Reviews · Throwback Thursdays

Bitten and Stolen by Kelley Armstrong (RE-READ)

# of Pages: 384 and 389

Time it took me to read: 2 days and 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 55 and 55

Rating: 5 out of 5 for both

 

Elena Michaels is a normal woman. She has a career she enjoys, a boyfriend that dotes on her, and gets plenty of exercise. Well, most of that exercise happens on four legs, rather than two, and that is exactly what makes Elena NOT normal: once every week or so, she has to sneak out of her apartment in the middle of the night to transform into a werewolf. It’s not a big deal, she’s put that part of her life behind her, it’s really only a minor inconvenience. Except for when her former Pack’s alpha calls her for help in a way she can’t refuse.

Soon Elena is once again wrapped up in the life she’s tried so hard to forget, the world of tracking down rogue werewolves and helping to ensure that the secret of her Pack stays that way. And as always she finds herself again entangled with Clayton, the man who’s heart she’s broken a hundred times but who can’t seem to let her go, despite the fact that they have a past which she can never forgive.

But Elena is never one to back down from a fight, and when the Pack is threatened, she’s left to defend it with everything she has.


*This sequel description contains SPOILERS*

Elena Michaels is a werewolf. She’s finally accepted it and found her place at Stonehaven, the home of the Pack, with her alpha and her partner, Clay. Just as she’s started to fall into her old routines of keeping the Pack safe from exposure, she stumbles upon a new secret she never suspected: werewolves aren’t the only thing out there that goes “bump” in the night.

Elena and her Pack are just one “race” of supernatural being out there: witches, sorcerers, half-demons, vampires, they all exist for better or worse. And lately, members of each race have been disappearing. Against her will, Elena is drawn into the mystery of where these supernaturals have been disappearing to – and who’s been stealing them.

I’m going to try and keep these reviews for books I’m re-reading pretty short. This series has 13 books in it (yup), so I’m not sure I’ll review them all, and many of them I’ll probably try to review in pairs (as these are the first two books in the series and share the same protagonist.

“Women of the Otherworld” is definitely one of my top three favorite series EVER in the adult fiction genre. Typically, I have struggled with adult fiction for a few reasons: too much unnecessary sex, not enough plot, poorly developed characters, and lack of quality writing.

I have absolutely nothing against the romance genre, there’s a reason it’s the most lucrative genre in publishing, but those types of books aren’t really for me. And though there definitely is a difference between romance and adult fantasy fiction, I’ve found that the “fantasy” aspect is really the only major difference in most of my experience. I’m not opposed to a few steamy sex scenes, but I need plot and character to be driving the book, not just jumping from sex scene to sex scene.

“Women of the Otherworld” books are filled with complex characters, fast-paced plots, and yes, a few steamy sex scenes to keep things interesting. Pretty much everything you could want in adult fiction, in my opinion. Those are just a few of the reasons I find myself coming back to read the series in its entirety every two to four years. And now it’s especially fun, since I’ve roped a few of my dearest friends into reading the series along with me, so we trade the books back and forth and get to talk about them, which is especially fun, as it’s the first time reading most of them for my friends.

Specifically regarding Bitten and Stolen, you really couldn’t ask for a better introduction into this incredibly engaging and diverse urban fantasy world that Armstrong has created. Elena engages you on her journey from the very first page, her struggle against who she is and her desperate attempts to create a life for herself like she always imagined resonate through the pages. Even though I’ve never been a werewolf, I understand how upsetting it can be when your life isn’t going the way you planned, and it seems to just keep spiraling further and further from your control. Plus she’s a strong, smart, independent woman, and who doesn’t love that in a protagonist.

As for re-reads in general, there is something so comforting about returning to old favorites, being able to read through them at the speed of light, but also having forgotten enough about what happens that the action is still exciting.

I’m throwing in some new books in-between “The Women of the Otherworld”, so I’ll be bringing some fresh reviews to the site that aren’t re-reads. If you’re interested in what else I’m reading, since not everything will make it onto this blog, check out my Goodreads, you can add me at “Sarah Kruhlak”. I’m making my way through my “Book a Week” challenge this year, and I’m actually a few books ahead (one of the few good things to come out of quarantine).

If you liked Bitten and Stolen, try:

Moon Called (Mercy Thompson Book #1) by Patricia Briggs

Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires Book #1) by Rachel Caine

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Reviews

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House

# of Pages: 450

Time it took me to read: 9 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 64 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

Alex Stern never thought she’d be part of Yale University’s newest freshman class. She doesn’t speak three languages and she’s not set up to be the next great American novelist. She doesn’t even come from money. But what she does have is a unique kind of power that makes her desirable to Yale’s Lethe House, one of the nine highly secret and darkly alluring  societies that have existed at Yale for hundreds of years. The job of Lethe House and its initiates? Keep the other eight houses, the Ancient Eight, in check, for each one specializes in a type of magic that has the ability to make or break careers or bring countries to their knees, but without Lethe members monitoring and protecting these rituals, things can get messy fast.

Despite her natural ability to see “greys”, the shadows of those who have crossed the Veil in death, Alex quickly finds herself in too deep when a girl is murdered on the university’s campus, a girl with connections to more than one of the Ancient Eight. And even though Alex hasn’t been at Yale long, she’s learned fast that there’s no such thing as coincidences when the societies are involved. 

I’ll start out by saying that this book was not what I expected at all. I’m a huge fan of Leigh Bardugo, I think she’s one of the best writers in YA currently, her Grishaverse books grab you from the very first page. So I was very intrigued when I learned she’d branched out a bit into the adult fiction sector with what, to me, was marketed as a mystery novel set at Yale University’s campus.

As someone who tries to dip her toes outside of her comfort zone every now and again, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do so. However, it was pretty immediately apparent that this was not so much a realistic fiction mystery, but a story about dak rituals, ghosts, and magical substances that can put a person completely under the influence of the wielder. So, really, not so far off from the kind of stuff I read regularly.

I’ll start off by saying that to me, the distinction between “adult” and “young adult” is getting blurrier and blurrier these days. Really, the only thing that makes this “adult” rather than YA is the age of the characters. One might argue that there are significantly disturbing scenes, including sexual assault and heavy drug usage, that make it fitter for an adult audience, but we all know that sexual assault and drugs certainly aren’t limited to adults. These days, one can find books in the YA sphere that deal with violence, death, assault, drugs, sex, and yes, even use an unlimited amount of foul language. Because none of that is over the head of the sixteen to eighteen year olds these books are “marketed” toward. Plus, I feel as though publishers would be remiss if they failed to notice that a huge percentage of YA readers, such as myself, are well into their twenties and thirties and enjoy mature, socially relevant themes. End tangent.

Anyway, I have to admit I was expecting to be quickly pulled in head first as I usually am with a Leigh Bardugo novel, but that was not the case here. I will say, despite the fact that I gave this book the five-star rating I believe it deserves, that the story starts out slow. I found myself very bogged down with trying to remember all the names and the nicknames of the characters, as well as all of the different societies and what they specialized in. I recognized right away that everything that Leigh lays out for the reader is incredibly well researched and beautifully written, however, the story takes quite some time to pick up. Close to 200 pages in fact. Which is enough to deter many less serious, and some even more serious readers like me. Quite honestly, I’m not sure I would have made it through this book were it not for my unwavering faith in Leigh Bardugo.

Maybe that should deter me from giving this book five stars. But I don’t care, it’s my rating system and I can do what I please.

The last two hundred pages of this book were thrilling and exhilarating enough to keep me flipping the pages as quickly as I could. By that time, the reader is well acquainted with the different houses of the “Ancient Eight”, and what they do, and they begin to have more and more faith in Alex, even though by this point you’ve learned about her “storied” past and why she might not, in fact, be the kind of person you should put your faith in. But that is why I only got to liking her more and more as this book progressed.

To talk about character a bit, Alex Stern starts out as a farce of a standard YA protagonist. She can see ghosts, she had a rough childhood because they wouldn’t leave her alone, yadda yadda, seems very much like many other characters I’ve read before. But there was something about her that kept me from getting too attached to her from the start. And I think it’s because she’s really not “likable” as a person. As someone who has always been a fan of protagonists that are “likable” and “relatable”, it can take me some time to come around to some of the more gritty protagonists out there. Alex starts out as having seemingly shallow and basic motivations: she’s at Yale because she has been given the opportunity to be “normal” for the first time in her life, her mentors at Lethe House provide her with safety and security that she’s never had before, she just wants to be able to graduate and have a normal life and doesn’t really care that much about the rest of it all. This couldn’t be more opposite to her mentor at Lethe, Yale senior Daniel “Darlington” Arlington, who lives and breathes everything about Lethe, the societies, and the magic of New Haven, the town where Yale resides. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Alex must make a choice about whether she is just going to float along doing her due diligence to Lethe while trying to make it through her difficult classes and maintain relationships with roommates who know nothing about Alex’s past or her connection to Lethe, or whether she is going to dig deep and be the Lethe representative that Darlington always wanted her to be.

As I mentioned before, the enormous amount of set up required for this story, and the fact that the story jumps around in the beginning both in perspective and in timeline, means that it moves at a pretty slow pace during the first half. For most books I read, I’d argue that this means the book isn’t worth finishing. I have a whole personal philosophy that I call the “quarter” rule, where if a book hasn’t grabbed me by a quarter of the way through, it probably never will. And even if the book gets good at the end, is it worth the reader having to “suffer” through the setup? Mostly, I abide by my own rule and say no, the reader is owed some sort of gratification, something to pull them along through the setup, and that set up should only take at most a quarter of the book.

However, there are exceptions to every rule, including my own. As an avid fan of Bardugo’s, I felt that I owed it to her to read it through till the end, even if it ended up not being my cup of tea.

Oh boy, am I glad I stuck it through.

The last half of the book, the stakes get higher, and as the reader you start to formulate your theories about who murdered the dead girl found on Yale’s campus, and how it’s connected to the societies, and who has it out for Alex when she starts looking too close. Personally, I had my suspicions, which were then dashed, but then, just as you think you might be right, Bardugo throws you for another loop. The ending of this book was so well set up and supported, yet I really did NOT see it coming, which I love. When you read as much as I do, sometimes books get predictable, which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them, I often enjoy books I can predict the endings to, but I do love to be surprised.

