BITTERBLUE (Graceling #3) by Kristin Cashore
Synopsis (from goodreads):
The long-awaited companion to New York Times bestsellers Gracelingand Fire
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.
Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
At long last, I have finally read the third installment of the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore. I had absolutely loved Graceling and Fire, but it has been a long while since I last read them and so I went into this book a little blindly. And I kind of regretted it. The story picks up several years after the events of Graceling and it expects it’s readers to remember quite a bit. While i love that Cashore didn’t belittle her readers by spoon feeding them the plot of the previous books, since it’s been at least two years since I last read them, I still could’ve used a “where we last left ours heroes!” recap as I’ve forgotten what had happened to some of the characters. So for those of you who read the last two books ages ago, do go back before plunging into this one because in Bitterblue, we immediately jump into Bitterblue’s reign as queen of Monsea.
**Warning Minor Spoilers Ahead!**
Unlike Graceling, Bitterblueis more of a political/mystery story than an adventure one. While there are quests and a fair amount of action involving stabbings and other bodily harm, a lot of it happened in the first half of the story or is in the background done by side characters rather than our titular heroine. Despite all this, Bitterblue, to me, is the darkest of all the Graceling books thus far. We definitely get a lot more history and backstory on King Leck and he was all kinds of messed up and his influence, even after so many years, lingers. Despite the time jump, the book focuses a lot on how Bitterblue deals with the aftermath of what happened with her father and I must say she is the most nuanced heroine of all the books. Her struggles as a new young queen were so believable and realistic. And struggle she does! The ending to Graceling was NOT a happily ever after. There was some serious damage control that had to be done and Bitterblue was left to that task. I’ve always loved Katsa and her fierceness, but I think that in a way Bitterblue was a stronger heroine.
The plot twists in this book was also on a whole different level. I mean, Fire had a fair good amount of surprising revelations, but by the time I reached 3/4th of this book, my perception on various characters had become so skewed and I was left reeling (so many spies!).
But while Cashore impressed me with her characterization of Bitterblue and the plot twists, I felt the pacing of the story was a bit off. I read the first half of the book fairly quickly, but somewhere half way, the tone of the book changes and the pacing fell flat at times and I had to push myself through. It paid off because many of the seemingly boring details led up to huge reveals. Still, I really had to force myself through some rather dull scenes in an otherwise fantastic book.
**End of Minor Spoilers**
Overall, I highly enjoyed Bitterblue. I do think it’s a more difficult read than her previous two books. You definitely get a sense that Cashore’s writing has matured along with her characters (and her readers), but that is far from criticism. I love it when the characters in the stories grow up with the readers.
For those who are new to these books, I would highly recommend them to fans of high fantasy/historical fantasy. Especially those who want to read Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, but feel too intimidated by them. The Graceling series are the perfect books to ease you into the high/epic fantasy genre. Not that these books are any less sophisticated or inferior in writing and plot, but because I feel like the style is much more accessible (it IS supposed to be YA after all). I would also recommend these books to fans of Tamora Pierce, who should love these books as well. Especially if they like three dimensional badass heroines who turn convention on its head.
Rating: 4 out 5
BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver
Synopsis (from amazon):
What if you only had one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?
Samantha Kingston has it all: looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last.
The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. Living the last day of her life seven times during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.
I’ve been enjoying contemporary YA lately and after Perks of Being a Wallflower I wanted something to slowly wean me off all the adolescent heart ache. Picking this book may have been the wrong choice. I should’ve realized from the title and book cover that this wasn’t gonna an Anna and the French Kiss type of contemporary YA. But even with all that warning me, I was surprised by how truly depressing the story turned out to be.
At first I felt Sam, our protagonist, was very unlikable. She was very self-entitled and seemed to have very little empathy for those who were not part of her close circle. But despite all that, I couldn’t help but feel that her character was very relatable. I mean, how many of us have been self-absorbed brats as a teen (or even now)? And as the story progressed and Sam was forced to relive the day of her death over and over again, you got to see her reevaluate her attitude and relationships with those around her. The transformation is painful and you can see her struggling and questioning everything she’s known before the accident and that just made it all the more believable. This book, at its core, is a tale of redemption and I found myself pleasantly surprised by that.
