Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I stopped reading Days of Blood and Starlight about halfway through. I didn’t want to read anymore. Every word I read meant I was one word closer to the end of the novel and I never wanted that to happen. And so I stopped reading. But then I started to hate myself a little bit because I wanted to read so badly. So I picked it back up and started to read.

<Days of Blood and Starlight is a book that doesn’t hide away from the ugliness of war. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about the relationship between Karou and Akiva, Days of Blood and Starlight is about the war that is tearing their world apart. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. It throws them right in your face and makes you confront them.

In Daughter, there’s only a hint of the war that has been going on. Yes, it is mentioned, but Daughter mainly focuses on Akiva and Karou and their romance. It tugs on your heart in a sweet way. Days tugs on your heart frantically, trying to make you see the horrors of war. War doesn’t affect only those fighting, but it affects every single living thing. It only gets worse when those leading the charge stop fighting for what they view as right and start fighting for revenge. It is then that all the rules go out the window and nothing becomes sacred anymore.

Karou is everything I want in a strong heroine. She has her flaws and weaknesses, but she knows that. She uses her strengths to overcome and start working towards finding a better way for her people to live. She sacrifices what she has to and asks for help when she needs it. She knows when a battle is worth fighting and when it is smarter to concede the point and wait for the right moment to spring her attack. She is powerful, but not perfect, and that makes her the perfect character to read.

Akiva also shows his strength when it is needed. He knows the war in his world is tearing it apart more than putting it together and he wants to change that. Not for Karou, not for himself, but because he knows that this war is destruction and there is a better way for peace; one that doesn’t involve one side being obliterated.

<Days of Blood and Starlight is one of those extremely rare sequels that manages to not only match the first novel in its strength, but surpass it. It is dark, gritty, and raw, but it makes you think. It is easily one of the best books of the year. Days of Blood and Starlight is a must read over and over and over again kind of book.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

I’m not the easiest to impress when it comes to Young Adult romances. I typically like a little something else to go with the romance, something to keep my heart racing and keep me turning the pages. That’s why I expected to enjoy Catching Jordan, but not really love it. But as I got further and further into the story, I found myself loving it.

I think one thing I liked most about Catching Jordan was the lack of the typical teen “Queen Bee.” Yes, there were girls that got on Jordan’s nerves. But they weren’t out to destroy her, or at least, that wasn’t what the story was about. Kenneally kept the story focused on Jordan and the boys in her life.

That’s another thing that really worked. Yes, this is mainly a teen love story. But there’s also a team full of guys that respect Jordan as their team captain, but also look at her as the little sister they have to protect from all world evils. I liked that once the boy drama started, the rest of the team wasn’t ignored. The other guys had as much of a place in the story as Jordan did.

As for the romance, I loved it. It wasn’t overly cheesy and it didn’t feel like Kenneally was trying to fit an adult romance into a teen book. It was what high school love should be: sweet, wonderful, but not all-consuming. It also wasn’t insta-love, but rather the much more acceptable instant attraction.

Catching Jordan is a book that sneaked up on me. I wasn’t expecting to love it as much as I did. I was prepared for a bit of cheesiness with a side of fluff, but Catching Jordan is a lot more. I’ll be checking out more of Kenneally’s books for sure.

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

I haven’t read anything of Jio’s before. Blackberry Winter was a Kindle Daily Deal and the description sounded interesting. At worst, I’d be out three dollars. At best, I’d find one of those gems that sneak up on you. Blackberry Winter is definitely a gem.

Blackberry Winter weaves together two different tales of struggles and loss. Vera heads to work one evening and when she leaves there is snow blanketing the ground and her son is gone. Claire’s life is in pieces and it takes a snow storm to put her on the path to fixing herself. The stories are beautifully interwoven, constantly pulling at my heart and never giving a moment of rest.

I did figure out early on most of how the characters are connected. I initially thought that knowing the big mystery would take me out of the novel. It didn’t at all. I still needed to know how things got from point A to point B and all the little pieces in the middle.

Vera’s story had me in tears. The pain she went through is something no mother should ever have to go through. And to have it set in 1933, when times were dire or times were fantastic, all depending on how much money there was to your name. She worked hard to make life as good as she could for her son, and it was so easy to feel the love she had for him.

Claire is going through her own heartache. Her world has been broken to bits and she’s not sure how she’s supposed to put it back together. When a May snowstorm hits and she comes the story of Vera and Daniel Ray, something in her compels her to dig the truth out. She needs to find out how Vera’s story ends and I loved going on that journey with her.

Sarah Jio is an author that hadn’t been on my radar before. But after reading Blackberry Winter, I will definitely be reading more of her writings. She wove a breathtaking story through these pages and had me tearing up at the end. This is a book that needs to be read.

Finale by Becca Fitzpatrick

Confession time. I’ve already shared the only reason I picked up Hush, Hush to read was because Fitzpatrick is a Colorado author. I didn’t say I expected to be sorely disappointed and frustrated. I’ve never been happier to have a book shove my expectations in my face. Finale is a great conclusion to a series I didn’t expect to enjoy this much.

There were a few things I found myself shaking my head at because they seemed to be just a little too perfect or coincidental. I won’t go into specifics because I don’t like spoiling books, but they were there. Patch was just as intense and swoon-worthy as ever.

Nora started out a little questionable on personal strength, but once she started to own her fate and take control of the choices being made she improved greatly in my opinion. She does gain strength through sketchy methods at times, but she is able to realize this and own up to her mistakes. In my opinion, being able to admit your faults goes a long way in overcoming them.

The ending shocked me. I definitely wasn’t expecting what happened when it came to the final face-off. Fitzpatrick hit me right where it hurts, and I both love and hate her for it.

After starting this series for a weird reason and with low expectations, I can definitely say I’m incredibly happy I got sucked into the world of Nora and Patch. Fitzpatrick created a series that had me invested. I wish there could be more to read from Nora and Patch, but the way Fitzpatrick ended it is sweet and perfect.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Here’s the thing. Obviously scary things don’t scare me. I can watch horror movies and not really flinch. In order to have me freaked out, things can’t be obvious.

The Evolution of Mara Dyer had me freaked out. Mara isn’t the most reliable of narrators, even though I knew she wasn’t crazy. She’s still a little bit unstable at times. And I loved that. It makes everything just a little bit unknown. I knew she was telling the truth, but I also knew she didn’t know the whole truth. When things in the novel started to change, I was getting freaked out.

In The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, I felt like the balance between paranormal and romance was off. There was too much romance and not enough paranormal. The Evolution of Mara Dyer found the balance. There’s enough of Noah Shaw being romantic to keep me swooning and smiling, but there was more than enough paranormal to keep me turning page after page.

Noah Shaw was another issue I had with Unbecoming. He was too perfect. Tall, British, rich…it was just a little too much. His perfect exterior started to crack, though, in Evolution. He’s still the same tall, British, rich boy, but his imperfections are starting to break through. They are making me love him a little bit more each time I see one.

Mara. I like her. She does what she has to in order to keep fighting. She doesn’t wait for the guy to swoop in and save her. She knows when to take things on herself and when she needs help, but she does things for herself. She may not always trust what she sees or hears, but she trusts herself to do what she needs to. I wish there had been a bit more explanation of her powers and what in the world is going on, but I get why that wasn’t in this book. And I can’t wait to read it in the next one.

After being a little let down with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, I didn’t want to expect too much out of The Evolution of Mara Dyer. Hodkin wrote a book I was not expecting, even a little bit. It has that creep factor that had me on edge. It has that sweet teen romance that makes me smile. It has everything I like to read in a book and then just a little more. I’m riveted and after the ending of The Evolution of Mara Dyer, I need 2013 and The Retribution of Mara Dyer to get here now.

Sacrifice by Cayla Kluver

I’m not really sure how I feel about Sacrifice. Was it a good book? Yes. Was it engaging? Yes. But things were missing, and I didn’t find myself enjoying Sacrifice as much as I had hoped.

First, the romance. In the previous two books, I felt it. I was swooning as much as Alera was. In Sacrifice, I didn’t feel it. Sure, Kluver told me about how amazing Narian was and how sweet, but she didn’t show me like she did in the previous books. I feel like there needs to be more than kissing to make me fall in love, and that’s really all I got from Alera and Narian’s romance. There was some swooning in this book, but it didn’t last as long as I wished it would.

I could have handled a flat romance, if the rest of the story was spectacular. Unfortunately, it felt like there was a lot of build up to something that wasn’t fully explained. I wanted to know more about that last battle. I wanted to know how things went down. I felt like 85% of the book was leading up to this epic battle, and then nothing. There was summary, but nothing of the actual action.

I guess that’s how I feel about the entire novel, though. Legend and Allegiance were fantastic build up to Sacrifice, while fell short of what I was expecting. It felt like more of a middle novel, lots of little things happened, and one or two large things happened, but it didn’t feel like its own novel. Plus, the ending wrapped up a little too fast. I would have loved having the last 10% of the novel expanded.

Sacrifice wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t live up to the caliber the first two novels had set. It’s a fine novel, but I wanted something more and it just wasn’t there.

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

This wasn’t a bad book. It wasn’t a great book, either. I just wasn’t as in love with it as I wanted to be. The characters don’t feel real and while I liked the ending and it made up for most of the book, it wasn’t enough to save it.

When I read a book about teens, I want to read a book about teens. Not adults packaged in teen bodies, and that’s what Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is. I’m all for reading about teens that don’t quite fit in, that are a little quirky. I think that can make a good book great. But there’s a fine line between making the characters enjoyably quirky and a little too pretentious. Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares starts off cute and sweet, heads into pretentious, and ends on the last couple pages sweet again.

I could have liked Dash and Lily. Lily even felt like the book version of me for a while. It was just that part in the middle, where Cohn and Levithan seemed to be trying to prove to me how smart Dash and Lily are instead of letting the characters show me how smart they are. I don’t need to be impressed with their knowledge of obscure literature and poetry in order to believe a character is smart. For a while, it felt like Levithan and Cohn were trying to shout out, “Look how intelligent and well-read we are! We know more than you!” instead of trying to make a great story.

I will say that the ending, once the pretension left, was exactly what I hoped the rest of the novel would have been. It was sweet, made me sappy, and nearly perfect. It just came too late to save the rest of the book.

I had hopes for Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, and they just weren’t met. The beginning and end were exactly what I was wishing for, but the middle was too much. Too much adult for a book with teen characters, too much pretension, just too much. I’m disappointed with this book, and that’s not a feeling I enjoy having.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I saw “Jack the Ripper” in the book description and I was sold. I was going to read this book. I just hoped it wouldn’t let me down. I’d read a couple books by Johnson before and enjoyed them, so I had faith in the book. Johnson didn’t let me down.

The Name of the Star takes place in London, in the midst of a Jack the Ripper copycat string of murders. Rory is new to London and is thrown into the action right away. She’s connected to the crimes in a special way and that tie is what makes this novel.

There were times this novel had me creeped out. I woke up one morning at 3am and my first thought was a Jack the Ripper ghost was staring at my back. This book had invaded my dreams and thoughts. It gave me goosebumps and I loved it.

I wasn’t a huge fan of how easily this story-line was wrapped up, and I’m sure there are people that will disagree with that. I just feel like there was a lot of build-up for something that wasn’t quite as grand as I had been expecting. It worked, but it felt a little flat.

I like Rory. She’s real and not too stereotypical when it comes to characters. She works hard, but likes to have a little fun. She has friends and people she doesn’t get along with, but no one at the school is out to get her for no reason. She’s trying to get the most out of living in London without sacrificing anything. I wasn’t sure about the supernatural aspect at first, but it’s growing on me.

