Title: The Darkangel
Author: Meredith Ann Pierce
Page Count: 238
Series: Darkangel Trilogy, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 1, 2007 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (originally published in the early 1980s)
Review: I checked out this book from the library because it came to me as a patron recommendation. I was helping her find a book for her son, and we began reminiscing about book series we read and loved in our youth. She was very nostalgic about this particular book series, and when I discovered that we had a couple copies left floating around in our system, I decided to read it.
This book is categorized as Young Adult Fiction (I assume because of the dark content), but it read to me more like Juvenile Fiction. There is very little world building, and the Darkangel gets surprisingly little page presence despite the fact he is constantly being mentioned by the other characters. He is more like a periphery character, yet he drives the plot. The heroine of the story, Aerial, reminds me of the character of Belle in Beauty and the Beast. She is selfless and kind, and for whatever reason sees good in the Darkangel. She is the only one who can save his soul from the clutches of his evil witchy “mother.”
This book was highly predictable and sometimes I became frustrated that the characters came upon their revelations so much later than I did as a reader. I didn’t have to be frustrated for long though because I was able to read this book in a matter of a few hours.
This book lacks broad appeal, but I can see how some people might really enjoy it. It’s gothic feel and dark brooding anti-hero would certainly titillate people who fetishize this sort of paranormal subgenre.
Title: A Blade So Black
Author: L.L. McKinney
Performer: Jeanette Illidge
Length: 11 hr, 24 min, 1 sec
Series: A Blade So Black, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This book wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was sort of Alice in Wonderland meets The Mortal Instruments meets Social Justice Warrior.
The author was clever in how she wove the aspects of the original tale into her adaptation, which is why I thought it was an OK read. Unfortunately, many of the hot button issues that were addressed in the story such as race relations and violence were not fully fleshed out and I was bothered by the occasionally prejudiced dialogue, the selfish characters, and the anti-law enforcement undertones.
I will, however, note that many of the elements I found to be problematic are mostly in the first half of the book. The second half of the book is, in my opinion, a much more enjoyable read than the first half. I initially thought I would be rating this book with two stars, but it went up to three as I neared the end of the book. I believe this is McKinney’s debut novel, so I imagine her character/plot development and pacing will continue to improve in any subsequent books in this series.
I did listen to this book in audiobook format, and although I thought that the various voices chosen by the performer worked for the characters, I thought that she had some difficulty with transitioning between those voices. At times this was confusing, but overall I liked the cadence of her voice and thought she did a good job.
Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Performer: Rebecca Soler
Length: 10 hr, 35 min, 25 sec
Series: The Hazel Wood, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This is an example of a fairytale done right. In the same fashion as the Brothers Grimm, Albert weaves together a series of dark and twisted tales with no morals and a whole lot of death. I can honestly say that I never knew what to expect with this story, because it is not an adaptation of anything I am familiar with. It does have echoes of Alice in Wonderland in the sense that a character named Alice portals into a fantasy world; however, that seems to be where the similarities end. I enjoyed the characters, and the dialogue, and the way the author wove together a modern day setting with a more fantastical one. I am also a sucker for stories within a story, and I was very pleased to find out that although this could easily have been a standalone, there will be a continuation of this story in another book. There were a number of story titles mentioned that were not told, and I am hopeful that those stories might be revealed in the next installment. I also hope that there is more to the story of Alice and Finch. Fingers crossed!
As always, Rebecca Soler was a perfect performer in this story. Loved it in audiobook format!
Title: Tempests and Slaughter
Author: Tamora Pierce
Performer: Ariadne Meyers
Length: 16 hrs, 1 min, 21 sec
Series: The Numair Chronicles
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2018 by Listening Library
Review: There is no disputing that Tamora Pierce is an excellent writer, but this, in my opinion, is not her most enthralling book. For fans who are interested in the origin story of the great mage Numair, this will probably have more appeal. I am not as familiar with his character because it has been many years since I read Pierce’s other series.
This is a very strong read-alike to the Harry Potter series. It is about a young mage of extraordinary power who has a penchant for getting himself and his friends in trouble. There is no clearly defined conflict in this book, and I would say it is more like vignettes of various things that happen to young Arram over the course of his years in mage school. The pacing is very slow, and I often found my mind drifting away during the reading. On several occasions I had to rewind the audiobook, so that I could re-listen to the parts I missed. The dramatic title, Tempests and Slaughter, implies that this is going to be an action-packed book, but that is not at all the case.
The performer has a very soothing voice, and I thought she did a great job voicing the various characters; however, I was a little surprised that they chose a female reader for this story because it is told primarily from the perspective of a male character. The voice worked fine when he was a young boy, but it didn’t work quite so well once he became a young man.
Title: Dread Nation
Author: Justina Ireland
Performer: Bahni Turpin
Length: 11 hr, 56 min
Series: Dread Nation, Book 1
Publishing Date/Publisher: April 3, 2018 by HarperAudio
Review: This book is fantastic, and I loved every minute of it. Bahni Turpin did an excellent job reading it, and I have come to expect nothing less from her than a stellar performance.
Shortly before finishing this book, I browsed through some of the reviews posted on Goodreads and was surprised to find that there has actually been some controversy regarding this book. After reading through these criticisms, I strongly believe that many people misunderstand the difference between author opinion and writing a story that is true to the era in which it is taking place.
Many people took issue with the fact that people of color are spoken of negatively in this book and did not like the way they were portrayed. I saw words like “colorism” being thrown around because of the way the main character describes herself and other people of color, but it is important to remember that people of this time period had been indoctrinated with a very negative view of people of color. It is not surprising that many people of color internalized this negativity, and it deeply affected the way they viewed themselves and others. This is largely the reason that colorism exists, and I think this book was a powerful commentary on how damaging that type of rhetoric is.
It also confused me that so many people considered this an LGBT+ representative book. Some people consider Jane bisexual, but I think that this is a stretch. I think it can be argued that she is curious, but her strong attraction to men is made apparent throughout the book. I understand that sexuality can fall on a pretty broad and fluid scale, but it does not seem that she considers herself to be particularly attracted to women. It is also stated by reviewers that another central character, Katherine, is asexual, but I think this is also a stretch. She admits that she has not experienced attraction to anyone, however, considering her traumatic upbringing and the near constant barrage of sexual harassment she experiences on a daily basis, I do not find this to be especially surprising. My point in all of this is that this book should not be touted as LGBT+ literature. Perhaps this topic will be explored more deeply in the next book, in which case I may change my mind.
There are so many positive things to say about this book. It features strong female characters who are equally clever and badass. It is a truly original story and the character development is quite good in my opinion. The author even hit me with a twist at the end that I did not see coming at all. I feel good about the ending, and I am so excited for the next book in this series!
Title: The Girl King
Author: Mimi Yu
Page Count: 432
Publishing Date/Publisher: January 8, 2019 by Bloomsbury YA
Review: This book falls in the category of well-written with a decent plot, but not as good as I wanted it to be. I should have loved this book. It is a tale of two sisters battling it out for a throne, which in this case means a lot of political intrigue and ancient magic. However, I just could not make myself feel invested in the story or the characters. Though I liked it for the most part, there are a couple things that I found to be problematic.
First, the characters and setting were not nearly as developed as the plot. Although we get some glimpses of the motivation that drives the two sisters, I did not feel like I really got to know either of them beyond a superficial level. This is especially true with the character of Minyi. Although she seemed to have had the greatest character arc, it all still felt very shallow to me and her naivety was annoying rather than endearing.
Second, Lu’s romance was poorly constructed. It did not feel authentic and I personally prefer a slow build over instant love. I think the author attempted to do this by making the characters initially at odds (for a very short period of time), but it just fell flat.
It is unlikely that I will continue reading if this book turns into a series (it most likely will), but there are some positive attributes that made this an enjoyable read. Although I would have liked more from this story, it nevertheless featured strong female leads and closed with some pretty awesome magic.
Series: The Cage
Titles: The Cage (Book 1), The Hunt (Book 2), The Gauntlet (Book 3)
Author: Megan Shepherd
Page Counts: 405 (Book 1), 368 (Book 2), 393 (Book 3)
Publishing Dates/Publishers: May 26, 2015 by Balzer + Bray, May 24, 2016 by Balzer + Bray, May 23, 2017 by HarperCollins
Format: eBook and Hardcover
Review: I decided to review these books as a series because my general feelings about all three are the same. To sum it up, this series was bizarre. I know, I know, you are probably thinking that science fiction in general is bizarre, but this series is on another level.
The first thing that bothered me is the explanation for how these teens end up locked up in an extraterrestrial cage. It makes absolutely no sense, and the reasons why they were chosen for abduction make no sense either.
The other thing that I found supremely annoying was the romance between Cora and her abductor. Why? Because it was extremely anticlimactic (Spoiler alert: so is the ending).
Even with all this weirdness going on, I still liked the series. If you can get past all the absurdity of the backstory, it is an amusing read. I will also say that it is hard to predict where the story will go because the author keeps throwing in new elements that shake up what you know about the universe she has created. I kind of enjoyed the fact that humans, who consider themselves intellectually superior to other species on Earth, are considered primitive by all the other beings in the story. It really makes you ponder how extraterrestrials might view us should we ever cross paths with them in the future.