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Pawn (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1) by Aimee Carter
Published November 26th 2013 by Harlequin Teen
Source: received from publisher
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

YOU CAN BE A VII IF YOU GIVE EVERYTHING.

For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.

If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked – surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.

There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed, and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.

Pawn had me going “????????” from the opening pages.

So Kitty fails an aptitude test right before the book starts, and ends up with a III tattooed on the back of her neck. Her boyfriend Benjy tells her he doesn’t care and that he’s willing to run away with her! But somehow she’s convinced that it’ll ruin his test results and she’s not willing to be his downfall which. If it’s an aptitude test I’m struggling to see exactly how her score and her marrying him will affect his personal aptitude? And halfway through, we were kiiind of floated this idea that maybe the aptitude test isn’t all it seems and that it doesn’t really test your aptitude, which 1) has the potential to be a really good critique of the current standardize testing system (SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, etc etc etc) in the US and 2) can start to potentially make an argument for why certain choices, like marrying a III, might ruin your chances of becoming a VI. BUT then immediately after we’re treated with a slew of tidbits here and there about how bright and wonderful and talented and smart Kitty is, and how there’s proof in how she managed to pull a III on the test although she had to leave a huge chunk of it blank, and then it all swirled away.

Benjy? I liked his steadfast resolution to stand beside Kitty. I wasn’t really sure about much else, though. Pawn was really good at putting everything into really neat little boxes, and Benjy? He sat in a nice little cardboard box labeled “KITTY’S MOTIVATION” and set a toe past those boundaries.

So Kitty goes to a club instead of becoming a sewage worker, and from there everything really starts to unravel, because instead of actually selling her virginity to the highest bidder, the highest bidder actually just wants Kitty for her. blue. eyes. And for that reason alone, he’s set to make her into a VII and his niece’s doppelganger? They can lengthen legs in this futuristic world. They can change entire body shapes and sIZES in this world. But they can’t change someone’s eye color to blue? ??? ????? There are processes now, in 2019, that can do that for a person. Hell, there are less-invasive colored contacts that can give you any eye color you want. But this is their one hang-up in this dystopian world?

But, okay. Kitty becomes Lila, agrees without thinking there might be some sort of catch, or maybe fifty (who will track you down, shoot down club members and intimidate your family members to get to you, only to hand you a golden ticket with no strings??).

And from there? I’m. Not quite sure? I read Aimee Carter’s The Goddess Test and Goddess Interrupted when they came out, and honestly, Pawn kind of gives off the same vibes I remember (albeit from. seven years. ago). It floats here and there, dabbles in a lot of things that could be potentially interesting, but never delves into them, and then sprinkles that atop some romance and calls it a day. There’s something about a rebellion, though we don’t actually ever get to see it. There’s set up for political intrigue, but, as Kitty – and every other character she interacts with – hammers home for us every other page or so, Kitty’s motivation is BENJY, so we’re treated to a lot of fretting and worrying and doing-things-at-other-people-s-command-so-benjy-will-live-to-see-another-day but no actual self autonomy, and so much of the intrigue-discovering happens once Kitty’s become a victim, or an unhappy bystander caught in the crossfire. There’s romance, but Benjy’s never really treated to any character development, and feels like nothing more than the possibly proverbial carrot to Kitty’s every move, so the romance comes off as dry and maybe even posturing instead.

Aside from all this, the world building is also confusing, not to mention pretty unbelievable – unrest settled by the reorganization of all the resources to the elite few? It’s simplistic and glossed-over, fluffed up with a few comments here and there about how unjust the system is. And the characters? They have just enough presence to fulfill their roles in the story, but are hardly memorable, and after a while, start blending together.

Pawn wasn’t an awful read, but it was shaky and lackluster. You might be able to chalk up chalk up some of it to Pawn being the first in a trilogy, but even then, I don’t feel any motivation to continue.

Heart of Venom (Elemental Assassin #9) by Jennifer Estep
Published August 27th 2013 by Pocket Books
Source: Library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

When a terror from the past threatens Gin’s friend and body-disposer, Sophia, Gin will stop at nothing to protect her, even if it means walking straight into a killer’s trap. Meanwhile, the rocky romance between Gin and Owen reaches a turning point—can they reunite and rekindle their love? Or will the things Gin has been forced to do in her line of work as the deadly assassin the Spider keep them apart forever? Assuming, that is, she survives long enough to find out…

I’m pretty sure you could read any book in the series at random and still know everything that came before courtesy of all the recaps. They’re not bad reads! But Estep has a formula, and she follows it to a T every single time; the same quips, the same story structure, even the same recaps. And especially after nine books, it gets old. Also, idc what he attempts to pull now – Owen’s never going to be able to bounce back from the mess he made for himself. It’s nice to get some closure on what’s been haunting Sophia and Jo-Jo for decades, and with that, I think this is as good a place as any in the series to stop.

Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) by Sarina Bowen
Published September 6th 2016 by Berkley
Source: Library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

In high school they were the perfect couple—until the day Georgia left Leo in the cold…

Hockey player Leo Trevi has spent the last six years trying to do two things: get over the girl who broke his heart, and succeed in the NHL. But on the first day he’s called up to the newly franchised Brooklyn Bruisers, Leo gets checked on both sides, first by the team’s coach—who has a long simmering grudge, and then by the Bruisers’ sexy, icy publicist—his former girlfriend Georgia Worthington.

Saying goodbye to Leo was one of the hardest things Georgia ever had to do—and saying hello again isn’t much easier. Georgia is determined to keep their relationship strictly professional, but when a press conference microphone catches Leo declaring his feelings for her, things get really personal, really fast….

The romance was gumdrop-sweet and fluffy, and I loved the assembly of supporting characters. But I really wasn’t on board with the way the rape element was handled. Also, oof, the treatment of Leo’s exes was just. not. not great.

Lord of the Abyss (Royal House of Shadows #4) by Nalini Singh
Published November 22nd 2011 by Harlequin
Source: Library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Once upon a time…the Blood Sorcerer vanquished the kingdom of Elden. To save their children, the queen scattered them to safety and the king filled them with vengeance. Only a magical timepiece connects the four royal heirs…and time is running out.…

As the dark Lord who condemns souls to damnation in the Abyss, Micah is nothing but a feared monster wrapped in impenetrable black armor. He has no idea he is the last heir of Elden, its last hope. Only one woman knows—the daughter of his enemy.

Liliana is nothing like her father, the Blood Sorcerer who’d cursed Micah. She sees past Micah’s armor to the prince inside. A prince whose sinful touch she craves. But first she has to brave his dark, dangerous lair and help him remember. Because they only have till midnight to save Elden.

It’s a bit of a departure from the Nalini Singh books I’m used to, the pacing was uneven in places, and I wasn’t super on board with some parts of the ending, but the characters were varying and interesting and I liked the directness of their relationships – it felt refreshing, in a sense.

Wild Things (Chicagoland Vampires #9) by Chloe Neill
Published February 4th 2014 by NAL Trade
Source: Library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Since Merit was turned into a vampire, and the protector of Chicago’s Cadogan House, it’s been a wild ride. She and Master vampire Ethan Sullivan have helped make Cadogan’s vampires the strongest in North America, and forged ties with paranormal folk of all breeds and creeds, living or dead…or both.

But now those alliances are about to be tested. A strange and twisted magic has ripped through the North American Central Pack, and Merit’s closest friends are caught in the crosshairs. Gabriel Keene, the Pack Apex, looks to Merit and Ethan for help. But who—or what—could possibly be powerful enough to out-magic a shifter?

Merit is about to go toe to toe, and cold steel to cold heart, to find out.

In hindsight, the series took a bit of a nosedive after around book four, but somehow I’ve already wandered this far in, so I’m going to see it to the end, dammit. I love all the secondary characters (the shifters! Malik! Jonah! her grandfather’s crew! Luc! Lindsey!) and some of the Merit/Ethan scenes are so soft and precious! but mostly not. On the whole, Ethan has the characterization of a cardboard standee – it’s been nine going on ten books now, and I’m still trying to figure out what his charm points are? The striking/glowing/blazing/insert-choice-adjective-here green eyes Neil keeps reminding us about? And Merit’s been demoted to a hand-wringing bystander who watches the house and waits dutifully for her boyfriend to come home/save the day. :/

Blood Games (Chicagoland Vampires #10) by Chloe Neill
Published August 5th 2014 by NAL Trade
Source: Library
Rating: ★½☆☆☆

While Merit didn’t choose to become a vampire or Sentinel of Cadogan House, she vowed to fight for her House and its Master, and she’s managed to forge strong alliances with powerful supernaturals across Chicago. But even though Merit has had wild adventures, this may be her deadliest yet…

A killer is stalking Chicago, preying on humans and leaving his victims with magical souvenirs. The CPD hasn’t been able to track the assailant, and as the body count rises, the city is running out of options. Vampires and humans aren’t on great terms, but murder makes for strange bedfellows. Can Merit find the killer before she becomes a target?

