Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor || 4.5 Stars

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Title: Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer #2)

Author: Laini Taylor

Published: October 2, 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: 

*If you’re new to the series. Please see my review of book one. Synopsis contains spoilers for book 1 and is taken from Goodreads.*

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this gorgeous sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

Note: I received buttons and signed sample chapters of book one from the publisher. I bought both books myself. Opinions are my own.

Bluejay feather quill pen.

Review

Initial Thoughts

When I first finished Muse of Nightmares I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Upon reflection, I’ve decided that love it.

Why the skepticism?

The reason for my initial skepticism has to do with the fact that the first time I read the book, I was debating whether or not I was satisfied with the novels confrontation scene between our main characters and the antagonist. It seemed that the antagonist didn’t interact with the main characters until late in the book and when they did, everything seemed to happen at once.

The final confrontation scene resolves rather quickly, with several major characters not needing to do much of anything to resolve the problem.

Why the change of heart?

Despite these initial qualms, the more I thought about what I’d read, the harder it became to stop thinking about it. So much so that it got to the point where I’d reread the whole book, and have reread most of it one time more and still this book lingered in my thoughts. For a while, I had a hard time determining why. Eventually, I came to the realization that this was because it’s not really the plot that I love about this book.

It’s the characters; the thought provoking exploration of human nature, even though a fair number of the characters aren’t fully human; and the beautiful, poetic writing that I love. Because, the heart of most books isn’t their plot: it’s their characters’. And, what beautiful characters we have here.

With this in mind, I’ve changed my initial assessment that this book should be rated 4 our of 5 to a 4.5 out of five.

The Characters

This book juggles too many points of view for me to count, yet I was never confused as to whose perspective I was reading because all the characters have such unique voices. Lazlo didn’t get nearly as much time to narrate here as he did in book one, but he was still ever present on the page.

Sarai took center stage in this one, hence the book being named after her, and the book features more of the side characters from book one. Also added to the mix are Kora and Nova, whose story initially seems unrelated to the book as a whole but whose connections to the main plot eventually become apparent.

What’s Next?

The way this book ended makes me wonder if we’ll be seeing more of these characters in a future series. Fingers crossed, because I would love that. 🙂 Only time will tell.

Rating

This is one of the few times when I’ve liked a book more with distance. Yet, there is no denying that I loved this book beyond the extent I usually enjoy books I would rate 4/5, so I’ve settled on 4.5/5 instead.

4.5 blue jays

If you haven’t read Muse of Nightmares yet, are you planning to? Have you read the first book? If you’ve already read it, what was your favorite part? Do you think there will be some sort of continuation?

Please disclaim spoilers in the comments.

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Keeper || An Advanced Review

Keeper (2)

34871966Title: Keeper

Author: Kim Chance

Publication date: August 30, 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

*Disclaimer: I was provided a free, advanced copy of this book from Netgalley and Flux Books/North Star Editions in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.*

Synopsis: Lainey wants more than anything to get a high score on the SAT and go to a good college. Unfortunately for her, a 300-year-old witch has other plans.

When Lainey discovers her life is more tied to the supernatural world than she ever imagined, it seems those college applications might have to wait.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This book may well mark the beginning of a return for urban fantasy/paranormal romance. It’s been so long since I’ve read an urban fantasy from a debut author, but this book has the feel of a YA fantasy from the height of the paranormal romance craze.

I know several people who’ve been longing for this comeback, especially for witches. If you’re one of these people, this may well be the book for you.

That said, it drew a little too much inspiration from the books written during the paranormal romance craze for my tastes. There were a lot of tropes used in familiar ways, and it reminded me of a lot of books I’ve read in the past.

A great deal of the aforementioned tropes used are not favorites of mine either. For example, I’m not a fan of novels where a character discovers they’re special because of something an ancestor did centuries ago.

