It took me over ten tries to get this right: NIGHTSPELL is indescribable. It’s indescribably amazing. It’s indescribably fantastical. In a word, it’s...moreIt took me over ten tries to get this right: NIGHTSPELL is indescribable. It’s indescribably amazing. It’s indescribably fantastical. In a word, it’s brilliant. (And, yes, paradoxical.) Leah Cypess is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA fantasy writers, and in NIGHTSPELL, it’s clearly evident why.
My top reason to love: Leah Cypess is a master at world-building and plot-weaving. NIGHTSPELL doesn’t just throw out some Ghostland facts and leave you attempting to connect-the-dots. Rather, it gradually and seamlessly laces them together to form a rich history and haunting setting. Nothing in NIGHTSPELL is simply “a crack,” it’s “a hairline crack [that] spread along the length of a black-speckled gray coil” (315, ARC).
Likewise, the plot is fully fleshed out and filled with just as many twists-and-turns as its companion novel, MISTWOOD. For those that have read MISTWOOD, Rokan’s sister Clarisse steals the spotlight in NIGHTSPELL. She’s the same Oscars-worthy actress and cunning enigma that I knew and loved (though her previous history isn’t vital to the plot). She’s so incredibly self-serving, but man, do I like it that way. Clarisse is the one who makes so much of the plot unpredictable and exciting, and when everything does finally click together, it’s definitely a historical “WOW” moment.
However, what failed to impress me were the characters: solid, but not great. NIGHTSPELL switches between Darri, Varis, and Callie’s point of views, which was... fine. I didn’t really gain any spectacular insight about Varis or Callie, whose perspectives really just worked to further the plot. They lacked that extra ounce of unique personality, which, actually, could be said of all the characters, from primary to secondary ones. They each seemed driven by one self-defining purpose, and past that, it was a fuzzy fog. I had some quick glimpses and possible ideas, but never felt like I saw the raw essence of personality. That being said, the characters all had genuine struggles and authentic voices, and it was enjoyable learning more about them.
In the end, does it matter that I wouldn't cry buckets if a character died? Not at all. NIGHTSPELL is a book that revolves around its stunning, mystical world and constant intrigue, and after adding some more action, what could be a better recipe for a fantasy-lover? :)
CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR is exactly what the title promises: fun, original, and deliciously twisted. So twisted, in fact, that I really hesitate to call it a fairytale retelling. It’s much more like a new fairytale reimagining, unless in the traditional fairytale, I somehow missed the part where Cinderella leaps across shifting blocks in her ball gown and glass slippers. Oh, and the page where she walks calmly across broken glass? Right.
When thinking of this book, I’m in serious danger of only reviewing it with one word: fun. CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR defines light fun. New crazy-but-awesome ideas are constantly being introduced, and while there isn’t much depth, the scope is truly impressive (ninjas and magic?). The balance between background and action was perfect, dull moments be banished.
In terms of characters, I applaud the fact that Cinderella actually has character. As much of a closet Disney fan as I am, let’s face it: Disney princesses are not known for their unwavering courage and kickass-bility. So it’s refreshing to see Cinderella not only adept at physical defense, but also independent and freed from the whole “love at first sight, prince sweeps me away,” one-chance-only deal. I give major points to her for refusing the swoon at the prince’s feet.
Having already talked about content, I can’t neglect to mention the “choose-your-story” aspect that makes CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR so unique, and so reminiscent of when I was six and believed myself to be the queen of choosing my own endings. The novelty of the furious page-flipping definitely adds to the fun factor, and though it gives an idea of just how short the story is (divides page number by two), the light-hearted magic likely would wear away over the course of another hundred pages. My only grumble is that sometimes I would say “no wand,” for instance, and she’d get one anyways... which doesn’t quite give the same heady feeling of power, but it’ll do.
Overall, CINDERELLA: NINJA WARRIOR is a book that flows easily in both writing and plot, and is like literary whipped cream for fairytale fans of all ages. (less)
Brief review, but I wanted to love this one, I really did. I just couldn't get into it. The beginning is like "WOAH, what?!" and constantly plagued my...moreBrief review, but I wanted to love this one, I really did. I just couldn't get into it. The beginning is like "WOAH, what?!" and constantly plagued my mind as the rest of the story, a flashback, unfolded. I loved the setting, but the rest of the book didn't quite live up to the intense start. Take a bunch of giddy teenage girls and a seer named Amelia that can't say no, and you quite literally have the have the first half of the book. There are some shocking instances, but it certainly takes a while to get over the novelty of Amelia's fortune-telling -- what felt like a very, very long while. Where was the action the beginning promised?! I did really like the supernatural aspects, which were nicely melded into the story, and it's definitely a book that was redeemed by the jarring end. I'm still sad that I didn't enjoy this one as much as I had hoped, but perhaps I just wasn't expecting the right thing, certainly not the naviety of teenage Baltimore society.
