Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fangirling over Fangirl

Great Program Highlight: Grammarly
I use Grammarly's plagiarism detection feature because I'd rather not be the Tweedledee to someone else's Tweedledum!

By: Rainbow Rowell
Reported by: Julianna Helms

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

-Summary via Goodreads
Purchase:  Indiebound || Barnes & Noble 

I adore Rainbow Rowell. I adore Cath. I adore Reagan, Levi, Wren... I so very much adore this book.

It is a beautiful thing, to be in love with someone. Maybe that's why we are all fangirls/fanboys to a certain extent, because whether that someone is fictional or real, they give us something we don't give ourselves: a purpose. I'm not saying that you need someone else to be fabulous, but I think all the book nerds out there know what I mean when I say that reading a good book feels as fulfilling to us as an embrace might feel to a lover's heart. So with all that said, it's pretty clear that Fangirl was written for fangirls. And Cath's love for Simon Snow, for a life that is not her own, is a sense of desperation and dependency that we've probably all experienced at one time or another.

That's what makes this book such a successful coming-of-age story, I think. Because it explores common themes of growing up and letting go and finding yourself that everyone can relate to. Rainbow's spear-like wit and melodramatic but certainly real characters make this adventure.

Fangirl is a wake-up call, a bubble bath, a barrel of Butterbeer, a view through the Hubble Space Telescope half-blocked by someone else's arse. (Because space is beautiful and vast, but when you look at it through a different perspective, things get... well. Interesting. And fangirl-worthy.)

It's that sweet stingy freezing real sun-speckled composite of being yourself, but also being more than yourself. Because that's what growing up is, isn't it? To become more than yourself. To be a superhero, really. I mean, why else would you be asked to calculate the wave function of the Schrodinger equation????? (Seriously though, fml.)

In the end, Fangirl is worthy of its title. With an incredible cast of characters who each vary in personality but all hold the same, so very human depth of hurting, and writing that is both refreshing and complementary--the setting flares to life and the dialogue drips of sarcasm and weary, hopeful naivety--I couldn't be prouder to call myself a Fangirl fangirl. 
The Reviews News 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Quantum League: Spell Robbers

The Quantum League: Spell Robbers
By: Matthew J. Kirby
Reported by: Roark Helms
Source: ARC via Scholastic
Publishing date: January 28th, 2014

After Ben Warner is recruited to join a “science camp” led by the eccentric quantum physicist Dr. Madeleine Hughes, he quickly realizes it’s no regular science camp. Along with his new friend, Peter, Ben discovers the secret, powerful art of Actuation—the ability to change reality by simply imagining it differently.

When a mysterious group of men invade Dr. Hughes’s laboratory, abducting her and stealing her precious equipment, Ben and Peter are suddenly caught up in a turf war between dangerous actuators desperate for Dr. Hughes’s innovative technology. And as Ben and Peter are pulled into a perilous, hidden world full of impossibilities now made possible, will their combined powers be enough to save Dr. Hughes and vanquish their enemies before it’s too late?

From Edgar Award-winning author Matthew J. Kirby comes a fast-paced, boldly imagined tale of friendship, deadly adventure, and the infinite power of imagination.

-Summary from Goodreads
Pre-order: Mrs. Nelson's (support indie stores!) || Barnes & Noble || Amazon || Book Depository
In the words of my 11-year-old brother:

I would rate this book four out of five.

The characters: Ben is really freaking cool. He was way ahead of Peter, who was already ahead of everyone else. Sasha is okay but I think she was acting sort of bossy and I don't really like bossy people. Peter is actually kind of immature because there will always be someone who is better than you and so you should just try to do your best instead of whine about it.

The story: The plot is very interesting and cool but I'm just wondering... why did it take 160 pages for things to get really interesting? The beginning felt so slow and the book would be five out of five if the beginning didn't take so long to get good. I can stand the characters because everyone makes mistakes but I am not very patient. I am glad I read on though. I do think the plot is cool because it tells you how Ben learned Actuation and how and what the Quantum League does what it does. I think that what a really smart thing that the author did was how in the beginning I didn't know who was the antagonist and so that led to a lot of mystery, which I really enjoyed.

There we go! Thank you Roark, and thank you Scholastic for providing us with a copy of this fantastic book. I can't wait to dive into it myself as it sounds extremely promising as a sci-fi middle grade! ^.^ I'll be back to review more YA next month but until then, I wish everyone happy holidays and the best new year yet! :D  

P.S. Please don't kill me for my constant absence. T.T Sometimes I really hate school...
The Reviews News

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book Review: Sorrow's Knot

Sorrow's Knot
By: Erin Bow
Reported by: Julianna Helms
Source: ARC via Scholastic (ugh I love you guys thank you <33)

In the world of Sorrow’s Knot, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry and nearly invisible, something deadly. The dead can only be repelled or destroyed with magically knotted cords and yarns. The women who tie these knots are called binders.

Otter is the daughter of Willow, a binder of great power. She’s a proud and privileged girl who takes it for granted that she will be a binder some day herself. But when Willow’s power begins to turn inward and tear her apart, Otter finds herself trapped with a responsibility she’s not ready for, and a power she no longer wants.

-Summary from Goodreads
Purchase: Mrs. Nelson's (support my local indie store!) || Barnes & Noble || Amazon || Book Depository

Sorrow's Knot is a woeful, poetic tale with a dew-dazzling quality to it, hypnotic in rhythm and unrelenting in emotions. Erin Bow's writing is beautifully quiet, with words stringed together like charms on a bracelet without ever stealing the story away from its original purpose: to give us some sense of hope, of peace and serenity, even when we know that not all is well.

I think what Sorrow's Knot does exceptionally well is its delicate balance of romanticizing sacrifice and spearing freedom. It raises such profound questions, and in a way that never makes you feel as if its suffocating you with its morality. How free is freedom, and how far are we allowed to go to protect freedom before we've gone too far? Is sacrifice a smudge of weakness or is it heroic and insurmountable?

Besides the phenomenally crafted themes and writing of the book, the worldbuilding is superb as well. The world is reminiscent of Native American culture, and some parts of it reminds me of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (Evil Forest, etc.). But that's not to say the world is a parody; if it is based on any sort of Native American or African culture at all, it is safe to say that Sorrow's Knot is more of a corollary, a refining of such traditions rather than an imitation. And the world is rich and believable and immersive, and it's almost impossible to not forget yourself when you're wallowing in lakes with Otter or hiking through mazes of crooked branches.

The characters, finally, are commendable for their depth and realism. Though they live in a world so completely different from ours, there never was a doubt in my mind that they weren't fleshed out. Every character had its own identity and even the most seething, hateful ones had qualities that allowed us to glimpse their humanity. It is truly remarkable, how incredible each character is developed.

Read this book. There's nothing else I can say but ask you to read it. It is, quite simply, breathtaking.
starred review
The Reviews News

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spirit Animals Comin' Your Way!

Spirit Animals: Wild Born
By: Brandon Mull
Reported by: Juli & Roark Helms
Release Date: Sept. 10th, 2013
Source: ARC via Scholastic (Thank you so much!*)
Four children separated by vast distances all undergo the same ritual, watched by cloaked strangers. Four flashes of light erupt, and from them emerge the unmistakable shapes of incredible beasts - a wolf, a leopard, a panda, a falcon. Suddenly the paths of these children - and the world - have been changed for ever. Enter the world of Erdas, where every child who comes of age must discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both. A dark force has risen from distant and long-forgotten lands, and has begun an onslaught that will ravage the world. Now the fate of Erdas has fallen on the shoulders of four young strangers ...and on you.

-Summary from Goodreads
Pre-order: Mrs. Nelson's || Barnes & Noble || Book Depository 

Talk about creative! My brother and I've both been big fans of Scholastic's multi-author series, and this one, Spirit Animals, is no exceptions. Let's have my ten-year-old brother take it away first:

This book was just so... COOL. The main characters got the Fallen Four spirit animals, which is so cool. They each had better spirit animals than other people, which is really interesting because they must be awesome to have such cool spirit animals. I also really liked the plot because it tells you a lot about the spirit animals world, which is very fascinating**. It is also good because it switches from person to person so I can get more information from different places.

I think the characters are awesome**. Conor learned how to use his spirit animal faster than everyone else, which was cool. Abeke was the first to learn how to turn the spirit animal into a tattoo. They're all smart, maybe not like Meilin but, while Meilin is the best fighter which is cool because she's a girl [my sister is really good at Kung Fu but my friends don't believe me because she's a girl]***, everyone else can fight well in their own awesome way. Rollan, lastly, is my favorite because he is so funny.

Overall, I give this a 5 out of 5.

Since I'm just a tad above the targeted age range and the complete opposite of my brother, I can't sing praises for Wild Born without a few (or, I suppose, one really big) reservation(s).

First off, though: Brandon Mull is excellent at world-building. I found it fascinating how he managed to twist four cultures into a cocktail of a world that, though anachronistic, surprisingly retained many of the elements of each culture when it would've been much easier to neglect their foundations. I enjoyed running on a South America-like street with Rollan, being pampered (ephemerally) in an Asian palace with Meilin (Since I'm Asian, the discrepancies in the Asian worldbuilding stood out to me more than the other ones did; still, it is a commendable effort on Mull's part to make it as reminiscent of Asia as possible without compromising the story's overarching world), shake with terror in a Medieval England-esque surrounding alongside Conor, and hunt through wild forests with Abeke that brings images of Native American tribes to the mind.

Yet where he excels, I also reluctantly found fault. Mull's writing is... dull. Quite dull.

It feels plain, especially in the  first few chapters, full of telling and detached emotion. It is only after about 50 pages in that I really began to see the characters for who they were. Even then, oftentimes I found myself not exactly enthused--though certainly not unwilling--to dive back into the Spirit Animals world because something about the writing just didn't necessarily captivate me. It missed a spark; a touch of something magical, to fit in rightly with its exquisite world.

Still, I didn't care much about the writing's obtuseness after a while because the action and any scene, really, was just so entertaining. The characters were written exceptionally well in regards to their authenticity. I saw a lot of myself in Meilin, and laughed far too loudly at Rollan, and I could appreciate the humbleness of Conor just as well as I admired Abeke for her bravery. Each character could hold their own, and because of that and the excellent world-building, even with the writing being flat, the plot never ran too slowly.

The verdict? If you stick with the book through its rough beginning, you'll likely find yourself flipping the pages quickly--and if not quickly, then at least satisfactorily. After all, it's not every day you get a middle grade that mashes all the charming bits of the age group together in quite the inventive and ambitious tale. Besides, the spirit animals are, as my brother would say it... SO COOL.

*I received an ARC copy provided by the publisher in an exchange for an honest review. No monetary or otherwise beneficial supplement was exchanged.
**He didn't actually say that. He said cool. I had to change his vocabulary up, I'm sorry. T.T
***He didn't include this in the actual review that he handed me, but he had mentioned it to me before and I thought it was a very valid point. ^.^

Oh! Before y'all ditch this post--Scholastic is doing this cool (GAH! Now I'm turning into my brother!) thing where you can actually play an online game set in the Spirit Animals world hand have your own Spirit Animal. I think it's very innovative, and you should totally check it out here.
The Reviews News

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Authors are Rockstars Tour Stop: Rae Carson (Interview + Giveaway!)

Howdy, my bookish friends! It's that time of the year again: the Authors ARE Rockstars Blog Tour! I participated in this tour last year (also on the 29th of August, eh!), and it's my utmost honor to be a part of it once more! The Authors ARE Rockstars tour, in case you're unfamiliar, is an annual tour hosted by the fabulous Jaime of Two Chicks on Books, Rachel of Fiktshun, and Mindy of Magical Urban Fantasy Reads that showcases the awesomeness of over 100 authors every August. Thank you for all that you do, Jaime, Rachel, and Mindy!

Today, I am SO SO excited to present to y'all the amazingness that is Rae Carson.

Why is Rae Carson a Rockstar?

Rae is one of the most inspirational people I've ever "met". She has such a strong personality: both incredibly determined and incredibly reassured. She writes amazing books for sure, but I'll get to that in a second. I just want to say: Wow. If you ever read the stories about what Rae has gone through, and how she battled her way through misogyny and people who should reconsider their moral path--it's truly inspiring. Besides, Rae connects with her fans a lot and it's really awesome to see that she responds to your tweet, even when it's super embarrassing. And then of course, her books are among some of my all-time favorites. Just: dang. I bow down to this woman. SKILLZ.

And on a personal note... I do believe that The Girl of Fire and Thorns was one of the first--if not the first--ARC I ever received, so I owe a lot to Rae just for how much she helped me kickstart my blog. Love you, Rae! *she says with the most serious and solemn face possible, with a handful of tissues on the side*

Before I get to the interview, you should know what this series is about.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns
By: Rae Carson
Release Date: Already released
Publisher: Greenwillow/HarperCollins

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

-Summary from Goodreads
Purchase: Mrs. Nelson's (Help support my local indie store!)* || Barnes & Noble || Amazon || Book Depository

Here is my review of The Girl of Fire and Thorns ///// Here is my review of the sequel, The Crown of Embers (Find it on Goodreads here)  ///// Lastly, find the last book, which just came out on August 27th, here on Goodreads!

Alright, without further ado... let's get to the INTERVIEW!

Hi Rae! Welcome to The Reviews News. *waves* Thanks!! *waves back*

1) Your books draw heavily from Spanish roots, which I think is incredibly cool. How much research did you have to do, if any at all, to make sure the period/cultural information was at least reflective of the Spanish culture?

I was pretty immersed in it at the time. I lived in California's Central Valley, in a place were non-Hispanic whites are a minority. My Latina friends were teaching me Spanish, and I was watching Spanish telenovelas religiously. So all the Spanish influences came pouring out in a very organic and natural way.

2) In Elisa's world, religion is as embroidered into their lives as breathing. Did you ever think that the religious aspect could be a turn-off to some readers?

The religion absolutely turns off some readers! But I feel strongly that teen experiences should be explored in literature—in all their incredible diversity—even if they make readers uncomfortable. In a country where more than 80% of people still claim to believe in a god, it's odd to me that more books don't explore religion. I'm not a religious person myself, but I'm determined to have empathy for the millions of teens who are. 

3) I'll admit: when I first read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, what happened to Alejandro and Humberto completely shocked me. I think that was the first book where my naive expectations of "everyone's safe! Always!" was irreversibly knocked down. I love you for it, but man, that was brutal. Did you ever feel as though you couldn't carry through with a plot point because it was just too emotionally unbearable?

I'm not going to lie; it was reeeally hard to do what I did to Humberto. I liked him a lot. But I wanted Elisa to experience true loss, especially in regards to war. War sucks. People die. And it's dishonoring to all those who have risked their lives in service to their countries to pretend otherwise.

Also, while Humberto was generally a nice guy, he was Elisa's kidnapper, and she deserved better. No heroine of mine will ever end up with a man who abuses her.

4) Did you always set out to make Elisa an overweight heroine to begin with? What were your influences for her character?

Yes, I always intended for her to be overweight. Even later, when she is more fit because of her changed lifestyle, I hope readers continue to picture her as a larger girl. I chose to make her that way after dumping a guy who was obsessed with my weight—even though I could run 6 miles every day, I was never skinny enough for him. So writing about Elisa was my way of giving the finger to him and his douchey perception of beauty.

5) Your husband and you both write. Has this impacted your writing in any way? Do you both never sleep? (The second question is a joke. I think.)

My husband is my first reader for every single thing I write, and he has a great editorial eye. For example, after I drafted The Crown of Embers, I could tell that a few scenes weren't paced right. So he broke them out into an Excel spreadsheet!!! and showed me how I could re-order them for maximum impact. It's the sexiest thing he's ever done for me. 

And what is this "sleep" you speak of? 

6) You're writing a new series in the Gold Rush Era, which is AWESOME. What can we expect? :D

The first book is tentatively scheduled for early 2015. It will have some similarities to the Fire and Thorns series because epic journeys! And magic! And horrifying deaths! And KISSING! But it will be different because guns! And DYSENTERY! I'm very excited about it.

P.S. Questions:
-Humberto or Hector?
HECTOR. Hands down. No question.

-How much will we die from The Bitter Kingdom's feelz?
A lot, I hope. "Am DED from FEELZ" is pretty much the best thing you can say to an author.

-Will you come to my funeral?
Of course! I'll bring Hector with me.

-How embarrassed were you by my absolutely facepalm-worthy fangirling video of The Crown of Embers that I sent you a link to on Twitter last year? (I hope you don’t remember it. And I’m not posting the link again, haha. Oh gosh. I swear I have no eloquence. T.T)
How could I forget something that epically awesome?!?

Thank you so much for stopping by! ^.^ We eagerly await the final part of Elisa's epic story.

Thanks for having me!

I don't know about you, but those were some AWESOME answers. I know I can't wait for Rae's new series--but first, I don't know if I'm ready to handle the emotional wreck that I will become after The Bitter Kingdom.

Rae CarsonAbout Rae:

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to.

Find Rae: Website || Goodreads || Twitter || Facebook

And finally... the GIVEAWAY!

What can you win?
-A signed hardcover copy of The Bitter Kingdom from Rae herself!

What are the rules?
-The prize can only be shipped to an address in the U.S. But that doesn't mean you can't get your friend in the states to enter for you, and then for them to mail it to you wherever you are if they win! *nudge nudge*
-The giveaway will run for one week, from August 29th, 2013 to September 5th, 2013. You must enter within that timeframe.
-The winner will be given 48 hours to respond following initial contact. If there is no response, another winner will be selected.

What do I do?
-Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below! Only leaving a comment is mandatory, but if you follow Rae on Twitter or tweet about the interview + giveaway, you get extra entries! Woot!

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