Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes (#1 An Ember in the Ashes)
by Sabaa Tahir

Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication date: April 28th, 2015
Pages: 446 Pages
Source: Library
Format: Hardcover

SYNOPSIS: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Trigger warnings: Sexual assault (rape)

THOUGHTS: 

Note: I do discuss some specific names and relationships. However, I don’t discuss the fate of these relationships or the plot.

  • The story is quite slow at the beginning and only begins to pick up around the 100+ page mark but nothing a dedicated reader can’t endure. (It is worth the wait)
  • Though nothing in the synopsis truly stood out to me as revolutionary, Sabaa Tahir was able to write out the story in an extremely authentic way. The novel had a very good balance between an engaging plot and an exploration of character morality and emotions. Although I must say that Elias’ storyline showed a lot more of this than Laia’s did.
  • Though Laia and Elia’s storylines start off as separate (and will unavoidably become intertwined), I found that Laia’s wasn’t developed as much. Though her back story and motivation for pushing through her difficulties were very much real and rooted in something she felt strongly for, the rest of her story and the whole Resistance concept felt severely underdeveloped in comparison to Elia’s story.
  • Another doubt I had was about Laia herself. I feared she would be proven as a “weak” character and then receive no character development. However, Sabaa Tahir challenged my expectations and the character arc that Laia underwent was really nicely done. The author kept the characters consistent and therefore, the story played out smoothly.
  • I really appreciated the romance in this book! Although it played out to be a major plot point near the end of the book, it wasn’t overbearing and it held respectable restrictions. This judgment could, however, be biased since I’m a sucker for romance but I also know an unrealistic, burns-too-bright relationship when I see one. And this isn’t it!
  • Keenan and Laia’s relationship always confused me as I found there to be no foundation or development of this relationship whatsoever. It felt like whatever “thing” the author was trying to create was unnecessary and fell flat for me.
  • My opinion of Helene was varied throughout the book but solidified into positive respect by the end. My confusing feelings of her arose through the fact that she would show a softer side of herself and then by the next chapter, she would be back to the harsh, law abiding warrior she was. However, I do understand why this was and I appreciate the author’s consistency.
  • There were some inconsistencies/unexplained situations in terms of the world building. When the Moon Festival is discussed and two of the characters go to have Moon Cakes I was confused. I thought that the characters lived in the desert and by the sound of their full names, they certainly didn’t seem Chinese. However, this was only a minor event and was one of the only inconsistencies I could find with the book.

Overall, I loved this book and Sabaa Tahir’s engaging writing just made it that much better. Elias is totally swoon worthy (I couldn’t not mention it merp) and that cliffhanger at the end of the book…

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

signature

Advertisements

Review: Pop Rock Love

Pop Rock Love
by Raine Koh

Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Manga

Publisher: Horasis
Publication date: December 19th 2013
Pages: 212 Pages
Source: Sent for review
Format: Hard copy

Synopsis: Before she had a whirlwind affair with a mysterious Japanese breakdancer named Yuki, Mimi was contented with belting out rock tunes at a pub on the island city of Singapore. When Yuki suddenly disappears, Mimi goes to Tokyo in search of him and discovers that he actually belongs to a sugary-pop, manufactured boy band called the Fire Boys. Mimi and Yuki belong to different worlds. Is their love strong enough to triumph over all?

Thoughts:
– I quite enjoyed the story as a whole. The plot line was well-done and I liked watching the development occurring within Mimi’s life.
– The author tends to be more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ in some cases and sometimes, nothing was left to the imagination. I personally would’ve preferred for there to be less exact description of every object Mimi came across as it did end up being unnecessarily detailed in parts.
– The story was actually flowing quite well and I liked where it was going. However, at the very end, I was almost disappointed to see the story come right back around to where it started. One of the things that irked me the most about the end was how we never found out what happened to Sato. It’s as though he was just cut off from the story and we received no ending for him, especially since I was really starting to see a development in his personality.
– The characters and relationships in the book were all very likeable and realistic.
– The concept of a “controversial” love between two musicians was something I’ve never read about but thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve never been much of an Asian pop fan but I’ve heard of the intensity of some music groups. Whether or not the information used in the book was true, I still found it a really interesting take and twist on their relationship.
– I feel as though the writing was a little too simplified in the sense that I only got a sense of the plot line but nothing about actual society and the bigger picture.

 

Rating: 3/ 5 stars

Favourite Books of 2014 (so far)

In celebration of my completion of my Goodreads challenge in which I set myself a goal of 40 books, I’ll be discussing my favourite books of 2014 so far! (in no particular order)

Ignite Me (#3 Shatter Me)
by Tahereh Mafi

Thoughts: I guess everyone has a soft spot for last books in series, especially when the characters get the ending they deserve. And that is exactly what happens in Ignite Me.

I won’t get into specific details about the book since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the whole series but I will say that the entirety of this book, not just the ending is perfection.

Tahereh Mafi has one of the most unique yet beautiful writing styles I’ve ever read and it makes for the whole series to be such a pleasure to read.

 

Fangirl
by Rainbow Rowell

Thoughts: This year, I’ve been trying to read more contemporary books and let me tell you, I have had absolutely no regrets so far. Every single one of the contemporary books I’ve picked up this year have been amazing but Fangirl is just …. I can’t.

This book combines two awesome things: a main character that is an actual fangirl and a cute male interest that is actually a genuine guy. The overall story was just so cute and the title of this book doesn’t just represent the fact that Cath is a fangirl but it also also represents the thing I was doing multiple times throughout the book: fangirling.

 

Crown of Midnight (#2 Throne of Glass)
by Sarah J. Maas

Thoughts: Having finished this last night, I’m still reeling from the epicness of this book. Seriously though. If I had to describe this whole series so far in one word, I would use: epic.

Sarah J. Maas has used her amazing (and still improving) writing skills to bestow upon us the most kickass heroine of all time. So no more annoying, helpless heroines *phew*

Not only is she awesome but all the characters in this book are so intricately built up and well, badass. The plot of this was great and your view on people and Adarlan is constantly changing, so you’re just left reeling by the end of the book. Oh and talk about that ending!

 

Champion (#3 Legend)
by Marie Lu

Thoughts: Champion is another last book in a series and a book that all people should read. The ending of this book is so well done since it has a perfect balance between an open and closed ending. If you’ve been suffering a little bit from the kinda awful endings of some books this year *cough* Requiem and Allegiant *cough*, this book will give you hope that not all YA dystopians are doomed for that kind of … injustice.

Also, this book (and the whole trilogy in fact) is super fast-paced and it really does run like a movie in your head. The whole story was action-packed and the characters stayed  true to their own values whilst developing realistically at the same time.

 

We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart

Thoughts: This is one of the most moving and powerful books I’ve ever read.
From the very start, you can just tell that this story isn’t going to be your typical contemporary novel. Although I do admit, I spent over 5 minutes on the first 5 pages of this book since I couldn’t wrap my head around all the new characters so I’m infinitely grateful to the family tree and map at the front of the book.

I love how everything was so intricately woven together and how the author used fairy tales and metaphors to describe the main character’s feelings and description of situations. And of course, who can forget the moment when everything suddenly makes sense and you’re just so mind blown and shocked.

 

City of Heavenly Fire (#6 The Mortal Instruments)
by Cassandra Clare

Thoughts: No “Favourite books” list this year can be complete without this book.

But seriously. THIS BOOK.
I have been waiting ever since I finished City of Lost Souls for this darned book to come out and so when I first see the page count of this, I’m ecstatic. 725 pages of romance and Shadowhunter action? Score! But that also leaves 725 pages too many for a confirmed 6 deaths to occur and continual suffering as you wonder: Will Jace and Clary be together? Is my Magnus and Alec ship about to sink?

And in some parts, Cassandra Clare brings you uncomfortably close to these questions being answered in an unfavourable way. Whether or not she actually pushes you over the edge into the pit of constant sad feels and mourning is for you find out when you read the book.

Since this is the last book I have on my favourites list, I’ll just break the text structure and finally write a little bit more on what I actually thought about this book.

I’ve always liked the fact that The Mortal Instruments series was not told from just one character’s perspective and that really did play as an advantage in City of Heavenly Fire. Being such a big book, I don’t think the story could’ve been as intricate and well-done if we had only read from Clary’s perspective, for example. It was also really heart-warming to see Clary and Jace finally meeting Jem and Tessa (from the Infernal Devices trilogy).

