Thursday, March 31, 2016

#CBR8 Review #08: Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee

I’m just going to start this off by telling you that if you love beautiful, soft animation and art, you should definitely see the movie The Song of the Sea. It’s adorable and sweet, and has some of the most stunning background artistry I’ve ever seen. But now you may be wondering what that has to do with this book I’m about to review? Well, I was just reminded of the movie because both the film, and C.B. Lee’s Seven Tears at High Tide focus on the myth of selkies! In different regards, of course, but both are also super sweet little stories (almost too sweet at times, in regards to the book, but we’ll get to that).

I am actually currently in the middle of reading another trilogy of books, that are kind of dragging along for me at the current moment. And they are grim and somewhat brutal, so I just needed a break from that. At which point I picked up Seven Tears at High Tide, not realizing what an extreme shift in tone it would be from the other series I’m working on. It’s almost like night and day, to be honest, and this little young adult novel is quick, sweet, and full of young love. It’s not too complicated, and really harkens to that feeling of young innocence and love, to a point where it’s almost a little too cutesy at times, but hey! Sometimes you need that optimism and something light to break up certain a dullness or pretension in other things.

The focus of the novel is on two young boys: Kevin, who is a lonely teenager, trying to get over a recent rejection, and Morgan, a teenage selkie (a shapeshifter who can be both human and seal) who happens to become entangled in Kevin’s world. Kevin makes a wish to the sea for someone to love him for the summer, and the selkies, reading the trueness of his heart send along Morgan to be Kevin’s companion. Morgan is quick to announce his love for Kevin, and the two soon become quick friends and even boyfriends. There is an innocence to Morgan, as he has not really shifted into human form before, and he slowly learns the way of the human world and comes to love it. But, the summer only lasts so long, and the two must face the realization that Kevin’s wish was only for the summer, and Morgan is bound by some other laws of his supernatural world that he must abide by.

All in all, this book is quite simple and has some good parts to it, but also some things that didn’t work out entirely smoothly in my mind. One of the first things I think to mention is Moran’s innocence and adorable bright-eyed nature as he learns about the human world. It’s very cute and I am glad people are so gentle with him, but I can’t help but wonder if a lot of people would actually just think he’s a weird kid? It’s lovely how people just react as though he has been sheltered, but I also found it a bit cloying at times, and I feel like Morgan’s nature might start to annoy people after a while? Maybe that’s just me.

I also found that Kevin’s idea of love, romance, and relationships is very in line with the idea of young love: someone to cuddle and kiss and hang out with, watching movies and looking for rocks together. This is truly sweet and they clearly care about each other, but I do take note that the idea of love presented is quite simple. And perhaps this is in order to reach the younger audience who is the intended demographic of this book? I also very much appreciated that Kevin mentions that he is young and perhaps isn’t sure what love is at his age.

Another thing that I did like about this book is the presentation of Kevin’s sexuality: we learn early that he is bisexual and came out to his family and others the previous year. While this does cause some issues in terms of homophobic remarks and activity from some school mates, there is no point in the book where people refer to Kevin as “confused” or “going through a phase” or having “one foot still in the closet,” which are all common things to hear about bisexual individuals. That is to say, there is still that prevalent idea that this is not a “real” sexuality in some ways. And I could go off on this whole subject for a long time, but that’s another topic altogether. In Seven Tears at High Tide, the only comment anywhere close to that is when Kevin’s sister is telling him how proud she is of him, and that she never realized that bisexuality was a thing until he came out, but she didn’t really question it at all; in fact, she questions herself and her own identity more than anything. And I think that having this kind of simple representation is good in stories for young people, showing that hey, it is a thing and while of course Kevin’s identity is a part of his story, it is not his whole story. My tiny bi heart approves. 

Alright, now I’m going to warn about spoilers for this last little part I’m going to speak about:
Something that did bother me a little with this book was how everything played out at the en. There is mythology thrown in there regarding the selkies, and it essentially sets itself up like The Little Mermaid in that Morgan faces a choice near the end (yet, unlike The Little Mermaid, Kevin and Morgan have actually spent a good chunk of time getting to know each other and coming to have feelings for one another). Yet, this choice that is present is almost made to be null by a deus ex machina of sorts coming to play where Morgan is not forced to make a difficult decision. Things work out, and I do love myself a happy ending, but not if it seems like it was almost forced or contrived to happen, you know? It’s another thing that adds to the almost too-sweet and slightly juvenile feeling of this book. But as I think I’ve already said, this book is indeed aimed towards a young adult demographic.

All in all, Seven Tears at High Tide is a quick and simple little story about young love. It is very cute and I can see a lot of young people loving it. It was just a little cloying for my tastes at time, to the point where it became a tad too much. So I am not sure that I would read it again, but it was great as a little break from the other books I am currently trying to work through at this time.   

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

#CBR8 Reviews #5-7: The Infernal Devices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare

Listen… Listen… Okay, just listen… I’m weak. I should know not to get myself into this cheesy nonsense, but good grief I do every time. Let’s follow the path that led me down this rabbit hole:

It all started in high school when my friends told me to read The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, and boy howdy I really enjoyed them! Well, I never got around to reading the last two, but I really liked them. Then that HORRIBLE City of Bones movie came out based on the first book of the series and it was so unintentionally hilarious but also so cringe-worthy, I still can’t even understand it. And now there’s the Shadowhunters show on Netflix… and well… Like I said, I’m weak. And it’s so corny and a total thirst-watch at this point (y’all, the two they got to play the Lightwood siblings are both GORGEOUS and I’m sweating) but I really do enjoy it in all it’s cheesy goodness. But my friends started noticing in the show a lot of references to things in The Infernal Devices trilogy: a prequel to The Mortal Instruments series, set in the late 1800s and showing a number of the ancestors and history of the shadowhunters seen in The Mortal Instruments. My friends assured me that this series is totally better than the one from which it was spawn. And thus…. Here I am. And I totally did like them, despite predicting that I would be tired of the whole thing. Apparently, I am very much not!

In any case, let’s discuss what these books are about. And, mild warning: some spoilers as to the general outplay of the story will follow. The titles in order are: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess:
It all starts with a young American woman named Tessa traveling to London after the aunt who she was living with dies. She is going to England to meet up with her brother who is currently employed there, yet is soon kidnapped upon arrival by two witch-like women, who train Tessa to discover a special ability she has. This is a world where most humans (unless they have “the sight”) do not know about another secret world amongst them: a world of demons, fairies, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and those who are descendants of angels known as “Shadhowhunters”. Tessa is not human, but no one is really sure what she is. In any case, Tessa is soon found by a young shadowhunter named Will, and she is taken back to the London Institute of shadhowhunters, who fight demons and other downworlder creatures that do not abide by the peace treaties and laws that exist between them. It is found that a powerful man in the downworld called The Magister wants Tessa and her unique abilities for some sinister purpose, and Tessa thereby becomes a solid ally of the shadowhunters, effectively coming to live with them and be a part of their little clan in London (there are multiple institutes and groups throughout the world, as we may know from The Mortal Instruments, we well).

What follows is a tale of mystery, deception, betrayal, personal discovery, the bonds between people, magic and of course, romance. There are some pretty serious “love shapes” as I like to call them happening here, in particular one central triangle between Tessa, Will, and Will’s parabatai named Jem. And usually love-triangles bore me, but my goodness y’all, this parabatai thing… I love it. To be a parabatai with someone is basically to take a shadowhunter oath to be bonded with another shadowhunter in a deep and intimate way. It is like their souls are connected, and they can feel each other in battle, and when the other is hurt; they can take strength from one another, and will never take another parabatai even after one of them dies. So basically, Will and Jem love each other, and it is the truest, more pure kind of love that I feel in my soul. They are BROS FOR LIFE, and yet it’s heartbreaking because of certain circumstances of Jem’s existence and the course of his life. (Okay, so I basically fell in love with the character of Jem, and I feel like that is super predictable of me, and yet I walked right into it despite knowing it was going to be somewhat painful). And my solution to this painful love-triangle was to just have Tessa, Will, and Jem be in a polyamourous relationship, since they all love each other so much and so deeply (case: CLOSED!), but then two pages later I read that parabatai are forbidden for being romantically involved with one another by shadowhunter law. Soooooo… yeah, we had to scrap that one. And I do feel like there was a certain predictability to how this all played out, but  there were still a few surprises or interesting ways in which things progressed throughout. Actually, that’s how I felt about the book in general: there were some predictable facets, yet enough twists and new ideas to keep it interesting, without trying to throw too much crazy stuff into the mix from out of the blue in order to keep it engaging. I will, however, say that the epilogue really gave me mixed feelings: some of it was beautiful and sad and heartfelt and great, but some of it was kind of like, okay, I see exactly what you’re doing here and I ain’t entirely buying it.

But now, let me just do a little rundown of characters, because that’s really what kept me the most interested in this whole book. The characters are lovely, and while some of them aren’t the most original and maybe follow certain tropes, there are a few that had some nice storylines and character traits that made me really want to get to know them more and keep reading about them (in particular, Jem, Magnus, and Henry), though I do realize that I was imagining them to be a bit older than their character descriptions, and was always jolted a little when I was reminded of how old they really are. I find that I tend to do that with young adult novels though, despite my better knowledge and judgment. I don’t know why that always happens. But in any case, here are some of the major players throughout the series, with numerous other minor characters I have left out:

- Tessa Gray: Our main character, 16 years old, raised by her aunt, and the object of the Magister’s fancy due to some unique magical abilities she possesses. Sometimes quite at first yet speaks her mind with people, and is a big fan of losing herself in novels, often desiring to be like the heroines she reads about in books.
- Will Herondale: Young shadowhunter, 17 years old, who left his parents (one of which was an ex-shadowhunter) at a young age to live at the institute. Strongheaded and snarky, the brooding-type, with a secret he that keeps him from being close to anyone but Jem.
- Jem Carstairs: PRECIOUS CINNAMON ROLL, TOO GOOD FOR THIS WORLD. Originally from the Shanghai institute of shadowhunters, but moved to London after his parents died. Also 17 years old, and suffers from serious health issues which arose in relation to his parent’s death. Kind-hearted and a talented musician. Always able to add some ease to tense situations and a calming force for many in the institute.
- Charlotte Branwell/Fairchild: Head of the London institute, along with her husband, Henry. Somewhat of a mother-figure, who holds pride in her title yet is always willing to take in those who in need.
- Henry Branwell: The purest, more precious peanut. Married to Charlotte, and a little oblivious when it comes to people and relationships, but really a sweetheart when it comes down to it. A gifted inventor, creating tools for the shadowhunters to use, though many do not hold faith in his inventions after some of his endeavors have gone awry.
- Jessamine Lovelace: Another young shadowhunter who was taken in by Charlotte after her parents died. However, she is more interested in marriage, fashion, and living a human life in the city than being a shadowhunter and wants to leave the institute when she comes of age.
- Sophie Collins: A human (or “mundane” as they are called) who is able to see supernatural beings unlike most humans. She works at the London Institute and also longs to be a shadowhunter.
- The Magister: A real piece of work. The main antagonist, with a grudge against shadowhunters that has been enacted into a complicated plot of revenge against them.
- Magnus Bane: An immortal warlock that is an ally to the shadowhunters, helping them with magic tasks, healing, and gathering information about downworlders. Also present in The Mortal Instruments, and is usually played off as a bit quirky and free-wheeling, but is really a gentle soul who wants to help those that he can. He’s a fun character and I like him a lot.
- Benedict Lightwood: A fellow shadowhunter who yearns for Charlotte’s position at the institute and seeks to undermine her.
- Gideon and Gabriel Lightwood: Benedict’s sons who aid in the combat training of Tessa and Sophie, and become involved in some plots of blackmail and spying for other shadowhunters.
- Cecily Herondale: Will’s younger sister who trains at the institute, but wants nothing more than for Will to return home to their human life.

In any case, this is getting long now, so I’m going to try and wrap it up. While I am now less won-over by the cheesy young romances in most YA novels today, and found there were certain inevitabilities within The Infernal Devices trilogy along those common teenage romance lines, the relationships within the books seemed a less cringe-worthy than I remembered them being in The Mortal Instruments (we had no incest panic this time, thank goodness). So that was a positive thing. Honestly, I did enjoy this trilogy quite a bit, and read them all in one go! Is it a masterpiece of a trilogy? Not by any means. But it’s an enjoyable and not very difficult read. Plus, I’m absolute trash for this world these days, largely because of some pretty pretty faces that drew me back in via Shadowhunters. As I said… I’m weak. And that’s all there is to it.

I leave you now with some of said pretty faces. Yeah, okay, so only one of them is technically also a character in The Infernal Devices (my main man Magnus!), but this totally relates, right? It's like, science or something??

Are you ever disappointed in yourself for how predictable you are? You just gotta show me a guy with dark hair and a nice smile and I'm toast. 

GIRL LET ME TELL YOU... I'm actually pretty pleased with how they treat Izzy's fashion and body confidence in this show as just a cool part of who she is. Unlike the movie where they say nasty judgmental stuff? Not cool. Also DO YOU SEE HOW BEAUTIFUL???

Not to be "that girl" but is he going to dance at all, or what? Because you know I love me some dancing. Also his sparkly eye makeup is always SO on point. #LookGoals
One of the most chill werewolves I've seen lately, and I'm totally about it. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, March 6, 2016

#CBR8 Review #04: Chew, volume 8 – Family Recipes, by John Layman and Rob Guillory

I feel like I’ve said this before, but this is one of those series that for some reason I never really read back-to-back, but end up having long breaks in between picking up new volumes. Is this a good thing? I’m not sure, but fortunately, I don’t run into that problem I usually have of forgetting the plot or characters when I come back after some time, as John Layman makes sure to do small recaps of characters and their abilities as the story goes along. It really doesn’t take anything away either, as the refresher is good, and is always tied into what is currently occurring the plot, so as not to become a distraction or drag the action.

In any case, what we have in this 8th volume of the Chew series is Tony Chu using his ability of gaining a psychic impression of the past of anything he eats, as a way to contact his recently deceased sister. Meanwhile, Tony’s late sister, Toni, has the ability to see the future of anyone she bites. She has therefore used this gift to see her own future and death, and now holds information that Tony desires in order to catch Toni’s killer. So what does Toni do, to prepare for her death and her brother’s desire to avenge her? She leaves a toe behind for Tony to eat, as a way to contact her and gain any information she may have.

The whole thing is a real trip, honestly, but Toni is such a fun and erratic character that it makes it an absurd but hilarious ride. And with the exception of some side-plot action with Tony’s partner at the FDA, John Colby, this volume is not really heavy on plot-progression, so much as giving information and developing characters. And you know what? Sometimes that’s exactly what you need, and I really enjoyed this instalment of the story. The art style of Rob Guillory also definitely fits the kind of strange and humorous nature of the story, though at some times I wonder what exactly is going on with the bizarre proportions of his human characters. But overall, it works really well with the tone of the series.

Am I planning on continuing with it? Absolutely. But once again, it’s just a question of when I managed to get around to it (so many books and series, with so little time, you know?).

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]