Graceling is a modern throwback to the fantasy books of the 1980s and 1990s - a straightforward story, relatively low key romance, and complete lack of over the top heroines and too-modern-sounding teens. But at the same time, some of the more frustrating YA staples are here: adults are evil and the guys all have a case of insta-love on our heroine. But it is decently enough written to keep me entertained with the Audible version.
Katsa is a graceling - blessed with an ability (in her case, ability to kill easily) that marks her as different. Her uncle, the king, uses her as his personal enforcer, sending her out to hurt those who displease him. On one such trip, Katsa encounters a young man, a prince from a neighboring country, and after that, their fates will be entwined as she must learn to use her abilities compassionately and not as her Uncle's thug. But he has a secret grace and she will be drawn into politics of the world on a grand scale.
This is a stand alone though there are two other books in this same world (one a prequel of sorts and the other a sequel but both with different characters). I did feel the book floats around quite a bit and lacks a good solid structure. As well, it can get tiring hearing Katsa echo the same thoughts over and over. Yes, we get the idea you don't want to marry. No, we don't need all the guys falling all over you even though you're supposedly deadly. And yes, we have a hero who is once again just a bit too good to be true.
I would probably rate this around 3.5 stars. It's nice to see a return to more traditional fantasy (rather than the ubiquitous YA urban fantasy) but at the same time, I wish the characters were a bit more distinct and multilayered.
A Murder of Crows continues the excellent worldbuilding and storytelling begun in the first book, creating tension but expounding upon the characters we have grown to know and love. The book has a solid ending and completes Meg Corbyn's story arc in a satisfying manner.
Plot: Crows are being murdered across Thasia - even at the Lakeside courtyard. Someone wants the ever vigilant crows out of the way and only Meg's prophecies are saving their lives before it is too late. The emergence of two drugs that target both humans and Others make Simon and the Terra Indigene recognize that they can no longer be reactive and instead must make a plan to stop this new threat - before more human cities and lives (as well as lives of Terra Indigene) are lost from retaliation by the Others.
Murder of Crows expanded the universe nicely - adding a new type of humans (intuits) as well as several new characters, including a former cell mate of Meg's. As well, we are given far more insight into several characters, especially Simon and the humans (policemen and girls working the stores). Tess's strange nature is explained more as well as more history of the Terra Indigenes. But all the character building does come at the expense of action: events are told after the fact with a few sentences rather than battles as we had at the end of Written in Red. Yet it really is for the characters why so many, including myself, really enjoyed this series and so the loss of action isn't really a loss. Bishop replaced the action with a lot of tension and really knows how to milk a moment and ratchet up the suspense.
If Ia vote this 4 stars instead of 5, it's because of the sheer amount of repetition in the book. Concepts, ideas, plot points are repeated ad nauseum, almost to the point of being distracting. Yes, humans are seen as meat, we got the idea the last 45 times that was stated. The same with how the Cassandra Sangue work, etc. etc.
In all, a great series and one I heartily recommend to all. Especially since it has the most unique and nicely developed low key romance I've read in an urban fantasy in a long time.
Note: I listened to the Audible version of this book and enjoyed the narration. Arooo.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a nicely dark urban fantasy featuring an unusual setting (Prague) and a variety of interesting characters. This is definitely a Romeo and Juliet story playing upon several mythos but at its heart a devil and demon pairing in the midst of a centuries old war.
Story: Karou is a human art student raised by 'monsters' - beasts made up of several different types of animals living in the underground. Then an angel appears trying to kill her and slaughter her friends/family, and she soon realizes that there is a lot more to her life and family then she ever knew. But will she learn enough in time to save those important to her - or even herself?
I fully understand why there are so many 5-star reviews for this book - it's decently written, interestingly dark, and makes a lot of moral dilemmas for the main characters. And yet, it never really captured me. Not enough happens and a lot is remembering a past that already happened - making half the book feel very passive. I listened to the audible version and I found myself oddly disconnected and even bored with the story. I didn't really like Karou, her friends, or the angel. As well, the villains were almost cookie cutter macho bad guys and the good guys just a bit too good. That lack of complexity warred with a story that was trying very hard to not be so simplistic.
I attribute my malaise more to my personal tastes and interests rather than the fault of the author, however. So for me it was a 2 star book but recognizing the appeal, I offset that against the 5 stars and find a 3.5 star rating.
Don't let my experience discourage you from this book - it is by no means a bad book at all and I can definitely see why so many enjoyed it.
