Sunday, January 15, 2017

THE BLACK KEY by Amy Ewing

Rating: A-
Synopsis:
For too long, Violet and the people of the outer circles of the Lone City have lived in service to the royalty of the Jewel. But now the secret society known as the Black Key is preparing to seize power.

And while Violet knows she is at the center of this rebellion, she has a more personal stake in it—her sister, Hazel, has been taken by the Duchess of the Lake. Now, after fighting so hard to escape the Jewel, Violet must do everything in her power to return to save not only Hazel, but the future of the Lone City.


My thoughts on the book:
As most of you know, I have been in love with this series since The Jewel came out. It started out as a unique view of dystopian worlds, and the second book in the trilogy brought up deeper thoughts and ideas to think about. The Black Key expanded on the themes of colonialism, freedom of choice (and consequences), and classism. This final installment did not disappoint, and Ewing left me with a lot to think about after I finished the book. 

Violet, like most leading characters, grew throughout the course of the trilogy. However, unlike a lot of literature, she was still flawed and still made mistakes, even after she learned to take responsibility for her actions and saw what some choices cost. While I was frustrated with her at times, I really appreciated the fact that she remained a real and relatable character. Through Violet's trials and mistakes, other characters grew as well, including Ash. He wasn't my favorite in this installment, but he at least got more fleshed out and became a strong character in his own right. Lucien and Garnet were my favorites, though I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Garnet's complexity toward the end of this book. I also would have liked to have seen more of how being in the Jewel changed Hazel. I felt like that her growth was a bit rushed since she was such a background character until midway through the 2nd novel, and I think that really didn't do her justice. 

The Black Key started off kind of slow, in my opinion, but by the 4th chapter, things really picked up and I became invested in the story. After that event/Violet's decision, which started the narrative of freedom of choice and consequences, the Violet had trials coming at her from all directions, and it was interesting to see how she navigated each of those. Some of her decisions had dire consequences, and it really helped me see that even though we all can make small "incorrect" decisions from time to time, it's not our fault when something horrific happens because of those choices. Yes, Violet could have made a couple of decisions better, but the outcomes of those choices were a lot harsher than they should have been. I've made some small decisions in my own life that ended terribly bad, and I always beat myself up over that, just like Violet did. But through Ewing's writing, I was able to see that Violet wasn't at fault. The people who took things too far were the ones to blame for the horrific consequences, and that helped me view my own life differently. I love when novels can change the way that I look at things as well. 

In addition to the narrative of choice, there was also a background narrative of colonialism and the prices that are paid for people colonizing an area. As this novel shows, history is written by the winners, and because of that so many people didn't know who or what they were. The royals attempted genocide on the indigenous race, much like the English attempted genocide on America's indigenous peoples, and many colonizers (royals) didn't know that the indigenous race still survived. The terrifying lengths that the royals went to in order to control the indigenous population and get all that they could out of them mirrored how many corporations, and even our own government, treats our very own indigenous population in America. Ewing masterfully weaves these two narratives together and creates a unique and enthralling story about Violet and the history of the Lone City.

Overall, I'd recommend this series to anyone who enjoys unique dystopian and/or fantasy novels. Ewing assumes her readers are intelligent people, and she gives us a lot to think about with this trilogy. Her storytelling is excellent, and while there were some really harsh moments in this book, I feel like I'm a better person for reading it. Ewing has a strong voice, and she definitely has a lot to say about society. I look forward to her next project.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

THE FATE OF THE TEARLING by Erika Johansen

Rating: A+
Synopsis:
In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has grown from an awkward teenager into a powerful monarch and a visionary leader.

And as she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, she has transformed her realm. But in her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies - chief among them the evil and feared Red Queen, who ordered the armies of Mortmesne to march against the Tear and crush them.

To protect her people from such a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable - naming the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, Regent in her place, she surrendered herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign from her prison in Mortmesne.

So, the endgame has begun and the fate of Queen Kelsea - and the Tearling itself - will be revealed...

With The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen draws her unforgettable story full of magic and adventure to a thrilling close.


My thoughts on the book:
I finished this book a few hours ago, and I'm still stunned. The only way to describe what I'm feeling is mindblown. This novel took me on one hell of a rollercoaster ride, and the ending surprised me. It was a satisfying ending, but wow did it have some hard learned lessons in it. This story was exactly what I needed to read at this point in my life, but I just have so many things spinning around in my head because of it that this review may not make much sense. In short, this is the best fantasy trilogy I've ever read. 

Johansen managed to seamlessly pull off the free indirect discourse point-of-view; I haven't seen someone wield a pen (so to speak) so well since Emma by Jane Austen. I was 100% invested in all the characters, and while I had my favorites, I loved learning so much about each character that we followed throughout the series. Kelsea really impressed me. Her strength was admirable, and her willingness to sacrifice was inspiring. Katie was a fascinating character, one who was also very smart and strong. The narration style varied with each character, which was very well-done on the author's part. The Mace's narration left some mysteries about him because, just like the man, the narration was closed off. Everything about the narrative was flawless. 

It's clear from how much I enjoyed the narration that I felt that the writing was extremely well-done. I haven't read many books that had such a plethora of "big words." Johansen assumes her readers are intelligent, and I enjoyed her descriptions much more because of the vivid language she used. The Tearling and Mort both came alive on the page, and each area had an energy about it that was palpable as I turned the pages. I felt like I was along on the journey with Kelsea and crew, and that made me fully engrossed for the whole 500 pages. The plot twist and the ending shocked me. I mean I was expecting some of it, but how everything ended up really surprised me, and the message that was clear at the end was heartbreakingly beautiful. This book left me feeling inspired, and that doesn't happen often anymore. 

Overall, I'd recommend this book and trilogy to anyone who is looking for something a bit different in the fantasy realm. This is no run-of-the-mill fantasy novel. This series will make you think and evaluate your own life, and that's a good thing. Well done, Ms. Johansen. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

THE FORGETTING by Sharon Cameron

Rating: A-
Synopsis:
What isn't written, isn't remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person's memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn't written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.


My thoughts on the book
In some ways, I felt this novel was misleading. It's kind of billed as a fantasy book, and it isn't. Also, a lot of the big reveals seemed to come out of nowhere to me. Sure, thinking back, there were tiny hints, but not enough to put stuff together. That being said, the writing itself was phenomenal. The world-building was spot-on. The characters were intriguing, and the plot kept me completely engaged until the very last page. Sharon Cameron is quickly becoming one of the stars of YA literature. 

Nadia was a great leading character. She's damaged and has experienced trauma, and unlike the rest of the village, she remembered it. She's still strong, though, and she used her pain to do something about terrible situations. That's not her intent at first, I don't think, but she grew throughout the novel, and by the end, she was definitely one of the strongest heroines in YA lit. Gray was also a fantastic leading man. He was just good-hearted. He treated Nadia, and everyone else with respect. He wasn't a jerk, and he cared about people's well-being. He's what leading males should be, in my opinion. Each of the supporting characters was also unique, and I enjoyed Genivee the most. I wish we had gotten to see a bit more of her. 

This novel is completely different from any other book written by Cameron. I loved all of her other work, but this one is unique and I think she found her niche with it. I felt like some of the big reveals could have been a little more obvious, but maybe I'm just bitter because I didn't figure it out before it was revealed. Even the bad guy took me a tiny bit by surprise. The writing was simply beautiful, and the idea of memories making up the person is a poignant topic. I would love to do a psychoanalytic reading and discussion of this book here, but I don't want to give anything away. The pacing was perfect, and I couldn't put the book down. The first page grabbed me, and I was hooked. The ending was wonderful and tied things together nicely. I was actually satisfied with this ending. Very few endings are satisfying anymore, so that was a nice change within itself. This was just a very well-written novel, all the way around. 

Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who is looking for something different. There are a lot of twists, turns, and surprises. The characters are very real, and the concept is thought-provoking. You can't go wrong with this one. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

THE THOUSANDTH FLOOR by Katharine McGee

Rating: B-
Synopsis:
NEW YORK CITY AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE.

A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future where anything is possible—if you want it enough.

WELCOME TO MANHATTAN, 2118.

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

LEDA COLE’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

ERIS DODD-RADSON’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

RYLIN MYERS’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will this new life cost Rylin her old one?

WATT BAKRADI is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy for an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is AVERY FULLER, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. But when you're this high up, there's nowhere to go but down...


My thoughts on the book:
This novel was definitely unique, and the beginning grabbed me and kept me reading until the very end. The writing was pretty well done, but the characters were a bit generic at times. Also, the plot dragged a bit in places, and some stuff is just creepy. I couldn't really connect to any of the characters, either, and the multiple viewpoints all sounded very similar. They needed to be differentiated a bit. The pacing was pretty slow, so it took awhile to get through this one. 

The characters themselves were difficult to relate to. They were kind of shallow, and at times vapid. Avery really annoyed me a lot. Leda was selfish and obnoxious. Everyone else was kind of boring. Not a lot of personality in this book. More cliches than anything, and that's a shame. Especially with multiple viewpoints. It made it more difficult to get through than it should have been.

The plot was a bit loose in the middle. It just lagged more than it should have. The beginning was amazing, though, and the ending flew by. The writing was fairly well done, though the character dialogues were similar. The setting was unique, and the world-building was spectacular. I was fully immersed in this futuristic world. The romance that tried to exist was weak. It was more soap opera caliber betrayals than anything else. 

Overall, I'd say this book was just okay. Give it a try if you're looking for something different and sci-fi. Not a lot of actual romance, so don't count on that. You may want to check it out from the library before buying.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Life update

Hey guys, I know it's been awhile since I've posted anything. Just so you all know, I'm still having health problems. The doctors still don't know what's wrong with me, and when I get really sick, I can't focus enough to read. So then I get behind. There are some reviews coming your way soon, though. One today from a book I finished the other day, even. I apologize for the time gaps in between reviews, but I'm doing the best I can. Hopefully they'll figure out what's wrong with me soon and things can get back to normal.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

THE MEMORY BOOK by Lara Avery

Rating: A+
Synopsis:
They tell me that my memory will never be the same, that I'll start forgetting things. At first just a little, and then a lot. So I'm writing to remember.

Sammie was always a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as humanly possible. Nothing will stand in her way--not even a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly start to steal her memories and then her health. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie's notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. It's where she'll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush, Stuart--a brilliant young writer who is home for the summer. And where she'll admit how much she's missed her childhood best friend, Cooper, and even take some of the blame for the fight that ended their friendship.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.


My thoughts on the book:
The Memory Book was touching, depressing, and inspiring, all at the same time. Sammie was such a brave character and fantastic narrator. If you want a strong female lead in YA lit, then Sammie is your girl. I can't get over how brave she was. I know I already used that word, but the dictionary should be rewritten to say "Brave (adj): Sammie." If I had been in her position, I'm not sure that I would have been able to keep my sense of humor, go after the guy I had a crush on, or rekindle old friendships. She really made the most of her life, even though it wasn't the life she wanted or had planned to have. She was valedictorian, an amazing debater, and planned to go to NYU and become an attorney. Those dreams were shattered when she found out she had what basically amounted to be super-early-onset Alzheimer's, but did she just lay down and feel sorry for herself in a fit of depression? No, she didn't. It would have been justified had she done that, and I would have completely understood that, but she didn't. She carried on, trying to get as much out of her life as she could before she couldn't remember it any longer. And writing herself a journal to let her future self remember the good and bad times was a beautiful and inspiring way to deal with what had to be a terrifying diagnosis.

Avery's voice is strong,  and I was hooked from the first page. The writing was wonderfully done, and the descriptions were vivid and beautiful. The relationships formed were realistic and touching, and everything that happened fit perfectly and felt natural. The pacing was spot on, and I wasn't bored for one second of this text. I'm not a huge contemporary fan, but I got this ARC at BEA and decided to give this one a try, and it did not disappoint. Avery is a fantastic author. This book broke my heart and gave me hope. I'd recommend it to anyone. 


Sunday, July 3, 2016

AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White

Rating: D
Synopsis:
This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES won’t want to miss this visceral, immersive, and mesmerizing novel, the first in a trilogy.

NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.


My thoughts on the book:
I have a love/hate relationship with Kiersten White's books. I absolutely adore some of them, and I cannot stand some of the other ones. The main thing that kills me in her books usually is the characters, and in that, this book was no exception. White is an extremely talented author. She has a strong voice, writes beautiful descriptions, and paces her stories very well. The concepts are always intriguing, if not completely captivating, and the plot always makes sense and is engaging. However, some of the characters she writes are just atrocious, and that's a shame.

I hated every single character in this book. Lada was a freaking sociopath, and most of the story was told from her perspective - third person. She was just not a good person. I had no sympathy for her whatsoever. She was a bully at best. She also was apparently ugly, which to me just says that her outsides matched her insides. Radu was such a pansy. Oh my goodness, I just wanted to throat punch him (see? now I'm acting like a bully, haha). He just whined and cried and sniffled and couldn't handle anything. He needed to toughen up. It was really pathetic, and it disgusted me. This has nothing to do with him being a male character. I don't really buy into gender roles, but male or female, he was just a whiny brat. So this gender reversal brings up a bigger gender role issue. Would I have been okay with Lada had she acted like Radu? No. I would have wanted to throat punch her. Would I have been okay with Radu if he acted like Lada? No. I still would have thought he was a manipulative sociopath. Now, on to Mehmed, who was weak. stupid, and a bigot. I hate zealots. I hate people who want to conquer other lands. I hate people who think in terms of manifest destiny, which is more or less what the little bigot was doing. And he couldn't handle his own crap at all. Just yuck. 

The composition of the story also irked me a bit. The alternating points of view between Lada and Radu had no rhyme or reason, and honestly all it served to do for me was make me hate both characters equally. A teenager should not be crying for his/her nurse all the time. Grow up. Jeez. Aside from the POV issue, the writing was extremely well done. I was treated to beautiful descriptions of Transylvania and the Ottoman Empire. The world-building was fantastically written, and I felt I had a good grasp of what life could have been like in those days and in that geographic region. The gender issue was woven delicately throughout, and I fully agree that no one should have their life laid out for them easily, simply because of their gender. Women's rights in that time period were virtually nonexistent, and I felt that White handled that wonderfully and really brought the conversation to a modern context as well by assigning generally accepted "masculine" traits to Lada and generally accepted "feminine traits" to Radu. The pacing was wonderful, and I was engaged for the full story. The ending tied up a lot of loose ends and did a good job introducing the sequel. 

Overall, this book was a good read, but the characters killed it for me. I felt like I spent hours with the most annoying people ever created, and that put me in a crappy mood. However, not everyone has the same taste in characters (or people for that matter), and the rest of the book was pretty solid. I may say give this one a try at the library first, just to make sure you can stand the characters, if you are huge on characterization like I am.