Rambling Review: The Selection Series

I know I said An Ember in the Ashes is my all-time favorite YA book. I stand by that. BUT. The Selection Series by Kierra Cass is one of my all-time favorite of the YA series (okay, so I have a lot of favorites…there’s a reason my husband promised in his wedding vows to move all my books wherever we go).

The Heir, which is the fourth book in the series, is what I read almost cover to cover the morning of my wedding day. As much as I loved America, I adore Eadlyn. And like a boy-crazy teenager, I really liked how different all the boys were.

The Selection through The One is basically The Bachelor meets Cinderella. Girls are selected from around the kingdom to compete for the affection of the crown prince. They represent different caste levels and each bring something appealing to the table, be it alliance potential, charisma for the paparazzi, or a desire to make life better for the lower castes. The camaraderie (and sometimes, the fighting) between the girls is beautifully written and wholly believable. It’s a trilogy about friendship as much as it is about love and politics.

The Heir and The Crown follow the next generation: a princess determined to prove she is the strongest person in the kingdom. She don’t need no man, and she tells her parents constantly. But the kingdom is still showing signs of unrest, and the king and queen hope a return to the traditional Selection will boost morale. Eadlyn is determined to torment the boys into leaving of their own volition, but as time passes, she grows to enjoy their company. Love blossoms in the least likely of places, and she has to decide if accepting a husband — even one she truly loves — will hold her back from being the queen she’s always dreamt of.

The writing is fast-paced and engaging, and the characters come to life with each page. I shared their heartbreaks and rejoiced over their triumphs, and actually believed the possibility of a less-than-happy ending. I’ve also read through this series at least twice. It’s a keeper on my shelves for sure!

Advertisements

Rambling Reviews: An Ember in the Ashes

HOW HAVE I NOT ALREADY WRITTEN THIS?! Guys, this is my all time favorite YA book that isn’t Harry Potter (because Harry Potter is really its own thing at this point, anyway).

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is about a slave and a soldier in fantasy-Ancient Rome. Laia is a Scholar, the broken and subservient class, sent as a slave to spy on the martial school in order to help free her brother from imprisonment. Elias is a Martial, and on his way to joining the upper echelons of the Empire — a position that only fills him with disgust. (And also, Helene is a badass secondary character whom I love — dare I say it — possibly more than either Laia or Elias).

I will say right off the bat, if you haven’t already noticed, I’m not too hard to please when it comes to the love interest. I know that makes me somewhat unreliable when it comes to actual opinions about the guys in these female-led novels. Set that aside for a second and trust me when I say, Elias is everything. Strong and deadly and kind and compassionate. He’s probably my favorite swoon-worthy character since Gilbert Blythe (not that anyone will ever take the place of Gilbert Blythe).

Laia is relatable, at least for me. She wishes she were braver than she thinks she is, but she’s willing to do anything it takes to save her brother. She pushes herself out of her comfort zone time and again until she learns she is strong enough to take charge of her situation.

The writing is exceptional, especially for a debut author. It’s the kind of writing that makes me question whether my own could ever be good enough. And I mean that in a good way — too many debut novels make me cringe and wonder what the point is of even trying if pretty much anything can be published.

And, if you find yourself falling a little for Helene, she gets a main character POV in the next book which will only make you love her more. Plus, the third book is due to come out this June, so it’s a pretty good time to get started on the series. DO IT!

Rambling Review: Daughter of the Pirate King

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller is my favorite YA book I’ve read so far this year. And guys, it’s currently only $5.99 for hardcover on Amazon right now. That’s amazing! It could be because the sequel, Daughter of the Siren Queen just came out. I say buy ’em both!

DotPK stars Alosa, a fiery pirate captain (and, you guessed it, daughter of the king of the pirates). She gets herself kidnapped by a rival pirate ship so she can search out a piece of the ultimate treasure map (and show off her overall badassery).

Of course, she meets her match in the handsome Riden. They battle wits and occasionally trade physical blows and fill the pages with wonderful tension. I loved their banter and their chemistry.

This isn’t the first heroine I’ve met who is both feminine and strong, but I love it every time. She brags about her fine clothes and threatens to murder those who get her gowns dirty. She’s been hardened by past trauma but still leaves room for hope and kindness. Alosa is both vicious and compassionate, and I greatly enjoyed her story.

Rambling Review: The Chemical Garden Trilogy

Because of my current lack of work, I’ve had a lot more time to read. I’ve devoted a lot of this time to the Outlander series per a good friend’s insistence, but now that I’ve made it through to the fourth book, I’ve taken a break to return to the world of young adult, which I love so much.

Since the move, I’ve been staring at our beautiful bookshelf full of my beloved YA series.

And so, I thought, why search for a new book or series to get involved in, when I have so many I know are great just waiting to be re-experienced?

I know a lot of people might not re-read books. I am not one of those people. Granted, I like to let enough time pass by that I forget the minute details and get to rediscover the little things that make a story great.

This past week, I read the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. The first in the series is available on Kindle for $4.99, and you can buy the whole series for $20-23, depending on print/digital.

51VMCRkyPrL.jpg

The trilogy centers around Rhine, a lovely sixteen year old who’s been kidnapped and forced into marriage. Usually, marriage is the best a girl can hope for in her short life — females die at age 20, males at age 25. Rhine, however, just wants to live out her days with her twin brother, and she’s desperate to escape and return to him. The series follows her through escape attempts, adventure, budding romance, and learning all different ways to define the term “love”.

I read DeStefano’s Internment Chronicles series first — also highly recommend — before returning to her debut series. The writing in the first novel is a bit stilted at times, but I can’t say if it’s simply because she was a new author, or if it was because of the character. Sometimes the prose felt a bit distant, but that actually works for the story, since Rhine is clearly trying to distance herself from her current situation. As the story progresses and she falls deeper into the messes she and others have made, the narration is tighter, more internalized, and feels more true to who she may actually be.

As I’m sure I’ve made clear through my previous reviews, I love a good love interest. This series is particularly great at giving little snippet-views of a possible romance, without the love story overtaking the action and adventure of the actual plot. Unlike a lot of YA that has a love triangle, there isn’t an exact shape drawn between two obvious choices. Rather, much like real life, my feelings towards her “options” were fluid, rising and falling with each good and bad experience, inevitability wrapped in “what-if”s and “if only”s.

There are some great twists, and anything that might seem too coincidental I think is explained very well with enough plausibility. The ending is bittersweet, life balanced with death, joy measured through pain, and I think that might be what I like best.

 

Rambling Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was very hard to read. Not because it was poorly written or boring — that’s not the case at all. The story was intriguing and I was invested in the narrator’s plight. The end felt like such a cliffhanger that I audibly yelled “are you serious!” which scared my husband, but then I realized there was more to the story in a new section with a different perspective (so if you hit a snag near the end, keep reading — it’s not just end of book acknowledgements!).

No, the reason this book was so hard to read was its terrifying plausibility. Most dystopian novels are set in a far off future, after wars and bombs and viruses and apocalypses have utterly changed the face of the earth and how society runs. Some dystopian novels are a chilling commentary on where the world could be headed (think: 1984), but this is so much more immediate. The changes, the leeching of power from the people — or from certain types of people — are so subtle at first, so insignificant that by the time enough people start to question things, it’s far too late.

In a lot of dystopian stories, there is one dictator or a small group of “bad guys” lording it over the masses. The majority of the people don’t agree with their leadership, but are too downtrodden and tired to fight back. In The Handmaid’s Taleplenty of people agree with the new society. There are rumors of underground movements, sure, but most people seem supportive of the new order’s ideals.

The story is both intense and detached, told by a narrator who has nearly given up on everything that mattered to her in the world before. It is both resigned and angry, rebellious and cautious, disgusted and apathetic. It is a desperate warning wrapped up in inevitable possibility.

I had to take a lot of breaks while reading this one. It isn’t something you’ll binge-read for hours or enjoy while lounging on a beach. It’s a tale best told in snippets and whispers, with long silences to digest each piece of new information. It’s heavy with real-life foreboding, but I’m so glad I read it.

Rambling Review: Garden of Thorns

Recently, I’ve been reading more “adult” books (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid’s Tale — reviews to come), modern classics that make me sound more cultured and grown up than the usual YA fiction I prefer. I do feel more well-rounded, but I’ve missed the adventure and angst and inevitable romance that all winds together into nearly every young adult novel.

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell popped up on my Amazon recommendations, and I couldn’t resist. In all honesty, I was fully prepared to re-read any one of my favorites I already own, but currently they would need to be fished out of boxes, and Garden of Thorns was only $3.99 on Kindle, so I figured I’d take a chance on it.

The story is about a girl, Rose, who is part of a traveling entertainment troupe called the Garden — in which the Flowers dance and the Wilteds are punished for any infraction the Flowers make. The Gardener is cruel and abusive, and very early on we get to see just how devastating life in the Garden can be. Rose manages to escape, only to find herself in a rebellion against an emperor every bit as cruel and emotionless as the Gardener. All she wants is to free her sisters from the Garden, but first she has to prove herself worthy of the rebellion’s help.

Her growth throughout the novel is a beautiful thing. She struggles with trust issues and hope, vacillating between the two nearly constantly. Frustrating and relatable, it sometimes seems like one step forward is met with two steps back. I soared with her triumphs and screamed (internally) when she seemed to have run out of chances for success. As a reader, her fears seemed objectively ridiculous but also extremely valid at the same time. The frequent reminders of her past felt repetitive at first, but were necessary to continuously explain her hesitations.

I’m not sure if this is a stand alone novel or part of a series. Unlike most series, the ending was satisfying and didn’t hint at another story waiting to be told. I’d be perfectly happy with this as its own novel, but I can’t deny I’d love to see Rose and the others back for another adventure.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.