Friday, August 29, 2014

Rare Ratings and Recommended Reads

Happy Friday All!

I had an unusual day today wherein I didn't have any reviews or interviews scheduled, so I thought I would put together a post that featured some of my recent favorite reads. In four years and over 550 reviews on this blog, I've only given a 5 star rating to 30 books. Apparently, I'm a bit stingy with my praise ;-) Lately though I've come across a number of books that have joined the ranks in my rarest of rating categories, and sometimes my short 3-4 paragraph reviews just don't allow me to say all the things I want to say, so below are a few gushing words about three books that simply blew me away.

(Available now from Avon)

After three long years of war, starkly handsome Wynter Atrialan will have his vengeance on Summerlea's king by taking one of the man's beautiful, beloved daughters as his bride. But though peace is finally at hand, Wynter's battle with the Ice Heart, the dread power he embraced to avenge his brother's death, rages on.

Khamsin Coruscate, Princess of Summerlea and summoner of Storms, has spent her life exiled to the shadows of her father's palace. Reviled by her father, marriage to Wintercraig's icy king was supposed to be a terrible punishment, but instead offers Kham her first taste of freedom—and her first taste of overwhelming passion.

As fierce, indomitable Wynter weathers even Khamsin's wildest storms, surprising her with a tenderness she never expected, Kham wants more than Wynter's passion—she yearns for his love. But the power of the Ice Heart is growing, dangerous forces are gathering, and a devastating betrayal puts Khamsin and Wynter to the ultimate test.

The Winter King is one of those books I bought strictly for me, a book meant just for fun in between review reads that I never intended to feature on the blog, but I fell so much in love with Wynter and Khamsin that it became impossible for me not to fangirl about it just a little.

I am someone who absolutely adores characters that are largely underestimated; men and women who are beaten down, isolated, or social pariahs in their given worlds, and from the moment I bore witness to the treatment Khamsin endures at the hands of her father I knew she was a woman I would want to spend time with again and again. Despite being an outcast in her own home, Khamsin is full of fight and fire, going toe to toe with Wynter from beginning to end without once being cowed by the force of his personality or power.

Wynter is driven by pain and vengeance, fair in his dealings with Summerlea but also firm and unyielding in the terms of their surrender. He's the type of man whose presence can be felt before he even enters a room–literal and figurative cold clinging to him and making people suck in a breath as he walks by, but that only serves to make his gradual thaw thanks to Khamsin all the more enjoyable.

For lovers of sweeping fantasy worlds and lead couples who are strong individually but even stronger together, The Winter King should not be missed.

(releases September 9th from HarperTeen)

Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she's not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She's even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won't risk her future, or the dare, on something so matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time's running short. Sam must decide who she can trust...and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

It's the rare book that can enrage me to such a degree that I have to get up and walk away from it just to give myself a breather. Rites of Passage is the first book I've had to set aside for the sake of my emotional health in years, and that means it's something truly special indeed. I'm not typically someone who hates villainous characters, instead I tend to love them because they hold me in some kind of sickeningly fascinating thrall that ensures I'm caught up in the story, but I hated some of the individuals in this book with the fire of a thousand suns.

The people surrounding Sam, especially the ones who should have been in her corner cheering her on every step of the way, are cruel, cowardly and so infuriating my fingers are actually trying to curl into fists as I'm typing this. Through it all though, Sam is extraordinary, and her story is one I will never be able to forget. Pre-order this book immediately.

*My full review and an interview with Joy will go up next week, so be sure and check back then!

(releases October 14th from Balzer + Bray)

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Confession time. I have a few bookish pet peeves as I think we all do. One is when characters swallow insults and hurtful words or actions from those closest to them without a word of protest. Who absorb the blows and then easily forgive when no adequate apology has been given or olive branch extended. Perhaps I'm a more vengeful person than most, but I like my characters to have some backbone and stand up for themselves when the situation calls for it (though I do acknowledge that there are times when inaction is better than action and silence a mightier weapon than words).

Meira is my dream heroine. She's madly in love with her best friend and wants nothing more than to please the man who's raised her after her parents died when Winter fell, but though she loves and respects them both, she doesn't allow them to run roughshod over her. When they hurt her deeply, she lets them know it, but she does so with maturity and inarguable logic rather than emotional words honed to sharp points and carelessly aimed. She's also a fighter to her core, someone who refuses to stay down even when the illusion of safety found at rock bottom is a nearly overwhelming temptation.

I can't say enough good things about this book (and I'll say more when my review goes up in October), so I hope you add it to your lists!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Jewel

The Lone City #1
Amy Ewing
Young Adult/Dystopian
358 pages
Available September 2nd
Source: BEA

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
The Jewel means wealth. The Jewel means beauty. The Jewel means royalty. But for girls like Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Not just any kind of servitude. Violet, born and raised in the Marsh, has been trained as a surrogate for the royalty—because in the Jewel the only thing more important than opulence is offspring.

Purchased at the surrogacy auction by the Duchess of the Lake and greeted with a slap to the face, Violet (now known only as #197) quickly learns of the brutal truths that lie beneath the Jewel’s glittering facade: the cruelty, backstabbing, and hidden violence that have become the royal way of life.

Violet must accept the ugly realities of her existence... and try to stay alive. But then a forbidden romance erupts between Violet and a handsome gentleman hired as a companion to the Duchess’s petulant niece. Though his presence makes life in the Jewel a bit brighter, the consequences of their illicit relationship will cost them both more than they bargained for.

The Jewel, like the overall design of its cover, has some notable similarities to a number of well-known dystopian tales, familiar elements stealing much of our focus in the early chapters since we can’t help but draw comparisons. Before we can get ourselves too tangled up trying to figure out which plot threads or world-building elements we’ve seen where though, our attention is beautifully redirected, and we find ourselves riveted as Ms. Ewing takes those familiar pieces and reworks them to create something that stands on its own.

Perhaps the key element in shifting our focus from what we’ve seen before to what’s in front us currently is Violet herself, Ms. Ewing isolating her socially to such a degree that our time with her feels uniquely intimate, we as readers sharing in her fear of the future in a way those who are with her physically simply can’t. Her isolation comes after she’s auctioned off, waking up in her new home with a mistress so brilliantly hateful that our allegiance to Violet–already strong–soars off the charts. Though she has a friend in Annabelle, her mute lady-in-waiting, that friendship is shallow at best simply due to the fact that they both exist under the Duchess’s thumb. True friendship is based on loyalty and trust, two things that neither Violet nor Annabelle can give to one another no matter how much they wish to, so we become the only ones capable of supporting Violet fully.

Even though our extreme distaste for the Duchess would have had us rooting for any heroine forced to endure her changing moods and the rewards and punishments that accompany them, Violet proves herself more than worthy of our unwavering affection. Through her stark terror of the unknown she stands tall and strong, fighting well-chosen battles with the Duchess to show she is not going to lose herself in the title of surrogate, but also knowing when to let the Duchess win a round or two as well. We fear for her with every chapter, the Duchess utterly unpredictable in her day to day treatment of Violet, and so we spend our time wondering if the next chapter will be the one to show us that what we’ve already seen of this world isn’t yet the worst of it.

While both Violet and the Duchess inspire a great deal of love and hate respectively, the romance between Violet and Ash leaves us a bit wanting. Part of the problem is Ash comes into the picture late in the story, past the halfway mark, so we simply don’t have the same time to get to know him as we do Violet. By that point we’ve also come to value the aforementioned intimacy established by Violet’s loneliness, and Ash’s presence adds a new distance to our relationship given the speed with which their feelings develop. Granted the seriousness of their circumstances make the swiftness of their romance a touch more believable, but there just isn’t enough page time between them to achieve the emotional depth always hoped for with a romantic relationship.

Overall, there are some true highlights to The Jewel, namely in protagonist Violet and the villainous female royalty who believe social status is the only determining factor of human worth, but the romance and the initial similarities to other books of the same genre keep this first installment from a higher rating. We’re left rather abruptly at an enormous turning point as well, so those who dislike being kicked out of the story right when the action picks up should be aware upfront of the type of ending they can expect.

Rating: 3.5/5

Find Amy:

This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cover Reveal: Covering Kendall

Today I'm really excited to share with you the cover for Covering Kendall by Julie Brannagh, a contemporary romance releasing from Avon on October 21st. I'm a huge fan of sports-themed romances, I think mostly because I'm lacking even a single athletic bone in my body, so I look forward to meeting Drew and Kendall!!

Kendall Tracy, General Manager of the San Francisco Miners, is not one for rash decisions or one-night stands. But when she finds herself alone in a hotel room with a heart-stoppingly gorgeous man-who looks oddly familiar-Kendall throws her own rules out the window…and they blow right back into her face. Drew McCoy should look familiar, he’s a star player for her team’s archrival the Seattle Sharks. Which would basically make Drew and Kendall the Romeo and Juliet of professional football…well, without all the dying. Not that it’s an issue. They agree to pretend their encounter never happened. Nothing good can come from it anyway, right? Drew’s not so sure. Kendall may be all wrong, but he can’t stop thinking about her and he finds that some risks are worth taking. Because the stakes are always highest when you’re playing for keeps.

I like this cover well enough, it's perfectly cute, but I do have to wonder why there's nothing football related anywhere on it. Oh well, I still want to read it ;)

Waiting on Wednesday: Dreamfire

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Kit Alloway
Paranormal Young Adult
Releases February 24th, 2015 from St. Martin's Griffin

From Amazon:

Unlike most 17-year-olds, Joshlyn Weaver has a sacred duty. She's the celebrated daughter of the dream walkers, a secret society whose members enter the Dream universe we all share and battle nightmares. If they fail, the emotional turmoil in the Dream could boil over and release nightmares into the World.

Despite Josh's reputation as a dream walking prodigy, she's haunted by her mistakes. A lapse in judgment and the death of someone she loved have shaken her confidence. Now she's been assigned an apprentice, a boy whose steady gaze sees right through her, and she's almost as afraid of getting close to him as she is of getting him killed.

But when strangers with impossible powers begin appearing in the Dream, it isn't just Will that Josh has to protect–it's the whole World.

I've only read one other series that deals with dream walking (I think. I've read a lot of books so it's possible I've read more than one about this particular ability and just don't remember. Awesome.) and I absolutely loved both books so I'm hoping I'll have the same luck with Dreamfire. Maybe dream walkers are going to prove themselves to be young adult fail-safes for me. I have high hopes.

I just really like the sound of this one, I'm a sucker for characters who are emotionally or physically damaged in some way, and Josh, with weight of loved one's death on her shoulders, fits that bill pretty perfectly. Plus, romance. I'm easy to please, what can I say ;-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Heir of Fire

Throne of Glass #3
Sarah J. Maas
Young Adult/Fantasy
565 pages
Available September 2nd
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Heir of Fire returns us to beloved heroine Celaena Sardothien, but the girl we find in the opening third of this book is a very different girl from the one we've known thus far, stripped of her arrogance and torn from the anger and rage that have acted as the mooring line tethering her to the mortal coil. Without the beautiful ferocity of her vengeance driving her forward, we're left with a Celaena who embodies vulnerability, the number of times she's been beaten down finally totaling one more than she's seemingly equipped to handle. Where a Celaena who's lost a bit of her fight may sound like someone who would frustrate, instead we find we've never wanted to embrace her more, her gorgeous humanity proving that weakness is not in the simple needing of help, but rather in needing it and refusing to ask for it.

Celaena is well aware she's hit rock bottom in the wake of Nehemia's demise, and because she's cognizant of her emotional state, she takes the lifeline thrown to her by Rowan and begins to lift herself up out of the darkness. It's not to say she meets Rowan with open arms and a smiling face, oh no, even in a bad place she's still got a spark of her fire, and she and Rowan embark on an epic battle of wills that's as amusing as it is breathtaking. Ms. Maas could have taken an easier route with this story, the separation of Celaena and Chaol at the end of Crown of Midnight and the introduction of Rowan in this third installment acting as the opening notes of an all-too familiar melody, but thankfully she doesn't rob characters or readers of the tale they deserve. In place of romance, what grows between Rowan and Celaena is the type of friendship every single person who reads this book yearns for–absolute and unwavering when each of them needs an extra shoulder to carry some of their weight.

Some readers may find themselves a touch disappointed given the fact Chaol and Celaena are not reunited at any point despite the impressive length of Heir of Fire, but their separation is nothing if not necessary. Chaol's fear of who Celaena truly is would have only compounded her own reluctance to embrace her heritage, dragging her down rather than building her up as she so desperately needs in the wake of Nehemia's loss. Ms. Maas instead makes the brilliant decision to keep them apart, allowing each of them room to grow into who they need to be without the other's expectations or reservations limiting the scope of what they can achieve. We of course ache for the two of them to find their way back to one another and overcome the nearly insurmountable obstacles facing them as a couple, but we can only smile in anticipation as we read, knowing the wait will more than worth it in the end.

Overall, Heir of Fire is a stunning addition to this series, the slowness of it in parts granting readers the time to explore the fabric of each character, getting to know them in a way action sequence after action sequence wouldn't allow us, and then, when we've just been lulled into a sort of reflective quietness, we're smacked in the face with a reminder of how brutal the King of Adarlan can be. Our hatred for him burns brighter than ever before in the closing chapters, but through the blinding haze of our rage is the comfort that comes from knowing that Celaena, now ready to accept every part of herself, will never let his actions go unanswered. She will come at him with everything in her overwhelmingly impressive arsenal, and I simply cannot wait for the moment when she returns her every loss to those responsible tenfold.

Rating: 5/5

Find Sarah:
This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Trial By Fire

The Worldwalker Trilogy #1
Josephine Angelini
Paranormal Young Adult
384 pages
Feiwel & Friends
Available September 2nd
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily's other self in this alternate universe.

What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can't hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected.

Trial by Fire has all the makings of a sprawling fantasy novel, sharing with us a world full of unfathomable creatures and witchcraft, but at its heart is a heroine who keeps us anchored at all times, fully invested in her emotional well being from beginning to end. Ms. Angelini ensures we don’t get weighed down by all the supernatural elements by introducing us to young Lily in our world, letting us bear witness to a heartbreaking moment where her romantic hopes go down in flames, and neither Lily nor we escape without feeling the burn. Only once we’re thoroughly connected to Lily thanks to a shared pain and disappointment does Ms. Angelini shift us to a completely different Salem, one full of monsters and magic where the lives of many are regulated by the tyrannical hands of few.

Lily is a true joy of a heroine, her hope that longtime friendship with best friend Tristan has finally reached the pivotal moment in which it becomes more in the opening chapters something that instantly resonates, causing us to wish for the best for her even when we know thanks to the synopsis that neither our wish nor hers will come true. After having a brutal dose of reality shoved down her throat, Lily could have easily wallowed in her misery and drawn no blame from us, but instead she picks herself up upon finding herself in an alternate Salem and does her best to make sense of it. This determined attitude continues throughout Trial by Fire, Lily fielding whatever is thrown at her with a joke at the ready and a willingness to do whatever it takes to learn, adapt, or fight when the need arises.

Many readers–like myself–who have read innumerable young adult novels over the past few years have developed a bit of a nervous tic whenever a young woman finds herself surrounded by several guys her age, dreading the moment where the mere presence of two men in her life ultimately results in the development of romantic feelings for both of them. Luckily for us however, Ms. Angelini doesn’t lead us down that well-worn path, Rowan and Tristan’s positions by Lily’s side staying blessedly free of frustrating romantic entanglements. What we get instead is an intriguingly complex relationship between Lily and Rowan, his former relationship with the other version of Lily, Lillian, an aspect of the story that has us riveted to the pages. The feelings between them are tangled threads of misplaced anger and distrust, and as the story progresses, the addition of hesitant affection and genuine friendship only serves to tangle those threads further until the two of them become a beautiful knot of romantic possibility.

The only small drawback to this first installment is the persistence of one vitally important question: why Lily? We know from the beginning that Lillian is responsible for bringing Lily to her world, and while we eventually get the first small inklings as to why Lillian began her campaign of blood and death, we’re left completely in the dark as to what Lillian needs Lily for in the first place. Granted, this is the first book in the series and the answer to that particular question is likely one that has layers upon layers that will be revealed in time. Overall though, Trial By Fire is action-packed, the death toll rising with every chapter, but where there is pain and suffering there is also warmth and hope in the form of young Lily, and I simply can’t wait to see the type of woman she becomes.

Rating: 4.5/5

Find Josephine

This book was sent to me by the author free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.