Stunningly lovely all around. I NEED more novels like this one. I'm genuinely sad that I've finished it, because I could stay in it forever. Review to...moreStunningly lovely all around. I NEED more novels like this one. I'm genuinely sad that I've finished it, because I could stay in it forever. Review to be posted on March 21.(less)
Spent most of my time wondering when I would finally feel the wonder and awe that so many readers experience while reading this book, and got to the e...moreSpent most of my time wondering when I would finally feel the wonder and awe that so many readers experience while reading this book, and got to the end without ever really feeling those things. Winter's Tale is not a bad book, but it isn't easy and I'm not sure the payoff is worth the long journey.(less)
This is the kind of story that lives in one's soul forever.
Tell Me More:Rare is the story that wins me over from the first page, convinces me to set...moreThis is the kind of story that lives in one's soul forever.
Tell Me More: Rare is the story that wins me over from the first page, convinces me to set aside a morning to sink into its world. Rarer still is the story that leaves me literally breathless and ready to collect copies to send to people that I love. And this year? Deathless is that story.
Marya Morevna is exactly the protagonist that I've been looking for in YA fiction, and yet her story is directed towards adults. She is marked by danger, followed by it, until she becomes dangerous herself. There is a leashed deadliness to her every thought and move, even as a child. She sees the things no one else admits to seeing, she confronts them and calls out to them, and she understands the power of a secret, capable of destroying as it is destroyed.
I will never be without information, she determined. I will do better than my sisters. If a bird or any other beast comes out of that uncanny republic where husbands are grown, I will see him with his skin off before I agree to fall in love. For this was how Marya Morevna surmised that love was shaped: an agreement, a treaty between two nations that one could either sign or not as they pleased.
When Marya saw something extraordinary again, she would be ready. She would be clever. She would not let it rule her or trick her. She would do the tricking, if tricking was called for.
And if they thought her aimless, if they thought her a bit mad, let them. It meant they left her alone. Marya was not aimless, anyway. She was thinking.
Compared to Marya, Koschei and Ivan are two-dimensional, recognizable characters. She outshines them, compelling the reader to look at her, understand her. She is clever, more than she realizes at times, and she is resourceful. More importantly, she never truly gives up. She might I would go so far as to say that Valente didn't created the Marya of this story--she created herself, and she will continue to exist long after the reader leaves her world.
And what a world it is: Deathless contains one of the most brilliant universes I have seen in all my years of reading. Valente uses her prose with precision, pinpointing the threads that hold both her settings and characters together. Domoyava enliven Marya's childhood, while chyerti surround her in adulthood. The famine that held Leningrad captive in 1942 is excruciating to read about, and I feel no shame in admitting that I cried through that entire chapter. She brings the reader into Marya's life without making a fuss about the way it happens, and the experience is earth-shattering to say the least. I did not know a writer could pluck the music out of sentences the way Valente does, and the melodies are haunting.
Beyond the beauty of the words, however, the insights shared are sharp as arrows and just as piercing. Some books might be termed "quietly feminist"--Deathless might pretend to whisper its philosophy into your ear, but it does so with the full intention of keeping those ideas there, letting them simmer before they command action. Women are front-and-centre in Deathless, from the twelve mothers who raise Marya to the widow Likho to the unforgettable Baba Yaga. Marya learns from women and breaks away from women, and it is her womanhood that empowers her to be more. Once, she is told:
Cosmetics are an extension of the will. Why do you think all men paint themselves when they go to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my soup, it is not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles. It says, I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips red as foxgloves, I say, Come here, male. I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother-of-pearl, I say, Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things, and the world listens, Masha. Because my magic is as strong as an arm. I am never denied.
And suddenly makeup is more than just makeup to the reader--it is as powerful as the person using it, and it is what the person chooses to make of it. So it is with life and death and love. Marya might have waited for Koschei to come to her as birds came to her sisters, she might have known less, been less, but it is her will that prevails over everything in the story.
Perhaps all a Tsaritsa is is a beautiful cold girl in the snow, looking down at someone wretched, and not yielding.
Valente doesn't excuse or justify the choices that Marya makes. She challenges the reader to be like Marya, an indomitable survivor. For what else can you be when you are a Tsaritsa caught between Life and Death, and enamoured of both? What is there to do when war surrounds you, lives in you, and loss is the only reality you know? What is there but to survive and work and see another day? The answer is everything. Everything lies between Life and Death, and everything lies waiting for someone to realize it and call it for what it is. "Life is like that," several characters echo, and so it is.
The Final Say: Catherynne M. Valente has won me over as a faithful reader, and I will live the rest of my life hungering for another story like Deathless.
Tell Me More: There's something to be said about a series that starts with its protagonist at her lowest point. Most dystopian novels beckon readers in with comfort and familiarity, but Shatter Me was different from the start. Juliette Ferrars is a heroine who is on her knees, broken and undone. Two books later, she becomes a force of nature in her own right, much like the young woman who first created her. Ignite Me is not only a satisfying ending to the trilogy, but a story that illustrates Tahereh Mafi's growth and undeniable talent on every page.
Going into Ignite Me, I was absolutely terrified that I would hate the book. Unlike other final books in dystopian trilogies, I didn't know what to expect out of this novel, and I couldn't decide if that lack of expectation was better or worse than my other experiences with books like Delirium and Divergent. Once I started reading, however, I forgot all of my anxiety and worries. The story is just as tightly woven as its predecessors, possibly more so now that Juliette understands what she is capable of, and the battle at the end is all but guaranteed. Her journey is clear: Shatter Me was Juliette learning about the extent of her powers, Unravel Me was the reveal of the choices she has to make knowing what she can do, and Ignite Me is where those choices are made, for better or for worse.
That kind of story requires a writer who knows her characters inside and out, and is willing to follow them through the hard choices. Tahereh Mafi's prose is raw and unflinching, and it captures the conflict that lies in Juliette's very being with authority. Juliette might be powerful beyond her own imagination, but she is also seventeen years old, and Mafi's writing style reflects Juliette's youth and determination. Even when she doubts herself, her thoughts are lined with steel, and I never once doubted that she is capable of paving her own path, even if no one is at her side.
But while Juliette is strong enough to stand on her own, it is comforting to see that she doesn't have to. Kenji and several other Omega Point residents return in Ignite Me and their presence brings a necessary lightness to the story's intensity. I loved that Kenji and Juliette's friendship grows stronger in this book, and that there is someone that isn't a potential love interest who makes the effort to understand her. I loved that Juliette learned to appreciate the support system that Omega Point created for people like her, and I loved that she valued them for who they were.
In my review of Unravel Me, I hypothesized that "Adam’s desire to keep [Juliette] safe blinds him to the fact that she still has agency." (view spoiler)[I wasn't pleased to find I was right about this halfway through the book, but I do think that it's that same point that shows that if Juliette should choose to be with anyone, it should be the man who sees her for who she is and accepts her. I don't think that Warner takes pleasure in the pain Juliette can cause, but he also won't pretend that it's not a fact of her life. He won't coddle her, and he'll help her in any way she asks him to, because he believes in and trusts her. Mutual respect is far more appealing than overprotectiveness, and I think Kenji makes that point far better than I ever could in a conversation with Juliette halfway through the novel. Warner and Juliette are both aware of what the other is capable of, and once they realize it, they make a conscious choice to use those abilities to help rather than harm. They are both capable of sacrificing parts of themselves, but neither will let the other do it. (hide spoiler)]
The best part is that Juliette knows all of this, and she comes to her own conclusions. Her sense of self-awareness has developed over the course of three books, and she is willing to face the battle ahead with open and clear eyes. She won't end up with someone because it's what is expected of her. She won't take action just because it's the right thing to do. Her every movement is done to set herself free so that she can make those choices on her own. And frankly, it would have made perfect sense to me if she hadn't ended up with anyone at all. (view spoiler)[I loved that her final battle was to save her best friend's life. (hide spoiler)] I loved that Mafi made her feelings and her choices matter.
Ignite Me does not end on an ambiguous note. Juliette, as she's done in the previous books, commits to a path and sees it through. There is devastation, but there is also hope. (view spoiler)[Warner tells her to "ignite," and she does light a flame that destroys the world they knew. But she also brings light and perspective, and their world is never going to be perfect, but it does become a world of potential. (hide spoiler)]
The Final Say: With its focus on Juliette's self-discovery and claim on her own freedom, IgniteMe is a satisfying and powerful ending to the Shatter Me trilogy.
Having been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with bre...moreHaving been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with brevity and understanding.
Tell Me More: When I was eight years old, I received my first Discman. Raised on Columbia Records catalogues, Dr. Hook, and Queen, I quickly became obsessed with music and I never looked back. So much of who I am as a person has been formed by the music I listen to, and Leila Sales not only captured that truth, but she also brought me back to some of the worst years of my life, when music was the only thing that could carry me through. But this time, I had a hand to hold, and a character who understood all too well how crazy scary being yourself could be. This Song Will Save Your Life was beautiful and hard and honest in all the best ways, and I am forever grateful that Leila Sales wrote this story.
I chose to read this book on a Sunday morning, stretched out on the balcony and basking in the July sunshine. I'm glad I did, because the synopsis only hinted at the depths of this novel and the emotions it would call up in me, and only the brightness of that summer day kept me from sinking back into a really bad headspace. Elise was me in 7th grade, desperate to fit in, and yet so other, so not part of the "normal" tween crowd that any attempt to change the status quo was laughable. And it never makes sense--sometimes it still doesn't, even years later--how some kids just get picked to be the punching bag, the entertainment, the never-quite-good-enough that assures the rest of the class that they're better. Elise's confusion and plain inability to understand what had happened to make her that person were two things I could identify with, and one of the last moments I remember before I fell into this book completely was spent wondering how Sales had captured my middle school experience so accurately. Elise's rock bottom felt all too real--Sales' writing style pinpointed the rawness of her emotions so well that I had to pause more than once to remove myself from the situation.
The transition from Elise, bottom step of the social ladder, to Elise, rock star DJ, is fascinating, and it is so easy to cheer for her as she begins to try again with Pippa and Vicky. A lesson most teens never realize they learn during adolescence is how important it is to keep trying, even when things look like they're never going to get any better. Society paints millennials as parasites, but it ignores how so many 20-somethings are still working to stabilize their lives with the added burden of student loans, horrifying social issues, and an unwelcoming job market. So much of the inner strength that's required to do that is built up when you're a teen, when it's hard to know who and what to trust. Elise's determination to be happy and to find a place to belong carried her through some tough moments, and it affirmed that she was capable of more.
In a world where teenage girls are ridiculed for their taste in music, the way they dress, and even the way they talk, Elise is a symbol of how easily we can misunderstand and ignore signs of loneliness and frustration. It's easy to forget that teenage girls dance a terrifying line between loving and hating themselves every day of their lives because of what society tells them, and if this book does anything, it reminds those girls that there is always something to love about yourself. The end of your life comes when you give up, when you stop trying. Elise might trip and stumble, but she keeps going. You don't have to agree with the some of the choices she makes, but I'll be damned if you won't understand the reasons she makes them.
The Final Say: Leila Sales proves that she is a contemporary author to reckon with in this emotional and commanding story of a girl on the brink of greatness. There is no doubt that readers the world over will find themselves in Elise and her journey.
A disjointed plot and distasteful hero. I'm sad because I've enjoyed James' books/several tropes included in this story before but this just did not w...moreA disjointed plot and distasteful hero. I'm sad because I've enjoyed James' books/several tropes included in this story before but this just did not work for me.(less)
A superb sequel that only raises the bar for all of Lyga's future books, not just the next Jasper Dent installment (because there is one, right? THERE...moreA superb sequel that only raises the bar for all of Lyga's future books, not just the next Jasper Dent installment (because there is one, right? THERE HAS TO BE.)(less)
Tell Me More:It's been two-and-a-half years since I first readI'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go ba...moreTell Me More: It's been two-and-a-half years since I first read I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You, and frankly, I wish I could go back. There is nothing like rediscovering a favourite series all over again, and even as I celebrate the release of the final book, United We Spy, I'm sad not only because it's the end, but because it'll be years before I can take up this series again and relive the experience like new. In the meantime, I want to take this moment to thank Ally Carter for one of the best series I've read in my entire life.
And what makes a series great anyway?
1. Consistency. Books 1 through 6 in the Gallagher Girls series have been consistently excellent, smart and ambitious, much like its subjects. Anyone who believes that a book with a girl in a school uniform can't be substantial is fooled by the same belief that the Gallagher Girls work to their advantage in every single chapter. United We Spy highlights the myriad ways that these girls have grown and used the way society sees women to achieve amazing and impossible things. Every time the reader falls into thinking that the story can be predicted, Cammie and her friends find another way to prove them wrong.
2. Real, powerful relationships between characters. I've always been more interested in the portrayal of friendships in literature than I have been in romantic attachments. The friendships on display in the Gallagher Girls series are some of the most luminous and realistic that I've encountered in literature. Cammie's strength and determination, especially in United We Spy, is built on the foundation of her love for her family and friends. She doesn't think twice about risking her life for them, not only because she knows they would never hesitate to do the same for her but that they are people worth saving. The friendship between Cammie, Bex, Liz and Macey is the crowning glory of the series, and United We Spy sees that friendship at its best. They are all brilliant girls on their own, but together? Their teamwork could single-handedly keep the world spinning on its axis.
And okay, the romance was pretty perfect. Zach is exactly what I wanted in a romantic interest for Cammie: he's funny, sweet and human. So many YA romantic heroes these days seem too good to be true, but Zach is realistic without resorting to extremes.
3. Unpredictable plot twists. I challenge anyone to correctly predict what happens in United We Spy. Go on. I'll wait.
Those of you who've read it already know that while all the plot twists and revelations make sense in hindsight, Carter handles them all masterfully, and there hasn't been a single book in the series that is unimportant to the central arc. The right pieces of information find their way to the surface all at the right times, and the suspense is bone-chilling when it needs to be. Carter succeeds in keeping the mystery and anticipation building, and the climactic scenes all feel like walking straight into a brick wall, they're that surprising. There were several moments where I literally screamed because I couldn't believe what was happening. United We Spy keeps the tension turned up to the highest level, and I couldn't be sure of who would survive the events in the novel until the very last page, as is only right for a thriller like this. It rewards readers who have followed the series faithfully, and it lays the groundwork for newer readers to return to the previous novels and pick out all the clues leading up to this one. (Frankly, I would be disappointed if those who've followed the series since the beginning didn't do that too.) It's clear that Carter has done the leg-, arm- and headwork involved in crafting this series.
4. Satisfaction. At the end of the day, a good series should tie up all its loose ends, answer its most pressing questions, and generally leave its readers with the sense that the story as told is complete. Sure, there should also be a desire for more. But if a reader can close the book knowing that the story can stand on its own and has achieved the things it wanted to achieve, good and bad, then the author has done an excellent job.
United We Spy does all of that and more.
I can't remember the last time I was this satisfied with the final book in a series, and really only Deathly Hallows compares. No question is left hanging, and it is very difficult to talk about this without spoiling anyone, so trust me when I say that this was exactly the right ending for the story. The biggest compliment I can give is this: as I finish typing up this review, I just keep thinking about how I want to sit in a corner, hold all six books and cry for a good long while because of the fantastic reading experience they gave me. So thanks, Ally Carter--you've got a fan for life.
Tell Me More:Eleanor & Park was a book that came highly recommended to me by the fabulous Rebecca at Indigo Yorkdale. With comparisons to The Fault in Our Stars and Gayle Forman being made by fellow readers I trusted, I knew right away that I had to find the time to check out why everyone loved this story. Unfortunately, good recommendations don't always result in satisfying reads, and Eleanor and Park simply did not charm me as much as I hoped they would.
My reading experience can best be expressed as an inability to suspend disbelief. I couldn't lose myself in the story because everything felt too perfectly set up to tell a certain kind of story. I felt like I could see all the reasons why Rowell chose to have her characters say and do certain things, instead of discovering those hidden layers bit by bit as I read. I spent most of my reading time nodding along, thinking "of course they love the Smiths," "of course comic books are what they connect over," and the like. There's nothing wrong with those things being E&P's interests, but I feel like every single "nerd/outcast" character in YA fiction shares the same interests. Some variety would be nice--how about a self-proclaimed nerd who loves pop music or reality shows? Park's parents were pretty stereotypical too, and I couldn't quite shed my discomfort with the way the relationship was illustrated. Park' father might love his mother, but I never got the sense that he truly understood her or cared about her cultural background, and I do not agree with John Green's review where he stated that they were well-drawn adults.
Likewise, the love story between Eleanor and Park results in some adorable moments, but it never really got off the ground for me. I couldn't particularly relate to either of them, so I wasn't invested in what eventually happened between them. Some thoughts Eleanor had about Asians also bothered me enough to make me step away from the book for a little bit. The relationship between Eleanor and Park wasn't surprising either, though there were a few moments that made me go "awww." There was little to distinguish it from other contemporary YA romances, and even as I write this review, I struggle to recall scenes that made me emotional.
What I did find intriguing were Eleanor's life at home and her family. I wish more time had been spent on scenes between Eleanor and her siblings, instead of the hints of discontent and distrust that are scattered throughout the book. Her abusive step-father was the only character to garner a real reaction from me, and remembering some of the things he said and did still makes me shudder. I also would have liked to know more about her mother and the relationship they had before her mother married Richie.
The Final Say: Eleanor & Park read like a sketch of a painting: not quite whole, not quite full and not quite real enough to capture my imagination and make me love it.