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Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles #2)

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles, #2)Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know how authors say that once in a story the two main characters get together there is no point in continuing because nobody is interested in reading about them getting married, having babies and discussing about who takes the kids to school?

Well, with Marchetta it doesn't work that way. Because, in fact, in this book she does tell us about the Happily Ever After. She also switches the focus of attention to some OTHER interesting characters and that's where it gets tricky, for the new characters have to be unique and interesting.

So this is how, in Froi of the Exiles we find all the characters of Finnikin of the Rock, especially Finnikin and Isaboe happily together, yet we never get bored. Because this story is mainly about Froi, a trait d'union between our old, well acquainted set of characters and a whole new one, just as amazing as the others and possibly more.

The story picks up exactly three years after the events of Finnikin. All is well in the kingdom of Lumatere and people are starting to build new lives for themselves.

But it's time for retribution. Froi, who's become an expert assassin trained by the Guard, gets sent to Charyn to kill the King, the real culprit of the curse that's plagued Lumatere for 10 years.

Little did the Lumaterans know that Charyn has a curse of its own and Froi is just a pawn in a scheme that goes well beyond the assassination of its King. By meeting Quintana, that half-mad Princess who's believed to be the holder of the key to break the curse, Froi will finally discover his origins and the truth that flows in his own blood.

I always forget how Marchetta's books successfully manage to unsettle me every time. It happened with Jellicoe, with The Piper's Son and to be frank, even with Finnikin. The stories confuse me at first, their whole force revealing itself well into the narration. So it was for Froi. This book is quite a tome, let me tell you. With more than 600 tightly written pages, it's quite a brick to digest. I don't know how Marchetta managed to keep my attention for so long.

Actually, I do. The plot is quite twisted, revelations ensue one after the other and with two story lines going on at the same time, there is no TIME to get bored. The reader constantly travels from Lumatere to Charyn and viceversa, an intelligent strategy in my opinion to keep the story engaging and never dragging.

So as my head started to ache for all the court intrigue and politics of the kingdom of Charyn, I was thrown back to some beloved characters of which I knew almost everything there was to know in Lumatere. This is how you digest a 600 and counting page book.

The characterization is simply amazing, as usual. Not only we get to know Froi better - and the guy has come a looong way from the street rat we met at the beginning of Finnikin - but the reader will be mesmerized by his sidekicks as well, each and every one well developed and unique. Marchetta manages to make fictional people come alive like no other author does. Quintana is, without a doubt, her greatest success. I loved her. I truly cannot wait for the next book to come out and see more of this amazing creature.

And as in Finnikin, the message this book holds within itself is always of outmost importance. Even with the barbarities, the injustices and the abuse that take place within one country, the underlying message contained in the book is undoubtedly one of love and hope. Hope in the generations to come, to learn from the mistakes of the fathers, never to repeat them again:

"If your people meant no offence, they should not speak their thoughts out loud in front of their children. Because it will be their children who come to slaughter us one day, all because of the careless words passed down by elders who meant no harm."

This kind of story, although taking place in a fictional, fantasy world, can truly be valid universally, transcending everything: race, religion, politics, beliefs. It will never grow old and its actuality will resonate for years and years to come. That is how you make a book "immortal", I think.

Eagerly, eagerly awaiting the final chapter of this amazing story.

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Lola and The Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next DoorLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The thing about Lola and the boy next door is that, since it's a companion book, it's inevitable to make a comparison with Anna and the French Kiss which, in this case, comes out as a disadvantage because, as far as I am concerned, Anna is the absolute winner.

Lola is a really cute story: she is a quirky, raised by gay parents, unique teenage girl.
When her first crush and ex-neighbor, Cricket, reappears on her doorstep after two years, things get complicated because Lola already has a boyfriend, Max, five years older than her, much more experienced.
As Cricket slowly worms his was back into her life - and into her heart - Lola will have to learn how to be honest with herself - and she will learn it the hard way.

I'll admit I had high expectations for this book and while it's certainly enjoyable and relaxing, it failed to deliver repeatedly for me.
Whereas Anna's story, while still being fluffy, was more believable, less shallow and more charming, Lola's story was definitely more clichéd, more puerile and felt forced in more than one occasion.

The most striking example of this "forcedness" is Max.
I didn't like how he first gets presented as an awesome boyfriend and then, quite conveniently, ends up being the asshole in a total unreasonable way. It was done unreasonably and felt so contrived, that when he does become an asshole and I was supposed to despise him I just couldn't bring myself to and I still liked him from before!

I wonder if it all has to do with the fact that the 5 years of difference in age between Lola and Max are taken as a big NO NO right from the start, because frankly, I didn't buy it. I had a 22 years old boyfriend when I was 17 and it was NOT a big deal. But, since it's taken for granted here that Max is too old for Lola, let's just make him the EVIL guy. The way the author deals with his character royally pissed me off. It wasn't smooth AT ALL.
But the same goes for the other characters: basically, they were just too black or white, they lacked depth and originality: Cricket was just too damn good for his own sake, Max too damn bad (kind of in a beautiful and damned way), Lola too damn in self denial: what she says to Max when she goes to his apartment? So not cool, girl. My eye was twitching madly during that passage.

