Great books are always harder to review than ones I don't love as much. Words escape me, or aren't quite right. This isn't the first time author Daisy...moreGreat books are always harder to review than ones I don't love as much. Words escape me, or aren't quite right. This isn't the first time author Daisy Whitney has me at a loss for words, and I'm sure it won't be the last, either. She's an extremely gifted writer whose books need to become more well-known in the world.
WHEN YOU WERE HERE may scare some people away initially because it's about loss and grieving, but it is about so much more, too. It is a book of triumph, of overcoming loss, of learning to live again. There are so many layers to loss, it's never black or white, this or that. When new loss is layered atop old loss, it's even harder to get out of your dark place and embrace life. Main character Danny goes through so many stages of loss and the grieving process, and he does it all in Japan, one of the perfect places to go when grieving. There is so much philosophy and legend built on loss and life in the Japanese culture. They bloom for such a little time and die so fast, but are beautiful for the time they're alive. Fallen samurai on the battlefield were often linked to cherry blossoms. There's even a sad story about a loyal dog named Hachiko, who went to the train station every day after his owner passed on. As soon as I heard that Daisy had a book about loss taking place in Japan and that the main character had a beloved dog of his own, I begged her to somehow include Hachiko...but she already had! Hachiko is that integral to a book on grief. Even if you've never been to Japan, you'll feel like you have after reading this book; I wanted to go back (I lived in Japan for two years) and eat delicious Harajuku crêpes, take part in hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing Parties), go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, and do everything right alongside Danny. I missed Japan so much reading this, so if you've never been, I truly think you'll be able to embrace the atmosphere and be there anyway.
The whole book doesn't start out in Japan, however. Danny and his mom live in Los Angeles, California, but often travel to Japan to visit. They travel so frequently that they own a little place there. Danny's mom has been struggling with cancer for years, and her last wish was to see her son graduate. Sadly, she died two months before she could see her goal come to fruition, never saw him announced Valedictorian. He's shut out everyone in his life, especially his ex-girlfriend Holland. He no longer cares about anyone or anything, only happy when he's with his beloved dog Sandy Koufax. When he receives a letter from Japan asking what he'd like to do with his mother's property, he instantly decides to leave town and fly to Japan. Maybe in Japan, there will be answers about his mother and why she stopped holding on when she was so close to her goal. Maybe her Japanese doctor knows something, like whether or not his mom stopped taking his medication. He leaves behind a world of broken memories (and reluctantly leaves Sandy Koufax with a friend) and embraces an unknown future. Going to Japan is the best thing Danny can do. He comes to terms with his grief and learns to embrace life again. He befriends Kana, a girl not afraid to dress crazy and stand out. She takes him around Japan and helps him get out of his funk. When Danny's ex-girlfriend Holland reappears, she tears open his healing scabs and digs into his wounds once more. Can they heal together, or will Holland's presence destroy everything Danny's worked so hard to reclaim?
Whitney is superb at delivering beautifully-packaged prose. I quoted several sentences while reading and could have done even more. Her writing style worms its way into a reader's heart and forces him or her to care about the characters and the story. At first, Danny is lost and wandering aimlessly. You don't like everything about him or the decisions he makes. There's a hint of something good, however, and that nugget shines brighter and brighter as you continue reading until you can't help but love Danny and want him to be happy again. Kana was a great friend to Danny. I embraced her zaniness and would love to be friends with her as well. Her English is impressively good for someone who has yet to live abroad and become fully immersed, which bothered me at times, knowing where her English levels should probably be, but most people won't notice or care. It's a nitpicky complaint, and one I have only because I lived in Japan and knew quite a few Japanese who spoke English. At the same time, I lived nowhere near Tokyo, so it could be that Japanese teenagers are more fluent in large tourist cities. I don't know. Either way, I loved Kana and without her great English skills, wouldn't know her as well as I do by the novel's end--and neither would Danny. That would be a tragedy. As for Holland...well. Whitney creates a great character in Holland because she's easy to hate at times, but you also understand where she's coming from and can relate. Romances are complicated, messy things, especially when you're a teenager, and Holland and Danny are no different. Whitney's twists and turns were surprising, but always felt real and never trite.
There are so many nuances to situations in WHEN YOU WERE HERE, and everything ties together in surprising, unpredictable ways. Together, they form a cohesive, wonderful novel. All of these small elements make a whole, and the story would be imperfect without any of them. They come alive when pieced together to fully tell the story of a boy overcoming grief in so many ways and learning how to live again. It's a journey you shouldn't miss out on!(less)
I adored last year's GRAVE MERCY, and I've been so excited for the release of DARK TRIUMPH. I was lucky enough to participate in the Blog Tour for thi...moreI adored last year's GRAVE MERCY, and I've been so excited for the release of DARK TRIUMPH. I was lucky enough to participate in the Blog Tour for this fantastic sequel, which never let me down and was everything I wanted it to be--and more. Can readers pick up DARK TRIUMPH without having read GRAVE MERCY? Yes, absolutely. DARK TRIUMPH is a self-contained story with an arc of its own. Would I recommend reading DARK TRIUMPH before GRAVE MERCY? No, not really. Robin LaFevers doesn't spend a lot of time re-introducing characters from the first book who take on a more secondary role this time around, choosing to instead focus on Sybella and her story. There's also a lot more insight into the daughters of Mortain the first time around. That isn't to say readers won't still enjoy DARK TRIUMPH if they pick it up blind, but they won't have as much perspective as they would by reading GRAVE MERCY first. This also isn't a series with evil cliffhangers that carry from year to year, so readers should feel secure in picking up the book and reading it now without waiting for all three titles to come out. These are companion novels with interconnecting themes and plots, but the wait won't make you crazy. If your memory isn't great between books, you'll remember the important stuff as you read, because LaFevers reintroduces elements well.
From the first book, I knew that His Fair Assassin would surely follow Ismae, Sybella, and Annith, three daughters of Mortain introduced early on in GRAVE MERCY. I didn't know what else to expect. DARK TRIUMPH is more intimate than GRAVE MERCY in many ways. Sybella has been through so much darkness and overcome it all. I never could have anticipated the multitude of horrors she's faced, and just when I think I've unwrapped the last layer, there's always an even grimmer secret lurking. I didn't expect the vast scope and depth of DARK TRIUMPH in retrospect to my reading of GRAVE MERCY. I was always curious about Sybella based on her interactions with Ismae in the first book, but I never imagined the extent of her past. Her plight is so much more harrowing than I ever thought possible.In fact, I want to go back and re-read GRAVE MERCY just to soak up every glimpse of Sybella now, because I will read those moments entirely differently than I did a year ago.
It's very hard to talk about plot without giving so much away, since intrigue is a big part in what makes the His Fair Assassin series work so well. Like with GRAVE MERCY, DARK TRIUMPH revolves around historical elements and figures from the past, combining them with fantasy and mythological lore to create a fascinating story full of romance, heartbreak, deceit, kingdom politics, and more. In the first book, it is Isame's job to prevent D'Albret from forcing Duchess Anne into marriage. In the second, we realize that D'Albret is Sybella's father, and even crueler than we could have ever imagined when reading the first book. The convent of Saint Mortain has returned Sybella to her childhood household as a spy, but being back home rips open all the wounds that Sybella first tried to run away from. When D'Albret takes the Beast of Waroch prisoner, Sybella is assigned the task of breaking him out, which will force her to sever ties to her family in irrevocable ways.
I had a feeling we'd see the Beast of Waroch make an appearance in DARK TRIUMPH and LaFevers didn't disappoint. One prediction down, and one to go: Over the past two books, there have been hints of deceit and secrecy coming from within the convent, and I fully expect MORTAL HEART to sink into this issue when it releases next year, especially since it revolves around sheltered Annith's journey. I definitely wouldn't recommend this series to younger readers because it can be very mature, but I would recommend it to anyone who wants a captivating fantasy that's easy to fall into. After I finished reading it, I had so much trouble reading anything else for a while because I was so immersed in LaFever's world, and the same thing happened last year when I read GRAVE MERCY. Sybella goes through so much more than any human being should have to and you'd think she'd be damaged for life, but through DARK TRIUMPH, she finds away to, well, triumph. Sybella is an incredibly resilient character that I fell in love with and rooted for over the course of the novel, and I think you will, too.(less)
From desert to snow, Rae Carson has delivered an epic fantasy series that encompasses dangerous terrain and is fully satisfying, gripping, and thrilli...moreFrom desert to snow, Rae Carson has delivered an epic fantasy series that encompasses dangerous terrain and is fully satisfying, gripping, and thrilling. Appropriately named THE BITTER KINGDOM on many levels, picking up the final novel for the first time left a bitter taste in my mouth. This book broke my heart--in all the best ways. Over the course of the series, Rae Carson has gotten better and better. Each book exceeds the last. Even her e-novellas have depth and merit, well worth your $2.99. Carson has become one of my favorite high fantasy authors, and I'm already anticipating a new series by her. I'm devastated that the series has ended; it's like I've lost a cherished best friend. The series ends on a high note, and if you haven't yet made the leap, I envy you. Seriously, I envy you. You get to read these amazing books for the first time. One of my friends is reading the first book now on my suggestion, and it makes me so envious. I seriously want to cry every time I think about the fact that I'm finished this series. I feel so barren without it in my life! Thank goodness for the ability to re-read!
Elisa has come so far and changed a great deal over the course of the series. She's gone from being a whiny princess who sits around and eats non-stop without a care in the world to a young queen willing to risk everything in order to protect her loved ones and an entire kingdom. With the way THE CROWN OF EMBERS ended, I thought THE BITTER KINGDOM would revolve around the rescue of Hector, and while it begins that way, it's not the true purpose of the novel. Characters continue to work together and aid one another in ways that make me admire Carson even more, and the plot is richer and fuller than I imagined it could be. Everything comes full circle, and while new questions are raised in unexpected ways (I would love a companion series centuries in the future that pick up on the fruition of Elisa's Purpose), nothing is left hanging. The resolutions are satisfying and make me both happy and sad--happy because the book is just so good, and sad because...this journey is over. I still can't quite comprehend that; I'm pretty sure I'm in withdrawal. I already need to re-read this series and have been sitting on the final novella!
I don't want to give anything about the plot away, but it amazes me to see the way Carson opens up new characters. We explore villains and their motivations. We learn a bit about their culture. We have gone from steaming hot deserts to frigid, snow-capped mountains. The journey is more sparse this time around; you can tell in the lack of food description alone! Elisa and company have endured so much over the course of the series, and will suffer through even more before encountering destiny.
Carson is incredibly gifted at writing. Small decisions become monumental and make you stop and savor/reflect, only to be followed by moments of humor to make the emotions dissipate. She is queen at playing with reader emotions. Elisa is such a strong female role model, and it's great to see a girl kicking butt and saving the guy for once--especially when he's okay with that! So refreshing. And Hector...how I adore Hector. He has to be a favorite of mine. When I re-read THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS before reading THE CROWN OF EMBERS for the first time, I saw a hint of something, but I wasn't sure until later in TCOE...much as I was rooting for it to be the case. After everything Elisa has endured, she deserves happiness and true love, and Hector is just right for her. I've even fallen in love with secondary characters from the series, however, and it's like they've all become close friends. You understand what makes them tick and what they care about. This deepens upon reading the e-novellas, though they're not necessary to the main plot. I can't say it enough: Carson is superb at character development.
There's a lot of gushing in this review, and little summary, since there are so many spoilers by now. I apologize. I love this series so much, though, and if you haven't read it or finished (Hey, I wasn't in True Love on my first go-round, either! Just in Serious Like) yet, you owe it to yourself to give the Fire and Thorns Trilogy a genuine chance...especially since you have a chance to win the whole series below!(less)
I've wanted to read POISON since I first saw the book deal write-up and have had my eye on it ever since. It's been one of my highly-anticipated title...moreI've wanted to read POISON since I first saw the book deal write-up and have had my eye on it ever since. It's been one of my highly-anticipated titles, and I was sad when the publication date pushed from 2012 to 2013. At the time, I hadn't realized that author Bridget Zinn had passed away. I'm actually glad I didn't know until after I read the book because my first thought upon finishing was that I was looking forward to more books in the future. What a promising debut novel! I was shattered when I heard that it wasn't to be. I truly enjoyed reading POISON and hope that this amazing book community embraces it and shares the title through Word of Mouth with friends, co-workers, students...anyone and everyone. This book deserves to be read by fantasy lovers everywhere!
Kyra has studied potions for years, and is especially good at making poisons. Before the book begins, she attempts to assassinate her former best friend--the kingdom's princess. It's the one and only time her poisoned dart misses its mark. Now, Kyra is a fugitive on the run. Only she knows that if the princess isn't killed, the kingdom will be destroyed. But how can Kyra seek out the princess and assassinate her if the army knows what she looks like? Together with the help of a tracking piglet,Rosie, and a fellow traveler, Fred, Kyra will attempt to save her kingdom...even if it means sacrificing herself in the process.
While POISON isn't especially deep, it's fun. It's a little too mature to be middle-grade, but probably falls into the tween category even though it's officially catalogued as a teen title. The novel starts off slowly, but quickly picks up speed, especially as revelations come forward and explain the events leading up to the start of the story. There's adventure, excitement, and romance; everything you could want in a book. And Rosie! I admit that I was a little wary of the pig element but after reading POISON, I have to say: I want a Rosie in my life! She's like a little bloodhound as she tracks the princess' scent with her nose. Rosie stole the show whenever she made an appearance. Zinn did a good job developing her characters and making you feel for them. Everyone has a backstory, even villains, and it was refreshing to see. I really found myself rooting for Kyra, too. I really grew to love her character throughout the book. And Fred! It was refreshing to see a male love interest who doesn't fit any of the tropes found in too many of today's YA novels. He was a sweetheart, and I enjoyed the pace and rhythm of his scenes with Kyra. The writing is fresh and humorous, easy to fall into. Even some of the surprise twists remain just that--a surprise. For readers such as myself who often discover plot secrets too early, it's always exciting to find that element of surprise.
If you're look for a light-hearted, fun-filled, action-packed adventure, grab your favorite bloodhound piglet (Okay, I suppose a cat/dog/ferret/etc. will do...), curl up with your favorite blanket, and embrace the magic of POISON.(less)
The Lunar Chronicles is no longer just about fairy tales. It has transcended, become more. Hands down, this is Marissa Meyer's most complex, riveting...moreThe Lunar Chronicles is no longer just about fairy tales. It has transcended, become more. Hands down, this is Marissa Meyer's most complex, riveting book yet--and there are still two to come. While I enjoyed CINDER a lot last year, I'm head over heels for SCARLET. From beginning to end, readers are treated to an adrenaline-filled adventure that combines elements of Little Red Riding Hood with something completely new and unique. Meyer weaves together characters from CINDER seamlessly in a way that works, showcasing the pros of third-person writing in a YA field overrun with first person.
Scarlet Benoit is a fierce, modern take on our favorite Little Red. Rather than wear a cloak, she wears a natty, beloved red hoodie that was a gift from her grandmother, not caring about its appearance, and only the meaning of it. In that alone, we can see how much Scarlet adores her grand-mère. When Grand-mère disappears, Scarlet is convinced that something has happened to her, which is confirmed when her father returns home with whispers of kidnapping and torture. She works together with a street fighter named Wolf who knows more than he lets on, finding herself drawn to him despite his dangerous demeanor. Together, they will learn more than they bargained for and experience horrifying truths.
Even better, Cinder has returned! CINDER left off on such a cliffhanger that fans have been gnawing their teeths awaiting more. Meyer treats readers to answers in innovative ways while dumping new questions upon them. She also introduces characters who will play integral roles in future books, which she hinted at in CINDER as well, seamlessly blending elements together. So much happens in SCARLET and Cinder comes so far, only to make new startling revelations that will have fans salivating for Book 3, CRESS, due out next year. I was wondering how Cinder would return and become integrated into the series, because authors don't always pull this off well, but Meyer found a way that worked, and worked well.
SCARLET is darker, grittier, rawer, and just altogether more. There's more hurt, more violence, more desperation for the truth. There are both answers and questions. The world-building has evolved even further and become elaborate and gorgeous, a true treat to read. I was enamored in ways I hadn't been with CINDER, perhaps because Little Red's story is less re-told and more dangerous. I adore the way Meyer's girls can kick butt all by themselves, and don't need to rely on a guy to save them like fairy tales of the past. The guys have stories of their own, too, and aren't simply "Prince Charming" with no history between the characters before being instantly blinded by true love. There's real depth, and it will be so interesting to see how CRESS and WINTER bring this intergalactic series to a close.(less)
I thought INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows was innovative, but ASUNDER is even more so, blossoming into a powerful, gripping fantasy that's hard to put down....moreI thought INCARNATE by Jodi Meadows was innovative, but ASUNDER is even more so, blossoming into a powerful, gripping fantasy that's hard to put down. There were so many questions left unanswered in INCARNATE that are explored in ASUNDER, some with dark, horrifying answers. The second book in the Newsoul Trilogy is grittier and rougher; some scenes even gave me chills. Meadows' imagination is vast, and she takes readers on a memorable journey. In a way, there was something fragile I can't name about INCARNATE (perhaps just that it was my first exposure to the world) that made me love it a little more, but ASUNDER is a more than worthy heir, and one that will proudly sit alongside its sibling on my shelf.
Ana is still trying to come to terms with the fact that she is the only newsoul in Heart while everyone else has been reincarnated repeatedly. She learned her existence was a mistake at the end of INCARNATE, and in ASUNDER, she will discover the dark truth about why everyone else's souls repeatedly come back. Because Ana is new, she isn't affected by the same things as everyone else. To her, the fact that the temple and walls of buildings in Heart have a heartbeat is creepy, not comforting. She is able to remember things that slip away from others, especially things that concern their existence. Together with Sam, Ana leaves Heart to explore her deceased father's research and discovers that she's a magnet for Sylph, dangerous creatures that everyone fears. When she returns to Heart, many citizens mistrust her and she is horribly bullied despite the law saying a newsoul is not to be killed. She does, however, have friends willing to back her, ones that are eager to meet more newsouls and incorporate them into their lives. Through ASUNDER, Ana discovers much about herself and realizes she does have a role to play in Heart, especially when it comes to making things safer and kinder for future newsouls...but getting everyone to trust her first is proving to be one of the most difficult tasks she'll face, especially when there are people willing to result to mayhem, destruction, and murder, to stop her.
There are so many elements of ASUNDER I can't talk about without leaving a trail of spoilers. Ana has grown so much as a character over two books, and I can't wait to see what happens to her when the final book releases next year. She's gained confidence and has a better outlook on life, thanks in part to her unwavering relationship with Sam (whom I still adore). She's more in charge of her own destiny now, though she still struggles to overcome the insecurities she's had from a lifetime of verbal abuse and neglect. There are a few devastating, heartbreaking moments in ASUNDER, as well as a particularly memorable one when the truth about reincarnated souls is revealed. We meet new characters, and Meadows is great at weaving together truth with red herrings so that readers never quite fully trust anyone, making them feel a lot like Ana herself does. A whole new, startling array of possibilities, is opened up, and I have no clue where Meadows is planning to take us next year, but I'm already anticipating the journey.
And the romance. Let's just stop and talk about the romance for a moment. I love the way romance is handled in the Newsoul Trilogy. In a way, it reminds me a lot of the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth (also from the Katherine Tegen Books imprint of HarperTeen, no less!). Too many YA novels out there deal with insta-love or rely on love triangles or feature unhealthy aspects of a relationship that are treated as good role models for teens. With both of these series, the characters get together in Book One and are still together in Book Two. Many series would find a way to rip the characters apart again until the final book, but both of these insist on finding ways for the couples to work out their problems. There is so much work that goes into a real relationship, especially once the initial period of attraction wanes, and both of these books show the level of commitment needed to have a strong, working relationship. I applaud both of them, as well as HarperTeen, for creating such healthy examples of a good relationship!
I, for one, greatly enjoy the depth of Meadows' world and all of the elements she brings together. She reveals something stunning toward the end of ASUNDER that will really start the third book (still untitled, though I have a guess with a 5% chance of being right...same with the cover, lol) rolling. I'm also eager to see more innovativeness from Meadows, which is one of my favorite aspects of her writing. A year feels like a very long time to wait!(less)