Dark Triumph by Robin Lafevers

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Rating: 4.5/5

Summary: When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge – but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

 

But her assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father’s rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother’s love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for…

Another book brought to me by my book club! I read Grave Mercy about six months ago immediately after I finished Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series. I had initially blacklisted all assassin novels assuming I wouldn’t like the concepts. After reading both Mass and Lafevers’ versions that brought fantasy to the adventure and action that comes with being in an assassin novel, I completely fell in love.

And six months later, I haven’t found an assassin novel I haven’t loved. Dark Triumph was no exception. 

I used to hate series who focused on a different character in each book. It’s taken me a long time to get over it. In fact, even to this day, some of my favorite parts in books in these series are the references to characters that have been met previously. However, as soon as I found out this would be Sybella’s story, I quickly cast Ismae out of my mind. Sybella was such an interesting character to observe from the outside and inside perspective. From the Grave Mercy book, all we get about Sybella is that she has been traumatized and has endured a lot in her life. Learning about Sybella and what made her the way she was my favorite part of the whole book.

We start off the novel finding out that the Duchess’ enemy, D’Albert, is Sybella’s father who she came back to under coven orders in order to kill the man. Along with that, Sybella had been essentially forced into an incestuous relationship for a long portion of her life with her older brother. These collective experiences all seemed to accumulate to the point that as soon as Sybella got to the coven, it was the only place she had ever felt safe. And even then, she was never the favorite as her friends had been.

I loved the development of Sybella. I especially love how strong of a female lead she was. She was stubborn and kickass. She did the right thing for the people she loved. She was such a well-defined character under the general pretense of being perceived as crazy. However, she wasn’t totally without flaws. She spent the whole book wanting to kill someone. She kept secrets and lied to protect herself. But I loved it. I loved her character as a whole. She meshed so well with Ismae who was so kind and soft compared to the harsh shell Sybella had wrapped herself in.

This book also did an excellent job of diving into Beast. He was a substantial character in the first book of the series, but it was so different to see him cast into his leading man role. When I read about him in the first book, I felt like he was essentially supposed to be the lovable comic relief with a big heart (i.e.: the Hagrid stereotype). Learning about his past and what led him to hate D’Albert more than just for the reasons involving the Duchess showed a much deeper side to him that I really appreciated. I actually think out of all the things Lafevers did so well in this book, the fact that each character had several dimensions was my favorite. What you saw at the surface or even the first or second layer was not all that was there. Every character was so diverse and unique in its own way.


Even Annith, who didn’t even make a physical appearance, began to slowly form to show the layers of the character she had become. I really enjoyed the fact that this author didn’t need to force it in, but she slowly dropped the hints of Annith in to keep readers on their toes for the third book in the series. I often find writers overbearing when they consistently drop plot points throughout the novel in a super obvious way that they want you to pick up. Robin Lafevers’ subtle hints seemed to flow naturally throughout the text without me getting sick of it.

This fast paced book kept my interest the whole time from the action, surprises, and intense character development. It exposed old and new characters to try and keep everyone engaged throughout the novel. I really, really loved this book and I am so excited to read the third installment.

~Taylor~

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

Sparks Rise by Alexandra Bracken

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Rating: 5/5 

Summary: Sam didn’t think things could get worse at Thurmond rehabilitation camp. Then the Reds arrive. Everyone assumed the kids with firepower had been killed years ago. Instead they were taken away, brainwashed, and returned as terrifyingly effective guards. To her horror, Sam recognizes one of them: Lucas, the one spark of light in Sam’s dark childhood. Lucas has a deadly secret–he beat the brutal training that turned his fellow Reds into mindless drones. When Sam defends herself against an attack by a vile PSF guard and faces a harrowing punishment, Lucas must risk his everything to save her.

Anyone who knows my reading history probably knows I am obsessed with Alexandra Bracken’s books. I happened to stumble upon her debut novel The Darkest Minds when it was assigned to my book club. I read it and immediately fell in love with the characters (LIAM!!!) , the plot, .. the everything. As soon as Alex announced Sparks Rise, I added it to my to-read list and bought it as soon as it was available. Let’s be real. I love Alex’s writing style so much, I would read anything she announced no matter what the plot was. However, I especially loved her In Time novella, so I had very high expectations coming into Sparks Rise.

