Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Book Review:  The Names They Gave Us by Emery LordThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 390
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us is a book that I was actually a little apprehensive about reading even though I fell in love with her writing when I read When We Collided.  My hesitation this time around was because I had read that this book focuses a lot on religion and faith.  Since I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, I was a little worried the subject matter might put me off.  Thankfully, my worries were unfounded.  Even though faith does play a prominent role in the story, Emery Lord handles it in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all.  The Names They Gave Us is essentially a coming of age story and part of the main character’s coming of age journey is to actually question her own faith.

The Names They Gave Us follows Lucy Hansson, a high school student who is also the daughter of a preacher.  Because religion has just always been a part of Lucy’s life, she has always felt secure in her faith and has never questioned it.  That is, until her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.  That diagnosis sets off a chain reaction of events that strips all of the constants out of Lucy’s life.  Her longtime boyfriend Lucas, the boy she fully expects to marry someday, suddenly decides that the two of them should take a break and make sure they really love each other.  Not only that, but Lucy’s mom also decides that instead of Lucy being a counselor at their church camp like she has for every summer for as long as she can remember, she should take a job as a counselor at Daybreak, a local camp for troubled kids.

Lucy is crushed that Lucas would choose now of all times to break up with her and is also completely baffled as to why her mom would not want her to be with them at the church camp.  She is also starting to question her own faith:  After all of their prayers and the prayers of everyone in their congregation, how could her mom’s cancer have possibly come back?  Feeling like her whole world has been turned upside down, but ultimately knowing that she doesn’t want to do anything to upset her mother, Lucy reluctantly agrees to work at Daybreak for the summer.

When she first arrives at Daybreak, Lucy feels overwhelmed and wants nothing more than to be back at the church camp with her parents, but then she eventually starts to make friends – real friends that she actually has things in common with, friends who are also going through or have been through some bad times in their lives.  They provide a support system for Lucy that she has never had before, even with friends from school she thought she was close to – and suddenly things aren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.

Could this be why Lucy’s mom insisted that she go to Daybreak?  Is this Lucy’s mom’s way of making sure her little girl will be okay no matter what happens.  Or is there more to it than that?

 

I really liked Lucy and her family right away.  They’re just good people who fully embrace their faith but who also don’t try to force their beliefs on to others.  I was immediately devastated for them when it was revealed that Lucy’s mom’s cancer had come back.  The family was just getting back on its feet after her first battle with it, and now it sends them all reeling again.

Lucy was so easy to root for her not just because she was likable, but also because her emotions and fears, and those questions that just kept running through her mind felt so real.  Emery Lord does a very nice job of getting inside the mind of someone who is having a crisis of faith and possibly facing the loss of a loved one.  It was often heart-wrenching to read, but the portrayal felt very authentic.

I also loved that Lucy keeps an open mind about going to Daybreak and that her character undergoes tremendous growth during her stay there.  The counselors and the children who come there are a diverse group and, as such, Lucy meets a lot of people there who are very different from her and from anyone else she has ever known.  She doesn’t shy away from them or judge them at all though.  She meets a lesbian and a transgender counselor, for example, and she’s very open to asking any questions she has about their experiences.  She just genuinely wants to know everything about them and does so without trying to push any of her own beliefs on to them.

The beautiful friendships Lucy makes with her fellow counselors at Daybreak are one of my absolute favorite parts of The Names They Gave Us.  Each counselor has their own issues to deal with, whether it’s severe anxiety, abuse, or something else, but they come to camp and set aside those issues and try to help other kids who may be going through similar hard times.  Because the kids they counsel are often having such a rough go of things, they are not allowed to show any signs of their own issues while around them.  The counselors therefore lean on each other for support behind closed doors and, over their many years of working together, have become a very tight-knit group of friends.  And even though Lucy is the new girl and they know nothing about her, they still welcome her in with open arms.  Once she gets to know them and sees how much they truly are there for each other, Lucy slowly starts to realize that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens alone, that her friends will be there to support her.

This theme of the importance of friendship was what resonated with me most, as did the idea that it’s perfectly okay to question your own faith and beliefs from time to time.  It’s all just a normal part of that journey to find yourself and figure out your place in the world.

 

The only real issue I had with The Names They Gave Us is with the way Emery Lord left one important aspect of the story unresolved.  I don’t want to give away the ending so I’m going to be a little vague here.  I know this is Lucy’s story and that I should be satisfied knowing that she’ll be okay no matter what happens, but I still wanted to know how everything was going to turn out for her family.  I guess maybe I got a little too invested in the Hansson family but the characters were just so beautifully drawn that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all.

 

With its focus on heavy topics such as cancer and religion, The Names They gave Us is not what I would consider to be a light contemporary read.  It is a beautiful read though and one I would highly recommend if you’re into books that focus on love, friendship, family, and faith.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

four-half-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

Book Review – Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review –  Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh BardugoWonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: DC Icons, #1
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 28th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I hardly even know where to begin with my review of Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer.  As a lifelong Wonder Woman fan and a huge fan of Bardugo’s, my expectations for this book were extremely high.  And I’m just going to say that the fact that it has taken me two weeks to stop flailing about this book long enough to write down my thoughts should tell you how much I loved it!  Wonder Woman: Warbringer was everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I found the strong women, the sisterhood of the Amazons, and the fierce action scenes that I expected to find, but then I also found so much more that really took this book to the next level for me.  In addition to all of those elements you would expect to find in a superhero novel, there is also a focus on friendship and on finding oneself that made the characters so easily to relate to.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer begins on the island of Themyscira, more commonly known as Paradise Island.  We follow Princess Diana as she is competing in a contest, hoping to prove herself once and for all to her Amazonian sisters.  Even though she is a princess and destined to be their queen someday, many of the Amazons look down on Diana (thus making her look down on herself) because of her origins.  Whereas all of the other Amazons came to Themyscira as warriors, Diana was born from the earth on Themyscira when Hippolyta created her out of clay and begged Zeus to bring her to life.  Because of her origins and because they live in peace on Themyscira, Diana has never been battle tested and is often perceived as weak.

In the middle of this contest which is so important to Diana, she happens to see an explosion off the island’s coast and goes to investigate.  She sees a ship on fire and can tell that there is at least one survivor, a girl.  Even though it is against Amazonian law to bring mortals back to Themyscira, Diana decides she can’t just watch this girl die so she swims out to save her, deciding that she’ll figure out what to do with the girl afterwards (and hopefully before she is caught).

Diana gets more trouble than she bargains for though because no sooner does she bring the girl, whose name is Alia Keralis, back to the island, than the Amazons start to fall ill one after the other.  When Alia starts to show signs of illness too and the island starts to experience earthquake-like tremors, Diana quickly makes the connection that it must have something to do with Alia and goes to the Oracle to seek guidance.  What she learns is shocking and unexpected:  Alia is known as a Warbringer.  What that means is whether she realizes it or not, wherever Alia goes, fighting, war, and ultimately death follows right along behind her.  The Oracle advises Diana that she doesn’t need to do anything at this point – that nature is already working its magic and Alia will soon die, thus ending the Warbringer cycle and returning the earth (and the island) to a healthy, peaceful state.

Diana balks at this.  She didn’t just save this girl and risk banishment from Themyscira only to have her die anyway.  She begs the Oracle to tell her if there is another way to save both the Warbringer and the world.  The Oracle advises her that the only possible way to save both is to take Alia to southern Greece, to the place where Helen of Troy is buried.  There is a spring there, and if Alia is purified in that spring before the sun sets on the first day of Hekatombaion, then she should be stripped of her Warbringer status and peace should return to the world.  The Oracle also advises Diana, however, that this quest is far beyond her strength and skill level and that it would be foolish of her to risk the world just for the sake of her own vanity, to prove herself.  The more prudent action at this point is to just let the natural correction run its course and let Alia die.

