[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

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The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

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[All We Have Left] Wendy Mills

People were living their lives, doing everyday things, when suddenly the planes hit, and time ripped into two pages titled ‘Before 9/11’ and ‘After.’ With their clumsy stories, they are saying: ‘We all felt it. We remember where we were when the world changed.’

But what about those of us who could not remember that day? I’ve seen the footage, watched the big, clumsy planes crash into the towers like some sort of low-budget action film. Which is worse? To know that things used to be different, or to have never known that more innocent day at all?

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All We Have Left is a story about two girls affected by one of the most infamous moments in US history, the attacks of September 11th. Although they don’t know it, that day left its mark on them in ways that will bring them together 15 years later. Alia and Jesse’s stories are woven together through past and present, before and after. All We Have Left brings up the questions that many dealt with in the aftermath of 9/11: whether they were there, like Alia; someone who lost a loved one, like Jesse; or one of the many who just remember. What do you do when the world has changed and you can’t understand why? What do you do when your family has been fractured out of your control?

Although September 11th happened 15 years ago, the setting is very contemporary. All We Have Left is divided into the two periods, the now and then. The “then” is very vivid, even before it gets into the events of that day. I felt that it was the strongest of the two settings, even though I thought that the characters were weaker. The “now” is up to date with what’s going on in the world, especially in relation to racism, terror, and the way that they’re sometimes horrifically connected. The characters in the “now” setting were initially very bland and typical of a young adult high school setting. I was glad that it switched between the two.

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[An Ember in the Ashes] Sabaa Tahir

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An Ember in the Ashes is a story about Laia and Elias, two people from very different backgrounds. Laia is a member of the Scholar class, a people who were defeated by Elias’ people, the Martials. There shouldn’t be anything that drives them together, especially when Elias is a Mask, an elite fighting force that the Martials use to terrorize and imprison Scholars like Laia’s brother. But when Laia puts herself in a dangerous situation for the Scholar Resistance in order to help secure the release of her brother, their paths cross in unlikely ways. How can a Scholar and a Martial find common ground? And will they escape with their lives?  

I can see why this book was so hyped up. It’s the reason I wanted to read it. The reason I was so eager to get my hands on a copy and was incredibly disappointed when NetGalley turned me down for an ARC. However, I feel like the hype was a smidge too much. An Ember in the Ashes is a page-turner for sure; I was disappointed when I had to put it down to pursue my adult-life obligations. The only reason I say it was too hyped up is because while it promises that it’s inspired by Ancient Rome, I was disappointed by the lack of world building. I did feel that the book relied too much on that blurb–it was like we were meant to fill in the setting ourselves with only a little detail given us. I wish that more concrete descriptions were given to us! There are points in the story, like the festival that Laia goes to, that are described really beautifully. Ultimately, I’m disappointed that the world wasn’t as expansive as I wanted it to be. The Roman-esque setting was a big attraction for me and I wanted to see more of the world. I’m hoping that it will be expanded on in the next book.

What was cool about An Ember in the Ashes was the fantasy aspect of it. Learning about the culture of the Masks (the silver mask literally attaches and merges with their skin! Freaky!) and the Empire was really interesting. The world may not have been as richly described, but the more minute aspects of daily life was something that I could get behind. I liked the differences between the Scholar and Martial cultures. One’s more peaceful, yet they have a Scholar Resistance. The other is military based, yet a lot of the Masks question the level of the Empire’s cruelty toward the Scholars. The differences in their culture are used to highlight that not everyone views everything in black and white terms. I liked that there were sympathetic characters on the Martial side and questionable characters on the Scholar side. Each also have their own legends on why the Scholars  lost and the Empire won, and I’m looking forward to seeing the other lands on the next books! I hope that happens.

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[Gambit: The Prodigy Chronicles I] C.L. Denault

19314543Gambit is the first in a dystopian series by author C.L. Denault and is also her debut novel. Gambit follows Willow Kent, a girl who has fully embraced her life in the Outlying Lands far from the Core. Blending in and avoiding the gazes of the miners in her town is the worst threat that she has to deal with until a Core Commander comes calling. Searching for a traitor, Willow and her parents try to hide her from the man, fearful of him finding out that she doesn’t quite belong. When her identity is uncovered, Willow is forced to take the long trek to the Core. Along the way, she discovers that things aren’t always so black and white and how she adjusts and acts toward them may be the only way she can survive her new world.

I’ve let this book sit in my review queue for a few days because I’m not quite sure how to review it. I enjoyed the world that Denault built. It built up in a way that I Iove–in bits and pieces as they came to Willow’s attention. She didn’t know everything from the get-go, and as her world became larger, she adjusted her perspective of it accordingly. It wasn’t done in a way that was overwhelming or boring for the reader. I loved learning more about the people with the abilities and how they could range anywhere from sensing genetic matter to creating earthquakes. I can see why Gambit has been compared to books like The Hunger Games and other popular young adult dystopian novels. Although there are similarities, I felt that the concept and story was new enough for me to enjoy it.

