Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Hunted, by Megan Spooner | a slow but very unique Beauty and the Beast retelling

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3.25 stars

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Hunted is a refreshing change from the typical fairy tale retellings, specifically Beauty And The Beast retellings, which tend to focus more on the romance. Hunted, on the other hand, is more intent on exploring Yeva’s character and how she connects with the Beast as a human, instead of their combined romantic tension. It’s also largely descriptive and prose-lead, and contains a much darker vibe than the original Beauty And The Beast. It actually differs a lot from the original but in a really necessary way and it does manage to contain the most important elements. Unfortunately, while this book does a number of things wonderfully, its style was just not for me, hence the 3.25 rating. I’m simply not the type of reader that enjoys a slow plot and a gentle build, but I can appreciate all the things Hunted did well.

One of the many elements that separates Hunted from the original/other retellings, is its addition of Russian folklore and culture. The story is set in medieval Russia, and there are are multiple stories traded throughout the book which definitely further that magical vibe that is already there. The snowy setting was largely emphasized as well as Yeva’s skills as a hunter, with descriptions of her frequent excursions into the chilly and dangerous yet peaceful woods. The prose was beautiful, I loved the dark, mysterious, and guarded feel of the story but the vulnerable moments were wonderfully written too.

I’m not the type of reader that enjoys reading slower, more description-based stories, which is exactly what Hunted is. The story can be draggy and dull at times, bogged down by the immense description and lack of enough dialogue to match it. The story’s progression felt very tentative to me, and I had a difficult time investing myself into the mystery behind the Beast and how Yeva fits into it. While there are many intriguing elements added as the plot moves on, I can’t quite say what caused my ‘meh’ feeling for the plot, it just wasn’t my type of story. Which sucks, because it has so much going for it.

The characters though, I was definitely invested in. Yeva came as such a surprise. She’s badass, spirited, and strong but also compassionate and vulnerable. Her love for nature and the woods, as well as her yearning for magic were so expertly expressed, specifically her wanting for something beyond. It’s definitely reminiscent of the original Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but Yeva’s wanting is more entwined with the mystical elements of the story and the nature of her character itself. Contrary to the lone Belle, Yeva actually has two sisters, Lena and Asenka, with who she shares a huge bond. All three sisters are so loving and understanding toward one another while remaining utterly realistic. It’s a refreshing change from the warring and jealous siblings we usually see in fairy tales. B&B’s Gaston is also there in the form of Solmir, who is actually supportive and loving toward Yeva and her sisters instead of being villainous and arrogant like in the original.

Interestingly, the only character I couldn’t come to invest in was the Beast himself. This book did something different by showing the Beast’s perspective too, but it wasn’t enough to make me connect to him. The only time I felt something for the Beast deeply was when Yeva tries to kill him, which was a beautifully written scene altogether.

The ‘romance’ between Yeva and the Beast was very minimal, as it wasn’t the romantic part of their relationship that was emphasized the most. I loved the way Spooner showed how Yeva and the Beast were inevitably bound together, through their mutual love for nature and their yearning for something beyond their reach. I do like how they were never viewed or intended to be romantically involved, but that it was their connection and trust that brought them back to each other. Unfortunately, I still thought the development behind their relationship was a tad rushed and simply ‘not enough’ even if I see the idea behind it. I wanted Yeva to stay with the Beast longer and further explore his psyche, instead of jumping to conclusions and finding out she is right about his past immediately.

Hunted contains many elements that readers will love, but it simply wasn’t my type of book. I’m not that big a fan of fairy-tale retellings anyway, which might explain my indifference toward it to an extent. I do have a strong appreciation for it though, and would definitely recommend to those who like slow plots, descriptive writing, and a more mature vibe from a retelling.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

July 2017 Wrap-Up

Summer vacation is going by so fast and I cannot keep up in the least. July was hardly an eventful month, all I did was slave away in my desk taking SAT practice tests and occasionally go outside to the real world. Occasionally. Reading-wise, July was certainly the month of goodbyes. I had read three conclusions to three of my favorite YA series’, and it’s difficult to leave when you still want to go on adventures with the characters you love. It was definitely sad, but I still managed to squeeze some standalone novels in there to ease myself.

