Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas - Review

The queen has returned.

Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past...

She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.

She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen's triumphant return.

The fourth volume in the New York Times bestselling series contrinues Celaena's epic journey and builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

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Alright guys, all aboard the fangirl train.

This will be a long one. Ready? Okie dokie, let's go.

So Sarah J. Maas is my favorite author and Throne of Glass is my favorite series, so Queen of Shadows was my most anticipated read this year and will probably continue to be my favorite book until...well...Book 5. So let's just get right into it, shall we?

Also, this is not going to be an incredibly non-spoilery review. If you've read Heir of Fire, you should be set. Still on Book 1 or 2 (and somehow haven't been spoiled already?!?!), finish Book 3 first.

Aelin's character has gotten a lot of criticism from readers (especially from what I've seen on tumblr) for being inconsistent and also for regressing, for lack of a better term, from the Celaena we knew in previous books. I, however, could not disagree more. I think that the Aelin in QoS is stronger than any other version we have seen so far. She seems darker and many see her as more monstrous than the assassin Celaena, but I think that the character we experience in this book is the one that is the most true. In Heir of Fire, she finally accepted herself, and in doing so cast away the fear she had of taking the power that she knew could be hers (in the words of Elena). She doesn't revel in frivolities anymore, a sign that many take as losing the little heart and hope she had, but I think she's just realized what's important, that she was using those outlets much like she used Celaena Sardothien - they were a cover, a part of herself but not completely authentic, completely true to Aelin Galathynius. Even though I think she is more ruthless in many ways, not only to her enemies but also those who are friends and allies, I think that it takes so much strength and so much self-acceptance for her to act that way, to do those things, to ultimately, hopefully, do good and cause change.

But there are so many more characters than just Aelin. Quick runthrough - I thought that Chaol acted like a whiny baby for a lot of the book. I thought that it fit the story and his character - Chaol has always been incredibly stubborn and sees the world in black and white - but it was till annoying. Watching his, as well as Lysandra's (Lysandra, my new lady love!), character develop through the story was a joy and I can't wait to see where they go in the rest of the series. Dorian, whose POV I basically skipped in HoF, become so much more interesting. Much like Aelin, I feel like his time in the darkness, especially the kind of darkness that is literally inside you, has changed his character in a way that is so interesting and complex. Manon still needs to grow on me, though she came far from where she was in HoF, and I loved the addition of Nesryn, who has the potential of becoming another friend to Aelin, and Elide, whose story is so similar and yet so divergent from Aelin's.

I feel like I should have more critiques for Sarah, especially since this book more so than all the others seems to have sparked a lot of controversy over Sarah's writing and storytelling. However, I thought overall the book was great. There were times I thought the plot lagged a little and I found a lot of Manon's parts in the beginning to just be so much information and not much action. Like I said before, Chaol's character seemed a little stagnant at first but it makes his development towards the end of the book valid and interesting (as well as affecting his relationship with other characters). What many call character inconstancies I think are the consequences of the huge changes that happen in HoF - people change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, and sometimes, for the worst before becoming better, which is what I think Sarah is trying to do.

And here's the kicker and probably the reason I love QoS while some might not. I am 100%, balls to the wall, all in, a supporter of Rowan and Aelin's growing relationship. I reread Heir of Fire in anticipation of QoS and I realized (assuming that their relationship would change in QoS from quotes and my own blind desire) that there were a lot of moments in the third book where Aelin and Rowan feel more than friendship for one another and IMMEDIATELY push it aside, especially Rowan. Just tiny, tiny word choices, descriptions, and actions caught my attention this time, and made me think that they started to develop feelings towards each other long before QoS. So the romance didn't shock me, it didn't weird me out, and it didn't seem sudden. And while I would love her to have a platonic relationship, who better to love than your best friend, than the person who knows all of you, good, bad, and ugly? And why would a platonic relationship with the other male characters be less valid, especially Dorian who now has so much in common with Aelin? It's just my opinion and you are free to disagree with it (which I know a lot of people do), but I think that this is the healthiest relationship, friendship or otherwise, for her. I firmly believe that Sarah knows Aelin better than any of us, so let us just see where the story, and this amazingly powerful, strong, complex character takes us, shall we?

