Tuesday, May 9, 2017

REVIEW: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Expected publication: May 16, 2017

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. For political gain, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort. But on the way to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes an assassination attempt by a the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Disguised as a boy, Mariko seeks to infiltrate the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

Ahdieh excels at writing a detailed, compelling narrative a cut above that typically found in YA fiction.  While the story is steeped in Japanese tradition and history, she's able to blend an air of modernity through fantasy and budding romance that will appeal to many readers. Mariko is a fantastic female protagonist who years to be seen as more than just a girl whose body and dowry will provide her father with power and standing. 

I did feel as if the pacing slowed a bit toward the middle; however, the ending was solid with plenty of action, secrets and betrayals. There are several cliffhangers that will have readers clamoring for the next book. 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Highlighted Recent Reads

This final volume features three short stories:

"Order of the Wicked" - Dorothy Gale’s armies killed Lanadel’s entire family, and she’s determined to seek revenge. She sets off to find the elusive, secretive group known as the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. They’re rumored to be training their own army to defeat Dorothy. But when she finds them, Lanadel soon learns that she’s seriously underprepared both in fighting skills, as well as magical abilities, and she has to prove herself in order to join the Order and become one of them.


Readers will encounter Lanadel again in The End of Oz. I liked this story but it wasn't a favorite. However, it was interesting to see this earlier side of Knox and Melindra.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars


"Dark Side of the Rainbow" - Polychrome, Princess of the Rainbow, has a pretty cushy job. She spends her days surfing at Indigo Beach, playing with her pet unicorn, and occasionally checking in on the tourists vacationing at Rainbow Falls, where she is—technically speaking—in charge. When Dorothy arrives, Polly is less than thrilled. She’d much rather flirt with mysterious surfer Bright than play tour guide to a spoiled wannabe princess. But Rainbow Falls won’t be paradise by the time Dorothy’s done with it. And Polly may have to leave her life of leisure behind, to become the ruler her land needs.

I enjoyed this story, especially the drastic character progression of Polly's demeanor about being a ruler compared to what she's prepared to do at the novella's end in order to protect her land. I adore the unicorn and have a better appreciation for Polly's role in the series.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

"The Queen of Oz" - Young Mombi was never the best witch in Oz. She wasn’t the most talented, or the most powerful. But when the Wizard knocks on her door holding a baby girl who needs protection, Mombi agrees to take the job. She casts one powerful, surprising spell—hiding the baby where no one would find her. Years later, a boy named Pete goes on a journey to the Emerald City, where he learns the truth about his true identity…and his role in Oz’s destiny.

This story is perfect for readers wanting some Mombi backstory as well as a better understanding of the Ozma/Pete enchantment. Mombi certainly comes across as more sympathetic and Pete's choices, based on his isolation, shed light on the narrative happenings featuring Glinda, Ozma and eventually Dorothy.

Final rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

Zeus has punished his son Apollo—god of the sun, music, archery, poetry, and more—by casting him down to earth in the form of a gawky, acne-covered sixteen-year-old mortal named Lester. The only way Apollo can reclaim his rightful place on Mount Olympus is by restoring several Oracles that have gone dark.

After experiencing a series of dangerous—and frankly, humiliating—trials at Camp Half-Blood, Apollo must now leave the relative safety of the demigod training ground and embark on a hair-raising journey across North America with some familiar companions for fans of Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series (Leo, Calypso, Meg). 

I loved this book (even though the audiobook fell a bit short for me again because of the narrator's mispronunciation of terminology). It is hilarious but well written and well paced with attention to detail, character progression, and the author's ability to incorporate diversity within the story.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 24, 2017

REVIEW: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of An Ember in the Ashes, soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia remains determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against them. The pair must fight to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

I enjoyed this second book. Tahir seems to hit a narrative stride with the pacing and multiple stories developing.  The characters show depth not always found in YA fiction. I particularly found the addition of Helene's voice as Blood Shrike compelling. 

What is most interesting to me is the artful blend of ancient Roman and Middle Eastern influence. I am very intrigued by where the series will go for the third book in 2018.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

*Thank you to Netgalley and Imprint for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne - and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding - even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee's name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot.

Empress of a Thousand Skies will appeal to readers who've enjoyed the Lunar Chronicles as well as the space-adventure/romance trend of the Starbound trilogy, Starflight and the Illuminae files.  This is a fast paced adventure with just enough romance. I enjoyed the alternative POV. The characters have layers and kept me interested. I did find some of the plot a bit predictable, but I'm not always the average readers since I do so much.

Certain points reminded me a lot of Cinder, but that's okay because that is one of my favorites. Rebecca Soler reads the audio--she does the Lunar Chronicles too!  Excellent job!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

REVIEW: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her affinity for necromancy labels her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price. At a young age, Tea accidentally raises her recently deceased older brother from the dead, nearly killing herself in the process.  Tea is then forced to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. Tea must show strength and resilience since a war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Overall, the audiobook was hit or miss for me; however, I enjoyed the general story, world-building, mythology and character development. There is a lot going on with this narrative and The Bone Witch is just a stepping stone for the series. I can't wait to see what happens because the visual image of Tea at the end is pretty powerful and has some exciting implications for the next book.  

Readers who've enjoyed authors like Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J Maas, and Laini Taylor as well as some of the newer released delving into Indian and Middle Eastern mythology like Roshani Chokshi's Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes or works by Renee Ahdieh.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 8, 2017

REVIEW: Legion by Julie Kagawa

*Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

Expected publication: April 25, 2017

Dragon hatchling Ember Hill was never prepared to find love at all--dragons do not suffer human emotions--let alone the love of a human and a former dragonslayer, at that. With ex-soldier Garret dying at her feet after sacrificing his freedom and his life to expose the deepest of betrayals, Ember knows only that nothing she was taught by dragon organization Talon is true. About humans, about rogue dragons, about herself and what she's capable of doing and feeling.

In the face of great loss, Ember vows to stand with rogue dragon Riley against the dragon-slaying Order of St. George and her own twin brother Dante--the heir apparent to all of Talon, and the boy who will soon unleash the greatest threat and terror dragonkind has ever known.

Legion is another strong entry to the series. Admittedly, I was worried after finishing Solider last year. There was a devastating cliffhanger. Kagawa does well balancing the action and overall plot tension between Talon, the Order of St. George and the general protection of the world with the other relationships of the narrative. There are significant changes to the love triangle between Ember/Riley/Garret which needed to happen.

The story calls for an interesting turn for all the characters and their fate leading into the final novel of the series. I remain curious to see how it will all end. Teens who enjoy urban fantasy (esp dragons) filled with action and a touch of romance definitely need to check out Legion as well as the others in the series.

Final rating: 4 out 5 stars

REVIEW: Missing by Kelley Armstrong

*Thanks to Netgalley for a review in exchange for a fair review*

Expected publication: April 18, 2017

The only thing Winter Crane likes about Reeve’s End is that soon she’ll leave it. Like her best friend did. Like her sister did. Like most of the teens born in town have done. There’s nothing for them there but abandoned mines and empty futures. They’re better off taking a chance elsewhere.

The only thing Winter will miss is the woods. Her only refuge. At least it was. Until the day she found Lennon left for dead, bleeding in a tree.

But now Lennon is gone too. And he has Winter questioning what she once thought was true. What if nobody left at all? What if they’re all missing? 

Enter Lennon's brother, Jude. What follows is a thought provoking mystery/thriller that will have readers of any age on the edge of their seats.

I'm a huge fan of Armstrong's mystery writing and Missing doesn't disappoint.  Targeting a teen audience, this novel will appeal to teen readers and more.  The story is compelling and equally engaging. The mystery/thriller element makes this a page turner but there is appeal for romance readers as well as those who look for narratives delving into edgy issues such as identity, suicide and domestic abuse.

Winter is a strong female protagonist with clear ideals about how she'll escape Reeve's End.  What I liked about her was her perspective and resilience--while still experiencing abuse at the hands of her father, she is by no means a victim.  She does carry some guilt regarding her sister, but she learns that she can't be held accountable for that situation.  I liked Jude as a character as well. Armstrong excels at developing realistic, complicated characters who are flawed and have to work through their own issues. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the story's revelation. I hadn't quite pegged the villain and I think other readers will be surprised too.


Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars