Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Book Thoughts)

My entire adventure into YA fantasy started because of Bookstagram. Strange the Dreamer was put on that reading list very early and I’m glad I finally had a chance to read it. A solid follow-up to the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series -which I apparently never blogged about – let’s take a look at what I loved (and didn’t love) about Laini Taylor’s magical book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Strange the Dreamer
  • Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – March 2017
  • Length: 544 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐for those who like lush fantasy worlds where the romance may or may not make sense

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor comes an epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?

In this sweeping and breathtaking novel .. the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

The answers await in Weep.

Alright I don’t want this to turn into a 5 page long essay so I will hit the mainstays –

The Worldbuilding: One thing I’ll say for Laini Taylor is that she is a master of lush world building.  The settings are so vividly described, the buildings and architecture, weather, terrain, food, mood of the citizens, everything you could want from the micro world building is present.

On a larger macro level, there is also lots of history and custom given.  Many stories and folklore and popular legends are given through Lazlo’s storytelling, which really adds another dimension to the world

One of the main mysteries – where the Gods came from and what they are doing -will likely be discussed in Muse of Nightmares. 

The Characters: speaking of the Muse of Nightmares – let’s do characters next. I really applaud Taylor for starting the book out the way she did –

How can you turn away from a book after learning that a blue girl falls out of the sky?  Sarai and the other godspawn had a complicated and interesting dynamic.  Their imprisonment and survival chipped the humanity away from some, while it seemed to flourish in others.  I liked Sarai and felt for Minya, they were all just surviving in the world of their parents. And wearing their underwear. 

Lazlo is one of my favorite YA MC’s ever, except he is around 20 or so.  While completely appropriate, I think this book falls into that NA age category.

I love this quote almost as much as I love Lazlo. He was an orphan who was swallowed by the Great library. He is funny and has a wonderfully vivid imagination, is deeply caring, and might be “just a librarian” but definitely has a sense of adventure.  He always sought out the good that he could do regardless of whether or not it would benefit him in turn.

A lot of the side characters had important rules as well. No one was there just to be a plot device. Master Hyrrokkin was one of my favorites, just because his old man banter was not what you would expect from an ancient librarian.  It was also funny when his Warrior friends were giving Lazlo mistranslations and having him say silly things 

The magic:  tying into the world building, Taylor also created a lush magic system. Each of the god’s children had an ability, some of which were kind of cool. All the abilities were useful for survival. Sarai’s involved moths and Nightmares, and if that doesn’t make you interested in the book I don’t know what will.

What I didn’t love: I enjoyed the book immensely up until the point where the action was ready to boil over, and Laini grinds it to a full halt. A *screeeech*ing halt.  Then takes something like 10 chapters to expand on a true insta love – OMG HE *SAW* ME – gag. I hate insta-love. It was a cute sequence but I don’t think jumping at the first (second)? boy she’s ever interacted with constitutes a romance that I care about.  It just seemed like an excuse for Laini to add more magic into an already magical world, where that page time could have been spent trying to help keep the peace, keeping the action going, or literally anything else.  Seeing each other and being fascinated doesn’t constitute a romance, even if Lazlo did have a wonderful mind to spend time in. One other thing is that I actually spotted ‘The Twist’ this time, as soon as it was said. No spoilers but it’s pretty rare that I actually get the hint so I thought it was worth mentioning

Random:  I also liked that there were some harder themes tackled, such as survival

That’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can – Sarai

And hard truths like justice

You think good people can’t hate? .. You think good people don’t kill? […} Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice – Sarai 

Don’t forget found family!

“You two idiots,” said Azareen, and Lazlo felt a curious twinge of pride to be called an idiot by her, with what might have been the tiniest edge of fondness

One final parting quote, even though half of the book is quotable-

“Dream up something wild and improbable. Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

Overall – stupid “romance” in an otherwise  wonderful world.  The plot unravelled mysteries as it went and created (minus the block of “romance chapters”) a fantastic reading experience.  The banter had me laughing out loud, the writing is beautiful, and the magic felt real within the world. Check it out!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

The Lost Dreamer (Book Review) by Lizz Huerta

Thank you so much to the publisher via Bookish First for my finished copy of The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta!

I’ve never read anything based off of MesoAmerican type culture so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The story idea is a good one, and I enjoyed the read, but I think the overall execution hurt the end result. Let’s take a look at this newly released YA fantasy!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Lost Dreamer
  • Series: I *think* it’s going to be a duology
  • Author: Lizz Huerta
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 03/01/22
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for YA fantasy readers  – for adults I think it will read young

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

A stunning YA fantasy inspired by ancient Mesoamerica, this gripping debut introduces us to a lineage of seers defiantly resisting the shifting patriarchal state that would see them destroyed—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir.

Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end—an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer—she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift—and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

With a detailed, supernaturally-charged setting and topical themes of patriarchal power and female strength, The Lost Dreamer brings an ancient world to life, mirroring the challenges of our modern one

Lets talk about execution first: A TON of names, places, abilities and different magics were thrown out at first with no background given, creating a lot of initial confusion. I see a lot of people agreeing that they started out without knowing what was happening or being able to keep track of characters, which can sour a book.  It definitely did for me until I got about 100 pages in and became more interested.

Many things are explained at some point but especially at the end I could just not keep track of so many minor characters.  Most big world building things were at least touched on at some point but per a typical YA, Huerta focused more on the characters than explaining the world 

I also wasn’t sure about describing everyone by their structure, hips, and build, but I read that as a nod to the Mesoamerican culture.  What she did describe very well was the natural world: flowers, animals, hidden temples,  smells, and some of the ceremonies and rituals.

The characters were decent.  I loved Saya’s story.  She deals with escaping abuse and finding family, discovering herself and her abilities, and watching her find joy in the world was awesome.  I loved her Singing abilities too and how it connected her with natural spirits.  In general, I think the different innate magical abilities of the clans were the best part of the book.

Indir, the first main character, felt like cardboard to me.  She clearly has some kind of social anxiety and never liked to leave the Temple.  She was a powerful Dreamer but seemed essentially worthless when it came to travelling or really doing anything 

That said, and needless to say I was SHOCKED when she randomly and very quickly became attached to a male warrior, and hooked up without much hesitation.  It was a means to the end for the story but that “romance” storyline became a WTAF thing real quick in a book that I would otherwise hand to a 12 year old

Thankfully – it was vague and more or less had to be inferred but still – I didn’t see it as consistent with Indir’s character at all. 

There is a big “twist” towards the end that – again – it was a good idea but I had to backtrack and consider the book from a new angle. I think when readers will appreciate the big reveal more than adults.  For me, the timelines should have been given along with the points of view and let people reason the twist out on our own if they hadn’t figured it out already

The end result was a starting point going forward for the next book with a LOT of background missing. I have so many questions about the meantime, like the book was getting too long and Huerta just found a way to wrap it up!

Even with the issues, I thought there were many good themes like dealing with the death of a relative for the first time, sisterhood, girl power, different beauty standards, choosing your family, being curious about the natural world – and many more.

Overall – I think this is a good series for teens.  Other than a 15 (I think) year old shy character having a sexual partner, there was absolutely no language and a bit of blood and violence but nothing explicit at all.  I would be ok with my teens reading this one!

 


As always, thank you again to the publisher for my free reading copy! All opinions are my own ❤

Categories
Dystopian Science Fiction Young Adult

Scythe (or themes for teens) by Neal Shusterman

I finally got the time and chance to read another book with the OpenlyBooked Book Club, and really enjoyed Scythe!

I liked it well enough as an adult and I also think it’s a fantastic book for teen readers.  There are lots of good themes, ideas, and what-ifs for discussion fodder and there’s a discussion and classroom guide in the back of my edition! Honestly I think I’d have gotten more out of this as a teen than I did, say, trying to understand Brave New World at the time so that’s something teachers are hopefully looking at.

In one sentence: one of the more unique and interesting YA books I’ve ever read

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Scythe
  • Series: Arc of a Scythe #1
  • Author: Neal Shusterman
  • Publisher & Release: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – November  2016
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⚡ for anyone interested

Here’s the synopsis via Amazon:

I don’t read many utopian sci-fi books and was definitely happy with this one.  What the heck would the consequences be when humans are immortal, there’s no government anymore, everyone is provided for, and life is one big neverending run of mediocrity?

