[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.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

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What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

[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.

Both Alia and Jesse grew on me as I continued to read. At first, I only liked Alia. There was tension in her family and changes that she was going through against the backdrop of a historical event. In contrast, Jesse came off as a whining brat. She had a hard time growing up with the shadow of the death of her brother hanging over her and her family, but I didn’t feel that it was portrayed very well at first. Part of this was due to the fact that the book began slowly. It only allowed Jesse’s storyline to be the cliched high school one. Eventually as the story continued I found myself eager to see what would happen next with her. I ended up being interested in what Jesse did because she was a character who was alive during this event, but too young to remember. I liked that the author used her as an example of the many people who were young during this time. There’s a definite disconnect from not being conscious of the event at the time. Jesse is interesting because although she was too young, she does have that anger and sadness from losing a loved one. I liked that both sides were inside of her character.

Something that I thought Wendy Mills did well was her presentation of Islam in the book. I’m not sure how correct it is because I only know as much as I’ve learned in the few religion classes I’ve taken. I really liked how Adam and Alia looked at the world around them. Adam especially, because he had to deal with people treating him differently due to prejudice after September 11th. Even though there was this prejudice against them, they both looked at the world in a clear way. I really enjoyed that he was able to teach Jesse (and hopefully the reader) about how he saw the world.

All We Have Left, although written in a dual narrative, is primarily about Jesse’s growth. Because her brother died when she was really young, she’s not really known life any differently. I liked that Wendy Mills charted how she came out under the shadow of that and the way that it had fractured her family. We as readers know that Alia and Jesse’s brother are connected, but it takes a long time for Jesse to discover that. The mystery of why her brother was in the Towers is something that has so haunted her family that it was interesting to read as Jesse went about solving it. Another thing that I appreciated was the fact that Mills didn’t let the little romance that was in the book cheapen the more important aspects of it. I would have felt very annoyed and cheated had this book changed tact.

The hardest part about reviewing this book is trying to understand how much of it was I genuinely liked it and how much of it is the emotional connection I had to the characters and my past. It’s hard to read and review a book when it makes you emotional. I’m not sure if I’m emotional because of the book or because it’s about an event that was a shocking part of my childhood. I feel like it masked issues I had with the book, which is why I’ve taken so long to get my thoughts together on it. While it was a good book and I thought that the characters, both main and supporting, were written well, I do think that I was blinded a bit by my own personal memories of that day.

What was good about this book is that the ending leaves Jesse and the reader with hope that she will find peace. Through Jesse, hopefully the reader has found a little bit of peace as well. Although the world is oftentimes full of horrible things, people will always stand up to help and support the others around them. I found the ending very emotionally touching.  I recommend this book for readers who like dual narratives and who maybe want to discover a little bit about how the world around them still needs to change for the better.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of All We Have Left from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All We Have Left will be available on August 9th, 2016.

*Quotes come from an advance reading copy and may be different in the final release. 

[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.

An Ember in the Ashes is told in the alternating first person point of views of Laia and Elias. Laia is a Scholar, someone who has been downtrodden her entire life. She and her family make do, eking out a life under the Martial rule. When things change drastically, she tries to become stronger but remains naïve. So unbelievably naïve. She lives in a world where Martials sometimes harm Scholars just for the fun of it. So while I can believe that she is somewhat blinded by her desire to rescue her brother, when she was consistently doing rash things that put her in dangerous spots, I could hardly stand it. If she wants to rescue her brother, she needs to be a little sneakier. Eventually she starts acting braver. I was happy about that because I got a little tired of her whining about how she was a coward, yet did nothing to change it. Ultimately, we’re meant to sympathize with Laia but I didn’t particularly like her. When she finally started taking the initiative I was able to like her. I hope she doesn’t revert back in the next novel. I did really like Elias, other than something that I outline later in my review. Elias is a Mask, but he’s so torn up by his role that he’s looking for ways out. I really liked that he was on the inside and so against the Empire. Almost immediately in the novel we’re shown the brutal culture of the Masks–they whip children to death, they treat Scholars as subhuman–and how horrible living at the training center is, yet then we’re given a very sympathetic character. There’s hints that he’s not the only one who thinks that way, but he’s the only one willing to act against it. He felt very real.

The supporting characters in An Ember in the Ashes are great. Between Scholar slaves and rebels and Martial Masks and rulers, there’s quite a variety. That’s why I wish that the novel had been written in a third person point of view. I think it would have added more descriptions and opened up the world more. I wish that more time had been spent with Helene and the other Masks. They were my favorite supporting characters. I got the sense that they’re trapped like Elias. It’s clear that not everyone believes in the Commandant and the Empire’s treatment of Scholars, yet they’re too scared to do anything. Helene especially seemed conflicted, with her feelings and jealousies causing her to act rashly. I’m hoping the next novel in the series will have some Helene point of view chapters. She is my favorite character and always tried to protect the people she loved. It was heartbreaking when she couldn’t protect them.

Something that is done well in An Ember in the Ashes is the tension. Sabaa Tahir knows how to write scenes that make me really worried for the characters. This world is not kind, even if you’re in the upper class. There’s a danger to it that is expressed really well in the writing. Although the book is in the point of view of two characters, there were moments when I thought they were done for. This is helped along by the fact that some of the chapters end in cliff-hangers. Laia and Elias deal with different tensions in their lives and Tahir illustrated that clearly. I felt that the tension between Elias and Helene was done particularly well. Not only do they have to worry about dying in the trials, but they also have to navigate confusing emotions.

A frustrating part of the novel for me was actually the romance. I felt that it existed just to exist; rather than having any meat to why the characters were attracted to each other, it was just told to us in a “this is how it is” sort of way. It felt so flat and fake. I know that a lot of people probably like the pairings, but I personally didn’t feel that the romance was real. I understand that oftentimes there’s a sort of “love at first sight” element to romance in books (and even real life), but there were pages where Elias described how beautiful Laia and Helene are, rather than what they were doing. Or what they were doing was somehow combined with Elias describing how their bodies looked doing the action. They’re diminished to their beauty and not their talents. Helene especially suffered from this. She’s a warrior, like Elias–and possibly better than Elias because she’s the only female fighter at a school full of male fighters–but he often describes how her armor accents her body. It’s ironic because as her best friend, he knows that people underestimate her because she’s a girl, yet he does the same thing. I hope that this changes significantly–or at least doesn’t become the focus of Elias’ narration it sometimes became–in the next novel.

As mentioned before, Tahir knows how to write tension. The sexual tension between Elias and Helene was some of the only romance that felt real. They’ve been together for so long that it seems natural that some feelings would have developed. In contrast, there’s Laia and Elias’ budding relationship. I’d be very surprised if this didn’t end up becoming a thing because it’s so heavily pushed in An Ember in the Ashes. If it had been allowed to progress naturally, I would have loved it. It has the element of forbidden love that I normally enjoy. Instead, I felt that it was just there because it felt “required” of YA books. It’s even more odd when Tahir seems to set up other relationships in this book, yet they’re clearly not the focus. Those were the ones that made sense to me, but instead we’re subjected to one that doesn’t seem as real.

And now I get to the truly negative part of my review. The threat of rape in this book. I’ll preface it by saying that yes, I do realize this world is modeled after Ancient Rome and as such this was a part of it. That said, my issue wasn’t the inclusion of rape and the threat of it; my issue was the fact that it was used for advancing the plot and for the character development of Elias. It existed solely, in my opinion, to show how nice Elias was and to compare him against more brutal Masks. Here’s the thing, though: we already know that Elias is a nice guy because the other point of view is his. He very clearly isn’t a horrible person. He really struggles with his role as a Mask and longs to escape it. Elias is counting down the days until he can escape.  Therefore, we don’t need to see Laia nearly raped in order for him to swoop in and protect her to prove a point of his character. This event happens in his point of view (although it was started in hers), and I felt it only existed to, again, show how he is more human than monster compared to the others. This just didn’t need to be. If it had been taken out, there would have been other ways to advance the plot. Rape is a sensitive subject. If it’s going to be included, it needs to be done in a sensitive and well-thought out way. I felt that An Ember in the Ashes failed on this count.

Ultimately, I wanted to like this book more than I did. The gratuitous use of the threat of rape against the female characters–even if it fit in this world inspired by Ancient Rome–as a way to further male characters really knocked this down for me. I liked the strong female characters like Helene and Laia–although Laia still has a long way to go–and the other supporting characters. They made the book more interesting. An Ember in the Ashes was a fast read that was full of tension, even if some of events were obvious in how they were set up. I’m interested in seeing what happens to the characters in the next book. An Ember in the Ashes ends with huge changes, so I imagine there will be tons of conflict in the next book that Elias and Laia need to navigate. I recommend this for readers who like  young adult fantasy with a historical tinge to it, but be warned that Tahir doesn’t sugar-coat the violence in it.

3.5 stars.

A huge thank you to Tessa for providing me with a copy of this book!

[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.

I think that Denault also has a talent at breathing life into characters. I loved all of them. Willow went through a natural progression of growth both mentally and power wise. She was stubborn and her reasoning was flawed at times, but that didn’t stunt her. She changed. I wish that more time had been spent with her family and best friend Tem. The short time we spent with them was enough to make me like them. The characters from the Core were just as well done. Reece was delightfully horrible and I enjoyed most of their interactions. Watching as he went from this character she hated and didn’t trust at all to someone she considered a friend was really well done. But, that’s also where my problems lie.

I mentioned in a previous review that I am a fan of the aloof love interest thing. Probably because it doesn’t have the issues of instant-love that drives me up a wall. I get that we’re meant to see Willow as someone who doesn’t understand the ways of the Core. As such, her interactions with Reece are fraught with butting heads and moments where they both push each other too far. This is normal when they don’t know each other, but when they did know each other and these interactions kept occurring, it made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. Reece went from pulling her hair to prove his point to caressing her gently. There is a point when being aloof for the sake of safety passes over the line into outright cruelty. And then he’s giving her gifts the next moment. So it became an issue where I didn’t  understand why the heck Willow fell for him. A little bit of remoteness, I understand. But when it became cruelty, I just got the creeps. What was worse is that I didn’t feel that any of his actions were explained in a way that made sense. It was just “Oh, he doesn’t usually act this way, guess he likes you.” I’m very confused about how I feel about their relationship. On the one hand, I thought there were cute moments; on the other hand, I’m not sure that I can ignore the cruel moments, because they’re signs of an abusive relationship.

Overall, I did enjoy the characters and story enough that I am interested in reading the second book in this series. I hope that the issues I have with Reece and the romantic relationship will change and be addressed in the second novel. If they continue, I’m not sure that the good storytelling will be enough to keep me interested.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of Gambit from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Gambit is available now.

[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.

I do think that Beware that Girl relied too much on the thriller aspect of the novel; I feel as though I’ve only gotten a little glimpse of who Olivia and Kate are, which works, because that’s kind of their M.O., but as a reader, that was frustrating. I didn’t feel like any of the other characters had been fleshed out enough. They remained pretty flat throughout as the story progressed, often written out of the picture until it suited the story for them to briefly make a reappearance. As much as I loved the thriller aspect, characters–even (and especially) side characters–make the story. It would have been nice to see a bit more of that.

Although it had a tinge of a sped up quality, I’m satisfied with how Beware that Girl was written. Once it got to heart of the thriller I couldn’t stop reading, even if I had some of the points picked out before they were revealed. I blame it on how much I read.  Definitely good for readers who like YA thrillers and mysteries.

About 3.5 stars.

I received a copy of Beware that Girl from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Beware that Girl will be available on May 31st, 2016!

[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.

I did feel like it took too long for the book to get to the crux of what it’s about. There are multiple mysteries in its pages, but the threads are not connected (or barely hinted at being connected) until late in the novel. And then suddenly the story is off, running through the jungle with the leaves slapping at your face. The pacing was initially slow to the point where I questioned when the story was actually going to begin. I didn’t feel that I needed all of Lucas’ escapades, especially when they were all very similar and ended with little character development or point. I understand how hangovers work. When the pacing picked up, there was no middle point. I felt that there wasn’t enough of the subtle build up that is key for mysteries; all of a sudden everything was happening with reckless abandon for the reader.

Something that was done well and that I wanted more of was the exploration of the setting of Puerto Rico and its legends. Whenever the mythology of the world was brought up I was rapt with attention. I was interested in Isabel’s mother and her possible connection to the gods. That interest continued with the legends of the community and with the ghost of the hotel. All of these little tidbits that built the world up made me wish that the book had explored these elements a little more.

I definitely enjoyed reading this novel with its little bits of magic in the real world. I do wish that there had been more detail in some areas, but overall I thought the book was well-written and engaging.  I recommend this novel for teens / young adults who enjoy mysteries but not necessarily the grittiness and violence that mysteries can sometimes contain. It had a wonderfully rich setting that you could really get lost in, and Samantha Mabry has a talent for building that. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

3.5 stars.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. A Fierce and Subtle Poison comes out on April 12th, 2016!

 

[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.

I had a hard time believing that this girl who was so dang stubborn (enough that she literally ran away to a different world) became someone who meekly followed the desires of her parents. It’s framed in a way that she’s protecting her brothers and sisters who will also, in a different way, benefit from an arranged marriage. I would have believed that far more if the previous two novellas (and a lot of this one) didn’t focus on how Theo and her siblings didn’t get along. And not the normal sibling squabbling that happens, but cruel things that they would do or say to her. With the exception of Louisa, Theo seems to loathe her siblings, so I was confused as to why this seemed to suddenly become so important to her. You would think that causing a scene or refusing a betrothal would actually give some element of freedom to Theodosia.

Most of the novel focuses on the family and societal drama that unfolds around Theo. It was interesting, but with Theo turning into someone unfamiliar, and less interactions with Ahuil and her friends, it was a little boring. I longed for the world they left behind and who she had been for most of the novella. Leaving the excitement of the fantasy world to focus on the world of England in the 1800s was a little like going from a fantasy movie to a soap opera. Things developed a less serious quality to them and didn’t have much of a drive. Unfortunately, this meant that the plot became predictable in its run to the end.

Ultimately, I’d recommend this series for those who like a mix of fantasy and historical genres. I loved that the focus overall wasn’t on the romantic relationship between two characters but instead focused on how the characters interacted with the world around them. There is good world building with strongly written characters. Although I did love the series, the final novella fell a little lower in its rating than the other two.

3.5 stars.