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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Blog Tour Stop! Review, Top 5, and Giveaway: No Angel by Helen Keeble


No AngelGood morning! Enjoy my review, Helen’s five favorite things about writing No Angel, and a giveaway courtesy of this Xpresso Reads blog tour stop.

Title: No Angel

Author: Helen Keeble

Genre: Comedy, YA Paranormal, Angels

Publication Date: October 8, 2013 (HarperTeen)

Source: ARC for review from the author

Synopsis: Rafael Angelos just got handed the greatest gift any teenage boy could ever dream of. Upon arriving at his new boarding school for senior year, he discovered that he is the ONLY male student. But what should have been a godsend isn’t exactly heaven on Earth.

Raffi’s about to learn that St. Mary’s is actually a hub for demons-and that he was summoned to the school by someone expecting him to save the day. Raffi knows he’s no angel-but it’s pretty hard to deny that there’s some higher plan at work when he wakes up one morning to discover a glowing circle around his head.

Helen Keeble’s debut novel, Fang Girl, has been praised for its pitch-perfect teen voice, and VOYA called it “refreshing and reminiscent of Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series.” No Angel brings you angels and demons like you’ve never seen them-complete with the wry humor of Vladimir Tod, sinfully irreverent romance, and some hilariously demonic teenage dilemmas.

4/5 stars – A funnier take on angels than most, though the mythology can be baffling

Angels are bad for me. With maybe one or two exceptions, books that center on Judeo-Christian angel mythology usually kill me, but c’mon! Helen Keeble! How much I enjoyed Fang Girl + lovely author = I’m a sucker.

Rafael is kind of a douchebag, but it works because how douchey he can be never overpowers his personality. He’s got a good heart beneath the spot-on snark and when he gets too far out of line, there’s always someone ready to smack him in the back of the head and set him straight (usually Krystal or Faith). Seeing as he didn’t think very deeply into why students were being given guns and told to go to a shooting range when they got in trouble during one class, it’s also evident he has an Idiot Ball permanently glued to himself.

If you did a double take at the gun thing, don’t worry because I did too. I promise there’s a good explanation for it. It may not explain how parents never question a gun range and guns being on a prep school campus, but it explains why it’s there in the first place.

For the most part, the novel is slowly plotted, but it rarely feels as slow as it technically is. When the plot isn’t around to move us forward, Raf finds himself growing new appendages or discovering he has a lot more eyeballs than the average human being should. His research into this and incidents related to it all is what keeps us going in the meantime. When the plot does kick in, it becomes clear nothing is as it seems. There are enough twists and turns that everything we thought we knew at the beginning of No Angel is pretty much out the window by the end. And I mean everything.

There are just as many twists that make the novel’s mythology difficult to digest, sadly. I think of pentagrams (upside-down star in a circle) and pentacles (right-side-up star in a circle) as two different things. In No Angel, they are called the same thing. This is technically correct, but thanks to how I associate pentagrams with “evil” and pentacles with “good,” it seems a little strange to me that a pentagram was used to summon a guardian angel AND bring forth demons. And that makes sense to Raf, who has already been demonstrated to be a little brainless. A later reveal also makes the powers Raf comes into that much more confusing, It’s impossible to go into details because it’s a major spoiler, but the point in question doesn’t feel fully explained.

Then we come to what might be the most relieving element: the very low-key role romance plays. It seems like it plays a much stronger role when Raf meets Faith and starts to crush on her hardcore, but like I said, nothing is as it seems here. Believe it or not, it takes until the last page for Raf to take the first explicit step toward a romance with another character that has nothing to do with his angelic duties.

So all in all, anyone who enjoyed the way Keeble subverted, parodied, and generally poked tired tropes with fun results in Fang Girl will surely enjoy No Angel just as much. At this point, she could write just about anything and I would be willing to read it because I know she’s going to entertain me and make my head spin all the right ways.

HELEN’S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT WRITING No Angel:

1. Researching angels in De coelesti hierarchy, a 5th Century text that was pretty much the foundation for orthodox Christian angelology. (no, I didn’t read it in the original Greek – I’m not THAT hardcore) It is awesome… and has ensured that I am never going to be able to read my favourite angel romance novels in quite the same way ever again.

Let’s put it this way: When you think “angel”, what comes to mind?

a. An ethereally handsome guy with big white wings and a noble expression

b. Two massive bicycle wheels jammed crossways into each other, set on fire, and COVERED IN EYES

Thanks to De coelesti hierarchy, I now have to tick option b.

2. The Headmistress, a long-suffering, take-no-prisoners teacher with the brain of a supercomputer, a heart of solid granite and a tongue of pure battery acid. It’s awfully fun to write someone that witheringly sarcastic!

3. The many romances. In my previous book, Fang Girl, the main character is far too pragmatic and practical — not to mention busy running for her life — to do anything more than have a tiny flirt with romance. In contrast, No Angel revolves around the main characters’ love-lives – off the top of my head, there are at least seven different romances going on, and I’ve probably forgotten some! I enjoyed the opportunity to explore many different sorts of relationships, from platonic first crush through to forbidden passion. And of course, there’s true love…

4. In the middle of all the romantic comedy, I got to break out my inner math geek and explain something really awesome about geometry. No, really. (it’s ok, I promise there aren’t any equations)

5. Rafael Angelos, the spectacularly handsome and completely in-over-his-head hero of No Angel. He’s a good guy at heart, but he does have a small flaw of being utterly convinced that he’s God’s Gift to Girlkind. He’s so over-confident about his irresistible attractiveness, and I took great sadistic pleasure in putting him into dreadful situations because of it!

SHINY GIVEAWAY!

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“A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)” by Susan Dennard


13624584Title: “A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)”

Author: Susan Dennard

Genre: YA, alternate history/parallel universes, zombies, steampunk, paranormal

Publication Date: July 23, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a sequel that shines brighter than its first book!

Review: I think I can honestly say that this sequel(and what looks to be a middle book in a trilogy?) is stronger than its initial first book in this series. Seriously. “Strange and Lovely” builds upon everything set up in book one, but it also has a lot more tension (almost tension on every page), and we get more worldbuilding, more new awesome characters, and a sea change in everyone we got to know in love back in book one. If you’re looking for one of the best sophomoric efforts this year in YA, look no further than “A Darkness Strange and Lovely”.

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Blog Tour Stop! Review and Giveaway: Outcast by Adrienne Kress


OutcastTitle: Outcast

Author: Adrienne Kress

Genre: YA Contemporary, Paranormal, Time Travel,

Publication Date: June 4, 2013

Source: Publisher-provided eARC

Links: Diversion Books’ page for Outcast | Adrienne Kress’s website

Synopsis: After six years of “angels” coming out of the sky and taking people from her town, 16-year-old Riley Carver has just about had it living with the constant fear. When one decides to terrorize her in her own backyard, it’s the final straw. She takes her mother’s shotgun and shoots the thing. So it’s dead. Or … not? In place of the creature she shot, is a guy. A really hot guy. A really hot alive and breathing guy. Oh, and he’s totally naked.

Not sure what to do, she drags his unconscious body to the tool shed and ties him up. After all, he’s an angel and they have tricks. When he regains consciousness she’s all set to interrogate him about why the angels come to her town, and how to get back her best friend (and almost boyfriend) Chris, who was taken the year before. But it turns out the naked guy in her shed is just as confused about everything as she is.

He thinks it’s 1956.

Set in the deep south, OUTCAST is a story of love, trust, and coming of age. It’s also a story about the supernatural, a girl with a strange sense of humor who’s got wicked aim, a greaser from the 50’s, and an army of misfits coming together for one purpose: To kick some serious angel ass.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – All but ripped my heart out of my chest!

Angel books can go very badly sometimes, but when they’re good, they’re GOOD.  Especially when they start with an angel being shot in the face. Adrienne Kress proved herself to me with The Friday Society and with Outcast, she has ensured I’ll be keeping track of whatever YA novels she writes next.

Hartwich is a small town angels steal people from once a year, and the subtle way Kress builds it makes it come to life. After the first few chapters, the horror that Riley essentially lives within a cult sinks in. Pastor Warren came to town after the angels started taking people and he all but controls the town and everyone in it. He manipulates the townspeople and tricks them and after a while, he is the law in Hartwich. Your family either does something to show loyalty to him or you and your family get singled out. Getting singled out here? Not a good thing. At all.

Riley is one of the most well-drawn heroines I’ve seen in some time. She can be judgmental, but once she realizes she was wrong or someone rightly calls her out on it, she starts working to better herself about that. The cheerleader she dislikes so much to start with, Lacy Green? They become friendly enough that Lacy helps Riley get ready for her first date. Riley can forget to consider other people sometimes, but she’s more often selfless to the point that she neglects herself and her own desires. She may not be good with people, but when stuff needs to get done, she gets stuff done and if she considers you someone close to her, you have the best defense in the world.

Like the novel itself, which takes place over the course of a year, Riley’s burgeoning relationship with Gabe is the slow-burn sort. Riley is overly jealous to a baffling degree when he first becomes part of the Hartwich community, but that jealousy goes away a little while later with little explanation. Still, their relationship is so thoroughly, lovingly developed through their interactions, the small things they do for each other, and how well they work together that if a reader leaves this novel with anything, it’s the certainty that these two love each other dearly. Gabe is sweet. He can be a bit of a pervert sometimes, but he cares about Riley and he’s trying to find his way into a time far removed from his own.

The mythology behind the angels that terrorize this town (though not according to Pastor Warren and his followers, who provide a great contrast with their very human evil), the mystery shrouding how Gabe ended up in Riley’s time, the need to figure out what is going on before the next Taking happens, and their solution being a sharpshooter squad to shoot the angels down when they come to take people all do a bang-up job of keeping readers in the thick of things. In the rare times one of the above doesn’t have readers belted in for a fun ride, Riley’s constantly evolving character and personal story will do the trick.

The only real issues I remember are Riley’s come-and-go jealousy and the occasional prose hiccup. For the most part, it’s written beautifully (“Sing ’em to remember” will be in my head for a very long time), but it threw me a little bit when someone got called a loose canon. Loose canons are author problems. Loose cannons are everyone’s problem. Perhaps “lose cannon” was what was supposed to be there? Canon is used every time cannon should be, so I’m not sure if that’s an ARC error or general error.

The ending is just BRUTAL on the emotions. I want it to be the end because it’s so realistic and reminds us that we don’t always get what we want or deserve after doing what’s right. Then again, I want there to be more because Riley deserves something of her own after what she’s been through, but that HEA would practically invalidate the current ending’s message.  I DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL, OKAY? However I’m eventually going to feel about how it all turned out, thank you, Adrienne Kress. Thank you for writing this novel and tearing my heart out in the best possible way.

GIVEAWAY

For the other part of my blog tour stop, I’m giving away one ebook copy of Outcast so someone else will be able to enjoy it. As long as I’m able to gift you an ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or the ebook retailer of your choice, this giveaway is international. But seriously, I’ve got to be able to gift it to you. If I can’t, dealbreaker.

    • You’ve got to be thirteen or older to enter.
    • Fill out the Rafflecopter form to your heart’s content.
    • If you’re the winner, I’ll email you and you have twenty-four hours to respond.
    • Don’t cheat. I see those IPs!

Now click on that Rafflecopter link and get to it! Seriously, you want this book.

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Review: Mystic by Alyson Noel


MysticTitle: Mystic

Author: Alyson Noel

Genre: YA Paranormal, Demons, Fantasy

Publication Date: May 7, 2013

Source: Finished paperback provided for review by the publisher

Synopsis: Since arriving in Enchantment, New Mexico, everything in Daire Santos life has changed. And not all for the better. While she’s come to accept and embrace her new powers as a Soul Seeker, Daire struggles with the responsibility she holds navigating between the worlds of the living and the dead. And with the fate of her boyfriend Dace in the balance, Daire must put aside her personal feelings and focus on defeating Cade, whose evil plans threaten everyone she loves and the world as she knows it.

Don’t miss book three in Alyson Noël’s pulse-pounding Soul Seekers series!

☆: 4/5 stars – This is a series worth seeing through because it only gets better!

When I start a series and dislike the first book, my response is usually to not continue on with that series. Fated, the first book of Noel’s Soul Seekers series, was one of the rare exceptions because something about it told me further books were going to improve and become amazing. Some of that improvement showed in Echo, but Mystic kicks everything up a notch or five and makes my investment pay off. It’s genuinely enjoyable, well-plotted, and sets up what is sure to be a great finale.

In this third installment, the pacing is tight, Daire and Dace (and Xotichl, who narrates a few sections herself now and gives us an intriguing view into how she “sees”) remain distinct narrators, and the plot is always moving. Nothing short of business that MUST be attended to will keep fans from devouring the novel whole once they get their hands on it and get going. These characters grow on me more and more as I keep reading. Heck, I even believe in Daire and Dace’s relationship now! Then again, their relationship is in the background as the plot takes over and they work to get back Dace’s soul, stop Cade, etc., so that may help a little.

Noel’s fragment-heavy style still gets on my nerves, but it’s par for the course at this point and easily ignored in favor of the substance of the novel. There’s only one noticeably awkward moment in the prose: A scene in which Daire refers to a horse’s bridle and bit as a BRIDAL and bit. Homophones like that will fly right over some readers’ heads, but I’m not one of them. Still, it could be worse. Now that I’ve gotten used to Noel’s personal style, getting through her books happens almost as quickly as I devour lollipops.

Though I love Phyre’s character, the way she’s treated throughout the novel bothers me. The poor girl has been brainwashed from a young age by a father who would be a cult leader if he were more competent and part of that brainwashing? Making her believe she has her own destiny that plays into the fate of Enchantment and the world in general. Because Daire and Dace feel she’s deluded and her destiny is bull, they dismiss her as crazy regularly. Calling her crazy considering her situation comes off as very ableist and narrow-minded of two narrators I’d by-and-large liked. She gets a small shining moment during the climactic scene, but she deserves so much better.

Despite the above issues, it’s an easily consumed novel and more than enjoyable. I’ve got no doubt Horizon will be as good as Mystic, if not even better as Daire and Cade prepare for their final battle. November 2013 will get here sooner if I have to develop time travel technology solely for that purpose! (Oh, if only. I’m a word nerd for a reason: because science goes right over my head.)

Review: “Infatuate (Gilded Wings #2)” by Aimee Agresti


13540881Title: “Infatuate (Gilded Wings #2)”

Author: Aimee Agresti

Genre: YA contemporary, PNR

Publication Date: March 5, 2013 (HMH – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC/NetGalley review copy

Summary: Haven Terra is still recovering from an internship that brought her literally to the brink of hell when a trip to New Orleans leads to more trouble. Graduating early from high school leaves the spring semester free, so Haven and her friends Dante and Lance head to the Big Easy to volunteer with community service projects. But their true mission becomes clear when they run across an enclave of devils known as the Krewe. New Orleans is a free-for-all for these shape-shifting devils, who are more reckless and vicious than any Haven, Lance, and Dante have encountered. And they soon discover their French Quarter housemates are also angels-in-training, and together they must face off with the Krewe in their quest for wings. But Haven’s resolve is tested when Lucian, the repentant devil with whom she was infatuated, resurfaces and asks her for help escaping the underworld. Can he be trusted? Or will aiding him cost Haven her angel wings—and her life? Thrilling, romantic, and full of surprises, this gripping sequel to Illuminate takes the battle of good and evil to the next level.

☆: 4/5 stars – a great follow-up to “Illuminate”!

Review: Okay, so first, let me just say that this video? Totally sums up this entire book:

Confused? Don’t be. This book is one huge crazy orgy of angels, demons, love rombuses (yes, rhombuses!), trials of faith, and Mardi Gras. While we see Haven and the bunch pushed to their furthest limits yet – physically, emotionally, and mentally – we also see a lot of the human condition – what one will do in order to relieve loneliness, stress, and how to feel accepted and safe. While not quite as startlingly awesome as book one, “Infatuate” is still an excellently bold book with lots of stuff that’s going to make you never want to say YOLO ever again.

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