Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Iron Knight: Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series...

But never forgotten.

My name—my True Name—is Ashallayn'darkmyr Tallyn.

I am the last remaining son of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie Court. And I am dead to her.

My fall began, as many stories do, with a girl…

Book Review

Title: The Iron Knight
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: October 25, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Julie Kagawa knows how to end a series.

It's always sad (and a bit scary) to say goodbye to a favorite series. Last books come with such emotionally-fueled expectations. And after, some authors leave you feeling wrung out and crushed, while other authors make your heart sigh with happiness and contentment. Whenever I read a last book, I'm always overwhelmed with that feeling of Please don't ruin what you've created. Well, I am ecstatic to say that in The Iron Knight, Julie Kagawa gives us the perfect journey to the perfect ending that this stellar series deserves.

The Iron Knight was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2011, and WOW did Julie deliver. It was everything I was hoping for: adventure, anguish, romance, danger, and a slew of game-changing twists that left my head spinning. Within the first ten pages, Julie hit me with a whiplash twist that I just didn't see coming (the summary wasn't available then) and then she kept them coming for the rest of the story. Things that weren't anywhere on my radar were thrown into the mix, keeping the story fresh and compelling.

And let's talk about ASH. This is his story. His narration is everything my little fangirl heart was wishing for: some moments were pure bliss, and others, as Ash begins to thaw that icy cold heart, were harrowing and heart-wrenching. Everything about Ash--his emotions, his intense love, his regret--is laid bare. We see every vulnerability Ash hides behind that cold exterior, and we feel the extent of his absolute devotion to Meghan. And as Ash has told Meghan many times, there are horrific crimes in his past, and as Ash atones for those crimes to be worthy of what it will take to be with Meghan, we see how much his love for her has changed him--how much her love for him as already redeemed him.

For fans worried there may not be enough Meghan, I thought Julie devised some sneaky, delicious ways to fit in plenty of Meghan. Besides, we've had three books with her, and I'm a sucker for any kind of alternate POV, especially from the hero's perspective, to truly feel the extent of his love for our heroine.

So this Ash fangirl thanks you, Julie Kagawa, for creating such a satisfying, stirring end to this beloved series. I found myself re-reading entire chapters just so I didn't have to say goodbye so soon.

(And let's all give Julie's editor a big cheer for convincing Julie to write The Iron Knight and not leave that heartbreaking goodbye in The Iron Queen as the end like Julie initially intended. Yes, those parting words of Ash and Meghan in TIQ were tragic and all-sacrificing and made me cry, but oh, how I love my happily ever after instead.)

Lola and the Boy Next Door: Even. Better. Than. Anna.

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Book Review

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: September 29, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Even. Better. Than. Anna.

And that's saying something.

I knew I was going to love this from the moment I read the blurb. Cricket is an inventor (and so is the hubby--25 patent applications, thank you very much). It takes place in San Francisco (which is our city). And Stephanie Perkins wrote it (and we all know her words are magic. MAGIC! Everything she writes is oozing with amazingness.)

Lola surpasses all expectations. When you read these words, you FEEL everything. Lola's embarrassment, her sadness, her longing...and the sparks every time Cricket touches her. How does Stephanie Perkins weave these spells? I can't remember the last time I felt quite like this reading a book...this heart all a-flutter feeling where you're holding your breathe waiting for them to touch. Oh, wait--I can. It was when I read Anna and the French Kiss.

Lola is a story of finding yourself, and finding the one you love. And Stephanie Perkins writes chemistry like no other. Sigh.

I can't wait to see what Stephanie has in store for Isla, and she uses the events in Lola to set the scene perfectly for Isla to ensure all our favorite characters will be back.

Go read this book. And then read it again because that's what I'm going to do right now. (I swear, this book must be laced with some kind of addictive substance...or else Stephanie Perkins' pacing and characters and writing are PERFECT.)

P.S. You've GOT to see this cover in person. It's ADORABLE.

The Scorch Trials: Dashner just gets better and better.

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

Book Review

Title: The Scorch Trials
Author: James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12, 2010

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

James Dashner's writing just gets better and better. The Maze Runner was good but I wasn't sold on it...but this latest installment has made me a complete fangirl of this series. The stark writing is perfect to tell this grim (yet hopeful), mind-bending tale. There's this stirring sense of these characters struggling to hold on to their humanity in the midst of all these trials and confusion that has me invested in their fate. As these characters persevere and fight and SURVIVE with their hope intact and pushing them forward, I can't help but cheer and then hold my breath for them...because Dashner is a master at creating that exhilarating feeling where you really, truly NEVER know what's going to happen next.

I love the Lost-esque feel to everything. And I do not evoke the Lost word lightly.

What an electrifying series! I can't wait to see what crazy twists James Dashner has in store in The Death Cure.

Wolfbane: Can Calla please act like an alpha?

When Calla Tor wakes up in the lair of the Searchers, her sworn enemies, she’s certain her days are numbered. But then the Searchers make her an offer—one that gives her the chance to destroy her former masters and save the pack—and the man—she left behind. Is Ren worth the price of her freedom? And will Shay stand by her side no matter what? Now in control of her own destiny, Calla must decide which battles are worth fighting and how many trials true love can endure and still survive.

Book Review

Title: Wolfsbane
Author: Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Publication Date: July 26, 2011

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Let me say this: Andrea Cremer can write. Her books ooze with imagery and pretty phrases and that I-must-consume-this-book feeling (especially Nightshade). She even adds some decent mythology to the mix in Wolfsbane, something I thought was blatantly lacking in Nightshade.

So why the two stars? This series just isn't for me. I've never liked Calla. She's never seemed like an alpha to me (I mean, I've been TOLD for 800 pages that she's an alpha, but it's been rare that I've SEEN it) and I've never felt connected with her character. Shay is the biggest snoozer of a male lead I've read about for two years running, and the love triangle is strangling this series. When done with grace and charm and chemistry, a love triangle can keep me feverishly tearing through the pages. But in this series, Calla's indecisiveness and lust for both boys--and first Ren's and now Shay's pushy ways--make this love triangle irritating. Frequent scene: Calla and Shay making out, Calla thinks of Ren, wants Ren instead, pushes Shay away, Shay pushes Calla for more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

(And it has to be said: What did Cremer DO to Ren's character??? Of course circumstances can drive people to make choices they wouldn't have made otherwise, but a character needs to stay true to what's already been created for him. The Ren depicted in Wolfsbane is NOT the Ren we met in Nightshade.)

Although not as compulsively readable as Nightshade, Wolfsbane does expand the mythology (albeit with a ton of infodump conversations). Unlike other authors, Cremer acknowledges the holes in her mythology and offers some patches (why Keepers can't weave, how the mother determines the essence of the child, etc.) although some of the patches are a bit TOO convenient. However, after the bare mythology in Nightshade, the expansion of the world is welcomed.

The writing's good. The mythology's gotten better. But until I can actually LIKE these characters--their personalities and choices--I can't give above two stars.


Fins Are Forever: I'm going to pretend Forgive My Fins was the end.

On Lily Sanderson’s eighteenth birthday she’ll become just a girl—still a mergirl, true, but signing the renunciation will ink Princess Waterlily of Thalassinia out of existence. That leaves plain old Lily living on land, dating the boy she loves, and trying to master this being-human thing once and for all.

Now that Lily and Quince are together, mer bond or not, she’s almost content to give up her place in the royal succession of Thalassinia. But just when she thinks she has everything figured out, the waves start to get rough. Lily’s father sends a certain whirlpool-stirring cousin to stay with her on land. What did Doe do to get herself exiled from Thalassinia and stuck in terraped form when everyone knows how much she hates humans? And why why why is she batting her eyelashes at Lily’s former crush, Brody?

The seafoam on the raging surf comes when a merboy from Lily’s past shows up—Tellin asks Lily for something that clouds her view of the horizon. There’s a future with Quince on land, her loyalty to the kingdom in the sea, and Lily tossing on the waves in the middle. Will she find a way to reconcile her love, her duty, and her own dreams?

Tera Lynn Childs’s sequel to Forgive My Fins offers another tail-flicking romance with plenty of fun, sun, and underwater adventure.

Book Review

Title: Fins Are Forever
Author: Tera Lynn Childs
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: June 28, 2011

My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

This series should have ended with book one. Forgive My Fins was a fluffy, funny beach read, but the plot in this sequel has nowhere to go. Creating unnecessary melodrama does not a plot make. And based on the said melodrama, it appears there will be even ANOTHER book.

Part of my problem with this series? I do not like Lily as a character. She whined and nagged and shrieked for most of book one, but I tolerated it because Quince's devotion was so adorable and there were some funny lines. But book two? Lily hasn't changed much, and there's not enough Quince to make up for it. And maybe it's the love of a Republic in me, but I don't see why it's so important Lily become queen someday. Why is she better suited to be the leader of a kingdom, just because her dad was the king? The plot struggles to make something of substance out of nothing, and major eye rolls ensue with the trying-too-hard melodrama at the end. For me, I'll just pretend Forgive My Fins was the end.

Illusions: Enough with the love triangle drama, please

Laurel hasn't seen Tamani since she begged him to let her go last year. Though her heart still aches, Laurel is confident that David was the right choice.

But just as life is returning to normal, Laurel discovers that a hidden enemy lies in wait. Once again, Laurel must turn to Tamani to protect and guide her, for the danger that now threatens Avalon is one that no faerie thought would ever be possible. And for the first time, Laurel cannot be sure that her side will prevail.

Book Review

Title: Illusions
Author: Aprilynne Pike
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 3, 2011

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

4/5 of this book is love triangle drama. Laurel is one of the most annoying, whiny, selfish heroines in all of YA.

Can I just say, I've read three mediocre books now waiting for a certain moment between two characters, and all I got was a couple of paragraphs. Talk about a letdown.

This series should not have been dragged out to four books. I've been sticking around for Tamani, but after Illusions, I'm done. (Okay, almost done. I'll probably skim #4 for all things Tamani, but that's it.)

Vanish: Sophie Jordan knows how to write one steamy kiss

To save the life of the boy she loves, Jacinda did the unthinkable: She betrayed the most closely-guarded secret of her kind. Now she must return to the protection of her pride knowing she might never see Will again—and worse, that because his mind has been shaded, Will’s memories of that fateful night and why she had to flee are gone.

Back home, Jacinda is greeted with hostility and must work to prove her loyalty for both her sake and her family’s. Among the few who will even talk to her are Cassian, the pride’s heir apparent who has always wanted her, and her sister, Tamra, who has been forever changed by a twist of fate. Jacinda knows that she should forget Will and move on—that if he managed to remember and keep his promise to find her, it would only endanger them both. Yet she clings to the hope that someday they will be together again. When the chance arrives to follow her heart, will she risk everything for love?

In bestselling author Sophie Jordan’s dramatic follow-up to Firelight, forbidden love burns brighter than ever.

Book Review

Title: Vanish
Author: Sophie Jordan
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: September 6, 2011

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I admit: as soon as I opened Vanish, I skipped ahead to read a highly anticipated reunion scene. (I mean, I have been looking forward to this moment for almost 365 least, that's how I justified it.) Once I was satiated, I decided to behave myself and read the book in order from page 1...and I kept burning through the pages until I'd read Vanish in one sitting. Sophie Jordan's writing flows like a seasoned pro's. It's easy to lose yourself in these pages, to glance up and realize 100 pages have melted away because you're so immersed. A lot of the clunkiness, the overwrought descriptions and awkward dialogue, that plague other YA novels are refreshingly absent from Sophie Jordan's writing. And WOW does she know her romance.

And let's just say it again: Sophie Jordan knows how to write one steamy kiss. (I admit--the romance is my favorite part of Firelight. A bit shallow, I know.) I've read other YA novels written by adult romance novelists, and Sophie Jordan hands down does the most skillful job of taking those romance talents and creating a fresh, compelling, steamy-yet-appropriate novel for teens.

And let's talk love triangles. Some are abhorrent. And some give you all kinds of butterflies. For me, this love triangle is the latter. Sophie has developed Cassian into this layered, tender, protective, caring character with hidden depths, and though I doubted it would be possible after Firelight, he is definitely some formidable competition for Will. (But we all know I'm cheering for Tamra and Cassian! And speaking of Tamra and her character arc, I just have to say, I so called it back in Firelight.) Jacinda's grown as a character, too. She's still a wee bit selfish at times, but many of the mistakes she makes in Vanish are when she's trying to do the right thing and help other people and fix her wrongs. She just never has been given a choice. She feels trapped between loyalty, love, and duty, and that desperation created by never having had a choice in her own outcome drives her to make some mistakes that she will try to repair at any cost.

Sophie Jordan throws some game-changing twists in there, too, keeping the story riveting. I cannot wait to see the next chapter for Jacinda, Will, Cassian, and Tamra. (I have some predictions, like always, and I can't wait for the final story to unfold.)

Graffiti Moon: Brilliantly clever, touchingly poignant, and achingly funny

"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

Book Review

Title: Graffiti Moon
Author: Cath Crowley
Publisher: Knopf Books
Publication Date: February 14, 2012

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Graffiti Moon is one of the most stirring novels I've read all year. At times brilliantly clever, at times touchingly poignant, at times achingly funny, Graffiti Moon is so captivating that I blew through it in one sitting. These characters breathe and the imagery of the art feels palpable. And WOW that is some gorgeous prose. I could pull dozens of lines from this book that made me view the world with whole new eyes. It's brimming with these beautiful, tragic metaphors and images and descriptions that create such an emotional atmospheric presence.

I've been awaiting Graffiti Moon's journey to the States for months after hearing so many rave reviews from Australia, and Cath Crowley did not disappoint. The quirky, artsy vibe and alternating points of view reminded me of another Aussie novel, Beatle Meets Destiny (but minus the cheating part). After reading over 100 YA novels a year, I find the tropes and cliched plots and cut-out characters seem to blend together, which is why the whimsy and quirky and cleverness of Graffiti Moon is so refreshing. Crowley creates the imagery of Ed and Lucy's art with such a vivid, skilled hand that these words feel tangible. I think the narrative would have worked better without Leo's poetry interspersed throughout, but alternating between Ed and Lucy is the perfect way to tell this touching story. To the folks at Random House, thank you for bringing this Aussie gem to the states.

Content: Because of the seriousness of some of the subjects and the characters' propensity for strong language, this book may be more appropriate for older teens and adults

Wildefire: These characters need a big dose of likeability

Every flame begins with a spark.

Ashline Wilde is having a rough sophomore year. She’s struggling to find her place as the only Polynesian girl in school, her boyfriend just cheated on her, and now her runaway sister, Eve, has decided to barge back into her life. When Eve’s violent behavior escalates and she does the unthinkable, Ash transfers to a remote private school nestled in California’s redwoods, hoping to put the tragedy behind her. But her fresh start at Blackwood Academy doesn’t go as planned. Just as Ash is beginning to enjoy the perks of her new school—being captain of the tennis team, a steamy romance with a hot, local park ranger—Ash discovers that a group of gods and goddesses have mysteriously enrolled at Blackwood…and she’s one of them. To make matters worse, Eve has resurfaced to haunt Ash, and she’s got some strange abilities of her own. With a war between the gods looming over campus, Ash must master the new fire smoldering within before she clashes with her sister one more time… And when warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.

Book Review

Title: Wildefire
Author: Karsten Knight
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 26, 2011

My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

This premise is bursting with potential, but these characters need a big dose of likeability. While I commend Knight for his bold choice to write from a female POV, Ash's voice needs some work. The dialogue and narrative is littered with crude words and phrases that I'd venture to say many (most?) females just don't use. It's like the Beautiful Creatures syndrome in the inverse.

However, there is simmering potential in both the premise and writing, so I'll definitely be checking out the sequel.

(But what was with that ending? I kept swiping my finger at the screen trying to turn the page, thinking my iPad had frozen or something. Nope. That was the last page.)

And can I just say, that is one GORGEOUS cover.

Side note: Anyone else notice that this takes place in the same small town as Aprilynne Pike's Wings series? Who knew there were fairies, trolls, and goddesses all hanging out in the same small town of Orick, CA.