Iron Cast

by Destiny Soria
Reviewed by SA

One look. That’s all it took. One look at the cover, and it was love at first sight. I picked up this book and devoured it excitedly. Oh, my gosh. It’s so good. Not only is it diverse, but it has an iron tight female friendship, beautiful prose, and it combines all the best genres. It’s at the same time YA, Historical Fiction, and Fantasy, with mad scientists, secret clubs, gangs, and superpowers. All of that on the eve of prohibition. What’s not to love?

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It’s Boston, 1919, and the Cast Iron club is packed. On stage, hemopaths—whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art—captivate their audience. Corinne and Ada have been best friends ever since infamous gangster Johnny Dervish recruited them into his circle. By night they perform for Johnny’s crowds, and by day they con Boston’s elite. When a job goes wrong and Ada is imprisoned, they realize how precarious their position is. After she escapes, two of the Cast Iron’s hires are shot, and Johnny disappears. With the law closing in, Corinne and Ada are forced to hunt for answers, even as betrayal faces them at every turn.

Ada and Corinne are hemopaths, able to manipulate people with their dangerous abilities. Ada charms your emotions to her will through her violin. Corinne can weave illusions with poetry. Together, they work for the Cast Iron, a nightclub which secretly holds illegal hemopath performances… and is the front for Jonny Dervish to run his hemopath cons from. After one con gets too big and goes bad, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a place designed to ‘rehabilitate’ hemopaths, and it’s up to Corinne to get her out.

I feel like the summary doesn’t do this book justice, because that’s where we actually start the novel: with a daring escape in the dead of night. Ada and Corinne make it back to the Cast Iron, their safe haven, only to learn that everything is now falling apart. More heists going wrong, fears of a mole, and now Jonny’s missing  and Ada’s still a wanted prisoner. And, to make matters worse, Corinne’s rich brother is marrying the daughter of the man who owns the hemopath institution she just broke Ada out of.

I absolutely loves Ada and Corinne. Their friendship was #ladygoals. They’re so close, able to tell each other everything and push each other to be better. They love each other in a way that makes you love them even more. And it’s not just them: all the secondary characters, the hemopaths and bodyguards working in the Cast Iron, all seem to form their own little family. They support each other through thick and thin, and it’s cool to see these complex characters working together.

Not only that, but the description of their abilities in use is just… lyrical. It’s beautiful. The author weaves together beautiful prose to tell just how the two women grip their audience. And they grip us, too, in the process. At the same time, we feel their fear of Iron. Hemopaths basically are allergic to it, repulsed by it: it burns their skin, and just being near it can make them feel ill. As a reader, we get both ends of hemopathy: the beautiful illusions and the awful pain.

The pacing of the novel is a little off. It starts out strong, with the break out, but then is a lot more easy going for a while. There’s a lot of mystery going on: there’s this feeling of cold, as everyone is trying to keep on running their own lives as things go south around them. But I almost, almost put this book down halfway through. I’m so glad I stuck through, because that’s when things really hit the fan and it’s gets crazy fast and exciting. So if you’re thinking of putting this book down, don’t! It has one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read!

You’re definitely going to want to read this book, when it comes out on October 11th. Thank you NetGalley and Amulet books for letting me read this amazing novel.

Looking for some Urban Fantasy? My novel Inside Out is available for free – no signup or anything required – for a limited time only. If you like the X-files, you’re going to like this! While supplies last. 

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Spontaneous

by Aaron Starmer
Reviewed by SA

When I started this book, I was laughing every five seconds. When I finished it, I was in tears. There’s just so much to say about Spontaneous, so much that makes me want to shove it at friends and tell them to read it now. It’s a brilliant, touching book which I can’t believe affected me so much.

Summary

23587115Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard from the President of the United States.

When seniors at Covington high start spontaneously combusting – more like, spontaneously exploding – life starts falling apart. No one knows what’s setting people off, what’s safe and who’s next. It’s a little hard to keep things together when you could be a pile of goop one second later.

Mara takes it all in stride. A witty, intelligent young woman, her perspective on the disaster is incredibly refreshing. She’s not a moper, instead she tells the story as it is, infusing the horror with funny moments and sharing a memory worth having of the person who just departed. She’s incredibly relatable, one of the most human YA women I have ever read, and I found myself reading thoughts of hers and wondering if the author somehow saw into my brain. So many of my fears and anxieties ring true through Mara’s point of view.

She’s not perfect, she’s incredibly human, and I think that’s why she’s so much fun to read. She’s also snarky and crass. She swears a lot and lives a very healthy sex life. She deals with this dark subject in her own way, mourns without tears, and suddenly you’re wondering why it’s so funny. How can it be so entertaining?

You begin to really care about the people in the novel. Mara and Tess have such a fantastic friendship, and I’m a sucker for well written girl friendships. Dylan, the romantic interest, is such a fascinating and complex character. Their relationship is far from perfect, and I think we need more imperfect couples in our lit.

But here’s the thing: two thirds of the way into the book, there’s a twist that made me actually scream out in anger. And then everything just falls apart. I was going to talk about great adults for the seniors to look up to and trust, but no, they’re all assholes. I was going to talk about growth, but growing up also means growing apart. The author is constantly reminding us that life can change spontaneously, and that it doesn’t care at all.

Spoiler alert: you won’t get any catharsis from this novel.

The blurb says: Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye. I Think it’s also the heartache of not being able to say goodbye. Of not being able to do what you think you’re supposed to. One of the hardest parts of growing up is learned that you can do everything right and still fail: that life owes you nothing. This book is a powerful reminded of that.

Spontaneous is the most human novel I’ve read in a long time. A book where I have so many questions left unanswered, and I’m going to have to live with that. A book that broke my heart and has me constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of the unexpected happening and taking everything away.

It’s also a book with characters that don’t fall into single categories. A book where everything is unpredictable. A book where you’re laughing out loud at moments that are grim and morose because Mara’s reaction scares even herself.

Yes, I absolutely loved it.

Thank you Penguin Teen for sending me a copy to review. You’re the best.

Labyrinth Lost

By Zoraida Córdova
Reviewed by SA

I just finished reading what must be the best YA novel I have read in ages – possibly, ever, but I know I say that I lot and I don’t want to diminish the amazingness of this novel – and I just could not wait another second to tell you about it. Mark your calendars for September 6th, because Labyrinth Lost is coming out and you have to read it right away.

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Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Where to start with this novel? Alex is a young woman from Brooklyn who harbors incredible magic. But not only does she hate magic, she’s afraid of her own power, keeping it locked away for years until it bursts out in dangerous ways. While the rest of her family has incredible gifts which stem from love, Alex’s power seems raw and dangerous, and she knows she has to get rid of it. When she accidentally banishes her entire family to another dimension, her power might be the only thing that can get them back.

It’s a novel about family, about growth, about love. About how you don’t know how much you truly love something or someone until it’s gone. It’s a quest, an adventure, a modern day take on a story you would hear while sitting next to the fire, as your grandmother tells you about powerful young women and magic. It’s an instant classic.

The worldbuilding here is exquisite. The author does an incredible job of creating this universe and feeding us information without lugging us down with exposition. It’s a masterful example of “show, don’t tell” at work. She crafts a beautiful world of magic and a rich culture based on latin witch magic, with brujas and brujos, Deos and demons.

The characters themselves have such depth and complexity to them. Alex is not some whiny girl who doesn’t want her powers: she’s got valid reason to fear what she can do, and is able to grow into someone not to be trifled with. Nova is mysterious and intriguing, hiding secrets which slowly trickle out. And Rishi is just incredible, she’s a person I would love to have in my life. Not to mention Rose and Lula, Alex’s sisters, who are banished to Los Lagos: we learn so much about them int he first chapters that we feel attached, and we urge Alex to hurry up and rescue them already.

One of the best parts is something which might spoil a bit of the novel, so if you don’t want that, skip this paragraph. But something I noticed early on is how everyone was into Nova, and I realized that Alex wasn’t saying anything about his attractiveness or anything. It seemed logical for him to be the love interest, but I felt no chemistry and was getting worried about where we were headed. And then Rishi returns to the plot, and I start thinking just how great there are together. One thing leads to another, and now I’m sitting here gleefully giggling and happy. Heck yes!

All in all, I just want to say how great this novel is. I thought it was a standalone, the way the story wraps up nicely and felt so perfect, but I’m excited to see it’s marked as Book 1 on goodreads, which means there’s more to come! So if you want magic and adventure, make sure you read Labyrinth lost.

Our September 6th by Sourcebooks Fire.

LabyrinthLost

A World Without You

By Beth Revis
Reviewed by SA

I’m a huge fan of Beth Revis – If you don’t know Across the Universe, check it out now – so when I saw there was a new novel of hers coming out, I pounced on it. Then I had to wait until I actually got home to read it, which is why this review is coming so much later than I had anticipated. In any case, I’m actually quite tired because I was up all night last night finishing it, and just could not put it down. So you’ve been warned!

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Seventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his worried parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have “superpowers.”

At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofía, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Soíia helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofía, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age.

But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she’s not actually dead. He believes that she’s stuck somewhere in time—that he somehow left her in the past, and that now it’s his job to save her. And as Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofía, he must decide whether to face his demons head-on or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.

I absolutely love having this unreliable narrator. When I first read the premise, I believed the novel would be about trying to find reality: does Bo really have powers, or is he deluding himself? Is he right, or is everyone else? But the author makes it very clear where we stand… which means Bo’s perspective cannot be trusted: even though he’s the one telling us the story.

As the novel goes on, due to Bo’s growing psychosis, the story becomes more and more confusing: there’s missing time, jumping backwards and forwards, paranoia, two alternate versions of reality being told at once. Towards the climax of the novel, everything becomes erratic and all over the place, making it difficult to see what’s going on but masterfully growing the tension and the twists. Only a skilled author like Revis could pull off showing this loss of control (even as Bo struggles for just that) without turning it into a jumbled mess.

Bo believes his girlfriend, Sofía, is trapped in 1692 and that it is only through controlling his powers that she will be saved. He refuses to let go. It’s odd to think that for the entire novel, we never truly know Sofía: we get hints of what she struggles with through Bo (as he tells the parts he’s aware of, and what he believes he remembers) or through what the families are told. But her depression is just something Bo cannot grasp.

Every once and a while, Phoebe, Bo’s sister, gets a chapter of her own, from her point of view. It’s so weird to switch to such clarity of mind, and yet, we see she has struggles and confusion of her own to deal with. At first I didn’t get the point of having them, but then I started to see how important it was to see her view.  Kinda her in a nutshell: everyone’s always worrying about Bo, who has much bigger problems, that they fail to see her problems too.

As I said, I could not put this book down. The end was just so exciting, life and death, Bo on the edge, that I needed to keep reading. This book was fantastic. Such a great, brutal look at mental illness, at love and family and psychosis. To read NOW.

Ghost in the Machine

By Kayla Hoyet
Reviewed by SA

You all know this by now, I assume: I love science fiction novels. I devour them by the barrelfulls. It takes a rare, fantastic novel to really stick out: Ghost in the Machine is one of them. It’s clever, it’s captivating, and it’ll keep you guessing until the very end.

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Eighteen-year-old Tyler Gaines has always followed the rules–in part because it’s too much trouble to break them, but mostly because her father’s bedtime stories about the Sphere’s elite red-coat Enforcers scared her senseless as a child. She does what she’s told, just like everyone else, so when she goes to see the Broker–a woman whose sole purpose is to assign a match to everyone in the Sphere–and gets paired with a red-coat Enforcer named Aidan, she tries her best to put her father’s stories to rest and adapt to her new family. When Tyler’s best friend is killed and both fingers and technology point to Tyler as the main suspect, Tyler begins to think that her nightmares are coming to life.

Aidan knows Tyler is innocent, but there’s one big problem: Proving Tyler’s innocence rests on proving that the government’s high-tech system, the system on which the entire population depends, has a problem the likes of which it has never had before. Aidan doesn’t have a lot of time to make his case. If he can’t figure out what’s wrong with the system soon, Tyler may end up paying the ultimate price for a crime she didn’t commit.

In the future Tyler calls her own, automated systems take care of everything. It’s supposed to be infallible… but is it really? When Tyler is accused of a crime she didn’t commit – the murder of her best friend, no less – people are more likely to believe a machine’s version of the events than a humans. But can the machine be wrong?

What I loved about this novel was just how complex Tyler’s character is. She’s young, she’s smart, but she’s also fiercely loyal and can be quite bold if she wants to. She has to put up with so much, and in such a short period of time, it’s enough to break anyone, but not Tyler. It’s impressive how Hoyet ties Tyler’s dancing into the plot, using analogies through dance to show how Tyler is really feeling.

The one thing a computer can’t control in this world is relationships, so they have the Broker for that: an incredible matchmaker that somehow gets it right every time. So it does come off as weird… and kind of creepy… when Tyler gets matched with a man who’s a smidgen older than her and not really her type. But the way the family deals with this is fantastic. They take her in as if she’s one of their own and give her the space she needs to grow. Honestly, I was kind of enamored with Aiden’s family.

The novel is part dystopia, part murder mystery. Who is responsible for that young girl’s death? Could it really be Tyler, since the computer says she checked into her building around the time of death? And if it isn’t her, who is really responsible? The book will keep you guessing until the very end, and you won’t believe who’s responsible!

What’s great? How the ending opens up so many possibilities for the sequel. I’m excited to see what this means for their system, for their world. I can’t wait for book number two!

 

Untamed

by Madeline Dyer
Reviewed by SA

Sometimes a book comes along that catches you off guard. You finish reading it and just think: wow, wow… That book was fun, exciting, everything I wanted in a book. Can I get another? Well, Untamed was that book for me. It’s the perfect book to pull you out of a reading slump and remind you that a good plot can take you anywhere. And did I mention it’s exciting, and impossible to put down?

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As one of the last Untamed humans left in the world, Seven’s life has always been controlled by tight rules. Stay away from the Enhanced. Don’t question your leader. And, most importantly, never switch sides–because once you’re Enhanced there’s no going back. Even if you have become the perfect human being.

But after a disastrous raid on an Enhanced city, Seven soon finds herself in her enemy’s power. Realizing it’s only a matter of time before she too develops a taste for the chemical augmenters responsible for the erosion of humanity, Seven knows she must act quickly if she’s to escape and save her family from the same fate.

Yet, as one of the most powerful Seers that the Untamed and Enhanced have ever known, Seven quickly discovers that she alone holds the key to the survival of only one race. But things aren’t clear-cut anymore, and with Seven now questioning the very beliefs she was raised on, she knows she has an important choice to make. One that has two very different outcomes.

Seven must choose wisely whose side she joins, for the War of Humanity is underway, and Death never takes kindly to traitors.

The novel throws you right into the action, even from the first line. We follow Seven, a young woman who lives in this dark future where most of the population is addicted to mood enhancing drugs. The drugs, or Augmenters, can also make you more beautiful, stronger, faster, smarter… at the cost of your humanity. You feel no negative emotions, and your eyes glaze over with a mirror-like sheen. Those who are augmenter free live in constant fear of being converted, and are called Untamed.

After Seven is captured and then saved from the Enhanced, her life is constantly torn between the two camps. She’s addicted, to put it mildly. This makes her a fascinating character, as she tries to make the right decisions for her camp, while at the same time craving something she knows she mustn’t have.

The world that Dyer has created is just so dang fascinating. It’s a world in which not only we have these two opposing forces, but spirits are loose as well. Spirits that can influence Seven’s visions, or physically hinder the gang as they try to escape the clutches of the Enhanced. It’s pretty brilliant the way the author intertwines reality with these spirits, making you wonder just how they came into being and why they hold so much importance.

But I have to say what sol me on this novel was really the author’s effortless style. It’s perfect, making it easy to get sucked into the story and yet impossible to put down. I found myself eagerly turning the pages until I was outraged that there were none left to turn. The plot could easily have come off as being something seen before, but instead I felt like I was reading something entirely new, which plot twists I definitely did not see coming.

If you need a kick-butt story with amazing characters and outstanding world building, pick up a copy of Untamed. You deserve it.

Foul is Fair

by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins
Reviewed by SA

This week we’re tackling an amazing fantasy novel for Self Published Saturday, a novel you’re sure to love: Foul is Fair, the first novel in the recently concluded Fair Folk Chronicles. It’s a brilliant book that takes you deep into the heart of Faerie, full of magic and danger… and dancing, too.

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Lots of girls play Fairy Princess when they’re little. Megan O’Reilly had no idea the real thing was like playing chess, guitar, and hockey all at once. Megan had known for a long time that she wasn’t an entirely typical girl. But living with ADHD—and her mother’s obsessions—was a very different thing from finding out she wasn’t entirely human. Somewhere out there, in a completely different world, her father needs help. There’s a conflict, revolving around Faerie seasonal rituals, that could have consequences for humanity—and if Megan’s getting the terminology straight, it sounds like her family aren’t even supposed to be the good guys. As she’s further and further swept up in trying to save her father, Megan may be getting too good at not being human.

When Megan discovers her dad – as well as her best friend – are mythical, she takes it all in one stride: she’s got a quest to follow! She has her father to save, let alone the whole world, the balance of which rests upon him being able to attend a dance that changes the seasons. She’s focused and determined, even without her medication, and she’s ready to take on this challenge if it means making things right for the world.

Megan is a skilled artist (thought she might be addicted to doodling) and begins to slowly see the power of music and signing. She’s got a knack for it, which some might call a little magic. I loved Megan as a character, and her friend Lani just as much. Their friendship is a powerful drive in Megan’s life and gives her strength and determination, as well as support as her world is turned on her head. And I’m such a sucker for female friendships in great novels.

My favorite characters, however, were not the main ones: no, I loved Cassia and Ashling a whole lot. Ashling might be my favorite pixie of all time: she’s sassy, funny, and crazy witty. Not to mention she’s technically living with a pixie disability, and her ‘service animal’ is a crow named Count who’s a personality all to himself. I’ve NEVER read a book like this before! Ashling’s comedic responses to Megan’s whole slew of questions – especially her variety of answers as to why Count is names Count  or where fairies come from – had me rolling on the floor laughing.

While some parts of the novel were exposition heavy, I found the overall creativity of the novel to make up for that. I loved the use of other myths from around the world that I had never heard of: Lani, for example, is part Menehune, which (I only just learned this) is a myth from Hawaii. This gives her a talent for engineering and creating things.

To recap all the amazing things about this book: great representation, love of art and music, love of science and creativity, the world of Faerie, myths from around the world, great adventure… and did I mention it’s a great read for any age?

“I’ve been a huge mythology nerd most of my life, so getting to play with the old myths, and have a series centered around the 4 treasures of Ireland, the 4 lost cities of the fae, and the 4 big seasonal events of the calendar was a lot of fun,” The author told me when I asked about his inspiration, “Thor #279 was one of the first things I ever really read, when I was 5. It sent me scrambling to learn the real myths. So I liked the idea of writing something where readers, especially teens, maybe could, or even would occasionally go running to google some of the things in the books, or read Celtic myth, Hawaiian myth, etc.”

And it worked! I ended up by starting to google “Menehune”and spend a few hours just browsing the interwebs, using this book as a guide. And I learned so much!

If you want a fun and creative take on the world of Faerie, then you’re going to love Foul is Fair. There are four books to this series, all available on amazon. The ebook for book 2 is on .99 sale on kindle through this weekend, as it is the summer solstice!

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Moxyland

by Lauren Beukes
Reviewed by SA

Prepare yourselves for an insane thrill ride, not for the feint of heart. This novel is everything a science fiction novel should be an more, and you’re going to fall in love with Beukes’s writing. And you’ll probably come out hating humans, but we all need a good dose of that from time to time.

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A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society’s white knight.

Moxyland is very character driven. All four characters live in South Africa, and their lives all intersect and their paths cross in interesting ways. And each of them are just so incredibly relatable: they’re all a little hot-headed, maybe entitled, self absorbed, and cynical about the world they live in. Whether they like it or not, they all have an important role to play.

We have Kendra, the artist, who’s trying to be independent: she joins a nanotech research program/marketing scheme, which will change her life forever. There’s Lerato, who’s trying to climb the corporate ladder while still hating the corporations. Ten, a activist who slowly begins to cross the line into terrorism, and Toby, a gamer and blogger who just wants to live his comfortable lifestyle. They all have different views of the world they live in, many too comfortable to do anything to change it, while others may try and do too much. it can all end in tears.

The future that Burkes imagines for South Africa is a very plausible one. Everyone is very dependent on their smart phone, as it carries their identity, their bank account, and will even be used in riot control or police arrests. Losing your phone is being tossed out of society. This, and other cool technologies I won’t spoil for you, made so much sense for the world of tomorrow.

The plot itself is a little complicated to get into at first, to see how everyone fits together, but it grows until a climax that is absolutely heart stopping. Seriously, I could not put this book down. It was so exciting, and terrifying… but no, no spoilers!

The novel is also a bit of a social commentary on us (well, a lot of a social commentary), about the power of consumerism and corporations, about complacency, about giving up our freedoms for perceived comfort. It’s not exactly eye opening, but still an amazing study. It kind of makes you hate us current humans.

For fans of Snow Crash, and cyberpunk, who love classics like Brave New World. This book will leave you breathless.

A new paperback edition comes out 16 Aug 2016 from Mulholland Books.

 

The Crown’s Game

By Evelyn Skye
Reviewed by SA

I have been excited for this book for ages: I mean, magic in imperial Russia? Yes please! And I was so thrilled that it did not disappoint. I couldn’t put it down: quite literally, actually, as I sat down and read it in about two hours, and didn’t see time go by.

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Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I loved the world the author created, melding a well researched imperial Russia with the promise of magic and enchantment. The descriptions of not only St Petersburg, but also the Steppe, and the islands truly made you feel transported there. I could almost feel everything around me as I was reading, which is what made it so difficult for me to pull away.

The magic itself is something beautiful. Evanescing, the enchanted way to travel, is something described in such a gorgeous way that I wished I could travel like that, too. However, I was disappointed when I realized there would not be strong magical battles (Like in A Gathering of Shadows) but that was quickly remedied when I was sucked into the beautiful creations of our two heroes. At each turn of the game, they compete to outshine each other, and the result is quite beautiful.

As for the characters themselves, well, some I loved, some I hated, and some I loved and hated through the novel.  I did relate to Vika and Nicolai, and quite enjoyed their difference in magic (one being more elemental, the other more technical) and how they complemented each other. Vika’s fiery and fierce, headstrong and independent. Nicolai was more book loving, a bit Nerdy, but a bit of an artist. While some of their decisions seemed illogical, I’ll put that down to them just being young. I make irrational decisions too.

While Pasha seemed fantastic to me, his family seemed quite two dimensional. Actually, most minor characters seemed to suffer this lack of depth, some of whom can be written up into just one word. The secondary villain (if you can call her that) actually built up great, but then just kind of fell flat and stopped being the threat we expected her to be. She fizzled.

But boy, did I like this world. I loved how the magic worked, I loved the enchanted mountain, the idea of volcanic nymphs, the beautiful descriptions. I would highly recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction, actually.

I think you’ll like it too!

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You Were Here

by Cori McCarthy
Reviewed by SA

I picked up this book because of was fascinated by the blurb: but also captivated by the cover. But the idea of urban exploration in the wake of tragedy sounded incredibly gripping, and like a fun read: I was surprised by how much this book actually was.

Summary25679559

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

When a boy dies in a stupid accident after taking a dare, the lives of those around him are shifted. His sister. His friends. The people who saw him snap his neck and the people who didn’t. Everyone is affected. Jaycee, his sister, is grieving hard. As she reaches the age where her brother died, she decides to take on his dares herself, trying to bring him back. But what she gets is something different entirely.

It’s interesting to see a book around grief take place so long after the death, and even more interesting to see how the novel evolves to be more than just that. It’s a novel about friendship, about hard truths, and moving on from the past rather than clinging to it.

That being said, I didn’t really like the characters. At least, not all of them. Jaycee seemed a little extreme in how she took her brother’s death. It’s probably understandable, but it was borderline creepy: with her wanting to take on those dares, it was as if she had no regard for her own life. Which kinda contradicts the whole “I managed to survive past graduation” thing.

And I wasn’t particularly fond of Natalie, either. While she had the one of the best opportunities for growth and a deeper storyline than the others (SPOILER ALERT – She SAW the accident but kept it secret all these years) it wasn’t fully realized. I didn’t feel like she grew: instead I felt like she turned into a walking cliche, just trying to get her friend to make out with a guy.

It was a huge surprise to me when I realized I liked Zach most: his character growth is impressive, and I don’t want to give anything away. But I felt like HE started off as the cliche and then turned into a three dimensional character. By the end of the novel, I felt as if he was the most grown up out of all of them. Plus, my favorite quote of the book comes from him.

Which is not to say I didn’t like Mik or Bishop: Bishop, the heartbroken artist, and Mik, the selective mute college student, were both interesting characters as well. I didn’t really get the whole relationship between Jaycee and Mik, as she fell for him before he really uttered a word to her, but it was still believable.

When I finished this book, I realized what I liked the most about it was HOW it was told, and not the story itself. The perspectives are incredibly unique: yes, you have first person, and third person as well, but you also have artwork (Bishop) and graphic novel (Mik) perspectives, which I found incredibly cool. I mean, an entire person’s perspective seen through their artwork? It’s a fantastic idea, and I’m so glad it worked here. It’s what brought my rating up to four stars.

I also loved the fact that all the places they went for Urban exploration are REAL places, and you can look them up online… or go yourself if you’re in the area. Honestly, I’d really love to. They’re fascinating places and sound awesome when described in the novel.

I feel like there’s a lot more to say about this book, but I’ll keep it at that. It’s a very fun read and will certainly be a great hit.