Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

20560137An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir

3.5/5 stars

Release Date: April 28, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review:

I rated it 3 stars on Goodreads, but my actual rating is 3.5 stars; the first half was a 3 for me, the last half a 4. It’s a good book – not the best – but still good. I do believe it’s overhyped. I really liked the writing, but it took me awhile to like the characters and world to the same degree. The first 75 pages were hard to read because I didn’t like Laia and things didn’t seem to get interesting until that point. I liked both perspectives Laia and Elias provided, but I still don’t 100% connect with Laia like I did Elias – I just find her character annoying and tedious. Every time Laia would beat herself up for being a coward, for not being like her mother, here’s me saying it’s okay to run away and be a coward – I’m sure her brother wanted her to be safe, not get locked up like him. So what if you’re a coward? Accept it, move on and work on freeing your brother, not dwelling on the past.

The romance between Elias and Laia as well as Laia and Keenan wasn’t really believable because they didn’t spend a lot of time together. There’s actually this love square? going on so Laia has two love interests and Elias has two. Helene and Elias made sense together because they’ve known each other for years, it’s the best-friends-fall-in-love trope that Tahir makes work. The same cannot be said for Laia’s love interests. The reader gets more time with the characters than they do with each other. That paints an illusion, so it seems like they’ve had enough time together, but I’m sure if you add it up it’s lower than expected. I predict in the sequel they’ll be spending more time together so that’s when I’d actually expect romance to happen.

I really liked the way the author made the past surrounding Laia’s parents and the Commandant so mysterious – I can usually predict things like this, but I’m still thinking through theories about them! The nervousness surrounding Cook was especially interesting. All those secrets is the main reason I’ll be reading the sequel – Tahir makes me want to know.

I really liked the trials – the third trial was especially hard to read, so I commend the author for being able to create such an impact. I could imagine these scenes so well and they were fantastic to read. I’m not as in love with the world as I’d like to be – I always need magic and fantastical elements, so only seeing a hint in the last half wasn’t enough for me. The world is dystopia and fantasy, which is an interesting mix, but I still need that extra bit of fantasy. World-building is a big thing for me, so I wish the author had shared a bit more of where the Martial Empire came from along with details of the 500-year old rule over the Scholars. The Tribes were also a bit confusing – are they bound by Martial rule, can they be made slaves like the scholars? The world-building is strong though so I’m excited to read more about that in the sequel.

Finally, something I feel really strongly about is how casually rape was mentioned. It felt like just a four-letter word, not something that has a deep impact on people. Yes, the author’s world is meant to be cruel and is inspired by the Roman Empire, but you still need to show that things like rape are more than a four-letter word. It’s said and insinuated too much, without the impact and discussion that should follow.

I’m planning to read the sequel, but it might take awhile for me to get to it. For those who have read it, I’d love to know your thoughts!

February Wrap-Up Post

IMG_9587Unfortunately I only got to read three books in February, but hopefully I’ll get to read more in March and get up-to-date with my Goodreads challenge. Here are the books I read.

Category Two: Books added to my TBR pile in 2015 – it’s so easy clicking that “Want to Read” button on Goodreads.

  • All The Rage by Courtney Summers
  • The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami
  • Vampire Knight Vol. 3 by Matsuri Hino

All The Rage is one of the best books I’ve read this year! I’m a huge fan of Summers and this book just blew me away. I recommend you read this because it’s really important and will leave a deep impact. I’ll be posting a detailed review later this month along with an interview I got to do with the author, so I’m very excited about that. 🙂

The Hero’s Walk was also another favourite and the second book I read on the Canada Reads Longlist. I felt the author created a beautiful story with characters that are real and flawed – I could imagine some of their personalities in myself and people I know. I was really satisfied with the ending, so anther great book to check out. Detailed review to come.

So how did everyone do last month reading-wise?

Blog Tour: Owl and the City of Angels + Interview

Owl and the City of Angels by Kristi Charish

Release Date: Ebook – October 5, 2015 | Trade Paperback – March 1, 2016

Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon and Schuster CA)

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The wild second adventure for unforgettable antiquities thief Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world—from the pen of rising urban fantasy star Kristi Charish. For fans of Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Jennifer Estep, Jenn Bennett, and the like.

Alix Hiboux, better known as Owl, international antiquities thief for hire, is settling into her new contract job for Vegas mogul Mr. Kurosawa, a red dragon with a penchant for ancient, supernatural artifacts. And now he has his sights set on some treasures of the mysterious Syrian City of the Dead that are sitting in a recluse’s private collection.

There’s just one wrinkle. To stop the resurrection of an undead army that could wreak havoc on Los Angeles, Owl must break into a heavily guarded archaeological sight in one of the most volatile regions in the world. A detour through Libya and a run-in with Somali pirates sends the clock ticking hastily toward total paranormal disaster.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the Paris vampires have stopped stalking Owl’s apartment, but they have by no means forgotten their death grudge against her. To top everything off, Owl finds out the hard way that there is nothing heavenly about the City of Angels…

Welcome to the next stop on the Owl and the City of Angels blog tour. To celebrate the March 1st paperback release, I did an interview with author Kristi Charish. This is the sequel to Owl and the Japanese Circus, which is absolutely amazing. You can read my review of Owl 2 here and be sure to check out the other blog tour stops!

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1. In Owl and the City of Angels, Mr. Kurosawa tasks Alix with the job of recovering artifacts from the Syrian City of the Dead. How did you come across this site and what made you want to incorporate it into the novel?

K: Well, for Owl 2 I wanted to send Alix somewhere outside the box – and while putting the story together I settled on Los Angeles as one of the locations. Since I already had The City of Angels in there, I figured I should toss a City of the Dead in there as well- for balance. After searching I found the very cool Dar Musa, also known as The Monastery of Moses the Abyssinian. I thought the history going back to the stone age was so interesting that I had to use it.

2. Owl readers are introduced to a new character: Artemis Bast. Can you tell us a bit about him and the inspiration behind him?

K: Hmmm. Well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers away, especially for anyone who hasn’t read the first book, but Artemis is a rockstar living in LA who may just be known more for his antics than his music. He’s also necessary to get Owl into the private collection of a LA recluse so she can steal something for Mr. Kurosawa…Or that’s the plan anyway. Artemis is also related to one of the other characters in the series.
He was a riot to write. The inspiration came from the glam and debauchery that went with all the 80s bands.

3. When working on Owl and the City of Angels, did your writing process differ from writing Owl and the Japanese Circus? Did you worry about how much recap to include? (i.e. is it too much, too little).

K: It was a little different, but not so much concerning how much to recap- that was one of the easier parts as the great thing about writing a sequel is you have an editor there to tell you when you needed to fill in more background or pull back, so I didn’t obsess about it while writing.
The part that was different and definitely harder about writing City of Angels was in the nature of writing a sequel – I knew what story I wanted to tell but I had no idea whether people who read the first book would like the second. They’d already been introduced to Owl so in my mind, book two had to go somewhere new and that’s tricky to do.

4. Are you a plotter or pantser?

K: Pantser, all the way – But that doesn’t mean I don’t plan out the novel. I think that’s a major misunderstanding with pantsers is this idea that there is no plan. There is always plan- I’m absolutely in charge as the rodeo show happening on paper. I have a target (usually an ending I’ve decided on) and a couple of key scenes that have to happen. The ‘pants’ing part comes from filling in the blanks. I know where I’m going, I’ve got a couple of landmarks, I’m just not entirely sure how I’m going to get there.

5. What’s a day in the life of Kristi like? How much time will you spend on writing, book research, promotion, non-book things?

K: Ha! It’s an entertaining question right now as I’m currently working on two novels- Owl and the Electric Samurai and the second book in my Kincaid Strange series. The answer is that at the moment, everything I do is writing related 🙂 – or almost.
Most of my day is spent writing or reading. Typically, I work for a few hours on a manuscript in the morning after handling emails and any business related stuff, then around lunchtime I’ll take a break and usually read a bit over lunch, before getting back to a manuscript. When I find myself getting a block I give my brain a break and switch to another manuscript or project I have on the go. Late afternoon/early evening is yoga class to get some exercise, and then in the evenings I’ll often get reading in over dinner and before bed, and get any promotion/articles done.

The other thing I try to do a few days a week is head downtown to hit the local library and write (the VPL has great desks for working and lots of places to grab lunch) or go to a local coffee shop. It’s a nice break from working at my kitchen table at home.

6. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

K: For urban fantasy lovers I highly recommend Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. It’s a straight out urban fantasy mystery with a very cool character – Jane who is a Cherokee shapeshifter that hunts rogues vampires down for a living. The series starts off when business changes and the head vampire of New Orleans wants to hire Jane’s services.
The other book I’ve read recently and highly recommend is a sci-fi by Peter Clines (Ex Heroes and 14) called The Fold. It’s about a science team developing a door to anywhere by folding space and time. Of course things start to go wrong and Mike, a man with a pedantic memory is hired to investigate. The science was woven into the story deftly and it’s true sci-fi- a real what if about technology.


About the Author: 

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Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Jan 13th, 2015, Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. She’s also a co-host for the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast.

The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is scheduled for release Oct 5th 2015. Her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is scheduled for release mid 2016.

Kristi is also a scientist with a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. Her specialties are genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology, all of which she draws upon in her writing. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists. Visit her website.

Review + Interview: The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

21857092The Art of Getting Stared At

Laura Langston

5/5 Stars

Release Date: September 9, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Canada

Purchase: Amazon | Book DepositoryChapters/Indigo.ca | B&NKobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

After a school video she produced goes viral, sixteen-year-old Sloane Kendrick is given a chance at a film school scholarship. She has less than two weeks to produce a second video, and she’s determined to do it. Unfortunately, she must work with Isaac Alexander, an irresponsible charmer with whom she shares an uneasy history.

On the heels of this opportunity comes a horrifying discovery: a bald spot on her head. No bigger than a quarter, the patch shouldn’t be there. Neither should the bald spots that follow. Horror gives way to devastation when Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. The auto-immune disease has no cause, no cure, and no definitive outcome. The spots might grow over tomorrow or Sloane might become completely bald. No one knows.

Determined to produce her video, hide her condition, and resist Isaac’s easy charm, Sloane finds herself turning into the kind of person she has always mocked: someone obsessed with her looks. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worse, Sloane is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life.

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I had the chance to interview Laura Langston about her book THE ART OF GETTING STARED AT, writing, and more! This novel is 1 of 10 nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award and I encourage you to check out the list here, there’s always a great selection. Thank you, Laura for joining me on the blog. Check it out below as well as my review of her fantastic book.

  1. In The Art of Getting Stared At, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata. How did you come across this disease and what influenced you to include it in your novel?

LL: There’s quite a story to that. A number of years ago my daughter had a friend who didn’t spend much time on makeup or clothes. She cared about her appearance, but not to a large extent. I noticed this because before a school dance our house was the gathering place. We’d supply the pizza, and my daughter and her friends would spend hours doing their hair and makeup and figuring out what to wear. This particular girl would spend maybe twenty minutes getting ready. I was intrigued by that and by the dynamic I witnessed between her and the other girls. They were all good friends, but they thought she was weird and she thought they were shallow. Around the same time, I met a woman who had lost her hair to alopecia. She said she’d never truly appreciated her hair until it was gone. I began to wonder how it would be for my daughter’s friend if her appearance was significantly altered. What if she began to obsess about her looks? How would she feel if she’d always prided herself on ‘being a little bit better than the girls who spent so much time on their makeup?’ From there, the novel took shape.

  1. This is your first novel nominated for a White Pine award, but not the first to be nominated for a Forest of Reading award. Can you describe how you felt after learning the news?

LL: I was absolutely thrilled. It’s a real honor to be nominated, and to be on a list with so many other wonderful books!

  1. You used to be a journalist, how has this influenced your writing today? What’s your writing process like?

LL: In terms of influence, I’m extremely interested in current events (I tend to be something of a news junkie) and I’ll sometimes find story ideas and inspiration from what’s going on in the world. Because journalists work to deadlines and don’t wait for the muse to strike, I’m used to writing even if I don’t feel particularly inspired that day. Writing is my job so I show up at the desk every day and get on with it. My process is regular and rather boring: write every day, revise each manuscript as often as is needed. Repeat and repeat again.

  1. For a long time, Sloane hasn’t cared about the way she looks. In the novel, she starts battling the idea of being pretty versus being smart. Why did you feel it was important to include this type of conflict?

LL: I wanted Sloane to believe that there are more important things in life than the way you look. She comes to care about how she looks but I wanted her to start out somewhat indifferent because that would make her journey more interesting. I went with the idea that she favors intelligence over appearance because of the relationship she has with her mother. Her mother is a doctor who believes that. Sloane admires her mother and wants to emulate her. She doesn’t want to be like her stepmother who is a make-up artist. In the end, Sloane comes to understand there’s a place in the world for beauty as well as intelligence. It doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’ thing.

  1. I found Sloane’s love for film authentic and believable. I could also relate that to my love for art and photography. Can you tell us about the ways you and Sloane are similar? Different?

LL: There’s always a trait in each character I develop that I need to be able to relate to otherwise I simply can’t get into their head. I don’t always share that trait but I need to understand it. In Sloane’s case, I can understand her passion for film because I’m passionate about books. I probably don’t put as much emphasis on appearance as some people do so in that sense I’m a little like Sloane but otherwise we are two different people!

  1. Sloane grows a lot as an individual and there’s a significant amount of character development throughout the novel. Was this a conscious decision? Was it important for the reader to understand this growth?

LL: It was very much a conscious decision on my part. When I write a novel, I’m always thinking about the character arc or the journey the character takes in terms of the story. Sometimes the journey is an actual physical trip or moving from place to place but in many books (and in most of mine) the journey is an internal one. Sloane grows and changes as she struggles to come to terms with alopecia. I tried to convey that to the reader in a way that they would understand and hopefully enjoy.

  1. Can you tell us about any recent books you’ve read and would recommend? Are there any books or authors you enjoy and have found through the Forest of Reading program?

LL: More than a decade ago, I discovered Don Aker and his novel ‘The First Stone’ through the Forest of Reading program and I’ve been a huge fan of his writing ever since. He’s a talented guy! There are so many amazing authors and stories in Canada that my reading pile is literally higher than my bed. I’ve been on a paranormal-meets-realism YA kick this year and I really enjoyed Sylvia McNicoll’s ‘Best Friends Through Eternity’ as well as Natasha Deen’s book ‘Guardian.’

  1. Can you share with us any projects you’re working on?

LL: I always have a number of projects on the go. I’m currently working on a short novel for the Orca Soundings line about a girl who discovers a terrible secret about a father she thought was dead. I’m also working on a longer YA novel called One Good Deed about a girl who saves the life of a homeless man and faces unexpected and life-changing consequences because of it.

review

I was immediately drawn into The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston. The plot and character development are superb! I’m a huge fantasy/sci-fi reader, so on the rare occasion I do read contemporary it has to really stand out. I usually love contemporary reads selected for the Forest of Reading awards and I’m glad Langston’s novel lives up to that reputation. There’s a lot of conflict thrown Sloane’s way and her growth as an individual is outstanding.

Character development is huge in this novel and Langston makes sure to include various literary conflict. The protagonist, Sloane Kendrick is a very relatable character because she presents herself as a confident person while deep down inside battling with how people see her. She also battles with the idea of being pretty versus being smart. For years, she’s believed you can only be either or and lives with the decision of ‘smart’. Sloane’s mother believes you should be true with oneself while Sloane’s stepmother, Kim thinks Sloane should value looks. This leads to a lot of issues between the two, and Sloane has felt for the longest time Kim is trying to fix her. Sloane’s image of Kim is someone without substance, she only cares about being pretty and wearing make-up. The more I read, the more Sloane started to realize maybe there’s more to Kim than her pre-conceived image, and more importantly maybe Sloane can be pretty and smart. When I first started reading Kim’s portrayal as a vain individual, I was really hoping for character development like this. In my opinion, you can’t send an image like this to a reader and not further examine it. Langston is a genius at creating situations where the reader learns more about her characters, and where her characters learn more about each other.

Sloane is a huge film nerd and I found that aspect of her personality very believable. I love when Langston introduces these little details, like Sloane observing a scene and thinking it’d make a great film shot. I don’t know much about film or have a lot of interest in it, but I do love art and photography so I’m always thinking about how that scene would make a great photo, or I wish I had a camera because that lighting is perfect, etc. In the novel, Sloane is diagnosed with alopecia areata, a disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss and I found this combined with her passion for film a very compelling element. While Sloane prefers producing film versus starring in it, she still has to engage with multiple people. All of a sudden Sloane is struggling with being seen and how she’s seen.

Before the novel started, a film Sloane produced for a film class was uploaded onto Youtube and gained 600,000 views in under 24 hours. This catches the eye of Sloane’s top film school and she’s encouraged to apply for a scholarship. She has less than three weeks to create a second film and needs to work with Isaac Alexander, someone she doesn’t have the greatest relationship with. Both get to know each other and realize there’s more to the other person than previously thought. I did expect romance between the two, but it’s like that slow burn romance where both don’t realize they like each other until closer to the end. Isaac is more openly flirtatious and while Sloane gives off false confidence when he says things like “you’re beautiful”, inside she wonders how can anyone like her in that way. This conflict of Sloane versus self is huge here.

As Sloane is coming to terms with her disease, the support system she wants most, her mother is away volunteering in Sudan [doctor]. Trying to hold in her frustration with Kim generates a lot of emotion. Every time this secret, that Sloane is losing her hair, is made known to another person and another, I felt her anxiety and fear. When a book creates such a great emotional response in the reader that makes a contemporary read so impressive to me. I was totally and completely in Sloane’s head and even though I know this isn’t real, I was upset for Sloane and felt her uncertainty of what the future holds.

Langston is truly an exceptional writer and reading this book was like watching a film, the emotions of her characters is so well-done. I recommend this to both the contemporary and non-contemporary reader. The Art of Getting Stared At lives up to the reputation of the Forest of Reading program and most importantly, encourages me to continue participating in these programs [White Pine selection]. Langston ends her book with a lasting impression on the reader.


About the Author:

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Laura Langston is a former journalist with the CBC. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest where she writes books for teens and kids.

Laura Langston’s articles have also appeared in dozens of magazines including Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardenmaking, MacLean’s, Skyword Inflight, Alive and many regional periodicals and newspapers.

Visit her website at http://www.lauralangston.com

Follow her on Twitter @LauraLangston

 

Book Review: Trial by Fire by Josephine Angelini

23310784Trial by Fire

Josephine Angelini

4/5 stars

Release Date: September 2, 2014

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The exhilaratingly seductive new series from the author of the bestselling Starcrossed series

Love burns. Worlds collide. Magic reigns.

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying many of the experiences that other teenagers take for granted…which is why she is determined to enjoy her first (and perhaps only) high-school party. But Lily’s life never goes according to plan, and after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly Lily is in a different Salem – one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruellest of all the Crucibles is Lillian . . . Lily’s identical other self in this alternate universe. This new version of her world is terrifyingly sensual, and Lily is soon overwhelmed by new experiences.

Lily realizes that what makes her weak at home is exactly what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. It also puts her life in danger. Thrown into a world she doesn’t understand, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone, and a love she never expected.

But how can Lily be the saviour of this world when she is literally her own worst enemy?

Review:

Trial by Fire incorporates Salem witches, spirit walking, and alternate universes. Alternate universes are my absolute favourite and Angelini doesn’t disappoint – it’s creative and well-done. Lily lives in our world but is brought to an alternate Salem through her other self, Lillian. What’s worse, Lily learns magic and witches reign supreme and Lillian is the ruler and villain of this new world. Angelini gives us an incredible world that I loved reading about!

The book starts off in our world, introducing Lily, her family, and best friend Tristan. Lily is frequently sick and diagnosed with more allergies than she can count, so her social life consists mainly of Tristan. Lily’s had a long-time crush on Tristan, which I found a bit cheesy especially when the reader learns Tristan is the school’s most popular boy. The author doesn’t have enough room to make this popular trope unique so in my personal opinion it should have been avoided. Before the start, the two had a steamy kiss, but they hadn’t discussed where their relationship lies so when Lily see’s Tristan making out with his ex at a party, she runs off with a broken heart. This creates the perfect opportunity for Lillian to bring Lily to her world – Lily has to willingly agree to leave and of course, she’d like to be anywhere but here.

The world-building is phenomenal and my favourite aspect of the book. I was actually expecting a pre-1800’s Salem, but I think it’s set in or around present day because technology exists, although influenced by magic. You have things like bioluminescent trees and giant walled cities – the cities are reminiscent of the Thirteen colonies. When it comes to science and magic there’s a really interesting dynamic. The growth of science is controlled by the ruling coven so that it can’t become bigger or independent of magic. If a citizen needs clean water or medicine, they have to hire a witch because using science for something like that is illegal. Ironically magic is more expensive than science, so this further divides the witches and non-magic people.

I loved Angelini’s version of witches and magic. Everyone has a Willstone, which is a small rock usually worn as a necklace and acts as an extra limb. A Willstone also allows a witch to bond with other people and share their magic. It’s very sensitive so if destroyed or in the wrong hands can be very painful for the witch. There’s also people called Mechanics, someone a witch is expected to bond with and is supposed to make sure the witch’s body and soul is in good condition. In exchange, they get a lot of magic to use at their own disposal. Outlanders like Rowan, people born outside the city walls and therefore not a citizen, fear bonding with a witch because there’s a chance the witch will control their thoughts and use them like a puppet.

When it comes to the Outlanders, there wasn’t the same sort of creative development like with witches and magic. It borders really close to “Native Americans are savages and the Europeans civilized” and other racist, misperceptions. It makes the author look like A: did not do a lot of research on Native American history and/or doesn’t feel like they need to because it’s an alternate universe largely focused on Salem witches and B: a product of the American education system that isn’t overly focused on teaching accurate Native American history.

I loved Rowan and the romance between Lily and him. Some characters like Juliet (Lily’s sister) and Tristan exist in both worlds, but there’s no Rowan in Lily’s world so both the reader and Lily get to learn about this person at the same time. We find out Rowan and Lillian used to have some sort of romantic relationship so I’m not 100% sure how I feel about that when it comes to the romance between him and Lily, BUT I still ship the latter.

I expected to see a lot more of Lillian and as this great villain she’s been advertised. I like reading about the villain and seeing their POV because things aren’t just black and white. She’s presented as a person who’s resorted to the no-other-option to save her world and I just wish we’d seen her more as the villain and interacting with Lily. The reader learns about her dark acts from other characters so I hope we get to see more of her in the sequel.

Something that wasn’t made clear is whether Mechanics are only males and if females can become Mechanics, but it’s just rare. There are male witches, but not many and most probably don’t know they’re witches. I was also disappointed with the lack of female characters. Lily didn’t interact with any on a regular basis, other than maybe her sister, Juliet and doppelgänger Lillian. Even in her own world she didn’t seem to have any female friends. It’s really important to me that a heroine of a book have at least one good female friend.

Overall I loved this book and will be reading the sequel (already bought it). Cheesy parts aside, the world-building is incredibly strong and Angelini’s world stands out so much to me. If you’re looking for a new original take on Salem witches and magic, this book is for you. There’s so much about the world that I loved and it’s impossible to write about it all in a review, so read the book!

Book Review: Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

24657660Reign of Shadows

Sophie Jordan

4/5 stars 

Release Date: February 9, 2016

Publisher: Harper Teen

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

With lush writing and a star–crossed romance, Reign of Shadows is Sophie Jordan at her best.

Review:

What I love most about Reign of Shadows is its ability to bring me back to my favourite book worlds, namely Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. It has this dark fairytale re-telling but Jordan introduces enough elements for it to be classified as original fantasy. The POV alternates between Luna and Fowler and this transition is smooth. I didn’t feel like I was being thrown into the mind of another character after just getting used to the former. I instantly liked Luna, and it was great going on this adventure with her and watching her grow as an individual.

World-building is usually my favourite part of a novel and I’m happy it’s the case here. Luna has lived in a tower all her life and has little experience of the ‘Outside’ world, beyond the Black Woods. Her world is defined as Outside and Inside. Like Luna, the world starts out small for the reader and as she experiences Outside, the same can be said for the reader. This is an intriguing aspect to consider because like Luna, the reader knows there’s more to Jordan’s world than the Black Woods, but no limit has been set. I also loved the idea of a world shaped by darkness, with only an hour of midlight. There are bats four feet wide, huge eels, and my favourite, dark dwellers – creatures that live in the earth and feed on anything in their path. I love the idea of things you can only imagine becoming real.

Jordan places an emphasis on character development, mostly focusing on Luna and Fowler. This one-on-one interaction is great for the reader, who gets to know both characters while the two get to know each other. I found Luna shared more to the reader than Fowler, but I liked trying to figure out Fowler’s past. There’s a lot of romance and while I did enjoy it, I found it moved too fast in the beginning; it was almost cheesy. Life-and-death situations do bring people closer, but at the end of the day Luna and Fowler are still strangers. It was more believable near the end.

I loved the plot up until the end when the book ended on a cliffhanger. This ended up confusing me and my interpretation of the plot. At the beginning the main characters set out to find Allu, a mythical land free of dwellers. Analyzing it a bit more, you could also say Luna’s goal is to not live in the tower the rest of her life (which is accomplished). I haven’t seen this advertised as a series, but even if there’s a sequel in the works I personally feel book #1 should always have some sort of conclusion. It’s fine to include that possibility of more, but I don’t believe there should be a huge cliffhanger. As weird as it sounds I still enjoyed the adventure, even with my confusion of the plot.

Jordan’s writing has good flow and she’s at the stage where she’s in-tune with her writing. Jordan knows what words to choose and creates an almost poetic element to the book. Even with the plot confusion, Jordan has gained a new reader and I’m 100% certain I’ll read a sequel. I recommend Reign of Shadows for fans of Cornelia Funke and Stacey Jay.

I received an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Jar Recs: Only Standalone

Book Jar Recs is a weekly feature where I recommend three books based on an idea, theme, or random word. Each theme has been randomly pulled out of a jar (inspired by a TBR jar). If you have any ideas you’d like me to put in the jar, feel free to share them in the comments below. You can also read my introduction post on this feature here.

This week’s theme is ‘only standalone’. I took that to mean books that are written as standalones with characters you’d love to hear about again, but deep down inside know their story is over and wouldn’t work beyond that one book.


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Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen has been one of my favourite reads of 2015. The way it discussed feeling invisible spoke to me on so many levels and for that I’m glad it was my first Dessen novel. Sydney has always felt invisible, living in the shadow of her older brother, Peyton. At the beginning, Peyton is sentenced to jail for a drunk driving accident, and when her parents continue to hold Peyton in that golden light, Sydney feels she has to shoulder the guilt of what happened to the victim of the accident.

Dessen has created characters who can appeal to different kinds of readers. They all have different stories about feeling invisible as well as being visible in the ways we don’t want to be. This is a book that speaks to you, whether you’re a contemporary reader or a fantasy reader; whether you’ve had that feeling of invisibility or not. I saw experiences of several characters not only in myself, but also in people I know. That’s the sort of thing I value in a book.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo


10914After reading My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult became an instant fave of mine and I just had to read more of her books. I mainly picked up Songs of the Humpback Whale because I saw the title and thought oh! something about humpback whales (I was going through this humpback-obsessed phase at the time). Even though it was not directly about humpback whales (one of the main character’s studies them so it’s a central aspect of the plot), I still loved it!

Jane and Oliver Jones have had a rocky marriage and when Oliver chooses career over family yet again, Jane decides enough is enough and leaves with her daughter, Rebecca for her brother’s apple farm. Character development is huge and Picoult lays out all this emotion in the same way that had me falling in love with My Sister’s Keeper. The one thing I strongly disliked – maybe even hated – about the novel was the ending. I personally didn’t agree with Jane’s choice at the end; I felt like that choice made all the growth gained throughout the novel all for nothing. All in all, it’s interesting to think about what I’d do differently because in that way I’m somewhat in Picoult’s head. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know if you agreed with the ending.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

*Side Note: The cover above is the edition I own and even though there’s a lot of covers around, this one doesn’t seem to be in print anymore (or readily available in the above retailers).


21943246Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick was a somewhat surprisingly, enjoyable read for me. I was familiar with her popular Hush, Hush series (still on my TBR) but having never read her, I didn’t have any expectations. I was actually a bit nervous of how that shift from urban fantasy to contemporary went for her. Fitzpatrick understands the contemporary genre really well. I’m not a big contemporary reader, so becoming a new fan of Fitzpatrick through Black Ice was a big thing for me. I don’t know when I’ll get to her Hush, Hush series, but I will be making time for her recent release, Dangerous Lies (especially since I won an arc!).

In Black Ice, the main character is Britt Pheiffer and I took an instant liking to her. She’s been training for a hiking trip to the Teton Range with her best friend for the past year. Things take a turn for the worst when the two of them get lost in a major snowstorm and are forced to shelter in a cabin with two dangerous strangers. Britt also needs to watch out for the serial killer, who may or may not be involved with these strangers. The mystery surrounding the serial killer was well-played; I didn’t figure it out until very close to the end – and I’m great at figuring out those things! The entire survival aspect, and Britt needing to rely on what she’s learned in the past year was well-researched. I’d without a doubt recommend this thrilling novel!

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Disclaimer: I won a finished copy from a Simon and Schuster CA giveaway. This has in no way altered my honest opinion of the book.

 

 

Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

13638125Vicious 

V.E. Schwab

5/5 Stars

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Publisher: Tor

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Review:

Vicious by V.E. Schwab is a fresh take on the superhero subgenre. I loved trying to figure who was the villain and who was the hero. Victor Vale and Eli Cardale meet at university and it’s when Eli’s theoretical research into ExtraOrdinary (EO’s) people catches Victor’s interest that things go wrong. This is a case of an unreliable narrator because villains don’t believe they’re villains. Vicious is a new original classic that carries suspense to the very last page.

Time is an interesting concept here. Every other chapter would take place in the past, namely 10 years before the novel begins, but near the end, the ‘past’ could also be 10 hours before the present timeline. This present then past then present format helped carry the suspense of what exactly went down between Victor and Eli. The reader knows something really bad happened between the two, but Schwab leaves that valuable information right out of our reach. It’s up to us to follow the breadcrumbs.

Schwab’s take on the superhero genre is well done because I went into the novel trying to figure out who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy and there’s really no ‘good guy’. In the beginning, I was confident that Victor himself was the villain. He somewhat admits this and the way his mind works just screams ‘super villain’, but then Schwab switches up the POV and BAM! self doubt settles in. The author is also good at creating these grey characters and you end up rooting for this villain to win, or that villain to lose. Her characters are cunning and manipulative, and the reader is not immune to that power. You learn to love it haha 😉

Vicious is made up of morally complex characters, but it’s up to the reader to decide which ones are ‘good’. A very hard task to do! This is a story of one great super villain versus another great super villain, but both wouldn’t be anywhere without their allies. I loved reading about Mitch, Sydney and Serena, and how they became involved with EO’s. Mitch is the only non-EO, but he’s very good with hacking computer systems, a talent that stood out to Victor.

Science plays a large and important role in Vicious. Schwab has a story to tell because two very intelligent students use science to achieve superhuman powers. This made the storyline all the more realistic to me. I enjoy superhero-type novels, but I love them even more when science plays a significant part in the plot. When you take the time to show how a person’s power exists, it helps the reader envision it in the real world. Schwab invents the term ‘ExtraOrdinary’ and I’d say in the world of Vicious, it’s a noun that carries the same meaning as superhero. Having the science there gives it added weight. I wouldn’t mind being an EO myself – hopefully I’d have some cool powers!

The writing is phenomenal! I was never bored with the dialogue or the plot. I somewhat expected the ending because of a certain character’s power, but it was still a page stopper. Vicious is a very entertaining read and I loved being in the heads of Schwab’s fantastically, dark characters. This is one super villain story you don’t want to miss out on!

Shrinking the TBR Pile: December

  I introduced this challenge back in October with the intent of cutting down on my TBR pile before 2016. For November, I tried to read only library books. I ended up reading four library books plus an arc making a total of five books read last month 😦 My goal is to read at least 75 books this year, so I have 15 more to go!

Library books read:

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Plus these two which weren’t on my original list:

The Art of Getting Stared At by Laura Langston

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston

And the ARC:

Fire Falling by Elisa Kova


December Monthly Challenge:

For this month, I’ll be combining my October and November challenges plus adding books I’d like to review before 2016.

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff (I started this in November and am almost done!)

Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie (eARC)

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro (eARC)

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (eARC)

Assassin’s Heart by Sarah Ahiers (eARC)

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

Rabbit Ears by Maggie De Vries

The Rose Society by Marie Lu

A Sense of the Infinite by Hilary T. Smith

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee

The Troop by Nick Cutter

Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler (eARC)

The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot (ebook)

A higher TBR list than usual but I’m very optimistic about reading 75 books by the end of 2015.

New Feature: Book Jar Recs

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Hi everyone! I’m excited to share with you this new feature I’m starting called Book Jar Recommendations (recs for short). What exactly does this mean? I was inspired by the idea of a TBR jar – you write down books you want to read on a scrap of paper and put them into a jar. For the Book Jar Recs, I’ll write down random themes or ideas on paper, put it into the jar, and once a week, pull one out and use that idea to recommend three books.

Each idea/thought will only be one or two words so that I can be really flexible with how I interpret those ideas. Examples of ideas/things could be something like “2015”. For “2015” I could talk about a book published in 2015 or one I read in 2015, but not necessarily published that year. With the three books I’ll write a mini review and try to keep each one a paragraph or less. I hope to make this a weekly feature.

What’s this weeks Book Jar Recs?

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Duologies! I’ve decided to talk about three books that are part of a duology. I hope you enjoy my recommendations and if you have any ideas I should put into the jar, let me know in the comments below. If you happen to read and enjoy one of my recommendations, I’d love to hear about it!


 

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Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Hartman presents us with a world where dragons and humans have been at war with each other for a long time. In the novel, the two have enjoyed 40 years of peace, but some would prefer war. Dragons can take human shape and act as ambassadors in the human court.  The protagonist, Seraphina has a very dangerous secret – she is half-human half-dragon, which is something both dragons and humans forbid. I loved Hartman’s take on dragons – very logic-based, mathematical beings who don’t believe in emotions like love. It can actually be very deadly for a dragon to feel love. I also loved that Hartman gave Seraphina a gift for music and had her join the court – probably the worst place for a half-human half-dragon to be. Be sure to check out this fascinating take on dragons and its sequel Shadow Scale.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo


 

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Avalon by Mindee Arnett

I love sci-fi, particularly the space opera genre where there’s advanced technological devices and space travel is a very real thing. In Avalon, Jeth Seagrave and his group of teenage mercenaries make their living stealing metatech – devices that allow people to travel great distances faster than the speed of light. Jeth is constantly dreaming about that day when he can buy back his parents spaceship, Avalon from his boss and get himself and his sister, Lizzie, out of this crime-riddled world. Arnett gives us an interesting band of characters and I loved the references to the Arthurian legend of Avalon. This was an excellent addition to the YA space genre and great if you’re a fan of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The League series, but want something in the Young Adult category. The sequel, Polaris is also currently available.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo


 

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Chanda’s Wars by Allan Stratton

So this is the sequel to Chanda’s Secrets, but I’ve decided to talk about it because in my opinion it can be read as a standalone (which I’ve done). I came across Stratton’s works through the Forest of Reading program and each time I’ve found him to capture very real-life, experiences and bring up deep emotions in the reader. In Chanda’s Wars, Chanda struggles to take care of her little brother and sister while avoiding General Mandiki, who steals children at night to turn into child soldiers. I read this back in high school and the way Stratton wrote about civil war, child soldiers, and hope still has me remembering it to this day.

Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo