Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge Review

crimson-boundThis was quite enjoyable. Yet another fairy tale adaptation that was not only handled well but added enough new material to the story making it, at times, seem like a completely different story.

The only thing that left me a little unconvinced was the love story between Rachelle and Armand. For the longest time they didn’t like each other and then they began to grudgingly just barely trust one another and suddenly they were in love? When did that happen? I felt like I completely missed that part. It wasn’t quite insta-love but still seemed to come out of nowhere.

What I was very happy with was that Rachelle friendship with Amelie was a very strong motivator for her. There were time when she cared more for Amelie than she did for Armand which was very welcome. It was her love for Amelie AND Armand that made Rachelle make the right decision.

I liked that Erec was a little ambiguous. By the end, I began to suspect his part in the greater scheme of things so that wasn’t completely surprising. But I was happy to see that while he was despicable, there was a part of him that genuinely loved Rachelle.

Then there was La Fontain. The other ambiguous character. I suspected there was more to her than simply being the King’s mistress but the reveal did take me by surprise. Also, there was this entire portion in the middle where she seemed to completely disappear, which seemed a little odd.

I also liked Amelie, the lone character in the story, who cared for Rachelle without any ulterior motive and loved her enough to keep her from losing herself.

The other inconsistent part was that of the Bishop. Throughout most of the story, the Bishop was portrayed as an untrustworthy character who was scheming and plotting to overthrow the King as well as encouraging people to hide the Bloodbound. And then in the end, suddenly, he was a nice guy and Rachelle trusted him enough to entrust him with the one thing that could stop the Devourer. Really?

So yes, Crimson Bound was not without its inconsistencies but still a fun and enjoyable read.

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A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR #01) Sara J. Maas Review

ACOTAR 1 This was a bright spot in what has recently been a spate of dull and disappointing fantasy books I’ve started and left unfinished. In addition to that Mass has been a bit of a mixed bag where her other books are concerned. When I started this, I was still concerned about whether it would hold my interest or not, but it was a surprisingly good read.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) reworks a couple of fairy tales, most notably Beauty and the Beast and Tamlin. What is commendable about this is that she makes them more interesting by adding more layers to the characters and the story itself. She incorporates the elements from the original tales and newer elements from her own imagination very seamlessly.

ACOTAR was very engaging and had been me in its hooks pretty much as soon as I started it. I was also very curious as to how Maas had reworked these tales. She does a great job of recreating these stories and making them uniquely her own; they were familiar and new at the same time. The pace of the narrative was steady and though it slowed down in the beginning when Feyre comes to the Fairy court, it doesn’t drag. It serves to establish characters and the relationships between them. The end, though predictable, was still well conceived. The world building was good if a little bare. I’m hoping that that’s something Maas will explore further in the upcoming instalments. I would like to see more of the other courts. Though, there is one specific court that will be seeing more of (and I’m not talking about the Spring Court) I also liked that the High Lords physically reflected their respective courts, that was a nice touch, but I’m curious if that reflection is only skin deep or do their personalities reflect them as well.

Also, when I started this book and through the middle, I thought this would be a stand-alone. And I was disappointed that yet again there would more in the series but then I thought that maybe we’ll have different characters in the next book. Having finished ACOTAR, I now find myself feeling excited about the next book and that was because of the way Maas ended this one.

Feyre was the main character and also the narrator. I actually liked her because she was a wee bit different from what I was expecting. Yes, she was the provider for her family and her family wasn’t exactly appreciative of her efforts but that’s where the similarities ended. She was stubborn, prickly, practical, and not particularly nice. It was her sister Elain, who was sweet and kind and all things Disney.

Tamlin, I wasn’t entirely sure about. In the beginning and through the middle, I did warm up to him and I thought that there were parts where he was gruff and then he was sweet and awkward in an adorable way but the end, kind of did him in. His absolute inaction in the last act didn’t win him any brownie points. And the one time he did act, he almost did something monumentally stupid that would have gotten Feyre killed.

Lucien was an ass for the most part but the kind you don’t hate. He also gradually grows on the reader and makes them curious about his past. He also becomes Feyre’s ally at a time when she most desperately needs one.

Rhysand was a little ambiguous in the beginning. But from the first moment we meet him, I knew that he would have a greater role to play. I thought he was the classic jerk that the heroine would be helplessly drawn to. And while he was a jerk, by the end I almost liked him more than Tamlin. He was mysterious and he perhaps did more for Feyre in the last act than Tamlin.

I hate love triangles, more often than not, they are nothing but pointless ploys to make the main couple realise just how in love they are. The main couple has already been determined (pretty much in the beginning itself) which makes the entire exercise futile. When Rhysand made his second appearance I was quite certain that he would feature in the love triangle. While that didn’t happen in ACOTAR, I am convinced that we’ll see the love triangle in the next two books and he will be featured more prominently. I thought that I would be miserable with that outcome but I’m actually glad for it. Feyre and Tamlin fall in love and they both go to great lengths to protect each other but I don’t think their love fared very well in the end. The things that Feyre has to do in the end change her fundamentally and I think that will affect her relationship with Tamlin. And I do like Rhysand more; he was more interesting and intriguing. But I am afraid that at the end it will still be Feyre and Tamlin and I will be disappointed because the whole time I’d have been rooting for Rhys.

As for Feyre’s family, of the three of them, I actually liked Nesta most. Her father had given up and Elain was too sweet, but it was Nesta who had the strongest spine (next to Feyre.) Part of why Nesta disliked her as strongly as she did was because of how similar they were. I liked her no-nonsense attitude and that even after their lives changed for the better, she didn’t bother tolerating those who had turned their backs on them when they needed help. Elain was sweet and an optimist but she was never annoying. It was their father I didn’t care for.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was a very pleasant surprise and a good deal of fun. The characters and the plot are very engaging and will leave you wanting more.

P.S. – That is a gorgeous cover!

Books Left Unread

I think I’m going through a case of reader’s block. I didn’t think it existed except that I’ve gone through it before and it is quite debilitating. I find I am unable to choose what to read and when I do choose something, I am not satisfied with it. This might not be entirely true since I did quite enjoy Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, All the Rage by Courtney Summer and Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch. Anyway, let’s begin.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

SED coverDid not finish! This was so unbelievably boring. There wasn’t much happening and the story just seemed to plodding along. I had a sinking feeling that the plot was very slowly going nowhere. And let’s not forget the two suitors neither of whom inspired any kind of excitement in me. It was going to be yet another case of “who will she choose” and I just didn’t care. So there, I’m done.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprootedYet another book I could not bring myself to finish. Slow and boring and seemed like a take on Beauty and the Beast. The Dragon was a horrible man, he insulted and belittled Agneiszka at every turn and treated her like a simpleton. He never explained things to her and expected her to understand things immediately. And of course, by the end of the novel, they would have fallen madly in love. Nope!

Shattered Court (Four Arts #01) by M.J. Scott

shatteredI actually high hopes for Shattered Court. This is the third fantasy book I’ve picked up recently that hasn’t interested me enough for to me finish it. You know something is wrong when even as you’re still reading something, you’re thinking of alternatives. I read till it halfway and then abandoned it. Sophie can be quite annoying at times. Even when every instinct she has is screaming at her to get away and not to trust the Domina, she ignores that. Also, her relationship with Cameron is so ho-hum. And he’s pretty bland himself.

Maybe, for the time being, I should stop reading Fantasies, clearly the ones I picked up haven’t been very interesting. Maybe, I’m not being entirely fair to these books but for the time being, I can’t be bothered. They were uniformly disappointing, all three of them.

A Mad Ride in Hell

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

Director: George Miller

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton

Run Time: 120 mins

hr_Mad_Max-_Fury_Road_9What a day. What a lovely day.

