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!

 

Ash and Quill + EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR RACHEL CAINE

Surprise! It’s Ash and Quill’s release day, so fans of the Great Library series can finally know what happens next in this exciting series. I had the opportunity to read Ash and Quill, and reviewed it just last week – you can read it here. But today, just in time for the launch, the amazing Rachel Caine dropped by to answer all of our questions!

15292R: I bet you get this question a lot, but where did the inspiration for The Great Library series come from?

RC: Various pieces of this story have been kicking around in my head for near on 15 years; I’ve renamed characters, changed historical periods, added magic, removed it, shifted genres … and it wasn’t until I saw a news story on TV about a man carrying a stack of books out of a city being bombed that I realized what I was really looking for was him … a man dedicated to saving knowledge. At first, I thought he was fleeing the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, but then I realized that he was from the Great Library, saving books instead of people. And then it all came together.

R: The series won’t be a trilogy, but five books – so exciting! That ending was so exciting, and threw the entire series on its head. Any clues you can give us about what to expect from the next two novels?

RC: It really was a head-spinner, wasn’t it? Sorry about that, but then again, I think it definitely takes the whole story in a brand new direction. If the first volume was Boarding School, and the second was This is War, then the third is Escape Death, and the fourth is Spy Game, with the fifth and final being Save It All. That’s as broad as I can make it, but I think that’s pretty accurate!

R: The world is quite different in this series than our world that we know. As an author, you’ve probably imagined quite a few details to the worldbuilding that never made it into the books. Are there any you’d be willing to share with us?

RC: Absolutely! Yes, I did quite a bit of back-end worldbuilding that only exists for my own entertainment, to be honest, and to help build out the world in my imagination. I did end up using some of it two short stories I’ve posted on Wattpad, “Stormcrow” (about Scholar Wolfe’s earlier years) and “Tigers in the Cage” (about his Obscurist mother and father). I had built in a history of the Library of Pergamum (in Turkey), which was a key rival to the power of the Great Library at Alexandria; they were rivals in almost everything, including acquisition of key scholars and their works. I got to slip in a bit of it in Ash and Quill as a story that gets told to illustrate the lengths Scholars will go to, to save knowledge. I’m still building the world, adding inventors and suppressed discoveries, satellite libraries, all manner of stories that help keep things interesting.

R: How do you see exploration in this alternate universe? Has Australia been 309563561discovered, for example? If you could explore one country in your world, which one would it be?

RC: That’s an amazing question, and I think exploration would be more aggressive, not less; the preservation of knowledge means that word of discoveries gets quickly disseminated, innovations in regard to shipbuilding and sailing and navigation all become easily discovered. Trade becomes more important. But, of course, the Great Library is also at the same time suppressing information, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some key places might never be revealed at all.

I’d love to visit Alexandria. I’ve always loved the history of Egypt, and to see it preserved and modernized at the height of its innovation and power? That’s a can’t-miss trip.

R: The duality of the library is really important in the third book. Our little crew are lovers of books and learning, but the institution they work for has become corrupt. If you lived in this world, would you work for the library, or side with the burners? Or something entirely different?

RC: I like to think I’d be a Librarian. I wouldn’t know anything about the knowledge that’s being held back, but I would care deeply about the preservation of knowledge. I’m certainly not cut out for High Garda work, and certainly if I got information about the Black Archives and the vast discoveries the Library was holding back, I might certainly defect along with Jess’s group! But I can’t see myself on the sidelines.

R: Morgan is starting to become a little scary in this last book. Or, at least, leading towards something dark. Just how powerful can Obscurists really become?

RC: I think that’s the question: how dangerous is she going to be? Because Obscurists have been circumscribed by layers and layers of rules and rituals, and Morgan’s rogue gift was already very strong. Now that she’s gone places that Obscurists are expressly forbidden not to touch, what’s she going to become? And how does that change the Iron Tower, and the Obscurists inside it?

I know I’m answer questions with questions, but it’s such an interesting journey, and certainly dangerous, that I believe the answers will be murky for a while. Morgan’s heart is good. But I’m not sure it can hold out against the power she’s wielding now.

R: What place do fiction authors have in your world?

RC: They have a fantastic life. The Great Library pays their salaries and provides them with living quarters in Alexandria, should they wish to move there. There’s quite an author community there. But, of course, the Library also controls fiction, just as they control non-fiction. So there’s certainly a tradeoff, if you as a fiction author venture too close to forbidden territory.

R: What is your favorite part of writing? And what’s you’re least favorite part?

RC: I love the process, even though it can be physically tough on the body (it’s very desk-bound!) and it’s also kind of hell on your social life. But I wouldn’t trade for the opportunity to create these worlds and live in them for a while, all by myself. That’s just sheer fun. (And agony, when it isn’t working. But mostly fun.)

Getting to hang out with readers and other authors is also fantastic fun. Tours can be exhausting but they’re so rewarding.

I guess the only least favorite part of writing for me is the time I don’t get to do normal social things. My friends all know I try to keep up, but often I go weeks without seeing anyone but my husband and the people living in my head.

Okay, sometimes being able to time money coming in and out is aggravating, because there are no such things are regular (or even predictable) paychecks in the writing business. But still. Such freedom!

R: Any tips for readers out there who might want to become writers and authors?

RC: Mostly, I tell people to just write. There’s no better way to start than to just … start. Write something. Then write something else. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s publishable, because it almost certainly isn’t when you first start out. Entertain yourself. Passion shines through.

When you’ve reached a level where you feel you’re ready to get feedback, start with friends, then graduate to strangers. Then move on to a writer’s conference or groups to get semi-pro or professional feedback, and learn more about the business you’re entering … because it is a business, not just an art. You’ll need to understand the industry, and how you fit into it, to really make your way and make good decisions.

But never stop writing.

R: If you could meet any of your characters (from the Great Library series) face to face for coffee, who would they be?

RC: Without a doubt, Scholar Wolfe. He’d probably bring Captain Santi, which is also fine. They’d have amazing stories to tell, though Wolfe would probably insult me half the time. They seem like good people to get to know.

Thanks so much for letting me talk about The Great Library! I’m off to read … and probably write.

 Rachel Caine

Thank you, Rachel Caine! Her latest book, Ash and Quill, hits shelves today, July 11th! And if you want to start at the very beginning, pick up Ink and Bone anywhere books are sold.

Divided

The Untamed Series, book 3
By Madeline Dyer

Madeline Dyer has done it again! She has crafted a perfect YA novel, one that kept me turning the pages until the very end. It’s got action, it’s got love, it’s got heart, and it’s got yet another punch-to-the-gut ending. Seriously, Dyer is the master of crafting the most emotional endings.

Summary29559221

Having been tricked into binding herself to the Enhanced Ones in the War of Humanity, Untamed human Seven Sarr has never felt more exploited or used. When Raleigh forces her to develop her Seer powers and use them on a most innocent target, Seven knows it’s only a matter of time before the Enhanced Ones use her to wipe out the rest of her people.

Certain that the only way to save the Untamed would be to get back full control of her soul, Seven must get the Gods and Goddesses to trust her again. Only they can destroy her Enhanced Promise Marks, and prevent her enemy from controlling her.

But these are the same Gods and Goddesses who have already branded Seven a traitor, and exiled her from the Dream Land, fearing she will cause their deaths. With no way to contact the Gods and Goddesses herself, Seven needs help. And she needs it quickly, before the war is over and she loses Corin, and the rest of the Untamed, for good.

Yet, in a world as dangerous as this, only one thing’s for sure: no one trusts a traitor twice.

Musings

Divided is a lot more psychological can the first two novels. The first two thirds take place in an Enhanced compound, where Raleigh is trying to convert Seven by any means possible. But she’s not going to make it easy for him, despite his total control over her through the promise marks. Jeb did indeed sell her soul to him, and she’s completely under his power. But she’ll fight him every step of the way.

I’m starting to see Seven, and this series, as being powerful feminist work. Not in an obvious, in your face way. But in the obstacles Seven has to face. What we saw with the Zharat were a tribe of masochistic men, a patriarchal society where they claimed to uplift their women while jamming them into the ground. And now, with Seven under Raleigh’s control, she’s constantly being told what’s good for her without having any say in the matter. It’s like an abusive marriage, really, where he gaslights her every movement, her every thought. Part of the reason I’m so hooked on these novels, and genuinely scared for Seven, is because it calls to the primal fears in my brain of being in that same situation. Despite being far into our future, people like Seven do exist today. And it’s terrifying.

What I loved most about Divided is how the author expanded on the spiritual lore she created. Seven has to unlock her Seer powers in order to save the Untamed – or doom them all. Raleigh’s methods to librate here, however, are just as awful as you can expect, and yet he justifies them all with cringe worthy reasoning. The ends justify the means, and he’ll make Seven show her Seer powers, even it it means manipulating her own mind.

The first two thirds are a little slow going, since more of the action is psychological. Seven has a very turbulent mind at the moment, and discovering latent abilities is making it a whole lot more complicated. But the last third speeds up exponentially, and ends in a final battle climax scene which will leave you breathless. Once again, a gut wrenching ending.

Divided is a powerful novel full of disturbing mental manipulation and a powerful protagonist who is determined to pull through. It’s highly addictive, and impossible to put down. Best cliffhanger yet!

I was lucky this time, I got the ARC of Divided right after finishing Fragmented. But now I have to wait for the next book and I don’t know if I can!

Divided is out TODAY! Get your copy here.

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