The first thing that really caught my attention was the fact that the novella was about Sam. When I first read the summary, I couldn’t even place Sam. After going through my e-books of both The Darkest Minds and Never Fade, I realized that Sam was the girl who’s memory Ruby had previously erased at Thurgood when she was still baffled by what her powers really meant. I was especially excited for the look into the life Ruby led before she met Liam, Chubs, and Zu.

The thing I liked most about the novella is that both characters had very developed personalities. All too often, when writers write novellas or different characters within their world’s setting, the characters seem to bleed together and mimic each other to the point where it feels like the characters are just remakes of the MCs. Fortunately, Alex avoided that completely. Both characters were completely their own. Sam was the strong girl who hated playing the princess and preferred to be the knight in her fairytale games. Lucas was the soft and sensitive one who wasn’t afraid to cry when he was scared. Normally, I hate MCs who tend to cry repeatedly, but Alex has this way of conveying her characters that make me love them, no matter how I would normally feel about the person. 

The plot is quick paced and constantly had my attention until the end… where it ends in quite the unconventional way. In fact, halfway through reading, it felt more like a novel than any other novella I had ever read. Sparks Rise is a great lead in to get readers excited for the third and final novel in the trilogy and I am so so excited to see how Sam and Lucas’ story continues to develop throughout In The Afterlight. I highly recommend the series and this novella to all YA readers. Seriously. Read it. Love it. THEN SOMEONE TALK TO ME ABOUT IT!!!

~TAYLOR~
You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

I am currently on vacation on the beach! Fun, but internet isn’t so happy with me. I have been attempting to post this review for somewhere around three days now. Fingers crossed!

* SPOILER WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CINDER.*

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Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer
Rating: 3.5/5
Summary: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.  

* SPOILER WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CINDER.*

Scarlet is the sophomore novel of Marissa Meyer. You may recall that I have also reviewed the first installment here. With the first novel, I complained of underdeveloped characters, book logic, predictability and a formulaic approach to the fairy tale that brought the entire book down. I am glad to say that a lot of the issues I took with Cinder have been fixed in Scarlet. Scarlet is a very solid novel and I can easily see the leaps and bounds Meyer’s writing has taken. As one might guess from the names of Scarlet and Wolf, this story is based upon the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. However, unlike Cinder’s Cinderella, it does not attempt to follow the formula to the point I know exactly what is coming next. There’s a girl with red hair and a red hoodie and a ‘wolf’ and a grandmother she must journey to… it’s not completely a retelling at all— Meyer is able to take many more liberties here and her book is much better off for it. And I appreciate that so much.

In Scarlet, Meyer switches between Scarlet and Cinder’s point of view every few chapters or so. It opens on Scarlet’s life in France and for the first few chapters, I was very concerned that Meyer was not going to focus on Cinder at all. Luckily, that was not the case. It also addressed what I had thought was a plot hole in the first novel— there is a common, universal language which people speak in addition to their own nation’s language. In any case, the POV switching is handled fairly well and helped to pace the novel appropriately. Given that I wasn’t a huge fan of Cinder in her own book, I appreciated the chance to get out of her head. Kai’s POV also shows up for a bit, which I was annoyed about, but it did allow him to gain more depth and character, something that bothered me in the first book. So the simple structure of Scarlet already made it an improvement over Meyer’s debut novel.

So who is Scarlet Benoit? She’s… well, kind of a badass. Scarlet knows who she is, she’s tough and can take care of herself, she carries around a gun (and knows how to use it) and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. When we meet her in France, we discover that she lives on a produce farm with her grandmother, who has mysteriously disappeared and Scarlet is convinced her grandmother has been kidnapped despite the police’s disbelief. As much as the angry redhead trope is overused, I can forgive it for being Little Red Riding Hood. (This time.)

