Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

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Let’s talk about that boy…

All praise Brandon Sanderson for giving us one of the best male narrators in YA fiction. David is a breath of fresh air in a sea of Katniss and Tris wannabes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve become tired of the dystopian girl who has to meet a cute boy to help her cope with her depressing world, but it was nice to have a main character who took it upon himself to try and make his world better.

In the prologue, we meet David as a young boy, who goes through a harrowing experience while at the bank with his father. Two of the Epics – humans with superpowers that developed after an event called Calamity – get into a brawl with disastrous consequences. David spends the next ten years studying Epics in search of a way to defeat them, taking notes and forming theories. 

So about those Reckoners…

David is not the only one who wants to take down the Epics. Imagine if people started developing limitless powers, and couldn’t handle the God complex that followed from that? This is David’s world, where Epics rule with iron fists while the rest of the country falls into chaos and poverty.

The Reckoners are a guerrilla group that work to secretly eliminate Epics. They have no real presence – they don’t publicize their efforts, and they haven’t been able to take down any of the really powerful Epics that would draw much attention. David wants to join up with them to share his research and bring down the Epic that took everything from him. 

The mystery of Steelheart…

The problem is that although David knows that Steelheart can be hurt, he doesn’t know how. In the bank, as a boy, he witnessed one bullet that managed to make Steelheart bleed. When David joins the Reckoners they set out to try and figure out what was special about that bullet, that gun, or that moment that made him vulnerable.

And one of my favorite aspects of the book was that I could never quite figure it out. Most of the main characters have a different theory about Steelheart’s weakness, and they all feel convincing. The deeper they get in their plot to try and overthrow him, the higher the stakes become for getting the answer right. If they can’t find the answer before the showdown they are setting up, they’ll all be killed. This is a win or die scenario, and it was completely gripping to read.

If you want action…

…then this is the book for you. If they don’t make this into a movie, then the world is majorly missing out. The action scenes are crazy intense – chase sequences, guns, and explosions galore. The Reckoners have to meet with seedy black market weapons traders and sneak into heavily guarded buildings. Their headquarters are in a forgotten layer of underground tunnels, and the final showdown happens in one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago (or Newcago, as it’s known in David’s world).

It was the breakneck pace of the action that kept me turning the pages as fast as possible. I tore through this book and found it unbelievably hard to put down. Unfortunately, the pacing didn’t leave much room for explanation of the world. I felt there were a lot of pieces of information that we didn’t get which would have been helpful to understand how Newcago operates or how the world got to this point. No one seems to understand Calamity or how it led to the Epics, and even though it has only been ten years, I expected just a bit more information.

I’m hoping that information comes in with the next book in this exciting and promising new series. I adored David and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him and the rest of the Reckoners. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

[rating stars=”four-stars”]

Logan signature

Review: Splintered by A. G. Howard

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Alice in Wonderland is one of those tales that is so pervasive you feel like you’ve read it, even if you haven’t. Though I have never read Lewis Carroll’s classic book, I probably watched my old VHS tape of this ridiculously cheesy 1985 TV miniseries about a hundred times. I’ve seen the Disney version and the Johnny Depp version. And I’ve loved them all.

This modern take on Alice’s story imagines our protagonist, Alyssa, as a descendant of the Alice who lived and inspired Carroll’s stories. Along with a similar name, she is in line to inherit the psychological madness that is passed from female descendant to female descendant. Her mother is locked in an asylum, and Alyssa tries very hard to convince herself that she can’t hear the voices starting to appear in her head. She’s a cool skater girl into art and bugs and other Things That Are Dark And Twisty.

The coolest thing about this book is the brilliant display of imagination on the part of author A. G. Howard. I only wish I could think up stuff this vivid and exciting. When Alyssa goes down the rabbit hole, we get a version of Wonderland that is fresh and new without being unfamiliar. Carroll’s characters pop up, but in different forms than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that the White Rabbit is not just a rabbit – he’s much creepier than that.

