Review: ‘The Kiss of Deception’ by Mary E. Pearson

Review: ‘The Kiss of Deception’ by Mary E. PearsonThe Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson
Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2
Genres: Fantasy, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on 2014-07-08
Format: Hardcover
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In this timeless new trilogy about love and sacrifice, a princess must find her place in a reborn world.

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight—but she doesn’t—and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom—to a prince she has never met.

On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—even as she finds herself falling in love.

I was so ready for this book. I had seen great reviews for it across the blogosphere, and everyone was basically raving about it. So of course, I fell victim to the hype monster. How couldn’t I? It had everything that made it my kind of book:
☑  Royalty, Fantasy World with Ancient Influences, Love Interest(s), and even a MAP

If I saw negative reviews somewhere amongst the sea of positivity, I quickly clicked away — because how could the book be anything but amazing? Yes, the hype monster had me deep in its clutches.

But to say that The Kiss of Deception let me down simply because there was too much hype surrounding it would be a lie. The contents of the book itself were at once disappointing and infuriating.

As I was reading, I kept waiting for the book to really start. Things were happening, sure, but nothing as excitingly as I had been imagining. The first half or so of the book was rather slow and decidedly less important to the plot. I was trying desperately to connect with the characters, but I was failing miserably as no character stood out to me or really seemed anything other than average or stereotypical. The world-building was sound, but only mildly interesting. Though there was a good deal of romance in the first half, I found myself stuck on the wrong side of the love triangle, so I wasn’t satisfied with it by any means. Meanwhile I plodded through the book, bored with how Lia’s life was going nowhere (though she had so much potential), and how everything happening was so predictable. I even foresaw when I thought the major plot twist would occur — and it even seemed to be happening as I thought it would. And then… EVERYTHING CHANGED.

“…soon the day would cleave in two, forever creating the before and after of my life, and it would happen in one swift act that I could no more alter than the color of my eyes.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth itself (a.k.a. Lia)! Of course, this quote is from the first page of the book describing what the arranged marriage would have done to her life, but I think it mores aptly applies to what happens at approximately 60% through the book when EVERYTHING TURNS ON ITS HEAD. (cue book being thrown violently across room)

Now, I will attempt to describe my feelings about THIS ACT without spoiling anything. My main problem with this plot twist has to do with the well-known and simple concept of the ‘Author-Reader Contract’. I almost never have any qualms with anything an author choses to do in a book, but there are occasional glaring violations of the unwritten rules of fiction writing that leave readers feeling abused. And this, in my own personal opinion, was one of them.

How do I know? Well, maybe it was because I had so much difficulty appreciating the second (better) half of the book because I was stewing with anger and confusion. The rest of the book picked up the pace, adding in a lot of action, traveling across the continent to exciting new lands, and romance that I was actually interested in. But I could hardly enjoy this new part of the book when I could barely set straight what had happened and what the plot twist really affected.

This might sound overly dramatic to those that haven’t read the book, but the plot twist was sprung on the reader with no warning and almost no justification whatsoever. While I almost always love a good plot twist, for me, this one tainted the rest of the book. 

Well, mostly it did. By the time I had finished reading, my thoughts about The Kiss of Deception were quite muddled. After a brief cool-down period, I realized that I had enjoyed the second half of the book. But overall, the book felt to me to be two halves that didn’t quite fit together. While there were other parts I liked and disliked about the book, this is the lasting impression I was left with.

So would I be up for reading the next book in the series? Maybe I would, if it meant I got to put this plot twist behind me and be able to appreciate the next book, provided that the tomfoolery on the author’s part STOPPED. I really want to be able to like the next book for the book itself, and not to have to furiously fixate on one little part that changed everything.

I was so ready to love this book, but I finished it with very mixed feelings and a lingering sense of betrayal.

Review: ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

Review: ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’ by Jaclyn MoriartyThe Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
Series: The Colours of Madeleine #2
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books on 2014-03-25
Format: Hardcover
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Princess Ko's been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can't get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens -- each with a special ability -- from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot's value to the Alliance is clear: He's the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.

Jaclyn Moriarty is definitely one of the most creative and witty authors out there. I read her book The Year of Secret Assignments and was fascinated by her writing. Her books revolve around unique premises, and are filled with humor, philosophy, and entertaining ramblings. They touch on serious topics, but are never depressing. I always know what to expect when I pick up one of her books, and I always enjoy them. A lot.

I have so many words I want to use to describe The Cracks in the Kingdom, so here’s my list: clever, strange, whimsical, original, enchanting, intoxicatingly creative, deep, complex, beautiful, quirky, delightful, artful, and of course, hilarious. Whew. I mean every one of these adjectives, so I didn’t want to forget to mention any. There’s just so many aspects to Moriarty’s writing and elements of the book that need to be mentioned.

tumblr_n48vacdKMR1s0tbc4o1_500As in the first book, A Corner of White, the Kingdom of Cello is just as magical and exciting as ever. Sometimes vicious and sometimes wonderful color attacks occur across the kingdom, deftball players leap and rough each other up, and incredibly delicious treats bake in homes around The Farms. Only in this book, we get to travel all over the kingdom seeing different provinces — the Magical North and its perma-winter, Jagged Edge and its highly technologized and party-loving culture, and the charmingly crazy Olde Quainte. Learning more about Cello was nothing short of delightful — can I go back? Jagged Edge was especially fascinating.

