Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Review: Uprooted by Naomi NovikUprooted by Naomi Novik
Published by Pan Macmillan on 2015-05-21
Pages: 310
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood's powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows - everyone knows - that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia - all the things Agnieszka isn't - and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him. From the author of the Temeraire series comes this hugely imaginative, engrossing and vivid fantasy novel, inspired by folk and fairy tales. It is perfect reading for fans of Robin Hobb and Trudi Canavan.

Thoughts: I was ecstatic to find Uprooted in my mailbox. I am a massive, massive fan of Novik’s Temeraire (read my glowing review here) and was very excited to see what she would produce outside of that universe.

Which is appropriate, considering what dominated Uprooted was the universe Novik created. It was dark, twisted and disconcerting in a way I’ve yet to experience. Instead of a single villain, Agnieszka and the Dragon faced off against a… feeling. The Wood was the literal representation of decay and infection, while still appearing as a lush, beautiful life-form. It was a bit difficult for me to wrap my brain around, because it was so foreign… and in a way, that’s what also made it so scary.

The Wood drove this story, more so than the principal characters. And because of that, Uprooted refused to be one “type” of story. It wasn’t just a semi-Stockholm Syndrome romance, or a girl-discovers-her-powers YA novel, or a high fantasy fight-against-evil… it was all of those things distorted by the overbearing threat of the Wood. So expect twists and turns, and don’t ever, ever get too comfortable.

Character-wise, while I can’t say I was overly emotionally invested in Agnieszka, Kasia or the Dragon, I really appreciated how they were handled. The Dragon was an angry, mean man – but one who was trying to do the right thing. Kasia and Agnieszka, meanwhile, had one of the most genuine female friendships I’ve ever read. They loved each other, but they also had their own problems. When jealously and hurt reared their heads, instead of breaking apart, they acknowledged the issues and didn’t let them get in the way. It was masterfully done.

Bottom line? Uprooted is a supremely unique novel, set in a universe I can guarantee you’ve never been to. If you’re suffering from genre fatigue, Uprooted will leave you uplifted.

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. SnyderShadow Study by Maria V. Snyder
Series: Study #4
Published by MIRA on 2015-02-24
Pages: 416
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:
Also in this series: Poison Study, Magic Study

New York Times bestselling author Maria V. Snyder wowed readers with Poison Study, the unforgettable story of poison taster Yelena. Now she's back with a new tale of intrigue.

Once, only her own life hung in the balance… Oddly enough, when Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. But she'd survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia. Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.

Suddenly, though, they are beset on all sides by those vying for power through politics and intrigue. Valek's job and his life are in danger. As Yelena tries to uncover the scope of these plots, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. She must keep that a secret—or her enemies will discover just how vulnerable she really is—while searching for who or what is responsible for neutralizing her powers.

Yes, the days of tasting poisons were much simpler. And certainly not as dangerous…

Thoughts: Let me start off by saying that I am one of those fans. You know, the one of the fans that loved the Study series but was really disappointed by the final book, Fire Study. I mean, I still recommended the hell out of the series – but always with a caveat. So when I heard about Shadow Study I was both excited and nervous.

Well, I needn’t have worried. While not as stellar as the first book in the series, it was the perfect continuation of a series I had considered complete. For starters, it jumps between Valek and Yelena’s POVs – thus answering all those “but where is VALEK?” questions I had in the other books. Not only do we know where he is and what he is up to, we also get the chance to learn more about his childhood, his relationship with the Commander and his background as an assassin.

Actually, the best scenes in this book were Valek scenes. Watching him – the master of disguise – live as a woman for months in order to sneak up on a mark. Seeing how his priorities begin to shift – from the Commander to Yelena – and the impact of such a decision. From the little details to the big revelations… it was all Valek and glorious and wonderful and I wanted MORE.

Which is probably why I wasn’t quite as enraptured with Yelena’s mystery. I still adore the woman, of course, but I had such faith in her ability to handle things on her own that – well – I wasn’t too concerned about seeing her actually get out of trouble. “You’ll be fine,” I thought, rushing forward to Valek’s next chapter. That’s not to say that plot-line wasn’t good but, hey, I had other things on my mind. *cough* Valek. *cough*

I was also happy to see how Ms. Snyder incorporated her Glass series into the Study series without over or under explaining. I’m afraid I’ve read none of Opal’s books, but I was still able to get the gist of the characters and events. I imagine a lot of fans who skipped those novels will want to give them a go after reading Shadow Study.

Bottom line? Shadow Study was a wonderfully pleasant surprise. Rather than simple fan service,  Shadow Study is a solid, plot-heavy and logical continuation to the series. There was always meant to be a fourth book, it seems, and here it is.

Note: I was tempted to take this book down half a star after reading the ending! MAJOR CLIFFHANGER, people, and I do NOT approve! (Though maybe everyone else will love it? I dunno. Either way, I was NOT PREPARED. *cries*)

Shadow Study Blog tour

Review: All Fall Down by Ally Carter

Review: All Fall Down by Ally CarterAll Fall Down by Ally Carter
Series: Embassy Row #1
Published by Orchard Books, Scholastic on 2015-01-20
Pages: 320
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:

Grace Blakely is absolutely certain of three things: 1. She is not crazy. 2. Her mother was murdered. 3. Someday she is going to find the killer and make him pay.

As certain as Grace is about these facts, nobody else believes her -- so there's no one she can completely trust. Not her grandfather, a powerful ambassador. Not her new friends, who all live on Embassy Row. Not Alexei, the Russian boy next door, who is keeping his eye on Grace for reasons she neither likes nor understands. Everybody wants Grace to put on a pretty dress and a pretty smile, blocking out all her unpretty thoughts.

But they can't control Grace -- no more than Grace can control what she knows or what she needs to do. Her past has come back to hunt her . . . and if she doesn't stop it, Grace isn't the only one who will get hurt.

Because on Embassy Row, the countries of the world stand like dominoes, and one wrong move can make them all fall down.

Thoughts: Remember that Pringles ad back in the 90s? “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Well – that’s how I feel about Ally Carter’s books. They are all such entertaining, clever novels – once I open one, I want to devour it all in a single go!

All Fall Down is the first completely new book Ally Carter has released in a few years. With no Kat or Cammie, there was a bit of nervousness  from fans about the book. They needn’t have worried. While very different, the Embassy Row series will feel at home on the shelf next to the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society novels. All the books have the same teenage Ocean’s Eleven meets James Bond feel to them (aka my perfect mix).

But while similar in feel, All Fall Down is a darker book. For starters, our main character – Grace – is extremely screwed up. She’s living on the edge of sanity, and you can never be certain if you can trust her or her judgement. Hell, she doesn’t trust her own judgement half of the time. I was reminded of the fifth book in the Gallagher Girls series (Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter), where the main mystery is the one going on inside our heroine’s head. Great stuff.

I also adored the political atmosphere on Embassy Row. It was like adding Homeland to the Ocean’s Eleven/James Bond mix. What happens when a half-Israeli kid wanders over onto the Iranian embassy during a party? What if the boy you like is being told to sever “diplomatic relations” with your country? How can you go about having a mental breakdown when you are stuck at a party with royalty? In short: all the regular teenage drama, but with added political goodness.

But one frustrating little thing… the ending. There is one hell of a reveal which left me going “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” and then…. nothing!! I mean, of course I want to read the next book to find out what happens next but… WHAT?

Bottom line? This is a 4/4.5 star book with an enormously frustrating ending. That being said, it is an absolute must for YA fans… though I recommend buying it now, but reading it once you have the second book in your hands… Just a thought!

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine HarrisMidnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
Series: Midnight Texas #1
Published by Gollancz on 2014-05-08
Pages: 320
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:

From Charlaine Harris, the bestselling author who created Sookie Stackhouse and her world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, comes a darker locale—populated by more strangers than friends. But then, that’s how the locals prefer it…

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It’s a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth...

Thoughts: Midnight Crossroad is a hard book to review. I can’t say I enjoyed it – I admit I was glad to finally turn the last page – but I cannot say it is a bad book. It isn’t. It’s a good book written by a skilled author… but it isn’t her best work by a long shot.

Charlaine’s writing has always been rather laid back. She takes a while to get to things, but you enjoy the ride so much that you forget nothing substantial has happened for 30 pages. Midnight Crossroad fits that same trend, it’s just that we don’t know the characters well enough to enjoy the ride. Perhaps that’s because this series stars characters from her Harper Connelly series, Lily Bard series and Aurora Teagarden series? (I haven’t read these books, nor really plan to although, yes, I own most of them.)

But Midnight Crossroad is the start of a new separate series, they said! No need to keep up with her other books to enjoy, they said! Hmph… I don’t know about that. I, for one, did not enjoy 120 pages of watch-this-character-move-into-house. Maybe if I knew the guy… and then, only maybe. But as introductions go, lifting boxes and meeting the new neighbors do not make for a meet-cute.

That being said, once past the first third of the book, Midnight Crossroad does at last start to take off. There was mystery, intrigue, murder – all that good stuff. But it took an inexcusable amount of time to get to the substance of the novel and – to be frank – the mystery was not so intriguing as to overwrite the blandness that had preceded it.

Bottom line: I can’t recommend this book to a new Charlaine Harris reader – but if you are already a fan, you will probably enjoy it. New readers? Start with the Sookie series like the rest of us!

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Review: White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. ArmentroutWhite Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Published by Harlequin Teen, MIRA on 2014-03-01
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
Add to Goodreads
Rating:

One kiss could be the last.

Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.

Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.

Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.

But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.

Thoughts: Some books take you completely by surprise. Last year, that was These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And the 2014 winner for the title seems to be the fantastic White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

First off, let me address the cover. More confident women than I could no doubt read this book on the tube, but I was glad to have it on my kindle. I know, I know. Society’s misogynistic view of the romance genre should not be indulged – trust me I’m not proud. That being said: this book’s genre isn’t quite reflected in its cover. It is much more a YA Urban Fantasy novel so… yeah. Can’t say the cover really fits it in this case.

Moving on.

White Hot Kiss is absolutely fantastic. It’s an action-packed, well-plotted novel that borders the Young Adult and Urban Fantasy genre. The main character, Layla, had that ideal mix of gumption and self-doubt that makes for the perfect teenage narrator. And as a half-demon, half-Guardian (an Angel-ish type species – just go with it), Layla is quite rightly conflicted. She has been raised in a household where she is actively hated because of her blood and her only wish in life is to fit in. It is ludicrously relatable. But she isn’t just her angst: she wants to be of use to the world and is tough enough to pull off the role as a urban fantasy narrator. Thing Rose from Vampire Academy, only with fewer mood swings.

Of course, like all good Urban Fantasy novels, along come a few big reveals. Parents come out of the woodwork! No one is who they seemed to be! Evil is the new awesome! “No really, I’m a Prince”! If you read the genre, many of these may seem overly familiar, but they are all well handled as to feel fresh. I’ve read about Armentrout’s skill as an author, but I needed to read it to believe it.

Armentrout also managed to handle the dreaded romantic triangle flawlessly. I had not been looking forward that aspect of the novel but it really, really worked. You’ve got two leading men who are spectacularly different and yet so very likable… you can see the cause of Layla’s conflict. I could go on and on about them both for quite a while, but I’d rather not show my “team” hand. Just trust me when I say it will be a tough choice!

Bottom line: White Hot Kiss is, in a way, a very familiar book for the Urban Fantasy genre. What sets it apart is the skill of the writing, the stellar pace and fantastic character development. Go forth and read, my people!

Page 1 of 912345...Last »