Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Title: Never Let Me Go
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: 2005
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Format: Paperback
Pages: 282
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from October 5 to 6, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing!
Summary: As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory. And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance – and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading. 

There are only so many things you can say about this book without giving spoilers, that’s the problem. So I don’t intend to say much about the plot. I’ll leave it so that you, like me, can dive into the world of Kathy H. and be receptive to the information exposed to you and feel it fresh. Having the plot gradually unraveled before your own eyes was a wonderful experience.

I love that everything in this book conspires to make it so heart-breaking. Everything works. I especially appreciate the narrative style. I’ve seen other reviewers say that it’s off-putting in that it’s so disorganized and hard to keep up, and in a way, they’re right. It is disorganized, but to me it’s in no way off-putting or hard to keep up. And I think there’s a beautiful organization in such a disorganized narrative; I think it has a purpose, and it works extremely well. Kathy would link one thing to another because something in one story reminds her of something in the other. And she always announces beforehand what she’s going to do next, would hint at first what the story she’s about to tell has to do with anything, and what she hopes to make clear. So I actually felt anything but lost. The narration reminds me of the stream of consciousness technique. Its effect that I was always kept on the edge of my seat. Because with every new paragraph comes a new revelation, and there are always more revelations to come. And because it’s not linear story-telling, when the jumbled pieces come together, it clicks and it makes sense and it’s powerful and wonderful. You can see how this event has an impact on the other ones like a domino effect, and how one event that comes later sheds light on many events that come before. You see the characters drift apart and then come together and then drift apart again. I truly think the narrative style is brilliant. There’s always more to find out.

Our narrator’s name is Kathy H. She’s 31. At all times I could feel this nostalgic tone consistently throughout her narrative, and it really breaks my heart. She’s telling the story in the light of everything that has happened, and her stories are tinged with ripe wisdom of someone who’s seen it all. We’re reading her story and understanding it in the way that she makes sense of it now, so there are layers of complexity upon each event. Memories are powerful. Imagine if she loses one memory, the whole piece would really lose its impact. If asked whether I like Kathy, I would say absolutely, I do. Her characterization is one of the brilliant things about this book. She’s wise. She’s an extremely loyal friend. She’s selfless. And she’s complex. She’s so good at reading people, reading situations, but I can’t really read her, and I love that. Not just Kathy, but also Ruth and Tommy; they’re so well fleshed-out that I felt convinced they’re real. They all have a good side, and they have a side that we don’t completely understand, but it’s a part of who they are, and it’s what makes them human. How can anyone say otherwise, having read what I have?

We’re not given so many glimpses of the outside world. Most of the story is set in Hailsham, and the Cottages, and back and forth between hospitals. And I think that illustrates one of the points that this book raises: the moral justification of scientific progress. I won’t say what it is, though I guess some of you already know, but this book deals with this issue that is so 21st century that we all must inevitably have heard of it. I remember this issue was brought up to discussion in one of my classes, but I don’t remember which class or when that was. I remember, though, that we expressed such optimistic, eager, and—now I know—ignorant opinions. It would be wonderful for humanity, we’d say, now that cancer and the likes can go away. Science is god-like, we’d say. But now if I were to take side, I wouldn’t know where to stand. And the book is right in saying that people don’t want to know what’s happening behind the curtain, because it isn’t pretty. And no, it isn’t. These people are pretty much shut away from the outside world, confined in a world of their own where they can be comfortable with who, or what, they are. This book’s got me looking at the world and its scientific advancement in a new way.

Never Let Me Go is so mesmerizing. I waited so long to read it because I was too intimidated to. But really, there’s nothing intimidating about this book, let me tell you. Kathy tells me her story like I’m sitting beside her on bench, enjoying a chilly day together, reminiscing. And she’s talking like she’s speaking to me, face to face, making sure I keep up with everything she says, always giving cues as to where we’re heading. And though the book didn’t make me cry, it did trap me within its sphere for the whole duration I was reading it, and I could feel the nostalgic sadness in the air all the time. I feel for Kathy and her people and all they’ve been through. A story about memories, friendship, love, this is such an amazing, heart-warming book.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

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Title: The History of Love
Author: Nicole Krauss 
Genre: Contemporary
Release Date: January, 2005
Publisher: W.W Norton & Company
Format: Paperback
Pages: 260
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from May 17 to June 8, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
Summary: Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing that she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man named Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the lost love who, sixty years ago in Poland, inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives. 

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering. 

Prior to reading this book, Nicole Krauss was just another writer whose works I'd heard of in passing and wanted to read. What made me give her special attention was the fact that she is married to my personal hero, my literary god, the extraordinary, the one and only Jonathan Safran Foer whom I adore and idolize. Of course, I was aware of the many reviews stating how much Krauss's writing resembles that of Foer's. And since I love him so much, I couldn't help but want to give her a try. And I can't believe I waited this long to find another favorite book.

When I dove in, I realized almost instantly that those reviews were right; Krauss's writing in The History of Love reminded me of her husband a lot. But the ways in which I fell in love with both differ. With Foer, I fell hard and all at once. I fell long and deep and couldn't get back up even if I tried. He struck a chord within me, one that's very special and intimate--one that, once struck, sets free all the pent-up emotions and tells me never to let go of the person who does it. Actually, I'm still falling. But with Krauss, the process was slow and almost static, unsure--the way you learn to love again. And that's how it was; I didn't so much fall in love with The History of Love as I learned to love it. (In fact, I believe this is always going to be the way it is. Once you've found your one true love, you cannot really fall in love that same way again, but the best thing you can do is to learn to love someone.)

I am at a loss for words to say about this book. I loved it. The History of Love tells you about how a seemingly insignificant man waiting for death can make great impacts in many lives. How people struggle to fill in the gaps left by the losses of someone in their lives. How people cope with loss and loneliness. How some run away from the truth, and how others would do anything to uncover it. How love isn't really about choice, and how it can go on and you can't do anything about it. How people live. What life is. The characters are very well fleshed out and I could feel them and their earth-shattering impacts through every word. The writing is beautiful and moving. As soon as I finished this book, I--overwhelmed and bursting with emotions--wanted to read it again. Leopold Gursky lives a life larger than the space of the pages, and will live long in my memories even after the last page ends.

Sometimes I thought about nothing and sometimes I thought about my life. At least I made a living. What kind of living? A living. I lived. It wasn't easy. And yet. I found out how little is unbearable. 

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison

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Title: The Rose Throne
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Publisher: Egmont USA
Format: eARC
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from April 16 to 29, 2013
My rating: 3.5 stars
Summary: Ailsbet loves nothing more than music; tall and red-haired, she's impatient with the artifice and ceremony of her father's court. Marissa adores the world of her island home and feels she has much to offer when she finally inherits the throne from her wise, good-tempered father. The trouble is that neither princess has the power--or the magic--to rule alone, and if the kingdoms can be united, which princess will end up ruling the joint land? For both, the only goal would seem to be a strategic marriage to a man who can bring his own brand of power to the throne. But will either girl be able to marry for love? And can either of these two princesses, rivals though they have never met, afford to let the other live?

When something goes wrong, it is always the ones who are different who are blamed. 

I have to admit that before I started the book, I already had high hopes for The Rose Throne. I mean, look at the cover! (I'm a little superficial when it comes to pretty covers.) The coloring, the girl (whom I suppose is Princess Ailsbet), her facial expression, the details of her hair! And the words in the blurb paint the book in such a great light that it is hard to resist. Princesses, magic, kingdoms, love, rivalry? It's a no-brainer for me!

Now that I've read this book and thought it over, I'd say that it isn't bad. It's riveting, fun, mysterious, but at the same time it does disappoint me to some level. Now, I am not going to summarize the story, as 1) I have come to learn that summaries aren't ever 100% accurate and in fact often times misleading, no matter who writes it and 2) I read this book a month ago, so things aren't as fresh for me right now. Thanks to my notes, however, I know how to go on and where I'm going with this.

First things first: this book is slow. I'm usually not someone who likes slow books, and even though I tend to finish every book I read, my attention span and tolerance are very limited when it comes to slow-paced books. But that's not necessarily a bad thing; a slow pace allows for a great story building, only when an author knows how to make use of it. And unlike other books I've read that stretch the story aimlessly for far too long, The Rose Throne makes a good use of its slow pacing and develops its story well. This book also takes a lot of time to digest--a quality I'm not generally quite fond of. Initially, the magic terms (e.g. taweyr, neweyr, unweyr, ekhono) were confusing me a lot, and that was a bit frustrating. The author did not exactly give a clear definition to these terms, but you can infer from the context and story, and yes, that took time to make sense.

The story was exciting and fun, and I think the author also did well on the characterization of Ailsbet and Marlissa, but not really of the other minor characters. I really enjoyed the wit of both princesses and their unique characteristics. I'm not going into details here, but let's just say that I enjoyed this book a whole lot.

One thing, though, is that I really wanted to appreciate the twist near the end of the book, but think it isn't very well executed. It didn't feel grand. I didn't see it coming; it just felt like the author couldn't decide what to do next, so she threw in this twist out of nowhere and hoped for the best. Well, I didn't like it, and I found it disappointing for a good book to suffer this bad twist. I think it took away the energy it was building up. And I also wanted to like the ending, but something feels off. After the awkward plot twist, things were quite awkward until the end. And I was consequently underwhelmed.

After such an ending, there has to be sequels. And I still would definitely read other books in the series, as I enjoyed this book and I'm curious to know how it all will turn out.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: Paper Towns by John Green

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Title: Paper Towns
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: October 16, 2008
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Pages: 305
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 8 to 10, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
Summary: Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew.

“Here's what's not beautiful about it: from here, you can't see the rust or the cracked paint or whatever, but you can tell what the place really is. You can see how fake it all is. It's not even hard enough to be made out of plastic. It's a paper town.”

I love Paper Towns so much that I have been at a loss for words for one whole week. I thought I love Alaska, but I love this even more. This book is perfect to me.

