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...more 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.(less)
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...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 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.(less)
Wavering between 3 and 4 stars on this one. While it was strong conclusion to the trilogy overall, the final 10% and the resolution felt very rushed a...more Wavering between 3 and 4 stars on this one. While it was strong conclusion to the trilogy overall, the final 10% and the resolution felt very rushed and, quite frankly, too easy.(less)
Quick & easy read for fans of contemporary YA romance
In Dare You To, Beth Risk lives with her drug-addicted mother under the constant threat of p...more Quick & easy read for fans of contemporary YA romance
In Dare You To, Beth Risk lives with her drug-addicted mother under the constant threat of poverty and violence. When she's sent to a rural town to live with the uncle that left years ago, Beth struggles to find a way to save her mother and get back to the few close friends who have helped her. Though local golden boy and baseball star Ryan Stone's life appears blissfully easy in comparison, there's more simmering beneath the surface of his family's perfect façade. When Beth and Ryan's lives intersect, sparks fly and each learns that the expected path in life might not always be the best one.
While DARE YOU TO was a bit formulaic, this book was a quick and easy read that will appeal to fans of Simone Elkeles, both in its style of alternating male/female points-of-view and its overall light tone, despite the serious topics involved. One notable strength of the novel was Ryan: he was a great male lead who treated Beth with respect. Though there were some moments when he acted a bit chauvinistic, these instances seemed realistic for his character and the small-town climate in which he grew up. While I always knew where Beth and Ryan's relationship was headed, it was nice to see the progression from attraction and lust to something deeper. In addition, I appreciated how the sex scene was handled; the story featured a virgin hero and did a very good job depicting how sex can be an exercise in trust, not just desire. I also enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Ryan's friends Chris, Logan, and Lacey. The interactions between these friends and their classmates depicted small-town rural/suburban life well without mocking it.
This novel didn't work for me on all levels, though. Some very serious issues were presented in the book (e.g., drug abuse, domestic violence, poverty), but they were glossed over and resolved too easily, even if somewhat sadly. Similarly, significant changes in Beth's character seemed to happen too quickly to be believable, and she felt less developed as a character than Ryan. While I liked Ryan's character, he did some things that seemed to contradict his "nice guy" persona, while also sometimes seeming too idealized to be real.
Even with these misgivings, I enjoyed reading DARE YOU TO and think it will have a wide fan base. This installment was a definite improvement over my experience with McGarry's first book (Pushing the Limits), and I look forward to reading the final book in the trilogy (Crash into You)) when it comes out.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.(less)
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...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, 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. (less)
Strong protagonist, action, and romance combine for solid read, 3.5 stars
In Rift, the prequel to Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, readers get a gli...more Strong protagonist, action, and romance combine for solid read, 3.5 stars
In Rift, the prequel to Andrea Cremer's Nightshade series, readers get a glimpse into the origins of the Keepers and the Witches War of the 15th century. The daughter of a noble, Ember Morrow must leave her family after her 16th birthday to serve the mysterious order of Conatus. Though most fear the knights, Ember readily embraces the life of battle and purpose the order provides. Once training begins, she finds not only her skills tested, but also her wit and her heart. Dark powers soon start to infiltrate the group, and Ember must decide where and with whom her allegiances lie.
Though I had a rocky relationship with Cremer's other Nightshade books, I really enjoyed Rift once I got past some slow parts in the beginning. Ember was an able and spirited protagonist with a strong sense of self. Though a bit reckless at times, she doesn't complain or expect others to rescue her. Action scenes were well-described and plentiful, and the author's prose painted beautiful images of the Scottish highlands cloaked in gray fog. The slow-building romance was another highlight with its swoon-worthy love interest who was both strong and masculine but also considerate and effusive. Even though it's a prequel, Rift can also be read on its own as the satisfying start to a new series, and the story ends in a place where a reader can look forward to the next installment without being left on a terrible cliffhanger.
As mentioned, Rift was slow to start, however, and I felt bogged down during the first 100 pages by some character interactions and historical information that wasn't always clearly explained. Ember became too adept as a knight too quickly to be believable, and the romance blossomed from little sparks to full devotion in too short of a time near the end to feel truly natural. The story line about the split within Conatus also wasn't nearly as engaging as hoped, and I found myself rushing through those sections to get back to Ember's story. Overall, the story just felt a bit light on content where there could have been more development.
While I might have found a few stumbling points, Rift is the best thing I've read by Andrea Cremer, and I'm already looking forward to the sequel (Rise). In it, I hope Cremer develops the swoony romance even more and provides greater tension to the emerging story about the split that leads to the Witches War.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy. (less)