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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