Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Of Beast and Beauty

“Of Beast and Beauty,” by Stacey Jay. The Goodreads summary:
In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.
So good! It was way better than I was expecting. I was seriously impressed. It’s not like I had particularly low expectations for this book or anything, but I’ve just not been having super great luck with books recently, so I expected this one to follow suit. But I was so happy when it didn’t.

Admittedly, I don’t think any Beauty and the Beast retelling could ever live up to Robin McKinley’s duo, but those are very much classic retellings. “Of Beast and Beauty” takes the basic fairytale and transforms it into something uniquely its own. It’s mostly fantasy but kinda sci-fi too, and the world the author has created, while you don’t get to see all that much of it, is fascinating and complete with its own set of prejudices and social issues. And I loved how the lines were blurred between who was Beauty and who was the Beast. Gem and Isra are both . . . both, and it was just so dang clever of the author to do that.

Gem, I loved the whole time, but I feel like there’s not really all that much else to say about him. Tall, dark, handsome, brooding—what else do you need? Isra was a bit more interesting of a character, because while she’s likeable the whole time, she starts off weak and na├»ve and powerless. But then as the story progresses, she slowly comes into her own and finds her way. She reminded me a bit of Elisa from the Girl of Fire and Thorns series in that way. Gem and Isra were both characters that had me thinking about them even when I wasn’t reading the book, and when I finished it, they and their story stayed right there with me. (Which, since I finished this book right before bed, made it dang hard to fall asleep, let me tell ya.)

Overall, I enjoyed just about every single thing about this story. Not only was it a fresh take on Beauty and the Beast, but it was a fresh take that was done well. I whole-heartedly approve.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: Golden

“Golden,” by Jessi Kirby. The Goodreads summary:
Seventeen-year-old Parker Frost has never taken the road less traveled. Valedictorian and quintessential good girl, she’s about to graduate high school without ever having kissed her crush or broken the rules. So when fate drops a clue in her lap—one that might be the key to unraveling a town mystery—she decides to take a chance.

Julianna Farnetti and Shane Cruz are remembered as the golden couple of Summit Lakes High—perfect in every way, meant to be together forever. But Julianna’s journal tells a different story—one of doubts about Shane and a forbidden romance with an older, artistic guy. These are the secrets that were swept away with her the night that Shane’s jeep plunged into an icy river, leaving behind a grieving town and no bodies to bury.

Reading Julianna’s journal gives Parker the courage to start to really live—and it also gives her reasons to question what really happened the night of the accident. Armed with clues from the past, Parker enlists the help of her best friend, Kat, and Trevor, her longtime crush, to track down some leads. The mystery ends up taking Parker places that she never could have imagined. And she soon finds that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.
I read “Moonglass” by this author ages ago, and while I don’t remember all that much about it, I know I thought it was adequate but not really anything special. And I think that’s how I’d characterize “Golden” too.

To me, nothing about “Golden” felt original or surprising. I mean, sure, I wasn’t 100 percent sure how things with Parker’s quest would turn out, but nothing about Parker herself or her situation felt unique to me. She didn’t stand out from any of the other likeable, over-achieving YA heroines who learn to loosen up. I felt like I’ve read different iterations of this same story a hundred other times. And it’s a story that, while I tolerate it just fine, I’m finally starting to get tired of.

The first half of the book felt pretty slow to me. I found myself starting to skim, and since I almost never skim, the fact that I wanted to with this book was pretty damning. I thought about not finishing the book, but since I knew so many people like it, I decided to press on. And truthfully, the second half was better. The pace picked up, and I started to finally get interested in the 10-year-old mystery Parker’s trying to solve. So that was a saving grace.

The romance in this book . . . I honestly can’t decide if I liked that it didn’t play a major role or if that same fact annoyed me. Because while I appreciate books that have enough other plot that they don’t have to rely entirely on the romance for the story, at the same time the romance is pretty much always my favorite part of the book. So I’m still divided on that issue with this book.

Overall, the book was fine but nothing new. I’ve been in a weird funk with YAs lately, so that may be affecting my feelings about this one, but either way, I wasn’t really impressed.

Rating: 3 / 5
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