The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence, by Ruta Sepetys, was published in 2019 by Penguin.

Rating: 3/5                                          

I love Ruta Sepetys’s work; Salt to the Sea was one of my favorite reads a few years ago. However, I really struggled with The Fountains of Silence. Honestly, I thought about stopping it halfway through, that’s how uninvested I was in the story and characters. And it wasn’t that the history behind it wasn’t riveting—the only thing I knew about the Spanish Civil War is from Picasso (Guernica), so learning about it, especially the stolen babies, was fascinating and so, so sad.

Here’s what I didn’t like: the short, short chapters that continually jumped to different characters’ point of view. It was extremely frustrating to have all of these different characters think, do, or say things for a short while, only to switch to another character who thinks, does, or says something else for a short while. The chapters end abruptly, but do nothing to help the reader understand what’s happening. Sepetys also hints—and hints and hints and hints—at things, but the short chapters mean that hints are only ever given—the readers are not given enough time, space, or information, to figure out anything for themselves; instead, we have to wait nearly 200 pages before one of the characters finally reveals something. No clever ways to hide plot twists here—just brevity and point of view switches.

I also found the book a little bit too sappy. It’s sweet and cute that Dan waited 18 years, but how realistic is it that he would really wait that long for a girl he knew for two months?? The whole thing just screamed “bad YA romance.” It felt cheap and disappointing that an author I’ve always associated with nuanced, deep novels relied on cheap writing tricks and a really cliché romance in this otherwise deeply rich historical novel.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, was published in 2019 by Knopf.

Rating: 3/5                                          

I really wasn’t planning on reading Kaufman and Kristoff’s next trilogy. I mean, I enjoyed Illuminae to an extent (until the trilogy got repetitive and annoying), but I wasn’t super interested in reading more of the same by these two authors.

But the cover art kept pulling me in. I am a sucker for cover art, and this one is gorgeous. Plus, the cover art for the sequel is also amazing, so I shrugged my shoulders and got the book.

I’m not a fan of the rotating viewpoints, and this book has 6 characters to consider, though at least one of them keeps it short and sweet. By far the most interesting is Aurora. The others are more or less boring. There’s Tyler, the leader, who’s apparently both super hot and super smart, according to all the characters; there’s Scarlett, his sister, who’s had a million boyfriends and we’re supposed to admire her for that and for her acceptance of blatant objectification, I guess; there’s Cat, the pilot, who’s got some past with Tyler and keeps referring to him as “her Alpha” because all the characters call each other creepy things like “my Ace,” “my Alpha,” etc. There’s Zila, who’s my second favorite because she’s the quietest; there’s Finian, Alien #1, who really creepily objectifies everyone, and then there’s Legolas/elf clone Kal, Alien #2, who is literally called Legolas by Aurora (because apparently Lord of the Rings survived in pop culture though to the twenty-second century, which is…actually plausible, I suppose) and has this really cliché soulmate bond with her.

The plot is pretty interesting, though it definitely recycles some of the things that Kaufman and Kristoff did in Illuminae, most notably the dangerous plague/hive mind that’s going to take over the world if not checked. This first book is mainly set-up and worldbuilding, establishing the characters and the world and what’s at stake. There’s no real explanation as to why Aurora suddenly has special powers, beyond “an ancient species gave them to her somehow” handwave, but we might see some more development in that area in other books.

Criticisms aside, I did legitimately enjoy about 75% of the book. I just had serious problems with character interactions, the characterization itself, and a lot of stuff that happened at the end, like the soulbond and the weird ending with the stream of consciousness writing. But, it was fun and fairly tricky and I’ll probably read the sequel.

Recommended Age Range: 15+

Warnings: Tons of objectification, sexual innuendos, violence.

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson, was published in 2019 by Delacorte. It is the sequel to Skyward.

Rating: 4/5

Starsight expands on the world Sanderson created in Skyward, taking us beyond Detritus to a world (universe?) filled with aliens and giant monstrous eyes living in “nowhere,” the place where ships travel faster than light. The characters from Skyward all take a back seat, with some not even showing up at all, while Spensa, M-Bot, and Doomslug take a risk and travel to see how they can help the humans on Detritus escape.

I wasn’t as fond of this book as I was Skyward, for various reasons. I loved how Sanderson expanded the world and all the new creatures and politics and dangers we met, especially the scary delvers and their mazes and eyes. But I wasn’t fond of how quickly he catapulted us out of the familiar, with Spensa taking her trip to Starsight less than a hundred pages in. While he gave us lots of alien politics and introduced new, fun characters, I was a bit annoyed that we never really got to see any of the olds ones, though at least Jorgen gets a few Interludes (with some information that seemed completely out of left field).

The part of the book that really let me down, though, was the “final battle.” I’ve been disappointed with Sanderson’s resolutions before (like in Calamity), and this one just seemed so anticlimactic and so ridiculous of a solution that it completely spoiled the atmosphere of the book for me. I was left feeling disgruntled, so the rest of the book ended up falling a little bit flat.

Plus, it ended on a cliffhanger. Ooo, I hate that.

Sanderson, at least, has the ability to weave plot threads throughout multiple books and remember that they’re there, and there’s tons of things that he seeded throughout Skyward that come to fruition here. Likely there’s lots of things that he still has up his sleeve for the presumed third book. And I still love that about him, of course.

I just wish this book hadn’t been quite as much of a let-down. A tiny let-down, but a let-down all the same.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Supernova by Marissa Meyer

Supernova, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2018 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Archenemies.

Rating: 3/5

*minor spoilers*

Though Supernova has the best cover art of the trilogy, I found it the weakest in terms of plot and resolution. It’s not that the climax and characterization aren’t satisfying or well-developed—they are, though I thought the book could have been 100 pages shorter—but everything revolved too much around underdeveloped concepts and too-quick reveals. The whole concept of the “star,” which Adrian plucked out of Nova’s brain (????), was not very well explained, and there were so many plot reveals that they started getting tiresome after a while. One of the biggest plot reveals I called from five miles away; Meyer never did anything with the reveal, either, so it felt pointless.

The most irritating thing was the ending, though, which is the sort of ending where everything is forgotten and everyone gets along (though this is maybe indicated not to be true with the epilogue). It just seemed extremely unrealistic to me, and absolutely none of Nova’s problems with society were answered or even addressed adequately (also, Meyer isn’t very consistent with what she has a problem with—in the first two books, it was making nonprodigies rely more on themselves, whereas in this book Nova is just angry at prodigies abusing their power). Instead, everything is disguised by a “the villain is dead and now we can all live together in harmony, conveniently forgetting what we were at odds about before said villain appeared” ending.

That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I actually had a hard time putting it down. But I did think there were more problems with this book than the first two books. Some of the things Meyer does in this book should have been a little bit more clear in the first two books, or better explained in this book (I really did not understand the whole star thing). The reveal about Phobia was interesting, though, as was the Magpie reveal (which is the one I called from five miles away and wish was better explored in the earlier books rather than entirely out of left field). Overall, though, I did enjoy this trilogy a lot.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2018 by Feiwel and Friends. It is the sequel to Renegades.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

I keep expecting to know how Meyer will do things, but the first book surprised me and this book, though it didn’t surprise me in the same way, still didn’t end the way I expected. The plot is a little more basic in this one: for the entire book, Nova’s goal is to steal Ace Anarchy’s helmet (which somehow amplifies his powers, but we’re never told how or why). There’s some side plots that crop up along the way—Agent N, which was introduced in the first book, and the Vitality Charm—but the main action at the end is focused around the helmet. This is a long book to have such a simple plot, and it definitely shows in areas.

Once again, I expected Nova’s identity as Nightmare to be revealed, and once again, it was not, except now it’s gotten to the point where I have no idea how Meyer can possibly pull any sort of happy ending out of this. Adrian is angry at Nightmare, Nova is angry at Sentinel—how can there be anything large enough to get past that? Will there be a mysterious big villain coming out of nowhere that requires them to team up? Or is Meyer going to use the number of times Nightmare and Sentinel get associated with things that they didn’t actually do be the thing that brings them back together?

Of course, I’m assuming the series will end with their identities being revealed, but now that I think about it, that doesn’t have to be the case. It may, in fact, be more interesting if they were never revealed.

The most interesting thing about these books is that Meyer has stuck strictly to Nova’s ideas of the Renegades throughout, never once showing another side. Not even Adrian’s point of view chapters have much to do with countering Nova’s ideas, and any opposite viewpoint is interspersed with Nova’s curt questions. It’s clear, especially at the end of the book, that Meyer wants us to agree with Nova.

I hope the plot for the third book is a bit more tricky and complex than this one, but otherwise I’m surprised by how much I’ve been enjoying this series. Hopefully Meyer doesn’t pull anything outrageous or annoying in the last book.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer, was published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends.

Rating: 4/5

*minor spoilers*

Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series gave me a taste for superhero novels, so I decided to give Meyer’s (the author of Cinder) YA trilogy a shot. I liked her Lunar Chronicles well enough, except for Winter, so I figured I might enjoy this though it’s a different genre.

At first, I thought Renegades would be predictable. I mean, there’s only so many ways you can take a “girl infiltrates her enemy’s headquarters and seeks to overthrow them from the inside” plot. So, I figured that Nova would, in the course of her Renegade disguise, fall in love with Sketch/Adrian, but then discover that what she thought about the Renegades wasn’t true and/or get unmasked before she can do anything. The book would end with her true identity as a villain/Anarchist revealed.

Things looked good to be heading in that direction, until the very end when Meyer proved that she wasn’t just following a predictable, overused trope.

For one, Nova isn’t unmasked. For another, she still really and truly sticks to her Anarchist roots throughout, and while she learns a lot about the Renegades, she’s still dissatisfied with the way they run things (this whole book seems to be about Big Government Ruining Things because Nova is very into individual responsibility and not letting beaurocrats make all the decisions and solve all the problems). For a third, Meyer pulls a plot twist out of thin air at the very end of the book, a twist I didn’t see coming—and the great thing is, it didn’t come out of left field at all, AND it wasn’t particularly obvious.

So, in terms of plot, I can’t really fault Meyer. She did a much better job than I thought she would do, though the length of the book seems too long. There’s a stretch in the middle where everyone runs around a library that goes on forever. However, I can fault her for worldbuilding because it made very little sense. She’s simply too vague about the way things happened and nothing really is clear as to how things got the way they are. There’s no sense of place or time to the novel. Meyer seems to be being deliberately vague about many things like technology and other familiar things that would ground the novel, but then casually throws out words from modern day that fly in the face of a world-completely-changed narrative.

In addition, while several of the superpowers are clever (especially Sketch’s power) and most are standard ones you can think of, some are mindboggling strange. Like Ruby/Red Assassin, who swallowed some rubies and then suddenly has blood that turns into crystals??? What? And then there’s continuous mention of “bloodstone” with no reference as to what, exactly, that is…a drop of her blood that she uses as a jewel on her weapons? Or does she make weapons with her blood and then adorns each of them with this drop of blood (if so, why?)?

However, despite those things, as you can tell I still rated this a 4 out of 5, so my issues with the novel weren’t big enough to take away from my overall enjoyment of it, especially when Meyer changed things up and surprised me in a good way. The last (third) book just came out (though the end of this book seems to imply that it was originally only supposed to be 2 books), so I’m glad to read a series that’s actually finished already so I don’t have to wait too long.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Minor LGBTQ+ themes

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Fantasy

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer, was published in 2019 by Bloomsbury.

Rating: 4/5

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is continuing the streak of YA books that I’m pleasantly surprised with. It’s a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” involving parallel universes, curses, and a fairly decently developed world. Harper, a girl with cerebral palsy, is taken into another world in order to break the curse of the prince of that realm. The curse, of course, can only be broken by true love, but since Harper was kidnapped, she’s really not at all interested.

The thing that I was most impressed with was how Kemmerer resolved the curse. Honestly, overall, I thought she did a fantastic job with building the relationship between Harper and Rhen, and then to make it even better, she doesn’t rush the ending or force the characters into something that doesn’t make sense—instead, there’s a question raised, and a resolution to just try and figure things out. It was done really well, in my opinion, and it was a great way to “modernize” the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale.

My biggest criticism is probably the parallel universe aspect of it. Harper being a character in the fantasy world makes no sense and would not have worked in the book at all, so I understand the idea behind having Harper be from Washington, D.C., but the parts involving her family back in D.C. were the weakest in the book. Kemmerer’s decision to give Harper’s family a loan shark background really didn’t work very well and seemed only to be used to generate drama, especially since nothing came of that side story, anyway. Scrap Jacob’s role as loan shark muscle and you still have all the incentive Harper needs to miss home and to want to return home later (i.e., her sick mother). So, that part fell a little flat because it didn’t really seem to contribute anything besides more drama that wasn’t needed.

Despite that, however, I really enjoyed A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It was not a traditional “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and I thought Kemmerer did a great job of making things new and original, and especially in changing certain things about the fairy tale that are more problematic and making them more realistic. There’s a sequel coming out eventually, so I might pick that up when it does!

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Speak Easy, Speak Love, by McKelle George, was published in 2017 by Greenwillow.

Rating: 4/5

Speak Easy, Speak Love is a retelling/reimagining of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a play I’ve never read and only know vaguely from the one time I watched 10 Things I Hate About You. The setting is the Prohibition Era/Roaring Twenties/Jazz Age, and it has speakeasies, mobsters, jazz singers, female pursuit of advanced degrees, and lots of other fun (and not so fun) period references.

The characters and relationships are great. George does change things from Shakespeare’s original, but she develops the characters so that it makes sense. The stars of the show are, of course, Beatrice and Benedick, whose relationship grows slowly amidst insults, harsh truths, and mistaken beliefs based on well-meaning friends. The side relationships were all right, too, though sometimes following the convoluted mobster plots was really difficult. I understood almost nothing of what Prince was trying to do to help the speakeasy, nor what John was doing, and all the talk of routes and mobsters and rum runners was something I ended up just skipping over and trying not to figure out. I think the change George made to Hero’s relationship made sense in the context of her story, and everything was beautifully written and developed anyway so even if I was a hardcore Much Ado About Nothing fan, I think I still wouldn’t have minded (but you never know).

I’ve really been enjoying the YA I’ve been reading lately…I got Speak Easy, Speak Love on a whim, not sure if I would enjoy it, but I really did. The character development, setting, and writing were all great. I liked how developed the relationships were, even the non-romantic ones (like Benedick with his father). Overall, I was very pleasantly surprised.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Kissing, drinking.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig, was published in 2019 by Delacorte.

Rating: 4/5

House of Salt and Sorrows is a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”—kind of. In this version, there’s only 8 “princesses” alive at the beginning, and Craig really uses the fairy tale as more inspiration to weave her own ghostly, mythical story. I actually really enjoyed this book, despite the presence of tropes I don’t like such as insta-love/lust, based solely on the world, the story, and Craig’s wonderful writing.

Like I said, the story is inspired by “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” but Craig interprets and creates so many new and interesting things from it. I loved the plot and the whole mythology/supernatural vibe, and I especially liked how Craig managed to make each character stand out and, in the case of solving the mystery, not too suspicious. There wasn’t any one character that stood out as “oh, that’s the villain obviously” and the main plot twist was cleverly hidden and deftly revealed. Things get a little spooky, a little gory, and a little wacky at the end, but it fits Craig’s spooky, mythical setting perfectly.

Mainly the one thing I didn’t like was the insta-love between Cassius and Annaleigh. At least it’s sort of explained through his origins, but still—not my favorite. However, at least Craig made me forget about it for most of the book, and the ending was fine. I’ve gotten away from YA for a little bit, but I’m coming back to it slowly, and books like this remind me why.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Kissing, gruesome scenes.

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn, by Elizabeth Lim, was published in 2019 by Random House.

Rating: 3/5

Spin the Dawn is one of those books where everyone screams about it based solely on the cover and the summary. It was all over Goodreads as well as some other websites I frequent that talk about books before it was even published. It seemed interesting to me, which is why I got it, though I shudder at any “girl disguises herself as boy” plot. I was also hoping for something more fairy-tale-like, which tends to be more palatable to me.

And, all right, the highest praise I can give it is that it was actually pretty good (and knowing my track record with YA, that’s high praise from me!). It didn’t make me want to tear my hair out or anything. Honestly, I thought the plot was handled nicely, even the girl-disguised-as-boy part, Maia was fairly interesting, and the romance was cute. Lim also manages to make a “girl saves boy” plot work, too, without ridiculous hoop-jumping and other eye-rolling plot conveniences.

I mean, there were places where I really wasn’t a fan. The first part of the sewing contest thing was a bit rocky because I thought Maia was too eager to use the scissors for being such a supposedly good tailor, and I thought Lim tried just a little too hard to give her flaws during that part. But the rest of the novel flowed much more nicely and in the end I actually believed Maia when she kept describing how she had changed because it was clearly developed. Also, the romance was cute, but wildly predictable and almost saccharinely sweet in places. Though I liked the successful and believable “girl saves boy,” that entire aspect was too predictable (though not, I suppose, the part at the end with the curse).

Spin the Dawn is probably one of the less irritating YA fantasy novels I’ve read recently. I did have some issues with it, but overall it was enjoyable and I liked the majority of it.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: The romance is between an eighteen (seventeen? I don’t remember)-year-old girl and a hundreds-of-years-old enchanter. There’s also lots of kissing and sleeping together, though the kissing is described much more. 

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy