Being brutally honest about books

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Elites by Natasha Ngan

The Elites 
Date finished: 27 April 2014
Original review, ie. not posted on Goodreads
While I was reading this I thought that I'd only give it three stars, but then I finished it and decided that hey, it's original and unique, so why not give it four? Because, hello, it's a dystopian novel set outside America! And how many of those have you read? Okay, that little fact there might be the main reason that I liked it so much. Oops. But honestly, it is so refreshing to read something that isn't American, something that's written in proper English. 

I love the cover, which is usually what makes me pick up a book in the first place. Cover, title, author. (But not always in that order.) Anyway, yes, I like the background image and the girl dressed in awesome action-movie-type-clothes. And the font of the title. I'm a sucker for cool fonts. 

One of the best things about this book is that everything was resolved. There's no need for a sequel, because the author is good enough to get the conflict solved in one book. Most dystopian novels are in trilogies (Hunger Games, Delirium, Divergent, etc...) but the narrative in this one was fast enough to not need two more books afterwards.

One thing I didn't like so much was the lack of explanation of the setting. We don't find out much about what caused the other countries and cities to fall, and why Neo-Babel was the only one to survive. I would have liked to know, and I'm sure that one paragraph would have been enough to tell us.

I liked having a heroine who isn't white European. So many books have non-white supporting characters, but in how many is the actual protagonist a different ethnicity? So I enjoyed having the Chinese ("Red") Silver go through her struggles.

I thought the romance was sweet, although I kind of wish it had happened just a little bit later on. I guess I just love angst, and the thought of Silver and Butterfly shouting "I love you"s in the middle of an action sequence is me being a romantic.

I absolutely adored the ending. It was so powerful. Those three lines: Something bright. Something strong. Something precious. They're just perfect to end a book with. They highlight Silver's character and applaud her journey.

In conclusion, this book is definitely worth reading! I recommend it to all readers who love dystopian YA novels. It's fast-paced, thrilling, and there is rebellion and romance. Go ahead and read it.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Of Poseidon (The Syrena Legacy #1) by Anna Banks

Of Poseidon (The Syrena Legacy, #1) 
Date finished: 24 April 2014
This is one of those books that I read in 24 hours. I'm glad that it wasn't any longer than 320 pages, because I think that that would have made the book worse. The book wasn't terrible, but it wasn't brilliant either. From the blurb, I wasn't expecting much, which is a good thing as it turns out.

This book was like Ingo (by Helen Dunmore) for teenagers. I was going to say that it's a more mature Ingo, but if you consider how immature Emma (the protagonist) is, you can't say that it's a mature book at all. I always loved mermaids when I was little (at age six I apparently told my mum that when I grew up I was going to be a marine biologist and save the endangered mermaids) and are still vaguely interested in them today, at age sixteen.

The title is kind of misleading. With a name like Of Poseidon, you think of the Greek gods, not mermaids - sorry, Syrena. So that annoyed me a little. Especially since on the cover you can hardly see the Of bit.

Characters? Galen is intriguing. Toraf and Rayna are hilarious. Rachel is mysterious, and Emma is okay. But, ohmysweetgoodness!, for the protagonist I was hoping for someone more mature, someone who acts their age. Someone who doesn't act like a freaking twelve year old when she's eighteen. 
There are a lot of cliches in this book. The whole Half Breed thing, and one person in the couple not going to live as long as the other is so Lord of the Rings. The girl finds out she can hold her breath underwater for hours and talk to fish thing is so Ingo.  The girl dates other guy to get first guy jealous thing is so every American YA novel. The shark attack thing is so Soul Surfer. Sigh.
Recommendations: You know what? Ingo is better. For a good mermaid book, read that.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine

Prince of Shadows 
Date finished: 19 April 2014
Original review, ie. not posted on Goodreads

This is one of those books that isn't actually that good, but I enjoyed nonetheless. It had its flaws, but for some reason I liked it anyway. I absolutely loathe Romeo and Juliet (I studied it in Year 10 - we read the play and watched both the 1968 and 1996 films), but I've read another book about Benvolio and Rosaline, so I was intrigued to read this author's take on the background characters.

It was refreshing to read something in the point of view of a male character, because most YA books I read have the usual strong female character. So it was nice to have a hero instead of a heroine for a change. (And before you ask, yes, I am a feminist.) I don't know, I just feel like girl protagonists are taking over the YA genre, and boy protagonists shouldn't be neglected. I loved reading the notes and diary entries of the other characters though, and I worked out the curse before Benvolio did (not sure if I'm smart, or if that was the author's intention). It was nice to have a short break from him every fifty pages or so.

I didn't like the pace of the novel, though. It was very long (I read it nonstop for two days before I got to the end) and it took ages and ages to get to the Capulets' ball, which is where Romeo and Juliet really starts. And I felt like the end scene was a bit rushed, but that could just be me.

I loved that Mercutio had his secret lover, and that Romeo and Juliet had a curse on them. I've always found their romance ridiculous, so it was good to know that the author (and the protagonist) feel the same, and gave a new and exciting reason for their relationship. I remain of the opinion that what Romeo and Juliet had was not love.

Having a thief as the protagonist was an interesting choice, and I think it was a good decision. It added suspense to a not-so-suspenseful story, and made a lot of plot points possible. You don't generally read about thieves, and I quite liked that Benvolio didn't steal to keep other people's jewels, as he was a good character.

One thing that I will complain about, however, is Rosaline. Don't get me wrong, she's fascinating (to think that she actually managed to turn down Romeo! Smart girl.) but it got boring the way that she was referred to throughout the whole book, but didn't appear in all that many scenes. It annoyed me a little. The title may as well have been Rosaline Capulet.

But all in all, I did enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to teenage readers who like romance and historical novels.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2) by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2) 
Date finished: 16 April 2014

Got insomnia? Read The Lord of the Rings! Guaranteed cure!

Well, actually, The Two Towers was much better than Fellowship. I liked the second book a lot more than the first. To be honest, I should rate this 3 stars and the first book 2, as that would be more accurate as to how I felt about the two books. I really need to go back and downgrade my rating of the first book. Unlike FoTR, where it only gets interesting in the second part, TTT is only interesting in the first part. There is so much more action (though still not a lot) and the plot actually gets interesting. It's a shame that in the second part it gets boring enough. (Sorryyy, but I just don't care about Frodo, Sam, and Gollum.)

Much like Fellowship, Two Towers is, mostly, a few hundred pages of scenery. There is action, but if you look close at the text, you'll find that the majority of it is descriptions of scenery - Rohan, Fangorn, Ithilien, Mordor, etc. It's all scenery. And even though it's all scenery, I can't picture it in my head. This is why I love the movies - you can see the scenery in the background, without it being something you have to chug your way through, cursing Tolkien all the way. Do people actually like reading about scenery? Do they? Do they really? Because I sure don't. Give me action, cool dialogue, kickarse characters!

My sister told me that there were some funny parts in this book, and there was one: the Orcs in the last chapter were Spanish! They said Hola! Is that Tolkien's racism talking or what? Because I love Spanish and the Hispanic culture myself, I felt a bit offended. Why are the baddies Spanish? Why not French, or American? Jeez.

I, and probably everyone else, even those who love these books, had a problem with the different perspectives this book is written in. I liked reading about Aragorn, Legolas, Merry, and Pippin in the first part, but then I found it really hard to get through the second part, with just Frodo, Sam, Gollum, and Faramir. What Tolkien should have done is, like in the movies, mix up the chapters so that each chapter is about different characters. That way, the time frame isn't confusing, and you don't find the cure to your insomnia.

So I've been reading other people's reviews on Goodreads (the ones where they rated the book 2 stars), and I agree with most of their points. It's boring, slow, and the characters aren't likeable - or even realistic. And neither is the dialogue! I love good dialogue, in fact it's one thing that is essential in any story, and yet, the dialogue is these books is long and unrealistic. People don't talk like that now, and I don't think they talked like that even in Tolkien's time, or in medieval times. So why do the characters talk like that?

The characters are still pretty boring in this book. In the movie, I love the Three Hungers and Merry and Pippin. In the book, they're okay, but nowhere near as interesting (or entertaining). I have come to the conclusion that Tolkien really should have had an editor who knew about characterisation. And structure. And when too much is too much. There's also the relationships. These characters have really weird relationships with each other, and even though I've been told again and again that Tolkien didn't intend for there to be any homosexuality, I just cannot interpret Frodo and Sam's relationship as anything but gay. (May I point out that the first time I saw the movies, I shouted out "Just kiss!" at one stage?)

I know that most people don't like the songs in these books, but I found myself enjoying them. I think that they are very well-written (Tolkien should have stuck with songs and poems, I think) and offer a well-deserved break from the long passages of scenery. In fact, if the whole story were written as a song, I think it would be much easier to read.

I'm sure there are other things that I wanted to say about The Two Towers, but as I can't remember them right now, I'll finish this off with a warning: Don't read The Lord of the Rings unless you like falling asleep in the middle of a chapter and accidentally creasing the pages.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner
Date finished: 5 April 2014

I have to study this for English and let me tell you, I don't agree with "don't judge a book by its cover" one little bit. Just looking at the cover when my teacher handed me a copy, I knew that I was not going to enjoy this book. And I was right. To be fair, I hate any text I've studied in English, but this book didn't even interest me at all.

For a start, how am I, a sixteen year old white girl in New Zealand, supposed to relate to a young boy in 1970s Afghanistan? I couldn't sympathise with Amir, I didn't get his culture, I didn't really get him. I knew all this by the second chapter. Interesting setting and character are the two things I look for in a novel, and I was deprived of these. So I wasn't exactly hooked by the beginning.

For the whole first hundred or so pages, I was waiting and waiting for something to happen. The narrator's way of recounting every little detail about his childhood slowed down the novel to an unbearable pace. When I read a book, I need action, not a character's memories that will become totally irrelevant later on. The story in general was boring and I predicted that Amir would marry Soraya as soon as she was introduced, and I knew that he would adopt Sohrab as soon as it was mentioned that Hassan had a son. One of the other English teachers at school said that there are "so many plot twists" in The Kite Runner. So I read it anticipating those. There were literally two.

In short, I'm glad that I didn't expect anything great from this book. I would have been extremely let down if I had. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone - in fact, I would recommend that you don't read it. Why it has a 4.20 average rating on Goodreads I will never know.
I'm Alexandria, a 19-year-old reader/writer/blogger from New Zealand. I love language, history, and sci-fi. Hi! I'm always around if you want to talk, which you can do via comments, the contact form, or Facebook.

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