The upside of a city commute is the perfect opportunity to listen to audiobooks. The upside of a two day half-way-across the country drive (and the ability to read while riding in a moving vehicle), is the plentiful down-time in which to read. Which means...despite my slow pace through most books lately, I've finished two in the past few weeks, a couple of really enjoyable young adult fantasies (and, oddly enough, both are second books in planned trilogies).
Siege and Storm, by Leigh Bardugo is the second in the author's Grisha trilogy. And I may like this book even more than the first (perhaps helped by the excellent narrator of my audiobook). The Russian-inspired setting still shines -- rich, detailed, and evocative. Bardugo has really ramped up the tension in this book, right from page one. I continue to think Alina is one of the most annoying yet sympathetic protagonists I've met in a while. Mal continues to be awesome, and the Darkling is the creepiest creepster around. There are some really fantastic character additions: Tamar, Tolia, Nikolai/Sturmhond. The pacing was spot on -- the story going deeper, deeper, deeper and with plenty of "What?!" moments.
The Crown of Embers, by Rae Carson is another solid sequel. Elisa is now the queen of Joya de Arena, trying to establish her rule, navigate court politics, and learn more about her power as a Bearer. One thing that really struck me while reading this book, is how this series is really a coming-of-age story. Sure, there's plenty of magic, intrigue, political maneuverings, assassination attempts, and adventure. But, at its heart, it's the continuing story of a girl learning that she isn't the fat, ugly, helpless girl she believed herself to be. It's about a girl realizing that instead of just reacting (sometimes ineptly) to what goes on around her, or relying to other people to make decisions for her, she truly has the power to make her own decisions, to take charge of her own destiny, to be a real leader, and to be a queen. I continued to enjoy the world Carson has created, and my only complaint is that it occasionally seemed a bit....much. A bit overly dramatic. Lots of gasping. But overall a really enjoyable and solid fantasy.