Series Review: The Selection (Part One)

Selection Series1

The Selection (#1)
The Elite (#2)
The One (#3)
by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Falling in Love, Poverty, Royalty, Competition, Rebellion, Reality TV

Summary from Goodreads (Book One): For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

Review:
If you are a fan of The Bachelor, this is essentially that competition set in a future dystopian world. It was a fun series to listen to on audiobook as I drove or painted bookshelves. Go in expecting some drama between contestants, love triangles, lots of clothing and food descriptions, and some decent dystopian world building.

America (all the names are pretty ridiculous in this series) is a heroine you can root for with her rebellious spirit and musical talent. I was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis on female friendship in this series. And Prince Maxon was an interesting character with some feminist moments as the male lead.

I would be totally fine allowing teen girls to read this if they were looking for some romance because they also get a strong heroine, positive female friendships, and healthy messages about being your authentic self.

Overall:
I was pleasantly surprised by this series. A fun read with some positive messages and role models. Four stars!

Next Post: Part Two of the Selection series where the protagonist is America’s daughter, Princess Eadlyn.

Book Review: Gemina

GeminaGemina
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Space Travel, Invasion, Defense, Wormholes, Parallel Universes

Summary from Goodreads:
Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

What I loved:
Worthy sequel. Gemina picks up where Illuminae left off and offers fresh conflicts at the same page-turning pace as it’s predecessor. The new characters are just as interesting as Ezra and Kady with clear talents, goals, and personalities.
Hanna’s drawings. I wanted more of these! They were a nice touch to the otherwise tech-focused format.
Nik’s backstory. Very well-done and worth a mention.

Criticism:
Certain plot points felt a tad repetitive to the previous book, but there was enough fresh material that it didn’t bother me.

Overall:
Five stars. Can Obsidio come out like NOW? This series is so well-done. I love it!

Book Review: Illuminae

IlluminaeIlluminae
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Space Travel, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Hacking, Disease, Truth/Lies, Survival, Bravery

Summary from Goodreads:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

What I Loved:
Format. The format of the story is NOT a gimmick. This story could ONLY be told through this collection of documents. A traditional format just wouldn’t work. That’s all I can say without giving away key plot points!
Fast-Pace. Despite the book’s chunky size, this story moves at a breakneck pace. The book is nearly impossible to put down.
High stakes and shocking twists. These authors raise the stakes to an almost impossible level. Just when you think things have gotten as bad as they can get–things get worse.

Overall:
Highly recommend this book! You should go in knowing as little about the story as possible. But what an emotional roller coaster! A masterful work of sci-fi storytelling! The format wasn’t a gimmick, but purposeful and perfectly suited to the the story it was telling. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark CrownsThree Dark Crowns
by Kendare Blake

Published by: HarperTeen
Form: Hardback (from OwlCrate)
Big Themes: Royalty, Competition, Death, Sisterhood, Magic

Summary from Goodreads:
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Three Dark CrownsWhat I Loved:
Unique and Creative World and Concept. The concept of triplet sisters who have to fight for the crown is unique in and of itself. Then add each sisters distinctive magical abilities on top of it–and you have a fresh story! I especially liked the poisoners. Their world and ability was deliciously creepy.
The Ending. Whew! The ending will blow your mind. I’m quite good at predicting where stories are headed, but I did not forecast this ending! There are two major twists that have left me so excited for the sequel. Bravo to the author for a super satisfying twist! That is hard to pull off!

Criticism:
Secondary Characters. My only criticism is it was hard to keep all the secondary characters straight. I think the author needed to provide more character descriptions or distinguishing characteristics. I couldn’t tell you what half the characters looked like. I can handle big casts of characters (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones), but this cast of characters left me confused at times.

Overall: Four stars! Loved the unique world and premise. Many unexpected twists. Changing POV from queen to queen left you rooting for all of them!

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

RevolutionRevolution
by Jennifer Donnelly

Published by: Random House Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: French Revolution, Music, Depression, Guilt, Antiques/Artifacts, Time Travel

Summary from Goodreads:
BROOKLYN: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She’s angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she’s about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights’ most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

PARIS: Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn’t want—and couldn’t escape.

Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine’s diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There’s comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal’s antique pages—until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine’s words transcend paper and time, and the past becomes suddenly, terrifyingly present.

What I Loved:
Music. I actually learned a lot about the history of music composition through this book. It was fascinating to learn about how modern music was influenced by composers of the past. And that certain rhythms of music were seen as “naughty” in the past.
French Revolution. The half of the book that took place in the French Revolution was my favorite part of the book. I loved hearing what life was like and the story of the little prince. Donnelly really describes this period with incredible detail. I felt like I had traveled back in time!
The Research. The amount of research Donnelly must have done to so seamlessly blend the present, the French Revolution, and music composition–WOW. As a writer myself, it truly blew my mind how each component worked so well together and all the research Donnelly must have done to pull this off.

Overall:
The protagonist’s depression and guilt was hard to get through. But I absolutely loved the parts about the French Revolution (so fascinating!), and I loved the use of music in the story. Jennifer Donnelly is fast becoming a favorite author for me!

 

Ember in the Ashes and Torch Against the Night

Ember Series Covers

Series Review (Books 1 and 2)
An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night
by Sabaa Tahir

Published by: Razorbill
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Freedom, Brutality, Power, Rebellion, Duty

Goodreads Summary (Book 1/Ember in the Ashes):
Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Ember in the AshesWhat I Loved:
Fresh feel. This is fantasy unlike other fantasy. I loved the desert setting. The diverse cast. The magic, creatures, and legends I hadn’t seen before.
Parallel Characters. Both Laia and Elias are fighting against their lack of freedom, despite the fact that their situations are very different. This parallel was fun to think about and unified the story.
The Overall Characterization. There are several characters that grow and develop in unexpected ways as their layers are revealed. Helene in Torch Against the Night is fascinating. The Commander is an intriguing and layered villain.
Plot Twists. Excellent foreshadowing, but I still didn’t see many of the plot twists coming. This is the kind of book that is fun to re-read to see how everything came together.

Overall:
Fresh, unpredictable, well-written, dark but with characters who bring hope. Highly recommend!

Side note: I love the new covers so much! Sabaa Tahir was so excited that they remade the covers to feature a brown girl for Laia. I’ve purchased the new covers for my classroom library because I know some girls who will love seeing someone who looks like them on the cover of a fantasy book!

Series Review: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Tearling SeriesBook One: The Queen of the Tearling
Book Two: The Invasion of the Tearling
Book Three: The Fate of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen

Published by: Harper
Form: Hardback
Big Themes: Leadership, Knowledge, Choices, Morality, Feminism, Utopia

Summary from Goodreads (Book One):
Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

What I Loved:
This review is for the series as a whole, but is safe from spoilers!
Kelsea’s Character. Kelsea is a book lover and unafraid of leading her people. For fans of Hermione Granger, this is a book where the smart girl gets to play the hero and make the tough choices. She evolves throughout the series, and though a flawed character, she ultimately sacrifices for her people.
Unique Concept. This setting is so very unique. I have not ever read a setting such as this. The first book reads very much like a fantasy kingdom, but the second book flips that on its head. As a writer, I can admire how difficult this was to pull off in terms of both plot and genre.
The Ending. A lot of people don’t seem to like the ending from reviews I’ve read. But I actually think the ending was perfect in terms of tying together the overall themes. Without giving any spoilers–The Mace asked Kelsea at one point if she made her decisions for the good of the kingdom or out of her own desire for fame. And this ending allowed Kelsea to show that she was selfless and not going after fame. And it fits with the overall message about equality. (If you want to discuss the ending, comment below!)

Criticism:
Pacing. Books two and three had major pacing issues for me because huge chunks of the book followed new characters in unfamiliar settings. And while everything tied together well, I was often wishing we could get back to Kelsea and her kingdom and the characters I was more invested in. These final two books took me forever to read for the reason–I finished, but it was a slow chug.
Side-plot resolution. There were several characters that I wish I’d had more resolution/time with. (Andalie and her children especially.) Given the way things ended, this might be an impossible request. But I was definitely wishing for more resolution with certain sub-plots.

Overall:
I give this series four stars because the story was overall ambitious in what it was trying to take on and had some incredibly fresh ideas. But pacing was an issue. And I also felt like the messages/agenda/morals of the book could be a little heavy-handed at times.