Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Shadow Queen - by C.J. Redwine

My rating: 

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.
In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart. (Goodreads).
I was so excited to get an eARC of this book because I absolutely love fairy tale retellings, but The Shadow Queen just didn't live up to my expectations. This was actually kind of surprising because on the surface this novel has a lot of things going for it. There's a strong, female protagonist, betrayal, romance, magic, dragons, and nonstop action. I'll admit that I did enjoy the dragons and it gave a unique twist to the original Snow White story. In The Shadow Queen, the huntsman isn't just a dangerous hunter, he is the prince of a kingdom where everyone has two hearts - a human heart and a dragon heart. When they give control over to their dragon nature, they actually shapeshift into dragons. For the most part, though, I think Redwine tried to pack too much into one book.

Even though the dragons are awesome and the magic seemed interesting, we just don't get enough worldbuilding. There's not much information about the different races or the kingdoms so all these fantastical elements end up seeming like cheap additions to make this telling of Snow White seem special. If this book were several hundred pages longer I might have liked it better. As it is, I just couldn't get interested in an underdeveloped fantasy world.

The plot and characters felt pretty mediocre, which didn't help my enjoyment of the book. Kol was the only character who showed any growth at all. That is unless you want to count Lorelai going from totally lacking in self-confidence one minute to realizing she can do anything she wants the next. And while the plot has plenty of action, it feels like there's no suspense or point to it. All through the magical battles, earth-shattering magic (literally!), telekinesis, fires, and explosions, I was just kind of reading to get through the book. The romance and ending as a whole were totally predictable, so even when I did manage to finish the book it wasn't that exciting.

The Snow Queen certainly isn't a bad book, but it could have been so much better. I'd say it's still worth a look, though, if you like fairy tales and want a quick and easy read.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Carry On - by Rainbow Rowell

My rating:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right. Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters. (Goodreads)
Rainbow Rowell is a fantastic writer, and that's definitely clear in Carry On. Despite her talent, I still had mixed feelings about this book, but I think the writing is what really saved it for me. Carry On really does read as Harry Potter fan fiction, especially through the first half. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but combined with the slow pacing starting out, I struggled to stay interested until later on in the story.

My main complaint about the fan fiction style of this book is that none of the characters felt very original at first. They all had, at least in my mind, clear counterparts from the Harry Potter series. Carry On also jumps in at would be the last book in an initially fictional series and I feel like it draws too much on the reader's knowledge of Harry Potter to make up for the fact that we haven't gotten any back story. The plot of these "missing" books didn't seem so important to me as the character development. Simon has presumably been growing from all his adventures in previous books, but we don't get to see any of that like we do with Harry Potter. The reliance on Harry Potter also means that there's very minimal world building. I can only imagine that if you read Carry On without being familiar with Harry Potter it would be extremely frustrating.

Luckily the second half or so of the book took a turn for the best. The plot picks up and the characters finally begin to take shape as original creations. I felt like one minute I was questioning if I could finish this book and the next it was two in the morning and I was sad there wasn't more to read. I'll admit I still didn't think the plot was great, but Rowell's writing strength really shows in the interactions between characters. And since everyone seems to have something to say about it, I'd like to add that I am 110% on board with the Simon and Baz romance, which is absolutely adorable.

I am hesitant to recommend Carry On to people because of how much I struggled to get into it at first. On the other hand, if you're okay with Harry Potter fanfic or a fan of Rainbow Rowell's writing style, it's definitely worth the read.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Roller Girl - by Victoria Jamieson

My rating:

For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, a heartwarming graphic novel about friendship and surviving junior high through the power of roller derby. 
Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friend instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid's life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole...and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl. (Goodreads)

I had no idea this book existed until someone handed it to me to check in at the library. I took it home just because of the cover. I mean, the girl has blue hair and tall, rainbow socks just like I used to have. I really didn't have a choice.

Usually, I'm not that interested in heartwarming books about friendship and whatever other things heartwarming books talk about. Roller Girl, though, is a genuinely cute book. Astrid and her best friend Nicole are starting to drift apart, but Astrid is able to work through it with the help of her roller derby camp. She learns to work hard for a sport she enjoys and makes new friends along the way. With a few bumps along the way she even learns how to work out her differences with Nicole and can accept that they don't have to spend every minute together to be friends.

Touching story aside, I love how realistic Astrid is as a character. Astrid takes up roller derby with dreams of being the best skater has ever seen. When she shows up at camp... she sucks. I've never had any natural talent for athletic activities, so I could really relate. Instead of giving up, though, Astrid works harder than anyone else and spends all her free time practicing. By the end of the book, she still kind of sucks, but has definitely improved. And really, after a few weeks of a junior roller derby camp, it would be ridiculous if Astrid became the best skater. Instead, by the end of the book, Astrid has learned that if she keeps working hard, her skating will keep improving.

This is an amazingly cute graphic novel that I would not hesitate to recommend. The story is sweet and the illustrations are just as fun and colorful as the cover that grabbed my attention. Also, everyone needs more girls with blue hair in their lives, trust me.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Glass Arrow - by Kristen Simmons

My rating:

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Blood Red Road in Glass Arrow, the story of Aya, who lives with a small group of women on the run from the men who hunt them, men who want to auction off breeding rights to the highest bidder.
In a world where females are scarce and are hunted, then bought and sold at market for their breeding rights, 15-year old Aya has learned how to hide. With a ragtag bunch of other women and girls, she has successfully avoided capture and eked out a nomadic but free existence in the mountains. But when Aya’s luck runs out and she’s caught by a group of businessmen on a hunting expedition, fighting to survive takes on a whole new meaning. (Goodreads)

I found The Glass Arrow when I was looking for standalone YA novels. I have nothing against series, but I've read so many lately and I'm getting really impatient waiting for sequels. A world where women are sold as property seemed like an interesting premise, and I think Simmons pulls it off fairly well. We don't get a lot of background on how this situation came about, but that didn't bother me too much. The worldbuilding is solid enough to paint a good picture of the current state of things, and this is accepted as the status quo. I think the lack of background is also less important than in many YA post-apocalyptic novels because of one key difference - there's no hero trying to change the world. Without any kind of revolution, it's easy to accept the situation that the protagonist, Aya, has been put as something that just happens in this world. This isn't to say that Aya isn't a great, strong character; she definitely is. In this novel, though, Aya isn't using her situation to spark a rebellion, she just wants to escape so her life can go back to normal.

Another, very welcome, change from most YA books these days - no ridiculous love story / triangle!!! Yes, there is some romance, but it's introduced slowly and naturally. I'll admit the end result was somewhat predictable, but considering Aya's love interest, Kiran, is pretty much the only guy she interacts with who isn't physically beating her into submission or trying to buy her as property, there's not room for much suspense about who Aya will end up with.

As far as the characters themselves, I thought they were pretty solid. Aya and Kiran are the only one's we really get to know well, but they're good protagonists. Aya is strong, smart, brave, and extremely stubborn. Even though she does come off as superior to many of the other girls waiting to be bought, we at least have the excuse that she's from the outlying mountains. Aya is strong and smart because that's the only way to survive, not because she's just special. Most of the other girls have grown up in the city, expecting to be sold someday and they're more or less resigned to their fate. Kiran is also from the mountains so his survival instincts pair well with Aya's personality. I also think Simmons did a great job of writing Kiran, who can't talk. He starts visiting Aya after she's been captured, and even with no dialogue on his side, we get a good idea of who he is.

After all the great things I've said about this book, I feel like I have to justify why I gave it three stars. First of all, I would have liked some more information about the secondary characters. We don't really get to know any of them or get any back story so they ended up feeling like placeholders to facilitate or hinder Aya and Kiran's plans. On top of that, something about the writing style and pacing of the story didn't grab me like some books do. It wasn't so bad that I lost interest, but I wasn't desperate to keep reading either.  The Glass Arrow is certainly still a good novel, and I would certainly recommend it  for anyone who likes the post-Apocalyptic YA genre.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Crimson Bound - by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.
Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?
Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption. (Goodreads)
I gave this book a chance because I read Hodge's other novel, Cruel Beauty, and thought it was pretty enjoyable. Crimson Bound has a ton of similarities to Cruel Beauty, to the point that it feels like the same overarching plot. The synopsis made the story seem promising, and I normally love a fairy tale retelling, but this book just fell flat.

