The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of KingsInformation

Goodreads: The Way of Kings
Series: The Stormlight Archives #1
Source: Gift
Published: August 31, 2010

Official Summary

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.


Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is the start of an epic fantasy masterpiece. A shrouded past, a world at stake, and a plethora of character who barely realize their own power make the world of Roshar a frightening, fascinating place to visit. Sanderson’s characteristic attention to detail and insight into human nature add to the immersive experience.

The book is complex, divided into multiple points of view. There are, of course, the four main characters, but intermittent chapters are also narrated by other characters, some of whose perspectives obviously are not going to be of primary importance until later in the series. Personally, I did not find the number of points of view overwhelming; however, the book does suffer from the usual annoyance that as soon as I would get into one character’s story, the book would be off to another. The perspectives switch chapter by chapter and it is rare to stick with any one character for any length. Also, I enjoyed some characters more than others; it was not until nearly the end of the book that I was particularly interested in Shallan’s chapters, though she did grow on me and I would like to see more of her in Words of Radiance.

The sheer number of characters and plot lines, which begin to converge only in the final chapters, also mean the pacing is slow. Again, however, I have no issue with this. I am deeply invested in most of the characters, their stories, and their struggles. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating characters of great nobility and great potential who still have fears and flaws. So while the overarching plot progressed somewhat, the main attraction of this series is going to be watching it unfold slowly from many perspectives. As the saying goes, journey before destination.

The pacing also means that there are not quite as many wild plot twists in this particular novel, something I have come to expect from Sanderson’s books. There are a couple unexpected turns—again, near the end of the book—but I suspect the series will have to get a bit further before Sanderson really throws my predictions on their heads. Right now, I know some things are not quite what they have seemed, but do not really know what the implications of these revelations are. Of course, this is not a bad place to leave readers at all, if an author wants readers to keep reading the series!

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors, and The Way of Kings does not disappoint. Vivid, imaginative, wild, and wise, it is all the things I could hope for from an epic fantasy—or just a good book. Highly recommended.

Let Discuss!

Have you read The Way of Kings? Tell me who your favorite character is in the comments!


Are There Reviewing “Rules?”

Discussion Post Stars

Recently the blogging world got itself into a minor uproar.  (Not entirely news, right?)  As far as I understand the situation, one blogger wrote a post outlining a few of the things she personally finds annoying in reviews.  Somehow, in response, people starting tweeting en-masse about their own reviewing peeves.  And suddenly reviewers were in a debate about whether there is “right” way to review and whether anyone is allowed to say there is.

Realistically, we all have things we like and dislike about reviews.  Because of that, I do not personally have anything against the original blog post, even though I disagree with some of her points.  There are things I dislike seeing in reviews; I just don’t normally talk about them.  However, I think the subsequent Twitter debate became a problem because it crossed a line between people presenting their personal opinions on the reviewing process and people telling other people they were “wrong” for some reviewing choices they’ve made.  I did not follow the hashtag extensively; I have no burning interest in the subject.  However, I do think one important point was never presented: there are different types of reviews.

Some bloggers try to be as objective as possible when reviewing; they try to take note of things like the pacing, whether there was character growth, whether the prose is good.  Of course, many of these things are subjective, ultimately, but most people agree that they are valid topics to tackle in a review.

On the other hand, some bloggers write more personal reviews.  They comment on whether they laughed, whether they thought the book was enjoyable, whether they connected with the characters, or whether they thought the characters were irritating.  They chronicle their own response to the book.

Both reviewing styles are okay.  I’m pretty sure Krysta and I employ both on our blog.  And I trust our readers to have enough common sense to be able to tell the difference between the two.  If I want to say, “This character is really stupid and it drove me crazy to read about her,” I’m allowed to say it.  I’m certainly allowed to think the character is dumb and I’m definitely allowed to be frustrated by it.  If I can be annoyed by real-life people, why not also fictional characters?  Maybe that’s just a sign the author created a very realistic protagonist.  However, I trust any blog readers to realize that the fact that I was frustrated by the character does not mean that they have to be frustrated, as well, and that I am in no way trying to imply they need to react the same way I did.

So, in the end, I think the whole “how to review properly” debate is silly.  Everyone is allowed to have a personal reaction to a book.  And everyone is allowed to share that reaction in whatever reviewing style they choose.  Does that mean everyone is allowed to have a personal reaction to a blogger’s review, as well?  Certainly.  You can dislike reading gushy reviews with gifs in the way you dislike reading science fiction.  However, I think there’s less of a reason to comment on how a blogger is reviewing badly.  I critique books because they’re products being sold to me.  I don’t go around critiquing other bloggers’ reviewing styles because most of us are hobbyists trying to enjoy a book-loving community, and I’m not really sure what I would gain by doing it.  If I don’t like reviews with gifs, I just close the browser window when I run across one and find another review to read.

How do you think the book-blogging community can discuss what they like seeing in reviews in a productive way?

Before the Blog: Reviews from the Past

Past Collage

I’ve mentioned before that Krysta and I both spent years reviewing books for ourselves before we ever started blogging, and, for better or worse, we still have a lot of those reviews.  Knowing this, I thought to myself Wouldn’t it be fun if we did a little flashback feature and posted some of those past reviews?  Krysta said it would just be embarrassing (and actually she’s probably right), so that’s why I’ve decided to share some reviews from 2009.  They’re not quite as old as some of the others, and so of somewhat better quality. (Notice too that my personal reviews and summaries were often much shorter than the ones I write for the blog!)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451


A modern classic, this is the story of a world where books are banned but not forgotten, and men—like Montag, a fire man and burner of books—must choose between comfort and knowledge.


Bradbury tells an engrossing, provoking story populated by real, dynamic, and diverse characters that will be appreciated by any bibliophile.  One can practically feel the ashes flowing about Montag’s person and small the kerosene he can never wash away, as Duncan’s blood forever stained Macbeth.  The fear, the questions, the uncertainty, and the hope are all real, all richly layered.  Bradbury redeems American literature with pure style, great thoughts, and a futuristic vision horrible but not unbearable.

Today’s Reaction

I haven’t reread Fahrenheit 415 any time after 2009, but I think my opinion would be very similar if I did.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest HemingwayA Farewell to Arms


An American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I falls in love with an English nurse.


The title of A Farewell to Arms is, without a doubt, the most intriguing part of the entire novel—and it was borrowed from a poem by George Peele.  The book may officially qualify as one of the most boring pieces of literature ever penned by man—surpassing both Ethan Frome and Brave New World to mount the top of worse summer reading assigned.  The former has New England style to redeem it and the latter some thoughts on antiutopia that were worth some investigation.  Hemingway has little.

The characters in general are flat and, if not disagreeable, hardly likeable either.  One is most attached to Frederic Henry, as he is the narrator and the tale told from his perspective.  Yet, despite the natural sympathy, one must constantly wonder what he sees in Catherine Barkley—besides escape from war.  She is submissive and dull and does nothing but repeat herself and ask foolish questions—and repeat the foolish questions.  Fitzgerald’s Daisy is both a goddess and genius in comparison.

The middle of the book is not half-bad, with some interesting perspectives on war and some varied characterizations, ranging from military enthusiasts to those who think that war a waste and joke.  The depiction of the battle police and their self-righteous judgments is gruesomely captivating.  The beginning, however, is a prolonged torture, and the end effaces whatever point one saw in the preceding three hundred pages.  And destructive as it is, it somehow is missing.  Henry is absurdly stoic, moving on as if little had happened—thus, the effacement.

A Farewell to Arms achieves most in its inspiration [for me] to avoid religiously Hemingway’s work in future.

Today’s Reaction


The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim PotokThe Gift of Asher Lev


The sequel to My Name is Asher Lev, the book begins about twenty years after Lev’s exile to Paris.  The death of his uncle recalls him to Brooklyn and his past, where a new understanding of old stories will bring both loss and gain, and potentially help rekindle his dormant creative genius.


Potok pens another compelling novel, taut with the conflict of two different worlds bound by one man who understands and loves them both.  Insights on truth, art, family, and love come rolling off the pages.  Abundant, they reveal Potok’s great and gentle knowledge of humanity.  The Gift of Asher Lev is nothing less than the natural successor to My Name Is Asher Lev and a book that cannot be missed by anyone who believes literature is both beauty and truth.

Today’s Reaction

Chaim Potok remains one of my favorite authors, and I still admire his masterful ability to understand and portray human nature.  I also love the Keats allusion I threw into this review.

Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Carnival of SoulsInformation

Goodreads: Carnival of Souls
Series: Untamed City #1
Source: Library
Published: July 31, 2012

Official Summary

In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures—if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father—and every other witch there—fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it’s only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable.While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.


In Carnival of Souls, Melissa Marr invites readers to The City, a world of violence and pleasure, where anything can be bought and sold.  Except power.  That is earned by birthright, or through fights to the death.  Aya and Kaleb have entered the fight ring to win themselves a better life.  Belias has entered to watch over Aya.  And in a different world, the human world, teenage Mallory knows of none of this, or that everyone is The City is looking for her.  Mallory wants only to be safe, to continue living in comfort with her adoptive witch father.

Marr drops readers straight into this intricate mess, where everyone is vying for power.  Weapons may include fists, magic, or smarts, but everyone is playing the game to come out on top.  Readers get to watch a whirlwind of alliances build and fall, and they may be several chapters into the book before they can get a firm grip on whom they may want to win.  Marr guarantees that nothing is clear in her book, that no one is purely good or purely evil, so everyone must be given a chance.

In the end, “curs” Kaleb and Zevi came out as my favorite characters.  They are the underdogs in City society, and Kaleb is striving hard to ensure he and Zevi will one day be able to live in comfort and safety.  Their relationship as “pack” is also endearing.  Though the two have completely diferent personalities and strengths, they are zealously loyal and protective of each other.  It is refreshing to see two people so certain of each other, in a world where alliances seem more common than friendships, and just about everyone is out for themselves.  If Kaleb does win the fights, one hopes he will able to teach some of the cur “pack” mentality to the masses.

Aya and Belias are also interesting characters, primarily because their relationship is so complex.  They are less explicitly “nice” than Kaleb and Zevi, but Marr makes sure to give all her characters both positives and negative characteristics.  No one in Carnival of Souls is one dimensional.  That being said, Mallory, the ostensible protagonist, is the blandest character readers are presented with.  She was raised in the human world, so that certainly makes her less “flashy” than some of the other characters, but she is also generally close-minded and fixated on her personal safety.  (Ok, ok, that is a direct result of her upbringing, so it is logical in the context of the story and not at all her fault.)  The point is, if she does not experience some serious character development in the rest of the series, she will remain my least favorite character, no matter how much everyone else in the book is obsessed with her.

The outlook for Mallory’s personal growth seems good, however.  In Carnival of Souls, at least, Marr was focused more on building atmosphere and characters than on plot.  The book was essentially a 300 page introduction to the world of The City and the major players.  And, if not for the fairly original setting in the Carnival of Souls itself, the book would have read a lot more like an average paranormal romance: Girl does not know she is special.  Girl meets mysterious dangerous boy.  Instalove happens.  Girl rebels against instalove but is still interested.  Girl learns she is an important person and romance is threatened.  End of book one.  The sequel to Carnival of Souls has more plot potential, as the novel ends with an explicit goal for the characters to pursue, but I can imagine it sill meandering about, looking into the personal troubles of the characters—which may end up as the more interesting part.

In the end, however, I thought Carnival of Souls had a lot of potential it did not quite live up to.  The setting is a huge draw, but the alluring/dangerous carnival idea has been more fully developed in other novels.  I would have liked a little more description to draw me into the world.  Also, Marr goes to great lengths to portray the complexity of The City society, but she “tells” a lot more than she “shows,” having her characters deliver direct statements about how no one is good or bad because of their species, their class, etc.  Readers could draw such conclusions on their own, based on the actions of Marr’s characters.

I enjoyed Carnival of Souls, but I was not wowed by it, which was a reaction I anticipated after seeing tons of gushing reviews.  I would like to continue the series because I want to see what happens to some of the great characters Marr has created, and I do believe the romance has the potential to be very sweet.  I am less invested in the overarching plot.  This is a good book, but not a great one.

Control by Lydia Kang


Goodreads: Control
Series: Control #1
Source: Purchased
Published: December 26, 2013


After a tragic magpod accident, Zelia Benten finds herself alone with her sister Dylia and her father’s parting words: “Promise.  Take care of yourself.” Zelia, however, wants only to take of her sister—which may turn out to be an impossibility when it becomes known Dylia has some unique, potentially harvestable, DNA.


