The Evaporation of Sofi Snow – Review

“How quickly humans could turn on each other when fed suspicion. Like smoke tossed out as solid evidence, whispered into the frightened ears of those needing someone to blame in order to feel safe again.”

Sofi Snow is a gamer. Working as part of a team of gamers to help her Corporation fight for blood and glory in the FanFight Games, a sport combining virtual gaming with real life. In a world where the corporations took over in the place of governments world wide, playing in these games means a chance at freedom. A chance at life.

“The Fantasy Fighting Games had been the result of Earth’s unquenchable thirst for virtual fun, violent sports, and citizen-elected superstars.”

When a bomb explodes, killing her brother Shilo and nearly her entire gaming team, Sofi wakes up to a world she doesn’t recognize. A world where corporate espionage and power plays are working at things she doesn’t understand. But her life is at risk, and although all evidence shows her brother is dead, Sofi knows he’s alive.

Risking everything, she turns to a man she should hate to take her to the alien planet hovering just beyond our moon. Even though these aliens saved the planet, giving humanity life saving technology and working to establish diplomatic peace, Sofi can’t ignore feeling that her brother has been taken to their planet. Following her gut, she convinces Miguel help her get to the planet’s secretive surface.

“Miguel snorted and continued to study their faces as he sketched. A habit developed years ago by way of analyzing them. “You study them,” his father once told him, “if you want to work with them.”

Miguel enjoys high levels of freedom and privilege as an Ambassador to the Delonese. It isn’t just his reputation that he risks in helping Sofi. He’s also being blackmailed to help the ensure blame for the bombing lands on a certain Corporation.

Both Miguel and Sofi will need to decide who to trust and whether they can trust each other, regardless of their history together. The consequences of their decisions could be much higher than either of them realized.

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is YA intended for the teenage reader. While adults can read, enjoy and appreciate the story, I found that this is a book written for her target audience. So while it was a fun read, and went by really fast, it was difficult for me to get lost in.

I also did not know going in that this is published under the umbrella of Christian fiction. While I didn’t find any religious undertones, I did notice that things like swearing was weird. Instead of making up swearing like many futuristic dystopians tend to do, or eliminate it all together, Weber chose to use words like gad, dangit, and heck. This felt like another example of aiming towards a very young teenage audience, but it pulled me out of the story. It felt unnecessary, and the sentences they were used in could have easily been rewritten to not allude to swearing at all, and been stronger for it.

In contrast, characters would use dialogue like ‘WTF’ and talk about how promiscuous Sofi is, which felt odd to me as well. If we can’t even say damn, why are we talking about her sleeping around? It made the non-swearing feel disingenuous, and again, in my opinion, the story would have been better had it been left out entirely. I also didn’t really understand why the promiscuity was raised at all since it didn’t fit with Sofi’s character or seem to serve a plot purpose.

All that said, I do think that this would be a fantastic book if you have teenagers at home. There are a lot of great topics to discuss wrapped in the plot like global warming, the role of corporations in our government, the use of power both in corporations and government, the advancement of technology, the potential of virtual reality, privacy, and even being able to use the idea of aliens to bring up feeling left out, different, or how to view people/cultures who are different from us. This book brings up a lot of those topics and could be used as a fantastic launching point for future discussions.

Overall, this book is a fun idea, and has enough mystery written into the plot to keep me going. I do need to find out what the deal with these aliens is. But, I do wish I had known it was intended for a younger audience, I could have adjusted my reading expectations accordingly.

Ready Player One – Review

“Going outside is highly overrated.”

Virtual Reality has been the stuff of science fiction for a long time. Simulated worlds, offering everything that real life simply can’t. And as a society that is closer to achieving the immersion into these worlds than ever before, I think the idea of exploring these virtual worlds is more important than ever.

 

Not only do I find the idea behind virtual reality so fascinating, but honestly, I am slightly in love with anything that is fully dystopian ready. And virtual reality screams dystopia. An entire system that appears on the surface to be utopia, exploited or manipulated by one or the many to be turned into a nightmare. I think the question we need to be asking ourselves is why there isn’t MORE virtual reality dystopias in the world!

Ready Player One shows us a grim future. A world where resources have dwindled, forcing people to build gigantic towers of haphazard homes near cities for the hope of power, food and water. It’s a dismal world, where reality is unpleasant. The only thing most people look forward to, the only thing that makes life bearable, is the alternate world of the OASIS.

“For me, growing up as a human being on the plant Earth in the twenty-first century was a real kick in the teeth. Existentially speaking.”

The OASIS is an entire virtual world, or worlds, where people work, go to school, vacation, and live their best lives. People don’t choose to spend time in reality. They choose to spend their time in the OASIS.

“You don’t live in the real world, Z. From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you ever have. You’re like me. You live inside this illusion.”

The world building alone in this virtual reality system is something I easily could have spent hours reading about. The level of detail and imagination that went into the systems, and these worlds was incredible. This is an example of writing that could have become bogged down with too much information, but Cline was smart in how he wove in the details of the world to be relevant to the plot. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by details, I was instead transported into a lush landscape that is mind-boggling in scope but sharp in focus.

Wade, our protagonist, is just trying to graduate his virtual high school and find his way in a world where jobs are scarce. His only plan is to find Halliday’s Easter egg, a hidden prize embedded deep within the OASIS world, coded by Halliday himself, and found only by solving a series of clues and puzzles. The person who finds this egg wins the entire fortune of Halliday, which means billions of dollars.

Here’s where the fun of this book begins. Rather than take us through a meandering bombardment of virtual worlds, Cline instead focuses the hunt in a specific way.

“The Hunt, as the contest came to be known, quickly wove its way into global culture. Like winning the lottery, finding Halliday’s Easter egg became a popular fantasy among adults and children alike.”

The creator, Jim Halliday, grew up in the 80’s. A time when he met his best friend and co-creator, Ogden Morrow, and they started a little company that grew into one of the largest corporations in the world. When Halliday died, an email with a video and a link to his website were sent to every player in OASIS. The only clue was an obscure riddle and a link to an Almanac. The Almanac itself was over a thousand pages long and went into Halliday’s thoughts on movies, music, video games and all things pop culture 80’s.

Suddenly, a decade once looked down on for it’s decadence and abundance, one that would have been forgotten, is thrust into back into relevance and popularity. Personally, I thought this twist was pure genius.

The 80’s was not the end all be all for science fiction, or video games, or even technology. So I get why some people may not see the connection between the future we are reading about and that particular decade. But, the 80’s was known for its greed, for its excess. To show it as an obsession in a time that knows only poverty and thin resources was subtle but brilliant.

Beyond that, the main competitor and threat to Wade after he stumbles on the answer to the first clue isn’t other gunters, the name he and fellow egg hunters are known as, but IOI, a giant corporation willing to throw any and all resources at finding the egg and owning OASIS. They want to take something that is very inexpensive and available to the masses, and turn it into a money making machine where only the privileged few can really thrive. Which fits in with 80’s greed. We may see that behavior in corporations now, but that mentality was born in the 80’s.

The writing is full of wonderful dry sarcasm, and there’s a subtle mocking tone to the absurdity of living life in a virtual world woven throughout the plot.

“It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit or armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.”

It also carries a really good analysis of what technology can do to a civilization. Or rather, the possibility of what can happen. The entire plot is carried primarily within a virtual world, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t see the wasteland the unvirtual one has become.

“It had become a self-imposed prison for humanity,” he wrote. “A pleasant place for the world to hide from its problems while human civilization slowly collapses, primarily due to neglect.”

I find that good dystopian shows us both the good and the bad of the world it presents. It may carry a message, or even a warning, but the information is merely presented for us to digest and interpret. We are given characters to embody the arguments and it is then up to us to form our opinions. Ready Player One does this spectacularly.

Ready Player One is fun science fiction. It takes us into a future that on the surface seems to be going backwards, but has the technology to move it forward. While it will appeal to video gamers by its sheer plot subject alone, I think even non-gamers will delight in falling into the virtual world Cline has created. I also cannot wait to see what magic Spielberg gives us on the big screen.

 

Gridley Girls – Review

“Once upon a time there was a diary.”

Gridley Girls is a debut novel that reads part memoir, part fiction. The story is based on true events. Even though we get a look at a few aspects of the truth, we don’t know all of the truth versus the fiction. And because it’s based on true events, this novel read as a hybrid novel, with some pieces reading more as fiction and others more as a memoir. It’s easy to imagine that this was indeed very close to how the author grew up. Even if it isn’t, the writing is so distinct and full of personality, it feels as if you’re hearing her talk rather than reading a story.

Meg Monahan grew up in Gridley California. Like her parents before her, and their parents before them. She knows nearly everyone in the town. Secrets are hard to keep secret, yet somehow Meg is always the one people confide in, expecting that she keep their confessions safe.

“Mainly I just stay private. That’s hard for you to imagine since you live your life out loud, but it’s easier for us to be private.”

After she is chosen to be a peer counselor her freshman year, this confidence gets pushed to the limits as she receives information that is simply too much for her to handle on her own. It’s easier to keep a secret when it’s your choice. Meg finds that the expectation of confidence, combined with the heavier secrets, makes the burden that much harder to bear.

The novel is told through the eyes of an adult Meg, deciding if she can stomach uprooting her family to the unthinkable reaches of Minnesota, and a teenage Meg going through her freshman year of High School. The events that unfold during her teenage years all carry through and show their relevance to her adult life as the book progresses.

We are all shaped by the things that happen to us growing up. Tragedy and triumph alike can leave indelible marks and shape the adults we become. For Meg, these secrets that her peers trusted her with became nearly too much. When she confides in a trusted friend, and is overheard, that guilt follows her into adulthood.

“In my mind, I was out of control. Who was I going to tell next? My parents? The mailman? Nothing was stopping my giant mouth. My fears were ruling my life.”

This book is a hybrid in another sense. The pieces of Meg’s high school years are very fitting for a YA novel. Not just because she is an adolescent. But because there are some very good lessons and messages written within those pages. Topics like teenage sex, struggling to reconcile your religious beliefs with the reality of life around you, abortion, homosexuality, death and mental illness are all brought up and examined in a thoughtful way.

The messages aren’t preached to you, and they aren’t drilled down or overly dramatized. Some are more dominant than others, and not all of them have lessons learned or even closure written to them. But they are excellent conversation starters and serve to open the door for closer examination.

They hit home because they are told in first person, from the eyes of a teenage girl. Her reaction is what you would expect them to be: scared and confused. This allows for her to ask for advice, and to analyze her own thoughts to try and process how to feel. It was an excellent representation of how confusing adolescence can be.

It’s balanced with the adult years, and the lesson that life doesn’t always make sense once you reach adulthood. There are still struggles and tragedies mixed in with the good times and triumphs.

“I guess that’s the whole point: the attempt to understand, the attempt to love. It’s when we stop trying to understand and stop trying to love that everything falls apart.”

This book is a very fun read, and at the end, First throws in a guide to seventies pop culture. This will be especially helpful to younger readers who may have no idea what actors, shows, music, or even general culture references are made during her teenage years. For those who do remember, this book will be a fun blast into the past.

Sometimes pop culture can be tricky to write into a plot without sounding out of place or forced, but First writes it in fluidly, making them part of the scenery and not overly obnoxious. It feels very natural, because it stems from Meg. Of course that’s how she would make sense of her world, because it is her world.

It did take me a few chapters to adjust to the writing style. It can feel a bit choppy, and you feel that while reading. Once I got to know Meg a bit, and realized that an adolescent girl who talks a mile a minute when she’s nervous probably would talk like that, it became more natural to read. Again, because it reads part fiction and part memoir, the fluidity of the writing does change a bit between chapters. It requires the reader to adjust to the tone of the chapter, and in part to the change between Meg as a girl and Meg as a woman.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There is a lot of humor in First’s writing, both as a teenager and as an adult. She tackles very real topics, not just about growing up, but the world at large. These make the book full of depth. I didn’t grow up in the 70’s, but even still, I felt a lot of nostalgia reading through her experiences. Any teenage girl, regardless of the time and specifics, all feel awkward, and scared, and overwhelmed, and confused during those years. She’s relatable and easy to identify with. Which I think makes this a good book to start conversations with teenage readers. Not to mention, just being able to ask your mom about some of these trends and references to pop culture will definitely start some good conversation, along with some memorable laughs, I’m sure!

Thank you BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy to read and review!

Rise of The Dawnstar – SNEAK PEAK

I am so excited to be able to share with you an excerpt from the second book in this series! THIS IS A SEQUEL, so this excerpt might contain spoilers!!!!! Be sure to check out the rest of this tour, by clicking the links below! AND THERE’S A GIVEAWAY!!!

Dawnstar

The Rise of the Dawnstar 

by Farah Oomerbhoy
(The Avalonia Chronicles #2)

Publication date: April 24th 2017

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Aurora Firedrake returns in the spellbinding sequel to The Last of the Firedrakes.

The seven kingdoms of Avalonia are crumbling and evil is spreading across the land like a plague. Queen Morgana is close to finding a way to open The Book of Abraxas and it’s only a matter of time until she uses the power trapped inside its pages to enslave the entire world.

With Avalonia growing more dangerous by the day, Aurora must travel through war-torn lands and deep into the heart of the fae kingdom of Elfi. Her goal is to find a legendary weapon infused with the last of the realm’s ancient magic—the only weapon in the world powerful enough to stop the queen.

Aurora might have survived her first battle against Morgana, but the true fight to save her kingdom and restore her throne has only just begun…

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Prologue

“Why is the girl still alive, Lucian?” said a woman’s voice from a shadowy corner.

“I’m working on it, my queen.” The Archmage of Avalonia swept into the darkened room, his black mage robes, bordered with gold, billowing around him as he walked. Broad-shouldered and regal in his bearing, he raised his right hand and the damp fireplace flared to life, warming the cold stone floor.

Morgana sat in a red velvet chair, staring into the flames that suddenly appeared before her, illuminating her heart-shaped face. The windows were shut against the cold wind that had started blowing down from the north and a dark mist swirled outside as the wind howled, racing through the kingdoms of Avalonia, heralding the coming of winter.

“Then why does she still live, Lucian?” Morgana snarled, rising slowly from her high-backed chair and turning to face the Archmage. Her obsidian hair was loose and tangled and her emerald eyes were bloodshot red.

“We have no idea where she is.” Lucian bowed before the queen of Illiador. His eyes narrowed as he addressed Morgana. “It is proving impossible to find her with magic. As long as she wears the Amulet of Auraken, I cannot determine her whereabouts.”

“Yes, I know that.” Morgana waved her hand, dismissing the thought. “But surely there are other ways to find her?”

“Not with magic.”

“Then find her without magic,” Morgana hissed.

“I have spies everywhere, looking for the princess,” said the Archmage, his jaw tightening. “The last we heard, she left the Summer Palace in the dark of night. That was days ago – by now she could be anywhere in the seven kingdoms.”

Morgana clasped her hands together and started pacing in front of the fireplace. “She won’t get far on a normal horse; at least she doesn’t have the added advantage of a pegasus anymore.”

Lucian coughed and looked down.

Morgana’s eyes widened and her eyebrows rose. “What are you not telling me, Lucian?”

“There was an incident in the ruins, after you, um, left. My sources say that the princess healed the pegasus.”

“How is that possible? The pegasus was dead, I saw it with my own eyes.” Morgana paused as she assessed the Archmage. “Is her healing power so great?”

“I believe it is. She has the blood of the immortal fae running through her veins. You know how powerful their healers are, and she is stronger still. My sources say that the healing she performed on that day was something no one has ever seen before.”

“The Shadow Guard were supposed to kill the pegasus and the princess, but they failed.” Morgana looked utterly unimpressed.

Lucian looked down.

“Why did they fail, Lucian?” Morgana’s green eyes narrowed. “I thought you had trained them all personally? How can a little chit of a girl defeat the deadliest warriors of Illiador?”

“She is too strong,” the Archmage said, his face almost feral at the thought of the girl who had evaded them for over fifteen years. “The more she uses her magic, the more her power grows. There is no mage who can stand in her way now.”

“Rubbish!” The flames in the fireplace leapt and danced as Morgana’s anger flared. “There is always a way.”

Lucian bowed his head, not so much as blinking an eye. “Whatever you say, my queen.”

Morgana flashed him a glare. “And what news is there from Eldoren? Are you sure your sister and her husband know what they’re doing?”

Lucian nodded. “The Blackwaters will take over the throne of Eldoren as you have commanded. The plans are already set in motion.”

“That is not enough,” Morgana snapped. “I want Prince Rafael dead as well. The Ravenswood dynasty supports Aurora, none must be allowed to survive. We will strip her of all her allies and all her friends; she will have no one to turn to, no one to help her. Without proper guidance the girl is likely to destroy herself. Then we will strike when she is at her weakest.”

“What about Izadora? The fae queen will never bow to your rule, and you know that.”

Morgana’s eyes narrowed. “Izadora will have no choice, once I am done with her,” she gave Lucian a pointed look. “My plans concerning Elfi are already underway. You just make sure that Aurora never reaches her grandmother’s kingdom.”

Lucian shook his head. “Forget her, Morgana.” He came closer and put his hand on her shoulder. “She is weak and foolish. She doesn’t have it in her to be queen. Like you said, she will eventually destroy herself. Concentrate on taking over the other kingdoms first. Once you are crowned High Queen of Avalonia, Aurora Firedrake will become just a memory.”

“I want her dead, Lucian.” Morgana moved away from him, and turned to face the flames. “I should have called for the Drakkar assassins much earlier,” she said quietly, dismissing the Archmage with a wave of her hand. “They will find her and they will destroy her, even if you can’t.”

“But, Your Majesty.” The Archmage’s spine stiffened. “The Drakkar are not to be trusted. They will extract a high price for this – remember what happened after you hired them to kill Azaren.” He paused and took a step closer, lowering the tone of his voice. “Morgana, let me find the girl. I will not fail, just give me more time.”

“There is no more time,” snarled Morgana, turning back around to face him. “The people have already heard that she is alive. You told me yourself that rebel factions have sprung up all over Illiador and they are searching for her too. We have to find her before those troublemakers who call themselves the Silver Swords do. They are the last remnants of Azaren’s supporters, and I want them gone as well. Burn the forests where they take cover, and scorch the villages and towns that conceal them. If anyone is found supporting Aurora, they must be made examples of. My niece must have no place to go, nowhere to hide, then we will strike and make her wish that she had never been born a Firedrake.”

The Archmage bowed, his eyes like shards of cold steel. “It will be done, my queen.”

“See that it is.” Morgana turned to gaze into the dancing fire. “If I want to become High Queen over all the seven kingdoms, Aurora Firedrake must die.”

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 Sound good?!? Click the links below for reviews and to buy your copy!

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AUTHOR BIO:
Farah Oomerbhoy is the international bestselling author of The Avalonia Chronicles. Her first book, The Last of the Firedrakes, was originally published on Wattpad where it gained nearly two million reads and a Watty Award. Since publication, her debut has gone on to win a silver medal in IBPA’s Benjamin Franklin Awards and the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards, along with winning a finalist placement in the USA Best Book Awards. Farah loves the fantastical and magical and often dreams of living in Narnia, Neverland, or the Enchanted Forest. With a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Mumbai, Farah spends her creative time crafting magical worlds for young adults. She lives with her family in Mumbai, India.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

WANT A CHANCE TO WIN?!?!? Click the Giveaway picture below!!! Prize pack includes print copies of book 1 & 2 PLUS swag!!! (US/Can Only)

 

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October 16th
The Pursuit Of Bookiness
The Book Junkie Reads . . .
Splashes Into Books
Dani Reviews Things

October 17th
Unrated Bookshelf
My Lovely Secret
Mommy makes Time
Happymomblogger
Casia’s Corner
anie’s blog: diary of a wannabe writer

October 18th
J.L. Hendricks Blog
Mythical Books
Don’t Judge, Read
Birdie Bookworm

October 19th
TJGreen – Reading Room
Teatime and Books
Laura’s Interests
6 Feet Under Books

October 20th
Hauntedbybooks13
Rockin’ Book Reviews
Meet Your New Favorite Book
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BrizzleLass Books

October 21st
Lori’s Little House of Reviews
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Love Books Group Blog
Jena Brown Writes
Bibliofagista

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Thank you Xpresso Tours for including me on this blog tour! If you want more information about Xpresso Tours, or are interested in seeing upcoming blog tours, click the photo for their site!

 

We All Fall Down – Review

“I stay in the car because I’m not welcome at the door.”

From the very first sentence we see the tension built into the backstory of this YA thriller. Theo and Paige have been friends forever. Paige battles anxiety and Theo battles ODD, ADHD and a number of other disorders. Together they can face anything.

Except Paige’s parents think Theo is a negative influence. Except Paige has had a crush on Theo forever, and has decided to leave the unrequited feelings in the past. Except, they aren’t unrequited.

“Paige checks her phone and teeters in her pretty sandals, and my mind is popping and buzzing, but there’s not a thing I can do. I’ve had all the time in the world. If she likes this guy, I need to suck it up and deal.”

Theo doesn’t deal with things though. He gets drunk. The party is at an old bridge, and Paige is pushed to climb the bridge by her date. When she starts to have an anxiety attack, Theo is too drunk to help. Instead he gets in a fight. But when he hauls his fist to take a swing, it isn’t her date’s face his fist collides with. It’s Paige.

Talk about an explosive opening act.

When we meet Theo and Paige again, several months have gone by. Theo is back near the scene of the crime, so to speak, working for his Uncle, trying a new assortment of meds and living in a pit of regret. Paige is attending a summer Science program on the opposite side of the bridge for college credit. She is working on forgetting Theo, accepting that he is bad news like her parents told her all along.

They both want to forget. They both want to move on. But something keeps bringing them together. Something keeps reminding them of the one night they both want to forget. Something won’t let them move on.

The representation of mental health issues in teens is phenomenal in this book. It isn’t just how accurate and relatable Richards makes Paige and Theo. It’s the details. How Paige’s parents are typical helicopter parents, constantly hovering and interfering. How Theo’s have simply written him off as too much trouble and too much work. Both are very real reactions from parents when dealing with adolescents who struggle with disorders.

Even though we don’t see a lot of Paige’s parents, their influence is felt throughout the entire thing. I think this is also very accurate and was well done. Whether it’s the over involvement or the complete disappearance, these reactions shape both Theo and Paige and how they react to various situations. It is also extremely well written because it is these small details that build the tension and suspense within Paige.

“Alarms flare in my mind. I shouldn’t have said his name. Shouldn’t have talked about his at all. What if she says something to my parents when they pick me up?”

As far as Theo goes, we see very little even in the background of his parents. Rather it is his Uncle Denny who is his main parental figure for the summer. Denny has a construction business and is letting Theo live with him and work, to keep him out of trouble. Denny is actually a decent Uncle. He tries, but is clearly in over his head with Theo. He doesn’t even know where to begin. But you can tell he cares, and Theo cares about what he thinks as well.

“He nods slowly, still ruminating whatever armchair-therapist crap he was about to spit out. He must think better of it, because he adjust his cap on his thinning hair and sighs.”

But no matter how many meds Theo forces his therapist to prescribe or how many times he promises to stay away from Paige, some force seems to be pulling them together. Whether it’s mysterious noises drawing them to the bridge, or remnants from the party long thought discarded mysteriously appearing; something is happening. And it always leads back to the bridge.

This part of the novel was especially enjoyable for me because I think bridges are creepy in general. Yes, they are beautiful from a distance. And romantic. And historical. But really. Driving a car over something that could collapse at any moment is terrifying to me. So I completely get the anxiety and trauma associated with this bridge. Throw in some weird supernatural nonsense. I would be out of there super fast!

But what I really enjoyed was how Richards was able to weave the supernatural in to play against both Theo and Paige’s natural dispositions. If you constantly question everything, how do you know when you’re being haunted or going crazy? It’s a fine line, and the suspense both of them felt at legitimately not knowing the answer was brilliant.

“The arsenic is there because rivers are full of icky things. And because no matter how deep you bury them, they find their way to the surface.”

This is excellent YA suspense. It deals with relevant issues and, perhaps, gives a new light and perspective on how kids dealing with those issues feel. It also is a bloody good haunting novel. Whether real or imagined, the ghosts we believe to be real will always be as powerful as we allow them to be. I absolutely loved how this was handled, and explored and ultimately, how this story ended.

I won this book in a giveaway from Teen Reads and am thrilled I was able to read it!

 

 

Ultimate Sacrifice – Review

“Blood is the first thing I see, covering the front of his white V-neck tee and down across his yellow swim trunks.”

As we open the book, we meet Vickie, enjoying the quiet of her family home in rural Tennessee. Quiet and peaceful until she hears her twin brother, Travis, screaming for help and emerging from the woods covered in blood.

If that isn’t enough to make you sit up and take notice, finding out that the blood is from 4 year old Michelle, their neighbor and family friend will. Even worse, Michelle was found stuffed inside a goat in what looks like Satanic Ritual.

This book! I devoured it. Seriously! I read this in less than a day. It is fast and intense. It draws you in from the very beginning and all you want to know is what’s going on! Who killed Michelle? And why?

“Anyone can step into these woods at any time. There is no fence. I’ve never thought about that before. Never worried. Never needed to. But now I do.”

S.E. Green does a fantastic job shedding doubt on every single person in Vickie’s life. I mean, everyone. It’s brilliant writing as you feel this building distrust right along Vickie. As she learns new information, or overhears snippets of conversation, you feel the unease right in your gut. You can’t help but feel that you are being led down a very dark path, but seeing the details of the path is murky and difficult. Which is fantastic horror.

Ultimate Sacrifice isn’t horror at every turn. But Green uses your discomfort and uneasiness to work against your imagination the entire time. It isn’t what’s happening, but what could happen, or what did happen that kicks your pulse into high gear. Because you know that you are being led somewhere. And that somewhere can’t be anyplace good.

“What is this life I now live that I took a gun into the woods earlier and am now sitting on my own porch with a butcher knife at my side?”

As we go through the days following this atrocious discovery, the funeral, the investigation, it becomes obvious to Vickie that there is some connection to Satanic ritual. Even though there seems to be a logical explanation, Vickie can’t help but see these connections everywhere she looks.

For Vickie, this murder is personal. She loved Michelle. She is frustrated at the police, at the news, even at her parents. She wants to know who killed her, not just for her own piece of mind, but to be able to mourn the little girl. You can feel her desperation as she makes her decisions, some questionable, some rash, but you understand them and her frantic state of mind. Her fear clouds her judgment, but as you read, you realize that your vision is clouded too.

I do think that a few characters and story lines could have been developed a touch more. It doesn’t take away from the reading, or the overall book, but it would have added more depth to the overall experience. But again, it doesn’t take away from the experience.

Ultimate Sacrifice is a book where you find yourself questioning everything. By the end, your hesitation to actually know only adds to the suspense and horror. And what an ending!

I am not going to spoil this book, because those last few pages are horrifying and shocking, which is exactly the ending a book like this needs. However, I will say, that it isn’t about predictability. Even if you suspected the ending, I would be surprised if you didn’t find it shocking nonetheless. Sometimes seeing the picture out of the dark shapes surrounding it makes it less scary. Sometimes it only highlights the gruesome reality. This book is definitely the latter. Seeing the details only shoves the horror from a vague discomfort in the pit of your stomach into a scream clawing its way out of your throat.

If you’re looking for a book this Halloween season that will make your skin tingle and the hair on the back of your neck rise, this is it. Ultimate Sacrifice releases October 9. Just in time to prepare you for Scream Season.

Thank you to OfTomes Publishing for the opportunity to read and review this book early!

Wonder Woman: Warbringer – Review

“We can’t help the way we’re born. We can’t help what we are, only what life we choose to make for ourselves.”

Excuse me while I fangirl over here!

Okay, in all seriousness. I was very nervous to read Warbringer. Don’t get me wrong, I was beyond excited that Leigh Bardugo was writing this adaptation. I love her writing. And I have a lifelong love for Wonder Woman. But, I will admit to mild trepidation on how exactly Bardugo was going to rework the Wonder Woman universe into a YA novel.

It isn’t just the reimagining of the comic I was concerned with. Being a fan of any comic world demands that you have some flexibility in your tolerance for adaptations. I mean, we are on our third rendition of Spider-man, and the love for Spidey is still real. And let’s not even talk about how many Batman’s we’ve been through. No, really, I was worried some essence of the darkness I love in her books would somehow be lost. I shouldn’t have worried because she does not hold back on the heartache, struggle, and treachery.

“I imagine all wars look the same to those who die in them.”

All Diana wants is to be recognized by her Amazonian sisters as worthy and their equal. As Daughter of Earth, molded from clay and brought to life by the Goddesses, Diana did not become an Amazon through death. She has never known war. Never known strife. And to some of her sisters, she will never be one of them truly, because of this. So when she makes the reckless decision to save a human girl, she quickly learns that there is more at stake than facing possible exile.

Alia only wants to be a normal girl. She doesn’t understand that the tension and hostility that follow her aren’t a normal part of human behavior. She finds out she is a Warbringer, descendent of Helen of Troy, and destined to bring a time of bloodshed and war to the world.

Fate brought Alia and Diana together. Fate crossed their paths. Together they have one chance to right the world. One chance save not just the world, but Alia. And they only have a week to do it.

The forces working both to keep Alia alive and to make sure she dies, are relentless. And here is where we find the skill in Bardugo’s storytelling shine bright. Magic gone astray brings the duo back to New York. Not where they needed to be. But what would a quest be without some missteps? And what would a quest be without a merry band of misfits to join the fray?

Nim, Theo and Jason are not a merry band. But they are a band of misfits that find themselves on this journey to save Alia, and in turn the world. Jason is Alia’s super controlling and over-protective brother. Nim, her best friend, and Theo, Jason’s nerdy best friend. It will take all of their skills, and the ability to work together to actually make their plan work.

And while I did enjoy the banter and the quirks, it is Diana that really makes this novel shine. Her blunt take on New Yorkers and modern life are quite hilarious, not to mention, alarmingly accurate. I laughed so many times at her questions, and responses, and observations. They are perfect.

“She felt like she was wandering in the dark through this world, catching only flashes of understanding, grasping one thing then stumbling onto the next.”

For someone who has only read about the modern world, never seen men or boys, and only heard about the perils of humanity, I imagine our world would be shocking to Diana. Bardugo captures this amazement and awe and blends it with the mistrust and horror of what the world is actually like. For all the changes this retelling made, the heart of Diana stays very much in tact in this novel.

Diana begins the journey thinking it is only to prove herself worthy to her sisters. But the truth is, she needs to find herself worthy in her own eyes as well.

“Battles are often lost because people don’t know which war they’re fighting.”

This is a theme that runs true no matter which version of Wonder Woman you find. In fact, the themes of truth, self-worth, identity and the strength of women are highlighted extremely well in this novel. These are things any fan would expect to find, and Bardugo did such a good job holding up to those standards and showing them in interesting ways.

It is both in Alia and Diana that identity shine through. They both begin thinking they are one person, and end discovering that they are something more. They have to face harsh truths about themselves and their motivations. This journey of identity goes hand in hand with their feelings of self-worth. How much is a life worth? What is the weight of one life versus the weight of all life? And wrapped within all of that is the idea that truth is necessary and vital to all of this.

“Truth means something different when it’s freely given.”

These heavy themes are written intricately within each character along within the overall plot, and that is really the heart of Wonder Woman. Yet, there is a playfulness to the book. The characters are still teenagers and are guaranteed to break up the brevity of any situation with some smart mouthed sarcasm exactly when it’s needed.

Finally, highlighting the strength of women is captured so well in Warbringer. It isn’t just that Diana is nearly indestructible, because the physical strength isn’t what makes her exceptional. The way her and Alia bond in their quest was a subtle nod to that sisterhood that the Amazonians show. Without being on the island for long, this storyline needed to be shown in another way, and it was highlighted perfectly here.

Even more subtlety though, is the strength we find in ourselves. Often in society, even still today, women are still praised for being subdued. Jason constantly tries to subdue Alia, and while they call him out on it, the control he exerts and the dominance he expects are all too common. While no one is attempting to control Diana, I found it empowering when even Diana realizes she doesn’t have to hold herself back.

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

Every women alive has felt a moment somewhat similar in her life. A moment when we are tired of being told how to behave, how to sound, how to dress, how to be. I loved that we get to see Diana shed these self-imposed shackles to embrace the warrior her heart knows she can be.

It is in maintaining the heart of this story, and these characters, that these themes work towards the shocking ending. I’ll fully admit, I didn’t even see the twist coming. Yet even the ending holds true to the themes of the comic, and the themes of the book. It is this unrelenting, unapologetic willingness to face the darkness of humanity that makes Bardugo books so good. And she does it again with this one.

Superheros and icons are meant to be examined. They are meant to be placed in new and challenging situations so that we can explore the depths of heroics against villainy. They are meant to adapt to stay relevant and be reborn to reflect changes in society. I loved Warbringer for all that Wonder Woman has been, and all that she can be. And I am so excited to read more of these hero reboots in future DC Icon books!

 

 

No Plain Rebel – Review

“I only recently discovered that what we have here is no more peace than death. Silence is not peace.”

No Plain Rebel picks up right where No Ordinary Star left off. Felix and Astra in the cabin at the North Pole, trying to unravel the mystery the Clockmaster left in their hands.

We get more information in the second installment, answering questions of both Felix and Astra’s past. They uncover diaries and letters left to Felix from the Clockmaster, that he prepared in the event of his death. These letters help guide Felix and he learns the real purpose of the Clock leading up to the year 2525. Let’s just say, it isn’t good.

“People get dangerous ideas from books, ideas about how to fight and how to be cleverer than their enemies.”

We also get more information about the years leading up to the present. What happened to cause this society to diverge so far from the utopia it was trying to be? Finally getting some answers felt enormously satisfying and rather than feeling satiated by the knowledge, you simply want to know more of what happens next. As with any good dystopian, the more you know, the worse things seem to get.

“Chaos haste ceased to exist. It still existed all this time, he was just isolated from it. And along with the chaos, he was kept away from life.”

I am also happy to start seeing more of the world outside of the shack. While I adore the shack, (and the gorgeous library in the basement), we need to start seeing some action in the outside world. We don’t see as much action in this installment, but the plot is set at the end for an explosive ending filled with action. Or so I hope.

This book is definitely focused more on Felix than Astra. She is really only heard in her voice in a handful of chapters. I understand that Felix is the one who is tasked with fixing the Clock and the one who the letters are directed to, but I do feel like Frank could have balanced between the two a bit more. In a society where women are brushed away as second class (or worse) citizens, it felt symbolic to want Astra more involved in her own story, using her own voice.

I also think it’s important, as Astra is the one who can really give us the sense of what is hanging in the balance. Women like her being propped in laboratories against their will, being powerless and voiceless. Even as a solider, Felix never lived a life like that, so to diminish her voice diminishes that harsh reality as well. This book is focused more an bigger picture world, but we need to remember the details. It’s Astra that gives the book heart, so I wish there had been more of her.

Christmas again is a heavy theme in this book, and it does turn a bit slanted towards the religious. Some may argue that Christmas is religious, but in my opinion, that’s debatable. Here it becomes less about the holiday and more about the religious undertones, and the religious history of the holiday.

Book two does have an info-dump feel to it, even though the author attempts to break up the monologues with thoughts and ideas as they read. But, still, there is a lot of the Clockmaster talking and only snippets of actionable plot happening. I’m hoping that now that we have that out of the way, the third book is action packed. I would have loved to have gotten to know several characters introduced in this book much better, and hope we get the chance in the next installment.

There is quite a lot to enjoy from a political standpoint in the book. Philosophy and how good ideas can turn bad are presented towards the end. We have already seen the results of these ideas, so it was interesting to read how they came about.

“Power will always pollute things. The world’s entropy will always increase and man carries the source of the pollution within himself. He carries the seed of redemption as well, but it’s not as simple as you’f think to find it. It’s certainly not as simple to redeem as it seems to be be to destroy.”

The Greek philosophers are mentioned quite a bit by the Clockmaster. It would have been a bit well-rounded to have included other philosophies, especially given how he had three hundred years and isolation to build his education, it feels a bit narrow to only focus on one set of philosophy.

Again, this is a short book, leaning towards a novella, so it’s a fast read. The third book comes out at the end of the year.

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy to read and review.

Trapped in Silver – Review

“There was a time I was afraid of the dark.”

From the very first moments of this book, I fell in love with Ava. A girl who dresses as a boy so that she can keep the family farm afloat while her father goes away on extended trips. It was love at first sass.

Ava is a normal seventeen year old girl. Well, normal-ish. Normal if you don’t count the silver necklace around her neck that cannot be removed, (and believe it, she’s tried!). Normal to pretend to be a brother who doesn’t exist. Normal to not want to be “matched to a narcissist who saw me as little more than a live-in cook and vessel for his seedlings”, (she means married). Normal to fall into blackout dreams. Normal.

Small things like dressing as a boy and not wanting to get married may not seem fiery, or fiesty, or even rebellious. Until you consider that she lives in a town where it is illegal for women to even use certain hairpins, lest they be used as weapons. A town where a woman helping on any level that would make them equal to a man is looked down on, if not outright forbidden.

Yet despite her deep yearning to be allowed to run the farm and be left alone, strange things are happening around Ava. Shadows that look like monsters lurk behind window panes. Animals are slaughtered in the barn while the doors are locked. And when a handsome stranger with eyes of fire and smoke saunters onto her land late one night, things will never be the same.

Against the rules set out by her father and older brother (real, not imaginary), Ava attends a town ball with her friend, Kaela. Immediately she gains the attention of a dark stranger with darker eyes. But rather than being whisked off her feet, she is lured to a trap and nearly dies. Injured and confused, she wakes in a strange bed surrounded by strange people.

Not quite a prisoner, but not quite free, Ava finds herself in the middle of a war she doesn’t understand. Creatures and stories that should only exist in stories are suddenly alive in the forest and trying to kill her. Ava will have to learn who to trust, and more importantly, find out who she wants to be, in order to survive.

“A person with as many scars as you can be one of two things: a man that fights for justice or a man that fights for power. My question is: which one are you?”

Trapped in Silver reads like a fairy tale. There is magic and mystery, but the layers within the novel unfold slowly, refusing to plunge too fast. I suspect that the pacing is done so that we get a solid foundation for the story to take off in later books. World and character building are important, and sometimes can be lacking for the sake of a “fast plot”. Snowden doesn’t succumb to that pressure, and instead lets us unravel the mystery with Ava. It made Ava much more relatable, and also lets the reader learn important details without giving us tediously boring info dumps.

Of course, we do get some information before Ava does, so one of the plot twists was an easy guess. However, the twist at the end was shocking and only made me want to turn more pages, only to find I had reached the end. I need to know what happens! It also made me wonder if Snowden deliberately made the twist obvious knowing she was going to sucker punch us later.

This book is filled with action, and adventure, and mystery. It is enchanting and fun! Ava is not just a sassy heroine, but headstrong and flawed. She tends to find herself going against what people tell her, but this is also a girl who created an identity to circumvent society. We shouldn’t be surprised. And often, her impulsive nature is the right one. Even if it a bit more troublesome.

“Well, I figured it’s been at least a week since someone’s tried to kill me, so I wanted to shake things up a bit, you know,” I said, sheathing my dagger. “I’ve never been one to back away from a fight.”

This sass, her brash refusal to cower and back down is part of what makes Ava such a good character. She is flawed, and reckless, and sometimes a bit naive. But, she is unflinchingly herself throughout it all. There is nothing that drives me battier than a waffling heroine, so I adored Ava and her feistiness.

Snowden has built an intriguing world full of mystery and nefarious plots. She has written characters that are full of hidden depths and surprises. Ava doesn’t become a master swordsman, or miraculously save the day on her own, or any other standard heroine tropes we usually see. Instead, she finds herself, and realizes that she isn’t alone. She opens herself to the people around her, choosing to fight with them, to push herself more and to protect them the only way she knows how. That is my idea of a strong female lead.

I am very much looking forward to the next book in this series! If you like sass, adventure and a dark mystery, this is the book for you!

Thank you to OfTomes Publishing for sending me a copy to read and review!

 

 

Mask of Shadows – Review

“There was no room for gods in a world of monsters and monstrous men, but tradition endured.”

Mask of Shadows is  an amazing book. Hands down, amazing! Full of adventure, court intrigue and most of all, revenge, this is the first in a duology.

Sal Leon is just a thief trying to survive in a world that has forgotten their people. Killed by monsters knows as shadows, an entire nation of people destroyed and forgotten. Except for Sal, who survived.

When a robbery reveals that the Left Hand of the Queen is holding auditions for the next Opal, Sal knows an opportunity has been presented.

The audition is more than it appears and turns out to be a fight to the death. Sal has to face soldiers and nobels, circus acrobats with built in alliances and deadly apothecaries, all who have trained for moments like this their entire lives. Sal is just a thief, a forgotten child who only knows survival. But they know to survive the auditions is to become an assassin, so they become the assassin first.

I had such a good time reading this book! From the very first pages, I was drawn to Sal, who is such a riveting character. They are sassy and bold, but are also frightened and fiercely cling to life. Rather than cower in fear, Sal faces those fears head on. Sal is a character who embodies bravery. Because even though they are afraid of dying, never once do they back away from doing what is right.

“Regret does nothing but soothe your own guilt.”

I will confess, that this is the first novel I’ve read where the main character is gender fluid. As I write this review, I am realizing how often we present with he/she pronouns. If I get it wrong, please let me know so that I can better review future novels, especially as I plan on completing this duology.

The author does a fantastic job not only explaining the gender fluidity, but also in highlighting how often Sal is frustrated by living in a society that doesn’t always respect this.

“Rath had asked once, a while after we’d met and been living together, and I’d not known how to explain it yet. I didn’t have the words. He always felt like Rath, and I always felt like Sal, except it was like watching a river flow past. The river was always the same, but you never glimpsed the same water. I ebbed and flowed, and that was my always. Rath not understanding that had hurt the most, but at least he accepted it.”

Miller writes amazing characters. Honestly, I loved them all. They were full of mirth, and sass, and sarcasm, but also vivid and full of depth. Even though everyone was trying to kill each other off, and the judges were also masked assassins, this is a crew I would enjoy hanging out with, Ruby most of all.

“We were discussing fashion and murder. Join in.”

That actually sounds like a text I would have equal odds of sending or being sent.

Elise, the nobel girl tutoring Sal, and Maud, the maid assigned for the audition, are both extremely smart and strong women. Even though Maud can’t help, she always finds a way to circumvent the rigid rules in order to help Sal. I loved how at first every relationship Sal had was simply a transactional one. They tolerated or tried to use people as it suited their needs. But Elise and Maud quickly show Sal that people aren’t always who or what they appear, and that transformation was delightful to read.

“I don’t flirt with people who could kill me as easily as they could kiss me.”

Miller builds this world gradually through her narration, so we learn about the past through Sal. Their need for revenge helps guide us into this world, and the past that built it.

“This is what Erland had done to us — stolen us, torn us away from what we were, ripped children from their homes and souls from their bodies.”

We get a very real sense of how personal this war is to Sal. How it shaped them, changed them, focused them. This is why becoming Opal is so important. So that they have a chance to ensure justice is done. Justice, though, is always more complicated than initially we imagine, and this hard truth isn’t any easier for Sal.

Even though we unravel the full glimpse of the world Sal lives in, along with the past slowly, the detail or realism involved isn’t lessened. It also doesn’t feel slow paced. Each page reads with urgency. Sal is constantly in life and death situations, never knowing when death may come, and you feel that as you read. Even in the slower moments, the moments stolen with Elise or simply training, you feel the constant pressure they face.

And yet, for all it’s intensity, it’s a fun read. Funny and heartwarming. Because while the world building is solid and the history richly written, it is the characters that breathe this entire novel to life.

This book has all the intrigue of Game of Thrones, the brutality of The Hunger Games and the sass of Six Of Crows. You will laugh as often as you climb the walls in suspense. I am very much looking forward to reading the conclusion to this story. I need to know what happens next, and definitely need more of these characters!

Thank you Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.