Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of Complex, dark, and evocative tale – Gratton’s best book yet, 4.5 stars
Tessa Gratton has penned her best book yet with Book 2 of her United States of Asgard series: The Strange Maid. I stayed up late into the night, with goosebumps raised on my arms, to finish this book. The story, the writing, and the characterization are all beautiful, deep, and complex. I love a book like this that prioritizes character development over plot, but The Strange Maid still manages to combine the two well. Most of all, though, I love the risks that this book takes with characterization, theme, and source material.
Signy Valborn is a girl on the verge of Odinist glory as a Valkyrie, and she embraces the dark things she believes that should include – blood and death and violence and chaotic, passionate things stirring inside her soul. I love that Gratton was willing to create a wild, out-of-control, and fearsome female character; in doing so, she affirms that madness, desire, and a longing for revenge can be felt by all, not just males. Signy, however, is not a one-note character; she also experiences fear, doubt, and love. The other characters who flank and support Signy are also well-developed, from Soren Bearstar of the first book to Ned the truth-teller who hides behind his poetry to the gods and other Valkyries themselves. I also so appreciated the themes conveyed in the story about loss and revenge, the balance between chaos and control, choice versus destiny, and the types of relationships that matter in our lives.
In addition, Gratton skillfully plays with and updates Norse mythology to create a modern tale that pays homage to the violence, strength, and madness that was celebrated in Old English works like Beowulf. Because of this and the adept way the characters are portrayed, this book felt more mature than most other YA titles I’ve read. This is a complex and evocative tale that will be best appreciated by readers who aren’t afraid to feel uncomfortable from time to time while reading. Reading the first book in the series or having a background in Norse tales isn’t necessary to understand and appreciate the story, but it will likely help.
I have always been a fan of Gratton’s work, but my appreciation for her craft and the intentionality of her writing has been taken to a new level after my reading of The Strange Maid. I can’t wait to see what the next book in the series brings, and I will definitely be recommending this title to my friends and older students alike.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy....more
Thoughts wavering on this one. Initially after finishing a few hours ago, I was feeling very positively and felt that it was certainly a 4-star or eve Thoughts wavering on this one. Initially after finishing a few hours ago, I was feeling very positively and felt that it was certainly a 4-star or even 4.5 star read. The writing is gorgeous, the romance slow-burning, and the plot well and evenly paced. However, I still can't get past some worldbuilding flaws and character inconsistencies that are now niggling at the back of my mind....more
Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But Beautifully written fairy tale best suited for younger YA readers
As the book blurb states, Far Far Away is a tale of a boy, a girl, and a ghost. But it is also more than that: it is a beautifully written story about friendship, love, regret, and the evil that can lurk under the most benevolent of façades.
It's infrequent that I read a book and can tell how much time and planning an author put into it by the way the story unfolds, by how the details that seemed initially irrelevant are brought into play. However, this craftsmanship was readily apparent by the time I finished reading FAR FAR AWAY. Tom McNeal uses his words to describe a sleepy, small town called Never Ever where every person, place, and situation has the hint of a fairy tale embedded into it. The ghost, Jacob Grimm of the famous Grimm Brothers, was a wonderfully insightful and sympathetic narrator whose voice sounded genuine, and the other characters, all quirky in one way or another, will delight many readers. The plot points wove together in small, nuanced ways that all coalesced by the conclusion. And when the plot turned dark, it went very dark, and in doing so, the story stayed true to its roots in the original Grimms' tales.
Even with all of these strengths, I felt oddly disconnected from this story. For much of the book, I felt unsure of whom the intended audience was meant to be or how much of the town, its people, and their stories were meant to be taken seriously. The plot develops very slowly and does not pick up until nearly 70% into the text. Though I appreciated how everything came together, it felt as though it took a very long time to get there. When the pacing does change, the tone also shifts abruptly from one of small-town musings to that of a very dark and sinister variety. Most of the characters were described in broad strokes, and some were little more than caricatures. I believe this framing was intentional, as the story is a fairy tale about fairy tales, but I longed for more character depth. The two main characters, Jeremy and Ginger, also spoke and acted much younger than their purported age of fifteen.
If I were to rate this book based solely on my enjoyment of it, I would give it three stars, but McNeal's obvious mastery of his story and the language he uses to tell it make me bump it up to four stars. I would recommend this story most to those between the ages of 11 - 14 or to adult readers who want to immerse themselves in the Grimm-influenced lore. Given the right reader with a patient disposition, FAR FAR AWAY should be a treat of fairy tale proportions.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. ...more
Entertaining & creative retelling of Little Red Riding Hood hits the spot, 4.5 stars
In Scarlet, Scarlet Benoit, a young woman living in France, i Entertaining & creative retelling of Little Red Riding Hood hits the spot, 4.5 stars
In Scarlet, Scarlet Benoit, a young woman living in France, is becoming increasingly worried about her grandmother’s recent disappearance. When a rough stranger named Wolf suggests he might be able to help find her, Scarlet hesitantly trusts him to lead the way in an effort to save her grand’mere. Half a world away, Cinder is coming to terms with her new identity and trying to find a way to escape the deadly clutches of Queen Levana. Soon, Scarlet and Cinder’s paths collide as secrets are revealed and new dangers arise.
Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles is a series that has taken me by surprise. After enjoying but not loving the quirky Cinderella retelling in Cinder, I approached Scarlet with a bit of hesitation. After I started reading, though, that hesitation was quickly gone, and I devoured this novel in two days. The plot, the pacing, and the characters all drew me into the story and had me turning the pages to see what would happen next. At first, I was a bit frustrated by the flip-flopping between the tales of Cinder and Scarlet – a world apart from one another and seemingly unconnected – but Meyer seamlessly combined their stories as the novel progressed with surprising twists and plot reveals I wasn’t expecting.
Scarlet was a great character, a self-sufficient young woman who could take care of herself and who was passionate about saving her grandmother. With the signature cape replaced by a threadbare red hoodie, Scarlet was a perfect modern replacement for the original naïve Little Red. Wolf, the street fighter with a mysterious past, also had great appeal. Though I don’t normally fall for alpha-male characters, Wolf won me over with his combination of unexpected vulnerability and a damaged past. I also appreciated that the story and characters in Scarlet felt older and more mature than those in Cinder. Scarlet was college-aged, and the romance between Scarlet and Wolf was very swoony and intense without ever being inappropriate for younger readers. Familiar characters like Cinder, Iko, and Prince Kai also all return, and the introduction of the cocky but hilarious Captain Thorne added levity to a story where situations for the characters are growing increasingly tense.
Though I loved this book, it didn’t make it into five-star territory for me due to a few small complaints. The book can’t stand alone because it is part of a series; the romance, despite its swoon factor, was predictable; and the story, albeit a fun and romantic romp, didn’t have the long-term emotional impact that I want or expect from a five-star read. As an entertaining and creative futuristic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, however, this book definitely hit the spot.
With this tale of Scarlet, Wolf, and the increasing unrest between Luna and Earth, Marissa Meyer has made me a fan. I can’t wait to see what happens next in the coming books of the quartet, Cress and Winter.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. ...more
My first complete audiobook "read." Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was a humor-filled urban fantasy romp with touching moments mixed in. A great choice f My first complete audiobook "read." Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was a humor-filled urban fantasy romp with touching moments mixed in. A great choice for YA readers who like older, college-aged protagonists and also a great choice for male readers. ...more
In Insurgent, Veronica Roth’s much anticipated sequel to Divergent, the stakes are even higher. Tris and a small group have escaped after the simulation that killed countless people, but their struggles are far from over. Possible war looms between the factions, and Tris and Tobias are among those most wanted by the different sides. Tris must grapple with grief, guilt, and deception as sides are declared and choices must be made, including ones that threaten her and those she loves.
Though I enjoyed the first book, Insurgent was even better with clearer world building, stronger character development, and more intricate plots twists. Like Divergent, the story reads quickly and easily, but this installment has a much quieter, somber tone. Tris, Tobias (Four), and all of the survivors are dealing with the emotional and political fallout after the simulation, and it shows. All of the characters, including those the reader loves and those who are despised, are fleshed out more and given added layers. Tris’s struggle to move forward while burdened by grief and guilt is portrayed in a way that feels real and poignant. Though she engages in a lot of selfish or thoughtless actions in this book, all of those actions seem like honest attempts to deal with her loss, her choices, and how she should best work to honor those she loves. Tris and Tobias also continue to bring the swoon with simple words and small touches, despite having problems. Their relationship encounters major hurdles in this installment, but they are all reasonable and justified given what’s happening. The relationship they share provides a much-needed counterpoint to show that love and connection is worth fighting for and is possible even in a world that’s falling apart.
In addition to these strengths, the plot was unpredictable and gripping. The novel is full of unexpected alliances, betrayal, action, and rebellion on multiple fronts that keep the story moving. The world building also improved dramatically over that of the first book. I really enjoyed being immersed in the different factions, and the author’s description of each group allowed me to imagine them clearly. I also understand now why some information was withheld in the first book, given some of the significant plot reveals.
Even though this book was great read, I still experienced a few bumps. The story starts immediately after the end of Divergent with little to no recapping of events, so it took me a little while to remember or figure out who certain people were or what had happened previously. A few typos and continuity errors pulled me out of the story, and some betrayals/alliances/connections seemed a little too convenient to allow certain parts of the plot to move forward. The book also suffers a bit from middle-book syndrome in that it can’t stand on its own, and the ending leaves off in a dramatic place right after a big reveal.
Overall, though, Insurgent is an impressive sequel that leaves me eager to see where the author will take the story next. Given what’s revealed at the end of this novel, I can’t imagine how Veronica Roth could wrap up the series with only one more book, but it’s no matter to me, as I plan to keep reading whatever she offers....more
3.5 stars: Some parts shine, some disappoint in bittersweet ending to trilogy
In Maggie Stiefvater’s Forever, the final book in the Wolves of Mercy Fal 3.5 stars: Some parts shine, some disappoint in bittersweet ending to trilogy
In Maggie Stiefvater’s Forever, the final book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy, Sam is waiting for Grace to become human again as winter melts into spring. Cole is taking huge risks to try and find a cure, and Isabel continues to struggle with her brother’s death. The stakes are raised when a hunt to kill the wolves is approved, and Sam, Cole, and Isabel must race against time to save Grace and the pack. With no easy solutions in sight, nothing is certain regarding who will live and love into another season.
Like always, Stiefvater’s lyrical prose impressed me with its ability to create distinct imagery and to evoke emotion. Isabel and Cole shined as characters that grow, both by themselves and together, and I found their shared moments to be the most touching. All of the characters, even those whom we’re supposed to love, are shown to have significant flaws, and the story deals openly with the issue of what is forgivable and what is not. Strong themes about selfish versus selfless behavior, self-destruction and suicide, the value and worth of love, and the importance of consent and choice also ran throughout. I appreciated seeing these themes woven into the story, and I appreciated even more seeing Stiefvater note some of them in the dedication, author's note, and acknowledgments. The novel also finished with a somewhat open ending that allows readers to imagine an uncertain but hopeful future for the characters, which I found more believable than a pat ending.
Even with all of these strong points, FOREVER didn’t provide the satisfying conclusion for which I had hoped. Like in Linger, the voices of the different narrators were often not distinct, and I sometimes found myself checking the chapter headings to identify the speaker. The prose in this installment also felt too intentional: I often felt like passages were written for the mere beauty of the words, not because they represented a character’s voice well. While I loved Isabel and Cole, they outshined Sam and Grace in this book, much to the detriment of the two main characters. Despite the hardships their relationship undergoes, the cautious nature in which Sam and Grace treated each other felt artificially strained. Because of this, I never reconnected to their love story. Some parts of the resolution also felt too convenient, and the werewolf pathology remained unclear. Finally, while I did appreciate aspects of the open ending, some things felt just as unresolved as they were at the end of the two previous books.
After falling in love with the author’s writing in her faerie novels (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie), the Shiver books unfortunately never grabbed me in the same way. Despite this lack of connection with the series, I continue to be very impressed with Stiefvater’s writing and her ability to connect readers to the emotions of her characters. I’m looking forward eagerly to her upcoming stand-alone novel, The Scorpio Races, to see if I can find that connection to her writing again....more
In LINGER, Maggie Stiefvater takes the reader back to Mercy Falls and the world of Sam and Grace. A fewEmotions and writing linger, but plot does not
In LINGER, Maggie Stiefvater takes the reader back to Mercy Falls and the world of Sam and Grace. A few months into his cure, Sam is starting to embrace his new humanity, albeit skeptically, while Grace seems less and less comfortable in her own skin. Isabel continues to wrestle with the aftermath of her brother’s death, and new pack member Cole surfaces as a cocky and potentially dangerous disruption. As all four grapple with their own doubts and inner demons, they are left to uncover whether love (of oneself, of each other, of humanity) will be enough to allow them to survive.
Compared to SHIVER, this book sat better with me due to its writing, character development, and the absence of any off-putting overtones to the animal-human relationships. As always, Stiefvater draws in the reader with lyrical writing, burning imagery, and an amazing ability to evoke emotion. Due to her talents, there are scenes in this book, namely one with Cole and a deer, that won’t soon leave me. Character development also remains as another one of her strengths; Stiefvater’s ability to show the damage within each character in this novel was superb. As new leads, Cole and Isabel stood out in their exploration of their broken selves and how they related to one another through this filter. The writer’s ability to transport me back to the rawness and immediacy of one’s emotions as a teenager was also remarkable. In addition, this installment expands and complicates the mythology regarding the wolves, their curse, and their cure.
Despite these many strengths, LINGER let me down in some ways, just like SHIVER. Told in first-person, the chapters alternated between four different voices. Though I enjoyed the addition of Isabel and Cole as narrators, each character’s voice was not always distinct, and the frequent switching of voice mid-chapter often felt abrupt. Pacing slowed and dragged in the middle third. The book’s ending was predictable and heavily foreshadowed, even if the path to get there was a mystery. Also, unlike the conclusion of SHIVER, which felt distinct and finished, this book closed with the most cliffhanger-like ending I have encountered from Stiefvater. While things changed for the characters emotionally, the plot didn’t move forward a great deal.
Even with these concerns, I’ll continue to look forward to reading anything Stiefvater writes. I hope that the final installment in the trilogy, FOREVER, provides a satisfying conclusion to the series and a little bit of healing for everyone involved, even if not in expected ways. If you’re looking for something with the same beautiful writing but more action, I highly recommend Stiefvater’s faery books, LAMENT and BALLAD....more
After reading Maggie Stiefvater's first novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, a few months ago and loving it (asIntriguing follow-up to Lament
After reading Maggie Stiefvater's first novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, a few months ago and loving it (as my previous review on it can attest), I waited impatiently for Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie to come out. I dove into it this past weekend, and though I enjoyed it a great deal, it didn't bind me like Lament did.
Ballad picks up a few months after Dee and James barely survive their first harrowing experiences with the world of Faerie. Dee has left home to attend the prestigious music boarding school, Thornking-Ash, and best friend James, who's in love with her, follows. Ballad tells its story through the alternating points of view of James and a dangerous faerie muse called Nuala, who has chosen James as her next conquest. As the best bagpiper in all of Virginia, James finds himself with little to gain at the new school, other than the opportunity to be near Dee, who has entered onto a path of self-destruction.
Ballad is a portrait of James coming to terms with his unique talents, his unrequited love and concern for Dee, his perceived isolation from others, and his growing temptations towards Nuala on multiple fronts. James is a well-drawn character, with quirks, snark, and witticisms that fully embody him. As the book progresses, you become more and more concerned for him and what compromises he may make, even at the risk of his life or soul, to stand out and feel worthy. His narrative counterpart, Nuala, also comes into focus as the story develops, and even though she starts out as a nemesis, the reader learns her weaknesses and becomes sympathetic towards her too. This book differs from Lament's fast pace and immediate draw; instead, the development of James and Nuala as characters, as well as James' mentor and friends, grows at a steady but sure pace.
Like Stiefvater's other novels, this book is very well-written, with smart characters and quick dialogue. The book differs from Lament, though, as it's more of a character study interspersed with events that show us the depths of struggle that James experiences. It's also darker in its descriptions of faeries and the thoughts of the main characters. Though I love sarcasm and wit, James' continual barrage of comments can make one weary at times and I found it unbelievable that any teachers (even the intriguing Mr. Sullivan) would put up with it for very long. There are some weaknesses to the plot, in that the climax doesn't seem too climactic and some of the characters don't show the strong emotional reactions one would expect given what they've experiencing. There are also some plot points that weren't terribly clear, but they didn't detract too much from the reading overall; I hope these will be cleared up or expanded in the books to come in this series.
Overall, a good read but with room for more in what I hope will be multiple coming novels set in this universe. Though this can be read as a standalone novel, I would recommend reading Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception first to get the backstory on James and Dee, their relationship, and what happened during the past summer. Knowing their history will provide more understanding and empathy with their characters. ...more
Riveting debut w/romance, suspense, and lyrical prose
Maggie Stiefvater's debut novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, tells the story of DeirdreRiveting debut w/romance, suspense, and lyrical prose
Maggie Stiefvater's debut novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, tells the story of Deirdre, a talented but introverted young woman, and Luke, the soulless faerie assassin that's been assigned to kill her. The reader also gets to meet Deirdre's loyal best friend, James, and the world of faerie.
Very rarely do I connect so much with a book, its writing (which was superb and richly detailed), and its characters, as I did with Lament. As an adult reader, I found Lament and its characters thoroughly believable, likeable, and flawed in realistic ways. Her writing doesn't condescend to either teens or adults and provides depth, strength, and development to its characters. There were parts in the book where I actually felt a physical ache in my chest for the characters and the situations they experience.
Steifvater's style is lyrical and smooth, and it moves the book along easily. There were absolutely no slow parts. The writing is so rich and descriptive (without being overly flowery or purple) that I could easily imagine all of the scenes and related emotions with ease. This is an author who shows you what she wants you to imagine and see, instead of simply telling you. Her characters, while not overly developed, are very human and relatable. The romance between the two main characters is palpable and pulls at your heart. While there are some predictable elements to the plot, these pale in comparison to the inventive world of nefarious and mischievous faeries she's created alongside the human, modern world. The protagonist, Deirdre, also holds her own as a female lead, which is something sorely lacking in many current YA novels.
After finishing Lament on Friday evening, I happily traipsed down to our local, independent bookstore the next day to buy my own copy (I originally got it from the library) and to purchase Shiver, Stiefvater's new novel. After reading that, I'll be looking forward eagerly to the release of Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, Lament's sequel, in October.
In sum, I consider this the thinking person's Twilight - much more well-written with better characters and no dull points! Cheers to that. ...more