Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

By: Holly Black
Genre: YA Fantasy
Copyright: January 13, 2015 
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
POV: Close Third Person - Sometimes Alternating
Rating: 4 out of 5

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
Main Character: Hazel - A 16-year-old girl who lives a bohemian life-style with her artist parents and older brother. She has lived with quirky and strange her whole life, and with parents who shun "normal" and "average" she fears that she is the most normal and average person in her whole artistic family. She has turned to certain defense mechanisms due to this, like being an unapologetic flirt.

What Holly Black does with her characterization in this book (especially Hazel's) is she presents layers of their personality out of order. So at first we think that all Hazel is is a girl who fears being average. However, it turns out that there are secrets that Hazel hides (even from her brother) that make it obvious that she's anything but average. I like this because we learn of her strength of character and bravery in a round-about way. In the end Hazel is a fantastic heroine, but she didn't start out that way narratively (even though she did chronologically).

Love Connection: Secret! Like seriously, I think it's worth it not to know, so I'm going to be a jerk and not tell you. Muahahaha.

Allies and Enemies: Ben - Hazel's older brother who was blessed with the gift of music by one of the fae. He is sweet and a romantic and just wants to find the perfect boy to love forever. He is the opposite of Hazel. But he and Hazel are super close (they are only 1 year apart and do everything together). He has his own inner demons that make him very tortured-artist-like.

Jack - Ben's best friend and a fae. He is a changeling who was switched with his brother Carter when they were babies. When Jack's human mother found out she forced Jack's faerie mother to return Carter, but also kept Jack as punishment (you getting all this?). Anyway, he's lived as a human his whole life and he's besties with Ben.

Horned Prince - The prince is asleep for the first half of the book, but since the book summary tells us he wakes up I don't feel like it's a spoiler to say that he does wake up. He is very faerie-like, and he has secrets of his own (obviously, he was asleep for like decades!). He is not what he seems, but then again faeries never are.

The Alderking - A powerful faerie who rules the forest by Fairfold. Not much is known about him. Except that he rules the fae and there is a truce of sorts between the fae and the citizens of Fairfold. The faeries do not harm the citizens as long as the people of Fairfold are respectful of them. So only tourists fall prey to the fae, unless a citizen goes looking for trouble or makes a deal with the faeries.

Setting: Contemporary East-Coast town close to Philidelphia.

Diversity: Ben is a secondary main character in my mind, even though his POV chapters are few and far between. But to know Hazel is to know a lot about Ben as well since they are so close. And his status as gay is not what makes him Ben. I like that Holly Black includes the fact that his sexuality is still a struggle in the way it can be for teenagers, but it's not all that his character focuses on.

Jack and Carter are technically side characters, but they are also a good source of racial diversity in the fact that they don't just exist to diversify the books. I think Holly Black does a decent job of incorporating diversity in her books in a seamless way. What I mean by that is that her diverse characters aren't there for diversity's sake. They aren't two-dimensional or peripheral-only. They are characters first and foremost and their diversity is just one aspect out of a dozen that make them who they are. That being said, I will point out that I wish there was more diversity in her settings and cultures, but the fact that her books are set in a western world isn't a bad thing. And she does a great job with world-building in general.

Random Thoughts:
 What I like the most about this book is how weird it is. I think that's also going to be what will make it a hard read for some people. Genre-wise it is contemporary fantasy or magical realism. But I think that Holly Black makes her magic a fact of the world instead of a special exception of reality. I love that. It's very Miyazaki of her (aka, Miyazaki movies seamlessly incorporate magic into the world without needing explanation). 

I also like that the characters are never straightforward. They're messed up and bruised and broken, but they're strong in at least one way or another. A strong character goes a long way with me as a reader, so I liked Hazel and Ben a lot. I also really liked Jack because he was a great bridge between the human world and the faerie.

The thing that was a great element for me was the romantic aspect of the book. It wasn't flowery, traditional YA-like. But it was definitely there, and it had a kick that I enjoyed. Like I say above, it's not clear who the love interest is immediately, but I think that gives a good flavor to the eventual love story. (And who knows, maybe other readers figured it out way quicker than I did).

