Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

Image result for truly deviousFirst Lines: Look! a riddle!  Time for fun!  Should we use a rope or gun?  Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty, Poison’s slow, which is a pity.  Hanging’s a ropy way to go, a broken head, a nasty fall, a car colliding with a wall.  Bombs make a very jolly noise.  Such ways to punish naughty boys!  What shall we use?  We can’t decide.  Just like you cannot run or hide.

So I love Maureen Johnson as a person.  Her Twitter account is outrageously funny.  But this book really wasn’t on my radar until I saw the hype it was getting.  I decided I probably had to read it, even though I feel like for the most part I’ve outgrown the mystery phase I went through in middle school.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont, where only the best and brightest artists and thinkers go.  It was a school started by Albert Ellingham, who wanted to make a place where learning was a game and students could focus on what interested them.  But shortly after the school opened, Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped.  The only clue was a riddle detailing different ways to kill someone.  (See: first lines.)  It was signed Truly Devious, and this case became one of the most famous unsolved cases in America.  Enter Stevie Bell, a true-crime aficionado whose greatest dream is to solve the Ellingham case and become an FBI agent.  But coming to school at Ellingham is going to take up a lot of her time, especially as she gets to know her strange housemates: the welder, the writer, the artist, the actor, and the video game designer.  Everything changes the moment Truly Devious returns and murders a student.  It seems Truly Devious has returned from the grave and gotten away with murder.

As I expected, this book retained some of Johnson’s quirkiness.  I like quirky, and it’s just odd enough to bring some humor and levity to this murder mystery.  It’s an incredibly clever story, modeled after the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, just to name a few. Having been an avid Christie fan as a teen, I saw many parallels to those specifically.

Stevie is a wannabe FBI agent. She’s obsessed with criminology, always reading about it and listening to podcasts and trying to solve cold cases. But it also means she’s well aware of how investigations work and what she needs to look for as a detective. In fact, she has traits similar to Sherlock, able to make huge deductions about a person based on scraps of evidence (a tan, an expensive watch, etc.).  So it was fun to read about a teenager who knew exactly what do to, even though she’s never actually dealt with a dead body before.

The story bounces between going back to 1936 when the Ellingham kidnappings happened and the present. Stevie’s obsession with the kidnappings shows us all the evidence of the case so we can get a better idea of what happened. And in the present, when Truly Devious returns, we see that unfold as well.

The mysteries were very clever. There are a lot of riddles in this book, a lot of loose ends that you need to try to put together. And, because this is a trilogy, there are cliffhangers that leave you feeling pretty unsatisfied at the end. I was hoping for more than I got. But I did enjoy the ride, considering there were little things along the way that didn’t feel right and then your instincts were proved right at the end.

There are quite a few characters that, because there are a lot of them, mostly come off feeling somewhat flat. But I enjoyed reading about them. Everyone who comes to Ellingham is quirky because they’re supposed to be passionate and great at whatever their passions are. Stevie’s is crime, but her roommates include a writer, a welder, a video game designer, an actor, and an artist. And every one of them is weird in their own rights. Some of them are likable because of it. Others are not, but that’s also kind of the point.  They’re being true to themselves.

I’m interested to see what the sequel brings. Hopefully I won’t have lost the thread of this story by the time it comes out.

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Restore Me (Shatter Me, #4)

Image result for restore meFirst Lines: I don’t wake up screaming anymore.  I do not feel ill at the sight of blood.  I do not flinch before firing a gun.  I will never again apologize for surviving.

As I was walking around the library, I came across this.  Now, I know I’ve been out of the YA game for a little while (like an 9 month hiatus to read mostly nonfiction), but I was a little surprised to see it.  And more than that, excited to jump back into Juliette’s world.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Juliette Ferrars thought it was over.  She’d won Sector 45, was named Supreme Commander, and had the love of her life by her side.  She can still kill with the touch of her hand, but her control is strong.  But suddenly the ground is shifting underneath her.  Juliette thought ruling would be easy–but when the realities of the job and tragedies all strike at once, what is she going to do?

Like basically everyone, I assumed this series was over after 3 books.

I sort of wish I could go back in time.

I’ve always respected Juliette in this series. To have risen from her horrific beginning to become the strong, incredible leader she was was amazing. And her metaphorical, lyrical way of describing everything was nothing short of beautiful.  Like, I would get some of her quotes tattooed on my body beautiful.

So it’s really unfortunate that basically everything I loved about Juliette wasn’t present in this book. As the Supreme Commander of Sector 45, Juliette is now treated like an imbecile because she doesn’t know how to rule a country. And that completely disregards the fact that no one is telling her anything. They’re making her look stupid, so she feels weak and stupid rather than the brave, powerful girl she is. It was disheartening and difficult to read.  Not to mention her lyrical observations are also gone.  I don’t know if that’s a reflection of her sanity, her practicality as a ruler, or laziness on the author’s part.  But I missed it.

And as far as the other characters go, I feel like we saw remarkably little of any of them besides Warner, who was really the only one that I actually liked reading about in this book. Even Kenji, who is so hysterically funny when he wants to be, seemed muted.

The plot, to me, seemed fractured. If you asked me to summarize this story, I’m not sure I could. There’s so much going on that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And the fact that none of them are really resolved only makes it worse. But it basically started to focus on one thing, then, because the story flips between Juliette and Warner narrating every like 10 pages, it jumps to whatever the other one is doing at that time. Like a broken mirror, the pieces of this story were everywhere and it was hard to keep track of all of the parts.

It just seemed forced. So much of this story was, “Oh, you’ve never heard of this? Yeah, it’s been around forever.” Which, in a way, was understandable given Juliette’s background. However, it seemed so fake.  No one treated her–the Supreme Commander–like she was worth respecting.

What I will say for this book is that, as always, the suspense is there. Even when I didn’t want to keep reading, I was still thinking about where the story would go. And that ending…let it never be said that Tahereh Mafi doesn’t know how to end a book on a cliffhanger.

But all in all, I kind of wish I’d just let Juliette’s story end before this.

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)

Image result for tower of dawnFirst Lines: Chaol Westfall, former Captain of the Royal Guard and now Hand to the newly crowned King of Adarlan, had discovered that he hated one sound above all others.  Wheels.

When I went to the library not too long ago, I was cruising the shelves to see if I could replicate the magic of awesome books I’d randomly found a few weeks prior.  When I got to the M’s, I saw this on the shelf.  I’m pretty sure my first thought went something like, “What the &%(*%!  When the $*&*^ did this come out?!”  So obviously, I grabbed it.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead!*

Chaol Westfall has always been defined by his strength and his friendship with Dorian.  But all of that changed when the glass castle shattered and left him a broken man.  His only chance at recovery come from the talented healers in Antica, a stronghold on the southern continent.  It’s also the last hope of Dorian and Aelin, if they have any hope of winning the war.  They need allies.  With Nesryn’s help, Chaol hopes to persuade them.  But what Nesryn and Chaol discover on Antica changes both of them–and makes the war (and winning) more vital than ever.

Now, I’m pretty much a die-hard Maas fan at this point. She could write a math textbook and I would willingly read it.

But this book, I felt, had a bit of a hiccup.

Not that her writing style isn’t still phenomenal. It is. She’s a master of weaving in small details from earlier books that only the likes of J.K. Rowling can top. (Sorry, #RowlingAfterAllThisTime) I mean, I don’t know how many times throughout this book I kept going, “Oh, that was clever” or “Wait…didn’t we see something about that like 300 pages ago? OH. Now it makes sense.” Like, it’s insanely brilliant plotting and execution.

And the characters are as charming as ever. I have, and will always be, a Chaol girl. Personality-wise, he is my closest fit. He is sweet and protective on the inside and a don’t-mess-with-me tough guy on the outside. It’s great. So to have an entire (or at least half–you know how Maas plays with perspectives) book devoted to his perspective was fantastic. I have been waiting for this. Aelin never did him justice and his perspective was always so limited in the earlier books. I was so sad he wasn’t in the previous book at all, even if this makes it all make sense now.

ANYWAY. Characters. Yes. As usual, Maas makes charming, sweet, belligerent characters with wicked senses of humor. She also expertly writes secretive, manipulative villainous characters that you just never quite know what their motives are. It’s well done.

The reasons why I felt like this book hiccuped a little is twofold. The first is that, no matter how awesomely written this was, it was incredibly slow. We’re introduced to a new land that we’ve never seen before and a culture we’re unfamiliar with in this series. So Chaol and Nesryn must spend quite some time learning to play by new rules to convince the khagan to join the war. Not to mention that both Chaol and Nesryn are each harboring some inner turmoil that they’re wrestling with. Both of these slow the plot. Even though it was a Maas book, sometimes it was a chore to keep reading.

The second reason why this was a hiccup is because, if you’ve been keeping up with the series like I have been, reading each new book when they were released (or soon after), it’s been something like 2 years since we’ve seen Chaol and Nesryn. I keep notes about each of these books (something I do for every series) and even now, I can’t tell you much of anything about Nesryn from the previous books. I get the vague feeling I’ve read about her before, but that’s it. Nothing specific beyond that. Having the previous book cut them out so entirely means it was a huge adjustment to fall back into this book. (Also, the timeline of this book overlaps with book 5, so you have to play that game as well.) I barely even remembered what they were fighting against. But don’t worry; my notes were good on that front.

I know this is a full length novel and everything, but it just felt like a spin-off or one of those “#5.5” novels. It didn’t feel like it was actually part of the series because Aelin and Co. weren’t there. I think that actually may be a lot of what I was struggling with. Like when you’re waiting for the season finale of a show and they put in 2-3 worthless episodes to draw out the suspense.

So this better be building up to one hell of a finale. I can almost taste it.

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2)

Image result for thunderheadFirst Lines: How fortunate am I among the sentient to know my purpose.  I serve humankind.  I am the child who has become the parent.  The creation that aspires toward creator.

The first book in this series was all-consuming, to the point where I didn’t get a whole lot done after I started reading it.  I had a feeling (and a hope) that this one would be similar in that respect.  At the time, I needed something that could help me escape the world.

Rowan and Citra, former friends, now sit on opposite sides of the Scythedom.  Rowan has gone rogue, serving up his own brand of vigilante justice as Scythe Lucifer, taking out corrupt scythes across the continent.  Citra, a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, wants to curb corruption from the inside out.  But this is harder than she thought it would be, as she’s struck down by “new order” scythes at every turn.  She realizes she can’t do this alone and turns to Scythes Curie and Faraday for help–but she also risks being “deadish” to talk to the Thunderhead for help.  But will the Thunderhead help or will it simply watch the destruction unfold?

I was thoroughly impressed.

From the moment I started this book, I was sucked into it. Something about Shusterman’s writing style with this series is just captivating. It didn’t matter if I read two paragraphs or twenty pages; I was always lost in it.

Part of it is because I actually really enjoy the idea of scythes and their supposedly humane gleanings in a perfect utopian world. I think that concept in itself is interesting, especially when you factor in the different facets of that utopian world. How they don’t understand greed and jealousy, how technology has perfected everything, how if they die in an accident it’s not even a true death. Everyone comes back. It’s just alien enough to actually feel realistic in a sense.

But it’s the characters who really sell this story. Everyone from the wise and compassionate scythes like Citra/Anastasia and Curie to the “villains” of the scythedom. Every character plays a role and every character totally sells it.  Seriously–you even understand where the villains come from even as you want to beat them to a pulp.  It’s really awesome.

Also, the suspense and plots twists in this are fantastic. It’s just incredible where this story ends up going. You do not see it coming.  This was one ending that I never ever would have predicted in any way, shape, or form.  Shusterman upped the ante on that one from where most YA goes.

So so good. I’m totally ready to see where this story goes next. If I know Shusterman, it’s about to get really weird.

Into the Bright Unknown (The Gold Seer Trilogy, #3)

Image result for into the bright unknownFirst Lines: The log cabin I share with the Joyner family is murky and dank, with a packed dirt that moistens to near mud at the base of the walls.  But it has a solid roof, a cozy box stove, and–best of all–a single bright east-facing window with a real glass pane.  Real glass!

I adore Rae Carson’s writing, especially since everything I’ve read weaves in some element of magic/fantasy.  She’s very talented in that.  And to finish off this series, I was excited.

Life is so much better than Leah could have predicted.  Having made it to California Territory, Leah, her fiance, and her friends are rich and settled.  But their riches make them a target for a rich billionaire intent on destroying them.  They decide that it’s time to fight back with all they have.  As Lee’s magic becomes stronger and more powerful, she realizes someone may have figured out her magic…someone who may have magic herself.  With a daring plan in mind, Lee and her friends will have to be brave but careful as they attempt to finally make California safe for themselves.

I really enjoy the cleverness in Carson’s writing. Even though I can catch most of the foreshadowing because I know her writing style, I still usually miss a few things. (Side note: it’s not a bad thing that I can spot the foreshadowing. It makes me look forward to the reveal.)

This was a pretty good conclusion to this series. I like that it’s over a historical time period that doesn’t get much attention and that it has diverse characters.  (And boy, does it cover diversity!)  That just gives it another layer that other Gold Rush stories lack.

Lee is very smart and clever herself, so it’s interesting to read about her getting herself into and out of trouble as she tries to bring justice to California. I like the whole cast of characters as well, though I will say that it is a large cast and it took me a while to keep everyone straight again, since it’s been a while since I read the previous books.

The action of this book was interesting. It had action at times and was more subtle at others. I never got bored, per se, but there were times when it didn’t always have my full attention. But once I got to the second half, I was pretty well hooked.  The second half is where the plotting/scheming really picks up anyway and I have to say, this scheme was pretty much genius.

This is a really interesting historical fantasy series that touches on real issues and I very much enjoyed it.  Maybe not as much as I enjoyed the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, but it was still good.

The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath & the Dawn, #2)

the-rose-and-the-dagger-the-wrath-and-the-dawn-2-renee-ahdiehFirst Lines: The girl was eleven and three-quarters.  Three very important quarters.  They’d been of consequence when her father had left her in charge this morning, with an important task to accomplish.

I grabbed this at the library some time ago, meaning to finish off this duology and cross another series off my list.  Only it languished on my shelf for most of the summer.  I hate having to renew books, so when this came up for renewal again, I decided I needed to read it and be done.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

There once was a time Shahrzad thought that the Caliph of Khorasan was a monster and a killer.  But now, ripped from her husband’s arms after a brutal storm and a curse that threatens to keep them separated, Shahrzad can’t help but miss the man she now knows Khalid to be.  Reunited with her family, Shazi is far from safe.  Deep in the desert lie enemies, waiting for the right moment to strike the battered Caliph where it hurts the most.  Shazi finds herself trapped between loyalty to her family and friends from before she married and her husband.  Using the magic inside of her, Shazi sets off the break the curse…but she have to dodge enemies of her own making along the way.

I’m just going to come right out and say that my review of this book is tainted by the fact that I really don’t remember much of the first book, apparently.  As I started reading this book, I realized how little I remembered of the plot and characters.  It made it dreadfully hard for me to sink into the story and enjoy it.  So read my review with a grain of salt.

Things that I loved: the strength of the female cast.  And we’re not just talking about Shazi here, though she’s definitely a fiery one.  All of the females, even the quiet ones, had a moment to show either their physical, mental, or emotional strength in one form or another.  I adored that.  I’m all for giving girls awesome role models like this.  What was super awesome was that even the girls who consider themselves “mousy” in this story still found ways to stand up for themselves.  And I truly think that girls need to see that as a strength.  The older I get, the more I find that quiet strength inside of me.

This story is totally a tangled web of intricacies, which was fun to try to untangle.  Loyalties are constantly being called into question, relationships aren’t as clear as you think, and events constantly overlap unexpectedly.  It was fun to read because there was always something to pay attention to.

I did think the plot was interesting, but I found myself also getting bored at times because I couldn’t remember the first book very well.  Like, I enjoyed what Shazi was trying to do.  But then the narrator would shift to a minor character, like Irsa who I didn’t remember in the slightest and then I just couldn’t get into the story as much.  It wasn’t until closer to the end when the action picked up that I finally started getting back into the action.  And, of course by then I knew who the characters were again.

I guess I was expecting a lot out of this book too, given how good I remember the first book being.  Not that this one was bad, but I wanted it to be this epic romantic saga and it…wasn’t.  Parts are pretty awesome, maybe close to being epic, but it was never able to sustain that power.  And I didn’t feel like the romance was really there either, except for a few cute moments in the story.  Again, far from the romantic story I was expecting.

I know I’m probably in the minority here, but I just couldn’t get into this book.  It had many redeeming qualities, so it wasn’t a waste of time, but I wasn’t thrilled by it either.

Lady Renegades (Rebel Belle, #3)

lady-renegadesFirst Lines: His head hurt.  It always hurt these days and had for a long time now, long enough that David couldn’t tell whether it was getting worse or whether he’d just been hurting for so long that it was starting to become unbearable.

I’ve been a fan of Rachel Hawkins’s writing style since I found Hex Hall years ago.  Besides, another series to finish?  Sign me up.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Finally, Harper’s been getting used to her new super powers as Paladin.  But of course, as soon as the world starts making sense, it has to change again.  Overwhelmed by his powers, David ran away from Pine Grove…only he’s been leaving a trail of teenage girls-turned-Paladins in his wake.  Worse news?  They all seem to think Harper is the enemy David needs protection from.  Sure, normally they wouldn’t be any problem for Harper to tackle.  But with David being away for so long, her powers are dwindling…and if she doesn’t find David soon, they might disappear altogether.  Is this a problem too big for Pres to handle?

Alright.  So as I mentioned, I’m a fan of Rachel Hawkins’s writing style.  She’s hilarious.  Multiple times throughout the novel, Harper described the South as being “hotter than Satan’s armpit” which is just kind of apt, you know?  And the sarcasm is thick.

But this book had a few issues for me.  First was character development.  Seriously, Harper and Blythe are the only characters that get any screen time (figuratively speaking).  Geez, even David, who should be a main character, only popped up a few times.  It just didn’t seem to be adding anything new to the characters I liked, like Bee and Ryan and Aunt Jewel.

On top of that, the story drags on.  It’s the Curse of the Road Trip.  Bouncing from city to city, the only excitement in each town quickly becomes cliche and expected.  Look, there are very few books that can successfully pull off a road trip.  This was not one of them. I got bored.

But I will say that there were a number of pretty good fights scenes. I mean, if there’s one thing Harper’s good at, it’s defending herself (whether physically or sarcastically).  So that was at least entertaining.

Overall, it was just kind of meh.  Nothing about it really stood out.  For a finale to a series, the ending was incredibly anti-climactic.  A fast read, for sure, but not terribly exciting.