Also, I loved Sebastian as a character. He was just so intriguing and I won’t tell you what his fate is in this book but personally, I was not completely satisfied. You do see a chance for possible redemption for Sebastian and I really liked how Cassandra Clare crafted Sebastian in those scenes.

—-

So, those are my thoughts on my favourite books of 2014! I’ve added ‘so far’ in brackets since who knows, I may read an amazing book before 2015 rolls around the corner. And that is actually very likely since there are loads of sequels and series endings coming soon. I’ve actually made a video about them which you can watch here!

Book Review: Minutes before Sunset

Minutes before Sunset (#1 The Timely Death Trilogy)
by Shannon A. Thompson

Genre(s): Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy
Publisher: AEC Stellar Publishing
Publication date: May 1st 2013
Pages: 247 Pages
Source: Sent for review
Format: eBook

Synopsis: She was undoubtedly a shade, but I didn’t know her.

Eric Welborn isn’t completely human, but he isn’t the only shade in the small Midwest town of Hayworth. With one year left before his eighteenth birthday, Eric is destined to win a long-raging war for his kind. But then she happens. In the middle of the night, Eric meets a nameless shade, and she’s powerful—too powerful—and his beliefs are altered. The Dark has lied to him, and he’s determined to figure out exactly what lies were told, even if the secrets protect his survival.

He had gotten so close to me—and I couldn’t move—I couldn’t get away.

Jessica Taylor moves to Hayworth, and her only goal is to find more information on her deceased biological family. Her adoptive parents agree to help on one condition: perfect grades. And Jessica is distraught when she’s assigned as Eric’s class partner. He won’t help, let alone talk to her, but she’s determined to change him—even if it means revealing everything he’s strived to hide.

Thoughts: 

  • The concept of this book series is really interesting and not something I’ve really seen before. This twist on Light being evil and Darkness being good was something I’d never seen before. This being said, I felt like I never quite got a grasp on how the Shades and Lights worked.
  • The telling of the story from two point-of-views (Eric and Jessica) was really smart because both these characters had two identities (Shade and Human). There was this constant build-up as both characters’ lives (in Shade and Human form) became more and more intertwined. You were kept in suspense as you wondered when both their lives would come crashing together.
  • I was never too fond of Jessica as a possible female protagonist. She acted before she could think things through and this made her annoying at times. I felt like her development in her Shade powers was too sudden and unrealistic. She was physically stronger than people who had trained all their lives.
  • I was also confused as to how Jessica had a different appearance when she met Shoman (Eric’s Shade form) for the first time because she didn’t know what she was and I didn’t think she’d know how to change appearance. She’d never mentioned being able to do it.
  • Eric was really likeable. His character development, even though not significant, was still great to read about. He learnt to be more responsible and tried his best to mend broken relationships. At the same time, he worked hard and stayed funny and sarcastic.

Writing and Plot:
The writing in this book was enjoyable and easy to read. I can’t say that it was overly special as I felt as though descriptions were always quite simple and lacked any extra flair. In terms of plot, the book was continuously entertaining and action-packed. It had a fairly positive ending but there are still some loose ends waiting to be tied in the next book.

Overall, this book surprised me with it’s level of entertainment and addictiveness. The action was awesome and the book definitely questioned the usual: Light vs. Dark concept.

Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Quotes:

“One moment of true happiness was worth all the moments of pain.”

“Fate was a reality, but it wasn’t a beautiful or angelic thing. It was a heart-wrenching nightmare. And we’d fallen blindly into it. We had no escape. It was happening, and it was up to me to guarantee our survival of it.”

“I wasn’t sure what was worse: being oblivious or living within reality.”  

Check out the author’s blog: http://shannonathompson.com/

The sequel, Seconds before Sunrise, will be coming out this March!

Book Review: Across the Universe

Across the Universe (#1 Across the Universe)
by Beth Revis

Genre(s): Young Adult, Science Fiction (Dystopian), Fiction
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication date: January 11th, 2011
Pages: 398 Pages
Source: Bought
Format: Hardcover

SYNOPSIS: Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

THOUGHTS:
Even though this book is based upon a spaceship, Godspeed is virtually its own world. Across the Universe follows many typical Dystopian book conventions. There is an attempt at a perfect, controlled “society” within Godspeed and as soon as Amy, a human from Sol-Earth, meets Elder, rebellion sparks. Obviously.

The book virtually follows Elder’s journey training for Eldest position, and Amy and Elder searching for the person that is unplugging the frozen people from Sol-Earth. The plot was very well paced and there were various events to keep the plot flowing nicely. There were many intense scenes like the scene with Amy running through the park during the Season and the scenes that built up to the climax.

The characters were where the story fell through for me. I never felt like I got a good understanding of the characters, especially Elder and Doc. The way they acted towards other characters was not very consistent and I was never able to get a clear idea of their personality. However, I did find the characters to be generally likeable (except Eldest obviously) and I also really liked Amy’s character. She was very relatable and made a good protagonist. However, I don’t see her being a particularly memorable heroine as of now as there is nothing overly special about her.

The Climax: Disappointingly, I was not surprised too much by the discovery of the person who was opening the cyro boxes. Near the beginning of the book, after Amy and Elder had already met, there was an encounter between two characters that gave me a suspicion that that character was definitely the culprit. However, I do believe that there was a great build-up towards the climax and the story drew itself together quite well at the end. The action for this story has wrapped itself up and the characters are fairly safe for now. However, there are still a few plot-lines that have not been drawn together and this helps give that extra push to read the second book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Quotes:

“I realize the simple truth is that power isn’t control at all–power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others so that they may have the strength to stand on their own.” 

“A leader doesn’t make pawns – he makes people.” 

“And I look at Harley, and the billions of stars are in his eyes, and he’s drinking them up, pouring them into his soul.”

Cover: 
Across the Universe has a double-sided dust jacket and both of them are beautiful!

A comparison of both dust jackets. The inside cover (left) shows the blueprint of GodspeedThe outside cover (right) is just gorgeous. The colours and the stars look amazing!

Book Review: The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys (#1 The Raven Cycle)
by Maggie Stiefvater

Genre(s): Young Adult, Paranormal, Magic, Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication date: September 18th, 2012
Pages: 409 Pages
Source: Bought
Format: Hardcover

SYNOPSIS: It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

THOUGHTS:
Just by reading the synopsis for this book, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I expected a story about forbidden love and charming boys. However, continuing into the book, I was pleasantly surprised!

At first, I found it hard to adjust to Maggie Stiefvater’s way of writing, perhaps because I had never read her books before and also very rarely come across third-person omniscient YA novels. However, continuing further on, I was able to read with more ease as I got used to her writing style.

The beginning chapters of the book come from both Blue and the Raven Boys’ point of views. This is just to get you settled into their usual lives and do a little bit of world building as well. However, reading it, I had no idea where the plot was heading. It was really only when Blue and the raven boys had met that the possible plot line started to emerge. Even then, I read through understanding what was going on but not fully grasping the concept of the book because it was something I had never really read about before. Having said that, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of plot and events, which made it an interesting and unique read.

One of my favourite things about this book would definitely have to be the characters. Blue, which is a unique yet great name for a female character, is a teenager and she was very relatable. She was always very relaxed and reacted realistically to situations and other people. The raven boys: Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah – were all very different but got along very well as a team. All the boys were very charming in their own ways and all had a different approach and relationship with Blue.

I also really liked the romance in this book. Entering the book, I did have an idea of who Blue’s true love would be but as I read further, I was not as certain.
The relationship was built up slowly, especially because Blue cannot kiss anyone (or they will likely die). There was a romantic relationship but it was very casual and oh goodness, realistic. Thank the heavens for a believable yet equally cute relationship.

I believe that Maggie Stiefvater has crafted this story perfectly! She builds the world, plot and characters at a slow but reasonable pace and the story itself is very complexly layered. There are many puzzles that you have to put together yourself but once done, you are left feeling triumphant. This is what good writing is all about! There is a good blend of magic, mystery and intrigue in this story.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Quotes:

“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.” 

“My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.” 

“The fact was, by the time she got to high school, being weird and proud of it was an asset. Suddenly cool, Blue could’ve happily had any number of friends. And she had tried. But the problem with being weird was that everyone else was ‘normal'”.”