Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas Book Review

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas. Bloomsbury USA Childrens; 2013. 418 pages. Ebook.

Having just finished Throne of Glass the day before, I was beyond excited to start Crown of Midnight. It did not disappoint.

Now, Throne of Glass was enthralling; I loved every second of it - the relationships, friendships, contests, battles, everything. Crown of Midnight only proved to further enhance the characters, plot, and setting and Celaena Sardothien's world.

There were almost constant (dare I say relentless) twists, turns, and complications that kept me hooked. Some extremely monumental events occur (which I will not mention, as I try to keep spoilers either minimal or non-existent in my reviews) that will undoubtedly shake you up and leave you wondering what on earth just happened. It's heartbreaking, violent, and wonderful all in one. It's also incredibly unpredictable. In my opinion, there is honestly no way you can really guess what is going to happen at any given moment.

The relations  between characters are also intensified and reach brand new levels of depth and conflict. It becomes very complicated. Let's start off with Chaol, who is an extremely secretive, intelligent, and fiercely loyal king's guard. Maas does truly remarkable work in portraying Chaol's many inner conflicts, such as how he must navigate the court politics and where his true loyalties lie. He is fiercely and unwavering loyal to the king, but also now has Celaena, whom he continues to become more bewitched by and protective of every day. Chaol was already an important character in the first book, but his role becomes much, much larger in this second book and allows an already loved and fascinating character become that much more intriguing. The chemistry between Celaena and Chaol is also perfect; he knows just how to deal with her, and the dialogue and moments between them are incredible fluid.

Secondly, we have Dorian. I feel that Dorian has matured quite a lot between the first and second novels. He is beginning to understand his role as Prince and is finally developing his own strong opinions, as well as gaining the courage to stand up to his father if he doesn't agree with him. Dorian has a lot to deal with; he struggles to not go against his father and role as Prince, but he does not always want to go with what the king may want. Dorian also makes a rather shocking discovery in the book (against, no specifics for no spoilers) that leaves him with many questions and potentially dire consequences. Dorian and Celaena continue to go through many things together, and we are able to witness a true, meaningful friendship form between the two, creating an unbreakable and incredibly strong bond between them.

Finally, Celaena. Celaena has countless sides to her personalities. She's perfectly flawed. Celaena also undergoes many changes throughout this book - some good, and some awful. In Crown of Midnight, readers are finally able to see the depths of Celaena's mind, where her vengeful and incredibly emotional feelings dwell. She turns almost robot-like, working only for she knows. Celaena also has this almost limitless courage, though not all of it is necessarily wise. Maas is truly a master of character development, which is completely evident with Celaena.

While many people may see Celaena, Chaol, and Dorian as a love triangle, I'm not sure I completely agree with that. Celaena undoubtedly has feeling strong feelings for both men, but as the novel progresses we are able to discern the types of feelings that she has for both men, and we can begin to easily understand which man is truly meant for Celaena.

Crown of Midnight takes Throne of Glass to an entirely new level. It's like eating the perfect ice cream and thinking it can't get any better, but then you add amazing toppings and it's suddenly a whole new flavorful and delectable world. The violence and intensity completely skyrocket as we are able to see the severity of Celaena's dark side. I would also like to add that Maas' writing is flawless. She knows how to tell a fantasy story. There is no confusion, no overstatements, but also no understatements. It's perfect. Overall, Crown of Midnight is receiving five stars, much like its predecessor. I just can't help it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Azurite by Megan Dent Nagle

Azurite by Megan Dent Nagle. Self-published; 2015. 448 pages. Ebook.

I was recently contacted by Megan Dent Nagle and asked to read and honestly review her novel. After reading the synopsis, I was very intrigued and eagerly agreed - and I'm certainly glad I did. While Azurite may have a few similar qualities to other books in this genre, it definitely held it's own with many unique and interesting elements.

Azurite has a fairly complicated plot, so I'll do my best to sum of the biggest issues: Although Zora would ordinarily be the next in line to the throne, this is not the case; Zora is an illegitimate child whom the queen would rather didn't exist. She is thus married of to Prince Spencer of Montanisto. Montanisto is a foreign, dry, and barren land. Unbeknownst to Zora, Samaria is teetering on the edge of collapse, with the threat of war looming large. Now, I bet you're wondering where this whole 'azurite' thing comes in? Azurite is a crystal mined in Azurite that a certain race of sorcerors are after, and "Queen Evangeline is willing to give it to them, but at what cost?"*

Nagle did remarkably great work in creating yet another new magical system. There are a staggering amount of books out there dealing with similar ideas and the process of creating an exciting and gripping magic system, which makes it difficult to for authors to really set themselves apart from the rest. Nagle, however, was very successful at doing just that. I found myself drawn into her history of how the magic came to be, how it works, and many other details that create an interesting and intricate system.

The characters themselves were also quite an interesting bunch. (Also, I'd like to add that for some reason I really enjoyed the names the author chose - Evangeline, Zora, Dakota, Milo. They all just seemed to fit the characters really well!) Although the dialogue came across a tad cliche'd at times, it did not detract too much from the story and I was still able to heartily enjoy it. Nagle certainly took her time fleshing out the characters and working hard to bring them to life; it was obvious that there were many layers to each person, and I loved uncovering them along the way. One of the most interesting characters for me personally was Queen Evangeline. The story begins with a high-tension scene involving the Queen, and I was immediately fascinated by how she chose to deal with the various struggles and decisions that were presented to her concerning her country, Samaria. From this moment on, I continued to find myself intrigued with ever sceene the contained Evangeline.

Nagle writes in a very readable and flowing style. She uses description wisely, never lingering too long nor moving too quickly. The book is set at a nice, steady pace that allows the reader to get acquainted with each scene and event that takes place before moving onto something wholly new.

Overall, I'd certainly recommend Azurite to someone who enjoys fantasy, magic, politics, and adventure! I debated for a while between three and four stars, but since I had a legitimately good time reading this novel, I say it deserves four - so four it is!

*Quote from Amazon.com summary of Azurite.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen

Well, there's been a considerable gap in time since my last review (okay, only a little over a week, but that seems like a lot!). I just started a new quarter of University so things have been a bit hectic what with figuring out schedules, getting into the flow of new work from classes, etc. Things are slowly starting to settle back down, so reviews should be back to coming at more regular intervals (hopefully)!

So to begin, I have a new review for....

The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen. Putnam Adult; 2010. 329 Pages. Hardcover

This was one of those unexpected books that I stumbled upon and ended up being extremely pleasantly surprised! The Creation of Eve basically follows the adult life of Sofonisba Anguissola, the first renowned female painter from the Renaissance. She works as a student of Michelangelo before being shipped to Spain to act as a painting teacher for Queen Elisabeth, the young and recently married wife of King Felipe II of Spain. This then follows Sofonisba's experiences as she becomes a trusted confidant of the Queen, while also following the relationship and life between Queen Elisabeth and her husband.

I really enjoy certain types of historical fiction, and this book definitely hit my historical fiction spot! Cullen did a remarkable job of creating the setting and period of the Golden Age of Spain, a time of powerful monarchies and strict rules regarding just about all aspects of a citizen's life. The character of Sofonisba was very intriguing to me. She has a very modest and innocent exterior, yet also embodies a rather rebellious and outgoing interior, which we are able to steal glances of through her thoughts and occasional actions. The fact that we are able to learn about these different aspects and characteristics of Sofonisba made me quite happy, as it makes her a very interesting and well-rounded character.

I also found the relationship between Queen Elisabeth and her husband rather fascinating to read about. There is so much left unsaid in these types of political marriages, and it is truly mesmerizing to see them play out, especially when there are so many potential scandals and various factors involved.

Cullen writes with a very calming style; she chooses her words carefully, and thus writes with great eloquence. It is the type of writing that soothingly eases you on. You keep reading and reading, not realizing quite how much you have read until you find that you are almost done with the novel. I also liked exploring the various themes of the novel, which included art (for instance, Michelangelo), court and political intrigue, the various roles that women take on during these period, and a variety of others.

I actually believe that I am going to give The Creation of Eve five stars. I honestly really loved every aspect of this book. I don't ever recall finding myself bored or irritated with any of the characters - I was entertained the entire time. I would definitely recommend this to people who enjoy historical fiction, art, drama, and history!

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Off the Grid: The Catalyst by Brian Courtney Review

Off the Grid: The Catalyst by Brian Courtney. Self-published; 2015. 270 Pages. Ebook.

**I received this book as a free review copy courtesy of Brian Courtney.**

Let's begin by saying that Off the Grid is not a book that I would normally pick up. Not because I don't like it or am not interested in it, but because I just don't seem to come across many books that are quite like this. So for me, this was a surprise, blind read that I decided to dive into; it was certainly an adventure.

Off the Grid is a tremendously idea-heavy novel from first-time author Brian Courtney that really creates some though thought-provoking action and ideas. I would describe Courtney's writing style as somewhat loose, with minor hints of steam-of-consciousness. He's extremely blunt, which is very attractive and fitting with this particular novel, as it reflects both the personality of the main character, Pan McCandless, and the theme of the novel itself. Pan does not shy away from things, and neither does the story.

This book follows the notion of the 'outsider' who doesn't quite follow or accept the accepted norms of society. Pan lives on the edge and sees right through 'The Institution' and it's 'goodness.' The Institutions embodies a very 'Big Brother'-esque vibe that gives you those slight chills that travel straight to your core. It's one of those silently terrifying ideas that aren't openly scary, but that has strong implications for the future of society.

From the start, I could tell that Courtney has a very specific and unique writing style. He can be extremely expansive, elaborating on parts that he feels are important and worthwhile to the story, but also rather short, keeping areas that aren't as crucial to the minimum. He knows what he wants to focus on, and that is important in every successful novel. He doesn't fret around with unnecessary information, but rather gets yo to the point. The way in which Courtney describes Pan is, quite honestly, rather beautiful. I was enraptured in his descriptions, which contained sharp contrast and juxtaposition. By using such contrasting words and ideas, Courtney is able to really capture the essence of Pan, as well the tone of the novel. Pan is one of those characters that you can't help but like. He's not someone that you should necessarily like if you knew him in person, and he's definitely not described in a perfect manner; yet. something draws you to him. There is something about Pan that you can't quite put down and walk away from. He is an extremely focused individual who knows what he wants and what he believes, and he i not about to let anyone else tell him otherwise. He does not back down at confrontation; instead, he seems to embrace it.

It's hard for me to describe my opinion on the pacing of this book. On the one hand, I feel like too much happened too soon. We were thrown into too many situations, too many ideas, and too many characters and events very prematurely. On the other hand, the fast-paced plot seems to fit really well. This is a fast-paced novel - it keeps you going, thus the importance of a fast-paced plot. Ultimately, I think it's up to the individual reader to decide if it a pace they enjoy or not.

Overall, this novel poses very important and interesting themes. I give Courtney a big 'hats-off' for so deftly tackling such a heavy and important topic. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this novel, and I've been debating between three and four stars for a while, Ultimately, I am going to give it four stars for being such a strong, passionate book that tells a rather chilling and important story. I can see how this book may not be for everyone, but I would recommend readers to pick it up and give it a try - you might just love it.