Fantasy · Fiction · Short Stories · Young Adult

Book Review: How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (The Folk of the Air, #3.5)

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone. Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

Cardan is one of the most hated faeries in all of Elfhame. This made me a little sad in the other The Folk of the Air books, as it seemed to me that Cardan was simply misunderstood. Sure, he says and does terrible things, but when you consider his upbringing, can you really blame him?

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is a collection of short stories, taking us deeper into the life and mind of Cardan. We get a glimpse of Cardan’s childhood, when he first meets the troll, Aslog. She tells him a story, which we soon realize, sticks with him throughout the course of his life. We also get to relive some moments that we’ve already seen, only this time they’re through Cardan’s eyes and not Jude’s. Telling the story this way definitely changed my perspective of certain key moments of Cardan and Jude’s relationship (in a good way).

I liked the way that each story was told in a faerie tale-esque manner, complete with beautiful and whimsical illustrations. Like with most fairy tales, these stories remind us that not everything is as it seems and that (sometimes) the villain really isn’t all that bad.

Books · Fantasy · Favorites · Fiction

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

My Rating: 6 out of 5

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

A young woman makes a deal with the darkness to have more time. What she ends up with is three hundred years. Three hundred years where nobody remembers her name or her face. Three hundred years and absolutely no way to leave a mark upon the world.

Then, one day, Addie stumbles into a bookstore and everything changes…

This was a beautiful – tragic, but beautiful – story about life, consequences, and the gift of time. It is a story about how far humans will go just to be remembered.

This story blew me away. I was expecting more of fantasy story, but this was part fantasy, part historical fiction. We get to glimpse Addie’s life over the course of three hundred years, from her early years in France to modern day New York City. Addie has lived through it all. She’s fought her way through wars, has watched the world grow and change, has watched history and culture being made. Addie has lived a dazzling, yet lonely life, with no one’s company except for that of the devil who cut her a deal.

When Addie meets Henry she finally finds someone who understands her and sees her for who she truly is. Their story is a touching one, about two people struggling to be loved and to be seen in a world that too easily forgets.

The relationships in this book are deep and complex. While I loved all of them, my favorite was that between Addie and the world itself. In the course of three hundred years she learns to navigate the world, survive during harsh times, yet still finds beauty and awe everywhere she looks. Addie has such a realistic and humble perspective on what it means to really live and I greatly admire her for it.

Adult · Books · Fantasy · Mystery

Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)

HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult n a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Goodreads

(I know, I know. I’m super late to the party on The Dresden Files series, but I’m trying to make up for it now.)

Harry Dresden is not only a smart-mouthed, geeky, slightly disgruntled investigator, but he’s a wizard to boot. Most people can’t even fathom the things Harry has come up against, but to him it’s just another part of the job.

His latest job is a perplexing one that brings him face to face with a mafia boss, vampires, demons, and some seriously ****ed up dark magic. People are being murdered quickly and it’s only a matter of time before the killer takes out Harry, too.

I really enjoyed the face-paced story that Butcher created. The details of the case sucked me in from the very beginning and kept me up at night. (This is saying something, because I don’t typically read many crime/mystery stories.) Even more enthralling was the world that the story takes place in, one that is very much like the modern world, but peppered with magic and monsters throughout. The characters (even the minor ones) were well-crafted and colorful. My favorite was Harry’s lab/potions assistant Bob, who is actually a faerie spirit bound in a human skull.

Harry’s attitude towards women felt a tad cliche and outdated, but considering this book was published twenty years ago, I can give it a pass. We’ll see how the more recent volumes hold up.

Adult · Books · Fantasy · Favorites · Sci-Fi

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1)

Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.

(Goodreads)

Holy mother of skeletons, this book was utterly brilliant. Gideon is the delightfully tough, raunchy, and sarcastic anti-hero that we all need. She’s gone from orphan, to warrior-in-training, to cavalier under the servitude of the Ninth House. Despite her hardships and her failed escape attempts, she remains motivated and strong when the weakest of bones would crumble. The relationship between Gideon and her necromancer, Harrow, is a rocky one, but the dynamic between the two characters is captivating. It’s disastrous and infuriating, and, yet, you can’t help but root for the two to get their shit together and get on the same page.

The competition and the events surrounding it are thrilling. It’s incredibly difficult not to get sucked into learning more about the characters of each of the different houses. The competition is shrouded in mystery and murder. It feels like a mash up of Clue meets Lovecraftian horror with a lot of skeletons.

I found it a little difficult to follow the backstory of the Ninth House and the empire in the beginning, which is my only real complaint. The story manages to be dark, imaginative, and hilarious with a main character you instantly want to befriend. Definitely my favorite book of the year, so far.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Books · Fantasy

Book Review: Storm Forged by Patrick Dugan

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My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tommy Ward just wanted to go through life like everybody else. Go to school, make friends, meet girls, play video games. You know, the stuff normal high school kids do. But Tommy isn’t normal, and the silver collar around his neck lets everybody know it.

Tommy is one of the Gifted, people born with special abilities that are locked down by the collars. But being a Gifted was outlawed after massive terrorist attacks destroyed half the world’s population. Now Tommy’s father is trapped as a participant in a terrible game show, where the only prize is death.

Tommy and his friends vow to save his dad, but without their powers, how will they do it? Tommy is about to find out that everything has a price, and sometimes you have to pay more than you can afford.
Goodreads

When I saw that this book was described as a cross between X-men and Hunger Games I was already sold. How can you go wrong with a lash up like that? I mean, I guess it could go horribly wrong if the story sucks, but fortunately that was not the case here. This was a fun and thrilling book from start to finish.

The themes in this book – Gifteds persecuted for being “different” than everyone else, the violence and hatred directed towards them, the indifference from the normal people – feel chilling relevant to everything that is happening in the world right now. I have respect for any author that can tell a good story, but even more so to ones who can tell a fantasy story in parallel to current real world events.

The characters in this story are all interesting and relatable. I enjoyed the sneak peeks we got at each of their special abilities and look forward to seeing how their gifts get used later in the series. Even more enjoyable were the strong relationships in this book. Far too often we are presented with stories about teens with either poor or no relationship with their parents and fragile friendships. That was not the case here at all. Tommy, his mom, and his friends all leaned on each other and valued each other, which was incredibly refreshing.

This one gets two thumbs up from me. I can’t wait to jump into book two!

(Here’s a link to the book’s Amazon page, in case anyone else is interested in checking it out.)

Book Reviews · Books · Fantasy · Favorites

Book Review: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

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My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister–whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice–back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn’t always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West’s “No Quests” rule is about to be broken. Again.

Goodreads

I was pretty excited when I heard this book was coming out and that we would be returning to the Moors – the setting we had been first introduced to in Down Among Sticks and BonesWhile I have immensely enjoyed all of the books in the Wayward Children series, I felt like the Moors was the one world that was still shrouded in the most mystery. Getting to go back and discover a little more of it was an absolute treat.

The tables have turned and Jack is no longer trying to save her sister, Jill. The complicated and strained relationship they already share is further explored in this book in a way that will make you question who you’re supposed to be rooting for. In addition to Jack, some familiar faces from Miss West’s school make a reappearance. Christopher, Sumi, Cora, and Kade once again jump into the role of playing the fearless heroes, even though it’s not their own worlds they are trying to save.

As always, McGuire does a spectacular job at immersing the reader in a world that is both beautiful and terrible. The concept of death is fleeting. Love knows no boundaries. And there is nothing that a little bit of lightening can’t fix. By the end, you’ll wonder if everything you thought you knew about “monsters” has been wrong.

 

 

Books · Fantasy · Fiction · Young Adult

Book Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

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My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

He will be destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne.

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold onto. Jude learned this lesson when she released her control over the wicked king, Cardan, in exchange for immeasurable power.

Now as the exiled mortal Queen of Faerie, Jude is powerless and left reeling from Cardan’s betrayal. She bides her time determined to reclaim everything he took from her. Opportunity arrives in the form of her deceptive twin sister, Taryn, whose mortal life is in peril.

Jude must risk venturing back into the treacherous Faerie Court, and confront her lingering feelings for Cardan, if she wishes to save her sister. But Elfhame is not as she left it. War is brewing. As Jude slips deep within enemy lines she becomes ensnared in the conflict’s bloody politics.

More of a clash of Faerie and the mortal world in this book

After devouring the first two Folk of the Air books last year, I was dying to get my hands on the third and final installment. While I enjoyed reading this one, I have to admit that it did not suck me in the way the first two did.

The plot of The Queen of Nothing started off solid, but everything moved along too quickly and the pacing felt off. I suppose that this was due to the shorter length of this book. I did like the fact that the story intertwined the faerie world with the mortal world more than the first two books. I also liked that Jude’s sister, Vivian, became a more prominent character this time around. Sadly, despite being Jude’s twin, I always find Taryn a bit lackluster. Vivian is far more interesting and engaging than Taryn. (Sorry, Taryn.)

It was fun to experience Jude’s character development from book one to book three. I was surprised at how much less dark her personality was this time around, especially considering the events that happened at the end of book two. I felt like the author did a great job at weaving both Jude and Cardan’s personalities together into a very convincing, albeit bizarre, relationship.

The familiar plot twists and character betrayals that we’ve all come to know and love from Black’s books were present in The Queen of Nothing. I just wished there had been a little more meat the the story and a little more time to devote to some of the other characters.

Book Reviews · Books · Fantasy · Young Adult

Book Review: Slayer by Kiersten White

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My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars 

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period…

Goodreads

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, to be honest. I was never a huge fan of the show growing up (although I probably was a little too young to appreciate it) and I never read the comics. I’m not even sure what possessed me to pick this one, but I’m glad I did, because it was a fun read.

Nina is an unlikely candidate for the role that is thrust upon her, especially when her sister Artemis has been preparing her entire life. She grapples with her own feelings towards her newfound role and the life she has come to know. Given the upbringing and neglectful mother she had, you can’t really fault her for being so bitter and confused. I liked the shift in the two sisters’ relationship. It’s definitely not a cliche, “we’re such a happy family” one, but a rather messy one. I appreciated this a great deal, as family relationships are not usually all they’re cracked up to be. Some of the secondary characters, like Leo and Doug, were great, but a lot of the others fell flat for me. Even Artemis, felt a bit too predictable and it grated on my nerves at times.

I wasn’t super familiar with all the lore and background of the Buffy series prior to reading this, but the author does a good job of giving you enough detail without it being overwhelming. I’m tempted to dive into some of the comics now, just to see how what I’ve been missing out on.

Books · Mystery · Young Adult

Book Review: Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars 

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts…

His story begins in the heart of old Barcelona, when he meets Marina and her father Germán Blau, a portrait painter. Marina takes Oscar to a cemetery to watch a macabre ritual that occurs on the fourth Sunday of each month. At 10 a.m. precisely a coach pulled by black horses appears. From it descends a woman dressed in black, her face shrouded, wearing gloves, holding a single rose. She walks over to a gravestone that bears no name, only the mysterious emblem of a black butterfly with open wings.

When Oscar and Marina decide to follow her they begin a journey that will take them to the heights of a forgotten, post-war Barcelona, a world of aristocrats and actresses, inventors and tycoons; and a dark secret that lies waiting in the mysterious labyrinth beneath the city streets.

(Goodreads)

I’d never even heard of this book when I picked it up, but I knew right away that if it was written by author Carlos Ruiz Zafon that it would be a fun ride. (I highly recommend checking out the Shadow of the Wind  books, if you haven’t already) Marina was a thrilling and often unsettling read, filled with mystery and macabre events that will make your stomach do the flips.

It’s no secret that Oscar isn’t very complex or interesting on his own. Marina even cracks jokes about how simple-minded he is. That’s totally fine, however, because the story and other characters make up where Oscar lacks. Marina is a strange and serious girl living in a creepy old mansion. There’s a mysterious woman in black visiting an unmarked grave every month. A shady doctor and his daughter, washed up detectives, and sinister coachmen. Every one of them weaves a story that all lead back to a maniacal man who they should try to just forget about. Of course, Oscar and Marina can’t forget about the things they’ve seen and decide to pursue the mystery that decided to pursue them first.

As usual, the author tells this story beautifully and poetically. He transports you onto the streets of Barcelona and makes you see and smell everything that Oscar is seeing. Every twist and turn keeps you guessing and checking over your shoulder from time to time. Despite the complexity of the story, this one didn’t take me long to read at all because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a fan of Gothic literature, you’ll enjoy this one.

Book Reviews · Books · Fantasy · Young Adult

Book Review: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Meet Simon Snow, Mage extraordinaire. Actually, that’s not true. Simon is a pretty terrible magician, despite the fact that he has more power in his pinky finger than all the other students at Watford combined. It’s Simon’s last year at school and nothing seems to be going right – his roommate, Baz (aka his sworn enemy) hasn’t shown up, his girlfriend dumps him, magical families are at war, and the Insidious Humdrum is still out there threatening to end it all. What’s a Chosen One to do when he can’t even use his wand correctly?

I’ll be honest, for the first third of this book I was really confused. There are a lot of similarities to the Harry Potter series. So many, in fact that I actually Googled whether or not this book was supposed to be some kind of fanfiction crossover.

-Orphaned teenager who goes to a school for magic folks
-Nemesis who’s family thinks they’re better than other families
-Cryptic headmaster who tries to protect Simon
-The Chosen One (as foretold by the prophecy)
-Villain who repeatedly tries to kill Simon
-Magical war

A lot of the boxes are checked off. By the time I got halfway through the story, however, I began to see the differences in the characters and story and could appreciate them on their own.

Simon was okay as main character, although I wouldn’t call him overly complex or anything. He seemed a bit thick-headed at times, especially considering he’d been at Watford for 7 years at that point. I didn’t love Simon, but I did love the relationship between him and Baz. Baz was a bit of an ass, but he was complex and had a lot of shit going on his life, so who can blame him? Personally, I wouldn’t mind having a vampire/mage as a room mate who could kill rats and stuff. Sounds like a win all around. (Except for the rats. They definitely aren’t winning in this scenario.)

I would have liked a little more exploration of the other relationships in the book, but I don’t think the story is lacking without it. Overall, this was a fun read and I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. If you like stories similar to Harry Potter, this is a good one to read, especially if you don’t feel like investing time in a long series.