Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kalinda reviews 5 books in 5 minutes

***** Five stars go to... The Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning

From what Kalinda gathers after first coming across The Fever reviews on Goodreads and then talking to her fellow steam-powered dolls, you ever love or hate The Fever. There is rarely a balanced reviewer who remains neutral or lukewarm. Since these books ignited such passions (even if said passions occupied the extreme ends of the spectrum), Kalinda got intrigued. She approached the series with as near to an open mind state as she could master. The only preconceived idea she admitted to have been secretly harbouring at the time was that this series was supposed to be something different (whatever your definition of different is). 

And different Kalinda got!

MacKayla Lane, the protagonist, starts off as the ultimate Barbie. She’s very pretty, likes to paint her nails, dresses in pink and constantly sings along to 'It’s a Wonderful World' as she soaks up the sun by the pool. Then her sister Alina is killed in horrendous circumstances in a foreign land, so Mac has to Buffy it up if she wants to avenge Alina (naturally, the foreign land’s police is useless...) She goes off to a foreign land where she meets Jericho Barrons, the ultimate brooding mystery man with many tattoos and really bad temper (‘nuff said!), learns things she soon wishes she didn’t learn and ends up one of the major players in an ancient supernatural power struggle (as you do).

Somehow, it all worked for Kalinda. She’s inhaled the give Fever books over a week and wants more! More! She loved Moning’s peculiar story-telling, her way of thinking and analysing things as Mac, and Mac’s telepathic conversations with Barrons. Out of curiosity, Kalinda checked out one of the books from this author’s pre-Fever series (the title of said book is too embarrassing to mention here) and her suspicions have been confirmed – The Fever is a unique phenomenon.

Kalinda highly recommends this… as long as you approach it with an open mind.

**** Four starts go to... Indigo Spell (Bloodlines #3) by Richelle Mead

Kalinda got hooked on Mead about three years ago. Even though the symptoms of this  ‘hook’ appear to be easing off now, Kalinda still keeps reading Richelle Mead’s best (according to Kalinda, anyway) creation – the Bloodlines series, the new incarnation of the Vampire Academy (yes, arguably ridiculous name for a series - a series that also feature some of the most embarrassing cover designs ever, but nonetheless highly entertaining).

In the third instalment of the Bloodlines, Sydney Sage, the Alchemist extraordinaire goes on with her task of babysitting teenage vampires while endeavouring on an unrelated quest to discover more of her own unusual powers and save some innocents. Kalinda likes Sydney as a protagonist more than Rose of the Vampire Academy fame, but that’s really just because Sydney appeals to Kalinda’s nerdy nature and is generally smarter than Rose (ok, Sydney’s more book smart while Rose’s street smart or something like that) even though sometimes Sydney can’t see what’s right before her very eyes.

Before starting on Indigo Spell, Kalinda recommends reading at least the two earlier Bloodlines books (Bloodlines and The Golden Lily), if not all of the Vampire Academy installments. Or you can just wing it.

*** Three stars go to... Shine Light (Finale of Night Creatures)

After a breath-stunning Burn Bright followed by a huge let-down of Angel Arias, the island of ever-night Ixion’s magic was kind of lost on Kalinda. Though Shine Light is a decent book  and the NightCreatures trilogy has a unique concept and solid writing, Kalinda was expecting a lot more from the conclusion to the series (especially after the standard was set so high with Burn Bright – again, what an amazing book that was!) Still, Shine Light did what it had to do - it tidied up most of the loose ends, Naif got some kind of closure and sort of made a choice where a choice had to be made... 

What Kalinda liked the most about Shine Light though was its ending: it was well-crafted and realistic, and because it was realistic it came off as unusual. 

Also, this book had a lot of Lenoir. And it’s always a good thing.  

** And two stars go to... Opal (Lux # 3) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The allure of the Lux series has remained a mystery to Kalinda up until she finished ’Opal’: for some weird reason she was compelled to keep reading book after book without really engaging much with the characters or the story. Kalinda feels that maybe in the beginning, she was interested in The Lux because to her it resembled ‘I Am Number Four’ (at least, the movie – she can’t comment on the book as she hasn’t read it) and she was just curious how Lux’s ideas were different from the ‘I Am #4’ concept of energy-manipulating aliens who can’t help themselves but fall in love with human girls. Turns out Lux isn’t that much different. 

Kalinda is most likely going to drop this series at this stage, she just can’t take any more of the reductive dialogues and characters being erratic and making silly decisions with annoying consequences. Kalinda also did not fancy one bit the cliffhanger ending of Opal. It felt like a cliffhanger of desperation to her. In summary, Kalinda no longer cares what happens to Katy, though she definitely loved the earlier ‘No More Pushover Katy’ rhetoric of these books. 

*One star is for... Crewel by Gennifer Albin

One-word review: CRUEL.

Some more words: don’t do this to yourself. This is the last time Kalinda gives in and buys a book because it is ‘hyped’ about. Now that she thinks about it, who and where exactly was hyping about this book? She can’t even recall! This must be some kind of conspiracy where we are all affected by some alien psychic powers that make us feel interested in something we really don’t care about. This book added absolutely nothing to the contemporary dystopian genre (which Kalinda quite honestly is beginning to despise): it had one-dimensional villains, annoying heroine, awkward writing, characters blatantly serving as plot devices and don’t even get Kalinda started on the  very nature of this dystopian world built around gender segregation and subjugation of women. Kalinda advice: if you feel like a good dystopian YA book, read The Hunger Games. Or, better read 1984.  

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Warning: there may be some minor spoilers but 99% of this review is Kalinda’s perceptions of the book rather than rehashing of the story

The opening paragraph:

There were only two kinds of people in our town. “The stupid and the stuck,” my father had affectionately clarified our numbers. “The ones who are bound to stay or too dumb to go. Everyone else finds a way out.” There was no question which one he was, but I’d never had the courage to ask why.

Setting: Gatlin (fictional town in South Carolina), modern day USA

Key themes: Boy likes Girl (but Girl has a secret), aggressive small-mindedness and (in)tolerance of difference; Good and Evil and the grey spectrum in-between; fate vs free will; superpowered teens; sins of our parents; falling in love with mysterious strangers; aesthetic of the forbidden  

Kalinda’s Review

Protagonist and narration

This is the second book Kalinda’s recently read with a male protagonist – the other one is ‘Anna Dressed in Blood’ by Kendare Blake – and while Cas in ‘Anna…’ somehow manages to sound distinctively non-female to Kalinda’s ears (eyes), Ethan of Beautiful Creatures doesn’t exactly come off any different from a usual to YA female narrator. Should narration differ between female and male protagonists? Kalinda thinks yes, absolutely. How? That’s something for an author to convey and for a reader to judge.

Aside from the gender-related narration issues, the telling of this story was something Kalinda had troubles with throughout the book, and what a long book it was... And it’s not that Ethan was a bad narrator. He wasn’t. Yet, somehow he managed to be overtly descriptive whilst bland and, at times… boring. In the monotony that was Ethan there was no anxiety of (self)-discovery, no drama of falling in love for the first time, not much of an introspective contemplation… It was all too balanced to Kalinda’s liking. Ethan was perfect: he explained everything, dissected every single moment of his life (and the lives of others) to the bone… Maybe a third person’s POV would be better and added a bit of a mystery to the well-explained-world of Gatlin?

The characters

Aside from Ethan’s overbearing narration, the rest of characters weren’t particularly intriguing. Having seen the movie adaption of Beautiful Creatures now, Kalinda found that characters’ quirks and troubles were much better channeled on the big screen. Yes, while watching the movie she could totally see why Lena was going from cautiously excited to passive aggressive to outright aggressive in one agonising moment. She could see the reasons behind all the whining and the brooding. Unlike the movie which was surprisingly well done, the book didn’t really portray the characters’ woes and feelings that well.

Another issue Kalinda found with the characters was the lack of romantic chemistry between Ethan and Lena. The question Kalinda couldn’t help asking herself as she read Beautiful Creatures was why drag/force romance if it feels unnatural? Why push it? Perhaps, it would work better if the characters were just friends – wouldn’t it be interesting to explore the dynamics of male/female friendship in YA? It’s so very rare! Actually, come to think of it Kalinda can’t recall a single YA title lately where Girl and Boy are friends and nothing more. If you know of one, can you recommend it?

