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
Fun & engaging third installment keeps the action & intrigue coming
Marissa Meyer’s third installment in her Lunar Chronicles, Cress, picks up Fun & engaging third installment keeps the action & intrigue coming
Marissa Meyer’s third installment in her Lunar Chronicles, Cress, picks up right where the second book left off. Cinder, Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf have escaped Earth and are now hiding in space. Their greatest chance for eluding Queen Levana and her dangerous companions lies with Cress, a gifted hacker who’s lived alone in a satellite for the past seven years. Soon, a rescue plan goes amiss, people are captured, and satellites start crashing to earth. Old characters and new ones must work to find a way back to one another in order to bring the evil Queen down.
As with her previous installments, Meyer has created a fun and engaging story in this book. CRESS is full of action and intrigue, and the author does a wonderful job of interweaving the storylines of the two previous books with the one. It was exciting to see how hints from as far back as the first book were linked to major plot points or character reveals in this novel. All of the characters that readers have come to love (or loathe) make appearances again, and some characters, especially Cinder, begin to grapple with real issues of how to use power and how one’s personal decisions can affect others, including whole cities or nations. Though not practical like Cinder or strong like Scarlet, Cress comes across as an endearingly naïve but earnest character who mixes well with the existing cast.
While a fast and enjoyable read overall, I did sometimes wish for a bit more: more swoon, more character and relationship development, and more gravity regarding the issues being experienced by the characters. This series is a refreshingly upbeat collection when compared to many other young adult novels, but the issues it addresses (war, torture, sacrifice for others, lost identities) often felt like they were passed over too quickly. Similarly, some characters accepted certain big reveals too easily.
Even with these quibbles, I had a great time reading CRESS, and I can’t wait for the final installment to come out next year (Winter). Not only will the final book provide a conclusion (and hopefully some happy endings for the characters), but it will feature quite possibly the most intriguing heroine of the series. The few glimpses given of Winter in this book had me simultaneously riveted and unsettled. The Lunar Chronicles is a series I will be recommending to my students and adult friends 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
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 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....more
A surprisingly good romance novella in which the characters are not new lovers navigating a nascent relationship, but rather a married couple who find A surprisingly good romance novella in which the characters are not new lovers navigating a nascent relationship, but rather a married couple who finds themselves lost in kids, work, and their roles and responsibilities. The book contains much more depth (and less sex) than the blurb would suggest, as the story is focused primarily on the couple's problems and how they struggle to decide if and how to handle them. I found this novella moving and honest in how it depicted marriage, albeit sometimes depressingly, and it wrapped up with a hopeful ending and a very nice author's note to explain why she wrote this story. Highly recommended to romance fans, especially those who can relate to married life with children.
Note: This review refers to an advance review copy received from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review....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 p 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....more
Beautiful & achingly realistic tale of young love & its aftermath
Very rarely does a book impress me, satisfy me, and affect me emotionally as 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....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
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 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)....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
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 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....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 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....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 gli 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. ...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
Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
Tessa Gratton begins her new series, The United States of Asgard, with The Lost Sun, a ta Solid & engaging start to new series based on Norse myth
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....more