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[Beware that Girl] Teresa Toten

 

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This is one of those books that takes you along on a ride and at the end, you’re not really sure where you’ve ended up. Although it did remind me of We Were Liars, there was something different about Beware that Girl. Teresa Toten did a really good job of giving us just enough information to follow along, but the secrets that these two girls were holding made a lot of their actions really ambiguous. Kate and Olivia are two girls who meet (almost) by chance and who feed off of one another. They need each other–Kate, the Have-Not, believes that Olivia is her ticket to Yale. Olivia, the Rich Girl Who Wants for Nothing, needs someone who actually supports her and isn’t waiting around for her to crumble. They establish a relationship that deals with a lot of tiptoeing around their sensitive subjects, and occasionally throwing out a secret. Not the big one, though. They’re too afraid it will break everything apart.

At first, I wasn’t sure that I was going to enjoy Beware that Girl. It was slow to start, and matters were complicated by the varying points of view: Kate, in first person; Olivia, in third person; and Kate and Olivia in third person. I can handle multiple narrators, but please pick one point of view. The narration, despite the annoying first/third person switching,  gradually gripped me as a read to find out the conclusion of this thriller. Like We Were Liars, I hesitate to say more for fear of accidentally ruining the story. I was surprised at how much I needed to see the end of this story once I got into it.

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[A Fierce and Subtle Poison] Samantha Mabry

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Not going to lie, my initial interest in the book was because of the stunning cover and interesting title.

 A Fierce and Subtle Poison takes you into the world of Puerto Rico, where señoras still tell tales of the house at the end of the street, a house with a curse left by a woman who once lived there. They talk of the girl with green skin and grass for hair, a girl who can grant wishes. Lucas doesn’t know what tale–if any–is the true one, but the house and its mysteries have held a fascination for him every summer when he returns to Puerto Rico with his father. One summer, Lucas is pelted with rocks from behind the walls of the house. He has no idea that this small moment will be what drags him into a mystery with that girl, with dangers that are more threatening than he can ever imagine. 

This is the debut novel of Samantha Mabry. It’s a mystery set in the heat of Puerto Rico with its customs, legends, and superstitions, which provided an extremely rich setting for this story. Lucas has a hard time fitting in as the white kid (even though he’s only half), with people looking at him with distrust and suspicion no matter what he does. Of course, he does nothing to rid himself of those feelings, often running with a crowd that lands on the drunk-and-disorderly side. I felt that this was very realistic, however. In a tight knit community, the prejudices against the foreigners who are taking the island for their own pleasure without considering its culture and history would be viewed constantly as outsiders.

As a protagonist, Lucas was okay. I found myself unable to connect with him when I was reading. He has a potential backstory, but moments to expand on that were passed over, which were a deterrent to his character development. I felt that he was very one dimensional, even though I was meant to find him more interesting. Even Isabel, the cursed girl, had potential that wasn’t met. I think she absolutely could have been more fascinating but instead of focusing on her character growth (and that of Lucas’), there was too much of a surface level focus on the mystery.

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[Anew: Disappeared III] Bronwyn Kienapple

Slight spoilers for the first two novellas, Imperfect and Broken, follow. I would like to thank the author again for providing me with a copy of Anew! This in no way affected my review, so what follows is my honest opinion on the last novel and series overall.

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Only days seem to have passed since Ahuil showed up at Theodosia’s family manor as a footman named Anthony. If not being able to see him while she’s been trapped on the estate was bad, having him hover around her family’s elbows at every moment is far worse. Stolen glances and moments are all that Theo and Ahuil can manage under the strict and watchful gaze of her family. Loving the other is forbidden, and Theo doesn’t dare think what will happen if they are found out. With the arranged marriage that she was running from looming even larger on the horizon, Theo needs to rediscover her strength even when it seems that all is lost. It’s not just her happiness that she needs to save.

I was a little frustrated with Theodosia in this final novella of the series. In the previous one, I had praised her as a strong character who didn’t stagnate in her relationship with Ahuil. That didn’t carry through completely to this one. At the beginning, she is still someone who is watching out for her loved ones and acting in a way that was not necessarily standard for the times. Eventually, her actions catch up to her and she is trapped at the estate, unable to even walk the grounds, making it impossible for her to sneak away to visit her friends to see how they’re making out in their new lives. Granted, she didn’t stagnate in the relationship, because most of that had a secretive quality and moments didn’t happen very often in Anew. She did, however, stagnate in the way that she allowed herself to wallow in her self-misery.

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