Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August Mini Reviews (The Queen of the Tearling; Quiet; Sisters Red; Silver Shadows; Feed; The Night Circus; Between Shades of Gray)

Hello, y'all! Remember how I said that I would catch up on reviews? Well, here they are!

The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen | Goodreads
Release Date: July 8, 2014
Published by: HarperCollins

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.

The Queen of the Tearling introduces readers to a world as fully imagined and terrifying as that of The Hunger Games, with characters as vivid and intriguing as those of The Game of Thrones, and a wholly original heroine. Combining thrilling action and twisting plot turns, it is a magnificent debut from the talented Erika Johansen.

This book is important for the author's perspective on heroines: yes, it is good to have heroines all shapes and sizes. I thought that Kelsea being plain, and her subsequent vanity in evaluating others, men and women alike, was a good flaw to round out her character. It is true that a lot of fellow readers seem to have had issue with her characterization (see: various Goodreads reviews), but it also felt realistic for Kelsea to struggle with what I would perceive as something younger, like looking at people and not seeing them yet as a queen might, but as a teenager with little exposure to the world. It's one step in Kelsea's character growth, toward her not becoming like her mother and becoming the leader the Tearling needs. She's a realistic version of a nineteen-year-old bookworm raised to rule a queendom.

The Queen of the Tearling is a high fantasy that does not read as such: it is so smooth and easy to read that despite not being entirely engaged in the story, I continued to read until the very end. Though the Medieval x The Future world-building sometimes confused me, I am intrigued by the hints Johansen has dropped as to the Crossing and other elements being explored in future novels. The magic reminded me a bit of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, and the premise itself a bit too. I had a slight nitpick throughout the novel: if her caretakers took an oath to her mother not to reveal Elyssa's worst side, why would they volunteer to be Kelsea's caretakers? Let someone else who's unbound do the job! How can she be expected to rule well when they then are forced to keep her ignorant? I was very, very frustrated by this element of the plot / that decision of various side characters, so I guess I bonded more deeply to Kelsea than others might have. A promising start to a new high fantasy series with plenty of crossover appeal.

P.S. - Ask me in the comments about the comparison titles if you're curious.

Quiet - Susan Cain | Goodreads
Release Date: January 24, 2012
Published by: Crown

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.

A good way of knowing whether you'd be interested in this book is if you like Susan Cain's TED talk. I loved it, but I'd already known that I was going to read this book because of a three hour conversation that I'd had with a fellow introvert neuroscience major on The Extraversion Ideal in the U.S. For some reason, though, Quiet wasn't as empowering as I thought it would be - perhaps because I'd first started it in college and stopped because I'd grown too emotional to continue reading. Then, of course, me being me, I didn't get back to reading - this time listening to - the book until over two years later. Regardless, though, this was an interesting book. The section on flow was golden, as was the end on Alice in Wonderland. There were several moments when I was scrabbling for a pen to write post-its with jumbled thoughts and inspiration from what Cain had said. I would definitely recommend Quiet to struggling introverts or people interested in psychology (as one of my coworkers said, "Quiet's fucking awesome!"). The audiobook, too, was especially a joy because the narrator speaks with this soft voice that's just perfect for a book about introversion and "speaking softly." It didn't at all feel like a lecture; it kept my attention throughout train rides and little jobs at work, and was a complete joy to listen to even if I hadn't completely liked everything that was discussed... and isn't that the mark of a good book?

*Note: I don't normally review nonfiction, but Quiet's a nice book and maybe some of you are interested in its premise. I thought I'd at least mention this gem.

Sisters Red - Jackson Pearce | Goodreads
Release Date: June 7, 2010
Published by: Little, Brown 

Scarlet March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

In my opinion, a great way of knowing whether or not you'll like the book is whether you like the synopsis. It seems very much like a book that delivers exactly what it promises (read the synopsis carefully, though, so you don't get angry at me ha!), and has a good balance of action and romance. The audio is a great option if you are interested because the narrators perfectly reflect the characters's individual personalities and I never once forgot whether it was Rosie or Scarlet narrating. Plus the great Southern twang added an extra layer of atmosphere to the bit that Jackson Pearce had already established. And for all you Maggie Stiefvater fans, I think Jackson Pearce is one of her friends, and somehow while reading the romance, I was reminded of one of Maggie's; there's a quirky, almost atmospheric element (?) - I'm not entirely sure how to describe it, only that I suspect MS romance fans would like the SR romance. Rosie/Silas is also a good pair for people who ship (I don't ship in the normal way, so...). Pick this one up for a good dose of romance and the Red Riding Hood hunting wolves blend.

Silver Shadows - Richelle Mead | Goodreads
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Published by: Razorbill

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets—and human lives.

In The Fiery Heart, Sydney risked everything to follow her gut, walking a dangerous line to keep her feelings hidden from the Alchemists.

Now in the aftermath of an event that ripped their world apart, Sydney and Adrian struggle to pick up the pieces and find their way back to each other. But first, they have to survive.

For Sydney, trapped and surrounded by adversaries, life becomes a daily struggle to hold on to her identity and the memories of those she loves. Meanwhile, Adrian clings to hope in the face of those who tell him Sydney is a lost cause, but the battle proves daunting as old demons and new temptations begin to seize hold of him. . . .

Their worst fears now a chilling reality, Sydney and Adrian face their darkest hour in this heart-pounding fifth installment in the New York Times bestselling Bloodlines series, where all bets are off.

This was definitely the best book of the series so far in my opinion. It had the best balance of romance and action and the dual points of view was a good dynamic to explore Adrian and Sydney's individual character arcs as well as the rapidly expanding plot. I can't remember many of the details from the other novels, but I could definitely understand having two PoVs here - and they really highlighted, for me, what I'd already known about their already well established chemistry (their character arcs are similar in scope, but different in situational events and how they react based on what each one gets from their relationship). Sydney's character growth is absolutely phenomenal . Whenever I pictured Sydney in Reeducation, I pictured her actually regressing to the point where she flinches from Adrian and the others, but Richelle Mead threw me a new one. Sydney grows so much more than Rose; and as much as I loved Rose, Sydney is probably one of my all-time favorite heroines. There are some interesting developments related to the politics of the world, and The Ruby Circle... well, it may very well be the best book of the series. Certainly has that promise. I'm very much looking forward to TRC, and if you haven't read this series yet but are a fan of VA, what are you waiting for?

Feed - Mira Grant | Goodreads
Release Date: May 1, 2010
Published by: Orbit

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own---a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

I've lost count of how many times this book has been recommended to me by bloggers over the years. As such I think my expectations were a bit higher than normal, but this book still surprised me. I have a few issues with this book: a.) there are a lot of info dumps about the world; b.) because of a, the fact that there was less action seemed to stand out more; and c.) the villains needed a bit more development. Zombies are not my favorite creatures because they're inherently uninteresting opponents (if they can't think, what's the point? At least vampires are often cruel and cunning), but the zombies were not the major villains and those who were needed to be more... interesting. However, in the end, none of those took away my ultimate enjoyment of the novel.

First off, I would DEFINITELY recommend reading this book on audio if you have the chance. I think that I might've liked this less in print, but the audio narrator was FANTASTIC. She brought Georgia's snark to life and the emotional moments were heart-breaking. I nearly ugly cried while on the train. The narrator took what was a good story and made it absolutely amazing entertainment. Those info dumps were much more entertaining coming from her than if I'd read them alone. As for the plot, well, I'd read so many Goodreads reviews about unpredictable twists and ohmygosh, the ending and etc. etc., and I'd been quite arrogant, thinking: pfft, what are they talking about? Heh. This book threw me a new one. I was not prepared in the least, especially for the emotion. You might not expect that gut impact from a book on zombies, but this book isn't really about the zombies. They're incidental. They create a scary future where you're always watching your back when you're out and about, but cliché as it is to say this, they're not the worst enemy; sometimes the threat is much closer to home. As envisioned here, especially in the political sphere. Feed, to me, was also more about the bond between Georgia and Shaun (one of the best brother/sister relationships out there -- definitely reminded me of a mix of mine with all three of my brothers), the dynamic between the team of journalists/bloggers that they employ, and the future of journalism and social media as envisioned by Mira Grant. An interesting and unusual lens on a post-apocalyptic future; and a novel that I can see many bloggers liking because of their identification with Grant's vision for their future.

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern | Goodreads
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Published by: Random House

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

Do not read this audiobook. It's not that Jim Dale is a bad reader, but it's almost like hearing that it's from Jim Dale might raise your expectations in the way that it raised mine. I expected more from him. He’s like that grandfather telling you a tale by the campfire, but the grandfather doesn’t try to imitate other voices because he's used to telling stories his own way. Dale changes his tone slightly, but it’s not enough that I always knew who was speaking. He's particularly good with the voices of children and older men, but I... wanted more, I guess. Plus the story, I think, is a little less suited to an audiobook because it’s SUCH a detail oriented story.

When I listen to audiobooks, I'm about 90% engaged; I'm generally multi-tasking, but the audio still has a significant portion of my attention, enough that I've never really had a problem with my method until I read this novel. If you’re a reader who likes descriptions, this is your book. I thought I was that reader, but listening to the audiobook meant that I missed a lot of descriptions. I’d be working on something and then there it was, another element that I’d missed somewhere and it turned out that that element would be crucial to Cecilia and Marco's conversation. The story also takes a little bit to get started, so my attention wandered even before we got into the fine details. The magical element is quite something though, especially when considered beside these strange characters, quirky and accepted as they are, a la Maggie Stiefvater. I could see it as a particularly fun website or game, some sort of unusual adaptation to bring this magical circus to life, and all the wonders it contains. I didn’t fall for the book as hard as I wanted to, but I suspect that I would if it were brought to life somehow. Also I can't tell how much of my experience was due to the audiobook or the actual story, so maybe I'll reread my hardcover when I visit home. Still quite magical though.

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Septys | Goodreads
Release Date: March 22, 2011
Published by: Philomel

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.

Lina finds solace in her art, meticulously—and at great risk—documenting events by drawing, hoping these messages will make their way to her father's prison camp to let him know they are still alive. It is a long and harrowing journey, spanning years and covering 6,500 miles, but it is through incredible strength, love, and hope that Lina ultimately survives.

This is one of my favorite books of 2014. Between Shades of Gray takes a different approach from most young adult novels in that the mother is the true heroine of the story. Yes, Lina narrates. Yes, Lina has her own character growth, but to me Lina's mother was who really pulled me through the story. Also, I found that remarkably realistic of a book focused on the horrors of labor camp, because who else will be the hero? You'd probably look to your elders for some sort of guidance in this terrible new world, and Lina's mother is that compass. In the beginning, the narrator's vision of the mother annoyed me; so high pitched and innocent and good, and yet it worked after a while. I got used to her and her vision of all the other characters, who are memorable in their own right, like grumpy Mr. Stallis. Lina is not an Anne Frank, someone whose diaries we discover long in the future, not a character who's held to this pedestal of moral goodness from the author, but she is a remarkably realistic version of a teenage girl thrust into a horrifying situation and doing the best she can. The family unit, both by blood and created in difficult times, is the focus of the novel, a touching element that will keep your attention and adds a layer of patriotism and remarkable friendship to an otherwise very bleak atmosphere. As with Code Name Verity, the villains are not all cruel stock figures; Septys does humanize a few of the Soviets, so it's not entirely an us vs. them.

Ruta Septys's writing was beautiful in Out of the Easy and it's beautiful again here. When it comes to describing some of the more awful events, Septys also exerts restraint. There's still brutality, enough to understand the realism of the event, but enough that if you're particularly sensitive, you won't be too, too overwhelmed. Some of the most terrible things were not shown. I know nothing of the Soviet subjugation of Lithuania, so it also felt like I was learning from this novel without it being obnoxious about teaching me. It certainly felt very accurate and historical and Septys does not take the easy way out. You might expect happy ending, a miraculous rescue – the Lithuanians believe that Hitler’s Germany will save them. History tells another tale, as does Septys. A young adult historical well worth your time about the unshakable bonds of family, friendship, and survival.

Well, what do you think? Will you read any of these? Have you already read some?


  1. I can't believe I have read none of those! First, I love the Vampire Academy series, But i have not started Bloodlines yet. I NEED TO though. Everyone thinks it's amazing. And the Night Circus has been on my radar for years now. I just ADORE its blurb. So note-worthy. Then, there's Between Shades of Grey which I have wanted to read too. I NEED to get started

    GREAT reviews, though
    Your reader,



  2. I loved loved loved Queen of the Tearling even though I had a lot of questions and a bit of confusion about the world. And yes, keeping Kelsea ignorant when expecting her to rule made no sense. And The Fetch…he intrigues me, that's for sure. More of him, please.

    Silver Shadows…Sydrian!!! As much as I love Rose and Dimitri, I agree with you, I love Sydney. Maybe it's because I relate to her more, especially in the beginning when she was more about using her brains and had absolutely no physical strength/skill. I did think she was a little too good to be true in this book given what she went through in the beginning, although maybe this will be explored more in the next book. And Adrian…I just wanted to shake him when he was backsliding, but at the same time, it was so Adrian; therefore, very realistic.

    Feed…I've been thinking about reading this book for quite awhile, but now I think I'm going to have to after reading your review. I don't enjoy audiobooks, but maybe I should try one since you enjoyed this one so much??

    And I still haven't read Out of the Easy, but I've had it checked out from the library for forever (I keep renewing it). I guess I should read that one first before I read her next one since I already have it.

    Great reviews! ~Pam

  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed Feed! That one really changed my perspective on zombies and sci-fi in general, back when I started blogging. I haven't listened to the audiobook yet, but I might for my upcoming re-read. And you're so right about the book not really being about zombies; they're just the landscape. And the end. My heart. That really rocked me.

  4. I thought The Queen of the Tearling was off to a good start, too. I'm glad I gave it a chance when so many of my friends weren't enjoying it. I read Sisters Red ages ago, but I only remember mildly liking it. I think it was kind of flat? Tsarina, which was written under her pseudonym, was pretty but also flat. I just don't think her style is for me, unfortunately. SYDRIAN...and that's all I'm going to say about that....except WHOA. :) I don't think I could have read Feed either, but the audio was really good. Slow but good...but probably also why I haven't bothered to pick up the 2nd book...besides, well, reasons. LOVED The Night Circus, but I read it. I don't actually think I've EVER listened to a book narrated by Jim Dale, though I hear the best things. Guess I definitely won't be checking out THIS one, though. :P

  5. I'm considering taking Feed off this post because I just read a spoiler about a certain relationship... and I did not read that relationship AT ALL in that light (being purposefully vague in case anyone stumbles upon this here). And now I sort of feel like the entire book is ruined for me.

    But, to address what you said, yes, the audiobook is fantastic. If you're going to do a re-read, go for the audio. If the end rocked your heart in print, wait until you listen to the audio.

  6. Thanks, Soma. I think that I might like the Bloodlines series slightly more than VA, actually, and maybe you will too when you get around to reading the books. The Night Circus has a noteworthy blurb/premise and also a great first line. And Between Shades of Gray is just fantastic. Enjoy!

  7. Hahah, yes, when I first read the Queen of the Tearling, I was tempted to skim around for more scenes with the Fetch. I have a lot of questions about the book too. I hope it's not too long before the next one comes out, because I feel like I might forget a lot of things about it and those questions specifically.

    Yes. Agreed. I relate to her a lot more for the reasons you've mentioned. Also, Rose is just so brash. I love her for it, but can't be like that myself. And maybe Sydney is a little too stable, and the stress of the coming events will destabilize her? maybe in the next book, Sydney will start to backslide and Adrian will help her? a reverse of the roles?

    You should try Feed. I really liked the audio version. The narrator, I thought, did a particularly good job, and her voicing her brother was priceless (that's the voice I think of my brothers in too lol). However, i also feel weird now talking about this book because I learned something recently that I had apparently missed while reading and it changes my entire perspective on the book. If you do end up reading, let me know and maybe we can discuss?

    Out of the Easy is great -- better with the atmosphere, I think, than Between Shades of Gray, but both books mark Septys as an author to watch. I hope you enjoy the books :)

  8. Queen of Tearling seemed to inspire a lot of love/hate in the blogosphere. Definitely a book that people have to try for themselves, I think. I agree with you on Sisters Red and feel like if you go in expecting what the synopsis says, you'll be good. But more, maybe not as much. Maybe that was just me though. Hahaha Sydrian FTW!! And thanks for the audio rec on Feed, definitely will watch out for more Paula Christensen. Also agree on slow but good & why I'm in no rush for sequel. (Also I read something about a certain relationship in Feed that was NOT the way I read and now I'm just mostly disinterested in the series. I can't.). Hahahahaha you can check out Jim Dale and The Night Circus. Whether it was my reaction to him or the book was ill suited for audio & multi-tasking - who knows which? Maybe I ought to try another book by Jim Dale first!

  9. Glad to hear you liked The Queen of the Tearling, and also your reasoning about her flaw regarding other's appearances. It's a nice way of looking at it. I've tempered my expectations a bit because of other reviews, but I'm still excited to read it! It's going to be my fun read addition to my textbook order soon.

  10. Tempering your expectations is always a great way to approach any book with a lot of hype. I'm glad you're still excited to read it - and I hope you enjoy it once those pesky textbooks are out of the way ;)

  11. The Queen of the Tearling: I agree. I liked that she was plain, normal and simple. I'm getting tired of those extremely beautiful, perfect, smart, flawless characters. I want someone like me. The world-building was indeed sometimes a bit puzzling, but it made me curious for me.

    I liked Sisters Red! I liked Sweetly even more :)

    I tried Feed, but at that time it didn't work for me. I need to give it another shot, a few of my blogging friends have been raving over it.

    Between shades of Gray was also one of my favorite books.


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