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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

REVIEW: Red Queen (0.1, 0.2, 1, 2) by Victoria Aveyard

Cruel Crown is a short story prequel collection to Red Queen. In "Queen Song," readers get Coriane's story, King Tiberias' first wife.  Keeping a secret diary as the only means to keep her thoughts private, she shares her courtship with the king, birth of Prince Cal and the dangerous challenges accompanying her royal life--namely the jealousy of powerful 'whisper' Elara.

This story is pretty heartbreaking.  Coriane is a good person whose position in the royal family makes her vulnerable and all too alone. Readers already knew she has a terrible fate but "Queen Song" sheds light on Elara's wickedness and Silver power struggles.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

"Steel Scars" also has a female protagonist but with a different perspective. Raised to be independent and strong, Diana Farley has been tasked with planting seeds of rebellion; however, the job is tougher than expected as she travels behind the scenes of black market smugglers, traders and extremists.  Readers get a glimpse into the rise of the Scarlet Guard as well as Farley's pending connection to Mare Barrow.

I didn't like this story as much. I find Farley difficult to connect with but I did enjoy the introduction of Shade Barrow and the set up for the other books in the series. I recommend reading this after Red Queen to garner a better handle of the rebellion.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Red Queen is the first in an exciting futuristic series which depicts a society torn between two social groups.  The Silvers are the upper echelon of society--the merchants, nobles and royalty--born with powerful abilities (i.e. metal manipulation, telepathy, elemental affinities) that have helped them oppress others. The Reds are akin to peasants, lacking abilities and generally doomed to live labor filled lives of poverty and forced conscription in the kingdom of Norta's ongoing war with other lands.

Seventeen year old Red, Mare Barrow is an accomplished pickpocket who suddenly finds herself working at the Silver Palace, surrounded by the very people she loathes. Mare discovers that despite her 'Red' blood, she possesses Silver super abilities--the power to call and control lightning. Seeing this as a threat, Mare is forced to live at the palace and hide in plain sight, masquerading as a long lost Silver and future princess/bride to Prince Maven, second in line to the throne.

I read this last year upon its publication and really liked it.  I completed an epic re-read to prepare for Glass Sword.  I have to say I loved this even more the second time. I picked up on the nuances explored by Aveyard.  The overall world building is fantastic as is the characterization.  Mare is compelling--likeable and vulnerable but snarky, independent and a multifaceted, kick butt female protagonist. I also like the host of secondary characters and the sophisticated plot building laced with deceit and some pretty jaw dropping revelations.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Building on the excruciating betrayal at the end of Red Queen, Mare Barrow is on the run following her botched execution and rescue by the Red Guard.  Life isn't going to get better any time soon. If throne usurper King Maven can't have her, no one will. Leaders of the Red Guard don't trust her abilities nor those of exiled Prince Cal. Events lead her and a group of allies on a mission to find Reds born with abilities, amassing an army to combat their oppressors.

The journey is dangerous with plenty of twists, lies, angst and heartbreaking loss. Mare continues to mature and make sacrifices for the greater good despite friction between those closest to her who believe her means go far beyond what is exceptable. Glass Sword is certainly a bit darker, especially the nail biting ending that will have readers literally screaming for the next book in the series.

Aveyard continues to entice readers with this unique read filled with action, romance and villainy that truly exhibits YA fiction at its best.  Recommended for science fiction and fantasy genre readers as well as those who want a dash of romance. Definitely appeal for both male and female readers, grades 9 and up.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @victoriaaveyard

#RedQueen #CruelCrown #GlassSword #VictoriaAveyard #YAlit #books #fantasy

REVIEW: Bright Blade of Magic by Jennifer Estep

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

Expected publication: April 26, 2016

Lilah (Merriweather) Sterling is back in this exciting edition to the Black Blade series as she and her allies prepare to thrwart Draconian head of the family, Victor, in his plans to dominate the ruling families of Cloudburst Falls. Once a thief, always a thief. Lilah embarks on the ultimate heist--to snatch an arsenal of power laden black blades right from under Victor's nose.  She and her allies think they have the advantage until Victor makes his move.  It will take all of her cunning and skill to save not only herself but those she holds most dear.

Bright Blaze of Magic is an exciting third book which could wrap up the series but also leaves room for subsequent stories.  I really like Lilah and the supporting characters, Devon, Felix and Deah. When I reviewed Cold Burn of Magic and Dark Heart of Magic in 2015, I mentioned how much she reminds of of Gin Blaco from Estep's adult urban fantasy Elemental Assassin series. This continues to be the case, but I love it. She's funny, independent yet vulnerable and a kick butt female protagonist.

There's plenty of action, good story line progression and just enough romance balanced with thwarting the villain and finding some justice for past wrongs.  I think my favorite 'character' continues to be the tentacled lochness monster living beneath the toll bridge.  This is definitely the type of creature you'd like to have in your corner.

Overall, I recommend this for middle school readers and older who enjoy urban fantasy that has good pacing and interesting characters.  This is an exciting and engaging read. I'm content if this wraps up the series but would be please to learn that they'll eventually be more.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @Jennifer_Estep

#BlackBlade #BrightBlazeOfMagic #JenniferEstep #YAlit #urbanfantasy #books #teen

Thursday, March 24, 2016

REVIEW: Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

Two worlds collide in Katie McGarry's second installment to the Thunder Road series.

Available March 29, 2016 from Harlequin Teen

Breanna Miller has always been known as the freakishly smart good girl.  She's determined to be less invisible during her senior year before fleeing Snowflake, Kentucky but she never considered being noticed would change her life in so many ways.

Thomas 'Razor' Turner is one of the more volitale young members of the Reign of Terror MC. Devilishly handsome, fiercely protective and intelligent, he's also haunted by the death of his mother and a slew of unanswered questions. 

Fate brings these two together.  Breanna's in need of a protector and she also might be the only person who can help Razor solve the puzzle of his mother's death. When an intensely intimate but rather innocent moment between the two is photographed, Breanna is blackmailed and seeks Razor's help but as these two spend more time together, their feelings grow.  Both 'walk the edge' between who they are and who they want to be.

I'm a huge Katie McGarry fan and Walk the Edge doesn't disappoint with action, suspense and memorable characters.  The novel is a the perfect blent of edgy, realistic fiction and romance but balances relevant real-life issue such as identity, grief, suicide, and social media threats to one's reputation. Definitely for ages 14 and up due to language, some violence and sexual situations.  I've already added Razor to my neverending book boyfriend list.  He's an intense, dangerous bad boy but loving, brave and protective of those he cares about.  Each of the main characters grows throughout the story and overall, I loved the reading experience!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Keep reading below for a brief Q & A from Katie and an exclusive excerpt!

Q:  What do you most want readers to know about Walk the Edge?

A : Walk the Edge is the story of the boy everyone sees, but nobody knows who is with the girl everybody knows but nobody sees. 

Q:  What is in store for the next book in the Thunder Road series?

A: I'm currently working on the third book of the Thunder Road series which will be Chevy and Violet's story. 

Q:  Can you tell readers a bit about the experience writing Walk the Edge? Was the process comparable to other books or different in any way?

A: Walk the Edge came surprisingly easy. Razor and Breanna are characters who are just meant to be together and their story flowed.


    Her face is white against her raven hair. Ghost white. I’d bet my left ball she hasn’t breathed since I spoke. Her hand is outstretched toward the busted cell on the ground, but her wide hazel eyes are cemented on me. I turn my head and I’m greeted by the amused faces of my brothers from the Reign of Terror who stand next to their bikes in the parking lot. They’ll be harassing me on this for weeks. Fuck me for trying to be chivalrous.
    “You okay?” It’s a variation of the question I asked a few seconds ago, but this one she seems to understand as her body trembles to life.
    “Um…” she stutters. We’ve been at the same schools since elementary age, otherwise I’d wonder if she was a foreign exchange student with limited English. “I only have twenty dollars.”
    The muscles in the back of my neck tense. “I’m not going to jack you for your money.”
    She quits breathing again.
    “Nice to know your current bank account status,” I bite. “But I asked you if you were okay.”
    Color returns to her cheeks as I pin her with my gaze. She accused me of trying to rob her. I know it, she knows it, and she’s now informed I’m not the asshole in this scenario.
    “Yes,” she finally answers. “I’m okay. I mean no…I mean…I broke my phone.”
    She did and that sucks for her.
    Her eyes flicker between me and the phone like she wants to retrieve it, yet she’s too paralyzed. Saving us from this torture, I swipe the pieces of the cell and lean against the wall.
    The distance between us relaxes her and that gulp of air was audible as she tucks herself tight in the corner farthest from me. This reaction isn’t new. I’ve seen it since I was a child whenever my father or anyone from the Terror entered a room full of civilians. To everyone outside of the club, we’re the evil motorcycle gang bent on blowing the house down.
    People and their hellish nightmare folklore involving us piss me off. I don’t know why I told the guys to give me a minute. I’m late for plans I made with Chevy and some girls, plus I’m on call in case the board chooses to meet sooner rather than later to discuss Detective Jake Barlow.
    But something about how this chick appeared alone and frightened messed me up. It reminded me…The thought stalls and the emotional speed bump causes a flash of pain in my chest. Screw it, her expression reminded me of Mom the last time I saw her—the night she died.
    My mom. I shake my head to expel her ghost. One visit from one bastard trying to use me and I’m being haunted by a past I can’t change. That’s what the detective was salivating over—to use me for info on the club. He’s one of too many who believes our club is the devil’s prodigy.
    What he doesn’t see is that we’re a family—the type of family that comes when called. Obviously not like this girl’s family.
    “Is it yes or no?” It’s damn difficult to shove the battery in now that the frame is bent.
    “Yes or no what?” her long black hair sweeps past her shoulders. She has the type of hair that would have to be pulled up if she rode on the back of my bike. Gotta admit, I like her hair, especially how it shines under the lights of the school’s overhang.
    “If you’re okay.” I survey the mostly empty area to prove a point. “If we leave, you’ll be alone, and I don’t care of that. There’s some real psychos out there.”
About Katie McGarry

Katie McGarry was a teenager during the age of grunge and boy bands and remembers those years as the best and worst of her life. She is a lover of music, happy endings, reality television, and is a secret University of Kentucky basketball fan.

Katie is the author of full length YA novels, PUSHING THE LIMITS, DARE YOU TO, CRASH INTO YOU, TAKE ME ON,  BREAKING THE RULES, and NOWHERE BUT HERE and the e-novellas, CROSSING THE LINE and RED AT NIGHT. Her debut YA novel, PUSHING THE LIMITS was a 2012 Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction, a RT Magazine's 2012 Reviewer's Choice Awards Nominee for Young Adult Contemporary Novel, a double Rita Finalist, and a 2013 YALSA Top Ten Teen Pick. DARE YOU TO was also a Goodreads Choice Finalist for YA Fiction and won RT Magazine’s Reviewer’s Choice Best Book Award for Young Adult Contemporary fiction in 2013.


Twitter: @katiemcgarry
A big thanks to @katiemcgarry @HarlequinTeen and @InkSlingerPR
#WalkTheEdge #ThunderRoad #KatieMcGarry #YAlit #romance #realisticfiction #bikers #mystery #newadult

REVIEW: Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige

Magical protege Amy Gum is back in this third installment to Paige's Dorothy Must Die series.  She must do everything in her power to save Kansas, kill Dorothy and save the land of Oz from its evil foes.  However, nothing goes according to plan--stuck all but powerless in Kansas, Amy isn't quite as much of the witch-team as she expected. She has to make contact with her former life in order to find an important magical object that just might be the ticket back to Oz--too bad there is another villain poised to cause trouble.

I continue to adore this series. It is funny, well written and engaging in a face paced and creative spin on L. Frank Baum's classic. I admire Paige's ingenuity and ability to expand on aspects of the original fantasy series by adding modern flair for contemporary audiences. The overall characterization is fantastic.  Amy is funny and genuine but also multilayered enough to stay interesting as she shows vulnerability and a dark side.

My biggest disappointment is that I have to wait another whole year for a new book! Yellow Brick War ends with another great cliffhanger. I have an inkling that nothing is ever quite as it seems, especially with the Quadrant, Dorothy and the introduction of the Nome King.  I think he will prove to be an deliciously evil and manipulative foe but I'm sure we haven't seen the last of Dorothy or even Glinda.

I highly recommend readers finish Dorothy Must Die Stories Volume 2 before picking up this third book.  Events that take place in those stories, especially "The Straw King" and "Ruler of Beasts", set the stage for Yellow Brick War and provide a bit more background about Dorothy's ruby slippers and the Nome King.

The audiobooks of this series are pretty fantastic as read by Devon Sorvari (@devonsorvari) is pretty fantastic. Great presence, character depth and standout charisma to make this story pop!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @daniellempaige

#YellowBrickWar #DorothyMustDie #audiobook #YAlit #teen #books #fairytale #magic #humor

REVIEW: The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas

The Immortal Heights is the final book in the Elemental trilogy. Everything has led to this, the final battle with the Bane.  Prince Titus has used his many resources to remain one step ahead of his foes, but he just might fail as the Bane issues a ultimatum: hand over elemental mage, Iolanthe, or watch as the entire realm is destroyed. Titus, Iolanthe, and their allies must work together if they are to save not only the realm but themselves. Breaking into a near impenetrable fortress is the least of their worries when new prophecies indicate greater impending doom.

This final book is pretty much a non-stop thrill ride.  It opens with Titus, Iolanthe and their allies knee deep in an action packed battle with Atlantis. The adventure doesn't let up as the characters evade enemies, craft strategy and navigate unforeseen events in their quest to end the Bane's tyranny. The Immortal Heights is an exciting and fantastic end to the series.  There were plenty of surprise twists that I didn't expect and will keep readers enchanted from start to finish.

I admire Thomas' writing and ability to create such an imaginative story which really is epic fantasy at its best but also mixes humor, romance, and friendship with the magical landscape.  It isn't easy for fantasy writers to carve their own unique space in a post-Harry Potter world; however, Thomas does so with finesse--paying homage to Rowling while building something new and exciting. The relationship between Titus and Iolanthe is admirable--sure there are ups and downs but it comes across as meaningful and respectful.  I particularly liked the epilogue and what it did for the characters and their futures.

Thank you to publisher Balzer + Bray for the review copy as part of my ROYAL membership with the SWON Libraries.

Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @sherrythomas

#TheImmortalHeights #YAlit #magic #epicfantasy #teen #ROYAL #books

Monday, March 21, 2016

REVIEW: Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. by Frank Beddor and Adrienne Kress

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

Expected publication: April 19, 2016

Authors Frank Beddor and Adrienne Kress explore the life of a teenage Hatter Madigan as he begins his training at the Millinery Academy.  Readers have grown to love Hatter throughout his role in the Looking Glass Wars series as well as graphic novels.  Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. delves into the first phase of his training. Hatter feels the pressures to live up to expectations set by his parents, his highly successful older brother, Dalton, and other new cadets.

A mystery unfolds as ghosts seem to be lurking in corridors and other cadets begin behaving strangely.  Hatter and a group of cadets must unlock the mystery of these ghostly characters and their connection to their new training device, the H.A.T.B.O.X. before it is too late!

I've been a fan of Beddor's for a while now starting with the discovery of The Looking Glass Wars.  I adored the trilogy and its imaginativeness.  Despite being hard to physically get a hold of, I also sing the praises of the Hatter M centric graphic novels (The Looking Glass Wars, Mad with Wonder, The Nature of Wonder, Zen of Wonder, Love of Wonder). Those who know me best aren't surprised that I'm a sucker of anything inspired by Alice in Wonderland.  Beddor's work is outstanding with unparalleled creativity and high visual appeal.  Kress is equally talented and if you haven't read her steampunk adventure The Friday Society, you are missing out!

This series debut is ideal for middle school readers or as an addition for fans of the other books. The story is fast paced and creative and adds just enough of Carroll's classic to delve into an exciting reimagining of the original. The Mad Hatter as a highly trained and lethal bodyguard/spy who wields his hat as a weapon by the power of imagination is just too cool! I love all the other Wonderland references as well as the hierarchy of the card suits and their specializations.

Despite the surface retelling, there is great depth in the themes which will hold appeal to multiple readers.  This is a coming of age story.  Hatter is searching for his own identity and creating his own story. Another key theme is bullying.  Wonderland sets up a class hierarchy with the 'elite' looking down upon others.  Hatter hasn't grown up with this thinking and surprised by other cadets' behavior has to adjust and decide how he will behave for himself. Ultimately, he allies himself with the underdogs and calls out those who do the bullying.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the authors: @frankbeddor @AdrienneKress

#HatterMadigan #LookingGlassWars #AliceInWonderland #YAlit #netgalley #teen #books

REVIEW: Tracked by Jenny Martin .

Tracked is the debut from Martin, blending Fast and the Furious into an action packed, futurist twist that is a little bit Death Race 2000 mixed with some Hunger Games.

Planet Castra is corporately controlled, namely by Charles Benroyal.  Rally racing is a high stakes game, something that female protagonist, Phoebe Van Zant knows all too well considering her father's rise to glory and his mysterious disappearance.  Phee has made quite a name for herself on the illegal circuit, but when her recklessness lands both her and her best friend, Bear, in trouble, she has no choice but to race for the Benroyal Group, lest her loved ones pay the price. Phee detests everything Benroyal stands for, more so after she learns he's truly up to no good. It's up to her to take him down but that just might be too big of a task for a street smart orphan.

This novel has a good formula to peak readers' interests:

  • Sassy female heroine!
  • Love triangle with two equally hunky guys! (I <3 Bear and am pulling for him!)
  • Action!
  • Conspiracy!
  • Secrets!
  • Car racing!
That being said, my age is showing. I did like Tracked but elements didn't appeal to me as much as they might a teen reader. Phee is another one of those heroines who means well but is too impulsive for her own good.  I remain interested in seeing her character progression. One pet peeve of mine is the overuse of figurative language.  I wasn't a big fan of Phee's 'isms' (i.e. all up in my exhaust). I'll admit that such language does help establish world building but I felt like these were overused and exaserbated by the audiobook performance.

My favorite parts of the book were less about Phee and more about Bear and Cash.  I'm pretty intrigued to see where it all goes for Marked, the upcoming second book.

Overall, there is good general appeal to a wide YA audience.  I'd recommend Tracked for those wanting an exciting, fast paced story and especially for a reluctant reader. The book is probably best for grades 8 and up.

Final rating: 3.75/5

Follow the author on Twitter: @readjennymartin

Look for my upcoming review of Marked in Voya in June 2016.

#Tracked #Marked #JennyMartin #YAlit #cars #racing #futuristic #teen #books

Thursday, March 17, 2016

REVIEW: Luna by Julie Anne Peters

Reagan harbors a secret--that her older brother, Liam, can't stand the person he is during the day.  At night, using Reagan's clothes and makeup, he transforms into Luna, the beautiful girl he can only be behind closed doors in the sanctity of their shared basement.  Tired of hiding her true self, Luna prepares to share her identity with the world but Reagan is fearful of family and friends reactions. Luna is a compelling story about a transgender teen's struggle for self-identity and acceptance.

What makes Luna special is in part its subject matter but also the way in which it is told.  If it had been told from Liam's POV as he embraces his identity as Luna, the story would still be powerful; however, the addition of Reagan as narrator, sharing Luna's journey but also her own adds another level to the prose. The novel is inspiring for multiple readers not only for its themes concerning the transgender community but also for exploring gender roles, friend and family relationships, budding romance and parental expectations.

Luna is certainly deserving of its praise and award nominations and recognition. This is one of those reads that I couldn't put down.  I was captivated by all the characters and easily angered by pretty much all the adults throughout the novel. I admire the authentic voice of the writing and think this should be added to any school or public library collection that it might inspire or provide support for readers experiencing similar situations.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @julieannepeters

#selfidentity #Luna #transgender #JulieAnnePeters #YAlit #teen #bookreview

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

REVIEW: Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall tells the tale of the apocalypse with a surprising twist. Angels arrive on Earth, wreaking havoc and demolishing the modern world.  Seventeen year old Penryn is determined to protect her family--her mentally ill mother and her paralyzed little sister--but when warrior angels fly away with the helpless little girl, Penryn will stop at nothing to get her back.

This quest forces her to ally with Raffe, a warrior who lies broken, defeated and wingless on the street. Nursing him back to health, Raffe agrees to assist Penryn in reaching the angels' stronghold in San Francisco to find her sister and for his own chance to reattach his wings.  They encounter many obstacles on this journey but surprisingly grow closer, each breaking down stereotypical barriers from being on opposite sides of the war.

I enjoyed the story and original premise even if the audiobook wasn't amazing. After so many post-apocalyptic books that feel all too similar, Angelfall sets itself apart with a unique perspective and a fierce, if at times terrifying, alternate envisioning of angels.

I found the well developed characters and gradually growing trust and understanding between Penryn and Raffe compelling.  There is a hesitant trust, respect and then progression toward deeper emotion that entices readers forward. Without providing spoilers, I will say that the culminating events provide some shocking development which hint at great implications for the subsequent books in the trilogy. I do wish Penryn wasn't quite as impulsive as she is portrayed but I do see character progression and expect she'll continue her journey in the other books.

Overall, I recommend this for middle school and up who enjoy dystopian or apocalyptic stories with hints at fantasy and some potential romance.  There's great suspense and this book really goes outside the typical box of similar novels.

Final rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @Susan_Ee

#Angelfall #Penryn #apocalypse #angels #YAlit #bookreview #urbanfantasy

REVIEW: The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

Titus and Iolanthe as Fairfax are back in this exciting sequel to The Burning Sky.  After spending the summer apart, these two are eager to return to Eton College and resume training to defeat the Bane and take down Atlantis. However, Titus makes a shocking discovery which causes him to question everything related to his mission consequently creates tension between his and Iolanthe's burgeoning relationship.

The Perilous Sea continues to be epic fantasy at its best. Readers are in store for plenty of adventure and definitely some surprising plot twists.  What I particularly loved were the alternating chapters--let's call them 'before' and 'after' perspectives all keeping pace until readers embark on the crucial event bringing the characters and the audience up to speed.

I certainly wasn't expecting the 'twist' but had faith everything would work out in the end. Great world building throughout with just enough snark and romance. I like that this is the kind of book with appeal to a wide range of readers, both male and female.  Again, I wish the audiobook was a bit more exciting in its narrative retelling but there are no grand flaws which hinder the reading experience.  I am excited to finish the series with book 3, The Immortal Heights.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @sherrythomas

#ThePerilousSea #magic #SherryThomas #romance #fantasy #YAlit #bookreview

REVIEW: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Iolanthe Seabourne is the prophesized greatest elemental mage of her time, or so she's been told. At first, her life is rather mundane--basically an orphan spent honing her magical skill.  All this changes with a ruined light elixir and a bolt of lightning.  These events set the prophecy in motion--that an elemental mage will be the savior of the Realm by defeating the Bane and taking down Atlantis.  Such a task would be impossible for most mages, but more so for a barely trained sixteen year old girl.

Enter, Prince Titus, sworn to protect Iolanthe as foreseen by his mother's visions.  He vows vengeance for his family even as he carefully leads a double life to ensure his and Iolanthe's safety as they prepare for the dangerous battle ahead. Despite his best efforts, Titus does the one thing he swore never to do--fall in love with the girl who should only be a means to an end. As the Inquisitor and Atlantis close in, Titus must choose between the mission and Iolanthe's life.

While certainly taking a more serious tone, Thomas's Elemental trilogy pays homage to Rowling's Harry Potter series. Filled with intrigue and adventure, similarities arise as the main characters are forced to hide in the non-magical world. The described 'vaulting' or jumping from place to place is much like apparating  and there are plenty of fantastical creatures and memorable spells.

The novel makes great use of the 'girl disguised as a boy' trope.  Iolanthe must pretend to be Fairfax while at Eton College. This adds a certain amount of flair, drama and tension to the novel, especially the growing relationship between Iolanthe and Titus. I loved the world building, additional characters and the creativity of the 'crucible' as a training ground to prepare for the big battles ahead. 

 This is definitely recommended for readers who enjoy fantasy, magic, romance and want a Potter readalike. It's probably best for middle schoolers and up.  The cover is exceptionally eye catching. One drawback is the audiobook.  While there isn't a detrimental flaw in its production, there isn't any stellar excitement to it either.  I think it would have been better with a both a female and male, younger sounding narrators.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @sherrythomas

#SherryThomas #TheBurningSky #magic #fantasy #romance #YAlit #teenreads

Thursday, March 10, 2016

REVIEW: Dorothy Must Die Stories Vol. 2 by Danielle Paige

Within Stories Vol. 2, Paige rounds out her collection of short stories connected to the Dorothy Must Die trilogy.  Readers get the chance to discover what happened to Dorothy's companions--the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion after her departure from Oz and before her fateful return that will send the kingdom spiraling into wickedness.

Back in 2015, I reviewed "Heart of Tin" which is the Tin Man's story of unrequited love and the desperation and loneliness which Glinda uses to manipulate him for her own purposes. I really enjoyed this story even though it has a bit of a creepy, stalker vibe. 

Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

In "The Straw King," Scarecrow is so focused on reading to learn what it takes to make a great ruler that he's taken by surprise when a usurper to the throne attacks the Emerald City, killing innocents and forcing Scarecrow and Lion to flee. Eventually they rally a pitiful attempt to reclaim control; however, it is only when Glinda conveniently appears with Ozma (the true princess of Oz) that the usurper is defeated. Glinda believes she can manipulate the young girl as she's done with so many others but Ozma is strong willed and a capable ruler, essentially shutting out Glinda and ignoring Scarecrow as adviser. This was my least favorite story of the three. I wanted to see more of how Scarecrow became the twisted scientist.  I did like Lion's advice that there is more to ruling than reading how to do it well. Sometimes living is about the experience. 

Final rating: 3 out of 4 stars

Glinda continues her rise to power and treachery in "Rule of Beasts." No longer cowardly, Lion is King of the Beasts but very bored.  He longs for a sense of purpose or adventure.  Knowing this, Glinda arrives with a mission and also enchants Lion to do her bidding.  He needs to journey to the Emerald City to find an important items since she and Ozma are on the outs. This was my favorite story of the three because of the introduction of additional characters from Baum's Oz books.  I thought the Gnome King was deliciously evil and well portrayed and we finally got the Wheelers! My favorite part of the film Return to Oz has always been the 'guessing game' at the end and liked how Paige incorporated this into the end of the story.  There is a great smack down between Ozma and Glinda with the outcome shedding some important light on just how the events of the series unfold with Dorothy's return and her wicked demise.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Overall rating: 4 out of stars

#dorothymustdie #daniellepaige #wizardofoz #YAlit #teen #bookreview

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

REVIEW: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynne Barnes

Cassie is a natural at reading people.  Telling people who they are and what they want.  At 17, she never expected the FBI would be interested in her talent, but she's surprised to learn that she's been recruited, along with other gifted teens, into a secret program to assist in cracking infamous cold cases.  Intrigued and desperate to discover the truth behind her own mother's disappearance, Cassie readily accepts the offer.

She meets the rest of the team including two potential romantic interests: Michael, adept at reading emotions, and Dean, broody but sharing Cassie's knack for profiling.  Soon it becomes apparent that there's a connection between recent murders and Cassie is a target.  Some shocking revelations are in store before she gets answers to the questions she's been seeking.

This is a great book featuring just enough Criminal Minds drama and the perfect amount of teenage angst. Cassie is likable and her struggles come across as very real.

I thought the pacing was great as were the other characters.  I think the love triangle makes for interesting reading and I love the rest of the team too!  There was just enough creepy, crime scene description to give the novel an authentic, crime thriller vibe but it wasn't so over the top that I wouldn't recommend this to middle school and older readers.

Be prepared for some fantastic plot twists!  I can't wait to read the next book :0)

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @jenlynnbarnes

#TheNaturals #mystery #thriller #profiling #YAlit #teen #romance

REVIEW: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers is the first in the Jasper "Jazz" Dent trilogy. Jazz's life is complicated; namely since his father, Billy Dent, is the world's most nefarious serial killer. With his victims numbering in the triple digits, it was a relief when he was finally caught and sent to prison.  However, his presence and grooming certainly left a permanent mark on his son's adolescence and psyche. Jazz saw numerous crimes from a killer's POV, something cops wish they could do.

When a series a new murders mimicking Billy Dent's crimes as "The Artist", have bodies piling up in their small town, the sheriff and the task force need Jazz's unique set of skills to help them catch a killer. Jazz agrees in part to clear his own name but such close investigation has him questioning just how much he resembles his father.

What I liked...

This is a compelling story with plenty of action, thrills and mystery. The pacing is excellent since there is defined urgency in finding the killer before there are more victims.  The character building is superb. Jazz is far more complicated than the average teenage boy.  Readers experience his own quest to navigate his identity and the struggle he feels toward being a "normal", compassionate person in opposition embracing the sociopathic tendencies grilled into him by his father.

I liked that Jazz does have a good support system in best friend, Howie, and girlfriend, Connie. These characters ground him and do bring in some much needed levity when needed.  Another interesting character is Grandma.  She's pretty batty which is good for the addition of humor; however, her behavior illuminates the dark and turbulent history of the Dent family.

What I didn't like...

For a YA book this is extremely dark.  I was shocked by the vivid description of violence and the degradation of women.  True, it builds authenticity but I felt that this was pushing the envelope for what should be categorized as YA fiction. Recommended for a mature teen with caution.  Readlikes include The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

That being said, I'm compelled enough by the cliffhanger to want to finish the series in due time.  Jazz isn't like other teen protagonists and I Hunt Killers certainly isn't boring.  There is a lot of interesting themes to consider in the series including identity, race, and the big question of nature vs. nurture.  I do want to see how it all ends.

Final rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @barrylyga

#IHuntKillers #JazzDent #BarryLyga #YAlit #mystery #thriller #bookreview #profiling

Monday, March 7, 2016

REVIEW: Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho

Althea and Oliver have been neighbors and best friends since they were six. She's the artist and quick to react fist-fighting aggressor; whereas, he's always been the scientific peacekeeper. Maybe it's always been inevitable that their friendship could be more; but what happens when life intervenes and the person always there to keep you in check just isn't?

It's the tail end of junior year and Oliver is acting strange.  He's exhausted for no reason and as the symptoms escalate he bounces between normalcy, periods of semi-conscious mania and marathon sleeps lasting weeks at a time.  Without Oliver, Althea is lost and more than a little confused. She wants to be more than just friends but a choice made with which Oliver then has no memory shatters their relationship.  With little choice but to travel to NYC seeking medical answers, Oliver leaves home and Althea behind. She follows determined to set things right even if it means letting go.

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

Althea & Oliver is probably one of those books that might not have necessarily been on my radar but I'm glad it was mentioned on the YALSA list-serve.  There are a number of YA fiction books which delve into the theme of rape, coping and accountability but very few that explore it from a male perspective. Furthermore, none that I know of currently that include the male protagonist as victim rather than aggressor.

Moracho explores a thought provoking situation with respect to these characters and the bigger picture relating to trust and consent. I do have to say that I was uncomfortable with the novel's treatment of the situation and the conclusion.  Had the roles been reversed, I don't think a female protagonist would have processed the event in the same manner.

As a whole, this is a novel about identity, friendship, illness and love.  I recommend this for older readers and for those who like edgy, realistic fiction (i.e. Ellen Hopkins, Rainbow Rowell. Laurie Halse Anderson). I enjoyed the 90s vibe and like that even after finishing the read that I keep coming back to the story, the writing, and the characters to think about what happened, how the story ended and what it made me feel.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter:  @cherielecrivain

#AltheaandOliver #YAlit #teen #realistic #bookreview #YA

REVIEW: Velvet by Temple West

*Thank you to @SwoonReads for a copy to review on behalf of my membership in ROYAL for the SWON Libraries*

Having lost both of her parents before she even turns 17, Caitlin Holte is deservedly angry when she's forced to give up her entire life and move in with relative strangers in a dreary small town. She's counting down the days until she can escape and become the fashion designer of her dreams; however, when Caitlin witnesses a supernaturally charged occurrence, it seems as if her whole world will be turned upside down.  

Quickly she learns the vampires are real and that a powerful demon has his eyes set on her.  For her protection, Caitlin's new bodyguard is the most desirable boy in school.  A half demon vampire, Adrian is determined to protect Caitlin even if they have to pretend to be a couple to fool her family and friends but tensions rise when their feelings become no quite so pretend.

Now, stop me if this sounds familiar.  A moody teenage girl reluctantly moves to a small town and coincidentally garners the attention of the high school's most eligible hottie, who up until this point has never feigned interest in any girl or even guy.  Caitlin assumes he's gay until she discovers the truth.  He's rich. He's gorgeous. He's charming and seemingly perfect in every way except he's forbidden to fall for her, wants to drink her dry and he seems to be the sole reason why the "Big Bad" is targeting her.  Throw in a super secret supernatural Circle calling the shots and all of this starts sounding a tad familiar.

Velvet's only drawback is that is exists in a post-Twilight world.  The framing of the narrative adheres too closely to the structure of Meyer's novel. Any reader or film viewer can't overlook the startling parallels between the stories.  That being said, Velvet surpasses its predecessor in every way.  The characterization is spot on. Caitlin is spunky and sharp tongued, a trait Bella Swan was sorely lacking. Adrian is good looking, sexy and mysterious minus Edwards creeper vibe.

Overall, there is substance to the story even if there are still a lot more plot questions than answers. I found myself enjoying the book despite its I'd recommend this as a definite purchase for public and high school libraries.  The target audience is female readers, ages 14 and up. This is idea for those wanting a mix of romance and the supernatural or readalikes for Twilight, Vampire Academy and other similar titles.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @ByTempleWest

#Velvet #TempleWest #romance #vampires #YAlit #teen #SwoonReads

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

REVIEW: The Invisible by Amelia Kahaney

The Invisible is the 2014 follow up the The Brokenhearted.  Protagonist Anthem Fleet is back and more determined than ever to discover the truth behind her father's involvement in the Syndicate, Bedlam's corrupt, secretive and high powered organization determined to keep the wealthy rich and the poor in their place. Her quest for answers is balanced by an attempt at regained normalcy following the experimental operation that left her with a bionic hummingbird heart and a budding chance at romance with Ford, following his own life saving surgery. When a new foe called The Invisible attacks the elite families in Bedlam, Anthem feels compelled to stop him and his followers before even more people are hurt.  She is shocked to learn that Invisible's appearance and motives for revenge are deeply rooted within her own family history.

This is a fantastic series! The characters are well developed and intriguing with a certain comic-esque flair.  I kept drawing strong comparisons to Batman and the plight of Gotham. I highly recommend this to reading wanting a fast paced and exciting read or a read-a-like for other re-imagined superhero tales like Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart series or Bethany Frenette's Dark Star trilogy (Dark Star, Burn Bright, Fire Fall).  If this is it for the series, then it is a fitting conclusion but I'd love to see the characters come back for just one more adventure!

Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Follow these authors on Twitter: @akahaney   @bethanyfrenette  @BrandSanderson

#Invisible #superhero #action #adventure #romance #thriller #YAlit #TRC2016

REVIEW: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

At the opening of Reign of Shadows, readers learn that a perpetual eclipse has left the kingdom of Relhok in near darkness for some seventeen years. During the chaos, a corrupt chancellor murdered the king and queen, usurping the throne. Luna is Relhok's lost princess, raised in secret in a fortefied tower and her very existence hinges on the world believing she's dead. Luna longs for a more fulfilling life than being locked in a tower waiting until she might reclaim the throne.  Trained as royalty and to defend herself, her situation is unique given that she is blind.

Enter Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the trecherous woods outside the tower. Luna is immediately drawn to him despite all the risks.  When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape and embark on a dangerous journey toward safety. Over time they find solace in each other, especially when they learn that each harbors some enlightening secrets. When Luna discovers that the new king is executing young girls, hoping to snuff out rumors of a remaining heir, she is determined to turn herself in despite Fowler's protests.

The cover is gorgeous and the story is pretty entertaining.  I enjoyed the chemistry and building relationship between Luna and Fowler. There were a few tiny missteps for me.  I wanted the world building to be a smidge more realized.  I felt like there could have been more development here. I want to know the whys!  Luna is the typical feisty female protagonist with a huge destiny but has been so sheltered her entire life that she is bursting at the seams for adventure and a greater sense of purpose.  I was thrilled that Jordan wrote Luna with a bit of diversity. There aren't many blind leading ladies.  That said, even with Luna's "enhanced senses" much of her behavior isn't plausible despite the novel's fantasy connections.

I'm intrigued enough by that surprise cliffhanger ending to want to read the next book. Overall, this is a good middle school to older teen read. It's probably going to skew toward female readers but there is appeal for boys since their are alternating point of view.

Final rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @SoVerySophie

#ReignOfShadows #fantasy #adventure #romance #YAlit #bookreview #teen

REVIEW: Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

Following the utter destruction of luxury yacht Persephone, fourteen year old Frances is one of only three survivors. However, their story is a far cry from the terrifying truth and Frances makes it her mission to avenge the brutal deaths of her parents and best friend Libby even if it means targeting the boy she loves.

This is one of those books where readers are torn whether to connect with Frances, her loss and need for justice or to be alarmed and appauled by her actions.  Fast forward four years later, Frances has been living as Libby (the only person to know her true identity is Libby's father and he's recently passed away). She's determined that this is the time to put her plan in motion.

Daughter of Deep Silence is a fast paced and compelling thriller even if there are some flaws. Frances is pretty messed up which is probably normal after her ordeal but that doesn't excuse her horrible and rather vicious choices even if the bad guy deserves what he gets.  The senator's son, Grey, is just a victim in all of it--true he's bullied into lying, but Frances' treatment of him and the subsequent ills which befall him are harsh. Poor Shepard is a pawn too. Frances manipulates him using his feelings for Libby.

Overall, this is a quick and interesting read but it left me wanting a bit more resolution.  Plus, Frances does some pretty horrible stuff without any real consequence.  I have a problem with this since books are supposed to help set a precidence for behavior. I'm reading way too much into this, but as an adult working with youth, I know that teens are impressionable and often look toward book protagonists as life guides. Frances living as Libby, plotting nefarious crimes, digging up her BFFs corspe and then trotting off to make her way in the world with lots of money isn't setting the greatest example.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @CarrieRyan

#DaughterOfDeepSilence #YAlit #teen #revenge #thriller #romance #mystery