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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

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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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

REVIEW: The You I've Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

Ariel has always lived a transient life with her father, having been abandoned by her mother as a little girl.

Now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all Ariel wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire.

Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But with a baby on the way, life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined.

Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago.

Let me say I am a huge Hopkins fan. I love her writing style and that she is a fearless storyteller about painful and difficult topics.  The You I've Never Known is based in part on real life experience from the author, having her child kidnapped by her ex and not knowing her whereabouts for years.

This latest release will still appeal to readers but for me it wasn't my favorite of all her book released to date.  What is was lacking for me was an odd sense of pacing and closure. It is not until 60-70% through the book when I had the 'aha' moment to connect the narrative dots.  Even after that I wanted more to happen with the storyline and more of a resolution and consequences for characters, especially Ariel.

Overall, the quality is outstanding and will no doubt be one of 2017's top teen titles.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @ElleHopkinsLit

#amreading #TheYouIveNeverKnown #EllenHopkins #YALit #teen

Thursday, February 9, 2017

REVIEW: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

The first in a trilogy, Leviathan explores an alternate, steampunk influenced history of the advent of WWI and the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.  Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She's a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

Through many trials and tribulations Aleksander and Deryn's paths cross, forcing them to forge an alliance for survival. What follows it an epic, around the world adventure full of amazing machines and spectacular creatures.

Leviathan has been on my "to-read" radar for a long time. I love a good steampunk novel and this is truly a creative spin on a pivotal moment in history.  I am intrigued enough to continue the series; however, I did find it difficult to connect with the characters.

Overall, this is a well written and developed novel for readers interested in the genre or history. I recommend the audiobook narrated by Alan Cumming--he does a fantastic performance.

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: HellHole by Gina Damico

“I'm not scared of anything. But cats...' He blew out a puff of air and shook his head. "Those soulless eyes. That depraved indifference. Cats are evil, dude.” 

Max Kilgore is a squeaky clean, boring geek dedicated to helping his ailing mother and just surviving being a teenager.  He wouldn't dare consider doing nefarious deeds until he accidentally unearths a devil, ensuring that his actions are no longer his own. The big, red guy is an offensive couch potato with a hankering for junk food.  Max has no choice but to do his bidding before he teams us with Lore, a former goth girl who knows a thing or two about the dark side.  They have to act quickly before all Hell breaks loose!

HellHole is hilarious--like I gobbled it up in one audiobook sitting, hilarious! The humor is biting, snarky and dark--characteristic of Damico.  This is definitely for fans of Reaper, Lucifer and Dead Like Me.

Burg really steals the show but there is good character growth with Max and Lore is awesome.  The narrative touches on some heavy themes too with regard to Max's anxiety for his mother's illness and whether she'll live long enough to get help.

I can't recommend the audiobook read by Macleod Andrews highly enough. Great performance of voices that brought the humor to the forefront for a fun experience.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Long Way Home by Katie McGarry

Long Way Home is the third in McGarry's Thunder Road series following a group of teens growing up in Snowflake, Kentucky's Reign of Terror motorcycle club.

Seventeen year old Violet has always been expected to sit back and let the boys do all the saving. Yet when her dad is killed carrying out Terror business, Violet knows it’s up to her to do the saving. To protect herself, and her younger brother, she needs to cut all ties with the club—including Chevy, the boy she’s known and loved her whole life.

Severing ties isn't that easy when Violet and Chevy are kidnapped by a dangerous, rival club--The Riot.  Violet is asked to complete the ultimate betrayal which will cause her to question not only her beliefs but her loyalties to her family, friends and others she loves.

McGarry can do no wrong in my book.  I am always compelled by her stories and characters.  There is plenty of realistic, angsty romance, humor, and excitement. What I loved about this book in particular was the emphasis placed on Violet refusing to accept the role of women within the Terror and wanting to challenge this for the future.

Another highlight is the connection to the Pushing the Limits series.  Fans will go gaga for this bit of the story.

Well done!

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars

REVIEW: Cheesus Was Here by J.C. Davis

Expected publication: April 11, 2017

A year following the death of her younger sister and the subsequent unraveling of her family, sixteen-year-old Delaney Delgado knows miracles are not real, if they were, her life would be much different. When the image of baby Jesus emerges on a Babybel cheese wheel, Del is not buying the idea that God’s message would appear on dairy products.

As more religious signs begin to turn up throughout Del’s hometown, it seems as if overnight, news vans and religious pilgrims are flocking to glimpse a real life miracle.  Del, along with her best friend and unrequited love, Gabe, embark on a quest to prove the miracles are a fake. What they find is that discovering the truth might unearth secrets neither were prepared to learn.

Cheesus Was Here excels with the authentic voice of its characters.  The writing is funny yet poignant with deep themes about faith, grief and the ability to move on despite tragedy plus a commentary on the crazy behavior humans will exhibit in order to find some meaning in this chaotic world. Del is a fantastic female protagonist--charismatic, witty and yet vulnerable.

Recommended for readers in junior and senior high. Other readers will also like the romantic tension between Del and Gabe. This book will appeal those seeking humor with a thought provoking narrative and who enjoyed Saved!

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Follow the author on Twitter: @jcdavisauthor