Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review | 'The Forsaken'

The Forsaken (The Forsaken, #1)The Forsaken by Lisa M. Stasse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Forsaken is a completely misleading book. Going into it, I thought I would be flying through action and adventure and coming-of-age, but none of those were really experienced. I did, however, like the fast-pacing and storytelling. I would have liked to actually explore the psychological concept of 'violent tendencies.' The characterization was a bit poor, save for a few characters. The ending was anticlimactic. The writing, however, is what saved the book (in some manner) for me; it was interesting and kept me flipping the pages, despite some poor world-building and character development. Hopefully the sequel is much more of a satisfaction than this one.

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Review | 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone'

Daughter of Smoke & BoneDaughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was beautiful. Simply beautiful.

My journey with Daughter of Smoke & Bone began in 2011, when I first heard of the book. I picked it up upon its release but soon after abandoned it, because I couldn't get into it. I bought it this summer in Portland at Powell's Books and found myself engrossed in it a few days ago as I started it once more. I made my way past the sort-of-boring introductory chapters and thrust into the fantastically-woven story of Karou, Akiva, and the war between the chimaerae and seraph. With the question looming "Who is The Daughter of Smoke and Bone?" throughout the story, I held onto two theories, and interestingly, one of them came true. Although I did predict the ending, that didn't make it any less impactful. I loved the exploration of subplots and the romance of the story and the way the writing tied everything together so well. The ending was a fantastic bow on top to a story already gifted enough.


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Friday, February 1, 2013

Film Review | 'Warm Bodies'

Warm Bodies
97 min.
Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, Analeigh Tipton
Directed by Jonathan Levine
4 out of 5 stars | A-

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I, along with my friend Stefanie, was lucky enough to catch an advance pre-screening of this film back in December, and, writing this, I regret not having immediately written my review upon getting home and having the film fresh in my mind. But let's see what I can do here.

Warm Bodies is the film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, and I went into the film not having read the book and not knowing much about the story other than the fact that it revolved around zombies and the relationship between one particular zombie (Hoult) and a human girl (Palmer). Teresa Palmer plays Julie, the daughter of a revolution leader, who has devoted her life to serving her father in their quest to rid the world of 'corpses' (the term they use for zombies), as well as maintain a relationship with her boyfriend, Perry (Franco). Then we have R, the zombie, who is a part of a human v. zombie fight, and kills Perry, eating his brains and acquiring his memories. He then falls in love with Julie, weaving Perry's memories of her with his own, and the rest of the film follows their relationship building as they attempt to conceal themselves from harm, as well as their discovering that their relationship could change the zombies forever.

I definitely wasn't expecting the film to be as short as it was, and the time really flew by. The film opens with narration by R, and we spend a large chunk of time with R and Julie on an abandoned airplane, but this time is spent giving the audience great insight on the beginning of their relationship. Levine even sneaked in a little Twilight throwback: there's a shot in which R receives a memory from Perry's brain, in which he and Julie are lying in a meadow having a dramatic conversation. Oh, Summit Entertainment, must me return to those roots? But, yes, apart from the obligatory world-building, the film sped by, packed with a ton of action and great lines from both Hoult and Palmer.

The acting in this film was fantastic. I had seen Teresa Palmer in I Am Number Four, and I had seen Nicholas Hoult in X-Men: First Class, and I wasn't expecting much from the duo, but they really showed me what they had, and it was a lot. Palmer plays this character who audiences probably wouldn't like under any other circumstance, or if she was played by any other actress, but Palmer is able to portray Julie's vulnerability, but not without losing tough of her toughness. Hoult plays a sensitive zombie who's also quite humorous, and it really shows. Nothing is forced on Hoult's part, which makes for an easy job for the viewers.The supporting cast is also really fantastic in this film, namely Analeigh Tipton and Dave Franco. Although in it for a short period of time, Franco really shines through with his performance as good-guy-gone-hard-headed Perry, and he makes his character's transformation stunningly believable. Tipton, though, is probably the highlight of the supporting cast, just as she was with Crazy, Stupid, Love. Her character seemed quite trivial, but she returns for a massive part in the end of the story, and Tipton initiated so much laughter in that final 20-30 minutes that I believe it was equivalent to the amount of laughter Palmer and Hoult accumulated throughout the span of the entire film. Huge props to Analeigh Tipton for being able to execute lines so well.

The direction, writing, and flow of the story for the film was fantastic as well. The ending didn't seem cheesy or unnecessary or unexpected, and I liked how Julie and R's relationship was tied up very well, although it was quite strange to see Hoult's character go from zombie to human so quickly after watching him thirst for brains the entire film.

The message the film relays, though, is crystal clear: something along the lines of certain people, or perhaps love and friendship, bringing out the best in people, even the worst of people. Or, perhaps, even the monsters.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review | 'What's Left of Me'

What's Left of Me (The Hybrid Chronicles, #1)What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy crap, this book was fantastic.

