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Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Just One Day

Lilian Cheng, July 18, 2013

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.

Admittedly, I tend to put off YA contemporary novels in favor of sci-fi, dystopian, or apocalyptic fiction. But with all the love this book has been getting from so many readers, I had to check it out (that and because summer sounds like the season for light-hearted contemporary novels.) What draws me away from YA contemporary novels is its tendency to focus on romance and overdramatic angst. Too much of it makes me weary and sucks the interest out of me like a giant octopus. Thankfully, Just One Day didn't do that. I was eager to follow Allyson's travels, but Forman didn't need landmarks to reel me into Allyson's personal journey to self-discovery.

Story, Pacing, Romance:
What made Just One Day so special was that it was beyond my expectations. When I saw the title, I thought to myself, "I know EXACTLY how this is going to go down. It's going to be four hundred pages about one day in a foreign country. And at the end, the guy probably disappears like Cinderella for the sake of having a cliffhanger." Eighty pages in, I thought, "Wait! The eponymous one day is ending! What's the next three-hundred and something pages going to be about now?" It is those three-hundred something pages that made me fall in love with the story despite being nothing about love. I was invested in the story because I wanted to see Allyson grow and find herself. Make new friends, discover new hobbies, AND MOVE ON.

Allyson Who Not Do Well On Chatroulette:
Allyson was a frustrating character for me throughout the novel, especially in the beginning. I figure it's because while my personality is like Allyson ("safe" and reserved,) my outlook on life is a lot closer to Willem, where I see joy in accidents. Which would also explain my relationship with Chatroulette and Omegle, websites that allow me to chat with random strangers. There's this romantic idea of sharing a transient conversation with a complete stranger, to "meet" people you'd never otherwise meet. And when the conversation is finished, we walk our separate ways (though I rarely do give out my email.) There's also a comfort in being able to "disconnect" people. I also believe if something is meant to be, it will happen--and to move on and look for the next door if it isn't.

Allyson clearly doesn't share this sentiment. If she was on Omegle, I can just imagine her feelings being hurt every five seconds when somebody disconnects. It is frustrating for me to see Allyson mope around and put her life on a standstill because she of a guy she met for ONE DAY. And that one day didn't even end well (but seriously, you're EIGHTEEN, not five. You shouldn't be having a breakdown because you are lost.) You met a wonderful, charming guy. Had the time of your life (at least to you.) Wonderful! Now treasure those memories, and MOVE ON. YOUR LIFE SHOULDN'T REVOLVE AROUND ONE GUY. You can't get greedy and expect every day to be just as magical. And how are you supposed to find the next great guy if you are moping around all depressed and emo? How are you supposed to meet the next person to change your life if nobody even wants to be within 5 feet of you?

Allyson's negativity in two thirds of the novel made me wince. Thankfully, when Allyson sets out on her mission back to Paris that I started regaining excitement for the book. Allyson shows that when she puts her mind to a task--she can do it. I can relate to Allyson as she struggles to become an adult: forced to figure out what she wants to do with her life, or how to find a your first job with no working experience and in a bad economy, all without the support of family.

Setting (Are We Really in France?)
For a book that's centered around traveling, I expected more in the milieu department. Maybe I just don't associate being chased by gangsters and making out in an abandoned art studio to France. Eh. I felt Forman's use of "trivial" moments to introduce France was a very different perspective. The boat rides, and the free bikes--it makes me jealous (though I would get severely sea sick on a boat and it would not be pretty.)

Overall, I highly, highly recommend Just One Day. Despite being released in start of a new year, I can foresee this book somewhere on my best books of the year list. It's one of those books that don't look like much from the cover, but under the cover lies a great story about a girl who has to figure out who she is. Also, this novel made me want to eat macarons. (WHY ARE THEY SO EXPENSIVE?!?)
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Memory Chronicles #01: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans
Memory Chronicles #01: Level 2

Lilian Cheng, June 20, 2013

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.

Fast Pacing Can Be a Double-Edged Sword:
What helped me finish Level 2 was because of its fast-pace, at least in the second half. 150 pages out of 288 without rising action is a bit much and left me uncertain what the story is about. You can only be stuck in a pod for so long. After Felicia escapes her "hive," that's when pace really picks up. A LOT happens. We have her joining a group of rebels (but first she has to weave around robots and explore the bleak landscape,) training, save her friends, escape from zombies, and "fight" in an "epic" war between wayward angels and God. And all of this happens in less than 150 pages, which left all of these events feeling EXTREMELY rushed. I am supposed to believe there's an important, epic war between angels and rebels, but I didn't feel it at all. This is the major event! The climax! THIS EPIC WAR WAS WHAT ALL THE LAST 288 PAGES WAS LEADING UP TO! But...I am not actually sure it happened at all seeing as it lasted less than a paragraph and the protagonist didn't even play a role in it. I can imagine myself having a chat with Felicia about the war and she'd reply with, "War? What war? OH! THAAATT WAR WITH THE ANGELS AND STUFF! Oh yeah, that happened. (pause) Didn't it?" I am left severely underwhelmed, as if the author was in a tremendous hurry to tie up loose ends. Level 2 could have benefited from either being a longer novel so the plot can be developed further, a more focused novel where the plot develops before the halfway point, or a longer series.

Where's The Development? Why Does This Matter Again?
Speaking of the elusive war that did or did not happen, I didn't care for it. Why should I care about "angels" that I haven't even met, or these "rebel" fighters? I don't even know what the point of the war was. I guess it was explained in a sentence or two somewhere. Something about angels called the Morati getting back at God for making them do the dirty work. We never meet these "angels," except from a distance. So we never know what their intentions are. Instead, we just have to blindly trust Felicia's judgment (and she's not exactly the best person to judge character.) Something about harvesting human energy...from their memory pods? And Felicia being the special snowflake (of course) whose power holds up the entire memory network. How does this work? I was very puzzled throughout the novel, trying to piece together the plot and all those plot twists.

It's ironic that Felicia refers to her memory chamber peers as drones because that's exactly what they are. Mindless drones. Granted, it's hard to form relationships when the only experiences you share are in a tiny white room, but I didn't care about Felicia's "friends." To be honest, they were more like plot devices than actually friends. One of them existed so she can turn into a zombie and the other so that Felicia can rescue her to prove her bravery. They also become part of Felicia's motivation to fight in the war, however I can't grasp Felicia's motivations. I never felt a connection between her "friends," and didn't see why she would sacrifice her life for them. While Felicia goes on and on about how important her friends are, I'm just waiting for her to shut up.
On the other hand, I'm not sure if I even want to be Felicia's friends since all of her friends seems to have miserable luck when she's around. Aside from the two friends she's made in limbo, she's only has had one other friend, who she betrays due to lust. They are a frighteningly over-dramatic duo as one girl gets jealous over a boy (not to mention she probably has an inferiority complex too) enough to resort to self-harm, while the other regards a guy as her worst enemy for ditching her when her friend finds out their affair. I'm not sure if Felicia has any other friends, but I definitely would not be lining up.

Aside from being a horrible friend, Felicia is also unpredictable in the weirdest ways. When she decides to confess her troubled past to her chaste boyfriend, she decides to do it naked. All of her traits are very convenient. She's beautiful, so all guys flock to her despite her lack in substance. She's conveniently "hacker," in which "hacking" translates to downloading a program to give herself free airline tickets. These skills allow her to hack her memory chamber in the afterlife. I guess to prove that she is qualified to be a hacker, she also has a 4.0 GPA (or at least she did.) But somehow her intelligence doesn't kick in when she's flailing around the afterlife like a lost puppy, or when she's making important life choices. In the afterlife, you can physically manifest anything that comes to your mind. A skill which Felicia masters with ease. Unsurprisingly, one the the first things she "creates" is nail polish so she can give herself a manicure. She's just a very shallow character despite attempts to prove otherwise. Oh, I never figured out what's her beef with pianos.

Next Up On The Convenient List: Materializing Objects Out Of Thin Air!:
In the afterlife, you have the ability to materialize objects with your mind. It's a fascinating idea but it felt like a easy cop-out. You need a weapon? Just think of one! You ripped a nail? Don't worry, just conjure a new nail! What's stopping these people from imagining nuclear bombs and tanks? Are there rules or limitations to this invincible power? Can I conjure up things that don't "exist"? Like a griffin? Why bother running around, finding a working memory chamber if you can just conjure one up? Unfortunately, we never get an explanation, or even guidelines to how this power works.

Julian, the "bad-boy" was the only intriguing character because of his mysterious past. But I can't say I'm rooting for him. Neither am I rooting for Neil, the perfect love of Felicia's life. I really think both of these guys should just ditch Felicia. I just don't see what they see in her aside from her beauty.

Religion, Why?:
I am not sure what to make of the strong Christian motifs in this novel. Neil and Felicia meet in a church. They go to a church camp together. The discuss chastity. Neil is the worship leader and plays in the church band. Religion is portrayed in a negative light as the church members view Felicia with disdain for "stealing" Neil. The term "slut" also shows up. Neil also promises to give up his position as worship leader for Felicia (which apparently is a very big deal for they spend forever going back and forth with corny declarations like, "I will give up my religion for you!" and "Oh no, you shouldn't have to give up what you love for me!".) In limbo, the role of angels are much more ambiguous and have a sinister vibe. The religion elements aren't overbearing, but they did make me question the loyalty of the characters. It also made Neil a wishy-washy character who could be easily manipulated.

Structure, Juxtaposition of Past and Present:
I think the use of memory chambers to reveal Felicia's past is a creative way to tell Felicia's story. I liked the use of tags and ratings. We see how much the memory is worth to Felicia, and how much it's worth to other people. However, some of them did feel mundane and random. In one scene, she is asked if she remembers the day before her thirteenth birthday, then the story jumps to a memory of a birthday spent with Neil. I spent a full minute wondering if there was a typo, or if Felicia really started dating Neil at thirteen (which would mean she made out with Julian at twelve.)

Overall, Level 2 was severely underwhelming. I believe there's a brilliant concept underneath all the flat characters and under-developed, wishy-washy plot, but it just wasn't executed properly. I still enjoy the idea of rewatching memories in limbo, and the juxtaposition of memories with present time is a wonderful way to structure a novel. Unfortunately it's many flaws made me disengaged with the novel. It was below average read for me, but it will suffice for a light read. If you want thought-provoking imagings of the afterlife, I would recommend David Eagleman's Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives instead, half the size of Level 2, but contains so much more insight and creativity.


Title Change to The Memory of After:
This is more of a sidenote than part of the review. If you haven't heard, Level 2's title will be altered to The Memory of After for its paperback release. I think it's a great idea, since Level 2 was a bit misleading. Not so much because I thought it was a sequel (which was apparently the reason for the title change,) but because I thought it had something to do with video games. The font doesn't help either. But the new title suits the book better.
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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor and Park

Lilian Cheng, May 26, 2013

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.

Eleanor is made to be a misfit more because she is fat, has curly red hair, and wears weird clothes than because of her family circumstances. I found her family situation heartbreaking. It is what made the story addicting. I wanted to know more about her troubled family life, especially her mother. For me, Eleanor's mother was the most intriguing character in the entire novel because of her conflicting emotions and her role in the family as a loving mother and good wife. And perhaps being divorced once has made her feel unloved to the point she can't easily walk away from domestic abuse. And I wanted a lot more backstory for Eleanor's step-father. However, Eleanor's dysfunctional family is often overshadowed by her eccentric clothing (which I see as more of a personal choice than something forced upon her.) Despite these gripes, I didn't mind Eleanor's constant attention to her personal appearance (though I don't think she really cares about remedying the situation.) Because that is what teenage girls do. I still wish she would own up to her fashion choices though and be like, "This is my style, deal with it." Oh, and apparently can't afford toothbrushes, so she has to rub salt on her teeth. I'd hate to imagine her dental hygiene.

I liked Park for being a minority. I feel there needs to be more minorities in YA literature, ones that aren't used as cheap plot devices. You know how those stories go: ethnic kid goes to new school where everyone are vicious, racist bullies and then somehow everyone realizes they're wrong. And then all the bullies apologize and everybody cheers. And then confetti falls. THE END. Park broke that stereotype. Despite his personal insecurities, People liked him. He had friends. What a miracle! However, here's where my gripes come out. I only liked him because he was Asian. Take that quality away from him, and he wouldn't be so special anymore. In fact, I was bored of him by the second half. I only wanted to figure out Eleanor's family.

Let's Talk About Being Asian-American:
Even though I am Asian American, I can't relate to Park. This is not a fault of the novel at all. I've been raised in a very different time and place, and have never once felt uncomfortable with being Asian (though I wouldn't mind being about a feet taller.) Perhaps because of my cultural background, my radar is alert (this just made me sound like a cyborg) when I come across Asian culture in literature. For the first time in a long while, I enjoyed how Asian-American culture was portrayed. Perhaps because Park is only half-Korean that many of the cultural aspects were left out. Park's family seemed much more "American" than "Asian," and I was completely fine with it. I didn't mind the focus being on Eleanor and Park, and their teenage romance. I'm VERY grateful that Rowell didn't use this opportunity to throw in a bunch of Korean words into the dialogue. Instead, the Korean accent is tackled in a much more subtle and humorous way. If I had a nickel for every misused Chinese word I've come across recently, I'd be rich. Stop using Google Translate, people!

Comic Book and Music References, Thank God I Read This After Watchmen:
Coincidently, when I got my hands on Eleanor and Park from the library, I was also assigned to read Alan Moore's Watchmen for school. Thankfully I finished Watchmen before I started Eleanor and Park, so I wasn't spoiled. (But really, why did the ending have to be spoiled? Or a I just the last person on Earth that hasn't read Watchmen) Eleanor and Park is filled with comic book and music references--many of which went over my head. I only heard of The Smiths because two of their songs were on the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. Shame on me.
I'm glad that these music/comic book references didn't take away from the story. I think there always has to be a balance with references to pop culture. While they help set the scene in a specific time period, too much of them can alienate the reader. I found that balance was done well, and I appreciated them. Not because I knew all the references, but because the romantic idea of walkmans, vinyl records, comic book serials, and MIXTAPES did a wonderful job reminding me that it was the eighties, a time where mixtapes had to be painstakingly made with CASSETTE TAPES instead of dragging song files on ITunes. If someone took the time to make a mixtape for you, it meant something.

Overall, I really enjoyed Eleanor and Park's story. I am usually not a "contemporary" romance reader (though it is set in the mid eighties, but to call it an historical sounds like something from the WWII era,) but Rainbow Rowell just won me over. Despite being a YA novel, I feel this book will also be a good fit for older adults--for nostalgic reasons. Now, onto Attachments!

P.S. Don't read this book if you plan to read Watchmen for the first time sometime in the near future.
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You by Austin Grossman

Lilian Cheng, May 23, 2013

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 bland and uneventful 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.

Expectations, Comparisons to Ready Player One:
Now that I finished the book, I went back to read some reviews of it from other readers. And the consensus is: STOP COMPARING THEM! THEY HAVE ARE NOT ALIKE except that they are both about video games. Both take a VERY different direction with the topic. And I completely agree. Why I bring it up is because I wonder if Ready Player One, one of my favorite books of the year, gave me expectations about this novel and therefore influenced my opinion. And I don't think so. Even looking at Austin Grossman's You as a slower, contemplative still didn't work.

Russell, The Guy I Want to Push Off a Cliff:
He is the reason I had a bad feeling from the first five pages. As the protagonist, he is not very likable. Basically, he wakes up one day with a mid-life crisis. He's twenty-eight, dropped out of law-school, and he doesn't know what to with his English degree. And he sees his high school buddies, all of whom he ignored for the past decade, have great success by starting an award-winning video game company, Black Arts. He thinks they are "cool," so he gets a job with them to join the "cool" party. Douchebag move.

So he gets the job even with no credentials, experience, or passion for the field because he has connections and an English degree. He didn't even do his research, failing to recognize his company's past productions during a meeting. Ad he only ever had one computer in his entire life. Never mind that he shoved that computer under desks to accumulate cat hair. Why does this guy want to be in the industry again? Oh right, he wanted to be "cool."

At this point I would be questioning if it is really THAT easy to get a job as a video game designer. Doesn't EVERYONE want to get paid for playing games? Seriously, does he at least need writing samples? But apparently back then, it WAS THAT EASY to be a game designer because that's how the author got his job according to an interview (I am envious.) This also makes me lose faith in the writing behind video games.

Then with a stroke of luck, Russell is promoted to lead designer despite having done NOTHING except drag a few elves around on his computer and "not be reduced to incoherent rage" in the process. Does Black Arts only have five people or something that they have to resort to promoting this guy?

I don't mind underdog characters who start out being a loser, but grow as a person throughout the novel. Russell is not that character. He WANTS to be that character, but he isn't. Lisa, his co-worker and former friend, turned herself into my favorite character (which is really not saying much) by calling him out on it:
"And so, you know, bye-bye nerds. And that's what you did. And now you're back a decade later saying, "Hi nerds, where's my job?"

HALLELUJAH! This is the only time I felt a simulacrum of joy while reading this book. Then Russell acts like a wounded puppy for about five seconds before plunging into another video game.

The highlight of his existence is when he dates a video game character. His tendency to blur the lines between reality and video game makes the novel confusing. It's creative, but leads me to question Russell's sanity. He is the reason why parents are paranoid when their children play violent first person shooters.

Simon, The Dead Video Game Genius:
The blurb makes it sound like the novel is about solving the mystery behind Simon's death. There's no mystery behind his death, the novel makes it clear in the first five pages that he died in an accident. Probably by falling through an elevator or something--nobody cares about the details, not even the author. Instead we see Simon as the stereotypical reclusive genius through Russell's condescending eyes. Poor Simon.

Lisa, The Only Real Female Character:
Like the rest of the characters, Lisa is a paper cutout. It makes me wince to see her portrayed as this uptight character who loves to read, but doesn't know how to have fun. Russell also thinks she has "some cognitive deficit" because she talks too fast. Classic jerk-face Russell. She is thrown into stereotypes, which is saddening when she is the only character with the guts to call Russell out. The only other female character we get is Leira, the princess character in the Realm of Gold video games. The other characters are just pitiful. There's no character development, everyone else is dismissed as reclusive "nerds" and "geeks" under Russell's judgmental eye. But apparently, "geeks" are cool now, so Russell rushes to join the group.

Mystery? What Mystery? And Why Should I Care?
Simon is also somewhat of an antagonist for planting a "bug" into a game: an invincible black sword that wrecks havoc. Because these designers can't do anything by themselves, they just reuse Simon's old coding and software from previous games, which leads to this bug being embedded in all of Black Art's releases. You don't even that this is the main point of the novel until Chapter 22, when he black sword is finally mentioned a second time from its brief appearance in Chapter 6. Until that point (and even after it,) the novel felt like it was flailing around aimlessly. Everything would be solved if they just started from scratch, but I guess nobody has the talent to do that. Russell, now put in charge of tech support, has to fix the bug. It will be the only thing he "fixes" in 383 pages. I guess all the other bugs don't matter or he is just very bad at his job. He wonders why none of his co-workers ask him about the bugs, despite them being assigned to him. BECAUSE YOU ARE USELESS! THAT'S WHY.

There's also something about the stock market weaved into the story to raise the stakes and also something about a white flower. I didn't care enough to figure it out.

What I Thought Was The Plot, The ULTIMATE Game--Am I Missing Something:
I didn't read the book blurb before finishing the book, so I thought the book would be about creating the ultimate game since that's how the story opened. Russell is asked what game he would create if he could create anything. He answers with some chess game when he is secretly imagining a game where the user could weave their own storylines and all that romantic, deep stuff about video games. Russell, that game already exists. It's called life, with surround sound and 3d high definition technology--and it's also free! This theme pops in an out of the story. It also randomly appears again a third into the book as if the author forgot he already mentioned it in the beginning. I have a feeling this is what Grossman wanted to convey, that video games could tell stories. But this idea was buried amongst poor execution.

Pacing, Info-dumping, ALL Tell and NO Show:
For anyone who never knew what "show, don't tell" meant, this book is the perfect example. The entire novel left be disengaged because the novel merely told me what was happening, but I didn't feel like I was part of the story at all. There's only so much interest I can muster reading about watching a guy play a game on a monitor: the screen flash rainbow colors with realistically rendered characters, the 8-bit sun was gleaming in all shades of yellow, and the orcs went north, and the elves went east, and I strategically sent south to set up an elaborate trap, look at me jump over this bridge--it's so exciting! Yeah, fun for you because YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE WHO GETS TO PLAY, while I have to listen to you brag for fifty pages. I felt like that envious younger sister who has to look at her older brother play video games at a distance, when all she wanted to do was take the controller. For a book titled You, the book didn't give a damn about me.

The sloppy writing dragged down the pace significantly. There's a LOT of superfluous writing. Even though Russell was doing many "exciting" things in his video games, I didn't feel like I was in the game. Rather it felt like I was reading an instruction manual because Grossman would dedicate at least five pages to introducing the video games characters and history. And because Russell embarks on a mission to play ALL of Black Art's games, the banal info-dumping keeps happening. I know it's hard to avoid for the author who wanted to squeeze all these video games into one novel, but in the end, I didn't care for any of them because there wasn't enough room to fully immerse me into all these different games. So you are left with a very boring "summary" of the game which doesn't sound too different from the one you read in the last chapter. Even though it was fast paced in that Grossman covers the entire creation story of Endoria (the Realm of Gold world) in ten pages, it read like a chunk of filler text that didn't play a role in the story as a whole.

I found a trend in Grossman's writing: he LOVES long lists with an intense passion. Lists that go four times longer than they should. Lists that read like space filler. Where's the editor?

Speaking of filler text, here are some puzzling examples I've encountered:
"language and reality have no sacred connection." pffffftttt.
"the prince emerges, ready to do what must be done." Which is?
"He is, without any doubt, what Simon looks like in his deepest, most private fantasies." Why would you know what?
"slightly precious-looking saber stance" Precious-looking? seriously? there isn't a better word for this?

Second-Person Narrative, I Want Nothing to do With This Guy:
I hated it. The use of second person made the book annoying. Maybe it was supposed to make me feel engaged to the novel, but it felt like the book was pointing fingers at me, desperately trying to mold me. Or it sounded too much like a commercial. How ironic for a book about having control and choosing your own path. The more I encountered the second person narrative, the more I felt like being a rebel:
"You should be combing the galaxy for Mournblade and kicking bugs off your to-do list."
Yeah, YOU should, Russell, not me--but YOU. God forbid YOU do the job YOU are paid to do.

"Evidently you have been crying."
No! I have NOT been crying. And even if I was, I don't need YOU to "evidently" point it out.

I knew the second person narrative is addressing Russel or Simon, and not me. But it felt like the book was addressing me as if I was in their shoes. A position I did not want to be in. I didn't want to be the anti-social genius who died in a "ridiculous accident," nor did I want to be the twenty-eight year old loser who came crawling back to his "nerdy" friends.

Stuff I Learned from You:
1) Don't title a book "You"
2) Video game designers from the nineties are masochists and have poorly designed game creating software. These are the people behind user experience?
3) Adding a penis is the perfect way to make readers do a double take. You also know when a penis appears that the author is getting desperate.
4) People said "Screenshots or it didn't happen." in 1998. So hipster.
5) Even professionals have poor grammar and write stuff like, "Fix soonest please."

I literally rather watch paint dry than read this drivel again. CONFESSION: One of few reasons I finished You after the first five pages was so that I can take out my frustrations in a review. I found You disjointed and painfully banal--I didn't even know it was possible to make video games boring, but this book succeeded. I didn't care for the characters, nor the first/second/third-person narrative. It's portrayal of women didn't impress me either. The book tried so hard to be deep, but just fell flat. However, there are others who LOVE this novel for its introspective, authentic look at life and the nineties video game industry.

It makes me sad that I was so excited for this book too. I was squealing inside when I saw it in Barnes and Noble's. Lovely cover though. Now that I've written this review, I can finally delete You from my Kindle.
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Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer
Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2)

Lilian Cheng, April 15, 2013

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.

Juvenile Writing, Tackling Uneasy Subjects and Relationships:
This is more of a personal gripe. I just checked Amazon, and apparently Scarlet is targeted towards ages 12 and up (I always thought the book was targeted towards 16 and up, oops!,) so I guess the lengthy writing that often made me feel like Meyer is underestimating her readers is suitable after all. There is a scene were the author suggests a one night stand (okay, maybe it was a one week stand, but that's not that much better) and also the brief suggestion of rape in another. Being that the age level is twelve, I see why these topics are glossed over, but it also makes me feel like the author is not confident enough to tackle these issues despite throwing them in.

I know I am supposed to hate Levana, but I had problems finding a reason to hate her. I get that she wants world domination--and that's always bad--but I wanted to find out WHY she wanted so many people to love her. Was she bullied? A social outcast? World domination is not easy. Not sure why she has to marry Kai either. Why not just kill him and win world domination through conquest? But I just imagine her as a desperate cougar.

I would personally spend my time reading than ruling the world. Cinder tries to make her hateful by describing her burn wounds as a baby, but I felt that was too forced. If her orchestrating the mutation of her people into werewolves and the destruction of thousands of lives didn't make me hate her, a baby getting burned won't miraculously do the trick.
If Cinder's stepmother made me feel for her, despite her "evilness" (which I felt was one of the brighter moments in Cinder,) Queen Levana should have a fleshed out story as well.
Maybe her story is revealed in the novella? I certainly hope so.

Cinder, Poor Girl Gets Overshadowed:
I like Cinder and Scarlet equally, they both have their strengths, but also can be too oblivious or have anger issues. While reading the story, I felt much more invested in Scarlet's character and Cinder quickly became overshadowed. I also felt Cinder became less appealing, not only because she was overshadowed, but because everything became too convenient with her new Lunar powers. Now not only did she have cyborg powers of quick problem solving and the ability to fix hardware by connecting them to her...head? but also mind-control AND the ability to make spaceships undetectable. It felt like every time the author hit a plot hole, she "solved" it by giving Lunars a new ability. "Oh shoot, how is Cinder going to break out of prison? Eh, she can just mind control the guard with her Lunar gift! Oh shoot, how is Cinder going to travel undetected in a gigantic spaceship? Um, well Lunars have the ability to do that too! Oh no, Cinder is stuck in a crowd, how will she get out of it? That's easy! Her Lunar gift can change her appearance to disguise her from everyone!" What can this girl NOT do? And how much of it is actually attributed to her as a person...and not because she has the ability to download and process manuals from the Internet. Suddenly, it felt like Cinder became invincible. Her "let's connect electronics to my cyborg brain" thing made her even harder to relate to.

Cinder & Kai:
I was okay with Cinder & Kai's relationship in Cinder--even though Kai didn't have much of a personality aside from being handsome (he also has way too much time on his hands for being the leader of the entire Eastern Commonwealth.) In Cinder, he struck me as a very poor leader, spending his time being angry, relying on his advisors, not showing up on time to state meetings, and hitting on a girl. Kai really got the short end of the stick in Scarlet, in the few scenes he does appear in, he only serves as background details to the plot. He still has yet to win me over. I wonder how Kai and Cinder relationship will work out, precisely, how Kai will react when he finds out Cinder's true identity as Princess Selene. Will he be jumping for joy? And how will he convince Cinder to be with him without being a jerk that's like "I know you are the princess, so let's marry and everything will be fine and dandy! And let's ignore the whole part about locking you up in prison, doubting you, and stuff." It's going to be sappy. I can just feel it.

Scarlet & Wolf, Echoes of Twilight/A Discovery of Witches:
Not instalove, but dangerously close. Their relationship progressed in the way that romance novels do: the characters don't trust one another and there's some tension, but then they suddenly realize that they are made for one another. How fast their relationship gave me this schadenfreude feeling. I didn't want it to be THAT easy. I WANTED THEM NOT TO WORK OUT. I am evil like that. And because I thought Scarlet did not deserve Wolf. Seriously, that girl has some anger issues. When Wolf comments on her scent, she immediately snaps at him, telling him it's none of his business. That is NOT how you treat a guy who is willing to help you track down your missing grandmother. There's a difference between being a badass and being rude and ungrateful.

I admit, there were some sweet moments, but when I got to the end, their relationship made me wince.
I felt Wolf had more development than Kai though, so I did root for him. But there was a point where I just felt bad for him because Scarlet was just--mean. I could just picture him being that wounded dog thrown out into the rain.
And then came the Twilight echoes. Scarlet was made to be this independent, strong-willed girl, but then she still depended so much on Wolf to save the day. There are moments when she overestimates herself, kind of like Diana from A Discovery of Witches. And then Wolf had the whole "I am too dangerous for you! You have no idea how close I was to harming you..." thing. Ugh.

Blending Fairytale with Sci-fi:
I appreciate how Meyer weaved sci-fi and fairy tales together. The fairy tale elements are often in the background, while the characters have a life of their own. There was a moment, when Scene ran onto a stage in an opera house that was supposed to be a "forest," that struck me as heavy handed and unnecessary. Perhaps it was especially annoying because she was supposed to be in great danger, yet the author still makes her run through a stupid cardboard "forest" for the sake of tying it into the fairytale. Oh, poor Scarlet!

Addressing Plot-Holes: THOSE ID CHIPS
The id-chips left me with a lot of questions in Cinder: how did these id-chip stealing androids get placed in a government facility? Is this a conspiracy? And I am glad Meyer addressed them. Somewhat. I still felt it could have been better handled.
Apparently the general public CARE about those chips, and would riot if they knew it was stolen, because it's VERY important to the family--or so it is said. Which is a surprise, because nobody seems to care enough to claim it after their loved one's death. Or even notice its disappearance. ID-chips causing a riot? I doubt it.

Overall, I felt Scarlet was slightly stronger than Cinder due to more character development in the new characters, though it also had quite a few flaws that made Scarlet a slow read for me. Scarlet has the same fast-paced, action-packed, sci-fi and loose fairytale qualities I enjoyed in Cinder though. It's a pity that Cinder and Kai recede into the background, which makes me scared that the next books will do the same thing and introduce more new characters at the expense of the old. If you loved Cinder, I am certainly you will love Scarlet. Just be prepared not to see Kai or Cinder too much.

As for me, although I was not impressed with the series thus far, each book for slightly different reasons, I know I will probably still read the next book, hoping it will change my mind. I am determined to like this series!
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