Fantasy, Fiction, New Adult, Novella

Hear Me by Viv Daniels

This book is known to my family as “the reason Sarah owns a dreaded Kindle.” New Adult author Viv Daniels (aka my second favorite author in the whole wide world Diana Peterfreund), originally released this book eBook only. Two years later, I found that I could order a paperback (pictured above), but of course I had to read it as soon as it was released and therefore begged my dad to get me the device I swore I never wanted for Christmas that year. And while I’m not a big “holiday” reader, this is one of the few winter/Christmas books I read in December and it really did help get me in the holiday spirit.

Synopsis

Once upon a time, Ivy belonged to Archer, body, heart, and soul. They spent long summer days exploring the forest, and long summer nights exploring each other. But that was before dark magic grew in the depths of the wilderness, and the people of Ivy’s town raised an enchanted barrier of bells to protect themselves from the threat, even though it meant cutting off the forest people—and the forest boy Ivy loved—forever.

And there’s a naked man lying in the snow. Three years later, Ivy keeps her head down, working alone in her tea shop on the edge of town and trying to imagine a new future for herself, away from the forest and the wretched bells, and the memory of her single, perfect love. But in the icy heart of winter, a terrifying magic blooms—one that can reunite Ivy and Archer, or consume their very souls.

Review

For an eBook of not even 200 pages, Hear Me sticks with me, a good 3 years after I finished reading it. In one sitting. Viv Daniels (Diana Peterfreund) has cemented herself as an extraordinary writer and story crafter. Typically, when I go about “topic-tagging” a book, as I call, it there are usually about 10 to 15 that I assign, 5 to 10 for the books that are not at all complex or intriguing. This one? Over 30. That’s on par with a good series and, it weighs in at only 170 pages.

I had previously written off New Adult as being just “young adult with a steamy sex scene thrown in.” Does Hear Me fulfill that? Yes. If there was an R rating for books, this would have it. But Hear Me does so much more than tell the tale of loner Ivy and her aching, Archer loving heart – it explores the themes of oppression and racism, self-loathing and self-acceptance, desperation, and sacrifice, all in the name of love, and in a world, that is far from kind and frequently cruel and unjust. So, as is often the question with New Adult these days it seems, does it need the sex? No. Does the steaminess make it more enjoyable? Maybe. Does Viv Daniels do an expert job in telling an interesting, intriguing, and thought-provoking story? Absolutely.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.00 • 9781937135140 • 204 pages • published November 2014 by Word for Word • average Goodreads rating 3.26 out of 5 • read in December 2014

Viv Daniels’ Website

Hear Me on Goodreads

Get a Copy of Hear Me

Hear Me

Fantasy, Fiction

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Prachett

My now husband picked this book out to read shortly after we started dating, and when we were looking for a book to listen to while driving from Pennsylvania to South Carolina, he recommended it. It has been one of my favorite books ever since.

Synopsis

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. So the armies of Good and Evil are amazing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon – both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle – are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist…

Review

The best books to listen to are the ones that make you laugh, the absurd and ridiculous ones that you don’t have to pay complete attention to understand them. Good Omens, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, fits the bill quite nicely when you must do a great deal of traveling by car for work. The first time I listened to Good Omens, I loved it, and the second time was no different. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are a literary pairing made in heaven and there’s no better way to describe their writing than just pure magic. It’s wonderful to see the two of them create an exquisite story together.

Good Omens tells the tale of two immortals, Aziraphale, the angel with the flaming sword who stood watch over the garden of Eden, and Crowley, the snake who tempted Eve with the apple. Flash forward thousands of years and Crowley is tasked with bringing the Antichrist into the world as part of Hell’s effort to bring about the end of days and start a war with Heaven above. Crowley and Aziraphale make a bet to see if they can sway the Antichrist to be good or evil but 11 years later, they realize that due to an insipid nurse’s screw up, they’ve been attempting to influence the wrong child and have lost the actual Antichrist. And they have just a few days to find him before the arrival of the apocalypse.

