Book Review: The Forever Song

safehTitle: The Forever Song
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available April 15

Summary: VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

MONSTER

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone. (Via Amazon)

Review:
One wouldn’t think a book whose primary theme is family would be about killer vampires, but one would be wrong because with “The Forever Song,” Julie Kagawa finishes her epic Blood of Eden trilogy with a novel focused on family. If you read “The Eternity Cure,” you know that Allie, Jackal and Kanin make a good team, but in this novel, you get to experience them interact as a “family”.  And OMG is it hilarious! Allie and Jackal are the typical big brother and kid sister who love to hate each other, with Jackal getting some good zings in. And poor Kanin is the exhausted parent on the family road trip who puts up with the kid’s shenanigans until a certain point and then threatens “Do you want me to pull over” to calm everyone down. I loved the fact that despite being ferocious killers, Kagawa really humanizes the three with this familial , especially Jackal and Kanin, so by the end, the three of them are really a picture of a functional family.

Of course The Forever Song, being a novel with vampires and dealing with a crazy vampire such as Sarren, has “happy” times are equally punctuated by events that just hurt. I can’t go into detail without giving spoilers, but I can say there were a few moments in the novel where my heart broke. There were also a few times where I thought, “Should I really be eating while I’m reading this?” Kagawa does not insult her readers by holding back on descriptions of violence and I respect that quality of hers. The world that Allie lives in is desolate and dangerous with the struggle to survive in a land filled with raiders, psychotic vampires and rabids.

Lastly, one theme I really enjoyed throughout this book, and the series, is the concept of being human. Kagawa truly explores this concept by having Allie deal with the loss of Zeke, her link to humanity, and her struggle to maintain the monster she knows lurks beneath the surface. The questions that Allie ponders, and is challenged by Jackal, and encouraged by Kanin, really give a balance to the deep philosophical questions most of us would have if we were facing the end of our known world.

I’m sad that the Blood of Eden trilogy has come to an end because I greatly enjoyed the world that Kagawa created and being inside Allie’s head for a short time. While the novel ends in such a way that the story is finished, there is room for more. Ms. Kagawa, I’m not quite ready to leave Allie behind; is there a chance we’ll ever visit her again? Please?

Recommendation: You better go buy this book on April 15!

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Book Review: Ignite Me

courtesy of Goodreads

courtesy of Goodreads

Title: Ignite Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 408
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew-about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam-was wrong. (Via Goodreads)

Review: Sigh. Another series ending and another disappointment. Maybe I had built up too much in my head, or maybe I had hoped for a meaningful conclusion, but either way, I was less than thrilled by the final book of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. This installment focused less on the rebellion and more on the developing romance between Juliette and Warner. Maybe because Warner is one of my least favorite characters that I didn’t enjoy the direction this book took, or that Adam seemed to be acting completely out of character for the entire book (though Juliette does comment on it), I just felt like this last book was all about the “love triangle” and not about Juliette becoming free from the Reestablishment. I felt like Mafi wanted Ignite Me to go in a certain direction and forced that direction by having the reader (via Juliette) learn that events from previous books were not what they seemed to be. I feel like I was manipulated to like Warner, and have him be the best romantic lead ever, when in reality, despite learning more about him, he still reads, at least to me, as an ass. I know we are creatures made from our surroundings, but some of the things Warner does, even when you can see his rationalization, makes him still a jerk. I just don’t like him and as the book progressed, my enjoyment of the story continued to decline. I was just not feeling the romance angle of the story, and it seemed to occupy about 90% of the plot! I liked Adam from the beginning, and granted because Juliette has changed so much that she outgrew their relationship, his behavior towards her throughout the book was appalling. The way Mafi wrote him, he was a completely different character. I kept waiting for an apology or for some explanation as to why he was acting so strange, but it never came. To me, the decision to make Adam so crazy and never explain it is a loose end that Mafi needs to wrap up somewhere. Speaking of loose ends, I don’t feel like the story is finished. As I was reading, I was noticing my remaining pages were getting low, but there was still so much more story, at least I felt, to go. The novel just kind of ends. I would have liked an epilogue or something – just to know what happened after. Maybe Mafi has more hiding up her sleeve, but I know that also added to my dissatisfaction with the novel.

On the plus side, Mafi’s writing is as beautiful as ever. So many wonderful passages written like poetry and she is able to wield stream-of-consciousness writing like a master swordsman; her prose was made me fall in love with the series in the first place. As Juliette became more sane, the style of the writing changed, but in Ignite Me, there is a wonderful balance. There is one chapter that after I read it, I had to put the book down and just linger in the beauty of the language, the exquisite metaphor used. Mafi also makes a daring choice in one chapter, a moment between Warner and Juliette that I hadn’t seen in a YA book before, and I applaud her for it. I feel like in that instance Mafi didn’t insult her readers and beautifully dealt with an aspect of relationships that other YA books work hard to avoid. It was handled in a way only Mafi can do and allowed the reader to truly feel how Juliette would be able to be so daring.

Recommendation: I don’t want to say wait a while, but I don’t say read it now. However, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably already read it. However, Juliette is a good character and her growth throughout the series is beautifully done. If you are in the mood for reading about a young lady discovering her self-worth and becoming empowered, the Shatter Me series is a good place to start.

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Book Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

warriorTitle: Warrior
Author: Ellen Oh
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 327
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.
Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. – cover and summary via Indiebound

 
Review: First Julie Kagawa ends The Eternity Cure with a cliffhanger and then Ellen Oh does the same thing with Warrior! Really, ladies?! Why must you be so cruel? Why must you break my heart so? I will say, based on the ending of Warrior, the third book will probably be amazing and I can’t wait to get it into my eagerly awaiting hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 
Warrior picks up just days after Prophecy leaves off,  the events of the first book still very fresh in the hearts of Kira and her family. The book also deals with the political fallout of the events and Oh spends some time dealing with the issue of what would happen to a kingdom that has lost both its King & Queen and is now ruled by another. I greatly enjoyed this aspect, exploring the after effects of war both from a psychological and political perspective. The reprieve is short lived when the new King is assassinated, and Kira’s life and that of her cousin Taejo is put in jeopardy. In Prophecy, Kira was tasked to find the first of three magical objects signifying the fulfillment of the Dragon King prophecy and this new threat to Kira and Teajo’s lives is the catalyst for them to go in search for the jeweled dagger. Off their troupe travels, this time meeting new mythical helpers as well as fighting an even creepier demon army than before. Seriously, this demon army that the Demon Lord creates is effective and deadly. There were times when I seriously wondered who would get out alive in the battles and was praying for some of my favorite characters.

 
One of the treats of this novel, for me, is that Oh explores more of the world of the Seven Kingdoms. This time we head north, via an adventure at sea and then traveling through the snow to the mountains. I love watching Korean Dramas, and after watching so many, I have a visual picture in my mind of the landscapes that Oh describes so beautifully. I imagine the world that I’m familiar with layered with the fantastical elements Oh adds. The strength of the novel lies in Oh’s descriptions of her world and having us truly feel what the characters are feeling. The cold that Kira and her group experience as they travel towards the mountains, I could feel in my bones. Many times I curled up tighter in my blankets because I could clearly imagine the chill that Kira felt.

 
While I’m angry that Oh just ended the story on a cliffhanger, I know that the next novel will be a thrilling conclusion to the series and I can’t wait.

 
Recommendation: Go buy it now!

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Book Review: He Said She Said

Title: He Said She Said
Author: Kwame Alexander
Genres: Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 330
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers
Review Copy: ebook from Amazon
Availability: On Shelves now

he saidSummary: He says: Omar T-Diddy Smalls has got it made: a full football ride to UMiami, hero-worship status at school, and pick of any girl at West Charleston High.

She says: Football, shmootball. Here’s what Claudia Clarke cares about: the hungry, the poor, the disenfranchised, Harvard, her GPA, Pat Conroy, the staggering teen pregnancy rate, investigative journalism…the list goes on. She does NOT have a minute to waste on Mr. T-Diddy Smalls and his harem of bimbos.

He Said, She Said is a fun and fresh novel from Kwame Alexander that throws these two high school seniors together when they unexpectedly end up leading the biggest social protest this side of the Mississippi—with a lot of help from Facebook and Twitter.

The stakes are high, the romance is hot, and when these worlds collide, behold the fireworks! — cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: I have yet to read a “hip hop” novel because the genre doesn’t appeal to me, but I thought I’d check out “He Said, She Said” because I know of Kwame Alexander’s work with school kids and admire his Book-in-a-Day program. I know he is a talented poet and children’s author, so I was looking forward to reading his first young adult novel. Unfortunately, Alexander’s novel didn’t sway me into reading more “hip hop” novels.

