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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Crown of Embers - Book Review


The Crown of Embers - Book Review
Rae Carson
YA Fantasy
(Fire and Thorns Book #2)
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Synopsis:

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy’s gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten - and forbidden - clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom - despite everything  -  she is falling in love with.

If she is lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

Review:

A brilliant middle book to a fantastic trilogy, I enjoyed Crown of Embers immensely. If you haven't already picked up the first book, Fire and Thorns, I highly recommend that you do so. Rae Carson is a fantastic writer of YA fantasy and she is definitely a writer to be added to your ‘I shall forever read this author’ list!

This book picks up a few weeks after the events in the previous book. Elisa is now queen and sole ruler of her kingdom. Yet the war is not over, and although the sorcerer army has been defeated, a much larger force is now making their way towards her kingdom. Unsure who to trust, as even her closest allies work to their own agendas, she puts together a group of unlikely heros, consisting of an enemy spy, a known traitor, her best friend, and the commander of her queens guard - a man she happens to be falling desperately in love with.  Together, the set off on a journey so that Elisa can learn the true power of her Godstone (a sapphire stone embedded in her navel, marking her as Gods chosen champion) so that she can defeat the sorcerers once and for all.

But sacrifices will be demanded of her, and Elisa will discover what the true price of ruling is. An explosive sequel to the first book, The Crown of Embers will take you on an adventure of love, magic and new found wonders. A truly spectacular read.

Elisa has become one of my favourite female protagonist. She has grown into a brave and intelligent young woman, and is finally becoming comfortable in her role as queen. While she was once the fat, over-looked second princess of a small kingdom, she is now considered a powerful queen and war hero. Yet despite all the changes she remains at the core a kind and selfless person, learning from each mistake while still naive to many matters of the heart. She truly grows as a character and you can’t help but love her. 

Yet all the characters are amazing. The commander of the queens guard, Hector, makes a suitable match for Elisa, yet I love how they were friends long before the romance sparks. And as the commander was the best friend of her late husband, it makes their connection so much deeper. 

However it was nice to see old characters from the previous book. While some characters didn't return until almost the end, their stories have become interesting and despite everyones own self-serving agendas, its nice to see that ultimately, everyone likes Elisa and tries to help her in their own ways.

The plot in this book was particularly enchanting. Full of adventure, political intrigue and just a dash of magic, its a rollercoaster of a ride and its hard to find a good place to put the book down for a breather. A real page turning read! Although while the cliff hanger of an ending was a little frustrating, luckily I had the next book ready on my bedside table (I would definitely advise buying all three books before picking up the first). While usually I refuse to read books in a series back to back - in this case, I was unable to control the urge to find out what happens next!

Overall a really great read. This series, FIRE AND THORNS,  has earned a special place on my bookshelves and I really hope you will pick it up and see for yourselves just how good it is. I give The Crown of Embers 4.5 stars!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Whisper of Wolves - Book Review


A Whisper of Wolves - Book Review
Kris Humphrey
MG Fantasy
Guardians of the wild book #1
UK Publisher - Stripes Publishing

Synopsis:

When a raven drops a white feather at the doorstep on the day of your birth, it is a symbol of your destiny. You are a whisperer - a guardian of the wild. After many years of peace in the kingdom of Meridina, rumours are spreading of a planned invasion - could the demonic Narlaw be returning from the darklands? It is up to the whisperers and their animal companions to defend Meridina, protect Princess Ona and stop the Narlaw from destroying the world.

When hunters from her village disappear without a trace, Alice suspects that something sinister is at work. With the help of Storm, her wolf companion, Alice fights to save her village. The Narlaw are on the attack and it’s up to the whisperers to stop them…

Review:

I liked the premise of the book and found it to be a sweet and simple story that I think will be enjoyed more by younger MG readers. I say this as I didn't find the ‘bad guys’ at all frightening, and I felt the suspense is always underlined by the safety net that you just know everything will be ok in the end. Still, A whisper of wolves made for a quick, light read and I will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

Alice is an apprentice whisperer. Never knowing her parents, she was chosen at birth by the white raven, and gifted with the magical ability to connect with the earth and communicate with her animal companion, a wolf named storm. But around her small village a sickness is spreading through the forrest, signs that an ancient evil is returning to the world.

Meanwhile on the other side of the kingdom, Dawn has just finished her apprenticeship, and with the passing of her teacher, has graduated into a full fledged whisperer who is now in charge of protecting the palace, and its royal residents. But because of her young age, she is met with opposition from the kings officials. No one will believe her that evil has returned to the kingdom and so she and her raven companion, Ebony, must strike out on their own to save the palace before its too late.

As both girls battle to save their homes, they fight to be believed by their elders, all whilst training to attain the highest ability of a whisperer, the power to banish demons…

I quite enjoyed this story. Both heroines have strong personalities and aren't afraid to break the rules over what they know to be right vs what people believe is right. Their animal companions seem to act older, and often offer wisdom to their human friends, but I must admit I thought having a wolf and a raven was a little cliche.

Also while I thought the writing itself, along with the descriptions were pretty good, the plot - while action based - seemed to lack a little something. As I mentioned earlier, I felt tasks were achieved a little too easily so higher-level readers may find themselves a little restless with this story.

However the book was sweet in its simplicity. The bad guys, the whisperers powers and the location of the girls were all explained in an easy to follow manner. This would be a good MG book for younger readers wanting something a little more challenging, but keeping with the ‘nothing bad will happen’ plot lines of younger books. Not once did I ever feel the characters were in real peril!

So overall a nice, short read that I think will really capture the imagination of a younger reader. Sweet stuff! 3 stars!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Tease - Book Review


Tease - Book Review
Amanda Maciel
YA Contemporary
UK Publisher: Hodder Children's Books 

Synopsis;

Emma Puton is dead, and it’s all Sara Wharton’s fault. At least, that’s what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma’s shocking suicide. 

Now Sara is the one who is ostracised, already guilty according to her peers, the community and the media. In the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court recommend therapist, Sara is forced to recollect on the events that brought her to this moment - and ultimately consider her own role in an undeniable tragedy.  And she’ll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over…

Review:

This is a deeply moving book that I think would get teenagers to really consider the consequences of their actions. Neither black nor white in its telling, the story will take the reader on a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions, a truly eye-opening read! 

The story follows Sara, a teenage girl who is facing criminal chargers for being part of group who took it upon themselves to bully classmate, Emma Putnam, who’s troubled life eventually led to Emma committing suicide. Now several months after Emma’s death, Sara is forced to face the consequences of her actions. 

Shunned by her schoolmates, penalised by the public and media alike, and divided from her close friends by their lawyers need to place blame, Sara feels isolated from the world she once loved. And she hates Emma Putnam now more than ever! While her therapist and parents hound her to show remorse, Sara struggles to let go of her of her anger. Because her anger will lead her down a dark path and all Sara knows is that, because of Emma, her life will never be the same again…

This was one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time. While I rarely pick up contemporary YAs, I’m glad I chose to read this one, just for its sheerly unique perspective alone. With the chapters split into two parts of past and present, we see through Sara’s eyes the events leading up to Emma’s death, the scenes in which the bullying took place, and Sara’s reasoning behind it. However the story mainly stems from the present day where we see how Sara and the world are coping several months after Emma’s passing, revealing the drastic changes to Sara’s life.

Normally when I read a book, I generally like the main character straight away. This was not the case with Sara. At first I thought she was a selfish harpy who was truly convinced of her own innocence, yet as the story goes on, you do begin to see her side of things and realise how unfair it is to judge her actions. This is a high school setting after all, and in high school, life is never simple. 

While I do not think Sara was blameless, the story shows that Emma was a troubled girl who did little to help herself, proving that there really is more than one side to a story. I would have been really interested to read a little of Emma’s perspective, just to see how she interpreted Sara’s actions and what went on through her mind as the bullying escalated. 

What really hit me about this book though was the selfishness of the characters - both Sara and Emma alike. Sara is too small a person to see how comments that mean little to her, can rock the foundations of another persons world. She is actually incapable of telling when the joke has gone to far, especially when  words like ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ are thrown so casually around her own social circle, that she is unaware of the impact such words can have on others outside her group.

Emma on the other hand, doesn’t do much to help herself. Occasionally it seems she tries to antagonise Sara (perhaps her way of standing up for herself?) while at others she is meek as a mouse at Sara’s taunting. Emma also never seemed to consider her parents or the friends she leaves behind, seeing only her own pain. 

However this book, Tease, also calls to attention the teachers lack of ability to help. For while most schools are big on their anti-bullying policies, their actions can only be effective when they have an actual culprit to blame and often, Sara and her friends got away with things easily. Yet after Emma’s death, when Sara suddenly found herself the centre of ridicule and taunting by her fellow classmates, the school again did little to stop it and so the cycle continued.

Another question raised is, are Sara’s classmates, those who stood by and only watched Emma’s torment - are they also to blame? Arguably standing by and doing nothing can be considered the same level of cruelty as those who actually do the bullying. However I thought it was interesting that after all was said and done, Sara was the only one who seemed to consider this.

Overall, Tease is an incredibly written book that will open the eyes of many to the world around them. It’s a story that show’s people should be given second chances, that mistakes can be made - and while they will always have to be lived with - those mistakes should not define you as a person. 

A story that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. 5 stars!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Queen of Someday - Book Review


Queen of Somedayy - Book Review
Sherry. D. Ficklin
YA Historical
Book #1 in the Stolen Empire Trilogy
UK Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing

Synopsis:

One girl will bring an empire to its knees…

Before she can become the greatest empress in history, fifteen-year-old Sophie will have to survive her social climbing mother’s quest to put her on the throne of Russia - at any cost.

Imperial court holds dangers like nothing Sophie has ever faced before. In the heart of St. Petersburg, surviving means navigating the political, romantic and religious demands of the bitter Empress Elizabeth and her handsome, but sadistic nephew, Peter. Determined to save her impoverished family - and herself - Sophie vows to do whatever is necessary to thrive in her new surroundings. But an attempt on her life and an unexpected attraction threatens to derail her plans.

Alone in a new and dangerous world, learning who to trust and who to charm may mean the difference between becoming queen and being sent home in shame to marry her lecherous uncle. With traitors and murderers lurking around every corner, her very life hangs in the balance. Betrothed to one man but falling in love with another, Sophie will need to decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to become the Empress she is destined to be.

In a battle for the soul of a nation, will love or destiny reign supreme?

Review:

I throughly enjoyed this book. It gives an imaginative interpretation on the younger years of a woman who grew to become one of Russia’s greatest historical figures, Catherine the Great. A truly page turning read.

When fifteen year old Sophie is sent to the Russian court, she knows the only hope she has to save her family from  destitution is to marry the Empresses nephew, Peter. But the Prince is a spoiled, selfish and temperamental young man, prone to playing cruel games - and Sophie is not the only contender for his heart.

But while she learns to weather and control Prince Peter’s erratic moods and tempers, she finds herself falling head over heels for his best friend. In a court full of spies and noblewoman competing for the throne, Sophie is too close to winning the game to let her eyes stray from the prize now. But with her heart and mind conflicted over what is right vs what she wants, Sophie must make the greatest decision of all. Duty to her family? or duty to her heart? But both paths will lead her down perilous roads…

I really liked this book. Jumping straight into the action, it hooks you into the story within a couple of pages, introducing you to Sophie, a brave and intelligent girl who knows the fate awaiting her should she fail to catch the Prince’s eye.

Sophie is a great heroine. She begins as a somewhat shy girl, naive to the courtly intrigues surrounding her. But she is a fast learner, and while she doesn't always make the best decisions, she never makes the same mistake twice. This is a girl who is forced to make life altering choices, and each trial she faces turns her into a more competent and stronger woman. 

However the book holds a great cast of characters. Sophie’s mother is a particularly interesting piece of work. Working to her own agenda, she often hinders Sophie’s chances at the throne and is both rude and pretentious, however she does add an undercurrent of embarrassed humour to the story. 

The Empress on the other hand is a much more maternal character… at least in the beginning, and I feel she often empathises with Sophie. Prince Peter on the other hand is a very sadistic and cruel man/boy who likes games and bad jokes. My heart went out to Sophie, knowing that she needed to marry such a man, which made everything even sadder when she fell for his kind and caring best friend. A much more suitable love interest, despite the hopelessness of their situation.

Yet all the characters in this story added something to the plot. Everyone from Sophie’s body guard, to her ladies in waiting, even to the gossipy madame who instructs Sophie in the sensual arts (loved that woman), they all add a little something to the story.

Otherwise the plot moves at a fast pace with plenty of ups and downs. Sophie is made to face many challenges, each one testing her dedication towards winning the throne. All in all, it made for a very good read. An Historical, YA Romance, I would give Queen of Someday 4 stars! Bring on the sequel!

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Graceling - Book Review


Graceling - Book Review
Kristin Cashore
YA Fantasy
(Graceling Realm #1)
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Synopsis:

Katsi has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight - she’s a graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the King’s  thug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsu has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

Review:

I’d been meaning to read this book for such a long time! I’m so glad that I finally chose to pick it up as Gravelling was a story with a great concept, fantastic characters and a quick paced plot. While, sadly, I did have a few issues with the ending, I ultimately enjoyed it overall and really admire Kristin Cashores skills as a writer.

The story revolves around nineteen year old Katsu, a girl who was blessed/cursed with the grace of killing. Be it ten men or a hundred, she easily defeats them all, but she takes no joy in her gift. Used by her uncle, the king, to carry out his threats and executions, Katsus heart has grown hard and bitter. But then she meets Po, a Southernly Prince graced with the gift of Fighting. 

For the first time ever, Katsu has found a worthy opponent who can challenge her skills. But when she and Po strike up a friendship, Katsu suddenly begins to question the life fate has dealt her. With Po’s help, she becomes determined to escape her uncles tyranny, but her journey takes her down a path darker than she expected, for the unlikely pair soon uncover an evil even greater than Katsu’s uncle, and this time, Katsu’s killing Grace will not be able to save her…

As I said, I really enjoyed this book. Within its pages, it holds a few storylines, and with each plot Katsu develops more as a character. She is easily likeable, feisty and tough, yet she is also adorable in her socially awkward way. A very fun and readable heroine. 

Her love interest, Po, is also well written. He is unashamed that his woman is more capable of kicking ass than he is, and with his cool headed way of thinking, he made a good match against Katsu’s more fiery personality. His story is also an interesting one and he added a good deal of suspense to the book.

Set within a fantasy world of seven divided Kingdoms, sword fights, honour and magic run thick throughout this story. The descriptions are brilliant and the reader is easily immersed into Katsu’s world.

However while the book is very action based, the story moves through several plot lines - some more gripping than others - so the book can read a little slow at times. Still it held my attention throughout and while I found the end a little rushed and abruptly brought to a close, I would still recommend fans of fantasy give it a try.

I look forward to reading the other books in the series. 3.5 stars!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

An Ember in the Ashes - Book Review



An Ember in the Ashes - Book Review
Sabaa Tahir
YA Fantasy
An Ember in the Ashes Book # 1
UK Publisher: Harper Voyager

Synopsis:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empires impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from the rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. 

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier - and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realise that their destinies are intertwined - and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. 

Review:

Words cannot do justice to how much I enjoyed this book! After reading several reviews claiming it’s brilliance, my interest was peaked, and I can honestly say I think every five star review claims true. The sequel cannot come soon enough! Am Ember in the Ashes was utterly fantastical!

Told from the dual Povs of Laia and Elias, the story follows these two teenagers on their criss-crossing path to survive their roles within a regimented empire.

Laia is one of the last scholars, the original people of the land before the Martials invaded five hundred years ago. Now her people are suppressed and scorned for their knowledge. But when her home is raided in the night, her grandparents killed and her beloved brother thrown in prison, she will do anything to get her brother back. Even become a slave in the house of the Martial’s head commander, a viscous and cold-blooded woman known for disfiguring her slaves for the smallest of slights.

Son of the commander, Elias is number one in his class of masked soldiers. Handsome and deadly, he keeps his kind heart hidden behind a cold indifference. All his life, he has been subjected to beatings, whippings and the harsh “survival of the fittest” ideal upheld by the marital soldiers. But as the days to his graduation draw nearer, so does the beginnings of a prophecy that will change the fates of both him and Laia, forever…

I devoured this book in one day, staying up well into the early hours of the morning as I just couldn't stop turning the pages. Admittedly, It did take a couple of chapters to get into the story, but by fifty pages, I was truly caught up in the lives  of the characters.

Laia is the one who I think changes the most throughout the story. Turning from a cowardly, timid girl to a strong, confident rebel. Elias on the other hand was always strong but he changes both mentally and spiritually throughout the book, and in some ways he is probably the character who suffers the most too.

Together, Elias and Laia make an interesting pairing, but I really liked how there was no instant love between them. In fact, they both had other potential love interests yet despite their very different upbringings and positions, their shared ideals drew them together.

However Elias’ best friend, Helen, was also a remarkable character. She adds complications to the plot, while Elias’ mother, the commander, is the most dislikable character going! Yet she does add something extra to the story. But personally I thought all the characters were very well written and many have agendas which are still yet to be uncovered. Can’t wait to see how things will turn out for them all in book 2!

Otherwise the plot moves at a fast pace and I liked the realism of emotions within the story. Combined with the fantastical elements, which brings to life myths and monsters, and the trials forced upon each character, the story was absolutely captivating.

I would recommend this book to fans of Sarah J Maas, Tamora Pierce and Garth Nix. For a debut novel, Sabaa Tahir has produced a spellbinding read that will stick with you for a long time to come. A must read for every fan of fantasy! 5 stars!


Friday, 29 May 2015

Fire and Thorns - Book Review


The Girl of Fire and Thorns - Book Review
Rae Carson
YA Fantasy
Fire and Thorns Book #1
UK Publisher: Gollancz

Synopsis:

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king - a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s saviour. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young.

Most of the chosen do.

Review:

I absolutely adored this book! I’m a huge fan of fantasy and this story had the perfect balance of magic, romance and epic drama. Rae carson is definitely an author of amazing talent and one who will forever be on my watch list. An amazing start to what promises to be a fantastic trilogy, I loved each and every page of  A Girl of Fire and Thorns.

Sixteen year old Elisa is an over weight Princess, set to marry the King of a failing country. Now taken away from everything she knows and everyone she loves, her only comfort comes from the God stone, a living gem buried deep inside her navel.

For Elisa is God’s chosen, the first stone bearer in over a hundred years to be picked by God to carry out a great task… only what this task is, no one knows. But with war threatening the existence of her new country, Elisa finds herself in the centre of a centuries old power struggle, and everyone is relying on her to save them from the deadly sorcerers from across the mountains. Yet Elisa knows nothing of warfare. She is a scholar, not a warrior, but with the future of her country at stake, can she find the courage to do what’s right? Or will she run from her destiny, her husband and her people and become a Princess of the desert?

An epic read! With a unique plot and a desert setting, I devoured this book in mere days. Broken up into different parts, this book follows Elisa on her journey, from a princess, to a queen, to a desert nomad, to rebel leader.  She is such a diverse character and I loved watching her grow proportionately greater throughout the story. She is both selfless and strong of heart, finding the best in each and every person.

However,being regarded as overweight, she is self conscious of her figure and does not see her better qualities. I enjoyed reading the interactions between her and the King. Despite their arranged marriage a friendship is formed, however the real emotion in this story came from Elisa’s relationship with the simple desert nomad, Humberto. Despite their forbidden love I couldn't help but root for them, even knowing things would probably end tragically.

Yet all the characters play great parts in the story. Everyone comes with a hidden past and shoulders grief and secrets of their own. The plot meanders all over the place and is in no way predictable. Some scenes made me gasp, one made me cry while others made me laugh aloud. A true roller coaster of emotions.

I must admit though, I did think the start of the book was a little slow, but still interesting, and parts two and three really picked up in both action and pace. The world building is really amazing though, extremely detailed and descriptive. 

Words alone cannot do this book justice. For any fans of fantasy, I wholly recommend you try reading this book for yourself. 5 stars!