The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

soaWhere do I even begin with Madeline Miller? I fell in love with Circe when I read it in January, and it seems The Song of Achilles, Miller’s 2011 debut, is just as fantastic. My one complaint is more out of sadness than disappointment. If it took Miller ten years to write this novel and seven to write Circe, will I really have to wait five or ten years to read another one of Miller’s retellings? It’s only been a few hours since I finished The Song of Achilles and the wait has already become nearly unbearable.

I think what makes Miller’s novels so incredible is her voice. Her sentences, short but heavy with imagery, give the book the same feel of classic mythology and retellings. Her descriptions are dreamy, forcing me reading slower than usual to make sure I didn’t miss a single word. And, although there are plenty of battle montages and war councils, Miller shines most when writing extremely emotional scenes, such as when Achilles kills Hector or when Patroclus confronts Thetis, Achilles’ mother, at Achilles’ grave.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

kosMy first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.

In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.

I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.

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Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

qoaad.jpgQueen of Air and Darkness is a brick. Surpassing 900 pages if you count the bonus short story in the back, the novel is the heftiest I’ve read in a very long time. Contributing to its length are the appearances of nearly every character from Clare’s previous works, (Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments, Jem and Tessa from The Infernal Devices, Magnus and Alec from The Bane Chronicles, and more) who each adds to an enjoyable ensemble cast of characters.

Most of these characters, as well as the expected protagonists in The Dark Artifices, receive their own storyline, or at least their own perspective and I suspect devoted fans will be happy to see past favorites again, as I certainly was. However, some of their stories felt superfluous and like they were taking away from the storyline started in Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows.

“People were made up of all sorts of different bits…Funny bits and romantic bits and selfish bits and brave bits. Sometimes you saw only a few of them. Maybe it was when you saw them all that you realized you knew someone really well.”

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

circeSomeone I know described Circe as “Percy Jackson for adults.” To me, there seems to be no description more apt for this spellbinding tale. Circe is acclaimed author Madeline Miller’s take on the titular character, the ancient Greek enchantress best known for bewitching Odysseus and temporarily turning his crew into pigs in The Odyssey. After centuries of neglect, this witch finally gets her own story.

There is much to be said about reading a book and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Miller, a devout student of the classics, does not deviate much from the accepted literary canon. Circe hosts Odysseus and later Telemachus (as well as her niece Medea and a few gods). She helps her sister Pasiphaë birth the minotaur and jealously turns the nymph Scylla into a ravenous monster. Because of this set plot, there are often extended breaks in the action of the story. This was not a problem for me. I enjoyed Circe’s inner monologues and Miller’s lush descriptions of the Greek landscapes.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

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Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

monIt’s always a gamble to pick a book up during school breaks. There’s no time for me to pleasure read at school, however I can’t always read fast enough to finish the book at home. But, I feel there’s nothing worse than a story left unfinished. So, when I picked up Muse of Nightmares for the train back to school, I was determined to read the nearly 500 page sequel to Strange the Dreamer in six hours. Obviously, that was not possible, so I was left to sneaking in five or ten pages whenever I had the chance. Perhaps it was this reading style, but more likely it was Taylor’s masterful, slow-build writing that made Muse of Nightmares on of the best fantasy novels I read this year.

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

Taylor possesses an incredible gift of dropping breadcrumbs and seemingly unrelated connections throughout the duology, holding the reader by their hand and revealing the final piece of the storyline at just the right moment. While some of her clues were more clearly connected than others, I found the overall arc of the story a mystery until after I had turned the last page.

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Paperback Crush by Gabrielle Moss

pcAh, Scholastic book fairs. That glorious week in December when parents volunteered in a hastily constructed cardboard bookstore and kids ran wild with their five dollar gift certificates. To me, and countless other Gen-Zers, book fair week was the best week of the school year. There, I discovered my first favorite books: the Rainbow Magic series. Numbering nearly 150 volumes, the series followed besties Rachel and Kirsty as they rescued helpless fairies from evil Jack Frost.

After Rainbow Magic, I dabbled in Bailey School Kids and Magic Tree House before finding home in Cam Jansen mystery novels, which followed Cam, a quirky tween with a photographic memory and a penchant for mystery-solving. But, after Cam came the true mecca of mystery novels: my aunt’s collection of Nancy Drew novels. I was as in love as a seven year old could be (that is, until I discovered Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).

All of my favorite $4.99 paperbacks were riding the wave of immensely popular mega-hits like Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and Goosebumps, which hit peak popularity ten years before I was born. These “Young Adult” novels of the 80’s and 90’s (think: post Judy Blume, pre J. K. Rowling) are the subject of Bustle Features Editor Gabrielle Moss’ newest book, Paperback Crush.

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

wcI was not expecting to read The Water Cure. Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, it came out in the UK this past May, and is slated for release in the United States in January. I picked it up on a whim while between books and unexpectedly became transfixed.

The Water Cure, Welsh novelist Sophie Mackintosh’s debut, follows three sisters: Oldest Grace, middle Lia, and youngest Sky. The three live on an island with Mother and King. There, they are taught many things, but one above all: men are evil, toxic, deadly.

“If we were to spit at them, they would spit back harder. We expected that – we were prepared for it even. What we didn’t expect was their growing outrage that we even dared to have moisture in our mouths. Then outrage that we had mouths at all.”

Readers are introduced to the sisters right as something goes wrong: King is dead. Soon after, men arrive. The carefully crafted order the family has cultivated is destroyed. As we are drawn further into the story through flashbacks and dream-like prose, a web of manipulation and disturbing rituals is revealed.

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The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

tfdFor a while, I thought I wasn’t going to finish The Fates Divide. I was wading through pages and pages of exposition so every chapter was a struggle to finish. But, suddenly, in the middle of the novel, a secret was revealed.

From there onwards, The Fates Divide sped forward at a breakneck pace, at least until what was supposed to be the climax. But, instead of an epic battle or moving sacrifice, the climax dull and too-easily resolved, mostly because the stakes didn’t feel high. Coming off the heels of Allegiant, I was expecting an enormous plot twist, a tragic choice, or at least a character death. Instead, everyone happily survived. I turned the last page wondering, is this it? 

I am not a fan of sci-fi, but I still loved Carve the Markthe first in Roth’s duology. Before that, I loved Divergent, liked Insurgent, could barely finish Allegiant. To me, the pattern seems clear. What start off as and ambitious, creative series eventually fizzles into lifeless stories in the second or third novel.

“Suffer the fate, for all else is delusion.”

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Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

3dcBack in 2016, I read the first chapter of Three Dark Crowns and fell in love. The excerpt promised a story of three sisters, each with a claim to the throne of Fennbirn island. On their sixteenth birthday, the sisters would begin a battle to the death, only ended when one queen, the true queen, remained.

I was expecting action, intrigue, maybe a little romance. I wanted Game of Thrones. What I got was Anna and the French Kiss.

“I want revenge.” She whispers, and her fingers trail bloody streaks down Natalia’s arms. “And then I want my crown.”

Three Dark Crowns is not a prequel. It is the first book in a duology-turned-quartet. But, for eighty percent of the book, the only thing that happened was uninteresting romances and an introductions into the world of Fennbirn. Nowhere in the book do the sisters try to kill each other. In fact, they don’t even meet until the last quarter of the book!

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