Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

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Genre: Young-Adult, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 309
Series: Magonia #1 (Duology)
Release Date: April 28, 2015

3.5 Stars

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Magonia has a strange setting. It follows a girl who seems to be drowning in air because it has more oxygen and pollutants than she can handle. She’s never had much of a life expectancy. And then the worst comes true. Except, not really. While her family and her best friend, Jason, think she’s dead, she’s actually been taken to Magonia, a land in the sky. She travelling on a ship, she can finally breath, and she finds out she’s more powerful than she ever imagined.

And when I said strange, I meant many things. For one, the fact that the protagonist dies within the first quarter of the novel (I totally cried), then there’s the world-in-the-sky thing and the flying-ship thing. Finally, there are bird people. It’s all quite fascinating.

I loved being introduced to the world of Magonia and how it’s based on speculation and conspiracy theories of historical events, like how people put their own twist on Jack the Ripper (I’m reading a Jack the Ripper book night now). I love when authors do that. It makes it seem as if the world they’ve created really exists. Or could exist. So much fun to read.

The characters in the novel were great. I love Aza and her quirky and sarcastic personality, and I loved Jason with his obsessive nature, his determination, and his loyalty toward his best friend.

The romance between Aza and Jason was super cute. Right off the bat we’re shown how much they love and care about each other. They have a very strong bond and I was rooting for them the entire time. Even though the author decide to test my patience by introducing another guy and creating a love-triangle-ish situation, because YA authors just can’t help themselves.

I actually had a few problems with the author. There was, of course, the (mandatory) love-triangle. But there were things happening that made me not like Aza as much. You see, the author needed the plot to move a certain way. For that to happen, Aza needed to act a certain way and let certain things happen. Which required Aza to let herself be very easily manipulated, and for a very long time. It was beyond irritating to see a smart character like Aza be fooled like that. Why couldn’t the author have found a different way for the plot to move along?

The other problem I had, the singing. In this book, Magonians have power in their voice. It’s like Harry Potter but instead of waving their wands, they sing. It was a wonderful idea to give power to singing. But it was hard to take it seriously.

We didn’t know what or how they were singing. We weren’t really give any cues as to what the musical notes were like. We they birdy or opera? For all we know, they could’ve been beat-boxing (okay, that was a joke). And Aza learnt so quickly. She actually just knew how to do it. It was like being hit over the head with both the Special Snowflake trait, and the Chosen One trait, at the same time. Quite annoying.

Overall though, I liked the book. But when you think about it, it relies pretty heavily on the novelty of how intriguing the world is. Something that’s proven by the fact that the second book  hardly has any reviews with over three stars. It basically uses the same screw-with-your-characters-to-drive-the-plot technique this one uses. But since the world is no longer new, it’s harder to forgive. I’m not reading the second book for that reason. I might at some point, but it’s highly unlikely.

This book, I do recommend. It’s interesting, has a good story, is well-written, and has great characters (not just talking Aza and Jason), even if the second book does ruin a lot of them.

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 393
Series: Flame in the Mist #1
Release Date: May 16, 2017

3 Stars

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Flame in the Mist is the newest book by Renee Ahdieh, and considering how much I love her Wrath and the Dawn duology, it’s safe to say that there were expectation. And not all of them were met.

This is a historical/alternate universe novel, you could say, in a setting of Japanese culture and folklore (yes, it totally has samurai). The protagonist, Mariko, has been betrothed to a prince by her father. On her way to the palace, her convoy is attacked and she barely manages to escape with her life. Now she wants to find out who hired the bandits to kill her and why. She dresses as a peasant boy and infiltrates the deadly, and feared, Black Clan.

And she does all this very easily despite the fact that she has no survival skills, can’t fight, and has no way to navigate the forest, which is supposed to be a place that even soldiers don’t enter because it’s dangerous and impossible to navigate.

Some might argue that it’s because Mariko is very smart but come on, at least show us some of her difficult journey. It might have made things interesting since the pace of the novel could have used some work. For the first half, it almost felt like nothing happened. Honestly, I got in a bit of a rut halfway and when I picked the book back up a day later, there were only two things of note that came to mind. Which is not a good thing.

Afterwards, there was some more not-much-happening but it was tempered with the romance aspect coming into play, so it wasn’t bad. I liked the romance.

The main events of the book, when things really got interesting, were in the last quarter. But that felt hurried, which could be due to the rest of the novel being slow. But, it was still very good. The events of the last 25% were twice as significant as the rest of the book. Seriously, everything happened then. From the main plot movements to the character development and the villain’s intro. If that last part could have been stretched (in a good way) to enclose a larger part of the novel, the pace would have been evened out.

And then we had the little plot device of a reason for Mariko to infiltrate the Black Clan. I mean, what smart character decides that the best course of action after narrowly escaping death is to go in half cocked and shack up with the people who tried to kill her? Sure, she wanted to know why someone wanted her dead, but that excuse only worked for 50-100 pages, at best. Afterwards, it started to lose meaning (that happens when you keep saying something over and over again) and became insufficient, made worse by the (poorly done) revelation near the end.

But you know what, I’m being harsh. There were many redeemable qualities to be found in the novel. For one, it’s beautifully written and explores Japanese culture very well. All the characters we were introduced to were interesting and ones you could easily become invested in. Character development was good, as was the world building. And the ending was great.

Overall, while first installment wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, it set up the rest of the series well. I think the upcoming books will be better and I do think you should give this one a shot. Renee Ahdieh is a good author.

Review: The Return by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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Genre: New-Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 335
Series: Titan #1, Covenant series spin-off
Release Date: February 16, 2015

3.5 Stars

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I’m certain that Jennifer L. Armentrout has reached that point in her career where she can demand better covers that actually have some relevance to the plot of the novel, instead of a random shirtless dude being featured there like it’s the cover of a Playgirl magazine (I know that’s not an actual magazine, but I don’t know any real ones for girls).

I mean seriously, whoever designed the cover didn’t even bother to add his glyphs! I know they’re invisible to almost everyone, but we know they’re there! And if you don’t know, that means you haven’t read the Covenant series, in which case, I really think you should. Because the Covenant series…

a) is better,
b) has a better female protagonist
c) will help you appreciate and understand this novel more, and
d) is better.

But that kind-of-insulting topic aside, lets move to the next kind-of-insulting topic (I know, I’m on a roll). And that topic is… the author!

You see, I’ve read about a dozen novels by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and if you exclude the Covenant series, I’ve been highly impressed with exactly none of them. They’re all decently written and most of them are entertaining or interesting enough (Lux series not included; it sucked) but they’re ultimately pretty meh, or even aggravating. All this led me to think that maybe the Covenant series was a fluke. And while I enjoyed this novel, that belief still kinda stands.

This book follows Seth, who is an Apollyon, the child of a pure blood (descended from the Greek gods) and a half (half human and half pure). He did some very, very, extremely shitty things in the past (see: Covenant series) and to make up for some of them, he made a deal with the gods that pledged his existence to serving them, before and after death.

Apollo, who is freaking awesome, tasked Seth to protect a very important and special *rolls eyes* girl named Josie, because the world is in danger again and she’s very crucial to saving it.

Now, I enjoyed the book, I really did. It has a heavy focus on the romance but I’m okay that. I’ve read plenty of paranormal romances and I’m good with authors building on the relationship between characters before focusing on the big problems. And the fact that I liked Seth’s arc helped things along.

In the Covenant series, I hated Seth. I may be one of the only few people who did since everyone seemed to be in love with him, but I had a very hard time forgiving him for the shit he pulled. And even after he somewhat made up for it in the end with his deal with the gods, I still liked seeing him guilt-ridden over his actions and struggling with all that took place. Seth is a changed man, and though I miss his funny and sarcastic moments, his emotional arc was with it.

On top of that, for the most part, I liked Josie. She does have a habit of talking too much; and not in a cute-and-rambly sort of way, but more like she stops listening to what anyone has to say and words start pouring out of her mouth and you’re just waiting for her to shut the fuck up. But yeah, other than that, she was good.

The pace of the novel was good and you can fly through it very easily. It has plenty of clichés with the whole innocent, perpetually-blushing, virgin female MC, the obligatory guy-is-suddenly-shirtless scenes and stuff like that. But it was still readable and fun; made better that it would have been, by the addition of Seth’s character complexity.

As for reading the sequel (there are at least three more books in the series, probably more), I kinda, accidentally, on purpose spoiled myself on some things, things that I know I won’t like. So I will read it, but it will likely not happen very soon. If you’re a fan of the Covenant series, I think you’ll sufficiently enjoy this one (especially of you love Seth). If you haven’t read the previously mentioned series, read it first and then come back to this one.

Review: Hunted by Meagan Spooner

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Genre: Young-Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Retelling (Beauty and the Beast)
Pages: 384
Series: None
Release Date: March 14, 2017

4 Stars

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I’m a sucker for retelling. I freaking adore them (as long as I’m familiar with some other version of the tale). Prior to this, I’ve read three different Beauty and the Beast retellings. I liked only one of them, and that was a very cheesy version. This is most likely my favorite. But not just because I wasn’t the biggest fan of two of the previous ones, but also because it’s actually really good.

I finished reading this book about six days ago and have managed to kind of forget the things I didn’t like about the novel. But not to worry, I’ll remember while I’m writing the review. Until then, lets focus on the positives.

Hunted is more about the symbolic meaning behind the story and I really liked the way that was done. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with direct-ish scenes from fairytales (the ‘wolf impersonating grandma’ scene in Scarlet was clever and epic) but I like symbolic cleverness as well.

It’s inspired by the original French version, seeing as Beauty’s father loses all his wealth in the beginning and the family (including Beauty’s two older sisters) is forced to move to a cabin near the woods. There are other similarities, but those might be spoiler-y. The different element is that her father is a hunter who becomes obsessed with hunting a monster in the woods and when he goes missing, Beauty goes to find him.

Where it’s similar to the Disney movie (or maybe some other version, there are a lot of them) is Beauty’s desire to have more, to be more. In the movie, Belle reads book. Here, Beauty (or Yeva, her actual name) hunts and explores. But it’s the same thing. Both Yeva and Belle want an adventure.

Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that this ticks the retelling box big time. Which is very important to me.

It also checks the well-written box and the interesting box and the un-put-down-able box; I read it in two sittings. I really liked the characters with their peculiar flaws and their surprising humanity. The topic of human contentment, how we always want more, is brilliantly featured.

Where there were problems… there was a secret that we, the reader, were told early on. And the author always dropped hints for Yeva about the secret in a way that made it seem as if she should have guessed it. They were not obvious hints, but written in a way that made you think Beauty was stupid or something. And I was like, why is the author trying to make Beauty look dumb? There could have been a simple solution, either don’t tell the reader, make the hints less hint-y, or make the protagonist smarter.

The other problem was a little section before the end, when things winded down for a bit. There were a few chapters of playing house that made me impatient and annoyed. I get that it was a nod to the French tale, but still, couldn’t they have been shorter?

Overall, this review seems like a disjointed mess to me, but I’m hoping I made the point I was trying to make. This is a very good novel, both on its own and as a retelling. I was quite surprised by it and I highly recommend checking it out.

P.S. Also inspired by Russian folklore but since I know next-to-nothing about that, I’m refraining from commenting.

Review: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

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Genre: Middle-Grade, Young-Adult, Fantasy, Humour, Mythology (Greek)
Pages: 432
Series: The Trials of Apollo #2
Release Date: May 2, 2017

5 Stars

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This book is 432 pages long? I read an e-book so I didn’t know the page count, but I do know that it sure didn’t feel that long. It actually ended really quickly.

But I guess that’s what happens when a book is so much fun that you’re surprised the book also had a plot. Because plots are supposed to be the boring, or interesting, parts of a novel with some fun squeezed between them. The whole thing can’t be fun! That’s just not possible. But uncle Rick proves one again that he is awesomeness personified. Because this book… is wonderful.

For one, we have Apollo’s narrative, which is filled with his all his numerous whinings that usually start with “when I was a god” or “if I was a god” or “when I become a god again”. Seriously, that dude is so not adjusting and it’s hilarious to read. Apollo is narcissistic, self-absorbed and would use you as a shield against monsters, but he’s still so likable. And he’s also learning, much to his disgust, to be selfless. I love the guy and I love his narrative.

Then there’s the fact that this series is almost like an epilogue for the Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series, giving us moments of closure with all the old characters one by one, while also introducing new characters, and mythical figures and creatures.

There is honestly so much going on and I don’t know how Rick Riordan is balancing all of it. The writing is very clever too, so there’s something in there for people of all ages. I feel like Rick Riordan is highly underappreciated because everyone just considers him the “fun” writer, as if it’s not masterful the way he balances multiple characters, storylines, humour, emotion, characters development, adventure, action and backstory so brilliantly. People seem to equate good writing to serious writing with as little entertainment as possible. And that makes me very sad.

Thankfully, whenever I’m sad, I can just reread a book by uncle Rick and comfort myself with the knowledge that I appreciate him very much.

Anyway, I got off topic there. Lets get back to the book. I love it. Maybe even a little more than The Hidden Oracle because we got even more into the character of Apollo and there was an emotional arc with Meg (thanks to Nero, the turd) that made me finally like the character, where I was a bit iffy about her before.

Overall, this book was everything I wanted from the sequel and I can’t wait for the next part to come out. I’m going to leave you with the first haiku from the novel, because I love it:

Lester (Apollo)
Still human; thanks for asking
Gods, I hate my life

P. S. Just now noticed that I didn’t mention the plot. Though you probably know, still, it’s follows Apollo, Leo and Calypso as they head off on Festus to search for Meg, the second Roman emperor, and another old oracle that the Triumvirate has control of.

Review: Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh

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Genre: Paranormal, Romance, Adult
Pages: 328
Series: Psy-Changeling #4
Release Date: February 5, 2008

3 Stars

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Thanks to my exams, both my reading and reviewing are all over the place. I’ve started four books since the 6th but haven’t finished a single one and I’ve been putting this review off for a week. Even now, with a few days off, I’m not in the reviewing mood, so bear with me please.

This book follows Clay, a sentinel in the DarkRiver pack of changelings. He’s got a dark and violent past and that’s turned him kind of… dark and violent. He constantly feel like he’s on the edge of going rogue. Then, someone from the past, someone he thought was dead, comes back and there’s hope. Talin faced some very traumatizing things at a very early age. Clay was her best friend. But due to a violent act, she’s separated from him and, in her trauma, asks her social worker to tell Clay that she died in a car crash. Now she in trouble and has no other option than to tell Clay the truth so that he can help her.

First of all, can you believe this girl? She practically fakes her own death — sure she was just a kid then but she had 20 years to correct her lie. She didn’t — and then demands that Clay help her? And people say that I’m unfair to female characters. Well, if they’re going to be like this, what do you expect?

On top of that, the book was still all about her and her sensitive little feelings. She pushed her best friend away, didn’t contact him for 20 years, and still got to spend the entire novel whining about how she was insecure and afraid that he would leave her just because he left her before. Fuck you! He didn’t leave you. He went to juvie for saving your life! The least you could do is apologise and try to make it up to him instead of demanding comfort and being pissed at the guy because he didn’t immediately get over your faked death!

Ugh!

Before I started this review, I only disliked Talin. Now I hate her. There’s a serious case of special snowflake syndrome going on with her, and this was all just made worse by the fact that Clay was made out to be the bad guy for being mad at her. And his emotional trauma was never touched upon. He was just supposed to get over it because he’s a guy and he’s tough. Well guess what? Being tough doesn’t make you immune to emotions! How could Clay’s feelings just be dismissed like that! I am seriously pissed off right now.

But… rant over. I don’t want to spend much more time talking about the fact that the girl who ran out on the guy got to whine about her, practically unfounded, fear of abandonment for over half the book while he was criticised for being angry for half a chapter. And don’t even get me started on the possessive bullshit she pulled despite not having any right after what she did.

Then there was their relationship. I didn’t feel it. They were best friends and mates so they got together. That’s all there was to it. There could have been a connection between them but I just felt like that chunk of the book was missing. And at this point, I’m starting to wonder why I’ve given the book 3 stars.

Oh wait, I know. Talin is human.

For the last three books, we’ve stayed mostly with the changelings or the Psy. But this installment introduced us to the humans part of the world and I really liked getting introduced to that. Humans are, in fact, not incompetent. They’re just highly underestimated, mainly by the Psy. With the changelings, they prefer to live in their own packs so they aren’t always involved with humans.

But here they were, and it was great. Another thing that was great was seeing the past characters and the relationships, the way they’ve grown. Things with the Psy council are seriously amping up and I’m so excited for that. I mean, they’re still pulling shit but it’s more build up at this point. Things are gonna blow and people are gonna die, hopefully not any of my faves, and I can’t wait.

In the end, I can conclude that anything that didn’t have to do with Talin or the romance was good. I was interested in Clay and I wish he was given more of an arc. This is not a book I would recommend, but it introduced some pretty important characters so if you’re going to continue the series, you should read it.

Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

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Genre: Urban Fantasy, Adult, Paranormal
Pages: 400
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Release Date: March 1, 2016

3 Stars

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It’s funny how sometimes, if I put off writing the review for 2-3 days, I then have to sit and think about what I wanted to write in the review, for 20 minutes. But with this one, it’s been 10 days and I still remember all I planned to mention.

Maybe it’s because this is such a different and interesting book. It features Millie, a former movie director who, in a suicide attempt from the 7th floor of a building, lost half of both her legs. She was then diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and spent half a year in rehabilitation facility. Then she was approached by a strange woman who offered her a job that involved hollywood, her first job being to tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court.

A very strange twist in what seemed like a normal story, right? And that’s the way that the book is told. The world is surprisingly normal, with some supernatural elements that are explained in a way that would even make sense to someone whose never read a fantasy before. I loved the way the fae were incorporated into the story instead of them being the story.

The protagonist was one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. She’s a complete mess thanks to the consequences of her suicide attempt and her BPD, but she knows she’s a mess. And her self-awareness makes for some brilliant narrative. Seriously, this book is so freaking quotable. There are so many lines I’ve got marked. A couple of examples:

Next to its neighbours, the house looked like a cat lady at a PTA meeting.

Just because you don’t feel something, it doesn’t mean the other person is faking it. You know who thinks like that? Sociopaths.

Combine that with a really good plot and great side characters, and it makes absolutely zero sense that this book is completely and utterly uninteresting. Shocker, right? All those nice words and now I’m shitting on the book? I wish I wasn’t, I really do.

But the truth is, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into it. I would check how far along I was, or how much of the book was left, constantly. And even if I did manage to build some sort of flow, the moment I put the book down, it would take nothing short of an internal pep talk to get me to pick it back up. I didn’t even care to see how it was going to end. How is it possible for such a promising read to be like this? I’ve been trying to figure it out for almost two weeks. Still don’t know for sure.

I did come up with one theory. It’s that the plot is so separate from the characters that you can’t seem to care about it. But that’s not right. There were personal connections formed. I guess it’s that I didn’t feel them because the book is more clinical than emotional. And lack of emotional connection to the characters can be a problem. That’s probably it, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

Overall, I know a lot of people who loved this novel and a few who felt similar to how I did. It could go either way, and I think it’s worth a chance to find out.