GUYS. This book is utterly, supremely delightful. I can’t even. I had so much fun reading it that I Originally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 5/5 STARS
GUYS. This book is utterly, supremely delightful. I can’t even. I had so much fun reading it that I genuinely lamented the fact that it’s only 200 pages long. I’m sure you all know that I’m not the biggest reader of ‘Regency romance’ as a genre, but I do love fantasy, and I definitely love Garth Nix (author of some of my favorite books ever, notably The Old Kingdom trilogy), so when I realized this was out I immediately threw $3.99 at my iPad and ordered it to download the eBook ASAP. (No one else throws money at their tablet around here? Oh, fine.)
Fans of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer will feel right at home with Newt’s Emerald. Also in danger of falling head over heels in love with this book: anyone who loves magic, mayhem, cross-dressing, and prefacing sentences with the word, “La!” (I am SO going to start integrating this into my vocabulary, along with all the new antiquated swear words I’m learning from reading The Scarlet Pimpernel…) It’s a short read, but enormously funny and witty. I spent a lot of time laughing like an idiot while highlighting entire paragraphs for posterity. It IS a stand-alone title, which is rare in this day and age, but I’m honestly a bit sad about that because this is a world and a cast of characters I wouldn’t mind spending more time with.
Garth Nix has written some of my favorite female leads ever, so I wasn’t surprised to find that I loved Lady Truthful right away. She was a fantastic heroine. I loved that she took initiative, even when this meant getting into crazy dilemmas. I loved that she was clever and beautiful, with a lot of things going for her, but also that she was young and made mistakes. She wasn’t perfect, but she made the most of it, and she had me cracking up all the while. I loved that she rocked a magical fake mustache and ran around impersonating a French chevalier to investigate the whereabouts of her family’s missing emerald. I loved that at one point she considered carrying a pistol to a ball. Can we be best friends?? Seriously.
“She both wanted to see Harnett again and never see him again. For the moment, the “never seeing again” feeling was stronger.
Since this is a Regency romance, you’re probably wondering what I thought of the romance in the book, but I won’t talk about it much because I don’t want to ruin it for you. I definitely enjoyed it, though. From my description of Truthful, you should be able to guess that whoever she ends up with would have to be just as sassy, headstrong, and spirited as she is. They would need to be able to keep up with her, and keep her guessing. Oh, and they would probably have to be super frustrating, to keep things interesting. Never fear — our hero, the dashing but ill-tempered Major Harnett, accomplishes all of these things. Especially the bit where he’s super frustrating. But then he does stuff like yell, “MALIGNANT SORCERY!” and go running after the perpetrators with Truthful right behind him and I spend five straight minutes shouting, “JUST BEEEEE TOGETHER!!!” as I read. Hahaha.
I had a blast with all the other characters too, particularly Truthful’s three cousins, the Newington-Laceys, and her crazy elderly great-aunt, Lady Badgery. The boys are hysterical, whether they’re drunk or sober (ahaha), and I liked that Truthful had such a strong bond with them. And all I have to say about Lady Badgery is that she owns a sword cane. SHE OWNS A SWORD CANE, PEOPLE. If you aren’t sold yet, then I have no idea why!
Way too much fun — that’s the best way to sum up this book. Dangerous spells, nautical misadventures, full dance cards, gentleman callers, disguises under disguises under disguises… I couldn’t ask for more. I am so glad Garth Nix decided to rewrite this manuscript all these years later and share it with the world. (The original version, according to the author’s note, was written between 1990 and 1991!) By the way, anyone else excited for Clariel in 2014????!!! *fangirls to death*...more
I am so stupidly in love with this book that I can’t stop the crazy urge to giggle and flail arounOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4.5/5 STARS
I am so stupidly in love with this book that I can’t stop the crazy urge to giggle and flail around as I write my review. I’m sure you all know that while I read other genres too, my heart belongs with Fantasy and I feel most at home when adventuring through the countryside in search of dragons to vanquish. (Would I be any good at actually vanquishing dragons in real life? No. That would be a disaster. Also it is beside the point~) The Burning Sky contains clever characters, fascinating magic, harrowing political schemes, adorable boys in school uniforms, and a feels-inducing romance. In short, I WANTED FOR NOTHING.
First we need to talk about this book’s dynamic duo. Iolanthe Seabourne is a rare elemental mage, capable of controlling three of the four elements in a time when most others like her are only barely able to command one. While her guardian sinks ever deeper into a slump that has lasted for decades, she is forced to be the responsible one in the household. This is difficult enough without the added problem of suddenly being chased by other mages who want to capture and exploit her powers. Also chasing Iolanthe is Prince Titus, whose mother predicted he would meet the next great elemental mage and that his destiny was to protect her at all cost. Guys, THESE TWO. They are such a power couple in every sense of the word. I loved their relationship through all of its ups and downs. The best thing about it was that Iolanthe and Titus are more than a match for one another. They’re both intelligent, cunning, and resourceful, and they balance each other so well. Titus is the sort of person to be perennially prepared for everything, and Iolanthe manages to keep him on his toes.
Actually, I’m pretty sure Titus is now one of my top ten favorite male leads of all time. I will NOT start talking about why because this review will then go on forever. Suffice it to say that I love him desperately. I think I knew it was true love even before he boarded his private train car while carrying a pet canary named Miss Buttercup.
This is a plot that moves at a lightning pace. There was never a dull moment for me. It’s also filled with humorous moments as Prince Titus labors to hide Iolanthe at none other than Eton College, a lone girl among hordes of schoolboys. If you’re wondering why Eton and England in general make an appearance in the book, it’s because The Burning Sky features a universe where there are multiple worlds, some magical and some not. Ours is not a magical world here, but it does have a significant population of exiles from realms that do have magic. But you shouldn’t be worrying about that because it’s more fun to follow our hero and heroine from one misadventure to another. I really enjoyed the mix of funny banter and constant danger. Such things make me happy.
There’s plenty of action and excellent world building going on here. I also loved the atmosphere of secrets and subterfuge, and the fact that everyone had an agenda. I did see shades of Harry Potter going on, a comparison that is probably difficult to avoid when reading anything that involves magic and boarding school. But I really feel like Sherry Thomas created a world (well, worlds) that are entirely her own. As a fan of everything fantasy, I always love to encounter new concepts and twists on ideas that have been around for a while and in that sense I think this book delivered without question. The only thing that I found myself feeling a bit conflicted about was how varied and I guess practically limitless the magic system was — there wasn’t much that magic couldn’t do for you, from tailoring your clothes (admittedly I would find this very useful) to transforming yourself into a bird. I think it could have had a few more limitations to make it seem more believable… but this really didn’t stop me from having the time of my life while reading.
One of my favorite books of the year, without a doubt. The Burning Sky was an incredible ride and is a must-read for anyone who loves fantasy as much as I do.
Don’t ask me how I’m managing to sit at my desk and actually type full sentences right now. At theOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
Don’t ask me how I’m managing to sit at my desk and actually type full sentences right now. At the rate September is going, I’m going to be a total train wreck by the time October comes around. Not only are there so many new releases this month (and late last month; ahem, Crown of Midnight), but quite a few are also loaded with the kind of high-intensity feels that leave you in a state of shock afterward. They’re good books — really, really good books — but I swear I feel like I’ve been beaten black and blue with all this emotional reading material! This is definitely the case with Rose Under Fire, a title I already expected to break my heart. After all, that’s exactly what happened with its predecessor, Code Name Verity.
As some of you may know, Code Name Verity is one of my absolute favorite books of all time. This is a book that was the equivalent of a massive sucker punch to the feels, for me. I thought it was cleverly written, and the friendship between its two characters was both inspiring and heartbreaking. So when I started reading Rose Under Fire, I was bracing myself for all of this to happen again. I knew that the protagonist of this book would be spending most of the story as a concentration camp prisoner, so I was prepared for that — although of course her experience was still jarring to read about. What I didn’t expect was for Rose’s story to be connected to Verity’s. I loved seeing Maddie and Jamie here, and every time Julie was mentioned I swear I was always this close to just sobbing my face off. I thought this was a completely separate story, and I was ok with that, but it felt really good to see characters from Code Name Verity anyway.
It was really, really, REALLY hard not to compare Rose to Verity, especially because of how much I love the first book. I will say that this one keeps the fire burning, as Rose endures six months at Ravensbruck that change her forever, but never succeed in killing her spirit. She finds hope and deep friendship that sustain her through the freezing nights and gnawing hunger — a sisterhood of girls and women who fight back against their oppressors in any way they can. Together, they brave unbelievable cruelty and overcome their differences. It’s a powerful example of women working together rather than taking each other down, and you know I’m always a firm supporter of that. Something I loved about Verity was the way nothing could keep its characters down, even faced with the most unspeakable horrors. They were human, and they could bleed and be broken, but there was this light inside them that never went out. The same goes for Rose and her fellow prisoners, who pull together to become a family in a place where it seems all love and joy are lost.
If you weren’t a fan of Verity‘s unconventional writing style, you may like Rose better. It’s a much more straightforward read, although still told mostly in flashbacks through letters and Rose’s journal entries. Alix liked Verity as well (just not as much as I did) but had a problem with the big POV switch between the two main characters a little over halfway in, which actually unsettled me as well. This doesn’t happen here, since we are with Rose throughout the entire story. The narrative still revolves quite a bit around planes and flying, which is a bit confusing at times when you have no knowledge of the subject. Rose is a pilot, so this makes sense, but if you’re like me and are NOT a pilot at all, it might be kind of distracting to hear about it so much. Another thing — and I hate to gripe about this, but I’m gonna be honest — is that I really didn’t like Rose’s attempts at poetry in the beginning of the book. Later on, though, there were some poems that actually made my heart ache. One in particular got highlighted to death and then copied into my quotes notebook, if that says anything at all.
What I want to address before I finish up this review is that I’ve seen some complaints out there about how Elizabeth Wein wrote a book about concentration camps but didn’t really mention Jews. I see why this is might be bothersome to others, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it. Jews were not the only victims of Hitler’s regime. I think it’s a good thing that the author chose to highlight the experiences of other groups during WWII as well, because I feel like those are often overlooked. For future generations to truly understand the darkness of that time in history, we need to look at it from all sides, and not just from one perspective. Rose’s adopted sisters in Ravensbruck told her to tell the world. I feel like we need to tell the world every story we can, stories of hope and survival, regardless of barriers like race and religion.
Rose Under Fire didn’t have the same impact on me that Code Name Verity did, but that doesn’t mean I disliked it. It’s a different kind of story; while Verity always made me feel like everything was balanced precariously on the edge of a knife, Rose felt like an invisible force holding me up. It doesn’t make your heart race with danger, but it makes your heart ache with both sorrow and unshakeable hope. Overall, I think hope is the message of both books, and I highly recommend both. They’re unforgettable.
Many thanks to Disney Book Group for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review! Rose Under Fire hits bookstores everywhere on September 10th — DON’T MISS IT!...more
This one has been getting rave reviews all over the place lately, and for good reason. From the fiOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
This one has been getting rave reviews all over the place lately, and for good reason. From the first page, All Our Yesterdays pretty much grabs you by the wrist and pulls you into a tangled timeline of alternate futures. As Em and Finn desperately work to unravel the past that eventually plunged their future into darkness, I was left completely breathless by the pacing and plot. There’s not a moment to lose in their quest to prevent the worst from happening, which also means there isn’t a dull moment in the whole book. And that ending!! Ugh. I just really, highly recommend this book.
Guys, Em and Finn = ALL THE FEELS. I don’t even know where to begin. I loved these two together. I loved that their impossible mission and all the failed attempts they’d made only served to bring them closer together. They support one another, and when one falters the other swiftly stands up to shoulder the burden. I really appreciated the kind of relationship they had, but I also really liked them both separately too. Em is a tough girl who didn’t start out that way; you can see the kindness and compassion in her character in those moments when she hesitates to do what she set out to do. You’d think this kind of hesitation would be irritating, since every time Em can’t bring herself to pull the trigger is another missed chance to complete their mission. But I liked that she had a heart. I liked that she was unable to let go of the good memories, the good things about the past, despite the terrible things that made her into the person she is now. And um, let’s not start talking at length about Finn because I might babble forever. Suffice it to say that he’s the equivalent of a hand to hold when you’re afraid, reaching out at just the right second. It warmed my heart to see the way he was always able to remind Em that there was still hope left in the world.
What fascinates me about time travel books is all the cause and effect. I love tracing the steps that led to a certain outcome, which is something that All Our Yesterdays incorporates into its plot. As the story unfolds, more and more pieces of the puzzle fall into place. In a world where time travel is possible, time itself becomes fluid and changeable. Em and Finn try again and again, removing pieces and changing the past in an effort to find a path that leads to a different future. There are so many possibilities, so many scenarios. Each one subtly or drastically alters what that future looks like. So far, they haven’t been able to fix it so that the chain of events is disrupted. Every single time, no matter what element they take away or replace, the same fate is still waiting at the end. But they don’t give up — they just keep going, learning from each subsequent failure. It’s one of those stories that begins at the end. If you’re not a fan of shifting points of view or flashbacks, then you may not like the way All Our Yesterdays is told. To be honest, I had a pretty biased preference for Em’s chapters over Marina’s, but overall I’d say that the author handled switching between the two narrators really well.
I discovered shortly after finishing the book that it’s actually the first in a planned series, which admittedly made me kind of nervous. I went into it believing it was a standalone and was kind of upset by the concept of continuing the story after an ending that, while COMPLETELY HEARTBREAKING was also rather satisfying. I mean, after the severe facepunch to the feels that I received in the closing chapters, I found myself relieved when it was over because it ended on a hopeful note, with the promise of a happy ending. Now I’m fighting the urge to hide in a corner because I’m anticipating yet more twists and turns that will leave me sobbing all over again, haha! I’ve had some time to consider the whole sequel thing and I think I’m okay with it now. It was just a bit unsettling — like if you were on a crazy rollercoaster, finally coasted to a stop, then found out that NOPE the ride wasn’t actually over yet. GET BACK IN YOUR SEAT CAUSE WE’RE DOING THAT ALL OVER AGAIN, facepunches to the feels and all. I finally felt okay with this when I considered the fact that at least I would get to spend more time with Finn Em AND Finn…
All Our Yesterdays truly impressed me with characters that won my heart (and then broke it), a plot that bends time and delivers nonstop action, and the kind of feels-inducing moments that make a story unforgettable. You need to read this!! Ah, I’ve had such good luck with time travel books this year. If you liked this one, you may want to try out The Loop by Shandy Lawson as well — my review is over here.
Many thanks to Disney Book Group for the ARC, which I received in exchange for my honest review. Be sure to watch out for All Our Yesterdays, which releases on September 10th!...more
The sequels this year are KILLING ME. SERIOUSLY. I mean, I’m sitting here right now staring at the sOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 5/5 Stars
The sequels this year are KILLING ME. SERIOUSLY. I mean, I’m sitting here right now staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to articulate the intense experience that was Kinslayer and just utterly failing. It’s hard to write a review when you’re sort of still peeling yourself off the floor and trying to salvage what’s left of your crushed heart. I thought Stormdancer was epic, heartbreaking, GLORIOUS — but its sequel somehow found a way to be all those things and more.
This book hits the ground running, and the action doesn’t stop until the very end. It’s a breathless, heart-stopping ride. When I read the first book earlier this year, I remember feeling initially overwhelmed by the author’s attention to detail; it was a lot to take in and process within those first hundred or so pages, and the one aspect of Stormdancer that bothered me. But with Kinslayer, that attention to detail becomes an incredible asset. This is an intense sensory experience that just consumes you. Everything, from the black depths of Yukiko’s grief to Shima’s bleak, broken landscape is rendered in such a powerful way that the colors seem twice as vivid and the emotions just leave you reeling. Jay Kristoff gets all my praise for this world he’s created and the characters that will ultimately decide its fate.
Speaking of characters — Jay Kristoff, THANK YOU FOR MICHI. From the bottom of my heart. Yukiko and Buruu become even more amazing in this book (Buruu had me tearing up already only twenty pages in, I kid you not), but Michi absolutely stole the show for me. I think I need to add her to my list of spirit animals. I can’t even talk about her right now, I’m afraid of devolving into a useless, slushy pile of feels. I think this series is pretty remarkable for the amount of badass heroines stalking its pages. And what I love is that they’re badass in so many varied ways, displaying strength in so many different forms. Not all heroines prove their worth with swords. There is also strength in silence, in endurance despite pain, and sometimes words and secrets are more potent than any weapon you can hold in your hands.
I feel like the second book in a series is a precarious place to be. It can be difficult to live up to the first book, as we see with so many unfortunate instances of Second Book Syndrome out there. I’m happy to report that Kinslayer takes the momentum of its predecessor and transcends every expectation. The plot gets even more complicated as war looms on the horizon, with the Lotus Guild desperately trying to salvage everything Yukiko destroyed even as the Kage Rebellion continue their efforts to save Shima from the poison within. I love that we get to see the rebellion from more than one side. The campaign to save Shima from itself involves more than simply spilling blood. This war is waged from multiple fronts — in the skies with Yukiko and Buruu, amid the towering trees of Shima’s last remaining forest, even in the opulent halls of the Imperial palace. Loyalties are tested and beliefs are questioned. You’re slapped in the face by one revelation after another, revelations that give some really mind-blowing answers to your questions, but also leave a trail of NEW questions in their wake.
As with any good sequel, I turned to the last page with this unshakeable sense that a storm is coming… and it’s going to be RIDICULOUS. It’s going to be the death of my feels. I couldn’t recommend this book, or this series, more. I’m upset that I have to wait so long for the next book, but also kind of relieved because 1) Kinslayer turned me into a flailing, sobbing train wreck and I need a considerable recovery period and 2) I have to brace myself for what’s ahead, and I have to start doing that now. Oh, by the way, Charlotte and I have given the third book the tentative title of Feelscrusher. We feel that this is 100% appropriate.
Thank you so much to the publisher for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. I am seriously overcome with gratitude because it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and the series is such a favorite of mine....more
While it gets off to a bit of a slow start, Golden ended up being impossible to put down. Layered inOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4/5 Stars
While it gets off to a bit of a slow start, Golden ended up being impossible to put down. Layered in with all the mystery is a genuine coming of age story, something that I didn’t expect to connect with as much as I did. As Parker delves into the truth about what happened ten years ago, other truths begin rising to the surface. This book has so much to say about the choices we make, the secrets we keep, and the regrets we live with.
The first quarter or so of Golden involves a lot of background on Parker Frost, its protagonist, who is the quintessential ‘good girl’ in every sense of the word. She’s skipped out on a lot of the traditional teenaged shenanigans to focus on school, earning a place at Stanford University when she leaves for college in the fall. She’s conflicted though, because all the late nights spent studying instead of making memories (stupid or otherwise) are suddenly making her wonder if she made the right choice. How much of life has she missed out on because she was so busy avoiding the chance that she might make mistakes?
“But what I didn’t realize at the time, what I missed all along, is that chance is everywhere. It’s also what life is made of. It’s all around us, but most of the time we never see it working. We turn left instead of right, we take the stairs instead of the elevator, cross the street for no apparent reason. Our lives are made of these little moments that somehow add up, and sometimes, if we look back, we can see chance at work.”
Honestly, I didn’t expect myself to relate so well to Parker Frost. I mean, if you think about it, I’m pretty much a full decade older than she is. I graduated high school ages ago, went to college, then graduated from that too. You’d think our worlds would be pretty far removed from one another, just like I did when I started this book. That’s where I was wrong. Actually, there’s a pretty significant part of me that has a lot in common with Parker. She arrives at this point in her life where she realizes that all she’s ever done is play by the rules — she gets good grades, she does what her mother tells her to do, doesn’t take risks that might sabotage the carefully plotted future lying in wait for her. I’ve never been much of a rule breaker myself; in fact, I’m a total Rules Person, comforted by the existence of boundaries. As a teacher, and as someone who has known she wanted to be a teacher since she was five years old, I think an affinity for following rules just goes along with the territory. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t broken a few here and there, and whether those choices became adventures or misadventures, I’m glad I colored outside the lines when I did. One of this book’s many poignant messages is that you don’t have to end up regretting the chances you didn’t take.
I credit this book with overcoming its slow beginning with a mystery that I wasn’t able to set aside. I had to find out what was happening, snatching up every small detail and clue with abject greed. Not only that, I found myself really invested in Parker’s search for the truth, and for her true self. Once you get past the initial backstory phase, the mystery takes hold and it becomes an undeniable page turner. Even though I kind of knew where it was heading anyway, the real reason why I found it so compelling was that every layer of that mystery peeled away was another layer of Parker that could shine through. I’d say the coming of age story is enhanced by the mystery, and not the other way around.
Another thing I credit this book with: having one of the most involved, present, and positive examples of a “best friend” character that I’ve seen in a while. Unlike her contemporaries in other YA novels, Parker’s best friend Kat doesn’t disappear over the course of the story. She’s there for Parker, supporting and goading her by turns, and I liked that she never faded into the background. All too often, YA heroines seem to lose track of everything and everyone else in their lives, falling into this state of tunnel vision. Parents go missing, friends fall by the wayside, and suddenly our protagonist has no visible support system. Parker has one, and I appreciated it.
Um, also I appreciated Trevor. He is adorable. Trevor, never change. Always be an adorable ski resort boy who understands that ice cream has the power to get a girl through a crisis. Seriously. I MEAN IT.
The contemporary reads I like best always end up being the ones that could appeal even to those who don’t normally read contemporary. I’m the same way, and I definitely recommend Golden if you’re not a dieheard contemporary fan but like a little bit here and there in between wild flights of fancy, haha. (Also if you’re a poetry nerd, as I ended up being after the year I spent taking AP Lit in high school and doing nothing but parsing through poems during my senior year. There’s a whole lot of Robert Frost and Mary Oliver going on here. I loved it!) As with most books I’ve read in this genre, though, I had to take off a star for the mild predictability of the plot in some places. I also had an issue with Julianna’s journal entries and some of the dialogue in general, which seemed unrealistic for characters who were ostensibly teenagers. That wasn’t enough to make me dislike the book — actually if you can’t tell, I loved the book, so don’t let it deter you....more
I think we all remember that time I read The Darkest Minds and it completely wrecked all my emotionsOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 5/5 STARS
I think we all remember that time I read The Darkest Minds and it completely wrecked all my emotions. Right?? It was another of those embarrassing moments when I walked around blinking back tears over the fates of fictional characters who had somehow crushed my heart in their fictional fists. (Other examples of this phenomenon: anything by Melina Marchetta, Crown of Midnight, anything involving thunder tigers… the list goes on. I am emotionally frail apparently.) And anytime a book has me this invested in its story and the people in it, I always have this strange dread of picking up the next installment because I just can’t stand the thought of what might happen to them. I mean, I desperately want to know, but then again I desperately don’t. But finally I couldn’t take it anymore and decided it was time to be a big girl and declare myself recovered from the feels facepunching of the previous books.
Guys, I thought I was ready but I WAS NOT READY AT ALL AJKSDHFKJSHDF. If you thought The Darkest Minds was intense, Never Fade is like 12 billion times MORE intense than I ever imagined it could be. It started kicking my ass in the first chapter and pretty much carried on with that all the way to the end, when I got to the last page of my e-ARC and was in complete, utter disbelief that it was over. Just picture me frantically trying to flip to the next page WHEN THERE WAS NO NEXT PAGE. Is that not the saddest and yet most hilarious image ever? I know.
Ruby completely blew me out of the water in this book. I mean, by the end of the first installment I was pretty much a Ruby fan (even though I wasn’t completely sure about her at first), and I had really high hopes for her character’s potential throughout the series. From the very beginning, I thought her particular abilities were some of the coolest I’ve ever run into in the genre. She started out being terrified of her powers and even more terrified of herself — she’s never been under any illusion that using them would come without consequences.
When we meet Ruby again in Never Fade, she’s learned to use those powers, and learned to be more ruthless when it comes to putting them into play. She transcends all these limits and boundaries she struggled with or imposed on herself previously, and the result made me want to stand up and cheer. But it also made me afraid for her, because being ruthless is not natural to Ruby, and she’s more aware than ever of what her powers are doing to her and to other people. This inner conflict adds even more depth to her character.
To make it short and sweet, Ruby is a certified badass in Never Fade and you better be ready for her. I felt like this was HER book, even more so than the first was, and that might sound odd when you know she’s the narrator in both… but I insist that this is Ruby’s book and no one else’s. Read it and maybe you’ll see what I mean!
Some new characters join the crew in the second book and I ended up finding yet more room in my heart for them when I thought it was already getting pretty crowded in there after TDM! And we do run into some old friends, but none of those old friends are quite the same — they’ve gotten tougher, or more broken, or somehow more loveable, and that’s perfect for me. In my opinion, the second book in a series should always be more than the first, in every way — more intense, more thrilling, more heartbreaking, more everything. And this one definitely delivered, revealing new sides to characters we thought were familiar to us and new dimensions to both the world and the plot.
I couldn’t recommend this series more, and Alexandra Bracken completely outdid herself with Never Fade. Everything I loved about The Darkest Minds just intensified further. This is a breathless, heart-stopping, heartbreaking read.
If you ask me, there’s simply no one out there who can tell a story quite like Neil Gaiman. One ofOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
If you ask me, there’s simply no one out there who can tell a story quite like Neil Gaiman. One of my favorite things about reading his books is that moment when the ordinary gives way to the magical and mysterious — the moment when you just know that you’ve stepped into a fairytale. I always get the chills, seriously. Every time it happens, I remember exactly why I love this author’s work so much. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was no exception.
I flew through this book, which was great because I’d been going through somewhat of a reading slump. Lately, while I’ve had no shortage of great books, very few have compelled me to finish reading in one sitting. This one is short (just over 200 pages), but the length had very little to do with how quickly I got through it. I just really wanted to know what was going on! I love that this was told from a child’s perspective. Actually, quite a few of my favorite Gaiman books are narrated by children, and I think he has this really good grasp on how to do that right. The children in his stories are often precocious, but not overly so; they have that air of mischief and blunt honesty that make them believable. (Ah, and Coraline fans: the villain of this story is every bit as creepy and menacing as the Other Mother!)
The narrator here is actually a middle-aged man recalling the events of a summer long past, when he was seven years old. So you get that unique view of the world that can only be delivered by a small child, but you also get the added touch of hearing it from someone who is looking back, seeing that world from a different angle. There is a great deal of nostalgia in the telling, and so many undeniably true observations on childhood itself that it won’t matter how distant your own childhood might be — you’ll still find yourself getting nostalgic too. I feel like the book is, in a way, a celebration of being a child and of that time in your life when the world is so much more magical, when everything is still new and undiscovered.
The fantasy elements were superb, as to be expected from Neil Gaiman. There’s a lot of folklore and fairytale influence, and so many little touches seem familiar, but it’s always just on the tip of your tongue and you can never remember precisely which story that particular detail might have come from. Somehow, he always manages to make the most timeless bits and pieces of those stories seem entirely his own. But I think the best part about this book was that the mystery of the three Hempstocks is never fully explained. Why does their farm somehow converge on the strange and magical? How much of the narrator’s memory is really accurate, and how much of it is blurred by time, viewed through the lens of childhood long past? I loved that I never had a complete picture of who the Hempstocks were and what all the magic in this book could do. It made me feel like there was still wonder in the world. And that’s a pretty huge thing for someone like me to say, considering how fond I am of knowing the answers.
This modern fable is definitely on my list of favorites for the year (and for all time, really). I was so caught up in all the mystery that I wanted it to go on for longer than 200 or so pages. I love that Neil Gaiman is so incredibly good at conveying what the world must look like to a child, from the things that are unexpectedly eerie to the little details that remind you, as an adult, just how amazing the most ordinary occurrences can seem when you’re that age. Haven’t read much Neil Gaiman yet? I recommend Stardust (something I re-read every year just because), The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and Coraline for starters!...more
In order to articulate my feelings about this book, I have to begin at the end. Simply put, the fiOriginally posted at A Novel Idea
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
In order to articulate my feelings about this book, I have to begin at the end. Simply put, the final moments of The Darkest Minds left my heart in shreds on the floor. Ridiculous! And it’s even more ridiculous when you consider the fact that I’d already seen it coming — I’d had this theory percolating in my brain from the time I was about 25% into the story, I knew it was going to happen (if not in this book then in one of the later installments), and yet when it DID happen it still had the effect of a massive facepunch to the feels. Seriously, my concluding notes are essentially nothing more than a long string of expletives. It’s kind of pathetic. But this is the kind of reaction I end up having when a book pulls me all the way under, to the point that I’m emotionally invested enough to care that deeply about its characters and their situation. It’s a good thing.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about Ruby at first. Honestly, I don’t think Ruby knew what to think of herself either. She would have these moments when I just wanted to shake her — get a move on already!! — but even though Ruby is constantly at odds with her abilities, what made me love her in the end was the fact that she never hesitated to do what was necessary to survive. She doesn’t like to use her powers (I won’t tell you about them AT ALL at risk of ruining your experience, but I LOVE them and I was seriously impressed with what Ruby could do), but when it counts, when it’s down to the wire, Ruby comes through every single time. Even if it will be at great cost to herself, she delivers. And I feel like she was one of those characters I’ve encountered who had so much genuine growth by the time I turned the last page. I was pretty damn proud of this girl. Well, and also choking back sobs because of that ending.
And Liam! Omg help?? How is this man so adorable?? Many books have that character whose good heart gets them into trouble every time. Their compassion often becomes their downfall, which is always terrible to see because who likes to watch the nice guy finish dead last? I feel that Liam is that guy, but he’s also more. He’s a risk-taker, a born leader, but there’s this vulnerability to him that Ruby finds herself determined to protect. I loved that Liam taught Ruby how to trust, but even more than that I love Liam for being the light that brought Ruby out of the shadows. Liam gives her a reason to be strong. And that’s when Ruby truly comes into her own, fitting into her skin at last.
America in the aftermath of the devastating “kid-killer” disease is a bleak, practically lawless place. The remaining fraction of the population lives in various levels of poverty, the suburbs abandoned and the highways empty. The author paints a grim portrait of a nation still mourning the loss of its children almost a decade since the first wave of deaths. Most have lost sons and daughters, if not to the epidemic then to the succession of buses that arrived to take the surviving children away. I appreciated the fact that this deadly, often eerie landscape wasn’t just a painted backdrop for teenage melodrama. Our characters are constantly fighting to make it to the next day, dodging skip tracers who hunt them for the bounties on their heads and even having to battle other fugitives in order to secure a safe place to sleep for the night. This journey is taken one step at a time, and practically every move forward is fought for tooth and nail.
It’s hard for me to resist a book that elicits this much emotion while I’m reading. I can’t help loving it. I feel like the best books make that connection with you, and The Darkest Minds definitely resonated with me. The only reason I’m taking off points is that the book kind of crawls at times while Ruby and crew are on the road. I feel like it could have been a bit shorter without suffering for it. BUT: I was hooked from the very first chapter, and the characters made me love them, and the ending broke my heart. I’m in this until the bitter end now, guys. I HAVE NO REGRETS. Go read this!!!!...more
If you were wondering whether my Dessen binge had finally ended or not, here’s your answer: Originally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
If you were wondering whether my Dessen binge had finally ended or not, here’s your answer: nope! Still working through her entire bibliography like a madwoman, and Just Listen is definitely one of my absolute favorites from her so far. Like Lock & Key, this one deals with some tough issues. Sarah Dessen handles it with her usual touch for making these issues relevant and realistically portrayed. Annabel’s story covers toxic friendships, bullying, ‘mean girls’ and eating disorders, as well as the struggles of getting through a family crisis and how hard it is to be completely honest, with others and with yourself.
I have to start with Owen, because I love him. I just do. I can’t even explain it coherently. Like other Dessen boys, he’s got a history that he isn’t proud of, and most people give him a pretty wide berth. I’ve always liked that Sarah Dessen’s characters are more than what they seem on the outside, which is a big theme in this book especially. Owen believes in not judging, in always telling the truth, which is partly due to mistakes he’s made in the past. This is in sharp contrast to Annabel, who has a policy of holding everything in rather than telling people how she really feels. I loved Owen’s unflinching dedication to always telling the truth, no matter how much that truth will hurt, and no matter how difficult it is to do it. He makes a good case for honesty. How many hurtful situations could be avoided just by telling the truth? How much do we withhold from the people in our lives because we’re afraid of the consequences? Just Listen explores the nature of lies, whether they’re white lies or full blown deceptions. Owen’s personal crusade to be honest with his own feelings and opinions is exactly what Annabel needs, but also what she fears.
As I mentioned earlier, Just Listen deals with toxic friendships — specifically, recovering from them. I really identified with this because I’ve been through it before. It made the reading experience really painful for me at times, just because remembering how you’ve been hurt is sometimes even worse than the actual experience. I know firsthand how hard it is to even acknowledge that a friendship isn’t actually good for you. And even though you know deep down that it’s for the best, it’s ten times harder to let go. Like everyone else, I haven’t always been a good friend, and I’ve made some regrettable choices in the past when it comes to my friendships. But Annabel’s situation really touched me because I know what it’s like to lose your best friend. I know the emptiness left behind when you let that person go. Yes, you’re better off without them, but on the other hand you’re also faced with the prospect of not having anyone to fill that role in your life. It’s a lonely place to be. I liked that Annabel eventually recognized that Sophie wasn’t what she needed, but also that there was a lot to learn and discover about herself through that relationship.
I also loved this book’s focus on music and how deeply it can be embedded in your memories, good or bad. There are some songs that always take me back to that particular place and time, that invoke all the emotions of the moment as though I’m experiencing it all over again. The power of music is a big deal in this book, and it ties in so well with Annabel’s process of learning how to just listen, without jumping to conclusions or shying away.
“Whether it was a song, a person, or a story, there was a lot you couldn’t know from just an excerpt, a glance, or part of a chorus.”
I have to include this quote in my review because in a lot of ways, it also describes my relationship with Sarah Dessen books. I had so many misconceptions about her writing before I took the plunge and started actually reading instead of just lingering on the fringe of things. I’ll be up front with you: I’m 26 years old and I read more YA than adult fiction, which means that I often find myself frustrated with all the hormones and etc flying around in books primarily meant for teens. I won’t go into a long treatise on why I prefer YA over books that actually are meant for people my age, because that would take me off on a tangent. But what I want to say is that Dessen’s storylines and characters are NOT typical YA, at least not in my opinion. I keep picking up her books because I know now that she’s going to surprise me by being thought provoking in the most unexpected moments, about the most ordinary and everyday experiences. She talks about real problems and real emotions. Yes, her books follow a familiar format. Yes, there is usually a happy ending. But I kind of like knowing good things are coming. I like watching her characters grow, and I like knowing they’re going to grow and change.
I had a really personal connection with this book and its themes — sorry for the rambling! Honestly, there is so much I want to say about this book that I’m leaving out because I’m trying really hard not to saddle you with a 10-page essay. I highly recommend this one to current Dessen fans as well as anyone who is thinking of reading her books but isn’t sure where to start. I’d say this is my third favorite, after The Truth About Forever and Along For the Ride....more
I have so much love for this book. I know it’s often the case that the first book you read from an author is the most magical experience and you won’t be able to recreate it. Sort of like a law of diminishing returns, only for books. But Along For the Ride surprised me by quickly becoming a contender for my favorite Dessen book ever, and this is after reading four of her books within the last few weeks. If you choose The Truth About Forever as your first Sarah Dessen novel, make Along For the Ride your second.
I liked Auden right away, I think partly because I’m a night owl too. I completely understood the appeal of those late hours between midnight and sunset, when it really does feel like the world is different. During the day, Auden is so serious, so diligent; she’s spent her entire life trying to be the kind of girl her scholarly, extremely feminist mother might want for a daughter. Meanwhile, her father has remarried and moved to a quaint beach town in the years since the divorce, and her brother Hollis is backpacking somewhere through Europe having the time of his life. Now it’s Auden’s last summer before college, and she finds herself longing for something to change, despite her mother’s assertion that people don’t change at all.
The best thing about Auden as a protagonist was her tendency to choose the option that I never would have expected her to take. You can tell from the synopsis that she’s going to experience a transformation, and this is a Dessen novel so you know it’s going to happen regardless, but she surprised me by being SO proactive about the process. Yes, she is reluctant, but even in her reluctance Auden is ultimately the one who instigates the changes in her life. She personally chooses to do these things that are A) outside her comfort zone or B) not at all what she even WANTS to do and the result is a legit transformation for her character. I loved that her learning experiences were self-imposed. She tries these new things without an outside force shoving her into them. Auden actively chooses her path, which means she takes most of the credit.
Along For the Ride also features something we don’t see enough of in YA, across all genres: examples of women working together rather than plotting against each other. Auden has never had very many friends to begin with, least of all friends who are girls. Her mother looks down on women who like pink, fluffy, frilly things because she sees this as buying into the whole feminine stereotype, and her beliefs have pretty much colored the way Auden thinks. But this novel does an amazing job of showcasing women and girls supporting one another through friendship and motherhood, and it also makes a strong statement that liking pink, fluffy, frilly things doesn’t mean your brain is made of 100% fluff. In the words of Auden’s new friend Maggie, “Who says you have to be either smart or pretty, or into girly stuff or sports? Life shouldn’t be about the either/or. We’re capable of more than that, you know?” Guys, I love this message. And I love that Auden discovers the beauty of having friends you can paint your nails with, gossip about boys with, do all those fun girly things with, and yet can still have intelligent conversations with at the same time.
Of course, as awesome as the girls are, I can’t ignore the one very important guy. (Right???) The only Dessen boy I like better than Auden’s bike-riding, late-night shopping, coffee-drinking Eli is Wes from The Truth About Forever, and it’s an extremely close second. They are pretty similar I think, but what made me love Eli was the fact that he surprised me as much and as often as Auden did. And he wasn’t perfect — he made mistakes just like she did, and they were both running away from things they’d rather not think about or relive ever again. But Eli challenges Auden to try what she’s never done before, and to see things from different perspectives. Plus, can I just say that I love Dessen books for proving that romance is possible WITHOUT two teenagers getting all hot and heavy all the time?? Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s more effective, as well as refreshing.
Aside from a few snags in the plot towards the end (that made me scream at Auden while shaking my iPad and trying to will the words to fall out so I could rewrite them the way I felt things should be…), Along For the Ride was everything I’ve come to love about Sarah Dessen’s writing, from the realistic and yet vibrant characters to the simple comfort of knowing that her stories have happy endings, no matter how complicated. It’s a light, heartwarming read that isn’t shallow. Oh, if you’ve read Lock & Key (which I reviewed yesterday), Ruby’s key necklaces make an appearance in the store owned by Auden’s stepmother :) AND, if you’ve read The Truth About Forever, you’ll have to laugh while reading this because JASON TALBOT STRIKES AGAIN haha!!...more
So, I don’t read very much science fiction. I’m more of a high fantasy, embarking-on-perilouOriginally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
So, I don’t read very much science fiction. I’m more of a high fantasy, embarking-on-perilous-quests, swinging-enchanted-swords kind of girl. I think it’s because the first sci fi books I ever tried felt so cold and clinical in comparison to the fantasy books I loved, with all these technical details and a lingering air of so much math (??!). I realize that sounds more than a bit ridiculous BUT I can’t think of any other way to describe my lack of affinity with the genre. That being said, And All the Stars completely overturned every expectation I had. I love this book. It is so far from my usual fare, and yet managed to insinuate itself so close to my heart that I’m honestly still in shock right now as I write this review. There have been very few science fiction books I can say this about. I feel like if I wasn’t already a huge fan of the author, this one would’ve won me over for sure. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, you need to. Trust me.
As indifferent as I’ve been to most of the sci fi genre, I will admit that I have this gross fascination for the post-apocalyptic. There’s something about the possibility of the world ending that piques my curiosity while simultaneously scaring me shitless. That giddy, panicked feeling stayed with me through most of my reading of this book, as the Spires appeared all over the world and Madeleine was trying to find a way to survive the sweeping changes overtaking the entire planet. As with anything post-apocalyptic, whether in films or in books, I always find it extremely unsettling to consider all the familiar things in life become suddenly obsolete or skewed. With this book in particular, you immediately get the sense that nothing is ever going to be same again — there’s no going back. That old way of life is dead, and now the world is divided according to the aftermath of the Spires and the chain of events that followed. Madeleine’s choices are to adapt or give up. It’s that simple, and that scary.
I can’t talk about much of the plot without horrendously spoiling it for you, so instead I’m going to talk about the characters of this novel and how much I came to love them. Madeleine, always more dedicated to her art than to cultivating friendships or relationships with others, finds herself surrounded by people she comes to love, people she supports and who support her in turn. They band together, pooling their resources, learning from one another, and face the apocalypse standing side by side. I think this warmth — these deep bonds between people all sharing a common goal — is what I’ve found missing in a lot of the science fiction I’ve read in the past. I liked every single one of Madeleine’s friends and allies, all for different reasons, and for all their varied personalities and backgrounds. They all just clicked together, each person providing something that the group needed, whether it was warmth or sustenance or security. I had no favorites, which is also extremely rare for me. I loved them all, and cared about their welfare, and found myself desperately rooting for their survival.
Back to the plot, though. Guys, don’t expect to have any idea what’s going on when you start reading this book. The experience is constructed so that you discover everything by degrees, at the same rate that the characters are learning it, and it really kept me on my toes. I was always peering around the next corner, holding my breath, wanting to know what new developments would come to the surface. I think it made it even more authentic of an experience because in real life, in the event of a disaster like this taking place, you would find things out gradually as well. You’d find things out the same way Madeleine does: through the news, via the vast social network that connects us across countries and continents, by witnessing pieces of it firsthand. No one ever knows everything that’s happening. Everyone’s experience is different, but combined, it’s like a puzzle being fitted together one piece at a time.
And the twist! What! How did I miss that?! I mean, I’m not going to say anything else about it, but it really caught me off guard. I didn’t see that coming at all, and I’m glad I didn’t. I can’t help loving a book that surprises me. And I thought the plot twist in this case added a new dimension to the story, and to Madeleine, that made everything even better. (Plus, facepunched by the feels. *sobs*)
This is a book for sci-fi believers and nonbelievers alike. And anyway, how do you turn down a book with a synopsis that opens with Come for the apocalypse. Stay for cupcakes. Die for love. ???????? Hello?? PLEASE READ IT NOW. And All the Stars is superbly written, with characters that just leap off the page and the ability to elicit emotions that I never imagined myself feeling for a novel about the world ending. It really just blew me away. It may be my new favorite A.K. Höst book....more
This isn’t just a fantasy book. It’s a fantasy murder mystery. How do you resist?? I mean, it Originally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4/5 Stars
This isn’t just a fantasy book. It’s a fantasy murder mystery. How do you resist?? I mean, it has roof running, tree climbing, strategic gossip, undetectable poisons, shapeshifting mages, secret identities, and VENGEANCE. I can’t imagine what else you might want, except maybe an amazing female lead… WHICH IT ALSO HAS. If you’re not sold yet, I have no idea why. Hunting contains everything I love about Andrea K. Höst’s fantasy novels, from incredibly detailed world building to great, complex characters. Read on for more!
