On “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter-me-new-eye-co1A459Ohhhh boy….This book…

I’m going to keep my criticism of Shatter Me as succinct as possible because my grievances are many. I felt assured by various outlets–book reviewers, a nice Buzzfeed list, and several goodreads ratings–that Tahereh Mafi’s debut novel would be worth by time.

I barely got through it.

I held onto my optimism for the first few chapters, which weren’t horrible, but not nearly as good as I had been led to believe they would be. The crossing out lines convention, for example, was more irksome than creative. Halfway through the book, it became such a nuisance; Mafi had already established the character’s self-loathing and guilt, but she had to keep doing it for the sake of fluidity.

I wouldn’t have minded the crossing out had the writing been marginally better, but it was, in my opinion, abysmal. This seems cruel, but if I had the book next to me, I would pull some quotes. As a matter of fact–the next time you’re in the YA section of a book store, pull this book off the shelf and read a few pages at random. You’ll see my point.

It’s easy for the reader to see Mafi’s potential in her prose, but I can’t help but wonder if publishing companies sometimes overindulge young writers just because they seem precocious…There are several very young writers like Veronica Roth and Sarah J. Maas who are fabulous, but Shatter Me was just a little too half-baked.

The novel’s world building wasn’t well developed enough to redeem the metaphor laden text, nor were the characters particularly interesting. (On a side note, I feel like the concept of a young protagonist who cannot be touched for the threat of inflicting pain and/or death was rendered much more fully in Roth’s Carve the Mark.) The dialogue between them was certainly intriguing at times–especially between Juliette and Warner–but it was a far cry from where it needed to be to sustain the character development Mafi pushed throughout the novel.

Back to the writing itself, though…The metaphors and similes are so rampant, it was nearly impossible for Juliette to make it through a thought without saying something was like something else, or using over-the-top emotive expressions that ruined any kind of connection I could have had to her.

I’m not sure if the series will get better, but I might try the second novel just to see if it gets better at all. Some of the characters Mafi introduced at the end of the novel–those involved with Omega Point–seem genuinely interesting. So…we’ll see. I don’t think the series is redeemable though.

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On “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

caraval
courtesy of goodreads.com

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

Oh boy. Where do I begin? From everything I read about Stephanie Garber‘s highly-acclaimed debut novel, Caraval, I expected it to be perfectly crafted with world-building and character development. And in the first few chapters of the book, I thought it would. But as the novel progressed, things went went south. Quickly.

In the novel, Scarlett and Donatella “Tella” Dragna live on the Isle of Trisda with their physically and emotionally abusive father, Governor Dragna. For years, Scarlett has been writing letters to the illusive Master Legend who runs an infamous game called Caraval. Her grandmother’s stories of magic, adventure, and romance captivated her so completely that she would do almost anything to play the game. That is until the year of her engagement to a duke she’s never met—her only way to get herself and her sister away from her father’s abuse.

Much to her surprise, Legend sends her three tickets to the game just two weeks before her wedding. She knows she can’t go if the wedding is to take place without incident. But her sister, Tella, has other plans. With the help of an attractive, braggadocious sailor named Julian, Tella successively subdues Scarlett and brings her to Legend’s personal island where she is thrust into the game, and to her surprise, finding Tella is the goal. She has five nights to find her and win the coveted wish Legend promises the winner.

To be fair, much of Garber’s writing suits the subject matter to a tee, complete with lush descriptions and heady imagery. She tactfully gives the novel’s protagonist, Scarlett, synesthetic abilities; every emotion she feels manifests itself in vivid color. This struck me as an inventive, compelling way for Garber to draw the reader into the magic, fear, and passion of Scarlett’s world.

Unfortunately, such a creative literary convention falls far short of salvaging the rest of the novel. Its only redeeming parts form bookends to a muddled story line marred by a shallow romance that must have been ripped from a cheap Harlequin romance. While the novel’s twists and turns are mildly entertaining at the start, Garber takes the surprises a little too far; they feel like punches, one after another, that pass along without any real analysis or second thought. Perhaps that was always the intention.

The world of Caraval is meant to be unpredictable and maddening with an unhinged master puppeteer pulling his players here and there in the name of adventure. But Garber does this through a protagonist who is far too uncertain and repetitive in her thoughts and insecurities. Oh, you can’t sleep in the same bed as a man who isn’t your fiance? Your dad is going to freak out when he finds out what’s happening? We know. You’ve only said it about 500 times now. Kthanksbye.