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The Lives Of Desperate Girls, by MacKenzie Common (2.25 stars) – I received an ARC of this book in June (it officially comes out in September), but finished it in July, and that should be enough to tell y’all my feelings for this book. While it offers interesting commentary on the blatant racism and sexism in our society, the rest of the book is not so interesting. You can find my review here.

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The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater (3.25 stars) – I didn’t hate this book, but I did hate the way certain plot points were left untouched and underdeveloped, as well as the blunt ending. The book’s writing and character development were great as usual, but as an concluding novel, I’m pretty disappointed. I still love this series though, and will definitely miss its characters and overall mystical vibe. You can find my review hereImage result for page breaker

22299763Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo (5 stars) – ASDFGHJKL is the only coherent thing I can say when it comes to this book, or rather, this duology in general. Bless the YA gods for Leigh Bardugo, for Kaz Brekker and the rest of the characters in this too-amazing-to-be-real duology.

 

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Welcome To The Slipstream, by Natalka Burian (3 stars) – I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but disliked the second half, making it a classic 3-star novel. This contemporary combines a number of unique plot points and is by no means typical, but I do wish these plot points were told in a bigger and bolder way. You can find my review here.

 

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Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett (4.25 stars) – This book is the essence of fluffiness done right. It’s a modern retelling of the classic rom-com movie You’ve Got Mail, and is perfectly witty, funny, and adorable. It’s now one of my contemporary/romance favorites. You can find my review here.

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Winter, by Marissa Meyer (4 stars) – Ah, this book was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. I still don’t know why I didn’t read this when it came out two years ago, but it hit me just as hard now. Will certainly miss this series, but I know I’m going to visit it over and over again.

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Hunted, by Megan Spooner (3.25 stars) – I’m having another bout of CONFLICT with this Beauty and the Beast retelling, because while I really liked the haunting vibe of the book, it was hella slow and a little boring. Look out for my review coming soon!

 

Thank you guys for reading! Leave a comment below with your thoughts 🙂

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell | A super cute Harry Potter “fanfic.” Nuff said.

4.5 Stars

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

Carry On is one of those rare books where I read over 90% of this 500+ page book in a day. I have to say, I didn’t expect to like this book nearly as much as I did. I haven’t read Fangirl, but knew that this was essentially a book within a book that became its own book, which hardly attracted me. In addition, it was reviewed widely as basically  a Harry Potter fanfic, which worried me. I’m as obsessed with HP as any reader, but a spin-off written by a contemporary author? Seriously? Well, Carry On was all of those things: romancy, a spin-off, and a copy of Harry Potter from start to finish. And I loved every bit of it.

So I’m going to talk about Carry On as its own book, and not as a Fangirl related one, probably because I haven’t read the latter (I know, sue me). This book is about Simon Snow, a super powerful orphan mage referred to as “The Chosen One,” prophesied to defeat an evil connected to him in some way. Currently, he attends the Watford School of Magicks, where he studies with his two best friends and enemy/rival, who Simon initially suspects is up to no good. Sound familiar?

The comparisons to HP were overwhelming at first, and I definitely wasn’t sold on Simon’s obsession with his rival Baz’s disappearance. However, as I read on (and once Baz finally showed up), I began to enjoy the book much more and note the differences between this and Harry Potter. There are no school houses, for one. The spells are also common English phrases, and wands are not the only way of harnessing power. The world and class differences/tension are similar, but developed in a different way.

But what truly sold me were the characters. Simon is very adorable, and his best friend Penelope is all kinds of awesome. Baz, as well, is (secretly) super cute and his interactions with Simon had me squealing on the floor. The character relationships were surprisingly layered and very enjoyable to read. I also liked Simon’s relationships with the adults in his life, particularly the Mage.

The romance between Baz and Simon somehow wasn’t forced, either. My initial worry (knowing Rowell’s standard style of writing) was that there’d be more kissing than actual substance, but that wasn’t really the case. Although Baz’s love for Simon was a bit bluntly stated in the beginning, they don’t actually kiss until page 343-ish, which I was very happy about. Overall, the romance and characters were so much fun that I was more than happy to overlook the obvious flaws of this book.

Oh, the flaws. I wish I didn’t have to cover this but I consider it my obligation as a reviewer. I gave this book a very high rating simply on the basis of how much I relished it, but it cannot be ignored that the plot is, well… nonexistent. The “Voldemort” of this book, the Insidious Humdrum, takes a back seat to the Simon-Baz tension and there’s no real effort made on Simon’s part to defeat it. Most of the story revolves around figuring out who murdered Baz’s mom, but progress is excruciatingly slow. While Harry Potter also rarely had Voldemort show up for the majority of the book, the time was spent on world-building, foreshadowing, and attending classes. I don’t think I can name a single class Simon attended (because they were so inconsequential), and there was no growing mystery or a sense of foreboding. There just… wasn’t much of a plot.

This may sound like a game-killer for you, and if you’re considering scrolling away to some other book, think again. Despite everything, if you’re a character-driven reader looking for a cute read, please try Carry On. I hope you don’t regret it, because I certainly didn’t. 🙂

~Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Alex, Approximately, by Jenn Bennett | some of the best fluff I’ve had

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4.25 stars

The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

I downloaded this book on somewhat of a whim, because I was slightly bored and disappointed with Hunted and its tiny-ass font (my eyesight is bad as it is), and I wanted a cute, fluffy romance to bring me out of the ‘slump’ I was in (which lasted for like 2 days but still). Fortunately, it did not disappoint in the least and is now actually one of my favorite contemporary novels ever.

First off, I have to say the writing and pacing of the novel are great. Bailey’s narration is so full of life and addicting, and I loved the small amounts of depth injected into it. It is largely a fluff novel, but I thought the discussion on Bailey’s avoidance of confrontation and breaking out of her shell was just enough to add depth, but not take away the sweet vibe of the book. What’s also interesting, is that several of the characters have experienced traumatic events or are experiencing difficulties in a broad number of aspects. They weren’t all addressed in depth, but it was cool how Bennett managed to mix those topics in and still create a happy novel with just the right amount of seriousness. I will admit some of those topics felt like plot devices to simply add to romantic angst (as if there wasn’t enough already), but the book was addicting as hell so I can’t complain.

Despite a few throwaway/unmemorable characters here and there, most of the characters were fairly well-written and thoroughly entertaining. Bailey was incredibly lively, funny, and witty. I could feel her personality dripping off the pages immediately and I liked her methods to avoid confrontation and talking to people (she calls herself the ‘Artful Dodger’, I can relate immensely), as well as her doubts and insecurities concerning love. To sum it up easily, I would say her voice sounded like a mix of Anna and Lola from Anna And The French Kiss and Lola And The Boy Next Door, which really isn’t a bad combination. Porter is pretty swoon-worthy, while there are a few moments in the writing that made me cringe (specifically when describing his physical appearance), it isn’t as bad as some other contemporary novels, and he’s actually a very three-dimensional character.

The book is obviously most focused on the romance and its development, and anyone who’s seen You’ve Got Mail knows that it’s essentially a mess. The reader knows that ‘Mink’ is Bailey and ‘Alex’ is Porter, but the characters themselves don’t know, and we are watching the slow but adorable process of them falling in love and eventually finding out in between all the drama. Bailey and Porter are painfully cute, some might think it’s a bit sugary at parts, but I loved both of their sweet and sarcastic moments. Yeah, their ‘archenemy’ status lasted for about 100 pages approximately, but the pros outweigh the cons in this situation. Witty banter, noticeable chemistry, and utter adorableness, what else does one need in a rom-com?

If I had to complain about something, I would say the ‘film’ parts of the novel were not enough. It’s clear that Bailey and Porter are obsessed with movies, classics specifically, but I do wish there were more references spread out throughout the novel. But, I loved this book, it was perfect for pulling me out of the sheer medieval fantasy of Hunted and putting me in a good mood. Would recommend to anyone looking for a cutesy summer read.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Welcome To The Slipstream, by Natalka Burian | extreme mixed feelings toward this unique contemporary

32164715Bright lights, big trouble.

Fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Judy Gregerson’s Bad Girls Club will relate to this story about a girl traumatized by her brilliant mother’s serious mental illness.

Like a grown-up Eloise from the picture book, the main character, Van, lives in an upscale casino in glitzy Las Vegas, giving readers entree into a crazy world that few ever get to see. Based on real life events witnessed by the author, a harrowing look at the dangers of self-help cults that promise insight and instead deliver destruction.

With her mother, a brilliant businesswoman with fragile mental health, Van arrives in Las Vegas at the Silver Saddle casino, where Alex, a college student, is assigned to “babysit” her. Van is used to having to land on her feet, because her mother and her surrogate grandmother move from city to city all the time like corporate gypsies, but Alex introduces Van, a talented musician, to a group where her guitar skills may shine. But just as she’s about to play her first gig, her mother is lured in by a con man promising a “vision quest” in Arizona, and Van must go on the road to find and save her mom.

3 stars

Judging by its long synopsis, Welcome To The Slipstream sounds really random, messy, and sometimes unintentionally funny (all of them combined at certain points), which it is, but not on the incredibly large scale you want it to be on. The novel is actually quite short, at only 272 pages, and despite its promise of snazzy hotels, big cities, punk-rock vibes, and weird-ass cults, it still manages to cram everything in very tidily, exploring each aspect but always coming short somehow. I was actually enjoying the first half of the book and if I had continued to enjoy it all the way, it would have been at least a 3.5 star book. However, the second half had to come along and take away all my hopes of enjoying a contemporary fully for once. I am once again in a state of conflict. *deep sigh*

The story takes place in two areas: the fancy Silver Saddle hotel and casino in Las Vegas and the Arizona desert. The entire first half is set in Vegas, before Van goes to find her mother, and I definitely liked the descriptions and the vibe of the hotel/casino and its everyday routine. I do which that setting was more explored on a larger scale, and I could say the same for most of the aspects of this book. I definitely thought the same for the musical, punk-rock feel of the book, while it was there I did like it, but I wanted to feel more of that vibe. This book clearly contains a lot of random and unique elements that set it apart from most contemporaries, and if only those elements had been told in a bigger and bolder manner on a larger scale, Welcome To The Slipstream would have been a lot more memorable. The prose is very straight-forward and easy to understand, but I do wish the same kind of narration was kept constant throughout. The second half was entirely set in Arizona, where Van finally meets the creepy cult her mother had become entangled in, and it’s really, really boring. I was just gaining some interest for this mystery ‘vision quest’ by that time, but Van’s narration through the desert was so draggy and uninteresting, I honestly skimmed through most of it.

The characters were surprisingly more interesting and layered than I had initially expected them to be. Van herself is a quite relatable heroine that has gone through her fair share of pain, guilt, and emotional conflict concerning her mother’s behavior and their frequent moves. I loved Ida, she was such a force of nature with her vibrant personality and hilarious one-liners. I did feel as though Alex was a tad one-dimensional, and that Joanna, Carol, Marcos were only added to stir up unnecessary drama, but I appreciated their much-needed diversion from Van, Ida, and Sofia.

I am disappointed in lack of directness involved with Sofia’s mental stability, because it’s clear that she has trouble with mental illness, and in this case it happens to be bipolar disorder. I thought we would at least hear the words ‘bipolar’ or ‘mental illness’ in the story, but it was never went over or even directly insinuated. There is plenty amount of depth to match the funnier sides of this novel, but I was expecting something more concrete, considering they had plenty to work with.

There is a romance involved that does a perfect job of not overtaking the story, but I do feel as though it was added in unnecessarily. Alex seems to be interested in Van almost immediately, and while their relationship is slow burn, there wasn’t enough information to truly make their mutual attraction pop out. I did like how Van was still at center stage and that her insecurities and doubts affected her motivation to further her relationship with Alex, but I still think the book would have been better if the romance was reduced a tad.

Welcome To The Slipstream was a fairly engaging novel, but it could have been something much more than ‘average’ if it utilized its unique themes, and crafted itself to be bigger and bolder. I would recommend if you’re looking for something short, weird, and different from typical YA contemporary.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies | an intriguing premise undercut by a terrible main character

3 Stars

Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family’s secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.

Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he’s affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he’ll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they’ll go to keep their secrets safe.

With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won’t see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are.

Hey guys! So I’ve been out of the country for the last month and a half or so (it felt much longer, believe me), but I am more than ecstatic to be back to the world of stable Internet connection. I did get some reading over my vacation (when I wasn’t being bitten by mosquitoes in India, of course) so I am super hyped to talk about them.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies has a super gripping title. It’s morbidly humorous, and the blurb sounds interesting. I think the the title is probably the strongest point of this novel, which says quite a lot about the book. This books follows Aspen and his family, who have the power to steal anyone’s personal characteristics, whether it be personality or physical traits. His family has, for as long as anyone can remember, has a ritual where they use this power to steal things from people to stabilize the cliff that looms over the town to avoid mass destruction.

This premise is completely fascinating. The concept of a sentient cliff that requires things to be stolen from people provides a super intriguing air of mystery and magical realism. Clearly, everything is not as it seems when it comes to the ritual, cliff and even Aspen’s family, and the fact that this is apparent to the reader from the beginning sparks interest. Unfortunately, this premise that had so much potential was so wasted on a terrible, terrible main character.

I have one word to describe Aspen Quick: asshole. That’s all he is. He has this amazing power to take anything from anyone, and he abuses it to no end. He’s arrogant, and doesn’t give a second thought to taking whatever the hell he wants from anyone, with no thought to how he may be altering that person. I held out hope that this was the kind of book where he would become aware of his assholery (since his self-realization is the real message of this book) and become a better person, and I think that is what the author intended to do, but I couldn’t buy it. His big realization that his power causes harm happens in the last page of the book, and never felt deep or profound enough to be convincing. A whole book full of being a jerk doesn’t disappear immediately, Aspen.

If you want further proof of him being a terrible person, 80% of the book centers around Aspen forcing the girl he likes to fall in love with him, by taking away her love for his best friend and CONTINUALLY taking away any feelings she continues to develop for the best friend. It’s mentioned in the book that he once took away a club bouncer’s ability to tell a fake ID from a real one, and his cousin took away a security guard’s knowledge that pointy things aren’t allowed at an airport, for their own personal gain. This guy and his family’s selfishness has no end, and I became rather sick of him constantly manipulating people around him to get what he wants, and showing much too little remorse.

The underlying plot (other than the girlfriend stuff) was related to him figuring out the mystery surrounding his family’s magic. Most of the reveals were highly predictable, and at 20% of the book I could guess exactly what was going to happen, and suffered through 300 pages of Aspen struggling to figure it out.

After all this bashing, you may be wondering about my 3 star rating. Well, all 3 stars had to do with how cool the cliff and the magical realism was. Even though this book definitely could have been executed better, the idea is a good one, and I have to give the author credit for that. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick read and have some time, but not if you’re hoping to be impressed.

~Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Waiting On Wednesday #2

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme created by Breaking the Spine where each week we discuss upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

What’s up, guys? This week’s anticipated release is Black Bird Of The Gallows by Meg Kassel!

33509076Release Date: September 5th, 2017

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death. 

I’ve haven’t missed reading typical, cliche paranormal romances but this book sounds totally mature and perfectly dark. I do like gothic-themed books, and Black Bird Of The Gallows sounds different from the PNR novels infested in YA today. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

What releases are y’all anticipating? Leave a comment below! 🙂

-Haven