Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Scarlet trilogy by A. C. Gaughen

I’d been debating picking this book up for a while and decided to just go ahead and order it. I flew threw it – I definitely should have started it sooner! It has now led to me re-watching all the Robin Hood adaptations I love – starting with the BBC series.

Scarlet Synopsis

Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets – skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood’s band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet’s biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know… that the slip of a boy terrorizing the sheriff’s men is really a girl. Her real identity is in danger of being exposed hen the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men for the last time. As Gisbourne closes in, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more – making this fight worth dying for.

Review

Scarlet took a bit getting used to – her voice is that of a lower-class English girl and A. C. Gaughen writes in completely in first person, from Scarlet’s point of view. Once I could read fluently without lamenting her accent, it was a delight to read. Who is Scarlet and why is she so fearful of Gisbourne? What secrets does her past hold that makes Robin Hood fearful of trusting her? All valid questions, all artfully dodged by the cunning and clever Scarlet.

Scarlet is a love story, an adventure tale, a re-imagining of a tale the English-speaking world grew up with and it is crafted with love and is masterfully told. I, like A. C. Guaghen, never really cared for wimpy, washed out Marion – her character was never fully developed and always full of insipid flaws. Why should the beloved Robin Hood be stuck with a fair maiden he has to save over and over? How can she be a real partner to him if she can’t manage to do anything more than cower behind him or run away? Scarlet is the answer – a strong female character for the testosterone filled bardic tales of Robin and his Merry Men. It’s always all about the men but hopefully Scarlet can change that!

What I truly love about her, though, is she is completely female. When she gets upset, she’s not above tears (though she tries to avoid them) and sometimes, she just wants a little comfort. She doesn’t seek to play games with the guys, she’d honestly prefer they just ignore the fact that she’s a girl, but when push comes to shove, she must admit what she truly feels, to both herself, and the band. And she does it in a way that isn’t sappy and is thoroughly courageous.

I flew through (most of) Lady Thief and Lion Heart in 3 days. I just had to know what happened and I’ll try my best to review sans any major spoilers. It took me awhile, when starting Lady Thief, to get back into the swing of Scarlet’s accent and then as soon as I did, I pulled a classic “great book, can’t stop reading” all-nighter to finish it as soon as I possibly could! As it had been a year since I read the first book in the trilogy, Scarlet, I hoped that Lady Thief and Lion Heart would really flesh out Scarlet as a character as well as all the Merry Men and her relationship with Robin Hood.

Scarlet is forced, from the start of Lady Thief to make a next to impossible choice regarding her marriage to the despicable Gisborne: stay with him for a fortnight and he’d grant her an annulment or be hunted down for the rest of her natural life. Things are not easy with the less-than-Merry Men and Scarlet does everything she can to build a better future for them, even if it means acquiescing to Gisborne for a short period of time. Alas, trouble still finds Scarlet in the form of the evil and impish Prince John and Scarlet is scarred both physically and emotionally by their encounter. But not even the clever Scarlet and Rob can predict the prince’s conniving actions and Scarlet lands herself accused of a crime that appears to benefit her, but that she clearly did not commit, and on her way to prison at the start of Lion Heart. The kindness of the Queen Mother pulls her out of the prince’s clutches and Scarlet and her beloved Rob must, once again, do everything in their power to rebuild and reclaim their home in Nottingham.

The twists and turns of the characters’ actions are amazing and so many terrible things have happened to them that when someone good finally seems to be taking shape, I was constantly turning the pages waiting for the inevitable catastrophe that would ruin the happiest of happy moments. Beloved characters will die, others will be forced to make impossible decisions, but ultimately Gaughen demonstrates just how scarlet Scarlet can get and how that rage and anger she’d been holding inside is finally unleashed to wield good and positive power for the people of Nottinghamshire. My only criticism is that the ending felt a bit rushed, but I was glad that the last bit of thievery wasn’t drawn out or over-extended, I wanted to know that Scarlet and Rob would finally have a slightly less difficult time (one can’t quite call it a happy ending) in Nottingham!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars for series

Scarlet Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9780802734242 • 292 pages • first published February 2012, this edition published February 2013 by Walker & Company • average Goodreads rating 3.96 out of 5 • read in July 2014

A. C. Gaughen’s Website

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Scarlet

Contemporary, Fiction

Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham

As a young woman who desperately wanted to be one of the Gilmore Girls, I knew as soon as I found out that Lauren Graham had written a novel, I would be reading it.

Synopsis

It’s January 1995, and Franny Banks has just six months left on the three-year deadline she set for herself when she came to New York, dreaming of Broadway and doing “important” work. But all he has to show for her efforts is a part in an ad for ugly Christmas sweaters, and a gig waiting tables at a comedy club. Her roommates – her best friend, Jane, and Dan, an aspiring writer – are supportive, yet Franny knows a two-person fan club doesn’t exactly count as success. Everything is riding on the upcoming showcase for her acting class, where she’ll have a chance to perform for people who could hire her. And she can’t let herself be distracted by James Franklin, a notorious flirt, and the most successful actor in her class. Meanwhile, her bank account is dwindling, her father wants her home, and her agent doesn’t return her calls. But for some reason, she keeps believing that she just might get what she came for.

Review

I developed a very strong love-hate relationship with this book. First, Columbia must encourage all their budding writers to write in the über-annoying present-continuous tense (I think that’s what it is – for being a Language Arts teacher, I’m not very good at identifying my tenses) as opposed to most novels, which are written in the past or present perfect tense. Basically, everything is written from Franny’s current point of view – no one knows what will happen next and it’s not reflective in any way. Second, I just didn’t find it funny. After finishing Someday, Someday, Maybe, I realized that Lauren Graham recorded the audiobook – this one probably should have been put into the listening list. And third, it’s incredibly difficult to get into a perfectly decent book when you have what could quite possibly be your new favorite book waiting in the wings (The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan).

However, those three things aside, Someday, Someday, Maybe really is a delightful book, but it took me a good 200 pages (2/3 of it) to really realize it’s potential, like how it took Franny, our protagonist, the same amount of time to realize her own potential (the correlation was not lost on me). Lauren Graham is in a unique position to offer a very realistic perspective on the struggles of an up and coming actor in New York in the 1990s for the very simple fact that she was one. “They” always say “write what you know” and Graham clearly knows her subject matter and her protagonist inside and out. She knows her so well, that I asked myself more than once while reading if it wasn’t a touch autobiographical in nature.

I had fears starting out – “Franny” isn’t a name I often associate with characters I like (thank you GREEK) and I think so highly of Lauren Graham as an actress that I was afraid her writing might not measure up to the ridiculous high standard to which I hold her creative endeavors. She is one of my inspirations, one of my idols, and I didn’t want to expose myself to anything that may, even slightly, refute my opinion that she should be up on a marble pedestal. And what if I didn’t find it funny? What if I thought it just fell flat? For the first, I had to remind myself that Lauren Graham is a person and therefore potentially flawed – her book wouldn’t be perfect, but I can still respect her highly. For the second, I didn’t laugh aloud. Not once. And that was a bit disappointing. I didn’t find Franny annoying as I feared I might, but I didn’t find her as funny as everyone else in the book seemed to. I don’t know if this was intentional on Graham’s part or not, but personally I was hoping for a few more laughs.

I would read Someday, Someday, Maybe on the beach or on vacation. I would read it at a time when I’m not continually trying to understand the nature of the universe or sort out my own life and choices. I would read Someday, Someday, Maybe on a day when I didn’t have to care or worry about much else than simply enjoying a delightful book by an enthusiastic author/actress.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780345532763 • 358 pages • first published April 2013, this edition published March 2014 by Ballantine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.49 out of 5 • read in April 2015

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Someday, Someday, Maybe

Fiction, Science Fiction

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Good old Hitchhiker’s… this is a book that has been recommended to me by just about everyone I know. It definitely takes some getting used to if you are not used to humorous sci-fi, but it is definitely a favorite! 

Synopsis

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for his galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend, Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out of work actor. Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide and a galaxy full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox – the 2 headed three armed ex-hippie and totally out to lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formerly Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!

Review

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fun book – there’s not really any other way to describe it – it’s just fun! I usually don’t read science fiction, as I find most works of this genre tend to take the science part a bit too seriously for my taste as I enjoy the fantastical part of space travel. Please don’t ask me to contemplate how or why certain things work in space, in general, space freaks me out. However, one cannot possibly be freaked out by the likes of Zaphod, Ford, Marvin, Trillian, Arthur, and Eddie – at least not in a negative way – they’re weird space creatures, even the humans are strange. And it is fabulous.

Douglas Adams creates a world full of fascinating characters and wonderful non-sequiturs. THGttG is a fabulous world of aliens and adventure, spaceships that make no sense, and more than one disgustingly unique creature. Overall, words really can’t describe the ridiculousness of the plot and cast of characters, other than to say it’s just fun. Just plain and simple fun.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Mass Market Paperback • $7.99 • 9780345391803 • 224 pages • first published 1979, this edition published 1995 by Del Rey books • average Goodreads rating 4.2 out of 5 • read in January 2015

Douglas Adams’ Website

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Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

 

Fantasy, Fiction

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman

Happy Halloween! Since I don’t read a lot of horror, I figured a fantasy series was the next best pick for Halloween.