Major Motifs

The themes explored in Beautiful Creatures are among the best aspects of this book. The Us vs Them dichotomy, old as dirt but nonetheless interesting to ponder, is the backbone of this story and the authors return to it over and over again, sometimes elevating it to all sorts of extremes.

The small town setting in the Deep South where intellectual progress apparently is stunted still comes off fresh and peculiar enough to be intriguing. Although, while the numerous thick descriptions of Gatlin (architecture, atmosphere, small-minded ways of its inhabitants…) were well written and meticulously researched, Ethan’s looking-down gaze at his fellow Gatlinites was rather disconcerting. Such generalizations coming from Ethan made him look snobbish and a bit unlikable. 

Among the themes of this novel were also Palahniuk-esque explorations of one’s motifs for staying versus leaving, contemplating one’s desires to go away, (re)imagining your life and post-home future… It was all poetic and touching, beautifully done.

When The Mysterious Stranger comes to town, the atmosphere thickens with the fears of outsiders woven to shadow the excitement of something (or someone) new that Ethan feels, and deepened with self-discovery thrown into the mix.

Kalinda found this book binary at its core – light vs dark, xenophobia vs acceptance, staying vs leaving – the story kept going from one extreme to another. And then there were isolation and marginalisation of strangers and strangeness: the physical, social and emotional othering. It was all well done but the issue was that only the hero in his uniqueness alone appeared to be immune to the town’s growing hysteria born out of mistrust to strangers, only Ethan stood in between the bullying crowd and The Mysterious New Girl.    

The clichés

There was a haunted house on the hill, at times inhabited by Adams-esque characters; there were a storm-a-brewing and skies-are-churning; there was Birthright and of course there was someone who’s got way too much power for their own good that it would/should definitely blow up in their face (only it doesn’t).

Towards the end of the book Kalinda felt that only an amazingly twisted, earth-shattering ending could bring this book over from the realm of ‘It was Ok’ to stratosphere of ‘Wow’. Did the novel redeem itself with its ending? Unfortunately not. Maybe having just finished reading the first installment of Jenny Pox before starting Beautiful Creatures, Kalinda was expecting the ending a la Jenny (and not completely unfounded so – it certainly felt it was all building up towards something like that). But no, Beautiful Creatures is not that sort of book.

There were constant references to the greater literature and allusions to To Kill a Mockingbird; there was an abundance of tingling skin and brushing hands typical of YA lit but that could certainly be avoided as it has become a rather clichéd way to describe falling in love. In some way Beautiful Creatures felt like a YA ‘write–by-numbers’ with only a minimal tweaking, like gender role reversal. Ridley was the only character that intrigued Kalinda but since Ridley only appeared two or three times through the entire novel (the 500 pages of it), it wasn’t enough to redeem the book completely.  

Kalinda’s Verdict:
3-3.5 stars for decent writing and post-gothic feel. Read the book before watching the movie and compare the different endings.

Part of the reason (aside from all the movie buzz and the amazing Florence + the Machine song in the preview) Kalinda picked up this book was its enticing cover. Though upon reading Beautiful Creatures Kalinda can tell you that (and this is not a spoiler) the cover has nothing to do with the story – the dark and mysterious woods do not figure in it in any important shape or form.

The story attempts at magic realism (the characters take magical and strange things happening around them at its face value and nothing freaks them out. At all) but acquires unnaturally forced feel instead. Is it because we are all so desensitized by the abundance of paranormal in YA and non-YA books and movies that we are just expected to swallow up the characters of Beautiful Creatures behaving like they’ve seen it all when  faced with paranormal in real life? If yes, an author has to show it not tell it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

'The Host' by Stephenie Meyer

The opening paragraph: "The Healer’s name was Fords Deep Waters. Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous, and full of love. Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Water."

