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, 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

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Uprooted

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

 

Contemporary, Fiction

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

As with my review of Royally Screwed, I’ve admitted that I am an unapologetic royalist. When I was in middle school, the movie of The Princess Diaries came out and I loved it – I was mildly obsessed with the idea of finding out I was a long lost princess. When I discovered there was a book series, I immediately went out and got the first three books. While they are nothing like the movie, I did enjoy the series. So naturally, when Royal Wedding, the unbelievable 11th book in the Princess Diaries series came out in 2015 shortly after I got engaged, I figured it was high time I caught back up with Princess Mia and Michael.

Synopsis

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity: living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend, Michael, managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course, Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother has leaked “false” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone – especially herself – that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

Review

Oh Mia. Royal Wedding is the first “adult” installment in the Princess Diaries series and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like Mia’s grown up as much as I would have liked. In fact, none of the characters seem to have grown, up or otherwise, very much. Grandmere is still a shrew, Mia’s father is still making poor decisions in regards to the press, and Michael is still dutifully sticking to Mia’s side.

The Princess Diaries is a series I grew up with – pretty much year for year with Princess Mia – and it is only in the process of growing up that I’ve realized how unrealistic her story is. And I don’t mean the long-lost-princess bit. But the way she goes through life and interacting with other people. She doesn’t feel like she’s evolved as a character at all in the 15+ years that I’ve been reading about her adventures and escapades. Mia and Michael are still together, and while I’m not knocking first love and high school sweetheart relationships, the relationship between Mia and Michael doesn’t seem to make any sense outside of the high school halls. I find myself constantly confused about why they’re together. Yes they love each other, yes Michael is willing to put up with all the craziness, but why? Why?

The whole time I was reading, I just kept asking myself that question. Why should I care? Why are they behaving the way they are? Why, why, why do the characters keep making the same mistakes over and over again? Why is this book about marriage and babies when Mia could be doing so much more? SOOOOO much more with her life as princess and heir apparent of Genovia? This book was written when the idea of a princess is being re-imagined – we have Kate Middleton, we have Disney movies with princesses who are not obsessed with finding princes, we have fierce female leaders standing up for what they believe in, and Mia’s forced away from her one community passion project?

I have enjoyed so many of Meg Cabot’s books over the years, I probably have 15 of them on my shelves. I love her writing, and I thoroughly expected to love Royal Wedding. But in this day and age, Mia is not the princess character we need. Royal Wedding is not the princess narrative our world needs.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780062379085 • 448 pages • published June 2015 by William Morrow & Company • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Meg Cabot’s Website

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Royal Wedding

Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

Back in October, when this beautiful tome arrived at the bookstore, my coworkers were debating where it should be shelved. I chimed in by saying they could hold off deciding for a few days, because it was coming home with me! Then again, pretty much any book that comes into the store screaming “female badassery” comes home with me before too long!

Synopsis

Get ready! It’s a long (but good!) one!

Let’s face it: the list of historical women we learn about in school is lacking. It’s safe, it’s censored, it’s short. And even when we learn about a true legend – say, Harriet Tubman – we get half the story (and it’s usually not the half about her as a plantation-torching Union spy-master). This is just the list of women we know about. What about the women we don’t?

In place of complex, real-life heroines, we get sparkly, doe-eyed animated damsels who dominate children’s minds everywhere. Rejected Princesses is here to provide an alternative to that.

In this fully illustrated, deeply researched, and totally entertaining collection, Jason Porath offers 100 women too uncompromising, too untoward, or too uncomfortable to fit the modern princess mold. Gathering together a diverse set of some famous, some infamous, some forgotten, and some virtually unknown figures from history and myth, from all over the globe, this book presents the female role models we never knew we needed. Yes, there are a few princesses, but there are also pirates, spies, journalists, activists, concubines, empresses, ninjas, pilots, samurais, mathematicians, sword-slingers, and warlords too.

These women were rebels and rulers, pioneers in their fields, and fighters for their causes (and sometimes for themselves). In a time when women are still pushing for equal pay and equal opportunity, shouldn’t we be putting brave women like Sybil Ludington, Hatshepsut, Nzinga Mbande, Josephine Baker, Khutulun, Rani Lakshmibai, Harriet Tubman, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Joan of Arc on equal footing with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty?

Women have always played a key, kick-ass role in revolutionizing our world. The girls of today are the latest links in a long chain of geniuses, warriors, and fearless women. It is the birthright of every woman to have a connection to that history.

Review

Like I mentioned in my previous review of Wonder Women, I love books that are compendiums of stories about different women who have done awe-inspiring things. The biggest selling point of this particular book for me is two fold:

  1. The author worked on my favorite animated movie – How to Train Your Dragon and helped bring one of my favorite characters, Astrid, to life! (the cake topper for my wedding was even Astrid & Hiccup!)
  2. He included Alfhild, a Viking princess turned pirate and the real life inspiration for the novel I’m writing!

In Rejected Princesses, Porath includes women who are princesses and commoners alike, who hail from all over the world, from all walks of life, of all manner of life experiences. The illustrations of each “princess” are exquisitely designed to highlight their uniqueness and specialties. Porath also designed a rating system for all the women, but not the usual misogynistic rating of hotness, but of the type of life they led, more similar to a movie rating from G to R. In this manner, Porath has ensured that Rejected Princesses can be suitable to all ages and for younger children, parents can determine which stories to share with their children.

So many of the women included would make terrific role models, especially given their diverse backgrounds, for any young woman, or man, and I absolutely cannot wait for a second volume! Porath continues to add new women to the Rejected Princesses‘ website and I hope that he will include them together in a a book just like with this volume!

Rating: 10 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $26.99 • 9780062405371 • 384 pages • published October 2016 by Dey Street Books • average Goodreads rating 4.54 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Rejected Princesses Website

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Rejected Princesses

Fiction, New Adult

Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

I’ve always been an American Royalist, since I was a young girl and first learned about two real live princes actually existing in England and not just in Disney movies, I’ve been one of those people who follows there every move. My mother’s own love of Princess Diana certainly didn’t hurt my love for the royal family, and I was one of the people who woke up at 4am on Saturday, April 29, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. One of my favorite books of 2015 was The Royal We (review to come in the near future) and since then, I’ve been reading every piece of glorified royalist fan fiction that I can get my hands on!

Synopsis

Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Princes of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness,” is a charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant – hard not to be when subjects are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and the heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t exactly what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be. There’s a disapproving Queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royce’s and haven’t chopped anyone’s heads off lately – the royals are far from accepting of this commoner. But to Olivia – Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is out in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, and more importantly, who he wants to be: a king… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

Review

My sister first described Royally Screwed as a rip-off of a rip-off. Even the fictional prince’s name is the same here as it is in The Royal We. While intentional or not, it means that I find myself frequently defending my enjoyment of this book to my sister, my friends, and just about everyone I’ve allowed to see my reading it, or see it on my shelves. They’re my guilty pleasure, new adult romances. I am finally admitting it here for the first time – I do occasionally (about once a year) enjoy curling up with a dirty romance and Emma Chase writes them well.

Are the characters spectacular? Not really. But they are well rounded with thoughtful backstories and logical actions and reactions based on what the reader learns about them. Are they role models? Not really. But they are real (well, other than the prince/commoner romance bit), and they have problems that are relatable and impulses that  can sometimes lead them to leave their better judgment behind. They are human, and they are flawed and they don’t at any point feel forced or mechanical.

Is the plot spectacular? Not really. It’s pretty predictable from start to finish – but sometimes the best escapist fiction is. It’s a perfect plane, train or road trip book – compelling enough to hold even my attention and I have an admittedly very short attention span – I’m not much better than the 6th graders I used to teach in that regard, but lighthearted and, yes, predictable. Are there things I would change about the characters/plot? Absolutely, but Emma Chase didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel and it is romance – which does have a prescribed formula for plot that ensures a happy outcome. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Absolutely.

* recommended for ages 17+ *

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781682307755 • 276 pages • published October 2016 by Everafter Romance • average Goodreads rating 4.12 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Emma Chase’s Website

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Royally Screwed

Fiction, Historical

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

I broke my own self-imposed rule – I watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix before I read The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I had picked up the first book in the series after my sister gave my husband the most recent in the Saxon Chronicles for Christmas one year, not only because I was intrigued, but because the actor who plays Uhtred was on the cover and he looks almost exactly like my husband, to the extent that his own mother, my mother-in-law, agrees!

Synopsis

In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England – and the course of history – depended on one man, one king.

The Last Kingdom is a rousing epic adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love, and battle as seen through the eyes of a young warrior who straddled two worlds.

Review

As I write this review today, I am happily watching season 2 of The Last Kingdom on Netflix, a season that I have anxiously been awaiting for nearly a year now. Between a new season of Vikings, a new season of The Last Kingdom, and a story of my own about the viking princess turned pirate Alvilda, I feel like I am practically in Valhalla. But onto the review!

When it came to the reading of The Last Kingdom, I half listened to the audiobook and half read from the physical book. The audiobook is wonderful – having already watched the first season of the television show, it was admittedly hard to hear a different voice reading the thoughts and feelings of Uhtred when I had grown so used to Alexander Dreymon, but Jonathan Keeble does a great job as reader. The audiobook also makes it easier to keep track of the characters and places, since, as with most books set in the time, almost every characters name is difficult to read and pronounce without assistance.

Uhtred is, as a main character, very similar to Quentin of The Magicians trilogy, and I have to admit, I characterize my relationship with them both as if they were real. Readers’ imaginations do tend to be quite vivid! I have a love-hate relationship with each, but it is perhaps stronger on the love side with the cocky and arrogant Uhtred. (A full review of The Magicians and my love/hate relationship with Quentin and the show to come in the near future!) The Uhtred who narrates The Last Kingdom, is a much older man, recounting the stories of his youthful adventures. As the first of 10 volumes in the Saxon Tales, it begins first with Uhtred’s childhood and how he came to be a man who straddles the worlds of Christian Wessex and Thor’s Danes.

The story is character driven, understandably with Uhtred as the narrator, and the pacing is quick as the story quickly progresses to cover numerous battles and life stages of our illustrious main character. It moves quickly and excitingly and is the perfect read/listen for anyone who enjoys the show, which remains loyal to the first book (I cannot speak of the rest of the books as I have not yet read them), or anyone who enjoys a thrilling historical fiction adventure!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Details: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780062438621 • 368 pages • originally published in 2004, this edition published September 2015 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 4.23 out of 5 • read in February 2017

Bernard Cornwell’s Website

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Last Kingdom (3)