Not even talking about the characters yet, the plot and the world as a whole were extremely under-developed. The introduction to the world started to build what seemed like an interesting mythology of sorts. The forestborn mark humans who are then forced to kill or die. Rachelle becomes a bloodbound this way and knows that, like all bloodbound, she is destined to eventually change into a forestborn herself. She's determined, though, that this won't stop her trying to defeat the Devourer - a dark creature determined to plunge the world into everlasting night. Unfortunately, this great set up leads to the middle of the novel where not much happens. The world, either of the humans or of the forestborn, is never explained any better. Worst of all, in my opinion, is that the end of the book turns into a ridiculously obvious Christian metaphor. I promise I'm not just biased or reading too much into this. For proof there's this quote about the name of one the mythical swords:
“Endurance. It is the sword that hopes all things, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.”
At this point, the book literally transitioned from a YA fantasy novel to a bible quote... I don't know about you, but I don't read YA fantasy for its religious merits. I'll admit there were a few plot twists that caught me off guard, these were primarily characters revealed to be someone other than they seemed. Hodge never does anything with this information, though. There's the reveal, and then everyone goes back to their usual business.

Which brings me to the characters...They are pretty mediocre overall. The protagonist, Rachelle, spends the whole book feeling unworthy and her self-esteem never improves. The lack of character growth is pretty much a theme across the board. Our two main male characters are, more or less, opposites who only exist to create a predictable, and unrealistic, love triangle with Rachelle. On one side we have Erec d'Anjou, the typical pretty boy who spends the whole book showing off and also happens to be the ruthless captain of the bloodbound. On the other side, there's Armand, the boy who lost his hands to avoid killing and is literally worshipped as a saint by the general populace. Rachelle's interest in both characters alternates between hate and undeniable love / lust multiple times throughout the novel.

Crimson Bound certainly wasn't so terrible as to be unreadable, and if you just want something to take up time it can actually be enjoyable. In comparison with Cruel Beauty, though, this was a definite disappointment.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Christmas

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. With Christmas almost here this week's theme is...

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree

This is actually a tough one for me since I already own way too many books and work in a library. So this a list of books I haven't gotten around to reading yet for whatever reason or that I can get a hold of because they haven't been released yet.

1. Jackaby - by William Ritter
This book was recommended to me months ago and the description of this book as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” has me totally convinced I will love it. I haven't gotten around to reading it yet because 1. it's the start of an unfinished series and 2. it still has a long hold list at my library.

2. A Study in Charlotte - by Brittany Cavallaro
This is one of the book's I have my eye on that hasn't been released yet. After reading Lock & Mori I specifically went looking for more Sherlock inspired novels, and came across A Study in Charlotte. The synopsis on Goodreads sounding really promising and I was totally ready to start this book, when I noticed that it won't be published until March.

3. All the Bright Places - by Jennifer Niven
I've had my eye on this book for several months at least. I think it's really important to have books dealing with mental health issues, especially for teens, and I've heard nothing but good things from my friends who have read this. I've even wanted to start this book several times, but the hold list is still extremely long and anytime I do get the urge to read this, I was to start it immediately. Patience, especially when books are concerned, is not my strong point.

4. Asking For It - by Louise O'Neill
I'm pretty sure I heard about this from a friend's Facebook post, but I'm not 100% sure. In any case, I was totally sold after learning that this is feminist fiction for teens! Then I went to look for it at the library only to found that none of the libraries in the whole state of Colorado have this book. Actually, the closest library that owns a copy is in Illinois as far as I can tell.

5. Broderies - by Marjane Satrapi
This is a book that I actually had my hands on for a few weeks. After reading Persepolis I was looking into what else Satrapi had written. I put in a request for the original, French version of this book since I'm always trying to improve my French skills. Amazingly my library actually did get a copy for me, but I didn't finish it in time and since it was borrowed through an inter-library loan there was no option to renew. Sometime when I'm not so busy I'll probably request this again and try to actually finish the whole thing.

6. Six of Crows - by Leigh Bardugo
Yet another book with a long hold list at my library... I've had my eye on this book since I first saw the cover, but it's also the first book of an unfinished series. Since I'm already waiting on so many sequels I'm not sure I want to endure the lengthy hold list and then have to wait for a sequel on top of it.

7. Uprooted - by Naomi Novik
It's no secret that I'm completely obsessed with Novik's Temeraire series, so I was excited to see that she has a young adult book out. This also has a long hold list so, for now, I'm contenting myself by continuing to work through Temeraire.
8. And I Darken - by Kiersten White
I'm a big fan of all these YA retellings of classic stories, so I'm all for a reimagining of Dracula's history. To make this book even more intriguing, the author tells the story not of Vlad the Impaler, but of Lada the Impaler - a female version of the tyrant who would come to be known as Dracula. Sadly this book won't be published until summer 2106, so I would definitelly be excited if I could get hold of a copy earlier.

9. Temeraire - by Naomi Novik
I don't really need to own a copy of these books since I already have way too many. On top of that, I haven't even been reading physical copies, I've been borrowing the digital audiobooks from my library and I love them. But these British covers are so beautiful I'd be happy to own a copy just for the artwork.

10. The Raven King - by Maggie Stiefvater
I've mentioned this book previously on my blog, so it should come as no surprise that I'm bringing it up again. I've been waiting anxiously for this conclusion to The Raven Cycle and I would pretty much kill for a copy at this point, so it would be an absolute miracle if Santa could leave a copy by the tree for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Lock & Mori - by Heather W. Petty

My rating: 

I'm a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories and love the BBC show, so I'm always interested in a new take on the character. Lock & Mori is a young adult novel with a couple of variations from the original. First of all, it's set in modern-day London and Sherlock and Moriarty are both in high school. The biggest change though is that in Petty's story Moriarty, or Mori as she's known, is a girl.

I thought this was a solid first novel, and I was totally on board with the developing romance between Sherlock and Mori. Petty did a good job of not only bringing these characters into the modern day but also imagining what they would be like as teenagers. Both the main characters are, fittingly, pretty brilliant, but definitely still in the awkward teenage phase and it totally works. I especially loved Mori's character because in this novel she is a well-developed, nuanced character with some really dark stuff going on her life. To start out, her mother recently died and now her father has become an alcoholic who beats her younger brothers and verbally abuses Mori when she tries to stand up for them. And that's just the beginning. While she's still extremely intelligent, Mori in this novel is much less predictable than Sherlock. With so many personal issues going on, she makes a lot of questionable decisions without stopping to logically think through how things will turn out. For me, this made her character a bit easier to relate to and sympathize with because there are times when she acts purely on emotion.

Now, onto the plot. As you would expect from a Sherlock retelling, the plot centers around a murder mystery. Sherlock and Mori team up to see if they can solve the case on their own, but Mori ends up keeping some secrets along the way. Petty's writing was really compelling and made me want to finish this book as quickly as possible. For me, this made up for the fact that parts of the mystery were a bit predictable. Also, like I mentioned, there's some romance to this story that you don't see in many Sherlock retellings. The romance between the two main characters developed quickly, but still felt natural to me. I also liked that, while this a decent amount of romance throughout, it doesn't take away from the murders as the main focus of the story.

Lock & Mori is the first book in what will eventually be a series, with two more books planned. From Petty's website it looks like we can expect about a year between each, with the next books planned for fall 2016 and fall 2017. Unlike most series I read, I actually went into this one knowing that it's not yet finished. I was somewhat hesitant, but Lock & Mori was definitely worth it. I also felt like the ending had just enough of cliffhanger to make me want more, but not so much that I was outraged about not being able to read the second book.