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: ‘Of Poseidon’ by Anna Banks

Review: ‘Of Poseidon’ by Anna BanksOf Poseidon by Anna Banks
Series: The Syrena Legacy #1
Genres: Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Macmillan on 2012-05-22
Format: Paperback
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Galen is the prince of the Syrena, sent to land to find a girl he's heard can communicate with fish. Emma is on vacation at the beach. When she runs into Galen—literally, ouch!—both teens sense a connection. But it will take several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, for Galen to be convinced of Emma's gifts. Now, if he can only convince Emma that she holds the key to his kingdom...

Told from both Emma and Galen's points of view, here is a fish-out-of-water story that sparkles with intrigue, humor, and waves of romance.

This book definitely surprised me! While I was expecting your average mermaid tale, what I got was a fierce and funny story featuring the Syrena. Of Poseidon is witty and light — so it was the perfect vacation read for me!

Though I usually find it distracting to read on planes, this book drew me in within the first few pages. Between Anna Banks’ humorous writing and the great dialogue, I liked all of the characters from the get-go. 

Emma is especially brilliant, definitely ranking as one of my more preferred MC’s. The reader gets to see a lot of Emma’s internal dialogue (which is hilarious, by the way), but I was never annoyed by her. She strikes a fine balance between bewildered and taking-things-in-stride when it comes to accepting her possible Syrena heritage, managing to be appropriately confused while also keeping her calm. This really made Emma stand out to me among the crowd of YA MC’s that completely flip out when they discover they might be a little more than human. Of course, her fiery temper and desire to do exactly what people tell her not to just because it irks her also make her a little bit of a rebel and all the more likable.

Rayna, Galen’s sister, is quite belligerent and has a temper that puts Emma’s to shame. Rayna provides for some of the funniest scenes in the novel, whether she is teasing her brother or attempting to fend off the advances of her accidental fiancé, Toraf, though she doesn’t find him as completely detectable as she makes out (it’s a long story). She definitely rocks her secondary character status and adds some spice to the novel.

And then we arrive at the love interest, Galen. Ah, Galen, you are the perfect guy — but perhaps too perfect? The boy possesses rock-hard abs, violet eyes, super-speed, a considerable amount of concern for Emma’s well-being, and a pretty strong protection instinct. Sometimes he really come across as too good to be true — but to be fair, he isn’t really your average teenage human anyway. As he enrolls in high school to try to stick around town and convince Emma of her heritage, the contrast between him and other guys his age is even more startling. While he does have his humanizing moments (failing at his math homework, for instance), and his frustration with Emma is understandable and even endearing, he still seems unbelievable at times.

But when it comes to romance, oh boy does this book deliver. However unbelievable Galen make come across at times, his chemistry with Emma is obvious — as a matter a fact, it’s even legendary. Yes, the intense attraction these two is called ‘the pull’ among the Syrena, and is thought to attack one’s true mate, though it is said to be myth. Due to royal obligations their romance is forbidden, but that doesn’t stop these two from falling for each other, though they stubble to fight their feelings.

Though it pains me to do so, I feel that a connection to this book must be brought up. I saw a few too many parallels between Galen and Emma’s romance to Edward and Bella’s in Twilight.  Not in the sense that it wasn’t original per se, but that it brought up some things that nagged me just as when I read Twilight. Forbidden romance, a chemistry that is impossible to resist (practically written into their DNA), guy who is not in high school enrolling just to stalk (okay, maybe a bit harsh) the girl, guy with an extreme protection instinct… these elements to their romance had me worried that they would turn out to be another Edward and Bella in an unrealistic and possibly unhealthy romance.

But really, I had nothing to worry about. Galen and Emma ARE NOT Edward and Bella because of their drastically different personalities that change their love story into something different (and much better). In retrospect, I’m kinda embarrassed two compare the two (but really, my brain couldn’t help it! There were just so many similarities). Galen has a rather positive attitude about everything, and I’m not sure he could pull off brooding and silent even if he tried. And Emma, of course, is anything but passive and would be disgusted with herself if her life became unlivable without Galen. Emma’s spunk and refusal to comply with Galen’s orders really won me over and made their romance unique.

I also loved the twist that Banks added that made Of Poseidon different from most ‘mermaid’ books. Though not explicitly Greek mythology, the Syrena are divided into to houses, with one descending from Poseidon and the other from Triton. Tons of history is also spun into the story (Banks is obviously a history buff!). Ever wondered about the lost city of Atlantis or wished to visit the shipwreck of the Titanic? Let’s just stay that you’ll love this book.

A great romance, a kick-ass and hilarious MC, elements of history/mythology, and an ending that completely surprised me. Odds are that I’ll be checking out the sequel!

Review: ‘The Kiss of Deception’ by Mary E. Pearson

Review: ‘The Kiss of Deception’ by Mary E. PearsonThe Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on 2014-07-08
Format: Hardcover
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In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

I was so ready for this book. I had seen great reviews for it across the blogosphere, and everyone was basically raving about it. So of course, I fell victim to the hype monster. How couldn’t I? It had everything that made it my kind of book:
☑  Royalty, Fantasy World with Ancient Influences, Love Interest(s), and even a MAP

If I saw negative reviews somewhere amongst the sea of positivity, I quickly clicked away — because how could the book be anything but amazing? Yes, the hype monster had me deep in its clutches.

But to say that The Kiss of Deception let me down simply because there was too much hype surrounding it would be a lie. The contents of the book itself were at once disappointing and infuriating.

As I was reading, I kept waiting for the book to really start. Things were happening, sure, but nothing as excitingly as I had been imagining. The first half or so of the book was rather slow and decidedly less important to the plot. I was trying desperately to connect with the characters, but I was failing miserably as no character stood out to me or really seemed anything other than average or stereotypical. The world-building was sound, but only mildly interesting. Though there was a good deal of romance in the first half, I found myself stuck on the wrong side of the love triangle, so I wasn’t satisfied with it by any means. Meanwhile I plodded through the book, bored with how Lia’s life was going nowhere (though she had so much potential), and how everything happening was so predictable. I even foresaw when I thought the major plot twist would occur — and it even seemed to be happening as I thought it would. And then… EVERYTHING CHANGED.

“…soon the day would cleave in two, forever creating the before and after of my life, and it would happen in one swift act that I could no more alter than the color of my eyes.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth itself (a.k.a. Lia)! Of course, this quote is from the first page of the book describing what the arranged marriage would have done to her life, but I think it mores aptly applies to what happens at approximately 60% through the book when EVERYTHING TURNS ON ITS HEAD. (cue book being thrown violently across room)

Now, I will attempt to describe my feelings about THIS ACT without spoiling anything. My main problem with this plot twist has to do with the well-known and simple concept of the ‘Author-Reader Contract’. I almost never have any qualms with anything an author choses to do in a book, but there are occasional glaring violations of the unwritten rules of fiction writing that leave readers feeling abused. And this, in my own personal opinion, was one of them.

How do I know? Well, maybe it was because I had so much difficulty appreciating the second (better) half of the book because I was stewing with anger and confusion. The rest of the book picked up the pace, adding in a lot of action, traveling across the continent to exciting new lands, and romance that I was actually interested in. But I could hardly enjoy this new part of the book when I could barely set straight what had happened and what the plot twist really affected.

This might sound overly dramatic to those that haven’t read the book, but the plot twist was sprung on the reader with no warning and almost no justification whatsoever. While I almost always love a good plot twist, for me, this one tainted the rest of the book. 

Well, mostly it did. By the time I had finished reading, my thoughts about The Kiss of Deception were quite muddled. After a brief cool-down period, I realized that I had enjoyed the second half of the book. But overall, the book felt to me to be two halves that didn’t quite fit together. While there were other parts I liked and disliked about the book, this is the lasting impression I was left with.

So would I be up for reading the next book in the series? Maybe I would, if it meant I got to put this plot twist behind me and be able to appreciate the next book, provided that the tomfoolery on the author’s part STOPPED. I really want to be able to like the next book for the book itself, and not to have to furiously fixate on one little part that changed everything.

I was so ready to love this book, but I finished it with very mixed feelings and a lingering sense of betrayal.

Review: ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Kasie West

Review: ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Kasie WestThe Distance Between Us by Kasie West
Genres: Contemporary, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Published by HarperCollins on 2013-07-02
Format: Paperback
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Money can't buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted. And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom's porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise.

Enter Xander Spence—he's tall, handsome, and oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and the fact that he seems to be one of the first people who actually gets her, she's smart enough to know his interest won't last. Because if there's one thing she's learned from her mother's warnings, it's that the rich have a short attention span.

But just when Xander's loyalty and attentiveness are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn't a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she'd ever realized. With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

Glowing reviews for Kasie West’s newest novel, On the Fence, have been buzzing around the blogosphere this month, and I’ve just been dying to get ahold of a copy myself. But until then I figured that I could satiate myself by checking out one of her other contemporaries, The Distance Between Us.

I picked this up because I was in the mood for a contemporary, but from the first few pages, I was hooked. Maybe it had just been a while since I read a good contemporary, but I think it was more that that. The Distance Between Us was genuine and funny, hit just the perfect balance between serious and lighthearted, and was just about everything that I think a good contemporary should be.

Caymen has always been wary of the rich, mainly because of how her wealthy father wanted nothing to do with her mother when she found she was expecting Caymen. So as Caymen lives her life trying to help with her mom’s doll shop and ignoring her own dreams, she goes on believing this. But then Xander comes and begins to change her mind about things, leaving her torn between the ‘rightness’ between them and her loyalty to her mother.

One of the main themes of West’s novel was Classicism. Despite her attraction to Xander and the way he makes her feel, she often can’t overlook his family’s immense wealth. She keeps try to characterize him by it, but time and time again he surprises her by surpassing her expectations. But Caymen’s trust is hard-earned.

I really appreciated how the topic of money was approached in this book. While at first Caymen seems justified in her convictions, she still tries to cling to them even as she gets to know Xander. It was hard for her to redefine her view of how the wealthy fit into the world, and a little destabilizing. There are points in the book when she still tries to make critiques of the rich, and it is obvious she is in denial.  She begins to see that “being rich isn’t a character flaw,” and it doesn’t define Xander. West develops her argument surely and without too much one-sidedness, and definitely convince me as a reader.

But The Distance Between Us wasn’t a somber or humorless social critique. The main character Caymen is exceptionally sarcastic, reminding me of myself (or at least, in my head). She provided for quite a few laughs, especially whenever she was in conversation with just about anyone. Her banter with Xander was always a treat to read. But Caymen was also level-headed and had an oversized sense of responsibility, both of which really rounded her out as a character and made me root for her yet also want to help free her. She’s exactly the kind of grounded and common-sense friend I’d want to have, though she’s not averse to fun.

While the author didn’t linger over the world-building, I loved the slow build-up of the story and romance. It felt natural whenever Xander would come by with their morning hot chocolate, or when Caymen was filling orders around the shop. I was somehow never bored by it, which leads me to believe that West just has a knack for portraying normal life. The pacing was perfect as Caymen’s life began filling with problems and Xander became something more to her. Sigh It was a pleasure to read. And though I thought I saw where the plot was going, there were definitely some surprises to keep things exciting.

I have but a few gripes. As is typical with many YA romances, Caymen kept her distance from Xander for a while because she was confused about his relationship status; this is one of my pet peeves. But it didn’t end up being the main issue in the relationship, thank goodness. And then there was the book’s ending. For a book that seemed pretty realistic, I feel the ending may have been a little to convenient and tidy. But really, doesn’t Caymen deserve a happy ending?

I can’t wait to read On the Fence whenever I get it.

Genuine, funny, and the perfect balance between serious and lighthearted.

Review: ‘The One’ by Kiera Cass

Review: ‘The One’ by Kiera CassThe One by Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection #3
Genres: Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by HarperTeen on 2014-05-06
Format: Hardcover
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The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of Illéa, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen--and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

I know that I have not reviewed the rest of the books in The Selection series on my blog, but having just finished the last book, I felt that I did need to review it. So for those of you who haven’t read the rest of the series, there may be minor SPOILERS.

My feelings about The Selection series waxed and waned. When I first read The Selection, I was over the moon about where the books were headed. After The Elite, I was less sure about things. Now that I’ve finally finished the series with The One, I definitely have some reflections.

It took me a while to really get back into the story when I started reading, but it surely dragged me back in. I wanted action, drama, and definite decisions after two books of mainly waiting, and Kiera Cass absolutely delivered. I was wholly satisfied as rebel activity in Illéa escalated, the relationships between the Elite contestants strained, broke, mended, and changed, and as true feelings became clear and promises made.

In fact, I think that the new relationships between the contestants was one of my favorite parts about the book. Though it seemed impossible to unite four girls competing for the hand of one prince, Kiera Cass does so with credibility and skill. As each contestant opens up and reveals their weaknesses and doubts, they are able to finally connect with one another and confide in each other during the incredibly overwhelming process that is The Selection. I was surprised myself by how much I enjoyed these new friendships, heart-to-hearts, makeovers, group selfie-takings and all.

As for the romance…the romance was beautiful, and it definitely moved this book along if the plot was ever going a bit slowly. I felt that it was very honest and complete with all the missteps and heartfelt moments that any true relationship has — even if it was unusually burdened by the drama of court life and the stress of the Selection process. I really loved it.

That being said, I really need to stress that this series is more of a Romance series than anything else. While the books were based off a sort of Dystopian premise (Illéa being the remade USA and all) and seemed to promise a lot of rebellion and development of problems with the caste system, The Selection series never truly fulfills this promise. Sure, there are rebels that attack the palace and occasionally more, and America does try to fight the caste system, but it always feels like a sub-plot. The world-building is lacking, and every issue never seems fully expressed. The Selection process seems to me to be the main focus, and the caste system and rebels seem more like a tool to reflect back on the characters of America and Maxon rather than a real plot line. Maybe I should have realized this sooner, but this book really drove it home for me. But that by means makes it a bad book; I was still satisfied, and it was a really enjoyable read.

 And while it seems like the ending of this book has been a long time coming and that it would be obvious, be prepared for some major excitement and for things to turn on their head near the end! I’m still reeling a little from everything that transpired within the last 50 pages or so. Such a gripping ending to the series really sealed the deal for me with this book.

Definitely finish this series! But don’t read it just for the politics.