Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Cuckoo Review: Spirit's Princess by Esther Friesner


   I wasn't all that excited to get to reading Spirit's Princess, in fact the book had been sitting untouched on my shelf for two years. I was a big fan of Esther Friesner's first two Princesses of Mythology, Helen of Troy and Nefertiti of Egypt. Asian historical fiction wasn't my forte, however, so I didn't really feel any push to finish this book. Then Friesner wrote another Princess of Mythology series, this time about an Irish princess, and that kinda shiz I'm into, so I decided to finally finish Spirit's Princess to get it over with and then jet off to Ireland.

   If there's one thing I've learned about books, is that first impressions are almost wrong. I ended up loving this book.

   One of my favorite things about this novel was its plot and how Esther Friesner paced it. Have you ever read those books where you spend like two seconds seeing the princess and the peaceful life she has, and then chaos ensues and that whole pretty picture is torn down? I hate those books, and thankfully, Spirit's Princess was not one of them. This novel proves that you don't need big battles and evil villains to create conflict. Most of the conflict here was caused by family dysfunction and the society the protagonist lived in. There wasn't a big bad antagonist to defeat, just the cultural norms of 2nd-century Japan. 

   Himiko, the heroine of the story, desperately wants to prove herself to her family, but because of an old family feud between her father and his sister, he won't let her be anything more than a pretty princess. That could've been completely clichéd, but if there's anything Esther Friesner's characters aren't, it's two-dimensional. Himiko's father was a stubborn old chauvinist, but when his backstory was revealed, you understood his way of thinking, even if you didn't exactly agree with him. Himiko's father also forbade his eldest son, Aki, from marrying outside of their clan. Of course, Aki proceeds to fall in love with a girl from the next village. Again, it sounds cliché, but it actually created this great tension in the story. 

   A few pages into the novel, you will take notice of Esther Friesner's wonderful lyrical writing. One of my favorite passages was this one below, describing the ascent of the sun:

There were also quotes from the novel that were worthy of a hipster Tumblr edit or a Pinterest post. If I was any good at Photoshop (which I'm not), I would totally edit and print them out then frame them. 

   In the end, there is literally nothing bad I could say about this book. Well, okay, the cover sucked big-time, but that's neither here nor there.


My rating: I am cuckoo for this book! 10/10

Monday, 25 August 2014

On My Radar: Upcoming September Releases

   Hello, my beautiful bookworms! September is coming up soon (does anyone know where August went? It was here for like three seconds, and now it's almost ending!) and with it a batch of new book releases! From the Goodreads September 2014 YA Releases page, I chose the ten books I'm most excited about. 

*Note: I didn't include sequels so that nobody will feel left out over having not read the first or second book. That being said, September will bring us Sarah J. Maas' final Throne of Glass novel, as well as Rick Yancey's sequel to The 5th Wave. SQUEE!
(all credits go to Google Images for le book pics)

Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini (September 2)

   I've been a fan of Josephine Angelini since her Starcrossed trilogy, which is probably the only supernatural romance series I really like and don't find as cheesy as a pizza (though I wish some of those human + vampire/angel/devil/witch novels out there were as good as pizza). Trial by Fire, from what I can see, is set in a boarding school and revolves around the Salem witch culture. That's a perfect follow-up for me, because I've just finished Conversion, which also delves into the Salem witch trials, and I absolutely loved it [insert Salve's promise of a review here]. The whole boarding school plus magic premise seems like it could easily turn into a novel of clichés, but the thing I love about Angelini is that she puts the mythology first, rather than the romance. Starcrossed, instead of being a romance that just so happens to feature Greek gods, was a family saga of Olympian proportions (heh) that just so happened to have a love story in the plot. I really, really hope that Angelini does the same mythology research for Trial by Fire, and that she won't fall into a sophomore slump.

The Jewel by Amy Ewing (September 2)

    This book has been on my radar for quite some time, and I'm so happy that it's almost time for its release. The first thing that I noticed about the book and its cover is the striking similarity to The Selection trilogy. The plot, like The Selection, is about a poor girl thrust into the royal life. She's supposed to be a royal surrogate, which at this point, I have no bloody idea is. The whole summary (at least the one on Goodreads), really, is quite vague. I'm not too sure if the Jewel is a place or a status, or something else entirely. I guess I'll see in a few weeks.

MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan (September 2)

   Guys, it's a novel about Bloody Mary. 'Nuff said. 

Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil (September 9)

   This is a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and unlike Disney's adaptation of it, Crown of Ice seems like it'll stay true to the original fairytale, broken mirror and all. The only other retelling of The Snow Queen I've read was Cameron Dokey's Winter's Child, and I'm really excited to read another variation on it.

Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday (September 9)
   Out of all the books on this list, I gotta say I am most excited about this one. It's a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe's poem Annabel Lee, which has got to be one of my favorite poems of all time (you can listen to the incredible Matthew Gray Gubler do a reading here). It's also a period murder mystery (let me digress for two seconds and say I've tried avoiding using the term "period" when referring to novels and films that take place in the past because once I said it in front of friends and they all thought I was talking about films and books that were all about the menstrual cycle). The only thing that could possibly bring this novel down for me is the fact that, surprise surprise, it's got a love triangle. I really hope that one day the YA industry realizes it doesn't need to have two guys fighting over a girl to make a great love story rife with conflicts. On the other hand, this novel could create a triangle as great as the Tessa Gray-Jem Carstairs-Will Herondale relationship from Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices, so it could be a terrific novel.

Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (September 9)

   I'm going to be honest and say that I've never read a Gregory Maguire novel in my life. I have Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister that has been festering on my TBR bookshelf, and as much as I adore the Wicked musical, I've never read the novel. From what I've heard though, he is an amazing author with worldbuilding skills like the best of them, which is why I'm so pumped to read his version of czarist Russia in Egg and Spoon. 

Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman (September 16)

   Critics have apparently dubbed this "The Nanny Diaries meets The Devil Wears Prada", so it's got that going for it. The plot summary seems a bit clichéd in my opinion--Jersey girl puts on Audrey Hepburn's dress and becomes a whole new person, yadda yadda, but who knows? And, as I've said in The Heiresses review, I'm always on the search for a good Gossip Girl successor, so my fingers are crossed for this.

Blackbird by Anna Carey (September 16)

   In all honesty, I'm not too psyched about Blackbird's plot. It seems to be your average dystopian OMG-the-government-wants-me-for-diabolical-purposes-run-Forrest-run story. However, Anna Carey is the author of the grossly underrated Eve trilogy. While it did share a lot of similarities with other dystopian novels, Anna Carey's portrayal of her protagonist, Eve, made it stand out from the rest. She writes about emotion in a way that tugs at your heart instead of making you roll your eyes. And that, my dear bookworms, is a compliment coming from my ice cold heart that cringes at the sight of emotion.

Famous Last Words by Katie Alender (September 30)

   Katie Alender has perfected the "pretty-horror" sub-genre in YA. Her series Bad Girls Don't Die claims the title Eeriest Covers On Salve's Bookshelf, and I've featured her novel Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer on @cuckooforbooks for Craziest Title and Premise (That title isn't some metaphor. It is literally about Marie Antoinette's ghost going on a murder spree). That's why I feel like I shouldn't judge Famous Last Words by its fluffy, girly, generic cover. I don't doubt that this novel will be just as spine-tingling as Alender's previous ones.

Winterspell by Claire Legrand (September 30)

   At first glance I thought this wasn't going to be an interesting book. Oh look, another cover with a pretty girl in a dress looking mysterious while the edges of the book seem to fade away in glitters and Photoshop. But then I saw the knife and everything got ten times more intriguing. Is she holding it to protect herself? Is she grudgingly going to kill her lover? Is she going to ram it up her own chin? Who knows? What we do know so far is that it's a retelling of The Nutcracker. I feel like everybody's forgotten about The Nutcracker nowadays, save for six-year-old ballerinas who dream of playing the sugar plum fairy or princess or whatever, so I think it'd be interesting to see an all-grown up version of The Nutcracker. I still think she could've chosen a less generic name though. Seriously. Winterspell. That's a candle scent, not a book title.

   So it looks like September will be a busy reading month for me! This was an extremely fun post to write, and I hope I'll be able to get off my lazy bum and make another one for October releases. In the meantime, excuse me while I get back to marathoning Law & Order: SVU.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Cuckoo Review: The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

   It's time for another Cuckoo Review! This week I'll be reviewing Sara Shepard's The Heiresses, aka Pretty Little Liars But This Time We're Shelved Under General Fiction.

   First, let's get the cons out of the way. To quote a Goodreads reviewer, "Sara Shepard books are like crack. But like, really bad crack." Her books aren't going to win any literary awards, but I wouldn't go so far as to say she's a bad writer. I would say that with the genre she's boxed herself in (pretty girls who find themselves in a lot of trouble but can't tell anyone), she hasn't been given the proper opportunity to stretch her wings. This book is literally a rip-off of Pretty Little Liars (can you count it as a rip-off if the same author wrote them?): the Saybrook heiresses are being hunted down, one by one, but the killer threatens to reveal their dark secrets unless they cooperate. I guess Shepard figures, why fix what isn't broken? And she's good at what she does. I just hope that one day, she'll go in another direction genre-wise and show us what else she's capable of.

   For the pros: I was surprised at how easy it was for me to read from four shifting POVs. Each character was fleshed-out and given a distinct personality. I read somewhere recently that there are books where you just really want to read from one POV and get bored with the other narrators. This was not the case. There wasn't a designated leader or main protagonist in The Heiresses. Each point-of-view was given the same amount of detail and attention, and for Sara Shepard to be able to do that in an under-400 page novel is amazing.

   The novel played up the mystery angle right until the very end, with a plot twist that I felt I should've seen coming, but somehow didn't. Honestly, you could have asked me at page 50 and at page 300 who I thought the killer was, and both times my answer would've been, "I don't know!" There were a lot of red herrings which made me go, "Oh, this guy is totally the killer. They've caught him, I know it" only to be proven wrong. If you're the kind of mystery fan who likes to gather clues along the way and put the pieces together, then maybe this isn't the book for you, because the suspect came completely out of left field. Maybe I'm just dull, but in my opinion, there is NO WAY you could've figured out who it was.

   My last pro for the book will sound completely shallow, but I honestly did enjoy the jet-set factor of the novel. Ever since I outgrew Lisi Harrison's The Clique and CW's Gossip Girl, I've been looking for a "lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous" series to fill in their shoes. If Sara Shepard decides to write more Heiresses books, it would be a perfect fit.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and would recommend it to anyone in search of a light beach read, or perhaps wants to go beyond Rosewood and meet four new pretty little grown-up liars.


My rating: 7/10 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Cuckoo Review: The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

   Hello there, my beautiful bookworms, and welcome to my first review! This is crazy overdue, I know, I know, but the past few weeks I've been dead on my feet from traveling back and forth cities for school, then I got sick, then I had my birthday (okay, bad excuse, but still!), then last week I got sick AGAIN and landed in the ER. Today is the first day of my three-week school holiday, so rest assured I'ma start blogging for reals.

   The Assassin's Blade was one of those novels where, two pages in, I was completely hooked and slapping myself for not picking the series up earlier. I had not read the first two books of the series before reading this prequel, and I must say, it did a brilliant job of introducing the world to me. It's not one of those fifty-page novellas that some YA series have that have all these inside jokes or references that only those who have already read the books will understand. This is an honest-to-goodness, solid prequel. 

   Speaking of the Assassin's Blade world, WOW. Hello, world-building! It's definitely a given that once a book has got a map in the first few pages, world-building in the book is some legit shiz. But Sarah J. Maas takes it to Tamora Pierce-level and develops each part of that world beautifully. Towns aren't just points to fill up the map, they're integral to the plot and the culture of the world she's built. Ten thumbs way, waaaay up.

   I'll be honest and say that I came across a review prior to picking up the books that said Celaena wasn't a likable protagonist, and that turned me off. I can see now how some people might view Celaena as unlikable: she's unsympathetic and bratty with a temper that is off-the-charts. But I loved the fact that her moral compass was a bit askew. I loved that she knew she was hot and used it to her advantage. So many protagonists in YA nowadays are just so...straight-and-narrow, that Celaena Sardothien was a breath of fresh air. She's not going to spend chapters of the book pondering the nature of her soul and whether she was born with a streak of evil--Hi, Jace Wayland--she knows who she is, and she's accepted that. 

   The five stories within The Assassin's Blade were all excellent, and if not exactly able to stand on its own, each still was a full-fledged tale. It almost reminded me of those old Disney TV shows that were spin-offs of the movies, how each episode Ariel or Aladdin would go on a new adventure or make a new friend. I absolutely adored The Assassin and the Desert, and I hope that Celly will return to that part of Erilea soon.

   I could gush on forever about this novel, but I'll save some for my Throne of Glass review! I'll try to post a review once every three days--HA. Okay, let's be realistic and look forward to a review every week instead. In the meantime, check out my Instagram @cuckooforbooks for short posts about the lovely world of reading!


My Rating: 10/10. I am cuckoo for this book!