31 December 2014

The Queen's Army

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #1.5
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Ah, finally, a novella in the series worth reading, and a rather perfect way to finish out my 2014 reading list as I eagerly await the next installment(s) of the series coming in 2015.

The Queen's Army is the background story for Wolf, who is probably my favorite character from Scarlet.  He is such a dynamic character, and I fell in love with him during the series, so a background story for him was well received on my end.  Now, don't get me wrong, there is still nothing Earth shattering with this novel, and it certainly isn't a must read for the series, but I finally found a novella that seems to add something to the series, and it is worth the short amount of time it takes to read it.

This novella follows Wolf from a young boy of 12 when he is conscripted into the Queen's Army, and follows him through his training.  I'm glad I didn't read this novel before Scarlet, even though it is tagged volume "1.5" in the series, as it does ruin a few of his shocking character traits and background that added to the excitement in Scarlet.  But as I am working my way through a re-read of the series now, it is a perfect bridge between Cinder and Scarlet to transition into the new group of characters introduced.

The Little Android

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #0.6
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It wasn't until just now as I opened the novellas's page on Goodreads that I made the connection to The Little Mermaid.  If I hadn't read the tagline of the synopsis that blatantly states that it is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, I doubt I would have ever guessed.

I am, and most likely forever will be, a fan of Marissa Meyer's writing, but her short stories/novellas for this series so far just have not been my cup of tea.  Like Glitches, The Little Android is an okay story, but I don't think it enhances the series in anyway.  In fact, apart from a short - but important - cameo from Cinder, it hardly feels like a Lunar Chronicles story at all.  All the familiar aspects of the series are there, sure, but it doesn't add anything overall to the saga.

While I at least rather enjoyed the plot of Glitches, the plot for The Little Android felt weak.  The Little Android summed up in one quick sentence is about a robot who loves in love with a human, who is in love with a cyborg.  A rather unique love triangle, to be sure, but the aspect of the love triangle is perhaps the most interesting element of this story.  Perhaps it was hard to relate to an android who thinks it is feeling human emotions, especially when you are only connected to the characters for eight short chapters.

Regardless, I will be skipping this novella on my next series reread.

29 December 2014

The Winner's Curse

Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

At times, Kestrel makes such foolish decisions that I want to rip the pages from the book and scream aloud at her.  And I'm not talking about her decision to buy Arin at the auction, although that is definitely not one of her better decisions made it turns out.  At times, she seems like she might have what it takes to be a strong, independent heroine for teenage girls.  But then she cowers at important decisions, and changes her mind.  It's not that she's wishy-washy, per se, but she doesn't have enough self esteem.

And yet, I still like this novel, even though Kestrel leaves a lot to be desired.  Rutkoski perhaps focuses too much on the romance between Kestrel and Arin, and even Kestrel and Ronan, as - of course - every YA novel needs a love triangle.  The romance in the novel isn't all that interesting, although the motivations behind the characters that perhaps lead to this love triangle sometimes are.  If Rutkoski had focused a little more on the tensions between the slave society and the dominant society, I think this series could have made my must read list.  And based on the ending, which feels a bit rushed setting up the scenario for the next installment, I have hopes that she plans to do just that.  So I already have the next novel on my wait list for the library, and hopefull Kestrel can grow a pair for 2015.

23 December 2014

Skink No Surrender

Author: Carl Hiaasen
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

First of all, Skunk Apes?  I've lived in Florida for 25 years and never once have I ever heard that name before.

I find it hard to sympathize with a high school girl who runs away from home with a 26 year old stranger she met on the internet.  And ditto with a high school student main character who drivers across the state with a complete stranger that is more than a little cuckoo.  And then there are the irresponsible parents in this novel, mainly Richard's mom.  She doesn't seem concerned at all that her son is off with a stranger.  A simple call to another person she has never met for a character reference on the strange man that has her teenage son in the car seems enough to clam her down.  Completely whack.  Every single character in this novel should be institutionalized.  Seems like an article you would read in the newspaper about a body found in the swamp.  Jeez.

I know Hiaasen takes liberties in a lot of his novels for youths with unbelievable plots, but this one definitely takes the cake.  The plot is just so outlandish that it was hard to get into the story.  Definitely my least favorite of his novels that I've read thus far.

15 December 2014

Let the Sky Fall

Author: Shannon Messenger
Series: Let the Sky Fall #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Wow.  Talk about some dysfunctional family dynamics in this novel.  While Vane seems to have an okay relationship with his foster parents, Audra and her mother are definitely on the other end of the spectrum.  There are a lot of secrets between these two, a lot of open hostility and resentment, and a LOT of love lost.  Honestly, it's kind of amazing they haven't killed each other already.

While the concept of mastering and controlling an element such as wind is interesting, Messenger doesn't quite pull it off.  Especially since winds don't typically blow in just one direction, so the thought of four different languages of wind for the four main cardinal directions seemed like quite a stretch and a weird concept.

The characters in this novel feel very one dimensional.  Vane has dreamt about Audra for ten years, ever sense he survived the tornado that killed his parents and wiped away his memory of his past.  She is the only thing he remembers, and he's rather obsessed with her.  So when he's out on a double date and sees her in the restaurant, it's as if all his prayers have been answered.  It doesn't seem to matter if the knows the first thing about her, the novel is all about his feelings for this mysterious gal of his dreams.

While there is a bit of a plot to the story, it feels like the plot is there only to drive along the romance between Vane and Audra.  And though they seem destined to be together,  even though Audra keeps claiming that they can't be, they have no real chemistry I could see.  So when coupled with the lack of a gripping plot, this novel falls short and leaves a lot to be desired.

14 December 2014

Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #3
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Even though we only met a few weeks ago, it's hard to say goodbye to the Grisha gang.  Ruin and Rising certainly wasn't what I expected.  Though Bardugo wrapped up the series nicely, there were some definite plot twists I never would have seen coming.  I have kind of mixed feelings about the ending, as it didn't exactly go the way I wanted, but that happens sometimes.  And though it wasn't the ending I necessarily expected or desired, it was still a proper sendoff to these characters and this masterfully crafted world.

I felt Alina really grew throughout the books, and her decisions in Ruin and Rising put to rest all the qualms I felt against her at the beginning of the series.  Her character is dynamic, constantly shifting.  Her relationships with Mal, Nikolai, and the Darkling are complex.  Even minor characters have impactful importance in this conclusion to the series.  I loved the return of Baghra and how her character line plays out.  Genya, David, Zoya, the Apparat... the list seems to go on and on with characters that help make this series what it is.  In my opinion, that is one of the major strengths that Bardugo has that a lot of other YA series lack.  She takes the time to develop the minor characters, and remembers to include them in the plot.  They are not only there to help get the plot out of a sticky situation.  They are developed, multi-dimensional characters by their own right.

Where Siege and Storm felt a bit like a filler novel, Ruin and Rising suffers no such issues.  It is jam packed with plotting and action and suspense.  And a little bit of heartache and surprise as well.  While I felt the pace at the beginning of the novel and at some points in the middle were a little slow, the plot was a bit like an avalanche careening down the side of a mountain.  It continued to gain steam until it barreled you through to the climax, then left the final pieces of the plot to be tied up in the end in the conclusion.

Considering how much death and despair are in this series, and considering the entire series takes place during a war, I found the ending a bit too 'Happily Ever After' for my taste.  But then again, Bardugo could have gone the Lauren Oliver or the Veronica Roth route and blown the entire series to pieces with the final installment of the series.  So while it was no Mockingjay (which seemed to have just the right amount of 'happily ever after' and 'oh God, how could she let this happen'), I thought the finale paid proper homage to the series, even if it isn't the way I would have written it.

Definitely a series that I will be adding to my personal library in due time.

09 December 2014

Black Ice

Author: Becca Fitzpatrick
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It is difficult to find a place to start with this review, so I will attempt to start at the beginning and work my way through to the end.

I did not even make it through the prologue before I already had issues with the first character presented in this novel.  At page six, I was already thoroughly fed up with Lauren.  Something bad was obviously going to happen to Lauren, that much was obvious, and I wasn't even going to feel sorry for her when her untimely death came because, hey, it was going to get her the attention she so desperately sought.

By page 32, I wasn't any more impressed with our "heroine" of the story, Britt.  The most important night of her life was her high school homecoming dance, all because she thought she might be crowned queen?  If that isn't shallow, when then I don't know what it.  But it was obvious early on that she was going to be a girl that peeked in high school.

This novel felt like Becca wanted to write a mystery/suspense novel, but wanted to target it to teenagers.  Thus, she vastly dumbed it down and then added a sick Stockholmy love interest just to make it even worse, which turned a marginally potential story into an utter mess of a flop of a novel.  The line in the story that I thought best summed up Britt was, "In the end, I deleted the text.  I wasn't going to manipulate my boyfriend.  I was seventeen now, above games" (pg 178).  I loved how Britt said this as if,somehow, not manipulating her boyfriend made her magically mature.  And from the looks of their relationship from the flashbacks, she didn't even sound like she liked her relationship with Calvin.  He wanted to keep their relationship a secret, he embarrassed her in front of his friends, and - oh yeah! - he cheated on her to boot.  So what girl with any form of self respect would even consider wanting to get back together with him, much less still be pining over him months later.  If she had had any self respect, she would have been the one to dump him, not the other way around.

The other line that really pegged Britt was, "...if I thought this through, I'd realize I was making a mistake" (pg 241).  It became rather obvious to me early on in the book that Britt didn't waste much time thinking, unless it involved swooning over guys.  This line from the novel sums up the entire story perfectly.  She needed to think more.  I've never met a girl as dumb as her, probably because they all got murdered in the woods over spring break.  Good Lord, girl, have some self respect and some common sense.

My issues with this novel did not end with just the character of Britt (there wasn't, in fact, a single likable character in the entire story).  The "plot" was so laughable that it was hard to take any of the novel seriously.  But, of course, since it was a suspense/mystery novel, I had to read it through to the end to see how it ended up.  Let me just tell you, it did not get any better.  I am not a master of statistics, but if I were, I would calculate the odds of all the revelations of the characters tying in together just so.

I did, however, get some enjoyment out of this story, and by the end I took to paraphrasing it aloud to my husband as I read, which became a lot more entertaining than the story itself.  To avoid spoilers if you still want to read this disaster, skip below.  I hated Hush, Hush (mainly due to the same issues I had here based on reading my review I wrote way back when) as well, and am officially never picking up another Becca Fitzpatrick novel again.


Paraphrase of the Black Ice plot:

This high school girl is in a love triangle with her cheating ex-boyfriend and this stranger she met at a 7-Eleven that knew way too much about her personal life that ends up kidnapping her.  And then her cheating ex-boyfriend ends up being a serial killer, and the high school girl is locked out of the cabin in the woods in a snow storm trying to figure out how to get back in to save her kidnapper from her serial killer ex-boyfriend.  This ex-boyfriend, it turns out, killed the sister of the kidnapper.

The only acceptable ending for this novel would have been if an avalanche had come storming down the side of the mountain and killed them all, the end.

Siege and Storm

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #2
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Alina is back and on the run.  Crossing the True Sea with Mal, she finds herself hidden away in a different kingdom, a stranger in every sense of the word.  And while she enjoys her alone time with Mal now that they have confessed their affections to each other, it is not all peaches and cream and paradise of love.

It doesn't take long for Alina to find herself in another sticky situation.  After all, they have to barter what they have, which leaves a trail behind.  They've hardly had the chance to catch their breaths before they are facing the Darkling once more, and this time he is sporting a terrifying new power that pushes Alina's power to its limit.

She is forced to return to Ravka, and since there is no love triangle between her and Mal and the Darkling anymore, Bardugo introduces the snarky pirate fiend to keep the unnecessary love triangle alive.  I truly do not understand why most YA authors feel the need to try to create love triangles at all costs.  This story carries so much power on its own, and the relationship drama is just messy, getting in the way of the plot.  Especially when Alina has two princes asking for her hand in marriage as well.

Apart from the love triangle flop, I have to say that Alina seemed to come into her own element in this sequel.  She is no longer the girl desperate to be loved (although this is perhaps because she has found it now) and appears to have learned from her mistakes.  The faults I saw in her in Shadow and Bone don't feel like such a burden in Siege and Storm, and because of that we got along better.  In fact, if anything, Mal is the one who started to bug me in this novel instead of Alina.

The plot feels a bit slow at some points, almost as if this entire novel is a bit of a filler between Shadow and Bone and the conclusion of the series, as I felt that a lot of the elements were repeated from the first novel.  But Bardugo adds dragons, and pirates and creepy shadow monsters, oh my!  These elements really help carry the novel along on to give it is own identity.  The introduction of Prince Nikolai is an utter delight.  While some of the other characters can feel a bit stale at times, he is such a dynamic and multi-dimensional character and I fell in love with him almost immediately.

We had the stag in Shadow and Bone, and now the ice dragon in Siege and Storm.  The promise of the firebird in the final installment of the series has me excited for the finale, as the fate of Ravka rests in the hands of Alina, who precariously balances her desire to help her kingdom and the feel of the power of the Sun Summoner.

06 December 2014

Dark Triumph

Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Seldom is a sequel better than the original, but I found it to be so with the His Fair Assassin series.  While it was weird transitioning to a new narrator and a new main character in the story, Sybella is far from a stranger.  And while Ismae spends little time in this novel, she still crops up from time to time.  In this prospective, the series reminds me a lot of the Graceling Realm series.

Dark Triumph takes away the best features of Grave Mercy - the politics, the intrigue, the corruption, the plots - and leaves behind the most annoying trait of Grave Mercy - the constant attention to romance.  Sure, romance still plays a part in Dark Triumph.  After all, it is hard not to when you are dealing with a group of lady assassins that use their sexuality as a ploy to gather information and to kill.  And unfortuantely, Sybella reacts in much the same manner that Ismae did, which brought upon its fair share of annoyance on my part.  But it doesn't force the romance down your throat at every turn of the page, which was a refreshing break.

While I likes Ismae enough, Sybella is a fascinating character.  She comes from a very unhealthy family dynamic, which is why she turned to the Coventry in the first place  (the resolution at the end with her and her brother, however, felt a bit too much like a happy ending in my opinion; I definitely felt it was a bit out of character for him).  While she is faithful to Saint Mortain, her goal is to sly the father who has plagued her for her entire life.  We get to dive deeper into the twisted ways the sisters of the Coventry work, especially as we see how they manipulate Sybella in a similar fashion as they did Ismae.

What really makes Dark Triumph feel like a sequel and not just a companion novel is the fact that the novel picks up right where Grace Mercy ended, though it takes a different forks and follows Sybella as she continues on the cause.  While it is still a far cry from an instant classic, LaFevers definitely made strides towards the better with this novel.

05 December 2014

Panic

Author: Lauren Oliver
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

It's official; I honestly do not understand how Lauren Oliver rose to such fame.  I can only say I wasn't too disappointed with Panic, because I did not go into the novel with high hopes.  Before I Fall was an okay stand alone novel, but the Delirium series was a mess of disappointment.  And yet, I figured I would give her one more shot to redeem herself.

Unfortunately, Panic was a flop.  To begin with, the complete premise of the novel seems laughable absurd.  "Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do."  So, wait, you are telling me that for seven years, none of the adults and none of the police in Carp have tried to put a stop to this absurd game that the graduating seniors play?  Not even after kids have become paralyzed and, what's more, died?  Really?  Talk about irresponsibility.  And Oliver's claim in the novel that the entire police force in town is just too stupid to catch them is a laughable attempt to just write off my concern.

Okay, I can understand the lure from the seniors' point of view, I guess.  After all, $67K is a lot of dough.  But even that was a difficult part of the plot to stomach.  These kids have nothing better to do than to terrorize each and every kid in the school into donating a dollar into the pot each day of school?  And if they don't, then they are bullied and even beaten?  By who?  Where does the pot go, if the judges are supposedly unknown to everyone?  They all just toss a dollar into a collection pot and walk away?

Let's bypass the plot, as I could go on and on about its absurdity all evening, and focus on the characters in the story.  None of them were likable.  Sure, I felt sorry for Heather, who decides to compete in Panic on a whim when her boyfriend breaks up with her and starts immediately shoving his tongue down another girl's throat.  Who wouldn't want to jump off a cliff after that (um, me)?  Her family life is even worse, with an alcoholic mother who spends all her time partying with her boo than raising her two kids.  But then Heather went and did something so stupid as to letting the game take advantage of her situation when she had finally found a more healthy alternative.  I had a hard time sympathizing with her after that.  Plus, she spent an excessive amount of time moping about either Matt or Bishop, and I just couldn't deal with her.

Dodge is hardly any better.  His reason for entering Panic was all about revenge, reverting to the stone age wisdom of an eye for an eye.  As if that would solve any of his problems.  It wouldn't, and could only end him in jail (except for, of course, the fact that the police in this town were apparently useless).

It was not a coming of age novel, and there was no epiphany moment for any of the characters.  There are no memorable quotes, and no defining moments in the story.  It was swallow, and pointless, certainly not heartfelt.  Though the writing itself wan't bad, reading it just felt like a colossal waste of time.


03 December 2014

Shadow and Bone

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Orphan Alina has never had high aspirations for her life.  She seems perfectly content working with maps, while bunking off from her duties to hang out with her childhood friend, Mal.  It becomes quiet apparent early on that while Mal and Alina are best friends, having grown up orphans together, she clearly wants more but he doesn't seem to even realize she's a member of the opposite sex.  And thus the teenager pining begins.

While I love the world that Bardugo creates in The Grisha series, I cannot say that I fell in love with Alina.  As she finds out that there is more to her life than she ever expected, she takes it rather well, though she struggles with her new identity.  She seems to fight her destiny, while she is quick to find herself drawn toward the mysterious and perhaps dangerous Darkling.  At some point throughout this novel, Alina turns into a cliche female narrator in the young adult genre.  She finds herself growing closer to this dark, handsome new stranger while all the while, she is still pining over her separation from Mal and metaphorically pulling petals off flowers wondering if he even misses her or not. A lot of Alina's life seems to revolve around these two relationships, and it gets a little old.

And yet, I cannot help but love this world of Ravka.  It is damned by the Unsea and the Shadow Fold, which hold evil monsters lurking to ravage any human in sight.  I love the constant twists and turns in the plot, especially as Alina is introduced into this entire other side of the world.  Secrets and mistrust abound, and she struggles to know who she can trust, if anyone, while she struggles with her own bare identity.

While the plot surrounding the Shadow Fold is epically amazing, Alina's decisions often left me fraught with anger.  Though she is but an orphan of simple upbringing and training, and though she is perhaps a bit to preoccupied with her feelings towards members of the opposite sex, I still respected her, until she started making the decisions towards the end of the novel that left me scratching me head.  With equal parts disbelief and disgust, I watched her turn from a rather brave heroine to a young girl driven solely by her heart.  She lets her hear rule her better judgment, trying to save the object of her affections, though she knows very well it endangers her entire kingdom.  She had to know that her antagonist was never going to keep his word and that her decisions made out of sheer desperation would never lead to a happy ending for her or anyone else, but she cowers to him anyway.  I lost a lot of respect for her in this regard.  And I can see why Bardugo chose to write the story in such a manner once I concluded the novel, as it played so well into how the plot unraveled, but I felt it cheapened the result.  Though the ending to Shadow and Bone is far from a happily ever after, I still felt like Alina got off a little too easily compared to what she was up against.

Though, I will admit, what I had in mind would not have led to much of a sequel.  And I must confess, my fingers are already itching to pull back the cover of Siege and Storm and to stink into it.