Can’t-Wait Wednesday: Now I Rise

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So I’ve decided to participate in the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme!

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally,

they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

I absolutely loved And I Darken, so I am so beyond excited for the follow-up, Now I Rise!

Now I Rise

 

Now I Rise
(The Conqueror’s Saga #2)
Kiersten White
Hardcover, 496 pages
Expected publication: June 27, 2017
Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Fiction, YA Historical Fiction, YA Romance

 

 

Summary:

The highly anticipated, mind-blowing sequel to Kiersten White’s New York Times bestseller, AND I DARKEN—the series that reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN and Sabaa Tahir’s A TORCH AGAINST THE NIGHT won’t want to miss this riveting and gorgeously written novel—the second in the And I Darken series.
 
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.

A Court of Wings and Ruin Review

The third book in Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thrones and Roses Series, A Court of Wings and Ruin, released May 2, 2017 by Bloomsbury Childrens, was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year! I can not tell you all how excited I was for this book to come out, though I’m sure many of you already know! I loved it, and yet somehow, it fell a little flat for me…ACOWAR_US

A Court of Wings and Ruin picks up shortly after Feyre has returned to the Spring Court as an undercover agent, determined to collect information and undermine Tamlin’s plans. While she longs to rejoin her love and her newfound family, she must engage in a dangerous game to fight back against King Hybern and protect Prythian and its mortal neighbors from the ever increasing possibility of war and destruction.

The wonderful characters and the intense, complicated relationships are everything! And in this novel, they only become more realized. We get to meet a few new players in the form of other High Lords and many characters from Feyre’s life, Lucien, Elaine, and Nesta to name a few, are allowed space to grow and become real. Well, Lucien and Nesta…I’m not too sure about the way Elaine is characterized…Our favorite slightly dysfunctional family, Rhysand’s “inner circle” too gets a deeper look, with their own emotional trials and filled in back stories. Feyre is, of course, the center of all of this and her growth is something that really grounds the romance and action of this novel.

There were some serious moments of disappointment for me as well, the beginning of the novel and Feyre’s attempt at vengeance was actually quite frustrating and not at all satisfying. I felt she exhibited an extreme lack of self-awareness at times. And the ending…well, this is a spoiler free review so I’ll just say that while I loved it, it also fell a little flat for me. Ok and I’m sorry, but if I never read the word “mate” again in reference to someone’s partner, I’ll be totally ok! It borders on reducing these relationships to primal urges in a super reductive way, even as Rhysand is the ultimate, amazing, egalitarian, yet ever swoon-worthy partner. That being said, one of the things I love best about this series is the idea that we grow and change, our needs and desires change, and that’s totally ok. We don’t see enough of that in YA novels and I think it’s important.

The world building in this novel is wonderful too, and to be completely honest, I wanted way more of it! In ACOMAF, walking through the streets of Velaris with Feyre and Rhysand was a highlight. In ACOWAR we get to see some of the other courts and even some hints of the nations beyond!

Overall, I loved this book because I adore these characters and this world. However, this final novel didn’t leave me obsessing for days/weeks/months the way that ACOMAF did (I’m still not over it). I will, of course, be anxiously awaiting any future Prythian novels and imagine myself rereading this series, well at least books 2 and 3, many many more times in the meantime!

Have you read this series? What did you think of the trajectory and this last book?

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YA Wednesday: Strange the Dreamer

“‘Dream up something wild and improbable…Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Laini Taylor, the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series and the National Book Award finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, creates a captivating and original world full of complicated characters, immense dreams, and too-real nightmares in her new book Strange the Dreamer.

The first book in a planned duology, Strange the Dreamer opens with Lazlo Strange. Strange because he is a war orphan and his birth name is unknown. But different because of his intense love of stories and fairy tales, his penchant for dreaming, and his lifelong fascination with a mysterious ancient city, whose name was lost. Or more specifically, stolen. You see, Lazlo has a very specific memory of the day when that name was erased from his mind, from everyone’s mind, and replaced with a word: Weep.

