Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

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First, let me say that I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It in no way changes my opinions on this book. 

 

The Gauntlet is an own voices middle grade fantasy that’s adeptly compared to Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair. It follows twelve year old Farah as she has to find her seven year old brother Ahmad, who has ADHD and has fallen into the game The Gauntlet. Farah and her two friends have to win all the challenges to win the game. If they win, they can get out. If they lose, they are stuck there forever. 

I loved every character in this book. From Farah to The Architect (the master of the game) to the giant talking lizards I liked each of their personalities and how that fit into the book. The three friends Farah, Ellie, and Alex had that whole this is their one trait and everything they do kind of reflects on that. Usually that annoys me, but not this time. I think it helped that with the challenges they had to do it wasn’t just one person having a specialty in that challenge. They all had to work together. 

Speaking of the challenges they had to do, I liked them. I thought they were interesting. Though on the second on I’m still not sure what they were doing. It was a little hard to picture.

The reveal of who The Architect was surprised me. I was suspecting a completely different person, but it all made sense looking back. Which is the best really when you are surprised but it still makes perfect sense.  

The description was wonderful. Though there was one part were Farah thinks that she is just too tired  and frightened to take anymore in, but then proceeds with a full page of description. But, the food that was described sounded great. I have no idea what any of it was, but it makes me want to look it all up and try it.

This is Riazi’s debut novel, and I think she knocked it out of the park. It doesn’t say anything about there being a sequel anywhere, but I think there is room for one. The end left some strings out there that could be tied. Though there is one big question I have that feels less like oh maybe if there’s a sequel it would be addressed, and more like eh I think you forgot something. So I wish I had an answer for that.

Overall, this book was a fun, fast read. I read it in one sitting, and I give it five stars. I think both kids and adults can read this and enjoy it equally. It’s definitely a book I would recommend. 

Beauty and the Beast – Film Review

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Yesterday, I finally got around to seeing Disney’s brand new live action Beauty and the Beast adaptation. Everyone and their mother has been raving about this movie, so I bought into the excitement and took my niece and nephews to see it.

I should note beforehand that I heard a lot of controversy over this version having a canonically gay character, which offended a lot of people, for many different reasons. Not knowing enough about the original story (Belle was not my favorite princess growing up, sue me) I went into it unsure pf what to expect in regards to that. (Side note: one of my bigoted coworkers assumed I was only watching the movie because of the gay character). So this fact has been pretty significant, since mostly everyone knew about it going into it.

First, let me talk about the actual film. Emma Watson played an amazing Belle. I had no idea she had such a beautiful voice, but it was quite stunning. No complaints there. Emma’s a talented individual and I think she took to the role perfectly. The film was reminiscent of the animated Disney film, and it was really neat seeing all the characters come alive. The romance was believable and it made me nostalgic. And can we talk about that insane growl at the end from the Beast in human form? That was also very nice. There was so much humor, and it was just adorable sometimes. I laughed a whole lot, especially during the Gaston and LeFou parts. They were an interesting pair, and I loved their dynamic.

So, halfway through the movie, it occurred to me that I still hadn’t seen this supposed gay character. I noticed hints between Gaston and LeFou, but I wasn’t sure if Disney would actually pair them up romantically. I noticed that LeFou was effeminate, but that does not make a man gay. LeFou was trailing behind Gaston, but that’s what sidekicks do in every film. I waited for something to happen, either between them or someone else.

And then by the end of the movie, when Belle and Beast finally kiss, and all the secondary characters suddenly appear, everyone starts pairing up. Couple after couple started kissing on screen or making googly eyes at each other, hinting at a romantic connection. I get it, Disney’s a big believer in true love, so this was a trademark somehow. It’s fine. But then I was still waiting for this supposed gay character to get his love interest, like everyone else in the movie. And since LeFou was the only one alive from the pair, I counted on him. Eventually, I noticed LeFou dancing at the ball, with a woman. Okay, I thought, that’s cool. I guess it wasn’t him after all.

A few moments later I hear my niece whisper, “He was dancing with another man. Did you see that?” I turn to her, wondering if she was messing with me. I probably looked away for one second, and I missed this mystery man LeFou was dancing with. I kept my eyes glued to the screen until the credits, but there were no other signs of this happening. And that was that.

Leaving the theater, I was still completely unsure whether all those rumors were true. Was there really a gay character in the film? I’m still not sure. I’m not saying that anyone needs to be with someone else to prove their orientation, but in a movie that promotes true love and urges couples to get together, I would think the one gay character would get someone, too. And how is this representation?

From my perspective, LeFou was just an effeminate character, sassy and cute, yes, but that raises other questions. Are these the traits we’re supposed to connect with homosexuality, so much that we don’t get any real confirmation?

This turned more into a rant than a film review, but I’m still wondering why there was such a fuss about this supposed gay character when I had such a hard time just figuring out who this character could be. I see you, Disney, taking the safe way out of this. When are we going to get a gay princess?

Mass Effect Tag

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Mass Effect Tag

Commander Shepard: A favorite protagonist

Isis: Aristotle Mendoza from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. He was so relatable and beautiful. I always come back to him, but I’m not even sorry. He’s the best.

Nicole: Magnus Chase from The Gods of Asgard series. He’s smart and scared and I loved reading from his perspective. 

Liara T’Soni: A character with great character development

Isis: Ozzie from At the Edge of the Universe. He has the most painful character development, but it was also so well done. I loved him from the start to the end, but I was proud of him at the end. He grew so much, and he became a better person overall.
Nicole: I really liked how Zach develops in Last Night I Sang to the Monsters by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

Garrus Vakarian: A favorite friendship

Isis: August and Kate from This Savage Song. Their friendship was pure and strong and it was totally platonic. I loved every minute of it.
Nicole: Rose and Lissa from The Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead have a great friendship. They still fight and mess up, but they don’t forsake each other for it. They support each other like a real friendship.

Jack: A character with a tragic past that works

Isis: Ummm Andres from In Perfect Light. The reason for this is that half of the book is about his tragic backstory, and the other half is about him dealing with it presently. So it works really well. And his backstory is so painful but it’s also hopeful at the end. I adore that book. I don’t think I could have taken such a sad backstory from anyone else, but Saenz is a genius when it comes to writing tragedy.
Nicole: Amy’s backstory from Amy and Rodger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson worked well for the story. It’s the whole reason the book happened, and I feel like it fit and was done nicely.

Samara: A complicated family dynamic

Isis: Oh man, the family dynamic in Stranger on the Shore by Josh Lanyon is just the craziest thing. The Arlington family was a mess, but I grew to love them anyway.
Nicole: Artimes from the Artimes Fowl series has an extremely complicated family, but it somehow works.

Marauder Shields: A favorite inside joke from a fandom

Isis: I don’t know if this is necessarily an inside joke but every time someone in the Captive Prince fandom even mentions Charls, it is hilarious. We are all Charls.
For context, this line from “King’s Rising”:
“That’s right. He is Charls. I am Charls. We are cousins,” said Charls, gamely, “named after our grandfather. Charls.”

 

Nicole: The Harry Potter fandom will never get over this, and I always laugh.

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Thane Krios: A favorite character death

Isis: *Spoiler alert*  Voldemort. Die, bitch.
Nicole: I won’t say names but there is a character death in The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight that’s pretty great. And by that I mean really, really sad.

Kaidan or Ashley: A character you could delete and it would have no effect with the story

Isis: Haha, this is sad. I think if you deleted Agatha from Carry On everything still would have happened pretty much the same way. I honestly liked her, but she was no unimportant, it’s not even funny.
Nicole: I feel like if Tyler wasn’t in Zom-B it wouldn’t have been that different. He was there to get beat up, have racist tirades thrown at him, and make B feel bad. Really it would be doing him a favor to take him out of the story. 

Mass Effect 2: A favorite middle of the series book

Isis: The first thing that came to mind is Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat. Of all three books, this was by far the best one. It’s the only one in the trilogy that I gave a 5-star rating to. It’s probably the one I would definitely re-read.
Nicole: The Attack of the Ninja Frogs is the second book in the Dragonbreath series, and one of the best books that I’ve read so far in the series.

Andromeda: A favorite spin off

Isis: I don’t read spin offs because I don’t really read series. I think the only spin off I’ve ever read is the Sidewinder series that was a spin off of the Cut and Run series. I didn’t like it very much though.
Nicole: I’m not sure if this is technically a spin off but it’s not a sequel either. I really like Auggie and Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio. It’s three short stories featuring side characters in Wonder that I think added to the story nicely. 

Bioware: An author you support even if they disappoint you

Isis: I think Benjamin Alire Saenz, Rainbow Rowell, Victoria Schwab, and David Levithan are the only ones who have this honor.

Nicole: Victoria Schwab and Ursula Vernon immediately pop into my head. I will probably buy anything Khaled Hosseini writes.

 

Bookish Questions Tag

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1. What book is on your nightstand now?

Isis: I have a ton of books on my nightstand, but the one on top is In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero. It’s the book we’re currently reading for book club.

Nicole: Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen because I read a little before bed about a month ago, and left it there. I haven’t picked it up again since.

2. What was the last truly great book you read?

Isis: The last truly great, nearly flawless book I read was At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson. I adored that book and raved about it a lot. It’s one of my all-time favorites.

Nicole: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee was a really great book, but if I had to pick something fiction it would have to be The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight. It probably isn’t even that great of a book if you criticized it on a basic writing level, but it was the last book I read that truly grabbed me and forced me into the story. Which is sad since I read it last October.

3. If you could meet any writer—dead or alive—who would it be? What would you want to know?

Isis: I’ve already met my favorite author, Benjamin Alire Saenz, twice before. So other than him, I’d love to have met Jane Austen. Her life was fascinating and I admire the way she crafted her stories. She was so ahead of her time. I just love her.

Nicole: I really like Victoria Schwab so meeting her would be cool. Talking about writing with Rick Riordan or J.K. Rowling would be nice too. Realistically, whenever I meet authors I’m usually too nervous to barely say hi to them, so it doesn’t really mean anything to me.

4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Isis: I do have a book on my shelf called The Threesome Handbook by Victoria Vantoch. The only reason I bought it is because I went through a Misha Collins-Vicki Vantoch obsession and I felt it was necessary to have. No shame, though, right?

Nicole: It might be surprising that I have a whole shelf of romance books since that’s a genre I don’t gravitate toward ever really. I don’t think I have a particular book that would be surprising though. 

5. How do you organize your personal library?

Isis: No real organization to it. Other than Benjamin Alire Saenz and Stephen King shelves, everything else is just scattered. I guess I group them by size mostly.

Nicole: I tried to set it up by genres, but I don’t have enough shelf space so I have random stacks of books everywhere.

6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?

Isis: Right now I’m pretty disappointed in myself for not yet reading The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz. It just recently came out and I got him to sign it for me before it was even released. But I have it tucked away with no plans to read it yet. I will, though! I’m just reading so many books at the time. I’m not embarrassed over not reading anything, though I wish I could get to Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo ’cause everyone praises that book and I have it, but again, not sure when I’ll get to it.

Nicole: I always mean to finish the Percy Jackson series but I never pick up the next one. I’ve been meaning to pick up The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin too. I usually feel a little embarrassed if a book is really popular and I haven’t read it. Only when it’s being hyped up though.  

8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?

Isis: I’m drawn to contemporary, realistic stories. Lately I’ve been trying to read more angel books for research, but other than that, I just love a good realistic world with realistic characters. With a happy ending, preferably. I do stay clear of high fantasy books. I find it difficult getting into those type of books. Also, probably any sci-fi. I’m picky sometimes.

Nicole: I’m usually drawn to any story with magic. So fantasy I like just not the ones with old kingdoms that are really political and that’s it. I’ve also really been into nonfiction lately. I stay clear of stories that just depressing nothing happy goes on at all. I like contemporary, but I’m also really picky about which ones. Anything too tropey or straight romantic I stay clear of.

9. If you could require the president to read one particular book, what would it be?

Isis: The current president? Jeez, can he even read?

Nicole: Maybe Wonder by R.J. Palacio or something like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

10. What do you plan to read next?

Isis: I plan to read Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera. I have the ebook and I started it a few weeks ago, but I just stopped reading it. It was great and I can’t wait to focus on it again!

Nicole: I’m in the middle of five books right now so I should probably finish those, but honestly that’s not gonna happen. I feel like reading The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino right now, but I might leave that half finished too.

Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat – Book Review

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“To get what you want, you have to know exactly how much you are willing to give up.”

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this trilogy. Before I begin, I would like to state the trigger warnings pertaining to these books. There is rape, pedophilia, violence, abuse, and slavery. I was highly disturbed in the first book, and although these aspects did ease up as the series progressed, they were never completely gone.

This is all to say that I did, as a matter of fact, enjoy this series very much. Despite all of my initial issues with it, I couldn’t put down any of the books. I read through this trilogy in three or four days, and I didn’t regret the sleepless nights caused by it.

I debated for days whether I even wanted to review these books or not. When I finished the third book, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I wanted to get away from this world and return to reality so I could feel like myself again. However, it’s been two weeks since I finished this trilogy, and I still have not fully escaped it. This is to say, I feel like I haven’t had enough of it. I miss the complex world, the characters, the intrigue, the twists and turns. I miss everything about them, so I decided it was time to review them.

I’ll keep it short and simple. Captive Prince follows Damen, a prince of a kingdom called Akielos, betrayed by his half-brother and forced to become a slave for the enemy kingdom, Vere. Damen is gifted to Laurent, prince of Vere, where Damen’s identity is hidden due to his having killed Laurent’s older brother during battle. Laurent commands physical abuse to befall on Damen plenty of times, so they pretty much hate each other from the start.

In order not to spoil the rest of the series, I’ll just say that there is a lot of character development in the second and third books. Eventually, Damen stops being a shackled slave enduring abuse, and Laurent stops being an entirely vile human being. Granted, character development doesn’t erase the past, which is why I still haven’t made up my mind about these books.

Aside from Damen and Laurent, there are an incredible set of characters. Mostly devious, but also fascinating and absolutely clever. I was attached to mostly everyone since they all had amazing characterization. The plot was also engaging. I never thought that I would be so interested in the politics of a fantasy world, but I couldn’t get enough of it. There are many devious plans in the works regarding the kingdoms, and there’s a lot of tension between all the leaders. It comes to the point that Laurent and Damen are forced to work together in order to restore and regain power of both of their kingdoms.

The romance was slow burning, which is the best type, if you ask me. I was skeptical at first because I couldn’t see how the author could ever pull off any sort of romance between these two very difficult characters, but let me tell you, she pulled it off, and it was organic and believable as hell. So I’ll give her props for that. Pacat really had a handle of these characters, and she showed the worst and best sides of both of them. I adored Damen from the start, but Laurent took a while to grow on me. I fought it a lot, but I can now say that I love Laurent as well. I don’t actually think either Damen or Laurent are good people, but I love them for what they stand for and for who they want to be. I think that’s what matters.

I don’t think these books would appeal to everyone. It’s important to go into them expecting heavy elements and not-so-perfect characters. Before I read them, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, and it was still difficult to let myself like them for what they are. I’ve learned to cherish these books, and I plan on re-reading them in the future. They’ve definitely stuck with me.