nubrevna, but…our history books always described this land as vibrant and alive.”
“Because,” Evrane said, “those who win wars are those who write history.” – pg. 256-7

“Why do it have to be ‘we’? Why not just me?”
“Because ‘just me’ isn’t who we are,” Iseult hollered back. “I’ll always follow you, Safi, and you’ll always follow me. Threadsisters to the end.” – pg. 365

 

ACOMAF Discussion/Signing

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

I almost didn’t go. I’m a nervous driver and people are asshole drivers around here. But I sucked it up and went because author signings rarely ever come to my area and this might be my only chance to meet SJ Maas

I’ve never been to a signing before and I was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie I felt with the other people there. Bookworms are special people

They gave us a sample page out of the upcoming Throne of Glass coloring book

Some tidbits from the discussion:

– She told us about finding out about ACOMAF making the number one on the NYT bestsellers list and how she was sobbing and shaking and how her mom didn’t pick up when she called to tell her

– She told us about an awkward interaction she had with a fan in her hometown farmer’s market. She said she was not dressed up at all and hadn’t showered in a couple of days and then someone came up to her and said that they loved her books and she turned to the person and said “I’m so sorry I look like this”

– She told us how she likes the gruesome fairytales like Hansel and Gretel (which was what the scene with the Weaver in ACOMAF was based on) and her Patronus would be a velociraptor or something that would kill you without caring. She wondered what that said about her

– She says she is constantly getting tweeted about “whose wingspan is the biggest”

– She is also constantly getting tweeted at about “chapter 54″ and she had to look it up to remember what happened in that chapter

– She talked about how music is such a big part of her writing process and how she will listen to songs on repeat because they will invoke images in her head (which is actually very similar to my writing process)

– People think her favorite scenes to write are the smut (lol) but she says she really love writing the “payoff” scenes, such as when Manon and Aelin’s storylines finally intertwined. She said she was bouncing out of her seat with excitement as she was writing that.

– She said she didn’t realize Feyre was an artist at first until she noticed how Feyre saw things in color and texture

– Her publisher wanted her to change Chaol’s name but she was stubborn about it and she apologized for it because “that’s what you get when you have a sixteen year old coming up with names.” (He was supposed to be named “Chaos” but that was too obvious and cheesy so she was like “I’ll just change the ‘s’ to and ‘l.’ And that’s the difference between a 16 year old and a 30 year old writer.”)

– Her favorite Disney princess is Mulan and when she watched it again recently she sobbed over the part where everyone bowed to her and what Mulan’s dad said to her at the end

– When she had the discussion with Xtinemay, she was sorted as a Hufflepuff and that was a shock because she always thought she was a Gryffindor but now she is a proud Puff

I got a little emotional when it was my turn to get my book signed. Like here is the author in front of me, signing my book for me. Also I am a huge sap so of course I got teary when I told her that her books meant a lot to me. And she hugged me!

She also had one of the first copies of Throne of Glass with the original cover to it that she has fans sign for her. I thought that was really cool – she signed our books and we got to sign hers

It was a great experience and I’m so so glad I didn’t back out of it. Hopefully I’ll get to go to more signings in the future 🙂

Read the Margin

Over on Tumblr, Ladybookmad is hosting a readathon called “Read the Margin.” Basically, the idea is that during the month of December, you read books by marginalized authors. It was created in reaction to the tense climate we live in in the wake of US presidential election.

Books are a great tool for creating empathy for the “other” and for getting us to recognize the fundamental humanity in each of us, in spite of our differences. It is important to read diversely, since storytelling is about the human experience. We can’t truly capture it if we’re only focusing on one group of people.

These are the books I picked out for the readathon:

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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and The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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Check out Ladybookmad’s recommendations here and here

On social media, you can use the tag #readthemargin to bring awareness to the readathon

Sabaa Tahir Book Discussion/Signing

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

So I thought I was enormously lucky to have SJ Maas come to my area in May and I didn’t think I would get another author again any time soon.

Wrong.

I freaked out a lot. Two authors in one year?? Seriously #blessed

Going to Sabaa’s signing was much better than going to Sarah’s in that this time, my friend (also a big fan of Sabaa’s) came with me and I didn’t have to endure the stress nausea and stress migraine that comes with driving alone on the freeway with a bunch of asshole drivers.

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Seriously this was the cutest indie bookstore I’ve ever seen. They had broomsticks and a snitch hanging from the ceiling!

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I really want to know if those are replicas of the brooms from the movies because they sure look like it

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(Yeah terrible picture but not much I could do about it with the lighting and all)

Because I am a total sap, I got teary when Sabaa was announced and came onstage

Some tidbits:

– Helene is based on an FBI agent that Sabaa interviewed when she was a journalist. In writing Helene’s POV, she became a person – a warrior, but also a person who hurts

– Sabaa hates the term “strong female character” because, for her, strong is already inherent in being a woman

– She finds a way to bring up Harry Potter in every event (she was wearing a Ravenclaw t-shirt that night).

– She likes having lots of villains because it’s like life; her favorite villain to write was the Nightbringer

– She based the tribal city on her memories of Pakistan and her mother’s memories of Pakistan. Likewise the tribal language is based on Urdu

– She read books about prison architecture for Kauf. She joked that her research for Kauf is the kind of thing that puts you on FBI watchlists and so she went to the library because she didn’t want to keep doing it online; she kept getting weird ads for bail bonds

– She hopes readers will take away from her books that hope is stronger than fear and hate. She believes our capacity to hope is what makes us human

– What she needs for writing: chocolate (after writing something soul sucking, she will walk to the store to get chocolate and eat the whole bar) and music (she has specific playlists for characters and pairings)

– Her typical schedule: get up, screw around on the Internet, call family and friends who tell her, “go write your book Sabaa” (had to get an app to help her procrastination on A Torch Against the Night lol), and then sits down and writes. She does her best writing very late in the night

– She read A Monster Calls while flying across the country and cried four times

– Her use of music while writing came from the time in 7th grade when her father decided to get rid of their TV. He thought that she and her brothers weren’t doing very well on their school assignments – “very south Asian parent right there”

– The script is currently being written for Ember (by the same guy who did Narcos on Netflix), but Sabaa reminded us that film projects can stall or be scrapped at any time so who knows at this point

Like the SJM signing, the atmosphere was incredible (seriously, book nerds are the best) and Sabaa was engaging and charming. If you ever have a chance to go to one her events, do it!

Review: Six of Crows

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Rating: 4/5

Synopsis: 

“Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.” – (x)

My thoughts:

Like calls to like. This tenet of Grisha theory pretty much explains why I picked up this book in the first place. Despite not having finished the Grisha trilogy before reading it (not that you really need to anyway), I kept being drawn to Six of Crows. And I’m really glad I was. I think it broke my reading slump.

I will admit, though, that there was a stumbling block – the introduction of Matthias. A character whose “good dreams” were of killing Nina and “bad dreams” were of kissing her? I almost give up there, despite the promising beginning. I didn’t want to have to deal with this mix of violence and sexual desire that is already ubiquitous in our media. But I made myself go on and it became clear that this was part of Matthias’s growth as a character – him unlearning the toxic things of his upbringing.

I am a complete sucker for completely different people teaming up and becoming a family of sorts. I love the way that the gang worked together and teased each other. I love the depth and backstory that went into each of them.

I love the symmetry between Inej and Kaz with them both having PTSD, especially of Inej’s quiet understanding of Kaz being triggered when they took over the slave cart. I though Kaz might turn out like other “bad boy” love interests, where their personal issues and sometimes poor treatment of others around them gets swept under the rug. But Inej flat out tells him that she would have him without his masks or not at all.

I think one of the most important passages in the book is this one: “Nina had wronged him, but she’d done it to protect her people. She’d hurt him, but she’d attempted everything in her power to make things right. She’d shown him in a thousand ways that she was honorable and strong and generous and very human, maybe more vividly human than anyone he’d ever known. And if she was, then Grisha weren’t inherently evil. They were like anyone else – full of the potential to do great good, and also great harm. To ignore that would make Matthias the monster.” (pg. 383)

It’s human nature to dehumanize those who are different from us. This tendency has had disastrous consequences. You only need to see the fear in western media surrounding Muslims and Syrian refugees to realize that. We need to remind ourselves that everyone is human.

Side note: “No mourners, no funerals” has now become my slogan when I try to get through a survival level on Star Wars Battlefront without dying.

(Originally posted on my tumblr)