The Giver (The Giver, #1)

Image result for the giverFirst Lines: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.  No.  Wrong word, Jonas thought.  Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen.

This book has caught my attention since it was on the Great American Reads list last summer and did so well.  And then this month, this was an option for my students to read in a book project, so I decided I needed to read it.

In the community, everything is planned to perfection.  Your job, your spouse, your kids.  Everything big has been decided for you and no one minds because it creates stability.  There’s no unemployment, no divorce, no fighting…and no choice.  Everyone is the same, except for Jonas.  At twelve, it is time for Jonas to begin his training for his future career.  But while everyone else is getting normal jobs, Jonas is chosen for something really special.  He begins his work with a mysterious man known only as The Giver and discovers that power lies in feelings.  And when someone he loves is threatened, Jonas has to decide how far he’s willing to go to break society’s rules.

Ok, I know that some of what I say is going to be controversial here, since it’s such a beloved book. But I had a hard time getting into the story.

First of all, I thought everything started off so slow. I know it’s world building (and there were definitely interesting parts to that), but I didn’t really get into the story right away. I couldn’t connect. I didn’t start connecting until we finally got to the Ceremony of Twelve.

I liked the scenes involving The Giver and Jonas. Those were an interesting commentary on our world and theirs. And I liked seeing the way Jonas suddenly saw his world after. That was all really interesting.

But I felt like the plot wasn’t full enough. Everything, to me, felt rushed. I didn’t feel like we saw enough with the Giver, that we saw why their world was the way it was. And that ending? Totally abrupt. I didn’t care for that, even though I think it’s supposed to be that way for a reason.

Maybe I’m just outside the demographic. Maybe because I didn’t have an attachment to it as a child, it doesn’t appeal to me as much. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t my book.


The Wood

Image result for the wood chelsea bobulskiFirst Lines: Dad tells me the wood is not a place to play.  It is a place for business, and it is more powerful than I could ever imagine.  He tells me I cannot forget the rules of the wood.  There are three.  Do not travel from the paths.  Do not linger after dark.  Do not ignore the calling.

I found this at the library and I picked it up because it looked creepy.  I like creepy.  And it looked sufficiently different to be interesting.

Winter never wanted to be a guardian of the wood, but when her father vanishes one morning, it falls to Winter to make sure any accidental travelers who come through the portals make their way back home.  But the wood is poisoned and is turning into something far more sinister.  Leaves ooze a black ink.  Shadows linger.  Winter, with the help of Henry who comes from the 18th century England and knows more than he should about the wood, needs to put the wood in order and figure out what’s actually going on before people die.

What I liked about this was the mix of genres. It is a bit like a fantasy, with strict rules for protocol or you could die. It’s tinged with paranormal as Old Ones (fae) are in charge of the Wood. And it’s also mixed with some historical fiction as Henry comes from the past and has to acclimate to the present. I liked that these genres blended together so seamlessly.

And I liked the relationship between Winter and her mother. With the disappearance of Winter’s father, things are tense between her and her mother. It was well-done because it felt real–the distance, the lost feeling, the fear that something could happen to Winter, but with the underlying love of family. That was easily the best relationship in the whole book and it’s not often I say that.

The romance and the plot were decent. I mean, they didn’t bowl me over. The plot’s a bit predictable and it feels rushed at times, though I still enjoyed seeing certain parts of it unfold. The romance, if I may call it that, was a little bit clunky, though it had moments of surprising realness.

And this book really wasn’t creepy at all.  All that hype for something that was cool in a dark way but definitely not scary in the least.  That was disappointing.

Since this is a standalone and not a series (a rarity in fantasy, it seems), it was kind of weird the way it ended. Everything felt hurried because it was all wrapped up in a single book. I understand that it needed to be that way; I’m just apparently not used to it. And it’s not the book’s fault.

There wasn’t anything I openly disliked about the book. The bare bones of it are actually pretty good and execution wasn’t bad either. It was just that certain tidbits felt off-kilter to me.

Courting Darkness (Courting Darkness Duology, #1)

Image result for courting darknessFirst Lines: As I stand on the battlements of the besieged city, looking out at the disarray before me, it is clear the god of Death has taken to the field.  While this could be said of any battle–death and war are old friends, after all–today He rides a black horse, a pale-haired rider hunkered down in front of him.

It’s been a few months ago now, but when I found out that this book was coming out, I pretty much lost any composure I had at the time.  His Fair Assassin series is one of my favorites (I reread it constantly) and this being a continuation on that series, you’re darn tootin’ I was going to read this.  (I’m not entirely sure where I just pulled “darn tootin'” from…my apologies.)

Sybella, a daughter of Death, has worked hard to serve Him as his hand of justice.  In accompanying the duchess of Brittany to France, they’re always surrounded by enemies–something Sybella is more than used to.  But Sybella has a new mission: protect her younger sisters from having the same abusive childhood she had.  With this taking up so much of her time and energy, Sybella needs help to protect the duchess.  Her only hope is two novitiates that have been buried deep in the French court for the last five years–if she can figure out who they are.  Genevieve has been at court for so long that she barely remembers who or what she’s supposed to be fighting for.  Her only friend of late is the prisoner that everyone else has forgotten about.  When tragedy strikes Genevieve’s world, her only recourse is to take her fate into her own hands, even if it means ignoring the convent that raised her.  As Sybella and Genevieve’s lives move ever closer, everything they hold dear could be lost if their timing is even just a little bit off.

This was pretty much what I had hoped it would be. Most of our favorite characters are back (with Sybella and Beast being the two we see the most of), but we also get to meet Genevieve, a novitiate who has been biding her time in the French court for the moment her first assignment would reach her. And in the meantime, she finds a man close to death in a dungeon…because that’s what these daughters of Mortain do more often than not.

For as much as I do genuinely like Sybella and Beast, I was more desperate for Gen’s story once we got started. I liked the novelty, the newness of it all. I liked seeing her background and how that made her who she is. That’s what I loved so much about the other books–we saw their distinct personalities and how their lives had shaped them into what they were. We already knew who Sybella was, so that wasn’t as much fun initially. Though I will admit her story got a whole lot more interesting after about the halfway point.

It took a little while for me to really get into this story, and not for lack of interest. It was just that, between two narrators (Gen and Sybella), it took a long time to get both of their stories rolling. It’s the nature of the beast. Two narrators means two stories in one.

In all, though, this contained everything I love about this world/series.  It plays on the idea of gender roles, since we have female assassins who are more than capable of taking care of themselves in a fight and don’t appreciate anyone telling them what to do.  But we also have lead men who respect this–in fact, most of the time they even encourage this independence.  It’s the minor characters (both male and female) who try to make our assassins fit the typical mold.

If you enjoy drama, court intrigue, suspense, and a little bit of romance, this is the book and series for you.

I absolutely adored this. This story was awesome and I’m really excited to see what the next book brings. I have high hopes for it.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely (A Curse So Dark and Lonely, #1)

Image result for a curse so dark and lonelyFirst Lines: There is blood under my fingernails.  I wonder how many of my people I’ve killed this time.

I’m pretty sure even a casual visitor of my blog here can figure out in about .4 seconds that Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite story.  And you would be absolutely correct.  So when I heard about another retelling of it, well, sign me up.

Prince Rhen used to have all of Emberfall in the palm of his hand.  But after making a horrible mistake, a powerful enchantress curses him to repeat the autumn of his 18th year over and over again.  To break the curse, he just needs a girl to fall in love with him.  Should be easy…until he learns that he turns into a vicious beast at the end of every autumn.  As the beast, he’s destroyed his castle, his family, and any hope he ever had of breaking the curse.  Harper’s life has been anything but charmed.  Her father skipped out on them, her mother is dying of cancer, and Harper’s brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy.  Harper has learned to survive in any way she can.  So when she tries to save someone on the streets of Washington, D.C. and gets sucked into Rhen’s world, Harper knows survival is all she can do–and then get back home.  She doesn’t understand this new world she’s thrown into, but the more she gets to know Rhen, the more she sees what’s at stake.  And when Rhen sees Harper isn’t like the other girls, he begins to hope again.  But with powerful forces still working against Rhen, it’s going to take more than breaking the curse to save Emberfall.

Phew.  That was long.  On to the review!

This was just amazing. From start to finish, this book had my attention. I’m a teacher and I was literally counting down the class periods until I was alone and could pull this book out of my bag to read even a few more chapters. It was so engrossing.

The plot was really interesting.  It doesn’t play out how most Beauty and the Beast retellings do, which was fine because I can appreciate an author putting their own spin on things.  It was more like the fairy tale gave it the bare bones and Kemmerer put her own flair on it from there.  I’m totally good with that.  It made the story unpredictable and charming.  It was funny, action-packed, and suspenseful.  And the romance?  A tingly slow burn.  That was fun.

The characters were very unexpected. They start off in a way where you think you have them pegged (Rhen is arrogant, Harper is pushy, etc.), but they don’t stay that way. As they learn about each other, we very gradually see them not quite fitting the molds we thought they would. It was so subtle that I almost didn’t even notice it, and I loved that.

I was also drawn to this book because I was interested in seeing how Harper’s cerebral palsy played out, as that was an angle I hadn’t really seen before in one of these stories. (As was Rhen not always being the monster, but that’s a different point.) This was really the only part I was divided about. On one hand, I guess I’m more acclimated to cerebral palsy being more extreme than Harper’s was. Hers really only affected her leg. On the other hand, it never really defined Harper–she knew what her limitations were, but she wasn’t going to let anyone else limit her. And that was a really cool attitude to see.

The story was gorgeous and I loved it. I read this as a library book, but I know that someday soon I’ll be adding it to my personal library.  WHICH IS NOW AN ACTUAL ROOM IN MY HOUSE.  (I never get tired of saying that.)

Wintersong (Wintersong, #1)

Image result for wintersongFirst Lines: Once there was a little girl who played her music for a little boy in the wood.  She was small and dark, he was tall and fair, and the two of them made a fancy pair as they danced together, dancing to the music the little girl heard in her head.  Her grandmother had told her to beware the wolves that prowled in the wood, but the little girl knew the little boy was not dangerous, even if he was the king of goblins.

This was in a display at my library for winter-themed books and, having been on my to-read shelf for some time, I grabbed it.  (It helps a lot that I’m going through a very strong fantasy phase right now–fantasy, paranormal, anything that is vastly different from our world.)  The fact that this sort of sounds like a fairy tale sold me on it.

Since she was a little girl, Liesl has heard stories of the Goblin King.  Stories of how dangerous he is, of how enticing.  At 18 and helping her family run their inn, Liesl uses those stories of the Goblin King to help escape her crushing, hopeless, creatively-draining world.  Feeling her chance at composing slipping through her fingers, Liesl becomes bitter toward her family.  But that all chances when her own sister is taken by the Goblin King, who is very much real.  Liesl has no choice but to go to the Underground to get her sister back.  The Underground is mysterious, beautiful, terrifying…and so is the man who rules it.  Faced with ancient laws that work against her, Liesl will be faced with impossible choices to save her sister and herself before her fate is sealed.

This was really different, and I liked that even if I didn’t always follow what was happening.

First of all, I loved the setting. It just felt different. While the year is never specified, it’s pretty clearly Germany in about 1600s-early 1800s, probably skewing more toward early to mid-1700s. (Composers are mentioned by name, so I used those dates to firm up my idea.) This is such a different setting already that I was pulled in.

The whole Der Erlkonig bit was interesting too, though I admit I didn’t always follow that. Being the Goblin King, he’s got magical powers that he uses to trick and pull Liesl into his traps. Of course, there’s more to him and his world than meets the eye.

The plot stuck with me even after I finished the story.  I can’t even quite say why.  Well, ok, maybe I can a little.  I mean, it sort of has this Alice in Wonderland/Persephone and Hades feel to it, which is a story line I adore.  So Liesl gets sucked into an underground world that she doesn’t understand, led by a man she doesn’t trust and creatures that are more than a little scary at times.  That basically sums things up and, no matter how many times I read similar stories, I just keep coming back.

And while I kind of understood who he was as a person and what made him tick, there was some distance between me as the reader and him. I felt like the characters–not just him–were kind of closed off from the audience. This book read more like Literature than a story, so maybe that was part of it. The writing felt loftier. Not that that’s bad, but I did find myself skimming at times on accident.

Still, it was interesting and I do want to see what happens next.

Game of Queens: A Novel of Vashti and Esther

Image result for game of queens indiaFirst Lines: Where does this tale truly begin?  Does it start in the jeweled garden of the harem of the King of Kings, master of half the world?  Shall I begin it there?  Or shall I begin it at an extravagant banquet on the night that a woman defied the King of Kings before all the nobles of the empire?

Ok, so while this isn’t YA, I thought I would still share this because I like retellings.  In the last like 3-4 years, I’ve really been taken with the story of Esther from the Bible.  Now, I’m not what one would call “religious”, but I can get into a good story of women standing up for what they believe in.  So when I heard about this, I was in.

I’m copying the blurb in because it’s good: You may know part of the story already, but you only know what history has passed along. The story of how Vashti, Queen of Queens, the most beautiful woman in all the empire, defied the king her husband and so lost her crown. The story of how Ahasuerus, King of Kings, commanded that the most beautiful maidens be sent to his court so he might choose a new queen. And you may know how he set the queen’s crown upon the head of the virtuous and beautiful Esther, and how Queen Esther herself defied both king and law to save her people from a treacherous fate.
What India Edghill brings us in Game of Queens is the story of power and treachery, blood and deception, bravery and romance that surrounds the court of Ahasuerus and brings to life two of the most celebrated female heroines in all of history.

This was good. It took a very long time to get started, though. Esther doesn’t even enter the story until about halfway through. Before that, our narrators are Daniel (yes, the Daniel who survived being eaten by lions) and Hegai, the Chief Eunuch of the King’s household. It gets more interesting when Vashti becomes a narrator, but it was still slow until we got more to Esther’s story. Maybe that’s simply because that’s what I wanted to read the most.

I did end up liking the characters quite a bit, especially Vashti. Esther is clever and head-strong, but Vashti was raised as an empty-headed, vain princess who eventually decided she wanted to be more than that. And it was sweet to watch her journey. And of course, I enjoyed Esther.

I was a bit disappointed with the love story, such as it is. As the author admits in the beginning, it’s kind of hard to make Ahasuerus into a respectable character when he was doing all of these stupid things in the meantime. But Esther’s draw toward him seemed…awkward. Forced. I wish that had been handled a little better, but I realize the source material kind of limits what can be done.

Anyway, it was enjoyable to read; it just took a long time to get going.

All Fall Down (Embassy Row, #1)

Image result for all fall downFirst Lines: “When I was twelve, I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,” I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.  I don’t ask whether or not she has ever heard the story.  I’m pretty sure she probably has, but I keep talking anyway.

I’m in the middle of moving into my first (!!) home and literally all I can think about is books.  (Partly because I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW AWESOME THAT IS and partly because books are keeping me sane through all this.)  Ally Carter is a favorite of mine and I wanted to see what Embassy Row was all about.

Growing up on Embassy Row, Grace has grown up knowing how tenuous country alliances are–and how much people can get away with.  But now, everything’s different.  Everything thinks Grace is crazy.  She’s not.  She knows her mother was murdered and she’s going to make the man pay.  But no one believes her.  Not her powerful grandfather, not her Russian neighbor and childhood friend Alexei.  Everyone wants Grace to be normal–or at least pretend–but Grace knows that this isn’t something that can just be brushed aside.  If she doesn’t stop the killer, then it’s just possible she may be next.

I’m pretty sure Ally Carter has made a career of writing the same style of books: teenage girls with their finger on the pulse of something either illegal or in espionage (which is sometimes the same thing). And yet, they’re all so compelling.

Grace is a fairly typical Carter character: snarky but can be sweet, adventurous and smart. But having also seen her mom murdered, she suffers from panic attacks and feeling like she’s crazy. I had a lot of sympathy for her and it was so very real. Her confusion, her anxiety.  I liked that this was really the one crack in her otherwise smooth and finished facade.

The plot was pretty good. The whole let’s-find-the-killer part was definitely the best, but the political shenanigans she gets into by hanging out with other embassy kids were pretty interesting too. This was definitely intriguing enough that I would read more.

It’s fun, it’s easy to read, and it’s full of suspense. Definitely fun to read.