Instead of investing my empathy, I became dismissive of it all about half way through the book. There was quite a lot of eye-rolling if I’m going to be completely honest with you. The forbidden nature of the growing romantic tension between Scarlett and Julian is meant to be the glue holding the plot together; it’s meant to be passionate, slightly lustful, and mutually adoring.

But, it’s mostly just a series of tawdry moments strung together, most of them full of sighs, gasps, hands gripping lower backs and hips, meaningful stares, etc. I got to the point that if I ever saw another sentence describing Julian’s tanned muscles, I was going to throw the book across the room. Since their romance is such an integral part of the story, it needed to be so much more than what it appeared to be on paper.

Nevertheless, there is a moment in the novel’s final pages where it seems the two characters have a real moment of mutual development as Garber builds up to a cliffhanger for the next installment of the series. I can only hope that the second book will do the interesting subject matter more justice than the first novel did.

On “Sea of Monsters” by Rick Riordan

percy jackson
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is an incredibly funny and intelligent addition to any reading list, so if I find myself reading something that isn’t catching my attention, I turn to these books.

In my review of The Lightning Thief, I praised Riordan’s delightful sense of humor and effortless ability to integrate the stories of Ancient Greece and Rome into his narrative. The second novel in the Percy Jackson series–The Sea of Monsters–is no exception. Like Harry Potter and his friends in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Grover grow along with their expanding abilities. But they also find themselves hurling faster and faster towards an uncertain future in which Percy’s life could be at stake.

I especially appreciated the twist at the end when the reader find out that Percy might not be the only hero capable of fulfilling the Oracle’s prophecy. *SPOILER ALERT* Percy and his friends succeed in retrieving the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters in order to save Thalia’s tree–the only form of protection Camp Half-Blood has. What they don’t realize when they attempt to revive the tree is that Luke (who is now attempting to bring Kronos back to life and destroy the gods) intended for Percy to bring Thalia back to life the entire time. He believes that because Thalia’s father, Zeus, neglected her during her lifetime the way he’s been ignored by Hermes that she’ll join his and Kronos’ battle against Mt. Olympus.

Now it comes down to Percy and Thalia. Who will be fulfill the prophecy?

Of course, Riordan leaves us hanging at the end. The series’ next installment–The Titan’s Curse–is sure to bring along another heap of trouble for the heroes.

Until next time. Happy Reading!

 

On “Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo

shadow and bone
Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

I didn’t expect to enjoy Shadow and Bone as much as I did. Now that I’ve had a day to process it, I can comfortably say it’s one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. Leigh Bardugo marries lush, descriptive prose with dynamic character development, which meshes perfectly with her flawlessly-paced plot; there are just the right amount of twists and turns to keep readers on their toes without making it seem like they’ve gone through some kind of maze from hell.

In the kingdom of Ravka, Alina Sarkov—an orphaned military cartographer—must learn how to reckon with discovering that she is the one and only Sun Summoner; she is the country’s only hope to dispel the Unsea—a perpetually dark strip of land that divides the eastern part of the country from the more prosperous western side. But can she learn to call the power from within herself without aid? (Talk about the world’s worst savior!) As new information about the Unsea’s origin comes to light, Alina must determine where her allegiances lie.

Since I’m a relative newbie to fantasy, I half expected the story to take place in some medievalesque atmosphere, complete with dragons and wizards and your run-of-the-mill Game of Thrones situation. But Bardugo took an innovative approach to the landscape in Shadow and Bone. Ravka is inspired by Tsarist Russia, a landscape Bardugo describes as equally beautiful and brutal in its culture and history.

During Alina’s time, Ravka has been cut in half for centuries and constantly at battle with surrounding countries. The country’s elite hoard extravagant riches, while the country’s peasants live in destitution. Contrasting the country’s limited, concentrated wealth with the underlying danger and bleakness that the rest of the country must face sets the stage for this brilliantly crafted fantasy epic.

I would concede that Shadow and Bone follows a fairly standard young adult fantasy model, in which a protagonist (typically female) must sort out the troubles of a nation that has been struggling through years of turmoil. One of the facets of the YA fantasy formula is the love triangle, which, I feel, never really works out. Something like that exists in the novel, but it takes on an entirely different dimension because of the manipulative Darkling. Bardugo does such an amazing job of rendering the warring and confused emotions of Alina, the Darkling, and Mal that she sets a new standard for the depiction of romance in the genre. Such love triangles can never be reduced to simplistic terms. Authors often try to add depth and nuance where they do not exist, making Bardugo’s work challenging and refreshing.

Even if you aren’t a fantasy fan, Shadow and Bone is well worth the time. 416 pages fly by fast when you dive into Alina’s struggle. I cannot wait to immerse myself into Siege and Storm!