There are a few constants in life, one of which is that I can always count on A.K. Höst to deliver a female lead that won’t disappoint me. The author has this to say about the protagonist of hunting: “My need for a heroine capable of getting herself out of her own scrapes produced Ash Lenthard, who does not so much kick ass, as tap-dance across the heads of her enemies.” Does she ever! Wily, resourceful, street-smart Ash has left her painful past behind, shedding her skin and becoming a boy who flies across rooftops with her band of Huntsmen. I loved that Ash is never sitting still. She’s always up and doing something, making the most out of what she has at her disposal. I love that she goes for what she wants instead of twiddling her thumbs. It gets so tiresome reading books in which the characters remain inert for long periods of time, whether it’s due to hesitation or insecurities or what-have-you. This is definitely not the case with Ash.
Plus she made me laugh, and frequently. Ash is one of those characters who is either getting herself into shenanigans or finding herself dropped right in the middle of them, and watching her extricate herself from situations ranging from awkward to dangerous is truly entertaining. She’s self-possessed, focused, and a born leader. I admired her confidence. (I’ve had really good luck recently with female protagonists who go around dressing like boys and then subsequently running circles around them. Also see: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen.) I also loved her relationship and banter with Rian Thornaster, the man she reluctantly teams up with to investigate Genevieve’s murder. They were more than a match for each other.
One of my favorite things about this author’s fantasy books is her world building, which is so detailed that it boggles the mind. Ash’s world is no different; it’s a fully realized universe, and delving into it is akin to visiting a foreign country. You have to learn the language, figure out the nuances of its culture. It’s an exercise in discovery that occasionally proved to be a challenge due to the sheer volume of new things to absorb and process. I don’t mind a challenge, but keep in mind that there are no training wheels. The same has been true of other fantasy books I’ve read from this author, and I think it adds to how real they end up feeling. I loved the world introduced in Hunting, especially the complex relationship and balance between the gods, the people, and the land, which were all connected and intertwined. I read a lot of fantasy so it’s always refreshing to see new concepts and ideas in a genre where a lot of tropes are often re-used. Just another thing I’ve come to expect when I read A.K. Höst!
It takes a bit of an adjustment period to orient yourself in the world of Hunting, which is pretty complex. Lots of words, names, and cultural details to learn, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Ash Lenthard is an unforgettable heroine you can’t help rooting for, whether she’s falling down wells or protecting the people she loves. You may also like The Medair Duology (The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost), also by Andrea K. Höst, and the first of her fantasy novels I ever picked up. (I loved them too!)...more
So! This was my first ever Sarah Dessen book, recommended to me by the lovely Ana at Anahera Reads when I was looking around for a good YA Contemporary for this event. I have to admit that I’ve been hesitant to try this author’s books for YEARS. I came in half expecting something insubstantial and/or hormonal to the extreme, but my perceptions were completely changed by the time I turned the last page. Well, long before that, actually. The fact that I loved this book so much is kind of crazy, because I am definitely not a big contemporary reader, and definitely not in the YA genre. I’ve mentioned before that I find it hard to enjoy contemporary books because they just don’t seem like enough of an escape for me, but I am now making an exception for Sarah Dessen.
… Actually, this book kind of sent me on a crazy Dessen binge. I HAVE NO REGRETS. The Truth About Forever surprised me with its candid look at grief, the vibrance and believability of its characters, and the small, poignant moments that I still haven’t forgotten even weeks after reading it.
I love this book for its realistic take on what being a teenager is like. Since I read a lot of YA, the average age range is anywhere between 15-19 years old, and not every book has a believable take on being that age. Maybe my own experience with being in high school was the most grossly unexciting thing ever, but sometimes I run into teenaged characters who do things or live these lifestyles that seem so farfetched. Macy, however, is someone you can easily accept as being 17 years old, in that final summer before senior year and dealing with issues that are both relevant and understandable. Grief is such a powerful force, and it has shaped the way she’s been living her life. She was a character I sympathized with, but also a character I wanted to hug REALLY HARD. I liked her immediately. And I was thrilled to see that the teenagers in this book weren’t living this constant dramafest 24/7, with hookups and breakups and some new *disaster* every 5 minutes. They were just ordinary people.
In fact, I think it would be pretty accurate to say that it’s the art of finding meaning in the ordinary and the everyday that makes Sarah Dessen’s writing so easy to enjoy and identify with. I’m figuring that out with every Dessen book I read. Her stories are warm and inviting, but not superficial in any way. And the thing is, even though reading this book was a lot like watching a feel-good movie, and even though some things were predictable in the way feel-good movies usually are, I didn’t care. I liked it anyway. It was comforting, a lot like sitting down at Starbucks with an old friend and just talking for hours.
Also, Wes. I loved Wes. I loved the entire cast, really. Minus Jason, but you aren’t really supposed to love him, and I mostly felt sorry for the guy. The book is full of people you can’t help liking. They’re funny, memorable, and have really distinct personalities. Their interactions and relationships with one another were so natural. The writer has a gift for creating characters you could easily picture living next door, waving to you from their driveway, and she even makes you wish you could really wave back.
The Truth About Forever is the story of one summer, with all its small joys and sorrows. It’s the little things that all add up to a bigger picture, for Macy and for the reader. It made me smile, but it also made me think, and because of that I decided I was okay with the story being a bit predictable. After all, there’s something about knowing exactly where you’re going and how to get there, and sometimes it’s nice to have a book hold your hand and make you feel like you’re home. I highly recommend it, and Sarah Dessen in general, whether you’re a big fan of contemporary or a stranger to it like I was....more
… FIGHTING EVIL BY MOONLIGHT! WINNING LOVE BY DAYLIGHT! NEVER RUNNING FROM A REAL FIGHT — ohOriginally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
… FIGHTING EVIL BY MOONLIGHT! WINNING LOVE BY DAYLIGHT! NEVER RUNNING FROM A REAL FIGHT — oh, we’re NOT singing the Sailor Moon theme song right now? Well, boo. I guess I’ll go back to writing this review then…
I absolutely loved Cinder, and not just because it brought back fond memories of watching Sailor Moon every morning when I was a kid. It’s a refreshing, original take on the Cinderella fairy tale that effortlessly incorporates new twists with familiar details. Besides, there are cyborgs. And a Prince. And diabolical mind manipulation powers…! What more do you need in life??
One of the best things about Cinder is Cinder herself. Well, aside from a minor snag during which I made faces at the book because her hair was described as “mousy brown.” (I just really dislike when brown hair is described as ‘mousy.’ It’s one of my least favorite adjectives…) But everything else was awesome. I liked that Cinder was such a gifted mechanic, that she was a hard worker but not a martyr or Mary Sue about it. None of that lame, “I’m going to suffer in silence because I’m such a good person blah blah blah I don’t resent this unfair treatment at all!” nonsense. Cinder isn’t happy with her situation, but she does her best to live with it until her opportunity comes to make a change. She does feel resentful, hurt and angry. And that makes her more sympathetic, in my opinion. I just can’t get behind a heroine who simply accepts her fate, no matter how crappy it is.
While it kind of bugged me that she had such a complex about being part cyborg, it was an understandable thing to feel self-conscious about, especially in a society where being half machine wasn’t exactly a celebrated thing. Besides, this is only the first book and I have high hopes that Cinder will eventually come to accept and even be proud of being exactly the person (and kind of person) she is. I personally thought her cyborg half was incredible. I mean, she has a built in lie detector, for crying out loud. Hello?? Awesome???
My favorite thing about this protagonist: she was never standing still, just waiting for the shit to go down. I like female leads who take matters into their own hands, who make decisions that might prove to be mistakes and yet just keep rolling with the punches anyway. I liked that she was self-sufficient; she didn’t need anyone to save her.
I have nothing but admiration for the society and setting featured in this book, which is far, far into the future and yet still recognizable as something that could realistically evolve from world we live in right now. Sometimes sci-fi verges on the overly farfetched, with technology and other innovations that are difficult to believe or even comprehend. But I could see the future turning out to be something like the future portrayed in Cinder. Oh, and I thought the Lunars were pretty fascinating, with their illusions and mind games — a worthy adversary in this book, and in the ones to follow.
If you’re still on the fence about this Cinderella retelling, I think you should give it a try. I really enjoyed the science fiction spin on the original story, and I appreciated how it seamlessly included bits and pieces of the fairy tale while still making sense. It doesn’t have the fatal flaw of being completely overtaken by romance or overburdened by details. Highly recommended, and I’m definitely going to read the rest of the series.
…. Aaaaaand now I think I’ll go back to having the Sailor Moon theme song stuck in my head....more
This was one of those books that just had me completely spellbound from the first line. Vessel conOriginally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
This was one of those books that just had me completely spellbound from the first line. Vessel contains a beautifully constructed fantasy world of sweeping desert and volatile gods, of sand storms that darken the sun and dragons made of glass. Long before the end, Liyana had made it to my list of all-time favorite heroines and the ever expanding list of people I want to be when I grow up. (Uhh, whenever that miraculous event might occur… *cough*)
Are you ready? I’m going to list all the reasons why I love Liyana, the protagonist of this book. First of all, as she and others often observe throughout the story, she is so freaking practical. And by practicality, I mean she never wastes time on hysterics. It doesn’t matter what the situation is — she keeps a level head and does her best to work with what she can. I love a resourceful heroine. Even stranded in the desert, abandoned by her entire clan for something that was no fault of her own, Liyana manages to be a trooper. Sand wolves are ripping her tent to shreds?? NO PROBLEM SHE’LL JUST STAB THEM. All her allies have been captured by the enemy?? NO PROBLEM SHE’LL JUST DRESS HERSELF UP AND CALMLY NEGOTIATE FOR THEIR LIVES. I mean, seriously. How can you not appreciate a heroine who is so capable, who never allows herself to be hemmed in by limitations?
I also loved the relationship between Liyana and Korbyn, which was characterized by so much ease and compatibility despite how complicated it was. Picture this: Liyana is supposed to be the vessel of a goddess, the same goddess Korbyn has been in love with for centuries. But the goddess herself never came to take over Liyana’s body, and now the lines are beginning to blur. Does Korbyn have feelings for Liyana, or are they residual feelings from his relationship with the very similar Bayla? Can Liyana allow herself to care about someone when it’s highly likely the success of their quest will also mean her death?
And then there’s the not so simple matter of Liyana’s own acceptance of her fate. She’s lived almost her entire life knowing that she is only a vessel, that her existence is even more temporary than everyone else’s. Liyana’s life has never truly been hers to live. She was never allowed to do anything that might endanger the body she would have to give over to the goddess, never allowed to really be herself. Until she meets the others and sets out on this quest to fix whatever went wrong, she was content with the sacrifice she was born to make. But this sacrifice becomes harder and harder to make the longer Liyana remains in her own skin. She begins to long for the life she won’t be allowed to have once the goddess is rescued. That’s when things get really interesting, and when Liyana truly starts to shine — even more than she did when she was fighting off sand wolves with a knife.
Vessel revolves heavily around the theme of sacrifice — of what you might give up in order to save someone else. In Liyana’s case, she would be trading her own life for the survival of her people, because without the gods that return every one hundred years, the desert tribes would die. The gods cure the sick, grant boons to their people, and bring water to quench the desert drought. Liyana knows this, and yet her own strong will to live conflicts with the destiny that claimed her when she was only a child. She isn’t the only one faced with a difficult sacrifice, and the story hinges around some truly painful choices that need to be made. As well, it’s the story of how Liyana grows into herself, finally fitting into her own skin and into the life she didn’t expect to be allowed to keep.
Absolutely loved this book. I recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy and is looking for a unique, vividly conveyed world with an amazing heroine. Also great for those who liked N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which also features the complicated relationship between gods and humans....more
I spent all two hundred pages of this with my heart in my throat. I won’t lie about it. I wiOriginally posted on Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4.5/5 Stars
I spent all two hundred pages of this with my heart in my throat. I won’t lie about it. I will admit to you here and now that it affected me much more than I thought it would. There’s nothing ostentatious about it — the prose is spare and the life relived in flashbacks is the life of an ordinary girl. Up until the terrible accident that changes everything, Mia is dreaming of Juilliard, facing inevitable conflicts in her relationship, and rejoicing in an unexpected snow day. In short, she could be any senior in high school; she could be you or me. For me, If I Stay really brought home the impact of sudden loss, but also everything about life that is worth holding on to.
I admire this book for the way it made me sit up and pay attention. The beginning lulls you into this false sense of security despite the fact that you know something bad is about to happen. Mia has breakfast with her family, joking about mom’s (lack of) cooking skills and making impromptu plans to go for a drive since school and work have been canceled due to several inches of snow. They’re in the car and suddenly, from nowhere, the narrative shatters into an account of twisted metal and blood on asphalt. The collision happens without warning, taking your breath away and really bringing you into Mia’s perspective. It’s such a close approximation to what she experiences, and it’s probably the closest a reader could come to being in that car beside her. There isn’t even a paragraph break to isolate the event. It just happens. And just like that, Mia’s world is in pieces on the highway.
It was terrifying and painful to consider the finality of the situation. There’s no undo button, no way to rewind time and reclaim what was lost. If I Stay brings mortality to the forefront, highlighting the fragility of being human and exposing how swiftly a life can change forever. Safe in your daily existence, wrapped up in all your little routines and all the usual worries, it’s so easy to get comfortable. I’m young, and it’s especially easy for me to imagine that I’m invincible and will live forever. I can’t be the only member of my generation to feel that way, and my generation is certainly not the first to believe it. I think that’s one reason why this book has a place in so many hearts — it’s like a jolt to the system. Listen, it says. You should treasure every moment. I’m not saying that you should be looking anxiously over your shoulder, waiting for a freak accident to plow into you. I’m saying that this book, despite the cold touch of death on every page, managed to make me think more about life than anything else.
Mia’s family and friends are very clearly characterized. With every flashback, I felt more and more as though I’d also known them. This had the effect of making Mia’s grief that much more real to me. It would’ve been easy to remain a detached, distant observer of her tragedy if I hadn’t become so well acquainted with everything she’d lost. Lying comatose in the ICU, Mia is surrounded by people who love her and those people are vividly portrayed. They feel like real people. And all of these elements come together, fueled by raw emotion that basically punches you in the gut. I understood what made Mia’s choice so heartbreaking and so difficult. I understood why she might want to let go because I knew what she had lost, but I also understood why she needed to stay because I saw everything she still had left.
I think everyone should give this one a chance, even those like me who rarely venture into this branch of the YA genre and even those who might be avoiding it for fear of encountering empty sentiments and textbook melodrama. For me, If I Stay transcended the story of one girl and became something more. It became a reminder to love life, and to love it fiercely....more
It’s been a long while since I last read a Robin Hood retelling (The Outlaws of Sherwood by RoOriginally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 4/5 Stars
It’s been a long while since I last read a Robin Hood retelling (The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, specifically) and I’ve never read the original, but I’ve always enjoyed the premise and was familiar with the main characters so I was interested to see what kind of twist Scarlet would bring to the timeless story. Guys, I was not disappointed! I just really love strong female leads in books for so many reasons, and the titular character here is as tough as they come. While there was a minor adjustment period for me when it came to the narrative style, I ended up rather impressed by how the author used Scarlet’s way of talking in such a strategic way. I thought this book was an incredible take on Robin Hood with all the adventure, daring deeds, and romance a girl could wish for.
I tend to talk about the main character first when writing a review because the MC can make or break a book for me, and I know a lot of other readers are the same way. In this case, Scarlet herself was a big reason why I loved this retelling as much as I did. She has a tough exterior but a heart of gold. I appreciated that she was also flawed — Scarlet hoards her secrets and has such a difficult time learning to trust even those she calls comrades that it often causes friction. But I admire her because she’s a survivor, because of her inherent compassion, and for the fact that she remains true to who she really is even while spending most of her time hiding behind a disguise. Also, I just can’t help but love a girl who knows the right moment to give up negotiations and just punch someone in the face. (It’s an art, what can I say?)
Many readers will no doubt struggle at first to get used to Scarlet’s way of speaking, which isn’t always pretty or even grammatically correct. I went with it and assumed for most of the book that it was just a stylistic choice made by the author… but later realized that it was also a really clever way to symbolize Scarlet’s adoption of a new identity as well as how far she was willing to go in order to escape the person she used to be.
Perhaps the most surprising element of Scarlet for me was just how much I loved the romance. And by romance, I don’t mean the not-really-a-love-triangle that was going on, because to me there was never really any competition between Corner A and Corner B. You pretty much know that there’s only one man for Scarlet. (I MEAN COME ON.) But that relationship is complicated by Scarlet’s secrets, which threaten to undermine the entire thing more than once. It’s an exercise not only in learning to love and trust someone else, but also to love and trust herself. Anyway, I think this book does a great job proving that ‘romance’ doesn’t have to be hot and heavy to qualify as romantic. I really loved that aspect. Plus it doesn’t hurt that my corner of the love triangle totally won in the end~ #NotBiasedAtAll
Um, but back to that not-really-a-love-triangle… actually it really annoyed me. Specifically, the other man vying for Scarlet’s affections drove me up the wall. I didn’t find him charming or even mildly amusing AT ALL. He came off rather pushy and invasive, not to mention shallow, and I hated how long Scarlet put up with him. I guess I just didn’t mesh with that character in particular because not once in the entire story did I stop disliking him. So, I ended up taking off a star because that part of the book didn’t sit well with me and it was another case where I felt like a love triangle wasn’t necessary, even though this one wasn’t anywhere near as aggravating as others I’ve read, nor as predominant in the plot. Thankfully. Because, ugh.
Scarlet brings a new, refreshing perspective on the age-old tale of Robin Hood. You just really have to love and respect a retelling that incorporates a fierce, passionate, independent woman into a story that’s always been geared towards a male audience. I recommend this book to anyone looking for great YA historical fiction, and to anyone who often finds themselves longing for a heroine they can admire....more
There is so much to love about this book. If you’re a regular follower of my reviews then you Originally posted at Novel Idea Reviews
RATING: 5/5 Stars
There is so much to love about this book. If you’re a regular follower of my reviews then you should know I never hand out my ratings lightly; for a book to receive five stars from me, it has to really invoke some crazily good emotions and pretty much leave me comatose with bliss. Out of the Easy just had me at hello. No kidding — by the time I’d finished reading the first page, I was hooked. All kinds of lovestruck questions started crowding my brain. Where had this book been all my life?? Could Josie Moraine please be my BFF?? Et al etc. With its vivid portrayal of post-war New Orleans and the added kick of a strong, capable, truly admirable heroine, Out of the Easy is quite simply one of the best experiences I’ve had this year so far.
I have to talk about the setting, because it’s just so well done. Everything in the setting, from the atmosphere of the 1950′s to the iconic French Quarter, is brought to life in a way that draws you in. Most startling of all was how much undeniable warmth could be found in unexpected places. Josie grows up as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, living her life among characters that seem unsavory at first glance. The people she considers to be her family aren’t exactly what you’d call model citizens. The places she has come to consider as home are neither picturesque nor necessarily safe. And yet, there is so much light in the shadows — so much proof that love and loyalty can still thrive even in the harshest conditions. The book coaxes you to look again, to give second chances and believe that even people forced into bad situations can still be good at heart.
There honestly wasn’t a single character that I had issues with. They were all unique and brimming with personality. Josie shines the brightest, in my opinion; she’s tough because she has to be in order to survive the life she was born into, but she’s so much more than simply tough. I love a multifaceted heroine, especially a heroine who strives to be independent and yet also remain true to who she is. Josie wants desperately to climb higher, to leave New Orleans behind and go to college, forge her own path away from the destructive influence of her mother. She has a lot of ambition, but I was heartened to see that ambition didn’t alienate her from the people who loved her, even if those people were part of the world she was fiercely determined to leave behind. I loved that she carved out her own identity, refusing to be defined by her circumstances. Josie is one of those rare main characters who wins me over the moment we meet. I not only found myself liking her immensely, but admiring her as well.
I also really appreciated that the plot wasn’t defined by Josie’s love life. I absolutely loved that she was so busy and so focused on what she was doing that she barely even noticed the two men in her life: Patrick, proprietor of the bookstore where Josie works, and Jesse, the world’s most adorable mechanic/flower vendor. (YES, he’s a mechanic AND a flower vendor and only Jesse could ever pull this off. Can you tell I’m smitten with the man??) I’m actually not going to label this as a love triangle because Josie was never actually conflicted between them. As sensible as she is, I could never envision her losing her marbles over which guy to date. There were other far more important things to be doing, and the romance took a backseat to that. Not that it was nonexistent, mind you. Josie just doesn’t spend all her time making doe eyes at people. I prefer understated romance because it grows on you even as it’s growing on the characters, and I think it’s so much more realistic that way.
Out of the Easy stands out among the many books I’ve read this year (and in general) as a compelling story that is infused with hope and warmth despite darker themes and the grim reality of life on the streets of 50′s New Orleans. When I grow up, I want to be Josie Moraine. In the meantime, I plan to employ peer pressure in an effort to influence you into picking up this book. I highly recommend it, and you know I don’t recommend just anything. Trust me: this is one book you absolutely can’t miss....more
**We're currently hosting an ARC giveaway for the book!**
I already really love to read historical fiction, but there are few things in life more awesome than combining the genre with a little espionage. (Seriously, just look at that word: espionage. It’s thrilling all by itself. Right??) Maid of Secrets really does an amazing job incorporating a vivid historical setting — in this case, the court of a young Queen Elizabeth I — and all the cloak and dagger action you could possibly ask for. This book is a web of intrigue, lies, and deception that I really enjoyed reading. I almost don’t want to give my ARC away, but I firmly believe that great books should be shared, so there’s a giveaway for you at the end of this post! Keep reading for my thoughts on the book and your chance to win the ARC!
Meg Fellowes never envisioned herself being recruited off the streets and brought into the Queen’s confidence. She’s an accomplished thief and a versatile actress, skills that ensure her livelihood with the Golden Rose acting troupe. She’s satisfied with her lot in life, and she spends a large portion of the plot just wishing she could go back to how things used to be. I liked that she wasn’t immediately amazing at her new role of being one of the Queen’s spies in the royal court. She had to come into this gradually, and she also had to learn to accept the person she was becoming because of it. Meg has a lot to learn and a lot to prove. I was relieved to see that she wasn’t going to be the usual clumsy, awkward, “plain” heroine; actually, she strikes a balance between being easy to relate to and yet also being understandably special. And I appreciated that Meg consistently used her skills to see her way out of tough situations. She’s a resourceful and clever heroine, as well as independent. She can take care of herself.
Being self-sufficient and cunning is absolutely necessary in the vipers’ nest she finds herself thrown into when she’s chosen to become a Maid of Honor to Queen Elizabeth I. The court of the young queen is thick with scandals, conspiracies, and tensions. In order to navigate this tangled web, Meg is forced to rely on all the wits in her possession. Everyone has their own agenda, with political intrigue at max ever since Elizabeth I’s ascension to the throne. Meg and her fellow Maids are tasked with doing everything they can to find and sabotage any plots against their queen. Alas, the job is nowhere near as simple as it seems. Not only is Meg obliged to act according to the wishes of her spymasters, she also ends up torn between performing her duty as a Maid and remaining loyal to Elizabeth — a loyalty that is sorely tested when her own freedom is on the line. I had a lot of fun with all the political games and complicated connections within the court. Most of all, I loved that five young girls who would normally have very little influence or power were able to use the very thing that put them at a disadvantage in order to turn the tables. In a world dominated by men, an undeniably strong woman on the throne and a cast of quick-witted girls acting as her spies was really, truly refreshing to see.
I liked Meg’s fellow maids, although they did sort of fall into character tropes. The friendship that eventually brought them all together by the end made me smile. I like when girls work together instead of plotting against each other! And if you’re wondering about the romance, there is a pseudo Love Triangle here… but not really. I think it was less a Love Triangle and more of an inner conflict for Meg; one man, the master of her acting troupe, represented everything she’d left behind and still longed for, while the other man stood for the new world she’d been brought into. Master James doesn’t figure very prominently in the story and we mostly see Meg’s interactions with the wily Rafe Luis Medina, part of the Spanish envoy to Elizabeth’s court. Well, she mostly refers to him as ‘that blasted Spaniard’ during all the incidents in which she’s forced to match wits with him. I found myself really liking these two together. They’re both talented liars, pickpockets, and spies, which adds tension as well as chemistry. Rafe is great for independent Meg; I can’t picture her with anyone who wouldn’t be able to keep up with her.
I have only a few complaints. I did wish that the other Maids had been brought into more collaborative efforts with Meg, especially Sophia, who was always in the background either fainting or looking terrified over something. I happen to love Beatrice despite how prickly she was and I hope for more of her in the rest of the series. Sometimes the plot did become too caught up in all the secret passageways, eavesdropping, and strategic flirting, which slowed it down in parts. Oh, and Meg’s random rhyming couplets were a bit strange to me… but hey, all characters have quirks, right? Overall, the little things were outweighed by the sheer fun of reading this book.
Fans of historical fiction, the medieval era, and tons of delicious subterfuge will definitely enjoy Maid of Secrets! It’s out tomorrow, May 7th, and the publisher was kind enough to let me give away my ARC and share the love :) Everything you need to know about winning a copy can be found below! Good luck!!
Thank you so much to SimonTEEN for the ARC!...more