Review: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Raven Cycle #3)” by Maggie Stiefvater

17378508Title: “Blue Lily, Lily Blue (Raven Cycle #3)”

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA, magical realism, contemporary, AWESOME

Source: ARC from publisher

Publication Date: October 21, 2014 (Scholastic – North America)

Summary: 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 hers, 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.

☆: 5/5 stars – SO MANY FEELS YOU GUYS.

Review: Guys, I just…I can’t even with this series anymore. But in a good way. So much heartbreak, but it feels so good. This book (which I guess, is kind of a middle book? out of four?) just proves Stiefvater’s prowess and her unstoppability in terms of keeping a story going with no loss from when you put down the previous book and start the next. With the plot getting crazier, more puzzle pieces falling together, and more doom and gloom gathering, “Blue Lily” is an AWESOME addition to the series, and it makes me hanker for book four even more. Trust me. You want this book.

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Review: “When My Heart Was Wicked” by Tricia Sterling

22749511Title: “When My Heart Was Wicked”

Author: Tricia Sterling

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Magical

Publication Date: February 24, 2015 (Scholastic – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: “I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver bad news. When I colored my hair, I imagined it seeping into my scalp, black dye pooling into my veins.

But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good.”

16-year-old Lacy believes that magic and science can work side by side. She’s a botanist who knows how to harness the healing power of plants. So when her father dies, Lacy tries to stay with her step-mother in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her real mother, Cheyenne, brings out, stripping away everything that is light and kind.

Yet Cheyenne never stays away for long. Beautiful, bewitching, unstable Cheyenne who will stop at nothing, not even black magic, to keep control of her daughter’s heart. She forces Lacy to accompany her to Sacramento, and before long, the “old” Lacy starts to resurface.

But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?

☆: 4/5 stars – a great magical realism debut!

Review: This one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. “When My Heart Was Wicked” is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a cause of an unstable, dangerous childhood trying to become an adult – but through the lens of Francesca Lia Block-esque magical realism. I loved this one, and it makes me feel like Stirling will be one awesome author to watch. If you’re looking for a little magical realism in your tough stuff YA issues book, “When My Heart Was Wicked” is definitely the one you want to pick up.

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Review: “The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski

16069030Title: “The Winner’s Curse”

Author: Marie Rutkoski

Genre: AWESOME, YA, Fantasy

Publication Date: March 4, 2014 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – I NEED BOOK TWO NOW.

Review: While this one started off kind of slow, “The Winner’s Curse” is one of those books that sneaks up on you and won’t let go until the very last page. It’s almost a remarkable leap when compared to “The Shadow Society” in terms of nearly every technical area of writing. Plus, you have a wonderful high fantasy/political intrigue that would make George R R Martin quite proud. “The Winner’s Curse” is definitely one of my favorites of 2014 so far, and for good reason. I’m definitely hungering for that next book. NOW.

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Review: “Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3)” by Marissa Meyer

13206828Title: “Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3)”

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: Fantasy, YA, PNR, AWESOME, Space Opera, Retellings

Publication Date:  February 4, 2014 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard.

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

☆: 5/5 stars – Another great installment in this quartet!

Review: You know, guys, I’m starting to see the greater parallels with Sailor Moon (of which Meyer is a great fan) as this quartet progresses. But you know what? I’m entirely okay with that. That little observation aside, I think that the way that “Cress” is put together is going to throw some of the fans of this series off – I know I was at first – but I encourage everyone to hang in there. “Cress” is just as enchanting and amazing as the other books – if anything, more so, and it was fun to see Meyer playing with how she was structuring her storytelling. Just like “Scarlet” doesn’t immediately delve back into the lives of Cinder and co., “Cress” does the same, except with a more extended timeframe. Regardless, “Cress” is AWESOME, and definitely one of my favorites for this year. Definitely on my top ten list for 2014 so far.

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Review: “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

15839984Title: “Cruel Beauty”

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Genre: Fantasy, YA, PNR, AWESOME, Retellings

Publication Date:  January 28, 2014 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source:  Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

☆: 5/5 stars – An absolutely mindblowing debut from Hodge!

Review: Man, I’d been hearing some great things about this book before I even picked it up, but I didn’t expect to be this blown away by a 2014 debut. “Cruel Beauty” isn’t just a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, but it also mixes in alternate histories/universes and Greco-Roman mythology. Oh, and ass-kicking females. Which definitely got my attention. Guys, this book is a total breath of fresh air for YA, and I’ve already reread it once before doing this review. If you’re looking for a really amazing fairy retelling with a lot of other elements thrown in, “Cruel Beauty” is definitely the book you need to pick up this year in terms of debuts.

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Review: “The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2)” by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (Scholastic Press – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

☆: 4/5 stars – Not quite as amazing as “Raven Boys”, but still pretty damn good.

Review: If “Raven Boys” was Gansey’s book/the intro book, “Dream Thieves” is definitely Ronan’s book,  100%. We also get a lot of juicy details about backstory about Ronan and his brothers, as well as some new characters, and new mysteries to solve in order to get the boys back together, and back to business at hand. Yes, while “Dream Thieves” had a little more introspection than its predecessor, it’s still a really good sequel, and it’s making me froth at the mouth for book three.

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Review: “Perfect Ruin” by Lauren DeStefano

17339241Title: “Perfect Ruin”

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Publication Date: October 1, 2013 (S&SFYR – North America)

Genre: YA, dystopian/utopian, mystery, AWESOME

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan’s older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

☆: 5/5 stars – an absolute knock out of the park for DeStefano, sealing her fame in the YA canon!

Review: Wow. If you guys thought the “Chemical Garden” trilogy was good, “Perfect Ruin” will absolutely knock your socks off. DeStefano has improved in her craft so much, it was almost as if it were someone else writing – though it did have her familiar prose landmarks here and there. “Perfect Ruin” is the question of the divide between dystopia and utopia, and whether the two really can be the same thing, or if they’re just two sides of the same coin. Can humans as they are now (or at least, by the time Internment exists) really create a fair utopia for all? “Perfect Ruin” delves into these questions and more with a murder mystery and a curiosity that may destroy all of these characters. Absolutely gorgeous, even if you haven’t read the previous trilogy, this is one 2013 release that simply cannot be missed.

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Review: Scorched by Mari Mancusi

ScorchedTitle: Scorched

Author: Mari Mancusi

Genre: Dragons, Time Travel, YA

Publication Date: September 3, 2013 (Sourcebooks Fire)

Source: ARC found in a used bookstore

Don’t leave me here… It starts with a whisper. At first Trinity thinks she’s going crazy. It wouldn’t be a big surprise–her grandpa firmly believes there’s a genuine dragon egg in their dusty little West Texas town. But this voice is real, and it’s begging for her protection. Even if no one else can hear it…

He’s come from a future scorched by dragonfire. His mission: Find the girl. Destroy the egg. Save the world.

He’s everything his twin brother Connor hates: cocky, undisciplined, and obsessed with saving dragons.

Trinity has no idea which brother to believe. All she has to go by is the voice in her head–a dragon that won’t be tamed.

2/5 stars – Starts out fun and quickly dissolves into stupidity

Sometimes, you need mindless stuff to get through the day. Scorched was the mindless stuff to get me through the aftermath of a terrible dentist appointment and olfactory flashbacks to the laughing gas that made me sick multiple times. At first, the wild, fun elements of dragons, time travel, and mind-reading/mind-influencing people all mashed together entertained me, but as the novel went on, my annoyance at how Trinity failed to pick up on the most obvious holes in everyone’s stories and other such issues were what kept my mind off the pain and flashbacks.

Trinity starts out as a character with potential. The “child raising their parent/grandparent” trope is here and it’s still a little stale, but her cynicism and difficulty trusting others after her mother’s suicide and her grandfather’s many terrible business decisions comes across well. What makes Trinity such a hard heroine to get behind is that she doesn’t appear to have anything even close to resembling a working brain. What she lets Connor and Caleb get by with concerning their hole-filled stories is too much for me to believably take.

When Connor and the dragon both speak into her mind and call her Fire-Kissed, she doesn’t question it (on Connor’s part, anyway). Apparently, she has less of a problem with a human being talking into her head than an unborn dragon egg. It takes Caleb doing the same thing to make her ask questions about those two things! Though she does ask about the relationship between her and the dragon egg, she fails to ask the most important questions (like the direct relationship between them in the future and what Connor means by her being “an added layer of protection”) AND takes his obviously evasive answer with no further questions on it. Oh, and the obvious holes in their motives go unquestioned too.

Not only is dumbing down Trinity to the point where she misses obvious red flags an example of how not to build a conflict or novel, it’s also an example of how thoroughly her prior characterization as cynical and untrusting is contradicted. Despite her saying multiple times she’s cynical and doesn’t trust other people, she only asks questions about half the time and is quick to trust both opposing sides. Even when ignoring what we readers learn in the short time we spend in Caleb’s and Connor’s points of view, Trinity is ignoring so much for the sake of building a weak conflict between Connor’s and Caleb’s respective sides that it’s painful.

If she were really that cynical, she would have wondered right off the bat if the kids the Dracken “found” and trained to tame dragons were kidnapped or at least asked immediately how they got there. They were rescued orphans and not kidnapped, but it’s very important that she doesn’t question anything about it and thinks they have families. How likely is it for a parent to react with “Okay, take my kid!” when time-traveling strangers tell them their child can control a dragon? Exactly. So why would she think that’s entirely plausible?

I love the idea of the dragons and Trinity’s dragon Emmy is sweet enough when she’s not burning people alive, but they lack the strength to keep standing when the tsunami of Trinity’s contradicted characterization and forced stupidity strike. Her love interests are rather typical too. We’ve got Connor, the angsty one with a stick up his rear end, and Caleb, our run-of-the-mill cocky dude with the big ego who likes to wear leather pants while riding a dragon. Neither is well-developed by themselves or with Trinity. One twist caught me off guard, but for the most part, it’s all predictable because we notice everything Trinity glances over for whatever reason.

Scorched is the start of a new series for Mancusi, but I don’t plan to stick around for it. As much as I wanted to like it–and really did for the first hundred pages or so–it failed to stay entertaining. Anyone who wants more dragons in YA might want to give it a shot just to see if they’ll like it better and find exactly what they’re looking for, though.

Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of MidnightTitle: Crown of Midnight

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Fantasy, Faeries, YA

Publication Date: August 27, 2013

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.
But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king’s contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king’s bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she’s given a task that could jeopardize everything she’s come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon — forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

4/5 stars – Well-paced and so much fun except for that one twist

Throne of Glass was an undeniably fun read, but I also can’t deny how happy it made me to see the tournament end in that book and watch Celaena take her hard-won place as the King’s Champion. It meant we’d be able to move on and enjoy more adventures and assassin shenanigans, after all! Crown of Midnight is a sound second installment that is going to punch just about everyone in the gut unless the reader has the hardest of hearts.

The first half moves slowly and is a bit dull at times. There are a lot of longing looks, thoughts of letting go, and Celaena being a sneaky little devil right under the king’s nose. It lulls us into thinking everything is going to be smooth sailing and we know which guy Celaena decided she wanted to give romance a shot with. Nehemia has things up her sleeve, we learn a little more about magic and its rule in their world, and all that good stuff is going on.

But then we hit the end of that first half and everything from Part I gets thrown out the window with glee. What we thought we knew is suddenly turned upside down if it’s still left after Maas cleans house while fueled by readers’ tears.

The event itself that leads to such a massive attack on the feels isn’t that powerful on its own; it’s the aftermath and how it changes the playing field so quickly that really gets you. Just like that, everything gets darker. The body count goes way, way up–most of the deaths wrought by Celaena’s own hand, which will surely appease everyone who wanted our favorite assassin to kill more people–and it forces Dorian, Celaena, and Chaol to undergo some serious character development.

And you know what? It’s great character development. Dorian has his own problems to deal with suddenly, we see exactly how much of a gap there is between our twenty-something Captain of the Guard and our teenage assassin and Celaena,… Oh wow. She’s still the girly, material-goods-loving assassin I liked in Throne of Glass (I think I’m one of five people who has no problem with her being both girly and a killer), but after the pivot point of the novel, who she is almost feels like an echo of who she’s becoming. Moreso than anyone else, she’s hurting. She’s not afraid to spread the pain around to those who deserve it.

Now, the twist. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’d like to think I’m sharp enough. What Maas has planned for Celaena’s identity is so obvious from so early on (I’d had it figured out by 84 out of over 400 pages) that its reveal on the very last pages of the novel is anticlimactic enough to border on being book-killing. Every hint at the truth and them some are thrown at us or dropped on our heads like an anvil. I’d hoped the author’s improvement in plotting since her overly predictable novellas (which I read before ToG) would stick, but it seems not.

All I enjoy about that twist is how it results in Chaol being kicked swiftly in the rear end by karma. Something tells me karma will continue to do so for a while until her learns one very important lesson: don’t make decisions for Celaena or trap her into doing anything because you will inevitably screw yourself over by doing so. I’m not over-the-top in love with this series like my friends are yet, but I can happily call myself a fan of Maas’s series and take my place in the long, long line of people waiting for book three.

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

11431896Title: The Bitter Kingdom

Author: Rae Carson

Genre: YA, High Fantasy

Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (Greenwillow)

Source: eARC for review from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis: The epic and deeply satisfying conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

3/5 stars – Often fun but racist/colonialist just as often

Most of my friends love this series, but I seem to be a black sheep when it comes to Carson’s fantasy trilogy. Sure, it’s fun, but there’s been something crucial missing from each installment that kept me from feeling anything more than mild appreation of it. I came in hoping . The Bitter Kingdom is a strong finale, but it’s also pretty racist in how it represents Elisa and the Inviernos.

If anything has changed since The Girl of Fire and Thorns, it’s Elisa. Her character arc from then to now is beautiful in how she’s grown more confident, settled into her role as a ruler, and learned to do what has to be done for the good of the people. She demonstrates her ability to be cutthroat when she has to multiple times throughout this novel and she never gives up. Carson’s story is by and large well-paced. Some of the journeys drag on too long and other parts move too quickly to fully allow readers to feel what just happened, but rarely did it feel as long as the 448 pages the novel actually is.

The parallels between Elisa’s world and ours are well-written and horrifying in equal measure. Elisa’s society and people are clearly European; when they arrived, they forced the Inviernos from their native lands in order to settle there themselves and the courts seem to bear a lot of European influence as well. Much of the vocabulary has a Spanish flavor, especially our antagonists’ names; “inviernos” is how one says “winters” in Spanish and this is why I have never been able to take our antagonists seriously.

With their long, formal names and how Elisa’s people kicked them out of their homelands to a place inhospitable to them and bereft of their cultural heritage, Inviernos are clearly the Native Americans here. They’ve got a very good reason to be bitter at Elisa’s people and have taken their anger to the point of war, though they’re clearly the antagonists (that’s a whole other stew to consider post-review). It reminds me of the conflicts between Native Americans and Americans in the Great Plains during the 1860s and 1870s, though Americans were the aggressors there.

These parallels is where my claim the book is racist comes from: the colonialist overtones these parallels provide. Elisa is at one point positioned as the Inviernos’ champion because she is supposed to be one of them. Just to repeat it a little more simply, our colonialist-European-parallel heroine is positioned as the God-chosen hero of a people with clear parallels to Native Americans.

Really? REALLY? Suppose she is one of them. She is so far removed from that ancestor that it’s practically a nonissue now, as is the fact she isn’t white due to the parallels between her racial-ethnic group and Europeans in this world. Being able to use magic and having a Godstone in her belly does not make her an Invierno nor their God-chosen hero. It makes her a member of the racial-ethnic group that forced their off their land and made to live in a place that is slowly killing and/or weakening them. Considering she wasn’t born with the stone or the magic, she displays no dominant traits of her long-ago ancestor.

A question comes up later as to whether or not God intended Elisa to do as much as she has or if it’s something she chose to do herself. This is a rather important question in this context because if God  intended her to be the Inviernos’ supposed champion, this entire world is inherently racist. If Elisa chose it, it’s just her. Either way…

Carson’s next work is the first book in a fantasy trilogy set during the Gold Rush, but considering how each book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy either failed to improve on the previous entry or barely improved on it, I’m having second thoughts. If its quality is going to be on level with this, it’s not going to do me any good to read it.