Review: “Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff

Review: “Stormdancer” by Jay KristoffStormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Lotus War #1
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Published by Macmillan on September 18th 2012
Format: Hardcover
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The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.

The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Gaaaah. How to review this book? Reviewing books you love can take a long time but it’s immensely satisfying; reviewing books you know exactly why you didn’t like can be simple, and even cathartic. But reviewing the books that you did mostly enjoy but had some flaws that you aren’t sure how to feel about? Incredibly frustrating, because you want to air out all your feelings, but you also need to impossibly pin down exactly how you felt about the book without giving the wrong impression.

With that said, I want to start off with my assurances that I really did enjoy so much about Stormdancer.   Some of the complaints I have about the book aside (well, they’ll be later on), I’m so glad I read it after reading some great reviews for it — they’re just so much about it that I’m glad to have experienced.


To me, one of the inescapable facts about Stormdancer that makes it so great is how it just feels so much like a story that unquestionably needs to be out there in the world. It’s a little bit indescribable, really. You know those books that you finish and think, why is this published, really? Never did this cross my mind when reading. If I were the editor or agent who was reading Stormdancer as a manuscript, I would’ve immediately found my assistant and yelled, “Get me Jay Kristoff on the phone!”

Stormdancer just feels like this rich, epic tale, fully-formed and imagined, that I somehow can’t believe wasn’t already in existence until Kristoff created it. I think it’s a mix of a lot of things: the Japanese mythology come to life, the use of Japanese words and hints of its ancient culture, and the incredibly seamless world building. A lot of time (and a glossary in the back) is dedicated to transporting the reader to the Isles of Shima, and it pays off. I feel like I really know the kingdom of Shima inside and out, and that I could tell you how everything in its society works.

Yet I won’t sugar-coat it — the beginning was really slow going, and I was tempted to DNF. There’s an action-packed prologue flash-forward to keep you turning pages until you reach the moment where it actually happens, but it’s tough going. Because I’m the kind of reader who has to know everything, I spent a lot of quality time with the glossary in the first part (eventually, I felt comfortable enough with everything to stop checking it). It’s great to learn so much about the capital city of Kigen and about Shima, but even after the “impossible quest” begins, I had yet to come across something that would truly make me want to keep reading. The power dynamics and the environmental issues were intriguing, but I barely managed to keep going on the promise of a legendary thunder tiger…

….a promise which delivered 110%. Seriously guys, Buruu is where it’s at. Why the kingdom of Shima worships anything else besides thunder tigers is beyond me.

“It was power personified. The storm made flesh, carved from the clouds by Raijin’s hands […] The hindquarters of a white tiger, rippling muscles bound tight beneath snow white fur, slashed with think bands of ebony. The broad wings, forelegs and head of a white eagle, proud and fierce; lighting reflected in amber irises and pupils of darkest black.”

He is proud, he is fiercely loyal, and he is everything. His abrupt and honest way of speaking and his banter with Yukiko is powerful, heart-warming, and hilarious. Trust me (as I trusted reviewers before me) when I say that Buuru is what brings this book alive and gives it heart. Enemies at first, Yukiko and Buruu form an unbreakable bond like that of siblings and would surely die for each other. Their unified fight for freedom is what drives this book.


But while I loved Yukiko and Buruu together, and the epic richness of the story, there were other things that held me back. Often times I felt like the writing wasn’t always as sharp and powerful as it could’ve been. Kristoff uses a LOT description in some of his passages — description that didn’t always flow easily and was actually descriptive to the point of distraction. My sister read it too, and she whole-heartedly agreed with me. I would read a few pages and then put it down, and almost forget to come back to it. I read this book INCREDIBLY slowly, which really isn’t my style. And even after the initial slowness of the beginning, much of the rest of the book never moves that fast, either. This is not a book to rush through, but rather to savor.

Some of my disappointment was also wrapped up in the romance. For most of the book it didn’t even matter much, which I was fine with. Then we got hints of a romance from two different guys. One was so see-through and cliche that I hoped it wouldn’t happen, and the other was quiet yet intriguing. But instead of being well-developed, I felt like the romances served more as plot devices (as another reviewer mentioned, and I truly agree with it).

What else can I say? Despite its flaws, I know I will eventually read the entire series. And I don’t think I’ll regret it, either. Something about the story and the way it is told is frustrating, but also incredibly compelling. A slow burn. I was just short of satisfied upon finishing the book, but I have my hopes that with the world-building set and the plot in full motion, the next two books can potentially jump right in and be faster, tighter, and maybe develop the romance better.

The writing and pacing sometimes bog the story down, but the epic richness of the story and the magnificence that is Buruu makes everything so worth it. I hold high hopes for the sequels.


Bookish Musings: Do you read early excerpts?


I never used to even think twice before reading an early excerpt. If I finished a book and found that the remaining pages in the back were a sneak peek of the next book in the series or of another book by the author, I’d dive right in. The longer they were, the better. I’d usually finish and moan about how the next book wasn’t out yet, having sampled the unobtainable and wanting more.

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And the last early excerpt I read left me feeling exactly the same way — excited, and wanting more. In fact, it was probably the best early excerpt I’d ever read. I had seen a blog post raving about Stephanie Perkins’ writing that had links to a Goodreads preview of the first 3 chapters of Isla and the Happily Ever After. After hearing for so long about Perkins’ books, I decided what the heck, why not? and jumped right in.

9627755Long story short, I succumbed to the swoon-worthy romance and immediately went back and read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, both of which I really enjoyed. AKA Isla was probably the most successful early excerpt I’d ever read, because it made me want to read both of Perkins’ other books! 

But then began the painful wait for Isla to come out into the world. My expectations for the book were through the roof, because I felt like each of Perkins’ books just got better and better, and the first Perkins couple I had really been introduced to was Isla and Josh. It was easy just to melt into a puddle just remembering them together in NYC in the preview.

So  when I finally got my paws on a copy of Isla, I wasted no time in starting it. Slightly off-topic, I was pretty disappointed in Isla, even if I still swooned at some parts — you can read my review here. But one of the biggest surprises? As I started the book again, I remembered the first 3 chapters from the preview almost perfectly.

I’m not exceptional at remembering things, so I was quite puzzled. I tried to press on and read the first 3 chapters again, but all the joy was taken out of it. All the sweet serendipity of their chance meeting was gone for me, and after struggling for a little, I ended up skipping ahead to what I hadn’t yet read. It ticked me off that I had to skip ahead, and so the story didn’t start on the same cute note for me.

And just the other day, glancing at the Goodreads reviews for Isla, I saw how Cait from @ Paper Fury noted in her review that because Isla was so hopped up on painkillers in the first chapter, the reader is introduced to her and her crush on Josh in a way TOTALLY different from what she is like in the rest of the book. So yeah, while the first few chapters of Isla made for a very entertaining excerpt, they really threw me off quite a bit.

So I’ve been pretty wary about reading any early excerpts ever since. Even for books I’ve been dying to read (hello, Passenger!), I’ve done my best to avoid reading the previews. Maybe I’ve read a few of small scenes from unreleased books, but nothing more. Maybe I’m being too cautious and actually missing out on some great excerpts, but I’m afraid of being burned again and ruining my reading experience! I’d rather wait and read the book from the beginning for the first time when it’s finally released than take my chances on ruining the book.

So tell me: do you read early excerpts? Has anyone else had a mishap with reading previews, or do you jump right into reading them?


Library Love: Why I Prefer to Borrow vs. Buy Books

Library Love

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might know that I’m an avid library-goer. Seriously — I’m always there, kind of like the armchairs and the much-loved toys in the children’s area. All the librarians know me.

Ok, to be fair, that’s because I work at the library as a shelver. As an actual part-time job it has its own pros and cons, but it’s worth it to be surrounded by books all day (AKA “the Dream”)! My favorite part of shelving is arriving early in the morning before the library is even open to patrons. I go up to the second level by myself to pull holds, turn on all the lights and see the entire library light up before me, and then go into the stacks and bask in the silence while I pull books off the shelves. It’s a near-sacred experience and pretty close to book nirvana, if you ask me. 😉

But I loved going to the library long before I started working there (how do you think I got the job?! Haha). So many of my memories growing up are tied to going to/being at the library. Going there to spend rainy days, sitting in the stacks and reading, predictably getting separated from the rest of my family and having to go hunt them down…

Going to the library and returning with a towering stack of books has always been normal for me. But because it’s the norm for me, I’ve always found it a little hard to understand how people can buy so many books. I mean, you can get it from the library for free, and check it out again whenever you want it!

Think about it… what other public place can you go to to borrow something, enjoy it, and then return it, all free of charge?? And with BOOKS no less? The library is like this precious, magical creature that you can’t believe actually exists. When so little in American society comes without a price, public libraries are practically like unicorns. There’s just so much magic about the idea of a library. To think that all the books you’ve loved before are out there being discovered and loved by someone else. That just sitting on the shelves is a potential gold mine of books that others have read and loved before, just waiting for you to happen upon them. * sighs with bookish contentment *


Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t understand how people buy books at all — I do! I’m always tempted to go back and buy some of my favorite books — especially my favorite series — so that I can have them to reread, or to loan out (read: push onto) people. Or to get signed by the author. Or even just to gaze at lovingly. If they’re some of my favorite books, I’ll always want to have them near.

And a few exceptions need to be made for new books. Sometimes I’ll buy just a handful of new releases that I know are going to be good because of the author or the rave reviews, and the library doesn’t have it.

But recently I’ve been buying books in a way I never have in my whole life, and it’s been a little unsettling for me. It started with buying “beach read” books for vacation, because I didn’t want to damage or lose library books. I’d read them, like them enough, and then bring them back to my bookshelf to collect dust.

Then when I went off to college for the first time. I told myself that I wouldn’t have time to keep up with library books, so I allowed myself to start buying books. But then it was like the floodgates had opened, and it felt like I started buying any book that had caught my interest. I soon found out that not only did I have no time to keep up with library books, I had almost no time to read for pleasure, either. So my books became just a heavy weight to lug around in my suitcase (I’ve since resolved to only bring my e-reader).

And guess what? Now that I’m home, these same books are back on my shelf, but they’re not the ones I’m reading. Instead I’m drawn to the never-ending flow of new releases at the library, or the book I’ve heard about for so long that I just happen to find while browsing the stacks.

Meanwhile, I feel kind of sad looking at the books on my own shelf that I haven’t read, or that I have read but didn’t enjoy that much. What’s the use of having them just so that they sit there? I think the new #booksfortrade movement on Twitter might be alleviating this a little. But if you think about it, it’s kind of like a library system…

So I’ve personally resolved to be smarter about my book-buying habits after my recent buying spree pitfalls. I’ll probably limit buying physical copies to favorites or those few, must-have new releases that get really glowing reviews. A few impulse buys might find their way onto my Kindle, but at least they’ll be cheaper. * invokes “broke college student” line again *


But that’s just me. I realize that I’m incredibly fortunate to have such a gorgeous, well-stocked library near me. Others might be too far away to go regularly, or not have reliable transport. Maybe their local library is small or on the older side, and doesn’t have a great selection. Or maybe a lot of international readers want American or English or ____ new releases that their library doesn’t carry at all, or maybe not in the language they want to read it in.

So above all, I don’t want to guilt-trip anyone who loves their large, well-loved personal collection of books. I just want to share my personal experiences with book-buying, open up discussion, and express my love for the magical system that is the library. Libraries: YOU ROCK!

Anyone else a long-time library-goer? Or have feelings to share about libraries being magical unicorns? How do you feel about borrowing vs. buying books? Share your thoughts, I want to hear it all!


Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

Review: “Vicious” by V.E. SchwabVicious by V. E. Schwab
Genres: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Published by Macmillan on September 24th 2013
Format: Hardcover
AmazonBarnes & Noble
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

My love for this book is a quiet thing. Except, of course, when I was screaming WHAT JUST HAPPENED as my mind exploded without a sound. Kinda contradictory, I know.

I think that’s because the writing is nuanced and inconspicuously brilliant. Schwab never gives too much, but rather only what is needed. What is given though says so much, especially if you really stop to think about it. Her writing is rather stealthy, as it builds tension slowly until WHAM! everything is happening and you don’t know what hit you but you really can’t draw enough air to formulate your feelings but damn. It’s pretty magnificent.

I really enjoyed the way the story was told, too. The chapters were pretty short (again, Schwab never gave us too much) and flashed backwards and forwards in time, from ten years ago when the two MCs were in university (some of my favorite parts), to a couple days ago leading up to the present and about a day past that point, with a few other scattered looks into the past. Normally, this method can be excruciatingly frustrating, but it really was done so well. * claps * I have nothing but applause. The story also had alternating POVs, though at uneven intervals, which I thought was, for the most part, a well-used method.

Vicious is very character-centric, and I myself just COULDN’T GET ENOUGH OF THEM. Above all, I deeply appreciated the way that Schwab managed to portray them not as psychological cases, but as people. Sure, maybe there were symptoms of some syndrome or disorder, but coming to a diagnosis is hardly the point — in fact, it would only discredit and obliviate the depth and development put into these characters. I was surprised by how earnest and believable the characters were (especially Eli and Victor), considering that, when viewed from afar, it all seems pretty desperate and drastic.

“If he’d had to judge based on the two of them, then ExtraOrdinaries were damaged, to say the least. But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics.”

Victor was such a unique and complex character, and just the kind of person you want to get to understand. I totally understood the way Sydney (the young, powerful girl mentioned in the synopsis) believed in him and stayed by him. We got such little peeks into his life and thoughts, but I do feel like I understood at least some core aspects of him. He doesn’t lend himself to easy characterizations of “good,” as he can be rather violent, unforgiving, moody, and arrogant… yeah, not-so good. But “good” is most certainly not the point of this book as I’ll talk about later. Though he’s twisted, he is an undeniably compelling character.

Sydney was a great character too — she was very believable for her age and situation, and yet also very much her own person. Her unconventional relationship with Victor, and also the motley, riff-raff group Sydney, Victor, and Victor’s ex-cellmate Mitch form is one of my favorite parts of the book.

“’Sydney, look at me.’ He rested his hands on the car roof and leaned in. ‘No one is going to hurt you. Do you know why?’ She shook her head, and Victor smiled. ‘Because I’ll hurt them first.’”

And of course, Vicious brings up all sorts of moral questions related to hero/villain stories whose answers we usually take for granted. Mainly, does the good/bad dichotomy really exist? Vicious shows us that it’s a lot less real than we make it out to be. Both categories are rather fuzzy, but “good” perhaps the most. Believe me, this reads a lot better in the book than I can describe!

“The paper called Eli a hero. The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli was really a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain? He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.”

The slight issues I have with Vicious is the pacing and the ending. Neither of these issues mean that I didn’t love the book, but they’re still there. The WHAT IS HAPPENING moments happened before the halfway point in the book, and the rest of the book felt markedly different in terms of pacing. I was never bored, but it’s hard to keep the same kind of crazy energy going.

I was also little surprised by the ending, because, well, it was a quiet ending. Again, quiet, and probably more brilliant than I know, which is why I really want to reread again soon. But I think I expected some sort of moral epiphany being reached, and there isn’t one, which I also understood. And a bit more that I’m not sure is a spoiler but I don’t want to reveal too much about: View Spoiler »

But after the last page I just wanted MORE. I rarely do, and I love a good standalone, but I think even though it’s ending says a lot very simply, it also leaves a lot unsaid. I think it could’ve stood for at least a very short prologue, HEA or not. But this could change if I’m satisfied with it upon rereading.

Vicious quietly stole its way into my heart, and something tells me I’ll be needing a re-read soon. I can’t wait to read more by V.E. Schwab!


I ♥ MY KINDLE: In Which I Add My Two Cents on E-readers

Ok, I’ll admit it — I’ve always been one of those readers who unwaveringly (and rather ignorantly, I might add) opposed e-readers. I HAVE CONFESSED MY BOOKISH SINS, NOW PLEASE FORGIVE ME! I’m rather embarrassed of it, really. I look back and my attitude seems rather neo-Luddite (as in a reference to those people who smashed machinery during the Industrial Revolution, #APEuro) to me. Ok, maybe exaggerating a little bit.

Instagram: @everybookaworld

Instagram: @everybookaworld

It’s like I was so attached to physical books that I refused to believe there could be a decent alternative. * Cringe * I would frown at polls indicating rising e-book/e-reader sales, scoff at debates praising the merits of e-readers, and generally roll my eyes at anything slightly pro-ereader. I WAS * THAT * PERSON. All this, despite never having used an e-reader. I know, despicable bookworm behavior.

BUUUUT. I’ve recently caved and bought a Kindle, and have subsequently been forced to reexamine and overhaul all my previous thoughts on e-readers. Or at least most of them.

While an e-book/the Kindle has nothing on a physical book in terms of beauty and presence, I  think this is besides the point — no one is arguing otherwise! While I’m sure some readers might’ve switched over to reading almost entirely on their e-readers, and that the question for the future is if new books will only be available digitally and physical books will become collector’s items, this is not at all the question for me presently. For me, my Kindle doesn’t replace anything, but it does supplement my reading experience and brings some pretty awesome advantages and features. 

Advantage #1: it helps me read faster. Well, it seems like it at least. I’m by no means a slow reader, but it’s so easy to tap through the pages on the Kindle that it feels like the book flies by! And though a location number is kind of a sad substitute for a page number, I think the percentage feature makes up for that. Plus, I love the “minutes left in this chapter” feature — I like to use it to see if I have enough time to finish the chapter before bed (the answer is always yes, by the way).

Advantage #2: HIGHLIGHTING! I’ve never understood how people can stand to mark up physical pages, but all my hesitation disappears with digital pages. Where has this feature been all my life?! While I’m reading an e-book now the  problem becomes stopping myself from going overboard with the highlighting. Seriously — I almost feel like I highlighted the majority of Uprooted because I loved it so much! It makes grabbing the perfect quotes to describe something in a review SO easy. Then I just have to try to stop myself from using too many quotes in a review… I’ve also heard that a lot of people feel like they don’t really “own” an e-book, but I think that being able to highlight and take notes really personalizes the experience and makes it feel more like my copy.

Advantage #3: size, weight, and ease of travel! I just love how light it is, and I even toss it around when I’m holding it because I like to feel all 6.7 ounces of it, haha. I can read with just one hand if I want to, and if I get a special case for it I could even read while eating, A.K.A. the dream. Plus, it fits perfectly in my not-so-large purse, whereas a physical book never completely fits. Then it’s got the whole tons-of-books-on-one-small-device thing going for it. And actually, in a HUGE bookish decision, I’ve decided to only bring my Kindle with me to college next semester. * gasp! * With as little time as I get to read during the semester, bringing a whole suitcase of books just doesn’t make sense. And thinking ahead to studying abroad one semester (because if you know me I’m almost constantly thinking about study abroad 😉 ) I know having my Kindle will be just brilliant.

Because I had no cover to display...

Because I had no cover to display…

Disadvantage #1: (keeping in mind that I don’t mean to replace physical books with my Kindle) lack of real cover art. On my Kindle, at least, an e-ARC doesn’t have a cover, and my e-copy of Paper Towns doesn’t show a full-size version of the cover either, and even then it’s in black and white. I usually love gazing at the cover periodically while reading. It isn’t exactly ideal for Instagram, either.

Disadvantage #2: different reading experience. For the most part, I’m pretty impressed by how paper-like the screen of the Kindle manages to look. But I’m a visual person, so I miss being able to picture a certain scene in its location on the page, which I can’t really do with an e-book. And of course, just being able to hold a book and flip through it so easily. It’s also been suggested that e-readers interrupt the way our brain normally interprets written language (a surprisingly physical process) which could mean something for comprehension. For more check out this article.

Overall though, while I have yet to read anything besides e-ARCs on my Kindle, I think I can safely say that my view of e-readers has almost completely changed, and for the better. While I love my physical books, my Kindle is without a doubt here to stay — and I think I’ll even appreciate it more in the longer I have it.

What has your experience with e-readers and e-books been like? Any other reformed e-reader opponents out there? (I hope I’m not the only one…)