Tag Archives: 5 Stars

Ashley’s Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

tuomdTitle: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Author: Michelle Hodkin

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Genre: YA Paranormal/Fantasy

Pages: 480

Synopsis: Mara Dyer doesn’t think life can get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.
It can.
She believes there must be more to the accident she can’t remember that killed her friends and left her mysteriously unharmed.
There is.
She doesn’t believe that after everything she’s been through, she can fall in love.
She’s wrong.
After Mara survives the traumatizing accident at the old asylum, it makes sense that she has issues. She lost her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister, and as if that weren’t enough to cope with, her family moves to a new state in order to give her a fresh start. But that fresh start is quickly filled with hallucinations—or are they premonitions?—and then corpses, and the boundary between reality and nightmare is wavering. At school, there’s Noah, a devastatingly handsome charmer who seems determined to help Mara piece together what’s real, what’s imagined—and what’s very, very dangerous.

Review:

I asked my co-worker to recommend a book that had supernatural elements, featured a girl in High School, and a romance. She suggested THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER.

I fell in love.

THIS BOOK. I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just begin with Mara.

After Mara wakes up in the hospital, she learners her best friend, Rachel, her ex-boyfriend, Jude and another girl named Claire were killed when a building collapsed. Mara doesn’t initially remember what happens, but she’s haunted by visions and terrible nightmares. After the incident, she and her family move to Florida where she starts at a new school. There, Mara struggles with PTSD. She also meets the infamous Noah Shaw.

My co-worker gave this comparison of Noah Shaw: He’s Spike from Buffy. He’s even British. There are stereotypes of the male love interest in YA: Noah is a bad boy, he’s rich beyond belief, has an absent parent/parents, BUT, no matter Mara’s crazy (or what she believes is crazy) he sticks with her. He’s how she breaks the surface after drowning (nice cover reference, huh). They’re a beautiful and tragic couple and I love them.

I have to say that I also admired Mara’s brothers. They were hilarious, they were also supportive of Mara…almost in an I-can’t-believe-you’re-sibligins kind of way. Meaning, they NEVER fought. I don’t think Mara could take much fighting. She already didn’t get along with her physiologist mother, fighting with anyone else in her family would have broken her.

Now, let’s discuss plot. We are working with an unreliable narrator which means I never knew if Mara was telling the truth or not, and just when I thought I knew exactly what was happening, I didn’t. You still won’t see the ending coming, even if you’ve believed it at some point while reading the book.

I loved the subtle splash of supernatural in this book, I loved Noah Shaw, and I loved Mara Dyer. On to read the rest! 5 stars!

5star

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The SEVEN REALMS SERIES: Ashley’s Review

thedemonkingTitle: The Seven Realms Series (4 books)

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Publisher:  Disney-Hyperion

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 2272

Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell—the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana‘Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her—including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.

***

Haunted by the loss of his mother and sister, Han Alister journeys south to begin his schooling exilequeenat Mystwerk House in Oden’s Ford. But leaving the Fells doesn’t mean that danger isn’t far behind. Han is hunted every step of the way by the Bayars, a powerful wizarding family set on reclaiming the amulet Han stole from them. And Mystwerk House has dangers of its own. There, Han meets Crow, a mysterious wizard who agrees to tutor Han in the darker parts of sorcery—but the bargain they make is one Han may regret.

Meanwhile, Princess Raisa ana’Marianna runs from a forced marriage in the Fells, accompanied by her friend Amon and his triple of cadets. Now, the safest place for Raisa is Wein House, the military academy at Oden’s Ford. If Raisa can pass as a regular student, Wein House will offer both sanctuary and the education Raisa needs to succeed as the next Gray Wolf queen.

Everything changes when Han and Raisa’s paths cross, in this epic tale of uncertain friendships, cut-throat politics, and the irresistible power of attraction.

***

graywolfthroneHan Alister thought he had already lost everyone he loved. But when he finds his friend Rebecca Morley near death in the Spirit Mountains, Han knows that nothing matters more than saving her. The costs of his efforts are steep, but nothing can prepare him for what he soon discovers: the beautiful, mysterious girl he knew as Rebecca is none other than Raisa ana’Marianna, heir to the Queendom of the Fells. Han is hurt and betrayed. He knows he has no future with a blueblood. And, as far as he’s concerned, the princess’s family as good as killed his own mother and sister. But if Han is to fulfill his end of an old bargain, he must do everything in his power to see Raisa crowned queen.

Meanwhile, some people will stop at nothing to prevent Raisa from ascending. With each attempt on her life, she wonders how long it will be before her enemies succeed. Her heart tells her that the thief-turned-wizard Han Alister can be trusted. She wants to believe it—he’s saved her life more than once. But with danger coming at her from every direction, Raisa can only rely on her wits and her iron-hard will to survive—and even that might not be enough.

The Gray Wolf Throne is an epic tale of fierce loyalty, unbearable sacrifice, and the heartless hand of fate.

***

A thousand years ago, two young lovers were betrayed-Alger Waterlow to his death, and thecrimsoncrownHanalea, Queen of the Fells, to a life without love.

Now, once again, the Queendom of the Fells seems likely to shatter apart. For young queen Raisa ana’Marianna, maintaining peace even within her own castle walls is nearly impossible; tension between wizards and Clan has reached a fevered pitch. With surrounding kingdoms seeking to prey on the Fells’ inner turmoil, Raisa’s best hope is to unite her people against a common enemy. But that enemy might be the person with whom she’s falling in love.

Through a complicated web of lies and unholy alliances, former streetlord Han Alister has become a member of the Wizard Council of the Fells. Navigating the cut-throat world of blue blood politics has never been more dangerous, and Han seems to inspire hostility among Clan and wizards alike. His only ally is the queen, and despite the perils involved, Han finds it impossible to ignore his feelings for Raisa. Before long, Han finds himself in possession of a secret believed to be lost to history, a discovery powerful enough to unite the people of the Fells. But will the secret die with him before he can use it?

A simple, devastating truth concealed by a thousand-year-old lie at last comes to light in this stunning conclusion to the Seven Realms series.

 

Review

THE SEVEN REALMS SERIES is probably one of my favorite series. Did it take me a long time to read? Yes. Why? Well, THE DEMON KING started off slow. I mean, I’m pretty sure it took me about eight months to finish it. That said, something kept me going. I really wanted to know what those silver cuffs were on Han’s wrists. I wanted to know how in the world Han and Raisa were going to work out. I definitely didn’t want Rasia with Micha Bayar because no. By the time I got halfway through the book, there was no putting it down. Onto THE EXILE QUEEN—this was a much faster read. I wanted to shake Han for his rash behavior, but I loved that he was loyal to Rebecca a.k.a. Raisa. I did feel like their relationship was a little insta-love, but Han and Raisa just work so well together I didn’t really mind. The only part of THE EXILE QUEEN that made me mad was how easily Raisa agreed to go with Micah toward the end. Maybe it’s because I hate Micah *shrugs*.

THE GREY WOLF THRONE may easily be my favorite book. It’s different from THE DEMON KING and THE EXILE QUEEN in many ways. The setting feels different, the tone feels different—more determined and melancholy. There is a distancing between Han and Raisa that hurts my heart, but Raisa wants to be queen and she wants to do a good job. Han is empowered as well, and I felt like I really saw him become the leader and the street lord in this book. I saw Han for what Han really was—someone who was tortured, someone who really understood that gritty part of the world that we like to ignore. I liked when Raisa was back in the castle, and seeing her go up against these older men who clearly thought they’d have the upper hand. I also liked seeing how they tried to defy her—even try and kill her—yet she still persevered. I felt like THE EXILE QUEEN was definitely Raisa’s time to shine.

THE CRIMSON CROWN had me on edge the entire time. I loved Han’s determination to marry Raisa because he loved her and for no other reason. He was still pretty reckless, but the way he took on the Wizard Council showed all of his strengths and weaknesses. I was irritated with Han for not sitting down with Raisa to have a conversation about all the double crossing he was doing—then again, if he had, there’d have been no drama, and isn’t that why we read books?! Raisa was also very forgiving. Part of me found this strange, as I felt she should have been a little more angry with Han. Part of me also realized that this just showed how much Raisa truly trusted Han, and that was really endearing. This was completely Han’s book, and if anything demonstrated how Han and Raisa were destined for each other in a way that wasn’t annoying.

I love coming to the end of a series and reflecting on how the characters have changed throughout their journey. My initial impressions of Han were that he was hardworking, determined, and really wanted to be good, but the claws of his street life still had a hold on him. He’s also an outcast and doesn’t really seem to fit in in Maris Pines or in his own home. By the end of the series, he’s made a place for himself, won the person he loves most in the world, and has proven he’s a strong leader.

I loved it.

5star

LEGEND Trilogy: Nicole’s Review

Legend TrilogyTitle: LEGEND, PRODIGY, CHAMPION

Author: Marie Lu

Publisher: Speak (Penguin Group)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Release Date: Various

Pages: Various

Synopsis: Since this review covers all three books in the trilogy, I’ll stick with high level plot recaps for books 2 and 3:

LEGEND: What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

PRODIGY: June and Day join the Patriot rebels to win help and passage to the Colonies just as a new Elector Primo ascends. The only catch is they have to assassinate the new Elector. And what if they’re wrong?

CHAMPION: June and Day have sacrificed so much for the people of the Republic—and each other—and now their country is on the brink of a new existence. But just when a peace treaty is imminent, a plague outbreak causes panic in the Colonies, and war threatens the Republic’s border cities once more.

Review:

Okay, I admit it, Marie Lu’s LEGEND series was one I put off reading because I was burned out on dystopian and thought it was overhyped. Newsflash: It pleasantly turns several dystopian tropes on their heads and deserves all the hype it got.

The trilogy is written in first person, dual POV, but unlike some alternating YA, readers can instantly tell which character is narrating by their personality and voice. June’s logic and military training shine through, and her chapters often include a report of time and place, and fact checking reconnaissance throughout. Day, on the other hand, is far more informal and emotional. Each is equally endearing and refreshing, and Marie Lu deserves applause for pulling it off. (Sidenote: June and Day each have their own chapter font and color. Cannot explain how much I loved this! Kudos to the publisher for investing in these books at that level!)

As main characters, June and Day balance each other nicely and neither veers into an all-consuming love fest where the other person is THE ONLY THING that matters. June is worried about her brother’s memory, her old contacts and friends, and the Republic at its highest levels of structure and government. Day, meanwhile, is focused on protecting his little brother, Eden, his best friend, Tess, and in somehow getting them all out of this mess, Republic-be-damned.

The plot succeeds in large part because the characters’ values so often conflict that “love” and “helping the other” becomes a choice both Day and June must make over and over and over again. It’s never easy, and sometimes it’s not even clear that it’s right. I really enjoyed seeing a YA that drew upon these sacrifices and decisions. It made me root for June and Day’s love all the more!

The trilogy unfolds in an impressive plot arc. I’d rank LEGEND and the first half of PRODIGY as superb YA dystopian, yet Lu then takes it into whole new territory for the end of PRODIGY and CHAMPION. More adult-like in themes and complexities. Readers are kept guessing as to whether the MCs will survive or be able to be together. That’s a rarity for me, and it was delightful to sit back and wonder how CHAMPION would end. I loved how Lu pushed this!

One key plot thread emerges at the end of PRODIGY, and it literally stole my breath because I couldn’t believe the author would go there. But she didn’t shirk from it as too many YAs tend to do, and carried it through all the way. It speaks strongly of the series that my favorite of the three is CHAMPION – each gets increasingly better!

Lu also weaves in fantastic worldbuilding that feels particularly genuine and scary because you can see shades of a future that COULD happen: a country divided (Civil War, anyone?), the themes of dictatorship and corporate state, the issues of right and wrong, the question of human rights overall, what constitutes freedom, and what will you fight for?

In the end, Lu’s answer, as well as June’s and Day’s, is family and people. It’s this belief that gives such a strong personal focal point to what could otherwise have felt like a political war between two distant and corrupt states. Lu mixes the personal and worldwide stakes with exceptional talent.

There are many gray answers in this world, but I like that it didn’t become an excuse to view everything as gray—the trilogy definitely sets up clear right and wrong. And then it enjoys making its characters toe that line!

If the series has a fault, it’s that 15 year olds would not have been put in charge of half the stuff June and Day were. This made me chuckle in a few places, but strangely it’s also part of what made LEGEND great because the series easily reads with the subtle complexities and emotional nuances of an adult book, simply with younger MCs. If you can handle the extended suspension of disbelief, it’s well worth your time!

While LEGEND has the pacing and action of a typical dystopian, it has a twistier plot and a LOT more heart. I felt for these characters – Day in particular – and they became “real” in a way not many others do. Can’t wait for the planned movie!! Crossing my fingers for 2016!

5 Stars

5star

-Nicole

Find this trilogy on Amazon.

SECOND OLYMPUS: Nicole’s Review

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00025]Title: SECOND OLYMPUS

Author: K.A. Stewart

Publisher(s): Pirate Ninja Press

Format: Paperback

Genre(s): Fantasy/Steampunk

Release Date: April 21, 2015

Synopsis:

I loved this book! It felt like a breath of fresh air among the sometimes stale mix of Greek gods-themed storylines.

In case you haven’t guessed from the cover, SECOND OLYMPUS has steampunk overtones, and that’s part of what makes it great. K.A. Stewart opts to mash up Greek mythology with air ships and the gas-light street-born grittiness of a WWI-esque era.

As a result of Apollo dying in the long-ago war between the gods, the world has been left without a sun, so all light comes from Artemis’ tower and the lamps flickering in the streets. Stewart does an excellent job conveying the consequences of living for centuries within a crowded, walled city with no natural light: deep mining projects that cause the very ground to become unstable, tenement housing built and rebuilt on top of itself year after year, the challenge of growing and cultivating enough food for people.

Review:

I quickly found myself steeped in the world. It’s a haunting take on our own industrial revolution and shows a world on the brink without veering into the stereotypes of true dystopian territory.

The book also shines in Stewart’s portrayal of the gods themselves, mainly Artemis (we’ll get back to her in a moment), Persephone, Demeter, Hades and Hephaestus. Yes, these characters are still gods, but they are gods brought to their KNEES in a way that flips our old assumptions of power on their heads and gives even the most powerful very human-seeming flaws, vulnerabilities, and redeeming qualities.

The story is driven largely by two pairs of characters.

On the mortal side, we have Geoff and Lia, who have grown up together in the dirty wards of Elysia and have managed to steal a good bit of happiness from rather terrible circumstances. I loved the normalness and everyday love of their relationship!

Geoff has been crippled from birth by bad knees, not that he ever lets it stop him (he navigates mine tunnels and freehand climbs a rope to an airship), and he’s been gifted with a unique power to influence those around him as a muse. Most often, I’ve seen the muses used as a convenient nudge for a heroic MC. Stewart takes a broader approach that captures the true power of inspiration and imagination inherent in the muses. I really liked that switch.

Geoff is an unassuming and very grounded MC, which is a brilliant contrast to his antagonist in Artemis. He carefully guards his power, understanding full well the level of influence and control he could have over others should he so choose.

On the more-than-mortal side of the board, we have Artemis and Heracles. I loved these two! There is so much dark backstory hinted at here…it’s incredibly compelling. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Artemis might take the prize for most intriguing and well-crafted crazy villainess of the year. Stewart expertly gives us revealing glimpses of the once great, noble and innocent huntress, while also making it painfully clear that by the book’s opening the virgin goddess has fallen to near-total insanity. Artemis is clever, strong…and lives in complete fear (and occasional regret) of what she’s done in the past and of losing what she’s wrought for the future. I alternated between wanting her to die a drawn-out painful death and wanting to see her redeem herself because she’s just so darn fun to read.

Heracles, then, is the perfect foil for Artemis. We learn that the former hero teamed with Artemis for good reason at the war’s beginnings, but over the millennia he’s become aware that he’s now playing bodyguard for the evil side. His reactions and actions in light of that realization drive the heart of the plot. Stewart’s Heracles is neither the plucky hero nor the annoying too-perfect rival—roles all too commonly assigned to him in other tales. Instead, he’s more remorseful, jaded. A man searching for a way to earn redemption while keeping his word, and that makes him altogether FAR more interesting.

One other aspect worth mentioning is Stewart’s clever interpretation of Artemis’ “hunt.” The hunt is another Greek element that’s been done in several ways. For SECOND OLYMPUS, Stewart puts a paranormal twist on the goddess’ ability to create and manipulate the hounds of her hunt, formerly men in their own rights. It’s eerie and telling, and strikes the perfect tone for this epic Greek tale.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this one immensely!

5 Stars

-Nicole

(Originally posted on FantasyFaction.com)

Find this book on Amazon.

CODEX ALERA: Nicole’s Series Review

Furies of Calderon

Title: FURIES OF CALDERON, ACADEM’S FURY, CURSOR’S FURY, CAPTAIN’S FURY, PRINCEPS’ FURY, FIRST LORD’S FURY

Author: Jim Butcher

Publisher: Ace

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Release Date: Various

Review:

I loved this series so much! Jim Butcher is one of those authors people have always told me to read, but I was hesitant for so many years. Then, I fell in love with his DRESDEN FILES and CODEX ALERA now ranks among my top 5 beloved series of all time.

It’s an excellent mix of epic and military fantasy, with an incredibly deep cast of characters. With each book, I found myself cheering for Butcher’s MC, Tavi, more and more. He IS what fantasy heroes are made of. And the villain!! Ooh, guys, chills. One of the best written, truly creepy villains ever.

Let’s all agree—battle scenes are awesome! And part of what makes them great, in my mind, is when the author pays attention to the level of detail found in history. From an army’s structure to camp logistics, to weaponry and strategies, history provides a good template. I love it when authors honor the limits of history and force characters to work only with the tools and knowledge that would have been available to them in that era.

CODEX ALERA is one of the best examples of this. Butcher has created an amazing, intricate world with elemental furies, non-human allies and enemies, and other strong fantasy elements, but the heart of the story is wrapped in the military trappings of the Roman Legion. It’s the best of both worlds, and I can’t get enough!

The series is everything I love about fantasy: great characters, a beautifully developed world, gritty action and hard choices, epic good vs. evil battles where the stakes keep rising and the heroes keep paying the price, and a plot that kept even me guessing (seriously brilliant military strategy and applications of magic).

Like a little history in your fantasy? Check out these reads too.

5 Stars

-Nicole

Find the series on Amazon.