Monday, July 28, 2014

Series Review: Seven Realms by Kristin Cashore

Graceling (Graceling Realm, #1)
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight - she's a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king's thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...

(Summary from GoodReads)

Graceling is considered a quintessential YA fantasy book.  I’ve had it on my TBR pile for years, but only recently did I finally get around to reading my copy.  I was amazed by Cashore’s worldbuilding and the adventure I found within this story.

Katsa’s grace is to kill, and this tends to put her in positions she doesn’t want to be in.  Although she’s clearly a total badass, she also has her insecurities, and I loved how real that made her.  In addition to being a fighter, Katsa is also incredibly smart, resourceful, and tactical, and I loved seeing how those skills played out throughout the story.

Po was a fantastic love interest.  He challenges Katsa on so many different levels.  I know some people take issue with how their storyline ended.  The ending Cashore chose for the two of them was particularly feminist, and I respect Cashore for writing it the way she did.

I completely adored the storyline of Graceling.  It was fast-paced, action-packed, and gave me a few, “Oh my gosh WHAT IF THEY ALL DIE?!” moments.  Graceling has everything I think of when I think of high fantasy.  If you haven’t already read it, what are you waiting for?

Fire (Graceling Realm, #2) It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men. 

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she had the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own. 

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, The royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there's more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom. 

If only she weren't afraid of becoming the monster her father was.  

(Summary from GoodReads)

Fire is a completely book from Graceling.  While I believe it’s in the same world, it’s set in a different part of the world and earlier.  Fire is also a very different character from Katsa.  I enjoyed this read, but got lost in the political intrigue, and couldn’t connect as well with Fire as I did to Katsa.

Fire is haunted by the person her father was and is trying to find her place in the world.  Much like Katsa, Fire has a power that many people want her to use for bad things, but unlike Katsa, Fire is not a graceling, but a human monster.  Fire showcases Cashore’s lovely prose even moreso than Graceling, because Fire is a beautiful character.  Her hair literally looks like fire and men are drawn to her.  Cashore’s description of her was simultaneously enchanting and slightly terrifying.

I liked the storyline of Fire fine until we go the climax.  By that point it was hard to keep track of where everything was happening. I loved the ending of this story because it was gorgeous and suited Fire’s character so well.

While I found Fire a bit more literary than Graceling, I didn’t quite enjoy it as much.  If you are all over political intrigue in your YA fantasy, this one will be fantastic.  It was great for me, but not as good as Graceling.

Bitterblue (Graceling Realm, #3) Eight years have passed since the young Princess Bitterblue, and her country, were saved from the vicious King Leck. Now Bitterblue is the queen of Monsea, and her land is at peace. 

But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisers, who have run the country on her behalf since Leck's death, believe in a forward-thinking plan: to pardon all of those who committed terrible acts during Leck's reign; and to forget every dark event that ever happened. Monsea's past has become shrouded in mystery, and it's only when Bitterblue begins sneaking out of her castle - curious, disguised and alone - to walk the streets of her own city, that she begins to realise the truth. Her kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year long spell of a madman, and now their only chance to move forward is to revisit the past. 

Whatever that past holds. 

Two thieves, who have sworn only to steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, who possesses an unidentified Grace, may also hold a key to her heart . .  

(Summary from GoodReads)

Bitterblue is the toughest book in this series for a lot of readers, but it’s a rewarding read for those who stick with it.  This story definitely has it’s fair share of action and political intrigue, but it’s also a story about pain, loss, confusion, and love.  I honestly don’t know how I would pitch this book in terms of plot, but it made me really love Bitterblue.

If you’ve read Graceling, then you have an idea of who Bitterblue is, and this story is about how she tries to put her kingdom back in order.  She winds up meeting two thieves and learning things she never knew about her kingdom, but she also lies to them about who she really is.  It’s not really clear who she can trust from a political standpoint.  This book is really about Bitterblue learning who she needs to loyal to and the sneaky things she does to find this out.

Perhaps what’s really cool about Bitterblue is Cashore does some interesting things with ciphers and codes.  It shows skill as a writer to incorporate a complex code in your writing while still making me care a lot about your main character.  Also? There is a lot of Katsa and Po in this book, and I loved seeing how their relationship evolved throughout the trilogy.

Bitterblue is an excellent, emotional fantasy novel, but I’m really not sure that I absorbed it all.  To really appreciate it, I would have to reread this book at least once. On its own, though, it adds some nice depth to Cashore’s world while really developing some of the characters, so I’d say it’s a success overall.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Midsummer Reading Slump

I've realized that I cherish the ritual of making my list of favorite books as each year wraps up.  I love it when I find a book that I can add to my favorites shelf.  When I make my favorites list at the end of the year, I always feel confident about my choices. I sit in front of my computer thinking, "Yes. THESE BOOKS. I make THE BEST reading choices!"


I also really like to make the list in my head throughout the year.  A part of my brain says, "You know these new favorite books you found will make that list, and if you don't have more favorites, you can just make a shorter list."  After all, as satisfying as it is for me to make my end of the year favorites list, I also do it in the hope that somebody will feel inspired, pick up a book that I adored, and make an equally strong emotional connection.  If I were a more aggressive person and could push books on blog readers in person, it would look like this:


I'm realizing, though, that July of every year is starting to become a rather panicked time for me.  By this point in the year, I've read a few books that are for sure new favorites, and I have a handful that I've really enjoyed.  As I think about what I plan to read for the rest of the year, something dawns on me: what if I don't have any more favorite books? 

It makes me start doing everything I can in my power to find new favorites, like picking up super highly recommended titles and going for books I think I'll love.  I tend to spend the second half of the year reading books that have gotten a lot of praise, or that I feel like I just cannot put off any longer.

Of course, this never actually happens.  I mean, going between July and December without finding a new favorite would be simply unheard of, even if I do get pickier and pickier as I grow older.

How do you guys deal with reading slumps? Is a particular time of year when they seem to hit you?  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#WednesdayYA Review of Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.

(Summary from GoodReads)

I’ve mentioned before that Victoria Schwab is one of my auto buy authors.  Books and movies about superheroes aren’t typically thing, but a novel about super villains? I was totally intrigued and knew I would have to pick this one up.  Vicious was a fast-paced, well written story that kept me entertained and did a nice job of touching on some heavier topics as well.

I have to say that I find the topic of super villains far more interesting than superheroes, if only because it isn’t done nearly as often.  In Vicious, Schwab refers to people with powers as EOs, or extraordinarys.  EOs can be the subject of academic research, and they are also something that the cops know about. 

The fact that Schwab imagined a society where everyone acknowledged that EOs were real was inventive and refreshing.  Her main characters—Victor and Eli—both dabble in areas and practices that fall under an ethical gray area.  The result was that there were a lot of conversations about who can play God that felt like a bit of a nod to Frankenstein, but not enough so that Vicious ever read like a rip-off.

Schwab’s writing here is lovely as always.  She has a way with words that is the perfect combination of eloquent and concise.  Mitch and Sydney, the side characters, were extremely well developed and made the book so much better.  In this case, though, what Schwab really nails is her ending.  It’s creepy and open ended in a way that is absolutely perfect. 

Vicious is Schwab’s first foray into adult books, and it’s a successful one.  It’s a delightful combination of creepy, action packed, and thoughtful.  This is a complete story that wrapped up nicely, but if at any point other books that exist in this universe are released, I will snap them right up.

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book.

Other reviews:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review of This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

This One SummerEvery summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

In This One Summer two stellar creators redefine the teen graphic novel. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of her teen age—a story of renewal and revelation.

(Summary from GoodReads)


I love a good summer read, and am a fan of checking out graphic novels, so I was excited to hear about This One Summer.  I wound up with a beautifully illustrated reading experience that took me back to summers of my childhood.

The main character, Rose, spends the summer at a home her family typically rents and spends a lot of her time with her best friend who is a year younger.  Tamaki expertly captures the feeling of being right on the cusp of puberty, of wanting to grow up but still be a kid.  There are some really nice discussions about sexuality and grief and their interconnectedness from an outside perspective.  Some teens will have a hard time connecting to some of the discussions here, but others will just get it.

The illustrations in this story are done in different shades of purple.  This was aesthetically pleasing, but also suited the story incredibly well.  There’s a slightly darker plotline surrounding the lake, and I really liked how the hues changed with the tone of the story.

This One Summer is a great addition to any collection of contemporary novels.  It’s a quick read that packs a lot of punch for the time the reader spends with it.  I enjoyed the nostalgia and the meaningful reading experience I got.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Other reviews:
Beth Fish Reads
Stacked Books
Waking Brain Cells

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#WednesdayYA July Pick

As you guys saw, Misty and I had a battle of the books to pick which one would be our winner for July.  I unfortunately didn't get the chance to post last Wednesday.  If you didn't already see it on Misty's blog, here's what we'll be reading.
Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

(Summary from GoodReads)

My pick may not have won, but I have heard nothing but good things about Scarlet. If you haven't already, feel free to read along!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Liz Relocated!

A lot of you guys follow me on Twitter or have found my personal Facebook and added me there, so you know this.  If you don't, though, I have an explanation for the fact that I haven't posted as much lately: I moved!

In mid May, I started a Children's Librarian position at a Children's Librarian in Washington D.C.  I've been really enjoying the work so far.  I had been wanting to move to D.C. because my brother, James, lives here, as well as a lot of my friends from college and graduate school.  Official Sibling Dinner Night is now a thing, and I get to actually hang out with my friends on the weekend, which is awesome.

James and I hiked Old Rag in Shenandoah National Park

The one downside of the move? I don't have Internet in my new place yet.  A new provider is currently setting up and will be serving a large chunk of the residents in my building, but they are not ready yet.  Right now I go down to the lobby when I need to send a few e-mails.  It's a bit of a hassle, but with any luck it will be resolved soon.

So that's what's been happening in my life.  What's new with all of you guys?


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