Book Review: Paper Crowns

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Paper Crowns by Mirriam Neal

My Rating: Four Stars

Age Suggestion: 10+

The Book

Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

My Thoughts

This was a cute, innocent romp into the world of fantasy, and I loved it! It was such fun to read, and left me feeling happy and satisfied. So many books these days tend to drain my emotions or end unsatisfactorily, and this was a nice break from that.

The plot itself is relatively simple, and I mean that as a compliment. It was refreshing to enjoy a story that wasn’t convoluted or incredibly complex (as much as I love that kind of book too), where the plot was a straightforward good vs. evil with a bit of magic thrown in. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with simplicity, nothing wrong with books that don’t attempt to tackle the problems of the world, and rather just give us a good story.

That’s not to say that there weren’t unique elements. I don’t know that I’ve ever before read a fantasy novel where the core group of questers (is that a word…I don’t know…) included a small petulant child and a really cute dog. So that made for some really interesting dynamics in the group as things went along.

The best part of this book was definitely, without a doubt, the dialogue! It’s funny and touching and kept me interested the whole time. And Mirriam is not afraid to layer the sass and bantering on thick! Often I read books that have a little bit of banter and then it’s not enough and I’m left wanting more, maybe because the author was afraid of overdoing it. Paper Crowns has just enough. It’s not forced and it all flows well with the story and the characters. It makes it more realistic too – because even on a dangerous quest, a regular group of people isn’t going to be solemn and single-minded the whole time. There will be little annoyances and quibbles and teasing and laughter. And she captured that so well.

Hal is the best. *tapes my mouth shut* *talks about Hal for twenty minutes, but luckily you can’t understand any of it because there’s tape on my mouth and SPOILERS*

Ginger herself was such a refreshing main character! She was sarcastic and independent without being the kind of stereotypical “tough girl” that gets on my nerves. There was a feminine side to her, a vulnerable side, the side that likes to buy pretty craft paper and fold it into birds and flowers. It was a beautiful balance that I really appreciated.

And the cast of supporting characters was unique and well-rounded, each one adding something to the story. The only one that I didn’t really feel was unique enough was Azrael, even though I loved him, because he and Hal were a little too similar for me. But overall, every character was great, entertaining, with a good role in the story.

*Content Warnings*

No language. Romance has some kissing but is all completely sweet and clean. There is a villain, with some violence including a few deaths and a climactic final battle; a few of the unsavory characters are a bit on the creepy side as well. But nothing is overly graphic at all, and it still retains a very innocent feel. This is a book I will definitely be giving to my younger sisters to read.

Basically, this is the kind of clean, sweet, innocently entertaining book that is so hard to find nowadays; it has high stakes that keep it interesting, but all with a light fairy-taleish feel. Mirriam’s writing is fantastic and I have a feeling this is a book I will often reread! I highly recommend it to anyone who looks fantasy, fairy tales, or just clean, good books. It’s great if you have younger siblings who need book recommendations too!

What do you think? Have you read Paper Crowns? If so, did you like it? If not, will you read it now? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Read more:

Heartless: Wonderland As You’ve Never Seen It Before

La La Land: Old-School Movie Magic

7 Childhood Books I Still Love

Heartless: Wonderland As You’ve Never Seen It Before

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: Four And a Half Stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

The Book

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

My Thoughts

I absolutely LOVED this book!! I know some people have mixed feelings on it, and maybe it’s not quite as good as the Lunar Chronicles (which were just…beyond five stars and into the galaxy), but I loved it nonetheless.

I’ve read some reviews where people were upset about how the whole plot is basically Cath trying to avoid marrying the king. I get why they might not like that, but here’s the thing: not every book has to feature female heroines a la Katniss Everdeen and Tris, who go out and do karate and fight the evil government and wear leather jackets and intimidate everyone. This is not an action novel – it’s essentially a romance novel. And I get that people might not have been expecting that after the Lunar Chronicles, but this book isn’t the Lunar Chronicles. It’s a different kind of story, and that’s okay.

One reason I think I didn’t mind the slower pace is because I do really enjoy character-driven stories. And the characters in this story were all very interesting, some very frustrating, and they were enough to keep me invested in the story even when there wasn’t a lot of action going on.

To the people who complained that Cath was whiny: I don’t think she was that whiny, honestly, compared to some female characters I’ve read. (Whiny characters are a huge pet peeve of mine, and she didn’t bother me, which is saying something.) She was genuinely in a very tricky situation, too. She’s being forced to marry someone who will never make her happy – just because it’s not life-threatening doesn’t mean it’s not conflict.

Who was my favorite character, you ask? Jest. Of course. He’s honestly one of my favorite love interests I’ve ever read, fun but serious, unique, charming, and…ugh. So good.

The rest of the cast was so interesting too. I loved Margaret and the Duke…that little subplot was really cute and added so much to the story. Hatta was intriguing as well, and the Raven’s quoting was so great!

Honestly, I think my favorite thing about the book is just the way everything came together at the end and created the Queen of Hearts that we are familiar with. It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything, but the way the details are woven together is SO satisfying.

Satisfying, but in a bit of a heartbroken way. Just be warned…it’s not a happy book, which you probably could have guessed from the subject. I finished reading it at lunch at school and thank goodness I was with friends who even vaguely understood what I was feeling…

*Content Warnings*

No language.

The romance, while pretty much clean, is definitely on the more mature side with quite a bit of kissing, which I think would be better for ages 13-14 or so and up (depending on what you’re comfortable with).

There are some pretty intense action scenes, especially near the end, that might disturb younger readers.

 

Overall, I loved this book! I think that, while different from the Lunar Chronicles, it’s another fabulous read by Marissa Meyer that will definitely make it to my list of favorites for the year. Highly recommended if you like Alice in Wonderland, fantasy, or romance!

What do you think? Have you read Heartless? If so, did you like it? If not, will you read it now? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Read more:

Book Review: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Book Review: The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

Book Review: The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

The Broken Way: Finding Beauty in Brokenness and Suffering

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The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

My Rating: Five Stars

Age Suggestion: 12+

The Book

What if you really want to live abundantly before it’s too late? What do you do if you really want to know abundant wholeness? This is the one begging question that’s behind every single aspect of our lives.

This one’s for the lovers and the sufferers. For those whose hopes and dreams and love grew so large it broke their willing hearts. This one’s for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness.  You could be one of the Beloved who is broken — and still lets yourself be loved.

You could be one of them, one who believes freedom can be found not only beyond the fear and pain, but actually  within it.

You could discover and trust this broken way — the way to not be afraid of broken things.

(from Amazon with edits)

My Thoughts

This book is, to put it simply, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

I bought it a while back when I was at Barnes and Noble, and had put it at the end of my stack of books waiting to be read. But one day when I was having a particularly bad day, I needed something to encourage me and grabbed this book off the shelf. Wow, was it exactly what I was looking for.

The Broken Way is a raw, deeply personal, beautifully reflective exploration of how to navigate suffering as a Christian, and if you are going through something right now this book will absolutely speak to your soul. I cannot recommend it enough for those of you who are undergoing suffering of your own.

Even if you aren’t going through suffering, still read it! It addresses both the big suffering and the little, everyday stresses and worries that bother us all, giving a way to get through the general imperfection of life.

Ann Voskamp is one of the most talented writers alive today, and reading her writing is a unique experience unlike anything else. There were so many moments where I had to stop and read a phrase out loud to myself, slowly, and reflect on it before reading on, because it hit me so hard.

I have a feeling this will be one of my most-read, battered, scribbled-in-the-margins books in the years to come. It’s the kind of book that will change your life if you let it, the kind of book that every Christian should read and re-read and savor and live by.

Favorite Quotes (for just a taste of the beauty) 

“Blessed are those who are sad, who mourn, who feel the loss of what they love – because they will be held by the One who loves them. There is a strange and aching happiness only the hurting know – for they shall be held.” (18)

“So then as long as thanks was possible, then joy was always possible. The holy grail of joy was not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here, in the messy, piercing ache of now.” (29)

“Your life is unwreckable. Because Christ’s love is unstoppable. What seems to be undoing you can ultimately remake you.” (146)

“Feelings are meant to be fully felt and then fully surrendered to God. The word emotion comes from the Latin for ‘movement’ – and all feelings are meant to move you toward God.” (182)

“Jesus comes to give you freely through His passion what every other god forces you to try to get through performance…How can I not ache with a grateful love for a compassion like this? And how could His compassion for me not compel me to give His compassion to the aching?” (228)

 

What do you think? Have you read The Broken Way? If so, did you love it as much as I did? If not, will you read it now? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Read More:

Check out my Facebook page for a mini-review of Beauty and the Beast.

