Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Series
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Released: 9 February 2016
Favorite quote: “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
goodreads

This is a novel that my friend, Taylor, bought me for Christmas. She works at a bookstore and thought/knew that I’d love it. Well, she was right. Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes is one of those novels that makes me uncomfortable in the best way possible. On goodreads, I rated it 5 stars (though it’d be more like a 4.5, if we could do half stars). Slight spoilers, but nothing major.

Characters.

Laia, a young girl who is forced to make tough decisions and face death straight on, is the protagonist. Usually when there are inner monologues on the page that stress the discomfort and pain of the main character, I’m turned off by how it’s done. However, Laia’s “complaints” were well written and didn’t make me want to face palm myself even once. Even though she does complain at times, I think her character is what makes it more than tolerable – appreciated. (That and the fact that the situations that she’s in are outrageously stressful.) She’s a self-proclaimed coward, and yet she does what she must to save the ones she cares about. When it counts, she’s brave. Never does she say that it’s easy. In fact, she points out constantly how easy it would be to not do what she does and instead turn away, but it’s her compassion and heart that drive her to bravery. I think that Laia, in this sense, is one of the most relatable characters that I’ve read in a while.

Elias, the golden boy/literal bastard who is the sole drop of water pushing against the waves, is the (/a?) love interest. (I’m kinda confused about where the romantic side of this series is going, even after having read the last chapter. It seems like it would clear some stuff up, but I think that even though this is set up to have the Elias/Laia love plot, it’s still going to be a love triangle?) The thing that I hate about stories like this is that there’s always the head-of-class/powerful/terrifying character archetype that seems like it comes from nowhere. Why do they think differently? Because, duh, they’re special! No. No. This is unacceptable. So! When Elias’ background actually makes complete sense in building his moral code, I instantly became a happy camper. I love his character.

Cook, Izzi, Helene, Marcus, Zak, the Commandant, and the others. I know that this is rushes, but I want to make a general statement about these characters rather than go into detail. They’re refreshing. They aren’t the two-dimensional characters who are written to serve a single purpose. Everyone fluctuates as characters as they would as people. No one is really straight-forward and sure (except maybe the Commandant) because these characters are subject to change! I love that. It’s awesome to read side characters that I root for just as much (if not more than) the main protagonists.

Setting and plot.

Should I stop saying that I love everything? Because it seems a little difficult for me to stop while writing this review.

Honestly, the plot was unpredictable and the setting has as much life as the characters. The layout descriptions create this stunning yet ravaged land that furthers the plot and the develops a specific atmosphere that envelops the reader as easily as wrapping a tired child in a blanket.

The history of the land is unique and definitely something that fascinated me right off the bat. The only negative thing that I have to say about that is that it set up for a couple major plot developments later on were too clearly foreshadowed, making some things easy to pick up on (though not anything that ruins the main twists and turns!). Also, I felt that when it did get to the explanations near the end, the whole thing felt rushed, like something that you’d read in an old cliche adventure story than what I typically expect from novels now. Other than that, it was awesome.

Definitely read this novel/series if you haven’t! It’s amazing and I think it’s appropriately written to attract both males and females. Warning: mentions of rape and physical abuse, so be cautious if you are squeamish. I don’t like reading stories with rape, but there wasn’t anything direct in An Ember of the Ashes. The physical abuse in present tense was kept to a minimum, but there were tons of references to what had been done in the past. It was a bit upsetting, but nothing that made me even consider putting the book down.

Reader Reaction: Cruel Beauty

Reader Reaction: Cruel Beauty

Title: Cruel Beauty
Series
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Released: 28 January 2014
Favorite quote: “I was not born to be saved.”
goodreads

Cruel Beauty is one of those novels that has been recommended to me repeatedly on bookstagram whenever I post photos of my latest Beauty and the Beast themed read. When I’ve had so many people in the past tell me that it’s a must-read, I have rather high expectations. When Beauty and the Beast retellings are my favorite to read, it’s impossible for me not to draw comparisons to others that I’ve read. So as I sit at my desk with my pint of peanut butter ice cream (courtesy of my dear friends – Ben and Jerry) and listening to “Evermore” sung by Dan Stevens (Beast) in the new Disney film, let me tell you a thing about why this novel was okay.