 Let me start by saying that I loved the film and it was easily one of the most entertaining films this year. Directed by George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road is an unapologetic, explosive action film that has you at the edge of your seats throughout. So hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Like the previous Mad Max films, this too is based in a post-apocalyptic world where fuel is scare and water even scarcer. The world has become a dry and desolate wasteland where the people are just as misshapen inside as they are on the outside. The film doesn’t really go into the specifics outside of a brief voice over by Max, it tells you exactly what you need to know to follow the plot but doesn’t weigh the film down with needless information. Max joins an unlikely group of women, all of them on the run to some promised land, lead by Imperator Furiosa.

The film can only be described as loud, frenetic and chaotic and absolutely, no-holds-barred crazy and it works beautifully. The whole film is one long car chase and initially I was concerned that it might get a tad repetitive and dull and while it does get repetitive, dull is not a word I would associate with this film. It is one breathless car chase after another and just when you think that the film has hit its peak, it surprises you yet again. The pace of the narrative is exhausting but never feels drawn out. The sheer scale of the film is impressive and daunting.

The main protagonists in the film are all damaged in one way or another and yet, together this ragtag group manages to outfox their pursuers who vastly outnumber them. Tom Hardy as Mad Max himself was compelling but walking out of the film, I questioned whether he had enough to do. He certainly didn’t stand out. For the most part, he was passive and someone who reacted to what was done to him. Max himself felt a little anti-climactic.

Charlize Theron as the Imperator Furiosa was impressive and memorable and quite frankly one of the most kick-ass characters I have come across in recent films. And I’m not just talking about female characters. She was strong, no-nonsense, ruthless and practical. Her character was perhaps the most fascinating in the entire film. Thinking about the film now, I can remember Hardy’s Max, but it is Charlize’s Furiosa who shines. Here is a female character who is just as capable as her male counterpart and is his equal in every way that counts. Her character arc was also more interesting than that of Max who just seemed to go along with the flow. Furiosa drove the narrative forward in a way that he didn’t. (An entire essay could be written on the awesomeness that is Furiosa, but perhaps another time.)

Let’s not forget the others who form this motley crew, especially the women. And there are many women, most of whom are strong and believe in saving themselves. So often in blockbuster films, the women are reduced to being damsels in distress or the love interest. It was a welcome relief to see so many women in a film who broke that mould. It was also notable that these women refused to be used as property. They could so easily have been damsels in distress but they weren’t. They were wiling to put their lives on the line for their freedom, not waiting for a man to save them. It was also nice that they were helped Furiosa, another woman. These women were more than capable of taking care of themselves.

Other honourable mentions include: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicholas Hoult (obviously not a woman but I didn’t know where else to fit him) and the amazing bike-riding women.

In a film so packed with breath-taking stunts and extremely exciting chases, it would have been easy to lose the characters amidst all that chaos, yet somehow, Miller managed to still keep these characters front and centre. There was a plot that drove all the insanity onscreen and it was its plausibility that made the film as gripping as it was. It made the viewer invested in the characters and their fate, beyond the awesome action sequences. The action itself, while disorienting, (and headache inducing for those not used to such films) was extremely thrilling to say the least.

The cinematography is another aspect that makes this film so enjoyable to watch. Most action films employ the hand-held camera technique; it makes the film look more dynamic while also conveying the urgency of the moment. But it can also make the film’s visuals hard to follow. Fury Road was visually coherent and that only added to viewers’ pleasure. In addition, while the landscape is desolate and barren, the colours really pop, making an otherwise dull frame come alive with the occasional bursts of colour.

Yet, what makes the film really work and keeps it from sliding into being ridiculous is that Miller doesn’t pull any punches. Everything from the car designs to the names of the characters, all of it is in keeping with Miller’s insane and brilliant vision. To give you an example, there is a hybrid truck with drummers in the back and an electric (flame-thrower) guitarist in the front. And in the context of the film, it makes complete sense. My only grouse was the 3D, if possible, watch it in 2D. Apart from a few typical 3D gimmick shots, it really doesn’t add anything to the film.

