The Crown’s Game

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye is the first book in a young adult fantasy series full of magic, Russian royals and more.

Vika Andreyev and Nikolai Karimov are very different people with one extraordinary thing in common… magic. Since they were little Nikolai and Vika have been training for one job, to become the imperial enchanter to the Tsar of Russia. But there can only be one enchanter, so the Tsar enacts The Crown’s Game.

The Crown’s Game is a secret, ancient duel of magical skill, pitting enchanter against enchanter until a winner has been declared. And for the loser? Death. But circumstance and conscience get the best of Vika and Nikolai and neither know if they will be able to finish this brutal game. Who will win and at what cost?

Hmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. Ever since I’ve read The Night Circus, I’ve loved a good magical duel/love story and this definitely was that. Vika and Nikolai are connected in so many ways and yet one of them must die. I just wish I liked the characters more. I wasn’t really impressed by any of our characters. I didn’t find them terribly unique and couldn’t find myself rooting for one over the other. I did warm to all three of our main characters (Pasha, Vika & Nikolai) toward the end, which is why I will have to read the next book in the series. The book did get more interesting in the end.

The game itself didn’t really feel like much of a game to me. There was no real audience, even the Tsar, who is running the game, doesn’t witness any of the magics. I don’t know, it’s a magical duel and the first turn is to paint all of the buildings on a street in St. Petersburg. Really? I just wish there was more magic and more of an actual duel.

Did this book keep me entertained while it lasted? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably not. I am sure there are a ton of people who would really like this book but there are others out there that have pulled me in more.

Not bad but not my favorite. This one gets a grudging three stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Our Dark Duet

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab is the sequel to This Savage Song, a YA urban fantasy duology.

After escaping their own personal evils, Kate Harker and August Flynn went their separate ways. Kate, left Verity and joined a group of college rebels called the Warden’s, attempting to keep Prosperity safe from ending up like Verity–awash in monsters. August, has become the leader of the FTA, taking on Leo’s role as warrior and losing much of his humanity in the process. August fights to keep the monsters of Verity out of their side of the city and win the war.

But a new evil that thrives on chaos will bring Kate back to Verity, to August and the monsters waiting both within and without. Can August and Kate overcome their difference, their inner demons, and win the war?

Ultimately, this was a satisfying conclusion to a good duology. I am glad Schwab didn’t pull any punches when she wrote this one. This book is promoted as a dark urban fantasy and I think this definitely gets delivered.

I did really enjoy this world of monsters and mayhem. I love this idea of having to face your own evil; that your acts cause actual repercussions in the form of monsters. The fact that you have to actually fight your inner demons is just awesome.

The ending was the highlight of this book. It was just fantastic, they way Schwab pulls at our emotions and yet it feels so right, like the book couldn’t have ended in any other way.

Schwab did the same thing in this one that she did in the first one… she introduces side characters, really interesting side characters and really doesn’t do anything with them throughout the rest of the book. I loved the Wardens. They seemed like they were a really fun team and would add an interesting dynamic to the story. I kept expecting them to show up and help Kate in Verity, but alas it wasn’t to be. Maybe Schwab will write a novella about them or something. But it was just a disappointment to get so much of them in the first 50 or so pages and nothing else.

There were also things I expected from August. Things I thought were being hinted toward but were also never delivered. Again, maybe Schwab isn’t done with this world but I was left with quite a few questions.

Ultimately a good duology but probably not one I would read again. This one gets three stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Ash and Quill

Ash and Quill by Rachel Caine is the third book in The Great Library series. Since finding out the dark secrets behind the Great Library, Jess and his friend have been running for their lives. After escaping the Library’s clutches yet again, the gang has run straight into yet more danger. Now they are hostages within the walls of Burner run Philadelphia. But Jess and his friends have cards to play and the know-how to build a machine that could turn the tide of conflict forever.

As time is running out, the crew must decide how far they are willing to go to stop the Archivist and restore the Great Library to it’s original glory. Will Jess be willing to give up everything to do what he knows is right? And will this group of rebels finally reach it’s breaking point?

This is such an interesting series. I just love thinking about what the world would be like if it were run by an epic library. It’s even more fun to think about the corruption within the Library that Caine writes about. One doesn’t think about a library and immediately think about politics and power struggles, so it’s just neat to contemplate.

Introducing the Burner community in this book adds another layer to the story. We see that they aren’t just evil book burning brute, but that they are real people with real concerns who have been led by fanatics for too long… much like the Great Library.

There were parts of the story that did drag for me a little bit. I kept wondering if we were going to be stuck in Philadelphia for the whole book or if we were ever going to see the gang actually strike against the Library–put plans into action. The last hundred pages definitely gave me what I was craving and we got to see more of Jess at his best… or worst depending on how you see it.

This book definitely sets the stage for the epic–I won’t say final because there are two books left–battle to come. In the books to come I foresee twists, turns and a lot of intrigue.

This one was a wow like the first book but it was an entertaining read, so I am still going to give it four stars. A fun read for book and dystopian lovers. This one is technically a young adult fiction but adults will enjoy it too!

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Wild Robot

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown is a juvenile fiction novel up for this years 2017-2018 Black Eyed Susan award.

When a shipment of robots crashes on a deserted island, one lone robot is left intact. When Roz is accidentally awoken by a curious otter, she opens her eyes for the first time, alone, on a remote and wild island. Not knowing anything about her whereabouts or how she got there, Roz does the only thing she can do, survive.

Slowly Roz begins to adapt to her surroundings. She watches and learns survival techniques from the animals around her. Eventually, Roz learns to speak the language of the animals but they are weary of the monster invading their island. When an accident causes Roz to adopt a baby gosling, the rest of the island begins to see Roz for the asset she very well may be.

This is a story of survival. A story of adapting to the world around you and working together to beat the odds.

You wouldn’t think a book about robots and wildlife would mesh well but it surprisingly does. You really do get a lot out of this book. We learn about different animal habitats and habits. You get to see the good and the bad parts of mother nature in ways that aren’t overly graphic for the kids and are done in an abstract, educational way.

There were also a lot of great lessons in this book. Team work, determination and never giving up, accepting ones differences and finding the beauty in even the worst circumstances. This is definitely a book for readers of all ages and quite appropriate for it’s intended 4th – 6th grade audience.

I actually chose to listen to the audio book of this one, so I only flipped through some of the images that accompany the book. What images I did see, really did add to the story. I can see this being a real appeal to reluctant readers who need a bit of a break here or there. As for the audio, I thought it was really well done. It was neat getting to listen to all of the different voices–this would make a really great road trip audio book for the kids. My only gripe about the audio is that the last 20 minutes or so had music accompanying it. It was really difficult to concentrate on the story with the music. I think maybe it was a little too loud.

I could see this being a very easy read that would appeal to both boys and girls. It would make an excellent book club choice. This one gets 4 high stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Black Witch

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series that deals with prejudices, inequality and more.

Elloren Gardner has lived a sheltered life with her two brothers and her uncle on the edge of Gardneria. She grows herbs, plays the violin and wants nothing more than to be their small town’s apothecary. She has no magic whatsoever, even though her grandmother was the most powerful witch in all of Earthea.

When Elloren’s aunt shows up insisting that her 17 year old niece wand fast–a marriage ritual that bonds couples together with magic–Elloren’s uncle sends her to Verpax University to become a real apothecary. But university isn’t what she thought it would be.

Elves room with Gardnerians, Lupine and even the foul Icarals attend classes together and naive Elloren is unprepared for this world. She is also extremely unprepared for the prejudices she faces–Elloren is the spitting image of her grandmother and although that makes her a hero in the Gardnerian eyes, all the other races scorn and ridicule her.

Can Elloren survive in a school that doesn’t seem to want her? Can she resist her aunt’s terrible brand of persuasion? And what side will she choose when evil rears its head?

I should start this review by saying, read the reviews before you pick up this one. Know what you are getting yourself into because there seems to be a lot of competing views and controversy about this one.

The Black Witch is rife with controversy. Themes of racism, brutality, slavery, extreme prejudices, gender inequality, political upheaval… you name it and this book probably addresses it in some way. Even our main characters are extremely prejudice and do some really awful things before they realize what they are doing and how it makes others feel.

The first quarter, maybe even the first half of this book has many many cringe worthy moments. You will cringe. You will not feel good about reading what you are reading. But isn’t that the mark of a good book, when it gets you thinking and feeling to that extent? If you are looking for a light read, this one is not for you. I don’t know if the author meant to do this but I could see many parallels to today’s society and the social upheaval occurring in the book.

I actually really enjoyed this one. There is something about magical universities that I can’t resist. The characters felts like a group of misfits who were out to change the world–the best kind of misfits. Elloren wasn’t my favorite, especially with her wishy washy beginning but she does grow on you. You sort of know that she has to be the black witch, so you are waiting and waiting to see something that proves it… but I guess that is for another book.

No word on when the next book is going to be out, which is kind of a bummer. But it looks like there is a prequel if you are interested. This book makes you think, which is why I am going to give it 4 stars. Yes, it can be a harsh read but I think it was meant to be that way.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Now I Rise

Now I Rise by Kiersten White is the second book in The Conqueror’s Saga and it is just as vicious and delicious as the first.

We pick up a few months after the first book. Lada has left Mehmed to pursue her dreams of Wallachia and the thought of Mehmed only pains her broken heart, as does her abandonment by her brother Radu. Lada and her men forge a bloody path home as they work to take back Wallachia but brute force isn’t working and she must find another way. If only she had her brother’s intellect and keen eye for strategy.

Radu on the other hand will do anything for his beloved Mehmed, anything to mean something to him, including infiltrate the very walls of Constantinople as a spy. But even as Radu’s skills make him an excellent spy, he finds that his heart is conflicted. How much of himself will he have to sacrifice to finally earn a place at Mehmed’s side?

As the Dracul siblings fight to gain their hearts desires, they must both decide how far they are willing to go and what they are willing to give up along the way.

I can’t tell you enough how much I love this series. It is well paced and intriguing and I just want to read more. The first book, And I Darken, was wonderfully written and this one definitely follows in it’s footsteps–no second book syndrome here. Each of these books feel complete in their own ways and yet you can’t wait for more.

There’s something about the time period and the history that really pulls you in. Such an interesting reimagining of Vlad the Impaler; I just love seeing Vlad as a girl and one that defies gender roles in wicked and dark ways. This book focuses on the Ottoman’s conquering of Constantinople and the Dracul reclamation of Wallachia. This series makes me want to study the history to find out where the divide between fiction and history lie.

In the first book I just adored Lada. She was vicious and strong and full of this burning life. She continues to be all of this and more in Now I Rise but her brother, Radu, becomes just as interesting. He is savage and strong in his own way, while still being vulnerable. Where Lada’s power is fear, Radu’s is his ability to gain the favor of almost anyone he meets. Radu is a master manipulator and Lada is purely brute force–I can only imagine what they could achieve if they were to come together.

There is a darkness to these books that are just so appealing. They are vicious without making you cringe. They draw you in–that’s really all there is to it. This one gets 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire is a Wayward Children novel that tells the story of the Jack and Jill we meet in McGuire’s first book Every Heart a Doorway.

There was once twin girls, Jacqueline and Jillian, born into a house of sterotypes and strict rules. Jacqueline, never Jack, was raised to be the perfect daughter, raised to be a prim, proper little girl full of frills and finery. Jillian, never Jill, was raised to be her father’s tomboy, the rough and tumbled son he never had. And so identical twins, who should be closer than any siblings can be, drifted along their own paths.

When boredom brings them back together at twelve, the girls follow an impossible path down an impossible stairway and discover a world filled with magic, mayhem, a mad scientist and the possibility of life beyond death. Jack and Jill fall down a hill and what they find at the bottom will change them forever.

“Some adventures begin easily. It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porrous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole. Some adventures require nothing more than a willing heart and the ability to trip over the cracks in the world.
Other adventures must be committed to before they have even properly begun. How else will they know the worthy from the unworthy, if they do not require a certain amount of effort on the part of the ones who would undertake them? Some adventures are cruel, because it is the only way they know to be kind.”

McGuire is just fantastic! I love these dark little fairy tales. There is something so gritty and yet honest about them. We get familiar elements of the fairy tales we grew up with but we get to re-imagine them in totally different ways.

I just love this idea of doorways and that the worlds find the children who need them, but they aren’t always meant to stay.

Gender roles and stereotypes are enforced and then reversed. In fact I’d say this book abolishes them completely and attempts to focus on the individual over gender roles–to define our own roles because there is no one way to… be.

Although, we get to see characters we are familiar with, we see them in a whole new light. This book can easily be read as a standalone and acts as more of a mini prequel to the Jack and Jill we see in Every Heart a Doorway. This is a short read, longer then a novella but not quite a novel, that you can devour in less then a weekend.

I really enjoyed this one and am happy to add it to my collection. Keep writing McGuire! This one gets 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-