Sunday, April 29, 2012

In My Mailbox (15)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren to let bloggers showcase books they've got each week. 

Hi guys! After two weeks of no book-shopping, I finally gave in out of necessity. This week (April 22 - 29, 2012) I bought four books because I need them for my English courses as a soon-to-be English major. :D



Purchased: 
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E.B. White 
I've been told that this is a must for every English major. Although this book is not required for uni, I willingly bought it. ;) 
We'll be studying English literature this June. Yay! 
- Cocktail by Vince Licata and Ping Chong  
Totally not looking forward to this. It's required in my literature course though I don't see why this even qualifies as literature. Apparently this 73-page long book is a PLAY, and it looks like a bad one too. :(

Macmillan English Dictionary For Advanced Learners

I also bought my first English-English dictionary! Hooray! I'll be buying more when semester starts. I have my eyes set on Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary and Collins Cobuild. One at a time. Haha. I became quite obsessed with dictionaries too. They're kind of fascinating.

For review

Night SkyH2O the NovelSeraphina
Lies Beneath (Lies Beneath #1)Glitch (Glitch, #1)One MomentTimepiece (Hourglass, #2)

Night Sky by Jolene B. Perry 
H2O the Novel by Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth 
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman 
Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown 
Glitch by Heather Anastasiu
One Moment by Kristina McBride
Timepiece by Myra McEntire

This week's reviews on B's Book Blog!


Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein 4 stars: I really like it
Divergent by Veronica Roth 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing!

So that's it for me this week. Tell me what's in your mailbox! 

Question of the week: Which English-English dictionary do you use? Any recommendations for a new English major? ;) 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Series: Divergent Trilogy, #1
Author: Veronica Roth 
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Release date: May 3, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
Format: Paperback
Read from April 24 - 27, 2012 
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing!
Summary: In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. 


Wow, wow, wow. Divergent. Wow.

Like everyone, I've been hearing praises and seeing a lot of hype since last year when the book came out. And when people keep talking and saying omg-its-amazing kind of things, you want to read it for yourself and find out if it's true. I used to be one of those people. There are several times in the past that I felt so disappointed by the hyped books that I kind of lost faith and felt like the hype means nothing but powerful marketing and that the books have great publicists. I still believe it. And when I finish a wildly-hyped book that has received rave reviews and don't like it, or find it only "good" when I expect "brilliant", I can't help but feel like something's wrong with me. Don't like that feeling. So I generally avoid the hype.

Of course, I thought I wouldn't touch DIVERGENT, but I guess I just couldn't resist. It's been almost a year since the release date and the hype still goes around, so I'm curious. It also helps that INSURGENT, the second book, is coming out in a week, which means now is the perfect time to read DIVERGENT if anyone hasn't read it yet. So, with curiosity and little expectation, I immersed myself in Divergent. And this time, I'm so glad that curiosity didn't kill the cat.

The world that Verinica Roth created for DIVERGENT takes place in a dystopian society set in Chicago. In this society, people are divided into factions. There are five factions and each faction values one virtue that defines them, to "eradicate those qualities they believed responsible for the world's disarray." Those who blamed aggression formed Amity; those who blamed ignorance became the Erudite; those who blamed duplicity created Candor; those who blamed selfishness made Abnegation; and those who blamed cowardice were the Dauntless. Each faction has their own way of doing things: clothing, food, the way of living. I can see how this might remind anyone of Hogwarts Houses. Each faction is for people with certain personalities and attitude. But the difference is that, rather than having yourself sorted into each one of them, you have a choice to choose for yourself which way you want to go and how you want to live your life. On the annual Choosing Day, every 16-year-old must choose to join one of the five pre-determined factions. They can choose to stay with their family or leave them and be seen as traitors. For some people it's obvious where they belong and it's clear what to choose without even having to think about it, but for a certain kind of people like Tris, the "Divergent rebels", it's not so easy to choose.


In my opinion, the world-building is fascinating, and the author wrote it in a way that it seems logical and believable while you're reading it. Abnegation in government because Abnegation people are selfless and power should be given to those who don't want them? Good point. The Erudite as teachers and researchers because they're clever and always in pursuit of knowledge? The Dauntless as soldiers for the society because they're brave and er... dauntless? Reasonable. Candor in law because they never lie? Amity as counselors and caretakers? Okay. However, once I pulled myself away from DIVERGENT and thought about it, I found myself unconvinced. The question: WHAT'S THE POINT? I understand the point the author wanted to make, that each one of these virtues is needed in order to maintain a society, but what I don't understand is WHY FACTIONS? I don't think each faction serves much purpose other than promoting their own virtue. I can understand that the purpose of the districts in the Hunger Games is for the Capitol to make the people realize that they're small and that the Capitol owns their lives (or something like that), and each district serves a purpose of providing the Capitol with stuff they need, like agriculture, mining, fishing, etc. And I can see that the purpose of Hogwarts Houses is to put students who are alike in personalities and attitude together, and to promote teamwork and unity within the houses to compete against other houses for Quidditch and the House Cup. But FACTIONS? Okay.. People choose factions according to their life philosophy, and each faction had a role to play in the society.. But somehow it doesn't convince me. Like.. that's it? Is it really necessary? But not that this ruined my enjoyment or anything, it's pretty minor and like I said, while you're reading, it doesn't really bother you. I just wanted to point this out, that's all. I know I'm not making much sense here, so let's move on. ;)

Having said that about the world-building, I have to say the characters are believable and very well portrayed. Tris goes from a small girl from Abnegation whom everyone pitied to this tough, no-nonsense, first-ranked, first-jumper, threat-to-everyone girl who develops muscles and has tattoos. Pretty badass, don't you think? I really like her physical and mental development throughout the book. I'm impressed. Tris' love interest, Four (I won't tell you his real name hehehe), is also an equally amazing character. I love, love, love Four! He's brilliant and smart and kind and his presence made me all giddy. I love their relationship. It's not a he's-all-I-can-think-about-and-I'm-sure-we-belong-together girly whiny thing, but a much stronger one. I love that Four shares with Tris his fears. I think that's intimacy at its best. I'm always fascinated by it. What better way to show someone you love them than by letting them see you for who you are, see you at your weakest, sharing with them your darkest fears and vulnerability, letting your guard down and at the same time letting them in? It takes a lot of courage to let someone in that close to you, and that screams LOVE. Physical intimacy is nothing compared to this. These two are now one of my top-5  favorite couples. I love them, I do, I do! Four might seem cruel and patronizing to Tris, but has his own reasons. Squee! Squee! If you're interested, here's the link to read Four's POV in one of the training sessions. He's so cute and brilliant I wish he was real. Oh, by the way, here are my Four and Tris.


Isn't Matt Lanter the cutest boy you've ever seen? For me he is! *melts* And Willow Shields may be only 12, but she's small and perfect as Tris, and I love her strong, determined eyes.

Anyway.

You might have noticed that this book is LONG. Despite the length, I think I could've finished this book in less than 48 hours if I had not been distracted. I spent the first three days reading up to only about 33%, but on the last day, which was yesterday, I continued from there until the end. And, man, WHAT A RIDE. I remember feeling a bit like there wasn't enough thrilling action up until 60% of the book because let me tell you, the initiation process is LONG. I was kind of bored by it, really. But then when the initiation is done and at 82% it's like WHAM! Rollercoaster going DOWNNNNNNNN. I didn't mean that the story goes downhill, I mean that it's like story's been slowly building up and leaving clues like a rollercoaster going up, reaching THAT ONE POINT where the up ends and down starts, and then it knocks the wind out of you. Kind of. So worth the wait! It's just a series of breath-taking actions and surprises after surprises after that. I couldn't stop reading even for a second. There comes a point where you can't breath, and some parts will make you cry. I cried. It was brilliant.

When it ended, I went mad. It couldn't end like that! No! IT'S PERFECT, but.. but.. but.. I needed to know more! I pulled my hair and wriggled on the couch. It was an amazing feeling, one I haven't had in quite some time. The feeling that, after I finish a book, I want to tell someone about it immediately and rave about it endlessly. DIVERGENT gave me an adrenaline rush even when I was only sitting there enjoying it. The ending left my head spin and I found myself breathing frantically and thinking, WANT. INSURGENT. NOW. It took me a while to calm down. I went to bed at 4 am.

It feels wonderful when you have your expectations exceeded. Although I didn't set it so high when I started DIVERGENT to begin with, by the end of the book, I felt like if I had, Divergent would've exceeded it anyway. I've been thinking about whether to give DIVERGENT 4 or 5 stars. As soon as I finished it, my reactions clearly suggested 5. But then after the adrenaline has gone from my body, I thought about the long initiation process and decided that I wasn't quite impressed by it, and what with the faction things I mentioned earlier. Right now, as I'm typing this, the stars are still 4, but once I finish the last sentence, I'm going to change it to 5. Just talking about it in this review makes me feel that rush going through my body again, and a book that can do that deserves 5 shiny stars, don't you think? If this is any indication, I enjoyed DIVERGENT much more than I did The Hunger Games. Read this book if you haven't already!

Prepare yourself for INSURGENT, coming this May 1, 2012!

PS. If you want to know which faction you belong to, try this Facebook app. I got Dauntless! (Weird. I'm a Ravenclaw, so shouldn't I get Erudite? But never mind!)


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein

Title: Pretty Amy
Author: Lisa Burstein 
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
Source: the author
Links: Goodreads | Amazon (Paperback) | Amazon (Kindle) | Bookdepository
Read from April 19 - 21, 2012 
My rating: 4 stars: I really like it
Summary: Amy is fine living in the shadows of beautiful Lila and uber-cool Cassie, because at least she’s somewhat beautiful and uber-cool by association. But when their dates stand them up for prom, and the girls take matters into their own hands—earning them a night in jail outfitted in satin, stilettos, and Spanx—Amy discovers even a prom spent in handcuffs might be better than the humiliating “rehabilitation techniques” now filling up her summer. Worse, with Lila and Cassie parentally banned, Amy feels like she has nothing—like she is nothing. Navigating unlikely alliances with her new coworker, two very different boys, and possibly even her parents, Amy struggles to decide if it’s worth being a best friend when it makes you a public enemy. Bringing readers along on an often hilarious and heartwarming journey, Amy finds that maybe getting a life only happens once you think your life is over.


Unfortunately, I am only myself. I am only Amy Fleishman. I am one of the legions of middle-class white girls who search malls for jeans that make them look thinner, who search drugstores for makeup to wear as second skin, who are as sexy and exotic as blueberry muffins ... and one of the only girls I know to get arrested on prom night. 

