Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Review: Shadow Kiss, by Richelle Mead (First Review for the 2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge)

Here's my first review for this AWESOME challenge,
hosted by Evie @ Bookish Lifestyle!

For the rules and a list of 
participating blogs,
Just click on the link above!

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so be sure to check out
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Shadow Kiss
(Vampire Academy, Book 3)
Richelle Mead
Library Binding,, 443 pages
Razorbill, November 13, 2008
Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy, YA
Source: Amazon

Book Synopsis:

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth's magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires - the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

Rose knows it is forbidden to love another guardian. Her best friend, Lissa - the last Dragomir princess - must always come first. Unfortunately, when it comes to gorgeous Dimitri Belikov, some rules are meant to be broken...

Then a strange darkness begins to grow in Rose's mind, and ghostly shadows warn of a terrible evil drawing nearer to the Academy's iron gates. The immortal undead are closing in, and they want vengeance for the lives Rose has stolen. In a heart-stopping battle to rival her worst nightmares, Rose will have to choose between life, love, and the two people who matter most... but will her choice mean that only one can survive?

I have just finished reading the third book in this series that I've had in my TBR for years now....  I can't for the life of me understand what took me SO long to start reading it! This book has left me in a state of....not shock, exactly. I guess I would have to use the word "awe". Richelle Mead KNOWS how to tell a rocking GOOD story! 

It's not just that her writing flows as smoothly as it does, even though it's simple -- nothing too complicated, no abundant literary similes or metaphors. Just plain, hard-hitting prose, the kind that gets right to the point, the kind that tells you the bare necessities. It's also the kind that gets the reader right into the action. It's vivid, however, viscerally vivid. And it does what Mead intends it to do -- keep the reader feverishly turning pages.

I normally prefer more poetic prose, but in these novels, Mead's sparse style works very well, not only because of the intensity of the story, but also because it goes right along with Rose's snarkiness.

But, as I stated above, it's not just the prose. It's the fact that Mead's characters BREATHE. It's the fact that they leap off the page and become so very real, you'd swear they are indeed in the real world. These fictional people are wonderfully flawed, full of raw emotions, and they care so much for each other, it's palpable. You, the reader, are there, at St. Vladimir's Academy. You are going through everything the characters are going through, feeling it all, as if you were also a student at the academy, a guardian, a teacher.... It's very strong. It's addictive. It's the stuff of literary magic....

The most vivid character in the entire series is Rose Hathaway, which is fitting, since she's the narrator. That doesn't mean that the other important characters aren't vivid, as well. Princess Vasilissa Dragomir, Rose's best friend, and the Moroi she is supposed to protect, is very vividly drawn, too. However, Rose is a very emotional, strong, heroic character whose snarky wit and talent for trouble hide a noble heart (pardon the cheesiness, but it's true). She is brash, adventurous, bold, and not one to take setbacks meekly. She always speaks her mind, to friend or foe. Yet, she is also full of insecurities, and is vulnerable to enemies when her friends' lives are on the line.

For Christmas this year, I want Santa to let me be Rose Hathaway for a day.

Then there's Dimitri, Rose's secret  crush, whom she can't help but love, even though it's forbidden. Like Rose, he's a Dhampir, and also her mentor, since the first book. He is just as great a character as Rose, although the reader doesn't know his innermost thoughts, as Rose's are known. This man is not only gorgeous, but brave, intelligent, sensitive, and passionate. As Rose's teacher, he attempts to control and hide his own attraction to her, even as he continues to work with her in order to perfect her  battle skills. Finally, in this book, he admits to this attraction. It's because he admires Rose just as much as he loves her.

This brings me to their relationship. Even before Rose and Dimitri at last became romantically involved, they had a great teacher-student relationship. Dhampirs are the guardians of the Moroi, and are trained for years so that they can perform this duty at all times. After all, as their saying goes, "They come first" -- the Moroi. Guardians can be male or female, and the training is the same for both sexes. No holding back any punches. 

So Dimitri never expects from Rose anything that he would not expect from a male student. He totally respects her. And she, of course, respects him, too. When their romantic feelings are finally out in the open, theirs is a relationship of equals.

As with the previous two novels, the story starts by focusing on the various relationships and intrigue going on in the Academy. There are bigots among the students, and fierce rivalries, as well. And, before I forget, Adrian Ivashkov, who's been smitten with Rose for a while now, continues to make passes at her, hidden in funny comments that barely hide his true intent. 

As the story moves along, the plot evolves, becoming more complex. Rose discovers some unpleasant facts about her psychic bond with Lissa. She, like Anna, assistant to the medieval Orthodox saint, Vladimir, is "shadow kissed". This awakens her fears for her own sanity, as well as Lissa's. 

There's some royal intrigue, as well, in which Tatiana, the reigning Moroi queen, is intimately involved. Mead made me hate this character, who was introduced in the second book, with a passion! Tatiana is ruthless, manipulative, and only interested in power. She is such a contrast to Rose and Lissa! Also, she is a totally elitist bigot, and I would love it if she suddenly fell off the face of the earth. I already hated her in the second book. (She's a fictional character, so I'm allowed to wish for her demise, right?)

Christian Ozera, Lissa's Moroi boyfriend, is another great character. Despised by some of the students because his parents had willingly turned Strigoi, he manages to rise above his undeserved reputation and actually becomes a hero in this book. Rose didn't like him in the first and second book, but in this one, she begins to change her mind about him, and they end up as friends and allies.  

When action finally erupts, it does so violently and fiercely, in the form of a Strigoi attack. The last half of the book moves along at a relentless pace, taking the reader along with it. Doing battle against this implacable enemy brings out the very best in our heroes, and our own adrenaline pumps up as we, too, engage the deadly, immortal vampires.

This novel is laced through with tension, which doesn't really get resolved at the end. Instead, Mead leaves the reader with a huge, and totally unexpected, cliffhanger, one that also leaves said reader emotionally torn up. I could fault her for this, but I like this book so much I'm still giving it five stars! Besides, I do own the entire series, so I was able to calm my anxietuy by peeking at the ending of the sixth and final book in the series, Last Sacrifice. I did this before that cliffhanger came up, too, because I already had some idea what it was about from reading other reviews on Goodreads. Thus, I was able to finish this novel without becoming an emotional wreck! (But really, Richelle, did you HAVE to do that to us fans?)

Each book in this series has been addictive, passionate, full of complex inner turmoil. Each one has been amazing, each in its own way. I had not thought I would ever find another YA vampire series I would love as much as The Twilight Saga, although for different reasons, and in a different way. Shadow Kiss is....I just don't know what to say anymore to describe just how special, and totally enthralling, this book is, just as the first two were, and just as the remaining books are sure to be. This is heady stuff indeed! It's intense and all-consuming!

Another thing I love about this series is that, although it's for the more mature YA reader, the author handles adult themes with sensitivity and skill, so that they don't become overwhelming to readers in their late teens. (Except for that ending.... but still, Richelle, all is forgiven in the end!)

Paranormal romance and urban  fantasy fans who still haven't read this series, or who haven't gotten to this book yet, will simply be blown away! This might sound like silly fangirling, but believe me, I am very serious. This novel totally ROCKS. And, once you put it down at the end, you will run to your bookshelves, if you own the next volume, in order to continue reading right away! And if you don't own the next volume, you'll definitely rush over to Amazon to order it before you do anything else!


Scorpio Richelle Mead is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy books for both adults and teens. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington where she works on her three series full-time: Georgina Kincaid, Dark Swan, and Vampire Academy.

A life-long reader, Richelle has always loved mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses. She's a self-professed coffee addict and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Shelf Candy Saturday #162: The Ring & The Crown, by Melissa de la Cruz

Welcome to Shelf Candy Saturday!

This is my weekly feature
showcasing beautiful covers!
It also provides information, 
if available, on their 
very talented creators!

Here's my choice for this week!

The Ring and the Crown
(The Ring and the Crown, Book 1)
Melissa de la Cruz 
Hardcover, 384 pages
April 1, 2014
Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mythology,
Young Adult Fiction

My Thoughts About This Cover

What an incredible cover! This image just makes me want to rent a studio and start painting again! (Sadly, I can't afford to, however.....) It's such a LUSHLY "painterly" cover! Also, it combines an Abstract Expressionist style with photography, as well as three-dimensional design, in the letters of the title. In fact, there's a very tactile quality to this image. I can almost feel myself touching the letters of the title.

Although I'm not a huge fan of the color red (except during the Christmas season), I  find myself loving it in this cover!  The flowers on top of the model's head are just GORGEOUS, and are really more of an orange-red color. They go perfectly with the splashes of orange in the background, too.  And the sky blue peeking out from sections of this background complement the orange very well.

The model's stare seems to be saying to the viewer, "You think this is a crazy cover? Well, just deal with it!" Lol. She's wearing a crown of flowers against this quirky background, and not even batting an eye. I LOVE it!!

It's great when a cover artist doesn't take the obvious, more conventional route, and instead, creates a cover that startles and delights precisely because of its clever combination of elements. This is the type of cover that belongs in a modern art gallery, or perhaps even in MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art in New York City). It's an exhilarating cover, too, as it was obviously created with joy and love.

I realize that not everyone will love this cover, but the crazy artist in me sure does!

This brilliant design is a combination of talents.  The photo is by Ali Smith, the title type by Mario Hugo, and the overall design by Tanya Ross-Hughes. What an AWESOME collaboration by these three artists!! 

Ali Smith is an award-winning photographer whose book, Momma Love: How The Mother Half Lives, has won praise from Gloria Steinem, Huff Post, Yahoo's Shine, and many others. She has taught photography courses at ICP (The International Center of Photography), Alfred University, and with Step Up. She has a HUGE client list.

Mario Hugo is a New York-based designer, illustrator, and director of creative design with a very varied portfolio. His style incorporates typography as well as photography. Although well-versed in digital art techniques, he says he's most comfortable with plain pencil and paper.

Tanya Ross-Hughes is an independent graphic designer with her own studio. She also specializes in digital art and creative direction. She has extensive experience in all aspects of book design, having also created interior page layoiuts. Furthermore, she has designed covers for magazines such as The Oprah Magazine.

I can hardly wait to make this book a part of my private library collection, as I'm also a fan of Melissa de la Cruz!

Online Links

 Ali Smith

  Mario Hugo

  Tanya Ross-Hughes


What do you think of this 
week's cover?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!