Sunday, June 12, 2016

Who Fears Death Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I'm a little late with this review since I finished this a couple of days ago, but I think I'm on a really good reading streak and I can only hope it keeps going. This is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, the synopsis borrowed from the front flap of the American hardcover edition: 

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke tribe for good. An Okeke woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different---special---she names her child Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient tongue.
From a young age, stubborn, willful Onyesonwu is trouble. It doesn't take long for her to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception. She is Ewu---a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.
But Onye is not the average Ewu. As a child, Onye's singing attracts owls. By the age of eleven, she can change into a vulture. But these amazing abilities are merely the first glimmers of a remarkable and unique magic. As Onye grows, so does her abilities---soon she can manipulate matter and flesh, or travel beyond into the spiritual world. During an inadvertent visit to this other realm she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.
Desperate to elude her would-be murderer, and to understand her own nature, she seeks help from the magic practitioners of her village. But even among her mother's people, she meets with frustrating prejudice because she is Ewu and female. Yet Onyesonwu persists. 
Eventually her magic destiny and her rebellious nature will force her to leave home on a quest that will be perilous in ways that Onyesonwu can not possibly imagine. For this journey will cause her to grapple with nature, tradition, history,true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately to learn why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death? 

 I'm usually good with this section but I honestly can't remember. I'll have to credit Goodreads, because it has an eye-catching cover and there have been many a time I click on a book because of its cover.

(safe for those who haven't read this book)
    I have to get into the habit of intentionally picking up a book set in another country or continent because sometimes it's too easy to only gravitate toward the best-sellers or the ones with the pretty covers----all conveniently set in the US. Now I've found one that I know I'll never forget. Set in the distant future where cultures haven't lost their essence of family and religious diversity, the darker aspects of society like prejudice and corruption are just as omnipresent. The building blocks of society, interwoven so naturally and inerrant, Okorafor convinces the reader that her words aren't just pressed ink to a page--- they're life and memory and fantasy and truth.
   Onyesonwu is a character that we love to love and love to hate. While she isn't my favorite character of all time, I mean I wouldn't run to be her friend at first, but she's a character I admire and one that is written to be beautifully flawed. She's tempestuous and headstrong. A nature and disposition that comes to being Ewu---and that's only the beginning. Onyesonwu encounters friendly and hostile cultures and characters that react to those like her, broadening her view of the world and offering a better understanding of the world she's trying to save; all while trying to control the magic and powers that she's still trying to understand.
    Constantly while reading I kept thinking okay, when is this story going to stop tearing my soul apart. Not only does Onyesonwu see the ugly side of society because of her skin color, but she's had to be exposed to other gritty and unnatural violations of human nature. With all of this in mind, to every dark, there is light, and Onyesonwu is supported by friends and finds a love that matches her destiny as the Chosen One. But not the trope Chosen One, the trope we've all gotten our full of; I felt that Okorafor redefined how the Chosen One trope should be written. It wasn't thrown in your face all the time, but a subtle undertone. And this is reinforced by our unreliable narrator: our protagonist, Onyesonwu.
   At first it seems this story is told in the present---only to realize it's in retrospect. I won't get into details since it's part of the plot, but similar to Zusak's The Book Thief, the narrator will have grown on you by the end. 
   What was probably the hardest element for me to get past was the writing. It flowed at parts, but then sometimes I felt the syntax became distractingly jarring. The story would unravel so naturally and then I'd stumble as the sentences became incongruent. Then there were multiple grammar errors which wasn't the author's fault---but then it is. And her editor's. And since the author is credited for having a PHD in English and teaches creative writing at a university---I'll have some standards.
   All that, and I still was so absolutely in love with this story and these characters. I'm the type of reader who treasures a good story over good writing any day. You can be the best writer in the country but without a compelling story, it doesn't mean I'll ever recommend your book or read it again. 
    *One thing I really want to inform potential readers on is that this books deals heavily with sex and rape. If this is a trigger for you, I would recommend on passing this story, because as amazing as everything else is, it's too frequent to skip over and still keep the essence of the story. 

I give this book 5/5 stars.

“My library was -- all libraries are -- a place of ultimate refuge, a wild and sacred space where meanings are manageable precisely because they aren't binding; and where illusion is comfortingly real.” 
― André Brink

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
     I need to say how thankful I am that this became a group journey; I really only expected Onyesonwu to go on this journey on her own. Mwita wasn't just the love interest, he became a true companion and comrade in arms. He foiled Onyesonwu's character in almost every way without losing his sense of romantic connection. While I was surprised to be introduced to a love interest since Romance isn't a subgenre listed on Goodreads, I'm happy that Onyesonwu was surrounded by love, romantic and platonic. I especially loved Onyesonwu's and Luyu's relationship, how it developed and how it grew. I really admire authors when they put just as much focus and attention on friendships, particularly for secondary characters, as they do on romantic relationships since it's easy to write flat friends and not give them layers or even a real personality that makes readers just as emotionally unstable as main characters. 
   And not only characters, but then Okorafor introduces contrasting cultures that each distinctly shape and transform Onyesonwu's understanding of the world she wants to save. Some are similar to her own and others are what she'd never imagined. Otherworldly. All with their own customs that baffle and perplex Onyesonwu, the woman who can transform into a bird and step into another world. I haven't read a book of this size, that isn't a series, that has such diverse societies. I think Okorafor managed it flawlessly and I can't wait to read another work of hers.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Vengeance Road Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I went to two libraries today, one to check out some travel books for my mom and the other because it's closer to my house and it had a book I wanted. But I ended up checking out nothing since I had this beautiful book waiting for me. Without further ado, let me present the synopsis for Erin Bowman's Vengeance Road provided by Goodreads:

Revenge is worth its weight in gold.

When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers—and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal.

   A friend of mine uploaded a picture on Instagram with this book and I was immediately drawn to the cover. I'm going t gush about it a little more in my review, so prepare yourself.

(safe for those who haven't read this book)
   Kate Thompson isn't like your everyday run of the mill young adult protagonist. She's on a mission and nothing's going to deter her from that path. What I have to say I admire about Kate the most was her voice. From the get go we're dropped in a 19th century world where order, law, and justice is what people make of it. They're a long way from civilization and deep in the Wild West, luck and fortune are given to those who are resilient and to be frank, tough. Life's tough on the American frontier and it forces Kate to make some tough decisions quick. We see it in the first chapter when she has to decide whether to follow her father's murderers before the trail goes cold or to put her father to rest. It's an easy decision for someone who's safe 150 years in the future, sitting comfortably in their favorite reading spot with their noses in a book, but for someone who knows little of the world other than what she's seen in the few miles from town to her homestead, those first pivotal moments are what establish the baseline of the novel. Which is a girl seeking a vengeance that no man, woman, or law can stop.
    I want to be honest and say that I didn't think of Mattie Ross from True Grit a lot of the time, but that would be an obvious lie. I read True Grit a couple of years back for a college class and held it a pretty high pedestal; though that might have been because it was the only Western I've read and I was impressed with it. So coming into Vengeance Road, with a pretty similar plot, and I was really afraid I was going to end up closing the back cover and realizing the only thing I loved from this book after all was the cover. 
    Which reminds me...
    The cover attracted me. There I said it. If I were a fly I would be fried because oh my Lord when I saw the cover I needed it on my shelf. I'm pretty strict with myself when it comes to books--- I won't buy a book no matter how pretty it is if I'm not interested in the plot, especially when I know I won't like it. And this was a YA title. I figured I wasn't going to. I haven't had any luck reading YA lately and on the brink of tossing all YA titles from my to-be-read list because they all just became formulaic. However it was books like Vengeance Road that gives me hope there are still a couple YAs out there that won't make me roll my eyes every page. But I'm digressing from my digression... I can't wait to put this on my shelf and show off the cover. While not YA, I bought another book for it's cover (coincidentally another Western) called The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt and ended up dropping it. I'm just glad it won't be facing the bookshelf heavens, but my smiling face.
   Now something I found really engaging instead of irritating was the fact that the story's written in the present tense. I don't know if you're a nit picky reader like me, but I get incredibly distracted by narratives in the present tense. It was maybe 10 pages or so when I realized I was cruising smoothly through a point of view I would usually stumble over. Maybe it was because the style was meant to mimic the prose of 19th century Westerners... Maybe I was just excited for a thrilling read. I can't be sure, but in the end, who cares. If you're reading who cares if it's outside your comfort zone.
    This is an adventure story, appropriately assisted by a map, and if I had to give a grade for the quality of the adventure I think I'd give it a 80%. I have no idea what giving a grade means but I wanted to try something new and fresh from reading, I think the terrain, obstacles, coincidences, mapping, stranger encounters and plot equate to a B. I hope this doesn't make it seem like the story falls flat, since a B is still above average. 
   A major difference between True Grit and Vengeance Road has to be the fact that there's romance intertwined into the plot. By no means it hovers over the vengeance theme, however as a YA, it's to be expected. The relationship between the Kate and the guy isn't staggering. No one will leave this and claim it's their favorite literary couple. However, I did find it one of the most real between YA couples. And it was one of the most authentic things I found about Kate. She wasn't just a girl seeking revenge for her father, she was still a girl who hadn't really encountered a first love or saw much of a future for herself. But with a guy, she started to really see what this quest would mean for herself---with a romantic partner or without them. I think out of millions of YA couples there are, I would rank Kate's and RL's (romantic lead) as top 10. Top 5 maybe if I try and remember if there are really that many YA couples that I actually like.
   In my last review I mentioned how I've been on a quest for reads that center on women or have a predominantly female-led cast; and it wasn't until finishing Vengeance Road I realized I'm also on a quest for casts that are more diverse. I'm satisfied to say that Bowman delivers. Contrary to the name, Kate Thompson is half-white, half-Mexican, and she acquires the aid of a Native Apache girl in her quest. While there aren't many scenes with first or second generation Mexicans, there are references to Latin people, and Bowman does mention Chinese characters. While it isn't a lot, it's a lot more than I see nowadays. It doesn't discount the presence of non-whites in the Old West who usually only fulfill the purpose of antagonist and mustache twisting villain. While I know depicting Native Americans is a bit sensitive when it comes from a writer who isn't Native themselves, I found that Bowman depicted them in a respective and commemorative way. I only wish there were a couple more scenes with them.
   By it's end I found that the fast-paced read to be a thrilling read. It's something you can read in a day and despite the high stakes, something you can relax with at the beach. For this, I found very little to complain about.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

"How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself."
- Gore Vidal

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this yet, so don't read this section)
    I wasn't lying in the review section, I really did enjoy Kate's relationship with Jesse and her point of view of what wasn't their relationship. Even though the emotional swing went back and forth for a while, this is a girl who largely spent her time with solely her father, and when she did encounter boys her age they didn't tickle her fancy. I think it was realistic that when one finally did reciprocate those feelings, she question a lot of the actions he did that might seem unwarranted on the surface to everyone else. 
   Let's talk about Rose and his gang. While I think it's fair that as a 1st person POV, it might limit the personalities of characters we only see when our protagonist sees, however I wanted more from them. They were the antagonists and considering most of the time Kate was trailing them and just in the middle of the desert, we do see a lot of them. I just wish there was more to them than the flat, archetype of a Wild West villain. Creating the rose scar on the deceased (or soon-to-become-deceased) was a cool trait of the gang and I like that the villain used his name as a marker instead of initials (you see me Zorro? you see me Batman?). Also, another thing I liked about the gang was the different encounters Kate had with them. There's the first in Prescott--- her first real test to see how far she'd go in her vengeance, then the shoot out on the Agua Fria River, and Phoenix of course. Then her last one at the cache by the gold mine. It was enjoyable to see how she encountered the ruthless thugs, by killing each one, mentally preparing her for her big stand-off with Rose himself. Almost like a video game and she needed to level up with each death. Only she didn't kill all of them like she was checking them off from a list. One died by natural causes and one died by Rose himself. 
    I feel I need to talk about Will. His death didn't mean as much as I think Bowman meant for it to be. Plot-wise it made sense--- it gave Jesse a newfounded quest past the gold. But, when he died I didn't really care. It probably tied into the fact I didn't understand why he was rebuking Kate on Jesse's feelings. Jesse's his brother--- why patronize someone who is not only older, but a stranger to you? Put all that aside, he was a nice foil to his responsible, thoughtful, well-mannered brother. 
  Let me talk about that ending though. It was... how can I say it... disorienting. This woman comes out of no where, appealing to Kate with a name she'd never heard and it's pretty easy to guess it's her mom. I mean, if you didn't get that from the reference to an older woman who we'd never seen before that appeared near the mine--- something only Kate's parents and the Apache people knew about--- I don't know what to tell you. It was obvious to me. And the fact she was faking a ruse, pretending to be a hostage to garner on Kate's sympathies was just an easy solution to a suspenseful moment. Not lazy writing, just lazy plotting. That scene was predictable, and yet interesting. I said disorienting because I know Bowman wanted me to be shocked about the fact her mom was still alive, and Bowman wanted Kate to be emotionally comprised because it's a woman she loved and who she thought was dead--- but I just didn't like how it came about. She turns out to be in cahoots with Rose! Not surprising! The fact that she starts to monologue was just odd since in a moment like this--- no one would just reflecting on what happened in the past like they were reuniting after decades apart. She finishes explaining Kate's past to then turn on Rose. I'm sitting there thinking--- why?? They have a stand-off and then she tries to shoot Kate. Maybe it was an accident--- but then why did she mention there being "two" minds who knew about the mine that wasn't going to leave again. She pointed at Jesse then Rose, so why shoot Kate? I thought "her flesh and blood" was important to her. I mean, that's how she made it sound to Kate. Like she cared for her. Only--- she didn't really. She was just satisfied staying in the mountains. So: I'm not shocked when I should be by the mother's appearance, I don't sympathize a woman and her struggles after being abandoned since she was drowning in her greed, and then she shoots at her family when I can't be sure what her true feelings are. It might've been a twist if it was handled better. The fact that Rose made a legit deal with her is probably the most confusing. He offed his other men, no problem, but instead of overpowering this woman he could easily do, or just come back on his own, he's settling for a small amount of gold and is shocked when she turns on him.
    Whew, I hope that all made sense. Because if so, you'll understand why my feelings toward that scene is all over the place. Good thing the ending was nice. I don't usually care for romance bookending a story when romance was just a subplot; but I liked it. I'll tip my hat to Bowman this one time.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Moloka'i Book Review

Rawr Reader,

Can I just first say, Happy Mother's Day to all the lovely mom's out there. I for one have one of those mothers that I really wouldn't be as open-minded as I am without her, or do what I love without her, or just be the cooky, voracious reader I am thanks to her and all the opportunities she's given me. So the fact that I finished this novel, which praises motherly figures, not entirely of blood relation, is probably more suiting than I planned when I decided to finish it today. So without further ado, let's jump right in. The synopsis Alan Brennert's Moloka'i is provided by Goodreads: 

This richly imagined novel, set in Hawai'i more than a century ago, is an extraordinary epic of a little-known time and place---and a deeply moving testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.

Rachel Kalama, a spirited seven-year-old Hawaiian girl, dreams of visiting far-off lands like her father, a merchant seaman. Then one day a rose-colored mark appears on her skin, and those dreams are stolen from her. Taken from her home and family, Rachel is sent to Kalaupapa, the quarantined leprosy settlement on the island of Moloka'i. Here her life is supposed to end---but instead she discovers it is only just beginning.

   I first saw this book when walking down the book aisles in Target and it was on the shelf for Target Club Picks. I was drawn by the pretty cover then absolutely interested when reading it was in fact about a life in Hawaii. It was about a disease so I waited for the right time to read such a heavy subject, and thought it was well worth the wait. As you've noticed I haven't found a book that's blown me away in a long time and it was meant to get me out of this slump.

(safe for those who haven't read this book yet)
   There's more to life than just the good things: love, career promotions, children, money. In fact there's disappointment, sacrifice, despair. Any reader knows this and despite wanting happy endings, we read because we need to see our characters suffer so that when they're happy, it means something. It isn't just a blimp or serendipitous fortune, the good happens and you're thrilled because most importantly, the character deserves it.
   Rachel Kalama is a girl who has one of the worst misfortunes a child could have: disease, only to be further aggravated when she is not only forcibly separated from her family into a medical institution, she's sent away to another island. Despite what's happened to her, she clutches onto the only thing that would make such a hellish situation better--- a relative who loves her like she was his. This is just the beginning for our young brave adventuress. While facing for the first time the consequences of the disease, she grasps the meaning of life much earlier than a seven-year-old child should. Overlapping her personal tragedies to ones on a larger historical setting, Brennert does a vividly phenomenal job placing the reader in a world spanning decades, being surrounded by people's whose desires, motivations, and fears are so real that you have to remind yourself that you're reading a piece of fiction. While Brennert says that many accounts in the story are taken from patients of Hansen's Disease who still live in Kalaupapa. 
    In Moloka'i, there's humor, consolation, friendships that cross boundaries of religion and gender, love that is temporary and love that fulfills the time that it's given. We encounter a world where technology and science is blossoming, evidence that the world is changing and while it may have started off bad, it can change for the good. Their conditions on Moloka'i doesn't have to be a death sentence, inevitable and foredooming. 
   And though Rachel witnesses many first-hand accounts of death, there's always still life to balance the grief and make her see that life is worth living on. Death, as much as it hurts, isn't the end. We see hope, because there's hope to be had no matter the inauspicious circumstances.
   Brennert also gave a depth of reality to this world an culture by implementing the vernacular of the Hawaiian people. It's one of my favorite things reading about other cultures and if you didn't look it up, you were mostly in the dark for the rest of the novel since Brennert didn't do all the work. 
   I've also been on a quest to find a novel with strong female characters who predominantly influence our protagonist, and Moloka'i doesn't disappoint.
   Something I found by story's end that I absolutely loved was the parallel between Rachel and her father and Brennert with me the reader. No matter what, it's unwavering. Every time things got bad, I felt Brennert was holding my hand, reassuring me with soft words like: "It's okay. The path's a little rocky now but I've seen the end of the path and once we reach it, and both of us look over the promontory into the ocean, the view will be worth it. Just hold my hand for now. I'll protect you." There's catastrophes and moments where your heart breaks, but there's moments where you feel like things are too good to be true and something bad is going to happen--- but then it doesn't. Life can be good at times and it doesn't have to fall prey to plot conveniences or literary vendettas. One of my favorite lines exemplifies this:

 "She stayed with Rachel in her room, listening to a life's story that was, she discovered, richer than it was sad." (372)

I was afraid that this would just be another story that focused on the tragedies and the misfortunes, and epitomize the phrase: c'est la vie, Brennert really gives the reader something to look forward to when he balances the ill and the fortune. Because in Moloka'i, you won't get a perfectly horrid story or even a miraculous one, just one worth telling that's full of love and lessons and people to love because they're so human you just wish you were able to rely on and call for when you needed them most. 
  And I for one have a large soft spot for characters that love books as much as I do. Rachel is unfortunate to be quarantined from a changing society, however what has been taken to her, is likewise given to her in book-shaped presents. Not only stories, but cultural novelties from lands beyond the horizon. 
   This story transcends time and has made a very comfortable home in my heart, and more importantly, on my bookshelf. Brennert put so much love into Moloka'i and he found a reader who absolutely believes in it as much as him. I can't recommend this story enough, and hope that if you give a chance to reading it you'll enjoy it as much as I did, and will for many years to come.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

“Who can doubt the presence of God in the sight of men whom He has given wings?"

"I recall that so precisely because I've had time to consider my error. God didn't give man wings; He gave him the brain and the spirit to give himself wings."
-Alan Brennert, Moloka'i

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this yet, so don't read this section)
   Now there's only one little thing that I'm half in turmoil and half satisfied with, and that's dealing with Mother Mary Catherine Voorhies. There's a twenty year jump from the final chapter to the end note and we as the readers are never given the chance to put our hearts to rest because we assume she died (Rachel died at eighty something so there's a very unlikely chance that Catherine was still alive), and yet we're never really told exactly what happened. And the reason why I need to know about her more than anything else is because Rachel lost everyone she every really knew in her adult life and most of her childhood, except Catherine. She changed as much as Rachel did and while she was a main character, she wasn't the main one. I loved her uncertainties about her faith and her love for Rachel. Rachel saved Catherine and in turn, years later, Catherine saves Rachel.
   But it isn't just Catherine. We see such amazing female roles: Dorothy, her mother for as short a time as she had her; Haleola, her uncle Pono's lover, her hānai (adopted auntie),  and her makuahine (auntie and mother); and Leilani, our spirited and loving transwoman who is a caring friend to Rachel. And all in between Rachel is surrounded by many female friends and teachers. As I mentioned, this story is not only full of female characters, but they're actually important to our protagonist. I wasn't expecting Brennert to be so generous with the female roles, I can only thank him he dedicated many aspects of the novel to the strength and resilience of women in an era and social position that typically handicaps them. 
   Something else I appreciate from Brennert is the fact that he didn't get rid of Kenji in the way I feared. As soon as the chapter came along and it ran along the time of 1941-1943 I already knew what was going to happen. Or at least, I thought I did. Let me tell you, I thought he was going to be taken to a Japanese Internment Camp after Pearl Harbor. Brennert later reveals that the U.S. gov't didn't relocate Japanese on the Hawaiian islands since they were the predominant work force, so when Kenji exits the story in a more normal, unrelated war accident, I felt that Brennert wrote his role to justice.
   I'm really happy that Brennert had Rachel move in with Sarah in the final chapters of the book. Brennert said that he hadn't planned on moving one sister with the other but that she kind of just came to life and moved in on her own. As a writer myself, I felt that I could relate to Brennert. The characters are our creations however, they do surprise us as much as if they were real. While both sisters have lost so much, they were able to find each other. I found it especially satisfying that they had each other when I'd really begun to worry that Rachel would end up alone with no one to be there for her (unless she returned to Kalaupapa to be with Catherine), but the fact it came to be with the person who most regretted her mistake and someone she was stripped of having a functional relationship with, made me happy as a reader, and as a sister. 
   I wish there was more to say but this novel was pretty close to perfect for me. Was there anything with the story that bothered you? Let's discuss!

