Review | A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

acotar cover

Summary

When Feyre kills a wolf on a hunting trip int he middle of winter, she only thinks of what price the pelt will fetch in the market place. She never guessed that the wolf was actually a faerie, friend of the High Lord of the Spring Court, Tamlin.

In order to compensate for the lost life, Feyre must live in Tamlin’s court, surrounded by the faeries who have historically despised humans. Living in the faerie court is a vast improvement from her life in poverty, and she is assured her family is well taken care of. As she spends more time on the estate, her hatred for faeries morphs into passion for the High Lord.

But a shadow is cast over the land. A blight restricting the use of magic and the appearance of wild dark creatures plagues the faeries—and soon, the land of humans.

Little does Feyre know, she is the key to saving them all.

Review

There were a lot of books that got a lot of hype in 2015, and A Court of Thorns and Roses was one of them.

…I’m not convinced. And it confuses me.

Because A Court of Thorns and Roses is a fantasy retelling of my favourite fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. Because Maas added interesting twists like faerie courts and an illiterate Belle character and the folk tale of Tamlin.

AND YET, I wasn’t thrilled. Actually, I was rather bored.

I can’t necessarily blame the plot, as Maas draws very closely from both Beauty and the Beast and Tamlin, which makes it rather predictable. The second half was definitely more interesting, but the riddle was fairly obvious, and it was irritating that Feyre never figured it out.

But where the book ultimately fails is the romance. And this is so key to the story, that if you fail, then the entire story falls apart. And, sad to say, it did.

This is mainly because of the characters.

Feyre is a strong female lead who I respected as a breadwinner who wanted freedom from her ungrateful family. I even respected her a person with a deep seated hatred for historical tyrants and her growing realization of faeries as individuals rather than a hating mass.

My problem is that her transition from hating faeries to loving Tamlin wasn’t smooth. Rather than a gradual greater understanding, she sort of ping pongs between love and hate before ultimately settling for loving Tamlin. And as this gradual understanding is key to the story of B&B (and the reason why it’s my favourite fairytale), the book ultimately fails as an adaptation for me.

This is also where the romance goes downhill.

Maas does something that I’m starting to see in a lot of fiction, and that is replacing a true emotional connection with physical intimacy and desire. This typically starts out with some tortured, handsome, and socially awkward male lead (i.e. Tamlin) with a few weak scenes to establish some semblance of an emotional connection before the characters decide they want to jump each other.

I admit that I sound sort of bitter, but I’m sick of this sort of romance. And I’ll yield that Maas does try to evoke that emotional relationship between the two leads. The scene in the painting room and with the dying faerie are both good starting points. But they aren’t complete. They start on the premise that Tamlin and Feyre may have a connection more than physical desire, but it’s halted in its tracks before it ever goes anywhere. Beyond that, there are some romantic gestures that are more of a seduction rather than an actual effort to learn more about the romantic interest, and I wasn’t convinced.

Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think Feyre was able to break the curse because she missed the deadline, I think she couldn’t break the curse because she doesn’t actually love him.

This leads me to Rhys, the reason why I probably won’t read the sequel. People are vying for Rhys as end game in this series, and if he is, then I really don’t want to read this series.

Rhys is like Tamlin in many ways: handsome, tortured, and with a difficult past. But he’s also abusive and manipulative. And yes, maybe we don’t know his whole story and maybe he had to objectify Feyre to help them defeat the antagonist, but his actions speak bounds about his moral code. And I’m supposed to excuse his awful behaviour for some crap backstory I’m going to read about in the next novel? No thanks.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is little more than the story of a young woman who is freed from her life of the breadwinner of an ungrateful family to a life of “romantic” manipulation in the political game of faeries.

The only exception I make is for Lucien, who, while having a cliche backstory, had a consistent personality and refreshing character. He hates the situation he’s put in, but he will play along anyways because it’s the only way out. In fact, I feel like his growing friendliness towards Feyre is more genuine than Tamlin’s feelings towards her.

The only aspect where I have no complaints is the merge of Tamlin and B&B. Maas does very well in adding a fey twist to the original fairy tale. I actually prefer it over the original reason for the curse.

Recommendation: Don’t Bother. A Court of Thorns and Roses is probably the first fairy tale adaptation that I’ve outright disliked. It glorifies a relationship based on sexual attraction and manipulation, and strays from the original message of the fairy tale it’s trying to recreate. If you’re looking for fairytale adaptations, find the works of Marissa Meyer and Gail Carson Levine, because this just didn’t do it for me.

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Review | The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

summer prince cover

Summary

In a future where living past 150 is guaranteed, the city of Palmares Tres is reknowned for it’s art and culture, ruled by all by the council of Aunties and lead by their Queen. Who chooses the Queen? Why, the Summer King—an elected figure who is celevrated through the summer, and then sacrificed after choosing the next queen.

Young June Costa is an aspiring artist in the city, and hopes that the next Summer King will be Enki, a handsome artist from the lowest caste of Palmares Tres. After Enki is crowned, June begins to create art installations that are both daring and rebellious. Thier work brings the attention

Review

Here’s the deal. If you have even a remote chance of enjoying this book, you’re going to have to accept the following facts about this dystopia:

  • People live over the age of 200
  • People have the option of modifying their bodies or even uploading their consiousness to a server with the help of tech
  • People are very open about their sexuality, especially about who and how many people they sleep with.
  • The political system is a firmly entrenched matriarchy that is elected by the archaic sacrifice of a human male.

If you can take that, proceed.

DO NOT PROCEED. This book did not make me feel anything. No excitement because the plot was loose and incredinly slow. No sympathy or empathy because the characters were unrelatable. No awe because the world building was so flat. No thoughtfulness because the minute the story started approaching a difficult question, it backtracked to how beautiful the boys were.

But let’s break this down.

Missing emotion #1: excitement. I love sci-fi/dystopian because of the action, the political struggle, the way that the utopia you’re shown and the technology you’re handed comes around to bite the protagonist in the ass.

The Summer Prince seriously lacked any sort of cohesive plot. I mean, yes, Enki is going to die at the end.

So…end of story? I can see how a story can be made by showing how a short life is still a meaningful one. And I think Johnson tries to do that. But the concept of Enki’s death is brushed over  until the final third. And by then, when the characters finally took action, it felt delayed and pointless.

Missing emotion #2: empathy/sympathy. Character driven story telling is a must for me. I need to connect to the characters. I need to understand them.

I did not care about a single person in this book. Not our protagonist June, not Gil, or Ueda, or even the charming Enki. This is mostly because Johnson takes a “tell, don’t show” approach to her characterization. June catalogues people’s behaviours for the reader, and then very few efforts are made to make the characters emulate them. Or when they did, they were downright annoying.

Missing emotion #3: awe. Johnson has the perfect setting to simply drown the reader with imagery world building.

Instead, I was confused. It took the book a long time to explain the verde and the pyramid structure, and I’m still confused as to the city’s landscape. Similarly, the technology available and societal norms were difficult to grasp due to lack of description and interaction. It took me so long to understand that tech was under certain restrictions.

I think the hardest thing for my brain to grab onto was the idea that such an advanced society would (1) ban the use of technology and (2) rely on an archaic and barbaric ritual to maintain order. The idea was so…incongruous it never made sense to me.

Missing emotion #4: thoughtfulness. When the concept of technophile and isolationist came up, I was thrilled. Finally some sort of meaningful debate was making its way into the story. I thought the same when Enki’s skin colour was brought up. And when June talked about art. Or Ueda with Japan’s digital tech. But whenever something came up, it was never fully explored.

Final Verdict

Final recommendation: Don’t Bother. With a lot of potential but ultimately lacking in plot, characterization, world building, discussion, and the ability to evoke any sort of emotion in the reader, The Summer Prince should be left on the shelf. There’s better dystopia and sci-fi out there.

Review | Lola and the Boy Next Door

“It’s easy to talk about things we hate, but sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly why we like something.”

Well put, Anna.
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Summary

Dolores “Lola” Nolan loves to dress up. She loves fashion, her dads, and her punk rocker boyfriend, Max. But behind all that she loves, Lola is hiding a bitter past: her birth parents are wrecks and her neighbours, the Bell twins, used to be her friends until jealousy and circumstance tore them apart.

Except for the fact that the Bell family has moved back. Bringing budding inventor Cricket Bell back into her life.

But she doesn’t want him back into her life…right?

Plot

Ughh…there is a huge problem with Lola and the Boy Next Door—Perkins is simply rewriting Anna and the French Kiss. And rather poorly at that.

All the elements are there: pining young (Anna/Cricket) moves and is hopelessly in love with the obviously gorgeous (St. Clair/Lola), who has a difficult family life (Dad/Mom) but (s)he is dating an obvious douche (Ellie/Max), while their close ones (Josh, Rashmi, Mer/Andy, Nathan, Lindsey) point out how the relationship isn’t healthy.

The major difference between the two books is that there’s a specific shift away from the romance to the familial problems that Lola has to deal with. Lola doesn’t want to admit it, but she’s ashamed of her origins, and so she costumes herself up to “reinvent” herself each day. I like this angle, and the transfer of her costuming from hiding to expression is rather good.

However, the romance is weak. Unlike Anna, where the characters are learning how love works, how to watch and pay attention to what someone really needs, Lola’s story just happens. What Lola and Cricket’s relationship is based on them being each other’s fangirl. They admire each other, their talents and abilities. There’s no point at which they like each other outside of appearances. There’s no reason for Lola and Cricket to like each other…especially in the case of the latter. And this completely makes the story unbelievable.

Characters

I do not like the protagonists.

Lola is annoying. She is completely oblivious to how many people she hurts with her lies and deception. She hates her mother for her irresponsibility, but all Lola does is irresponsible. Happily, she grows over the course of story–though it is rather rapid near the end. For most of the story her personality is costuming, lying, and obsessing over Max/Cricket. That’s it.

Which is why Cricket is also annoying. Cricket is built to be this perfect, nerdy, well-dressed guy. His only flaw? His life is controlled entirely by women. I don’t understand why he loves Lola so much because she doesn’t have a personality beyond lying and guilt. And he doesn’t have a personality beyond (sort of) engineering, dressing well, and being obsessed with Lola. The guy deserves some time just to focus on himself.

I actually liked Max until the plot required he become a douche. Do I like that he was with Lola? No. Their relationship was so physical, it didn’t seem sincere to me. Do I like that he was sort of a wake up slap in the face for Lola? Yes. He doesn’t know who she is, and while that reveals his perversion, it also reveals how fake Lola is. Did he need to turn into an ass at the end? No.

I do like Andy and Nathan and Norah. They were great characters, which is rare since adult characters get shafted in YA. And I’d probably like Lindsey if I knew more about her.

And while I love the cameo of Anna and St. Clair, I feel like they are progressing rather quickly. It was cute, seeing them dating and all (so rare for any sort of rom com). But they spent a whole year skirting around each other in the last book, and they’re already planning their futures together? It’s a little too fast and a little too perfect, but maybe that’s just skewed by Lola’s point of view.

Writing

Perkins’ writing style is the same as the last book. But instead of WRITING IN ALL CAPS, when her protag panics, allthewordsarepushedtogether.

But, Perkins is testing my suspension of disbelief with this outlandish set up. I’d rather have the cliches from Anna than the crazy set up in Lola. Even Anna and St. Clair are outlandish to me, and that’s rather sad.

Themes

I know that Lola grows throughout the story. I like the idea that we should use art to express ourselves, not hide ourselves. I like the idea that we shouldn’t let our histories define us.

But the focus on appearances (mainly Cricket’s) and the sudden attraction between the protags gives an odd message about love. I especially dislike how physical everything is. It makes sense for Lola and Max’s relationship to be flawed this way, but Lola’s reactions to Cricket are also physical too.

I also hate how Lola manipulates everyone’s trust. And how she’s shocked when she loses the trust of everyone around her.

I’m also getting this overwhelming feeling that Perkins does not like rockers for whatever reason.

Final Verdict

I stuck through this book because I was hoping the plot would take a good turn like it did in Anna. Instead it just stayed rather flat for most of the story. Lola and the Boy Next Door deserves a few good, major rewrites. I just feel like it’s an earlier draft of Anna in a different setting.

Recommendation: Don’t Bother. Lola’s story is a rehash of Anna’s, with a quirky twist that makes the entire story unbelievable. So far I’d stick with just Anna and the French Kiss.

Review | Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Creepy vintage black and white photographs. Must be a creepy story, right? RIGHT?

…well, maybe not.

Miss Peregrine

 

Summary

Jacob is a blessed 16-year-old. Waiting to inherit his mother’s drug store franchise, his whole future is set before him.

Except, he hates it. He has (almost) no friends, no ambition, and a grandfather who’s absolutely nuts.

Seriously, who keeps faked out pictures of a floating girl and dressed up clown kids and claims to know these freaks? Who keeps piles of weapons, stating they’re for monster killing—when the “monsters” are obviously the Nazis who drove him from his home during the war?

But then Jacob’s grandfather suddenly dies and Jacob sees the monsters. His grandfather’s death will throw him into a tumult of emotional trauma and to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Or at least, what remains of it. The place was destroyed during an air raid.

Or was it?

Review

If I had to summarize this book in one word, I’d pick dissappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, the writing is amazing and the set up is creepy and eerie enough to draw any reader who’s looking for a good scare in.

In fact, the first half of this book is really good. I was sufficiently creeped out by the combination of words and vintage photographs, and still curious enough to keep going. It builds suspense and mystery, and I wanted to keep reading…

…until the mystery is revealed.

At first, my thoughts were, “Okay, I’m game for this.”

But slowly, and surely, it became “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this somewhere before…”

Because I have. In two forms, really—both really unexpected for the wonderfully creepy set up.

Form #1: X-Men. Not even kidding, Miss Peregine is Charles Xavier. The peculiar children? The X-Men. Apparently, “peculiarity” is a genetic mutation. Go figure.

Form #2: Percy Jackson and the Olympians. We have a boy who thinks he’s normal, but isn’t. A beloved family member is killed, sending him to a place for people like him. This place is protected by magical boundaries, hidden in plain sight. His best friends at this place are (1) a brilliant, snarky girl with a complicated love life and (2) a nerdy worry-wart. They are pursued by monsters and only safe behind the magical borders. And the monsters have a plan that will mean the end of the world.

I literally just summarized the entire Percy Jackson series with the bare-bones plot line for Miss Peregrine’s. 

And that’s why Miss Peregrine’s is so damn disappointing. I was ready to be scared. I was ready to read something akin to Shutter Island or Stephen King. Instead, I get Marvel meets common supernatural YA fiction, and it wasn’t even good YA supernatural.

What I remember most about each kid in the home is there ability…and that’s it. They have no real defining character traits. Well, except for Horace, who’s some fashionista or something, and Emma and Millard, but they are important supporting characters.

And since the story strays from the suspense/horror genre, the photos become next to useless in storytelling. For example, remember this freaky picture?

ballerinas

Yeah. No explanation. None at all. No reason for these kids to be in costume. No ability provoking the need for identical costumes.

So why is it in this book?

My best guess is that Riggs found a bunch of vintage photographs and decided, “Hey, I can make a story about this.” No thought to continuity. No real plot in mind.

The only high points of this book are Riggs’ outstanding skills as a wordsmith, and, let’s say, the first half. The first half is shrouded in mystery and suspense, and its at the midway point that we fall into YA supernatural fail. Is that enough to save Miss Peregrine’s?

I don’t think so. But if Riggs ever comes out with a different book, then I’m game to try it. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the YA supernatural/adventure/magical teen genre. But the book was promoted as this creepy teen novel, where the real monster is no different than in any other book in this genre. It just wasn’t what I was expecting, and wasn’t really executed well.

The latter half of novel was really too much of a disappointment for me to really enjoy the book. Rigg’s writing style is the best part of this novel.

Recommendation: Don’t Bother. If you enjoy YA supernatural similar to Percy Jackson or the Mortal Instruments, you’ll probably enjoy this book, since its puts a spin on that genre. If you’re expecting a thriller…I’d move on to a different book.

Review | Her Fearful Symmetry

Twins. Ghosts. Mystery. A cemetery. A man with crippling OCD.

Funnily enough, its the last one that makes Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry worth while. Her Fearful Symmertry

Summary

Twins Valentina and Julia Poole barely know anything about their Aunt Elspeth, their mother’s twin sister. So when Elspeth dies and leaves all of her belongings, including her flat in England to the twins, they are a little more than surprised. To make things more interesting, the twins must stay in the flat for a year, and their parents are forbidden from entering it.

The twins move to London, attempting to recreate their mundane pointless lives. However, the presence of their neighbours: Martin, a man with crippling OCD who never leaves his apartment and wife has left him; and Robert, scholar of the neighbouring cemetery and Elspeth’s lover, may change all that.

There is another presence too. One that can’t seem to leave her old apartment.

Review

In one word: predictable. About ten pages into this novel and I knew what it was going to be about. The near-incestuous closeness of the twins, the separation of loving husband and wife because of his disorder, and the borderline obsession Robert has over Elspeth—the book practically screamed “I AM ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS AND OVER-RELIANCE ON OTHERS.”

So it came as no surprise when the story was about Julia and Valentina fighting and drifting apart, about Robert trying and failing to get over Elspeth, about Martin overcoming his OCD.

Funnily enough, the supernatural element was predictable too. The moment Valentina enters the apartment she notices the presence of something there. Naturally she’d become some sort of medium.

And that’s all the spoiler I’m giving for the ending. Other than this: It. Was. Terrible.

The ending was irrational, stupid, and wholly unsatisfying. Actually, scratch that. Robert’s final decision is immensely satisfying and Martin’s ending was…perfect.

I swear, if this book was just about Martin, I would be satisfied. There was real struggle in his story, real depth. And, unfortunately, it was a side plot.

The main plot features relatively unlikeable characters: a bland scholar, a clingy twin, a rebellious twin, and a ghost. Then these characters are thrown into a ridiculous and irrational scheme.

Robert’s dilemma was enough to make me close the book several times: “Do I still obsess over my-dead-but-not-really-because-she’s-haunting-her-flat lover or try to bang her almost-young-enough-to-be-my-own-daughter clone in the form of her niece?”

Yes. I did actually just write that sentence because yes, that is actually part of the plot.

And that’s the other thing. There is very little explanation in this novel. Why is it that Valentina is the only one who can sense/see Elspeth? What’s so important about the fact that Julia and Valentina are “mirror twins”? Why can’t Elspeth leave the apartment? Why isn’t Robert seeing a therapist?

This book has some major flaws in terms of plot. The few up-sides are (1) Martin’s story and (2) Niffenegger’s writing. I don’t think I could have made it though without both of these elements.

Recommendations: Don’t Bother. If you’re into ghost stories…find another book. Like I said, this is pretty predictable, and I have a feeling there are more interesting ghost stories out there. If you’re into something that’s a little outside-the-box and can tolerate unconventional relationships,  you might enjoy this book. I doubt you’ll be rereading it though (since I certainly won’t…except for maybe the Martin plot line).