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Monday, June 18, 2018

REVIEW: Ash & Quill by Rachel Caine

Publisher's Summary:

Words can kill.

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny…

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library.

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Ash and Quill is certainly a book about betrayals. Jess and his group of exiles have fled London and start out imprisoned in Philadelphia. Again, they work together to defy the odds in order to escape.  Finding respite with the Brightwell clan, Jess is in for a betrayal he didn't see coming and will ultimately have to betray those he loves and trusts the most for the greater good.  It is the only chance they'll have to finally be free of the Great Library's oppression.

Another highly imaginative and well written book full of action, suspense and romance. The plot certainly thickens for the fourth installment, Smoke & Iron, expected to be published July 3, 2018. Look at that cover! Oh so pretty! 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

REVIEW: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre

Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre

Expected publication: July 17, 2018 by Tor Teen

Publishers Summary:
On a hot summer night, a screech of brakes and shattering glass changes two lives forever.

Liv wakes in the hospital, confused when they call her Morgan. She assumes it’s a case of mistaken identity, yet when the bandages come off, it’s not her face in the mirror anymore. It’s her best friend Morgan’s.

Morgan always seemed to have the perfect life, yet Liv must navigate endlessly disturbing secrets of the criminal and murderous variety—and a romance that feels like a betrayal. Torn between the boy she loved as Liv and the boy she’s grown to love as Morgan, Liv still has to survive Morgan’s last request.

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I enjoyed this despite a few shortcomings.  It is a fast-paced, romantic suspense novel that skews more toward New Adult or mature YA with adult reader interest. There is a hint of science fiction but one short coming is a lack of exploration of how/why this occurs. The cause is hinted at a bit, but as a fan of the genre, I expected more.

There is a good love triangle development for Liv as Morgan with great tension and some unexpected revelations.  

One final critique is a lack of narrative follow through as it pertains to some rather big plot details. Those looking for more answers and closure might be disappointed.  Overall, Like Never and Always delivers great suspense and would certainly be a page turning summer read.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Notable New Teen Reads - May 2018

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff, Knopf Books for Young Readers

Published May 29, 2018

Publisher's Summary:
On a floating junkyard beneath a radiation sky, a deadly secret lies buried in the scrap.

Eve isn’t looking for secrets—she’s too busy looking over her shoulder. The robot gladiator she’s just spent six months building has been reduced to a smoking wreck, and the only thing keeping her Grandpa from the grave was the fistful of credits she just lost to the bookies. To top it off, she’s discovered she can destroy electronics with the power of her mind, and the puritanical Brotherhood are building a coffin her size. If she’s ever had a worse day, Eve can’t remember it.

But when Eve discovers the ruins of an android boy named Ezekiel in the scrap pile she calls home, her entire world comes crashing down. With her best friend Lemon Fresh and her robotic conscience, Cricket, in tow, she and Ezekiel will trek across deserts of irradiated glass, infiltrate towering megacities and scour the graveyard of humanity’s greatest folly to save the ones Eve loves, and learn the dark secrets of her past.

Even if those secrets were better off staying buried.

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What's not to love about Lifel1k3?!? It is a fast paced, action packed futuristic adventure with plenty of Kristoff's characteristic snark, unique characters and stories. Think of this book as part Mad Max meets The Terminator meets Paradise Lost meets Bladerunner with a big dose of Romeo and Juliet!

I can't express just how much I enjoyed this read.  Eve is a fascinating character as are Lemo, Ezekiel and the much beloved Cricket. 

A big thank you to Knopf and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review :0)

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars!




Inferno by Julie Kagawa (book 5 in the Talon series)

Published April 24, 2018 by Harlequin Teen

Publisher's Summary:
Ember Hill has learned a shocking truth about herself: she is the blood of the Elder Wyrm, the ancient dragon who leads Talon and who is on the verge of world domination. With the Order of St. George destroyed, Ember, Riley and Garret journey to the Amazon jungle in search of one who might hold the key to take down the Elder Wyrm and Talon—if they can survive the encounter.

Meanwhile, Ember’s brother, Dante, will travel to China with a message for the last Eastern dragons: join Talon or die. With the stakes rising and the Elder Wyrm declaring war, time is running out for the rogues and any dragon not allied with Talon. 

The final battle approaches. And if Talon is victorious, the world will burn.

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Inferno marks the culmination of the series. The rogue dragon faction as well as the remnants of the Order of St. George must ban together in one last push to but an end to the Talon and the Elder Wyrm's plans to declare war on humans and even their own kind. 

This was a fitting end to the series, perhaps not my favorite series of Kagawa's.  The action sequences were well written if a at sometimes predictable.  I did like the romantic delopment for Riley(Cobalt) and there a few unforeseen twists in the narrative but I won't give any spoilers.

Overall, a great read for fans of Kagawa, the series or who enjoy urban fantasy books and/or dragons.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

REVIEW: The Heart Forger by Rin Chupeco

*Thank you to Netgalley & Sourcebooks Fire for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Publisher's Summary:
In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she's after revenge...

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life...and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea's dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can't kill someone who can never die...

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

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I read The Bone Witch a little over a year ago.  This sequel builds upon the rich narrative, character development and world building Chupeco weaves to share Tea's tale.  Readers can expect a particularly dark and complex narrative. There is a lot going on from a storytelling perspective and at times it is a tad hard to follow for this reason.  The novel consists of before and after tellings--basically the tale of what leads Tea down a dark path and the journey into another kingdom for a variety of reasons (I won't spoil anything!) and then a jump forward to the after tale told by a Bard where we encounter a very different, and darker, quite frightening Tea.  

While some questions are answered and mysteries uncovered, there remain a number of questions and more opportunity for exploration in order to connect the dots with exactly all the events alluded to throughout the book.  The Heart Forger is lovely in its fantastical delve into Gothic mystery and magic. This is definitely a book for a teen who is an upper level reader or an adult who enjoys YA fiction that is on the cusp of transitioning to the general adult science fiction/fantasy section.

Readers who've enjoyed authors like Leigh Bardugo, Sarah J Maas, and Laini Taylor as well as Indian and Middle Eastern mythology inspired fiction like Roshani Chokshi's Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes or works by Renee Ahdieh or Emily R. King's Hundredth Queen series will enjoy these works by Chupeco. (All of which I've reviewed, so please feel free to search my blog for reviews)

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

REVIEW: Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. She travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh is determined to find her mother, the bird. 

In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

This is truly an elegantly poignant read filled with just as much realistic emotion as it is magical realism.  Readers are in for a real treat with Pan's debut novel.  Having myself recently experienced grief upon losing multiple loved ones, I found this narrative not only mesmerizing as well as haunting but also cathartic and hopeful. Perhaps this final quote sums up the novel's prose and experience best:

What is memory? It's not something you can physically hold, or see, or taste. It's just nerve impulses jumping between neurons. Sometimes it's a matter of choice. Other times it's self-preservation, or protection [...] Because the purpose of memory, I would argue, is to remind us how to live" (p. 464).

This is a beautiful book. Have your tissues handy.




Saturday, February 17, 2018

REVIEW: The Rogue Queen by Emily R. King

*Thank you to Netgalley & Skyscape for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Publisher's Summary:
Despite the odds, Kalinda has survived it all: Marriage to a tyrant. Tournaments to the death. The forbidden power to rule fire. The icy touch of a demon.

That same demon now disguises itself as Rajah Tarek, Kalinda’s late husband and a man who has never stopped haunting her. Upon taking control of the palace and the army, the demon brands Kalinda and her companions as traitors to the empire. They flee across the sea, seeking haven in the Southern Isles.

In Lestari, Kalinda’s powers are not condemned, as they are in her land. Now free to use them to protect those she loves, Kalinda soon realizes that the demon has tainted her with a cold poison, rendering her fire uncontrollable. But the lack of control may be just what she needs to send the demon back to the darkest depths of the Void.

To take back the empire, Kalinda will ally with those she distrusts—and risk losing those most loyal to her—to defeat the demon and bring peace to a divided nation.

Thoughts:
The Rogue Queen is an action packed adventure full of peril, uncertainty, betrayals and heartbreak. The novel is another strong addition to the series. King excels at world-building of a fantasy realm with loosely inspired ties to Sumerian and Indian cultures. Kalinda is an admirable female protagonist and readers connect with her readily on her journey for her strength and vulnerability.  She is quickly learning that sometimes to right choices are the hardest ones.  

King continues to alternate voices by assigning chapters and the parallel story to Deven.  He does his fair share of soul searching throughout the book and fans of his and Kali's romance must weather the storm of their relationship once again.  Fair warning, have tissues handy near the end.  Here's hoping that fairer skies might be on the horizon for these two after more BIG challenges must be faced in book 4, The Warrior Queen, due out in August 2018.

The narrative benefits from its host of well developed secondary characters as well as a really great villain with clear world domination goals and good dialogue with some YA books often lack.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Also recommended...
Publisher's Summary:
As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.
 

Thoughts:
This first book of Kalinda's journey had me spellbound from beginning to end.  She begins naive and rather fragile but blossoms to embrace newly discovered abilities all to save herself, her best friend and her newfound love. 

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher's Summary:
Though the tyrant rajah she was forced to marry is dead, Kalinda’s troubles are far from over. A warlord has invaded the imperial city, and now she’s in exile. But she isn’t alone. Kalinda has the allegiance of Captain Deven Naik, her guard and beloved, imprisoned for treason and stripped of command. With the empire at war, their best hope is to find Prince Ashwin, the rajah’s son, who has promised Deven’s freedom on one condition: that Kalinda will fight and defeat three formidable opponents.

But as Kalinda’s tournament strengths are once again challenged, so too is her relationship with Deven. While Deven fears her powers, Ashwin reveres them—as well as the courageous woman who wields them. Kalinda comes to regard Ashwin as the only man who can repair a warring world and finds herself torn between her allegiance to Deven and a newly found respect for the young prince.

With both the responsibility to protect her people and the fate of those she loves weighing heavily upon her, Kalinda is forced again to compete. She must test the limits of her fire powers and her hard-won wisdom. But will that be enough to unite the empire without sacrificing all she holds dear?
 

Thoughts:
Kalinda's journey is far from over despite the death of her tyrant husband.  While her powers seem to grow, she learns even more secrets about her ancestry, finds new allies and must participate in another trial to secure her freedom and those she holds most dear.  Well written with an intricate, fast paced plot and good characterization. I did like the addition of Deven's POV in alternate chapters to add depth to the story.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 4, 2018

REVIEW: The Crown's Game Series by Evelyn Skye

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.



Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.

Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.

For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.

With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.
 

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Overall, I enjoyed this duology and it is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo's The Greisha Verse and the Six of Crows duology. There is a lovely blend of historic Russia steeped with a fantastic sense of world-building and attention to detail.  Skye adeptly incorporates fantasy with the introduction of magic.  I loved the premise that there is essentially a battle to the death game of magical wits to declare who will be the next Imperial Enchanter. 

Of course there is a love triangle, plenty of dark, revealed secrets, family sparing and political unrest.  I was admittedly surprised by Nikolai's dark turn but pleased with the narrative conclusion of The Crown's Fate.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars