Book Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Disreputable History Frankie LBThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
by E. Lockhart
Published by: Disney-Hyperion
Form: Purchased Paperback
Big Themes: Secret Societies, Pranks, Societal Structure, Popularity, Identity, Growing Up, Falling in Love, Girl Power/Feminism

Summary:
Frankie, girl genius and underestimated by all, attends an elite boarding school and infiltrates an elite boy-only secret society.

Review in a Nutshell:

This book.  Blew me away.  I know I’m late to the E. Lockhart game.  I am eager to read We Were Liars.

If you want a girl power read, this is your book.  If you want a book that will challenge how you look at the world.  This is your book.

I think the biggest reason this book resonated with me is its ideas about power.  How people obtain power.  How people diminish other’s power.  How you can empower yourself.  I loved watching Frankie figure out the world around her as some sort of social experiment.

HR sealofapprovalOverall:
Five big shining stars.  I know this was a short review, but I read this book over the summer and neglected to post it.  The messages of this book have stayed with me long after reading, and this is one I highly recommend.

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

12000020Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Published by: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Form: Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Identity, Growing Up, Friendship, Family, LBGT
Recommended for: Ages 14 and up (for language, alcohol use, and violence)

Summary:
Ari doesn’t really have any friends.  He has a mom who is a teacher, a dad who won’t open up, and a brother in prison that no one will talk about.  One summer at the pool, a boy named Dante offers to teach him how to swim, and from that point on, Ari’s life will never be the same.

What I Loved:

Characterization: Both Ari and Dante are characters I fell in love with.  I’m not one for realistic fiction, but what I’m learning is: if the author pulls off great characters, then bring on the realism.

Imagery: Some of the imagery was poignant and lovely.  Particularly, around one pivotal scene involving rain.  I would give examples, but I had to loan this book to a friend.  So if you want some beautiful imagery, you’ll just have to go read it for yourself.

Diversity: If you’re looking for diverse books, this is a must read.  (Hispanic and LBGT)

Family: Probably one of my favorite aspects of this book were Dante and Ari’s families.  If you want a book full of loving, supportive parents, who are real, flawed, but beautiful individuals–this is your book.

HR sealofapprovalOverall:
Five big shining stars.  This book will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.  I am so happy that such a book exists.  If you are hesitant to read LBGT titles, I highly recommend this one as your first.  It’s a beautiful story, rooted in friendship and family.  I recommend it so highly that I’m giving it the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval.  And bonus points for a gorgeous cover.

Book Review: Cress

cressCress
by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: Rebellion, Survival, Responsibility, Space, Love, Friendship

Reviews of Previous Books in the Series:
Cinder (5 stars)
Scarlet (4 stars) And… I can’t find my review ANYWHERE.  So confused.  Basically, from what I remember, I really liked this book, but parts were really scary and reminded me of a zombie apocalypse.  And I hate zombies.

Summary:
The series continues, but this time adding to the cast of characters: Cress.  A girl who has lived as a hacker and spy for the past seven years from a satellite orbiting Earth.  But her satellite is a prison, and Cress feels no loyalty to those who have trapped her there.  With her hacking skills and knowledge from years of spying, she would make a fine addition to the rebellion against Queen Levana.

Spoiler Free Section:

If you like book series with a wide cast of characters and expansive world-building, Marissa Meyer is delivering.  Her characters are lovable, well-developed, and quirky.  The history and depth of the world she’s created makes this a great escapist novel.  But most of all, her series is FUN.  For me, this book was the perfect read to curl up with after a long day at work.  I caught myself actually smiling and giggling as I read.  Meyer is highly influenced by Star Wars, and it’s fun to spot parallels between the two.  If a grand space adventure with a fun cast of characters sounds like your thing, I urge you to give this series a shot.

If you don’t want the series ruined for you… then I suggest you stop reading.

What I Loved:

Characterization: What I find especially remarkable is how the friendships and relationships between characters is making each character stronger.  Marissa Meyer is doing a beautiful job of using characters to bring out the strengths and flaws of each other.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Thorne’s character until this book.  I felt like he was a bit of a caricature–too perfect, too handsome, and with too many one-liners.  But when paired with Cress, he became more human, more real.  Cress herself was quite naive and idealistic.  But when the two were paired together, it forced realism upon them.  Thorne couldn’t be as perfect as Cress believed him to be, and we saw his flaws.  Cress, seeing the bad in the world along with the good, grew into a character that was stronger as she shed some of her naivete.

Another dynamic that I think worked beautifully in this book is Cinder and Kai.  They started the series on unequal ground.  Kai as emperor and Cinder as the lowest of the low, a cyborg servant.  Despite this, there was still chemistry between them.  As the series has progressed, Cinder has grown not just in strength of character but also in what responsibilities she has undertaken.  In one of the final scenes, where Cinder and Kai have their first real talk since the ball in the first book, the sense of understanding between the two characters is breathtaking.  Both Kai and Cinder feel the weight of responsibility, and it brings depth and beauty to their relationship.

Cohesiveness of Plot and World: With each book, the world and plot get larger and more expansive.  Meyer’s ability to make it all work is impressive.  From the futuristic technology to the plague to the intergalactic war, Meyer has managed to not just have it make sense, but also to interweave these elements.  The addition of bio-warfare was a twist I didn’t see coming and it further tightened the plot.  I admire how Meyer weaves some science into a series of books that would be considered too light and fun to be hardcore sci-fi.

Raising the Stakes: Meyer does one of my favorite things: throws her characters into the worst possible situations.  I looooove this.  Oh look, the whole gang is safe together in space… LET’S SEPARATE THEM.  Cress is going to finally escape her satellite… LET’S CRASH LAND HER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SAHARA WITH NO SHOES AND A BLIND MAN.  Marissa Meyer is AWESOME.  I want the characters in the worst possible situation.  I want to be on the edge of my seat.  I want to see them fighting to get out of it, using their skills and wits.  And please, no magical resolution.  Make them work for it and make the resolution an earned pay off for all that struggle.  Meyer does this 100%.

Humor: If you like witty dialogue and banter…  If you like when each character has their own voice and quirks…  If you like when quirkiness results in humorous interplay between characters… Then you’ll love the humor that Meyer has going on.  One of my favorite bits in Cress was Iko, the robot with the ridiculously girlish personality.  The scenes with Iko provided just the right levity and humor.  Her character is absolutely hilarious.

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five big beautiful stars and I’m giving this book the official Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval.  That’s how much I loved it.  This is, without a doubt, my favorite book in the Lunar Chronicles series.  It just hit all the right notes for me.  I’m anxiously awaiting the final book, Winter, though I can’t imagine it topping my warm fuzzy feelings for Book 3.

Cress on Goodreads

My post on meeting Marissa Meyer

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight

ad103-daysofbloodandstarlightDays of Blood and Starlight
by Laini Taylor
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Form: Purchased Hardback
Big Themes: War, Terrorism, Peace, Death, Reincarnation, Angels, Chimaera, Leadership, Choices, Love, Friendship, Trust

My Review of Book 1: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

*This is a spoiler-free review.

Summary:
After learning who she is and what has happened to those she loved, Karou must make difficult choices regarding who she can trust and who to ally with.  The world of angels and chimaera is further revealed in this sequel and we see the deep hatred and animosity that have torn their world apart.  Will Karou abandon her dreams of peace or will she live up to her name and bring hope to a ravaged land?

7f5e8-sealofapprovalRecipient of the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval
This award only goes to those books that I see as perfect works of genius.  The kinds of books that leave me speechless.  Recipients demonstrate exceptional creativity, gripping storytelling, memorable characters, grand world-building, beautiful writing, and make a positive contribution to children’s and young adult literature.

What I Loved:
Consistent Characters– I adore so many of the characters in this series.  Even the villains are masterfully crafted and easily loathable.  But what really makes me satisfied and happy with this second book of the series is that the characters are consistent.  It’s clear that Laini Taylor did enormous behind-the-scenes planning on what each individual character wants as well as what they fear.  These wants and fears dictate their actions as well as allow readers a deep sense of empathy and understanding of that character’s core.  This really stands out to me because I’ve read other 2nd and 3rd books in a series and been confused by characters’ actions.  I’ll feel as if I don’t know that character anymore.  With one particular book that I won’t name here, the author suggested that the reason her protagonist was making bad choices and behaving strangely was because she’d just lost people she loved.  Well, Karou lost everyone she loved as well.  And I understood every choice she made and she still felt like the same Karou from book one.  I attribute that to Taylor’s skill as a writer.  Bravo for consistent characters!

Every Scene is Purposeful– This is a chunky book, which could lead people to assume that the writer doesn’t know how to edit and cut out unnecessary bits.  But Taylor doesn’t have that problem.  When you look back on the novel as a whole, you realize how each scene contributed to the overall whole.  Whether it was a character insight or development of theme or an important plot point.  Such purposeful writing is the kind of thing that leaves me in awe.  It also leaves me with confidence that book three will be a satisfying and beautiful conclusion to the series.

Unexpected Twists– There were so many things that I didn’t see coming.  However, these twists aren’t just the author throwing things out and saying, “Ha! Bet you didn’t see that one coming!”  Instead, Taylor is a master of subtle foreshadowing and building overwhelming obstacles.  Once something happens, you see that it HAD TO HAPPEN that way.  Even if it is horrible, you know that it was unavoidable.  Every twist is foreshadowed or built to in some way.

Big Themes– I love when fantasy tackles big themes that readers can take away and apply to the real world.  One of the big themes of this book is terrorism.  Violence for the sake of revenge and instilling fear.  Another is forgiveness and trust.  Can you forgive someone who has betrayed you?  Can they still be someone you can trust?  So many good discussion topics could come out of this book!

Gorgeous Writing– This is just my expectation for Laini Taylor at this point.  All her writing is stunning.  Her imagery and word choice show that she is a master of the craft.  Below are a few sentences that I hope you will find as stunning as I do:

“Night came and the caravan made camp, posted guards.  The dark was pocked by small sounds: a scurry, a snap.  The guards’ hands were hot on their hilts; their blood jumped, eyes darted.” (Pg 72)
“In the cycle of slaughter, reprisal begat reprisal, forever.” (Pg 76)
“And in the highest reaches, ice formations looked like crystal cities from a distance, but proved desolate wind mazes up close.” (Pg 127)

Overall Rating:
Five big beautiful stars and a spot on my favorite list.  It is rare that I have total confidence in the author to finish a series when I’m only on the second book of a trilogy.  I have total confidence that Laini Taylor will have a perfect third and final book, and I can’t wait to see how she pulls the whole thing together.

Content Warning:
Due to violence and sexual content, I would recommend this series to ages 14 and up.

Book Review: Goliath


Goliath
by Scott Westerfeld

Published by: Simon Pulse
Purchased/Hardback
Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk
Big Themes: World War I, Air Travel, Genetically Engineered Species, Machines, Heroism, Secrets, Loyalty, Peace

My Review of Leviathan
My Review of Behemoth

*Some mild spoilers in the summary, but tried to keep spoilers out of the review*

Summary:
Alek returns to the Leviathan after Deryn’s persuasion, and they leave Istanbul and the revolution behind them.  While Alek feels he’s made a difference in the war, he still desperately wants peace.  Their travels lead them across the world, first to Russia, then Japan, then finally to the United States with a pit-stop in Mexico.  Deryn continues to thrive as an airman, but struggles with keeping her biggest secret from Alek.

What I Loved:

This final book in the series definitely earns the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. Scott Westerfeld completes this series with such satisfaction.  There is a line at the end of the Afterword that just filled me up so completely like few books ever have.  I’m in love with the idea of alternate history novels now.  Paired with the brilliant illustrations by Keith Thompson, you will be mesmerized by this series. Definitely check these books out!

World-Building/Setting: 
I was not expecting so much travel in this book!  That was such a pleasant surprise!  The Russian Bears were eerie and terrifying.  Japan’s kappas revealed the gruesome nature of war, but the descriptions of food in Tokyo made me hungry!  The United States didn’t have the same wonder and flavor of some of the other places, but the climax and reappearance of old characters more than made up for it.

Characters: 
This book had some of my favorite moments between Deryn and Alek.  Westerfeld does such a wonderful job of showing their friendship and growing feelings for each other through their actions.  Both Deryn and Alek are conflicted about their relationship, but so clearly care for each other and would do anything to protect each other.  They are probably my favorite book friendship/relationship ever.

Plot:
While not quite as fast-paced as Behemoth with action and battles, the travel kept the pacing quick and Alek and Deryn’s interactions kept me turning pages.  The ending is quite literally shocking, and I flew through the last 50 pages.  And you must read the afterword in each book because it gives such insight into the plot and how/why events unfolded as they did.  Westerfeld explains what parts of history he was inspired by and what events were altered for the book.  It brings a whole new perspective to the plot.

BONUS!  Gorgeous Illustrations:
It was hard to pick images that weren’t spoilers for Goliath because so many are…  These aren’t!  Again, illustrations are by Keith Thompson and are throughout the book, making these a joy to read!

Overall Rating:
Five big, brilliant stars.  Goliath is a wonderful and perfect end to the series.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or historical fiction.  It is a must-read!

Book Review: Behemoth


Behemoth
by Scott Westerfeld

Published by: Simon Pulse
Purchased/Hardback
Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk
Big Themes: World War I, Revolution, Air Travel, Genetically Engineered Species, Machines, Heroism, Secrets

My Review of Leviathan

*Some spoilers in the summary, but I kept spoilers out of the review!*

Summary:
Despite feeling at home on the Leviathan and proving his loyalty to the crew, Alek is still being treated as an outsider because of the war.  Desperate to do something productive and to not become a war prisoner, he escapes to Istanbul where he is able to be useful to the revolution there.  Deryn is proving herself as an airman and given more responsibilities, but how will her affection for Alek and her desire to help him conflict with her Air Service duties?  And can she trust him with her secret?

What I Loved:

Once again, this series earns the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval. Scott Westerfeld is a master of world-building, characterization, and the alternate history novel. Paired with the brilliant illustrations by Keith Thompson, you will be mesmerized by this book.  This series is unique and clever and I want everyone to read them!

World-Building: 
Scott Westerfeld continues to build a layered and complex world.  More new creatures, including the perspicacious loris which was by far my favorite creature in the series.  More mechanical wonders are also added to the roster with gigantic mechanical elephants and Tesla cannons that shoot lightning into the sky.  The way Westerfeld’s creations blend so seamlessly with the actual history is what makes is world-building so thorough and clever.

Characters: 
I loved the increasing tension between Alek and Deryn in this book because Deryn is keeping her gender a secret from him, whilst Alek is telling her all his deepest secrets.  The addition of Lilit, the rebellious daughter of the Istanbul revolution, was loads of fun.  She was a strong and independent female character whose interactions revealed insight into both Alek and Deryn’s characters.

Setting:
This book had one of my favorite settings of the entire series: Istanbul.  A place I knew very little about, but the descriptions of food and spices and shadow puppets and elephants made me want to travel there as soon as possible!

Plot:
This book sailed along at a quick pace, as fast as the Leviathan with Clanker engines.  There were multiple fight and battle scenes, moments of tension between characters, daring escapes from under the enemy’s noses, and an entire barking revolution!  The more I look back on the series, the more I think this second book was my favorite.

