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

 

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

It’s been nearly two years since I read my first Leigh Bardugo book, Shadow & Bone, and was introduced to the Grishaverse. I enjoyed it greatly, but when I was reading it, everyone was talking about her newest book, Six of Crows, and how spectacular it was going to be. Well, two years later, I finally made it to Six of Crows on my lengthy TBR (to-be-read) list and I’m so happy I did because… 

Leigh Bardugo

I got to meet Leigh Bardugo! And I completely flipped out. It happened, I was sooooo excited! I promised myself I wasn’t going to freak out, but as soon as I realized there was a chance it might happen, I started freaking out. And I’m just so glad that Six of Crows lived up to the expectations I had for it.

Synopsis

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.

Review

If Wonder Woman: Warbringer was a disappointment to me, Six of Crows is a redemption. I have now read three Leigh Bardugo books, Shadow and Bone, her first (review to come in a few weeks) novel and the first in the Grishaverse, Wonder Woman: Warbringer, and now Six of Crows, also set in the Grishaverse established in Shadow and Bone. And I know I read the second two a bit backwards (Wonder Woman isn’t even available to the general public yet), so it was incredibly refreshing to return to a world of Leigh’s own creation.

Leigh Bardugo’s writing is funny, insightful and full of surprising little twists that make every page fly by. Her characters are rich and well developed with enough backstory and interesting plot lines to make any of them seem like the main character. Told in 5 alternating perspectives – I can’t wait to find out her reasoning for excluding on of the 6 from having POV chapters – each chapter leaves you wanting more. Additionally, each of the characters’ motivations for participating in the heist are clear and they make a very dynamic group of players.

The plot is complicated, but not to the point that it becomes difficult to follow. It is easy to track and remember what is going on, even if you have to step away from the world of Leigh has created for a few hours. It ends with a mix of conclusion and cliffhanger – I cannot wait to start reading Crooked Kingdom!

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9781627792127 • 480 pages • published September 2015 by Henry Holt & Company • average Goodreads rating 4.46 out of 5 • read in August 2017

Leigh Bardugo’s Website

Six of Crows‘ Website

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Six of Crows

Fantasy, Fiction

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted came to me highly recommended by a former coworker – she and I have very similar tastes (we call each other book-twins), so I figured it would be a sure thing.

Synopsis

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows everyone knows that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Review

Uprooted is the story that I always expected to come from the annals of the tradition of storytelling embraced by Eastern Europeans. The storytelling is rich in detail, the world truly comes alive off the pages, and the characters are complex and rich, but the plot? Logic structure? Eh, not so much. Life often takes many twists and turns and is more akin to a serialized television show with numerous story arcs than it is to a stand-alone 300+ page novel, but that doesn’t mean I want the storytelling of the novel to be like that of real life. I want consistency and flow.

At the start of Uprooted, and honestly for the first half of the book, it is the story of Agnieszka, and how she is chosen against her will to live with the “dragon” for 10 years without any access to her family or loved ones. When she starts to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, the story suddenly switches gears to focus on the far off world of the royal family. And when things start to get stale at the palace, the story takes a 180 again and goes back into forest which ties back to the beginning in the sense that we’ve always known the forest to be in some way shape or form sentient, but not malicious as it becomes towards the end of the story.

Honestly, with all the direction changes, I genuinely don’t remember how the story ended. I haven’t remember since the day after I finished it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804179058 • 464 pages • originally published May 2015, this edition published March 2016 by Del Rey Books • average Goodreads rating 4.13 out of 5 • read in April 2016

Naomi Novik’s Website

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Uprooted

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

If I had to pick a favorite genre of of the past year, it would be Young Adult Fantasy. It is the genre I go to when I just want something to read that will keep me occupied and be a fun and enjoyable read. Lately I’ve strayed more towards (auto)biographies, but YA Fantasy will always hold a special place in my heart. As such, I am aware of all the major series, and when Mary E. Pearson visited the bookstore I work at, I knew it was time to pick up her books!

Synopsis

In a society steeped in tradition, Princess Lia’s life follows a preordained course. As First Daughter, she is expected to have the revered gift of sight but she doesn’t and she knows her parents are perpetrating a sham when they arrange her marriage to secure an alliance with a neighboring kingdom to a prince she has never met. On the morning of her wedding, Lia flees to a distant village. She settles into a new life, hopeful when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deception abounds, and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets even as she finds herself falling in love.

Review

I am over tropes. I am over love triangles. I’m over stereotypes. I’m over weakass female protagonists. And I’m over high school drama repackaged as YA fantasy. Why do I say all of this? I bet you’re thinking that I’m listing the things I’m over because The Kiss of Deception checks all those boxes. Yes and no.

I love a lot of YA fantasy – GracelingThrone of GlassShadow and BoneSeraphina (all of which are forthcoming reviews!) – the list goes on and on. But I detest most YA realistic fiction. It’s not an assessment of the genre, simply my opinion – I didn’t like it when I was in high school, I don’t particularly care for it now. Half of the reason I love fantasy is the chance to escape to a place of magical creatures and alternate realities. The other half is for the characters – they are usually pretty spectacular and make for some great role models.

What does all of this have to do with this particular book? When Mary Pearson visited the bookstore I work at, she was part of a panel and asked questions about all sorts of things involved in the writing of great YA fantasy. And her answers? Spot on – exactly what I was excited to hear. The reality of her writing? Eh, not so much. So this is less of a review and more of a rant, but if you are looking for a book that crosses over between realistic YA and YA fantasy, this is the book for you. If that’s not your cup of tea, it’s one of the books on a long list of YA fantasy that you can feel free to skip.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9781250063151 • 512 pages • originally published July 2014, this edition published in June 2015 by Squarefish • average Goodreads rating 4.06 out of 5 • read in August 2016

Mary E. Person’s Website

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Remnant Chronicles

 

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, New Adult

Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

I’ve always been an American Royalist, since I was a young girl and first learned about two real live princes actually existing in England and not just in Disney movies, I’ve been one of those people who follows there every move. My mother’s own love of Princess Diana certainly didn’t hurt my love for the royal family, and I was one of the people who woke up at 4am on Saturday, April 29, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. One of my favorite books of 2015 was The Royal We (review to come in the near future) and since then, I’ve been reading every piece of glorified royalist fan fiction that I can get my hands on!

Synopsis

Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Princes of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness,” is a charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant – hard not to be when subjects are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and the heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t exactly what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be. There’s a disapproving Queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royce’s and haven’t chopped anyone’s heads off lately – the royals are far from accepting of this commoner. But to Olivia – Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is out in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, and more importantly, who he wants to be: a king… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

Review

My sister first described Royally Screwed as a rip-off of a rip-off. Even the fictional prince’s name is the same here as it is in The Royal We. While intentional or not, it means that I find myself frequently defending my enjoyment of this book to my sister, my friends, and just about everyone I’ve allowed to see my reading it, or see it on my shelves. They’re my guilty pleasure, new adult romances. I am finally admitting it here for the first time – I do occasionally (about once a year) enjoy curling up with a dirty romance and Emma Chase writes them well.

Are the characters spectacular? Not really. But they are well rounded with thoughtful backstories and logical actions and reactions based on what the reader learns about them. Are they role models? Not really. But they are real (well, other than the prince/commoner romance bit), and they have problems that are relatable and impulses that  can sometimes lead them to leave their better judgment behind. They are human, and they are flawed and they don’t at any point feel forced or mechanical.

Is the plot spectacular? Not really. It’s pretty predictable from start to finish – but sometimes the best escapist fiction is. It’s a perfect plane, train or road trip book – compelling enough to hold even my attention and I have an admittedly very short attention span – I’m not much better than the 6th graders I used to teach in that regard, but lighthearted and, yes, predictable. Are there things I would change about the characters/plot? Absolutely, but Emma Chase didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel and it is romance – which does have a prescribed formula for plot that ensures a happy outcome. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Absolutely.

* recommended for ages 17+ *

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781682307755 • 276 pages • published October 2016 by Everafter Romance • average Goodreads rating 4.12 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Emma Chase’s Website

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Royally Screwed