Monday, May 26, 2014

Review: Ruby Red

“Ruby Red,” by Kirstin Gier. The Goodreads summary:
Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
You’d think by now I’d have learned not to judge a book by its cover. I don’t know what it is about this cover, but it made me have about zero desire to read “Ruby Red.” But then I finally did anyway, and I was reminded for the billionth time why I need to stop judging books by their covers. Because I totally loved this book.

I think the thing that drew me in the most was the narrative voice. Gwyneth just tells her story in such an engaging and charismatic way. And she’s pretty dang funny as well. I think I would’ve enjoyed the plot no matter what, but the way it was told put it over the top for me. This book was originally written in German, I think, so kudos to the author for writing a book that could carry over so well into another language. And serious kudos to the translator for making the English version feel so natural. Pretty much, I just want to spend this review going on and on about how much I love Gwyneth as a main character. I basically adored the fact that although Gwyneth ends up being able to travel through time, other than that, she’s so completely normal that you can’t help but relate to her.

But maybe you might want to hear about some of the other characters too? Gideon, I really enjoyed for about 99 percent of the book. He and Gwyneth have that “I hate you but I’m secretly attracted to you” thing going on, and they pull it off well. I did think, though, that Gideon acted a bit out of character at the very end, so we’ll see if that carries over into the next books in the series. The other secondary characters were pretty great, especially Leslie, Gwyneth’s best friend. I do wish, however, that we could’ve gotten a little deeper look at Charlotte, Gwyneth’s cousin. But again, maybe in the next books.

Plot-wise, I thought that it seemed maybe a little light. Like, there could’ve been another 50 pages or something. But I guess I’d rather that than a series that tries to tackle too much in the first book. And really, handling the plot that way made me really eager to read the next books, so it was pretty effective in that way.

Overall, an amusing book with an interesting plot and a main character that I really loved. The other two books in the series are already out, and I’ll be reading them for sure.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Allegiant

“Allegiant” (Divergent #3), by Veronica Roth. The GoodReads summary:
The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.
Due to the general outrage I’ve heard over this book, I wasn’t exactly in a big hurry to read it. But I was still committed to finishing the series. So after a few months of lending it to all my friends who wanted to read it, I finally decided to break down and read it myself.

Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it, which I was happy about. While I still think the first book is by far the best, I definitely liked this third book better than the second one. In the second one, Tris annoyed me so incredibly much, and though I understood why she was acting that way, it didn’t make her any more likeable. But in this third book, Tris was back to being someone I could like and admire, for the most part.

I also remembered while reading this book how well Veronica Roth can write. I think the second book got on my nerves enough that I overlooked how deftly Roth can tell a story. But “Allegiant” reminded me that not only does Roth’s writing pull together a plot together pretty dang seamlessly, but she also can string words together in a way that skillful without drawing attention to itself. And I appreciated that she expanded the scope of the story in this third book. It felt like there were only three or four different settings in the first two books, and it was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic.

As for the thing that made everyone freak out, I have three thoughts (and I’ll try to keep it spoiler free). One, although I liked the book, I don’t think I was attached to the characters or story enough to truly care when that particular event happened. Two, I think doing what Veronica Roth did was pretty brave, considering she had to know the reaction she would get from her readers. And three, even though I think it took guts to put that in the story, I don’t think it was necessary; like, I think there were about a million other ways for the story to resolve without that event. It felt a little gratuitous.

Overall, much better than I was expecting based on other people’s reactions and how much I didn’t like the second book. While it didn’t amaze me, I was pretty content with it when I finished.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Other books in the series

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: Throne of Glass

“Throne of Glass,” by Sarah Maas. The Goodreads summary:
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
So I know that a lot of people really like this book. And I can kinda see why. But for me, this ended up being one of those books that never quite lived up to its potential. I can already tell that this is going to be one of those reviews where I spend all my time whining about the things I didn’t like rather than balancing it out with the things the book did well. So I’ll preface it all by saying that in general, the book was fine, it’s just that the things that annoyed me really annoyed me and kind of skewed my perspective.

The number 1 thing that annoyed me? The love triangle. I’m pretty much never a fan of love triangles, but this one especially grated on my nerves. I think it’s because Celaena’s attitude pissed me off. On the one hand, she acts all oblivious that she’s totally coming onto both guys, but at the same time she gets all miffed if one of them seems to stop paying attention to her. And I really just wanted to slap her sometimes. Similarly, I feel like the only reason parts of the book were from Dorian and Chaol’s perspectives were so we could see how in love with her they are—those parts didn’t really seem to advance the story in any other way.

Another thing that got to me a bit was that Celaena never really acts like an assassin. The whole book she goes on about how she’s the best assassin in the country, but you never get to see that. You get to see her training a little bit and you get glimpses of the tests, but other than that, the rest of the book is about the love triangle and about the magic stuff that crops up, and it made me feel like Celaena was all talk and no action, and it frustrated me that the author did that when she could’ve made Celaena kick butt.

I also felt like there were too many plot lines. There’s the championship contest, there’s the love triangle, there’s the champions being mysteriously murdered, there’s the visitations by long-dead queens, there’s the stuff about Kaltain . . . it just felt like too much. Or at the very least, it felt like it wasn’t woven together very well. I felt a very obvious shift each time the story moved to a different aspect of the plot, and that lack of seamlessness made the story feel a little clunky to me.

Overall, it probably wasn’t as annoying a book as I’m making it seem, but man did I get frustrated with it sometimes—especially with Celaena. But I feel like everyone else I know enjoyed the book, so don’t let this review stop you if you think it sounds like something you’d like.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review: Legend

“Legend,” by Marie Lu. The Goodreads summary:
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths - until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
“Cute” and “fun” are not typically words I use to describe books in the dystopian genre, but I kinda feel like they fit in this case. Legend was about as untaxing a dystopian as any I’ve come across, though I don’t think the author necessarily intended it that way. But the plot was pretty straightforward and the characters relatively simple, and the result for me was that the whole book went down pretty easily. I don’t mean any of this pejoratively at all. I enjoyed Legend more than quite a few other dystopians because of all these things, in fact.

Like I mentioned, the characters in this book aren’t too complex. Their motivations are clear, and although June misleads Day for a while, that gets brought out into the open pretty quick. June and Day are fairly young—15, I think—and it shows a bit in their naiveté and how quickly they get all starry-eyed about each other. This is the kind of thing that usually annoys me, but this . . . sweetness, I guess . . . fit well with the relative simplicity of the book.

Even the things like street fights, interrogations, escape attempts, and confrontations with soldiers never quite seemed as brutal as might have been realistic. And although some really tragic things happen, I never really felt for the characters; it was more like an “oh, that sucks” reaction. Again, these types of things would usually bug me, but since they meshed with the other uncomplicated aspects of the book, I didn’t care as much as I typically would.

Overall, a dystopian that stays in the shallow end. But honestly, after some of the convoluted and confusing dystopian plots I’ve read, light and easy was a bit of a relief. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll be reading the rest of the series.

Rating: 3.5 / 5
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