Monthly Archives: April 2016

Assassin’s Heart – YA that is part Romeo and Juliet, part Dia De Los Muertes

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Assassin’s Heart – YA that is part Romeo and Juliet, part Dia De Los Muertes

This is a good old fashioned “Hell hath no fury” read, and I enjoyed it. For me, this book’s plot is actually secondary because the world building really stole the show.  Ghosts and goddesses, codes of conduct and questionable morals that are ruled by honor all make for a richly imagined setting.  I could see this place in my mind so clearly, and I’m desperate to read another story set in this deadly and enchanting place.

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Goodreads Summary

In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

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My Thoughts

As far as assassins go, Lea is no joke.  She is a killing machine, and she doesn’t hesitate to get the job done.  I think she makes a few questionable decisions, and her emotions certainly drive her to an extreme, but I still liked her journey back from the underworld, a place we could all end up under the right circumstances.  I did feel the story lagged a lot at the midpoint, and Lia spends way too much time hanging out trying to reconnect with the last of her remaining family, but it didn’t ruin my overall enjoyment.  I also wasn’t swept away by the romance in this story, and I don’t think I was meant to be because this felt more about loyalty and friendship than lust (once bitten, twice shy and all), but the readers who want that Romeo and Juliet kind of love might be disappointed.  This is Romeo and Juliet gone even more wrong than it did the first time.  Some people will find the mystical elements stretch their suspension of disbelief, but I thought those were some of the most powerful moments in the book and I bought into them wholeheartedly.  The resolution was smart, satisfying, and exactly what I wanted.  I think this book will capture the imaginations of my high school readers, especially those who have enjoyed Sarah J. Mass’ Throne of Glass books and the His Fair Assassin’s series.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list, and I’m keeping an eye on this author.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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The Girl From Everywhere

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The Girl From Everywhere

I am generally a sucker for time travel or pirates, so I was pretty sure I had hit the jackpot with this book, which combines both.  But I wasn’t convinced I had a five star read on my hands until the end.  Then my brain exploded. There is a lot of set up to this story that really pays off in the last third of the book. Don’t misunderstand, the first part of the book is still engaging, but it really comes together when all the pieces fall into place in a very satisfying way.

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Goodreads Summary

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.
Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

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My Thoughts

Nix is the narrative voice in this story, and it is easy to feel empathy towards her plight.  She is also smart and resourceful, but she still manages to make the mistakes and have feelings that teen readers will find believable.  The cast of secondary characters is diverse and entertaining, and they have back stories that book lovers and history enthusiasts will adore.  While the romantic relationships fell a little flat for me, I think it reflects both Nix’s own inability to make big decisions until her fate is decided, and her formative experiences with Earth-shattering love.  I wasn’t bothered when they didn’t sweep me away, but some readers will be disappointed.  I think it is more important to consider all the messages about love – the kind you feel for your family, your friends, and even places that you hold sacred.  Those are all thoughtfully touched on in this work.  The biggest draw for me, though, is the concept.  It really grabbed my imagination – time traveling pirates (of a sort) on a quest that takes them to places real and imagined with the help of maps and faith-fueled magic.  While some readers might find the rules a little limiting, I thought the idea was sublime. It takes some time to really establish how the idea works, it is so worth the effort.  It is also worth your time to read the author’s notes at the end, especially if some of the literary and historical references elude you (I’m an English teacher, and I still found it enlightening).  Overall, I think this is a book that will appeal to dreamers and readers with the souls of adventurers, and I have plenty of those in my high school classes.  This is definitely going on our classroom library wishlist.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but it will hold appeal for adult readers as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The Art of Not Breathing

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The Art of Not Breathing

Unlikeable and unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (Thanks, Gillian Flynn), but The Art of Not Breathing really pushes those concepts to my limit.  It took a lot of work to get myself past the point of no return, but I was ultimately glad I stuck it out.  Elsie is a hot mess, and her support system sucks, so I’m glad I got to see her character get a little bit back by the end.  I gave it three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone. Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

My Thoughts

This book takes a little time to draw in the reader.  While the mystery that drives the story is introduced almost immediately, the messenger, Elsie, is hard to embrace.  She is strange and it takes a while to really get past the part of her that drives everyone away.  That changes once she meets the boy who will ultimately force her out of the stasis that tragedy placed her in years earlier.  He’ll change her life in more ways than she could have ever expected.  I enjoyed watching Elsie’s transformation, and I think other readers will as well.  That is really the strength of this book because the mystery fell a little flat, perhaps because it is a believable solution.  There is quite a bit of teen drama, but it didn’t feel excessive.  Each character is reacting to a tragic event that has been repressed, and those reactions felt like reasonable reactions to that stress.  Overall, I enjoyed the book, and though it was a little depressing to watch these characters lance the infection that was killing them all, I was invested in the outcome and I was satisfied by the resolution.  Language and some sensuality make this more appropriate for grades 9+.