The Magicians Synopsis

Intellectually precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater escapes the boredom of his daily life by reading and rereading a series of beloved fantasy novels set in an enchanted land called Fillory. Like everybody else, he assumes that magic isn’t real – until he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York.

After stumbling through a Brooklyn alley in winter, Quentin finds himself on the grounds of the idyllic Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in late summer. There, after passing a gruesomely difficult entrance examination, he begins a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery, while also discovering the joys of college: friendship, love, sex, and alcohol. But something is missing. Even though Quentin learns to cast spells and transform into animals, and gains power he never dreamed of, magic doesn’t bring him the happiness and adventure he thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends embark on an aimless, hedonistic life in Manhattan, struggling with the existential crises that plague pampered and idle young sorcerers. Until they make a stunning discovery that propels them on a remarkable journey, one that promises to finally fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than Quentin could have imagined. His childhood dream is a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

Series Review

Oh Quentin. My bloody brilliant Quentin. I both adore and despise you. This might be less of a review and more of a Quentin Coldwater character analysis…

Never have I had such a love-hate relationship with a primary character in a book. I abandoned The Magicians halfway through the first time I started reading it back when I was a 20-year-old junior in college because I hated Quentin. I couldn’t stand him. He embodied everything that I hated about the stereotypical college boys but at the same time, like my dear, beloved, favorite character Alice (she rivals my Hermione love like no other), I was inexplicably drawn to him. I just didn’t want to read about him.

Fast forward five years and I found myself one day just staring at the cover of The Magician’s Land and, surprising longing for Quentin’s world of Brakebills College of Magic. So, continuing on my quest of “reading” the books already on my shelves by listening to the audiobook, I rented The Magicians from the library as I find it best to return to the beginning and not to trust my loathsome memory to remember all the details (and especially why I found Alice so awesome) required to start in the middle of The Magicians half a decade after my initial foray into reading about Quentin and his motley crew.

Is Q still terribly annoying more than 75% of the time? Yes. Does it matter anymore? No. Because I realized that Quentin is simply the mouthpiece for the larger story and by the time The Magician King rolls around, he is not the only point of view character (yay!). Quentin isn’t even the hero of his own story half the time (which leads to his melancholy and delight for me!) and he really messes up – like royally screws things up and skewers his own happiness by trying to be happy. Crazy, I know, but true. But this happens to nearly every twenty-something – invariably we wind up making something we care about worse by trying to make it better, but trying to fix something that isn’t broken to begin with.

The trilogy covers roughly 13 years of Quentin’s life and over that time he grows from a scrawny, gangly asshole at 17 to a semi-distinguished (albeit fired) professor at 30. But what I really love about The Magicians trilogy is that isn’t not just the Quentin show 24/7, but all the other supporting characters, particularly classmate and eventual love interest Alice, are whole. They are complete, and they are independent, and they are certainly not defined by their relationship to Quentin, hero though he insists on being. And if Quentin pisses them off, so be it. They move on with their lives and things aren’t magically righted or fixed just because he eventually finds it in himself to say sorry (even when it’s 7 years later).

Point being, Quentin can suck, a lot. But, and it’s a big but, you don’t have to care about Quentin to enjoy the story, you just must tolerate him and his role that he plays in the big scheme of things. And eventually, he grows on you. You might have to give him 600 pages and hours and hours of your life, but eventually, you’ll be routing for him (and Alice) too.

Series Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

The Magicians Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780452296299 • 402 pages • originally published August 2009, this edition published May 2010 by Plume Books • average Goodreads rating 3.47 • read in June 2015

Lev Grossman’s Website

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Magicians

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Clearly I’m on a YA fantasy role here with reviews… Sometimes I get so thoroughly immersed in a genre it can be hard to pull myself out to switch to something else, something new and different. As I get to the end of a genre jaunt, however, my reviews tend to become a bit skewed, so take them all with a grain of salt.

Synopsis

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – those with common Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court.

Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard, a growing Red rebellion, even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

Review

Red Queen is part of a long line of YA fantasy books that have been written in the last five years or so to feature varying takes on power and poverty, haves and have-nots, and each primarily female author’s take on a strong, feminist, protagonist. The books that stand out are those that are spectacularly good or spectacularly bad. Red Queen is neither.

It is an enjoyable book with a serviceable plot and intriguing characters. Were it published at a different time, I would call it unique and original. However, it came out halfway through the present YA fantasy boom and the influence of previous works is evident in Aveyard’s storytelling. Similarities to GracelingThe Hunger GamesThrone of Glass and Shadow and Bone are easy to pick out if you are as well versed in the world of YA fantasy as most of Aveyard’s target readers.

The writing is decent, the twists and turns of the plot and the effort into world building that Aveyard puts forth are not missed, this review would be much more scathing if Red Queen lacked in any of these areas, but it doesn’t have the ineffable “stand-out quality” that makes me remember years down the road, makes me anxiously await the next book in the series. Red Queen is at it’s best, another decent YA fantasy debut, and at it’s worst, another YA fantasy.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780062310644 • 416 pages • first published in February 2015, this edition published June 2016 by Harper Teen • average Goodreads rating 4.08 out of 5 • read in May 2016

Victoria Aveyard’s Website

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Red Queen

 

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

If I had to pick a favorite genre of of the past year, it would be Young Adult Fantasy. It is the genre I go to when I just want something to read that will keep me occupied and be a fun and enjoyable read. Lately I’ve strayed more towards (auto)biographies, but YA Fantasy will always hold a special place in my heart. As such, I am aware of all the major series, and when Mary E. Pearson visited the bookstore I work at, I knew it was time to pick up her books!

Synopsis

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight but she doesn’t and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom to a prince she has never met. On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets even as she finds herself falling in love.

Review

I am over tropes. I am over love triangles. I’m over stereotypes. I’m over weakass female protagonists. And I’m over high school drama repackaged as YA fantasy. Why do I say all of this? I bet you’re thinking that I’m listing the things I’m over because The Kiss of Deception checks all those boxes. Yes and no.

I love a lot of YA fantasy – GracelingThrone of GlassShadow and BoneSeraphina (all of which are forthcoming reviews!) – the list goes on and on. But I detest most YA realistic fiction. It’s not an assessment of the genre, simply my opinion – I didn’t like it when I was in high school, I don’t particularly care for it now. Half of the reason I love fantasy is the chance to escape to a place of magical creatures and alternate realities. The other half is for the characters – they are usually pretty spectacular and make for some great role models.

What does all of this have to do with this particular book? When Mary Pearson visited the bookstore I work at, she was part of a panel and asked questions about all sorts of things involved in the writing of great YA fantasy. And her answers? Spot on – exactly what I was excited to hear. The reality of her writing? Eh, not so much. So this is less of a review and more of a rant, but if you are looking for a book that crosses over between realistic YA and YA fantasy, this is the book for you. If that’s not your cup of tea, it’s one of the books on a long list of YA fantasy that you can feel free to skip.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781250063151 • 512 pages • originally published July 2014, this edition published in June 2015 by Squarefish • average Goodreads rating 4.06 out of 5 • read in August 2016

Mary E. Person’s Website

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Remnant Chronicles

 

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Traveler by L. E. DeLano

Back in January, a publicist contacted the bookstore I work at and asked if we wanted to do an event with a recently published YA author, L. E. DeLano, who lived close to the store. Rarely do we turn down an author event with a major publisher, so without a lot of information, we said we would host her first ever event. After doing a bit more research and discovering the her debut is the first in a duology and is a YA fantasy, I got even more excited! The success of the event ultimately surprised us, and I can happily admit it’s one of the first “event books” I’ve actually read!

Synopsis

Jessa has spent her life dreaming of other worlds and writing down stories more interesting than her own, until the day her favorite character, Finn, suddenly shows up and invites her out for coffee. After the requisite nervous breakdown, Jessa learns that she and Finn are Travelers, born with the ability to slide through reflections and dreams into alternate realities. But it’s not all cupcakes, pirates, and fantasy lifestyles – Jessa is dying over and over again in every reality, and Finn is determined that this time he’s going to stop it… This Jessa is going to live.

Review

Traveler has an interesting premise which is not entirely conveyed accurately by the publisher marketing summary I included above. Jessa is a Traveler, and so is Finn. He is not a character she writes about, he is someone she has seen over and over in alternate realities and dreamed of him in her “original” state.

L. E. DeLano plays with the time/space continuum, a la The Doctor, in a wonderful way. By looking through a reflective surface, Jessa and Finn have the ability to trade places with versions of themselves in alternate realities. There are many questions that this raises, logistically and plot-wise, but as Traveler is the first in a duology, I can only hope that they are answered in the second book. But logistics aside, DeLano crafts an engaging and enjoyable story, but her characters are your stereotypical high schoolers, don’t expect anything too original on the love story/witty banter front, through there is certainly plenty of it to go around!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781250100405 • 352 pages • published February 2017 by Swoon Reads • average Goodreads rating 3.85 out of 5 • read in March 2017

L. E. DeLano’s Website

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Traveler