Tag Archives: book review

Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


If I had been blessed with Amma’s finger-licking cooking all my life, and suddenly the delectable Southern cuisine lost all of its palatability, I’d know something was rotten in the state of Denmark, too.

That’s only one negativity haunting Ethan throughout Beautiful Chaos, the third book in the Caster Chronicles series. Though all is, for the most park, right in his and Lena’s relationship – their inability to touch without Lena eventually short-winding Ethan is still present, as is Lena’s jealousy of Liv and Ethan’s abhorrence of John Breed – all is far from well in Gatlin. In the second installment (which I reviewed, underwhelmed, in December), Lena’s choosing between Light and Dark – or, rather, not choosing – caused a disruption in the Order of Things. Now the grass is brown, and the insects are taking over, and the lake is dry, and Link’s mom thinks the plagues of Moses are descending upon the earth. What really are descending, however, are the dark casters and Incubi.

This book is noteworthy for its multi-facets: the teens must find the One Who Is Two, Amma is “going dark” and traveling to New Orleans via the tunnels, Ridley is a complete mystery, and John Breed metaphorically hangs in the air as a threat, or blessing, or captive or innocent caster-blend. Though it does overlook some seemingly major issues (why is there only humor regarding the fact that Link is now park Incubus?), it certainly harks back to the mystery and delight of the first book, Beautiful Creatures.

Once you hit the just pre-midway point, it’s almost impossible to put this novel down. Something is going on with Ethan that we don’t quite understand, and we have our theories, which may be proved, disproved, and proved again (as they did for me) like a major rat-race mystery, YA style. Lena is an emo anomaly in and of herself (regrettably, she doesn’t 100% redeem herself for me after her idiocy in the second book), especially as she watches the complex visions of her mother Sarafine turning into a Dark caster. Through these visions, we see Sarafine try to ignore her dark side and pursue a relationship with Lena’s father, a Light caster. Abraham, however, intervenes and helps draw Sarafine more to the Dark side. We then watch as Lena and Ethan flash back on the day Sarafine set her home on fire, leaving her husband and daughter to burn. This all, understandably, strikes a major chord with Lena.

I still have a major qualm with Ridley, as I have had since the beginning of the series. Although she may not be “Dark” per se in this novel, she still feels the need to topple the cheerleading pyramid to show off at basketball practice. It seems to me that if Sarafine is a Dark caster, and she is setting fire to her family, Ridley should be a little deeper than trivial high school pranks. In any event, she still proves to be an interesting one in this novel, and I’m eager to see how she’ll pan out in the final installment. Speaking of final installment, once you finish this third book, it’ll be impossible not to immediately download the e-book of the fourth. Cliff hanger, much?


Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I am told, by very reliable sources, that the first Caster Chronicles book, with which I was (am) obsessed, is not the best in the series. In that case, I have high hopes for the third and fourth installments because the second, Beautiful Darkness, was bleak at best.
Much was missing from this second installment—perhaps most noteworthy, the relationship between Ethan and Lena. I understand than “Book 2 Breakups” are common in our YA universe; they create tension and add depth to the characters. But no depth was created from this temporary separation. I’m thinking now of New Moon (my favorite Twilight book) in which Edward leaves Bella but Bella develops a strong relationship with Jacob, which we readers were able to cling to and appreciate in the subsequent novels (even though we, obviously, wanted Bella back with Edward). In Beautiful Darkness, the authors do add new characters, but these characters don’t add to the plot or to our understanding of Ethan or Lena. Throughout this book, you never think for a second it will work with Ethan and the other girl, and, moreover, the other girl just has almost nothing likable about her. She is a base, stereotypical character, and the novel is filled with stereotypical YA filler dialogue and references to get through a couple hundred pages. (She’s British, and everyone calls her Mary Poppins.) Ethan also spends a lot of time with Link, who I have thought, since Beautiful Creatures, is much too much of a high school boy stigma. And Lena. Lena runs off to try and find herself (in a somewhat implausible way, if I might add) and only gets more unlikeable for it. She has her annoyances in the first book, but they’re magnified to an extreme here. And I still can’t fathom why she thought her method of self-discovery would make sense. She’s sixteen, but she’s not stupid. This leaves this book’s ending for the couple non-conclusive feeling—just cold and unrealized.
My other major qualm with this installment was the higher power intervention. This was present in Beautiful Creatures, but only minorly—Amma helped Lena save Ethan at Ravenwood. But in this second book, Amma, and Lena’s family, and Ethan’s crazy old aunts—they were everywhere. Ethan couldn’t do anything on his own, and he was even worse off when he was with Link and Liv (Mary Poppins). When they almost got eaten by a deamon, Amma saved them. When they almost got attacked by incubi, other Lena’s family had their backs. Ethan and his friends were never able to conquer anything or anyone. Isn’t the fun of YA the idea that teenagers can save the world?
What Beautiful Darkness did have going for it was a great cliffhanger ending. Ridley truly came into play in this book as a major driving force in the series. In the first book, I was tired of her childishly “bad” antics; now, I’m eager to see what she’ll stir up in the future.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl


It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve actually had the time to sit down and read, or write about what I read; most of the reading I’ve been doing I owe entirely to the lovely New York City subway system. And what time I have had between work and play, I have been dedicating to my own writing, in honor of national novel writing month. And let me tell you, making up your own world is a lot more tiring that reading about someone else’s! At least that’s what I think…any writers out there agree?

In any event, I have recovered from my melancholia that ensued when I finished the three published books of the Cinder series (though, Marissa Meyers, if you want to leak that Winter book, I’d be all for it) and have latched onto a new: Beautiful Creatures.

I’m a little late on the trend: Little, Brown first published this first book in the Caster Chronicles series in 2009, and the movie was released just under a year ago. The book inside pages (I have the cheesy mass market paperback with the movie cover, because it was cheapest) reports that the dual authors, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, came to lunch with two ideas: one wanted to detail life in the South while the other wanted to spark a new YA fantasy trend. The result is a novel with firm setting and gripping other-worldly appeal.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a first person male voice. Also, all of my recent series have had the protagonist had the “fantasy” happening inside of them: Cinder is a cyborg; Tessa is a (spoiler) warlock. But Ethan is mortal. He just happens to be a teenager who has the same dreams as a girl he’s never met. (Okay, come to think of it, maybe Ethan isn’t a regular mortal. This is why I have to finish the series!)

Ethan sings his “wishing song” – his hope to get out of his small Southern town of Gatlin – throughout his first day of sophomore year of high school. As if on cue, a new girl, Lena, moves to town and captures his heart. But Lena isn’t a normal high schooler; she’s a Caster (don’t call her a witch!), and a special one at that: Ethan isn’t the only one who wants to get to her.

Garcia and Stohl turned up the romance factor in their debut joint novel. The beauty of it is, it’s the subtle passion of Twilight plus the constant adventure of Harry Potter. The novel is always moving, always turning, but throughout, Ethan and Lena are together, and they’re pretty adorable throughout. Lena can get a bit whiny sometimes; but maybe we can give that to her, since she sort of has the weight of the Caster world on her shoulders?

Cress by Marissa Meyer


Wow, so I am remarkably late on my post for Cress, the book I finished almost three weeks ago now. I think I was too busy trying to sort out the differences between Ebola and letumosis to spend long enough in front of the WordPress screen. Anyway…

Marissa Meyer has done it again with yet another delicately adapted fairy tale. It’s not explicitly obvious from the title as to which fairy tale heroine Cress depicts, but one glance at the book’s cover and it is clear: the long, cascading locks of hair say it all.

Readers actually met Cress way back when in Cinder, though her role is so seemingly trivial in the first book (she is the motivation of Cinder to go to the ball), Meyer’s idea to have her return in her own substantial role was clever.
The novel opens with a sole Cress on private, one-woman satellite outside of Luna. This satellite is a sort of prison set by the Queen and her minions; Cress is charged with finding Cinder or suffering the consequences (Levana ordered the death of every newborn baby who was ungifted, so you can imagine what mercy would be show to Cress were she to fail). Her only companion on the satellite is Little Cress—yes, Cress’s younger self, a computerized, recorded version of her own voice, with whom Cress plays computer games and dances the do-si-do. If you think this makes Cress sound off her rocker, you are correct: Cress is slightly coo-coo, and ever-loveable for it. She has a massive crush on Thorne, Cinder’s bad boy accomplice since Scarlet, and she knows more about his life than Thorne himself does. Thorne, while amused, also acknowledges (to her face) that Cress is a bit loopy. Together, they’re all the more endearing for these quirks.
Back in book one, Cress appeared to warn Cinder about Levana’s plan to rule earth. In her own book, she does much the same thing: while she is supposed to be finding Cinder’s ship and exposing its location to the Lunar government, Cress is actually hiding the Rampion from Levana’s view. Immediately, she is the good, albeit a bit out there (physically and mentally), girl. As a result, Cinder and her pals plan to liberate the loyal Cress from her tower-prison; the plan, however, is foiled, leaving the young patriots separated, damaged, and, in one case, spiraling to their out-of-orbit death. And this is only the first few pages.
The multiple protagonists—Cinder, Thorne, Scarlett, Wolf, Cress, as well as others along the way—embark on a journey, together and separate, through Africa, Asia, and, yes, outer space. It’s whole-heartedly imaginative, and Meyer’s use of old and new characters as main figures is admirable; unlike in the past stories, in which there is a main heroine with various other vantage points when needed, Cress is pretty evenly spilt between a few important parities. All in all, Meyers has set us up for a noteworthy story for book 4, Winter…if we can wait until November 2015 to get our hands on it.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer


There is a reason I haven’t blogged in a week. It’s not that I haven’t been reading, or haven’t finished a book…it’s that I’ve been too absorbed in this series to pause long enough to blog about it. (I’m already well into the third book by now…but I digress.)

Fans of Cinder will certainly delight in this much-loved sequel. Readers still follow the cyborg, post-ball, post-fairy tale, but are also introduced to the non-robotic happenings of Scarlet (Scarlet is a shade of red – which fairy tale has the word “red” in it???), who is on the hunt throughout France to find her missing grandmother. The simultaneous story lines very much work for this series. Scarlet has her own plot unfolding, with a base of a well-known fairy tale guiding the plot; but, sporadically dispersed into this is the no-longer-fairy-tale plot of Cinder (and sometimes the prince) on the run from the law. I never once found myself more invested in one plot over the other, as so often many multi-character plots go.

On the way, Scarlet receives help from a mysterious gent named Wolf – not that she really needs it; Scarlet is one tough cookie. She’s got all the characteristics of a true heroine (fight, determination, selfless sacrifice, and piloting skills) along with the believable fallibility: she loves flirting and attention, just like her father did, and sometimes she doesn’t care about the consequences of this on others.

*Spoiler alert* : Perhaps my favorite part of the series as a whole (at least at this point, two books in) is the conclusion of the love story of Scarlet. At the end of Cinder, there is no happily ever after, at least not yet; Cinder is put in prison and believes Kai wants nothing to do with her anymore. But at Scarlet‘s end, it looks like, after a tumultuous ride, that she is all but dating her love interest (despite a few qualms, of course, to be presented in the third book). The contrast is a pleasant one; so often authors narrate all their love stories is the same manner, and I was very much expecting Scarlet to end up alone at the end of her book, and maybe in even in jail à la Cinder. (Of course, I would have expected her to end with her dream guy at the series’ conclusion, but that’s another matter.) Meyer reminds us that not all characters are a blueprint, that not all characters share the same story arc.

Spoiler alert concluded, if you haven’t indulged your childhood-fairy-tales-enjoyment-meets-young-adult-bliss, you should jump right into The Lunar Chronicles. If I haven’t made this clear already, you’ll be pretty glad you did.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer


In my junior year of college, I took a class on fairy tales that managed to open to me this whole new world of fantasy stories and adaptations. Since then, I’ve been hooked on every fairy tale spin-off I could find, from the paperback compilation My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me to the Bartok opera Bluebeard’s Castle

And the first installment of Marissa Meyer‘s delightful YA series The Lunar Chronicles is certainly no exception.

My best friend (whom you should follow here), who jumped on the Cinder bandwagon much earlier than I (the book was published in January of 2013), swears that she told me about her obsession with the series ages ago. On her account, she explained the plot – a Cinderella adaptation with a half human, half robot – to our other best friend and me, and the two of us laughed and dismissed the concept. I promise, I have no recollection of this occurrence.

