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RonReads

I’m a twentysomething who loves reading books, whether they’re good or bad. I started out stealing books; now I review them.

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Lysley Tenorio
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Book review: Cassandra Clare's "Clockwork Princess"

Clockwork Princess - Cassandra Clare

Full review here!

 

After the less than stellar reception that “Clockwork Angel” received from fans. “Clockwork Prince” introduced a few changes to Clare’s storytelling that certainly worked in its favor. In “Clockwork Prince”, Clare utilized the inherent gender and class biases of the time to inject some new life into her narrative and further differentiating “The Infernal Devices” from “The Mortal Instruments”.

 

It’s a storytelling decision that Clare continues in “Clockwork Princess”, and it is happily still effective in this final book. Clare even adds a dash of epistolary storytelling in the book, and fans of epistolary novels may be amused by this nod towards one of the more popular forms of storytelling of the Victorian era.

 

Unfortunately, these stylistic decisions fail to disguise the fact that “Clockwork Princess” doesn’t quite bring the events to the climactic finish one would except from a final book in a series. The tension doesn’t really build at any point during the novel, and Clare doesn’t succeed in making it feel like her characters are in any sort of danger.

 

Part of this is the fact that “The Infernal Devices” share so many links to “The Mortal Instruments”. Readers are already partly aware of what happens to this characters, if their  descendants in “The Mortal Instruments” are anything to go by. How can you worry about their fates when you know that they live long enough to have descendants?

 

Considering how Clare has also been criticized by how the characterizations of certain characters in “The Infernal Devices” hew so closely to those in “The Mortal Instruments”, it’s also unintentionally funny how certain character are actual ancestors of the characters they seem to have been rehashed from.

 

There is also the unfortunate similarities that the climactic scene in “Clockwork Princess” shares with “City of Glass”, the third book in “The Mortal Instruments” series. When readers are already pointing out that you do the same thing over and over again, using the same deus ex machina you used in a previous book isn’t going to help in disabusing them of that notion.

 

Another thing that drags down “Clockwork Princess” is the multiple endings that clog up the final chapters of the book. Clare seems unable to leave some of the character’s fates to the reader’s imagination, even tacking on an epilogue set in the characters’ distant future. It wouldn’t be such an egregious decision if the characters were standouts, but as it is, readers will finally just be itching for the book to end rather than read through even more pages.

 

After all is said and done, “Clockwork Princess” is a lackluster ending to a series that was on already shaky ground to begin with. It’s not a good sign as to the future of Clare’s books. Hopefully, as she returns to the present time with her latest series, she’ll get back some of the storytelling punch that made the first three books in “The Mortal Instruments” series such entertaining reads.

Book review: Dan Brown's "Inferno"

Inferno - Dan Brown

Full review here!

 

Just like the previous Robert Langdon novels that came before it, “Inferno” follows the same pattern that are now probably familiar to longtime Brown readers. Playing the part of the pretty and intelligent female foil is Sienna Brooks, while a shadowy organization named “The Consortium” takes over the role that the Roman Catholic Church and the Freemasons played in previous Langdon books.

 

Brown also continues on the scientific streak that he first explored in earlier novels like  “Digital Fortress” and “Deception Point”, and which he came back to in “The Lost Symbol”. While “The Lost Symbol” was concerned with the metaphysical study called Noetics, “Inferno” tackles the much more down-to-earth science of genetics and overpopulation.

 

It’s a good choice on the part of Brown, as overpopulation is something that readers can see and feel for themselves. When the book’s antagonist talks about why it is imperative to take drastic measures to curb this growing global problem, it’s easy for readers to see the sense in his argument and sympathize, if not necessarily agree.

 

But what is encouraging is that Brown has added little tweaks to the formula that has worked for him for so long. The fact that Langdon wakes up dazed and confused is a welcome break from previous installments. He’s also discarded the formulaic monstrous henchmen that started with Silas in “The Da Vinci Code”, replacing them with a much more believable adversary in the form of a female assassin named Vayentha.

 

It would have been even better if Brown took these changes all the way to the novel’s end, but these changes peter off about a fourth into the novel. From there, readers will recognize familiar territory — museum hopping, ciphers in precious artwork, and a plot whose twists and turns essentially mirror the three books that came before it.

 

“The Consortium” is also a poor substitute for the Roman Catholic Church. It’s much easier for readers to believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a hotbed of conspiracy and controversy because it actually is a a hotbed of conspiracy and controversy. It’s harder to suspend one’s disbelief when it comes to “The Consortium,” — an organization which Brown claims exists in the real world, but one he refuses to name — especially considering some of the world events it supposedly engineered.

 

The novel’s climactic confrontation in a cistern near Turkey’s Hagia Sophia never reaches the same tension as the Vatican scene in “Angels and Demons,” and the misdirections that lead to the exposition near the book’s end feel too contrived and cheap.

 

And on a note much closer to home, a scene set in Manila is sure to raise some Filipino eyebrows. While factual in certain respects, some of the things that happen to one of the book’s characters while in the country’s capital is a stretch, even for a work of fiction.

 

While certainly a better effort than “The Lost Symbol,” “Inferno” still won’t be making Brown any new fans. But so long as his current fans are happy — and propel this new offering to the top of the bestsellers list — it doesn’t look like Brown will have any reason to change what works for him. 

Book review: Jennifer A. Nielsen's "The False Prince"

The False Prince - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Originally from here!

 

The themes and tropes that Nielsen explores in “The False Prince” aren’t exactly new to the seasoned fantasy reader. Political maneuvering, double-crosses, and untrustworthy allies are standard fare in epic fantasy, and older readers will readily recognize these in “The False Prince”.

 

What makes “The False Prince” such an entertaining read despite the twists and turns that older readers may find familiar is the fact that Nielsen has hit the jackpot with her characterization of Sage. Witty, wisecracking, and wonderfully fleshed-out, Sage is immediately engaging and intriguing to readers young and old.

 

That is why Nielsen’s decision to write the book through the perspective of Sage is such an inspired choice. Young readers will have no trouble identifying with Sage’s rebellious nature, while older readers will find him witty and charming, and perfectly capable of leading readers through the book’s 54 chapters.

 

While the book’s central mystery can be easily figured out by older readers or perceptive tweens, Nielsen throws in enough red herrings and misdirections so that readers still get a thrill of having their suspicions proven right in the book’s later chapters. She also does a great job of pulling together all the loose ends scattered throughout the book to come up with a climactic confrontation that satisfyingly answers any questions that readers may have.

 

And while Sage may take center stage, the book’s other characters aren’t any less interesting either. Both Tobias and Roden are hard to pin down, with Nielsen successfully obfuscating their true motives and intentions. Also of note are the servant girl Imogen and  Princess Amarinda, two female characters who hold their own against the mostly male cast of characters.

 

Sage’s voice is so engrossing that it’s enough to overshadow a lot of the book’s shortcomings.

 

As a villain, Conner isn’t as complex a creation as Sage. Even as he maintains that what he is doing is for the good of Carthya, the way he is written makes it too obvious where his loyalties actually lie. If it weren’t for the verbal tussles he engages in with Sage, Conner would hardly be worth the reader’s attention.

 

It is also Sage’s engaging voice that distracts from the less than stellar world-building within the novel. Despite the world map that is prominently featured on the book’s first few pages, it’s hard to get a feel of the kind of world that Nielsen’s characters move in. The fact that most of the action happens within the four walls of a nobleman’s estate doesn’t help either.

 

Despite these faults, it’s hard not to look forward to the promise of more Sage in the sequel, “The Runaway King”. If he remains as engaging and as exciting as he is here in “The False Prince”, then there’s no doubt that Nielsen has a smashing success in her hands once more.

Book review: Daniel Tudor's "Korea: The Impossible Country"

Korea: The Impossible Country - Daniel Tudor

Originally from here!

 

Local admirers of everything Korean may be pleased to find out that the people of the Korean peninsula share a few similar traits with those of us here in the Philippines.

 

Foremost of these is the concept of “jeong,” or “the invisible hug.” Defined as “feelings of fondness, caring, bonding, and attachment that develop within interpersonal relationships,” it often leads to an interdependence that results in friends, schoolmates, or coworkers looking out and supporting each other first and foremost. It’s a concept similar to our very own “bayanihan,” and is something that Filipinos and Koreans can definitely bond over.

 

The chapters on the changing face of the Korean family and the high regard given to the English language will resonate with local readers as well. One can’t help but notice the parallel changes happening in Korean and Filipino families, and how both could learn a thing or two from each other.

 

In fact, Tudor writes quite a bit about Korean characteristics that Filipinos would do well to emulate. Foremost of that is the high regard given by Koreans to education. The book reveals that after the Korean War, the Syngman Rhee government increased elementary school enrollment eight times and secondary school enrollment 10 times, with 19 percent of the government’s budget spent on education. It’s a policy one certainly wishes the Philippine government would take.

 

But what gives “Korea: The Impossible Country” its added oomph is its willingness to take on the less than savory aspects present in the Korean peninsula.

 

Just like the Philippines, the Korean market is dominated by an oligarchy of family-run businesses, or chaebol. Through the years, these chaebol have grown to become global powerhouses as well — brands like Samsung, LG, and Hyundai are now competing against Western products.

 

What most of us may not know, and what Tudor reveals in the book, is that these chaebol found their start in a crony system not unlike that of former President Ferdinand Marcos. A past full of corruption, bribes, and dubious government connections are shared by these chaebol, and it is fascinating to read about and discover.

 

As powerful an export as Korea’s media has become, it is surprising to find out that the country has a dismal record when it comes to freedom of the press and free speech. South Korean libel laws are one of the strongest in the world — one can still be sued even if the allegations are true. As such, the book says that these laws have often been used to suppress political dissent in the country.

 

The pushback against the Hallyu wave is also fascinating to read, especially since it still hasn’t started here in the Philippines. In places like China, Japan, and Taiwan, Korean content is regulated, and is sometimes even subject to opposition. In 2011, thousands of protesters picketed Japan’s Fuji TV because of a perceived excess in its Korean programming.

 

Female fans looking to bag themselves a K-Pop husband — or at least the closest approximation of it — are also bound top be disappointed by the book’s frank appraisal of the country’s xenophobia. We may welcome them here in the country, but the same may not be the case in South Korea. As the book plainly states in Chapter 25, “Multicultural Korea?”, some bias exists in the country, especially against Southeast Asians.

 

The book maintains that it doesn’t seem like it will change any time soon: “It is unfortunate that while South Koreans are opening up very quickly to people from abroad, the pace of change is much slower for those from places like Indonesia or the Philippines. Since discrimination against people from these countries is mainly a product of wealth disparity, it will probably remain in spite of the decline of pure-blood nationalism.”

 

It is this wealth of information, the balanced perspective on the pros and cons of Koran society, as well as the clear and concise prose that prevents the book from reading like an academic textbook, that makes “Korea: The Impossible Country” impossible to resist. Admirers and detractors of everything Korean have a lot to gain from reading this book, and precious little to lose.

Book review: Melissa Marr's "Carnival of Souls"

Carnival of Souls - Melissa Marr

Full post here!

 

It’s abundantly clear form the first few chapters what the biggest strength of “Carnival of Souls” is — Marr’s ability to craft a tangled plot criss-crossed with power plays, political maneuvering, and backdoor deals that seem to abound in the tumult of The City. It’s hugely entertaining keeping track of who’s allied to whom, and the constant wheeling and dealing adds another layer of tensions to the one already built-in to the Competition.

 

It’s also wonderful that the people who populate The City and move the plot along are also such great characters. Aya is a study in complexity, and it’s fascinating to read about her inner conflict as she grapples with her desire for power and respect and her love for her former betrothed, Belias.

 

Adam, Mallory’s witch stepfather, is a pleasure to read as well. Deeply flawed but also deeply protective of his stepdaughter, her actions throughout the book will have readers raising their eyebrows and maybe even their voices in consternation.

 

The City, while not as fleshed out as one would like, is still likely to engross readers with its brand of danger and deceit. Pain and pleasure coexist side by side in The City. It’s something its citizens seem to enjoy all the more because of the constant threat of the Untamed Lands knocking right on their doorstep.

 

Marr should also be commended for the unflinching way that she depicts the savageness that exists in The City. Kaleb and Zevi have had to murder and whore themselves to survive, and Aya is working against a society that is deeply masochistic. Their lives and what they go through may not be pretty to look at, but one certainly can’t look away.

 

“Carnival of Souls” does have some missteps, foremost of which is the character of Mallory. It’s hard to root for her the way Marr has written her — someone devoid of her own choices and whose concerns seem to revolve only around Kaleb and Adam throughout the course of the novel.

 

There is also the fact that Marr’s engaging plot isn’t matched by equally engaging prose. More often that not, the words on the page come off as dry and listless, completely out of sync with the quick-moving plot. If the readers keep on turning the pages, it certainly isn’t for the prose.

 

“Carnival of Souls” ends on a cliffhanger, and while there is certainly enough plot to fill another book, the question is whether the book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses enough for readers to want to have another go. As it is, the series has a 50/50 chance.

Book review: Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung's "Avengers: The Children's Crusade"

Avengers: The Children's Crusade - Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung

Complete review here!

 

If I had any worries about the quality slipping in this miniseries, especially when compared to the original run of the Young Avengers, they were quickly dispelled in the first few pages of the book. The sassy humor is there right off the bat as the team battles the Sons of the Serpent, and Heinberg knows exactly where to inject it even as things get more and more dangerous for the team during their hunt for the Scarlet Witch.

 

I also loved how this book was so much about family — both about the ones we are born in and the ones that we make for ourselves. It’s something that a lot of gay people go through, and it’s nice to see that no matter how dysfunctional Billy’s two families may be, he still has both of them in the end.

 

If there’s something I had a bit of a struggle with, it was appreciating the bigger story happening beyond the pages of “The Children’s Crusade”, as well as catching up with all the things that have happened to characters that I last saw probably more than a decade ago. I mean, I didn’t even know that Nightcrawler and Banshee had already died! And the only reason I appreciated the tension between the X-Men and the Avengers is because “Avengers Vs. X-Men” was so heavily promoted it’s hard to not know about it.

 

Jim Cheung’s art, as usual, is top notch. I especially liked how he frames action scenes, especially during the big Avengers/X-Men confrontation over what to do with the Scarlet Witch. It’s a style I’ve really grown to love that I admit I was a little apprehensive when the sneak previews for Gillen and Mckelvie’s take on the Young Avengers first came out.

 

Near the end, I found myself tearing up as both of Billy’s families started falling apart. After going through so much to make himself whole, here he is seeing all of it break apart right before his eyes. It’s gut-wrenching, and you understand why Billy goes into a months-long depression.

 

But what really made me cry was how Teddy drew Billy out of that depression. Blame it on my being an old and alone person, but love being the reason Billy goes on? MY HEART HURTS.

 

Also, how happy am I that I finally get to read a comic with a gay kiss in it?

 

In case it’s still isn’t obvious, I really loved “The Children’s Crusade”, perhaps more for what it means to me as a gay man rather than for the role it plays in the greater Marvel universe (Some people online seem to have found it boring?). The same magic that got me hooked on the first run is still there, and has definitely made a lifelong Young Avengers fan out of me.

Book review: Gabrielle Lord's "Conspiracy 365: January"

January (Conspiracy 365) - Gabrielle Lord

Full review can be found here!

 

“January” certainly has all the ingredients to catch the fancy of young male readers, which seem to be the book’s target audience. There are already thrilling action scenes less than 20 pages in, and it rarely lets up as the slim novel progresses.

The scrapes that Callum gets himself into throughout the novel are also something that will definitely excite young male readers. in less than 200 pages, Callum gets to battle with sharks, escape from criminals, and break in and steal from his villainous Uncle Rafe.

It’s also got something for the rebellious and misunderstood teen — most of the adults in the novel are either either too naive or too evil. It is the youngsters like Callum and his best friend Boges that show courage and creativity, and it’s easy to see how young readers can find this an engaging read.

“January” isn’t short on gimmicks, either. Pages are numbered in a descending order, so readers start on page 185 and end on page one. It’s a nice touch, as the page numbers now serve a secondary purpose: a countdown towards the book’s cliffhanger ending.

However, it’s this same strong appeal to younger readers that will probably prevent “January” — and the rest of the books in the “Conspiracy 365” series — from reaching a readership beyond its expected audience.

While following Callum’s first person narration as he tries to survive the month of January can be thrilling, it doesn’t offer much when it comes to character development or emotion. The black and white world that Callum moves in in “January” may be engrossing for the tween reader, but it may not prove the same for older readers.

The conceit that there has to be a book out every month of the year has also made the plot for “January” less than satisfying for older readers. It is ironic that action scenes abound in the book but the movement of the plot isn’t as exciting. The only pressing reason to read “February” is to see if Callum has survived, and it’s easy enough to deduce that because there are several more books in the series.

All in all, “January” and the rest of the books in the series will definitely be something that tween readers will enjoy and probably anticipate month after month. However, those expecting it to achieve cross-generational success — in the same vein as “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games” — are better served by looking someplace else.

Jamie McGuire's "Beautiful Disaster"

Beautiful Disaster  - Jamie McGuire

Full review, complete with gif, over at my blog!

 

As much as I would have wanted to start reading "Beautiful Disaster" without any bias, it was impossible to do so. There's McGuire's involvement in the whole Goodreads drama llama early in 2012, as well as her hounding readers on Amazon. Not particularly endearing for an author, yes? So I started reading this book very biased.

By the time I put it down, I'd learned -- and un-learned -- enough information to form my own opinion about the book. Some things weren't as intense as I thought they would be, but some things were as horrible as I was led to believe. And some things were just plain stupid.

What were the things that I liked? On a purely physical level, I really liked Travis Maddox. Like I said earlier in this post, it's like Jamie McGuire read my high school diary or something.

The moments in the book when Travis was being sweet and sappy, as well as the sex scenes, were also doing it for me, but only when I examined them separate from everything else that happens in the book. I mean, who doesn't like being given a puppy? And I have to admit a guy getting a tattoo because of me is something I've fantasized about for I don't know how long.

While there was most definitely abusive behavior going on, it wasn't as intense as I thought it was ging to be. From most reviews, I thought that Abby was going to get herself beat up. She doesn't, but Travis does almost hit her accidentally and he's really apologetic about it. That doesn't make the rest of the abusive behavior that goes on in the books any better, though.

The abusive behavior that was in the book was definitely as horrible as I was led to believe. I like a little possessiveness in a guy, but to beat up people who look at you in a way he thinks is inappropriate? To actively prevent other guys from going out with you by threatening them with possible violence? Not cool. And the controlling behavior? Only cool when it's pre-arranged and in a safe BDSM environment.

And while I was adequately prepared for that, what I wasn't prepared for was how stupid some of the plot points were, and how hilariously Mary and Marty Stu Abby and Travis were, no matter how messed up they were portrayed in the book.

I mean, seriously, a lean, mean tattooed fighting machine who also aces his academics? And look! Abby not only attracts the school's top two guys, she also has magical poker playing powers.

And what was the deal with the "sacredness" of that bet? It was just a bet! It's not like it's a binding legal contract! It won't stand in court! And the utter hilarity of "I'll give him my virginity so he'll stay away from me!" and "Hello, date! Don't worry about that hot guy I share the same bed with, we're just friends!"

And on a totally personal note -- because apparently I'm the only one that had this problem -- who freaking names their child "America" and then comes up with "Mare" as a nickname? Where the hell did that come from? All I kept thinking in my head was mare = female horse, and I kept thinking America was Vice Ganda. And Vice Ganda is way more entertaining.

All in all, I wouldn't recommend "Beautiful Disaster" to any of you fine folks. There are worse books out there, but there are also books that are a lot better that you can spend your money on.