Sunday, August 23, 2015

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

You know that thing that happens when you throw all your favorite books from widely varying genres into a super-collider and it makes one heck of a brilliant mess?  Wait, that isn't a thing?  Well it should be if this book is that mess.  This novel is part Fault in Our Stars part Girl At Midnight/Smoke & Bone part nothing I have ever read before.  And it's not all wonderful.  A lot of it was confusing (purposefully, I mean the main characters have NO clue whats going on for a majority of the book). The book was also short, for a YA novel, less than 300 pages.  I feel like a little more time could have been spent explaining or filling in HUGE gaps in character development.  It was one of those instances like: "You are special main character.  Oh really?  No, I'm ok, I don't need to be special.  Oh wait, BOOM, I am special.  The end."  It all happens a bit to fast for my liking.  But in all, I did really like this book.  It was definitely a weird mismatch but that worked for it.  And I look forward to more magical world-building in books to come.

Final Recommendations: if you like sick kids, fantastical fantasy, awesome creatures (I mean what could be more awesome/precious than a squallwhale!), star-crossed love, ocd earth boys, shady moms, girls with a destiny

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann

So. Clever.
A. Must. Read.
A. Must. Own.
Painful in its realness.
Teens, Teachers, Moms of girls, Moms who once were girls.
Run. Get it NOW!

Stolen Songbird by Danielle L. Jensen

This is one of those books where the first half deserves one rating while the second gets a slightly higher one.  It started off at a run, throwing the reader into the environment and the characters, but quickly slows to a dead stop.  It's basically beauty and the beast with trolls.  But not like tiny, live under your local bridge-type trolls.  These trolls are basically fairies (I am placing heavy bets on this reveal in coming books) with slight abnormalities cause by years cursed to confinement within a mountain.  The main heroin, Cecile, is very likable.  The relationship between her and the troll prince is intriguing and genuine.  The conflict between full-blooded trolls and half bloods is trying to hard but is well meaning.  I think I will continue the series.

Final Recommendations: if you like magical creatures, kidnappings, strained romantic entanglements, crewel kings, and lots of unanswered secrets

Monday, August 3, 2015

Dream a Little Dream by Kerstin Gier

So this one gets bumped up to 3 stars based mostly on the fact that I loved the Ruby Red Trilogy by the same author.  If you have not read this fun time-traveling saga, lucky you, you can binge-read the entire series (Ruby Red is the 1st one) now.  But, I digress.  Dream a Little Dream wasn't bad.  The main character was likable, the concept was descent (lucid dreams made possible by a potential demonic presence), but I didn't feel as if the plot really went anywhere.  There were no big reveals and by the end, I didn't feel like I understood what was going on any better than when I started the novel?  It also should be stated that the translation (from German) was not as smooth in this novel nor as funny as it was in the Ruby Red series.  I will probably pick up the 2nd book in this series when it comes out, simply to try and figure out what the heck is going on?

Final Recommendations: if you like mystery, dream psychology, high school drama, not super-scary demons, too many hot guys to really remember which is which?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

I have read a few DNF review of this book.  I can see where they were coming from.  The beginning of this novel is shrouded in secrecy, but I think that works to it's advantage as well as the whole point of the magic encompassed in the book (it is by nature, very mysterious to be a seeker).  There is not much by the way of plot in this novel.  But that does not preclude a good rating.  I actually loved this book in both world building, magical concept and the real kicker: character.  I loved the character development in this story and cannot wait to see where they end up in the following books.  They were both realistic and flawed (often difficult to do in magical settings).

Final Recommendations:  if you like unique magical semi-steam-punk settings, a variety of intriguing characters, bad guys who are not entirely bad & good guys who are not entirely good, if you are not totally concerned about plot development

Friday, July 24, 2015

Conspiracy of Us by Maggie Hall

This is the book that would result if "Rich Kids of Beverly Hills" had a baby with "The Divinci Code" and "Mission Impossible."  I know that seems biologically impossible, it is, and in parts this book was impossibly convoluted but, as a whole, it was not entirely unreadable.  For starters, I read a lot of fantasy.  Which is a precursor for "I'll believe anything once."  But even I had a hard time believing a lot of things these rich and powerful kids got away with.  That being said, this was a very action-packed thrill-ride of a book.  It had the swoony romance thing down and some pretty decent twists and turns.  But there will still a lot of things that were left unexplained.  I probably will pick up the second book just to see if many of the unanswered questions are clarified.

Final Recommendations: if you like action & adventure, secret missions, swoony strangers, secret society that can basically do anything they want

The Heir by Kiera Cass

Really, you should not start here if you have not already read the previous installments to Kiera Cass' much beloved Selection Series, as this is basically the same book as the previous 3 but with a new cast of characters.  Cass draws out the seemingly meaningless Selection for Eadlyn Shreave (the daughter of King Maxon and Queen America).  There is a lot of hemming and hawing as Eadlyn wants nothing to do with it.  It does have many of the bright spots that its predecessors possessed: chock full of romance, some silly/funny moments, but it lacks a lot of the endearing moments that we, as the readers were afforded under America's point of view.  Because basically (and I stand by this although many of my middle school girls would disagree), Eadlyn is unlikable.  She is whiny, self-absorbed and pretty clueless in many respects.

Final Recommendations: if you loved the Selection series, bratty princesses, a bit of romance, vague conflicts that go nowhere, world building that is on the fringe, or if you are a 13 year old girl

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

This one was a slow start for me.  I teach ancient history so the concept immediately jumped off the shelf for me (a retelling of the 1001 Nights from the point to view of Shahrzad).  It started slowly though, with so many characters and so many regionally specific names and words (there's a glossary in the back), it might be recommended to be read on your Kindle of ease of access.  But while it did start slowly, the intrigue, excitement and romance pick up the pace about 1/4 of the way into the book.  The result is magical.  The foreign landscape is refreshing.  And the constant secrecy will keep you guessing til the end, and event then, leave you wanting more.  Also, the stories within the story are just as good as the main plot (this lady can weave a tale).

Final Recommendations: if you like epic romance, super-secrets, DELICIOUS description of of foods and exotic locals, and a sprinkling of magic

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Internment Chronicles by Lauren DeStefano

I read the first two books in this series back to back.  I really enjoyed the first book, Perfect Ruin.  It reminded me of the video game Bioshock: Infinite in its setting and a bit in it's plot.  I like a good Utopian novel where slowly but surely the cracks begin to reveal themselves.  The end, however, felt rushed and a little thrown together.  I was willing to give the second novel a chance since I wanted to find out what happens next?  Unfortunately, not a lot happens in the 2nd book.  The characters don't travel far or explore new territory.  Many of the characters I was looking to get to know more about were actually all together ignored in the second book.  Morgan and Pen's relationship is both exhausting and toxic and there are revaluations at the end of the novel that seem to come out of nowhere.  I think I will read the 3rd book but it will not be on the top of my TBR pile.

Final Recommendations: if you like Utopian novels, corrupt kings, unfulfilled destiny

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

I love serious fantasy.  I love fantastical beings in fantastical setting.  I even enjoy a god semi-fantasy where fantastical elements infiltrate our normal lives.  That being said, although I really enjoyed the premise of this novel and will probably continue the series, I did not fall in love with it.  The book starts of with a runaway living in a library (dreams do come true) who is adopted by a mysterious race of bird-people?  I, unfortunately couldn't get into the bird-people.  The suspension of my disbelief just could not wrap its little brain around people with feathers and how that could in anyway be cute?  Other than that, there are also dragon-people, I do like dragon people, and a pretty strong lead character.  But it struck too close to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (for which I also only had luke-warm feelings).

Final Recommendations: if you liked Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, mythological races, epic grudges, a little romance, destiny, strong female characters

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Sometimes a book is awesome.  Rarely, however, is the sequel better than the first.  This is that magical unicorn.  I LOVED this book.  It is everything I love in a fantasy and as I was reading it, I knew I was falling even more in love with Marie Rutkoski's writing.  It is magical in a way that requires no actual magic.  The history and detail she adds into each setting makes them totally realistic and very believable.  Her characters are human in a way that any teenager (or adult) could find themselves in them.  Kestrel is flawed but in a perfect way that, as the reader, you feel like you ARE her.  And the interactions between Arin and Kestrel are so painfully, achingly real, I just cant even (THE FEELS, ALL THE FEELS).  I cannot wait to read the third installment.  I would read all the installments, any installments, Marie Rutkoski's grocery list (seriously, what do you think Arin eats for breakfast).

Final Recommendations: read this series immediately, if you like powerful, flawed heroines, swoony romance, games of chance or skill, fantastic settings, courtly antics, daddy issues, evil emperors

The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

If you enjoyed Kiera Cass' The Selection series but thought, "hey this needs more magical super-powers," then this is the series for you.  I enjoyed this book.  I liked the main character, Mare Barrow (pretty great name) and did not find her as self-reflecting, self-centered or generally whiny as ya heroines can sometimes become.  I enjoyed watching her grow into her powers but felt there could have been more of this.  And in the end, although I saw the two major plot twists developing as they happened, they were both very unique and satisfying.  I look forward to seeing more from this fascinating fantasy world.

Final Recommendations: if you like kick-butt heroines, x-men type powers, class struggles, forbidden romance, evil queens

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

The Orphan Queen was a slow start.  That being said, by the time I got to the end, I was racing through on the edge of my seat, and now I am dying to know more (and secretly building a time machine to the future to pick up book #2).  I loved the main character Wil in this novel.  She was solid, purposeful and while she did have some moments to whiny teenage angst, they were mostly justified (what with witnessing her parents murders as a child).  I LOOOVED the character Black Knife.  Jodi Meadows has a way with her male leads that draws you in with the first meeting.  The world building was adequate.  The world itself, fascinating and mysterious, however, our interaction with it as the reader was somewhat limited.  There are several novellas planned in the series, unfortunately, I do not think they will be enough to quell my desire to know more about the world and the ancillary characters involved in the story.  Overall, I did grow to really enjoy this novel and am sad that it is only a duology as I think there is so much material smooshed into this one book that could have been developed in a longer series.

Final Recommendations:  if you love high fantasy, mysterious organizations, even more mysterious vigilantes. swoony romance, royal jerks, strange magic

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

I love how Andrew Smith writes.  I would read his grocery lists and probably be enthralled.  That said, I do not think his books will appeal to everyone.  I am not one to pigeon-hole kids into a certain genre or specific narrator style.  I find that both myself and my students enjoy a variety of YA, but there are just certain students who this type of book appeals to more.  The Alex Crow is another masterpiece of all the stories coming together as one.  I loved the historical piece woven through the story of a young refugee escaping Syria.  I also am fascinated by Smith's use of "made up" and yet totally plausible science (both in this novel as well as in his previous gang-buster, Grasshopper Jungle).  There is less sex, drugs and cursing than in previous installments, however, more violence.  None of this really bothers me, though.  The novels are written for an audience of young adults who can handle these types of situations contextually through their reading, and Smith weaves together a story like no other.

Final Recommendations:  if you like weird science, boys bonding, refugee tales

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken

I loved The Darkest Minds (the first book set in this post-apocalyptic world where children are die at an alarming rate due to some unknown pathogen, while others are plagued by terribly awesome super-powers).  The world building seemed both accurate and honest and the details surrounding the human reactions to these children and their horrifying powers was heart-wrenching and at times gutting (in the best possible way).  The Darkest Minds stands out in a marked saturated by dystopian teen novels.  Unfortunately, In The Afterlight was a very predictable 3rd novel in a trilogy.  Maybe there's something wrong with me but I cannot seem to be satisfied by the trilogy as a general principal.  Don't get me wrong, I cannot stand a duology (there are just not enough pages to solve all your conflicts within the confines of two books).  But most trilogies leave me disappointed.  This book was not overtly bad.  There was a lot of whining and self-doubt on Ruby's part (which should have ultimately been resolved by the 3rd book, no?).  There was a solid red-herring that I stupidly jump on board for but then it fell flat and I was obviously disappointing at the loss of this character with no chance of redemption.  Finally, I was disappointed by the totally predictable, neat ending.  I know, I know, this doesn't make sense.  I am also often disappointed when then ending is not satisfying.  But this ending was so perfect, I kinda wish it had been a little more realistic, messy like the rest of the series.

Final Recommendations:  totally read this series (regardless of whether or not I was disappointed in the ending, I would have still finished the book & it was not awful, just predictable and a little boring), if you like girls kicking butt, hot southern boys (also not enough of this in the 3rd book), evil governments, super-powered children

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

I understand that this book is technically filed in the "adult" category.  It is written under Victoria Schwab's "adult" pen name and was definitely priced for the "adult" market (thank goodness for teacher discounts and birthday presents), however, I firmly stand behind my review that it is totally readable by ANY group of people, especially young adults.  This book is magical, from its awesome cover to the awesome insides, it's all good.  The world is so unique, it takes me back to being a preteen who would give anything to belong to the world of Harry Potter.  The characters, as well, are so fascinating, I cannot wait to get my hands on future installments.

Final Recommendations: if you like magic, kick-ass heroes and heroins, fantastic world building, and simply great story telling

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

Let me start this review by stating that I really liked The Fifth Wave.  I liked its humor, realistic narrators and divergence from the traditional "evil government" post apocalyptic trope (I mean aliens was a refreshing change of pace right?).  I also loved the twist at the end.  For all its faults, I will say that I would recommend anyone to continue this series if just to get to that mind blowing twist toward the end (well done Mr. Yancey).  But this book, as a whole, was not nearly as funny or plot driven or even coherent as the first.  I had trouble differentiating between narrators or remembering who was who.  We did not spend nearly enough time with Cassie and the time we did spend with her was a bit of a downer (I guess alien invasions will eventually have that effect on you).  I did, however, enjoy getting to know Ringer.

Final Recommendations: if you like kick-butt heroines, aliens?, epic surprises

Monday, February 16, 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

I love this world.  I love the dragons who shrink themselves down into people.  I love the odd half-dragons and their magical abilities.  I love the young Queen and analytically cousin.  And I love Seraphina, who she is and who she finds herself to be.  This book is so expansive, however, I feel like I miss out on some of the very things I grew to love in the first book, Seraphina.  There was just not enough Abdo, Orma and certainly not enough Kiggs (seriously though, there could never be enough Kiggs for my liking).  But oh was there adventure!  And the perfect unraveling of Seraphina at the core, both literally and figuratively.  She is one of my favorite characters baring none.  The worst thing I can say about this sequel is that I waited too long for its awesomeness and now am forlorn at the fact that I think it is the end.  I could read ten more smart, funny, introspective fantasies about these fantastic characters.  But, alas, I do not believe this is in fact a trilogy.  My heart is heavy.

Final recommendations: if you like fantastic females, epic adventures, heart-breakingly evil adversaries, and a wee bit of romance

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mortal Heart by Robin Lafevers

I love this series and if you have not already run out to purchase the first installment in this fabulous trilogy (Grave Mercy)...what are you waiting for?!  It has all this things that I love best about high fantasy: mystery, history, & fantastic world building.  It's the kind of book that makes you want to immediately jump on the internet to figure out if any of the details are actually true (they are).  Then, you unintentionally get lost down the rabbit hole that is Wikipedia and resurface some time tomorrow!

Mortal Heart is a wonderful story, but perhaps, not my favorite of the trilogy.  I loved the different vignettes and situations that Annith found herself in.  I could have spent forever with the Hellequin or Saint Arduinna's followers.  I just maybe felt it was a bit rushed in places it need not be.  But oh that ending was miraculous.  And I cannot go without tears when you tie in the love of a mother for her child, no matter how ill-placed it may be.

Final Recommendations: READ THIS SERIES...immediately, if you like mysterious mythology, history, royalty, kick-ass girls, hot gods

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

If you have not yet read this series which starts with The Burning Sky...WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?!!!  I seriously am in love with everything about this story, the world, the magic, did I mention EVERYTHING.  I was literally reading this second installment during SSR (silent sustained reading) in class and gasped aloud, much to the amusement of my students and my own personal embarrassment.  What I really wanted to do was jump on top of my desk and yell, "I LOVE THIS BOOK!"  But I feel as though that may be frowned upon withing the confines of school..whatevs, let me tell you why I love this series:

1. There are end notes!  End notes people!  Little numbers that lead you to a glossary of information in the back of the book to explain all sorts of magical terms to us lay people.  It is fabulous.

2.  She does not shy away from using big words.  Wonderful words.  Words that even I, as a teacher, had to look up and add to my vocabulary.

3.  The world is amazing.  This time around I would love to mention the unique point of view that she chooses.  Half of the chapters are told from the end.  The other half are told in flashback, which I don't always love but this time around, it was so different, it was amazing.  Also, let me take a moment to talk about how great the magic is.  It is great.  Comforting in its normalcy (for magic, I realize that's kind of a contradiction, but you get what I'm saying, right?) but also singular in some of it's creations and creatures.

4.  The characters are simply perfect.  How can entire novel center around two main characters without getting monotonous or boring, when the characters are these two, the answer is: sheer awesomeness.

The Perilous Sea was equally as fantastic as its predecessor The Burning Sky.

Final Recommendations:  if you like epic magic, great characters, a little bit of romance, and a simply wonderful story, everyone, just. go. buy. NOW!

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

I was really pumped going into this book (like I might have actually squealed with joy when it came into the library). I had heard fabulous things about it. Likening it to several series that I LOVED (Girl of Fire and Thorns, looking at you here). Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. It's my ow fault partially, I mean I had hyped it up in my head too much, right? There was that and the fact that it was all too big: the landscape, the story arch. And too forced/predictable. I don't know, for some reason, I just couldn't find myself caring about the characters. I like a string female heroin, however the quantity of times Meira had to reassure herself that she was strong enough, grated on me after a while. It may have also been the constant movement, they were refugees after-all. That whole not staying in one place coupled with having to familiarize myself with a brand new (and terribly expansive) landscape often left me confused and frankly, disinterested. I plotted through, however. 

Final Recommendations: if you like vaguely confusing magic, a sprinkling of romance (warning love triangle), a HUGE landscape.