Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: Their Fractured Light (Starbound, #3) 

Author(s): Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner 

Rating: 4 Stars

Note: This review is SPOILER-FREE but does mention characters from the previous books. If you would like to read my spoiler-free reviews of the prequels, click the link to read my review of These Broken Stars and This Shattered World.

3 Things I Loved About Their Fractured Light:

1. Gideon and Sofia's Doomed Romance

Oh, my. Gideon and Sofia. In their efforts to take down LaRoux Industries they wind up bumping into one another and reluctantly working together, despite the fact that they don't trust one another at all. What's more, Gideon is the famed internet hacker, the Knave of Hearts, and Sofia just happens to hate the Knave. After all, the Knave has been chasing her across planets relentlessly and won't seem to let her breathe. Only, Sofia and Gideon don't know who each other really are--they don't trust anyone, remember?--and as they slowly fall in love, the inevitable looms ever closer.

I really enjoyed Sofia and Gideon as a couple. I'll admit that their romantic angst got to be a liiiitle much by the end of the novel, only because it had dragged on for a full novel, but theirs is my favorite couple swiftly following Tarver and Lilac. You're going to be rooting for these two, both as individuals and as a couple which is always a common component in my favorite couples--if I can't love you both as strong, independent heroes then I can't fall for the dynamic duo you make together. With Gideon and Sofia, though, they tick off all the right boxes. I especially love that they are not always likable; they do not always do the right thing. Yet, they still find it in themselves to be forgiving, to love each other, and to recognize the truest parts of both themselves and the other person. It's so, so special and beautifully written... I adore it.

2. Cameo Appearances

Roughly half of this novel is all Gideon and Sofia but then the second half introduces our old favorites--Lilac, Tarver, Flynn, and Jubilee. I thought that the manner in which these three threads intertwined was brilliant and I loved seeing the three couples we've come to love and support individually join forces to take down LaRoux Industries. Their combined brain power, knowledge, and strength is immensely satisfying to behold and while the showdown isn't easy, simple, or even remotely predictable, it's enjoyable and an absolute page-turner. It's so hard to write a finale because it needs to be as grand and epic and plot twist-y as readers are hoping it's going to be and, let me tell you, this writing pair knows how to deliver. I already cannot wait for whatever they plan to write next because I'm sure it's going to be just as well-scripted and clever as this, their debut trilogy.

3. World Building

There are so many small pieces of world building that come together in this novel and, for me, this series is really DEFINED by great world building. It's evident in each novel on its own as the world building plays a huge role in the politics of every planet, shaping its conditions and its people in bold, rich hues. It's even more evident in this final installment, though, as we begin to zoom out to see the big picture. I won't say much more for fear of spoilers, but I will say that we get to know a certain group of creatures much better than we may think going into this novel and the insight that they brought, both to the world-building and the plot twists, were phenomenal.

Their Fractured Light did not disappoint in the least and I am so thrilled to not be disappointed with a series end, for once in a long time. This series has been consistently fantastic throughout, delivering believable, hard-won romances in a war-torn world with unique world-building and, what's more, it delivers on diversity in a way that few other fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi novels do. Like I said before, this writing duo is one to watch out for and I can only prepare myself for whatever they next throw as us readers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Title: Truthwitch (The Witchlands, #1)

Author: Susan Dennard

Rating: 3 Stars

A breakdown of Truthwitch:

The First Half: 2 Stars

I'll be honest: I contemplated abandoning this novel many, many times. It's not that it's boring or drags in pace but rather that it simply was not the high fantasy YA epic that the hype had led me to believe. Dennard's debut series wasn't a favorite of mine--not beyond the first book, at any rate--but I still had high hopes for this series. But, let me tell you, Truthwitch is YA fantasy-lite at best, with meager world-building and a slew of rather familiar concepts.

Obviously, my main qualm with this novel is the fact that its world-building is practically nonexistent. We have a multitude of countries who have signed a peace treaty--one which is coming to an end--and as the treaty has not been renewed, war is brewing just around the corner. Why these countries were at war in the first place is unclear. As is the individual politics of each nation, the mannerisms and culture of every country, and the general political scheme at play. The plot revolves entirely around our heroine, Safiya, who is a Truthwitch--rare and coveted witches able to discern truth from lie. In this time of political turmoil, Safiya could be a dangerous weapon in the hand of any politician and, as such, she is whisked away to safety with the help of her best friend and Threadsister, Iseut. What a Threadfamily's significance is and why everyone doesn't have one is something I can't tell you because, you know, lack of world-building.

Safiya is hot-headed and irrational, the type of heroine who acts first and thinks later. It's not quite grating kind of is. Iseut, her opposite in every way, is calm and cool, able to see the threads that bind individuals and display emotions. While both girls are extremely different, I was unable to really become invested in either during this first half. I found Safiya cumbersome and I found Iseut inscrutable. Combined with the poor world-building and the inclusion of secondary characters I felt absolutely nothing for, it is a surprise I continued with this novel at all.

The Second Half: 4 Stars

But, the second half of this novel picks up tremendously. We are introduced to action sequence after action sequence, which keeps us on the edge of our seats, and, what's more, I finally grew to care for these characters. Safiya undergoes a fair amount of growth in the second half of this novel, which I appreciated, and though Iseut grows more and more mysterious--turns out Safiya isn't the only "special" one here!--I also found myself able to understand and relate to her far more than I could originally.

It helped that the secondary characters really begin to shine in this last half, too, becoming individual personas in their own right. Adeuan, the Bloodwitch hunting Safiya and Iseut, is utterly fascinating and I desperately want to learn more about his backstory. As far as villains go, he's rather remarkable. Prince Merik, chartering a ship that holds Safiya and Iseut, is further thrust into the spotlight as our romantic interest. While the romantic tension between him and Safiya often plays out rather childishly--endless bickering!--I warmed up to them by the end. Now, that's not to say that their romantic arc is well-plotted, because it reads rather like insta-love in some parts, and further I find that Merik's personality is composed largely of his concern for Safiya but, I have hope that their relationship will be explored and develop much better in the sequels.

Unfortunately, the world-building doesn't improve in the second-half but it does expand and thought Truthwitch has had a lot of flaws for me, the second-half of this story was thoroughly enjoyable and I am definitely planning to pick up the sequel. For fans of high fantasy, YA or Adult, Truthwitch isn't going to impress. If, however, you're looking for a novel to get you into the first forays of fantasy or simply enjoy the fantasy-lite that YA is known for, then this is exactly up your alley. It has ball gowns and sea monsters, magical powers and dizzying kisses. At its core is a strong female friendship and a journey of growth and development. It isn't the political novel I wanted it to be but, nevertheless, give it a shot. It just may surprise you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Monthly Rewind(s): December & January

I AM ALIVE! I went to India for two weeks in December, returned in January and then went to Seattle for four days and have been in California for the past week or so, touring with my choir. Needless to say, I haven't had a chance to blog in a really long time--sorry!--but here's a quick re-cap (with pictures!) of my past two months!

3 Things About My Life These Months

1. I went to India! So I usually go to South India to visit both my sets of grandparents but this time I went to North India essentially as a tourist. I went to Delhi, the capital, Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, and Jaipur. Delhi and Agra are surrounded by Mughal architecture while Jaipur possesses remnants of Hindu kingdoms so the contrast was fascinating, from a historical perspective. It's also so different to live in these cities and see constant reminders of the rich history of India, both its past and its colonial background. These are ruins that don't exist at all in South India so I really, really enjoyed this trip. The weather was beautiful and the food was AMAZING. I easily gained twenty pounds but I don't even care because, let's be real, Indian cuisine is the best.

2. I went to Seattle! Admittedly, I was realllyyyy jet-lagged in Seattle but it wound up being a ton of fun because I was reunited with my friends from this past summer at my internship and we attended the Joint Math Meeting conference together. I presented my research on Saturday, the 9th, so it was just an incredible opportunity.

3. I went to California! Choir Tour is essentially a week where you eat, breathe, sit, and sleep with fifty other girls. You're with them constantly and it's such an incredible bonding experience. Last year we went to South Korea over Spring Break which was amazing because it was a foreign country but California is much more familiar and so the experiences were made incredible by the people. I really became close with so many members of the choir that I didn't know too well before and though we had to re-route our flight to avoid Juno, or Snowzilla, Boston is pristine and snowy but not too bad. :)

Best Book I Read This Month 

I read a looot of amazing novels this month so I'd have to say it's a tie between Gayle Forman's I Was Here, which I know wasn't popular with quite too many people, and a recent romance read that's been all over my newsfeed, Act Like It by Lucy Parker. I also read Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran and Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas and adored those two as well so look out for these reviews in the immediate future!

3 Things I'm Looking Forward to in February 

This is SO hard because I'm not looking forward to classes, Valentine's Day, or the snow that is usually headed our way in February. But, I'll be positive so...

1. Working Out! I'm finishing up my PE requirement this semester with badminton and I'm excited to get in shape and work out, despite the snow on the ground. I always feel so good when I'm working out and generally being healthy and strong but it can be really hard to motivate myself to go out when it's so cold so I'm looking forward to my class mostly because it means I'll already be at the gym and can do the work outs I want to do after badminton practice.

2. Choir! My choir is performing at ACDA so I'm excited to spend more time with them and really perfect the music we've been performing on tour for this competition. Plus, like I said, we're all so bonded now that spending time together is absolutely ideal! ;)

3. Reading! I genuinely want to spend more time reading this school year and I have a ton of books I'm really excited about so I'm hoping to be able to actually make time for them. I think I'll have a liiiitle more time since my extra-curriculars aren't nearly so time-consuming this semester and I won't be continuing my research from the summer anymore, so that should for sure clear up a few hours of time to really focus on ME. My health, both mentally and physically, because self-care is NOT selfish.

How was your Holiday Season? Any resolutions for the New Year? Did you do any travelling? Do you have exciting plans for the month of February? I want to hear about everything so let me know in the comments!(:

Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Title: I Was Here

Author: Gayle Forman

Rating: 4.5 Stars

I didn't expect to love I Was Here. Not only did it receive little publicity following the social media storm of Just One Day/Just One Year, but it further disappointed many longtime fans of Gayle Forman. Thus, I didn't even bother to pick it up when it released and the pretty hardcover has been resting on my shelves, collecting dust. But, the best part about traveling--especially in a country where you have no cell service and the WiFi is spotty--is that you wind up picking up the many discarded novels thrown into your suitcase.

I Was Here often doesn't feel as if it was written by Gayle Forman. While she has written dark, gritty novels that touch upon serious issues before, they have never been quite in this vein. Cody, our heroine, is bitter, caustic, and deeply confused. Meg, her best friend, has just committed suicide by swallowing poison and she cannot help but feel guilty. While the two were inseparable for much of their lives, Meg's acceptance and scholarship to a prestigious academy took her away from the small town where Cody is still stuck. While Cody is proud of Meg and so, so happy for her, she cannot help but resent her life while she cleans homes and lives with Tricia, the mother who has never wanted her. Cody was more-or-less brought up by Meg's family, the Garcia's, and with Meg away at college, living a life that Cody barely knows about, the distance between them only grows.

So when Meg kills herself, Cody is entirely blindsided. Why would Meg, who is a shining star, a fixer, a ray of sunshine, decide that ending her life was the only way to end her pain? Why was she even in so much pain? Cody, desperately seeking answers, hacks into an encrypted file on Meg's computer and her discovery pushes her to question everything she knew about her friend, about grief, and especially about death. I Was Here is not an easy book to read. It's extremely dark and deeply unsettling in a way only few things are but it's also thought-provoking and beautifully written.

Cody is the type of unlikeable protagonist I adore--one whose flaws and fears hit close to home but in a believable manner. In the Cody/Meg dynamic, I'm the one who got away--the one who left my best friends in my small town to attend a prestigious academy near a sprawling city. So the distance that Cody experiences and the new adventures that Meg has which Cody doesn't know about--I can relate. I think all college students can. In some ways, that makes this story even harder to read but I loved Cody more for her resentment and love, mixed together into a ball of emotion that only Meg could unravel. But Meg wasn't there.

Cody's emotional arc is so well-written, both in terms of her acceptance of Meg's suicide and her relationships with Tricia, her mother who seems not to care for her, and Meg's family, Sue and Joe and their ten-year-old son. I further loved the smaller arcs--the relationship between Cody and her local librarian, the way we learn about Cody through Meg's eyes, Cody's odd relationship with Meg's roommates--and especially the way all of these small interactions come together to help Cody on her path to healing. Like I said, it's a hard book to read and was slow-going for me, as a result. Even with the mystery aspect, there's an underlying sense of dread throughout the story, simply because it's so difficult to talk about suicide and suicidal thoughts. Going into that dark place is terrifying. But I have so much respect for Gayle Forman for de-stigmatizing not just mental illness, but the thoughts that inspire actions such as suicide.

Of course, there is a romance. I'm in the minority here, I know, but I loved it. It's uncomfortable because Ben and Meg knew each other--well--before Cody even came into the picture but the awkward moments are what I love about this couple. I'll admit that we don't get to see the full arc of "bad boy" Ben's reformation following his encounter with Cody, so the impact they have on one another seems unexpectedly deep, extraordinarily fast. But Gayle Forman is among the few authors who can make me believe in an instant connection between two people--somewhere between love at first sight and attraction--and for me, it worked. It helped that Ben was flawed, that he had a past which was equal parts happy and sad, that he understood Cody and respected her wishes. It also helped, I might add, that he had blue, blue eyes. I'm a sucker for blue eyes.

I Was Here is not my favorite of Forman's novels--that distinction belongs to Where She Went or Just One Year--I haven't quite figured it out--but it's still an excellent addition to the New Adult genre. It is, above all, an introspective read and I'd suggest waiting to read it at the right time. I didn't think I could wait nearly a year to read a new Gayle Forman release but there's something to be said about reading the right book at the exact right time. While I Was Here hasn't received the accolades of Forman's predecessors, I still believe it to be just as worthy of praise, if not at least one thoughtful read.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Top Five Books of 2015

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1. The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler (Review HERE, Guest Post HERE)
2. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Review HERE)
3. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh (Review HERE)
4. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (Review HERE)
5. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Review HERE)

I usually struggle to pick five or ten but this year, I had nine favorite novels and it was a no-brainer that these would be my top five. I guess I get pickier and pickier every year but I recommend these whole-heartedly so if you haven't read them, get your hands on them NOW. What are your favorite books of the year? What should I have on this list that I don't? Let me know in the comments below--I'm always looking out for new recommendations!