I went into What's Left of Me thinking it would be the stereotypical YA novel with poorly-constructed plot and characters, but Kat Zhang and her fully dysfunctional America proved me wrong.

What's Left of Me is set in a not-too-distant future version of America in which each person is born with two souls, and about halfway through childhood, the souls settle into dominant and recessive roles. The trouble with Eva Tamsyn, though, is that she--being the recessive soul of her body--never settled, haunting the life of Addie, the dominant soul, without being an enemy of sorts to her "soul-sister," yet being her own personal roadblock. But before you go off comparing it to The Host, by Stephenie Meyer, let me just tell you that this book is 10x better than that POS, and it is everything The Host should have been, and more.

First off, What's Left of Me spends 97% of its length never once touching on romance, and the romance that is touched upon is only lingered over a little bit in the end of the book. There are no theatrical firework shows when the heroine brushes the fingernail of her love interest, and that's where this book is set apart from its other YA counterparts. Eva, instead, provides the reader with a heartbreaking, yet quite fascinating, look at what life as the recessive soul is like, and Zhang is able to sneak in bits of world-building along the way. Eva and Addie were so distinctly-developed, and the other characters were fantastic as well. I ended up loving characters I never thought I would love, and I had moments where I talked to myself as a form of reaction to certain scenes, which is something I rarely do when it comes to YA fiction anymore, so I loved how attached I got to the characters and the situations they were in.

I tip my hat to Kat Zhang, for her writing style was so beautiful and new and intricate and, simply put, great. I was just hooked on every word, and I never found myself wanting to skim certain parts of the book, because I didn't want to miss the way Zhang described certain feelings, settings, or plot points. It's so great to see such delicate, yet forceful, writing in the world of YA fiction.

What's Left of Me is a fast-paced, heavy-loaded phenomenon of a story that will draw readers in and make them ask questions they can't ask with any other book. Truly an original masterpiece.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review | 'Origin'

OriginOrigin by Jessica Khoury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I went into this book not knowing what to expect. I suppose my expectations ranged somewhere in-between complete-and-total-let-down and phenomenal-book-holy-cow. Origin, however, defied my expectations, yet did not fall anywhere within that range.

Origin is the unique story of Pia, the lone immortal human in the world, hidden away in the Amazon forest, and her experiences with the outside world after sneaking out of her sanctuary and uncovering secrets about the science team that helped make her who she is. She meets, and falls for, Eio, a boy from the local native tribe, and together, they unlock the aforementioned secrets, as well as hitting their own personal barriers along the way.

From the get-go, I disliked Pia. This dislike made sense, though. Pia had spent her whole life being told she was perfect, and she flaunted it for the first 100-ish pages. She was vain, spoiled, proud, and didn't really give a damn about the well-being of others. What's tough about writing a story about a perfect, immortal girl, is that she can't have flaws, unless the author wants to take the route of scientific corruption, and so on and so forth. But it wasn't evident that Khoury wanted to take that route; so I felt like all the nasty personality defects Pia projected at the beginning of the story should not have been there, because the story revolves more around how the scientists use Pia rather than any mistakes they made in turning her into an immortal.

Pia's relationship with Eio was very real, though, although I totally would have thought Pia, being a perfect human being and all, would have been more--how do I put this?--forward with Eio. I bet that seventeen years of suppressing sexuality would have had to pay off at some point or another, so I found it quite unrealistic that Pia wasn't like every other freaking YA heroine and kept her physical distance from this heartthrob of a boy, although she did comment on the structure of his muscles and the droop of his shorts multiple times. Apart from the minute annoyance of Pia's lack of romance, I really liked the blossoming (no pun intended) of their relationship. While Pia's narration of the story was a bit weird to me (I don't know why; I mean I can't really put my finger on it), the evolution of their relationship was quite interesting and was obviously the drive for the rest of the story, at least the whole Pia/Eio subplot.

As far as the arc of the plot goes, I thought the subplots and main plot structure were very well tied together. I use the term "woven" quite often in my reviews, and I will apply it again; Jessica Khoury weaves the story together very nicely, and makes for a very climactic, albeit long, ending. Spoilers initiate here, I warn thee. I really loved the ending and how Immortal Pia was killed, but Mortal Pia remained. That way, the one thing that kept Pia from jumping at Eio, her immortality, was now out of the way, and they could go make beautiful babies. The whole defiance of the scientists was honestly something I didn't except; I thought the climax of the story would revolve around the consequences of Pia's choices with Eio, which it did, in a sense, but not nearly as much as I thought it did. I thought it was interesting to see how Pia's Wickham tests accounted for what she would be doing to prolong immortality and eternity for other beings. For a period of time, I didn't think her tests made that much sense, but they completely did. Last but certainly not least, the epilogue was a fantastic conclusion to the novel, and I really loved reading from Harriet's perspective, and how she viewed the story's events.

Despite a few flaws in its design, Origin is a magnificently-crafted tale of choice, eternity, mortality, and morality.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Review | 'The Evolution of Mara Dyer'

The Evolution of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #2)The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

God, what is it about the Mara Dyer series that is so, so fantastic?

I suppose there will be spoilers afoot.

The book understandably picks up where Unbecoming left off; Mara has just witnessed her "dead" ex-boyfriend, Jude, at a police station after extremely traumatic events. Mara is placed in a hospital as a result of a "mental breakdown," and soon is put into Horizons, a social group organized to help people with psychological issues, as Mara is believed to have. The story follows Mara as she attempts to uncover more information on the powers that she and her boyfriend Noah possess. And information she discovers. The events of the book unravel into multiple climaxes, and Michelle Hodkin expresses her ability to weave all of these climaxes together without becoming redundant.

The writing of the Mara Dyer series is so intricate without feeling heavy and brooding, and, as previously stated, Hodkin is able to uphold this fantastic writing style and never loosen her grip on the reader's attention. But, of course, this grip is not to go unnoticed without acknowledgment to the fantastic plot. Mara gets into even more frightening antics in Evolution, and I can't quite tell which book in the series (so far) is my favorite. While Unbecoming follows the slow mental downfall of a not-so-normal teenage girl, Evolution revolves around her slow rise to understanding of what's going on. I suppose the titles suggest what the books are about, as titles are wont to do.

The characters drive the reader to feel horrified by the ending of the story. Spoilers come into play now. At the end of the story, we find out that certain people Mara has urged to listen to her about her cries that Jude has returned actually knew the whole time that he was back, and were in communications with him. We also get a little look at Mara's ability and where it comes from, noting that it is, in fact, a genetic mutation, and that her best friend Jamie and a girl named Stella have it as well. We also are stunned at the end to find out that Jude has "killed" Noah, and this was where I--as well as every lover of the series--had my heart punctured. The book is so shocking that you don't expect one of the lead protagonists to die. So that poses the question: Did Noah really die? Mara seems to think not, so I am beyond excited to read the series finale, The Retribution of Mara Dyer.

Playlist:

The entirety of Lana Del Rey's debut album, "Born to Die," but some highlights would be:

Dark Paradise -- "No one compares to you, I'm scared that you won't be waiting on the other side."

Born To Die -- "Choose your last words, this is the last time, 'cause you and I, we were born to die."

Video Games -- "Heaven is a place on Earth with you, tell me all the things you want to do...it's better than I ever even knew, they say that the world was built for two. Only worth living if somebody is loving you, baby, now you do."

NOTE: I just found out the title of the third book (as stated above/I think it was just released), and I'm trying to maintain a shred of professionalism and not freak out.


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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Reading/Writing/Blogging Resolutions!

Ah, 2013. 

The Year of YA, how fantastic this will be. I look forward to all this year has to offer, so without further ado, my 2013 resolutions!

Reading:
  • Read 65 books -- This past year, I pledged to read 80 books before the ball dropped, and I ultimately failed. I read 65 books this year, and the reason I keep that number for my 2013 goal is because I know I'm going to be really busy this year. I turn 16 in a couple weeks, which means my life is basically opening up. I have more career opportunities, I have Mock Trial and Debate tournaments, I want to have regulated time spent with friends, and I still want to devote time to reading. I want to elaborate on this goal in the near future by making a certain outline to the books I read so that I can do a little clearing of my dusty TBR shelf on Goodreads.
  • Read more Adult Fiction -- In 2012, I read only a small handful of Adult books, albeit great ones (The Casual Vacancy, Never Let Me Go, and The Great Gatsby), and I want to read a lot more this year. I really want to pick up Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, as well as finish The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, which is a phenomenal book, I just had to put it away for a little bit.
  • Analyze -- One of my biggest flaws is that I'll just zip through books without giving myself time to actually think about them and look at their themes. That's definitely something I want to work on this year, especially since Graduation inches closer and closer, and I do want to major in English and delve into comparative literature, so I definitely need to work on examining thematic elements of literature out of leisure.
Writing:

  • Finish Book II of my series, as well as starting Book III -- I've currently written about 54,000 words of the second book in my series, and my goal is to reach at least 85,000 by the summertime. If I accomplish this, I think I'll give myself a bit of a vacation from writing for a small period of time before dishing out a big chunk of the third book. I know the 85k is achievable, but I'm interested to see where I get with the third book.
Blogging:

  • Write one non-review post per week -- I mean, this goal's pretty self-explanatory. I want to log my life, but avoid it becoming too tedious. 
  • Publish a review for each book I read this year -- I've been really lazy with the whole review-writing thing lately, so I really want to work on that this year. Whether or not I post my reviews on Goodreads or on my actual blog, I want reviews to be out there in some form.
  • Vlog -- The last time I vlogged was the summer of last year, and I know that needs to change. It really, really does, and there isn't an excuse for my lack of vlogs, other than my crazy-busy schedule and my lack of fantastic recording equipment. I love booktubing, so I want to continue with that, but I also like exploring themes and ideas and just talking about things in vlogs, so I do want to exploit myself more in that sense. 

What are your resolutions for 2013?