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where I stash my literary playthings. (a book blog)

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Welcome to A Novel Toybox, where I will post anything I wish, because I can. However, I do aim to keep most posts about the books I’ve read in an effort to promote reading.

If you are feeling particularly curious about my identity, read the About Me. page. If you have a secret crush on me and want to buy me flowers, please visit my Wishlist and buy me a book instead. If you would like me to review a book, host/participate in a blog tour/interview/giveaway, please don’t hesitate to Contact Me.

P.S. I will not litter this blog with superfluous buttons, banners, those things are make websites look like a unicorn threw up rainbows and also make pages load super slowly.

Your self-proclaimed hilarious webmistress,
Lilian

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[review] Just One Day (Just One Day, #1) by Gayle Forman (2013)

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Just One Day (2013)
Just One Day (2013)
by Gayle Forman
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: January 8th, 2013
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

When sheltered American good girl Allyson “LuLu” Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

My Thoughts:
Just One Day is a surprising book, it’s warm and charming, but also unexpectedly powerful. From the title, I thought I knew what the entire book would be about: a girl falls in love in a day, and the couple triumphs amongst naysayers who claim you can’t love someone without “knowing” them. But Gayle Forman’s Just One Day is so much more than that. Just One Day isn’t about romance (don’t worry, there’s a bunch of that too) so much as about a reserved girl learning who she is, and who she wants to be. And the growth you see in Allyson, aka Lulu is what makes Just One Day shine brightly.
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[review] Slated by Teri Terry (2013)

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Slated (2013)
Slated (2013)
by Teri Terry
US Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: January 24th, 2013
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (Imprint of Penguin)
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Kyla has been Slated—her memory and personality erased as punishment for committing a crime she can’t remember. The government has taught her how to walk and talk again, given her a new identity and a new family, and told her to be grateful for this second chance that she doesn’t deserve. It’s also her last chance—because they’ll be watching to make sure she plays by their rules.

As Kyla adjusts to her new life, she’s plagued by fear. Who is she, really? And if only criminals are slated, why are so many innocent people disappearing? Kyla is torn between the need to know more and her instinct for self-preservation. She knows a dangerous game is being played with her life, and she can’t let anyone see her make the wrong move . . . but who can she trust when everyone is a stranger?

My Thoughts:
Finally! A book that is actually a dystopian novel in the classic sense of the word (in which society tries to be an utopia, but with a major flaw,) and not another one of those “let’s just call it dystopian and claim its the next Hunger Games while we’re at it” novels. In Slated, children under sixteen that are deemed detrimental to society (e.g. criminals, terrorists, rebels) will be given a second chance by having their memories wiped and living with a new adoptive family. Slaters are then required to wear a Levo, a bracelet that monitors happiness and negativity. When the user drops too low, the bracelet shocks the user before they can harm society. At first it seems that all is good, until more and more citizens disappear for trivial misconduct and citizens fear government is abusing their power.

Slated reminded me of why I love the dystopian genre: its speculative nature is thought-provoking and a great starting point for ethical discussions. However, as much as this futuristic dystopia excited me, the novel as a whole did not. It’s not that Slated by Teri Terry had many faults, but just that it didn’t stand out and felt slightly heavy-handed at times. The slow pace also failed to hold my attention. However, I still think it succeeded in raising important questions like self-identity (without memories, who are you?) and the nature vs. nuture debate.
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[review] Level 2 (The Memory Chronicles #1) by Lenore Appelhans (2013)

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Level 2 (The Memory Chronicles #1)
Level 2 (2013)
by Lenore Appelhans
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: January 15th, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Since her untimely death the day before her eighteenth birthday, Felicia Ward has been trapped in Level 2, a stark white afterlife located between our world and the next. Along with her fellow drones, Felicia passes the endless hours reliving memories of her time on Earth and mourning what she’s lost-family, friends, and Neil, the boy she loved.

Then a girl in a neighboring chamber is found dead, and nobody but Felicia recalls that she existed in the first place. When Julian-a dangerously charming guy Felicia knew in life-comes to offer Felicia a way out, Felicia learns the truth: If she joins the rebellion to overthrow the Morati, the angel guardians of Level 2, she can be with Neil again.

