Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book Review: Monsters of Verity Duology – V.E. Schwab

She tried to swim to the surface but it kept stretching out of reach. It was like the cusp between waking and sleep, where you couldn’t hold on to your thoughts. Couldn’t hold on to anything.

But she held on to him.

Once in a while, you come across the kind of written work that makes you wish you had the talent to craft something so beautiful out of something that’s so dark and twisted.

I’ve loved V.E. Schwab ever since I picked up the Shades of Magic trilogy last year. As an author, I think there are no limits to what her imagination can conceive and what she can put into words. In a time where everyone seems to be writing about love triangles and sparkly vampires, she dares to be different.

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This Savage Song, the first book in the Monsters of Verity series, opens up with our “heroine” committing arson by burning down the chapel in the Catholic school she was attending. Talk about something starting with a bang. The opening chapter alone made me sit up and take notice. Right out of the gate, I knew this was not going to be a typical YA fantasy novel.

The concept behind this series is simple and yet strangely complex at the same time. Verity is a city teeming with monsters that arise in the aftermath of horrible crimes and savage acts. There are three known kinds: Corsai, who are born out of violent but non-lethal acts, like to prey on flesh. Malchai, born out of murder, feed on blood.

And last but not least, the Sunai, who are born out crimes so horrible that they take out the lives of more than one person, feed on souls. However, they can only feed on the souls of sinners, and to hear their song is to feel your soul being reaped from you one note at a time. They are considered to be the worst kind of monsters because they look, walk and talk just like humans, until you look into the bottomless depths of their eyes.

The city itself is divided into two factions: the North City, ruled by Callum Harker, who “controls” the monsters and who makes the inhabitants pay for his protection; and the South City, ruled by Henry Flynn, whose small band of soldiers patrol the streets in order to keep humans safe from the monsters.

And because this is some kind of retelling of Romeo and Juliet (in like, a sick, distorted kind of way), OF COURSE, Callum and Henry have  two offsprings that meet somewhere and get to know each other in a way that makes readers hopeful that some kind of love story will arise from the gruesomeness of this tale.

Right.

If you’re looking for happily-ever-after, you might want to move on to the new Stephenie Meyer novel or reread Twilight. There are no cutesy, holding hands in the dark and chasing each other down the beach moments here.

Kate Harker is no Juliet. And while August Flynn may have the looks of someone who would spout sonnets in the moonlight and liken his lady love to a summer’s day, he would just as likely kill someone with his violin than he would make love to a woman.

I love atypical and imperfect main characters. I think they’re so much more relatable than those characters that are perceived to be perfect by everyone around them. I think the fact that these characters are neither purely good nor evil makes them more compelling and interesting, and it mirrors the truth of what it means to be human.

Its not always black and white. We are defined largely by the sum total of our life experiences and the choices we’ve made and have stood by. I think what I realised while reading this book is that life tends to be one large grey area most of the time, and no one really has the right to judge anyone by what they do when faced with an impossible situation.

Apart from being thought-provoking, this two-book series is also action-packed and gruesome in the best way possible. It is not afraid to be graphic and descriptive about mankind’s capacity for violence, and it just makes me think about how we’ve come a long way from the days when YA was synonymous to Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley series.

There is a lot of violence in these books, but the good thing is that it never feels gratuitous or senseless. The violence feels like an integral part of the story; it feels like we NEED to see and get past the bad parts in order to get to some kind of resolution, just like real life.

Some part of me always knew how this series would end, and I wasn’t far off in my predictions actually. Still, when I came to the climactic conclusion of ‘Our Dark Duet‘ (the second book in the series), I found myself sobbing like a baby and crying ugly tears, even as I knew it could not have ended any other way.

The author allows you to develop such a personal connection with her characters. You are able to share in their joys, sorrows, triumphs and loss. But it also means that the ending of the story packs a real punch because you feel like you’ve gone through this roller coaster journey with them.

So no, it wasn’t a happy ending, but what it was was hopeful and redemptive. It leaves you with the feeling that this is a story that is just beginning, and that there is so much more work to be done before there can be real and lasting peace in Verity.

People were messy. They were defined not only by what they’d done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, moulded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back – time only moved forward – but people could change.

For worse. For better. It wasn’t easy. The world was complicated. Life was hard. And so often, living hurt.

So make it worth the pain. 

I am under no illusions that this is an unbiased review. I love love love this series. To me, it is absolutely faultless, and I would really recommend it for people who love world-building, fantasy and a taste of something different. Happy reading, bookworms!

Posted in bloggers, Books, Fantasy, LGBT, relationships, romance

Book Review: Murmuration – TJ Klune

Ever read a book where you spent a good 10 to 15 minutes staring into space (wondering what the hell you just read) as soon as you turned the last page?

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Welcome to the world of Murmuration. Its confusing, amazing, heartbreaking, fascinating, wonderful, traumatic and lovely all at the same time.

Its seriously f***ked up. 

This was recommended by a friend on Goodreads who thought it would be a worthy addition to the list of LGBT books on my bookshelf. I thought I’d be reading some fluffy love story that will make me feel all gooey inside after I’ve read it. I was reading this while on a birthday trip to Disneyland Paris, for crying out loud!

So there I was, all glowy and happy from a day of spending time with Mickey, Minnie and my favourite Disney Princesses (and super high on adrenaline after riding two rollercoasters in one afternoon), and I thought it would be a good idea to finish the evening reading something light, something that’s not so taxing on the brain cells. I was on holiday after all.

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This book totally made my brain hurt. Is there such a thing as mental pain? Because I’m pretty sure that describes the sum of all my feelings towards this book.

I can’t even give you a synopsis because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that I thought this was a story about a small town boy (living in a lonely world) in the 1950s who falls in love with another small town boy and that they would have to fight to overcome the prejudices that were prevalent at the time.

I started to get warm and fuzzy feelings from the development of the romance (I do love a good friends-to-lovers story) and from the level of acceptance that surrounded these two human beings. I thought, my my, what an awesome story, there is still hope for mankind after all.

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I don’t know when the vague sense of unease started to creep in. I don’t know where I started to get an inkling that there’s something not quite right with this story. Amidst the cute diner scenes, fourth of July picnics and the charms of walking home hand in hand in the dark, I started to feel like this was all too good to be true. There’s something seriously wrong with this story.

Okay confession time.

I skipped ahead to the ending. 

Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But COME ON, have you ever had the distinct experience of reading a book by TJ Klune? The man doesn’t have it in him to be brief, okay? His books are incredibly lengthy, and while the writing is good there are moments when you just want to yell at the man to get a damned editor because surely there is a better, SHORTER, way of writing a story.

Just get the bloody hell on with it.

Anyway. I skipped to the ending because I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink without knowing for sure which one of my crazy theories were correct. I was sure that it was either one or the other. I have read a lot of books and its very rare that a plot line is able to surprise me. I’m usually always spot on with my predictions.

I was so far off the mark with this one that its not even funny.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I thought this was one of the most unique plots I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an insanely fascinating story in my entire life.

Does it have plot holes? Sure. Absolutely. Enough to rival the holes on the ozone layer in fact.

Does it make sense? Hell, no. It doesn’t. It requires a lengthy stretch of the imagination to even conceive that this book is within the realms of possibility.

What it was, though, was vastly entertaining. It will keep you on your toes, constantly thinking up explanations for the things that are happening. It will drive you crazy wondering what the hell is going on. It will keep you in a heightened sense of dread, especially when things are going so well for the main protagonists, because you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It will make you cry. There’s all sorts of feels in this book, and the ending is bittersweet in the way really good stories are (Hello, Inception). It will make you feel like maybe its okay to not have a happily-ever-after, as long as you can be happy for now.

I‘m pretty sure this book took a little piece of my heart with it. 

Let me just say, in conclusion, that it constantly amazes me to think about what the human mind is capable of. It is capable of so much invention and innovation as the seat of our intelligence. It is capable of so much destruction when common sense is overruled by emotion, such as pain.

It is capable of dreaming up stories such as this.

We can spend a hundred years studying the human mind and I don’t think we will ever reach the limit of its capabilities, nor will we ever fully answer the mysteries inherent in the minor miracle that is our brain. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re not meant to overanalyse how we think, how we feel and how we came to be who we are.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in this book, its that there’s very little point in examining and cross-examining why we make the choices we make and why we live the way we do. That’s not the point.

The point is simply to live, the best way you know how. 

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, Politics, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: The President Is Missing – Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Well, I never thought I’d see the day when a former President of the United States becomes a novelist.

This is the book that is sure to generate a lot of discussion as readers flock to their nearest bookstores to buy the snazzy looking cover that has BILL CLINTON written in its front cover in big bold letters, all caps.

If nothing else, the strange pairing between the former leader of the free world and one of the world’s most prolific writers (so prolific that people suspect others ghost write his novels) will be enough to get even the most negative of naysayers so curious that they’ll actually end up buying the book.

This was how it was in my case anyway. I’m not a big James Patterson fan but the fact that a former president co-wrote this intrigued me so much that I put it in my to-read list and bought it the day it was released here in London.

I mean think of all the insider secrets he could couch as “fiction”; think about the possible dirt he could have on the world’s most powerful nation, and all the stuff he can share about what it’s REALLY like to live in the White House.

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I have to say, people who feared that he’d give away state secrets can rest easy. For all the hype, there wasn’t anything in this book that we haven’t read in other political thrillers and dramas except perhaps that everything in this book is validated and believed to be factual because of Bill Clinton’s presumed input.

Can I just say though, the fact that it opened on an impeachment trial was too ironic for words, and it had me pissing myself laughing. I didn’t know whether to mock him or to applaud him for having the balls to write what must have been one of the most embarrassing periods of his political life into a novel.

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I resisted reading the initial reviews on Goodreads so that I would go into it with an open mind. And I’m glad I did that because I know a lot of people are being really critical about it. Come on guys, give the man a chance huh? What else is he supposed to do now that he’s no longer politically active?

And I have to say, while this book is not going to win the Nobel Prize for fiction anytime soon, its actually not bad. It started off really slow, and President Duncan felt like a really bland character who is destined for martyrdom. It certainly didn’t feel like Bill Clinton was fictionalising himself, although it would have been more entertaining if he did. Everyone loves a good scandal, right?

Instead, President Duncan felt almost too perfect. Sure, he had moments of doubts and moments where the public questioned his motives but the readers always get the sense that this guy is a hero: he loves his country, he’ll fight to the death to protect it from people who mean to do it harm.

And while cynics may find this a cause for criticism, maybe we should take a good hard look at ourselves and question why we find it so hard to believe in a character who is still pure and driven by altruistic motives. I think the reason will show too much about ourselves and the world we live than is comfortable.

Anyway, I was bored for the first 50 pages of  this book. It felt like they were all wasting precious time endlessly discussing options rather than actually doing something, which is my whole beef with politics in the first place. I mean, they’re sitting on a ticking time bomb and they waste half a day to discuss all the 50 ways that things could go wrong? Come on.

We did eventually get some action when readers find out what it is our characters are dealing with, and the fight sequences were genuinely good. I also like the subterfuge, the misdirection and the subtle balance of keeping foreign relations friendly even when you just want to tell someone to f**k off.

However, the main plot was not too original. In fact, Dan Brown had already done something similar with Inferno and Origin. This felt a lot like the latter, only without the religious undertones and, of course, the intrepid Robert Langdon. I’m not going to give too much away, but I would say that the plot is another cautionary tale against our ever-increasing reliance on technology and the Internet.

I did like the twists and turns that the novel took, especially on the last few chapters. I did GUESS the twist as early as 40% into the book, and I thought the President was monumentally stupid for not having seen it coming, but hey, what do I know?

I did not like the ending. The whole chapter before the epilogue felt utterly self-serving and useless, it had no ties whatsoever to the book. I would have happily skipped it but I could never let any part of any book go unread, so I read the whole darn thing and was rolling my eyes the whole time.

So to sum it up, this book was OKAY. Forget everything you hear about its authors and read it with an open mind and you’ll find that the plot was actually good and the writing pretty engaging. I applaud Bill Clinton’s gumption to venture into fiction-writing, and I hope he’ll come up with another one soon, maybe something that has Monica Lewinsky in it. A romance, perhaps?

Who knows? If this book tells you one thing, its that anything is possible.