Book Review: Rules for Theives

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

A pendant hangs from the title; a marketplace with tents, and two kids running through it

Cover of Rules for Thieves

At the time of this review, the book holds a 5-star review on Amazon with 19 reviews.

YA Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Purchased from the author after she presented at the Red Sneakers Writers Presents Write Well Sell Well Conference in Oklahoma over Labor Day weekend.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 4 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

“Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. When she escapes the miserable orphanage she has called home for the past nine years, she finally feels free.

But Alli quickly learns that freedom comes at a price. After a run-in with one of the city’s protectors she is marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical. And the clock is ticking.

Enter Beck, a boy who seems too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be one too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the king of the Guild assigns to her, join the Guild, collect her yearly reward, and buy the cure. The Guild is her ticket to the cure, and it just might be the home—and the family—that Alli has always wanted.

But when her trial goes horribly wrong, innocent lives are in danger—including Alli’s. Can she follow Beck’s rules, even if it means compromising her own? In this thrilling and fast-paced debut, Alli learns how much she is willing to sacrifice in order to survive.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Rules for Thieves, Alexandra Ott (Aladdin, 2017, Book 1 of Rules for Thieves, paperback, 312 pp.)

In Azeland, Alli Roscoe plots her escape from the orphanage. Once she’s free, the enormity of her life change hits her—she’s got nowhere to sleep, she’s got the clothes she’s wearing, and the shoes that mark her has out of place in any nice shop.

Based on the book’s cover, and Ott’s descriptions, I pictured an arid climate and a marketplace-driven, non-industrialized society. Protectors keep law with brute force and magic. She must evade them because she’s a runaway, but that’s harder because a Protector hits her with a curse.

What’s a twelve-year-old on her own to do, when she can’t legally work until thirteen? Lift food. That sets the dominoes falling, tangling her multiple times with the Protectors and with Beck, the boy she desperately wants to believe. How can she, though, after her survival lessons at the orphanage? Ott slowly feeds us those stories, about both the characters, so Alli can’t believe his friendship even when hope wants her to. He has so many rules. She thinks,

“I add one more to the list: Don’t think about who the marks are. Looking at what they carry, not who they are, makes it easier to ignore the lurch in my stomach that might, maybe, be guilt.

That should be a rule too: There’s no place for guilt in thieving.” (p. 48)

Ott keeps the pacing fast, whisking Alli and Beck through their friendship with one lesson in thieving, one escape after another, and the eventual reveal about the Guild and all it can offer her if she joins and accepts those hard rules Beck shares. At the Guild, Ott expands the cast of characters. It became harder for me to keep track of who was who as she unveiled first or last names, and quick snippets about the kids. The Guild’s location marks a huge contrast to Azeland, adding snow and a game that’ll make you worry for Alli.

Through all of this, she’s learning more about being a thief and deepening her friendship with Beck. Stakes do rise, and it’s deliciously fun seeing the lengths Alli goes for her trial, needing disguises, and what she’ll do for friendship even if it breaks a Guild rule or two. I loved the flying creature Ott introduces as a mode of transportation, the giant thilastri.

The story fell shy, when I couldn’t suspend my disbelief at the final stage of the trial. Past the time Alli figures something out, I was asking myself why anyone had let the trial get to that point. It’s still a set of exciting scenes, but my logical side called it a hole in the storytelling.

Alli’s an engaging character, and you can follow her adventures in book two, The Shadow Thieves. The paperback edition of Rules for Thieves contains a teaser chapter for that

About the Author

Learn more about Alexandra Ott at her website.

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Book Review: Bring Me Their Hearts

Bring Me Their Hearts, Sara Wolf (Entangled Teen, June 2018, Book 1 of whatever this series will be called, hardback, 366 pp.)

Beatufiul blond-haired girl in a flowing red velvet dress

Cover, Bring Me Their Hearts

At the time of this review, the book holds a 4.4-star review on Amazon with 101 reviews.

YA Fantasy

Book Obtained By: Borrowed from the library after researching Entangled Teen acquisitions editor Lydia Sharp (before pitching my novel to her at Cleveland Rocks Writers Conference), because the Amazon teaser pages hooked me, and I already have too many books on my shelf to be read.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 5 Godiva Chocolates (sinfully good), with a disclaimer: this book leaves you with a cliff-hanger ending—it’s the first book of a trilogy. I’d normally down-rate a book for that, however this book is SO good, I am forgiving the author

From the back cover

“I raise my chin, carefully keeping my shoulders wide and my face passive. Strong. I will make an impression here, or I will die for my loose tongue. It’s that simple.

Except it isn’t that simple.

Because I can’t die.

Because unlike the girls next to me, I’m not here to impress the king and win a royal’s hand in marriage or a court position for my father.

I’m here for Prince Lucien’s heart.