Good, strange read. Entertaining in a slightly twisty way. Not for all, but for the people who do enjoy the unknown in their books I would recommend this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Coming Soon to a computer near you!


Hey guys, it's that time of the year! Fall!
My favorite season because of apple cider, Thanksgiving, pretty trees AND NaNoWriMo! 
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as the cool kids say, is a challenge to write a WHOLE BOOK(50,000 words) in the month of November. 
And fighting the slow pull of insanity while trying to meet word count. Just kidding, kind of.
It also brings the writer community together and can jump-start a new novel idea.

According to Nanowrimo.org:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.
NaNoWriMo kind of reminds me of college because you have an excuse to be grouchy and crazy at 3 AM and there are likely other people doing that exact same thing! So you know what that means, 3AM coffee/wine and whine time with friends! 

I also always like to point out that some awesome novels were started and/or written during Nanowrimo (http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos).

Okay, so here are some of the fun things you get by signing up (FOR FREE) at Nanowrimo.org

Cool stats and graphs telling you how awesome (or, in my case, how lazy) you are:

Awesome Forums where you can connect with other authors. There are so many options to base the forums on (genre, hobbies, progress in your WIP, where you live, who you read):


And there are some Regional specific events:


I participated in NaNoWriMo for the past two years (and won *cough cough*). I loved it, I loved meeting new people and working on a new WiP. Fun fact, none of my WiPs from NaNoWriMo became full novels. However, I don't think that's a bad thing. I got super inspired (often times halfway through NaNo) to write MSs that DID become full books. And I queried the snot out of at least one (that means I thought it wasn't complete garbage and other people were allowed to read it). So, there you go.

Anyway, I love the idea of NaNoWriMo. I like anything that gets people to write and to get excited about writing. I am knee deep in a WiP, but it's actually split into 2 parts, so I'm writing part 2 of my YA contemporary fantasy during NaNo this year.


If you want, you can find me on the site and we can be nanowrimo pals! (I'm katjc589)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Book Review: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

By: Holly Black
Genre: YA Fantasy/Dystopian
Copyright: September 3, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
POV: Close Third Person

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown's gates, you can never leave.
One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

Main Character: Tana - Tough but that isn't the main point of this character (like how it seems to be with Katniss or Allie Sekemoto in Blood of Eden). It just is. That's what I like about Tana. She doesn't say or do anything fantastic because she's special, she just reacts in her own way to traumatic situations and in her reactions she builds up a special type of strength. It is earned throughout the book and I can appreciate that (probably because I can watch the organic progression from normal-ish girl to tough heroine)

Love Connection: Gavriel - A vampire that Tana meets during the after-math of a tragedy in the beginning of the book. He is insane. Literally. But that's what makes him such a fascinating love interest. Plus, the love story is super-duper secondary. It's definitely obvious who the love interest is (thank goodness, I am not the biggest fan of love triangles in every book I read). But even though we know that Gavriel is the love interest that's not the point of the story. So, therefore, the love story parts are really juicy to me since I had to wait for them.

Allies and Enemies: Aiden - Tana's ex-boyfriend who survives the same tragedy as Tana in the beginning of the book. I have to be honest and say I worried he would over-complicate the story. He's one of those chaotic characters who bring confusion and chaos to everything around him for little to no reason. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Aiden as a character and I actually thought he served a lot of purpose in the story and characterization of our main characters. So I applaud Holly Black for that. 

Midnight and Winter -  A brother and sister duo of humans who want to become vampires. These characters were weird. To the point of being a bit creepy. They both made me feel really uncomfortable, and therefore, they were really well-written characters.


Jameson - A boy who grew up in Coldtown. So he is a human who did not choose to be behind the wall. Because of this he helps the helpless and is kind of a local legend.

Lucian Moreau - The big baddie in the book. He is one of the "old" vampires who existed before the world became Cold. He is strong and smart and creepy, so he is obviously a very interesting character. I will say he became two-dimensional in his evilness at some points, but not in a bad or off-putting way.

Setting: Dystopian-like future America, after a vampire (Casper Morales) spread the vampire disease. It puts a spin on vampirism and one of the rules is that, once bitten, a human can be cured of vampirism if they don't drink human blood for 88 days. However, during this time they are considered "Cold" and will be violent and crave blood above all things.


Diversity: 
I think there could have been a bit more diversity in this book. None of the main characters were very diverse (Gavriel did have beginnings in Russia, although that setting was only explored for one chapter). 


There was Jameson (who may or may not be latino). And Elisabet, who was really only in one scene but who was a powerful Portuguese vampire.

The best diverse character was a side character, Valentina. She is a transgender character who made many of her decisions (including coming to Coldtown) based on her struggle in the real world. This was a great way to show that everyone has diverse reasons for wanting immortality and also to show that the world is diverse itself. Even though her story was very peripheral, it was nice to see a character of the QUILTBAG community represented in the book. 

Random Thoughts: Great world-building. Nice cast of imperfect characters. I like it when the lense I am watching a world out of is not reliable/imperfect in itself. Tana makes a great narrator because of her personal struggle to understand how she feels in this new world. She had personal tragedy as a direct cause of the vampire disease. And she also has a strange strength because of regular teenage issues (i.e. an ex-boyfriend who was a little too free with his love). However, the best thing about the book is that even with all of the fantastical aspects of the world and vampire characters, it was mostly about how to survive and be human.

Tana's scenes with Gavriel are great not just because of the romance aspect (although the romance was creepily tantalizing and dysfunctional). Tana and Gavriel were a great pair mostly because of their search for humanity in themselves and their ability to see it in each other. It was one of those situations where someone else can see you better than you can see yourself. That's why I liked the romance in this book. It wasn't overly co-dependent or flowery or perfect, it was real and raw and awkward at times like a teen romance really should be (at least mine were, haha).

I also liked that there were characters who were unabashedly irredeemable in their actions. And these characters weren't even the vampires or the evil characters, but the humans that Tana met along the way. It showed the breakdown of the human condition/spirit through the different people Tana encountered. I thought that was a great way to show Tana how the world could be for her and let her decide on her own how she wanted to end up.

The book wasn't exactly perfect. I would say that one of my biggest critiques was the pace, it moved very slowly at points. I like that there was always a goal (try to go back home), but that goal wasn't very deeply cemented from the beginning. For awhile there was a question of what Tana really wanted, and it took a long time for her to make a plan or have any goals. Without that motivation I did wonder at times why I was following her through this story. I also wondered what the main conflict would be (other than how awful Coldtown is). Once we met Lucian it was obvious that he was the bad guy to overcome, but that didn't happen until like halfway through the book.

Still, the book overall was really good. Well written with dynamic characters and an interesting exploration of the world that Holly Black created. I like that it was stand-alone and that it came out of a short story. A good read that I would recommend to any fans of well-thought out YA books.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Feature Follow Friday: Kiss, Marry, Kill


Every Friday Parajunkee and Alison Can Read hosts Feature Follow Friday. It's a great way to get to know the blogging community and they ask fun questions!

This week's Question is:

Pick Three Book Characters - Kiss? Marry? Kill?

Kiss


Jace
I really like Jace's snarky personality and his bad-boy attitude. But he does give Clary some anxious moments when he acts a fool. So I don't think I'd want to have a real relationship with him (plus he super loves Clary). But I wouldn't mind the kissing.

Marry


Minho
Minho is strong, smart, and funny. These are all things I would totally want in a husband. He's also Korean, this is what my grandmother would want in a husband for me. So really Minho was made for me to marry (or my cousin Axie I guess, since we have the same grandmother). Anyway, I love him, he's one of my favorite Maze Runner characters and I would marry him and help him deal with his maze PTSD and cook him kalbi and kimchi chigae.


Mikolas Vavra 
He is a side-side-side character at first. He is the crush (and eventual boyfriend) of Zuzana, Karou's BFF in Daughter of Smoke and Bone. So he is a human who happens to be thrust in the middle of all of the supernatural happenings in the story. I love how he accepts and fits into this world of angels and monsters. And I love how loyal he is to Zuzana and by association to Karou. He's just a great boyfriend and would probably be a great husband.

Kill


Clancy
I've said before that I think Clancy is too evil. So I'm just going to quote myself here (haha) "I don't particularly like villains that are just villains. I much prefer the ones that have a redeeming characteristic so that I can be conflicted about and for them."