Monday, May 23, 2016

Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.


(Summary from GoodReads)


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Throne of Glass is one of the most hyped up series in YA literature right now.  I’ve been excited about this book since ALA several years ago and only just recently got around to reading it.  I love fantasy, so I knew I was going to have to pick this one up.  It’s intended to be a Cinderella retelling and the plot of this story feels a bit like The Hunger Games, but it certainly doesn’t feel like a rip off.  Throne of Glass is a story of a badass girl and the world of political intrigue she finds herself caught up in.

Going into this book having already read The Assassin’s Blade made a huge difference in my reading experience, because it gave me such a big understanding of who Celaena was.  If you haven’t picked up that book, do it now.  Celaena is a total badass, like I said, and she’s confident, but we also see her moments of insecurity, and we learn what really drives her.  We also see her struggle over her feelings for Dorian and Chaol.

Throne of Glass was pitched as a Cinderella retelling when it first came out.  There are definitely traces of that, but this may not be the book for you if you want a more exact retelling of Cinderella.  The plot moves quickly, and the book is filled with intrigue all throughout. I loved that Maas gave the reader some characters that we would clearly love to hate.  The ending wasn’t necessarily astounding, but there were some good twists in the last scene.

Maas’s debut is a solid start to this fantasy series. Given what I’ve heard about the other books in the series and my experience with The Assassin’s Blade, I imagine it will only get better from here.  Pick this one up if you want fast paced adventure, court intrigue, and an amazing heroine.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book at a conference, but have since purchased a hardcover of that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review of The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass, #0.1-0.5)Celaena Sardothien is her kingdom's most feared assassin. Though she works for the powerful and ruthless Assassin's Guild, Celaena yields to no one and trusts only her fellow killer for hire, Sam.

When Celaena's scheming master, Arobynn Hamel, dispatches her on missions that take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, she finds herself acting independently of his wishes—and questioning her own allegiance. Along the way, she makes friends and enemies alike, and discovers that she feels far more for Sam than just friendship. But by defying Arobynn's orders, Celaena risks unimaginable punishment, and with Sam by her side, he is in danger, too. They will have to risk it all if they hope to escape Arobynn's clutches—and if they fail, they'll lose not just a chance at freedom, but their lives...

A prequel to Throne of Glass, this collection of five novellas offers listeners a deeper look into the history of this cunning assassin and her enthralling—and deadly—world.


(Summary from GoodReads)



I was told by Alexa, who may the biggest Throne of Glass fan that I know, that reading The Assassin’s Blade before reading Throne of Glass was a good idea.   Binding up novellas that fall between books has been a trend in the YA industry.  The Assassin’s Blade struck me as a bit different because while each story can stand on its own, together they all form one story arc that introduces Celaena, tells us about her past, and sets up the premise for Throne of Glass. I absolutely loved that about this set of novellas.  I also loved the world that Maas has built, and the thread of adventure that rain throughout these stories. With that said, I wanted to briefly address each of the individual novellas.

“The Assassin and the Pirate Lord”
If you don’t know this about me already, I love pirates.  They are fantastic.  This story had some great intrigue and had a fast pace.  It also served as a great introduction to Celaena’s moral conscience.

“The Assassin and the Healer”
The second novel reminded me a little bit of The Name of the Wind, which is one of my all time favorite books.  In this particular story Maas’s gorgeous writing especially popped out to me.  This one was predictable at times, but still excellent overall.

“The Assassin and the Red Desert”
Horses! Subterfuge! Twists! What more could I want?  Oh right, a beautiful, perfect ending. 

“The Assassin and the Underworld”
This story is full of passion, and it’s so well written.  This story is full of twists and swoons.

“The Assassin and the Empire”
This is where things get really twisty and also kind of gut-wrenching.  I was definitely extremely full of emotions as I read this one.

So there you have my thoughts on The Assassin’s Blade.  This was a fantastic collection of prequel novellas that is a must read for any Throne of Glass fan.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review of Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands, #1) She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.


(Summary from GoodReads) 



Rebel of the Sands has gotten a lot of buzz in the book blogging community recently, and I can see why.  Hamilton’s debut has two elements that have been popular in YA lately: a Western setting and Arabian mythology.  Although I was pleased by how the characters and world in this story grew, it got off to a bit of a slow start.

At the beginning of this book, Amani seemed like a tough girl and Jinn like a typical love interest. Amani is incredibly independent, but something about her and Jinn’s characters both felt like they’d been done before.  Maybe this was because there I felt like there was a bit of instalove happening, or the fact that there was a decent amount of mystery surrounding Jinn at first.  By the end, though, their character arcs felt complete, and once I learned how they fit into this story, they felt much more unique.

While the characterization may have taken some time, readers definitely didn’t have to wait for the action.  I was initially worried that we were getting variations of the same plot point all throughout the story.  About halfway through, though, the world-building really picked up. Hamilton did a great job of making her world feel barren, luscious, and precarious in all of the right places.

I finished Rebel of the Sands feeling satisfied with where the plot had gone, the character development, and the world-building. However, this is a story that I would love to see more of.  As far as they’ve come, Jinn and Amani still have a lot of character growth to go through.  Amani is ambitious and learning to find her way, and I hope there will be a sequel to Rebel of the Sands so I can discover how she and her world continue to evolve.

Disclosure: A friend was kind enough to send me an ARC of this book.

Other reviews:
 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Morgan Matson Double Header

I'm not going to lie, I've fallen pretty behind on reviewing books lately.  Today I'm going to post reviews of two of Morgan Matson's books--Amy and Roger's Epic Detour and Since You've Been Gone.  This seemed fitting because summer is coming up, and Morgan Matson's books are perfect for summer.  Also, she has a new book called The Unexpected Everything coming out in May which I've already preordered, and I'm hoping my reviews will persuade you guys to pick these up if you haven't already.

Anyways, onto the reviews!

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour
Amy Curry is not looking forward to her summer. Her mother decided to move across the country and now it's Amy's responsibility to get their car from California to Connecticut. The only problem is, since her father died in a car accident, she isn't ready to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger. An old family friend, he also has to make the cross-country trip - and has plenty of baggage of his own. The road home may be unfamiliar - especially with their friendship venturing into uncharted territory - but together, Amy and Roger will figure out how to map their way.

(Summary from GoodReads) 


I’ve been excited about Morgan Matson’s books ever since she first started publishing books.  I picked up Amy and Roger’s Detour when I wanted a contemporary that was guaranteed to have some cute moments. This was definitely an adorable road trip story that I would reread, though I didn’t love it quite as much as some of Morgan’s other books.
 
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour has a bit of quirky formatting, including playlists, photographs, and quotes from song lyrics at the beginning of each chapter.  While this is a fun idea, these are not typically the traits that make a book super memorable for me, although I know some readers may feel differently.  At times I wonder if I would have connected more with the story if I’d visited some of the places where these characters had been.  As I’ve grown to expect from Morgan Matson, Amy and Roger’s relationship had just the right amount of awkwardness, and Matson did a great job of dealing with the tough experiences that Amy has gone through.  

When I say this is not my favorite Morgan Matson book, what I mean is that it’s still absolutely adorable and discusses hard topics well.  I think readers who have different taste in music than I do and have more experience with the places in the novel will enjoy it even more than I did!  

 
Since You've Been Gone It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.

 On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back? 

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough. 

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not? 

Kiss a stranger? Um... Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane's list. Who knows what she’ll find?  

Go skinny-dipping? Wait...what? 

(Summary from GoodReads)  

My memories of reading Since You’ve Been Gone are very clear.  Every time I see this cover, I think of how I read it as I sat in a sweltering waiting room full of people, waiting to be drug tested for my new at the time job.  I think of how I happened to read it the week I saw my best friend for the first time in three years, knowing I’d get to see her much more often.  Matson’s third novel is a book that came to me at just the right time in my life.  Since You’ve Been Gone is a story about learning to enjoy life, and about the roles that complacency and acceptance play in our relationships with ourselves and others.
 
Emily reminded me of myself in some ways. I can be awkward, and sometimes follow rules to a fault.  Of course, as always, I love a main character who runs.  The list that Sloane leaves her nicely toes the line between fun things to do and slightly outlandish.  This story is also believable because while Emily has fun completing these tasks, she has her moments of awkwardness and discomfort as well.  I also think Matson nailed the ending of this story, because there is resolution, but you also know that the characters are still working on growing their relationships once the novel is done.

Read Since You’ve Been Gone if you want a summery read with friendship and an utterly charming love interest named Frank Porter. Grab yourself some heart shaped sunglasses and ice cream while you’re at it—you’ll be needing both.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Review of The List by Siobhan Vivian

The List
An intense look at the rules of high school attraction - and the price that's paid for them.

It happens every year. A list is posted, and one girl from each grade is chosen as the prettiest, and another is chosen as the ugliest. Nobody knows who makes the list. It almost doesn't matter. The damage is done the minute it goes up.

This is the story of eight girls, freshman to senior, "pretty" and "ugly." And it's also the story of how we see ourselves, and how other people see us, and the tangled connection of the two.


(Summary from GoodReads)

Some people whose opinions I put pretty high trust in have read and loved The List.  It had a lot of good elements, and definitely serves well on how our society treats women even at such a young age.  While it did some things well, it also had some issues that I frankly couldn’t get past.


Eight characters was too many for this book to try to focus on.  There were interesting components to each girl’s story, but by the end of the book they all felt incomplete or oversimplified.  It almost felt like this book could have really worked if it had a bit more structure and was a little longer.

The ending of this book felt exactly like the ending of MeanGirls, and not in a “Huh, that feels reminiscent way” but in a, “WOW, this must have been really heavily influenced by that other piece of media” way.  The messages in this story about popularity, how other people see us, and how this influences us are all worthwhile and they are worth spending a lot of time thinking over.  Teenage girls are going to be thinking about these issues for the forseeable future, so I think it’s great to have some discussion of them in books. The ending read as a message that we as adult readers feel needs to get out to teenagers, and once I started feeling that way, it’s hard to tell if it’s the right fit for the story or not.

Vivian came up with a concept that requires a great deal of subtlety and nuance, and yet she fails to deliver either of those things.  The List is a book filled with a lot of great ideas that don’t feel fully formed.  I have a few of other books on my TBR pile by Siobhan Vivian and I’ll be curious as to whether or not I feel the same way when I finally read those.
 

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book.

Other reviews:
Bookish Lifestyle
Stacked Books
Writer of Wrongs 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Review of Truth or Dare: 20 Tales of Heartbreak and Happiness

Truth and Dare: 20 Tales of Heartbreak and Happiness
Truth  Dare is a collection of short stories confirming the truth we all know-- high school is painful--and written for those who dare to be different. These edgy short stories are told from the point of view of the quirky, cool, but not necessarily popular teens, who are dealing with all the pressures of growing up--school, friends, music, relationships, parents, and just plain fitting in.This collection features some of the hottest writers in the teen genre, including: Jennifer Boylan, Sarah Rees Brennan, Cecil Castellucci, Emma Donoghue, Courtney Gillette, A.M. Homes, Jennifer Hubbard, Heidi R. Kling, Jennifer Knight, Michael Lowenthal, Liz Miles, Saundra Mitchell, Luisa Plaja, Matthue Roth, Sherry Shahan, Gary Soto, Shelley Stoehr, Sara Wilkinson, Ellen Wittlinger, and Jill Wolfson.


Overall, I enjoyed this short story collection. Love is a subject worth talking about with teens, especially since the teen years are the first time falling in love for a lot of people.  I found this collection to be very hit or miss.  Instead of trying to talk about all twenty stories, below I've discussed a few that really stood out to me.

"Iris and Jim" by Sherry Shahan

As far as short stories go, this one is incredibly close to perfection.  The descriptions are amazingly well written and even though this story is only about 10 pages, you immediately get right inside the characters' heads.  If the content of this story doesn't haunt you, you'll remember it for how well it's written.

"Never Have I Ever" by Courtney Gillette

I assumed right away that I'd feel a deep connection to this story because like the main character, I went to a writing workshop when I was in high school, and it was hosted by the school where I inevitably went to college.  Gillette constructed a good story and good prose, but her characters all felt a little bit off to me--like she doesn't actually know how teenagers interact with one another.  I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say this helps add some diversity to this anthology, and I appreciated that.

"Dirty Talk" by Gary Soto

This one is all about a girl who learns how different she and her best friend really are, and a how a person's upbringing affects the type of person that they become.  The message in this one was extremely heavy-handed, as in slap in the face heavy-handed. It also made some pop culture references that are not going to stand the test of time.  There was an okay idea, but it was poorly executed, and it won't do well with actual teenagers.

"Somebody's Daughter"by Shelley Stoehr

A short story about three girls who go to a party, and who do want to party--drink, do drugs, and have sex. It doesn't end well.  There were a few moments in the beginning where parts of the writing felt unrealistic, but it really came together at the end.  This one will probably ring true for a lot of readers, sadly.

"Rules for Love and Death" by Ellen Witlinger

A story of a girl whose crush, who she rarely spoke to, passed in a car accident.  Witlinger's story had a lot of astute observations about love and sex.  I also thought it was a really accurate depiction of what high school crushes can be like.

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