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Armada Book Review

Rawr Reader,

Libraries are magical, magical places. You can get a card for free and then borrow a ton of books not only from the physical building but from its online server. And the best part is there's a ton of books I want to read on there, many contemporary and recent releases. I only wish I took advantage of my library in the county where I attended college because their selection was so vast! Oh well, live and learn! Once I saw Ernest Cline's Armada, the novel following the action-packed, sci-fi, mystery Ready Player One, I knew it was going to be one of my first borrowed titles. So let's just jump right into it! 
I forewarn you, unlike most of my reviews, this review contains spoilers.
The synopsis is provided by Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

  When I knew about Cline having another novel, I knew I was going to check it out.

(not safe for those who haven't read this book yet, so will contain spoilers)
  Where oh where do I begin? While I consider myself a sci-fi fan, I haven't read most of the genre's top books like: War of the Worlds, Ender's Game, The Time Machine, Brave New World, Dune, etc. Now, while the pop culture references of the 70s and 80s might have been unchartable waters for me in Ready Player One, it was bearable and it didn't extract the thrill and joy our main character felt in his adventure. And for us, the readers who tagged along in the wild ride. In Armada, this was not the case. There were so many reference spat at me on nearly every page, I couldn't help but skim over these parts. For this reason and all the reasons I'll entail in the rest of the review.
    The beginning of the story has a great starting suspenseful scene with a flying saucer outside of his classroom window, and yet drags for fifty pages while he recounts his life story and monotonous daily life and routine.
    I think what makes stories enjoyable or not comes down to a fundamental question: is the story original or not. Now, before an avalanche of screams come down on me about how inspiration and themes and characters stem from a multitude of sources and nothing is truly original, I'd like to say that stories don't have to be entirely original to be enjoyable. Oxymoron isn't it? I'm contradicting myself. Well, not entirely. You see, She's the Man (not a book but a highly entertaining movie) is a rendition of the Shakespearean play Twelfth Night, and I find it a very enjoyable movie to watch. Most of the characters and places share names with the original play and yet, it's different. It's set in contemporary America where a girl wants to prove her talent and skill for a sport that is dominantly male-driven, as well as male-respected. The reason why She's the Man was successful and Armada failed was due to literature's most criticized device: cliché. Constantly as I was reading through Armada I became bombarded with one after the other and when nearing the next one I physically wanted to throw my iPad across the porch to get as far away from the novel as I could.* It wasn't even clichés that were discreetly written in. It was a son who absolutely devoted after his father and created a shrine for him after his death. It was said son who idolized him all his life, then within a span of ten pages of meeting him was sad/ ecstatic/ mad/ critical/ guilty/ sad again. One of the times I knew for a fact I couldn't connect with Zack, our Mary Sue golden boy, was when he blatantly blames his father for dying in an "embarrassing" way and because of that, made his life a living hell. Like, I'm sorry, I thought you were your own person. I would understand if you hated the man--- but this boy literally created a shrine for his dad in his room and watched all his dad's favorite movies and books and games. In fact, this boy didn't have a unique thing about him because, like the creme clichés between father and sons, Zack just looked like his father. Oh, and he just happened to be the son of the highly ranked commander of a secret organization. So, he had all the interests and talents of his father down and looked just like him--- so what really made Zack different from his father? What made him a different cliché from every cliché-written hormonal teen boy I always read about? I want to say I'm still thinking about it, but I have already moved on this story and am only recounting the story for this review.
    In fact, I couldn't connect with any of the characters. How could I not connect with any of the variety of characters in this 300+ page novel? Well, one thing was for over-use of humor in every page. Even in the critical moments, there was always a snarky, smart-ass remark made by one character--- as every character seemed to have the same demeanor as our protagonist. It was like the forced laughter you hear in sit-coms when the show's editors want the TV viewers to laugh. Except--- even sit-coms know when in moments of tension and severity, humor doesn't need to be implemented. Like the world is potentially coming to its end and these immature teenagers and even adults (dear Lord even the adults on the moon) are just making jokes. I understand humor is done to maintain sanity in an environment that is locked-in and separate from society, however-- it's the END OF THE WORLD and they're just cracking jokes. It was overdone and I couldn't stand it. I could barely read it in m head, let alone aloud. I can't imagine listening to the audio version of this. Dialogue ties into humor so I'll just add it in this section. Most of the dialogue exchanges felt fabricated and unrealistic. No teenage boy would just say thanks to his friends for helping his house not be destroyed. Or just kiss their mom on the cheek before going to bed on an average night. Or call their mom incredibly hot. I mock-barfed when I read that.
  Also, the romance in this story was flat and unneeded. Why couldn't he just have made a friend--- why did this hot girl happen to like him back and kiss him twice within a day and send him a text message "Will call U ASAP. <3". Just, why? They had like three physical interactions, probably not even that many. Okay, maybe I'll buy that he's really into her, but why should she be into him? He's just a teenager who just spends all his days playing video games. What about him made him attractive to her? She never even mentioned it. No, she's just magically interested in him too.

   Most depressingly, this novel embodied the mantra every fiction or English teacher I've ever had teaches: show, don't tell. If it wasn't in the exposition, it was in the dialogue. There was a scene near the end where Zack calls his dad after his parents ignored their call and when he finally connects through, the first described is how his parents didn't answer the call because they were "too busy boning each other." Really--- two people still clearly in love with each other (as shown many times in the novel) are finally together again and you don't think they might do it. Considering the eminent end of the world? And don't get me started on the fact this man was knocked unconscious--- then came to and was a little delusional, is already sane enough to do it with his still legally-fluid wife, and then command an attack against an alien force---- ALL within hours of each other? There's science fiction--- and then there's fantasy where the unrealistic cannot pass as believable. Except, even fantasy and magical realism has rules. I mean, how young is his demographic that he needs to explain everything. Give the reader some credit.
   One of my last complaints was the action. Action, in theory, is meant to expedite the pace of the story however for me it was the contrary. It was pages of action and I mostly skimmed over. Like, I didn't really have a good grasp of place and so was lost, not that I wasn't already lost with the jargon of the gaming world. So many names. It was easy to follow in Ready Player One, but in Armada it was incredibly confusing. 
   And the Zack did not fit the typical teenage boy. Not stereotypical, typical boy. He's throwing expletives left and right, he has a job, ooo he even did it with a girl once, he's attracted to this hot girl he just met who has tattoos and tight-fitting clothing and drinks and is cheeky and---dare I say it--- cliché, however he plays and encompasses his life to playing games, he kisses his mom on an average night, he gets into fights at school (to be the hero for a kid who doesn't even make eye contact with him), throws temper tantrums, he scolds his boss for being unprofessional at a video game store and yet disobeys direct orders from a trained and professional (though virtual) soldier, and then dismisses being #6 in an incredibly popular and challenging game being all humble and everything. Why can't he be arrogant about being a good player? Why can't he be emotionally stable and reasonable with his father he just learned was still alive? And what about the end when he comes across the machine that gave the world this test? He actually considers declining an offer to fix starvation and cure medical mysteries. WHAT! I understand he's down because he lost his father--- but even though you idolized him all your life--- you literally had no memory of him except for within the last 24 hours. How about letting go of a person you never knew and think about the big picture and for humanity and how actual problems could be solved. Or was fighting for humanity really just all for show and to become the golden boy hero we all know and love, to stray from his dull, pathetically uninteresting and unmotivated every day lifestyle--- oh so conveniently from America. I can get into diversity, but then I'd have to get into politics and military tactics from different countries and where were they in all of this, but that's just another discussion for another book that actually deserves my time.
    I need to find an ending for my rant, and where best to end than with the end? All of the training and decades of imminent threats from alien armies culminates to the climactic---it was just a machine and it was all a test. A test to see if your species was violent or not--- all based off the sci-fi movies and tv shows your species enjoys for entertainment. And it lays all the pressure and potential for the race in one boy. One emotionally unstable one at that. I mean come on! What about the species' languages and cultures and science and food and geography and animals and weather? In the end, the machine ambiguously whisks away into space with the ominous "we'll contact you when you're ready." 
    Is this really written by the same author of one of my favorite adventure books, Ready Player One? I fear if I reread it, I'll discover all the problems I see in this book. (No, I don't want to think like that!) 
   As I said in the beginning, bless libraries where books are free to read and I never accidentally wasted money buying it. Now go visit your local library and score one of those awesome free library cards! *Cue Arthur's Library Card song*

Unshockingly, I give this book 1/5 stars.

“I’d spent my entire life overdosing on uncut escapism, willingly allowing fantasy to become my reality.” 
― Ernest Cline, Armada

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

*(No tablets were hurt in the making of this review.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Queen of the Tearling Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I've been on a role and I am in no mood to pull up the brakes anytime. Great news, right! I felt I needed some strong females for my next read and had to turn to one of the titles that was a gift by my best friend. She'd never read it but books by best friends are always the best. Even if they're not...
It makes sense! The synopsis is provided by Goodreads: 

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

    I've seen this book when walking down the aisles at the bookstore, however I never picked it up. It wasn't until my best friend gave it to me as a gift for my most recent birthday. 

