Reviews are so subjective. You need to take into consideration my life experiences and the time in my life when I read said books. You may have loved / hated some of these books, and in no way my opinions are meant to offend or hurt you.
That said, here are the books I've read so far this year and my reviews as seen on Goodreads!
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Rating: 5 stars
I don't know how Neil Gaiman does this (and by 'this' I mean magic), but the way he plays with words and builds stories... It's not normal. It's magic. It has to be.
What I liked about The Graveyard Book:
1) We see Bod grow up. We first meet him when he's a baby, and we leave him when he's fifteen. I can't remember seeing that in any middle grade / young adult book. The Harry Potter series, for example, follows Harry's growth through seven books (each representing a year in his life). But, the Graveyard Book manages to compress a bit more than a decade of the main character's life into one book, and you'd think something like that would have felt rushed, but it surprisingly wasn't. The pace was very well crafted. It's Neil Gaiman's writing we're talking about, after all.
2) Bod changes, as anyone getting older would, but deep inside he still holds the same wonder and curiosity, and it made me think of old dreams, childhood dreams that have lingered with me ever since I was a child.
3) Bod's story is a horror story. Things can go badly, even thought this is a children's book at heart. I feared for him. I still do.
This is a book you must read.
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (Mouse Guard #1) by David Petersen
Rating: 4 stars
I read it in one sitting, and I'm glad I did. It was so long ago when I last read a graphic novel... I need to add some more to my collection. Mouse Guard is so mesmerizing. Their underground, resourceful, hidden world reminded me a lot of GNOMES by Wil Huygen. There's a lot of action going on here, and not a lot of chance to breathe in between threats, so I guess that's why I'm not giving it five stars. In general, though, I loved it and I strongly recommend it.
The Wrath & the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh
Rating: 2 stars
The book wasn't for me. I can't judge its merit as a retelling, because I've never read the original Arabian Nights tales, so I'll just focus on the story Renee Ahdieh gives us.
I've seen this book's relationship described as "dysfunctional", but that's an understatement. You may have loved it and seen it differently, but what I saw was:
The love story at its core is of domestic abuse, and the main character (Shahrzad) wants to avenge her dead best friend, who died at the hands of the romantic interest (Khalid).
What upset me the most as a reader was that despite Khalid's own guilt for killing all his other wives, the story constantly tries to justify, excuse, and transfer his blame to 1) his sad childhood, 2) a curse, 3) his "royal" responsibility for his people. The sad father of his first wife literally puts a spell on him and says he has to kill every single wife he has, otherwise he'll lose his city, his people, and that's what he does, over and over again, until he meets Shahrzad. It seems there's something special about her. Something that keeps her from being executed (the others before her, I suppose, were just not good enough for him, unworthy of a second thought). Soon enough, although not before he rapes her, he's in love with her, and she's beginning to fall for him, too. He ignores the curse from henceforth.
If you're still confused, ask yourself the question, under what circumstance would you rape / kill someone if it meant saving other people's lives? Would you do it if a wizard put a spell on you and said your citizens will die if you don't rape 100 other people? If your answer is yes, then I suppose you could just disregard the rest of my review.
I've seen many people complain that the reason why they disliked the book was Shahrzad's change of heart and her many failed opportunities to kill Khalid. I honestly found myself getting angrier and angrier at her, but I realized the only one I should be angry at is Khalid. Shahrzad is a victim. She walks into this marriage with a purpose, and slowly finds herself lost and in a constant struggle with her own feelings. Although not willing to forgive and forget, Shahrzad wants to move on. It's not up to me (or anyone else) to question the heart of a victim in a highly stressful, PTSD-inducing circumstance as Shahrzad's constant fear of being executed at dawn. She had a cord around her neck once. Her new husband is a murderer and he's unstable, prone to aggressive outbursts, and he could just change his mind as quickly as he fell for her.
What offended me as a reader was the many times Shahrzad hears from others that all Khalid needs is for her to love him. Although phrased differently, she hears that it's up to her, it seems, to save him. She hears that love is the key to changing this boy with a sad past and so much potential. NO! It worries me that anyone in any physically / psychologically abusive relationship reading this story would suddenly worry that they're at fault for wanting a better life. Khalid can't redeem himself through Shahrzad's love, and it's absolutely NOT her responsibility to save him.
It applies to anyone and everyone in abusive relationships, but I'll just say that I'm tired and saddened by stories that perpetuate the belief that women need to save abusive men.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen
Rating: 3 stars
I don't think the book was for me. The writing was superb--that said, the book felt like a first draft. It was confusing at times. It contradicted itself a few times, too. I got the feeling the author didn't know where the story was going most of the time. Still, the writing style kept me going. Cat Hellisen's writing is beautiful. If the book had started around chapter ten, and had the story been told from Alan's perspective (he was in my opinion a far more interesting character, and when he wasn't in a scene I kept wondering what he was up to), I feel like I'd have liked it more.
The Dark Hills Divide (The Land of Elyon #1) by Patrick Carman
Rating: 1 star
I don't even know where to begin... I didn't like the book. I actually gave up on finishing it a few times, but I'd read so much of it already that it didn't feel right to just abandon the story. I picked it up again last week, and today I finally finished it.
You know, I'm actually a little disappointed, because Patrick Carman's writing (when it comes down to describing nature and architecture) is really good and vivid, but the plot and character development were a huge mess.
Some of the reasons why I'm giving the book one star.
1) Alexa (the MC) doesn't sound her age. She's supposed to be twelve, but throughout the whole book she sounded like a middle-aged man to me. Some kids can be very formal, true, but Alexa at times just didn't sound like a real person at all. She was a character in a book. And I hate it when I read a book and see only words, as opposed to a person coming through the narrative. Think of Harry Potter, for example. As a kid (and still as an adult) I could almost believe he was a real wizard boy out there in the world. Alexa to me felt like nothing more than ink on paper.
2) The women are gone. Where are the women in this book? Her mother is nothing more than a stilted voice in a letter. Warvold's wife is dead. The only woman we see is a cook who shows up holding a sauce pan. The scenes where Alexa admires the men in her life (her father and his co-workers) were cheesy and made her sound, again, like a middle-aged man. She watches them smoke and discuss politics. I could almost hear Rose (Titanic) saying: "Now they will retreat into a cloud of smoke and congratulate each other on being masters of the universe." Alexa reminded me of something my grandfather told me once. He said that when he was a little boy he wore shorts and wanted to wear pants one day. Alexa admires these men's meetings, and there's always a hint in the narrative that one day she'll be one of them.
3) The villainous character is a grown man called Pervis who picks on a little girl. Alexa mentioned in the book once that she was afraid he'd come into her room in the middle of the night to go through her things. Pervis once asked her whether she ever had kissed a boy before. SERIOUSLY?! I cringed every time I read their interactions, because I got the feeling the author didn't mean to make Pervis sound like a pervert, which then made me think that either the author doesn't understand what it means to write from a girl's perspective, or perhaps Alexa just wasn't a girl at all, she was a middle-aged man in disguise.
4) There's a character with dwarfism in the story. He's called Yipes after a mythical creature. When he first appears in the story, he was described in such a manner that made me think at first that he was a gnome or a leprechaun. My jaw dropped when I realized he was a man. He's picked up and hugged and swirled around many times like an animal. I was appalled, and, yet again I don't think the author realized how offensive it all sounded, even though Yipes was one of Alexa's friends.
5) The way the author described the "convicts" was dehumanizing in SO MANY WAYS. They're called stupid, vile, lazy, and whatnot. They were branded, forced into hard labor to build a stupid WALL, and then they're sent back to a crowded prison, and then they're released into the wild, and then they live and die underground, and all they want is a chance to get in the walled city to live normal lives--instead, they're beaten (the MC, in fact, inflicts pain on a couple), and traded like cattle between cities, and in the end the few who survived are "rehabilitated". UGHHHHHHHHHH! I was rooting for them. They lost terribly.
My list just goes on an on. I know some people like this book, but it offered me such a disheartening experience that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Midnight without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson
Rating: 5 stars
This is a book I knew I'd love from the beginning, and now that I'm done reading it, I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint. In fact, it mesmerized and awed me. Linda Jackson's writing is vivid, raw, and naturally literary... I must confess I cried a few times.
The main character (Rosa--or Rose--Lee Carter) is a young black girl experiencing growing up in 1950s Mississippi. Her life is tremendously difficult, and still she is willing to fight and to approach everything with curiosity. Her struggle and determination (despite the prejudice and hatred that constantly threaten her, her family, and friends) inspire me.
MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON has the potential to join the literary canon of our time and is a must read. It's needless to say I recommend it.