Book: The Red Rising Trilogy

"Red Rising"

His wife taken. His people enslaved. Driven by a longing for justice and the memory of lost love, Darrow will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if he must become one of them to do so.

I’m doing something a little different this time; instead of posting about just the first book, I’m going to write about the whole Red Rising trilogy. Why? Because as I put the first book down, I realize that I really didn’t have much to say about the book, because while it was enough of an enjoyable read, it didn’t really feel like that much different from another dystopian novel. Specifically, The Hunger Games.

You have a caste system. The ones at the bottom are oppressed, and the ones on the top are the oppressors. You have a reluctant hero who is transplanted from the bottom to the top. And then the revolution begins. It’s not exactly paint-by-numbers, sure. Red Rising is different enough from Hunger Games that you don’t put it down and turn your back on it. But the only thing that really set it apart from the aforementioned dystopian series was the fact that author Pierce Brown is amazing at describing warfare.

Red Rising, during its first few chapters, was a little boring with all the exposition needed to set up the new world. But once the action starts? The whole book becomes a breeze to read. And I’m glad I’m not the kind of reader to just give up on a book just because I don’t enjoy the first part. Because the rest of Red Rising? It was exhilarating…even when it feels like it was running a very familiar course.

But I enjoyed it enough that I decided to jump onto the second book as soon as I can. And it’s Golden Son that really sets the trilogy apart from other dystopian series. Because our reluctant hero, as you can tell from the first book’s back synopsis that I quoted above, doesn’t remain a reluctant hero. He leads. And he makes mistakes. Multiple mistakes. And in a series that grapples with the idea of humanity, making mistakes is exactly what we want our characters to do.

Sure, it does get frustrating when things don’t smoothly for heroes. But that’s what makes for a good read, right? When your heroes, smart as they are, can still face obstacles that don’t look down on them; challenges that develop them even further.

Pierce Brown definitely delivers on great character development; most of which aren’t surprising, but only because the characters he created–heroes and villains alike–are so complete that none of their actions feel left-of-field, even during plot twists.

Both Golden Son and third book Morning Star show that the dystopian genre can still deliver fresh takes. They show that you don’t have to dumb down your heroes, or your villains, to make a compelling story. That you don’t have to rewrite the same story, dressed differently, just because the first one worked. Although, I must say, Morning Star does feature a few chapters where the narration becomes frustrating. Not because the writing isn’t at par with the rest of the series, but because it becomes a little obvious in holding facts back. I think it’s four chapters that could’ve been condensed to one, if Pierce Brown had employed the no-holds-barred storytelling he used in the first two books.

All that said, I’m still of the opinion that the Red Rising trilogy is one for the ages. A must-read for fans of dystopian fiction… Or and any sci-fi, fantasy, or warfare book lovers for that matter.

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Book: This is Where the World Ends

"This is Where the World Ends"

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been since they were children, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship–as long as no one finds out about it.

Is it racist if I say that I expected this book to be about race? No, not because of the author’s lineage. I read the synopsis and thought: “oh, okay. People frown upon their friendship because they’re not the same race.” Or, at the very least, because of wide difference in their social stature. Is one of them poor who only got into a private school because of a scholarship?

It’s neither of those things. The only reason no one can find out about Janie and Micah being friends is because Janie wanted that to be the case. Seriously. It’s…disappointing.

This is Where the World Ends has a nice hook, with two points of view spiraling from a catalyst, an event so big that it ends the world as they know it. Janie’s point of view shows us what their world is like before the “big event,” while Micah takes us through the aftermath. Which is a great idea, because it gives the novel and extra layer of suspense. But if you take out the gimmick, This is Where the World Ends reads like a half-baked John Green novel. One he wrote before The Fault in Our Stars.

Janie is a manic pixie dream girl. She’s the dream girl of the unpopular boy who has issues. She’s not a sympathetic character until she is changed by an event. Not the big event, no. Not yet, at least. But she is changed. And you see the potential in exploring this change. But author Zhang doesn’t explore that. Janie becomes more reserved, which is understandable. What I don’t understand is why Zhang doesn’t allow us in either.

