Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite YA Fantasy Books

OMG, guys. I have no idea how this summer got away from me, but it did. I’ll do an actual ~life update~ post soon, but for now, I’m going to talk up some awesome YA fantasy books.

TTT2016

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Favorite YA Fantasy Books

  1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson: My review here.
  2. STOLEN SONGBIRD by Danielle L. Jensen: Suddenly finding yourself attracted to trolls is a very confusing thing, but there you go.
  3. Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas: My review here.
  4. RED QUEEN by Victoria Aveyard: Really good pacing and I’m always here for court intrigue.
  5. THE WRATH & THE DAWN by Renée Ahdieh: Beautiful world building and writing all around. I couldn’t put this one down.
  6. Lumatere Chronicles series by Melina Marchetta: My review here.
  7. Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima: My review here.
  8. THE KISS OF DECEPTION by Mary E. Pearson: This book featured one of the best love triangles I’ve ever read.
  9. THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski: My review here.
  10. THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater: My review here.
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Book Reviews

Book Review: SOUNDLESS

SoundlessTitle: SOUNDLESS
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Publication Information: Razorbill, 2015
Rating: 2 Stars
Recommended For: People who enjoy books that read like fairytales.
Warnings: Some kissing, but nothing that wouldn’t be appropriate for a middle school audience.

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

(Summary from Goodreads

The premise to this one sounded really interesting, which is why I’d initially picked it up, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t really work for me.

I seem to recall that this was based in Chinese folklore, but I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell if I hadn’t been told — which was disappointing because that was part of what interested me about the book. Aside from the names, the world felt really Generic Fantasy to me. Which isn’t to say the world building was necessarily bad — Mead made good use of details, especially as Fei starts to hear. (Actually, those scenes where Fei hears things for the first time were my favorite ones.) But I definitely wouldn’t have sold it as Asian fantasy since it really wasn’t.

That being said, though: the cover? YES. SO HERE FOR IT.

I also had a hard time with the characters. Aside from the scenes where Fei is describing different sounds for the first time, or talking about her painting, she really didn’t interest me, and her romance with the miner (whose name I can’t even remember, tbh) fell so flat for me that it might as well not have been there at all. And to be totally honest, this book really didn’t need the romance at all. Fei saving Beiguo easily could’ve been interesting enough on its own and the romance actually took away from that for me.

TL;DR: Good world building but not much else going on for me.

Book Reviews

Book Review: THE GUNSLINGER

43615Title: THE GUNSLINGER
Author: Stephen King
Series: The Dark Tower, #1
Genre: Adult – Fantasy/Horror/Western/Post-Apocalyptic
Publication Information: NAL, 2003 (originally published in 1982)
Rating: 3 Stars
Recommended For: People who enjoy genre bending and constant confusion.
Watch Out For: Violence, sexual content, sexual violence

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I’ve had several people recommend The Dark Tower series to me, so I figured that since there’s an adaptation in the works, it’s time to finally read it. While it’s not what I normally read, there were certain aspects of it that I enjoyed, and I plan to continue reading the rest of the series.

I spent a lot of time being confused about what was happening in the story – my usual response to thrillers, admittedly. This threw me off a bit. I also had a hard time because so much of it is spent in Roland’s head – there are occasional appearances from other characters, but mostly it’s all Roland.

I did enjoy how atmospheric the book was, though. King did an excellent job immersing us in Roland’s world from the start. I was actually in awe of this aspect of the book, since he constructs the setting so effortlessly. He doesn’t spend a ton of time describing it like in some of the other fantasy series I’ve read – instead it unfolds in front of us as we follow Roland on his journey through the desert without us even realizing what’s happening. The writing is really what kept me going here.

TL;DR: Here for the writing, lukewarm about everything else.

Book Reviews

Book Review: SERPENTINE

22095547Title: SERPENTINE
Author: Cindy Pon
Series: Kingdom of Xia: Second Series, #1
Publication Information: Month9Books, 2015
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Rating: 2 Stars
Recommended For: People who like to be immersed in settings.
Warnings: Sexual content

SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.

Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell.

When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I was excited to read SERPENTINE because of the setting, which is based in large part on China. I wasn’t disappointed in this respect, but the setting was the only part of the book I was really able to get into.

From the beginning, we’re immersed in the setting. I loved how well the details came to life all throughout the story, and it was nice to read a fantasy novel that wasn’t based on Europe. It also made me want to learn more about Chinese history, which isn’t something I’m as familiar with.

I wasn’t into the characters at all. I realize that, as a handmaiden, Skybright is expected to fade into the background so as not to overshadow her mistress. But we spend the whole book in her head, so I was hoping there’d be more going on with her. For me, there wasn’t. She spends the whole book centered on the people around her – first her mistress, Zhen Ni, and then the boy she falls in love with, Kai – and we don’t really get to know who Skybright really is. While that isn’t necessarily unrealistic, it didn’t make for the most interesting narration.

Also, the romance between Skybright and Kai fell flat for me, in large part because of my aforementioned issues with Skybright. The romance felt really underdeveloped for this reason. We also don’t get to know Kai very well; all I got was that he trains with the monks and that he’s fascinated by Skybright, so I couldn’t get into his character, either.

The subplot with Zhen Ni was interesting, though. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t give specifics, but I’ll say that it was explored very well through Skybright’s eyes.

I think people who prefer quieter heroines will probably have more luck with this one than I did.

TL;DR: Strong on setting but characters and relationships fell flat.

Book Reviews

Review: THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski

WinnersCurseTitle: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy, #1
Publication Information: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2014
Genre: Young Adult – High Fantasy
Rating: 5 Stars
Recommended For: People who like fantastic world building, Roman-inspired settings, political intrigue, and forbidden love.

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

(Summary from Goodreads)

THIS BOOK. I was not okay when I finished this book. I read almost all of it in one sitting, and that’s because of the setting, the complex characters, and the messy, messy conflict.

I loved the setting so much. The Winner’s Curse takes place in an empire not unlike the Roman Empire – an empire bent on conquering as much of the known world as it can get its hand on. That alone provided a source of conflict since the conquered people would probably not be cool with the whole conquest situation, but it just kept getting better and better.

Kestrel and Arin’s growing attraction for each other provided another source of conflict, especially after we learn what Arin’s secret actually is. I loved the two of them together because of how they served as constant reminders to each other that they whole conflict between their peoples wasn’t black and white. Also, I loved how it was their love for music and their intelligence that brought them together. It was a nice change from the “he’s so mysterious and dreamy” thing I see so often in YA. (I mean, Arin is mysterious for most of the book, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not the only reason Kestrel liked him.)

I also loved the characters. I loved that Kestrel was torn because she felt like the one thing she felt she was good at (music) was the one thing forbidden to her. I loved her father, Trajan, because it was so clear that he only wanted what was best for Kestrel, and also that he truly respected her intelligence and wanted her to put it to use – even if these things were also rooted in a desire to have someone carry on his legacy, and Kestrel was his only chance at that. And I loved Arin, whose big personal struggle in this book was figuring out how to open up to Kestrel when he’d spent so many years of his life hiding secrets.

TL;DR: An incredible fantasy read with a beautiful setting, complex characters, and more conflict than you can stand.

Book Reviews

Review: CHASING BEFORE by Lenore Appelhans

16081764Title: Chasing Before
Author: Lenore Appelhans
Series: The Memory Chronicles, #2
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy, Dystopian, Paranormal – Angels
Publication Information: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
Rating: 3 Stars
Recommended For: People who like seamless genre bending and ambiguous protagonists.

Felicia and Neil have arrived in Level 3 and are supposed to prepare for their divine vocations.

But during Felicia and Neil’s training period, a series of explosions rips through Level 3. Tension is high, and casualties are mounting. A rift forms between the pair, one that grows wider when Felicia receives memories from the Morati. The memories cast doubt on the people she loves the most, but Felicia can’t stop her curiosity. She has to know the truth about her life – even if it means putting at risk everything she’s worked for in her death.

(Summary from Goodreads)

One thing I really admire about this series is how well Appelhans blends together different genres to create something unique. In the first book, we had a dystopian society set in the afterlife and run by corrupt angels. This installment was lighter on the dystopian element (although I still labeled it as such because the Morati are back and would probably love to return to their dystopian roots). Instead, we get Level 3, which is its own world separate from earth, giving this book a fantasy lean. (For the purpose of this review, I am labeling the afterlife a fantasy world because it is one author’s conception of the afterlife. Just so we’re all on the same page with this.)

I also continued to enjoy Felicia as a character because of her imperfection. Throughout this series, she has two main enemies: the Morati and herself. I love that she struggles with things life selfishness and betrayal because I feel like it’s not something that’s widely accepted for female characters in literature. That being said, there were times that I wanted to sigh and roll my eyes at Felicia because she was so focused on Neil. Like, GIRL. THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING. You can worry about your boyfriend (who is HIDING THINGS FROM YOU) later.

My biggest issue with the book, actually, was how much of the conflict was focused on Neil. I wasn’t a big fan of Neil. He lacked the ambiguity of Julian. There was potential for Neil to get more interesting since we learn some Things about him pretty early on, but then we never really get to see him wrestle with himself – he just does a lot of sulking and hiding from Felicia. Also, the conflict with the Morati wreaking havoc in Level 3 and giving Felicia missing memories to some purpose or other was more interesting to me, so I would’ve loved to have dwelled on that one more because it gets super interesting toward the end and I wished that particular aspect of the conflict had had more time to develop.

TL;DR: Focused a little too much on Boy Drama for my personal taste, but I loved how ambiguous Felicia was as a protagonist.

Book Reviews

Review: Deception

17331289Title: Deception
Author: C.J. Redwine
Series: Defiance, #2
Genre: Young Adult – Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
Publication Information: Balzer + Bray, 2013
Age Recommendation: Middle School & High School

Baalboden has been ravaged. The brutal Commander’s whereabouts are unknown. And Rachel, grief stricken over her father’s death, needs Logan more than ever. With their ragged group of survivors struggling to forge a future, it’s up to Logan to become the leader they need—with Rachel by his side. Under constant threat from rival Carrington’s army, who is after the device that controls the Cursed One, the group decides to abandon the ruins of their home and take their chances in the Wasteland.

But soon their problems intensify tenfold: someone—possibly inside their ranks—is sabotaging the survivors, picking them off one by one. The chaos and uncertainty of each day puts unbearable strain on Rachel and Logan, and it isn’t long before they feel their love splintering. Even worse, as it becomes clear that the Commander will stop at nothing to destroy them, the band of survivors begins to question whether the price of freedom may be too great—and whether, hunted by their enemies and the murderous traitor in their midst, they can make it out of the Wasteland alive.

In this daring sequel to Defiance, with the world they once loved forever destroyed, Rachel and Logan must decide between a life on the run and standing their ground to fight.

(Summary from Goodreads.)

This book was SO MUCH BETTER than the previous book. Whereas Defiance felt like it was missing something, Deception exceeded every single expectation I had.

In Deception, we get to venture beyond the walls of Baalboden and learn more about the other city-states and their relationships with each other. I still had questions regarding the world building – specifically about women and technology – but in this book, the world was developed so vividly otherwise that it didn’t bother me so much this time.

The characters, though, were what did me in. Rachel in particular really grew on me in this book. In Defiance, she was a big ball of rage, but in this installment, she spends a lot more time trying to work through all of her grief and anger, and it made her a much more sympathetic character. And POOR LOGAN. He spends the entire book trying to figure out how to be a leader, and then the world takes one giant crap on him and if that isn’t a conflict surrounding him in the next book, I will be very, very disappointed.

The secondary characters, though, were where Redwine really shined in this book. We get to know Quinn and Willow better in this book, first of all. As it turns out, Willow is delightfully sassy, and I feel that my life has been improved by this. I also really liked Ian and Adam, two of Logan’s rivals. Adam especially was done really well. Even though he spends a lot of the book arguing with Logan’s ideas, it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from, and he does care about the safety of the others. While he rubs people the wrong way at first, he grew on me as the book went on.

After how fantastically Deception turned out and how it ended, I can’t get Deliverance in my hands soon enough.

Rating: 5/5 Stars