Here’s part 6 of my YA blitz reviews. For the curious, part one and the explanation of this ‘series’ can be found here. For the truly invested, here are part two, part three, part four, and part five.
As always, warning for potential SPOILERS!
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
A cute collection of short stories in the world of the Lunar Chronicles. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy these background stories that fill in both the world and past adventures of several of the characters. To say nothing of the final short story, taking place several years after the end of the series and showing where everyone’s ended up. Yes, a lot of them were fluff pieces, but the whole series is rather fluffy as a whole. I don’t actually have a whole lot more to say about this collection than that, seeing as it was more of the same as the main series. But I think the best part of it was the sneak peek at Meyer’s upcoming book about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Two chapters were included in this collection and it looks like it’ll be slightly darker than the Lunar Chronicles – closer to the tone of Fairest. I know I’m looking forward to it – especially considering one of the characters who appeared in the sneak peek!
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
I was expecting a read that would blow me away with the darkness and insanity based on this book’s summary and, unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. The first setting was gorgeously dark, suffocating, horrible – everything you would expect from an 1800’s era insane asylum. It perfectly evoked the dark insanity I was promised in the book’s summary. Unfortunately, as soon as Grace left Boston, we lost that dark claustrophobia in exchange for a gentle happiness occasionally punctuated by murders – murders that Grace looked forward to so that she could test her intelligence and Dr. Thornhollow’s theories. Speaking of our other main character, did anyone else think he reminded them of Sherlock Holmes? Just a passing thought. Other than the disappointing setting change, however, I quite enjoyed this book. Fast-paced with engaging characters, a refreshing lack of romance in a YA book, and some rather frank discussions of 1800’s life – plus some interesting philosophical debate. I do wish we had been given a bit more of Grace’s emotional development – I felt, especially towards the final third, that we were more being told than seeing, although that might also have been because of time passing more rapidly. In brief, a quick read that’s more about the characters than the plot.
The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle
Oh man this book! It’s got a spectacularly creepy atmosphere. Even the school scenes have hints of preternatural going-ons and a nice feeling of claustrophobic fear. I loved almost every single thing about this book. And no, the problem wasn’t the first person narration (for a change). The lone blot on my enjoyment was, of course, the love triangle involving Cara, the viewpoint character. Why, why, why do so many YA books feel the need to throw in love triangles? It didn’t particularly further the plot and I thought there were other ways to add tension to her actual romance, but almost every YA book these days has a love triangle, so there you go. Other than that, though, this is a nice creepy read with a phenomenal conclusion. I wish I’d read it in either August or October (traditional months for ghost stories, IMO), that’s how good of a ghost/paranormal story it was. Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough if you like paranormal elements in your mystery/thrillers.
The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine
I love fairy tale retellings and while this one didn’t disappoint it also didn’t wow. An interesting take on the Snow White story that definitely has me side-eying apples, the characters didn’t manage to feel unique although ‘Snow White’ was a lot closer to the Snow White of the movie Mirror, Mirror (starring Lily Collins and Julia Roberts) than the Disney version. As for the ‘Evil Queen’, was anyone else reminded of Regina from the TV show Once Upon a Time? I loved the twist of having dragons, ogres, and fae helping to populate the world. In fact, I found what we learned of the rest of the world to be in some ways more interesting than the plot unfolding before us. It’s a good, quick read with some interesting changes to the Snow White tale, but ultimately this will never be one of favorites. Although apparently there will be other books set in the same world, which I’m definitely looking forward to – the world is rich and has a lot of possibility in it.
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
With a book like this, one that I’ve been pinning a lot of expectations on, I can’t be surprised that the book fails to live up to what I really wanted. Having said that, I still really liked the final book in The Raven Cycle. For the first half I was constantly laughing out loud, enjoying the interactions and the prose. Stiefvater’s ability to depict the main characters as friends – good friends – and to inject humor into their doings is amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But there was also a strange changing of the guard in this book – a favorite character was phased out even further while a completely new character took his place. Some questions were answered – bizarrely quickly – while interesting plot threads were left dangling. While the epilogue leaves room for Stiefvater to return to this series, I still felt that certain threads should have been given more of a conclusion than they were. Most noticeably, the anticlimactic resolution to this book’s main antagonist and the disappearance from the final hundred pages of the psychics of 300 Fox Way. While the prose remains great and the characters compelling, I have to say that this final installment in TRC is possibly also the weakest in my opinion.
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
This was a really interesting book. I was surprised to learn not just that Marchetta had never written fantasy before but also that she hadn’t read a lot of it because she took certain tropes and used them well or subverted them well. Her writing was very engaging throughout. But I had a couple issues. First off, most of the book is Third Person Limited Finnikin. But then there would be random scenes – not even chapters, just one scene here or there in a chapter – that would be from someone else’s POV (still TPL, though). And that was kind of jarring, especially because she didn’t start doing this until about halfway through, IIRC. Maybe if it had been established earlier as a convention then I wouldn’t have minded as much. Secondly, the final battle felt really anticlimactic because not a lot of the fighting gets described other than ‘we’re faster than them and angrier so we’re better’. Which was really disappointing and makes me wonder if she just can’t write battle scenes. On the other hand, if that was a purposeful choice to keep us in Finn’s headspace, that didn’t work for me, either, and I found myself skimming those pages. Finally, I felt a lot of whiplash over the relationship between Finn and Evanjalin. Every other chapter it seems like he would go from ‘I hate and distrust you’ to ‘I love you and trust/need you’ – and that continued through the whole of the book, which does not a healthy relationship make. Now that I’ve said all the negatives, let me again reiterate that, for the most part, Marchetta has created engaging characters and a fantastic world. Her portrayal of people who have become exiles feels spot on and I enjoyed the contrasts and similarities between the exiles and those imprisoned in Lumatere. As a plus, it’s a standalone – no wait, it’s not there are sequels, but they seem to be simply set in the same world. But, still, can be read as a standalone as far as I’m concerned.
Zodiac by Romina Russell
I really wanted to like this book. It’s got a great concept and the writing flows pretty well, but. But a love triangle (well, love-vee to be more accurate) with insta-lust, a super special snowflake who has seen Incoming Doom but whom no one will listen to/take seriously (including one of the love interests), and no real rhyme or reason to naming conventions… I mean, if all the names from one of the Houses were similar but different from the other Houses, I could understand it. But that doesn’t really feel like what’s happening, and then there’s a random Japanese word – used accurately, at least – just thrown in for ‘flavoring’, at least as far as I can tell. Plus random character changes with no apparent reason, an MC who can’t even figure out her own feelings, and saying ‘oh you’re this way because you’re from this House’… Also, minor picky note: a Caduceus is not actually a medical symbol. It is the staff of Hermes/Mercury, god of commerce/travel/thieves. The medical symbol you’re looking for is a staff with only one snake, not two, and has no wings, and it’s associated with Asclepius. Like I said, this is fairly minor and a mistake that pretty much everyone makes. But it’s still a red alert that someone did not do their research. I liked the setting and the world and some of the minor side characters, but, overall, this is not a series I’ll be continuing.