Sunday, January 14, 2018

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera Review

Title: They Both Die at the End
Author: Adam Silvera
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

The book club buddy that recommended Stalking Jack the Ripper to me begged me to read this. It was already in my library stack, and she specifically asked that I read one of her recommendations, since she’d already checked out several titles I’d sent her way. I pushed it up to the top of the stack, drawn to the moody, beautiful, blue and purple cover. It was a gorgeous, beautiful, and painful story of dying and truly living, not taking your time for granted, and it gutted me totally. It ripped apart my heart and soul and sewed it back together again, and I will never forget it. Hands down, one of the best books of 2017, and Adam Silvera has become one of my new favorite authors! Heart-wrenching, tender, and hopeful, They Both Die at the End is a lovely reminder to live—not just survive—while you still have the time to do so.

The novel is set in a not-so-distant future, where virtual reality is the norm and an organization called DeathCast has been formed to tell people of their last twenty-four hours—literally. And Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio have gotten that dreaded last call. They meet through an app called Last Friend, and, forced to take a chance on each other during their last hours, they form a deep bond—a bond that lasts all the way until the end. Told from multiple points of view throughout the same day, Silvera reminds us—gently, and not so much, later on—to not take our time on this earth for granted, and to fully live while we still can. It’s one of those beautifully awful tearjerkers that worms into your heart, breaks into your soul, and dominates your thoughts. I finished it yesterday and I’m still reeling; I had to take most of the day to process my feelings. But Adam Silvera has cemented a permanent place in my heart, and I can’t wait to check out more of his work when I get a chance.

Honestly, even before this was recommended to me, I was drawn to the beautiful cover, even knowing what would happen at the end. Then my buddy’s plea to read it just clinched it for me. I went into it not knowing what to expect, but I really enjoyed it, even with all of the emotional pain. It was beautifully written, greatly paced between the boys and the other characters who are affected by the ‘miraculous’ DeathCast. I really liked the way it went between Mateo, Rufus, and all of the other characters; it settled into a rhythm that was really nice once the book got going. I loved all of the characters, too, every single one of them, and the prose was gorgeous and tender and seemed to squeeze every last bit of my heart. And when the ending finally came—and I tried to put it off for as long as I could—I felt gutted, cleaned out, at least emotionally. I cried for a good day and a half, and it’s still lingering with me, even now as I write these words. But Adam Silvera has become one of my new favorite authors, and I will be checking out more of his work as soon as I possibly can. One of the best books of 2017, even while it destroyed me in the best kind of way! The bottom line: A gorgeous, beautiful and tender reminder to live to the fullest while you still can, They Both Die at the End is one of the best books of 2017, and one that I will never forget! Next on deck: Three Sides of a Heart: Stories About Love Triangles by Natalie C. Parker!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard Review

Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopian Fiction
Series: Red Queen, book one
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been very curious about Red Queen since it came out three years ago. I read the first five chapters through an email from the publisher and hadn’t been able to get it out of my head. So when I saw it on a shelf of one of the libraries I go to, I didn’t even let myself think about it; I just grabbed it and hoped for the best. I pushed it to the top of my library stack, nervous and excited all at once, due to the mixed reviews. And I can see why Red Queen got all kinds of mixed reviews, but for my part, I really enjoyed it! There were definitely some issues: a love triangle, various dystopian tropes that seemed to take from several popular, other young adult series. But whatever its flaws, I really, really liked Red Queen, and I’m excited to dig into this series! It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to voraciously binge a series, and so I’m going to use his opportunity to jump right in! Victoria Aveyard has created a dangerous, frightening world rife with political intrigue, romance, power struggles, and dark secrets that could mean the most damning punishment of all: death.

Mare Barrow is a lowly Red, hailing from the slum known as The Stilts. The divide between Reds and Silvers, whose powers are godlike and rule is absolute, is so wide as to be insurmountable, and at sixteen, almost to her seventeenth birthday, she is expecting nothing but conscription into the war. The fact that her best friend, Kilorn, ends up being drafted only adds to her stress. Desperate for help, she turns to a rebel organization called The Red Guard to try and flee the country. Instead, somehow, she ends up in one of the country’s biggest Silver strongholds, and she discovers that she has a terrifying, out of place power: She can harness the power of lightning through her fingertips, something unheard of in a Red. Suddenly, Mare is dubbed a lost Silver princess, brought into the fold of the royal family and its court. Torn between two brothers, her own heart, and the rebellion she so fiercely believes in, Mare must decide where her loyalties lie, or else risk the ultimate punishment…

I know, I know, I can hear all of the naysayers saying that Red Queen ripped off some popular dystopian elements that made other series successful. But nonetheless, I really enjoyed it! Despite some flaws, a love triangle, so many names that it was hard to keep up with on the political level, and some confusing worldbuilding, I really liked this book: It flowed nicely, the prose was dark, tense, and snappy, I was constantly flipping pages to see what was going to happen next, and I loved Mare! Honestly, she was what saved the book for me, despite the rest of the issues. I was cheering, cringing, and crying over her, her family, and the all-too-sticky predicament that she finds herself in. I was glued to the pages, especially when things really started rolling. I didn’t much like the whole love triangle thing, though I suppose that it served its purpose. And that ending! Oh my gosh, I’m still mentally screaming over it! Someone get me Glass Sword, stat, or I’m gonna lose it! A beautifully written, dark and thoughtful series opener, I really enjoyed Red Queen! The bottom line: Despite some anxiety over mixed reviews, I really liked Red Queen—it’s like a cross between The Hunger Games, Divergent, and X-Men, and I am so here for it! Next on deck: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera! 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco Review

Title: Stalking Jack The Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror
Series: Stalking Jack The Ripper, book one
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

A book club buddy of mine recommended this book to me; at that point, she was almost finished with it and was curious about what I’d think. (You know who you are!) So, when I got home that night, I ordered it from the library. I pushed it to the top of the stack when I had the time, and I was really excited to get into it. Stalking Jack The Ripper was an oddly enticing, strangely contradictory whodunit that incorporates history, forensic science, and characters that I grew to love, almost against my will. True, it used some tropes that kind of annoyed me, and I have a lot of mixed feelings, but it wasn’t a bad book, regardless. I’m happy I read it and I’m curious about what comes next for Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell.

Audrey Rose is not like other girls of her age and station; she much prefers slicing cadavers open and helping her uncle conduct experiments in his grisly lab over tea parties and husband chasing. She longs to be a forensic scientist in the day and age that is, for the most part, dominated by men. When apprenticing to her eccentric, strange uncle leads her into the path of one of history’s most dangerous serial killers, she is forced to team up with one of her uncle’s colleagues, the infuriating, handsome, and mysterious Thomas Cresswell. The deeper that the pair digs into the secrets of the murderer, the more frightening and confusing things become, particularly for Audrey. When she realizes that the blackest evil may be lurking closer to home, she will be risking everything she knows and loves for justice.

As I said before, I have really mixed feelings about this book; there were some elements of the story that I really enjoyed, and others that really fell short or needed some editing. I’ll start with the things I liked: First of all, I’m an absolute sucker for historical fiction; it was what spurred my love of history and learning, seeing the past through a character’s eyes. As an ardent lover of true crime, also, I really enjoyed the way that the author took a brave stab at Jack The Ripper, an old case that was only recently closed. I liked the way the story was told in first person, with Audrey’s wry, passionate narrative moving the story along. The twists and turns of the novel had me guessing constantly, so much so that I didn’t know the identity of the suspect, even at the end! I didn’t like Thomas at first, but his chemistry with Audrey really won me over, when I got over his arrogance and condescension. Maybe it was that way with men in that day and age, but it still annoyed me through the beginning. The feminism was also confusing, at times, Audrey was contradictory and wasn’t making sense. Maniscalco also used tropes, that to me, personally, were kind of tired and overused, especially in recent young adult fare. Nonetheless, even with all of its flaws, this series opener was solid, and I can’t wait to see more of Audrey and Thomas’s adventures—this time in Romania, chasing—you guessed it—the infamous Lord Dracula! The bottom line: Though I have a lot of mixed feelings about Stalking Jack The Ripper, it was a solid, well-researched series opener, and I can’t wait to see what’s next! Next on deck: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire Review

Title: Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker
Author: Gregory Maguire
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Gregory Maguire won my heart back in college when I began his Wicked Years series; I caught sight of its green tinted pages and it was over after that. I have all but one book of the series sitting on my bookshelf to this day, and I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz the same way again. So, when I heard that he was writing a new book in October, this one revolving around The Nutcracker and his mysterious maker, Drosselmeier, I was so excited. One of my first field trips with my school as a child was to the ballet, and ever since then, I’ve been utterly enchanted by the tale of The Nutcracker and Klara, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the wintry land that they all inhabit, for however brief a time. Gregory Maguire spins a familiar tale with new, charming flair, complete with gorgeous writing, charming characters, elements of Greek mythology and Grimm’s fairy tales, as well as strong historical components. If Wicked weren’t my favorite Gregory Maguire book, Hiddensee would have high chances of taking its place. What an enchanting, thought-provoking novel!