My apologies, as my first review in a while, my thoughts are a bit scattered, but I think I covered just about everything that I want to say about this book. To make a long review short, though this book takes quite some time to wind up, the ending is well worth it, and though Alex Stern isn’t the most “likable” hero, she shows true grit and is realistically developed, even though that development takes more time than most of the books I read. I’m quite excited for the next one, as sequels to books like this are often much better than the first, because the setup is out of the way and all that’s left is the meat of the story, which is certainly the best part of Ninth House.

All in all, Leigh Bardugo has done it again, proving her reputation as a first-class writer, but also showing her chops as a dedicated researcher, as she uses her world-building skill to truly make the reader believe that there is a dark, magical underbelly that has always existed within Yale University and New Haven.

If you liked Ninth House, try:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

Reviews

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

Tempests and Slaughter

# of Pages: 455

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 65 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

Long before Tortall ever knew him as the master mage Numair Salmalin, he was a boy named Arram Draper, one young mage among many at the University of Carthak. Arram always knew he was more advanced than his peers, having been the youngest in all his classes since he began school. But when an extraordinary event draws the eye of every master mage in the academy, his life is changed forever. He is placed on a unique course of study along with the first real friends he’s ever had: Varice, who is as beautiful and charismatic as she is powerful, and Ozorne, last in a long line of heirs to the throne of Carthak, but the first mage born in his line for generations. Arram finally feels at home at the University as his studies become more advanced with every term and he grows into his power. As they grow, Arram and his friends must come to terms with the fact that things are not always as they seem, and despite each of them holding extraordinary power, sometimes one is not always in control of their own destiny.

 

So, as a fan of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe for over a decade, when I heard she was releasing a prequel about one of my favorite characters in said universe, I knew I had to have it. Despite her books being categorized as “middle reader”, I truly don’t think that one will ever be able to “grow out” of Tamora Pierce’s stories. This review may or may not turn into a fangirl rant about Tamora Pierce, and if so I apologize in advance (sorry not sorry).

I’ll start out by saying that anyone who is a fan of Song of the Lioness quartet or The Immortals quartet will love this story. Even though this book takes place many years before these series, it somehow feels right that this story has been written after them, as it is rich and matured perfectly. I believe there is no other character in all of the Tortall universe who deserves a series detailing his backstory than Numair (Arram).

For those of you who haven’t read Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals quartet (which, by the way, you absolutely should go out and do), it’s a series about a girl named Daine who has a very unique kind of magic, called wild magic, that allows her to communicate with animals and even, as her power is harnessed, transform into them. The series follows her and her teacher, Numair Salmalin, likely the most powerful mage in the world, through their adventures. In this series, Numair is a fully developed master mage, while Daine is his untrained pupil. In Tempests and Slaughter, we go back to Numair’s childhood, before he was powerful enough to have chosen a mage name, and is merely Arram Draper, the son of a tailor.

The biggest compliments I think I can pay this author regarding this book are a) I think only Tamora Pierce could make a book all about going to school exciting, and b) all I wanted to do upon finishing this book was go back and read The Immortals again, even though I’ve definitely read them within the last two years. Pierce’s books are just ones that you can return to over and and over again, and it just feels like going home. The Immortals and Song of the Lioness are up there among the ranks of the few series that I’ve read in their entirety more than twice.

Arram, as he grows from a young boy to a young man, is a wonderful character who you cannot help but admire. He is intelligent and determined, but at the same time absentminded and nerdy at times in a way that is totally relatable. Seeing him with his best friends Varice and Ozorne is wonderful, as they are unique and compelling characters in their own rights, but bittersweet and heartbreaking if you’ve read The Immortals (I promise, that’s the only spoiler I’ll give).

And, like I said earlier, despite the fact that this is literally a book about a kid going to school, it is fast paced and engaging throughout. The same could be said for Harry Potter and Hogwarts, but the difference is this book is really about the classes and the teachers and the actual magic that is happening. Harry Potter is a series that takes place at a school: Tempests and Slaughter is a book about school.

And a note about the Tortall universe in general: the world that Pierce builds is just stunning. The different countries, Tortall, Carthak, Tyra, the Yamani Islands, all are rich with their own histories and cultures. This universe also has its own unique gods and magical creatures, all of whom are known and worshipped to varying degrees. Despite being books for “middle readers”, Tamora Pierce does not do any sort of “dumbing down” or avoiding of difficult subjects in her stories. She discusses all the most difficult parts of growing up, both for boys and for girls, such as getting your first period and, erm, unfortunately timed erections for pubescent boys. She also includes characters of all races, genders, and sexualities. In fact Alanna the Lioness, who’s story I was exposed to at age 12, has multiple sexual partners throughout her story, all out of wedlock, and she is never shamed or has any personal guilt about not being “pure” when she finally does decide to settle down. Tamora’s stories gave me something so very valuable as a young girl that is pretty difficult for me to put into words, but I’ll say simply as this: Tamora Pierce taught me that women, no matter what their backgrounds or personal opinions, are all powerful in their own way and deserving of nothing but respect. And I will always thank her for that.

Anyway, I know that devolved into a fangirl rant, and again I’m not sorry. Moral of the story, if you haven’t read Tamora Pierce before, get your butt out there and pick up Alanna: The First Adventure. And if you have read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books before, but it’s been a while, never fear: Tempests and Slaughter is a great way to dive back in. Though I’m always going to recommend reading the Tortall books in the order that they were published, one is perfectly able to start reading these books for the first time chronologically with Tempests and Slaughter. It’ll certainly get you engaged and excited to read all the rest of them.

 

If you liked Tempests and Slaughter, try: Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Defy by Sara B Larson

      Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Reviews

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

caraval

# of Pages: 402

Time it took me to read: 7 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 57 pgs

Rating: 4 out of 5

For all her life, all Scarlett has wanted is to visit Caraval, the magical traveling show where audiences get to participate in the show. When her domineering father arranges a marriage for her, she is sure that she and her younger sister, Tella, will never get to see the fantastical performance. Only days before her wedding to a groom she has never met, she receives an invitation to be the special guest of the shows powerful leader, a man known only as Legend. 

With the help of an unlikely ally, Scarlett and Tella manage to escape their island home and find their way to the secret location where Caraval is located, only to be separated upon arrival. Now Scarlett has to join the game, and she only has five nights to solve the clues of Caraval and find her sister. While dodging deadly obstacles, she must struggle to remember the most important rules of Caraval: things are rarely as they seem, and don’t get swept too far away from reality. Afterall, Caraval is merely a game, right?

 

I feel as if I’ve been consuming a lot of “circusy” media lately. I’ve been totally obsessed with the new movie, The Greatest Showman, and this is the second sort of circus book that I’ve read in the last month or so. But this book was really different than Daughter of the Burning City, though both had the same sort of gothic-y carnival vibe. Scarlett continues the trend that I’ve been seeing in YA recently of being a fairly flawed, naive protagonist, though not so much as some of the others that I’ve read. I like this aspect of her personality, though she is certainly not the most original of heroines I’ve ever read, and that is almost entirely why this book didn’t get the best score that it could have. Scarlett starts the book afraid of everything, but through the story learns to loosen her hold on the reigns of her life and take risks. Grow though she may through the book, it is clear from the beginning that she will endure anything to save her little sister, and that is something that seems fairly stereotypical about her character.

The world of Caraval, however, is unique and vivid, it’s characters and atmosphere larger than life. Though the interesting part is that what may seem like magic in the dark, may be far less mysterious when the sun comes up, and that’s all I’ll say. But this is definitely a world where fantasy reigns, and I like that in the books that I read.

One of my favorite parts of this book was that I really didn’t predict the ending at all. Every time I thought I had it pegged, it would tease me into thinking that I was right, but then twist everything that I thought on its head. And everytime that happened, I felt as if I was really having the experience that Scarlett had, as she attempted to figure out the game that was Caraval.

This book is brain candy of the highest degree, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think the world that Garber weaves is wonderfully rich and entertaining, but with the number of books that I’ve read recently that I feel have really impacted me, this book just didn’t make me feel changed in any way, and that I think is the only real drawback that I can report. If you like a dark, unpredictable fantasy, this book is totally for you. Especially if you’re in a circus-y mood, like I am.

If you liked Caraval, try: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Reviews

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana

The Library of Fates

# of Pages: 314

Time it took me to read: 2 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 45 pgs

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

Amrita, princess of Shalingar, has lived a charmed life. She lives in a beautiful country where nobody lives in poverty, the people live in peace, and men and women have equal rights to pursue what they want to in their lives. Amrita has a loving father, a nursemaid who has always been like a mother to her, and her childhood best friend, Arjun, who might in fact be more than just her friend. But when the powerful Emperor Sikander of Macedon becomes interested in Shalingar, Amrita is willing to do the unthinkable and become this horrible tyrant’s wife to save her kingdom.

But everything changes when Amrita meets Thala, a young oracle who is a “gift” for Amrita. When the tides quickly turn from political alliance to hostile takeover, Amrita and her new friend must escape the clutches of Sikander to go on a journey that neither of them wants with a destination that will surprise them both.

 

Okay, I just wanted to start out by saying that the flap of this book focused a lot of the relationship between Thala and Amrita, but also talked about finding new love, and I was super sure that these two were going to end up falling in love. Sorry, spoiler, that doesn’t happen, and I think the book would have earned five stars if they had. Sorry, I just think it would have been pretty cool to see a same sex couple in this fantasy story based on Eastern mythology. But I digress, and will talk about things that actually happened in this book.

First off, I loved how this book was fantasy, but really drew a lot from Eastern tradition and mythology, which I don’t know very much about, but I recognized that Sikander and Macedon were loosely based off of Alexander the Great, which was pretty interesting. I thought that the world that Khorana created was rich and vibrant with colorful descriptions of a lush palace and the contrast of harsh deserts and dark caves.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was how unpredictable this book was. I thought I had some ideas about how the story was going to end, but it really ended up being different than I thought, and perhaps that’s because I really can’t say I’ve read any other books quite like this one before.

Amrita is a great main character, she seemed pretty realistic to me. She grew up privileged, but still smart and capable. She is at the beginning skeptical of the world around her, but also very afraid of being alone and doing the wrong thing. She was a very easy heroine to like and to cheer for. Thala was also a wonderful character, an oracle who has immense power, but has been kept as a slave since she was a child and force-fed a drug to make her premonitions more potent. She is a believer in the magic and spirituality of the world, but she is harsher and fiercer than Amrita, who is much softer in comparison. Two vibrant, unique female main characters that face a number of challenges together, and are the true heroine’s of the story.

Now, I’m going to talk about why I didn’t give this book full marks. While, like I said earlier, I did really like this books unpredictability, I’m not sure I’m fully behind the story’s ending. It’s not a sad ending, but it’s not necessarily a happy one either, and I think that out of all the possible endings the author could have picked, this was the weirdest one, though part of me thinks it’s nice. I’m of two minds about it.

The other thing was that I think this book was pretty rushed story-wise. These two main characters go on a very intense journey that takes place over really only a few days, and I feel like the character development and the plot seemed a little hurried, and I’m not sure that I quite believed that these two characters could have such a transformation over such a short period of time. If the book had been longer, I think I would have believed the developement a little bit more. Though it was a nice, short weekend read, which was nice because I did not have time to read anything longer this week.

Overall,  I liked the book and would recommend it for anyone who is a lover of fantasy and mythology who is looking for something a little bit different.

 

If you liked The Library of Fates, try: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Magyk by Angie Sage

 And I Darken by Kiersten White

Troy by Adele Geras

Reviews

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

The book of dust

# of Pages: 450

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 65 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Malcolm Polstead is a smart, curious boy of elevan. His life has always been interesting, but ordinary and happy. He lives with his parents, who own an inn/pub on the river in Oxford, he has his own little canoe, La Belle Sauvage, which he rows across the river to visit the nuns in the priory, who are his closest companions. His days are spent in school, and his nights are spent helping his parents out in the pub, where he’s always privy to the most important news and gossip in town. And it is in this way that he first hears about a very important infant who is staying with his very own nuns at the Godstow priory: the baby Lyra, who is already the subject of much mystery and intrigue. And before long, Malcolm finds himself inexorably wrapped in the life of the baby Lyra, and the forces that conspire to either protect her or harm her. 

 

As soon as I heard that Philip Pullman had another book coming out from the world of His Dark Materials, I knew I had to have it. The Golden Compass was one of my very favorite books growing up. Long after I had read all three books, but before the movie came out, I remember my mom telling me that she read something about the author being a hard-core athiest, and that there was some really blasphemous God-killing scene in The Amber Spyglass. This was right around the time there was a big stir about it, and I think to this day that His Dark Materials is banned in just about every private school in America, which I always thought was odd, because at the time I read The Amber Spyglass, I read right through the scene where “God” dies without batting an eye. I was only twelve or thirteen at the time, and I feel as if a lot of that book went over my head. It was only after my mom mentioned it that I remembered going oohhhhhh, I see how people might be uncomfortable about that. However much of a radical that Philip Pullman might be, I don’t think that his books deserve to be banned anywhere, because they are quite obviously words of fiction, and even as a very impressionable, though not particularly religious, preteen, I never felt as if there was any sort of “agenda” drilled into my head or anything. They were just delightfully creative fantasy books with talking animals and witches, where this entity called “The Church” were the bad guys, though my twelve-year-old brain did not even associate “The Church” of His Dark Materials with the churches that I understood in the real world.

Anyway, enough about that. The Book of Dust was a wonderful dive back into the world of Lyra’s Oxford. Even though I haven’t read any of the books since I was in middle school, it didn’t take me long to really become fully immersed in the world that Philip Pullman creates once again, with the gyptians and the daemons and Lord Asriel and Ms. Coulter. Though the nice thing is, if you’ve never read His Dark Materials, you can still pick up and enjoy The Book of Dust, without feeling like you’re missing anything, though surely it’ll make you want to go and pick up The Golden Compass. I know my next reread, for sure.

The main character of this book, Malcolm, has the same wonderfully pure, intelligent quality that Lyra has, though this book puts Malcolm, only elevan, though very adult trials, and is definitely a test of his goodness and purity. Something that I believe that Pullman does very well is writing children that are still fairly believable as children, but makes them very intelligent and strong in a way that inspired me as a youth not much older than Lyra or Malcolm. These books, I think, are very accessable to any reader above the age of ten, though I wouldn’t call any of them “easy” by any means. Philip Pullman would never talk down to any of his readers, just because they were children, and all of the children in Pullman’s books are written with the respect they deserve, which is always something that I’ve loved.

Though I did feel as if both Lyra and Malcolm had some similar core qualities as characters, Malcolm didn’t feel redundant, or anything like that. He’s a unique character, and his story is very unique as well. This book is more complex than The Golden Compass, which I feel is the most accessible of His Dark Materials, and I feel as if this book is a more advanced first book in the trilogy than The Golden Compass, though I honestly couldn’t say that one is better than the other, just different.

Though you won’t catch me saying much of anything negative about any of Philip Pullman’s books, which I’ve loved since I was a child, I will say this: he is one of the more pretentious writers I’ve ever met. While I think that it’s excellent that he writes books that are accessible to a young audience while not talking down to them, he does write with this haughty air that if I didn’t love the stories and the characters so much would bother me, because it’s the same vibe that most writers who consider their books “literature” have. I’m not sure if I’ve ever ranted about how much I’m annoyed by writers who take themselves too seriously, but I am so very irked by them. Writing fiction, to me, is art done for entertainment’s sake, and some authors, I feel, try to hard to impress some heavy symbolism on me, the reader, or write books with the intention that book clubs will gather and talk about the heavy “themes”. The best books, for me, are ones that use symbolism and address heavy themes without making me think “wow, the author tried really hard to leave me with THAT impression”. Philip Pullman has, always, danced on that line for me. He’s almost too pretentious, but not quite. Which is why I considered giving this book 4.5 stars, but I’d be lying, because I loved every page of this book.

If you’re a lover of Philip Pullman, this book won’t disapoint. If you’re a fan of deeply immersive, intricate fiction, this is definitely the book for you. But if you’re looking for something that’s light and easy to read, I’d recommend something a little bit different.

If you liked The Book of Dust, try: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Reader by Traci Chee

 The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Reviews

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl by rainbow rowell

# of Pages: 434

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 62 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Cath and her twin sister, Wren, have just started their first year of college. Wren has always been the confident one: doing whatever she wants to do, dating lots of boys, going out drinking on the weekends. Cath is pretty much the opposite: she’d much rather stay at home working on her Simon Snow fanfiction than go out and socialize. But even though Cath and Wren have had separate interests, they’ve always had each other’s back. But now Wren has her own roommate, in her separate dorm, and her entirely different classes. So Cath is on her own, and she’ll have to navigate life with a grumpy older roommate, that roommate’s overly chatty boyfriend, and an English teach who knocks on fanfiction like it’s the end of the world.

Cath has never been the resiliant twin, but this year she’ll have to learn how to navigate college on her own, and discover the middle ground between growing up, and never letting go of the things that are the most important to you.

 

I’ve never really loved realistic fiction, but every once and a while, I read a really, really good piece of realistic fiction, and it reminds me that I really should dabble in this genre more often. Rainbow Rowell, surprise surprise, totally knocked this one out of the park, and I think I enjoyed it just about as much as Carry On, even though I read them out of order. It’s not like there are spoilers or anything, but if you read Carry On after Fangirl, I imagine it’s just like getting to read Cath’s fanfiction, which would be such a cool thing if you’re a fan of Fangirl.

Fangirl is the story of Cath Avery, who’s twin sister Wren has “abandoned” her for the first time in their lives because she wanted to have a different roommate and live in a different dorm and have different friends. Cath has a lot of anxiety about this, she’s so intimidated by her upperclassman roommate and her upperclassman classmates in her fiction writing class, that she spends the first month of school subsisting entirely on protein bars that she brought from home because she is too anxious to ask anyone where the dining hall is or how it works. As someone who has gone through her life with anxiety–not this severe, but still a fair amount of anxiety, I really connected with Cath.

This story also celebrates something that I think gets looked down upon by people who aren’t a part of the community: fanfiction. Most people think fanfiction and immediately picture Fifty Shades of Gray-esque smut, or a bunch of nerdy wannabe writers who can’t write anything of their own. This book really proves that those stereotypes just that–stereotypes. Fanfiction is written and consumed by hundreds of thousands of people, and you can find it for just about anything out there with a fanbase–movies, TV shows, books, videogames, you name it. And while some of it is totally smutty, most of it is just an exploration of what could happen outside the cannon of a piece of art.

I myself am someone who spent a lot of time in her early to mid teen years writing fanfiction. And it really helped me to become the writer that I am today. Because, as you can see through Cath, being a writer of original content is really hard, and sometimes you really want to let out your creative energy, but don’t have an endless well of original characters and worlds to draw from. So we borrow characters that we adore and put them in new settings, new situations, and that not only allows us to create content without the stress of creating something totally original, but also allows you to continue to experience the characters that you love so much, but the books are over, or the TV show could have gotten cancelled. And by writing fanfiction and posting it online, you can not only get really nice praise from readers, boosting your self-esteem and drive to keep creating content, but criticism that allows you to become a better writer.

Sorry, I really didn’t mean for this review to be “why I think fanfiction is great”, but I just figured I’d put it out there, because what Cath experiences when her English teacher slams fanfiction is very common–a lot of “real writers” don’t see fanfiction as a legitimate art form, and that’s bull. I don’t think fanfiction writers should be profiting off of or publishing their work, but the fanfiction community is large and supportive, and I think that those who turn their nose up at fanfiction should be the first ones to read Fangirl and learn a thing or two.

Anyway, back to the actual review. Rowell’s characters in this book were all entirely relatable. I knew someone like every single one of these characters in college, and I could just see perfectly in my mind’s eye the campus, the dorms, the dining hall, everything. And I really can’t say enough about how much I loved that Rainbow Rowell has a cast of characters that struggle with mental illness, but have a loving, supportive group of people around them who help them through it. And I’m not a twin, but I’m sure all the twins out there who read this will appreciate that Cath and Wren, though they do have many of the same interests and have had many of the same life experiences, are two very different characters who have different ways of dealing with their mom’s absence and their dad’s issues–I imagine it would be easy to make twins seem like they’re the same person, or go too far the other way and make them opposites. Cath and Wren are harmoniously different, but enough the same that it’s believable that they had the same childhood.

I’m trying to think of something that I could criticise, but it’s really hard, because it was amazing. I guess the only thing that I could say is that, pacing wise, the first half seemed to take a lot longer to read than the second half. It’s odd, because I think that the two halves had just about an equal number of “action parts”, but something about the second half just made it flow quicker. I don’t know, this might not even be an actual problem, this book was wonderful.

This isn’t the most cohesive review I’ve ever written, but please read Fangirl. And then read Carry On, if you haven’t already. Fangirl is a wonderful story, which will appeal to both lovers of realistic fiction and lovers of fantasy alike, trust me. Any Harry Potter fan in the world will feel a real connection with Cath.

If you liked Fangirl, try: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Reviews

Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody

daughter of the burning city

# of Pages: 377

Time it took me to read: 7 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 54 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

There is no place in the world like Gomorrah. And that is because Gomorrah travels all over the world–a traveling festival that is more like a traveling city because of its sheer size. Gomorrah is a place of magic, where you can find fantastic beasts and fortune workers who will read your palm to tell your future. It is a dark, licentious place that isn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s the home of sixteen-year-old Sorina, the adopted daughter of Gomorrah’s proprietor. And Sorina has a power like no-one else she’s ever met: she’s an illusion worker, able to create illusions so vivid you can see, smell, and in some cases, even touch them. Because not only can Sorina make you believe that you are soaring on the back of a large eagle while the sun sets over the ocean, she has also created a family full of illusions that have lives of their own.

But everything changes one night when Sorina finds a member of her family, one of her illusions, dead on the floor. Sorina must venture outside of the safety of her life on Gomorrah’s Uphill to discover who is behind the murder, finding new allies and venturing deep into the long history of Gomorrah to discover who she truly is, before it’s too late.

 

Wow, I really couldn’t have picked a better book to start the new year. It took me all week to read, since I’ve been a little bit lazy with my reading lately, but once the book had me in its grip, it wouldn’t let me go and I couldn’t put it down.

The world that Amanda Foody has created–both Gomorrah specifically and the wonderfully rich, captivating universe that it exists in, is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Foody blends many different parts of real-world cultures into something that is both unique and extraordinary. Gomorrah has people of all shapes, sizes, genders and sexualities, which is an aspect I’m really loving. It’s clear pretty early on that Sorina is bi-sexual, and though her romantic interest is male, there is a member of her family that is a lesbian, though none of that is the point at all, which is wonderful. These characters, though self-proclaimed freaks, are just people, and I think that having a cast of characters with a wide range of sexualities without having the story be about their wide range of sexualities is the kind of representation YA really needs.

Anyway, I’d like to talk more about Sorina, because as much as I loved the vivid, vivacious world that Foody created, a big part of what really drew me in was Sorina as a character. She’s a “jinx-worker” with a very unique sort of magic: she has the ability to create illusions that people can see, touch, and can even have lives of their own. She can’t go and create people willy-nilly, but once she does make a new member of her family, they are as much of a person as anybody else. They’re all part of Sorina’s act, her “Freak Show”, because all of the people she creates are “freakish” in some way. Her sister Venera is an acrobat so flexible she can literally tie herself in knots, and her uncle Gill is a man who has to live underwater, because he has gills that he uses to breathe. But Sorina often thinks that the biggest freak in her show is herself, because not only is she the illusion worker behind her whole act, but she looks the part of a freak herself–with a smooth, eyeless face that she often covers with a mask, though through her magic, she can see just as well as everyone else. And honestly, I think she’s such a badass. It’s not often that you find a main character in YA that is not conventionally attractive, and being totally eyeless is pretty big on the freaky factor, but it doesn’t slow Sorina down or make her any less relatable as a character, and I’m here for that.

Sorina also continues in a trend that I like that I’m seeing more of in YA: she’s not this seemingly perfect, mature leader who always seems to have all the answers: she’s nieve, she’s flawed, and though she has this amazing magical skill, she doesn’t always know how it works, and her magic isn’t infallible.

This book has really full cast of super well-rounded, interesting and diverse characters, like I mentioned briefly in the beginning. Sorina’s family of illusions, as well as her adopted father, foster mother, and romantic interest Luca, are all wildly intense and likeable, and really add a lot to the mystery of Gomorrah’s murderer.

Speaking of which, the plot was definitely another win on the part of the author. I mean, not only did she create a story full of such great characters in a world that is remarkably engaging, but having this book be a murder mystery where the victims are illusions who technically shouldn’t be able to die in the first place? Genius. The predictability level on this book was pretty low. While I had a few hunches, I have to say that by the end I was very surprised indeed, and thought that the climax was really well built up in the rest of the story (meaning the author left lots of breadcrumbs throughout the story, that once you figure out the resolution you go “oooohhh, yeah, that makes sense now”, like in any good murder mystery).

I will say, the one critic that I have of this story is that, since it’s a stand-alone, I thought it wrapped up a bit too nicely. While there is no doubt that the characters all suffered (there weren’t really any punches pulled in that department), there were a lot of more minor plot points that were built up that were almost “shoved under the rug”, if you will. I still have some questions, that will of course never be answered because it’s a stand-alone, but it was a satisfying ending, even if it did leave me with some lingering thoughts. But I suppose good books often do that–leave little pieces of themselves floating in your brain, long after you’ve read the last word.

But I’d really, 100%, recommend this book to anyone who is a lover of creative world-building, unique magic, and dark fantasy. It was, I hope, just the first of many amazing books in 2018.

If you liked Daughter of the Burning City, try: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daily Posts

Best Books of 2017 & Updates for 2018

Hi everyone!

I’m so sorry that it’s been radio silence since November–I worked my butt off for Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), and actually managed to complete it for only the second time ever–50,000 words in 30 days, which was a huge, crazy feat. One left me so exhausted and over writing absolutely anything, so I took December as a month off, swearing that I’d get right back on my feet for 2018–so here I am!

I’m going to start off my Book a Week challenge again, and do my very, very best to post a new review every Sunday night, as well as my Throwback Thursday mini review, so you’ve got a few different days during the week to look for content from me.

Books of 2017

I’m going to start out by saying that I really feel as if I read a dismal amount of books this year, probably between 30 and 40, with only about 25 of them being new books. This was pretty depressing, considering in high school I read over a hundred a year consistently. This year, 2018, I’m going to try and make it to sixty, therefore basically doubling my total from this year, and making it to over one book a week.

New Years Resolutions (Book Related):

  1. 60 books in 2018
  2. Keep a full, comprehensive book journal so I’ll have accurate numbers of how many books I read this year, and the page numbers, so I’ll have nice stats for New Years Day next year.

So now, without further ado, in order from best to worst, (most) of the new books (not re-reads) of 2017:

  1. The Black Witch by Laurie Forest
  2. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  3. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
  4. Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs
  5. The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins
  6. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinger
  7. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
  8. Now I Rise by Keirsten White
  9.  Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson
  10. The Reader by Traci Chee
  11. Three Dark Crowns (Books 1 & 2) by Kendare Blake
  12. Sea of Shadows Trilogy by Kelley Armstrong
  13. Troy by Adele Geras
  14. Sweet Venom Trilogy by Tera Lynn Childs
  15. Scale by Keith Buckley
  16. The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid
  17. Verily, A New Hope (Shakespeare’s Star Wars) by Ian Doescher
  18. The Blood of Eden Trilogy by Julie Kagawa
  19. Elusion by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam
  20. Incarceron (Books 1 & 2) by Catherine Fisher
  21. Crewel (Books 1 & 2) by Gennifer Albin
  22. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
  23. The Graces by Laure Eve

This was not an easy decision to make (the first two and the last three were the most difficult) but the best book of 2017 was officially The Black Witch, which I absolutely adored and cannot WAIT for the sequel coming out later this year. And my least favorite book of this year HAD to be The Graces by Laure Eve, no other book that I read made me quite so mad as this one (though I guess the author did her job in some respects, as she did draw me in enough in the last pages to get me to read the sequel that will drop this year).

I’m going to skip Throwback Thursday this week, as I’d like to start the new year off with a full one review, so I’ll see you all on Sunday, and here’s to a great year of books in 2018!

Throwback Thursdays

Throwback Thursday: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

It seems appropriate on today, the first truly cold day of the year, to write my Throwback Thursday mini review about Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver.

I’m also thoroughly enjoying Stiefvater’s new book this week, which I will review once I finish it.

Shiver is the story of Grace and Sam, the wolf and the girl who fell in love. If you’ve never read one of Maggie Stiefvater’s books before, I cannot possibly describe them with the amount of words that I’ve alotted myself for these mini reviews. Maggie Stiefvater so carefully places each word on the page, it’s like poetry, or maybe it’s like music, because the spaces between the words act like the melody, and her words are so beautiful that I’ve sometimes wept at the sheer miracle of them. It is an amazing blessing that she has chosen this genre, YA, that often gets so much crap for being shallow, when Stiefvater’s characters force you to feel deeply.

Grace is a pretty ordinary girl. She’s a good student, with friends and family that love her. Sam is the opposite of ordinary. Turned into a wolf at a young age, he has lived two lives that have only one thing in common, the girl that he loves both as a wolf and as a boy.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve read it, so I don’t have a whole lot of specific detail to put out there,  but the whole trilogy is incredible, and if you only ever read one book with werewolves in it, EVER, this should be it. And then, of course, you should read everything else that she’s ever written.

This is going to be the miniest review, because I am currently in the middle of participating in National Novel Writing Month (NanoWriMo) and am already writing at least 1,667 words a day, so at this point I’m feeling a little out of words. I will definitely not be making my book a week this month, but I will continue to post reviews and Throwback Thursdays, just probably not as long and detailed as you’re used to getting.

Thanks for sticking with me!