Monday, 11 March 2013

February Books!

Hello to my February reads!

February was a pretty good reading month for me. My first book started out really slow, but once I picked up the next books, I just went through them like hotcakes. My bus rides have just become extra boring, I guess.

All summaries from these books are taken from GoodReads, because I'm too lazy and inept to make summaries.

Without further ado, here are my February reads!


5. Kim Edwards - The Secrets of a Fire King - ***

In each of these elegant and mesmerizing stories, Kim Edwards explores the lives of those who exist on the fringes of society--a fire-eater, an American and his Korean war bride, a juggler and a trapeze artist. Spanning several generations and transporting us to exotic locations in Europe, Asia, and America, this wise and exquisite story collection marks the debut of a gifted new voice in literature.

Sigh. I don't really know how to begin talking about this book, because it didn't really leave an impression on me. "Secrets of a Fire King" is a collection of short stories featuring a variety of characters in a multitude of locales. It's largely character driven, and features settings that aren't widely used in most general fiction.

The great strength of this book lies in Edwards' penchant for characters that are memorable that you can't help but read about their story. I particularly enjoyed the titular story, as well as "Spring, Mountain, Sea," a story about a mail-order bride and her struggle in a new world.

Edwards' prose is also really beautiful, almost lyrical. Several times, I've had to stop and savor a passage because the words flowed so beautifully.


The stories itself didn't really speak to me as a whole. There were several gems in the collection, but a lot of times I just sat there and flipped through the pages to see how much was left of the short story. A lot of the stories were plotless, or had a climax but reached no resolution.

I'd like to read more of her work, but I don't really recommend this book.

6. Leigh Bardugo - Shadow and Bone - ***

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

Damn this book. DAMN THIS BOOK.

I stumbled upon a recommendation to this book through the blog of Rick Riordan (he regularly features his latest reads and recommendations), and I thought, if Uncle Rick likes it, it must be good! Also, the plot was fairly intriguing. The military! Russia! Magic and mystery! A dashing lad and an awkward girl! I picked up an e-book and finished it at the span of a day.

Let's start with the good things: I really like the characters that Bardugo has created. To me, they felt really unique and had their own distinctions. I didn't have a hard time differentiating who this person was from that person. Also, Alina didn't fall into the trap of being a generic placeholder for the reader to step into (aka NOT BELLA SWAN). She had her own goals, her feelings were well conveyed, and I really felt her growth from an insecure cartographer to a powerful Grisha.

I'd also like to give props to the setting! Russia is so very much unloved in all of these dystopian YA novels, and it has such a large amount of potential too. Their history is so rich and the environment is one of a kind. So kudos to the author! I also really liked her take on the Grisha, the people who basically get to be cool and have magic powers. Magic can tend to be really blah because it's so overused in literature already, but I really liked how she made unique magic powers and created a hierarchy for all the Grisha.

That said, this book definitely wasn't perfect. For one, I don't think the author did proper research on Russian language and customs. Alina's last name was written as Starkov, but anyone who has read up on Russian language should know that females and males have different variations of the same surname. So it's should be Starkova. The language was also a bit unbelievable, even for someone like myself who's Russian vocabulary spans one word. Someone up in Goodreads made a more coherent review discussing the discrepancies of her language, so clickety if you want to find out more.

And now my biggest quip with this book: THE DARKLING. Oh yes, I said it! The DARKLING! Can you just hear the thunder and lightning when I say, THE DARKLING???


[SPOILERS beyond this point!]

How do I even begin to speak about this coherently? I've decided that I won't speak about him coherently, because until now it still makes me mad. My biggest quip with his characterization was that it was a huge seesaw of "oh he's bad" to "oh, he might be nice after all" to "damn he's hot! woohoo I am rooting for you and Alina!" and finally to "well fuck, he turns out to be evil incarnate! I was rooting for the devil!" It just sucks that Bardugo spent all that time, at least a couple hundred pages of the book getting us to fall in love with the Darkling (and in the case of my fragile heart, succeeds!), then after one chapter there's a revelation that he's the evil dude. I am not pleased! I know that this is how Alina is probably feeling, but I am not supposed to be Alina! I am supposed to be an outsider peering into the story!

And then there's the love story with Mal, Alina's childhood friend and forever love interest. The story is they spend most of their childhood together in an orphanage, get drafted together in the military (albeit in separate units), Mal gets hotter as he grows up and Alina channels Taylor Swift in the entire book by pining for him. Alina gets discovered as a Grisha who can summon the sun and gets taken away, and her connection with Mal gets cut off from there as she goes away to train. At this point, she spends at least several months training, sharing sexual tension with the Darkling during break time, and then out of nowhere, Mal arrives and she's like "oh I'm confused again!" Seriously? There was already a point in the narrative where she realizes that Mal is the reason her powers aren't realized. She realizes that Mal hasn't exactly paid her as much attention as she has to him. And all of a sudden she's conflicted?

Then, she escapes from the palace, coincidentally finds Mal, and now they're runaways and basically fugitives. Somewhere along the way, Mal makes a speech about how he's loved Alina all along, and I'm like "...meh." Seriously?? He hasn't paid her that much attention at all and now he's in love with her? Why, because he realized that someone (THE DARKLING) can also like Alina and now he's threatened? I don't even know why Alina is so in love with Mal other than he's hot! I really hate seeing love stories that have no build up or given a solid foundation, which is why I am raging right now. They were childhood friends, so I guess that was a sort of foundation, but one I did not see or feel.

Aside from those problems, however, I did like this book. It's not a game changer but it kept me entertained for a night. I am looking forward to the 2nd book in the series, just to hear from my beautiful Darkling again.

Goodness gracious, I typed up a fucking storm for this book. Next time I'm this upset about a novel, I should dedicate a separate blog entry for it XD

7. Gail Tsukiyama - The Samurai's Garden - ****

The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, Tsukiyama uses the Japanese invasion of China during the late 1930s as a somber backdrop for her unusual story about a 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen who is sent to his family's summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu's secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu's generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu's soulmate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.

After all that action and emotional turmoil I went through with "Shadow and Bone," it was nice to pick up "The Samurai's Garden" and be soothed. It's like going through a wild stampede and jumping into a rowboat away from the chaos.

I've always liked reading from Japanese and Chinese writers, because their novels have a very tranquil quality to them, and very masterfully written in the first person point of view. I think the danger with writing in first person is that you tend to be selfish about the details you share, but in most Japanese and Chinese first person novels, they retain the personal quality of the narrator but also make sure he makes proper observations relevant to the story.

Tsukiyama's narrator, Stephen, is a great narrator. The story isn't solely about him; it also focuses on the different characters that he encounters during his short stay in Japan. His adventures aren't exactly the stuff of legend, it's all very quiet and subtle. But what can you expect from a quiet seaside town? I encountered a couple of kids on Tumblr who got this book as a reading assignment and they were ranting on how boring it was. Which kind of disappoints me. Just because it doesn't have swashbuckling fights and adventures doesn't make it boring! There's a quiet kind of intrigue to discovering things that you would have never thought about a person, and that's what I got from this novel.

The end of the novel felt like saying goodbye to a good friend after a long afternoon of chatting over tea. I think I might pick up this book again when I have the time. Or when I feel especially melancholy.

8. Christopher Golden - Soulless - ***

Times Square, New York City. The first ever mass séance is broadcasting live on the Sunrise morning show. If it works, the spirits of the departed on the other side will have a brief window—just a few minutes—to send a final message to their grieving loved ones.

Clasping hands in an impenetrable grip, three mediums call to their spirit guides as the audience looks on in breathless anticipation. The mediums slump over, slackjawed—catatonic. And in cemeteries surrounding Manhattan, fragments of old corpses dig themselves out of the ground....

The spirits have returned. The dead are walking. They will seek out those who loved them in life, those they left behind...but they are savage and they are hungry. The horror spreads quickly, droves of the ravenous dead seeking out the living—shredding flesh from bone, feeding . But a disparate group of unlikely heroes—two headstrong college rivals, a troubled gang member, a teenage pop star and her bodyguard—is making its way to the center of the nightmare, fighting to protect their loved ones, fighting for their lives, and fighting to end the madness
I cheated a bit with this book, haha! I actually started reading it at least several months ago, but it wasn't a bedside reading book for me because I didn't want to go asleep thinking of zombies. I finally picked it up again and read it during my bus rides.

The thing I liked about this novel was it's diversity. I keep seeing novels with a huge cast of characters, but all consisting of the same white, teenaged/young adult males, and maybe one girl just to become the romantic interest of the main boy. This cast was really diverse in terms of age, gender, background, race, and sexuality. That's pretty awesome for a young adult book! I also liked how Golden established characters from different parts of the country and how they all dealt with the crisis at hand.

That said, my opinion of this novel fell apart at the very end, because of what I feel is a really weak and faulty resolution to the conflict.

[Spoilers abound!]

So the crisis here was that in the giant seance that occurred, the three mediums and the two news anchors had their hands joined together in some sort of prayer circle and, despite all possible efforts, could not be separated. The people at the news station come to the conclusion that they have to break apart the prayer circle to stop the shenanigans occurring outside. One of them says they have to saw off someone's hand, and so they do just that. But the zombie attack still goes on. One of the characters, Jack, says they're going to have to kill one of them to break apart the seance. Of course, this is met with vehement protest. I forgot exactly what happens but another character comes and kills Jack in self defense. And that just sucks!!!! We spent at least several chapters building up this character's back story, empathizing with him, and at the very end he gets killed! Just like that! It sucks so bad that at the end, he was presented to be this antagonist when, in the previous chapters, he totally wasn't that violent of a person. I mean he was learning how to work with people and care for people instead of being selfish! And suddenly this happens!

And here's what's more infuriating: at the very end, Phoenix (the main character) decides to just shoot one of the people in the prayer circle, killing him and effectively ending the zombie outbreak. My point? JACK WAS RIGHT. He was right all along, people didn't listen to him because "oh it's inhumane" but when a white girl does it, it's fine??? That's just... urgh.

Also it sucked that the people who got bitten by the zombies ended up being dead as well. In the Soulless world, that must have been a good month for funeral parlors.

All in all, this was a pretty enjoyable novel. Just ignore the ending.

9. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - Beautiful Creatures - ***

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Random quote before I continue with the review:

Friend: What are you reading? Oh, Beautiful Creatures! It's a book about me!

Lol. Moving on.

I picked up this book because of the movie adaptation. Not because I was planning on watching it, but the setting and premise really intrigued me. I felt like it would be the kind of novel that I enjoy reading. So when I saw that my uncle had a copy, I took it and started reading it.

It was a fairly enjoyable novel, particularly owing to the beautiful setting and the story's main plot. I don't see a lot of novels set in the South, so it was nice to pretend I was in a quiet, almost eerie rural town. Around the time I was reading this it was also raining a lot, so that helped. And it was entertaining reading it and having most of the characters have Southern accents in my head (I love Southern accents!).

The characters are OK. Ethan was kind of non-descript to me, but I love his interaction with Lena and Lena's little quirks. Link was also an enjoyable character, but he sometimes felt unneeded to me (until he meets Ridley). Amma's quirk of reciting and spelling words from crossword puzzles was interesting, but I felt it was a bit contrived.

I also really like Ethan and Lena's love story because it wasn't in your face and suffocating. The authors paid equal attention to their love story and the conflict at hand, Lena's claiming. I like how it took time for them to warm up to each other, and they weren't making out every other page. Let's leave that to the Harlequin novels.

I have a bit of a bone to pick with this book when it comes to slut shaming, because it just does it SO MUCH. I get that this is a conservative town, but there's such an effort to differentiate Lena from the "slutty girls" that it's kind of nauseating! It's upsetting to see that this kind of narrative is coming from TWO women authors. Also it's like every single girl in that town is a flirty little "slut" and that's hard to believe.

Plot-wise though, the book was OK, it was paced pretty nicely, and it was well crafted. I think this is definitely more appealing to a younger audience, or teens who don't really read a lot. I didn't bother reading the follow-ups to this book, just the summary.


And that ends my February reads! *confetti!* Remind me to keep these things short next time?

Picture of bookshelf from anyjazz65 @ Flickr

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