As Lazlo makes his way from a subdued life with the monks to an apprenticeship as a librarian, his passion for stories, and his obsession with Weep, truly take over. He spends his adolescent years obsessing over books and notes about Unseen City (as he calls it), searching for any scrap of knowledge, any reference to its people, cultures, and of course, its name, while the rest of the world forgets and moves on. However, when Lazo’s dream suddenly comes to him, in the form of Tizarkane soldiers seeking experts from different fields, (scholars, builders, and a beautiful, arrogant alchemist) to ride with them to Weep and solve an unexplained mystery of the city, he cannot let the chance pass him by, and jumps at the chance to travel to his dreamland and finally learn its secrets. However traveling to dreams and learning hard truths can have unexpected effects on a person…

In a parallel narrative, a young woman spends her days hidden away with her family, trapped and protected by their isolation from the rest of the city. Sari knows that they must remain hidden to stay safe, but her anger towards those that would hurt her is fading into understanding, and she begins to wonder what kind of life this isolation truly is.

DSC_0047The writing in this novel is exquisite. Somehow, Taylor manages to weave the language of dreams into her sentences without entering the realm of purple prose. While some have commented that the book’s plot was a bit slow moving, the intricacy and the poetry of Taylor’s words is so gorgeously atmospheric that I was instantly tra
nsported to a world where beauty lies hidden in everything. I wanted to know what would happen next, but I was also perfectly happy just being a part of this world for a while. And still, interlaced with this beauty, is a history of war and trauma with no winner and a brokenness that seeps beyond the confines of the ruined buildings.

Lazlo’s innocence and sincerity and compassion are achingly heartwarming. Too perfectly so? Maybe. But I loved him and wouldn’t change a thing! The cast of characters that surround him though, are wonderfully complex. The “villains,” the problematic question of even deciding who truly is the villain in this broken world, are people who have been through terrible things and had to make difficult choices, and sometimes they chose wrong. The love story too (because there’s always a love story), is beautifully unfolded, touching on the desperate need for tenderness in one’s life and the small ways that we learn to find intimacy and share ourselves with others.

All that being said, I am a bit nervous for the sequel. The last act of the book moves incredibly quickly and sets up favorite characters to potentially change dramatically from what the entire book has worked to show them as. However, I await it EAGERLY and can’t wait to see what will happen!

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YA Wednesday! Review of Graceling

Graceling
by Kristin Cashore

Publication Date: August 2008
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Harcourt

In the world Cashore creates in her debut novel Graceling, certain individuals are “graced” with powers, from the mundane and practical, like being a world class cook or musician, to the deadly. Katsa (our heroine) is Graced with killing, making her an unmatched fighter, one known and feared throughout the world.

imagesAnd yet, for all her strength, Katsa find herself the increasingly unwilling muscle enforcing her uncle, King Randa’s, ruthless rule through ever more barbaric forms of intimidation and torture. She is often awkward, confused by her own feelings, and full of a righteous anger that often leads her to lose control. As Katsa grows up, she finds it increasingly impossible to put up with the violence her Uncle wishes her to inflict and, with the help of her friends and a growing number of allies begins to push back against those who would control her and work against peace between the nations.

This is an immensely readable book from the first pages, jumping right into the action and setting the course for an enthralling adventure.  From the texts opening moments, we are dropped into the middle of a rescue mission by Katsa (our heroine) and her team and we see her effortlessly breeze through an array of guards to get to her destination. That is, until she comes face to face with a mysterious stranger, another Graced (you can tell the Graced by their eyes, which are two different colors) with skill in fighting, from whom she barely escapes. When this stranger, who turns out to be a Prince in search of the captive that Katsa and her friends have saved, appears in Randa’s kingdom shortly after, the two begin to work together to take on an even larger and more hidden enemy and learn more about themselves, and their Graces, in the process.

In Graceling , Cashore takes some typically fantasy elements, the rebellious heroine who hates dresses and a savior prince who is too cute for words, and shifts them just enough that we don’t find ourselves confronted with flat stereotypes. The character growth from Katsa is truly compelling, as she learns to trust herself and others, with my struggles and fallbacks, after a lifetime of viewing herself as a monster.

The love story that flows from this growth is compelling (if at times problematic in its violence). The presentations of some other choices for women and the idea that happiness can be found in different kinds of relationships with other people too was a nice change of pace and a prescient critique of marriage as an institution that remains problematic, no matter how wonderful and egalitarian the partner. While I struggle with texts that present women’s only option to strength/power as adapting a “masculine” form of strength, I think Cashore does attempt to complicate this idea in Katsa’s growth and her relationship with Bitterblue.

I think the biggest disappointment for me was the villain of the story. He just plain Evil, with all the tried and true markings of a villain, and none of the complexity that shows us how or why he got to this terrible existence or what any of his motivations might be or have once been. While the concept of this villain’s Grace (and I’m being purposely vague here to try to avoid any spoilers) is extremely interesting, his lack of characterization left that aspect of the story a bit flat.

Overall though, I really enjoyed reading Graceling and am excited by trends in YA that give our beloved heroines some other choices than married or rebelliously, but bitterly, alone.

Have you read Graceling? What did you think of Katsa as a heroine? Let me know in the comments!

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YA Wednesday! And I Darken Review

And I Darken
by Kiersten White

Publication Date: June 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, YA
Publisher: Delacorte Press

Let her be strong. Let her be sly…And let her be ugly

 In And I Darken, Kiersten White expertly retells the story of the historical Vlad III Dracula, (known today as Vlad the Impaler), transforming prince Vlad, son of Vlad II Dracul “the dragon” and ruler of Wallachia, into princess Lada. White plays with gender expectations through her renderings of Lada and her brother Radu, and in doing so engages with contemporary questions surrounding autonomy, marriage, and power within the world of Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.

White’s historical rewriting follows the tough, fiercely independent, often cruel Lada and her brother, the thoughtful and gentle Radu as they are thrust from their home in Walachia and abandoned by their father, the country’s ruler, as hostages in the Ottoman Empire. Lada pushes back against her status as glorified prisoner, longing for and constantly plotting her return to Burning GlassWalachia, whereas Radu finds peace in religion and begins to make himself a home. However, the siblings’ loyalties, to their home and to each other, are tested as they grow closer to Mehmed, the youngest heir to the sultan. In the end, Lada and Radu must decide what sacrifices they are willing to make for Mehmed, for themselves, and for each other in the face of growing political unrest.

I absolutely LOVED this book. The setting and the characters are so richly developed, with subtle growth, believable personalities, and plausible, heartbreaking motivations. It is dark and gritty and I was enthralled from the first pages.

First, the setting. I am always thrilled to read YA and Fantasy books that take us outside historical UK/fantastical UK like country and White does an incredible job dropping the reader into the history and culture of the 15th century Ottoman Empire in. This is historical retelling done right! The world building is detailed and precise, and White skillfully crafts a snippet of a vast empire, weaving a complicated political history into the story of the two Dracul siblings.

The characters, however, are what truly make this book so memorable. The novel begins with Lada and Radu as young children in Walachia, setting up formative events and behavioral patterns that build a strong foundation for the difficult choices they must make. They are unique and actualized and conflicted, and they grow and change while remaining true to the core things we know about them.

Lada, for example, is often cruel and can be frustrating and unlikable at times, but her motivation is understandable and built clearly throughout the views of her childhood we are shown, which makes all the difference. Lada so often unlikeable in a completely understandable way.

Lada is a legitimate badass and she works hard for it, sacrificing her feelings in an attempt to gain some semblance of respect and control. She is constantly struggling to be taken seriously and pushes back against the expectations of marriage, childhood, and docility. Her relationship with herself as a woman and the way she fights against the forms of power that other women attempt to show her are available to her is particularly interesting, as she often feels like her body is betraying her. She perceives power and respect as masculine, physical toughness and cannot bring herself to accept a form that, while it might bring her some happiness and a means of control in other ways, would limit her ability to move freely and claim power in her own right. Through these representations, White enacts a delicate blending of contemporary questions surrounding gender and sexuality into a novel set in the 15th century.

