Review: The Shadow Hour ★★★★☆

27245910Sequels are hard; sequels in trilogies are even harder. So many of them suffer through Sagging Middle Syndrome™ that some people aren’t even able to finish them. I read and reviewed The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey last year, and I fell head over heels and finished it in one go. It’s sequel, The Shadow Hour, was slightly less head-over-heelsy and more…trip and fall.

A battle has been won. But the war has only just begun.

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: she is the firebird, the creature of light that is said to bring peace.

The firebird has come into the world, but it has not come alone. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance. Cosmic forces threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now, as the firebird, her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome.

She knows the Dragon Prince will not fall without a fight.

Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the shadow hour.

-Goodreads

I was so excited for The Shadow Hour that I pre-ordered it the day it was announced. I didn’t even stop to read the summary attached, just ran straight over to Barnes & Noble’s website and put it in my cart. Melissa Grey had become one of my favorite authors of 2015, so she was surely to keep that Fave Status in 2016. I wasn’t wrong.

The Shadow Hour picks up more or less where The Girl at Midnight left off; Echo has become the firebird and has gained supernatural powers that can either send the world into darkness or bring peace. Quite a lot to put on the shoulders of a teenager, but hey, YA heroines are used to it.

Echo is as snappy as ever, there’s more stolen gazes and furtive kisses (Go Dorian and Jasper!) than in the last book and everyone in the main cast gets equal screen time so that all the character arcs are great and rounded. We even get some new love-to-hate characters on screen (I’m looking at you, Tanith. Why do you do the things you do?).

My only gripe with The Shadow Hour, and the only thing preventing it from entering my Top Books of 2016 list, was that I felt like I had to slosh through thick mud to get to the good parts. Some castle raids and kissing wasn’t enough to motivate me through 400 pages of book. I devoured The Girl at Midnight in a day; it took me over a week to get through The Shadow Hour. The best part of the book was the last 20 to 50 pages, when things hit the fan and Echo faces off against the Big Bad. Right around when that thing happened to Caius was when I started to get interested. (Man, it’s so hard to stay spoiler-free…)

But The Shadow Hour was still a good book and a great continuation of The Girl at Midnight. Now just to check to see if I can pre-order The Savage Dawn yet…

Melissa Grey
Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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Review: Ghosts ★★★★★

25903764Graphic novels have always had a special place in my heart, and Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier has taken my heart in its adorable fist and crushed it to smithereens.

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake – and her own.

ghostspreview1Raina Telgemeier has a long list of great kidlit graphic novels, including DramaSmile, and her graphic adaptation of the Baby-Sitter’s Club. So Ghosts is another stellar addition to anyone’s library, and let me tell you, you need this book in your library.

Catrina is a great character, someone I would have heavily identified with as a kid–scared but loyal and a great big sister. Her younger sister Maya has cystic fibrosis and ends up stuck at home when she would rather be trick-or-treating or meeting ghosts in their new home in Bahía de la Luna. Bahía de la Luna is a town where the veil between the human world and the ghost world is thin, and so ghosts come into town every so often. But on Halloween night, every ghost comes into town to meet with their living family.

ghostspreview2The art is adorable and the fact that Telgemeier shows all the little things about what it means to have cystic fibrosis is awesome; we see Maya’s nightly breathing ritual, how quickly a breathing attack can come on, how it affects Maya’s mentality about life and death. The juxtaposition of Maya’s inevitable passing and the reality of ghosts in town softens the blow that eventually Maya will leave her family in the world of the living, but it’s still so incredibly bittersweet.

Catrina grows and becomes courageous, not just for herself but also for her sister, and she meets the ghosts and makes new friends.

Ghosts by Raina Telegemeier is the perfect Halloween read for readers of any age.

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes.

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Review: The Mesmerist ★★★★☆

Jessamine works with her mother pretending to be spiritualists—until the day where the pretending becomes real and she finds out she has mysterious powers. Ronald L. Smith has made a dark and memorable middle-grade story in The Mesmerist.

Thirteen-year-old Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists—until they discover that Jess is a mesmerist and that she really can talk to the dead. Soon she is plunged into the dark world of Victorian London’s supernatural underbelly and learns that the city is under attack by ghouls, monsters, and spirit summoners. Can Jess fight these powerful forces? And will the group of strange children with mysterious powers she befriends be able to help? As shy, proper Jess transforms into a brave warrior, she uncovers terrifying truths about the hidden battle between good and evil, about her family, and about herself.

Set in Victorian London, The Mesmerist tackles many dark stories: death, vengeance, and violence. Jessamine Grace lived a normal live with her mother, until the day they found out that Jess was actually a mesmerist—someone who can read people’s thoughts and communicate with the dead. She joins the mysterious League of Ravens in order to fight necromancers.

A great story with a strong voice, The Mesmerist is sure to please any lover of middle-grade stories. With many familiar story ideas, young readers will love it.

My one gripe with the story was that it seemed to be trying to capture too many story lines in one book. And at less than 280 pages, there wasn’t much room to play with multiple story lines. With death and retribution being in the top spot, it was quickly followed by mystery, the Plague, and social-political statements that bog down the story and make it a little hard to keep one plotline straight.

Jess was a bright character and fiercely loyal and strong, and I fell in love with her immediately. While a lot of familiar tropes seem to fill the pages of The Mesmerist, and it did seem to border on cliche, it’s bound to become a staple in a young reader that loves dark stories and supernatural tales.

Ronald L. Smith

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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Review: Labyrinth Lost 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

27969081Give me a book about kickass magic wielding ladies set in an incredibly built world, and I’ll fall in love. And I fell head over heels into a portal leading to Los Lagos. Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost was the type of book where, had I read it as an actual teenager, I would have reread it every day until I got sick of it. (Spoiler: I would never get sick of it.)

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

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

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 markings 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…

wp-1464035380601.jpgI can’t tell you how incredibly excited I was for this book when I first heard about it, some few weeks ago. I had tried desperately to get a review copy (but Edelweiss is so not user-friendly), and was unsuccessful. Then I learned that Zoraida would be at BookCon and signing ARCs of Labyrinth Lost. And I definitely did not let that opportunity pass by!

So once I had my copy, I couldn’t put it down. I was so immediately invested in Alex’s journey through Los Lagos to save her family, rooting so hard for Alex and Rishi, desperately needing to know what was going to happen.

Labyrinth Lost was the book I needed as a kid; to know that it was okay to accept one’s culture and still accept their queerness.

I loved every last minute while reading it and it’s definitely the type of book where I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and experience it all again for the very first time. Though I am incredibly glad that it’s a series, and there’ll be more of Alejandra and more of her family and friends in stories to come.

Labyrinth Lost releases September 6th, 2016.

Goodreads . Amazon . B&N . Author’s Page

Review: The Wolf in the Attic ★☆☆☆☆

23492495The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney is the long winded tale of Anna, a Greek refugee living in London with her father in the early 20th century. There was exactly one exciting, plot driven scene in the first quarter of the book and everything else is countless pages of details, descriptions and character reflections on repeat. I had to mark Wolf in the Attic as a DNF, which I hate to do.

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien… and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beau
tiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

-Goodreads

Anna’s journey is meant to be a magical one, full of mystery, strange creatures and the voices of some classic authors. But I found it dull and ended up forcing myself to get through the first quarter of it.

Anna has come to London with her father after Turks burn their hometown to the ground, and have since become refugees. She desperately wants to find a place of her own, but she is kept away from local children and her only source of companionship is Pie, a doll she’s had since she was very young, with whom she shares many conversations.

And for a long while, that’s the only person she speaks with. Most of the book is full of Anna’s reflections on what’s around her and pages of descriptions and details that never end. The only scene that actively held my interest was about fifteen percent of the way through the book; when Anna is in the meadow, watching a boy kill a man and then that boy following her all the way back to the city. After that, nothing of interest happens.

I really liked Anna’s character. She’s young, spunky and adventurous. I knew almost immediately that she not only had to be dealing with some form of PTSD, having lived through the trauma of her home being attack and losing her mother, but also some form of mental illness. As an eleven year-old still closely attached to her doll, not to mention her incredibly limited view of the world despite being at an age where she should be viewing things around her in a much more multi-dimensional fashion, she reads as someone on the autistic spectrum or as someone with a learning disability.

Since I began reviewing books, I’ve started to learn that sometimes, I won’t be able to finish every book. I’ve long since determined that I also won’t like every book I come across. I used to try and finish every book I get from NetGally, but it’s not always possible, especially if the book I’ve chosen to read that week isn’t a very good one or does not meet my expectations. Finishing books I don’t like just leads to headache, heartache and a long time spent moaning and groaning about how I couldn’t wait to be done.

I don’t particularly like marking books down as DNF; I used to find it unfair to the author, who put so much work and heart into the crafting of their story. But reading is meant to be a pleasure, something I do because I enjoy it and want to do. Reading bad books or books I don’t feel invested in for any reason is not pleasurable.

Finishing books is great, but sometimes, not finishing them is even better.

Review: Akarnae ★★☆☆☆

23569787I always thought I loved portal fantasy stories; after all, I did spend ten years writing one, but Akarnae proved that I did not love portal fantasies as much as I thought I did.

Continue reading “Review: Akarnae ★★☆☆☆”

Review: The Lie Tree ★★★★☆

I’m always enamored by girls in stories that seem innocent and invisible but use that to their advantage to carve their own path — which is exactly what Faith Sunderly does in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s impossible to put down this historical mystery, set just after the advent of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, where young Faith takes the matter of her father’s murder into her own hands.

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a Lie Tree.jpgproper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

-Goodreads

Historical fiction has always been that tiny love of mine, the flame of a candle burning in the back of my mind while I busied myself with fantasy. It’s always forgotten while I adventure with dragons and goblins, but I’m reminded how brightly that candle burns when I read something like The Lie Tree.

When I opened Lie Tree up, I couldn’t close it until I was almost halfway through, and the only reason I did was because it was 3 in the morning and I had work in a few hours. Faith is an incredibly strong female character–and not in the ways most people expect when they hear those three words. She’s immensely flawed, selfish and brash, but she’s kind and brave and willfull too. She seeks the truth when everyone else is blind to it, and she puts herself in danger to get to the bottom of it.

Every detail comes full circle in every aspect; Hardinge is a talented writer who wastes no word.

My only gripe, if I really could call it that, is the huge cast of characters. Some are only mentioned in passing and others we physically see on the page, but they end up flowing into one another and often I find myself asking, “Wait, who is that?”

It’s not a good thing to have happen, especially in a murder mystery where everyone you meet is a potential suspect. You forget who wronged whom or when they were last seen, and it gets confusing.

But regardless of your favorite genre, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction, you ought to pick up The Lie Tree as soon as you can.

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