Review: “The Walled City” by Ryan Graudin

Review: “The Walled City” by Ryan GraudinThe Walled City by Ryan Graudin
Genres: Action & Adventure, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on November 4th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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730. That's how many days I've been trapped.
18. That's how many days I have left to find a way out.

DAI, trying to escape a haunting past, traffics drugs for the most ruthless kingpin in the Walled City. But in order to find the key to his freedom, he needs help from someone with the power to be invisible....

JIN hides under the radar, afraid the wild street gangs will discover her biggest secret: Jin passes as a boy to stay safe. Still, every chance she gets, she searches for her lost sister....

MEI YEE has been trapped in a brothel for the past two years, dreaming of getting out while watching the girls who try fail one by one. She's about to give up, when one day she sees an unexpected face at her window.....

In this innovative and adrenaline-fueled novel, they all come together in a desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out.

I was so excited when I dived into reading The Walled City, and when I started reading I thought it had true 5-star potential. I was practically giddy because I thought I had discovered a new favorite that I hoped could pull me out of my  reading slump (which I haven’t really acknowledged until now, but between not reading because of school and a few lackluster books, I think it’s true). The setting, the writing, the action… it all instantly captured my attention.

Buuuuut… somewhere along the way I lost that excitement and focus. Admittedly, I started this book in January and only just finished it now because of schoolwork, but there were other factors that kept me from reading it in every spare moment. But before I go into them, I want to start with what I did like.

really, really enjoyed the writing. I’ve never read anything by Ryan Graudin before, but I was impressed as soon as I started reading. Nothing about her writing feels forced, and instead felt really natural to me. Instead of dragging, wordy sentences, Graudin uses short but strong sentences that really made an impact on me and kept my attention. She perhaps uses a few too many similes, but for the most part I loved them — they really add depth to the description without being overly verbose, and often made a connection back to the book’s Asian influences. Her language is just beautiful.

“Without her, I had no reason to stay on the farm, taking my father’s blows. Watching my mother wither like our rice crops.”

“Sing’s cries are in my head, and the yes is on my tongue, filling my body with sparks and spit, like the firework our neighbors bought one New Year’s.”

“He’s staring out, out. The way he was that morning. At the skyscrapers, thick and tall as a bamboo forest. Their windows twinkling madly through the falling rain.”

“An aerial view revealing the unmistakeable density and shape of the Kowloon Walled City.” (from book)

The unique setting truly made the book special. The book is actually based off the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, though The Walled City is not historical fiction. I was sucked in by the setting, and Graudin’s description made the hopelessness, cruel poverty, and desperate life of the streets feel so real. The few times the setting strayed to the nice city surrounding Hak Nam (the Walled City’s real name in the novel), I was immediately jarred by the change and the striking contrast between the two cities — the world building was just that good.

Though the Asian influence wasn’t overwhelming, I appreciated the added diversity in the book. Realistically, and with minor changes, the novel could have been set in any  large, metropolitan city across the globe (besides the fact that it was based off a real city in Asia). The book’s Asian setting didn’t influence any major part of the plot; the same poverty, crime, and lawlessness can be found anywhere.

But the small details — about the sisters’ old home in the rice paddies, the way the neighborhood noodle shops, etc. would prepare the ingredients in the morning, the traditional and “reversed” (in Western view) style of the characters’ names — were subtle and captivating peeks into another culture. The Asian influences hinted at in the synopsis was part of the reason I bought the book, and I wasn’t disappointed.

And I couldn’t finish up what I liked without mentioning Jin and Dai’s relationship. Though they start out as strangers and reluctant-to-trust allies, their relationship very believably deepened until they were something like siblings — watching over and protecting each other, and relieving and comforting the void in each others’ lives. Their sibling-like relationship made me feel all the feels, especially when View Spoiler » Let’s just say it was my favorite relationship in the book.

But the book’s biggest flaw that forced me to reconsider my opinion was its pacing. Considering the way The Walled City was marketed as an “adrenaline-fueled novel” featuring a “desperate attempt to escape a lawless labyrinth before the clock runs out,” I was frustrated by the way the plot seemed to lag for most of the book. While I did read it very slowly over a long period of time, it wasn’t just me.

Check out my new #bookstagram, @everybookaworld!

Check out my new #bookstagram, @everybookaworld!

Though it started out with a bang and the last third or forth of the book was non-stop action, the first half or so of the book seemed to drag for me. It wasn’t until exactly the 50% mark that a few big secrets were revealed, finally setting more parts of the plot into motion. Before this point, I was growing quite tired of information being handed out like breadcrumbs, and not being able to even guess what general direction the plot might be headed towards. I can imagine that many people might have DNF’ed before reaching halfway because of this.

The romance wasn’t without flaws, either; I had very mixed opinions about its place in the book. When Mei Yee and Dai first met and were obviously enchanted by each other, inwardly I was begging that their relationship wouldn’t go anywhere. I felt that such a relationship seemed unbelievable in the cruel world of the Walled City, and that their personalities didn’t really mesh.

But while I never was deeply invested in their romance, their relationship did prove to be a vital part of the book. It was perhaps because their relationship seemed so unbelievable that it was in fact so striking. Desperate people living day by day have no time for romance, but yet it reality it happens anyway. It was their disparate lives and souls that drew them together in twin fascination, and eventually changed each for the better. I found Mei Yee’s character arc especially brilliant in light of how I had little sympathy and liking for her in the beginning of the book.

Overall I did enjoy the book, though at parts I wasn’t engrossed and entirely absorbed while reading, like I am when reading books I love. I still can’t help but think I should’ve read it in less sittings as well.

The Walled City is a standout in its writing and setting, but the pacing dragged in parts, and the romance left a little to be desired. Best for those looking for a beautiful and memorable read, but not an action-packed book.


Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin Aslan

Review: ‘The Islands at the End of the World’ by Austin AslanThe Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan
Series: The Islands at the End of the World #1
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Survival Stories, Young Adult
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
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Right before my eyes, my beautiful islands are changing forever. And so am I ...

Sixteen-year-old Leilani loves surfing and her home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. But she's an outsider - half white, half Hawaiian, and an epileptic.

While Lei and her father are on a visit to Oahu, a global disaster strikes. Technology and power fail, Hawaii is cut off from the world, and the islands revert to traditional ways of survival. As Lei and her dad embark on a nightmarish journey across islands to reach home and family, she learns that her epilepsy and her deep connection to Hawaii could be keys to ending the crisis before it becomes worse than anyone can imagine.

A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

You know when you can spot a book that you know you’ll love from a mile away? A book that just screams you?

That was definitely this book for me.

Let’s just take a moment to see what Tags I gave this post: Dystopian, Hawaii, Mythology, Sci-Fi, Survival Stories. 

Now, this might sound like a rather strange mix. (Now that I think about it, a similar mix of genres can be found in Jessica Khoury’s Origin.) But I just couldn’t love it more. Squee!

If I haven’t been obvious enough about it before, I am a huge fan of Sci-Fi and Dystopian. Survival Stories naturally fall into the mix, and I would rarely pass up an opportunity to read a book based in Mythology. Which leaves…


The sibs and I feelin’ pretty happy at the top of the Kuilau Trail!

HAWAII!! (Caution: I get pretty worked up over Hawaii, haha.) My family and I had the privilege of visiting Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island, a few years ago, and I have never been to a more beautiful or relaxed place. Hawaii is truly such a special place, from the landscape to its culture.

And honestly, why aren’t more books set in these beautiful islands?! As Aslan has so ingeniously and terrifyingly shown with his debut book, there may be no greater place to set an Apocalyptic story than the isolated islands of Hawaii. From the author on the book’s Goodreads page:

“Everybody knows what happens at the end of the world in New York and LA, but what would a global disaster mean for Islanders? 95% of Hawaii’s food is imported every day. The islands are home to 1.5 million people. If things got tough there, where would all those people go? There are no mountain ranges or Great Plains to escape to. Everyone is stuck. Hungry. No way to escape.” 

Between my visit and all the reading I did in preparation for the trip, I know a bit more about the islands than the next person — which is still not too much compared with the vast wealth of knowledge there is to know about Hawaii — and I can say that this definitely helped deepen my connection with the story. The tales of the islands’ rich mythology, their geography, and their current struggles were already somewhat familiar and dear to me, which helps to explain why I drooled over this book until I had it in my hands, and simply devoured it as fast as I could when I finally had it.


My favorite mountain on all of Kauai.

The setting is absolutely crucial to this book, and is what really makes The Islands at the End of the World stand out in more ways than one. The idea of paradise quickly devolving into a nightmare highlights how the world could really turn upside-down so fast in the event of some sort of apocalypse.

The setting also played into a major theme in the book, which in my opinion helped make it so much more than just a survival story: Belonging. As half Hawaiian, half white (with an appearance that makes it a struggle to fit in with the locals), MC Leilani has only lived in Hawaii with her family for 3 years. Though she feels a deep connection to the island as she discovers more about her own culture and heritage, she can’t seem to fit in. Her fits of epilepsy further alienate her from others.

“Long black hair. Oval face with high cheeks. My eyes are hazel, my complexion is… too light. I’m almost as white as Dad.”

I could personally understand Leilani so well, being of mixed heritage myself. I’m half white and half Hispanic, but my appearance and Germanic last name disconnect me from any casual association with my Hispanic heritage. Though I’m not a native Spanish speaker, I’ve been learning about the language and culture for 7 years now. While I love what parts of my culture I know, I often find it hard to believe that I’ll ever truly feel like a part of the Hispanic community — which is why I felt and rooted for Leilani every step of the way.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Ridiculously beautiful Taro fields in Hanalei.

Aslan’s book also grapples with the serious land dispute issues occurring in Hawaii, which I’ve been fortunate enough to have been exposed to during my 1st semester in college. Since the beginning of Hawaii’s statehood — or, it’s illegal and unwanted annexation and overthrow of local government — there has been a movement to restore land and governing rights back to Native Hawaiians, essentially recognizing it as an independent nation. So, to whom do these islands belong — the United States, or native Hawaiians? Who belongs to this category labeled as ‘Hawaiian’ when Hawaiians themselves are so mixed in heritage, and how might this split up families? Do the natural treasures of Hawaii belong only to natives, or should they be shared? It’s no simple issue, but Aslan incorporates it into his book admirably. 

I don’t want to give too much away, but this Belonging theme isn’t the only thing that makes The Islands at the End of the World more than just a survival story. As the book progresses, the mythology and Sci-fi elements begin to intertwine more closely with the plot, until they steal center stage. I really enjoyed these elements and thought that they were well-developed, even if at around the midway point I thought my head would explode (in a good way) from all the extra intensity these elements added to the already dramatic storyline.

Not only were these elements fascinating, but thanks to author-scientist Austin Aslan, they also seemed plausible. I’m going to out and admit it here that I’ve got a bit of idol-worship for the guy — one look at his biography and you might, too. The book closely mirrors his life in some aspects, and his master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo really adds credibility to the story.

All-in-all, The Islands at the End of the World was a fast-paced, desperate story of survival that made my head spin — but also hit close to home with its setting and theme. I may or may not have shed a tear or two somewhere along the way, and I adored the father-daughter relationship in the book. That this series is set to be just a two-booker seems perfect to me, as the sequel will be able to be just as fast-paced while also expanding and wrapping up the story.

Everything you’d ever want in a Survival Story and more, thanks to its unique setting.


Review: ‘In the Afterlight’ by Alexandra Bracken

Review: ‘In the Afterlight’ by Alexandra BrackenIn the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken
Series: The Darkest Minds #3
Genres: Action & Adventure, Young Adult
Published by Disney Electronic Content on October 28th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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Ruby can't look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government's attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds.

They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America's children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife may destroy their only chance to free the "rehabilitation camps" housing thousands of other Psi kids.

Meanwhile, reunited with Liam, the boy she would-and did-sacrifice everything for to keep alive, Ruby must face the painful repercussions of having tampered with his memories of her. She turns to Cole, his older brother, to provide the intense training she knows she will need to take down Gray and the government. But Cole has demons of his own, and one fatal mistake may be the spark that sets the world on fire.

This is one of my most favorite series, so it’s gonna be pretty hard to hold back while reviewing it!

Also, seeing as it’s the end of the series, I can’t guarantee that I won’t be revealing spoilers from the first two books. But I will be making any spoilers for this last book visible only when clicked on.

Where do I start? Heck, where do you ever start when you come to the conclusion of a series you love so much?

Welp, that’s it. I suppose I’ll start with an open love letter to a series I love so dearly.

Dear Darkest Minds Series (Cc: Alexandra Bracken),

How do I even describe why I love this series so much? It’s no simple thing.

Once, I was asked by a stranger on a flight while I was reading Never Fade if I liked the book and why, and what it was all about. I responded with an “Of course!,” and launched into an explanation of the plot.“Well, you see, there’s this disease that sweeps across the country and kills a bunch of kids, and the ones who survive have these powers to do different things, but the government rounds them up and puts them in these concentration camps…”

I think he was trying to follow along, but he looked a little lost. Even I was a little lost. Why was it so hard to articulate how I felt about one of my favorite series? 

Listing the plot details just didn’t seem to cut it, and hearing the bare bones of the story myself made it blur into the mass of other dystopian books I’d read (that’s not to say that the books aren’t unique — just described in so little detail, they become a little difficult to distinguish.) I was at once frustrated and angry with myself.

But it came to me, some time after. It is the CHARACTERS that make this series, and I became attached to every single one of them. (WARNING: Every. Single. One of them. Prepare and fortify yourself accordingly, as any misfortune that befalls the characters will knock you breathless.) Strong-headed and fiercely loyal Vida, fumbling but protective Chubs, quiet yet strong little Zu, well-intentioned, innocent, and caring Jude… they all earned their places in my heart and deserve more than a few words, but otherwise I would be writing all day.

And how can I not mention Ruby, our fearless heroine? But really, fearless isn’t the right word. Ruby isn’t fearless — she feels fear, and a lot of it sometimes. She’s been through a lot, and she’s made of some pretty tough stuff. But the reader is allowed the exquisite intimacy of hearing Ruby’s deepest thoughts and concerns. We know just how much she struggles — with herself, with trusting others, and with the things she’s done and the things she has to do. She’s not made of Kevlar. She can get hurt, and she’s been damaged on more than one occasion, but by leaning on her friends — no, her family — she survives. (Literally — there’s much carrying, dragging, and supporting to be had.) She’s one of my all-time favorite heroines/MC’s.

And Liam… LIAM. This boy. Words fail me. This blue-eyed, light-haired, leather-jacket-wearing, sweet-talking, Southern angel must only have fallen from heaven. He restores faith in humanity in a society that has been ravaged first by disease, but then by doubt, fear, and selfishness. Liam is Ruby’s rock; time and time again their relationship and his support of her have been severely tested, but, no matter how long it takes, they both always survive intact. Each person would be on the verge of falling apart without the other, but together they are Kevlar.

To top it off, I present the sheer perfection that is Alexandra Bracken’s writing. The beauty that she captures, and the darkness as well, is beyond compare. Everything she writes hits hard, and refuses to let go. Her character development is on-point, and her pacing and action-packed scenes leave me breathless. Even her descriptive, between-scenes writing — ya know, the stuff my eyes tend to skip over sometimes in other books — shines, perhaps most brilliantly. It makes me want to create a scrapbook of sorts to collect all my favorite quotes, though I might just have to settle for a Pinterest board.

And there you have it: the explanation of my love for this series. It might be over, but I know I’ll come back to read these books again, even though I’m not the biggest re-reader around. Ruby, Liam, Chubs, and Zu… theirs is a story I will carry with me, its words ingrained in my mind. 

“They’d never fade, even in the afterlight of all this.”

Love, Lina :)xx

With all these feelings off my chest, I can finally add a few short notes on the final book itself.

While there’s nothing I love more than a big book, In the Afterlight weighed in at a little more than 500 pages, and I felt that the beginning of the book was a bit too long and slow. I know Ruby needed time to grieve View Spoiler » and the group needed time to train and form battle plans, but I was honestly a little bored at parts. Then again, maybe it was because I was reading this section in short bursts over a long period of time, which is pretty uncharacteristic of me (Finals.).

But when the pace picked up, it took off running and never stopped. Then, of course, there was that one scene where my heart almost stopped and I was breaking out in a cold sweat. View Spoiler » Let’s just say it was one crazy ride.

And here’s another big long spoiler that’s not incredibly spoiler-y, but has to do with how the the book/series wrapped up: View Spoiler »

Are you a fan of The Darkest Minds series? What do you love about the books? How do you think the f inal book stacks up?