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!

Throwback Thursdays

Throwback Thursday: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

For this week’s Throw Back Thursday, I’m going to give you a mini review of the first book in one of my favorite series, Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong.

Bitten is the story of Elena Michaels, reporter by day, werewolf by night. She didn’t choose to become what she is, but she has taken her life back by leaving her Pack behind and living in the city. She’s got a human boyfriend, a human job, almost everything to make her life perfect. The only thing that breaks the illusion is having to sneak off very once and a while and change into a wolf. But Elena is willing to live with that so she can have the life she’s always wanted. But when her old Pack alpha calls her home, she knows she can’t ignore the summons, even if it will pull her headfirst back into the world she has been trying to escape.

I’ve read this whole series a couple of times, and even just flipping through this book looking for parts to review makes me want to jump back in.

I don’t read a lot of adult fiction: I find that the storylines often get a little bit campy and predictable. Not that it can’t happen in YA too, but I’ve found that I’m not as engaged in as much adult fiction. Kelley Armstrong is really the exception. She writes for YA too, but Women of the Otherworld is my favorite of hers. Her world is thrilling urban fantasy filled with smart independent women. And while all of these women have amazing power of their own, steamy romances make it that much more enthralling. Women of the Otherworld has werewolves, vampires, necromancers, witches, half-demons, really anything you could ask for in fantasy.

I went on a bit of a tangent on the series as a whole, but Bitten really is the perfect first book to set the series off. Armstrong originally wrote it as a standalone novel, but fans wanted more of Elena, so Armstrong wrote a sequel that set the whole series up for Elena to be joined by more outstanding protagonists. Though I do love the others, Elena will always be my favorite. She really is a strong female role model for other young women to look up to. She’s got a traumatic, haunting past, and while that never goes away, she learns live with who she is and what she has survived, and become stronger because of it.

Bitten is packed (ha, pack-ed, as in wolf pack), with great characters. The alpha, Jeremy, is a wise, fatherly leader, but one who is human enough to make mistakes, too. And how can I not mention Clay, the biggest heartthrob to ever appear in ink.

People ask me often what my favorite book is, and I can never answer, because I read amazing books all the time that astound me with their characters, their worldbuilding, engaging plots, inspiring and relevant themes. And while Kelley Armstrong is a great writer, Bitten is not the “best” books I’ve ever read. But it is up there on my favorites because I can pick it up again and again and feel the same thrill, and fall in love with the characters all over again.

But I will warn you: if you pick up Bitten, you may very well get hooked. And Women of the Otherworld is 13 books long, so you’d better be willing to be in it for the longhaul.

Reviews

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

One Dark Throne

# of Pages: 448

Time it took me to read: 5 days

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

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Ever since sister queens Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katherine were born, they knew that one day two of them would lie dead and only one sister would reign over the whole of the island of Fennbirn. Mirabella, who’s powerful elemental magic has always given her the edge, is no longer the chosen one after Arsinoe’s terrifying naturalist display at Beltane. But all three of the sisters have their secrets, and the only question left is: which sister is willing to do everything that needs to be done to take the throne? Will it be Mirabella, still the strongest, but also the softest of heart, loving still the sisters that she must destroy? Or Arsinoe, raised as a naturalist with no abilities to show, who is actually a poisoner is disguise? Though always seen as weak, one cannot discount Katherine, who is suddenly showing more power and hunger for the throne than she ever has, despite having been thrown into the heart of the island by the boy that she loved. This Ascension Year promises to be the most mysterious and strange in Fennbirn’s history, but the question still stands: which of the three queens will seize the one dark throne?

I’ve already broken my no sequels rule, but I didn’t do a full review of Three Dark Crowns, so I figured I’d be fine to review the sequel.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I rarely give a sequel a better score than an original, but this is one of those times that I really thought that the author stepped it up in her sequel. All three of the sisters showed a different side of themselves than they did in the first book, and I thought that it really brought a lot of depth to each of the protagonists. And might I say that I think Blake really mastered the art of three protagonists. Two is pretty commonly done, but three is a hard feat. I think that typically it’d be hard as a reader for me to care about all three of them equally, but I actually did. I was invested in the outcome of each sister, and found myself rooting for them all, even when they were pitted against one another.

