Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Time for another beauty by Renee Ahdieh! She is quickly becoming oNE of my favorite authors and when the ARC  (advanced reader copy) of Flame in the Mist came into the store, my coworkers were nice enough to make sure it wound up in my hands!

Synopsis

There was only ever one expectation for Mariko, a prominent samurai’s daughter: that she would marry. Her twin brother was the one trained in the way of the warrior while Mariko was left to nurture her love of science and invention in secret. But on her way to the imperial city, where she was to meet her betrothed for the very first time, her convoy is attacked and everything changes. The assassins kill everyone – or so they think. Despite almost being burned alive, Mariko escapes.

Driven by vengeance, she flees the forest and seeks out her would-be assassins, the Black Clan, joining their ranks disguised as a peasant boy. She’s determined to discover who ordered her death and why – and to make them pay. Little does she expect to fall in love. And never did she expect to have to choose between them and everything she’s ever known. But when the secrets of the imperial city, the Black Clan, and her family converge, choose is exactly what she must do.

Review

Firstly, YAY GIRL POWER! Reading a new book by Renee Ahdieh reminds me just how much I really do love her first duology, The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. I had been holding off on reading Flame in the Mist until I was going on vacation because I knew once I got to the really good and juicy parts about halfway in, I wouldn’t be able to put it down – and I certainly did not want anything to interfere with my ability to read it straight through!

As with my review of Wrath and Dawn last week, I marvel over Renee Ahdieh’s storytelling. She creates such compelling characters and intricate plot lines that I love to sink my teeth into. She also has been some of the wittiest protagonists I have ever read to date. Her female protagonists are feminists – proud and fierce but still have their weaknesses and flaws. Her love interests for said feminist protagonists remind me of a certain male in A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy in the sense that they are loyal to their women and encouraging them be themselves 100%.

But back to Flame in the Mist specifically – I love the take on Japanese mythology (it is not at all based on Mulan, whatever rumors you may hear) and how Renee Ahdieh twists in a bit of Robin Hood lore as well (whether it is purposeful or coincidence I’m not sure, but I love it!). Mariko is a protagonist to be admired as well, and Ahdieh’s now trademark style of romance is still swoon-worthy, even for the most callused and cold-hearted of readers. I recommend it thoroughly and I cannot wait for the second book in the duology next May!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $17.99 • 9780399171635 • 416 pages • published May 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.03 out of 5 stars • read in August 2017

Renee Ahdieh’s Website

Flame in the Mist on Goodreads

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Flame in the Mist

 

Fantasy, Fiction

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted came to me highly recommended by a former coworker – she and I have very similar tastes (we call each other book-twins), so I figured it would be a sure thing.

Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows everyone knows that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Review

Uprooted is the story that I always expected to come from the annals of the tradition of storytelling embraced by Eastern Europeans. The storytelling is rich in detail, the world truly comes alive off the pages, and the characters are complex and rich, but the plot? Logic structure? Eh, not so much. Life often takes many twists and turns and is more akin to a serialized television show with numerous story arcs than it is to a stand-alone 300+ page novel, but that doesn’t mean I want the storytelling of the novel to be like that of real life. I want consistency and flow.

At the start of Uprooted, and honestly for the first half of the book, it is the story of Agnieszka, and how she is chosen against her will to live with the “dragon” for 10 years without any access to her family or loved ones. When she starts to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, the story suddenly switches gears to focus on the far off world of the royal family. And when things start to get stale at the palace, the story takes a 180 again and goes back into forest which ties back to the beginning in the sense that we’ve always known the forest to be in some way shape or form sentient, but not malicious as it becomes towards the end of the story.

Honestly, with all the direction changes, I genuinely don’t remember how the story ended. I haven’t remember since the day after I finished it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804179058 • 464 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published March 2016 by Del Rey Books • average Goodreads rating 4.13 out of 5 • read in April 2016

Naomi Novik’s Website

Uprooted on Goodreads

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Uprooted

Fantasy, Fiction, Screenplay

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to rename the Millennial generation the Harry Potter generation. The series is one of the most unifying features of my generation. I was first introduced to the magical world at the at the age of nine, a year after the first book was released in the states. I attended at least three midnight release parties for the books and at least as many, if not more, midnight releases of the movies. I watched the students at my alma mater play college-level Quidditch and I have a wonderful friend who hosts a whole Harry Potter weekend every January. She also got to see the Cursed Child play in London and joined in our great delight when the bookstore that I work at decided to revive the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Synopsis

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes darkness comes from unexpected places.

Review

I no longer own a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I returned it. I couldn’t stand to see it sitting on my bookshelf with the other seven books. Last week the paperback edition was released and it may have rectified some of the issues that I will bring up in my review below. This review was originally written in August 2016.

When it comes to stage plays, I have a very distinct bias. I’ve studied them, written them, and had my own works performed on stage. Also, working in a bookstore, I’m aware of the publication history of the physical book copy of Cursed Child and, in short, it was a rush job. While the dust jacket of the hardcover edition makes it very clear that the edition released to the public on July 31st 2016 was a Special Rehearsal Edition, it really never should have seen the light of day. It is missing many of the key elements a stage play – stage directions (admittedly pointless for the vast majority of the intended audience) are noticeably absent, but more importantly, there is no description of action that happens without dialogue. If something is only an on stage visual, there is no record of it in the script. I hold out hope that the paperback edition will correct a lot of these problems.

Now that I’ve griped about the format, let us discuss plot. What a trainwreck. It comes across as bad fan-fiction. And yes, those who disagree with me, including many of my friends, are quick to remind me that it is meant to be seen on stage and experienced, but the magic of production can only do so much to ease the pain of a barely mediocre plot. One of my biggest gripes with the Harry Potter series as a whole is the lack of consistency and plethora of plot holes. While I don’t believe the intention with Cursed Child was to fix any problems in the original seven books, it certainly didn’t help matters as it just introduced a whole lot more, particularly regarding Bellatrix and Voldemort. As I’d like to keep this spoiler free, I won’t say why, suffice to say that revisionist history is rarely a good or effective idea.

What’s worst about this whole thing is that the negative reaction to Cursed Child means that the script for the movie of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will most likely under perform. And while Cursed Child was clearly a rush job in publication, Fantastic Beasts will be a completed piece – the production has had years to polish it and make sure that it is pristine. So I hold out hope that it will be better than Cursed Child, but I don’t think the rest of Rowling’s disgruntled readers will be ask optimistic.

Rating: 3 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9781338216660 • 336 pages • originally published July 2016, this edition published July 2017 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 3.76 out of 5 • read in July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Website

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Goodreads

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Laura & I at the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Towne Book Center & Cafe

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Copy

Fantasy, Fiction, New Adult

A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

#1. I will read anything by Sarah J. Maas. #2. It’s based on Beauty and the Beast. #3-#10. Repeat #1.

Synopsis

Books in TrilogyA Court of Thorns and Roses • A Court of Mist and Fury • A Court of  Wings and Ruin

A Court of Thorns and Roses Synopsis

Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price…

Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden to escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows.

Reviews

Original A Court of Thorns and Roses Review from May 2015

It’s no secret that I have become obsessed with Sarah J. Maas’ books. I’m going to BookCon in NYC next week for the sole purpose of meeting her. I flew through the first three books in the Throne of Glass series in a week – one week. When I found out A Court of Thorns and Roses would be more geared towards the “new adult” genre, I couldn’t wait to pick it up! While it still falls into the “young adult” realm, I think Sarah J. Maas is really starting to flesh out the middle ground between young adult and new adult to what I think “new adult” will eventually mean – slightly more mature young adult.

ACOTAR (I literally call is “ack-o-taar” which is, I admit, mildly annoying) is the story of Feyre (Fae-rah) and how she falls in love with a high fae lord, Tamlin. The plot is based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, and how Feyre must come to love Tamlin in order to free the land from a wretched curse. The story is told in two distinct parts – the first when Feyre comes to live in the realm of the Fae and the second when she has realized how she feels and discovered what she must do to save them.

My favorite part of the book, however, has little to do with Tamlin & Fae Co., but everything to do with Feyre’s older sister, Nesta. Nesta and Feyre have never gotten along and have resented each other for years for various reasons. When Feyre is taken to Tamlin’s court, she is not to see her family ever again and being rid of Nesta is perfectly fine by her. Later, however, she has the opportunity to see them and learns that Nesta came looking for her, had missed her younger sister. The two have the opportunity to connect and it is Nesta who ultimately helps Feyre understand what she must do to save the realm of the Fae (and the human populations as well).

Trilogy Review

It’s hard to go back two years later and read my review of the first book and kicking myself for not mentioning the character has become the book boyfriend to end all book boyfriends. Step aside Mr. Darcy, you’ve been replaced! It don’t want to spoil too much so this collective trilogy review will be brief.

Basically, the first book, ACOTAR is a world unto itself, and the second and third books are just spectacular. While the first book can be kind of slow and off to a rough start, the deeper you get into the world, and the books, the more it becomes clear what Sarah J. Maas was trying to do – the books are written in first person, through Feyre’s point of view, and as such, readers are only permitted access and information as Feyre is permitted access to information.

And then Rhysand saunters into the picture, which happens in ACOTAR, and things get all sorts of shaken up and spectacular. The second book, ACOMAF, is probably the closest thing to a perfect book that I have ever read, and Rhys plays a large part of that, but it has more to do with plot structure and the introduction of so many dynamic characters and finding out more information about the world.

It’s a wonderful series, and I understand it’s not for everyone, but I will recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who will listen!

Series Rating: 8 to 10 out of 10 stars

Best BookA Court of Mist and Fury

Edition for A Court of Thorns and Roses: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781619635180 • 448 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published May 2016 by Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books • average Goodreads rating 4.29 out of 5 • read in May 2015

Sarah J. Maas’ Website

A Court of Thorns and Roses on Goodreads

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ACOTAR Series

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling

I have loved the Harry Potter world since I was in 5th grade and one of my friends brought in the first book of the series and asked our teacher to read it. When Cursed Child was announced as a published stage play, I couldn’t wait – especially for the format – I’d written so many plays, I wanted to see one professionally published. Alas, I was disappointed, but that review will come later. I still had hope, though, and was very pleasantly pleased by the script for Fantastic Beasts!

Synopsis

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Inspired by the original Hogwarts textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and showcasing a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any film lover’s or reader’s bookshelf.

Review

There are certain things to consider when sitting down to “read” a screenplay, the first being the fact that it is not particularly intended to be read – it is meant to be seen and experienced beyond the page. Second, reading a screenplay requires understanding that the format is different than that of a novel – it is primarily dialogue and stage directions.

One of the things that I love about stage- and screenplays is the opportunity to interpret so much more than what is on the page in one’s imagination. To read about the fantastical beasts before seeing the movie meant that I got to picture all of them in my head. Beyond the magic coming to life, the characters are very well developed, the thought and care that J. K. Rowling put into Newt’s backstory is evident – I have to imagine she’d been mulling over the story since she first started writing the Harry Potter series, or at least since Prisoner of Azkaban.

I loved the setting – I’m a sucker for a good Roaring Twenties story, and I’d always wondered what the magical world of the United States was like compared to the British world in the original 7 books. I highly recommend it, for anyone who loves Harry Potter, or just magical adventures set in the recent past.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $24.99 • 9781338109061 • 304 pages • published November 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Website

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them on Goodreads

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Fantastic Beasts

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Back in my early D&D playing days (which admittedly was only 2 1/2 years ago), one of my friends named her character Lyra. In the most recent campaign, one of my other friends is playing an armored bear. Needless to say, I had to read the book that inspired both of these fearsome characters, The Golden Compass!

Synopsis

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal – including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other…

Review

This is, once again, an audiobook review. For some reason, I have not been able to finish reading a physical book since January! January! I work in a bookstore and I cannot finish a book, ’tis shameful I say. That being said, the audiobook is awesome! I love when the readers are different for each character, as is the case with The Golden Compass, and the author, Philip Pullman, is the narrator, making it all the more special.

Storywise, I think I let myself build up The Golden Compass in my mind to the point that it was never going to live up to my unrealistic expectations. This is a book that I have been told I absolutely must read for the majority of my life – my earliest memory of someone telling me about it was my fifth grade teacher in 1999, three years after it was first published in the US. So I’ve had 18 years to build this book up in my mind. (I also find it incredibly hard to believe that I was in 5th grade 18 years ago… I feel so old!)

Once I was able to get past the fact that it is not perfect, nor is it my new favorite book, I was able to simply enjoy it. Pullman is a masterful storyteller and Lyra is the perfect roguish character. She might be a liar, but she is fiercely loyal to those she loves and cares about and it makes perfect sense why so many of my teachers and friends figured I would really enjoy her story.

The antagonist of the story is not always clear which makes for a compelling story and the pages (or discs) turn and change as fast as an armored bear charging down an enemy. Pullman has a mind for critical thinking and philosophical approaches to fairly adult topics. When viewed through Lyra’s child’s eyes, it makes it much harder to understand why adults can’t seem to figure out how to set the world right. Her innocence makes her the perfect lens through which an adult reader views the problems facing the world today. But, it is not necessary to think so deeply into the philosophy of the story to enjoy it. The Golden Compass is a wonderful adventure, and with Pullman releasing the first book in a new trilogy (a prequel of sorts) in the fall, it is a timely must read!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9780375823459 • 432 pages • originally published in 1995, this edition published September 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in January 2017

Philip Pullman’s Website

The Golden Compass on Goodreads

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Golden Compass

Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades, Mythology

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Just after I finished listening to the audiobook of The Lightning Thief, a good 8 years after my friend Iram told me I just had to read it, I found out it is part of this upcoming school year’s Reading Olympics lists! I now can recommend officially 1 out of 45 titles for the elementary schoolers!

Synopsis

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Review

The Lightning Thief has been a bestselling book at the bookstore since I started working there in the summer of 2015 and it has been a perpetual favorite with 6th graders since I student taught 6th grade in 2013, and I’m certain this was the case even before I was aware of it. Since it was first published in the mid-2000’s, Rick Riordan has started 4 other series, finished 2 of them, and has had three of the five series adapted into graphic novels. Clearly, there’s widespread appeal, to the point where I was really starting to feel like I was missing out on something.

When I started writing my novel, which I lovingly call my Viking Story, it was around the same time Riordan announced his second newest trilogy, Magnus Chase, a series based on Norse Mythology and the first with a decided young adult slant. I was convinced it would be my first of his books, but one day, when browsing the audiobook section at the library, I decided to pick up The Lightning Thief. Usually I’m wary when the entirety of the 12 year old population loves something (hello One Direction…), but thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Percy is a “half-blood,” his father is a god of Olympus proportions, but he doesn’t know which one. Being such, puts him in a special position when it comes to quests, adventures, and fulfilling a heroic destiny. Basically, he’s fated to be a tragic Greek hero, not exactly the future most 12 year olds dream of. But he has the help of friends and allies, and the adventure is not one to be missed!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9780786838653 • 377 pages • originally published June 2005, this edition published March 2006 by Hyperion Kids • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in April 2017

Rick Riordan’s Website

The Lightning Thief on Goodreads

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Lightning Thief