BONUS BOOK: Linger by Maggie Stiefvater

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“Surrounded by wolves, I sat on the forest floor as the sun sank in the sky and the shadows of the pines grew, and I wondered how much time I had.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Once Grace and Sam have found each other, they know they must fight to stay together. For Sam, this means a reckoning with his werewolf past. For Grace, it means facing a future that is less and less certain. Into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, whose past is full of hurt and danger. He is wrestling with his own demons, embracing the life of a wolf while denying the ties of being human. For Grace, Sam, and Cole, life is a constant struggle between two forces – wolf and human – with love baring its two sides as well. It is harrowing and euphoric, freeing and entrapping, enticing and alarming. As their world falls apart, love is what lingers. But will it be enough?”

Review: Okay. I know that I may have partly doomed the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by reading everything completely out of order. BUT I still can only give Linger two stars out of five because while it does have some improvements over Forever, Sam and Grace are still bland characters. I think one thing that has bothered me about this entire series is that there is never really any forward plot development. If you make a list of concrete events that happen in Linger, it ends up being an incredibly short list. There’s a ton of flowery narration with little to no action, and for that reason Linger ended up being very boring. All four of the main characters are terrible at communicating (as are the supplementary characters, now that I think about it), which was very frustrating to me. Overall, I’m still a big Stiefvater fan but I have no interest in this particular series.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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“The line went slack. Inej fell, twisting in the air the way she had as a child, searching for her wings.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.”

Review: Having never read anything by Bardugo before, I was stunned at how quickly and completely I fell in love with Six of Crows. The characters were so unique and multifaceted that I couldn’t help but love everything about the first book in the duology. The only downside to loving Six of Crows as much as I did was that it left me with (perhaps impossibly) high expectations for Crooked Kingdom. Crooked Kingdom picks up where Six of Crows left off, with Inej kidnapped by Jan Van Eck and the crows without any of the prize money they were promised for successfully pulling off the Ice Court heist. I really enjoyed watching Kaz once again lead his crew in some fantastic scheming, with the objective this time to rescue Inej and make Van Eck suffer for his deceit. However, I felt that this second installment had some minor setbacks that were absent in Six of Crows. For example, there were several instances where I found myself very confused by the chain of events (often when Kaz revealed how he had pulled off some masterful deception). It just wasn’t as easy to figure out how all of the puzzle pieces fit together. My favorite characters from Six of Crows, Inej and Nina, were still my favorite characters in Crooked Kingdom. But I felt like Nina, with the loss of her original Heartrender power, just wasn’t herself. Perhaps that was what Bardugo intended, but the new version of Nina that emerged by the end of Six of Crows just wasn’t as lovable as the original had been. While I would have had a hard time picking between Inej and Nina in Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom helped Inej emerge as my true favorite character.

“But wasn’t that what every girl dreamed? That she’d wake and find herself a princess? Or blessed with magical powers and a grand destiny? Maybe there were people who lived those lives. Maybe this girl was one of them. But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

I also felt like the novel didn’t wrap up as well as I would have liked. Spoiler alert: I can’t believe that there wasn’t at least one chapter from Nina’s perspective after Matthias died. Overall, it felt like the balance of perspectives in this book was more heavily skewed to Jesper and Wyland. But I suppose there is something to be said for the skill of an author when they leave you wanting just a bit more. Overall, I really loved this duology and will definitely read whatever Bardugo comes up with next.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

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“They were all in high spirits and good humor, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to the greatest inconveniences and hardships rather than be otherwise.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities. As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon. Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rouges to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolet depictions of seas monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest  – and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!”

Review: I stumbled upon this gem of a book in my local used bookstore and knew that I had to have it. I enjoyed both reading and seeing the movie version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and after reading Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I have to say that I’m really in love with the Quark books revamp of classics. This novel was even better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, largely because the plot moved at a much more reasonable pace. I loved the addition of the Alteration storyline, whereby “the waters of the world grew cold and hateful to the sons of man, and darkness moved on the face of the deep.” From fending off attacks by giant hermit crabs to epic battles with pirates, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is full of fun marine mayhem. I particularly love the character of Colonel Brandon. Based on my research (I’ve never actually read Sense and Sensibility, whoops), the original Colonel Brandon is despised by Marianne do to his age and his previous attachment to another woman. In Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, those same factors are at play, but Marianne’s opinion of him is further sullied due to the  tentacles growing on his face (thanks to a sea witch’s curse).

“He thinks Marianne’s affection too deeply rooted for any change, and even supposing her heart again free, is too diffident of himself to believe, that with such a difference of age and disposition – and of course, there is the matter of the squishy – well you know.”

I’ve never been a huge Austen fan (I know, I know), but this new approach taken by Quark books to her seminal novels has really made me want to start reading more of her original works. However, something tells me I will always prefer this version to the original, which is a testament to the skill and imagination of co-author Ben H. Winters. A really fun, creative, and worthwhile read!

Rating:

Four_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater

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“I gave so many damns at once that it actually hurt.”

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Cole St. Clair has come to California for one reason: to get Isabel Culpeper back. She fled from his damaged, drained life, and damaged and drained it even more. He doesn’t just want her. He needs her. Isabel is trying to build herself a life in Los Angeles. It’s not really working. She can play the game as well as all the other fakes… but what’s the point? What is there to win? Cole and Isabel share a past that never seemed to have a future. They have the power to save each other and the power to tear each other apart. The only thing for certain is that they cannot let go.”

Review: Despite my lackluster experience with Forever (which was likely at least partially due to my mistake of reading the Wolves of Mercy Falls series out of order), I can’t seem to give up on Maggie Stiefvater. I found Isabel and Cole to be somewhat compelling characters in Forever, and was interested to see what Stiefvater would do with the duo in this final, somewhat standalone installment. Overall, however, I was still disappointed. I found the general plot trajectory pretty stupid (Cole goes to L.A. not only to win Isabel back, but also to participate in a reality show) and there was very little character development. Cole and Isabel were almost constantly at odds; this ended up being frustrating because many of their problems could have been easily solved with improved communication. I also found it hard to believe that, given the events of both Forever and Sinner, Cole and Isabel could actually end up together in a stable, drama-free, long-term relationship. The supplementary characters were lacking for the most part. I really enjoyed hearing about Isabel’s eccentric and mega Type A cousin, Olivia, but her part in the novel was minimal. I do plan on reading Linger (the second book in the series) because I want to finish the series out, but I have pretty low expectations at this point. As I’ve said before, Stiefvater’s other books and series are, in my opinion, much better than the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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“Sometimes she imagined a shadowy figure standing at a stone alter. She would hold up her hand, and he would take everything she had for himself.”

Genre: Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend – and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion. But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against – and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.”

Review: Mehhhhhhhh. I don’t know, for a book that has gotten almost 4 stars on Goodreads (3.96 to be exact), I really expected more from And I Darken. The plot sounded intriguing enough, and the single glowing praise I have for this book is that Lada definitely works as an antihero. I certainly appreciate how badass and unapologetic she is.

“Lada awoke with a hand over her mouth. She punched twice in rapid succession, aiming for the kidneys.”

At times, however, her never ceasing brusqueness became quite tiring. Mehmed was a somewhat interesting character as well, but I think the book could have benefited from allowing him to narrate chapters, instead of just Lada and Radu. On the note of Radu… don’t even get me started. HE IS SO BORING. All he does is whine about how hard his life is, how mean Lada is, how Mehmed will never realize how he truly feels about him. It’s exhausting to read the chapters that are written from his perspective. I think this novel could have been saved if White did a better job of pulling her reader into the Ottoman world, but even it fell flat. All in all, it was hard to make myself finish this book. While improvements were made as the trio aged, the overall plot and relationships were dull.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

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“I wanted a library like this by the time I was Beck’s age. Not this library. A cave or words that I’d made myself.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl. Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their love moved from a curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives. That should have been the end of their story. But Grace was not meant to stay human. Now she is the wolf. And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be killed in one final, spectacular hunt. Sam would do anything for Grace. But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world? the past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment – a moment of death or life, farewell or forever.”

Review: Before diving into my thoughts on Forever, I have to tell a story. It is largely a story of personal failure, but I think it is relevant given that it ties closely to my feelings about Forever and the Wolves of Mercy Falls series in general. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to be allowed to bring my best friend on our family vacation to Florida. As we intended to spend lots of time relaxing on the beach, we both brought plenty of books to read. I was halfway through Les Miserables, and she had brought, among other things, an advanced copy of the book Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I finished Les Miserables on the trip and, while I really enjoyed the book, was desperate for an easy, somewhat vapid read. Shiver, a book about werewolves and teen drama, sounded like the perfect remedy. After reading the novel, we both agreed that it was surprisingly good. Over subsequent years, I noticed that Stiefvater published additional books in the series, but never felt a need to actually see how the story progressed. Fast forward to this time last year, when I discovered The Raven Boys series and Stiefvater’s standalone novel, The Scorpio Races. I was hooked, a complete and utter Maggie Stiefvater fan. And for that reason, I decided it was finally time to read the full Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Here’s where the failure part comes in. I went to the local library and noticed that three Wolves of Mercy Falls books were conveniently in stock. I checked them all out and decided that I would reread Shiver, since it had been over three years since my first reading. However, when I got home I realized that I did not in fact have Shiver, but had instead picked up Linger, Forever, and Sinner (the somewhat standalone fourth book, which does not focus on Grace and Sam). Despite this setback, I decided that I remembered enough of Shiver to pick up with the second book. For reasons I can’t explain, I quickly started reading Forever. References to certain events and characters confused me, but I pushed onward, telling myself that the source of confusion was simply the years that had passed since I first read Shiver. It wasn’t until I had read approximately 300 out of 386 pages that I realized Forever was the third book in the series, not the second. Despite having the true second book, Linger, waiting patiently on my shelf, I had blindly plodded forward and read the wrong book. With less than a quarter of Forever remaining, I decided to embrace my mistake and finish the novel. I tell you all of this now because I fully recognize that my ignorance of certain characters and plot events likely influenced my rating of this book. But at the same time, I think Forever failed in a few poignant ways that made it a not-so-great read. For example, Grace and Sam, the two main characters, were shockingly boring. This is saying something, given that Grace regularly and unexpectedly turns into a werewolf. They just feel very one-dimensional. I also found the reality of Sam’s storyline a bit off-putting: the entire town thinks he not only murdered Grace (because she has gone incognito since becoming a werewolf), but that he has raped and murdered Olivia as well. WHY AREN’T PEOPLE MORE BOTHERED BY THIS? Why isn’t Sam more bothered by this? There are some easy, simple steps he and his friends could take to start salvaging his reputation, but they don’t take them until the very end of the book. I just didn’t get it. I really liked Isabel as a character, which I remember also feeling in Shiver, but I didn’t quite know what to make of Cole. Overall, I think Forever suffered from a lack of development in both the main characters and the plot. I love Maggie Stiefvater, but I also believe that her later works are better than the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

Rating:

Two_Star

BONUS BOOK: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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“Would this be the cost? Not just in blood shed, but dreams yielded?”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius as war looms on the horizon. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t. With her heart sworn to the warrior-price by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.”

Review: I have to say, I’m really glad that I stuck with the Throne of Glass series. I had a feeling after Queen of Shadows that Maas’ wildly popular series had taken a turn for the better, and Empire of Storms only reinforced that sentiment. While the first three books largely focused on a frustratingly self-centered and annoying Celaena Sardothien, the fourth and fifth books have done a much better job of making Celaena/Aelin actually live up to her fearsome reputation and building up the supplementary characters. Yes, Aelin is still clearly the heart of the storyline. But the additional characters who make up her kickass tribe are really interesting and lovable in their own right. Manon and Lysandra,  introduced in the third and fourth books, respectively, have quickly become favorites of mine. I’ve also come to the realization that the main male characters (Rowan, Dorian, and Aedion), are all FEMINISTS. Which I find pretty damn refreshing. Major points to Maas for that one. I’m certainly looking forward to the sixth and final book and am intrigued by the news that Hulu is planning a TV show based on the Throne of Glass series.

Rating:

Four_Star