Janie’s smaller event is more heart-breaking, more life-changing, and more powerful. The “big event” is an afterthought, a way to mark the beginning and the end. It doesn’t have the power to destroy a life. Not like Janie’s more personal and more intimate tragedy.

Because Janie gets raped. And it doesn’t get discussed. Not to the other characters, until one of them admits to feeling guilty. Not to the readers, until Micah needed to reach a breakthrough. And not to the protagonists. And, putting the book down, I thought–what was the point of writing a novel that doesn’t do anything but just put to paper something that can happen… Something that happens.

I know of people who do not like Thirteen Reasons Why because of its subject matter and its handling, and I get their point. But juxtaposed with This is Where the World Ends, I feel like Thirteen Reasons Why tackles the subject of rape and suicide better. Not because we get to confront the crime, or how the victim processes the event, but because it doesn’t pretend to know more. Thirteen Reasons Why had us following the perspective of someone who had no idea, and who blamed himself for not doing more.

Micah, in This is Where the World Ends, blocks from his memory every bad thing he doesn’t like. And he only uncorks when there is need to finish the story. When the book calls for catharsis. And by then, it feels like a cheat. It feels like the book only put the rape in so that the book would have a statement, and not be just another outcast and manic pixie dream girl young adult romance.

And that is not okay.

This is Where the World Ends could have been something more. Amy Zhang is an amazing writer. So amazing that she was able to make me continue reading, even when my brain keeps telling me that it does not like where the story is going. I loved her imagery, and her use of fairy tales. The gimmick of the before-and-after accounts, as I already mentioned, is a nice hook. And all of these are also the reasons why it’s so disappointing for me that the book dropped the ball on what counts the most: the treatment of its chosen subject.

Book: Fear Street Super Thriller (Nightmares)

"Fear Street Super Thriller: Nightmares"

In The Dead Boyfriend, Caitlin has never had a real relationship before, so when she sees her boyfriend, Blade, with another girl, she completely loses it. As she regains her senses, she realizes that Blade is dead–and she has killed him. But if Blade is dead, how is he staring at her across a crowded party?

In Give Me a K-I-L-L, there is only one open slot on the cheerleading squad at Shadyside, and Gretchen Page must compete against the only girl who stands in her way–rich, spoiled Devra Dalby. The competition to join the squad is anything but friendly–and ends in murder.

I don’t know if it’s nostalgia, but I remember being a fan of Goosebumps books. This is why, when I saw the Super Thriller that compiles two of R.L. Stine’s most current Fear Street releases, I thought–Why not?

Well, here’s why not:

The Dead Boyfriend and Give Me a K-I-L-L aren’t very good horror stories. Scratch that. They’re not very good stories, period. The plot for both are pretty uninspired, and the horror and twists rely on withholding information from the readers–and deliberately misleading them.

And it doesn’t help that the main characters for both stories are extremely unlikeable. It’s like the author trawled through the internet to find the most abhorrent of teenage personalities, distilled them, and put them into Caitlin and Gretchen.

We’re supposed to root for these characters. But, as their stories progress, you kind of see why bad things happen to them. It’s because they’re not very good people.

Now, had that been the design, I would probably have had a different reaction; but both are treated like victims. Which, on The Dead Boyfriend, I kind of understand the reasoning why. Circumstances happened that were out of her control. Literally. But in Give Me a K-I-L-L, we are presented with the possibility that the main character is also our main villain. And that would have been more interesting. Way more interesting than the cop-out resolution that screams deus-ex-machina.

If I’m not mistaken, Fear Street is supposedly targeted at more advanced readers. Goosebumps, after all, are the books for “children.” But, based purely on what I remember from the Goosebumps novels I had as a kid, the stories in this “super thriller” aren’t more advanced. It’s actually borderline disrespectful to the intelligence of tweens, young adults–and even the children that are targeted by the more kid-friendly Goosebumps.

Book: United As One

"United as One"

They hunted us for our legacies.
They are coming for you now too.
They know you have powers.
They fear how powerful we can become–together.
We need your help.
We can save the planet if
We fight as one.

They started this war.
We will end it.

I read this last year. I thought about skipping writing about this since it’s been so long, but the completion-ist in me didn’t want to go ahead to the new Lorien Legacies series without at least posting about the finale of the previous one.

So–

If you’ve been keeping up with the I Am Number Four series of books, United As One provides a very satisfying conclusion to the novels. The previous book, The Fate of Ten, stumbled in providing plot movement–and that actually leaves a problem for this last book. Which I will get to.

For the most part, United As One reads like a series finale of a television program. Things really come to a head, and you don’t know which of the protagonists will survive until the end. But the first few chapters felt a little cramped, with no wiggle room for breathing. I feel like some elements of United As One‘s first act would have benefited being introduced in the previous book.

I just hope they apply their learnings from the previous series to the one that’s currently being written now, Legacies Reborn.

And this is pretty much all I can write, because this is all I remember from my reactions after reading the book last year. There’s a lesson here for me as well: never disappear from blogging, unless you don’t have plans of ever returning.

Book: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2)

"The Dark Prophecy"

Go West. Capture Apollo before he can find the next Oracle. If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero gave to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on me (as Lester) in Indianapolis? And where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal she can order me to do anything…even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of praying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try. But I’m new to this heroic quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! With impossible time limits, life-threatening danger… Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each task? Not just more deadly quests?

I am highly enjoying Rick Riordan’s new Percy Jackson series… And there’s got to be a better way of calling The Trials of Apollo while referring to the Greek and Roman mythological universe Riordan’s created.

That aside– The things I liked in the first book remain true here. Apollo might be a whiny wanker, but he’s endearing because of hapless helplessness–while maintaining his arrogance for previously having godly powers. This time though, he’s more aware of his shortcomings which is an amazing development to witness. Especially since he has another quest to face–and this time, he knows he can’t just rely on others to do things for him.

Meg takes a back seat for the early part of the book, but when she returns, we see her develop too. Not enough that we feel short-changed about not bearing witness to her character growth, but enough to see that this is not the same character who left our hero in the first book.

It is clear that Riordan loves this world more than the other ones he created. Or, at least, knows more about what he’s going to do in this world. There is love in how his main characters are handled, even when there’s only a passing mention of them. And there is a clear progression of where the characters, old and new, are going.

And speaking of characters; I am loving the addition of Emmie and Josephine to the series. The two were former hunters of Artemis, and are now guardians of a way station where demigods can rest. They’re unlike previous adult characters in that they clearly know when they’re in need of help, and when they can take charge. They have a very nurturing way about them that’s never existed in any of the previously introduced adults; while, at the same time, you know they are women that you mustn’t cross.

I love them so much that I feel more concerned about their fates than any of the other characters.

I also like the introduction to another mythology. Hopefully one that doesn’t get spun off into its own series, but rather married into the one we already know. Because with all these mythologies, and all of them having end of the world scenarios, it is becoming more interesting to me to see how Riordan marries the different kinds of apocalypses, more than seeing how he’s going to wrap up each one separately.

Another thing I’m liking about this series is how Apollo serves us a new point of view. Riordan’s heroes all complain about having gods interfere in their lives. And now we see a god try to navigate quests after quests, while having to deal with consequences of their actions–whether in previous books, or in established mythologies.

There is so much to like about The Trials of Apollo. And I am both excited and apprehensive about the next book. One part of me wants to see what happens next immediately. But another part of me, the one that still remembers Magnus Chases’s conclusion, is scared that the next book in The Trials of Apollo is a dud.

I guess I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong

"Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu't Pitong Pusong"

Bago naglaho si Janus habang naglalaro ng TALA, nakita ni Manong Joey sa utak nito ang hinahanap nilang paraluman.

Sinundo ni Renzo si Mica sa Balanga para protektahan ito sa Angono at dahil may kaugnayan ito sa paralumang nakita ni Manong Joey kay Janus.

Samantala, nasa Kalibutan pa rin sina Manong Isyo para hanapin si Mira na malamang na nakuha ng mga mambabarang. Walang kaalam-alam ang lahat kung nasaan na si Janus hanggang sa makita ni Manong Joey na humihiwalay ang anino ni Renzo sa katawan nito at maaaring matagal na pala itong ginagamit ng Tiyanak!

Two years have passed since the second book off the Janus Silang series was released. Since then, the titular character has appeared in comics form, on stage, and was acquired by a television network to be turned into a soap opera. I don’t know what happens to Janus Silang in the future, but getting turned into a franchise seems to have worked in his favor. At least, novel-wise.

Janus Silang’s third book is the strongest offering from the series yet. Although I have qualms about author Edgar Samar’s decision to dive right into the action, I must say that the pacing in this installment is the most solid it’s been since the title first launched.

The characters all get proper development this time around–especially Mica. She who became almost an afterthought in the second book is given the right spotlight, and is used perfectly to balance the world of the fantastical with the normal. I also have to applaud Samar for Mica’s participation in this book, setting her arc up perfectly–and giving her a satisfying resolution. Well, a satisfying one for this book.

Plot-wise, Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong has what it’s predecessors don’t: a clear structure of where the characters have come from, where they are going, and where they end up. Twists are used sparingly, making them more effective. And it is clear now that Samar knows where he is taking his story, whereas it seemed like he was just pulling things out of thin air before.

And most importantly, for me, the book doesn’t read like an educational book anymore. Old Tagalog words are still sprinkled throughout the narrative–but they feel more organically woven in, used by characters who understandably speak in a more archaic way. But in general, the words used by the novel are more colloquial. More relatable. Easier to read.

Honestly, when I picked up Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Putong Pusong, it felt like a burden. I bought the book because I wanted to know how the story goes. After all, I do like the premise of the series. But after two books that weren’t as engrossing as I hoped it would be, I sort of lost hope that things would get better with the new book.

I’m glad that I was wrong.

Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong is the book that I always wanted the series to be. And I am praying that the next installments would keep this quality.

Book: Turtles All The Way Down

"Turtles All The Way Down"

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russel Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russel Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Confession time: I’m a bit biased when it comes to John Green. I liked the first book by him that I picked up. Everything that followed was a reflection of that first book, until The Fault in Our Stars. Which I also liked at the time of reading, but quickly outgrew. There was something that’s very adolescent in the way John Green wrote his characters, and they don’t hold up when you read them again a few years later. So when I picked up Turtles All The Way Down, I had low expectations.

Aza is not an easy character to relate with. Not at first. And my problem with this is the fact that she’s our gateway to this story. A character that questions the reality around her. It’s hard to grab hold of that. It’s like entering a fantasy world, and being told by your host that everything is fake. Not even unreal. Straight out fake. And it takes some getting used to. Especially since for the first few chapters, we are merely spectators in an expository journey.

And then Aza and Davis meet. Again, since in the story, they already had a shared history. Normally, this is where I put a pause on reading to question the author’s motives. Really? We finally see chinks in our character’s armor when she meets the love interest? But Aza doesn’t see Davis as a love interest. Not yet. She sees in him a kindred spirit. It helps that they have a built-in history. One that we get to slowly rediscover with the characters.

With Davis, his father’s disappearance, and the complications their reconnecting brings, the story begins to pick up speed.

The characters begin to feel real.

Somewhere between Chapters three and six, I realized that I couldn’t put down the book anymore. I realized I related to Aza, and Daisy, and Davis–and yet none of them are stereotypes of a character. In my head, I began to debate the pros and cons for the possible endings to the relationships that the book was presenting.

The book became engaging. Unlike previous John Green books that felt paint-by-numbers, Turtles All The Way Down was pushed by chaos, by circumstances that was inherent to the characters and the plot, but never felt like a driving force even as they push the story forward.

And I love how the book deals with certain issues realistically. Maturely. And I like how the book ends with a promise.

Turtles All The Way Down lives up to the hype.