Along the way, Crowley and Aziraphale realize that they really like the world and don’t want to see it come to a fiery end. Adam, the Antichrist, arrives at the same conclusion, and separately, but simultaneously, they try to stop the inevitable with the help of some very colorful side characters that they pick up as they make their way to Lower Tadfield, foretold site of the battle that will bring about the end of the world.

Good Omens is a treat to listen to and Martin Jarvis (the reader) is engaging and does a variety of marvelous voices for all the different characters. If you’re looking for a book for a long road trip that will keep you awake, Good Omens is your ticket to an entertaining and delightful drive.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Mass Market Paperback • $7.99 • 9780060853983 • 412 pages • originally published in 1990, this edition published November 2006 by William Morrow & Company • average Goodreads rating 4.25 out of 5 • read in March 2011 & March 2015

Neil Gaiman’s Website

Good Omens on Goodreads

Get a Copy of Good Omens

Good Omens

Fantasy, Fiction, Horror

The Vorrh by Brian Catling

Today my husband and I are celebrating the 7th anniversary of our first date so I figured I would review one of his favorite books, that I also read for our book club, The Modern Readers. 

3 - February 2016 - Vorrh

Synopsis

Outside the colonial town of Essenwald lies the Vorrh, a vast – perhaps endless – forest. Sentient and magical, a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests, the Vorrh bends time and wipes memory. Legend holds that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now a renegade foreign soldier intends to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a bow, he begins his journey. But some fear the consequences of his mission, so a native marksman is chosen to stop him. Around these adversaries swirls a remarkable cast of characters, including a tragically curious young girl and a Cyclops raised by robots, as well as such historical figures as protosurrealist Raymond Roussel and pioneering photographer Edward Muybridge. Fact and fiction blend, the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate will hang in the balance – in the Vorrh.

Review

Uhhhh, I’m still trying to figure this one out. Since finishing it and discussing it, I’ve sold more copies of this book by saying I hated it than I have sold books I loved to people by telling them how much I loved it. But I didn’t hate it… I think?

There are many stories working in tandem in this book and they are all confusing and befuddling and written in different styles based on the character’s perspective that we are currently viewing the world through. Told in at least four alternating perspectives, The Vorrh is the story first and foremost of the forest from which it gets its name and the people in the town right next to it. It bears similarities in equal parts to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Shelley’s Frankenstein. But it goes beyond that to discuss mental illness and paint pictures in the reader’s minds of things that are just downright unpleasant and, for some, upsetting. You have to have a strong stomach to undertake a serious reading of The Vorrh.

If anyone else has this book figured out, not just enjoyed it, but actually figured out the symbolism and intent, please do enlighten me.

Rating: 6 out 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9781101873786 • 512 pages published April 2015 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 3.51 out of 5 • read in February 2016

Brian Catling’s Website

The Vorrh on Goodreads

Get a Copy of The Vorrh

Vorrh

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor

When I first saw the cover of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I fell head over heels – love at first sight. Blue hair, dynamic fonts, intriguing synopsis, Prague as a setting, fantasy world. I was just coming off the high of finishing City of Dark Magic and was very excited to find something that might be similarly fantastic. 

Synopsis

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she speaks many languages – not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

Review

I didn’t know much about the Seraphim/Chimaera trope until I finished reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Ben had to correct my pronunciation of “chimaera.” So for the majority of the book, I was greatly intrigued by the seemingly unique fantasy world – it was just new to me. That being said, Karou discovering of her place in that world and stumbling upon the unending conflict was revealed marvelously and magnificently as she rediscovered her past – and her past love, Akiva, a seraphim.

The “modern day” fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet and the star-crossed lovers is common in most young adult literature, it can even be viewed as the ultimate love story, the tragic fated love of those who were never supposed to be together in the first place. Karou is brave and resilient, unapologetic for who she is (as soon as she discovers the truth) whereas Akiva is a spineless sniveling coward who just irks me to no end. Yes, he’s gorgeous. No, that’s not what you base an entire relationship on, give young adults a bit more credit. There is nothing other than wanton lust pulling these two towards each other and honestly, I’m tired of reading about hot people falling for other hot people just because they’re über-attractive. Nothing sells their relationship, nothing anchors the fantasy world of the second half of the book in reality and even the most wildly outrageous fantasy still has some sort of foot hold into reality – it’s the only way it can be relatable.

I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me decide to finish this series, given my lack of insta-love for Daughter of Smoke & Bone, but I am certainly glad I did. I enjoyed Days of Blood & Starlight and Dreams of Gods & Monsters infinitely more than I enjoyed the first book.

Days of Blood & Starlight and Dreams of Gods & Monsters take place immediately after the first book and Dreams of Gods & Monsters is set only over the course of a handful of days. They chronicle the renews war crimes committed by the chimera and the seraphim in the name of Eretz, their homeland, though further backstory reveals that the Seraphim were not always native to Eretz. As Karou takes up Brimstone’s mantle of creating new bodies for the slain chimera souls, Akiva is saving chimera in an effort to ingratiate himself with his blue haired love. The story is a rollicking adventure and the secondary characters, particularly Ziri and Liraz, and Zuzana and Mik, make the story worth reading.

Unfortunately, my lack-luster feelings for Karou and Akiva, our woeful star-crossed lovers, remain. I really struggled to connect with either of them and found their moping and whiny incredibly irritating and I really wanted to rush through their parts. But, with an audiobook, not possible, so thankfully Laini Taylor at least wrote those parts very well, even if the characters didn’t sell it for me. I tried to understand, I tried to appreciate the Romeo and Juliet nature of their relationship, but at that point, I would have realized that life is short (particularly theirs, being that they’re in the middle of  war) and therefore one shouldn’t waste any time going after the things they want and the things that will make them happy.

So overall, can I recommend the trilogy? Sure, why not. But that’s only half-hearted and rides more on the fact that Laini Taylor is a gifted wordsmith than anything else.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition (Daughter of Smoke & Bone): Paperback • $12.99 • 9780316133999 • 418 pages • first published September 2011, this edition published June 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.04 out of 5 • read in May 2013

Laini Taylor’s Website

Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Goodreads

Get a Copy of Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (2)

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, 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

Get a Copy of The Wrath and the Dawn

Wrath and the Dawn

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

Get a Copy of A Court of Thorns and Roses

ACOTAR Series

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

Get a Copy of The Golden Compass

Golden Compass

Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades, Mythology

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Just after I finished listening to the audiobook of The Lightning Thief, a good 8 years after my friend Iram told me I just had to read it, I found out it is part of this upcoming school year’s Reading Olympics lists! I now can recommend officially 1 out of 45 titles for the elementary schoolers!

Synopsis

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of school… again. And that’s the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he’s angered a few of them. Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Review

The Lightning Thief has been a bestselling book at the bookstore since I started working there in the summer of 2015 and it has been a perpetual favorite with 6th graders since I student taught 6th grade in 2013, and I’m certain this was the case even before I was aware of it. Since it was first published in the mid-2000’s, Rick Riordan has started 4 other series, finished 2 of them, and has had three of the five series adapted into graphic novels. Clearly, there’s widespread appeal, to the point where I was really starting to feel like I was missing out on something.

When I started writing my novel, which I lovingly call my Viking Story, it was around the same time Riordan announced his second newest trilogy, Magnus Chase, a series based on Norse Mythology and the first with a decided young adult slant. I was convinced it would be my first of his books, but one day, when browsing the audiobook section at the library, I decided to pick up The Lightning Thief. Usually I’m wary when the entirety of the 12 year old population loves something (hello One Direction…), but thankfully, I was not disappointed!

Percy is a “half-blood,” his father is a god of Olympus proportions, but he doesn’t know which one. Being such, puts him in a special position when it comes to quests, adventures, and fulfilling a heroic destiny. Basically, he’s fated to be a tragic Greek hero, not exactly the future most 12 year olds dream of. But he has the help of friends and allies, and the adventure is not one to be missed!

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9780786838653 • 377 pages • originally published June 2005, this edition published March 2006 by Hyperion Kids • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in April 2017

Rick Riordan’s Website

The Lightning Thief on Goodreads

Get a Copy of The Lightning Thief

Lightning Thief