Backlist Two Minute Review: Paladins of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Author: Terry Brooks
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Original Shannara Trilogy #0.5; Allanon's Quest #1, Shannara #9.5
Pages: 40 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: July 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

The legendary hero Allanon takes center stage in the first of three gripping new stand-alone eBook short stories set in the world of the fantasy fiction phenomenon that is Shannara—by beloved New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks.

The history is thus: The once-Druid Brona, seduced by his pursuit of dark magic, was forever transformed into the Warlock Lord—whose evil would be the downfall of the Four Lands and the death of the Races. Against him, the Elven King Jerle Shannara wielded the fabled sword that bore his surname and triumphed. Or so it was believed. But though the Dark Lord was driven out . . . he was not destroyed.

The Druid Allanon knows only too well the prophecy passed down to him by his late master: that eventually the Warlock Lord will return. Now, after hundreds of years, that day seems imminent. And the time is at hand for the Sword of Shannara to once more be brought forth from its sanctuary to serve its ancient purpose. All that remains is for a blood descendent of the Elven house of Shannara to carry the blade into battle.

With ever more portents of doom on the horizon, Allanon must seek out the last remaining Shannara heir, who alone will bear the burden of defending the Four Lands’ destiny. But with agents of darkness closing in from behind, unexpected enemies lying in wait ahead, and treachery encroaching on every side, there can be no certainty of success. Nor any assurance that this desperate quest will not be the Druid’s last.

(Wow. That blurb is almost as long as the short story itself!)

I admit it. I'm a Shannara fan, for all its blatant borrowing from The Lord of the Rings, for all its cliched and predictable plotlines, I can usually find a lot to enjoy in Terry Brook's fertile imagination. I've read more than my far share of the Shannara series in all its spin-offs and sideways travels, and though it's far from great literature, or even great fantasy, this short ebook reminds me of why I had such fondness for this author, and this widepsread world he has so lovingly created. 

Though obviously this falls far short from my all-time Shannara favorites (those would be The Elfstones of Shannara (I was actually scared by one of the 'demon' antagonists in this - the Changeling - so much so I had to stop reading it at night haha), the Wishsong of Shannara (Garet Jax is and forever will be one of the most badass fantasy characters) and the Elf-Queen of Shannara (Garth!), this forty-page journey with series staple Allanon is short, simple, and easy to digest. More of a bite-size snack rather than a full meal, but still Paladins of Shannara manages to bring back the full Shannara nostalgia. Fans of the series and books before will eat it up -- and appreciate the sneak peek into the next in this farspread, always expanding series, Wards of Faerie -- but, it's not the best place to start reading for any reader not familiar with the well-worn tales that Brooks has published. It's heavy on the history and mythology we all know so well from The Sword of Shannara on, with a lot of explanation and exposition to remind readers of what has come before, but is later in the chronology. 

Though a bit thin on plot and filled with repetition, this is a diverting and engaging read for fans of Terry Brooks and his beloved, familiar characters. Anyone ever curious about how Gandalf Allanon was sent on the path to find Shea Ohmsford and stop the Warlock Lord for good will find just that in this quickly read and enjoyed novella. And now I want to go reread all my old favorites and prep myself for the release of the next book in this long-running series. While the novels can be a bit formulaic in their plots, it's the characters (Morgan Leah, Quentin Leah, Wren, Garet Jax, Garth, Eventine Elessedil) that I remember most and keep me coming back for more. 

Review: Between the Sea and the Sky by Jaclyn Dolamore

Monday, September 28, 2015
Genre: mythic fiction, young-adult
Series: N/A
Pages: 240 (Nook edition NetGalley ARC)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

For as long as Esmerine can remember, she has longed to join her older sister, Dosinia, as a siren--the highest calling a mermaid can have. When Dosinia runs away to the mainland, Esmerine is sent to retrieve her. Using magic to transform her tail into legs, she makes her way unsteadily to the capital city. There she comes upon a friend she hasn't seen since childhood--a dashing young man named Alandare, who belongs to a winged race of people. As Esmerine and Alandare band together to search for Dosinia, they rekindle a friendship . . . and ignite the emotions for a love so great, it cannot be bound by sea, land, or air.

Sadly, much like Cayla Kluver's Legacy or Tris & Izzie by Mette Ivie Harrison,  this mermaid tale is another case of Beautiful Cover, Big Ol' Mess inside the alluring facade. Though this young-adult novel is technically not a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's famous Little Mermaid, the story is obviously influenced by and similar to that long-loved tale. Both the pain of land, the belt/chastity allegory are all in tune with the familiar story. Between the Sea and Sky is the tale of a bookish teenage mermaid -  though she is soon to be elevated into the exclusive and respected sirens - named Esmerine. Esmerine's tale is about her search for her sister Dosinia, a fellow siren disappeared from the sea abruptly. It's a simple story in a very simple style that somehow manages to still take quite a bit of effort to finish. I have been on the look out for a good mermaid story, but sadly for me, Between the Sea and Sky failed to deliver a well-rounded, interesting, appropriate mermaid tale.

Esmerine is not a very well-rounded or even developed young-woman. Her personality seems too-perfect at best and mismatching or altered to appeal at worst. I never felt invested in the young mermaid; from her dialogue and her actions, she constantly came across as too young and too immature. As "the brain of the family" Esmerine sticks out from all other merfolk: she can read and write, and has even been friends with one of the detested and avoided "sky people". I can't say I really rooted for Esmerine during her search for Dosia- it's a fairly boring trek that seems to consist of Esmerine sitting and waiting while another actually searches for her sister. The role of the sirens as well, that of luring men to their deaths using song/beauty/etc., also seem strangely out-of-tune with the almost MG tone and feel of this novel. Between the Sea and the Sky occasionally borders on uncomfortable side with the random mentions of (and fixation upon) breasts, in addition to the more mature themes randomly mixed into the story.

The "winged people" that Esmerine knows and talks to are the Fandarsee - winged humans that are essentially Mercurys - they transport messages. One reason (among many) that this novel irritated me: the merfolk and Fandarsee resent/avoid/hate the other but no real reason is provided for the animosity between the races. So naturally, when Esmerine has feelings for a 'darsee, they cannot be together because. . .  of an obvious plot device by the author. It's obvious, unreasonable and needed better plotting. Alander or "Alan Dare" is the male love-interest for Esmerine; a friend from her childhood she has since (6 years) not seen. Speaking of which, Alandare reminds me of my second quibble: humans/their normal world are mentioned often throughout the story, but no information is given as to if the mermaids/Fandarsee are known outside of those encountered personally by humans. It just felt like a glaring error: I never knew what the status of the characters were and the worldbuilding suffered. And when I say worldbuilding, I'm being a tad sarcastic. There's barely any time devoted during the narrative to describe or enliven the underwater realm, which seemed by far the most interesting and with the most unique possibilities of all the places in the novel.

I digress, anyway. Back to Alan: in the baldest terms, I did not like him.  I did not like his attitude/interactions with Esmerine for seventy-five percent of the novel. He's grumpy, irascible and supposedly hiding a kinder, better side, but I never saw it. I just saw a really nasty dynamic between them. After Esmerine's extreme blandness, I was hoping for at least an interesting guy to read, but Alan really is just as flat and undeveloped as his friend. but I really dislike the interactions between the love-interests. Their "romance" is hackneyed and doesn't feel valid or real. I can't "buy" a relationship with

  • a. two characters who spend the first 170 pages bickering/fighting/misunderstanding each other or 
  • b. claim to be in love after a. and not seeing/knowing the other for about 6 years of crucial personal development. 
  • c. have zil chemistry between them when they reunite. How do we know these two crazy kids love each other? They say so - that's it. No actions, thoughts or behaviors to reinforce their love. It just is because they're 18 and 16 and they say so!
  • d. annoy me more together than they do apart.

Don't be like me deceived by that bewitching, albeit totally gorgeous and ethereal, cover. For such a short novel, Between the Sea and Sky manages to misfire on so many fronts that I'd suggest passing this one over unless all that (up there!) sounds like your cup of tea. I've heard the author's Magic Under Glass is cute and whimsical - perhaps that's worth a try before this mangled teenage mermaid tale. If you absolutely have to read the tale and see what happens to poor, missing Dosia, my personal advice is to just be patient and wait for the library to just say no.

Backlist Review: The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Sunday, September 27, 2015
Author: Jane Rogers
Genre: post-apocalyptic, science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 256 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 15 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3.75/5

Women are dying in their millions. Some blame scientists, some see the hand of God, some see human arrogance reaping the punishment it deserves.

 Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it s up to her. But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead? 

Set just a month or two in the future, in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman s determination to make her life count for something, as the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart.

My main reaction to this book is a case of "I wish": I wish that I had liked this more. I wish that the characterization had been stronger, more developed so I cared about Jessie's final decision. I wish more had been provided about the initial act of biological terrorism that sets the book into motion and leaves humanity 80-odd years from extinction. As it is, even with my dismay over some of the core elements (main character's unlikeability, the secondary, wholly superfluous plotline revolving around the parentals marriage) to be found in this quick-moving and quick-reading novel, this is a fresh approach to a world-ending apocalypse -- it just isn't carried through the full potential. Jane Rogers certainly succeeds at creating a truly freaky end of the world scenario, and in getting her readers to think about what they would do in just such a dire situation - I just wasn't all that invested in what her invented characters did here.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb certainly starts out well - and with a bang at that. With a concept that sounds like a vague mashup of The Handmaid's Tale (emphasis on feminine importance for their wombs) and Never Let Me Go (organ donation and the outcome from it), I was good to go. With the benefit of one of the more intriguing cold opens I've read so far this year, my interest was piqued from even before chapter one officially started. The idea of MDS ("Maternal Death Syndrome") and its dramatic, mortal effects is a nice, very creative spin on already-popular apocalypse genre, and Rogers' plot allows for intricate and divisive morality maneuvering between people and parties. Unfortunately, this is more of a character-driven novel and I found Jessie's first-person narration to be off-putting so my interest slowly waned as it became more and more concerned with solely her evolutionary arc. (Also, Lamb? Obvious name is obvious. First name is totally cool, though.) The novel is Jessie's epistolary to the unknown future and as a narrative structure, it works well for her voice, story and reveals, if it's not an entirely unique approach. 

Probably 65% of my dislike can be laid solely at the feet of our main character, Jessie. From the outset, she's a remote and somewhat cold narrator, a fact that is only reinforced by her nature towards her parents. She's obviously a complicated girl - that one so isolated would be so incredibly giving? naive? suicidal? speaks volumes of her development. I just couldn't identify with her personality-free narrative. Instead of allying with the closer-in-age main character, it's Jessie's poor, hapless parents that evoke the most sympathy. Jessie's stubborn and seemingly-willful naivety comes off as completely uncaring and apathetic to her understandably distressed parents. I don't expect Jessie to capitulate (hell, that would kill any plot in the book), but she could be infinitely more compassionate to her parents concerns and much more obligatory and explicit about her reasons for why she wants to be a Sleeping Beauty. 

I felt like a lot of the struggle between factions (the scientists vs the environmentals vs the 'Noahs') to be way too heavy-handed. Each side of the tripod is too extreme in their approach so none are really believable, even in this setting. The Testament of Jessie Lamb is a book that can be alternatively thoughtful or frustrating as interesting aspects of the book can be shortchanged for less original and compelling ideas, like the parents. I did like the open-ended nature of the finale as regards to Jessie's personal storyline but felt slightly shortchanged elsewhere. There's not a lot of payoff to finishing this novel - as a reader you're supposed to reflect and make your own decisions about the life and decisions made, but blehhh. In the end, instead of inspiring me to question the M.O. behind all the opposing parties, I just felt that the ideas behind The Testament of Jessie Lamb weren't as fully explored as they could have been.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb is an introspective thinker of a novel and I think reactions will be divided across the board. Some readers will love Rogers's slow and female-targeted approach to the end of humanity and strong if distant main character and others will pick it apart for the misused, cookie-cutter cast, the unnecessary subplots and the lack of answers. To each their own. I can't say that I was entirely happy with this when I finished it, but nor was I filled with rage. I'll more than likely keep an eye out for what else this author will put out in the future without committing myself.  

Unpopular Opinions Tag

Friday, September 25, 2015
A popular book or series that you didn’t like.

The Legend series by Marie Lu. I did okay with book one, but oh my god was it ever a chore after that. The characters were so lifeless and dull. The one character I did like was killed off and so was any remaining interest I had held onto up to that point.
It took me months to get 200 pages into Champion. I should have never even tried.

A book or series that everyone seems to hate but you love.

The Tearling series by Erika Johansen. I do not know why or how the backlash came for this because I love these books. They are very much a crack-fantasy but they're super entertaining and have some great characters. The second book really kicks things onto another level, as well.

A love triangle that didn’t end the way you wanted it to.

Well I was initially very much a Chaoleana shipper for three books but that did not work how I wanted. At first. Now I have a new ship for both Chaol and for Celaena, but that's as close as I get?

A book genre that you hardly reach for.

Thriller/horror. I do not enjoy being frightened at all. On the rare occasions I do try, it usually stays with me far too long and bothers me far too much. I only lasted 3 season with The Walking Dead and only really read the zombie novels that go for introspection (GWATG) than gore.

A popular author you just can’t seem to enjoy.

Mindy McGinnis.
I want to love her books, I do. But they never rate higher than a 3.5 for me. The premises are perfection but something in her execution just does not connect with me as a reader.

A popular trope you’re tired of seeing.

I am so over fridging in any genre; I don't even have words for it. Also, sex-as-healing. Makes me lauuuuugh every time. (I'm looking at you, fantasy genre.)

A popular series you have no interest in reading.

Anything by or tangentially connected to Cassandra Clare or her books. Big pile of "noooope" for anything and everything re: that lady.

A movie or TV show that was better than the book.

Stardust the movie is far, far better than the book (sorry not sorry, Gaimanites). How to Train Your Dragon (and its sequels, I assume)  is also a terrible disappointment to read, especially if you have seen and loved the movies beforehand. Do not recommend.

September Books!

Thursday, September 24, 2015
September! I love September! So many great things start happening. The end of summer, the beginning of fall! Book Outlet sales! It's just a wonderful time to be alive and bookish.


After the Woods by Kim Savage - a darker YA contemporary. I haven't heard much but the premise is very much Jessie bait.
My Second Life by Faye Bird - this sounds kind of like The Lost Girl and the themes and ideas being explored sound interesting and different.
These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas - Synopsis and some major coverlove lead me to this one.

Thank you, Macmillan!

From the lovely and wonderful Morgan

Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey (Wilde Island #1)
In the Time of the Dragon Moon by Janet Lee Carey (Wilde Island #2) - I have had both of these on my TBR for a while both because of DRAGONS and Morgan's own love for ITTOTDM. So I am very excited to dive into this series.

and a Stucky caaaard! <3333

So, as I mentioned, Book Outlet had a sale. And the paragon of self-control that I am, this was my haul:

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #3)
Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #6)
A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #7)
The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #8)
Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #9)
Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #10)
Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time #11)

This is a favorite series. One whose original covers were terrible and needed updating (plus these tall paperbacks take up less room than the giant hardcovers.) So buying 7 at less than $5 each was a solid choice.

But that's not all!

Shadow and Betrayal by Daniel Abraham (Long Price Quartet #1 and #2) - I raced through Abraham's other fantasy series last month. So this omnibus of the first two in another acclaimed series was an easy buy.
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr - I've loved most of Zarr's books but I have heard from a few friends that this one is a bit more difficult to get into.
Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman - Eon and Eona were such great fantasy books. It's been too long since I've read an AG novel so this should tide me over until Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club comes out. Plus? That cooooover.

Unsouled by Neal Shusterman (Unwind #3) - So this is a hard series to read, but it's also really thoughtful and good.
The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay (The Fionavar Tapedtry #1) - I've been hit or miss with some of GGK's novels but the last few were excellent. It's about time I try one of his most beloved books.
Indigo Springs by A.M. Dellmonica (Astrid Lethewood #1) - I don't know much about this and have only one friend who has read it but she loved it. So, on Christina's review, I'm trying it.

So besides Book Outlet, I also purchased:

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #3) - I love my signed ARC from BEA 14 but I needed a finished copy. So. Here it is in all its glory.
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn - this author's debut was creepy and well-written. Also, dragons. And this sounds very promising.
Storm by Amanda Sun (Paper Gods #3) - I am so sad these books changed covers before the end of the series. I still like this cover but the others (esp. book one) were so striking! Also these books are creative and fun.

So, The Shadow Behind the Stars is beyond gorgeous in person, guys. This is one beautiful book.

See? Proof?

It's going to be displayed very prominently on my shelf, let me tell you.


The Sleepwalker Tonic by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller (Nightmares! #2) - book one was fun and creepy. I am not sure how long that charm can last but then again, it's Marshall Jason Segel.

Lady of Magick by Sylvia Izzo Hunter (Noctis Magicae #2) - I love this cover. I haven't read the first book yet but I couldn't resist a sale.
The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski (The Winner's Trilogy #2) - fnally bought a finished copy to go with my ARC. I am going to have to reread these before book three comes out.

In the Shadows by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo - I don't know too much about this but: it was on sale for $4, Jim di Bartolo is really talented, it's not a straight narrative story. That was enough for me.
Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed - I have had my eye on this since it came out and thanks to a giftcard, finally got it for myself.
White Cat by Holly Black (Curseworkers #1) - I have this in nook, but I love these covers and this is a favorite series and also I am a magpie and needed to own it. Worth it.
Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I opened this on a whim and didn't stop for two hours. And once I fed my dogs, I didn't stop until I finished the book. It was so good. Highly highly recommended.

Current look of most of the library:

What's new on your shelves? How is your September shaping up? Doesn't it seem like A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT of books were pubbed so far?

Review: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: fairy tale retelling, middle grade, fantasy
Series: N/A
Pages: 232
Published: 1997
Source: purchased
Rating: 5/5 all the stars always

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way. Yes, there is a pumpkin coach, a glass slipper, and a happily ever after, but this is the most remarkable, delightful, and profound version of Cinderella you'll ever read.

Gail Carson Levine's examination of traditional female roles in fairy tales takes some satisfying twists and deviations from the original. Ella is bound by obedience against her will, and takes matters in her own hands with ambition and verve. Her relationship with the prince is balanced and based on humor and mutual respect; in fact, it is she who ultimately rescues him. Ella Enchanted has won many well-deserved awards, including a Newbery Honor.

A childhood favorite that I still enjoy reading to this day. This is a lovely, delightful and most of all fun read. I have probably read this book more than any other in my life and it never fails to make me smile and fall in love with its characters. Carson Levine has many talents but her storytelling is flawless and her plotting and characterization are equally impressive.

Ella is spirited, charming and genuinely funny. Her family and the outline of Ella's life is what one would expect from a Cinderella retelling, but Carson Levine recreates and reinvents the beloved fairytale without being boring or repetitive. Her world is creative, unique, and utterly charming. Char is the perfect prince but still doesn't overshadow or swoop in to save the day. Gail Carson Levine wrote a feminist, original take on the Cinderella story and makes it all her own in doing so.

I recommend it to anyone who enjoys clever writing from a deft author who never misplaces a word in her story. This is the book that taught me how to ship, that taught me about OTPs and book crushes. It also features great female friendships, clever storytelling, and a favorite story. Not to miss for old fans or new.


Review: A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Title: A Madness So Discreet
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Published: expected October 6 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Grace Mae knows madness.

She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.

When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.

In this beautifully twisted historical thriller, Mindy McGinnis, acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, explores the fine line between sanity and insanity, good and evil—and the madness that exists in all of us.

Mindy McGinnis can write in a unique and visceral style and she definitely has one hell of an imagination. I was very interested to see what she would do after her almost-western post-apocalyptic duology (Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust) and that project being a YA historical fiction slash thriller novel set in an asylum is both unexpected and completely perfect. The premise is perfection.....and the novel is a good effort and wholly original if not quiiiiite the novel we want it to be. 

There have been a lot of glowing reviews for this and ostensibly, I can see why. But A Madness So Discreet never managed to connect with me on any kind of personal or emotional level. I am not saying a book has to do that to be a good book, but for me, with this novel, it fell flat and emotionless. And while I can objectively say that what Grace and her compatriot characters endure is both harrowing and worthy of empathy, I had little invested in the story's outcome. 

The message at the end of the book is either clouded or weak, depending on your interpretation or mileage. For a novel that wants to explore mental health and "madness", it falls too easily on tropes and stereotypical bad guys to make any kind of meaningful statement about either.

Two Minute Review: The White Rose by Amy Ewing

Title: The White Rose
Author: Amy Ewing
Genre: fantasy, dystopia, young adult 
Series: The Lone City #2
Pages: 320
Published: expected October 6 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2/5

Violet is on the run. After the Duchess of the Lake catches Violet with Ash, the hired companion at the Palace of the Lake, Violet has no choice but to escape the Jewel or face certain death. So along with Ash and her best friend, Raven, Violet runs away from her unbearable life of servitude.

But no one said leaving the Jewel would be easy. As they make their way through the circles of the Lone City, Regimentals track their every move, and the trio barely manages to make it out unscathed and into the safe haven they were promised—a mysterious house in the Farm.

But there’s a rebellion brewing, and Violet has found herself in the middle of it. Alongside a new ally, Violet discovers her Auguries are much more powerful than she ever imagined. But is she strong enough to rise up against the Jewel and everything she has ever known?

The White Rose is a raw, captivating sequel to The Jewel that fans won’t be able to put down until the final shocking moments

Violet has escaped and is on the run from evil people who want to impregnate her and then murder her once she gives birth. This should be a harrowing, terrifying, exciting read about danger and covert maneuvering and women's rights... it's just... not that. It's not half of what it could be -- there are some topical issues at play that could be explored meaningfully and carefully. But they're largely ignored for the same old angst and romantic interplay. It's the 19037845720 verse, same as the first.

Admittedly, I like some of the ideas here (especially how dark Ewing is willing to get [ I mean, most YA books don't even address pregnancy much less forced surrogacy and then murder, etc. ]), but the execution  of those ideas leaves a lot to be desired. The whole world is shallow and so are the characters within that world. It's too flimsy so I shouldn't be surprised that the women's rights issues are not addressed in favor of a much less substantial plot. I was bored by what The White Rose chose to do and by its characters lack of dimension (exception: Raven who is a large part of my rating) or originality. Given two books and 650+ pages there should be more depth to the series.

I think I am getting off the The Lone City train at the second stop. This had potential, but like the cover of the second book --- the closer you look, the less it appeals.

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: young adult, historical fiction, magical realism
Series: The Gold Seer #1
Pages: 432 
Published: expected September 22, 2105
Source: ARC from publishers for review 
Rating: 3.75/5

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

So, I quite liked this historicalish series-opener from seasoned fantasy author Rae Carson . It was fun and different and highly, compulsively readable. It features some fun tropes and unexpected diversity and was an action-filled story; it was memorable. Yet I didn't fall in love with Walk on Earth a Stranger.. but then, I didn't love the first book in this author's last trilogy, either. Sometimes a series needs a book to gain footing, and this was a solid foundation for Carson's planned trilogy.

 Walk on Earth has some of my favorite tropes to read -- in YA or not. I love genderbending, girls defying rules and conventions, and I also love themes of revenge or retribution set in untamed lands. I played Oregon Trail as a child and to see that journey recreated (besides Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie) Across with a spirited character like Leah Westfall was both nostalgic and a whole new joy. Leah's growth as a character is notable and authentic. The magical realism angel is stressed lightly but, honestly, it  feels like an afterthought to the more realistic historical fiction story being told. 

 Leah sets out on her journey and the secondary cast is filled out by the companions she meets and journeys with on the long and dangerous road from Georgia to California. The exception to the pattern is with  Jefferson, her best friend from childhood and  eventual love interest. And when I say love interest, know that it is a minimal part of the story and the complex relationship that exists between the two characters. This book isn't a romance and it doesn't really have those kinds of feels or ships, if that's the kind of story you're looking for. That's not to say Walk on Earth a Stranger doesn't have emotion (the boooot) or heart (Leah is one helluva heroine), but it's more driven by darker emotions (fear, anger, revenge, ambition) and focuses on a wider scope. 

I might have really fallen in love with this if the ending had melt more complete instead of a holdover until the next book. I get that it's a series with an overarching villain and theme and struggle to be developed over three books, but it felt unsatisfying and too easy (running into each other that quickly??)  after the hundreds of pages and thousands of miles invested. The lack of resolution was disappointing.  know I will return for the next book in the series with Lee/Leah and Co. (I mean, I did read 2/3 of The Girl of Fire and Thorns series) but I hope it will pack a more emotional punch.

Review: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

Friday, September 18, 2015
Title: Ink and Bone
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: historical fiction, supernatural fiction
Series: The Great Library #1
Pages: 351
Published: July 7 2015
Source: purchased
Rating: 4.5/5

In an exhilarating new series, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time.…

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When he inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn.…

So the wait for book two is gonna be a biiiitch. This is a book that really builds. The momentum starts slowly and before you know it, you're caught up in this alternate world, with these bright and diverse characters. It's a book that leaves you wanting more.

But at least I will have time to process all those clever twists and all these feels that I currently have. Ink and Bone is a clever novel, and it's a subtle one as well. It's creative and original and wholly, totally memorable. It boasts one of my favorite premises to date and Caine does not disappoint with the execution.

Well done, Ms. Caine. I liked your vampire books (in fact it's the only ongoing vampire series I still read) but I loved this. It was creative and inventive and diverse. I had so many ships but my main ship was sneaky and subtle and made me Feel Things.

So yeah.

This is a book about books, about the power of knowledge, and about knowledge of power. It's clever and it's full of action. It's a great blend of ideas and genres and holy shit gimme book two please.  

Backlist Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Genre: young-adult, general fiction, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 348 (hardcover edition)
Published: June 2011
Source: bought
Rating: 4/5

Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

Imaginary Girls is not at all what I expected, in terms of story and plot. It is exactly what I wanted in regards to the beautiful, imagery-laden prose. Nova Ren Suma's talent at storytelling shines through her imaginative and interesting story, but doesn't entirely make up for all the missing details and information. Mostly, though, what this book is, is weird. Not in a bad "stay far far away from it" way, but in a starkly unique and thoroughly creepy way. Creepy in tone, creepy in setting, creepy in the skewed way Chloe views the world, this is one of the more evocative books I've read in terms of mood, feeling and atmosphere. There are a few spoilers ahead, so don't skim if you don't want to spoil yourself.

Being totally, 100% honest, Imaginary Girls' plot warranted only about one star out of five; the other three that I've given it here are because I loved very much just how that story was written. If I had more solid footing on just what happened that first night at the reservoir, [SPOILERS next (for instance, just how and when did Ruby switch the two girls? How did she know what to do to save her sister? Was Ruby always in "contact" with the people from Olive, thus proving her stories about them/the town to Chloe were real? How did she "trick" them into believing London was Chloe? For that matter, who is/are "them"?!) end of SPOILERS], if Chloe's limited knowledge of just what happens with Ruby/London/Olive was just a bit expanded in any kind of meaningful way, I wouldn't've felt that disappointed by the end of the novel. All in all, when Imaginary Girls succeeds, it's on the strength of Suma's imaginative and unsettlingly creepy writing, but when it falls short, it does so in other categories like characterization, plot, and particularly in the infancy of the novel: pacing. That's not to say that this is ever a boring novel; no, quite the opposite. Even when there is little to nothing going on in Chloe's life or in her head, Suma keeps it far from boring with her inventive and individual twist with words. 

“There was something to be said for the bodiless feeling that came after the cold. Something I would always remember. When you forget how bad it hurts, you feel so free.”
“...I sat there in the boat under her stars and her moon gated on all sides by the mountains watching the last bits of her breath float up and away.”

This is a mixed bag: a realistic young-adult novel with a fantastical twist. A beautifully written and told tale, Imaginary Girls gets more right than it does wrong. And though I felt vaguely and sadly unsatisfied with how things ended, this is an author that can write, and one I will keep a look out for future work in the coming years.

Blog Tour Review: Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

Monday, September 14, 2015
Title: Avelynn
Author: Marissa Campbell
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: September 8 2015
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: 3/5

Marissa Campbell's debut novel is a winning combination of romance, history, and adventure sure to appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon.

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn't yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it's more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?

Marissa Campbell ventures into a turbulent time and place for her debut historical novel Avelynn. I love finding historical fiction stories that aren't set in the more popular eras of the genre, or based on the most infamous figures known from then. Focusing on 869 in England  and a Lord's daughter from Wedmore definitely qualifies; this wasn't a rehash of stories I've already read. Campbell has an eye for detail and description; her characters are lively if not wholly three-dimensional. There's a lot to offer in Avelynn, and it's very readable.

I was engaged in this story early on in the 350-page length. Campbell's writing style is smooth and natural but the plotting and pacing are less polished. I had issues with the time jumps as the story progressed -- one chapter could cover just a few days, but then a new paragraph/chapter begins and it's weeks or months later? It was disconcerting and led to more than a bit of confusion and distance from the story being told.  

Possibly as a result of the timing and pacing issues in Avelynn, I also had issues with how fast Alrik and Avelynn go from possible enemies to head over heels in love with one another. It happens much too quickly.  I couldn't buy the rapid relationship as authentic for either character; it didn't make sense. Star-crossed love is a great trope if it is done well, but Campbell failed to take the time to develop their interactions into a believable plot point.

I liked Avelynn as a character, however. She was strong and independent without being an anachronism. She was intelligent and fair, but her narration could also falter, or venture into telling instead of showing. Alrik was given less to work with, since he isn't a POV character and features into the story less than Avelynn. There was certainly chemistry but I found the relationship to be a misstep.

Avelynn has a lot to offer Outlander fans, I think. The feel of the two stories is a lot alike (save the time travel) and the romance really is the focus of much of the story once it is introduced. If those two aspects draw you to a book, then this is a good fit for a next read.

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