Setting and time: a system of caves, somewhere in Arizona desert, USA, in the near future, post-alien invasion

Key themes: alien invasion, dystopian?, two-souls-one-body, sentient parasites, non-human forces that wish to do good but do evil instead, human resistance, underground, monster v. human dilemma, self-sacrificial heroines that make you scratch your head in utter confusion and say 'wait, what?', kind-of sci-fi but not really (this is not sci-fi), love rectangle, alien logic

Kalinda’s Review

There are no huge spoilers in this review. Read on without fear (ok, there are minor spoilers depending on how strict you are about spoilers, but Kalinda does't give away any names just hints at things from afar).

At first Kalinda didn’t feel particularly interested in reading The Host due to her prejudice (ok, nobody’s perfect!) but then despite herself, she caved in. She is kind of happy that she did. For her surrender to The Host she blames her sisters-in–crime for continuously enticing her to read this Ms Meyer’s non-Twilight book because ‘it is better than Twilight’. Since when the Twilight became the book against which we measure literature, she asked, but then she realized the comparison was indeed fair when it came to Ms Meyer’s work.

Instead of summarizing The Host here, Kalinda would like to cite Dana from the Reasoning with Vampires, for it is a hard task for provide a better recap of this book.

As a (non-parasitic) alien from outer space herself, Kalinda was expecting a lot of alien wickedness from The Host. Namely, she was expecting many moral, social and cultural complexities that are just bound to occur when two worlds collide. She can’t really say none of that stuff happened because it did, to some degree. But was it sufficient? Kalinda doesn’t think so. She wanted more.

The central premise of The Host is one of the greatest sci-fi ideas of all times: the body snatchers. An alien invasion in The Host happens in silence and without struggle or (much) blood. By the time humans realize something’s happening, it is already too late, for they are invaded.

Aliens or ‘Souls’ are these tiny luminous creatures resembling glow-worms or transparent centipedes. Somehow, they infiltrate human societies, and hijack bodies by surgically inserting themselves into them. A Soul then takes full control of its human host’s brain, erases its original personality while retaining their memories. Or something like that.

As Kalinda mentioned earlier, the idea of body-invading aliens is not original, and neither is the one suggesting a human mind can and will rebel from within against its invader (for rebellion against oppressive authority is what being human is all about). However, Meyer does a good-enough job building on these themes, adding layer after layer of complexity (though said complexity mostly having to do with unexpected romantic entanglements). Yes, in case you were wondering there is a love triangle in this book. Or more it is like a love rectangle (the human host is in love with this one guy while the host’s invading Soul slowly develops feelings for another… Very confusing moments and dialogues ensue).

Kalinda found Meyer’s descriptions of other planets, worlds, civilizations oversimplified; and the Souls’ virtuous views of things rather underdeveloped. Also, the themes of self-sacrificing heroines and domineering men that know better than the heroine what she wants (not at all uncommon things in Meyer’s work), in The Host are simply too much at times.

If Kalinda had to pick one thing she liked about this book it would have to be the way Meyer works in the monster versus human dilemma into the story. From the very beginning of this story you are confused: who is the baddy and who is the hero here? Are aliens truly evil in their twisted justification for the invasion of Earth (“Life on Earth is evil! We are actually doing humans a favor by invading them!” (not an actual quote from The Host))? Or is it the cave-dwelling humans who are wicked monsters for seeing the world strictly in black-and-white and having trouble recognizing sainthood-bordering goodness that is right before their eyes?

This continuous confusion/dilution of good and evil spills over into the narration of the book, as well. The Soul in question (aka Wanderer, aka Wanda) starts off as the narrator before passing the baton to Melanie, her resisting human host and then the narration kind of switches between the two. In the beginning, Wanda is the monster and Melanie is clearly the human, the victim, the one for a reader to cheer for. However, somewhere towards the middle of the book, the narration takes on the third dimension by referring to the host/invador duo as ‘we’, not-so-subtly hinting as the two opposing forces locked into one body finally finding a common ground and starting to like each other (yes, it is as weird as it sounds). By the end of the book, you may kind of end up feeling for Wanderer’s plight and not particularly liking Melanie, though Wanderer does go overboard more than once with her self-sacrificial tendencies, and it is hard to swallow the logic behind her decisions without a serious eye roll.

And of course, the ending… Let’s just say, the faux-ending that Meyer presents to us at first though a depressing one, is the one that really should have been, the only ending logically acceptable, as well as the ending that Wanderer actually wished and asked for herself.