In Control, Lydia Kang offers readers an intelligent and fast-paced story about finding oneself and what it means to be family.  The novel follows science geek Zelia after the death of her father and the kidnapping of her younger sister, as she is taken to live in a hidden complex where the genetic outcasts of society strive to make a home.  There, in addition to brainstorming how to get her sister back, she must learn to love and to trust again.

The story is fast-paced, and the jacket’s claim that it is “unputtdownable*” is not inaccurate, as I could barely bring myself to take a break from reading.  Zelia encounters a number of twists in her new life, as she garners increasing knowledge about the society she lives in, about the people who claim to be her friends, and about the people she thinks are her enemies.  So many things are not what they at first appear, and Zelia and the readers must continue to dig ever deeper in order to find the truth.

This aspect of the plot actually parallels one of the major themes of the book, which is an emphasis on intelligence and talent rather than physical beauty.  Appearance is misleading in a place where people can have four arms or green skin.  Zelia, ashamed of her physique and her late blooming, has to grapple with learning to see herself, and others, for who they are, rather than what they look like.

The book also addresses the complexity of relationships, and tackles all types: friendship, family, and romance.  Zelia must continually transform her relationships as the people around her grow up or change, and as she discovers new aspects of their personalities or their past.  She must realize that loving sometimes means accepting people just as they are, and it sometimes means trusting their ultimate intentions are good, even when their individual actions are perplexing.  In the end, she asks others to accept the same about her.

The characters around Zelia are a refreshingly eclectic group, and Kang  imagines wonderfully what it might be like to live as a genetic outcast, a “monster” in the eyes of society.  Her characters both struggle with, yet accept, their differences.  Then they turn them into strengths.  Then they try to use them to help others.  The most maligned members of society strive to aid the very people who have rejected them, perhaps out of pure goodness, perhaps in hopes they will one day be welcomed.  Their situation and their personalities are complex, and Kang shies away from none of it.

Additionally, Kang has received much praise for the accuracy of the medical information in her fiction.  My personal expertise is not in medicine, biology, or any related field, so I cannot speak with any professionalism on said accuracy.  However, the science presented all sounded reasonable and realistic to me!  Additionally, Kang does her audience the favor of assuming they are intelligent and can catch on to the scientific aspects of the plot, rather than overexplaining or oversimplifying the facts for readers.

Control is a smart, gripping read that will appeal to fans of books like Pure by Julianna Baggott and Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  Science fiction buffs will appreciate Kang’s serious approach to genetics and medicine, but anyone who appreciates well-written YA with a multifaceted plot and a grown-up tone will enjoy Kang’s work.  Definitely a recommended read!

*The spelling on the Goodreads summary is “un-putdownable,” but is definitely “unputtdownable” on my book jacket.

The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien, Ed. by Christopher Tolkien

Fall of ArthurInformation

Goodreads: The Fall of Arthur
Source: Purchased
Published: May 2013

Official Summary

The world’s first publication of a previously unknown work by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the extraordinary story of the final days of England’s legendary hero, King Arthur.

The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries.

Powerful, passionate and filled with vivid imagery, The Fall of Arthurreveals Tolkien’s gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Originally composed by J.R.R. Tolkien in the 1930s, this work was set aside for The Hobbit and lay untouched for 80 years.

Now it has been edited for publication by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work that his father applied to bring it to a finished form, and the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and his greatest creation, Middle-earth.


Arthur eastward in arms purposed
in war to wage on the wild marches.
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending. (1-4)

Tolkien’s retelling of the King Arthur legend is lyrical and imaginative.  It draws on medieval sources and the Old English poetry form to create a version that is fresh yet a worthy addition to the tradition.  The poem, of course, is unfinished, but the parts that do exist are interesting and well-written.  A few lines might be better phrased, but readers can excuse them based on the fact this poem is still a draft, even if a later version of drafts that had already seen multiple revisions.  The poem’s most intriguing facet may be Tolkien’s unique portrayal of the romance between Lancelot and Guinevere.  The pair loved each other at some point, before the start of the poem, but are drifting farther apart, appearing “strange” to each other when they meet again.  Unfortunately, their story, like Arthur’s, is incomplete, and readers must rely on the outlines of projected cantos that Christopher publishes later in the book in order to approach anything resembling a sense of closure.

The poem is certainly worth reading.  A better combination than King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien can hardly be imagined.  As a medievalist and an author interested in creating mythology for England, Tolkien doubtless must have known and loved the Arthurian legend and it is only right he incorporate it into his own writing.  Readers who love Tolkien will love seeing him work with this classic tale, just as he worked with Norse legends, Anglo-Saxon poems, and other medieval romances.

The rest of the book, however, readers can probably take or leave based on their preferences.  The first section Christopher contributes is called “The Poem in Arthurian Tradition” and is essentially lengthy summaries of his father’s major soucres: Historia Regum Britanniae, the alliterative Morte Arthure, the stanzaic Morte Arthure, and Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.  I, having read most of these works in the original, did not find this section very interesting.  Those who have not read the originals may find the section either enlightening or tedious, based on whether they enjoy reading such summaries.  Christopher does helpfully point out what is different between these works and his father’s work, however, so readers need not bother to flip back and forth between the poem and this section to figure it out for themselves.

The second section is “The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion.”  Christopher publishes some of his father’s notes about The Fall of Arthur and highlights potential relationships between Lancelot and Earendil and Avalon and Tol Eressea.  Unfortunately, Christopher does not always know what to make of potential parallels or relationships between The Fall of Arthur and The Silmarillion and often simply observes their existence without drawing any interpretations or conclusions.  This section also contains detailed outlines J.R.R. Tolkien intended to follow when finishing th poem and some drafts of cantos not included in the officially published poem.

In the third section, “The Evolution of the Poem,” Christopher publishes various drafts of each canto and points out some changes his father made as he wrote and rewrote.  This chapter will be interesting to those readers who enjoy exploring the evolution of texts but can be skipped by those who do not.

The appendix is a brief explanation of the alliterative Old English poetry form that Tolkien adopted for The Fall of Arthur, mostly in J.R.R. Tolkien’s own words, as Christopher Tolkien publishes parts of a talk his father gave on the subject.  This section may not be the most accessible explanation to readers completely unfamiliar with the verse form, but it does nicely highlight the major features of Old English poetry. The appendix closes with an excerpt from The Fall of Arthur, with the “patterns of strong and weak elements in each half-line” listed, so readers have a clear example of how the patterns work.

Each section of the book can be read on its own, and it will behoove readers to determine beforehand which they may find useful.  The book itself seems unclear on whether it is intended for an audience who loves Tolkien but knows nothing about Arthur or an audience of medievalists who love Arthur but may not particularly care about Tolkien.  It tries to walk a middle ground, speaking to both a scholarly and a popular audience—and therefore will leave both types of readers a little unsatisfied.  The poem itself is beautiful and worth a read by anyone.  Christopher’s commentaries can be read or skipped with discretion.


The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist

Goodreads: The Different Girl
Source: ARC

Summary:  On an island there are four girls, one with yellow hair, one with brown, one with black, and one with red.  Otherwise, they are all the same.  This is their world, attending school with their their two adult guardians, and this is normal.  Then a ship wrecks at sea, and another girl washes ashore, a girl who talks, looks, and thinks differently.  But maybe that is normal, too.

Review:  This book was just about as interesting as I expected it to be, but it left me a little unsatisfied and slightly confused.  The officially summary seems intentionally vague; all readers know is that there are four nearly identical girls on an island.  What are they?  Robots?  How did they come to be?  What is their purpose?  It is all rather mysterious, which is half of what drew me to the book.  Unfortunately, some of these questions are still unanswered for me.

Basically, the science fiction aspects are not fully developed.  There is a lot of world building that is simply missing,  Certainly some can be filled in through inference, and to some extent it might not really matter, but its absence can be keenly felt.  It is conceivable that Dahlquist is keeping readers intentionally blind, keeping the story on the island just as the four girl only know the island—but it is extremely frustrating.  Days after finishing the book, I am still itchy and irritated that I have barely any conception of the world outside the island.  There are vague references to “them,” mysterious people who control something—but, yeah, I have no idea who they are or what they are doing or even want in the world.

