Vampire Academy

Title: Vampire Academy
Author: Richelle Mead
Genre: fantasy; young adult; paranormal romance; urban fiction
Synopsis: (from Amazon) St. Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger. . . . Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever.
Review: I picked this up for $1 at a used book store in Northampton, MA, and am kinda glad I didn’t pay much more than that. For a vacation read, it was entertaining, but it was predictable and the characters felt flat to me. I would definitely recommend this to the girls I teach who still think Team Alice / Team Bella is fun. Rose and Lissa are much stronger women than anyone In the Twilight franchise.

Here are my general thoughts.

1. It was okay. I liked that it had a definitive end, because I don’t think I’ll continue with it. But, I can see where a sequel and subsequent series will pick up.

2. Rose was too juvenile for me. But I think she’s just not what I’m looking for in a protagonist anymore. She’s reckless and snarky in a way that seems foolish, not necessary, if that makes sense.

3. Mead’s dealing with depression was delicate and sensitive in my opinion. I think she wrote in two teenagers who were going through some heavy stuff and didn’t know how to deal, and then handled it well.

The predictability of the book is what really got me. I mean, it’s gotta have some tropes to be YA paranormal romance, but does it have to have ALL of them? The forbidden love, the love triangle, the scandal, the social classes, the miscommunications, the rebellion, the snarky loser reject, the Miss Frizzle, the mean teacher that reads all the notes. If you made a list of all the high school / paranormal tropes, they’d be in this book.

I like a good trope. We all like a good trope. But having them all, I just felt like I was checking boxes rather than reading a story. At the end of the day though, I picked it up knowing what I was getting myself into, and bought it anyway. Like I said up top… it was okay.

Labyrinth Lost

Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Genre: fantasy; young adult; LGBT; paranormal; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation… And she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: While reading this, the first thing that came to mind was, “heck yes, a Latinx bruja story!” I legit haven’t seen many of these on the market and with paranormal fantasy as big as it is, that’s a tragedy. That said, I am happy to report that Córdova has opened up this niche market to the wider audience with her first book of her Brooklyn Brujas series. Authors like Isabel Allende and Cristina Garcia have been bringing powerful Latinx women to the written page for decades and with Labyrinth Lost, Córdova puts herself on that list of authors too — for a young adult audience.

Alex is an interesting narrator for this first installment. She is written like a perfect middle child — I am one, I know what it feels like, okay! — Somewhere between knowing everything and getting away with everything, Alex is just looking for ordinary in a family that is anything but. Like any true YA heroine, doubt and panic lead to major second guessing which leads to a major lack of communication between mother / daughter. (Really, between the whole family.) This is my only gripe with this book. Had ONE of the 400 years of brujas and brujos in Alex’s family told her what she needed to hear, many of the conflicts would have resolved themselves. But as I continue to think about this, I think, what sixteen-year-old girl talks to their parents about the stuff that matters? And there are a few instances where she tries and gets brushed off, so I take away this gripe. But I don’t erase it. Because it was there.

That said, the storyline was beautifully written. Woven like an Ancient Greek tapestry by Penelope herself, Córdova takes you into Los Lagos, the In Between as it were, and writes three dimensional characters all the way through. The villain is interesting. The plot is too. Alex’s character development is both realistic and touching. I like Nova as a character. I like Rishi, but less than I like Nova. Alex does something really impulsive for Rishi that I think is counterintuitive to her character’s whole motivation. In fact, when this particular scene happened, chapter 33, I was riding on a train from Cavaillon to Salon in Provence and I slammed my book down in my lap in a most dramatic fashion. My fellow French passengers were not amused. Je suis désolé. Like my earlier gripe that I took back because she’s sixteen, I think I have to use that same card here too. What do you think?

I’ve already put in an order for the second book and can’t wait for it to arrive.

A Court of Frost and Starlight

Image result for a court of frost and starlightTitle: A Court of Frost and Starlight
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we’d have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I’d now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it.
Review:  I preordered this book and anticipated this release so so heavily. I thought I was getting the next full installment of the series, not a 3.1 “day in the life” kind of novella. Maybe that’s my fault. I loved getting back into the characters and their lives, and I am glad I spent the time to preorder it, but it was not everything I hoped for. Some people really enjoy these types of books, the kinds that give their characters a semblance of normalcy after a long battle or a hard heartbreak, and typically, I am those readers. But this time, I was just expecting more.

I wanted this to be the fallout of the Battle of Hybern, and instead, I got the story of recovery after trauma. The varied POV changes also threw me a little. I wonder if this is to set up a series of spin offs from the characters in the future? Anyway. I’m still going to be ordering the next one, so ….

 

Love in the Time of Global Warming

Image result for love in the time of global warmingTitle: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Genre: retelling;
Synopsis: Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.
Review: This Odyssey pairing is an interesting YA version of the text. A modern setting and some cool queer characters make this classic tale seem fresh and inviting for a new generation of readers. Pen is an interesting protagonist, thrown into the apocalypse without warning or preparation.  While Block doesn’t have the sweeping power that Homer does, it would be a good pairing for lower-level readers so that they understand the mile markers of the epic. Pen is a heroine in her own right, but she is no Odysseus.

In the end, the book felt a little one-dimensional for me. I am very well versed in Homer, so I think I went into it with really high expectations and hopes, but was instead kind of left wanting more. The characters didn’t get enough backstory and the drama felt a little rushed. I’d still recommend it to the students I teach though, so….

The Song of Achilles

Image result for the song of achillesTitle: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: historical fiction; fantasy; mythology; lgbt; romance
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Review: This book is everything an epic retelling of mighty Achilles should be. In the beginning of the novel, as Patroclus’ backstory was being introduced, I started to feel some type of way because I always loved Patroclus’ story and Madeline Miller’s telling of it wasn’t what I remembered at all, but when he is sent to live with Achilles, I stopped caring about that completely. The relationship between these two heroes grows slowly and softly and sweetly in a way that proves just how passionate about the classics Miller really is.

As Achilles and Patroclus grow older (not that old, they’re barely teenagers at the start of the Trojan War), they cannot avoid the world forever. The dynamics between all of other characters shift, but the bond between Achilles and Patroclus stays steady. I knew how this was to end, obviously, but JESUS did I cry. The best of the Greeks indeed. Patroclus’ love for Achilles, and Achilles’ lust for legacy create a beautiful and tragic story of love and honor. Thetis, I hated you, but in the end, you did right by your son.

Definitely looking forward to more from Madeline Miller after this.

Throne of Glass

Image result for throne of glassTitle: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; faerie tale; adventure;
Synopsis: (from SJM’s website) In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, Celaena, an assassin, is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king’s champion. The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass—and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.
Review: I am already very familiar with this author — I’ve read her ACOTAR series and I adored it. So picking up the TOG series seemed like a no brainer. I wasn’t disappointed by this first book in the series. The characters (although spelled in an awesomely difficult way) were well developed and full of conflict, the world building was as detailed as I expected it to be. One thing that was interesting and unexpected was Maas’ choice to change points of view. I like books that are driven by a single protagonist, so that was an interesting twist.

I’m excited to continue the series to learn more about Celaena’s past. Maas’ character development really creates a beautiful and full female lead. But the supporting characters were equally well written. Chaol is broody and sullen, which I really like in a male lead. Dorian was more than just an arrogant prince. Celaena’s relationships with the other characters were realistic and plot driving.

​i love Sarah J Maas and was not disappointed in this book. I couldn’t put it down. It didn’t hurt that I was on vacation while reading — a private island definitely helps the reading vibe.

The Hazel Wood

Image result for the hazel woodTitle: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: fantasy, contemporary, fairytale
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland super fan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
ReviewReading this book was almost like walking into fairy tales for the very first time. It had an almost Grimm feeling to it but in a wholly original way. The author created an amazing cast of characters and a strong narrator, Alice, that made the read swift and adventurous. The twists and turns were unexpected and mysterious and the whole time I read it, I just kept wondering how it would end. I wasn’t disappointed. Albert’s writing style wove truth and story together beautifully. She created a modern, realistic New York City and juxtaposed it perfectly to the fantastical and horrifying Hinterland. As everything in fairy tales are better in threes, I’ll leave at this: I’d 100% read more about Alice. Three times.

*Special thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.