BONUS BOOK: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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“I want to tell him that it’s his fault that I’m out here. That love opens you up to the world. I was happy before I met him. But I am alive now, and those are not the same thing.”

Genre: Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window and I see him. He’s tall, lean, and wearing all black – black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.”

Review: Firstly, Everything, Everything is hands down the winner of prettiest book cover that I’ve seen this year. I’ve definitely spent at least 15 minutes just looking at the cover. It’s made even more endearing when you learn that Nicola Yoon’s husband did the cover and book illustrations. Cover aside, however, there’s a lot to love about Nicola Yoon’s first novel. For example, Everything, Everything is so much more than a simple story. The pages are not only filled with prose, but also with drawings, dictionary definitions, medical reports, and emails.

“Madeline’s Dictionary

promise (ˈpräməs) n. pl. -es.

1. The lie you want to keep. [2015, Whittier]”

I think many books don’t succeed when they take a multi-media approach to storytelling, but in the case of Everything, Everything it was a huge success. There is also a really, really great twist at the end of the novel that I didn’t see coming. Cons of the book were that the Maddy/Olly love felt a bit too “instalove” and that the repercussions of the aforementioned twist are not delved into enough. But I give Everything, Everything four out of five stars because in spite of the things it isn’t, it is still a really original novel.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Splintered by A. G. Howard

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“Jeb kisses my forehead to spite Morpheus. I pull back, because I’d rather he kiss me for myself.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Alyssa Gardner hears the thoughts of plants and animals. She hides her delusions for now, but she knows her fate: she will end up like her mother, in an institution. Madness has run in her family ever since her great-great-great-grandmother Alice Liddell told Lewis Carroll her strange dreams, inspiring his classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But perhaps she’s not mad. And perhaps Carroll’s stories aren’t as whimsical as they first seem. To break the curse of insanity, Alyssa must go down the rabbit hole and right the wrongs of Wonderland, a place full of strange beings with dark agendas. Alyssa brings her real-world crush – the protective Jeb – with her, but once her journey begins, she’s torn between his solidity and the enchanting, dangerous magic of Morpheus, her guide to Wonderland. But no one in Wonderland is who they seem to be – not even Alyssa herself…”

Review: I’ll start with the good news. Splintered did an excellent job of giving the Carrollian version of Wonderland an inspired and fascinating makeover. I loved the fact that the parts of the story we all know well (such as the character of White Rabbit) diverge in the Splintered Wonderland (where White Rabbit is really Rabid White, a bag-of-bones man with antlers), with the explanation being that young Alice simply tried to fit what she saw in Wonderland into some very human perceptions. I also liked the general idea behind the story: that Alice’s original visit to Wonderland caused extensive damage, resulting in a curse upon future Liddell women and lasting until one of them willingly returns to Wonderland to set things right. The descriptions were excellent and it was fun to try and match my own understanding of Wonderland with this new version. Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends. The bad news is that I hated (and I mean HATED) the three main characters. Alyssa is a teeny bopper if ever I’ve read  one. I don’t know how else to describe her other than dumb.  Everything about her, from her clothing to her appearance to her unrequited (but *SPOILER ALERT* actually requited) love for one-dimensional Jeb felt contrived and so stereotypically Young Adult that I wanted to chuck this book across the room on multiple occasions. I felt A. G. Howard desperately trying, and failing, to draw me into a twisted love triangle: Morpheus is a psychopath, Jeb is a loser, and Alyssa is so bland that I was actually rooting for her to fail in her quest. I have absolutely no desire to pick up the remaining books in the series, but I was intrigued enough to try and figure out who Alyssa chooses in the end. Major spoiler alert ahead: APPARENTLY SHE DOESN’T CHOOSE. She lives out her human life with Jeb and then lives out her immortal life with Morpheus. What the actual fuck? SO STUPID. The only thing that stopped me from giving this book one star was that the Wonderland reimagining was really well done.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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“I try for days not to think about her. In the end, I stop resisting. Life is hard enough without having to avoid entire rooms in my own head.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier – and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destines are intertwined – and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.”

Review: I have been meaning to get to An Ember in the Ashes ever since learning that Renee Ahdieh (author of The Wrath and the Dawn) is close friends with Sabaa Tahir and that both advocate for character diversity in YA fiction. After reading An Ember in the Ashes, I can safely say that I am looking forward to the sequel, A Torch in the Night (due to be released this August). However, I only ended up rating An Ember in the Ashes three out of five stars because I found that while I really loved half of the novel (namely, all of the scenes narrated from Elias’s perspective), I was decidedly less in love with the half told by Laia. It wasn’t so much that I found Elias to be a stronger character, although in my opinion he is the more interesting of the pair. In actuality, I simply preferred Elias’s plotline and supporting characters over Laia’s. Laia’s almost blind trust of Resistance leader Mazen is frustrating, especially given that the reader learns early on that someone within the Resistance betrayed Laia’s parents. I much preferred reading about the different trials that Elias had to participate in and the complex character dynamics at Blackcliff Military Academy. Another aspect of An Ember in the Ashes that stopped me from giving the book a higher rating was the presence of not one, but TWO love triangles. I can barely handle one love triangle on a good day, and the fact that both Elias and Laia were involved in love triangles was particularly frustrating. On a similar note, I thought it was pretty stupid that while Helene was awarded an impenetrable shirt for winning the first challenge, Elias was awarded one night with Laia for winning the third one. Like really, one night with a slave girl that (as far as everyone else at Blackcliff can tell) Elias doesn’t care about is equivalent to an awesome, life-saving gift like impenetrable armor? Stupid. All of that being said, Sabaa Tahir did an excellent job of world-building and I am interested in seeing where this story goes next.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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“I never realized how changeless this changeable island is until it turned into something different than I’d ever known.”

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Some race to win. Others race to survive. It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen. As she did in her bestselling Shiver trilogy, author Maggie Stiefvater takes us to the breaking point, where both love and life meet their greatest obstacles, and only the strong of heart can survive. The Scorpio Races is an unforgettable reading experience.”

Review: Misty of Chincoteague meets fantasy in Stiefvater’s first standalone novel. The Scorpio Races (Stiefvater’s favorite book out of all the ones she has written) excels in so many different ways. It’s what I call a “slow burn” book, in that it doesn’t bash the reader over the head with magic, romance, or suspense. Indeed, at times it seems like the plot is progressing almost too slowly. But the true merit of this book lies in the fact that long after you close it for the night, the story still sticks with you. I really like how the magic and fantasy in The Scorpio Races is subtle, which is no small feat given that the book’s main focus is on the mythical water horse, or capaill uisce (CAPpal ISHka): a carnivorous oceanic horse that emerges from the Scorpio Sea surrounding Thisby (an imaginary, Irish-sounding Atlantic island) each fall. The townspeople await the capaill uisce emergence with no small amount of trepidation. While the more adventurous individuals attempt to capture horses to ride in the annual Scorpio Races, others do their best to protect family, pets, and livestock from the bloodthirsty water horses. Puck Connolly and her brothers, Gabe and Finn, fall into this latter stock of townspeople. After all, it was at the jaws of a water horse that their parents met early deaths. Sean Kendrick falls into the former class. Ever the brooding hero, Sean is a gifted horseman (and, like the Connolly’s, an orphan) with a soft spot for Corr, the capaill uisce he has spent six years training. The Scorpio Races follows Puck and Sean in the weeks leading up to the actual race, as both teenagers set their sights on winning the top prize. A win for Sean means that he may finally be able to buy Corr from Benjamin Malvern (Sean’s employer and the richest man on Thisby), while a win for Puck means that she will be able to pay off the debt that is threatening to force her and her brothers to abandon their family home. Stiefvater’s strengths, as usual, come in the form of excellent character and scenery development. In particular, Thisby itself ends up feeling incredibly real. My primary complaint with the novel is that the pacing does drag at certain points, and the actual race takes up only ten pages of a 404 page book. However, Stiefvater’s characters and setting more than make up for the pace, and I know that this will be a book I read again and again over the coming years. I think it is my favorite Stiefvater novel yet and, even in spite of its flaws, I feel completely obligated to give The Scorpio Races a five-star rating.

Rating:

Five_Star

BONUS BOOK: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas

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“There was such a thing as Fate – because Fate had made sure I was there to eavesdrop when they’d spoken in private, because Fate had whispered to Tamlin that the cold, contrary girl he’d dragged to his home would be the one to break his spell, because Fate had kept me alive just to get to this point, just to see if I had been listening.”

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “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 Feyre dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility to 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. From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah J. Maas comes a seductive and breathtaking new book that blends romance, adventure, and faerie lore into her most unforgettable story yet.”

Review: As previously mentioned in my review for Cinder by Marissa Meyer, I really enjoy fairy-tale retellings. For that reason, I had high hopes for A Court of Thorns and Roses, which was described to me as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I also expected A Court of Thorns and Roses to be more fantasy/adventure oriented than romance oriented (given how it was initially marketed). Unfortunately, A Court of Thorns and Roses ended up being a poorly contrived romance with remarkably slow exterior plot development. I know many readers would strongly disagree with me, but the central driver of the plot was Tamlin and Feyre’s developing relationship, not anything going on in the faerie world of Prythian. The only time when I felt the plot really picked up was when Tamlin and Feyre were separated and Feyre had to try and scheme her way to guaranteeing Tamlin’s safety. Finishing A Court of Thorns and Roses left me with no desire to pick up the recently-released sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. But the same coworker who recommended I read The Raven Cycle series has told me that A Court of Mist and Fury is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor (this sentiment seems to be wide-spread, based on online reviews that I’ve seen). I think I’ll give the second book a try, but A Court of Thorns and Roses has left me with relatively low expectations.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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“He was a book, and he was holding his final pages, and he wanted to get to the end to find out how it went, and he didn’t want it to be over.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted. For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a life; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him. Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path. In its starred review of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the previous book in The Raven Cycle, Kirkus Reviews said, “Expect this truly one-of-a-kind series to come to a thundering close.” The thunder has now arrived in Henrietta, Virginia – along with death, desire, revelation, and a brutal truth. With The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater completes a masterpiece.”

Review: What a conclusion! The Raven King was everything I have come to expect from Stiefvater. As a demon begins to wreak havoc on Cabeswater and Henrietta, Gansey, Blue, Adam, and Ronan must fight not only to protect themselves, but also to protect the magical place they have come to love. At the heart of the storyline remains the quest for Glendower. Once again, I found myself completely enraptured by the characters and relationships they shared. I feel like I’ve truly come to know them in the week I’ve spent reading this series. For example, the following quote by Maura perfectly sums up what life is like at 300 Fox Way:

“I’ve brought home dead people. Cancel every appointment! Hang up your phones! Orla, if you have a boy here, he’s gotta go!”

I think Ronan and Blue’s friendship also progressed more in this book than in any other, as they finally realized that they were “different brands of the same impossible stuff.” Their interactions added some necessary comic relief to the dialogue:

“No homework. I got suspended,” Blue replied.

“Get the fuck out,” Ronan said, but with admiration. “Sargent, you asshole.”

The heart of The Raven King remained character relationships, but I did find that, logistically, I was left with many, many unanswered questions. Such as (spoilers ahead):

-Why was Glendower dead when Gwenllian was able to stay awake and alive for over 600 years? Was it due to a mistake by Artemus?

-Who was the second body in Glendower’s tomb?

-Who are the three sleepers? At this point, the only clear sleeper I see is the demon. Gwenllian was never asleep, Glendower was never alive… Who are the sleepers?

I also felt myself resisting the addition of Henry Cheng to the group. While I did end up liking him as a character, I don’t feel like he was a necessary addition and I’m sure that a majority of Raven Cycle fans will not like Stiefvater’s attempt to add one more member to the crew so late in the game. Was he added to the storyline as a replacement for Noah? And speaking of Noah, I don’t feel like his final death was given enough attention by Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan. Indeed, he is never openly forgiven for attacking Blue (granted, he did so while possessed by the demon). Overall, Noah ended up feeling like an afterthought throughout The Raven King, which I think is a disservice to his character. I would have much preferred for Noah to have a larger role in The Raven King and for Henry to be omitted. The truly shocking thing is that, in spite of these many unanswered questions and minor grievances, I still have to give The Raven King a four-star review. It is a testament to the incredible feat Stiefvater has accomplished: creating a cast and story so richly intricate that I have no choice but to highly rate the final installment. There are scenes and characters that will stay with me forever. For example, I don’t think I will ever be able to forget the demon’s attempt to unmake Ronan at the end of the book. And Ronan, ever the fighter, fights back by dreaming up the most beautiful and magical things he can imagine. I will certainly miss having a window into the lives of Blue, Gansey, Adam, Maura, Mr. Gray, Persephone, Calla, Orla, Orphan Girl/Opal, Chainsaw, and Ronan. I will miss Ronan most of all. But if the hunch I have right now is accurate, the Raven Cycle series will only get better with time.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

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“If she pretended hard enough, she could see the multitude of pairs clinging to each other in the destructive and creative gravity of their constellations.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up. Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become her problems, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost. Friends can betray. Mothers can disappear. Visions can mislead. Certainties can unravel. In a starred review, The Bulletin called The Dream Thieves, the previous book in The Raven Cycle, “a complex web of magical intrigue and heart-stopping actions.” Now, with Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the web becomes even more complex, snaring readers at every turn.”

Review: Altogether, Blue Lily, Lily Blue was a really great third installment in The Raven Cycle, but I also found it to be the least memorable book of the series so far. There were some major pros, such as the lovable characters of Jesse Dittley (landowner of a cursed grave who begrudging allows Blue to do yard-work for him in exchange for cave access) and Roger Malory (Gansey’s aged tutor). The fondness I developed for Jesse, who calls Blue his little ant and is always shouting, was unexpected, especially given the fact that he is doomed to die within the year. There were beautiful moments as well, such as the realization that Ronan took his lovable younger brother, Matthew, out of a dream. This is also the first book where we really see strong collaboration between Adam and Ronan (effectively the chosen ones of Cabeswater).

“Adam was beginning to realize that he hadn’t known Ronan at all. Or rather, he had known part of him and assumed it was all of him.”

I also loved the discover of Gwenllian, Glendower’s daughter who has been imprisoned, and awake, underground for over 600 years. That being said, there were also a lot of cons in this third book. For example, the Gray Man’s now vengeful former employer, Colin Greenmantle, shows up in town hell-bent on discovering exactly what the Greywaren is. Described as being a ruthless spider resting in a very intricate web, Greenmantle was clearly meant to be feared by the reader. However, I felt like the Raven Boys were able to get rid of him almost too easily (by having Ronan dream up incriminating evidence that would land Greenmantle in jail for the rest of his life). For such a ruthless villain, he was pretty easily vanquished. Maura’s disappearance was also frustrating, because it remained unclear WHY she had left in the first place. I also found this book to be more confusing than its predecessors, but perhaps all of that confusion will be resolved in The Raven King. All in all, Steifvater set the stage nicely for her final book.

Rating:

Three_Star