Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell | A super cute Harry Potter “fanfic.” Nuff said.

4.5 Stars

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On – The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story – but far, far more monsters.

Carry On is one of those rare books where I read over 90% of this 500+ page book in a day. I have to say, I didn’t expect to like this book nearly as much as I did. I haven’t read Fangirl, but knew that this was essentially a book within a book that became its own book, which hardly attracted me. In addition, it was reviewed widely as basically  a Harry Potter fanfic, which worried me. I’m as obsessed with HP as any reader, but a spin-off written by a contemporary author? Seriously? Well, Carry On was all of those things: romancy, a spin-off, and a copy of Harry Potter from start to finish. And I loved every bit of it.

So I’m going to talk about Carry On as its own book, and not as a Fangirl related one, probably because I haven’t read the latter (I know, sue me). This book is about Simon Snow, a super powerful orphan mage referred to as “The Chosen One,” prophesied to defeat an evil connected to him in some way. Currently, he attends the Watford School of Magicks, where he studies with his two best friends and enemy/rival, who Simon initially suspects is up to no good. Sound familiar?

The comparisons to HP were overwhelming at first, and I definitely wasn’t sold on Simon’s obsession with his rival Baz’s disappearance. However, as I read on (and once Baz finally showed up), I began to enjoy the book much more and note the differences between this and Harry Potter. There are no school houses, for one. The spells are also common English phrases, and wands are not the only way of harnessing power. The world and class differences/tension are similar, but developed in a different way.

But what truly sold me were the characters. Simon is very adorable, and his best friend Penelope is all kinds of awesome. Baz, as well, is (secretly) super cute and his interactions with Simon had me squealing on the floor. The character relationships were surprisingly layered and very enjoyable to read. I also liked Simon’s relationships with the adults in his life, particularly the Mage.

The romance between Baz and Simon somehow wasn’t forced, either. My initial worry (knowing Rowell’s standard style of writing) was that there’d be more kissing than actual substance, but that wasn’t really the case. Although Baz’s love for Simon was a bit bluntly stated in the beginning, they don’t actually kiss until page 343-ish, which I was very happy about. Overall, the romance and characters were so much fun that I was more than happy to overlook the obvious flaws of this book.

Oh, the flaws. I wish I didn’t have to cover this but I consider it my obligation as a reviewer. I gave this book a very high rating simply on the basis of how much I relished it, but it cannot be ignored that the plot is, well… nonexistent. The “Voldemort” of this book, the Insidious Humdrum, takes a back seat to the Simon-Baz tension and there’s no real effort made on Simon’s part to defeat it. Most of the story revolves around figuring out who murdered Baz’s mom, but progress is excruciatingly slow. While Harry Potter also rarely had Voldemort show up for the majority of the book, the time was spent on world-building, foreshadowing, and attending classes. I don’t think I can name a single class Simon attended (because they were so inconsequential), and there was no growing mystery or a sense of foreboding. There just… wasn’t much of a plot.

This may sound like a game-killer for you, and if you’re considering scrolling away to some other book, think again. Despite everything, if you’re a character-driven reader looking for a cute read, please try Carry On. I hope you don’t regret it, because I certainly didn’t. 🙂

~Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies | an intriguing premise undercut by a terrible main character

3 Stars

Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family’s secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.

Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he’s affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he’ll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they’ll go to keep their secrets safe.

With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won’t see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are.

Hey guys! So I’ve been out of the country for the last month and a half or so (it felt much longer, believe me), but I am more than ecstatic to be back to the world of stable Internet connection. I did get some reading over my vacation (when I wasn’t being bitten by mosquitoes in India, of course) so I am super hyped to talk about them.

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies has a super gripping title. It’s morbidly humorous, and the blurb sounds interesting. I think the the title is probably the strongest point of this novel, which says quite a lot about the book. This books follows Aspen and his family, who have the power to steal anyone’s personal characteristics, whether it be personality or physical traits. His family has, for as long as anyone can remember, has a ritual where they use this power to steal things from people to stabilize the cliff that looms over the town to avoid mass destruction.

This premise is completely fascinating. The concept of a sentient cliff that requires things to be stolen from people provides a super intriguing air of mystery and magical realism. Clearly, everything is not as it seems when it comes to the ritual, cliff and even Aspen’s family, and the fact that this is apparent to the reader from the beginning sparks interest. Unfortunately, this premise that had so much potential was so wasted on a terrible, terrible main character.

I have one word to describe Aspen Quick: asshole. That’s all he is. He has this amazing power to take anything from anyone, and he abuses it to no end. He’s arrogant, and doesn’t give a second thought to taking whatever the hell he wants from anyone, with no thought to how he may be altering that person. I held out hope that this was the kind of book where he would become aware of his assholery (since his self-realization is the real message of this book) and become a better person, and I think that is what the author intended to do, but I couldn’t buy it. His big realization that his power causes harm happens in the last page of the book, and never felt deep or profound enough to be convincing. A whole book full of being a jerk doesn’t disappear immediately, Aspen.

If you want further proof of him being a terrible person, 80% of the book centers around Aspen forcing the girl he likes to fall in love with him, by taking away her love for his best friend and CONTINUALLY taking away any feelings she continues to develop for the best friend. It’s mentioned in the book that he once took away a club bouncer’s ability to tell a fake ID from a real one, and his cousin took away a security guard’s knowledge that pointy things aren’t allowed at an airport, for their own personal gain. This guy and his family’s selfishness has no end, and I became rather sick of him constantly manipulating people around him to get what he wants, and showing much too little remorse.

The underlying plot (other than the girlfriend stuff) was related to him figuring out the mystery surrounding his family’s magic. Most of the reveals were highly predictable, and at 20% of the book I could guess exactly what was going to happen, and suffered through 300 pages of Aspen struggling to figure it out.

After all this bashing, you may be wondering about my 3 star rating. Well, all 3 stars had to do with how cool the cliff and the magical realism was. Even though this book definitely could have been executed better, the idea is a good one, and I have to give the author credit for that. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick read and have some time, but not if you’re hoping to be impressed.

~Liz

Books, Reviews

A Conjuring of Light, By Victoria Schwab

5 Amazing, Amazing, Stars

Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Many of you out there know that last month, for high schoolers, was AP testing season. I personally, had five AP tests to take, and a whole bunch of stress that came with it. So instead of studying, what did I do? I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic for the second time. And then I picked up the next book. And the next one. And my soul (and hopefully not my test grades) cried with the wrenching knowledge that I had just, within the span of a week, finished what is perhaps one of the most expertly crafted YA series of all time.

This isn’t a great book. This is a phenomenal one. For all the filler and buildup of the previous book, this blew away all my expectations for what the final book in this series should be, and I can probably go as far as to say that this third installment is probably the best one out of the three.

A Conjuring of Light picks up immediately after the previous book, and I have to say, the stakes were high. From the very beginning the pace is fast and action-filled, and did not relent until the end. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and spent a solid five hours (that I personally couldn’t afford to spend) flipping pages faster than I could read them.

Lila and Kell are back, and as awesome as ever, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would yearn for moments with Alucard and Rhy, both of whom I mistakenly assumed were side characters but absolutely are not. They are layered and likable in their own ways and really add depth to the story. Although there is character development, the personalities of all the characters does remain constant throughout, and I adore each and every one of them.

But the one person who stole my heart was Holland. Holland is the epitome of a tragic hero, someone forced into terrible situations that left him more than a little mangled, and I was drawn to him most of all. We get a lot more backstory on Holland’s end in this book, and it added so much to an already extremely layered character. Holland goes from villain to background character to something in between hero and villain in these three books, and in my opinion, that kind of complexity makes for the best kinds of characters. I definitely shed a tear at the end because I love his character so much.

I mentioned this in my review of the previous book, but in addition to the exquisite world building, the Schwab’s style of character romance is on point. Romances in real life don’t take precedence over all other more pressing matters, and it absolutely does not intrude even a bit on the plot here. Romantic endeavors are pushed aside to be pursued in calmer times, and that made me cherish the few ship-worthy moments. Nobody likes it when the main characters finally get together after multiple books of teasing, only to lose their capacity to keep their mouths off each other as soon as their relationship becomes official.

If I had to point out a flaw, I would say that I would have liked some answers with regards to Kell’s past, as well as a bit more dimensionality to the main villain, but these are minor in the grand scheme of the book.

Overall, the Shades of Magic series, and particularly this last installment, are phenomenal by many standards, and if you haven’t read it yet, I would suggest you get your hands in a copy as soon as humanly possible.

~Aliza

Books, Reviews

A Gathering of Shadows, by Victoria Schwab

4 Stars

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Okay, it took me forever to get to this book. Not because it was boring or anything, but because it wasn’t out when I originally read A Darker Shade of Magic, and after waiting a year for the book, I didn’t remember enough of its predecessor to pick it up. I stalled on rereading ADSOM, and only just got to it when I saw that Haven was reading it on her Goodreads feed.

Man, did I realize what a mistake I had made. ADSOM, despite having earned a spot on my “favorites” years ago, didn’t actually strike too deep a chord with me. I knew the world building was fantastic, but not until rereading did I realize how fantastic. The world building, plot, and characters were beautifully and expertly crafted, more so than I’ve seen in a while, and I couldn’t pick up the second book fast enough.

But this review is not about A Darker Shade of Magic (but if you haven’t read it yet, go read it now), but rather the second book in the series. A Gathering of Shadows picks up four months after the events of the last book, with Kell and Lila having gone their separate ways in Red London. We’re quickly introduced to what our beloved characters have been up to, and they’re just as awesome as ever. Lila is one of the coolest kickass characters I’ve ever read about, in a way that doesn’t actually seem forced; one of my pet peeves these days is authors forcing a character to either be kickass or useless, with no in between, and it irks me to see female characters reduced to two generic genres. Lila has squirmed her way onto a ship in AGOS, and introduced to an extremely likable character: Alucard Emery. Alucard is a great addition to the series, and his and Kell’s rivalry is adorable, at least once they meet in this book. Rhy and other favorites are also back, with varying levels of page time for each.

But as much as I adore this series, I can’t ignore this book for what it was: a filler. In my opinion, this entire book could have been scrapped and pertinent details crammed into the other books in the series, because all this novel does is set up the final installment. The plot of this book revolves around The Element Games, which is exactly what is sounds like, but with no real stakes. The villain just sits back and plots ominously the entire time, and the Games don’t even start until around the 60% mark, and Kell and Lila don’t reunite until much later in the book. It’s infuriating, how little stakes there are, and how long it took for anything to get done, because this was a filler book. The only reason to read it is for you to become deeply acquainted with Alucard (who is awesome, especially with Rhy) and for the last 10% of the book where stuff gets real, and the stakes are finally raised.

It’s still a great series, and I’m admittedly biased because I zipped through these books so fast I’m writing this review right now having already read through the last book (which is SO. FREAKING. GOOD). The series as a whole has one of the best world building and plot of all time, and the side romances are barely there, just a bit to complement the plot, not take over the plot. Read this book, if you’ve read the first one and aren’t sure to continue, because this and the third book will absolutely blow you away.

-Liz

Books, New Releases

New Releases in YA for June 2017

comingsoonbanner

Summer is here! You will not believe how excited I am to sit back and relax, and…. go on college visits and do summer homework. Well, homework is an August problem, so might as well read now!

1. Our Dark Duet, by Victoria Schwab – Coming June 13, 2017

Kate Harker is a girl who isn’t afraid of the dark. She’s a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human, no matter how much he once yearned for it. He’s a monster with a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons—it lures Kate home, where she finds more than she bargained for. She’ll face a monster she thought she killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own.

This is the sequel to This Savage Song, a book by one of my favorite authors ever, Victoria Schwab. Although her Shades of Magic series is better, the first book of this series was super enjoyable, and I look forward to reading this one.

2. Now I Rise, by Kiersten White – Coming June 27, 2017

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

I read most of the first book in this series, And I Darken, before it was due at the library and I forgot to get back to it. I hear this book is super good, though, and I always love to read about underrepresented regions of the world (Eastern Europe, in this case).

3. Once and for All, by Sarah Dessen – Coming June 6, 2017

As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.

Sarah Dessen is about as classic as it gets, when it comes to YA romance. Her books follow a very specific formula, but they’re always cute, and always fun. I’m sure this next book from her will be the same.

Continue reading “New Releases in YA for June 2017”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

3 Stars

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I am a ginormous fan of Shusterman’s Unwind, and I rank it among some of my all time favorite books. I was used to his style of dystopia: the ones that were so well crafted, they barely felt like a teen dystopian novel in how much they made you think. Scythe’s premise contains all of these trademark Shusterman elements and after hearing him read the first chapter put loud when he visited my school (it was an interesting experience), I was thoroughly intrigued. However, this book, although enjoyable, fell flat in so many ways: the characters, the predictable plot twists, and just the way it dragged.

Scythe is about a utopian future where humans have achieved everything they’ve ever aspired to achieve (such as immortality), and as a result, need to curb population growth by installing scythes, who are the only people who can cause death by “gleaning” (aka killing) people. Our main characters are Citra and Rowan, who have been chosen as scythe apprentices- a position they don’t want, according to the blurb.

This premise sounded great to me, but immediately after starting the book, I began to see some discrepancies. Citra and Rowan, while they do dislike the act of gleaning, both accepted the position of scythe’s apprentice, meaning they absolutely had a choice in this, unlike what the blurb implies. Their characters are not too three-dimensional, and I didn’t care much about them until they started diverging and going on different paths. My biggest problem with this book, and what probably contributed to a certain degree of boredom, was the lack of risk in anything. In this utopian world, anyone who accidentally dies is automatically brought back to life in revival centers, and can only be truly killed if they are gleaned by a scythe. This eliminated any concern I had for the characters, because their lives were never really at stake.

However, despite what I may have implied so far, I didn’t dislike this book. Scythe Curie and Scythe Faraday were fascinating characters, and the world did feel like a utopia. The plot did move slowly, but wasn’t unbearably so, and was overall an enjoyable book.

Writing this review a few weeks after reading the book has changed my initial view of it, I would have to say, as the faults seemed to rise above the fray and distinguish themselves more so in my mind with time. However, I would be remiss to disregard the Neal Shusterman spark that his books always have. Despite Scythe being one of his more subpar works, it does make you think to some regard, and that, I believe, is the most important trait of them all.

-Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy

4 Stars

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

This book got me out of my reading slump, which I think gives it an automatic high rating. No seriously, I hadn’t read anything in weeks, and I zipped through this in two days, which is the rate at which I used to read things before this dreaded slump. So, here is the miracle book that is, in all actuality, a genuinely adorable book.
Learning to Swear in America follows the story of Yuri, a Russian physics prodigy called to America to help NASA stop an asteroid en route to California. Although the whole “asteroid-impending-doom” premise has been done before, usually it’s from the perspective of teenagers who want to do as many crazy things as possible before the world ends. This time, however, it’s from a more scientific perspective, and the asteroid actually ends up being more important to plot of this novel than I’ve seen before.

The majority of my rating for this book is because of Yuri. Yuri is a Russian physics genius, and his voice absolutely sounds like it, despite the third person narrative. I absolutely loved how well his accent came across in the dialogue, and loved even more how cute his character was. Being a visitor from another country for whom English is not a first language, Yuri was adorably socially awkward, misunderstanding American slang and idioms in ways that were totally realistic and affection-inciting. After evaluating how adorable Yuri was, I realized that more books should have characters from other countries. 🙂

The side characters were rather meh, however. It’s been a week or so since I read this book, and I can’t even remember the main love interest’s name, she was that forgettable. I understand the role they had in Yuri’s stay in America, but still, they were your standard “quirky friends that bring the main character out of his shell” cliche. One of the friends, Lennon was actually pretty entertaining (and gets diversity points for being in a wheelchair) so I wish he got more page time than the girl did (still can’t remember her name).

I liked the science aspect of the book and appreciated the amount of research Kennedy put into it. Although most of everything about antimatter went way over my head (if it wasn’t obvious, I’m not exactly a physicist) I still enjoyed the pro-NASA pro-science view that seems far too lacking in today’s America.

Overall, this was a super adorable book that was enjoyable, but its flaws and cliches keep it just short of becoming great.

-Aliza