Glass Sword

Notice: I highly recommend that you read Red Queen before proceeding. This is not a spoilery post, but you still need to read the first book. (It’s not a bad idea to read Queen Song and Steel Scars as well. These two novellas provide a bit of perspective when going into the second full-length novel in this outstanding series.)

Now, let’s move on to Glass Sword, the second book in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series…

Having finished Glass Sword just minutes ago, I don’t know how I’m going to write a coherent post about it considering that I am completely numb right now. That is a sincere compliment to the author of the book. Continuing with my day as planned is going to be a struggle when all I want to do is curl up in the fetal position and think about how much this book wrecked me. (Being an adult with responsibilities kind of sucks at the moment.)

Given that I don’t want to spoil the experience for all of you, I’m not going to do my standard recap of the book today. I will say, however, that things don’t get better for Mare and company. They’re on the run from Queen Elara and the newly crowned King Maven, they’re looking for more Reds with power (newbloods), and they’re trying to figure out exactly who they can trust. Mare doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. Is she a leader? Is she the face of a revolution? Is her loyalty to the Scarlet Guard, her family, all of the newbloods out there…or is she only loyal to herself? There are no easy answers, but Mare needs to figure out where she stands before she becomes just like the monsters she’s running from.

Glass Sword is not a book that will give you the warm-fuzzies. Even though it’s hinted at, there’s no grand romance going on here. (That may come in future books. I’m not sure.) The characters are in the midst of a war, and nothing about it is pretty. It’s gruesome, gritty, and real. (Yes, I know this is a fantasy/sci-fi book. It still manages to capture the horrors of war in a realistic way.)

Glass Sword is, in my opinion, 100% Mare’s story of how her circumstances drive her to do both noble and terrible things. She’s proud of some of her actions and horrified at others. She drives people away while longing to hold them close. She sacrifices pieces of herself for her cause and forces herself to harden her heart. This war is taking its toll on Mare, and she doesn’t know if she can handle the cost. Even with everything she’s done–and will have to do–Mare isn’t sure that it will be enough to stop Maven and prevent even more lives from being lost.

I’ll go ahead and tell you that there is no happy ending in this book–which is true for many “second books” in a series. At the end of this one, you’re going to want to immediately dive into the next book…but you can’t. The third book, currently untitled, won’t be out until sometime next year, so we’ve got a wait ahead of us.

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for Glass Sword without giving too much away. If you want to learn more about Glass SwordRed Queen and Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page. You can also check out the book trailer below. It does a good job of summing up Glass Sword without revealing a ton.

Steel Scars

Steel Scars is the second novella in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series. It is a very good idea to read Red Queen before this story so that you have a bit of context. Otherwise, I doubt much of it will make sense.

Last night, I forced myself to sit down and finish reading Steel Scars, which gives a little more background on the character of Farley, a member of the Scarlet Guard, from Red Queen. This story is the second Red Queen prequel novella, and, unlike Queen Song before it, I found it kind of difficult to get through this one. Maybe it was all of the military-like correspondence. Or maybe it was because I didn’t feel a huge connection to Farley in the first place. Either way, it wasn’t easy for me to keep 100% of my attention on this story.

So…is Steel Scars a bad story? Certainly not. Once you figure out how it’s set up, it adds some depth to Farley’s part in the series as a whole. We see more about how the Scarlet Guard operates and the plans they have in motion. It also gives readers at a look at one of the characters from Red Queen that was a bit of a surprise at the end. (I’m trying not to spoil too much here, but the character I’m referring to has a connection to Mare. I’ll leave it at that.)

My biggest issue here is that Farley didn’t make much of an impact on me in Red Queen, so I didn’t feel that I simply had to know about her early work with the Scarlet Guard. (If you feel differently, please let me know in the comments.) I did, however, appreciate seeing how Farley’s path intersected with Mare’s. I think that connection could have been explored a bit more, but that’s just my opinion.

Even though I ended up liking Steel Scars for the most part, I guess I was expecting more. I wanted to like this story as much as I did Red Queen and Queen Song, and I just didn’t. Maybe the latest novel, Glass Sword (which came out on Tuesday), will focus a little more on Farley and make her early actions more relevant. We shall see.

To learn more about Steel Scars, the other Red Queen storiesand Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page.

Red Queen

I should begin this post by thanking the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award Committee for placing an outstanding book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard on next year’s list of nominees. Had they not, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get to this most excellent book. So thanks to this group of librarians, teachers, students, and others for including Red Queen on the Book Award list and moving it to the top of my TBR pile.

Now, let’s move on to my thoughts on Red Queen. In a nutshell…Holy Crap on a Cracker. I was blown away by this book, and I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be able to express that in a single blog post. (I’ll do my best, though.)

I guess I’ll start with this: If you were to combine the X-Men, Graceling, The Hunger Games, and The Selection, you might get close to the awesomeness that is Red Queen. Yep, that about covers it. Still not enough info? Well, let’s explore this fantastic story a bit more…

Mare Barrow is a seventeen-year-old who lives by her wits. She lies, cheats, and steals to get by, and she realizes that, if she should be caught, it would mean certain death. Why, then, does Mare risk so much?

Mare is a Red. To be Red in this world is to be “less.” The Silvers–humans with silver blood and amazing abilities–are in power, and they plan to stay that way. The Reds fight and die in wars of the Silvers’ making, they work for scraps, and their lives are daily struggles. Until Mare is conscripted into the army, her only way to contribute to her family is to steal whatever she can to make things just a little easier.

Mare sees no way out of her current life, but a chance encounter with a strange young man–known only to her as Cal–changes everything.

Soon, Mare finds herself with a new job–working for the Silvers in the summer palace. This position ensures that she won’t have to join the army, but how did she come to be working here? Who could have possibly gotten her this job? Imagine Mare’s surprise when she realizes that Cal, the young man she recently met outside of a Red tavern, is none other than the Crown Prince. He’s the reason she’s here, surrounded by the very people who keep Reds like her under their heels.

But it seems that fate has more in store for Mare than she or anyone else realized…

When Mare’s life is in danger, it is revealed that she has powers of her own–an unheard-of occurrence in this world. Only Silvers have power, and the royal family will not let anyone learn that Mare, a mere Red, has special abilities. So Mare is passed off as a Silver and betrothed to Maven, Cal’s younger brother. Now, Mare is a princess-in-training, and she knows that the Silvers around her are looking for any excuse to put an end to the threat she poses to their way of life.

As for Mare, she’s looking to be even more of a threat. When the opportunity arises to join the Scarlet Guard, a group of rebellious Reds looking to end Silver rule, Mare takes it. She can help the Guard from the inside and finally stop the tyranny that Reds have lived under for so long. She may even find some unexpected help along the way.

But nothing is as it seems inside the palace. Mare doesn’t know who can be trusted or when everything will come crumbling to the ground. Have those in power seen everything she’s been doing, everyone she’s been talking to? And what will happen to Mare if her secret activities should be discovered? Will she be able to count on the Silver allies she’s made, or will they betray her for their own agendas?

Mare stands in the midst of this war between Silver and Red. How will her position, abilities, and relationships factor into the events to come? Read Red Queen to find out.


I hope I’ve done a little to entice you to read this wonderful book. It truly is phenomenal, and I look forward to reading more in this series.

Speaking of more, the next full-length novel, Glass Sword, comes out on February 9th. If you can’t wait that long–yes, I know it’s only a couple of weeks–there are also two novellas already out. They are Queen Song and Steel Scars, and I plan to read those as soon as I finish up a couple of other books.

While Red Queen is, in my view, definitely written for a teen audience, I do think that some middle grade readers will eat it up. Those who love The Hunger Games and The Selection will find a new series to devour in Red Queen.

If you want to learn more about Red Queen and Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page. You can also check out the Epic Reads book trailer below. It doesn’t give much of anything about Red Queen away, but it does look pretty cool.

Happily Ever After

It is highly recommended that you, at the very least, read the first three Selection novels (The Selection, The Elite, and The One) before reading the Happily Ever After collection. Most of the stories will be all kinds of confusing if you don’t. Get to it!

After finishing The Heir a couple of days ago, I just couldn’t let go of the world Kiera Cass created in her Selection series, so I decided to finish up the novellas included in Happily Ever After. These stories include a few I’d already read in ebook form, but I ended up rereading a couple because I forgot what happened (and because I neglected to write posts on them).

Like I indicated at the beginning of this post, each of these stories is best approached after already becoming familiar with what happens in the first three novels in the series. I’ll try to explain why as I we go along. Let’s get started…

The Queen (Selection #0.4)

I actually did manage to do a short write-up of this novella, and you can read that here. Even though The Queen serves as a prequel to the entire series, I would read it after finishing The One so that you can adequately compare the characters of Amberly, America, Clarkson, and Maxon. Each of the characters is very different, and they all approached hardships in varied–and not always positive–ways.

If you’re curious, I still think King Clarkson is a butt-faced jerk.

The Prince (Selection #0.5)

This is one of the stories I re-read so that I could remember exactly where it fit in the Selection timeline. The Prince, obviously, is told from Maxon’s perspective, and it takes place both immediately before and during the first days of his Selection. I would say that this story can be read after finishing The Selection.

The Prince provides an interesting look into Maxon’s rather tense dealings with his father, his feelings on the Selection as a whole, and his earliest interactions with America. In this story, Maxon also struggles with the very concept of love. If he can’t feel anything for a girl who he’s known forever and professes her love for him, how can he possibly grow to love one of the thirty-five girls chosen by his overbearing father, all in a matter of months? Luckily, his mind is somewhat eased fairly early on.

I think it’s clear to see in this story that, for Maxon, the winner of his Selection was decided before the competition even began.

The Guard (Selection #2.5)

The Guard, told from Aspen’s perspective, should be read after finishing The Elite.

If you’re at all familiar with this series (and by this point, you should be), you know that Aspen was America’s first love back in Carolina, and he’s now a palace guard. Both he and America are still very close, and Aspen is trying to envision a future where they can be together…even as he sees America winning the heart of the future king.

While Aspen is looking for any stolen moments with America that he can find, another guard and a Selection contestant are caught in a compromising situation. The consequences of their actions make him think about his relationship with America and how far he’ll go to keep her in his life. Is he willing to risk everything? Is she? (If you’ve already read the first three books, you know the answers to these questions, but it’s still fun to see things from Aspen’s point of view.)

The Favorite (Selection #2.6)

This story, which I read for the very first time this morning, might be my favorite (Ha!) of these short stories. It focuses on Marlee, America’s closest friend in the competion. This girl managed to make it to the Elite round of competition for Maxon’s hand…before she threw it all away for love.

The Favorite begins immediately after the Halloween party (seen first in The Elite) that changed everything. Marlee and Carter, a palace guard, were discovered with each other, and they’re now in the palace cells awaiting their punishment. Marlee is certain they’ll be sentenced to death, but they are to be publicly caned and virtually exiled instead. As long as she and Carter can be together, Marlee is willing to take whatever punishment the King dishes out.

Marlee is unprepared, though, for just how vicious this caning actually is. The fact that her family is forced to watch doesn’t help the situation. Through it all, though, Carter is there with her, professing his love. And, even though she doesn’t realize it at the time, her friend America–and even Prince Maxon–are there for her at what seems to be her lowest point. With Carter by her side and good friends who’ll move heaven and earth to help her, Marlee feels like she’s won something more precious than a crown.

_______________

Okay…so those are the four major short stories in this collection. But wait, there’s more! Happily Ever After also includes several extras that are worth a mention:

  • Endpapers that feature a map of Illéa. This map clarifies a few things for me. Also, I really like geography, so I enjoyed comparing this map to the current map of North America and figuring out why places were redrawn and renamed the way they were. (Yes, I know this makes me even more of a nerd than some of you probably thought. I’m okay with that.)
  • Lovely illustrations peppered within each story.
  • Several scenes from Celeste’s perspective. These were particularly enlightening, given that I loathed Celeste for most of the series. She really grew from the spoiled, entitled girl we first met into someone who would do whatever she could to redeem herself.
  • The Maid. Told from Lucy’s point of view, this story gives readers a look into this girl’s budding romance with Aspen. Lucy, who serves as one of America’s maids, is worried that Aspen can never let go of his first love. It’s up to Aspen to convince Lucy that she’s truly the one for him.
  • After the One. This story is an epilogue for The One and, obviously, should be read after finishing that book. It is very sweet and serves as a great lead-in to The Heir.
  • “Where Are They Now?” Updates on three of the Selection candidates and what happened to them after this huge chapter in their lives came to an end.

All in all, Happily Ever After is a must-read if you’re a Selection fan. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m glad I spent this last day of 2015 immersed in this world. For more on all things Selection, visit Kiera Cass’ website.

With that, I bid you adieu. I hope everyone has a fantastic New Year’s Eve. Be safe out there, and be sure to come back here tomorrow for my year in review, my reading resolutions, and the books I’m most looking forward to in 2016. Happy New Year!

The Heir

If you haven’t read The Selection series up to this point (The Selection, The Elite, and The One), turn back now! You’ve been warned!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to The Heir, the fourth full-length novel in Kiera Cass’ Selection series. (There are also four novellas that go along with the series–The Prince, The Guard, The Queen, and The Favorite. If all goes according to plan, I’ll post on those tomorrow or Thursday.)

The Heir, which was released in May of this year, introduces Selection fans to Princess Eadlyn, the daughter of Maxon and America. (See now why you need to read the first three books before moving on to this one?) If the first three books make you think of The Bachelor, well, Eadlyn’s story will bring The Bachelorette to mind…but, you know, better.

Princess Eadlyn knows she will be Queen someday. In the meantime, she learns everything she can from her father, King Maxon, and she also seeks the counsel of her mother, Queen America, and her three younger brothers. Eadlyn knows, though, that the future of Illéa is in her hands. Her primary focus is on doing whatever she can to someday be an effective ruler. She has zero interest in finding a romance as epic as that of her parents. Unfortunately, that decision may not be up to her…

When reports surface of problems with the country’s new caste-less system, King Maxon and Queen America devise a plan to keep the people’s minds on something else. They believe that their only daughter, the Heir to the throne of Illéa, should go through her own Selection. It worked for them. Why not for their daughter?

For her part, Eadlyn is against the idea from the beginning. She isn’t looking for love, and she doesn’t need a man to get in her way. She has things to do, and a Selection will only slow her down. Her parents, however, feel that this is the best move for the country, so Eadlyn has no choice but to go along with it…but she doesn’t have to like it.

Soon enough, thirty-five strange boys are moving into the castle, and it’s up to Eadlyn to figure out which one will annoy her the least (if possible). In the back of her mind, though, Eadlyn is comforted by the knowledge that she doesn’t really have to choose any of them. If, at the end of three months, none of the young men have earned her heart, she can let them all go.

Eadlyn removes some of the boys immediately, and her coldness in doing so earns some media attention that she never truly expected. Do people really think that she is cold and heartless? How can she change the public’s attitude when she doesn’t want to be a part of this in the first place? Is there any way to turn all of this around and give her father the time he needs to address the growing outcry against the monarchy?

As days go by–and Eadlyn really gets to know the remaining candidates–she also comes face-to-face with her own shortcomings. She’s built a wall around her heart, and she’s loathe to let someone get to know the real her. A few of the Selection entries, though, have managed to capture her interest, and she finds herself softening a bit. Eadlyn is taking the time to get to know these young men, and she’s learning more about herself in the process.

Can Eadlyn find a way to truly immerse herself in the Selection? Is it possible that the man she’s meant to marry is in this group? Will Eadlyn be able to put all of her preconceived notions–about her parents, the Selection, the candidates, and herself–aside and do what must be done for the future of Illéa? Time will tell…

_______________

Truth time: I found Eadlyn to be a snob, and, for much of the book, her attitude really bothered me. (I would say the same thing about a male character who behaved the way she did.) I get that she’s being groomed to be queen, but she had an almost unshakable air of superiority. I do think, however, that was the author’s intention. Eadlyn has one focus–becoming Queen–and she doesn’t have time for anything or anyone that interferes with that. Unfortunately for her, it’s that attitude that leads to many of her problems in this book (and possibly the next one).

If you’ve read the other books in this series, you can probably guess that The Heir ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger. Things are up in the air with Eadlyn’s Selection, the state of affairs in Illéa as a whole, and even with the royal family. All of this only whets my appetite for the next book, The Crown, which will be released on May 3rd, 2016. (According to Goodreads, The Crown is the series finale. That’s what we thought about The One, so I’m not so sure.)

Like the rest of the series, I think The Heir is suitable for any libraries that serve middle grade, teen, and adult readers. There’s something here for everyone to enjoy, especially if you’re already a fan of the previous books.

For more information on The Heir, the entire Selection series, or author Kiera Cass, visit the author’s website, Twitter, or Facebook. You may also want to take a look at the official book trailer for The Heir below. It in no way captures Eadlyn’s complex personality or gives anything away, but it’s still pretty good.

As for me, I’m going to spend tomorrow finishing up the Selection novellas (compiled in Happily Ever After). I’ve already read three of them, and I have to say that those added to my enjoyment of the series as a whole, and I’m sure the final story, The Favorite, will elicit the same response. I hope to let you know about that soon. Happy reading!

Sever

Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the first two books in Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy (Wither and Fever), do so now! This post will focus on Sever, the third and final book in the series.

Nearly two years ago, I began reading Wither, the first book in The Chemical Garden series, a dystopian trilogy by Lauren DeStefano. From the start, I was mesmerized–and often horrified–by the world presented in this series. Fever, book two, only increased my horror at the world that Rhine, our protagonist, is forced to navigate. And now, I’ve finally made my way to book three, Sever. In this book, Rhine continues on her quest to save herself and those around her, but, as they so often do, circumstances seem to conspire against her.

As Sever begins, Rhine continues to struggle with the experiments Vaughn, her vile father-in-law, has done on her. She is trying to cope with the knowledge that he has killed others before her, and she knows that he’s not done with her.  Rhine is also eager to find her twin brother, Rowan, and get back to Gabriel, the boy she left behind in Manhattan.

With the help of Linden, her former husband, Cecily, her sister wife, and Reed, Vaughn’s estranged brother, Rhine is, at the very least, able to avoid Vaughn’s clutches for a while. Rhine also learns a bit more about her brother’s activities. He believes her to be dead, and he has become the leader of what can only be called a terrorist group. He is blowing up scientific research facilities. He appears to believe that they are wasting their time experimenting on young people and looking for a cure that just doesn’t exist.

(You may recall that young people are doomed to die early in this world. Young men don’t live past age twenty-five, and women die at age twenty. Vaughn, Rhine’s father-in-law and Linden’s father, has become something of a mad scientist in his quest for a cure.)

Everything, though, is not as it seems. Vaughn has far-reaching power that follows Rhine wherever she goes. But Vaughn’s many deceptions will soon be uncovered in a very unlikely place. In Rhine’s quest to find her brother, she returns to the hellacious carnival that was once her prison. Secrets are revealed here that will not only lead Rhine to her brother but may also lead to Vaughn’s undoing.

As Rhine learns more and more about Vaughn’s research, her parents’ work, her brother’s supposed rebellion, and her own place in the world, she realizes that everything is much more complicated than she ever believed. And when she factors in her tumultuous relationships with Linden, Cecily, Rowan, and others around her, Rhine is more befuddled than ever.

How can Rhine hope to make sense of what’s going on around her when she can’t seem to come to terms with what’s happened to her and those she cares about? Lives have been lost and promises broken in this mysterious quest for a cure, but is it worth it? Why is Rhine so important to this search, and, if a cure is found, what then? Is Rhine doomed to be a prisoner forever? Or is there a way out? A way that not even Rhine would dare to dream of?

Questions will be answered and secrets revealed soon, but is anyone prepared for what will be uncovered? Unravel the mystery when you read Sever, the gripping conclusion to The Chemical Garden trilogy.

_______________

Now that I’ve read the entirety of this series, I must confess something. I’m still not quite sure what a chemical garden is. It was sort of explained in Sever but not to my satisfaction. I know it had something to do with the genetic experimentation done by Rhine’s parents, but why were their experiments referred to as a chemical garden? I may have to do my own brand of research to figure this out. (Not a problem, really. I’m a librarian. Research is kind of my thing.)

I do think that the action in Sever was a bit slow at times, but I still found myself enthralled by the story. I do wish, however, that we had seen more of Gabriel and Rhine’s relationship with him. Even with the way the book ended, that story feels kind of unfinished.

When I first started this series, I couldn’t stand the character of Cecily. In Sever, however, she definitely showed an inner strength that most women–never mind fourteen-year-old girls–don’t possess. She survived so much and grew into a young woman with a core of steel. Even Rhine was surprised by how much her sister wife had matured in such a short time. Cecily grew from an annoying little girl into a young woman capable of enduring unimaginable grief and tribulations. Out of all the characters in this series, I think she changed the most. She went from an easily manipulated pawn into a queen taking charge of her own destiny.

If you want a rather disturbing view of what the future could hold, I suggest you give Wither, Fever, and Sever a try. You may like this trilogy; you may not. Every reader has his/her own taste, and that’s okay. (I say this because another blogger called me out for daring to give Fever a positive review. She’s entitled to her opinion, but I stand by my view that this is definitely a series worth reading.) This series does deal with some mature themes, so I would caution you before recommending it to middle grade readers.

If you enjoyed series like Delirium, Matched, or The Selection, then The Chemical Garden may be right up your alley.

For more information on this series or other books by Lauren DeStefano, check out the author’s website, FacebookTumblr, and Twitter. You may also want to take a quick look at the Sever book trailer below. Enjoy!

V for Vendetta

Well, this one has been a long time coming. During Snowpocalypse 2014, I finally made time to dive into V for Vendetta, the classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Like so many other classics, I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book (especially since I loved Watchmen so much–the book, not the travesty of a movie), but I’m glad I finally made time for it. It definitely appeals to the dystopian fiction fan in me.

V for Vendetta presents a disturbing view of an alternate England in the 1990’s. The world has been ravaged by nuclear war, and, somehow, England has come through nuclear winter. (Not realistic, but we overlook things for the sake of the story.) Fascism has taken hold, and differences–at least those that don’t benefit those in power–are eradicated. People are controlled through fear, and only a select few have any say in what happens. One man–a man who takes on the persona of the infamous Guy Fawkes–aims to change that.

The vigilante known only as “V” is on a mission. At the beginning, that mission revolves around a select few individuals, people who made him into the man–or maniac–he is. Slowly, readers learn the story of how the totalitarian regime’s policies and “experiments” made some people–those thought to be expendable–into nothing more than lab rats. Few survived, but one of them, V himself, did just that, and he’s unleashing hell on those who tortured so many. V is eliminating these tormentors one by one, and his vendetta against them is blossoming into a rebellion against everything they stand for.

Only one person has any real contact with V. Evey, a young woman all alone in this frightening world, is saved by V one night, and she begins to learn more and more about her savior. She is terrified by some of what she learns–and the part she plays in certain things–but part of her understands what motivates V. Soon, it will motivate her as well.

V for Vendetta is, at its most basic, a story about oppression and how one person can strike a flame that sets off a conflagration of rebellion. It only takes one voice speaking out to change things. Yes, V sought to subvert the system through violence and death, but his legacy was that one person could do much. Only fear stands in the way. Once fear is removed from the equation, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.

(I would add that apathy needs to be removed from the equation as well, at least as far as our own society goes. Too many people are okay with the status quo, don’t think they can do anything, or just don’t care to change things. In my opinion, this attitude is more damaging than fear.)

Maybe I’m missing the boat on my interpretation of this story, but I don’t think so. After having watched the movie–which is pretty different from the book but has the same basic message–I’m doubly sure that V for Vendetta centers on a message that resistance to any form of oppression begins with one person who decides that he/she just won’t take it anymore. Does resistance have to be violent? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d wager that most successful resistance movements are not. The point is that someone has to be brave enough to speak up and do something. Even seemingly small acts can have a lasting impact…and one never knows when those small acts could turn into something bigger and unstoppable.