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Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Titles: Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #4

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long. Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? -Goodreads

The Review:

Dear YA,
I think we need to see other people. It’s not you, it’s me.
Love, Niki

There was nothing wrong with Winter – it was a perfectly delightful conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. I just found myself struggling to finish it. Maybe it could have been a bit shorter, as there were a few repetitive elements, but then I’d probably be complaining that it needed to be more robust. I did end up really appreciating how Meyer infused the fairytales so seamlessly, and that goes for the series as a whole. Overall, despite my incredibly conservative, perhaps unfair rating of Winter, I actually do consider this series one of the easiest to recommend. It’s filled with a lot of fun, several organic romances, and a unique storyline.

It’s clear I’m just not feeling YA lately. I knew this day would come eventually. I’m not hating on the genre, by any means. Some of my all-time favorites have come from it. I just need to break up with it for a while. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Rithmatist #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hope no one gets tired of hearing me say “I read another Sanderson, and it was amazing!” because I say it a lot.

The Rithmatist, while not as sophisticated as some of Sanderson’s high fantasy (for obvious reasons), is still one of my new favorite works from him. The magic system was particularly fun to read about – Rithmatists who duel one another using chalk drawings (ground wards for defense, animated chalk drawings for offense),and set in a school setting where they learn everything from geometry (for proper ward creation) to complex dueling strategies, to boot! I love when books introduce some sort of competition, especially magic-related. The Rithmatist definitely reminded me of Hermione’s role in Harry Potter – very academically inclined and whenever she was around I felt like I learned a lot about magic. Joel fit that roll for me here – he knew so much about the Rithmatists’ craft that, by the end of the book, I felt like an expert too. The friendships formed in this book were also reminiscent of HP, and I especially love that Joel and Melody’s relationship was organic and atypical – very different from most YA.

The book also had a fun “whodunit” style mystery that did a great job keeping me guessing all the way until the end. If I can’t figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point (or better yet, if I’m certain I know who it is and I’m wrong), the author has done a great job weaving together a good mystery – as was the case here. I felt invested in the story because I was constantly trying out different theories of whodunit. With so many things keeping me glued to the pages, it’s no surprise I devoured it so quickly.

Overall, The Rithmatist had a great mix of good characters, compelling mystery, and magic infusion. It hit an A+ for me on all accounts and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy. This is one of those titles I find easy to recommend because it has appeal for a wide range of readers. Before diving in, I was under the  impression The Rithmatist could essentially function as a stand-alone novel – not the case. I need the next one like, yesterday! According to the author’s 2016 “State of the Sanderson” post, we should be seeing a sequel “Soooooon.”

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Swarm by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Title: Swarm

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #2

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes. These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground. But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister. Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him. Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army? -Goodreads

The Review:

Zeroes was an interesting YA read – I liked the concept, the writing voice(s), and the characters (all but 1, anyway). What I didn’t like was that the events within it seemed a little inconsequential. In Swarm, I found that much needed substance in the second half of the book and, incidentally, liked it better.

It finally utilized that “good vs evil” vibe, diving further into each teen’s magical abilities, bringing in that fine distinction of moral boundaries. I thought it was quite creative, even if it is an old concept. The characters are definitely the selling points behind the series so far. The authors did an excellent job diversifying and representing minorities (and not in a “token” way, by any means). I’d love to see more such diversification in books, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it here.

All that said, it was still a good 75% in before I felt truly emotionally invested in the story. So here I sit, now fully invested after all that effort, looking out for the release of the final book (Nexus) which should be released sometime in September 2017. The trouble is, there’s not even a cover, much less a solid date. This is the epitome of my luck – as soon as I decide I want to know what happens next in a series, its outlook becomes shaky.

Overall, this wouldn’t be my first recommend of the genre, but at the end of the day I liked it and was kept interested the whole way through. For subject matter and language, I would only hand this to older teens (and adults like myself who refuse to grow up).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Cress and Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Titles: Cress & Fairest

Author: Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #3 & 3.5

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has. -Goodreads

The Reviews:

