Ember in the Ashes Review: Searing Political Fantasy

 

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An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir

Published April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill, and imprint of Penguin Random House

446 Pages

Read February 19th – 25th, 2018

 

Ember in the Ashes has been at the top of my to-read list for YA series, so I was thrilled to impulsively snag it at my local bookstore. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a wild ride! The action erupted in the beginning and it. Did. No. Let. Up. The double love triangle (or love square, as people have taken to calling it), was really complex, and Ms Sabaa Tahir did a masterful job of keeping me wondering who matched up better with who. Also, I found the character development really satisfying, with real growth in mind and soul in characters.

CHARACTERS

Laia

Laia started off really passive, without having much conviction for any cause (outside of saving her brother). She accepted what fed to her (by the Resistance) and was too trusting, naïve, gullible. She fell into the Black-And-White thinking of Resistance = Good and Mask = Bad, without critically thinking of underlying motives people might have. The only thing propelling her forward was her need to save her brother, without putting much thought into the greater ideals her brother was fighting for. I was so gratified when, by the end of the book, she wizened up to the Resistance’s corruption – fighting against the “Establishment” – realized the “bigger picture” (such as freeing someone like Izzi, which righted an injustice bigger than herself or her brother, and became an active player, saving herself and thinking for herself.

Elias

Elias’s soul was always in the right place. He simply needed the courage and the fortitude to follow through on his convictions and stand up to the “Establishment” that was the Blackliff Industrial Complex. He knew he wanted to be better than what they wanted to manufacture him into at Blackliff Academy. He could never be a mindless robot in their Machine. Yet, he felt trapped in the “System”. What I loved about his story is that he only became “free” when he took a stand for what he knew was Right. In the end, he did not follow along with other people’s interests, as he had been doing throughout the novel. He became bold in what he believed in. His soul became unshackled, and his body became so, too. Most importantly, he was <u>honest</u> about how he truly felt. That took Bravery.

Helene

Helene was my favorite! She deserves to be a POV character, especially after all that she went through – so I am so glad that I get to read her POV in “Torch Against the Night”! What I loved about Helene was how steadfast she was in what she believed in, and how unwavering she was in her faith in what she was doing. Although she subscribed to Martial ideals, I found it really admirable how she focused on her goals, and how driven and tenacious she was in “going for gold”. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eye on the prize. She did not let anyone underestimate her, and she possessed a keen sense of self. Her character is inspirational. The best part is, she is capable of strategic thinking for the Greater Good. She truly wants what is best for her people and the Empire, and she was selfless in her pursuit of that. I’m glad that she wasn’t brainwashed by Blackliff in the end, and even though she had been a stringent rule follower the whole book, she broke the rules to aid Elias in Doing the Right Thing.

RELATIONSHIPS

The love square was intense! I shipped ALL of them! I genuinely had no clue who was “meant to be” and who wasn’t. Usually, it’s a little obvious who the “destined” couple are, but Sabaa Tahir pleasantly surprised me by making it more complicated – and messy! – than usual.

Laia and Keenan had that whole cute “can she melt his cold exterior” thing going on, which is always adorable. His hard edges started softening more and more around her, which was adorable.

Elias and Laia had that “insta-love”, “forbidden love”, and “opposing sides” thing happening, and it is always heartwarming to see characters that are trained to distance themselves from each other be ineffably drawn to each other, and discover their similar ideals through all the haze of exterior forces designed to keep them apart.

Helene and Elias made me so emotional! I usually am not all that into the whole “friends to lovers” thing, but they flipped that on its head! I adored their simultaneous realizations that they were Everything to each other, their need to be there for each other, and how they were such an equal match. Helene was “The Brain” and Elias was “The Heart”. The will-they-won’t-they feeling in the air had me swooning. Plus, I’m so into the whole fight-each other-but-really-love-each other thing. The fact that Helene is physically matched with Elias makes me so happy. I love when they have each other’s backs, but also adore the scene where they were sparring. That was beautiful.

My heart breaks for Helene! But Elias didn’t want to let her go in the end.  A true Tragedy.

BOOKENDS

I liked how the framing of the book showed the ending as a fulfillment of what the characters had been lacking in the beginning. Elias finally achieved the freedom he had sought for, while Laia finally had the courage to save herself – and her brother – on her own terms.

THEMES

The major themes I discovered were: overcoming fear, freedom, the soul, and the Spirit.

HISTORY/CULTURE

I found it cool how Sabaa Tahir modeled the culture of the Martials after the Ancient Romans, while modeling the culture of the Scholars after Ancient Arabs. She certainly did her research – it felt very “real”. I suspect that the Tribesmen were modeled after North African nomads, and I expect to learn more about them in “Torch Against the Night” (as well as the Mariners).

WORLD BUILDING

I’m so, so happy that the “intellectual” group, the Scholars, are the heroes and the protagonists in this series, and not the antagonists (like the Erudite in “Divergent”) nor the sidekicks (like the Ravenclaws in “Harry Potter”). Meanwhile, the “brawny” group, the Martials, are antagonistic, instead 0f heroic, for once, in contrast to the Dauntless and the Gryffindors. I appreciate that.

FAVE QUOTES

“There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.” – Spiro Teluman

“Laia is the wild dance of a Tribal campfire, while Helene is the cold blue of an alchemist’s flame.” – Elias Veturius

“Even still, there is an animal freedom to how he moves, a controlled chaos that makes the air around him blaze. So different from Keenan, with his restrained solemnity and cool interest.” – Laia

“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. your heart.” – Spiro Teluman

“That’s who Helene is: Her faith is steadfast. Her loyalty. Her strength. They always underestimate me. I’d underestimated her more than anyone.” – Elias Veturius

RATING

5/5

CONCLUSION

Ember in the Ashes delighted, shocked, and moved me. I’m rushing into “Torch Against the Night”!

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Call Me By Your Name Review: Gorgeous Summer Sensuality in the Depths of Winter

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I still can’t place my finger on when exactly I first heard about “Call Me By Your Name.” There has been buzz surrounding it for nearly a year since its January premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. All I knew about it was that it was set in Northern Italy and was about two young men who fall in love. What really drew me to it was the lush cinematography of the early promotional clips. My mind was set—I had to watch it as soon as I was able.

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This summer, the “Call Me By Your Name” hype grew and I was bursting at the seams to watch it. Reviewers were describing it as “tantalizing” and “sensual” and “summery.” It promised to be a visual feast with a beguiling love story. It also promised to be raw and heart-wrenching. The wait was excruciating.

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Finally, the time I had basically been waiting for all year arrived. It was November, I was in London and “Call Me By Your Name” had just come out in the UK a couple of weeks before. I was ecstatic. I got tickets to see it at the Curzon Cinema in Soho, a member of a arthouse cinema chain. The environment was relaxed and perfect—cushy seats, chill ambience and a packed theater full of other eager moviegoers.

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It’s hard to put into words how much I adored “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s genteel, refined and intellectually stimulating.

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The cinematography really sold the summer languor of the film, focusing on luscious, verdant pastoral views and casting the characters in an incandescent light. Every scene during the day was aglow with golden natural light, and the mood was somnolent. The night scenes were humming with barely contained energy, softly lit with hallowed coloring. The setting—a small town in Northern Italy in the 1980s—was picture perfect.

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It is set at the home of the Perlmans. The son, Elio Perlman, is home for the summer when he meets Oliver, an American PhD student who is studying the Classics with Elio’s father and residing with the Perlmans for the summer. And so ensues the pas de deux, a clandestine dance between the two love interests as they skirt around their feelings for each other. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) possesses an almost bird-like fragility, prone to sudden spurts of energy and flightiness. Oliver (Armie Hammer) is larger than life, filling up every room enters with his presence.

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Elio is the definition of precocious. He transcribes classical music, performs renditions of classics on the piano and reads and reads and reads. He is graced with intellectual precision. To him, at first, the burly American is uncouth and brusque. They are stark opposites, yet their chemistry is electric. Chalamet’s acting as the lovelorn Elio is magnificent. The sharp interest in his gaze when watching Oliver is palpable.

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This is a film that forces you to feel every single emotion displayed on screen. It holds your feelings hostage. And so, as it seeped with romance, I could feel my own heart spilling over. I felt the dizziness and the grandeur of that summer love. The scenes between Elio and Oliver as they discovered the depths of their feelings for each other had the wispy air of a dream. If you’re a hopeless romantic, you’ll be squealing internally. The sexual chemistry burns fiery hot and their mutual desire is as succulent as the fruits that thematically pop up throughout the film.

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Yet, with the highs come the lows, and Oliver must return to America at the end of the summer. This was the emotional weight of the film, and it wrung my heart out. Chalamet portrays a young man losing his emotional center with a sincerity that is absolutely heartbreaking. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) gives a truly sagacious monologue to Elio towards the end of the film that touches the soul and which I believe truly encapsulates the weight of first love.

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There were points in the film when I just wanted to bottle up the feelings I had in response to the imagery and keep them close to me forever. The music only heightened those feelings; the soundtrack was blessed with three songs from Sufjan Stevens (my personal favorite being the lugubrious Visions of Gideon), an artist that is able to transmit delicate love in his craft. The final scene was the most poignant and deeply moving of the entire film. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that it will hit you in waves of emotion that you may have even forgotten how to feel.

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If you love visually, intellectually and emotionally stimulating films, you will find all that and more in “Call Me By Your Name.”

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Side Note: How they make the simple act of biking look so spellbinding?

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10/10 Stars

Book Review: Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver (Delirium, #2)

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Title: Pandemonium

Author: Lauren Oliver

Published: February 28th, 2012

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: Young-adult fiction, Romance novel, Utopian and Dystopian fiction

Read: July – August 2015

Source: Purchased from Barnes and Noble

Where To Find It: Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Goodreads

Synopsis

I’m pushing aside
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and flame.

Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

My Thoughts

I read Delirium a couple years ago and really loved it. I picked up Pandemonium a while ago, started it, got bored of it, and dropped it. This summer, I decided to pick it up again and give it another shot.

What I Liked

Lena kicked ass! I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by her being a kick-ass heroine being able to fight for herself deftly. She used her brains adeptly as well with clever thinking to get herself out of tricky situations. She definitely developed a lot as a character, from being a naive product of her society to being fierce and independent.

I never thought I could see Lena with another guy after how cute she and Alex were together, but when Julian came into the picture, I really liked the idea of Lena getting together with him. I love star crossed lovers, and Lena + Julian was no exception. I loved how they started out as enemies, then grew to trust each other. I swooned when he shared things about himself and his childhood with her. I felt like their romance was really smooth and really rooted for them to fall for each other. I especially liked how Lena ended up saving him. They’re too cute together and I ship them so hard!

I found her dynamic with the leader of her “Wild” gang, Raven, to be pretty interesting. Raven is very hardened and fiercely independent, and she really influenced Lena to be “stronger”, yet they also brushed against each other the wrong way over their ideological differences over the revolution. I found that to be an intriguing relationship.

I lover Lauren Oliver’s writing style. Her descriptive language is impeccable and her at times poetic style is so beautiful. The narrative voice of Lena was pretty enthralling.

What I Didn’t Like

Lena’s attitude towards Julian at first. It was so unnecessarily rude and hostile to me. I didn’t get her animosity towards him. It kind of made me want to shake her a little and I found it really annoying.

Some parts of the book really dragged on and were quite uninteresting, particularly earlier on during the Then parts. It got better when the Then parts got shorter, though.

I sometimes didn’t like Raven because of how emotionless she seemed to be. I gradually got to understand why her character was so hardened though. She was a good leader, yet highly flawed. Her strength derived from stamping down feelings of care about others, which, although wise in their situation, I didn’t like.

The Twist

I did not see that coming. The revelation was really infuriating to me, yet somehow ingenious. It was actually a brilliant twist, no matter how maddening it was.

The Ending

Lauren Oliver really gave us readers the illusion of a happy ending. I felt so elated that Lena and Julian could be happy and free together. It was so intensely disrupted by the return of a very important person from Lena’s past, who she’d spent much of the book pining for. I’m kind of sad that Lena and Julian didn’t get much time together to be a blissful couple, but still ecstatic to read what happens next with Lena juggling two people she’s grown to care about dearly.

Favorite Quotes

“I wonder if this is how people always get close: They heal each other’s wounds; they repair the broken skin.”

“We have picked each other, and the rest of the world can go to hell.”

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Rating: 3.5/5

Film Review: Far From the Madding Crowd: Endearing Feminist Romance

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I have a confession to make: I really, really, really love Period Dramas. There’s just something about history that I’m so transfixed by: the fashion, the scenery, the old customs. It’s enchanting to me.

When I heard about Far From the Madding Crowd, I was thrilled. It wasn’t just that it was a period drama. I was drawn to the heroine’s description as headstrong and independent. Bathsheba Everdene (played by the dainty Carey Mulligan) was a woman who could take care of herself in a society that dictates that women be taken care of. I couldn’t wait to watch that unfold onscreen, being a feminist and all.

Hollywood starlet Carey Mulligan during the filming of an adaptation of the novel Far from the Madding Crowd in Sherborne, Dorset. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday October 20, 2013. Some scenes from the adaptation of the classic Thomas Hardy novel are being filmed in part of the town which has been transformed to fit the Victorian setting of the film. Photo credit should read: Tim Ireland/PA Wire
Hollywood starlet Carey Mulligan during the filming of an adaptation of the novel Far from the Madding Crowd in Sherborne, Dorset. Photo credit: Tim Ireland/PA Wire

There was also the not one, not two, but THREE (yes, three!) love interests for one heroine. The hopeless romantic that I am, I was almost giddy with excitement.

So how did Far From the Madding Crowd fare?

I found the background music heavenly, enamored with the violin and piano sounds.

All the main characters were just so pretty and handsome. There was a lot of really good eye-candy with such a beautiful cast. All three love interests (played by Matthias Schoenartes, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen) were exceptionally dashing, charming, and disarming in their own different ways.

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I was overjoyed to watch a feminist lead character. She was independent, the boss, owned property, and didn’t need “things” from a man to marry him. I admired her self-sufficiency and strength greatly.

The scenery was so gorgeous: rollicking hills, luscious green pastures, and tranquil bodies of water. Being an artsy person, I was really enchanted by the interior designs – artful with grandeur. I love really stately interior designs in my period dramas, and was blown away by the elegance in Far From the Madding Crowd.

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I was especially enamored with the moving romance at the center of the movie. It was long-lasting and touching with a beautiful ending of endearing passion and love. The sexual tension was drawn out for maximum effect. Bathsheba Everdene finally got with the one man who’d stuck with her through thick and thin. It was so sweet. The secondary romance was a tragic love pulling at my heartstrings, which hit me deep.

A particular quote stood out to me, spoken by Bathsheba, my feminist heroine: “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language chiefly made by men to express theirs.” So thought provoking.

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I’d give Far From the Madding Crowd a 10/10. It is a magnificently directed film with a very aesthetically pleasing cinematography. I feel like it told a great love story and really enjoyed the feminist values. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who loves period dramas, strong female leads, and heartwarming romance.