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