(shout out to my part-time job for letting me sit in a room full of books and letting me read said books during hours, supporting my much-belated UF romance kick)
Blood Games was a pretty solid 1.5 stars. I’m going to preface this and be honest and admit that my enthusiasm for the series has long since died, but I’ve gotten this far already, and I’m nothing if not stubborn.
– I really like the Scooby Doo, episodic mysteries. It’s nice to have some overarching plot tying all the novels in the series together, but it’s also really nice to be able to get some sort of solid closure at the end of every novel. It didn’t really work out with Blood Games, though – it’s just gotten to the point where there’s so much? The serial killing, Ethan’s plotline, the RG, Darius… and Blood Games keeps sliding in favor of Ethan, making everything else feel like tiny, poorly done afterthoughts.
– It feels like Neill’s trying to keep all the elements, the jokes, the plot threads, etc from all the previous books, and then add an extra heaping onto that, but there’s too much that’s been recycled too many times, and it’s really not working anymore.
– Ethan is a self-centered egomaniac. He’s always been a self-centered egomaniac, but all his me!me!me! speeches and petty theatrics here just made him even more so one.
– Merit needs to draw her line in the sand and she’s going to have to do it soon because it’s been ten books and Ethan STILL keeps pulling the same old shit. IMHO he should’ve stayed gone, and we could’ve gotten, say, a Merit/Jonah pairing instead. Or, honestly, a Merit/anyone-who-isn’t-Ethan pairing. Or just Merit, friends, and chaotic Chicago. That’s more than enough material for a series.
– oh, and fuck the fake proposals. fuuuuuuck them.

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson #8) by Patricia Briggs
Published March 11th 2014 by Ace
Source: Library
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam’s ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from a stalker. Adam isn’t the kind of man to turn away a person in need—and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam’s house, Mercy can’t shake the feeling that something about the situation isn’t right.

Soon her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the furthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him, including turning Adam’s pack against Mercy.

Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. Christy’s stalker is more than a bad man—in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart.

Oh man, Adam’s likeability score plummeted ass-first into the ground and then kept falling. Who shares ~tender looks~ with his ex-wife in front of the current wife he proclaims to be very much in love with? Who stands by while his ex-wife lobs attack after attack at and attempts to turn the pack against his current wife, and then is just like, yeah, that happened? Who does that? And then instead of apologizing and maybe groveling a little as he should, he does the whole ~condescending but I’m pROUD OF YOUR LEVEL-HEADED ACTIONS YOUNG LADY~ thing. Haaard pass, thanks. And Mercy just? Doesn’t stand up for herself? All but martyrs herself in her head? (the blue hair dye thing doesn’t count she literally nearly dIED for Adam’s speshul snowflake ex-wife and after putting them all through the blender and withholding crucial information and after Mercy ended up in the goddamn hospital fixing problems she still has the gall to threaten her? On her hospital bed? And yeah Christy might have blue hair, but everyone hates Mercy. So. Who’s the real winner.) And then there was the rest of the pack, and, yeesh. This was just one large internalized misogyny party, with a generous helping of victim blaming.

And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga #1) by Kiersten White
Published June 28th 2016 by Delacorte Press
Source: Library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

I saw this at the library and picked it up on a whim – I remember seeing this everywhere at one point and was a little curious. It didn’t occur to me until later that this Kiersten White was also the Kiersten White who wrote Paranormalcy and Mind Games, and. Wooooah. Her writing’s gotten so, so much better. The beginning was intense and atmospheric and engaging! The middle, though, felt like wading through molasses. The plot putters along under the weight of all these extra tidbits and tangents that I know contribute to future plot points and characters, but! But! The book is at a fairly hefty ~500 pages, with little more than some nicely arranged words to show for a good 300 pages at least, and without an interesting enough plot to motivate. And the decisions on the portrayal of history? I’m hardly an expert, and many have explained the missteps better than I ever could. I’ll just. Yikes.

Archangel’s Blade (Guild Hunter #4) by Nalini Singh
Published September 8th 2011 by Gollancz
Source: Library
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The severed head marked by a distinctive tattoo on its cheek should have been a Guild case, but dark instincts honed over hundreds of years of life compel the vampire Dmitri to take control. There is something twisted about this death, something that whispers of centuries long past…but Dmitri’s need to discover the truth is nothing to the vicious strength of his response to the hunter assigned to decipher the tattoo.

Savaged in a brutal attack that almost killed her, Honor is nowhere near ready to come face to face with the seductive vampire who is an archangel’s right hand and who wears his cruelty as boldly as his lethal sensuality…the same vampire who has been her secret obsession since the day she was old enough to understand the inexplicable, violent emotions he aroused in her.

As desire turns into a dangerous compulsion that might destroy them both, it becomes clear the past will not stay buried. Something is hunting and it will not stop until it brings a blood-soaked nightmare to life once more…

I wasn’t a huge fan at the beginning, but it did pick up a lot once the book went on… only to spiral into NOPENOPENOPE at the end because fuck that bullshit plot point. Dimitri and Honor deserve better.

Archangel’s Storm (Guild Hunter #5) by Nalini Singh
Published September 13th 2012 by Gollancz
Source: Library
Rating: ★★★☆☆

With wings of midnight and an affinity for shadows, Jason courts darkness. But now, with the Archangel Neha’s consort lying murdered in the jewel-studded palace that was his prison and her rage threatening cataclysmic devastation, Jason steps into the light, knowing he must unearth the murderer before it is too late.

Earning Neha’s trust comes at a price—Jason must tie himself to her bloodline through the Princess Mahiya, a woman with secrets so dangerous, she trusts no one. Least of all an enemy spymaster.

With only their relentless hunt for a violent, intelligent killer to unite them, Jason and Mahiya embark on a quest that leads to a centuries-old nightmare… and to the dark storm of an unexpected passion that threatens to drench them both in blood.

I was super curious about Jason so this turned out to be a little disappointing. He and Mahiya had so much potential! The book was on this upward curve and it was gETTING BETTER but then the ending was so terribly bland and I was terribly disappointed. (Also we could’ve done without all the Dimitri/Honor snippets and still been happy, thank you very much – it’s the whole Jason/Mahiya ending part we’re missing. Where did that ending putter off to? Where??)

Antigoddess (Goddess War #1) by Kendare Blake
Published September 10th 2013 by Tor Teen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.

I stick pretty closely to Goodreads’s rating system: 1 star is “did not like it,” 2 stars means “it was ok,” 3 stars for a “liked it” read, and so on. And, Antigoddess? It was okay.

I’m fascinated by mythology. Was obsessed with it at one point, actually. Long before I fell into YA, I pretty much exclusively read mythology books – Greek, Roman, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian, Babylonian, you name it. I think I might’ve checked out every book on myths in my school library twice, and while I’m no longer anywhere as obsessed with mythology as I had been in the past, I always get excited to see them in YA. And, so, Antigoddess.

The premise was super interesting: a war between dying gods. And the beginning of the book? I was really drawn in by how it opened, chapter zero, with Athena choking on feathers and Hermes slowly wasting away to a haunting, tragic end, more of a whisper than a bang, an end nowhere near benefitting of a god or goddess. It’s really tragically beautiful, in a way.

And then… things took a turn and went… somewhere. It wasn’t terrible – nothing in Antigoddess read as terrible. The whole thing was just very okay. Very bland. The book started out tragically beautiful and haunting, then nosedived into “meh” territory and was never able to crawl its way back out.

The story alternates between Cassandra and her boyfriend Aiden, and Athena and Hermes; the story alternates between two teenagers scamming high school freshman in cafeterias and attending parties, and two dying gods stumbling across the country, bickering and scowling amongst themselves to find Cassandra and Aiden. It sounds more interesting than it really is, and the synopsis sounds much more action-filled than the entire book delivered. Most of it was the parties and the running and scowling. A lot of what I thought would be more crucial points – how the gods and goddesses got to where they were now, what happened to, y’know, everyone else, how the whole “waking up with your past memories” thing actually works, as well as the “swapping out your old body with a new” that was only briefly mentioned in passing with Odysseus – were very vague, details passed over in favor of drawing out… something. Something? The characters’ shuffling and waffling and grumbling?

The pacing was slow, the climax almost unpleasantly jarring and anti-climactic, and the entire book almost reads as the preface to something bigger and bolder. The thing is, though, with the way Antigoddess ends, it could pass as a stand-alone. And with the way it read, I’m happy to take it as such.

King’s Cage (Red Queen, #3) by Victoria Aveyard
Published February 7th 2017 by HarperTeen
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Mare Barrow is a prisoner, powerless without her lightning, tormented by her lethal mistakes. She lives at the mercy of a boy she once loved, a boy made of lies and betrayal. Now a king, Maven Calore continues weaving his dead mother’s web in an attempt to maintain control over his country—and his prisoner.

As Mare bears the weight of Silent Stone in the palace, her once-ragtag band of newbloods and Reds continue organizing, training, and expanding. They prepare for war, no longer able to linger in the shadows. And Cal, the exiled prince with his own claim on Mare’s heart, will stop at nothing to bring her back.

When blood turns on blood, and ability on ability, there may be no one left to put out the fire—leaving Norta as Mare knows it to burn all the way down.

Wheeere oh where has the plot gone? I’m pretty sure you could’ve rolled Glass Sword and King’s Cage into one book and wrapped up the series as a trilogy.

So here’s the thing: I can see why everyone likes this series so much. It’s formulaic and there’s not one part of the series that hasn’t been done before, but all parts of the series have been done before and worked, and now we have the Red Queen series. And it’s clearly working for a lot of people. It worked for me in the beginning, too – I really liked Red Queen. But then the series started to miss the mark.

King’s Cage is one giant filler scene; the writing’s trying too hard to load itself up with quotable one-liners and snarky exchanges; all the secondary characters are flat, dull, and forgettable; 500 pages isn’t quite enough to contain the annoyance that is Mare’s inflated ego.

The upside? While reading Glass Sword, I thought that this series would turn into a Nightshade kind of situation for me, when the only character I liked ended up dead at the end of the series (THE VERY END OF THE SERIES) but hey, King’s Cage got me starting to like another character, so the odds are looking a little better? Marginally? So half a star for that shaky assurance, one star for the scene where Cal and The Scarlett Guard rescued Mare (YEEEEEEEESSS), and another half star because fuck it, I’m still holding out for a Maven comeback, or for Cal to regain all that character I liked about him that he lost.

The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
Published July 18th 2017 by Razorbill
Source: ARC Traded
Rating: ★★½☆☆

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

The cover is absolutely lovely – I love the pink-to-purple ombre! Inside, The Library of Fates tells the story of a girl shaken from her everyday life; the entrance of a tyrant; reincarnation and a race to rescue her family and her kingdom. The incorporation of Indian mythology is rich and immersive, and though the story isn’t anything new, the writing is quiet and beautiful and draws its own course. And as for the plot? The Library of Fates read as a gorgeous fairytale of sorts, an adventure at the very least, at the beginning. However, toward the latter half, things took a rather scattered and confusing turn, which I really probably would’ve been okay with had it not also come with Amrita’s love interest, one of the more abrupt instaloves I’ve come across this year (his appearance also made me super sad because you could feel genuine chemistry between Amrita and her childhood friend! I was rooting for them! But I digress), and too many awfully convenient plot points for the main character. It wasn’t an awful read by any means, but neither was it a particularly great one.

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula Jones
Published February 27th 2014 by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Aileen was supposed to grow up magical – just like the other women in her family. Unfortunately, she’s just found out that the magic seems to have skipped a generation… but that’s not her biggest problem right now.

In her world, there are four Islands of Chaldea. The largest and most magical island has been cut off from the other three for decades – and is slowly draining the magic from them.

But now a prophecy has come to light. Someone from Aileen’s island will gather a man from each of the three islands, bring down the magical barrier, and unite them with the fourth island again. And according to the king, that someone is Aileen’s Aunt – who insists on dragging Aileen along. AND the boy Aileen is sure she’ll marry (one day); the local boy with more brawn then brain. Someone seems to want to stop them too… someone with an interest in keeping the Islands apart. But still, with magic on their side, nothing can go wrong. Right?

It was okay… there were points here and there when the story was really fun to read, and I did like the cast of characters! But the plot also dragged in a lot of places and took a lot of meandering detours, and I ended up skimming through a good portion of the middle… Hm.

This did make me really nostalgic for Howl’s Moving Castle, though, and I didn’t know there were two more books in that series! This is probably not the thing to say when my reading pile’s literally toppling off my table, but I want… I want…

Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows
Published September 12th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Purchased (Owlcrate!)
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Before

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

There’s not that much to say about Before She Ignites. It wasn’t an explosive read on either end of the spectrum. Really, it read like a prequel of sorts? A set-up for future books in the series. “Illegal dragon trafficking” sounded right up my alley (DRAGONS!!), but everything turned out to be pretty shallow, and the before/after time skips didn’t really help the story along, so much as it did provide filler scenes between already-filler scenes. I did like the dynamic between a lot of the prisoners, and it was so, so nice to see this kind of mental health rep in YA fantasy. But also… a good chunk of the story in Before She Ignites turned out to follow Mira wandering around the prison and telling herself her parents will come save her soon – where were the dragons??

Glass Sword (Red Queen #2) by Victoria Aveyard
Published February 9th 2016 by HarperTeen
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different.

Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control.

The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors.

But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.

Mare’s mantras of “I am special” and “I am the lightning girl” really grated on me (please get over yourself?), as did the quasi love-square (CAL AND KILORN DESERVE SO MUCH MORE) thing, and the second half was pretty much just a repeat of the first half in a different setting, but tHE ENDING. Thanks, Glass Sword, for reminding me of how weak I am to cliffhangers. Onto King’s Cage it is, then.

Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Expected publication: January 23rd 2018 by Harper Voyager
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, a highly trained sisterhood of elite warriors armed with telepathic blades. Guided by a strict code of conduct, Kyra and the other Orders are sworn to protect the people of Asiana. But to be a Markswoman, an acolyte must repudiate her former life completely. Kyra has pledged to do so, yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her dead family.

When Kyra’s beloved mentor dies in mysterious circumstances, and Tamsyn, the powerful, dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. Using one of the strange Transport Hubs that are remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past, she finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a young, disillusioned Marksman whom she soon befriends.

Kyra is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof. And if she fails to find it, fails in her quest to keep her beloved Order from following Tamsyn down a dark path, it could spell the beginning of the end for Kyra–and for Asiana.

But what she doesn’t realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is razor thin . . . thin as the blade of a knife.

I AM HERE FOR SISTERHOODS OF BADASS WOMEN. My reading interests fall pretty neatly into two categories: books full of badass characters (the characters I want to become) and trashy romance novels (for the trashy person that I am.) I was so certain Markswoman would fall into the former category, but it ended up falling into neither. My emotions while reading went something like: bewildered -> confused -> quite frankly lost??? -> bored -> a little more than slightly angry -> confused -> oh what the book ended?

Let’s START AT THE VERY BEGINNING. The map was charming; the intro fairly interesting. I liked the “while we hold a katari in our hands and the Kanun in our hearts, a word from us can still raise armies and crumble mountains” line. But then we get to the opening chapters in Kyra and Rustan’s POV, and, well. It’s not a bad thing necessarily – no part of Markswoman was inherently terrible, except for maybe that bit toward the end that I’ll get to later – and this is going to sound really bad at the beginning but please bear with me I’ll explain.

I wasn’t really feeling how the good majority of the “good” characters in the story seemed so uncertain about executing. I mean normal people SHOULD be uncertain about executing people. But when it’s your job, please be certain before you do the deed? Personally, I consider it pretty crucial for executioners to be certain about their actions. And if they ever feel like they did something wrong, they should right it as well as they could. You can never bring someone back from the dead, but acknowledging a wrongful death, figuring out what was behind it… I think those are pretty good places to start. And the uncertain waffling didn’t stop at killings – it extended to practically all other aspects of the character’s life. But Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen, and I find it hard to believe that so many wafflers were chosen? Kyra I can see; Kyra makes sense – her first kill left her uncertain, and her character’s brave and strong and fairly tenacious in her other actions. But Rustan? Rustan. He waffles a lot – on everything – and avoids responsibility just as often and wow his character was frustrating. A lot of the elders of Kali were the same, as well as many of Kyra’s friends, and it didn’t match with the narrative. Markswoman and Marksmen are chosen on spirit, y’know, all that good inner stuff, and while that sounds nice and all, you can’t see a lot of it! Tamsyn and Shirin Mam had balls of fucking steel if you’ll forgive my wording, but most of the other characters? They left a lot to be desired.

I did really like how the author used palindromic prime numbers as passwords for the doors. Call me a nerd but little things like that make me happy. The whole thing about how Kyra and Shirin Mam would pass on was also kind of eerie and unsettling but interesting at the same time – especially Kyra and her dreams. I’d love to see that developed in the upcoming books.

The pacing, on the other hand, was shaky. The beginning ambles a little. When her mentor dies, Kyra isn’t “forced on the run” so much as she just hightails it out of there and at that point, Tamsyn hadn’t seemed like a terribly bad character, and so Kyra’s actions do come off as rash and bewildering. The plot starts ambling again after the death, only to collide headfirst into the tragedy that was Markswoman’s Romantic Subplot. In which Kyra doesn’t “befriend” Rustan so much as she does piss him off, get beat up by him, and then plummet headfirst into what can be best described as a tragically ill-timed romance. In that order. Then the plot slows again, only to speed up in the last few pages. If the author’s goal was to give us all whiplash? She succeeded. Markswoman was like one of those “the history of the universe in a year” kind of videos when nothing happens in the first 365 days and then suddenly you hit the last few hours and BOOM apes become people invent writing make Pyramids start the Renaissance go to space.

MOVING ON. THE ROMANCE. Quite honestly I thought Markswoman would’ve been better without the romance. But if there had to be, of all the possible ways it could’ve gone – Kyra x a cute badass girl from the Order of Kali or Kyra x a cute badass girl from a neighboring order or Kyra x a cute badass guy from the order of Khur who actuALLY TREATS HER WELL – how did we end up here?

Without giving anything away, right before the descent into ~romance~ some other asshole assaults Kyra via her mind and after saving her the first thing her “male romantic lead” does is pull some aggressive tsundere romantic bullshit on her and WHY? There was no chemistry and then suddenly we’re told they have all the chemistry and the guy is this close to being unable to keep it in his pants anymore. I’m paraphrasing of course but that was very much the sentiment and I was very much put off.

And then it gets even worse because I actually kind of admired Kyra’s spirit and tenacity before, even though it wasn’t as delved into as it could’ve been (the thing with her dead family’s only brought up here and there, and in her goals against Tamsyn, she seems fierce at times but oddly emotionless and forced at others). BUT BUT BUT so she’s in for the fight of her life. Her work over the past few months have been building up to this moment. SHE MIGHT DIE. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARKSWOMAN, PART OF A HIGHLY TRAINED SISTERHOOD OF ELITE WARRIORS, IS ARMED WITH A TELEPATHIC BLADE, IS ABLE TO WALK THROUGH DOORS NO ONE ELSE CAN, AND HAS THE STEELY MIND TO SHUT OUT THE LURING CREEPY SUGGESTIONS OF AN EVIL SENTIENT GUN (which was a super cool idea I’d definitely be down for reading more about) ANd then some guy who can’t read the atmosphere or spare consideration for her mental state comes along and all she can think of is

“Why had he kissed her? Why had it hurt so much when he stepped away from her and left the room?”

@Kyra maybe not now? YOUR LIFE IS ON THE LINE DAMMIT.

All in all, Markswoman wasn’t a terrible read. The writing was nice, I liked a lot of the ideas that went into this novel, and Kyra was, at most times, pretty cool to follow along. But with the pacing, the shaky characterization, the romance… it had potential, but ended up slipping to the lower end of “okay.”

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) by Victoria Schwab
Published Published July 5th 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

So I have this thing with Victoria Schwab’s books. I think. Hear me out: I used to think her books were pretty hit-or-miss with me, but I’ve read The Near Witch and The Ash-Born Boy, The Archive, Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic, and now This Savage Song as well. With The Near Witch being the outlier, I’ve pretty much fallen in love with all Victoria Schwab’s adult novels, but there’s something about her young adult novels that I can’t follow. Can’t connect with. Which is kind of weird, because I’m still firmly in that young adult category, but. Anyhow.

The opening of This Savage Song was gripping. I was sucked in right away – between the school and the flames (and, let’s be real, the one-too-many sentiments Kate and I shared about Catholic schools, even though we both attended but for brief periods of time) – Victoria Schwab really knows how to start a book.

The individual elements were incredibly interesting: Kate’s the daughter of a crime boss, August is a monster playing human who lures in his prey with music, there are borders and political intrigue with monsters, as well as a violin with History, and an eerie little song that goes like so-

“Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all!”

But together, and something doesn’t quite click. There are monsters! But the monsters don’t seem quite like monsters, and read more like the ones in those bedtime stories my mom would read my little brother years ago – with just enough creepy and just enough monster to say it satisfies his request for a “monster story,” but not enough to make him feel it in his bones. There is politics with monsters! But honestly, it’s all kind of glossed over, and I could never really get a proper feel for the city, as intriguing as it sounded in the synopsis. Kate is the kick-ass daughter of a crime boss! And we’re told this again and again until every page bleeds two-dimensional kick-ass girl trope and Kate starts coming off as less fierce and desperate, and more and more as a privileged, insensitive asshole with daddy issues. Then every other chapter, we’re granted a relief from Kate and subjected instead to August’s gloom of teenage angst. I didn’t hate him; I didn’t love him; honestly, I didn’t have any particular feelings about him? He was there, and he was a character, and something happened to him, and that’s basically my overall feelings about This Savage Song.

I wanted so badly to like this as much as everyone else did. And there were little moments here and there – the beginning, Kate’s first(?) kill, August’s flashback, and the violin – that made me think that things were starting to look up. Though, ultimately, they didn’t. Not really.

The author made This Savage Song sound so, so good:

“It’s the story of Kate Harker, the only daughter of a crime boss, and August Flynn, the son of a man trying to hold his city together. She’s a human who wants to be a monster, and he’s a monster who wishes he were human.”

And Victoria Schwab – she’s got this way with words, you know? Everything flows so nicely and wraps up in such an orderly way, and there are so many quotable lines in every chapter. She’d have to majorly screw up somewhere to get me to stop reading because there’s just something about the way she writes that tugs me right to the end of the book each time, even if I need to take several breaks along the way to get there.

I-

“I mean, most people want to escape. Get out of their heads. Out of their lives. Stories are the easiest way to do that.”

mean-

“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”

just-

“She cracked a smile. “So what’s your poison”
He sighed dramatically, and let the truth tumble off his tongue. “Life.”
“Ah,” she said ruefully. “That’ll kill you.”

read-

“But the teacher had been right about one thing: violence breeds.
Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

this.

“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”

But, ultimately, aside from the premise, the wonderful writing, and the small snippets of scenes here and there, This Savage Song didn’t deliver on a lot of aspects, and just didn’t do it for me.

(I’ll admit I was 100% sucked in by that preview of Our Dark Duet at the end, though sos I’m so weak so I just might end up giving this duology another shot anyhow? Maybe?)

Raised by Wolves (Raised by Wolves #1) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published June 8th 2010 by EgmontUSA
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Adopted by the Alpha of a werewolf pack after a rogue wolf brutally killed her parents right before her eyes, fifteen-year-old Bryn knows only pack life, and the rigid social hierarchy that controls it. That doesn’t mean that she’s averse to breaking a rule or two.

But when her curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers Chase, a new teen locked in a cage in her guardian’s basement, and witnesses him turn into a wolf before her eyes, the horrific memories of her parents’ murders return. Bryn becomes obsessed with getting her questions answered, and Chase is the only one who can provide the information she needs.

But in her drive to find the truth, will Bryn push too far beyond the constraints of the pack, forcing her to leave behind her friends, her family, and the identity that she’s shaped?

Because I’ve been staring at this page for a few days now and still have no idea how to start this review, some lists!

Things I liked:

  • I enjoyed the first third-or-so of the story! It was fast-paced, interesting enough, and Bryn’s voice really shone through the pages. You could feel her strong character, and while she was kind of cringe-y at times – maybe just because I’m pretty close to her polar opposite and wouldn’t do a lot of the things she did – it was really fun to keep up with her.
  • The cubs! They were really cute.
  • Ali, Bryn’s mom, is fierce and protective and loyal and all-around wonderful and must be protected.
  • SHE PROTECTS BRYN AND TREATS HER RIGHT AND WHEN ABSOLUTE SHIT HITS THE FAN, SHE SAYS THINGS LIKE THIS: “…if we weren’t leaving because of what they’d done to you, we’d be leaving because the pack has twisted you enough to make you think that it’s okay for someone to treat you that way.”

Things I disliked:

  • I said I liked a third of a book but it’s more like the first quarter or the first fifth? I liked everything up until when Chase popped in.
  • Who’s Chase? Some super hot, super mysterious werewolf guy. I think. I have no idea. He was super protective of Bryn, and super love-struck if that counts?
  • But really all we know is that a handful of short, supervised meetings between him and Bryn are enough to get her to throw away her family, her friends, and the life she’s always known to basically tie the rest of her life to this guy.
  • We’re treated to a lot of cheesy lines but there’s very little substance to Bryn and Chase’s relationship. I want to swoon and coo over their relationship but there’s nothing to swoon or coo over because their relationship is built on very close to nothing.
  • The book after Chase appeared meandered in this downward spiral toward nothingness.
  • All that talk about how extra super special Bryn was really didn’t help the book’s case either.
  • There is also some plot – if you read close enough. About a rabid. But it’s drowned out by Bryn and Chase’s attraction and all this talk about how Bryn’s a Super Special Snowflake.
  • I actually kind of liked Callum in the beginning, and then he became more and more overbearing, and then he took things way too far. Protecting someone! Isn’t an excuse! For beating the shit out of them!
  • !!!
  • !!!!!!!
  • I haven’t read a lot of werewolf books, and I think Raised by Wolves might be my first YA werewolf book, or at least the first Goodreads and I can remember, but yeah, I get that a lot of fantasy novels about werewolves like to play with and reinforce the idea of strong bonds between the pack members, the idea of a pack hierarchy, and consequentially, what happens when those things are toyed with or broken. But still! I like to think that everyone, human, somewhat, or not, would agree that violence is hardly not the answer, and definitely not the answer here.
  • Raising a hand against someone in the name of protecting that very person is not okay, but everyone aside from Ali – even Bryn – just accepts it.
  • Holy fucking shit.
  • Callum gets of way too lightly, with very little repercussion. Instead, he’s basically crowned as all-knowing and all-seeing. //gag//