I really think I'm physically incapable of giving Ben Hatke's books anything less than 5 stars. The reasons for this being that Hatke continues to creI really think I'm physically incapable of giving Ben Hatke's books anything less than 5 stars. The reasons for this being that Hatke continues to create such memorable characters and beautiful artwork. After reading all of his works, I totally consider him an auto-buy-author for me.
Not only are his books enjoyable for myself as an adult, but my kids absolutely love his works too. What makes Hatke's books stand out for me the most is that each of his main characters have been of different races. Sometimes it can be difficult to find this in childrens' books, so you have no idea how good it feels when you hear your daughter say, "Hey! She looks just like me!" Tears, guys. Tears.
Not only do his books feature diverse characters, but they feature strong female heroines who have super fun adventures like traveling through space, imaginary creatures, and the newest edition: a female mechanic!
But on to the review! Little Robot is a charming story about friendship and accepting differences. Our heroine is a very capable kid who doesn't exactly fit in with other kids her age. She enjoys fixing objects and creating new and improved versions things. Meanwhile, there is a little robot who has escape an assembly line and somehow their paths cross. And, thus, two unlikely friends become the best of friends. Through the book, their friendship changes. Our characters learn boundaries and how to deal with disagreements and acceptance.
In fact, I really loved the friendship between the characters because it was an issue my own kids could relate to. They could easily keep up with the pace of the story and tell when a character was "being mean" or "not being very nice," according to my kids. The simple, yet candid storytelling was an instant hit for us and provided a good discussion on what it means to be a good friend.
The illustrations in Little Robot is nothing short of breathtaking. But this is no surprise to me as I've been a huge fan of Hatke's art for a long time now. What I loved best were the full spreads with vivid colors. It was a great way to tell the story without actual words -- something that is great for my 5-year-old since he is not yet a reader. (The one thing my kids did seem to notice right from the start was the main character's lack of pants! Hehe.)
It kept him interested and we'd frequently stay on those pages and just admire the artwork. Likewise, the text was very simple and is perfect for early readers. My 7-year-old was able to read the entire book on her own.
All in all, this is another fantastic book from Hatke. If you have little readers in your home or enjoy picture books yourself, I would definitely recommend this one!
Review copy was provided by the publisher for an honest review.
My eye twitched after I finished Velvet. I rubbed it, it twitched again. Apparently, my eye didn't know what to make of Velvet any more than I did. WaMy eye twitched after I finished Velvet. I rubbed it, it twitched again. Apparently, my eye didn't know what to make of Velvet any more than I did. Was it bad or was it good? Did I enjoy it or did I hate it? Is it possible to say yes to all of those questions? Just a heads up that this review is going to be even more convoluted that usual and skip around a lot. I regret nothing.
At first glance, Velvet appears to be the same Paranormal Vampire Romance novel we've all read a hundred times. Girl moves into a new town. Girl meets Hot Guy who's never shown interest in any other girls in town. Girl almost dies, but Hot Guy saves her. Blah, blah, blah... romance. So if you are tired of this kind of set up, then prepare to be highly disappointed for the first 40% of the novel. That fact is, if Velvet had been published during the Twilight Era--let's be honest, it totally belongs there--it would have probably been a huge hit. But now, it has a lot working against it. Readers expect more from their PNR and the Twilight-esqe model is, frankly, played out.
But moving on to what you actually really care about: was this any good? That is such a complicated question so, I will give an equally complicated response. Velvet is like an Oreo Cookie. It's not the best cookie you can have, but it will satisfy your desire for one. The end pieces are pretty terrible by themselves and the icing in the middle is just way too much high fructose corn syrup in one go. The cookie works okay when it's together, but still kinda leaves this weird aftertaste in your mouth. It's like your body subconsciously knows that you fed it a sub par treat and denied it a chocolate chip cookie. But at the same time, you find yourself reaching for another Oreo and your body is strangely okay with this. And after you've finished the entire pack, you end up craving a real Cookie.
The first 40% is an absolute struggle. It features a ridiculous premise (Adrian's demon, vampire father wants to impregnate Caitlin to produce more vampire babies for reasons), awkward dialogue (though some parts are chuckle worthy) and scenes that is sure to make your eyes roll. In fact, most of it is so unreal, that I often wondered what went through the author and editor's head when green lighting this. I really hate to say that because it sounds like an insult, but it was so bad to the point of hilarity, which made me wonder if I was reading actually reading a satire. If that was the case, then bravo to both West and her editor because they nailed it.
Oh shit. That's totally what Velvet is, isn't it? West purposefully stuffed every overused cliché into Velvet to both poke fun at PNR and attempt to write a better one at the same time! AHHHH, the world just came full circle!
Or maybe I just read it as a satire to actually make it through the book? Also a possibility.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I need to really tell you guys how ridiculous the first half is. Many would say Velvet is just like Twilight. That's true, but not true enough. Others would say Velvet is nothing like Twilight. I guess, in a way, that's true, too. But again, not true enough, in my opinion. Velvet has an explanation for how vampires came into existence and it's as confusing as all getup, but at least the attempt is there. Then the love interest, Adrian, is actually a decent guy. He respects boundaries and goes away when Caitlin tells him to hit the road. So, I'd say Velvet is like Twilight with manners, science and a ridiculous/frustrating/fascinating plot.
While I was reading Velvet, I found some parts so unbelievable, that I went to find out what inspired West to write it. What I discovered was something shocking... she was inspired by Twilight! She wanted to write a vampire novel with a slightly different spin and therefore, it is inevitable for this novel to be compared to its inspiration. Just like how we all love to compare Fifty Shades of Grey to Twilight. Oh damn, I just went there. Anyway, in many ways, she did improve on an existing Vampire Novel Template. She excelled where Stephenie Meyer didn't for me. And I can't believe I'm about talk about some things I liked about Twilight. WTF has this world come to?
Twilight's beginning, while super slow, allows a good amount of build up for Edward and Bella to meet. I'm not referring to the insta love, because that definitely happened, but they had several interactions woven into Bella's boring life of cooking her dad dinner before things got started. Obviously, it goes downhill from there because the insta love arrives and sets everything on fire.
On the other hand, Velvet doesn't have the same setup and it makes it harder for the reader to be thrust into the novel with no real introduction. As soon as the novel starts, suddenly, Caitlin is in trouble and Adrian is there saving her.
"I nearly killed you, to keep you alive."
It was completely jarring to me because I was still trying to figure out who, what, when, where, why and WTF. And from then on there was a barrage of not-so-carefully constructed scenarios that forced the couple to be in close proximity. At one point the end up in a closet together and then a bed all in the same night. Yup. Adrian literally goes from not caring about any girl at the school to picking Caitlin up for school the next day.
"You're here two days and he just offers to drive you home?"
But of course, all these "happenings" are not without a purpose. I mentioned before that Adrian saved Caitlin from his demon vampire dad who wants to impregnate her. So it's his job to stay with her at all times to protect her.
"What did you mean when you said you were my personal shadow?" He rubbed his eyes. "It means that you're in trouble." I frowned, waiting for him to elaborate. "For instance--that storm? Wasn't a storm." "The storm was not a storm." "It was a disturbance." I snorted. "In the force?"
As per the usual characterization of a PNR heroine, Caitlin brushes off the impending danger until she finds out what he wants. And if those quotes made you slow blink, feast your eyes on this gem:
"He wants to impregnate me? Like, with a baby that kind of impregnate?" "I understand you're upset--" "That does not even cover the middle finger of what I am feeling--" "--but please believe me that nothing is going to happen to you while I'm here--while we're all here, my family and I." "What about when you're not here?" I sputtered. "What about when I'm at home? Or when I'm asleep? What about my family?" "This is not--he won't rape you, or anything," he said, struggling for words and looking awkward as hell. "He'll make you want him. It's--what they do. It's a game."
Because of course making someone want you, even when they actually don't, isn't rape. It's totally consensual! Like I said, the for the first 40% of Velvet, the struggle is REAL.
But then something strange happened when I hit the cream filling. I started to enjoy Velvet. My friends, who had the misfortune of being there when I decided to tell them every painful detail about the beginning, are convinced I suffered from Bookholm Syndrome. They say Velvet took my brain hostage and I started falling for my captive. But I think the real reason is, once West ditched the clichés and let the romance develop, it wasn't half bad.
Unlike Twilight, Caitlin and Adrian's romance is very slow burn. For most of the novel, they aren't "together" and don't particularly want to be, but they do have an attraction. And I have to admit, it was nice seeing their banter and watching their obvious feelings growing. West never rushed it and therefore made me appreciate it more. The only thing I have to complain about with this was that the sexual tension got ridiculous. Once Caitlin and Adrian finally admit their feelings for one another, the spend the night as his place, in his bed, clothes off, cuddling. I just don't buy that.
Another thing Velvet did right was female friendships. Caitlin's best friend is considerate and kind as well as the other girls in the novel. They hang out outside of Adrian's presence, have sleepovers and talk about topics other than boys or Adrian. Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that Velvet completely passes the Bechdel test and that's something I never expected. Even some of my favorite YA novels fail at this.
All good things came to a swift end when the final conflict caught up with the plot. Unfortunately, I was let down. I went through the entire novel waiting to find out more information about why Adrian's dad sought out Caitlin in particular only to discover nothing. I was given virtually no new development! It just ends on the same note it began, but with more romance. It was so frustrating! It feels like it was a cheap attempt to get me to read the second book and goddamn it, I think it worked because yes I'll fucking read the sequel and I'm not happy about it. UGH! Where's a real cookie when you need it?!
I don't know if I'd seriously recommend Velvet to anyone. Well, that's a lie. I kinda do want some of my friends to read it because I'm super curious of what their face would look like while doing so. And now you all know what gift you're getting on Friendship Day. I'm an awesome friend.
All jokes aside, I don't really know what to make of Velvet and I suspect its target audience is smaller than it would have been 5 years ago. If you are in the mood for cliché-filled vampire romance, double-stuffed with occasionally overly sweet, witty banter, smashed in between two, over baked, sad excuses for cookies, then this might be a good choice on a rainy day. Just remember, "C" doesn't just stand for Cookie, it stands for Crap, too. BAM!
For you visual folks, here's a book talk video on Velvet. (Yes, I drew fangs on my picture. I had one job in photoshop.)
Final books are hard. Readers dive in with so many expectations, hopes and fears, and let's not forget the ships. I suspect it must be at least a littFinal books are hard. Readers dive in with so many expectations, hopes and fears, and let's not forget the ships. I suspect it must be at least a little daunting for an author to want to give their readers everything and stay true to their story. Friends, for me, Marie Rutkoski has done just that. This story has taken me on a remarkable journey, capturing my heart and and melting my emotions in one fell swoop.
The Winner's Kiss is a perfect conclusion to an expertly crafted series. And as always there are many familiar reasons to love the final installment as much as its predecessors while containing quite a few twists that kept me anticipating the turn of each page. Our protagonists, Kestrel and Arin, experience a lot of growth as previous choices finally reach shocking, climatic consequences, many of which I was unsure how they'd move past. I definitely didn't expect the changes Kestrel underwent; she is both the same and vastly different, exploring physical and mental strength of female characters.
You don't need to be gifted with a blade. You are your own best weapon.
The unpredictability of this novel is its greatest weapon as Rutkoski clearly shows she's not afraid to make you beg for your favorites' survival. She's heartlessly brilliant like that.
What I didn't expect was how much I enjoyed Roshar's character. I give his sarcastic, witty remarks an A++ and loved how he reminded me of a rougher version of Sturmhond from The Grisha series. It was smart for him to have as much page time as he did since The Winner's Kiss contains romantic tension to the max with a few scenes causing me utter desperation—moments where I was throwing buckets of water out of my ship, lest it sink, screaming "Noooooooooo!" fiercely at my ceiling.
I still admire the writing and how it manages to convey so much more than is actually written. It's made me re-think my stance on 3rd person narration, usually my least favorite. But the fact that I, too, now feel as though I can translate Kestrel and Arin's Epic Starring Contests, Roshar and Arin's Bromatic Body Language among a host of other tells, just goes to show you the quality of writing. No words are wasted, and always feel so carefully deliberate while still maintaining its raw honesty.
Perhaps what The Winner's Kiss succeeds at the most is its ability to straddle that fine line between a character driven and plot driven novel. Neither side took over the other, out-shining or lacking in development. The relationships were given the proper amount of time and dignity. Not only is there a focus on Kestrel and Arin's, but also of another that's made very clear it's just as important, and maybe even more so. And, yes, in case you were wondering, this book does indeed pass the Bechdel test, something which I'm always pleased to see in a YA novel.
The plot was excellent. Surprisingly detailed battle scenes, strategies and political maneuvers are at the front without making my eyes glaze over with confusion. And I loved that Arin's cultural religious beliefs along side Kestrel's disbelief was handled with a great amount of respect and love. It really highlighted an ongoing theme of tolerance and respect of others' differences, and that is so incredibly relevant. And, of course, I really enjoyed how the novel began and ended with A Winner's Curse, bringing the entire series full circle. Nice touch.
I am fiercely in love with all things Kestrel and Arin. Their relationship struggle in the novel was so real. Finally a YA book where it's not the fantasy world keeping them apart, but actual real relationship bumps that plagues us all: break down of communication, acknowledgements of individual changes and growth, trust issues, accepting faults along with strengths, understanding personal struggles, guilt of hurting the one you love the most, forgiveness, and above all, mutual respect.
"He changed us both." She seemed to struggle for words. "I think of you, all that you lost, who you were, what you were forced to be, and might have been, and I—I have become this, this person, unable to—" She shut her mouth. "Kestrel," he said softly, "I love this person."
It's sad for me to come to the conclusion of a favorite series, one that I never expected to adore so much. But I loved every minute of this ride and can't wait to revisit.
Excellent series is excellent.
An ARC was provided by the publisher. No monies or favors were exchanged.
Red Rising for teens? Hmm... Red Rising could technically be cross-over, so I'm wondering if this would be aimed mostly towards younger teens in partiRed Rising for teens? Hmm... Red Rising could technically be cross-over, so I'm wondering if this would be aimed mostly towards younger teens in particular. Either way, I'm interested! :D...more