8 Books Every Christian Teen Should Read

Book Review: Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

Book Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Book Review: Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard

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My Rating: Three Stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

I wasn’t planning to do a review of these books, instead just exploring my general thoughts about them in my post from last Saturday, Writing for Building Up (or, I’m Tired of Depressing Stories).

I didn’t have anything else to post on today, though, and I thought it might be good to put up a separate review of these books since they’re so popular right now.

The Books

Red Queen: The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Glass Sword: Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat.

(from Goodreads with a few edits)

What I Liked 

There are some great supporting characters in these books. I said in my review of Red Queen on Goodreads that I didn’t like Farley, but I got over that fast and she became one of my favorite characters, along with Shade. And my favoritest character of ever that I thought was great and then…*sob* If you want more details about this character and don’t mind spoilers, that’s the spoiler section on my Goodreads review, so you can check that out.

The worldbuilding was very good, I thought, although a map would have been very helpful since by the end of Glass Sword I was very confused about all of the places they were going. But the fact that the world needed a map speaks well about its development and complexity. Also, I felt like we got a lot of information about the culture and setting without any info-dumping, which was nice.

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the writing, when compared to a lot of YA I’ve read. It was a bit of a different style, which was nice.

These books gripped me and kept my interest; I got through them much faster than Divergent, which definitely makes me like them better.

And the emotions…not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s a thing that happened so I’ll just mention it here.

What I Didn’t Like

I COULD NOT STAND MARE. She was a whiny, entitled, self-centered brat and then wandered around pitifully asking why she always pushed away all of her friends and no one liked her anymore. Hmm…you’re being a brat, so why would they still want to be friends with you? Maybe stop whining and just be a nicer person? And then at the end, she wouldn’t take anyone’s advice, and her internal monologue can be summed up as”I can’t believe they’re saying this to me again, I know it’s right but I’m just going to ignore it anyway and keep acting the same way”. Not a fan.

Ahem.

I really try to be professional in my reviews.

The other thing with Mare is that it took me a while at the beginning of the book to figure out if she was a girl or a boy. It wasn’t obvious. I thought she was a boy, which I didn’t appreciate when I finally realized she was a girl.

The endings of both books. The first one left me shocked and upset, and the second one left me a bit confused. I can’t say more because of spoilers.

Content

These books are not light and fluffy. There is violence, a lot of it, and some pretty disturbing elements too. Torture and murder and superpowers…it isn’t pretty.

As for inappropriate content, there is romance in both books, with some implied stuff especially in the second book, but not really anything super inappropriate, so that was good.

Overall Thoughts

Again, everything I talked about last week applies here. So far, these books don’t really pass the Philippians 4:8 test. It’s a lot of violence and selfish people doing selfish things, which, again, left me emotionally drained and frustrated.

I did like them better than Divergent, hence the three-star rating instead of two, but it’s still a pretty low three stars. I don’t know if I’ll read the final book when it comes out; I would like to, but I won’t be making a huge effort to get a hold of it and I might just forget. We’ll see.

What do you think? Have you read Red Queen and Glass Sword? Did you like them? Did you agree with what I said? Why or why not?

love, grace

Book Review: The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

Hi guys! I’m back from my blogging hiatus! Regular Mon/Wed/Sat posts will begin again from now until school starts, after which we’ll go back to a twice-a-week schedule which I have yet to decide on. I’m all rested up and it’s so exciting to finally come back to the blog full of new ideas and motivation!

This is a review that I started drafting before my hiatus. I really want to post it, even though it’s been a while, because I have some pretty strong opinions on this series 😉 Enjoy!

My Rating: Two stars

Age Suggestion: 14+

Divergent is another one of those popular trilogies that I didn’t read until several years after they came out. That tends to happen a lot. I’d been hearing about this series for a long time, and finally bought a copy of the first book (last summer??) that I got around to reading recently. (What can I say? I have a large to-be-read pile.)

I liked some things, and really didn’t like others, as is usually the case with popular YA fiction, so this review may be long. Buckle your seatbelts.

The Books

Beatrice Prior lives in a dystopian Chicago society where everyone is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue. When she comes of age, she must choose the faction she will live with for the rest of her life, choosing to stay with her family or desert them for somewhere new. As she goes through initiation with the Dauntless Faction, she learns that she has a great secret, one that could mean her death.

Unrest increases, as one tyrannical leader after another tries to take over the city, which seems to be plummeting toward all-out war. But as Tris discovers more people like her, she learns that not everything is what it seems…and that the world outside the city walls is not as desolate as she thought.

What I Liked

The overall concepts of this series are really cool. As soon as I started reading the first book, the idea of factions fascinated me; I was curious to learn more about the lifestyles of each faction and thought they were really well-developed. The concept of blaming human nature on genetic damage, while definitely not Biblical (and false in the books as well, I might add), is a really interesting idea.

I enjoyed the first book quite a lot until the final section with the simulation and massacre. Reading about her transition into Dauntless, the initiation, and all of that was fun and kept me engaged in the story the whole time. I only bought the first book, and I don’t regret it; if you stop before the greater conflict begins, the whole initiation process is a great story in itself.

The villain figures in the novels are very interesting because they are not purely good or evil. All of them have mixed motivations and can be confusing at times, making them some of the best characters.

Finally, there’s this amazing quote about love in Allegiant that made me so happy (finally someone is representing love slightly accurately in a YA novel!):

“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”

While I don’t agree with Veronica Roth’s portrayal of their relationship in many other ways, this quote was just..gold.

What I Didn’t Like

The first, and most major problem I have with these books, is something that I’m going to discuss in greater detail in an upcoming post. They are so depressing. They left me feeling drained, sad, and an emotional mess. And while sometimes I don’t mind that, there was no beauty or depth anywhere to redeem the ugly parts.

I didn’t like Tris much. She was so similar to many other YA main characters I’ve read about…tough, sarcastic, whiny…I would really appreciate some kind, feminine, selfless main characters that could actually be role models for me.

While I liked the first book, the second and third books were not nearly as gripping or interesting. The second book especially took me a very long time to get through, and by the third book I was really tired of the “oh no, we just got rid of a corrupt government and now we have another corrupt government” pattern. There were, let me see, three or four different government corruption issues during the series? It got old.

In the first book, I felt like Dauntless was glorified a little too much. They are the brave, violent, physical faction. Abnegation, on the other hand, the selfless faction, was put down. That bothered me. (To be fair, I later read an interview with Veronica Roth where she said Abnegation was her favorite faction, but that really didn’t come through in the books.)

While the first two books are entirely from Tris’s perspective, the third book has Tris and Tobias’ perspective. That was jolting. Tobias had not been developed nearly enough in the earlier books to have his own unique voice, and so I constantly found myself not realizing it was from his perspective and getting confused when Tris was talked about in the third person. It pulled me out of the story, which I really don’t like.

I did not agree with the ending. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but it wasn’t okay to end the series that way. See my aforementioned issue with Tobias not being developed enough until book 3, and the first paragraph about depressing books.

The bordering-on-inappropriate scene with Tris and Four…excuse me, did Tris really say that was “right”? You’re not married, guys…nope…Also, there was a homosexual character who was just casually presented that way. It wasn’t even a big deal, just another character trait. Roth professes to be a Christian too. Hm.

Content

A couple of the issues I mentioned above were related to this, so I won’t repeat those here. Overall, if Roth is a Christian, I don’t think she did a good job expressing that through her writing.

There is a lot of violence in these books. They are intense, cruel, and sometimes disturbing, which definitely contributed to how drained I felt after reading them. If you are very sensitive to violence, stay away.

There was never anything graphically inappropriate, but like I mentioned before, a few parts bordered on that. And there was definitely quite a bit of swearing. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend these for people under 14 or so, and anyone who’s particularly sensitive.

Overall Thoughts

The only reason I’m glad I read these books is to practice my reviewing skills and pulling out exactly what I liked and didn’t like about a series. They weren’t encouraging or helpful in any way and they left me kind of depressed, like I said before.

That is not the purpose of writing or the purpose of reading. More coming on this later, but I’m realizing that I really can’t recommend anything that is not edifying and good for building up. It’s in the title of my blog, after all…

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” -Philippians 4:8

I think I’m going to start more seriously seeking out books that fulfill the requirements of this verse, and this series definitely didn’t.

If you’re still with me after all of that, have an Olympic medal. You can unbuckle your seatbelt now, but you might want to put it back on if you decide to read these books.

What do you think? Have you read Divergent? If so, do you agree with my review? Why or why not? If you haven’t, do you think you will ever read it? 

love, grace

P.S. If you’re looking for an upbuilding series of books, try The Mysterious Benedict Society. It has everything that Divergent doesn’t; unique characters, interesting plot, hope, beauty, and redemption. Such a contrast. Reading Divergent made me love Benedict Society all the more!