Scarlet is pretty fearless and ready to go after her grandmother and get her back— the only problem is that she has no idea who would have taken her or where to go to get her back. She ends up meeting the street-fighter, Wolf, who fights with inhumane strength and seems oddly obsessed with her. The relationship borders on Edward and Bella-esque— Scarlet knows she shouldn’t trust him but before long, they’re tight as can be and within a week or so, she can’t imagine her life without him. Um… what? Scarlet’s a badass and yet suddenly she needs this big guy towering over her, following her around going “I’ll protect you, I’ll protect you”? I think not. But in comparison to Cinder, I’ll take Scarlet any day.

So there’s that. Wolf, to his own merit, is pretty interesting. He’s your typical bad boy trying to be a hero, complete with dark, brooding looks and a mysterious past that isn’t fully explained. You expect him to be cocky and swaggering, arrogant and full of himself, but Meyer didn’t decide to go with the complete stereotype and for good measure. Wolf is awkward and shy, humble and yet powerful. I really did like his characterization. My biggest issue with him, however, is that his backstory isn’t explained enough in the actual novel and I’m not sure I’d adore him so much without having read The Queen’s Army. DEFINITELY read that short story before reading Scarlet for full enjoyment of this book! I enjoyed that short story quite a bit and would have loved to see that as a standalone novel.

My favorite character in Scarlet  was definitely Captain Carswell Thorne! Finally, a character who isn’t a *special snowflake* in one way or another. He’s extraordinary in some ways, yes, but he’s a self-made man as it were and none of his skills can be attributed to magic powers or relatives in high places. Captain Thorne is a breath of fresh air, and he is one of my favorite characters along with Iko. The pair of them are adorable, especially with Iko’s new and *cough* expanded role in this book.

Though we don’t find out a ton about Thorne in this novel, I hope he gets a bigger role in the future because I really adore him and his humor. Even though he’s a human (and thus susceptible to the brainwashing of the Lunars), Thorne really does try his best to be involved in everything and do his best. Even when he’s making wisecracks the entire time, you can tell he is a hero at heart. And I love him, I really do. Thorne is probably my favorite addition to the Lunar Chronicles— and he better be here to stay!

One major thing I disliked was Cinder and her development throughout the novel. This was one section that I felt like Meyer didn’t delve too much into— despite knowing what needs to be done and using her newfound powers, Cinder shys away from it and… really doesn’t accomplish much of anything throughout the entire novel. She may be Princess Selene but she hasn’t taken a single step towards learning more about the Lunars (who are supposed to be her people). I felt like this could have gone so much further and yet it fell short and I was disappointed. Similarly, Kai’s obsessing over her (and somehow not seeing that she is Princess Selene when it is really staring him in the face) over… what exactly? Just makes me dislike him more. He’s still in love with her despite believing Cinder lied to him and I’m really just quite annoyed by their pseudo-romance. THERE IS NO RELATIONSHIP TO BASE ANYTHING OFF OF!

Overall, however, I enjoyed Scarlet and I believe it was a very solid entry into the Lunar Chronicles. It surpassed Cinder by leaps and bounds and I am very hopeful that Meyer’s writing will only continue to blossom. To reiterate, I think it would be beneficial for readers to read Meyer’s short story, The Queen’s Army, before reading Scarlet in order to fully appreciate the character of Wolf. While I disapprove of Meyer’s attempts at romance, there are many characters in her books I have grown to adore and want to see more of. After all, there are still two more in the series!

-Jacqui *

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) by Laini Taylor

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am a part of Addicted to YA on goodreads. Every month, the club picks and votes on four novels to read each month. So today, I finished the first of many books for book club that I will be reviewing on the blog! Yay! I’m excited. I’m also excited that of all the novels it could be, it is Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor!

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Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary: By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz … something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Dreams of Gods & Monsters is the third book in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series. I am actually ashamed to say I had never heard of the series prior to the third book popping up in book club. I only joined this book club about a year ago, so there are tons of books that they’ve read that I haven’t. One major flaw of this is I often find myself trapped when book club is reading the fifth book of a series, and I haven’t even read the first. Honestly, a lot of times, when I read all the books in a series consecutively, it is really hard to keep on track. Being in one world for so long is really difficult if the series isn’t really, really well written. Aside from getting used to the style that Laini Taylor has when writing these books with the various shifted points of view without any real indication, I managed to get into the first book very easily and from there, I fell in love with this series.

I have a confession though. When I started this series, I was sure I was going to hate it because… well… because I’ve never read a book about angels that I haven’t HATED. Well, at least as far back as I can remember. When people and/or book club recommend me angel books, I dread them the whole time due to the various stereotypes that seem to surround them. The same thing ended up happening to me and vampire books for a while. They became so predictable, it wasn’t any fun to read them anymore. Laini Taylor completely defied all expectations I had coming into this book.

THINGS I LOVED:

THE CHARACTERS – Together. Apart. These characters were fantastic. I found myself falling in love with the creatures that most novels and legends have always told us to hate. Laini was able to spin a tale where … maybe the angels aren’t necessary always the ‘good’. Or maybe they think they are and it just becomes misconstrued throughout generations. I loved how every character was real. Even the ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters had something they were trying to do good towards (except for Morgan Toth and Jael… and Esther. You suck, dudes). It was a great reminder that everyone has good and bad in them, even the leading man of a novel series.

I think I am with the mass majority when I say my favorite characters were Zuzana, Mik, Liraz, and Ziri (besides our two protagonists). It was refreshing in a story of life and death and war to have characters like Zuzana and Mik who were human and in love and more loyal than any character I have ever read. Both characters seemed to emphasize the good in humanity in a story full of monsters and angels. Oh and Mik was so badass when dealing with Esther. SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT If Zuzana hadn’t agreed to marry him, I would have 😉 END SPOILER ALERT. Though, if I have to admit, I think Liraz was my favorite character overall. It wasn’t necessarily the character that I loved, but the dynamic changes she went through as the series progressed. Honestly, I’m a sucker for a well developed dynamic character. I went from hating her in the first book to shedding a tear over her when she saved Avika’s life. However, I think it was towards the end of the book that I really felt for her and how much she had to give the world.  Oh, and her relationship with her brothers was the cutest. I got emotional from how cute it was multiple times. No lie.

And last on my list: Ziri. I think Ziri deserves his own paragraph with how much I loved him. The thing I loved most about him was how he made this giant sacrifice… and he hated it. He hated that he did it, even if it was for the greater good of his species. He allowed himself to go through the book appearing as though he was the monster that Thiago was… and then SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT gave up his life willingly for the greater good. He even knew that he hadn’t set anyone up to collect souls, but he still died for his people and the cause. The honor behind this character stole my heart. I was overjoyed when he and Liraz got their happy ending together. They both deserved someone kind and loyal and honorable. I was beyond happy about their conclusion of the story. END SPOILER ALERT

And last, but not least, on the things I loved about the characters, I have to talk about Kaoru and Avika. My favorite thing about them was that even though this was an instantaneous love story, their love did not take away from their duties. When Kaoru found out that Avika was one of the leading factors of Brimstone’s death, she didn’t shrug it off because he did it because of her. The loss of each other was a big thing in their lives, but their love wasn’t the only important thing. It was fantastic for me because Kaoru stood for her values and when Avika went against them, she didn’t back down. She was a strong female lead without being a stereotype. She still had a big heart while holding true to her ideals.

THE PLOT TWISTS – I did not predict a plot twist at all throughout this whole series. The author placed so many questions throughout the book and did not disappoint when the answers were revealed. With current books, it is all too common to place an abundance of hints about the course of the book and then go with the predictable ending because it is easier. Laini stayed away from this method completely. I was much more fulfilled through the various reveals in the book because while there were some minor hints in the book, they were not predictable or easy to guess.

THE FORMAT – As I admitted before, the format used to confuse me to no end. The sudden shift between characters with no marking confused me at first. Additionally, I am actually really picky about the way points of views are expressed in books. I was almost turned off this book in the beginning, but I’m very happy to say I stuck with it and Laini converted me. I loved the way she told her story. All too often in third person, it is focused upon a central character. If that character is not in the scene, then the reader must learn the various twists and turns in the book as that central character does. With Laini’s switching point of views, multiple characters were explored, and we got a sense of what was in their heads. This method worked especially well with the introduction of Eliza, but I liked it even just to see what was going on in Mik and Zuze’s own story during the mass chaos of Kaoru’s.

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT THE ENDING – There are very few epilogues I have ever read that I actually loved. Too often, authors feel the pressure of their readers and tend to flop during the epilogue because they want all their characters to have a happy ‘ending’. Point blank. Usually all the main conflicts have been filled and the characters spend the rest of their lives just happily chilling in the world. Life doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t say ‘oh, you had too much turmoil already, let’s make you happy for the rest of your life. You deserve that.’ That’s an unrealistic expectation. The end of this novel left more questions and more conflicts. Kaoru had to recover and resurrect the souls that Brimstone saved while Avika had to learn to control his magic. On top of that, there was still Eliza and the godstars’ conflict. The conflict of the books – the war between chimaera and seraphim – was resolved, but Taylor left so many more conflicts open. At the end of the series, Avika and Kaoru don’t just find their happiness together. They still have to continue working in their lives to achieve that happy ending they so desperately hoped for. In fact, my favorite quote/paragraph from the novel is as follows:  ” It was not a happy ending, but a happy middle – at last, after so many fraught beginnings. Their story would be long. Much would be written of them, some of it in verse, some sung, and some in plain prose, in volumes to be penned for the archives of cities not yet built.” The ending was not a beginning, but simply the middle of Kaoru and Avika’s story. I think this was the thing I enjoyed most in the whole series. END SPOILER ALERT

THINGS I LIKED… BUT DIDN’T EXPECT TO:

ELIZA – When I started this book, I was so confused what Eliza had to do with it. Here was some girl who worked in a museum in DC… and focused on butterflies. What? How do butterflies tie into angels again? I enjoyed the places the author went with Eliza though. I liked how she tied into the plot and left room for more questions in the future.

RAZGUT – I really liked learning how he became a fallen. Razgut’s story was actually one that plagued me throughout the whole series. In fact, I was terrified that Laini Taylor would end her book series without explaining what happened to Razgut. It was an irrational fear, I know, but the character was extremely interesting to me. I wanted to know how he became a Fallen and how he knew so much about the portals. His story tied in beautifully and I was not disappointed in the least bit. In fact, I almost felt sorry for him at the end. Shocker, I know! I think my favorite thing that I learned in this novel about Razgut was who his next victim turned out to be. I had to stop reading for a while because I was laughing so hard.

THINGS I HATED:

MORGAN TOTH – u suck, dude

 

All in all, Dreams of Gods & Monsters was a wonderful read. I highly recommend it to all of those who love YA fantasy. I am very glad that Addicted to YA picked it as their monthly novel, and I look forward to reading more of Laini Taylor’s future writing!

~TAYLOR~

 

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

THIS REVIEW IS NOT COMPLETELY SPOILER FREE. SLIGHT SPOILERS WILL BE MARKED.

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Expected Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he does his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that is both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning for the biggest test is still to come…

The Iron Trial is the first book written by Holly and Cassie as collaborators. However, they are not new to the Young Adult genre at all. Holly is well known for her Curse Breakers’ series as well as The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Cassie already has two widely popular series under her belt as well: The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Both authors are favorites of mine, so needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to hear about the two of them working together.

The Iron Trial did something to me that I’m not used to… it shocked me. When you’ve read enough books, it is difficult to get tricked by the plot twists. If there is a mystical lost princess or a prophecy awaiting a chosen one mentioned casually in a book, it is usually easy to guess that the main character will fulfill this mysterious role. The remaining part of the book will entail how they ‘found themselves and saved the world.’ It’s an age old concept that traps readers again and again as the basic formula to a successful fantasy book. One thing that I love about both Cassie and Holly is the red herrings they place in their books. Based on the clues given, there is obviously only one possible solution until… wait what? Their books always send me on a wild journey with twists and turns that I never see coming.

I have to say that The Iron Trial showcased what I loved best about both authors. When I started reading, I was actually quite worried. Let me spell it out for you. There’s a magic school that people spend all of their schooling career at. The mother died when our main character was a baby, and said main character has a visible disability/scar because of it. There is an older master/mentor character. Oh, and the main character has two best friends: a know-it-all female and a loyal male. I think after the phenomena that was Harry Potter, readers automatically put the pieces of the puzzle together that it will be exactly like the story that got many of us into reading.

I am so very happy to say Cassie and Holly proved us wrong. Though the preface may seem similar, these ladies took the idea of a magic school and completely made it their own.

The book opens with Callum right before he is about to take his Iron Trial. He has spent his whole life being told magic is wrong. He was led to believe mages only care about themselves, and that’s how his mother was killed. Throughout his whole life, his father trained him to fail these tests. Yet, no matter how hard he tried at failing, Call couldn’t fail. The concept is interesting and something I have never seen in YA lit yet. Usually schools full of magic are glorified for all the good they bring with it. However, this book shone a light on … what if that wasn’t the case?

One thing I loved was the main character Call. If I met him in life, I’m not sure I would be friends with his little twelve year old self. The thing I loved about him was that he was real. All too often, YA books are filled with characters that are supposed to be young… but don’t act it. Callum was mischievous and lacked tact. He was rash in his anger, and he was insecure. It wasn’t a far reach for me to believe that he was actually a 12 year old little boy. Same thing goes for Callum’s two best friends, Tamara and Aaron. Each have motivations and depth. They aren’t at all what they appear to be on the surface. One thing everyone should keep in mind is that this book is written for middle school kids. It is not the most advanced characterization simply because they are twelve. They still have so much time to learn and grow.

Another thing I loved is the world building. However, I still have so many questions about the world they live in. How do they decide what missions are acceptable to send silver/gold years on? What is Alex’s significance? What are the credentials to become a master? How do mages fit in the real world? At this point, I would have liked more questions to be answered, but there are still four more books in the series. If anything, the questions give me something to focus on when reading the next book. However, the part I loved the most was how something as traditional of a concept as magic school was flawlessly made their own. I really loved the idea of the Iron Trial and the handpicked groups from each master. It took the old idea of magic school, reshaped it, and made it seem as if it was something totally new. I LOVE that. I love that such a used concept could be developed into something so original.

One thing that I didn’t love was the pacing. It went really well until the end. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. The climax and twists were fantastic, as well as the falling action. However, I didn’t understand how Callum, Tamara and Aaron just got to pass the Iron Gate early. There seemed to lack an explanation there. What happens at the end of the year when the rest of the students pass through? Will the next book start with their next year or pick up right after the climax of this book? I just felt that last scene came out of left field, and I am unsure how it will affect the second book of the series END OF SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT

All in all, I found myself loving this book. It was a strong first novel, and I definitely see myself and others getting absorbed into the books and completing the series. Once again, I want to remind all future readers to remember this book is written at a middle school level. It is not written the way some of Cassie and Holly’s previous books have been written (since they are for an older audience). Don’t hold the book up to an expectation that is totally out of its league.

I would recommend this book to all my reading friends as well as younger children interested in reading and fantasy. I can’t wait for you guys to read it, and I hope you enjoy!

~Taylor~

MUCH LOVE AND HAPPY READING

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #1)

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer — The Lunar Chronicles #1
Rating: 3/5

Cinder, published in 2012, is the debut novel of Marissa Meyer. However, her venture into writing books has been an ongoing process for a long time! Like many of us, Meyer wrote fanfiction for Sailor Moon (those familiar may catch a number of easter eggs in Cinder as a tribute to Sailor Moon) for around ten years before becoming a published author and Cinder was actually a NaNoWriMo novel (as were Scarlet and Cress). For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month— a challenge in which writers tackle the huge task of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. (Meyer says for the initial draft of Cinder, she managed to write triple that amount!)

When you take those factors into account, some of the issues I had with Cinder make more sense.

I knew going into Cinder that it was a Cinderella retelling, which means you can always expect some degree of cliché and rehashing. So that didn’t exactly bother me, and I really did find myself enjoying Cinder and her younger sister, Peony. The stepmother (Adri) and the other sister (Pearl) were a bit too over the top. I find it difficult to believe that after five years of living together, there still is zero emotional connection between them. It isn’t as though Adri had to keep Cinder after her husband died, she chose to. I get she’s the evil stepmother. I get that she’s *really bad person*… but it takes it a little too far here. Why are all the antagonists/Big Bad characters the women? Why are the supporting *good guys* (apart from Cinder’s sidekick and Peony) all men? I like that Cinder is presented as powerful, a gifted female mechanic (not something you see often) and cyborg and capable of anything she sets her mind to. I like that she’s a rebel.

I also thought Prince Kaito was a bit of a weak, two dimensional character. He’s fawning all over Cinder before he knows her at all and seems to be falling in love over… what, exactly? They never have any deep conversations. They never have much to do with each other at all— mostly, Kai pursues her insisting she go to the ball despite her repeat wishes not to. (What exactly is that saying? If you ask enough, boys, she’ll give in?) And Cinder is *oddly affected* by him which is sort of annoying because he doesn’t seem to do anything of note apart from being a prince and I guess looking very dreamy? But overall, nothing too deep. If anything, Kai is a bit naive. He doesn’t seem to be able to properly run a kingdom on his own and I’d expect someone groomed from birth to rule to have more… clue what to do. Yes, I know, this is Cinderella, you’re supposed to ignore all the little gaps in logic, but…

One of the things I loved about Cinder was the world-building. There was some issues— lack of depth and description at parts— but overall, Meyer was able to create a living, breathing future where Cyborgs and people living on the moon and all of this makes sense in context. I like that Cinder takes place in Asia, New Beijing, to be exact. There aren’t a lot of books that do that. Cinder herself is directly inspired by Japanese actress Mew Azama and Meyer says Cinder is racially ambiguous— so not your average blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage hero. I like that. It’s different, it’s unique, it’s diversity where it is needed. I like the slang that Meyer adds in, the little details that tip you off to ’this is not my world today, this is the future’. There’s a lot of details that are interesting, like port screens and net screens (which are, apparently, completely different) and lots of technology and androids and everything. Yes, Meyer could have made it more clear the setting is Asia (without her explicitly stating that it was New Beijing, I’m not sure I would’ve picked up on the hints with sticky buns and dumplings apart from her placing Cinder’s last name first), but overall in the debut novel, her focus is making sure you know that this is the FUTURE. And there she does a great job. I love the androids!

Iko! Iko is the darling little house android that serves as Cinder’s sidekick throughout the novel. Although I felt like she was never completely clearly described and I was a bit confused as to what she looked like, Iko was my *FAVORITE* character. She’s a girly little robot who blurs the line of humanity and artificial intelligence and provides the perfect comic relief when it is desperately needed. As Cinder tells towards being overly serious, Iko is necessary to break that up and make everyone smile. Iko’s lovable and awesome. She deserves her own novella. (That’s what I thought The Littlest Android was going to be about… but sadly, I was mistaken.)

There were a couple of key issues which stood out to me. For instance, why do Cyborgs have such a low status in society? Apart from that, it appears that the society values technology very highly, and there’s clear benefits to being a Cyborg. It’s basically a superpower. So why isn’t it reserved for the very rich? Why isn’t this a privilege? I feel like with how technology even now is so intertwined into our lives (they are predicting we will text by thought in less than fifty years!) and people feel lost without their cellphones, the next step would be to put it in your body. So why is that looked down on here? Why does that make you enslaved? And if it does— if every Cyborg is basically property— then Adri, the “evil stepmother”, isn’t really so evil after all. She’s actually just your average person. Which kind of throws me off. This is something I think needs to explained more because I just don’t get it.

I haven’t even mentioned the Lunars yet. I think this story could have done fine without them because there was a lot of things to cover, however, it was an interesting addition. I wasn’t a big fan of Queen Levana’s name (I kept calling her Queen Lunarna and the Lunars ‘Levars’… I’m not great with names…) and I’m a bit confused as to how humans would have evolved that way to develop bio-brain-waves and such. Is it genetic manipulation? Are they actually a different species like the book says? Why do people on Earth hate Lunars so much, apart from the Queen? There’s a lot of little things that could be explained more, but I’m excited to see where it goes and how Meyer can improve on that. There’s just so much that she touches on in this book that it would have been impossible for Meyer TO fully capture everything so I’m sure much of it will be addressed in the future.

The one main thing dealing with Cinder is that you have to remember it is a Cinderella story. And by have to, I mean it is impossible to forget that Cinder is a Cinderella story. I found it formulaic at times— as soon as Prince Kai was introduced, it was inevitable that he would fall in love with her and invite her to the ball. The biggest twist introduced in the story could easily be guessed from the very moment it is hinted in the beginning of the book, but isn’t actually revealed until the end which is very frustrating because of how obvious it is. Sticking to the Cinderella format so strictly made Cinder extremely predictable and it is only the unique take on it (CYBORGS. TECHNOLOGY. ALIENS.) that saves it from being boring.

Ultimately, I enjoyed reading Cinder. It wasn’t a lingering read, I won’t stay up late at night pondering it, and I doubt I’ll read it again, but it was interesting enough to keep my attention for a few hours. It certainly sets the stage for the rest of Meyer’s books, which I am eager to read. I loved the world-building, I loved Iko and I loved the hints of Cinder’s characters. But being a Cinderella story can’t make up for all the breaks in logic and the most formulaic bits were the most difficult to read. Cinder would have been much stronger without sticking so hard to the original fairy tale, but it is definitely a worthwhile read and I look forward to seeing what Meyer comes up with next.

-Jacqui *

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

The Young Elites – Marie Lu Sneakpeak Review

One of the best things I managed to get at BookCon was the sixty page preview of The Young Elites by Marie Lu. So while I didn’t get to read the whole book, I still wanted to give a little bit of a review on it.

The Young Elites – Marie Lu
Expected Publication Date: October 7th, 2014

Summary: I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.

 

The preview gave us a sixty page sample full of character introductions and world building. The central setting of this novel was based on Italy during the period of the Black Death. The epidemic swept through the various populations infecting up to one third of the population. However, those who were infected by the plague were not necessarily killed. In The Young Elites, Marie Lu explored the idea that while the adults may have died from the plague, what if the children bounced back and survived? This served as the premise of the novel. These children then developed a sort of power based on how they were marked by the curse.

I can already tell this novel will be fueled by political drama much like the Legend series was. When I sat down at Marie Lu’s panel at BookCon, that was actually one of the things I enjoyed most. Veronica Roth hosted the panel and it was very obvious to see she was very well acquainted with the novels they would be discussing. One thing VRoth asked the authors was how does one choose what to take in the world we are living and in fuse it with dystopian and fantasy styled books.  Most of the authors answered that the dystopians always seem to stem from things that are happening from the real world. I loved the twists that Legend took previously so I have very high hopes for this new series.

The thing I am most looking forward to though is the characters in this new book. At the end of the preview, Marie had some questions and answers about the new series. My favorite question was one that asked her which character from this new series was most difficult to write. She answered, “Adelina, the protagonist, was definitely the most challenging to write because she’s more like a villain than a hero. Day and June (from Legend) lived in a broken world, but they were at heart very good people, raised by loving families. Adelina is no such person. Her thoughts get progressively more twisted as the story goes on, and I had a lot of trouble trying to put myself into the places where her mind wanted to be. Day may have been the boy who walked in the light, but Adelina is a girl who walks in darkness.” I love that this series will bring us a protagonist that isn’t a hero. So often, the words have been used as synonyms for one another. I am excited to see a character who’s motivations won’t always be for the good of everyone else.

From the small preview we got, I would definitely give The Young Elites five stars. Needless to say, I will be counting down the days until October 7th!

 

~Taylor~

MUCH LOVE AND HAPPY READING

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”