Friday, January 19, 2018

Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Blood and Sand
by C.V. Wyk
Read: January 4 - 16, 2018
Published: January 16, 2018 by Tor Teen
Source: NetGalley
Category: YA, Ancient Rome, Legends, Retellings, Gladiators, 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound


Book Description: The action-packed tale of a 17-year-old warrior princess and a handsome gladiator who dared take on the Roman Republic―and gave rise to the legend of Spartacus...

For teens who love strong female protagonists in their fantasy and historical fiction, Blood and Sand is a stirring, yet poignant tale of two slaves who dared take on an empire by talented debut author C. V. Wyk.

Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus...

The story continues in Fire and Ash, coming in 2019 from Tor Teen.

Blood and Sand was thrilling from start to finish! Right away I loved Attia’s strong spirit and refusal to be broken, despite being the sole survivor of the destruction of her people. Then even more, she finds herself sold as property in a slave market. Only things don’t go smoothly at all, and Attia escapes, leading a huge manhunt through the city. Eventually she is recaptured and taken to the home of a Roman Patrician where she is given as a "companion" to his champion gladiator. 

Xanthus is the other narrator of this story. Called the Champion of Rome he is a fierce competitor in the Colosseum. By all appearances he is a hardened warrior. But despite Xanthus’s acclaim as a gladiator, he is still a slave too. As a reward for his wins, Xanthus is given Attia by his master. This is an uncomfortable arrangement for both of them, and neither of them expects the connection that they will form with each other.

Below are 5 more exciting things about this book: 

1) Blood and Sand has moments of high intensity and action that kept me on the edge of my seat from page one. Attia and Xanthus have been forged by war and survival and loss and rage, and it was thrilling seeing them both in action, especially when they fought together. But this story is also deeply character focused, and getting to know the heart of both Attia and Xanthus in the quieter and even painful moments made this book for me. 

2) I adored the romance between these two. Attia and Xanthus are the perfect compliment and despite the horrible situation they are both in, their romance is slowly building and beautiful to watch. It begins through trust, and as they open up to each other, they start to care for each other. Even though they are thrown together against their wills, I could completely understand their connection and why they fell for each other. I’d also like to point out that though there are lots of other males in this story, there is absolutely zero love triangles or drama in that way. No one else even expresses interest in either of them. It was a major relief and honestly, these two didn’t have time for any more angst in their lives. 

3) This is an origin story, which I didn’t realize until I got into this book. And it is so clever and fun to see how Spartacus comes to life. I cannot wait for more of her evolution! Also, in general, t
his book felt well researched and present in Ancient Rome, even though historical events have been shifted around (admittedly by the author).

4) Although the story is very focused on Attia and Xanthus, I also found so many of the secondary characters intriguing. I loved Xanthus’s camaraderie with his gladiator brothers and Attia’s friendship with Rory, while Lucretia’s circumstances were a heartbreaking contrast to Attia’s situation. I’m so curious what becomes of many of the characters, and I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the next book. 

5) Thank goodness this is not the end of the story! We are just at the start of Attia’s journey and I cannot wait to see what’s next. Also there are so many unanswered questions and unresolved situations that need to be fleshed out, and some things I'm going to ignore and assume they'll be worked out in the next book. I think my only complaint about this story is that the last 10% of the book moves so quickly, there’s no time to process anything!

I am absolutely freaking out to get the next part of this story!! I cannot wait to find out what’s coming for Attia and co. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - More with anticipation than any immediate danger

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

To Kill a Kingdom
by Alexandra Christo
Read: December 3 - 7, 2017
Published: March 6, 2018 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: NetGalley (TY Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, Mermaids, Sirens, Pirates
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

To Kill A Kingdom was so much fun! Five things I enjoyed about this book: 

1) These characters are vicious. Lira is a Siren, literally stealing the hearts of princes to fuel her power and her mother’s wishes. In the very beginning of this book we see her in action and it’s brutal and horrifying to behold. Elian is a prince and captain, sailing the seas with his crew killing as many sirens as he can. These two couldn’t be more opposed. So when Lira ends up on Elian’s ship, I couldn't wait to see what would happen. 

2) A major theme this book explores is Lira's siren nature vs her human one, and I loved watching Lira discover her humanity. Realizing that to feel is not actually a weakness. All the while she’s trying to keep her identity from Elian. It’s a tricky place she straddles and makes the story all the more compelling. 

3) One of my favorite things about this To Kill a Kingdom was the romance between Elian and Lira. It is enemies to love and very slow burn. The banter and tension between them was just so good through all of the story. These two start standing on completely opposite sides of a war and slowly realize that they are a lot more similar than they ever imagined. Watching that transformation was so delicious to see. 

4) This is a fantasy world and all the different kingdoms it comprises were so interesting. I enjoyed learning about the very different countries. But Elian and Lira barely dip their toes into the different places they visit. I’d love to read more stories in this world in new places. I also enjoyed the few characters we got to know on Elian's crew, but only four were mentioned by name. I wish that more of them had been visible. 

5) I thought this was the start of a series for some reason, but it reads like a standalone. I'm definitely excited about more fantasy standalones, or even companions!

From the gorgeous cover, all the way through, I had the best time reading To Kill A Kingdom. I can't wait to see what Allie writes next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone? (Would love to read a companion story from world!)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Siren Queen
by Tricia Levenseller
Read: December 9 - 12, 2017
Published: February 27, 2018 by Feiwel & Friends
Source: Galley from publisher (Thank you, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, fantasy, pirates, sirens, romance
Series:  Yes. 2/2 end of duet

Book Description: Alosa's mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he's under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father's justice.

When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.

NOTE: This is the second book in a series. See my thoughts on Daughter of the Pirate King

What an excellent end to a thrilling duet! I think I may have even liked it more than the first, which is rare for me these days. Everything I loved about Daughter of the Pirate King was even more intense and exciting in Daughter of the Siren Queen

This time, instead of infiltrating another crew, Alosa is back on her own ship of incredible lady pirates. Right from the first page we get to see them in action. I enjoyed getting to know Alosa's crew better and seeing Alosa back in charge as captain. Alosa also faces some new revelations in this book, both discovering more about her mother's siren nature and finding out what it's like to be on the opposite side as her father. Neither of these revelations is easy for Alosa, but it was rewarding to watch her continue to grow and become even more comfortable with herself as she fought though them. 

All this is happening while Alosa is in a race with the Pirate King to follow the map pieces to the siren's hidden treasure. Danger, death and enchantments are lurking everywhere, and not everyone will make it out alive, but Alosa is a great leader and friend and will do anything to succeed. Joining Alosa's crew is Riden, former first mate of the ship Alosa infiltrated in the last book. The tension continues to crackle off of these two. One of my favorite parts of this book was the continued building romance between them. I couldn't get enough of every interaction between them. 

This duet comes highly recommended from me! I can't wait to find out what Tricia Levenseller writes next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: 2/2 End of duet

Friday, January 12, 2018

Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Prince in Disguise 
Read: January 4 - 7, 2018
Published: December 19, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion 
Source: BEA
Category: YA, Romance, Contemporary, Scotland, Reality TV, Secret Identities, Hidden Passages
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Someday I want to live in a place where I never hear “You’re Dusty’s sister?” ever again.
Life is real enough for Dylan—especially as the ordinary younger sister of Dusty, former Miss Mississippi and the most perfect, popular girl in Tupelo. But when Dusty wins the hand of the handsome Scottish laird-to-be Ronan on the TRC television network’s crown jewel, Prince in Disguise, Dylan has to face a different kind of reality: reality TV.

As the camera crew whisks them off to Scotland to film the lead-up to the wedding, camera-shy Dylan is front and center as Dusty’s maid of honor. The producers are full of surprises—including old family secrets, long-lost relatives, and a hostile future mother-in-law who thinks Dusty and Dylan’s family isn’t good enough for her only son. At least there’s Jamie, an adorably bookish groomsman who might just be the perfect antidote to all Dylan’s stress . . . if she just can keep TRC from turning her into the next reality show sensation.

This was completely utterly adorable! Our heroine Dylan attends a wedding at a Scottish castle and gets her own cute romance with a boy in the wedding party, who has a delicious English accent and is in fact a prince, though she doesn’t know it. Throw in secret passages and a camera crew filming the entire experience and hilarity is sure to ensue and does frequently. I love how awkward and sweet Dylan and Jamie’s romance is. And that it’s clear they like each other being entirely themselves. I was also pleasantly surprised that their romance is such a central focus of this book. While the side cast seems very one dimensional at first, I enjoyed watching several of them become more fleshed out as the story went on. Especially Dylan’s sister Dusty, as well as their mom. 

For anyone who has dreamed of marrying a prince, loves an adorkably good romance, secret identities and lots of hilarious, awkward situations, this is for you! 

Here are the things I wish about this story (the latter 2 are a little spoilery)

1) Based on the cover, I thought this book was MG or very young YA and put off reading this for a while because of that. While the story is light and appropriate for upper MG, the cover is a little misleading. I think this book could have a broader appeal if it was repackaged with a different cover. (And the bonus content I mention below LOL) 

2) I really wanted to see what happened when Dylan actually watched the TV show she unwittingly became part of. That must have been hilarious. I wanted a later scene showing that!

3) My biggest wish and only real complaint about this story deals with the end. I'm desperate for an epilogue of Dylan and Jamie in the future! Although the end is more realistic and does have some hope, my romantic heart wanted something more concrete for their future. Despite all the obstacles, these two were made for each other!

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: Stand-alone 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

by Amie Kaufman nd Meagan Spooner
Read: December 14, 2017 - January 9, 2018
Published: January 9, 2018 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: BEA (TY!)
Category: YA, Sci-fi, Space travel, Archaeology, Aliens
Series: YES  1/2? (not sure if it's a duet or trilogy)
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying's advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study... as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don't loot everything first. Mia and Jules' different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race's secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race...

After loving Kaufman and Spooner's Starbound trilogy, I was so excited to hear they were collaborating again for a new series. These two rock the YA Sci-fi genre and Unearthed is a great addition to that and so much fun! 

Although there's never a dull moment for Mia and Jules and exciting, or rather dangerous, things start happening right away in the story, it wasn’t until they reach the temple they're set to explore that I got hooked. That's also when my Indiana Jones loving heart got all the feels. I absolutely adore the Indiana Jones in space vibe to this story, even with the alien a la CRYSTAL SKULL angle. If this was what was made of that movie, I would have been all over it. But I digress. 

In Unearthed, Mia and Jules meet after they’ve both landed on the uninhabited planet Gaia, led by messages from a long-dead alien race. They are there for very different reasons. Jules wants to explore the planet for historic and academic reasons, Mia is there to scavenge treasure. They clash immediately but they also both realize the benefit of having the other around and team up, albeit tentatively and with lots of secrets and mistrust between them. 

I loved watching Mia and Jules learn how to work together and trust each other. And the romance that blooms from that made me so happy. Of course so much is going on at the same time and these two barely have a moment to breathe, let alone make out.. They’re trying to survive an uninhabited planet, follow the clues and avoid the traps in the alien temple they’re exploring (Think LAST CRUSADE) and outrun all the people trying to get to the end first. Then as is standard for Spooner and Kaufman, some wild and surprising things happen near the end that change everything. How do they do it, I don't know, but they never fail to leave me with my mouth gaping. 

Instead of standalone companions, this appears to be a true series and it ends on quite the cliffhanger. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! 

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: High

Here's my photo inspiration for Unearthed
Can you guess where I was in the book when I took this?
Find these and other pictures on my bookish Instagram

PS. I kept trying to connect this to the world of the Starbound trilogy and didn't quite manage to make that happen. There was one thing that made me pause, but I don't think this is the same universe as that. So no Lila or Tarver pop up, sadly. Though I can't wait for more of these new characters. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne

by Livia Blackburne
Read: October 25 - 30, 2017
Published: November 7, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: Galley from Publisher (TY, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Fantasy, Plagues, Wars, Roadtrips 
Series: Duet 1/2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

This smart, sweeping fantasy with a political edge and a slow-burning romance will capture fans of The Lumatere Chronicles and An Ember in the Ashes.

I was lucky enough to beta read an early draft of Rosemarked, and I'm thrilled to see the book now published and out in the world. As I've also read its sequel Umbertouched (you can't wait for this!), I'm struggling to separate this gorgeous series into a coherent review about just the first book. But here goes. Rosemarked has so many great and complex situations in it that weave through the entire duet. Political maneuvering, spying, secret identities (even from oneself), a long journey, memory loss, a sweet but also complicated slow-building romance, all under the shadow of a deadly disease that ravages nearly all it encounters (even if they survive). 

Zivah and Dineas are two very different characters from two very different cultures - she is a healer, he is a soldier - but they must band together in this story for a common and very dangerous mission. Both willing to sacrifice everything for their people. I enjoyed watching these two as they were forced together, and as a result come to understand each other so much more than they ever thought they would. This book also has a cast of secondary characters that intrigued me so much. I especially appreciated how we get to see them from several different angles in a way that makes them much more complex than just a good or evil. 

Rosemarked is excellent YA Fantasy and comes highly recommended from me. I enjoyed Livia Blackburne's Midnight Thief series, but this new duet is truly stunning. Complimenting the gorgeous insides of this book, the pink matte finish and gold lettering of the cover is also something you want in your hands. Don't miss this book!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: This is the first in a duet and definitely ends mid-series, though not in a harrowing moment.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Undercurrent by Paula Weston

The Undercurrent
by Paula Weston
Read: August 26 - 31, 2017
Published: July 31, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: Purchase
Category: YA, Aussie, Future World, Military, Corporations, 
Find: Goodreads | Book Depository (currently only available overseas)
Preorder from Amazon 

Book Description: Eighteen-year-old Julianne De Marchi is different. As in: she has an electrical undercurrent beneath her skin that stings and surges like a live wire. She can use it—to spark a fire, maybe even end a life—but she doesn’t understand what it is. And she can barely control it, especially when she’s anxious.

Ryan Walsh was on track for a stellar football career when his knee blew out. Now he’s a soldier—part of an experimental privatised military unit that has identified Jules De Marchi as a threat. Is it because of the weird undercurrent she’s tried so hard to hide? Or because of her mother Angie’s history as an activist against bio-engineering and big business?

It’s no coincidence that Ryan and Jules are in the same place at the same time—he’s under orders to follow her, after all. But then an explosive attack on a city building by an unknown enemy throws them together in the most violent and unexpected way.

Paula Weston, author of the much-admired Rephaim series, returns with a standalone work: a futuristic thriller that is only slightly futuristic—but utterly and undeniably thrilling. Great writing, heart-burning characters, probing questions about where technology is taking us—and a plot that zips and zings like an electrical current itself. This is a great young-adult writerat the peak of her powers.

I have been a fan of Paula Weston's books since I discovered her Rephaim series. As an Aussie author, her books take longer to reach the US, and I typically order them from overseas before they are published here a year or two later. That's exactly what I did as soon as I heard she was releasing a new title. While the Rephaim series remains my favorite, I had so much reading this book and meeting Weston's new characters. 

Set in Australia several years in a future, The Undercurrent starts almost right away with action and has a lot going on all the way through. Jules has an electrical current running beneath her skin, although she doesn't understand how or why it works. Ryan is part of an experimental military group. They meet seemingly by coincidence (it's not) when Jules goes to an interview and get caught up in a building explosion. 

Big corporations with greedy agendas, government secrets, fed up protesters, and the electricity surging under Jules' skin all combine for an explosive story. This book is mostly told through Jules and Ryan's perspectives, although we get other POVs as well. Although I looked forward to Jules and Ryan's narrative the most, I like the realism in the story in Jules and her mom Angie's close relationship and the role Angie plays in the book. As I've come to expect in Weston's stories, this one features great chemistry between Jules and Ryan, and a sizzling romance. Unlike this author's previous multi-book interlocking series, this one appears to be a standalone with a solid ending. 

I definitely recommend this book. It's available from Australia now, or for preorder from Amazon for next year. In the mean time, if you haven' read Paula Weston's Rephaim series, go do that now. 

Love triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone - as far as I know.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

Black Bird of the Gallows
by Meg Kassel
Published: September 5, 2017 by Entangled Publishing
Read: September 5 - 7, 2017
Source: Kindle purchase

Category: YA, PNR, Ravens,
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

Black Bird of the Gallows is a classic paranormal romance, but a smart one at that. The book begins in the typical fashion, with a new student arriving at school. This time it's our love interest Reece Fernandez, who moves in next door to Angie and joins her senior class in school. Despite being adopted, his entire family shares the same black eyes, and is followed around by large crows and a weird boy in a puffy coat who smells of honey. The house Reece moves into is one where a gruesome murder took place a few years ago and his family are the first people to live there since. Angie is not a stranger to tragedy herself, having lived for a lot of her childhood in a van with her drug addicted mother. But she now lives in a stable home with her father. Who is present and doting - if health food obsessed. 

Thankfully, Angie doesn't spent time lamenting about how clumsy or "plain" she is. She is a talented musician and DJ, even if she doesn't want everyone to know that about her. Angie's character fits with who she is and what she's faced in her life, and didn't feel like it was added to fit a "PNR heroine" stereotype. What I appreciated right away about Angie is that she calls Reece out on his evasive and brooding behavior and demands answers out of him. However, this did falter and fall into some common tropes in the second half that lost some momentum in this book for me. Namely, (highlight for spoiler) Angie breaks up with Reece to protect him at one point. (end spoiler) 

I though the harbinger of death angle of the magical element was interesting and creepy, especially when you throw in the beekeeper plot line. It's nothing I've read before. Though a lot of the details do mirror other PNR books. (highlight spoiler) I'd also argue that Reece is immortal - or nearly (end spoiler). I'll lead you to discover them yourself. 

Thankfully, this book wraps itself up well, and though I could see more coming from this world, I'm hoping that the author leaves Reece and Angie alone. Their storyline completes in a way that feels settled for them. Or at least, I hope it is. I do wish we'd gotten more details about how everything happened, as much of that is glossed over and then told in hindsight from the last chapter. 

Recently, I've struggled with PNR feeling like one trope after another, and though this book does play with a lot of the standard themes, I like the way the book was executed, (highlight spoiler) minus the "I'm going to break up with you to protect you part of the story (end spoiler), and I enjoyed Angie's narrative a lot. For fans of PNR, I recommend this one. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: As far as I know this is a standalone

Monday, December 18, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked Saints
by Maggie Stiefvater
Read: October 15 - 19, 2017
Published: October 10, 2017 by Scholastic Press
Source: ARC from BEA
Category: YA, Magical Realism, Fantasy, Allegory, Desert, New Mexico
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

It’s fair to say I’m a Maggie Stiefvater devotee. I’ve read her books multiple times (except Sinner), and The Scorpio Races is one of my favorite books of all times: i.e. I was a little excited to hear about her newest release, i.e. I’m very disappointed to say this story was just ok for me. 

Oh, All The Crooked Saints was rich in imagery of light and dark and owls and family and what it is to love and be loved. It has some fun and snappy dialogue that accompanies a host of unique characters. And I liked the cleverness of the way the darkness in each person became a physical manifestation. Of all Stiefvater books, this one seems to be Imparting a Lesson the most directly, though I don't think that's what threw me off. 

In theory, I could appreciate that this was a well crafted story with a solid and thoughtful ending. And I think the message contained within was well worth hearing. But, still, I struggled so much to get into it. And though I finally felt invested enough to finish, this just never wowed me. Something about it felt flat and hollow to me. I mean, Thisby is a made up place (much to my continued sadness) but it was so much more real to me than this setting in the desert of 1962 Colorado. And I think there were just so many characters to follow in this barely 300 page book that I struggled to feel invested in any of them. I’m going to read whatever else Stiefvater writes in the future, and I don’t regret owning this as part of my overall collection, but it’s going on the shelf to stay.

Love Triangle Factor: none
Cliffhanger Scale: standalone 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

Speak Easy, Speak Love
by McKelle George
Read: November 15 - 19, 2017
Published: September 19, 2017 by Greenwillow Books 

Source: Purchase
Category: YA, Retelling, Shakespeare, 1920s, Prohibition, 
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Six teenagers’ lives intertwine during one thrilling summer full of romantic misunderstandings and dangerous deals in this sparkling retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

After she gets kicked out of boarding school, seventeen-year-old Beatrice goes to her uncle’s estate on Long Island. But Hey Nonny Nonny is more than just a rundown old mansion. Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, runs a struggling speakeasy out of the basement—one that might not survive the summer. Along with Prince, a poor young man determined to prove his worth; his brother John, a dark and dangerous agent of the local mob; Benedick, a handsome trust-fund kid trying to become a writer; and Maggie, a beautiful and talented singer; Beatrice and Hero throw all their efforts into planning a massive party to save the speakeasy. Despite all their worries, the summer is beautiful, love is in the air, and Beatrice and Benedick are caught up in a romantic battle of wits that their friends might be quietly orchestrating in the background.

Hilariously clever and utterly charming, McKelle George’s debut novel is full of intrigue and 1920s charm. For fans of Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, and Anna Godbersen.

Speak Easy, Speak Love is a retelling of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing set in New York during the 1920s. In sum, everything about this book was fantastic. This story follows six characters during the summer of 1927 - Beatrice, Benedick, Maggie, John, Hero and Prince - as their lives converge at Hey Nonny Nonny, a Speak Easy on Long Island. 

Drama, romance and hilarity ensue as these characters navigate running a nightclub during the prohibition era. The language in this book is seriously so good, most especially the snappy dialogue between Beatrice and Benedick, neither of whom I couldn’t get enough of. 
I could roll around all day in their conversations. 

I say this all the time, but my favorite retellings are those that take a story and make it their own and George does exactly that. I felt present in this 1920s setting and invested in these characters lives. I didn’t want it to end! There’s so much more I could say about this book, I feel inadequate to describe how amazing it is. Also goodness gracious, isn’t that cover gorgeous? I can just picture Beatrice and Benedick facing off. 

This is a book that nearly fell under my radar and I'm so so happy that it did not. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2017. Put it on your holiday book list if you haven't read it already. 

Love Triangle Factor: None for 2 of the couples (my favorites). One of them does, yes. But totally worth it.
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone. I cannot wait to find out what else this author writes!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

by Marissa Meyer
Read: October 25 - 30, 2017
Published: November 7, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends 
Source: Galley from Publisher (TY, Macmillan!)
Category: YA, Superheroes, Secret Identities, Future world, 
Series: Duet 1/2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

Book Description: Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies—humans with extraordinary abilities—who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone...except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice—and in Nova. But Nova's allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

Having read and loved both The Lunar Chronicles and Heartless, it's safe to say that I am a fan of Marissa Meyer. I also went into Renegades expecting some things based on my experiences with Meyer's other stories. 

(1) All of Meyer's previous stories have started slowly for me, but once they've taken off, I've been hooked. I wasn't fully invested in The Lunar Chronicles until I read Scarlet and the excitement only grew with each book after that. Though Heartless is a standalone, it also took me some time to feel invested in that story. I can safely say that the same was true for my experience reading Renegades. I expected it to take me time for me to feel invested in this story, and it did.  

However, as Renegades is the beginning of a duet (instead of a quartet) and a long book at that, not as much was accomplished in the story as I anticipated/hoped. Much of it felt like a set up, and the characters and plot still seemed to be in the beginning of their journeys when I got to the end of the book. Tied up into my expectation of a slow start, is (2) my expectation that I have to let a lot of world building questions go in Meyer's books, which also happened to me in this story. I tried not to think too hard about how the world got this way, why so many people have powers, or some of the logistics of the Anarchists vs the Renegades. Previously, I've been able to (mostly) ignore these overarching world questions because the characters and plot have been so engaging. I'm not sure I fully got to that point with all 500+ pages of Renegades

More specifically, (this is where things get a little spoilery. I'm not giving away huge things, but some details you might not want to know if you haven't read this. You've been warned!Nova and Adrian still don’t know each other’s alternate identities by the end. The only thing really accomplished is that Nova has successfully infiltrated the Renegades, which happens early, and Ingrid/Detonator is determined to be Truly Bad and killed, but that’s about it. By the end of the book, I expected that Nova or Adrian’s opinions would have started changing about their 'sides,' or there’d be a big revelation about their pasts to shed things into new light. But none of that happened.

There is a big reveal in the last chapter, and while it was a surprise to me, it didn't work for me as the big "Gasp!" "AH-HA!" moment that it was supposed to be. I think that's because I was really confused about whether Nova knew about it the whole time, and what that meant for the book I just read and rest of the story to come. Why, if Nova knew about that revelation, was it not brought up sooner? Wouldn't that have been a factor/strategy in everything she did? Wrapped up in this, I'm still not sure what I think of Nova at the end of this book. She certainly is a complicated character. Also, I don't like any of the people who "raised" her and she's still so loyal to them.

I am a huge fan of the enemies to love romance. It is one of my favorite tropes and one of the reasons I was most excited to read this book. I loved Adrian a lot. He is the sweetest. But the thing is, I just can’t fathom things working between him and Nova at this point. And that's left me feeling very uneasy. There is so little romance in this story and Nova and Adrian are still very much on opposite sides - he way more in the dark about everything than she is. I don’t know if I believe everything is going to reconcile itself. I think this is part of my feeling disappointed in how much is accomplished in this story, and unsure about my feelings about this book. I don't know if I can fully ship these two yet, and I need that to feel confident about where the story is going.

All that said, one thing I do love about this book is that neither the Renegades nor the Anarchists is all good or all bad. There’s a lot of complexity in how the two sides are draw. And I like that in a tale of superheroes, there’s no black and white/ all good vs all evil. Still, I liked many of the Renegades characters, despite also seeing their faults (Adrian's parents are good dads, despite some of their decisions and leadership), but I didn't end up liking the individual Anarchist characters all that much by the end. 

Even though I spent a lot of time talking about things that disappointed me in Renegades, I still enjoyed reading the story. I also can't wait to read the next installment in the series. I just wish I'd ended this story feeling more excited about where it was going. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium, no immediate 'hanging off of a cliff' danger, but definitely the middle of the story. 

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