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Friday, February 26, 2016

REVIEW: The Kanin Chronicles by Amanda Hocking

The Kanin are the most powerful of the five troll tribes. However, despite her best efforts, Bryn Aven remains an outcast due to her outward appearance and mixed heritage. Nonetheless, Bryn remains dedicated toward proving herself as a tracker (bringing Changelings back to their troll families) and achieving one goal: becoming a member of the King's elite guard.

Her future plans begin to shift with the reemergence of Konstantin Black, a fallen hero turned traitor, who begins kidnapping Changelings. Determined to seek revenge for Konstantin's vicious assault on her father years before, Bryn must battle her forbidden feelings for her boss, Ridley Dresden, as well as weigh her loyalties, feelings of insecurity and search for the real reason behind the disappearances.

First off, look at these covers! So gorgeous!  I'm a fan of Hocking's books.  Frostfire and the Kanin Chronicles are a spin off, related series to the previous Trylle releases. I enjoyed this first book and am definitely intrigued for the rest of the series. Bryn in an interesting character and I appreciate the dimension of her character even if I did sometimes grow frustrated with her actions. She's learning and growing so I expect that some of her irrational and whiny behavior will change over the course of the next two books.

I'm loving the palpable chemistry and tension between Bryn and Ridley. So, this series is ideal for teen readers looking for a urban fantasy filled with action, adventure, and romance. Book one ends with little resolution, so readers are going to want the next book to continue the story and find some answers.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ice Kissed is the second in the Kanin Chronicles trilogy. The Skojare queen is still missing and Bryn remains committed toward serving and protecting her kingdom and people in any way she can. The Skojare are threatened by the same enemy as the Kanin. Bryn's prolonged visit to protect the newly rescued Skojare queen and revitalize their guard is also a chance to learn more about her mixed heritage. However, something within the Skojare royalty isn't right and the shocking revelation brings tragedy to those closest to Bryn and other consequences which threaten her place within the Kanin.

I enjoyed Ice Kissed since it really does feel like an extension of the first book. There were just enough twists to peak my interest as well as the developing relationship between Bryn and Ridley. My only complaint was a small sense of predictability to the narrative but that is more due to being a zealous reader of fiction in general rather than any flaws in storytelling. Lastly, Bryn's actions and reactions still were irksome at times but she shows development toward making some more mature decisions even if she remains impulsive.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Crystal Kingdom is the final book of the series. On the run after being falsely accused of treason, Bryn finds an ally in an unlikely resource. Together they embark on a journey which reveals some startling truths while formulating a plan to thwart the hostile takeover of the Kanin crown and right the wrongs done in the name of seeking power.

This third book is a good conclusion.  Bryn comes to understand Konstantin's original motives and the big picture at the heart of all the trouble. She also matures quite a bit.  It seems in her nature to remain too impulsive but her character makes great strides toward finding balance throughout the series. The narrative is fast paced with plenty of action, romantic angst and some surprise twists.

Overall, Hocking builds a unique and engaging world throughout the series that will appeal to YA readers wanting a blend of adventure, mystery, fantasy and romance.  While the series stands on its own, I do recommend reading Hocking's Trylle series as well since readers will get a greater appreciation for the world building, troll tribe dynamics and some of the recurring secondary characters. One critique is that since I listened to these on audio, some of the transitional inconsistencies or repetitiveness in the writing was more evident.  These slight flaws do not diminish the reading experience but are noticeable throughout the span of the storytelling.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @amanda_hocking

#YAlit #teen #bookreview #KaninChronicles #fantasy #romance #TRC2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

REVIEW: Starbound Trilogy by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars is the first in the Starbound trilogy. The Icarus is the finest luxury spaceliner in existence. Lilac LaRoux, heir to the LaRoux empire, is the daughter of the richest man in the universe; however, she is suffocated by her father's insistence of controlling every aspect of her life. Tarver Merendsen is a dashing and decorated, if cynical, war hero, who takes a chance to flirt with Lilac, not fully knowing who she is.  When the Icarus plummets from hyperspace onto the nearest planet, Lilac and Tarver are the only survivors. Together, they must travel across eerie deserted terrain of a failed terraformed planet where they learn a devastating truth that will changed their lives forever.
I really enjoyed this book.  I loved the idea of two star crossed lovers from different classes.  Lilac and Tarver have great chemistry and readers will enjoy their banter as well as watching how their relationship builds.  I was often reminded a bit of Jack and Rose from Titanic, especially all the references to how amazing and indestructible the Icarus was designed to be, much like the Titanic in 1912. There is great depth of character which allows the blooming romantic relation to appear believable.  I like the supernatural element and its impact on the characters as well as the "big picture" which frames the rest of the series.