Still, it's a book I'd recommend if you're looking for something quite readable and relaxing AND you loved Anna. Perkins certainly knows how to write a story and make her dialogues interesting. It's a colorful book, as colorful as its cover, despite the psycho-looking girl there.
I just wish there had been a little more to it, a bit more substance. Anna was definitely more fun for me.

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FingersmithFingersmith by Sarah Waters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit that throughout almost all of Fingersmith the main random thoughts sweeping across the desolate land of my mind were along the lines of: WTF? WHAT? WHAT DID JUST HAPPEN?

This is an intricate, ambitious, original, jaw-dropping, gut-punching, heart-wrenching plot for which I will NOT give you a synopsis. First, because I wouldn't know where to start from and second because it's better for you if you know NOTHING about it. Then you'll have my same random thoughts, as stated above.

I'll just give you a few fundamental points: you need to know it's set in Victorian England, it's about thieves, an elaborate scam and it is not for people who don't tolerate gratuitous cruelty, mind games and deceptions in their books.
Actually, I'd say its main theme is just that: DECEPTION.

This is not what I would usually pick up: books that keep continuously on edge, anxious, oppressed, frustrated, puzzled, even nauseated at times are so not my cup of tea. So while on the one hand I gave it 4 stars because I did like it, on the other hand I cringe when I look at it, even now, a few days later. But I guess it's just what I am meant to feel, for such a book. So yes, a success in its genre.

My main complaint is its length. Its change of pace unsettled me, starting off as dull, then giving you a big punch in the face around one third in, then lulling again for quite a long chunk to finish off with a great epilogue. So while some parts where breath-taking and put me in a frenzy (I swear I was tachycardic), some other parts kind of put me in a stupor (while monsoons where still blowing my mind and I was trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.)

All in all a great read but not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure I want to read something else by this author, once I get over the persecutory delusions I developed with Fingersmith.

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A Straight Line to My Heart

A Straight Line To My HeartA Straight Line To My Heart by Bill Condon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Straight Line To My Heart is a cute, little book.

It's a snapshot of a week of Tiff's life, right after she graduates. She lives in Gungee Creek - a place where nothing ever happens - together with her foster father, Reggie, and her foster brother, Bull. For the foreseeable future, Tiff is going to start a sort of internship at a local newspaper, hoping it will lead to a cadetship and then to a proper job.

But it's not so much what happens in this book that really matters because truly, you might find the plot too simple, even a bit banal and certainly predictable.

What makes this book worth reading are the clever dialogues and the characters we meet in the course of the story.

Case in point: the dialogue.

I originally wanted to rate this book 3 stars until I got to this passage where one of the characters shows up at the MC's door and gives her this note:

I like you but you mightn't feel the same way about me, and I wouldn't blame you. To save us both from any awkward moments I've figured out an easy way to do this. Nod if you're even slightly interested in getting to know me. Write a ten page explanation if you're not.

I laughed for half an hour and I think it's brilliant. I wish it had happened to me.

Also, even though I am not Australian - but I have read my fair share of Aussie YA lately - I can feel this book as truly Australian. Not only in the settings, but mainly in the dialogue, the banter and the sense of humor. It's not about kids who plan to go to Harvard, it's about kids who finish high school and don't have a clue about what job they'll end up getting.

Or, in Tiff's words:

I'm not into class, I'm into people.

As is this book.

It's into people. It focalizes mainly on family, friendship and love with a pleasantly realistic insight and with a good sense of humor. It's a light read, but definitely not shallow in any way. Tiff's voice is very distinctive and real and what is all the more interesting is that the author of this voice is a man. I don't think I have read many books where a male author was successful in portraying a female voice like in this one.  

My main complaint with A Straight Line To My Heart is that it's far too short. I loved the characters and I wish I'd spent more time with them and got to known them a bit better.  It definitely left me wanting for more, even though I have to confess, the ending is just brilliant as it is.     

Definitely recommended, as far as Aussie YA goes, this is one of the good ones.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and BoneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Laini Taylor has really put me in my place this time.

I was very eager to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, so much so that I ordered it as soon as it came out. To say that reviews for this book are gushing is a real understatement; they are, in fact, stellar.
Truth be told though, I was more than a bit biased. Lips Touch: Three Times, her short stories collection had collected the same kind of reviews. Not from me.
I'm not crazy about that book. I suspect it has a lot to do with the short story format but I just wasn't convinced by it.
My lukewarm feelings were actually confirmed when I started Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I met Karou and Akiva.

On a merely thematic level, at first I thought it was highly unoriginal.
Angels/fallen angels? Where had I read that before?
A girl who doesn't fit in, has a secret, feels she's meant for something else and falls in love with the worst possible candidate? Where have I read that before?
Star-crossed lovers? Duh.

Your average paranormal YA romance story, in a pretty package (the package being Taylor's writing.)
Ever since Lips Touch, my impression has been that Taylor takes tropes of YA which many, many authors have developed before her, and just makes them better. Because she certainly does.

BUT. I take it all back.
While the impression I had lasted for the first half of the book, as soon as the story started to unravel and to make sense, EVERYTHING changed.
First, I was shocked at how she smoothly, impeccably passed from said paranormal, average YA story to a more traditional fantasy novel. I didn't even notice it, if not after. I was reading about Prague and then, all of a sudden, I was wondering: how did I get here?
Furthermore, this is a book that goes beyond the normal scope of a fantasy novel, transcending its genre and making us readers think: it's a book about discrimination, be it religious or ethnic, about racial superiority and it's a book about acceptance with a message of hope, that things can really change if we really, really want it.
It made me think: How is beauty always good and ugliness always evil?
I love books with a message and this certainly has a deep, profound one. In this sense, I couldn't help but comparing it to Finnikin of the Rock and associate its fantasy setting with a deeper message.
Also, Taylor's worldbuilding is spectacular. I had already glimpsed as much in the third short story of Lips Touch, Hatchling, but here, yet again, its complexity and detail are taken to a whole different level. Very dark, gothic, innovative, Laini takes elements of mythology and makes them hers, constructing a world that is not only fascinating and scary at the same time, but enriches it with new elements making the imagery so sophisticated I was awed.
As her imagery is sophisticated, so is her writing style. I don't think there are many the likes of her out there at the moment. Her usage if language is so confident, so stately smooth, she is so much in her element that she uses it as a medium to plunge us into elsewhere, manipulating it to her needs.
Ultimately, this is a book about hope. It says so repeatedly during the course of the story and I felt this feeling was beautifully conveyed.
In Brimstone's words:

"Hope is the real magic."

I'll be eagerly waiting to read the continuation to this story and I can't recommend it enough. For lovers of fantasy and all its sub-genres this is a must-read.

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I'll Be There

I'll Be ThereI'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

I'll Be There is a modern fairy tale.
It reads like a fairy tale and it's got the tropes of a fairy tale, though revisited in a modern key.

It is the story of Sam and Emily.
Sam, our modern male Cinderella, has been on the road with his little sick brother for as long as he can remember, obliged by their psychotic father to live a miserable life, not going to school, kept out of society.
Emily is just a regular small town girl, reserved, introverted.
But when Emily is obliged by her father to sing a solo in church and sees Sam sitting on the back pew, something in the cosmic order of things shifts and their encounter will trigger a series of events which will change, once and for all, not only Sam, Riddle and Emily's lives profoundly but the lives of all people who will get caught in this devastating snowball effect.

I'll admit straight away that I liked this book against my better judgement.
Said judgement was purely based on emotional reasons, namely on the character of Riddle Border. If I had to choose a kid to adopt, this kid would be like him. His thoughts, his story, his drawings, the world seen through his eyes were the best part of the story for me and the main reason why I liked this book. I recommend you to read I'll Be There if only for Riddle.

When I look at it  with my analytical skills though, there are various things which didn't convince me or didn't care for.

The first, is the writing style. To tell you the truth, it is pretty much in line with my first statement, that is that this is a fairy tale. Simple, concise, direct. But it unnerved me. I felt like the author was trying to talk to me like you would to a little kid, presenting facts in a linear order, making it simple for my simple mind. I am sure this might appeal to some people but I really didn't care much for it. Now, had the story been narrated from Riddle's point of view, it would have made sense. But for a third person omniscient, I felt like I was talked down to.

Second, Sam and Emily's story. You can call it heart-breaking, touching, whatever you want but the truth is that, like in fairy tales, it was insta-love and not even well developed, at that. I would have loved for the author to have written more scenes for them, to justify Emily's heartbreak or Sam's attraction.
Same goes for Emily's parents. What made them literally fall in love with the two kids? Was it only because Sam has a natural talent for the guitar?

Third. The I'll Be There theme. It was way, way, way, way too corny for me.

Finally, the villain. Well, there were two villains actually. Clarence Border is well portrayed and believable. He is a psycho and as the story unfolds, I really wanted him to burn in hell. He scared the crap out of me, but that means emotional involvement on my part and that is a good sign.
But what about Bobby Ellis? The more subtle villain? He is ok in the first part of the book, ok meaning I can understand his behavior. What happens to him on Prom Day was just downright childish though, like a deus ex machina taking revenge on him for his bad behavior.

So, if I consider how I feel towards this story, I can probably say this book succeeded in its effort: in the second part, it won me over and I felt my eyes getting misty. The story is sad, touching, heart-breaking if you will, and enjoyable all in all. Many will like it.
BUT keep in mind this is a FAIRY TALE, don't look for too many logical connections or overused clichés, let yourself be taken from the flow of emotions and you'll love it.

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