Monday, March 31, 2014

Burn

Burn is the third and final novel in the YA post-apocalyptic Pure trilogy by Julianna Baggott.

Being that this is an ambitious, complex, rewarding trilogy – if you haven’t read Pure and Fuse already, you definitely need to! This review will hold inadvertent spoilers of those first two books, so you’ll want to avoid this review and click on the above titles to learn more about the prior novels first.

Got it?!

But if you have already read Pure and Fuse, then you can obviously continue!

Partridge has inherited leadership over the Dome – an enclosed refuge among the ruins of what once was our world – after the death of his father.

The inhabitants, soaking in their denial that has become ingrained over the years, wish to mourn him.

But Partridge wants to expose his secrets, instead. He wants to unite the Dome and its “Pure” inhabitants with the disfigured, fused “Wretches” on the outside.

The ones that had been left to die all those years ago.

His new position of power, however, is not as powerful as he thought. And his resolve is dangerous…

Outside of the Dome, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan and his fused brother Helmud face a journey that is treacherous and conflicting.

On the one hand, they may hold the solution to healing the Wretches with the help of the technology and knowledge inside the Dome.

On the other hand, they may have an option to bring down the Dome and force the Pure to breathe the same air of toxins and dirt that the Wretches have had to live through – and hold the citizens accountable for their crimes.

One way or another – everything is going to change…

Since I read Pure, I’ve been a fan. Julianna Baggott truly has created one of the most transfixing, sprawling post-apocalyptic worlds I’ve ever read. It’s done on such an epic, vast scale – and very well done at that.

The plot moves at a fast yet purposeful pace in Burn. Inside the Dome, as Partridge takes his first steps towards making the Dome face the truth, the rise in suicides is disquieting.

Burn is suspenseful with ever creepy post-apocalyptic creatures and difficult moral decisions. There’s a level of humanity, both flaws and hopes, which brings a relativity and down to earth vibe to the horrors.

As it continued, I could not imagine how everything could be wrapped up in such a short span of pages! It’s crazy nerve-wracking, with twists and turns left and right!

With big revelations, sometimes on an intimate, quiet level, Burn fulfills its promise to be a stunning conclusion.

When I closed Burn, I wanted more. More details, more surety.

Yet with the ambiguity comes a beauty.

I look forward to reading the trilogy again in the future and re-savoring the “WOW” that it is.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Lost Kingdom

The Lost Kingdom is a middle grade historical adventure by Matthew J. Kirby.

In colonial times, Billy Bartram has received the invitation he has waited for years to hear – an invitation to join his father on one of his expeditions into the immense American wilderness, utilizing his excellent sketching skills to find and log their botany discoveries.

However, Billy quickly learns this is not just a botany excursion, but that his father is a member of the American Philosophical Society backed by none other than Benjamin Franklin. Billy will be joining his father on a voyage to locate the lost kingdom of the Welsh prince Madoc alongside a secret organization of academics and scientists.

As their purpose is to seek aid in the coming war with the French, their journey is fraught with danger as they set off via flying aeroship.

And there may be a traitor in their midst…

I very much enjoyed Matthew J. Kirby’s previous works The Clockwork Three and Icefall, so I was looking forward to this.

The Lost Kingdom does not have as much of a steampunk vibe as I expected, but it was never boring. It just felt rather, I’m sad to say, ho-hum for me… It began to pick up momentum as the expedition began, but the plot itself fell sort of flat.

There are great themes of bravery and overcoming prejudice in The Lost Kingdom, but in my personal opinion that needed sense of adventure and excitement just wasn’t there.

As a main character, Billy was likable and he comes into his own opinions and beliefs as he takes this expedition, which was admirable.

In the Author’s Note at the end of The Lost Kingdom, I was interested in how Billy and his father were based on real-life people. The historical aspects of the book are pretty cool, and are given a slight fantasy fiction.

Unfortunately, I was just okay with The Lost Kingdom. It was in no way a bad or poorly written book, it just did not do much for me either way…

Maybe you’ll disagree!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Goddess

Today's post is in remembrance of Rusty - our nearly 16 year old cat that died in my arms yesterday at 4:38pm. His loss is felt deeply with a hollowness in our heart. As a little guy, he used to love me reading him Harry Potter out loud and for years he was fascinated watching me rearrange my books. His sweetness was of cheerfulness and love and he is missed terribly. We love you, Rusty.

Goddess is a YA modern-day Greek mythology supernatural novel and the final book in Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed trilogy.

As a major fan of both the first two books, Starcrossed and Dreamless, I was very excited to read Goddess. Bet you can guess what I’m going to say…

Do NOT read this review until you have read both of the above mentioned books!!! Click on their titles to read those reviews, but avoid this one to avoid spoilers! Got it? Promise?!? Okay.

Fans/readers of the first two books may now proceed –

After a bloody, torturous, horrifying confrontation with a minor god, Helen is now facing many unsettling facts.

One is that she inadvertently caused the separate Scion houses to unite – meaning war and devastation as the gods can now return to wreak havoc on humanity.

Second is that after that terrifying moment with Orion and Lucas in the cave, they became blood brothers – and she now has more powers than ever before.

This revelation is creating a divide between her and her friends, especially as the Oracle warns that the Tyrant lurks in their midst and all fingers appear to be pointing to Orion – whom Helen refuses to believe would ever turn against them.

As the war that has been building over centuries finally comes to a boiling point, Helen knows that just as the original Face played a vital role – so she does here as well.

Before reading Goddess I re-read Starcrossed and Dreamless, and just as the first times I read them, I loved them. And my, is the end of Dreamless intense!!!

Goddess was riveting and engrossing from start to finish. I missed some of the lighter moments, the humble personality of Helen suffered a bit from all she’s undergone and we got a lot less of Helen’s kick-butt best friend Claire and her sweet, awesome dad.

However, this is an epic conclusion to a trilogy about Greek mythology – so I had to trade my love of the more fun interpersonal relationships for the more dramatic, life/world-changing finale stuff.

There were some shocks that were quite impressive, some rather depressing turns of events, and flat-out romantic moments. I can’t say I felt the Goddess met all my expectations – sometimes I felt it could’ve used more time to introduce and blend some newer characters in a less rushed way and that Helen could’ve used a bit more development involving the changes she went through – but I can’t say it wasn’t an entertaining, great end.

Perhaps a re-read in the future would lead me to love it even more.

What I will say, though, is that the final epilogue? LOVED it.

Really, overall, I thought Goddess was pretty fantastic and completed an amazing trilogy!!!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Princess in the Opal Mask

The Princess in the Opal Mask is a YA historical fantasy by Jenny Lundquist.

Just as with Jennifer A. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy, this novel has a sense of a fairy-tale, of a fantasy, but does not actually feature any magic or enchantments. Somehow we all put it in the fantasy genre anyway; I suppose because it just has that vibe and time period sense.

Anywho, I LOVED THIS BOOK.

Let me tell you a little about it, hmm?

Princess Wilhamina, since she was introduced to the kingdom of Galandria as an infant, has always worn a mask. Over the years this has caused rumors to rampage from speculating that she must be horrendously ugly, that a look upon her face blesses others, or the one that speaks to Wilha’s deepest personal fears – that those who look upon Wilha’s face die.

Wilha herself does not know why she must always wear a mask, but she has learned to stop asking…

Elara, orphaned as a child in the crumbling village of Tulan, has spent her life becoming numb. Living with the cruel Ogden family, Elara has endured things that have left her broken off mentally from others – and no longer able to connect to the one friend she did have.

Elara desperately wants to know the truth of her identity and escape from her surroundings, and she’ll use her dagger if she has to.

As talk of war or peace between Galandria and long-time nemesis of the kingdom Kyrenica increases, Wilha and Elara unknowingly are led to meet. And when they do, everything changes.

There is a chance for both to possibly improve their futures – but there are risks.

There are choices…

When I went into The Princess in the Opal Mask, I admit it – I didn’t expect that much. That sounds terrible, but sometimes as a bibliophile you can get a little jaded.

It only took a handful pages to turn that thinking around.

Initially I was unsure of the writing quality, but then the utter hostility of Galandria’s people and the sad mystery of the princess constantly wearing a mask intrigued me and added to an edgy grit that The Princess in the Opal Mask quickly proved to have.

Then I was caught.

There is a LOT of questions and secrecy, and I have to say – it worked for me.

I liked the romantic element of both characters, and with time came to appreciate both Wilha and Elara – despite Elara’s acidity and hardness due to the life she’s endured. There was some heavy character development here, which I really, really valued.

The Princess in the Opal Mask has a ton of danger, conspiracies and intrigue going on. Mix that in with convincing bitterness, resentment and cruelty done very well and we have a plot that is sharp and stinging both on a personal and epic level.

I came to care for both Wilha and Elara and be in deep suspense as we followed their switching narrative voices. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m being purposefully vague – but please believe me when I say it was awesome.

The Princess in the Opal Mask is engrossing, addictive, gripping and surprising. I LOVED IT!!!

Happily, there is a sequel mentioned to be released Fall 2014.

I want it ASAP!!! Hopefully you’ll feel the same.

I think you will.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Heart's Rebellion

A Heart’s Rebellion is a Regency-era Christina romance by Ruth Axtell.

Jessamine Barry has spent years of her life loving a man that was almost hers – only to have her hopes dashed when he fell in love with another woman.

Well, she’s done with that.

The patient, dutiful personality that caused her to waste time on a man that clearly didn’t have enough love for her to stop him from falling passionately for another is no longer wanted in her opinion.

Instead, Jessamine would like to be the kind of woman that is the recipient of that ardent desire, that allure that some women seem to have.

That’s why when Lancelot Marfleet, second son of an aristocrat, appears to take an interest in her during the London season, she doesn’t consider him a suitor. He’s too much of a respectable cross between her former beloved and her father.

She wants zeal and intrigue, and to be the sort of woman to inspire it…

But will that sort of life truly give Jessamine what she wants?

Anymore I tend to be leery when I go into historical romances. So often they are drowned in descriptions of the leads’ feelings for each other, or their dislike of each other colored by unwanted attraction.

It can get old… And it makes me sad, because I so very much want a good historical Christian romance.

Well, I am happy to say that A Heart’s Rebellion was great!!!

I wanted more than a cookie-cutter romance, and Ruth Axtell provided. First off, I was heartened by accounts of beauty and appearances kept to a minimum. Also, Lancelot’s unassuming personality and Jessamine’s hidden bitterness brought a grounded, different, relatedness to the two characters.

Instead of being instantly enamored with each other, they were just polite. There was a true lack of pretentiousness and forcefulness that I very, very much appreciated for this genre. Here we get character growth and individuality– instead of just the “love story”.

Finally it didn’t seem so cliché!!!

A Heart’s Rebellion has a much more paced, thoughtful romance – thank goodness! There are truly touching, moving moments involving life events and faith in God. It was really quite good – very, very good actually.

I couldn’t help thinking what a lovely movie/miniseries A Heart’s Rebellion would make if only done faithfully.

I am now far more willing to read more books by Ruth Axtell!

Now, if only Christian historical romances would quite having such corny sounding titles!!!

*I received a copy of A Heart’s Rebellion from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Dresden Files: Fool Moon


Fool Moon is the second book in the urban fantasy series The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

Yes, you should read the books in order. There IS a good amount of recap and reintroduction to things in Fool Moon, but I still advise you to not spoil plot twists by reading them out of order.

You’ve been warned!

Since back in spring when Harry had to find a dark wizard gone crazy, business has been dead. His fractured friendship with Murphy, one of his main sources of income when she calls him in on one of her cases, hasn’t helped any.

So, weight loss potions it is for now.

But the only professional wizard in the phone book, Harry Dresden, is called on when a series of extremely brutal, violent, gory crime scenes begin popping up on or around full moons. Odd, not-quite-right paw prints decorate the scenes.

Yep. Can you guess what Harry’s thinking?

But there seems to be a pattern to some of the deaths and Harry thinks this might not be a simple (ha!) case of werewolves.

Looks like Harry might be able to have another meal after all.

I was really quite happy with the first book in the series, Storm Front, and am (as I’ve said before) a big fan of the TV series based on these novels. For Fool Moon, however, my feelings were a little more mixed.

The werewolf murders were grim and yucky, but, ya know, that’s okay. It gives that gritty, urban, noir tone that fits The Dresden Files. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn my stomach a little.

Bob, oh Bob, as Harry’s skull advisor is as hilarious as ever – and, in my opinion, underused in Fool Moon. His scene was memorable, but I wanted more! Harry’s droll, good guy wizard character, just trying to make a living, is fun to follow.

For me, the best parts of Fool Moon were when we got hints of secrets, revelations and feelings of more to come when it comes to Harry’s past. Those whiffs of personal mysteries intrigued me, and often outweighed my interest in the case, which was not insubstantial. My curiosity was piqued in everything.

I just want more of that other stuff. A lot more.

Fool Moon has some amazing surprises, a complicated, intricate plot with non-stop action that sometimes overwhelmed the story for me. Sometimes it was exhausting how Harry really didn’t get a breather after the first 100 pages or so.

Yet I still really liked it! The humor, when it appears, is great. There’s super-serious stakes here, death, and extensive fight scenes. The characters, intellect, and personal life scenes left me maybe wanting more, feeling a tad lackluster, but still yearning for more, which is good. This theatrical page-turner had a lot going on.

But all those questions? I am definitely enticed to read/buy/gorge on the sequels!

My fingers are crossed that we get a good bit more quiet moments to soak in the fantastic comedic tone, fantasy elements, and excellent secondary characters (like Bob!) than Fool Moon gave us a chance to.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Henry's Stories: Volume 2

Henry’s Stories: Volume 2 is a YA anthology of sci-fi short stories by Henry Melton.

Here we have 13 stories from the imagination of Henry Melton.

One story speculates what a casual teenage couple might do if suddenly faced with realization of nuclear catastrophe. Another with the age old idea of three wishes, and how we all feel we’d do a better job. Still yet another that focuses on an alien planet, or an alternate reality.

In other words, all kinds of sci-fi.

Henry Melton’s intelligent, mature offerings make for insight into various different ideas and forays into imagination.

Some of them I found quite compelling, others not so much. That’s what often happens with anthologies. Also I can have a hard time because I don’t find as much interest in the deeply technical stories, which he sometimes provides.

But for those of you who do like those, Henry’s Stories: Volume 2 should be a treat!

At times the hormonal and romantic aspects of Melton’s stories comes off as odd or awkward to me, but maybe that’s just a personal thing.

I really like how the characters are capable, thinking people, though. That’s one of my favorite things about Henry Melton’s stories.

So, definitely check out Henry’s Stories!

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale is an adult contemporary novel with a classic gothic mystery feel by Diane Setterfield.

Oh. My. Gosh. This book is fantastic!!!

Margaret Lea leads a quiet, book-loving life that all of us bibliophiles would adore – working in a book store and whiling away the hours reading.

Her passion for literature extends to a fascination with non-fiction. She loves letters, journals – anything that ties her to people who are now deceased. Margaret has even written a few minor biographies on lesser known figures.

When she receives a letter from one of the most famous contemporary authors of the day, Vida Winter, she’s floored to discover that Ms. Winter wants her to write her biography.

For years, Vida has given numerous, glittering stories when asked about her life.

Not one of them true.

Apparently now, old and ailing, she wants to finally tell her story.

Unable to deny her curiosity, Margaret joins Vida at her reclusive estate and starts a routine of hearing Vida’s life stories in the library.

The tale is full of madness, strangeness and a gothic mystery that Margaret is enthralled in.

And with the telling Vida and Margaret both find they must equally confront the ghosts of their pasts, and the deep pain lying there…

Oh, my description can’t even do The Thirteenth Tale justice!!! I might as well just give up!

This is now one of my favorite books. Just as the blurbs say on the inside and outside jacket cover – this novel harkens to novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca in its excellent gothic vibe, yet manages to be a contemporary novel.

Diane Setterfield writes with such a poetical, entrancing language that pulled me in and very quickly started to wrap me up in intrigue, mystery and book-loving wonderfulness.

I loved reading about a character who loved reading as much as I do!

My bibliophile heart was quickly being tugged with lovely, silkily-woven prose and disturbing, eerie tales of the past.

Book magnetism, indeed!!!

The Thirteenth Tale is effective, haunting, and stayed on my thoughts constantly. It’s undeniably addictive and absorbing.

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED everything about it!!!

Twists, tingles, edge-of-your-seat mystery, emotional, shocking, amazing – PERFECT!

The Thirteenth Tale was stunning in every way – and I will recommend it to EVERYONE!!!

Now, this is a novel with adult, disquieting themes at times – but at its heart is a human mystery, a beautifully written, powerful gothic novel to be adored, relished, and re-read!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess

Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess is a middle grade historical fiction novel by Carolyn Meyer, and of the Royal Diaries series.

I remember this series from when I was younger. I have quite a few of these – from Cleopatra to Marie Antoinette and more – and they fueled what would be a growing interest in historical fiction centering on these oftentimes heartbreak-stricken royals of the past.

Now they are being reissued in paperback. I’m going to be honest – I liked the prior releases better. The covers were striking, more realistic than this doll-like cover here. Also they were hardcovers with gold painted edges to the pages. They felt special. Now… not so much.

But… back to the book!

At the beginning of Anastasia’s diary here she is thirteen – the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. She is used to her luxurious lifestyle, though she doesn’t appreciate all the lessons and schooling she has to endure.

To enhance her outfits, matching her three sisters and picked out by her mother, she wears diamonds, rubies, and pearls. It’s their norm.

But when WWI begins, tensions between Russia and Germany escalate and cause unrest among the peasants of Russia to grow. They’re hungry. They’re poor. And they’re angry.

This is a fictional chronicle based on history of how Anastasia’s life changes – and turns to tragedy.

I am a huge fan of Carolyn Meyer’s Young Royal series, which is separate from this Royal Diaries series.

Here, I felt a little shortchanged – primarily because it was part of the wrong series, in my opinion.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s good. Anastasia is a great introduction to historical fiction to younger girls, and may spark curiosity in them as they did for me back when I was younger. It has lots of details of the finer things in their lives before things went bad.

Yet, the truly fascinating and anguishing stuff doesn’t come until the epilogue. Because of the diary format, we don’t get the whole story. We don’t get to dive into Rasputin, or the behind-the-scenes issues of Tsar Nicholas II.

For me, Anastasia’s understandable ignorance of what is going on, as a young, privileged girl, to cause the heartbreak that is caused makes for a less interesting story. I want it all. A book in the Young Royals series would have been able to do that – and has for characters like Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette and more.

So, excellent way to get young girls started in the genre – but generally disappointing if you want the full impact and story of the downfall of the Romanov’s.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures is a YA supernatural contemporary novel, and the first in the Caster Chronicles series.

Yes, I know. You probably read this book years ago and have already finished the four book series.

I get it. I’m late to the game. But you have to admit there are a LOT of books out there – and even bibliophiles can’t always keep up.

Ethan Wate is counting the days until he can leave his tiny Southern town of Gatlin.

Full of closed-minded, eccentric people that all know each other too well and a multitude of girls that can’t hold his interest for even a few minutes once they start speaking have left him increasingly dissatisfied.

So when Lena Duchannes moves into town it’s like a breath of fresh air. She’s different. She’s been places. And, of course, she’s beautiful.

But she’s the niece of town recluse Macon Ravenwood – so she is automatically despised by a large population of the town.

Lena’s clothing choices and the odd occurrences, such as spontaneously shattering windows, happening while she’s about only adds to the hostile attitude toward her.

And yet, Ethan is fascinated with her. He finds himself, against the advice of everyone, befriending Lena.

Through that friendship comes an introduction to secrets and curses that he never knew lay underneath the veil of boredom in Gatlin.

Ethan and Lena may be bringing change to this never-changing Southern town…

I’d, of course, heard of Beautiful Creatures a lot. Then the movie came out – and though I know it did not do very well – the previews intrigued me. I liked the look of it. So, I bought myself a copy.

During the course of reading Beautiful Creatures, a lot was going on. My reading was interrupted more than usual. Yet I was continually interested in jumping back in.

There are many things I liked about Beautiful Creatures. I liked how Ethan is a decent, likable male narrator that doesn’t seem implausible. I liked his love of reading, his grief over his Mom, worry over his Dad, and his interest in more than a pretty face. I liked the way the secondary characters seemed to pop.

I liked the secluded, atmospheric tone of Gatlin – the way it was stifling, eerie, and compelling all at once. I liked Lena not being a typical YA heroine. I liked that she was dealing with her own demons. I liked that Ethan and Lena had a relationship that was built on time, talking, and support.

Unlike some others, I very much liked the slower (but not boring) pacing of Beautiful Creatures. It reminded me of the Twilight series, which did the same thing. And I was a fan of the Twilight series.

So, as you can see (without going into a lot of detail that will spoil the fun), I liked a lot about Beautiful Creatures. I just never felt like I LOVED it. I might be getting there, though.

I feel like there’s a lot of potential to this first novel. And now that I know there’s going to be a companion series this year I am eager to finish up the Caster Chronicles and find out if I’ll want to jump into the next set.

Overall, I felt Beautiful Creatures was a well-done, suspenseful, romantic, relatively original paranormal novel that I definitely want to read the sequels to.

If you, like most, have already read it. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!!