No Vain Loss

By M.C. Frank
No Ordinary Star #3

I’m going to try to keep calm during this review, but it’s going to be tough: followers of this blog will recognize this series and remember how obsessed I am with it*. I am currently a massive ball of excitement. The series had set my expectations very high, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint with No Vain Loss: It delivered beauty until the very end.

Summary29215280

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He has no idea what to do.
A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive.
A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack.
The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty.
This is the One World.
The year is 2524.

In No Vain Loss, the world is on the brink of the greatest war humanity has ever known. Lives will be lost. New truths will be revealed.

Musings

When people say epic conclusions, they’ve never seen anything as epic as this. The book picks up the exact second No Plain Rebel stops, and from there the pace hits the accelerator 1000%.  We are at war, in the middle of a battle, good versus evil with confused soldiers trying to save the world. As a reader, you’re so grabbed into the book that even from the very start, it becomes impossible to put it down.

And, somehow, the author still manages to introduce massive twists to the story that make total sense and yet take you completely unawares. At about the halfway point, I gasped audibly, making the woman across from me in the metro glance up in shock.  I wanted to tell her everything, before realizing she would have no idea what I was talking about.

I’m so sad this series has come to an end. Not only was it a great read, but it was an amazing examination of what it means to be human. It’s made me see daily routine in a completely different way. Appreciate the moments I have with my friends, my pets, even with my food. The ending reads like poetry, and it’s so beautiful, and warm, it left me feeling full inside. No Vain Loss was the perfect finish.

The No Ordinary Star series has to be one of the most perfect series I have ever read, because it gave me everything I wanted out of my reading time. Character to adore, to root for, to ship, to watch grow. A plot that never felt contrived, always unpredictable and that makes you want more. And a lyrical style full of love for the human race.

This series made me feel hope. Love, loss, passion, excitement. I’m going to reread it often, and my friends need to know about it.

Do yourself a favor: read this series. You’ll love every second.

*So obsessed, in fact, that a quote about just how obsessed I am now is on the cover of the paperback edition of this book. 

 

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August Reads

Gosh, time moves by so fast! Just last month, I was in the US, spending time with the family. Today my life is in boxes as I prepare to move into my new apartment.

Which means I’ve been behind on reviewing new and upcoming books, but I did make a nice dent in my TBR. I decided that rather than writing a full review on a single book, I’ll give you my thoughts on what I have read in this past month. It adds a bit of variety!


The Library of Fates
by Aditi Khorana32766747

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The palace is soon under siege, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

My review: ★★★☆☆

The book started off strong but just got weaker and weaker until the end, where it felt like the author was in a rush to finish. There was a massive sequence that careened completely off the rails, although the epilogue was sweet. It became hard to suspend your disbelief.

 

The relationship was also a little weak for me. The first love interest was great, and I understand why it could never happen, the second becomes hard to believe. There’s no chemistry.

Also – I checked, but Spiders have legs, not tentacles. That sure messed with me! There were examples of lazy editing (like obnoxious repetition) that got to me as well.


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee29283884

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this year-long escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

My review: ★★★★★

Oh. My. Gosh. This book was so much fun!

It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s cute, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s one of those books where the characters face real life and death consequences, but the read itself is light, a fun adventure to really just throw yourself into and devour.

I mean, it has everything: Pirates! Medical malpractice! Gentlemen! Naughtiness! Love! And oh, how I swooned for the romance! It was perfect, I found myself rooting for Percy and Monty from page one. I love the character growth, the humor, just everything.

Not to mention the historical accuracy! It’s really neat to read a book that takes place during a “grand tour” of Europe. To image a little what it would have been like to be rich and young in the sièle des Lumières – or, to exist without privilege, either.

Oh! And they go through my hometown! They don’t have the best time there, but it’s really fun just to be mentioned. MARSEILLE RPZ!


Want
by Cindy Pon

32333174Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

My review: ★★☆☆☆

I’m disappointed with WANT, but probably because my expectations were set too high. When I finished it, I didn’t feel the urge to read it again, and even while reading it I had an incredible sense of deja-vu.

I think if it’s your first time reading scifi, you’ll enjoy it immensely. It’s got action, cool technology, exciting plot and a future that scares you because it’s so realistically possible. But for a massive fan of scifi, I found it full of clichés, and very predictable. I felt like I had read the same thing before.

Lots of things were far fetched and irked me. Not the science, actually: but the plot itself. The logic behind sending Zhou in undercover – to befriend the woman he once kidnapped, the daughter of a man who had a man hunt out for him? – is just absurd, and bugged me out of the story. Other decisions like that made the story not flow easily.

And other small things got in my way of truly enjoying the book: the fact that Iris always has to be doing something dangerous (her only character trait is that she’s dangerous, and this gets repeated over, and over again) for example. The characters other than Zhou or Daiyu were flat, with the author reminding us over and over why they’re not. But one character trait does not make a character complex.

It just was hard to get into the style. The constant repetition of traits, the fact every chapter starts days/weeks forward and then Zhou has to tell you “we were doing this,” the lack of chemistry between Zhou and Daiyu…

I’m disappointed, because I was really excited about this novel. I mean, it’s so cool to see a novel set in Taiwan! And that cover, wow! Taiwanese MCs! But the story fell flat. While the worldbuilding was extremely realistic (as I said, real enough to scare me) the plot was nothing new.


 

So those are the other books I read in August! Have you read them? If so, what did you think? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below!

Starswept

by Mary Fan

Drop everything, and pick up this book. If you love space, aliens, music, and incredible twists that will leave your jaw on the floor, then Starswept is set to become your new favorite novel. Not to mention, the most elaborate and gorgeous interior design you’ve ever seen, making this book a literal work of art. If this isn’t enough to convince you, then stick around, because I have a lot to say!

Summary34377743

In 2157, the Adryil—an advanced race of telepathic humanoids—contacted Earth. A century later, 15-year-old violist Iris Lei considers herself lucky to attend Papilio, a prestigious performing arts school powered by their technology. Born penniless, Iris’s one shot at a better life is to attract an Adryil patron. But only the best get hired, and competition is fierce.

A sudden encounter with an Adryil boy upends her world. Iris longs to learn about him and his faraway realm, but after the authorities arrest him for trespassing, the only evidence she has of his existence is the mysterious alien device he slipped to her.

When she starts hearing his voice in her head, she wonders if her world of backstabbing artists and pressure for perfection is driving her insane. Then, she discovers that her visions of him are real—by way of telepathy—and soon finds herself lost in the kind of impossible love she depicts in her music.

But even as their bond deepens, Iris realizes that he’s hiding something from her—and it’s dangerous. Her quest for answers leads her past her sheltered world to a strange planet lightyears away, where she uncovers secrets about Earth’s alien allies that shatter everything she knows.

Musings

Iris loves playing viola more than anything else in the world. She’s passionate about her music, and desperate to be successful, to find an alien patron so that she can search for her parents. She lives in a remarkable institute for the arts, Papillio, that has been molding her since she was a baby to be a true prodigy. But in the world she inhabits, if she doesn’t have her music, and if she never gets a patron, she is nothing. Music literally is her life.

What astounded me about this novel (among many other things) is how complex the characters and the world building really is. Everything makes complete sense. The aliens, the Adryil, communicate through telepathy: which means they prize conformity, and never developed the arts, since no words ever go unspoken, and don’t need music or performance to share. When they discover earth, they’re blown away by our art, and suddenly having artistic talent makes you valuable in their world. It’s all connected – and even more so when the author pulls the rug out from under your feet about halfway through.

The first half of the novel was a little slow, but so beautifully written I couldn’t put it down. Pretty much at the halfway mark, the novel starts to pick up the pace, and fast. A massive revelation springs up and the reader is left baffled. Once again, it all makes sense. It’s like you (as the reader) knew what was going on, but flipped the way it is, you suddenly see how twisted it really is. Of course, I won’t spoil the reveal. But it’s so worth reading to get there.

I also loved the relationship between Damiul and Iris. I usually find YA couples to be too contrived, but this is not the case here. There’s real friendship, and real love between the two. Not to mention some altogether amazing lines.

Imagine all the stars in the galaxy in one pair of eyes, all the sureness of home in one pair of arms, all the heroics of a thousand epic tales in one noble heart.
This is my love. 

Yeah. Did I mention how gorgeous this book is? It’s a masterpiece.

There’s so much I want to tell you about how good this book is… the true love of music the author conveys through her novel. The diversity of the cast of characters. The complexity of even the most trivial things. I went into this book with no expectations, and came out feeling truly shaken and amazed.

If you love YA, then this book is definitely for you. And even if you don’t, it might be the book that brings you into the genre. It’s sublime.

Massive thank you to the author for sending me a signed copy. I’m going to treasure it forever.

Expected publication: August 29th 2017 by Snowy Wings Publishing

Midnight

The Opposition, #1
by Stefani Chaney

When I finished this book, I had so many feelings: I went right to Goodreads and saw there were only three reviews – HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! Midnight is insanely good, and one of my new favorite novels. Stefani Chaney is a new author to watch – get ready world! get ready to meet… Midnight.

Summary35382009

Jo Harding never thought of herself as a villain. At seventeen, her only adversary was her chronic illness. Yet, when a group of superheroes separates Jo from her brother, nothing will stop her from getting Jamie back. 
After waking up in a morgue, Jo finds herself with no money, nowhere to go, and no way of letting her famous twin brother know she is still alive. To make matters even worse, she starts exhibiting uncontrollable powers. Afraid and in a body she can’t rely upon, Jo scours the town with help from a bookstore owner and his former-military husband. Each encounter leads the superheroes to believe they are fighting a villain. However, the real villain is the leader they are following, the doctor that left Jo to die.

Musings

If you like superhero novels, then this book is for you. It’s not your run-of-the-mill story, it’s unique in more ways to count, but I’m going to try to tell you all about it right here, right now.

Meet Jo: she just woke up in a morgue, it’s three months since she lasts remembers anything, and her brother is missing. And what’s most surprising (other than not being dead) is that the pain of her constant chronic illness is just… gone. She’s not limping, heck, she can run again. And she’s running with a vengeance.

Her last memories are of being betrayed by the doctor – Morgan – who was claiming to heal her. Learning that her brother Jamie was being tricked by the same doctor to take a mysterious drug. Where is he now? The only way for her to find him is to suit up: with help of bookstore owner and his husband the depressed war vet, she’s going after the man who turned against her.

And this leads to one of the coolest aspect of the novel: Morgan has been running tests on other teens in the city, turning them into superheroes. And in their eyes? Jo is the villain. Jo has been chasing them, after all, maybe even stalking them. So they’ll fight tooth and nail to protect their team.

Jo’s the most brilliant protagonist you could ever want. She’s smart, she’s strong, and she’s determined. She gets stronger and stronger, grows with every superhero encounter. She loves her brother more than anyone else, and will stop at nothing to find him. And the other characters… they’re so diverse, and fun! I think Jamie is Ace, and it’s really cool to see a character like him. You also get to see the effects of mental abuse and manipulation.

I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s a complex, fast paced novel that will have you hooked from page one. So excited for the rest of the series!

I got this book free from the author in exchange for an honest review. It in no way affected my feedback. I know I’ll be buying the sequel!

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

by Ruth Emmie Lang
Reviwed by SA

Upon finishing this book, I thought: Wow, this was beautiful! And it’s one I’m going to recommending to many friends, despite the fact that it didn’t entirely click for me. Even so, it was evidently a fantastic novel full of magic.

Summary33574161

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn’t like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow over night, Weylyn’s unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn’t care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she’s known that a relationship with him isn’t without its risks, but as anyone who’s met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you’ll wish he’d never leave.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance tells the story of Weylyn Grey’s life from the perspectives of the people who knew him, loved him, and even a few who thought he was just plain weird. Although he doesn’t stay in any of their lives for long, he leaves each of them with a story to tell. Stories about a boy who lives with wolves, great storms that evaporate into thin air, fireflies that make phosphorescent honey, and a house filled with spider webs and the strange man who inhabits it.

There is one story, however, that Weylyn wishes he could change: his own. But first he has to muster enough courage to knock on Mary’s front door.

Musings

It’s taken me a few days to finish writing this review, because I had to let my thoughts simmer about it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, but when I put it down, I didn’t feel an immediate urge to pick it up again. Perhaps the slow magic was what drew me back to it, the simmering style of the author that fills your heart with warmth.

Overall, the plot is simple: it’s the life of a man names Weylan Grey, who apparently can speak to animals, control the weather, make plants grow… fantastic gifts, which all make for a fantastic character. We see his life through the eyes of different people he meets along the way (always two at a specific point in time, with hints clueing you in to what happened while he was away). It’s also a love story, between him and a brilliant woman named Mary.

Despite the fact that there are dangerous hurricanes, wolves, and snowstorms, the novel still has this odd sense of tranquility. It’s calm, slow paced. The story moves along in a gentle, steady way, like a quiet walk through a forest. You can’t help but love Weylan, his comical confusion with the rest of mankind (the running gag of the business cards had me in stitches) and his ease with animals.

I think it’s the love story that messed with me the most. Now I won’t say anything here because of spoilers, but the ending, while it looked cute and romantic, at second glance rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe I’m too picky. I should just be happy for them.

\It’s one of those are cases where I preferred how the author told the story over the story itself. Beautiful book, nonetheless. For fans of magical realism, love, and wolves.

Meddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero
Reviewed by SA

 

This review is very hard to write, just because I’m so excited about what I just read. And by just, I mean I read it weeks ago, and have been putting off reviewing it because I don’t know where to start. It’s got everything you could ever want. It has a detective club that’s grown up with you. It’s got magic. It’s got science. It’s got lore. It’s got heart stopping thrills. It really is the perfect book.

Summary32905343

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

Musings

It’s been a decade since a small summer detective club has caught a masked fraud in their local town, pulling a Scooby-doo. But in the years since, nothing has been the same. Depression and anxiety have been following them around, pushing one of the team to take his own life. It’s been, in a word, hell. So when the masked fraud is found to be more of a fraud than initially thought, it’s time to put the team back together and return to the scene of the crime, to finish what they started.

The most exciting part about this book, to me, is that it feels like you already know the characters, and have been a fan of their books for years. The tropes are all there: the intelligent girl, the smart leader, the nerdy boy, and the girl who goes by a boy’s name and is desperate to prove girls are just as good as boys. Which detective series am I talking about? Yeah, It could be any of them.

But the characters have grown. The trope of the wanna-be-boy is explored through one of the characters, and done in such a fun, brilliant and inclusive way I was overjoyed. I love having characters like Andy and I want more of them in the books I read. And the relationships are so perfect. I was so happy with the ending. No spoilers here, of course.

I also loved the way the author broke the fourth wall (is it called the fourth wall in literature?) by playing with the form of the words on paper. For example, he draws attention to narrative elipses and dramatic chapter breaks. It’s hilarious. It ads a depth to the book, remind you the characters are only people on a page, and playing with the novel in a way I’ve never seen before.

I also have to admit this book had me genuinely scared. When they were in the mines, I found my heart literally pounding in my chest. I was terrified! I got so attached to the little club that I was really, really drawn into the story.

And speaking of the story, it’s insanely creative. It has pirate captains and ancient sea monsters (very Lovecraftian), different eras, all details tying together beautifully. It made sense, played with science, and with magic as well. I have to wrap up the review, but there’s more I want to touch on briefly. First off, remember the bully trope? The kid that always steps in the way of the detective clubs? Well, the bully problem is addressed and faced and feels good. Mental health is also something that’s talked about in a healthy, open way.

It’s really the book you loved as a kid, but gown up. I’m hooked! I need more books like this!

No Plain Rebel

No Ordinary Star, Book 2
By M.C. Frank

Have I told you recently how I’ve fallen totally, and irrevocably, in love with this beautiful series? Well I can say with certainly now that the love for book one – No Ordinary Star – extends into book 2. No Plain Rebel delves deeper into the world Frank has created, and into the true meaning behind the mysterious clock that has captivated not only the people of the One World, but every reader as well. Potential spoilers from here on out if you haven’t read No Ordinary Star!

Summary30970438

In No Plain Rebel, Felix finds out the truth.
Or so he thinks. He’s trying to come to terms with that, as well as with the fact that the Clockmaster’s shack has been discovered by his fellow-soldiers, but he can’t exactly concentrate. The match girl’s fiery curls appear before his eyes every ten seconds, distracting him, and then he starts talking to her in his head.
Because she’s no longer there.
The Stadium is looming in the distance.
It’s ten heartbeats to midnight.

Musings

It’s ten heartbeats to midnight – my favorite line of so many fantastic lines in this gem of a novel. It’s incredibly short: I started it as my plane taxied out of Tampa airport, and finished it before we began our descent into Baltimore. But I definitely needed that time before landing to reflect on what I just read.

While the first book read more like a love letter to humanity, the second feels like it has more like a manifesto. It has gusto, ambition, and drive: just like its main characters, Felix and Astra. The two of them, secluded in the North Pole, are slowly discovering what mankind has lost to the past,  as well as discovering what it’s like to be close to another person. But they’re also seeing what they’re about to lose to the future, if no one steps up to take charge and change things.

Frank carefully weaves in mystery through the plot, leaving the reader wondering why things are the way they are. New discoveries answer questions but new ones arise just as quickly: while the world Felix lives in becomes clearer (both to us as well, as well as to him, now completely off the pills) confusion about their current predicament takes over. Twists and turns arrive at an increasingly rapid pace, until at the end they’re staggering and putting the reader in shock.

There’s so much character growth, too! While I do miss Ursa (where’s my big bear when I need her?) the focus is drawn on Felix and Astra completely – as well as their lineage. The way Frank writes complex characters is astounding: Astra dealing with the trauma from the Box and the tests that went on there, panic attacks as she tries to cope with simple things like showers. Or the way she writes Felix wrestling with the betrayal he’s feeling from the people he’s been trained to protect. Or the way they’re feeling towards each other – feeling they don’t have words for.

One thing is clear: everything hinges on this crazy clock. And it’s ten heartbeats to midnight. And ten heartbeats until my heart explodes.

I need the finale NOW!