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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices #2)

Release Date: May 23, 2017
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Length: 701 pages
Source: Purchased Book

Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

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

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

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

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

    

Review:

Protagonists: Since this story has such a large and diverse cast of characters, in order to keep this section from getting huge, I'm going to pick three characters, those who either have a more significant role in this story than the previous one, or those whose story was more interesting to me. Don't get me wrong, all these characters are fantastic and they grow and evolve at such a wonderful rate and all their stories are very compelling. I think the character that surprised me the most was Drusilla, the Blackthorn that's too old to be a child, but too young to be an adult. While she didn't have as significant a role in this story, as most of the other characters, she has her own little subplot that looks very promising for the final installment and brings up questions I need to be answered ASAP.  Kit Rook, the boy revealed to really be Christopher Herondale at the end of the previous installment really comes into his own as he goes from con man's son trying to survive without his father to Ty's detective sidekick to, well I'm not going to give it away. Kit's character development was really fun to watch. His plotlines with Ty and Livvy were some of the best parts about this book and I can't wait to see where his story goes in future installments and how, and if, he makes it out of this series. Dianna Wrayburn, the Blackthorns' tutor also has some incredibly surprising character revelations in this story as well. I love Dianna, her care for the Blackthorns is fantastic and the secrets that she hides make her all the more compelling and intriguing of a character.

Romance: So, of course, the central romance to this series is the one between Emma and Julian, but of course they're parabatai and love doesn't come without breaking the Law and a curse of madness and destruction. A large portion of this book doesn't have really any development on Emma and Julian's relationship, mostly it's just a silent longing from afar, but as the story continues there are some very significant moments between the two, and while I'm not quite sure where their romance will end, for good or bad, I'm still excited to see how everything there is resolved. An even more complicated romance, if that's even possible, is whatever is going on between Diego, Cristina, Mark, and Kieran. When I first started this story I had no idea where the romance could go, let alone where it would. As this story progressed and the bonds between these characters begin to shift and change, I definitely have an idea or two where things might go, and it fascinates me to no end to see where these characters not only end up personally but romantically as well. The romance in this story is incredibly on point and while at times it can be a tad idyllic, the situations the romantic partners are put into aren't.

World Building: You would think that after ten other books set in this world that there wouldn't be a need for any more world building since there was so much time to build it before. However, what I love about Clare's world is that it's constantly evolving and changing. After the repercussions of the fallout in City of Heavenly Fire, Shadowhunters grow more and more distrustful of Downworlders, the Fae in particular, and so in this series, and this installment we get to see a lot of the world building that concerns the Fae. There is a trip taken into Faerie that leads our heroes on a dangerous quest full of high risk and even higher rewards. Meanwhile, something sinister is rising from within the Clave, a bigoted group called the Cohort seek to restrict the rights of Downworlders even more, not even seeing them as people deserving of rights. On another front, the Unseelie King, a man who craves power and hates Shadowhunters is rising and with his rise, he hopes to see the death of all Shadowhunters and the subjugation of everyone else. This world just keeps growing and evolving and while I'm a bit worried about its future, I'm excited about the journey and adventure.

Predictability: Honestly, I've been sitting here and wondering what in this book I was able to predict. I mean, there were some vague feelings I had that turned out to be true, and some very obvious foreshadowing that I don't think was intended to be subtle. Other than that there wasn't much of anything I was able to predict and this story has a whole lot of twists and turns. There's one twist that completely floored me and made me cry, like really cry, not just tear up, and I won't say if it's a happy, sad, proud, or angry cry but it was a very emotionally draining scene and a very powerful one as well.

Ending: So, full disclosure, the ending of this book was spoiled for me. I won't reveal how, but let's just say that when the final book in this series comes out I might have to have an internet ban until I finish the book. Anyway, so when the final chapter rolled around, I thought I was ready for what I was about to read. However, the final chapter of this story is chock full of intensity, tension, joyful moments, and not so great ones, and when what I knew was inevitably coming finally came, it still impacted my feelings probably just as much as if I'd been reading it for the first time. The finale of this story leaves things hanging in a way that will make me curse the author for making me wait two years to figure out what happens.

Rating:


So, this wasn't much of a surprise. I mean, I went into this book knowing I was going to love it, but I wasn't fully aware of how much until this moment. This book blew me away and while I am very angry to have to wait a while to catch back up with these characters, I'm also obsessed with finally starting The Last Hours series.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Traitor Prince (Ravenspire #3) by C.J. Redwine (WOW #26)

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking The Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that everyone’s excited about!


Javan Najafai, crown prince of Akram, has spent the last ten years at an elite boarding school, far away from his kingdom. But his eagerly awaited return home is cut short when a mysterious imposter takes his place—and no one believes Javan is the true prince.

After barely escaping the imposter’s assassins, Javan is thrown into Maqbara, the kingdom’s most dangerous prison. The only way to gain an audience with the king — and reveal Javan’s identity — is to fight in Maqbara’s yearly tournament. But winning is much harder than acing competitions at school, and soon Javan finds himself beset not just by the terrifying creatures in the arena, but also a band of prisoners allied against him, and even the warden herself.

The only person who can help him is Sajda, who has been enslaved by Maqbara’s warden since she was a child, and whose guarded demeanor and powerful right hook keep the prisoners in check. Working with Sajda might be the only way Javan can escape alive — but she has dangerous secrets.

Together, Javan and Sajda have to outwit the vicious warden, outfight the deadly creatures, and outlast the murderous prisoners intent on killing Javan. If they fail, they’ll be trapped in Maqbara for good—and the secret Sajda’s been hiding will bury them both.
 

The Traitor Prince releases on February 13, 2018, from Balzer + Bray

Gah! I need this book in my hands right this second. First off, the cover is PURPLE!!!! Secondly, this author has already written two fantastic standalone installments in this series and while I'm not as familiar with the story that this installment is based upon, the Arabian folktale called The False Prince, I still can't wait to see what new adventure this author will take me on next. Another thing I love is that while these books are standalone and you don't have to read the others if you do the world really starts to take shape before your eyes. This installment looks like it's full of action and a rather heated romance. I love how this author is shaping this world and I have been chomping at the bit for this book for months and now it finally has a cover and title and it's becoming so real. I'm already scouring Edelweiss every day making sure I can get my hands on it as soon as humanly possible.

So, what are you waiting for this Wednesday?


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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Blog Tour Book Spotlight: The Savage Dawn (The Girl at Midnight #3) + GIVEAWAY!!!


Release Date: July 11, 2017
Author: Melissa Grey
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Length: 496 pages

The sides have been chosen and the battle lines drawn.

Echo awakened the Firebird. Now she is the only one with the power to face the darkness she unwittingly unleashed . . . right into the waiting hands of Tanith, the new Dragon Prince. Tanith has one goal in mind: destroy her enemies, raze their lands, and reign supreme in a new era where the Drakharin are almighty and the Avicen are nothing but a memory.

The war that has been brewing for centuries is finally imminent. But the scales are tipped. Echo might hold the power to face the darkness within the Dragon Prince, but she has far to go to master its overwhelming force. And now she’s plagued by uncertainty. With Caius no longer by her side, she doesn’t know if she can do it alone. Is she strong enough to save her home and the people she loves?

Whether Echo is ready to face this evil is not the question. The war has begun, and there is no looking back. There are only two outcomes possible: triumph or death.

Buy/Goodreads Links:


    

About the Author:



Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.

Website  | Blog | Twitter  | Instagram | Pinterest |  Goodreads





Giveaway!


Giveaway Details:

3 winners will receive a hardcover of THE SAVAGE DAWN! US Only.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Review: Cinderella Dressed In Ashes (The Grimm Diaries #2)

Release Date: August 15, 2013
Author: Cameron Jace
Publisher: J A W I G I (I Think)
Length: 253 pages
Source: Purchased eBook

Loki is controlled by the Queen through his Dreamhunter's Fleece, and he's now Snow White's enemy. No one's sure what the Queen of Sorrow wants to do next, and what her plans with Sorrow are.

In another Dreamory, they learn who Cinderella really is, where she came from, her relationship with Snow, and what historical period she'd affected with what she calls the Forbidden Art.

The Second installment of the Grimm Diaries.

This Diary continues the adventure, from Snow White's POV.

  

Review:

Protagonists: One of the things I really enjoyed about this story was that we really got to see from multiple perspectives, unfortunately, none of those were Loki, but honestly, in the end, I didn't care about not exploring his story further in this tale. The first main POV we get to see from is Snow/Shew who takes center stage in this story of her connection to the Cinderella character comes to light. I have to say that I did like Snow's character development better than Loki's. While Loki mostly glided through his story not really doing much and leaving the heavy lifting to everyone else until near the very end, Snow took less time to start to take control of her life. Granted it still took her longer than I wanted but when she did things really began to heat up. The other characters we see are Axle and Fable, stuck in the Waking World trying to help Snow and Loki. There still really isn't all that much character development with these two. I feel like the things they did by the end were things they would have done at the beginning of the series and Axle is a wealth of Deus Ex Machina information and theories that just so happen to be correct, and yet never feeling truly earned.

Writing: Much like with the first installment, my biggest criticism is the writing. This book has so much potential, and really this book feels like a fantastic first draft, but it's seriously unpolished and really needed to go through some critical beta readers and a professional editor. It's not just that there's bad grammar, spelling mistakes, and typing errors. While he's getting better, the author still does a lot of telling instead of showing in this story and sometimes he has way too many extraneous details. There are still characters who just show up and know things or remember every little detail of stories that they really shouldn't have perfect recall on, there are huge Deus Ex Machina moments, some that make sense, but others that just feel unnecessary. The author still feels like he doesn't quite know his target audience, though I think some of that is using more general words for much grander things and having things come off a bit basic and more aligned with a Middle-Grade story than a YA one, though he still uses cheesy terminology which definitely skews more MG.

World Building: Once again, the thing I feel holds the most promise in this story is how the author weaves history with fairy tales and classic stories. However, there were definitely a few times in this book that things got needlessly complicated and convoluted instead of the complexity that I'm sure the author was going for. The Cinderella in this story, Cyrenè, isn't just "Cinderella" I won't tell you all who she is, but there's a fairy tale that she's connected to that just doesn't quite seem to fit with the theme the author was try to ascribe to her. Also, classic stories got more involved in this world with explanations that, while interesting, just made the story feel cluttered. Since we're in Snow's Dreamory, we see things from her past and learn more about her background, but since she has control of her actions in the dream, it's hard to know what's really happened and what Snow changed from her story.

Predictability: Something I feel this author needs to understand is that foreshadowing is a great friend to an author. The thing is, you can make stuff up as you go along, but you need to be able to introduce it in some small way earlier in the story so that readers think you're playing by your own rules, and while you can break your own rules once or twice for special occasions, breaking them for next to no reason isn't a good idea. There were a few new concepts in this story that were introduced with no preamble and everything about them just felt chaotic and tacked on, as opposed to a living and breathing part of this world. There are for sure some fantastic moments in this story when the author gets the foreshadowing just right and brings everything together for an amazing twist or moment, but the times when he didn't, or couldn't in the cases of things that should have been teased in the first book, really didn't help the book.

Ending: So, as far as I can tell this is the second book in a four-book series. I know the prequels exist, but, again, as far as I can tell this plot that was started in the first book will only last two more books and that troubles me. As of the end of this book, I feel there is still so much to explore in this time and plot, and that's just with the story started in the first book, that's not even counting the story started in this one or the other stories that this book promised. Do I think the author can tie up all his loose ends in just two books, sure, but I'm afraid it would have to be extremely rushed and I don't know how effective it could be if he does. The climax to this book brings many new questions and theories and while the book ends with a startling cliffhanger and a puzzle for readers to solve, I feel like we're just at the beginning of a much larger and more expansive tale.

Rating:


Much like the first installment, this story holds so much promise and if things were polished up I bet this story could truly shine. The author's writing is marginally better in this installment, which only makes me hope more that he'll revisit and revise this series at some point because I feel that I can see this world's potential and I want it to reach that potential so badly.

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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.


Giveaway!


3 winners will receive a finished copy of ONE OF US IS LYING, US Only.

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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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