Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

Summary from Goodreads:
A new novel in the New York Times–bestselling Remnant Chronicles universe, in which a reformed thief and the young leader of an outlaw dynasty lock wits in a battle that may cost them their lives—and their hearts.

When the patriarch of the Ballenger empire dies, his son, Jase, becomes its new leader. Even nearby kingdoms bow to the strength of this outlaw family, who have always governed by their own rules. But a new era looms on the horizon, set in motion by a young queen, which makes her the target of the dynasty's resentment and anger.

At the same time, Kazi, a legendary former street thief, is sent by the queen to investigate transgressions against the new settlements. When Kazi arrives in the forbidding land of the Ballengers, she learns that there is more to Jase than she thought. As unexpected events spiral out of their control, bringing them intimately together, they continue to play a cat and mouse game of false moves and motives in order to fulfill their own secret missions.
So, I read the Remnant Chronicles this year. I wanted to read them all before starting this new book, and I wanted to have read them + this one before going to a festival where I could have the author sign them all. Unfortunately, I was super sick the day of the festival and missed out. And then I postponed reading this book because a million library books came in for me. Then, I was worried I wouldn’t remember enough of the books leading up to this one.
Thank goodness I remembered the other books. I know some reviewers have said you don’t need to read The Remnant Chronicles to enjoy this one, but I disagree. A lot of this book alluded to past events, and important characters just would not make sense to you if you have not read the earlier series. That being said, I loved it. I loved the Remnant Chronicles and I wasn’t sure I’d end up loving these new characters like I did the past ones.
I fell in love with these characters too. This book felt like a super amazing combination of Tamora Pierce, Sherry Thomas, and Leigh Bardugo. This is YA fantasy at it’s best. That being said, the story isn’t an entirely new one. It follows a lot of well-known YA fantasy tropes. However, it does bring in new characters, fun additions, and lots of steamy romance. And because of those things, it didn’t feel too overdone. It still felt kind of fresh.
I’m also a sucker for hate turned to love romances. I loved watching Kazi and Jase get to know each other. They are both just so smart, quick, and loyal to their causes. You can’t help but want them to see these similar qualities in each other and know that they belong together.
The plot moved quickly –especially in the beginning when the book was a bit of a survivalist story. Watching the two characters survive in the wilderness while literally chained together at the ankles was quite a story. And then, I was just as riveted in the middle of the book because I needed to know what Kazi’s true mission was. What were her secrets, and what was her awful history?
I love that Pearson slowly answers all your questions as you read, keeping you interested in the plot the whole time. She’s a master of the slow reveal. Though if you’re a fantasy reading pro, you’ll call a lot of the reveals before they happen.
I loved the friendships and side characters. I loved seeing characters form the past books and reading about the leaders they’ve become. I loved seeing the aftermath of the world that survived such chaos and reading about the kinds of people who can benefit from all the sacrifices made in the earlier series. The world building kept going. The character development was masterful. And the love story was one I was hoping for. All in all, this was a fantastic read. I give it a 10/10.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Summary from Goodreads:
An epic graphic novel about a girl who travels to the ends of the universe to find a long lost love, from acclaimed author Tillie Walden.

Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.
A LGBT adventure/love story set in space? Yes please! I wasn’t sure how’d I feel about this one because I have mixed experiences with past graphic novels by the author. However, this called to me. And I was so ecstatic to get this one for review.  I also went from one giant book to another giant book. Though, this went super quickly, as graphic novels tend to do. And it was enough of a genre shift for me to fully dive in.
Hands down, this is my favorite book by this author. It’s one of my favorite graphic novels, period. The art kind of reminded me of the art in Scott Westerfeld’s Spill Zone. It was just as dark, strange, and eerie. However, the art was also simple and often in just two or three colors. It really moved the story along in a unique way. I’m normally not a huge fan of books that are filled with flashbacks/time jumps. However, here, it all worked. It was always clear (by color scheme) to me when we were in the past and when we were in the present. I liked this.
I found the concept of Mia’s crew to be unbelievably fascinating. They had a sort of Firefly feel. They’re a group of highly intelligent and kind-hearted misfits. They stand up for gender rights, and love. This wasn’t a book with just one LGBT couple or person. This was a book where every main character was LGBT (I think). That in itself would make this stand out in a positive way for me. I loved this. I loved the love story at the heart of everything. But, I also loved all the side love stories on the ship. Each character was interesting in a way I’m not used to seeing in graphic novels. Basically, this was a graphic novel with exceptional character development.
The adventures, missions, and eventual rescue plot-line, kept me turning the pages late into the night. I had to know if Mia would find her lost love. I had to know how Grace would respond to everything. I had to know what would happen to other characters.
So, I guess this book kind of had everything….It’s a page-turning, suspenseful story. It has great characters. It has a fantastic ensemble of LGBT characters. The art is amazing. The love story is wonderful. It’s all set in abandoned buildings on random planets, and on a space ship, with some flashbacks to boarding school. And well, I ate it up. I give it a 10/10.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Good Week in Books (194)

So, I have been a little MIA this month. Mostly, I have been super busy. But, also, I had a bit of a book hangover after finishing Kingdom of Ash. Like, I needed some non-reading time to recover from my 1000 page reading frenzy. I did read 2 books this week (one amazing graphic novel and one awesome fantasy).  I cannot believe I’m almost done with my Goodreads reading challenge of the year. 3 more to go….and I’ll have read 100 books.
I received one new book for review (Thank you, Farrar Straus Giroux). And I caved and bought myself some signed/super sale books at Barnes and Noble on Black Friday. I bought some holiday gifts there too. But, I couldn’t turn away from the autographed books and or the 50% YA books.  Holiday shopping in bookstores is dangerous. I can never not buy books for myself. Also, I’m going to Chicago soon, and I always get some quality book time in when I travel. I can’t wait to start some of these new books.
The new books:

Wilder by Andrew Simonet
Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (autographed)
Soulless by Gail Carriger (also autographed)
How was your week in books?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

Summary from Goodreads:
Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s #1 New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an epic, unforgettable conclusion. Aelin Galathynius’s journey from slave to king’s assassin to the queen of a once-great kingdom reaches its heart-rending finale as war erupts across her world. . .

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, Aedion and Lysandra remain the last line of defense to protect Terrasen from utter destruction. Yet they soon realize that the many allies they’ve gathered to battle Erawan’s hordes might not be enough to save them. Scattered across the continent and racing against time, Chaol, Manon, and Dorian are forced to forge their own paths to meet their fates. Hanging in the balance is any hope of salvation―and a better world.

And across the sea, his companions unwavering beside him, Rowan hunts to find his captured wife and queen―before she is lost to him forever.

As the threads of fate weave together at last, all must fight, if they are to have a chance at a future. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever in the explosive final chapter of the Throne of Glass series.
I feel like I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this book. I read it remarkably fast. I had to know how everything would conclude for everyone. Yet, at the same time, it weirdly dragged. I loved the beginning. Stuff was so intense! Some of what Aelin went through was almost too painful to read. The beginning for me, though, really captivated me and showed me how insanely strong Aelin really is.
The middle of the book dragged. I think I’ve determined it’s the longest novel I have ever read. It’s 992 pages! That beats the 5th Harry Potter book and The Mysts of Avalon  (the two I always think of when I remark on novel length). And I’m not really certain if the biggest fault here is that of the author or the editor. So many things repeated in the plot and development of the story. I get sometimes that repetition is needed. It really drives a point across. But, I swear to God, if I read about her scars being missing, or the pull/not-pull of the mate bond, or Manon’s heritage, or how awful the court is, just one more time, I would have stopped reading. I’m not going to lie; I did stop reading a few times, to go, “Again??” Like, I get it. I’m not a moron. I seriously think maybe a third of the book was repetition…and could have been cut out. And repetition is one of my biggest peeves in a book. It made me question whether the book was edited at all.
Also, all the characters are mostly separate through most of the book. So, some character storylines were obviously stronger than others. I mostly skimmed Chaol’s chapters. I found his to be the most repetitive and dull. It was all about how much he’s overcome and how much he loves his wife. Instead of being cute and romantic, it felt forced. Like, I was being persuaded to think he was happy, instead of actually watching him be happy, if that makes sense.
I was actually very into Dorian’s storyline. I liked that he had the mission he did. And I actually feel like he’s overcome so much more than Chaol has, but none of his achievements were repeated or over-emphasized at all, so I felt like I could enjoy things a lot more. I also have come to love Manon and the witches, and I found their stories to be interesting too, though very predictable.
And then of course it’s all action for the last 150 pages or so, and I had a feeling I knew how it would end, and I was surprisingly wrong. So, points to Maas for surprising me there. I do think she did a good job of the end in general, wrapping up all the loose ends and characters. There was even closure with characters I thought long-gone and over. So, that was nice too. I really enjoyed reading the beginning and the ending of this book. I guess it was more the middle that needed the work.
Everyone, literally everyone, is coupled up at the end. I have come to expect this now…though, it still feels almost silly and too good. Maas still uses the word, “prick” rather often. And there were a few things that came off as very vague, mostly about the Gods. But, overall I was impressed with the end. I liked that things ended a little past the final battle, so we got to see how things changed.
All in all, the beginning and the ending were great. So much was repeated and felt like unnecessary filler in the middle that I almost stopped reading the book entirely. I skimmed everything about Chaol. I loved the stories about everyone else. I loved how everything tied up. It’s rare for me to love a book so much in parts, and in others parts really loathe it. I give it a 7/10.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen

Summary from Goodreads:
It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze. Sweeping, soapy, and romantic, this is a story about an epic love triangle—one that will literally set the city ablaze, and change the lives of three childhood friends forever.
I believe I first read The Luxe by this author in 2007, 11 years ago! That was around the time YA books were starting to become the amazing genre that they are now. It was the first time I had read a soap opera –esque historical fiction novel, and I was hooked. I knew, even at the time, that it was not great literature, but it was fun and dramatic and what I wanted at the time.
I didn’t love the Luxe series, but I enjoyed them. Sometimes I want a predictable, dramatic romance. And I always knew what to expect. I never read the other series by this author, but this book jumped to my attention because it’s about Chicago and the Great Chicago Fire. There’s tons of historical fiction and current fiction, set in NY, but no so much in Chicago. And this is a period of history I’ve always been fascinated by.
I went into this thinking it would probably be another dramatic historical romance set in a place I’m super interested in. I was partially right. I did love the background and the setting of this novel. I loved all the Chicago streets and neighborhoods mentioned. Everything else though just felt so blasĂ©. I’ve read this story a million times. I’ve read this love triangle a million times. And I guess, I’ve come to expect more in YA now. Like, if you’re doing a story that’s been done before (many times), change something up a bit, at least a little.
The characters were all so two-dimensional. Privileged Emmeline never learns from her mistakes. I almost liked her. I thought for sure she would have learned a lesson about wealth and privilege following the aftermath of the fire, but no….She just seems to always amount more wealth, attention, and love no matter what terrible things she does. Fiona felt too good. She put up with way too much, and her reactions felt almost fake to me. No one is that good. Anders was boring. He literally had no personality, besides that he was good at boxing. I didn’t love how he could easily go from one girl to another, either. I don’t even remember the name of the fiancĂ©, who was also terrible.
Maybe I’m getting more accustomed to diverse YA, but so much of these characters problems seemed like first world problems. I never truly felt bad for any of them…And Godbersen does excel at the whole “upstairs/downstairs” writing thing. She does write the points of view of the servants and compares them to the wealthy. But, the servants at times seemed almost worse. They were petty and scheming more than the wealthy were. I never liked any of them either.
All in all, this was not the book for me. I’m a character reader, who desperately wanted to like any of the characters but failed to do so. The plot has been done before and there was nothing new added to it this go-around. The location, the time period, and the fire made this readable enough for me to finish. But, if there’s more to come in the series, I do not plan on reading more. I give this one a 4/10.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Summary from Goodreads:
In this highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Felicity Montague must use all her womanly wits and wiles to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor—even if she has to scheme her way across Europe to do it. A must-have for fans of Mackenzi Lee’s extraordinary and Stonewall Honor-winning novel.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to like this one. At first, I was incredibly excited for its release because I absolutely adored The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. And I was glad to hear that Felicity would get her own story. But, then I read some not-so-great reviews for its pacing and lack of romance. I tend to love a good romance and a fast-paced story, so I became a bit hesitant.
I also learned that I didn’t love Felicity as much I as thought I would. In the first book, she was the logical, intelligent voice of reason. In this book, she’s judgmental, critical, and kind of off-putting. That being said, those kinds of characters tend to seriously intrigue me, and often end up my favorite if not the most memorable. So, I kept going.
I also loved getting to see my favorite characters from the book before. They brought in an appropriate amount of love, humor, and charm. And as soon as Monty and Percy are out of the plot, there was a noticeable drop in the charm and I couldn’t help but want to like Felicity more than I did. It was almost unfair to compare her to her charismatic brother. But, I couldn’t help but do this once Monty came and went.
However, I soon came to love Felicity. I love that she wasn’t ignorant of her flaws. She learns to see how judgmental and off-putting she is. And she works to fix this. I also love how deeply she loves medicine. I had major respect for how hard she worked to get what she wanted. And I definitely loved that she respected this characteristic in others also. I loved that this book sort of became a friendship story. I loved watching Felicity make amends with an old friend. I loved the mystery, the science, and the adventure to the plot. I found the writing and the pacing to actually work fine.  I read the second half of the book in close to one sitting. It was hard for me to put down.
Though, there was one thing that bothered me. The first book was historical fiction. And then 75% of this book was also historical fiction…. However; then, the author throws sea monsters into the story…sea dragons with magical, healing scales….Um? I love historical fantasy stories. I do. But, this just felt so strange to me. Like if this was meant to be fantasy, couldn’t it have been alluded to in book 1? I kept being pulled out of the story and going, “Are there really sea dragons? And could she be referring to a real animal with a fantastical name?” It was confusing and unprecedented in a frustrating way. Then, I was questioning everything that transpired in book 1 and thinking, “What else was fantasy?” and I guess it altered my perception of everything in negative fashion.
I’m glad I read this book despite my earlier trepidation. I fell in love with the story. I really came to love Felicity (almost as much as Monty). I loved seeing old characters come back. I also enjoyed meeting the new characters. There was a definite feminist vibe to it all. Honestly, I’d rate this book much higher, if not for the weird genre shift 75% through…it was just so off-putting. There couldn’t be something else related to medicine, drugs, and pirates that wasn’t so fantastical? I give this an 8/10.