Out of seventeen books read in March, Marie Rutkowski’s The Midnight Lie and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes marked rare five-star YA Fantasy reads, while Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series and Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series proved to be extremely mixed bags. This month saw a flurry of YA Fantasy, some Romance, and more.
Throne of Glass (5 Books; Kingdom of Ash DNF)
There’s something about the way Sarah J. Maas writes delicious YA tropes with zero shame that makes her books absurdly readable. Read it for fantastic YA Fantasy romance triangles, squares, and more. While the first book gives a very young tone, even for YA, following books blow an initially small, cozy world up to a big—too big—scale. Romance and character work generally gets better as you move on. But it’s telling that I wasn’t motivated to finish the last book.
I recommend at least the first three, though—this series is heaped with lots of badass, witty, magical fairy fun.
The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller‘s beautiful writing was always going to bring me to tears (even though I knew how it was going to end!). Her style is a masterclass in imagery and emotion. While Song of Achilles includes a fantastic, untold love story, I found it surprisingly hard to connect to the characters.
If you’re thinking of reading Madeline Miller (which you should!) I recommend diving into her fantastic retelling of Circe first.
Shadow and Bone (3 Books)
All the rage and soon to be its own Netflix series, the Grishaverse is awesome. However, I struggled to care about Shadow and Bone’s heroine, Alina. While Leigh Bardugo flirts with interesting corruption narratives, in the end, her main characters don’t grow enough. Shaky plotting and some questionable writing choices made this series a rocky experience start to finish.
Stay for a certain charismatic prince and the Six of Crows series that picks up after this series’ conclusion. Everyone should read Six of Crows. Seriously.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
I picked this well-known and prize-winning nonfiction after a few fantastic nonfiction experiences. I was disappointed. While Jared Diamond lays important groundwork about early human evolution and experience, it’s not about guns, germs, and steel! It’s about food production, animal domestication, and the very earliest human civilization. In short, it’s more boring than the title leads you to believe.
The majority of this book discusses human history before 1000 A.D.—and doesn’t say anything new enough (to me) to make me interested.
An Ember in the Ashes
Perfectly paced. Brutal. Butterflies and big, dumb boys. Enemies to lovers and moral greyness for days. I bought into every character and conceit. I cringed and I cried. Sabaa Tahir has crafted something very close to the perfect YA novel, complete with a vibrant new world, loveable and tortured characters, and squeal-inducing romance.
It’s the best YA Fantasy I’ve read in a while, and it deserves so much more buzz.
The Midnight Lie
Marie Rutkoski went for the throat. This novel has some of the best character work I’ve ever read in YA. The writing itself is stunning and sensual. My ardent love for this novel naturally comes from its central lesbian romance—which could not have been done ANY better—but I am also in awe of Rutkoski’s ability to authentically write about various forms of emotional abuse and insecurity. The character arcs in this novel are literally heart-wrenching. Take notes, Shadow and Bone.
Also, can we talk about this cover??
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Despite its reputation, the first half of Stieg Larsson‘s mystery-thriller is decidedly boring. There is too much information, too many plotlines, and it’s a miracle I remembered half. Many will DNF. Its female lead, Lisbeth, carries the novel. I enjoyed it for two reasons: first, it has a compelling antagonist in men who hate women (there are many). Second, it has a naive but gratifying agenda against stock market billionaires.
Stay tuned and follow the blog for a full review that discusses accusations of misogyny as well as the phenomenon around the book.
Coming off of several intense series, this felt like a guilty-pleasure palate cleanser. Caroline Peckham goes all-in on the American-Italian mafia trope, paring it with a Romeo and Juliet angle along with a hostage situation. Sometimes the quick turn around between near-rape and consensual sex was far too quick and left a sour taste in my mouth.
Eirik (Mists of Albion Book 1)
Joanna Bell spent too much time on her original world and not enough on, you know, sexy viking time. SPOILER: She was pregnant for a lot of this novel and it wasn’t quite my thing…I liked the male lead viking in this, though!
(The novel was also a bargain at 99 cents)
This one spent a lot of time on world-building and being historically accurate. If you’re just here for the good stuff, you have to skip or skim. Larissa Brown seems distracted from the romance by the world around it—not necessarily a bad thing, if that’s your cup of tea. I appreciated the effort, but for what’s supposed to be viking smut, there wasn’t actually much viking sex—or any gratification of the romance that’s obviously the main focus.
The Surf of Time
Bro…Mariah Stone makes the viking lead due yoga. This book is a minefield of plot points that might make you cringe, but the female lead does become a shield maiden which makes up some of it.