Book: Into The Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Book: Into The Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Published October 2017 by Greenwillow Books|343 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #3

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

The stunning conclusion to Rae Carson’s New York Times–bestselling Gold Seer trilogy, which Publishers Weekly in a starred review called “Simply terrific.” A historical fantasy brimming with magic, romance, and adventure—perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Sarah Maas, and Westworld.

Leah Westfall, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have become rich in the California Territory, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense precious gold. But their fortune has made them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Lee and her friends decide they’ve had enough—they will fight back with all their power and talents. Lee’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter the California landscape forever. With a distinctive young heroine and a unique interpretation of American history, Into the Bright Unknown strikes a rich vein of romance, magic, and adventure, bringing the Gold Seer Trilogy to its epic conclusion.

I’ve really liked this series, and I thought this last book was a pretty good ending to a pretty interesting series.

What I liked the most was seeing how much Lee’s ability changed, and how she became more okay with using it.  I also liked seeing her discover how to develop her ability, and how there are other people with abilities out there.  I really wish we saw more of that, because I was surprised that other people had their own special abilities.  I know the series is focused on Lee and what she can do but I still wish we saw more of what other people could do.

It’s weird, though, I don’t really see it as a historical fantasy series.  I mean, even though there’s Lee, who can sense gold, it still wasn’t enough to make it a fantasy.  At least for me.  It was a lot more historical that fantasy, and there was enough going on that wasn’t related to Lee’s ability that I don’t really see it as a fantasy.

We don’t see any more of Lee’s uncle, and I am curious about what trouble he’s up to.  Instead, we see a lot more of the guy that her uncle was working for/owed money to.  I wondered if we’d see him again, and what role he would play in this book.  He is not a good guy, let’s just say that.

Lee and her friends really do go through a lot.  I’m glad things worked out for Mrs. Joyner and getting her things, but of course, there are some bumps along the way.  It really was sad she couldn’t sign for her things, and that she had to rely on her father-in-law to come sign it for everything.  I really felt for her and Lee (plus all of the other woman like them), who did everything they could to survive, but still couldn’t get everything they wanted because they were women.  Hopefully things got better for them, and that things calmed down for all of them after the end of the book.

I’m still not a fan of the romance between Lee and Jefferson.  Even though it’s been a minimal part of the series, and very much relegated to the background, I could have done without it completely.  It felt like they had no chemistry whatsoever, and it really did feel like they were together because they didn’t have anyone else.  To be honest, I thought she had more chemistry with the college students than she did with Jefferson.  Lee seemed happy with Jefferson, though, and that’s important, even though I wasn’t thrilled with their relationship.

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, and it was a little predictable at times, but I still really enjoyed it.

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Book Review: Like A River Glorious by Rae Carson

Book: Like A River Glorious by Rae Carson

Published September 2016 by Greenwillow Books|432 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #2

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Fantasy

After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

The second epic historical fantasy in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson, the acclaimed author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

I really liked this book!  I really liked the first one as well when I read it, and I don’t know why it took me so long to continue reading the series.  At the least the last one is out, and I can start reading it soon.

I loved seeing Lee and her friends build up a community.  It really is built on friendship, and I really liked that, because I feel like it doesn’t come up in historical fiction a lot.  I also liked that she let them in on her secret, because it means she really trusted them.

I really hate her uncle Hiram.  He’s a horrible person, and what he did was not okay.  I am curious about whether a particular revelation is true- I hope it’s not, and that he was just lying in the hopes that it would get Lee to help him. I was glad to see her handle it the way she did.  However, this book is more of trying to escape Hiram.  In the first book, I knew we hadn’t seen the last of him, but with how this book ended, I am curious to see if we’ll see him again, or if there will be a different villain.  Things were pretty tied up in this book, I thought, so maybe there will be another adventure for our characters.

The slavery of Chinese and Native Americans was really hard to read.  I can’t speak to the representation of either group, but I wonder if maybe the book did play into the white saviour trope.  I really wish I had paid more attention to that when I was reading the book, but I may have to re-read it again.

I also am not a big fan of the romance between Lee and Jefferson.  It seems really forced, and she, to me, doesn’t seem very interested in him romantically, but he still keeps asking her to marry him.  Like she’ll eventually change her mind if he asks her enough.  I know that was a time when being married would probably give her a lot more protection that being unmarried would, but I don’t blame her one bit for not wanting to be married.  I can’t see her married, and I think she and Jefferson really are better off as friends.

It did seem a little slow at times, especially at the beginning.  It did pick up, but even then, it seemed like it was dragging a little.  Still, I do want to read the next book to see what happens.

4 stars.  I did really like it, even though I’m not sure about how some of the characters are represented.  And even though it seems like things are pretty resolved, I do want to know what’s going to happen next.

Book Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Book: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Published June 2017 by Delacorte Press|496 Pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: The Conqueror’s Saga #2

Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

I’ve been so excited about this book and I absolutely loved it!  I was worried it would suffer from middle book syndrome, and that it would feel like it was a bridge between the first book and the third book.  This wasn’t the case at all, and it really added to the series because it felt like it added to the story.  It does set some things up for the next book, of course, but overall, it stood on its own pretty well.

I loved Lada in this book.  She is very resilient, and determined to get Wallachia back and make it into the country she believes it should be.  Lada is so determined to find her own allies, and there is something cold and unlikeable about her.  But I can’t help but love her as a character.  She is bloodthirsty and cruel and sympathetic and determined, and it’s hard not to love her.  I hate that the boyars see her as someone who’s easy to manipulate because of her gender, and yet it’s not that surprising.  Lada works so hard to show that she is deserving of her title, and I hate that she had to fight so hard for it.  I think she appreciates it a lot more because of it, and certainly more than Radu would have.

Her brother Radu is also interesting.  He does have a political savvy that Lada does not, and it would have been interesting to see how things would have gone for Lada in Wallachia if she had her brother by her side.  There is something about Radu that is more soft, but perhaps that’s because in comparison to Lada, almost anyone would seem soft and delicate.  Together, they would make an interesting but formidable team, but that is not this story.

As for Mehmed…if there’s one character I hate with a fiery, burning passion, it is Mehmed.  I didn’t have strong feelings either way in And I Darken, but he was okay in that book.  In this one, however?  He used both Radu and Lada.  He, in this book, seemed to be fully aware of Radu’s feelings for him, or at least aware enough to get Radu to do anything he said because there was no way Radu was going to say no.  And he definitely took advantage of Lada’s desire to do anything to take Wallachia for herself, using her to make sure things went a certain way.

I think that is the main difference between Lada and Radu- Lada was completely disgusted by the fact that Mehmed used her, and became more determined to get what she wanted, while Radu didn’t seem to care that Mehmed capitalized on Radu’s feelings for him.  You see two very different sides of Mehmed, and as much as I didn’t care for Mehmed, I do appreciate that he isn’t clear-cut.

I attended a book signing for Now I Rise, and something White mentioned was trying to find a middle ground.  I thought she went above and beyond that, and she really did show how things aren’t black and white, and that there is always a grey area.

I also especially liked that she took great care with how she portrayed both Christianity and Islam, and even though we don’t see prayers or anything like that, religion is still very present and something that is important to many of the characters.

And that ending!  I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the last three or so chapters.  I’m really rooting for Lada, and I’m completely on her side, because as far as I’m considered, Mehmed and Radu are somehow less deserving.

5 stars.  I loved this book, and the characters really felt like living, breathing people.  I didn’t think it was possible for this series to get better, but it did, and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Book Review Round-Up: Crooked Kingdom, My Lady Jane And Tumbling

Since I’ve finished a few books recently, I thought I’d share some of the books I’ve been reading!

crooked-kingdom-coverBook #1: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Published September 2016 by Henry Holt & Co|448 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: Six Of Crows #2

Genre: YA Fantasy

What It’s About: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets—a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

What I Thought: After reading Six Of Crows, I knew I would be anxiously waiting for the sequel!  It didn’t disappoint, and even though I didn’t love it, I still really liked it!

It’s such a roller-coaster and I was glad that I was along for the ride.  There’s a lot of craziness, but in a good way, because I wanted to see what happened next.  There’s a lot of action and adventure…which I expected, considering it’s fantasy and a heist novel.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I swear, her writing is getting better and better.  And the world is completely amazing.

I loved the banter and it made me laugh, and yet, my heart broke a couple of times.  So many feels!

I will admit that I was surprised by how complete the story felt.  I honestly went into this book assuming that it was the 2nd book in a trilogy, and was surprised to find that there is no book 3 planned.  I really wanted (and was expecting) more to this story.  At the same time, though, she wrapped up the story really well.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked the story, and I’m a little disappointed there are only 2 books, because I really wanted more books!

my-lady-jane-coverBook #2: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

Published June 2016 by HarperTeen|512 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Alternate History

What It’s About: The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

What I Thought: I had really high hopes for My Lady Jane.  I love the time period, and I love Hand and Meadows. I have yet to read anything by Ashton.  But I was really disappointed in the book, and I hate that I didn’t like it, because I really wanted to.

It felt like it dragged on, and the pacing seemed insanely slow.  It felt like it took forever for me to finish the book, and there were a lot of times where I didn’t want to pick it up.  It seems like they were going for a Princess Bride sort of feel with the book, but it felt more like an alternate history than fantasy.  I wasn’t particularly amused by anything that happened, even though I feel like they were trying to be funny.

For me, I don’t know that using history as a springboard necessarily worked for the story they were trying to tell. It’s an interesting idea, and I can see why people like the book so much.  It makes me wish that this book were for me.  I am curious to see how this book would work if it were entirely made up of original characters.

My Rating: 1 star.  I wanted to like it but it didn’t work for me.

tumbling-coverBook #3: Tumbling by Caela Carter

Published June 2016 by Viking Books For Young Readers|432 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Work harder than anyone.
Be the most talented.
Sacrifice everything.
And if you’re lucky, maybe you will go to the Olympics.

Grace lives and breathes gymnastics—but no matter how hard she pushes herself, she can never be perfect enough.

Leigh, Grace’s best friend, has it all: a gymnastics career, a normal high-school life… and a secret that could ruin everything.

Camille wants to please her mom, wants to please her boyfriend, and most of all, wants to walk away.

Wilhelmina was denied her Olympic dream four years ago, and she won’t let anything stop her again. No matter what.

Monica is terrified. Nobody believes in her—and why should they?

By the end of the two days of the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials, some of these girls will be stars. Some will be going home with nothing. And all will have their lives changed forever.

What I Thought: Gymnastics is my favorite thing to watch when the Summer Olympics on, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it.

I really liked that this book takes place over the span of 2 days, and you follow several gymnasts in their quest to go to the Olympics.  I really liked seeing their stories, but some stood out more than others.

I really felt for Wilhelmina, who missed going to the Olympic trials 4 years prior because she wasn’t old enough. You can see how much she wants, and for a while, you’re not sure if she’s going to make it onto the team because of politics.  Which is completely horrible, but not that surprising.

Monica’s story also stood out to me- it seems like she has a coach who isn’t at all interested in coaching her because he pays a lot of attention to his daughter.  I really hated that he didn’t seem to be a good coach to her, and with all of the time and money that’s going into her training, it seems like a waste of time.  She could be great if she had a better coach.

I felt like Grace and Leigh were the typical mean girls, and I didn’t care for Grace’s story.  She felt very flat, and not as rounded or developed as the other characters.  I also felt like the fact that Grace doesn’t eat a lot was super-stereotypical.  I felt that to a certain degree with Leigh and her secret, although I felt like that was understandable, given Leigh is lesbian, and she’s worried about people finding out.  We do see some of her thoughts, but I wish it had been explored more.  Given how the book focuses on 5 different people, each character could be developed more if the book had focused on less of them, but all things considered, they were more developed and had more depth than you’d think.

Oh, Camile!  I almost forgot about her.  I did like her story and how she wanted to make her mom happy, but at the same time, I’d place her in between Grace and Leigh as one of my least favorite stories.

The one thing that kept me from loving this book was how drama there was behind the scenes.  I have no idea how accurate this was, but it seemed like there was some research put in, if the lengthy glossary at the end of the book is any indication.  I get that these girls are under a lot of pressure and one little mistake can cost them the dream they’ve been working so hard for, especially given female gymnasts seem to peak at around 16 or 17. And I get that it’s a way for the reader to be invested in these girls, but something about rang a little bit true, but not completely true.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I really liked it, but with 5 different narrators, you didn’t get to spend a lot of time with each of them.

Book Review Round-Up: Saints And Dream Chaser

I’ve read quite a few books lately, and thought I’d do several short reviews of some of them!

Saints CoverBook #1: Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Published September 2013 by First Second|170 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: Boxers & Saints #2

Genre: YA Graphic Novel/Historical Fiction

What It’s About: China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. She finds friendship–and a name, Vibiana–in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.

But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie…and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

What I Thought: This is another one I’m not sure about.  I like the idea of history being told in the form of a graphic novel, because it’s definitely different, and it’s an interesting way to see what actually happened.

However, I was sort of confused about what was going on.  The Boxer Rebellion sounds really familiar, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  It wasn’t until after I read the book that I realized it was the 2nd book in a series.  I think you can still understand what’s going on, and I don’t know that Boxers, the first one, will necessarily explain the events of the 2nd, but for now, I kind of wish that I had read it in order.

I did like Four-Girl, and I felt really bad for her, having no name.  I did like that she found friendship and a name in a very unlikely place, and that she realized she had a purpose in life.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I like the idea of history being told in a graphic novel, but I also wish I had read Boxers first, because I did feel a little confused about what was going on.

Dream Chaser CoverBook #2: Dream Chaser by Angie Stanton

Self-Published by Angie Stanton in December 2011|323 pages

Where I Got It: A copy of the paperback was given to me

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

What It’s About: Willow Thomas has a bad habit of running away from things that scare her. And most recently, she quit her high school cheerleading squad after a terrifying fall. With time on her hands, she auditions for a musical production directed by a Broadway choreographer. Just as things are looking up, Willow discovers she will be performing opposite Eli McAvoy, the best friend she abandoned three years before. To make matters worse, the kids in the musical hate her, her singing sucks, and her dog is sick. Eli has grown up during their years apart and now possesses confidence and good looks, as well as a giant chip on his shoulder. He is in no hurry to play nice with Willow, but their entwined roles in the musical lead to entwined bodies in the backseat of his car. Just when Willow finally has her life under control, another surprise is delivered in the form of her greatest challenge yet. Will she run or finally stand and face her fears? And will Eli be there to help or turn his back on her for good?

What I Thought: Dream Chaser was really cute!  I needed some cute and fluffy and light, and this book was definitely what I was looking for.  I really liked Willow, and I don’t blame her for being scared after the cheerleading accident- I would be too, if I were her.  I felt like her best friend was really shallow, and while I get that she wanted Willow to at least think about going back to cheerleading, I also thought she could have been more understanding of what happened to Willow.

Willow does run away/quit things when she gets scared, and I think that made her really easy to relate to.  I like that she does face her fears in the end, and I think she grows a little bit throughout the book, because she finally realizes the consequences of not facing her fears.  I find her choice between dance and cheer interesting, and it seems like a lot of it had to do with fear and losing people, but I wonder if maybe there was something else too.  Eli and Willow are great together, and I wish there was a sequel, because I really want to know what lies ahead for both of them.

My Rating: 4 stars.  It’s cute and sweet, and I loved that it was about dance and theater…and why do I not read more books about the performing arts?  I always end up really liking them!  It was predictable, but I didn’t care, because I really liked Willow and seeing her change.