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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

REVIEW: I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan (2010 edit)

They didn't mean it. They didn't mean to hit the boy. There was a party, and it was an accident...that wasn't who they were. They were pre-law, a football player, bound for New York. No one could know, so Barry, Julie, Helen, and Ray swore one another to secrecy. But now, a year later, someone knows. Julie receives a haunting, anonymous threat: "I know what you did last summer." The dark lie is unearthed, and before the four friends know it they need to outsmart a killer...or they will be the next to die.

This blast from the past rounded out my 2017 Reading Challenge list. I'd never read the actual novel but know the last 90's film well. While some of the details are different, the premise is the same: a joy-riding teens accidentally kill a pedestrian and run from the scene. A year later, they begin getting messages that someone knows the truth, bad things happen.

I listened to the 2010 re-edit. From what I can tell some of the narrative is modernized and the characters mention cell phones. Honestly, I was not too impressed by the book but can see its appeal when it was originally published. More editing and characterization needs to happen before this would appeal to contemporary audiences.

Final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

REVIEW: Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

*Thank you to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for an ARC in exchange for a review*

Expected publication: January 2, 2018

Valkyries have one great responsibility: to return immortals to the afterlife by slaying them. As a Valkyrie, Malin has always known that the balance of the world rests on her ability to carry out orders. But when Malin discovers that her mother spared the life of an immortal who was destined to die, her world is thrown into chaos. 

Malin not only wrestles with the knowledge that her mother might not be who she thought—she’s also thrust into the path of a gorgeous blue eyed guy named Asher who needs her help slaying the rogue immortal who destroyed his family. The balance of the world is at stake. And, as Asher competes with Malin’s ex for her love and loyalty, so is her heart.

This was an interesting read which delves both into significant character and world building. I enjoyed the fresh take on some of the Norse mythology.  Malin is a complicated character with potential for growth. She's likeable in her indecisiveness, especially her love life. I do want to see her open up a bit more. I liked the secondary characters as well. 

One hope for improvement is to provide a villain with some additional depth. I found myself wanting a bit more in this avenue. Otherwise, I enjoyed this book like I have Hocking's other titles. It is ideal for an older teen transitioning into New Adult who enjoys urban fantasy, mythology and a bit of romance.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: "Death and Night" by Roshani Chokshi

Before The Star-Touched Queen there was only Death and Night.

He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.

Death and Night is a lovely prequel novella to The Star-Touched Queen. Rich description, depth of characters, mystery, intrigue and romance. Chokshi's writing is so lush, I enjoy each word.

This works nicely as a standalone but also as the starting point for the other books.  Looking forward to the other novellas in 2018.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 11, 2017

REVIEW: Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. Soon Alia learns that she is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Alia and Diana must face uncertainty while trying to bring and end to the chaotic Warbringer legacy so that Alia can live in peace. Along the way they encounter some deadly human and immortal foes as well as acquire helpful allies.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Wonderful and detailed character building for an iconic heroine. Bardugo excells with the level of engaging characterization. I like this young and modern version of Diana and the echo to ideas introduced for the 2016 film are lovely. I also enjoyed Alia's journey as well as the supporting characters, Nim and Theo.

This was a fast paced, exciting read with some great twists. Excellent for superhero fans as well as those who enjoy some adventure, mythology, fantasy and strong heroines.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, December 8, 2017

REVIEW: The Dazzling Heights by Katharine McGee

The Dazzling Heights is the second book in this futuristic YA series fill of romance, angst, mystery a la Gossip Girl

New York City, 2118. Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a breathtaking marvel that touches the sky. But amid high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, five teenagers are keeping dangerous secrets…

Leda is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’ll do anything to make sure the truth stays hidden—even if it means trusting her enemy. She redeems herself and became, at least for me, a tad bit more likeable but she's not perfect by a long shot.

Watt just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Will he do what it takes to be free of her for good? Still one of the most interesting characters for me but I have a feeling that the whole 'Nadia' deal is going to explode soon.

When Rylin wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being there also means seeing the boy whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return. I feel bad for Rylin because she's got great potential but still keeps getting swept up into less than desirable circumstances.

is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. She’s desperate to be with him…no matter the cost. I am SUPER over Avery and her tumultuous, forbidden relationship.  She comes across as immature and too annoying for me to connect with her.

And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin. The introduction of Calliope was an interesting twist. She's bound to keep causing trouble.

Overall, I was really satisfied with this book. It is engaging and had a superb cliffhanger of an ending. I can't help thinking that this would be a fun television series!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, December 4, 2017

REVIEW: Frankie by Shivaun Plozza

Expected publication: November 7, 2017 (hardcover)

Frankie Vega is a angry young girl. Most anyone would agree. Such as the guy whose nose she broke; the cop investigating the burglary she witnessed; or her cheating ex-boyfriend or her aunt who's tired of giving second chances. 

When a young kid shows up claiming to be Frankie's half-brother, Xavier, it opens the door to a past she doesn't want to remember. Xavier goes missing and the only person willing to help is a boy with stupidly blue eyes, Nate, who has secrets of his own. Frankie's search for the truth sheds light on some harsh realities and forces her to face harsh facts that will forever change her life.

I enjoyed this book.  There was good pacing, plot development and character building--just enough intrigue with some romantic tension and surprising revelations. Frankie is hard as nails, sassy and funny but vulnerable.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, November 30, 2017

REVIEW: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher's Summary:

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

My Thoughts:

I've been a Stiefvater fan for a long time. I had a difficult time engaging with the story and the characters. Part of this is the audiobook's fault. It was boring and in my opinion, pretty terrible. There was no 'life' to the narrative performance. 

The book's strengths remain Stiefvater's writing ability. Her attention to detail and narrative building are superb. I understand that the book has taken some criticism as she delves into writing from the POV of people of color for the first time. I did not note instances that would take offense but I would leave that as a judgement for others. What is positive is seeing more characters of diversity in YA literature at all. 

I was less enthused with the story itself. I found it a bit too cerebral to peak the interest of a wide scope of teen readers. While I always appreciate Stiefvater's ability to push young readers beyond the predictable and stereotypical books so commonly publish, this was might be too outside the box. I couldn't connect and just did not care about finishing the story at all. 

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars (it was almost a DNF for me and my personal rating was a harsh 1 star)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

REVIEW: The Book Jumper by Mechthild Glaser

Amy Lennox doesn't know quite what to expect when she and her mother pick up and leave Germany for Scotland, heading to her mother's childhood home of Lennox House on the island of Stormsay.

Amy's grandmother, Lady Mairead, insists that Amy must read while she resides at Lennox House—but not in the usual way. Amy learns that she is a book jumper, able to leap into a story and interact with the world inside. As thrilling as Amy's new power is, it also brings danger: someone is stealing from the books she visits, and that person may be after her life. Teaming up with fellow book jumper Will, Amy vows to get to the bottom of the thefts.

Being a book jumper is possibly my greatest dream. I'd love for that to be my superpower!  This thematic concept is not new but I always enjoy each author's spin on the idea.  What would it be like to hop in to Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book or to be buddies with Sherlock Holmes.

Good pacing and narrative development.  I'd definitely recommend this for readers who enjoyed Ink Heart, The Invisible Library or Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

REVIEW: Runebinder by Alex R Kahler

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

When magic returned to the world, it could have saved humanity, but greed and thirst for power caused mankind's downfall instead. Now once-human monsters called Howls prowl abandoned streets, their hunger guided by corrupt necromancers and the all-powerful Kin. Only Hunters have the power to fight back in the unending war, using the same magic that ended civilization in the first place.

But they are losing...

Tenn is a Hunter, resigned to fight even though hope is nearly lost. When he is singled out by a seductive Kin named Tomás and the enigmatic Hunter Jarrett, Tenn realizes he's become a pawn in a bigger game. One that could turn the tides of war. But if his mutinous magic and wayward heart get in the way, his power might not be used in favor of mankind.

If Tenn fails to play his part, it could cost him his friends, his life…and the entire world.

Runebinder is an exciting trip into a post apocolyptic fantasy world steeped in magic, cruel villains and one young man's journey to learn more about himself and his role within this tumultuous new world. Teen readers will find this fast paced with intriguing characters and an identifiable LGBTQ male protagonist. 

Excellent world-building. If I had to find one fault, it would be in some of the transitions. On one hand, the disconnect could mirror the jarring world presented; however, I wanted a bit more fluidity during certain parts.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 4, 2017

REVIEW: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose...

Leda Cole - whose flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched.

Eris Dodd-Radson - whose beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart.

Rylin Myers - whose job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will this new life cost Rylin her old one?

Watt Bakradi - a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy for an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies.

 Avery Fuller - the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

Amid breathtaking advancement and high-tech luxury, five teenagers struggle to find their place at the top of the world. Unfortunately, once at the top, the only way to go is down.  The Thousandth Floor is a futuristic Gossip Girl with a hefty dose of underage drinking, drug use, profanity, some domestic abuse, sexual promiscuity and allusion to a rape.  

Beautiful, eye catching cover.  

I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. The characters were interesting with enough of a well woven narrative full of good conflict, if a tad predictable. As expected, the superficiality of a few characters makes them difficult to stomach in large doses but work with the overall story. I enjoyed the world building of this all inclusive high rise and the idea of a class system beholden to the floor you live upon. 

The structure and cliff hanger of the ending remind me a lot of Big Little Lies. I'm intrigued enough to read book two: The Dazzling Heights.

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

REVIEW: Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

I am OBSESSED with Hamilton: The Musical. De La Cruz' novelization of Alexander and Eliza's epic love story may appeal to teen readers wanting a dramatized, historical romance but I was rather disappointed with the book.  I think I had such high expectations stemming from the musical plus other books that I've ready that I could not connect with this characterization.  It felt forced and all too flat--as if it was trying to be the next Pride and Prejudice--but let's face it there is only one Jane Austen.

Final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

Riordan is back with book 3 in the Magnus Chase series.

A once-homeless teen, Chase, is a resident of the Hotel Valhalla and one of Odin's chosen warriors. As the son of Frey, the god of summer, fertility, and health, Magnus isn't naturally inclined to fighting. But he has strong and steadfast friends, including Hearthstone the elf, Blitzen the dwarf, and Samirah the Valkyrie, and together they have achieved brave deeds, such as defeating Fenris Wolf and battling giants for Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. 

In The Ship of the Dead,  Magnus and his crew must sail to the farthest borders of Jotunheim and Niflheim in pursuit of Asgard's greatest threat. Together, they must again defeat surprising foes and collect items that will help them on their quest. Will they succeed in their perilous journey, or is Ragnarok lurking on the horizon?

The Ship of the Dead is everything Riordan readers love and come to expect--an unlikely group of demigod teenagers sent on a dangerous quest in order to save the world from utter annihilation. There is plenty of comedy and heroism as they encounter foes, defy the odds and of course save the world.

I continue to love the diversity which Riordan adds to the narrative and characters. Readers of any age can expect to find characters they will identify with including those with disabilities, LGBTQ, religion, ethnicity and social economic status. 

The audiobook was entertaining and added to the humor and fast paced reading experience.

The ending makes readers believe that this series might end up being a trilogy; however, I remain unsure. What is clear is that there is a hint for another tie-in series on the horizon with Percy and Annabeth.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 23, 2017

REVIEW: Intensity by Sherrilyn Kenyon

*Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin's Griffin for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

It’s a demon-eat-demon world for Nick Gautier. Just when he thinks he’s finally gotten a handle on how not to take over the world and destroy it, Death returns with an all-star cast that is determined to end the Malachai reign and lineage forever. Worse? Death and War have found the one, true enemy Nick can’t find, and even if he did, it’s one he could never bring himself to banish or kill.

Now framed for murders he hasn’t committed, and surrounded by new friends who might be turncoats, Nick is learning fast how his father went down in flames.

Intensity is the 8th in Kenyon's Chronicles of Nick YA series which connects in large part to her Dark Hunter universe. It remains terribly confusing to explain everything to a non-series reader; however, fans of Kenyon and her ability to map out a spectacularly detailed world and connected characters will enjoy Intensity for its place within the timeline as well as its humor and action.

This novel appears to map a shift in the series and what comes for the future of the Nick Gautier arc for both YA reads and adult fans. We'll just have to wait and see how all of it pans out. The new shift in publication seems to follow his son for now and hopefully undoing a lot of the negative impact Cyprian will have on the whole Dark Hunter universe.

Overall, good pacing but a little confusing at times. Readers will have to stay with it to truly get the point. Some good zingers, tears and a great cliffhanger.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 14, 2017

REVIEW: Hoofprints in Snow by A. M. Burns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Highlighted Recent Reads July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be prepared...

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

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

I highly recommend the audiobook.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

Audio final rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

REVIEW: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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

Expected publication: May 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Highlighted Recent Reads

This final volume features three short stories:

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

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

Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

Final rating 3.5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, April 24, 2017

REVIEW: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, April 13, 2017

REVIEW: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 8, 2017

REVIEW: Legion by Julie Kagawa

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

Expected publication: April 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4 out 5 stars

REVIEW: Missing by Kelley Armstrong

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

Expected publication: April 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teen Reading Challenge - Highlighted Reviews

Every year my library participates in the SWON Teen Reading Challenge for February and March. This year, I read 27 titles:

    Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis

    Long Way Home by Katie McGarry

    HellHole  by Gina Damico

    Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

    The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman - The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies - think Doctor Who with librarian spies! Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she's posted to an alternative London. Their mission - to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it's already been stolen. This is a fun series with humor, fantastic creatures and adventure. Not marketed for teens but with plenty of crossover appeal, especially for those who enjoy the Great Library (Ink & Bone, Paper & Fireseries by Rachel Caine. Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    The You I've Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (original screenplay) - I can't say that this was a particularly exciting read since I'd already seen the film but as you'd expect, it is literally the screenplay complete with stage directions. Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Wires and Nerves Vol 1 by Marissa Meyer -  the first installment of these graphic novels picks up where Winter and the end of the Lunar Chronicles leaves reader favorites following the end of the series.  The story follows Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. as she tracks rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers who threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna.  She takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers' leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. The story is funny and engaging with plenty of cameos from other series' favorites.  One downfall for me is the illustrations.  I'm not a fan on the bluish, monochromatic style and would have preferred full color panels to make the narrative really come alive.  Final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

    King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard

    Gilded Cage by Vic James

    The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux - ever a classic and actually a category for this year's Pop Sugar Reading challenge to read a book mentioned in another book Roseblood by A.G. Howard. It was just 'okay' for me - kinda over the top dramatic and a bit silly.  I think I'll still with the theater adaptations. Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    The Darkest Minds trilogy by Alexandra Bracken

    Game by Barry Lyga 

    Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

    Exposure by Kathy and Brendan Reichs

    Terminal by Kathy and Brendan Reichs

    Trace Evidence: A Virals Short Story Collection by Kathy and Brendan Reichs - a companion volume to the series which includes the 'wedding' novella following the end of the series. Definitely recommended for reads who loved the books and want just a bit more of Tory and her boys. I loved the wedding hi-jinx! Final rating:  4 out of 5 stars

    The Shadow Queen
     by C.J. Redwine -I enjoyed this twist on Snow White. Princess Lorelai of Ravenspire is forced to flee her kingdom and live the majority of her adolescence in hiding as a fugitive, when her evil stepmother kills her father and poisons the land with her dark magic. The princess vows vengeance and studies to hone her magic to eventually defeat the Evil Queen. In an neighboring kingdom, readers meet Kol, newly crowned dragon-king after the demise of his father, mother and elder brother. He must solicit the Ravenspire Queen's magical help if he's to save his people from ogres. The price: Lorelai's heart in a box.  What he doesn't count on is Lorelai's fierce spirit and beauty.  Together they work toward defeating the Queen and saving their lands.  This was fun, action packed and romantic with plenty of good fantasy and sass. Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Starfall by Melissa Landers - Starfall follows Princess Cassia Rose who fled her home world of Eturia to escape an arranged marriage, she had no idea her sudden departure would spark a war. Now after two years hiding as a ship hand, she is finally returning to her beloved home, but not in the way she imagined. Shackled by bounty hunters, she is violently dragged back to account for her crimes. Her only solace is that the Banshee crew managed to evade capture, including Kane Arric, her best friend...with occasional benefits. Lots more happens (almost two much in the romantic, space adventure). Fans who enjoyed Starflight will be happy to see other characters. In general, an entertaining read even if the plot seems to meander a bit in the middle. Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir - in a brutal world inspired by ancient Rome, Laia lives with her grandparents. When her older brother is arrested for treason, she has to make a choice. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined.

    I'd always heard a lot about this book.  I wasn't disappointed, per se, but it was unlike what I'd expected. Nothing in particular stood out regarding the character or narrative.  Entertaining but not to the point on infatuation.  I remain curious enough to continue with book 2.  Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    The Lifeboat Clique  by Kathy Parks - this is a funny, yet dark, story of Denver--notoriously unpopular girl who decides to attend a party, only to be swept away by a tsunami and stranded out to sea with a host of mean girls, including her former BFF.  This book in definitely for fans of Libba Bray's  Beauty Queens.  It is funny but harsh.  Read it in print and avoid the audiobook (WHICH WAS TERRIBLE!) Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep - Gwen Frost attends Mythos Academy following the death of her mother. The students have abilities and significant ties to mythological lore. Gwen has psychic abilities and is drawn into an investigation when a fellow student is killed.  Action packed with good angst, humor, romance and characters. I could tell that this was some of Estep's earlier writing but still enjoyable enough to pursue the rest of the series. Definitely a readalike for those who enjoy mythology and Rick Riordan but want more teen angst and less silly humor. Final rating:  3 out of 5 stars

    Queen of Hearts by Colleen Oakes - Dinah is the princess who will one day reign over Wonderland. She has not yet seen the dark depths of her kingdom; she longs only for her father’s approval and a future with the boy she loves. But when a betrayal breaks her heart and threatens her throne, she is launched into Wonderland’s dangerous political game. Dinah must stay one step ahead of her cunning enemies or she’ll lose not just the crown but her head. Queen of Hearts is everything Meyer's Heartless should have been--dark, edgy and filled with mystery as to just how exactly the Queen of Hearts arrives on her throne as a cold and malicious ruler. I enjoyed the twisted nods to the original tale and look forward to the rest of the series. Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    The End of Oz by Danielle Paige - this was a nice finale to the Dorothy Must Die series.  Amy and her allies find themselves in the land of Ev, trying to thwart the Nome King and his new 'bride, Dorothy. There is plenty of humor, action and romance.  The ending is satisfying but Paige adds in just enough hope that there might be room for a spin-off series down the yellow brick road.  I continue to be a huge fan of these audiobooks. Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

    Challenger Deep
     by Neal Shusterman - this novel is a stunning masterpiece which attempts to chronicle mental illness in a young teen named Caden Bosch. His friends and family notice a significant change in his behavior. Shusterman does an amazing job at conveying the narrative as well as alternating chapters characterizing Caden's dive into madness and the journey out. I cannot stress enough how brilliant the audiobook is--so if you are reading for the first time or just want to experience the novel again, try it in this format. Final rating:  4 out of 5 stars

    Tuesday, March 28, 2017

    REVIEW: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

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

    A Crown of Wishes is the stunning sequel to 2016's Star Touched Queen.  Gauri, Princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom's enemies and has little hope for her future.

    Enter Vikram, the cunning prince of this enemy land. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet emperor, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

    Merely reaching the Tournament is just the beginning with a slew of challenges including dangerous courtesans, songbirds, feasts and fears that will have to keep Gauri and Vikram's senses sharp if they have a chance to win.

    Truthfully, I think I enjoyed this novel more than Chokshi's debut. I found it easier to engage with Gauri and Vikram in their adventure. Readers are in for a treat with the lush, exotic imagery and adventure steeped in Indian mythology and lore. Honestly, I loved everything about the writing and characters. The descriptions held me transfixed to the adventure as did the fantastic romanticism and passion built between protagonists.

    Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

    Follow the author on Twitter: @NotRashKnee

    Sunday, March 12, 2017

    REVIEW: Virals #4 and #5 by Kathy and Brendan Riechs

    Let's recap...

    Tory Brennan and three of her friends who live on a secluded island off the coast of South Carolina were exposed to an experimental strain of canine parvovirus when they rescued a dog caged for medical experimentation. Calling themselves "Virals," they have heightened senses and animal quick reflexes that help them solve crimes but also cause them to keep secrets from those closest to them.

    Exposure is book 4. Twin classmates from Bolton Prep are missing, appearing to be kidnapped and held for ransom.  Tory Brennan and her 'pack' of Virals decide that they are the best equipped to solve the case.

    However, there are more problems to consider:

     1) Their powers are growing harder to control

    2) Chance Claybourne continues to investigate Tory, her friends, and the medical experiment that went awry.

    Tory are crew save the day using a mix of their abilities, science and some good old fashioned sleuthing.  This is an action packed mystery/thriller great for fans of the genre, Bones, Maximum Ride or who want a fun read.

    Final rating:  4 out of 5 stars

    Terminal is the final full length novel of the series.

    The Virals are back—but they’re not the only pack in town anymore. Tory and the rest of the Morris Island gang track a pack of rogue Virals who call themselves the Trinity. The new pack was infected by a strain of supervirus created by Tory’s nemesis and sometimes-crush, Chance Clayborne, who accidentally infected himself, too.

    These red-eyed Virals have openly challenged Tory’s pack for domination of Charleston, bringing on the attention of a shadowy government organization intent on learning the secret to their powers. Surviving it all is going to test the limits of the gang’s abilities and push them to make some tough decisions about their future as Virals.

    Great pacing and sense of action and adventure with some twists and turns.  Loved the ending and can't wait to read the follow up novella!

    Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    REVIEW: Jasper Dent #2 and #3 by Barry Lyga

    Last year I read I Hunt Killers, book 1 of Lyga's Jasper Dent series about a seventeen year old who besides being the son of the world's most notorious serial killer also assists police in solving other serial killer crimes, all while attempting to live a "normal" life.

    The series continues with Game.  Billy Dent has escaped prison, which has Jazz and the rest on the world on edge.  Jazz is asked to assist the NYPD with a series of murders by the Hat-Dog killer. What he finds is that this game plays a bigger part in his own twisted relationship with his father as well as revealing some startling truths about his mother.

    The final book of the trilogy is Blood of My Blood. Jazz is close to catching his father and ending that chapter of his life.  He is determined to get some answers, put old demons to rest and protect his girlfriend, Connie, and best friend, Howie, from any more trauma and danger.

    What I like about these books is that they are dark, edgy and raw.  I wouldn't recommend them to just any reader.  This is certainly a mature read with detailed discussion of some pretty heavy, adult themes (i.e. rape, murder, torture). Anyone wanting a fluffy romance need not apply.

    That being said the narrative in compelling and will enthrall readers who want to reach the end of the story and learn all the deep, dark secrets of the Dent family. Jazz is a fascinating character since he struggles with two selves. These aren't my favorites since they creep me out quite a bit but will definitely appeal to the right reader.

    Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    REVIEW: The Darkest Minds Trilogy by Alexandra Bracken

    Bracken''s Darkest Minds trilogy is a slightly futuristic dystopian adventure which supposes that a mysterious disease has killed most of America's children.  Ruby wakes up on her tenth birthday knowing that something about her is different. Something which frightens her parents to much that they lock her in the garage and then allow her to be taken to Thurmond, a brutal government "rehabilitation" camp along with thousands of other children.

    We soon learn that those children do survive the disease develop extraordinary abilities (i.e. manipulating fire, electricity and minds and even super strength). The adults are terrified, eradicating many of the children deemed to much of a threat and isolating the other to live in terror. Ruby lies about her ability to manipulate minds; however, six years later she is given the opportunity to escape and join a rebel group. It is difficult for Ruby to decide who to trust

    While on the run and desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. Ruby is forced to make some hard choices that will eventually have significant consequences--namely forcing the boy she loves to forget he ever met her.

    I enjoyed this first book.  The story is intriguing as is the character development if at times a bit predictable for the genre.  Great cliffhanger at the end.

    Final rating:  4 out of 5 stars

    In book 2, Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flash drive in the hands of Liam, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.
    Needless to say this book is filled with tension of bittersweet reunions are lies are unraveled and relationships put to the test. I like some of the newly introduced characters (Jude) but felt like much of the narrative dragged in the middle.  The ending is another heartwrecher.

    Final rating: 3 out of 5 stars

    Ruby is among the kids who survived the government's attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds.

    They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America's children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife (namely tension between Liam and his older brother-in-charge Cole) may destroy their only chance to free the "rehabilitation camps" housing thousands of other Psi kids.

    There is a lot of drama and planning that make up the crux of the narrative.  I found the ending a bit anticlimactic and still unsettling since having adults involved (even those on their "side) might still isolate children with abilities and create more problems rather than an environment of acceptance.  I did think that Ruby's final interaction with Clancy was fitting.

    Final rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    Overall, I recommend the series for readers who enjoy dystopian thrillers with adventure and romance.


    Friday, February 17, 2017

    REVIEW: King's Cage by Victoria Aveyard

    King's Cage is book three in Aveyard's Red Queen series. Readers were left with a jaw dropper of an ending.

    Mare Barrow is a prisoner, virtually powerless as she's cut off from her lightning and held captive by King Maven, the young boy she once thought was her friend and a potential love. Maven struggles to control a kingdom plagued by rebellion.

    Outside of the palace walls, Mare's friends and allies comprised of Reds and New Bloods plot to wage war again Maven as well as mount a rescue for their friend.

    King's Cage is very much a transition book, setting the stage for the next installment in 2018. While I still enjoyed it, I wasn't as entertained nor enchanted as I was with Red Queen and Glass Sword. This is due in part to Mare being isolated from many of the other characters. There is finally a reunion; however, it takes much of the narrative for this to happen.  Mare's interactions with Maven and others at court are insightful but there was something lacking for me.

    Another miss for me was Aveyard's decision to change the POV and narrative style.  One one hand, I understand the change given Mare's captivity and the necessity to follow characters at another location.  However, the change upsets the already established framework of the series--much like Allegiant did with the Divergent trilogy. I haven't connected with these other character to the degree that I have with Mare, despite her faults.

    A strength for Aveyard remains her endings.  King's Cage ends with another doozy and plenty of broken hearts and touch decisions.  Mare isn't my favorite person right now but we'll have to see how it all develops.

    For a while I was worried this was the final book and with so little happening, the ending would be rushed.  Luckily, readers have one more to look forward to next year.

    Final rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

    Follow the author on Twitter:

    REVIEW: Gilded Cage by Vic James

    *Thanks to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for an ARC in exchange for a fair review*

    Gilded Cage is the debut from author Vic James. This narrative, set in Britain, supposes an alternate world where humans are either born with or without magical abilities.  The Equals, aristocrats with magic, have all the power. Leaving the commoners to suffer in servitude, most often hard slave labor, for 10 years.

    Behind the enchanted gates of one of the three most powerful estates, Kyneston, a great power rises that just might break their world apart.

    There is a lot going on within the book.  One one hand is the haves and have-nots of magical ability and how that affects the characters, the world and the driving force of politics throughout the book.

    Is the adult fiction or YA?  Probably a crossover for both. The driving force is the introduction of two families and how they impact each other.  As commoners, the Hadley's are in a precarious place. Eldest daught, Abi, thinks she's negotiated a great deal to have her entire family serve their time together at Kyneston; however, as Equals, the Jardines break their own rules regarding keeping minor children with parents and Abi's younger brother, Luke, gets sent to the harsh labor town of Millmoor. These scenes are brutal but are the driving force for the story.  While at Millmoor, Luke becomes involved with a rebel group trying to improve the lives of slaves and readers later discover that there are more connections and a lot more deceit and power struggles afoot.

    The Jardines are an interesting family. Lots of highs and lows with plenty of potential for the rest of the series.  Silyen is proving to be very tricky, dark and apt to show his hand at being an unhinged sociopath. If nothing else, he's creepy. Gavar's relationship with Daisy, the youngest Hadley is also unsettling and I spend part of my reading wanting to shake more sense into Jenner. For Abi, I can see the romantic appeal and attraction to the 'skilless' middle Jardine brother but she's a bit naive.

    I do see potential for the series, especially with the events occurring at the novel's end for Abi and Luke.   I discovered the book, thinking that it might have echoes of Harry Potter and in some ways it does.  What surprised me is the bleak, dark and plain cruel nature of this society.  Definitely though provoking given the state of our own world. For the next book, I do hope there is more exploration of magic.

    Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

    Follow the author on Twitter: @DrVictoriaJames