Tag Archives: rebellion

Defy the Stars – another stellar YA SciFi read 

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Defy the Stars – another stellar YA SciFi read 

Claudia Gray’s Defy the Stars is another amazing addition to the YA SciFi genre.  If you enjoyed Ami Kauffman’s Illuminae, you definitely want to give this book a look.  I gave this book my rare five star rating because it grabbed my imagination and high jacked my evening from the first chapter.


Goodreads Summary

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

My Thoughts

What a great read!  Plenty of action and suspense kept me glued to this one for a straight read through.  There is attention and detail given to the building of characters and a fascinating new world.  I cared about these characters and the conflicts that drove them.  I liked the fact that the relationship between the main characters is believable despite the seeming impossibility of feelings and AI. It is also a timely read – Westworld has us questioning what it means to be a human while current political debates have us thinking about isolationism, terrorism, and the environment.  This book does a great job of giving readers room to consider these issues in a thoughtful way without ruining the story for those who just want a good escape read.  I’m definitely adding it to my high school classroom library wishlist, and I have already seen it in our high school library (but it won’t be there for long once I start talking it up).  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+, but it will appeal to adult readers of YA as well.

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

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Shadow Run – Her Ship. His Plan. Their Survival

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Shadow Run – Her Ship. His Plan. Their Survival

When you put the idea out there that a book is for fans of Firefly and Dune, there is going to be a lot of expectation and some skepticism.  I have never gotten through Dune – I tried, but I thought it was boring.  I do, however, drop everything when Firefly or Serenity show up on the TV.  Don’t expect a Captain Tightpants, but it is pretty shiny.  I gave Shadow Run 4 stars.


Goodreads Summary

They can steal her home. They can attack her ship. But they cannot touch her crew.

Nev just started as the cargo hauler on the starship Kaitan Heritage. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person on Alaxak to have her own ship. She’s brassy and bold, and she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is a rust bucket.

As for Nev, he’s handsome and impetuous—and Qole and the crew have no idea that he’s actually a prince in hiding. He thinks Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, but when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, he resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary. Word of Nev’s presence on board spreads quickly to other ships, however. Soon a rival royal family is after Qole, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive. Before he knows it, Nev’s mission to manipulate her becomes one to save her.

To survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. Nev may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power of her own—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.

My Thoughts

Shadow Run is a  great read from beginning to end. I loved the action, which felt pretty non-stop.  It is surprising how much character development actually made it into the story considering that the crisis mode is on continually.  I will say I didn’t connect with the female narrator until the second half of the book, but the male narrator is a pretty solid anchor until that point.  Fans of Firefly will find the tightknit crew and the complete inability to do anything the easy way very satisfying.  Themes of honesty, integrity, and finding your real home add nice depth to the adventure.  I’m definitely adding it to my high school classroom library and recommending it to fans of Amie Kaufman’s Illuminae, Tessa Elwood’s Inherit the Stars,  and other fast-paced action reads.  Language and situations are suitable for grades 8+, but adult readers of YA will find it enjoyable as well.

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

If you liked Red Rising, give Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall a look

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If you liked Red Rising, give Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall a look

Jenny Moyer’s Flashfall had a premise that reminded me of Red Rising, one of my favorite books, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on it.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I definitely got vibes of both Red Rising and The Hunger Games from the opening scenes and the initial situation, but I’m also glad to say that this story really did have something new to offer fans.  There is all the rebellion, action, and adventure I crave, but there is also a fresh storyline with some unexpected developments.  I gave Flashfall four stars, but the more impressive endorsement is that I have had a hard time keeping it in my classroom library.  I recommended it to one kid, and I haven’t seen it on the shelf since – word of mouth has kept it in high demand.  I’m really surprised there hasn’t been bigger buzz about this one, so if you missed it when it published in November, it is worth your time to check it out.

 

Goodreads Summary

Orion is a Subpar, expected to mine the tunnels of Outpost Five, near the deadly flash curtain. For generations, her people have chased cirium—the only element that can shield humanity from the curtain’s radioactive particles. She and her caving partner Dram work the most treacherous tunnel, fighting past flash bats and tunnel gulls, in hopes of mining enough cirium to earn their way into the protected city.

But when newcomers arrive at Outpost Five, Orion uncovers disturbing revelations that make her question everything she thought she knew about life on both sides of the cirium shield. As conditions at the outpost grow increasingly dangerous, it’s up to Orion to forge a way past the flashfall, beyond all boundaries, beyond the world as she knows it. 

My Thoughts

Orion is a strong female protagonist with an admirable goal and a strong protective drive for the people she loves. She is easy to empathize with, and she is flawed enough to be believable.  The relationships in the story are engaging, and the romance is developed slowly enough to feel right.  I think the biggest draw for readers, though, will be the fast pace of the story – the action is pretty constant and the threat is real.  While I feel like the overarching world building is a bit fuzzy – I never quite understood exactly why Orion and her family were being used to mine this particular substance, or even where or when the story was set – I was still quite happy to just enjoy the story.  I will definitely be on the lookout for the sequel.  Fans of dystopia won’t be disappointed.    Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+, but adult readers of YA can enjoy it as well. 

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

Billed as a Gone Girl meets Nashville, Escaping Perfect is a bit of a disappointment.

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Billed as a Gone Girl meets Nashville, Escaping Perfect is a bit of a disappointment.

Let’s start by clarifying that there is no real comparison between this book and Gone Girl or the show Nashville as far as I can tell.   Someone runs away.  There is romantic drama. Seriously.  The blurb for this book lead me to expect something darker and more twisty, but I still liked the concept – girl runs from controlling mother and finds the life she wants to live in a small town in Tennesee.  Unfortunately, things started to fall apart as the story strayed further and further away from reality.  I gave it three stars, but there are some real haters on Goodreads.

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Goodreads Summary

Gone Girl meets the TV show Nashville in this sultry summer read about a girl who runs away from her high-profile past to live the normal life she’s always wanted.

Cecilia Montgomery has been America’s sweetheart since the day she was born. A member of the prestigious Montgomery family—the US equivalent of royalty—her childhood was cut short after she was nearly kidnapped. Since then, Cecilia has been hidden away, her adolescence spent at an exclusive boarding school.

Her dreams of becoming a professional violinist—dashed.

Her desire to be a normal teenager—not possible.

Her relationship with her once-loving parents—bitter and strained.

Nothing about Cecilia’s life is what she would have planned for herself. So when an opportune moment presents itself, Cecilia seizes the chance to become someone else. To escape. To disappear. To have the life she always dreamed about, far away from her mother’s biting remarks and her sheltered upbringing.

Cecilia says goodbye to the Montgomery name and legacy to become Lia Washington: relaxed, wild, in love, free, and living on her own terms for the very first time. But being on your own isn’t always as easy as it seems…

My Thoughts

I liked Cecilia/Lia as a narrative voice, and I was excited for her to get a little experience and fun.  The town seemed awfully diverse and exciting for a small town, but I was willing to let that slide. I even liked the unrealistic but charming romantic interest she encounters.  Their romantic relationship is fairly unlikely and entirely too whirlwind, but I was okay with that as well because I wanted them together.  I thought there was a lot of drama in their relationship, and I really didn’t understand what exactly lover boy saw in Cecilia/Lia that made him want to reform (special snow-flake trigger warning).  I still didn’t mind it.  What I really minded was the terrible cliffhanger – if you want to resolve the major conflict and tease me with an enticing but smaller cliffhanger that is fine, but it just isn’t fair to leave a major conflict hanging like this book did.  I’m pretty irritated by this, and it think a lot of other readers will be as well.  It would be different if the story were more realistic, but if you are going to magic a romance, can’t you engineer a perfect ending?  I think too many of my high school kids will be frustrated by the final chapter to make this a book I would recommend highly.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

Revenge and the Wild

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Revenge and the Wild

I was very excited to read this book because I love westerns, and this one has the added bonuses of cannibals, magic, and a mechanical hand.  It was a steampunk western of sorts, and I mention that because the tone will appeal more to readers who appreciate both genres than readers who are simply looking for a western. It’s not quite Army of Darkness meets True Grit, but that is the comparison I just couldn’t quit making.  While that sounds very cool, it just never really worked for me.  I gave Revenge in the Wild three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

The two-bit town of Rogue City is a lawless place, full of dark magic and saloon brawls, monsters and six-shooters. But it’s perfect for seventeen-year-old Westie, the notorious adopted daughter of local inventor Nigel Butler.

Westie was only a child when she lost her arm and her family to cannibals on the wagon trail. Nine years later, Westie may seem fearsome with her foul-mouthed tough exterior and the powerful mechanical arm built for her by Nigel, but the memory of her past still haunts her. She’s determined to make the killers pay for their crimes—and there’s nothing to stop her except her own reckless ways.

But Westie’s search ceases when a wealthy family comes to town looking to invest in Nigel’s latest invention, a machine that can harvest magic from gold—which Rogue City desperately needs as the magic wards that surround the city start to fail. There’s only one problem: the investors look exactly like the family who murdered Westie’s kin. With the help of Nigel’s handsome but scarred young assistant, Alistair, Westie sets out to prove their guilt. But if she’s not careful, her desire for revenge could cost her the family she has now.

This thrilling novel is a remarkable tale of danger and discovery, from debut author Michelle Modesto.

My Thoughts

Westie has a serious desire for revenge on the family of cannibals who took the lives of her family as well as her arm, and I just didn’t think the gravity of the situation paired well with the whimsy of the setting.  The magical Indian maiden warrior and the mythical creatures, the airships and the clockwork mechanisms were at odds with Westie and her goals.  I don’t think my feelings will be universal, and for the right reader, this will be a fun and phenomenal blend, but I personally found it hard to connect with the characters who never made the leap from characters to real people.

The plot does contain action, mystery, and romance, all of which are enhanced by the unexpected twists and turns of a world I haven’t seen before.  It is a fully realized world, too, and one that is easy to envision and still surprising.  The plot does give relationships time to evolve and develop, and it gives readers the opportunity to make inferences, so it isn’t overwrought with backstory.  I found the romantic relationship rather endearing, and it is a complex situation with a universal appeal, so I think most readers will enjoy that subplot as well.  The story does end with a satisfactory resolution that twisted right at the end to foil my best predictions, which is always a pleasure.

I do think most of my high school readers will struggle with the pairing of western and steampunk.  The steampunk genre really hasn’t caught on with my students and that mix of whimsy and serious revenge will be hard for them to rectify in one work.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

The Impostor Queen 

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The Impostor Queen 

This isn’t a new story – it is clearly playing on the trope where the pampered/sheltered girl is forced to make her way in the world when a disaster thrusts her out of her comfort zone and into real life.  The story is recognizable despite the magical embellishment, but that is okay because I happen to like this trope.  The packaging may not disguise, but it does make a familiar story more appealing.   I gave this book four stars despite the fact that it got a little draggy at some points.

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Goodreads Summary

Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

My Thoughts

Elli, the protagonist didn’t waste time being snotty and selfish about her changed circumstances – she comes across as a empathetic and genuinely good person almost from the start.  She may be a bit too good for some readers, but she was raised to see herself as a protector, first and foremost, of the kingdom, so of course she hesitates at plots that threaten to bring only chaos and destruction to her land.  And it is a fully realized world that she is tasked with protecting.  The social, political, and magical structure of this setting is well developed and thoughtful. It feels believable and, while it does have some problems, the people who populate it are as good and evil as any place you want to point to on a map today.  It wasn’t a stylized dystopian, and that is something I think most readers will appreciate.

Despite these positive points, I did think the pacing was a little slow.  It certainly devoted enough time to developing complex characters and relationships, and there is action throughout, but I found myself growing a little bored as I slowly peeled back the layers to reveal what was really happening – this is mostly due to the fact that the mentor figure disappears for several months in the middle of the book, leaving characters and readers in the dark.  This time was used to build a romance and to develop a nuanced cast, but it was a bit of a lull for me.

As far as the romance goes, it was one I enjoyed.  It was carefully staged to grow from friendship into something more intimate without jumping straight into instant devotion.  It had enough conflict to keep me engaged.  As a matter of fact, it was this relationship that kept me reading when my irritation at the stall in the bigger plot threatened my interest.

Overall, I think this book will appeal to many of my high school readers, particularly those who enjoy books like Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes.  I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers.

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

Burning Glass

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Burning Glass

I didn’t think this was a bad book, and I think there will be readers who enjoy it. The concept is really cool, and I initially found it very compelling. However, in the end, I had to fight to keep myself reading because I just wasn’t invested in the characters or the outcome. I have a feeling that most of my high school readers would lose interest fairly quickly. I only gave it three stars.

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Goodreads Summary

Sonya was born with the rare gift to feel what those around her feel—both physically and emotionally—a gift she’s kept hidden from the empire for seventeen long years. After a reckless mistake wipes out all the other girls with similar abilities, Sonya is hauled off to the palace and forced to serve the emperor as his sovereign Auraseer.

Tasked with sensing the intentions of would-be assassins, Sonya is under constant pressure to protect the emperor. But Sonya’s power is untamed and reckless, and she can’t always decipher when other people’s impulses end and her own begin. In a palace full of warring emotions and looming darkness, Sonya fears that the biggest danger to the empire may be herself.

As she struggles to wrangle her abilities, Sonya seeks refuge in her tenuous alliances with the charming-yet-volatile Emperor Valko and his idealistic younger brother, Anton, the crown prince. But when threats of revolution pit the two brothers against each other, Sonya must choose which brother to trust—and which to betray.

My Thoughts

I thought this book was rather dull.  The politics bored me and the intrigue was predictable from the beginning.  There is a lot of talk about equality and the archaic class system of a monarchy, but readers are never really given a personal connection to the horrors of the faceless, nameless mass of people that suffer the most under the rule of the Emperor.  It is clear that there is a problem with the system, but since it is so removed from the action, it just doesn’t feel as urgent and necessary as it should. There is only one character that we get to know personally who represents the mistreated masses, and she lives in the castle and is given relative freedom.  The true horrors are vague and expected – hunger, forced military drafting, slave-like conditions.  The people who are suppose to be in charge of the revolution dither around a lot, so the majority of the book builds up and then lets readers down when there is no follow-through.

The protagonist was hard to really connect with because she was a vessel for everyone else’s emotions, maybe. Neither she nor I seemed to be able to distinguish where her feelings ended and those of the other characters began.  While that is the point, this would have been more successful if there had been some clear rules about how the empathy worked.  She came across as indistinct and the “love” she felt for the men she encountered was never clearly, sincerely her own.  I also kept wondering why someone didn’t force their feelings on her and just have her assassinate the emperor – it was clear that she could be induced to act on someone else’s will, but her control inexplicably changed when she got to the palace (I think I was suppose to believe that her connection with the prince was the factor that changed her, but I wasn’t completely sure).  Again, the rules just weren’t clear enough for me.

Again, just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean you won’t, but it will put some folks to sleep.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school and beyond.

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

If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

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If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

Virginia Boecker’s The King Slayer definitely improved my opinion of this series.  I enjoyed the first book, The Witch Hunter, well enough, but it was a bit of a lightweight entry in a genre that grows more impressive every day.  The second installment adds some much needed oomph.

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Goodreads Summary

An action-packed and suspenseful sequel to The Witch Hunter, perfect for fans of Graceling and the Grisha Trilogy.

“I think, in time, you’ll either be my greatest mistake or my greatest victory.”

Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the price put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper king of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his thirst for power grows stronger every day. He’s readying for a war against those who would resist his rule–namely Elizabeth and the witches and wizards she now calls her allies.

Having lost her stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth’s strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur once more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she’ll go to save those she loves.

“[Filled] with everything a good fantasy book needs: swords, poison, black magic, and betrayal.”–April Tucholke, author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, on The Witch Hunter

My Thoughts

Picking up shortly where the first book left off, The King Slayer doesn’t waste much time before introducing new conflicts and revealing some surprising fallout from Elizabeth’s somewhat disastrous confrontation with Lord Blackwell.  Relationships old and new continue to evolve in this story, and, while they may not have been what I expected, I found myself very pleased by the conflicts and resolutions that The King Slayer offered.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that Elizabeth’s character was forced to struggle with limitations she never expected to face again, and that struggle made her a much more relatable character this go round.  I honestly believe this is the stronger book of the two because, though I enjoyed The Witch Hunter well enough, it felt a little lacking in complexity, and I remember thinking the climax came a little too quickly.  The King Slayer does not suffer from those issues.  Overall, fans of The Witch Hunter are going to be delighted, and those who were a little less impressed by it will certainly be glad they gave this series another chance.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

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

Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

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Matthew Quick’s Newest YA, Every Exquisite Thing, ponders the costs of conformity

Like other books by Matthew Quick, Every Exquisite Thing explores what it is to be an outsider of sorts. In this case, the narrator is contemplating the life she lives for others versus the life she wants to live for herself.  I loved the idea – we are all forced to wear masks if we want to fit in.  However, Quick’s writing can be a bit more demanding than the average YA.  This isn’t a beach read, and it will ask too much of many readers, but for those who want an intense, thought-provoking story that refuses to follow the rules, this is your book.  I gave it five stars.

Every Exquisite Thing publishes Tuesday, May 10, 2016.  CORRECTION:   the publication date was moved to May 31, 2016.  I should have double checked against NetGalley. 

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Goodreads Summary

Nanette O’Hare is an unassuming teen who has played the role of dutiful daughter, hardworking student, and star athlete for as long as she can remember. But when a beloved teacher gives her his worn copy of The Bugglegum Reaper–a mysterious, out-of-print cult classic–the rebel within Nanette awakens.

As she befriends the reclusive author, falls in love with a young troubled poet, and attempts to insert her true self into the world with wild abandon, Nanette learns the hard way that rebellion sometimes comes at a high price.

My Thoughts

I think that many high school readers will connect with this book and its narrator.  The central theme is one that many YA’s spend time considering:  Do I conform or do I fight to be an individual?  Nanette’s journey to decide that question is fraught with a realistic look at what society does to those who go their own way.  It is at times contemplative, ridiculous, confusing, insightful, heartbreaking and heartwarming.  You know, like real life inside your own head, but a little more dramatic.  Matthew Quick has a knack for taking outsiders and easing audiences into an empathetic understanding of their perspective.  I think this perspective is easier to embrace because who hasn’t played the joining game just to avoid grief? The plot was refreshingly unexpected and the characters were well drawn.  I enjoyed it, and readers who don’t mind actually thinking about what they are reading will as well.  Folks who just want a mindless YA contemporary need not apply.  Language and situations are most appropriate for grades 10+, and adults will find it compelling as well.

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

Francesca Haig’s The Map of Bones 

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Francesca Haig’s The Map of Bones 

If you are a fan of post apocalyptic YA, you should give Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon series a try.  If you are hesitant because of the twin thing, just know that it is a lot less bizarre and a lot more believable than the premise makes it sound.  The second book, The Map of Bones, was one of my most anticipated reads this year.  I won’t lie – it started way too slow for my liking, but, oh, when it picked up, it really picked up.

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Goodreads Summary

Book Two in the critically acclaimed The Fire Sermon trilogy—The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this richly imagined post-apocalyptic series by award-winning poet Francesca Haig.

Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort, Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.

My Thoughts

I was expecting a fast paced and action packed follow up.  I was a little annoyed when I didn’t initially get what I wanted.  The first half of this book is slow going.  Political maneuvering and the emotional fallout that Cass faces in dealing with the death of her friend and lover take up a good part of the book.  It wasn’t until I had almost given up that the story began to pick up steam.  The second half definitely delivered the action that I was looking for, and I have to say I didn’t see where this plot was headed until it was hitting me square in the shocked (happy) face.  I think this would have been a more engaging book if the author had taken less time to develop the characters and the political climate, but I think that the series would have ultimately suffered for it.  If you liked The Fire Sermon, I think you owe it to yourself to pick up the sequel.  I encourage you to persevere through the first half, because it is definitely worth it.  Myself, I’m beginning the impatient watch for book three.  Language and situations are appropriate for high school readers, but adult readers of YA will enjoy the series just as much.

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