Cress [4 stars]: Even though I liked Cinder and Scarlet, Cress took the series to the next level. It also happens to be one of the few rare YA books I’ve actually enjoyed lately (I’m going through a phase). Part of the reason I found it (and the series as a whole) so successful has to do with Meyer’s plot construction. Although each book focuses on a different title character, Meyer doesn’t push the others into the background, but continues their storylines with the same momentum. Cress was a convergence of stories which produced plenty of action, romantic tension, and plot progression. Many of my fellow blog buddies say it was the best of the series, and I can’t say I disagree (I’m almost finished with Winter – RTC). My favorite elements were the creativity and the organic semi-atypical love stories. Overall, this series makes itself easy to recommend – it’s a lot of fun.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Fairest [3 stars]: Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy FAIREST, as the story components were a bit unsavory, I did think it essential to my enjoyment of the series as a whole. Before reading it, Queen Levana was an enigma, but a rather shallow one. I could never really take her seriously because her motives weren’t evident. Fairest provided that much-needed insight as to why Levana’s brain ticks the way it does. It also gave crucial information as to why she’s not just evil, but totally off her rocker (it was a really subtle drop-in that explained what’s wrong with her mind… Did you catch it?). In any case, after reading it, I then had the backstory I needed to fully enjoy Levana’s role in Winter. I believe Fairest is required reading to get the full experience out of the Lunar Chronicles.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Title: Ivory and Bone

Author: Julie Eshbaugh

Series: Ivory and Bone #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives. As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ivory and Bone is set in the mammoth hunting era of prehistory, and the constant cultural infusion was easily my favorite part of the book. It was doubtless a lot more fanciful than life in that era would’ve been, but I didn’t mind because it kept the plot light-hearted and fun, and allowed story focus on the relationships. The book is supposed to be a creative retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly enough, it was only after finishing the it that I was clued into this fact (sometimes it really helps to read the overview). As I’m not one for classic literature, I didn’t put two and two together, but in hindsight it was kind of obvious. During the read, I had a few issues with logistics – there was a lot of traveling back and forth between clans which felt a little forced and unnecessary. Discovering that Eshbaugh was trying to stay true to a pre-existing plotline made me a little more forgiving. As the next book goes beyond that initial framework, I am especially excited to see what the author can weave without these constraints.

The writing style and format were also major selling points of the novel. A boy tells his side of things to a girl about their journey together thus far. It’s a mix of first-person and second-person narration that I found to be quite beautifully woven together. As an aspiring writer, I’m inspired by the creativity and usage of different techniques in this novel – it was very well done. I’ll admit that I’ve been having difficulty enjoying Young Adult books lately, so it really speaks to how unique Ivory and Bone was that completely devoured it in a day.

Overall, if you’re in the mood for a cool setting, interesting writing style, and classic love story Ivory & Bone is the book for you. I’m thrilled to continue on with Obsidian and Stars, out June 13, 2017.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Title: Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Series: Everlife #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF Rating

The OverviewTenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision… -Goodreads

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Firstlife a chance?

Yes – I made it about halfway through before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’ve loved a lot of things from the YA genre, although I admit lately I’ve had less patience for teen angst in general. I haven’t read anything quite like Firstlife before, but it had vague similarities to these other titles, which I enjoyed (mostly):

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Unfortunately I had low expectations going into Firstlife, but decided to pick it up despite a few negative reviews. Even more unfortunate was that it lived up to my low expectations.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Two things: 1. It was just too bloody weird. Now, I’ve always appreciated Showalter for dancing to her own drum (a quality I’ve adored in other works of hers), but Firstlife was a bit too far-reaching even for me. The very beginning explains these “influencers” of the two philosophical groups venturing down to the “Firstlife” world to influence the main character to join their side. Both influencers are male, but one goes down in a girl’s body… it was weird. It, along with an odd sequence of events, was just too weird for me. Did I mention it was weird?

2. I did not like the main character, finding her decisions contradictory (which I hate). She was supposed to be this tough, somewhat stubborn girl who chose to undergo imprisonment and physical torture rather than stray from her convictions. But, as soon as the two “influencers” walked-in, she started waffling about everything before they’d even really made their pitch on why she should join their side. Especially the boy – all he had to do was ask her to jump and she’d say “how high?” It was a frustrating contradiction of character – she came across very weak minded when the framework of the story set her up as someone incredibly strong unswayable. I really, really hated that.

Was there anything you liked about Firstlife? 

I liked a lot of things at first, such as character, world building, and story, but quickly soured to all of them because of the issues listed above.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Yes, although I’m now terrified to read her other YA trilogy – signed hardcovers I’ve had on my shelf for ages. If I ever need a delightfully cheesy paranormal romance, however, she’s still one of my first picks.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I don’t think so. There are too many other books I’d recommend first.

by Niki Hawkes