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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Book Review: Cress

Cress, Marissa Meyer (Square Fish, 2014, Book 3 of The Lunar Chronicles)

A long braid, twined with ribbon, spirals around an arm, and continues its snaking way across the floor

Cover of Cress

550 pp. At the time of this review the book holds a 4.8-star review on Amazon with 1837 Reviews. Extras include Marissa Meyer interviewing Mary Weber and a teaser chapter of Fairest, the “add-on” book expanding the Lunar Chronicles to include the story of Queen Levana as a child.

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: 4 Ghirardelli Salty Caramels (just shy of perfection)

From the back cover

“Cress, having risked everything to warn Cinder of Queen Levana’s evil plan, has a slight problem. She’s been imprisoned on a satellite since childhood and has only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress involving Cinder, Captain Thorne, Scarlet, and Wolf goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.”

Spoiler-Free Review

Cress, Marissa Meyer (Square Fish, 2014, Book 3 of The Lunar Chronicles)

Marissa Meyer continues her Lunar Chronicles with book three of a four-part series. Just as with book 2, I say that Cress should be read after Scarlet. A reader who has fully embedded in this series mashing science-fiction and fairytale will already be invested in the characters, know them, and be less confused as the cast blossom delightfully. Meyer ties together threads across the novels, revealing the deeper parts each character plays in this story of Queen Levana’s attempt to dominate Earth the way she has done on Luna. An existing series reader will also be able to bounce across the eight or so point of views.

Retelling Rapunzel, Meyer makes the same creative leaps of books one and two, never disappointing me at how the characters arrive at those how-will-they-get-out-of-this-mess catastrophes, and more importantly, how they’ll get themselves out of them.

In Scarlet, we learned more about the rakish Captain Thorne who had been a secondary character introduced at the tail-end of Cinder. Now in Cress, as a mostly invested team member, we’ll learn more about him through Cress’s research. Because she’d been tasked to find Cinder, Cress had found images of Thorne. Captive in her satellite, Cress has turned him in a poster-boy hero, whose actions, she’s sure, have been misunderstood by everyone except for her. “Cress had continued to dig, entranced by his path of self-destruction. Like watching an asteroid collision, she couldn’t look away.

“But then, strange anomalies had begun to creep up in her research.

“Age eight. The city of Los Angeles spent four days in panic after a rare Sumatran tiger escaped from the zoo. … He later told the authorities that the tiger had looked sad locked up like that, and that he didn’t regret it.” (page 28)

Cress’s image of him makes the meeting of these two characters delightful, as his history of past and current law-breaking escapades collides with her certainty that a handsome man equals a heroic man. Because of how she sees him, she makes me yearn for him to be that better man.

This story, like the previous book, is as much Cinder’s as it is Cress’s. And, like the previous books, we see from Cress’s prince’s eyes the same as we have of the love interests for Cinder and Scarlet. This deepens the tension, especially when that character reveals knowledge the other key characters don’t know. Knowing Levana’s actions magnifies the need to resolve the question for me—will all of these characters reach a happily every after? Being a retelling, Meyer does not have to do that for the storylines.

Meyer also introduces us to the Earth’s Middle East, moving the action through twists and turns of motivations, counter motivations, pretend motivations, and, of course, the fairytale’s story line. Meyer’s art as a storyteller grows; but this time, in a few places, the pace did lag. Or maybe it was because I had too many obligations tearing me from the book, and I found this one easier to put down than Scarlet.

Because I’ve fallen so far behind in my reviews, I can’t give my usual depth of review. I can say that Meyer’s world deepens with each novel as she embeds fresh details that help us understand the history between the worlds, on the worlds.

Stay tuned for my review of the final book in the series (not counting the add-ons of a short story collection and Lavana’s own novel, neither of which I’ve read yet), Winter, in another few days.

Accolades

  • #New York Times- and USA Today-Bestseller
  • A Kids Indie Next Top Ten Title

About the Author

Learn more about Marissa Meyer at her website.

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