Radu, on the other hand, works in the quiet, subtle spaces of power that Lada rejects. As a child, Radu faced abuse and dismissal from his father and sister, and he is all but ignored. Yet unlike Lada, others find him charming and attractive. Radu wins others over with his easy smile and as he grows up, he learns to find strength in these spaces.

The relationship between Lada and Radu is equally compelling. On the surface, the two battle constantly, Lada is often cruel and yet fiercely protective of Radu while Radu struggles to understand her anger towards him. The two are full of conflicted love for each other that is relentlessly challenged, revived, and thwarted throughout the text.

This is a 5-star read and anyone who likes deep character development and historical grounding (and doesn’t mind a bit of a plot lag to develop these) will love it!

 

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Review of Caraval

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Remember, it’s only a game…

As a child, Scarlett Dragna dreamed of leaving her father’s home (and despotic control) on the tiny island where she and her sister Tella live, to attend the mystifying Caraval performance. Though she has long since given up this dream, this year she finds herself suddenly invited to the participate in the mysterious game she has grown up hearing tales of.

image1Scarlet is hesitant to accept. At this point, all she wants is to keep the peace until her arranged marriage to a foreign count (whom she has never met), only days away, so that she can get herself and her sister far away from their father’s cruelty. Her sister, however, has other plans, and manages to transport the two of them, along with  Julian, a miscreant sailor and the sisters’ would-be accomplice. When Tella mysteriously disappears upon their arrival to Caraval, Scarlett is forced to do whatever it takes to get her sister back. As she finds herself a somewhat unwilling participant in game, the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur and Scarlett must make difficult choices, her own choices, for the first time, in order to save her sister.

The world of Caraval is just the dark and dangerous carnival atmosphere I was hoping for from the story, even if the larger story world doesn’t get too much attention (there is very little world building and it can be difficult to conprehend the larger world of the novel). Still, the court-like intrigue, dark alleys, and lush consumerism were fun and sexy, and I was ready to let myself get swept up in the game right along with Scarlett. Disappointingly though, the novel did not live up to it’s early promise.

The main problem of the story for me was the plotting. By the end of the novel, I was still waiting for a lot of the payoff for hints we were given a long the one. The motivation to evil of her father and others is a bit hard to follow. While it’s hinted at, the level of monstrosity is undeveloped. I like my villains complex and a relatable (at least a little) and there was plenty of potential for that in Scarlett’s father, yet the reason’s behind his intense cruelty were left under explored, minus a vague reference to his desire to protect his daughters. Hopefully the sequel will help to illuminate his character.

The development (or lack their of) of magic too was underwhelming. While the mystery surrounding the magic of Caraval is compelling at first, the seeming haphazardness of magic as the story develops becomes frustrating and a little incoherent. The economy of information too, leaves something to be desired. The potential of a world that trades information, and goods, for secrets is exciting. And yet, the payoff isn’t really there. If it’s dangerous to share too much information (as Julian warns her it is), shouldn’t there be some retribution for everything Scarlett shares to everyone not in on the game?

I am a sucker for a good female friendship in YA and Fantasy. Double points if its sisters. So I am easy sell on a story about the love between two sisters. And yet, for a novel about the love between two sisters, we don’t see them together very much, and what we see doesn’t give us much to go on. In fact, it’s the lukewarm romance that takes over most of Scarlett’s thoughts

Scarlett has serious potential as a heroine. It was a nice change of pace to see a character with some room to grow into herself, not already confident, headstrong, and brave beyond reason. The novel’s rendering of her struggle to overcome her abuse is quite touching actually. She begins the novel flattened by her abuse, unwilling to disturb the peace in an attempt to protect herself and her sister.  Scarlett’s realizations about her own fear and her desire to protect her sister are compelling and Garber gives us an important rendering of a young woman with real emotional and physical trauma to work through. Throughout the game, she comes up against challenges meant to help her become a more confident and daring woman, allowing her to make her own choices and take risks. She is meant to learn to trust her self and others.  And yet, the last few chapters seriously undermine Scarlett’s individual growth as we see all of her decisions as part of a much larger game controlled by other people, deflating the sense of growth and maturity in the text. And her easy acceptance of all that her friends have put her through is maddening.

All of this being said, I had fun reading Caraval and will more than likely read the sequel when it comes out. In fact, I read the book in one night I was so into it. It wasn’t until toward the end of the novel, when things weren’t coming together coherently, that I started to get frustrated.

2.5/5

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Review of Burning Glass

The c23677316over of this book is beautiful! Unfortunately…I didn’t enjoy the content quite as much. It’s definitely more romance driven than I usually prefer and I had some real issues with the character development. However, if you’re a fan of books where the romance drives the plot/development rather than acting as a compliment to the main action of the text, this might be just what you’re looking for! It’s just not my cup of tea. 🙂

Kathryn Purdie’s Burning Glass follows Sonya, a young woman who has the gift of feeling what those around her feel. After an tragic accident and a royal assassination, Sonya is tasked with protecting the emperor as his Sovereign Auraseer, feeling for any danger in the emotions of the palace’s many occupants and guests. As she struggles to control her power and carryout her duty, Sonya must decide whether ally herself with the unpredictable (but conveniently young and charming) Emperor, or the Crown Prince, his younger brother.

I was pretty drawn in from the first few pages. I liked that it was a bit confusing at first,  letting the reader see how the auraseer’s abilities work in the moment, rather than beginning with expository prose.  I also liked that the heroine makes a mistake that has real consequences (more on that later, because it’s not actually true, it just seemed like it at first). And give me a broody mysterious possible love interest right form the start any day!

However, the promises did not carry through to the end.

I am so tired of lonely girls love at first sight. Can we all just please stop? I can handle a love triangle. I mostly expect it when I pick up a YA with some romance, but I can’t do the lonely girl who falls in love with the first people who are nice to her. It’s just too much. To be fair, I can enjoy some fantasy-lite romance and am willing to let go and enjoy. If that’s your thing, you might really like this book.  However, there is no real complexity of feeling here to keep the romance grounded. Yes, it takes her a bit of time to figure out her feelings, but the characters feel strong things super quickly, and they can seemingly snap in and out of those feelings at will, as if making an intellectual decision automatically changes your heart.

On a positive note, I was pretty excited to see a heroine who was not afraid of her desire. I get that YA is not NA is not Adult, however, its nice to see a representation of a young woman who is not ashamed to feel physical desire, recognizes it for what it is and is not (love), and struggles with whether to act on it or not. At times it’s ambiguous whether the desire she feels is actually her desire or the mens’, which ruins it a little bit for me, but still a step in the right direction!

I liked the gesture toward politics in the novel, but it wasn’t really developed. It was a black and white, good and bad, easy to see division. If the plot was more focused on politics with a romance subplot, I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more. Instead, the romance is really the driving force of the book, which is fine, except that it wasn’t naturally developing enough to carry the entire book.

Returning to my above comment about consequences: I thought based on the opening of the book there would be real consequences for actions, but it doesn’t really play out that way, which is super disappointing. Because of this, I don’t feel like we get to see Sonya develop as Sonya, only in relationship to the men around her.

Finally, and honestly, (and maybe a spoiler so if you’re sensitive about knowing too much stop here!) I really don’t see how this will develop into multiple books. One of the things I truly disliked about this book was the flattening of a somewhat complex and interesting villain at the end of the novel. Things don’t need to be so resolved for the heroine to make a decision.

All that being said, I read this quickly and wanted to know what happened next. Burning Glass definitely isn’t terrible, it’s just a little too on the lite side of fantasy lite for me. But I might still read the next one, just to see where it goes!

2.5/5 golden snitches

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