Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic
by V.E. Schwab
Read: March 9 - 23, 2015
Published: February 24, 2015 by Tor Books
Source: Borrowed from Heather @ The Flyleaf Review (THANK YOU)
Category: Historical London, Parallel worlds, Magic, Mayhem
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Although I always try to choose books I'll love, there's no way to predict how a story will affect me until I dig into it. Even then it isn't until after I've closed the last page and stepped away from the tale that I realize how much it has impacted me - or sometimes not. When I cannot stop thinking about a world and it's characters, feel an intense longing to see them all again and get caught daydreaming about what's happening now, I know I've found a gem. This is one of those. Rich world building, vibrant characters and lots of bloodshed and magic, A Darker Shade of Magic is the type of story that seeps into your bones.  

What's funny is this story includes two elements that usually make me run in the opposite direction, and yet I loved it. The first is a parallel world, which along with love triangles, tends to give me whiplash (and hives) with its back and forth. However, a few things set this one a part. The three Londons - Red, White and Grey - are very different places, each with its own personality, scents and flavors. Also the characters that reside in them are distinct, and not just versions of each other. I completely fell in love with Kell, Lila and Rhy. A few others I loathed with an equal passion, but they were all complex and unique. 

Second, I love a good love story, and I usually avoid books without romance in them. Although there isn't any romance in A Darker Shade of Magic, I've fallen in love with these characters myself, and I see seeds of possibilities to come. Slow burn love is my favorite, and I hope there's at least one of those in this series. But even though I see tendrils, I'm not certain of the direction the romance(s) will take. In this first installment, I enjoyed getting to know the characters and watching them get to know each other. Still, I'm ready for some sailing ships in book two.  

Because of the high level of intensity, it took me a while to get through this book. But I think that's a reason it so strongly seeped into my mind and heart. The three Londons can be deadly places and characters face frightening magic and terrifying opponents, including the stark white terror of the Dane twins *shudders*. There were several times I was afraid one or more of them wouldn't survive. You'll have to read for yourself and see if they do. 

Victoria Schwab is a crafter of words as much as she is worlds and the people in them, and her language is is a visceral part of her stories. From the menswear wearing pickpocket, Lila who longs to be a pirate; to the two-toned eyed Kell who travels between worlds with his blood and an incredible coat; to the spoiled prince with his endless charm and love for his people, I cannot wait for more. I'm utterly besotted with A Darker Shade of Magic

Love Triangle Factor: N/A. No romance, but I have favorites and please no love triangles!
Cliffhanger Scale: Low, clearly more story, but installment wraps itself up well. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under A Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee
Read: March 17 - 19, 2015
Published: March 17, 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Penguin (THANK YOU!)
Category: Historical fiction, female friendship, Oregon Trail
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity 

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.

I didn't know what to expect when I started Under A Painted Sky, but I fell hard for this story.

Here's a five point list of things I loved: 

1) I loved the
 historical, American West, Oregon Trail setting with wagon trains, immigrants and outlaws. I'm a big fan of Wild West stories, and I loved exploring this time and place with Sammy and the other characters. Under A Painted Sky also reminded me how much of the West was settled by immigrants from everywhere. This book goes back to when America really felt like a big melting pot. 

2) I loved Samantha - turned Sammy - our Chinese narrator who blends her cultural traditions into the American setting. I really enjoyed experiencing life through Sammy's eyes, especially how she uses the Chinese zodiac to understand her world. Sammy was born in New York, raised by her father and is the most traditionally educated of her traveling companions. She's not physically strong and she admits herself that she's not the greatest at pretending to be a boy (I really liked this about her - I'd be bad at it too), but she is bright and resourceful, and is willing to do what she needs to survive. Sammy stole my heart.

3) I don't think Sammy would have gotten as far as she did the beginning if she hadn't befriended a slave girl named Annamae. After a majorly traumatic event, the two girls pretend to be boys and head West together. Andy has had a difficult life, but she inspired me with her optimism, drive and determination. She also knows a lot more about survival and she teaches Sammy what she knows. Andy sees the world very differently from Sammy's viewpoint, but these girls are able to find common ground and respect for each other. Sammy and Andy's strong friendship is at the core of this book, and one of my favorite elements. 

4) Three young cowboys - Cay, West and Peety - become traveling companions of Sammy and Andy, and I loved the group of five they become. I wasn't sure how they'd work together at first, but I so enjoyed all of their interactions. The boys' camaraderie was infections. Each of these characters (3 real boys + 2 fake boys) has their own strengths to contribute on their journey, and it was fun watching them all to learn to rely on each other. I enjoyed seeing the mutual respect that blooms between them, and how they all looked out for each other. It was also amusing to guess whether these guys had figured out about Sammy and Andy's real (female) identities. 

5) This book features a very slow burn romance. It is subtle and swoony and I loved watching it develop. Although, this book is low on angst, there is some drama that happens surrounding the romance, which is the one thing in this book that I didn't love at all. However, I really appreciated how the situation is handled and worked through with seriousness, and in the end I really fell hard for these two. 

Wild horses, waterfalls, river crossings, stampedes, illnesses, injuries, fugitives and lawmen, don't miss Under A Painted Sky. Bonus, that cover is absolutely perfect for this story, and the images mean even more after I've read the book. 

Love Triangle Factor: None 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone (as far as I know)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Early Review: One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart

One Thing Stolen
by Beth Kephart
Read: March 11 - 13, 2015
Published:  April 14, 2015 by Chronicle Books
Source: Edelweiss (Thank you, Chronicle!)
Category: YA, contemporary, mental illness, Florence, art
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

Book description: Something is not right with Nadia Cara. While spending a year in Florence, Italy, she's become a thief. She has secrets. And when she tries to speak, the words seem far away. Nadia finds herself trapped by her own obsessions and following the trail of an elusive Italian boy whom only she has seen. Can Nadia be rescued or will she simply lose herself altogether? Set against the backdrop of a glimmering city, One Thing Stolen is an exploration of obsession, art, and a rare neurological disorder. It is a celebration of language, beauty, imagination, and the salvation of love.

Beth Kephart's writing is beautiful. I love to get lost in her words. But within those words, Nadia Cara is lost. Her family is spending a year in Florence, Italy while her father is on sabbatical from his university. He is doing research for a book he's writing on a tragic flood that occurred in Florence in 1966. Nadia is there with him, along with her brother and mother. But something is changing about Nadia these days, and though the evidence is there, no one can quite grasp what is happening. Nadia has become increasingly stuck in her head, struggling to communicate with words. She loses track of time and keeps secrets, including her new role as a thief and her obsession with creating intricate nests from the objects she finds. 

What I love about Kephart's words, is that through them we are able to experience the confusion of being inside of Nadia's head, and as Nadia loses herself, we become increasingly unsure of the reliability of what we see. Nadia's mental space is not a regular place, and I felt that as I was reading. One Thing Stolen does a great job at describing what is happening to Nadia, but it is only later in the story that clarity comes. Although it is a spoiler to give more details (I've said more under the show/hide tag), I liked the way this was done. One Thing Stolen also features layers of of themes from the stealing to the nest building to the focus on the Florentine flood that parallel and provide more insight into to Nadia's struggles in a way that adds poetry and symmetry to the story. 

This lovely and heartbreaking book clings to hope even when it seems hopeless. Life isn't easy for Nadia, and I will admit to getting bogged down in the heaviness of her situation. But there is also such beauty surrounding her tale. I loved the Florence setting, and exploring the city with Nadia made me desperate to revisit its winding streets and masterpieces of art and architecture. I also adored Nadia's friendship with Maggie. Their dedication to each other stole my heart above anything else in this book. Their fierce bond is one of the most moving aspects of this story. Though I love that Nadia's family is very present in her life, Nadia + Maggie is the relationship that stood out the most to me. This story also has a light romance, that while sweet, I found hard to grasp, partially because there was little buildup and they don't spend a lot of time together. However, I could understand why these two were drawn to and felt connected to each other. 

I do have a few comments that are spoilers, and I've hidden them below.

Small Damages remains my favorite Beth Kephart book, but I very much enjoyed getting lost in Florence with Nadia in One Thing Stolen. Beth Kephart's gorgeous words once again beautifully compliment her unfolding story and give readers the chance to explore places near and far. This cover is also perfect for Nadia's tale.  

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Half Wild by Sally Green

Half Wild
by Sally Green
Read: February 3 - 11, 2015
Published: March 24, 2015 by Viking Juvenile
Source: ARC from Big Honcho Media (Thank you!)
Category: YA, fantasy, witches, male narrator, 
Series: Half Bad Trilogy # 2
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

"You will have a powerful Gift, but it’s how you use it that will show you to be good or bad."

