[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

Vasilisa is characterized as a wild child. As a daughter, it’s expected of her to marry. Those who love her expect that this wildling will eventually grow calmer. She never does. I was very happy that Vasya was the main protagonist in The Bear and the Nightingale. She sees the world differently than the others do, which is often why there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and the people around her, especially when the new stepmother comes from Moscow.

With the introduction of the stepmother comes one of the main conflicts of the novel. While there are other, minor conflicts such as growing up and wanting to be your own person while also respecting the wishes of your parents, this one is the focus. And it was great. It allowed Arden to take a look at the conflict of the old versus the new, in particular the beliefs in the old Gods  and spirits against the new God. At first, it’s little things. Then as it escalates into a larger conflict, Vasya realizes that forgetting the old Gods and spirits may be more harmful than anyone realizes.

I think that there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and her stepmother not only because of the contrasting beliefs, but also because they’re so similar to each other. They act as foils to each other, but they’re also similar in their stubbornness. It causes them to clash to the point where neither particularly cares about how it could potentially harm the other. Sometimes you dislike someone because you can see things that you don’t like about yourself in them. That was slightly the case with Vasya and her stepmother.

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An iconostasis likely similar to the one that Father Konstantin paints. An iconostasis is a wall of icons that separate the nave from the sanctuary in a church.

Eventually, the conflict between the two religions escalates to a point where Vasya is one of the only ones who believes in the importance of the old. Her efforts to save her household and that of the people under her father’s care makes her come into her own power, and that makes others feel threatened. She’s a powerful female in a world where men traditionally have the power. She’s also a part of the old world, as was her mother before her. With her mother gone, Vasya is the only one left to uphold this. While the majority of the book is in Vasya’s point of view, Arden also switches points of views to expand the story. Some of these points of view are of male ones. It really works well for this story. We’re not taken away from Vasya for too long, and the different points of view highlight other aspects of the world and informs readers more of the world and how it works, without giving unnecessary information.

I’ve only talked about two characters, but that doesn’t mean that the others aren’t equally as fascinating and developed. While some have smaller roles in the story, I felt that all characters were equally rounded. I didn’t feel that there were any that existed just to exist. I particularly loved Father Konstantin’s story arc and the temptation that he was going through. I also really liked her brothers–while the focus was on two of them, I could sense the love that the others had for Vasya and their family. I loved that they were included because they challenged Vasya. I would definitely read another story that focuses on these characters.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow–people bustling about everywhere.

Ultimately, what won me over were the various well-written elements of The Bear and the Nightingale, namely the characters, the physical setting of the world, and the cultural setting of the world. Arden has such a talent at crafting something deep and immersive. Mere chapters in I realized just how much research had gone into creating this world and by the time I finished the novel I was deeply impressed with the care that she had taken. Not only is her writing beautiful and engaging, but it gave me a true sense of Russia in a time before–when being a member of the ruling class is precarious and some of the people are transitioning from the old Gods to the new God. The only knowledge I have is through self-learning and is limited, but this felt real. The information–such as how what I would characterize as pet-names–was released slowly and I learned by reading. I felt a little lost at the beginning but consistency helped me find my way.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a historical fantasy novel, and I loved it. I really think it’s going to do well. Not only does it have a heroine who does her own thing, but it has a fantastic story with a great setting. I think it’s clear how much I loved it because of the details on an unfamiliar culture and setting. It’s a great start to a new book year, even though I technically read it in 2016! The details make this story and I’m very thankful that I got to read it early and gush about it in a review. I’m looking forward to what Katherine Arden comes up with next. If it’s anything like The Bear and the Nightingale, I’m sure that I’ll love it.

5 very well-deserved stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale will be published on January 10th, 2017. I received a copy from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

[Heir of Fire: Throne of Glass III] Sarah J. Maas

Spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight are below.

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Celaena is broken. Broken for the second time by a death she couldn’t prevent, she flees Adarlan and lands in Wendlyn, where Fae still live. There she languishes, unable to pull herself out of the pit she has found herself in. When a Fae male finds her in an alleyway, Celaena can no longer hide. Although she’s barely able to hold herself together, Celaena must address the many things she’s been running from–and figure out who she really is and who she wants to be when she comes out on the other side. If she comes out on the other side.

Something that Heir of Fire does extremely well is addressing the anger and sadness that you feel after the death of someone you love. Celaena is a fictional character, but art often reflects life. And life has loss. I thought that the way Maas wrote what Celaena was going through was incredible. The feeling of being lost, of being dead inside and having no will to move on…it was completely empathetic and resonated with me emotionally. There are times when you have to close yourself off completely and feel nothing or else you will shatter.

When she first meets Rowan, the Fae male who has been sent to find her for training, he is this hard character who has little sympathy for Celaena, who he views as a spoiled brat. She is unable to tell him exactly why she is so angry and sad all the time because she hasn’t come to terms with it herself. It is only when she is able to express this loss that he is shown as softer. Out of all the Fae and demi-Fae around them, he is someone who can truly understand what she is going through.

The rough start to their friendship is the reason that I loved Rowan as a character so much. He is so multi-faceted that it reflects back to Celaena and allows her to grow in ways that hadn’t been addressed in the first two novels. His rough yet kind attitude allows her to come to terms with the things she has been running from for nearly half of her life. She in turn helps him.

They’ve both had loss in their lives. It’s very easy to blame yourself for things you can’t control and they’ve both had this shadow over them. I loved reading how they related to each other and worked through their guilt, forgiveness, and understanding together. He is definitely my favorite character (sorry Chaol!). I’m intrigued to see how their friendship progresses in the next novels, especially with the little moments where I felt like there was something more there.

While I loved that a huge chunk of this novel was not occurring in Adarlan because it was nice to see another part of this world that had only been mentioned before, Dorian and Chaol are still in Rifthold. While there was the emotional tension in the scenes with Celaena, Chaol, and the Fae Queen, the tension I felt while reading about the events in Rifthold were of a different sort. The build-up to the climax of the novel was amazing. I felt lingering worry and the feeling that something bad was going to happen for the entirety of those scenes. Coupled with the beautifully written moments of Celaena learning how to forgive herself and coming into her heritage, this makes Heir of Fire my favorite book of the series, even after reading the next two books in the series.

Maas has a real talent in plotting out series and individual books. I was really able to see how things that were mentioned in the first two books came into the third one. The writing continues to be engaging and Heir of Fire definitely made me appreciate the series. There are connections that make sense now that the story has advanced to this point. I think that it’s helpful to read them successively because they do end on fairly intense cliff-hangers. I think that all of the talent that Maas demonstrated in the first two books (more the second than the first) finally culminated into an explosive middle book.

I’d like to end again with how much I loved Celaena in this book. She didn’t seem like herself because she wasn’t herself. Celaena lost who she was. She really struggled with the horrible things that had happened to her, her friends, and her family, and I thought that Maas did a great job of conveying this. I liked that Celaena was angry. She had a right to be angry. But she slowly found a way to keep that anger from controlling her. Celaena’s character progression in this book was my favorite thing about it and a  big reason why I liked it so much.

This book cemented the series as a favorite for me. I really love the inner and outer conflict and how it all is coming together.  I recommend this series for those who like fantasy and heroines and characters who are flawed but relateable.

5 stars.

[Blue Lily, Lily Blue: The Raven Cycle III] Maggie Stiefvater

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What I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that it directly paralleled The Dream Thieves. Where Ronan was sleeping and dreaming up fantastical things to bring back into waking reality in The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue has a focus on not waking the sleepers. Blue is a little bit worried that her mother hasn’t resurfaced since she disappeared. Her disappearance has Blue distracted as she and the raven boys continue to search for Glendower. As they hurtle toward the end of their quest, they discover that there are things underground that they don’t want to wake. To do so could have dire consequences.

Things get a little bit darker in this book as it’s leading directly into the finale. Blue Lily, Lily Blue works really hard at setting up events that will continue in the next book, and it succeeded at keeping my interest. Perhaps rather obviously, there’s a slightly heavier focus on Blue and her side-quest to find her mother, who as we know disappeared at the end of The Dream Thieves. It’s been months, and Blue wrestles with her feelings of betrayal and worry over her mother’s decision to vanish over her growing feelings for Gansey as they continue to search for Glendower. (Can I just pause here for a moment to say that Stiefvater is driving me insane with how she teases her readers about an eventual–I’m assuming–Gansey/Blue relationship/kiss? It’s written so well). There’s always been consequences that are revealed after the fact in The Raven Cycle, such as the death of Ronan’s father over his dream creations or how scrying can be dangerous, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue has consequences listed upfront to avoid. Bad things did happen in The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily definitely continued that trend.

Something I really enjoyed about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that all of the adventurers are revealed to have abilities. We already knew that Ronan could dream, Adam could connect with Cabeswater, and Blue was an amplifier, but Gansey had always seemed left out. To have an ability of a sort revealed to them made him fit in more. It also pushed a lot of the pieces together. I feel like I really have a good grasp on who Gansey is and why he is on a quest to find Glendower now. These abilities only drive the group together more and further cements their friendships with each other. As a result, I love them even more. Obviously I’ve loved (and will love) many characters that authors have created. I don’t think that there’s ever been a set of characters that I love (almost) equally. I’m glad that there are little between novellas that I can read once I’m done with the complete books.

There’s not much else I can say about Blue Lily, Lily Blue that doesn’t reveal too much or only reiterates what I’ve already said in the reviews for the first two books. I do still think that The Raven Cycle books read as one larger novel, so it’s really nice that I’m able to read all of them in a row without stopping.

5 stars.

[Iron Cast] Destiny Soria

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As one of my friends tells me that I “always write negative reviews,” (which is only sometimes, by the way) I’m very happy to inform him, and anyone looking for a review to read, that I loved this book. It’s not often that I want to replace an ebook copy with a physical one (because I don’t need two copies), but that is the case for this one.

Iron Cast is set in 1919, when the United States is just on the cusp of passing prohibition. As it is, hemopathy, the ability to create illusions through art, music, or words, is already banned. Hemopaths are being snatched from the streets and thrown in an institution for their “protection”–or worse. Naturally, underground clubs are thriving. Ada and Corinne are two such hemopaths, friends for so long that one struggles to exist without the other. They’ve trained their gifts for so long that they can react unconsciously to cues that the other gives. When their patron disappears, Ada and Corinne realize how precarious their situation in Boston is. They decide that the only thing they can do is to solve the mystery themselves in order to save the Cast Iron, the only place they’ve truly felt at home.

This is a great historical fiction novel. Every place that Destiny Soria takes the reader is vividly described, from the Cast Iron, to Corinne’s family home, to the institution. I have absolutely no complaints about it. The setting really sets the tone for the events of the novel. There are the glittering places where the rich go and the less-rich perform and they’re side-by-side with the grittier sides of the city. I was really able to visualize what was going on at all times in the novel. I liked when the characters had to go from the speakeasy-esque clubs and gangster inhabited world to that of high society for wedding preparations. I really appreciated the detail that Soria went into in order to really develop this world. Settings can sometimes make or break a book, and it one hundred percent made this novel for me. It made the tense moments of the novel even more so because I really felt like I was in Boston during this time. Iron Cast was also an alternative history novel, so it was cool to see the familiar things but also have a fantasy aspect to the world.

The setting was supplemented by amazing characters. Of course, Ada and Corinne, our two protagonists, are the most developed, but Soria didn’t let the supporting characters fall by the wayside. The character building was wonderful. Ada and Corinne come from completely different backgrounds. Ada grew up with a Portuguese father and a mother from Mozambique. She’s been treated badly by outsiders for most of her life because of her skin color, and initially she thought that Corinne–a girl from a wealthy family–was going to be the same. That changed when they both realized that they could be each other’s support in a a world that doesn’t accept their differences. Both are hemopaths, an affliction that isn’t understood but is feared by many. When they work together they can make people believe just about anything.

Ada and Corinne have probably the strongest friendship I have ever seen between two girls in young adult literature. Too often friendships between girls in young adult literature becomes catty and fractures over something stupid, or are presented as ways to slut-shame girls compared to the protagonist. Not so with Iron Cast. These girls loved each other. They were loyal to each other. They were sisters united against the hardships of their world, defending and protecting each other when the other couldn’t protect themselves. Their relationship was so believable that moments between them brought me to tears.

The other characters like Gabriel, Saint, Corinne’s brother, and the mob bosses of the clubs were very well-rounded. They didn’t exist solely to move the plot along and then to vanish when they were no longer useful. They had their own motives and desires that were expressed, and they didn’t always line up with our protagonists’. I particularly loved the portrayal of family in the novel. Both girls were concerned about how their actions affected their families and tried to keep them from harm. The misunderstandings between them were relateable; so too, was the acceptance of them when they made mistakes.

I couldn’t stop reading this book, either. The plot was engaging and was always building toward something, even during the quieter moments. Oftentimes things occurred that I wasn’t prepared for, which is a rare thing for me regarding young adult literature. Things are sometimes done so heavy-handedly that the surprise is completely gone when it comes down to the event. That was not the case with Iron Cast, and it was so nice. It allowed me to truly be immersed in the story.

Another thing that kept me in the story was the lack of a focus on the romance. There was romance, but the book didn’t suddenly become only about the romantic interests the way that some novels sometimes do. It was just a part of the overall novel and it was done beautifully. It allowed me to be invested even more in the characters and the plot when there was unrequited feelings coming into play. Because the romance was not the focus of the novel, the romantic moments were far more sweet and achingly lovely.

I absolutely loved Iron Cast and am going to recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction with a little bit of fantasy, romance, and intrigue. It has great characters and a detailed setting. I emotionally connected to the characters and had a hard time reading certain parts. It’s not often that books make me cry, but when they do I know that I really like them.  I’m really looking forward to what Destiny Soria comes up with next, because she’s now on my favorite authors list.

5 stars.

I received a copy of Iron Cast from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available on October 11th, 2016.

 

 

 

[The Lunar Chronicles] A series review with a focus on [Winter] by Marissa Meyer

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Although Winter came out a little under a year ago, it’s only recently that I bit the ebook bullet (so expensive!) and started the final book of The Lunar Chronicles. I had some down time, so I decided to reread the first three books. The last time I read them I did so around the time of Cress‘ publication. Long before, I think, Winter had been announced. This will be a review for the series as a whole, but I will focus on Winter. There will be spoilers for CinderScarlet, and Cress.

So briefly then, the reviews for the first three books:

11235712Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, a conglomeration of countries in Asia and its cultures after a fourth World War. She uses her talents to provide for her step-family, who are just as needy and rude as the Cruel Stepmother and Stepsisters in the original tale, with the exception of the youngest daughter. Cinder works diligently and keeps her head down, dreaming one day of escaping the city and the plague that threatens at any moment. When Prince Kai comes to her in the hope that the best mechanic in the city can fix his royal android, Cinder is pulled into a world that she didn’t ever think she’d be a part of.

I love familiar stories with a twist. For me, making Cinder a cyborg was a brilliant decision to make Cinder stand out as a different retelling of Cinderella. Not only is she dirty (from grease this time, not ashes), she’s not even recognized as human by her society! I had a very clear picture of what she wanted for herself and enjoyed her as a character very much. Her progression throughout the novel was steady and well-done.

I really enjoyed that the setting of Cinder. I do wish, however, that it had gone into more detail about what sorts of cultures made up the Eastern Commonwealth. I could have done with less vagueness. Chinese and Japanese motifs are mentioned at times in the decoration of robes and the palace, but it came dangerously close to not being enough. I think it would have made the reader more interested to see just what Cinder would lose if she lost.

Cinder was a fast read for me because I wanted to see what would happen next. There’s the threat of something bigger for the entirety of the novel and when that finally comes to a head, I found it very rewarding. The build to it kept me turning pages as I eagerly plowed on toward the conclusion. Of course, some of my eagerness to read came back to wanting to see how the romance progressed. However, I really enjoyed the story didn’t stop to focus on that romance. It truly is a story about Cinder and her place in the world.

5 stars.

*****

13206760Scarlet picks up where Cinder left off, with a character named Scarlet introduced and focused on as a new point of view.  She watches as the events in New Beijing unfold with a sort of detached interest, because she’s far more worried about her missing grandmother. Searching for answers, Scarlet discovers that her grandmother’s life was not as simplistic as Scarlet initially thought. As she travels with Wolf, a street-fighter who can possibly help her find some of the answers in Paris, she doesn’t know that her path and Cinder’s are fated to cross.

When I first read Scarlet I wasn’t sure how the rest of our cast would meet up–after all, Cinder focused on Cinder, so I initially thought that Scarlet would be the same. Marissa Meyer weaves the different points of view together in a cohesive way, so that when they do finally meet up, it’s really rewarding. They fit together really well, building relationships at first out of necessity but later with true emotion. Of course, there can’t be a Lunar Chronicles novel without conflict; I really enjoyed the suspense at having new crew-mates that were not entirely trusted by the others.

Unlike Cinder, I do feel like a large chunk of the plot of Scarlet focuses on the romance. It’s framed in a way that makes sense in the greater narrative of the series and the drives of the characters, but it is a little ridiculous when you think about the timeline. Because the romance is reciprocated, I feel that Scarlet is the most instant-love-y of the four novels. The rest of the plot of the novel is a little bit quest, little bit mystery, little bit coming of age. It balances out nicely, and I found that I really enjoyed Scarlet despite the slight problems with the romance. I was able to suspend my disbelief because it seemed like more time had passed. Eventually you start to see how the first two books will connect as you continue reading the different points of view that are getting closer together.  I really enjoyed reading how the plot points from Cinder were woven into Scarlet.

I enjoyed that the larger world was expanded upon in Scarlet. The other countries were mentioned in the first book, but readers didn’t get a chance to experience them. It was nice to see how other parts of the world had developed after the fourth World War mentioned in Cinder. It starts a nice precedence that The Lunar Chronicles will not just focus on one location in the world first created in Cinder.

5 stars.

*****

13206828Remember that girl that contacted Cinder back in Cinder? We finally get to meet her. Since she was a young girl, Cress has been living in a satellite in the space between Earth and Luna. She was tasked with searching for information on Earthens, something that she was incredibly talented at. When she realizes that her research has been used for negative reasons, that people are dying, she begins to think of ways to escape. Taking her chances with a rescue mission planned by Cinder herself, Cress suddenly finds herself facing more challenges that she’d ever imagined. When the rescue mission doesn’t go as planned and the group is fragmented, Cress has to search for the strength to make her way back. Her talents are still needed.

Out of all eponymous protagonists, Cress and Cinder are my favorites thus far. Cress, like Cinder, never really had anything. She had to carve out her own life using what she was given while being a prisoner. Sure, she’s allowed access to things and provided with food, but she’s trapped in a small space. This makes her interactions with other characters different, as the only people she’s ever really talked to is the Thaumaturge tasked with giving her orders. Cress doesn’t really know how to exist on Earth; she’s incredibly naïve as she experiences everything for the first time. This could get frustrating, but luckily Cress is also a quick learner. Even though there are still moments where her naïvity shows through, as the book progresses she becomes stronger and more willing to stand up for herself and her new friends. She becomes more confident. I really enjoyed her character growth and am looking forward to its continuation.

This was very nearly a 4 star book for me because of how it dragged.  It only drags on a little, but I could really feel how much longer this one was compared to the first two books. There are portions of the book where she and Throne are travelling that get long. I understand that it’s hot. I understand that they’re running out of supplies. I understand that they’re beginning to see and imagine things. I get it. I don’t need it endlessly repeated. A lot of the movement to the action of the book is done in a trudging way, which is something that frustrates me as a reader. When the plot does pick up, I couldn’t stop reading it. For most of Scarlet, they’d been hiding out on the Rampion. So when they finally start doing something against Levana, I couldn’t stop reading. We’re given more glimpses of why she needs to be stopped. Cinder begins to take more responsibility as she comes (more) to terms with her true identity. I think that everything that had built in the first two books is really explored in Cress, making it a solid climax of the series and the one with the most character growth.

This one is a bit darker than the other books. It’s first explored in Scarlet, but it’s mainly through brief, horrible moments with the promise of more to come. It ups the anticipation for the ultimate conclusion of the series. This continues in Cress, where readers are more privy to just the sorts of things that Levana is capable of and has done. Of course, knowing what Levana is capable of also means that Cinder is capable of them as well. This is the first novel where we can really see her Lunar powers in action. There’s good and bad that comes with that, which is something that Cinder struggles to come to terms with. Cinder is not necessarily all good at all times. It made her more human.

Cress concludes with a promise that everything that has been building in The Lunar Chronicles will finally come to an end in the final installment of the series. As Cinder realizes she’s becoming more powerful, she begins to  learn how to balance that with her morals. The relationships are tested as each crew member realizes just how much they have to lose in going up against Levana.

5 stars.

*****

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Not everyone believes in Levana. Winter decided years ago that her using her Lunar gift was something she couldn’t live with–growing slowly insane is a better alternative to becoming something she hates. As the stepdaughter to Levana, Winter is in a unique position to undermine her stepmother. After all, this is a woman who made her disfigure her face when she felt threatened by a child. Alone for years but for her childhood friend, Winter is eager for the chance to help Cinder and her people. But starting a revolution is harder than you think when you’re not sure what is real and what is imaginary. Everything from the first three books is pulled together in this final book of the series.

Ultimately, I found Winter surprisingly not really about Winter as much as it was about Cinder’s plans on Luna. For books named after main characters, I found that the focus in Winter on Winter was lacking. I wanted to know more about her and found her chapters really interesting. She’s unique in the sense that she’s the only other Lunar with powers that we get to read a point of view from–and she doesn’t use her powers. We know from reading the other three books that if Lunar’s don’t use their powers they go a bit insane. That’s something we finally see here. Winter could be a character who allows her problems to control her, but instead she tries to function as best she can while navigating her hallucinations. She’s strong and I wanted to see more of that. Instead it felt like Marissa Meyer was merely continuing the trend of naming her books after characters but didn’t really put in the effort for Winter to stand out. She needed to finish the story but didn’t have enough pages to do both that and proper character building for Winter. Considering that this is the longest book of the series, that’s disappointing.

This is the first book where we really get to see Luna. Although Scarlet has been there since she was taken prisoner, her view is a little limited. It was richly described with the standard dystopia trend of the upper crust having it so much better than the common folk. I enjoyed that I was finally able to see a place that thus far had only been mentioned fearfully by the Earthens. This set Winter apart from the first three books of the series because the characters were completely out of their element. They had allies on Earth and now they’re on their own. They had to start from scratch and I liked reading as they found their way around Luna and gained allies.

The plot of Winter was fairly predictable as it’s based on fairy tales, but as with the other books, that didn’t take any enjoyment out of it. I always like reading how Marissa Meyer changes the tales slightly to fit into this fantasy / science fiction tale. It’s familiar but is not one hundred percent predictable. The ending was super tidy, which makes me happy, but at the same time I felt it was also slightly unrealistic given that the whole book deals with the revolution they’re trying to start.

Overall thoughts on the series? I definitely recommend this for readers who like fantasy with a bit of science fiction mixed in. Marissa Meyer’s takes fairy tales and retells them in a way that doesn’t focus on the fact that they’re fairy tales. We’re given a unique blend of characters and settings, in a future that is removed from our current times but is also familiar. The Lunar Chronicles has a slight dystopian feel to it, but that’s not the focus of the story. I definitely will pick these books up again in the future.

*****

Final thoughts on the series:

Strengths: Strong characters and settings; romances that are believable.

Weaknesses: There are points where the plot slows a bit too much for my tastes. It allowed me to put the book down for a bit, but I also felt that it shouldn’t have happened considering the high stakes that Cinder and friends are flirting with.

The romances from best to worst:
Cress and Thorne: It built slowly and was realistic. There’s an element of playfulness that I really enjoyed. I ended up being disappointed there wasn’t more book time with them.
Cinder and Kai / Winter and Jacin: I love the dynamic of common person and royal, what can I say?
Scarlet and Wolf: While I enjoyed their romance in Scarlet, it came down to the fact that they fell in love in…two, three days? It was the most instant-love-y of the four romances and by the time Winter was concluded I was tired of their rash actions and was done with their relationship.

4 stars.

Overall series rating, not the actual average, 5 stars.

[The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle I] Maggie Stiefvater

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I really don’t know where to start with this one. The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater (an author whose last name I’ll never be able to spell without referencing goodreads) is a book that is so lyrically beautiful that I had to stop reading it late at night because I wanted to enjoy the words instead of plowing through them.

Blue Sargent is the daughter of a psychic–in fact, most of her family have some sort of psychic ability, except Blue. She’s come to terms with that fact, just as she’s come to terms with the fact that there are some things she can’t escape: namely, that her kiss is going to kill her true love. Her mother foretold it, her aunts foretold it. Blue decided when she was much younger that she’d never kiss any boy. This year, staying away from boys proves to be difficult when she gets wrapped up in the quest of four of the Raven Boys, normally well-off students from the local private school. As Blue gets to know them, she realizes that each of the Raven Boys have something that they can’t get away from. And there’s the possibility that their quest may be more dangerous than the five of them expect.

The Raven Boys is a great start to a series. With a focus on how the paranormal relates to the real world, I was impressed with the balance that the author had created. It doesn’t focus to heavily on one over the other, which gave the plot realness even as it dealt with mystical elements. The mystery gradually builds as the story progresses, but I never found it boring or too fast paced. Things have their beginning in The Raven Boys, but they were not concluded. There’s going to be threads that run through the series which I found really nice. It makes me want to continue the series when not everything has been answered. However, enough has been answered in this first book that I feel satisfied at its conclusion.

I really liked all of the characters. Each of the Raven Boys–Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah–had unique personalities and drives. I also particularly liked that they also had something that they were ashamed of OR had something that they wanted to change about themselves. Desperately. That often meant they longed for things they didn’t have. Their jealousies made them so relatable that it truly felt like they were real people. And Blue. Such a wonderful protagonist. She had a unique way of looking at the world and she managed to balance her own wishes, the Raven Boys’, and her family’s. She’s quirky, but not annoyingly so. She’s not quirky just to be a different sort of young adult protagonist in a field that is heavily populated by similar protagonists.

First and foremost I felt that this was a book about friendships and familial relationships rather than the romances. There was a romance angle that I imagine will become more important in later books, but right now it’s only subtle. The romances are tentative and not pushed at the reader. It allowed all of the characters to breathe and to be. The friendship between the four boys was so lovely–full of love, trust, and familiarity that comes with being in close quarters with someone. They had their issues and had to work through them. I loved it. Blue fits easily in to this group and through their interactions with her we’re given more glimpses into who they are. As for Blue’s family, they’re great. I found it impossible not to draw parallels between Blue’s family and the Halliwell sisters from Charmed. They just care for each other so much but also know when to give each other space. I liked that they were present in the story and that they were concerned with what Blue was doing, but they were also willing to allow her to make her own mistakes and choices.  Stiefvater has a talent at building characters who are extremely realistic and who have their own good and bad traits. I wouldn’t be surprised if I ran into them in Virginia. That’s how real they seemed.

The writing style was so lyrical and mysterious. It really helped build up the setting. It wasn’t overdone or drawn out; somehow it managed to maintain a realness even when the writing was a bit whimsical. I’ve talked a lot about balance in this review, and this is yet another thing that I found incredibly well-done and balanced. A lot of times when I enjoy a book, I stay up late to finish it. I found while reading this that I did have that sense, but I also forced myself to stop because I wanted to enjoy the prose. If I hurried through it, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to see how prettily it was written.

The only downside (but I don’t really have to worry too much since I’m late to the series!) is that The Raven Boys ends very much in the middle of the action. Of course, the main action of the novel is finished with the exception of the larger plot of the series. It’s almost like the series is a larger book broken up in four installments because of this. I would have been very annoyed if I’d read this book when it had first come out and I’d needed to wait for the next one. Luckily I can go on to the next one immediately, because I get the sense from the first book that I’ll burn through the entire series rather quickly.

I recommend this for young adult readers and for fans of young adult novels. I usually don’t particularly love paranormal novels–I tend to go for fantasy–but the wonderful prose, plot, and the very strong characters in this book won me over almost immediately.

5 stars.

[The Serpent King] Jeff Zentner

22752127I knew within the first few chapters of The Serpent King that I was going to love it. The Serpent King is a novel about three teenagers living in Southern Tennessee who long to escape. Lydia, her college aspirations riding on her quirky (for the South) fashion blog; Dill, the boy who longs to escape the notoriety of his name in a small town; and Travis, the boy who always has his nose in a book to escape the hardships at home. The stress of their own problems on top of the stress of upcoming college brings them together and drives them apart in equal measure. The Serpent King brought me back to those moments when you’re preparing for what’s next in your life during your final year of high school, as you’re eager to escape but also terrified about what it means for the people you’re with now.

Oddly enough, when I first heard about The Serpent King, I didn’t think it was for me. Even with the hype, I didn’t think that I’d like it because of the religious tones. When I received a copy of it in my very first OwlCrate box, it was with equal amounts excitement (Oo, new book! It smells so good!) and trepidation (Ehh, I’ve heard about this, haven’t I? Shoot, is this the one that I didn’t request on NetGalley because of reasons?). I am very happy to admit how wrong I was. The Serpent King pulled me in so quickly that my plan of reading things on my TBR list in order was shot. Everything about the story was what I really want young adult books to be. The setting was extremely vivid. I’m not from the South and I don’t have much experience with it, but Jeff Zenter painted a wonderful picture with his words. It was easy to see the places that the three visited during their last moments in high school.

The writing was superb. Between the setting and the characters, I felt that everything was well rounded and full of depth. I enjoyed each of the characters and the chapters that were written in their point of views; I never had a moment where I was disappointed that there was a switch to a different point of view. I felt that each of the characters were unique in their own way. Some of the situations they went through reminded me of how difficult it is to grow up and how you can feel stuck in high school when you’re ready to move on to the next thing, whether that’s staying in town and working or moving to college.

As with a lot of books there were things that were predictable but not necessarily in a bad way. I was still able to emotionally connect with the story and characters. I ended up reading it in the span of a couple of days because I just could not put it down. The coming of age story within the pages was done really well. It was crafted in a way that foreshadowed future actions but also kept the reader in the present time of the story.  There were lots of great lines that I really liked.  I’m excited to see what Jeff Zentner comes up with next. I hope the next books he writes have a great setting like this one did.

5 stars.