[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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[Now I Rise: The Conqueror’s Saga II] Kiersten White

This review contains some minor spoilers for the first novel in The Conqueror’s Saga. This review is also long because I loved this book so much.

One of my minor complaints about And I Darken (the first in the series) was that it got a little long purely because there’s a lot of unfamiliar names, places, and events that I had to first get through in order to get to the story. That was not the case with the second novel. Now I Rise benefits from the world building that was done in the first novel and further expands on locations that had smaller parts in the first novel. It balances character growth with action, creating a thrilling story that had me questioning characters’ motives. It is a a great continuation of a series that is set in a historical context that is real, yet also genderbends a historical figure. It made me more excited about a series that I already loved.

Lada and Radu burst back onto the scene shortly after where And I Darken left them. Radu remains in the Ottoman Empire, and Lada is trying to regain what she believes is rightfully hers: Wallachia. They’ve taken different paths that are still connected to each other, but Radu uses gilded words and Lada uses cold steel. Mehmed remains, but Now I Rise quickly becomes about Lada and Radu. Mehmed takes on a role in the background but occasionally comes back to interact with our main characters. And even when he’s not physically there, both Radu and Lada often think about him. Sometimes he still affects how they act, but gradually that changes.

Shortly into the novel Radu is sent to Constantinople to act as a spy for Mehmed. Although he has quite a bit of worries about going there, he follows Mehmed’s orders because he loves him. In the first novel, Radu learns how to use his skills to further Mehmed and through close proximity, himself. He is very charismatic, and it was interesting to read how he grew into it in And I Darken. This novel finds Radu questioning much of what he believes and who he believes in. Radu is semi-stranded in Constantinople for months. At first, he eagerly awaits a war that he knows is coming, playing his role as defector to the Christians as he secretly plots to bring Constantinople down. The longer he stays in Constantinople, however,  the more he questions the motives of Mehmed and what he’s doing.

He had imagined Constantinople, had wanted it for Mehmed. It had been simple and straightforward. But now he knew the true cost of things, the murky horrors of the distance between wanting something and getting it.*

Radu is becoming a part of Constantinople and being accepted by people there, but he knows that he ultimately will betray them. It begins to wear on him. Reading this expanded his character in a new direction that was so raw I was heartbroken for him. While this series does tend to focus more on Lada as the female Vlad, I feel that Radu has the greater emotional response in Now I Rise.

Radu had seen what it took to be great, and he never again wanted to be part of something bigger than himself.*

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[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.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

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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[When the Moon Was Ours] Anna-Marie McLemore

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I love that this looks like a screen print.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful book that read like a fairy tale but had a firm place in today’s world. It follows Miel and Sam, two friends who met when she fell out of the town’s decaying water tower. They have only grown closer as they grow older and navigate their lives. A boy who paints moons and a girl who has roses growing out of her wrist, the two are viewed as strange by the townspeople but are largely left alone. When the Moon Was Ours is partially a love story between friends and family, a fairy tale, and a coming of age tale.

What I particularly loved about When the Moon Was Ours was that while McLemore was very upfront about what this book was trying to do, it wasn’t forcing it down the readers’ throats. I’ve read books that go this route and it ends up giving the book a poor taste and ultimately doesn’t succeed. McLemore succeeded in my opinion. Yes, there is a character who doesn’t identify as what they were born as, but the novel was deeper than that.  It was a very caring look into who they were as people, as a whole, rather than purely focusing on one part of who they are. McLemore is teaching through sharing moments of her personal life, and I could really see that as I was reading. It was extremely intimate. The novel takes its time revealing how this has affected the characters and how they are trying to figure out who they are. It is part of the story rather than the whole of the story, which I thought was a very important and natural way of telling it.

I thought that all of the characters were very dynamic and very carefully crafted. The characters who were good had their moments of bad, and the characters opposite of them weren’t all bad. Everyone, no matter where they fell on that line, had reasons for their actions. And often the cause of their actions were because of a fear that they had: fear of discovery, fear of not being enough, fear of being ignored…that made the characters all the more real to me. I really connected with the characters, even the ones who functioned as the “villains” in this fairy tale. I may not have felt as much for them as I felt for Miel and Sam, but it was really easy to see why they acted the way they did. I had sympathy and pity for them.

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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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[The Killer in Me] Margot Harrison

26095500The Killer in Me is an upcoming debut young adult novel by Margot Harrison. Nina Barrows is a normal high school senior. She goes to class, suffers from occasional bad choices, and is trying to get into her college of choice. Oh, and she sees the actions of a serial killer every time she goes to sleep. For as long as she can remember, Nina has been connected to a boy who she sees when she sleeps. At first, it’s innocent; but as he ages, the events of his childhood shape who he becomes as an adult. He names himself The Thief and carefully constructs his second identity as a killer. He will never be caught, because he knows it will destroy the small family he has created. And he’s too careful.  When Nina gets a chance to confront him, she and her friend Warren travel to the deserts of New Mexico to find a man who may only be a product of her imagination.

I did enjoy the premise of a protagonist who has a connection to the killer. It’s especially interesting that she can see what he does; that she literally gets into his head. Margot Harrison does a good job of showing how that has affected Nina’s mentality, so there’s a little bit of an unreliable narrator aspect there. It was cool to read how straightforward she was about knowing how he operated as a serial killer, something that made her pretty creepy to me. By watching him, she has intimate details of how he goes about planning and committing each crime. Because she’s aware of how he sets up a crime, she’s learned to avoid sleep when he’s preparing in order to avoid seeing the murder, something that has affected her health.  The reasoning behind her connection was not explained at first, so I was curious how this was possible. I ended up being disappointed when the reason behind it was revealed because I couldn’t help but feel that it was a bit of a cop-out. I had hoped it would have gone a bit deeper than it did. I think this is a result of it being a contemporary novel. Nina’s ability couldn’t be explained in a fantastical way because it was occurring in the real world, so instead we are given a flimsy medical reason behind it.

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