The Cruel Prince

As you’ll see if you simply scroll down, I did not love this book, and I really wanted to love this book. I picked it up at the Astoria Bookshop at the beginning of the year, close to after it was released, and was ecstatic to grab the last available copy at the store–they were running it for their February Teen Book Club and I thought, well everyone is already talking about this, let me snag it. And I was left wanting a lot more in a book that is highly rated and reviewed on multiple sites.

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Published by Little Brown Books on January 2nd, 2018
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Royalty, Power, Identity, Family, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


 

I think we should get all the things I disliked out of the way first, that way I can end on a good note.

First of all, and this is something that bothers me in any book that does it, not just The Cruel Prince, but I am absolutely irritated by any book that participates in any form of branding. The sisters, Vivienne, Taryn, and Jude, grew up in our, mortal world, even though Vivienne is half fae, so at the beginning of the novel, the scene is set that the sisters at a young age are sitting in their regular, mortal home doing regular mortal things that you and I would do. This is fine! There are plenty, plenty of YA and other books I read that are set in the real world and don’t include any supernatural elements. Of course, these books are going to have their protagonists doing “real world things” like watching TV and using the microwave, but the instance an author attaches the specific brand to these items, I turn away. For example, when the sisters sneak back into the mortal world and go to the mall, they go into actual, brand name stores like Target or Sephora. They wear Converses and have iPhones. And to me, this is all unnecessary. I am an early modern scholar and one thing that fascinates me is that more than 400 years later, we’re still reading these books, plays, poems, etc. and unfortunately for Black, by adding the Apple Store as a place of interest, she instantly dates herself–The Cruel Prince will not outlast this generation. Is this even her goal? Probably not and that’s fine! But if any writer wants to be the next JK Rowling, they should probably not include brands that potentially won’t be around in the future.

Furthermore, books are my escape, as I know they are for many people, and by having the girls shopping at Target, Black pulls me out of the story, reminding me of the shopping I need to do at my Target, instead of keeping me sucked in. I am reminded that my mortal world is not glamorous. All of this, I believe, can be achieved without the use of brands. The brands don’t actually do anything except noting to the reader that “Look! These girls also shop at Sephora! Gosh, they’re just like me!” One could simply say that the girls went and bought makeup at a high-end store–then my mind can conjure the image of a Sephora, without having the black and white stripes, annoying and sometimes terrible sales-people, unruly and dirty testers, and screaming kids blaring in my head. I wonder when authors do this if they are hoping for a pay cut from such stores just for mentioning them.

Secondly, Black switches writing styles often. I have read a lot. A lot, a lot. I have read every genre under the sun and will continue to do so. I already have one degree in reading and will soon have one more. My point is that I understand writing styles–I’ve literally had to be trained in it to pass classes before. And there are tons of writers that break these stylistic rules (Thinking of James Joyce or Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne are studied because they do break all stylistic rules), but those authors are doing it for a reason and do it, dare I say, well. Black does not. I am thinking specifically of Chapter 6, which is roughly three pages of Jude (the protagonist) stating that she has begun the story (I assume of her life?) incorrectly and then promptly lists three things that she wants the reader to know and understand before continuing forward. A bold move for sure. Black has Jude break the fourth wall (which, she was already doing by using brands but I digress…) and this is an interesting turn of events. I can work with this, I don’t mind a good fourth wall break in a YA, in fact, it’s refreshing. But what Black doesn’t do is continue this method. Jude never once points out to the reader that she’s actually telling a story rather than living one that we’re looking over like some omniscient presence. She doesn’t break the wall again and this makes Chapter 6 all but useless. The point of mentioning Joyce and Sterne is that the entirety of Ulysses or Tristam Shandy is one style breaker after the next, not just one chapter.

Okay, enough with the bad stuff, some people really loved The Cruel Prince and I will now try to convey the things that I did enjoy. I did somewhat like the characters; I saw a lot of promise in Jude and in fact, I thought there would be more twists and turns to her story than there was. I thought that the harshness of Carden’s gang was a little over the top for soon-to-be adults–it sounded more like ridiculous fourteen-year-old stunts than that of seventeen, eighteen-year-olds, but Jude standing up against Valerian (if you’ve read, then you know what I’m referring to) was a good twist and left me wanting more of that. The ending itself, and while I try to not spoil anything, is great. The ease it took to guess what was going to happen throughout the book did not prepare me for the ending and I was pleasantly surprised. Furthermore, the actual description of the secondary characters and the setting is outstanding. It is very descriptive and different from the other faerie realm stories I’ve read in the sense that the descriptions were very Grimm’s Tales-esque, meaning the faeries weren’t just handsome and airy, some were goblins and trolls, with crooked noses and beat-up faces.

Overall? I haven’t decided if I’m going to be purchasing the sequel if that gives you any indication of where I’m at. Pretty much any faerie world book I read, I always compare to Sara J Maas’ A Court of Thornes and Roses series. Is this bad? Probably, but those books are some of my favorites and while Black does interesting things with the faeries that Maas doesn’t do, she really misses the mark on keeping me invested in a contemporary yet fantastical YA.

If you really enjoyed The Cruel Prince, let me know why in the comments down below! I’m more than happy to revisit the pieces I may have overlooked.

Dangerous Lies

The Hush, Hush saga is probably one of my favorite series to ever be in books. I specifically remember the scene in the first book, Hush, Hush, when Patch comes over to Nora’s house and he lifts her onto the kitchen counter, and it’s all dark in the kitchen, and Nora turns Patch’s blue baseball cap around so she can get closer to his face and THEY DON’T EVEN KISS. But the build-up of that scene is so incredible that I can literally remember it and get flustered all over again just thinking about it. This series is the only books I have read by Fitzpatrick, so I was excited to read a different story by her.

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Dangerous Lies by Becca Fitzpatrick
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on November 10th, 2015
Genres: YA, Thriller, Family, Friendship, Romance, Fear, Identity
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 3 out of 5 ★★★☆☆


So clearly, as you can see above, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this book and I truly wish I liked it more. While reading, I went back and forth between rating it a 3 or a 4 out of 5 stars; some scenes were definitely worthy of a 4 or even 5, but then other pieces of the book fell short. So I came to the 3 out of 5 because it’s just…average. The book itself isn’t bad, but it isn’t outstanding either.

I’ll start with what I didn’t enjoy first, get the hard stuff out of the way. I found some similar issues between Dangerous Lies and my recent review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, the main one being they both produced random information about the character at random times as if they didn’t have anything else to write about. For example, in Dangerous Lies, I am over 100 pages into the novel and I am just now learning that Stella was a successful basketball player on her high school team and that, upon going into witness protection, she clearly had to drop her basketball scholarships to collegiate programs and now is fearing she might never play basketball again. The only time basketball comes up again in the book is once more. To me, this is unnecessary information, seemingly added after the fact during drafts number four or five. Let’s make Stella more personable–she should play basketball! But then never talk about it again! The scene is set up because Stella is going to play informal softball with friends, which is fine enough, and she is suddenly hit with a wave of soberness as she realizes she left basketball behind in her previous life. It is just all so random to me.

Dangerous Lies also relies heavily on classic YA tropes, to the point that they don’t really add anything to the story and they’re really not that well executed. Case and point: Stella and Chet. I wanted to like Chet so badly, but to me, he’s no Patch and he’s really just…meh. I don’t not like him, the kissing and intimate scenes between Stella and Chet are Fitzpatrick’s expertise and are reminiscent of Hush, Hush (has she ever considered writing erotica? Because I think she’d be great at it). But Chet is just so cookie-cutter YA. He’s got a troubled past, lacking in a family, trying to make up for past wrongs, possibly a “bad boy” and he never redeems himself past these tropes. Perhaps Patch is portrayed the same way, but what’s different in the Hush, Hush saga is that there is the underlying current of the supernatural, which allows for some tropes to slip through the cracks. Fantasy sets up the novel to be looked at in a different light–we can’t apply the same thoughts when reading something based in reality to something that isn’t. Our expectations are different. With Dangerous Lies, Chet is just a classic example of mystery turned love interest.

That slow, liquid heat swirled faster in my belly. I felt dizzy, unsteady. I could come back from it now, I thought. It wasn’t too late. I could step outside and clear my head (258).

Moving on to the brighter stuff, truly the character I think I like the most, which might surprise most of you, is Stella herself. I was set up to not like her, not just from Fitzgerald, but from the fact that when I figured out I wasn’t the biggest fan of the book, generally it’s because of the main character. However, Stella (or Estella) is an actual good example of a character changing throughout the process of the book. Perhaps I like her because I find myself connecting more with her issues: drugs, mother troubles, identity. She gets placed in an excruciatingly rural area similar to my displacement upon my move to rural PA, and had to find a way to adjust from a city life to a farmer’s girl. She found things she liked in that tiny town and became determined to move on from her previous life, but of course, that isn’t how the plot continues.

Stella is the only character I see achieve any growth. Chet and Carmina, while great characters, I pretty much had them pegged from the get-go. Stella, on the other hand, still had some surprises up her sleeves, especially in scenes with her mother.

I didn’t want her to have this power over me…And then I’d come to Thunder Basin. The tide had receded. This summer had been a secret treasure. A guilty, selfish, gratifying escape. I’d been a fool to think it would last (343).

Would I recommend Dangerous Lies? Sure. It’s a fun, easy read that will keep you engaged. It is certainly not the worst book I have ever read by a long shot, it just did not live up to the Hush, Hush standard I had placed on it, which is, of course, not fair of me, but hey, I’m only human! And I think about Patch perhaps too much…

Call Me By Your Name

I‘m going to preface this by stating that I did the worst thing any avid, professional reader–like myself–could do: I saw the movie first. Honestly, what’s probably worse is that I didn’t even know it was a book. I just thought it was a super romantic and transgressive movie. While I’m not wrong in thinking that, the book truly adds to the feelings I experienced when watching the film adaptation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Published by Picador; Media Tie In edition on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Romance, LGBTQ, Identity, Heartbreak
Pages: 256
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I almost don’t even know where to begin writing this review; it was simply soul crushing (just like the movie was, but even more so). I needed a palate cleanser after reading a few YA books one right after another–don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite genre to read, but I needed something deeper. After seeing the movie, and discovering that it is, in fact, a book, I knew I was going to read it. So why not choose the present? And this book seriously took my breath away.

But I think I’ll begin by stating the obvious: this book is hot. It’s definitely hot in the way a trashy erotic novel has a clutching, slow build that sets the reader up with pure arousal before finally allowing the release when the two main characters meet together, but also in the way that Aciman creates the most romantic relationship I have ever read. Ever. And I’ve read plenty of books that contain relationships forming, breaking apart, re-creating, dying, flourishing, etc. And nothing has compared–to this day–to the beauty and rawness that Elio shows to us as the narrator.

What never crossed my mind was that someone else…in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was (25).

The book is told by Elio years after his life with Oliver in the small Italian town, which is not how the movie portrays their meetings–it showcases it as it’s happening, not told years later. But this doesn’t lessen the romanticism of it all as fifty or so year old Elio reminisces, albeit painfully, on his seventeenth year at his home when Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, came to work with Elio’s professor father and their relationship blossoms. That’s, of course, the horribly watered down version of this tale, so I apologize for my poor summarizing skills. But what’s important is that Elio is seventeen, living in a wistful little beach town where the heat is tremendous and he doesn’t know who or what he is yet. He’s seventeen and we’ve all been there–unsure of ourselves, unsure of others, unsure of almost everything, but more importantly his sexuality. And what he finds in Oliver is what he didn’t even know he was looking for.

“Do you like being alone?” he asked.

“No. No one likes being alone. But I’ve learned how to live with it.” (76).

Like my previous reviews, I always want to include some critical analysis and literary tools to my thoughts on the book. In order to successfully show his readers the conflicting relationship between Elio and Oliver, Aciman’s writing style is extremely important–he couldn’t just throw together their dialogue and scenes, and he triumphs in showing us so much with so little. If you’ve ever read some of Hemingway’s short stories (particularly Hills Like White Elephants), then you might be familiar with his diction and dialogue choices. Specifically, the lack of flashy word choices and obvious sentences–Hemingway does away with those and makes his readers think about what he’s really trying to say. This is, whether consciously or not, what Aciman implores with his writing. Obviously, we know that this story is about a steamy romance, full of sex and heartbreak, between two men, but this is never explicitly stated (of course, regardless of the sexual scenes). The 21st-century terminology for LGBTQ love is endless, but Aciman doesn’t implore any of these. There is a special subtly to Aciman’s writing that allows for anybody to fill Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Since this story is about Elio finding his own path, coming to accept himself and what he desires in life, and needing to acknowledge and move on from the changes he cannot control, but this story could really be applied to anyone’s romantic life, which is definitely why the story is so deeply moving to anyone who reads or watches.

Another stylistic choice Aciman implores is that, in the movie, we don’t see Elio’s slight stream of consciousness that showcases his seventeen-year-old rambling brain, full of emotions and thoughts and desires and hatred towards himself, his family, Oliver. Being seventeen and unsure of your own identity isn’t a clean process; by having Elio go back and forth in the same sentence (that could be eight or more lines long) Aciman forces the reader into the messy brain of a young, confused man.

This book is a must for anyone who a) saw the movie (and if you did, then seriously, you need to read this because you are missing out on so much more background and future between the two) or b) anyone who wants to feel the heartbreaking whirlwind of a romance between Oliver and Elio because Aciman doesn’t just tell you about their flourishing love, but makes you feel it in your own soul, you feel the crushingness of Oliver leaving to return to the states that summer and then you feel their aging as the years pass for Elio without seeing Oliver, but never forgetting. We all have our own Oliver–that person who will haunt and materialize throughout our lives, both in good and bad shapes. He or she is the person we can never forget, nor want to because they made us who we are. We couldn’t be in our current or future relationships without having their love at the beginning of our life; without learning who we are through them. And Aciman gives us this story to reminisce through so thank you, Mr. Aciman.

I’m going to leave you with the most beautiful part of the whole book:

“You are the only person I’d like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out othe sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.” (240-41).

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A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).

 

The Afterlife of Holly Chase

Naturally, I had to pick this up and read it over Christmas and the same friend who recommended This is Not the End had also read this, so I made sure to not ask her anything about it before reading!

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The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
Published by HarperTeen on October 24th, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Family, Friendship, Romance, Humor, Holiday
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


Whenever someone asked me what I was reading, which undoubtedly happened every time I opened the book around family, I promptly told them “It’s a modern retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.” Now, this isn’t incorrect, but it’s not really the whole story. Even though it’s January, Cynthia Hand’s, The Afterlife of Holly Chase, is only more relevant. If you’ve noticed the other most recent post I’ve made, it discusses some bookish New Year’s resolutions. These are goals I’ve set for myself to desperately try to keep in order to stay mind happy and healthy. And even though Hand’s tale is a Christmas one, it’s really about changing one’s self into our best version.

But I didn’t know I was a Scrooge (12).

Holly Chase is two things: a bitch, and dead. At seventeen, Holly died a humiliating death and wound up working for  Project Scrooge as a “zombie”–she’s technically still alive? But isn’t aging and constantly resets at midnight every night to stay as the seventeen-year-old girl she died as. At Project Scrooge, an appropriately located in New York City–the Scroogiest cities in the world probably–the crew pick a “Scrooge” each year and using the characters Dickens set forth over 150 years ago, try to save the Scrooge from their own horrible ways. Holly is what’s considered a “failed Scrooge” seeing as she was greeted with three ghosts of Christmas–Past, Present, and Future–and laughed it off, denying their existence, and ended up dying anyway.

Being the classic, rich bitch, Holly is stuck up, annoying, materialistic, and self-centered–all the good qualities of the cliched high school prom queen, but she is surprisingly in a position of power at Project Scrooge. She’s the Ghost of Christmas Past! The first Christmas ghost any Scrooge sees! She definitely plays an important role, so it’s interesting that she’s so annoying, but really that makes her almost more real. She’s not perfect and strangely, after death, Holly has accepted it.

Of course, there are more twists and turns I was only a little bit expecting, but Hand plays it all off brilliantly. And perhaps it was because of the timing–I did begin reading it on December 23rd and finished on the 26th–I definitely give Hand’s story a four out of five. I was actually surprised I liked it more than This is Not the End. While I was waiting for the sappiness, and sure it was there, The Afterlife of Holly Chase was refreshingly upbeat. I probably would not pick this book up in the middle of July and I’m generally not the person who only reads certain books during certain seasons, but this one really is a good, winter tale–especially right now with the year changing.

If you’re looking for something sweet and refreshing, a snuggly cold day read that also makes you want to take up every hobby you ever let pass and call your mother, then The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a perfect book for you.

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Replica

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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