Book Review: EMBER

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the author and read multiple drafts of the book prior to its publication. This hasn’t impacted my review at all.

EmberTitle: EMBER
Author: Anna Holmes
Series: Ember of Elyssia, #1
Publication Information: Self-Published, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 341
Source: Purchased
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Warnings: Light violence (swordplay, magic), maiming
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Fans of the enemies to lovers romance trope (told in dual POV!) and witty banter; fans of The Princess Bride.

The war is over. The island of Elyssia has been freed from the clutches of the Rosalian Empire, power restored to the island’s monarchy. However, after leading the Resurgence from the front, Princess Caelin now finds herself sitting and waiting more often than not. When magical prodigy Alain Flynn breaks into her palace to kidnap her, she hears of a secret slave camp—and forms a plan. Under the guise of a kidnapping, she will investigate the camp, expose the secrets, and take control of the fate of her kingdom.

(Summary from Goodreads)

So, I’ve read this book like three or four times and I’m still not sick of it, so it’s already got that going for it.

So many fantasy books are about defeating the bad guy, and then everyone goes to war to take down the aforementioned bad guy, and everyone is happy when the bad guy goes down, but we don’t get to see very often what happens after the war. What sort of rebuilding goes on? How do the new people in charge gain the trust of the people who fought against them? EMBER, refreshingly, is set during this time of rebuilding. The war has ended, and that’s where the story begins. Caelin has to figure out how to rebuild Elyssia, and how to gain the trust of the people who were on the other side in the war – since a lot of people actually supported the Rosalians. Then, there’s also the fact that, as a teenage girl, a lot of people don’t think she’s up to the task of ruling, so she has enemies inside the palace as well as outside. And, inwardly, Caelin is unsure she has what it takes to be a good ruler. SO MUCH CONFLICT.

Our other POV is Alain, a former Rosalian commander (or Prince, as they’re called) who is put into slavery – a thing Caelin’s advisers are doing behind her back – and, upon escaping his slave camp, decides to kidnap Caelin. He is one of the previously mentioned supporters of Rosalia who hates Caelin and doesn’t want to see her rule. But, all he knows is the propaganda fed to him by the Empire, and when he actually meets Caelin, he starts having conflicted feelings about her as he realizes she’s not the evil person he was always told. MORE CONFLICT.

And then, of course, there is a cast of delightful secondary characters. There’s Riley, my precious brooding child, a palace guard and Caelin’s best friend since childhood; Tressa, a centaur bounty hunter who’s got the best attitude in the world; August, who I just want to hug every time he shows up; and Gavroth, who is The Best. Even the villains are a delight to read, even though they’re terrible people.

Book Review: OF SCARS AND STARDUST

OSaSTitle: OF SCARS AND STARDUST
Author: Andrea Hannah
Publication Information: Flux, 2014
Genre: Young Adult – Mystery
Rating: 4 Stars
Recommended For: People who love them some plot twists with a heaping side of guilt.

After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she’s been dying to leave behind.

But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget what her psychiatrist calls her “delusions,” Claire can’t seem to escape the wolf’s eyes or the blood-speckled snow. Delusion or reality, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she’s ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep her hallucinations at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella’s trail grows fainter, the wolves are becoming startlingly real.

Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister’s disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella’s past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Why I Picked It: I follow Andrea on Twitter and Instagram (which didn’t influence my review at all). Also, the cover is gorgeous.

First of all, I want to talk about how well the cover ties into the book. We’ve got the two girls clutching each other, which accurately speaks to the fact that this is a story about two sisters. Then, the sisters are standing in the middle of some really creepy looking trees, which I think accurately reflects the feel of the book since it definitely had me on edge the entire time I was reading it.

The book started off pretty slow for me. The entire first section of the book shows up what happens before the main story – the part where the main character, Claire, is trying to find her missing sister, Ella. I understand that the information we get from that part is important to understanding Claire’s mental state and Ella’s motivations later on in the book, but I have to wonder if it needed to be presented that way since I felt like it slowed the pace down a bit toward the beginning.

Once I got through Part One, though, and the mystery really kicked into gear, I was in. OF SCARS AND STARDUST is full of twists and turns that had me saying “NO WAY!” in multiple places. As soon as Ella goes missing and Claire and Graham start looking for clues and start uncovering the truth about certain past events, the book is fast-paced and never slows down.

I also loved how well Hannah presented Claire, whose sanity is in question throughout the entire book. The entire time I was reading, I had to question if certain things were actually happening, but at the same time, I really wanted to believe Claire because it was so clear how much she cares about Ella and feels responsible for what happened to her. Claire may or may not be experiencing delusions, but she always felt fully formed, which I feel is important when dealing with a character like this.

Another thing I really loved is the setting. OF SCARS AND STARDUST takes place mostly in a small town in Ohio, and captured that small town feel. But at the same time, it was really atmospheric and because of that – as well as how Claire perceives her surroundings – it added a lot of tension to the book.

TL;DR: OF SCARS AND STARDUST starts off slow, but once the mystery element of the story comes into play, it’s a fast-paced story full of twists and turns that’s hard to put down.

YA Book Club: Allegiant

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To be totally honest, I was initially a little disappointed with Allegiant. The beginning, as many people have already mentioned, was a little slow-moving, and after that ending to Insurgent, I expected something a little more explosive than what ended up happening. Fortunately, things did eventually pick up, and I enjoyed the back half of the book a lot more because it was a lot more like the previous books.

As far as the alternating perspectives, I wasn’t sure at first as to the reason for that, but it didn’t bother me too much because I ended up liking Four’s chapters more than Tris’s. It was interesting to get inside his head more and learn more about him, as well as watch him wrestle with his demons.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the ending. I know all the signs pointed toward Allegiant ending the way it did, but it still caught me by surprise. But not in a bad way. I think having things end the way they did was actually the most appropriate ending; it suited the tone of the series, and ending things any other way would’ve just felt like a cop out. (I mean, I probably wouldn’t have minded, but it wouldn’t have felt completely right, either.)

After having some more time to think about it, I formulated some further thoughts about the ending. [You can read my full review with spoilers here.]

Allegiant wasn’t my favorite of the books, but it’s still worth reading for the ending alone.

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Review: Heirs of War

Heirs of War (Heirs of War, #1)Heirs of War by Mara Valderran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review is based on an ARC I received from the author. I also read part of an earlier version of the manuscript. Neither of these swayed my review.

One of the things I was most excited about with Heirs of War is the fact that all five of the main characters are women, which is always something I love to find in epic fantasy novels like this. I also love how even though we see all five of their points of view, it’s never confusing, and each character has her own personality. They were all fully fleshed out, instead of just being token female fantasy characters.

I also liked how the world the girls find themselves in comes to life, with a hint of political tensions under the surface that I hope explode in the next book. It might feel sometimes like there’s not much happening, but that’s because we’re getting immersed in the world – there’s so much going on under the surface, and we’re discovering it through the eyes of the main characters. With such a central role, I could sense that everything was just building to something and I can’t wait to find out what happens!

The only thing I wanted to see more of was a little more activeness from the characters. Sometimes it felt like they were letting things happen, as opposed to making things happen. Like I said, though, I got the sense we were being set up for some big things to happen in the next book, so I’m sure there will be more making things happen soon.

There were some really interesting things going on in Heirs of War, and I’m sure they’re only going to get more interesting from here. I can’t wait for the next book!

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Currently Listening To: Lorde – “Tennis Court”
Currently Reading: Divergent by Veronica Roth

YA Book Club: Taken

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YA Book Club is an online book club hosted by Tracey Neithercott. This month we read Taken by Erin Bowman, so if you’ve read it, feel free to join in!

I was so excited about my copy I had to take a picture with it. It happens.

I was so excited about my copy I had to take a picture with it. It happens.

I loved Taken so much, I stayed up an hour past my bedtime to finish it. It started off a little slow for me, but once it got going, it didn’t let up. Since the premise was unique and I didn’t have too much of an idea of the plot beforehand, the twists really caught me off guard – which I appreciated, what with my strangely predictive powers and all. There was one I had guessed at because I’d already seen it done in a certain book I won’t name because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else (review with spoilers can be found here), but aside from that I had no ideas.

The main character, Gray, wasn’t the most likable character. He was impulsive, needs to work on his temper like whoa, and does a couple really jerktastic things. In this case, though, it wasn’t a death sentence because he so obviously cares about the people in his life – particularly his brother, Blaine; his niece, Kale; and some of the people he comes to meet throughout the course of the story. While there were some times I wanted to sit down with him and have a serious talk with him about some of his questionable decisions, I felt like the whole caring about others (even if he doesn’t always play nice with them) thing was a pretty huge redeeming quality. Also, he’s a teenage boy, so it’s not like he was unrealistically portrayed.

I wasn’t as into the love triangle as I was hoping to be. Honestly, I just didn’t feel it with Emma and Gray, because I just didn’t see why Gray would be into Emma in the first place. They just didn’t seem to fit to me, plus Emma wasn’t as interesting a character to me as Bree was.

The end of the book hints at more world building in the next one, which I’m super enthused about. While Taken wasn’t perfect, I still need the next two books, like, yesterday. I can’t wait to see where Gray’s adventures (and impulsiveness, let’s be honest) will take him next!

YA Book Club: Just One Day

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Today is a glorious day, for after far too long it is time for another installment in YA Book Club, hosted by Tracey Neithercott. This month’s selection was Just One Day by Gayle Forman. (Book cover links to Goodreads page.)

12842115I absolutely adored Just One Day, to the point where I stayed up until one in the morning to finish it – which is a feat I rarely accomplish anymore because I’m a Premature Old Person. Initially I read it in bits and pieces at work during lunch, but I realized quickly that bits and pieces wasn’t going to do Forman’s descriptions of England and Paris justice – she did such a great job creating settings that really came to life and made me so jealous of Allyson/Lulu’s adventures (and not just because she was running around with a cute Dutch boy, but that sure didn’t hurt).

It took a little while to get into what I felt was the meat of the story, but I didn’t mind because I was so busy enjoying the settings. But what I loved the most about this book was Allyson’s discovery of Lulu, her fearless alter-ego, during her one day in Paris with Willem, followed by the following year in which she struggled to find Lulu again – and realize that Lulu and Allyson are actually the same person. I think what struck me most was how honest Allyson’s struggles were – her struggle to figure out what she wants now that she has the power to decide is something a lot of us could probably relate to at that age, and I feel like this perfectly captures what the whole New Adult thing is about.

For me, the romance wasn’t nearly as important to the book as Allyson’s self-discovery, but I still loved it. I loved how Willem brought out the more fearless side of Allyson, and I spent the entire second part of the book rooting for them…although I can’t really go into it too much more because spoilers. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to read Willem’s side of the story.

Have you read Just One Day? Go join the discussion at Tracey’s blog!

Review: Broken at Love

Broken at Love (Whitman University, #1)Broken at Love by Lyla Payne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: this was only the second New Adult book I’ve read, like, ever. But I can tell you I will most certainly be reading many more after Broken at Love.

At first Broken at Love seems like just a fun read, and it is a really fun read. In fact, I read most of it in one sitting, staying up past my bedtime to finish it – one of the highest compliments a book can get from me. It had everything I love – pretty rich people, brooding (and hot) men, and enough drama to fuel a whole fleet of soap operas. But what really made me love it was the genuine chemistry Quinn and Emilie had – it didn’t feel forced at all, to the point where no matter how despicable some of the things Quinn did were, I was still rooting for them because separating them would just be cruel.

So. Originally, I gave the book 4 stars. But then I let myself sit on that, as I do before I write a review. And now here are the reasons I ultimately bumped it up to a 5:

First of all, Emilie’s confidence. One thing that has turned me off of romance novels is the fact that most of the women are delicate little virginal flowers who wait around for their One True Love and a whole host of other things that make me roll my eyes. Emilie, on the other hand, knows what she wants, she’s not ashamed of it, and she goes for it, even knowing there’s a good chance it’ll be a one time thing. In addition to that, even though she insists there’s something good in Quinn under all the angst and horrible things he’s done, she doesn’t try to turn him into something he’s not. If more romance heroines were like Emilie, I’d probably read more romance novels.

And Quinn. Ohh, Quinn. At the beginning of the story, he’s a really easy guy to hate. He actively does everything he can to reinforce that he is, in fact, a terrible person. But by the end of the story…you’ll love him. Not because he turns into a Prince Charming (yawn), but because – not unlike Sawyer from Lost – we come to realize that under that whole act Quinn puts on, there is a decent guy in there. Somewhere.

Also, have I mentioned how much I love Quinn and Emilie together? I did? Oh. Still do.

Broken at Love is available now. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy!

Thank you to the author for providing an ARC for review.

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Review: Whispers In Autumn

Whispers in Autumn (The Last Year, #1)Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Actual Rating: 4.5/5.

Normally I’m not into aliens. At all.

While I’m probably still not going to be seeking recs for books with aliens, I did end up loving Whispers in Autumn, primarily for two reasons: the characters and the world building.

I felt like this book started really slow, but what I didn’t realize until later was that this really helped us get inside Thea’s head, and ultimately feel sorry for her. Thea has the typical teenage worries about fitting in, and she feels like she’s different and that’s Not A Good Thing. I feel like my teenage self would’ve really been able to relate to her. My not teenage self mostly wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything will be okay, eventually.

Except, you know, I can’t really guarantee that to poor Thea, because in her world, she really is different, and that’s definitely Not A Good Thing. The reason I’m willing to forgive the whole aliens thing is the dystopian element there is to this world. The world reminded me of The Giver, in that everyone is brainwashed into believing their happy, with the result that they blissfully accept everything the Others hand to them. Except, of course, there’s way more to it than the whole Giver-ish brainwashing thing, which I can’t get into because spoilers.

There was one Big Twist at the end that I called, because that’s sort of my thing. But there were some others related to it that I had suspicions about that I was ultimately wrong about, and I think the whole slow beginning thing I mentioned earlier helped to build the tension before we learned Important Information. This in no way diminished my love for this book, which I’m sure you’ve already started reading by now.

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Review: Insurgent

Insurgent
Insurgent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Insurgent.

Oh, Insurgent.

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. Love, because I absolutely loved everything about this book. Hate, because I got absolutely nothing done for the two days I was reading it, and after I turned the last page, I literally shook my Kindle because I thought there was something wrong with it, because that seriously cannot be the last page! And I then proceeded to get very angry because, actually, it was the last page, and also because I couldn’t throw my Kindle at the wall like I would’ve a regular book.

Once again, it was really the characters that I loved the most. I loved that we got to see more of some characters we were only briefly introduced to in Divergent, such as Uriah, Lynn, Caleb, and so on. Also, Eric was as deliciously evil as ever, and yet I couldn’t help but find myself strangely drawn to him. (It’s sort of the same thing with Warner in Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me. I sort of have a thing for Evil Dudes.)

I also really loved watch Tris and Four’s relationship unfold, especially the fact that they had so many challenges to deal with throughout the book. I mean, after all the tension in Divergent, it would’ve been really boring for everything to be smooth sailing and happily ever after for them. This portrayal felt way more realistic.

I absolutely can’t wait for the last book to come out!

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Insurgent was chosen as the May pick for the YA Book Club, brought to us by Tracy Neithercott. To chime in, check out her review here!

Review: For the King

For the King
For the King by Catherine Delors

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short Version: Started off a little slow, but the suspense kept building as the book went on, and the numerous plot twists ultimately made the book worth a read.

Longer Version: For the King started off a little slow, but the setting – Napoleonic France – was so interesting, I wanted to keep reading anyway – and I ended up being glad that I did.

This book is, basically, a mystery. The main character, Roch Miquel, is a young police inspector who has to race against the clock to figure out who is behind an assassination plot on Napoleon…because Miquel’s father is a suspect, and might be shipped overseas to do hard labor if his name isn’t cleared. I don’t read mysteries too often, but the stakes were just so high, I was invested in Miquel’s search for the would-be assassins, because I completely believed his motivation and desperation.

Not only are the stakes high in this book, but there are twists and turns galore, which made things that much more suspenseful. Normally I’m pretty good at picking up on twists, but I didn’t see a single one of them coming in For the King. And these twists seemed completely natural, too, not just plot twists for the sake of plot twists. I actually might have to reread this book so that I can try to pick up on some of the clues.

If you like high stakes, suspense, and mysteries, all in a historical setting rich with detail, I think this is your book.

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