I received an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Bright Blaze of Magic – Jennifer Estep wraps up her YA Urban Fantasy series

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Bright Blaze of Magic – Jennifer Estep wraps up her YA Urban Fantasy series

Jennifer Estep’s Black Blade series almost lost me with the second book, Dark Heart of Magic , which lost a lot of the things I loved about the first book, Cold Burn of Magic.  I’m happy to report that this book, the third (and possibly final) in the series, brought back all the warrior woman, action packed, mafia maneuvering that I could desire.

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Goodreads Summary

“The characters are as fantastic as Estep fans have come to expect.” – RT Book Reviews

Bad Things Always Come In Threes…

As a thief, I’m good at three things: hiding in the shadows, getting in and out unseen, and uncovering secrets. I put these skills to work for the Sinclair Family, one of the magical mobs that run the tourist town of Cloudburst Falls.

Everyone knows Victor Draconi wants to take over all the other Families–and kill every last Sinclair. What they don’t know is that I’m on to him, and no way will I let the man who murdered my mom get away with hurting all the other people I care about. Especially when I’ve got places to break into, stuff to steal, and Devon Sinclair fighting right by my side…

“An adventurous ride you will never want to get off.” –#1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout on Cold Burn of Magic

My Thoughts

Bright Blaze of Magic is exactly what I wanted in the third book of Jennifer Estep’s Black Blade series.  The action kicks off quickly and doesn’t let up until the very end.  The fast pace and focused plot make for a quick and engaging read.  I have to admit that the second book, Dark Heart of Magic, was a disappointment for me with its draggy pace and love-sick teen drama, but Estep regained her footing in this story by giving us back the smart and impetuous thief we all adored in Cold Burn of Magic.  That’s right, folks, the real Lila is back, and she isn’t going to let the Draconi’s take away her new family.  Don’t get me wrong, Lila’s character arc is still in motion, and she has given up her loner status, but she seems to have found her place and purpose and that makes all the difference.  I really felt like this book pulled the series all together, and resolved some long-standing conflicts in a satisfying way.  I’m not sure where Lila’s story will go next, but I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.  Word on the street is that this is the last book in the series, but I didn’t feel that finality, so I can dream, right?  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

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

The Star-Touched Queen – a fever dream of Indian folklore and mythology

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The Star-Touched Queen – a fever dream of Indian folklore and mythology

In The Star-Touched Queen,  lush descriptions and exotic details are paired with an epic and mythical feel to create a beautiful book with a really cool story nestled inside.  This book has both content and style, and yet I would hesitate to hand it to just anyone because the style will overwhelm some readers.

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Goodreads Summary

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself.

A lush and vivid story that is steeped in Indian folklore and mythology. The Star-Touched Queen is a novel that no reader will soon forget.

My Thoughts

It felt like a fever dream.  Things would inexplicably shift and I wasn’t always sure what had happened or why.  Neither was the narrator, and yet she kept forging ahead while I was left a beat behind, still trying to explain what she just accepted.  It reads like a lot of the world literature works I teach, and if you are not willing to just accept some strange elements popping up and go with the flow, it may leave you frustrated.  I think the biggest hurdle appears shortly before the main character faces a monumental decision, and as the story got murkier and more mystical, I felt that a lot of my high school students would close the book and move on.   That would be a shame because the resolution is satisfying, but I know my students well enough to say it would be the breaking point.  There is an audience for this book, and I certainly see it garnering awards.  I think it would be a great book to push readers to a new level.  However, I can’t see it being a book that gets more attention from YA readers than from adult readers of YA.  It is appropriate for high school readers.

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

The Shadow Queen – You haven’t seen a Snow White like this

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The Shadow Queen – You haven’t seen a Snow White like this

This reimagining of Snow White added a few important twists to the story that I really felt brought new life to a tired fairy tale.  There are no dwarves. Thankfully. There is a huntsman, but he has a lot more riding on capturing the wayward princess than he ever has before.  There is magic – big magic – tied to land and intentions and heart.  And this pretty princess with skin as white as snow?  Well, she doesn’t need a rescue.  She is a hardcore warrior in her own right, and this version of the story makes it clear that her courage is the real thing that packs a punch and not some idealized virtue that sounds nice in a eulogy.

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Goodreads Summary

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.
But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

My Thoughts

I have to admit that I’m almost done with fairy tale revisions, and I had to take a break before starting over and giving this book my real attention.  I’m glad I took that break.  This book does deserve to be savored rather than devoured simply because the relationships are complex, the dangers feel real, and just when you want to cover your eyes or slam the book closed, another turn of events keeps you in the game.  Lorelai, the protagonist, is easy to connect with, and a strong female protagonist I believe my high school readers will admire and enjoy.  There is a bit of romance, and the author nicely sidesteps the dreaded insta-love by providing a deeper connection.  I think most readers will be quite pleased with their relationship and the relationships throughout this book.  It reminded me of Princess of Thorns a bit, and if you enjoyed that book, I feel sure this one will grab you as well.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wish list and recommending it to all my readers who like their ladies tough and true.  Language and situations are appropriate for middle and high school readers, but adult readers will enjoy it as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Deb Caletti’s Essential Maps for the Lost – A YA read about depression that left me anything but depressed.

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Deb Caletti’s Essential Maps for the Lost – A YA read about depression that left me anything but depressed.

It is hard to explain how a book about depression made me so very happy.  Both Madison and Billy have been balancing the emotions of their unstable mothers and are living with the soul crushing responsibility and guilt that comes with the parenting of a depressed parent.  They find in each other, though, those effervescent moments of happiness and joy that are pure pleasure to experience through them.

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Goodreads Summary

Sometimes people want to be lost. Madison—Mads to everyone who knows her—is trying her best to escape herself during one last summer away from a mother who needs more from her than she can give, and from a future that has been decided by everyone but her.

Sometimes the lost do the unimaginable, like the woman, the body, Mads collides with in the middle of the water on a traumatic morning that changes everything.
And sometimes the lost are the ones left behind, like the son of the woman in the water, Billy Youngwolf Floyd. Billy is struggling to find his way through each day in the shadow of grief. His one comfort is the map he carries in his pocket, out of his favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
When three lives (and one special, shared book) collide, strange things happen. Things like questions and coincidences and secrets—lots of secrets. Things like falling in love. But can two lost people telling so many lies find their way through tragedy to each other…and to solid ground?

My Thoughts

I think these characters rang so true because their feelings, pretty and ugly, are believable and honest.  The quirks and tells of a lifetime spent walking a tightrope feel just right, and the book is paced to develop them fully.  I’m not going to lie – their relationship is messy and uncertain, but it feels like the truth.  The lessons they learn about themselves and about life add a real depth.  The secondary characters lighten the mood, and the shared dream they have to live out a childhood fantasy inspired by a beloved middle school book is sweet and realistic.  I think my high school students will respond to these characters and their situation.  I definitely want to include it in my classroom library, so it is going on the wish list.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but adult readers will appreciate it as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

The 13th Continuum

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The 13th Continuum

The 13th Continuum is another YA dystopian, meaning it didn’t add much to the genre.  Weak characters and a lack of logic made for a rather dull read.  Die hard dystopian devotees will still probably find it hard to pass up, but if you are over it, you won’t miss much here.  As usual, there are other reviewers who thought it topped sliced bread, but I gave it three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

One thousand years after a cataclysmic event leaves humanity on the brink of extinction, the survivors take refuge in continuums designed to sustain the human race until repopulation of Earth becomes possible. Against this backdrop, a group of young friends in the underwater Thirteenth Continuum dream about life outside their totalitarian existence, an idea that has been outlawed for centuries. When a shocking discovery turns the dream into a reality, they must decide if they will risk their own extinction to experience something no one has for generations, the Surface.

My Thoughts

While I liked the idea of this book, I didn’t actually like the book. First, it didn’t feel polished. In particular, the pacing seemed off. I’m not sure if it was the amount of detail that was included in the social structure of the world or if it was really the result of trying to establish relationships between characters, but the fallout was that it slowed the story to the point that I began to lose interest. I thought it was smart for the author to incorporate the second colony because the appearance of Aero recaptured my interest for a while.

Second, the plot was problematic for me. I was never really clear about what motivated Aero’s colony, so I struggled to find the logic in the conflict.

Finally, I never really connected with any of the characters. Myra was an adequate character, but she didn’t really have any sparkle or wit about her. I liked her dedication to her family, but she was bland. Aero was a little more interesting because he was contemplating the negatives in his society but he was also able to show the advantages he felt he gained from the system. I found that much more intriguing than a character placed in an obviously flawed society. The relationship between these two was way too accelerated and I didn’t understand the logic behind that. Overall, this just wasn’t a book I connected with, and I don’t think it is engaging enough to keep my high school students interested, though the premise will certainly catch their attention. Language and situations are appropriate for middle and high school readers.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

 

If you loved Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, try Anna Breslaw’s Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here 

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If you loved Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, try Anna Breslaw’s Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here 

Scarlett Epstein may hate her life, but I love her narrative voice.  Funny and real, this book is a short and engaging read that fans of books like Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl will find irresistible.  I do have to say that, while I gave this book five stars, the response from other readers has been all over the spectrum.  I think that means you either connect with Scarlett or you really, really don’t.  I think it is at least worth sampling to see if you will love it or leave it because I’m certainly glad I didn’t pass on the opportunity to live in Scarlett Epstein’s hated world for a while.

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Goodreads Summary

Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her pot-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.

When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. Scarlett never considers what might happen if they were to find out what she truly thinks about them…until a dramatic series of events exposes a very different reality than Scarlett’s stories, forever transforming her approach to relationships—both online and off.

My Thoughts

I really loved this book!  It is smart and snarky and laugh out loud funny.  Scarlett is a narrative voice with a sharp wit and an honesty that many YAs will find very engaging.  She isn’t perfect, but her faults feel perfectly real.  The cast of secondary characters was a quirky mix of unexpected and average that created a believable and enjoyable community of folks who are all just trying to get by.  The plot is nicely paced to allow the implosion of Scarlett’s life as well as the rebuilding, and the angst of a maybe-he-does, maybe-he-doesn’t romance is compelling and just slightly pathetic enough to, again, ring true.  I loved the fact that there were thoughtful lessons hiding underneath the humor, and it added a nice depth.  I can’t wait to get a copy of this book in my classroom library because Scarlett is an unforgettable character and I know my high school students will enjoy this hilarious look at going around the obstacles that life throws up unexpectedly.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but adult readers of YA will be able to enjoy it as well.

I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow – So that’s where Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester came from

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Worlds of Ink and Shadow – So that’s where Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester came from

Yesterday, I reviewed a book that felt like a Jane Austen.  Today, I’m writing again to my kindred in literary geekery.  Worlds of Ink and Shadow is a fantasy story starring The Brontë family, and it will have you digging out your copy of Jane Eyre (either that old paperback or the delicious movie adaptation starring Michael Fassbender).  It’s a slow burn, but those who stick it out will feel it was worth it.

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Goodreads Summary

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been close. After all, nothing can unite four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict, spartan upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

My Thoughts

I struggled with this book for quite some time before I was finally able to settle in and enjoy the story.  The elevated language, which is necessary to evoke these characters and this time and place, won’t make for an easy read for most YA’s (or adults).  The large cast of characters, though individually distinct, will probably be a roadblock for some.  My biggest struggle was trying to figure out why the author chose the Bronte family because for a good portion of the book that was not clear.  Finally, there is a lot of time spent developing several worlds and characters before a clear direction is established.  For readers who stick it out until the end, I think there is some real pleasure to be had, particularly for those who have read Bronte books and can see the connections.  I teach Jane Eyre, and by the end of the book, I was delighted to see how this author dovetailed her story into the classic.  I had a passing knowledge of the Bronte family, but this book made me go hunting for more.  As a literary geek, I am wholly delighted by this book, and I’ve already been blurbing it to my students since this fall when we read Jane Eyre.  As a realist, I think this might be a difficult book for just any reader to fall into, but those who do, enjoy the ride! Language and situations are appropriate for high school and beyond.

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