Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

cold steel by kate elliottThis is the 3rd novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

Summary (from Amazon): Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.

Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.

My Thoughts: Cold Steel is the last novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy (#1: Cold Magic, #2: Cold Fire). If you are looking for an epic series with adventure, travel, terrific world-building, a bit of romance, an intriguing and utterly unique heroine, a deep friendship, and liberal amounts of humor, this is it.

Cold Steel was a great wrap-up, and it left me aching for more in the way that the best books do. However, I suspect that I did myself an extreme disfavor by waiting so long between the 2nd novel and this one–part of that was, of course, Life, and the general obnoxiousness that comes along with it, and it rendered me fairly confused and sometimes disinterested near the beginning of Cold Steel. I had forgotten some of the “rules” that fantasy / alternate-universe novels like this come with, and for a decent amount of time I was left wondering about many characters’ motives and decisions, which took away some of the enjoyment for me. I should have re-read Cold Fire again before embarking on this 3rd novel, and maybe I’ll attempt that scenario sometime in the future. I think that would change a lot of the way I ended up feeling about the book.

I’d like to reiterate a point I made in my review of Cold Magic, and that is that I really enjoy the portrayal of friendship between Cat, our protagonist, and her cousin/BFF, Bee. I do think it’s a shame that so many of the books specifically marketed towards (young) women feature so few female relationships, and if there are multiple women featured in the novel, they are usually enemies or fighting over a man. Especially with all the recent attention about The Bechdel Test, this is a problem that goes beyond literature. There is a romance in this trilogy, the one between Cat and her husband, Andevai, and it is certainly romantic, swoon-worthy, and heartbreaking at times (as all good romances are), but it is not the only meaningful relationship in our female protagonist’s life–it’s one of many, and that, to me, is a much more realistic and honest portrayal of romance.

Another strong point of Elliott’s is her ability to make her characters fully 3-dimensional. The characters in Cold Fire have weaknesses, and not stupid, shallow “weaknesses” thrown in to make sure that the character isn’t a flawless Mary Sue. Andevai, Cat’s husband and romantic interest, is flawed and these flaws can be both humorous (his pride and vanity lead him to accumulate an impressive number of clothes that have to be lugged across half the continent by Cat and Bee) and serious: Andevai’s loyalty to his past, and an overwhelming desire for respect and recognition cause him and Cat to struggle greatly with their relationship and their dual involvement in the revolution they are fighting for. There are doubts, realistic doubts that caused me as a reader to waver as well.

I was first drawn into this series because I so enjoyed viewing it through Cat’s eyes. She is a unique heroine in that she isn’t really a heroine–in any typical fantasy story, her personality, actions, and motivations would have cast her as the sidekick, and her cousin Bee as the heroine. This is really a story about a side-player in a greater drama with her own reasons for doing what she does, and which might not line up with the traditional, heroic notion of right-and-wrong, save-the-world, goody-goody. I really enjoyed this in the first and second novels, but (and this might be a side effect of the aforementioned delay between my reading the 2nd and 3rd books) she really lost me a few times in Cold Steel. Certain pivotal moments had me going “whaaaat?” at her actions and thoughts, and I didn’t connect with her as well. I ended up not being as invested or impressed emotionally because I didn’t understand her motivations and reactions.

Overall, this is a very good trilogy with a world that I hope Elliott will return to sometime in the future. It’s so fleshed-out and well-developed I feel like she must have more stories and characters off-stage that deserve their chance to be told. Cold Steel was not my favorite of the series, but it’s still good. Also funny. It’s an interesting kind of humor–lots of different kinds of humor, actually. So enjoyable!

Author Websitehttp://www.kateelliott.com/

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Summary: Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice:
Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing a lot about Shatter Me, and all the hype was right! I finished this one in a day, and while I knew it was going to be interesting because it’s the best mix of genres (dystopian, science fiction, young adult fiction, a bit of romance), I definitely didn’t expect the beautiful, almost poetic writing style of debut author Mafi.

I was immediately hooked from the first page. We’re introduced to Juliette as a narrator, and we’re wondering, is this character mentally unstable? Insane? Hallucinatory? Which are also questions that our protagonist keeps asking herself, especially when her life in solitary confinement is disrupted with the addition of a new cellmate–a boy who reminds her of before, before her entrapment and the end of the world.

The narration begins as a stream of consciousness that is alternately tightly controlled, utterly panicked, and all sorts of other emotions that the reader feels right along with Juliette. The action is non-stop, I was never bored, and at every point there was some kind of twist or revelation that I didn’t see coming that only contributed more to the plot and overall atmosphere.

The dialogue was perfect, it was snappy when necessary, and drawn-out when needed, everything pitch-perfect and right. I’m just going to keep coming back to Mafi’s talented writing abilities.

The only issue I had is that I wasn’t complete won over or convinced by our main bad guy. Maybe in the sequel, but he just didn’t tick with me or scare me enough for me to believe in the villainy.

It’s described as Hunger Games meets X-Men, and I think that’s a very apt description. I will definitely be looking for the sequel.

Author Website: http://www.taherehmafi.com/

Second Opinion: Angieville

How did I get this book? Ebook on my phone!

Genres: Science fiction, young adult fiction, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, romance

The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “Duffy,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now. Desperate for a distraction, Bianca ends up kissing Wesley. And likes it. Eager for escape, she throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with Wesley.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out that Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

My Thoughts: I found out about The DUFF at Angie’s blog, where she gave it a glowing review. YA novels about high school have become kind of hit-or-miss for me. I either really like them or am so bored by them that I can’t finish.

The DUFF definitely exceeded my expectations and as I was reading it I was making note of several things I was very impressed by and that I wanted to tell the author about.

1. I love the narration. Bianca’s voice is spot on and while I’m sure the author has probably received some flack from parent’s groups or uptight reviewers about the expletives, I think it was pitch perfect and never overdone. Teenagers talk a certain way, end of story.

2. The friendships. I’m not sure why this is such an issue, but in most of the YA novels I read that are aimed at girls, very rarely do we see much positive and fleshed-out interaction between two girls that are friends! It’s a problem. So many novels are too focused on the romance between The Girl and The Guy. While The DUFF definitely has romance, I was still very impressed by how real and unique the friendship between Bianca, Jessica, and Casey was. As well, Jessica and Casey weren’t just two blah-blah supporting characters, but had depth of their own. I appreciated that.

3. I wish I had read this book when I was in high school. The way the book dealt with sex and the horrible misogynist stereotypes forced on teenage girls as a result of sex was great. Having sex doesn’t make you a whore (even in a purely hookup relationship) and girls going around calling each other whores and sluts is probably one of the worst things about high school–and so many girls don’t even realize how it hurts themselves, as women, to do this. I wish I had realized this while in high school. I participated in this vicious cycle as a teenager and I didn’t see the light until college. I was frankly delighted with the way this was handled in The DUFF. Not preachy or full of it.

Can’t wait to read Keplinger’s next novel, Shut Out.

Author Website: http://kodykeplinger.com/

Jane by April Lindner

Summary from book jacket: Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance. But there’s a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane’s much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?  An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing a lot about this modernized retelling of Jane Eyre from several different book blogs, so I had high expectations. I was not disappointed!

First off, that cover is fabulous. Kind of dark, gloomy and gothic but with a nice, unexpected punchy text in the title. Definitely an attention-getter. And I have to make a confession: I’ve never read the original Jane Eyre. I remember starting it when I was younger and I had to put it down because I got too scared. Lindner’s Jane also got me pretty scared when the creepiness inside Thornfield Mansion begins.

I loved Jane as a narrator and character. She is a clear-headed, poised, eminently sensible, and not given to girlish flights of fan-induced frenzy, which makes her the perfect candidate to take care of a famous rock star’s young daughter. She’s the last person to fall for a celebrity, and you believe this throughout the novel–until Lindner so naturally makes the romance happen.

I thought this novel was very nicely done.

How did I get this book? My local public library
Author’s Website: http://www.aprillindner.com
Genres: Young adult fiction, romance, classic

Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles

Summary: Nothing has been the same since Caleb Becker left a party drunk, got behind the wheel, and hit Maggie Armstrong.

Even after months of painful physical therapy, Maggie walks with a limp. Her social life is nil and a scholarship to study abroad—her chance to escape everyone and their pitying stares—has been canceled.

After a year in juvenile jail, Caleb’s free… if freedom means endless nagging from a transition coach and the prying eyes of the entire town. Coming home should feel good, but his family and ex-girlfriend seem like strangers.

Caleb and Maggie are outsiders, pigeon-holed as “criminal” and “freak.” Then the truth emerges about what really happened the night of the accident and, once again, everything changes. It’s a bleak and tortuous journey for Caleb and Maggie, yet they end up finding comfort and strength from a surprising source: each other.

Review: It’s been several months since I’ve been able to read a book for pleasure. Leaving Paradise was a short, quick read; although it veered into cheesy and slightly overdramatic moments at times, it was entertaining and hit all the good emotional spots. Instead of the usual boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, we have boy hits girl with car, boy and girl forced to work together, boy and girl become slow friends, boy and girl become more…?

It was a nice way to get back into reading fiction. I’m fairly eager to read the sequel, Return to Paradise (how clever).

I think I enjoyed this one more than Perfect Chemistry, Elkeles’ other teen romance novel.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Author Website: http://www.simoneelkeles.net/
How did I get this book?
From my local public library
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Romance