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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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.

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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

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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

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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!

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

Series Review: Seven Realms

6342491780122994094698069828Titles: The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Published: 2009-2012

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: A thousand years ago seven realms were one and wizards ruled like tyrants, but no longer. Now the queendom of the Fells is ruled not by magic users, but by the queens of the gray wolf line. Raisa ana’Marianna, the princess heir, is frustrated by the fact that she is trapped in the palace unable to make changes to improve the lives of her citizens. Meanwhile, ex-thief Han Alister, knows how bad life can get in the Fells. He only wants to keep his family fed and alive, but manages to get himself tangled in wizard politics anyway.

Review: This series took a little while for me to get into the first book, but after I finished The Demon King I was hooked and marathoned the rest of the books.

My favorite aspect of this series was probably the world building. Often in YA fantasy novels the world seems very underdeveloped, but that was not the case here. I enjoyed reading about all of the seven realms various cultures and the tensions between them though the name of this series is somewhat deceptive as it manly focuses on one of the seven kingdoms in this world known as the Fells.

This series often references historical events in the seven realms. I really like when fictional historical events help shape the present in fictional universes because it makes them feel more realistic. Though, as most of the events referenced happened a thousand years ago, it was somewhat unrealistic that so little had changed since then, but this is a common occurrence in fantasy novels so I’m willing to ignore this fact. The ways that the historical facts had been distorted with time made me think a lot about how our own history has been manipulated.

I liked that the romance in this series never overshadowed the fantasy elements. The romance gradual in development which is something I really appreciated, though I do somewhat wish Hans and Raisa had spent more time together in the early books.

Many of the characters were very well developed. Our male main character, Hans, was probably my favorite. I found his backstory as a reformed thief fascinating.

These books just seemed to get better and better as the series went on. Each book seemed to expand upon the scope of the world a little more, and the plot progressed nicely with several twists. It’s not often that I feel the urge to read all the books in a four book long series in a row, but this series continued to feel fresh and engaging throughout.

What readers should know: This series contains vague references to an instance in which a major character’s mother was raped long before the first book began resulting in the birth of aforementioned major character. Besides that there is a fair amount of violence including the torture of a major character. Readers should also know that although the first book is called “The Demon King” and the word “demon” is used on several occasions I don’t remember any demonic intervention/demons getting page time.

Rating: This was an engaging YA high fantasy series. I recommend it for fans of the genre or trying to get into high/epic fantasy as I think this would be a good series to start with. I can’t wait for the spin-off series to be released.

4.5 blue jays

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh 4 Stars

18798983Title: The Wrath and the Dawn

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Publication date: May 12, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy, Retelling, Romance

Synopsis:.Everyday a brings new bride and every dawn brings their death. For unknown reasons, Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, marries a new woman each day before having her executed at dawn and repeating the cycle a new. Among the victims was Shahrahzad’s best friend and she is determined to avenge her death.

Shahrahzad has volunteered to marry the Caliph for the opportunity to get close to the Caliph. It was Shahrahzad’s plan to kill the Caliph, but as she speaks with him Shahrazad realizes the Caliph is not who she thought he was. All the same, Shahrahzad is determined to put an end to the murders. She will survive the dawn.

Review: I read this book directly after finishing The Hero of Ages (The conclusion to Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn Trilogy). After enjoying that book so thoroughly and knowing this one was high fantasy, I went into this expecting to be disappointed. Fortunately,  I instead found this to be an engaging, interesting read.

This book is a retelling of 1001 Nights. I was not very familiar with the story line of 1001 Nights, so I can’t judge the quality of the adaptation, but this story made me interested in reading the original work. This retelling focuses on the ongoing plot linking the many stories within 1001 Nights together.

Our main character, Shahrzad, is a very determined young woman and remained so throughout. I liked that she never let Khalid, the Caliph, scare her into submission although she was scared at times for good reason. She also never forgot what Khalid had done or entirely forgave him even as she started spending more time with him. This is something I can’t say about a lot of YA characters and it makes me appreciate Shahrzad even more for it. The retelling didn’t put much emphasis on the stories Shahrazad told during the night, and I’ll admit I found myself skimming through them when they were incorporated as the contents of the stories told didn’t hold much influence in this particular retelling as a whole besides distracting Khalid and making him think.

Although I really enjoyed this, there were some elements that kept me from rating it higher. Every character in this book seems to have their own unique eye color. While the author may have intended to use this as a way for the reader to better differentiate between characters, and this fixation on eye colors is fairly common in novels, I found it extremely annoying. Overall, however, the writing was very good: just the right balance of poetic but not too poetic.

Shahrzad gave the impression that she had planned and expected to distract the Caliph. Much of what she did seemed improvised and I’m surprised she didn’t know more about the Caliph before going in. This made the story a little unbelievable for me, but I guess the author was trying to use the fact that desperation can make people act irrationally as justification.

The love triangle is something else I could have done without. It’s clear who Shahrzed is going to end up with, and so I view it as rather pointless. However, I can see that the author added it to create tension, and it doesn’t bother me as much as it does in many other books. The magic system was also barely touched on. I would have liked to see more of it.

While I was reading this I was trying to place it in history due to references of a few real world countries/cultural elements. The religious references in particular left me confused as the characters would appear to worship the Greek gods but the story seems to take place in the Middle East. Though I think the author might have simply had Shahrzad pick up on terms that implied she worshiped the Greek gods as she grew into a friendship with a Greek serving girl.

What Readers Should Know: Sex is mentioned and there scenes where sex was implied, but this wasn’t explicit or frequent. The characters involved were married. There was the use of the occasional curse word, but it was not frequent. There was no gory violence, but there were mentions of the Caliphs past murders, attempts at murders, and practice with weapons.

Rating: The pacing and overall writing of this book was well done, and I liked that it was set in a fantasy world that did not resemble Medieval Europe as I haven’t read nearly enough fantasy novels where the setting didn’t, but there were too many minor issues I had with it for me to give it higher than a four.

4 blue jays