Knowing that the tremors are increasing and that her Amazonian sisters are getting sicker, Diana refuses, and tells Alia what she has learned and what they need to do.

Even though she’s a bit hesitant to trust Diana at first, Alia ultimately believes what Diana tells her because all her life, she has noticed that everywhere she goes, bad things seem to happen.  She has usually chalked it up to coincidence, but the Warbringer story makes sense and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it all stop.  She does not want to be responsible for any violence or death in the world.  In fact, the idea of being responsible for it is so repugnant to Alia, she makes Diana vow to end her life herself if they cannot make it to the spring in time.

The whole reason she was on that ship in the first place was because she was trying to prove to her overprotective older brother (her only living relative) that she can live just fine on her own and doesn’t need his constant protection and supervision.  Because Alia and Diana both feel like they have so much to prove, the two of them agree to team up and thus set out on a quest to save Alia and the world.

It’s not only a race against the clock to get Alia to the spring in time, especially when the magic they’re using misfires and they make an unexpected trip to New York City instead of Greece, but it’s also a race against unexpected enemies, both mortal and otherworldly.  The Oracle apparently is not the only one who knows about Alia’s Warbringer status and there are many who want to kill her to keep the world from war as well as many others who not only want to keep her alive but they also want to prevent her from purging her Warbringer powers because they crave war.

It’s a high stakes mission for both Diana and Alia.  Can Diana and Alia work together as a team and complete this seemingly impossible quest and what will happen to both of their worlds if they are not successful?  Will Diana keep her vow to Alia and end her life if that ends up being the only way to stop the world from descending into war?

 

This is one of those times where I just want to type ‘I LOVED EVERYTHING’ and leave it at that, but I’ll try to be a little more specific, lol.

It goes without saying that I loved Diana and it was no surprise that she was a total badass, especially when she and Alia accidentally detour to New York, and encounter more than their share of bad guys.  I loved Diana’s strength, both her physical and emotional strength, as well as her strength of character. I loved that she was willing to risk everything, even banishment from her home, to save a mortal in distress.  What made me feel the most connected to Diana, however, was that Bardugo also infused her with enough vulnerability and self-doubt to make her very relatable.  She might be an Amazonian Princess, but she’s also a teenage girl who is doubting that she is worthy of her own destiny.

There’s so much more to love in this book than just Diana herself, however.  I also adored her friendship with Alia.  Even though she is a mere mortal, in many ways, Alia is just as much of a badass as Diana.  I loved how quickly they bonded and how fiercely protective of one another they are.  As we move through the story, the sisterhood Diana and Alia share seems to grow even stronger than Diana’s bond with any of her sisters from Themyscira.

There are also several other epic friendships that really made this book a winner for me.  When Alia and Diana end up in New York, Diana gets to meet several of Alia’s friends, in particular Nim and Theo.  In many ways, Nim was my favorite character in the book.  She is the friend that is there for Alia at a moment’s notice, no questions asked, and she’s also a sassy, lesbian fashionista whose wit and sarcasm kept me in stitches everytime she opened her mouth.  She also has a bit of a crush on Diana, which is just precious to watch.  Theo is a fantastic character as well.  He’s kind of a super dork, which is adorable, but like Nim, he’s there when you need him, no questions asked. Theo and Nim are fun to watch because they have a love/hate relationship.  They are constantly trading barbs and threatening to end each other, which provides a lot of comic relief in the midst of the otherwise very serious situation of trying to save the world.  It also appears that Theo, the super dork, might have a crush on Alia, so there’s a bit of subtle romance in the air for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

I’ve already mentioned that Wonder Woman: Warbringer is action-packed, which is another win for me.  Bardugo starts the story off with the adrenaline rush of this huge contest that Diana is participating in, followed immediately by the boat explosion and the ensuing chaos, and expertly keeps that action going as we move into the ensuing quest that Diana and Alia set out on and all of its dangers.  The story was fast-paced, the action never lagged, and I devoured the book in less than two days.

As is expected with any novel from Bardugo, the world building is fantastic.  She paints an incredibly vivid portrait of Themyscira (Paradise Island), which is especially helpful for anyone who might be unfamiliar with Wonder Woman’s story.  I also loved how she skillfully wove so much Greek Mythology into the tale and how seamlessly the story flowed from the immortal realm of Themyscira to the bright lights, big city environment of New York City, and finally to the rustic Mediterranean landscape of southern Greece.

The last thing I want to touch on is the Diversity.  I hadn’t really given Diversity any thought going into this book because I was so tunnel-visioned on the Wonder Woman aspect of the story, but I was pleased to see how diverse the characters in the book are.  Alia and her brother Jason are half-Greek, half African American, while Nim is Indian and a lesbian, and I believe Theo mentions that his family comes from South America.

 

I have absolutely nothing for this section.  This is the third book of Bardugo’s I have read and I am consistently impressed with the quality of her writing and her ability to create characters and worlds that I just fall in love with.  She is now an auto-buy author for me and I look forward to reading more of her works.

 

Filled with strong women, fabulous friendships, and non-stop action, I think Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a book that is sure to please both readers who were already fans of Wonder Woman, as well as those readers who know nothing about Wonder Woman going in.  If this first installment of the D.C. Icons series is any indication, readers are in for a real treat as more of the books are released. I know I’m excited for them!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

four-half-stars

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Book Review: STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Book Review:  STARFISH by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

When I first requested Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel, Starfish, I didn’t really know much about it other than the fact that it had one of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve ever seen.  I was completely unprepared for the emotional punch this book would pack.  Covering a wide spectrum of heavy subjects such as sexual and emotional abuse as well as suicide, Starfish is not an easy read by any means, but ultimately it is a powerful story about discovering who you really are and what you want out of life.

Starfish follows the story of Kiko Himura, a high school senior who suffers from social anxiety and therefore often has trouble expressing herself and fitting in.  Kiko, however, is also a gifted artist who uses her art to say what she can’t seem to say with words.  One of Kiko’s biggest dreams is to get into the prestigious Prism art school.  She feels like once she gets away from home and can throw herself into her art, her real life can finally begin.

Kiko is also half Japanese and her parents are divorced.  She lives with her mother, who is blond haired, blue eyed and is obsessed with her appearance.  She also constantly makes Kiko feel unattractive and implies that she would be more attractive if she were not of Asian descent. Her mother is also a narcissist and so whenever Kiko tries to talk to her, she always manages to twist the topic around and make it about herself.  On top of that, instead of supporting Kiko in what she is passionate about, Kiko’s mom belittles her art and can’t be bothered to attend Kiko’s art shows at school.

Then, as if Kiko’s mom isn’t bad enough, Kiko’s abusive uncle moves in with them.  After an incident that took place the last time he lived in their house when Kiko woke up and found him in her bedroom, Kiko now refuses to live in the same house as him.  She tells her mother as much, but her mom ignores her and tells her she is being overly dramatic about what happened.

Kiko longs for her mother to believe her and support her and let her know that she cares, but it just feels like that’s never going to happen.  She knows she needs to get away from the toxic environment that she is living in, but her dreams are shattered when she receives a rejection notice from Prism. Having applied to no other schools, Kiko doesn’t have a Plan B.  How will she recover from this unexpected rejection? Will she ever get the support and affection that she so craves from her mother or does Plan B involve starting over alone somewhere new?   What happens next for Kiko?

I fell in love with Kiko right away. As someone who also tends to get very anxious in social situations, I felt an immediate connection to Kiko as I watched her struggle to interact both at school and at parties.  The author did a wonderful job in those scenes of portraying social anxiety and how truly crippling it can be.

Kiko was also a favorite of mine because she’s such a sympathetic character.  In addition to her social anxiety issues, her home life is just awful.  It’s hard enough being a child of divorced parents, but it’s especially hard if you feel like the parent you’re living with doesn’t seem to care about you and either ignores you or criticizes you every time they see you.  I absolutely loathed Kiko’s mother and the way she treated Kiko.  At the same time though, I completely understood why Kiko kept trying to connect with her and kept trying to show her the art she was working on.  It’s completely natural for a child to want their parent’s approval and it was heartbreaking to watch Kiko keep getting rejected every time she tried.  I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her she deserved better because it was obviously killing Kiko’s sense of self-worth.

Even though Kiko’s mom had no interest in Kiko’s artwork, I sure did.  Some of my favorite scenes in Starfish were where we got to see Kiko immerse herself in her art.  Watching her completely at ease with herself because she’s in her element and then reading the author’s descriptions of what she was actually drawing and painting honestly made me wish the book was illustrated.  The art work sounded so gorgeous and magical!

Aside from Kiko herself, some of the other elements of Starfish I really enjoyed were the overall themes.  There is a huge focus on beauty, with a specific emphasis on the message that there is no set idea for what is considered beautiful.  We’re all beautiful in our own unique way, and someone who is Asian is just as beautiful as someone who happens to be blond and blue-eyed.  To go along with that truth about what is beautiful, there is also a huge emphasis on self-love.  You should love yourself exactly as you are and not let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

Along the lines of accepting that you’re beautiful just the way you are, Starfish can also be considered a powerful coming of age story.  After she is rejected from the art school of her dreams, Kiko embarks on a journey of self-discovery to slowly but surely figure out who she really is, what she wants from life, and how she can stand on her own two feet regardless of whether or not she has her mother’s support and approval.  It’s an often painful journey for Kiko, but in the end, it’s a beautiful one that is full of hope and promise.

One final element of the story that I liked was Kiko’s reunion with a long-lost friend from her childhood.  There is a romantic element there and I liked the way the author handled the transition from friends to lovers.  I also liked that the romance wasn’t just a way for Kiko to escape her home life, but that in a twist I really liked, it also presented Kiko with some unexpected opportunities and allowed her to make some empowering decisions about her future.

Aside from my utter dislike of Kiko’s mother, I don’t really have anything for this section.  And even though I completely disliked her, she was still an incredibly well drawn character and served an important purpose in Kiko’s story.

I think Starfish is going to be one of those books that I will continue to think about long after finishing the last page.  As I mentioned earlier, it packs an emotional punch and Kiko’s journey is one that I think many readers will relate to on some level, whether it’s the feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you’re not good enough, or dealing with a less than ideal home life.  For this reason and because the writing and storytelling is top notch, I fully expect to see Starfish on many ‘Best of’ 2017 lists before the end of the year.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moon

The Bookish Libra reviews ARTEMIS, an exciting new sci-fi thriller set on the moonArtemis by Andy Weir
four-stars
Published by Crown Publishing Group (NY) on November 14th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Andy Weir’s The Martian was one of my favorite reads from last year, so I was so excited to receive a review copy of his latest novel, Artemis.  I wasn’t convinced that it could possibly live up to the thrill of The Martian because, seriously, how do you top a survival story about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars?  But hearing that Artemis was a sci-fi thriller about carrying out a heist on the moon (!) gave me hope that Artemis would be just as entertaining a read for me as The Martian was.  And I’m excited to report that it came pretty darn close!

Artemis is actually the name of the city on the moon where the story is set.  Aside from the fact that it is covered by domes to compensate for the lack of gravity and to keep out troublesome space dust, Artemis is pretty much just like your average city or town on Earth.  Artemis has touristy areas because of course going to the moon is a huge attraction for those who can afford it.  It also has residential areas for those who reside on the moon full time.  Artemis also has a similar class system to what is on Earth, where the rich live well and the poor do what they can to scrape by.

Jazz Bashara, the main character, is one of those poor residents who does what she can to scrape by.  She works as a porter, delivering goods to residents all over Artemis, but the job barely pays her rent.  Jazz has dreams of a bigger and better life for herself and so she has a side “job” working as a smuggler to bring in a little extra income.  Street smart and incredibly resourceful, Jazz has somehow managed to corner the market on smuggling in contraband goods from Earth.  For those who are willing to pay, Jazz can get them pretty much anything they want.

Jazz is a pretty fascinating character in the sense that she doesn’t really seem to have any qualms whatsoever about engaging in criminal activities. It is this quality that makes her the ideal candidate for a scheme that one of her wealthy regulars is planning.  It’s a dangerous job, practically an impossible one, really, and one that could get her deported back to Earth if she were to get caught.  That said, however, if Jazz can pull it off, the payoff is a truly life-changing amount of money.  It may be “Mission Impossible,” but Jazz would do pretty much anything to secure that kind of income for herself.

She agrees to the job, but quickly realizes that she is in over her head.  What starts out as a challenging heist soon lands Jazz at the heart of a conspiracy to take over control of Artemis itself.  How will she get herself out of the mess she has landed in and what will happen to Artemis if the conspiracy is actually carried out?  It’s a real nail biter!

Jazz was, by far, my favorite part of Artemis.  I just found her so intriguing.  Jazz, who is in her early twenties, has come to the moon from Saudi Arabia. She is living on her own after a falling out with her father over some poor choices she has made in her young life.  Jazz is both intelligent and street smart, and she’s very resourceful.  I loved that even though she was resorting to less than legal means to supplement her income, she totally owned it and was unapologetic about what she was doing.

I also enjoyed the father-daughter dynamic between Jazz and her dad.  Jazz is not a practicing Muslim, but her father is and he’s very religious.  Because of this, some of Jazz’s lifestyle choices have created friction in their relationship.  I thought Weir did a wonderful job of portraying the nuances of this strained relationship:  the awkwardness, the disappointment, the longing to reunite, and beneath it all, the unconditional love.  I loved all of the father-daughter scenes.  They were written very realistically and tugged at my heartstrings.

I also loved the action and pacing of the novel.  Just like with The Martian, I devoured this book in about a day.  Weir does a fantastic job creating an exciting balance between “science talk” and intense, action-packed scenes as Jazz sets out to complete “mission impossible” and then especially once that initial mission goes haywire and spirals into something else entirely.  I always feel like I’m learning a lot while being thoroughly entertained at the same time when I’m reading one of Weir’s books.

Finally, the world-building was fascinating as well. I loved Weir’s vision for what a city on the moon might actually look like and I thought the shout-out to so many famous astronauts by having the different compounds named after them (Armstrong, Aldrin, etc.) was very cool.  As Jazz walked us around the city of Artemis, Weir’s attention to detail was just impeccable.  He really thought of everything when it came to how people could actually eat, sleep, work, shop, and otherwise function as a society on the moon.  As much as I loved Weir’s attention to detail, I will confess I wish he had come up with more imaginative names for their main food staple (“Gunk”) and for their smartphone equivalent (“Gizmo”).  I don’t know why, obviously a personal quirk with me, but those names just irritated me every time they came up throughout the novel.

As much as I enjoyed Jazz’s story, I did have a couple of minor issues with Artemis.

The first is that, at times, Jazz reminded me a little too much of Mark Watney, the main character from The Martian.  It was especially noticeable when I first started reading because their use of humor and sarcasm was so similar. My first thought was “Hey, Mark Watney’s on the moon now!”  Once I got to know Jazz better, it wasn’t as noticeable, but I still wish their voices were a little less similar.  Some of Jazz’s jokes, in particular, sometimes sounded to me more like something a teenage boy would say rather than a 20-something woman.  It didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story, but it did give me pause a few times because it felt like the joke didn’t quite fit the character, if that even makes sense.

Another issue I had was with Jazz and her pen pal from Earth. The main action of the story is periodically interrupted by letters to and from this guy in Kenya.  Aside from establishing that he was her contact for the contraband she’s smuggling, I just felt like they were in the way and didn’t add much to the story.  I’m sure they probably won’t bother others, but that element of the story just didn’t quite work for me.

If you enjoy good science fiction and badass protagonists, I’d definitely recommend reading Andy Weir’s Artemis.  While fans of The Martian might not find it quite as riveting as Mark Watney’s survival story on Mars, they should still find Jazz Bashara’s lunar adventures to be quite entertaining.  I’d also recommend it to those who haven’t yet read The Martian. It might prove to be even more entertaining to those who aren’t tempted to compare Artemis to The Martian.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you’ve got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she’s stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

four-stars

About Andy Weir

ANDY WEIR built a career as a software engineer until the runaway success of his debut novel, THE MARTIAN, allowed him to pursue writing full-time. He is a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects such as relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight. He lives in California.

Book Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

Book Review:  The Tethered Mage by Melissa CarusoThe Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
four-stars
Series: Swords and Fire #1
Published by Orbit on October 24th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Melissa Caruso’s novel The Tethered Mage is an engaging YA fantasy that has a little bit for everyone.  There’s incredible world building, an intricate magic system, and lots of political intrigue.  There’s also forbidden love, plenty of action scenes, and a wonderful cast of characters, with badass females leading the way.

Note:  There may be some minor spoilers.  The magic system is so unique that I felt like I had to explain some of it in detail to illustrate just how profoundly it impacts the lives of the main characters as soon as the novel begins.

* * * * *

The novel is set in the world of Eruvia, primarily in the city of Raverra.  Raverra is significant in that the governing body of Eruvia, the Empire, is seated there.  The cities of Eruvia live in relative peace, although that peace is dictated primarily by the fact that Raverra controls the majority of the rare magic that exists in their world and can therefore weaponize it at any moment if any kind of civil war were to break out.

The system of magic in Eruvia is quite intriguing, especially in the sense that those who have the magical powers don’t have free will to use their magic as they choose.  Because those who possess this rare magic are “mage-marked” by a colored ring around their irises, they are identified at an early age, taken away from their families, and conscripted into service for the Raverran Empire as what are called “Falcons.”  The magic of these Falcons is unpredictable and often destructive, so the Raverrans take their control of the Falcons even further by using a bracelet called a “jess” to suppress the magic.  Whoever places the jess on a Falcon’s wrist becomes bound to that Falcon, and thus becomes a “Falconer.”  Each Falconer is then able to control his or her falcon’s magic using special words that unleash or suppress it.  The Falcons themselves are little more than tools of the Empire.

When The Tethered Mage opens, Lady Amalia Cornaro, scholar and heir to one of the seats in Raverra’s governing council, is on her way to purchase a rare book when she encounters a young woman named Zaira, who is being accosted by a group of rough looking men.  Amalia looks to intervene but before she can do anything, Zaira suddenly turns into the equivalent of a human blow torch and starts going after her attackers with a wall of fire.  Recognizing the signs of warlock magic, a Falconer appears on the scene and seeing Amalia, hands her a jess and implores her to put it on Zaira to suppress her magic before she burns down the entire city.  Desperate to save Raverra, Amalia readily agrees and slaps the jess on Zaira, only to fully appreciate the consequences of her actions afterwards.  She is now bound to Zaira for life and is in control of her fire power.

Chaos ensues because no one on the ruling council is supposed to function as a Falconer, as having control over a Falcon’s magic could be perceived as an unfair advantage.  The problem is that once the jess bond has been established, there’s no way to undo it.  Amalia is also the sole heir to her family’s council seat, so she has no choice but to be both Falconer and council person when her time comes.  What was already a political tightrope walk just got even more complicated.  One wrong move and that tenuous peace between cities could go right out the window, especially if others feel threatened by this new fire power Amalia has inadvertently given to the Empire.

What does this mean for Amalia? For her future?  For Zaira’s future?  The two women are destined to stay tethered together until death, whether they get along or not, and Zaira is no trusting young child like the typical Falcons who come in for training.  Will Amalia be able to break through Zaira’s initial defenses and mistrust or are they destined to barely tolerate each other?

 

Zaira was actually my favorite character in The Tethered Mage.  She has spent her life living on the streets as a thief and up until the moment Amalia straps the jess on her, has managed to hide the fact that she is mage-marked and actually a rare Fire Warlock.  She is furious at Amalia for trapping her into serving the Empire against her will and goes out of her way to be difficult.  She’s street smart, feisty, and truly has no filter, which makes for some comical scenarios since Amalia has to take her everywhere she goes, even to court.  I also liked Zaira’s perspective on the laws in Raverra when it comes to the mage-marked.  All of those who were taken as children seem to just accept it for what it is and are used to it, but as an adult being forced into service, Zaira is quick to point out just how unfair it all is, that her life is basically over now aside from serving the Empire.

In addition to Zaira, there are many other fantastic female characters that I also liked.  Lady Amalia of course is fascinating to watch as she attempts to juggle all of the roles she is forced to play throughout the story.  I also enjoyed watching her try to figure out how to break through Zaira’s thorny exterior so they can at least tolerate each other now that they are stuck with each other.

Lady Amalia’s mother, the Contessa, is another fabulous character.  She is one of the most powerful people in Raverra and she is someone you do not want to cross.

In addition to these wonderfully drawn characters, I also thought the system of magic, which I’ve already described above, was very well thought out by the author.  I loved the intricacies of the magic itself – the way some of the powers are more destructive as with fire and storm warlocks, while other magical abilities have more to do with science and alchemy.  I also enjoyed the exploration of the ethics of Raverra with respect to the control of the magic.  Who are they to decide that a person shouldn’t be in control of their own magic and that they have to serve the Empire?

There’s also a budding romance in The Tethered Mage and I liked how the author handled it.  It was subtle and didn’t overshadow the rest of the story, and it was also more interesting than the typical romance:  1) because it’s a forbidden romance because the couple is unevenly matched in terms of social standing, and 2) because the one who forbids it is the Contessa and as I’ve already mentioned, she is not someone you want to cross, if at all possible.

One issue I had with The Tethered Mage was the heavy emphasis on politics and political discussions, particularly in the middle of the book.  I could see this aspect of the book being what will either make or break this story for some readers.  I personally love politics and reading about who may be plotting against who, and what they’re going to do about it, etc. But even as much as I enjoy that kind of plot development, I started to get tired of all of the sitting around discussing and wanted them to just do something.  I had a moment where I thought about giving up on the book, but I pushed through since I had been enjoying it so much prior to the lull in the action, and thankfully, the action picked back up soon after.

With its fascinating cast of characters, incredible world building, intricate magic system, and its emphasis on political intrigue, The Tethered Mage is the perfect introduction to Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire series.  I look forward to reading the next installment when it becomes available.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.

four-stars

About Melissa Caruso

Melissa Caruso is the author of THE TETHERED MAGE, first in the Swords and Fire trilogy, out now from Orbit books.

The Bookish Libra reviews the riveting thriller ONE PERFECT LIE

The Bookish Libra reviews the riveting thriller ONE PERFECT LIEOne Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 11th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Lisa Scottoline’s One Perfect Lie is a riveting thriller that sucked me in from the very first sentence:  “Chris Brennan was applying for a teaching job at Central Valley High School, but he was a fraud.”

From the first moment of the novel, the main character Chris Brennan is painted as a master manipulator and liar.  As Chris sits in the principal’s office interviewing for a job as a government teacher and assistant baseball coach at Central Valley High School, it immediately becomes clear that he is lying every step of the way.  While presenting himself as the picture perfect candidate to fill the teaching position, Chris is also sitting there contemplating his real motivation for securing this job… and guess what? It has absolutely nothing to do with teaching.  Chris’s thoughts are dark, sinister, and potentially deadly.

Because he’s perfect on paper and is able to easily lie his way through the interview, Chris lands the job and immediately begins to put step one of his real plan into motion.  He needs a teenage boy to help him carry out his plan and, through prior research he has conducted of the classes he will teach and the baseball team he will coach, Chris has identified three prospective boys.  First is Evan Kostis, who is popular, good looking, and comes from a wealthy family. Then there’s Jordan Larkin, who is shy and tends to be a bit of a follower, and the final candidate, Raz Sematov, who has a bit of a bad boy vibe.  Like a predator, Chris observes these three boys intently for several days trying to determine which of them possesses the qualities he needs.

Scottoline had my full attention by this point as Chris’s ominous plot started to unfold.  I ended up reading One Perfect Lie in less than a day.  I literally could not stop turning the pages because the suspense was so great. I just had to know who Chris really was, what he was up to, what his motivations were, and most especially, why he needed a boy to help him carry out his seemingly sinister plan.

Holy Plot Twist, Batman!  One of my favorite parts about One Perfect Lie was that after all of the setup that I just wrote about, Scottoline throws an unexpected wrench into the story that made me have to throw out every assumption I had built up in my mind about Chris Brennan and start all over again.  I can’t really go into any details without spoiling the main action of the story, but it definitely threw me for a loop and took the story in an entirely different direction that I was expecting it to go.

I also liked the use of multiple points of view to unravel the mystery of this story.  One Perfect Lie is told from the perspective not just of Chris Brennan, master liar, but also from the perspectives of the mothers of Evan, Jordan, and Raz. While Chris was the expected point of view, the mothers surprised me since I would have expected to hear from the boys.  I really liked Scottoline’s use of the mothers though.  From Susan Sematov’s perspective, we learn that Raz’s whole family is reeling from the unexpected death of Raz’s father a few months earlier, while from the perspective of Mindy Kostis, we learn that Evan is caught up in a life of drama that would rival Desperate Housewives. And finally, from Heather Larkin’s perspective, we learn that she is a single mom trying to make ends meet and therefore isn’t around for Jordan as much as she would like to be.  Watching the story unfold from these POVs gave a lot of insight into the home lives of the three boys and what it was about each of them that drew Chris to them.  It also revealed that Chris Brennan isn’t the only one walking around with secrets and lies, adding an element of juicy domestic drama to an already captivating mystery.

Scottoline does a fabulous job building up suspense throughout the story too.  As I mentioned earlier, I literally could not put this book down once I got started.  The mystery was just so engaging, and then there were just so many lies that needed to be unraveled.  The pacing was quick and consistent, which was nice, and I can’t recall ever being bored while I was reading.

Even though I plowed through the book in less than a day, I still had a couple of issues with it.  I sat on this review for a week just to see if these things still bothered me and yes, they still do.

  1. There’s some drama early on about needing to rent a truck from a business that would allow a teenage driver to pick up the truck. I’m intentionally being vague here because of spoilers, but the gist of my issue is that this scene is presented in such a way that it makes it seem like it’s crucial to the storyline, but then it’s never mentioned again. It left me very confused since I kept waiting to see when the truck would fit into the storyline.
  1. There’s an action sequence near the end that just felt didn’t feel realistic to me. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely made for great entertainment, but since the rest of the story felt so realistic, it just felt really out there in comparison, like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger action hero movie.  Trust me, you’ll know exactly the scene I’m referring to when you get there.

Even with the couple of issues I had, I still very much enjoyed this read.  With its intricate plot, riveting suspense, and a memorable cast of characters, One Perfect Lie is sure to please any reader who enjoys a great mystery.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

three-half-stars

About Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 28 novels, including her latest, ONE PERFECT LIE, which releases in April 2017. Her previous emotional thriller, MOST WANTED, has been optioned for a TV series. Lisa also co-authors a bestselling series of humorous memoir with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, which is based on their weekly Philadelphia Inquirer column titled “Chick Wit.” These witty and hysterical books examine life from a woman’s perspective, and the most recent book is, I’VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. The first in the series, WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG, has been optioned for TV. Lisa reviews popular fiction and non-fiction, and her reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, “Justice and Fiction” at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. Lisa is a regular and much sought after speaker at library and corporate events. Lisa has over 30 million copies of her books in print and is published in over 35 countries. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rockstar Book Tours: Dear Martin Review & Giveaway

Rockstar Book Tours:  Dear Martin Review & GiveawayDear Martin by Nic Stone
four-half-stars
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on October 17th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: a Blog Giveaway
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from a Blog Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Blog Tour for Nic Stone’s powerful new novel, Dear Martin.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for your chance to win a finished copy of DEAR MARTIN.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the Dear Martin Blog Tour!

MY REVIEW:

Dear Martin is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and most important books I’ve read this year.  It follows the story of high school student Justyce Mcallister.  Through Justyce’s eyes, readers see firsthand what it’s like to be a young black man in America.  We experience the fear and the frustration of constantly having to worry about being singled out by police, or even shot and killed, because of the color of your skin, the clothes that you’re wearing, or perhaps even the type of music that you’re listening to and how loud you have that music turned up.

Justyce has worked hard all his life in order to secure the best future possible for himself.  He thinks everything is going his way too until one fateful night when he is stopped by a police officer and immediately placed in handcuffs.  It doesn’t matter that Justyce is an “A” student and that he has been accepted to an Ivy League university; the police officer just automatically assumes that Justyce is up to no good.

The racial profiling is blatant and it makes Justyce all the more sensitive to the racism that goes on around him every day.  When he returns to school, for example, one of his white classmates (and someone he thought was a friend) implies that the only reason Justyce got into an Ivy League school was because of his race and Affirmative Action.  Not only does the student accuse Justyce of not having truly earned his spot at the university, but the implication is that Justyce stole the white student’s spot as well.

Justyce is not only frustrated by these comments but also by comments from those he grew up with who accuse of him forgetting his roots and selling out because he moved out of their rough and poor neighborhood to go to a better school.

When the unthinkable happens and someone near to him is killed in an incident involving a white off-duty police officer, Justyce is left feeling caught between two worlds and alone.

Armed with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, (the “Dear Martin” of the title), Justyce takes us on what is ultimately a journey of self-discovery.  His story is raw, gritty, and poignant, but it is still ultimately a hopeful one.

 

Justyce of course was my favorite part of Dear Martin.  He is not only an extremely likable character, but he is also a much needed voice in YA literature.  There aren’t nearly enough books out there with young male protagonists, and especially persons of color.  Nic Stone makes Justyce give a voice to every other young man who has experienced similar kinds of prejudice and/or who has been racially profiled..

Justyce is also a great character because he is so complex and well-developed.  The journey that we go on with him is so poignant, especially experiencing the wide range of emotions he goes through – the initial almost disbelief that such blatant racism still exists, the mounting frustration as he realizes it’s all around him, and the questions that run through is mind about how to deal with it.  Nic Stone does a beautiful job of fleshing out this character from every angle.

I also liked that Dear Martin packed such a huge punch with so few words.  It’s only about 200 or so pages long, which would make it ideal for Required Reading at schools (hint, hint!), and it’s 200 of the most powerful and relevant pages I’ve read this year.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of action and riveting dialogue that I think would keep even the most reluctant reader engaged.

The Dear Martin letters that Justyce was writing throughout the story were another highlight for me.  I loved the balance between those letters and the rest of the action of the story.  The letters Justyce wrote were so reflective and conveyed every emotion he was feeling as he tried to process everything that was confronting him.  They also powerfully illustrated how badly he wanted guidance to know how to survive in such a racist world “What Would Martin Do?”, along with his questions about whether or not the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were still relevant today.

 

I have to admit that at first I was a little down on the romantic relationship in Dear Martin.  (Yes, my usual lament that not every YA contemporary needs to have romance.)  In the case of Dear Martin, while I liked the relationship itself and thought the couple was a great match, I just felt like it was a little distracting from the main themes of the story.  But then Nic Stone did something that changed my mind — she took what was seemingly a distraction and, through a conversation between Justyce and his mother, ended up tying it right back to one of her novel’s most important messages — that no one, white, black, or any other color, should be judged based on the color of their skin.  Taking what could have been a potential distraction and linking to one of the central points of the story made the romance work much better for me than I thought it was going to.

 

Dear Martin is a book that everyone should read.  I really wish this book had been around back when I was teaching high school because I just know Justyce’s story would have resonated with so many of my students.  It not only powerfully tackles important social issues such as racism, racial profiling, and police brutality, but Nic Stone has also delivered a beautifully written story with a captivating and complex main character that you’ll fall in love with.  I look forward to reading more from her and just can’t recommend Dear Martin highly enough.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBDGoodreads

 

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of DEAR MARTIN, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

DEAR MARTIN TOUR SCHEDULE:

 

Week One:

10/16/2017- LILbooKlovers Interview

10/17/2017- YA Bibliophile– Review

10/18/2017- Mama Reads Blog– Guest Post

10/19/2017- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

10/20/2017- Eli to the nth– Excerpt

Week Two:

10/23/2017- Chasing Faerytales– Review

10/24/2017- Omg Books and More Books– Interview

10/25/2017- BookHounds YA– Review

10/26/2017- Novel Novice– Guest Post

10/27/2017- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

10/30/2017- Never Too Many To Read– Review

10/31/2017- Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook Interview

11/1/2017- Reese’s Reviews– Excerpt

11/2/2017- Novel Ink– Review

11/3/2017- Wandering Bark Books– Guest Post

Week Four:

11/6/2017- Amanda Gernentz Hanson– Review

11/7/2017- Lisa Loves Literature– Excerpt

11/8/2017- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

11/9/2017- Lost in Ever After– Interview

11/10/2017- A Backwards Story– Review

 

 

four-half-stars

About Nic Stone

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

You can find her goofing off and/or fangirling over her husband and sons on most social media platforms as @getnicced.

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – MARKED BEAUTY Book Review & Giveaway

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – MARKED BEAUTY Book Review & GiveawayMarked Beauty by S.A. Larsen
four-stars
Published by Ellysian Press on October 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 305
Source: the Author
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for S.A. Larsen’s exciting new novel, Marked Beauty.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for a $25 Amazon Gift Card.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the Marked Beauty Blog Tour!

 

MY REVIEW:

 

S.A. Larsen’s Marked Beauty is a fresh and imaginative YA contemporary fantasy that follows high school student, Anastasia Tate, or Ana as she is called. For most of her life, Ana has been carrying around a secret: she’s an empath and can feel the emotions of those around her. Not only can she feel their emotions, but she can actually see them as well. Everyone she meets has colored life energy auras floating around them.  It’s not an ability that she fully understands and so the emotions of others often overwhelm her, so most days she just tries to get by while drawing as little attention to herself as possible.  When she senses a dark shadowy presence stalking her at school one day, it becomes clear that life as she has known it is about to change.

That same dark shadowy presence nearly costs Ana and her best friend, Katee, their lives, but a young man named Viktor Castle intervenes and rescues them.  Viktor, however, is no ordinary young man.  He possesses abilities of his own and is also carrying around a secret – Viktor is the victim of an ancient curse and Ana is the only one who can set him free.  His original purpose for being in the right place at the right time is to retrieve Ana so that he can free himself, but once he sees her, he decides he can’t go through with it and instead vows to protect her at all costs, even if it means he is cursed forever.

From the moment she lays eyes on Viktor, Ana senses that the two of them have a connection that she has never experienced before.  It’s an undeniable attraction.  Ana also senses that he has the answers to questions she has had all her life about her abilities and so she begins to question him relentlessly and gets furious when he evades her questions at every turn.  What Ana doesn’t realize, because she doesn’t know the full extent of her history and where her powers come from, is that by interceding and saving her life, Viktor has actually put her in even more danger.

Will Viktor finally come clean to Ana and answer all of her questions about her powers and about this bond that the two of them clearly share?  Will Ana and Viktor be able to escape the dark forces that threaten both of their lives?

There’s so much to love about Marked Beauty.   There’s mystery, action and adventure,  romance, a lush fantasy world, and ancient curses, as well as characters that will immediately draw you in and keep you invested in their stories.

I especially enjoyed the main character, Ana.  I thought the author did a brilliant job of illustrating her empathic powers and how challenging and often overwhelming they could be for Ana, while still infusing Ana with qualities such as being feisty, determined, and quite often stubborn.  She has these powers that she’s not quite sure what to make of, but once she decides she wants to know everything about them, there’s no stopping her.  That realistic and relatable mix of strong and determined yet somewhat vulnerable had me cheering Ana on from the first pages of the story.

Viktor was also a great character.  I loved the sense of mystery that surrounded him from the moment he enters the story.  I also liked that even though he knew Ana was the only way to free himself from this curse, he chooses the selfless route instead and vows to protect Ana and keep her hidden from those who would love to harness her power and use it for their own sinister purposes.

The unique fantasy world that S.A. Larsen has created was really what kept me so mesmerized by this story.  I really enjoyed how the novel itself is set in a normal high school contemporary setting, but that just below the surface, there’s this rich fantasy world filled with the Lynceus, Rifters, hybrids, the mysterious Sixth, bloodprints, life energy auras, family curses, and so much more.

I don’t want to give too much away about the fantasy world since I think it’s best to watch the details of the mystery unfold for yourself and see how they ultimately tie back to both Ana and Viktor and their families, but it’s definitely one of the most intriguing fantasy worlds I’ve encountered.  I also kept finding myself thinking about what a great film this story would make.  The descriptions of the auras, in particular, were so lush and vivid that I just kept wishing I could actually see them for myself on film.

While the mystery of finding out how this fantasy world relates back to Ana was my favorite part of Marked Beauty, I have to admit that I also enjoyed the romantic aspect of the story as well.  Those who follow my reviews are probably shocked since I’m usually quite critical of romance in YA fantasy and I’ll admit that I had a moment of ‘OMG, no. It’s instalove!’ but I changed my mind.  Yes, Ana and Viktor are immediately attracted to one another, but in this case, there’s a clear reason for it because they’ve been somehow bound together by this curse.  Their destinies were intertwined back before they ever met, so I was okay with them having that instant bond.  The bond is what initially brings them together, but they do end up having enough chemistry that it worked for me.

I can’t say that I had many issues at all with Marked Beauty.  The only thing that dropped it from a 5 star to a 4 star rating for me was that I occasionally had a little trouble following the mystery of the curse and how it related to Ana.  The story itself is fascinating but some of the details were so intricate that they lost me once in a while.  That said, by the end, all of my questions were answered so I was satisfied even though I had that occasional confusion about what was happening and why.

If you’re into fantasies that are filled with action, romance, mystery, and a hint of danger, I’d say give Marked Beauty a chance.  S.A. Larsen has created a unique fantasy world that I definitely wouldn’t mind visiting again.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Uncovering hidden secrets can sometimes kill you . . . or worse, steal your soul.

Anastasia Tate has a secret. She can feel the emotions of others through their life energy auras. Not a welcome gift for a teenager. Especially when a sinister presence begins stalking her.

Viktor Castle also has a secret. He’s tasked with protecting humanity yet cursed by an ancient evil to destroy it.

After Viktor saves Ana’s life, her abilities grow stronger. Drawn together, she senses Viktor has answers to lifelong questions. Only he shuns her at every turn, knowing he has saved her only to put her in more danger. As Ana struggles with her attraction to Viktor, he tries everything to bury his unexpected feelings for her. But they must find a middle ground. For only together can they combat the dark forces threatening both their lives . . . and their souls.

 

Purchase Links:

Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks

 

Blog Tour Giveaway:

One (1) winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card (INT)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

four-stars

About S.A. Larsen

S.A. LARSEN is the author of the award-winning novel Motley Education, the first book in a fantasy-adventure series for middle grade readers. Her work has appeared in numerous local publications and young adult anthologies Gears of Brass and Under A Brass Moon by Curiosity Quills Press. Marked Beauty is her debut young adult novel. Find her in the land of snowy winters and the occasional Eh’ya with her husband of over twenty-five years, four children, a playful pooch, and three kittens. Visit her cyber home anytime at www.salarsenbooks.com.

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – 27 HOURS Book Review & Giveaway

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – 27 HOURS Book Review & Giveaway27 Hours (The Nightside Saga, #1) by Tristina Wright
three-half-stars
Series: The Nightshade Saga #1
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 404
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for Tristina Wright’s exciting new novel, 27 Hours.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for a 27 Hours Prize Pack.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the 27 Hours Blog Tour!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

Tristina Wright’s YA science fiction debut, 27 Hours, is a diverse and imaginative, action-packed story that follows four teenagers who are trying to save life as they know it from certain destruction.

The story is set on a distant moon named Sahara, where nights last 27 hours and where three groups of individuals are not-so-peacefully coexisting.  First, we have the humans from Earth who, over the course of the past 150 or so years, have traveled to and colonized Sahara.  Second, we have the Chimera (or Gargoyles, as the humans refer to them).  The Chimera are actually a species indigenous to Sahara, so the human colonists have encroached on their land by settling there.  Not only have the colonists taken their land, but they have also deemed the Chimera dangerous monsters and have done everything in their power to eradicate as many as possible and force those that remain underground.  Needless to say, tensions between these two groups run high and they battle often.

Lastly, we have another group of humans, the forest rebels, who believe that peaceful coexistence between humans and Chimera is entirely possible.  Because they disagree with the colonists’ beliefs about the Chimera, this group chose to abandon the colonies and live on their own in the forest.  The colonists consider the forest rebels to be traitors.

While relationships between these groups has never been good, things come to a head when a group of Chimera launch a lethal assault on HUB2, one of the major hubs where the colonists live, leaving behind only one survivor, Rumor Mora.  Rumor, who has been fed stories about how monstrous the Chimera are and been trained to fight them all his life, flees to the nearby colony of Epsilon to warn them in case the Chimera expand their attacks out to other colonies.

While at Epsilon, reeling from what has happened, Rumor becomes acquainted with a diverse group of teenagers and together they learn there is more to this Chimera attack than what they have originally been led to believe.  Realizing that someone is keeping secrets that could be getting people killed, they decide to strike out on their own to uncover the truth, and in doing so, to hopefully put a stop to the conflict once and for all.

Will they be successful or are they doomed to suffer the same fate as the first hub that was destroyed by the Chimera?

 

If you think 27 Hours sounds like an intense, action-packed story, you’d be right.  I love a story that has lots of great action scenes and this one truly delivers in the action department.  It quite literally starts off with a bang when the Chimera attack HUB2, and there is rarely a lull in the action from that moment on.

Wright skillfully weaves plenty of tension and suspense into the story by making it a race against the clock.  The humans can only stop the Chimera while they are above ground, and the Chimera only come above ground at night.  Once they go back underground, no one knows where the Chimera will next surface so Rumor and his friends must uncover the truth and stop the attacks before the night is over.  Since a night on Sahara lasts for 27 hours, that’s their timeline and the clock is already ticking when the novel begins.

In addition to the action and the suspense, I also loved the diversity that is present in this cast of characters. It’s truly the most diverse cast I’ve ever come across.  There’s Rumor, who is biracial as well as bisexual; Nyx, who is deaf, pansexual, and Latina; Dahlia, who is black, trans, and bisexual; Jude, who is gay; Braeden, who is asexual; and Yi-Min, who is gender neutral and prefers to go by “they” pronouns.

What was especially fantastic about all of this representation was that it was the norm rather than the exception in the colonies.  Instead, being straight and white was the exception. This futuristic society has reached a point where racism and homophobia seem to have disappeared and everyone is accepted for who they are without question.  As I was reading, I just really liked Wright’s vision for our society and hope that we’ll continue to strive to get there sooner than 150-200 years from now.

I also liked that 27 Hours explored some big themes as well: prejudice (against other species, in this case), loss and grieving, friendship, love, and, finally, humans vs. monsters and the question of which one of them really is monstrous.

 

I’m not going to call them dislikes, but I did have a few areas that caused some issues for me while I was reading.  I wish these had been clearer or more fleshed out.  If they had, this would have definitely been a solid 4 star read for me.

Lack of connection with the main characters.  27 Hours is presented from the perspective of four of the teens who are working together:  Rumor, Nyx, Braeden, and Jude.  I sympathized with each of these characters because of all they were going through – the confusion, the loss of loved ones, the fight for survival, etc. but I can’t say that I felt like I really connected with any of them.   I’m hopeful that will change in future books in the series.

Missing points of view.  While I liked seeing the story told from the perspective of each of these teens, I would have also liked getting some chapters from the point of view of one of the Chimera.  I just think it would have taken the story to the next level to give them a voice, instead of just hearing their story relayed through Jude, the forest rebel teen.

I also would have liked the worldbuilding to be a little clearer up front.  I think by the end of the book I had a clear picture of what life on Sahara was like, but it really did take most of the story for me to put all of the pieces together into a cohesive picture that made sense to me.

Lastly, and if you read my reviews, you probably know what I’m going to talk about next: yep, the romance.  Okay, to be fair, I actually liked the pairings that Wright was trying to put forth in this story.  Nyx and Dahlia were cute together, as were Rumor and Jude.  My issue was the trying to squeeze all of these budding romances into this 27-hour window when they’re supposed to be trying to save human kind.  How is there time for the grabbing of butts and the random “I’ll show you something hard” jokes?  On more than one occasion, I found myself yelling at them:  “Come on, kids! Save the world first, unleash your hormones second!”

 

While 27 Hours was not a perfect read for me, it was definitely a thrilling one.  I loved how unique the story was, as well as the energy of the book, the nonstop action, and the important themes that Wright tackled. I also enjoyed watching these teens come into their own and am ready to get to know them even better in the next book in the series, especially after the ominous cliffhanger ending that Wright leaves her readers with!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Amazon Australia | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled

 

 

Giveaway Details:

 

A 27 Hours Prize Pack, including:

* A 27 Hours Candle

* A set of 27 Hours Character Cards

* AND a copy of an October release *

*Open internationally wherever The Book Depository ships

a Rafflecopter giveaway

three-half-stars

About Tristina Wright

Tristina Wright is a blue-haired bisexual with anxiety and opinions. She’s also possibly a mermaid, but no one can get confirmation. She fell in love with science fiction and fantasy at a young age and frequently got caught writing in class instead of paying attention. She enjoys worlds with monsters and kissing and monsters kissing. She married a nerd who can build computers and make the sun shine with his smile. Most days, she can be found drinking coffee from her favorite chipped mug and making up more stories for her wombfruit, who keep life exciting and unpredictable.

Book Review: The Hundredth Queen

Book Review:  The Hundredth QueenThe Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen, #1) by Emily R. King
three-half-stars
Series: The Hundredth Queen #1
Published by Skyscape on June 1st 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 291
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Okay, so I have to admit that what initially drew me to this book were the first lines of the synopsis:  “He wanted a warrior queen. He got a revolutionary.” That just screamed kick ass heroine to me so I couldn’t wait to dive into Emily King’s The Hundredth Queen, the first book in The Hundredth Queen series.  The Hundredth Queen follows eighteen-year-old Kalinda, a sickly orphan girl who is a ward of the Sisterhood. Because she has been prone to fevers her entire life, she has not received much of the training that her fellow wards have received.  This makes her a very unlikely candidate for the future that most of her fellow wards wish for – that of being ‘claimed’ by a royal family. Wards who are ‘claimed’ go on to become servants, or sometimes even courtesans or wives.

Kalinda is fully prepared to join the Sisterhood when the time comes and live a life of seclusion and prayer.  In fact, she’d much prefer this over the alternative.  When Rajah Tarek, who has the reputation of being a tyrant, comes to the Sisterhood looking to claim a new courtesan, as well as his 100th wife, Kalinda and her beloved friend Jaya conspire so as not to be chosen by Rajah.  Their plan unfortunately backfires and Rajah chooses Kalinda to be his 100th wife, taking her away from Jaya and the only life she has ever known.

What Kalinda soon learns is that being the 100th wife means she must take part in a Rank Tournament to defend her place among Rajah’s other wives and courtesans and that the Rank Tournament is basically a fight to the death.  Kalinda is horrified by the idea that all of these women are willing to kill each other just to improve their wifely ranking and is desperate to find a way out of her predicament, especially since she has no interest in being Rajah’s wife.  Instead, she has fallen head over heels for one of Rajah’s guards, Captain Deven Naik.  Kalinda wants nothing more than to find a way to escape her unwanted fate and be with the man she loves.  Her best chance for escape comes when she learns that those fevers she has suffered from all her life are actually so much more than just fevers.  Instead, they are a manifestation of a latent power she possesses but that the Sisterhood has kept hidden by dosing her with a “fever” tonic.  Why?  Because the power Kalinda possesses is forbidden and could mean death if the wrong people were to find out about it.

Can Kalinda harness this power while keeping it a secret from those who would harm her?  And can she use it to escape this death match that Rajah has set her up for?

Kalinda was definitely my favorite part of The Hundredth Queen. I always enjoy reading about an underdog that I can root for and with her fevers and lack of training, she is immediately presented in the role of the underdog.  As I was reading about the ‘Claiming’ process and seeing how few options women have in this society, I was completely turned off, so I found Kalinda very relatable as soon as it became clear that she felt the same way I did about the few choices women had. After seeing that all she wanted was to be able to choose her own path rather than have it dictated to her, it was that much more heart-wrenching to see her taken away and therefore separated from Jaya, who is obviously like a sister to her.

I continued to relate to Kalinda once she learned about the Rank Tournament and was horrified to find out what all of these women are willing to do to each other just to compete for Rajah’s attention.  The treatment of women in the book is truly appalling, and Kalinda’s recognition of that, along with those first lines of the synopsis made me perk up once more:  Is Kalinda going to be the revolutionary who changes everything?

As awful as the idea of the Rank Tournament was, I have to admit that the training scenes and especially the combat scenes in the novel are pretty amazing.  Those wives and courtesans are not people you want to end up on the wrong side of.  They are fierce and they’re willing to fight dirty to get what they want.  Lakia, Rajah’s number 1 wife is especially vicious and I feared for Kalinda on more than one occasion because Lakia really seems to have it in for her.

Aside from a relatable underdog main character and some epic action scenes, another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the forbidden magic.  Those who possess the magic are called Bhuta and they are just fascinating.  Rajah has had many of them killed over the years, but those who have survived are in hiding and hoping to find a way to strike back at Rajah.  We don’t learn too much about them in this book, so I hope they will be explored in more depth in future books in the series.  What we do know is that their powers appear to be elemental, based on earth, wind, air, and fire.

Even though I enjoyed The Hundredth Queen overall, I did have some issues with it. My biggest issue with it lies in the relationship between Kalinda and Captain Deven Naik.  As soon as Kalinda and Deven see each other for the first time, they’re mutually obsessed, and for no apparent reason.  For me, it just felt awkward and forced since there was no build up to it at all.  It was 100% instalove, which never works well for me. What I also didn’t like though was the way Kalinda keeps putting Deven in compromising positions.  She knows full well that Rajah will kill Deven if he suspects Deven and Kalinda are romantically involved, but yet she keeps talking to him in private and otherwise calling attention to themselves when they should be keeping a safe distance from each other.  At one point she even kisses him where anyone could have walked in and caught them.  I just didn’t care very much for her reckless behavior.  Deven of course is equally to blame.  If he wants to stay alive, he needs to stay away from Rajah’s soon-to-be wife.  It’s not rocket science.

I honestly thought Kalinda had a lot more chemistry with a character named Brac.  He is one of the magical Bhuta, and while I don’t want to say too much about him because of spoilers, he actually ended up being one of my favorite characters and I preferred his interactions with Kalinda’s to her interactions with Deven.

One other issue I had was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of the Rank Tournament.  It didn’t make sense to me that these women were really willing to die or to murder someone else in order to reach a higher wifely rank or else to move from courtesan status to wife status.  I would have liked more explanation about why these women were so eager to challenge each other and if there was some other point to it aside from getting more attention from Rajah.  Speaking of Rajah, I also didn’t really understand why he was so obsessed with following some obscure legend step-by-by, especially since it meant his chosen women had to kill each other.  Following this legend is why he instituted the Rank Tournament in the first place and it was unclear to me why it was important enough to him to warrant killing people.  Those areas of the storytelling were a little vague and I would have liked them fleshed out more.

Even though I clearly had some issues with The Hundredth Queen, I still found it to be an entertaining read overall.  I’m definitely invested enough in Kalinda’s story to pick up the second book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

three-half-stars

About Emily R. King

Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the USA, she has perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat.