Book Reviews #02

Book Reviews #02

I've been trying to quicken my reading pace lately so I can complete my Goodreads reading challenge before the year ends. I have set 20 books as a goal this year but if I can read more, that'd be so much better. So far, I've been doing a pretty decent job keeping up with the schedule despite my exhaustion from work. The books I'm going to review today were books I've read from the month of May up until recently.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


Series — none
Genre — magical realism / romance / contemporary fiction
Published by Candlewick Press | January 2014 | 301 Pages

Trigger warning for a darker turn of events nearing the end of the story, rape and abuse 

Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.

In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.

That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.

Ah, how do I begin with this book. Let me first start by saying how much I loooooove every single aspect of this book. The storytelling, told from recording files, is really unique and descriptively beautiful; it makes you feel like you're there, alongside the characters and that, to me, is absolutely magical. The characters, oh my god the characters — I am in love with Viviane, Ava Lavender's mother and Gabe, the cinnamon roll who is so genuinely caring and loving towards Viviane and Ava. The romance aspect of this book felt so... classic and reminds me of when I first watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Bottom since they resonate similarly in my mind. 

This is a book about hope, strength and innocence; betrayal, lust and first love. It makes you think about the abundant possibility of finding love and discovering the ugliness that resides in this world; it makes you think that no matter how protected or careful we are, every single one of us is doomed to damage and will never be safe from the ugliness of the world. While there are so much sadness and pain in this book, it is not a story without moral. Like a Pandora box, this book taught me that Hope will be all that we have left.

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley


Series — Magonia
Genre — science fiction / fantasy / romance
Published by Harper Collins | April 2015 | 309 Pages

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. 

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. 

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn't think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia. 

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

This is an odd book and definitely something I have never come across in YA series before, in a good way that is. The highly imaginative world built by Headley blends science and fantasy in a way I first found ridiculous and quite strange (hence the 3/5 stars) but the further I get, the better I've grown to accept how...different the lore is. I can definitely see why some people think this book reminds them of something out of Neil Gaiman's mind — it carries that strangeness and originality followed by a storytelling built on rich atmosphere, figures of speech, boldly descriptive scenes and a balanced combination between short and long sentences. In fact, Mr. Gaiman himself praised this book so there you go, a solid proof right there.

The main character, Aza Ray, easily caught my attention with her feisty, sassy personality. If you know me, you know I'm a sassy individual myself so when a heroine has the ability to make feisty remarks, there's a chance I'd fall in love and/or relate to them. While some people have expressed a dislike for Aza in the first few chapters, her character development is definitely something worth the second chance. As for the romance, it's something that I have no problems with. If you are looking for a typical YA love triangle where the heroine is all about romance and never about her responsibility, this book isn't the one. This is a book where Aza, her true identity and responsibilities are the main priorities. Even if there is a love triangle, it's not something that happens out of the blue. If you are looking for an easy YA fantasy read with a weight of originality in it, give Magonia a try.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber


Series — Caraval
Genre — fantasy / romance young adult
Published by Flatiron Books | January 2017 | 407 Pages

Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

I raved on and on about how excited I was about this book. I even went back and forth for weeks and months because I wasn't sure if I wanted to purchase the physical copy or not. In the end, I caved in, bought it and finished it in less than a week and let me tell you that this book was a fun, magical ride. I've said it before and I will say it again: I was so excited about Caraval because a). I'm a sucker for anything and everything circus related and b). a lot of people are comparing this book to one of my all time favorite reads which is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Personally, although I understand where the comparison is coming from, I don't think Caraval is anything like the Night Circus in the sense that it is quicker in pace, has more action and shorter, straightforward sentences as opposed to long, intricate and overly descriptive. This is then accompanied by suspense, drama and the most exciting of all, plot twists! I love plot twists, especially when they are quite unpredictable. For someone who usually predicts plot twists rather accurately, my prediction was overruled and that makes me really happy. I'm also happy to tell you that even though there is romance in this book, the main focus is definitely the relationship between Scarlett and her sister, Donatella — something I really appreciate in a book because there is always something more serious than thinking about the kind of guy you'd like to snog. At some point, Garber managed to do something related to anagram that made me snort and laughed at how easy it was. Despite some minor character flaws and pretty predictable circumstances, I still enjoyed the overall journey and cannot wait for the next book.

If you are someone who loves adventures in a strange, Wonderland-like universe where Mad Hatter and his minions are constantly playing tricks on you, you might like Caraval.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo


Series — The Grisha Trilogy
Genre — fantasy / young adult
Published by Henry Holt and Company | June 2012 | 358 Pages

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

If you are a frequent visitor of my blog, you'd know that I was going to read The Grisha Trilogy before sinking my teeth into Bardugo's latest sensation, Six of Crows. First of all, I really enjoyed Leigh Bardugo's writing style; it has kept me pinned to my seat and leaves me wanting more. The world she built feels original to me and really feeds my needs on good fantasy lore (can I please be a Heartrender, thank you very much) and the characters.... well, I do have two characters I desperately want to punch (no, it's not The Darkling although he is nasty) but aside from that, I like Alina Starkov and think that she isn't your typical YA heroine who wakes up the next day and thinks about which boy to kiss. I love, love her character development and how she is slowly carrying that responsibility despite starting out as someone who couldn't find her worth. I'm definitely rooting for her, no doubt about that. Another character I absolutely love and sympathize is Genya Safin — she is my bae.

Shadow and Bone is a book about power, war and what you are willing to do with your extraordinary capability. It is a book where at one point, you might side with Alina but at the same time, also think about what it feels like to be on the enemy side. The story defines evil with a cause, a cause that I can't help but to understand and relate. I would have given it a solid 5/5 if it wasn't because of Mal and Zoya.

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess


Series — Kingdom on Fire
Genre — historical fantasy / romance young adult
Published by Random House BFYR | September 2016 | 416 Pages

I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty's sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?

The cover of this book caught my attention the moment I saw it in store. I was bewitched (heh) to say the least. The premise was the second aspect that got me excited. I mean, a female sorcerer? Yes please! To me, this is interesting because while female sorcerers do exist in pop culture today, most of them tend to be male-centric. Female characters who practice magic are often condemned as witches or mages so when Jessica Cluess wrote Henrietta Howel, I jumped into this book with very welcoming arms. As it turns out, I am not disappointed by it! I love the characters and especially Henrietta for having that voice of feminism against the men she is surrounded with. Her determination to be respected and acknowledged, standing up for her gender and what she believes just screams strength to me in the best way possible. Aside from Henrietta, I am also in love with her personal servant Lily and George Blackwood, a seemingly cold and stoic sorcerer whose dynamic with Henrietta reminds me of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice. Set in Victorian Era, England, some characters in this book also remind me of other mythology creatures such as the Titans and the 7-Seven Deadly Sins Homunculus from my all time favorite anime, Full Metal Alchemist.

The reason why I gave 3/5 stars despite my love for the characters, adventurous story writing and interesting legends (did you know that sorcerers, magicians and witches differ?) is because Cluess mainly built her story based on dialogs rather than sentences and descriptions. There are a lot of dialogs in this book and they're the ones responsible to keep the story going. Another thing I was thirsting for more would be the elaboration of the world and lore especially when it's about the Ancients who serve as the story's main antagonists. Even so, this is still the first book in a series so I'm definitely giving it a chance. Perhaps Cluess decides to elaborate further in the second book, scheduled for next year's release.

I really enjoyed reading all these books and found each of them really unique and adventurous in their own way. Finding lovable protagonists in YA series nowadays is difficult and I'm happy to announce that none of the protagonists from either of these books have made me feel like pulling my hair apart.

What book or series did you finished recently?