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JLeighBralick

JLeighBralick

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Double Life (Razia, #1)
S. Usher Evans
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Siege and Storm
Leigh Bardugo
Steelheart
Brandon Sanderson
Fortune's Pawn
Rachel Bach

The Artifex

The Artifex - S.K. Valenzuela Wow. Just wow. There are no words to describe all the FEELS of this book! What a gripping, intense, heart-rending, uplifting, glorious end to a riveting series. Last books of series always run the risk of disappointing readers...it's so hard to bring things to a closure that is satisfying and complete. Not so here. This book definitely delivers. I think it is hands-down my favorite in the series...for so many reasons.

You know how sometimes in series, characters seem to change inexplicably from one book to the next? Or sometimes they never seem to change or grow at all? I fell in love with Sahara and Jared in [b:The Outworlder|11955237|The Outworlder (Silesia, #1)|S.K. Valenzuela|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356122444s/11955237.jpg|16917329] and watching their characters grow and change, suffer, fail, and rise again has been one of the most emotionally-satisfying book journeys I've been on in a long time. There has always been a psychological element to the Silesia trilogy, and watching that play out in Sahara and Jared's lives is incredibly fascinating.

This book also does a remarkable job of tying together the entire series. We learn so much about Silesia, about the Dragon-Lords, about Sahara, Jared and Deor's pasts...all those little threads woven throughout the series now come together and you can see the pattern of the whole (and it's seriously a "Whooaaaa" moment). The ouroboros dragon emblem on the cover is incredibly fitting for this series...there really is a sense of coming full-circle, in so many ways...though not in the sense that we end up where we started, without any change. The ouroboros is the symbol of rebirth, of the cycle of order and chaos, of wholeness, of life and death. The way these themes play out in this story is beautiful and at times astonishing, and so poignant.

It's sad to see this series come to an end. The ending is so perfect...but it is still an ending, and I hate saying goodbye to friends.

Insurgent

Insurgent - Veronica Roth Review to come. Still processing.

Leviathan

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson 4.5 stars, but I really had fun with this one, especially after coming off another book that rather disappointed me. I thought the world was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed the characters. Deryn and Alek both seemed a bit young at times for their actual ages, but I liked them so much that I was willing to look past it. It's funny, because my current project is rather steampunk and takes place in a world with this kind of feel to it, so it was a lot of fun to see how Westerfeld handled it.

I'm really looking forward to reading Behemoth!

Across the Universe

Across the Universe - Beth Revis 2.5-ish stars...I'm entirely uncertain what I thought about this book. I read it very quickly, even though some aspects of the writing really bothered me...and the characters felt rather odd. I figured out the mystery not a quarter of the way into the book and just kept waiting for the other characters to figure it out. And some elements of the story were just plain freaky...and not in a good way. The Season? Yeah, that went on way too long, and was way too explicit for my tastes. Seriously, ugh.

Also, some things just didn't make sense from a world-building perspective. Why did they need to go to Centauri-Earth? The only picture we get of life on Earth was very normal kinds of track-meets and dates kind of stuff. I didn't get the sense that the Earth was falling apart. If there was this sudden need to go terraform another planet, then surely other ships would be following Godspeed, right? You'd send one ship ahead to get the work done, and then more ships would follow. Otherwise, what's the point? Why go all the way across the universe with a handful of humans if there was no intention of cryogenically freezing more of the population and sending them after you? You wouldn't wait till the original ship landed and terraformed the planet to send the next wave, because obviously there's a 250 year gap between takeoff and landing. All that to say, it would have made such a more interesting story if Amy had known that Jason would be frozen next year and sent after her, and that eventually they would meet up again on Centauri-Earth. If there's no immediacy to the mission, there just doesn't seem to be a reason for it. And that bothers me.

Still, I might pick up the next one...I'm fairly interested to see how the characters move forward from here.

Scarlet

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer LOVED. It was fantastic...I wished we'd seen more of Kai, but I loved Thorne, Wolf and Scarlet...and Cinder was fantastic as always. There were times when I was thinking at Marissa Meyer, "OH no you don't.....oh good, you didn't....oh WAIT, you're not gonna...WAIT WAIT WHAT!!!" Yeah, it was that kind of read. I love how she interweaves the fairy tales in with cyborgs and spaceships, while still painting a beautiful pastoral picture of rural France (with CHICKENS! Sorry, I liked the chickens). And was it just me or were there some fun little nods to Firefly/Serenity in here? Thorne reminded me so much of a younger, more foppish Mal, smuggling dolls and food and trying to fly under the radar... I loved it. (The disembodied voice "incorporeally possessing a spaceship"? Yeah. That was fantastic.)

My only issue was at the very beginning of the novel, the writing felt a little choppy...a little less polished than I'd expected. Once I got past those first couple chapters of passive verbs and telling passages, though, the story really picked up. I can't wait for the next....why must I wait a whole year? Why? The torture! Remember, the torture? :-)

Divergent

Divergent  - Veronica Roth I'm still mulling over what I think of this one. I mean, I blew through it, because I couldn't stop reading....if I hadn't gotten sick and spent half a day asleep I would have finished it in no time. A couple things kind of bothered me about it, but in the end, not enough to keep me from loving it.

I really loved the characters. I'm sorry, but I thought Veronica Roth did the whole dystopic game-of-survival story a lot better than The Hunger Games... Katniss is always said to be a really tough character, but for me, she just never really....did anything. The events of the Games seemed to happen around he, and she never seemed to really suffer and fear for her life -- I mean, that last moment of panic when your enemy is looming over your broken body and you can't fathom how you'll escape...that kind of fear for your life. There was a general sense of "I have to win or it means I died," but...the immediacy wasn't there. Tris, on the other hand, struggles daily to win a place among the Dauntless. She gets thoroughly beaten on several occasions. And sometimes she doesn't find a way to win against all odds. That made her very real to me, and made her struggle very real. She was tough as nails but had to learn -- the hard way -- the difference between being brave and being heartless.

There were some things that made it a not-quite-5-star book for me, though. The pacing felt a little uneven...the book is very long, and some passages/events felt repetitive. Also, what ended up being the real climax of the story seemed to come up very abruptly in the latter part of the book, and got (partially) resolved just as quickly. I really wanted to know more about the world. Why are there factions? When did this come about? What's going on in the rest of the world? Is the rest of the United States even intact, and if so, do they have factions too? I suppose that'll be the topic of the next book, but I'd have liked some hints about the past. Certain details didn't make sense to me either -- for instance, the Dauntless seem to rely on these trains to get around, but what trains, and why? I got the impression they were like regular old freight trains with empty box cars with open doors. Why were they going around and around the city? Who drove them? No one rides them except the Dauntless. They don't transport any goods, apparently. They don't seem to go anywhere important. They just felt like a convenient plot tool, really. And the technology all felt very early 21st century to me, too. Computers with hard drives? How soon in the future does this take place? These things bothered me a little, but obviously not enough to make me dislike the book.

Also, I felt kind of cheated that both of her parents met the same fate, within pages of each other, and her brother had the same reaction both times. Tris's reactions built up a little bit, but we moved on so quickly it just felt...I don't know. It wasn't quite as emotionally charged as I thought it should have been.

And it was never really explained why Divergent people could manipulate the simulation. And when Four got so angry with Tris for changing the simulation to beat it (so much that he had to delete the footage so no one would see it), how the heck was she able to manipulate ALL of the fears in her fear landscape, with the panel watching her, without raising any suspicions? AND manage to beat everyone? That felt like a huge plot hole to me.

Like I said, I really enjoyed the characters. I loved Tris's internal and external struggles. Four was wonderful, even though he sometimes got a little too....squishy and dramatic for the tough bad-A character he is the rest of the time. And I figured out who he was by the second chapter we saw him...so I kept wanting to smack Tris for not making the connection. ;-) But this was a really fun read, and I'm definitely looking forward to Insurgent!

The Hero of Ages

The Hero of Ages - Brandon Sanderson Oh. Wow. That was....that was amazing. *sits back* I think it's going to take me a while to collect my thoughts...and my breath...after reading this one. What a fantastic conclusion to Elend and Vin's story.... What I really want to ponder is how Brandon Sanderson is such a master of mystery...dropping clues all throughout the book until you hit just that right moment when suddenly everything clicks in a huge eureka moment and you start frantically flipping back through pages to see that yes, in fact, he did drop those clues all along... O.o That's masterful storytelling at its finest...and something I desperately want to improve in my own.

Can't write a more thorough review than that at the moment. Suffice to say: Excellent. Bravo, Mr. Sanderson. Bravo.

The Assassin and the Princess

The Assassin and the Princess - Sarah J. Maas 3.5 stars. Not quite sure what to make of this book yet. There were aspects of it that I enjoyed immensely, and then there were parts that just kind of...didn't impress.

Celaena was both engaging and annoying, and I liked her well enough after we got past her schizophrenic/psychopathic mentality at the beginning of the novel, where she thought more like a serial killer than an assassin (seriously, what assassin fantasizes about killing every single person they lay eyes on?). After that, she was kind of normal, if totally arrogant and narcissistic and way too girly for the bloodthirsty assassin we were given to expect... It was like the only reason I ever would have thought of her as an assassin is because the author (and Celaena) kept saying it was so. We certainly never saw her actually *being* an assassin (and she's clumsy enough and unobservant enough that I sometimes questioned her reputation, which....why would an assassin have a name and a reputation, anyway? The best assassins are the ones whose names you never hear).

I will say I very much enjoyed the dialogue -- it was the strongest aspect of the writing -- though there were times when I wished they would stop with the banter and be honest for once...just once! But there were moments where I laughed, which always makes me happy. And I did like Chaol. Cool character. Didn't care for the love triangle, or the constant obsessing over appearances which seems to be the common trope these days, but I did like Chaol. Nehemia was an interesting character as well. I never did figure out the antagonist's motives, which kind of bothers me.

Other reasons for the not-quite-4-stars? The premise of the story didn't make much sense. Why would anyone pick their Champion from the ranks of the people most likely to hate them, to kill them? Also, what sort of culture was this, anyway? At the beginning I was thinking medieval, then we have shops with ready-made dresses in them so I was thinking post-Renaissance, then there were balls with waltzes, and pianos with white and black keys, which suggested Romantic era.....not to mention the ubiquitous presence of novels. But then all of a sudden we have Fae and magic and people from other worlds/realms? Yes, yes, it's fantasy. No, it doesn't have to mirror a specific period of Earth's history. But there was no reason for the inconsistency. Why not give her a harpsichord or clavichord to play on? For some reason the piano really bothered me, because it's just such a distinctly modern instrument.

Still, despite uneven pacing and way too much angsting over pretty dresses and pretty princes, and a Hunger Games-esque competition where the heroine doesn't have to actually defeat 95% of her opponents, it was an entertaining read. I might look into the other books.

Lastly...I may just be the only person who doesn't really like the cover. Yeah, pretty girl, dagger, swirly blue stuff. But all I can think of is when I used to ask my nephew (when he was about 3) to "get his game face on." And he would clench his fist and make his best attempt at a scowl. Yeah, it looked kind of exactly like this girl. =D

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Rae Carson I really enjoyed this! A couple elements might have made it somewhat less than a 5 star for me, but...they weren't enough. One of my favorite books that I've read lately. It was WONDERFUL!

Spirit's End

Spirit's End - Rachel Aaron Wow...this was a phenomenal end to the lovely Eli Monpress saga...I'm still stunned and amazed and a little breathless from that wild ride of a book. Rachel Aaron did a masterful job of weaving little threads throughout the whole series, only to draw them out and show their interweaving pattern in this final book. This is masterful craftsmanship at its finest. And not only that, but all of those characters who have kind of grown into the story along the way now prove to be vital to its outcome.

Nico and Josef's story arc has been one of the most fascinating to me through this whole series, and Rachel Aaron had me biting my nails through this whole book, in sheer terror over what would become of poor Nico. I loved watching the ever-changing and growing dynamic between Eli and Miranda, and Eli and his parents. And I kind of fell a little in love with the Lord of Storms...if that's possible with a storm. ;-)

Rachel Aaron brings us literally to the brink of irreversible, apocalyptic doom. The whole story long I'm thinking, "There's no way this can ever be fixed! WE'RE DOOOOOOMED!!!!" The tension and suspense was unbelievable. I literally could not put the book down the whole time I was reading it. I ate with it, brought it secretly to work, stayed up way too late with it. And it was exhilarating, astounding, heart-pounding genius.

I'm so sad this series is now over, but I know I will reread it many times in the future. And I can't see what story will flow next from this author's masterful pen.

The Lords of Askalon (Silesia, #2)

The Lords of Askalon (Silesia, #2) - S.K. Valenzuela I was lucky enough to read this book in advance...and it is fantastic! This is a darker, grittier story than Book 1, a study of human nature at its best and at its worst...and it's one heck of a wild ride. I loved the development of Sahara's character -- watching her grow and struggle and fall and try again to find her way in life. She is tough and vulnerable and passionate and broken, but struggling to find her identity and to overcome the ghosts of her past. We learn so much more about Jared and their friends, and meet some fascinating new enemies and allies along the way. And oh, do we visit some incredible worlds. Everything is so richly imagined and so unique...and I loved getting some more of the back story about why the worlds are the way they are. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and what started out as a simple enough plan quickly spirals out of control, as Sahara and crew discover just what happened in the aftermath of their rather Pyrrhic victory on Silesia.

I'm already dying to know what will happen in the next book!

Seraphina

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman I was going to say 4.5 stars on this one...but I feel like rounding up. It was just that lovely of a story.

At first, I wasn't too sure of the world-building. It seemed basically like medieval Europe with dragons, with a medieval Christian religion only slightly modified into a polytheistic pantheon of "saints" rather than "gods" -- a Christian-esque hagiography mixed with some quite pagan (un)godly behaviors. I wasn't sure I was a fan of that, but in the end, it worked. Even though some thing were borrowed awfully closely, the fantasy element was strong enough that it felt like a learned borrowing and a respectful nod rather than a perversion and a mockery, which pleased me. And the medieval elements were charming...it isn't often you get mentions of sackbuts and houppelandes and garderobes in a YA book, and that just thrilled me to pieces, being a costumier and medieval (music and history) enthusiast.

Although the romance reminded me a bit of Ever After (there's a definite Cinderella quality to it), I loved the characters so much that it just reminded me why that is one of my favorite stories. Seraphina is a marvelous heroine. She's prickly, caring, strong, deeply conflicted, passionate and intelligent. She can take care of herself, but she's not in-your-face about it, and she's vulnerable too. And Kiggs is absolutely wonderful. Hartman seemed to really take time to bring these characters to life in vivid and careful detail...down to the smallest mannerisms. I've only read a handful of books so far this year where I felt like I knew the characters so well, and it's always refreshing. I also loved the dragons, even though we don't get an excessive amount of detail about their dragonish selves.

The plot was fairly straightforward, but the mystery kept me guessing till the end, and the subplots were fascinating. I loved the idea of Seraphina's mind garden and all of the characters associated with it. It seemed to me that the story was a character study almost more than anything, and sometimes I really love sinking into a book that just lives and breathes its characters in their search for identity and self-knowledge.

Like all of my favorite books this year, this one is definitely unique, beautiful, and filled with rich and believable characters. I hope this isn't the last we see of Seraphina, Orma, Kiggs, and the rest of the gang.

Soulbound

Soulbound - Heather Brewer Tried to get into it, but the style at the beginning is not really appealing to me. It feels very over-explained. I'm going to have to try again later when I have more time.

Also, can I just say that whoever designed the cover made some rather unfortunate choices. If they'd ever handled chain mail, they'd know that the last place you'd want it sitting is right on your hair (it snags like crazy!). It's also almost impossible to see through....and it smells terrible. And the girl's holding the katana backwards. So.

The Raven Boys

The Raven Boys - Maggie Stiefvater I have to say that I loved The Scorpio Races more, but this was still a delightful read.

The ending left me a little dissatisfied, if only because I didn't realize until the very end that the climax was actually the story's climax. I kept waiting for the conflict to get bigger, but then it ended. Also, it seemed to happen very quickly with almost zero denouement and a lot left unexplained....not "to be explained in the next book" sorts of things but things that had me thinking I skipped a chapter. Like Adam, at the very end. I thought something totally creepifying had happened, but then it seems like nothing's changed? I was all thinking something like, "Omg, his body has been taken over by the spirit of the forest and he speaks as their voice and and and....wait, he just moved out into a new apartment? What'd I miss??" :-k But I'll definitely read book 2. Especially because of Ronan. ^_^

And Maggie...I love observing how she writes. Gives me a lot to think about. =)

(One last note? She should have sent her Latin to a Latinist. I was correcting it as I read. =P)

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky - Veronica Rossi Tried to get through this one...found it frustrating and it didn't hold my interest long enough for me to finish it before I had to return it to the library. But I'll probably try to finish it at some point.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein Beautiful, ingenious, terrible and heart-wrenching. This is one of those books that I finish and immediately want to go back and reread -- hence my five stars, reserved for just that kind of book. I adored everything about it. Everything. It was THAT good.

Though I did catch on to something pretty early on, I can honestly say that for once, the ending took me utterly by surprise.