(Right now, it's hard to form coherent responses to this book, since it's been a week and my feelings are not as intense as they were right after I finished it, so please bear with me.)

There are a lot of things I loved about this book. I loved the story, the characters, the intertextuality (Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself"), the mystery, and most of all, damn, I loved the ending. I loved it so much. I remember being hurt all over while reading this book. Like Looking for Alaska, reading it gave me some kind of warmth, soothing and intense at the same time. It was sad, but it was also more than that. I spent a few minutes trying to write down what I think this story is a mixture of, but it all came out wrong. It's one of those books you really can't summarize. The whole thing is just too sublime to be wholly reduced or contained in just a few petty sentences.

Besides the story, the characters in this book are just wonderful. I understood Q as well as I could easily place myself in Margo's shoes. The thing about loving someone from afar is that it comes with this distance, which is big and wide enough for you to imagine and fill in the blank whatever you want about them, and sometimes you can't separate reality from imagination, because, for you, they are embodied in this one figure, and you end up believing this conjured-up thing/person to be real and inseparable. It's easy to think you love someone unattainable, but the truth is it can be more about you than about them--because the thought of attaining the unattainable gives you pride or makes you feel good about yourself or whatever. Looking from a distance, you don't see the cracks or flaws; but what if you don't like what you see when you're up close? Will you feel betrayed or deceived? Will they still be what you think you want? Will Q still love the real and exposed Margo?

I could relate so much with Margo, and that made me love the book even more. This girl, who carries herself with poise on the outside and marvelously kicks ass on a daily basis, is filled to the brim with all the pent up unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life. And I just totally get it. In this manner, Margo is pretty much like Alaska in Looking for Alaska, whom I also love. To me, it's crystal clear why she needs to go away so desperately, why she just can't hold on for one more second. I respect her because she doesn't waste time talking about what she's going to do, she just goes ahead and does it. Her determination and having the courage to go through with her plans are something I look up to. What I also love about her is that despite her determination, she doesn't push it, but instead gives herself time for second thoughts, a chance to change her mind.

I think John Green played with these ideas very well in Paper Towns, with a lot of depth and sophistication. I also loved that he took the other turn for the ending, the less cliched one, which is all the more rewarding and painful for readers (or at least for me). I remember having a crying jag near the end of the book; I felt everything and it was overwhelming. It was just so beautiful, what with things so messed-up and wrong and expectations ruined—and yet, amid all that destruction, there's so much beauty in it that is so, so real and so raw. I don't know if I'm making sense, but I can tell you the ending of Paper Towns is one of the best book endings in all history of my readership. This book is very clever, too, and touching, and definitely the best thing I've read since the beginning of 2013. A five-star kind of magnificence. A new favorite I plan to reread a lot in the future.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

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Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: January 1, 2005
Publisher: Speak
Format: Paperback
Pages: 231
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 5 to 6, 2013
My rating: 5 stars: I love it! It's amazing! + Favorite
SummaryBefore. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.
After. Nothing is ever the same.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking how you'll escape one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

Thus began my John Green book marathon (I finished this and Katherines, am reading Paper Towns next). I'd been meaning to read Looking for Alaska for so long, but 1) I couldn't really find the time to and 2) no, actually, I was afraid of ending up not liking it (kind of like the quote I put above; I kept thinking I would read it one day and it would be awesome but I never did it because I was afraid of being proven wrong—brilliant quote, by the way, John Green). Well, now that I couldn't resist it anymore and finally read it, I feel so stupid for having putting it off all this time. We're only about 2 months and 2 weeks into 2013, and this is the best read by far. Dang! I really should've read this much sooner! I hope 8 years after the publication date isn't too long. Still, better late than never, right?

It's one of those times again when a book affects me so much that I don't know how to begin talking about it properly. Here goes nothing.

Looking for Alaska is divided into "before" and "after," and by looking at it I kind of knew what was to come. This is not a subtle foreshadow, but rather blatant, and I was really happy and looking forward to the heart-wrenching parts because God knows I live for tearjerkers. In the "before" part, Miles "Pudge" Halter leaves home to attend a boarding school in order to leave behind the same old things and seek "the Great Perhaps." Not having any friends before, Miles surprisingly makes a few friends who totally kick ass: "the Colonel", Alaska, and Takumi. Miles gets pulled into their pranks and become a part of this circle of great friendship. More than anyone, Miles is drawn to Alaska—the reckless, unstable, unstoppable, impulsive, loud, fun, beautiful, rude, unhappy, bookish Alaska Young, the girl who "embodies the Great Perhaps" and changes everything in his world in the "after" part.

I enjoyed the story, the characters, the writing, everything. I loved how this is a coming-of-age story with heartfelt heartbreak and love and loss and sadness and misery and friendship and nostalgia and mistakes and regrets and longing for a better future. This book has everything that I love to read about, and it blends all these things together perfectly. About halfway through the book, I couldn't feel its amazingness yet, and I thought it was just okay. But once it goes into the second half of the book I just couldn't stop the tears from coming. I felt so much, and yet too little; I couldn't get enough of the sadness the book drowned me in. I felt alive.