I think I've learned at some point in my high school life that opening sentences are very important, as it has to "entice the reader and sets the subject, the tone and possibly the style for the whole work". Honestly, I've never paid that much attention to opening sentences of the books I've read in the past, though there are quite a few lines that caught my eyes and are still stuck in my head. The opening sentences of Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein, which I just showed you, are one of those very few that have made an impression on me, making me feel connected to the main character right away. There's something about the voice of Amy Fleishman in those sentences that reflects her endless insecurities and pessimism and angst, which I think is also the voice of many high school girls struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin, and all the while wishing they could be perfect. It's so real. And to me, that's what's so haunting about these sentences. 

Pretty Amy tells the story of Amy Fleishman, high school senior. We're introduced to Amy on the prom night that changes everything. Amy and her best friends Lila and Cassie are all ready to go to the prom, but their dates never show. Frustrated, Lila breaks into her boyfriend's house and takes back with her a huge bag of pot, which is quite a stupid thing to do, because later that night they're arrested for possession. It's a night of frustration, anger, and disappointment, and their lives start going separate ways and downhill after that.

Amy's mother doesn't handle the arrest very well. It can be said that the relationship between Amy and her mother isn't very healthy. There's a lot of forcing, crying, tantrums throwing, and banning.  For one thing, she takes away her cellphone and prohibits any contacts with Lila and Cassie. And then she hires a lawyer for Amy, for whose service Amy will have to pay on her own with the money she will earn from working at a convenient store (or was it a supermarket? I'm not sure), which is one of the things her mother forces her to do. To make things worse, Amy now has to visit a therapist who encourages Amy to talk when she doesn't want to. No, that's not all. On top of all that, she has to do community service, which turns out to be not a very good experience for our Amy at all.

The story of Amy Fleishman is quite a series of misfortunes. I really like it. I was hooked from the very first sentence. It's incredibly engaging and kept me wanting to know more, wanting to see how Amy will handle the situations she finds herself in. I could sense teenage angst on every page of the book. I found myself wishing the best for Amy and furious at her mother and was glad that mine isn't like that. Although I can't exactly relate to the story, it's Amy I can relate to, and I believe that it's true to a lot of girls, too.

Amy is a fantastic, strong character with a unique sarcastic voice of her own. Bad things keep happening to this girl, and in the middle of all that, she struggles to stand on  her own feet and become herself, after years of following whatever Lila and Cassie do. Amy used to be a nobody with a real friend, Joe, before she met Lila and Cassie. She was sick of blending in with the crowd, the face that didn't stand out. She wanted to be cool, to be different. When she starts hanging out with beautiful Lila and kickass Cassie, she ditches Joe and allows herself to form her shape around them. She picks up their habits like smoking. She feels like there's a place she belong when she's with them.

But does being with "cool" friends make her feel less insecure? No, not really. Amy still has very low self-esteem. I think she feels intimidated by Lila and Cassie that she wants someone to tell her that she's as good as them, too. She often needs reassurance that she's pretty and that there's someone worse off than she is. She does things and say words she feels she's supposed to do and say and she doesn't confront. You'd think hanging out with Lila and Cassie would boost up her self-confidence, but it's actually the opposite. That's kind of sad. But who cares, right? Being with the cool people make you look cool, and appearance is really what matters, isn't it?

Poor Amy. She's spent so much time with them and trying to become of one them that she doesn't quite know who she is anymore. Now, what happens when they're taken away and she's not allowed to see them or talk to them? She's lost, and doesn't know what to do. But there's nothing she can do now except to find herself again. I totally understood how difficult it is to try to do that after having thrown it away in order to fit in and be accepted. And Amy accomplishes that. She rises and stands up tall and fights for herself, as she  has to do what she has to do.

Maybe it takes encountering a dire situation together to know who your real friends are.

Lisa Burstein's writing in this book is impressive. Her words are very cleverly used. Lisa gave Amy just the right voice, the voice of a teenager who's struggling to be heard, who feels lost and scared and alone. You can tell Amy's feelings just by looking at things she says. There are a lot of lines that I've highlighted just because they're pure brilliance on Lisa's part. Sometimes they can make you laugh because they're so funny, and some other times they make you chuckle or snort because it's so true and the truth is ugly. Pretty Amy is undoubtedly very well-written. I think that's all I have to say about Lisa Burstein's amazing writing skill. I'm expecting great things from her in the future! 

Pretty Amy: A great realistic young-adult book, one that should not be missed!


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

An ARC of this title was provided by the author for review. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

In My Mailbox (14)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren to let bloggers showcase books they've got each week. 


This week (April 15 - 21, 2012) I still haven't paid a single dime on books. For two weeks already! That's impressive for me. I'm a recovering book-shopaholic. :-) However, there is one book that I ordered via Amazon a month ago, and it just arrived. The rest was given to me as gifts from Ben. :-) Thanks Ben! 



- Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer 
I've been waiting for this book since it was published. Living in Thailand, I had no idea how to get it until I couldn't wait any longer and had to conquer my fear and ordered it via Amazon. With Ben's help and a whole month of waiting and wondering why it took so long and if it had somehow got lost in transit, it finally arrived. I almost cried when I saw it. I was so happy! I've had it for 4 days now and just had the guts to unwrap it with shaky fingers. It's so sublime I feel so small. I guess this is what it feels like when a dream comes true. It's one of my dearest treasure now. <3 

- The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee
Ben said this is a book written by a book-obsessed man who lives to touch and smell books, which totally sounds like me. 

- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This is a gorgeous Everyman's Library hardcover edition of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy –The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. The rating is pretty amazing. I've seen The Golden Compass film, and I really enjoyed it. So I might as well expect extreme awesomeness from this book. 

According to Ben, this is the best thesaurus there is. He also has a copy at home. As I'm going to be an English major in less than two months, this is an extremely brilliant gift. ;) I'll use it well! 

For Review:
  
The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1) by Julie Kagawa  (Thank you Harlequin!)
The Glimpse by Claire Merle (Thank you Faber and Faber!)




This week on B's Book Blog 
I have reviewed three books.


One guest post. 



Currently reading
The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden #1) by Julie Kagawa


So that's it for me this week. What have you got in your mailbox? 

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe by Shelley Coriell

Title: Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe 
Author: Shelley Coriell 
Genre: Teen / Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Amulet Books
Pages: 299
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from April 17 - 18, 2012 
My rating: 3 stars: I like it
Summary: Big-hearted Chloe Camden is the queen of her universe until her best friend shreds her reputation and her school counselor axes her junior independent study project. Chloe is forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass, and so she joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t find her too queenly. Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. On and off the air, Chloe faces her loneliness and helps others find the fun and joy in everyday life. Readers will fall in love with Chloe as she falls in love with the radio station and the misfits who call it home. 


From now on, I'll make it a point to review a book right after I finish it, or maybe a day afterwards. But not three day like this. By the time I felt like reviewing Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe, I had already forgot a lot of things. That makes reviewing a little more difficult. This is a bad habit I have to kill very soon. Well, enough chit chat haha. 

Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe is one of the very light and fun reads for teens rather than young adults. It is obviously about teenager Chloe Camden, who likes to think she's Queen of the Universe. And yes, she is. he looks like she's the girl who has it all. She's perpetually optimistic, happy, friendly, and talkative. Queen Chloe is the center of attention. Wherever she is, there's fun and laughter. She makes people smile when they're sad and makes them laugh. Chloe has two best friends whose names I had to pause 5 seconds to recall. Right, their names are Brie and Merce. Chloe says they're a perfect trio because Brie is the beauty, Merce is the brains, and she is all personality. According to Chloe, together they're whole. Chloe works part-time at a Mexican restaurant called Dos Hermanas, wearing a burrito costume and handing out flyers--a job she enjoys very much. It looks like everything's going well for Chloe, the girl who's always happy and doesn't have to worry about anything. But then one day thing start going downhill for our little Queen. 


That day, while enjoying herself as a burrito outside the restaurant, doing what she does best--getting noticed by people, Brie drives by. Chloe cheerfully walks over to talk to her best friend only to be told she's so self-centered Brie can't stand it, and that she's the last person tearful Brie wants to talk to. Then Chloe comes home to find WWIII in her house. On top of all that, A. Lungren, the school counselor, wants Chloe to choose a new topic for her JISP (Junior Independent Study Project) because she deems Chloe's shoe project lacking. 

For Chole's new JISP, she's to join the school's low-wattage, student-run radio station, KDRS 88.8 The Edge, which needs promotions help. Ditched by her two best friends, Chloe now hangs out with the crowd working in this radio station. There Chloe befriends Clementine, the ever-upset manager with a nose ring; Duncan, the guy who loves fixing things; Frick and Frack; and Haley, the film reviewer. They work together to save The Edge from getting shut down by the school and lack of fund. It's true that it starts out as a necessity, but then it turns into friendship as they learn to trust each other and the time they spend in the station bonds them together. 

Chloe is a fantastic protagonist. I think I'd love to have her as a friend. Her personality and attitude are what's really outstanding in this little novel. I love how Chloe can still remain herself while learning to cope with problems crashing down on her. She can make the best of a bad situation. An optimist that she is, she values fun and laughter. She learns to be a better friend, to be there for her friends when they need her. She reaches out to people through her radio shows and wins their hearts all over again after the lies Brie tells to turn people against her. I really love this about Chloe.

Duncan Moore is also a great character. At first he seems mysterious, always quiet, and doesn't say much if not necessary, but after a while he opens up to Chloe, letting down his guard. Chloe learns that Duncan lives a totally different life from hers, the kind of life a great guy like Duncan shouldn't have to live. I totally feel for him. Together they fulfill each other: Duncan needs a sunshine in his gloomy life, and the little miss sunshine herself could really use a guy with a romantic heart like him.

Another character I really like is Chloe's grandmother, whom she calls Grams. Grams loves Brad Pitt and is a big fan of Brad's sexy "heinie". Hahaha. Grams is funny. Though you can't tell by looking at her, she's suffering from Parkinson's disease. She loses her temper quite often and does unreasonable things, and that causes the conflicts between her and Chloe's mom. Chloe takes care of Grams and Grams looks after Chloe. Sometimes I couldn't help but feel for Grams, too. It's sad that a free spirit like her has to be affected by the disease that's slowly changing her.

I  have to say the author did a great job creating the characters and this cute story. Although it isn't that focused on the radio station as I first expected and would like it to, the outcome is great. This is a story about a girl who shines brightly, and in the meantime lights up other people's worlds as well. All in all, while there are quite a number of conflicts like friendship, family and love present, this book isn't heavy at all. This is probably not one of the deep, profound books that will stay in your heart for a long time, but it's one that you might want to read if you need to take your mind off things for a while and need a laugh. Told in Chloe's bubbly, cheerful voice, this novel is ever so light and easy and very fun to read. :-) 



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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

I received the ARC of this title from NetGalley and the publisher for review. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

Title: New Girl 
Author: Paige Harbison 
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Publisher: Harlequin UK
Pages: 231
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from April 16 - 17, 2012
Rating: 3 stars: I like it
SummaryYou've got her room. You've got her boyfriend. Are you walking in a dead girl's shoes? I'm New Girl. Ever since I arrived at exclusive, prestigious Manderly Academy, that's who I am. New girl. Unknown. But not unnoticed-because of her. Becca Normandy-that's the name on everyone's lips. The girl whose picture I see everywhere. The girl I can't compare to. I mean, her going missing is the only reason a spot opened up for me at the academy. And everyone stares at me like it's my fault. Except for Max Holloway-the boy whose name shouldn't be spoken. At least, not by me. Everyone thinks of him as Becca's boyfriend... but she's gone, and here I am, replacing her. I wish it were that easy. Sometimes, when I think of Max, I can imagine how Becca's life was so much better than mine could ever be. And maybe she's still out there, waiting to take it back.


Well, the truth is I've been sitting here staring at this white blank page for like two to three hours. I'm trying to think about my true feeling, but I can't quite put my fingers on what it is. It's definitely not ZOMG-what-is-this-omg-omg-omg that undoubtedly comes with five shiny stars, but it's somewhere between I-liked-it-but-I'll-soon-forget-about-it 3 stars, and this-has-made-a-huge-impression-on-me-and-I-was-thoroughly-entertained 4 stars. Hmmmm... I'd wanted to read New Girl since last year, and was pretty sure I'd love it, too. And now that I've read it... I'm not sure. While I did enjoy it tremendously, I couldn't say I was very impressed, and I'm pretty sure I'll soon forget about it and won't look back once it slips my working memory. It's like while you're reading it, you just enjoy everything in the moment, and it's great, because the story keeps you hooked. However, once it ends, you begin to look at the big picture, and you feel like it's good, but just not that great.  

New Girl by Paige Harbison is a story about two new girls at two different periods of time. Last year, the new girl was Rebecca Normandy, aka Becca, who went missing at the end of the school year, and hasn't been seen ever since. With Becca gone, her spot at Manderly boarding school opened up, and is then taken by this year's new girl, who is known as just New Girl until her real name is revealed at the end of the book. The two girls can't be any more different. While they all loved Becca, the people at Manderly are always giving New Girl a hard time, saying things to hurt her, whispering behind her back. They even accuse her of trying to be Becca, and of trying to hook up with Becca's two love interests Max and Johnny, who used to be best friends until Becca happened. They don't bother to really get to know her, but if they did, they would know that she and Becca are kind of from different species and New Girl isn't trying to be like her.


I think the story is great! It's told in two points of view: New Girl's (in first person) and Becca's (in third person), and that really allows us to look beyond the surface and perceive the thoughts that are running through their heads. New Girl is a very addictive book, and the fact that I had to read it on my computer screen surprisingly didn't scare me away. I couldn't avert my gaze. The book kept me glued to my seat and unable to go to bed. That counted for something, surely. It's this mystery of not knowing whether Becca is just gone or dead or whether she's coming back or not, which runs in the background in the book, that kept me wanting to know more.

I really liked how the book shows a clash of two new girls' personalities. Becca is all about appearance. She's always seeking attention and wants to outshine everyone else to feel good about herself. She makes a lot of effort to make chasing boys look effortless and look as if she is being pursued and not the other way around. But of course, the people at Manderly don't know this, and they don't care. They adore her because she's pretty and fun and wild, and they're affected even by her mere presence. They believe everything she says, even though most of that is lies she spreads to make herself look good. Can you even believe that she buys a present for herself and tells everyone that Max gives it to her? Anything for appearance, yes. New Girl, on the other hand, doesn't want anything more than everyone to stop comparing her to Becca, to be left alone for once and get Max' attention.

Did you notice how I wrote the previous paragraph? Yep, I didn't feel like I knew New Girl as well as I knew Becca. That's one thing I didn't really like about the book. I had a feeling the author focused too much on making New Girl a victim that her character becomes really outshone by Becca's (which I think Becca would really like). And after a while, the victimization kind of gets old. I mean, I felt for New Girl at first, I know it must hurt. But then it gets repetitive, what with the insults and the whispering and Dana the nutcase breaking down and all. I recalled her often complaining about being compared to Becca, and saying "I'm not trying to be her!" or "I don't want to be her!" or "I don't even know her!" far too many times. I only started seeing that after I finished the book. I looked at the picture and saw what I failed to see when I was caught up in what was going on.

I really enjoyed Paige Harbison's writing and the characters she built. But as I said, I felt like I didn't know New Girl as the main character as well as I'm supposed to. Aside from the facts that she grew up in St. Augustine in Florida and has wanted to attend a boarding school since childhood because of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, and that she has wavy hair, tanned skin, and freckles, I don't know anything else about her or her personalities. Becca, on the other hand, is very well portrayed. She's evil, and we get to know all her evil, jealous thoughts in her head. She's an attention seeker, a compulsive liar, and a manipulative b*tch person. She uses all kinds of manipulations to get what she wants: blackmailing, sex, lies, you name it. It's kind of disgusting, really, but Becca is such a strong character that it's hard not to be drawn to her. Becca's two love interests at Manderly are Max and Johnny. Now, I don't understand why the girls are crazy for Max. Well, he's hot, okay I get that, but he's a bit of a jerk. He's almost always swearing and ignores them, and he's also aggressive and violent. Johnny is the endearing one. He's so sweet that I felt bad for him for being attracted to Becca. Then there's Dana whom I sort of hate. Dana was Becca's roommate and is now New Girl's roommate. She hates New Girl and is always giving her a hard time, always yelling and breaking down, and shoving her care for Becca in people's faces. Dana needs to calm down and back off. She's friggin' annoying, okay. I have to say I'm quite impressed by how each character gives me all these different feelings.

Right, I'll need to leave the house in like 5 minutes so I'm going to wrap it up real quick. New Girl is a fun novel. Its mystery and suspense will keep you hooked until the very end. I really enjoyed it! An exciting and mysterious read worth reading!


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

I received this title from NetGalley and Harlequin UK for review. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Title: The Book of Blood and Shadow
Author: Robin Wasserman
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Pages: 448
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository (Hardcover) | Bookdepository (Paperback)
Read from April 9 - 16, 2012
My rating: 4 stars: I really like it
SummaryIt was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up. When the night began, Nora had two best friends and a boyfriend she adored. When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands. Chris was dead. Adriane couldn’t speak. And Max, Nora’s sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer. Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.


I should probably start with the blood.

The Book of Blood and Shadow is a love/hate for me. I'm going to be extremely honest here because that's the only way I know to write a review. I hated it, folks, but I also really liked it. It was a struggle for what seems like half the book. A lot of struggle, in fact. It took me a week to finish it, if that's any indication. The first five days reading it were a torture, and I was desperate to give up. You might wonder why I didn't abandon it for good. Well, the reason as to why I held on for so long was because I'm a chronic book finisher, not because I believed something good would come out of this book. I rarely ever give up on books. I persevered. I pushed myself, forced myself to go on, and at the same time whined about how bad it was. I was ready to write an extremely negative review. 

However, the second half came as a huge blow. It was so good I couldn't put it down. It kept me up until dawn and kept me on the edge of my seat. Se mysterious, so exciting. So full of suspense! I don't understand why the first half has to be so bad when the second half is this good. I asked myself whether I could forgive that. The answer is no. It's totally not cool to write a book that's a torture to read, even only half of it, for that matter. Books should always be enjoyable. It shouldn't have to make readers push that far in order to get to the good parts. This I cannot forgive. 


I can't tell you how glad I was to discover that it wasn't just me. I've seen quite a few readers give up on this book because of exactly the same reasons. I'm going to tell you now, so that you can decide for yourself whether you'd want to read it or not, in case you haven't yet. Please note that these are my personal honest opinions and a lot of readers don't necessarily feel this way about the book. Here we go. The first half of the book (200 something pages) was a torture for me for these reasons. First, nothing is really happening. I swear, it's true. How can it be that nothing happens in 200 something pages, right? Well it turns out it can. Nora Kane, the main character, talks about her being assigned to translate a dead girl's letters from Latin to English and complains that she deserves a much more exciting assignment than that, blah blah blah. She talks about her dead brother whose significance I still can't see, about her dysfunctional family, about things that don't add up to the story and I wondered why she even tells, about her best friends Chris and Adriane and their getting together, and about Max and her. She annoyingly repeats and reminds me that Chris is dead. I mean, girl, I get it the first time you mention it, now stop. Her translation of the letters is the only thing significant in the first half of the book. Hmm... It really shouldn't have taken that many pages. 

Second, I didn't feel connected to the characters. What's more, I couldn't even keep track of who's who! It was frustrating! At first I thought Chris was Nora's brother, and then I thought he was her boyfriend. It didn't make sense. The author presents you with characters but doesn't tell you about them when the name first comes up. It's like: Chris is dead. And then the narration moves on. I was like, what? Who the hell is Chris? And then Nora talks about her brother and that led me to thinking Chris was her brother. Ugh. I had to go back to page one, guys, to reread. It was that confusing. Not only Chris, but other characters as well, like the Hoff. You had no idea how many times I pulled my hair and wanted to scream. Although I don't remember it very clearly, I think too little background information about each character is provided. That's why I felt like they were kept at arm's length away from me. I couldn't get to them. Man, I didn't even like Nora. I'm not even sure if I like her now. I didn't care about any of them. Okay, maybe I cared about Chris, but it didn't last long, 'cause as Nora often reminds me one too many times: He's dead. 

The last infuriating thing about the first half of the book is the writing (it is much better in the second half). So many things I didn't like about it. 1) As you might have guessed, the first half is tremendously slow-paced, if not no-paced at all. I found myself bored out of my mind and put it down far too many times than I cared to count. It was that boring as nothing's really happening. 2) The sentences are pointlessly long. Like, REALLY long. Friggin' I-forgot-how-it-started-and-I'm-so-lost-I-wonder-where-it's-gonna-take-me long. Much longer than they really need to be. There are a lot of dashes interrupting a sentence and when the interruption ends I forgot how the sentence started out and therefore the part after the dash made no sense to me. There's also the issue with the commas. Can't they be written in a new sentence or something? Having to re-read can be very frustrating. 3) What's with all these dependent clauses floating alone? Annoying. 4) Some chapters seem never-ending, while some only contain no more than three lines. WHY? Weird huh. 

Wow. I don't know what came over me hahahaha. That's long. Anyway, despite these long harsh complaints aka the hate, there are also good things about this book aka the love. Funny how I spent the first five days hating it only to spend the last two days on the edge of my seat. I won't take back what I said because it's true, I really hated it, but you have to know that I really liked it at the same time too. There is only one reason as to why: The second half of the book is EXTREMELY EXCITING, as opposed to the first half. Guys, I am serious. I don't recall with which incident things started looking up, but it was on page 222 that I first realized it was getting better. 

I'm clueless how to define my EXTREMELY EXCITING... Um... Let's say it's full of mystery and suspense. You don't know what's going to happen next. The thrilling adventure in Prague might just be the only good thing about this book, but it suffices. There are a lot of unexpected turns of events. The discovery of new clues only make the story more unpredictable. The action-packed plot is complicated and I have to admit I don't always understand it and catch up with it, but the excitement makes up for that. 

I guess this is the end of this review. As I said earlier, it's a love/hate for me. Although it looks like I'm better at saying negative things than positive, and I suppose it's true, I assure you that the good part is definitely worth reading. However, I can't say if it's worth it to push through the bad part just to get there. You have to decide that yourselves. ;) It's such a shame that The Book of Blood and Shadow doesn't start off well. I wish I could say the good part makes up for all of the bad one, but I really can't. The torture was really too much. If I were to recommend this book to anyone, it would be the second half of the book that I would want them to read. 

PS. I found The Book of Blood and Shadow playlist. Here's the link if you're interested.


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

I received the ARC of this book from NetGalley and Random House Children's Books.

Guest Post: The Language of Arcadia by Alecia Stone (Talisman of El Book Tour)

 

Please join me in welcoming Alecia Stone, author of Talisman of El, to the blog today. :) 

Title: Talisman of El
Author: Alecia Stone 

Summary: WHAT IF YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS A LIE?
One Planet.
Two Worlds.
Population: Human ... 7 billion.
Others ... unknown.
When 14-year-old Char­lie Blake wakes up sweat­ing and gasp­ing for air in the mid­dle of the night, he knows it is hap­pen­ing again. This time he wit­nesses a bru­tal mur­der. He's afraid to tell any­one. No one would believe him ... because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago - the day before his dad died. Char­lie doesn't know why this is hap­pen­ing. He would give any­thing to have an ordi­nary life. The prob­lem: he doesn't belong in the world he knows as home.
He belongs with the others.



Guest Post: The Language of Arcadia 
By Alecia Stone
It was touch and go there for a second, deciding whether to give the people of Arcadia their own language. After fully immersing myself into the culture of these mystical beings, I realised that they did indeed need their own tongue. So, I would like to introduce you to the language of Arcadia.
Brief history:
Arcadian is the language of the fictional world of Arcadia. It is the mother tongue of Earth - the first spoken and written language. Arcadian has a similar writing system that correspondence to the Classic Latin Alphabet. It consists of letters from A-Z and symbols that corresponds to those letters and to the ten numerals 0-9.
The Arcadian Language:

 
  
The Arcadian letters are found at the top, followed by the symbols and then the Latin Alphabet in the third line (A-Z). To create a sentence, you simply merge the letters of the alphabet together, the same way you would write in English. See the example below.
English: There is no place like home.
Arcadian (words): Tileve op ci firake rohe lime.
Symbol translation:
 
Sometimes a notion is represented by a single symbol. For example, the symbol for the letter X is known as the symbol of protection.

About Alecia Stone

Being a fan of fantasy fiction, Alecia Stone's novel was inspired by her love for paranormal mysteries. She loves to write for it is a means of escaping her reality if only for a moment. Talisman Of El is her first book. She lives in the England, UK with her family.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In My Mailbox (13)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren to let bloggers share books they've got each week. 

This week I didn't buy any books at all! Yay for self-control! :D However, there are some books that I've ordered via Amazon a while ago and they just arrived at Ben's last week. He then brought them to me last Friday. 


Bought: 
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! review)
One hardcover and one paperback. My fourth and fifth copy of this gem! :-) I collect his works 'cause I'm a Foer fanatic hahaha. I'm proud to say that I now own every but one edition. The hunt goes on. >:-)
- Getting Over Garrett Delaney by Abby McDonald (5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! review)
I read it in February and loved it so much that I decided to buy a copy to keep. 
- Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
- On Writing Well by William Knowlton Zinsser


Netgally-approved tities: 
- Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti
- Artemis Fowl and the Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

Reviews on the blog this week:

   
The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies by Ammi-Joan Paquette 4 stars: I really like it
Kill Me Softly  by Sarah Cross 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing!

Currently reading: 
The Book of Blood and Shadow
by Robin Wasserman
Happy reading! :-)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

Title: Kill Me Softly
Author: Sarah Cross
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Fairy Tales
Release Date: April 10, 2012
Publisher: Egmont USA
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from April 8 - 9, 2012
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
Summary: True love’s kiss just may prove deadly…. Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents’ tragic deaths to her guardians’ half-truths about why she can’t return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined. In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who’s a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again. But fairy tales aren’t pretty things, and they don’t always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy-tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy-tale curses of their own … brothers who share a dark secret. And she’ll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.


Grimm fairytales come to life, curses and gifts are awakened, and Mira is destined to meet her fate...

Kill Me Softly is the first fairy tale retelling that I've ever read. To me, it's really unique and intriguing and extremely amazing. It falls into the category of books whose synopsis you shouldn't read first, but should just dive right in for full effect. That's what I did, and I was glad that I entered the world of Kill Me Softly without a clue about what it is about and what's possibly going to happen. When things do happen, it totally blew my mind! But if you've already made the mistake of reading the summary, it's still totally fine. Now you know what this book is about, but you're still going to be knocked off your feet anyway.

Girls became victims and heroines. 
Boys became lovers and murderers. 
And sometimes... they became both.



We're first introduced to Mirabelle Lively, or Mira for short, just a week before her sixteenth birthday. She lives with two godmothers, Elsa and Bliss. Mira's godmothers are very protective of her, and insanely strict. They don't allow her to ride in a car unless an adult is driving; shave her legs; date; and most importantly, they refuse to let her visit the city where she was born. This she can't accept. While they are excited and planning the party for her, Mira is distracted. She can only think about leaving them and running away to Beau Rivage to find her parents' graves.

Of course, she doesn't know what she's walking into. In Beau Rivage she encounters a lot of strange things like places named after those in fairy tales, and meets strange people who will become her friends. Mira's always been aware and self-conscious about the mark that looks like a wheel at her back, and she is shocked to see that these people she now hangs out with have marks too, only different ones. She asks around and finds out what the marks are for, and what they represent, and then she knows everyone's destiny, including her own. And then she also realizes the reason why her godmothers don't allow her to touch anything sharp.

Sarah Cross' Kill Me Softly is absolutely breathtaking. I don't normally enjoy dark novels, but this one's an exception. It's just amazing. This book wastes no space in giving you what you're looking for in a good book: well-developed story, appropriately-paced story telling, awesome characters, and beautiful writing. Moreover, this book is packed with mystery and suspense and secrets and surprises that keep you on the edge of your seat (and keep me up until 4 am in my case)! How can you not love it? How? How?

This novel has a very well-developed story. Every information given is relevant at some points. No nonsense. I love how Sarah Cross drops hints and clues while building up the story but you don't know what they mean until they come together with something else later in the book! And you can't help but be like, I should've seen that coming! This book also has a good pace. It's not too long, and it's not too short; it's not too fast, and not to slow; it's just right. Just exactly how it needs to be. Not many books are like that, you know. This is brilliant.

I also love that Sarah Cross takes the Brother Grimms' originally and exceptionally dark fairy tales and blend them together to create such a wonderful book. Unlike Disney that softens everything, the author remains true to the original tales and makes them work. Bravo!

The characters in this novel are all great. None of them feels flat. Normally I'm not a fan of books with too many characters, but again, this is an exception. Every one of them adds up to the book very well, spicing it up and all that. Mira has a strong voice. She's different when she's with different people. I especially love when Mira and Blue are together. Either they're always bickering, saying sarcastic remarks, fighting, or they're being all sweet and honest and sweet and did I say that already? Well, yeah. If you read this book, you'll know what I mean. Blue's constantly warning Mira to stay away from Felix, acting like a jerk to keep her from liking him (for a reason), and all the while he's falling in love with her. Ah, the tension between these two! Love, love, love it! I'm pretty sure you'll like other characters as well. Someday-my-princess-will-come Freddie, Layla the Beauty, white-as-snow Viv, etc.

Other than a fantastic story and incredible characters, this book is also beautifully written. It can't get any better than this. Sarah Cross' writing had me going wow a lot of times. See this and you'll know what I mean:
It was hard to be honest, to open up, and reveal something that sounded crazy. Because once you told someone the truth, that person had a piece of you--and they could belittle it, destroy it. The could turn your confession into a would that never healed. 
That's my favorite quote from the book.

Also Mira and Felix' love scene (about 43% far into the book) had me melt into a puddle of goo. Seriously.

And now, we've come to the end of this review. I don't think I can say anything more about this book without praising it. Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross deserves 5 shiny stars for its brilliance (there I said it again). Read this book. You won't be disappointed. You have my word. :)


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

I received the ARC of this title from Egmont USA for review.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies by Ammi-Joan Paquette

 
Title: The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies
Author: Ammi-Joan Paquette
Illustrator: Christa Unzner
Release Date: May 12, 2009
Publisher: Tanglewood Press
Pages: 32
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read on March 19, 2012
My rating: 4 stars: I really like it
Summary: Children learn to spot the tell-tale signs of fairies in residence in this delightful mix of photos and illustrations. Then children can take their tracking skills outside to discover the magic in their own backyard and celebrate nature. Full color.


A very cute book!

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies isn't a story book. It doesn't have main characters or any stories at all. It's just, as the title suggests, a "guide" to tracking fairies. So you shouldn't expect to read a story about a little girl trying to catch fairies or whatever.

However, this book is still very fun to look at! There are pictures on every page, and there's also some text. The text only acts like a guide which talks about places where fairies are found. What I really like is that there are usually two to four pictures of the same place. In that case, the first picture is always a real photo taken with a camera which shows children's fingers pointing to something like a rock or a pile or grass, and then the next pictures will be the that of the same place zoomed-in, in different angles, with colorful little fairies edited in.

I especially like the drawn fairies! The colorful illustrations are very well done and blend in perfectly with the real photographs. Details are extraordinary.

I guess this book tries to tell us that fairies or magical things are everywhere around us, we just have to "really look". ;) I really like it!


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This review is also posted on Goodreads.

I received an e-copy from NetGalley and Tanglewood for review.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

In My Mailbox (12)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at TheStorySiren to let bloggers share books they've got each week. 


My blogging hiatus took place from March 4 until April 5. During the period of March 4 to 29 I bought 32 books, and that was very out of control. Such a wrong thing to be obsessed with in the exam month! This week (April 1 - 7) I welcomed 9 books to my shelf! That's still pretty out of control, but anyway. 



Penguin Clothbound Classics: 
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen 
Emma by Jane Austen 
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë 
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Borrowed from library: 

I'm loving the Penguin Clothbound Classics, though they're not exactly perfect. 

I'm back to blogging! 

Happy reading, everyone! 
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