Tag Archives: YA

In Which I Flail Over The Raven Cycle

It’s been a long time, people, but I finally found a series that broke my reading slump for good (fingers crossed). The last time I binge-read an entire four-part series in less than 10 days was when I first read Twilight (don’t judge, okay?).

So I’m beyond happy to have finally caved to peer pressure – because Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle is great. Let me tell you why (also this is a non-spoilery sort-of review of the entire series):

  • The characters are fantastic. Okay, I know people are saying that they’re really over-privileged white spoiled boys (and girl), but I couldn’t help but feel that the over-privileged part was more of a hindrance in their case. And I know readers are especially partial to Ronan (or Adam), but I have to say Gansey stole my heart. He’s such a good guy and you know how much I love good guys. I was also afraid that Blue would be your typical manic pixie girl, but she’s just so relatable and down to earth and kind. She’s a wonderful heroine.
  • The adults aren’t complete morons. So often in YA, adults either act as antagonists or are completely absent from the plot, leaving teenagers to save the world (which is…fine, but gets old pretty fast). Here, I loved Blue’s relationship with her mother, the psychic ladies, and Mr. Gray. They never stole the spotlight from the main characters but they also didn’t let them flail around on their own.
  • The writing is addictive. I’ve read the Mercy Falls series before and I liked Stiefvater’s world a lot, though it didn’t blow me away. With The Raven Cycle, however, I couldn’t stop reading. When my local bookstore didn’t have Blue Lily, Lily Blue in stock, it was the worst (they got it for me from another town so I didn’t have to order through The Book Depository and wait for two weeks, whew).
  • The worldbuilding is detailed but not overpowering. As always, I’m super glad when I find a series where the author doesn’t beat me over the head with their world. Like, the mythical king Gansey is looking for (the drive for the entire series) was completely unknown to me, and though I didn’t particularly care about the king (and didn’t even check if he’s an actual historical persona), I could still follow and enjoy the plot.

All in all, this series is a treat. If paranormal YA is your thing, you need this in your life. And then we can chat about who your favorite raven boy (or girl?) is, alright?
Have you read The Raven Cycle? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! :)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published in October 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: YA fantasy.

My rating:

Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen. That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.

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This review should really have been written a year and a half ago when I first read Carry On, chewing through the entire book in one day. But I never got around to actually writing down my (very enthusiastic) thoughts, so I put Carry On on my “to be re-read soon” pile and now I finally took the time to do it! My re-read was the result of a pretty big reading slump – I just needed to re-read a favorite and fall in love with books again. There are spoilers in here (because that’s how I roll these days), so you probably shouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t read the book yet. But it’s been a while since its publication, and you’ve been warned. So.

Carry On has received mixed reviews – and I can absolutely see why. It’s a big mess of a book, the setting and topic and everything so reminiscent of Harry Potter, some people couldn’t get past it. I guess it’s possible to read it as a sort of parody. Rowell picked a ridiculous number of fantasy tropes and mashed them all together and yes, the resulting story is overwhelming at times.

But I loved it. I loved it the first time when I barely grasped what I was reading because I was so eager to see what happens and I loved it now that I took my time to savor Rowell’s writing.

I think it’s mostly the characters who make this story great. Rowell’s characters always have this fascinatingly real feel to them (see my reviews of Eleanor & Park and Attachments and Fangirl if you want to read more gushing praise), even if they’re vampires, ha. Something about them just speaks to me and they get under my skin and I can’t help but root for them. It’s good to know that I can trust an author to create likeable characters every time.

Simon Snow and Basilton Pitch are among my favorite YA couples of all time, and that’s saying something. I liked that they were more preoccupied with the fact that they were supposed to be mortal enemies than by being “hopelessly queer”. Coming out stories are important and powerful but I enjoyed reading a book where the fact that they weren’t even both human was more important than their sexual orientation. (Not that there was no mention of it. There were confusion and questions and people judging. But none of that mattered in the end. Because <3.)

I also enjoyed the side characters, Penelope in particular. I want to read her story. I even liked Agatha – the first time I read the book she sort of seemed pale and unimportant, but she’s a really intriguing young woman if you pay attention to her. I’d read her story, too.

And can I say that I wanted to clap when I read the ending? Flipping the Chosen One trope on its head was the best thing ever. I didn’t know what to expect with all this talk about Simon being the Greatest Mage that ever lived and his power being amazing, and then he sort of just fizzled out instead of being a big hero. Well, he did sort of save the day in the end – unintentionally. He didn’t want this burden, he didn’t enjoy his role, and for once, he wasn’t made to accept it and “grow a pair”, but was left to live the rest of his life in peace. I really liked that.

I now have only Landline to read (and a couple of novellas). I have a copy on my shelf, but I’m afraid to read it because it might not be as good as I want it to be and then I’ll have to wait for her next book to be released, which is just horrible. I’ll auto-buy all her books from now on, and I hope you’ll give them a try if you haven’t already.

Have you read Carry On? What did you think?

Who are your auto-buy authors?

I’d love to hear from you! :) 

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The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
Published in January 2017 by Penguin.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Penguin for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a strange, claustrophobic story. Flora has a medical condition that prevents her new memories from sticking, so she forgets everything that happens to her almost instantly. Her overprotective parents understandably hover over her every move and her friends (especially her best friend Paige) help her by explaining things to her when she gets confused.

Flora writes everything in her journals, takes photos with her phone, and writes messages for herself on her arms so that when she finds herself lost and blank, she can read everything she’s written and find her way again. When you think about it, it’s a horrifying condition that makes me anxious just by thinking about it. I had a brief moment of unease when I was reading it because I imagined not remembering my kids – my mind is the most valuable thing I have and not being able to rely on it is deeply scary for me.

Flora’s last memories before the illness that caused her condition were of her being ten years old, so she’s basically a child in a young woman’s body. But she has wishes and thoughts of a teenager, too, and ends up kissing her friend’s ex-boyfriend on the night of his departure for Svalbard (he’s going to study there). The next morning, she wakes up and, inexplicably, remembers the kiss.

Convinced the boy will help her fix her memory and left alone in the house because her parents left to visit her older brother, whom she barely remembers, she packs up her things, buys a plane ticket, and travels right to Svalbard, though she has to keep checking her journal because she keeps forgetting what she’s doing. It’s a mad plan concocted by someone who is not thinking very clearly, but it’s also the bravest thing she could do, because she’s so very alone.

This is all I’m saying about the plot. I liked the story, I liked the plot twist, and even though the thought of being/becoming like Flora made my stomach clench painfully, I enjoyed reading about Flora’s thought processes. I’ve never read a story with a similar mental problem before – sure, you get amnesia, which is also scary AF, but is usually not permanent in the way Flora’s condition seems to be. Flora is also a cool young lady, though it was difficult to really get to know her, especially since she’s both a child and a young adult, and has very little sense of self apart from the journals she keeps.

The mystery surrounding Flora’s condition, her brother’s messages, hidden and confusing, the bright light of summertime Svalbard – all the elements are geared towards creating a slightly paranoid, claustrophobic environment that complements Flora’s sense of disorientation quite perfectly. I think Barr did very well with writing the right atmosphere for Flora’s story.

What bothered me is actually an inherent part of the story: the constant repetition of known facts. Every time Flora’s memory is lost, she goes over the basics – how old she is, what she’s doing, who she’s with, etc. As this happens multiple times a day, reading about it can become slightly tedious, though I then felt like an asshole for begrudging Flora her repetitions. I don’t know if the author could have done things differently without hammering home the effect of Flora’s memory loss, but I thought the constant litany of basic facts became too stretched out.

It’s also hard to imagine how this story would actually go down in real life. This is a contemporary story, which usually means: “Hey, this could happen any day, right around the corner.” I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean. I just think that overprotective parents would not leave such a confused child on her own (even if her best friend promised she’d check on her). She was still a minor and prone to wandering off. Also, how did nobody at the airport(s) notice her strange behaviour? How did she get all the way to Svalbard without attracting the attention of officials? Eh, I don’t know. I just had trouble believing everything.

All in all (wow, this review is longer than I thought, thanks for sticking with me!), this was a good contemporary story about disability, friendship, and bravery, with a twist of mystery thrown in. I’d recommend it if you’re intrigued by her condition, which was superbly rendered, and like a bit of ominous anticipation in your contemporaries.

Have you read The One Memory of Flora Banks? What did you think?

Can you recommend any books with similarly intriguing mental problems (OK I know that sounds horrible when I put it like that but you know what I mean)?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Published in 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: won in a giveaway (paperback).

Genre: YA paranormal/horror.

My rating:

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

Coldest Girl in Coldtown has been on my TBR list for two years, I think. I won it in a Halloween giveaway during my first year of blogging, and I’ve been putting off reading it because I was scared it would be too scary for me (you know I’m a chicken when it comes to horror, right?). But then I put it on my winter tbr list – and managed to read it because I love crossing items off lists. Whatever works, right?

