Ice Like Fire

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: I loved the first book, Snow Like Ashes, and I was psyched to read this sequel, albeit a little wary of middle book syndrome. Turns out, my suspicions were correct; this book exhibits all the symptoms of middle book syndrome: slow plot, poor character development, a focus on romance rather than politics and battle, and a slew of plot conveniences.

This sequel tracks Meira and Theron as they visit other Rythms and Seasons on a sort of political tour, but Meira and Theron are motivated by different causes and this divide threatens to split the couple. As she struggles to draw Theron to her cause, Meira also struggles to keep her powers under control and find a solution that could save not just Winter but her whole world.

In spite of the slow plot, though, I found myself speeding through the novel. Sara Raasch is a great world-builder, and that, at least, was not lost in this sequel.

Part of what slowed the plot down is the alternating perspectives. This technique is used far too often and is often an encumbrance and annoyance, splitting the plot in two and drawing it out longer. In this book, Raasch alternates chapter perspectives between Meira and Mather. While I enjoyed the Meira chapters (lots of world-building there), Mather’s chapters were often slow and more angsty, and they saw little action until the end of the novel. Moreover, the fact that Mather is voiced but Theron is not irks me (#Theira4ever).

The main characters didn’t seem to grow much aside from dealing with their growth in the first book. Raasch did, however, introduce a few side characters who seem to have the spunk and fierceness to quell our thirst for strong characters for the duration of the novel (Feige and Ceridwen come to mind).

This book also took some liberties with the magic part of the world, inventing new rules for the magic as we went and leaving several questions unanswered (why could Meira make it snow in Summer?). While the majority of the plot’s reliance on magic made sense and fit with the previous series, I was confused about some of the additions. Why exactly could the Decay infect other people? If Angra died, wouldn’t the Decay then infect the entire population rather than a select few? Perhaps I missed these details by reading quickly, but I wish Raasch would stick with clear boundaries for the magic and let the plot play out within that world rather than continuing to change the rules.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the first book in the series, I recommend continuing with it; I have hopes that the last book (Frost Like Night) will make it all worth it. Those who enjoy angsty YA plots where love triangles triumph burden the plot (guilty pleasure, perhaps) might want to start this series just for the second book. I still stand by my opinion that Raasch is an excellent world-builder, so perhaps the book will appeal to you solely for that reason. There is a brothel scene (which the main characters find distasteful) and some violence (beheading, cutting, etc.), so this book is probably best for ages 14+.

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Rating: 4/5

Review: This was the optimal time for me to read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (which is an awesome name). Not only is it Friday the 13th (a notably creepy day for a notably creepy book), but I’m in the midst of researching freak shows for my thesis project (which I’m sure you’ll hear more about on Goodreads). I’ve seen a great deal of odd, even haunting black and white photographs of late, and Miss Peregrine’s seemed like something straight out of my research.

I heard about this book mostly because the movie is coming out in September. It looks like it’s taken quite a few liberties from the book, but Asa Butterfield is starring in it, and I can’t miss that. Naturally, I had to read the book first.

 

I was a little nervous about it because I read other reviews that claimed the book had little plot and was slow in the middle. I did not find this to be true. It was perhaps slow in the middle, but I didn’t see this as a negative note; I mean, what book isn’t slow in the middle? You might say the same thing about Pride and Prejudice or The Count of Monte Cristo or any other of my favorite classics. I think the book needed to be slow in the middle to give the reader a chance to take in the world Riggs built and breathe before the fast-paced ending sucked them back in.

I also believe Riggs builds a unique world. I have read other allegations that his world is too similar to that of the x-men, though you could also say the same of the Percy Jackson series or Avatar: The Last Airbender or even Harry Potter. The people-with-special-abilities-who-attend-training-school/group is a common fictional trope. It’s a popular one, too, because it’s a fantasy people want to buy into. Everyone secretly (0r not-so-secretly) wishes they had some sort of superpower and could go to a school to learn under Dumbledore or Prof. X or just make friends who could teach you. Heck, when I’m sick part of me hopes it’s something the doctors can’t identify and suddenly I’ll be able to do things I couldn’t before. But it’s always just allergies or something normal like that.

Point is, we can’t blame this book for following a fairly successful plot type. Riggs works hard to make his book unique from similar stories, ensuring that the word “peculiar” fits the sort of powers given to the children of the tale. Moreover, he builds a whole world around them, with terrifying beasts and all. Unlike the similar titles I named, Miss Peregrine’s has an unsettling tone. There are happy moments, sure, but even those are darkened with the peculiarity of the children’s powers and somber language and accompanying black-and-white images. This is not a horror tale or a thriller, per se, but it’s a story meant to bother you a while after reading it.

Several reviews have claimed the photos in the book fail to fully fit in the story. While I see where those views are coming from–some of the images of supposedly the same people, for example, seem quite different from one another–I don’t mind it. The pictures set the tone for the novel and differentiate it further from tales of similar worlds by offering a sort of proof in old photographs. It reminds me a little of magical realism, where if you don’t buy into the world of the book, you’re not going to have a good relationship with it.

Though I disagree with many of the negative remarks concerning this book, I find I cannot rate it five stars. I enjoyed the plot, the setting, the language, and the photographs, but I was disappointed in the characterization. I did not feel sympathetic towards Jacob or Emma, and I (ironically) found them to be unbelievable at times. I appreciated some of the side characters, but I wished Jacob and Emma were a little more complex, relatable, and distinctive. Perhaps I will witness their growth through the next books in the series.

Recommendation: This book had some rough language, a bit of violence, and morbid commentary (thinking of you, Enoch). It should be fine for high school students and up, but those sensitive to language and dark scenes might want to hold off a bit. It reminds me a little of the Middle School book Serafina and the Black Cloak, but for a more teenaged audience. If you enjoy reading about freak shows and oddities, you will likely enjoy this read. Fans of Bone Gap interested in a darker novel should check it out, as well. It’s pretty quick to get through, and would make a satisfyingly creepy (yet nightmare-less) Halloween read.

Winter

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Winter, the finale of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, neatly ties up all the loose ends of the previous three books. The novel effectively concludes the main conflict and follows the four central couples (Cinder & Kai (& Iko), Scarlet & Wolf, Cress & Thorne, and Winter & Jacin) to the end of their story.

Because the tale jumps between four sets of characters and the antagonist Levana, there is not as much room for character growth as there was in the previous books–disappointing because even Meyer’s novellas had strong characterization. I understand that it was necessary to follow all pairings, but this is the same problem I had in Avengers: Age of Ultron; characters were sacrificed for plot.

*spoiler*

Not literally sacrificed, though. Every protagonist survived despite apparent massive casualties in battle. The only character we lost was an adult who was only just introduced to the story. And while the happily-ever-after ending fits the Disney-fied fairy tale feel of the series, it disappoints me–it’s not the ending I expected Meyer to choose. To have one character (or a full pairing) die in the war seems natural and makes the characters more heroic, gives them more to fight for. Moreover, it would resolve the problem of a lack of character growth, shaping the main characters through the loss of their comrade(s). Original fairy tales, after all, often ended in loss.

*end spoiler*

I do appreciate some of the nods to fairy tales, though; Meyer has a knack for subtlety. When Winter eats the poisoned apple treat, for example, she is placed in a stasis chamber which opens into a bed of sorts.

But Winter doesn’t seem like the main character, though the title suggests otherwise. Since the previous three books were titled after their protagonist, this was disappointing. Winter had great potential as a protagonist, but she ends up a sidekick to Cinder, which just made me annoyed with Cinder and anxious to get back to a chapter with the Luna Lovegood-esque Winter. I expected the Lunar sickness to turn her into some sort of oracle. I expected Jacin to sacrifice himself for her. But I suppose I expected too much, and Winter did not become all she could be.

Recommendation: This book is worth reading for those who have come this far–and everyone should come this far because the series is incredibly well-constructed. But be warned that it will likely disappoint readers who have been in awe of Meyer’s strong characterization, which gets lost under the dense plot and large cast.

The series should be safe for advanced middle schoolers and up; it’s enjoyable for all ages.

 

[apologies again for the month-long silence; sophomore year gave me quite a heavy workload! These silences are likely to occur more often as I jump from study abroad trip to a full credit load and four jobs to studying for the GRE, but I will read and review as much as I am able in the meantime.]

 

The Rose Society

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Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Review: To be honest, part of me expected Marie Lu to redeem Adelina’s character from villain to hero or to keep Adelina as dark as she was in The Young Elites. I didn’t think Adelina could get much darker–but Lu managed it. By the end of the book, I felt numb from reading Adelina’s violent perspective of the world around her.

In this sequel, Adelina attempts to rise in power and take the throne with the help of her sister and a number of new elites. Her ambition leads her to conflict with old friends and new friends alike, as well as the whispers and illusions her own mind sets against her.

I love that Lu was able to remain focused on the plot rather than the romance without losing the reader’s interest. This quality alone might raise the Young Elites above Lu’s other series, Legend. The only other modern YA series I know that was able to keep its second book afloat without hugging the romance for dear life is Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s trilogy.

Adelina also “trembled” much less in this book than she did in the first (which was a complaint of mine on my Goodreads review of The Young Elites).

Adelina grew in this book to become one of the most powerful female characters I’ve read in YA fiction. I’m convinced that if Adelina knew Machiavelli, the two would’ve gotten along splendidly. What concerns me is that I am led to sympathize with Adelina in a way I would have never thought possible for a Machiavellian character. That’s what makes this series so complex; it attempts to show that even the most fearsome of villains can be relatable or pitiable to an extent.

Of course, it helps that Adelina’s victims are fictional; our reaction would be different if this were nonfiction.

Without giving too much away, I also think the end of this book sets the third book (The Midnight Star) up for greatness. The plot twist reveals something Lu had the foresight to set up in the first book. While my hopes are raised for the third book, I’ll have to pin my feelings about this series as a whole on how Lu concludes it all.

Recommendation: If you read The Young Elites and are debating whether the series is worth finishing–it is. The Young Elites series is original, so anyone interested in reading it should give it a shot, but fans of dark fantasy will likely appreciate it most.

Bone Gap

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Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Review: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap is hard to define. It has a touch of magical realism, which I certainly appreciated, along with some fairy tale, coming of age, and feminist elements, but it has enough of a realistic fiction feel that it’s difficult to categorize, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much (remember my review of a similarly difficult to categorize book).

In the book, Finn O’Sullivan, a quirky teen, tries to find the captor of Roza, a mysterious girl Finn and his older brother Sean took under their wing a while back. The catch? Finn can’t remember the captor’s face, leading the people of Bone Gap to dismiss what he saw as delusional. It’s a book of love, true beauty, and perseverance in the face of obstacles.

While I felt like the plot was hard to keep up with at times, I was able to push past my confusion and enjoy the characters and themes. Ruby has some fantastic feminist characters, and keeps them in touch with real problems like the harm of societal expectations of beauty and sexual harassment. She also tackles other large problems like mental disorders, parental abandonment, and the struggle of living in a small town.

Ruby’s novel performs well on a line-by-line basis, too. The constant referrals to the absurdity of college application essay prompts are humorous and, later on, heartbreaking. More than that, they keep the book relevant to its target audience.

The main flaw in this book is the lack of explanation for certain central problems, but I think that’s always an issue for books with more magical realist qualities. Readers should go into this novel prepared to go along with certain ideas without questioning them.

Recommendation: Those who dislike magical realism should stay away from this book. Teens aged 14 and up would probably appreciate Bone Gap most. There are possible triggers in the chapters covering Roza’s time in college, but Ruby is not graphic. Fans of Magonia will likely enjoy this read (and vice versa).

Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois

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Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Review: Sophie Perinot has clearly dedicated much of her time to research for the historical fiction novel Médicis Daughter. Still, I was disappointed.

Not because she failed to represent history correctly; this is a problem faced by everyone who takes creative license with history, no matter how much or little research has been done, and I think Perinot tried to remain true to what she sees as a possibility for history.

No, I’m disappointed simply because Margot’s character was painful in some respects and the book was too slow in parts.

I’m sure it must have been hard to be a daughter to Catherine de Médicis, and Margot is shaped into a strong woman by the end of the novel who I can’t help but admire (the character growth is well-formulated). Through most of the novel, though, I found her to be not only in pain, but painful. Her strained relationship with her brother Henri, for example, felt forced in parts. I think such a relationship is hard to pull off effectively, but it didn’t help that Margot blamed herself after the problem escalated. Throughout much of the book, she blames herself for the actions of others. This is dangerous for a novel, especially as she blames herself even when others threaten to take advantage of her. This is an idea that should be refuted by the end of the novel, but it is not.

The book also lags in the middle, as historical fiction novels so often do. Rather than build suspense, I found Margot’s relationship with a certain gentleman tedious. The character change of that gentleman is not as well-formulated as the change of Margot herself. Moreover, his change felt contrived for the convenience of plot. In this same section of the novel, I found it difficult to follow where in France Margot was.

In spite of its flaws, this book taught me a lot about Margot de Valois and her family as well as the War of Religion and St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and, for historical fiction, having learned something is perhaps the most important quality.

Recommendation: Fans of the TV show Reign or the film The Duchess and similar stories will likely enjoy this book.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)

First off, sorry I’ve been gone so long. This is exam/project/essay season. I really do care about this blog still, but school comes first. As does the newest season of Doctor Who–but that’s over now, too.

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Maybe I’m being a little harsh but, while this book is certainly a fantastic start to what looks to be a promising series, it’s not as good as The Lightening Thief. Still, Riordan makes improvements in some areas.

Take the character list. We have a blonde teen as the protagonist Magnus Chase. Then we have his friends: Hearth, who’s deaf, and Blitz, who’s–well, he doesn’t easily fit a mold. Riordan makes an effort for diversity, too, by including Samirah Al Abbas, a Muslim Valkyrie. Annabeth pops up again, too.

Some of the side characters are different from Riordan’s previous work, but Magnus has the same voice and personality as Percy Jackson and Jason Grace. Magnus says all the right things. Even though he gets himself into trouble, he manages to find a way out. He’s snarky and cheesy and loves adventure. He’s the typical hero; I’ve read a number of books in his voice before and, frankly, I’m bored with him. I think Riordan’s philosophy on this is “it’s worked well before,” but this book sounds too similar to the Percy Jackson series for my liking.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book, nor does it follow the exact same path as the previous mythical adaptations. What I think I like most about this book is the lack of romance for the main character. The fact that this is a bestselling YA page-turner without any romance is refreshing.

It’s also different because it lacks the formal “camp” setting that runs through the Percy Jackson and subsequent Heroes of Olympus series. There’s a sort of gathering place for the Norse demigods in the afterlife, but most of the book takes place on a quest. In that way, it’s a little more like the Kane Chronicles.

The book fails to live up to my usual standards for Riordan, though. The climax falls short of the suspense I want it to have. Really, the whole plot lacks tension. I wanted to see the progression of characters. The plot didn’t startle me at all–in fact, it was fairly predictable. I never bought into the whole “end of the world” scenario because I know Riordan’s not going to do that to me. I’m disappointed he didn’t take more risks with this book by putting characters at risk.

Riordan does well shaping the characters of Samirah and Heath, though. Whatever else may be afflicting this book, at least those two are solid characters, unique to the series. And even though the novel runs in the same vein as the other books in this mythical universe, the mythical universe itself is original, and it seems Riordan still has more to explore.

Recommendation: Honestly I feel too old to be reading this series still, but I appreciate the nostalgia of going back to a world I remember losing myself in throughout middle school and high school. It’s not obscene and the violence is mild. While I believe the book is best suited for middle school or upper elementary school students, those who have been exploring this world with Riordan for a while will likely still find pleasure in this novel.

The Heart Goes Last

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: Margaret Atwood’s new dystopian novel The Heart Goes Last, while initially well-designed, fails to make a lasting impression.

The book follows Stan and Charmaine, a young couple living in the midst of an economic crash. Desperate for safety and normality, they sign up for the Positron Project, a clean, structured town where inhabitants live and labor in the gender-separated prison of Positron for a month and stay in the fifties-esque town of Consilience the next. Atwood manages to patch together a world like that of 1984 and The Stepford Wives mixed with her own developments. When both Stan and Charmaine become involved with their “Alternates,” the people who live in their home the months the couple is in prison, the story becomes more complicated.

The novel focuses on the relationship between Stan and Charmaine, which becomes increasingly tangled as the plot progresses. Atwood does a fantastic job adding depth to the couple by revealing their candid, often disturbing thoughts. Even more hauntingly, the dystopian world Atwood describes so well could easily fit into the next few years.

Though unsettling, the book is, at least, an enjoyable read. Stan’s prison side job as chicken pimp, a woman romantically attached to a teddy bear, and the growing absurdity of the main couple’s situation prompt a few smiles.

Atwood’s voice is also impressive. Some of her lines provoke deep thought while others aim to entertain, and she writes so smoothly there is never a clash between the two. She is even able to catch me off guard with a couple plot twists that stomp my initial predictions away.

In the last quarter of the book, though, the story seems to get out of Atwood’s hands. The stitches that pull the novel together become more obvious and start to fray. The plot gradually loses its realism, pieces don’t match up quite right, and secondary characters lose their depth. Worse yet, the dystopian clichés that Atwood initially appears to use jokingly become more serious and groan-worthy. Near the novel’s end, the story’s humor fades and takes on a more moralistic tone.

Atwood crams the last few chapters with events meant to drive the main themes home, but, though interesting, these events seem too much like an afterthought. The final chapters don’t drive the main themes home as much as they pull these themes to the surface. By the end, Atwood bares the story’s already thinly veiled meaning to readers as though they are incapable of jumping to interpretations themselves.

Still, the central meaning is designed better than similar stories, and it is an enjoyable read.

The problem with The Heart Goes Last is not a matter of enjoyment, though. The problem is that the heart of the novel goes before the Atwood is finished, but she keeps working at it anyway, hoping a frenzy of shocks will keep it alive until the end. In truth, the story flat-lines before Atwood is willing to wrap it up.

Recommendation: Fans of Atwood might be able to overlook these issues and appreciate the author’s intent. I think fans of The Stepford Wives and more mature fans of The Giver may also value this novel. It is a likable read for a general audience, but those unable to enjoy books featuring extramarital affairs, customizable prostitute robots, and “Big Brother” settlements should stay away.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book–even if I didn’t review it until it was published.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Review: Another book I was so ready to love–but didn’t.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge fan of fairy tales. I love how everything has a purpose even if it seems completely random. I love how they can turn so quickly from romance to tragedy. I love how occasionally–not often, but occasionally–a subtly empowering female figure steps into the fray.

It’s no surprise, then, that I also love adaptations of fairy tales. And, props to Sarah J. Maas, her adaptation draws more from Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast than the Disney version. When “Beauty” (Feyre) mentioned her older sisters, I squealed. That’s how excited I get when authors adapt the original stories. From the first few chapters, I was hooked. I wanted to see this strong, independent hunter girl take down the beast.

But the beast (Tamlin) didn’t need anyone to take him down. In fact, he’s the one who seems to take Feyre down, and even that doesn’t take as much work as I’d like–it’s not so hard to get a human to fall in love with you if you look like a freakin’ god.

Another YA book, another instalove story.

So the first couple hundred pages of the book is that constant “he loves me, he loves me not” questioning where the readers complain about the protagonist’s blindness. Yes, he loves you. We get it. He’s handsome, he thinks you’re beautiful, move on already. In spite of the hostilities and mystery surrounding her, Feyre allows romance to take the central theme of the plot.

And why does Tamlin constantly blame Feyre for being attractive to him? Like he can’t control himself, but he can control Feyre? He tells her “don’t ever disobey me again” and says he “can’t be held accountable for the consequences” even when the consequence is his own lust for her.

I’ve said it. This story doesn’t show love–it shows lust. Aside from one scene where Tamlin notes how easily Feyre understands him, there’s nothing more to their romance than mutual passions. More than lust, it shows the sort of dominant-subordinate roles common in abusive relationships.

And then action happens again and Lucien is amazing and Feyre’s sisters are amazing and Rhysand is amazing and Amarantha is–well, terrifying–and every character seems multi-faceted EXCEPT Feyre and Tamlin and I want to yell at this book because is it really so hard to stick to a strong, interesting female character?

Not to mention the fact that the trials and the riddle are way too predictable.

Why two and a half stars out of five, you ask? Why not lower? Like I said, the rest of the characters are amazing and complex and Maas clearly worked hard to weave the original into the adaptation. The setting is gorgeous and Maas has created yet another fascinating world for this series. I’m hopeful that the second book will focus more on the war in the plot rather than the romance, and from the way the first book ends, it looks like some of my favorite characters will play a larger role in the next book.

Recommendation: Fans of Alex Flinn and Donna Jo Napoli‘s fairy tale adaptations will likely enjoy this read.

I would recommend those interested in fairy tale adaptations to look into Marissa Meyer’s YA sci-fi Lunar Chronicles, Ruth Frances Long’s stand-alone The Treachery of Beautiful Things, or Shannon Hale’s fantasy MS series Books of Bayern instead.

Redeeming Love

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: Francine Rivers’s Redeeming Love is not new to the shelves–it was published in 1991–but it is worth reviewing.

The Christian romance novel adapts the story of Hosea and Gomer to the time of the California Gold Rush. (Short version: Godly man told to marry prostitute; prostitute keeps running back to prostitution.)

The most important characteristic of the novel is that it is incredibly moving. The beginning and Angel’s last attempt to run away are particularly affecting. Angel’s slow transformation and God’s hand in her life are both comforting and inspiring. It is also an interesting book in terms of plot and setting and the adaptation is very well-done.

Still, Redeeming Love is not without a few less-than-redemptive qualities. One such quality is the constant repetition of thoughts.

Hosea: If God wants her to be my wife, she’ll be my wife, even if I struggle with it.

Angel: There is no God and I must run away to enjoy my independence.

I understand that these thoughts and movements keep the story similar to the Biblical account, but is it truly necessary to repeat these same thoughts so many times? The novel may have packed even more of a punch for me if it dropped 100 pages of these repetitive concepts.

Also, why shouldn’t Angel want to enjoy her independence? I understand that “independence” as it means “return to prostitution” is not to be desired, but she is essentially forced into marriage and, as a result, into traditional feminine roles she has little taste for. I understand that, at the time, women had little freedom to call their own, but Angel’s idea of freedom–a cottage to herself–is made to feel impossible and almost laughable.

I love that, near the end of the novel, she gains some independence and makes a proper job for herself, but this independence isn’t lasting, either. I can’t say anything more on the matter without spoiling the book. I suppose that, when it comes down to it, I prefer reading a story with more empowering female characters.

I’m also very annoyed with what happens to Paul–but again I can’t say much without giving the story away.

This is yet another novel where all the characters are physically attractive. Which bothers me because how can they all be so attractive when they lack indoor plumbing? Wouldn’t smelliness and oily hair detract from one’s attractiveness?

Also, the epilogue feels incredibly rushed. It reads like the end of a touching “based on a real story” film where the screen lists each of the character’s happily-ever-afters rather than tell it all through a believable, satisfying story.

Still, the faults of Redeeming Love don’t negate the fact that I couldn’t put the darn book down.

Recommendation: Fans of Christian romance and historical fiction would probably enjoy this read most. Victims of abuse might want to be careful with this one.