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!

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Scythe 4 Stars

28954189Title: Scythe

Author: Neal Shusterman

Publication Date: November 22st 2016

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: In a utopian future there is only one way left to die: at a scythe’s  hands. Death is now a random, rare occurrence, and only those who do not want to take lives are permitted to do so . . . at least that is how it’s supposed to be.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen as scythe’s apprentices it becomes clear to them that that the Scythedom doesn’t always operate the way it was intended.

Thoughts: Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, so I wanted to read this book the moment I heard about it. I really enjoyed this book overall, but there were a few points where it fell short for me.

I love the concept of a society that conquers death, and needs to kill off portions of its population as a result to prevent overpopulation. It is interesting to see a society where futuristic technology makes things better instead of worse.

The artificial intelligence in this book, known as the thunder cloud, is an interesting character. It’s the only story I’ve read where the AI is portrayed as less corruptible as the humans.

The Shythedom itself, what the scythes call their organization, is fascinating. The scythes all followed ten commandments, but interpreted them in very different ways. This is a nice exploration of the ways humans interpret different philosophies.

This book feels like a reversal of the author’s dystopian series, Unwind. In Unwind the people take bits of unwanted humans and using them to save people. Whereas, in this book, the taking of unwanted humans for the good of the many is meant to be forbidden.

The main issues I have with this otherwise great book was with the characters and the pacing.

Citra and Rowan don’t spend as much time together as was needed to form a strong bond between them. The long amounts of time the two spend apart also leads to their story arcs diverging a significant amounts. I can see how this might cause someone else to skip between one perspective for another.

The pacing feels a little too fast sometimes and too slow at others. Maybe the author did this so that the story would feel like the story happened spontaneously, like death often does in real life, but I don’t think it always worked. At times it made it harder to connect to the characters because I never really got to know them.

I think most of this can be contributed to rushed editing, as there was at least one place where I noticed a simple grammatical error.

Rating: I recommend this book to fans of Neal Shusterman, and who may want to see something that contains some dystopian tropes presented with unusual twists.

4 blue jays

A Torch Against the Night 4 Stars

25558608Title: A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes book 2)

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher, but opinions are my own.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: *This is the second book in a series. This review will be spoiler free, but the synopsis isn’t. Those who haven’t read the first book might be interested in my review of An Ember in the Ashes.*

Lila and Elias must work together in order to free Lila’s brother from the most secure prison in the emperor. Along the way their own freedom will be threatened. They must free Lila’s brother while trying to avoid being captured or put to death themselves.

Thoughts: The second installment in the An Ember in the Ashes series proved a fast paced, engaging read.

My favorite part about this book was the author’s use of tension. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next particularly since it seems Tahir has no problem with killing characters off.

One think I would have liked to know going into this book is that this is not a finale. I heard somewhere that this series was meant to be a duology, but it is most certainly not. I ended the book very confused as to why everything felt so open ended, but learning this book is the second in a series made a lot more sense.

I still felt the magic system wasn’t fleshed out all the way, but there was more of it mentioned in this book than the first one. It was nice to see more magic in this book, and I hope there will be more of it in the books to come. The magic system doesn’t strike me as particularly original, but it’s still a change from the element based magic systems that seem to dominate recent fantasy releases.

My main gripe with this book is similar to the one I had for the first book in the series. That is to say I didn’t find the story sticking with me long after I read it. 

Rating: This is a great book for people looking for a fast-paced read or need something to get out of a reading slump, but I didn’t find it particularly memorable, so it gets 4/5.

4 blue jays

An Ember in the Ashes 4 Stars


22529162Title:
 An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: April 28, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Laia is willing to sacrifice everything to rescue her brother. Including her freedom.

When Laia agrees to work on an undercover operation for the resistance, in which she must work as a slave for one of the most powerful women in the empire, the last thing she expected to find was a kindred spirit in her master’s son Elias.

Elias wishes to be free of his obligations to the empire about as much as Laia wants to rescue her brother. Together they might just succeed.

Thoughts: Since I’ve read an ARC of the sequel, to be released in August, I’ve decided it’s about time I sort out my confused feelings towards this book so I can move on to writing an advanced review of the sequel.

This book is addictive. I started listening to it on the last day of a road trip. When I got home that night at about 9 PM, I could not get to sleep until I’d searched my house for my physical copy and read it the rest of the way through.

I’ve read a number of reviews in which reviewers say this book got them out of reading slumps, and I can see why. It’s next to impossible to put down. The timing was also perfect for me to read this book at the time that I did, exactly halfway through The Way of Kings.

Most people who read my posts are probably aware that Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series (the first book being The Way of Kings) is one of my favorite series, but even I started to feel a little discouraged about halfway through the first one because the book takes so long to read and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. Reading this book so quickly encouraged me to finish The Way of Kings, and I’m glad I did.

The society depicted is one that encourages blood lust, and one of the protagonists is a slave. It could have been unrealistic, or even disrespectful to glaze over the violence. However, there was a particular act of violence between characters who trusted each other that seemed to be crossing a line, and made me lose some respect for the characters’ in turn.

In the time since I’ve finished the book my confusion with regards to how I feel about this story has only grown. The story doesn’t standout in my mind from all the other YA epic fantasy books I’ve read, and therefore hasn’t proven all that memorable. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason this story doesn’t stand apart for me is its usage of many common tropes in a way I’ve seen used often before. The magic system didn’t seem particularly unique, and felt largely unexplained in this first book.

The element of having magical masks that permanently adhere to peoples’ faces also brought to mind a number of questions in my mind while reading with regards to sweat, dead skin, and shaving. The story also followed a familiar formula with the novel being arranged around a series of trials.

The familiar elements of the story helped make it a quick read, but also made the story somewhat forgettable.

Rating: I recommend this to people who need a break from lengthy books, are trying to get into reading fantasy, or are trying to get out of a reading slump, but it is not a thought provoking read.

4 blue jays

 

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 4.5 Stars

IlumimiaeTitle: Illuminae

Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published: October 20, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Just hours after their recent break-up, exes Kady and Ezra find their home planet in the middle of a war between intergalactic corporations. In the evacuation the two find themselves on separate space ships.

If they want to survive Kady, Ezra, and the other refugees need to reach the nearest jump station, through which they can reach a more densely inhabited region of space, before those who invaded their planet catches up with the refugees.

Review: At first I had a hard time getting into this book. Adjusting to the formatting was a bit of a challenge, and months at a time passed in a matter of pages.

When I was on page 366 of 599 I noted in a Goodreads update:
“At first I was having trouble getting used to the constantly changing formatting, it can be jarring at times, but now I’m really starting to get into the story and the pace has really sped up.
— Dec 15, 2015 07:42AM”

However, I think the pacing picked up for me at an earlier point than I noted in that update. It was likely around page 250 or so. With the formatting the way the novel built to a climax was necessary to give the reader time to adjust to the formatting before everything started happening at once.

For those who think that this book is long with its length of nearly 600 pages I would like to remind them of the formatting. Had this book been written in the standard form of a novel there would likely have been much shorter.

I had a slight problem with some of the times technology was mentioned in this book. The characters had cars, a subway system, and tablets. It seemed as if at times the only technology that had progressed were weaponry  and spaceships that allowed for long distance space travel.

Considering that this book is supposed to take place in 2575, or over five hundred years in the future, this threw me out of the story a little. This is, however, a minor concern. Due to the way the story was narrated these objects were not described in detail and may have born little resemblance to their 2016 equivalents.

As this story takes place almost entirely on space ships in an isolated part of this fictional future, the reader isn’t told as much about the way the government functions  and other habitable planets. I think this was a good choice on the part of the authors as it allows the reader to become slowly immersed in the world-building as opposed to having the need to learn everything all at once. I hope to see more world building in the sequel.

I ended up reading this book twice. Once in physical form and then again in audiobook format not long after. This is unusual for me.

What Readers Should Know: This book contains many character deaths and zombie like individuals. All of the cursing in the physical version of the book is censored, but in the audio book the first and last letters of most of the curse words is not censored making it easy to tell what all of the censored words are.

Rating: This book started out a little hard to get into, but the second half made up for this.

4.5 blue jays

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

23437156Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 29, 2015

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: When a substance is developed that turns magic users known as Grisha into mindless slaves of great power the world is put at risk. A crew of six thieves are hired to pull off the heist that could save the world.

Review: 

Six of Crows is a great book, and so much fun to read. It was very reminiscent of some of my favorite fantasy novels, but at the same time stood apart from others in this category.

Six of Crows Crew

The strongest aspect of Six of Crows is the characters. In spite of the fact that there are so many narrators, each one comes across as distinct. I especially appreciate the fact that the characters actually acted like thieves.

In many books the character will go around saying that they’re known as an assassin, an experienced solider, or have a lot of experience stealing from important people, but then when it comes down to the act of either murdering or stealing something they hesitate.

This has never come across as realistic to me. At the same time, however, I recognize why many authors chose to portray their “ruthless” characters in this manor. It is difficult to sympathize with a person who can harm or steal from innocent people and feel no remorse, but Bardugo managed to pull it off. 

The relatively small number of characters with magical abilities made them all the more impressive. The main characters in Six of Crows are highly skilled individuals, yet for many of them these skills are natural in origin (ie intelligence), but the characters use them in such a way that seems almost supernatural.

Six of Crows Map

That said, the magic that we did get to see was a great addition to the story. My favorite aspects of the first book and a half that I read of the Grisha Trilogy was the world-building, so I was more than happy to reenter that world in Six of Crows.

Bardugo has created a very complex magic system different from what I’ve seen in many fantasy novels (especially YA) where the magic is often glossed over. Though this novel has much less focus on the magic system than the Grisha Trilogy, it managed to further expand upon it by showing what a Grisha’s power can do when pushed to extremes.

The world itself was expanded upon as well. I really liked how many of the characters in this novel were from very different parts of this world as this isn’t something we often get to see in fantasy, which often focus on one region of the world the writer has created.

The only negative criticism I have to offer is related to the reason I did not finish the Grisha Trilogy. That is to say that a significant portion of this novel was spent on build up. This is not to say that nothing happens, quite to the contrary, things seem to go wrong quite often. What I mean is that I spent most of the book anticipating the climax of the actual theft as opposed to anything the characters were trying to overcome at that particular moment.

I really wanted to love the Grisha Trilogy because I have a signed copy (see the image below), but am so glad that I can now consider myself a fan of Bardugo thanks to this book. I was hesitant to read this one because I thought I might need to finish the Grisha Trilogy first, but was pleased to find that this duology stands on its own.

Siege and Storm

In any case, I managed to get a hold of a signed bookplate. Used as a book mark, really like the way my copy of Six of Crows looks:

Be Dangerous

What readers should know: Though this book keeps everything very vague, one of the narrators was forced to work in a brothel against her will. She has since left this profession behind, but still bares negative effects of her time there.

As stated in this review the thieves in this book truly act as thieves. This means that some of the narrators steal and kill people throughout the story. There is also some language.

Rating: This is a really great book. I highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and people trying to get into fantasy.

4.5 blue jays

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

15724396Title: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)

Author: Rick Riordan

Published: October 6, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Mythological/Urban Fantasy

Synopsis: Magnus didn’t plan to die on his sixteenth birthday. He actually didn’t plan anything at all.

Magnus has spent the last year homeless on the streets of Boston after the mysterious death of his mother. Finding the source of his next meal is higher than his birthday on Magnus’s priority list, but when Magnus discovers he is the son of a Norse god his life is changed drastically minutes before his death where Magnus finds himself in a strange afterlife he hadn’t known existed.

Review: Magnus Chase has one of the strongest voices of any character I have read for some time. This being the author of Percy Jackson that comes as little surprise. While I normally hate it when authors break third wall, Rick Riordan does so in a way that somehow manages to add to the story.

There appears to be much concern about this book being too much like Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. There were some major parallelisms, Magnus is even the cousin of on of the main characters from the Percy Jackson book and it is clear there will be more overlap between characters of Riordan’s various series in future books.

That said, readers do not need to have read any of Riordan’s other books to read The Sword of Summer. The series stands on its own thus far in spite of the sometimes not so subtle callbacks to Riordan’s previous books.

The similarities between this book and other books by this author don’t really bother me. Whenever I read several books by one author I start seeing common themes and character arcs throughout their works and even see the same in my own writing. The similarities between Riordan’s books just happen to be more obvious than most.

Perhaps my favorite thing the Percy Jackson books and this series have in common are the hilarious chapter titles. I missed the chapter titles in The Heroes of Olympus.

Some of the side characters were very well developed while others felt like they didn’t get enough development. *slight spoiler* There was one side character in particular that died in this book, but didn’t get all that much development. I feel her death would have been more meaningful had the reader been given a chance to get to know her.

Rating: Really enjoyed reading this book, but it doesn’t standout in my memory as life changing. For that reason it gets a four out of five.

4 blue jays