Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Diviners by Libba Bray Review

Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Series: The Diviners, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I bought this book and reviewed it.

I got approved for Lair of Dreams on Netgalley, and so, naturally, I had to break out my Kindle and reread The Diviners (I know, I know, I'm totally OCD.. Lol.) And let me just say that the second time around makes me love this book even more than I already do. It's one of my very favorite books of 2012, and I'm so happy to report to you guys that if this is your introduction to Bray's work, (save those of us who read her Gothic historical fiction series, The Gemma Doyle trilogy ;) ) you should definitely go to your local library, your bookstore, whatever you can, and make sure you don't have anything to do for a couple of days, because you won't be able to put this one down!

What do you guys think of, when you think of the Roaring Twenties? Maybe it's the Stock Market crash. Perhaps mobsters with big guns? Beautiful floozies in speakeasies, talking over cigarettes, drinking bathtub gin? The Great Gatsby? Bright lights, glimmering with endless possibilities?

For me, it's all of those things, and then some, plus this:

Where do I start with this novel? New York, in the 1920s, a baby vamp with spunk and some magical powers, dark, supernatural forces, love, passion, speakeasies, and an adorably awkward uncle?

Yeah, this is definitely my kind of novel.

The Diviners begins with a mysterious prologue, and then the novel turns to Evie, a young woman ousted from her home in Ohio for a party game gone too far. Forced to live in New York City with her Uncle Will, the proprietor of 'The Museum of Creepy Crawlies', she discovers that while the city offers plenty of fun, scandal, friendship, and of course, illicit alcohol, it is also hiding a dark secret, a secret capable of blowing the entire world apart.

Well, I think I've minced words more then enough in this review, so I'm no longer going to beat around the bush here: There was nothing about this novel I wasn't in love with. The setting was gorgeous, the pacing was breakneck, the prose was compelling, and often frightening, so much so that I was often having vivid dreams about the villain. I don't want to give too much away, for those of who who haven't read it yet, but this book is highly recommended for every reader, whether your cup of tea is historical fiction or fantasy. And if you like strong, kick-butt heroines, well, that doesn't hurt either. The bottom line: This gorgeous, dark confection of a novel, the first in a series, will blow everyone away--it was a fun, rollicking ride through New York in the Golden Age of Jazz! Next on deck: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Jewel by Amy Ewing Review

Title: The Jewel
Author: Amy Ewing
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Series: The Lone City, book one
Star Rating: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Me, after reading this frightening, powerful, dark little book:

This has got to be one of the most hard-hitting books in the dystopian genre, for the whole year of 2015. Despite seeming like a mixture of The Handmaid's Tale, The Chemical Garden series by Lauren DeStefano, as well as some ringing references of Megan McCafferty's novel Thumped, I really enjoyed it, despite some minor flaws.

Violet Lasting will be known as Lot 197 after she leaves her home, The Marsh, to go up for Auction in the Jewel. Lot 197's sole purpose for the wealthy Founding families of the Jewel is to have children for them. When she is bought, and owned, by such a family, Violet begins to learn that despite having everything she could ever want or need, she would much rather be with her family, and free to make her own choices.

I loved almost everything about this novel: the vivid, exquisite prose, which seduced as much as frightened me, the characters, from Violet herself, fiercely independent and defiant, to the Duchess, who was about as cuddly as a pit of vipers, and Ash. Oh, Ash. (Swooning as I type this, ladies and gentlemen!) And then the world-building: That was really the only thing I wanted explanation on. How did it come to be this way? It's pretty darn close to a masterpiece. But what really sold this book for me was the frightening, scary issues it discusses, more often than not swept under the rug than actually dealt with.

It really opened my eyes, as a reader, a writer, and a woman. What's the point of having a life if you aren't free to make your own choices? And if you are forced into unsavory circumstances, perhaps it is the best thing to buck against it. This book was terrifying. At times it was gory, frightening, brutal, and inhumane, and I often had to do my best not to throw something. This novel isn't an easy one to get through, but honestly, this book should be read, by readers and writers of all ages. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.

 The bottom line: A thrilling new feminist tale from a promising new author, I recommend The Jewel for fans of Lauren DeStefano, Megan McCafferty, M.D. Waters, and The Handmaid's Tale--this brand new novel revolving around reproductive rights in a dying society should be read by all! Next on deck, a reread to get ready for Lair of Dreams: The Diviners by Libba Bray!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson Review

Title: Peter and the Starcatchers
Author(s): Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Peter and the Starcatchers, book one
Star Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

One of my very favorite stories happens to be Peter Pan. I haven't read the actual text itself yet, but I remember putting in the Disney Peter Pan VHS in the VCR at least once a week when I was young. I mean, the power to fly, fairy dust, pirates, The Lost Boys, mermaids, and Never Land? I dreamed of being in Wendy Darling's shoes I don't know how many times.

Peter and the Starcatchers does a marvelous job as a prequel, which, for all intents and purposes, it is. It explains everything, with a clever twist. I saw all the familiar elements from the original film and story, but spun in a different and unique way: recognizable, but still original! It was wonderful, and the way the authors wrote it really, really shocked me.

The writing and pacing of this novel is fantastic; the fact that it includes numerous illustrations for younger readers didn't hurt, either. Peter, an orphan, and Molly, a young girl, meet aboard the ship The Never Land, and become entwined in numerous instances of mischief and cunning almost immediately. (I kept picturing her as Wendy, from the live-action film, with Jeremy Sumpter as Peter..)

There was nothing about this novel I didn't love. It was a marvelous, skillful retelling of one of the most treasured childhood tales of our time, with just as much action, magic, mystery, and all around shenanigans as the original. The characters, though, as with most books I tend to gravitate toward, were what made this book for me, Peter and Molly in particular. It was also kind of hilarious, the way the authors kept slipping in inside jokes just for the adult readers. If I wasn't frenetically turning pages, I was laughing.

Retellings tend to scare me, because sometimes, in the author's ambition to tell their story and do justice to the old one, it all tends to get lost in the muddle of the storytelling. But fear not, my faithful and gentle readers! You'll have none of that with this book, and I'm willing to bet that even fans that have read the original will be cheering for more from our favorite eternally young hero!

Unfortunately, though, this book wasn't perfect--sometimes, it bounced back and forth so much it was kind of hard to follow, and I wish more had been explained about the magic involved. Next on deck: The Jewel by Amy Ewing!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine Review

Title: Ink and Bone
Author: Rachel Caine
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Great Library, book one
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Can you imagine a world, in which the Great Library of Alexandria didn't get razed to the ground?

I'd like to start this review with simply this: I've never in my life imagined a world in which a library could be a bad thing. This book scared the crap out of me. I couldn't imagine living in Caine's brutal, frightening world, and yet.. I could. I imagined myself in Jess's place, smuggling precious books across a beautiful, frightening version of Alexandria, populated by automatons and Scholars, who scour the huge metropolis of the city, sniffing out books the way rats sniff out food.

This book was like something out of a dream, and honestly, I loved it. Every frightening, emotional moment of it. The worldbuilding was excellent, near flawless, and the prose seduced me from the first page. This book is nothing less than a triumph, especially for those, like me, who sometimes have an unhealthy obsession with books, and words.

One of the reasons it was so compelling was because I could picture myself in this brutal, terrible world, in which words and printed paper are worth more than a human life. The book begins with Jess Brightwell, a book smuggler, struggling to make a place in a cutthroat family, whose war against the hold of the Library, is more important than lives. Jess gets sent by his own father into the Library's stronghold, where he begins to learn the secrets of the organization.

Unfortunately, Jess's love for words has him caught between a rock and a hard place, as the secrets and danger that the life of a Postulant of the Library begin to mount. Forced into a corner, Jess has no idea where or to whom his loyalties lie, and he and his fellow students must decide to bend to the power of the Library, or find their own way, and fight for their own future.

The characters of this novel were compelling and real; Jess especially was my favorite. From the brutal Scholars (including the proctor, Wolfe, who clearly has more than meets the eye), to the students themselves: gorgeous Khalifa, snarky, entitled Dario, sweet, gentle Thomas, the German giant, Glain, the harsh Welshwoman who is fierce and fiery, as per her heritage, and Morgan, who, like Jess, is hiding secrets of her own.

The only real problem I had with this novel was just that there wasn't any more of it. Could I have the sequel, please? Right about now? I can't wait! The bottom line: A thrilling departure from Caine's popular hit Morganville Vampires series, Ink and Bone is a promising, hard-hitting debut, that is a true tribute to lovers of words--I need more! Next on deck: Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer Review

Title: The Wishing Spell
Author: Chris Colfer
Age Group: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Land of Stories, book one
Star Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Does the name Chris Colfer sound familiar to any of you? Some of you might know him as the infamously catty and somehow still lovable Kurt Hummel from the smash hit show, Glee, which just ended not too long ago. Which, I'm kind of ashamed to say, is one of the reasons I picked it up.

Me, after reading this book:

To say I'm surprised is quite an understatement. Honestly, the kid should just quit his day job, because, as talented as he is at acting, he can also spin a darn good yarn. This book was just. So. Good. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it was pretty close! From the lovely dedication to his grandmother, to the actual story, well.. I'm in love with this series, and as soon as my book pile dies down some, I'm going to run to my library and grab the sequel. (I NEEEEED IT, to quote a certain famous yellow sponge..)

The story starts with twins Alex and Conner, and when their grandma gives them the treasured Book of Stories, Alex, of the two, is strangely drawn to it, and through a tiny little mishap, they end up inside the actual book. (Inkheart fans, I'm looking at you! ;) ) Forced into a race against time, and one of fairy tale's most powerful and frightening villains, they find that the way home just might be closer than they ever imagined, if they ever make it out of this alive..

Chris Colfer, especially considering that this book is his debut, has a gift for writing beautiful prose, because that's what hooked me at first. And then there's the hook: falling into a story, into a different world! I was completely sold. This book was like coming home, like receiving a giant, much-needed hug from my favorite books. Honestly, it felt that way.

I loved the prose--it was beautiful and funny, dark and frightening, all at once. It was so rich and descriptive I had no trouble at all imagining the world that Colfer has woven for his readers. This book was an absolute delight, because not only did it spin fairy tales in a different way, the characters were new and yet somehow still familiar. It was lovely.

And then there are Alex and Conner themselves: Alex, the good student, but the lonely outcast, Conner, popular and friendly, but who is dismal in the classroom, who grow to be real heroes, through a wild and often risky journey, throughout a land that they know more than they realize. I loved their relationship--it was so much like a brother and sister--all bickering on the surface, and love deep down.

The pacing of The Wishing Spell was breakneck--I couldn't put it down once I'd begun, and it made me mad when I actually had to put it down.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed many of the characters in the story, it kind of bothered me that the characters (particularly Red) were at times shallow, vapid, and selfish, and it was disappointing. I would've liked to have seen a more original interpretation of those beloved fairy tale characters. Regardless, though, this book is like a wild ride through a book of Grimm's fairy tales, and I really enjoyed it! The bottom line: Though there were a few characters that I didn't like, I really enjoyed The Wishing Spell--I will most definitely be looking forward to more from Chris Colfer! Next on deck: Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Adrift by Paul Griffin Review

Title: Adrift
Author: Paul Griffin
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Survivalist Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Did you enjoy Lord of the Flies when you had to read it in school? How about Hatchet? Survival stories in general? Compelling, often frightening characters forced into often brutal situations? If you answered yes to any and all of these questions, you need to go get Adrift immediately. Shut off your phone, your TV, lock your doors, get comfortable with a drink and a snack, and read this book.

You won't regret it.

I'm sorry to tell you guys this, but I haven't seen the ocean in person. Outside of the internet and pictures, I've never experienced it. And because of that, it kind of scares me a little. Between what could be lurking beneath the glossy cerulean waves, as well as the sheer mass of it, it's terrifying. But there's definitely a part of me that longs to see it, to smell it, to stick my toes in the sand..

Reading this book was like living in one of my worst nightmares. One of my librarians suggested it and ordered it for me, and now I've been bitten by the bug. I need more survivalist stories, please! I just love the creepy factor. The way the author ratchets up the fear makes me excited and paranoid all at once, and I dig it, especially if it's done well. (I honestly think I've found a new favorite author in Griffin, too..)

Matt and John, best friends but more like brothers, if not by blood, then by circumstance. They meet Driana, an exotic, beautiful girl, and her cousin, Stef, caustic and wild, and then there's Jojo, the merry, gentle giant. At a party, they all end up on the beach together. When Stef takes a midnight ride on her windsurfer out to sea, Dri, Jojo, Matt and John all go after her in a boat--and some end up paying with their lives.

This book was done so well. A momentary encounter with three rich kids, worlds away from John and Matt, ends up changing the lives of them all forever. I was seduced by this dark, creepy little read within the first few chapters, and as the night went on, I found myself feverishly turning pages, glued to the dark prose. As the group of teenagers, desperate and frightened, drift further out to sea, the tension begins to mount--how will they survive? Will they keep their sanity? Who will be the first to have their brain crack like an egg?

The prose of this novel was perfect--tense and terse, descriptive and darkly beautiful. I fell in love with this author and I will be looking for more of his work as soon as possible. But where Griffin really shines is his characters. There's Matt, struck by love at the worst possible time, and driven by a protective instinct he doesn't quite understand. And then there's stoic, silent John, a stalwart, steadfast survivor willing to do almost anything to get out of this mess alive. Dri, the poor little rich girl, who has just as much of a connection to Matt, Stef, the wild one who started this journey in the first place, and Jojo, a gentle soul--until things begin to get hard.

This book was a wonderful, but often dark, journey into the human survival instinct. How anyone can be who they really are, and then change the moment they feel as if they are about to die. Griffin raises an interesting question with Adrift: Is anyone really themselves, even when their own life is on the line? The bottom line: A wonderful meditation on the human condition and the scary situations one choice can bring on, Adrift is a blockbuster hit of the summer--a survivalist tale that recalls Lord of the Flies--simply amazing! Next on deck: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Title: The Accidental Highwayman, Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides
Author: Ben Tripp
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Accidental Highwayman, book one
Star Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Do you enjoy the works of Robert Louis Stevenson? Jane Austen? If you said yes to either of those questions, wait for it..

Now, can you imagine them being put together? Me, after reading this book, and fangirling so hardcore:

Ben Tripp's first novel for young adults was like watching a good movie, full of everything: romance, action, frightening villains, murder, faeries.. Shall I go on? This book begins with Kit Bristol, a mere servant boy to the notorious highwayman, Whistling Jack. When his master is confronted by a mysterious band of gentlemen, looking for him, Kit must take on the mantle that his master has set before him, and ends up in an adventure so ultimately trying that he may end up meeting the hangman's noose head on..

I loved almost everything about this book. From the get go, it rang with Austenian charm that instantly captured my imagination. It was a rip-rollicking, charming adventure, that had the little daredevil in me screaming for more. I loved it, and despite a few flaws, I'm hoping that there's eventually a sequel.

The pacing of this novel was breakneck--by the second chapter, I was breathlessly turning pages, so anxious to see what became of Kit and his friends that I was in serious danger of multiple paper cuts. The characters, especially our charming Kit, were delightful, full of witty repartee and their own secrets. There's the aforementioned Princess, who is on the run to escape an arranged marriage, engineered by her demanding royal father, and then there are her companions, Willum and Gruntle, two hilarious characters in their own right. There's also Kit's horse Midnight, a funny, steadfast character himself, and Madga, the old hag..

Okay, I'm getting off track here. If you're a fan of adventure stories, Austen, Stevenson, pirates, princesses, fairies, and other magical creatures, go get this book. From the bookstore, from the library, it doesn't matter where. Only I assure you, my dear readers, that those who choose to accompany Kit on his thrilling journey will not regret it.

The action was good, but at times the language was hard to understand, and thus made it hard to follow, but another bonus about this lovely hidden gem? Illustrations have been peppered all throughout the narrative, also by the author! Score! The bottom line: A throwback to the classical adventure novels of old, Ben Tripp has created a fun, thrilling ride through eighteenth century England, complete with magic, monsters, evil villains, and romance! Next on deck: Adrift by Paul Griffin!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Title: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author: Benjamin Alire Saenz
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Gay Fiction
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I've heard a lot of things about this beautiful and lovely book, and to say I was nervous was an understatement. Hype scares the living crap out of me, because I never know if it's worth it, and if I get disappointed, well.. I mope around the house for a few days in a slump, until I can actually bear to pick up another book.

Me before reading this book, after hearing all the hype:

Me after this book, my heart in broken little pieces all over the living room floor:

This book undid me entirely. I was in love, completely in love, with this beautiful book. I think I've found a new favorite author. One of the reasons I love contemporary young adult fiction is that if it's done well, it takes me right back to when I was fifteen years old, when the world was too big a place to even think about, and all my teenager problems were the focus of all my energy..

(For the record, you couldn't pay me enough money to go back and repeat puberty.. *shudders*)

Okay, moving on. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe has something for everyone: a love story, two main characters that are opposite sides of the same coin. Ari is quiet, introspective, dark, and angry, for reasons even he himself doesn't completely understand. And then there's his foil, Dante, full of laughter and light and happiness, larger than life, at ease with himself and the world around him, and their relationship is the focus of the novel/

I'm going to start with the prose. My God, this prose. I wish I could write half as good as Saenz. (So jealous. And yes, I totally have an author crush. Sue me! Lol.) I slipped so easily into Ari's skin, mind, and heart that it felt like the comfort of stepping into a hot shower after a long day of work. It made me laugh, cry, and made my heart bleed entirely, cracking it into a million tiny pieces. (Oh no, the book hangover awaiting me.. Yikes!)

But what made me love this book were its characters: Ari and Dante, two young men stumbling into manhood, struggling with identity, their place in the world, and what every human has to deal with, happily, or by kicking and screaming: change. Ari and Dante's family, as well, Dante's parents, Ari's, and his siblings, were just as real and human as the main characters. If only all families could be like theirs. Not the happiest, possibly quite broken, but bound by the unbreakable bond that is love.

This book made me believe in the goodness of humanity again. I needed this book like a starving man needs food, or a man stranded in the desert longs for water. This book is a beautiful literary triumph that slipped into the dark parts of my very soul, and I will never forget it. The bottom line: A gorgeous testament to what it means to be a teenager, and to find real love in all in forms, Aristotle and Dante are two characters that will remain with me long after I return this book to the library--one of my favorite books of all time! Next on deck: The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Grim by Christine Johnson Review

Title: Grim
Editor: Christine Johnson
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Short Story collection/Anthology
Series: N/A
Star Rating: 4 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Am I the only one who searches out fairy tales? Doesn't matter what time period, or what country. Whatever. I dig fairy tales. They're a serious source of inspiration to me, and even now, at recently turned 24, I read them. And as much as I dig those freshly polished, sanitized Disney versions, they're not the same as the original, dark Grimm tales. The stories passed down through generations, blood-soaked and scary though they are.

I've had my eye on Grim since when it first came out, and when I saw that it was available through my local library, well.. I scratched my itch.

As with every anthology, some of the stories didn't really gel with me, but, on the whole, this collection was an exciting reinterpretation of classic fairy tales, and I enjoyed it. (Another reason I really enjoy short stories is because it provides, more often than not, a wealth of new authors to try out as well.)

Okay, I'll start reviewing each story, and I'll give each one a rating, though the star rating for the whole book is at the top of the review.

The Key by Rachel Hawkins, a retelling of Bluebeard: 3/5. I love Rachel Hawkins as an author, but unfortunately, before now, her short stories have been lackluster to me. However, The Key does the original justice--with a psychic thrown in! Highly creepy and enjoyable, especially the ending.

Figment by Jeri Smith-Ready: 4/5. I'm not sure what fairy tale this was supposed to retell, but regardless, it was a sweet story of friendship, self-acceptance, and success, and what it truly means to have a true friend. It was so cute and adorable, and it made me cry!

The Twelfth Girl by Malinda Lo, a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses: 5/5. Quite possibly one of my favorite stories in the volume. A young woman gets in with a group of exclusive girls at her school, finds love, heartbreak, and the door to another world. Dark, creepy, and seductive, a la Lo's signature. Wonderfully poignant!

The Raven Princess by Jon Skovron: 4/5. Will be looking into this author's work immediately. A man sits in a forest, wanting to save the raven princess, cursed unwittingly by her mother the queen. This story was wonderful; it read like a real fairy tale, and the characters were very sympathetic. Loved the happy ending, but I couldn't tell what fairy tale this was supposed to retell, but regardless. Lovely.

Thinner Than Water by Saundra Mitchell, a retelling of Donkeyskin: 5/5. Yet another contender for my favorite story in this collection. I've never read the original Grimm story, but I loved Mitchell's telling of it, despite the cringe-worthy, dark subject matter. And that ending! I wish I had a whole book of Thinner Than Water. I dig Mitchell. Will be looking into this author's work as soon as possible, as well.

Before The Rose Bloomed, a retelling of The Snow Queen by Ellen Hopkins. 4/5. Hopkins is one of my very favorite contemporary authors. This tale read like a play, and it was highly enjoyable and original, but the format made it a little hard to follow. Still, lyrical and poetic, a testament to true love.

Beast/Beast, by Tessa Gratton, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast: 5/5. Beauty and the Beast, with Beauty not as a stereotypical beauty? I've waited my whole life for that, Belle or no Belle. It was lovely, an homage to one of my very favorite fairy tales, a friendship turning into a bond of love. I cried. I can't wait to read Gratton's United States of Asgard series!

The Brothers Piggett by Julie Kagawa, a retelling of The Three Little Pigs. 4/5. I love Julie Kagawa. I've read almost all of her work, and I've no shame fangirling over her. Percival Piggett has fallen in love with a girl named Maya, and when he sees her kiss another boy, his brothers go to her house in revenge, not knowing that dark forces await retribution.. Wonderful, dark and gory!

Untethered by Sonia Gensler. 5/5. Again, it wasn't quite clear which fairy tale this story retold, I enjoyed it nonetheless. A family, broken by loss, is haunted by the ghost of Claire's sister, and when she visits, the family discovers what it really means to move on. Bittersweet and gentle, and a lasting homage to the power of love in all its forms.

Better by Shaun David Hutchinson, a retelling of the Pied Piper: 4/5. Dark, violent, and frightening, despite being a little confusing, this tale tells the story of Pip, an artificially made human, and her quest to save her only friend. Tender, creepy, and more than a little weird, this story did real justice to the original. Bravo!

Light It Up, by Kimberly Derting, a retelling of Hansel and Gretel: 5/5. Delightfully creepy, paying great homage to the original, just in a different way, Greta and Hansen get ditched out in the woods by their stepmother. Lost, they find a cottage in the woods--and end up nearly paying with their lives for the detour. Loved it!

Sharper Than a Serpent's Tongue, by Christine Johnson, a retelling of Toads and Diamonds: 5/5. A tale of two different and yet equally loving sisters, trapped in a small town with their abusive, alcoholic mother. It was dark and lovely, and more than a little gross and creepy. Lovely! (Hoping this author's work in just as good, as well.)

Real Boy, by Claudia Gray, a retelling of Pinocchio: 5/5. A sweet, gentle, and yet heartbreaking love story between a robot and a human girl on her way to being a scientist, this retelling was so lovely, and swept me away. (Psst--have some tissues near you while you're reading this one!)

Skin Trade, by Maya McEntire: 4/5. I couldn't really tell what fairy tale this was supposed to retell; it was confusing. But regardless, it was dark, creepy, gory and violent, and I enjoyed it. A group of band members take strippers into the night, and end up with more than they bargained for.. Wonderfully creepy and oddly gripping!

Beauty and the Chad, by Sarah Rees Brennan, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast: 5/5. Ah, Sarah Rees Brennan. How I love you so, even more now! A sweet and oddly darling retelling of a classic, Beauty happens upon a Beast's castle (if the Beast happened to be a rude, often prickly frat boy, with a penchant for saying 'dude'.), and falls in love. Sweet, tender, and lovely. Possibly one of my very favorites! More please!

The Pink: A Grimm Story, by Amanda Hocking, 4/5. Again, not sure which fairy tale this went to, but regardless, wonderful. A story told in chapters about a fractured royal family, and a boy full of wishes, I really enjoyed it. It was absolutely wonderful, sweet and tender, and I highly enjoyed the happy ending. So sweet, and am looking forward to more from this author.

Sell Out by Jackson Pearce, a retelling of Snow White: 4/5. Pearce's name is synonymous with fairy tale retellings, and highly enjoyable. Emmett has a talent with kissing corpses, and when a girl's stepmother comes to tell him to botch his job, he leaps for it, wanting a chance to do something else. But upon actually seeing Elise Snow, he glimpses a side of her he's never seen before.. The bottom line: A rich, dark collection of stories inspired by the Brothers Grimm tales, Grim truly has something for everyone--wonderful! Next on deck: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Series: An Ember in the Ashes, book one
Star Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I've heard of An Ember in the Ashes--before it even had a cover, in fact, and have been dying to get my hands on it ever since. A world based on brutal, ancient Rome, reminiscent of Gladiator? Yes. Yes, please. And it gets better! A forbidden romance, fights for freedom, blood and gore, terrifying villains?

In case you guys couldn't already tell? I was sold. Hella sold. This book completely stole my soul. And I honest to God cannot wait for the sequel. (And so help me God, there had better be a sequel! I'll die otherwise!)

I loved this book. It completely seduced me, from the first paragraph. I was plunged into Laia and Elias's terrifying world, in which people are sold for profit, and boys turn into men in the most blood-soaked ways. The world-building of this novel was excellent--it was rich and well-explained, plausible and worth reading. And then there are the characters that live inside this world, all with varying degrees of power, status, and secrets. Laia, the orphaned Scholar girl, and Elias, the reluctant soldier bound to oaths made to the tyrannical and bloodthirsty Empire he serves.

As if the heart-pounding pacing was not enough already, I loved the way the political intrigue helped fuel the narrative of the story, it really helped it along, and, surprisingly, wasn't even that hard to follow. But what really sold this book for me wasn't even the characters, or the worldbuilding, though that certainly helped.

I loved this beautiful novel for its message: That even in the direst of circumstances, there is always hope for freedom, and for change, even when it's hard to see. Tahir knows about the resilience of the human soul, the longing for even the most downtrodden outcast to be brave, be strong, to fight for their way of life and for their people. It touched the very fabric of my soul, and for that, I will treasure this book forever.

Not to say though, that, at times, it was extremely hard to get through, what with the threats of rape and worse towards the slaves that have the misfortune of making a living at the Blackcliff school, under the terrifying Commandant, who Laia describes as, 'a woman that is a connoisseur of pain, the way others are connoisseur of wine'.  I was cringing on multiple occasions, especially when it came to the terrifying Farrar twins.. (Two villains that will probably haunt my nightmares for a week or two now, Marcus especially..)

A beacon of hope, power, and strength, An Ember in the Ashes is one of the most powerful and terrifying, and yet hopeful, works in young adult literature to date, and a tale that I will treasure forever. Run to your nearest bookstore and pick this one up, because once you start, you won't be able to live without it. (I just finished it and am itching to get a copy myself..) The bottom line: A testament to the strength of the meek and downtrodden outcasts of this world, An Ember in the Ashes is just that--a light in a dark world, full of power, hope, and love. Next on deck: Grim by Christine Johnson!