Review: “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge


15839984Title: “Cruel Beauty”

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Genre: Fantasy, YA, PNR, AWESOME, Retellings

Publication Date:  January 28, 2014 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source:  Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

☆: 5/5 stars – An absolutely mindblowing debut from Hodge!

Review: Man, I’d been hearing some great things about this book before I even picked it up, but I didn’t expect to be this blown away by a 2014 debut. “Cruel Beauty” isn’t just a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, but it also mixes in alternate histories/universes and Greco-Roman mythology. Oh, and ass-kicking females. Which definitely got my attention. Guys, this book is a total breath of fresh air for YA, and I’ve already reread it once before doing this review. If you’re looking for a really amazing fairy retelling with a lot of other elements thrown in, “Cruel Beauty” is definitely the book you need to pick up this year in terms of debuts.

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Review: “Kinslayer (Lotus War #2)” by Jay Kristoff


15773979Title: “Kinslayer”

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: Alternate Universe/History, Steampunk, AWESOME

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (SMP/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

☆: 5/5 stars – an absolutely awesome follow-up to book one!

Review: Because this book was more or less just as awesome in terms of all of the technical aspects of writing when compared to book one, I’m going to instead focus this review on one very interesting theme that I found ongoing throughout this installment of the series, and there will be some speculation if some of the finer aspects of that theme were intentional or not on Kristoff’s part. That being said, it’s no surprise that the followup to “Stormdancer” was awesome, but it felt like Kristoff grew a great deal between both books, and it shows. We’re moving more and more into adult territory with not only what actually happens plot-wise with Yukiko and company, but with themes and the like. And it’s a lovely thing to behold. If you’ve read “Stormdancer” and liked it, you’re going to love “Kinslayer”.

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Review: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang


Once We WereTitle: “Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2)” by Kat Zhang

Author: Kat Zhang

Genre: Alternate History, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary, Dystopia, Biopunk

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – Not quite as breathtaking as book one, but still a really, really awesome follow-up to it.

Review: “What’s Left of Me” was definitely in my top ten of my favorite debuts of 2012, and so I was really, really happy to get a copy of this next installment in the series, “Once We Were”. While not quite in frenetic in its pace (except for the last quarter or so), “Once We Were” is a quieter book that reflects on what has happened in book one, and what’s on deck for Addie, Eva, and the rest of the hybrids on the run, as well as delves a little deeper into the differences between Addie and Eva in pretty much every way. So for those that want that non-stop action from book one may be a bit let down, but “Once We Were” is just every inch as good as its prequel – just a little emotionally deeper.

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Review: “3:59” by Gretchen McNeil


15836516Title: “3:59”

Author: Gretchen McNeil

Genre: Multiverse/Alternate Universe, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Josie Byrne’s life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she’s betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can’t get worse.

Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m.

Jo’s life is everything Josie wants: she’s popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they’re just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo.

Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo’s perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day.

But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo’s boyfriend, he hates her. Jo’s mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh.

By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late?

☆: 3.5/5 stars – a fun multiverse tale, but could have been better.

Review: The multiverse books just keep on comin’ in YA, and that’s a happy, happy thing. I love reading about multiple dimensions and alternate histories or universes, so “3:59” was definitely on my TBR list. And while it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, it was still a fun book, and I think a lot of people (especially those just getting used to the idea of reading multiverse lit) will enjoy it. If you’re looking for a good rainy day book, or a book to consume in one day, make it “3:59”.

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Review: “When the World Was Flat” by Ingrid Jonach


WhenTheWorldWasFlat-144dpiTitle: “When the World Was Flat (and we were in love)”

Author: Ingrid Jonach

Genre: Multiverse/Alternate Universe, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary

Publication Date: September 3, 2013 (Strange Chemistry – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy/Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Looking back, I wonder if I had an inkling that my life was about to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

When sixteen-year-old Lillie Hart meets the gorgeous and mysterious Tom Windsor-Smith for the first time, it’s like fireworks — for her, anyway. Tom looks as if he would be more interested in watching paint dry; as if he is bored by her and by her small Nebraskan town in general.

But as Lillie begins to break down the walls of his seemingly impenetrable exterior, she starts to suspect that he holds the answers to her reoccurring nightmares and to the impossible memories which keep bubbling to the surface of her mind — memories of the two of them, together and in love.

When she at last learns the truth about their connection, Lillie discovers that Tom has been hiding an earth-shattering secret; a secret that is bigger — and much more terrifying and beautiful — than the both of them. She also discovers that once you finally understand that the world is round, there is no way to make it flat again.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – a great new multiverse book to add to the YA canon!

Review: Yet another multiverse book to add to the YA canon! And it’s pretty great. There are some things that I felt held the book back (hopefully these were edited out, as I read an ARC version), but otherwise, Jonach has put together a relatively suspenseful little book here. I think those just dipping their toes into the multiverse genre pool will do well to start with “When the World Was Flat”.

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Review: Once We Were by Kat Zhang


Once We WereTitle: Once We Were

Author: Kat Zhang

Genre: Dystopia, Alternate Universe

Publication Date: September 17, 2013

Source: e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis: “I’m lucky just to be alive.”

Eva was never supposed to have survived this long. As the recessive soul, she should have faded away years ago. Instead, she lingers in the body she shares with her sister soul, Addie. When the government discovered the truth, they tried to “cure” the girls, but Eva and Addie escaped before the doctors could strip Eva’s soul away.

Now fugitives, Eva and Addie find shelter with a group of hybrids who run an underground resistance. Surrounded by others like them, the girls learn how to temporarily disappear to give each soul some much-needed privacy. Eva is thrilled at the chance to be alone with Ryan, the boy she’s falling for, but troubled by the growing chasm between her and Addie. Despite clashes over their shared body, both girls are eager to join the rebellion.

Yet as they are drawn deeper into the escalating violence, they start to wonder: How far are they willing to go to fight for hybrid freedom? Faced with uncertainty and incredible danger, their answers may tear them apart forever.

☆: 5/5 stars – THIS is the kind of dystopian I want to see more of!

It’s easy to look at dystopian novels nowadays, roll your eyes, and keep going. Many of them sound the same and it’s easy to pick out which books use the dystopia as an obstacle for the romance or the drama, which ones have premises so laughably weak you can write a paper on why it will never happen based on just the jacket copy, and which wants are actually trying to say something about society. Zhang’s masterful Hybrid Chronicles is one of the strongest, if not THE strongest, YA dystopian series on the market right now and there’s nothing about it I don’t love at this point.

Now that Addie and Eva have semi-equal control of their body, they deal with a whole new set of issues, what with Eva liking Ryan and Addie liking a boy who is not Ryan or Devon. Oh, and not telling Eva that for a while. Their struggle with compromise–because they don’t always want the same thing;Eva agrees to foreboding plans Addie strongly disagrees with and both girls start keeping things to themselves when it’s something both girls need to know–is one of the conflicts at the forefront of the novel.

The other major conflict? Oh, some of the hybrids wanting to delve into terrorism in order to show the single-souled populace they refuse to be incarcerated and lobotomized any longer.

Eva/Addie act as more of vehicles through which we get the story instead of an actual character taking part in the action on occasion, but such moments aren’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this novel. It may even be better for them to be reduced to this when their fellow hybrids are planning terrorism because we get a greater understanding of how they got to their current mindsets and what the anti-hybrid sentiment has done to them.

What makes this so strong as a dystopian novel is the metaphors through which it examines our world and what might happen if our Islamophobia/xenophobia goes too far. Reading this so soon after the Boston Marathon bombings makes the parallel of hybrid discrimination and Islamophobia/xenophobia even clearer than it was during What’s Left of Me. Once Sabine, Christoph, and like-minded hybrids make their plans and build their bombs, they become the parallel to Islamic extremists in our world. It’s easy to think of Islamic extremists as pure evil, but like the terrorist hybrids, they’re people too. Their motivations may have arisen from maltreatment and they want change, but both the hybrids and the extremists are only going to make things worse and hurt their cause.

The ending leaves where they’re going from here clear about three feet ahead and beyond that, they’ve got to be trailblazers because what they’ve been doing isn’t going to work anymore. I’ll be awaiting and dreading the third and final book of Zhang’s beautiful trilogy in equal measure. Why would I want the only dystopian series I honestly love to end, after all?

Review: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst


ConjuredTitle: Conjured

Author: Sarah Beth Durst

Genre: YA, Alternate Universes, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 3, 2013 (Walker Childrens)

Source: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

2/5 stars – Great premise and strongly written flashbacks, but it fails to deliver

I’ve heard Durst’s novels are a little unpredictable in how good they are; they can be great (Vessel) or they can be terrible (Ice). The premise for Conjured and the ability to get ahold of a copy was what cinched it and got me to try my first novel from an author my best friend loves because of Drink, Slay, Love. How did it go? Not well, unfortunately.

The premise is intriguing and despite disillusionment fairly early on, I kept going because I knew it was going to be delivered on eventually and the flashbacks/visions Eve had after she used her powers were so well-written, enticing, and overall mysterious. More than anything else, those and the mystery behind them were what drove the book early on.

Unfortunately, Eve herself was difficult to get invested in or see a lot of development in because she’s such a blank slate. Every time she uses her powers, she faints, has a vision, and comes back to herself to find days or weeks have passed since she was last conscious of the world around her. She’s been up and moving in the time she can’t remember, but she (of course) has no idea what she’s been doing.

Her lost time makes what MIGHT be a decent relationship with Zach, a boy whose constant word vomit and declaration in their very first conversation that he’d rather kiss her than shake her hand made him difficult to like, come off as insta-love. She doesn’t know what all she’s done with him and neither do we, so we get no development. It’s simply something that happened. Then it devolves into something of a love triangle with the addition of Aiden, a teen with powers of his own and declarations of how Eve is a prize he’s destined to win or something like that. Huh?

After 234 pages, this is what I learned: Eve has powers; Aiden and two other teens also have powers; they all come from the same world; Eve has powers thought impossible; and people want her dead. That’s all I know after reading more than two-thirds of the book. There’s mystery and then there’s keeping readers in the dark in the most frustrating way, and Conjured fits the latter more than the former.

The sad thing is that at the point at which I decided to stop reading (the aforementioned page 234), things were finally starting to get interesting. Eve stopped trusting the people guarding her, the narration switched from a distant third-person to first-person as she came back to herself and decided to be more active in what was going on in her life, and it seemed like we were FINALLY getting where we should have gotten a long time ago. Sadly, all my patience was burned up by then and I had no interest in seeing how everything came to be resolved. None whatsoever.

I’m perfectly willing to read other novels from Durst. After all, the all-around praise for Vessel has been tempting me since the book came out in September 2012 and that premise sounds even MORE tantalizing. Why I passed up the chance to get a finished copy a few weeks ago is beyond me, but the point is that my bad experience with Conjured isn’t the end. It simply wasn’t the right start.