Friday, July 14, 2017

REVIEW: Hoofprints in Snow by A. M. Burns

Life has been difficult for Maia’s family since her brother, Ramon, had an accident that left him in a wheelchair and her parents lost their jobs. Money is scarce. With no other choice, Maia must surrender her beloved horse, Selena, to a rescue center.  

There she meets Emma, who offers to let her volunteer on the ranch so she can spend time with Selena and the other horses. The girls become close and also devise a plan to help Ramon by suggesting using the horses as a means for physical therapy. Emma and Maia’s friendship turns to attraction; however, these new feelings go against Maia’s family expectations and everything she’s been raised to believe. She struggles with not only her feelings but worries how her family will react.

Emotions and other challenges threaten to derail their relationship before it starts. The narrative becomes a bit cliche with the addition of the homophobic and spiteful suitor, Billy. The character representation of the vengeful, alpha male seeking trouble for unrequited attraction was too stereotypical and had to stomach.

My main criticisms for the book have to do with pacing and plot development.  Thematically, there is great potential but there is A LOT going on:

  • Ramon's accident and disability
  • Family financial crisis
  • Animal abuse
  • Relationships
  • Family beliefs and obligations
  • Friendship
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Establishing identity

Overall, the pacing felt rushed and the writing a bit choppy with its transitions while trying to tackle all these facets. I would have preferred to see this as a potential series focusing on different characters over time and letting their stories develop. 

Final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Highlighted Recent Reads July 2017

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

This was a book sequel to Lady Midnight. There is a lot going on, especially with the continued development of Emma and Julian's forbidden romance, the arrival of some unexpected visitors who may or may not be allies, as well as unresolved issues with villains, the introduction of new enemies and an ending that will rock reader's world and not necessarily in a good way.

I laughed. I celebrated. I cried like a baby.  

Be prepared...

Also, the best highlight.....the audiobook is narrated by none of other than Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum James Marsters aka Spike.  He does an amazing job!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Melody is not like most people. She cannot walk or talk, but she has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She is smarter than most of the adults try to diagnose her and smarter than her classmates in her integrated classroom - the very same classmates who dismiss her as mentally challenged because she cannot tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by cerebral palsy. And she's determined to let everyone know it - somehow.

Out of My Mind is a powerful story. I cannot recommend the audiobook enough because the voice narrative really drives home the point of the book and gives Melody a literal voice.  As someone with a physical disablity, I connected with the character and her struggles.  While I can communicate, just not move like everyone else, I relate to Melody's struggles to be 'normal' and treated just like other people.  

This is an important book for everyone to read, not just the target audience of juvenile and pre-teen readers. It is worthy of its praise.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Raymie Clarke has come to realize that everything, absolutely everything, depends on her. And she has a plan. If Raymie can win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie's picture in the paper and (maybe) come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. But as the competition approaches, loneliness, loss, and unanswerable questions draw the three girls into an unlikely friendship — and challenge each of them to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

DiCamillo continues to write thoughtful and profound narratives focusing on relationships, friendship and finding identity despite the ups and downs life often presents. What I enjoyed about this novel was the unlikely bond developed between the girls, their adventures and the coming of age story for them all.  DeCamillo makes the historical fiction setting still engaging and accessible for contemporary readers.

I'm excited that I'll get to meet the author in October 2017 since she'll be speaking in my community and my library is organizing an event!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

An epic Rumpelstiltskin inspired YA romance where a young bastard princess must risk her life in order to save her brother's soul. This is highly recommended for fans of Graceling, The Lunar Chronicles, and other twisted fairy tale series.

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of SĂșndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.

The Wish Granter was a fun, engaging read with appeal for both male and female readers, also the story does skew toward romance, thus more fully snaring female fans. This is loosely set in the same world as Redwine's The Shadow Queen. There is ample character and plot development with good pacing. 

I highly recommend the audiobook.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Twenty-year-old orphaned librarian, Lazlo Strange dreams of stories of a lost city...

Two hundred years ago, six merciless, magic-wielding Mesarthim landed their seraphim-shaped citadel in the legendary city, blocking its skies and cutting it off from the outside world. 

Fifteen years ago, the Godslayer Eril-Fane ended their reign of terror with the Carnage, and now the city is known only as Weep. Seeking to restore the skies to Weep, reluctant leader Eril-Fane recruits scientists from the world beyond Weep—and bemusedly welcomes Lazlo—to move the allegedly abandoned citadel. But the long-silent structure instead holds five surviving godspawn, gifted offspring of captured humans and cruel gods, equally traumatized by the massacre. 

Red-haired, blue-skinned 17-year-old Sarai is a dreamer like Lazlo but fears nightmares even as she inflicts them on the citizens below. Besides literal ghosts, Weep is also haunted by loss—lost memories, lost history, and lost half-blood children.

Taylor once again takes readers on a prolific journey exploring trauma, slavery, memory and identity as well as individual fears, hopes and dreams.  The prose is hypnotic in its careful execution of repetition, creativity and elevated structure.  New readers and fans of Taylor will be enthralled by this first in series and captivated by the shocking cliffhanger.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

One downfall for me was the less than stellar audio by narrator Steve West. It failed to do the narrative justice.

Audio final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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