Saturday, January 31, 2015

Light of Lorelei by Jen Minkman (Tales of Skylge #2)


Light of Lorelei
by Jen Minkman
(Tales of Skylge #2)

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Tales of Skylge series, it's a dystopian fantasy series set on an island in which Sirens (merfolk) regularly pull haplessly enchanted island people towards the sea with their eerie music, where they tear them apart and consume their life force. 

Light of Lorelei continues the island's story from the first novel, Sound of Sirens (see my review). 

Aska is an orphan who is doomed to serve in a convent for the rest of her life because she is the offspring of a taboo relationship between Skylger and Current/Anglian individuals. The aftermath of a vicious siren attack on the convent leads Aska to find the truth behind the Sirens and the ruling class (Currents) of the island. 

St. Brendan's Fire has always been used to repel the Sirens, or so Aska was taught. However, the Sirens' reaction from the use of St. Brendan's Fire leads her to doubt its true purpose...

Aska has to decide whether to help the Skylger rebels conduct their research of the mysterious tower of St. Brendan's Fire. She meets a mysterious and handsome fisherman who starts turning up in places she goes. She also meets two young people who ask her to help them find the truth about St. Brendan's Fire. 

I came into the novel a bit confused, leaping from Enna and Royce's dramatic ending in Sound of Sirens into Aska's life in the convent. I also thought Aska might have been the daughter of Enna and Royce, except Aska's father was a Skylger. However, this was settled later in the novel.

The convent shows a different side of the island of Skylge, which I really enjoyed seeing. Because Aska's job at the convent is to serve the community and protect it from the siren's songs (by using the church's own hymns), Aska is able to see the island's events in a larger perspective. Because of her life as an outcast, Aska is a bit resentful, even if she is somewhat resigned to her station in life. 

She escapes from convent life by sneaking out to take evening walks, during which she meets Tjalling, a mysterious fisherman...who starts popping up wherever she goes. I was afraid Aska's relationship with Tjalling would be too similar to Enna-Royce, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

Actually, this novel surprised me many times.

There are so many twists and mind-boggling revelations in Light of Lorelei. I'd start thinking the story would go a certain way, and then--nope!--it'd head right into another direction, each time deepening my understanding of who the Sirens are and what their relationship to Skylge is. I really loved finding out about the Sirens and the truths behind the way things were on the island, particularly how the Currents have maintained their power over the Skylgers for so long. And Aska's true identity. 

I wish I could reveal more but that'd be spoiling too much. ;) Let's just say that this novel strikes a delicious balance between revealing the magical secrets of Skylge, the further development of the characters, and the fate of the Skylger-Anglian co-existence. 

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Find out more about Light of Lorelei by Jen Minkman (Tales of Skylge #2):

Tales of Skylge:
2. Light of Lorelei (this)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Swag Pack in the Mail!



Received something awesome in the mail today. My editor over at College News sent me a goody package of CDs and books to review. :) The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones by Kelly Owen looks interesting. I have a few projects to finish before I start on the goody pack, but I'm so excited to try everything out. :D  

Bookish Contents of Swag Pack: 

1. The College Chronicles: Freshman Milestones, by Kelly Owen
2. A World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters (The Last Policeman Book III)

The publicity letter is included in each book. A World of Trouble is the third book in The Last Policeman series, so I will need the first two books in order to review it properly. When I get to it, I'll email the publicity agent and ask for an electronic copy of the first two books. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (1/26/2015)


I still can't believe it's 2015 already! Time has been passing by quickly. I've been very busy with work and also as a staff writer for College News, so it is taking me a bit longer to finish reading novels. But I am still reading! It just takes me longer to finish one. Haha.

This week I finished reading: 

Sound of Sirens
by Jen Minkman
(Tales of Skylge #1)

After reading Jen Minkman's The Island series, I was stunned by how different this novel is in comparison to the ones in her former series, possibly because in this novel, possibly because Minkman draws inspiration from the history of her home country, the Netherlands. Sound of Sirens takes place in an island in which two groups of people live: the Currents and the Skylgers. The Currents are the rich ruling class who came from across the sea, while Skylgers are natives to the island. Electricity exists, but the Currents hoard it. The island is surrounded by mysterious merfolk whose siren calls lead hypnotized island folk to their watery doom. It seems that neither Currents nor Skylgers are immune to the call of the Siren. See my review here.


The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton

I remember putting this one on my "Currently Reading" list in some previous "It's Monday!" memes a while back, but I didn't finish reading it until this week, and I was so glad that I finally sat down to enjoy it. I heard a lot about its magical realism but I didn't fully realize it until I started seeing things happen. THE LANGUAGE IS SO BEAUTIFUL. *weeps on your shoulder* See review here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton


Love makes us such fools. 
--The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

I have been reading this book on and off for a few months. I finally sat down to read it on my day off, and it makes me regret not getting into it sooner, especially at the height of the hype for this book.

Some of the things I heard about it:

  • family drama
  • magical realism
  • pretty language
I'll just go ahead and say it: THE WRITING IS SO BEAUTIFUL IN THIS BOOK. If writing were like dancing, Leslye Walton would be a ballerina pirouetting on the pointy tip of the Burj Khalifa with ease. 

Yes. The Burj Khalifa. 

Take me here one day, but don't throw me off it.

All of the things I heard about this novel were true. The strange and beautiful sorrows of Ava Lavender begin not within her own life but further back in her family's past: her itty-bitty, quiet, great-grandmother in France. Then the narrator eventually moves on to the lives of Ava's grandmother after the family's move to Manhattan, then Vivienne (Ava's mother), then finally Ava, a girl born with angel-like wings. The story pays particular attention to their love lives--how they acquire and then lose their first loves. 

Ultimately, the story is a matriarchal family saga that comes across to me as the love child of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate and Mario Puzo's The Godfather. I'd say that it looks more like its mother than its father. 

Even though the title mentions Ava, the true main characters are Emilienne and Vivienne. Ava doesn't show up until around half point of the story, and even then, she's unconscious for a larger part of the story (and still operating as an omniscient narrator). 

A large theme in this novel involves the characters dealing with different possibilities of love: the beautiful, the ugly, the messy, the delusional, the sweet... "Love" may have become a cheesy concept, but the emotions in this novel are very real. We all hear about girls who get pregnant, sisters who fight over the same guy, people who delude themselves into thinking their romance is something it's not, and people who move on after trying to cling onto the possibility of a relationship for the longest time. 

Like real life, there are no clean and conclusive Hollywood endings to any of these stories, but the characters do search for closure, and what they do find is satisfying for me as a reader. The novel reads fast. After starting over from the beginning, I finished it within two days. If you have better concentration than I do, you can finish it in one.

As for the magical realism, I wasn't thinking about it when I picked this book up again. I was admiring all the beautiful metaphorical language until I had trouble picturing a character glue yellow feathers all over herself and chirp...Wait. She turned into a bird. Not figuratively...but literally. As with characters in most magical realistic stories, the family sees her transformation as a tragic inconvenience but copes with it. 

Love it. 

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.


Sound of Sirens by Jen Minkman (Tales of Skylge #1)


Sound of Sirens
by Jen Minkman
(Tales of Skylge #1)

After reading Jen Minkman's The Island series, I was stunned by how different this novel is in comparison to the ones in her former series, possibly because in this novel, possibly because Minkman draws inspiration from the history of her home country, the Netherlands. Sound of Sirens is well written, and while it took a while to set up, I loved the characters and the cultural and geographical details incorporated throughout the book.  

Sound of Sirens takes place in an island in which two groups of people live: the Currents and the Skylgers. The Currents are the rich ruling class who came from across the sea, while Skylgers are natives to the island. Electricity exists, but the Currents hoard it. The island is surrounded by mysterious merfolk whose siren calls lead hypnotized island folk to their watery doom. It seems that neither Currents nor Skylgers are immune to the call of the Siren. 

Enna, the Skygler main character, is the daughter of a woman who died after heeding the Siren's call. After her brother who returned from a long voyage gives her an LP that can only be played by electric devices, she befriends a Current guy named Royce. Who's hot. And popular with the girls. And somehow indifferent to all except Enna.

Thus begins a taboo Skygler-Current relationship, meanwhile Enna learns more about the monopoly that the Currents hold over electricity, and that there is more to the history of the island of Skylge than what was taught in history class.

Sometimes Enna comes close to falling into what I consider the "Bella Complex" in which she considers herself plain compared to Royce, and Royce is such a girl magnet that it's a wonder he doesn't sparkle in the sunlight.

However, she is not a Bella, because she's curious and passionate about the larger politics of the island. She doesn't want to hide or even defend herself from the scary politics; she wants to change the bigger picture--proactively. She wants to learn more about the history. She is proud of her Skylger culture and language, which is slowly disappearing beneath the Current rule.

The language in this book is simplistic and minimalist, and compared to her other series, Minkman writes with more familiarity about the details of Skylge because she is drawing ideas from her home country this time. It took some time to set up the world and its conflicts, but not too long. Once the island of Skylge was established, I wanted to find out how far Enna would go to discover the truths of the island, and how far the Currents would go to protect the status quo.

I can't wait to read the sequel!

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up to 5 stars

Tales of Skylge:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

From Mean Cheerleader to Mother Teresa: Thoughts on Female Sexuality in the novel SIA


Sia
by Josh Grayson
Published: November 20, 2013

Sia is a novel in which a snobby high school cheerleader experiences amnesia and suddenly forgets who she is and where she comes from. After a week of homelessness, Sia is found by her family, which is wealthy. Returning to school, Sia realizes that her old reputation involved being mean to less popular students--an old self that she cannot identify with at all. She works on reforming her old reputation by working on charity fundraisers and befriending her less "popular" classmates . However, her new friends worry that she will return to her old habits when her memory comes back...

Using amnesia as a device to force Sia to change provides the story with an interesting introduction, but it also robs Sia of a more painful and convincing transition. Like a light switch, she transforms from a stereotypical, bitchy high school cheerleader into this Mother Teresa-like figure who dresses herself with modest clothes instead of tight clothing.

With the sudden change in clothing choices, this novel runs into the danger of idealizing certain lifestyle choices while villainizing others due to its simplistic way of presenting the contrast between Sia's old self and her new self. It creates a binary between her old self and its attributes (tight, sexy clothing, big and bulky boyfriend, eating salads for meals instead of higher-calorie hamburgers) and her new self (modest clothing, dorky boyfriend, eating humble burgers).

Using Sexuality to Promote a Good Cause vs. to Promote Oneself

The novel addresses this binary between Old Sia and New Sia later on when Sia undergoes an inner conflict between her new, Mother Teresa-like personality and her enjoyment of glamorous things, such as getting dolled up for a charity event. During her fundraising runs, she meets Alyz, a model who is skilled at using her sexuality in order to get donations.

Sia is apprehensive at first about showing off her sexy charm, but at the party she soon warms up to the idea of flaunting her sexuality (which includes her physical beauty and charm) at drunk Hollywood people in order to get donations.

Moral of the story: A woman flaunting her beauty and sexuality for her own purposes is shallow, but a woman using her beauty and sexuality "for a good cause" is selfless and ideal. It's okay to show off your sexy bits if it's for a good cause.

Too Easy of a Transformation?

This binary between old-bad-sexy and new-good-chaste would be the novel's biggest weakness. Sia seems more like an archetype than a person, an image of the idealized rich girl: popular, beautiful, incredibly wealthy and well-connected, yet kind and selfless.

Her post-amnesia self is kind, and, even when feeling conflicted about glamorous fundraisers, continues to exhibit good intentions for others. Her new self is completely selfless and the reverting back to her old habits never becomes an issue.

In other words, her transformation is seamless. It is too perfect. In the end, even though she appalls her family and cheerleader friends at first, she ultimately gets to keep her relationships with everyone. She doesn't lose anything in her transformation, at least, not permanently. There is no sacrifice with her change as a person, which happened due to an external circumstance instead of a personal decision.