My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins

Genres: Young Adult, Anthology, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: October 14th 2014

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“He says presents aren’t important, but I think they are – not because of how much they cost, but for the opportunity they provide to say I understand you.”

A collection of holiday-themed love stories by skilled and well-loved young adult authors.

A joy to read during the holiday season. My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of good and great love stories by some of my favourite young adult authors. It’s hard to pick a stand out, but the contributions by Holly Black, Stephanie Perkins, Jenny Han and Kiersten White brought me the most holiday cheer. That is a third of the book but it simply cannot be narrowed down.

Kelly Link’s story The Lady and the Fox was the weak spot for me. It left too many unanswered questions and didn’t feel as much like the holidays as the other stories did. It was also a little disappointing to see very little sexual diversity – but it’s impossible not to enjoy a book filled with so much happiness. Sometimes you need a good fluffy read, especially around the holidays.

There is potential in so many of the stories for continuation, for more chapters – but part of their charm is that they’re short. No story overstays its welcome. As far as anthologies go it was a lot stronger as a collective than most tend to be.It had a guiding theme and even the weak stories were not a trial to read. My only complaint is that I had to let go of some of the characters too soon when so much more could have been done.

A book full of love and holiday cheer – perfect for December.

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For Fans of: Anna and the French Kiss

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White Cat by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: May 4th 2010

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.”

Cassel has always felt like an outcast in his own home. For one, he’s the only member who isn’t a curse worker, he doesn’t have any powers at all. Also, he killed his best friend Lila a few years back. When a white cat starts to plague his dreams the memories of Lila begin to resurface and Cassel begins to question everything he knows about himself and his shady brothers.

As with any of Black’s books the real strong point in White Cat is worldbuilding. The novel takes place in a world where certain people are born “workers” – people with abilities to perform different kinds of magic. Black weaves society around the premise, politics, crime and even fashion all twist around the power of curse workers.

The mystery was a bit clumsy. Despite having a semi-unreliable narrator the book somehow always gave away enough that it was easy to know the outcomes before they happened. There was very little suspense and, in fact, it was on occasion frustrating to watch Cassel fail to string together the obvious conclusion. The story started with a strong premise and an interesting world but it felt almost wasted on the cast of characters and the eventual mystery that unravels.

The protagonist is sort of bland made more frustrating by the fact that Holly Black can and has written rich and interesting characters. The girl from his past is described as sort of a bully but so beautiful with different coloured eyes. She is just as boring. The rest of the characters are either bland or bland and unlikeable.

The concept is strong enough to save this book from being a total flop. The mystery is interesting, at times, despite its predictability. Aside from the characters and some terrible pacing problems – the chapters felt years long – it wasn’t terrible.

White Cat comes out solidly in the average pile for young adult fantasy while being on the lower end of Holly Black’s work.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Iron Cast

Valiant by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy (Urban Fantasy), Romance
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 31st 2005

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I like all the things that make you monstrous.”

Val can’t stay at home. She feels like a fool after what happened and she can’t bear to live with her mother. Running away takes her to New York city, where she finds a colourful group of vagrants to run with. They seem a little more than colourful though. When Val finally meets the man they’re all running deliveries for she realizes she might have gotten into something more magical than she expected.

There is a slight drop in quality from the first of the trilogy, but Valiant still has that gentle magic that Black bestows upon all her novels. While the romance feels weakly developed, the world, as always, feels full to the brim with deep roots. The mythology and history behind Black’s fairy world is so intriguing that the book can be forgiven for it’s other faults. Still it has to be acknowledge that the plot was choppy, skipping so many sections that we don’t really get a good feel for any of the relationships.  While the drug addiction to the magical “Nevermore” is well written some more serious issues are almost brushed off. The profanity is sometimes awkwardly thrown into sentences as well, it just feels out of character on some occasions where it’s used.

The support from the first novel, Tithe really holds this book up. Other than it’s fantastic look into faeries the books individual plot and characters are really satisfactory all on their own.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Tithe by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: October 1st 2002

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I thought weirdness was a good thing. I don’t mean that defensively, either. I thought it was something to be cultivated.”

Kaye has never had a very stable life. She travels city to city with her want-to-be rock star mother until circumstances force them back to her grandmother’s house, where she spent most of her childhood. Back in New Jersey Kaye finds out that her imaginary faerie friends weren’t so imaginary, and all of them are in a lot of trouble.

I did enjoy this book, but the main character was a bit off-putting. She had a very “not-like-other-girls” vibe, not only because she was raised poorly by her mother. Kaye is just not a particularly good friend or person. She’s strange, sneaky, self-indulgent and brave sure, but brave doesn’t make her at all likable. She’s maybe fifteen and thinks she knows the world, refusing her grandmother’s reasonable requests at every turn. In fact most of the main characters fail at being sympathetic so their plights didn’t really concern me. The main romance feels contrived and rushed.  The book seems quick to flit from one thing to another without looking at lasting damage or trauma events might have.

There is a lot that could have been done better (and had been done better by Black in later books) but the pure whimsicality of Black’s faeries and their world makes the book enjoyable. I want to know more about these faeries. Roiben, Spike, Lootie-loo and the others are fascinating. With more development given to that world and maybe characters outside of it the sequel could yet redeem the series.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Throne of Glass

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Stories, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Big Mouth House
Publication Date: February 9th 2010

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Books were something that happened to readers. Readers were the victims of books.”

From flowers that turn boys into wolves, wolves that turn into boys, books that come to life and girls whose touch can kill Holly Black writes twelve engaging modern fantasy stories easy for anyone to enjoy.

I have never read an author so adept at twisting fairies and unicorns into the world we live in, and on top of everything manages to write so many different and relatable characters from all walks of life with varying identity. Every story is written in a different style with vastly different characters. Happy and sad endings.

Anthologies tend to be tricky, there’s normally a few sour stories that make the bunch less appealing but all twelve of these short stories can hold their own. The way they connect with the worlds she creates in later books and even with each other is brilliant and it’s a worthwhile book for any Holly Black fan.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

Synopsis: Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?(source: Goodreads)

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

A brilliant blend of modern young adult and fantasy, Holly Black’s newest book is a thrilling adventure full of diverse characters. Featuring a strong female lead who manages to be strong without falling into the emotionless, unloving tough girl box a lot of writer’s pick from and several other character’s with appearances and traits that are normally suspiciously absent from fantasy novels.

Despite being about haunted woods and faeries the book delves into sexuality (both how the main character uses hers and briefly her brother discovering his) without making it seem shameful. It is a book about growing up, trust, bravery, devotion, magic and monsters.

While creating a solid setting full of rounded and interesting characters the novel also manages to explore the love not only between partner, but the love of siblings and parents as well. Hazel and Ben’s relationship is wonderfully written, managing to be both realistic and touching. Black writes her world and characters with a level of depth that is usually reserved for series and also manages to weave in a mystery that keeps you guessing  but also drops hints with brilliant foreshadowing.

It is a fairytale of modern times tied up tight with a bow. I was uncertain picking it up but from start to finish I had no regrets in reading this book.

READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 3rd 2013

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You are more dangerous than daybreak.” 

Coldtown is an eternal party, at least that’s what the feeds would have you believe. For years vampires have been kept inside its walls with humans desperate for never ending glamour. Tana was never like that. She had no interest in joining the bloody balls hosted beyond the gates but after a party she’s attending goes awry she may not have a choice.

A book so rich in world and characters that I often had to pause in reading for I feared I would finish too quickly and lose them. Holly Black has written another incredible urban fantasy piece filled with diversity including bisexual and trans characters in a genre they often seem absent from. The different character perspectives, the fully realized world and history all sew together one of the greatest books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. In a world filled with tired vampire stories, Black sparks life back into the undead.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THE HUNGER GAMES