Friday, March 31, 2017

Book Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

As you probably know by now, I prefer reading a book before I watch an adaptation (whether movie, book, or, rarely, anime) of the story. So when few months ago I realized Netflix was adapting Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher into a mini-series, I resolved to finally read this book. I'd been wanting to read it for some time (probably ever since I heard all the buzz for it when it came out), but it was never high on my priority list. After watching the trailer for the show (and seeing all of Mary Weber's praise for the book), I checked the book out from the library.

I know, I'm being so clever with this picture. 

Synopsis

After Hannah Baker commits suicide, Clay receives a package that contains cassette tapes that detail thirteen reasons why she killed herself. And if you receive the tapes, you're one of the reasons. 

My Thoughts

I read Thirteen Reasons Why in one day, which doesn't often happen, especially since I worked most of that day. But once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I had to find out what had happened to Hannah and why Clay (who is an adorable sweetheart) was on the tapes. The mystery was intriguing, and the way the story is told through the dual-narrative was unique and mesmerizing.

This book has affected a lot of lives, or so I've read online. (Jay Asher has a website where you can submit how it changed your life or read other people's testimonies.) And I can see why. This book has power to it. It deals with a lot of hard issues, mainly suicide but not limited to just that. It discusses rape, gossip and spreading rumors, stalking, teen relationships, consent, under-age drinking, and more. It doesn't shy away from addressing these issues or the effects they can have on teens. Overall, this book can be dark and depressing as it navigates these topics, but the ending left me with a sense of hope. That ending gave the book purpose, and it encourages every reader to do more in thinking about the effect their words and actions can have on other people.

The only aspect I wasn't too keen on was the so-called "teenage angst." I know that a lot the events in this book can take place in real life, but a lot of it felt over-the-top and sometimes over dramatic. (This is why I don't usually read contemporary YA.) All I can say is this is one messed up town of high school students. I grew up in public school and I never experienced most of these things. I wasn't a very outgoing person or involved with the core group of kids, but I still can't see all of these events happening to one person. (I mean, do people really do things like this on the weekend? Do their parents let them do these things? I don't know, man.) But I'm forgiving that because of the book's other merits.

Overall, Thirteen Reasons Why is a compelling take on suicide and how it affects more than just the person who commits suicide. The mystery aspect of the book kept me intrigued. I think most teens who can handle these topics would be the best choice to read this book, but I know that other people may enjoy it as well. It does deal with heavy topics, though, so I would keep that in mind when deciding if you should read the book or even watch the show.

Now I look forward to watching the Netflix adaption and reading more books by Jay Asher!

Have you read Thirteen Reasons Why? What did you think of the book or the Netflix show?

I checked out Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher from my local library and chose to write a review of my own free will. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Beautiful People: March 2017

I'm taking a break this week from reviewing books to participate in March's Beautiful People. Somehow I skipped February's Beautiful People. It was a couple's edition, and every time I sat down to pick a couple to use I couldn't decide. I didn't want to do the same as last year, which only left me with limited options. And then time ran out. So here I am again, trying to participate!


This month I'm going to highlight a character from A Girl and Her Dragon. As I attempt to rewrite and edit this mess of a novel, I've realized there are some characters I still need to get to know better, so Beautiful People is the perfect opportunity to do that. Gilbert is one of these characters. He's the best friend/cousin of Killian, the prince of Greene. He's also a knight and likes to follow the rules. But he's a precious cinnamon roll, and apparently, he has a lot more hiding beneath his appearance.


Here are the questions:

What’s their favorite book/movie/play/etc.?
This world doesn't have movies, and while they have "play-esque" performances from time to time, it's not anything that's specific. His favorite book, however, is a storybook his mother gave to him when he was young that was about a brave knight that rode dragons instead of killing them.

Is there anything they regret doing?
Being alive. No, really. Gilbert is basically a disgrace to his family's name. He doesn't know who is father is, and his mother refused to tell anybody anything about his identity. Gilbert's unplanned birth shamed his mother and excluded them both from royal lineage. Even if Killian and all his siblings die, Gilbert would have no right to the throne because of his "tainted" blood. And everybody in the kingdom knows it.

So Gilbert wonders how his mother's life would have been different had he never been born. Would she still be alive to sing and pull pranks? Would she have been happier? He feels guilty for existing.

If they were sick or wounded, who would take care of them and how?
He probably would trust himself the most, but if he physically couldn't attend to his own wounds, he would enlist the nearest military medic or the castle's physician.


Is there an object they can’t bear to part with and why?
A ring that was once his father's (according to his mother). She always wore it, and when she passed, she gave it to him. He holds tight to it because a part of him believes it could lead him to his father someday.

What are 5 ways to win their heart (or friendship)?
I'm going to list ways to win his friendship because Gilbert doesn't usually win hearts (because Killian continuously steals them from him).

  1. Be honest: Gilbert values honesty above almost anything. If you can't be honest, he won't want to be your friend.
  2. Be fun: While his outward demeanor might squash any attempts at having fun, inside Gilbert secretly wishes he could be as open and frivolous as others, especially Killian. The biggest reason he and Killian share such a close friendship is because Killian is constantly getting both of them in trouble. But Gilbert doesn't mind because he is having fun. 
  3. Be loyal: Gilbert also values loyalty--to the kingdom, to the royal family, to his friends. If someone isn't loyal, he doesn't want to associate with them.
  4. Be supportive: Gilbert doesn't want friends just to hang out with. He wants friends that challenge one another to become better, he wants friends that support one another in all their endeavors. He is constantly pushing Killian to be better, and he wishes Killian would support him just as much.
  5. Be understanding: Gilbert has been treated differently because of the stigma associated with his parentage. But he knows that is only a part of him, and he wishes people could understand that there is more to him than what runs through his blood. He always treats people with understanding--trying to figure out why people act in a certain way or who they are beyond what they look like or what their past says--and he wants others to do the same for him.

Describe a typical outfit for them from top to bottom.
Everything he wears is perfect with no creases or rumples. Every hair on his head is in place. He usually is in the standard uniform for the Guard, which consists of pants, a tucked-in tunic, boots, and sometimes a jacket or cloak. If he's on duty, he'll wear armor or chain mail and have weapons at the ready.

This isn't exactly right, but it's pretty so I'm putting it here.

What’s their favorite type of weather?
A clear, blue day without a cloud in the sky and with the sun shining bright. These days were always a favorite for his mother, and she used to take him out for picnics or to make wishes on dandelion puffs. Those days remind him of the best of her.

What’s the worst fight they’ve ever been in?
Due to his service in the Guard, he's been in a lot of fights. But the worst, in his opinion, was when Killian fought him out of anger. Upset that Gilbert was leaving him, Killian lunged at him, and they wrestled. Gilbert never wants to see Killian like that again--his entire face full of rage, his eyes full of hatred. Ever since, something has been off in their friendship. They're still close, but there is a measure of distance dragging between them.

What names or nicknames have they been called throughout their life?
His mother called him Gil, and Killian often calls him that too. But he's also been called "bastard" or "son of a whore" and other derogatory terms. He'd been given some teasing nicknames during his training service with the Guard as well.

What makes their heart feel alive?
This one is hard. Gilbert doesn't like to open up lot; he likes to hide things deep. But I think he feels the most alive when he's painting--the quiet solace of the moment makes him feel alive--or when he's off running about on a crazy adventure with Killian. He would never instigate such shenanigans himself, but when Killian drags him along, he can't help but feel the sense of truly living as they're running away from danger or trouble.


Did you participate in Beautiful People? Join us here!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Book Review: Lavishly Illustrated with Interactive Elements Edition of Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

I've read several versions of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale before, from several re-tellings to the version in a fairy tale book I own. But I don't know if I've ever read the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. So when I heard the next lavishly illustrated classic by Minalima was going to be Beauty and the Beast, I had to buy it.It's absolutely gorgeous, and it was a nice read to get ready for the live-action Beauty and the Beast film.


I was surprised, as I read, to find that much of the original Beauty and the Beast tale is different than the Disney version. I don't know why I was surprised because most of Disney's adaptations are rather different than the original tale. Some elements remain intact to the story I grew up knowing, such as Beauty going to stay with the Beast and her love breaking his enchantment. But the elements I loved the most about the story, unfortunately, did not appear in the original tale.


Beauty was kind of a boring character. She didn't have the ferocity and independence that Belle embodies in the Disney film. She kind of just let's things happen instead of being the one to make them happen. She doesn't even love books like Belle, which was super disappointing. The Beast is fine, but the reason he is a beast was drastically different and frustrating. Instead of being vain and being turned into a beast to learn a lesson, he's turned into a beast because he refuses to marry a fairy! And the whole reason Beauty breaks the spell is because another fairy (who is apparently good) made it all happen. She orchestrated the whole thing, which loses the effect that Beauty's love is a deep choice. In addition, we learn that Beauty is also a long lost princess, which takes away from the idea that she's a peasant, or for the most part an ordinary girl, who became a princess.


The rose is only present in that Beauty's only request to her father is to bring her back a rose. It's not an enchanted rose that slowly wilts to doom the Beast. The servants aren't moving objects, instead their monkeys? What?! There is, of course, no Gaston, so their isn't any exterior conflict. The biggest conflict is that Beauty misses her family (who is actually not her family and all of them are terrible people).

It felt like everything I adored about the story I knew were gone. An ordinary girl learning to love a beast, the surprise that someone could love him, and the prince learning not to be conceited. I have to admit I think I like the Disney version better. The first half of the original tale was decent with a lot of wonderful elements, but the latter half was just a disappointment.


The illustrations, however, are gorgeous as ever. I think Minalima did a great job with this adaptation. There are reoccurring golden elements woven throughout. They incorporated roses and thorn patterns throughout as well. The book just seemed to shine with the magic of fairy tales. My only issues was that they clearly used Disney for inspiration with most of the illustrations. The Beast looks pretty similar to the Beast in the animated film instead of matching the descriptions of him in the story. (He has an elephant trunk apparently! Which I want to see that in an illustration!) But I can forgive them because the illustrations of the Beast were absolutely fantastic and my favorite part.


Overall, Minalima did a wonderful job lavishly illustrating the original Beauty and the Beast tale. I've loved all three of their classic adaptations so far because they take their time and really do a great job. I look forward to more adaptations by them, and I will treasure the ones I have so far.


Have you read the original Beauty and the Beast story? What is your favorite version of Beauty and the Beast?

~All images are my own. I bought Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and chose to review it of my own freewill. All opinions are my own. And yes, I did listen to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack while I wrote this review!~

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Owl Crate's February box was circus themed, which contained a lot of cool stuff. The book was unsurprisingly Caraval by Stephanie Garber. A friend of mine actually received an ARC of the book a few months ago and told me I had to read it. So when I learned the theme of February's box, I knew I would receive Caraval and finally see what she'd been talking about.

Synopsis

Two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, have never left the island they call home due to their cruel father. But their chance for escape is a week away with Scarlett's upcoming arranged marriage. Until Scarlett receives three tickets to Caraval, a magical and mysterious carnival-esque game and performance. When Tella makes plans to attend Caraval, dragging Scarlett with her, Scarlett thinks it can only mean trouble. But instead it's worse--Tella is kidnapped for this year's game, and it's up to Scarlett to find her before the game ends. But nothing in Caraval is real or safe. Or is it?

What I Liked

Sister relationships
I'm an advocate for books with good sister relationships, and Caraval has a great sister relationship. Scarlett and Tella prove time and time again their love and care for another. They protect each other against their father and they also push each other to do things they wouldn't normally. Scarlett attends Caraval in order to find Tella, and she's determined to win in order to rescue her. I think that's admirable. While the sister-relationship got sidetracked during the book, it did pull through in the end. Sister relationships are just my favorite thing ever, okay?

Julian
Okay, let's talk about Julian, the mysterious sailor that helps Tella and Scarlett get to Caraval. He was... great. I knew there was something interesting happening with him because of all of his advice to Scarlett, but his actions kept me guessing on who he was and why he knew so much. I like all the twists and turns Stephanie Garber gave to his character. He was probably my favorite character of the book. 

Caraval
Caraval itself was beautiful. The descriptions were dazzling and weird and bizarre. Some of them probably didn't make a whole lot of sense, but I feel like that fit so well with the book and what it was trying to do that I didn't mind. I mean, Lewis Carroll doesn't always make sense in his books, and he's been getting away with it for over a century. My favorite part of the book was the descriptions of Caraval. It was truly magical.

Concept
The idea for the book--a mysterious, magical carnival that shows up without warning and provides entertainment, mystique, and intrigue for its contestants--is incredible. I mean, half the reason I picked this book up was because of the concept. (The other half is because that cover is just plain gorgeous.) I love that Legend, the ringmaster, never shows his face; I love the dreams and the shops and the rules to the game. I loved all the bizarre and wonderful things that happen within the story. The concept is freaking amazing.

What I Didn't Like

Scarlett
Unfortunately, I wasn't too keen on Scarlett as the protagonist. Something about her bothered me for most of the book. I couldn't tell if it's because of how often I was told things about her instead of shown things or whether it's because everything Scarlett believed about herself was not how she acted. She claimed to be selfless and brave and caring for her sister, but most of her decisions were reckless, naive, and just plain terrible. She was easily distracted by... well, everything. And even up until the end, I didn't really feel she changed or grew as a character into something more, something better. I wanted to like her, I truly did, but I just didn't. And the whole "sensing colors" thing was weird and never really explained. I was hoping it would dig her deeper into the history of Caraval or something, but it was never explained.

The ending
I didn't like the ending. I felt like it was a cop-out and that everything the book was building to didn't pan out like I wanted. I don't know if it's because there is a sequel (which I wasn't expecting) or if it's just the way the book fell flat for me. Everything was too nice and neat. There also wasn't a perfect resolution, so I don't know where to leave the characters. Obviously their story isn't finished, but it still left me wondering an awful lot.

Predictable yet not
Caraval, at times, felt super predictable, which was aggravating and kind of boring. Yet every time I predicted something that came true, the idea would get turned on its head. Yes, you're right... sort of. And it didn't make sense why any of those easy-to-guess twists would suddenly not pan out at all. She placed so many hints in the book, foreshadowing events, but they never rang true. I found that confusing and a bit hard to follow. I like there to be a balance, enough to let my mind work on guessing things correctly while at the same time being surprised by new ideas that are more brilliant than I could think up. Caraval just didn't have that balance.

Tell, Don't Show (Wait...)
One of my biggest peeves about the book was that the author told us a lot of stuff about Caraval and the characters, instead of showing. Over and over, we hear about how much Scarlett cares about Tella, how much she wants to attend Caraval, how much she wants to escape her father's abuse, etc. But we don't see her doing any of this, not really. Sure, she plays the game to find her sister, to rescue her sister. Until she gets caught up in the game, distracted by Julian and Dante and all the other people, and whines about everything that's happening to her. There was a lot of telling instead of showing, and it dragged down the story for me. I couldn't quite connect with Caraval

Overall

Caraval is an enchanting story that's full of wonder and mystery, romance and friendship, danger and darkness. I can definitely see why many people will read it and fall in love with it. I think if you love carnivals or mysterious and bizarre concepts, you should give it a try. It's an intriguing story. I wish there had been more to it, more depth, maybe more time to let the story flourish, but I can understand why this book will be hyped for a 2017 read. And who knows, maybe I'll try it again in the future and it'll catch me in a new way. After all... it's only a book. 

Or is it?


~I received Caraval by Stephanie Garber through the Owl Crate Monthly Book Box Subscription. I chose to review it of my own free will. All opinions are my own.~

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

As you might know, I love outer space. Stars, galaxies, space exploration--it all fascinates me. Thus, I'm a huge fan and advocate for science-fiction books, specifically YA science-fiction books. (There just aren't enough YA science-fiction books to please me.) So when I heard about Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, I knew I had to read it. Immediately. While it's certainly not my favorite YA science-fiction/outer space novel, Empress of a Thousand Skies did some things right. (Plus, I love the cover. What can I say? Covers are my weakness. Along with poor sad babies, waffles, and snarky characters.)


Synopsis

Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta'an is about to reclaim the Kalusian throne and she's seeking revenge on the person who destroyed her family. But when an attack on her life forces her to go into hiding, she learns there is much more to her family's deaths. Meanwhile, Alyosha, a Wraetan refugee, is framed for the princess' supposed death and forced to flee for his life. 

What I Liked

World Galaxy-building
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the lovely galaxy map that is provided with this book. I love maps, so when there are unique maps in books I kind of drool all over the book. (Sorry, Library!) And Empress of a Thousand Skies has a great map that provides all the planets and their locations to one another. It's quite helpful when the characters bounce from planet to planet. Plus, it's just gorgeous with the starscape design A+ idea, people. (We need more science-fiction maps.) Anyways, the galaxy-building of this book was fantastic. It felt like a lived-in system with a lot of different races, governments, and beliefs. I could tell the author spent a lot of time fleshing out the world she was introducing in this story.

Alyosha
Alright, but Aly was my favorite ever, okay? He was seriously so wonderful, I can't even tell you why. While Rhee was kind of "eh" in my opinion (she never listened to anybody and she made a lot of rash decisions), Aly was the best. He was smart and loyal and just in a lot of hurt because of how he's been treated. (Poor baby. I'm definitely a sucker for the poor babies). He's also a person of color, and he's dealing with a lot of ups and downs because of who he is. It was powerful to see him choose to do the right thing, even when the entire galaxy was prodding him to do something wrong. I look forward to more Aly in the sequel. (Because there is a sequel, and I will be reading it.)

Plot/Concept
The overall plot of the book was neat and interesting. It made for an exciting outer space story with lots of action, cool gadgets, and an interesting galaxy set up. It's not your typical YA story either. It focuses more on action, racism, and refugees (which was fantastic), instead of romance or teenage angst. While there is a little bit of romance, it's unexpected and not cliche or between the two main characters. (*round of applause for not being annoying*) The refugee and race focus was powerful and something I hope continues and even expands in the sequel.

What I Didn't Like

Plot twists
The plot twists in this book weren't that surprising. I guessed most of them pages before they occurred. Even up until the very last page, most of the book was predictable. If I wasn't so enthralled by everything else, it might have put a damper on the story. But because Empress of a Thousand Skies did a lot of other things right, I can forgive the plot twists.

Pacing
Sometimes the pacing felt rushed. There was a lot to the plot and the characters that would have been so much better if it could have slowed down for a second and let things flourish. This book is a little over three hundred pages, which in the scope of YA fantasy/SF, isn't that long. So I wish it could have been a little longer to let the story flow more. (It's a shame, isn't? That books like this--books with a whole lot of potential--get a short page limit while Carve the Mark has too many pages. *sigh*)

Aly and Rhee
Okay, my biggest complaint is that Aly and Rhee never cross paths in this book. I mean, there's like one brief moment where they're in the same room and see each other, but that's it. There is no interaction; they don't know each other. Even up until the end of the book, they aren't connected at all. Which was stupid. Because the synopsis says "Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy." BUT THEY DON'T JOIN FORCES. I guess they probably will in book two. But the synopsis for book one is wrong! It's just wrong. And that saddens me. I spent the entire book waiting in anticipation for when they would meet and decide to take on the galaxy together. And it didn't happen. *sobs*

Overall

Other than a few aspects, which I know could make or break a story for someone, Empress of a Thousand Skies was a fun, intergalactic story with memorable characters and an intriguing concept. It highlights the struggles of refugees and the hurt of racism, which I think are both important themes for our world today. It also has a lot of potential, and I'm excited to see what book two will hold. If you like science-fiction stories, or if you're a fan of The Lunar Chronicles, Firefly, or Illuminae, you should give Empress of a Thousand Skies a chance.

What other YA science-fiction stories do you love? Any recommendations for me are welcome in the comments.

~I checked out Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza from my local library and chose to write a review of my own freewill. All opinions are my own.~