Like I said in my Katherines review, John Green's characters are brilliantly crafted. I loved them. Even though I don't have much in common with Pudge, I respect him greatly. Not a lot of people realize that they've had enough and that they need to change, or have the courage to leave things behind in hope for a better unknown. I feel like a total loser in comparison to him; I always complain about how I hate it and how I'm so full of it, and I dream about leaving all of it behind but I never really do anything about it (again, like the quote above). And Alaska, she's so full of hope and misery that she reminds me of myself (this is not to say I'm as cool as her, but I think we're both similarly "deeply unhappy" with our lives). I'm known for my unpredicatable ups and downs, and with a little trigger, I can freak out for the longest time about things I have no power to change. I feel like I get her, and she gets me. The way she sees life and the world is heartbreaking. Even with all her flaws, Alaska is a perfect character the way she is, and I love her with all my "crooked heart."

I don't think any more needs to be said other than that Looking for Alaska is just what I've been looking for to get me out of my epic reading slump. In the time when hardly any books move me, Alaska managed to get a hold of my heart and wrench it, wrench it so hard it hurt all over, and made me once again susceptible to feelings besides boredom. I submerged myself in the overwhelming floods of emotions, in which there was some sort of illumination about life and suffering. John Green's writing enveloped me with warmth on top of all that. Although my first reaction when I finished the book was to give it 4.5 stars, I changed my mind as I slept on it these past two days. This book is glorious and deserving of every praise.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Review: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

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Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: September 1, 2006
Publisher: Dutton
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 229
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from March 6 to 8, 2013
My rating: 3 stars: I like it (3.5)
Summary: Katherine V thought boys were gross. Katherine X just wanted to be friends. Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail. K-19 broke his heart. When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton's type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact. On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun--but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl. Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable?

This is my second John Green book (the first is Looking for Alaska, for which I will write a review after this one), and honestly I didn't like it as much as I did Alaska. They are totally different, and I think I prefer the Alaska kind of mood to this comic one. But this is not to say that Katherines isn't a good book; it is a good book, but just not one that will compel me to gush about it forever.

In John Green's second novel, Colin Singleton, a "washed-up child prodigy," just gets his heart broken by K-19, which is the starting point of this whole novel. All his life, Colin's love interests have been all named "Katherine" (the exact spellings, no variations)—he explains this somewhere in the story that once he got together with the second Katherine, he felt like he wanted to keep the streak (forgive me if my memory is wrong; after all, "you don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened," to quote John Green).  The best friend, Hassen, a "fatty" and "not a terrorist" (hahaha he always says funny things), thinks it will do him good if they go on a road trip together, because, well, road trips are awesome, right? On the way, Colin sees this poster that says Archduke Franz Ferdinand's corpse, which started WWI, is buried in Gutshot, Tennessee. And because Colin is Colin, who has interests in everything (actually, the book says he doesn't "know from boring"), they go see it. And Gutshot, Tennessee just might start a new chapter in his life, one that doesn't involve any more Katherines, but one that will see Colin comes to terms with his high expectations of himself and others.

I think John Green did a really great job in crafting compelling characters. Like in Alaska, the characters in this book feel so real, so alive, so likeable and relatable in ways big and small. Colin is a unique human being who is miserable most of the time because of the pressure he puts on himself. I understand where he's coming from; always wanting to be better than what you already are, because "good" isn't enough to be remarkable. It's scary, don't you think, to think that you've got something to offer, but that talent is "lodged" with you "useless" (to quote John Milton), because so far you haven't offered anything yet, and you don't know if you'll ever be able to do something about it. It's scary! And it eats at you, this pressure you put on yourself. To think that it is bad for me, I know that it must be worse for Colin, because at least he has a ground on which he can always assess his "matterness." A child prodigy, now teenager Colin expects himself to be even more than that, but not all child prodigies grow up to be or geniuses or necessarily remarkable. This Colin quote: "I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters. I just want to matter" speaks to me quite personally, and I'm sure it speaks to a lot of other people as well, as it wraps up this feeling of wanting to be more so well.

But to say that Colin is my favorite would be totally wrong, even if I do like him. Hassen, I have to admit, is the most colorful character in the book. If you know me personally, you might know that I don't cope very well with boredom. Boredom is lethal to me, it chokes and suffocates me (which is the main reasons why I abandon a lot of books), and most of the time I don't stick with books long enough to discover the not-boring parts. But Hassan, he colors everything. Any scenes with him never failed to crack me up, and I totally mean it. Books don't usually make me laugh out loud; chuckle, maybe, or snort, but not laugh out loud, and that's exactly what Hassan made me do. My mom asked me if I was alright, because I laughed long and hard and intermittently. Hassan is the best. And I would totally love to have a friend like him in real life. He just makes everything better.

I will say this again in my review for Alaska because this thought originally occurred to me while I was reading it, but I'll also say it now to make my point: John Green's writing skill is clearly excellent. So excellent that sometimes some passages would strike me, like as soon as I read them I know it's what I've been feeling but didn't know how to put into words. Still, all the time I was reading Katherines, I could feel the absence of something, only I didn't know what it was until the book ended: this book, for me, is not so much plot as characters, and I don't know if that's good or bad. I would love more plot, though, to hold it together better. And I didn't like the ending. So abrupt, and a little contrived, if I may. But overall an enjoyable read. And who'd have known that math could be associated or interwoven with something so hilarious and fun?

This review is also posted on Goodreads.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Promo Post: Broken Wings by Shannon Dittemore

Hi guys! I haven't updated in a while. That's due to my current loads of work and exams. I'm just dropping by today with this promo post for Shannon Dittemore's Broken Wings! I've been waiting for this book for quite some time, because I really liked the first book, Angel Eyes! Initially, I intended to review it for this book tour, but as it turned out I couldn't juggle work and reading at the same time (I haven't been reading in a while). So here I am with a promo post instead. 

Broken Wings: Character Spotlight

Character: Marco
First & last: Marco James
Age: 25
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Favorite Possession: Ali’s journal

~ A bit of truth ~
Marco is an actor and filmmaker who was dating Brielle’s best friend, Ali, when she was killed. He was arrested for her murder and later cleared of the charges.

- Theatre. He’s particularly fond of Hamlet, a play he was working on while dating Ali.
- Independent films
- Coffee houses
- An audience. In particular, he finds Kaylee’s aunt Delia to be a remarkable one-woman audience.

- Henry Madison, a pedophilic old man involved in the trafficking ring that took Ali’s life. The monster haunts Marco’s dreams.
- Any activity that requires him to wear shorts.
- Himself, half the time. The role he played in Ali’s death hangs over him.
- The holes in his memory. He can’t remember half of what happened at the warehouse last December

The Books 

Angel Eyes (Angel Eyes Trilogy #1)
by Shannon Dittemore
Release Date: May 29, 2012
336 pages 

Summary from Goodreads:
Once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Everything changes when you’ve looked at the world through . . .ANGEL EYES.
Brielle’s a ballerina who went to the city to chase her dreams and found tragedy instead. She’s come home to shabby little Stratus, Oregon, to live with her grief and her guilt . . . and the incredible, numbing cold she can’t seem to shake.
Jake’s the new guy at school. The boy next door with burning hands and an unbelievable gift that targets him for corruption.

Something more than fate has brought them together. An evil bigger than both of them lurks in the shadows nearby, hiding in plain sight. Two angels stand guard, unsure what’s going to happen. And a beauty brighter than Jake or Brielle has ever seen is calling them to join the battle in a realm where all human choices start.

A realm that only angels and demons—and Brielle—can perceive.

Broken Wings (Angel Eyes Trilogy #2)
By Shannon Dittemore
Release Date: February 19, 2013
320 pages 

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble
Summary from Goodreads:
Giant angels with metal wings and visible song. A blind demon restored from the pit of darkness. And a girl who has never felt more broken.
Brielle sees the world as it really is: a place where the Celestial exists side by side with human reality. But in the aftermath of a supernatural showdown, her life begins to crumble. Her boyfriend, Jake, is keeping something from her—something important. Her overprotective father has started drinking again. He’s dating a much younger woman who makes Brielle’s skin crawl, and he’s downright hostile toward Jake. Haunting nightmares keep Brielle from sleeping, and flashes of Celestial vision keep her off kilter.
What she doesn’t know is that she’s been targeted. The Prince of Darkness himself has heard of the boy with healing in his hands and of the girl who sees through the Terrestrial Veil. When he plucks the blind demon, Damien, from the fiery chasm and sends him back to Earth with new eyes, the stage is set for a cataclysmic battle of good versus evil.
Then Brielle unearths the truth about her mother’s death and she must question everything she ever thought was true.
Brielle has no choice. She knows evil forces are converging and will soon rain their terror down upon the town of Stratus. She must master the weapons she’s been given. She must fight.
But can she fly with broken wings?

About the Author

Shannon Dittemore has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a focus on youth and young adult ministry. The daughter of one preacher and the wife of another, she spends her days imagining things unseen and chasing her two children around their home in Northern California. Angel Eyes is her first novel.

Website / Twitter / Goodreads / Facebook / Pinterest


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Friday, January 18, 2013

Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Title: Uses for Boys
Author: Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: January 15, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Format: eARC
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from January 14 to 15, 2013
My rating: 3 stars: I like it (2.5)
Summary: Anna remembers a time before boys, when she was little and everything made sense. When she and her mom were a family, just the two of them against the world. But now her mom is gone most of the time, chasing the next marriage, bringing home the next stepfather. Anna is left on her own—until she discovers that she can make boys her family. From Desmond to Joey, Todd to Sam, Anna learns that if you give boys what they want, you can get what you need. But the price is high—the other kids make fun of her; the girls call her a slut. Anna's new friend, Toy, seems to have found a way around the loneliness, but Toy has her own secrets that even Anna can't know. Then comes Sam. When Anna actually meets a boy who is more than just useful, whose family eats dinner together, laughs, and tells stories, the truth about love becomes clear. And she finally learns how it feels to have something to lose—and something to offer. Real, shocking, uplifting, and stunningly lyrical, Uses for Boys is a story of breaking down and growing up.

I have no father. I have no mother. Then you came along and everything changed. 

Uses for Boys majorly caught me off guard. I started this book thinking it would be just another YA Contemporary about troubled teenagers. In the beginning it does feel like one; but then the story takes a totally different turn from what I expected, and led me along a road I would've never taken if it I had known any better.

Anna grows up with no father. In her early childhood, her mother would tell her again and again that Anna is all she ever wanted, and Anna loved the idea. It was bliss, until her mother starts going out all the time to chase after new husbands, one after another, and then she has no time for Anna anymore. Growing up with no father and as good as no mother, Anna turns to the people who give her attention: boys. All of a sudden boys start talking to her, saying that she's pretty, flirting with her, and Anna goes along with it, giving them all they want, one boy after another, just so she can have their company.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's quite entertaining. If it were dull, I would've hated it, but it wasn't, so I went through it pretty fast. It has an easy narrative style, like a person talking, rather than a well thought-out piece of writing like other novels. The story is divided into a lot of parts, and each parts come up pretty randomly, so it isn't always predictable. And that's a good things. But on the other hand, the subject matter is quite discomforting. The book talks about sex pretty bluntly, and I feel weird reading this in the words of a thirteen or fifteen year old (I don't remember which one). For a young girl her age, Anna is very experienced with boys, having slept with 4 or more (I lost count), not to mention that she got pregnant, and had an abortion. I didn't enjoy watching someone let her life slip away like that for no good reason other than to feel loved.

Her mother is partly to blame, I get that. Negligent parents do a lot of damage to their children. And we can see how Anna's mother affects her pretty clearly. She would say that she cares, but then she never shows it. What kind of mother lets her child quit school and move out at 13 to live in a boyfriend's apartment? As hard is it is to imagine, I know there are parents like this out there.

In a way, I think I understand that this book just wants to "tell it like it is" with no fancy fabrications, no glorifying, no denouncing. That would explain why the narrative is this way, and why Anna doesn't acknowledge any of her actions to be anything (not the right thing, not the wrong thing, not a mistake, not anything) other than things she feels like she has to do. Trying so hard to impress, Anna willingly falls victim to her so-called friend and boyfriends, and this is very common among teenagers. Like Anna, they're not always likeable, and don't always know right from wrong. We can judge all we want, but it's also important to understand them, why they are the way they are and why they do the things they do. To me, Uses for Boys is a story that speaks of real teenagers with problems. Even though the book falls short of plot and denouement, it's quite an easy and enjoyable read, unless you're put off by dark, discomforting stories with (too) many sex scenes.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

Title: The Tragedy Paper 
Author: Elizabeth LaBan 
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: eARC
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from January 4 to 6, 2013
My rating: 3 stars: I like it (2.5)
Summary: Tim Macbeth is a 17-year-old albino and a recent transfer to the prestigious Irving School, where the motto is, “Enter here to be and find a friend.” Tim does not expect to find a friend; all he really wants to do is escape his senior year unnoticed. Despite his efforts to blend into the background, he finds himself falling for the quintessential “it” girl, Vanessa Sheller, girlfriend of Irving’s most popular boy. To Tim’s surprise, Vanessa is into him, too, and she can kiss her social status goodbye if anyone finds out. Tim and Vanessa enter into a clandestine relationship, but looming over them is the Tragedy Paper, Irving’s version of a senior year thesis, assigned by the school’s least forgiving teacher. The story unfolds from two alternating viewpoints: Tim, the tragic, love-struck figure, and Duncan, a current senior, who uncovers the truth behind Tim and Vanessa’s story and will consequently produce the greatest Tragedy Paper in Irving’s history. 

Sometimes it's hard, impossible even, to know how much magnitude a choice holds until it is all over. 

Duncan Meade enters the Irving School a senior this year. As a school tradition, each senior gets their own dorm room without having to share it with anyone. On the first day of school, each senior will go to the senior hall and find their room; and in the room, there will be "treasures" left behind for them from the previous senior who lived there. Duncan has one fear: he is afraid to find out if the smallest room in the hall belongs to him. And of course, it does. The treasures the previous owner, Tim Macbeth, leaves behind for Duncan is a note and a stack of CDs. Those CDs play the recordings of Tim's story for Duncan as the "meat of your Tragedy Paper," which is the Irving School's senior English paper to be handed in at the end of the school year.

The Tragedy Paper started out, for me, as intriguing; I was curious to see how the connection between Tim Macbeth and Duncan Meade would play out. Would it be, you know, like Shakespeare's Macbeth, in which Macbeth kills Duncan? Or would Tim Macbeth share the same tragic flaw with Macbeth, and Duncan the receiving end of that flaw like King Duncan? Or what? Of course, I was expecting the use of these two names to have some significance. I have been taught in Literature class that a text alludes to something like this, it is saying something implicitly, and you should find what it infers. But it looks like this book falls flat in that department, because as far as I know, the only function of this allusion is only to tell the reader: Hey! This book is a tragedy because its two main characters are named after the two in Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth! Hmm. Right now, in my head, I can even see my beloved Lit teacher hold up her index finger in a warning manner, and hear her say her favorite disapproval: "Nonono."

Again, I don't seem to share everyone (who's read it)'s enthusiasm about this book. Some say that it's "deep" and "profound," but I honestly don't see how that can be. It's not like I suck that much at reading between the lines and critical thinking; how about it's just meh? 90% of the book is about Tim told, narrated by Tim's recordings which Duncan listens to; while Duncan's part takes up only about 10%. And this makes me wonder why it has to be written this way. Not only does it bother me that the book doesn't just simply tell Tim's story--which already is the focus, if not the entire meat, of this story--it has to have Duncan as a medium (why bother?), but it also irritates me that, knowing very well Duncan's function is only to hang around and play the CDs so we can listen to them as well, the book tries so hard to have Tim affect his romantic life--in a way trying to make a connection between them when it's strained and uncalled for. If there'd been some believable and close connection between them for the recordings to have their natural effects, I would've believed it and appreciated it more.

In the end, I'll say that The Tragedy Paper is not a bad book, but there are a lot of things that I personally didn't like. The ending, for instance, felt too contrived in the way that it is steered into a tragedy pattern, which I understand since I get it, the point is that this book is a tragedy; but I still didn't like it that much. And the effects Tim's story has on Duncan are to me a little too unbelievable. I'd love for it to have more substance, and if the switching between two points of view is going to be this unbalanced and the connection this strained, how about no switching at all? I'd be happy to read Tim's story alone as the whole book without Duncan having a voice in part. That's just me. For the most part, I enjoyed Tim's story and wanted to see how it was tragic and how it would end, but once I did, I felt greatly underwhelmed. Still, as I said, it's not a bad book. It has good potentials but it's just not my cup of tea. 2.5 stars.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cover Reveal: The Forgotten Ones by Laura Howard

The Forgotten Ones
Author: Laura Howard
Genre: NA Paranormal Fantasy Romance
Expected release date: May 15, 2013
Age Group: New Adult
Cover Designer: Stephanie Mooney 

Book Description:
Allison O'Malley just graduated from college. Her life's plan is to get a job and take care of her schizophrenic mother. She doesn't have room for friends or even Ethan, who clearly wants more. 

When Allison's long-lost father shows up, he claims he can bring her mother back from the dark place her mind has sent her. He reveals legends of a race of people long forgotten, the Tuatha de Danaan, along with the truth about why he abandoned her mother.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: Broken by A.E. Rought

Title: Broken 
Author: A.E. Rought 
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Release Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Format: eARC
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from January 6 to 14, 2013
My rating: 2 stars: Nothing special
Summary: A string of suspicious deaths near a small Michigan town ends with a fall that claims the life of Emma Gentry's boyfriend, Daniel. Emma is broken, a hollow shell mechanically moving through her days. She and Daniel had been made for each other, complete only when they were together. Now she restlessly wanders the town in the late Fall gloom, haunting the cemetery and its white-marbled tombs, feeling Daniel everywhere, his spectre in the moonlight and the fog. When she encounters newcomer Alex Franks, only son of a renowned widowed surgeon, she's intrigued despite herself. He's an enigma, melting into shadows, preferring to keep to himself. But he is as drawn to her as she is to him. He is strangely... familiar. From the way he knows how to open her locker when it sticks, to the nickname she shared only with Daniel, even his hazel eyes with brown flecks are just like Daniel's. The closer they become, though, the more something inside her screams there's something very wrong with Alex Franks. And when Emma stumbles across a grotesque and terrifying menagerie of mangled but living animals within the walls of the Franks' estate, creatures she surely knows must have died from their injuries, she knows.
Hurting is better than forgetting.

As I haven't really been a fan of paranormal books, I started Broken with little to no expectation. After the first few pages, I was hooked. The prose was very delicate and wonderful to read; it sounded poetic. I loved the way the author described things in beautiful metaphors, as it really got the message, tone, and feelings across, embedded within those words. I was deeply impressed, but it didn't take long for things to go the other way around. In this case, I think it's best to quote Markus Zusak of The Book Thief: "Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness." And I don't mean the character's, I mean mine.

Things started to get bad after Emma, forever pining after her dead boyfriend Daniel, meets the new boy Alex. Then the teen girl instinct kicks in and she gets obsessed with him, saying how he makes her feel and how she shouldn't feel that way, asking questions along the lines of why-does-he-make-me-feel-this way and what-does-he-mean-by-saying-that-or-looking-at-me-like-that, which I can't really stand. This continues for pretty much the rest of the story. What's worse, Emma is obsessed with some of the sentences Alex says, and would repeat it again and again and again. I know the function of those sentences and Emma's need to repeat it, but really, the tireless repetition is a little uncalled for. It's like the writer doesn't trust the reader to be smart enough to pick up on the foreshadows, and it's a bit trying too hard to keep the whole story unified. It's too much for me, and after a few times it really started to bother me.

The plot is predictable. So predictable that I felt like it was pointless to read this book at all. There are more parts I disliked than parts I liked. And even though I really did enjoyed it in the beginning, I lost patience with it after a while and had to force myself to finish it. I mean, of course, the romance has to be so sappy that the boy is willing to do anything to be with the girl, and say something like "[My heart] doesn't beat for me. It's for you" even if they've known each other for two weeks. And of course, the boy has to be so messed up that the girl thinks it's attractive. And of course, the boy has to remind the girl of the dead boyfriend and echo his exact words and make her heart confused. And of course, the girl has to be so confused that she keeps a distance but pines for him anyway, 'cause apparently she can't live without him. These are only some examples of the worst cliches ever. Yawn.

In some ways, Broken is so bad that it reminds me of Twilight. Although Broken has better writing (only in the beginning), they're both made of uninteresting characters I don't care about, plots I don't like, romance that makes no sense and I have to roll my eyes at; overall books I can't stand. I think they're on the same level of bad paranormal romance. So readers of Twilight might enjoy this better than I did.

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: Splintered by A.G. Howard

Title: Splintered
Author: A.G. Howard
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: January 1, 2013
Publisher: Amulet Books
Format: eARC
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from December 28 to January 2, 2013
My rating: 4 stars: I really like it
Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now. When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

I'm going to London to find the rabbit hole. Even though I'm scared gutless of where it might lead, of who's waiting inside for me. Of whatever I'm supposed to do once I'm there. I have to go. 

Is there a better way to end 2012 and start 2013 than spending time immersing yourself in the enchanting Wonderland of Splintered? No, I don't think so. Even though I've never actually read the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, I was still able to catch up with this retelling of the famous and beloved classic, and came away liking it a lot.

Alyssa Gardner believes she's a descendant of Alice Liddell. And she believes that the females in her family are cursed; they hear bugs and plants talk. Alyssa is afraid of becoming like her mother, who is in an asylum--"mad," dressed in a pinafore and refusing to eat anything unless it's served in a teacup--and her grandmother, who, believing she could fly, jumped out of the window to her death. Splintered's Wonderland is a few notches crazier, darker, more horrible, and more twisted, and Alyssa needs to go there to fix Alice's mistakes and put an end to the curse that haunts her family once and for all. But what she doesn't plan is for Jeb, her best friend and secret crush, to get dragged along into this. As they enter Wonderland through the rabbit hole, they take on a journey to do something they didn't intend to, and become involved in a business that is not theirs--a business that, unless carried out successfully, will keep them in Wonderland forever.

What I liked about this book is its captivating spin of the original Wonderland story. As a member of this generation, I cannot help but know about the young Alice and her Wonderland. I believe I have seen a Disney film once when I was little, but I'm not sure; and I saw Tim Burton's film starring Johnny Depp the first week it came out in cinema (I enjoyed it but I didn't think it was that good). So yeah, I do know about it even though I've never actually read the book. Splintered still maintains some things from the original: Wonderland, the Caterpillar, Queen Red, White Rabbit or Rabid White, the Mad Hatter or Herman Hattington, and of course the Alice legend. But they're not entirely similar; Splintered takes an interestingly dark turn, paints Wonderland in a light that is anything but wonderful--a place full of monsters trying to either eat/kill you or use you.

In the latter category belongs Morpheus, a netherling moth (not sure what that is) who somehow grows up with Alyssa. Now, this is an interesting character. Words used to describe him depict him as a sexy, seductive and sensual being that draws Alyssa to him and influences her, rendering her unable to think straight. I think A.G. Howard did a really great job forming this character and choosing words that reinforce his personality, because man, is he hot *fans self*. I could feel his charms permeating the air even by just reading his dialogue, seriously. This is one of the characters who isn't always likeable but always enjoyable to read about. He's, in his own words, mysterious, rebellious, and troubled--"the qualities women find irresistible."

One of those women, besides myself, is Alyssa. I enjoyed it when she doesn't know how to feel around him. But I also liked Alyssa when Morpheus isn't around. Normally she's brave, smart and a little mad. A truly likeable protagonist. Girls that kick ass. Jeb is a delightful character as well. I found the IloveyoubutI'mwithhersoIcantakemymindoffofyou thing way too cliché, but I'll take it because Jeb is just so sweet and always says the right thing and and makes me swoon and everything. But in comparison to Morpheus, he unfortunately pales as a weaker and less interesting character.

On the whole I really liked this book. The writing is fantastic, the characters pleasant, and the story very entertaining. Quite action-packed, this book is a wonderful read. If I were in any position to judge, I would say that this is one interesting interpretation of Wonderland and a very well-done retelling of the classic, not to mention very well thought-out. It's thrilling, with plot twists here and there to keep things unpredictable and exciting. If you're already a fan of Lewis Carroll's book, you won't want to miss this! Or even if you're not, you won't want to miss this either!

This review is also posted on Goodreads.
I received a digital copy from NetGalley and the publisher for review.
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