When I teach creative writing with my students, I encourage them to “show, not tell” by adding dialogue to their short stories. Usually, in a creative work, the use of dialogue adds to the story, moves the plot forward, reveals character, etc. In Alexander’s novel, the overuse of a dialogue backfires and instead leads to more telling, rather than showing. Because Alexander relied heavily on dialogue to tell his story, I never got a sense of setting, of the physical world Omar and Claudia live in. For example, they protest that their school is run down, but there is not a single description of the school. In what way was the school run down? Were the walls filled with graffiti? Were all the toilets broken? Were there broken desks everywhere?  Dialogue in a story is helpful, but all the senses need to be engaged for a reader to really lose themselves in a story and Alexander does not make use of all the senses.

I’m big into writers creating well-rounded characters, flawed characters, characters that make us root for them. Again, unfortunately for Alexander, the male main character, Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls, is extremely unlikeable. The reader is supposed to not like him in the beginning so that we can see his growth, but the change truly comes a little to late. I think Alexander tried to have the reader like Omar earlier, but he would always ruin a moment of Omar’s growth by some gross sexist comment towards Claudia and “getting in her panties”. I understand teenage boys can be that foul, but even in his quiet moments, Omar’s thoughts were the same. It got really annoying after a while. I also felt that Claudia could have been written better instead of written as “the hard to get girl who eventually crumbles to the bad boy’s charm”.  It’s such a bad trope and not very true to life. At times it felt as if the feelings Claudia began to have for Omar came out from no where and not from a genuine place. In fact, both Omar and Claudia didn’t feel very genuine at all. They were one dimensional characters that were often there to occasionally shout platitudes towards fighting the man, and to create a very unconvincing love story.

He Said, She Said is a good premise – two unlikely people finding love while finding a purpose – but in execution, the story is lacking. I feel that Alexander could have relied less on the use of dialogue (literally pages at a time) and spent more time constructing the story. He Said She Said could have used a few more rounds of revision in order to make this a truly engrossing novel.

Recommendation: Skip It.

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Book Review: Champion

Title: Ch14290364ampion
Author: Marie Lu
Genres: Dystopian, SciFi
Pages: 369
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Review Copy: Target!
Availability: On Shelves now

Review: I wish I could write gushing praise for Champion. I really wanted to say that I loved the novel and everyone needs to run out and buy it right now. I wish I could say a lot of things, but what I truly wish for is a different ending to the book. For me, I might enjoy 80-90% of a book, tv, or movie, but if the ending is not done well, then I usually end up disappointed with the entire product. Unfortunately, I did not like the ending to Champion and it has sullied my entire enjoyment of the novel. I will not say why I didn’t like the book because I’m not one to ruin someone’s reading pleasure and give away the end of the book, so you’ll just have to read it for yourselves.

The rest of the novel, with the exception of the last 20 pages, was tense with almost non-stop action. After all, the entire book encompasses a very short time period (a week, I think) where Day and June are literally fighting for their lives, for the lives of the people of the Republic, as well as trying to find a cure for the new plague. This makes for some very intense moments where Day and June have to make adult decisions that will effect their entire nation. That is a lot of responsibility for teenagers, but as established in Legend and Prodigy, Day and June are not ordinary teenagers. Their relationship begins strained at the beginning of the novel, but they eventually come together and the scene where they finally admit how they feel for each other is one of the best in the book. I cheered for them and hoped against hoped that Day and June would be able to have their happy ending. At that point in the story, it really didn’t look like that was going to happen, so much Kudos to Marie Lu for keeping the reader in such suspense.

One aspect of Champion that I really loved was learning more about the world that Day and June live in. In my copy there was a map of the world that showed how the melting of the glaciers affected the entire globe. We learn that Africa is a superpower and that Antarctica is a thriving continent, with a wonderful super-charged technology advanced city and even has their own language. This attention to world building detail thrilled me and I even wondered what the Antarctican language sounded like and where it’s roots where. While Prodigy explained more of what happened to the United States, Champion gives more information as to how the world changed and the former US’s status among the world’s governments. To me, the world that Lu created feels very real and I can imagine our future turning into Day and June’s familiar world.

Overall, maybe my disappointment comes from having Day and June’s story come to an end. I seriously loved Legend and Prodigy, and was eagerly anticipating Champion. Day and June, for me, are one-of-a-kind characters and I grew to really care for them. I cared for each of their individual stories, their heartaches, and I cared for them as a couple. I felt they were a realistic portrayal of a couple who pushes and challenges the other to be better, while at the same time can work together as a team. That type of relationship is uncommon in Young Adult fiction these days, but I hope that more publishers take note on the popularity of Lu’s series and publish more novels where the teens are equals to each other instead of a lopsided relationship.

Marie Lu, thank you for giving us Day and June. I will miss them greatly.

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