Monthly Archives: April 2015

Cold Burn of Magic is Light YA Urban Fantasy Just the Way I Like It.

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Cold Burn of Magic is Light YA Urban Fantasy Just the Way I Like It.

Strong and snarky female protagonists make me very happy, and when you throw some magic, monsters, and the mob into the mix, I’m all in.  This was light and enjoyable, and I was surprised by the reveal.  I think this is a solid four stars, and fans of Estep’s other books won’t be disappointed.  

  
Seventeen year old Lila is a tough girl with a street smart mentality and enviable fighting abilities, and that is before you factor in her impressive magical talents.  Losing her mom has taught her that the best way to keep from getting hurt is to keep from getting involved.  When she reluctantly saves the heir to one of the magical mob families in her magical tourist trap of a town, she knows she’s made a mistake.  Blackmailed into guarding the heir she saved, Lila just has to survive the year of her contract to gain her own freedom.  Lila is a narrator with attitude, and readers will have no trouble adapting to her perspective and seeing this strange little corner of the world through her cynical eyes.  She manages to be a complicated enough character that she is interesting, but she never crosses a line that will alienate her from readers.  Several of the characters are just as engaging and dynamic, creating a world of living, breathing individuals who I honestly grew to care about.  While there is a lot of character development, it is woven flawlessly into consistently paced action, leaving little time for readers to grow bored.  The world the author creates is pretty engaging as well.  The stuff of fairytales and folklore reside in Lila’s world, and it is just familiar enough and the magical system is simple enough that readers will be able to navigate this light fantasy with ease.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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A Magic Dark and Bright is a contemporary YA ghost story with a chilling conclusion

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A Magic Dark and Bright is a contemporary YA ghost story with a chilling conclusion

That pretty cover is a surprising choice for a ghost story, but it certainly made me pick it up, and once there, I stayed for the story.   I think this will be something many of my students enjoy, especially those who enjoy mystery and don’t mind supernatural — I’m thinking fans of The Unquiet by Jeannine Garsee will really be glad to find this book.  

  

Amelia hasn’t seen the lady in white who haunts the woods behind her house since the night her brother died. Until Charlie moves in next door. Now the ghost is back and girls start turning up in the river. The town whispers about curses and attaches blame to Charlie, but Amelia knows he couldn’t be responsible. Ancient magic, love turned bitter, and long desired revenge fuel a family curse that grows dark and bright in what might be the last summer of Amelia’s life. This is a contemporary mystery with an added bonus of some creepy ghostly encounters. Well written and engaging, this is a bargain at $3.99. I like Amelia as a narrator, but some of the other characters were flat, especially the people who were bad guys. The author weaves in the history of the ghost in a pretty cool way, and I liked that the focus remained primarily on the present. I really did enjoy this one, and I read it straight through in an afternoon. It wasn’t until I had time to reflect that I realized the author dropped the ball on the brother’s death. It felt like more than a red herring, but I still had some questions. Bone chiller of an ending. I will definitely be looking for the next book, because it can’t be a standalone with that ending.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

An Ember in the Ashes is the tense, violent YA dystopian that will captivate readers in 2015

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An Ember in the Ashes is the tense, violent YA dystopian that will captivate readers in 2015

In a world part Sparta, part 1984,  Laia just wants to free her brother, and Elias just wants to free himself. But the fates have a brutal and deadly game in store for both the slave and the reluctant warrior.  This book is definitely in my top five of 2015 so far.  I had a book hangover for weeks after I read this.  If you liked Marie Lu’s The Young Elites, I think you will enjoy this even more.  The dual narrative allow this book to be enjoyed by both genders, and the interest level extends from high school to adult readers of YA.

 


Goodreads Summary

I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.

THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.

IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW

AND I WILL DESTROY YOU.

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.

My Thoughts

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “intense.” When I finished, my nerves were shot and my shoulders were tight with tension. I cared deeply for Laia and Elias, and they were under constant, paralyzing threat. The seemingly omnipotent antagonist was beyond sinister, and I would be hard pressed to identify a villain to top her in any book I’ve ever read. The oppressive setting is reminiscent of a medieval 1984 — the despair is palpable. It makes it easy for the reader to cheer for the two characters who appear to still have their souls intact, but the wonderful nuances in a lot of the minor characters make it harder to decide about everyone else. The book had an ending that indicates that more books will follow, and some unfinished business means I’m all in for another round with these characters. There are some parts of the book I thought were weak, especially those surrounding mystical forces re-emerging in a world that has destroyed and dismissed them, but that didn’t really bother me while I was reading. Some people thought that Laia was a weak protagonist, but I thought her actions rang true for someone who isn’t a revolutionary by choice or nature but because of necessity.   think it will be a popular book with many of my students and fellow adult YA readers.  The language and situations make this a mature high school read — lots of violence and threatened sexual assaults.

Check it out from our classroom library today because I have poor impulse control, and I know you need to read this!

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl at Midnight is a light YA fantasy full of sparkle and grit 

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The Girl at Midnight is a light YA fantasy full of sparkle and grit 

Whimsy and reality collide in this shiny little fantasy.  Think protagonist who only wants to be accepted and a quest that can make that wish come true.  It wasn’t perfect, but I found it to be a blissful escape. Publishing April 28, 2015.

  

Echo lives a life straddling the human world and the world of Avicen, a race of feathered, magical people. Born into one, tolerated by another, Echo has never really believed she has a true home. When an opportunity arises that could make Echo welcomed wholeheartedly into the Avicen world, she jumps at the chance. However, the quest she embarks on will require a sacrifice of unknown proportions and an alliance with a feared enemy, opening Echo up to the possibility of losing everything. This was an intriguing and engaging read that blended the strange beauty of fantasy with the wry humor of reality. Echo’s insecurities and the bluff bravado they create will feel familiar and real to readers. The narrative is shared by Caius, enemy of the Avicen, and a few minor characters. Voices are distinct and they are used to develop perspectives of Echo and Caius that add depth to their characters. My only complaint is with the quest itself. There are too few tests, and they seem too easily conquered by the protagonist. This robs the book of that feeling that a hero/heroine has truly gained something more than a clue or prize in the journey to the end. The tests do cost these characters, but only one seems to really effect Echo in a lasting way. I didn’t really get the comparison of this book to The Grisha books — I’m a big fan of those, and this one didn’t evoke that series for me. It gave a Daughter of Smoke and Bone vibe, but they really weren’t very similar when it comes down to plot (this one is clearer and more enjoyable). Four stars.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

While Justin Timberlake said it best when he said, “What goes around comes around,” Life Unaware may illustrate it better than most YA books designed around the bullying message.

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While Justin Timberlake said it best when he said, “What goes around comes around,” Life Unaware may illustrate it better than most YA books designed around the bullying message.

I wasn’t really sure about Life Unaware when I picked it up.  The premise sounded like it might be something you read because it is good for you rather than because it is just good.  While it was a little like smothering the broccoli in cheese sauce, I was actually really pleased with this book despite the fact that it is about a topic that I am way over.  It is a book about bullying, but it this is a book from the perspective of a deceptively nice mean girl who gets trapped in her own net.  I hate girls like this, so I anticipated enjoying her fall from grace, but it just didn’t work out like that at all.  If you like contemporary high school plots thickened with a little revenge, this is a good pick. Also, if you are one of those nicey-nice mean girls, you should read this cautionary tale.

 

Life Unaware by Cole Gibson   Publishing on April 28, 2015  

Regan’s carefully crafted facade is ripped away when all her private messages are printed and distributed to the entire high school.  Now everyone knows just how ugly she really is on the inside, and no one is standing by her except for her ex-best friend’s freak of a brother, Nolan.  Regan realizes the person she has been isn’t the person she wants to be, and Nolan helps her come up with a plan to make amends.  But are people ready to forgive her? This was a fast and well written read with a hopeful and important message about the scars we leave when we live life unaware of our own words and actions.  Teen readers will appreciate the reality of the high school popularity hierarchy presented, and if they don’t relate to Regan at first, they will certainly develop some empathy for her by the end.  The plot manages to move the story forward and develop the relationship between Regan and Nolan at a believable pace.  I had some reservations about how things turned out in the end because it just wasn’t as realistic as I think the rest of the book was, but I think most readers will find it is satisfying.  Ultimately, this is a book I would feel good sharing with my high school students.  There is some mature language, but there is also a strong, positive message.  Four stars.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Fire Sermon is a well written YA post apocalyptic book that should be on your radar

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The Fire Sermon is a well written YA post apocalyptic book that should be on your radar

Centuries after the world is devistated by humanity’s weapons, mankind has managed to rebuild.  The technology that was linked with the downfall is shunned, the genetic fallout has shaped the society that emerged, and this civilization is on the fast track to cruel domination.  If you enjoy post apocalyptic tales and you don’t mind a little fantasy, this is definitely a book you should check out.  I didn’t hear anything at all about this book until it popped up on my recommended reads, but there are rumors that Dreamworks has optioned it for a film.  I’m not sure how I feel about that because a lot of what is great about this book is in the prose.  While it doesn’t remind me of anything else I’ve read, I think fans of uprising books like The Hunger Games and Red Rising will be interested.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Goodreads Summary

When Zach and I were born our parents must have counted and recounted: limbs, fingers, toes. We were perfect. They would have been disbelieving: nobody dodged the split between Alpha and Omega.

Nobody.

They were born together and they will die together.

One strong Alpha twin and one mutated Omega; the only thing they share is the moment of their death.

The Omegas live in segregation, cast out by their families as soon as their mutation becomes clear. Forced to live apart, they are ruthlessly oppressed by their Alpha counterparts.

The Alphas are the elite. Once their weaker twin has been cast aside, they’re free to live in privilege and safety, their Omega twin far from their thoughts.

Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation. But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose.

The potential to change the world lies in both their hands. One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they’re not careful both will die in the struggle for power. 

My Thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It was well written, thoughtful, and gripping.  For the most part, it is action packed, with only a lull near the beginning, but it was an necessary lull, so stick it out.  Cass is a strong female protagonist whose only liability is her world view, which is actually her strongest asset.  There is a romantic element to this story, but I will say it wasn’t blatant in its sensuality, so it isn’t full of hot moments but plays more of the companionship angle.  I actually liked the concept of the twins.  Though I thought it was going to be a ridiculous when I read the Amazon blurb, it worked really well.  The ending might have a few readers crying foul, but I thought it made sense.  My only complaint is the price.  $13.99 for an ebook is ridiculous, and even though I feel I got my money’s worth, I almost didn’t read it on principle alone.  I’m glad I overcame my impulse and read it anyway.  I thought the whole concept was pretty smart, and I’m definitely going to be looking for the next book in the series.

Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan will either take your breath away or make you want to strangle someone

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Reason to Breathe by Rebecca Donovan will either take your breath away or make you want to strangle someone

The librarian wanted to know if this book was going to be trouble on our high school library shelves, so I got to be the guinea pig.  It is not going to be banned anytime soon, but I do see LMN knocking on the door for a script.  People either loved it or hated it on Goodreads, so you will have to gauge your own ability to read and possibly be triggered by this huge tome about love and hate.


Emma is counting down the days until she can leave her aunt and uncle’s house.  The only relatives deemed fit to care for her, Emma’s aunt resents her and takes that resentment out through mental and physical abuse.  Emma hides this because she doesn’t want child services to take away her young cousins since they are loved and adored by the psycho.  When she meets a boy who threatens the hide and disappear status quo she has established, she must decide if finding love is worth the possible fallout.  I didn’t particularly enjoy this book, but I think students who enjoy high drama will.  Emma’s aunt is certifiable and she is hard to even endure on the page.  Emma’s attitude towards her family is troubling, especially to readers who don’t understand the flight part of fight or flight.  The romance is not instant, and the book does take time to carefully develop it into something, but it just seemed like a really bad idea from the start, so I saw each little romantic interlude as a threat.  I do not think everyone will see it this way.  I think some readers will think it is the most romantic thing they have ever read.  There are some snags in the plotting, and I can see its start as an indie publication even though it has been spruced up.  This book is foreverlong and it has two more huge volumes that go with it, so if you like books that are a lifetime movie waiting to happen, you will have plenty to read.  I don’t know about the other two books, but this one had only a few curse words and some light sensuality, so it is okay for grades 9+.

This book is available in the MHS library, but I’m not sure if you should thank me for that or not.

We Were Liars is a twisty little YA suspense that has something we all love to see — the rich and useless suffering like everyone else.

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We Were Liars is a twisty little YA suspense that has something we all love to see — the rich and useless suffering like everyone else.

While I wasn’t as surprised by the ending as I thought I would be, this one is a pretty twisted little YA suspense, and the author does a good job of maintaining the mystery without making it come out of left field.  While I can’t even tell you what it reminds me of without tipping you off, let’s just say that if you like a world where things aren’t always what they seem, you might give this one a try.  It isn’t Shutter Island, but it does play on the idea that our minds protect us from things we aren’t ready to handle.  Every student who has read it is desperate to talk about it, so it does get people thinking, and it is a fairly fast read.  I managed it in a couple of hours.

 

 Seventeen year old Cadence, oldest grandchild of the wealthy Sinclair family, returns to her family’s private vacation island two summers after the accident that left her with crippling migraines and a sketchy memory.  Things have changed on the island in those two summers.  Her mother and aunts are no longer pitting the cousins against one another in a bid to win their grandfather’s approval and the family fortune.  The stately home that was the heart of the family has been replaced with a cold modern structure, devoid of any of the warm mementos of Cadence’s childhood.  Her cousins, her closest friends and confidants, stick close to home in one of the family cottages instead of roaming the island and sea as they had done in the past.   She begs them to help her remember exactly what happened, certain that the events of summer fifteen are linked to the changes, but no one wants to talk.  A summer of delicate probing might yield answers, but those truths were kept quiet for a reason, and Cadence might be better off never knowing.  

Rather like The Great Gatsby, this book works to show readers the tarnish on the guilded lives of the rich and aimless.  I have a hard time with beautiful ugly people, so it was difficult for me to connect to Cadence, even when she tried to convince me that she was trying to be better as a human than the rest of her family.  I mostly read it because I knew something terrible would be revealed if I stuck around long enough, and it was.  I figured it out before the big reveal, but I have a knack for that, so I think most readers will get the jolt of surprise from the twist.  The narrative is shattered, like the mind of Cadence, so there are some events that turn up out of order, and the reader has to rearrange their own understanding to accommodate the new knowledge.  I like that, but some readers will find it confusing, especially if they break the reading up over a longer period of time.   I wasn’t quite satisfied by the ending, and I suspect that the author retreated into distant and poetic prose because she didn’t quite know how to end it either, and, well, how do you properly leave a character in Cadence’s situation, anyway.  Overall, I think most readers who like suspense will enjoy this book.  It was a big deal in the book world last year, so the masses like it, and despite your mom telling you that you are a special snowflake, chances are you will agree with the masses.  I think it is a solid for star read, but you might think it is a five.  Just don’t go telling everyone the ending like a bad egg, as a matter of fact, the book jacket encourages you to just lie if anyone asks how it ends.

This book is available in our classroom library and the MHS library.

Tempted by Paul Micheals proves that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.  

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Tempted by Paul Micheals proves that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.  

Tempted looked like something from the island of misfit toys, and looks were not deceiving this time.  Sometimes a really cool book is waiting behind a strange cover, but this time I should have listened to my gut instinct.  It really wasn’t a terrible read, but it was just so weird.  If Harry Potter was added as a cast member to The Godfather movies, this might be the story you would end up with.  I gave it two stars, but a lot of other folks gave it many more on Goodreads, so maybe I’m the one with a problem (I’m not).

Goodreads Summary

When his father is murdered, leaving young Alexi Gallo as sole support for his heavily pregnant mother, he begins to wonder whether the family is doomed. Overwhelmed and with nowhere to turn, he reluctantly accepts a job paying easy money from a sinister stranger and is soon ensnared in the criminal underworld.

His irresistible attraction to the vulnerable Traci, who is an unwilling participant in the unlawful enterprise, entangles him even more deeply in a shadowy enigma, populated by ancient demons he knows to be all too real. The unexpected intervention of a powerful ‘uncle’ opens his eyes to a violent world of myth and the feuds within it. When a duel between immortals threatens to destroy the one surviving person he loves, Alexi determines to move heaven and earth to prevent the catastrophe looming over them.

But can he?

My thoughts

While there was a lot of potential in this book, there were several places where the lack of clarity and detail left me with questions.  I had real trouble placing this in time, so I didn’t ever get a firm mental picture of characters or setting. I kept picturing the sixties and seventies because it was heavy on the whole Godfather vibe, but I think that it was suppose to be more modern.  The descriptions and details that would have made that clearer were, for the most part, missing, so this book didn’t start the little movie that runs through my head when I read.   Another problem was the missing explanation about the supernatural element.  I’m still not sure what the entity was exactly, and the rules surrounding the magic involved were never explained.  While that certainly meant I had no idea what was going to happen next, it made it almost impossible to understand any of the magical battles that took place.  Readers aren’t the only ones who can’t figure out what is going on.  The main character is strung along for the entirety of the story, and I didn’t really see the advantage as it created more frustration than suspense.   In the end, it wasn’t a book that felt fine tuned, and I wouldn’t have finished reading it if I hadn’t requested a copy.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why? Why didn’t you tell me to read Red Rising sooner? 

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Why? Why didn’t you tell me to read Red Rising sooner? 

What would you do if you learned your whole life was a lie? Join the rebellion, of course.  However, the commitment this protagonist makes to the rebellion will cost him his life, his body, and maybe even his morals & trust me, you are going to want to see how this brilliant plan goes down. I’ll be really honest and admit I steered clear of this book because of the hype. That was such a mistake!  I bought it on a whim, and it totally sucked me in.  I read it in one day and began the sequel immediately.  If you enjoy books like The Hunger Games or Ender’s Game, this is something you definitely will want to check out.  This book is smart enough for both mature high school readers and adults to be completely satisfied.

 

Goodreads Summary

 The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.


Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.
 
My Thoughts
I wasn’t sold at first, but if you just hang in there until the command school, it is so worth it.  Brutal, violent, smart and compelling, this book was amazing.  The threat to the characters is real, the need for revolt is obvious, and the neverending promise of betrayal is going to give you tense shoulder syndrome.  It is Sparta and Lord of the Flies and Ender’s Game rolled into one fabulous package.  I gave it five well deserved stars.
This book is available in our classroom library.