Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: Say What You Will - Cammie McGovern

Say What You Will 
Cammie McGovern
Series: N/A
Genre: Romance, Young Adult
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Stunning
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

What. Okay, instructions on how to read and enjoy this book: read the first half and then ditch it. Say sayonara because while the first half of Say What You Will is clever and brilliant and absolutely charming, the second half will make you want to cry with how poorly the plot progressed.

First, before I get into my critique of the book, I would just like to applaud Cammie McGovern for writing a book about teenagers with disabilities that is both accessible and forthright. Besides that, it is a book that is written with honesty and has an interesting concept (although the book has a central focus on disability, it was a unique enough concept that rather than becoming a heavy plot point, it forced the characters to progress). I thought it was a marvelous idea and McGovern is a great author, with a very unique voice.

That being, the disappointment factor with this book is absolutely insane. The book opens with a set of email exchanges between Amy and Matthew, which leave enough to be desired that I wanted to continue. Amy has cerebral palsy, and Matthew is an extremely honest and a little awkward kid who calls Amy's bullshit about being super grateful for her disabled body. Then, Amy convinces her mom to get rid of her school aid and instead hire five teenagers to be her aids for each day. Matthew, as you might imagine, is one of these teenagers. Basically, this book progresses into a book about the relationship between Amy and Matthew, from aid to friend to romantic interest.

I won't give away any more of the plot, but I will say this. For half the book, I was absolutely in love with the characters and the story and the voice that McGovern provided for me (despite the third person, I feel as though this book would've been much better in the point of view of Amy or even Matthew or even alternating PoVs (I think McGovern is a good enough writer  to pull that kind of thing off). I feel as though the characters developed beautifully, and for the most part, so did Matthew, even towards the end. However, after the half way mark in this book, everything goes down hill (other than the writing, which is good all the way through). The plot, the character development, the overall tone of the piece: all of these things are lost at a certain point, and I so wish that wasn't the case. McGovern had the writing chops to make this one a home run, and really kill it with a fantastic ending, and she didn't. That disappoints me a little, although I feel like another book from McGovern might yield a better product (given that the keeps the flow throughout her novel).

Another thing I want to discuss is McGovern's ability to faithfully write teenager's dialogue. Honestly, that's what got this book up to the star rating that it got. Although the teenagers in question are not considered "socially normal" within the context on the novel, the writing translates the humor of a sassy teenager and a bossy friend and a concerned date. Strong writing chops like this are hard to find, and I hope McGovern comes out with something soon which has a stronger ending. Cannot wait to read the next thing she writes, with high hopes that it will be awesome all the way through next time.

- Amrutha

Who are your favorite authors for teen dialogue?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: The Red Winter - Henry H. Neff

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on The Red Winter by Henry H. Neff!

The Red Winter
Henry H. Neff
Series: The Tapestry, #5
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Publisher: Random House
Waited on by: Marlon
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

An inventive and action-packed mix of fantasy, science fiction, and mythology, all in a realistic contemporary setting.

Rowan has won a battle, but not the war. With proper allies, Rowan’s armies could storm the demon stronghold, capture its ruler, and end the reign of demonkind. But while nations clash, a greater struggle lies elsewhere. In his desperate pursuit of Astaroth, Elias Bram scours the world for clues to the fiend’s true origins, identity, and purpose. His horrifying discoveries hint that not only is humanity at risk, but the earth itself. Its fate may depend upon three children. With their unmatchable skills, it’s up to Max McDaniels, David Menlo, and little Mina to tip the balance!In the Tapestry’s final volume, Henry H. Neff concludes an unforgettable series in which magic can live, gods can die, and the highest stakes require the greatest sacrifice.

I don't like waiting for things. I really absolutely hate it. But I've been waiting on these books, year after year (in this case two years) ever since I began reading YA. The Hound of Rowan - the first book in this series - was one of the first I ever picked up. I read it all the way through, and then waited a couple of months for the second one, and devoured it. It was a new feeling for me. Reading for pleasure really started somewhere around these books. I even wrote sort-of fan fiction for this wonderful world.

I don't know many people who know of The Tapestry, so basically it's these wonderfully penned fantasy books about a boy named Max McDaniels, who finds himself in a magical world, changed by it over and over as he learns the secrets of his origin. Max's story, which I absolutely love, is not unlike others -- Percy, Harry -- in that it's a young boy growing into the fantasy around him and accepting his duties. So you'll feel at home in the first two books. But it diverges thematically with strong emphasis on the darker side of being a hero. Max does some pretty messed up things later on, and he's painted as a detached hero, saving the world and forgetting totally about his identity. Anyway, I could talk for hours about how long I've spent thinking about the deep, exceptionally realistic mythology Neff paints, or the mad amounts of feels I get at around chapter five of the fourth book. You know?

I'm getting really sentimental and tearing up so like I'ma just end it here. I'm still waiting godamnit.

- Marlon

What are YOU waiting on?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cover Cosmetics: Unmade - Sarah Rees Brennan

In the past week I have posted a Cover Cosmetics for Unspoken (here) and for Untold (here) in anticipation of the final book in the Lynburn Legacy. Today, Unmade has been released! In celebration of this glorious day, I have done a Cover Cosmetics for Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan! (Even though school won't allow me to read this book now. Sob.)

The cover:

The makeup:

Normally I do more wearable makeup, but for Unmade I decided to get a little more creative! I used the orange and yellow to mimic the colors of the sky on the cover. One thing I wanted to explore with this was that if you really look at the cover, about half of it is black but the orange pops out to the eye. I decided to do black cut crease to copy the sharp silhouettes on the cover and I drew the tree branches on to copy the tree branches (you definitely needed me to tell you that).

I hope everyone starting Unmade today has tissues near - I'm sure this one will be as heartbreaking as the other two!

- Kiersten

Do you like more wearable or more creative makeup looks?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 22, 2014

ARC Review: Afterworlds - Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: Well.
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I'll spare you the primal, guttural affections I have for Midnighters, Leviathan, and Westerfeld's other works. Suffice it to say that he's a significant part of my introduction into YA. I'll spare you how much I loved meeting him at BEA, where I got a copy of this book.

Let's get to it, then.

Afterworlds is a pair of books that are laced together into one. The first follows, Darcy, a lucky writer learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry and of being independent. She's written a novel called Afterworlds about Lizzie, a girl who's also growing up, but in a different world, full of death and alienation. While these worlds are wildly different at first, they begin to reflect and respond to each other as the protagonists realize the truth behind their worlds and themselves.

As is obvious from the reviews that have already piled up behind this book, this one's pretty contentious. From the layman reader to the average YA lover to those nitpicking literary critics, those who’ve read Afterworlds seem either to love or hate it, for some combination of several reasons. (For a description/analysis of these reasons, scroll down to Noor's review). For a full-on, guns-ablazing break down of the major and minor "pitfalls" that other reviewers often cite, head over to this review.
Anyhow, enough of that.

