Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Time for another beauty by Renee Ahdieh! She is quickly becoming oNE of my favorite authors and when the ARC  (advanced reader copy) of Flame in the Mist came into the store, my coworkers were nice enough to make sure it wound up in my hands!

Synopsis

There was only ever one expectation for Mariko, a prominent samurai’s daughter: that she would marry. Her twin brother was the one trained in the way of the warrior while Mariko was left to nurture her love of science and invention in secret. But on her way to the imperial city, where she was to meet her betrothed for the very first time, her convoy is attacked and everything changes. The assassins kill everyone – or so they think. Despite almost being burned alive, Mariko escapes.

Driven by vengeance, she flees the forest and seeks out her would-be assassins, the Black Clan, joining their ranks disguised as a peasant boy. She’s determined to discover who ordered her death and why – and to make them pay. Little does she expect to fall in love. And never did she expect to have to choose between them and everything she’s ever known. But when the secrets of the imperial city, the Black Clan, and her family converge, choose is exactly what she must do.

Review

Firstly, YAY GIRL POWER! Reading a new book by Renee Ahdieh reminds me just how much I really do love her first duology, The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger. I had been holding off on reading Flame in the Mist until I was going on vacation because I knew once I got to the really good and juicy parts about halfway in, I wouldn’t be able to put it down – and I certainly did not want anything to interfere with my ability to read it straight through!

As with my review of Wrath and Dawn last week, I marvel over Renee Ahdieh’s storytelling. She creates such compelling characters and intricate plot lines that I love to sink my teeth into. She also has been some of the wittiest protagonists I have ever read to date. Her female protagonists are feminists – proud and fierce but still have their weaknesses and flaws. Her love interests for said feminist protagonists remind me of a certain male in A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy in the sense that they are loyal to their women and encouraging them be themselves 100%.

But back to Flame in the Mist specifically – I love the take on Japanese mythology (it is not at all based on Mulan, whatever rumors you may hear) and how Renee Ahdieh twists in a bit of Robin Hood lore as well (whether it is purposeful or coincidence I’m not sure, but I love it!). Mariko is a protagonist to be admired as well, and Ahdieh’s now trademark style of romance is still swoon-worthy, even for the most callused and cold-hearted of readers. I recommend it thoroughly and I cannot wait for the second book in the duology next May!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $17.99 • 9780399171635 • 416 pages • published May 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.03 out of 5 stars • read in August 2017

Renee Ahdieh’s Website

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Flame in the Mist

 

Fiction, Historical, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I purchased Leviathan shortly after I started working at a bookstore, nearly two years ago. It was not, however, until Scott Westerfeld came to said bookstore back in the spring that I remembered that I had the book at home, still sitting on my shelf unread. After a friend finished all three in the series in the course of one night, and I watched Wonder Woman, set during World War I as well, that I figured it was about time I finally read Leviathan.

Synopsis

Alek is a prince without a throne. On the run from his own people, he has only a fighting machine and a small band of men.

Deryn is a girl disguised as a guy in the British Air Service. She must fight for her cause – and protect her secret – at all costs.

Alek and Deryn are thrown together aboard the mighty airship Leviathan. Though fighting side by side, their worlds are far apart. British fabricated beasts versus German steam-powered war machines. They are enemies with everything to lose, yet somehow destined to be together.

Review

Like Marie Lu, Scott Westerfeld is an author who walks the line between middle grades and young adult. Each of his series, and there are many, including the Uglies, are accessible reads for middle schoolers, high schoolers, and adults alike. His effective storytelling and dynamic characters insures that one will never be bored when reading his books and they have great staying power – Uglies, published over 10 years ago, is still a staple in bookstores and on school reading lists.

But I wasn’t particularly intrigued by Uglies, I was much more intrigued by Westerfeld’s take on the start of World War I and his Darwinists and Clankers. The British Darwinists have woven together the “life-threads” of various animals to create everything from great flying whale ships to messenger lizards and many “beasties” inbetween. The German & Austrohungarians have crafted mechanical machines, referred to as “clankers.” Main characters Alek and Deryn are often trying to one-up each other in terms of determining which are better, beasties or clankers. Steampunk definitely suits Westerfeld’s storytelling style.

Leviathan, told in third person but in alternating perspectives between Deryn (Dylan) and Alek, weaves together a complex tapestry of the motivations behind the start of World War I, blending fact and fiction until you have to forcibly remind yourself that the British didn’t set off across the continent in a giant whale zeppelin. As with LegendLeviathan is the perfect book for both boys and girls of all ages, especially for teenagers who love a good adventure that doesn’t center on romance.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $11.99 • 9781416971740 • 440 pages • originally published October 2009, this edition published August 2010 by Simon Pulse • average Goodreads rating 3.91 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Scott Westerfeld’s Website

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Leviathan (2)

Fiction, Historical, Young Adult

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

As a lover of WWII historical fiction, I had heard that Between Shades of Gray would most likely be a book I would enjoy. When I happened to find it by chance at a used bookstore in Center City Philadelphia, I knew I needed to get it. After meeting Ruta Sepetys back in January of 2016, I was even more excited to read it!

Synopsis

A knock comes at the door in the dead of night, and Lina’s life changes in an instant. With her young brother and mother, she is hauled away by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania and thrown into a cattle car en route to Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina secretly passes along clues in the form of drawings, hoping they will reach his prison camp. But will her letters, or her courage, be enough to reunite her family? Will they be enough to keep her alive?

Review

First, I read Salt to the Sea (review to come later), in a day and a half – for a slow reader like myself, that was quite speedy. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ruta’s storytelling and gnawing, sinking feeling I felt while reading, knowing the MV Wilhelm Gustloff’s fate. And I realized that any writer who can tell a story that I cannot forget must be amazing, so it was time to read Between Shades of Gray.

Ruta turned her magic storytelling to a topic near and dear to her heart – the plight of Lithuanian refugees. The daughter of a Lithuanian refugee who spent years in refugee camps after suffering horrors during the war, she has a unique perspective on a war story not often told. She made the world of the Soviet gulags so real. The absolutely terrifying world of Siberia and the horrors of what the Soviets did to their prisoners. To women and children. I cried. I bawled my eyes out.

Not only to I love Ruta Sepetys’ storytelling. But, I also love how open and welcoming Ruta herself is. I had the opportunity to meet her again last month and when I ran into her outside of her autographing session, I asked her kindly if she had a quick moment. She said yes, and I proceeded to tell her how much not only I love her books, but my sister, Laura, does as well. She was exceptionally sweet and asked if Laura was with me. I said, alas she was not, but would love to have been able to come. Ruta then asked if she could send Laura a message, so I went digging for a notebook, and she said she wanted to send her a video! The result is below.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9780142420591 • 352 pages • originally published March 2011, this edition published April 2012 by Speak • average Goodreads rating 4.35 out of 5 • read in October 2016

Ruta Sepetys’ Website

Between Shades of Gray on Goodreads

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Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling

I have loved the Harry Potter world since I was in 5th grade and one of my friends brought in the first book of the series and asked our teacher to read it. When Cursed Child was announced as a published stage play, I couldn’t wait – especially for the format – I’d written so many plays, I wanted to see one professionally published. Alas, I was disappointed, but that review will come later. I still had hope, though, and was very pleasantly pleased by the script for Fantastic Beasts!

Synopsis

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Inspired by the original Hogwarts textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and showcasing a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any film lover’s or reader’s bookshelf.

Review

There are certain things to consider when sitting down to “read” a screenplay, the first being the fact that it is not particularly intended to be read – it is meant to be seen and experienced beyond the page. Second, reading a screenplay requires understanding that the format is different than that of a novel – it is primarily dialogue and stage directions.

One of the things that I love about stage- and screenplays is the opportunity to interpret so much more than what is on the page in one’s imagination. To read about the fantastical beasts before seeing the movie meant that I got to picture all of them in my head. Beyond the magic coming to life, the characters are very well developed, the thought and care that J. K. Rowling put into Newt’s backstory is evident – I have to imagine she’d been mulling over the story since she first started writing the Harry Potter series, or at least since Prisoner of Azkaban.

I loved the setting – I’m a sucker for a good Roaring Twenties story, and I’d always wondered what the magical world of the United States was like compared to the British world in the original 7 books. I highly recommend it, for anyone who loves Harry Potter, or just magical adventures set in the recent past.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $24.99 • 9781338109061 • 304 pages • published November 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Website

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Fantastic Beasts

Fiction, Historical

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

I broke my own self-imposed rule – I watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix before I read The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. I had picked up the first book in the series after my sister gave my husband the most recent in the Saxon Chronicles for Christmas one year, not only because I was intrigued, but because the actor who plays Uhtred was on the cover and he looks almost exactly like my husband, to the extent that his own mother, my mother-in-law, agrees!

Synopsis

In the middle years of the ninth century, the fierce Danes stormed onto British soil, hungry for spoils and conquest. Kingdom after kingdom fell to the ruthless invaders until but one realm remained. And suddenly the fate of all England – and the course of history – depended on one man, one king.

The Last Kingdom is a rousing epic adventure of courage, treachery, duty, devotion, majesty, love, and battle as seen through the eyes of a young warrior who straddled two worlds.

Review

As I write this review today, I am happily watching season 2 of The Last Kingdom on Netflix, a season that I have anxiously been awaiting for nearly a year now. Between a new season of Vikings, a new season of The Last Kingdom, and a story of my own about the viking princess turned pirate Alvilda, I feel like I am practically in Valhalla. But onto the review!

When it came to the reading of The Last Kingdom, I half listened to the audiobook and half read from the physical book. The audiobook is wonderful – having already watched the first season of the television show, it was admittedly hard to hear a different voice reading the thoughts and feelings of Uhtred when I had grown so used to Alexander Dreymon, but Jonathan Keeble does a great job as reader. The audiobook also makes it easier to keep track of the characters and places, since, as with most books set in the time, almost every characters name is difficult to read and pronounce without assistance.

Uhtred is, as a main character, very similar to Quentin of The Magicians trilogy, and I have to admit, I characterize my relationship with them both as if they were real. Readers’ imaginations do tend to be quite vivid! I have a love-hate relationship with each, but it is perhaps stronger on the love side with the cocky and arrogant Uhtred. (A full review of The Magicians and my love/hate relationship with Quentin and the show to come in the near future!) The Uhtred who narrates The Last Kingdom, is a much older man, recounting the stories of his youthful adventures. As the first of 10 volumes in the Saxon Tales, it begins first with Uhtred’s childhood and how he came to be a man who straddles the worlds of Christian Wessex and Thor’s Danes.

The story is character driven, understandably with Uhtred as the narrator, and the pacing is quick as the story quickly progresses to cover numerous battles and life stages of our illustrious main character. It moves quickly and excitingly and is the perfect read/listen for anyone who enjoys the show, which remains loyal to the first book (I cannot speak of the rest of the books as I have not yet read them), or anyone who enjoys a thrilling historical fiction adventure!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Details: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780062438621 • 368 pages • originally published in 2004, this edition published September 2015 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 4.23 out of 5 • read in February 2017

Bernard Cornwell’s Website

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Last Kingdom (3)

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Novella

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

The same publisher rep who sent me Pantsuit Nation may have sent me more than a few other books as well! He officially retired on April 1st and my guess is, that after telling him repeatedly that he worked for my favorite of the publishers, he threw some caution to the wind and sent me well over half of my lengthy “wish list” for the spring and summer season, including Passing Strange!

Synopsis

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the world’s fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect.

Review

Passing Strange is the first book by Ellen Klages that I have read. By the looks of her extensive list of published works, and her Nebula award winning status, it should not have been the first time I was introduced to her stories. Passing Strange wrangled me in from the very first sentence and the time shifting story line is expertly done.

Starting in the present day, the majority of the story then shifts back to 1940, exploring the relationships between 6 intriguing women, who, despite having a shortened amount of time to leap off the page, still manage to make strong impressions on the reader. Klages flawlessly weaves the women’s stories into one, sweeping story of discovering for who you are, and who your real family is.

The two primary figures, Haskel, the artist, and Emily, the performer, are the heart and soul of the group, despite not being familiar with each other at the start of their story, and the rest of the women quickly come together to support them when the going gets tough. While a shorter novel, a novella, theoretically seems like it would be easier to write, I find it is often harder – there is less time and space to convince the reader that the story you, as an author are telling, should stick with them – and so any time it is done particularly well, I appreciate it even more.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780765389527 • 224 pages • published January 2017 by St. Martin’s Press • average Goodreads rating 4.01 out of 5 • read in April 2017

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Passing Strange