Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Exiles (Ilyon Chronicles)

Title: Exiles

Series: Ilyon Chronicles (Book #4)

Year: 2017

Author: Jaye L. Knight

Summary: Exiled after their defeat in Samara, the Resistance struggles to find allies in their quest to restore King Balen to his throne and put an end to the emperor’s tyranny. When the crete people refuse to lend their aid, Balen leads a group to Dorland to reason with them and win their support. However, enemies prove to be everywhere, and they find themselves in a fight to keep Dorland from becoming Daican’s latest conquest. 

Back in Landale, the arrival of a new enemy forces Trask and Anne to tread more carefully than ever. Tensions are rising, and the enemy is determined to test Anne’s loyalty and root out the location of Trask and the Resistance once and for all. 

Feeling trapped within the walls of Valcré, Prince Daniel must contend with an ever-eroding relationship with his father. As their clashes escalate, the situation becomes potentially life threatening when his loyalty is called into question. His sister seems bent on branding him a traitor and actively seeking to condemn him to the fate of those put to death in their father’s new arena. Daniel is certain his father would never execute his only son and heir, but with other forces at work, it might not be that simple. 

One small misstep could prove fatal for all. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Kyrin
~ Jace
~ Daniel
~ Anne

Review: First off, this book came out on my birthday. How. Cool. Is. That. Of course, I had to buy it for myself as a birthday gift. 

This series just keeps getting better. I think book #2 may be my favorite overall, but this one definitely almost topped that one! I loved getting to follow Kyrin, Jace, and their friends all over the map -- in an effort to get allies against Daican, they visit the cretes and Dorlanders. Personally, I really enjoyed getting to see the different cultures. There are familiar aspects to each one, but they are all so unique. And the new culture -- *jaw drops* Ilyon fans, rejoice. Saul and his band are everything we wanted them to be. 

However, we're not just with Kyrin and Co. Anne and Trask, I felt, played a bigger role in this book as they fight the battle at Landale. Not a real fight, mind you, because Anne still has to keep up her family's facade and Trask has to keep the whole camp a secret. Goler was despicable, as always. Charles was the best. I thought this book opened a new perspective on Anne; she became more real as I got to see further into her life and struggles. The sensibility she showed in putting others' needs above her own really stood out to me. Plus, she and Trask are just absolutely adorable. Just sayin'. 

My favorite character of the whole series is quickly becoming Prince Daniel. I loved getting to start his story in the last few books, but this one took him to a whole new level. And at the end -- PLOT TWIST -- Can't say I saw that one coming! Jaye is keeping all of us on our toes and I need book #5 ASAP. I hate Davira with an intense, passionate hate. More than I hated her father. That's all I can say. 

Shout-out to Kaden and some epic dragon action. That would probably be the one thing lacking in this book. Not enough of Kaden and dragons. It was fun getting to see more of Kyrin's other brother, Michael, though. 

Overall, this was an amazing continuation of the Ilyon Chronicles. I have been recommending this series to basically everybody since I read the first book, and I haven't stopped yet. 

Advisory: Violence/blood/fighting, but all in Jaye's usual style. Characters almost drown/are threatened to lose fingers/get beaten/get executed/etc. Because most of the book centers on battles/fights, I would recommend this book for readers over 12. 

Another portion of the book focuses on the ryriks and their wild tendency towards abusing women (i.e. rape). The subject is broached in the book as characters come into contact with the ryriks, but it is well-handled and not explicit. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Silent Songbird (Hagenheim)

Title: The Silent Songbird

Series: Hagenheim (Book #7)

Year: 2016

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Summary: Evangeline longs to be free, to live in the world outside the castle walls. But freedom comes at a cost.

Evangeline is the ward and cousin of King Richard II, and yet she dreams of a life outside of Berkhamsted Castle, where she might be free to marry for love and not politics. But the young king betroths her to his closest advisor, Lord Shiveley, a man twice as old as Evangeline. Desperate to escape a life married to a man she finds revolting, Evangeline runs away from the king and joins a small band of servants on their way back to their home village.

To keep her identity a secret, Evangeline pretends to be mute. Evangeline soon regrets the charade as she gets to know Wesley, the handsome young leader of the servants, whom she later discovers is the son of a wealthy lord. But she cannot reveal her true identity for fear she will be forced to return to King Richard and her arranged marriage.

Wesley le Wyse is intrigued by the beautiful new servant girl. When he learns that she lost her voice from a beating by a cruel former master, he is outraged. But his anger is soon redirected when he learns she has been lying to him. Not only is she not mute, but she isn't even a servant.

Weighed down by remorse for deceiving Wesley, Evangeline fears no one will ever love her. But her future is not the only thing at stake, as she finds herself embroiled in a tangled web that threatens England's monarchy. Should she give herself up to save the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters: 
~ Evangeline
~ Wesley le Wyse

Review: This book honestly surprised me. It thoroughly reawakened my interest in Melanie Dickerson retellings. Yes, I very much enjoy her stories, but some of them were getting to the point where they felt bitterly cliche. However, this one had some new life to it. For those of you who know me, you know I love fairy tale retellings. But there haven't been very many good, *clean* Little Mermaid retellings that I can get my hands on. So, when I saw that Melanie Dickerson was working on a story inspired by the Little Mermaid, I actually got a little bit excited. And so when I could get a copy, I read it. 

In about a day.

It's not perfect, granted. But it was exactly what I was hoping for in a Little Mermaid retelling by this author.

Evangeline is the king's ward, and while that entitles her to a fine life, she hates it. Along with being noble and rich comes imprisonment. But she's able to content herself with singing out the window (hence the title of Songbird) and watching life go by without her. That is, until the king informs her that he's betrothed her to an older and somewhat dangerous man. Evangeline fears this marriage, and thus makes the decision to flee the castle. Because her voice is so remarkable and recognizable, she pretends to be mute. 

In some ways, this felt very much like Little Mermaid. I was skeptical at first how some of those elements would fit into the story - I mean, come on. This didn't have mermaids; it didn't have a sea witch; it didn't even have an ocean! But Melanie pulled it off quite nicely. True, she had to chop out those mermaid-y things, but even so - I was impressed. There are still several distinct nods to the fairy tale. Even some almost-subtle hints toward the original fairy tale - NOT the Disney version. Imagine that, folks. But I will refrain from spoilers.

Anywho, lots of action, good characters, etc. so I'll let the high praise stop there. If you're looking for a non-sea, non-fish Little Mermaid retelling, put this on your list. 

Advisory: Some violence, but typical of this author's stories. 

Also, romance. Evageline, true to her original character inspiration, thinks a lot about kissing the guy. There were some scenes when I'm fairly sure I could hear Sebastian singing in the background. It got on my nerves a little, just because it came up so much. However, I can read that as a nod to the original, given the infamous kiss the little mermaid has to obtain to stay human. As far as actual kisses go, there weren't many that I could remember, but obviously a few to take note of. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Theodora's Children (Tales of Hope)

Title: Theodora's Children

Series: Tales of Hope (Book #2)

Year: 2016

Author: Rick Nau

Summary: Gretchen is her name. She’s the heroine of the story. Some people call her Gretch the Wretch. Not a very nice thing to say about someone, especially if they suffer from a loneliness so intense it could blow the roof off the sky. Certainly she’s not the only person in the world who’s felt this way. You might have felt this way yourself. Or you might feel this way at this very moment, just as Gretchen felt at the beginning of her story. This isn’t to say she’s not a wonderful person. If you get to know her, you’ll find out how wonderful she is. If you don’t, you’ll never know. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Gretchen

Review: This book, honestly, is very hard to describe. In some ways it felt like a fairy tale; in others, an allegory. It was a family story; it was a Christmas story. It was a story about loneliness; it was a story about companionship. 

The beginning for me started a little rough. We're introduced to an older gentleman who loves to tell his grandchildren stories - and that's the whole book. Him telling the two grandkids a story. I was a bit skeptical how that would work for an entire novel, seeing as the entire content was dialogue, but I think once you got used to the idea, it wasn't bad. In fact, I kinda forgot he was still speaking as I got caught up in different parts of the story. 

The story he tells is of a young girl named Gretchen. She's really not Gretch the Wretch because she's got everything she could ever want - a fancy house, a big room, books, candies, a pony, toys, yada, yada, yada. Anything a child would ever dream to ask for, Gretchen already has. Except the one thing she's always wanted: a brother. She even asks for a brother for her birthday. And, even though she's not a drama queen, she dissolves into tears when a brother doesn't appear in all of her birthday gifts.

When she finally comes to terms about not getting a brother, she decides to make one up. And that's where the main portion of her adventures start. There's a definite Christmas feel as a big portion of this novel takes place in the snow and involves the dreams of little children.

The ending, though I won't reveal any spoilers, was not expected. Realistically, it took me by surprise, but it was truthfully right in the tone of the book. This is a fantasy world of sorts. I will say that I loved the final big moment at the end when everything culminated into a wonderful boil. *grins* Read it and find out.

One thing that I would complain about was the author's style. While definitely story-teller-like and fun, I thought it was often too wordy. When three sentences would suffice, the author used three paragraphs and sometimes three pages to give an explanation. A few places also were awkwardly worded with multiple adverbs.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to families, kids, and anyone looking for a quick but sweet read. I think I finished the entire book in one evening and enjoyed it. But I also think that it's definitely something you'd opt to read-aloud to story-hungry kids. 

Advisory: Some violence directed towards children; nothing graphic, but basically child abuse. Some scary situations. 

Rating: 4 stars

*Please note: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.*

Monday, September 4, 2017

The False Princess

Title: The False Princess

Series: None (There is a prequel short story)

Year: 2011

Author: Eilis O'Neal

Summary: Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks.  But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control - she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history, forever. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Sinda/Nalia
~ Kiernan

Review: First, I was intrigued by the title. Second, the cover art. Third, the synopsis. It didn't seem like the type of book that I'd be dying to read, but it looked interesting enough that I knew I *had* to pick it up sometime.

And in a lot of ways, it didn't disappoint. Princess Nalia (a.k.a. Sinda) finds out the life she's known for sixteen years is a complete lie, and she was only a fake to save the life of the real princess. I mean, come on -- how cool is that? Terrifying, yes, to poor Sinda, but what a set-up for a fantastic story! While many authors would focus on what Thorvaldor's people focused on - the new, real princess - this author has chosen to follow the path of the deserted, outcast ex-princess. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was, and I would like to get my hands on the prequel short story - just to see how that compares. 

Sinda is a likable heroine. She's clumsy, realistic, and funny. She has the most bizarre adventures, but it was a lot of fun to read and "tag along." Even Kiernan was incredibly fun and intriguing, which I actually found surprising (I was honestly expecting him to be a complete bore). Philantha was eccentric and a hoot. All the characters were really great. 

Except the villain. I found that one to be a little cliche. Honestly, I'm sorry. Maybe I felt that the whole, wicked plot was revealed a little too early? I would have preferred a little more oomph there going into the final showdown. 

Also, just something funny I noticed -- all the female characters had names containing an "a." Sinda, Nalia, Orianne, Melaina, Mika, Varil, Philantha, etc. I liked the names, but it was just funny to keep seeing the "a" trend pop in again and again. I can't remember if there were any female names without the "a." Many of the male names, too, had an "a." Random tidbit - you're welcome. 

Advisory: Some romance, as the main characters are the perfect, fairytale age of just over 16 years old. Nothing too over the top, which I thought was nice. Some parts I felt like the author was going to lead to more I really didn't want to read, but it never went very far. And along that line, there is a comment about someone wanting to "bed" a girl. Nothing comes of that either, thankfully.

Violence. People get injured/die/etc. Nothing terribly graphic, but enough to take some note of. 

There is also a lot of magic in this book, and I wanted to take some time to address that. Magic, it seems, is not a completely common thing for most people in Thorvaldor. It is described as being a talent - some people are born with it, and some people aren't. (Except royalty. They never receive that talent.) However, those who use it must learn to control it, otherwise they risk never gaining control over it. There is a wizard school for those who have this talent, but it is only open to people with titles and money.

When she first finds out she has magic, Sinda accidentally chars a vine and then creates a windstorm inside. She has to undergo magic training, and while her training is described in the book, it is a magic that cannot be duplicated as she is working only with her own talent. As in most fantasy stories, this magic can be used for good or bad, but using it takes up energy, as performing with any other talent/skill would. Honestly, since the "magic" is viewed as a talent (meaning it cannot be learned or performed by someone without that talent), it didn't bother me a lot. I felt that the magic was well-balanced with the rest of the story, and it didn't overpower any important elements.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Out of the Shadows (The Tacket Secret)

Title: Out of the Shadows

Series: Tacket Secret (Book #1)

Year: 2017

Author: Emma Carrie

Summary: Haunted by a past she didn't choose. Desperate for a future she can redeem.

Three years ago, teen assassin Emily Brelin escaped the rogue general who trained her. She fled across the globe to Golden City, New York, where she met a professor who offered a home and a new start. The professor guarded Emily's secrets—but now the teen's murky past is about to catch up with her.

When the professor dies, the will names best friend Detective Victoria Tacket as the new guardian. Emily worries her secrets will be exposed and her location leaked. She plans to run away because the general will kill anyone to recapture her, and she won't risk the detective's life.

Scarred by loss. Driven to protect.

Detective Vick Tacket is shocked when she learns her best friend has died. She's even more stunned when she learns her friend had a hidden dependent and named Vick—a single woman with no maternal interest—as the girl's guardian. Convinced she'd be a terrible mother, Vick plans to decline guardianship, until the teen disappears.

Vick scours the streets of Golden City, searching for Emily—but what she discovers threatens both their lives.

Main Characters:
~ Emily Brelin
~ Vick Tacket

Review: This book, honestly, is not a tremendously long read. I finished the whole thing in an evening. But I warn you: it will leave you wanting more.

Emily Brelin is a teenage assassin looking for a new chance at life. She's had to live off the grid to hide from her old employer, a general of some violent and evil tendencies. Desperate to stay out of his employ, Emily's found refuge and a new name with a college professor. However, when that beloved professor suddenly dies of cancer, it's up to Emily's new guardian to keep her off the grid.

Which, Vick really isn't good at. AT ALL. Even if she's basically a world-class detective with an odd obsession for chai in Styrofoam cups. 

In some ways, I feel like the book blurbs offered for this series basically outlines the entire plot. But then again, it is a novella, rather short, and so you can't write a long blurb anyway without giving away most of the story. 

BUT this book is so perfectly titled. Seriously. 

Emily was a wonderful puzzle. I was never quite sure what she was going to do next, but she kept me on my toes. She has her secrets, her faults, but she's still a real person. I loved being able to follow the details of her mind -- her analysis of everything around her, her determining the next best move to make, her photographic memory. She's really a trained assassin, and you definitely get that picture. 

Honestly, there was nothing big that I disliked in the book. The action was very fast-paced, so as a reader, one is never bored. My only complaints would be the length (remedied, I realize, by getting the next 6 novellas in the series), and the quick, almost shallow, nature of the book. There was a connection between Vick and Emily, definitely, but I was sorry to see it not more developed. Vick, too, had a host of secrets that seemed like they'd eventually come clear throughout the novella, but they never did. Perhaps in later books. 

In conclusion, if you're into superhero-ish, sciencefiction-ish, suspense-ish fiction, this would be an excellent series to pick up. And happy day -- all 7 books, it seems, have already been released. You don't have to wait until next year to find out what happens. 

Advisory: Some violence, blood, and shooting. Characters discuss police cases, but nothing terribly graphic. 

*Please note I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Title: Snow White: A Graphic Novel

Series: None

Year: 2016

Author: Matt Phelan

Summary: Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City, 1928. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words "Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL." In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Samantha "Snow" White
~ The Seven

Review: This was my first-ever graphic novel. I can't say if I much enjoy the genre, to be truthful. It is terribly exciting to see it all sketched out for you, flipping through the pages. However, I felt that because the illustrations were already there, it took away a little bit from my imagination. I was told what to imagine and see, rather than letting my brain fill in what details I wanted.

In some ways, it was extremely interesting. In dealing with certain time eras and elements that I'm not familiar with, it was cool to see exactly what the author meant. I didn't have to guess at what things might look like. It was all right there in front of me. 

But I'll get off my rant about graphic novels. On to the actual story.

Truthfully, it felt a lot like the Disney film version... only set in American 1920s. The time era made certain things feel more realistic, and I haven't read many fairytale retellings set in that time, but I think it all fit very well. The parts with the wicked stepmother were very close to Disney's evil queen. Some of it sometimes felt too close.

I really liked the added details behind Snow's nickname. It made a sweet take on the usual name. And the blood on the snow bit... heart-breaking, but two thumbs up. Sad, I know. No spoilers, sorry, but I liked how he did that.

One thing I really didn't understand and wish the author/designer had done more with was the seven dwarves. In this adaptation, they are seven, ragged Newsie-ish boys (and yes, I kept hearing Carrying the Banner playing in my head everytime they came into the illustrations), used to living rough on the street. They refuse to give Snow their names, which could have led to something really cool, but I felt that that subplot kinda fizzled out there at the end. I would have loved to see a little bit more on that. But I guess you can only include so much in a graphic novel.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but I can't say that it really intrigued me. Maybe it's just the fact that it's a graphic novel, and that's not really my cup of tea. I enjoyed the story, and part of me would love to read this retelling in a full-length novel. If you're into graphic novels and fairytales, then I think this is one you should probably add to your shelf.

Advisory: Some violence. The stepmother orders the huntsman to kill Snow and bring back her heart, so it's the typical retelling violence. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Senator's Youngest Daughter

Title: The Senator's Youngest Daughter

Series: None

Year: 2016

Author: Kelley Rose Waller

Summary: Senator A.C. McFerren has been missing for more than six months. The obvious prime suspect in his disappearance is the homegrown terrorist group known as the Army of Social Justice. 

Searching for her kidnapped father leads Brenna McFerren Jefferson to the terrorists’ elusive “Death of Government” headquarters, known as The Doghouse. But nosing around where the federal government won’t investigate puts a target on her family and sets in motion a rebellion she isn’t prepared to lead. 

Dreams of liberty cause the Senator’s daughter to disguise herself for undercover recon, recruit a high-ranking defector, and partner with a subversive news agency that combats government propaganda. As Brenna’s strength and family ties are tested, she unites a political party that commands the power to transform the United States. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Brenna McFerren Jefferson
~ Tate Jefferson
~ Esther McFerren
~ Senator A.C. McFerren

Review: I think it's safe to say that this book wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I'm not exactly sure what I was even planning to expect. I haven't read much of the dystopian-futuristic type of novel, but I did enjoy this taste of it.

Kelley Waller doesn't waste any time jumping into the action. Right from the start, we're introduced to our heroine and an action-packed scene where guns are around every corner and the drain pipe is the MVP. From there, the action really doesn't stop.

Brenna McFerren Jefferson is a kindergarten-teacher-gone-secret-agent. She lives in a very different America than we're used to -- one with a power-hungry president basically taking out the balancing checks of the Supreme Court and the Senate during his term. He's wants complete control over the country, and he's ready to take whatever action necessary to keep that power -- including kidnapping Brenna's father, the former senator A.C. McFerren who stands for the old-fashioned republic and the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

It was difficult to keep track of everything at first, so many names and acronyms and other important-sounding lingo. But once you got used to what everything was, it made sense. The action is excellent in this book. I never once felt that it dragged or got boring. The book is a pretty hefty size (with a stunning 68 chapters), but the quick narrative keeps things moving along nicely. Once I was into the story, it didn't take me that long to finish it.

There were a few awkward transitions between scenes as well as in certain scenes. Some parts just read unpolished -- basically I would have preferred it a little more edited and smoothed out. To my knowledge, this is Kelley Waller's debut novel, so I'd be greatly interested in reading one of her next works and seeing how her writing matures. She's definitely got the talent to keep her readers on their toes!

If you like guns and explosions with a side of tech, family, and American politics, then this is the book for you. Kelley Waller throws in plenty of plot twists to compliment the action, though I will admit I saw most of them coming. There was quite a bit of character development, but sometimes it felt a little forced. I admired how Brenna at first was fighting to pull her family back together after her father's kidnapping, but by the end, the theme had changed to her discovering her true worth in the political circle.

One thing that I really enjoyed was the abundance of historical American quotes. Every few pages, one of the characters would spout off a Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, etc. quote with ease, leaving me insanely jealous and wishing I could do the same. For the inner American history nut in me, that was definitely a plus!

Advisory: Lots of violence. Guns/explosions/fighting/lots of broken glass/some blood. It's not overly graphic, but enough so that I would recommend this book for older readers. I didn't count the deaths in the book as I read, but several deaths are described. 

Also, a disappointing abundance of language. I won't make a list here (mostly because I'm not completely comfortable typing those words out), but other reviewers have included a list in their Goodreads reviews if you are interested. 

There is some light but awkward romantic/physical/sexual content as well. Brenna is a married woman, so there are a few comments and physical touches that pass between her and her husband, as well as between other couples in the book. They're not over the top, but a few of them made me uncomfortable. Brenna loses her pants on a mission and completes her job in her pink underwear, and there are several comments about that. One other thing to note would be comments on the decaying state of the union and its sinful turn in society. 

Honestly, I feel like the characters and action helped make this story 5 stars, but I would have loved to give it all 5, but there was a lot (mentioned above) that made me shy from that. There are very few mentions of spiritual content, despite this being labeled a Christian book.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*Please note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.*