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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Since You've Been Gone

“All the stuff you can’t wait to get away from, until it’s not there anymore, and then you miss it like crazy.”

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um…

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait…what?

Personal Thoughts:

Morgan Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour is one of the contemporary novels I enjoyed reading that’s why I pick-up Since You’ve Been Gone from the bookstore without a second thought or even checking the blurb. The book is sitting in my TBR pile for months waiting to be cracked so when the long weekend came due to special holiday here in Manila I finally grab the chance to start reading the book.

The story is about a girl named Emily who is left by her best-friend Sloane without any explanations but only with a list of things for her to do. For Emily this list is like the key to finding Sloane so she just decided to take the list seriously and try to accomplish everything on the list. Along the way she get new friends Frank, Collins and Dawn who help her crossing out things on her list.

Initially I liked Emily. Her introvert version of herself is fun to read but eventually I get tired of her. I’m not sure if it is because the book is just too long or if Emily isn’t just really deep as I expected her to be. Somewhere a long the way I just started to draw back from her, not caring anymore about her adventures or the list she is trying to accomplished.

Frank Porter as the main interest is quite dull. He isn’t fully developed character. I didn’t see him as his own person. I feel like he is interesting because Emily is saying he is and not because he actually is.

So basically, the two main characters are a let down. But we have two other interesting characters in the background – Collins and Dawn. These two has more personality than Emily and Frank combined. They have more gusto and appeal especially Collins. He alone shine on his own without needing any push from other characters. Too bad he is not allowed to take the center stage.

The story is very predictable. Normally I am not bothered when I can easily predict what will happen in the story especially in contemporary novels. They are realistic fictions after-all which are usually formulatic. But when the journey to the end is not very much interesting or at least enjoyable that is not good. I need to enjoy my way to the end even if I already know what the ending is. That for me is successful story telling that even if your readers know what will happen they still stick with you because they are enjoying the way you tell the story and not because they just want confirmation of the things they already knew.

For such a long novel with enough time to execute the whole plot I still felt that the ending is rushed. One minute we are checking the list then next thing we finally know where Sloane is. I’m not sure if there is something missing in between or I’m just too pre-occupied with other things to really understand what happened.

Overall, Since You’ve Been Gone is not I expected it to be. As much as I appreciate Morgan Matson’s clean writing her characters failed to shine in this novel. This whole effort to check out some list of things to do is not really appealing as I thought it will be.

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The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn

“After all, every story has a story.”

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Personal Thoughts:

The Wrath and the Dawn is an inspired retelling of A Thousand and One Nights – a collection of Arabic, West, Central and South Asian, and North African folk tales. This tales has different versions out but there’s one thing common in most of them – the framing device wherein a King marry a girl each night only to be executed the next dawn.

In Renée Ahdeih version she introduced as to Khalid the murderer boy-king who is set to marry his next wife Shahrzad. Shahrzad volunteered to be the next bride with a goal to revenge her best friend’s death. Everyone expect her to die the next morning just like the other girls before her, but with her wit, ferocity, and stories Shahrzad managed to survived her first dawn at the palace and the next and the next. How long can she outsmart Khalid before he decide to finally end her life? Can she still have the revenge she intended if she found out Khalid’s reason for killing his brides?

As a debut novel, I am surprised with The Wrath and the Dawn and Renée Ahdieh’s writing skills. I expect the book to be predictable being inspired from other book but The Wrath and the Dawn is anything but predictable. The inspiration is clearly there from the frame story to the stories inside the stories but it was all weaved and masterfully plotted to create a more thrilling and gripping new story.

Renée Ahdieh has a very luscious and enchanting descriptions of her world. Her style of writing is imaginary making Khalid and Shazi’s word rich and vivid. It so easy to get lost in the surroundings, magic, cultures, and characters. Reading this book is like being transported to Arabic land with its rich culture and colorful stories.

The world building though slow is perfectly paced. Every bits of the plots are important to the culmination of this gripping story that is filled with real fear as I traced the path leading to the characters motives and actions.

Khalid I think is supposed to be hated or at least not to be like by readers. He is a killer for God sake! I’m not supposed to root for him, or least forgive his wrong doings. So I am surprised that I am rooting for him even when I don’t know yet his reasons for killing his brides. That for me is one successful skill from Renée Ahdieh. She makes me care for her characters, to want to understand them, to forgive and justify their actions and decisions, and root for them.

Usually I don’t like when the main character choose love over reasoning or logic, but in here I am glad that Khalid did it. It’s a tough decision to make. If I am in his shoes I think I will choose to continue the sacrifices, so I am surprise that I want Khalid to choose differently. I believe that if he sacrifice Shazi it will finally break him. I don’t want to see what he will become after that. And I don’t think he deserve to continue to suffer because of one mistake from his past. He had more than enough.

Khalid sacrifices are for the greater good but when he chose to spare Shazi he undo all his past sacrifices. By then he reminds me that sometimes love can limit the sacrifices we are willing to make. His decision to stop the kill and loose everything he has is made from love – selfish but pure and real love.

“Love is a force unto itself, sayyidi. For love, people consider the unthinkable…and often achieve the impossible. I would not sneer at its power.”

Overall, The Wrath and the Dawn is a compelling rich story that is extremely enjoyable and highly intriguing. I was charmed by this novel, from Renée Ahdieh writing, to Shahrzad and Khalid’s gripping story, to the stories inside the story, and to the rich world and culture it offers. Definitely surprising for a debut novel.

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End of Days by Susan Ee

End of Days

“Power is best held by the ones who don’t want it.”

End of Days is the explosive conclusion to Susan Ee’s bestselling Penryn & the End of Days trilogy.

After a daring escape from the angels, Penryn and Raffe are on the run. They’re both desperate to find a doctor who can reverse the twisted changes inflicted by the angels on Raffe and Penryn’s sister. As they set off in search of answers, a startling revelation about Raffe’s past unleashes dark forces that threaten them all.

When the angels release an apocalyptic nightmare onto humans, both sides are set on a path toward war. As unlikely alliances form and strategies shift, who will emerge victorious? Forced to pick sides in the fight for control of the earthly realm, Raffe and Penryn must choose: Their own kind, or each other?

Personal Thoughts:

Finishing Penryn and the End of Days series made me realize that Angel stories are not really for me even this one set in dystopian world.

Angelfall started good with all the thrill and actions. It’s very fast paced and interesting seeing how Susan Ee slowly build this dark and dangerous world. Then the second book failed to continue to hold my interest longer. Nothing much happens in World After, the angel mythology I’m expecting to be developed doesn’t show, the dystopian world set-up is not as original I thought it is. Then in this third installment I expected to have more explanations about angel politics, myhology, and how the world become what it is but I only get bits and pieces. It’s like those important things are gloss over by Penryn and Raffe romance.

As much as I enjoyed reading Penryn and Raffe with their fun banters I am expecting more from End of Days. Though there are lots of things happening from rescuing Penryn’s sister Paige, to looking for a doctor to attached Raffe’s wings, to going to the pit, fighting Beliel and hellions, to protecting the human race, and angel politics, these things just get crowded which somehow resulted to a messy plot.

Penryn and Raffe feels a bit different. While I still enjoyed them very much especially their banters I felt a bit disconnected to them. They are not the same individuals I encountered in the first book of this series. They are more focus on each other than the world around them especially Penryn. There are times that I just want to smack her. While she is having her own version of urge I have the urge to punch her. It’s apocalypse and her life and everyone life is in danger, the world is ending and she had the time to think something like that. And the worst part is, she knows what is right and what is not, she knows what she is not supposed to do and she still do it anyway. She really did changed.

Raffe lost his focus too or shift his focus which is sad. All the things he was fighting for from the start of the series was thrown away for love. I expect more from him being an archangel that he is. I thought Susan can make him better than those other angel characters I encountered from YA fictions but too bad he falls to the same category.

If there is anything I like in this installment is, I guess the appearance of the watchers other than Beliel. We finally meet them. Since Raffe’s real name and rank is revealed from book one, I started wondering where the other angels are, particularly his watchers or friends. For an Archangel like him, isn’t it unusual to not have any of his followers in him? Not even one? For sure someone heard about what happened to him and I don’t get why not even one bother to check on him. To get his side of the story or just checked what really happened to him. He is an archangel for god sake. He holds one of the top position in the line of heaven but not even one angel is curious enough to check him?

We finally know who killed Gabriel but for why he was killed? That’s just one of the unanswered questions I have. There are few excuses but not enough explanations just like with the other unanswered questions.

Overall, End of Days is a fast paced and thrilling read for the most part but unfortunately didn’t give me the fully immersive experience I expected from a final installment of a series.

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World After by Susan Ee

World After

“It’s amazing how many times we need to go against our survival instincts to survive.”

In this sequel to the bestselling fantasy thriller, Angelfall, the survivors of the angel apocalypse begin to scrape back together what’s left of the modern world.

When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige, thinking she’s a monster, the situation ends in a massacre. Paige disappears. Humans are terrified. Mom is heartbroken.

Penryn drives through the streets of San Francisco looking for Paige. Why are the streets so empty? Where is everybody? Her search leads her into the heart of the angels’ secret plans where she catches a glimpse of their motivations, and learns the horrifying extent to which the angels are willing to go.

Meanwhile, Raffe hunts for his wings. Without them, he can’t rejoin the angels, can’t take his rightful place as one of their leaders. When faced with recapturing his wings or helping Penryn survive, which will he choose?

Personal Thoughts:

World After continues right after where Angelfall left off. After rescuing her sister Paige in the Aerie, Penryn Young reunite with her family. But Paige condition makes her one of the enemy in the eyes of the other humans. So Paige is captured again, this time by a different group. And Penryn is back again in a another mission to find and rescue her sister once again.

See how many times I used the word “again” in the summary? Where that basically sums up the book for me — a repeat version of Penryn’s mission to rescue her sister Paige.

So we are back to square one. Paige is missing and Penryn is in a mission to find and rescue her younger sister. The only difference with this mission? No more handsome angel to help Penryn this time. Raffe has his own mission to take care of, mainly to track and beat Biel so he can get his white wings back.

Just like with the first book, we are getting the story from Penryn’s point of view, which means we are stuck with her limited information. I bet readers are more insightful than Penryn. There are things that are obvious to me but took her awhile to see like the deal with winged-scorpions. I thought that is pretty obvious from the start but apparently not to Penryn.

As much as I understand the need to find Paige and rescue her, I don’t feel the same excitement or thrill for this mission. Not even the danger, the panic nor the tension. Which is weird since technically Penryn is more at risk because no more powerful angel to help her this time. No more Raffe to rescue her. But for some reason I just can’t feel the dread. Sure, I am aware that Penryn will survive since there is a book three but her mission should at least be interesting to me.

Also, I feel like nothing much happens in here. Yes, there more informations about Angel politics, new characters, and few revelations but as a whole I don’t think that the story moved forward. I got more questions than answers. And even the little answers I got are not something I can said as huge informations since most of them are I already expected since after reading the first book, Angellfall. Nothing much new for me in here. If this is a novella I will understand the lack of progress but this is a full length novel with lots of chapters. Definitely fall into middle book syndrome.

With nothing much new to the plot comes not much character development too. Penryn in this installment is less rounded. I didn’t find any progress in her character since I last encounter her from the first book. Sure, she can still kick-ass but some of her actions and decisions are not what I expected.  She is constantly dreaming or thinking of Raffe instead of planning about her next moves or attacks to save Paige. Her sister is gone and suffering somewhere but she is more worried to one powerful angel who lost his wings. Where was the heroine who will do anything for her sister?

“It’s painful to see that people prefer a bad guy who looks like an angel to a good guy who looks like a demon.”

As for Raffe, he is less present in here so we don’t know much about his progress except those little bit we got from Penryn’s point of view. His absence is just one reason why the story become less fun to read. No more fun and snarky dialogues from him and Penryn in this installment.

Overall, World After is an action packed follow up to Angelfall but unfortunately failed due to its non-moving plot and less character development. I hope that the final installment will be more satisfying than this one.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Amazon Children’s Publishing via NetGalley.

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Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall

“If I was good at marketing, I’d spin you an empty story that sounds profound. But the truth is that we’re all just stumbling around in the dark. Sometimes we hit something terrible.”

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Personal Thoughts:

It’s been awhile since I last read angel stories not because I don’t like these celestial being but because most of fiction stories I have read about them are a let down. I haven’t found something that really stand out or at least leave a long lasting impression. That’s why it took me long while to finally dig in to this series even with so much positive raves from the book blogging community.

With that said, I go into Angelfall with less expectations.

Angelfall as the first installment is pretty entertaining and engaging read. Susan Ee waste no time introducing this dystopian world full of fallen angels battling each others and the human race. Right from the start you will feel the panic, the danger and urgency which basically makes the story engaging and moving.

Penryn Young and her family are on their way to find a safer place when they witness a fight among angels. While the fight is happening a group of fallen angels took her sister Paige. Without much idea how to get Paige back, she help saving one of the dying angel Raffe with the hope that he can lead her to where the other angels took her sister.

Susan Ee’s wordings are simple and a bit repetitive. Coming from a fantasy read wherein the author used lots of metaphors and offers deep philosophies, I can’t help but noticed that Susan Ee’s style is so pale in comparison. But with the simplicity of writing comes an easy flow of reading and well paced plotting. The imagery is quite vivid even with little world building. The world that Susan Ee created is dark and gritty which balance well to her characters and their snarky dialogues.

Penryn and Raffe are both pragmatic individual. They are practical and straight to the point which basically create fun dialogues between them. I enjoy their banter, verbal fights and their overall dynamic. The fact that their relationship is not concentrated in romance but more on survival makes the story more engaging for me. In a bleak world where the earth is almost at its end, it is more realistic to have characters that are busy trying to survive or fights against the enemy than to waste their time finding romance or love interest. I’m really glad that Susan Ee didn’t make this so much of a love story than story of survival.

I also like how gritty and dark this post apocalyptic world that Susan Ee created. Human eating cat food or even human flesh to survive, no shower for days or water to drink – it feels more appropriate and real for a world set in its near end. If only there’s more exposition about how the the world came to its end and more explanation how the angels become ‘harbingers of doom’ who are willing to destroy the entire world I think the world building will be more solid. But since this is only the first installment of a three books series Susan Ee has more room for development. The rebellions, war from different ends, angel politics, and human turned to demons are more than enough to keep this whole series engaging and entertaining.

Overall, Angelfall is a thrilling start to this angel post apocalyptic series. Though nothing really new in terms of the angel mythology and post apocalyptic world, the danger and characters are enough to keep readers on the edge of their seat.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Amazon Children’s Publishing via NetGalley.

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Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale

“Sometimes everyone does their best and things still go wrong.”

Seraphina took the literary world by storm with 8 starred reviews and numerous “Best of” lists. At last, her eagerly awaited sequel has arrived—and with it comes an epic battle between humans and dragons.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

Personal Thoughts:

Few months after the conculsion of the first book Seraphina, the dragons and humans are now engaged in a civil war. Rebel dragons are threatening the peace treaty with humans. To help Gorredd win the possible war Seraphina an ityasaari (half-human/half-dragons) travels across country to search the other ityasaari like her in the hopes to find more ally to help the Kingdom of Gorredd regain peace.

Seraphina’s quest to find the other ityasaari took a huge part of the book which is a bit dragging and repetitive for me. As much as I like to explore the other neighboring Kingdoms and meet the other half-dragons/half-humans with their powers or special ability I don’t see the need to stretch it up to the half part of the story.

Since I can’t connect to Seraphina from the first book, I don’t expect to find her more relateable in this second installment but I’m glad to see her more in action. With a new villain to face, Seraphina become more engaged in this second installment. Her internal journey to learn more about herself parallels her physical journey traveling to different Kingdoms. The more she find other itsayaari like her and know more about them the more she realized that she is still different.

I missed Orma from the first book. Yes, he is still part of the story but his presence is so small in this one that I just wish there’s more of him. I think he is one of the most valuable character from the first book. His relationship to Seraphina as her uncle shows another angle of Seraphina’s character.

Rachel Hartman’s wording is still beautiful. I still adore all her prose and metaphors such as these lines below.

“The thing about reason is that there’s a geometry to it. It travels in a straight line, so that slightly different beginnings can lead you to wildly divergent endpoints.”

“Nothing was just one thing; there were worlds within worlds. Those of us who trod the line between were blessed and burdened with both.”

“If you followed logic all the way back to its origin, did you inevitable end up at a point of illogic, an article of faith? Even an indisputable fact must be chosen as the place to start reasoning, given weight by a mind that believed in its worth.”

Those lines simply proves that Rachel Hartman is really smart. Her writing is clever if not overly detailed.

Being the final installment, I want Shadow Scale to to soar high or leave a satisfying note but unfortunately it didn’t reach its full potential in my opinion. I still adore Rachel Hartman’s beautiful wording but unfortunately that isn’t enough for me to love this dragon series.

* This review is based on an eBook I received courtesy of the publisher, Random House Children’s via NetGalley.

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