Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Rating: 
Author: Jenny Han
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: May 2017
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3

Netflix just announced that they will be making a sequel to All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so I decided to finish off the year with the final book in this trilogy. I loved the first book, and while I enjoyed the second book as well, I thought it was a bit unnecessary, so I wasn’t sure if I would read the third book or not, but I’m glad I did decide to finish off this series.

I had similar thoughts on this book as I had to the second book in that I still think the first book works as a standalone and is the strongest of the series, but I do think each book added something of value even though they weren’t really necessary. I actually kind of loved John Ambrose Mclaren in the second book (Yes, I still love Peter K) and I liked that Han explored Lara Jean’s relationships with both boys. Initially, I found the final book really frustrating because I thought Lara Jean kind of disappeared into her relationship with Peter, but it ended up kind of being the whole point of the book and I liked that it explored the struggles of heading off to college and balancing relationships with your own personal development.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is about Lara Jean’s final year of high school and making plans to go to college. Her and Peter are still in love, but in the wake of so many new decisions and the reality that life rarely goes the way we expect, they are forced to make some difficult decisions about their relationship and learn about the way they communicate with each other.

I don’t really know how to talk about the rest of the book without spoilers, but there are a few things I want to discuss, so I’d advise to stop reading here if you haven’t yet finished the series.

Like I said, initially I was really frustrated with Lara Jean in this book. She gets so caught up in her Dad’s wedding and in her and Peter having the perfect future that she makes some really poor decisions. I think this is totally realistic to how teenagers act, especially when they’re in love and being forced to make difficult decisions about their futures, but Lara Jean has always been so focused on her personal growth and achievements that I was disappointed to see her checking out on college. She doesn’t get into her dream college, so instead of embracing the change and her new school, she emotionally checks out on all things college related, despite her sister Margot advising her to make the most of her first year of college.

Lara Jean and Peter are in an impossible position because in all likelihood, they probably will eventually break up, but I liked the journey they went on together. When Lara Jean gets into a better college, she starts embracing the idea of change and the reality that her and Peter just won’t be able to see each other that much and that maybe transferring schools isn’t the right decision for her. Teenagers can be rash in their decisions, but I liked that she finally was able to prioritize her happiness as well as Peters. It’s easy to disappear in a relationship and as teenagers, they are really too young for either to be thinking about sacrificing college for the other. I also liked the dichotomy Han created between Margot’s decision to break up with Josh and Lara Jean’s decision to stay with Peter. Both women are right in their decision as there is no correct answer and each did what they thought best for them and their relationship. It’s a bit of a bittersweet ending, but I thought it was realistic.

While I only rated one of these books 4 stars, I still think this is a great series for teenagers. Lara Jean is quite unlike a lot of teen protagonists I’ve read and while I know some readers think she’s too immature, I think she is just right. As someone who was a bit of a goody-goody in high school and has a great relationship with her sister, I could really relate to Lara Jean and I loved how supportive her family was. Her sisters added so much to what could have been a vapid novel about teen love and I really liked how they always prioritized family and personal growth.

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Crown of Midnight

Rating: 
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pub Date: Aug. 2013 (first read May 2016)
Series: Throne of Glass Book #2

OMG, I knew Crown of Midnight was my favourite book, but this was even better than I remembered! There is so much action in this book and I was totally hooked from start to finish!

This was everything that was good about the first few books, multiplied by 10! The stakes are higher, relationships grow closer, and more secrets are uncovered. What mysterious evil is hiding in the depths of the castle? What is this new secret society? What is going on with Dorian? Will Chaol ever realize his feelings for Celaena? How did the King conquer the continent so quickly? What secrets is Celaena hiding about her past?

Crown of Midnight is just so juicy and dark! We get the sense from the start (of the series) that Celaena is running from something, keeping her secrets close to her chest, only looking out for herself and reluctant to be anyone’s hero. In this book she is forced to address some of her demons and finally make a stand for something. She secretly acts against the King in her own way, but Nehemia, Elena, and the rebels keep pushing her to be something more. When her whole world is torn apart in the middle of the book, she is forced to finally take an active role in discovering what the King has really been up to in the last 10 years.

While there’s still many unknowns about this world, we finally start getting some answers in this book about wyrdmarks, wyrdkeys, and wyrdgates. We get a glimpse into another type of magic and learn that magic may not be totally wiped from the continent after all. I loved the mystery element of this book and I thought it was a lot more compelling than the mystery of the first book, and frankly downright creepy (all those winding hallways, iron doors, and disembodied eyes give me the shivers).

I love the relationships in this book. I loved watching Celaena and Chaol’s relationship grow, and later Celaena and Dorian’s relationship. Plus I loved the friendship that grew between Celaena and Nehemia. I love that Celaena’s most important relationship is a friendship, I just wished both women were able to be more honest with one another. They both held their secrets so close to their chests. Although that said, I think Nehemia wanted to confide in Celaena, she just knew that Celaena wasn’t ready yet. Celaena does drive me a little bit bonkers sometimes though in that she makes some of the stupidest decisions (what she does at the climax of the novel is the biggest facepalm ever), but she was also grieving her friend and probably having PTSD flashbacks to what happened with Sam, so I guess it’s somewhat excusable.

I alluded to this in my review of the Throne of Glass, but I’m shocked to discover that my re-read has turned me into a Dorian lover! I never spared Dorian a thought in my first read of this series, but I actually love him in my re-read! Even more than Chaol, who I always loved before – I’m shocked! Granted Dorian is pretty mopey in the first part of this book, but omg he is such a good friend to Celaena, I can’t help but love him! I think I used to see him as a threat to Celaena and Chaol, but now I just see him for the caring prince that he is. We’ll see if this love carries through in the next book, but I am 100% aboard the Dorian fan-train! Side note though, can we talk about the fact that Celaena and Chaol are only actually together for 1 WEEK in this book?! I thought it was way longer than that, how tragic.

I am lamenting that I’m now finished the first 3 books (including prequel). I know that the series is going to change a lot going into Heir of Fire and that it becomes very different from what we experienced in the first few books. Heir of Fire is my least favourite book of the series. I remember it being so slow and just not caring about Manon at all. But now that I know where the series is going and actually like Manon, I’m interested to see what I think of this on the re-read. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was my least favourite Harry Potter book for many years, but when I re-read it later after finishing the series, I actually appreciated it a lot more, so I’m hoping that happens with HoF. Fingers crossed!

Throne of Glass

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pub Date: Aug. 2012 (first read May 2016)
Series: Throne of Glass Book #1

I am so into this series! I wondered if time might diminish my enjoyment, but Maas has totally sucked me right back into Erilea. I’m already 100 pages into Crown of Midnight and I can now confirm that these books make so much more sense having read The Assassin’s Blade first.

I can’t believe this first book was ever passed off as a Cinderella retelling. I didn’t know it was a loose Cinderella retelling when I first read it and upon the second reading I can say it had a ball that Celaena was forbidden to go to and went to anyways, and that’s about where the parallels end. But no matter because in my opinion this is classic YA fantasy. It’s an overdone trope, but I love that there’s a competition in the first book that poses as the main thread to the story, but is really only a introduction to the world building. It is obvious that there is something way more sinister at work in the castle than just the King’s Champion competition and I loved the mystery element of Celaena trying to uncover the truth.

Celaena bugged me a bit in my first read of Throne of Glass because she’s so obsessed with both her beauty and the beauty of others, but I’ve kind of accepted now that beauty is important to Celaena and that’s okay too, so I was able to let go of that hang up in my re-read. I struggled with how quickly she became interested in Dorian and Chaol though. After the traumatic ending of TAB, I thought she would be a little more hung up on Sam and I was sad to see that none of the drama from TAB was addressed in this book. (fortunately it seems it’s going to be addressed in Crown of Midnight though, so that’s good).

Celaena’s ego has always bothered me. We’re constantly told she’s the best at literally everything, yet it doesn’t really seem that way the number of times she’s gotten herself into scrapes. Now though, I kind of see how her ego is really her major character flaw. I appreciated the final showdown between her and Cain when she finally had to rely on other people – Elena, Nehemia, Chaol – to get her through the duel.

What I like most of Throne of Glass is that you can tell the story is just getting started and that there’s so much more to this world than what is presented in the first book. I love books with scope and depth and I think that’s one of the reasons why this series stands out among other YA fantasy series.

I also love the secondary characters. Nehemia, Dorian, and Chaol are all fantastic secondary characters and I love the depth that Maas brings to their characters. I was totally surprised by my second read through of this book though because I used to be a huge Chaol fan in the first few books and always kind of dismissed Dorian as a wealthy, spoiled, womanizer. But I loved Dorian in this re-read! He has been raised by a crazy, brutal, tyrant, yet he has so much empathy and kindness. He genuinely loves his kingdom and wants to work with other nations rather than rule them like his father.

It was a bit slow getting back into this book, but I totally flew through the second half and I know I am going to devour Crown of Midnight in a few days!

The Assassin’s Blade

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pub date: Mar. 2014 (first read Sept. 2016)
Series: Throne of Glass #0.5

I first picked up the Throne of Glass series about two years ago and flew through the first 4 books during the summer, before picking up Empire of Storms when it was released in Sept. 2016. I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was really young, like elementary school, and then moved on to reading a lot of young adult books in high school. I didn’t read a whole lot throughout University, because I was so busy with school, but I got more into historical fiction and general fiction when I graduated and started reading a lot again.

Throne of Glass was one of the first big fantasy series I picked up after graduating, but since reading this series, I have a read A LOT more fantasy series over the past two years. With the final book coming out in October, I decided I wanted to re-read this series again. Partly because I just really want to re-visit these characters, and partly because I’m curious if I will still like these books as much as I did on the first read through now that I’ve read so much other fantasy.

Interestingly enough, I didn’t get around to reading The Assassin’s Blade until after Empire of Storms, which is definitely not the ideal way to read the series as there are a ton of characters introduced in TAB that appear throughout the series. EoS definitely made a lot more sense once I finally read TAB.

So this time I decided to start with TAB since it is the prequel to the rest of the series. I was surprised I had rated this 4 stars originally because I was kind of remembering it as more of a 3-star read, but after re-reading it, I’m sticking with my 4 stars. The first 2 stories are probably 3 star reads, but the last 3 stories more than make up for it. (TAB is a compilation of 5 novellas set before ToG).

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord is a great introduction to the characters and the world of Erilea, but I do find Celaena pretty annoying in this novella. She has the biggest ego for someone who repeatedly makes mistakes and Sam picks up ALL of the slack for her in this story. I know most people don’t really like the Assassin and the Healer, but I think it’s actually a solid short story about two women bonding and looking out for each other. It doesn’t really add a lot to the book overall, but Yrene goes on to become pretty important to the story in Tower of Dawn, so it’s cool to see this little origin story for her here.

I think the Assassin and the Desert may actually be my favourite novella of the lot. I love Ansel’s character so much and I really loved watching Celaena make a female friend and how the silent assassins challenged her thoughts on how an assassin’s guild could operate. Arobynn has always led his assassins through fear, competition, and intimidation, so it was nice to see a group of people who (while they’re still killers) looked out for each other and created a real sense of community. I really enjoyed the arc of this story and I think that as a stand-alone novella, this is the strongest of the book.

That said, the Assassin and the Underworld and the Assassin and the Empire are the two stories that really dragged me into this world, set the stage for the rest of the series, and broke my freaking heart. I’ll say up front, I’m not a Sam groupie. I know a lot of people love Sam in this book, but I find him a little controlling. Arobynn is obviously all kinds of abusive and manipulative (like seriously, textbook abuser), and I know I’m supposed to love Sam because he threatens to kill Arobynn for hurting Celaena and made him promise not to hurt her again, but honestly Celaena can look out for herself and I didn’t like that Sam was emasculated by her money and wouldn’t let her help him on missions. He always wanted to be there for her, why couldn’t he let her be there for him too.

But I did really like the last two novellas because I thought they had some killer character development for Celaena and they provide SO MUCH context for later books. Not just for all the secondary characters, but for why she is able to be so ruthless and how much trauma she has been through. Knowing what I know from all the other books, there is just so much depth to her character. Celaena’s ego drives me nuts sometimes because in some of the later books it’s like she can do no wrong, but I would say in this book her cockiness is her character flaw and it’s what gets her into so much trouble, and ultimately destroys her.

The ending is brutal. If you read the books in the publication order, you know what’s coming at the end of this book, but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. I’m not sure if I would recommend reading this book first if you were reading the series for the first time, but having already read the series once, I think reading TAB first is the only way to read this series. I can’t wait to jump into Throne of Glass and just immerse myself in this series over the next 2 months!