Sunday, September 29, 2013

Crown of Midnight

Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 27, 2013
Genre: YA Fantasy (Romance)
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Source: Library
After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes. Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice. Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?
I've been following Sarah on Tumblr, and though I hadn't been able to get the book until last week, I loved seeing her reblogs of fanart along with explanations of why they drew those scenes. So when I read the book, and I came to those scenes, I was able to think of those images. Which I would have thought would detract from my personal experience of the book, but it didn't. It just made it richer, like when the book says "Chaol barely made it into an empty broom closet before the sobs hit," I remembered the fanart of Chaol bent over and sobbing, and it wrenched my heart out.

The entire book wrenched my heart out. If the first book was dark, at least it had bright spots of budding romance and lighthearted banter amid the terrifying and treacherous goings-on. But this book, aside from some parts where Celaena and Chaol spend some time together as friends and then lovers - which are great, by the way - Celaena is just a mess of aching and sorrow and rage. Of course, this propels her to act, to find out what's going on and accept her task assigned by Elena, but it hurts so much.

The secret that's revealed at the end of the book - I guessed it earlier, but I think that's just because I was forced to stop reading before I was done and I had time to think about the different clues. They're there if you're sharp enough, and I was going crazy when I figured it out, but it was also amazing the way it's revealed, the way Chaol finds out just when it's too late to stop things from happening, things he set in motion but would never have had he known the truth.

The blend of action and emotion in this book is just as fantastic as in Throne of Glass. No one but the king is completely evil, and watching Celaena navigate her relationships with Dorian, Chaol, Nehemia, and eventually Archer is at first cautiously tense but eventually rip-roaringly heart-crushing. We don't always know exactly what's going on, but throughout I think I always knew whom she should trust or not, and seeing her fall into traps and subsequent overwhelming grief is just so hard to do. Of course, her tendency to react to grief by aiming a knife at someone's throat gets her into a lot more trouble, but her fearlessness - which we find out comes from a place very different than where we'd think - means that she'll go explore the deepest parts of the castle that scream "stay away" to anyone with a little less courage, and this of course leads to heart-stopping chases, fights, and magical battles.

The next book sees Celaena in a totally new environment, and I can't wait to see how she deals with a completely different part of herself. Book 3, untitled as yet, should be published sometime in 2014 - which is a really long stretch of time and I hope it's more towards the beginning than the end!

Mila 2.0

Author: Debra Driza
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins)
Released: March 12, 2013
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller
Series: Yes (#2 Renegade)
Source: Library
Mila was never meant to learn the truth about her identity. She was a girl living with her mother in a small Minnesota town. She was supposed to forget her past—that she was built in a secret computer science lab and programmed to do things real people would never do. Now she has no choice but to run—from the dangerous operatives who want her terminated because she knows too much and from a mysterious group that wants to capture her alive and unlock her advanced technology. However, what Mila’s becoming is beyond anyone’s imagination, including her own, and it just might save her life.
The story of finding humanity in yourself when you're actually just a machine - oddly relatable.

I love Mila, for all that she's not even human. Her character is so compelling, which should be a clue right off that she's far more than a machine. Of course, it is because her creators programmed too much emotion into her, but the bits where she realizes that she's becoming more human than they could possibly have imagined, where she goes beyond her programming and stakes a claim to her right to exist, those bits are so powerful. She's a really strong girl, and her humor - which her "mother" points to as proof of her humanity - is sharp and funny. And sarcastic - my favorite kind.

There's plenty of fast-paced action as Mila and her mother are running away, tension and fear underlying all of it but razor-sharp wits and calculation. The airport scene is kind of badass. I love the scenes where she's being tested once they're captured, not only because of Lucas, the guy who's in charge of administering the tests, but because every step of the way, Mila shows how she functions as an emotional human, capable of compassion and terror, and while sometimes that helps her win, sometimes it gets in the way and trips her up - but that's perfect, because without that, she wouldn't get any of our sympathy or deserve to keep existing. Which is of course exactly the opposite of what the scientists are thinking. Oh, and there's plenty of heart-stopping action there, too!

When she finally gets out, the cost is so great that for a moment I thought she might not be able to go on. But she's strong. She's resilient, and she now has a purpose - so watch out scientists, you're gonna be roasted in the next book! And I can't wait to see it happen!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow (HarperCollins)
Released: September 20, 2011
Genre: YA Fantasy
Series: Yes (#2 Crown of Embers, #3 The Bitter Kingdom)
Source: Library
Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will. Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess. And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake. Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young. Most of the chosen do.
This book was recommended to me because I love Robin McKinley's Damar novels. And I immediately saw why. The two series are very similar, though each one has its own unique voice and style. It starts with a girl who thinks she's worthless and winds up being the most important person in the world. Along the way, there's kidnapping, royal marriages, intrigue, budding romance, stark loyalty, friendship, loss...

Elisa is so compelling right from the start, even as she's being obnoxiously insecure and finding comfort in food. I absolutely loved the food aspect, by the way. Because Elisa turns to food so often, there's a ton of mention of food throughout the book, and I loved the inventiveness as some foods were recognizable and some were completely novel and delightfully exotic (I'll pass on the rat soup, though, which apparently Elisa will too!). Her insecurities actually become the point of entry for us to identify with her, and the way the king treats her leaves us as confused as she is. She of course thinks there's a deeper reason for the king marrying her than her beauty, of which she assumes she has none, but when he appears to love her, she begins to tentatively hope. And though the king is far from a bad person, I couldn't help hating him a little as he was so blind to Elisa as a person needing love and acted kind in a way that cut deep.

The Godstone that rests in Elisa's navel is just as confusing. She thinks she gets help and responses from God, but she doubts it also, and she hates it at times for allowing her friends to die when she prays and it sends warmth as if it's accepting her prayer. Her relationship with the Godstone is central to the story, of course, and is essential to her growth.

Humberto is possibly the only person who doesn't act ambiguously. Elisa doesn't trust him at first, but I loved every scene that he was in, because he has such a quiet strength and is such a perfect gentleman. I sort of fell in love with him. Which makes what happens so much harder, of course, and I really hope Elisa finds a way out of it in the next book - like in the first few pages, maybe, please? Though I know that's not really possible.

But the main part of Elisa's journey is discovering her own worth and rising to the challenge presented to her, and I think her realization at the end of the book about the connection between her being chosen and her choosing to act is so heartwarming. And I can't wait to find out how it all plays out further...

This Is How I Find Her

Author: Sara Polsky
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Released: September 1, 2013
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Sophie Canon has just started her junior year when her mother tries to kill herself. Sophie has always lived her life in the shadow of her mother's bipolar disorder, monitoring her medication, rushing home after school to check on her instead of spending time with friends, and keeping her mother's diagnosis secret from everyone outside their family. But when the overdose lands Sophie's mother in the hospital, Sophie no longer has to watch over her. She moves in with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, from whom she has been estranged for the past five years. Rolling her suitcase across town to her family's house is easy. What's harder is figuring out how to build her own life.
I love this book. It made me cry countless times. Much more than a story about living with a family member's bipolar disorder, it's about figuring out when it's ok to give and give and give to someone who really needs help, and when it's time to start taking things for yourself and step back from being the pillar that person leans on. Because it's really heartbreaking that Sophie has had to take charge of someone else's problems when she was as young as 11, and that she was never able to have a normal teenage life because of it. Of course, her aunt should have been there and she made some very bad choices herself, but even her aunt shouldn't have to deal with it, which by the end of the book everyone, including Sophie's mother, realizes. The other characters' interactions strengthen this idea, both Sophie's cousin Leila and their friend James. The most heartwrenching moment, though, is when some kids present an English project that should never have been approved, because regardless of whether anyone in the class has dealt with suicide, making jokes about such serious subjects is disgusting. This book has so many subtle (or not so subtle) "lessons," aside from telling a deeply compelling story about a young girl's journey to find herself and climb out of the debris that has been her life up till then.

The Bone Season

Author: Samantha Shannon
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: August 20, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal Dystopian
Series: Yes - First of seven!
Source: Library
It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing. But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army. Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.
What an absolutely gripping book. Paige is a great heroine. She's courageous - sometimes to a fault - and she's smart, and loyal - mostly. She fights hard to free the clairvoyants, and she winds up leading the revolution. I found it a little odd that she fights so hard to get out of Oxford and back to the citadel when she's confronted with so many new horrifying revelations about what's really going on, when she knows that there's so much more that she doesn't understand, that the Rephaim have plans that reach down back centuries and forward to the end of the world, but she doesn't really try to figure out what the Rephaim are really all about. But at the same time, I love that. Because instead of the typical heroine, who is full of self-sacrifice in order to save humanity, Paige just desperately wants the chance to live as normal a life as possible, to get back to the world she knows, even if she now knows it's nothing like what she thought it was. By the end of the book, though, she's turned around and though she doesn't uncover anything really revealing in this book, I'm sure she's going to start uncovering things in the next book. (And if not, there are six more books for her to do that!) Even though the mysteries stay hidden, this book is far from slow-paced. Things happen one after the next, people and Rephaim seem one thing and on the next page seem the other, traitors and misplaced loyalties abound. 

And the secondary characters are so so good. Lissa and Seb especially stole my heart, and I cried when Seb died, even though I barely knew him at that point. And when he comes up again later, I cried buckets. I think it's because I felt everything through Paige, and she feels so strongly about everything. She's always passionate in whatever emotion she feels - passionate hate, passionate love, passionate fear, passionate sorrow. It makes her reckless, but since she somehow manages to get out of (almost) every scrape, her blazing passion propels her forward to every next step, and her passion for the others in the prison, especially the amaurotics and harlies, makes me love her as fiercely as she loves them.

Paige's group from back in the citadel is satisfyingly hard to pin down. They're her family, but she doesn't particularly like all of them. I loved seeing her unrequited feelings for Nick, though, because it gives her that vulnerability she seems not to have. And then there's her relationship with Warden. As maddeningly confusing as Warden is himself, and completely unsatisfying in how it's left at the end of the book. Which of course means that aside from wanting the next book for the secrets it will reveal, I want to know what happens to Warden, and what happens to Warden and Paige.


Author: David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
Publisher: Philomel
Released: January 1, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Series: Maybe
Source: Library
Stephen has been invisible for practically his whole life — because of a curse his grandfather, a powerful cursecaster, bestowed on Stephen’s mother before Stephen was born. So when Elizabeth moves to Stephen’s NYC apartment building from Minnesota, no one is more surprised than he is that she can see him. A budding romance ensues, and when Stephen confides in Elizabeth about his predicament, the two of them decide to dive headfirst into the secret world of cursecasters and spellseekers to figure out a way to break the curse. But things don’t go as planned, especially when Stephen’s grandfather arrives in town, taking his anger out on everyone he sees. In the end, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how big of a sacrifice they’re willing to make for Stephen to become visible — because the answer could mean the difference between life and death. At least for Elizabeth.
 What started out as what I thought would be an interesting exploration of being invisible and, on the other side, loving someone no one else knows exists, turned out to be a really gripping magic-filled adventure. Stephen and Elizabeth both have very strong voices, and though at first I was concentrating mostly on Stephen's story, especially since he started out the narration, I slid easily with the shift of importance to Elizabeth. But I love that they're both important, that this is both of their stories. And the way they save each other.

Stephen is understandably a very quiet, sensitive boy. He has been an observer all his life, after all, so he's used to noticing other peoples' actions and keeping to himself. I love the way he reacts when he realizes Elizabeth can see him. It definitely makes for a funny scene! And then as he tries to absorb the idea that someone can actually see him besides his mother, it's both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Elizabeth is a great character, too, and I like that she gets to know and love Stephen before she finds out he's invisible. I did find it a little weird that she doesn't notice anyone looking at her strangely for talking to herself when they're out, but I'm willing to think she was so focused on Stephen and New York that she didn't pay attention to other people. And then when she does find out, it's pretty perfect, too.

When they find out exactly what has to be done to break the curse, when a lot of the responsibility falls on Elizabeth, it's really great the way she grows into her maturity (though she was mature before, too). She goes from denying it, to tentatively accepting it, to going too far in her acceptance and then finally finding the right balance - though she kind of throws that all out in the end.

Laurie is a great character. Maybe a little too funny at times, but after what he's been through, his excessive humor is understandable. And he's strong and always there for Elizabeth, so that's great.

But aside from the characters, the action of the story is amazing also. The bad guy is really and truly, wonderfully, spine-tinglingly bad. And the things he does are horrible so that the things the heroes do are that much more heroic. And I like that mixed in with the action struggle is the internal struggle both Stephen and Elizabeth have. Because as much as this is an exciting book, it's really all about the kids.

Andrea Cremer has said on Twitter that there might be a sequel. Things are left pretty ambiguous at the end of this book, but if there's no sequel, I'd still be satisfied.

False Sight

Author: Dan Krokos
Publisher: Hyperion
Released: August 13, 2013
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: Yes (#1 False Memory, #3 Untitled)
Source: Library
All Miranda wants is a normal life. She's determined to move past the horrible truth of her origin as a clone so she can enjoy time with her boyfriend, Peter, and the rest of her friends at school. But Miranda quickly learns that there's no such thing as normal - not for a girl who was raised to be a weapon. When one of her teammates turns rogue, it begins a war that puts the world in jeopardy. Now Miranda must follow her instincts - not her heart - in order to save everything she's fought so hard to keep. With the image of a terrible future seared into her mind, what will she have to sacrifice to protect the people she loves?
The second book definitely starts with a bang! Right away, though the Roses try to have a semi-normal life while they wait for things to start happening, their wait is cut very short as they lose some members to fates possibly worse than death. Hurling them straight into another race for answers, for survival, for the entire world's safety, this new challenge brings the Roses a different sort of struggle as they have to decide whether to kill one of their own.

The first book was full of adventure and action, and the second book somehow ups that even more. But this time, separated again time after time, each of the Roses has to make decisions on their own, and they aren't confined to Cleveland anymore - they travel far far beyond their hometown, out to different worlds. I was a little taken aback at the introduction of new worlds, maybe because the Roses don't seem too taken aback themselves, just taking in stride a shocking development even though there was no indication it was coming. But the hopping from one world to the next added another level of horror and urgency to an already gripping struggle.

And then what Miranda decides to do... and how she does it... I know there has to be an answer, that things can't possibly be left the way they were at the end of this book, and I'm speculating about what could have actually happened, but I guess I'll have to wait for the third book to find out...