Monday, May 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist 
by Renée Ahdieh
Read: May 17 - 18, 2017
Published: May 16, 2017 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Hardcover gift via twitter giveaway (TY @TawneyBland)!
Tags: Fantasy, Magic, Feudal Japan, crossdressing girls, Samurai 

Series: Duet, book 1/2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository Indiebound


Book Description: The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

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Flame in the Mist is the start of a new duet by Renée Ahdieh and it features her signature brand of historical fantasy, magic and romance.  This time set in feudal Japan. Here are five things you should know about this book: 

1) This historical fantasy is a full sensory experience. Sights, sounds, smells, metal and fabrics and tastes too, of course. You could eat and drink your way through this book, as well as give away a lot about what is happening to Mariko throughout the story just by following along with what she's consuming. I loved learning more about this historical Japanese setting: the way the society is organized with an emperor and the ruling Samurai class, as well as the importance of honor and the ways women fit into this world. 

2) Flame in the Mist is a multi-narrator experience, led by Mariko who has the largest narrative  - and the clearest motives - by far. I liked this girl from the start, despite her constant "I'm odd, I'm not like other girls" talk. She is not a natural warrior in the physical fighting sense, but she is intelligent, resilient and a clever engineer. Mariko make mistakes but keeps moving forward, and and I enjoyed watching her grow and come into her own, including the way her perspective on the role of women in her culture changes. 

The other characters we follow all have their own agendas that slowly converge on one another as the story progresses. It is not immediately clear in every case who is an ally and who is a villain, all of which leads to an intense ending. I'm still not sure what I think about several of the characters, and I cannot wait to get back into this world and find out more about the political and personal maneuverings and how Mariko navigates through them. 

3) Featuring shadow creatures and magical powers that enhance fighting abilities, this is a world with magic. And like within Ahdieh's last series, the magic is not fully explained in this installment, but it is present all the way through the story, and I'm looking forward to more in book two. 

4) Mariko voluntarily infiltrates her enemy's home seeking revenge. (For Shazi it was a palace, for Mariko it's a camp in the woods.) But of course, what Mariko learns in the Black Clan's camp and the boys she meets there are not at all what she expected. I really enjoyed the friendships Mariko forms with the members of the Black Clan (though I hope we get to see a stronger female friendship in the next book). But of course I'm always looking for the romance, and this book features my favorite type - hate to love. I loved all of Mariko and Ōkami's interactions. They begin at odds, and their banter is so much fun to watch. It is made even more interesting because he thinks she's a boy for much of the story. 

5) The ending of Flame in the Mist is an explosive rush that builds right up to an intense cliffhanger. Thankfully, this one wasn't quite as hard for me to handle as the one in The Wrath and The Dawn. It is harrowing, and I'm desperate for the next installment, but I'm more excited for what is to come than freaking out. 

This book comes highly recommended from me! Renée Ahdieh is quickly becoming one of my favorite fantasy authors, and I cannot wait for what she writes next. 

Love Triangle Factor: NONE. I was worried about this after the last series, but there is only one love interest in this book, and I cannot imagine that changing in the next installment. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium. You're definitely going to want the next installment pronto, but this ending isn't as painful as I imagined it would be.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

In a Perfect World by Trish Doller

In a Perfect World
by Trish Doller
Read: March 27 - 29, 2017
Published: May 23, 2017 by Simon Pulse
Source: ALA
Category: YA, Contemporary, Travel, Egypt, Romance

Book Description: Caroline Kelly is excited to be spending her summer vacation working at the local amusement park with her best friend, exploring weird Ohio with her boyfriend, and attending soccer camp with the hope she’ll be her team’s captain in the fall.

But when Caroline’s mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo, Egypt, Caroline’s plans are upended. Caroline is now expected to spend her summer and her senior year in a foreign country, away from her friends, her home, and everything she’s ever known.

With this move, Caroline predicts she’ll spend her time navigating crowded streets, eating unfamiliar food, and having terrible bouts of homesickness. But when she finds instead is a culture that surprises her, a city that astounds her, and a charming, unpredictable boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love, and privilege.

