Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Twist by Karen Akins

by Karin Akins
Read: March 23 - April 1, 2015
April 7, 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin
Source: NetGalley (Thank you!)
Category: YA, time travel, 

Series: Loop #2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound 

The unbelievably thrilling sequel to the time-travel YA novel Loop.

Bree Bennis finally has it all—a non-comatose mother, an uber-hot (albeit anachronistic) boyfriend named Finn, and a new-found mission to protect the timeline from those who would skew it for their own gain. But when she leans over one day to smooch said boyfriend, her lips meet those of her arch-nemesis Wyck instead. The timeline has been altered, and Bree is caught in the crosshairs. But when she goes back to repair the damage, she is stopped by none other than her Future Self, who delivers an urgent message: Someone is kidnapping Shifters from the distant past. It’s up to Bree to stop them. But first, she has to figure out who... and why.

To follow the trail of chronocrumbs, Bree reluctantly accepts her new undercover gig as Wyck’s girlfriend. Everything goes spiffy until Finn shows up in the 23rd century on the eager arm of a gorgeous fellow Shifter, Blark. Even as Bree struggles with jealousy, she battles the nagging dread that Finn might be better off with someone less chronologically complicated. Her worst fear is confirmed when Finn becomes the kidnapper’s next victim. As Bree zeroes in on the culprit, they unravel her life one timeline-change at a time. She realizes that she alone has the power to save herself and everyone she loves. But to do that, she may lose Finn forever.

NOTE: Twist is the second book in a duet that started with Loop.

I enjoyed Loop the first book in this duet so much. Although the twisty-ness of the story made my head spin at times, the clever time travel plot was extremely entertaining and it kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. Of course what I loved so much about the story was Finn and Bree's romance. Because of the addition of time travel to their lives, it doesn't start or build in the regular manner and all of that served to make it more engaging. It is a slow burn love story, but not in the typical way, and that worked well for me. Although Bree could be frustrating in her stubbornness and inability to reveal information, I enjoyed her voice, and I fell hard for Finn. When I finished Loop, I could not wait to find out what would happen next in the sequel Twist

What I was hoping for in Twist was lots more Bree and Finn time together, especially with them working together and on the same page. I was excited for an increase in the level of swoon and hoping for more communication from Bree. Sadly, most of that didn't happen and this book was much more of a frustration than an enjoyment. It also felt far more slower paced than Loop did. Maybe it was due to my personal frustrations, but I felt like not a lot happens in places.

The major issues I had with Twist -

1) Bree spent 35% of this book fake dating Wyck, and though I appreciated that she wasn't really into the relationship, it bugged me nonetheless. I got very tired of watching her make out with him to "keep him happy" even if she didn't want to kiss him. Unfortunately  I'm finding that "it's not really a love triangle" still means it's going to be an issue for me. 

2) Compounding that was a complete lack of communication with Finn during that time. They could have had one conversation earlier on in the book that would have cleared up a lot. But without it, I just found myself frustrated and upset over the level of angst. Later in the book Finn is off screen a lot again (and during that time Bree spends even more time with Wyck), making Bree and Finn's time together in this sequel much less than I had hoped to see. 

3) There was little to no guidance about what Present Bree was supposed to be doing, and I never understood why Future Bree (or another associate) couldn't sit her down and give out some clear information, instead of constantly being secretive and cryptic. Later in the book we are given somewhat of a reason for why the plot unfolded this way, but it was too little too late for me. It just seemed like a ploy to add confusion and drama that upped my anxiety level. Even after the explanation, I didn't fully understand why everyone was so cagey for so long. 

4) The end. In one sense it was sweet and appropriate for this story. But after the frustration of 60% of the book, I needed for it to continue a little further for me to be fully satisfied. It just wasn't enough for me. I was hoping to see this story loop back to previous scenes that we are told about but never see, although that doesn't happen. Also I just wanted more romance overall (truly, we may have seen more kissing scenes between Bree and Wyck than between her and Finn). 

As I said, I enjoyed Loop a lot, but Twist didn't work well for me. However, if you aren't as bothered by the it's not "really" a love triangle situation, and if you aren't as frustrated by the scarcity of explanation until the end, you'll be ok. It's become a major pet peeve of mine when the heroine and hero are kept apart for much of the final book. I like to see them working together. Still, I do love Finn so much, and this was a unique time travel concept. 

Love Triangle Factor: None. (But I was still disappointed with how the romance played out.)

Cliffhanger Scale: Series end 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Early Review: Rook by Sharon Cameron

by Sharon Cameron
Read: April 13 - 20, 2015
April 28, 2015 by Scholastic Press
Source: ALA via Danielle @ Love at First Page
Category: YA, future/dystopian, history themes, Paris, England, 

Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository | Indiebound

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a red-tipped rook feather left in their place. Is the mysterious Red Rook a savior of the innocent or a criminal?

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to the wealthy René Hasard is the last chance to save her family from ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to her doorstep, Sophia discovers that her fiancé is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she.

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow higher, Sophia and René find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

Set-up Sometime in a future time when the world is a different place - though maybe not so much, Sophia Bellamy is a socialite from the Commonwealth (formerly Britain) whose family is relying on her arranged marriage to save their home and her father from debtors prison. She's also secretly the Red Rook, rescuing families from death by razor (also known as a guillotine) in the Sunken City that was once known as Paris. Her fiancé René Hasard appears to be a fool whose favorite occupations are fine clothing and flirting, but of course, appearances can be deceiving. The question is, what is true and what is false, and can Sophie save her family and her loved ones from the razor before she or anyone else is killed? 

My Breakdown The tagline on the cover of Rook is "What will be has already been…" and I love how author Shannon Cameron plays off of the The Scarlet Pimpernel and the French Revolution but with a fresh twist, setting her story in a future world that fears technology and is fascinated by the past. History has always been my favorite subject, especially when I can connect to it through stories, and I enjoyed the opportunity to see our current world as the distant past. Watching the characters emulate 18th and 19th century clothing styles, try to figure out the uses for objects they've found from our time, an also seeing how the landscape of the world has changed, fascinated me. But more sobering is the theme that history repeats itself in horrifying ways, as we witness the Sunken City undergo another blood soaked revolution against the wealthy. 

Neither Sophia or René are what they seem, and watching them discover that about each other is one the best parts of this story. They do not like each other at first, but the more they work together, the more that changes. Even when he is playing a fool, I loved René, and the romance features some heart melting moments, but I swooned the most because René sees Sophia clearly, always supports her and never tries to change who she is. He is what great love interests are made of.  Although it takes her more time, Sophie too, comes to love all of  René's character. I really liked the way this story incorporates the theme of seeing and accepting all parts of a person, as well as the danger that comes when you try and make a person one thing or the other. People - and life - aren't black and white, but made up of a lot of other colors as well, an idea that carries through this plot in more areas than the romance.  

This book is dense and not quickly moving, especially through the first half. I would read and read, and find I hadn't gone many pages. But I was never bored, and couldn't wait go get back to reading it again. Sophia is the main narrator, but we get a few glimpses of René as well as several other characters. The switching third person perspective slowed down the narrative, although I enjoyed digging into the characters and the setting, as this pacing allowed. However, it was in the last 100 pages that this pacing affected my reading experience. The dense text coupled with the continually switching perspectives through the climax became more tedious than exciting. Then once the climax is reached, the story continues for several more chapters. I think some of the drawn out action, and especially the after section, could have been condensed. 

Despite the pacing and extended content issues, I enjoyed this book tremendously, and would definitely recommend it. You don't want to miss sword wielding Sophia or gold jacket, hair powder wearing René. 

Love Triangle Factor: None - Another character is interested in Sophia and that does affect the plot, but she is always clear whom she wants and does not waver. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone, as far as I know. The ending is settled, however, the last few pages set up the potential for a future story.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Release Day: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke
by Anne Blankman
Read: April 6 - 11, 2015
Published:  April 21, 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss  (Thank You HC!)
Category: YA, historical fiction, 1930s Germany, Hitler
Series: Prisoner of Night and Fog #2

Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

I loved every minute of Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke, the the thrilling sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog. I have fallen hard for this 1930s Germany historical fiction duet, so much so that I'm having trouble deciding which installment I enjoyed better. Though I think it's the second one. I'm also very glad that I didn't grow up during this time period, but have books to transport me there. 

Conspiracy begins seventeen months after the end of Prisoner, and Daniel and Gretchen are now living in Oxford, England. Gretchen is finishing high school and living with the family of the psychologist she befriended in Germany, and Daniel is working for the society section of a small newspaper. Although Gretchen is far more happy in her present life, they are thrilled to be safe and together away from Hitler and his growing power. Then Daniel gets an unsettling telegram that takes him back to Germany, and Gretchen is soon to follow. Returning to the center of Hitler's influence and the Nazi's increasing control, Gretchen and Daniel have to rely on their wits and each other, and even then might not make it out alive. 

One of my favorite parts of this book was seeing Gretchen's personal growth, as well as the maturity within her and Daniel's relationship. Gretchen is a very different girl from the darling of Uncle Dolf that we met at the start of  Prisoner. But now she is headed back to Germany, the place of her childhood as well as her nightmares, and being confronted with the psychological effects of her relationship with Hitler. Although her journey is not easy, I loved Gretchen's resolve to be different and use that information to help others - and keep her and Daniel alive. I don't know that I could be as brave as she and Daniel are, and I love how much they challenge each other to be better and stronger individuals. 

Even when Gretchen and Daniel's relationship is in turmoil they are always supporting each other. Their relationship undergoes a transformation in this book, as they each have to reconcile their individual desires with what they want for their future. These two have had to grow up quickly, and their relationship is a reflection of that. Thankfully this book never dissolves into angst and drama, as they are always fighting for each other even in the moments when they are uncertain of their future together. I cannot get enough of these two, though I don't want them to have any more books, because I want them to have some peace now!

Another favorite aspect of this story is the way this duet has completely transported me into early 1930s Germany. I adore historical fiction, especially when I'm able to experience the time period for myself, and this story did that well. It also spurred me on to do a lot of research on my own, and I loved looking up the characters and concepts and finding out that many of them were real. Before reading this series, I did not know much about this earlier period in Hitler's rise to power, as his influence seeped more and more into the culture. Although it is a terrifying thing to watch - and even more so to live through, I love when a book makes me feel what it was like to live in a time period, and I felt like I got a little glimpse of this time and place through these pages.

Of course with a book set during Hitler's rise to power this story is also an intense and frightening thriller. Especially through the second half, I was on the edge of my seat, very afraid for the lives of these characters I've grown to love so much. Conversely, the first half is a little more introspective, setting the reader back into the world and focusing more on the growth of these characters. I loved the balance of those two sides and the way they worked together to give this story layers of complexity. I cannot recommend this duet enough, and I cannot wait to find out where author Anne Blankman takes readers next. 

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Series end

Friday, April 17, 2015

Early Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn
Renee Ahdieh
Read: March 9 - 23, 2015
Published: May 12, 2015 by Putnam Juvenile 
Source: Galley from Penguin (THANK YOU!)
Category: YA, fantasy, magic, 1001 Nights, Persia

Series: The Wrath and the Dawn #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Every morning at dawn the new wife of Khalid the Caliph of Khorasan dies and another family mourns and rages at their heartless ruler. When Shahrzad's best friend becomes one of his victims, she volunteers to marry Khalid as an act of revenge. Shazi is determined to stay alive long enough to make sure no other girl suffers the same fate. Of course she isn't expecting what she finds when she becomes the next bride. 

My love for The Wrath and The Dawn in five points:

1) From the beginning I admired Shazi. She is a girl with of incredible convictions, and even Khalid immediately notices her fire. Although Shazi is guided by revenge, she is a seeker of truth, and one of the biggest challenges she faces is reconciling her preconceived ideas with what she learns when she becomes Khalid's wife. I felt Shazi's determination at the start of the book, and then her confusion as her heart begins to change and she is torn between two very different ideals. But even that struggle Shazi faces straight on with determination and without unnecessary angst. 

2) Khalid is a character who was very hard to grasp at first. He considers himself a monster and comes across as cold and unfeeling. But all of that served to connect me more deeply to Shazi, which worked to also connect me better to this story. Although I worried about my ability to get close to him, as the book continues we are given more glimpses of Khalid's character, and I enjoyed seeing him wake up and open up little by little. One of my favorite things about Khalid is the fact that he doesn't attempt to fight all of Shazi's battles for her. Although he is a powerful ruler, Khalid has an innate sense of knowing when to step forward and when to let her shine. Even though some could (and do) see those moments as weakness, they actually demonstrate his strength, as well as the growing respect and pull between him and Shazi.

3) My favorite part of this story is the tension between Shazi and Khalid. Their interactions are very careful and controlled at first, with anger and rage underlying them on Shazi's side and practiced indifference on Khalid's. But slowly, slowly the emotions behind their meetings change to curiosity and then a very different type of tension blooms between them. Khalid and Shazi wound each other deeply, and they frequently explode into sharp words and strong feelings. It is those combative moments set between the sweeter quiet scenes that made this book for me. It is a balance I saw echoed in Shazi and Khalid's characters. They are similar and different in ways that make them a great match. (Highlight spoiler>)I also appreciate that the author allows them to be serious about each other, which isn't always the YA choice, but worked very well for these two. (end spoiler)

4) The Sumptuous setting only added to this book's appeal. Silks and jewels and delicious food, flowers and stone, colors and sounds, metal and leather, The Wrath and The Dawn is a very sensory book. The author even uses original names for various items in the story that add authenticity and flavor (I didn't realize there was a whole glossary in the back of the book until I turned the last page). The setting appears to be Persia-like around time of the Greeks. I was mostly focused on Shazi and Khalid's relationship, but I'm hoping the map to come will better orient readers into setting. I'm also eager to find out more about the magical aspects of this world, as I feel as if we've just barely gotten a glimpse of them. 

5) The story is told in third person limited, mostly from Shazi's POV, with a very few scenes narrated by Khalid. The rest of the narration is from different individuals that provide a broader look at the opposing forces and schemes building in this story. Although I can understand the usefulness of them, they slowed down the overall pacing a great deal for me and shifted the focus away from the central storyline that interested me most. They also felt a bit scattered and not well developed. Of the side perspectives, I connected the least to Jahandar plot line, and I still feel fuzzy on him and the way that portion of the story developed. 

I read The Wrath and the Dawn a few weeks ago and the more I think about this story, the more I decide that I love it. I even upped my rating on Goodreads. I'm salivating to get my hands on the finished copy in various forms so that I can highlight the ebook and listen to the audio. It's a rare favorite that I want to own in multiple ways. I know this book has a lot of hype around it, but I encourage you to try it for yourself and hopefully fall in love as much as I did. 

Love Triangle Factor: None - Highlight for more information >>Shazi does have a "first love," so this could technically be considered a Linear Love Progression. However, she marries Khalid in the first chapter and even from the beginning this other guy felt like he was in her past romantically (He does have a present role, but I didn't see it as a love interest). Shazi doesn't pine away for him, they don't have many scenes together, and this book was really all about her and Khalid. I don't foresee this being any sort of triangle in the future either (though take that with a grain of, I've been wrong before).
Cliffhanger Scale:Highlight >>;HIGH. Ahhhh. Another stressful one. I'm getting fatigued by ends like this one (it sort of reminded me of The Winner's Curse). These types of cliffies just compound my anxiety levels and mean a lot of angst and stress in book two. But I loved this book so much as a whole that I'm hoping book two will be even better, despite this conclusion. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven
by Elizabeth Wein
Read: March 
Published: March 31, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: NetGalley (Thank you, Disney!)
Category: YA, historical fiction, Ethiopia 1930s, aviation
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes-in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Black Dove, White Raven is a beautifully written historical fiction set in 1930s Ethiopia and leading up to their war with Italy. It features lush landscapes, airplanes, the uncertainty of impending war and the fear and violence of battle. The story is told in essays and flight logs by siblings Emilia and Teodros. Although Em and Teo have different birth parents, personalities and look nothing alike (she is is white, and he is black and looks Ethiopian like his father, though they both identify as American like their mothers), they are brother and sister in every way that matters. 

As young children Em and Teo travel the US with their daredevil pilot mothers; side by side they face the darkness of the death of Teo's mother Delia and the resulting deep depression of Em's mother Rhonda; together they move with Em's mom (whom they both call "momma") to Ethiopia, following Delia's dream of living free under the Ethiopian sky. Through Em and Teo's voices we  learn their passions and their similarities and differences. Just like their mothers who were best friends, Em and Teo share a mind and heart and an incredible bond. One of my favorite aspects of this story is the focus on a sibling relationship and other family and friendship bonds that are formed by love and not necessarily blood. 

The central characters in this story are a sister and brother, but I'm always thrilled about author Elizabeth's Wein's focus on women and female relationships, several of which stood out to me. I especially loved Delia and Sindu's characters - sadly, they never meet each other. Although Rhonda was difficult to like at times she was complex and I grew to understand and respect her. Her friendship with Delia is a powerful force that drives this story.  

I love any book that explores a real time and place, and I enjoyed this story's focus on Ethiopia during a time where much of the world was in turmoil. It's clear that author Wein put care and sensitivity into creating her characters and telling their story, including working very hard to make the setting as accurate as possible. I had no idea that Mussolini and Italy decided they wanted to overtake this country, or the role this war played in the beginning of WWII. I learned a lot by reading and through the characters I came to love and care about this place along with them, which is one reason I adore historical fiction so much. 

However this book is written like a series of vignettes with very little momentum and as a result it took me a month to read.  It wasn't until at least 60% that I figured out the main conflict of the tale, and even after that the tension and urgency in the story never felt very high. All of this slowed down the pacing tremendously and I found myself taking long breaks while reading. Still these characters and this place have now been burned into my mind, and I'm glad I pressed through and finished their story.  

Love Triangle Factor: N/A (no romance)
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dream A Little Dream Blog Tour:
Q&A with author Kerstin Gier + Giveaway

Blog Tour organized by Mac Teen Books
See below for the full schedule 

I love author Kerstin Gier's Ruby Red trilogy, and now I'm equally excited about her new Silver trilogy after reading the first book Dream a Little Dream.
(click the titles above for my reviews)

Isn't that cover gorgeous?!

Today I'm thrilled to have Kerstin Gier answering some questions about her latest release. 

LAUREN: One of my favorite aspects of the Ruby Red trilogy is how well plotted it was. Because the story features time travel, several of scenes from the first book came back around again. But there were also some excellent surprises at the end that were set up from the start, which I never saw them coming. Would you talk about your process of writing a book and how that relates to Dream A Little Dream? Was the process the same for you for both series? Did you sit down and plot the entire trilogy out or do some of the later revelations end up being serendipitous surprises to you too?

KERSTIN GIER: Yes, the process was the same for my second trilogy. In fact, it is the same for all my books. I usually have the large majority of the plot drafted before I start writing. Of course, I incorporate new ideas as I go, but especially a series of several books requires attentive planning of the plot in order to avoid contradictions in the later parts of the story.

LAUREN: I love the focus on dreams in this book, and how much you could discover about the characters in this book by visiting them. What would your dream door look like? Do you have a real or imagined place you’d visit (or create) if you could control your dreams?

KERSTIN GIER: At the moment my dream door is a heavy wooden door, very much like in an old farmhouse. It is of a dark violet with the paint being flaky in places. The door knob is shaped like an owl’s head. But, honestly, the way I imagine it is constantly changing. As for the second question, it is probably a good thing that I cannot control my dreams. I’d be too curious for my own good…J

LAUREN: Another part of your stories I love so much is your heroines. I had such a great time being inside of Liv’s head. She is hilarious and both smart and resourceful, but she is also underestimated quite often. Through her dreams we get to know a lot about her, including her fears. Any advice or comment you’d like to say to Liv if you could?

KERSTIN GIER: I would warn her about something. I cannot tell you about what, because it still is ‘top-secret’!

LAUREN: AHHH! I'm worried now. Watch out Liv! 

My blog is called “Love is not a triangle”, because I am not a fan of love triangles. However, I have great friends who are. But I like to ask authors who visit their thoughts on the subject. So love triangles – like them or loathe them? So far your Dream A Little Dream series doesn’t have one, which of course pleases me.

KERSTIN GIER: I feel that there are already plenty of books around featuring love triangles. And, anyway, I am happily married ;-)

LAUREN: I concur with that. Though to me, any love triangle book is too many. I am now wishing I could read German so that I could have the next book in the series in my hands! Anything you can tell us about what to expect going forward? 

KERSTIN GIER: I do not want to spoil anything. You can expect things to get mystical again. I guess I can safely reveal that real danger awaits one of the characters and, of course, Secrecy will be good for a surprise.

LAUREN: Very true! Though I just can't help wanting to know now. But I'm excited about the surprises to come. Thanks for stopping by Love is not a triangle and giving me the opportunity to talk to you today, Ms. Gier!

About the Author

Kerstin Gier is the bestselling author of the Ruby Red trilogy, as well as several popular novels for adults. She lives in Germany. 

Don't miss The Silver Trilogy tumblr where you can signup for updates and download the first five chapters of Dream a Little Dream. 

Find the bookGoodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

Blog Tour Schedule 

Monday April 13

Tuesday April 14

Wednesday April 15

Thursday April 16



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Friday, April 10, 2015

Early Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

by Maria Dahvana Headley
Read: November 28 - December 1, 2014
Published:  April 28, 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Edelweiss  (Thank You HC!)
Category: Flying ships, singing
Series: Magonia book 1 (I believe this is a duet)
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Aza Ray is drowning in thin air. 

Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. 

So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia. 

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Three of my favorite things in Magonia:

1) Unique mythology. I've never read anything that explores the concepts of sky people, flying ships, birds and song in this way before. Magonia combines science and historical lore and mixes it with magic, then places all of that into our contemporary world. I really like that the author brings very contemporary teens into a fantastical setting, and also the way the author worked to explain how this Magonia society exists around our modern world. Aza's ability, what she can do with it, and how it fits into the Magonia culture is pretty cool as well.  

2) Jason's devotion to Aza. Jason and Aza have been best friends forever. They are both smart and a little bit quirky, and when the book begins there are hints of something more developing between them. I love how much Jason cares about Aza and believes in her all throughout this book. When Aza disappears Jason is devastated and becomes determined to find her. One of my favorite aspects of this book is reading the part of the story from his perspective. In some ways I connected better to Jason, and for me, several of the most emotional scenes in the book are moments he experiences. 

3) Aza's growth in the end. Aza has had a rough life. She has a rare lung disease that she knows will kill her soon. It is a constant worry for her and her family, and though she is in some ways a regular teen in high school, her life is always colored by her sickness. Then Aza gets taken out of her life and put into a very different setting with completely different rules and expectations. When that happens Aza doesn't know who she is any more, or where she fits, and I could sympathize with her confusion. Unsure of who to trust or who she should be, Aza gets led around for a while.  I wanted her to ask questions and start fighting for herself sooner than she does. But it was extremely rewarding when she did begin to make her own decisions and step out into herself. I was so proud of her by the end. 

Three things I wish about Magonia

1) This is one of those books that is not really a love triangle, but I wish I hadn't spent so much time worrying about the possibility. There is another boy that Aza meets and works with when she becomes separated from Jason, and I expended a lot of emotional angst fearing it would become a love triangle. The good news is that it doesn't become one, and I don't foresee it will in the future. The bad news is I worried about it for too long while reading, and it affected my experience a bit. However, I don't think most people having an issue with this situation at all, and it never really develops. 

2) I'd just started to grasp the world of Magonia when the story ended, and I can't fathom how this is all going to wrap up in one more book! There's so much I feel like I don't understand yet, and I have a lot of questions about this culture and people. I wish we'd gotten more in this book, but I'm excited to expand the world in the next installment!   

3) I wish the "humans are evil" plot wasn't so prevalent. A common refrain in books I've read that contain some sort of non-human society seems to be the 'humans are terrible and destroying the world with their wars and industry' trope. It's the idea that these "other" beings are better and more evolved than the careless humans, so they have a right to look down on us. Even if our species can be this way, I've gotten tired of seeing the theme over and over again as the basis for conflict between humans and other creatures. But this is perhaps more of my issue that this book's. 

Overall I really enjoyed Magonia and I'm excited to see where the story next takes Aza and Jason. 

Love Triangle Factor: None, though at least mild for feeling - A few elements made me nervous, but nothing materializes, and I don't predict any triangle in book 2. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Low/Medium - settled for now, but definite story to come. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Skandal Blog Tour
Q&A with author Lindsay Smith + Giveaway

Blog tour is organized by Mac Teen Books
See below for the full schedule

Skandal is the thrilling sequel to Sekret. Instead of Cold War era Russa, the characters have moved to mid 1960s Washington D.C., and that change directs the events that unfold. 
(Click the titles above for my reviews of each book)

Today, I'm thrilled to have author Lindsay Smith visiting to answer some questions on her new release - Skandal comes out today! 

LAUREN: For the SEKRET blog tour, you did a post for me on the locations used in the story. I’d also like to play a little real/not real with some of the settings in SKANDAL. The first is the psychedelic lounge that the women had for their “office.” It seemed completely crazy to me, was it real? The second could possibly be a spoiler, but do those underground tunnels exist? And what about the hidden exit in the Oval Office? Any others you’d like to tell us about?

LINDSAY: Ooh, great questions! To my knowledge, there weren’t any actual lounges like the one I described at CIA Headquarters, but I designed their “office” to reflect the relaxed, anything-goes culture of the CIA in the 1960s. This was an era where, according to legend, CIA office workers might find LSD in their morning coffee as part of some experiment from the science wing, and a time when both the United States and the Soviet Union were infiltrating all kinds of counter-cultural groups to agitate for their respective causes. I really wanted to give the sense that because the psychic team got results, they were given a certain amount of liberty to do as they pleased, for better or worse.

The “underground tunnels” that allegedly run beneath Washington are a bit of DC apocrypha. There are definitely numerous abandoned tunnels cris-crossing the city, including a few to this day that are used as arts and dance spaces not far from the old Soviet embassy. No idea whether they actually connect to it, but it makes for a juicy possibility! It is true that the Soviets were forced to abandon their posh Dupont Circle embassy for farther flung digs following some sort of political scandal, and I like the tunnel story as much as any other reason I’ve heard.

When researching SKANDAL, I could only ever find confirmation that secret passageways existed in some form, and no reliable details on their locations—but quick passage from the Oval Office to the Situation Room bunker deep beneath the West Wing seems like an obvious choice. My other favorite location in SKANDAL is Bohemian Caverns, the smoky subterranean jazz club where Valentin performs, and I’m happy to say it’s still operating to this day, and I visit it regularly.

LAUREN: One thing that stood out to me in SKANDAL and really surprised me as being different from SEKRET, is how women were viewed in 1960s America vs. Russia. Although Soviet Russia appeared a much more oppressive place to live, it seemed like women were treated more equally to men. But when Yulia moved to 1960s America, she experienced a lot more sexism, on top of being distrusted because of where she was from. Was I too busy fearing for Yulia’s life in SEKRET to notice any of those things, or was this an intentional and accurate depiction of a difference in the two countries at the time? Did any (other) differences stand out in your research?

LINDSAY: This was an intentional choice. The Soviet Union’s founding principles placed a strong emphasis on equality in every form, and women had a lot more opportunities in academia—like Yulia’s mother—than they did in Western nations at the time. Women had played a major role in the revolution, as well, serving as factory organizers and impassioned pro-Soviet artists in cultural circles. I was always surprised on my student exchange and study abroad trips to learn that the elderly babushkas in my host family—the grandmothers who took care of the majority of the housework and grocery shopping for their children and grandchildren, whom they lived with—all had backgrounds in engineering, biology, economics, and the like! I really wanted to emphasize this disparity as Yulia struggled to adjust to American life, and I didn’t want the United States to be the obviously correct choice for her in every possible way. There were definitely trade-offs she had to weigh.

Unfortunately, the military and political portions of the Soviet Union remained boys’ clubs throughout; the only prominent female Soviet politician I can think of off the top of my head was Vladimir Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya. Outside of academia, sexism and misogyny remain a rampant problem in Russia today, and Russia has one of the highest rates of domestic violence against women in the world.

LAUREN: Music is a very important theme in both of your books. It’s way these characters shield their thoughts, and the song they choose tells something about them. But it is also very important to Valentin, as he gets ensconced in the Beatnik jazz scene of the time. In that sense we see how much of an equalizer good music can be. Did you make music such a big scene because you yourself are musical? What song would you choose to shield your thoughts?

LINDSAY: I’ve always grown up with music—my father’s a composer, and I studied piano, French horn, and viola at various points in my childhood (and still play the last). One of my favorite memories of orchestra was playing Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” on the field of my hometown’s AAA baseball stadium! I love modern(ish) music as well—from cheesy ‘80s goth rock to metal to darkwave electronica and more—but I have to have wordless music when I’m working or writing, so I’d probably choose a classical of jazz piece for my own musical shield. Maybe Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” for the subtle driving force, variations on a theme, and soothing repetition.

LAUREN: What will Yulia and Valentin miss most about Russia, what are their favorite and least favorite aspects of their new home?

LINDSAY: I think Valentin would miss the romanticism and sense of history in Moscow. America in its current state is such a baby country, and it’s hard for us to get the proper sense of scale that you get in Russia, where some of the towns are nearly 900 years old. For Yulia, what she’d miss—her family, their old life together, the people they once were—is the sort of home you can’t ever really return to. So I think she’s grateful for the iteration she’s been able to establish in America, while still refusing to accept the status quo. She and Valentin both enjoy being agents of change, and I don’t doubt they’ll spend the ‘70s and ‘80s fighting to make America a better place!

LAUREN: This isn't a question, but as someone who dislikes triangles, thank you for not adding one to SKANDAL. I enjoyed watching Yulia and Valentin supporting each other and working together.  

LINDSAY: Thank you! I do feel like any book that depicts romance places far too much emphasis on the “getting together” without nearly enough about what comes after. Perhaps it isn’t as exciting as the flush of new love, but I really enjoy seeing healthy couples tackle challenges as a team, and finding a way to make their life together work in the contexts of their individual lives.

LAUREN: Wow. Thank you! Your last comment completely made my day. I am always looking for books that do exactly what you've just described. Why are they so rare? I guess it's a discussion for another day. Thanks for visiting Love is not a triangle, Lindsay!

About the author

I’m Lindsay, author of the YA historical thriller, SEKRET (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s, Winter 2014). I’m an ex-Oklahoman and an unapologetic Washingtonian. I have an unhealthy fascination with foreign affairs–Russia in particular–which fortunately pays for my voracious reading habit. When I’m not reading or writing, I can be found nerding out over food, board games, modern history, the Science channel, and all things cheesetacular. I write historicals and fantasies, sometimes in the same book.

Important links
  Learn more about the first book in the duology, Sekret.
  Join in on social media with #Skandal.

Visit Lindsay’s website, follow her on Twitter, and follow her on Tumblr.


Full Blog Tour Schedule
April 8-Icey Books
April 9-Exlibris Kate
April 12-Fly Leaf Review
April 15-The Bookrat

Giveaway is for US or Canada residents only (Sorry, other international readers!)
You must be at least 13 years old to enter
See my policies HERE

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