Riveting debut w/romance, suspense, and lyrical prose
Maggie Stiefvater's debut novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, tells the story of Deirdre...moreRiveting 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. (less)
After reading Maggie Stiefvater's first novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, a few months ago and loving it (as...moreIntriguing 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. (less)
Interesting twist on werewolf love w/room for improvement, 3.5 stars
After reading Maggie Stiefvater's debut novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Decepti...moreInteresting twist on werewolf love w/room for improvement, 3.5 stars
After reading Maggie Stiefvater's debut novel, Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Shiver. Sadly, it didn't grab me in the same way.
Shiver tells the story of Grace, a high-achieving but quiet high school junior, who is engrossed by the pack of wolves that roams outside her Minnesota home each winter. She has a special connection with the wolf with yellow eyes, as this wolf saved her from the pack's attack when she was eleven. We quickly learn that the wolves are actually shape-shifting humans that turn into wolves each fall and winter and then become humans again in the warmer months; as time passes and the cycle repeats, each person gets less and less time as a human until he/she ceases to change back anymore. The yellow-eyed wolf is Sam, an eighteen year old boy who has cared for Grace since he saved her six years prior. Due to some unfortunate events, Sam changes back into a human during cold weather, but he is finally able to meet and be with Grace in his human form. Sam and Grace must fight against the increasingly cold weather and other forces to keep him human and prevent what may be his last change into a permanent wolf.
I liked the author's variation on the werewolf fable, even though there were a few times that the temperature/season argument didn't work. The romance between Sam and Grace is believable in its human form, albeit sometimes boring, as they do regular things that grow a relationship, like watch TV together, go to the book shop and candy store, steal kisses, etc. Their love was sweet and sometimes sexy, with all the trappings of a first real relationship. However, the relationship seemed inauthentic in how easily they got along, with little conflict other than trying to keep Sam warm so he didn't morph back into a wolf. Even though they claimed to have been in love for the six years since the wolf version of Sam saved Grace, it was questionable and a little bit creepy to have that love translated automatically and without hesitation into a human form.
This book is told from both protagonists' POV, as indicated by a name at the top of each chapter. However, the two voices of the characters weren't distinct enough, and I found myself sometimes checking the top of the page to see who was speaking. Sam's voice was also a bit too overdeveloped and wordy to be believable for a boy of eighteen who's spent much of his life as a wolf. Each chapter also shows the current temperature. Other reviewers didn't like the temp being shown, but I thought it provided a heightened sense of urgency regarding the risk to Sam and his impending change that the book would have lacked otherwise. Compared to other YA authors, Stiefvater has a wonderfully lyrical and well-written style of prose, full of description and imagery. However, it went overboard at times as each description was flowery and dramatic. There were also some gaping plot holes in that Grace has completely absent parents, who never noticed that a boy was sleeping in their daughter's room for weeks; the whole "cure" was implausible in how the characters came about obtaining it; and the maturity, sensitivity, and emotional development of Sam seemed unlikely given his past.
Despite these qualms, it was a nice, enjoyable read overall, even if it didn't impress me like Lament did. I look forward to more from Stiefvater in the future, though, and I hope that some of the weaknesses in this book will be resolved in the next two in the trilogy, Linger and Forever. (less)
Nancy Werlin's first foray into fantasy, IMPOSSIBLE, is designed around an imaginative premise: the wome...moreImaginative premise w/room for more, 3.5 stars
Nancy Werlin's first foray into fantasy, IMPOSSIBLE, is designed around an imaginative premise: the women of the Scarborough family have been cursed to become pregnant and go mad by age 18 if they do not complete three seemingly impossible tasks before the birth of their child. Seventeen-year-old Lucy discovers she is part of this family curse and must race to save herself and her unborn daughter from repeating this cycle. Unlike the women before her, Lucy has the support of her foster parents and her friend, Zach, and some guidance from her mother's diary and song. Will Lucy will be able to complete the tasks in time, or will she fail like her foremothers before her?
I was very excited to pick up this book. The premise was original, based in song, and filled with complexities that could be expanded into wonderful plot lines. IMPOSSIBLE was a good read with mature themes, but it didn't capture me like I hoped it would.
Mature themes appear in the book, including rape, teen pregnancy, (perceived) mental illness, foster parenting, teen marriage, and the meaning of real love as shown through sacrifice. I appreciated that these themes were explored and presented as real and pertinent to young adults. Even though Lucy and Zach find themselves in an unusual situation, their love is never downplayed or made to seem less genuine because they are young. Their characters demonstrate palpable (if not completely believable) maturity and awareness about their situation. It was also nice to see parents in a YA novel who are supportive and present. The conversations that Lucy had with her friends about rape and sex were real and raw in their honesty.
On the down side, the heavy themes did slow things and make the text and dialogue feel cumbersome and stilted at times. The recovery from rape, both physically and emotionally, seemed too easy for the character affected. Also, while the premise of the book was completely inventive, the fantasy elements were underdeveloped. Lucy's family and friend Zach were too quick to believe in the curse. Other than deciphering the riddle of the song and feeling threat early on from the villain, there wasn't a feeling of danger and the need to rush to action that I would have expected. For a fantasy book, I would have liked more focus on the fantastical elements and more overt conflict at the climax. Things cleaned up much too nicely at the end.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but felt it could have been improved by more emphasis on the fantasy elements and a greater sense of urgency/threat. The serious and considerate nature with which the mature themes were handled was refreshing, and I think this is a good read for all teens, many of whom face similar issues every day (though thankfully not due to the actions of an elfin knight).(less)
Great way to sample YA paranormal authors, 3.5 stars
LOVE IS HELL is a neat little anthology composed of five paranormal romances from five popular yo...moreGreat way to sample YA paranormal authors, 3.5 stars
LOVE IS HELL is a neat little anthology composed of five paranormal romances from five popular young adult authors: Melissa Marr, Scott Westerfield, Justine Larbalestier, Gabrielle Zevin, and Laurie Faria Stolarz. The stories include a tension-filled romance about a ghost with unfinished business, a futuristic perfect world where hormones and sleep are turned off, and a seal faery's struggle with the two tugs on his heart, the sea and his mortal love. (Plus two more tales.)
Reading this anthology was a great way to sample each author's work, and I enjoyed four of the five stories. Each tale had a distinct beginning, middle and end, even though they were short. I was most impressed with Marr's "Love Struck" and Larbalestier's "Thinner Than Water." Both of these stories featured faeries and strong female protagonists. I could have easily enjoyed a novel-length story about each setting and the characters that were created.
Westerfield's futuristic tale about a world where sleep isn't needed and the ups and downs of teenage hormones are suppressed was interesting with likeable characters. With a short story, though, there wasn't as much time as I would have liked to become comfortable with the brave new world he created for his characters. Stolarz's tale about a romance between girl and ghost was nice but predictable. Zevin's tale about the blur between fantasy and reality was the one story that I did not enjoy. The author tried to make what seemed like an obvious point about the potentially dangerous blur between the two, but I didn't feel that the story was well-executed.
Overall, this book was a great way to check out new authors and a nice way to finish each evening with a complete story each night before bed!(less)
In Kelley Armstrong's young adult debut, The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1), we meet Chloe Saunders. On the day she gets her first p...moreGreat YA debut
In Kelley Armstrong's young adult debut, The Summoning (Darkest Powers, Book 1), we meet Chloe Saunders. On the day she gets her first period, late at age 15, she starts seeing ghosts again for the first time since childhood. After an encounter with a ghostly janitor, Chloe is sent off to receive treatment at a teen group home. However, Lyle House isn't what it first seems, and she finds herself surrounded by other teens with supernatural powers that all have been labeled as mental disorders. Soon, readers are sucked into Chloe's world where spirits are raised, friends and enemies are made, and conspiracy runs deep.
I really enjoyed this book. Armstrong's writing was strong for a YA novel, and I liked the backstory she built for her characters, especially Chloe and Derek. Chloe is smart and sure of herself, even when boys are around; it was refreshing to see such a strong female character. When romantic or sexual tension appears, it's done well with a light touch. There's a lot of mystery and suspense, especially at the end, and I'm looking forward to what happens to the characters in the next book.
On the down side, the writing was a bit slow during the middle and the ending was unsatisfying. I knew the book was part of a series before starting, but the ending literally leaves the reader in the middle of a conversation. The cliffhanger did pique my interest for the next book, but it left me also feeling very frustrated at the author for creating such an unfinished ending.
If you're looking for romance, be forewarned that this book focuses more on character development and action. The story is really about Chloe, her friends, and the trials they must go through as teens with supernatural powers. You can sense there will be more romance in the books to come, though. I'm really looking forward to delving into the sequels, The Awakening (Darkest Powers, Book 2) and The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3). (less)
In LINGER, Maggie Stiefvater takes the reader back to Mercy Falls and the world of Sam and Grace. A few...moreEmotions 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.(less)
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...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 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.(less)
Note: Since I posted my review of Insurgent almost a month ago, I figured it well past time to finally finish my review of Divergent. So here ya go, w...moreNote: Since I posted my review of Insurgent almost a month ago, I figured it well past time to finally finish my review of Divergent. So here ya go, world!
Highly readable addition to the dystopian genre
In Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent, Beatrice lives in a futuristic Chicago where society has been divided into factions. Each faction has a singular virtue, and at the age of sixteen, everyone must choose the one to which they will belong for the rest of their lives. After Beatrice makes a choice that shocks even herself, she is thrust into a world of competition and violence. Renaming herself Tris, she struggles through the physical and psychological challenges that come, all the while hiding a part of herself. As she becomes closer to her trainer, Four, and learns about growing unrest between the factions, Tris must decide how to survive, whom to trust, and how to be true to all the parts of herself.
Divergent is a highly readable addition to the growing dystopian genre. With compelling action scenes, quick pacing, and clear writing, I was pulled quickly into this book. Tris is a strong, able protagonist who grapples with real issues, and the story doesn't shy away from showing her as less likable or selfish at times. All of the characters are flawed in their own ways, and this made them more believable. One of the most likeable characters is Four, Tris's trainer and love interest, and the story does a wonderful job of portraying tenderness and concern between strong individuals, instead of the over-the-top mushy stuff often seen in other novels. Another strength of the book lies in its examination of larger issues, including how and why to choose your own path in life, whether all virtues are worth cultivating and to what extent, and how religion plays a role in the type of lives people choose to lead.
Even with these strong points, Divergent wasn't a perfect fit. Tris's character sometimes seemed inconsistent, and she often excelled at new skills too easily to be believable. Unclear world building also pulled me out of the story a few times and left me wondering how society had evolved to the described point. A few noticeable plot holes also jumped out regarding what the leaders did and did not notice about Tris's different abilities. The dramatic ending pulled at the heart, but it mostly felt like a way to clear up some complications and set up specific plot points for future novels. It's obvious that the plot will span the coming books, but the main conflict was revealed too late and made the ending seem rushed and disconnected from the first 400 pages of the book.
If I had judged Divergent on plotting and world building alone, I would have rated it as three stars. However, the tale's ability to sweep me up into the action, drama, and romance made it a quick read that I'll definitely recommend to others, thereby bumping it up a notch. I'm really looking forward to see what Roth does in her coming books, including Insurgent, where I hope she'll expand her world building, close up a few plot misses, and keep the swoon coming.(less)
Beautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place wher...moreBeautiful and evocative writing creates satisfying tale
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races takes readers to the small island of Thisby, a place where nothing is earned easily, whether it be money or respect. Sean Kendrick has found that out himself, scraping by as a stable worker. He’s no ordinary stable hand, however, since he is the only one able to truly control the fearsome capaill uisce, the carnivorous water horses that emerge from the sea. Each year, Sean races his beloved water horse, Corr, in the potentially deadly Scorpio Races. Despite the odds in his favor, there’s much more at stake in this year’s race. Puck Connolly, on the other hand, never meant to go near the Scorpio Races, but her own hard luck has changed that. As the two navigate the difficult paths given to them, they must decide which risks are worth taking.
THE SCORPIO RACES stands out as Stiefvater’s most well-written book to date. Her writing remains beautiful and evocative, and it does so this time without ever feeling overdone. She constructs a palpable sense of mood and place using her words, and the characters have authentic personalities and motivations based on what’s shared about their pasts. Certain emotional and haunting scenes have stayed with me long after I finished, and I got goosebumps while reading more times than I could count. As a standalone novel, the story was satisfying and complete in itself, and the aching closing scene had me thinking about it for days. Other strong points of the novel included its unique water horse mythology (which was explained well without too much telling) and the focus on the strengths of Sean and Puck and the meaningful relationship each had with his or her horse. When a romance did surface, it was reflective of the characters involved and based on mutual respect and admiration.
Despite these strengths, I wasn’t able to give the book five stars due to a few weak points. The story was very slow in the beginning and didn’t pick up until about page 160. Told in alternating first-person perspectives, the voices also felt too similar at times. Though this is the best book overall that I’ve read from Stiefvater, I didn’t get caught up in the characters and their emotions like I did in her faerie books (Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception and Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie). I expect that this story will appeal to a smaller audience than her Shiver novels due to its focus on the human-horse relationships and its slow pacing and quiet romance.
Even with these few small qualms, I greatly enjoyed THE SCORPIO RACES because of its gorgeous writing, tangible sense of place, and strong, resilient characters. After reading this, I can’t wait to see what Stiefvater’s two forthcoming standalone novels will bring. It feels like her work will continue to get better and better.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy. (less)
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a tale of two teenagers and their race to find and save the sun god, Baldur the Beautiful. Soren Bearskin has always feared the fire in his chest, the berserking, that might lead to a murderous rampage like that of his father. Conversely, Astrid Glyn, a young prophetess, lives in the shadow of her mother’s great seething and seeks to embrace it. When fate throws them together and the country erupts in chaos after Baldur goes missing, the two strike out on a cross-country trek to find the missing god and return him to his rightful place.
The Lost Sun is a solid and engaging start to Gratton’s new series, and its strength lies in the writing and the depth of emotion and conflict depicted in the characters. Set in an alternative United States filled with the creatures of Norse myth, this is a story that could have easily been overshadowed by the flash and action often associated with retold myths. Instead, however, this is a novel (and likely a series) about the characters, their struggles, and their humanity. Soren, Astrid, and Baldur are all sympathetic characters, but Soren is especially so; the dilemma that Soren faces as a berserker feels genuine and heart-wrenching. While there is a romance, it’s not the focus. This is foremost a story about friendship, loyalty, self-discovery, and self-definition. When romantic moments did occur, I also felt twinges of swoon despite the too-quickly-realized romantic connection.
Having said that, though, this novel also excels at its interpretation of Norse myth, even when playing loosely with the original tales. I enjoyed reading about this reimagined U.S. where mortals walk among demi-gods, gods, and Valkyries. The writing is rich and full of description that allowed me to easily envision every setting and situation, from dilapidated farmhouses with trolls inside to the emotional conflict roiling in Soren's mind. The story then concludes with a bittersweet ending that avoided the easy solution, which I also appreciated.
Even with these strengths, there were a few instances in which I longed for more. The romance and some friendships developed quickly and a bit unbelievably; I wish there had been more development in the initial stages of each relationship. The mythology, including the trickery involved at the climax, was a bit hard to follow at times, and I was grateful that I had at least some background in Norse mythology. And, while I love Gratton’s style, the abundance of descriptors and metaphors/similes became noticeable and distracting at times.
Regardless of these small qualms, The Lost Sun is a winning start to a new series with a unique and relatively unexplored mythos, and I’m looking forward to the coming books in the series. Norse mythology is likely to be the next big thing, and I’m glad Gratton is in on the front end of it. Highly recommended to fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.(less)
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.(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)
Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the...more Powerful and easily read account of the 1955 lynching/murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, an event that few of us know about but that helped spark the U.S. civil rights movement. Well-written, moving non-fiction that could be great as a text to pair with To Kill a Mockingbird or similar for classroom use.
ETA: I've since found some claims re: a few factual inaccuracies in the book, but if true, they are still minor enough to not take away from text too much.(less)
What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the...more What an impressive and moving tribute about the atrocity of Emmett Till's death and its influence on the burgeoning U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s. The author's use of Petrarchan sonnets in the round (a corona) was outstanding, and the artwork complemented it perfectly.(less)
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...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 for YA readers who like older, college-aged protagonists and also a great choice for male readers. (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)
Quite possibly the most well-crafted novel I have ever read. When I read this back in 11th grade, I was taken aback by the artistry and the complexity...more Quite possibly the most well-crafted novel I have ever read. When I read this back in 11th grade, I was taken aback by the artistry and the complexity and the symbolism that all appear wrapped together in this novel. Though I have never worked up to reading it again, it remains in my mind as one of the most influential pieces of literature I have ever read (or likely ever will).(less)
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...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 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. (less)
Beautiful & achingly realistic tale of young love & its aftermath
Very rarely does a book impress me, satisfy me, and affect me emotionally as...more Beautiful & achingly realistic tale of young love & its aftermath
Very rarely does a book impress me, satisfy me, and affect me emotionally as much as Katie Cotugno's debut novel, How to Love, did. This novel is a beautiful and achingly realistic portrayal of one couple's doomed teenage love affair, the aftermath, and their eventual coming to terms with one another.
HOW TO LOVE stands out among the crowd of other YA contemporary novels most notably due to Cotugno's lyrical, evocative writing. The author creates beautiful mental images throughout the novel by including details that add nuance and feeling to the story. Every detail or repeated image seems intentionally placed and well-considered. I would often stop reading to admire a passage and think to myself "THIS is what good writing looks and feels like." Another strength lies in the two main characters, Reena and Sawyer. Both are complex, flawed characters with multifaceted family members and friends surrounding them. While I often didn't like Reena or Sawyer, the writing allowed me to understand them and their actions and motivations.
In addition to her strong character development, Cotugno also does wonders with the plot and the structure of the novel. There is a careful interweaving of plot threads about family pressures, work, alcohol/drugs, religion, school, and friendship to make the characters' lives feel real and palpable. I especially liked the presence and impact of Reena's best friend, Allie, on the relationship between Sawyer and Reena. The plot of HOW TO LOVE never hurries nor dallies; the juxtaposition of the "before" and "after" chapters are perfectly aligned with mirrored events that follow one another naturally. When the book came to a close, the ending left me satisfied, even without answering every plot question directly.
Though this book was a perfect fit for me, there were a few phrases or sentence choices that threw me at times, and other readers may not be able to look past Reena's and Sawyer's flaws in order to find them sympathetic.
In all, though, HOW TO LOVE is the best young adult book that I've read in the past two years. I can't wait to see what moving, realistic, and emotionally arresting stories Cotugno writes in the future. I know that I'll be reading every one of them.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy.
Immediate reaction: My first five-star book in two years! I am so incredibly impressed with the quiet but compelling story this novel tells and the style and lyricism with which the author tells it. I can't wait to see what this author writes in the future.(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)