The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★★ (4.50)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Summary – It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders 10626594attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Initial Thoughts – I love Maggie Stiefvater. After falling in love with The Raven Boys and being slightly disappointed with Shiver, I was both excited and nervous about reading Scorpio Races.
Plot – ★★★★☆ The plot was a little slow in the beginning, but once it picked up, I couldn’t put it down.
Characters – ★★★★★ Stiefvater wins at characterization. She somehow manages to sneak in small details that make them seem so real, without it being overloaded with description.
Story world – ★★★★☆ I was a little confused about what the Scorpio Races were until they actually happened. I wasn’t sure if they lasted the course of several days or a single day. I think it could have used a little more clarification. However, I loved the smalltown island that it took place on and all the culture incorporated in the Races.
Style – ★★★★★ Maggie Stiefvater is a writing goddess and nothing more can be said here.
Closing Thoughts – I really wish this was a series, because I want to see more of the characters and setting. I mostly just want more from Stiefvater.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of dangerous games, slow love, and brave characters.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)
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Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★☆ (4.00)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Summary – For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods beh6068551ind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without.

Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Initial Thoughts – Maggie Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors, due to The Raven Boys and The Raven Cycle series.  I was excited to read another of her series. While it wasn’t quite up to The Raven Cycle standards, it was still a relatively good read.
Plot – ★★★☆☆ I always say that it’s hard for books that are predominately romance to be unpredictable. While there were very few parts that felt original, the book was well paced and drew me in nonetheless. The romance moved a little too fast for my taste, to the point of what seemed unrealistic.
Characters – ★★★★☆ While I connected pretty well with Sam and Grace, they both were quite impulsive, especially towards each other. I didn’t mind it as much in Grace, but I thought that Sam might be a little more careful, considering his life was at risk.
Story world – ★★★★☆ I would have liked a little more detail surrounding the werewolves. Stiefvater has done a pretty good job, but I think some people accepted their werewolf-ness a little too easily. Wouldn’t they experiment more for a solution?
Style – ★★★★★ While the story wasn’t as good, Stiefvater’s storytelling is still beautiful. She has a way of crafting words that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go until the story is over.
Closing Thoughts – This book felt a little predictable and the romance felt a little unrealistic. I will likely read the rest of the series, though not with great urgency.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of  paranormal fantasy, high levels of sass, and complicated love.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★★ (5.00)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Summary – In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.21414439

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Initial Thoughts – I met this author at a writer’s conference. I had never read any of her books (somehow), but after hearing her hilarious advice, I was interested. After reading her book, I feel so honored to have spoken to her. (*fangirls*)
Plot – ★★★★★ This book never bored me. It starts with an attempted robbery and never slows from there.
Characters – ★★★★★ There was a variety of characters on all different sides of the fight. Somehow I related to all of them. Their interactions were interesting and hilarious.
Story world – ★★★★★ The story world of this book is very complex and well developed. The beginning is a little confusing as all the different elements and witches are introduced, but it quickly explains itself well.
Style – ★★★★★ This story was beautifully crafted. Dennard’s sense of humor shines through the pages, making me laugh so many times.
Closing Thoughts – I can’t wait to read the next book in this series and Dennard’s other series. I care for all of the characters too much.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of complex fantasy worlds, lovable characters, and hilarious sass.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

The Diviners by Libba Bray

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★☆ (3.75)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

Summary – Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped 7728889off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

Initial Thoughts – This book was pretty terrifying for me, mostly because I rarely read books with horror components. If I had read the summary, I don’t know if I would have read it. However, I enjoyed the intensity of this book, though I thought the plot was a little lost at times.
Plot – ★★☆☆☆  I felt like Bray was trying to accomplish too much with the plot. She had so many side characters that had their own story lines, but they didn’t really come together in the end. The plot of Naughty John was terrifying and interesting, but it was too often pushed aside by the interesting, but unfortunately unimportant side plots of these characters. This book felt more like a set up for the whole series, not a complete book.
Characters – ★★★☆☆ Evie was selfish and arrogant and not really all that intelligent. I found myself irritated by some of the choices she made that endangered or hurt the other characters unnecessarily. I did however fall in love with some of the side characters, like Theta, Memphis, and Sam. However, while their stories were somewhat intertwined, they had no part in the final defeat, making me wonder why so much detail of their stories were included in the narrative.
Story world – ★★★★★ I LOVED the 1920’s story world. Bray clearly, clearly did her research when writing this novel. The New York city, the slang, the issues, everything was perfect.
Style – ★★★★★  Just as with the story world, Bray entertwined the history of the 1920’s seamlessly into her narrative. I loved how I was immediately transported into that world.
Closing Thoughts – While I (surprisingly) enjoyed the horror and adventure of this novel, I found the main character too irritating and the plot a little too much to completely enjoy it.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of the 1920’s, paranormal activity, and being terrified.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

Break Me Like A Promise by Tiffany Schmidt

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★☆ (3.75)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

(This is the second book in the Once Upon a Crime Family series. Spoilers below.)

Summary – No one is unbreakable.26073071
   All Magnolia Vickers has ever wanted was to follow father’s path as head of the Family Business. But new legislation is poised to destroy the Family’s operations in the black-market organ trade and Maggie’s recent behavior has wrecked the business-savvy reputation she’s worked her whole life to build.
She’s given an ultimatum: shape up or step aside.
Then Maggie messes up: she downloads a virus onto her father’s computer, and must sneak it off-estate for repair. When Alex, a tech whiz, uncovers the type of information on the machine, he offers Maggie a choice: her Family can give him a kidney, or he’ll irreparably scramble the data. Maggie agrees, but has no intention of keeping her promise or ever seeing him again. That night Alex shows up at her Family estate with copies of confidential Family files and a shocking revelation—the kidney is for him.
The Vickers aren’t willing to let Alex out of their sight, so he moves onto their estate and Maggie is assigned to be his keeper. A task she resents and he enjoys making as challenging as possible. But procuring black market organs is becoming increasingly difficult, and as Alex’s health declines, she’s surprised to find herself falling for him.
Like it or not, Maggie must accept that if she wants to save Alex’s life and carve out a place in the new legalized organ business, she’s going to have to fight for both.

Initial Thoughts – Despite the mediocre reviews on GoodReads, I absolutely loved the first book in this series, Hold Me Like a Breath. I was so excited to read the next book in the series. While Break Me Like a Promise wasn’t quite as amazing as the first book, I still enjoyed it.
Plot – ★★★★☆ The plot moved along quickly, but I felt like most of the plot was just waiting and a reaction to other things. There wasn’t enough action to really gain my attention.
Characters – ★★★☆☆ While I did fall in love with Alex, I didn’t really connect to Maggie. I sympathized with her, but I didn’t support her in everything she did.
Story world – ★★★★☆ Schmidt has a good basis of politics surrounding the Organ Act, however I think expanding on that could have really improved the plot.
Style – ★★★★☆ Nothing about Scmidt’s style truly stood out to me. It was smooth and clean, but it just was missing that special something.
Closing Thoughts – This book was fast paced and kept my attention. However, it just was missing that extra layer that makes a good book great.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of medical backgrounds, complicated love, and illegal activities.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★★ (5.00)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

(This is the third book in the The Grisha Trilogy. You can also  find my review of the second book, Siege and Storm. Spoilers may be found below.)

Summary –  The capital has fallen. 14061957

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Initial Thoughts – This series has been absolutely amazing adventure. Everything was near perfect, from the lovable characters to the intense plot.
Plot – ★★★★★ Once I sat down to read this book, I could not stop. I never expected the plot twist halfway through and Bardugo tied together everything perfectly. I was (heartbrokenly) content.
Characters – ★★★★★ Alina has an amazing character arc throughout this series of acceptance and confidence. I loved all of the other Grisha we grew closer to in this novel and, of course, Nikolai.
Story world – ★★★★★ In this novel, we learned more about the surrounding nations and the rocky alliances between them. We also discovered more about the powers of the Grisha and how the lines between them can be blurred.
Style – ★★★★★  Bardugo has one of those styles that is so clean that you don’t notice it. It’s not super flowery, yet she somehow describes everything well.
Closing Thoughts – This book was everything I wanted and more for the end of the series. Now I just need Crooked Kingdom. (*cries for days*)
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of wild adventures, amazing friendships, and difficult decisions.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

A 60 Second Review by Anne Brees
★★★★★ (5.00)
Genre – Young Adult Fantasy

(This is the second book in the The Grisha series. Spoilers may be found below.)

Summary – Darkness never dies.14061955

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Initial Thoughts – I loved the first book and I loved Six of Crows, so I simply could not wait to read this book. And this book did not disappoint.
Plot – ★★★★★ I opened this book late at night planning to read for half an hour or so. I read it for three. It was full of ups and downs and unexpected twists.
Characters – ★★★★★ As Alina’s power grows stronger and darker, she struggles to remain the girl she was. Mal remains dreamy, while we are introduced to a variety of new characters, my favorite being Nikolai. His sarcasm had me laughing on nearly every page.
Story world – ★★★★★ We are introduced to more of the ridiculous politics of the  country. We also learn more about the complex rules of magic and how they can be twisted for darker use.
Style – ★★★★★ Bardugo’s style flows smoothly and beautifully. Her sense of humor shines through the pages, constantly making me smile.
Closing Thoughts – This book didn’t suffer at all from Second Book Syndrome, which I admire greatly. It was everything I wanted and more.
Recommendation – Recommended for lovers of complicated love, beautiful magic, and wild adventures.

(summary and cover from GoodReads)