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: “Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)” by Sarah J. Maas


Crown of MidnightTitle: “Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)”

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Genre: High Fantasy, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal, AWESOME

Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (Bloomsbury – North America)

Source: NetGalley review copy

Synopsis: An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.

But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king’s contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king’s bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she’s given a task that could jeopardize everything she’s come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon — forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

☆: 5/5 stars – MY FEELS. THEY HURT.

Review:  After finishing this book, it feels like my heart went five rounds and lost, hard, face down on the floor. After “Throne of Glass”, it feels like Maas has made a huge leap from the writing in all technical aspects, which was originally setting us up in her world with her characters in book one, to making them feel so very, very real and full and there in book two. Definitely in my top ten for 2013 so far, “Crown of Midnight” is everything I could have possibly wanted in a sequel for “Throne of Glass” and more.

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Review: “The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2)” by Maggie Stiefvater


The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal

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

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

☆: 4/5 stars – Not quite as amazing as “Raven Boys”, but still pretty damn good.

Review: If “Raven Boys” was Gansey’s book/the intro book, “Dream Thieves” is definitely Ronan’s book,  100%. We also get a lot of juicy details about backstory about Ronan and his brothers, as well as some new characters, and new mysteries to solve in order to get the boys back together, and back to business at hand. Yes, while “Dream Thieves” had a little more introspection than its predecessor, it’s still a really good sequel, and it’s making me froth at the mouth for book three.

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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: Find Me by Romily Bernard


Find MeTitle: Find Me

Author: Romily Bernard

Genre: YA Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

Source: Publisher-provided ARC via Edelweiss

Synopsis: “Find Me.” These are the words written on Tessa Waye’s diary. The diary that ends up with Wick Tate. But Tessa’s just been found…dead.

Wick has the right computer-hacking skills for the job, but little interest in this perverse game of hide-and-seek. Until her sister Lily is the next target. Then Griff, trailer-park boy next door and fellow hacker, shows up, intent on helping Wick.

Is a happy ending possible with the threat of Wick’s deadbeat dad returning, the detective hunting him sniffing around Wick instead, and a killer taunting her at every step?

Foster child. Daughter of a felon. Loner hacker girl. Wick has a bad attitude and sarcasm to spare.

But she’s going to find this killer no matter what.

Because it just got personal.

☆: 4/5 stars – The love interest should get out and let this book be awesome

Wow. Seriously, wow. Not many books get me to stay up late at night to finish it because I enjoy my sleep far too much, but Find Me did it and it was worth every yawn, drowsy moment, and general sluggish feeling the next day. This may be one of the most entertaining YA debuts I’ve read this year!

Early on, mentions of the much-feared Blue Screen of Death, a twist on the infamous Lethal Weapon quote of getting too old for this shit, and more made me giggle, but Find Me is anything but a comedy. Moments like those are sweet little beacons of light in an otherwise dark novel. The reason Tessa didn’t go to the police about her rape (she was afraid they’d say she deserved it) is all too real. That is one of many factors that results in so few people reporting it when someone sexually assaults them.

Short chapters, tight plotting, and tense scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat make this short little novel (288 pages is very short by my standards) go by very quickly and it makes you wish this book were longer even though you know it’ll drag on if it gets any longer. The suspense kicks in from the very first chapter, which has Wick keeping an eye on the possibly-dirty cop hanging around outside her house, and it never lets up. We go all the way from the upper-class suburbs to the bad neighborhood where Wick lived before her mother committed suicide and her meth-making father went on the run, and it’s always a fun ride wherever we’re going. The twist and reveal? Genuinely caught me off guard, though my suspicions grew the closer the novel’s end came.

Wick might be one of my favorite female leads as of late too! Her hacking know-how is just enough to show us she knows what she’s doing but not enough to provide an evil villain’s blueprint or go right over our heads. Where she’s the one with the trust issues and bad attitude most of the time, her sweet little sister Lily is the opposite. Can I have a stuffed Lily, please? Fictional character or no, she’s pretty huggable.

The title is referenced multiple times throughout the book in a desperate repetition, but there’s one phrase I associate with the novel even more than the title: it’s not that easy. The “it” can be anything from living on after enduring an abusive relationship to trusting good people when you grew up learning trust is a bad thing to escaping the past you grew up with. Either way, these characters have it anything but easy.

One thing that is actually that easy in this book? Tying up plot lines. In fact, they all seem to tie up a little too neatly, some to the point of contrived. Just before Wick can question Tessa’s little sister Tally about an important passage that could have revealed the mystery man? Tessa’s parents get divorced and Tally leaves with the mother. That’s the end of that and it’s pretty clear that had Tally stayed, this book would have been over sooner. The epilogue in particular is all about tying up loose ends in such an overly neat fashion that it clashes with the rest of the novel.

Then there’s the love interest Griff. There’s a difference between being a douchebag and not being a nice guy. A guy who blackmails Wick into kissing him by withholding info on who’s threatening her and her sister? Um, NO. No swoons because that’s waaaaaaaay into douchebag territory. Their relationship didn’t feel developed enough in the first place and his blackmail soured my opinion of him for the rest of the book. He’s also got a habit of being a creep, but Wick says the creepy things he does like watching her sleep isn’t creepy just because it’s him. Um, no, still creepy. He must have acquired his creepiness in the three years he spent crushing on Wick without doing anything.

In general, Wick didn’t need that romance. She was doing just find rocking out and taking names all on her own. A strong friendship made over similar backgrounds that one escaped and one is still stuck in would have been perfect, especially for giving Griff the motivation to do what he does for Wick. Another thing the novel needed less of was the mean girl drama with Jenna. Making her someone who likes telling people to throw people in Dumpsters and fakes anguish over her best friend’s death didn’t help the novel at all. What plot-sanctioned reason was there for her to fake sadness over Tessa’s death?

There’s much more good than bad in this novel despite how much space it took me to talk out my criticisms. They need a lot more words to explain why they hurt the novel, you know? Communicating how suspenseful and fun this is makes for hard work too, so go check out the first three chapters on the author’s website and see what I mean. Desperate Google searching at one in the morning told me Bernard is working on a second book. Whether it’s related to Wick or something completely new, I don’t care because I just want more of this woman’s magic words.

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: “Love in the Time of Global Warming” by Francesca Lia Block


16059426Title: “Love in the Time of Global Warming”

Author: Francesca Lia Block

Genre: YA contemporary, magical realism, fairy tales retold, post-apocalyptic, AWESOME

Publication Date: August 27, 2013 (Macmillan – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Penelope (Pen) has lost everything—her home, her parents, and her ten-year-old brother. Like a female Odysseus in search of home, she navigates a dark world full of strange creatures, gathers companions and loses them, finds love and loses it, and faces her mortal enemy.

In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

☆: 5/5 stars – another knock out of the park for Block in this gorgeous new novel!

Review: It never fails to amaze me how much better my mentor gets with each book she releases. Seriously. I’m feeling stupid for putting off (though there were circumstances, to my credit) reading this for so long, and I finished it in one sitting. Blending her trademark lyrical magical realism style along with a post-apocalyptic setting and a semi-retelling of “The Odyssey”, “Love in the Time of Global Warming” is a wonderful book that makes one fight to survive, and to evolve – yet not lose one’s heart doing it. I can’t recommend this one enough, guys – and yeah, I’m slightly biased because this is my mentor we’re talking about, but at the same time, it’s definitely one of the best of 2013.
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