Book Review – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless - book coverHaving so thoroughly enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, her latest novel, Heartless was one of the first I purchased with the gift cards I received back at Christmas. A stand-alone novel rather than the start of a new series, Heartless delves into the life of the young woman who becomes the Queen of Hearts and terrifies Alice on her journey through Wonderland. Once again, Meyer demonstrates her skill at paying homage to the source material while expanding and incorporating additional elements, including characters from nursery rhymes and poems.

Cath is the daughter of the Marquess and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove in the kingdom of Hearts but what she wants above everything else is to open a bakery with her best friend, lady’s maid Mary Ann. Though Cath has already caught the king’s attention with her tasty treats, someone else has caught her eye—the new court joker, Jest. As a Jabberwock begins terrorizing the kingdom, Cath learns that there is more to Jest and his presence in Hearts than she’d originally thought and her dreams will clash with both reality and fate. Continue reading

Book Review – Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

9781250091840_p0_v2_s192x300Where many young adult series are told in one character’s first person perspective, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles wasn’t. With each novel additional characters were added to the mix and the perspective shifted regularly between them. This meant that where many young adult authors release complementary/supplementary short stories that offer a different character’s take on scenes the audience is already familiar with, her collection of stories, Stars Above, provided a different kind of depth—backstory. Most of the stories in Stars Above are greater explorations of the circumstances surrounding key moments in the series’ central characters’ lives that took place before the readers met them but that were hinted at or referenced briefly within the main books.

Most of the stories function as prequels to the books of the main series: how Scarlet’s grandmother became involved in hiding and healing Cinder as well as how Scarlet came to live with her grandmother in the first place; Cinder’s first days with her adoptive family in New Beijing; how Cress came to find herself in the satellite orbiting Earth; some of Thorne’s earliest schemes; Wolf’s early days as a soldier in Levana’s army; Winter’s perspective of growing up in her step-mother’s palace; Kai’s first impressions of Cinder. There are two stories that break from that pattern, however. The Little Android, while featuring an appearance by Cinder prior to the events of the first novel of the series, stands on its own as a reimagining of The Little Mermaid (the Hans Christian Anderson original more than the Disney version). Finally, the last story in the collection is a happy epilogue/sequel which finds the series’ four couples gathering on Earth for a long-awaited reunion and wedding. Continue reading

2015 Year in Review Recommendations

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” – Abraham Lincoln

It’s that time of year again so here are my favorite books I got to read and review/preview in 2015 (there are more than last year, but I don’t think I loved any of them as much as I did The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August last year).

 

book cover - orhan's inheritanceOrhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which continues to be largely ignored and which is front and center in this novel.

 

 

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna Northbook cover - the life and death of sophie stark

This is a book that’s all about perspective, perception, and presentation. The narrative structure and how it ties together in the end underscores the novel’s themes.

 

book cover - dead wakeDead Wake by Erik Larsson

I’m a sucker for just about anything Erik Larsson writes but when I saw that he was live tweeting the events as they had happened 100 years earlier, I had to read the whole story.

 

book cover - cinderbook cover - winterThe Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

 

book cover - scarlet

book cover - cress

 

 

Technically I read Cinder last year and wasn’t overly impressed with Scarlet earlier this year but the final two installments in this series—Cress and Winter—more than make up for earlier weaknesses.

 

 

girl from the train - book cover

 

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

I enjoyed this sentimental tale of reconnection in the years after World War II and learned about one of the programs that relocated German orphans in the wake of that war.

 

book cover - the shiningThe Shining by Stephen King

Not big on horror as a genre, I was surprised by just how much I loved The Shining—so much more psychological than I expected.

 

 

The Virgin’s Daughter and The Virgin’s Spy by Laura Andersenbook cover - virgin's daughtervirgin's spy - book cover

The first two books in The Tudor Legacy spin-off series that continues in the alternative history universe Laura Andersen created with her Boleyn Trilogy. Eager to see how it continues in 2016.

 

 

career of evil - book coverCareer of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling)

The third in the Cormoran Strike series, Career of Evil gets deeper into the characters of Cormoran and Robin and their personal histories.

 

 

medicis daughter - book coverMédicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

If you like novels about the Tudor Court, this novel of the Valois Court in France shows the English weren’t the only ones whose court intrigues and religious turmoil could turn deadly.

Book Review – Winter by Marissa Meyer

book cover - winter After how much I enjoyed Cress, the third installment in the Lunar Chronicles, I had high hopes going into the series’ final installment, Winter, but was also a little worried because—with the exception of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games—the ending of a young adult series like this is usually a bit of a let down and not just because it’s over. I’ve enjoyed a few in the last several years that have so much promise, build wonderfully, but end the series by falling flat in execution or become overly convoluted in an attempt to wring every last bit of drama out of them that can be had. Winter doesn’t do that; it’s longer than those that came before it but it delivers where and when it counts.

As the novel starts, Cinder—the lost Lunar princess and rightful ruler, Selene—and the friends she has gathered with her on the Rampion are hammering out the details of their plan to start a revolution on Luna and remove her aunt, Queen Levana, from power. With Emperor Kaito’s cooperation, they are able to get themselves onto Luna where they intend to rouse the citizens from the moon-nation’s outer—and severely oppressed—districts to rise up and march on the palace where their numbers should overwhelm the capabilities of those in charge. At the same time, Levana’s stepdaughter, Princess Winter, is still watching out for the abducted Scarlet—but Levana is growing increasingly jealous of the people’s affection for Winter and the threats posed by Cinder are frustrating her in ways she hasn’t felt for years.

There are so many characters and they go in so many different directions that it can be a bit tricky to keep track of everyone but ultimately the changes in perspective and the different ways the characters are paired up for the steps along the way work beautifully and keep the pacing exciting. The Lunar Chronicles as a whole act to emphasize exactly how important and engaging it can be to have switching points of view. None of the characters are presented in first person—a pet peeve of mine when it comes to young adult fiction—and they all have distinct personalities and ways of looking at and coping with the obstacles they encounter making the characters’ collective ability to work together that much more impressive. Meyer’s approach to add the characters and their stories gradually—one in each installment of the series as their role became clearer—was a wonderful way of building those voices and narratives (a way I know I didn’t appreciate much in Scarlet, though it might have been because the adjustment was jarring but also might just be that Scarlet is not my favorite character in the series).

Once again, I’m amazed at how well Meyer was able to weave the details of the fairy tales that inspire these characters into the novels as a whole. There have been a lot of series in the last decade or so that have used novellas or short stories as a way to provide additional insight into supporting or secondary characters—usually because the main book/series is limited by first person narration. I haven’t found those supporting stories too compelling in the past, but the Lunar Chronicles’ novella giving Levana’s history and rise to power in Fairest was worth it. Seeing the progression as she matures and learns not just how best to manipulate those around her but how to justify her actions to herself is a psychological masterpiece that is very valuable going into Winter where the reader sees just how different the responses to similar trauma can be.

Lastly, after being disappointed with the world building of the Selection series last week, the depth of it in the Lunar Chronicles is astounding. More than just the political institutions and their political figures as well as the geography of both a futuristic Earth and colonized, independent moon nation, the extent to which the social issues of this fictional society speak to current conversations is remarkable—the ethics of medical experimentation, the use of biological weapons, what constitutes and defines personhood, issues of class and wealth disparities, the use of propaganda, and more all appear throughout the series. And it is the characters’ opinions on such issues that help give them personality and depth, allowing their individual experiences to inform how they react to situations in ways which readers can easily relate to and apply to everyday life.

Book Review – Cress by Marissa Meyer

9781250007223_p0_v4_s192x300While I enjoy young adult series for the most part, in the wake of The Hunger Games I’ve had a hard time finding one that felt as carefully plotted and well-executed. I thought the Divergent trilogy would fit the bill but the final installment was such a tremendous disappointment in execution that I’ve been a bit disheartened. I thought Cinder, the first installment of the Lunar Chronicles, was promising but Scarlet (the second book) left me wary. Having finally gotten up the courage to read Cress (Book 3), I’m completely excited to pre-order my copy of Winter (Book 4 due out this November).

Scarlet saw Cinder break out of prison along with fellow-inmate Carswell Thorne before eventually meeting up with Scarlet Benoit and the genetically enhanced ex-Lunar operative, Wolf. With all of them aboard Thorne’s ship, the Earthen Union stands on the brink of war with Queen Levana so Emperor Kai agrees to marry her. Cress picks up right where Scarlet left off with the formal introduction of Cress, the hacker Cinder spoke with briefly in the first book. Adding Rapunzel to the litany of fairy tales The Lunar Chronicles tackles, Cress has been kept imprisoned in a satellite orbiting Earth for the last seven years. Her only visitor is one of Queen Levana’s closest henchwomen, Thaumaturge Mira, who has had Cress hacking, programming, and infiltrating every Earthen system to glean information while protecting Lunar interests; along the way, Cress has developed a sympathy for Earth and in fact has been covertly aiding Cinder in her escape. When Cinder reaches out to Cress once more, Cress immediately agrees to help if Cinder and her crew will free her from her satellite. The rescue plan – and the larger plans for preventing Levana from taking over Earth – hit a snag when Thaumaturge Mira arrives at Cress’ satellite minutes before Cinder. Continue reading

Book Review – Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

9781250007216_p0_v2_s260x420My love for reimagined fairytales is still alive and strong. With the announcement of a November release date for the final book in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I figured I’d better make some progress on the series. Scarlet, the second book in the series continues the story begun in Cinder but with several new characters and layers to the futuristic world Meyer created.

Scarlet Benoit has been doing her best to keep up with the family farm in the wake of her grandmother’s disappearance. Most people have already dismissed the thought of looking for the older woman, convinced she’s simply run away. When a new patron of one of Scarlet’s regular customers asks for work on the farm, she’s wary but after her deadbeat father shows up ranting about men just like that patron torturing him and holding her grandmother captive, Scarlet goes looking for the mysterious Wolf who agrees to help her find and rescue her grandmother. But relations between the Earthen nations and Luna are tenuous after the incident at Emperor Kai’s ball in the Eastern Commonwealth. Queen Levana is threatening war if the young girl known as Lihn Cinder is not handed over, a demand that will be difficult to meet when Cinder manages to escape from prison and goes on the run.

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Book Review – Cinder by Marissa Meyer

9781250007209_p0_v3_s260x420So after a decent break from YA science fiction/dystopic fiction, I finally took the plunge on a new series by reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer (it took a lot to resist the urge to just reread the Hunger Games especially with the first Mockingjay movie coming out later this week). But I found Cinder to be a promising start to the Lunar Chronicles series and will definitely put the second and third installments on my To Read list. More science fiction than most of the YA series I’ve read in recent years, it appeals to another of my favorite trends: twists on fairy tales.

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing in the Eastern Commonwealth. She’s also a cyborg and, even if cyborgs weren’t looked down upon, her stepmother/guardian would be sure to make her feel that way. Cinder is understandably shocked when the crown prince, Kai, shows up to ask her to fix his personal android. But she doesn’t have long to enjoy the moment because her younger stepsister falls ill with the same plague that threatens the lives of everyone on earth including New Beijing’s dying emperor. Cinder is thrust into the mission to find a cure for the disease as the loathed and lethal Queen Levana from the colonized moon, Luna, holds the Commonwealth and all of Earth on the edge of war, threatening to enslave them as she has her own people, the Lunars.

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