Romance: ... Attractive love interestest and all, but I've finished the book and still ask WHO exactly is he? (less)
The four words Shadows on the Moon evoke extremely mixed feelings. It's simultaneously stunning yet slightly annoying. Completely and...moreRating: 3.5 stars
The four words Shadows on the Moon evoke extremely mixed feelings. It's simultaneously stunning yet slightly annoying. Completely and absolutely amazing yet occasionally long and dragging. I can't stress enough how much I loved, loved, loved certain aspects of Shadows on the Moon, but I can dwell all too well on the parts I did not. [...]
Liked: Feudal Japan setting, complete Cinderella revamp, Otieno, solid lessons on self-acceptance and greed, idea of shadow weavers
Disliked: Suzunne's character, occasionally the length (though it's because my annoyance with Suzunne made the story drag), rushed ending
Bottom Line: Despite the mediocre rating I give Shadows on the Moon in terms of overall enjoyment (who knows, you may like Suzunne more than I did), I still highly recommend it to lovers of fairytale retellings and Japanese culture. Yes, I have my misgivings about it, but Shadows on the Moon is truly a masterful blend of East and West, of beauty and tragedy that is completely unparalleled by any fairytale retelling I've read before.
Wither is a captivating tale that finds beauty in loss and hope in despair. Despite my few misgivings, its unique plot and fluid prose guarantees With...moreWither is a captivating tale that finds beauty in loss and hope in despair. Despite my few misgivings, its unique plot and fluid prose guarantees Wither a top spot on my dystopian shelf for this year.
What ranks Wither so highly is Lauren DeStefano’s writing, which somehow manages to be extremely lyrical yet simplistic. I loved her poetic descriptions, small details that quietly held up Wither’s characters, setting, and the twisted world in general. Taking a scene between Rhine and a shall-not-be-named someone:
"He weaves his fingers through mine, and I allow it, feel the clammy warmth of his palm against mine. Flush. Alive. Eventually I realize that I am holding on to him just as tightly as he holds on to me. And here we are: two small dying things, as the world ends around us like falling autumn leaves." -pg. 147 (ARC)
As reflected in this quote, Wither may be depressing at times, but it balances the hopelessness with small, scattered rays of light – particularly Cecily, Jenna, and Rhine, the three wife-sisters’ relationship. I admire DeStefano’s ability to develop such a genuine, close-knit sisterhood as she merges three distinctive personalities and differing views on life; Cecily is the forever-optimist who embraces her new life, Jenna is the polar opposite, and Rhine is somewhere caught in the middle. I could relate to each one of them to varying extents, which is especially impressive considering that they’re trapped not only in marriage, but in an unfathomable polygamous one.
Another abnormality, the twenty or twenty-five year lifespan in Wither brings up intriguing ethical questions, though I would have liked to see this concept of what humans would do with an extremely limited amount of time. Maybe I have a pessimistic view of humanity, but I definitely expected more aggression and partying and less of the refined detachment.
Rhine’s character triggered some questions as well, my main question being: where does Rhine find her strength and motivation? Her motivation seems to stem from romantic love and desire for freedom, both of which I found to be too unsubstantiated. And as much as I respect Rhine’s persistence and perseverance, a number of her actions I found more impulsive and self-indulgent rather than brave, a likely result from my skepticism. I also never fully believed in the “evil” of the villain, who was disquieting with his refinement in contrast to one disturbing scene but whose persona seemed to be more speculation and abstract threats than proof. Overall, the characters were reasonably well-developed and enjoyable, though many could have benefited from a little additional molding.
Bottom Line: In Wither, we’re given a tantalizing peek into a world of glittering falsehoods and stimulating paradoxes, complete with tentative romance and a sketchy villain. I recommend dystopian readers try this solid debut, though Wither has many aspects that I feel are either very subjective or very controversial, resulting in greatly varied readers’ responses. Personally, I am not very enthusiastic about where and whom Wither ended with, so I may or may not continue The Chemical Garden trilogy, depending on where the series goes. However, I will definitely be looking out for more of Lauren DeStefano’s beautiful prose in the future, and the creativity involved in Wither is a mark of her potential to be a stand-out author. (less)
Anastasia's Secret is a beautiful, historic tale of a young girl growing up and dealing with love and loss. The only difference is that, in this case,...moreAnastasia's Secret is a beautiful, historic tale of a young girl growing up and dealing with love and loss. The only difference is that, in this case, the young girl is the Grand Duchess of the Soviet Union, who's increasingly exiled as the rebels take over the Soviet Union. But despite Anastasia's lofty position, Susanne Dunlap makes her feel like any other girl: lonely, confused, a little lost, insecure, and yearning for love and family.
As revealed in her earlier guest post, Susanne Dunlap definitely did her research, and it shows in the vivid backdrop of Anastasia's Secret. I can't guarantee that all depictions are accurate, but they seem true to the time and quickly reeled me into the rapidly changing political climate of the early 20th century Soviet Union. My complaint is that I felt many of the characters were defined by how Anastasia perceived them rather than by their actions, though they're interesting add-ons that walk on-and-off the stage as Anastasia holds the spotlight.
Anastasia herself immediately caught me as well with her blunt, straight-forward voice coupled with all the innocence of a sheltered princess. Anastasia's the oddball of her talented siblings - don't we all feel that way? - and struggles to find her purpose and identity, endearing herself to me like a close friend. I admire Susanne Dunlap's interpretation of Anastasia as vulnerable but willing to be strong for her family, but though I applauded her open-minded and curious approach to topics, I was often annoyed by her continued naivety and lack of action. Despite Anastasia's development from a small girl to a young woman, I didn't see much change in her passive, idealist approach to her circumstances, always relying on others to find a solution for her. So please pass me a small hammer so I may knock the sharp nail of reality into her head.
The solider whom Anastasia counts upon most is Sasha, a supposedly handsome soldier approximately ten years her senior. However, in times of war, what matters most is the emotional connection they experience, and their age difference sort of fell by the wayside. Their romance is exactly what Sasha and Anastasia need through their hardships, though I got a sense that a portion of their relationship was derived from desperation rather than affection; Sasha needs a warm, comforting body while Anastasia needs someone to actually tell her everything will be okay. As for Sasha, I still feel like I barely know him. Yes, he's always there and provides the side of reality and logic that Anastasia lacks, but who exactly is he? I'm not sure. But overall, the romance was an intriguing aspect that held my attention throughout the book and, surprisingly, probably accounts for about one-third of Anastasia's Secret.
At times, the romance and relocating became repetitive and monotonous, but the differing occurrences and descriptions kept me from skipping other sections or putting the book down. Anastasia's Secret progresses at a moderate pace, and I'm happy with the epiphany Anastasia experiences at the end, though the wrap-up felt rushed considering the long journey there.
Bottom Line: Anastasia's Secret is a rich, relatable story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov that fascinates me as an avid historical YA novel reader. The book itself was solid, though I more enjoyed Susanne Dunlap's take on the journey from a young princess who still has everything she could ever want to an older, more mature young woman that can now fully understand the deep connections of family and love. Susanne Dunlap definitely knows how to write historical fiction, and I give her kudos for somehow being able to pull so much from a tragic princess's exile.(less)
A Match Made in High School has the nerds, the jocks, the cheerleaders, and that slightly overweight guy friend, aka all the cliches...moreRating: 3.5 stars
A Match Made in High School has the nerds, the jocks, the cheerleaders, and that slightly overweight guy friend, aka all the cliches - in a funny and endearing way. The story is light, fluffy, and entertaining, and I was surprised by how clear the messages come across from author to reader.
The primary reason I wanted to read A Match Made in Heaven was the plot. I knew I had to somehow get a copy into my hands the moment I read the premise because it was just. so. cute. *runs around like the brainless chicken I am* I'm a high school student myself, and it definitely got me thinking about what it would be like if my school adapted a marriage course, a class known in the book as "Trying the Knot." The possibilities are endless, and A Match Made in Heaven did not disappoint. The system mimics a "marriage" by assigning varying income factors, necessitating a job, randomly throwing out obstacles such as pregnancies, and more. Most importantly, of course, there's the marriage partner. Does it sound intriguing? Yes. Does it sound like trouble? Definitely. I loved going on the high school highway with Fiona as she tried to navigate the marriage course and the rocky road of her romance. Then sprinkle in a little bit of your brooding crush being paired up with your partner's cheerleader girlfriend? I sense some major "fun" in the horizon.