Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: Mortal Danger by Ann Aguirre

Mortal Danger
by Ann Aguirre

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Edie Kramer has a score to settle with the beautiful people at Blackbriar Academy. Their cruelty drove her to the brink of despair, and four months ago, she couldn't imagine being strong enough to face her senior year. But thanks to a Faustian compact with the enigmatic Kian, she has the power to make the bullies pay. She's not supposed to think about Kian once the deal is done, but devastating pain burns behind his unearthly beauty, and he's impossible to forget.

In one short summer, her entire life changes, and she sweeps through Blackbriar, prepped to take the beautiful people down from the inside. A whisper here, a look there, and suddenly... bad things are happening. It's a heady rush, seeing her tormentors get what they deserve, but things that seem too good to be true usually are, and soon, the pranks and payback turns from delicious to deadly. Edie is alone in a world teeming with secrets and fiends lurking in the shadows. In this murky morass of devil's bargains, she isn't sure who—or what--she can trust. Not even her own mind... 

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Immortal Game #1
Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends
Publication date:  August 5th 2014
Source/Format: ARC won from Fay of Bibliophile Soprano. Check out her review here.

My Thoughts:

Edith Kramer is dead set on jumping the bridge that morning because of something that happened to her in school but Kian stopped her. Apparently, Edith has an “exceptional potential” and she will become someone great in the future so she must not die yet. Kian claims that he is some sort of an emissary to  the “other beings” and offers Edith to ask for three favors now in exchange for three favors in return later. Edith, feeling that she has nothing to lose anymore anyway AND (more importantly) mesmerized by Kian’s good looks, agreed to the Faustian compact.

I buddy read this book last year with Lauren of Seriesous Book Reviews, read her review here. We agreed to read together some of the titles we both have on our TBR piles and I suggested that we pick up “Mortal Danger” first because her book blog is mostly about book series.  I decided to blog about the book just now because I recently found my notes about it lying around the house. It just feels such a waste of note-taking energy if I will not write something about it. So here goes. At the beginning I am genuinely intrigued by the Faustian compact and the revenge premise of the book. Both Lauren and I expected something badass like “Death Note” and “Black Butler” but we were disappointed. Honestly, there are lots of times when I wanted to quit the book but I kept going because of the buddy read.

My deep disappointment stems mostly from the fact that the book focuses more on romance rather than the revenge plot. The romance is not even that good to begin with. It’s INSTA-FREAKING LOVE. Plus, Kian is not good for Edith. The book established early on how smart Edith is, so I expected her to be cold, cautious and calculating, like Light Yagami and Ciel Phantomhive, but I was let down time and again by her blunders all because of her blind devotion to Kian. Her main motivation and efforts are driven by her attraction to this guy. There are these extremely annoying times when they are discussing something important, for example how the Faustian contract works, but then Edith will suddenly see how handsome Kian is and then they will start kissing. The revenge plot took a backburner. The vengeful bad things happened but it is on auto-pilot, ergo, unsatisfying.

Edith’s other relationships are shallow, too. Her newfound friends in summer school are just for convenience. Her parents are emotionally uninvolved at the beginning then suddenly showed concern near the end to bid for the readers’ emotions over some devastating thing that happened. Her anger towards her classmates that she’s supposed to have vengeance on is so weak that later on, she starts feeling sorry for them.

Aside from the revenge plot, Faustian compact and the romance, the book has other things going on: cross-culture mythology, paranormal, sci-fi on teleportation and plastic surgery and a bit of magic. These things are pulled and assembled from stories of old, and then placed in our modern world. The romance as a focal point and all the other elements as a backdrop does not entirely hold together.

The only redeeming thing about “Mortal Danger” that I can think of are when some paranormal elements of it managed to scare the living hell out of me. There were really creepy stuff here that involves mirror reflections and dancing shadows. And that’s that. The book ended with a lot of things still hanging. Edith has already exhausted all three favors in this book. It remains to be seen what “the other beings” will ask in return from her, but I do not think that I care enough to continue with the series.

My Rating:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

My 2017 Discussion Challenge Sign-up Post

One of the things I resolved this 2017 for this book blog is to do discussion posts. It's actually my goal number two in my lunar new year's greeting and resolution post. I resolved to do this last year and even joined the 2016 Discussion Challenge but I failed terribly so I was a bit hesitant to sign up this year's challenge. Yesterday however, I was able to make this resolution a reality. Congrats, self! I talked here about the instances when I can easily spot an author lurking the pages of the books and decided to call my discussion features as "Wandering Thoughts". So now with one discussion post up and live on the blog, I feel more confident in signing up for this year's discussion challenge.

2017 Discussion Challenge is hosted by Nicole of Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon of It Starts at Midnight! They created this challenge to encourage fellow book bloggers to not only read more, but talk more too! This particular challenge has been well-received and successful these past two years that Nicole and Shannon decided to bring it back again this year.

The rules are simple. Just create a sign-up post announcing the intention to join with link back to both the hosts, Nicole and Shannon. So this post is my discussion challenge sign-up post then. Link the participant's sign-up post here. Then at the beginning of every month, a new post will go up on both hosts' blogs where the challengers can put the links of their discussion posts for the month. Discussions can be book related or book blogging related (or generally blogging related—no discussions about things that are completely off-topic like travel or fashion, etc). Discussions can also be about the challengers personally if it’s a get-to-know-you type post. What's more, is that there will also be monthly giveaways. The Twitter hashtag for sharing and connecting with other participants is #LetsDiscuss2017.

At the end of the year, the participants' discussion posts will be counted so we know what level of talkativeness we have achieved. Here are the discussion challenge levels:

1-10 – Discussion Dabbler
11-20 – Creative Conversationalist
21-30 – Chatty Kathy
31-40 – Terrifically Talkative
41+ – Gift of the Gab

This year I am aiming low and will try to become a "Discussion Dabbler"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Wandering Thoughts: Instances When I Can Easily Spot the Author Lurking on the Pages

Image: Kaboompics

Wandering Thoughts is where I let my mind stray, think and talk about non-routine things. This is Rurouni Jenni Reads’ avenue for bookish personal stories musings and discussions.

In a way, authors are like puppetmasters. The book is a puppet show. The stage is on the pages. The book’s characters are the puppets. An author pulls the strings and makes things happen. The author dubs dialogues and makes it appear that the puppets are saying the words.

A good puppet show is when the audience get absorbed by the story and forget that there is a puppetmaster behind the show curtains. One of the puppetmaster’s concern is not to be seen by the audience while the story is unfolding. So is also true with a good book. The author’s presence and machinations must not be felt by the readers in order for the story to build a strong sense of verisimilitude.

Getting even the briefest glimpses of an author’s shadow may result to being jolted out from the reader’s suspension of disbelief. That’s irritable, we do not want that. In this post, I want to share these instances when I’ve been thrown off from the book by authors lurking on the pages.

    Out of character voice

    One case of this is when young characters talk too eloquently or know too much of this world for their age. I have seen this mostly true for middle grade and young adult books when authors, whom we all know too well to be adults, seem to take over the voice of their characters. Another case is when a character uses writer metaphors instead of figures of speech more suited for what he/she really does in the book. For example, a soldier’s voice does not sound like a soldier but that of a writer.

    Information dump on dialogues

    I stumble upon this quite often on stories involving sports where a character feels a sudden urge to explain the rules of the sporting game or a technical word applicable for the game. Same can be found in some historical fiction where a character is compelled to narrate the historical context of the particular era the story is set. Such dialogue would be like this: “As you know, in 1800’s we are like this and like that...” Okay, the author may have the good intentions of feeding a very relevant key point to the readers but sometimes it’s more fun to work things on our own. I think our dear authors need not worry for us too much because we can easily google what a line drill is or how the way of life was back in 1800’s.

    Unmindful introduction of new characters

    Inserting new characters without care is like dropping a new puppet unceremoniously on the stage. An example of a new character’s jarring introduction for me goes something like this. A first person point of view character is about to bump into a new character. The author, in an attempt to give the new character’s background sends the first PoV character to a long trip down memory lane. It usually goes on the whole duration when first Pov character bumps into new character in the lockers up to the time of their first period class. I mean, it is so unnatural for me because I do not make a habit of downloading people’s backstories so I can play it on my mind when I meet them on the hallways.

    Another thing that bothers me is when an author using a 1st PoV narration always introduces a new character with a full name. Let me try to explain here with my attempts of sample scenarios: ”Greg Gozon (new character, author uses full name) comes heading towards me. Greg is one of those people I hang out with if we are in groups but we never talk to each other when it’s just the two of us.” And then on to the next chapter where another character for example is to be introduced: “Stacey Santos (new character, author uses full name again),our class president, stands up and silenced the rowdy students. She has always been a leader for as long as I can remember. I don’t take any grudge for that because she always gets things done with her natural girl boss attitude.” I know it’s a minor concern but if repeatedly done, it shakes my enjoyment a bit. I mean, why can’t the 1st PoV character just call them by their first names, Greg and Stacey? I think doing so sounds more casual and natural.

So there you go, those are some of those instances when I can see the author lurking on the pages. You may have additional items to add here, share them with me in the comments below. I am not saying that these are a hard no-no for me. I may still choose to ignore a flaw or two if the book is really great in all the other aspects. Also, if there is an author reading this, I am not berating you if once or twice you loitered around your book and did any of the above things in the past. Just try hiding better next time. Be a puppetmaster. Or be a ninja. Or maybe wear an Invisibility Cloak.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

2017 Book Blogging Resolutions

Image: Kaboompics

YES, WHY HELLO a very HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of  you my fellow book wanderers! I can sense those dagger stares from some of you right now, “What is this woman wishing us happy new year for when January is almost over?” So I am cleverly coinciding this long overdue post with the Lunar New Year so it’s still new year though lunar. I hope I am making sense here. Anyway I revisited my 2016 book blogging resolution post to check on how I fared on my previous year’s bookish endeavors. Fair warning: prepare to be extremely disappointed. And then I am also setting my 2017 goals because no matter how hopeless it is to find time to do it all, just keep on trying, right? So here goes:

    2016 Goal #1: Read more books. I set my Goodreads reading challenge to 40 books.
    How did I fare? Abysmal. I’d rather not talk lengthily about this.
    2017 Goal #1: Read as much as I can but no pressure on number of books to finish. So yes, I did not set up my 2017 Goodreads reading challenge.

    Yep. Yikes!

    2016 Goal #2: Do discussion posts.
    How did I fare? Zero thought-provoking posts contributed to the reading community. *cringe*
    2017 Goal #2: I realized that I do not possess enough courage yet to put my ideas out here for all the internet people to see, judge and attack. But yes, I am working on my nerves and would still very much like to write something other than just book reviews. 

    2016 Goal #3: Be organized. Schedule posts, blog hopping and commenting.
    How did I do? I made my own spreadsheet but I was not able to follow my schedule so I felt miserable and inadequate.
    2017 Goal #3: Be not organized? I mean, I think that scheduling things is not my thing. It’s taking away all the fun of book blogging for me. So I will just use my free time reading and blogging and not berating myself for not making a schedule like other proper book bloggers out there.

    2016 Goal #4: Expand my reading horizon.
    How did I do? My goal is not to stick with just YA titles so I did kind of okay with this one. I’ve read/started some classic titles that I’m dreading to read. I’ve finished To Kill a Mockingbird last year! I’ve also started Sophie’s World and still struggling to finish it for months now. For adult titles, I’ve finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
    2017 Goal #4: Keep it up!

So as we can see clearly, I set goals in 2016 that I did not quite achieve so I am setting a fairly low (and vague) expectation on myself this year. For 2017, my battlecry is that I’m gonna freestyle the shizz out of this book blogging thing. I have to admit that I almost did not want to do this post because it will remind me how out of control my 2016 was. Truth is, I am a bit resentful with myself because of this, but 2016 is way behind us now. All hope is not lost. What matters to me at the moment is that Rurouni Jenni Reads is still alive and with a bit of luck and a lot of hardwork, it will continue to improve as time goes by. Hello 2017, I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us all!!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Review: All My Lonely Islands by V.J. Campilan

All My Lonely Islands
by V.J. Campilan

One crisp March evening, Crisanta and Ferdinand arrive on the remote Batanes islands for a mission: locate Graciella, whose son, Stevan, they saw die in a tragic accident a decade ago. But they need to confess something to her: Stevan’s death is not all what it seems. Oppressed by a decade of painful memories, Crisanta and Ferdinand must race against time—from the wild swamplands of the Sundarban forest in Bangladesh to the back alleys of Manila to the savage cliffs of Batanes—to offer Graciella the truth that they themselves cannot bear to face.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Anvil Publishing
Publication date:  January 2017
Source/Format: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review / Paperback
Purchase link: Anvil Publishing Online Store

My Thoughts:

“All My Lonely Islands” won the Grand Prize for the Novel in the 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. How could I even dare to review a novel that won such a prestigious award? It is honestly an intimidating task but I’ll try. One of the Palanca Awards judges blurbed and praised the book for its “sparkling prose” and I agree with it 100%. The plot is pretty much uncomplicated and if I were to write the story, it would be just straightforward and be over by two pages. But Crisanta, the narrator, has an artful way of telling it. I am simply blown away by her beautiful way of expressing things. Crisanta is a self-proclaimed “weaver of words” but the truth of the matter is, she is just stalling. She is about to tell the truth but she is evading it altogether so she took time in telling, careful not to spill everything just yet and used enchanting and flowing words to conjure “ghosts, cobwebs, and sickly metaphors”. She puts up phrases to form “wispy things that can hold up an entire decade of recollection”. It’s like going down on a Pensieve, this magical basin of swirling memories in the Potterverse.

If you are looking for something to read with romantic fluff, stay away. Okay, I am not exactly warding off fluff readers because I am a fluff reader myself and I unexpectedly came to love the book. What I am really trying to say is if you are picking up this book, get your heart ready because it is a bit heavy. There is teenage romance, maybe even a love triangle, but it is all ambiguous and strange. I like the ambiguity and strangeness of it: no big declaration of feelings whatsoever, only furtive glances, only thoughtful acts. Then the rivalry between Ferdinand and Stevan is so restrained, almost psychological.

"Isn’t it strange? How we could destroy each other for all these things that don’t matter in the end?"

The overall tone of the book is unabashedly somber, the sound of a weary soul looking for forgiveness or redemption. Crisanta is almost always in an introspection. The story cuts between the past and present Crisanta who “hate each other”. She sifts through her memories from her childhood in the streets of Manila to her teenage years in Bangladesh in search for some meaning, for some reason why, after all those years, she is currently in Batanes about to face the mother of her dead bestfriend, Stevan. For an outsider, what really happened was just stuff high school urban legends are made of, but for the ones involved, Crisanta, Ferdinand, and Graciella, it’s a personal tragedy. Their grief and guilt are so palpable that flipping through the pages, the reader is not just an outsider anymore. The reader becomes involved and deeply affected as well. I swear I have this general gloom over me while reading the book even my sister noticed, “Ate, why do you look so sad?” And I sighed, “Well, it’s this book that I’m reading...”

"But there was no one to blame, because everyone was guilty. In the end we simply hurt each other because we can't help it"

It’s not all sadness. The book is interspersed with light, even laughable images, for example, try picturing a teacher riding a unicycle to school with one hand holding a mug of coffee and the other waving to the curious people in the streets. Crisanta’s childhood memories in Manila is a bit of a blissful nostalgia for me because we both grew up playing the same games and hearing the same stories about Filipino monsters or "maligno", as we call them. There are tender, heartwarming moments especially from scenes with Crisanta’s dad in it. I like her dad. He gives this Atticus Finch vibe to me, kind but just. The book sometimes smacks the reader with social commentaries, observations from Crisanta, backdrops for her story. The book even tries to be meta, “All those big words. Polished sentences. Musings about society.”

"Why come back to this empty house, and this Manila with a strange face; the one I never knew? All those lonely islands. They will keep afloat without me."
The ending is bittersweet. I was bawling my eyes out reading the last few pages. My tears are the tears of a sinner newly baptized in the Jordan River. Okay sorry, I’m just attempting to insert a biblical metaphor here because the book is scattered with it. Let me try in layperson feels: it’s being able to find hope in the ruins of a personal tragedy. As a reader, it’s like the book snatched my heart and made it heavy. The book is like, “Here, try carrying this heavy heart.” Then the book snatched my heart again, lifted the weight and finally brought it back to me feeling lighter than it was before. I still have the heart that I had at the start but it does not feel the same after trying on all those heavy weight. “All My Lonely Islands” is brilliant, I can easily declare it as a modern Filipino literary masterpiece. And I think it is very much worth reading, especially for those looking and advocating for #ownvoices books.

My Rating:

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