Though there are many middle grade series and authors that I hold dear, I don't overly explore the middle grade genre outside of the authors I have already subscribed to. I had a lot of mixed feelings over Lauren Oliver's young adult books (Delirium, Before I Fall) but what I could never deny was how wonderfully breathtaking her writing style is. Jim Dale was the one who piqued my interest in Liesl & Po with the simple fact that he narrates the audiobook. He also did Harry Potter. When I heard an excerpt from the audiobook, I had to pick it up. When I saw it at a bargain book store, I grabbed it. And I am so glad I did.
What I expected was the stereotypical middle grade novel: something with some overly simplistic writing and characters that were flatly grandiose puttering along to a plot that could be predicted from another planet. What I got was the tale of three adorably fleshed out characters racing through the pages, chased by eyebrow-raisingly creepy villains, in a world that is instantly recognizable for its genius but enchantingly exotic shadows.
What I admired about Lauren Oliver's take to this straightforward plot was how she pulled the simple bones of the plot like soft taffy until they were an entirely different shape. The original idea was the still there -- a tale of an accidental switch by an abused apprentice, and a girl closeted away by an evil stepmother -- but it came alive. Lauren Oliver made it feel not so much created as discovered.
The illustrations added another layer of atmosphere to the already jam-packed story. They piqued my interest when I browsed ahead, and then painted a deeper picture when I came upon that part of the story. The illustrations helped me imagine how the author must've imagined the characters, and that brought a certain flavor to the reading of the story, seeing how the author meant it to look.
Liesl & Po was a fantastic story with a bittersweet ending. It is certainly a book that I will proudly carry on my shelves, and also one I may take the time to reread in the future. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.(less)
If I had read Ender's Game when I was eleven, or even as old as fifteen, I would not have come out of the story the same way I have now. The movie brought me to this story, but the book captured me in the way only an excellent novel can. While rife with disturbing elements, it is the effectiveness of the setup and the humanity of the story that makes it such a good book. And while books that try to force uncomfortable things in the faces of the audience are a turnoff, Orson Scott Card expertly wraps the disconcerting themes around Ender, a character, while so high above everyone else, including the audience, is so desperately human like the rest of us. What Orson Scott Card does in Ender's Game is something that is missing in today's novels.
What struck me first about Ender's Game was how well Orson Scott Card understood human behavior. The way he implemented that into the story made it come alive, and I found it fascinating. As a writer myself, I struggle with trying to bring my characters to life by realizing that they have their own opinions. It was easy for me to understand the energy of a character right away, given how well Card presented them.
I've heard people say that it's hard to connect to Ender because he's so young. Also, he's so young and smart. I see where that comes from, because I had a difficult time believing I was reading about a six-year-old, too. I pictured a twelve-year-old in my head, so when I was reminded how young he was, it jarred me out of the story. Yet I feel that it's fitting to have him so young. Some say this makes him had to connect to. To me, it isn't about connecting with the main character, but understanding them. I connected to Ender on a single aspect and that was struggling to successfully integrate into a group of your peers. I still greatly enjoyed Ender's character, despite our differences, because I don't have to be his soulmate in order to get something out of his character and his story.
The plot was straightforward, up to a certain point, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. To me, the story was about Ender and his internal struggles. Also, Card brings up moral issues, like colonization, the purpose and right to wage war, and the exploitation of basic human rights. Some big stuff. So when I said that Card is doing things that are missed in today's novels, that's what I meant. The Big Stuff. Card goes for the jugular and doesn't let go for anything. That killer instinct for storytelling is what has today's YA novels falling harmlessly into the mainstream.
Ender's Game packed a punch when it came out of the gate back in the late 70's, but it hasn't lost any of its potency. It was a well-crafted and excellent story that is definitely worth a gander, even if you aren't into sci-fi. (And if you aren't, this may be just the thing to pique your interest.) Now that I have read it, I definitely want to continue the story and I most definitely want a copy on my shelves.(less)
Captured me from page one, it did. The first little bit I read at the JoBeth in Cincinnati haunted me until I broke down and bought it online. Finishe...moreCaptured me from page one, it did. The first little bit I read at the JoBeth in Cincinnati haunted me until I broke down and bought it online. Finished it within two days. If I had a hat, I'd tip it to Ruta Sepetys.(less)
I was hesitant to pick this one up since dystopians aren't usually my thing, but I was interested in the dynamic between a bounty hunter and his prey, and how the summary seemed to promise something different, something that would have me falling head over heels for the dystopian genre. Having read it, I'm so glad my spidey senses tingled. With its engaging writing style, depth-defying world and lovable characters, Midnight City is a distinctive addition to the young adult dystopian genre, and a new favorite of mine.
Midnight City was immediately engaging. Mitchell has a masterful command of plot structure, evidenced by the way he starts with external threats that bind the characters together, and then building to a threat that affects them all. And they were threats that mattered to the characters, that affected them directly. Every chapter had a conflict that made sense; nothing felt haphazardly thrown together. This kind of cohesion, in addition to breathtaking action scenes, kept me glued to the pages from start to finish.
The book came alive like a movie in my head. I could envision, with near perfect clarity, how these characters moved, thought, and interacted. What's more, every bond they formed made sense. The progression of their relationships weren't botched by a rush to get them to where the author wanted them. I could fully understand their goals, how they were shaped by their personalities, and how they would come to align. I cheered for them 100%.
My enjoyment of the story was only heightened by Mitchell's edgy writing style. Though a little rusty in some areas, it complimented the story perfectly. I liked how it sporadically alternated between points of view from chapter to chapter, giving the story a depth that otherwise would've been missed.
That was one of the best parts: the depth of the world. I liked how Mitchell built in the history naturally, without having to resort to dedicating a chapter to explaining how the world got to the way it was. I loved the detail that went into the Assembly, and into how the world had changed, without bogging down the story or making it too incomprehensible. It was easy to understand, and to admire.
Midnight City was an incredible dystopian, one that I would love to return to again. I'm so excited for the sequel!(less)
The Dead Girls' Dance wasn't a huge step up from Glass Houses in my opinion of it. The characters were good, but not exceptional; the world was expanded well enough; and, luckily, it wasn't a rehashing of the first. It was still very superficial and "bubble gum" like, but what made this installment distinctive for me was how the stakes were high. (No pun intended.) But I'm still not finding it "oh my goodness" amazing.
Like the first book, Dead Girls' Dance lacked a sense of depth. It left me wondering, "Why should I find this important?" I did feel more of a connection with the characters, though, because I'd already read a book about them, but while their quips were hilarious, their dynamics weren't thrilling me. That was my issue with most of the story: I was left utterly un-thrilled.
Claire was my central issue in Glass Houses. Here, she was fine. Still a complete flake, but not wholly useless, either. Although, I certainly raised my eyebrows over her desire to still head to class when she knows full well that leaving the house will get her killed. With Claire, I was always thinking, "If you're going to get threatened, kidnapped and potentially sucked dry by a bunch of creepy vamps, it might as well be for a better reason than wanting to go to class."
I thought the plot for Dead Girls' Dance was much better than Glass Houses. It had a bit more cohesiveness; I understood the stakes better. What I didn't understand was why the title was "The Dead Girls' Dance" when the dance didn't mean a whole lot in terms of how it impacted the story. Besides that, it was exciting and interesting and packed a few twists.
What I loved most, hands down, was the humor. Kudos for books that make me laugh. Glass Houses was excellent in the humor department, and The Dead Girls' Dance continued that excellence nicely. So if I got anything out of it, it was a great laugh.
I'm a bit on the fence about whether or not I'm going to continue with the series. I've been told they get better with time, but after two books that were only "meh," I'm a bit skeptical about putting a lot of time and effort into the series. Still, I'm interested, and that counts for something.(less)
Kendare Blake single handedly turned my intrigue and curiosity towards the ghostly side of creepiness. Where normally I stay far, far away from anything with the mere suggestion of skin-crawling terror, Kendare Blake's work, first with Anna Dressed in Blood and now Girl of Nightmares, has brought me a new appreciation of things that go bump in the night. I think in any other case, I would cast a questioning glance at the author's mental stability after seeing the product of their work, but with this book -- with its refreshingly three dimensional characters, exciting plot and great narrative -- I'm willing to make an exception.
The one thing that worries me with sequels of any kind, whether it's a part of a long, drawn out series or just a duology, is a rehashing of the first book. With each new book, I expect a deeper and thorough progression of the characters and a plot that explores the world instead of sticking to the same set of possibilities. Girl of Nightmares really impressed me with the way the world, and the characters, expanded.
The characters had to be my favorite thing about this book. I cheered for and admired them in Anna Dressed in Blood and that admiration only grew with Girl of Nightmares. I think specifically of Carmel: I loved seeing her gain dimension and progress as a character. Normally, side characters are shoved ruthlessly aside to make room for all of the main character's drama, but Carmel was a solid presence. In fact, all of the characters were nuanced. They lacked the picky, petty, cookie cutter melodrama that tends to sand down the finer grains of a character. In this respect, they all had a strong sense of realism, so it made it nearly impossible for me not to sympathize with them as they went to hell and back (literally).
The "there" that she's referring to is the Tower of London, the castle-like fortress that sits on the north bank of the Thames. It's touristy and historical, the site of numerous tortures and executions, from Lady Jane Grey to Guy Fawkes. Looking at it as we cross the Tower Bridge, I wonder how many screams have bounced off the stone walls. I wonder how much blood the ground remembers. They used to put severed heads up on pikes and display them on the bridge until they fell into the river. I glance down at the brown water. Somewhere underneath, old bones might be fighting their way out of the silt.
Cas's narrative made it so easy to slide into the story. Full of great zingers and one liners, I love Cas's blatant insolence and dry humor. This style of Anna Dressed in Blood carried over brilliantly to Girl of Nightmares. With clear, concise imagery, Kendare Blake's writing style really brings out the creepiness in clear cut descriptions. The effect is uber chilling. It's incredibly easy to picture the action like a movie, which only heightens the suspense and drama.
Not that the plot needed the extra help. Constant action, always something interesting happening. I loved how it was perpetually moving forward. There were no boring or useless fillers; everything had a purpose, impact. The stakes kept building and building, pushing the characters, forcing them to make choices, to question themselves, to make sacrifices. The climax... Ah, climaxes that make me want to cry are always memorable. The bittersweet ones are the worst, aren't they?
Girl of Nightmares was an epic book. I loved every page. I must have it for my shelves.(less)
I don't like vampire books. Just a little quirk of mine. So the one and only reason I picked Drink, Slay, Love up was because it was written by Sarah Beth Durst, who blew me away with her unbelievably wonderful fantasy novel, Vessel. People told me, "Oh, you liked that? You'd totally love Drink, Slay, Love." And I just thought, "It's...a...vampire book." But I did pick it up. Thank God.
I love books that make me laugh. What surprised me here was the way humor was used. Drink, Slay, Love was not some light, fluffy spoof. So while it was a lot of fun, the humor was more along the dry and sarcastic side rather than ridiculous and unbelievable. (But okay, I'll admit the unicorn thing did push a limit or two.) I didn't expect something deep and rich with complicated feelings, nuanced characters and a plot that actually challenged the characters instead of being conveniently inconvenient. But that's exactly what I got.
Another expectation busted? Pearl's awesomeness. Huzzah for awesome vampire main characters. I thought she would be irritating and shallow, but she never even gave my nerves a mean glance. Not even for a second. That rocked. I loved how her transition from soulless predator to vulnerable teenager was portrayed as a slow evolution that was believable and sincere. I backed Pearl up 100%. I wanted her to live (so to speak), to find her happiness, and succeed at her mission. Having so much sympathy with the main character let me sit back and enjoy the story.
I was thinking the plot might be a little on the sketchy side. I mean, there's a unicorn. But only a few things warranted an eyebrow raise. The stakes were well defined (no pun intended) so I understood from the get go what Pearl stood to lose if she pushed the boundaries of her world. There was constant motion and conflict, always something to move the story forward, and the plot twists challenged the characters, didn't let them slide by with only a few scrapes.
All of this was accented with a great sense of humor and underlined with a sweet romance. I liked how the humor was more sarcastic and snarky than goofy and unbelievable. And the romance. Ah, amour. I think that I saw the signs of a Durst trademark. In Vessel, the romance built up naturally and here, too, in Drink, Slay, Love, the romance did not take center stage but instead was something else the main character had to work through. I really liked how this wasn't a romance, but more of a coming-of-age story.
Sarah Beth Durst has finally given me the opportunity to say that there is only one vampire book I like, instead of declaring I dislike them in general. Drink, Slay, Love was a fun tale of vampirism, action and a dash of romance, all laced with a snarky humor that had me giggling from start to finish. A great read.(less)
I've always been a huge fan of Patricia Briggs, ever since I picked up the first Mercy Thompson novel (Moon Called) at my good friend, Smash @ Smash Attack Reads, request. This short story in the On the Prowl anthology is the prerequisite story to the Alpha & Omega series. I've already read and fell in love with the Alpha & Omega series, so starting in on a short story where that series began was a sure win for my affection.
If you've never read anything by Patricia Briggs, taking a look at this short story would be a good test drive to see whether you, dear reader, would enjoy pursuing her work. For patrons of the Alpha & Omega series, this short story really set up the series nicely. Though the events were alluded to in the first book, Cry Wolf, it was merely given as background information to provide a foundation for the story.
The one thing I absolutely love about Patricia Briggs' writing is how she can pack so much character into a few paragraphs. There's an immediate sense of both Anna and Charles's characters as the POV switches between them and this skill, though very helpful for writing an appealing short story, carries over into her full length novels as well.
Even though I've read the entire Alpha & Omega series, reading this short story makes me want to read it all over again. (Which, as a matter of fact, I'll be doing since I read them before but never reviewed them.) Patricia Briggs created a well-balanced, well-rounded story with nothing forced or sloppily done.
So, dear reader, try this out for a test ride and see how far you can get without completely falling in love with the story.(less)
I had all kinds of wild expectations for The Assassin's Curse: there had to be romance, but not of the sneak-in-through-the-window-and-watch-you-sleep variety; the main character had to be kickass but not untouchable and immovable; the world had to be fully realized and epic; and, the plot had to be exciting and fresh. For a woman with such a sugar-topped name as "Cassandra Rose Clarke," she sure knows how to write a story to surpass all expectations.
The world of The Assassin's Curse makes me want to toss my computer aside and head for a pirate ship. While Clarke's writing style wasn't fantastic, it fit the story. So as I read, I could easily imagine the chatter of the day market, the rush of a hot desert wind, and the crash of waves against a ship on the open sea. I loved the design of the assassins with their desert masks, of how their tattoos and eyes glow like Avatar arrows. But, I feel like Clarke's only scratching the surface in this first installment, like she's just laying the foundation and secretly chuckling, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
Which reminds me of Ananna's character, a girl of many layers. The absolute refusal of an arranged marriage has been around since Romeo & Juliet, but would Romeo's father have sent an assassin after Juliet for marrying his son? Would Juliet have fought back, accidentally saved the assassin's life and end up bound to him? Didn't think so. Ananna's character was on a knife's edge: if she got too cocky, she would risk coming off as fake and irritating, but if she strayed too much to the soft side, she'd appear fluffy and superficial. Ananna was a girl who took a stand, called people's BS (even the dude she took a shining to), and backed up her arguments. I loved how her insecurities were not shrouded by bravado in her narration. She was strong, but not without empathy.
I could totally get into the story. While the writing style could've been a little deeper, could've stood for a little more polish, it had a certain... je ne sais quoi. But what was important was that Clarke knew how to develop the story in a way that heightened the suspense while delving deeper into the characters. The stakes were laid out starkly, so that I understood perfectly why Ananna would quake with fear, or rise to face her attacker.
The Assassin's Curse is what I would shamelessly call "masterful." I was hooked from page one, and had such difficulty putting it down! And when I did manage to yank myself away from the page, the characters would follow me and stalk me while I went about my day. I love books that manage to do that, invade my world so thoroughly. And with the way Assassin's Curse ended, I'm on tenterhooks for the next book, which doesn't come out until June?! If it's one mark against Assassin's Curse, it's how much I fell in love with it and how much it makes me want the sequel, which I'm going to have to wait forever for!(less)
It is always a sad occasion to see a series end. Trilogies are especially the worst because you know it's coming. With a longer series, there's always something else to look forward to. Trilogies are more "get in, make them love you, break their hearts on the way out." From book one, Veronica Rossi snagged me with her electrifying world, her lovable characters, and exciting plots. Into the Still Blue was a brilliant capper to this fantastic trilogy.
One of the biggest things that sticks out to me about this trilogy is how emotionally involved I get with the story. The characters, with their wit and enthusiasm, turn me into a yelling maniac -- "What?! He did not just saying that! Is he asking to get punched in the face!?" -- whenever I pick up the book. When things get crazy for Perry and Aria, my entire college campus hears about it.
My one complaint about Into the Still Blue specifically is that there seemed to be a step down in Veronica Rossi's writing style. On multiple occasions throughout this book, I thought that a section seemed to be more like a rough cut first draft than something that had undergone death defying scrutiny. There was a lot of telling, an overview of the action, and a lack of internalization on the character's part. This created leaps in a character's thinking when they should be taking baby steps.
But Into the Still Blue was a great read, and a great capper to the Under the Never Sky trilogy. As the climax neared, I didn't realize I was on the very edge of my seat and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, until my dad told me afterwards, "I thought you were going to bite off your knuckle." Veronica Rossi has always managed to pack a ton of action into a mere four hundred page book. She starts immediately with the action, and it hardly stops until the last page.
I was so excited to get to Into the Still Blue but now that it's over, I wish I had waited a bit longer. Aria and Perry and Roar are fantastic characters with a fantastic story, and it's sad to see their stories end. I hope, one day, Veronica Rossi will revisit the world of the Still Blue, for the stories that still lurk there.(less)
I'm a big fan of Rae Carson's debut, The Girl of Fire and Thorns. When I saw this one, I immediately rushed to buy it, even though I've never bought anything on my Kindle before. This historic buy was not disappointed. Rae Carson packs a lot of plot and character development into the equivalent of 54 printed pages. This time, we see Elisa through the eyes of her sister, Alodia as they encounter a problem in a remote part of their kingdom.
I was struck by the immediate sense of character. Within the first few pages, I felt well acquainted with Alodia, and because she is so self righteous, it was with a put-upon kind of amusement that I observed her character. She had so little faith in Elisa, it was disheartening, but I liked the transformation that goes down throughout the story.
And the story was a well-rounded one at that. Well-rounded, yet leaving a taste for more. The plot was exciting and coupled with Rae Carson's eloquent writing style, the shock factor of some of the twists actually made me gasp.
A reader doesn't have to have the history of The Girl of Fire and Thorns to get a grip on this novella. For those of you who have read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, this novella provides a great insight into Alodia's character, something that isn't really offered in the full-length book. It isn't exactly a refresher course of the book, however, since it takes place when Elisa is younger and her journey hasn't really started.
An amazing story; I don't regret the three bucks I spent on it.(less)
Everything I loved about Legend, from the brilliantly dynamic characters to the exciting world, was brought back in Prodigy tenfold. In a word, Prodigy was fantastic. I slipped easily back into the world, into the roller coaster plot, and into the heads of two great main characters -- June and Day. From page one, I was captured, and by the end (with its epic twist), I was breathless.
I think my favorite part about Prodigy was a toss up between the way Marie Lu expanded on the world, and the progression of the characters. With sequels, I always worry about a rehashing of the first book. No matter how much faith I have in the author, there's always that little worry in the back of my mind that wonders how much the second book is going to be just like the first. Well, I shouldn't've worried with Marie Lu at the helm. Prodigy expanded the world of Legend brilliantly, and the characters progressed and changed instead of remaining stagnant.
With two of the five Must-Haves of a Story knocked out, it was easy to get back into the story of Day and June, and the exciting plots they seem to always cause. I loved how the stakes were clearly defined, so I understood the gravity of their situation. I never felt like saying, "Duuude, just do ____ and all your problems will be solved!" Marie Lu backed her characters into a corner nicely, so that they had to fight their way out, and they never made it out of that corner without scrapes and bruises and maybe a few broken bones. I liked how the plot challenged them and forced them to change.
Aside from character progression, I liked the characters themselves. I love how their relationship wasn't easy; how they still had to figure themselves out, as well as each other. And when they had an issue, I understood why because it was clear where they were coming from. Their struggles and squabbles made their romance so much more enjoyable.
I also really liked how the writing deftly delivered the impact of the story -- some scenes are seared into my mind. It didn't weigh down sections of the story with unnecessary information, or give anything away prematurely, so it was easy to stay involved in the character's thoughts and motivations and how they were affecting the plot. It was also really easy to see the difference between June and Day's line of thinking. Each of their narrations were unique to each character, which let me enjoy the story even more.
Prodigy was a great second installment, and a book that I would love to sit back and reread.(less)
The last Artemis Fowl book. What a thrilling end! This book marks the very first to make me, Amelia Robinson, shed a tear. Part of me always worries about what kind of hell the author will put their characters through in the series finale, and with these crazy MG authors anything is possible. In Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian, I really enjoyed the maturation of the characters set off by Eoin Colfer's signature humor. Colfer pulls out all the stops to create a fast-paced, intriguing topper to his beloved Artemis Fowl series.
As is the case of book eight of any series, there's some preconceived ideas about how awesome the book is going to be -- and if a reader is eight books into a series, we're gonna assume the series is awesome. So there isn't much to add that hasn't already been said before. It's established that the Artemis Fowl series, which has been in my life since I was ten, is justifiably the definition of awesomeness. Moving on...
This final installation was sheer genius. Colfer opens with a bold and exciting conflict -- I mean, maybe that's a bit of an understatement when the "bold" conflict was the utter destruction of the known world. The stakes were upped like never before, creating a nail-biting ride. I liked that Colfer went into this kind of territory: most books, dystopians especially, take place after the world has been destroyed and been refitted into a semblance of order. The Last Guardian takes place during the destruction. I really appreciated Colfer's imagination.
I liked how there was a definite maturation of the characters. While Artemis Fowl has always been credited for speaking and acting a decade older than he should've been, emotionally there was a step up. There was a wealth of history to draw upon and the characters had (finally) truly accepted each other. I really enjoyed the camaraderie between them -- especially when it's accented with Colfer's signature humor.
The ending...was sheer brilliance. Sheer, utter brilliance. I have never seen a full circle executed so beautifully in the very last paragraph. And the climax made me cry! Me! Cry! Maybe I wasn't sobbing like a baby, but the words did go a little blurry and I had to wipe a tear away. But, of course, what would you expect from the last book in a series?! Ironically enough, the only other book that had me on the verge of tears was The Supernaturalist also by Eoin Colfer.
As sad as I was to see this beloved series come to an end, I really enjoyed it. It was funny, exciting, satisfying... If you haven't ever read the Artemis Fowl series, I'd highly suggest you try it out. It's middle grade, but it's short, enjoyable and terribly clever and imaginative.
My only regret, to those of you who have read the whole series: Seriously? Why was Minerva never brought back in? She was brilliant! (less)
I love books that surprise me! There's always a thrill that comes along with finding a book, initially thinking that it's gonna suck beyond all belief, and then finding out that "oh my gosh, can't even say enough because it's that amazing." While it was creepy as all get out, it was incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking. While some of the time it was, "Really? That could've been better," I really enjoyed this story.
Dystopian is not my immediately favorite genre. That's not to say I don't like dystopians (the Under the Never Sky series owns my heart), but when I first cracked the cover of Poison Princess, I hesitated. Well, actually, it was more like, "Dear God, this is going to suck," but then I started reading, and started getting into it and ended up devouring it in a day or two.
At first, Evie and I didn't agree on much. In fact, I couldn't fully get into her character for most of the book, but I still winced with sympathy when something didn't go her way. A lot of sucky things happened to her, and I liked how she handled them and kept going. I admired her wit and her quick thinking so I cheered for her a lot, although she did get irritating sometimes. I really, really liked her relationship with Jackson and how it was far -- like, other side of the universe -- from easy and how it wasn't instalove. Their dramatic romance was entertaining and endearing instead of irritating and nauseous. (And really, the Cajun French interspersed in Jackson's sentences? Mm. So fine.)
The plot, and the world Cole remade, was amazing and such a great concept. I got what the problems were and what kind of obstacles Evie would have to face to fix them. I loved the intervention of the Major Arcana cards and how their mysteries weren't ones easily solved -- the way that nothing was in-your-face and obvious made my interest stay intent on the pages.
The writing style, while fitting to the story, lacked some description and details that might've made the story a lot richer had they been in. But the writing style was honed with a rusty edge, and so gave the story a unique and interesting flavor that reeked of creepiness. The story in general was creepy, but it was a brand of creepy that I could get into, even if it wasn't something I would immediately warm up to.
Poison Princess was a fabulous story of the surprising kind. I'm in raptures for the sequel!(less)
When Vessel first caught my eye some months ago, I dismissed it. What a mistake. Sarah Beth Durst captured what I love most about fantasy with her impressive command of prose, instantly likable main character, and beautifully defined world. I had a hard time tearing myself away to do normal things, like I don't know, eat and sleep and other silly things like that. I was so firmly rooted in the story that my soul wept knowing that there wasn't a sequel. Vessel was just that amazing.
Tamora Pierce called it right when she blurbed, "Unique and breathtaking..." The beauty and simplicity of the opening line caught me right away:
On the day she was to die, Liyana walked out of her family's tent to see the dawn.
Sarah Beth Durst carries the story along with a beautifully exotic, yet easy to understand writing style. It's straightforward and reminds me of Maria V. Snyder's style -- how the sentences are short, but not truncated. It complements the characters and plot well by enhancing the atmosphere rather than getting in the way.
Durst also shows a command of story. When Liyana is abandoned by her tribe, Durst is able to maintain interest even when Liyana isn't interacting with another character. I was expecting a slump, because it's typical to see a character's inner self displayed by how they react to others, but there was plenty of conflict, both internal and external. It was at that point that my interest in Vessel doubled. It only got better the deeper into the story I got. And not only story, but world. The world-building was incredible. Complex, yet easy to understand, the stakes were clearly defined and I felt, right along with the characters, the dread of what could happen if the worst occurred. I loved the extra details: the stories, the gods, the destinies. All these fun things that don't really happen outside of a fantasy novel.
Liyana was a stellar character. (In fact, all the characters were very defined, with character specific dialogue.) I loved Liyana from page one, and felt immense sympathy for her when her tribe left her -- which occurred within the first few chapters, generally too soon for me to form an attachment to a character. Also, I never grew irritated with her because it seemed that all of her actions were well-defined by a clear thought process alongside consistent and believable motivations. She was feisty and a quick thinker. Possibly one of my new favorite characters.
Out of everything that made this novel unique to me, the romance stuck out the most. When Sarah Beth Durst described, in an interview with Simon & Schuster, how the romance in her novel was very natural, I didn't quite believe her. Now, after having experienced Vessel for myself, I realize how right she was. It didn't feel superficial to me; there was no instant gratification. And overall, the romance was intensely bittersweet, but it built and progressed at a natural pace.
It's amazing to me that Durst could tie up an entire story within four hundred pages. It's strange to me to see a stand alone fantasy book, and it made me sad to let go of the story so quickly! While some of the action scenes could've been refined to show more depth and clarity, the plot progressed smoothly and built the stakes higher and higher until my fingers were clenched around the book in anticipation for the conclusion.
Vessel was an amazing story. I must have it for my shelves.(less)
When Legend first popped up on my radar, I was turned away by the amateur-style cover. I was intrigued, however, when the hype drove me to read a sample of it. I was impressed by how there was an immediate sense of character and that allowed the also-immediate conflict to take effect. Paired with Marie Lu's effortless writing style and propelled by a both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking plot, I never wanted the story to end.
Legend tells the story of two awesome main characters. June, with her Holmesian-like logic but warm heart; and Day, the guy we girls would all like to run into on the streets. I was pleased (and impressed) with how June, the government's prodigy, didn't come off as a cold-hearted anti-hero. She had a heart -- a big heart -- that wasn't impervious to breaks. The criminal Day reminded me a lot of Han from Cinda Williams Chima's Seven Realms series, only Day doesn't have silver cuffs branded to his wrists. Mentally, I connected them because they're passionate, flirty, and street smart, and they always take care of their families.
The world of Legend was magnificently displayed. Lu doesn't fall into the trap of having to explain how everything worlds. By letting the world affect (or not affect) her characters in certain ways, she lets the world build seamlessly. It's this showing and not telling that is so effective in creating the swaths of color into the world around the characters. Sometimes it has a fantasy-like feel to it, and sometimes it feels more sci-fi or dystopian, giving it a well-rounded atmosphere.
What I was most impressed with from Legend was the way Lu built the story. I understood what was at stake, I knew the risks, and I felt each obstacle resonate within the characters. It was a story that built stakes like kindling for a fire -- they pushed the characters; they didn't come at a conveniently inconvenient time. At every turn, I would mutter, "What are they going to do now?" or "How are they going to get out of that?" The plot was tightly compacted: nothing was wasted, but there are threads to be continued in other books.
So while there were predictable places, it was the moments that took me by surprise that defined my liking for Legend. With it's fantasy/sci-fi like world and lovable characters, Legend should be a book to get on your shelf. I'm glad it's on mine.(less)
Gilt came onto my radar after I attended an author panel with the lovely founders of YA Muses. Katherine Longshore herself wasn't there due to a family emergency, but Talia Vance read the first chapter of Gilt and I started thinking, "I've gotta go read this book." Even though historical fiction novels are decidedly not my thing, Gilt was a fascinating and intriguing book with a great sense of time and setting, along with a well-built cast of characters that I'm sure will appeal to historical fiction junkies.
Just based on the synopsis, one can see where the overall plot is headed before even reading the first page. I knew going in that there was going to be a downfall, but Katherine Longshore seemingly took my definition of a "downfall" and racked it up to an extreme level. She did this by giving me, the reader, an emotional tie to the main character, Kitty. Kitty and Cat's relationship was expertly done, what with the way Kitty is brow-beaten into submission by Cat and how this, and Kitty's reaction, is believable because Kitty's options are clearly understood: meaning, Kitty takes constant abuse from Cat (beyond mean words, she also lies for her) because Kitty can't afford not to please Cat. Cat's favor gave her protection.
These little motivations and understandings gave the novel a complexity and depth that I appreciated as a reader. It made the climax so much harder to bear. However, the entire novel was on the brink of depressing with how there's a constant cloud of mistrust hanging over the plot. There was no reprieve, literally no one to trust. And, paired with Katherine Longshore's visceral writing style, it greatly affected me as I read.
I had a few moments during the story where it got so depressing, I wanted to stop reading. But I wanted to finish it. Despite the seemingly easily predictable ending, Katherine Longshore had thrown in some plot twists that made me doubt how predictable the ending might really be. Also, I'd grown attached to Kitty's character and wanted to know how she'd come out of it. My attachment to Kitty's character speaks to how well Katherine Longshore has a unique talent of character building. While I couldn't agree with Kitty's actions, I could go along with them because they made sense to me. I wasn't left thinking, "Why is she doing this?!"
I loved the world that Katherine Longshore built. As I understand it, it's mostly historically accurate, but even if it wasn't, I wouldn't mind. Longshore had built a world that was layered with its heights of grandeur and lows of poverty. She showed the cracks that are not often shown, both in the world itself and at court. Longshore convinced me that I don't ever want to be accidentally transported back to 1500s England.
Gilt was a fantastic story with an even greater main character, a well-detailed world, and a heart pumping plot.(less)