Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review of Sever by Lauren DeStefano



Time is running out for Rhine in this conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Chemical Garden Trilogy.

With the clock ticking until the virus takes its toll, Rhine is desperate for answers. After enduring Vaughn’s worst, Rhine finds an unlikely ally in his brother, an eccentric inventor named Reed. She takes refuge in his dilapidated house, though the people she left behind refuse to stay in the past. While Gabriel haunts Rhine’s memories, Cecily is determined to be at Rhine’s side, even if Linden’s feelings are still caught between them.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s growing involvement in an underground resistance compels Rhine to reach him before he does something that cannot be undone. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future—and about the past her parents never had the chance to explain.

In this breathtaking conclusion to Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered.

(Summary from GoodReads)

After finishing Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy, I am very hesitant to read anything else she writes.  Wither started this series off with a bang, Sever was okay, and Fever was entirely subpar.  Fever doesn’t do enough in terms of plot, characters, or world-building, and is a disappointing conclusion to its trilogy.

There is hardly any action in this book, which makes it unlike a lot of dystopians.  There are some authors who can pull off writing a book that doesn’t have a lot of action, and DeStefano is not one of them.  Early on in this series, it was made clear that there is a lot of mystery surrounding this world, and that our main character doesn’t know very much.  DeStefano keeps things a little too mysterious, which gets old after reading two books full of mystery, and just results in a plot that is too slow.

The world building and character development in this novel are fragmented.   I wanted to learn a lot about the world, and I feel like I only got a little piece. I wanted a lot more about Gabriel, and I feel like I only got a little piece.  I also didn't care for the fact that we saw so much of Rhine's relationship with Vaughn.  It kind of felt like as readers, we had already been there and done that.

When the ending to this story does finally come, it’s rushed and incomplete.  It didn’t feel genuine, or like the right fit for this series.  DeStefano shows a lot of promise with her prose, but doesn’t follow through on development, and I mean that in a lot of ways.  I’ll probably try her newest book because I’ve heard it’s much better, but I’d see a lot more potential in it if it was a standalone.

Disclosure: I borrowed a copy of this book from my local library.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Series Review: Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

(Summary from GoodReads)

Once I started The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was immediately ashamed of myself for taking so long to read it.  I’m eternally indebted to Ally who told me she loved it and encouraged me to get a move on. Carson’s debut had everything I could want in a fantasy, had lovely prose, and was expertly plotted, giving it a new spot on my favorites shelf.

Elisa is one of the most realistic characters I’ve found in high fantasy.  She doesn’t start off as confident—she doesn’t like her body and is surprised when men are attracted to her.  I know her self-deprecation bothered some readers, but when you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin, it can be hard to take your mind off of it.

Carson’s world isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen recently in fantasy.  Religion is heavily incorporated into the world and the story, and I loved that.  The world as we are reading it is well built, but we’re also able to get a sense of its past. The descriptions of Elisa’s home show that it is simultaneously a beautiful and dangerous place.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is fast-paced from the start.  There is action and political intrigue with every turn of the page.  Carson even throws in a little bit of romance—I totally swooned over Humberto.  A lot of swooning has happened while reading Rae Carson’s books.

Do you love high fantasy?  Do you want to swoon? Are you ready for some political intrigue? Then move The Girl of Fire and Thorns to the top of your pile.

The Crown of Embers (Fire and Thorns, #2)She does not know what awaits her at the enemy's gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country's ruler should be secure. But it isn't.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she's lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

(Summary from GoodReads)

Sometimes I can be slow to pick up the second book in a series, which was not the case with this series.  I was ready for more of ever element of this story.  I love that we got to see growth from Elisa, but we also got to know a lot of the side characters better, and see even more of the world.

A lot of people say these books start off slowly, but The Crown of Embers is filled with intrigue as Elisa’s life is in constant danger.  Her kingdom, which is in a sticky situation politically, isn’t sure if she’s fit to rule. Watching Elisa try to figure out who she could trust and who she couldn’t kept me turning the pages late into the night on this one—Carson made sure that I really wanted to know.

Readers also get to learn a little bit more about Invierne and other parts of the world.  This really helped build up the tension for book two.  I liked seeing how the magic in this world can work in different ways.

We do see Elisa grow as a character—she becomes a stronger woman, a better sorcerer, and a more strategic political leader.  What I loved even more was seeing how her relationship with Hector grew.   After reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns I’d seen a few people mention how swoonworthy Hector is, and while I didn’t totally understand it at the time, now I do.  Hector is the type of man who is totally filled with loyalty for Elisa, and their romance has lots of political, sexual, and romantic tension.  Yes, please.

The ending of The Crown of Embers felt a teensy bit rushed, but that’s a pretty minor complaint, and otherwise I have nothing but positive things to say about this installment of Carson’s series.  Carson is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy authors and her books fill me with emotion.  The Crown of Embers left me wanting not just more of Hector and Elisa, but more of anything by Rae Carson.

