Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff

Date Read: September 20 - 23 2012
Release Date: September 1st 2012
Publisher: Tor
Source: Bought
Genre: Steampunk/High Fantasy
My rating: 

"Griffins are supposed to be extinct. So when Yukiko and her warrior father Masaru are sent to capture one for the Shogun, they fear that their lives are over. Everyone knows what happens to those who fail him, no matter how hopeless the task.

But the mission proves far less impossible, and far more deadly, than anyone expects – and soon Yukiko finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in her country's last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled griffin for company. But trapped together in the forest, Yukiko and Buruu soon discover a friendship that neither of them expected.

Meanwhile, the country around them verges on the brink of collapse. A toxic fuel is slowly choking the land; the omnipotent, machine-powered Lotus Guild is publicly burning those they deem Impure; and the Shogun cares about nothing but his own dominion. Yukiko has always been uneasy in the shadow of power, when she learns the awful truth of what the Shogun has done, both to her country and to her own family she's determined to do something about it.

Returning to the city, Yukiko and Buruu plan to make the Shogun pay for his crimes – but what can one girl and a flightless griffin do against the might of an empire?"


When my friend recommended me this book I was totally excited for it. Japanese steampunk? Hells yeah! But I had to result to the "what I didn't like" and "what I did like" format for this review as those were my thoughts whilst reading - "oh this is good", "oh wait WHAT?! No..."

What I didn't like about this:
This was a great book but not as great as the hype made it out to be. It took me AGES to read it - a book of this size should only take me tops 2 days to read with uni in between. However, this took me like 4 days to read. It was extremely hard to read. The descriptions didn't create imagery easily, I had to really really concentrate for the pictures and setting to form in my mind. I would read 1 chapter on the train and think "oh my god this is going right over my head". Is it possible to be overly descriptive? I mean, I understand Kristoff was being cautious and detailing as much as possible as his Shima wasn't a place people would be familiar with. But gosh the amount of times he repeated things made me want to rip my hair out:
"The sky hung heavy with a pall of fumes..." and in the following sentence "trailing a suffocating plume of blue-black exhaust".

"Masaru squinted through the pall of greasy smoke at the cards in front of him. The dealer watched him through half-closed lids, a blue-black wreath coiled in the air around his head."
Throughout the whole book, this blue-black is attached to the end of half the paragraphs like a leech. I mean far out I GET IT... IT'S POLLUTED BY LOTUS, PEOPLE GET HIGH OF THIS SHIT, IT RUNS THE CITY RAH RAH RAH. Half the time I was thinking "I swear I just read that... oh wait". It's an endless cycle these dreaded words. I get it, he wants to emphasise this thing that is a poison to Shima but it's not required to the point where I wanted to just stop reading this.

Then there is the sheer amount of Japanese used in this. Had I not watched a shitload of subbed anime and Japanese dramas I would have no bloody idea what half this book is about. The Glossary at the end is a failed attempt at saving face. At least Kristoff waited until the second page to unleash his flurry of Japanese "She drew her tanto..." For the most part, it's eventually explained what the word means. Tanto I figured meant some kind of sword and further reading tells me it's a 6 inch knife. But things like "Hai" you'd have no idea what it meant - only some kind of submission (for the record it means 'yes'). Weapons like "wakizashi" and "katana" are easily thrown around and although described, the too many adjectives just went right over my head (thank you Yojimbo and Auron from Final Fantasy for teaching me what these actually look like).

The more I read I couldn't help thinking "this guy needs to chillax on the Japanese". I felt I read more Japanese than English a lot of the time.

*SPOILER ALERT* Aisha was a predictable character among all of this - of course the resistance is right under the Shogun's eyes.

What I liked about this book:
Despite sensory overload to the point of being uncomfortable, the setting IS spectacular. And again, despite me ranting about being overly descriptive and a lot of things going over my head, once things were absorbed I was definitely transported into the polluted and ruined world of Shima or the beautiful rainforests.

Kristoff's idea of how this one plant can be a source of fuel, drug and basically support an empire is extremely cool. Even cooler was the concept of the life/fertiliser that sustained these plants. When I read about how, I was horrified yet fascinated - quite an original idea. Actually, an extremely original idea and I loved it and I was like HOLY SHIT OMG WAIT DID I JUST READ THAT? I had to re-read it a few times to make sure what I thought was correct.

I also did love most of the characters, I really took a liking to Kasumi but I really loved Buruu. There was just something so grounded about him, despite his ferocity there was this calm whenever I read about him. And dang the heroine of the story, Yukiko, is a force of her own. I loved her growth throughout the book - from a seemingly naive, curious girl to a brave and strong young woman by the end wearing her scars proudly.

I think what I loved the most was Hiro. I so did not see that coming. And that twist is what made me give this book 4.5 stars. I think I actually laughed when it was written in plain ink and smacked me in the face... of all the people! Some people might have seen the twist, but I was so absorbed in what was unfolding and the suspense that I totally missed it - now THAT is great writing!

I do love a good steampunk and this was one of them - I've always dreamed of flying in an airship.

Since getting back into reading I'd read so many dystopians/sci-fi/paranormal books that this steampunk was something so totally different - a real breath of fresh air. The concept was unique and unlike anything I'd ever read!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

Date Read: January 9 - 11 2013
Release Date: January 8th 2012
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Source: Bought
Genre: Dystopia
My rating: 

"In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen.

But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her."


Woah how do I even begin to describe how amazing this book was? First chance I get I'm going to buy Insurgent... aka tomorrow. So as I wrote in my Shatter Me review, I find it really hard to read dystopian novels and even harder that they impress me. It's been over a year and I still haven't finished Delirium; I stopped at the end of chapter 1 for Skinned; I read five pages of Uglies and couldn't progress further; Inside Out sits bookmarked at page 23.

Shatter Me was good but I haven't been this drawn into a dystopic book since the first Hunger Games. For me it's always the author's lack/inability to get me relating to the setting. But Roth managed to do just that. I think a lot of YA dystopians are about the protagonist's lack of choice - they are forced into a certain lifestyle because of some war and new leaders arise and set some spartan way of living for everybody to follow and the protagonist is the only one that rebels.

Even though the factions have a set way of living I liked that there was still a choice. There was a thrill as I followed Tris' path to decide where she belonged.

However, I'm not sure I liked the set way the members of faction thought. If you're a member or Erudite you MUST have a thirst for knowledge and all your ex-faction's qualities eventually get driven out of you. I mean I guess it was easier for me, the reader, to relate to Divergence because as humans nobody thinks the same and we all have so many unique qualities that make us who we are. And I think Roth tried to show this with her exceptions - not the initiates - like Marcus and Natalie.

I did get annoyed with things that happened later on that were already confirmed in the beginning e.g. Tris knowing from the beginning her mother was Dauntless but then seeming surprised by this later on as if she didn't have the suspicion to begin with. But those are only minor flaws that can be overlooked in the shining brilliance of the rest of this story.

Characters... Tris was developed really well, she doesn't just suddenly become brave but it was always in her to question things and to act out per say. Part of her bravery is because of the Abnegation embedded in her so her actions are sound. And I love how she isn't perfect, especially during Lauren's fear landscape test. She isn't completely fearless because if she was I would have hated her.

And woah Four how do I begin to describe him? I fell in love with him completely and I like that the romance wasn't extremely past faced or just started out of nowhere. He sees a bit of himself in her I think, especially once they learn more about each other. All the other characters have personalities too which I liked, but some like Peter and Eric were a bit too stereotypical. The personalities were really relatable though, Christina as a friend still gets jealous and acts her age because face it, despite everything they go through, these are still 16 year old kids trying to fit in.

Pace wise, this book was nearly perfect for me. The storyline progressed in a way where you could feel time moving but not too slowly that it was boring - basically shit was happening (yay!). Note how I said NEARLY perfect, not just perfect; I found the ending unfolded a bit fast - sure the build up was there but the conflict and clues were too subtle to really go out with a bang the way it did. Lack of foreboding?

But jeez was this brilliant. Bloody brilliant. Every punch, kick in the face, touch... all the action was very real. My particular favourite was the fear landscapes, I felt such a thrill - there was just enough detail but not too much that it was "duh!".

There was just something so complete about this book. It had all the things that make a YA book memorable: distinct characterisation, a unique plot, a youthful romance, darkness mixed with light so it's realistic but retaining its context.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Date Read: August 30 - September 1 2012
Release Date: January 10th 2012
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Source: Bought
Genre: Contemporary
My rating: 

"Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind."


Well firstly I'll say this: don't read this on public transport... or any public place unless you want to look like a blubbering fool... or you don't care about crying in public. I made the mistake of reading this on the train and had to pretend I had really bad hay fever.

This was probably one of the best books I have ever read. Period. I think the great thing about this novel was that the protagonists weren't some cancer heroes who did something groundbreaking and left a huge mark on this earth before they died or whatever. They were teenagers and they lived as teenagers would - their last days weren't filled with doing all those cliche things like living a dream. Last days in this novel were vomit-filled and pain-filled. And as tragic as that is, that's the truth. "The world isn't a wish-granting factory". I think that was one of my favourite lines in The Fault in Our Stars. We all know this is true, but the way it's phrased here is like a slap in the face, making you realise that, reality is as it is. There is no if's, only "when I die".

I liked how Hazel didn't live because she wanted to get better (because frankly she wasn't, she clearly states that she's just buying 'bits' of time) but because she wanted to notice more of the universe. And despite how bleak this got a lot of the time, how raw it left me, there was still hope... like how 17 year old guys with one leg could still get laid. "Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal." Well I wouldn't say this book was really mine because I haven't fought the battle like Hazel did, but this book definitely left me this "evangelical zeal" and I seriously think it's one of those books that everybody has to read.

One of the most heart breaking books I have ever read, yet filled with the most amazing wit, humour and insight into humanity I have ever seen.