The Castaways

By Jessika Fleck

This book captivated me by the cover alone, so when the author offered me a copy to review, I pounced. I could not wait to read it. A combination of Lord of the Flies and maybe even Heart of Darkness, though set on the island from lost, dropped out of time. Sounds cool, right?

Summary30973550

The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.

Renowned for its infamous corn maze… and the kids who go missing in it.

When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.

Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.

Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.

Musings

Olive Maxi Gagmuehler has been bullied her entire life. Her name is the main source of her punishment, and a trio of mean girls at school have been tormenting her, even torturing her, using it as an excuse. When Olive lashes out, then runs in terror, she finds herself on a mysterious island, lost in time with other children from long ago.

The idea refreshing and bold; children, from different decades, end up on this mysterious island. Take Neverland, and turn it sour.  Each of them was running away from something, for the most part actual people, or in Tilly’s case the bombs if WWII, which sent them running for safety. And then, they were here. But while the Island might be safe from their bullies and fears, it offers new problems. Thirteen children trying to understand what put them there, and how to survive. Split into two factions at war with each other, Olive must find her place before she can hope to make a change.

The metaphor here obvious:  You can’t run away from your problems, you need to face them and move on. And this lesson has very physical repercussions on the island.  It might be a little preachy, but it’s an important one to learn.

While the plot was exciting and new, it was the clichés that got me. A friend posted a “YA trope bingo” the same day I started reading The Castaways, and I filled my squares quickly. Bullied MC? Check. Token minority best friend? Check. Olive falls for a boy that she shouldn’t fall for? Double check. There were a lot of cliché-ed lines that pulled me out of the story.

But while the clichés were there, they worked. The relationship between Olive and Will, while at first seeming forced, actually built into something healthy and supportive. And Olive being bullied, and growing and fighting back, was actually a major plot of the novel and so, so important to read. It’s amazing to see her strength grow!

I have to give it to Fleck, she sure knows how to write tension. There are some scenes in there that make me really clutch my tablet as I read faster and faster. She makes us really care about everyone, especially the tiny kiddos. And the lesson Olive learns is so important and profound. That, and the lesson Will learns too.

And it’s refreshing to see a well written, enjoyable novel that stands alone! With a happy ending! Gosh I love happy endings!

All in all, a fun read, if a little clichéd. Perfect for lovers of YA!

Published April 3rd 2017 by Entangled TEEN

Ash and Quill

The Great Library #3
by Rachel Caine

Great news, everyone! The Great Library series is not a trilogy anymore, but it will have five whole books. So this will not be the last installment! It’s time to throw yourselves once more into an alternate reality where the Great Library of Alexandria never burnt down, and instead grew to control most everything into the world. And for those of you who, like me, maybe didn’t enjoy book 2 as much, DON’T PANIC! Book 3 is exciting and thrilling and everything you want from this series.

Summary30956356

Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

Musings

Jess and his band of librarian rebels are now in Philadelphia, base for the Burners who want to see the Library torn down. Even if they share a common enemy, they’re not to happy to see a bunch of librarians on their doorstep, even if they claim to hate what the library stands for.

They have one card to play: Jess and Thomas will build a functioning printing press, in order to make books a commodity and crush the strength of the library. But Philadelphia is under siege, food is lacking as well as resources, and the library is right at their doorstep. Bombs of Greek fire are frequently thrown over their massive wall, and could burn through them at any time. Jess and Thomas must work fast not only to make a functioning press, but also to find a way to save themselves and their friends.

Just like book two, this sequel is split into two distinct parts: Philadelphia, and England. The first half takes place behind the wall of the city, and the second half is a return to the Brightwells, in an estate Jess himself has never even seen. In both, the band of rebels are kept as prisoners, and must prove their worth to survive.