The Bitter Kingdom (Fire and Thorns, #3)The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

(Summary from GoodReads)

The Bitter Kingdom was a book I was actually nervous to read.  I had to know what happens, but what if I didn’t love it as much as its predecessors?  While The Bitter Kingdom got off to a slightly slow start, it turned out to be my favorite in the series, and cemented Carson’s books as some of my new all time favorites.

Do you think that you felt all possible emotions in the first two books in this series? Well, it’s time to think again.  Once again, Rae Carson manages to show us a different side of her world in these books.  She takes us to Invierne, and as you can probably tell from the cover, snow is involved at one point (side note: really glad I read this in the summer, as I find that I can’t always read books featuring lots of snow in the winter).  It was really great to learn more about Storm and to see world building continue to happen. 

While all of this was happening, Carson kept up the pace pretty well. The first 80 pages were a little slower, but once those were done I flew through this book.  Carson created tension in a way that had my cringing and sitting on the edge of my seat.

Speaking of tension, let’s talk about sexual and romantic tension, because it definitely exists here.  Readers get to see Elisa and Hector spend a lot of time together and talk about them.  Hector is a romantic man, and I saw a lot of qualities in him that I would not mind having in my own partners. Reader, I swooned.

I should not have been nervous about the conclusion of Carson’s trilogy.  Friends, The Bitter Kingdom has it all.  It’s not only a stunning novel on its own, but it shows how much Carson grew as a writer between the first and the third books.  I am forever going to cherish my hardcovers of these books as they are among my all time favorites, not just in fantasy, but overall.

Disclosure: I purchased copies of all three of these books.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bout of Books 11.0 Sign Up

Bout of Books

I am making a spur of the moment decision and signing up for the Bout of Books readathon this week!  Yay!  I think the early half of this week should be somewhat quiet for me, so it's a good week to do a readathon.  If you don't know anything about Bout of Books, here's a blurb from their website about it:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

My personal goal is to read about two hours a day.  Lisa and I are reading The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson this week, so that's mostly what I will be focused on.

Once I finish The Bitter Kingdom, these are some other titles on my TBR that I want to get to.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Graphic Novel Series Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #1)  Zita’s life took a cosmic left turn in the blink of  an eye.

When her best friend is abducted by an alien doomsday cult, Zita leaps to the rescue and finds herself a stranger on a strange planet. Humanoid chickens and neurotic robots are shocking enough as new experiences go, but Zita is even more surprised to find herself taking on the role of intergalactic hero. Before long, aliens in all shapes and sizes don’t even phase her. Neither do ancient prophecies, doomed planets, or even a friendly con man who takes a mysterious interest in Zita’s quest.

Zita the Spacegirl is a fun, captivating tale of friendship and redemption from Flight veteran Ben Hatke. It also has more whimsical, eye-catching, Miyazaki-esque monsters than you can shake a stick at.

(Summary from GoodReads) 

Science fiction is a genre that can tackle some pretty heavy issues when it’s taken on in young adult or adult literature.  I was initially drawn to Zita the Spacegirl because I liked the idea that it was light-hearted, kid friendly, and adventurous. I got a story that not only had all of these things but was also bursting with creativity.

Hatke’s worldbuilding in this book is really excellent.  Right away we meet a lot of interesting characters and creatures as Zita embarks on her new adventure.  The way they’re illustrated is, like the burb says, reminiscent of Miyazaki, and is also very whimsical.  Everything from animals to robots to humans are featured as characters. There are a few creepy and scary elements, and they’re done in a way that got under my skin, which is definitely a compliment.  Zita is an adventurous and spunky character—she’s the type of person I would not mind getting lost in space with.  She’s also a quick learner, which makes for an engaging read.
Book one of this series ends on a total cliffhanger.  While I like to anticipate the second book of a series, I also really think that each volume in a series should feel complete on its own.  Hatke gets away with it here—Zita is so well done that I desperately wanted more.  Still, if he had tied up just a few more loose ends at the end of this first volume, that would have been okay.

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #2)  Fame comes at a price...  

Zita must find her way back to earth...but her space adventures have made her a galactic megastar! Who can you trust when your true self is overshadowed by your public image? And to make things worse...Zita's got a robot double making trouble--while wearing her face!  

(Summary from GoodReads) 

Initially, I had kind of a hard time getting excited about Legends of Zita the Spacegirl.  I wasn’t expecting this story to take the direction that it did, or for it to pick up in the place that it did.  Luckily everything about it delighted me even more than the first book did.

Perhaps it sounds silly, but there’s a bit more of a focus on the actual stars here, and I loved that.  The way Hatke illustrates stars, comets, and planets is colorful and realisitic, while still making us feel like Zita is in a vast universe.  Speaking of the universe, I loved that we got to meet even more types of aliens here, and I thought they were all delightful.  There are things that feel inspired by Dr. Seuss and things that feel inspired by a darker sci fi, such as Alien, yet despite having all these different life forms, it never feels as though Hatke is trying to do too much with his world.

Also?  This book had a storyline that concluded by the time the book was done.  There was still an overarching storyline, and as a reader I knew that there were more adventures to be had and another book to tie things up.

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #3)Ben Hatke brings back our intrepid space heroine for another delightful sci-fi/fantasy adventure in this New York Times‑Bestselling graphic novel trilogy for middle grade readers. 

Zita the Spacegirl has saved planets, battled monsters, and wrestled with interplanetary fame. But she faces her biggest challenge yet in the third and final installment of the Zita adventures. Wrongfully imprisoned on a penitentiary planet, Zita has to plot the galaxy's greatest jailbreak before the evil prison warden can execute his plan of interstellar domination!   

(Summary from GoodReads) 

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl is the last book in this series and it made me genuinely sad that it’s over.  I got to see so many of my favorite characters again and see the storyline continued.  This book made me wish that more Zita was coming, and it made me want to give this trilogy to all of my library patrons.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two characters who are new favorites of mine: Raggy and Femur.  They made me laughed and I loved that Hatke continued building on the world as Zita saw more and more of it.  Perhaps moreso than other characters, these two showed that Hatke can write pretty snappy dialogue.

The ending of the series was great.  I got to see plot threads tied up and lots of old friends return.  The ending both delighted me and made me go “Agggh I need more!”  You’ll understand when you read it.  In the end, though, Hatke sends a great message to his readers: just because you grow up doesn’t mean you need to stop having adventures.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review of Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Roomies  It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

(Summary from GoodReads) 

I realize that to some people, a relationship about two roommates may not sound like the most fascinating plot of a novel.  For some people, roommates are just the people you happen to see when you’re home.  When I moved into my first college dorm, I was excited to meet my roommate and was pleased that we soon became BFFs.  I’ve since avoided living with others, because I can be a little messy and I like to have room for all of my stuff.  Roomies is an engaging story about two girls on the cusp of change and how living together impacts their lives.

Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando have written a book that even people who have lived alone forever will relate to.  When Lauren and EB first start communicating, they both have a lot of uncertainty about boundaries.  How much should they talk?  What can be shared over e-mail and what in person?  Whatever happens is going to affect whether they can get along in person.  These questions arise not just for these fictional characters, but perhaps for people in real life who have online friends.

We get separate perspectives from Lauren and EB, and I liked hearing how different their experiences were. Their stories intersect in a way that was unexpected but gut-wrenching and realistic.  Both of them did things that will make readers uncomfortable because they sound like mistakes a real person would make.  My one complaint about their stories is that it sounded like each character was facing a similar dynamic with her best friend.  I wish there had been more variation there.

Diversity is well-handled in this book.  It’s something that both characters wind up feeling that they have to address.  I appreciate that Zarr and Altebrando didn’t shy away from some of the confusion these characters felt regarding race.

When I read Roomies, I got a quick read that made me appreciate its storytelling and handling of certain issues.  There are a few plot points that verge on being stereotypical of YA, and I think they hold this plus the lack of truly outstanding prose (something which I am super picky about) hold this novel back from being amazing.  Roomies will have a lot of appeal either to teens who anticipate sharing a room in the future or adult fans of YA who want a throwback to their college years.

Disclosure: I received a digital galley of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Other reviews:

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Haul (66) and What Are You Reading?

The Grisha trilogy box with chapter sampler and candles
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
For review:
The Body In the Woods by April Henry
Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen
On the Road To Find Out by Rachel Toor
Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher
Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder
Remnants of Tomorrow by Kassy Taylor
Fault Line by Christa Desir
Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins
Blogs and bloggers mentioned:
April of Good Books and Good Wine

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne
Burning by Elana K. Arnold
Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 by Gail Carriger
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions by Kathleen Krull
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Bink and Gollie: Two For One by Kate DiCamillo
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
Bink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo
Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Babymouse: Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm
Babymouse: Our Hero by Jennifer L. Holm
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn
Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Babymouse: Beach Babe by Jennifer L. Holm
One Day and One Amazing Morning On Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Just One Night by Gayle Forman
Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Melvin Beedermen Superhero: The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich by Greg Trine
The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Dork Diaries: Tales From A Not-So-Glam TV Star by Rachel Renee Russell
The Geek's Guide to Dating by Eric Smith
Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth by Jane O'Connor
A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Amulet, Vol. 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow
Currently reading:
Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang
Who Was Davy Crockett? by Gail Herman
Truth and Dare: 20 Tales of Heartbreak and Happiness
What I plan to read:
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne
Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian


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