Keeper || An Advanced Review

Keeper (2)

34871966Title: Keeper

Author: Kim Chance

Publication date: August 30, 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

*Disclaimer: I was provided a free, advanced copy of this book from Netgalley and Flux Books/North Star Editions in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own.*

Synopsis: Lainey wants more than anything to get a high score on the SAT and go to a good college. Unfortunately for her, a 300-year-old witch has other plans.

When Lainey discovers her life is more tied to the supernatural world than she ever imagined, it seems those college applications might have to wait.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This book may well mark the beginning of a return for urban fantasy/paranormal romance. It’s been so long since I’ve read an urban fantasy from a debut author, but this book has the feel of a YA fantasy from the height of the paranormal romance craze.

I know several people who’ve been longing for this comeback, especially for witches. If you’re one of these people, this may well be the book for you.

That said, it drew a little too much inspiration from the books written during the paranormal romance craze for my tastes. There were a lot of tropes used in familiar ways, and it reminded me of a lot of books I’ve read in the past.

A great deal of the aforementioned tropes used are not favorites of mine either. For example, I’m not a fan of novels where a character discovers they’re special because of something an ancestor did centuries ago.

Yet, despite this, there were some elements of the book I enjoyed. It seemed atmospheric with a good sense of place, and I enjoyed that Lainey was worried about things most teenagers worry about, like the SATs.

I think this would have made the book a lot more relatable when I was a teenager. I would have loved this book around seven years ago.

As it was, I had difficulty motivating myself to keep reading. I suspect this was due to the story’s familiarity and the fact that I didn’t connect with Lainey as well as I would like.

Rating: People who who’ve been longing for YA paranormal romance and those who are looking for a gateway book to the genre may well love this book. However, it was not memorable or engaging enough for me to give it a high rating.

2.5 blue jays

What’s your opinion of paranormal romance? What’s the best urban fantasy you’ve ever read? Are you planning to read Keeper? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Advertisements

Should books make us happy? A Discussion || The Empress (Diabolic #2) Review

The Empress Discussion

Okay everyone, today I’m trying something a little different and writing a discussion post followed by a review. The discussion is spoiler free. Unlike my usual reviews, this review will contain spoilers. You have been warned!

Also note that this discussion is only my personal opinion. Feel free to disagree.

Not too long ago, I finished reading The Empress (The Diabolic #2) by S.J. Kincaid. It left me conflicted.

The root cause of this confliction is this: I regard good books as books that make me feel emotion, but how many of these emotions need to be positive for me to consider a book good?

Discussion

Extreme tragedy is more realistic. People experience constant ups-and-downs. Fiction reflects this reality, but it is not reality. Therefore, it doesn’t necessarily need to reflect the level of tragedy experienced in real life.

People in real life don’t often make a single decision that changes everything and leads to action. People in real life repeat themselves, are grammatically incorrect, and speak in run-on sentences.

Try as writers might, words on a page cannot and never will reflect every aspect of the world around us. Good thing too: if it did, novels would bore us all to tears.

And, yet, this makes the reality writers present in fiction no less important. Movements like “#ownvoices,” which promotes books written by someone belonging to an underrepresented group about a character from that same group, show how the reality presented in fiction might shape others perception of our own.

Herein we have the root cause of my dilemma: fiction cannot reflect all aspects of reality but the reality that is presented is of critical importance.

I suppose, then, the answer to my question depends on whether or not the depiction of extreme suffering depicted in a way that the reader feels some of the character’s emotions because they have come to care about this character so much is critical to what people need to experience in fiction to sympathize with the experiences of our fellow humans.

To this, I have no answer.

There is also the question of whether this matters in a work like The Empress, where the characters’ problems are ones we of the 21st century do not experience . . . At least, I hope there are no genetically modified bodyguards out there because if there are, I must be living under a rock.

Conclusion

In the end, it depends on the reason we’re reading. If we’re reading for escapism, books should, most likely, make us happy. If we’re reading for authenticity, then books probably won’t make us happy because life isn’t the most happy of places.

Bluejay Feather

Review

Please check out my spoiler free The Diabolic review or skip to the “Rating” section if you do not want to be spoiled!

33652251

Last warning: spoilers ahead.

As you may have guessed from my discussion, I am still not sure how I feel about this book.

The first half is super awesome and I loved it. One of the things that bothered me about the world building in the last book was that the characters have all of this advanced technology but no one knew anything about science because science was forbidden.

In this book we have an answer. It’s explained so well, and I love the author’s idea for a space-faring society that regressed to the point where a ten-year-old today might know more about physics than the society’s emperor.

It’s the second half that left me conflicted.

It was so heartbreaking to first see Tyrus during the second half, mostly because it was hard to see Nemesis’s heart breaking. It made me realize how much I’d come to care for her, but it also hurt to see her so distraught.

I think the other thing I didn’t like about the way this book ended is that the second half almost seemed to undo the progress made in the first half. The characters made so many discoveries, but those discoveries were invalidated when most of what they discovered got destroyed.

I’m also surprised by how much I disliked the romance ending the way it did. Usually, I would love the female protagonists to have more agency and realize they don’t need a guy or, in some cases, that the guy is essentially abusing them, but seeing such a drastic change in the love interest just hurt too much.

Yet another example of how much I’ve come to care for these characters.

In the end, I suspect much of how I feel about this book will be influenced by the course book three takes.

End of Spoilers

Rating

Despite my misgivings, I will give this book a good rating because a book that can make me experience so many emotions is a well executed one.

4 blue jays

Do you read books that make you unhappy? Have you read The Empress? What is your favorite book that has left you emotionally torn? 

Please remember to flag spoilers in the comments!

I believe this is my first discussion post on my blog. If you would like to see more in the future, let me know in the comments!

 

Invictus || Time Traveling Teenage Thieves

Invictus Book Review Image
This image is derivative of “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” by Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA. “Silver Vintage Mist Overlay” is CC BY 2.0

33152795Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Published: September 26, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Far is the son of a gladiator and a professional time traveler. The first baby born outside of time. Top of his class. At least Far was, before his failed final exam shatters Far’s dreams of following in his time traveling mother’s footsteps faster than his cousin’s gelato can melt.

Far’s only hope is a handwritten note from an unknown sender promising him a second chance. Far’s present is not a time of second chances. The sender could be anyone, yet Far knows this is the sole remaining possibility to fulfill his time traveling dream.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This was a great light read to pick-up between the dense epic fantasy novels I’ve been reading and the additional ones I’m planning to read in the future.

That said, the novel itself contains several common time travel tropes. Having consumed my share of time travel related media, the world-building and plot twists, for the most part, weren’t all that surprising.

The heart of this novel was instead the characters and its addictive nature. I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump as of late, but I found this to be a hard to put down read.

While I do stand by what I said about most of the plot’s elements being ones I’ve seen before, there was one plot-twist that surprised me. This has more to do with this twist introducing tropes from a sub-genre that I didn’t expect to be incorporated into this novel than anything else.

Still, mixing sub-genres is a legitimate strategy, and the details of this twist fell into place once the author explained it.

Returning my attention to the characters, they have a great dynamic that only tends to come about in third-person-multiple point-of-view novels (which this is). Funnily enough, this is a characteristic I’ve noticed also reoccurs in novels centering around a heist. This novels characters also happens to be thieves. I don’t know what it says about fictional criminals that they have such great group dynamics.

This novel is one of those hard to pull off cases where the many points of view remained distinct and never got confusing despite the several main characters and the frequent shift in perspective.

This leads me to another great aspect of this novel: it is easy to follow. So many time travel novels have timelines that are difficult to keep track of. I didn’t have that problem at all with the main story here. I remained clear on what was happening in the story itself even throughout times when the characters weren’t sure themselves.

The other greatest aspect of this book was that the main characters have a domesticated red panda. Too bad domesticated red pandas don’t exist. The rest of us will have to keep observing from afar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rating: This book was great fun, but it wasn’t anything revolutionary. 4 out of 5 blue jays. If you’re looking for a fast paced time travel heist novel this might be the book for you.

4 blue jays

Have you read or plan on reading Invictus? What’s your favorite time travel trope? Are red pandas cute or aren’t they cute?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Please add a disclaimer if your comment contains spoilers.

Monsters of Verity Duology Review

Our Dark Duet

23299512

Titles: This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet

Author: Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: 2016-2017

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Synopsis: In Verity, people’s crimes manifest as monsters.

August is one of these monsters. He doesn’t want to be but didn’t have a choice in the matter. Besides, Verity doesn’t need another human. It needs a monster. It needs him.

Kate is the daughter of the man who controls these monsters. All she wants is his approval, but approval is hard to get from a man who deals with monsters.

Together, they make up two halves of a divided city. A city where both halves hang on the edge between order and chaos.

Bluejay Feather

Thoughts: Without a doubt, I liked and at times even loved this duology. That said, there are also some aspects I’m not sure how I feel about.

I’ve read the first book multiple times in both physical and audiobook formats. I only do that with books that I adore.

What I liked most about This Savage Song were our protagonists, especially August. I love reading about characters who long to be someone they can never become. I don’t know why this is because this is not the case for me personally, unless the person I want to become is a successful novelist, but that’s not unachievable, just unlikely.

In any case, I recognize that this is a personal bias towards a particular character archetype as opposed to something other readers will feel the same way about.

I flew through the second book in a single day and found it difficult to put down just like the first one. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed Our Dark Duet as much as This Savage Song. 

It’s difficult to determine the cause of these feelings.  I think part of it stems from the fact that the protagonists undergo significant development between books one and two and at the beginning of Our Dark Duet. 

August and Kate have become very different people by the time Our Dark Duet starts. On one hand, the development is believable. On the other hand, I miss who the characters had been.

August and Kate develop a great dynamic in book one. It took a while for the two to start interacting with one another at the start of the book.

A similar amount of time is spent with the characters apart in book two as in book one, but I found myself wanting them together more. I feel like August and Kate lacked some of the synergy they gained in book one throughout book two. The reason for this is explained, but I still found myself missing their interactions.

I also felt like there was a plot-line introduced at the beginning of book two involving the other countries in this universe that was never concluded. This makes me wonder if the author is planning a separate novella or spin-off set in this location.

Part of my lack of satisfaction with book two might involve reading this book so soon after finishing the finale in the Shades of Magic series. Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light had similar plots. 

I can’t go into many details without spoilers, but suffice to say that the similarities stemmed from the nature of the antagonists. Both Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light contained what I consider to be two of Schwab’s least nuanced villains.

This Savage Song, on the other hand, had a plot that felt more different from Schwab’s other novels, though it felt more similar to other books I’d read.

Verity was something I loved in both books. I loved the idea of having monsters appear as a result of people’s sins. The world-building manages to feel simple and complex at the same time. My main complaint about the world-building is that I wanted to see more of it.

Rating: While, I didn’t personally love Our Dark Duet  as much as This Savage Song, I’m putting most of this down to personal bias and giving the series a 4/5 overall rating with 4.5/5 for This Savage Song and a 3.5/5 for Our Dark Duet. 

4 blue jays

Have you read this duology? What did you think? Do you want to read this duology? Have you read any of Schwab’s works in the past? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, 4 Stars

0630171902a

31423196Title: Defy the Stars (Constellation #1)

Author: Claudia Gray

Published: April 4, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Noemi will to do anything for her best friend and planet. Even sacrifice her life, but when Noemi discovers an abandoned Earth spacecraft and a chance to end the war between her world and Earth, Noemi’s plans change. Noemi might not need to sacrifice her life to save her planet anymore, but she’s not sure she can make it in time.

Abel, a humanoid robot, was locked in an abandoned spaceship for thirty years. Now, he’s been freed by one of his maker’s enemies. Abel wants nothing more than to find his master and serve his purpose, but a flaw in his programming won’t allow it. Abel has no choice but to do everything his new master says, even if it means helping his enemy.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This is the sort of science fiction novel I love. For whatever reason, I can’t get enough of plot lines where a non-human protagonist has to blend into human society, and along the way learn they have much more in common with humans than they thought.

I adore Abel for this reason, and his personality in general. I love it when authors manage to make readers sympathize with characters that might otherwise come across as things rather than people.

After all, in the end, none of the characters we read about exist in real life. Therefore, I see little reason why we can’t have robot characters come across as just as developed as the human ones. All characters are products of human imagination.

Noemi is a strong character, too. Noemi’s devotion to her planet gave her strong motivation. That said, at times I felt as though Noemi had less personality than the robot.

I think part of this had to do with her character. Noemi’s life has been full of loss, she’s just experienced another tragedy, and believes herself due for another as her planet sends it’s young people on a suicide mission. That seems like enough to make anyone harden to emotions.

Noemi’s seeming less human than her robot companion could also be seen as symbolism, and perhaps allow room for readers to grow stronger attachments to Abel despite his inhuman nature.

Another thing I loved about this book was that it posed philosophical questions. This is an element YA novels often lack, but I love the YA novels where it is present anyway. Many of the adult novels that strive to make readers think can get a little preachy. YA novels that make readers think often avoid this, or at least, the ones I’ve read do.

That said, I would have liked more exploration of the philosophical elements, but since this is YA I’ll take what I can get.

Another element I don’t often see discussed in nonsecular novels is religion. This book touches on religion more than most novels, particularly YA, that I’ve read. Noemi was raised Catholic and her planet’s culture places much value on religion. While it, again, does not come across as preachy, this influences Noemi’s actions throughout the novel.

I’m split on what I thought about the worldbuilding. On one hand, I like that readers were shown so much of it. The protagonists visit just about every habitable world. On the other hand, visiting so many places leads to a lack of depth.

That there were only enough robot models in the future for each one to be assigned a letter of the alphabet also seemed unlikely and of limited vision. Then again, this also seemed a means by which the author simplified her plot to keep it from overwhelming the story.

The author did the same thing with the planets. Each one is defined by a key characteristic. There is a resort planet, a planet for geniuses, and a planet for devoutly religious people. This is a big part of why I say that the worldbuilding lacked depth.

The worldbuilding also reminded me of Star Wars. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me seeing as Claudia Gray is also contracted to write Star Wars novels.

I added this one to my TBR because I’d read and enjoyed Gray’s Star Wars novel, Lost Stars. I’m glad I did, because I liked this one even more.

Rating: I keep going back and forth between 4 and 4.5 on this one. If I did quarter ratings I would. There were some things I didn’t like about this book, but there were even more things I loved. It’s one of those books I can’t stop thinking about. That makes me want to rate it higher.

In the end, I settled on 4.

4 blue jays

Do you plan to read Defy the Stars? Have you read it already? What did you think? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Strange the Dreamer 4.5 Stars

0526171722Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Published: March 28, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Lazlo Strange has spent his life recording the mystery that is the unseen city of Weep. Even its name is lost. Lazlo heard the name stolen from his lips when he was five years old.

Lazlo longs to leave his life as a librarian behind and search for Weep. Yet, Lazlo is only a dreamer with no resources. Until one day when Lazlo’s dream comes to him by way of visitors from the city of Weep itself. Unfortunately, Lazlo’s dream seems determined to disappear again without him.

Lazlo must find a way to meet the visitors from Weep before their departure, or Lazlo will loose the chance to fulfill his dream of visiting the unseen city forever.

Note: I received buttons and sample chapters from the publisher. I bought the book itself. Opinions are my own.

Review: I read the first few chapters in a sampler from BEA and fell in love. It took me a little while to get to this book when first it came out because I was so busy at the time. By then it had been so long since I’d read the first couple chapters I had to start from the beginning.

It took me a little while to reread the first couple chapters. Not because they were boring, but because I’d already read them and still had a lot happening in my life.

I read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series a few years back, and loved the prose. Taylor can weave images with her words. This proves perfect for a novel that features a mysterious “unseen city.” 

The novel is written in third person omniscient point of view, an unusual choice for young adult novels. The author shows each character’s motives well. Each character is so distinctive that I never got confused about which character the story was following.

The two main characters are Lazlo Strange and Sarai. Lazlo is an orphaned librarian who’s spent his whole life dreaming and writing books about the lost city of Weep. Sarai isn’t introduced until about a forth of the way through the book.

My least favorite part of Strange the Dreamer is the pacing. It wasn’t enough to be off-putting for me as I still loved so much about the story. However, there were times when I felt like skipping pages because I wanted to get to the more action based scenes. This is especially true with regards to the romantic story-line.

This is one of those books where I wanted to see less romance and more action, but then I almost always want that. Maybe that’s just me.

The slow pacing continues until about the last fourth of the story where everything starts to happen at once. 

The ending is a cliffhanger, but one that I knew would happen for most of the book. The plot itself is rather predictable, but there were enough elements that left me guessing that I was still entertained.

While I loved the description of the places and the world itself, there were certain world building aspects that I didn’t like. The magic system is one in which magic resembles superpowers. I’ve seen this form of magic system done often.

The world building also draws on familiar tropes and legends. For example, Weep reminded me a lot of Atlantis or many other mysterious cities explorers set out to find.

The people of Weep are also much more ambiguous than the city itself. I got the sense that Taylor was trying to keep the people of Weep as vague racially and culturally as she could so that she would not appear to draw her inspiration from any one culture.

That said, I still really enjoyed reading this book. 

Rating: I recommend this book to people who love beautiful language and great character development, but can handle slow pacing.

4 blue jays

Shades of Magic Series Review

220552622076487929939230Titles: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic Series)

Author: V. E. Schwab

Published: 2015-2017

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Kell is one of the only magicians able to travel between parallel worlds. Situated in his world’s version of London, he acts as intermediary to the royalty of three worlds. Bringing messages and information between them. Yet, behind the royals’ backs, Kell illegally transfers goods between worlds.

This smuggling remains a quiet side business until the day Kell makes a mistake and transfers something he shouldn’t. Something that puts everything and everyone Kell cares about at risk. It’s up to him and his new companion Delilah Bard, a thief from our world, to save all three Londons Kell travels to.

Review: The first two books captivated me and the third was enjoyable. Book one and two are some of the only books of their length I’ve read in a single day. Book three took a few days more, but the fact that it is the longest of the series might have something to do with this.

Other reviewers have said that they had a hard time getting into the first book, but I did not find this to be the case. I think my reading experience was different because I started the first book at a time when I had several hours to devote to reading without interruption. Books one and two are some of the only books I’ve read that have kept me up long past midnight in the last few years.

Something I’ve noticed about many of V. E./Victoria Schwab’s characters is that many of her male leads have personality traits more often found in female leads with the opposite true for her female leads. This holds true in this series for Kell and Lila. The dynamic that results from these character traits in Schwab’s dual point of view novels with one male and one female lead character contrast each other nicely.

Kell has, for the most part, lead a sheltered life up until the start of the first book. He was raised in a palace as part of the royal family with most everything provided for. Yet, Kell also has an identity crisis. He is one of the only members of his kind, a blood magician known as an Antari, and was adopted into the royal family. Kell’s search for identity contributes to some of the series’ main obstacles.

Lila spends her days picking pockets in our world’s version of London. Not the version of today, I believe it’s meant to be set sometime in the 19th century but can’t remember for sure. Lila dreams of becoming a pirate and leaving London. She enjoys cross dressing to the point that none of the authorities searching for her know she is a girl.

Holland is one of the series most developed side characters. He is the Antari from White London, and the only other Antari Kell knows at the start of the book. It takes a while before the reader gets to know him, but my perspective of Holland as a character changed drastically once I learned his motives.

Rhy is another major side character. He too undergoes much development throughout the series. While I liked Rhy, I don’t think I loved him the way many other reviewers seem to.

The different Londons contrasted one another well. I liked how Red London, White London, and Gray London were all surrounded by different counties with different cultures and histories.

That said, I had some issues keeping the world-building straight. I don’t know if this is because I read the first few books so quickly, or because it was just hard to keep track of. While it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment, I was somewhat confused by the characters’ appearances/the characteristics common among some of the ethnic groups featured in the novel. For example, Kell is described as pale, but Prince Rhy has dark skin. I suppose this could be explained by Kell being adopted, but it still made me wonder if I was reading their descriptions incorrectly.

Rating: 4.5/5 for books one and two 4/5 for book three with a 4/5 for the series as a whole.

4 blue jays