If you’re tired of love triangles, consider yourselves warned. Alyssa is into the boy next door, Jeb, and while in Wonderland starts to fall under the spell of the difficult and dark Morpheus. Morpheus acts as a sort of guide and childhood friend of Alyssa’s on the Wonderland side of things, while Jeb is her friend and protector on the reality side. Morpheus is certainly the more interesting and mysterious of the two, but his sketchy motives later in the story made me not like him as much.

If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that those motives, and the plot, got a little confusing toward the end. I had a hard time following what was happening because the history was so rich and complex. The politics of the Red Queen and White Queen and Morpheus’s place in the middle of all of it overwhelmed me, and I’m still not entirely sure I absorbed it all. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to track who supposedly did what and to what end, and what they really meant when they did them, versus what everyone else thought they were doing.

Did you get that? Yeah. Me either.

Fuzzy plot or not, this was a really enjoyable story. I loved seeing such a cool concept from a debut author, too! I picked this one up at the library because I couldn’t find it at the store, and the cover is absolutely stunning. The text is a beautiful dusty purple color. Normally I’m not a fan of colored print in books, but for some reason this really worked for me. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book for your shelf and want to support a debut author with a fantastic story, I recommend this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

[rating stars=”four-stars”]

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Book: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt Books
Release date: October 1, 2008
Source: Bought
Series: Graceling Realm #1
  
Summary from Goodreads: In a world where people born with an extreme skill called a Grace are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Lady killers!

I have this thing with assassin stories. I love them. One of the things that drew me to this book was the promise of a girl with a special power to kill. Sign me up any day for a female main character who can kick some major ass.

The opening scene pulled me in immediately. Katsa is sneaking around in the dark, roundhouse-kicking guards to the ground, and rescuing a prisoner. Soon after, we meet Po, a mysterious boy with a fighting Grace who lets Katsa beat up on him for fun. I instantly loved both of these characters and the world they inhabited.

In Katsa’s country, her Grace is looked down upon. She is frequently shunned or feared, and her uncle, the king, manipulates and uses her to his advantage by sending her off to settle his quarrels. She’s his muscle – a thug he dispatches to get his way.

Po is a Lienid prince from across the sea, whose country doesn’t see Graces as bad things. He challenges and encourages Katsa to get over her shame and embrace her Grace. As they grow closer, Katsa learns the truth about Po’s Grace, and they both have to learn to trust each other in order to successfully reach their goals. I loved the growth of their relationship over the course of the book.

Mawwiage.

I know there have been complaints about Katsa as uber-feminist. I didn’t mind her commitment to stay unmarried, because it felt truthful to her character and experiences. I did feel that this point was beaten over our heads a few too many times, however. I also felt sorry for Katsa, because she had this concept of marriage as a loss of identity that was never reinforced by the world. I wasn’t sure if this was Katsa’s perspective that evolved from her own fears, or whether it was truly the way marriage worked in her society. Did child-free couples exist? Were there women who still had freedom and independence within their marriages, if not in Middlun then in Lienid? It was hard to know whether to root for Katsa and Po to end up together.

Questing!

The plot of the book revolves around the prisoner Katsa rescues in the opening scene – he is Po’s grandfather, and they are trying to figure out why he has been kidnapped. Katsa and Po set off to travel through the country and glean what information they can, and eventually they turn to the southeastern country of Monsea and the strange behavior happening there.

Oh. Questing.

Unfortunately, it was at this point the book lost some of its luster for me. Questing is usually one of my favorite story elements, but here it turned more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings. First, Katsa and Po tromp through the woods finding information. Then they tromp through woods and mountains getting to Monsea. Then they tromp through more mountains trying to get out of Monsea. Then Katsa crosses the mountains, and a sea, trying to escape and plan her next move. But she doesn’t get to plan her next move, because the plot just comes to her. It felt like a lot of unnecessary walking/riding/sailing that didn’t accomplish much.

This was an enjoyable read, and I definitely recommend it to fantasy readers. I’m anxious to spend more time in the Seven Realms and explore other characters and Graces, so I’ll continue with the trilogy. 

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Double Review: Hidden and Breathless by Sophie Jordan

Book: Hidden
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTEEN
Release date: September 11, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Jacinda was supposed to bond with Cassian, the “prince” of their pride. But she resisted long before she fell in love with Will, a human and, worse, a hunter. When she ran away with Will, it ended in disaster, with Cassian’s sister, Miram, captured. Weighed down by guilt, Jacinda knows she must rescue her to set things right. Yet to do so she will have to venture deep into the heart of enemy territory.

The only way Jacinda can reach Miram is by posing as a prisoner herself, though once she assumes that disguise, things quickly spiral out of her control. As she learns more about her captors, she realizes that even if Will and Cassian can carry out their part of the plan, there’s no guarantee they’ll all make it out alive. But what Jacinda never could have foreseen is that escaping would be only the beginning….

Loyalties are tested and sacrifices made in the explosive conclusion to Sophie Jordan’s Firelight trilogy.

Sophie Jordan is not one to recap. As with the last book, Vanish, this book picks up immediately where the last one left off. This is a great series to read back-to-back if you’ve not yet entered the world of the draki. Needless to say, there are some series spoilers ahead.

Most of the reason I love this series is simply my love for the draki. A secret race of shifters that can become a dragon/human hybrid capable of flight and varying types of powers? Oh man, I am so on board. In this book, we see much more of Jacinda and the gang in draki form, beginning with Jacinda’s entrance into the enemy camp to infiltrate their hostages and rescue Cassian’s sister, Miram.

From there, the adventure never lets up. Jacinda, Will, Cassian, Miram, Tamra, and a few new (and incredibly awesome) characters are on the run from the evil enkros and their hunters. Jacinda is simultaneously trying to track down what happened to her parents and balance her family interests against her need to run away with Will. 

I found this to be a very satisfying conclusion to the series. It was full of excitement and action, and everyone got an ending they deserved. I’ll miss Jacinda and the rest of the draki immensely. 

Luckily, there’s a new novella…

Book: Breathless
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTEEN
Release date: December 4, 2012
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
Series: Firelight #3.5

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Sophie Jordan’s breathtaking digital original novella set in the world of Firelight.

For Az, it’s supposed to be a fun summer vacation with her family. Nothing complicated. Just a quick trip to test the waters as she prepares for a year on her own. That all changes when she rescues a drowning girl and meets Tate – the most gorgeous human boy she’s ever seen. Tate throws her heart, her plans, and her life into upheaval, but the closer she gets to him, the harder it is to hide the secret of what she is. With no hope for a future together, the last thing that can ever happen . . . is love.

This stand-alone digital original is perfect for those new to the Firelight series as well as veteran fans.

Jacinda may be a bad-ass fire-breather, but I loved diving into Az’s experiences as a water draki. (That’s right. I made a swimming pun.) This story takes place during Az’s family vacation, where she meets a cute boy and struggles with whether to pursue things with him given her draki nature.

At around 100 pages, it’s a short and sweet visit to the Firelight world. I loved Az – her shy personality was an interesting counterpoint to Jacinda’s bold character. It was also nice to see the draki trying to deal with real world problems again. What do you do when you fall for a boy, and those passions threaten to unveil your draki self every time you kiss? It brought back all of the good stuff I loved about Firelight.

Rating for both: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 
  
 

Mini-Reviews: The Dark is Rising Sequence

Book: Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1965
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #1

 

Summary from Goodreads:

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil’s power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text’s clues to find the grail — and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises.

I read the first three books in this classic children’s series last week, both for Bout of Books 6.0 and my book club meeting over the weekend. It was refreshing to visit some books that people treasure from their childhood (I hadn’t read them before). I’ve been so caught up in reading the latest new releases that I was neglecting the classics!

This first book was so much fun. The Drew kids are sucked into a mystery while on vacation in Cornwall, England – searching for the grail of King Arthur! Does it get any cooler than that? I loved the battle of these three kids against several shady adults from the Dark trying to get their greedy hands on the grail, which will tell them how to defeat the rising of ancient and perceived lost King Arthur. 

Helping them along the way is their great-uncle Merriman Lyon, who functions in a mentor type role. He guides them and encourages them as they discover a secret map and go in search of the deciphering tricks that will help them interpret it to find the treasure. The action ramps up nicely, leading to a final showdown that truly delivers and leaves us with plenty to look forward to in the sequels.

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: The Dark is Rising
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally Published: 1973
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #2

 

Summary from Goodreads:

When Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his birthday, he discovers an unbelievable gift — he is immortal. Bemused and terrified, he finds he is the last of the Old Ones, magical men and women sworn to protect the world from the source of evil, the Dark.

At once Will is plunged into a quest to find six magical Signs to aid the powers of the Light. Six medallions — iron, bronze, wood, water, fire, and stone — created and hidden by the Old Ones centuries ago. But the Dark has sent out the Rider: evil cloaked in black, mounted upon a midnight stallion, and on the hunt for this youngest Old One, Will. He must find the six great Signs before the Dark can rise, for an epic battle between good and evil approaches.

The second book in the series is a marked departure from the first one. With the exception of Merriman Lyon, there are no common characters, and even takes place in a different town (and later, magical world). Given how much I loved the Drew kids in the first book, this was a bit disappointing.

This book I found to be confusing, with many jumps through time that left me uncertain from paragraph to paragraph where we were at any given moment. Will is on a quest to find six magical medallions, and he has to move through time and space to get them, often without requiring a whole lot of foresight or planning. Instead, he seems to just stumble upon them in overly convenient ways. There wasn’t a lot of tension as a result, since we just assume that the next part of the plot will deal with him getting the next medallion, and that he will do so with some ease.

The good thing to note is that the first two books do not need to be read in order, since they are so different, but they both provide vital plot elements for the third book so must be read before moving on in the series. The other good thing is that the third book was much more entertaining than this one.

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Book: Greenwitch
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Originally published: 1974
Source: Purchased ebook from Amazon
Series: The Dark is Rising Sequence #3

 

Summary from Goodreads:

The Dark has stolen an object of great power — a golden grail that holds a vital secret. Will embarks on a new quest to reclaim the grail, and to drive back the Dark once again. But first he will need the help of three former grail seekers: Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew.

Learning to work together, they must take back the grail and retrieve the missing manuscript that unlocks its mystical secret. But the manuscript is located at the bottom of the sea, and their only hope of obtaining both grail and script is entangled in the mysterious ritual of the Greenwitch.

The third book in the series combines the Drew children with Will Stanton, and they are tasked to return to Cornwall to retrieve the scroll lost in book one and the grail that has newly been stolen by the Dark forces. I was very happy to see the Drew kids back in the story, as they are light, comical characters that are a joy to read.

This book zips along in pace, and is the shortest of these three books at only 144 pages. The kids are again battling the Dark, trying to uncover the mystery of who stole the grail, where it went, and how they can get back the scroll that disappeared into the sea the last time they were in town. The magic of the second book comes alive in this book, with eerie scenes playing out in the streets and lots of mysterious interactions with undersea creatures and the strange Greenwitch. 

I absolutely intend to finish the last two books in this series, as overall it was a lot of fun to read. Though I found Will boring, the Drew kids are so cute and clever! I want to see where the grail takes them next and whether the Light can succeed in bringing King Arthur back to life. 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

 

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Book: The Name of the Wind
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: DAW Books
Release date: March 27, 2007
Source: Bought ebook
Series: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 1

Summary from Goodreads: Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen.The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature. A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

First impressions: I’m not generally an epic fantasy fan, but after hearing everyone and their mother rave about this book, I had to try it. I’m so glad I did! The first few chapters had just enough mystery to suck me in, and once the story-within-a-story kicked in, there was no turning back.

Lasting impressions: Parts of this book were so beautiful I could hardly breathe, but there were times I wanted the pace to pick up a bit. You have to commit for the long haul with this one.

Conflicting impressions: The story Kvothe tells is meant to span three days, and this novel is the first of those. At times, because of the length of this tale, I felt the story lost its focus. I got swept up in the adventures Kvothe undertook, but occasionally got impatient wondering where this was all headed.

Overall impressions: There can be zero doubt that Patrick Rothfuss is a masterful storyteller. His patience and attention to detail, combined with a clear love of words and the beauty they can create, make it obvious that storytelling runs in his blood.

It should be no surprise to see a family of storytellers at the heart of this book. Kvothe is the son of a traveling band of performers, and learns most of life’s major lessons from plays, literature, and stories. As he grows up, and suffers a devastating series of losses, he vows to research the history of his world’s most dangerous stories – those surrounding the mysterious and deadly Chandrian.

Rothfuss juggles between Kvothe’s present and past, with the past related to the reader by Kvothe himself as he recounts his journey to a transcriber known as Chronicler. In the present, Kvothe is a man of many secrets, and the action is nailbitingly tense. I was desperate to know how this man’s life had shaped him into the innkeeper so many refer to as a “king killer.” Meanwhile, as we listen to the incredible tales from his childhood, I rooted for this boy of poverty and heartache to find his way in the world and realize his strengths.

Kvothe has remarkable abilities – his intelligence is quick and sharp, he can make music that causes even the most hardhearted men to weep – and at times he has an ego to match. He’s grounded by his extreme poverty and a hard life, however, and as often as his mouth gets him into trouble, he usually has the sneaky grace to get himself out of it. As he starts to learn magic, make friends, and fall in love, we get the pleasure of seeing how the smallest of stories can create a hero. Intentions do not generally find a way into history books, and though Kvothe may have reasons or circumstances that affect his actions, the stories quickly become larger than life. Actions speak louder than words, remember?

This is a dense book that took me nearly two weeks to finish, but it was absolutely worth it. Rothfuss has a gift for words, and he can spin them into scenery that fills the mind. Rarely have I felt so transported into the world of a book. Though the story is long, it is certainly not boring. I had the feeling that I was simply experiencing one part of a long journey, that would come to a full and satisfying resolution by the end of the trilogy. That doesn’t mean there was not a definite conclusion to this part, which had a great ending of its own. Instead, I was being prepared for an epic tale that required the patience of a good setup to give me the payoff of a glorious ending.

Well, if this book is any indication, that ending is going to be magnificent. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows

Book: Incarnate
Author: Jodi Meadows
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Release date: January 31, 2012
Source: eARC from NetGalley
Series: Newsoul #1

Summary from Goodreads: NEWSOUL
Ana is new. For thousands of years in Range, a million souls have been reincarnated over and over, keeping their memories and experiences from previous lifetimes. When Ana was born, another soul vanished, and no one knows why.

NOSOUL
Even Anaâ??s own mother thinks sheâ??s a nosoul, an omen of worse things to come, and has kept her away from society. To escape her seclusion and learn whether sheâ??ll be reincarnated, Ana travels to the city of Heart, but its citizens are suspicious and afraid of what her presence means. When dragons and sylph attack the city, is Ana to blame?

HEART
Sam believes Anaâ??s new soul is good and worthwhile. When he stands up for her, their relationship blooms. But can he love someone who may live only once, and will Anaâ??s enemiesâ??human and creature alikeâ??let them be together? Ana needs to uncover the mistake that gave her someone elseâ??s life, but will her quest threaten the peace of Heart and destroy the promise of reincarnation for all?

Jodi Meadows expertly weaves soul-deep romance, fantasy, and danger into an extraordinary tale of new life.

First impressions: Without a doubt, the concept of this book had me sold from the beginning. Ana’s status as a newsoul, within this well-visioned fantasy society of recycled souls, was intriguing and captivating. I loved setting out on this journey to discover the secrets of why she is different in a world where everything is the same.

Lasting impressions: Ana and Sam were interesting characters, but the real standout here is the world where their story takes place.

Conflicting impressions: The book didn’t have enough answers for my taste. We spend the majority of the book waiting for Ana to buckle down and search for the reasons for her newsoul-ness, only to have them explained in the blink of an eye amidst too much other action. The last third of the novel threw way too much new information at me during a flurry of major events.

Overall impressions: Vexing. That’s what this novel was to me. The beginning is beautiful, brilliant, exciting, and full of so much promise! I was rooting for this book. So when the ending fell flat for me, I wanted to scream and smash things. Consider me thoroughly vexed.

At first, the mysteries of the book completely captivated me. Ana is the first completely new person, and we as readers are as desperate to find out why as she is. Ana has led a somewhat sheltered life, interacting only with her abusive mother, so when she sets out on her journey there is a lot she doesn’t understand. I loved being a part of her discovery of her world.

Secrets are everywhere, and the tension arising from this fact is delicious. Ana doesn’t know who to trust, and neither do we. Everyone seems to be hiding something, particularly Sam, and part of the fun of the novel is trying to ferret out the truth from the clues given. I felt there were lots of times when I was picking up on things that Ana’s past couldn’t let her see, and it was a really enjoyable reading experience.

That led to an even bigger disappointment, however, when so few of these hints and clues amounted to anything. Ana never calls anyone out on their sketchy behavior. She never notices the small things that seem so obvious to the reader. Worst of all, things that we are led to believe are significant turn out not to be. For instance, Sam in his past lives has constantly been targeted by the dragons that periodically attack town, and he wonders if that’s true or just his imagination or coincidence, but we never find out. The idea is simply dropped. Similarly, Ana has a unique and strange reaction to the pulsing walls that surround the city of Heart and make up the sacred temple, and this is likewise never explored but instead left to dangle like an errant thread.

I kept waiting for that “a-ha!” moment when answers would be revealed and Ana would have some peace, but it never came. I feel cheated out of a whole, complete novel, and wish things would have wrapped up in a way to give us some more answers before plunging on into the next book. It’s a shame that I’m not looking forward to the next installment in this series, because it truly started out in all the right ways.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

Book: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 28, 2012
Source: ARC received from Around the World Tours

Summary from Goodreads: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephewâ??s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY.

First impressions: The initial scenes in this book are dark, futuristic, and set up the conflict surrounding the world. Aria and some friends break into a compound in their city of Reverie, where everyone stays indoors for fear of disease and death in the atmosphere outside and communicates through SmartEye devices that allow virtual interaction in various imagined worlds. When the break-in goes horribly awry, Aria finds herself in danger and is saved by a tattooed tribal man from the outside real world, although this has even more profound consequences.

Lasting impressions: I think some more information on the rules of these worlds and societies would have made this reading experience more enjoyable. Though the mix of sci-fi and fantasy elements seemed interesting at first, by the end it all seemed like too many different ideas thrown into a giant mixing bowl, muddying the entire concept.

Conflicting impressions: If you’re going to have a book about two characters falling in love, it helps if they have chemistry. I did not connect at all with either Aria or Perry, so their love story became something of a snooze.

Overall impressions: I’m having the hardest time pinpointing what it is that didn’t work for me in this book. There were lots of individual elements that were interesting and exciting – the stormy Aether atmosphere, the Blood Lords and the tribal sensory enhancements, the Dwellers and their futuristic SmartEyes – but somehow when it all got put together it created a book that got bogged down by the weight of all of these Big Ideas.

Aria is a nice enough main character. She’s strong, gets by mostly without complaining, despite some pretty awful situations. Perry is more interesting in that he has this heightened sense of smell and is constantly at odds with his Blood Lord brother. He spends most of the book nobly trying to save his nephew, but treats Aria pretty brusquely. I knew at some point these characters were going to fall in love, because that’s the way things work in books, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they would want to be together. They didn’t seem to connect in any realistic way.

At the end there are some reveals that are a bit predictable, and set up some action for the future, but overall this book didn’t pack enough punch for me. I didn’t have enough information to fully invest in either the characters or the worlds they were fighting, so it ended up falling a bit flat.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Book: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release date: September 20, 2011
Source: ARC received for review from NetGalley
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
 
Summary: (from Goodreads) Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She canâ??t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king â?? a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And heâ??s not the only one who needs her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his peopleâ??s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesnâ??t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

First impressions: I had a hard time getting into this book. The opening third is slow paced, not very interesting, and Elisa is really down in the dumps. Despite this, however, I wanted to keep reading.

Lasting impressions: It may have started off slow, but by the end I could hardly turn the pages fast enough. I will remember this book for its ability to completely shock me.

Conflicting impressions: Some of the concepts didn’t really work for me (a magical stone in her bellybutton? Really?) and I felt the religious aspects drew too much focus.

Overall impressions: One of the first things we learn about our heroine, Elisa, is that she is fat. She is trying to squeeze herself into her wedding gown, and it ends up ripping. She consoles herself with pastries and hopes that her husband-to-be is ugly and old so she doesn’t have to feel inferior. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most books where the hero/heroine is devastatingly attractive.

What I thought would be a questing fantasy tale about Elisa fulfilling her fate turned out to be more of a book about Elisa finding herself. Throughout the course of the book she discovers that she is more than capable of being a leader – and an inspiring one at that. She becomes a completely different woman by the end of the book with changed attitudes about the world, politics, war, and even love. It’s a fascinating journey.

Though the first third of the book is a lot of Elisa moping and worrying about her destiny as the bearer of a Godstone, the story picks up after she is kidnapped. She is stolen away from her new husband’s home and dragged across the desert by residents of a war-torn area of the kingdom that is getting little help from Elisa’s husband, the king, and as the bearer of the Godstone they are convinced she is the only one who can help them.

The Godstone is a jewel placed by God in Elisa’s belly as an infant – a sign that she is the chosen one who will fulfill a Service to God. Elisa is fairly ignorant of all this entails, and as a result, so are we. We don’t know what kind of Service this means. We don’t know much about past Godstone bearers. All we know is that it responds to prayer and senses enemies. As a result, a LOT of time is spent in prayer, and at times the religious aspects seemed a bit heavy-handed.

Religion is an important player in this story, though. Elisa witnesses many different groups of people use God’s will as their reasoning behind opposing actions. She is frustrated that they are hiding behind this in order to justify their actions, but as a religious woman and a bearer, she also struggles to figure out God’s will and how it should influence her own actions. This really doesn’t get explored beyond the superficial, and I wondered why it wasn’t delved into more deeply. I wanted to know how she felt about religion impacting differing groups feeling “right” about their actions and not have her just sort of passively observe it.

Once Elisa gets fully immersed in war and comes into her own, the narrative really picks up. Though we still don’t know what she will do to save the day, we suspect that she will, and as more pieces of the puzzle fall into place it’s fun to try and anticipate what it will be. Maybe because I was so focused on the end game is why one particular event floored me. There is a SHOCKING scene that I absolutely did not see coming. It was a pleasant surprise in that I always like books that can do things differently but I was saddened by this event because I’m not sure how it served the story. It’s the kind of thing that should have rocked Elisa’s world a bit more, and when it didn’t seem to impact her trajectory or have any more influence on her choices than any other event, it cheapened what happened and made it seem unnecessary and purely for shock value. I’m curious to know what others thought, but try not to spoil it in the comments.

This was an interesting book with lots of unique elements. Rae Carson has an engaging writing style that pulls you along through slow parts and keeps you riveted through fast ones. I think this would be a great book for people interested in personal journeys of self-discovery. This is purely Elisa’s story, that happens to take place in a fantasy setting, and this is by no means a book only for fantasy lovers. If you haven’t given much fantasy a try, I suggest you start with this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Book: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release date: February 1, 2010
Source: Ebook purchased from Amazon
Series: The Iron Fey #1

Summary: (from Goodreads) Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth – that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

First impressions: Meghan is a sweet girl, although somewhat invisible to the people around her. She’s ignored or taunted at school, she lives on a hog farm thanks to her new stepdad, and she has a quirky male best friend who never lets her see where he lives. With her 16th birthday coming up, her life felt vaguely reminiscent of a Molly Ringwald movie (or, say, all of them).

Lasting impressions: Though the book felt like a mishmash of beloved ideas from lots of other sources, the ending was compelling enough to make me want to read on in the series.

Conflicting impressions: The plot lacked any kind of urgency for me. Meghan meanders her way through fairy land, and though time doesn’t really exist there, I kept wishing for there to be a deadline of sorts for her to be up against so the story kept moving forward. Instead, it felt like it dragged at parts because she didn’t know what she was doing, where she was going, or when she would eventually get there.

Overall impressions: If you like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Labyrinth, Wicked Lovely, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, then you’ll like this book. If you took these books/play/movie and tossed them in a blender, out would pop The Iron King. That isn’t to say there weren’t cool ideas here, it’s just that certain scenes seemed to remind me of other material, which was both comforting and disconcerting.

Meghan Chase is having a rough go at teenagerdom, and her life is quickly thrown into new territory when she comes home on her 16th birthday to find her brother replaced with a vicious changeling. Her best friend Robbie Goodfell, that merry prankster, uses this opportunity to reveal his true self, which of course is Puck. He introduces her to the hidden fairy world where he exists because he lives on in the hearts, minds, and legends of the human world.

From here, we learn of Meghan’s own ties to the fey, and she sets out to find her brother with the help of an often disappearing Puck, and a cat sidhe named Grimalkin. She encounters King Oberon and Queen Titania’s Seelie/Summer Court, and also is introduced to Queen Mab and Prince Ash of the Unseelie/Winter Court. As she continues to fumble her way around the land of the fey, she makes a lot of mistakes and deals and as a result, starts to figure out how things work down here. She’s resourceful, but too trusting and loyal – a fault Prince Ash warns her will be her downfall.

Ash is a bit of an enigma. I didn’t feel I got to know him very well in this book. In fact, most of the characters seemed to be held at a bit of a distance, so I didn’t truly connect with any of them. I liked Puck more because he’s, well, Puck. I’ve studied Puck and Claudius more than any other Shakespearean characters, and he’s very true to form here. I just wish he wasn’t a gawky redhead so I could find him as attractive as the dark and dreamy Ash. So for this book, at least, I’m calling Team Puck.

Meghan wanders in and out of dangerous situations, back and forth between the fey world and the mortal world, and there is no sense of how much time she has to rescue her brother, Ethan. If there had been a timeframe in which she had to find him, I think it would have pushed the urgency and created real consequences for Meghan’s failures. Instead, she got wrapped up in different battles and guessed her way toward finding him. She doesn’t find out who has him, or why, until the last few chapters of the book. This was very off putting for the middle section when I wanted someone to have some information that would drive the story.

I did appreciate the world created here, especially the conflict between the courts and the introduction of the titular Iron King. I’m very curious how this war will play out and what role Meghan will fill in its battles, especially given the binding agreements she had to make with some of the fey while trying to rescue Ethan. I found the book enjoyable in the end, and the overall reading experience was above average, so I give it four stars, though I hope the next books live up to the hype of being better than this one.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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