There wasn’t really romance in this book; instead Johnson decided to write a different side of the high school relationship coin. A relationship between friends that crosses the friend lines at times, but doesn’t become that big serious THING other Young Adult books like to make it.

The ending of The Name of the Star had me slack-jawed and anxious to read more. This is a series that has the potential to be great and I’m looking forward to going along on the ride.

Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

When I first started reading, I thought there would be too many stories being told, and the novel would end up being too busy and crowded. Childs was able to write the very distinctive characters and voices and managed to avoid making the too big for the novel.

Gretchen is the huntress. It’s all she’s really known for four years. She’s accepted it as her future and works hard to make sure monsters don’t roam free for too long. Grace is new to town, looking to make herself different with this new move. She starts seeing monsters and her world gets thrown a little off-kilter. Greer saw a monster once, but years of therapy have molded her into the perfect daughter her socialite parents want her to be.

When these three girls discovery their connection, the world starts to change. The rules Gretchen has known and followed begin to change. Grace starts to get a backbone. Greer has a chance to be something more than a rich family’s daughter. Gretchen and Greer have the hardest time with these changes. They live their lives how they were, when they knew what to expect and what to do. Grace has the easiest time embracing the truth. This is the change she was looking for.

Sweet Venom is a beautiful book that brings mythology into the modern world. It has the stories of three very different girls interwoven in a clear way and it doesn’t overwhelm with details and backstory. Childs could easily have had a bit of a mess on her hands, but she wrote this book so well that I never once felt the 3 different points of view was a bad idea. Childs got the stories of all three girls across without losing the main plot of the novel.

The boys in this book are pretty swoon-worthy as well. Nick enjoys getting under Gretchen’s skin and Milo is the sweet jock everyone couldn’t help but love in high school. They weren’t a huge part of this first book, but they were in the novel enough to make me smile. I’m looking forward to reading more of these relationships’ development.

Sweet Venom is a novel that could have gone in the opposite direction and been a bit of a mess. Childs worked some sort of magic and kept it entertaining, flowing, and wonderful. This is definitely a book for anyone who likes a touch of mythology in their novels. It was a great read and I’m certainly going to be reading the next book.

Dreaming Awake by Gwen Hayes

Falling Under was the story of Theia and Haden falling together and making choices they never thought they’d have to make. Dreaming Awake deals with the aftermath of those decisions and how it affects all the relationships in the novel.

Theia now has demon blood in her and she’s trying to continue as if she was completely human. She manages to escape from Mara and Under, but that doesn’t mean Mara won’t go after her. As Theia starts to shut people out to protect them, things keep getting worse and worse.

Once again, the relationship between Theia and Haden had me smiling. I may have been a little put off by the insta-love in Falling Under, but in Dreaming Awake there’s enough of a relationship there to make it wonderful to read. The only aspect I didn’t enjoy was Theia’s insistence on breaking up with Haden to protect him. I’m getting a little tired of Young Adult novels using this as a way to separate characters, instead of having them work on the relationship and its problems together.

Theia’s best friends, Donny and Amelia, are still fantastic people in this novel. They don’t let Theia ignore them or push them away. They tackle problems as a group, making sure they use their individual strengths to cover each other’s weaknesses. They’re some of the best written friends I’ve read in Young Adult fiction lately.

Varnie takes on an even more important role in Dreaming Awake and I loved him so much it hurt at times. Gabe is also a little more prevalent in this novel and I enjoyed reading about his and Donny’s relationship and their struggles to be together yet not lose who they were and what they stood for.

Dreaming Awake is a fantastic novel that really delves into the consequences of the characters’ actions in Falling Under. It makes the characters grow up and deal with the future they have written, while still maintaining a sweet, touching quality. Falling Under and Dreaming Awake are a wonderful pair of books that anyone who likes a touch of the supernatural mixed into the romance needs to read.