The Cracks in the Kingdom added so much complexity, definitely proving itself to be better than the first book. The Royal Family having been forcibly transported to the World means that the book revolves around a new and exciting quest to find them and bring them home, all executed by the new Royal Youth Alliance (RYA). New characters from the RYA join the cast, providing for some major character diversity and a lot of laughs. And as their written exchanges become deeper, Madeleine and Elliot’s relationship intensifies.

a94f67e625e227dd61326139eae24f20This last element was perhaps my favorite. It was refreshing to read about a younger teenage relationship after having read so many other YA romances (between older characters) that are so much more serious and consuming. The feelings between Elliot and Madeleine are so pure, fragile, and tentative. There is so much hope, and also so much caution. It is a beautiful thing to behold, this falling, this orbiting of each other, this alignment of fractured pieces. It isn’t overwhelming in the book, but I was still rooting for them. They are friends looking for support that find a little more.

6aa47c11d5eba555bf905b246416d2e1And if I didn’t quite appreciate it enough in the last book, Moriarty’s writing blew me away in this book. Possibly to another kingdom. She weaves together so many seemingly unrelated things — physics, magic, philosophy, and family — so that they become one tapestry of brilliance. Madeleine especially contemplates so many things it makes my head spin. When I’m reading everything in this book seems to come alive and is awash in color ( in fact, I’d be interested in seeing Kayla @ The Thousand Lives do one of her Saturated Reads on this series). Moriarty is a master of detail, comparisons, and pretty much everything else. And it says something that this book is incredibly quote-worthy, if you can’t already tell by all these pictures.

The only (very slight) issue I have with The Cracks in the Kingdom is its length. It approaches 500 pages (it’s 467), and I felt like the beginning was a little slow, especially since I read the first book so long ago. But this problem dried up in my mind when I began to hit the major events in the book, and then I didn’t want it to end. Aaaack. Seriously, the next book doesn’t even have a publication date or Goodreads profile yet! >:(

Quirky but delightful, I fell hard for this one. It bursts with creativity, and Moriarty’s nearly indescribable writing blew me away.

Series Review: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo [NO SPOILERS]

Series Review: The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo [NO SPOILERS]The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #1-3
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on 2012-06-05
Format: Hardcover
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Alina Starkov doesn't expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, the one thing she could rely on was her best friend and fellow refuge, Mal. and lately not even that seems certain. Drafted into the army of their war-torn homeland, they're sent on a dangerous mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh.

When their convoy is attacked, all seems lost until Alina reveals a dormant power that not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, she is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. He believes she is the answer the people have been waiting for: the one person with the power to destroy the Fold.

Swept up in a world of luxury and illusion, envied as the Darkling's favorite, Alina struggles to fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But as the threat to the kingdom mounts, Alina uncovers a secret that sets her on a collision course with the most powerful forces in the kingdom. Now only her past can save her...and only she can save the future.

I originally planned on reviewing each book in the series separately. But what with my binge-reading, the fact that all the books are already out, and the problem of spoilers, I figured that it would be best to review the books as a series. I’ll do my best to keep it mostly spoiler-free.

I don’t know where to begin. This series is EPIC. It’s one of my favorites (to put it mildly), and one that I could re-read bunches of times; in fact, I feel that it’s a I-must-bring-this-if-ever-left-on-a-deserted-island kind of series. Really. Though trying to describe how I really feel about this trilogy would probably come out as gibberish and would be accentuated with fangirl-ish shrieks, I will try to form a few somewhat coherent thoughts. The Grisha trilogy is a highly-enjoyable fantasy series, reminiscent of the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini — minus the dragons, but plus a whole lot of romance (more on that later). It is a heady blend of adventure, action, romance, and fantasy, extremely well-crafted, and…just so, SO good. Ugh.


A map of Ravka and its neighbors.

The kingdom of Ravka is based upon early 1800’s Russia, but is otherwise entirely fantastical. Having been at war with its neighbors for generations, much of Ravka’s efforts and resources go toward the war. The army is made of two separate  groups: the First Army, made up of Otkazat’sya (regular soldiers), and the Second Army, made up of Grisha (those who practice ‘the Small Science,’ like magic but based in science). The First Army is led by Ravka’s king, while the Second Army is led by the Darkling, a Grisha of immense power. At the same time, Ravka is plagued by the Fold (the dark area west of Ravka on the map), cut off from the coast and terrorized by the monsters that live in its shadows. When Alina’s power is discovered, she is heralded as being the person who can finally destroy the Fold and bring back peace to Ravka. The world-building in the series is seamless and wonderful all at once. I loved the map put in the beginning of each book, as it really helped me to envision Ravka as a real place (and I checked it constantly). Bardugo often recounts Ravka’s history in the books, and interspersed throughout the series are Ravkan folktales that play pretty important roles in the plot. I was delighted by the Russian influences which are evident in everything from Ravka’s language (which has its roots in Russian) to the kefta uniforms worn by the Grishafinally, a high fantasy book that isn’t Anglicized.


Characters from ‘Siege and Storm’ (art by KOH).

But if there’s anything better than the world-building in the Grisha trilogy, it’s definitely the charactersEvery character just seems to be so themselves, so it’s never hard to imagine what they would do (or that they could be real). There is a wide range of characters: some to be admired, and others that are misunderstood; some to laugh with, to cry for, or to root for; some with dark and sorrowful pasts and some that will surprise. Each character is beloved (at least, to me), even the villains (how do you manage this, Leigh Bardugo??). They are what always keep me reading and will see me re-reading. Bardugo also does a great job of adding new characters to each book that never feel like outsiders.

We all know that every great series needs a great heroine. Alina, while starting off in the series as timid, weak, and lacking self-confidence, grows into a strong character who still has doubts and moments of weakness, but will push through and prevail. While her struggles are often supernatural or extraordinary, they reveal deeper struggles she has with herself. She’s no saint (ha!), but her remorse and doubts make her very relatable and likable. And let’s just stop for a minute to appreciate how my name is in her name (Yess!!).

The romance: steamy, emotional, and…abundant. As in, more than one love interest. But somehow never in a love triangle way, because she mostly has one clear love interest. But that doesn’t stop a reader (okay, me) from swooning over the rest of the guys in this series. Their different traits span the spectrum: loyal, untrustworthy, charming, seductive, ingenious, witty…sigh.

And finally, the plot, which deserves no lesser praise or recognition. The Grisha trilogy manages to be both exhilarating and well-developed, a combination that is rare but exquisite. Characters’ backstories and Ravka’s history are told, but never in a boring way and spread out so that the pacing is never slowed too much. The series is incredibly well-plotted, never progressing too fast that it feels rushed but full of stunning plot-twists, action, drama, and romance that left me breathless, intensely emotional, and tremendously invested. The series felt more like a journey Bardugo took me on instead of separate books — showing just how fluid the plot line and story was.

What else is there to say (without giving anything away)? I loved this series through and through, and beg you to read it if you have not already.  Maybe I should ship myself off to a deserted island just to re-read these books. And…yup, no adequate words left, so I will just stop. READ. THEM.

Read this series if you value books. It is incredible.


Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren Destefano

Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren DestefanoPerfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Internment Chronicles #1
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables, Realistic Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-10-01
Format: Hardcover
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On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in her best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

I. Loved. This. Book. Period.

But since I can’t just leave my review at that, I guess I have to continue.

Morgan lives in the floating city of Internment, which was said to have been raised into the air by the god of the sky to punish the humans whose demands of the gods never seemed to end. Life on Internment is safe, comfortable, and without jealousy or greed. A person may choose any path in life, but no one can approach ‘the edge’ or attempt to reach the ground. But for Morgan, Internment seems to get smaller everyday as her yearning to know about ‘the ground’ grows. When the first murder in a generation occurs, it sets off a spiraling series of events that opens Morgan’s eyes to the truth about the city that is her whole world.

I was enchanted by the city of Internment, which coincidentally reminds me of another floating city (I know, how many can there be?) called Laputa from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky, which apparently has its own roots in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

The world building in Perfect Ruin is both spectacular and captivating. Internment, having existed separately from ‘the ground’, has over time developed its own religion, history, and culture that I absolutely loved reading about. Many of Internment’s practices also stem from its need to conserve space and resources, as the ‘island’ is quite small. I had no trouble reading on as I found out all about Internment’s customs, from assigning betrothals (engagements) at birth, the ‘birth queue’ that couples must join to be allowed to have a child, the ‘Festival of Lights’ (a sort of Christmas holiday) and so on.

None of the other elements of the book disappoint, either; the characters are the next-best thing about Perfect Ruin. Morgan is compassionate and always trying to take care of everyone else in her life, yet knows when she needs to rely on and confide in others. While she starts off as naive, she slowly becomes aware of the true nature of life on Internment and is anything but passive as she strives for justice. Her best friend Pen has her own distinct personality, beliefs, and problems, and her friendship with Morgan is believable and strong. Basil, her betrothed, knows Morgan perhaps better than she knows herself, and loves and supports her through all her troubles and fantasies about ‘the ground’. Even Lex, her older brother who is now blind and bitter after being a ‘Jumper’, is so dear to Morgan as he reminds her of herself and her own struggles. All in all, there is not a character that I didn’t like in this book, and they all add to the story.

As for the plot, I was never bored. Internment quickly becomes a less-than safe place, and crimes and mistrust abound. So many elements of the story begin to come together in the later parts of the book, and I enjoyed the many plot-twists. By the end I was an emotional ball of nerves, quickly flipping through the pages to find out what would happen. And with the way the book ended, there is no doubt that I will be reading the sequel.

Destefano’s artful and poetic writing was really just an added bonus to an already great book. Her beautiful prose added to my sense of wonder about Internment and gave the book a whimsical and dreamy tone.

A must read! I enjoyed the creative world-building. No part will disappoint!