Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Hunted, by Megan Spooner | a slow but very unique Beauty and the Beast retelling

24485589

3.25 stars

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Hunted is a refreshing change from the typical fairy tale retellings, specifically Beauty And The Beast retellings, which tend to focus more on the romance. Hunted, on the other hand, is more intent on exploring Yeva’s character and how she connects with the Beast as a human, instead of their combined romantic tension. It’s also largely descriptive and prose-lead, and contains a much darker vibe than the original Beauty And The Beast. It actually differs a lot from the original but in a really necessary way and it does manage to contain the most important elements. Unfortunately, while this book does a number of things wonderfully, its style was just not for me, hence the 3.25 rating. I’m simply not the type of reader that enjoys a slow plot and a gentle build, but I can appreciate all the things Hunted did well.

One of the many elements that separates Hunted from the original/other retellings, is its addition of Russian folklore and culture. The story is set in medieval Russia, and there are are multiple stories traded throughout the book which definitely further that magical vibe that is already there. The snowy setting was largely emphasized as well as Yeva’s skills as a hunter, with descriptions of her frequent excursions into the chilly and dangerous yet peaceful woods. The prose was beautiful, I loved the dark, mysterious, and guarded feel of the story but the vulnerable moments were wonderfully written too.

I’m not the type of reader that enjoys reading slower, more description-based stories, which is exactly what Hunted is. The story can be draggy and dull at times, bogged down by the immense description and lack of enough dialogue to match it. The story’s progression felt very tentative to me, and I had a difficult time investing myself into the mystery behind the Beast and how Yeva fits into it. While there are many intriguing elements added as the plot moves on, I can’t quite say what caused my ‘meh’ feeling for the plot, it just wasn’t my type of story. Which sucks, because it has so much going for it.

The characters though, I was definitely invested in. Yeva came as such a surprise. She’s badass, spirited, and strong but also compassionate and vulnerable. Her love for nature and the woods, as well as her yearning for magic were so expertly expressed, specifically her wanting for something beyond. It’s definitely reminiscent of the original Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but Yeva’s wanting is more entwined with the mystical elements of the story and the nature of her character itself. Contrary to the lone Belle, Yeva actually has two sisters, Lena and Asenka, with who she shares a huge bond. All three sisters are so loving and understanding toward one another while remaining utterly realistic. It’s a refreshing change from the warring and jealous siblings we usually see in fairy tales. B&B’s Gaston is also there in the form of Solmir, who is actually supportive and loving toward Yeva and her sisters instead of being villainous and arrogant like in the original.

Interestingly, the only character I couldn’t come to invest in was the Beast himself. This book did something different by showing the Beast’s perspective too, but it wasn’t enough to make me connect to him. The only time I felt something for the Beast deeply was when Yeva tries to kill him, which was a beautifully written scene altogether.

The ‘romance’ between Yeva and the Beast was very minimal, as it wasn’t the romantic part of their relationship that was emphasized the most. I loved the way Spooner showed how Yeva and the Beast were inevitably bound together, through their mutual love for nature and their yearning for something beyond their reach. I do like how they were never viewed or intended to be romantically involved, but that it was their connection and trust that brought them back to each other. Unfortunately, I still thought the development behind their relationship was a tad rushed and simply ‘not enough’ even if I see the idea behind it. I wanted Yeva to stay with the Beast longer and further explore his psyche, instead of jumping to conclusions and finding out she is right about his past immediately.

Hunted contains many elements that readers will love, but it simply wasn’t my type of book. I’m not that big a fan of fairy-tale retellings anyway, which might explain my indifference toward it to an extent. I do have a strong appreciation for it though, and would definitely recommend to those who like slow plots, descriptive writing, and a more mature vibe from a retelling.

-Haven

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

Waiting On Wednesday #3 | Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Language Of Thorns’

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme created by Breaking the Spine where each week we discuss upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

Hey guys! This week’s ‘Waiting On Wednesday’ book is The Language Of Thorns: Midnight Tales And Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo! (YEEEEEEEEEE)

34076952

Release Date: September 29, 2017

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

I’m so hyped for this, y’all don’t even know. The Grishaverse is probably my favorite fictional universe ever and I was not prepared to let it go when the Shadow And Bone trilogy and the Six Of Crows duology ended. So ready for the slayage.

What are your guys’ anticipated releases? Let me know in the comments 🙂

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #4) | an enjoyable story w/ a dissatisfying ending

17378527The fourth and final installment in the spellbinding series from the irrepressible, #1 New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

I’m teetering between giving this book 3 or 3.5 stars, because while I liked the majority of the book, the ending failed to live up to the theatricality of the rest of the series, and failed the conjure up the amount of emotion I should have felt. If I gave into simply remembering the last few chapters, this book would have been a 3-star read, but the story as a whole was just as enjoyable as the others. I still can’t forget that clusterfuck of an ending though.

The writing was beautiful, as usual, but I did notice something different about it. Stiefvater relies heavily on further defining the ‘aesthetic’ of the series and describing the overall vibe of a setting, character, or group of characters in this particular book. There are a number of shorter, more descriptive sentences that encompass the feeling or visual aesthetic, which I quite liked, actually. This isn’t as easily seen in the other books, but I like how it totally enhanced the story without feeling forced. I’m usually very keen on emotional expression in the finales, and Stiefvater definitely delivered. Even if her writing style isn’t conventionally raw and honest while conveying emotion, the amount of feeling is still abundant through the unique prose.

In my opinion, the fantasy/science-fiction portions left a lot to be desired. There are a good amount of newer fantasy/sci-fi aspects introduced and they are somewhat elaborated on, such as Blue’s background and history behind her father and Henry Cheng’s whole deal. However, I still feel disconnected from these concepts besides there wasn’t enough time or elaboration involved for me to truly understand and absorb it. There are so many revelations made about the characters and the whole Raven Cycle world that are only quickly touched upon and left behind with no resolve. It almost makes me wish for another book, so everything can sink in properly.

As expected, the characters were brilliant and my favorite part of the book. All of them are still struggling to utilize their powers and discover further details about themselves to ultimately find Glendower and possibly save Gansey. I loved the emotion involved with out four main characters, it was so truthful yet poignant and understandable. The relationships between Ronan and his brothers, Gansey and Blue, and Ronan and Adam are further developed and constantly had me in the feels.

I don’t want to say much about the ending parts because I’ll be spoiling otherwise, but it did let me down to an extent. Honestly, it felt as though all the emotion that had been covered throughout the rest of the book was a waste, considering the very end, the climax, the true end was incredibly lackluster and anti-climatic. Everything was stated so plainly and blandly and things … just happened. I wish I could say more but I don’t want to spoil, and I don’t want to discuss spoilers because my thoughts are so jumbled and I’d probably never get them organized. Long story short, I hated that epilogue. Straight up.

Finales of series/trilogies are always difficult to read/review, because they could either make or break the series for you. I don’t remotely dislike The Raven King, but that ending was so soulless that I had to dock a star off. It’s upsetting to be dissatisfied with a goodbye to a series, but it is what it is.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle #3) | an underwhelming third installment but still fairly enjoyable

17378508Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

I had fairly high expectations for this installment because I liked the other two so much, and while I did enjoy this one, it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. This book is certainly slower and deeper plot-wise, the characters are getting closer and closer to finding Glendower and even more secrets about themselves. There are new characters introduced but the story mainly zeroes in on the complexities of their mission and the characters’ abilities, such as Adam’s connection to Cabeswater and Blue’s role other than being an ‘amplifier’. While all of this was pretty interesting, it definitely did take away attention from the psyches of each character and their psychological nature throughout. The characters and their complexities are my favorite part of this series, and considering I am a generally character-driven reader, pushing through this book was a bit difficult.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is certainly dirtier and harsher than the other two books when it comes to the hunt for Glendower. Welsh mythology is further delved into and the gang ventures into more dangerous territory, exploring caves, their own abilities, and Maura’s mysterious disappearance. I enjoyed it all honestly, but my liking for it was hindered by the very slow pacing. Parts of it felt as though there was so much yet nothing going on, but I did find the gang’s visits to redneck Virginia and expeditions through cursed caves pretty interesting even if I couldn’t love it fully.

The characters and their psychological development definitely take somewhat of a backseat in this book, compared to the others. Before, even if each book focused on a specific individual, all the characters were incredibly developed. Nothing new about this installment, but I did think the characters and their personalities were a little less vibrant this time around. Blue Lily, Lily Blue obviously looks closer at Blue, and I am quite thankful for that. I’m still not completely on the Blue hype train, but I can somewhat understand her struggle and inner conflict better than before. With that being said, I still felt as though her character didn’t ‘pop out’ as well as Ronan in The Dream Thieves or Gansey and Adam in The Raven Boys. All the characters were a bit underwhelming in this novel, actually.

On a lighter (or heavier) note, things between Gansey and Blue are continuing to heat up and I’m totally on board with this. I love their guilty late night talks and their overall dilemma dealing with Blue’s curse. It’s the perfect amount of angst and it doesn’t feel forced at all. Everyone is crazy for the Ronan and Adam pairing and I am too. I do wish there was more buildup because it does feel like it came out of nowhere, but I’m desperately hoping something happens between them in The Raven King.

Overall, Blue Lily, Lily Blue was a bit underwhelming to me, but I suppose I expected it to be much greater due to my love for the previous installments. I’m so ready for The Raven King to come through and break my heart.

-Haven

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, 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