Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Clearly I’m on a YA fantasy role here with reviews… Sometimes I get so thoroughly immersed in a genre it can be hard to pull myself out to switch to something else, something new and different. As I get to the end of a genre jaunt, however, my reviews tend to become a bit skewed, so take them all with a grain of salt.

Synopsis

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood – those with common Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court.

Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard, a growing Red rebellion, even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

Review

Red Queen is part of a long line of YA fantasy books that have been written in the last five years or so to feature varying takes on power and poverty, haves and have-nots, and each primarily female author’s take on a strong, feminist, protagonist. The books that stand out are those that are spectacularly good or spectacularly bad. Red Queen is neither.

It is an enjoyable book with a serviceable plot and intriguing characters. Were it published at a different time, I would call it unique and original. However, it came out halfway through the present YA fantasy boom and the influence of previous works is evident in Aveyard’s storytelling. Similarities to GracelingThe Hunger GamesThrone of Glass and Shadow and Bone are easy to pick out if you are as well versed in the world of YA fantasy as most of Aveyard’s target readers.

The writing is decent, the twists and turns of the plot and the effort into world building that Aveyard puts forth are not missed, this review would be much more scathing if Red Queen lacked in any of these areas, but it doesn’t have the ineffable “stand-out quality” that makes me remember years down the road, makes me anxiously await the next book in the series. Red Queen is at it’s best, another decent YA fantasy debut, and at it’s worst, another YA fantasy.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780062310644 • 416 pages • first published in February 2015, this edition published June 2016 by Harper Teen • average Goodreads rating 4.08 out of 5 • read in May 2016

Victoria Aveyard’s Website

Red Queen on Goodreads

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Red Queen

 

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

Flame in the Mist on Goodreads

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Flame in the Mist

 

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Wrath and the Dawn duology by Renee Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn was a book I picked up after seeing/listening to a panel about diversity in books. Along with Sabaa Tahir, Marie Lu and Aisha Saeed, Renee Ahdieh shared some very insightful points about diversity in books. I’ve now covered three of the four author’s debut books and I look forward to reading Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars very soon!

Synopsis

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

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

Review

When I decided to start a YA book club for teenagers at the book store I work at, I really wasn’t sure what sorts of books they would really take to. We selected The Young Elites by Marie Lu (review to come!) as the first book and thankfully all the girls (all 3!) who attended raved about their love of fantasy. It made me seriously wish there had been such a breadth of choices in the genre when I was in high school. After The Young Elites, we moved on to The Wrath and the Dawn, because I was also trying to make my way through all of the authors I had seen speak on a We Need Diverse Books panel at Book Con and like Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, I was just so excited to read about some ethnically diverse characters in The Wrath and the Dawn.

Renee Ahdieh is officially one of my favorite storytellers. She has a way of telling a story that hearkens back to the times when oral storytelling was the only way of storytelling. As I’m currently reading her newest book, I found it only appropriate to rave about her first duology. The synopsis accurately captures the essence of the plot, but the characters are very complex and the publisher’s marketing materials (the synopsis) doesn’t quite capture their essence. Shazi is a fiercely loyal and very opinionated character who does not change her mind easily. She is easily one of my favorite female protagonists and is exceptionally well rounded. Khalid is rich in his depth and motivations and the two are very well matched both in temperament and strength of will and character. The characteristics of the romance aspect of the story make it very accessible for readers who are looking for a more “traditional” YA and it’s a great transition into fantasy for those who aren’t entirely sure how to flex their imagination muscle (i.e. brain) to enjoy a magical world that has it’s roots in our own world but with some delightful twists and turns that are both unexpected and spectacular.

The first book ends on a pretty huge cliffhanger, but as both books are readily available, you won’t have to wait long to know what happens!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780147513854 • 432 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published April 2016 by Speak • average Goodreads review 4.16 out of 5 • read in May 2016

Renee Ahdieh’s Website

The Wrath and the Dawn on Goodreads

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Wrath and the Dawn

Graphic Novel, Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

FUTURE RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017 (released in the UK in 2013)

It is an interesting story how I stumbled upon Lighter Than My Shadow. About a month and a half ago I was in New York City for BookExpo, and as a member of the ABA (the American Booksellers Association) I had been granted special access to a room full of galleys/ARCs (advanced reader copies) of books. In my attempt to be very judicious with my selections (I had to carry everything back from Manhattan to Brooklyn), I was avoiding particularly weighty books, such as Lighter Than My Shadow. But there was just something about it, something that drew me and told me that I had to pick up Katie’s book and read it. 

Synopsis

Like most kids, Katie was a picky eater. She’s sit at the table in silent protest, hide uneaten toast in her bedroom, and listen to parental threats she’d have to eat it for breakfast.

But in any life a set of circumstances can collide, and normal behavior can soon shade into something sinister, something deadly.

Lighter Than My Shadow is a hand-drawn story of struggle and recovery, a trip into the black heart of a taboo illness, an exposure of those who are so weak they prey on the weak, and an inspiration to anybody who believes in the human power to endure towards happiness.

Review

I was extremely lucky when I was nineteen years old to have a grandfather who helped me figure out that my relationship with food and exercise (too little of the former, too much of the latter) was unhealthy. At a time that could reasonably be called the worst point of my life – I had taken a leave of absence from college, my dog and stepfather were both dying from cancer, and I couldn’t figure out how to have a positive attitude – I turned to controlling my food and exercise regime to help me cope.

I’m also extremely lucky that I picked up Lighter Than My Shadow and was able to personally thank Katie for writing it when I was in New York. It has taken me a month and a half to finish her exceptional work of art and writing because every single page hits so close to home. Every single emotion is captured perfectly. The quote from Joss Whedon (yep, creator of Buffy, director of The Avengers, Joss Whedon) sums it up pretty succinctly – “It’s universal yet specific and those together make such strong medicine. Wow.”

It also goes to show how little we are willing to talk about eating disorders when I can share my experience with strangers on the internet, but when one of my own friends starts to show the warning signs, I attempt to help her in every way I can, save the most important – I’m too scared to tell her that I’ve been in the exact same position that she is in. I struggle to tell her that I too was not eating and overexercising. It wasn’t until after I started reading Lighter Than My Shadow, it wasn’t until she’d been struggling for almost 2 full years that I could finally bring myself to share that truth with her – that she wasn’t the only one in our friend group to have experienced the despair that accompanies such a loss of control.

Because while a great number of people use their eating disorder as a way to feel in control in a uncontrollable world, exercising that control over yourself also makes you feel out of control, even if you’re not willing to admit it to yourself. Katie perfectly captures that feeling through her illustrations and text. If you, or someone you love and care about, is struggling and you’re not sure what you can do to help yourself or them, take a look at Lighter Than My Shadow.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $19.99 • 9781941302415 • 516 pages • published October 2017 by Lion Forge • average Goodreads rating 4.45 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow Website

Lighter Than My Shadow on Goodreads

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Lighter Than My Shadow

Fantasy, Fiction, New Adult

A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

#1. I will read anything by Sarah J. Maas. #2. It’s based on Beauty and the Beast. #3-#10. Repeat #1.

Synopsis

Books in TrilogyA Court of Thorns and Roses • A Court of Mist and Fury • A Court of  Wings and Ruin

A Court of Thorns and Roses Synopsis

Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price…

Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden to escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows.

Reviews

Original A Court of Thorns and Roses Review from May 2015

It’s no secret that I have become obsessed with Sarah J. Maas’ books. I’m going to BookCon in NYC next week for the sole purpose of meeting her. I flew through the first three books in the Throne of Glass series in a week – one week. When I found out A Court of Thorns and Roses would be more geared towards the “new adult” genre, I couldn’t wait to pick it up! While it still falls into the “young adult” realm, I think Sarah J. Maas is really starting to flesh out the middle ground between young adult and new adult to what I think “new adult” will eventually mean – slightly more mature young adult.

ACOTAR (I literally call is “ack-o-taar” which is, I admit, mildly annoying) is the story of Feyre (Fae-rah) and how she falls in love with a high fae lord, Tamlin. The plot is based loosely on Beauty and the Beast, and how Feyre must come to love Tamlin in order to free the land from a wretched curse. The story is told in two distinct parts – the first when Feyre comes to live in the realm of the Fae and the second when she has realized how she feels and discovered what she must do to save them.

My favorite part of the book, however, has little to do with Tamlin & Fae Co., but everything to do with Feyre’s older sister, Nesta. Nesta and Feyre have never gotten along and have resented each other for years for various reasons. When Feyre is taken to Tamlin’s court, she is not to see her family ever again and being rid of Nesta is perfectly fine by her. Later, however, she has the opportunity to see them and learns that Nesta came looking for her, had missed her younger sister. The two have the opportunity to connect and it is Nesta who ultimately helps Feyre understand what she must do to save the realm of the Fae (and the human populations as well).

Trilogy Review

It’s hard to go back two years later and read my review of the first book and kicking myself for not mentioning the character has become the book boyfriend to end all book boyfriends. Step aside Mr. Darcy, you’ve been replaced! It don’t want to spoil too much so this collective trilogy review will be brief.

Basically, the first book, ACOTAR is a world unto itself, and the second and third books are just spectacular. While the first book can be kind of slow and off to a rough start, the deeper you get into the world, and the books, the more it becomes clear what Sarah J. Maas was trying to do – the books are written in first person, through Feyre’s point of view, and as such, readers are only permitted access and information as Feyre is permitted access to information.

And then Rhysand saunters into the picture, which happens in ACOTAR, and things get all sorts of shaken up and spectacular. The second book, ACOMAF, is probably the closest thing to a perfect book that I have ever read, and Rhys plays a large part of that, but it has more to do with plot structure and the introduction of so many dynamic characters and finding out more information about the world.

It’s a wonderful series, and I understand it’s not for everyone, but I will recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who will listen!

Series Rating: 8 to 10 out of 10 stars

Best BookA Court of Mist and Fury

Edition for A Court of Thorns and Roses: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781619635180 • 448 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published May 2016 by Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books • average Goodreads rating 4.29 out of 5 • read in May 2015

Sarah J. Maas’ Website

A Court of Thorns and Roses on Goodreads

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ACOTAR Series

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Legend by Marie Lu

In May of 2015 I traveled to NYC for my first BookCon, and what an experience it was – completely overwhelming, but wonderful as well. My favorite part of the experience, was a panel with Marie Lu, Sabaa Tahir and Renee Ahdieh and I told myself I would read all of their books! I started with Marie Lu’s Young Elites series, and when I found out she would be coming to the bookstore I work at in September, I figured I should read Legend as well!

Synopsis

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Review

Marie Lu is a fabulous writer. And while not my personal favorite (Sarah J. Maas is), she is my favorite author to share with others. I love recommending her books to people because she has such wide appeal. Boys, girls, lovers of fantasy, science fiction, survival fiction (a la The Hunger Games), there is something in her books for everyone. Her writing is accessible to middle grade through adult readers. As a former middle school teacher, I understand the struggle that arises when trying to find books for 12 year olds that are challenging enough, but also appropriate to their maturity level. Marie Lu is one of very few authors that write about older teenagers in a way that doesn’t make parents of middle schoolers cringe.

In regards to Legend, I love how Marie Lu portrays her characters – June as a rule following member of the military, and Day as a kind-hearted fugitive. As their paths intersect, they both grow and evolve as characters, given the effect that each has on the other’s sense of responsibility and loyalty. Told in alternating perspective chapters, readers get to know both June and Day equally well and both are so intriguing that the balance is near perfect – you don’t want to skip either character’s chapters to get to the other’s.

I have been asked by customers at the store if Legend is too much like The Hunger Games or Divergent and while I mention that they are considered to be part off the same dystopian genre, there is a uniqueness to the diversity of characters that Marie Lu includes, as well as the story telling – in my opinion, she is a better writer than the authors of The Hunger Games and Divergent and therefore a better selection for young readers and budding writers.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9780142422076 • 305 pages • originally published November 2011, this edition published April 2013 by Speak • average Goodreads rating 4.19 out of 5 • read in October 2016

Marie Lu’s Website

Legend on Goodreads

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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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Fiction, Mythology, Young Adult

Freya by Matthew Laurence

I don’t remember exactly how I wound up with the advance reading copy (ARC) of Freya, but it definitely had my name written all over it – from my obsession with Norse mythology, to a badass woman on the cover, I was definitely going to inhale this book.

Synopsis

Freya is myth. She is legend. And she’s about to make one hell of a comeback.

Sara Vanadi is more than she appears to be. In her prime, she was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. Now all that’s left of her legacy is herself. Her power comes from belief, and for an ancient goddess in the 21st century, true believers are hard to come by.

She’s been lying low for a few decades, when all of a sudden a shadowy corporation extends an offer: join them and receive unlimited strength and believers—or refuse and be destroyed. Sara chooses neither; she flees with the help of a new friend named Nathan. With a modern power rising that wishes to bend the divine to its will, Sara decides to fight back—but first she needs some new clothes.

Review

First things first – Freya is a debut novel by a cool dude about a badass woman. I always check out reviews of books before reading them, but this time, I was the first to post a “review” of sorts on Goodreads and in going back to read the new reviews since the book was released in March (I read it in November), I have to say, I understand the complaints, but the pros outweigh the cons and the promise of more outweighs what the first book may have lacked.

Freya is the perfect book for young adults who spent their childhood reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and are looking for a mythology book that is a touch more grown up. The pacing is quick, the plot moves along at a steady pace, and the supporting cast of characters is richly described. While they may not yet be full realized, there is a lot of opportunity for them to grow and for the readers to get to know the various deities and mythologies better.

Sara/Freya is a fabulous narrator – in a debut, first in a series, YA fantasy, the most essential part of ensuring readership is to have a fully realized main character and Sara/Freya is such a character. And while some may complain about a pretty big structural point, that Freya is in first person, and there are certain things about Freya, what she is thinking, her background, and such that we as readers are not privy to, I personally enjoy the suspense and delight in the “not-knowing” aspect of the final plan to take down the big bad corporation. Freya marries the best parts of first and third person narration spectacularly.

I have only two complaints, and one is a silly one at that. The first, if Nate is going to be our main supporting actor, he needs a bit more of a role than simply “worshipper of Freya.” And the second, the silly one, the name Sarah, my own name, should always have an “H” at the end.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $17.99 • 9781250088178 • 352 pages • published March 2017 by Imprint • average Goodreads rating 3.42 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Freya on Goodreads

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Freya

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Back in my early D&D playing days (which admittedly was only 2 1/2 years ago), one of my friends named her character Lyra. In the most recent campaign, one of my other friends is playing an armored bear. Needless to say, I had to read the book that inspired both of these fearsome characters, The Golden Compass!

Synopsis

Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal – including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.

Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want.

But what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other…

Review

This is, once again, an audiobook review. For some reason, I have not been able to finish reading a physical book since January! January! I work in a bookstore and I cannot finish a book, ’tis shameful I say. That being said, the audiobook is awesome! I love when the readers are different for each character, as is the case with The Golden Compass, and the author, Philip Pullman, is the narrator, making it all the more special.

Storywise, I think I let myself build up The Golden Compass in my mind to the point that it was never going to live up to my unrealistic expectations. This is a book that I have been told I absolutely must read for the majority of my life – my earliest memory of someone telling me about it was my fifth grade teacher in 1999, three years after it was first published in the US. So I’ve had 18 years to build this book up in my mind. (I also find it incredibly hard to believe that I was in 5th grade 18 years ago… I feel so old!)

Once I was able to get past the fact that it is not perfect, nor is it my new favorite book, I was able to simply enjoy it. Pullman is a masterful storyteller and Lyra is the perfect roguish character. She might be a liar, but she is fiercely loyal to those she loves and cares about and it makes perfect sense why so many of my teachers and friends figured I would really enjoy her story.

The antagonist of the story is not always clear which makes for a compelling story and the pages (or discs) turn and change as fast as an armored bear charging down an enemy. Pullman has a mind for critical thinking and philosophical approaches to fairly adult topics. When viewed through Lyra’s child’s eyes, it makes it much harder to understand why adults can’t seem to figure out how to set the world right. Her innocence makes her the perfect lens through which an adult reader views the problems facing the world today. But, it is not necessary to think so deeply into the philosophy of the story to enjoy it. The Golden Compass is a wonderful adventure, and with Pullman releasing the first book in a new trilogy (a prequel of sorts) in the fall, it is a timely must read!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $12.99 • 9780375823459 • 432 pages • originally published in 1995, this edition published September 2002 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in January 2017

Philip Pullman’s Website

The Golden Compass on Goodreads

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Golden Compass

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Two years ago I attended BookCon in NYC and I’m so excited to be going back for the booksellers part, BookExpo, in just two short weeks! When I attended back in 2015, I attended a panel on which Marie Lu, Renee Ahdieh and Sabaa Tahir discussed the need for diverse books and I decided there and then that I needed to read at least one book by each of them. An Ember in the Ashes was the first I purchased, but the last I read, because for some reason, I couldn’t get into reading it, but, the audiobook really changed my impression of Sabaa Tahir’s storytelling.

Synopsis

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier – and secretly, it’s most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined – and that their choice will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Review

At the bookstore, I’ve become sort of the go-to YA fantasy expert, but I haven’t had the heart to tell all of my little “book-groupies” (as my coworkers call them) that my heart hasn’t really been in the genre lately and that half the recommendations I’ve been giving them are books that I haven’t actually read yet. An Ember in the Ashes was one of those books – one I had heard very good things about, but had not actually managed to read.

And to be honest, it took me three tries before I really found myself enthralled by the story. The first to times were “traditional” reading attempts, and thankfully, I still persisted after those two failed and I checked the audiobook out of my local library and, thankfully, was instantly hooked. So this review is equal parts story review and audiobook reader review.

As a story, Sabaa Tahir weaves together two characters from completely different worlds, making their paths cross occasionally, but without unnecessarily intersecting – a real challenge of writing in multiple perspectives. Laia and Elias’ stories join at important plot points, but without complicating the timeline or narrative. Both are strong narrators on their own which means that while one character is narrating, the reader/listener is fully immersed in that part of the story, not anxiously reading through to get to the other narrator, as is wont to happen in some multiple perspective plots. The two readers also do an exceptional job of conveying the urgency and emotion felt by both Laia and Elias in their individual and joint circumstances.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $11.99 • 9781595148049 • 480 pages • originally published April 2015, this edition published February 2016 by Razorbill • average Goodreads rating 4.32 out of 5 • read in March 2017

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An Ember in the Ashes