I really liked this book, which… is both a surprise and pretty predictable, depending on how you look at it. It’s a horror story alright, nothing light about it, but it’s also a book about vampires and it has a romance in it.

Tana is a great, smart heroine who kicks some ass but isn’t perfect at the same time. Her gut reaction to vampires is horror, which is good, but there’s also attraction, which is understandable. She’s not one of those swoony heroines who fall for the vampire boys – okay, so she does fall for the vampire boy, but her feelings are lust mixed with curiosity and a hefty amount of shame. Her childhood was really colourful (her mom bit her when she was infected) and she still carries the consequences of that. Her love for her sister, Pearl, is also great, she’d do anything for her. I liked her a lot because she was such a complex character.

The romance was slow enough for me to really get behind it. First of all, it’s not love at first sight at all – we don’t know what the guy is thinking, anyway, because he’s half crazy, and Tana is afraid of him as much as she wants to kiss him. I liked how they shared their history with each other and how Tana began to trust him, even if he’s a predator who’s likely to drink all her blood. It’s a twisted attraction – and I was glad it was presented as such, not overly romanticised, as is often the case with vampire romances.

I also liked the fact that there are no vegetarian vampires in this story. By this I mean to say that vampires are, for once, crazy, blood-thirsty monsters. Are they insanely beautiful? Sure. Do they have luscious hair and gorgeous lips? Yep. But there’s no sugar-coating the fact that they need to drink blood to survive and that they often kill while feeding because biting a human makes him or her go Cold, which is the stage before vampirism, and making more vampires will mean more strain on the blood supply.

My only real complaint would be the amount of backstory – the switching chapters made me feel like the story wasn’t as tense as it could have been. I mean, yeah, the “past” segments add color and information (mostly on Tana’s character), but they were sometimes too long and I felt like skipping them to get to the good parts again.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a good story, made even better by the fact that it’s a standalone and not a part of a stretched-out series. It’s a horror story but mild enough even for me (so all you fellow chickens out there can be sure it isn’t very horrible after all). I’m really glad I gave it a try, not only because it was collecting dust on my bookshelf, but because I’m starting to really like Holly Black (I’d previously read and reviewed her novel White Cat, which IS part of a series I really need to continue). I’ll be reading more of her work for sure.

Have you read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown? What did you think?

Have you read any more of Black’s novels? How about other vampire stories? 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

The Exiled Queen (Seven Realms #2) by Cinda Williams Chima
Published in 2011 by Voyager.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: YA high fantasy.

My rating:

Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling at Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But danger isn’t far behind, and Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. Meanwhile, Princess Raisa

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’ Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells to the safety of Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

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This is the review for the second book in the Seven Realms series. My review of the first book, The Demon King, is here. Go read it if you’re new to this wonderful series because this review here will contain some spoilers for book one!

People, I have no excuse for waiting as long as I do between reading sequels in a series. Yet I always seem to wait and wait and then I forget half of what was happening in the previous book. So it took me a while to get into The Exiled Queen (this edition also came without a map, so I was a bit confused about the geography, as there’s a lot of travelling at the beginning of the book), but when I did, it was one wild ride.

Raisa is the princess heir of her queendom (How cool is it that there’s a queendom? I’ve tried to translate that into Slovenian and it just doesn’t work! “Queen” is “kraljica” while “king” is “kralj” and “kingdom” is “kraljestvo”, so it’s weird because “kraljica” is a derivative from “kralj”… Anyway, you didn’t come here for a language lesson.) and is currently on the run because the High Wizard tried to marry her off to his son (also a wizard), which is forbidden by law. She’s being escorted to the military school by one amazing Amon, her personal guard – ohh, their story was the best! Raisa is bent on studying hard to become the best possible ruler to her people, which I found admirable. She knows she’s not equipped to rule a nation if she’s seventeen and knows very little about the world. I liked that aspect a lot.

Han is a wizard! Yeah. That happened. So he’s on the way to school to study magic, only he’s indebted to the clans that paid his tuition and he keeps forming alliances (against his will) that stretch him in too many ways. And now a girl he met at home (hint: our lovely royal) is attending the same school, the other wizards hate his guts, and the clans are breathing down his neck. Lots of tension! (Also: excuse me, this review is completely incoherent.)

I’ll always be a sucker for stories that happen at schools for magic. Or any other type of school, really, as long as there are loads of people stuffed into a limited space and emotions run high and there’s kissing involved. *happy sigh* We also meet some students from other kingdoms, which brings some diversity into the story, but I do wish these characters had more prominent roles.

A note on the kissing: I really liked that Raisa kisses more than one boy/young man in the course of this series. I could dislike her because she’s one of those young women boys seem to go crazy about while she insists she’s nothing special, but I liked the matter-of-fact approach Chima has to youthful relationships: of course you’re going to kiss more than one boy before deciding one of them is your true love. In any case, there’s no judgment involved on this, which is refreshing.

I loved the secondary characters in this story, especially Amon and Dancer (Han’s best friend). They are both loyal to the bone and help their friends even when said friends are bent on doing stupid things. The antagonists (especially the Bayar family) are well-written, too. I hope we’ll see more of their stories in the future. The political intrigue is growing more complicated, so I really need to read the third book before I forget everything that happened in this one.

Seven Realms continues to impress and is one of the best YA fantasy series I’ve read in recent years. I can’t wait to see what will happen to Han, Raisa, and their crews in The Gray Wolf Throne!

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Have you read The Exiled Queen yet? What did you think?

Do you prefer to wait until a series is finished before you start reading it?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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A Crop of Mini Reviews

My posting schedule doesn’t allow me to review all the books I’ve read, and I like it that way. Not all books are meant to be talked about at length, so I skip them and only mention those that are either very good, ARCs, or very bad. Sometimes, though, these mini reviews really come in handy. These are all YA and MG reads from November and December.

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Blankets by Craig Thompson
Published in 2003 by Top Shelf Productions.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my brother (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary graphic novel.

My rating:

I read Blankets back in high school when my mom and dad gave my brother this copy as a present. It’s a beautiful story of a boy growing up in a highly religious environment, his experiences with faith, first love, friendship, and family. I didn’t remember the story well, so I picked it up when I saw it at my parents’ apartment – my brother didn’t take it with him when he moved out (dun dun dun! This only makes sense if you’ve read the story and maybe not even then, sorry.) It also seems to be largely autobiographical?

I really liked the artwork – it’s all done in black and white, so it’s really powerful. Thompson’s style is beautiful and clean, though he sometimes veers into fantastic shapes and creatures that break up the harsh reality Craig (yeah, the MC’s name is the same as the author’s) has to face every day. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a try, it really packs a punch.

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Paper Towns/Lažna mesta by John Green
Published in 2014 by Mladinska knjiga .

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my mom (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

I did not enjoy this John Green novel. *le gasp*

I read The Fault in Our Stars a couple of years ago, before I started blogging, and really, really liked it (like most everyone I know). Then I read Looking for Alaska and reviewed it here. It was good, I liked it, but I definitely wasn’t as star-struck as I was before.

And now my faith in John Green’s writing is failing, because Paper Towns were a disappointment. I read the Slovenian translation (by Neža Božič), which is actually really good, so it didn’t play a role in my lower rating. I know Green has a really loyal following so if you find it unbearable to hear his books insulted, please exit through the side door. Thanks.

My main problem was with Margo. Without going into spoilers, she’s a spoiled (ha!) little brat and I disliked her immensely. Quentin was cool but the entire story was actually very similar to Looking for Alaska when you think about it! I wanted to slap some sense into all of them but couldn’t, because they’re fictional.

And then there was the pretentiousness. I’m sorry but do you know many 18-year-olds who quote Whitman but are also very cool and hip and generally the most intelligent beings around? I’ve read enough to know when an author did not kill his darlings (and he really should have). Parts of the story were horribly long-winded and really dragged along. Look, I had my fair share of stoned conversations about existential questions when I was that age but nobody ever said those conversations were meant to be written down, let alone read my millions of random people. Ugh.

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The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
by Lion UK.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: MG historical fantasy.

My rating:

The Little White Horse is one of my childhood favorites. I think I must have read it at least five times when I was younger – in Slovenian translation, of course (it is very good). But I wanted to read the original, so I bought myself the English version a couple of years ago and the book has been sitting on my shelf until now. I’m really happy I re-read it! I see it with completely different eyes now but the nostalgia is strong, so I can’t help but love it still.

Of course there are some problematic elements to the story of the orphaned Maria who comes to live at Moonacre Manor. There’s the notion that ladies don’t get angry, or loud, and that women are represented by the Moon while men belong to the Sun; there’s the overwhelming religious element and a number of other details that I could name. But they didn’t bother me in the least when I was little and it’s also wrong to judge the works from the past with today’s criteria.

So I’d still recommend this as a classic work of English children’s literature, and I’ll be reading it to my kids when the time comes, because it’s a pretty fairy tale and I want to share it with them. But if you’re looking for a modern, enlightened fantasy, this most certainly isn’t it.

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Have you read any of these? 

What did you think?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.