In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, seventeen-year-old Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world's most powerful and violent witch. Nathan is hunted from all sides: nowhere is safe and no one can be trusted. Now, Nathan has come into his own unique magical Gift, and he's on the run--but the Hunters are close behind, and they will stop at nothing until they have captured Nathan and destroyed his father.

NOTE: Half Wild is the second book in a series. Find my and Jen @ YA Romantics discussion-review of Half Bad, HERE

Here is my breakdown of Half Wild in 5 points (and a bonus).

1) This book was very slow to start. It picked up eventually, but I didn't find it to be unputdownable until closer to the end. Most of this installment is focused on one specific task, interspersed with lots of hiding and switching locations. The latter quarter features a wider direction and a better look where the rest of the story is headed. It's the end that made this a stronger read for me.  

2) I like Nathan's voice a lot. He's very conversational and amusing, and much of this story is focused on him telling the reader information. Being inside of Nathan's head, we are able to see Nathan the way that he sees himself, and it's different from how others perceive him. The world sees a powerful killer who has a lot of his father's Black Witch nature inside of him. We see a boy with a lot of painful scars - both internal and external - who has insecurities and is confused about his feelings. However, Nathan does not think very deeply in this story, which I very much wanted to see, and hope will happen in the final book. 

3) I still don't really get the differences between Black and White witches (not color of skin, but origin of powers). They can be equally terrible. But I guess it's like the question of why two nations or races hate each other for what from the outside may appear to be arbitrary reasons. I don't see why everyone thinks that Black witches are more evil, as White witches have done equally terrible things. But I was happy to see one character actually comment and acknowledge the fact that "goodness" is a separate thing from "Black" or "White" witch nature. 

4) This book had way more relationship angst than I anticipated, including a love triangle. If you've read book one you can probably guess who the parties are (one was Nathan's love interest already, the other is the person we all hoped he would fall for). To me, the romance was clearly going in one direction in this book, and the tension is definitely stronger on one side. But there's also some back and forth, and I got bogged down in the relationship confusion as I was reading. Nathan doesn't think or worry about it as much as I thought he would though. He's more physical than a deep thinker in this book - despite the fact that he's quite honest and open. I think the not analyzing is a protective instinct, though it got to be frustrating. But it also makes the triangle not feel as dramatic or angsty as it could have. I still don't like triangles, btw.

More specific spoilers about the romance: 

5) The end of this book is surprising and exciting. I wasn't expecting the way it played out at all, and it has intrigued me for the final installment. It changed the way I felt about some characters - some I like more, some less, and a few became more complex. The end also made me more eager to read the final installment, as I was unsure through the first half of this book.  

6) Bonus: I love Gabriel. LOVE. This boy feels so much and I felt it along with him. You should definitely read his backstory in Half Lies before starting this book. It will give a better insight into him. 

Love Triangle Factor: Medium
Cliffhanger Scale: Medium - ends after some big revelations, but not in a stressful moment

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

The Wrong Side of Right
by Jenn Marie Thorne
Read: Febrary 26 - March 2, 2015 
Published: March 17, 2015 by Dial 
Source: Borrowed from Irish @ Ticket to Anywhere (TY!)
Tags: Contemporary, YA, politics,   

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

Kate Quinn’s mom died last year, leaving Kate parentless and reeling. So when the unexpected shows up in her living room, Kate must confront another reality she never thought possible—or thought of at all. Kate does have a father. He’s a powerful politician. And he’s running for U.S. President. Suddenly, Kate’s moving in with a family she never knew she had, joining a campaign in support of a man she hardly knows, and falling for a rebellious boy who may not have the purest motives. This is Kate’s new life. But who is Kate? When what she truly believes flies in the face of the campaign’s talking points, she must decide. Does she turn to the family she barely knows, the boy she knows but doesn’t necessarily trust, or face a third, even scarier option?

Set against a backdrop of politics, family, and first love, this is a story of personal responsibility, complicated romance, and trying to discover who you are even as everyone tells you who you should be.

When leaving her school one afternoon, Kate is surprised to find reporters camped outside. Then she's even more surprised when she gets home and finds her street blocked by more press and people who look suspiciously like Secret Service. When Kate finally makes it into her house, she discovers more official looking people, including the US Senator turned presidential candidate who claims she's his daughter. Kate's mom died a year ago never telling her the name of her father, so this is all a big shock to Kate. Now, all of a sudden she's moving in with the senator and his family and campaigning with them for the summer. It's a huge transition that changes everything Kate knew about her family and herself. Even more, this is all being played out in front of the nation and image is everything in politics. 

The entire political campaign experience featured in The Wrong Side of Right was very eye opening for Kate and for me. Everything about her life became orchestrated, from her wardrobe to what she was allowed (and not allowed) to say in public. I thought the campaign process was objectively fascinating to watch from the inside. But it was hard to see how controlled-by-others Kate's life became, and to realize that her value to most staff was based on how she affected polling. 

Within this environment, Kate had virtually no support system or friend looking out for her interests, and though she was constantly surrounded by people, her life felt incredibly lonely to me. Many times I wanted to scream at all the people running the campaign (one in particular), and I wished Kate had stood up for herself more than she did. Thankfully, we see some fire from her near the end of the story. I think Kate realized what was going on, but she was desperate to belong and be helpful to her father's campaign that she let a lot of things happen. Her character was also hard for me to grasp at times, an interesting blend of seeming very mature and circumspect, and at the same time, incredibly young and naive.  All of this made the book much heavier emotionally than I anticipated. Though I don't think that was the intention of the story, just the way I viewed the situation. 

One of my most favorite parts of this book was the sweet romance. But sadly, it only takes up about 10% of the overall plot. It was hard for Kate and this boy to spend much time together by nature of their parents, but that was also what helped to bond them together. I don't mind if the love story isn't the main focus, but I wanted a lot more of these two. Partially because I enjoyed them so much, and partially to add some balance to the stress of the campaign. Plus I connected to Andy and his view of the political machine much better than I connected to Kate's stance. If not more romance, than more friendship was needed in this story. Kate's best friend lives on the west coast, and Kate didn't had many options to make friends. Her closest companions were her newly discovered siblings, who are several years younger than her (I loved Gabe), and the senator's wife Meg, whom I came to like a lot, but still not exactly the same.

Although a few political issues are highlighted and one major one does impact the plot, this story was more about what it is like to be part of the political process, than it was focused on policies. For that, it was a fascinating insiders look, though I'm very glad I'm not a politician or a celebrity, because I couldn't handle the constant public opinion or scrutiny. Despite some mixed feelings about the book, I was happy with how it all turned out in the end. (highlight for spoiler>> I never cared for the senator. Actually, I loathed him throughout this entire book and was not satisfied that he'd made any changes by the end. He was a major disappointment, honestly. I wanted more true growth on his end, because it seemed all politically motivated to me. But I'm glad that Kate did get the family she wanted, even if he had to be part of it. << end spoiler)

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone

If you want to see how I'd rate this book, check my review on Goodreads. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Reading Brain Check-in

Reading Brain Check-in

I've been doing a lot of reading and review writing recently (though I'm still behind on both!), but not as much discussing books or bookish ideas. I thought I'd share a little bit about what's going on in my reading brain these days, because I tend to get myself trapped up there. 

I have a lot of books to read this seasons, which is a great thing! But it's also overwhelming for me to figure out how to prioritize reading them. Every time I receive a new book in the mail, I get excited and want to start reading it RIGHT NOW, but then I remember that I'm already in the middle of three other books that I need to finish first (which is crazy, b/c I used to only ever read one at a time). I'm such an impulsive mood reader, and I'm really having to manage that feeling. I've also been trying to stay on track with what I have to read this month before looking too far ahead. It's been going fairly well, though sometimes I begin to panic that I'll never finish my March titles!* 

*I know, I know. These are #bookbloggerproblems, and I feel silly complaining like, POOR ME. I HAVE TOO MANY BOOKS. SO SAD FOR ME. I want to reiterate that I am hugely lucky for everything I received, and really I love it. 

Some recent internal thoughts based on my current reads:  

1) Facing a slow moving book. 

I'm currently about 100 pages into an end of March book that I like a lot, but the way the story is written makes it a very slow read. Sadly, that's causing me to be very antsy, and I've considered putting it down for a while. With so many other books to read, I've been feeling like I can't focus on a slower book. 

Do you ever feel the same internal pressure: like you just can't devote more time to a slow moving story, even if you like it?

2) To DNF or not. 

I have an April galley that I accepted from a publisher, even though I was nervous about the description due to my usual reasons. When I started the book, I immediately decided it wasn't a great fit for me. I decided to set it aside for several days and come back to it, but after picking it up again, I'm still struggling. Yet for some reason I'm having a hard time DNFing this one. I think it's because the story features a great concept, and I can see its potential. I also feel bad because I accepted the book from the publisher and I want to give it the best chance I can. Maybe I'd get through it easier if I had less on my plate. But because of all these other books I want/need to read, it's hard for me to devote my time to a story that I know isn't going to be one that I love. 

Are you a DNFer? Do you feel bad about DNFing a book you accepted for review? 
Do you ever see the potential in a book even if you know you won't enjoy it?

Or the root of all my problems could be the snow!

What's going on in your reading brain these days?

P.S. I'm nearly finished reading this book and loving it so much! 

Top image source, middle image source, bottom image is my own. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Early Review: Dream A Little Dream by Kerstin Gier

Dream A Little Dream
by Kerstin Gier
(Translated from German by Anthea Bell)
Read: December 21 - 23, 2014
Published:  April 14, 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) 
Source: Macmillan (THANK YOU!)
Category: YA, London, Dreams
Series: Silver #1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository 

Mysterious doors with lizard-head knobs. Talking stone statues. A crazy girl with a hatchet. Yep, Liv’s dreams have been pretty weird lately. Especially this one where she’s in a graveyard at night, watching four boys perform dark magic rituals. 

The really weird thing is that Liv recognizes the boys in her dream. They’re classmates from her new school in London, the school where’s she’s starting over because her mom has moved them to a new country (again). But they seem to know things about her in real life that they couldn’t possibly know, which is mystifying. Then again, Liv could never resist a good mystery. . . .

As expected, Dream a Little Dream was delightful. Author Kerstin Gier is the master at combining amusing heroines with clever, twisty plots that somehow manage to be fun and also surprising. 

I wish that Liv was my friend in high school. She is both hilarious and intelligent, and it was endearing and fun to live inside her head for a while. When the book begins, Liv and her sister have just moved to London with their mother, who has just gotten a job as a professor at Oxford. They thought they were going to be living in a cute country cottage, but instead they're in the city meeting their mom's new boyfriend and attending a posh private school. Not at all what they expected, but after constantly moving with one or the other of her divorced parents, Liv is nothing if adaptable. She's 15 when the book begins and turns 16 during the story. That's a little younger than I prefer in YA, but Liv's age worked well for her voice, and the fact that people are constantly underestimating her.

On her first day at school, Liv encounters four blond boys - Arthur, Jasper, Grayson and Henry. One of whom is likely to become a stepbrother, and another a love interest for Liv. Although it is a little strange that all four boys and Liv have the same colored hair, it's also fairly amusing (ironic?). All four boys are also involved in a secret club of sorts that involves visiting each other's dreams. I really liked the dreams element of the story. Figuring it all out was one of my favorite parts of reading this book. I am quite intrigued by the whole concept, and can't wait for more. I was surprised by the turn of events near the end of the story, and didn't see some of the dangers coming. 

There is one thing that bugged me in the story, but it's slightly spoilery so I'm going to hide it. Also, it's more of a personal preference thing than a huge issue.

No love triangle, and I'm crossing my fingers there won't be one. The romance is sweet but the guy in question has a lot of secrets, which makes me nervous. However, knowing Gier, that's all part of her plan.

Like with Gier's last series, I'm regretting the fact that I don't know German and can't obtain the next installment immediately! 

A note on the translation: This book is translated from German, and while it doesn't have the same overuse of exclamation points that the Ruby Red series did, there's definite confusion about Liv's school year. Actually, about the whole education system in the book. Liv attends a posh private school in London. She's 15 when the story begins but turns 16 a few weeks into the school year. The book mentions that she's in "class eleven," but she's not in the "upper school," she's a "middle-school girl." It doesn't seem to equate to the German or English system. Despite the strange language, it's clear that Liv is in high school. My guess is that she's a sophomore (grade 10) and the "upper school" comprises the junior and senior classes. But it's not clear. Hoping that is changed in the final version. (It's funny how something small like that can really throw off one's reading experience - or at least mine!)

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low/Medium - Book doesn't end at a high stress moment, but Gier carefully weaves her series together, so we know there's more to come. 

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