Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Ivy's Blossom~P D Kalnay | Review

Title: Ivy's Blossom (Legend of the White Sword #3)
Author: P D Kalnay
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 166 Pages
Release: May 2016
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Ivy's Blossom is the third book in the Legend of the White Sword series and works to solidify this as one of the best young adult fantasy adventures I have read. It's not exactly high fantasy, but it's not really urban fantasy either. It's a nice blend between different variations on the fantasy theme that work really well together.

This installment focuses more on world building than character interactions and relationships. A lot of the main foundations for those were laid in the first two installments and this one needed to give us more background on the new world we're entering.

When Ivy doesn't return to the seventh world, Jack comes up with a plan to return to the first world to be with her. But first he has to prepare a lot. And he has a few more things to make in the smithy before he's ready.

If you've read the first two installments then you know there is a lot of mystery surrounding Jack and his previous life on the first world. This installment hints at what he was like in that previous life and how he is different now. There is a lot more information given about the various worlds connected by the world tree and how Jack and Ivy are connected to them.

I really can't talk about this book without giving away a lot of information from the first two, but just know that it was excellent. If you're a fan of young adult fantasy and want something that is both lighthearted and hard hitting, full of adventure and fast paced, then read this series. You won't regret it. I have yet  to be disappointed by this author and cannot recommend his books enough.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Golden Son~Pierce Brown | Review

Title: Golden Son (Red Rising #2)
Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Dystopia/Science Fiction
Length: 442 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: January 2015
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

While I did enjoy this quite a bit, I'm not sure that the story was as good as the first one. It took me a long time to feel invested in any of the characters during Red Rising, which wasn't an issue here. I already felt connected to all of them after finishing that first installment and was excited to see where they went.

This novel introduces some new characters that I really enjoyed. Victra, the older sister of the horrible Antonia, was such a nice addition to the story. She was hard, but not cruel. Where her sister was always stabbing people in the back, Victra was loyal. Once she was on your side, she was there to stay. Ragnar, an Obsidian, was also a nice addition. He brought yet another color into the mix. There were a variety of minor characters that I really enjoyed as well, but those are the main ones.

In the beginning of this Darrow is feeling lost, feeling that he has failed both the Reds and the Golds he has come to love. I was worried that the story was going to plod along with him feeling lost and broken, but it didn't. A lot more happened. The mission of the Sons of Ares was both hindered and helped. And I really feel like Darrow grew a lot in this installment. Some of the realizations that he made in the first novel were able to sink more deeply into who he is as a person, and I feel that that made him more of an empathetic character. He didn't come off quite as arrogant and annoying as he had to me before.

I appreciate that this novel was not taken over by some "tragic" romance. There are touches of romance, but not an overabundance, which I appreciated. Romance sprinkled throughout a story can be a good thing, but so often it seems to overshadow the rest of the story. Yes, people fall in love while they are in terrible, insane circumstances. But is that they only thing they think about? I think not. And this had just the right amount of romance to keep me invested in the characters and their growing relationship, without overshadowing all of the political intrigue and rebellion building that was going on.

This novel is full of action. And death. There is definitely a lot of death in here. I don't personally think that it is always necessary. At times it just seems to be killing to kill, not to further the plot or evolve the characters affected.

There were some difficult moments in here as Darrow grew closer to certain of his friends while pushing others away. Mustang continued to be one of my favorites. The Jackal continued to be disturbing. Sevro was crude and loyal, as usual. Cassius was broken. Roque was hurt. And the ending was brutal for so many different reasons. I am looking forward to finishing off the trilogy wiht Morning Star.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Start of Me and You~Emery Lord | Review

Title: The Start of Me and You
Author: Emery Lord
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 384 Pages
Release: March 2015
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

This book was a very pleasant surprise. It was much deeper than I was anticipating and I loved that about it. The summary inside the book jacket really does not do this book justice. It's about so much more than those few words.

One thing that I loved was the characters and their relationships. Paige was an excellent narrator and I loved seeing her conflict. Her turmoil over having lost her boyfriend Aaron a year previously was very realistically portrayed. There was conflict and pain, but it wasn't over the top like I was afraid it might be.

The friendships in this book were phenomenal. Tessa, Kayleigh, and Morgan were absolutely fantastic. And I loved that even though they fought, they were always there for each other. That's what real friends are. In so many books the friends argue and separate, like one fight has broken something they been building for years. Here they argued, they fumed, and they moved on. Because their friendship was worth more than petty issues that no one would remember ten years down the road.

Another thing that made this book great was the slow burning romance. And the fact that even though there were two guys, there was never a love triangle. And both guys are good! This seems to so rarely happen. Sure one of them was the right guy for Paige, but not because the other one turned out to be a jerk. Both Max and Ryan were great characters and added a lot to the story (though I'm partial to Max, obviously). And there was no insta-love. Everything was built slowly and beautifully. Even the drama that is inevitable was understandable. They are teenagers, after all. There has to be some drama somewhere.

Paige's parents were another great addition. So often parents are ignored in YA fiction, but here they played key roles. And their relationship, as a divorced couple, was complicated, to say the least. But their love and support as Paige was growing up was absolutely brilliant. They truly wanted what was best for their children and even though they didn't always understand or agree with them, they were trying.

This is a story about growing up, dealing with grief, falling in love, learning to live as yourself, and trusting in your support system. It's about making new friends when making friends is hard, about taking chances when it would be easier not to. It was just a wonderful book that I look forward to reading again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child~J K Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne | Review

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J K Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
Genre: Fantasy play
Length: 343 Pages
Release: July 2016
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

When I first heard this was being released, I was not enthusiastic. In fact, until the day it was released I did not plan to read it. Once reviews started coming in with a lot of mixed information I decided to give it a read just so I could form my own opinion on this newest addition to the Harry Potter world.

I think how you go into this book has a lot to do with how much you will enjoy it. Knowing that it's a play for one, and not a novel, is a key component to understanding this. If you expect a novel you will be disappointed when you get a script. It sets the scene and then we have dialogue. So if the play format is not something you enjoy reading this likely would not be for you. Aside from the format readers should have a different expectation going into this than they would were it another novel written solely by Rowling. This has a new cast of characters, a very different plot, and is set well after the main events of the series.

So if you go into this expecting it to be more like fan fiction, you will likely enjoy it a great deal more. It still has a lot of Rowling's overall feel, but lacks a lot of the excitement that made the seven Harry Potter novels so magical.

My favorite part of this book, by far, is Scorpius Malfoy. Honestly, if he had not been in this book this review would have turned out very negative instead of mostly positive. He was fantastic. He was the only character that I felt jumped off the page and came to life. I could imagine him very vividly. He was just an absolutely stunning character.

The plot of this felt half baked, to be honest. Particularly toward the end it just seemed to fizzle out. I thought it was an interesting idea and enjoy a lot of the scenes along the way, but overall it was a rather weak plot and could have used some more development. When performed on the stage it might translate better, but I have not seen the production so I cannot say for sure.

The main thing that held me back from liking this more was the fact that we got no information about any of the other main characters from the original novels. We had Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Draco. No one else. They were barely mentioned. I understand that it's a play and not everyone can make an appearance, but I feel like some conversation about what was happening with the rest of the Weasley family would have been nice. But we get nothing. And aside from Albus we get nothing of Harry's children. Not sure that this is really a negative, as they probably wouldn't have added much to the story, but it would have been nice to see their interactions with Albus.

Overall this was enjoyable but nothing overly special. As previously stated, Scorpius really made it worth reading.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Favorite Reads | April-June 2016

This list is going up somewhat later than I had originally planned, but here are my favorite reads for the second quarter of 2016. My reading during May was almost non existent due to constant headaches as well as my trip to London, but I still read some great books throughout these three months.

In his first full length novel The Dragon Hunter and the Mage, V. R. Cardoso created a world and characters that I could see following for a long time. It had all of the elements expected of a good fantasy series as well as some new additions. One of my favorite things was the relationship between the brothers Aric and Fadan. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in this series.

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016 and while The Unexpected Everything is not my favorite of Matson's novels, it still held some special magic of its own. I appreciated the fact that Andie had a group of friends to rely on, that her relationship with her dad was being strengthened and not weakened, that she made mistakes and grew from them. I would have liked the romance aspect to be a little more slow burn, but Clark was still very much a likable guy and their relationship was very cute.

In the past year I have become a big fan of Sarah Dessen's novels and The Truth About Forever might possible be my favorite. There is a lot happening in this novel and how it all plays out was such a pleasure to read. Macy is brokenhearted over losing her father and watching her finally come to terms with that when she meets the caterers of Wish was inspiring. One thing that I appreciated was that this one kept the drama to a minimum. And although the relationship between Macy and Wes was adorable, I really appreciated that it was kept slow and simple. They both had other people they were waiting for, trying to hold onto something they thought they should want. And I really loved that they didn't break that trust of commitment to themselves. They weren't pining away for each other. They were genuinely friends. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The School for Good and Evil~Soman Chainani | Review

Title: The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1)
Author: Soman Chainani
Genre: Middle Grade/YA Fairy tale, fantasy
Length: 488 Pages (Hardcover)
Release: May 2013
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Just over a year ago when the list for Yallfest 2015 was announced I added this book to my reading list. Let's just say that I did not read it when I had planned (although I did buy a copy and get it signed).

There were a lot of things that I really appreciated about this book and only a few things that got under my skin. First of all I love the fact that it flips fairy tales upside down. It plays into the fact that not everyone is Good or Evil, they have aspects of both. And sometimes something that looks good can be evil, while something that looks evil can be good. Packaging is not everything.

This book delves into what it means to be beautiful. It's not just physical beauty that matters, but the kind of person you are. Often I think that gets glossed over in fiction. Here it comes right out and throws it in your face, again and again.

The characterization and development in here was rather excellent. Agatha was by far my favorite of the characters and I loved seeing her progression from awkward and unsure to confident and self aware. And while Agatha was my favorite, Sophie was definitely my least favorite. There were only a handful of moments where I could stand her character and they were always fleeting. But her progression was still well done and you got to witness her descent into something she never wanted. Chainani's writing was also polished and read really easily, which I appreciated. It wasn't my favorite style, but I found many things that I enjoyed about it.

Now for the things that I did not like very much. The friendship between Agatha and Sophie probably tops the list. I felt like it was a very one way relationship, even at the end. Sure they both cared about each other in their own ways, but I felt that only one of them ever truly wanted the best for the other. And it didn't matter what she became in the process, she still fought for her friend. I just didn't like how out of balance that was, but I'm sure that will be addressed in the following books so I'm not too worried about that.

Tedros is probably the other main downside. I didn't completely dislike his character, but I didn't love him either. He wanted to be deep but was constantly failing. He wanted a girl that cared about more than just who he was and his looks, but then always refused to give anyone but the most beautiful girls a chance. He did start to change as the story progressed, and I appreciated that, but I was not satisfied with how his story and his princesses played out. I hope that there is more development of that particular relationship in the next book.

This was overall a really fun and fast paced read and I am definitely excited to continue the series and see where things end up for Agatha and the rest of the characters. There is humor, heart, and great lessons to be learned.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The False Prince~ Jennifer A Nielsen | Review

Title: The False Prince (The Ascension Trilogy #1)
Author: Jennifer A Nielsen
Genre: Middle Grade/YA Fantasy
Length: 342 Pages
Release: April 2012
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I first read The False Prince in 2015 and fell absolutely in love with it. Recently I reread it with a friend of mine and loved it just as much the second time around.

The story follows the orphan Sage as he is taken from the orphanage and taught to think, act, and become a prince. But it's not just Sage being trained, there are two other boys. And after two weeks one will be chosen to rule.

Sage is one of my favorite characters. This story is told in first person, so you get to spend a lot of time in his head. It also has kind of an unreliable narrator feel to it, because you're not entirely sure about some of the stuff Sage is telling you as the narrator. Which is awesome. And he has this sharp wit and humor that are spot on.

In some ways this story is predictable, but to me predictability is not really a bad thing. I don't mind being able to figure things out or know the ending before I get there, because that's not what reading was about. It was about seeing how it happened. And here it was such a fun journey. You get be with Sage as he makes new friends, new enemies, is tested by himself and by others.

This has a fantasy feel, but has no magic or mythical creatures, so isn't exactly a fantasy novel. It's one of those nice in-between type reads. It feels fantasy enough to be a fantasy adventure, but is real enough to have happened in history. Perfect blend.

And one thing that I truly gained an appreciation for in rereading this was the way that Nielsen was able to turn her foreshadowing into an art. Seriously, it was beautiful. And having already read the entire trilogy I was able to pick up on all the subtle hints she laced throughout this first novel. Hints that tell you exactly what will happen without you even realizing it! Absolutely beautiful work.

These characters are all extremely well developed and real. Sage, Imogen, Mott, and Roden in particular stick in my mind. Conner, our antagonist, is so bad that you start to feel sorry for him at points. You start to wonder how he got where he is. And the journey that all of these characters have taken was utter perfection.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is remotely interested in reading it. It's a really quick read and a lot of fun. So pick it up and fall in love.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Philia and Sophia~Nikitha Hingad | review

Title: Philia and Sophia
Author: Nikitha Hingad
Genre: Poetry
Length: 180 Pages
Release: March 2015
My Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

I received a copy of this poetry collection in exchange for an honest review.  

I have always loved poetry and over the past year I've been trying to read more of this beautiful art form. I am by no means an expert, so when it comes to all the technical forms of poetry, I am definitely not the person to ask, but reading and writing (particularly free form) are always fun for me. So let's talk about Philia and Sophia.

There was nothing particularly wrong with this collection, I just had a hard time connecting personally. The collection is split into two sections, one about love and one about wisdom. I thought the concept was interesting, but found the implementation rather difficult to follow.

A lot of the poems were rather repetitive to me and I found that this detracted from my reading experience. Many of them did not flow as comfortably as I would have liked either, but that's often a personal thing where poetry is concerned. I was also not particularly fond of some of the subject matter, it just seemed like the speaker was putting herself down a lot.

This was enjoyable, but not great. I think another round of editing would improve much of what I had difficulty with as far as flow and repetition. There were also some word choices that did not make sense, but this could be a language issue (I believe the author is not a native English speaker, though I could be mistaken). 

Nikitha has promise and I hope that she continues to hone her craft.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Imaginary Fred~Eoin Colfer & Oliver Jeffers | Review

Title: Imaginary Fred
Author: Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Length: 48 Pages
Release: September 2015
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Eoin Colfer has been one of my favorite authors for over ten years now. When I found out he had a picture book, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

This is a story of what it is to be an imaginary friend. Fred is an imaginary boy who keeps being forgotten about when his friends become friends with other real children. Fred is happy for them, but he wants a friend he can have forever. And thus begins the tale.

This story is really cute and the artwork is perfect. It would be a perfect story for an older picture book lover who enjoys the story and not just the pictures. You really need both to truly appreciate this. Not having any children of my own, I can't tell you too much about what children actually think of this title, but I personally loved it. And it will be added to my shelf for my future children.

If you have children and want to encourage them to read from a young age, read this with them. It's cute and has a great story with fun drawings that give great detail without being overwhelming. If you're a fan of either Eoin Colfer or Oliver Jeffers, you will definitely enjoy this book.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Against a Brightening Sky~Jaime Lee Moyer | Review

Title: Against a Brightening Sky (Delia Martin #3)
Author: Jaime Lee Moyer
Genre: Historical/Paranormal
Length: 336 Pages (Hardback)
Release: October 2015
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I found Delia's Shadow while browsing through the library a couple of years ago. It was on the new books shelf and the cover immediately pulled me in. When I found out it was a historical book involving ghosts I knew I had to read it. And I have really enjoyed the entire trilogy.

This final installment in Delia's story was an engaging and fun read. It's been a while since I've read a good mystery book and I forgot how much I enjoy them. It's always fun trying to figure out the mystery before the characters, rooting for the good guys, and being surprised along the way. And this was no exception.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints from Delia and her husband Gabe. I love the way this was done. Delia's portions are all told in first person, while Gabe's perspective is written in third. This keeps the two from mixing together or becoming too similar, though each character has a very distinct voice anyway.

Delia and her friend Dora can both see ghosts and deal with occult forces. This plays a huge part in the story but is by no means the only focus. Through these ghosts Delia is able to help Gabe (who is a police captain) solve difficult cases. This novel is no exception as they are all pulled into a fight with a necromancer who is killing off the Russian royals after WWI.

One great thing about these books is that it has extremely strong women characters. They are all loving and supportive wives, mothers and friends. But they also have other depths to them. This does away with some of the stereotypes surrounding women of the time period.

I don't want to go too deeply into the story as you should experience it for yourself, but it's both hopeful and heartbreaking. New characters are introduced and it's hard to tell if they are villains or good guys. It deals with nightmares, murder, suffering, love, hope, and friendship. It's a beautiful world and I will miss reading about these characters. Delia and Gabe are fantastic, but I also love Dora and Randy as well as Sam, who was adorable.

If you like ghost stories and historic fiction, read this series and enjoy the ride.   

Friday, August 5, 2016

Ivy's Bind~P D Kalnay | Review

Title: Ivy's Bind (Legend of the White Sword #2)
Author: P D Kalnay
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 157 Pages
Release: February 2016
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel picks up just after Ivy's Tangle (the first installment) left off. Jack has started high school and is waiting for the summer to start so he can see Ivy and Mr Ryan again. In the meantime he starts making things in his grandmother's basement, learning to build furniture and make jewelry.

The novel starts off a bit slowly, but even in those slow portions some interesting questions are raised and important pieces are laid for later events. And it was always enjoyable, just not quite what I was expecting for the start. Although it is a second book, which I am usually wary of. 

This book is just as strong as the previous installment if only for the fact that it builds the world started in that earlier volume. A lot of questions are answered and revelations made that really open up the first book to new interpretation. I found myself enjoying both Jack and Ivy a lot more than I had before and found their relationship absolutely adorable. 

One thing that I loved about this book was the way it introduced fae. This is not something that I usually enjoy reading about, so had I known this book was going to introduce this story line I might have been a little more hesitant with it. But I enjoyed it here! The way that Kalnay introduces fae and their world was different than other stories I've read and I found myself drawn into their history and what this implies for our characters in their future. Definitely not something to fault the book for. 

If you are at all interested in young adult fantasy stories then give P D Kalnay a try. His novels are always a lot of fun to read and I find myself becoming completely lost in them. Highly recommended series and author. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Doorways Home~Jacqueline Dooley | Review

Title: Doorways Home (The Spirit Oak's Gift #2)
Author: Jacqueline Dooley
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 304 Pages
Release: September 2014
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I won a copy of this novel through the goodreads First Reads program.

I don't know why it has taken me so long to pick this book up because I really enjoyed the first one and knew that I would likely enjoy this one. But alas, it took me forever. 

This story follows Grace and Sorel two girls that will fulfill a prophecy in Arkomo (the fantasy world that Sorel is from). Grace has cancer that is eating away her life and that's how she and Sorel first meet--in the hospital. 

The prophecies surrounding the fantasy world of Arkomo are really interesting. There is a darkness that is never explored extremely deeply, but what you do know is horrifying. The ceremony known as The Departure is approaching and only Sorel has guessed what it really is. This novel is her trying to save her land and her brothers. 

One thing that I really like about this book is how honest it is. It doesn't sugar coat the horrors of cancer for an eleven year old. As Grace is trying to help save this other world she's suffering through treatment, unsure if she will live long enough for the transplant she desperately needs. And while some might find this off putting I found it refreshing because it was real

This is definitely a good adventure and really fast reading. There are sick kids and most of the story takes place within a hospital, so if that's not something you can handle reading I would not suggest picking this book up. Otherwise it's a lot of fun and I would recommend it. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Enlightenment~Liz Keel | Review

Title: Enlightenment (The Driel Trilogy #1)
Author: Liz Keel
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 256 Pages (Paperback)
Release: April 2016
My Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

It's really hard for me to give books low ratings because I know that the author has put in a lot of work. But I had a really hard time with this book and finishing it was difficult. Since it was short I decided to read the entire thing so that I could form a full opinion. I think this story had potential, but it lacked enough development to make it truly enjoyable for me.

One thing that I personally have a hard time with in books is an overuse of exclamation points. I feel like I'm being yelled at when I see too many of them, which gives me a headache. I also don't like the use of ?! for than a couple of times. In dialogue it can sometimes work when a strong emotion needs to be conveyed, but more than a few times in one book is too much.

The love story in this book is probably the thing I liked the least. The age difference between Thea and Eli and Isaac was rather disturbing to me. Had it been presented differently I might not have found it that bad, but as it is, I found it kind of creepy. The insta-love was also over the top. Attraction I get, but this was taking it too far. And the love triangle was forced and unnecessary. I would have enjoyed for Eli to be nothing more than a brother figure to both Thea and Isaac. That would have worked really well and been enjoyable, as I found the moments that were more like this very sweet.

I did not enjoy that almost all of the important stuff that happened to Thea was glossed over. She's taken to become the queen of a fairy realm, but then we don't see any of her political training and she zones out during important meetings. It's honestly a story line that I don't really get. Why would you want this person to be your leader? Shouldn't it be based on qualifications and not blood?

I was really hoping to enjoy this book, but it was not for me. The pacing was too abrupt, the love story over simplified, and the politics brushed aside. Thea was only ever interested in checking out the men around her when she should have been worrying about become a good leader. There was potential that shone through at moments, but that potential was never met.