Once there was a boy in a cottage in the woods, whose parents were an old woman and an old man. Then one day, they gave him to the forest itself, perhaps hoping that he will die inside of it. But his life changes forever when two beings, a beautiful wise woman, and a cantankerous, angry dwarf that may or may not be able to conceal himself in a knife, imploring him to find a new place for them to rest. After a near-fatal encounter in the forest, the boy flees, traveling through the various cities in Bavaria. He drifts across the country, becoming a guardian for a well to do family, then he begins to travel across the continent, using toymaking to occupy his restless hands. He finally comes to a halt when he meets his best friend’s family, and comes to be known as the mysterious, almost cloistered old toymaker who lovingly watches over little Klara and gives her The Nutcracker he is so famous for crafting. Beautifully written, lovingly wrought, and finely executed, Hiddensee pairs two origin tales, painting a darker, more mythical creation story for a character I thought I knew: The Nutcracker and Drosselmeier!

I really, really liked this book! I was really excited for a new spin on one of my favorite stories that inspired one of my favorite ballets, and no one does fairy tale or classic retellings like Gregory Maguire. The prose was lovely, almost hypnotic, and I was absolutely spellbound; I also really loved the way that Maguire took elements from both fairy tales and history itself to tell the story of the boy who would go on to become the old, grizzled Drosselmeier; to be honest, before this book came out, it never even occurred to me to wonder where the toymaker came from, or how he came to be with Klara and her family. The pacing of the book took a little while to get going, but I was enchanted once it really started picking up. I loved following Dirk’s journey, and I loved the way that Greek mythology elements were peppered throughout the narrative. It all combined to create an intoxicating, beautiful origin story, and I loved the way that The Nutcracker itself helped steer the narrative. The characters were really relatable though there were a few that I didn’t really care for. I loved the ending, though honestly it made me cry! The language and the stuttered pacing made it difficult to keep up with sometimes, hence the four star rating. Nonetheless, this new offering from a literary darling was exciting, finely wrought, tender, and thoughtful—I really enjoyed the food for thought that it gave me! The bottom line: Twinning origin stories for The Nutcracker and the man whom lovingly crafts him, Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker was a beautiful, gorgeous and thoughtful fairy tale retelling that had me laughing, crying, and thinking deeply—I loved it! Another wonderful entry in Gregory Maguire’s repertoire! Next on deck: Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: All the Crooked Saints
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Magical Realism
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Maggie Stiefvater and I have a complicated relationship; her books have been very hit and miss for me. It took me two tries to get into and fall in love with The Raven Cycle. The Scorpio Races was another favorite, though the ending wasn’t at all what I expected. I found All The Crooked Saints through a recommendation and had it on hold at my library for a few months. I’d run out of renewals for it, and since the reviews were so glowing, I pushed it to the top of the stack, drawn in by the intriguing plot and the gorgeous, colorful cover. Unfortunately, I finished All The Crooked Saints on Saturday, and I’m still not sure quite how I feel about it. To say that I have mixed feelings is a huge understatement.

The Soria family is known for miracles, so much so that pilgrims flock from all over to experience their remarkable holiness for themselves, often to their detriment. The story focuses on the family at large, but the main characters are dear, close cousins, Joaquin, who longs to leave the dusty town of Bicho Raro, Colorado and become a famous radio DJ, Beatriz, known as the girl without feelings, longs to be free to be able to untangle her seemingly endless thoughts, and finally, Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, able to perform astounding miracles for everyone except for himself. Rife with magic, darkness, rich folklore, forbidden love, and gorgeous prose, I liked All The Crooked Saints, but it wasn’t one of Stiefvater’s stronger entries, at least for me.

There were some aspects of the book I liked, and there were others that I wasn’t so crazy about. I was intrigued by the plot; I love magical realism, and I was kind of expecting something like The Raven Cycle. This was like… Catholic Biblical stories mixed with family and Mexican folklore, with beautiful prose and more than a few elements of magical realism. It was a complete departure from Stiefvater’s usual work, an unusual and unexpected surprise that took a while to get into. Honestly, there was a point in the beginning that I almost put it down. But I’d been looking forward to it, so I decided to soldier on. The prose was what drew me in initially, but what made me stay was the vibrant, colorful Soria family, and the pilgrims they lovingly tend to. Particular standouts are Pete Wyatt, the young man running from familial shame, and Tony, a famous radio DJ out looking for a new lease on life. But what really made me like this book was the rich, dark folklore that surrounds the Soria family, like something out of an old fairy tale. I liked the way that the novel jumped between the different points of view of the characters; it gave a deeper perspective of the whole thing. The ending was also pretty surprising; honestly, that was another aspect that saved the book for me. But I’m so glad that I stuck with it, even if I was thrown off by the beginning. It’s not my favorite Maggie Stiefvater novel, but it was a solid work for the new year, and I’m so happy that I read it! The bottom line: A magical tale of family, faith, magic, and secrets, All The Crooked Saints was a beautiful, thoughtful book, full of surprises and lovable characters! Despite some flaws, this was a story that was greatly enjoyable, and as always, I’m looking forward to more from one of my favorite authors! Next on deck: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hit by Lorie Ann Grover Review

Title: Hit
Author: Lorie Ann Grover
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

This book was the December pick for one of the library book clubs I go to, and to say that I was leery is an understatement. I don’t necessarily mind books that bring religion into the narrative, especially if it doesn’t take over. But Hit just really fell flat for me. The concept of the plot was interesting, and I liked that the book went between Sarah and Haddings, but a lot of the characters seemed really flat and one-dimensional. The pacing was kind of slow, though I really liked the format. I don’t know, I was expecting more from this intriguing little book, but honestly it just wasn’t for me. The prose was often so overwrought I found myself rolling my eyes or wanting to rip my hair out, and honestly the idea of Sarah being in a relationship with an older mentor who was supposed to be looking out for her best interests seemed a little far-fetched, even for a young adult novel. I don’t know, I just wasn’t feeling this book; it really fell short for me.

Sarah is a girl who longs to be seen as more than just a teenage girl; she wants to be acknowledged as an adult and a person in her own right. She’s sick of her parents controlling her every move, and of being treated like a child. She barely feels understood even by her closest friend. But when she meets the charismatic, handsome Mr. Haddings, she immediately feels as if she’s known him for more than just a semester. And despite his protests, she knows that he feels the same spark. But all of her hopes are shattered when she gets hit by a car, a car that is driven by the man she feels so drawn to. Broken and nearly beaten, Sarah must find a way back to herself, even through unimaginable tragedy, and Haddings must find a way to make his unforgivable actions right, even as he fights his attraction to a girl out to his reach.

As I said previously, this book… There were just a lot of problems with it. First of all, a lot of the prose was just so ridiculous. It went from spare and simplistic to melodramatic and eyeroll inducing, and the change in language was distracting. Most of the characters, even Haddings and Sarah, seemed flat, never going so far as to be characters in my mind; I couldn’t even mentally hear their voices. The relationship between Sarah and Haddings seemed more predatory than anything else. And the car crash seemed to just amplify that they were poorly drawn characters; it felt like Sarah was obsessed with her teacher, which could’ve been forgiven if said teacher had actually attempted to rebuff her advances. And for the most part, I didn’t mind the religious undertones, but there were times when it seemed to overtake the whole book. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was definitely more than the result. It could’ve been good, but it just was… meh. It was a brave attempt at a contemporary coming of age story with a mystery at its center, but Hit just wasn’t for me. The bottom line: Flat characters, overwrought dialogue, and a ridiculous forbidden romance made Hit a book that I didn’t like; I wanted to, but it just wasn’t for me. Next on deck: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao Review

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
Series: Rise of the Empress, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.
I found Forest of a Thousand Lanterns through a recommendation, and I’ve been excited about it; I’d had it on hold for a few months before it came out. It had been sitting in my library stack for a while. It had one last renewal on it, so I pushed it up the library stack—I’d been waiting for it for over a year and I didn’t want to take it back unread! I never would’ve forgiven myself, especially now that I’ve actually read it. And it’s a series! I can’t stop squealing with excitement! With a fun, diverse twist on the classic Evil Queen tale, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns captured my imagination with gorgeous prose, breakneck pacing, dark magic, forbidden love, and almost more political intrigue than I could handle. And that ending! I can’t wait for the sequel, and it can’t come soon enough!

Xifeng has been raised for more than the drudgery of a common village girl; she’s known of her destiny from the time that she was a child. Her cruel aunt, Guma, who is also a witch, has seen Xifeng’s purpose written in the stars. She must forsake the love of her childhood sweetheart, Wei, in order to pursue the ultimate prize: the position of the Empress of all of Feng Lu. When she is thrust into the world of the royals’ court, she must decide if she is willing to seize what the stars will for her, even if it means sacrificing everything she knows, even if it means stepping into an irreversible embrace with the darkness inside of her…

This book was a breath of fresh air for me! Fairy tale retellings are kind of like a type of literary crack for me; I’d devour them in all of their forms if I were able. But unfortunately, diverse retellings are so rare anymore. That was half the reason I was so excited about Forest of a Thousand Lanterns—an Evil Queen retelling set in an ancient, magical Asia, steeped with folklore, rich worldbuilding, and dark alliances! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has become one of my favorite books of 2017, if not the favorite! It was just so good! The prose was lovely, and I was sucked into Xifeng’s dangerous, magical world where even the most innocent cannot be trusted, alliances constantly shift, and the darkness is always lurking. Rife with detail, romance, magic, and more than one twist, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a beautifully dark, horrific fantasy that turns a classic villain origin story on its head. The only bad thing was that I have to wait until next year for the sequel! And that ending! My jaw was on the floor! Julie C. Dao has become one of my new favorite authors of 2017, and I just can’t wait for more from her! The bottom line: A beautiful, dark, diverse Evil Queen retelling, I loved Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and I can’t wait for the sequel! Next on deck: Hit by Lorie Ann Grover!