(safe for those who haven't read this book yet)
    One of the reasons why my best friends chose this book was because it had a strong female heroine at the storefront. Can't get enough of those in YA lately and the quest really began when I imagined me finishing this book, wondering if I was going to like this one. And my answer is, unfortunately, not so much. 
    This year has been kind of tough on me. I've read 5 books so far this year and all of them are on the same par. Some have great worlds but the characters are a drag, or the characters are great but there's something wrong about the plot and the world-building. For me, the latter is the case. 
   Something missing for me in A Darker Shade of Magic was that there were like 5 real characters in the story. In The Queen of the Tearling, I'm constantly and consistently meeting someone new. I won't lie at times I had to pause and trace who was who because some of these names sort of blend together, but then after a couple of pages I'd figure it out and everything would be okay. For example, we have the Mace, aka Lazarus. I loved how Kelsea shifted how she addressed him depending on the situation. Also just the fact he had two names. Reminded me of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. This is stuff we see so often in real life but rarely in fiction, and for the author to use it comfortably and often made me find him not only intriguing, but incredibly three-dimensional. Aside from him being the Mace: independent, headstrong, but incredibly loyal. Loved him. We're actually bombarded with a ton of characters in the first chapter and overwhelming, yes, however if I have to choose, I'd rather be overwhelmed. Large cast of character with a range of personalities gets a plus from me.
    The chapters, however, get a thumbs down. Large chapters slow down the pacing of the story on it's own, but then the story itself lacks real action from start to finish. One chapter was like 50 pages while another was barely 10. Consistency. I need it. And smaller chapters... Yes we're thrown into a "pursuit" at the story's commencement however, even then the journey is rather slow-taking. Adventures need more then just traveling across the countryside. Well--- action-packed ones do and by the blurbs behind the front cover make me anticipate a lot of it (which was entirely misleading).
    While I won't elaborate in this section of the review, another aspect of the novel which bothered me was the character inconsistencies. For me, tragically, by our female protagonist. I liked her at first. She had this spunk and craving for the wide world, all with the hopes of finding it to be all she imagined it to be and with a family she'd dreamed of all her life. Although separated from society, she had a firm grasp about how life should be. Which has to be given credit by all the books she's read. May I say it--- a warrior Belle. Who does what she believes is right with a compassionate, selfless heart. That is, until her oscillating feelings makes me cringe at every thought the author reveals. One reason was for how she believed the world should be after a day of leaving the secluded cottage she'd spent all her life in, away from the only two people she'd every truly spoken to. How could you possibly know? Then, *deep sigh* there comes her immediate and shallow judgments of the Queen's Guard coming to collect her and take her safely to her new home. Nine men she'd never seen before and all she could do was rave (well, in her head at least) about how attractive they were and they must've been chosen by her mother because of their beauty. But then, a couple pages later, they're not attractive anymore. Only to be attractive a couple of pages later. This was at the beginning of the first chapter so I won't put page numbers. Then she meets an interesting, questionably moral character a couple of pages later and on the surface, she shouldn't like him based off of all the morals she so proudly asserts. But *another deep sigh* he has to be attractive and, ergo, she can't stop thinking about him for all of the book. There's no romance in this story, so if you're looking for that in this story you won't find it. And I may be a little cynical since I'm beyond the good girl crushing on the "bad boy" cliché (thanks to all the kdramas I've watched where that cliché is a dime a dozen), and since she's supposed to be "strong," this just enraged me all the more. She's the Tearling's Daenerys. (I'd like to note I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series and I loved Daenerys in the first book, however in all the ones following she was just an annoying little girl. Check out my reviews~)
    Whew, that was a big point I had to get out. Now, let's get to the world. First off, I really enjoyed how it developed. We start off in this classic fairy tale cottage, leaving the safe borders of the known and familiar to stumble upon a world running at a different pace. Suddenly it's a new fantasy world. Until it's not. We soon discover this Tearling land is actually some sort of dystopian land. I've never read a book where the two were combined and found it really interesting, until magic came into the picture and I couldn't quite find how the two could work. Yes there's magic in urban fantasy, but in this case it just didn't work for me.
    I don't usually bring this up since I don't mind it in literature, but the profanity in fantasy, especially in YA fantasy is a little jarring. I'd only wished they used it more in the beginning so that I wasn't taken back when they finally used it a couple of chapters in. It came out of nowhere and it not only breaks the trust of the reader, but it brings into mind the dangerous question of consistent characterization. Yes, like a baby Kelsea slowly came to use it the more she was surrounded by it, however at the time, it just felt off.
   A character I found myself loving was the Mace. He was the strong foundation the new queen needed on her journey and in the beginning of her reign. His relationship with Kelsea was the one I admired the most. Obviously because we see it more than the relationship between anyone else, but something I think I'll always admire about this novel. 
    I mentioned before the character inconsistencies regarding Kelsea but I forget to mention how her strength seemed questionable at times. At first I loved how sure of herself she could be, and then suddenly she wasn't as strong as I thought. Which brings me to the question: what makes a strong female protagonist? Everyone will have their own answer to this, and while I won't give my definition, ultimately I'd have to say she wasn't. For me. Something just didn't click for me. It has to do with the Daenerys connection, you need to be more than just someone giving commands. Now, Kelsea does some remarkable things for women in the novel. Great strides were made to make women strong overall in this story. However, by the end something just didn't click with me. With no real reason, I felt the strength was rather fabricated. Maybe it has to do how vain she was the entire story, intentional or as unintentional as she meant to be.
   Let me end with the finale. The story was slow and I thought it would rise to this huge climatic moment, only it just plateaued to this moment that felt unsatisfying. It's called deus ex machina and for a first novel, plot wise everything was resolved while there still remained some big questions regarding characters and world-building holes. As a first in a trilogy (they're always trilogies, I'm just assuming this is just another one), I know they can't answer anything in the first novel, but if you drag the story on at parts, I want to be given some explanation by the time I finish reading the last page. Short story: On one of my trips to college after break I got stuck in traffic on one of the major highways. It happens, I bore through it. Roughly forty-five minutes later the traffic starts moving again and I drive for a little before suddenly the highway clears up and I resume the posted speed. Now I don't know if they cleaned up the reason we were at a stand-still for, but I felt unsatisfied that I had to endure a forty-five minute wait and there was nothing to show for it. That feeling was as close as I could get to this ending. Not nearly as irritating as waiting in traffic, but I think you get where I'm going with this. 
   I hear a lot of reviews say that a lot of answers are given in the next book, but my interest is so low at the moment that that just isn't going to happen. My curiosity will never be quenched.
   I don't want it to be like I hated this story because honestly, while reading, I enjoyed everything. The writing was lovely and captivating. But that's the problem, because everything's pretty in the moment. It's after, in retrospect when my darned literary mind plugs in and I start to look at everything in a package. No matter how hard I try to look at stories at its surface, all my English classes and all they've taught me start to nitpick and look at everything.
   A good start, but I don't see myself finishing the series.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.” 
Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling

Next To Read:
Armada by Ernest Cline

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
   The Fetch. The Fetch. I wish there were more scenes with him so I could understand this obsession Kelsea had for him. Sure he had a charming face and act, but they shared maybe two real scenes together. I didn't understand why she asked for him at the end. It felt so odd, and forced. Do any of you guys feel that way? That you're forced to like this guy because the female protagonist just thinks he's the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. (Though to be fair Kelsea hadn't seen many other people her age.) I think we had more time with Kelsea's uncle the Regent. A main person shouldn't be so stuck on someone who had maybe 20 pages of speaking dialogue in 400+ page novel. I'm just throwing that number out there, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was less.
    The necklaces of magic sort of irked me. Not at first, mostly in the last half of the story, but the explanation for where they're power came from and why there were two was never explained. Something else not explained--- how can a man and woman (Regent and Red Queen) sit still for 18 years and then worry about the Princess Apparent to come and take her throne back? They sent assassins after her months before she was to return and reclaim her power. And even the characters made that claim: the Tearling wasn't large but how could no one have found them? Was the cottage/forest they lived in under protection of the necklaces? It seems to easy for all the action to start when Kelsea leaves the cottage. Which, actually since we're on topic--- what happened to the cool hawks in the beginning of the story? They were in the first three chapters and then never appeared again. Killer hawks the size of dogs--- the author could have done more with this. Also could've done less of the tedious managing of Kelsea's early reign. Everything was just too easy. She just walked into the Keep and slept that first night. No one attempted to kill her until her coronation which seemed overly dramatic. She's stabbed by a knife, losing blood at an alarming pace, but takes her time asking for the Father to finish her coronation and then amiably asks her uncle to get out of the throne so she could sit on it. I mean--- what???
   And in my review I said I loved Mace. And I do. It was only every time Kelsea wanted to do something and voiced it, he said no, and she was like: darn maybe next time. I understand you can't just let a recently exposed nineteen year old to the throne for a kingdom she'd not even seen and let her do everything she wants--- but really how am I supposed to take her seriously and think her "strong" if she just behaves like a child. I wanted her to reach for power and fail and then learn. It isn't enough just to run your mouth (I'll unofficially call the Daenerys problem).
   Also in the beginning, I didn't realize it until I read another review, but the fact that the party was being pursued by assassins and yet the party lit fires at night, got inebriated, and sang songs while claiming that they needed to be on their guard seemed ironic. They were the best of warriors, yet they were old and seemed to show poor judgment and influence to a girl who'd been raised in isolation.
   Now let's get to the Red Queen. I've never met such an inactive villain. She's mentioned in brief episodes maybe three times in the entire novel. Three scenes in a 400+ novel. And none of which really show her ambition and drive. All we know is she rapes her slaves and is subservient to an evil that doesn't want to enact evil onto her enemy--- though this evil master has no qualm of devouring innocent children. There's no drive in the heroine when there's no drive by the villain. That was where the story really seems to rise to a plateau and stay there. And the incline isn't very steep. 
    Beautiful writing, but sometimes drive really is everything. Especially, especially in fantasy adventures.
   And while Kelsea's drive to be a great queen is admirable, I feel I need something for her to want and for it to be a real challenge for her, if not outright met with failure. She just wants stuff and gets it. Externally, not as vain as her mother but in a way, ironically, becomes just like her. And it doesn't help she has to comment on the attractiveness of pretty much everyone she meets. And she thinks her mother was vain. Pl-eeease!
    I want to end on my favorite scene: when Mace surprised Kelsea with the collection of books from her cottage now safely transported to her bed chamber. Never had I ever felt like Belle. I think it's every bookworm's dream to have their own library like the one the Beast gives Belle and the fact that this world is deprived of books and yet here her closest confidant and head guard (someone who showed ill-favor to retrieving the books in the first place) goes out of his way to bring all (a good two thousand) books across the country for her. Dare I say? Awww. Just, awww.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel