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Friday, June 23, 2017

Book Review: Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist #1)

Release Date: May 16, 2017
Author: Reneé Ahdieh
PublisherG.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Length: 393 pages
Source: Purchased Book

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

    

Review:

Protagonist: Try as she might to rage against it, Mariko has always known her fate, to be married off the highest bidder in an attempt to raise her family's honor. Now that moment has come and she is betrothed to the son of the emperor's favorite consort, and she has practically given up, she made her feelings known but those around her cared not for her wants or needs. That is until her convoy is attacked by a gang known as the Black Clan, bandits who she overhears were hired to kill her. Now she decides to take back her life and find out why the Black Clan was hired to kill her, and by who. Dressed as a boy she stumbles into their ranks hoping to find out the truth, or die trying. While this story does have other third person narrative views that shine a light on other parts of the story, Mariko is indisputably the main character and I really love her. I don't want to get too much into her character development because I feel it would ruin something special about this book to talk about how she grows, but it's there and she becomes a much stronger character through that growth.

Romance: I was actually expecting this story to be a love triangle. I don't know where I read it but I could have sworn I read a synopsis that mentioned Mariko meeting two men once finding her way into the Back Clan, and immediately that sent off love triangle signals in my brain, but while there are two men within the Black Clan that play an important role in Mariko's development and the main plot, however, she only falls for one, and it's a romance that sort of took me by surprise and while it does move a bit fast for my liking, it still somehow feels realistic and not as though the author forced them to move faster, but that it was dictated in some way by the characters. Mariko and her love interest are actually pretty fantastic together. They have a similar spirit and they work together incredibly well and on equal footing.

World-Building: I am definitely someone who loves learning about other cultures and a fantasy story based on Japanese culture and folklore immediately piqued my interest. While this book doesn't technically take place in Japan since it takes place in a fantasy world, many aspects of this world felt authentically Japanese. I'm no expert on Japanese culture and customs, so I can't speak to how accurately the author portrayed this culture but based on context and general feel, this book seems very respectful. It's the little details that bring this world to life, the things that those who would just stick to well-known parts of Japanese culture would skip over, things that, even though I'm no expert I know and understand that most people don't. This world also contains some fantastic magic to it. Even by the end, the magical parts of this story are shrouded in mystery, and while confusing, it's that type of confusing that you know and hope will be clarified in future installments. This world sweeps you away and nearly becomes another character in this story altogether.

Predictability: Going into this story I thought I had it all planned out. Granted whenever I'm this sure I should understand that I'm not, but my hubris is often my downfall. Anyway, as the story moves further and further along, I do pick up on some foreshadowing and change my theories, but what I loved was that I had a theory, it came completely out of the blue, like there wasn't a whole lot of foreshadowing for it, and I sort of can't shake it off and suddenly... I'm right and there's this amazing twist and I love that I wasn't able to track where that theory came from, that it just popped into my head and turned out to be true. There are other twists in this story that I didn't call, things that don't quite fit with the YA formula and look as they'll have a lasting impact on the story to come.

Ending: So, going into this book I didn't assume it to be a standalone novel, but is it a duology? I mean, personally, I can't exactly see everything being revealed in just one more book, but her other series was a duology so I'm not sure. Anyway, the lead up to the final climax was very interesting. It was something I didn't quite see coming, yet totally made sense when it did. The final climax had a lot of great twists in it, and a pretty devastating ending to lead into the next installment. Then there's the epilogue which follows some different characters who add another kind of conflict into this story.

Rating:


This book was so addicting. I can't wait for the next installment, I just want to know what happens next so bad. I'm interested in the characters, sure, but more than that I really want to know where the author will take this world and what lasting consequences this story have on the world at large. I really need to read Ahdieh's other series really badly.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Blog Tour Book Review: One of Us Is Lying + Giveaway!


Release Date: May 30, 2017
Author: Karen M. McManus
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Length: 370 pages
Source: Review Copy for Blog Tour.

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

    

Review:

Protagonists: This is a story told from four first person points of view. Each of the main characters is a suspect in a murder of the resident and very public gossip monger that, at the time, seemed to be the perfect crime. Bronwyn, arguably the main character of this novel, is your typical intelligent rule follower who puts pressure on herself to be perfect to compensate for what happened with her sister. Cooper is the star athlete, his father has high hopes for his professional future, and Cooper would do anything to keep his father's adoration. Addy is always the princess and never the queen and her mother makes sure she knows that her relationship with popular and successful Jake is the best thing in her life. Finally, there's Nate, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks who sells drugs, weed and painkillers only, to make ends meet and does anything he can to stay away from his incessantly passed out drunk father. I was completely blown away at how the author was able to, very successfully, in my opinion, juggle real character development for these four characters and do so in such an entertaining and addicting way. I don't want to get too specific on each character since I could be here all day and there are other topics in this book to discuss, but I have to say my favorite one, even though it was an incredibly close race, would have to be Addy since her character development is the most pronounced and dramatic.

Romance: There was more romance in this story than I had anticipated going in, granted these are four high school students and the juiciest romantic drama seems to come out of high school so it shouldn't have shocked me. While each character had a romantic storyline, and all of them were pretty phenomenal, I really want to talk about the two characters who have a romance with each other. Part of me wants to keep who they are a secret because even though it's heavily foreshadowed early on enough in the book that I wouldn't call it a spoiler, I would want to keep it a bit of a surprise. The thing I love most about this couple is that the romance doesn't feel overdramatized for the reader. It doesn't feel like these characters are being pushed together, or even cleverly puppet mastered into falling for each other. Each interaction leading up to them getting together feels real like if two identical people were thrust into a similar or the same, situation it would turn out the same way. This couple has fantastic chemistry and is such an easy couple to root for.

World Building: I've honestly considered throwing this section out. I mean, this story takes place in a very typical school, it's very character driven, and the murder mystery aspect should probably be saved for the next section of this review, but I have to say that the author did a wonderful job of incorporating this gossip app Simon developed, About That, into a high school community and how that sort of freedom of information lack of privacy can lead to a very toxic environment. I mean, this book was like Gossip Girl if everyone knew who was posting people's secrets and finally did something about it. At first, I thought this high school was a bit over dramatic and too cliche, but it hit me that if something like this existed in my high school, as accepting and anti-clique as it was, it would be perceived in pretty much the same way. If everyone had to look over their shoulder when doing anything and agonize nearly every second of the day whether that mistake they made might be made public, I could easily see it spinning out of control. Though I do have to say that the police in this book were the very definition of incompetent, and honestly, mixed in with everything else, it somehow made the book better.

Predictability: So, who killed Simon? Well, I won't tell. The thing is the entire time I was reading this book, nearly up until the big, twisted reveal I still had doubts as to the innocence of the four main characters. As much as I loved them and didn't want any of them to be a murderer, I've read books with more out of the blue, yet perfectly believable, twists before, and the fact that it was told in the first person didn't matter to me, this book is called One of Us Is Lying after all. The funny thing is though, all of these characters are lying about something or another. Each of them a feature on Simon's next big gossip bomb and so they all had a reason to kill him. These secrets they had are pretty juicy too, and it doesn't take long to either figure them out entirely or at least get some pretty heavy foreshadowing as to what those secrets could be.

Ending: The ending to this book was pretty much everything to me. The thing is since this story is heavily character driven, the end for me wasn't the answer to the whodunit mystery this story has, though that was sure something exciting, let me tell you. The killer isn't revealed all at once either, it's something that spans quite a few POV changes and when we get the equivalent of a parlor room scene, where the killer's full plan finally comes out it's definitely a plot to remember. The final climax is really a testament to how far some of these characters have come and while it was a bit painful to read at times, it was still epic. Then there's the cooldown where I was pleasantly surprised to see that this story doesn't end in an overly idealistic way. When something like this story's main plot happens it's not something that can be tossed aside so easily and have everything be perfect, and that's not even taking into account the superb subplots. I liked that this story kept a realistic feel until the very end.

Rating:


Yeah, like this rating is much of a surprise, I pretty much gushed about this book all the way through my review. It really was fantastic. If you like a juicy and exciting murder mystery with fantastic and realistic characters, I would HIGHLY recommend this book! P.S. If the author wrote a book about the side character Vanessa where she dies and no one cares, it would be short and possibly boring, but I would read the story with delight.

About the Author:



As a kid I used to write books when I was supposed to be playing outside, and not much has changed. I'm a marketing and communications professional who also writes Young Adult contemporary and fantasy fiction in Cambridge, MA.

When not writing or working I love to travel, and along with my nine-year old son I've ridden horses in Colombia and bicycles through Paris. A member of SCBWI, I hold a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University. Which I have never, ever used professionally.


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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Boo Review: Freddie's Shadow Cards (Disney Descendants: School of Secrets #2)

Release Date: October 25, 2016
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Disney Press
Length: 192 pages
Source: Library Book

The School of Secrets series of chapter books continues the story of Mal and her friends, plus new Villain kids and Auradon kids introduced in the popular Wicked World short form videos. Enjoy these all-new tales of mystery, magic and adventure from the world of the hit movie Descendants!

Freddie is the daughter of the infamous witch doctor, Dr. Facilier.

She's got voodoo in her blood, a deck of Shadow Cards in her hands, and a song in her villain-kid heart.When Freddie's dreams of joining the acapella group at Auradon Prep fall apart, she uses her Shadow Cards to get her way...But dark magic always comes with a price.

    

Review:

Protagonist: Coming off the end of CJ's Treasure Chase, Freddie wants to make a name for herself in Auradon as a jazz singer, and the best way to do that is apparently to join an acapella group? Yeah, I understand the experience would be good for her and help get her name out there, but it felt a bit of a stretch. Anyway, after a less than stellar auditions experience, Freddie would do just about anything to get her shot on the acapella team. Enter her shadow cards. These are cards her father gave her on her tenth birthday that she's just recently rediscovered. Could this be just what she needs? Freddie's adventures with her shadow cards lead her on a voyage of self-discovery that will show her where she belongs. I really liked Freddie's character development in this story. She isn't as evil and villainous as CJ was at the start of her adventure, but she's a long way from a hero and her journey in this story really helps to liven things up because this story doesn't leave Auradon Prep for very long.

World Building: Honestly, the world building in this story wasn't the best. Don't get me wrong, I did really enjoy all of the facets of this world that we did get to see. However, I had thought/hoped this series would entail adventuring across the United States of Auradon and seeing the various kingdom states that make up the land. This story is, however, far more character driven. Freddie is, of course, the main driving force, but she does have some burgeoning friendships. These friendships were a fun treat to see develop over the course of the book. Most of the time with this world characters seem to either be friends or not, and the road to a real friendship is either skipped over or fast tracked as to not get in the way of the plot. However, in this story, Freddie's unlikely friendships are a fantastic subplot that helps drive the main story along at a fun and dare I say addicting pace. We do get to see the world outside Auradon Prep, and even get to do some old fashioned adventuring, however, it doesn't last all that long and while these characters do meet a new AK along the way, the need for that character wasn't all that strong, to begin with and the out of place character sort of detracted from the story just a small bit.

Predictability: Honestly, I have to say this story was fairly unpredictable. However, that's mostly because this wasn't the story I expected and while I could see some small vague story points coming, the specifics really caught me off guard. I really did enjoy all of the little surprises this story had in store. There's a theme of magic coming with a price in this story and how that plays out was really the most surprising part of the story to me, and how that entire thing is resolved, while not exactly surprising, was a great element to the story and I was awed by how much I enjoyed that bit of resolution.

Ending: As for the ending, I was hoping this story would end in a way that wasn't too idealistic since I've seen that can be a trope for books aimed at a younger audience. The ending starts out very well, as the resolution isn't something that would be achieved easily, and there is some real work that needs to be put into things to even hope for a happy ending. That being said though, even though there's some effort needed to get to where Freddie is in the end, things still felt a bit too easily resolved and things ended just a bit too idealistically.

Rating:


While I did enjoy this short adventure, it wasn't as exciting as the previous one, and even though Freddie's character development was extremely compelling, things just turned out a bit too idealistically. That being said I'm still looking forward to reading more in this hard to piece together canon.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Book Review: CJ's Treasure Chase (Disney Descendants: School of Secrets #1)

Release Date: August 30, 2016
Author: Jessica Brody
Publisher: Disney Press
Length: 192 pages
Source: Library Book

CJ is the daughter of Captain James Hook. She's fierce. She's swashbuckling. And she has big dreams. . . like finding the treasure she's known about since she was a little girl stranded on the Isle of the Lost. When CJ sneaks out of Auradon Prep with her best friend, Freddie, they go on a wild chase to find it.

The School of Secrets series of chapter books continues the story of Mal and her friends, plus new Villain kids and Auradon kids introduced in the popular Wicked World short form videos. Enjoy these all-new tales of mystery, magic and adventure from the world of the hit movie Descendants!

    

Review:

Protagonist: CJ Hook as found a way off the Isle of the Lost, she stows away on a spell cast by the genie Jordan and is hiding out in her best friend Freddie's dorm room. She doesn't plan on going to Auradon Prep, however, no, CJ has much more adventurous plans in mind. Ever since she was young CJ has dreamed of following a map she found in her the hold of her father's ship, a map that just may be magical, but until now she didn't have any access to magic. It was really interesting to read from a real VK's perspective in this series. I mean, in the novels written by Melissa De La Cruz, we see from the original Auradon VK's perspectives, but they're either not in Auradon yet, like with the first installment, or they had been reformed though still struggled with their dark sides a little. However, CJ is a roguish riot, sneaking around Auradon Prep as to not be discovered and sent back to the Isle, or threatening to kidnap people and force them to do what she wants on her treasure chase. She does have a good bit of character development in this story, though not exactly in the way I was assuming when I cracked this book open.

World Building: So if you read my review of Rise of the Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz, I mentioned how I was getting tired of constantly going back to the Isle without really getting to see the rest of Auradon, however, this story has very little Isle, but a good chunk of Auradon to explore. There's quite a bit of backtracking in this story as the author wrote in little callouts to the Descendants movie as well as the Wicked World shorts, but seeing it from a different perspective kept those moments from getting boring. However, once this story gets caught up with the end of the first season of the Wicked World shorts, things really spring into high gear and it sees our protagonist race across Auradon in hopes of laying her hands on this amazing treasure she's dreamed about since she was little. It was a lot of fun getting to see more of this world and while I had braced myself for this feeling like it was written for a Middle-Grade audience like the De La Cruz sometimes do, or even written for a younger audience than that, it never happened. I liked how reading this short adventure felt like it was written for fans of the series, no matter what age they might be.

Predictability: So, while I never felt talked down to in the writing and the world building of this story, the plot of the story was rather predictable. Well, sort of. See, this isn't a long story and so the author only has so many pages to get from point A to point B and so there's not a lot of time to set up big twists and turns. So the adventure, while very enjoyable was a tad predictable. That being said though, there were still a few times where, given CJ's wild card personality, I wasn't quite sure where the story would take me.

Ending: I don't know what to say about this ending. I mean it's a very short story, very quick to fly through in one sitting and while the final climax of the story was really fun and we got to see a lot of CJ's character development come to light, as she faced her final hurdle toward the treasure, there wasn't as big of an ending to this story as there is in something like the other novels, or even the movie. However, there is a pretty great cooldown period where we learn of CJ's fate going forward and a bit of a tease at what's to come next in the School of Secrets series. I was pretty surprised where things ended up and while I'm sad that CJ's not going to be the main protagonist for the whole series I'm excited to read more stories in this world.

Rating:


Like I said in my review, I was bracing myself and dragging my heels to read this story since I expected it to either be geared toward an MG or younger audience or for it to be unbelievably cheesy. It wasn't though, there's a little bit of cheesy-ness in the story but overall it was a fun and exciting adventure and I'm kind of stoked to read the other School of Secrets books and have more adventures in this world.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Review: The Vampire Wish (The Vampire Wish #1)

Release Date: June 1, 2017
Author: Michelle Madow
Publisher: Dreamscape Publishing
Length: 204 pages
Source: Review Copy via Author

TWILIGHT MEETS ALADDIN in this hot new fantasy series by USA Today bestselling author Michelle Madow!

He’s a vampire prince. She’s a human blood slave. They should be enemies… but uniting might be their only hope to prevent a supernatural war.

Annika never thought of herself as weak—until the day vampires murdered her parents and kidnapped her from our world to the hidden vampire kingdom of the Vale.

As a brand new blood slave, Annika must learn to survive her dangerous new circumstances… or face imminent death from the monstrous wolves prowling outside the Vale’s enchanted walls. But not all in the kingdom is as it appears, and when a handsome vampire disguised as a human steps into her life, Annika discovers that falling for the enemy is sometimes too tempting to resist.

Especially when becoming a vampire might be her only chance to gain the strength she needs to escape the Vale.

Enter the magical world of the Vale in The Vampire Wish, the first book in an addictive new series that fans of The Vampire Diaries and A Shade of Vampire will love!

  

Review:

Protagonists: This story follows three characters' points of view. While there are only two characters that I would deem protagonists, with the other coming off as an antagonist, I want to talk about all three of them. First, we have Annika, a normal human girl enjoying Spring Break with her family when tragedy strikes and her parents, along with her brother, are murdered by vampires. Now she's a blood slave in the hidden Kingdom of the Vale. Wanting to no longer be helpless and a victim, Annika rebels against the vampires by stealing the food not meant for human blood slaves. Jacen is a newly turned vampire prince who wasn't able to control his bloodlust soon after turning and is now confined to the palace. Every day he practices his control and he feels he's ready to be around humans but his sire, the vampire queen, disagrees. Forcing him to sneak out of the palace, posing as a human, and entering the human village where he has a chance meeting with Annika. Camelia is a powerful witch with grander ambitions that just being Queen Laila's advisor. No, she wants to become an immortal vampire, and, more than that wishes to marry Jacen and secure her place in the hierarchy of the Vale. From a narrative standpoint, I love all of these characters. Annika is a great, and strong protagonist who is willing to fight for what she wants but she isn't as rash as some other female heroines. She understands her limitations all too well, but that doesn't stop her from doing what she knows she can do, and dreaming of a better life. Jacen is tormented by his bloodlust and while he has it mostly under control, much like Annika, he understands where to draw the line so he's rarely impulsive. He never wanted this life and he struggles with feeling like a monster. Camelia is a cold and calculating witch, she has ambitions that are within her grasp, but somehow cannot fully come to fruition without annoying trials and tribulations getting in the way.

Romance: I've had some difficult experiences with Madow's romances in her other books, and while I eventually came around to the main romance in the Elementals series, it did take a couple of books for me to get there. However, while I do feel the romance between Jacen and Annika is a bit fast-tracked, it's nowhere near as speedy as the source material, and I'll get to the source material in a bit. While there isn't all that much substance to their relationship yet, Annika and Jacen seem to be a great foil for one another. Annika has a desire to become a vampire and gain the strength, abilities, and freedoms that come with it, while Jacen is disgusted by what he's become and wishes to just live a normal life once more. They also share related interests and you can see some great chemistry that's not quite fully embraced in this story yet, but holds great potential. Another aspect I like is that Annika's desire to become a vampire doesn't stem from wanting to be with Jacen forever, though that would be a great plus, it's a more personal reason which adds some depth to her character.

World Building: Going into this story, and reading the synopsis I didn't quite see how this story could be anything meets Aladdin, but as the story unfolds I was shocked to discover that in many ways this story is a retelling of Disney's Aladdin but with vampires, witches, and shifters. I mean, it's a story that has to have been originally thought of to be a retelling, rather than a story simply borrowing elements of a classic tale. Though, it's not quite a strict retelling as the supernatural world building elements as well as the fact that this isn't a kid's book but a Young Adult one, seem to have lead the author to subvert some of the source material to match the tone and feel of the world and story she's created. One of my biggest grievances with this story is how much info-dumping there is in the beginning. I'm not opposed to learning more about this world, but it was that not only was it so dense in the beginning, but it was almost, if not, all told in first person exposition and so instead of learning about it organically, which for some of the world building would have been hard, if not impossible, to do so I would have forgiven it there, but for a lot of the exposition it would have been easy to add a few chapters before the post-prologue time jump and seen Annika or even Jacen learn about some of this world in a more organic way.

Predictability: During the exposition portion of this book as I've decided to call it before the Aladdin parallels fully kick in, this story was fairly unpredictable. I wasn't quite sure where the story would go, the synopsis does a good job to tease readers but not give them a good understanding of what they're in for, at least not in my experience. However, once the Aladdin story starts to get retold, while the author does subvert some of the plot points, it's pretty straight forward how things will progress. Don't get me wrong the author does still manage to have a bit of shock and awe in the story leading up to the rather interesting ending, but in all honestly, I was never really blown away by anything meant to be a twist after a certain point. I would just get a feeling of understanding rather than surprise.

Ending: After a certain point in the story it was obvious that the entirety of the story of Disney's Aladdin wasn't going to get told in just this one book, which makes sense as this is a series and there are more books yet to come. However, I was really interested in seeing where along the story it would end up and how certain plot points of the movie would play out with the world building established in this story. This story does end on a cliffhanger because of course, it does, and what's great about the cliffhanger here is that it isn't a huge "What's going to happen next?" question. It's obvious what'll happen next, but, at least for me, that knowing makes me all the more excited to read the next book. It's how that next chapter will unfold that has me chomping at the bit to read the next installment.

Rating:


On the whole, I loved this story. It was a fun variation on the Aladdin tale, specifically the Disney version, and I felt that Madow did a fantastic job of bringing various supernatural races into this story. However, with huge info-dumping portions in the beginning of the book and the fact that the retelling aspect was a bit too heavy-handed at times, I wouldn't feel that this book deserved five stars even though I enjoyed it so much. Also, I wouldn't call it Twilight meets Aladdin, as the world building is next to nothing like Twilight, and that characters are much stronger, at least in terms of their characterization, I would liken it more to The Vampire Diaries than Twilight.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: Rise of the Isle of the Lost (Descendants #3)

Release Date: May 23, 2017
Author: Melissa De La Cruz
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Length: 304 pages
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

Ride with the tide!

Deep beneath the waves, King Triton’s powerful trident has passed through the magical barrier that surrounds the Isle of the Lost—keeping villains in and magic out. And when Mal’s longtime rival Uma, daughter of Ursula, gets wind of this, she can’t believe her luck. The tide has dragged in something good for a change, and Uma is determined to get her wicked hands on it. But first, she needs a pirate crew.

A storm is brewing back in Auradon, and when Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay hear that the trident has been washed away, they realize they’ll have to find it before anyone from the Isle does. Luckily, they seem to have a talent for locating missing magical objects.

As Uma readies for the high seas alongside Harry, son of Captain Hook, Gil, son of Gaston, and the toughest rogues on the Isle of the Lost, the reformed villains of Auradon devise their own master plan. And with King Ben away on royal business, they won’t have to play by all the rules. Using bad for good can’t be totally evil, right?

The thrilling, perilous race to the trident puts old friends—and current enemies—against each other with the future of Auradon on the line. Both teams might like to make waves, but only one will come out on top of this one.

    

Review:

Protagonists: After their latest adventures on the Isle of the Lost, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay would just like to go back to normal, or whatever passes for normal with them, at another semester of Auradon Prep, but after a Seaside festival celebrating Auradon's anniversary, King Triton's trident goes missing on the Isle of the Lost and it's up to the VKs to retrieve it. Meanwhile, on the Isle, Uma, daughter of Ursula, is loathing Mal and her squandered chance at taking over Auradon with evil, until she hears about a magical artifact hidden beneath the waves somewhere inside the Isle's barrier. This could be her ticket to freedom, but first, she needs a crew, enter the skilled sailor Harry Hook, son of Captain Hook, and the brawny Gil, son of Gaston, who follow their captain, Uma, in hopes of raining terror around Auradon. What I really liked about this story is that we not only see from our friendly VKs' perspectives, but also from the perspectives of Uma, Harry, and Gil. Unlike the first installment in this novel series, Uma and her gang don't seem to have much of a good side to them, which honestly made me feel a bit better since I was worried that the second movie would with Uma and her gang as reformed VKs, which just feels a bit too idealistic and kind of like lazy writing, and while reforming Uma and co. could still happen as Descendants 2 hasn't premiered yet and I haven't seen it, the way the author writes the characters I just don't see it happening. As for our Auradon VKs, they each have their own subplots that flesh out their characters a bit, and it seems, at least in Mal's case, that it's preparing these characters for their roles in the second movie.

Romance: I debated with myself for hours trying to figure out if I should write a romance section for this review. There isn't all that much romance in the story, mainly since it's a Middle-Grade story, but the little bit that's in here does seem important both to the story and to set things up for the next movie. In this story Mal's starting to doubt her place in Auradon, she likes being good, and she cares deeply for Ben, but the responsibilities of being the King's girlfriend are starting to wear her down. There are some really sweet moments between her and Ben that really show why they are a couple to root for. Carlos also starts to develop a romance of his own, but things are left in a place that makes it seem like it'll be something developed further in the upcoming movie, but while it was just a taste of this romance, albeit a very obvious taste, it's definitely something I'm excited to see developed further. Finally, there's really only one scene with Evie and Doug but it's a testament to why they work so well together and was just an all-around heartwarming scene.

World Building: Going into this story I was a bit apprehensive since it seems like these Descendants stories always seem to go back to the Isle instead of spreading out around Auradon. I mean in the previous installment we did get to see Camelot, and in this one, we learn a bit more about Agrabah and the Imperial Kingdom, but everything always seems to lead back to the Isle. don't get me wrong, it makes sense, that's where all the villains are and so when you need a villain that's where you'll go, but it just feels like this world has so much untapped potential to keep going back to the Isle. That being said, I am a bit of a hypocrite since I did enjoy following Uma's adventures on the Isle, and through those chapters, the continuity of this world did get a bit clearer, though until I see the second movie I'm still not sure how canon these novels and the Wicked World shorts are. I was kind of bummed though, since the previous novel installment ended with a cliffhanger I was expecting that plot to either be tied into this story more or for it to be given some sort of pause and then start up again in the next novel, but it was all kind of wrapped up in this story before it really even got started.

Predictability: I went into this book with pretty big expectations as to how the story would go. I mean the previous two novel installments had a very similar story structure. Ben's story would revolve around his title as king and how he can strive to be a good and just king, while the VKs, Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos would travel to, or as is the case with the first installment already be on, the Isle of the Lost and face trials that are relevant to who they are or who they want to be. However, not too far into this story I realized that this novel took a bit of a different approach. While there were definitely aspects that I called before I ever started this book, things didn't quite unfold the way I expected and honestly, I was surprised at some of the dramatic turns this story took.

Ending: Since this is a novel intended to set up the next movie as the story begins to wind down it becomes pretty obvious where things are going, especially if you've seen the trailer for Descendants 2 (embedded below.) The final climax of the story definitely didn't go down the way I was expecting but it was surely an exciting scene to read. The two stories told in this novel come to an incredible head and things turned out both how I expected, but with a bit of a twist, I didn't. The cooldown period seemed to be where most of the actual set up of the movie takes place, but what I really liked was that all of these things had reasons why they happened and those reasons had a special place in the plot of the story and how they got there was a natural progression over the course of this book.

Rating:


I was actually surprised that I'm giving this book 5 stars. Not that I didn't go into it expecting to enjoy it, but I think my expectations were managed just right that I was able to really immerse myself into this story, even though the whole modern day meets next generation of Disney characters thing still kind of rubs me the wrong way. In the end, this book really surprised me and I can't wait to see the next Descendants movie.



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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo #2)

Release Date: May 2, 2017
Author: Rick Riordan
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Length: 432 pages
Source: Purchased Book

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. What is affecting the Oracles, and how can Apollo do anything about them without his powers?

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. Fortunately, what he lacks in godly graces he's gaining in new friendships—with heroes who will be very familiar to fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series. Come along for what promises to be a harrowing, hilarious, and haiku-filled ride. . . .

    

Review:

Protagonist: Apollo has overcome his trial at Camp Half-Blood and restored the Grove of Dodonna, now he and his new companions Leo and Calypso head to Indianapolis to restore another Oracle to help restore Apollo's god-deficiency problem. Honestly, out of all the first person POVs that Riordan has written, I have to love Apollo the best. That juxtaposition between his hubris and reality is hysterical and yet, it's that cold harsh reality that lets this newly mortal god have some real character development for probably the first time in four thousand years. What makes these moments of humility so great is that usually, it's because of the choices Apollo made as a deity, not his fragility as a mortal which adds some great depth and empathy to his character that doesn't seem like it would just all go away once, or if, he should ever regain his divinity.

World Building: Out of the two Trials of Apollo books, I'd have to say that the first one is better. It's not that this story isn't great, but the first installment had all of the things I was looking for, classic Greek myths that were recognizable to me, checking in with some of my favorite characters from the previous series, and seeing it all from the perspective of one of the most iconic Greek gods. Now this book technically hit all of those marks, but just not as well. The myths and history to this story were far more obscure and while I loved learning about new myths, there wasn't enough that I recognized to invest me in the story even more. Though I have to say that at least on the history aspect and the Roman Emperor we meet in this story I do like that Apollo had a more personal connection with him. As for checking in with old characters, this story, obviously, includes fan favorite character Leo Valdez, and his newly mortal girlfriend Calypso, as well as one other old character that I'll not disclose to keep their appearance more of a surprise. While Leo and Calypso did help out Apollo quite a bit, I felt that their role was more of an epilogue to their story than an actual contribution to the narrative of Apollo's trials. Plus, in the previous story, it was exciting to see a teenage mortal Apollo hanging out with his kids which didn't really happen here. Overall though it was still an exhilarating story set in a world of rich classic stories, myths, and history so it was still a home run, just not a grand slam.

Predictability: Since the influence for this tale; the myths, and history, is so obscure it was hard to find enough of a theme to see where things were going. In fact, even when I caught on to the main themes of this adventure, it the author does a fantastic job of subverting expectations to provide a wild and crazy ride filled with twists and turns that I wasn't really expecting at all. Now, there were still, of course, basic and grand vague things that I could pretty much count on happening or in some cases, not happening, that it wasn't like this story completely dumped all modern storytelling conventions and formulas in favor of a story that while shocking wouldn't be satisfying. I have to hand it to Riordan, he's been writing these books for a while and he really knows just which tropes and expectations need a bit of a twist to keep things interesting.

Ending: The ending this story is really where a lot of the subversion of tropes comes into play. Don't get me wrong, it's not an insane roller coaster ride, well not really, but it's more that after the first book in this series I had a set idea about how this story would end, on a grand vague scale at least, and while there were quite a few things that I was able to guess right, things still didn't go quite the way I had expected. The final climax was really amazing and had a ton of fabulous tension building everything up to a great head. Then we're treated to some foreshadowing of upcoming events and see just where this story will be going next and some clues to who we'll come upon in the next adventure.

Rating:


So, I know I kind of ragged on this book for not being as good as the first, but it's still a stellar addition to this series. Apollo's character development alone deserves the five stars, but with an author that knows just how to formulate a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat without things becoming too chaotic, I mean, what more is there to ask for, plus the next book seems to have a huge load of potential.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)

Release Date: May 2, 2017
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Length: 705 pages
Source: Purchased Book

Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin's maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

    

Review:

Protagonist: Feyre, High Lady of the Night Court, entered the Spring Court with one purpose, to discover what Hybern is up to and what it will take to bring them down. Tearing apart Tamlin's Court in the process, well that's mostly for fun. As Hybern prepares to launch an attack and bring down the wall separating humans and Fae, Feyre will need every bit of power, cunning, and skill she's gained since killing a Fae wolf in the woods to even hope to come out of it alive. Feyre starts off this book as a wolf in sheep's clothing, playing her part in the Spring Court to gather as much information as she can on Hybern before escaping back to her home and her family waiting for her. I seriously love how far Feyre has come in this series and this installment is a testament to that. Her mind is keen and she'll do anything and everything to protect those she loves. I started off this series hoping that Feyre would be a badass warrior, but I think it was much more fun watching her transformation from Fae hating huntress to powerful Fae warrior.

Romance: Honestly, there isn't all that much more that can happen with the romance between Feyre and Rhysand, their love is strong and it's been forged in even the hottest of fires, so going into this book there's not as much romantic development between the two, more moments that are a testament to their love. There are romances involving the friends and family around them, that while not taking center stage fill that void of needed development. I was surprised with how these romances unfolded over the course of the book and felt that where things ended up was very realistic and well written.

World Building: Ah, the world building for this book is fantastic. We see so much more from this world than I expected to see and as we follow Feyre's journey we venture back to places we've already seen with new information and context to show just how intricate and amazing this world is. We learn more about the history of this world, what went down in the last war, and how the past can help shape the future. Even with how much more we get to experience this world, there's still so much more to discover and I cannot wait for future installments in this series, no matter who they follow to discover even more about this rich and wonderous world.

Predictability: Dear lord, there are a lot of twists and turns this story takes. Many of the twists have some sort of foreshadowing to them, to help them feel more real and so we as readers don't interpret them as Deus Ex Machinas that undercut how amazing this story is. There are also plenty of twists that have no foreshadowing, twists that had there been any foreshadowing would have ruined it in some ways or another. Now I won't say that there aren't any moments that felt a bit too convenient or that I felt shouldn't have gone a different way, but looking at everything as a whole those moments are so small in comparison that I don't mind them at all.

Ending: The ending of this book played out in so many ways that I wasn't expecting. At its core, the ending is how I've always hoped it would be and yet how things transpired and how the war with Hybern turned out, in the end, I have to say I never quite saw it all coming. The final climaxes of this book were phenomenal, every moment of it fraught with tension and wondering. There are quite a few plot points that weren't wrapped up in a nice and neat little bow. Things that I could easily see becoming the focus of future installments and while I bask in how amazing this arc to the story ended, I also cannot wait to see what else has yet to come.

Rating:


As far as "final" books in series go, this book was spectacular. It hit all the right notes and while there are definitely things left hanging off a cliff, this arc of the story ended in an epic, non-idyllic way that spoke to me on so many different levels.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Blog Tour Book Review Re-Post: We Were Liars Deluxe Edition


Release Date: May 23, 2017
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Length: 272 pages
Source: Library Book

The New York Times bestseller We Were Liars is now available as a not-to-be-missed hardcover deluxe edition! Whether you know how it ends (shh . . . don t tell!) or have let too many seasons go by without discovering the truth about the Liars for yourself, you will want to get your hands on the exclusive new content in this deluxe edition.

A beautiful and distinguished family.

A private island.

A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.

A group of four friends the Liars whose friendship turns destructive.

A revolution. An accident. A secret.

Lies upon lies.

True love.

The truth.


We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. In addition to the bestselling novel, the collectors edition includes:

  • Never-before-shared letters from Gat to Cadence
  • A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the author's creative process
  • The author s hand-drawn map of Beechwood Island and the Sinclair family tree
  • Unique ideas for book discussions Sinclair family style
  • An excerpt from E. Lockhart s upcoming novel Genuine Fraud a psychological thriller that will leave you breathless


Read it.

And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

    

Review:

Protagonist: Cadence Sinclair Eastman lives a charmed life. She comes from a long line of Old Money Blue-blood Democrats. She spends every summer on her family's private island with her cousins who, along with herself, have been deemed "The Liars." Now though, now she is broken. After an accident that leaves her with splitting migraines and amnesia about most of her summer Cadence goes back to her family's island two years later to try and figure out what happened. While I was reading the book Cady never really felt privileged. She never fit into rich girls stereotypes or felt that anything was owed her just because her family had money. This made her a very likable character in the face of her mother and aunts who flaunt their privilege like it's something they built instead of something built for them. Cady is very well-meaning and intelligent, but she's flawed in more ways than just her amnesia and migraines. She sometimes makes reckless and foolish choices and feels that she did the right thing in the end.

Romance: So very early on in this story it's established that Cady and Gat, the nephew of her aunt's long time live in boyfriend and also one of her fellow "Liars," are in love. Sure we see a bit of them falling in love here and there, but really this book almost starts out with an established love between the two. Normally I detest this sort of romance as it robs the reader from seeing the love grow, another reason why I hate insta-love besides it being unrealistic. However, this books overcame this in two ways. First off there are flashbacks that illustrate their romance and how it grows throughout the book in tandem with moments in the present, and the romance is such a small facet of the book that it feels so much more meaningful in the moments that it's there.

World-Building: So going into this book all I ever heard about it was that it was best to go in blind, to not know anything about the book going in, and I'm calling BS on that right now. Look, I get wanting to keep an air of mystery to this book, but there isn't anything that happens in even the first half of the book that I would consider shocking or well deserving of a blind dive into the book. In fact, I had so many expectations for this book going in that when it started I was so confused about what I was reading exactly that it took me a while to really get into it. Do you want to know what this book is about? It's about a girl from a seemingly perfect family who after a terrible accident and being away for a summer comes back to find out that things have changed and she needs to put together what happened two years before to make sense of the present.

Predictability: On the whole this book didn't seem too unpredictable in the beginning, though there were a few moments where I misread something and thought something crazy had happened, such as when Cady's father leaves their family and she compares it to being shot in the chest and I thought for a minute that her father actually pulled out a gun and shot her in the chest. However, as the story really hit it's stride things became much more mysterious and when the ending came about I do have to say that it was something I don't ever think I would have seen coming.

Ending: So the synopsis for the book says that if anyone asks me about the ending that I should lie. Well, I'm not going to do that. I won't tell you what happens of course, but I will give my general and vague feelings towards the end of this novel. So, in the end, there's a huge game changing twist as I said above and it's something that I will admit I cried over, not an ugly cry or weeping, but I did tear up quite a bit. I won't say whether it was a happy cry or a sad one, but I would caution tissues if you're prone to be emotional when reading books. The very end left nothing up in the air, of course, part of me still wonders how everyone's lives ended up, but there's only so much that I could ask from a stand alone novel.

Rating:


So, I honestly debated about this rating when I finally finished the book. When I was only about 1/3-1/2 of the way through I was only going to give it a 4-4.5 star rating, and I've never given a book a higher rating than my initial feelings (at least I don't think I have), but if there's any book that deserves it, it would be this one. How everything comes together, in the end, is absolutely amazing and made me go back to see all of the little things I hadn't given much thought to before.


About the Author:



I am the author of We Were Liars,  Fly on the Wall, Dramarama, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and the Ruby Oliver quartet: The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book,  The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live BoyfriendsHow to Be Bad was co-written with Lauren Myracle and Sarah Mlynowski.

Disreputable History was a Printz Award honor book, a finalist for the National Book Award, and recipient of the Cybils Award for Best Young Adult Novel. We Were Liars is a New York Times bestseller. It won the Goodreads Choice Award and was Amazon's #1 YA novel of 2014.

I have a doctorate in English literature from Columbia University. My field was 19th-century British novel.  In 2013 I chaired the committee on Young People's Literature for the National Book Awards. I currently teach creative writing at Hamline University’s low-residency MFA program in Writing for Children.


Giveaway:


Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive deluxe edition copies of WE WERE LIARS, US Only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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