My Thoughts:
Level 2’s plot stands out as one of the most intriguing ones I’ve come across recently, with a blend of sci-fi, paranormal, and contemporary genres. In Level 2, the afterlife is where you rewatch memories in hi-tech pods, either your own or “rented” from others with credits. I’m drawn to creative world-building, and Level 2 has that. At least the beginning traces of one. Unfortunately, Level 2 desperately needs at least a hundred more pages to flesh out ideas, plot, setting, and characters. I have no idea how I read 288 pages without a solid grasp of any of these elements. One of the things that kept me reading was the fast pacing, but even that fell apart towards the end and felt like a cheap gimmick.

Faux “Suspense”:
It doesn’t take long to realize that Level 2 LOVES its cliffhanger chapter endings–to the point it’s overused. It was like the author made a list of all the plot twists she could have and started inserting them to the end of her chapters. Scene changes don’t signal a chapter break, instead plot twists or big revelations do. You know a chapter is ends when characters suddenly go missing, or something catches on fire. I understand that Appelhans wanted to retain the reader’s attention by not giving them a chance to break away from the story, but it felt like a gimmick. I love a good twist any day, but I grew tired of them in Level 2 because they were so abundant, as if the author didn’t have confidence in her story. It was cheap plot twists not characters that carried the story.
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[review] The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)
The Fault in Our Stars (2012)
by John Green
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: February 10th, 2012
Publisher: Dutton Books (Imprint of Penguin Books)
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten./em>

My Thoughts:
I…don’t know. The Fault in Our Stars is my first John Green book, and I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wanted to love it. And I didn’t. It was very well-written, the prose is just beautiful, but not something I was eager to pick up again after I put it down. I blame in partly to my expectations. When you pick up the TIME magazine, #1 BEST book, you expect it to me the best book you’ve EVER read. This is the YA Bible of 2012 here! It MUST be jaw-droppingly AMAZING. And I liked the guy, I subscribe to ALL his youtube channels. I eat up his Crash Course episodes like candy. He has a great personality, witty and “funny without ever being mean” (of course he could be a Van Houten behind the scenes, but I would never know that.) I expected myself to run around shoving this book into everyone’s faces and bawling my eyes out (not that me crying is a sign of whether the book is good or not.) But I didn’t.

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Spring 2013 Mini-Reviews: Because Sometimes I Forget Too Much To Write A Full Review

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All these books I read during the the 2013 Spring semester in the midst of midterms, finals, exams, presentations, and a deluge of art projects. These books don’t have their own post, not because they’re so bland (though a few do fall under that category) that they don’t warrant one, but mostly because I felt all has been said already. Or I was too lazy. Never mind, it’s the laziness.

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields (2013)
Edition Read: Hardcover
My Thoughts: It’s been awhile since I picked up a non-fiction title not for academic purposes–and with a title like that, how can any book lover resist? With that said, David Shield’s How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields was a miss for me mostly due to the way the book is structured like a list of disparate thoughts and anecdotes (he describes his sex-life pretty often.) I have to applaud Shield’s unflinching candor. There are also A LOT of references to movies and books (there’s a part of the book where he lists fifty of his favorite books, which sufficed in making me yawn once or twice.) Although there are some insightful moments, this book makes me feel my brain isn’t smart enough to comprehend Shield’s thought process. Or maybe it really doesn’t make sense. I don’t know.
Rating: C-

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (2012)
Edition Read: Hardcover
My Thoughts: I’m not sure how to “review” children’s books at all. But this book made me a fan of Oliver Jeffers–not only for his fun, quirky stories–but also his art style. I WANT TO DO THAT KIND OF COLLAGING. After receiving This Moose Belongs to Me in the mail because of a giveaway, I was set on giving it away for Christmas (probably to someone under 10.) But after I read it, I totally had to keep it for myself. Largely due to the art style. Very beautiful and inspirational. I currently have a print and poster of Jeffers on my bedroom wall.
Rating: B

The Last Dragonslayer (The Last Dragonslayer, #1) by Jasper Fforde (2012)
Edition Read: Hardcover
My Thoughts: A story about a world where magic is now commonplace–but only used for trivial tasks like pest-control and plumbing. As my first Jasper Fforde book, I really wanted to like this one. I heard he was supposed to be hilarious. Maybe it’s because this is more of a middle-grade, but I didn’t find The Last Dragonslayer as funny as I hoped. There were an abundance of quirky, fun, satirical moments fir for a middle-grade story though. Overall, an enjoyable read. I still probably would continue the series if the opportunity arises. Probably.

Rating: C+

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff (2007)
Edition Read: Paperback
My Thoughts: As other’s have said, this book starts off very strong–but falls apart by the end as if the author had no idea where to take the story, so he just threw something that sounded cool (but is actually a convoluted mess) together. I think the ending was SUPPOSED to be mind-blowing. But it wasn’t. It is still a fun plot: Jane the protagonist is arrested and sent to a psychiatric ward, where she claims to be part of a government secret organization that fights crime, but yet is capable of going undetected. There’s a little bit of unreliable narrator going on, but it’s just A LOT OF FUN. At least until the last fifty pages.
Rating: C+

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers (2007)
Edition Read: Hardcover
My Thoughts: If only I could “read” books, or at least absorb their knowledge by simply eating them like this boy can, then maybe I wouldn’t take so long writing reviews. And maybe then I’d finally understand the great philosophical works of of Nietzsche and Kant.  Except that would be very expensive and I would rack up a lot of library fines. I loved this book, about a boy who discovers the love of reading because he ate too many books–and I’m becoming quite the Jeffers fan. Darn it, I love his collages and painting style.
Rating: A

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (2011)
Edition Read: Hardcover
My Thoughts: As you might have noticed, I’m having a Oliver Jeffers obsession lately. It all started when I won a Penguin giveaway. So Penguin sent me a poster of this book. And because I love Jeffers’ illustrations, I just had to put it on my bedroom wall. And because I put it on my bedroom wall, I felt the need to read the book, because what would I do if someone asked me about it? (nobody asked, but still!) So I read the book, and it did not disappoint. It’s about a boy who keeps throwing stuff into a tree, causing a LOT of stuff to get stuck in the tree (like an elephant and a firetruck.) I enjoyed this book, though not quite as much as The Incredible Book Eating Boy.
Rating: B+


Ask The Passengers by A. S. King (2012)
Edition Read: Hardback
My Thoughts: The first book I’ve read for 2013 because I wanted to try more YA contemporary novels. I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s about LGBT, family relationships, a little bit of philosophy, and sending love to people on airplanes. I find these moments where Astrid confides in these strangers to be the heartwarming, especially because she’s still in the closet about her sexuality. I admittedly haven’t read much LGBT, and I’m trying to remedy that–though I’m not sure if this book did the trick. I didn’t care about this couple, they just seemed like they were together because of teenage horomones. This was one of those books that were just “okay,” for me. I didn’t dislike anything, but I can’t sing praises either.
Rating: C++

Left Behind by Tim Lahaye & Jerry B. Jenkins (2000)
Edition Read: Paperback
My Thoughts: You have not read “preachy” until you’ve read Left Behind. Basically The Raptures comes, and all true believers of God disappear, along with babies. Along the way, it’s accepted that the ones taken away are in Heaven (if Heaven is filled with babies, I might have to reconsider.) I’m not Christian or Catholic, which made the book a even harder pill to swallow. At first I enjoyed the book due to its plot. I love a good, intriguing thriller any day, but gradually the book became more of an annoying salesman trying to convert you by scaring you. The religion is so heavy-handed that it took away all the entertaining elements that kept me reading in the first place.
Rating: D+

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
Edition Read: Paperback
My Thoughts: It’s about time I’ve read some Kurt Vonnegut (because I managed the get through high school without reading Slaughterhouse-Five.) I was assigned to read Cat’s Cradle for my Post Apocalyptic class, and enjoyed it, though it’s apocalyptic elements are often in the backdrop (what a disappointment.) I had trouble comprehended Vonnegut’s made-up religion, Bokonism, but as I began to ponder it more after I was done with the story, the more it made sense, and the more I appreciated Vonnegut’s writing. I still think there were way too many characters, many that you think are minor–until they reappear later on and play a pivotal role. I don’t know if Vonnegut is for me. Although I like his satirical, absurd humor and his wacky imagination, but Cat’s Cradle just didn’t hold my interest.
Rating: C+

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
Edition Read: Hardcover/E-book
My Thoughts: Another author I should’ve read long ago, but instead had to use the excuse of school to finally do so. I enjoyed Oryx and Crake largely due to it’s dystopic, sci-fi elements. It’s also a very twisted story with pedophilia and genetic engineering. This post-apocalyptic story is about a guy who lives in a post-apocalypstic would with Crakers. These Crakers are the new-generation of humans, humans who are genetically modified to better survive. The creator of them, Crake, decided to manufacture an apocalypse to cleanse Earth and to hand over the world to his Crakers. I loved Oryx and Crake’s characters–especially Crake, who is given the tropes of being a mad scientist deeply affected by his troubled family life and media, yet has sympathetic intentions–except the apocalypse part of his plans.
Rating: B-

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Edition Read: Mass Paperback
My Thoughts: I really thought I would’ve liked this one a lot more (it’s a Pultzer Prize winner.) During class, everyone was commenting on how depressed The Road made them feel with its grey, hopeless milieu. On Goodreads, people kept saying how The Road made them burst into tears and be emo for the rest of the week. And then I was there in the corner feeling heartless. Yet, I still didn’t enjoy it. Not because of the lack of punctuation, I surprising didn’t mind that at all–but because NOTHING happened. I have no idea what the climax of the story is, and maybe for such a story, it doesn’t need one. I mean they saw some corpses and met some people–but it more or less an endless cycle of starving, finding food, then eating the last of it only to starve again (you have to wonder why they don’t carry more food with them, or at least ration what they have.) I found the gore to be a cheap cop-out into eliciting emotion. And the stilted, minmalistic dialogue made me feeling disengaged with the characters (even though I also acknowledge there may be reasons why it done approached this way.)
Rating: C+

Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986)
Edition Read: Paperback
My Thoughts: I enjoyed The Watchmen for its intriguing, and morally complex characters. It was a thought-provoking contrast to the righteous tropes in superhero lore. Even though characters were not “likable,” I still rooted for them. I also appreciate the use of its format (the way each panel is planned is–cinematic.) But I wasn’t intrigued with the plot (though I understand its cultural significance) and the romance which moves WAY TOO fast to be believable. Perhaps it’s because this is my first experience with graphic novels that made The Watchmen a slow read for me (I thought that since it was filled with pictures , that reading would go faster, but the opposite was true.) I am still not a fan of the very muscular and BLOODY art style that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think I’ll be reading more graphic novels in the near future.
Rating: B+

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In Defense of Physical Textbooks (Even if They Make Me Eat Cup Noodles While I Weep at My Depleted Wallet)

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Today, let’s talk about other stuff I read: textbooks! I hate them.

They are ridiculously heavy. My mom jokingly attributes my short height to the six-hundred paged textbook I had to carry daily in second grade (she also attributes my shortness to not drinking enough milk.) I prefer to think of it as body-building. They are also expensive, because publishers know you NEED them–so you don’t have a choice but to fork over the money. Many textbooks now also come with their own unique access codes for their online content, which makes it difficult to re-sell a used copy.

You might consider an alternative: e-textbooks! They are cheaper and are better for the environment–what a wonderful invention! Well, not really. I’m a graphic design major, which requires me to be glued to the computer at least ten hours a day (not including research and essay writing time.) The last thing I want to do is stare at another screen. I rather pay extra to give my eyes a rest.

And e-textbooks aren’t REALLY that cheap because you can’t re-sell them (legally.) From past experience, buying the e-textbook meant I would have to read the textbook at the publisher’s website by buying an access code. The access code will only last about one semester, so you won’t be able to refer to the textbook after a certain date. I understand the reluctance to allow downloading for fear of illegal mass-distribution, but it means I need to be connected to the Internet to read the textbook. This also means that if my Internet connection happened to be horrible, each page would take at least five minutes to “turn.” And it’s just plain unreliable, as the website might go down right before your exam (it happened, and it definitely wasn’t pretty.)

This article is written for US Bundle’s 2013 College Scholarship contest because being a college student is expensive. *keeps eating cup noodles*

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[review] Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
Eleanor and Park (2013)
by Rainbow Rowell
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: February 26th, 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under

My Thoughts:
I very much enjoyed Eleanor And Park. It was a warm and charming love story that started on a school bus. I loved watching their story unfold through comic books and music. Although at times the love story felt a bit too angsty and saccharine at parts, it also felt realistic. It felt like teenage love, where you everything seems infinitely more important. And it was okay to be unsure of yourself. I am usually not one for romances filled with endless love proclamations, but Eleanor and Park is so much more than that. Although I had gripes with character development, I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel. Definitely one of the best I’ve read so far this year.

Misfits? Who?
The blurb calls Eleanor and Park, “two star-crossed misfits.” But I have to disagree with that. I didn’t feel either of them were “misfits,” other than their physical appearances. They were not exactly misfits because everyone shunned them, but because they were so enamored with each other, everyone else was an annoyance to them. Or they never try to make friends in the first place, especially Eleanor. And then she blames it on her appearance. All of the “friend” characters had to approach them. Eleanor and Park were supposed to be these funny, “cool” people–but I didn’t want to be their friend.

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[review] You by Austin Grossman (2013)

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You by Austin Grossman (2013)
You (2013)
by Austin Grossman
Electronic Book
Publication Date: April 16th, 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

When Russell joins Black Arts games, brainchild of two visionary designers who were once his closest friends, he reunites with an eccentric crew of nerds hacking the frontiers of both technology and entertainment. In part, he’s finally given up chasing the conventional path that has always seemed just out of reach. But mostly, he needs to know what happened to Simon, the strangest and most gifted friend he ever lost, who died under mysterious circumstances soon after Black Arts’ breakout hit.

My Thoughts:
After five pages, I already had a bad feeling about You (this title makes anything taken out of context sound rude or ungrammatical.) But because I thought it was impossible to make video games boring and unfinished books haunt me, so I decided to keep reading, hoping for some miracle to make this novel bearable. That didn’t happen.

You was SO BORING (thanks to the title, I now sound like a toddler). Not even in a rage inducing way so that I can at least laugh about it, but in an incredibly uneventful and bland way. The writing was long-winded, as if the author was trying to reach a word count. Pacing was gut-wrenchingly slow and fast in all the wrong places. The switches between first, second, and third person was confusing. The unannounced flashbacks and spontaneous jumps between Russell’s imagination, the video game, and reality didn’t help things. It was even worse than taking a philosophy class–there was no point in time while reading this novel that I knew what was going on. There was also no moment that I felt engaged. Everything felt disjointed and lacked direction. The characters were paper cut-outs. Worse of all, the protagonist is a condescending loser I wanted to throw off a cliff.
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[review] Shards & Ashes, Short Story Collection Editted by Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr (2013)

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Shards and Ashes (2013)
Shards and Ashes (2013)
by Melissa Marr (Editor), Kelley Armstrong (Editor), Veronica Roth, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, Rachel Caine, Nancy Holder, Beth Revis, Carrie Ryan
Paperback ARC
Publication Date: February 19th, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

The world is gone, destroyed by human, ecological, or supernatural causes. Survivors dodge chemical warfare and cruel gods; they travel the reaches of space and inhabit underground caverns. Their enemies are disease, corrupt corporations, and one another; their resources are few, and their courage is tested.

Powerful original dystopian tales from nine bestselling authors offer bleak insight, prophetic visions, and precious glimmers of light among the shards and ashes of a ruined world.

My Thoughts:
I’m obsessed with dystopians, so coming across Shard and Ashes was like Christmas for me (despite the weird cover that made me think it was a paranormal anthology instead.) But I find that short stories can be hit or miss for me. On one hand they allow me to explore many different worlds, but on another hand sixty pages is sometimes not enough to develop a world or to make me invested in the characters (which explains why it took me a week to finish this one.) There were also moments were I felt some of these short stories were just leftover scraps, as if they were not fully fleshed out ideas. This made evident in the abrupt way some of these stories ended, as if the author had a host of great ideas, but ran out of steam halfway through. Of course, not ALL of the stories in this collection were like that. And despite the my disappointment in plot, all these different dystopian imaginings kept me turning pages.

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[review] Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer (2013)

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Scarlet (2013)
by Marissa Meyer
Hardcover Edition
Publication Date: February 5th, 2012
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Buy a copy via Amazon.
Synopsis from Goodreads.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My Thoughts:
This book has NO “negative” reviews! Now I have to be the weirdo. This review will have spoilers about Cinder, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know.
I hoped Scarlet would redeem the series for me since I was one of the few people who wasn’t a fan of Cinder. While I know why Marissa Meyer set Cinder in China (because the tale of Cinderella originated there,) the way she handled the culture was a complete mess, and greatly hindered my enjoyment throughout the novel. Thank goodness, I only had to bear Meyer’s misuse of Chinese honorifics in one scene in Scarlet. Scarlet, on the other hand, is largely set in France–a country I have no experience/associations with and therefore would not notice if there were cultural discrepancies. I was right, Scarlet annoyed me a lot less than Cinder did, but still a book I would hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend.

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