Ship Breaker is a solid story with a complex and well described world. Yet oddly enough, this never gripped me - I was reminded so much of authors such as Homer Hickman who write about boys coming of age with good hearts who have to overcome the evil that humans do - and deal with a frustrating, confusing, inscrutable girl as well. It's almost become a cliche and I've read this so much that I never invested in the characters or story of Ship Breaker as a result.
Story: Nailer is a scavenger in the lowest dregs of a weather-ravaged, dystopian gulf area shanty town. He spends his day crawling derelict oil tankers to get enough scrap for a few bites to eat every day, and hopefully avoid his vicious, drugged father. Then, after a category 6 hurricane, a luxury yacht washes up in front of him and he may have the find of his life. But then he finds a girl his age alive inside and everything that seemed so easy just became very difficult.
Certainly, the author doesn't pull punches and shows just how mercenary society can be (or really always is) with the breakdown of order as in a dystopian milieu. And as with so many of Hickman's novels, the boy and his family are virtual slaves of corporations (or mining companies, etc. etc.), given just enough to survive but never enough to break free. This is the gravitas in which the characters find themselves and circumstances will force them to break free in a do or die gambit.
But along with the 'family enslaved' trope, there is always the somewhat upper class girl who drives the boys nuts. We have to go through all the motions of the love/hate relationship, the bickering, and the boy wondering why girls have to be so difficult and opaque. Yes, boys just can't figure out girls and it's because the girls are just weird. At least the authors give the girls backbones. But at the same time, completely and utterly unlikeable. In Ship Breaker, I wish the girl had been quiet and intelligently thoughtful, rather than cagey and unreadable.
The heaviness of the society and dog-eat-dog world are quite depressing. I know many prefer this dose of 'reality' in their books, and as such, I certainly can see why this was so highly rated by so many. Ironically for me, if the boy had actually been more mercenary (i.e., smart) I would have enjoyed this story a bit more. Saving one person's life at the expense of 10 others never makes much sense to me but I leave that for the philosophers; certainly, it means the boy retains his soul intact.
So yes, a solid read with a few problems that I wish an editor had fixed (repeated words and choppy sentence structures became annoying, especially with me listening to the Audible version).
Note that I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did an excellent job.
Cinder is a very unique take on the fairytale genre - transporting it cleverly to a science fiction settings but retaining the storybook feel. Elements of Cinderella, Snow White, and several other fairy tales are cleverly woven into a complete story in a way that makes an engaging story.
Plot: Cinder is a cyborg - considered less than human and very expendable by a prejudiced society. So she exists quietly on the fringes of society, doing mechanical jobs to make money to support her step mother and step sisters. When a chance encounter with Prince Kai leads to the possibility of attending the big ball, will Cinder take the chance? For she may not just be a simple Cyborg and her fairy godmother may know enough about her to change the course of her life. If the evil Queen Levana doesn't get her first.
I liked the science fiction setting and it is very accessible science. There's a bit of the supernatural in a form of the Lunars (who possess psychological powers). And of course you have the cyborgs, androids, and more. I would never have thought anyone could put all that together and make it work but Meyer does manage it.
In all, I liked (but somehow didn't love) the book. To be a 5 star review, I would have liked to see far more depth in the characters. They were just thin enough to never really be able to get into any of them.
Note that I listened to the audible version of this book and the narrator did a decent job.
The Scorpio Races is a beautifully written urban fantasy built loosely around the Irish sea horse myth. The author wisely jettisoned a lot of the hoarier aspects of the myth and instead concentrated on our two protagonists, Sean and Puck, and their relationship with the creatures.
On the remote British island of Thisby, the inhabitants are menaced by bloodthirsty creatures in the form of horses who emerge from the sea yearly. But the humans have learned to control the creatures - and even ride them in a yearly high stakes, life and death, race. Sean Kendricks is one of the most gifted grooms of the sea horses. But they have also scarred his life and he is a young man with only one goal: to own the sea horse with whom he has a special bond. Meanwhile, also on the island is Kate "Puck" Connolly. Like Sean, she lost her parents to sea horse attacks and is just trying to survive the harsh conditions of the island. But the family isn't making ends meet and she will be forced to enter the Scorpio race and defeat the reigning champ, Sean, if her family is to survive.
While I'm typically not a fan of books in which the plot is going to center on a final event, The Scorpio Races bucks the conventions that normally would make this a tedious read. For one, there is no 'great romance' getting in the way of the plot. People are greatly centered and act appropriately for the conditions in which they live. As well, there are no moustache twirling villains; no person is altogether good or bad. They are each making their way on the island. And the end race is built up to in such a way that the meat of the story (and the redemption of the characters) happens long before the event.
The writing is effective - easy to follow but also layered and nuanced. Stiefvater never feels the need to overwrite the scenes and all of the characters live very much in the 'now'. Both Puck and Sean are strong characters, driven but also flawed in important ways that only enhance, and not detract, from the story.
I've enjoyed all of Stiefvater's books and this one is no exception. I really especially liked that this is a story all contained within one book instead of dragged out over a series.
I listened to the audible version and it was well done.
Scarlet is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles and continues the story of Cinder while introducing a new heroine, Scarlet. While I liked the first book, I found this one really dragged and I had a hard time even getting to the half way point. Right around 50%, I realized I didn't like any of the characters - not overreact-to-everything Scarlet, big/dumb/stupid Wolf, snappy Cinder, vapid ship Captain whose name I can't remember, doormat Kai, or over the top evil Queen Levana. There just wasn't a character in there who didn't feel like either a cliche or overdrawn.
Plot: Cinder and the prisoner she rescued head to Europe to find out more of Cinder's past. In the meanwhile, Scarlet in France desperately searches for her missing grandmother. She teams up with a shady shifter named Wolf, who may know more about her grandmother's disappearance than he lets on. Both Cinder and Scarlet's paths are going to cross as the end point of both their quests lies in the secrets known by Scarlet's grandmother.
Scarlet retains the fairy tale feel from the first book and add further storybook characters in an interesting way. But as noted earlier, with everyone so over-the-top (especially Scarlet (shut up already!) and Queen Levana (yes, you are evil, step all over Emperor Kai more for fun). It just made all the characters feel two dimensional and lifeless - caricatures of their fairy tale characters rather than fleshed out people.
I wish Scarlet added something to the original story but for me, it just didn't. I wish the Lunar chronicles had ended where it did.
Note that I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job.
I never thought I'd give a 5-star review for a book with practically no plot and a bunch of fairly unlikeable characters. But it is a testament to author Mafi's skill that I was completely engrossed throughout the entire series. Yes, it is by no means a perfect collection; but the few faults are far outweighed by the emotional pathos and character development across the entire story arc. And well, there's Kenji - one of the funniest (and most fun) 'best friend' in any book I've ever read. I'd never have thought I'd be laughing as much as I did from Kenji's scenes. Anyone who stopped at book 1 is advised to give book 2 a chance - just for Kenji.
Plot: Omega Point is destroyed, the survivors living desperately, and Juliette has been safely hidden in Warner's compound apartment. In the time spent recuperating from being shot by Anderson, Juliette comes to a greater understanding of herself and the true nature of Warner. But Adam, Kenji, and the rest can't understand her new trust/respect of their hated enemy. And quite frankly, Warner doesn't even care. For him, it's all about Juliette and everything else is irrelevant. But together, Juliette and Warner will bring the survivors together and form a plan to take out the supreme commander and exact revenge. If they don't kill each other first.
Surprisingly, despite an abrupt end (the action ALL takes place in the last 10% of the book), it finishes in a satisfying manner. But what really set this book and the series apart for me is that there was so much character growth and contemplation of human nature. Most of Ignite me is Juliette coming to understand herself, about Warner's true nature, Adam and puppy love, and about the true meaning of strength. Anyone who has read the two novellas that proceeded this book will already know Juliette's conclusions about her relationships with Adam and Warner. It is all smartly written and for once, I really appreciate that a character understands WHY she loves someone and why they would love her back.
I think a series like this hits several sweet spots for me simply because I appreciate emotion when done correctly and a romance that isn't what it seems. If anything, a lot of the book is showing the negative aspects of a relationship and how easy it is to be confused and to be weakened by the wrong partner. Considering most YA teen books are about first loves and far too perfect matches (with no understanding of why the characters are even attracted to each other) Shatter Me really stood out.
The let downs? I wish the x-men subplot had been jettisoned (the "Juliette super hero spandex suit was back in this book, sadly). It drew the attention away from the pathos and that was both a distraction and a frustration. The book could really have stayed focused on emotion and development rather than superheroes and physical strength.
In the end, a tale of obsessive love, introspection, and a far from perfect (set) of love interests kept me hooked and eagerly reading. This was definitely not a story about either a dystopian landscape or insta-perfect-love. It's all about Juliette's growth from a shuttered, shattered, broken soul into a strong and independent person who learns her own strengths.
Note that I listened to the audible version of this book and the narration was excellent. The narrator did an good job and the producer/narrator really deserve a raise for the smart choices made to bring this version to oral form.
I look forward to Mafi's next series.
It's series like this one that make me fall in love with steampunk all over again. Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War continues the series, providing plenty of action/adventure, introducing new characters, and giving us more information on the dystopian Los Angeles world in which this is set. I'm reminded of great seafaring tales like Treasure island and Horatio Hornblower - with the action and adventure in the air rather than on the sea.
In this second book, Romulus sets out to discover who really attacked the Tehachapi stronghold - was it the Imperials or did the Founders have a hand in the action instead? For the land is in turmoil: rumors abound that the Founders are going to go all out in war - and the Crankshafts will need all the allies they can get. That is, unless one ally ends up being the daughter of Buckle's Imperial enemy. And along the way he is going to learn that all of the Crankshaft orphans have terrible secrets - including Romulus' sister Elizabeth. Cue krakens, sabretooth tigers, blizzards, air ship battles, explosions, and more!
There's a lot of male wish fulfillment here, as Buckle grapples with not two but now three nubile women on his ship as Valkyrie, daughter of the Imperial clean leader, is forced to join his crew. But that doesn't bother me in a book where the women give as good as they take. For once, every woman is on equal footing with their male counterparts and I just love that about the book. It's a book that is agreeable to both women and men (especially considering we have both male and female POVs).
While the first book was nearly non stop action, the second book takes its time to set up more world building, including intriguing hints about all the Crankshafts. We're also given a glimpse of more clans, their leaders, and some great foreshadowing to come. Each of those clans are really fun - from the Aztec inspired 'snakeheads' to the pseudoGerman Imperials.
There really is so much inventiveness in this series. I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series! This is steampunk done right - fun, exciting, thrilling, and joyfully over the top.
The narrator is very exuberant - the most animated I've ever heard, in fact!
The Romulus Buckle series is an exuberant, swashbuckling tale of a dystopian future set in Los Angeles and populated with a great cast of over the top characters. The story is packed with non-stop action and adventure and really sets a great bar for inventive steampunk romance.
Romulus Buckle is the young captain of the Pneumatic Zeppelin - part of the fleet of his father's clan, the Crankshafts. When the leader of the clan (and Romulus' adoptive father) is kidnapped, the Buckle and his Zeppelin will travel across the Los Angeles landscape, fight prehistoric monsters, clan armies, and more - all the while assisted by his capable crew.
I really enjoyed this book - it's a book that has a strong enough plot, great world building, and all the adventure you'd expect from a pirate type adventure. There are even moments of amusement and humor thrown in at some of the situations in which Buckle finds himself. Add in Martians, Los Angeles ruined and under snow, and some inventive steampunking (where steampunk IS intrinsic to the plot and not set dressing) and you have a great read. Los Angeles natives will especially appreciate this book and its ruined Southern California locations.
I listened to the Audible version of this book and it was just a bit too over the top, though I appreciated all the characterization the narrator put into the reading.
In all, this is a gem in the steampunk or dystopian genre.
Silence is a YA urban fantasy in the hands of a mature and talented author. Solidly written with good pacing, realistic and logical characters, and an interesting (if perhaps not wholly original) plot dealing with necromancers and ghosts.
Emma is lost in the grief of the recent loss of her boyfriend, Nathan. While visiting his grave, a young man appears with an old woman, who promptly hands her a lantern and lays a ghostly kiss upon her. Emma learns from the old woman's kiss that she is a necromancer - and is slated to die by the young man to prevent her from bringing more evil upon the afterworld. But Erik does not kill her and now commits to discovering what makes her different before her powers put her friends and her world at risk.
Silence has a great cast of characters (think Buffy and you get the idea of the diversity) but in Sagara's hands the characters are very grounded. There is no manufactured melodrama, sappy love or romance, or over the top scenes. Instead, we have a well-paced story of trust, friendship, love, and the paranormal thrown in.
I greatly enjoyed Silence. It is an easy and quick read but with enough action to keep me interested throughout. Sagara gives her characters a flawed and humane perspective as they struggle with events far beyond their control. There are no superheroes and each character's weaknesses as well as strengths become the driving plot points.
In all, I greatly enjoyed this book. The narration was a bit flat and it was very difficult to tell who was talking at times.
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