The real ending, however is the total opposite of the faux-ending (duh!) and though sweet, it kind of obliterates the human v. monster problem all together. Though Kalinda does understand that nobody wants to pick a Stephenie Meyer’s book and cry their eyes out in the end, right? Right?    

Kalinda’s Verdict: if you are a hardcore sci-fi fan, this book will be an insult to your sensibilities. Do not read it. However, read this book if you want an Intro into alien-body-snatchers as The Host will most likely provoke many questions which is usually a good thing. Also, read this book if you enjoy reading stories featuring confusing love rectangles, for The Host definitely prides itself on having a seriously messed-up one. Read this book, because it is being made into a movie and it is usually a good idea (Kalinda believes) to read the book first and then see a movie, not vice versa. Kalinda gives this book 3.5 stars out of 5 because this book was better than she expected, despite its disturbing cover art.

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Clockwork Angel' by Cassandra Clare

The opening line: The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

Setting and time: Victorian London, England

Key Themes: an American teenager in London; assortment of demons, underworld dwellers and a part-angelic warrior race tasked with hunting/policing them all; love triangles; monster v. human dilemma  

Kalinda’s Review

Although Kalinda has read this first installment of the prequel series to Cassandra Clare’s bestselling Mortal Instruments years ago she was so busy writing her Young Adult literary masterpiece and plotting silent invasion of Earth that she is only publishing this review today.

Set in the same universe as the commercially successful Mortal Instruments (now, a movie – due for release in 2013) with its part-angel race of demon-crushing Shadowhunters, the first Infernal Devices novel adopts a different point of view – that of a Downworlder. 

Tessa Gray (16 year old) travels to England from New World in search of her brother, but instead finds herself thrown deep into the middle of a supernatural struggle between good and evil of rather large proportions. Clare paints dreary but at times enchanting landscapes of London: a windswept, rain-drizzled world of grey, dark blue and black which at times  spills over into the characters' moods, creating a brooding, dark atmosphere.

The Downworld denizens (namely, lycanthropes, vamps, evil/misunderstood fairies and warlocks, etc) are portrayed as creatures subjugated and controlled by the Shadowhunters – a race descendent of angels, and in possession of some metahuman strength normally acquired by burning a series of ancient runes onto their skin. Shadowhunters are sort of supernatural police, legitimised by their purpose of slaying demons which keep spilling into the human world and threatening the balance. 

In Clockwork Angel, Clare continues exploring complex relationships between Shadowhunters and Downworlders through her main protagonist’s story. Kalinda found Tessa Gray tough and open-minded in the face of manifold prejudice and unfairness she encounters as ‘the Other’ while at times suffering from general blandness as a character. 

Kalinda thought Clare’s exploration of such binaries as ‘Mundane’ v. ‘Sacred’, ‘Us’ v. ‘Them’, and the done-do-death ‘Good’ v. ‘Evil’ were intriguing but not always fully developed. Kalinda enjoyed the fact that the novel explored societal issues pertinent to the times of Victorian England, like gender and class politics (Tessa and other female characters have to operate in the world dominated by men, etc). And although it was clear from Clare’s world-building that the Shadowhunters had their own society and rules within the ‘profane’ human world, they still appeared to exhibit gender inequality and intolerance of the difference, just like their human counterparts.

Finally, a special word needs to be said on the use of poetry as an artistic tool in Clare’s writing arsenal. Era-appropriate poetry and prose are used in the beginning of each chapter to set an atmosphere and to foreshadow the story to come. The likes of William Ernest Henley, Lord Byron, Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, John Keats and Emily Brontë are enlisted by Clare in Clockwork Angel. 

Kalinda’s Verdict:  

Although desirable, it is not crucial to read the Mortal Instruments series first as Clockwork Angel is a prequel and there will be no spoilers of Clare’s books which are set up chronologically later on. Clockwork Angel is a decent book and an easy read, if not very memorable. The book cover is lovely. Beware of a nauseating love triangle. Kalinda gives Clockwork Angel 3 out of 5 stars.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kalinda has arrived...

Watch this space for amazingly evil book reviews by steampunk doll from another planet.