What stops me from giving the book another 1/2 star to make it a nice even 4 stars is the side characters. Maybe it’s because we’re in Sam’s head so much that all other characters felt kinda flat in comparison. Aside from Lindsay, who I have to say made a very compelling morally gray character, all the other characters just seemed like obligatory tropes.
For instance, Ally and Elody at some points felt interchangeable to me. Neither girls really stood out. They were just the other two friends that were part of the “it” group and inner circle. Sometimes there would be a glimmer of something more about each them (everyone is a little bit damaged), but the book never gets very far into their development to make me care about either of their fates.
As for Kent and Rob, Sam’s love interests, they both seemed to fall into very stereotypical roles and it seemed predestined that the reader had to root for Kent rather than Rob. It would have been more interesting if they made Rob a more dynamic character, but he just kind of stayed the jerkface boyfriend the entire time. And while I knew Sam would eventually dump him, it just took her SO freaking LONG to actually do it and she was already set up to be with Kent for xyz reasons that I didn’t get invested in them at all.
All in all, BEFORE I FALL was a good read, but it just didn’t have that extra special something that would make it resonate with me. That said, Perks is a bit of a hard act to follow so I may be biased.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by Stephen Chbosky
Synopsis (from amazon):
standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective…but there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
since its publication, stephen chbosky’s haunting debut novel has received critical acclaim, provoked discussion and debate, grown into a cult phenomenon with over a million copies in print, and inspired a major motion picture.
the perks of being a wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. the world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. of sex, drugs, and the rocky horror picture show. of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.
I have to say that I procrastinated reading this book for a long time until the movie came out and I told myself I HAD to read the book before seeing the movie. But then I got caught up in other books and procrastinated some more, but FINALLY. I told myself, I was gonna read it. And so I did.
This was a very difficult book for me to rate because on one hand, I blew through it so quickly (it was just that captivating), and on the other… it made me feel like utter shit. Pardon my french. This was a beautiful book. I’d say that Charlie is the Holden Caulfield of his generation… But then that might be diluting his character… and oh yeah didn’t he say the same thing about bands and the Beatles? See? This is the kind of book that really resonates with you (I’m alluding to things in the book without even really thinking about it). But there is SUCH melancholy and this twisted wretched feeling that you get from reading this book. I don’t know. I couldn’t help tearing up more than a few times and it left me feeling rather dazed and not the “aw man that was such a great book” book glow kind of way. It was more like “omg that was such a good book, it utterly destroyed me” book hangover kind of way.
There was some really heavy topics in this book and it is very literary compared to the light fare I usually read. But somehow, it never came across as “hipster” or pretentious which I was deathly afraid of it turning out to be because let’s be honest… how many times have we seen that “and in that moment I swear we were infinite” quote floating around tumblr? *insert eyeroll + yawn combo* But in spite of my fears… the book DIDN’T feel pretentious or forced or contrived. It just felt… raw. And sad. And moving. And just kind of left me emotionally exhausted to be honest. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And there hasn’t been a book that has made me feel that way in a long long time. So my recommendation? Read it when you want to something to make you curl up into a ball with all sorts of existential, melancholy, nostalgic feels after.
Rating: 5 out of 5
THE DEMON’S LEXICON (#1) by Sarah Rees Brennan
Synopsis (from amazon):
Nick’s family has been on the run from magicians his whole life. His father is dead, and his insane mother hates him—she starts screaming if he touches her. After Nick’s protective older brother is marked with a demon sign that means death, danger is unavoidable. The only way to erase the sign is to kill a magician.
As Nick and his brother play a deadly cat and mouse game with the magicians, Nick begins to suspect that everything his brother has told him about their past is a pack of lies. Not knowing whom to trust or where to turn, he walks into a trap—and a startling revelation that changes everything he’s ever believed.
I’ve heard so many good things about this book and I’ve been a fan of Sarah Rees Brennan’s tumblr so when I first cracked opened this book…I had pretty high expectations! I have to say, the beginning was a bit of a let down. It felt pretty slow to me and I just couldn’t quite get into it. But I kept going… AND OMG I AM SO GLAD I DID! The real action happens in the last half of the book. All those little things that I barely noticed in the first half or just chalked up as being cliches all added up into one helluva a plot twist. I should say twists actually because more than once I was thrown, FLOORED, by the revelations in the second half of the book. I was MIND blown. Every time I thought “okay, I know where this is going”, I was WRONG! The book really ends with a bang and gave me this whole new perspective on the entire story. This is a very well thought out, plot heavy book and I would definitely tell the people who are having a hard time getting through it to just tough it out because it is WORTH IT.
That said, I had some issues connecting with some of the characters… namely Mae (the female lead). I just couldn’t wrap my brain around her and get under her skin and it made it hard to get invested in her interactions with the Ryves brothers. But the brothers! Oh man, they are the stars for a reason. I love Nick and Alan (Alan particularly). Nick was so snarky and fun, but Alan… Alan turned out to be one of the most complex, dynamic, and intriguing characters that I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time. He’s just so much more than meets the eye. And while the book is mainly written in Nick’s perspective, the majority of the reason why the book is AWESOME, is because of Alan. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to spoil anybody, but if you don’t finish this book without falling a little bit in love with Alan Ryves then you are not reading it right!
Rating: 4 out of 5
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES (#1) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Synopsis (from amazon):
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.
I have to admit that I got intrigued by this book when I saw the movie trailer for it. I just loved the Southern Gothic charm and on that part, the book delivered. There’s definitely a haunting sense of the Goth, voodoo, and black magic in a Southern setting in this book. And I have already mentioned in this blog before how sick I am of the typical big city (ie. New York or L.A.) type of settings for YAs, so the Southern setting was a real nice touch.
The story is told through the male protagonist’s eyes and I always find it refreshing to read the male POV in a romance/love story. That said, unfortunately I found that Ethan’s POV felt contrived and heavy handed. He came across as basically a male version of Bella ala Twilight, which for me was not a good thing. I always hate the “inexplicably drawn” to each other type of storylines. I also found it rather annoying how he always insisted that he “knew” her, despite her protests that he didn’t (and really… he didn’t. They only just met recently and before that she was TERRORIZING him in his dreams!) It just came off as pretentious that he would claim to know her, and understand what she was going through when he clearly knew nothing about her Caster family and her powers and thus rather than coming off as romantic… he became a turn off.
Despite the misgivings about Ethan, I found the Caster history intriguing, though I found that too often it was conveyed in a very “info-dumping” kinda way. Most of the background information on the Casters and magic was told to the reader via lengthy conversations between Ethan and Lena which made for rather boring scenes despite the colorful history of magic.
I had high hopes for this book, but unfortunately the unique setting was not magical enough to compel me to read the rest of the series. However, the movie version stars Emmy Rossum (who I’m a big fan of ever since I watched Shameless), so I might still check it out when it comes out. But I have to say I was kind of disappointed in the book.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
UNCOMMON CRIMINALS (Heist Society #2) by Ally Carter
Synopsis (from amazon):
Katarina Bishop has worn a lot of labels in her short life. Friend. Niece. Daughter. Thief. But for the last two months she’s simply been known as the girl who robbed the greatest museum in the world. That’s why Kat isn’t surprised when she’s asked to steal the infamous Cleopatra Emerald so it can be returned to its rightful owners.
There are only three problems. First, the gem is owned by the most secure auction house in the world. Second, since the fall of the Egyptian empire and the suicide of Cleopatra, no one who holds the emerald keeps it for long, and in Kat’s world, history almost always repeats itself. But it’s the third problem that makes Kat’s crew the most nervous and that is simply… the emerald is cursed.
Kat might be in way over her head, but she’s not going down without a fight. After all she has her best friend—the gorgeous Hale—and the rest of her intrepid crew with her as they chase the Cleopatra around the world, realizing that the same tricks and cons her family has used for centuries are useless this time.
Which means, this time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.
Critics and fans alike have fallen for Heist Society (no conning necessary). With more mystery, non-stop action, romance and humor, this second novel in the hit series is just as irresistible.
HOLY HELL! I thought I liked the first book, but OMG! I absolutely LOVED Uncommon Criminals!!! Ally Carter has done the amazing feat of writing a sequel that, in my opinion, is even BETTER than her first!
What I really loved about this book was how it shows that despite Kat being a young genius thief, she is FALLIBLE. She’s not just some perfect mastermind thief. She’s really, despite all of her talent, just a teenage girl! And even with all of her thief savviness, she makes mistakes and there are always other more experienced con artists out there than her. Which makes her character all the more believable. I liked Kat in the first book, but in this one, I think I truly fell in love with her. And she’s quickly becoming one of my top favorite fictional gals.
Onto the plot, the heist this time around revolves around acquiring Cleopatra’s emerald (the largest emerald in the world, and also supposedly cursed.) I really liked the myth building in here and how Ms. Carter spins history and fiction together so cleverly. I really liked the idea of a long-lost cursed giant emerald belonging to one of the most notorious Egyptian queens the world has even known. And I found Kat and her gang’s attempts to steal it much more interesting that their heist at the Henley. Speaking of heists, all of the cons continued to be cleverly planned and I love that they all have unique names (ie. Alice in Wonderland, Birds of a Feather, Cinderella, etc…).
The romance in the book takes up a step in this book, but never in a way that is distracting to the main plot. I’ve been pretty jaded against love triangles in YA since it seems so overdone as of late, but man oh man… there is really something about the triangle between Hale, Kat, and Nick that is pretty compelling. And I find myself not quite knowing who to root for (though I think I’m leaning slightly more to Hale)! Kat has great chemistry with both boys and while I can actually see how Hale and Kat will probably be endgame… I really like how Nick and Kat have this unique understanding and friendship (with potential for more).
Overall… AMAZING sequel. I love Kat and the gang and I can’t wait to read more about them. Also, VISILY ROMANI! God I love the ongoing mystery surrounding Romani and I really want to know how he (or she) is related to Kat. I enjoyed this book immensely and I am soooo looking forward to Ally Carter’s third book in the series.
Rating: 5 out 5
HEIST SOCIETY (#1) by Ally Carter
Synopsis (from amazon):
For as long as she can remember, Katarina has been a part of the family business—thieving. When Kat tries to leave “the life” for a normal life, her old friend Hale conspires to bring her back into the fold. Why? A mobster’s art collection has been stolen, and Kat’s father is the only suspect. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.
The only solution is to find the paintings and steal them back. Kat’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history—and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I first got this book, but I liked the idea of a girl art thief as the protagonist and WOW! I loved it so much! The main character, Kat, is tough but also sweet. She’s not all sarcasm and dry wit, but she definitely knew how to hold her own against the boys. And most of all she has a lot of heart and I loved that. So many other so-called “tough” heroines tend to be cold and jaded, and while Kat does have a bit of anti-heroine tendencies (she just wants to be a normal kid and get out of the family business), she doesn’t build walls against the people she cares about. Which is rather refreshing.
In addition, the love interest Hale. Oh, Hale. I started swooning over him barely a few pages into his introduction. He was so charming and earnest and I just loved his relationship with Kat. The two work well as a team and even in their serious moments they’re able to have fun too. They just bounced off each other really well and the chemistry is undeniable.
Despite all I said about Kat and her love interest, the romance part of the book is actually downplayed. The story is actually very plot driven and fast paced, which I liked. I hate it whenever a love story BECOMES the main plot rather than a good subplot. That doesn’t become a problem here. There are many other characters that populate this book and each are distinct and fun. In particular, I love Kat’s dynamic with her cousin Gabrielle, who is a bit of a femme fatale type. In addition to her cousin and Hale, Kat also has a crew consisting of the brothers, Angus and Hamish, their hacker, Simon, and then the love rival and enigmatic fellow thief and British stud, Nick. Despite the large headcount, I never felt like any of the characters were two-dimensional. They each had a purpose and helped further the plot along.
Another great thing about the book is all the cool exotic places that Kat and her gang visits in order to do their heists. I can’t tell you how sick I am of books that take place in New York or LA or some other big city. It was exciting to have the character fly all over the world and definitely lent to this idea of a glamorous art thief life.
The only issue I had with the book was the villain, Arturo Taccone. Everyone kept referring to him as a “bad guy”, but he never actually did anything in the book to really demonstrate why he is so feared. Other than the few threatening innuendos, he was kinda out of the picture most of the time. But then again, I have to remind myself that this is a YA novel so I can’t expect graphic violence from its characters (even if they are supposedly evil mob bosses). Otherwise, the rest of the book was pretty much ace.
Overall, if you enjoy Ocean’s Eleven or Leverage, you’re gonna love this book. It’s fun, cleverly detailed, and features a great ensemble cast of characters that have amazing chemistry together. I highly recommend it. And I look forward to reading the rest of the series as well as Ally Carter’s other books.
Rating: 4 out of 5
CHANGELESS (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger
Synopsis (from amazon.com):
Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.
But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can.
She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.
Considering how much I loved the first book, I had an extremely high expectation for the sequel. Perhaps too high. I did thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it was not as much fun as the first. I felt like it suffered from what I call the Sequel Syndrome, in which the second book (or movie) lacks the exact spark of the first.
What I loved about the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series is how much preternatural mythology and history we get. I also loved the little tidbits about Alexia’s father, Conall’s human past, and most of all I loved the new character of Madame Lefoux. She was smart and snappy, but not in the brash way Alexia is as she possessed a very cool steel edge of calm. I found that her incognito coolness complemented Alexia’s bluntness very well. She was such an enigma and I especially loved her interaction with Lord Akeldama and Lord Macon. I’ll be excited to see what happens with her character in the future.
On the flip side, while I enjoyed Miss Hisselpenny in the first book, both Alexia and I found her incredibly annoying in this one. And I basically rolled my eyes and muttered “oh my god!” with exasperation every time she appeared on the page. Which was, unfortunately, quite often. And strangely enough, I found Alexia’s annoyance with her bff (while warranted…) was also a bit of a turn off in regards to HER character. Alexia has always been very practical, but her treatment of Ivy was rather harsh and I would’ve liked at least ONE heartfelt scene between the two. As ridiculous as Ivy was being, they were suppose to be best friends. It would’ve been nice to see Alexia show some kind of affection towards her, especially since Ivy was undergoing so much emotional turmoil in this book. In fact, Alexia is in a rather sour mood throughout the book and though there are many reasons why she was entitled to be a bit testy, it was off putting and she was not nearly as endearing as she was in the first. The ending kind of explains why Alexia was so moody, but rather being an “Ohhh~!” moment, where things are happily resolved, it is a rather downer ending.
All that said, I still enjoyed the book. Not as much as I did the first, but it was still a romping adventure in steampunk, supernatural Victorian England.
Rating: 3.5 out 5
ABANDON (#1) by Meg Cabot
Synopsis (from amazon.com):
New from #1 New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot, a dark, fantastical story about this world… and the underworld.
Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can’t help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she’s never alone… because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.
But now she’s moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.
Only she can’t. Because even here, he finds her. That’s how desperately he wants her back. She knows he’s no guardian angel, and his dark world isn’t exactly heaven, yet she can’t stay away… especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.
But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.
I must start off this review with stating that I am a avid fan of Greek mythology, particularly the Hades and Persephone myth. So when I found out that Meg Cabot (holy reigning queen of my childhood reading years) wrote a book based on the tale, I was beyond excited. I even dropped my ARC copy of Prodigy by Marie Lu and postponed my reading of Changeless (book #2 of the fabulous Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger) to get my hands on it! I’ve previously read Meg Cabot’s retelling of the Arthurian tale, Avalon High, a while back and I ABSOLUTELY adored it, so I was sure I would feel the same. Unfortunately not.
It wasn’t a terrible read, mind you, but it definitely missing that special spark I usually love in Meg Cabot books. Perhaps it’s because I’ve outgrown her writing style, but lately I haven’t been able to fall in love with any of her newer books.
The main gripe I have with ABANDON was that I felt like Pierce was a rather unmotivated protagonist. She was at times much too dense and oblivious and it was rather frustrating to watch her go about the book doing… well… she doesn’t really do much of anything really. Most of the time she required John (our male protagonist and love interest) to intervene in some way for something to actually happen. The reason why he fell in love with her was also a little unbelievable in my opinion. I am not a big fan of the ditzy-but-heart-is-made-of-gold trope for my heroines, so I really didn’t find Pierce lack of self-preservation and need to rescue every damn thing (birds, lizards, you name it!) to be all that appealing.
I thought John had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, his back story and the death deity mythology didn’t really get explained very much. Which was a bummer because I thought that was the most interesting thing about the book. Especially in regards to the coffin night that Pierce’s high school celebrated.
Another gripe I had was that just when the story was picking up pace and was starting to get exciting (the FURIES!!!!) the book ENDS. Which could’ve been a marketing move in order to sell the second book, but I ended up feel more frustrated than curious.
There were SOME things that I liked about the book. For instance the multicultural aspect of the story, although I did think it felt slight forced. And I also thought the necklace that Pierce wore had some really cool aspects to it. All in all, while the story was more enjoyable than the last Meg Cabot book I read (Jinx), it lacks the spunk and fun tone of Cabot’s older titles that I love. This is the first book in a planned trilogy, but considering how “meh” this first book is… I don’t think I will be reading the sequels.
Rating: 3 out of 5
HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller
This title will be released on February 21, 2013.
Synopsis (from amazon.com):
A Meth Dealer. A Prostitute. A Serial Killer.
Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.
Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?
I had been able to get an electronic galley/ARC of this book due to the author holding a book cover contest back in June. Although I did not win the contest (the cover of the contest winner is the one on the right, and it’s just stunning!), I was really happy to have a chance to read this before it came out. Especially since I found out that the author is the same author of the Eternal Ones and the Kiki Strike books!
The story is a very unique take on the teen boarding school storyline, with many of the students being criminal masterminds and serial killers. I really loved the male protagonist POV and the romance angle of the book different from other YAs in that the story starts with the two love interests ALREADY in love with one another. So we skip the whole “I was inexplicably drawn to you and couldn’t resist” trap which was refreshing.
I also enjoyed the distinctive personalities each character had, and despite some of them falling into certain archetypes, they felt real enough for me to get invested in them and not care. One of the critiques I do have is that I felt like the female protagonist was a little TOO badass at times. I didn’t quite buy how she knew everything that she knew or was capable of the many abilities she possessed. Her presence felt almost a bit too convenient and the second half of the novel, the male protagonist ended up taking the backseat in all the scheming. Despite all this, the mystery of the plot was compelling and I was definitely finding myself racing to the finish and not just because there was a deadline to the contest!
While I think I still have some qualms about the resolution of the story (it felt a tad too neat for my taste), I was surprised by many of the twists that came. Many of the characters did not end up the way I had expected and the tension in the story continued to hold right up to the very end.
Overall, it was an exciting read with a writing style that was fluid and characters that were very likeable. It’s one of the more unique YAs I’ve read in a while and I look forward to seeing it on the bookstore shelves with its official cover along with the reversible Book Cover Contest winner’s design.
Rating: 4 out of 5