The characters didn’t click. I had about the worst time trying to fall in love with the “Beast” of the story. Why? There was no spark whatsoever. Maybe other people read it differently, but the male love interest – Ignifex – fell about as flat as the floor for me. Also, I couldn’t get behind Nyx – the female protagonist. Why? I can’t put my finger on it. She’s strong and thoughtful and rigid, which is a hard combination to pull off, but she does. So why wasn’t I easily slipping myself into her shoes as I read? I think it wasn’t so much her character as it was how she was written. I’m a bit supporter of inner monologues that convey feelings, but the strands of self reflection in this novel just about killed me. They got the point across, but it felt much more character driven rather than plot because of how it was written, when in reality, the story realllllllllly moves because of the amazing plot!

So here’s another thing about this retelling: the plot is freakin’ perfect! I love it and I would recommend it to people based on the awesome happenings of the book (that have little to do with character development, because even though these action/explanation parts of the novel are what develop the characters, I’m looking at what happens as standing separate, and let me tell you: it’s awesome). The background explanation of the world, the Beast, the Sundering, and the “spirits” of the novel are truly fantastic. Towards the end, it felt like I was reading a historical fantasy without romance, which was great (except for the fact that it’s flippin’ Beauty and the Beast/Persephone and Hades…). What I’m saying is that the plot and the background information of the world and everything within it is fantastically done! There were parts that were mind-numbingly predictable, but those didn’t really bother me because the story on a larger scale was definitely not. There were twists and turns that made it all worth it.

If you want to read a good romance, don’t read this. I was disappointed by the lack of sizzle between Nyx and Ignifex… Highly disappointed. However, if you just want to read an interesting take on the original Beauty and her Beast, I recommend this novel for that alone. Hopefully you won’t be let down!

Reader Reaction: Dear Mr. Knightley

Reader Reaction: Dear Mr. Knightley

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Stand Alone
Author: Katherine Reay
Released: November 12, 2013
Favorite quote: “Never let something so unworthy define you.”
gooodreads

Dear Mr. Knightley was a title that I came across a few months ago but didn’t pick up until this last weekend. I had read mixed reviews on goodreads before getting the ebook, which made me even more hesitant about deciding to read it. However, since I haven’t read Daddy Longlegs, I figured that I wouldn’t have anything to compare the novel to so it’d be fine. Now to get to the actual reaction.

As dumb as this is going to sound, I didn’t think that it was going to be as religious as it was. I have no problem with religious novels, but the way it worked in Dear Mr. Knightley wasn’t my cup of tea. It felt a little forced for the protagonist, in my opinion. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but it felt like it came out of nowhere, which I suppose it how finding God works for many. Again, I have no problem with reading religious novels, but this one just didn’t work for me in that aspect.

Onto a happier note! I’ll keep this quick since it’s a quick book and you should really just read it. Samantha Moore is one of the most frustrating twenty-something-year-olds I’ve ever read. However, I can completely understand how living through her experiences has led her to become a sort of recluse bibliophile. It makes sense. That was the issue that a lot of people had with the book – the main character is too naive and socially inept. But her character’s background makes sense of that. I usually hate when people write female characters who are obsessed with books and who don’t know what they’re doing in social situations, but for Dear Mr. Knightley (as with Fangirl), it works.

The idea, although not original since Jean Webster did come up with it first for Daddy Longlegs, was glorious! I loved it. The format – all letters until the last chapter – threw me off a bit, but I got over it really quickly and came to understand the importance that it played. If told in any other way, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. (Again, I haven’t read Daddy Longlegs yet, so maybe that isn’t an original idea either.)

If you love books about books, love, family, Christianity, college, the foster care system, differing economic and social classes, and struggles, I really suggest you read this novel. It’s quick, cute, and just a great read.

Reader Reaction: My Life with the Walter Boys

Reader Reaction: My Life with the Walter Boys

Title: My Life with the Walter Boys
Series
Author: Ali Novak
Released: March 1, 2014
Favorite quote: “Alex, you got an F on your history paper. Star Wars does not count as a valid topic for most significant war in history.”
goodreads

The last time that I went to the bookstore with my friend, I felt the need to buy at least something, so this is what I picked. I didn’t want fantasy or a book from a series (because at the time, I thought this was a stand alone novel), so I picked it up because I wanted a light, fluffy quick read. Plus, I love to support wattpad authors – they’re awesome. This will contain a couple spoilers, but nothing major. Also, I won’t give specifics, so it shouldn’t ruin anything for anyone who would like to read this before the book.

I’m going to write this now because I want to make it clear for the get-go: I was very disappointed in the book as a whole, but I do appreciate the fact that Ali Novak was 15 when she started writing it on wattpad and the fact that she was able to get it published. If you keep in mind that this book was the product of a 15-year-old girl’s imagination, it’s pretty cool. If you, like me, judge it based on the content rather than extraneous details, it’s a decent read but definitely nothing spectacular.

There. Now that’s out of the way! Onto the actual reaction.

If I can’t relate to or get behind the protagonist of a story, it’s very difficult for me to like the book; sadly, that was the case with me and Jackie Howard. She is not a main character that I liked at all. She worried about the most minute details and smallest problems. Yes, there were major issues – like the deaths of her entire family – that she dealt with as the novel ran its course, but what was the outcome? Jackie battled these demons when it was convenient for her. At least, that’s how I felt. Her final grand understanding came from the lips of someone else whose advice she trusted. I’m still not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, Jackie is a social creature (even though she claims that she never was before moving to Colorado), so it makes sense that she would turn to someone she trusts to help her understand her situation. On the other hand, though, it felt like the entire book was leading up to how she would resolve her problems only to have someone else solve them for her. I would’ve liked for Jackie to have been a character who was able to come to terms with her new situation herself, but I understand the need to depend on others. That coupled with the fact that she doesn’t like geeks (read it and you’ll understand) was thoroughly off-putting.

So now let’s get down to business on the rest of the characters. Alex – this great, understanding, helpful, nerdy, wonderful boy – fails at the end. He was written so well, and then out of nowhere, he just starts lazing and becoming someone who I can’t support at all. That was disappointing… Nathan and Danny were great characters, but very two-dimensional. The only one from the entire series that actually had anything resembling layers was Cole. *surprise, surprise* Again, I don’t mean to hate on the book. This is my interpretation. I know that I’m being a bit harsh, but this just really bothered me. The characterization was lacking for everyone else. Maybe the rest of the series compensates for the flatness of the first novel, but I was just really let down by how cliche every other character had to be. I don’t have the novel on me right now, but there’s a part near the beginning after Jackie first transfers to her new school in Colorado and one of the girls whom she becomes friends with says something like “whatever taste you have in guys, there’s a Walter boy that fits it.” That’s exactly how it felt – like Novak crammed one guy from every stud category there is under a roof with a little tomboy sister and a girly-girl love interest and said “let’s see how this plays out.” Don’t get me wrong: I say this like it’s the worst thing that a young adult romance writer can do, but it is interesting. It reminded me a lot of Brothers Conflict. (Great reverse harem anime. Recommend it if you’re into that genre at all.) Like Brothers Conflict, though, most of the male characters were there to serve a purpose, which was not to play the part of normal high school boys who have more than a one-track mind (whether it be for video games, sex, drama, etc.)

I’m not going to comment on the writing style as I usually do because this was a novel written by someone much younger than me, so who am I to judge? However, I will say that it neither added nor detracted from the reading experience.

I don’t recommend it. I’m not trying to be hard on it, and maybe I’ll regret this later, but I just think that there are other books that are more enjoyable that have the same types of main themes. For instance, if you’re into the multiple-love-interests plot and don’t mind anime or manga, there is a WHOLE WORLD of reverse harem that gave me way more feels than this novel. However, I do think that I’ll give the sequel a chance because Novak was older and a more experienced writer. (Currently, she’s 24 year old and has graduated from a creative writing program in college.) If I read the sequel and am wildly blown away, I’ll retract this reaction (or at least amend it?) to say that it should be given a chance. Until then, the only reason you should pick it up is if you just want something simple and fluffy.

Reader Reaction: The Hating Game

Reader Reaction: The Hating Game

Title: The Hating Game
Stand Alone
Author: Sally Thorne
Released: August 9, 2016
Favorite quote: “Books were, and always would be, something a little magic and something to respect.”
goodreads

The Hating Game is one of those marvelous novels that I’d never heard of prior to seeing a photo of the cover of bookstagram. Honestly, I find great quick-reads through my account. This is going to be a quick reaction.

The main characters in the novel – Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman – have a wonderful, hateful relationship that plays out in the workplace. Their office is the battleground where the majority of the “hate” part of their not-friendship takes place. The top floor of the publishing house where their both work is one of the main areas of the novel. It follows the template of most work-related romance novels: there’s the workplace, the outside of work area where they see each other in a new light, the places they bump into each other (which in The Hating Game were planned most of the time), and the homes of both characters. Like any other novel with this similar layout for locations, although I love the wit and tempers that are at their best in the office, I prefer the very first occasion in a home setting.

I don’t want to ruin The Hating Game for anyone, but I will say that The Hating Game has pretty much everything that a reader anticipates going into a love/hate-workplace novel: the other love interest, the secrecy, the confusion, the shyness, the squishy moments that make my face and heart melt from the downpour of my own salty tears. There is light smut (not terrible descriptions at all), but here is a fair warning for those who avoid any romance novels that make their way into the bedroom. It’s not sexy for the point of sex, though, so that may change the opinions of others. I read the physical contact as playing an important role in the evolving dynamic of Lucy and Joshua. (Any differing or aligning opinions on that matter?) The Hating Game is a cute, quick read for those who want something light yet heavy. There’s a pretty good balance between sweet and sexy. Thorne doesn’t sacrifice the plot at all for sex but rather uses it as a tool to enhance the characters’ reactions to each other and the atmosphere at work.

If you want a modern day Lizzie and Darcy surrounded by books and work, I highly recommend The Hating Game for one of your future reads.

Reader Reaction: Storm and Silence

Reader Reaction: Storm and Silence

Title: Storm and Silence
Series
Author: Robert Thier
Released: March 19, 2016
Favorite quote: “Chains of gold are still chains.”
goodreads

This is a novel that is very dear to my heart, so this might be a rather emotion-driven reaction, which can be both good and bad. Firstly, it’ll be good because I’m extremely interested in sharing my open and honest opinion on Storm and Silence. Secondly, it’ll be bad because I’m rather biased. Why? Because teenage me who crushed on Sir Rikkard Ambrose and Robert Thier took the wheel away from me and guided me through this as I read the entire novel for the first time. I started Storm and Silence when I was a high school student obsessed with fanfiction on wattpad, which is what led me to stumble upon this wonderful book. I faithfully waited up each night for the new updates and fangirled like the hopeless romantic that I was/am. So if you’re looking for a critical analysis of Storm and Silence, I apologize, but this is going to be one of the few times when I don’t honestly try to tear apart the whole to examine the pieces.

Back when I’d first read what had been posted of Storm and Silence, I remained a loyal fan until about 75% of the way through the story (which I only found out recently). Something came up and I have no idea what it was, but it kept me from finishing. Since then, I’ve always wanted to go back to it. Now, thankfully, I have.

Lillian Linton. Lilly has been both a character that I love and hate because of how overly-committed and unbelievably clueless she is. She’s the perfect mixture that makes her both likable and believable. I’d like not to think that she’s the stereotypical clueless girl or the stereotypical dedicated strong female character. Why? Because those two types compensate for each other in a winning combination that is entirely Lilly Linton. (Yes, I’m singing her praises to high Heaven, but I really just love/hate her. Always have. Always will.)

Sir Rikkard Ambrose. Tall, dark, handsome. Is there any more to say? Of course there is! Besides being tall, dark, and handsome, Mr. Ambrose has a personality (on first meeting) that I wouldn’t want to beat with a twenty foot pole. He’s an incredibly flawed character! From miser to miserable, Ambrose is a romantic interest who engages the main character in a manner that is nearly unheard of. He reminds me slightly of Heathcliff (though I actually like Ambrose, so maybe that’s a harsh comparison). Thier writes a beautifully disastrous leading man whom the readers love to hate and love to love.

The combination of Linton and Ambrose is perfect. They’re a bit like Watson and Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels in the sense that one has a superiority complex and the other has a difficult time accepting that the other one actually is brilliant. Of course, Lilly/John and Rikkard/Sherlock are much more than just that slight comparison. Really think about it, though; consider any sort of adaptation that you’ve read or seen of Sherlock Holmes and really compare them to Miss Linton and Mr. Ambrose, if you can. They’re a wonderful team, but they don’t quite work well. If you’re a BBC “Sherlock” fan, maybe think about how the chemistry between them flares before snuffing out: that’s a fairly accurate description of Lilly and Rikkard’s relationship.

The secondary character’s are amazing. Yes, amazing. Do I want to elaborate? Not particularly. They’re each unique little dandelions that a reader needs to discover as they pop up. Even among the suffragettes, there are varying personalities on the spectrum that I hadn’t anticipated. The sisters aren’t all the same. The men aren’t all the same. Even the two parental figures aren’t the same. I’m even able to tell apart all of Ambrose’s employees by their differing traits. It’s marvelous! I’m too used to reading novels that give the bare minimum for secondary characters.

In Storm and Silence, different political and social issues are explored. From women’s suffrage/rights to the monopolization of entire industries (and cities) for political, economic, and personal gain, Thier tells a story that tightly wraps up Victorian history and its struggles in a neat package with a bow on top. Although there were one of two parts that made me stop and really question the accuracy (like the alcohol-induced hallucinations that kept making me think “absinthe?”), I felt that Storm and Silence does an excellent job of showing a glimpse of Victorian England to readers. In fact, this can be deemed educational, depending on how you look at it. For younger readers who aren’t aware of the struggles that women faced (lack of rights, “need” to marry, difficulty to divorce, treated nearly like property, etc.), I think that Storm and Silence is a wonderful start into that time period before leaping in with Wilde or Dickens.

Do I recommend it? Yes! To who? Everyone! Yes, I’m not the most trustworthy when it comes to this novel because of how desperately in love I was with it in the past and how quickly that love snapped back into place in my chest upon rereading, but I truly do recommend it. It’s a thrilling romance that leaves you needing more.

Reader Reaction: Sugar Daddies

Reader Reaction: Sugar Daddies

Title: Sugar Daddies
Stand Alone
Author: Jade West
Released: July 12, 2016
Favorite quote: n/a
goodreads

I’m going to start off by saying that as a happily-engaged twenty-two year old, I don’t normally read romance novels. In fact, this is probably only the third that I’ve ever read in all twenty-two years of my life (though I guess the first twelve or so shouldn’t count since not many kids read romance novels…). By putting that out there, I’d like to say that I have very little to compare this novel to. Because of that, I didn’t particularly want to write a reaction to this novel. I feel ill-qualified, for one thing; for another, I’m slightly embarrassed that I read a romance novel. This reaction will probably mostly be about me freaking out over the fact that I read (and am now writing about) a romance novel. I’m not ashamed of that fact! Don’t get me wrong: I do have a great respect for anyone who successfully publishes and sells their writing, no matter the genre. But smutty novels just aren’t usually my thing… except, apparently, when I’m sick with the flu and tired.

So! Did I like it?

Yes and no.

Why yes? If I look at this as purely smut, it was great. It was different, open-minded, and included a decent amount of background and connections for each and between each of the characters. It was a well-written story idea.

Why no? It fell flat in just about every other regard. The characters felt very much the same on paper as all the others. They spoke the same. Some were extremely stereotypical (Verity). Although I appreciate that it wasn’t just a simple story about sex, the familial issues that West explores in Sugar Daddies seemed too…

Okay. An entire paragraph on the family issues is necessary. I’ll give West credit: Katie’s situation with her father is believable. It’s so believable, in fact, that I have several friends who grew up in similar situations (though I’m unaware of whether or not their fathers ever found out about them – I don’t mean to seem unfeeling, I’m just trying to be direct). But Katie’s childhood is what made me question her motivations for seeking the companionship of two men. This may be upsetting to read, so I apologize in advance to those who may be offended by what I write next. Katie’s character, from the first page to the last, felt like she was compensating for her fatherless childhood by seeking a polygamous relationship with two men. Her need to be enough for a man, as well as her need to keep a man in her life, overshadowed any actual interest her character may have felt for both Rick and Carl. I’m not writing this because it simply came across the way to me. No.

“Couldn’t I be the one they wanted?”

I’m sorry, but no. Just no. From Katie’s fights as a child and adult with her half-sister, Verity, to her desire to be the one for Carl and Rick, I didn’t believe she loved them. At all. I really wanted to! I wanted to see more than a young girl talking dirty to older men and putting herself in a position where she felt loved, but I didn’t. Instead, I saw a dry main character that was incapable of making me feel the love that she supposedly felt for them. If anything, Rick was the only good character, and even he had his flaws. But still, Rick was the best. AND THE NOVEL WASN’T REALLY ABOUT RICK! It focused much more on Katie and Carl. Ugh…

I’m trying to be open-minded. In fact, by the end, I supported the polygamous relationship – even though I thought that Katie was in it for the wrong reasons – just because Carl and Rick were happy. Still, I can’t get over Katie. She started off as a character that I could like: adventurous, slightly shy and modest, and quirky. By the start of the actual plot, though, I realized that I couldn’t really like Katie. She meant well, I firmly believe that, but Katie clearly let her insecurities that lingered from her childhood control her choices. In other words, I didn’t like the characters. At all. Well, besides Rick.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this. That’s why I wasn’t keen to write a reaction to this novel, especially since I forgot to write a few others before this. However, I told myself that the next novel I finished would get a reaction, no matter what it was. So here I am, writing a review on a romance novel that I’m not sure I’m adequately prepared to write on. Do I recommend it? No.