This is also frustrating because most of the book reads like a very long set-up to a mystery.  The reader is made to constantly wonder what is going on—and then he or she only half finds out.  The “revelation” simply is not proportionate to the suspense.  That is understandably disappointing.

Yet there is also the nagging suspicion that there is something in this book that I just did not “get.”  The girls’ tutor asks a lot of leading questions in the story, and readers are clearly supposed to answer some of them, as well.  But I do not understand the logic.  After examining a photo, the girls decide the parrot in it is symbolic of something, and then several times question what the “parrot” in a certain situation is.  And I still have no idea what the parrot means….  I admit that I strongly would like to believe all my confusion is a flaw in the book, and not just an indication I am not smart enough to understand it!  Ambiguity in a book does not guarantee profundity, and it should not be used as a crutch to give the illusion of it.

I must clarify, however, that I did not dislike this book as much as my review might suggest.  On Goodreads, I gave it a good three star rating.  It is interesting, and it is unique.  (And I absolutely love the cover, if that counts for anything.)  There also is the hint of some deep thought going on behind it all.  But I feel left out, or as if something was left out of the book, so I cannot rate it more highly.  But I would love to hear others’ opinions, so please comment!

Side note:  I also do not understand why Veronika is writing this book, or to whom it is addressed.  I find it important for the existence of first-person narratives to be logical and am troubled when they do not seem to be.

Publication Date: February 21, 2013 (Dutton Juvenile)

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

Goodreads: Embrace
Series: The Violet Eden Chapters #1
Source: ARC

Goodreads Summary: It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before.

Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.

A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…

ReviewEmbrace is an exciting, solid paranormal romance.  It has a ton of the expected elements: a girl who finds out she’s not quite human, her disbelieving reaction, the people who want to help her believe, and the dangerous events that prove it’s all true.  Luckily, Shirvington has packaged them all in good writing and made her main characters quite attractive (in both personalities and looks).

All things considered, Embrace should be read for the romance more than anything else.  More than once, the explanations of how the magic works in this book had me laughing out loud; it was slightly ridiculous.  The angel/religious themes could also have been better.  So far, I think Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly has tackled this best.  In Embrace, readers learn that some religious stuff is sort of true and some isn’t and there is some stuff no one really knows about—including angels.  So there could be a God and there could not be.  Only the highest angels actually know.  The effect is confusing and almost wishy-washy.

The action is pretty intense, but this is a case where the protagonist actually invents most of it by being overly dramatic (i.e. If Violet were a reasonable person who didn’t overreact every time someone did something, there would be a lot less plot.)  Hopefully the drama is out of Violet’s system now, however, so that the second book can feature her acting on good instincts, and some outside forces acting more strongly.

BUT the romance is good.  Violet has a choice of two guys, and Embrace is a novel in which there truly seems to be a choice; she is not obviously drawn to one far more than to the other.  Both also have a ton of good qualities, so readers can be torn, thinking Violet could really be happy with either one.  (The down side is, of course, that one girl spending equal amounts of time flirting with and kissing two different guys means it can feel as if she is cheating or leading someone on.  Hazards of a love triangle.)

Again, this is a solid paranormal romance, and certainly one that is better written than many.  It is not unique, but it will be satisfying for those who like the genre.

Published: March 6, 2012

The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress

Goodreads: The Friday Society
Source: ARC

Summary:  In Edwardian London, three young women find themselves inexplicably drawn to solving the same mysterious murders.  Together, Cora (a lab assistant), Michiko (a samurai), and Nellie (a magician’s assistant) will employ their unusual talents to track down the criminal who has eluded all the experts.

ReviewThe Friday Society is the perfect book for any reader looking for an adventure full of girl power.  Cora, Michiko, and Nellie are fantastic protagonists with great personalities and a wide variety of unusual skills.  Alone, each one of them is talented, capable, and uniquely charming: Cora is an intelligent lab assistance, Michiko is a deadly warrior, and Nellie is a glamorous magician’s assistant/escape artist.  Together, the three form a perfectly balanced team, bound by their sense of justice and desire to break the boundaries placed on women and make a difference in their world.

And their world is quite interesting, as well.  The Friday Society is steampunk, but though there are some very cool weapons and inventions featuring cavorite, a newly discovered glowing material that defies gravity, the story remains character-driven.  The inventions and alternate history provide a colorful backdrop for the story, but never overpower it.  Kress also very skillfully creates a world where it is believable a few women like Cora, Michiko, and Nellie might be in fairly influential positions, but where women in general are still looked down upon by men.  The protagonists, then, stand out as independent and bold, without coming across as complete anomalies.

The story itself is an exciting mixture of mystery, action, adventure, history, and romance.  Essentially, this book has everything in just about the right proportions.  Kress writes it all in a straightforward style reminiscent of her protagonists’ energetic personalities, and also includes some wonderfully humorous references about what would happen…if all this were in a book.  It turns out that this book is not always what one would expect.

It is a book that deserves to be read!  With spunky characters, creepy villains, and a ton of crazy scenarios that only Cora, Michiko, and Nellie could possibly find themselves in, it offers a lot of entertainment, as well as a lot of heart.

Publication Date: December 6, 2012

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A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore

Goodreads: A Pearl Among Princes

Summary: On the secret island of Miramore, the peasants work all year to host the summer training for a select group of princes.  Each year, the princes return home more charming—and the peasants stay, fearful of the fiery whirlpools that would drown them and the deadly spiked shoals in the water.  But the rules have changed.  This year, instead of returning home to marry princesses, the princes are allowed to marry anyone,  and Gracepearl Coal is determined to win one’s heart and passage away from Miramore.

Review: From the summary, I was expecting a fun, light read from this book and not necessarily an artistic masterpiece.  However, A Pearl Among Princes failed at even being pure entertainment for me, primarily due to problems in world-building and simple awkwardness.

Miramore, apparently, is an island in our world.  The first hint this is so is a random reference to Joan of Arc; eventually Gracepearl tells the readers directly that it is in our world. The location of Miramore, however, is kept a secret from everyone except the princes of the twelve branches who visit each year.  Even assuming this story takes place in a time period before technology like satellites or airplanes, this explanation is hard to believe.

And, if this is true, it raises the question of where these princes are from.  England?  Spain?  China?  There is no indication that they are from any known part of the world. They do not hail from actual countries, but rather for places named for trees.  They are from the houses of Birch, Maple, Elm, Oak, etc.  (Which gives the strong impression these princes are all from Europe.)  Basically, this entire book would have worked much better if it had been allowed to occur in some unspecified fantasy land.

The characters do not do much to help this flimsy backstory.  Their speech is heavily inspired by fantasy, and sadly ends up sounding ridiculous.  There are some books where asking, “How go classes?” sounds normal or even epic; A Pearl Among Princes is not one.  Part of the trouble is that Gracepearl does not write/speak this way as she narrates this story in first person, which creates a huge disconnect between the speech she uses with the reader and the speech she uses with other characters.

Also, a lot of the characters are just mean.  One of the opening scenes shows Gracepearl and her best friends rating the princes on their looks as they disembark their boats.  A similar scene of men ranking women would cause outrage (and such actions have caused significant problems in real-world situations).  Inverting the genders does not make it any more acceptable.  Gracepearl and her friends also have cute little nicknames for the people they dislike.  Perhaps the “Muffets” are silly and boy-obsessed and perhaps “Tattlebug” is too nosy; that does not justify name-calling and certainly does not make Gracepearl endearing.  (Additionally, Gracepearl’s silly statements like “Flirting is fun!” sometimes make it questionable whether she is even better than the Muffets at all.)

Worst, however, is the entire premise of the book.  Gracepearl wants badly to get off the island.  She believes marrying a prince is the only way to do so, and is perfectly alright with marrying for little other reason.  Sure, she is also interested in looks and picks out the princes who are genuinely nice.  The fact remains, however, that she never seems quite sure if she actually loves them. All she wants is a boat.  This makes her something of a gold-digger.

This book appears to be an attempt at an original fairytale.  There is the whole peasant marrying a prince theme, a mysterious island, and nursery rhymes scattered about that give this impression.  Yet the execution is wrong.  Gracepearl spends a lot of time discussing whether someone is really a prince (ie. whether he is kind), but she is no princess.  The author obviously expects readers to like Gracepearl, but she gives them no reason to do so.  I, for one, do not see any particular reason she deserves a happy ending.

Published: 2009