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Before I started this book I was worried that Caroline would 1) be bitter and resent her parents for moving her halfway around the world, creating a lot of angst and 2) try to eat at McDonalds every chance she got (this is my major pet peeve with teen travel books). Thankfully that doesn't happen. Caroline isn't happy about moving to Cairo, Egypt the summer before her senior year in high school, but she's making the best of it. She has a great relationship with her parents - who also adore each other - and she's excited that her mom is following her dream and making a difference by opening an eye clinic in another part of the world. One of my most unexpected favorite parts of this story was Caroline's parents and her relationship with them. 

I enjoyed watching Caroline begin to learn her new city and try to fit into a culture that's so vastly different from her home in middle America. Part of that is seeing the incredible sights of Egypt - both well known and more hidden, and part is discovering the food. This book is a culinary experience, thanks to Adam, the son of the man Caroline's family hires as driver. Adam is the definition of sweet and respectful and he and Caroline form a friendship when he begins driving for her after his father suffers a heart attack. I enjoyed exploring Cairo with both of them, as they got to know each other and slowly fell for each other. 

But of course, Adam and Caroline's adorable romance is made complicated by family obligations and cultural expectations. Caroline is a Catholic Christian and Adam is a Muslim. He is expected to marry a girl of his faith, and she is leaving in a year. They are also both viewed very differently in each other's cultures, and what seems to be simple and sweet at first, quickly becomes difficult and possibly impossible to navigate. Watching Adam and Caroline work through their obstacles was both heartbreaking and rewarding. 

I love stories about travel and exploring new places, all of which In a Perfect World does well. But under the surface of this book about a girl learning to fit in someplace new, and the sweet romance she develops in the process, are themes that push deeper and make this story very relevant today. What is it like to move to a new country with a completely different set of rules, especially a place with so much current unrest? Can two people from different parts of the world connect on a personal level? And is it possible for these two to find their way forward together despite distance and all the obligations placed on them (whether that be romantically or as friends)? 

I wasn't expecting how much was packed into this book, but I'm so glad I read it, and I definitely recommend it. 

Love Triangle Factor: None - Contrary to the description, Caroline has already broken up with her boyfriend when the book begins.
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 


Monday, May 1, 2017

The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty

The Traitor's Kiss
by Erin Beaty
Read: February 12 - 14, 2017
Published: 
May 9, 2017 by Imprint
Source: Galley from Macmillan (TY!)
Tags: Fantasy, Young Adult, Spies, Matchmakers 

Series: Traitor's Trilogy #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository Indiebound


An obstinate girl who will not be married.
A soldier desperate to prove himself.
A kingdom on the brink of war.

With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady―which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls―and on the soldiers escorting them.

As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust―and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom.
 
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I came out very mixed on this one. I was hoping for a new fantasy series I would love as much as The Winner's Curse, and The Traitor's Kiss just didn't get close to that for me. But I did enjoy some aspects of this. 

What I liked:

1) I liked both Sage and her love interest right away:

Raised by her father and now her aunt and uncle, Sage loves teaching and doesn't fit into the role of a 'lady.' When her uncle tries to set up a marriage match for her with the local matchmaker, things don't go well and Sage ends up apprenticed to her instead. It's a much better role. I love that this girl is clever and sharp and has brains galore. She pays attention and is great at making mental connections that others's don't see. But Sage doesn't give herself enough credit and she's actually very charming when she wants to be. 


A is a soldier who wants to prove himself after a recent error. He is sent with a troop of soldiers as an escort for a group ladies headed to the capital who will be married off for political alliances. But there is an uprising brewing and he and his troops soon learn their task is much more complicated than merely watching young ladies on a long journey. Cue the spying and deception and intrigue. As this story is told in multiple third person POVs we get to see what is happening with all the different players as they work to out wit and stay on top of each other's plans. It definitely made for an intense last quarter of the book. 


2) Sage and A have fantastic chemistry, and several very swoony scenes. I loved all of their interactions with each other. 


Hesitations:

1) I don't understand this title in relation to the book. (There is kissing, and, yes, secrecy and deception, but I'm not sure what "traitor" means?)

2) I wish Sage had spent some more time with the women in this book, building friendships. Hopefully, we'll see more of that in the next one. I'm not a fan of the 'mean' girl stuff and except for Lady Clare, whom I liked (tho even their relationship was pushed to the side), all the other girls come across as a one dimensional group. 

3) The beginning was clever in its set up - it's similar to The Kiss of Deception, in that the narrative is a bit obscured - and later it is explained why it was done this way. But I did find it to be a bit confusing and frustrating at the time. 

4) A lot of A words - Alex, Ash, Asteyln, the place Alex is from

5) I would never compare this to Mulan. I don't know where that came from, except that this does feature a matchmaker. I haven't seen it in any of the official publicity or marketing, unless it's been removed. For me, that comparison never factored (because I heard it only after reading and not officially). However, looking back I can definitely see the inclusion of the "dark skinned aggressor" trope here, and understand how unconsciously it's often done in stories. 

The farther I go from when I read this book, the less I'm enthralled by the story. I liked the romantic aspects, but a lot of the other characters were one dimensional, and I don't think the narrative setup worked as well here as it did in The Kiss of Deception. However, I'd be willing to investigate the second in this series when it's released. 


Love Triangle Factor: None

Cliffhanger Scale: Low. Ends solidly (but with a separation to come). This is the first of a trilogy. I love Sage and A's connection! But for the beginning of a trilogy, it makes me very nervous. This is more my own trust issues, but hoping the series stays completely love triangle free. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Thick as Thieves 
by Megan Whalen Turner
Read: February 7 - 9, 2017
Published:  May 16, 2017 by Greenwillow Books

Source: ALA MW 2017
Tags: YA, Fantasy, 

Series: The Queen's Thief 5/6?
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | The Book Depository Indiebound


Thick as Thieves is the eagerly anticipated new stand-alone novel set in the world of the Queen’s Thief. New York Times—bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner’s entrancing and award-winning Queen’s Thief novels bring to life the world of the epics and feature one of the most charismatic and incorrigible characters of fiction, Eugenides the thief. Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels are rich with political machinations and intrigue, battles lost and won, dangerous journeys, divine intervention, power, passion, revenge, and deception.

Kamet, a secretary and slave to his Mede master, has the ambition and the means to become one of the most powerful people in the Empire. But with a whispered warning the future he envisioned is wrenched away, and he is forced onto a very different path. Set in the world of the Queen’s Thief, an ordinary hero takes on an extraordinary mission. Includes two maps, a map of the world of the Queen’s Thief, and a map of Kamet’s journey.
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Spoiler free thoughts

The Queen's Thief series is one of my favorite series of all time. I just cannot express how much I am in love with this world and Gen and Irene and Eddis and Costis and Sophos and and now Kamet and and and. I count myself lucky to have discovered this series after the fourth book was released, as they come out every five years or more. That means I didn't have quite so long to wait for number five, but of course the wait is on for six. *cue sobbing* For newbies to the series, each book is a complete entity with its own narrative approach, but they all build on each other. So while this addition is being called a "standalone," I would argue strongly that it's in fact, part of a series, and you must read the previous four installments to understand the magic of this one. Trust me. 

If you're interested in my thoughts on the previous books in this series, see my reviews of The Thief & The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia and A Conspiracy of Kings


Every book in The Queen's Thief series is something different, but they all build on each other in a magical way that is defies explanation. My favorite remains The King of Attolia, but this is a more than worthy edition to the collection. MWT's books are filled with quiet moments and an intense thoughtfulness that add up to greatness. You never know where you're going until all of a sudden you're there, and then you're blown away when you turn around and see the full picture. I was thrilled to learn which characters would be the focus of this installment, and I loved the theme of an unlikely friendship. I cannot recommend this series enough.


Thick As Thieves is narrated in first person by Kamet, secretary and slave to Nahuseresh
, the nephew of the Mede Emperor and one time suitor of the Queen of Attolia. Despite being a slave, Kamet is content in his high position within Nahuseresh's household, and as his master advances in rank, Kamet has the potential to as well. Nothing would induce him to leave his role, until one day, his perfectly planned out future comes crashing down and the entire course of his life changes. This leads to a journey fraught with much danger and adventure, as well as a an unlikely friendship that Kamet never would have anticipated, and which had me cheering. 

One of my forever favorite parts of this series is the opportunity to see beloved characters from different perspectives, and this installment does not disappoint in that respect. Cue sobbing for the next installment. 


Love Triangle Factor: None (this book is much more focused on friendship)

Cliffhanger Scale: Low. This seres has at least one more book, though this part of the larger narrative is complete. 


Monday, April 24, 2017

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer
by Laini Taylor
Read: March 2 - 6, 2017
Published: March 28, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: ALA
Category: YA, Fantasy

Book Description: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.
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I am a huge fan of Laini Taylor's books. She creates intensely details fantasy worlds, characters who jump vividly off the page and romances that tear you apart with their beauty and longing. I could not wait to get my hands on her newest work Strange the Dreamer, and when I finally read it, I was completely blown away. This story is everything I expected in her books and more, including the fantastic creatures and heartbreak amidst the gorgeous words and imagery. 

Strange the Dreamer is not fast paced, but it is completely mesmerizing, and I was enthralled all the way through. I love the way the story begins with Lazlo Strange and builds slowly and powerfully. I fell harder and harder in love with Lazlo and then Sarai, and then their connection with each other as the tale unfolded. Especially Lazlo, whose love of stories and dreams of seeing Weep made me ache with longing along with him. 

Strange the Dreamer has a dreamlike quality that mirrors the themes in a mind-bendingly gorgeous way. But dreams can easily tip into nightmares and this story creeps into terrifying darkness as well. I loved everything about this tale save one thing that broke me into a million pieces. I'm never going to get over it, though I should have expected it. I'm such an emotional reader, and I was so mad when I finished that it took me a few weeks to recover, but there's no denying this story's magical pull. 

I know I didn't give very many specific details in these thoughts, which is mostly because this story was so wonderful to discover on its own without much influence. Also, often the less I say, the more protective I feel about a book. I highly, highly recommend this, and now I'm desperate for the sequel Muse of Nightmares. 

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: High


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Blog Tour: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Review + Giveaway

Tour organized by Hannah @ The Iris Banana Review
See the full schedule below

I feel incredibly honored to be able to review Letters to the Lost as part of the blog tour. This book is amazing. Make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of this post for a giveaway too!

Letters to the Lost
by Brigid Kemmerer 
Read: March 18 - 20, 2017
Published: April 4, 2017 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Source: NetGalley (TY!)
Category: YA, Contemporary, Letter Writing, Loss, Photography, Cemeteries 

Book Description: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at thelocal cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.
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My Thoughts 

Even though she can't read them anymore, Juliet Young still writes her mother letters by hand. But instead of mailing them to wherever her mom is currently on photography assignment, Juliet leaves the letters by her grave. Declan Murphy mows the grass in the cemetery as part of a court-ordered community service. When he comes across one of Juliet's letters he reads it...and writes back.  Neither knows who the other is, and they don't expect the strength of connection they find in each other's words. But while they feel free to express their hearts under the anonymity of their letters, things become a lot more complicated when they realize they aren't actually the strangers they think they are. 

I loved this book so much! The You've Got Mail trope is popular right now, and I've read a bunch of books with this set up. But Letters to the Lost is definitely a favorite. In many ways that's because of the depth of emotion in these page - how raw story is, and the way the dual narrative allows us to get inside of both Juliet and Declan's heads. It's not as much waiting for the big reveal - when will they realize who the other is? - though I couldn't wait for that. It's aching for the pain and loss both characters are carrying, and wanting so much for them to be okay. It's seeing how much they crave connection, and watching how the letters gave them something to hold onto in a time that was dark for both of them. 

Both Juliet and Declan are/have dealt with some really tough stuff in their lives, and this book does not shy away from any of it. This book gutted me, but it's also uplifting amidst everything these two are facing. I love that Juliet and Declan find each other amidst all of that, even though for a while, they don't know it's each other they've found. And boy do they spark against the other at first. The chemistry is strong with these two, even when they're yelling at each other. 

Another thing I loved about this story is that Juliet and Declan each has a supportive friend who sticks with them through it all. Declan's friend Rev is my favorite, and I'm thrilled he's getting his own book next year. Though they feel nothing but alone and misunderstood at first, Juliet and Declan also both find other supportive people in their lives - teachers, family members, coworkers. To that end, both of their relationships with their parents go through an evolution in this book, and I wasn't prepared for how affected was by those relationships. 

I truly don't have anything negative to say about this book. Highly Recommended.

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone - Next year there is to be a companion book from Declan's friend Rev's POV called More Than We Can Tell

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About the Author

BRIGID KEMMERER is author of Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; Thicker than Water (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on thesupernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

Find: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumblr | Instagram

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Follow the Tour

Week 1:

Week 2:

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Giveaway

3 Finished Copies of Letters to the Lost (US Only)

Or go HERE for the giveaway





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