There are so many great themes and ideas for teens to consider in these books. What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a world like this? Is the Thunderhead better than individual governments? How do you feel about turning back the clock?

Is cultivated random death better than the old method of natural selection? My favorite question is, without suffering, how does one’s life and the world at large change?

I tried hard to poke holes in the world building as well and it seemed extremely solid.  There were lots of sci-fi and utopian ideas but not enough technology and science to bog down the book.  It was more there in ideology. I was thinking quite a.bit about cultivated random death vs old-school random death, is one or the other really better? The whole idea of disease, accidents, crime, government being rendered obsolete was fascinating.

I think this is a unique plot with a thoughtful look at humanity.  The scythes hold a LOT of power, and therefore of course is the source of corruption as well.  Seeing how different scythes operate, the good and bad, new vs old, and how they essentially preserve the age of mortality was interesting to me.

The characters all had their unique aspects too.  It’s rare that a book is equally plot and character driven.  Rowan and Citra didn’t want to be scythes, therefore they are perfect candidates – but how do you ease people into taking life? How do they react to this? I liked their different strengths and weaknesses, and how each of their famous Scythe mentors had different approaches to the gleaning

My only negative thought was how the two teens ended up romantically inclined towards each other. I get that the author thinks people “expect” “romance” but the characters had zero, absolutely NO chemistry, and nothing except proximity.  This should have been a friendship, as proximity romances are stupid and the characters only had one brief physical encounter.  I honestly don’t think that teens want or expect romance in every book and it was so obviously forced into Scythe.  1/2 star docked for the author being silly

Overall: I thoroughly recommend this one and consider it a wonderfully appropriate teen read too.  Confirmed by the fact that it won a Printz honor, it definitely reads as a standalone but I’ll be reading book 2 asap.  This could easily be read and discussed in schools.  The language was clean, the worst anyone did was kiss, once, and while there was violence and death it was usually well compensated.

Likely one of my lifetime top 10 YA reads but I would have to think out a list to confirm

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Stars Above (Book Thoughts) by Marissa Meyer

I’m definitely glad that I started reading the short stories, novellas, and other extra content included in my favorite series.

I enjoyed this short story collection that wraps up The Lunar Chronicles. It gave each main character a true origin story, or something else that pertains to their personas. Lastly it let us know what the characters have been doing since the series ended and showed what their future looks like going forward. I think it was a really satisfying end to the reading experience.

The biggest surprise to me was that this is 400 pages long, because it felt so much shorter. The audiobook was also a lot shorter than what 400 pages would normally be, at only 9:27 not including the preview of Heartless

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Stars Above
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles # 4.5
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, February 2016
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for fans of the series

Let me say two spoiler free lines about each story!

The Keeper – about Michelle Benoit and how she eventually ended up with a very charred charge.  Scarlet has a cameo

Glitches – from the end of the prior story: how Cinder was met by her new family, and incidentally how she discovered her mechanical prowess.  I like this little glimpse of their early family life

The Queen’s Army – how Wolf became Alpha Kessley.  This one showed me something about Scarlet that I missed, or misunderstood while reading 😳

Carswell’s Guide – super cute mechanical kitty and a bunch of scheming by our favorite captain

After Sunshine Passes By – this was probably my least favorite, about Cress and when Sybil Meara put her on the satellite

The Princess and the Guard – Winter’s decision to no longer use her Gift, and what that decline looked like.  It was a nice glimpse into her and Jacin’s childhood friendship

The Little Android – one very brave, very boy crazy little Android that definitely does not have a defective personality chip.  Loosely based on The Little Mermaid, it also showed the first time that Iko and Cinder met and I loved it

The Mechanic – super cute story from Kai’s point of view

Something Old, Something New (or Stars Above) 😁

All in all, I definitely think that if you read the series you need to read this too. The final story is absolutely everything needed to put a big beautiful bow on the series

And of course on audio, once again Rebecca Soler brings the entire cast to life. Bubbly hyper excitable Iko and floaty Winter were my favorite voices in the series.

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Winter (book thoughts) by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles was a refreshing and binge worthy reading experience.  I am getting so sick of YA books with terrible language, dumb characters, s*x scenes that aren’t at all appropriate for the advertised age range…

Then I read this series! Whew. I binged all 5 books and also checked out the short story collection.  Zero swears that I recall, innocent romance that’s appropriate for both age and situation, and, even the gore was pretty well contained.  The battle scenes and fighting were exciting and delivered shocks without going to extreme.

So yes I 100% confidently recommend The Lunar Chronicles for both teens and adults looking for a fun, futuristic battle for Earth and beyond.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the final book in the series – Winter

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Winter
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles, #4
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, November 2015
  • Length: 832 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Here is the summary:

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

We got a glimpse of the title character, Princess Winter, at the end of Cress, and also got some of her back story in Fairest. At first I wasn’t sure about her, since she is frankly nuts, but once we start learning more about the lunar sickness and how Winter refused to be like the rest of the lunar court, aka fake and using their glamours for ill, she becomes a much more likeable character.  Yes she is flaky but also strong enough to defy Levana for so long, and she is definitely not stupid.  Her strength comes out pretty evenly with the crazy and it’s an endearing combination.

Winter was a well loved princess who was prettier than a bouquet of roses and crazier than a headless chicken.

Also for some reason I thought that, due to the pets and the palace guard, that this would be an Aladdin theme … but it was definitely, very loosely, Snow White.

But anyway, the gang is back and there is more banter, more adventure, more kidnappings of Kai, and thankfully some hard won victories for the Rampion crew.

I like that the war and occupation of Luna wasn’t easy.  There were tons of civilian casualties, injuries and near deaths for the crew, trauma and everything else you’d expect from a war.   Parts of it felt a little Hunger Games ish with the gang going to different sectors to recruit people to overwhelm the Capitol.  Also reminiscent were the questions of sanity and PTSD after the conflicts and terrible things that were both done and witnessed.

I also liked how the main points of Fairest were recapped incase anyone hadn’t read it, although I still think that book enhanced the overall reading experience.

Best side character award definitely goes to Konn Torin in this one.  He turned the tide and came through in huge but subtle ways.  Everything would have been lost without him.  Bonus points to Alpha Strom too, that whole sequence with the wolf soldiers was something else.

I still think Scarlet is the most useless of the group.  It was great to see Cress really come out of her shell (pun intended) and be a hero! I have had some Cress coasters forever and it’s good to know what they mean finally.  Iko was another superstar throughout this one.

Meyer didn’t shy away from emphasizing either how brutal the Lunar regime was in itself.  As she really showed how the elite kept the outer sectors in poverty and submission it was the perfect grounds for a revolution.  There were those individual instances too like with Maha Kesley.  Everyone in the crew lost someone precious to them during the series.

One last thing to hit on the setting – I thought it was great to finally see all of Luna.  A lot of the history was finally given too, or at least enough to provide a background without bogging the story down.

The spot where the setting hit me the hardest was when Cinder hit the edge of the dome in the middle of the lake – and the crater was hundreds of feet below on the other side.  From that imagery to that of the Lunar palace I think Winter really tied things together well.

In a nutshell: four (five because honestly, let’s count Iko) unique main characters.  Banter and snark for days.  Adventure, plotting, war, rebellion. Heroes and villains. Dashing captains (haha had to mention Thorne somewhere). Happy endings.  Age appropriate content!  What’s not to love about this series?

Quick notes on the audio: this is obviously a pretty long audio, around 24hours.  Rebecca Soler made her first obvious OOPS in this one but considering it was the first noticeable one in 5 books, I was very impressed overall!  I think she added a lot to the book by voicing and interpreting Winter and the others how she did.  Definitely 100% recommend

Categories
Fantasy Romance Young Adult

A Far Wilder Magic (ARC Review) by Allison Saft

Thank you so much Wednesday Books for the free early digital read of A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft!  All opinions are my own!

This is a solid and enjoyable follow up to Down Comes the Night, Saft’s debut, although I had pretty similar issues with the two books as far as repetitive inner monologue and content for teens. I mostly enjoyed this read and would say yes for … Heck, 16+ with parental guidance probably

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Far Wilder Magic
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Allison Saft
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 03/08/22
  • Pages: 384
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐✨ yes for fans of slow burning, romantic books with low fantasy elements

Here is the synopsis:

A romantic YA fantasy perfect for fans of Erin A. Craig and Margaret Rogerson, about two people who find themselves competing for glory – and each other’s hearts – in a magical fox hunt.

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist―yet. He’s been fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, and his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret. She begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, they soon find themselves drawn to each other. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt―if they survive that long.

In A Far Wilder Magic, Allison Saft has written an achingly tender love story set against a deadly hunt in an atmospheric, rich fantasy world that will sweep you away.

A Far Wilder Magic is a solid, atmospheric story, set in a world with an interesting mix of modern and old fashioned elements. There is mystery, alchemy and magic, sexual tension out the wazoo, and a deadly fox hunt.

The time period confused me a bit, it wasn’t steampunk but the rich had cars.  There was alchemy but also electricity.  Guns were the weapon of choice while there were tenements and factories in the cities.  An age of immigration and innovation maybe, where old and new tended to mix was what I pictured, in a place like Dublin.  It was clear that the racial and religious lines drawn were Catholic, vs Irish and Jewish (I’m 99% sure), although they had other names and different religious objectives

There was not a ton of actual magic, although the Hala causing destruction and mayhem was interesting.  I liked that the Hala didn’t shy away from people.  The other magic involved the alchemy, but more as a natural talent that could be honed through study.  An alchemist and sharpshooter had to enter the hunt together – and I again think she could have done more with the magic, but I liked what was there.

The characters are sweet and I liked them.  Wes was my favorite because he stood up to the bullies and found it within himself to become a great alchemists, despite his multiple failures and implied dyslexia.  He hid all his vulnerability behind a wall of good looks, and I liked his character arc.

Margaret took a bit longer to crack, and I questioned quite a few of her choices like to let a strange teenage boy live in the manor, despite how much she needed help.  Margaret also crumbled or stood down in the face of religious and racial bullying, where Wes stood up and was more fed up with taking it.  Both are fierce characters in their own way, and I guess when you put the opposite sides of a coin together … You get a coin.

The book had good themes like overcoming prejudice, standing up to bullies, as well as believing in yourself, trusting others, not giving up, found family, and living your own life vs. staying in a parent’s expectations or shadow.

**I really liked the book, I just wish that the author wouldn’t interrupt action scenes for two pages of inner monologue that we know already. Let the action end first or it’s a very jarring shift in momentum**.

She did it at one crucial point where an animal was injured – you’re telling me the characters paused assisting the animal to sit and share monologue for so long? Then at the end of the fox hunt she broke a critical scene for … more monologue.  I will be honest that it took some skimming to get through those more repetitive parts.  I would have liked to see more from the fox hunt itself too.

There was quite a bit of action though, from sabotage to run ins with the Hala and training for the hunt.  There was also a snarky horse, which I can always appreciate!

Content wise: again this is young adult, and I will die on the hill that characters don’t need to go from first kiss to no clothes in one scene, ever. I mean hello the mom was right, I would have skinned them both alive had I walked in on that.  Please stop this trend of characters shacking up before the big end scene, it’s neither necessary nor something that all teens want to read in every single fantasy.  There is some other content regarding touching oneself, a teen girl reading smut, condoms.  I already touched on the religious and racial bullying, which is a good theme to confront and seems well handled, and a bit of gore. Amazon says age 14-18 but I would STRONGLY say 16+ for parents, regarding sexual content.

All in all, again, I truly mostly enjoyed this one. It’s a good book for fans of atmospheric, slow burn romances with low fantasy elements.  I would recommend for 16+ and new adult readers 

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Cinder (Book & Audiobook) by Marissa Meyers

I have been mostly mood reading this month, and I ended up finally grabbing Cinder by Marissa Meyers.  I am so late to the party with these older books. I have been seeing them everywhere for years and I guess late is better than never?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Cinder
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release:  Feiwel & Friends, January 2012
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes for fans of fairy tale retellings, YA, sci-fi, fast paced books, snarky princes, and villains 

Here is the synopsis:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

So I finally, finally started The Lunar Chronicles. I saw a lot of criticism for the poor world building but honestly, I don’t come to fairy tales and fairy tale retellings for world building and I think it would have slowed the book down immensely had Meyer taken the time to explain how Earth got to cyborgs, spaceships, and magical terrorists from the moon.

That said, oh my god, Cinderella with cyborgs

This book was fun! Don’t read into it too much – Cinder is a cyborg with a vicious step mother and one out of two step sisters is also a jerk. She loses a foot instead of a slipper. The handsome prince, Kai, is snarky and funny.  The book really does stay fairly true to Cinderella too but there are enough twists and turns and terrible things, as well as a vastly different ending, that I never felt too bored or too able to predict the story.  Minus the big twist – that one I got straightaway.

There are darker themes of oppression and war, plague, medical testing and death too.  In 2021 I don’t really want to read about death plagues and quarantine, but in 2012 I think this would have been an amazing book for me.  I liked that the Meyer took those darker turns too though, she’s not shy, and I just LOVED who ended up being the silent hero at the end. 

Happily ever after? No, not quite, Cinder is going to have to work for it

I liked Cinder, Iko, and Kai as characters, and the doctor too.  There is plenty of banter and snark for days.  The series villains are introduced – the Lunar Queen has mind control capabilities and is hellbent on war with Earthz whether or not she caves prince Kai into marriage.  I assume we are done with the stepmother but gosh did I want to smack that woman.

I docked one star because a tad bit more micro world building wouldn’t have hurt the plot.

What I really don’t like are the new cartoon covers, but I love the old ones.

For fans of: YA sci-fi, romance, retellings, fast paced books, and everything above.

A brief note on the audio: at slightly over 10 hours, narrated by one of my favorites, Rebecca Soler – this is a highly recommended audio from me. Rebecca is great at the robotic voices. Soler is probably a name recognized by most since her repertoire is insane, may be recognize her from the narration of the Caraval series, Seafire, Ashlords, some James Patterson books, and so many more including Renegades and Heartless, also by Meyer. By Macmillan audio

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

This Vicious Grace (ARC Review) by Emily Thiede

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for the super early digital ARC of This Vicious Grace! My first selling point was that Tamora Pierce plugged it, and then I thought the synopsis was grabbing so I *ahem* definitely didn’t put down my TBR to read it.  A YA fantasy with a battle between the gods, a snarky bodyguard romance, and banter for days? Heck yes

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: This Vicious Grace
  • Series: The Last Finestra, #1
  • Author: Emily Thiede
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 6/28/22
  • Length: 448 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes with a caution to my religious readers,  for religious interpretation and premarital relations

Here is the synopsis:

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

Considering how disenchanted I have become with YA fantasy recently, I did enjoy this one.

The population of the country has settled onto islands where the Goddess uses a pair of warriors to keep swarms of demons at bay.  This happens maybe once every 20 or so years, which gives the islands plenty of time to identify the next Finestra and Fonte, train them, and have them battle ready.

I thought the Italian inspired lore and names were cool.  Each chapter holds a proverb in the old language, and I made a game out of guessing the English translation before reading it.

The plot is fairly straightforward and fast paced.   We get some lore and history of Dea vs Crollo, the two deities engaged in this battle, and I honestly thought the religious lore and customs that developed as a result were extremely well done.  The populace lives the way they do as a result of the world they live in, namely extremely devout, hierarchal, and ready to save the wealthy when the demons come.

The worldbuilding is there on a micro level as well! We know the mood of the fortress, the city, the figures in power.  The weather and the hidden beaches.  What they eat and drink, the local customs, and how social structure is accomplished.

The magic? Pretty standard, it works on an energy type of system but becomes magnified and more powerful when combined with other people’s.

The characters were awesome.  Alessa is the Finestra, sheltered into solitude and waiting to find a Fonts, a battle partner, that she won’t kill by accident.  Dante is the bodyguard that she hires and he is just … ha ha way too much.  A bad boy with a bookish side.  The other fontes were funny and also good characters.  The banter for days is real.

Now let’s get into the stronger stuff: I think it’s awesome and important to explore the theme of interpreting your religion and making it work for you, and I think it’s something that many Catholic teenagers struggle with.  I think the author brought this into the book and also stressed the importance of friendship, community, working together, and not going life alone, all of which are A+++ themes.  THAT SAID, this is a YA book and I would have stopped the theme before throwing celibacy out the window, especially since it was with someone other than her intended (even though it was an arranged marriage).  I know that self realization through sex is like the cool topic in YA right now but I just hate the trope, and if I’m analyzing this from a Catholic standpoint the author definitely took a FANTASTIC theme … too far.

Also I would have liked to see one or two major character deaths since the ending is a huge and hugely devastating battle.  I never find it realistic when everyone ends up living.  The author copped out of one huge plot twist with a good save, a very good save, but I think I wanted more death.

Lastly: this is small details but the cover does not scream “fantasy”. I would not cover buy it as is, although I hope that doesn’t deter people

All in all: great plot, great pace, great world building on both a micro and macro level, and good themes even if one went beyond propriety. I would totally recommend it and definitely plan on owning a copy of both This Vicious Grace and it’s sequels

Thanks again to Wednesday Books 🖤 all opinions are my own

Categories
Adventure Fantasy Young Adult

Crossbones (ARC Review) by Kimberly Vale

Thank you so much to Bookish First for the digital ARC of Crossbones! I claimed this one using my points, and all thoughts are my own.

I have not read a Wattpad book before. I own White Stag by Kara Barbieri but never got there – I’m curious to see if the quality of writing is similar, aka decent but falling a bit flat from what I’d expect. I’ll call this ‘the Wattpad stigma’ because it seems to be a real thing

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Crossbones
  • Series: Kingdom of Bones Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Kimberly Vale
  • Publisher & Release: 10/05/21, Wattpad Books
  • Length: 376 pgs
  • Rate & Recommend: 🗡🗡🗡 Idk probably for Cinderella vs Pirate fans

Here is the synopsis:

Never trust a pirate.

The Blood Bell tolls, marking the death of the pirate king and the start of the Trials―a heart-stopping competition where the reward is the Bone Crown. Only one contender can claim the coveted island throne; each will gamble life and limb to win.

Captain. Sister. Maiden.
Csilla Abado yearns to prove her strength to the seasoned pirates who balk at her youth and to her elder sister who has always craved Csilla’s captainship. She will risk everything to become the first pirate queen, no matter the cost.

Dealer. Son. Legacy.
Kane Blackwater wants to leave behind the dirty gold and shady trades he’s made to keep his father’s ship, the Iron Jewel, alive. The Trials represent a new beginning―yet rumors of a secret heir are swirling, threatening his hopes of becoming the pirate king.

Stowaway. Daughter. Storm.
Lorelei Penny longs for nothing more than to avenge her mother’s death. Stowing away on the Iron Jewel was supposed to get her closer to the killer, but instead she finds herself caught up in the deadly battle where loyalty and desire collide.

Csilla. Kane. Lorelei. Each on a mission. The sea, however, has other plans. Dark tides are rising, and if they aren’t careful, they’ll surely drown.

You guys know that I will do anything for a good pirate story.   Now that I’m aware that this is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, I’m much more confident in my 🌟🌟🌟 rating

If it’s going to kick off a trilogy, I would expect much more in-depth world and character building, more lore, more everything.   The characters don’t need to rush from thing to thing and the author can take time to build relationships and such

The characters are a good lot but they don’t make great pirates.  They do say time and time again that they are meant to protect their homeland more than be ruthless brigands, but they seem more like YA cinnamon rolls than pirates.

Yes they have their ruthless streaks but they came together fairly easily in an alliance.  Are we just going to drop all of the terrible things that Kane has done?  What about Rove?  I want details!

There was a good foundation to the world building, but I want more on the entire Incendia vs Cerulia conflict.  More lore too, the gods and goddesses are an interesting basis but it all just wasn’t quite enough for me.

The trials seemed a bit anticlimactic too, plus for all of the times that it was said there were only 4 map pieces and each captain would get a piece – there were 5 captains.  

There were definitely positive aspects like the magic, I love when innate magic is attached to bloodlines or kingdoms.  I just felt like the whole book was skimming over the surface when, again for the start of a trilogy, there should be more depth.

The Scilla vs Rhoda thing was the most real relationship in the whole book for me, what a terrible betrayal by her sister.  The other relationships seemed fluffed together quickly.

I don’t know how to describe it either, but I just didn’t think the characters… Felt like pirates.  Rove and Kane did at least at the start, but Flynn definitely didn’t.  Neither did Scilla really, I needed more time at sea to show … pirating. 

I might give it one more book but I don’t know.  The ending felt more like Cinderella than pirates, and there are a ton of phenomenal pirate books out there right now

Once again thank you to Bookish First and Wattpad Books for the digital ARC!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Three Dark Crowns (book review) by Kendare Blake

I finally participated in another Openly Booked Book Club read this summer! Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake was the pick for July, and I had off-handedly said that it would make a good book club series … So not sure but I might have sparked this suggestion, and I was super thrilled when it won the vote😂

Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Three Dark Crowns
  • Series: Three Dark Crowns, #1
  • Author: Kendare Blake
  • Publisher & Release: Quill Tree Books, September 2016
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for YA fantasy fans

Here is the Book Blurb:

Fans of acclaimed author Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood will devour Three Dark Crowns, the first book in a dark and inventive fantasy series about three sisters who must fight to the death to become queen.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

This is definitely a YA fantasy, I know it’s only book one but no one has fought to the death yet!  With my biggest disappointment out of the way first, let’s chat about the rest of the book!

Strengths

1) History and lore as part of the world building.  Fennbirn is steeped in Queenly traditions and lore, some bloody and some … Well, bloodier.  I liked learning about all the cultural facets such as the Gave Noir (poisoner’s feast), traditional hunts, and clashing belief systems. Each of the three regions has their own foods, styles of living, ways of life, and magic, so there were a lot of pages spent building the island. I’m on board.

The lore also ties into the magic system, and if you know me you know that I LOVE LOVE LOVE land and Kingdom based magic.  When magic is part of the world itself and rulers can draw on it, that’s a good magic system.  The magic is all over the place here but it’s kind of cool

2) Political plotting.  I love a good political plot, and the poisoners in power plot just as much as the priestesses trying to put the Elemental Queen in power.  If you love assassinations, power plays, and duplicity., this is a great book for you.

3) The plot itself: I love the sibling rivalry trope.  Each sister’s strengths and weaknesses were tied into the storyline, and I think a queendom steeped in bloody history is a great idea at heart.

Weaknesses:

1) too many characters and places at first.  Trying to establish three sisters, in three different households, with all different characters surrounding them, including place names was way too much for me to remember.  Eventually it worked out in my mind but I found this name overload distracting at first

2) Death – I know it’s only book one, but no major characters have died yet.  I would expect one major death to set the tone for the series, but alas, this *is* YA.  I had a similar complaint about The Night Circus

Important themes: battling misconceptions seems to be a huge theme here. So does the valuing of family, both blood and found, and the power of friendships.  Additionally that all actions have consequences.  I do like the themes presented and find them suitable for a YA audience

Random notes, thoughts, and points:

  • The women had cool names like Arsinoe, Mirabella, Julienne, while the men’s names were Matt, Joseph, etc
  • I now know how to pronounce Kendare
  • The animal familiars were really cool, i love animal familiars
  • The book presents a ton of potential routes forward and theories, which makes it a great book club read
  • The audiobook failed for me because the narrator can absolutely not do male voices
  • I docked a star for presenting two characters hooking up randomly, and it was out of character for both of them.  I get it as a plot point going forward but this doesn’t need to be presented to a YA audience

This is a more scatterbrained review format than I normally take with fantasy books, but my brain hurts!