Reviews

Now I Rise (And I Darken) by Kiersten White

Now I Rise And I Darken

 

# of Pages: 459

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 66

Rating: 5 out of 5

(Author’s Note: the review below is actually for both Now I Rise (the book I read this week), and And I Darken, it’s prequel, which I read last year. There are some light, unfortunately necessary spoilers for the first book in this review, but there wasn’t a lot I could do. If you absolutely cannot abide by spoilers of any kind, I’d skip this review.)

 

In a world that continues to crumble and darken each day, two siblings must rise. Lada Dracul has chosen to leave her only brother, Radu, and the man she loves, Mehmed, sultan of the Ottoman Empire. She has known since she was a child that her native country of Wallachia is her destiny and that she belongs on the throne. With a group of ex-Ottoman soldiers at her back, she leads the charge to take the throne she knows she deserves. But the roads are paved with blood and blades, and Lada must make decisions she never anticipated to emerge victorious.

 

Radu was a vulnerable child, always the opposite of his fearsome sister. Now that she is gone, his loyalties lay only to Mehmed, the sultan he loves but knows he can never have. Given a dangerous mission outside the Ottoman capital, Radu travels to Constantinople with his loyal wife Nazira, who use each other to shelter the true nature of their affections. Their companion is Cyprian, the charming cousin of Emperor Constantine, and during Radu’s time in the city, he must abandon everything he has ever known in order to survive.

 

Hi guys, sorry this is posting late this week. I started a new job yesterday and things have been hectic for the last little bit.

 

Anyway, this book feels a little bit tough to review. Only because it’s a sequel, and I read the first book over a year ago, so it was never reviewed on this blog. I really don’t want to post any spoilers for the original book, though I kinda had to do it in the blurb above. So gosh, I guess I’ll give a quick summary of the first book below, and then talk as much as I can about the sequel so that it makes sense.

 

The first book, And I Darken, is a historical fiction piece that turns Vlad the Impaler, one of history’s most famously bloodthirsty characters, into a girl, Lada. It tells the story of her and her younger brother, Radu, a gentle soul, as they are forced to leave their native land of Wallachia to be royal hostages to the Ottoman Empire. This first book tells of the coming of age story of Lada, Radu, and their friend, Mehmed, a son of the sultan by a concubine, unlikely to ever see the throne. With Lada’s ferocity, Mehmed’s cunning, and Radu’s personality, the three are a deadly team that do what they must to survive in the beautiful but dangerous court of the Ottoman Empire. But hearts will be broken and loyalties tested when it turns out that three children who were once a team grow into adults who have very different paths.

 

I’m not doing a particularly good job of really describing what these books are about,  but I’m really trying to be vague and non-spoilery. These books a set in a rich, well-researched historical background, but are so fantastical it’s almost impossible to believe that much of the historical narrative, at least, is true. I have to admit, this isn’t a historical period that I know much about, but I had a morbid fascination with Vlad the Impaler when I was about fourteen and did a lot of research on “real life” vampires. I wish I could remember the name of that great book I read that had short histories on real vampire myths and historical figures that were feared as vampires, like Vlad the Impaler and Mary Bathory.

 

The book I’m actually trying to write about, Now I Rise, is just as well written and researched as its predecessor. Lada is a wickedly fun character to read about, as bloodthirsty and deadly as her historical inspiration. She somehow manages to maintain her humanity, however, which is an astounding feat. Radu is sensitive from the start of his life, but grows useful politically as he ages. In Now I Rise, Radu becomes trapped in the city of Constantinople during the Ottoman siege. Radu has to abandon all his morals and qualms and sensitivities if he is to survive. Each must learn to think like their sibling, which Radu manages with some success, and Lada tries, but struggles with. Anyway, not only those two, but all other characters, such as Mehmed, Constantine, Cyprian, Nazira, and Bogdan are rich additions to the story of the Dracul siblings.

 

The only thing that I have to say against this book, and it’s not even necessarily a negative, is that it’s really heavy. I found the sequel easy to read, but that was only because I knew the characters from the first book. And I Darken is dense with historical references and backstory, but it’s all very interesting and important, it just took me a little bit to get through because, as someone who a) doesn’t read a lot of historical fiction, and b) knows very little about this period in history, it was a lot.

 

But I absolutely recommend this series, 100%. It is a wonderful reimagining of a fascinating period of history. It’s a rich, heavy, decadent bite of literature, but absolutely worth the slightly slow, foggy feeling that accompanies it.

 

Sorry again about the delay, I hope to be timely this week. See you next time!

 

If you liked Now I Rise, or And I Darken, try: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Reviews

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

the black witch

 

# of Pages: 601

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 86

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Elloren Gardener has a lot to live up to. She is the only granddaughter of the Black Witch, the savior of her people. Elloren has been raised by her gentle uncle and her two brothers out in the countryside, away from the politics of the Western Realm. But when her aunt, an official in her country’s government, comes to collect her and take her to the University, the world will suddenly become much bigger and more complex. Because though Elloren has always known she has no magic, people expect certain things of her. Elloren struggles to learn the difference between what her people tell her is the right thing, and what she feels in her heart is the right thing. History is set to repeat itself, because a new threat is rising, and a new Black Witch must rise to face it. Elloren must make alliances fast, because she can’t do it all on her own. But all alliances come with a price, and Elloren must make the decision to do what is easy, or what is right.

 

Oh my gosh, I love, love, LOVED this book. I know I said Carry On was my book of the year for 2017 so far, but I think this one might have it beat. I don’t know, I can’t say, I’ll decide at the end of the year, but I absolutely devoured this book. I read a six hundred page book in three days, and honestly, I read probably about 350 pages of it on the last day when I had the most time.

This book is the pure essence of what fantasy should be. It is packed with magic, dragons, elves, and all other manner of creatures. But it is also, without a doubt, the most relevant and relatable fantasy book that I have ever read.

When I first started reading this book, I was immediately sucked into the world and how it worked. It is clear that Forest put a lot of effort into creating her sometimes recognizable, but totally unique take on fantasy creatures, and into her world’s rich history, including unique religions and belief systems for her different cultures, and politics and rituals that are totally distinctive and absolutely riveting.

However, though the world had me sold from page one, Elloren frustrated the living hell out of me. Why? Because she is quite possibly the most naïve and ignorant main character I have ever read. Like I was irritated with her almost to the point of being enraged. Because this book is about politics, history, and racism. Like modern, legitimate racism, fitted to the fantasy world. Elloren is a part of the race, named after her distant relative, the Gardenarians. These are a race of mages that are extremely religious and conservative, but are the only race that is capable of wand magic. And their holy book teaches them that they are the superior race because of this, and that they are the rightful leaders of the Western Realm because they have a long history of being oppressed and they overcame that (thanks to the help of Elloren’s famous grandmother, the Black Witch).

I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get over how little I thought of Elloren as a character, but then I had a breakthrough. Her ignorance is brilliant and necessary. In fact, I think most main characters should be as shaped by their environments as Elloren is. She is raised by her kind hearted uncle and her sweet, loving brothers, so she’s a good person, at her core. But she has also been raised to believe that her grandmother was the savior of all of her people, a saint who was a martyer to the cause of bringing the Gardenarians to their rightful position as the superior race of the Western Realm. Their religion even tells her that the Gardenarians are the righteous children of the Ancient One, so of course she’s going to believe what she’s told. She’s never had an experience that told her a different side of the story. Until she goes out in to the world. I don’t want to spoil anything, because I think that ANYONE who is a fan of fantasy should read this book. Because it is so relevant to our society. Like, Elloren has to learn all about historical bias, which is something that most people I know could stand to learn something about. History in our schools is taught with such a bias toward the American side of things, it’s insane. It’s a real problem in our world, and it’s a real problem for Elloren.

Seriously, seriously, I cannot rant and rave enough about how IMPORTANT this book is. Because this book is a viciously fun read that totally has applicable lessons for our every day life, but it doesn’t preach them or shove them in your face. Like I remember getting about two hundred pages in, reading a certain part of the book, looking up and saying out loud to no one, “Oh my god, this book is about RACISM!” And it is. Like I could honestly sit here and summarize for hours why this book is a triumph in that regard, but I’m going to try and talk for a while about the many other reasons why I loved this book.

The cast of characters was so enormous, and each character was so different. Typically I think that books that have this many relevant characters can get a bit bogged down. Like, how am I supposed to remember all these names and who everyone is. And there are a few moments in this book where I kind of felt that way, but the thing is, they’re all important! No two characters in this book serve the same purpose, and that’s an insane success. All of the people who surround Elloren in this story have a very specific purpose, something that they teach her. Sometimes it’s obvious, but often times it’s subtle.

I’ll use a non-spoilery example. Echo Flood is a young Gardenarian who goes to school with Elloren, and who Elloren’s aunt wishes her to befriend. She is married (or “wandfasted”) already, dresses conservatively, and comes from a good family. At first, Elloren really likes Echo. She feels like Echo is nice to her when few others, even those of her own race, aren’t. But then Echo pulls away from Elloren, and she wonders why. She later overhears her saying something along the lines of “well, I just couldn’t be around her anymore because she insisted on hanging out with half-breeds”. She means a childhood friend of Elloren’s, a Gardenarian who has an unusual coloring of his hair that means he might have impure blood.

Now, Echo is not that important of a character in the overall scope of things, and there are other characters that give much more obvious examples of the racism in her world, but even I liked Echo in the beginning, until her true colors showed. She was a truly well written character that really was just one of the many nails in the coffin of the racism lessons of this book.

Just to quickly summarize my super ranty points: amazingly unique and detailed world, incredibly engaging religions and political systems, main character that is so singularly ignorant and a total product of her culture, huge cast of amazingly different and important side characters, well-paced from the start, and plot that is super complex and interesting. And of course, how totally woke this book is. Honestly, I’d give it higher than a 5 out of 5 if I believed in that sort of thing. I have never read a book like this, and all I want is more! But I have to wait until next year, and I’m depressed about it.

Please, please, please read it so I can talk about it with people. If you can’t afford to buy it, try using your local library. I used it though so much of my childhood, but haven’t used it so much in my adulthood, but I’m getting back into the habit. As much as I like to own books, I’m also pretty poor, and going to a wonderful world where books are free and they have every book that I could even conceive of, is pretty amazing. Wow, they should be paying me.

Anyway, I’ll sign off now. If you’ve read this book, please send me a message or post a comment because I know literally nobody else who’s read it yet and I’m dying. See you all next week!

 

If you liked The Black Witch, try: Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Cry of the Icemark by Stuart Hill

Poisen Study by Maria V. Snyder

Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce

 

 

 

Reviews

The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

the eternity cure

# of Pages: 399

Time it took me to read: 3 days

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Allison has become the monster that she always feared: she’s a vampire, and there is no way for her to control her need for human blood. But she has promised herself that she’ll never lose her humanity. She delivered the humans she was travelling with to Eden, their safe haven, and now she must go after her vampire sire, Kanin, who’s distress calls to her in her dreams. 

During this thrilling sequel to The Immortal Rules, Allison will find unlikely allies and run into shadows from her past. But in the vampire world, Allison will discover that it is often difficult to determine who is the hunter and who is the prey.

 

Hi everybody, so this is my first review of a sequel to a book I’ve already read, so this will be kind of interesting. This review may technically contain spoilers to The Immortal Rules, so if you are wanting to check that one out, maybe skip this review for now. You’ve been warned.

Anyway, I really liked this book, a lot more than I liked the first one. And for me, that’s always what I’m looking for when I read series. I look for books that get better and better as the series goes on, and so far Kagawa is delivering.

At the end of the last book, Allison had to leave her humans, including Zeke, behind in Eden so she could go look for Kanin, her vampire mentor, who had been kidnapped and was being tortured. I was really hoping this book wouldn’t go too long without having Zeke come back, and all I’ll say is I wasn’t disappointed.

A lot of my problems with the first book were resolved in this one. I feel as if Allison was a lot more consistent as a character, she wasn’t as all over the place as she was in the first book. Also, the story picked up a lot more quickly in this one, there wasn’t as much backstory to trudge through. Though, to be fair, in this story a lot of the stuff that I assumed was fairly useless backstory became pretty relevant to the plot in this sequel, so even though it was super heavy on the background in the first book, much of it came into play during this one.

This book continues Kagawa’s trend of writing a unique world of dystopia. It’s typical in the way that monsters outnumber the humans, but unique in that the main character is one of the monsters, and in this book, Allison never tries to deny that she is a monster, which I think is some really great character development for her.

My favorite thing about this story, I think, is that there is this one character, Stick, from Allison’s past, that used to be her friend. He goes through this crazy transformation and basically becomes her enemy, and I thought that by the end they would maybe reconcile at least, if not end up working together. But by the end, there was no redemption arc for him at all, and it was totally brutal and vicious, but I thought it was a daring choice and I liked it a lot.

I guess I should probably justify why this book isn’t getting a full five stars, and, you know, it’s kind of difficult to put into words. I think it’s just because this book, even though it really is paced much better than its prequel, is still a little bit slow for me. It doesn’t grip me and keep me flipping pages rapidly. Like I could basically put that book down at any point during the climax and not be dying to know what happens, and that’s one of my favorite things about reading.

In the end, I’d absolutely recommend this series. Even though the first book didn’t get a totally favorable review for me, I think that you should definitely give it a try, particularly if you like either dystopia or are looking to read a very unique vampire story. And I can’t wait to read the last book in the trilogy, I’m sure you’ll hear from me about that soon.

Typically, I’d post four other similar books that you should read if you enjoyed The Eternity Cure, but it would basically be the same ones I recommended for The Immortal Rules, so I’m going to skip that this time.

If you missed my review for The Immortal Rules, click the link and it’ll take you there. See you all next week!

Reviews

Troy by Adele Geras

troy by adele geras

# of Pages: 357

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 51

Rating: 4 out of 5

The war between the Greeks and the Trojans has been going on for ten years. The citizens of Troy are besieged in their own walls and everyone from the lowliest servant to the king himself is hungry and tired, ready for the war to be at its end. And though there is no one inside the walls that isn’t affected by the war, sisters Marpessa and Xanthe have other problems of their own. Marpessa is a servant dear to Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, while Xanthe is nursemaid to Astyanax, son of Andromache and Hector, crown prince and hero of Troy.

One day while Xanthe helps tend to the wounded soldiers, she is unable to escape Eros’ arrow and falls hard for Alastor, one of her patients. And that moment, while it may not change the outcome of the war, will change the lives of both sisters and many others just trying to get through each day as the Trojan war goes on and on.

 

When my friend Emily handed me this book in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, I knew instantly that I couldn’t leave the store without buying it. I am a huge fan of the Greek classics, you know, Iliad and Odyssey and Athenian tragedy. I’ve been to Greece twice now, it’s my favorite country ever. Anyway, whenever I see any sort of book in the YA section that has anything to do with Greek mythology, I’m sold before I even read the blurb. A book called Troy, when my favorite myth is the Trojan War? Yeah, I actually don’t even think I read what it was about before purchasing it.

I can basically rant for a hundred years about the tragic death of the Greco-Roman classics. Years ago, in the 20th century, the classics were required reading material for most schools. Basically everyone had read at least the Odyssey, if not the Iliad and maybe even some Aeschylus and Euripides. But nowadays? Squat. And it’s a damn shame because the classics are still important and relatable, and if you get good translations, not even that difficult to read. I’m convinced the only reason we read Shakespeare still but not the Iliad is because Shakespeare is shorter.

But onto the book. The initial thing that I liked so much about it was that it wasn’t as predictable as I thought it was going to be, and that is because the author did something really smart. She made up her own characters. Sure, these characters were servants to heroes like Hector and Paris and Helen, characters that most know the fate of, if you know the story of the Trojan war at all, but Xanthe and Marpessa? They’re not in the myth, you don’t know what is going to happen to them. So the lack of predictability was a big win for me.

I also liked the approach that she took to the classic characters. That’s one of my favorite things about this trope, the personalities of these famous characters totally depend on where the writer’s “sympathies” lie: with the Trojans or with the Greeks. If you’re a Trojan, Achilles is a monster, but if you’re a Greek, he’s your hero. And even with that, you can write Helen as petty or even villainous, or you can write her in a more sympathetic fashion, like Geras chooses to here. But she’s not totally sympathetic, in fact I think she is actually one of the more complex side characters in this story.

Which brings me to another aspect of this story that I liked a lot: the side characters. There a lot of characters in this story, some of them more important or complex than others, but all of them very present in the story. Polyxena, for example, is a character that I liked a lot, though she was little more than a two-dimensional plot device. She was an important two-dimensional plot device, but not particularly complex. Not like Helen and Andromache. This book was very heavily centered on the women of Troy, which earned many thumbs up from me, because too often these kinds of books are focused on the men, the warriors. Which does make sense, to be fair, because this is a story about a war.

Okay, now to my criticisms. The gods were very involved in this book, in a way that I thought was interesting, but was a bit overused. The gods (every single one besides Demeter and Hestia), kept showing up to mortals in the story and telling them important things, but then the characters would forget them every time (except Marpessa, who has the power to recognize the gods when she sees them). I think that it was a very good concept, but I think it was overused. And the gods appeared way, way, way too many times to inconsequential characters like the three kitchen gossips of the palace. And while I get that it was used to convey important information to the reader that couldn’t really be conveyed in a different way, I still say it was kind of useless for the gods to keep popping in, revealing stuff, and then having the characters forget about the whole interaction.

My other criticism is a little nitpicky thing, but I’m very fussy about my dialogue. As a writer, I spent a long time learning how to write effective dialogue that sounds like real people talking. When I was in school, that was one of the main critiques I gave to my fellow writing students: your dialogue has to sound organic. And in some places in this book, it was a little stiff. Some may argue that it was just a more formal style, but I would say that there is a difference between writing your dialogue in a more formal style and having it be stiff. The dialogue wasn’t consistently “formal” enough for it to be on purpose, so I think that if I had been this author’s editor, I would have circled at least ten spots in this book where the dialogue could have been worked. But again, it didn’t take away much from the book, I just noticed it because it’s a pet peeve of mine.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think that anyone who read this book would certainly have a respect for the classics, if they didn’t already, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who loves Homer. I’m going to recommend below a few of my absolute favorite historical fiction pieces, if anybody else is interested in that sort of thing.

If you liked Troy, try: The Song of Achilles by Madilene Miller

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

 

Reviews

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

dark breaks the dawn

# of Pages: 301

Time it took me to read: 3 days (1 Day)

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 43

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Evelayn is the crown princess of Eadrolan, and she has always known her duty. She is to be the next in a long line of rulers of the Kingdom of Light, and must maintain the balance between her kingdom and Dorjhalon, the Kingdom of Darkness. When she comes into her power on the day of her eighteenth birthday, she knows she must train in the art of using her magical abilities so that she can help her mother the queen defeat King Bain, the dark ruler who has become greedy and seeks to control both lands, upsetting the balance of their world.

When the war shifts and Evelayn is suddenly thrust into far more power than she expected, she must quickly decide who she can trust, both with her kingdom and her heart. For treachery lurks in the air, but Evelayn knows that she will do whatever it takes to protect her kingdom and her crown—no matter the cost.

 

I am absolutely loving this whole “fairytale retelling” trend that is in YA these days. Okay, I know, technically Swan Lake, which this book is based off of, isn’t a fairytale, it’s a ballet, but it’s a story that is just as well known as most fairytales. But a big part of what I loved so much about this book is that it isn’t that closely based off of the original Swan Lake story, these characters and the plot are very much unique (keeping the book unpredictable), however it certainly maintains the tragic air of the ballet.

It was totally by accident that I stumbled upon Defy, the first book in the trilogy that introduced me to the works of Sara B. Larson. The main character of that series, Alexa, is brave, strong, and loyal, and is sort of a Mulan-type character. Evelayn, the lead character in Dark Breaks the Dawn, also has many characteristics of a strong, well-written female lead. Evelayn is powerful, stubborn, and faithful to her country. But she is also flawed, in that she is arguably more loyal to her crown/duty as a monarch than to any of her loved ones, and that though she possesses immense magical power, more than anyone else in her kingdom, there are still certain things that she should be able to do, but can’t. These flaws are what make Evelayn such a strong character, because it is pretty easy to make a badass female character, but it’s harder to make one that has the proper flaws that make her human, as well as your hero. This is something I’ll often notice when watching movies or reading books about “badass female characters” that are written by men. It’s just laziness in my opinion. You wrote a strong lady character, good for you, but she’s two dimensional, which is almost as bad as writing a female character that is noticeably weaker than her male counterparts, or even not writing one at all.

But my favorite, favorite thing about the way that Larson writes her leads is that she truly does not hold back on making them suffer. Alexa, from the Defy trilogy, loses her parents, her twin brother, and many close friends throughout her journey. Evelayn doesn’t get it any easier, either, as she loses her share of loved ones throughout the story. And the way that both of these characters deal with loss is to get back on their feet, entirely more ferocious than they were before.

Anyway, back on track, because Larson has a whole cast of likeable characters, along with several who are well-written also, but not so likeable. Lorcan is the eldest son of King Bain, the ruler of the Dark Kingdom, and the story will flit to his perspective every once and a while. There are times where you want to like him, a little bit, because he is totally abused by his megalomaniac of a father, and apparently doesn’t want to see him succeed. But still, he seems to like the idea of his kingdom ruling over the whole land, so in my eyes he still lands firmly on the “evil” side of the spectrum. I can’t get too into my opinions of Lorcan, cause spoilers, but if you’ve read the book and wanna talk about it, send me a message!

Anyway, another great thing about this book was the absolutely unique world that Larson has created. This is something that I really admired in the first series that I read by her, but she takes it a step further here, in my opinion. She writes beautiful, detailed descriptions of ceremonies for funerals, betrothals, transfers of power, the whole shebang, not to mention that her characters are all so unique looking, I can picture them so clearly in my mind. Evelayn, with her blonde and lilac hair, violet eyes, and diamond conduit stone embedded in her chest, and Lorcan, with skin dark as shadow and hair pale as snow, and a ruby conduit stone in his forehead. And the style of magic is so, so cool! I don’t want to go into it too much, because that’s a big part of the plot and I really want people to read this book.

Pacing, as I’m sure anyone who has read my reviews before will know, is a big factor for me. I think this book was paced pretty well, without wasting much time at all to get into the backstory and origins of the world. That information was there, for the most part, but it was interwoven with the plot, which was fast-paced throughout. You’ll see that at the top, I said that this book took me three days to read. Well, technically I started it a few days ago, got 53 pages in, and then read the entirety of the rest of the book today in like under four hours. I mean, it helps that the novel is relatively short, but I basically read the whole thing in one day, which is good pacing in my book.

Overall, I struggled a little bit about whether to give this book 5 stars. Not because I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it, because I did (I am literally heartbroken over the end and agonizing over the wait for the sequel). But I didn’t love it in the same way that I’m totally obsessed with Carry On, my book from last week, or even The You I’ve Never Known, my book from the week before. I almost gave this book 4 stars, but then I started trying to figure out a reason to take away a star, and I couldn’t find one. This book hits all my markers for a well-written, enjoyable read, so I figured, hell, I’ll give this one 5 stars too, three books in a row. I’m on a roll!

If I had to find a flaw in the story, it’s that there were a few little questions that I had that weren’t answered. Not like plot holes or anything, just little stuff (which I’m going to ask the author on Twitter and see if she’ll respond to me). P.S. If you wanna follow me on Twitter, I’m @sarahs-shelf. Also I’m on Instagram at sarahs_shelf_blog. I’m trying to do more on social media for this blog, so hopefully I’ll do some cool stuff in the future.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of great heroines, worlds full of magic, and a wonderfully quick read, you’ll love Dark Breaks the Dawn (though if waiting for sequels is hard for you, maybe wait six months or so before picking up this book. This is going to be a long wait for me.)

 

If you liked Dark Breaks the Dawn, try: Defy by Sara B. Larson

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Reviews

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

carry on rainbow rowell

# of Pages: 517

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 74

Rating: 5 out of 5

Simon Snow is different. Well, he goes to a school for magicians, so that’s pretty different, but he’s even more different than his peers. He is supposed to be “The Chosen One” the magician to save the whole World of Mages from the Insidious Humdrum, the magic-eating villain that seeks to destroy them all. But even as Simon returns to his final year at Watford School of Magicks, he still can’t control his magic and might just be the worst magician in their year. But it’s not like he can focus anyway, what with his lifelong nemesis and roommate, Baz, missing and probably plotting his demise. Everyone is counting on Simon Snow, but time is running short and, well, it’s not like Simon asked to be chosen.

 

I’m super excited guys, this is my second 5-star review in a row! Hopefully all the books I read in July are this good, but I seriously doubt it. No kidding, this is probably the best book I’ve read in 2017 so far.

Teachers and friends have been recommending Rainbow Rowell to me for years, but whenever I’ve seen Fangirl or Elenor & Park on shelves, I always find myself getting distracted by something else. But let me tell you, Carry On caught my attention right away. The blurb makes it sound sort of like a spoof of Harry Potter. And if anything is at all related to Harry Potter, I am so down.

This book is brilliant for a lot of reasons, but the one that really hooked me is that the beginning part of the book is totally similar to Harry Potter, or really any other magical “Chosen One” motif. It is seriously laugh-out-loud funny, and honestly, I probably would have liked the book a lot even if that’s all it was supposed to be, a spoof of the genre. But while that was the hook that drew me in, this book was so, so much more than just a spoof.

I very rarely read books that are so funny that they make me snort-laugh and so sweet and romantic that I say “awwww” and squeal while I’m in public places. But this was one of those books. I am just absolutely in love with all of the characters. Simon Snow has all of the angst of Harry in Book 5, and all the talent and control of Seamus Finnegan in Book 1. Penelope Bunce is the perfect brilliant, take-no-shit sidekick, while Agatha is every girl who’s ever stayed in a relationship because its easier that way. And Baz…well, Baz is the dream of every single person who ever wanted Draco Malfoy to turn good and join the golden trio (apologies for all of the Harry Potter references. For those of you who don’t get them…why are you reading this review when you could be reading Harry Potter?).

One of my biggest worries while I was making my way through this book is that it would somehow have an ending that was really similar to Harry Potter, which would totally have been a cop-out. But I had nothing to worry about, for it was really only the first 150 pages that really drew upon spoofy clichés to entice you in. The rest of the book was magically original.

Okay, this has been another sort of ranty review, sorry about that. But I can’t help but rave about this book. I’ve already been shoving in the face of everybody that I know and telling them to read it. Anyone who is a fan of Harry Potter, or anything in the fantasy genre, really, will love this book, I promise you. If I had the money, I’d buy 25 copies of it and send it as a gift to everybody I know who’s ever read a book. That is how much I believe in the power of this story. I simply want everybody to be talking about it.

Ahem. I’ll try and reign it in and treat this as a real critique, now. Stylistically, Rainbow Rowell is beyond compare, her words weave a magical world that is, somehow, totally realistic. Like, if magic existed, for real, I’m betting this is exactly what it would be like. There are dragons and nymphs, but the spell work is logical and practical, like the kinds of spells that would be useful to everyday folks, not just heroes off on adventures. This would be the kind of magical world that I’d like to live in. Not really scary at all, but whimsically delightful. Rowell has this light, airy style of writing that I would so like to be able to emulate.

I already talked about the characters a bit, but one of the things I really loved was the absolute depth and originality of the whole cast of characters. These characters will be off doing predictable things one minute, and then they’ll totally blindside you with some unique insight or decision that makes them really unlike any sort of trope or cliché you could possibly compare them to.

Really, I could go on and on, but I think I’ll sign off with a view quotes and let the rest of the book speak for itself. First off, one of the reviews on the back of the book, from The Atlantic, says “Come for the makeouts and stay for the magic.” While I think that makes a super quotable one-liner, I found that I “Came for the magic and stayed for a wonderfully zany cast of characters and a well-developed plot that had me hankering for more even though this is a stand alone novel.” Not as quotable, but more accurate if I do say so myself.

This last quote is from the book itself, and I think it accurately exemplifies the frustrations of every single person who has ever read a book like Harry Potter that takes place in a magical world that exists alongside our own mundane one.

“‘I would have contacted you, sir.’ (I can contact him, if I need to. I have his mobile number.)”

The magicians use cell phones and other modern technology! It just makes sense.

I wish I had a real criticism to give this book, but I honestly don’t have anything bad to say about it. So I’ll just end with telling you to go and read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, if you know what’s good for you. And once you do, comment on this review or send me a message or something so we can talk about it!

 

If you liked Carry On, try: The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

      Magyk by Angie Sage

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

Vampires Kisses by Ellen Schreiber

Reviews

The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

the you ive never known

# of Pages: 592

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 85

Rating: 5 out of 5

Ariel just wants to put down roots. She is a high school senior, and her and her father have never settled anywhere longer than they have here, in Sonora, California. It’s always been just the two of them, Ariel and her dad, living their nomadic lifestyle all over the country. All Ariel has ever known is that the only person she can count on is her father, ever since her mother left them for her lesbian lover.  

Maya’s mother is abusive. All she knows is that she’ll do anything to escape her, even get pregnant and marry an older man, though she’s only 16. When Ariel’s story collides with Maya’s, Ariel begins to understand that everything may not always be as it seems. Ariel’s father has kept secrets, and now that she has found a community in Sonora, Ariel may finally be able to find the strength to discover who she really is.

 

I have to start out by saying, June has been kind of a dud for me, book-wise. I had this big stack of books that had been sitting on my shelf since I bought them around Christmas, just waiting to get cracked open. But as I’m sure you could tell by my reviews, none of them quite lived up to my expectations of them.

But I knew Ellen Hopkins would never let me down. I have been a fan of hers since high school, and never once has a book of hers disappointed me. I’m sure some of you looked at the page count and are wondering how on earth I read nearly a  six-hundred-page book in three days. Well, it’s really very possible for just about anyone when the pages look like this:

The You I've Never Known interior

Yup. That’s poetry. Ellen Hopkins writes her novels in poetry. An absolutely unique form of storytelling, to my knowledge. The only thing that I’ve ever read that I could compare it to, stylistically, are the epic poems of Homer and Virgil. And, honestly, I think Ellen Hopkins’ books are just as important.

I’m about to go on quite the rant here, because ever since I read my first Ellen Hopkins book when I was about 16, these books have changed me. My first book was Impulse, a story of three teens who tried to commit suicide and were placed in an institution after their attempts failed. I read very nearly that entire book on a two-hour plane ride, and ever since that moment I have been convinced that Ellen Hopkins’ books should be on required reading lists in high schools everywhere.

Why? Because she writes about things that are important. Relevant. She writes about suicide, domestic abuse, drug abuse, rape, sex trafficking, prostitution, teen pregnancy, dealing with death, forgiveness, mental illness…the list could go on. Her books are important. And they are accessible. You don’t have to be a reader like me to enjoy books like this. I even remember two girls in my class in the 8th grade reading Crank, and I always thought if either one of those girls ever touched a book they’d burst into flames.

Not every high schooler goes through the issues that Ellen Hopkins writes about in her books. I certainly didn’t. But there is an unfathomable amount of teenagers, children, who go through these things, and don’t see a lot of representation in media, much less and accurate representation.

And that’s the important part, at least to me. Ellen Hopkins isn’t just sitting up there on her high horse, preaching to teenagers about things that she doesn’t know anything about. Crank, arguably the book that made her famous, is about a young girl, straight A’s, college bound. Then one summer she goes a little wild and ends up getting addicted to crack. And this book? Based upon the struggles of Ellen Hopkins’ own daughter. Hopkins understands the struggles that these youth go through, both through experience and extensive research, but she never, ever talks down to those experiences. These books never feel preachy. They don’t always have happy endings, but they have realistic endings, and their purpose is always a show of support to those out there that are affected by these problems every day.

 

Okay, whew, end rant. I realize that basically none of the above has to do with the actual, singular book that I read this week, but I’ll get to that now.

I try very hard to be at least a little critical of every book that I read, but with this one I had a really hard time finding faults. The book was paced flawlessly, I was absolutely hooked from the first page, and truly couldn’t put it down for three days. My coworkers even laughed at me when I took it into the bathroom at work.

One of my favorite things about Ellen Hopkins’ characters is that they are always noticeably flawed. Ariel, though truly a good person at heart, is painfully naïve in places, and she can be angry and judgmental sometimes, but can’t we all? Maya is brave and strong-willed, but also very rash with her own dose of naiveté. But the most important part about both of these characters is that they feel absolutely real, in a way that I’ve never really found in books by any other author. Hopkins’ characters feel like people you could meet on the street, and that is a true mark of a great storyteller.

Honestly, if I had to pick one problem, I’d say there was a touch more predictability in this story than in any of her other ones. However, I actually think that is more a problem of the blurb than of the story itself. The blurb on the hardcover of this book is really long, and actually reveals nuggets from the story that you don’t actually learn until more than ¾ of the way through it. But since I, of course, read the blurb, I predicted with nearly perfect accuracy the end of this book. Not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the ride, but it’s always more fun for me if I don’t know what’s coming, which Hopkins is really good at, I can usually never guess the ending of her books. So, if you decide to read The You I’ve Never Known, don’t read the blurb. Just trust me that it’s worth your time, and read my little description at the top of this review. It’s shorter and more discreet, if I do say so myself.

So hooray, I finally read a five star book this month. I absolutely insist that you check out The You I’ve Never Known, or any other of Ellen Hopkins’ YA masterpieces this summer. You won’t regret it, I promise.

 

If you liked The You I’ve Never Known, try: Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

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

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Reviews

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

the immortal rules

# of Pages: 485

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 69

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Allison has always hated the vampires. They rule ruthlessly over every city, forcing humans to pay a blood tax in exchange for food and protection. And, as most humans who live on the outskirts of the city know, there usually isn’t enough of either one to go around. But the vampires aren’t the worst monsters out there. The city walls keep the people of New Covington safe from the rabids, horrible creatures mutated from those who were once sick from the plague that took out most of humanity. When a journey outside the wall goes wrong, Allison is forced to make a choice: die a painful death, or become one of the creatures that she so despises.  

Zeke and his makeshift family have been searching for Eden, a city free of vampire influence, for many years. When Allison stumbles upon Zeke and his group, her decisions will determine who she will become. Will she cling to her own humanity, or embrace the inner demon raging inside?

I feel as if I have to start out by saying that I am a huge, long-time fan of Julie Kagawa. Her Iron Fey series was one of the first to get me into reading books about the fairy folk. So this series, The Blood of Eden, is quite the split from what I know of her.

This story, like basically every book I’ve read this whole month, took me quite some time to get into. I feel like this book spent a lot of time on backstory, which, if it were me, I would have put in flashbacks throughout. The whole first half of this book is leading up to the catalyst of the entire series, which is Allison joining a group of humans to find the one city on the continent free from vampires and rabids. This doesn’t happen until about page 200, which seems excessive to me.

Sorry, I’ll end my rant there. In the end, this book won me over. I really enjoyed Zeke as a character, and honestly I think that his effect on Allison really warmed her to me. Allison seems to flip flop for a lot of the beginning of the book. Sometimes she’s aloof, sometimes she is serious and pensive, and then sometimes she is this total smart mouth. It seemed fairly inconsistent to me, but she evens out when she joins Zeke and his group of Eden seekers.

I’m totally on the hook for the series, though, because I think that this whole post-apocalyptic vampire story is a pretty neat twist. I’ve read lots of dystopia, and usually if they pick a monster, they pick machines or zombies. I’ve never read one that picked vampires, before, and it’s certainly an interesting twist because, typically, zombies aren’t that interesting to read about as characters because they basically only have one primal motive. Vampires are much more human, and I think that Kagawa weaves them into her post-apocalyptic tapestry brilliantly.

I have to say, it’s kind of fun going back into the world of vampire books. I used to read a lot of vampire books in my high school days, but it has been quite a while now, and I’ve noticed the trend is dying down rapidly in YA.

The kind of sad thing is, that this was probably my favorite book that I’ve read so far this month, and it only has a 3.5 rating. I’ve been hitting a couple of duds in a row on my stack, but I’m going on a Barnes and Noble run soon, so hopefully the last week of the month will yield something more promising. But if you’re a fan of dystopia and vampire books, I certainly recommend The Immortal Rules, as it is a fascinating blend of genres that you can really sink your teeth into (I’m not sorry for the pun).

If you liked The Immortal Rules, try: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Peeps by Scott Westerfield

Reviews

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

the scorpion rules

# of Pages: 374

Time it took me to read: 5 days

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

Rating: 3 out of 5

Greta has lived her whole life knowing that she will probably die for her country. When the world was torn to pieces by the War Storms, Talis, a form of artificial intelligence that was once a man, stopped humans slaughtering each other by decreeing that the leader of every nation on earth must submit a child to be held hostage. These child hostages would be kept safe on the condition that their parents not set their countries to war. It is not always easy, however, and during her life as a hostage, Greta has seen many children taken away to die for the sins of their parents. She accepts it. Until a new hostage arrives and teaches her that she has a choice. And it is at this time that Greta understands that she has the power to make a change.

This book really stumped me. I honestly feel as if I both do and don’t have a lot to say about it. I spent the first half of the book really thinking I knew what it was going to be about. The blurb and the beginning of the book really painted the story as a political intrigue novel, and Greta is surrounded by a delightfully diverse and enjoyable cast of fellow “Children of Peace” (read: hostages). Greta is a strong-willed, intelligent character, but fairly oblivious to the human condition.

I’ve read quite a wide variety of dystopia in my day, ranging from The Hunger Games to Divergent, all the way to zombie stories. I thoroughly enjoy the genre and think that it’s rising popularity is fascinating when you consider how frightening our world has become in the last fifteen years or so. But that is an entirely different conversation.

What I have always liked about dystopia (which is defined as a post-apocalyptic story that often explores a wide range of subjects such as political systems, disease, technology, etc.) is that despite taking place in a world that is very alien from our own, we are able to relate to the characters through shared humanity. For example, feeling empathy when a character makes a decision in a situation that you feel you would make if in their shoes, or sympathy when a character has something happen to them that you may not be able to directly understand, but that character’s emotions are familiar enough that you feel for them.

Interestingly enough, Greta goes through a similar transformation to Nemesis from last week’s The Diabolic. Greta, however, goes down a path that was, really, impossible to foresee and sort of the polar opposite of Nemesis.

Okay, I really don’t want to give anything away to folks out there who’d like to give this book a shot, so I’ll stray away from spoilers and move toward giving a more abstract review of the book. I really enjoyed the setup of this world, and I felt as though I understood it very well without feeling like Erin Bow had to over-explain it to me. As I said before, my favorite characters were Greta’s fellow hostages, who were all so three dimensional as characters and who had such strong and captivating personalities. The pace of the book was also very nice, and it was not so slow to start as other books I’ve read recently.

However, try as I may, there is no such thing as an unbiased book review. I gave this book 3 out of 5, because though there were aspects of this book I very much enjoyed, and can respect that this book overall was well researched and well written, by the end, I did not like it. I really had to think, and was really frustrated and confused as to why I was feeling the way that I was. And though this may be a disappointing answer, I think it’s purely a matter of taste. I don’t like the direction the author took with this story (and with the first 150 pages or so, there were a lot of directions she could have taken it). I think that she probably took the most interesting turn that she could have, and I’ve looked online and read mountains of praise on it. But I cannot entirely add to that praise.

The most telling thing for me, at least, is that the sequel is available right now…and I don’t think that the ending interested me enough to read it. That, and I think that most of the secondary characters that I loved so much will not be as involved in the sequel. So that’s a real downside for me.

To wrap this thing up: if you like dystopia, there is a very good chance you’ll like this book. It’s well written and intelligent, and the characters are, for the most part, dynamic and interesting. However, my favorite thing about this genre is, like I said, finding the relatable humanity in an alien world, and the protagonist just does not have that relatable quality that I like. So this book gets a 3 out of 5, out of personal respect for the quality of this book, but loses points based on totally personal reasons.

If you liked The Scorpion Rules, try:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Uglies by Scott Westerfield

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Reviews

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic

# of Pages: 403

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 58

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Nemesis is not human. She is a Diabolic, a humanoid creature bred to be a bodyguard to the sons and daughters of the Grandiloquy, the ruling class of the galactic empire. Nemesis is bonded to Sidonia Impyrean, who is the daughter of the senator that is the greatest threat to the Emperor himself. When Sidonia is called to court as a glorfied hostage, Nemesis knows what she must do to save the girl she is sworn to protect. She must become her. While in disguise, Nemesis must learn what it truly means to be human, and her actions may cause the biggest shift in her empire’s history.

 

You know, I have to start out by saying that this book was a bit of a branch-out for me. Though I am a life-long lover of Star Wars, I’m not really that into sci-fi. I don’t really have a base knowledge of the structure of sci-fi in the same way that I do for fantasy. And through the beginning of this story, I thought that it might become a problem for me.

This story, like many of the books I’ve been reading lately, was slow to start for me. While the concept of this story is immediately apparent and immediately fascinating, to me it takes a little bit too long for the whole concept to be explained. Basically, the entire first 100 to 150 pages was an explanation of the science, the political system, and the religion of this world. And while it’s all very well thought out and fascinating, it doesn’t leave much room for a lot to happen plot-wise. It also didn’t help me to begin to feel attached to the characters, though Nemesis herself I believe is a very interesting character study.

In my many years reading as many books as I could get my hands on, I came across many main characters that weren’t strictly human. But I would classify all of them as “people”, a broad term that, to me, describes any creature that has feelings and thoughts and makes decisions that we, as the reader, can understand as choices that we might make if we were in that position. But reading this book from the perspective of Nemesis, at least in the first half of the book, is really very intriguing because it is almost like reading from the perspective of a robot.

Nemesis is technically human-like, bred with intense physical strength and supposedly “modified” brain capacity, but she doesn’t think or act like a human would, and she doesn’t see herself as human. I think that, overall, Nemesis as a character is the greatest triumph of this book.

I have to give Kincaid all of the points for character and world building, absolutely brilliant. Her political system is largely based off of the Roman Imperial system, which I love because I am a total classical history nerd. The only reason that I can’t give it a higher rating isn’t really a problem for me, but I suspect would be a problem among the more selective readers out there. And that problem is predictability.

If you read enough books, eventually you start to pick up a pattern. Am I still surprised by books? Absolutely. Do I go looking for the patterns in every book so as to basically “ruin” the story for me? Absolutely not. I take pride in being able to take a book page by page, so that even if I look back on the book after I’ve finished it and decide that I wasn’t really surprised by anything that happened, I can still say that I enjoyed the book overall.

I think the biggest problem that Kincaid has in this story is giving the story away to the reader ahead of the character. She drops all these fairly obvious hints about what is about to happen, and so the reader knows, but it takes Nemesis or Tyrus or whoever pages and pages more to figure it out, even though some things are totally obvious and both of these characters are extremely intelligent. It certainly exasperated me a few times, even though I very much enjoyed the book as a whole.=

Long story short, I would absolutely recommend this book to folks who like young adult, even if you don’t like sci-fi, because after the beginning part it becomes very friendly and easy to follow even for those who aren’t super familiar with the genre. If predictability is a big problem for you, however, I’d maybe pass this one by (though the last 30 pages actually did hold a few surprises for me, so it certainly ended on a positive note).

If you liked The Diabolic, try: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Matched by Ally Condie