Once again, I found Jess to be a bit of a bland protagonist. He’s fantastic in that way because he’s a stand in for the reader: we can really take his place in the story, and interact with the amazing characters. Khaliah is AMAZING in this book, proving herself to be once again one of my favorite characters in fiction: bold, unashamed by her religion and standing tall against abuse, the smartest person you will ever read. Her relationship with Dario is growing, and I’m starting to like this Spaniard more and more. Thomas is struggling to recover from his time in Rome, but proves once again that engineering is an art. Wolfe and Santi seem a little sidelined, but we get to explore their relationship more, too. And I really, really like how they’re portrayed. It’s great to see this kind of love in YA literature.

While I still find the relationship between Mogan and Jess forced, I adored her character growth in this book. She’s becoming something I wasn’t expecting of her, getting stronger and a little terrifying. I really can’t wait to see what the author does with her.

And then, there’s the ending. The reason I’m sitting here typing in the middle of the night, my heart racing. That. Effing. Ending. It’s INSANE. I couldn’t follow it half the time and had to go back and reread what just happened, not believing the words on the page. This is… this changes EVERYTHING.

My only questions is – WHERE IS BOOK FOUR?

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Berkley

No Ordinary Star

(No Ordinary Star #1)
by M.C. Frank

One of the best things about being a blogger is being a part of a ‘street team’. I had been seeing this book everywhere on Tumblr and Instagram, and the summary had me intrigued. So when the author asked if anyone was interested in reading, reviewing, and possibly joining their team, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to finally see what the hype was about. Oh gosh, I’m so glad I did!

Summary27419429

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. 
The year is 2525. 

Inspired by the short stories of Ray Bradbury, this futuristic novel is set in a world where Christmas -among other things- is obsolete and a Clock is what keeps the fragile balance of peace. 

Written in three installments, this is the breathtaking and sensual story of how two unlikely people change the world, and each other, one book at a time. 

Musings

The year is 2525 (and yes, the song will get stuck in your head every time you read that number). The world is completely different to what we know now: men and women live apart, born from test tubes and raised on pills that stop them from feeling hunger, exhaustion, or even emotions. It is a world without love, or Christmas. Only one man is left from the old days: a clockmaker in the north pole.

When a soldier is called upon by the clockmaker, only to discover the man is his grandfather, who has recently been murdered, his world changes forever. And when a young woman, a felon, escaped her execution only to find herself at the north pole, she and the soldier must depend on each other for survival. It is together that they discover the clockmaker’s secret library, and together that they must discover what it means to be human.

The feel of this novel is so unique. It reminds me a little of “The Northern Lights”, but combined with “The Giver”, along with a strong foundation of dystopia. But it has something special to it that truly sets it apart from the massive sea of YA dystopians we have available. Some spark that makes it truly beautiful.

The characters are strong and relatable, despite their different world. Astra is one of those protagonists you just want to know more about. The author feeds us a trickle of information about her painful past, building the world Astra lives in and making us cringe at her torment. In many dystopians, women are reduced to their wombs, but here it’s even worse: they’re reduced to their eggs.

And yet, it reads like a love letter to humanity. A reminder of all things beautiful we need to cherish now. Like books, or like clockwork. Family and love. There’s a heartbreaking scene where the two read “The Steadfast Soldier” together, which stirred up emotions inside I didn’t expect: I didn’t think the novel would hit me so hard.

It’s a slow, silent beauty, like snow falling at night. It probably sounds incredibly odd for me to say this about a book, but hey, I’m as surprised as you are. If there’s one criticism is that it is too short: it really is “Part 1” and not “Book 1”, as we only get the worldbuilding and the beginning of character growth. I wonder if the author will release all three parts (when the third one comes out) as one book one day.

All in all, this series is going to quickly become my newest obsession!

A massive thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review. She’s definitely got a new fan!

Paper and Fire

(The Great Library, #2)
by Rachel Caine

Last year, I won a copy of Ink and Bone, and was instantly hooked. I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to read its sequel! It’s a littler hard to know what to think about this book, as it all went by so quickly.Review It’s a littler hard to know what to think about this book, as it all went by so quickly.

Summary25890355

With an iron fist, the Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion and, in the name of the greater good, forbidding the personal ownership of books.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower, doomed to a life apart from everything she knows.

After embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, and the Library, which is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

Musings

Paper and Fire is the exciting continuation of the Great Library series, where the library of Alexandria never burned down, and now information and books or prized more heavily than human lives. Set six months after the tumultuous end to Ink and Bone, Jess finally has the proof he needs that Thomas is alive. But saving him would mean breaking away from the library entirely, and making him and any friend who follows him a rebel. Is it worth the risk?

This book is 50% international spy/heist, and 50% a bit of a mess. That’s why I only rated it 3 stars: the first half was perfectly paced and executed, exciting and addicting. The second half was in shambles. It was like the author didn’t know what to do with the crew once they had achieved their goal.

The entire sequence in the Iron tower was insane. The messed up, Handmaid’s Tale-esk treatement of Morgan and the other obscurists made me shudder and cringe. But there’s something abour Morgan that rubs me the wrong way. Her unexplained escape(s) from the tower felt contrived and too coincidental, just like her relationship with Jess. There’s no chemistry there, and the romance feels very forced.

But my favorite characters shine. Thomas. Khaliah. Wolfe and Santi. I’m so excited to have them back! While Jess makes a bit of a (I hate to say this) bland main character, the entire cast around him is amazing.There’s my family, I love them, I want to surround myself with these nerdy book lovers and right the Archivist with them.

I am, however, excited for book 3! I can’t wait to know what happens next. The ending of Paper and Fire was perfect!

Our Dark Duet

Monsters of Verity, Book 2
By V.E. Schwab (or Victoria Schwab)

I’m always excited when V.E. Schwab releases a new book! Especially one that ends a series. I read This Savage Song last year, and loved it, so I had high hopes for Our Dark Duet! It did not disappoint: though the reading experience was quite different.

Summary32075662

THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn’t afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she’s good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims’ inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

Musings

Six months have passed since the events of This Savage Song, and Verity is in disarray. The northern half of the city has been taken over by Sloan, along with Alice, the malachai born of Kat’s actions from the end of the first book. Kate has run away to prosperity, as August has risen to lead the FTF. A new sunai has been born, Soro.

I don’t know how to really write this review, because I’m still reeling from the ending. I was entranced, per usual, by Schwab’s fantastic style, which flows seemingly effortlessly on the page – and elevated through short passages written in verse. Her short poems depicting the point of view of a monster unlike any other were by far my favorite part of this book. I would love it if there was a companion story entirely in that glorious style of hers, as it offered not only insight into the new enemy, but a real depth to the story.

I was excited to see my favorite characters again. Both have grown (or changed) since the last novel. Kate is shaken from her own actions, while August is more determined in his resolve. We find Kate in Prosperity fighting the monsters both of her past and the ones that plague a city that turns a blind eye on what lurks in the dark. Her isolation is at the forefront of her arc. August has got the voice of Leo in his head, pushing his monstrous side out as he tries to be a good leader. This is what Schwab writes the best: messed up people with confusing, conflicting feelings. She weaves complex characters that are relatable through their massive flaws.

And then, there are the monsters. Sloan gets his own POV, as he ruthlessly tries to satiate his thirst for Kate’s death. There’s Alice, Kate’s dark shadow. And then there’s something new: a creature that kills by inciting others to kill in a frenzy, whose reflection lives in a sliver in Kate’s eye, who we see through poetry. The author has managed to make monsters musical. It’s outstanding.

But there was something… missing. I don’t know what it is! The novel has a slow build, and an incredibly fast ending that left me shattered. The ending is magnificent. Heartbreaking. All the feels. Everything about it is amazing. And yet, the novel as a whole doesn’t feel as poignant as the other books by Schwab. I think it might be because so much of the strength of TSS came from the connection between Kate and August. The growth they experienced at each others’ side. I’m not even talking about romantic chemistry, just how well they work together. And here, we only get one small scene where they open up to each other. It was insanely beautiful.