In any event, this post World War IV (godda love the post-apocalyptic/dystopian government element) is equipped with humans, android handymen, and cyborgs, or crosses between humans and androids. Cinder is a teenage cyborg whose stepmother forced her to make the family money by laboring as New Beijing’s most capable mechanic. (Get it? Because she’s still dirty all the time, like Cinderella was, but this time it’s mechanic’s grease and dust doing the job instead of the mansion’s dust bunnies.) Because her services are so incomparable, she finds a worthy client in the handsome, young, kind, smiling prince who – let’s face it – is the very-perfect interest.

There’s also a power-hungry queen (whose story will be told in a prequel series coming in 2015), a corrupted kingdom, a missing heir to the throne, and the loss of Cinder’s…well, you get the idea.

I had few qualms, the most notable being the novel’s major twist. No matter how much I read, I can never predict these twists, with the notable exception of Fight Club, which no one saw coming, and I strangely predicted in the first five pages; but other books’ plots? I didn’t even have a clue as to what the first horcrux could be. (And don’t even get me started on the mysterious R.A.B.; I was more lost than Harry, and I didn’t have the stress of the whole pending-wizard-going-to-kill-you thing.) But, when it came to Cinder‘s twist, I called it. It didn’t ruin, not even spoil, the novel for me; but I saw it.

Amazon promises this novel is for grade level 7 and up. I don’t know if I’d go that far; it’s not too complex, but it’s a for-sure page turner, albeit wonderfully guilty pleasure. It’s certainly rated G; maybe that’s the basis of Amazon’s rankings? Nonetheless, Meyer does an excellent job on maintaining excitement throughout an already well-known tale. We know there’s a prince. We know there’s a ball. We know there’s a shoe. But she also adds her own exciting elements that create their own intrigue, and even unexpectedness; the fairy godmother-magic pumpkin adaptations were done exceptionally well.

I certainly cannot wait to start the second installment…which evidently introduces new fairy tale heroines???

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


I’ve gone ahead and subtitled the first installment in the All Souls Trilogy “The Adult Twilight.”

And who doesn’t want an adult Twilight? It was the greatest streamline enjoyment for YAs (and greatest guilty pleasure for non-YAs) of its time, what with its vampire – forbidden love – love triangle trifecta. And an adult version of that would just, you know, take our leads out of high school and make them slightly less post-pubescent and grammatically incorrect.

A Discovery of Witches may not have a love triangle (at least not in this first installment), but it does have a beautiful vampire and his non-vampire love interest. Diana (the non-vamp) is not a human, but a witch who had forgone her powers in her youth because of her parents’ mysterious death. Little does she know, there is a reason she can’t easily summon up her witching powers—and her beautiful vampire can help her find out why.

Let me say, to begin, that this is worth the read. It’s characters are lovable yet fallible — this is a quibble I have with an array of young adult novels. Characters can still seem perfect to their love interests if they have flaws! Sure, Matthew is a vampire. He is insanely handsome, uncannily intelligent, perfectly graceful and suave — but he also is roughly over-protective, secretive, and controlling. Despite this, Diana loves him. (And so do I.)

It’s also got originality — yes, it’s the adult Twilight, but it’s also got a mind of its own. And so does Diana’s house (have a mind of its own, I mean).  It makes up rooms when it wants, locks doors when people want to be alone, shelters old ghosts and ancestors, throws houseguests across the room when it’s mad, and hides knitting from the knitter. It’s like the changing staircases at Hogwarts, only better.

In the quibbles, department, this novel is long and it feels long. I’m all for 600-pagers (who didn’t love Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?), but there were times where this one could have used some edits. Sometimes, it’s a novel. Sometimes, it’s a college history lecture. (Author Deborah Harkness is currently a professor of history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She’s brilliant, and it shows. But I graduated college. I figure most of the readers have too.) Continuing with minute particulars, Diana might be narcoleptic – she’s always falling asleep. And it’s convenient that Matthew happens to have been on a nickname basis with every famous historical figure throughout history, from Shakespeare to Washington. I’m sure he was also best friends with John Lennon, though he doesn’t seem to mention that in the first book. Later in the series, perhaps?

But, all in all, this novel is definitely going places. There are basically three major plots fueling the story: Diana’s trying to summon her witching powers, a mysterious manuscript that everyone wants, and the creatures who are trying to break up the witch-vampire romance. I’ll admit, I’m going to wait before going straight into the second book – I need to break for a book that’s just a little less smart – but read it I shall.