Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Darkest Minds (The Darkest Minds #1) by Alexandra Bracken

   I've been hearing a massive amount of hype about this book lately, especially with the new sequel and all that jazz. Admittedly, I didn't really have high hopes for it, having lost a certain amount of faith in the young adult-dystopian genre somewhere along the line, but I was actually really quite pleasantly surprised with this one.

   Honestly, I enjoyed THE DARKEST MINDS a lot. I went in without being too clear on the plot or characters or any of that, so the book unraveled as a sort of pleasant surprise.

   To get my one big complaint out of the way quickly, I've got to admit that I kind of felt like the book lacked direction. It wasn't always clear to me, as a reader, what exactly the goal was for the main character and her friends throughout the story, and even though you get this huge, overwhelming sense of urgency from the situation and characters, the end goal–that is, delivering the one dead kid's letter–seemed sort of anticlimactic. I'm aware that delivering the letter wasn't the plot-driving quest of the book, but it just felt kind of weird to me, like an afterthought. 

   Okay, so now that I've put that out there, I'm going to try my best to follow that review-structure thing I promised I would do. 

   This is THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken, first of the series of the same name, as well as Bracken's debut work. The second book of the to-be trilogy came out a few months ago {December, maybe?} and is called NEVER FADE. It's a YA dystopian, but with a bit of a twist thrown into it. Again, I really only just picked this one up because of the hype. Booktube, in particular, seems to be going crazy over this series.

   And yeah, I really had zero clue on what it was about when I grabbed it off the discount shelf at Target. {God bless Target and its slightly-cheaper-than-B&N bestseller selection.} I kind of understood the whole 'special abilities' bit? But not really?

   Now, this book is a dystopian, but again, it's quite unique in the sense that it doesn't simply show you a fucked-up place and tell you that 'this could be our future,' but actually shows the steps that our modern society takes to get there. The book opens with our narrator and main character, Ruby, when she's around ten years old. Most of her classmates are dying due to a new disease known as IAAN. I can't for the life of me remember what that stands for, but it's basically terrible, and it wipes out a huge number of kids. 

   As time goes on, it is discovered that the child survivors of IAAN have developed special powers. Amongst these is Ruby herself. All of the special-power kids are shipped off to LITERAL CONCENTRATION CAMPS and that's where al of the holocaust parallels begin. 

   That's the basis, and not really the plot, but hey, if you want to find out what actually happens, read the book. It's worth it.

   Chubs was my favourite. It's seriously not even a contest. Everyone else was nice, but you can't really beat the snarky, sarcastic ones. They will always be the rulers of my heart; everyone else is just second best.      

   Speaking of characters, oh god, what the fuck, Clancy. I was honestly expecting some vaguely creepy cliché shit with the love triangles and the main character being an idiot and picking the weirdo, but NO. NOPE. I DON'T WANT TO SPOIL ANYONE ON ANYTHING IMPORTANT, BUT WOW OK. 

   For me, the high points mostly resided within the witty banter. It would actually be a pretty freakin' depressing book without the snark, and even so, it's incredibly dark. But the character interactions and the conversations and the jokes really do lighten the mood, and some of it's just really clever and cute.

   Low points: every scene with Clancy. Call me nuts, but I just don't even feel remotely comfortable with anyone who's described as or compared to a politician. Even while he was being introduced as super-nice and A+ leadership skills or whatever the fuck, he skeeved me out, okay. Just. Just no. {Technically this shouldn't count as a low point, since it's not really anything against the book itself, but just deal. I already made my one big complaint up above.}

   Overall, I really did enjoy this book. It took a little longer than I expected to get through, but I truly fell in love with the characters and got really upset at all the right parts and such and such. I do plan on picking up NEVER FADE sometime; possibly after I lift this self-inflicted ban on book-buying. {For those of you who didn't know, I barred myself from purchasing books in January. Keep up, will you?} The world and idea just fascinate me in a really weird way. Kind of like when you're watching a horror movie and you're simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by the brutal murder taking place on-screen, and you make that weird face that's half-smile, half-grimace? Yeah, that.

   I actually thought about the message of this book for a little bit right after reading it, and I came up with this:

   Children are supposed to be innocent, but the kids in these books act frighteningly like adults. Even though it's stated specifically that most of them are uneducated beyond a fundamentally basic level, they've already learned to fight for themselves, to scavenge and attack like wild dogs, or something to that measure. And the reason they've grown so quickly and terrifyingly is out of the fear and desperation created by violence, which stemmed from hate, which stemmed from ignorance. Basically, ignorance breeds violence, and violence has a way of affecting even the purest of us in terribly ways.


Checklist for Reviews

Friday, January 17, 2014

   Well, basically, I've decided to make a weak attempt to write structured reviews {as opposed to endlessly rambling ones} with this simple little check-list thingy. We'll see how that works out, won't we?

• Title, Author, Genre. {Obviously.} If part of a series, mention number of books in series, past experience with series, etc.
• Expectations: What made you buy the book/What did you think it was going to be about/etc.
• Brief plot summary.
• Favourite Character
• Least favourite character
• High points
• Lows points
• Overall?
• What did you get from this book/ What is the message that it was trying to convey?

   That's pretty much it--short and simple. Keeping my discussion restricted to two characters while hitting the high and low points should definitely shorten down/structure my reviews somewhat, right??

   This is kind of for my own benefit, but if you're in need of a list-like structure thing or whatever, feel free to use mine. It's sort of a learning process, so I guess I'll modify this as I go.

   Good night!


The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

   Anyone who has the audacity to suggest that I have a weakness for children's literature is absolutely right. 

   It's kind of odd, actually; people with a naturally critical nature such as myself can easily find loads of heaping, debilitating errors and nuances in children's books that could be considered unacceptable and irritating in any other type of fiction. And I'm constantly caught between wanting to rate children's literature on a separate scale and wanting to just put it up there with every other book because it deserves as much, but in the end, you really do need to take into consideration the level that these books were written at. So I suppose it's because of that sort of subconscious acknowledgment that I usually find myself enjoying children's books with redundant or oversimplified plot devices that I would normally find intensely obnoxious in young adult or adult works.

  Mm, basically, I'm very forgiving when it comes to children's books, but that's actually quite unnecessary to mention at the moment, because THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY proved to not only be whimsical and adorable, but unusually sophisticated.

   The gorgeous cover work is what bought me into this book in the first place, of course. I mean, look at it. Just look at it. 

   Oftentimes, I'll find myself being disappointed by the contents found in between two slices of beautiful cover art, but no, I wasn't at all disappointed. I really do detest comparing books to one another, but the feel and tone are reminiscent of the ever-beloved Harry Potter series, even though the rest of the book is completely different. 

   It's a story about four orphans who are called in to take a mysterious test under mysterious circumstances. Of many, these four are chosen to work for a man named Mr. Benedict and function as undercover agents at the Institute, a private school with no rules run by the diabolical Mr. Curtain. Hijinks and madcaps ensue, but the end result is one of those cheesy, feel good moments that you can't help but love. 

   THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY is just the kind of book that you read, and then immediately resolve that you'll have your children read one day. Even if you never plan on having any children. It's just one of those wholesome, quirky stories that you legitimately feel have every right being in a child's hands. {Although I suppose for those who are used to the thrill factor of more mature books, it could be a teensy bit slow.} And, despite its general innocence and sweet do-goodiness, there's some dark crap in here. The villain's a megalomaniacal sociopath??? Some of the kids have serious parental/abandonment issues?? Also, plot twists. Definitely some OOOH DANG moments in there.

   I've put off this review for way too long, and I've already forgotten everything I was going to say, but overall, this is just a really freakin' cute book. It's fast, it's fun, the ending is happy-yet-bittersweet, and the characters are just utterly charming. Even if you simply buy it for the sake of having the adorable, whimsical illustrations displayed on your shelf, buy it. {Seriously, it just looks so good up there. All pretty next to my Steinbeck collection.}

   This review probably seems kind of short and sad next to that MASSIVE Cassandra Clare tirade I went on for CITY OF BONES, but hey, there isn't much to say. Read this book with your kids, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it! Unless you're one of those people who thinks that A.A Milne was a Nazi. In which case, I cannot help you.

OVERALL RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 


Thursday, January 9, 2014

   Man, oh man, so much to say here. Where to begin?

   I've just gotta say that I've seen been seeing this cover in my local library and bookstore for years now, and I was never really able to gather the courage to pick it up??? I think those giant nipples were part of it. But then I started watching booktubers, and a lot of the really fun people seemed to enjoy this book, so I mistakenly decided to watch the movie while toying with the idea of buying a copy for myself. 

   The movie was pretty bad. Not the worst I've ever seen, but cringe-worthy. But for some weird reason, it managed to embed within my tiny Neanderthal brain the idea that I needed to read the book now. It might have been a misplaced sense of duty or honour or something, but in the end, I wound up ordering a paperback copy of this sucker for 6 bucks online. It took around two weeks to arrive, and during that time, it was like a dam had been put up between me and my reading. I just couldn't read anything else. This goddamn book and its horrible movie adaptation haunted my every waking moment, and I have no idea why, so I'm assuming it was a terrible curse. 

   During this time, I made the mistake of also reading a lot of the reviews for it on goodreads, in a weak attempt to satiate my maddening inability to stop thinking about it, and there is so much bullshit in there that it almost put me off of reading it forever. I don't mean bullshit as in bullshit against the book itself, but bullshit as in bullshit spread by both the people who loved it and hated it. There's basically no in between. You either really fucking adore it or you don't.

   So, yes, I know all about Cassandra Clare's Harry Potter fanfiction escapades, and I honestly don't even give a shit. If you don't know the whole story, apparently Clare wrote quite a few popular fanfiction works back in the day, but then got busted because she plagiarised some of them. I'm really firmly against plagiarism, but honestly, I don't really think the author's muddy history is an excuse to completely trash a book she wrote years later. And for those of you who are wondering aloud if the paragraphs she 'borrowed' from her previous works and stuck into this one were in fact stolen words, are you really fucking suggesting that she would a) be stupid enough to repeat a mistake that got her in a shitload of trouble in the past, and b) had an editor stupid enough to let her? You know that, fanfiction aside, plagiarism in published works can get you into some really severe legal trouble, right? 

   Then we have the more common issue that arises with these books–people going through and comparing Clare's work side-by-side with things like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even the motherfucking X-Men, apparently. 

   As dear old Jim Jarmusch says, 'Nothing is original.' So, let's say Clare did rip off Harry Potter. But didn't Harry Potter borrow from Lord of the Rings? And didn't Lord of the Rings borrow from the Bible, which borrowed from Greek mythology, which borrowed from nature? The truth of it is, everything's been done before, you guys. All we authors can do is kind of mash things together and hope that they don't end up too similar to someone else's combination. And from a technical standpoint, you can compare the stupid little details in Harry Potter and the Mortal Instruments all you'd like {such as Church being similar to Mrs. Norris because they are cats. This was literally on one of the idiotic 'comparison lists' I saw.} but if you boil down to the basics, man, they're two really different books with quite a bit going for them each way. So stop your useless chart-making and comparison-creating because you have so many other, better things to do with your time. {I mean, it's not like Rowling will ever sue Clare for the superficial similarities racked up between the two series. Get your head out of your ass.}

   Well, I'm done defending CITY OF BONES. Time to take the offensive.

   This was one of those books where I was highly aware of all of the problems and mistakes, but I still managed to enjoy it anyway. I honestly rate my own personal level of entertainment higher than anything else, but oh boy, was there was some shit in this thing. 

   Characters are always my favourite thing to discuss, so why don't we go ahead? 

   Alright, well, even I can't avoid the terrible truth: Clary is kind of a Sue. I really don't throw this term around lightly, either, because my definition of a Mary Sue is pretty strict, and I don't like just tossing the label onto any old female character that I don't happen to like. 

   Here, I'm sort of on the edge. I'm aware that there's a ton of a way to go for Clary yet, since the entire series is supposed to be six books long}, and I'm really hoping that she'll develop along the way. But first impression? Not so great. The similarity of her name to the author's name really got to me, because it's sort of like, did you even try? Then there's the whole thing with all the guys who aren't gay falling head over heels for her, and the dear old thing being completely unaware of her own beauty and specialness. Oh, and don't forget the fact that she's kind of a bitch to other girls. Like, whoa there, calm your crazy girl hormones. It's obvious that the guys are all pining after you, you don't have to defend your territory of anything.

   But then again, she had a personality. It was definitely there, too–strong-willed, fiercely independent, and a fairly realistic teenage girl, with parental issues and a yearning to know who she really is. This is all if you overlook all the stuff I mentioned in the previous paragraph, of course.

   So yeah, I'm stuck. How do I feel about this girl. Where do I stand. WHAT ARE MY EMOTIONS DOING.

   But that aside, I basically loved everyone else except for Jace. {I'm not entirely sure why he didn't appeal to me, but I think it might be because he reminds me uncannily of someone I once knew and strongly disliked. But who knooows.} Simon was precious, and Isabelle was kick-ass, whatever Clary says. I'm fond of Alec, but I'm a little nervous, because I always get that way when I read about gay characters for the first time. Mostly because I'm always scared that the author's gonna fuck up somehow and make them a ridiculous stereotype or dead or whatever. {I've actually read a lot of nice things about Clary's depiction about homosexual characters, though, so A+!} Luke is my favourite, though, because I have a weakness for large strong furry sweet men. 

   Also, Magnus Bane. My twin and I found the name 'Chairman Meow' to be deeply amusing. {Did you know that the Chinese word for cat sounds really similar to Mao? Because I didn't, and it makes the joke EVEN FUNNIER.}

   Say what you will about Clare, her sense of humor and snark is pretty much perfect. Seriously, this book has got some funny shit in it. Not to mention some disturbing shit. Allow us to discuss.   

   Can we talk about how obvious it is that Valentine Morgenstern's whole story is based off of Lucifer? I'm mostly saying this after getting about halfway through the second book, in which he goes on for quite a while about his thinly masked admiration for motherfuckin' Satan, but hey. Lucifer was a well-written villain. Plus, about 90% of literary baddies are based off of Lucifer to some extent, but I don't see a problem with it. 

   Also, what the fuck, incest. {I'm kind of getting rambly and off-the-rails-ish here, so bear with me.} I watched the dumb film, which revealed to me *SPOILER! they're not actually related. I'm not sure if I should feel grateful for this or annoyed, because on one hand, part of me knows that they're not being incestuous and weird. But the other part of me is still skeeved out. 
   I'm not entirely sure what it is about incest that grosses me out so much {almost as much as old guys doing young girls!} but it always manages to strike a nerve with me. Therefore, not my favourite plot device ever. Most of these thoughts are coming from ASHES, since that's where the Jace/Clary scenes get super weird, but this one still had enough weird to make me uncomfortable. I don't think I could ever really ship the two of them {And yeah, I see some definite room for shipping in this series} but hey, I hear the cast gets really massive, so I'm sure there will be other opportunities.

   On a final note, is it just me, or are the Shadowhunters kind of like the KKK? I don't know, I guess I just look at any group of people that's after genocide of some sort and see the KKK and/or Nazis. I know it's different because the demons are 'evil,' but the whole weird racist thing against Downworlders also kind of frightens me. They even have their own racial slurs {see: bloodsucker} that make me feel uncomfortable. {see again: bloodsucker} AND THEN THEY GET THE MAIN CHARACTER TO START SAYING THINGS LIKE 'SLIMY DOWNWORLDER' tO HER OWN FREAKIn' FATHER FIGURE. I mean, these are supposed to be the good guys. Anti-heroes or no, I'm tired of racism. I don't care if it's supposed to show that 'racism is bad' because I feel like it doesn't push the point hard enough.

   SO YEAH I don't know what this rating is. I don't know what three stars means anymore. I had an awesome time reading the book, even though there were uncomfortable moments, and I'm definitely going to try to read the rest of the series. I've already shoved it into the faces of my friends, in a desperate attempt to see if they enjoy it as much as I did, because what. And as you can probably tell, I might be going kind of insane with this blog, but hey! I'm having fun.

OVERALL RATING:  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Gone by Michael Grant

   I've learned my lesson now: don't put off reviews, because by the time you finally do get around to writing them, your thoughts and opinions on the book will have gone stale and all you'll be able to pull out are a few tangled praises and redundant criticisms. 

  Well, I guess I have to go into what this book is about. Problem is, I don't know how. It's one of those where you can try to explain or summarize it by going off the back cover or whatever, but whatever you can put into two or three sentences won't be nearly enough to cover the entire freakin' idea. 

   It starts with a bunch of kids living in a fictional SoCal city called Perdido Beach. The main {???} character, Sam Temple, is in school when they disappear–the adults, the young adults, the undergrads–basically, everyone over the age of fifteen just poofs. 

   So, obviously, because children are completely incapable of not slaughtering one another the instant they're left alone, the kids start killing and terrorizing, left and right. Think Lord of the Flies, except with a McDonalds. 

   But wait, there's more–a select few of the kids discover that they're actually radioactive mutants with superpowers. And that there are also radioactive mutant animals out there in the wilderness. Like giant, talking coyotes that eat small children. Also, the private school kids are lead by a literal fucking teenage sociopath named Caine, who actually turns out to be his less-evil equivalent's brother. 

  Rereading all of that, I realize that I sound really pissed off, but I'm not. I mean, I get picky about a lot of things, but I'll accept the most ridiculous plotlines in the world if they're written well. {Hey, I'm from the generation that worships an English boarding school for tween wizards.}

   Problematically, GONE wasn't written all that well. The language was oftentimes clunky, the grammar severely lacking in places. {It always pisses me off when I find a significant amount of bad grammar in published books. A few scattered instances I can overlook, but at a certain point, just–Editors, hello? Are you alive in there?} 

   And before I get into literary devices and characterization and all that, can I just take a moment to talk about the cover? Because it's ridiculous. Every time I look at it, my eyes are immediately drawn to those massive scarlet lips on Astrid. {???} They just–what? I have the book on my desk now, and I just keep going back to that mouth.

   Okay, now that I've stacked three other books on top of my copy of GONE, let's talk characters! We have the obvious flaws, of course–those being Sam Temple, Mr. Obnoxious, Boring White Bread Perfect; the dumb sidekick whose sole purpose in life is to make his master boyfriend husbando best friend look good in comparison to his dumb ass; and the bad guy who's literally evil for no reason. {Seriously, Caine, you're from a rich family that probably loved and cared for you just fine. At this point it doesn't matter if you're adopted, you're fifteen, asshole, and you have no right to be a fucking PSYCHOPATHIC MURDERER JFC.}

   On the other side of that scale, though, we have characters like Edilio, the butt-kicking Hispanic kid who doesn't boast any superpowers but manages to be adorable and thoroughly likeable at the same time. Also, we get to see Sam redeem himself slightly by calling his weak-ass friend Quinn out on his racist bullshit. Fuck yeah, friendship. Plus there's Lana, the healer who has an adorable dog named after Patrick Star, and who manages to be pretty incredible even when faced with crazy mutant coyotes who want her to teach them how to kill humans and basically take over the world. And then, if the two of them couldn't get awesome enough, they totally start crushing on each other. 

   But then we have Astrid the Genius. I was really badly conflicted on this character when I first read about her–I mean, a super-smart girl who's also incredibly attractive and basically sounds kind of like a {sorry} flat Annabeth Chase rip-off? I kind of just sat there praying, hoping that she wouldn't let me down by being a jerk or an idiot, but nah. She turned out okay. I was pretty pleased when her little brother was introduced, and how Grant showed her caring for him even though she had conflicting feelings about doing so, etc. I just don't feel too passionately for her, you know? But respect for the lady, man. I'm ashamed to say that if I were put in that situation, with that kind of sibling, knowing what I knew, I would probably just ditch him or kill him. Yes, that makes me a terrible person, I know, we've established this already–but honestly speaking, wouldn't most of you? I doubt pity would serve you well in a place like the FAYZ.

   OH GOD I JUST REMEMBERED. WHAT A STUPID NAME. What the hell did it even stand for in the first place? Fallout Alley Youth Zone? {I didn't look that up, so if it's wrong, whatever.} Who the hell comes up with shit like that. I bet one kid was just, like, super stoned, as was all 'ha ha fayz rhymes with blaze. blaze on. 420.' or whatever it is stoned teenagers say. {Or stoned authors, either way.}

   Anyway, yeah, the whole plot twist with the little kid actually kind of caught me off-guard. In a pleasant way, actually. Even though it really didn't explain much of anything at all, I liked how that all sort of pieced together. Also, fuck avoiding spoilers, if you're bothering to read this review, you've probably read the book anyway. Astrid's autistic little brother created the FAYZ thing to stop a nuclear meltdown, and somehow accidentally managed to send all the adults packing and possibly create some mysterious giant monster thing with a dumb name. The Darkness. Man, what is it with this book and dumb names?

   So I left this review sitting around for a while, and I don't remember my train of thought AT ALL, so I'm just gonna leave it off here.

   I gave the damn thing three stars because I honestly have no idea where to stand on it. On one hand, it wasn't all that entertaining, which made it tedious, but on the other, it wasn't really terrible in a way that could make me hate it. And three stars is kind of my go-to thing for when I can't decide which way I lean with a book, so boom. Here ya go.

OVERALL RATING:  ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


     Wow hey how prettiful!!
     So yeah, if you haven't guessed already–New layout! I also made a new page with archiving and to-dos and stuff but for some reason there's no thing for pages on this template. And it won't let me add one.

     OH WELL whatever. It's gorgeous and delicious and I love it so I can deal.

    For those of you who were curious and wanted actual access to the goddamn thing I spent so long on, here it is! I'm currently powering my way through The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, and I have so many mixed feelings. Also, everyone I know who's ever read it seems intent on spoiling every damn little detail, so there's that.

    For now, that is all, my lovelies. Continue your bookishness!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

   Well, here it is–my second Libba Bray experience. Sadly, it was kind of a disappointment.

   I feel like it takes a certain type of author to be able to write a successful historical fiction novel, and Bray doesn't quite meet up to the standard. A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is set in Victoria's England and centers around an unusually aggressive, Indian-born girl named Gemma Doyle who's sent to a finishing school after the mysterious death of her mother. 

   To me, this book felt kind of directionless. I had difficulty paying attention to the plot, and most of the characters felt either strongly overdone or completely flat to me. The romance that was being set up between the main character and random, mysterious ethnic boy Kartik felt incredibly forced and uncomfortable–more of a weird one-sided love/hate lust than anything.

   I have to admit that some parts of this book–the friendship forged between girls who were previously enemies and the creativity of the whole magical realms set up–were interesting enough to keep me going. The relationships between the four girls was pretty well done, going from terrible first impressions to awkward bromance to iron bonds of friendship. I always love finding female characters who start out with the stereotypical hair-ripping, eye-clawing nonsensical squabbling and then wind up finding great things in one another and blossoming into vaguely homoerotic friends. {Seriously, though, the whole 'all girls are enemies upon sight' thing really ought to stop. That can't be healthy.}

   Mm, but then we get into the world-building. I had to work my brain's gears way too hard to form even a vague shape of what Bray was trying to communicate–and I'm still not sure why. Was it me? Was I so out of it that my brain literally stopped functioning while I was reading this?–Or was it the book's inability to communicate visual descriptions, preferring to go along with confusing metaphors and vague sensory details instead, all while never really explaining what exactly was going on? Perhaps it was both. {It was probably both.} So, yeah, while I got the gist of it, and liked the bits that I got, the whole magical world conspiracy stuff was too jumbled to make much sense of. Clarity is my best friend, mostly because I'm a bit of a dunce, to be frank.

   Also, okay, just, what the hell was with the tone in this book? It kept alternating from really sophisticated, mood-fitting language that was all prim and proper and perfectly Victorian to what sounded painfully like any other modern girl. What do you want from me. 

   Also, I don't care how historically accurate it is, the amount of racism in this book against Gypsies and Indian people was ridiculous. Just. What.

   WELL SO YEAH this was kind-of-sort-of a huge disappointment. Not because it was completely god-awful, because obviously there's something worse out there, but because I had high expectations, and sadly, they were let down. And then sort of spit on by the creepy, unnecessary sex dreams Gemma kept having about a guy she should be all means hate.