But their own personal isolations made it harder for the reader to connect with them, and the story. And this is intentional, I see the novel couldn’t be written any other way. But this lack of connection made it feel less powerful than the last book.

Nevertheless, it was a fantastic conclusion to the duology. I highly recommend these two books.

Heroine Worship

Heroine Complex, Book 2
By Sarah Kuhn

If you read my review of Heroine Complex last year, you’d know I’m all over this amazing series! Two badass  female Asian-American heroes, fighting demons and taking names? I’m in! So when I saw the sequel was coming out this year, I pounced. And Heroine Worship delivers everything I wanted and more!

Summary30955863

Once upon a time, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) was demon-infested San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine, a beacon of hope and strength and really awesome outfits. But all that changed the day she agreed to share the spotlight with her best friend and former assistant Evie Tanaka—who’s now a badass, fire-wielding superheroine in her own right. They were supposed to be a dynamic duo, but more and more, Aveda finds herself shoved into the sidekick role. Where, it must be said, she is not at all comfortable.

It doesn’t help that Aveda’s finally being forced to deal with fallout from her diva behavior—and the fact that she’s been a less than stellar friend to Evie. Or that Scott Cameron—the man Aveda’s loved for nearly a decade—is suddenly giving her the cold shoulder after what seemed to be some promising steps toward friendship. Or that the city has been demon-free for three months in the wake of Evie and Aveda’s apocalypse-preventing battle against the evil forces of the Otherworld, leaving Aveda without the one thing she craves most in life: a mission.

All of this is causing Aveda’s burning sense of heroic purpose—the thing that’s guided her all these years—to falter.

In short, Aveda Jupiter is having an identity crisis.

When Evie gets engaged and drafts Aveda as her maid-of-honor, Aveda finally sees a chance to reclaim her sense of self and sets out on a single-minded mission to make sure Evie has the most epic wedding ever. But when a mysterious, unseen supernatural evil rises up and starts attacking brides-to-be, Aveda must summon both her superheroine and best friend mojo to take down the enemy and make sure Evie’s wedding goes off without a hitch—or see both her city and her most important friendship destroyed forever.

Musings

That’s the longest blurb I’ve seen in a while, so I won’t talk about the plot! The biggest change compared to Heroine Complex is the different POV: we’re no longer following Evie, we’re following Aveda. Aveda feels awful for the way she treated Evie in the last book, and is working hard on fixing their relationship, and being a good friend. But it’s not always easy: now Evie is San Francisco’s beloved leading lady, and nothing Aveda can do seems to make the blogverse happy. This throws her into an identity crisis: is she Annie Chang, or Aveda Jupiter? Is she a hero or a sidekick?

My favorite thing about this series is how unabashedly honest the characters (and the author) are. There is absolutely no sugarcoating. The fallout from the last book is still being addressed, and Aveda is trying very hard to be different, but nothing seems to work. And they actually TALK about it. The unhealthy history is addressed in length, as they try to resolve their issues like adults.

I was surprised to see so little of Nate in this story, but he’s just a supporting character for Evie (they’re engaged! Finally!). The love interest in this novel is Scott, which will come as no shock to readers of Heroine Complex. Hearing Annie/Aveda’s story with him, how she say the events Evie told us about in the last book, gave us a fresh new perspective and reason to root for them together as a team. And just as in Heroine Complex, Kuhn gives us quite the relationship! There’s an intensity there that the author writes incredibly well, and we need more healthy couples in literature! (Dang, that’s hot!)

While the demonic plot was a little all over the place and I’m not quite sure was about, the real heart of this novel was on Aveda Jupiter coming to terms with Annie Chang. She is an incredibly complex character, and relatable all the way through her identity crisis. She strives for perfection in everything she does, and it still isn’t enough for the people of San Francisco, or even her own parents. People are always telling her how she should be, and not giving her the space to actually be herself. Honestly, her characterization could be the subject of hour long book club debates.

I noticed a few readers found her unlikable (at first), but for me she was more relatable than Evie. I guess I’m a lot like her: headstrong, extroverted, perfectionist, and assertive. Traits that usually get called “Bossy.” There’s an idea that since she’s a woman hero she needs to be held to a higher standard, but she’s doing her job, and she’s doing it well. Here we are talking about how Aveda needs to be a better friend to Evie, and I’m wondering if Evie couldn’t try a little more herself.

In short, here’s what I love about this series: healthy relationships, dang good romance, powerful female friendships, leading ladies of color who are aware of the power of this own image, incredible honesty, downright perfect writing about what it is to be human, and the most dynamic duo since… ever.

And of course: hilarious, laugh out loud moments! Fantastic geekery! Love in all its forms! Sexiness and dildo jokes! WHY AREN’T PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS SERIES?

I got a copy of this book from DAW books, which in no way affected my review. Thanks, DAW books!
Expected publication: July 4th 2017 by DAW

Gork, The Teenage Dragon + Sweepstakes!

by Gabe Hudson
Reviewed by SA

This book was so insanely different from anything I’ve read lately! As I started to read the novel, I thought “ok, this is not for me. Probably someone in High School or Middle School would like it more.” But to my amazement, the book was stuck in my hand: I couldn’t put it down! Even after finishing the book I can’t put my finger on why, all I know is this was insanely fun!

Summary32766443

Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave.

Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.

A love story, a fantasy, and a coming-of-age story, Gork the Teenage Dragon is a wildly comic, beautifully imagined, and deeply heartfelt debut novel that shows us just how human a dragon can be.

Musings

At WarWings academy, graduation isn’t like what we’re used to here on earth. You don’t ask a date to prom – you ask a dragonness to be your queen. Together you set off in a spaceship to colonize a new world with your hatchlings. Gork might have survived High School (though only by the skin of his teeth) but can he survive graduation? Can he convince his crush – who he’s never even heard speak – to be his queen?

To make matters worse, Gork suffers a chronic illness that makes him pass out multiple times a day, and keeps his social ratings and rank near the very bottom of the pile. His horns are stubs. His heart is huge. Not exactly mate material…

I think what really drew me in was the world building: it was spectacular! What’s not to love about technically advanced Dragons with spaceships? With robots?  With body switching evolution machines? Time machines – and time junkies? It’s brilliant for fans of science fiction, with throwbacks to famous tropes (my favorite throwaway gag was the reverse grandfather paradox, it had me in tears!). Its Dragons  – IN SPACE!

Gork is witty and fun, and his world is interesting and totally off the wall crazy. I loved the creativity there! But the plot wasn’t really my cup of tea, and the ending got me a little confused. The author has a habit of repeating himself/certain plot points that made me eye-roll. Yet I’m still unsure about a few things? I have questions!

But I have to admire the twist at the ending. I definitely do not want to spoil it here, but I have to say that most of the things that annoyed me about Gork’s goals were resolved, and I felt like it was a really important lesson for teenagers everywhere.

While there was just something I personally couldn’t connect with, I am sure other readers will instead latch on and go crazy about it. I would seriously recommend this to teens 8th-10th grade!

Expected publication: July 11th 2017 by Knopf Publishing Group


SWEEPSTAKES! 5 lucky readers will get their claws on Gork, The Teenage Dragon

A wacky, exuberant, heartfelt debut novel: the unholy child of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Candles—and this time with dragons.

Knopf is having a giveaway! YOU could win a hardcover copy of Gork before it even comes out! Follow this link here to enter the sweepstakes. 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:01 am (ET) June 7th, 2017 and 11:59 pm (ET) June 28th, 2017. One entry per person. Open to legal US residents who are 18 and older.