Mad Max: Fury Road was an extremely enjoyable summer film and sets a high bar for the films to follow. With thrilling action sequences and compelling characters, if you love action films, then this film is very highly recommended. You will not be disappointed.

P.S. – Maybe the film should have been called Mad Max: Furiosa.

Killer Instinct (The Naturals #02) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes Review

81TpOdNvIEL._SL1500_I enjoyed The Naturals and Barnes’ (werewolf series INSERT NAME) and in general I like her books primarily because of the characters. Killer Instinct was an enjoyable read in typical Barnes fashion.

In Killer Instinct, the focus is on Dean or more specifically his serial killer father. I think that’s going to be a recurring theme, each book that unveils more about a certain character. It was Cassie in The Naturals and Dean in this one. The book starts with a murder, one that bears an uncanny resemblance to Dean’s father’s MO. The FBI is sure that he’s involved but don’t know how since he’s currently in prison. The FBI don’t want to involve the Naturals but when Dean’s father insists on meeting him in person in exchange for information, the rest of them also insist on helping. Meanwhile, the love triangle between Cassie, Michael and Dean gets finally resolved but more on that later.

For the most part, the novel works well. The characters are engaging and a certain new character is a welcome addition. This series is told from Cassie’s perspective with the killer’s perspective placed strategically throughout. These looks into the killer’s mind don’t appear often and these insights are a nice way of trying to figure out who it could be. When I read a book like this, I spend the whole time trying to figure out who the culprit is before the characters figure it out (Thank you Agatha Christie) With regard to Killer Instinct, I was wrong the first time but after that I was pretty much on the right track. I was pretty sure who the culprit was and the end proved me right. But it was a still a good and fun read. I just wish we hadn’t spent so much time on Cassie and Dean’s relationship angst. But apart from that, some of the misdirections were cleverly done. And it was a quick read so that was in its favour, Barnes didn’t try to stretch it thankfully.

As far as main characters go, Cassie is ok. I’m not a huge fan of hers because, yes, while she is smart and has good instincts, she gets too easily distracted by her boy troubles. But I liked that she used her head in the end when it really came down to it. I did sometimes wish that she had been more assertive especially when it came to Lia pushing her around. I think she had more spunk in the first book.

Now, onto Dean, the resident brooding extraordinaire. I didn’t warm up to him in The Naturals and it didn’t change in Killer Instinct. I knew from the first book that Cassie was always going to go for him; they always go for the ones who brood and generally give them mixed signals. My problem was that he didn’t let Cassie in or he did and then just as easily shut her out. It was always his choice with no regard to how all this affected her. Plus, he also shut out Lia, the one person he knew trusted him above everyone else he was hurting her deeply.

The rest of the Naturals were fine. I liked Michael from the first book. He was more open to Cassie than she was with him. And he let her know how he felt, he didn’t make her guess or push her around emotionally. And he was so much more fun!!! Ugh, why must they go for the guys who brood? And I hate love triangles because I know that the guy I like is the one who won’t be picked, so I’m always left dissatisfied. I’m doomed!

I actually liked Lia, regardless of the fact that she often gave Cassie a hard time. She was fun and impulsive and she really did not care about what others thought of her. I liked her irreverent attitude. And I also really liked Sloane, for someone who deals almost exclusively in facts and numbers; she was remarkably adept at sensing things that others missed.

Briggs was around but not so much in the spotlight. This time, it was Agent Sterling (a possible allusion to Agent Starling from Silence of the Lambs?) Anyway, she was the new addition to the team, also the resident skeptic. She wasn’t convinced that the program was all that efficient and she was concerned about the kids involved. She was strong, no-nonsense and didn’t let anyone push her around.

Killer Instinct was a good read and I’m curious to know more about the others in the program. I think it might just be Lia. I wish that Cassie had chosen Michael but it’s too late now. Sadly, I still don’t like Dean and I don’t think that’s going to change. But, at least there won’t be anymore needless angst.

All The Rage by Courtney Summers Review

AlltheRageAll the Rage was a difficult novel to like but it is the kind that tends to stay with you. I finished it late last night because I couldn’t sleep, I kept wondering how things would play out but once I finished it, I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about it.

The narrative isn’t quite linear, it goes back and forth a few times but it is always coherent. Summers paints a very bleak picture that isn’t always easy to stay with. It is gripping novel and what I especially love about it is that Courtney Summers doesn’t sugarcoat or tone down the ugliness and unpleasantness present. There were times when I wanted to keep reading to see what happened next and also wanting to wait a little longer because I knew what lay ahead wasn’t going to be any more pleasant than what had already transpired. Indeed, as the narrative progressed, things seemed to be getting worse. Having said that, once I started reading, I found myself completely immersed in the story and extremely invested in the characters. All the Rage is not particularly pleasant and there are no light moments in it, but that works in its favour because it is in keeping with the tone and content of the novel.

Summers’ portrayal of Romy, the main protagonist was also very compelling. In the beginning, she wants to be invisible and indeed, she is almost convinced that she doesn’t really exist anymore; her body is just an empty shell that just keeps going through the motions. But when things go from bad to worse, she begins to unravel. Summers really drives in her loneliness and isolation, and also her hatred of herself. Romy was raped and she hates herself for it, almost as if it was her fault that it happened. Her situation is made worse when her friends and other students start bullying her. All the while, the one responsible for raping her is not held accountable. Her only way of dealing with it was to create a routine, which offers her some semblance of comfort. Her place of work, a diner, becomes her refuge, the one place she doesn’t have to think or be constantly vigilant for some new attack. But she is drowning and there isn’t much keeping her afloat.

There are a number of secondary characters, one of whom becomes the impetus that drives the change. This character, even though they disappear fairly early in the novel, remains a very strong presence throughout the rest of the novel and leaves a lasting impression even after you’re done with it.

Another thing I liked was that Romy’s mother and Todd (her mother’s boyfriend) were very supportive and loving. But even they are at a loss to help her because they don’t know how and it doesn’t help that she doesn’t confide in them. I guess part of that is Romy really can’t see how they could help her. She still has to attend the same school and rub shoulder with the same people. Besides, all she wants to do is disappear in the background and attracting attention to herself defeats that purpose.

Of the other characters, there were some that were more prominent than others, crueler than the rest, A prime example of this was Brock Garrette. He was one of the few characters who went out of his way to make life miserable to Romy, seeking her out and trying to provoke a reaction out of her. Tina was another character who was rather cruel, but then, so were the rest. What surprised me was that there wasn’t a single character who stood up for Romy. Penny did, but even that was passive. Penny’s was a character that I couldn’t quite figure out. You can tell that she wants to do more but doesn’t. The two were friends in the beginning, close friends, and I can’t understand why she treated Romy the way she did. Her actions didn’t make sense, not immediately after the rape and not later, when she seeks her out. I get that she wanted Romy to file charges but then why abandon her in the beginning? But I guess, sometimes people are like that; there isn’t always a clear reason for why they do what they do. Just like at the end, when help/support came from the unlikeliest source giving Romy the strength to confront what had happened to her.

Summer’s portrayal of peoples’ reaction towards rape is disturbing because it is accurate. Romy was raped but then she was further victimised by her peers, even those who didn’t know her joined in the fun.

One of my favourite things was the way the novel ended. The end was a parallel for the beginning but where in the beginning, Romy was bent upon being invisible, it ended with her wanting to be seen. She found herself, even the parts of her that had unravelled and was finally prepared to move forward.

Snow Like Ashes (Snow Like Ashes, #1) by Sara Raasch Review

snowlikeashesThis was actually a reread. I read it sometime ago but when I thought about it recently, I had forgotten some of the key plot points (including the book’s name and the name of its author) So I figured it deserved a second go and for the most part, it was a fun and engrossing read.

There are eight kingdoms in the land of Primoria, four Seasons and four Rhythms. The Season kingdoms have access to magic which means that they are affected by only one season and they are named according to the dominant season in that particular kingdom. These are Winter, Summer, Spring and Autumn. The Rhythm kingdoms, in contrast, have to live through all the seasons and don’t have access to this magic, they are Cordell, Ventrali and two more but I can’t remember their names (were we told through the course of the book?) The rulers of these kingdoms have a magical conduit that imbues their land and their people with strength. Sixteen years ago, the kingdom of Spring attacked and defeated Winter and after killing their queen, destroyed their conduit. Most Winterians were taken to slave camps in Spring. Only a handful managed to escape, among them, the future king of Winter and Meira, our main protagonist.

For a debut novel, Snow Like Ashes is a great book. It is compelling, engrossing and very entertaining. The world building is good but feels a little thin, but there’s time yet. And the characters are relatable and for the most part very likeable. The pace of the narrative is a wee bit inconsistent and it positively crawls in the middle (the Cordellan section.) There is romance here and I wish it hadn’t been present at all. We could have done without the entire Cordellan part. It didn’t add much to the overall narrative, except to present another love interest. Which only served to drag the story. Having said that, by the end of the book, I had a favourite (love interest) and was glad that while there was romance, it was not the main driving force of the narrative. That was, thankfully, limited to getting their kingdom back and returning their people their home and dignity.

As a main character, I initially thought that Meira was a little petulant. She was stubborn and wanted to actively participate in helping their kingdom (or what was left of it) and when denied the opportunity, time and again, she finally decides that she’s had enough and this time she will not be left behind. She grew through the course of the novel, finding herself and her strength that went beyond her prowess on the battlefield. She recognised that inner strength within herself and became the character that I came to like. I liked that she spoke her mind and tried to stay true to herself even when she was under pressure to bend to someone else’s idea of who she must be. She grew into herself.

Mather was the heir apparent of Winter. As far as characters go, I didn’t like him very much. He spent far too much time being managed by Sir. Always following order and never questioning them until it was too late. As a love interest, he was positively lousy. He gave Meira just enough to keep her guessing, but didn’t hesitate to handing her over to the Cordellans as their future queen. Granted that he thought that this was in the best interest of his people but that didn’t stop him from approaching her and still confusing the hell out of her. I’d be very disappointed if he still managed to be the love interest in the future installments.

Theron, on the other hand, was far better, as a character and as a love interest. He was bound by his father to live as per his idea of what and who he should be, a soldier, when all he ever wanted to be was an artist. But he still found a way to be true to himself. He was kind and attentive to those under him and made it a point to really know them. When it came to Meira, he saw in her the same fight that he found within himself. And he supported her and trusted her to be able to take of herself. I also liked that it wasn’t insta-love.

Now, for my pet-peeve. I can’t understand why female heroines lose the ability to form coherent sentences in the presence of handsome men. It’s almost as if their brains stop functioning as soon as they lay their eyes on attractive men. It is supremely annoying and seems so immature. It makes an otherwise level-headed, strong female character seem silly.

As for the rest of the cast of characters, Sir was a strong presence. He was authoritative and domineering without being a bully (well, most of the time anyway.) But there were aspects of him that also served to make him more sympathetic, especially in light of the big reveal at the end. The other Winterians with them also all seemed likeable and while we didn’t see a lot of them, they were all well developed and distinct from each other. Nessa was another character I liked, she retained hope even in the face of absolute despair.

Angra, the big bad in Snow Like Ashes was perhaps a bit of a weak link. He felt under-developed and beyond giving us a very brief reason for his power, there was little about his motivation or what led him to make the decisions that he did and wound up with all the power. I’m sure we’ll see more of him in the next book, it was amply clear that he wasn’t vanquished so let’s hope for more character insight.