I love love love love love this book.

The greatest thing about Westerfeld, I think, is his flexibility and the depth of his literary understanding. Take an honest once-over at Uglies versus Leviathan versus Afterworlds. Have they anything conceptually in common? Barely scraps — they may well have been penned by entirely different authors, yet all of them have been well-received. This aspect of his writing makes itself quite clear in this novel, where one novel had to seem entirely realistic and the other had to seem as if it were penned by a debut author, and Westerfeld definitely succeedes.

For example, Westerfeld's wit, his humor, and his gorgeous language is portrayed in two very different ways. One is highly polished - the language in Darcy's world is totally realistic. I've seen a lot of reviews point out that that people don't really speak in the profane manner that the characters do in Darcy's world, and to those people I say - have you ever talked to anyone . . . ever? Even novelists, who some reviewers seem to hold on this pedestal where they can only speak in the intelligent cadence of veteran lit-crits, are human and speak with a societal tongue. Then there's Lizzie's world, where really florid language is perfect and having a guy kiss you while you're in the throes of trauma is totally cool. I think such a contrast is so hard to do unless you're just really freaking good at writing, because you have to understand what naive writing is and what polished writing is and be able to write both. Westerfeld's is a dizzying kind of genius.
I loved watching Darcy plummet down the rabbit hole, through her first real relationship, through her re-writes, through her education on the publishing world - it's amazing watching something unfold when you're so interested in it. In addition, Lizzie's story, while falling rather flat (which is exactly what it’s supposed to do) content-wise, serves to showcase Darcy's growth and what she considers growth versus what she had initially envisioned in Lizzie's growth.

Unlike most people, I took to Lizzie's world, because it's so good sometimes, and sometimes so bad. For example, when Lizzie first wakes up in the afterworld, after having watched hundreds of people die and almost die herself, she is in a mist and believes she might be in heaven, which is a fascinating insight into the character . . . and then a few lines later she thinks to kiss the hot death lord she meets. This instance is an exaggeration, of course, of YA romance trends, and Westerfeld employs this unrealistic storytelling quite well. What’s even better is watching Darcy struggle with the problems in Lizzie’s emulating the struggle most writers have - between tropes and trends and individuality, for example.

I think readers often get caught up in the image of an author being totally solitary and working in the dark until finally - aha! - they've finished a piece of work. Westerfeld shows us, through Darcy, that most authors must be dreadfully aware of the current literary trends, everyone's viewpoints, his/her own voice, and a billion other anxiety-inducing things. As an experienced writer, Westerfeld masterfully gives us first a world that examines the pitfalls of an industry and an art form that Westerfeld has been part of for many years. He is highly critical, revealing the condescension of some writers in Darcy's world - they call Darcy's work "better than the average YA" for example -along with the many pitfalls of Lizzie's story.

I did have a few problems with the book, but they were mostly personal and did not really change my literary appreciation. These problems include wanting less Lizzie because I was more interested in Darcy's story but also finding Darcy rather unrelatable. I like Darcy's character, don't get me wrong. Westerfeld paints a very natural picture of a young aspiring artist: Darcy's anxiety manifests itself constantly - there must be a thousand references to that "fluke" she wrote "last November"; her sexuality is not a platform or a stage, but rather it is just a part of her, just a fact, the same way her brown skin and her not-so-Indian culture are just facts about her. (I've seen so many people complain that Darcy is just "too white" despite being Indian. These people completely miss the point that "white" does not mean "American" or "western" and that Westerfeld satirizes this problem by having Darcy get away with cultural appropriation even though she's Indian. Damn . . . it's hard to stay away from the contentious parts of this book.). Anyway, I love Darcy, but because I desire to be a successful published writer, I am jealous of Darcy's problems and I tend to trivialize them. For example, when she complains about not being able to eat out every night, all I can think of is that she lives in a $3000/month apartment in NY and has picked up a $300000 contract on a book she still thinks she fluked. I definitely understand the need to make Darcy special - it's hard for most readers to read about "normal" characters. At least, that's what I'm told. In any case, I found myself only really caring when Darcy was in deep ish.

So buy the book! Or mug someone with a copy? Either way, enjoy!

- Marlon
Noor's Afterworlds Review
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Can you spell meta?

I love Scott Westerfeld. A lot. I have loved him a lot for a long time and he was one of the first YA authors I read. We go way back. So when I had the chance to get a signed ARC of this book at BEA and meet him, I was ecstatic and wanted to read the book the second I got it. Of course, I also got a buttload of other books so I didn't read it until now. So after a few months of anticipation, I am so happy to say Afterworlds was definitely worth the wait. 

I think the book is hit-or-miss and you either love it or you hate it. I clearly fall into the love category but those that fall into the latter are either those who don't like ghosts/paranormal things, or those who didn't fully understand how meta the book was. 

Seriously, it was like meta on top of meta with a layer of meta icing. Which I loved, of course. The book contained two stories, each told in alternating chapters. The first was about Darcy Patel, Indian-American high school student who wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo and is now getting it published and moving to New York. The other story is the book she wrote, titled Afterworlds, and about a girl, Lizzie, who falls in love with the Hindu god of death. Now, I read some other reviews of the book and a lot of people are commenting on how they didn't think the story with Lizzie was all that great and that it fell short and was too typical paranormal, with all the tropes and cliches that made them drop stars like flies. Except, in my opinion, the whole point is for the story to be just that. This is supposed to be Darcy's first novel, one she wrote in a month, no less, and not even the final published version, but the first draft. She's also an 18 year old girl, and I'm not saying that 18 year old girls are inherently cliche writers, because I don't believe that at all (I mean, I am an 18 year old girl and I have seen many who are phenomenal writers). I am just saying that the whole point of the book is that this is the book Darcy Patel wrote, not a book Scott Westerfeld wrote. The first time she meets the death god, Yamaraj, he kisses Lizzie. She spends her whole interaction with him focusing on his looks and his slight accent and his hair. For her, it is insta-love -- well, closer to insta-attraction, but you get the gist. And that's the whole point, or at least the point that I saw. It's supposed to be flawed and Lizzie is supposed to be a little annoying and not fleshed out enough and basically the story is supposed to be a very typical YA paranormal romance, even though all throughout the beginning we see it marketed as better than average and so atypical because woo death god and culture. I mean, just look at who's doing that marketing: her agent, the one who gets paid to make her book sell and say things about it that might not necessarily be accurate. I think the people who didn't like the Afterworlds novel part of the story saw it as a separate entity that Scott Westerfeld used his own ideas and writing skills to write, rather than as something he wrote through the lens of this young, naive protagonist. See what I mean about meta?

The stuff about it being trope-y and cliche being said, I actually liked that half of the book a lot. I thought it was a cute story and I loved seeing the way it intertwined with Darcy's own life and how she'd mention things about writing it or certain scenes and aspects in the real world and then we'd get to see how it played out in the story. It was really cool seeing the author of the book go through the whole process with the book, and made me appreciate the story a lot more, especially the little things I wouldn't have known without Darcy's part to accent it. It made me wonder how often, when I'm reading, certain phrases or passages are essentially an inside joke the author made with him/herself. But going back to the point about the story, I thought it was enjoyable and entertaining and something I wanted to read, not something I made myself get through.

And then we have Darcy's story, which revolves around her time in New York and how getting a book published is not as east as mailing them a manuscript and then having the rest done for you. Of course, she does have a lot of fun in New York, but it's also a lot of work, and she often makes bad decisions or messes up. A lot of people think the way the whole publishing aspect and industry are shown is too far-fetched, but as an 18-year old girl who has not published anything reading a book by a successful author who has published many books (a lot more than zero), I think Scott Westerfeld is a lot more qualified to write about the publishing industry than I am to comment on it. I honestly really liked that it was a little over-the-top, because who wants to read about sitting at a desk and editing the same paragraph for an hour and then emailing a bunch of people and then more emailing and yay, paperwork (Is that what it's really like? That doesn't seem like it'd be too off base). If you can read a series about a wizarding school or a book about a girl narrating from heaven and utilize enough suspension of disbelief to go along with whatever is happening in the story, you can get over the fact that Darcy went to a bunch of parties and met a few eccentric people while getting her book published. 

Not only do I love how self-aware this book is, but also how Scott Westerfeld uses his narrative to point out a lot of things problematic with authors and media in general. For example, even though Darcy is Indian, she grew up as an average American teenager, and refers to Hinduism as "her parent's religion." In her novel, she takes some of the mythology from the Scriptures and then alters it to fit her plot. She even changes some of the fundamental aspects of Yamaraj himself. At one point, she's called out on altering a religious text for "purposes of YA hotness." She feels uneasy about this and the person she's talking to points out that it's okay because she's Indian and it's her own text she's altering. The reader is meant to understand that this is a flimsy excuse and to consider Darcy's identity and question whether or not the idea really is problematic or not. She also comments on how Yamaraj is centuries old and wonders if it's weird, to which a fellow author tells her that it's all fine as long as he looks like a teenager. This is something commonly seen in YA books that Westerfeld pokes fun at and that I really liked. There's also the fact that Darcy explains how she made Lizzie white so anyone reading could fill themselves in her shoes and that it wouldn't be her fantasy (her as in Darcy) but that it could be anyone's. I just really enjoyed all the sly commentary Westerfeld provided in just these scene of dialogue and interacting with other authors. Westerfeld himself, by publishing this book, is releasing a book with a nonwhite, nonheterosexual protagonist which is pretty cool and rad. 

So, to recap: Scott Westerfeld writes beautifully, his book is hella fab, and it's so meta that it hurts a little. Read it, please. It'll rock your socks. 


What's your favorite paranormal being to read about?
Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ARC Review: Rooms - Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver
Series: N/A
Genre: Paranormal, Adult
Release Date: September 23, 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Elaborately Constructed
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Let me start off this review by saying two things: 1) I've never read a Lauren Oliver book before this and 2) I'm not a huge fan of the paranormal genre in general.

However, 1) WOW, how have I not read a Lauren Oliver book before, and 2) This was probably one of the best paranormal books I've ever read.

That being said, this book centers around a house in which several ghosts live, as well as the live inhabitants of the home. The book goes from room to room of the house, constructing a story through the various backgrounds of the characters and tales told for each room. The real reason I adored this book as much as I did was the writing style, as well as how Oliver constructed our characters. Every character, ghost or living, was provided with an elaborate amount of detail (but not so much that it bored me to death).

That being said, I did think Oliver tried a little hard to make this a clear cut adult fiction novel -- I haven't read any of her YA stuff before, but I'm going to go ahead and assume it doesn't mention sex or drinking in just about every chapter of the book. I thought those inclusions were a little forced as times, like Minna with sex or Caroline with drinking.

I also thought this book was less "real" paranormal than it was just an adult fiction novel which happened to have some ghosts in it. The ghosts were treated almost like living characters (other than some of their inability to communicate without the house to the living inhabitants), and it wasn't a spooky tale or anything that even vaguely resembled what in my mind, is a real scary ghost story. For me, that worked out, because I, like I said, am not a big paranormal person. If you are into scary/gory detail of ghosts, this might not be the paranormal book for you.

Can we just take a minute to talk about Oliver's poetic writing and clever wit -- she manages to write both a funny, engaging read, while also include fascinating prose tidbits that I cannot get over. Honestly, the plot in this book was nothing overly special (I wouldn't fall all over myself to read a similar plot by another author), but I really did like this book a lot because of the way the story was told and how the "realm" of the story was constructed.

I absolutely want to read more Lauren Oliver books in the future, perhaps with less obviously adult inclusions and maybe a little more engaging of a plot. Oliver is clearly a great writer and provides an interesting and well written approach to the paranormal genre.

- Amrutha

What are your favorite characteristics of the paranormal genre?
Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stuffed Animal Saturday [16]

Stuffed Animal Saturday is a meme that we post here at We Live and Breathe Books to showcase the book we're currently reading with one of our favorite stuffed animals and discuss our stuffed animal's opinion (well, it's really our opinion, but that's besides the point). We hope you enjoy our quirky feature as much as we enjoy writing it!

For what seems like forever, Otto and I have been reading Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas! I picked up an ARC of Heir of Fire at BEA this year. Unfortunately, due to school (darn school), I have been unable to read this glorious novel as much as I'd like to. Otto is getting a bit frustrated with me because he really wants to know what happens! Otto doesn't get that while he lounges around all day, I go to class.

So far: Heir of Fire is AWESOME! After finishing Crown of Midnight, me and Otto weren't sure what exactly was going to happen in Heir of Fire. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we get from all the characters we've grown to love throughout the first two Throne of Glass series novels.

Sneak peek: It's a bit difficult to give an excerpt of the book that is completely non-spoilery, but Otto thought it would be cool to give you a look at a character who is new to the series! (Please note that this excerpt is taken from the ARC and may vary from the finished copy.)
     Manon pulled her bloodred cloak tightly around herself and pressed into the shadows of the closet, listening to the three men who had broken into her cottage.
     She'd tasted the rising fear and rage on the wind all day and had spent the afternoon preparing. She'd been sitting on the thatched roof of the whitewashed cottage when she spotted their torches bobbing over the high grasses of the field. None of the villagers had tried to stop the three men - though none had joined them, either.
     A Crochan witch had come to their little green valley in the north of Fenharrow, they'd said. In the weeks that she'd been living amongst them, carving out a miserable existence, she'd been waiting for this night. It was the same at every village she'd lived in or visited.
     She held her breath, keeping still as an animal as one of the men - a tall, bearded farmer with hands the size of dinner plates - stepped into her bedroom. Even from the closet, she could smell the ale on his breath - and the bloodlust. Oh, the villagers knew exactly what they planned to do with the witch, the woman who sold potions and charms from her back door, and who could predict the sex of a babe before it was due. She was surprised it had taken these men so long to work up the nerve to come here, to torment and then destroy what petrified them.
     The farmer stopped in the middle of the room. "We know you're here," he coaxed, even as he stepped toward the bed, eyes scanning every inch of the room. "We just want to talk. Some of the townsfolk are spooked, you see - more scared of you than you are of them, I bet."
     She knew better than to listen, especially as a dagger glinted behind his back while he peered under the bed. Always the same, at every backwater town and uptight mortal village.
     As the man stood from his kneel, Manon slipped from the closet and into the darkness behind the bedroom door.
     Muffled clinking and thudding told her enough about what the other two men were doing: not just looking for her but sorting through her belongings, stealing whatever they wanted. There wasn't much to take; the cottage had already been furnished when she'd arrived, and all of her own belongings, by training and instinct, were in a sack in the corner of the closet she'd just vacated. Take nothing with you, leave nothing behind.
     "We just want to talk, witch." The man turned from the bed, finally, finally noticing the closet. He smiled - in triumph, in anticipation.
     With gentle fingers, Manon eased the bedroom door shut, so quietly the man didn't even notice as he prowled for the closet. She'd oiled the hinges on every door in this house.
     His massive hand closed on the closet doorknob, dagger now angled at his side. "Come out, little Crochan," he crooned.
     Silent as death, Manon slid up behind him. The fool didn't even know she was there until she brought her mouth close to his ear and whispered, "Wrong kind of witch."
This is the very first scene we get with Manon knowing who she is and seeing her actions so Otto and I thought it was super cool! We hope you enjoyed this little snippet and we highly recommend checking out this series!

- Kiersten

Are you and your stuffed animal reading anything interesting? 
Let us know in your own Stuffed Animal Saturday!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cover Cosmetics: Untold - Sarah Rees Brennan

The other day I posted a Cover Cosmetics for Unspoken (here) in anticipation of Unmade's release on Tuesday. Today, I'm following that thought again and doing a Cover Cosmetics of Untold, the second book in the Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan!

The cover:

The makeup:

I really loved the colors in the cover of Untold, so that was my main inspiration for this makeup look. I mimicked the way the trees were dark and the path was light on the lids by placing a light purple and white in the middle with a darker purple and blue on the outer and inner parts of the lid. I used the teal color from the font in the crease.

- Kiersten

Have you read the Lynburn Legacy series?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Triple ARC Review: Messenger of Fear - Michael Grant

Messenger of Fear
Michael Grant
Series: Messenger of Fear #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: More or Less Traumatizing.
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Kayla sucks eggs.

This novel is just . . . wow. It blew my mind.

It's hard to describe something when it's so completely brisk and fresh.

As far as I can tell, Messenger of Fear is a meditation on the morality of just punishment wrapped in a loose narrative. For me it's hard to contain it in the word "novel" . . . it's more of an exploration.

What I mean by this is best described along with the book itself. The narrative is about Mara Todd, a girl who, in the first few pages has lost nearly all of her memories and meets an enigmatic stranger called Messenger. Mara must journey with the Messenger because of something that's happened to her, maybe something she's done, but she can't remember. She is taken to see people die in various ways, wrought from fear and mistake, meeting interesting characters like the sexy, disruptive Oriax and the even more mysterious Daniel. And all of this is written so naturally, so well, it seems as though it is meant to be completely secondary. Mara is written without memories and thus acts as a more or less regular human with predictable responses -- she is written to be an objective, detached narrator, at least at the start. And the other characters give us nothing about themselves. Oriax? Nothing, except that she works for a higher power and she knows Messenger. Daniel? Pretty much nothing at all, that guy is an enigma wrapped in enigmas. Even Messenger, who Mara spends nearly all of her time with, gives us only tiny fragments into his life and the mythology of the books: there was a girl in his life called Ariadne, he is repenting for some mistakes, etc.

That isn't to say the characters have no depth. Mara and Messenger are fleshed out emotionally and developmentally, but Grant does not give us a lot of time and concrete backstory to understand them -- indeed, the minor characters like Samantha Early are fleshed out than Mara. What I loved was the precision to which this was done -- it's much easier to try to write a full, rich character with lots of details. That's what most people are like in the real world. But Grant has to work almost entirely on the present events of the novel to provide an objective platform, and it works and that's just amazing, I've literally never seen anything like it in YA fiction.

If that's not enough, the humor, the wit, the beautiful descriptions, and the genuine terror and apprehension of Michael Grant books is readily available here!


- Marlon

Noor's Messenger of Fear Review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Haunting 

After receiving a signed ARC of Messenger of Fear at BEA, I knew it was at the top of the list of books I wanted to read this summer. Now that I've read it, I can say that it definitely does not disappoint and is honestly such a new and fresh book that I can barely string together the words to describe how I feel about it.

Okay, I don't even know where to begin. The whole concept of the book was so interesting and I really enjoyed the way it was executed. The Messenger of Fear visits those who have done wicked things and offers them a game. If they win, they walk free. If they don't play or they lose, they face their biggest fear and then eventually do get to walk free because, you know, he's not a reaper or anything and can't go around killing people who bully classmates or hit animals with their cars. And Mara, the protagonist, wakes up in the field with no memories and finds out she is now his apprentice and is training to herself be the Messenger of Fear.

I just thought the whole idea of it was something that hadn't really been done, especially in this way before. And then Michael Grant introduced more characters from Messenger's world, such as Oriax, who is mysterious, sultry, seems pretty manipulative, and always appears at the most climactic moments of Mara's journey. There's also Daniel, who seems to know everything and generally be present when all the major stuff is happening. There's a very interesting dynamic between the "real" world and the one involving the mythology of the book and I liked how the characters all had their own stake in the situation and their own part to play in the outcome. I especially liked Oriax, she was honestly one of my favorite characters. I thought she was so entertaining and I loved the mystery that surrounded her, even at the end, when we came a bit closer to finding out who exactly the Messenger and his associates are. Although, I thought she'd try harder to get Mara to join her side, whatever exactly that encompasses. Messenger himself was done very well. He was very drawn into himself and stoic, and possessed quite a bit of mystery. From the fact that touching him is a huge no to the woman he's in love with and searching for, he is a puzzling character and one that I found myself wanting to explore more.

Mara was a very interesting character as well and it was fascinating to see her develop and to see which aspects of her personality would prevail when she had no memories of her life to base herself off of. As the book progresses, the Messenger slowly reveals more and more of her memories to her, eventually revealing everything by the end, which has this big twist that isn't rocket science or anything, but not, in my opinion, too plainly and obviously there for the reader to guess. It's hinted at in a few ways but they're pretty subtle and the impact of the revelation still gave me chills even though I had a pretty strong idea of what was to come. The big scene where it all comes crashing down on her was done so well that I don't think it matters whether or not you figured out the twist.

A lot of the appeal for this book has to do with Michael Grant's writing itself. His prose is so fluid and refined, it just made the words so digestible that I finished this book in one sitting even though I had told myself "Oh, I'm just going to read a few chapters and then go do something productive." Every description is done so well and when he writes about the way the Messenger feels the pain of every one of their "victims" I feel it too, and can feel sympathy and emotions towards a character whose identity I barely know and who has shown very few bits of himself.

I feel like there's a lot to say about this book that I can't encompass in a review and just need to tell you to read it. I love the writing and I love characterization, and I love the direction he plot goes and watching them take the people through the trials and would definitely recommend this book. My only qualm is that I wish some things were a little more elaborated on, and that the book just needed to be longer in general. For example, at the end, Grant tries to explain some more of the mythology behind the characters but it opens up all new questions and the book would generally just do better with more details and explanations. I know a lot of it is supposed to remain a mystery but some of it isn't and those parts could use a little more explanation. However, besides that one thing, I found everything else about this book to be phenomenal and I hope to read more of Michael Grant's works in the future.


Amrutha's Messenger of Fear Review
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Enticing 

Before standing in line for Messenger of Fear at BEA 2014, I had never read a Michael Grant book, nor had I any idea of the premise of this novel. But, while standing in a crazy long line (only good/really famous authors have lines like this), I got really into the premise of this book, which Noor and Marlon have both explained, involves Mara and the Messenger. 

The concept and realm of the Messenger of Fear was so interesting to me, and I feel like it was executed phenomenally. Although I did not like how I didn't have a huge backstory on Mara, I did understand how it was necessary to the plot of her waking up in a field with no recollection of how she got there. It also upset me a little that there wasn't a lot of backstory about most of the characters, especially about the Messenger himself. As someone who is unendingly nosy and just incredibly curious about other people's lives, I really wanted to know the backstory of these characters. Mara, the Messenger, and the other major characters in the novel were incredibly rich in terms of description and emotional depth, which just made me want the back story that much more. 

I agree with Noor about Oriax, who also does not have any real backstory, but is super awesome and is probably my favorite character from the book altogether. Oriax is another reason I wish I could've known more about the background of her character other than job working under some higher power. She was, like Noor said, super intriguing with her mystery and I really wanted to continue reading the book for her.

Speaking of mystery, I just want to say the climax/mystery/twist part of this book was executed flawlessly. Sometimes, with a twist that is sometimes guessable (to the right reader) it is hard to pull off a twist ending that everyone will enjoy reading. The ending was easily the best part of this book, climaxing with an interesting bang that is a good read even if one guessed what was going to happen. 

Just a general note about the writing in this book: it's phenomenal and clever and all around provides for a great story. The real lack for me was just the lack of background description which I so crave. This book is a def. recommended novel for everyone who likes to read a book that is good from start to finish. 

If you could keep one memory if you were in Mara's position, what would it be, and why?
Let us know in the comments!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cover Cosmetics: Unspoken - Sarah Rees Brennan

In honor of Unmade, the final book in Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy series, releasing next week (yay!), I've decided to post a Cover Cosmetics for Unspoken! (Beware: some may be spoilers?)

The cover:

The makeup:

I'm sorry. These pictures are awful. I liked them when I took them...
While I did draw inspiration from the cover, my main inspiration was the idea that Lynburns are creatures of red and gold. I decided to use gold glitter based on the glint of the gold knifes. Obviously glitter is the best representation of a weapon used to kill people. The red and black in the crease represent the blood. This look is definitely a cheerier version of the Lynburns.

- Kiersten

Have you read the Lynburn Legacy series?
Let us know in the comments!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Double Review: Vampires of Manhattan - Melissa de la Cruz

Vampires of Manhattan
Melissa de la Cruz
Series: Vampires of Manhattan #1
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Young Adult / New Adult
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: A-
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I've been following Melisa de la Cruz a bit on and off and so while I've read some of her work, I'm still new. New, and hooked.

(Still, this might be a little more tame of a review than the awe-fest that infected We Live and Breathe Books last week.)

Disclaimer: Vampires of Manhattan is in many, many ways a sequel to the last Blue Bloods book, Gates of Paradise. The same characters appear: Oliver, Finn, Mimi, Edon (if you loved Jack and Sky, they're only in the last scenes, sorry!). If you haven't read any Blue Bloods books, you should at least wiki the summaries; the novel is thick with a mythology that de la Cruz doesn't spend too much time easing you into if you haven't read the past books and references that will fly over a new reader's head. She does do a terrific job, however, of creating (and in most cases re-introducing) a loveable, exciting cast.

This is the main reason Vampires of Manhattan acts as a wonderful re-introduction into the Blue Bloods world. Ten years after Lucifer's alleged death, the coven is thriving with its new Regent, Oliver - yes, OLIVER THE DESPERATELY WEAK AND ADORKABLE HUMAN I'M STILL NOT OVER THIS - who has become incredibly rich, hot, immortal, and ever so subtly a pompous, vaguely misogynistic bag of crap. He's an entirely new character (though some things pierce through the years now and then) and it's quite disconcerting. Thankfully, Cruz balances Oliver's ambitions with Finn, who has (at least, seemingly) not changed much.

Along with Oliver and Finn, there are two other sets of main characters, a young venator Ara teamed with Edom, and Mimi along with Kingsley. Mimi and Kingsly, though utterly predictable, are so hilarious in this novel. They hate each other one second and are having sex the next second. It is one hell of a ride (GET IT HAHA BECAUSE THEY LIVED IN HELL YEAHHHHH. Alright I'm lame I'll stop) and it contrasts the "picture perfect" image of Oliver and Finn that we're given in the beginning.

Totally unrelated is the super badass team of Edon and Ara.

As is obvious, the characters were what sold me. Everything just sprouts out of them, the humor, the wit, the imagery. Even, the plot, an intricate combination of past and present, with revelations and twists strewn in, was quite subtle and secondary. I could really tell the difference between this and the first Blue Bloods; Cruz focuses in on what's important to this particular novel - characters and characterization - and lets it drive everything else. It's neat.

- Marlon

Noor's Review of Vampires of Manhattan
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Enjoyable 

When I first picked up Vampires of Manhattan at BEA, I didn't realize it was the first book in a continuation of a previous series I had not read. I decided to just go for it and read it anyway and see what my experience would be like.

There was definitely a lot of the worldbuilding that I realized had been previously established and wasn't going to be elaborated on in this book and I wasn't sure how many of the characters were recurring and how many were new. However, even though I might not have gotten as many of the references out of the book as someone who read the previous series, I don't think that my reading of the book was negatively affected in that I don't think it was impossible to understand anything that was happening. It wasn't too difficult to pick up on what the background was and kindof just go with it and Melissa de la Cruz did a good job making this book a bridge between the two series'.

Ok, I really loved all the characters and the dynamic they had with each other and how everyone was fleshed out so well. Melissa de la Cruz did a good job making me invested in the fates of all the characters and also made me want to learn more about their backgrounds and lives. They all had their own distinct personalities and ways of speaking and really stood out. I really liked all the points of view that let us explore their lives.

One of the things that stood out to me the most was her writing style. Filled with descriptions and very elegant, this book read very fluidly. I enjoyed reading her writing and it pulled me along just as much as the plot did. The imagery was all very stark and the book had a very intense feel to it, which I really appreciated.

I liked the storyline of the book as well, even though it was fairly simple and straightforward, although I'm assuming that's because it's the first book in a sort of spin-off type series and things are going to get more intense from here.

Overall, I really liked the book, which took me a few pages to get invested in but once I was in, I was hooked.

- Noor

Have you ever read the sequel first?
Let us know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between - Jennifer E. Smith

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week I'm waiting on Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith!

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between 
Jennifer E. Smith
Series:  N/A
Release Date: Unknown (Fall 2015)
Publisher: Poppy
Waited on by: Noor

So there isn't really a blurb or anything about this book I can share with you. In fact, the only thing that exists is this tweet by Jennifer E. Smith:
So why am I eagerly awaiting a book I know nothing about? Because, of course, it's by Jennifer E. Smith and I'm so excited to see what she has in store. I read and fell in love with The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (review here) and although I haven't gotten a chance to read her other books yet, the plots look even more interesting and adorable than the one for Statistical Probability and her writing skills are probably as on point as they were in the one I read and the covers are so cute and perfect that I'm even excited for the books that are already out. With this one, the title is just begging me to inquire about the plot, and Jennifer E. Smith's are usually so original and sweet that I just can't wait to see what she comes up with next! The book comes out next fall and hopefully more information will start to be released soon and the next year flies by so I can hold her latest work in my hands and probably fall in love (though not as cute a love as her characters seem to have).

- Noor

What are YOU waiting on?
Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cover Cosmetics: The Iron Trial - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

In honor of its release today, I decided to do a Cover Cosmetics for The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare! If you missed it, all four of the bloggers here at We Live and Breathe Books reviewed it (here) and loved it! If you like fantasy, you should definitely check it out. On to the makeup!

The cover:

The makeup:

All the colors in this look are pretty much just pulled from the cover of The Iron Trial. The silvery grey on the lid is meant to mimic the mask of the figure on the cover and also references iron. For the crease, I wanted the gradient to look like the background of the cover. I also added a bit of blue for the smoke behind the characters.

- Kiersten

Are you excited for The Iron Trial?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Triple ARC Review: Falling into Place - Amy Zhang

Falling into Place
Amy Zhang
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: Interesting
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

I picked up an ARC of this book at BEA, mostly being attracted by the cover and then thinking it looked like an interesting enough story from the description. After reading it, it's definitely taken me a while to really understand how I feel about this book.

For some background, Falling Into Place tells a story in nonlinear chapters, switching between before and after Liz Emerson crashes her car in a suicide attempt. As readers, we get pieces of the puzzle this way and we get pieces of the lives of the peoples close to her and we find out about the characters and their dynamics which each other and what pushed Liz to the edge. These chapters of background information are laced with the chapters of reaction to the attempt, and of taking her to the hospital, and ultimately seeing if she lives or dies. I really liked that the story was told this way instead of straightforward "This was Liz's life and these were her friend's and she was sad. Then she crashed her car (into a bridge I don't care I love it) and everyone else was sad. Does she live or does she die? Here are some pages of drawing it out and here's the last page where you finally find out woo."

I thought the way the book was written was much more effective because it allowed you to actually appreciate the characters (even if you didn't like them, because I definitely didn't like all of them, but some grew on me) without a giant info-dump and even though the only real place to put the "does she live or die?" moment is at the end, doing it in a traditional linear format would have felt like wading through everything else to get there, while this captured my attention more and I didn't feel like I was reading only for that moment of revelation, because there was so much else going on.

As for the characters, while I did think Amy Zhang did a good job, something felt slightly off about them. I think it's that even though they're all written with dimension and fleshed out with their own problems and backgrounds, they're very hard to connect to. Liz Emerson, for example, is a very unlikable main character. I personally don't like her at all. And I usually wouldn't see that as a problem because you can still appreciate a character without liking them. However, in this book, there was just a stark disconnect from the reader and the characters. Her friends Julia and Kennie were all fleshed out and Zhang covered all the gritty topics like drugs and abortions and whatnot. Even Liam, who I liked more than anyone else, I couldn't make a strong connection with, because so much of his background just involved being in love with Liz, rather than anything about him.

Also, the narrator, who I liked the idea of, although it isn't such a mystery who it is, especially after one certain scene, gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, I liked that the narrator allowed us to jump in and out of scenes and how they inserted comments in about Liz, but I think a lot more could have been done with it, and because it wasn't used for much other than literally telling the story, there wasn't much of a point, because it just took away from the gritty, realistic feel of the novel without much reason.

In any case, Amy Zhang's writing style is spot on and is what pulled me through the disconnect from the characters. Her writing has a sort of whimsy to it, but the sentences aren't typically long and rambling, which is interesting. She has sort of a lyrical quality to her words and everything just flows well. It makes the book easy to read in one or two sittings, which is nice.

I definitely liked this book and as I was reading the plot and the whole concept of it was pretty interesting. I never got too invested emotionally in Liz, so even though at the end I really wanted to know how it played out, I would have been okay with either outcome. I think it's a pretty interesting book and worth a read, even if one or two aspects of it did fall a little short.

- Noor

Kiersten's Review of Falling Into Place
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Absolutely brilliant

I know Noor thought Falling Into Place fell short in some aspects, but I absolutely loved it.

I picked up an ARC of Falling Into Place at BEA this year. With a blurb that begins, "On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton’s laws of motion in physics class. Then, after school, she put them into practice by running her Mercedes off the road," I was completely drawn to this story. As it turns out, this is also the first line of the book and the start to the reader's journey through Liz's life.

One of the most important things about this book is how it's told. Firstly, the story is told in a non-linear path, starting with when Liz crashes her car and alternating between the future and the past, showing us how Liz got to crashing her car and what happened after. Then, there's the voice the story is told in. The narrator that Amy Zhang chose for this story was one that sort of struck me as odd at first, but the more I think about it the more I think the choice adds so much to the over all feeling of the story.

The other important thing about this book is the story (duh). Liz Emerson is not a nice person - she's a mean girl. With all the bad things Liz has done in the past, it's a miracle that she even still has friends. However, this story isn't about liking Liz or even making her into a nicer person - it's about how despite everyone thinking she had it all together and she had everything a person could want, she didn't feel that way. Liz felt empty and like no one could see her past the front she put up.

While Liz is technically the main character, the story would be nothing without the supporting characters. Amy Zhang was able to capture all of these messed up kids, all with their own struggles. More importantly, though, she was able to show how all those struggles intertwined with Liz and why she drove her car off the road.

I can't tell you how much I loved this book - it's definitely one of my favorite reads of the year. Falling Into Place is such a raw portrayal of how a person can seem a certain way but feel completely different and I think it's something people don't think about everyday. The story was told so beautifully and I can hardly believe that a high school student wrote this seriously brilliant story. Amy Zhang has such impeccable insight for someone so young and I'll definitely be watching for her future works. I highly recommend this to any and everyone, especially if you like contemporary coming of age stories that are heavy but cathartic.

- Kiersten

Amrutha's Review of Falling Into Place
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Flowy

After getting this book at BEA this year, I was super excited to read it, for several reasons: 1) it has a really rad cover, and 2) as Kiersten and Noor have touched upon, an amazing blurb. To be quite honest, it took me a long time to decide quite how I felt about this book. It had a really twisted nonlinear plot, which I thought was done fantastically well. For a first time author, Amy Zhang truly captured a plot about death in away only a nonlinear plot can. It definitely held my interest -- I read this all in one setting. Like Noor said before, it was really the writing style that captured my attention in terms of this book -- it is usually so hard for me to find first time authors who's style of arranging plot and poetic syntax I can really appreciate, so when I find one, I tend to be excited for future books.

However, Falling into Place only earns a 3 star rating from me. Although the writing style was interesting, I found myself pulling away from the characters, especially Liz, our protagonist. I've read quite a few books about suicide and I feel as though there are so many ways to make a dying protagonist likable, and that just didn't happen here. I don't know what it was, but I didn't connect to Liz, our queen bee/suicidal chick as well as I should have as a main character.

Moreover, a huge problem I had with this book was the narrator. In the beginning, I thought an unknown narrator would be interesting, especially one that would be revealed at the end, but it became quite obvious pretty early on what was happening. It kind of took away from the mystery of the book, and I feel as though it contributed to me not feeling as much for the characters. While omnipotent narrators are great when written well, I feel like Falling into Place didn't capture the feelings of all the characters as accurately as it could have. I was so interested in Liam as a character, like Noor was, but it was so unfortunate that all I learned about him really was that he was in love with the protagonist. I wish there had been more elaboration on the minor characters in the story, because to be honest, I liked them a lot more than I liked Liz.

If I'd really suggest reading this book for one particular reason, it'd be for the writing style. Amy Zhang has so much potential and really has the ability to tell a story in a way that is both enticing and unique. I only wish that what little suspense there was with the narrator had lasted longer, and that the omnipotent narrator would have said more about the other characters. Other than that, I really did enjoy the book, and I look forward to reading more from Zhang.

- Amrutha

Do you like stories that are nonlinear?
Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Triple ARC Review: The Iron Trial - Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial
Holly Black & Cassandra Clare
Series: Magisterium, #1
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Word Rating: A+
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository


For anyone interested in words that are not crafted out of raw magic, here's a review:

At first I was prepared for this book. I realized that no one can be prepared for this book.

First, the construction of the novel– Black/Clare bring it to another level. The design of this narrative is so precise and meticulous that it's difficult to think about without architectural analogies.

There's little doubt that Black and Clare are master world-builders. The world of The Iron Trial is no exception. From the caverns of the Magesterium to a wall of ice and death and crippled babies, the authors pour over the architecture of this world . . . of course, it wouldn't be Holly Black if was expressed in any orthodox way . . .

Remember all the beauty and wonder that Hogwarts brought when Harry first walked through it?

This is what our protag experiences:
“Once . . . [Call's] father had taken him to a big park, with rides that started like this. He'd cried through all of them, totally terrified, despite the cheerful music and the animated puppets. And those had been rides. This was real. Call kept thinking about the bats and sharp rocks and how, sometimes, in caves, there were cliffs and holes that dropped down like a million feet below sea level. . . . The boat cut through the water, into darkness.” (ARC 81)
Not quite the same feeling, right? It makes you think what kind of place these kids are being sucked into. But you quickly find out The Magesterium is not a bleak place. Call is simply scared. But the fact that the authors present it this way gives them endless leverage to present the beauty of the Magesterium as stone-cold fact, by someone who has to be won over by that beauty.

Of course, it isn't just the world that is so breathtakingly built. The events of this novel unfold from a startling beginning to a deceptively relaxed introduction to . . . I don't even know. I can't even explain how well put together it is. The plot points converge in ways that lit sparks in my head, leaving me struck and perpetually stuck on the question of how did they do that? Really? The scene where Call is trying to contact his dad and meets a training, hopeless Jasper, manages to steal Rufus's talking lizard, finds out that he has been lied to or he is a danger . . . all within the span of a page or two . . . and it makes perfect sense? How?

The most amazing thing? You probably won't even notice it because of the combined narration of Black/Clare. Their use of accessible language and a rich, pointed voice creates a sense of weightlessness – you will fly right through this novel at breakneck pace. The authors manage to create a seamless experience, where everything the language portrays – characters, ideas, the tug of tension – is allowed to shine unhindered by clunky or unpolished voices.

In addition, the cast that populates The Iron Trial's pages are wonderfully realistic, and at the same time enchanting.

Callum Hunt, for instance, is not your run-of-the mill protag. I have been waiting for a protagonist that isn't the hero for many, many, many years, and Black/Clare deliver a striking, fresh one to drink in. The kid is more or less completely atonal to the Harry Potters, Percy Jacksons, and yes, the Clarissa Morgensterns, of the fiction we've come to know and love. Callum refuses to be involved with magic full stop. He tries his best to fail the Iron Trial, tries to escape the Magesterium, tries to distance himself from everyone there, and so on.

I love love love Callum Hunt. Complex protagonists are a risk because the reader might not connect with them, but with Black/Clare, the risk pays off so much they could buy an island and populate it with all of my feels for Call.

Callum's got more than enough bite to compensate for any weakness one might see in his broken leg, enough sarcasm to fill an ocean, and the moral ambiguity usually given to a dare-devil anti-hero type. That ambiguity is re-imagined and brought to life in a struggling, confused, loving, relateable protagonist. It's easy to say a protagonist is relateable in YA and children's books, but I really felt a deep connection with Callum. I understood his hardship and his doubt, why he trusted his father's judgements about Mages and the Magesterium, and why it was so hard for him to find peace in the world of magic. Look at this sarcasm:
“Everybody lives in pony school.” (ARC 55)
EVERYBODY LIVES IN PONY SCHOOL. Call at once calls out what he feels is the nonsense of the Magesterium: all the school does is get people killed. At the same time, he's vaguely mocking a pony-obsessed minor character and he's majorly pissing off his future team mates – how can one guy be that offensive just damn!

But in the fashion of Black and Clare, no character goes to waste. The rest of the cast is interesting and believable – no one is reduced to decoration. Tamara and Aaron, Callum's main support and contrast throughout the novel, stick a little closer to the conventional heroes: the talented Aaron is the long-awaited Makar, a rare mage that can rival the Enemy, and Tamara is a genius mage with strict and forceful parents and a dark past. These three mix in unsuspecting and often endearing ways. Callum takes an eternity to stop being a big ball of suck to Aaron and Tamara, but once he befriends them, the trio just works, with Aaron and Call set to be The Iron Trial equivalent of parabatai by the end of the book. Most of their interactions can be expressed with comedic bits (some of which you really won't understand until you read so please do that now):
“I'm going to kill you,” Tamara said very calmly. “I am going to sort your guts into piles.” (ARC 88)
Even the most minor characters have their roles and play them without falling flat or being too intrusive. It's almost unbelievable how well the tiniest joke fits in with the most brilliant thematic examinations.

With such a powerful integration of characterization and language into an already masterful plot structure, The Iron Trial already crushes most contemporary fantasy and is definitely one of the best children's/YA book I've read this year so far.

PS. Spoiler: the end's going to seriously frak you up.

- Marlon

Kiersten's Review of The Iron Trial
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Incredible 

It's no secret that the bloggers of We Live and Breathe Books are Cassandra Clare fans - this is without question. So, naturally, since she and the amazing Holly Black were signing ARCs of The Iron Trial at BEA this year, we all had to get copies, regardless of the wait. Let me tell you something about this book - it was worth the wait.

The world of the Magisterium is one that is so easy to get pulled into. Not only is it full of adventure for the characters, but it is so rich with history and tradition that the reader can feel the magnitude of its meaning. I absolutely loved all the little details about how the Magisterium works and the different ceremonies and symbols used throughout.

Inside of the incredible world built by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare are equally great characters. There is a very diverse mix of characters in the bunch and they all brought something different to the table. The dynamic between the characters was especially spectacular because it felt so real. The story is about a bunch of 12-year-old kids who are on their own and finding themselves while training at an intense magic school.

Of course, while there are a few prominent characters in the bunch, the most prominent is Callum, the main character. The best thing about Callum is that he is a surprising character, especially with the way he deals with his problems. I loved that Cassandra Clare and Holly Black created a character who had the potential to be a hero but wasn't necessarily up to it. Callum is absolutely not your typical main character, and, because of that, he brings so much more to the story.

Throughout the book, a lot of it is building up the relationships between the students, showing the reader the world of the Magisterium, and following the challenges that the students face. Throughout the story, I couldn't help but feel as though there was a larger conflict to come - a sort of foreboding. Of course, there was a big conflict (because there had to be something big) that doesn't come until fairly late into the story, and it is a real doozy. The funny thing about it is that I had two guesses about what was going to happen but I knew that somehow Holly Black and Cassandra Clare would a way to make it something unexpected. Shockingly, it was something I did not expect.

Overall, The Iron Trial is incredible and my words do not do it justice. Cassandra Clare and Holly Black truly bring something great to this genre with their unexpected story and characters. I absolutely fell in love with the story while reading and I was so eager to keep reading to find out the mystery behind Callum. I'm really looking forward to more in this series - I can't wait to see what the story has in store and the way the characters continue to grow and face the challenges that come their way.

- Kiersten

Noor's Review of The Iron Trial
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Fabulous 

Wow, I'm so glad I waited in line for this book at BEA because if the duo of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare sounds intimidating and fierce, jus Wow, I'm so glad I waited in line for this book at BEA because if the duo of Holly Black and Cassandra Clare sounds intimidating and fierce, just wait until they take that level of ferocity to the page.

I think what I loved the absolute most about this book was the fact that the two authors took the trope of the school for magic and really flipped it and molded it so everything was new and refreshing and, most of all, unexpected. The entire world Clare and Black bring to the reader is so carefully constructed, every plot point begging a question, every twist leading into a turn. It’s clear that every moment is very deliberately placed in order to trick the reader, because the story certainly is not going in a direction that can be considered predictable.

Because of the nature of the book, the worldbuilding is – excuse my terrible pun – out of this world. The book features so many different concepts in the world like the Magisterium itself, the concept of which has a slew of things to explore branching off of it, like how the school works, and who gets chosen, and what is learned, and the inner workings of those who end up staying. There is also focus on the history of everything that’s going on and how the past comes into play and affects certain characters.

Speaking of the characters, I thought they were so well written and enjoyable, and just as hardheaded as 12-year olds generally are, which is always fun to read. As seasoned authors, Clare and Black definitely could create well-rounded characters with their hands tied behind their backs, being forced to peck at a keyboard with only five keys. Call often made amusing comments and got himself into a fair bit of mischief. We also get to know Aaron and Tamara, who end up befriending him. I got pretty invested in both of these characters and how they both brought different things to the table and were full of charm in their own ways. I liked Aaron and how he had such a good heart and was supportive and I liked Tamara and how Call thought she was an emotionless robot but really she gets pretty fired up. Even the minor characters added to the story and weren’t simply thrown in.

And even though it's a third person point of view, we still see a lot of Call's voice in the narration, which I think makes the book a lot better and makes the way it reads very interesting -- the voice reminds the reader that it's a middle-grade book, but the writing style and many other aspects of the book make him or her forget. The writing is done so well and every description is beautiful and every action scene is heart-stopping and it's all so well-done you picture it all so clearly in your mind but you forget that you're even reading descriptions of anything at all until you come across a particularly beautifully worded sentence and have to stop for a minute to admire it.

I enjoyed the plot of the book, especially how it related to Call's past and what the future now holds for him. I think the pacing was a little slow towards the beginning/middle because a lot of time was spent just showing them the ropes of the school, but that can be forgiven because it really was just a lot of worldbuilding and explaining how the Magisterium worked and I think in the rest of the series it shouldn't be a problem because we have a basic foundation already. The plot itself was very interesting and I'm excited to see where they go in the next book in the series after the way The Iron Trial ended. I liked that even though a lot of the book is Clare and Black rejecting traditional conventions of fantasy in order to surprise the reader with the kind of book this was, they weren't afraid of include some aspects that might seem to be used in other places, as long as they added something new to the mix. I like the idea that lots of things have been done before, but if you're doing it differently, well, there you go.

Overall, I really loved The Iron Trial. It has so many more components than I even mentioned in this review but it’s honestly best to just read it all and see for yourself, especially because it’s such an atypical story in a genre full of the same tropes and plots. I’m so glad I got to read an ARC of this but that just means an even longer wait until the next book, which I’m certainly anticipating greatly!

- Noor

Would you rather attend Pony School or the Magisterium?
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