Saturday, June 29, 2013

REVIEW: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles, #2)Title: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2)
Author: Marissa Meyer Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Pages: 464
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: The fates of Cinder and Scarlet collide as a Lunar threat spreads across the Earth...

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She's trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

First Thoughts: Even better than Cinder, which in my mind, is always hard for a sequel to do. The combination of well-known fairy tales with futuristic science fiction, along with the fast-paced action, makes this book hard to put down (and, makes me want Cress to come out sooner than next year).

When I finished Cinder earlier this year, I immediately put Scarlet on hold at the library. I loved the way Marissa Meyer took a well-known character like Cinderella, and twisted her story into an action-packed science fiction tale. I couldn’t wait to get my hands (and eyes) on the second book.

When I first started Scarlet, I will admit that I was a little disappointed. I wanted more of Cinder’s story; I didn’t care about Scarlet (twist on Little Red Riding Hood) and her story...yet. As the pages went on, I became just as immersed in Scarlet’s story as I did Cinder’s. As a reader, I love when stories are told from multiple points of view, however, I will admit that I usually favor one narrator over another. I become engrossed in one’s story and somewhat skim the other’s. In Scarlet, I was attached to both. Meyer’s writing drew me in to both heroines (talk about strong females!). Scarlet and Cinder’s stories were spaced out enough that you didn’t lose one or the other and there was always the hint of their paths crossing, you just didn’t know when and how.

As for the other new character - Wolf - I loved him! He is flawed yet loveable, strong yet weak, infuriating yet charming - the perfect match to Scarlet. I hate to even say this, but I think I enjoyed his character more than I did Kai’s from Cinder. I also really enjoyed the comic relief of Thorne (Meyer does a FANTASTIC job with her minor characters).

One of the main reasons I enjoyed Scarlet more than Cinder (although I highly recommend both), was the action. Scarlet picked up right where Cinder left off, in the heart of the action between the earthens and the lunars. Yes, there was character development, but the characters developed through the action around them. Plus, the action moved at the perfect pace; Meyer never dragged out scenes or rushed through them - she told them just as they needed to be told.

Final Thoughts: I love that Scarlet is still Cinder’s story but with a new ensemble and twist; in fact I might actually like Scarlet more than Cinder - tough call. This book definitely doesn’t take long to get sucked into, and once you’re in, you don’t want to stop until you turn the last page!

Who Should Read It? Fans of science fiction, fairy tales, and new takes on old stories will love this series. Also, if you are a fan of action along with well-developed characters, check these books out. If you like the other popular dystopian series like Divergent, Delirium, and Legend, this series is along those lines but with twists that set them apart from the rest.

Get ready for Cress (based on Rapunzel) out in 2014 and Winter (based on Snow White) out in 2015.

Monday, June 24, 2013

REVIEW: In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Title: In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Author: Cat Winters Website Twitter Facebook
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Pages: 400
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.

First Thoughts: From the creepy cover to the fantastic last words, this book had me glancing over my shoulder for ghosts in the dark. This paranormal, historically accurate story will have goosebumps crawling up your arms and leave your spine-tingling long after turning the last page!

Creepy, creepy, creepy! I am admittedly a giant baby, still scared of the dark and my own shadow (seriously, I have escape routes from every room in my house, just in case...). So, you can imagine that a book based on ghosts and spirits is not something that would immediately strike my fancy. But, one look at this eery cover and how could I not open up the pages and see what’s inside?

The inside, it turns out, just about matches the creepiness of the cover. First of all, what a great voice the main character, Mary Shelley Black, possesses. A strong confident sixteen-year-old; she’s not afraid to be who she is even in the face of events that would leave most mature adults incapacitated.  Actually, all of the characters are well-developed. From the lonely, high-strung aunt to the unstable, injured soldiers in the Red Cross house - Cat Winters uses her characters to tell a tale filled with tense moments. Now, those of you wimpy readers like me, don’t fear. Although this story features spirits and the paranormal, it is just the right amount. It’s not too scary, but it will definitely make you think twice before turning off the lights at night (I am actually getting a little nervous about going to bed tonight).

One of the aspects I found most intriguing in this novel was the setting. Instead of placing a paranormal storyline in a fictional setting, which would have been easier, Winters built her story around a tragic, death-filled time period. Honestly, I have always been drawn to WWII literature, but I didn’t know much about this particular time period (1918 WWI). In the Shadow of Blackbirds had me googling historical moments repeatedly: the Spanish Influenza, details of America’s role in the war, the daily life of Americans, and the progress of scientific discovery during that time period. This book became more than an enthralling story; it became a learning experience (I love when books lead me to learning!).

Final Thoughts: A truly unique story! The vivid images of the spirits may stay with me for the near future, but the fitful nights of sleep will be well worth the experience of this novel.

Who Should Read It? I would recommend this to all readers, particularly anyone into the creepy and paranormal or into out-there historical fiction. I would never classify myself as a fanatic of edgy or mysterious stories, but this gripped my attention from beginning to end. It was highly unpredictable, which I love, and had a heart-breaking, but satisfying ending. You can definitely judge this book by its cover, because it won’t disappoint.

REVIEW: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Title: The Selection
Author: Kiera Cass Website Twitter
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Pages: 327
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

First Thoughts: Way better than I originally expected! I was looking for a fluffy romance, and instead,  found a dystopian world filled with politics, love, and survival all packaged into a quick-paced read.

As some of you know, I am a full-fledged dystopian junkie. If there is anything about a broken down, futuristic society in the book, I am going to be immediately drawn to it. I keep trying to break out into different types of genres, but I am continually pulled back into my dystopian obsession. When I started The Selection, I had no idea I would be feeding into my love for all things dystopian.

Right away, I was hooked into the society the author, Kiera Cass, created. The caste system in place touched on the similarities and differences in all of humanity. It may be a young adult romance, but it really makes the reader question how society works. Why are some people wealthier than others? How come working yourself to the bone doesn’t always guarantee a happy life? Are we all ignorant to the plight of others, as so many characters in the book are? I couldn’t help but hope that the young Prince Maxon would be able to fix the suffering of his people. But in that hope, I had to question, can anyone ever stop all of the suffering? I’m glad Cass forced these questions upon her readers because these questions are at the heart of every society, fictional or not.

Although this novel was somewhat typical in that it was set in the future, in a society with broken ideals, centering around a love triangle; there was something truly atypical in my normal reader’s reaction. In these love triangle stories, I tend to sympathize with Boy #1 - the original love. Boy #1 is usually the boy next door; the relatable, down-to-earth boy all girls idolize. Boy #2 tends to come in and steal the girl away - even though he doesn’t know about Boy #1 - in some unfair fashion. In The Selection, I couldn’t help but cheer for Maxon - Boy #2. Although Aspen (Boy #1) met all of the boy-next-door, underdog qualities, I just couldn’t root for him. He came off as macho and needy, whereas Maxon only wanted to make America happy. He was a friend when she had no one; he was a confidante when she needed to cry; he was willing to forgive even when his anger was more than warranted. Aspen, on the other-hand, did nothing but upset America. This character change from the usual young adult format really helped make this book more than just something I read; it made it into a book I surprisingly, really enjoyed.

One aspect of this book that I didn’t really enjoy, was the all too obvious connection to the reality television show, The Bachelor. Even with my hours spent on trashy tv and celebrity gossip websites, I have never been drawn to that show. The idea that finding love can be done by bringing 32 girls under one roof, spending time together and alone with them, has always seemed ludicrous to me. I think that’s why I was originally so hesitant to read this novel. I saw reviews and recommendations all over twitter and the internet, but I just couldn’t get past how Bachelory it seemed. I think Cass understands the ridiculousness of the popularity of the show. She builds her story around the concept but uses her characters to send her message. Maxon, the bachelor himself, doesn’t even buy into the process.

Final Thoughts: Not only was I surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, but even though I am trying to get out of m trilogy-reading routine, I immediately put the second book in the series - The Elite - on hold at the library.

Who Should Read It? If you are looking for a dystopian book built more on characters than action, this book is for you. I hate to stereotype, but it is definitely more of a girl book due to the focus on the main love triangle. Ladies, get ready to fall for and cheer on Maxon as he tries to win over America’s heart!