Anyway, it's no surprise that I thought this book was fantastic. The world that Sarah has created just becomes more and more complex and broad (we get to finally see the Southern Continent YAY!), and I can't wait to see where the next two books take us. While this books isn't the end of the series, is does tie up a lot of questions and storylines, while making room for the increasing scope of not only Erilea but the story as a whole. I think that Sarah proved that sometimes you need to accept the darkest parts of yourself in order to be truly yourself, to reach your greatest potential, to do the most good. So Brava, Sarah, and I can't wait to see where you lead us.
Find out more about Queen of Shadows and Sarah here: http://sarahjmaas.com

Also, check out her Pinterest Board because it's awesome: https://www.pinterest.com/sarahjmaas/

Sarah J. Maas is the author of the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling Throne of Glass series–Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire, and the series’ prequel, The Assassin’s Blade–as well as the New York Times and USA Today bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses. She wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in twenty-three languages. Queen of Shadows, the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series, will release worldwide on September 1st, 2015.

A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

Happy Reading!


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway - Review

Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life.

She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart.

He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Readers who love Sarah Dessen will tear through these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver’s father’s crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story.

---------------------------- Amazon, B&N, Goodreads ----------------------------

I didn't know quite what I was getting into with Emmy and Oliver - the aspect of kidnapping caused me to expect some kind of thriller or mystery aspect to the story that I wasn't so sure about. However, Emmy and Oliver was such an incredibly pleasant surprise.

Emmy and Oliver is beautifully written, exploring the complexities of familial relationships and in particular, the love between a parent and their child. Robin played with the extremes of what a person will do for love, from sacrificing the happiness of others to preserve their own to giving someone pieces of themselves in order to help them heal. The overprotectiveness and misunderstandings that arise between all the young characters and their parents are real and authentic and gives a lot of credit to the maturity of young people who have been touched by trauma or hard experiences (like being gay in a small town). I loved that Robin didn't shy away from so many subjects and that the narration and the characters, even the young ones, were ready to take the helm and approach them fearlessly.

The other relationship, of course is between our title characters. The romance between Emmy and Oliver is perfect, in my opinion, because it is adorable but more than that, and more often, it is rough and heartbreaking and awkward and hilarious. They are finding out so much about themselves while also trying to rediscover one another and they decide to give so much of themselves to each other, despite not knowing what those pieces even include. All of the feelings in this novel (and there are a lot of them) feel so authentic and I praise Robin for creating all the feels without making it feel overwrought or overdramatic.

Along with all the above, this book holds a special place in my heart because it explores the idea of having to experience and overcome change. Not everyone is kidnapped and then brought home after ten years, but the way that Emmy and Oliver have to rediscover their friendship and themselves after so many years is something that is, at least for me, very relatable. Whether it's four years of college or years after moving, coming back to a place that used to be home to people that used to be part of your life is a humbling experience, both for the person who left and those left behind. Robin weaves through these moments with such grace and humor and I loved watching not just Emmy and Oliver, but their friends and family, navigate through it all to find comfort and happiness.

Stunning writing, authentic love, and teens who fearlessly analyze the changes in themselves and those around them with a beautifully complicated critical lens, Emmy and Oliver is a story about finding love - not with your childhood crush, but with the person he has become, with your parents whose love has become stifling, and with yourself, whose change, I think, is sometimes the hardest to see.

Find out more about Robin and her other works here: http://www.robinbenway.com/index.php

I'm the author of "Audrey, Wait!", "The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May & June", and the AKA series. My latest book "Emmy & Oliver" will be released on June 23, 2015. I live in Los Angeles with my extremely stubborn shih tzu, Hudson. I like cooking, puppies, and coffee, but not in that order. We should be friends.

Happy Reading!