Reader Reaction: Flame in the Mist

Reader Reaction: Flame in the Mist

Title: Flame in the Mist
Series
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Released: 16 May 2017
Favorite quote: “I think it’s remarkably easy to provoke certain reactions from you.”
goodreads

Retellings are just about my favorite books to read, so I internally freaked out when I heard that Flame in the Mist was going to be a retelling of Mulan. That combined with the story being set in feudal Japan was all that I needed to want to pick up this book.

The first half of the book lagged terribly for me. If it wasn’t one of my most anticipated reads of 2017, I definitely wouldn’t have finished it in two days. However, I’d heard so many great things about it that I did force myself to push through that first half. After that, it got a lot more interesting.

The plot (at least in this first book) is minimal. There doesn’t seem to be anything intricate going on in the sidelines yet, which is disappointing, but I’m hoping that that will change in the next book.

The characters are captivating, at least. The setting and descriptions are gorgeous, though! If for nothing else, read it for the settings.

I do recommend this, but it hasn’t been even close to one of my favorites of 2017 so far.

Reader Reaction: Eliza and Her Monsters

Reader Reaction: Eliza and Her Monsters

Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Stand Alone
Author: Francesca Zappia
Released: 30 May 2017
Favorite quote: “You found me in a constellation.”
goodreads

So I’d pre-ordered Eliza and Her Monsters back in February (when I still thought it was fine to spend all of my money on books instead of, I dunno, food and gas?) because it sounded like a really awesome story that I could relate to in some small areas (like being a part of an online community and having people that I talk to online and creating things, etc.). Let me tell you right now that if you like Fangirl, you’re going to love this book because it’s like Fangirl on crack. Now to go into a semi-spoiler free reaction. I don’t give away anything major, but I do talk about the book, so be warned if you’re super sensitive to spoilers. But again, I don’t go into detail about plot or anything like that.

I am amazed by how much I love this book. After finishing one read yesterday afternoon, I still wasn’t ready to start Empire of Storms so instead, I thought “Why don’t I pick up that new modern contemporary stand alone?” A little after 3 am this morning, I finished reading it. There were actual tears running down my face.

Eliza is the creator of an insanely popular webcomic (that is obviously online). I know it’s unfair to compare to Fangirl, but I’m going to for just a minute, and it will surprisingly be in Eliza’s favor. Cath had her issues: there were times when I wanted to shake her for being so closed-off from the rest of the world that she didn’t understand even the most obvious of things. As much as Cath and Eliza are alike online, they completely differ in that respect. There was never a single point in the story where I wanted to pull Eliza off the page and yell at her for being a blinded hermit. Why? Because it was all believable. The way that Eliza was written so perfectly describes what it’s like in reality to live through things that are tough. From family and friendship issues to disorders, Eliza tackles them all, and like real life, she doesn’t always win.

If I could, I’d wrap Wallace in a blanket and just read and write with him for hours on end. For not being an incredibly long novel, Zappia really made me fall in love with all of the characters. Yes, Wallace was perfect, but how about Eliza’s two online friends or the group of Wallace’s friends? Even though they weren’t on the page nearly as often as Eliza and Wallace, I was still drawn to them. I still felt like I knew them even though I didn’t see them that often. Does that sound crazy?

I’m not going to go into depth, as promised, on the plot points of this novel. However, I do want to say that I believe that everything that happened fit together like a perfect, powerful, believable puzzle. It wasn’t just a story about a boy and a girl. Maybe it seems like that from the cover, but this is a story about Eliza. Make no mistake, Wallace is a huge part, as is expected, but to me, it isn’t in any way focused around him. Everyone plays a vital role in supporting Eliza, but it’s not their story. I wanted to know more about the lives of her online friends and more about Wallace and more about pretty much everyone because it felt like it was a story that covered everyone and everything that had to do with Eliza’s life, and in some ways, it is. The fact that I wanted more of these characters isn’t a bad thing, either! It’s like not Zappia didn’t include them enough in the novel, in my opinion, but I could just read a whole story about Eliza’s two online friends and be completely satisfied because they were like real people with real issues that I cared about as much as Eliza.

Because I absolutely recommend this novel, I will say that there are some darker themes; it’s not all webcomic pages and chat windows and happiness. Zappia crawls into the hearts and minds of these characters and uproots their souls for our reading pleasure. Maybe that sounds a little twisted and I shouldn’t word it that way, but it’s important to recognize that not everything in life ends in happily ever after. There are issues in real life that remain forever and always haunt us. Zappia explores these types of problems. While I absolutely love it, I do advise that you just take into account that this isn’t going to be absolutely skipping-through-a-meadow happy the whole time. With that in mind, I do recommend this to anyone who loves creative energy mixed with friendships and online social settings. Honestly, I think that anyone could read this and enjoy it. It’s just amazing. I love it.

Reader Reaction: Stardust

Reader Reaction: Stardust

Title: Stardust
Stand Alone
Author: Neil Gaiman
Released: 29 August 2006
Favorite quote: “There. I knowed a man in Paphlagonia who’d swallow a live snake every morning, when he got up. He used to say, he was certain of one thing, that nothing worse would happen to him all day. ‘Course they made him eat a bowlful of hairy centipedes before they hung him, so maybe that claim was a bit presumptive.”
goodreads

I’ve been wanting to read Stardust since I first found out that the movie was based on a book. Honestly, it was one of my favorite films growing up and I’d never had a clue that it was based on a book (maybe because I never paid much attention to anything before and after the film started, including credits and mentions of Neil Gaiman). I’m going to make this quick: It’s a definite must read if you love fantasy.

This was my first read by Neil Gaiman and I was really surprised by the writing style. It felt like it was catered toward children, and then came a semi-explicit sex scene and description of killing an animal. No, I’m not one of those people that says children can’t read certain books, but I don’t think this was written for children, which made the style + content a really interesting combo for me. I sent a text to my friend (also an English major) about it, and she laughed when I reached the sex scene and declared that it wasn’t as much of a children’s book as I had originally thought. Anyway, the writing was amazing. The whole thing just sucked me into the pages because of Gaiman’s fantastical way of telling a story.

It was much different from the movie in many aspect and very similar in others. Even though I’d loved the movie as a child, I’m glad that I read the book. The ending was much better than I’d anticipated! Despite the fact that this is a fantasy novel, Gaiman sticks to realistic reactions and portrayals of people. I loved every minute of it!

There’s not really much else that I want to say since I don’t want to give away the story. The settings, plot, and characters were amazing. For how short this book is, I didn’t feel that it didn’t tell enough, so that’s a huge plus. It’s one of my favorite quick read stand alones that I’ve read. Definitely go out and buy a copy. Read it. Love it. Now.

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.