At the end of the first book, I think that there were several routes that Blake could have taken, and this was probably one of the best ones, definitely a tricky one. The story of Katherine, in particular, really kept me guessing the whole time. It was obvious that the author took some risks and killed some darlings in this book, but I think it all paid off. As a writer myself, I respect some hard decisions that she made, but as a reader I was heartbroken. And as a writer if you can make your readers ache for a character that you’ve written, I’d call that a success.

I also think that this story was paced a lot better than it’s predecessor. I don’t think that it was any fault of the prequel’s, because doing set up is hard, but One Dark Throne started with a great pace and ended the same way. There was no sort of slow build up to the action, the action was there right away. When reading the first one, I remember it taking me until just about half way through to become fully invested in the characters and their world, though by the end I was hooked. I have to say that I was hooked from page one in this story, and I was really refreshed by that, because a lot of popular YA writers will produce a banger of a debut novel, but there is so much pressure after that, that typically I find that the sequels don’t perform as well. So I’m always happy to be able to give a sequel a glowing review.

I know I mentioned this in the first review I did, but I was very impressed with the world building and the magic originality of this story. Fennbirn Island is home to the poisoners, the elementalists, the naturalists, the warriors, and the oracles. The warriors and the oracles aren’t as unique, but they are also the most rare, and not the aspect of magic most focused on. It’s the poisoners and the naturalists that are so cool and unique, particularly the poisoners. Though Katherine isn’t my favorite of the sisters,  I can’t help but be fascinated by the whole poisoner culture that Blake has created. Their religion is also really interesting, and brutal as well. I love it a lot.

Anyway, I’m happy to be able to give this book a resounding 5 out of 5. I really enjoyed every page of it, and am surprised and thrilled that there is going to be one more in the series.

If you liked One Dark Throne, try: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Poison Study by Maria V Snyder

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

 

 

Reviews

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

WW Warbringer

# of Pages: 364

Time it took me to read: 5 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 52 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Diana has lived her whole life on the beautiful, isolated island of Themyscira. Her mother, the Queen, and her battle-tested Amazon sisters have always made Diana sure that she has something to prove. What Diana doesn’t know when she pulls a young girl from the wreckage of a sinking ship, is that this girl holds the fate of the world in her very breath. Alia Keralis has been facing the threat of danger her whole life, but what she didn’t know is that it’s because she is the Warbringer, the latest in a long line of descendants of Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships and brought war to the Greeks and Trojans.

The pair make an unlikely team as they escape from Themyscira and hurry towards Greece, because only at the resting place of Helen can Alia be purified and end the line of Warbringers forever. But the World of Man is unfamiliar to Diana, and though she has sworn to protect Alia, there are enemies hidden all around them: those who would seek to destroy the Warbringer before she comes into her full powers, but also those who would seek to use her powers to thrust the world into a new age of war.

I just have to start by saying that this book was amazing! Like, I’m really not surprised, but I’m also just a little bit surprised. I’m not really into reading books that come from movie franchises. I’m all for the books that I like getting turned into movies, but vice versa? Not so much. Though this book is not a literary retelling of the Wonder Woman movie, don’t be confused (though if you’ve seen the movie and you read the description at the top, you’ll know they’re nothing alike). They are set in the same DC world, but the mythology and timeline of the book and movie are very different. Diana is a fully grown adult in the movie, which takes place during World War I, but in this book she is only 16, and it is the modern day. The reason I’m not a) mad about it, and b) actually really loved that aspect of it, was because I’m not into the DC Comics world at all. I’m a Marvel girl all the way, and even then, just the movies, not the comics. Also, this book delved much further into the Greek mythology aspect of the Amazons and included Helen of Troy and other deities much more than in the film.

The reason I’m not surprised that I loved this book was because it’s Leigh Bardugo, whom, if you read my first Throw Back Thursday mini review, you’ll know I’m absolutely in love with. I’m not surprised she was able to make a world that was totally her own, while remaining true to the Wonder Woman character that we all fell in love with this last year with the release of the film. I’m very impressed that she was able to make something creative and different, because it would have been very easy for her to fall back on the world building and mythology that was established in the movie and the comics, and though I’m sure that she borrowed from both, the world felt more realistic than comic book worlds usually do, even with all of the gods and monsters Bardugo invokes (which is very much her style).

Now, to talk a little bit about characters. I absolutely loved teen Diana, because though she is still the strong, socially inept badass that we know and love from the movie, she is a lot more relatable as a teen, because she hasn’t come into her powers and isn’t as sure of her place in the world, which is something that I’m sure a lot of young readers will identify with. I’m sure of this because I identify with it, and at 23 I’m seven years Diana’s senior in this story.

The other main character in this book is Alia Keralis, the daughter of two of New York’s most famous scientists, and the descendant of Helen of Troy. While it is clear that this girl is much more comfortable buried in books, she still contains the street smarts of a girl who has grown up in New York city. Alia is also black, from her mother’s side, and Bardugo doesn’t shy away with making commentary on race in this story, though she does not fall back on using stereotypes at all which is awesome. Alia seems like a totally realistic teenage girl from the city; self conscious, but also scrappy. Though she is initially disbelieving of the world of mythology that she falls into when she meets Diana, she goes from skeptical to resilient and brave in the face of adversity, which is what we all love in our YA heroines.

Quite possibly my favorite part of this book, however, is the insane plot twist at the end. Like, honestly, I haven’t been this surprised by the climax of a book in probably years. While there are usually little parts of every book that are unpredictable and exciting, I typically finishing the book able to say that I guessed pretty well how it was gonna turn out. But I have never let out a more emphatic “damn, I did NOT see that coming” than I did when I got near the end of this story. I won’t say any more, but seriously, so good. No punches pulled at all with that one.

Anyway, just a few last things before I sign off. The pacing of this book was excellent, I was constantly on my toes, excited for that next page, which I haven’t been for quite some time, so that was very refreshing. The side characters were funny and dynamic, very well written additions to this story. The plot was engaging and fresh, thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. This book is well-deserving of every one of its five stars.

I’m kind of digging this idea of hiring famous YA writers to retell classic stories. They’ve got a bunch of ones based on Disney movies, of which I’ve only read one, and it was okay, but this one was a win by far. This book definitely proved the Leigh Bardugo is more than capable of escaping her fantasy-dystopia niche.

 

If you liked Wonder Woman: Warbringer, try: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

AntiGoddess by Kendare Blake

Defy by Sara B. Larson

Siren’s Song by Mary Weber

Throwback Thursdays

Blog Update/Throwback Thursday: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow and bone

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to post a little update, as I’m going to be changing around how I’m doing my blog. I will still be reading a book a week, but I won’t be reviewing every book I read, as I have decided to no longer review sequels (there will be a few exceptions, I’m sure, but for the most part I won’t be doing it).

Since that throws the consistency of blog posts out of whack (though lets be honest, they haven’t been that consistent in a long time) I am going to start posting Throwback Thursday reviews into the mix.

Every Thursday, I will be posting a mini-review of a book that I read before I started reviewing books for this blog. They will be much shorter than normal and won’t follow my usual format, but will give me the opportunity to talk about books that I read long ago that I love, but won’t get the chance to write full reviews for on this blog.

My first Throwback review is by one of my favorite authors. It is, in fact, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

This book tells the story of Alina Starkov, an ordinary girl with an extraordinary gift. She goes from being just one of thousands soldiers in the royal army to being swept up into the glamerous life of the Grisha: the magical, elite class of the kingdom of Ravka. The leader of the Grisha, known only as the Darkling, believes that Alina’s unique gift is the key to destroying the Fold, a realm of unnatural darkness that is filled with monsters. The Fold grows larger every year, threatening to engulf not only Ravka but the entire known world. But nothing in the world of the Court is as it seems, and Alina must reconcile her new power with the person that she has always been.

I honestly don’t do this book justice in the description. In this story, Leigh Bardugo teaches a masterclass in world building. I honestly have never read any world like hers, or come upon magic like hers. Her Grisha wield incredible power, but they are abilities that are almost believable.

One of my favorite things about this introduction to a sensational trilogy is the Fold, or the “Unsea”. It is a sinister void filled with monsters, both terrifying and awe-inspiring in its creativity and mystery.

I honestly cannot recommend this book (well, really, the whole trilogy) more. Its one of those stories that draws you in from the first pages, and Alina is a character that is both admirable in her strengths and relatable in her weaknesses. Leigh Bardugo was my #1 new author for 2016, and I give all 5 of her books that I’ve read a full 5 out of 5 stars.

If you’re looking for an engaging, unique book to pick up this week, try Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. You won’t regret this foray into magic and darkness.

Reviews

Scale: A Novel by Keith Buckley

Scale A Novel

# of Pages: 241

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 35 pgs

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Ray Goldman is a conundrum of a man. He strives his whole life to make something of himself, following the paths of good role models and bad ones, as he tries to make it in the world of music. This book has everything that you could want in the fictional biography of a musical artist: drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Ray starts down a path early in his youth that brings him to a point where he explores the ideas of love, nihilism, and the motivations behind creating art.

This book was really a big leap out of my comfort zone. I haven’t really read much of what I’d consider “literature” since I left college, but this definitely fits the the definition of a “great American novel”. My friend Sam and I were talking about books recently, and we decided that we’d both try and branch out a little bit. This book, Scale, is by the lead singer of one of Sam’s favorite metal bands “Every Time I Die”. Sam told me that he didn’t do a lot of reading, but he liked history, so I gave him And I Darken, so hopefully he will enjoy the fictional retelling of Lada (Vlad) the Impaler.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised at how much I liked this book. Typically, I really am not into books that are cerebral and character driven like this, but I found that I was really drawn into the writing style. This book was written in such a way that I was sort of forced to take it slow (I know, reading a whole book in 3 days doesn’t sound like taking it slow, but if this was a YA book under 250 pages I could have read it in 4 hours).

I’m not sure that I can explain very well why I read it slow, but it wasn’t entirely because the book was very heavy on big vocabulary and light on plot. It was more that even when the story was outlining something fairly lighthearted, I felt like I had to take a pause between sentences or paragraphs to digest a little bit. And normally when I’m enjoying a book I don’t stop for anything. I just chew and chew and don’t stop to swallow or sometimes even to breathe. But reading this book can be accurately represented by how I actually eat: one small bite, then a drink of water, then a bit of conversation, a deep breath, then another small bite and repeat. Scale requires you to take a bite, wash it down, then think about it a bit before diving back in. And, though reading those kinds of books has always felt like homework to me, I found this book a refreshing taste of the world outside of YA.

Buckley also made a really interesting move with how he designed the timeline of this story. The odd chapters were the “present day” of this story, while the even chapters start in his late teen years and lead up to how he became the man that he is in the odd chapters. This stylistic choice kept the book fresh and interesting.

This book also has a great cast of side characters, all of whom were very well written, but none of whom I liked very much on a personal level. In fact, I don’t think I liked the characters at all that much. And maybe that’s the way its supposed to be? I’m really not sure, this book really gives you a lot to think about, and it’s one of those books that makes me super sleepy after reading it for a while. It’s a lot to process.

After reading this book, I also did a bit of research on the author, because I had a few theories that I wanted to check out. Keith Buckly is a pretty interesting guy. He’s married to his high school sweetheart (which I love), and this is his first novel. He definitely drew from some of his own life experiences when writing Scale. Ray Goldman went to Virginia Tech, and so did Keith Buckley. The other events that he borrowed from his own life I won’t reveal, cause spoilers, but Ray Goldman was certainly an interesting way for Buckley to explore certain aspects of his own life as a career musician.

I’ll go over briefly what it was that brought this book down half a star from a perfect score, though I will begin by saying that this bit is highly based on my own personal experiences and bias, and doesn’t reflect negatively at all on the book itself. My friends Chris and Sam give this book a perfect 5 out of 5, and they aren’t wrong. The reason I docked this book half a star was because a) there were some parts of it that went over my head, and b) I found it to be just a teensy bit pretentious. I will add a however, because the parts that didn’t make sense to me after trying to read them a few times over probably made perfect sense to somebody else, I just think that my life experiences and my worldview don’t always allow for a lot of philosophical thinking. And the pretentious part? Well, I think that all books that are character driven and could accurately be described as a “great American novel” are a bit pretentious by definition. There was a lot of big vocabulary words thrown about in such a way that it almost seemed like he was trying too hard to be deep. But again, that is merely an opinion, and I don’t think that either of these things should discourage anyone who might be interested in this book from reading it.

I can’t say that I think that everyone would enjoy this book, but I do think that it is a well-rounded, well-written book overall, and even I, someone who ever so rarely ventures outside the folds of the YA genre, enjoyed it very much. So I feel like anyone who enjoys books with very realistic characters, a great pace, and heavy philosophical and nihilistic overtones, or really any of those traits, should give this book a try.

I am going to, once again, forsake the “If you liked ____, try ____ section of this review, because honestly I don’t think that I’ve read anything remotely similar to this book that I would actually recommend to others.

Reviews

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

Sweet Venom

# of Pages: 345

Time it took me to read: 3 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 50 pgs

Rating: 5 out of 5

 

Grace, Gretchen, and Greer could not be more different. Grace is a quiet computer nerd who strives to save the environment. Greer is rich, popular, and strives to be a senator someday. Gretchen escaped abusive parents at a young age, and ever since then has dedicated her life to hunting the monsters that appear all over San Francisco…before the monsters can hunt the humans. What these girls do have in common is that they’re triplets, separated at birth, and they all have the power to see the monsters.

Suddenly everything begins to go awry. Gretchen’s mentor, the woman who taught her everything she knows about being a huntress, has disappeared, and the monsters begin to break the rules they’ve always been bound by. Will the sisters be able to see past their differences and work together? Or will the very power that brought them together keep them apart?

Okay, first off, you know that spiel I went on last week about how I like it when YA books transcend their genre? If you don’t, then go back and read my review for Elusion. Anyway, so I gave this book 5 stars, but this book does not transcend genres. This may seem like me going back on everything I said before, but hear me out.

I’ve read several other books by Tera Lynn Childs. Primarily her series about mermaids. And I have to say, that every book I’ve ever read by her has just been amazingly fun to read. Like I tear through her books because they’re very engaging and and fast paced. And her characters are always just plain adorable, and her worlds so magical.

But this book is very firmly in the realm of YA. Like, if you don’t like books that were clearly written for readers aged 14-16, you will not enjoy probably anything that Tera Lynn Childs has written. However, what makes Childs stand out from other YA books that don’t transcend genre is that she doesn’t try to. Childs has found her niche, and she is very, very good at what she does. I mean, I’m 23, but did I still thoroughly enjoy reading this story about long lost triplets who fight mythological monsters? Yeah. But not all 23 year olds, in fact I’m going to hedge the bet and say that most 23 year olds wouldn’t like this book as much as I did. But I’m young at heart, so what can I say?

Alright, age range aside, I’ll get to the reasons why I gave this book a 5 star review. I’m an enormous sucker for any YA book that takes a spin on Greek mythology. Percy Jackson isn’t the only one out there, folks, just in case you were wondering. It’s turning into a whole sub-genre, and one that I could not be more in love with. I also really appreciate that Childs did something pretty unique in terms of the world of YA Greek myth books. Her characters are the descendants of Medusa, the mortal Gorgon best known from the Perseus myth as the monster with snake hair with eyes that turned people to stone.

Well, Childs spins her as a good guy that was totally persecuted by the Gods because they were jealous. It’s something I’ve never seen done before, and I liked it very much. It was very obvious that Childs did her research, but she also took lots of liberties and made the story and the characters very much her own, which I liked a lot. Several of these Greek myth YA books either try and borrow characters and stories too heavily from myth and don’t do enough research and make it nearly painful to read for someone who has studied a lot of myth. Anyway, so far A+ on the mythology aspect of this story.

The writing itself is great, and the pacing fantastic. I read the book in 3 days, 3 work days mind you. That basically means I couldn’t put it down. Were there parts of this story that were fairly predictable? Sure, but there were also parts that surprised me. The characters had a pretty basic story arc for each of them, but they had all of the components of a well rounded, three-dimensional character, so that’s fine.

I’m going to try and not do sequel reviews on this blog any more. That’s right, every book I review is going to be an original. And I do promise to try and get more regular with the reviews coming up soon, it is taking me much longer than I anticipated to get my schedule regulated. But I’m finally done working 6 day weeks, so hopefully I’ll be a little less tired.

If you liked Sweet Venom, try: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs