& Review: The Song of the Orphans by Daniel Price

The Song of the Orphans by Daniel Price Publisher: Blue Rider Press, July 2017

The Book Itself: Simple and graphic. Truth be told, I like the cover of Flight of the Silvers a wee bit better, but this story speaks louder than this cover.

My Review:

After their world collapsed in a sheet of white light, everything and everyone were gone—except for Hannah and Amanda Given. Saved from destruction by three fearsome and powerful beings, the Given sisters found themselves on a strange new Earth where restaurants move through the air like flying saucers and the fabric of time is manipulated by common household appliances. There, they were joined by four other survivors: a sarcastic cartoonist, a shy teenage girl, a brilliant young Australian, and a troubled ex-prodigy. Hunted by enemies they never knew they had, and afflicted with temporal abilities they never wanted, the sisters and their companions began a cross-country journey to find the one man who could save them.

Now, only months after being pursued across the country by government forces and the Gothams—a renegade group with similar powers—the Silvers discover that their purpose on this unfamiliar earth may be to prevent its complete annihilation. With continually shifting alliances and the future in jeopardy, the Silvers realize that their only hope for survival is to locate the other refugees—whether they can be trusted or not.

I hope all of you get the pleasure of waiting a long time for the sequel to a book you really loved, only to see it in person and realize it is an absolutely massive brick of a novel, and you can’t wait to dive in. It’s the best feeling.

Fair warning: this book is brain-numbingly complex and A LOT OF STUFF HAPPENS. Plus, I wrote this review a month or two after reading it, so bear with me here.

I read The Flight of the Silvers again in preparation for the sequel. I remembered that book being quite complex, with lots of players, and I wanted to come into this book fresh from the world the author first introduced me to. A lot of the nemeses and parties involved are the same as the first book. In a super quick, condensed recap, we have:

1. The Silvers, our heroes: Hannah, Amanda, Zack, Theo, Mia, and David. They have now also joined up with Peter Pendergen, a sensei of sorts for these poor six kids who found themselves plopped into an alternate America after their own world ended, only to ALSO discover that they have superhuman abilities now.

2. The Pelletiers: mysterious, all-powerful beings who “saved” each one of the Silvers…and also several other groups of people from the original Earth. For reasons yet unknown at the start of this second story.

3. Weasily little Evan Rander: a former member of the Silvers who repeats the five years between apocalypses because his ability to jump back in time at will makes him think he can just bully the Silvers sadistically and relentlessly forever. He took it a step too far in The Flight of the Silvers and the Pelletiers took him away somewhere…

4. The Gothams: a large group of people with superhuman abilities who live under the radar in AltAmerica. A small group of them are out to get the Silvers because they believe that our misfit heroes will bring about their world’s apocalypse.

5. The government: alllllways with the government, am I right?! DP-9 was one of the Silver’s antagonists last book, because you don’t really want a bunch of kids running around showing off their freaky abilities causing havoc in public. One of their members, Melissa Masaad, has left DP-9 now and is working for the mysterious Integrity unit, a group who seems to be on the side of the Silvers now…

All of that pretty lamely sums up the characters in play. It’s no wonder Song of the Orphans is over 750 pages long, because you need at least that to sort out this tangled mess of people! (I mean that in the best way)

I’m not even quite sure where to start with this review. You should know that if you read The Flight of the Silvers, loved it (and why would you be going onto the sequel if you didn’t at least like the first one, right?!) and are tackling this new one: just get ready. And if you can swing it, read it while convalescing after surgery like I did, so the book can have your constant, undivided attention for when one of its many crazy fight scenes grabs you and doesn’t let go.

I can think of three huge action scenes in the book that really tear you apart. They wound you for several reasons, sometimes all at once. They usually involve 1.) learning an earth-shattering answer to one of the Silvers many questions about their existence, and/or 2.) a character you love dies, almost dies, or is critically wounded. Also, it looks like this review will be full of lists. Buckle up. Price also introduces us to several other characters to fall in love with and subsequently get gutted by. With the introduction of the other color groups in the last book (Silvers, Golds, Coppers, etc), you know our big cast of characters is just going to get bigger. And it looks poised to expand even more drastically with the last book.

Every action scene is brilliantly written, in an edge-of-your-seat, frantically-whipping-through-pages kind of action. The backstory of this world and its characters is being slowly but methodically filled in. By this book’s end, we have a lot, but not all of the answers. And I’m okay with that. We get to know the Pelletier’s ultimate reason for selecting the Silvers, and I still have some questions about it (okay, I basically don’t really get it quite yet, but maybe I’m just thick in the head), but the stage is still set for the third book: we still have an apocalypse to worry about. We learn A LOT more about the Gothams (and meet several hundred more of them…), and even more about the nuances of the Silver’s abilities. More than one of them finds new ways to use their freaky powers for the good of the team. And new characters introduce new powers to the field of play.

There is a big character twist revealed in this book, which I frankly saw coming. This might be because I came into this book fresh off a re-read of the first. But Price drops huge, unbelievable hints in both books, you guys. Here’s how it went for me (all names changed to avoid Spoiler Land):

Book: Oooooh, someone here isn’t who they say they are!

Me: Oh, it’s probably Cameron.

Book: But look, Jane is acting really suspicious!

Me: No, it’s most definitely Cameron. You said a bunch of sketchy things about them in book 1.

Book: Hang on, now Bob did something that definitely makes them seem like a double-crosser.

Me: Nope. It’s still Cameron.

Book: AHHHH!!! IT WAS CAMERON ALL ALONG! AREN’T YOU SURPRISED?

(Please note that Cameron is a unisex name. So I haven’t even spoiled anything there. Ha.)

So….not that surprised at all. I recognized the red herring hints trying to steer me to different people and stuck to my guns on this “Cameron” lady or fellow. It was still an emotional moment, and the characters acted appropriately betrayed (although really, I would think at least one of them would piece it together at that point), but it wasn’t as shocking to me as it could have been.

I also just want to say that there is a really beautiful scene having to do with the book title and a song and reaching out to the other groups of original Earth-ers. Not even kidding when I said I teared up. I’m such a softy.

I should wrap this up, otherwise you all will be drowning in lists and quippy imagined conversations between me and inanimate objects for days. Song of the Orphans is a superb sequel. Yes, it expands the already gigantic world and cast from The Flight of the Silvers, and I’m still scratching my head on certain things already explained or yet to be fleshed out (who the flipping hell is Ioni and WHAT IS HER MOTIVATION?!) but I have a sneaking suspicion that all will be revealed in the knockdown, drag out fight that will be the third book. Sometimes sequels seem like mere bridges to the final installment in a trilogy and not a lot happens, but boy, do things happen in Song of the Orphans. I am so here for the ride.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 silver bracelets

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& Review: Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff Publisher: St Martin’s Press, September 2017

The Book Itself: Uggghhhh these covers are so cooool! The dark, masked moodiness, the gray-toned background, even the font of the title….gimme!

My Review:

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

I don’t know if you remember how ga-ga I was over Kristoff’s first book in the Nevernight series. If you don’t remember, I’ll post a link to it here. I’ll wait.

Okay, so I really liked it, right?! In a nutshell, I called it “Hogwarts for assassins” but full of twisty nuances and a really atmospheric plot peppered with endearing yet deadly characters. I’m a sucker for a good magical school story. And while Godsgrave all but kisses its magical school goodbye, it still had me zooming through pages to see what would happen next to my favorite characters.

If you haven’t yet read Nevernight, a.) go do so, RIGHT NOW, or b.) put your fingers in your ears and start humming a tune to yourself while I spoil the hell out of it here (not sure how humming and plugging your ears will inhibit your reading ability, but there you go). Godsgrave plops you straight into the action, much like Nevernight did, in the thick of a plot Mia has been planning for months. For the first third of the book or so, Kristoff switches off between the present day and a few months prior, when Mia is working for the Red Church, eventually planning the current murder job. This does get a bit distracting, as just as the tension in one plotline builds to a peak, we fade into the other plotline. But soon the two sync up and we’re all hands on deck with Mia for a different kind of murder education.

GLADIATOR GAMES. At first I was a little hurt that Mia wouldn’t just stay in magical murder school forever, but I eventually caught on. Posing as a slave in order to compete as a gladiatii (aka a straight up Roman-style gladiator) to achieve her goals, Mia gets more embroiled in the politics of her fellow man. There are new revelations about her past (we FINALLY get to hear more about her mysterious, god-like parents), about her abilities as a darkin, and the structure of the world around her. You get to know her fellow slaves/gladiators, and, just like Mia, you don’t want to like them because getting close to people who will most likely die turns out badly for everyone.

The gladiator games are a roulette wheel of ways to die. In this book, Kristoff covers the gamut: fighter against fighter, fighter against multiple other fighters, fighter(s) against giant, seemingly unbeatable beast(s), murderous chariot races, and teams of fighters in massive spectacles of architecture and historical battle recreation.

It’s all awesome.

Mia makes a lot of questionable decisions in this book. Which in hindsight, is good – she’s a devious little assassin we all want to win, but she’s still ruled by her heart, her hormones, and/or her stubbornness sometimes. This puts a lot of people in danger. This leads to some really stupid decisions. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around the merits of some of her decisions. But maybe all will be revealed in the next book. WHICH IS COMING OUT SOON, RIGHT? RIGHT?!?!

And that ending. Come. On. If you want the mother of all cliffhangers, if you want to hate and at the same time love an author with a tiny, vicious sliver of your humanity, look no further, my friends. There are a couple of big, enormous whammies in those last few pages. From the start of the last round of the gladiator games (heartbreaking. I think I kept letting out tiny little whimpers of “No…NO!” every few sentences), to Mia’s fade to black, it is EXACTLY how I would expect an installment of Nevernight to end, and yet I didn’t see it coming at all.

Just read this series. Please.

My Rating: 4.5 gladiatii helmets out of 5

& Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

Warcross by Marie Lu Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd, September 2017

The Book Itself: A simple, colorful graphic on a plain white background make this cover stand out. I like that the word “Warcross” looks cross-hatched, almost like a maze, and that it has a chrome-like finish. Perfect for a futuristic video game story.

My Review:

The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down Warcross players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. To make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire

I read this ostensibly for my brother, who is not a big reader, but who gobbled up Ready Player One like it was candy. The description reads like a YA version of Cline’s 80’s-infused virtual reality wonderland: most of the world’s population participates in escapism virtual reality, using glasses invented by a mysterious celebrity wunderkind. It has a little bit of Smash-Bros-meets-World-of-Warcraft gameplay in it too: many people play a stylized game of Capture the Flag called Warcross, where teams compete to steal the other team’s “Artifact” – a digitized, glittering jewel that hangs over player’s heads à la the Sims. The terrain these games are played on changes: cityscape, ruined jungle, outer space, etc.

It was a fast read for me. I unfortunately haven’t read any of Lu’s other work (her “Legend” series is resting comfortably on my vast to-read shelf) but at least in this book she is very good at leaving you on a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter so you just need…to…read…one…more. The gameplay scenes are well-written: fast-paced and tension-filled, with just enough detail that your mind can fill in what the scene doesn’t spell out. There’s a good dose of steamy romance for good measure, too.

Two gripes: I felt the plot made strange, unnecessary jumps through the story, and I found the twists to be quite predictable.

Our protagonist, Emika, glitches herself into a championship Warcross game. The creator of the game (aforementioned celebrity wunderkind) then places her in the championship in order to find out who else has been hacking into the system. The story is poised to go through fairly smoothly and formulaically: Emika participates in tournament games, gets to know her teammates, trains in different game scenarios, all the while trying to catch a hacker on the side. But the book zooms through what could be some great scenes: whole games in the tournament are summarized in a paragraph, including some games our hero is involved in. Weeks go by in a sentence, backstories are summarized in a few lines. The book could have easily been 100 pages or so longer, and I believe people would have read it. The premise was interesting, but the execution made me feel that the story was rushed.

And maybe this is just because I’m a huge bookworm and I read a lot of YA, but there are two plot twists planted at the end of the story, and I saw both of them coming a mile away. And just because I saw them coming doesn’t mean I want to spoil them for any of you. But the story lost a little of its tension and mystery for me when I pinpointed who I thought the hacker antagonist was, and what another character’s true intentions were. When I closed the book, I was filled with more of a “Huh…well I guess I was right,” reaction, other than a “WHAT?! WHERE’S THE NEXT BOOK I NEED MY HANDS ON IT NOW SO THAT I CAN SEE THE AFTERMATH OF THAT UPSET!” feeling.

It’s a good story. I really wish the secondary characters were fleshed out more (Emika’s teammates and Hideo’s parents, specifically), and that there was just more of it. I hope the sequel is meatier: full of more gameplay and nerdy character backstory and surprises.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 joysticks

& Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 2016

The Book Itself: Another illustrated woman, this time in an outfit akin to armor: this book’s getting more serious. No barbed wire this time, but a silhouetted city in the background under a stone archway that foreshadows this book’s new setting…

My Review: Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

Oh boy. This one’s really good, you guys. And I’m saying that coming off of this series’ first installment, which I found to be a little lackluster (review here).

It’s hard to know where to begin. And it’s hard to know how to keep this review spoiler-free. Although if you’ve read any other reviews at all, the rough plot line here will have already been ruined for you.

This is what I will do. The first part of this review will be for those of you who read my review of A Court of Thorns and Roses, maybe even read it as well, and are looking for a reason to continue. I will keep it as spoiler-free as I can. The second half will have all sorts of name dropping and fangirl squealing and itty bitty spoilers that will in no way diminish your enjoyment, I think, but proceed at your own risk, nevertheless.

This book illustrates the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event very well. Tamlin isn’t doing well with what he had to go through Under the Mountain. Feyre is definitely not doing well with what she had to do and who she had to do it to while Under the Mountain. Both of them are beset by nightmares and left directionless in the Spring Court. It feels weird for them to continue on with life as usual when it is so not usual anymore. The way Maas depicted that change, and these complex feelings alone had me knowing that this book was going to be better: better plot and character development, a darker tone, and hints at real action to come.

Also hanging over them is Rhysand’s bargain. Feyre has to honor this bargain while still struggling to maintain the façade that everything is hunky dory, both with Spring Court politics and in her relationship with Tamlin. Add to that her aversion to living life as a pampered princess, coddled in a life full of court happenings and pretty jewelry, and you have yourself some story conflict.

My favorite thing about this book is probably it’s pacing. Yes, it’s over 600 pages long, but I never felt as if it were dragging or wished it would go faster or slower. 600 pages is a lot. It’s enough to change everything in a story’s world, and this book does. I felt like I did when I was a kid and I had a new Harry Potter book in my grasp. I devoured this book in a matter of a couple days – it was so well paced and developed.

The character growth is very well done, too. We definitely get more out of Feyre as a character, and how time and events change her as a person. This book introduces several new, kickass characters as well, and all of them get the perfect amount of development: enough to care about them and flesh out their backstories, but not overdoing it, and making me want to come back for more in future books.

…Is that enough for those of you who haven’t read the second book, and don’t want it spoiled? Yes? Okay, I’ll put some space here between this non-spoilery part and the next part, which might spoil you a bit if you haven’t read A Court of Mist and Fury.

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I accidentally found out only a few chapters into this book that Feyre’s affections would turn towards Rhysand. And when I first heard that, I was genuinely upset. Why spend an entire book putting her and Tamlin together, why have her go through all of that crap, have her be on the brink of death several times, only to remove her from that relationship and have her get into another one? Sure, I liked Rhysand in the first book, and I looked forward to hearing more about him, but she was in love with TAMLIN! How could Feyre be so fickle? How could Rhysand steal her away?

And now that I’ve turned the final page of A Court of Mist and Fury? I don’t know why I even liked Tamlin and Feyre together at all.

But a lot of people took issue with this change. And I can see where they’re coming from.

The issue, I think, is that this book makes Tamlin seem SO controlling and awful, and Rhysand SO inherently good and generous, that it negates everything Maas spent the entire previous book setting up. Why make us fall in love with Tamlin, when he’s going to turn out to be kind of a bad guy? It did seem a little extreme to me, this shift from Tamlin being Mr. Misunderstood, and our leading romantic lead, to someone suffering so badly from PTSD that he physically lashes out to control those around them.

On the flipside of the coin, Rhysand is The Perfect Guy in this story. The façade he had to put on in the first book’s events is shattered during Feyre’s first stay at the Night Court. He’s not manipulative and sneaky and evil anymore. No, that’s all an act: he’s loyal, generous, and conflicted to the bone about the things he has to do and who he does them to. He’s a great foil to Tamlin, and even to Feyre. But his goodness seems a little overdone, like Maas wanted to soothe the rage she knew would come after Tamlin’s fall from grace, saying “No, wait, but look how great I’ve made Rhysand?! He’s perfect.

So it feels abrupt. But them Maas spends 500 pages or so convincing you – and Feyre – that it’s okay to change as a person, and to want and need different things than you wanted or needed before. There’s a maturity in this choice, even though the choice seems abrupt and jarring when you compare it to the first book’s lengthy setup.

I ate this stuff with a spoon. I LOVED it. I haven’t even touched on the plot or secondary characters that we get introduced to at the Night Court (I can’t see me being okay with Amren, Cassien, Azriel, OR Mor leaving the picture. They better all survive this entire freaking series). But if I went into all that, you’d be here for a thousand more words. And I’ve already waxed poetic enough. This book makes the first book’s inanity worth it. My god, is it ten million times better. It does make me fear for the next installment. Where A Court of Thorns and Roses was Beauty & the Beast, A Court of Mist and Fury was the myth of Hades and Persephone. I’ll cringe if the third book is another retelling, or if it’s told from a different character’s perspective (I’m all about it being dual-told from Feyre and Rhysand’s perspectives though. YES PLEASE). The characters are finally in place, and they are all poised for incredible action and story. I hope the next installment (MAY 2017 WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAY?!) lets them run with it.

My Grade: A

& Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's, May 2015

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, May 2016

The Book Itself: It comes dangerously close to my pet peeve: using picture of pretty men and women, usually looking like they have no business being in this book, in order to sell a cover, and thus, a book. We get half of a pretty woman, and it’s a drawn picture at that. The dress looks rough, almost feral, which fits with the book. The barbed wire and the title do draw me in.

My Review: She stole a life. Now she must pay with her heart.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

This review is difficult for me because I have already read the second book, which, spoiler alert, is leaps and bounds better. I’m not going to say you should read this book only so you can read the second, but…yes maybe I’ll actually say that.

First, I’ll list my problems with this first installment, and then explain why I stuck around.

  1. It is too much like too many other things
    My (wonderful, beautiful, humble) best friend again recommended this to me. She had just finished the second book as well, and practically threw the book at me to get me to start it. She did warn me that this book “until about halfway through, IS Beauty & the Beast. And it is. Enter Tamlin, the Beast: in this iteration, he’s a faerie, a creature feared in the mortal realm because of a terrible war in the past. He can shapeshift, and his shifted form is literally the Beast. Down to the lion-like body and horned head. Enter our Beauty, Feyre: in order to support her family, she goes out into the woods in secret and shoots food with a bow and arrow. I won’t say who that reminds me of, but it rhymes with Patmiss Nevermean. Beast takes Beauty away (from her terrible family, mostly. Her sisters are literally the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella. Like, in their current situation, who the eff would act like they do?! They were flat, unbelievable characters to me because of their absurd bitchiness). Beast holes Beauty up in a castle and tells her she can’t leave. Beast gets controlling. Beauty gets impatient, and literally does the opposite of everything Beast tells her to do (which, like, good for her, because he’s being controlling, but after the first brush with death with supernatural beings, maybe take a break from being a rebel). Beast sends Beauty away only for her to realize that she loves him. Beauty finds out there is a Curse on Beast. The Curse here is the same exact curse as Beauty & the Beast. There is no surprise here! I take issue with retellings of myth and fairy tales when they feel like they’re not trying to do something different with it: they don’t try to illustrate some new theme or they don’t deviate from the previously written plot at all in order to make it new. A Court of Thorns and Roses didn’t feel new to me. It followed the plot of Beauty and the Beast to a T, and even the addition of faeries improved that for me.
  2. Things get good too late
    After Beauty – sorry, Feyre – finally figures it out, it is her turn to rescue the Beast/Tamlin. Her journey through the place where he’s been taken and the trials she has to face FINALLY pick up the pace in the story. Her relationship with a handful of secondary characters actually has me liking her more, and fleshing them out as people too. We meet Rhysand, who plays an integral part in the second book, and his character development in this book alone is done very well. But all of this takes place in the last third of this book. That seems like a lot of build up for a payoff that only takes up a hundred pages or so.
  3. Tamlin is kind of an ass/his purpose seems purely physical
    Unpopular opinion? Am I being influenced by the second story’s events? I don’t care. There were times in this first book where I didn’t really like our leading man. Yes, he was trying to protect a mortal human from the faeries and other forces in his world that could seriously harm her. But he clearly has some Edward Cullen abusive tendencies going on (yes, I just compared him to a Twilight character. It’s apt). He controls and commands his love interest in the name of affection and his vastly superior physical strength. Even his love and affection for Feyre is displayed only in physical attention. Yes, those love scenes are NOT YA. They’re steamy and hot and I’m not about to complain about them. But a star-crossed love should be based on more than sex, and here it doesn’t feel like it’s more than that.

OKAY. After all that, I liked it enough to read the sequel. Why?

 

 

 

  1. It’s well-paced, and for the most part, well-written
    There are no clumsy metaphors and similes crowding up things. Despite the plot being rather recycled, I still turned the pages to see what would happen to the characters.
  2. Secondary characters piqued by attention
    Rhysand is obviously set up in this story to become the focus in the second. But he’s set up really well. Introduced as a greasy enemy, he slowly becomes someone the reader can see has more depth than that mean façade. He’s helpful, wily, and witty. You inherently want to hear more about him. Lucien, Tamlin’s right hand man (Lumiere to the Beast) also gains a lot of development as the plot thickens. He has a great (sad) backstory, and his family is poised to present a lot of future problems.
  3. I rooted for Feyre and Tamlin as a couple
    Yeah, the Beast was controlling and Beauty was, at times, an idiot. But Feyre goes through a LOT of stuff to get what she wants (Tamlin). All that drive and affection have to mean something.
  4. Dang if that physical romance isn’t HAWT.
    I’m just saying.

 

 

 

 

It may not seem like a lot to go on, seeing as my complaint list is lengthier that my “I Like It” list, but it was good enough for me to see what would happen next. And thank god I did. My review for the second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury will be up soon. Stay tuned!

My Grade: C

& Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, August 2016

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, August 2016

The Book Itself: Was this font designed for Kristoff’s new book? Because I’m digging it: intricate and swirly and cool-looking (I’m great at adjectives). Kristoff was one of the co-authors of Illuminae, which I christened the best book I read all of last year. I was looking forward to his new book here regardless of the cover. But the cover is pretty badass: mysterious looming figure with a dagger dripping blood, shadowy wings spread behind her. This looks like it will not be a nice book. It will be a nasty one; bloody. Here there be monsters.

My Review: In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

I get the question “So what are you reading right now?” several times a week. Either because I a.) currently have a book in hand, or b.) the questioner knows me, and knows that I read, and that I ALWAYS have a book on me at all times. When I got this question while reading Nevernight, I showed them the cover and then exclaimed “it’s like Hogwarts for assassins!”

And then that was either met with “Awesome!” or confused expressions of mixed worry and fear.

And while that sentence: “it’s like Hogwarts for assassins!” is pithy and piques the interest, what it really is is accurate yet superficial when it comes to what this story involves. Nevernight is complex, gritty, dark, suspenseful, and at the same time giddily exciting. That sounds like a weird combination, but bear with me.

The book did lag a bit in the beginning for me, as I got used to the writing style and plot pacing. But I had just come off of an incredible book high from a wonderful book that I’d just finished, and was dreading my next read paling in comparison. Mia Corvere is a sassy, tough-as-nails girl who just happens to want to be an assassin. This is because, you guessed it, she has a score to settle. A chip on her shoulder. A revenge fantasy. She is, of course, more than meets the eye. This is evidenced by the fact that a cat made of shadows follows her around and talks to her, literally feeding off of her fear.

We meet her after years of training under a tutor of sorts, seeking to enter what might be the equivalent of a Graduate School of Killing People – the Red Church. And once she gets there, holy crap, does the story take off. Not only are there classes: poison making, pickpocketing, weapons fighting, and seduction/people skills. But there are other would-be assassins as classmates. Deadly classmates who will do anything to become a Blade – one of the elite assassins of the Red Church.

The story has witty banter, murder mystery aspects, and clever characters who surprised even this reader with well-laid plans that began wayyy back in the story (our protagonist included). The writing style is not for everyone. It’s description-heavy, simile-ridden, and there are pithy footnotes that act as a world-building tool that I admit I found distracting at times. But I got sucked into the story and the setting, and I devoured chapter after chapter like I was getting paid for it (I’m not, I promise). The ending is so well-paced and tense that you’ll want to be able to sit somewhere and read straight through it.

Mia as a character becomes really well-rounded, even though at the end of the story, we really don’t fully understand what she really is or what she can do. I had an emotional response to events that happened to her in the story, and to the characters around her. She is a girl learning to be an assassin, and trying to cling to some humanity.

There is a lot of set up for furthering the series here. The book is bracketed by a prologue and epilogue of the person chronicling Mia’s story: she becomes legendary, and we’re here to witness her become so.

I could draw a lot of comparisons: Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy style, a Hogwarts setting, and characters and shady dealings a la Locke Lamora. But I really do think this story stands alone, and I loved it. I will be counting down the many months until the second installment.

My Grade: B+

& Review: Arena by Holly Jennings

Arena by Holly Jennings. Publisher: Ace, April 2016

Arena by Holly Jennings. Publisher: Ace, April 2016

The Book Itself: The pixelated font for the title is a great idea, and while I don’t quite understand why we only see the back of the person I assume is supposed to be Kali, I’m glad this book isn’t relying on the whole pretty-men-and-women-sell-book-covers idea.

My Review: Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV.
She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…
 
The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.
 
And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.
 
Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.
 
The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…

I think I might be forever ruined for books having to do with virtual reality due to Ready Player One. It was just so. Damn. Good. And everything else seems to pale in comparison.

Arena is the story of a young woman who has become a celebrity in her sport – virtual reality gaming, which in this world is bigger than the NFL and NBA, etc. – getting swept up into the high octane lifestyle, only to realize that there are real consequences to real actions in the real world. Plus, she’s in a really important tournament that could win her fame and glory forever.

The premise sounds amazing. And there were aspects that I liked about it. Kali, with the help of a fellow teammate, re-grounds herself in reality with the help of Taoist philosophy and principles, as well as martial arts. I liked that juxtaposition of her virtual life and the real one, and I think the author showed off the differences between that well.

But the scope of the book felt off to me. I’m trying to count back, and I think there are only three settings in the entire book: the virtual battlefield, nightclubs, and the training compound where Kali and her team live and practice. And while I’m sure there are books with fewer settings, this one felt so closed off.

I think my main problem is this virtual reality game they excel at. Here is the game craze sweeping the nation, addicting thousands of youth playing it and watching it being played: capture the flag on a field with two castles on either side. Every scene in the virtual world was in the same scenario. There was no exploring outside of that field, no objective other than defeat the other team and capture their castle. When I think virtual reality, literally millions of possibilities are out there for me to think of, to explore. All I got to see with this story, with this team, was one war game scenario, played over and over again with slightly different strategies.

There are supposedly other tournaments for different virtual reality games in this world – virtual car racing is mentioned a couple of times. And sometimes I felt as if I would rather read a scene about literally any of the other games, because I didn’t understand the replay appeal of this one. I don’t really buy that Kali becomes so addicted to the virtual world of a single field and castle, identical to every other field and castle she plays in the same game. Why would that be better than training in her compound, going out to nightclubs, eating real food and talking to real people?

I get that gaming addictions are complex, multifaceted, very real things. But I don’t see how this game is addicting. I could definitely see an addition to a virtual reality version of an RPG or quest scenario games where there’s variety in opponent and setting. But I don’t see the appeal of plugging in again and again to a field and your castle for ten minutes at a time.

But I digress.

The romance feels a little forced because it happens mere days after the former romantic interest dies. There is a lot of focus on tanned skin and chiseled jaw lines, which tend to make me roll my eyes. But their rapport is solid, and Rooke and Kali truly help each other out in different ways, training together physically as well as mentally, helping each other move past their gaming addictions.

The plot is rather predictable: the team starts falling apart and then they come together in zero hour, fighting their way to the final match up with their Arch Rivals. The ending opens up the story for potential sequels, which might be interesting because maybe FINALLY they will explore more of this world, virtual and otherwise, but I don’t know if I will stay along for the ride.

My Grade: C-

& Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Publisher: Roc, June 2016

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. Publisher: Roc, June 2016

The Book Itself: Rather plain, almost reminds me a of a movie poster. If that movie poster was just the title and a border. The title of this book was intriguing enough to get me to pull it off the shelf, but I don’t know if the cover itself would have gotten me to do the same otherwise.

My Review: One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.
 
London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.
 
Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

The entire premise of this book is constructed to draw book lovers in. Let’s just look at that title: The Invisible Library. Um…yes please! Now if I said that there is time/alternate dimension travel, an infinite library where rare books are stored away from prying eyes, Librarians trained from birth to locate and bring back priceless books…well, I’d bet that you’re practically salivating.

At least I was. And I warily dove into it, because it seemed a little too good to be true…but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised. The world is pure reader’s wish fulfillment. We open on Irene in a precarious situation, attempting to bring back an important book to the Library. Already the story is action packed and mysterious. When she gets into The Library, you just want to live there…the place is so large, it takes days of travel to get from one section to another. Librarians act as spies, thieves, and secret agents in order to get precious tomes for the collection. We’re missing a bit of origin story here – as I believe there’s probably more reason to collect all these books than “to keep them safe” – but that might be explained a little as the series goes on.

Irene is paired with the new guy, Kai, and they’re sent into a world on the brink of “chaos.” “Chaos” is measured like air pollution in these other dimensions. And when the chaos-ometer (or whatever is used to detect and measure the vaguely defined chaos) reaches a certain point, it is understood that dragons – all-powerful beings in this book, who can look just like humans, but possess incredible ability to change the world around them – will intervene.

Well, they haven’t intervened in this world/dimension yet, and it seems like they should. As Irene and Kai bumble around this new dimension, it is very clear they are way over their heads. I’m not quite sure why two relative novices were assigned this task, but it makes for an action-packed story.

Maybe a bit too action-packed. In every chapter, our heroes are beset by weird stuff. There are clockwork alligators, for crying out loud. Add to the weird things stalking their every move is each character’s crazy backstory, the Language they as Librarians can use to influence the physical world around them, and the central mystery of what the hell is going on here, and it gets to be a little too much action and too little development, both character and plot wise. The mystery unspools like most formulaic ones do – enter the setting, meet a helpful ally, find clue, meet enemy, follow clues to result, etc.

Irene as a character also suffers a bit from being Attractive to Everyone. There’s a bit of a forced love triangle between her, Kai, and the detective they meet while in this dimension. And whenever another character felt attraction to her, it felt rather forced. One evening, in the room they’re sharing together, Kai out of the blue propositions Irene, and I felt so uncomfortable because until that moment, I was not under the impression that they were attracted to one another. I also got the impression that Irene might have had a past relationship or attraction to another female character, but that was so hazy that maybe I am just reading into it.

Overall, it was a light fantasy read that crams a lot of action and a bit of absurdity into its 300-odd pages. I’ll continue onto the next one, but for such a great premise, I wish I had gotten a little bit more depth out of the story.

My Grade: C

& Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's August 2012

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s August 2012

The Book Itself: It’s an improvement from the book’s first cover release: a pretty blonde woman in full makeup with just a hint of a knife strapped to her arm. This one looks decidedly more badass, but the attention given to the long flowing hair is a little misplaced (if you were an assassin, anticipating close combat, wouldn’t you want your hair short, or at least up?)

My Review: 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.

Mark Twain had this idea that everything is plagiarized. He said “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.” And it seems these days that a lot of complaints about movies and TV and books is that it isn’t original enough. Here are the same tropes and themes and characters, again and again, people cry. Give us something new!

Now, for me, I don’t mind the same old tropes and themes and characters. If they are well-written, if the story is paced well, if I feel like there are kernels of something in the story that I feel spice up the action and those same old themes. And unfortunately, Throne of Glass didn’t do it for me.

We’ve got a love triangle. We’ve got a dreamy prince and a bad boy captain of the guard. We’ve got a competition of wit and brawn. We’ve got a sassy female protagonist who ends up being super, unbelievably annoying, but who of course is the best in the land and can totally kick a bunch of guys butts in a deadly competition. Cool, okay. Badass female assassin sounds great. But we don’t really get that out of the bargain.

First of all, Celaena gets sprung out of the strictest prison in the land in order to be part of this competition, and she immediately becomes incredibly needy and spoiled. She refuses to get out of bed because she spent all night reading (and if the in love with reading thing is a bid to get us fellow readers to like her, I didn’t fall for it) even though hey, this competition is kind of important and can change your life so stop acting like a spoiled brat days after you’ve been sprung from a slave camp. And she doesn’t get any better. For the majority of the book, it felt like I was reading the adventures of an ugly stepsister (although she’s not ugly! Heaven forbid we go a chapter without being reminded that she’s pretty), and not the strong female role model protagonist I thought I was going to get.

The competition is almost pushed aside until the very last, fight-to-the-almost-death. In fact, there are whole paragraphs that say things like “the three Tests she’d had, the most exciting of which being an obstacle course, which she passed with only a few minor scratches and bruises.” Soooo…this is not the exciting, no holds-barred, winner takes all battle royale I was expecting. This sounds…boring. The competitors are tested in specific skills: archery, riddle-solving, apparently obstacle course completion…and the book hardly dwells on it. The tasks only serve to whittle down the almost faceless pool of competitors so that it’s just Celaena and an opponent (and even who that opponent is going to be is mindnumbingly obvious from the get-go).

And then let’s get to the central mystery…competitors for this competition keep dying, quite gruesomely in fact. And no one seems to really care. At most Celaena scratches her head a little, and then moves on with her life. In fact, here’s a sentence that boggles my mind: “But he’d been lucky: three other competitors had died. All found in forgotten hallways; all mutilated beyond recognition.” And then the scene moves on. What? So…three people died, and everyone’s just like “Meh, thin the herd.” Where is the agency or sense of urgency here? It’s like we wait around for spoiled Celaena to step up for once and do something productive.

Sorry. I just really dislike Celaena.

Maas tries to inject a little magic and mythology in there, but by that time it’s too late. I finished the book, but I will not be continuing on in the series. There are too many other good ones out there that do these themes better.

My Grade: D+

& Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski. Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux March 2016

Re-release of the third installment's cover.

Re-release of the third installment’s cover.

The Book Itself: The final installment in the Winner’s Trilogy, and the last two covers. Again, I think that the cover art on the left best represents the series. The cover on the right tries too hard, I think, to make this book seem like it’s about a Strong Female Warrior Character. The one with the dress and sword shows a better juxtaposition of who Kestrel is written as. She wears the dresses but wields the dagger. It might be another cover with a pretty dress, but I think it’s better than the ubiquitous warrior princess cover.

**If you haven’t read the first two installments in this trilogy, even reading the book synopsis for this one will give you a couple spoilers. So go out and read these books, because they’re good! Then come back and read this. Thanks!

My Review: War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win? 

Despite it’s rather blech-y title, The Winner’s Kiss is a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful series. I’m a little bit in book love here.

The majority of the reviews on this one are rather gush-y, so I will try not to use too many exclamation points, even though this one deserves all of them. This series ramps up with each installment in an amazing story arc. With The Winner’s Curse we had a tense world on the brink of change, with two rather naïve characters falling in lurve. It was light on the action, heavy on the meaningful glances and first kisses. In The Winner’s Crime, both parties were miserable, dealing with what they thought were the consequences of their actions, only to have the crap truly hit the fan by the end, tearing apart all sense of happiness for the reader. Finally, here in The Winner’s Kiss, we get to see everyone kicking ass and taking names.

This book has more action that the other two combined. Arin is battling, Kestrel is battling, our new friend Roshar is battling (all while letting out quippy remarks, of course). There is real carnage and real, raw emotion that actually had be blinking rapidly a couple of times (No, I don’t cry about books. SHUTUP). The events in this story change the world of Kestrel and Arin irrevocably. And it doesn’t take that lightly.

Things that I wished were just a tad bit more developed: Arin reveals a little more about his people’s belief system in this story. The last book. Of the entire series. In fact, we learn that Arin was born under the protection/sign of the God of Death. And in fact, Death likes to talk in Arin’s head sometimes.

Wait, what? Here, in the last installment, we’re getting what seems like really important information about Arin and his beliefs? Where was Death’s voice this whole time?! Biding its time, perhaps? Not only was I a little confused that it took so long to get to this aspect of his character, but then I wanted to know more about it than was provided! We get snippets of information – there are 100 gods, and each year rotates which god influences things. Only a few gods get mentioned, but it opens up more doors and questions: Do the gods have names, or just representations? What’s the world’s origin story under these gods? Why 100, and not more or less? Etc. etc. etc. It feels like a halfhearted attempt at more worldbuilding. I’m a sucker for fictional stories about polytheistic societies and worlds, so I felt a little left in the lurch.

And our good friend Roshar…Roshar is introduced in The Winner’s Curse, but doesn’t really get to do anything until this last book. Which is a shame, because he’s good dark comic relief, and a much-needed friend for Arin. While the sarcastic, witty sidekick is another trope that pops up in a lot of modern fantasy literature, I ain’t mad about it. Give me good one-liners and crappy jokes all day long. Roshar is introduced too late, and he’s still the most convincing and developed side character. Or perhaps I’m still bitter about Jess and Ronan’s fadeout in the second book. I wish there were more of him, both in terms of backstory and witty retorts – I wish he had been in the story all along.

While the epilogue is a little too and-they-lived-happily-ever-after, there is a good dose of bittersweet by novel’s end. Kestrel’s relationship with her father (who, surprise! Turns out to be terrible!) is complex and heartbreaking, and it isn’t summed up with a neat little bow at the end. But I left this story, and this series, with wonderful, complex emotions. I laughed, I cried, and I wished it didn’t end. Just read it.

My Grade: A