Yet, despite this, there were some elements of the book I enjoyed. It seemed atmospheric with a good sense of place, and I enjoyed that Lainey was worried about things most teenagers worry about, like the SATs.

I think this would have made the book a lot more relatable when I was a teenager. I would have loved this book around seven years ago.

As it was, I had difficulty motivating myself to keep reading. I suspect this was due to the story’s familiarity and the fact that I didn’t connect with Lainey as well as I would like.

Rating: People who who’ve been longing for YA paranormal romance and those who are looking for a gateway book to the genre may well love this book. However, it was not memorable or engaging enough for me to give it a high rating.

2.5 blue jays

What’s your opinion of paranormal romance? What’s the best urban fantasy you’ve ever read? Are you planning to read Keeper? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin

24807186Title: Wolf by Wolf

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publication Date: October 20, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Alternate History, Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Synopsis: In an alternate 1956 where the Axis Powers won World War II Yael, a teenage Jewish concentration camp escapee, enters an ambitious cross-continent motorcycle race. The winner gets to meet Hitler. Her goal is to win the race, kill Hitler, and start a revolution.

Thoughts: I went into this book not expecting to like it much, but was pleasantly surprised. Historical fiction isn’t my genre of choice, but I think the speculative aspects of this book are what made it appeal to me much more than most historical fiction.

The book focuses on the race itself as opposed to the historical aspects of a world where the Axis powers won World War II, though we do get to see a fair amount of the world considering the immense amount of distance traveled by the racers.

The world-building towards the beginning of the novel felt a little like info-dumping in the way it was introduced and almost made me stop reading, but the book soon picks up the pace and becomes less info-dump heavy as soon as the race starts. This is due in a large part to the fact that the focus isn’t on the world either, but on the interactions between the characters.

Yael, the main character, is a very dedicated, driven character, and all the flashbacks to her horrible past make her easy to see where that drive comes from. That said, she could feel a little too good at everything at times. Yes, Yael spent a lot of time training and being educated, but she hadn’t been riding a motorcycle nearly as long as her competitors, who were supposed to be some of the best in their respective countries. Yet, somehow she manages to be better at riding a motorcycle than most of her competitors who are undeniably also very driven, though for entirely different reasons than Yael.

Adele, the character Yael spends most of the novel impersonating, proves far more interesting than I anticipated despite the true Adele’s brief appearance in the novel. I feel like it would have been easy for Graudin to brush over Adele’s character and past since she wasn’t featured much, but the way we learn about her though the characters who have interacted with Adele before Yael began impersonating her made her seem just about as fleshed out as other major characters’ in the novel.

Felix, Adele’s twin brother, is yet another character it might have been easy for the author to make one dimensional or demonize, but the devotion he showed to his sister, or the girl he thought was his sister, made him a lovable character even as you know he’d likely turn on the protagonist the instant he realized her true identity.

Luka was an interesting character. The author made it so the reader never knew what to expect from him. He has a history with Adele and throughout the novel Yael and the reader are left guessing what their relationship in the previous race was that left Felix wanting to attack Luka anytime he gets near the girl they believe is Adele. Their relationship is hinted to have been romantic in nature. This made for a crisis of trust not typically seen in most other books because most characters are well versed in details of their personal romantic history.

I got a little distracted at times trying to figure out where my ancestors would have been at the times it was taking place and how the changes would have affected them. I have come to the conclusion that my birth would be next to impossible in this alternate timeline, which was, of course, my least favorite part of this book, but I can hardly blame the author for that. 🙂

On a more serious note, I can’t say I would have wanted to be born in this novel’s reality. It’s that bad.

Rating: This book has left me thinking about it for weeks, and I had such a fun experience reading it. However, I cannot entirely overlook its flaws. For these reasons it is getting a four out of five.

4 blue jays

Series Review: Seven Realms

6342491780122994094698069828Titles: The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Published: 2009-2012

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: A thousand years ago seven realms were one and wizards ruled like tyrants, but no longer. Now the queendom of the Fells is ruled not by magic users, but by the queens of the gray wolf line. Raisa ana’Marianna, the princess heir, is frustrated by the fact that she is trapped in the palace unable to make changes to improve the lives of her citizens. Meanwhile, ex-thief Han Alister, knows how bad life can get in the Fells. He only wants to keep his family fed and alive, but manages to get himself tangled in wizard politics anyway.

Review: This series took a little while for me to get into the first book, but after I finished The Demon King I was hooked and marathoned the rest of the books.

My favorite aspect of this series was probably the world building. Often in YA fantasy novels the world seems very underdeveloped, but that was not the case here. I enjoyed reading about all of the seven realms various cultures and the tensions between them though the name of this series is somewhat deceptive as it manly focuses on one of the seven kingdoms in this world known as the Fells.

This series often references historical events in the seven realms. I really like when fictional historical events help shape the present in fictional universes because it makes them feel more realistic. Though, as most of the events referenced happened a thousand years ago, it was somewhat unrealistic that so little had changed since then, but this is a common occurrence in fantasy novels so I’m willing to ignore this fact. The ways that the historical facts had been distorted with time made me think a lot about how our own history has been manipulated.

I liked that the romance in this series never overshadowed the fantasy elements. The romance gradual in development which is something I really appreciated, though I do somewhat wish Hans and Raisa had spent more time together in the early books.

Many of the characters were very well developed. Our male main character, Hans, was probably my favorite. I found his backstory as a reformed thief fascinating.

These books just seemed to get better and better as the series went on. Each book seemed to expand upon the scope of the world a little more, and the plot progressed nicely with several twists. It’s not often that I feel the urge to read all the books in a four book long series in a row, but this series continued to feel fresh and engaging throughout.

What readers should know: This series contains vague references to an instance in which a major character’s mother was raped long before the first book began resulting in the birth of aforementioned major character. Besides that there is a fair amount of violence including the torture of a major character. Readers should also know that although the first book is called “The Demon King” and the word “demon” is used on several occasions I don’t remember any demonic intervention/demons getting page time.

Rating: This was an engaging YA high fantasy series. I recommend it for fans of the genre or trying to get into high/epic fantasy as I think this would be a good series to start with. I can’t wait for the spin-off series to be released.

4.5 blue jays

The Heart of Betrayal 4 Stars

21569527Title: The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

Author: Mary E. Pearson

Publication date: July 7, 2015

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: When Princess Lia flees the palace on her wedding day she thinks she is done with royal life. She should have known it wouldn’t be that simple. She is pursued by the prince she was supposed to marry and an assassin sent to kill her. Lia must keep her wits about her if she wants to survive.

Review: This book was a pleasant surprise after the first one. I had a huge problem in book one with both the pacing and Princess Lia herself who annoyed me because she didn’t once even stop to consider that by running away from a marriage that was a political alliance she is risking starting a war between her people and Dalbreck.

The twist everyone talks about in this book was something I figured out fairly early on, and it wasn’t until the last twenty-five pages or so that I actually started to get interested in the story-line. It’s because of the way book one ended that I decided to pick up this book, and in the end I’m glad I did.

The writing in this book is very good. It’s almost poetic, but does not feel at all like purple prose.

Pearson’s portrayal of Vendan culture in this book is excellent. In book one we’re shown how the people of Morrighan view the people of Venda as “savages” because their cultures are so different from one another. In this book we learn how many of these “savage” cultural aspects actually made sense when taking into account the circumstances the people lived under. So many authors write about fictional cultures the main character’s culture views in a negative way and make some of the characters’ from said other culture not evil, but never explain the logic behind the other cultures seemingly “savage” rituals. I loved that Pearson didn’t fall into this trap.

The pacing in this book was much better than that of The Kiss of Deception, but it still lagged towards the middle. I ended up skimming through several sections around that point. Most epic fantasy books have the characters moving frequently from place to place even if the story happens entirely in a single city. I think the fact that the setting was the Sanctum for almost the entire book may have contributed to this fact. Pauline’s perspective also felt a bit unnecessary to me and I skimmed though most of her sections.

The Komizar was a complex and well developed antagonist. From the Komizar’s point of view he is doing what is best for his country and his actions are not evil. Despite this I did have a slight issue with some of the side characters’ believabiliy and this is the same issue I had with the first book. I had particular trouble with the Assassin. He just showed too much sympathy to those he was tasked to kill for me to believe he was the most accomplished assassin in Venda who had been training for this since childhood.

I was really hoping the magic system would be expanded upon in this book, but although we got to see a little more of it the magic remained in the background. I’ve noticed a lot of young adult high fantasy novels hardly mention the magic system at all. I love innovative magic systems so this is not a trend I like, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that young adult books are expected to be shorter so there is less time to expand upon one.

What readers should know: This book does contain some language and some character deaths occur. If this were a movie I think it would be rated PG.

Rating: I enjoyed this book, but I had several issues as listed in this review that kept me from absolutely loving it so this book is getting a four out of five.

4 blue jays

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor

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1281255013618440Titles: 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor

Publication dates: 2011-2014

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”– Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Karou is a rather unusual art student from Prague. She never talks about her family or past, and answers all personal questions with an outrageous story about traveling around the world hunting for teeth. She mysteriously disappears often, and once returned to school having contracted malaria. The truth is, Karou can’t answer the questions about her past because they are as big a mystery to Karou as everyone else, but she’s about to find out the truth.

Lives will be lost. Wars will be fought. A forbidden love between an angel and a monster unearthed.

Review: The writing and pacing in this series is just amazing. I read the entire trilogy over the course of about a week, and there are so many great quotes to be taken from the writing.

I had some minor issues with the first book, especially the second half which consisted mainly of flashbacks, and felt there was an element of insta-love to the romance although it didn’t bother me as much as it does in most works because after the novel’s primary relationship was formed the characters’ reacted to learning hard to accept truths about one another in a relatively realistic way not normally seen in young adult fiction.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone feels much more typical in terms of young adult fiction than the next two books. The first book feels like urban fantasy as most of the novel takes place on modern Earth. In the next two books the fantasy elements take over and the story feels much more like high fantasy than urban.

One of my favorite elements in this series was the symbolism particularly that of the wishbone.

I appreciated the author’s portrayal of “angels” and “monsters.” I feel the message Laini Taylor was trying to get across involves questioning everything and not jumping to conclusions. Just because someone looks like an angel doesn’t make them trustworthy, and just because someone looks like a demon does not make them a demon.

Favorite quotes: “It is a condition that monsters do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Imagine if [Juliet] woke up and he was still alive, but…” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But [Romeo] had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.” –Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight

“Karou wasn’t a prize to win; that wasn’t why he was here. She was a woman and would choose her own life. He was here to do what he could, whatever he could, that she might have a life to choose, one day. Whoever and whatever that included was her own affair.” –Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

What Readers Should Know: This series contains cursing intermixed with casual conversations in the way many teenagers speak. Sex is mentioned with some frequency, although no detailed sex scenes ever occur. There are also some fairly gruesome scenes in book two due to the main characters becoming involved in a major conflict. *minor spoiler* In Days of Blood and Starlight a character is almost raped, but the “r” word is never mentioned. While younger readers may mistake this scene for an act of mere aggression it will be immediately clear to everyone else what was narrowly avoided. Personally, I thought this scene captured the fear and horror of the girl involved.

Rating: The first book was a 4.5/5 for me, but the rest of the series was a 5. It’s rare to find a series in which I preferred the sequels to the first installment, but that was the case here. I recommend this for people willing to overlook a little insta-love who enjoy fantasy.

five blue jays