Literally.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Bring Me Their Hearts, Sara Wolf (Entangled Teen, June 2018, Book 1 of whatever this series will be called, hardback, 366 pp.)

New York Times best-selling author Sara Wolf introduces Zera, a Heartless. The Heartless owe their hearts to witches, typically because the witch brought them back from death, and now holds their heart captive in a jar. Heartless must do the witch’s bidding, and it takes an incredible amount of magic to kill a Heartless. They are monsters, needing to feed on bodies, on organs they tear fresh from the human or animal, or a care-giver gives them. They constantly battle to control those urges, and they can decimate a dozen armed humans.

The book opens with the scene from the back cover copy. Zera’s tone goes beyond snarky. She’s downright mean, and that would have put me off, except for her worldview mixing yearning with a dash of hope and a heap of heart. Add in the mysteries about her that Wolf unveils one at a time and you have a recipe cooking long in the author’s head, I’m sure. Plus, despite Zera being a Heartless, the scenes demonstrate her sheer willpower in trying to control the beast within. At one point, I wasn’t sure I’d keep reading the story, because that mean snarkiness wore on me, except Wolf had hooked me. I wanted to put the book down, but I couldn’t.

As the story progressed, and Zera developed, that snarkiness flowed to a softer level. Perhaps, too, the first-person narration present tense helped. Since everything was her thoughts, as if right now, I saw that battle to control herself. I wondered, what girl had she been before becoming Heartless. Wolf rewarded me a hundred-fold for continuing.

The other thing that jarred me was the opening started at the present. Then we took a leap back to “five days earlier,” I think it was, and a lot of the backstory unfolds there. Stories on TV do this all the time, and it typically doesn’t bother me. It’s the first time in a number years, I believe, that a book I’ve read has used this technique. It jarred me, but I accepted it. Then, the longer the “five days ago” went, the more I questioned starting with that scene.

One reason I kept reading, the incredibly fresh world Wolf has built here. A feudal society, but infused with magic and beasts at such level I would not consider it an alternate earth. Witches have long held magic here, and exist in great numbers. Wolf gives us races, some sentient and humanlike (Beneathers), others not (Valkerax). Among the variety comes one character to love, Malachite, the prince’s bodyguard. He’s a Beneather, making him a mighty foe even for a Heartless. He presents a layer of complexity for Zera, who could best take the prince’s heart if only she could get him alone, for she needs time to put it into the magical jar that will restore Lucien to life.

Zera is a Heartless, true enough, and her hate for herself rings loud and true. She despises what she must do, despises the darkness within. Wolf gives that hunger for warm flesh an eerie voice, rather like I imagine an evil split personality. You want one thing, the other personality wants another.

WhiCh pArt should wE eaT first? The hunger slithers around her, resting my eyes on her neck, her wrists—the most tender parts. YoUr soFt eyEs, or your soFt hEart?” (p. 285) This, for a girl who might be Zera’s only friend in the entire court; and worse, her ally. It’s horrible for Zera, wanting conflicting things so terribly.

Along the way, the cast of characters helps and hinders Zera. Someone must coach her be a lady, and that becomes Lady Y’Shennria’s role. Watching their relationship gave me as much delight as in watching Zera and Lucien. Wait, did I just use the word “watching?” You’ve got that right. Sure, I was reading, but Wolf painted this world, these characters, so descriptively I fell into the world. The story played out vividly before my mind’s eyes. I cringed, never knowing what side of Zera would win those moments she found herself alone, however briefly, with Lucien.

Lucien, too, developed as a character. Not nearly to the depth of Zera, but this is her story of loss, of love, of—I hoped—redemption; of their relationship together. That relationship has its own arc. I curse the book for ending with a cliffhanger, losing me in what will happen between them. Yes, Wolf brought Zera’s initial arc to a conclusion suitable for saying “the end,” but I’m never a fan of an author that sets such a strong hook for book 2 that you feel unsatisfied in the current book’s ending.

This book is a “must read” if you love YA fantasy and girls who carve out their place in the world. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, you’ll want book two now. Except Wolf’s not done with it!

Accolades

  • A Goodreads “YA Best Book of the Month”
  • An Amazon “Best Book of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy”

About the Author

Learn more about Sara Wolf at her website.

 

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Book Review: Winter

Winter, Marissa Meyer (Square Fish, 2015, Book 4 of The Lunar Chronicles, paperback, 827 pp.)

A hand holds up a red apple as if offering it

Cover of Winter

At the time of this review, the book holds a 4.8-star review on Amazon with 1,526 Reviews.

Science Fiction

Book Obtained By: Christmas present because I told my family I wanted the full series after reading the first book.

My Chocolate Rating on Scale of 5: 3 Reese’s Peanut-Butter Eggs, Hearts, or Trees (stick-to-your-ribs good)

From the back cover

“Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be, and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Winter, Marissa Meyer (Square Fish, 2015, Book 4 of The Lunar Chronicles, paperback, 827 pp.)

Marissa Meyer finishes the main arc of her Lunar Chronicles with this Snow White retelling, though she did write two other books that are part of the series (Fairest, about how Levana came to be the Evil Queen; and Stars Above, a collection of short stories). Just as with books 2 and 3, I recommend reading Winter after you’ve read all that came before. Meyer does spend a few paragraphs sprinkled throughout the opening to bring new readers up to speed on the characters, but there’s nothing like moving into the story immediately after you’ve read the others. Meyer does a fantastic job taking some of the hallmark details from each fairytale and sci-fying it up or giving it a fresh twist. I loved what she did with the poisoned apple; and being sci-fi, I expected where she’d take Winter in her  “deep sleep.” Waking her took way too long for my tastes not because the story bored me, but because Meyer needed to tie off all the big sub-plots that had spanned the series.

We’d seen Winter in previous books, but it’s this book that unveils the reason for her being the seemingly fragile character she is, and giving us the full picture now that we’re in her head. Jacin, a guard who took a small role in books 2 and 3, jumps into the fray in earnest in this book, leaving me no doubt at the depth of his love for this stepdaughter who, without glamour, outshines Levana. Their chemistry sings with the obstacles between them, not the least of whom is Levana herself. Because of his loyalty to Winter, I can never be sure who’s side he is on when the group’s aims (led by Cinder) could conflict with Winter’s safety. That’s the kind of tension I love, believable down to every nut and bolt.

Take the way Winter looks at the world, a mix of trust and worry and love. She does whatever makes sense to her. “She pressed the pads of her fingers onto the screen and it brightened, welcoming her. The doors began to open, creaking on ancient hinges. When Winter turned back, Scarlet was staring at her, aghast.
‘You do realize you just alerted the queen to where you are, right?’
Winter shrugged. ‘By the time she finds us, either we will have an army to protect us, or we will already have become meat and marrow and bone.’ ”  (p. 482)

And how Meyer deepens Winter’s connections to animals, on the sterile moon made livable under the domes? Creative, delightful, and heartbreaking, depending on the scene. Her wolf friend, Ryu, steals every scene.

Meyer doesn’t disappoint in working with the full cast, but it means the number of points of view (POV) bursts with supernova brilliance. Yet with each move, I feel that I’m in that character’s head without the dreaded whiplash some authors leave me feeling even as I lament the word choices that bump me out of the story—I’m a harsh critic when it comes to “saw,” “felt,” “heard,” and “smelled.”  The spread of the POV is a clever technique, because tension builds as we move from sub-plot to sub-plot, and they blast into the main storyline—that attempt to wrest power from Levana and return the “lost” princess Selene to her throne upon Luna.

This story, like the previous books, is as much Cinder’s as it is Winter’s. Because Meyer splits the cast up multiple times, then brings some together, then fractures others off, she keeps the pace humming along with that background dread—will each “princess” gain her happily ever after? Because, c’mon, what Meyer puts Wolf could break even an engineered soldier! The risks Jacin takes, and the times he decides to trust others?  And how about Kai? I mean, he’s basically Levana’s prisoner, and now that she’s got him on Luna, his being Emperor on earth means nothing. I thought Levana and her Thaumaturges were bad, but then Meyer introduced me to more of the nobles, oh, my!

I gave this book a lower star rating than the others because some parts of the story line felt artificial, more to draw out the conclusion or to make me better “feel” Lunar’s class schism, and how important it was for Cinder to break them from the stark life they’d been living, no better than the shells sentenced to death. It’s an author’s tough call, deciding how much of the story to tell. With 800 plus pages, Meyer tells a lot of story, and the cast grows to a thunderous size—after all, there are supposed to be seven dwarves who bring Snow White into their home, and tend her when she falls ill. Of the books, I connected least with these seven brothers because they did not stand out as those distinct personalities I so expect because of my Disney version of Snow White with Sleepy, Doc, Dopey, Grumpy. I did figure out Doc and Grumpy, but by that part of the book, I wanted it done. Which is the other reading for my lower rating: so many books, so little time, and when my mind finally says “this is dragging on,” the author has lost the deepest part of the reader-writer I am, no matter how inventive the society, the devices, the complications. Another reader with more time might give the book 5 stars because of the complexity and the way Meyer ties all those threads off, down to Winter’s weakness.

I do have the final two books of the Chronicles—Levana’s story and the short stories—but I’m happy with the conclusion of the four-book arc. I’ll read those other two, someday, but in the meantime I’m reading a YA author new to me, and the clock’s ticking with my library checkout:  Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf (a New York Times best-selling author). And I have so many other books sitting on my shelf, waiting for their turn.

About the Author

Learn more about Marissa Meyer at her website.

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