Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Details: 323pp, HMH Books for Young Readers ARC. Thanks again to my friend for providing me a copy!
Release date: September 1, 2015
Series: n/a
Rating: 4.5/5
Buy: Politics and ProseBarnesandNoble.comBook Depository

Summary (from Goodreads): Revenge is worth its weight in gold.

When her father is murdered for a journal revealing the location of a hidden gold mine, eighteen-year-old Kate Thompson disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers—and justice. What she finds are untrustworthy strangers, endless dust and heat, and a surprising band of allies, among them a young Apache girl and a pair of stubborn brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, a startling truth becomes clear: some men will stop at nothing to get their hands on gold, and Kate’s quest for revenge may prove fatal. Continue reading

Lion Heart by A. C. Gaughen

Details: 348pp, Bloomsbury USA Children’s hardcover
Release date:  19 May 2015
Series: Scarlet, book 3
Rating: 3.5/5
Buy: BN.comPowell’sPolitics & Prose — The Book Depository

Summary (from Goodreads): Scarlet has captured the hearts of readers as well as the heart of Robin Hood, and after ceaseless obstacles and countless threats, readers will finally find out the fate of the Lady Thief.

Imprisoned by Prince John for months, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire. After a daring escape from the Prince’s clutches, she learns that King Richard’s life is in jeopardy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine demands a service Scarlet can’t refuse: spy for her and help bring Richard home safe. But fate—and her heart—won’t allow her to stay away from Nottinghamshire for long, and together, Scarlet and Rob must stop Prince John from going through with his dark plans for England. They can not rest until he’s stopped, but will their love be enough to save them once and for all?

My thoughts: I am so conflicted with this final book in the Scarlet trilogy that I’m not even sure I can give it a rating that matches all my feelings. For one, I am still in love with the trilogy’s idea with gender-bending the classic Robin Hood tale to make a woman into the mastermind behind it all. In this book in particular, however, there seems to be one overly tragic flaw that’s making me question this whole book’s plot.

Who here loves a good B plot? You know. Like in many YA SFF books there’s the A plot, the characters on a classic SFF journey, and the B plot, that two of the characters were slowly falling in love. I generally like a B plot because it amps up the tension. BUT WHEN IT GOES COMPLETELY UNRESOLVED?? How would you like to get in a taxi on the way to your next big adventure only to find out that you’re never going to get out of said taxi? NO THANK YOU. No matter what kind of taxi ride it is (they can be pretty eventful if you’ve got an experienced taxi driver) you want to get out at some point. [[SPOILER AHEAD]] So YES, after all the lead up I wanted Scarlet to officially save her father KING RICHARD so that estranged father and daughter could be reunited. I mean HELLO Eleanor has already more than accepted her so why not have more of a family reunion? That was more than hinted at even in book 2 that when it didn’t come I felt sure my book had been mis-assembled and I was missing pages.[[END SPOILER]]

On the other hand, the romance was more pronounced. Normally I’m not a fan of romance in YA books, but it worked well for Lion Heart since it was the last in the trilogy: I wanted to see my favorite characters happy in the end! And even though Scarlet doesn’t end up meeting her birth father, she still continued to form a close bond with Eleanor, which was excellent to see. She and Eleanor also had a very similar mind set, a similar way of doing things, and it was great to see that it runs in the family!

Overall, it was a good end to the series, though it could have been more well-planned. I would’ve liked to see Scarlet meet her dad…. 3.5/5

Lair of Dreams by Libby Bray

Details: 624pp, Little Brown Books for Young Readers hardcover. (I was provided with a Netgalley e-ARC free for review — thank you, Little Brown!)
Release date: August 25, 2015
Series: The Diviners, book 2
Rating: 4/5
Buy: BN.comBooks-a-MillionBook Depository

Summary (from Goodreads): After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s become a media darling, earning the title “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” Everyone’s in love with the city’s newest It Girl…everyone except the other Diviners.

Piano-playing Henry DuBois and Chinatown resident Ling Chan are two Diviners struggling to keep their powers a secret—for they can walk in dreams. And while Evie is living the high life, victims of a mysterious sleeping sickness are turning up across New York City.

As Henry searches for a lost love and Ling strives to succeed in a world that shuns her, a malevolent force infects their dreams. And at the edges of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans that extend farther than anyone can guess…As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?

My thoughts: Ms Libba Bray knows how to craft her series. The Diviners (book one) pulled me in just enough, but this second installment really kept me enthralled! Lair of Dreams goes one step further in that this time, we get more character diversity.

     The Good

More characters, first of all. I really like how Ling Chen and Henry get on together and play off of each other’s energy. And how they share an ability was another plus, that way we see their growth in tandem and they can be buddies through their evolution! (The worst is when there’s a character or two you really like as people and you have to watch them suffer.)

In The Diviners it took more time than I liked to get used to the flapper speech and colloquialisms, which is partly my fault for not exposing myself to enough literature of the flapper age. But there were also several uses that felt entirely too jarring and over-the-top. In this second book, every use appeared fluid and well-fitting with the motion of events. Something that tied in well with this was one or two uses of historical events that were woven into the fiction. That’s right, there actually was a sleeping sickness pandemic in the 1920s! I had to google it to be sure, but it sounded vaguely similar to historical events.

The mystery! Almost above all else, I love it when series string us along a theme thoughout all the books. So far, Libba Bray is doing just that with The Diviners what with the history of Evie and James and then Sam’s mom’s disappearance. We learn just a tad bit more in both instances to keep us drooling for more!

     The Meh

This could be just me, but I couldn’t remember the finer details of the first book! It’s been so long since I’ve read it, and I wasn’t even among the first people who bought the book in hardcover — I waited till paperback! I think that’s a huge drawback with having to wait so long between books — you forget things….

Please please please, if you felt at least lukewarm (but hopefully better than lukewarm) about The Diviners, stay tuned for Lair of Dreams! I think you’ll love it. 4/5

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Details: 416pp, Bloomsbury hardcover
Release date: May 5, 2015
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses, book 1
Rating: 4/5
Buy: BN.comBooks-a-MillionBook Depository

Summary (from Goodreads): When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

My thoughts: Sarah J. Maas has done it again, another book to sit atop my (metaphorical) favorites shelf! While it’s not absolutely perfect in every way, it sets the bar pretty damn high for the rest of the New Adult subgenre, if it is in fact New Adult (maybe New Adult Fantasy would be more true).

          The Good

Every review I glanced at before I read this contained a warning that it was a New Adult book…which almost discouraged me from reading it. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed that I tend to prefer my literature to be at least reasonable as far as sexual content goes: I ABHORRED Fifty Shades of Grey and did not go on to read books two and three (and I almost threw my iPad across the room while reading book one), I stay away from reading YA contemporary for the most part, and I stay clear away from the NA subgenre because almost all of it is marketed as soft erotica. I just have not yet met a sex scene that has not made me cringe with awkward way the descriptions sound. Until ACOTAR. The two scenes we get an explicit description of struck me as realistic considering the fantasy world, and I shipped the characters enough to root for their *ahem* pleasures. THANK YOU FOR YOUR TALENT, MS. MAAS!

Going off of that, the chemistry between the characters is constantly evolving through the book and my anticipation of the culmination of each character’s advances grew very consistently. I am such a fan and I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP. Also, Beauty and the Beast retellings haven’t been entirely uncommon in recent years, but I like the way this world is created and built, relying heavily on the characters and their personalities. The descriptions of the scenery and imagery are simply a happy addition in the case of this book.

          The Meh

Like a few other bloggers, I too found this book a little slow to take off. The event that really sets the story in motion — Tamlin coming for Feyre — I questioned the logic of until about three-quarters through the book. I think I could’ve used a little more reasoning behind that at the beginning because it made me question so much about where the story was going and if we were missing any more details.

A quick summary: I AM READY FOR BOOK TWO, PLEASE AND THANK YOU! I can’t wait to see which direction this story flows in next. 4/5

The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, & The Death Cure: A Rant-y Retrospective

Saying this up front because maybe this is important to you: I do not plan on reading The Kill Order, the prequel to this series. Maybe that’s why you read series reviews or reviews of books in series, to find out if it’s worth the time to keep pursuing the next book, so there you have it. And this is why.

I can say with confidence that The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials were entertaining, at the very least. They were fast-paced. They had those important elements of suspense. Grievers! Get out of the maze! The Flare! But The Death Cure I had trouble enjoying, so much so that I gave it only two stars on Goodreads. One of its problems is more a problem of the entire series, which is that the characters are very two-dimensional. No depth to them. In order to feel character depth, I need a lot of character background and I need to understand the characters’ reasoning (or their thinking process). I need that! And I don’t understand why this wasn’t included! Very little background, no understanding of the characters. I get that the suspense and pacing were huge foundational elements of this series, but in my experience, very important factors (such as character history/background) can be worked in without the expense of the excitement. That background just needs to include elements that are equally exciting, which is very plausible given what has happened to the earth itself. For the love of god, just GIVE ME SOME BACK STORY.

One other thing I noticed with The Death Cure — and maybe I was so caught up in the previous books that I just hadn’t noticed it in them, too — was that the characters deliberated more than they acted. I have in my notes that it took just under 25% of the book to get things moving along and to spur the characters into acting. And none of that  first 25% was anything super important (like backstory, *AHEM*), just characters debating, disagreeing, etc.

The main reason I pushed through this last book was because I was hoping beyond hope that we get some explanations and thus see some evolution. But I didn’t get either…. I am so so conflicted because there’s such a good outline, it just wasn’t executed to my liking. The series as a whole gets a 2.5/5 from me.

A Brief Retrospect of… A Series of Unfortunate Events

                                   

Author: Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler)
Release Dates: September 1999 to October 2006
Overall rating: 3.5

Believe it or not, this was the DNF series of my childhood. I read books one through eleven before I decided not to continue because of the number of unfortunate events in relation to the good things that happen. As a kid I wanted something that ended happily and I never got that in these books. As a young(ish) adult my perspective is very similar, but I enjoyed the whole series nonetheless.

There were highs in the series for me; I loved The Reptile Room and The Ersatz Elevator and the Moby Dick references in The Grim Grotto. (I haven’t actually read Moby Dick yet but I always appreciate literary references.) One thing about this series that I can imagine my childhood self loving is the change in scenery. The Baudelaires are almost never surrounded by the same people (other than Olaf and Poe) or the same setting. We see their struggle from their hometown to a lumber mill outside town, to a Village of Fowl Devotees way far away, to a traveling carnival, to icy slopes, etc. Kind of like a grab bag in that you don’t know what setting you’re going to get next!

I do wish the books ended differently. I guess we’re warned by the author all the way at the beginning that the story isn’t going to have a happy ending, but I didn’t want to believe him. Now that I know all the unfortunate events from beginning to end, I want to say that it’s a little dark for the average middle-grade-reading child to enjoy. The whole series reads like a satire of an average life in the world we adults know when considering the illogical thought processes of Mr Poe, Esme’s ridiculous obsessions of what’s “in” and what’s “out”, and the sheer number of sadness and struggle the Baudelaires experience.

Just to reiterate, I did and do love the series, though with reservations. I wish it could’ve ended on a happier note! The whole series averages to about a 3.5/5 for me.

Early Review: You and Me and Him by Kris Dinnison

Details: 275pp, ARC provided by HMH for review. This in no way influences my opinion of the book.
Release Date: July 7, 2015 (U.S.)
Series: N/a
Rating: 4/5
Pre-order/Buy: BN.comBooks-a-MillionBook Depository

Summary (from Goodreads): “Do not ignore a call from me when you know I am feeling neurotic about a boy. That is Best Friend 101.” —Nash
Maggie and Nash are outsiders. She’s overweight. He’s out of the closet. The best of friends, they have seen each other through thick and thin, but when Tom moves to town at the start of the school year, they have something unexpected in common: feelings for the same guy. This warm, witty novel—with a clear, true voice and a clever soundtrack of musical references—sings a song of love and forgiveness.

My thoughts: You and Me and Him is a very heartwarming story of an overweight teenage girl, her gay best friend (a guy), and the new boy in town. This is the first YA contemporary I’ve read since I’ll Give You the Sun that makes me feel like gained something — whether it’s just me having grown from the story or just adding a happy tale to my repertoire — from reading the book.

When it comes to contemporary books — whether in the young adult realm or adult literature — I’ve found that it’s really the characters who make the story. Contemporary fiction equals realistic fiction, so if the characters aren’t well-structured…. Well, that’s the equivalent of having a shoddy foundation for a house. The story will crumble around flat characters. Luckily, I WANT THESE CHARACTERS TO BE MY FRIENDS. Especially Maggie. Nash is more of a drama queen than I would like at times, but overall he has a good heart. Tom is…more complicated. Let’s leave it at that. What I loved was the variety within these main characters. Maggie is the warm, fuzzy blanket of the three, the best friend who’s got your back. Nash reminds me more of cozy, fluffy socks: great to have on/around to keep your feet warm, but then they can make you slide all over a hardwood floor if you’re not careful. I almost felt like Maggie had to tiptoe around him to keep him happy. A very interesting friendship overall.

If you’re interested in friendship stories and happy endings, I definitely recommend You and Me and Him. 4/5


**Cover courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and Goodreads**