The audiobook is great. I recommend this for romance readers who like futuristic fantasy, science fiction, and adventure. This is well written and uniquely interesting.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The second book in the trilogy features Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac as star crossed lovers on opposite sides of a war. Lee is a captain of forces sent to crush rebel forces on the terraformed colony of Avon. She hates insurgents, especially since a similar rebellion led to the deaths of her family years before. In turn, Flynn shares no love for the forces who executed his sister for daring to stand up to their broken promises.

Desperate to find any advantage in the unrelenting war, Flynn kidnaps Lee with hopes that she'll be a bargaining chip. However, when his rebel cohorts plan to execute her, Flynn chooses another path.  As the fighting heat up, other strange occurrences--namely "the fury" which overcomes individuals who seem to be taken over by some other force--brings Lee and Flynn together as well as Tarver and Lilac from These Broken Stars when they realize all roads lead to LaRoux Industries.

I didn't love This Shattered World quite as much as the first book, especially since it took a bit for the connections between book 1 and 2 to present themselves.  Once Tarver and Lilac made an appearance, this story picks up exponentially. I liked that the romantic relationship between Lee and Flynn was gradual without full declarations of love and devotion declare immediately. I appreciate the intricate nature of the plot development with The Whispers and look forward to reading the conclusion.  As a last tidbit, I recommend the audiobooks of this series. The production value with its attention to detail is stellar and enhances the overall narrative experience.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In this conclusion to the series, significant events come full circle. Sophia Quinn has a killer smile and has quickly developed the ability to con her way out of most tight situations after her escape from Avon.  She's on a mission--to take her revenge against LaRoux Industries for the death of her father. Enter, Gideon Marchant, a computer hacker and whiz kid, who has his own reasons for taking down LRI. Forced to work together, Sophia and Gideon just might find what they both seek plus more than they bargained for.

I loved how all three books finally came together.  Readers will remember Sophia from book two and Gideon has a significant connection to Lilac and a past relationship from book one. Lilac, Tarver, Lee and Flynn are back for most of the action which is again tied to the Rift created by LRI and the imprisonment of the otherworldly "Whispers." This group will have to work together in order to save all they know from the most ancient of the Whispers whose prolonged imprisionment has left it eager for vengence in the form of all humankind's demise.

Readers won't be disappointed with how this all comes to fruition.  Overall, I think my favorite trilogy couple is Lilac and Tarver but I like the realism developed between all the other characters. The relationships are plausible and relateable and I love the frest twist on science fiction story telling which Kaufman and Spooner infuse throughout the series. These books are truly unique but will appeal to a wide readership interested in quality narrative including action, adventure, politics and, of course, romance.

The audiobook was again truly stunning so defnitely check it out!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the authors on Twitter: @AmieKaufman @MeaganSpooner

#Starbound #TheseBrokenStars #ThisShatteredWorld #TheirFracturedLight #YAlit #futuristic #romance #teen #amreading

Saturday, February 20, 2016

REVIEW: Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler

The Infinite in Between chronicles the lives of five teens from the beginning of high school through graduation. Readers experience the highs, lows, triumphs, heartbreaks and everything in between.

Zoe feels like she'll never out shadow her famous mother.  Sent to live with her aunt, Zoe has to shoulder yet another one of her mother's rehab stints and attempt to fit in at a new school and claim an identity that is hers alone.

High school is never easy, but for Jake, starting out as openly gay proves challenging, especially with the now awkward relationship between him and his former best friend.  Luckily, Jake has family support as he struggles to find the right connections in friendship and love.

Mia comes across as the strange loner.  She keeps trying on new identities hoping to find the one that fits. Mia feels liberated and finds happiness when she discovers that she doesn't have to be just one thing.

Whitney is the popular girl who seems to have the perfect family and friends.  However, when her world appears to crumble around her she learns what and who matters.

Gregor begins high school believing that he wants to be more than a band geek. Oh, and to declare his love for Whitney.  However, when unexpected loss hits his family, through pain and regret Gregor finds he just might be able to do both.

With significant echoes of The Breakfast Club, readers will be intrigued by the lives of these five teens and how their separate stories touch each others lives.  I enjoyed this book.  It is a fast, easy read with compelling characters and situations.  I wasn't always a fan of the transitions, but overall, these flaws are minute when compared to the overall concept of the story. The characters and situations are relevant for contemporary teen readers and the themes and story construction feel timeless.

A word of caution if you are recommending this as YA reader's advisory, based on the themes, language and situations this book is for a mature teen--ages 14 and up.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @carolynmackler

#InfiniteInBetween #carolynmackler #YAlit #teen #BreakfstClub #angst #romance #realisticfiction

Monday, February 15, 2016

REVIEW: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything focuses on Sydney, a teenager who has never quite been the star of the family.  That role belonged to her older brother, Peyton, who received that majority of the attention and now concern.  When his increasingly troublesome behavior results in a tragic accident and consequences, Sydney is set adrift and struggles to find her place within the family and the world. She feels anger and resentment that her parents remain fixated and worried about Peyton, but show little to no regard for the accident's victim or the unsettlingly creepy vibe from Peyton's friend, Ames, who seems determined to weave himself into every aspect of their lives.

Sydney's circumstances shift when she meets the Chathams, a friendly, yet chaotic, family who run a local pizza parlor, love music, each other and welcome her into their lives with no judgement or expectation. Sydney finds the emotional support and communication lacking at home plus romance with Mac, gentle, protective, handsome, and the first person who makes Sydney feel truly "seen".

This was my first Dessen read; however, the themes seem to remain on par with what I know about her other books.  Saint Anything explores change, family and self-discovery within a realistic landscape.  The setting, plot and characters are well developed with good pacing making the scenarios that much more believable. If I could make suggestions for improvement, I would have made the situation with Ames a bit grittier.  I'm used to some YA realistic fiction that is a bit edgier and while the creep factor was there, I didn't feel that the writing or story line conclusion adequately addressed this issue.  I wasn't quite happy with how quickly everything was wrapped up. Overall, I enjoyed the book and plan to read more of Dessen's novels.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @sarahdessen

#SaintAnything #sarahdessen #romance #family #angst #realistic #whatimreading #YAlit, teen

Friday, February 12, 2016

REVIEW: Hit Count by Chris Lynch

Hit Count explores America's love of football as well as the notable dangers associated with the beloved pastime. High schooler Arlo Brodie wants nothing more than to excel in the game that he adores. He loves getting hit hard and hitting back even harder.  Arlo's brother, Lloyd, has already quit the game because of its nasty side effects; however, Arlo can't resist the notoriety associated with his rise as "Starlo" or his father's hard won approval.

On the flip side is his mother's fear and research noting the overwhelming medical evidence exploring football's connection to head injuries and post concussion syndrome. When even Arlo's coach is tallying his hit counts, it is apparent that he is spiraling down a dangerous path wrecking not only his health and future but also his relationships and education.

This isn't the typical type of YA book that I usually pick up; however, I was curious about this one given the recent release of the film Concussion, the 50th Super Bowl game and ensuring that I can provide adequate reader's advisory to a wide range of teens with broad interests.  Overall, I found this had good pacing and characterization while exploring an important and relevant topic. I'd recommend this to a teen who enjoys realistic fiction, sports or who might be a reluctant reader.  The target audience is definitely for boys but there is no reason why a girl wouldn't find this appealing, especially if she has brothers, friends of a boyfriend who plays football.

Final rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

#HitCount #ChrisLunch #postconcussionsyndrome #football #realistic #YAlit #teen #TRC2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

REVIEW: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

Within the three kingdoms of Mytica, magic has been long forgotten. There has been peace for centuries; however, strife over the haves and have nots brings tensions to a precipice. As rulers of the kingdoms grapple for power, their subjects are sometimes brutally affected--four in particular emerge as key players: Cleo, Lucia, Jonas and Magnus. Each are caught in a frenzy of deceit, treachery, murder, alliances and a fair share of heartache.

Falling Kingdoms is the first is an epic fantasy series with four entries to date and more books pending.  I'd been planning to read this for years at the insistence of several teens who praised its "amazingness" and make me promise get to them.  In general, I liked this first book. The world building is complex and there is depth to the character; however, I think readers only get a glimpse into the journeys and trials they will endure.

What I didn't like was the pacing. At times, I felt that the story moved a bit slowly and was a little disappointed by the end.  That being said, I do think that this first book sets the stage for a much more intricate arc wherein readers will discover how these four characters will impact each other and their world. Personally, I cannot wait to see more magic!

Lastly, I wasn't a huge fan of this particular novel on audio.  Having one male narrator didn't accurately represent the characters well. I think I would have liked the book more in print and certainly been more engaged with the characters and their feelings. I recommend this for fans of epic fantasy series and as a readalikes for Robin LaFevers His Fair Assassin trilogy and Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass books.

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @MorganRhodesYA

#FallingKingdoms #MorganRhodes #fantasy #YAlit #teen #magic #whatimreading

REVIEW: Asylum by Madeleine Roux

Sixteen year old Dan Crawford arrives at New Hampshire College Prep with high expectations.  He's excited to take challenging courses and to meet friends but less than enthused when he learns that his summer dorm is a former asylum. When Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, start exploring the building, creepy occurrences begin happening and they all discover that it is no coincidence that the three of them ended up there.

I have mixed feelings about this one.  I didn't have any expectations going in so I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised or at least entertained.  I'm currently participated in #TRC2016, a two month long Teen Reading Challenge for the SWON Libraries in Ohio.  Audible was having a groovy sale, so I stocked up on some YA titles. With further investigation, it seems as if I did myself a disservice by listening to this on audio.  Asylum is touted as a readalike for fans of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in that it includes found photos which chronicle the unsettling history and chilling reality of many real life asylums. Of course, the audiobook skips over all of the photographs and leaves the reading missing out on a major aspect of the storytelling experience.

Overall, I wasn't a big fan of the characterization and found the plot rather predictable which is fine for the target audience. Back in the day, I would have been all over this series since I loved R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike when I was in middle school.  There is just enough diversity, spookiness and a dash of potential romance. That being said, my adult self was rather disappointed because I just wanted more--intrigue, depth, chills. However, there is mass appeal for middle school as well as reluctant readers.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @Authoroux

#Asylum #madeleineroux #horror #YAlit #teen #audiobook #whatimreading #TRC2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

REVIEW: Arena by Holly Jennings

*A big thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!*

Expected publication: April 5, 2016

Arena is a face paced virtual gaming-centric story set in the near future. The RAGE tournaments--the Virtual Gaming League's elite competition, pit highly skilled teams against each other in a no holds barred virtual gaming battle in hopes of gaining international stardom and financial security. 

Kali Ling is the first female captain in history; however, the road to success is littered with unexpected bumps as she and her teammates are forced to endure life in the spotlight and surprising losses in and out of the arena. Kali soon learns that the VGL harbors some secrets of its own and it will take all her strength, cunning and friends to overcome adversity and come out on top.

This is a science fiction release for primarily an new adult/adult audience in mind; however, there is significant crossover appeal for a mature teen reader.  Be advised that there are strong themes of violence, drug use (including an overdose) and sexual situations. This is ideal for fans of Ready Player One and the Hunger Games but who are also fans of gladiators and online gaming.  I breezed through the book in no time and really enjoyed the energetic pacing and characters.  Despite some flaws, this is a strong debut by Jennings.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @HollyN_Jennings

#Arena #gaming #HollyJennings #newadult #YAlit #sciencefiction #action #netgalley #Books

REVIEW: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

Stars Above is the short story collection of the Lunar Chronicles including 9 stories,  5 of which have never before been published. For fans of the series, this is a delightful companion and well constructed anthology where we revisit beloved characters, gain insight into backstories and fall in love with the series all over again.

"The Keeper" - this is Michelle Benoit's story and how she became Princess Selene's "keeper." I really enjoyed this since it is a perspective we didn't know much about. I loved adolescent Scarlet. She was just a fiery as I knew she would be.

"Glitches" - this details Cinder's first memories and meeting her adoptive family.  We see Audri's animosity and witness Cinder's uncertainly as well as glimpse the devastation associated with the plague.  Plus, we meet Iko for the first time!  I read this  when Cinder was released. It was interesting to go back now that I've finished the series and know all those interconnected details. I still really enjoy this short story.

"The Queen's Army" - this chronicles Ze'ev aka Wolf's story having been taken from his family, genetically modified and trained as one of Queen Levana's super soldiers. I love Wolf and this insight into his past . It seems so long ago that I read this for this first time with little clue Z would be Scarlet's Wolf.

"Carswell's Guide to Being Lucky" - (swoon) I'm a Carswell fangirl forever. Even as a teen he's charismatic, confident and planning his next big success even if things don't always go as planned. Readers get some insight into his character and that infamous Kate Fallow story which makes Cress swoon. Carswell is always a sucker for a damsel in distress.

"After Sunshine Passes By" - readers learn how 9 year old Cress ended up alone on the satellite.  Get ready to have your heart ripped out. This one is so sad! Seriously, my heart still hurts :(

"The Princess & the Guard" - this sets up good relationship backstory for Winter and Jacin as well as what a heartless witch Queen Levana is. I like the explanation as to why Winter chooses not to use her Lunar gift of manipulation.

"The Little Android" - a rift on the Little Mermaid tale and probably my least favorite of all the short stories. I like the glimpse of Cinder and the themes represented but it isn't as memorable for me.

"The Mechanic" - Prince Kai's first meeting with Cinder from his perspective. I liked this sweet story and how it takes us back to the beginning.

"Something Old, Something New" - this is the story of a wedding! I hesitate to say whose but it is delightful and gets the gang together again two years after the ending of Winter. It will make you laugh and feel all the feels!!!!

P.S. The first two chapter of Heartless are AMAZING!!!!!!!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @marissa_meyer

#StarsAbove #LunarChronicles #twistedfairtales #romance #shortstories #YAlit #teen

Thursday, February 4, 2016

REVIEW: You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

*Thank you Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: March 1, 2016

On the anniversary of her older brother's death, Jaycee Strangelove plans to break into Jake's favorite hideout--The Ridges--a former insane asylum on the campus of Ohio University. This yearly excursion usually includes a sighting by Jake's former best friend, Mik, and quite possible Jaycee's 'something more'. Utterly consumed by grief, Jaycee has turned into a daredevil with no plans for the future. 

However, this night reunites her with not only Mik but also three other classmates--Natalie, Zach and Bishop--each with their own dysfunction. When they find a map left detailing Jake's exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind, Jaycee vows to complete the dares in his honor. What Jaycee doesn't count on is her 'friends' involvement and their insistence that she delve deep and reveal the parts of herself she's buried with her brother. 

I adored this book and it is probably my favorite of 2016 thus far.  You Were Here is thoughtfully constructed from its multiple POV shifts in storytelling to the incorporation of graphic novel elements. I really loved how this hybrid format enhances the plot and character development. These characters are wholly relatable as well.  Jaycee's transformation in light of her grief and the unraveling of her family and friendships make her relatable to multiple readers as do the anxieties shared by Natalie, Mik, Zach and Bishop.  While this novel is in part about coping with grief and loss, a stronger theme is coming of age and taking responsibility for your own actions. 

You Were Here has mass appeal for a wide audience of readers. There's angst and romance and plenty of adventure. One caution is that I'd recommend this for a more mature teen reader based on language and adult situations. Overall, once I got started, I couldn't put it down.  I felt compelled to share these characters' journeys and was satisfied with the ending but hopeful that McCarthy might one day give us a glimpse into that promised road trip!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @corimccarthy

#YOUWEREHERE #corimccarthy #realisticfiction #comingofage #gried #dare #romance #forgiveness #friendship #netgalley #YAlit #teen