BONUS!  Gorgeous Illustrations:
Stunning pieces of artwork by illustrator Keith Thompson.  Below are two of my favorite illustrations from this book, though you should really get a book in your hands to fully appreciate the artistic detail in these images.

Overall Rating:
Five big, brilliant stars.  Behemoth is possibly my favorite book in this series, and a wonderful sequel to Leviathan.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or historical fiction.  It is a must-read!

Book Review: Leviathan



Leviathan
by Scott Westerfeld

Published by: Simon Pulse
Purchased/Hardback
Genre: Alternate History/Steampunk
Big Themes: World War I, Air Travel, Genetically Engineered Species, Machines, Heroism

Summary:
When his parents are murdered, Prince Alek must disappear and go into hiding. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp is determined to fly, even if it means disguising herself as a boy and lying her way into the British Air Service. An unlikely friendship blossoms between an heir to the throne and a common airman amidst a war that encompasses the world.

What I Loved:


This book is receiving the Hughes Reviews Seal of Approval (graphic designed by my awesome brother). I think this series is pure genius, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t garnered more attention. I honestly think this series deserves every award you could throw at it. Allow me to tell you why I love book one:

World-Building: 
Scott Westerfeld takes world-building to a whole new level in this series. The size, scope, and detail of his setting is unbelievable. He creates dozens of creatures, some of which interact with other creatures to create a complex sustaining web to fuel even bigger creatures. Uh yeah. That complex! Not only does he create creatures, he also creates scores of machines. Giant walking war machines. With levers and vision shields and pressure valves and all kinds of detail that will blow your mind. And then on top of creating all these creatures and machines, he weaves these creations into the actual web of history. Real people, real countries, real events from World War I. He puts his creations inside real historical context to create an alternate history that makes perfect sense. If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. But as a reader, you’re introduced to this world in such a seamless, gentle way that it all makes sense. I’ve had 11-12 year olds read this series. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand it all, though I think some people find the premise of this book intimidating.

Characters: 
Want a gender-bending novel? You’ve got it. A prince. And a girl in the air force. Both are unique and goal-driven characters with secrets to hide. Westerfeld narrates through both Deryn and Alek and accomplishes giving each character a distinct voice. Deryn’s voice is my favorite, and I kinda want to go around exclaiming “Barking spiders!” The secondary characters are equally colorful, from boffin (scientist) Dr. Barlow (female scientist I might add!) to the stodgy but devoted Count Volger.

Setting:
I pulled this apart from world-building because it deserves its own category. The settings in this book are so sweeping and grand. From the Leviathan itself, topside and in the gondola corridors to the deserted winter landscape with a hidden castle in the distance. These settings are memorable and beautifully crafted as well as adding complications to the plot.

Plot:
The beginning of the book starts off introducing you to Westerfeld’s world and shifts back and forth from Deryn’s point-of-view to Alek’s point-of-view in order to reveal each of their characters and secrets. But the book really takes off when Deryn and Alek meet. There is a great sense of tension between Clankers (machines) and Darwinists (creatures) that causes tension between Deryn and Alek, but at the same time there is a sense that these two have an understanding of each other and a sense of fate about their friendship. There are twists and turns throughout the plot and conflict abounds.

Mystery:
What is in Dr. Barlow’s eggs? What is she up to? Why does everyone listen to her if she’s just a mad boffin?

BONUS! Gorgeous Illustrations:
Throughout the book are DOZENS of stunning pieces of artwork by illustrator Keith Thompson. They aid in your imagination of Westerfeld’s sometimes bizarre creations, and add a lovely layer to the world-building. Sometimes it appears as if the drawings are literally coming off the page. Here are two images for your viewing pleasure:

Overall Rating:
Leviathan is a superb first book in this steampunk trilogy that takes you into a clever, imaginative world within the backdrop of World War I. By the end of the book, you will want to continue your adventures on the Leviathan with Deryn and Alek. I can’t recommend this series highly enough for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or historical fiction.