February 2, 2017

Red Queen and Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

The third and final installment in Victoria Aveyard's dark young adult series, King's Cage, comes out on February 7th. Though I thought the series fell in quality in book two, I'm still interested in checking out King's Cage to see what happens. If you haven't read the series, it's not to late to check it out. In addition to the three major works, Aveyard also wrote a short novella titled Cruel Crown which functions as the series' prequel. I haven't had a chance to read it yet. Have any of you? What did you think?

Red Queen (#1) 

Official Summary: 

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.

My Review:

[3.5 stars] An interesting start to a book series. It's best described as sci-fi Hunger Games meets YA Game of Thrones (meaning, there will be blood, a lot of red and silver blood). I liked the concept and find myself drawn to stories of class conflict. This premise makes the need for rebellion make more sense, but I had mixed feelings about the main character. At times, Mare is a likable powerhouse, but at other times I didn't understand her way of thinking. I also kept stumbling on her name. Did anyone repeatedly think "bone marrow" every time they read "Mare Barrow"?

Glass Sword (#2)

Official Summary: 

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

My Review:

[2 stars] A big disappointment when compared to Red Queen. Though the first book certainly sets up the battle that will begin raging in book two, Glass Sword is hugely--and unnecessarily--violent in the extreme. Remember when I said the series was like a sci-fi blend of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones? This is where the GoT bloodshed really kicks in, which I do not enjoy. While Maven's evil side is startling, Mare seems equally cold-hearted which is confusing: the series no longer seems to have a hero and a villain, just two villains representing opposing groups.

King's Cage (#3)

Finally, here's Harper Teen's preview for book three:  

In this breathless third installment to Victoria Aveyard’s bestselling Red Queen series, allegiances are tested on every side. And when the Lightning Girl's spark is gone, who will light the way for the rebellion?

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother's web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare's heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down. 

What are your thoughts about the series?

January 31, 2017

The Precious Stone Trilogy by Kerstin Gier

The Precious Stone Trilogy by Kerstin Gier

The Precious Stone trilogy by Kerstin Gier was originally published in German in 2009. The young adult, fantasy series was so popular, two years later it was translated and published in English, along with further worldwide publication. I confess that I was in part drawn to the lovely book covers as well as how many of my friends had read the series. The story centers on a London-based teenager named Gwyneth who learns that she comes from a line of time travelers and is lucky enough to also possess this gift, though her cousin does not. Her first time hop happens accidentally one day while she's not feeling well. She tells her best friend and is able to time travel a couple of more times before she tells her mother, in part because she's so startled by seeing her own doppelganger during the time leap. It is then that she learns the true circumstances of her birth, meets the members of The Lodge who act as guardians of time, and learns of what duties and adventures await her.

Ruby Red (#1) 

Official Summary: 

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust. 

My Review:

[2 stars] When I started this book, it was a solid three or four stars: interesting premise, cool setting, curious problem. It felt, however, that the story lost its footing and trajectory when the protagonist's journey actually begins. Gwyneth is clumsy and has a rather funny personality.

Sapphire Blue (#2) 

Official Summary:

Gwen’s life has been a rollercoaster since she discovered she was the Ruby, the final member of the secret time-traveling Circle of Twelve. In between searching through history for the other time-travelers and asking for a bit of their blood (gross!), she’s been trying to figure out what all the mysteries and prophecies surrounding the Circle really mean.

At least Gwen has plenty of help. Her best friend Lesley follows every lead diligently on the Internet. James the ghost teaches Gwen how to fit in at an eighteenth century party. And Xemerius, the gargoyle demon who has been following Gwen since he caught her kissing Gideon in a church, offers advice on everything. Oh, yes. And of course there is Gideon, the Diamond. One minute he’s very warm indeed; the next he’s freezing cold. Gwen’s not sure what’s going on there, but she’s pretty much destined to find out.

My Review:

[3 stars] Funnier than the first. The novel includes a Cats-reenactment scene that is beyond ridiculous. That sounds weird out of context--and it is--but when you're reading it, it's funny but equally strange.

Emerald Green (#3) 

Official Summary:

Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is. She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along. Emerald Green is the stunning conclusion to Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red Trilogy, picking up where Sapphire Blue left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate.

My Review:

[2 stars] Witty dialogue throughout the series, but the second installment is my favorite.

Have you read The Precious Stone Trilogy? 

January 26, 2017

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass:

Last year I read Kiera Cass's best-selling series, The Selection. Wanting to catch up on recent popular young adult novels, these titles quickly joined the list when I checked my Goodreads account and saw I had nearly 30 friends who'd read book one. Along with Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series (which I posted about here) this was the first time I'd ever read companion stories to a series that follow numbering methods to suggest where additional tales fit into larger contexts. For example, you might not only have novels 1, 2, and 3, but short stories or novellas numbered 0.5, 2.3, and 3.6. This was entirely weird to me. While I can appreciate how die-hard fans would love these supplemental peeks inside characters lives, isn't it also a cheap money-making scheme taking advantage of YA readers? Have you read books like this before?

That being said, the series is essentially a teen version of The Bachelor, royal style. Girls fight to date and marry a future king and companion stories follow the preceding and subsequent generations.

If you're going to read a series like this that comes with companion pieces, I suggest reading the major novels first and then going back and adding in the supplemental stories. I've listed them chronologically below, but I read numbers one through five before going back and reading 0.4, 0.5, 2.5, and 2.6.

Here's HarperTeen's official summary for book one, The Selection:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

See, I told you it's like The Bachelor. While my ratings on various installments ranged from 1 star to 3.5 stars, on the whole I fell somewhere between thinking it was okay (2 stars) and I liked it (3 stars). [All of this obviously very scientific.] It's light, easy, guilty-pleasure reading. YA romance meets reality TV with crowns and fancy dresses thrown in.

A warning that there are spoilers posted throughout my mini-reviews, so if you're just looking to check out book one, read no further down than that. Let me know in the comments what you think about The Selection series and what other YA series you think I should check out.

The Queen (#0.4)

[1 star] This story is included within the Happily Ever After collection and details the life of Prince Maxon's mother prior to book one. My response? No, no, no. If the author has to preface the book by claiming she's not condoning an abusive relationship, then warning, danger Will Robinson, danger! 

The Prince (#0.5)

[2 stars] This story is also included within Happily Ever After and tells readers about Prince Maxon's love life prior to ever beginning the selection process in which he meets America. POV-switch novels always seem like a lazy way to make money and take advantage of young, loyal fans. Meh. 

The Selection (#1)

[3 stars] Boys and girls, start your flirting engines. I've never seen a full episode of The Bachelor, but now I feel as if I have. This book was pure cotton candy and I admit I totally wanted to read what happened next.

The Elite (#2)

[2 stars] *eye-roll* Picking up where The Selection left off, Prince Maxon has narrowed down his group of contenders from thirty-five to six. A lot of catty fighting ensues. I was told the third book was better, so I carried on, but I would also image that to true reality TV fans, this book may be their favorite.

The Guard (#2.5)

[3 stars] This story is included within Happily Ever After and gives a peek into the life of the boy America ditched to pursue Prince Maxon. Aspen Leger is now stationed as a guard in the castle--enter awkwardness and drama--but the point-of-view in this short story was very likable and overall it was my favorite supplemental installment.

The Favorite (#2.6)

[2 stars] This is the last story included within Happily Ever After. Apparently I don't yet understand how these in-between stories work. One would think you could read "2.6" before "3" and be fine, but this included many spoilers. It's the story of Marlee, one of America's maids, and Carter, the guard she loves. The class difference between them and some other contributing factors complicate their relationship until Maxon steps in to save them.

The One (#3)

[2 stars] In this novel, the winner of the selection process is chosen (obviously, it's America). The author tries to complicate the situation by adding in a new level of political uprisings within the kingdom, but they didn't feel well thought-out and there are too many damsel in distress moments. At this point, undoubtedly Aspen is a more likable character than Maxon and America combined, but sadly the book is not about him.

The Heir (#4)

[3.5 stars] Definitely the best installment in the Selection series. The novel still features the silly bachelor/bachelorette framework, but now with the next royal generation. Princess Eadlyn's character (flaws and all) are more believable, the writing is better, and the political uprising is more compelling than it was previously.

The Crown (#5)

[2.5 stars] The conclusion to the series was a bit of a let down. It's time for Princess Eadlyn to choose a husband, but of course she feels conflicted. There are some interesting contenders, but everything happened too easily and there wasn't enough political drama given the seeds planted within the last two books.

FYI, if you're a big fan, they've released a coloring book based on The Selection series. Given all of the fancy dresses, this might be fun for audiences. I've also read Kiera Cass's YA novel The Siren (review forthcoming).

January 23, 2017

The Lunar Chronicles Series by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles Series by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles is Marissa Meyer's best-selling, YA science fiction series. Each book within the series retells a classic fairy tale: Cinder is "Cinderella," Scarlet is "Little Red Riding Hood," Cress is "Rapunzel," and Winter is "Snow White." In addition to the four major installments, Meyer added Fairest (#3.5), a story of the coming-of-age of the evil Queen Levana (the Queen from "Snow White"), and Stars Above (#4.5), a concluding set of stories that provide a look into the characters' futures.

Here's the official summary for Cinder, the book that starts it all:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. 

Once you suspend disbelief and embrace the sci-fi/fairy tale set-up, the story is entertaining.

Cinder (#1) 

[3 stars] The main protagonist of both this installment and the entire series is Linh Cinder, a mechanic cyborg who operates a stall in a street market in New Beijing. Cinder lives with her cruel stepmother, Linh Adri, and stepsisters, Linh Pearl and Linh Peony; Cinder's father died from the plague. I like the immediate cultural and racial diversity Meyer brings to her fairy tale world. One day while working, Cinder meets Prince Kai who comes to her stall for help fixing his android. Cinder hides her cyborg features (a metal foot and hand) while helping the handsome prince. Thus begins their fairy-tale encounter with a plague and intergalactic war thrown in the mix. The writing in the novel is a bit uneven, but it has a great ending. Full review here.

Scarlet (#2) 

[3 stars] This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles series, but I actually read it first while on the library waiting list for Cinder. Unlike Cinder which took place in New Beijing, Scarlet is set in Rieux, France. Scarlet Benoit lives with her grandmother on their family farm. Upon Michelle Benoit's disappearance, Scarlet sets out to find her grandmother and the truth regarding Michelle's past as a European Air Force pilot. During her search, she meets Ze'ev "Wolf" Kesley, a street fighter who saves her from a violent confrontation after she voices her support for the infamous cyborg, Linh Cinder, who is in fact the missing Lunar Princess Selene on the run trying to overthrow the Queen Levana. Scarlet later joins forces with Cinder as the war continues. Full review here.

Cress (#3) 

[3 stars] I've written this many times, but I am not a fan of damsels in distress. I am a fan of strong female protagonists. Consequently, sixteen-year-old Cress Moon wasn't my favorite heroine but the collective cast's strength helped. The book starts with Cress's imprisonment on a satellite where she works as a hacker of sorts. When Cinder and company cross paths with the satellite, they free Cress only to end up separated from one another. Cress finds herself shipwrecked in the desert with fellow escapee Carswell Thorne who is (temporarily) blind. Needless to say, she swoons and depends upon him for everything during their flight to safety. That aside, there are some great cliffhangers throughout the series and the ending of Cress is really engaging as we get a short glimpse of Princess Winter (Snow White) gone mad.

Fairest (#3.5) 

[4 stars] Fairest is a 220-page companion book that tells the life story of evil Queen Levana (also known as the queen from Snow White). It's so good! Undoubtedly my favorite story in the entire series. Levana is seriously cray-cray and I loved every second of her cruel and conniving ascent to power.

Winter (#4) 

[3.5 stars] Princess Winter (aka Snow White) is beloved by all Lunar citizens, in part because of the striking contrast she is to her stepmother, Queen Levana. The abuse and trauma Winter has survived, however, has left her mentally unstable. She suffers flashbacks, dissociates from reality, and this often results in her dependency upon her childhood friend, a palace guard named Jacin. The entire cast joins forces to fight the revolution and save Lunar. Winter is a satisfying conclusion to the series, though quite long (832 pages).

Star Above (#4.5)

[3.5 stars] If you enjoy the series, you'll like learning more about the characters in this companion novel. It includes nine stories in all, so I'll just include shortened explanations of each below:

  • The Little Android: A retelling of "The Little Mermaid."
  • Glitches: A prequel to Cinder.
  • The Queen’s Army: A prequel to Scarlet.
  • Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: A tale of teenaged Carswell Thorne.
  • The Keeper: A prequel to the entire series explaining Scarlet and Cinder's childhood.
  • After Sunshine Passes By: A prequel to Cress.
  • The Princess and the Guard: A prequel to Winter.
  • The Mechanic: A prequel to Cinder.
  • Something Old, Something New: An epilogue to Winter.

If you like young adult novels and fairy tales, I definitely recommend the series. If you're not a regular science-fiction reader, it can take some time to adjust to the Lunar world, but it's an interesting ride. As with The Selection series, a coloring book of Meyer's series is now available. I'll also note that I just read Marissa Meyer's most recent YA novel, Heartless, a retelling of the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and I LOVED IT! A full review is forthcoming, but seriously, check it out!

January 19, 2017

All Things Harry Potter

All Things Harry Potter

I recently finished reading J.K. Rowling's screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I still haven't seen the movie (her original writing was a greater priority), but on top of rereading the series twice last year as well as enjoying Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the first time last fall, it's been an HP party round here.

My next stop will be slowly accumulating Jim Kay's new illustrated editions. So far copies of Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets have been released. Have any of you read those versions? What did you think of the new illustrations?

I'll be taking an HP break for some time (I'm averaging about five years between rereads). Instead, I'm looking forward to her two promised releases this year, one under her own name and another as Robert Galbraith. If you haven't read her Cormoran Strike series and you like gritty mysteries--very gritty, you've been warned--you should check them out.

Here's my review round-up on all things Harry Potter, with short takeaway thoughts and links to my longer reviews.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#1)

[5 stars] 

I still cry every time Neville earns ten points. Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (#2)

[5 stars] 

(1) Why don't they study literature, humanities, or the arts at Hogwarts? (2) Fred is my favorite Weasley twin. Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (#3)

[5 stars]

I know that Sirius is beloved, but I've always favored Lupin--his illness and what he symbolizes as a rejected, misunderstood man is so heartbreaking. He lived in James and Sirius' shadows and was relegated to the fringes of society but he never becomes bitter. I love that he is one of JK Rowling's favorite characters in the entire series. Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (#4)

[5 stars]  

Mrs. Weasley's love and concern for Harry since she first spotted him alone on the train platform in book one is endlessly beautiful. Of course my heart warms when after everything Harry's been through at the conclusion of The Goblet of Fire, it's her maternal hug that comforts him: "He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother." Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (#5)

[5 stars]

The first three hundred pages is my least favorite section in the series because Harry is so moody and annoying all the time. After Hermoine suggests they form Dumbledore's Army, however, it's pretty fantastic. I also love Fred and George's grand exit from Hogwarts and their parting words to Peeves. Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6)

[5 stars] 

I remember when I first read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince how intense everything felt when Harry finally gets Scrimgour's memory and learns about the horcruxes. Even though each book progressively heightens the danger, Harry's journey with Dumbledore and then the battle in Hogwarts and its outcome left me a bit shell-shocked. The burden Harry feels at having to finish these tasks alone is so great and I love how Ron and Hermoine immediately remind him they'll be there at his side without any hesitation which I find tremendously brave. Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7)

[5 stars] 

There's nothing like a great story. I adore the conclusion to this series, the adventure, the bravery, the sacrifice, and how it brings me to tears every time I read it. Thank you, J.K. Rowling! Full review here.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (#8)

[4 stars] 

Hooray for more Harry Potter, three cheers for a manuscript and stage directions that undoubtedly make for a fantastic performance, but some disappointment in the actual execution of the storyline and unevenness with beloved characters we know better than they were depicted here. Full review here.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

[3 stars]

Newt is sweet and endearing, but I definitely preferred reading about the child characters--Modesty, Chastity, and Credence--more than the adults who bumble around and keep messing things up. The heart of the story lies within the children's pain.  

What did you think of Fantastic Beasts