From Book Reviews

*Review* Echo ~ Pam Muñoz Ryan ~ 4/12/16


 

Goodreads Summary: 

Winner of a 2016 Newbery Honor, ECHO pushes the boundaries of genre, form, and storytelling innovation.

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, this impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.


 

I have read a lot of books in my time, but I can honestly say that I have never read a book quite like this one. Echo is one of the most beautifully crafted stories that I have ever had the privilege of listening to.  I took the opportunity to read this book, via audiobook and I am not even a little bit sorry that this was the route I took.  I know that audiobooks generally take me a bit longer to get through, but this book was so worth it.

Pam Muñoz Ryan spun a tale that was so tightly woven, I would have had a difficult time not devouring it in one sitting had I been reading the story book-in-hand.  However, with the audiobook, I was transported through space and time with music, accents, and a special brand of magic shared so beautifully between the three different narrators, that I felt like I was watching the story unfold as I listened.

This story definitely deserved to win the Newberry Honor this year.  I loved every minute of it and I have been pushing it into the hands of readers since I finished!

Gold star

*Review* Half-Blood ~ Jennifer L. Armentrout ~ 1/27/16

Goodreads Summary: The Hematoi descend from the unions of gods and mortals, and the children of two Hematoi pure bloods have godlike powers. Children of Hematoi and mortals–well, not so much. Half-bloods only have two options: become trained Sentinels who hunt and kill daimons or become servants in the homes of the pures.

Seventeen-year-old Alexandria would rather risk her life fighting than waste it scrubbing toilets, but she may end up slumming it anyway. There are several rules that students at the Covenant must follow. Alex has problems with them all, but especially rule #1:Relationships between pures and halfs are forbidden. Unfortunately, she’s crushing hard on the totally hot pure-blood Aiden. But falling for Aiden isn’t her biggest problem–staying alive long enough to graduate the Covenant and become a Sentinel is.

If she fails in her duty, she faces a future worse than death or slavery: being turned into a daimon, and being hunted by Aiden. And that would kind of suck.


Hello, everyone!  I’m back from a little blogging hiatus and I am hoping that I will be able to get into a stronger routine of posts as we move forward into 2016.  I had some issues with my computer going caput at the end of last year, which made blogging extraordinarily difficult, and I started taking classes toward my Doctorate in Education!  Needless to say, my plate was getting a bit too full and I had to figure out how to manage my time a bit differently before I could get myself back into a regular blogging routine.  The good news is that I have a back log of books that I need to write reviews for, so I should have book review content for the foreseeable future!  Thank you so much to everyone who takes the time to read and comment.


Half-Blood was a fast-paced read that had me intrigued from the very first pages.  I loved the concept Jennifer Armentrout designed that twisted Greek mythology and created a world full of pure-blood and half-blood Sentinels who were fighting against evil forces threatening to keep an entire species oppressed.  The vicious, aether-addicted daimons were another wonderful addition to this world that kept me hooked and wondering what was going to happen next!

While reading, I definitely felt similarities to the Vampire Academy novels – especially with the love story between Alex and Aiden.  However, I wasn’t bothered by the connections that were similar to the Vampire Academy because I loved the series. Aiden and Alex gave Rose and Dimitri a run for their money in this first book of the Covenant series. I thought the connection between Aiden and Alex was realistic, if a bit predictable at times, but I LOVE them as a couple – even if the laws of their society mandate that their union would be punishable by DEATH.

Overall, I loved this book as an introduction to a series and I have already read the next two books!  Keep your eyes out for more reviews to follow!

Gold star

*Review* In The Lake of the Woods ~ Tim O’Brien

Goodreads Summary: First published to critical acclaim by Houghton Mifflin, Tim O’Brien’s celebrated classic In the Lake of the Woods now returns to the house in a gorgeous new Mariner paperback edition. This riveting novel of love and mystery from the author of The Things They Carried examines the lasting impact of the twentieth century’s legacy of violence and warfare, both at home and abroad. When long-hidden secrets about the atrocities he committed in Vietnam come to light, a candidate for the U.S. Senate retreats with his wife to a lakeside cabin in northern Minnesota. Within days of their arrival, his wife mysteriously vanishes into the watery wilderness.


 

In The Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien is a masterfully crafted tale of love, sadness, and desperation. I haven’t ever read a book quite like this one. It was emotionally challenging and mysterious, while still being a relatively easy read. Tim O’Brien has a way of making a war experience accessible for someone who has never experienced the trauma. However, while feeling present during the action, readers are still very much on the outside. I got the sense, while reading this book,  the reader isn’t really ever supposed to fully understand the experiences of the main characters. Though the characters are fully developed, certain details of their pasts are left out of the narrative in order to create a unique sense of mystery and allure. The structure of the book is also very different from other novels I have read in the past. Each chapter is labeled as Evidence, Hypothesis – Or, the reader is getting a first person account from the main character, Wade, a washed-up politician who also happens to be a Vietnam War Veteran. It’s hard not to like Wade. He is smart, charismatic, and entertaining. However, Wade hides a shadowy past and he uses his talent with magic as a diversion so that the people in his life won’t discover his deeds – including himself. He is constantly looking for the next angle and the best way to manipulate a situation to his advantage.  The real question is: Did he do it?  Is his wife’s disappearance the greatest illusion Sorcerer ever pulled?

Gold star

*Review* ~ A Court of Thorns and Roses ~ Sarah J. Maas

Goodreads Summary: 

A thrilling, seductive new series from New York Timesbestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!


HOLY COW!!! I adored every bit of this story. It started with a very beauty and the beast type of feel but transitioned into an awesome tale about an impending war between humans and faeries. It is a beautifully descriptive work of fantasy that was deliciously magical and I wallowed in it!  Sarah Maas managed to create a world of faeries that were both incredibly beautiful and fierce at the same time.   I haven’t been this sad to have to wait for another book in a series to come out since Maria V. Snyder was working on Shadow Study!  Sarah J. Maas builds worlds like Kristin Cashore and is quickly climbing her way up my list of favorite authors.  Believe me, any comparisons to Kristin Cashore and Maria V. Snyder are considered extremely high praise in my universe.  

I wish I could put my finger on exactly what I loved so much about this book, but the truth is that I loved everything.  I realize I’m gushing a little bit here, but I honestly felt completely transported into a world that I wanted to believe could exist alongside our own.  Feyre and Tamlin were both strong and independent leads who managed to evolve beautifully throughout the course of the narrative.  I appreciated the pacing of the story – it had a very YA pace.  However, the romance felt distinctly more adult.  Both main characters suffered through tremendous hardships in their formative years.  And yet, instead of being bitter and broken by the responsibilities they have had to face, Feyre and Tamlin have flourished.  They are real examples that successful relationships require partners who trust one another.  They worked as a team, even when both of them would rather sacrifice themselves for the good of one another.

I finished this book last week and I haven’t been able to pick up a single book that has felt as incredible as A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sarah J. Maas’ writing has pushed me to an abysmal book hangover and I’m not sure I’ll be recovering anytime soon.

Gold star  

*Review* ~ The Darkest Part of the Forest ~ Holly Black

Goodreads Summary: 

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?


I loved this book!  Holly Black has crafted another fun, fabulous, faery tale that was a feast for the senses.  Her writing is captivating while being both gritty and whimsical.  I have been a huge fan of Holly Black’s for several years now and either her writing keeps getting better or I find myself falling further in love with her writing style!  Either way,  when I read her stories, I end up feeling like I’ve taken a vacation from the problems of everyday life and have returned feeling rejuvenated by the magic and mystery of the Fair Folk.

Holly Black did an incredible job with the world-building in this novel. Fairfold is a sleepy town on the edge of a forest where humans and Faeries live as peaceably as possible side-by-side.  Although, both sides take their hits from time-to-time.  I would describe the relationship between the humans and the faeries as tenuous at best.  Humans constantly struggle with wanting to have everything that the faeries have: beauty, magic, and mystery.  However, the faeries are teetering on the brink of desire for humanity through their population of changelings as well.  Both sides have members who would do anything to keep the peace, but there is always someone, with a taste for conflict, who is willing to push beyond the tipping point of the natural boundaries.

Hazel and Ben are two humans who have been venturing into the darkest part of the forest for all of their lives.  They fancy themselves to be young warriors who will slay the evil monsters in the woods, while preserving the beauty and the magic of the lighter faeries.  Their story rapidly evolves and changes, which kept me on the edge of my seat throughout this reading.  I adored how both characters recognized that they were flawed and that they were willing to make the necessary changes in order to evolve.  Not only was this story deeply driven by the world-building, but it was also extremely character-driven.  I found myself dying to know what was going to happen to each of the major characters, but I also wanted to know if the humans and faeries were going to end up at war with one another.

I love faery stories and this tale did not fall short of my expectations.  I cannot wait to see what Holly Black has in store for her next faery-filled adventure!

Gold star

 

*Review* ~ Red Queen ~ Victoria Aveyard


 

Goodreads Summary:

The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?


Victoria Aveyard has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable tale in her novel, Red Queen.  I enjoyed the well-crafted world of the Silvers and the Reds.  The caste system created through the powers of the Silvers really highlighted the poverty and the struggles of the Red population.  However, I think that Aveyard’s character development fell short of her world-building capabilities.

Mare Barrow, is an interesting character in this novel, but I didn’t find any of the love interests presented in this tale to be fully believable. While reading, I found myself waiting to get back to the parts of the story that weren’t revolving around her weak interactions with potential suitors.  However, I loved the intrigue and the rising rebellion that arrived later in the tale.  Let it be known that I am a sucker for the kind of story where corruption is vanquished and evil rulers are brought to their knees.  In this sense, Aveyard told a fascinating story.  Overall, I enjoyed this book and would definitely be interested in seeing what Aveyard comes up with next.

4-star-review3

 

 

*Review* ~ The Sin Eater’s Daughter ~ Melinda Salisbury


 

Goodreads Summary:

I am the perfect weapon.

I kill with a single touch.

Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it’s price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.

Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.

Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…


Reading this novel was an interesting experience.  There were times when I loved it and there were times when I felt like it was a struggle to get through it.  The problem is, I wanted to love this book cover to cover and I didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, overall, it was a good read and a nice way to pass the time.  It also had an awesome love story, which by now, I think we all know I enjoy.  However, I just had SUCH high hopes for this book and it just seemed to fall flat – especially in regards to the world-building, which is such a huge component of any successful fantasy novel.

**This portion of the review contains SPOILERS!**

I adored the back story of the Sin Eaters and the role they played in Twylla’s world.  However, I am not sure that Melinda Salisbury was completely successful in connecting the lore of the Sin Eater to the culture of the world that Twylla inhabited.  I wanted to know more about how these Sin Eaters worked and their connection to the Gods.  I guess the real problem I had with this novel is that by the end, I felt like I had been through a bate and switch scheme.  Please understand, I don’t mind being surprised by a novel, in fact, more often than not I am thrilled when an author surprises me.  However, in this book, Salisbury took the lore and turned it on its head, leaving it meaningless.  I didn’t want Twylla’s existence at court to be a sham, I feel like that was an easy out for Salisbury so she didn’t have to get into the complicated existence of the connections between the Gods and the Sin Eaters or the Gods and Twylla.  Although, I will say, that was really about the only thing I didn’t like about this book.

I absolutely loved the business of the court intrigue and the use of an apothecary to keep Twylla’s condition a secret.  I also loved the Machiavellian brutality of the Queen trying to maintain rule over her people in the face of a potential invasion.  These bits of the story added so much suspense and drama, which made really fun to read.   Furthermore, the love story that bloomed between Lief and Twylla was awesome and full of brutal twists and turns as well.  Overall, I would be interested in reading other books by Melinda Salisbury.  I think this novel showed she has the chops to spin a pretty sophisticated tale.

4-star-review3

 

 

*Review*~ Shadow Study ~ Maria V. Snyder


Goodreads Summary: 

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…


 

 

Wow!  I absolutely LOVED this book.  Maria V. Snyder is one of my all-time favorite authors and I think that she deserves more credit than she receives for writing incredible fantasy novels.  I started my Maria V. Snyder addiction with Poison Study, which is the first novel in her Study Series.  Since then, I have shamelessly devoured every book she has ever published, many of which have centered around Yelena and Valek’s world.  She is up there with the likes of J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman and Kristen Cashore as far as I am concerned.

Shadow Study is a new tale centered around Yelena and Valek, who haven’t had their own story since the conclusion of the Study Series – even though their characters have existed in the spin-offs.  I loved this book because it provided a taste of the romance and adventure that Valek and Yelena created in Poison Study, but it also showcased just how much Yelena and Valek have transformed since their stories began.

Without giving too much away, I love how both characters stay true to their ideals and remain focused on the greater good of their world despite facing the temptations of power and corruption at every turn.  I also adored that readers were able to find out more about Valek’s history!  His back story is even more incredible than I could have imagined and I was fascinated with learning more about him.

I am so excited about the prospect of more stories with Yelena and Valek that I can’t stand it!

Gold star

*Review* ~ Isla and the Happily Ever After ~ Stephanie Perkins

 

Goodreads Summary:

Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.


 

I know I have previously mentioned my love for all things written by Stephanie Perkins, and this book did NOT disappoint.  I loved the story of Isla and Josh.  Watching their romance unfold brought back all sorts of memories of first love – the agony, the nerves, the pain, the butterflies and the joy.

However, this story was so much more fun to read than your typical teen romance because it was set against the backdrop of some of the most romantic European cities.  Barcelona and Paris were like minor characters in this novel.  I love the details that Stephanie Perkins included about the architecture of the cities down to the detailed maps that were drawn by Kurt, Isla’s best friend.

This story deals with the nitty-gritty logistics of long-distance relationships while also addressing dysfunctional families and the pressures that kids feel to perform and live up to familial expectations.  I think that both Isla and Josh were exceptionally realistic throughout the novel in both their decision-making and their insecurities.  As the story progresses, both characters transform into more mature and believable representations of the characters they were at the start of the book.

Stephanie Perkins knocked another one out of the park with this novel and I am utterly bereft at the thought of this series coming to a close.  That being said, I am so happy that I finally finished the series, I had put if off long enough and it truly provided the ‘Happily Ever After’ that I wanted for this family of characters.

Gold star

*Review* ~ Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Goodreads Summary: Quin Kincaid has been put through years of brutal training for what she thinks is the noble purpose of becoming a revered ‘Seeker’.

Only when it’s too late does she discover she will be using her new-found knowledge and training to become an assassin. Quin’s new role will take her around the globe, from a remote estate in Scotland to a bustling, futuristic Hong Kong where the past she thought she had escaped will finally catch up with her.


 

I was extremely excited to read this book when it came out because it was getting so many fabulous reviews and I am thrilled to report that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.   Seeker is a novel that takes readers on a whirlwind journey through time and space as Quin Kincaid follows her own path of self-discovery to find out what being a Seeker truly means.  The world-building was awesome – although a bit complicated at times – and the characters were captivating.

However, I will say that when I was reading this book, I found myself wondering about the history of the seekers, their families, and the Dreads.  My curiosity about the backstories and histories is the only serious drawback that I really encountered while reading this book.  This was an entertaining, fast-paced read, but it wasn’t life-changing.  This isn’t a book that made me feel like I wanted to dig into the themes and motifs to try and find a way I could use it in my classroom with my students.  I also haven’t found myself telling people that they should be reading this book and recommending it everywhere I go.

Ultimately, this was a good book that was set in a brilliant, colorful and fascinating world.  I am curious to see what is going to happen in the future as this story continues. I give this book 3.5 stars