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Review – Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows

 

Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1)

By Jodi Meadows

SummaryBefore

Mira Minkoba is the Hopebearer. Since the day she was born, she’s been told she’s special. Important. Perfect. She’s known across the Fallen Isles not just for her beauty, but for the Mira Treaty named after her, a peace agreement which united the seven islands against their enemies on the mainland.

But Mira has never felt as perfect as everyone says. She counts compulsively. She struggles with crippling anxiety. And she’s far too interested in dragons for a girl of her station.

After

Then Mira discovers an explosive secret that challenges everything she and the Treaty stand for. Betrayed by the very people she spent her life serving, Mira is sentenced to the Pit–the deadliest prison in the Fallen Isles. There, a cruel guard would do anything to discover the secret she would die to protect.

No longer beholden to those who betrayed her, Mira must learn to survive on her own and unearth the dark truths about the Fallen Isles–and herself–before her very world begins to collapse.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate

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Review:

I couldn’t wait to read Before She Ignites because I love YA fantasy and I feel like we don’t get enough dragons in YA fantasy, so the promise of dragons hooked me. 

The book is difficult to review because I did enjoy it, but I didn’t like it at times. It’s hard to really decide how I feel about it overall. I think this is one of those times when the second book in a series will ultimately decide how the trilogy itself will be for me in the end. As a first book, Before She Ignites was flawed, but a thrilling second book will redeem every bit of it because the end was decent and there was a ton of potential with the basic foundation laid out in the book. The beginning was good, but the middle faltered a bit and I almost put it down because I was bored and getting irritated by how much it felt like a YA dystopian novel just set in a fantasy world. Part Three of the book picked up the pace and I felt like I was finally getting into it, caring about the characters, and feeling that maybe it wouldn’t be so predictable in the end. 

Right now, the trilogy as a whole could go either way and be super awesome or extremely forgettable. It has a ton of potential and I just need to see how it unfolds in order to make a final decision about whether I really enjoyed this book or not.

One disappointment is that the book talked about dragons and even had a handful of scenes with dragons, but was not really a dragon fantasy and I think my expectations were too high in that regard. 

On a good note, though, there didn’t seem to be any real insta-love, love triangles, or any of that other awful YA trope stuff. 

For people who suffer from anxiety, Mira is probably a character they can relate to and see a bit of themselves in and I do like that a fantasy decided to feature that in a way that worked well for the reader. Still, it was difficult to like Mira for quite some time as she fell from privileged rich girl to prison scum and her naivety was a bit much in the beginning. Like YA dystopian novels, it went through the painful phase in which the main character started to realize perhaps her people were lying to her and maybe everyone else and work through the motives and consequences of that. 

For now, I think 3 stars is fair until the sequel comes out and I can decide if it makes this one worth reading.

Star 3

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Review – The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones

 

The Hearts We Sold

By Emily Lloyd-Jones

SummaryWhen Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.

With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldly ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

Source: I received a hardcover in a Owlcrate box

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Review:

The Hearts We Sold was an enjoyable and fast paced YA novel inspired by classic horror and fairy tales. With a Rumpelstiltskin kind of deal, humans could trade a body part for a wish and that wish could be granted. Like the vampires in True Blood, the demons who offered the deals came out to society in a public way. For Dee, it didn’t really matter until she discovered she did have a need that was worth trading for. 

I liked the overall plot of the book with the idea of public demons and humans trading limbs for various wishes and having tabloids discuss it. People looked at missing or fake limbs with an eyebrow raised. Accident or deal? It was all kind of intriguing. For Dee, she didn’t have to trade a limb, but instead traded her heart. The deal left her heartless for 2 years in which she’d be working for the demon, or Daemon. During that time, she wouldn’t change, wouldn’t have a heartbeat, but would function as normal for the most part. She ended up with a trio of other heartless and they worked to stop voids from opening up because they could enter them. The voids were part of their job, but no one really asked any questions at first.

The book, though enjoyable, fell a bit flat for me because it was so fast paced. I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I wanted to and the book felt really fast paced. The world was really interesting, as were the backstories of all of the characters. Honestly, I felt like the book could’ve been twice as long with a lot more detail. There was so much room for more world-building and character building and I felt like the groundwork was all there. Instead, it was a quick and plot driven book that ended quickly. 

Still, it was a fun book and I’d recommend it.

Star 4

 

Review – Caraval by Stephanie Garber

 

Caraval

By Stephanie Garber

SummaryRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate

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Review:

I enjoyed Caraval so much. It promised an atmosphere similar to that of The Night Circus and it came in the Run Away with the Circus themed Owlcrate box. It wasn’t quite the same, but I see why the two books are compared or recommended to fans of one or the other.

I enjoyed the mystery and intrigue. Everything that happened from the moment Scarlett awoke to find herself headed to Caraval was a mystery. Who could she trust? Could she even trust herself? What would happen? Is everything just a game? I love books that can surprise me and throw something at me and make me doubt my own instincts. Caraval did a wonderful job with maintaining the atmosphere, surprising the reader, and remaining unpredictable to the very end.

My only real complaint was that I never really cared for Scarlett or her sister and I thought the book could’ve been amazing had they been more likable. But I am one to read books often with characters that are unlikable, sometimes on purpose, and enjoy them, so it wasn’t off-putting for me. Fair warning, if you tend to dislike books as a whole when you don’t like the main character, Caraval may not be the book for you.

I definitely recommend Caraval and I’m glad i finally picked it up and read it. It was exactly what i was in the mood for and did not disappoint. I loved the ride and figuring out what, if anything, I could trust.

Star 4

 

Review – New World: Rising by Jennifer Wilson

 

New World: Rising

By Jennifer Wilson

SummaryWorlds collide in debut author Jennifer Wilson’s graphic dystopian series where Divergent meets Mad Max. 

Since witnessing her parents’ murders at the age of eleven, Phoenix’s only purpose in life has been to uphold her mother’s dying words – to be strong and survive. But surviving outside of The Walls – outside of The Sanctuary – is more like a drawn-out death sentence. A cruel and ruthless city, Tartarus is run by the Tribes whose motto is simple, “Join or die.” 
Refusing to join and determined to live, Phoenix fights to survive in this savage world. But who can she trust, when no one can be trusted? Not even herself…
The first of a trilogy, New World Rising is an epic tale of survival, instinct, trauma, and the extraordinary power of human connection.

“Savage and raw, Jennifer Wilson pulls no punches in this blood tingling dystopian.” Kimberly Derting, award-winning author of The Pledge Trilogy 

Source: I received a paperback in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

New World: Rising was surprisingly awesome. I never really expect much from YA dystopian novels anymore and this wasn’t the starring book in the Owlcrate box, so of course I kind of viewed it as “extra” and didn’t have a lot of expectations for it, assuming it would be a mildly enjoyable book at best. 

Man, was I wrong. 

New World: Rising was really good in a way that I just don’t really see anymore in YA dystopian fiction. It was fresh. It kind of combined the aspects of post apocalypse with dystopia. Tartarus was the post apocalypse setting, the broken city taken over by tribes. A wall separated Tartarus from The Sanctuary. While we didn’t get to see the Sanctuary, it can be assumed that it’s the oppressive but perfect on the outside broken utopian society. I love that the story had both aspects of dystopian fiction. 

Phoenix was a loner who wasn’t part of any of the city’s tribes. She kept to herself, traded when she needed to, and kept access points all over the city. She survived. The comparison in the synopsis that it’s Divergent meets Mad Max is actually pretty spot on, but at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised that the book stood on its own without having to be compared to other dystopian YA novels. I loved Phoenix as a character. She was fierce, but I could tell she had a softer side. It showed when she saved a small girl without even realizing what she was doing.

The world building was superb. It was dark, gritty, and terrifying. I was caught up in the atmosphere and mystery, as well as the characters. 

If you are like me and love the dystopian genre, but it’s been nothing but disappointment recently, I highly recommend New World Rising. It’s the breath of fresh air we’ve all been waiting for.

Star 4

 

Review – The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

SummaryWhen all hope is gone, how do you survive? 

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

Source: I received an Owlcrate exclusive hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

The Sandcastle Empire was a strange book. I was confused for the majority of the story, but it was so interesting that I couldn’t help but turn the pages to see what would happen next. Because I was so intrigued and constantly surprised by the direct of the story, I enjoyed the book quite a bit.

The book definitely has a LOST feel to it, along with dystopian elements. Something happened to Eden’s world and it was under very strict rule, but her main goal was to find the Sanctuary her father wrote about in his survival guide. During a moment of chaos and confusion, Eden found herself traveling with three other girls headed off of the coast with only one way to go: towards Sanctuary.

There was so much going on with the plot. The island was really strange and it became clear that they weren’t on any ordinary piece of land. Also, the group dynamics were weird because none of them could really trust each other. And then one of them went missing and the girls attempted to find her and stumbled onto all sorts of messed up things. What WAS this place?! What was happening?

And then, suddenly, there was another group of people who showed up with characters some of the girls recognized, but not quite. Who were they? What were THEY doing here? 

I loved all of the craziness.

I have to admit, things did get a little over the top with the amount of strange twists and turns and shifting alliances, but I was so hooked. The end probably had more plot holes and rushed schemes than I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. From the beginning, I knew I wasn’t reading a story that was realistic or had a tie to any world I’d recognize, so it was pure fantasy and chaos that never really needed to make sense to me. I suppose I understand if you are a stickler for realistic fiction how this book would be maddening, but I thought it was kind of fun and insane. 

I would definitely recommend The Sandcastle Empire to anyone who enjoyed Lost, enjoys being on the edge of their seat, and doesn’t have super high expectations for YA dystopian novels. This isn’t the next big hit, but it was definitely enjoyable and I had so much fun flying through the pages with a confused look on my face. No one can accuse the book of being predictable!

 Star 4

 

 

 

 

Review – Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters

by Francesca Zappia

SummaryEighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk is the anonymous creator of Monstrous Sea, a wildly popular webcomic, but when a new boy at school tempts her to live a life offline, everything she’s worked for begins to crumble.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, smart, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school, and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. With pages from Eliza’s webcomic, as well as screenshots from Eliza’s online forums, this uniquely formatted book will appeal to fans of Noelle Stevenson’s Nimonaand Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate

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Review:

Before I state my opinion, I’ll say that this book was a huge Owlcrate fan favorite. A lot of subscribers enjoyed this book and I completely and totally understand why. It’s a great book, short, sweet, and probably very easy for many introverted people to relate to. So my low-ish rating is more of personal opinion and not necessarily an indicator that this is a bad book.

I think this book is easy for a lot of readers and introverts to relate to and that ability to relate is what makes it so enjoyable. For me, I am kind of different because, while I do enjoy escape into books, I am not the kind of introvert who doesn’t enjoy real life, even when I don’t fit in. I feel like becoming comfortable in my own skin is important to me, even as tempting as escaping into myself tends to be, and it’s always kind of made it difficult for me to relate to the types of introverts who prefer to escape. This book is for those people. For me, it just wasn’t a book I identified with, though the author did create characters I wanted to root for even if I couldn’t relate.

On another note, I also dislike and do not participate in fan-fiction, so there’s another thing that other people probably loved and could relate to that I just couldn’t. I will likely never pick up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (though I love her other books!) just because I know it’s not my cup of tea. I didn’t realize that this book would be about a fandom in that sense. Eliza created her world, but I didn’t expect the online fandom presence or the existence of a fan-fiction writer. And this definitely hindered my enjoyment of the book, though it didn’t really bother me until the end. I rooted for Eliza and Wallace for the majority of the book, but his behavior regarding his fan-fiction really bothered me and that’s partly because I think it was a crappy attitude about it but also because of how I feel about fan-fiction in general, published fan-fiction, and the rights of fan-fiction authors. (I’m sorry, but no author or artist or any person should ever be made to feel like they exist to give other people inspiration even if they do frequently inspire others. You are not an inspiration factory and if someone can’t get their life together it’s not your fault no matter what. This message WAS in the book, but the end of the book kind of rushed through some of that and I don’t think that was as clear as it could’ve been.)

And lastly, while I didn’t relate to Eliza, I felt like I understood her throughout much of the book. I was completely loving the book for at least 70% of it because the author did a great job of making me empathize with and love Eliza and “get” her situation. But once her identity was revealed and she had a panic attack, she generally stopped participating in life on and offline, and I just didn’t feel like the rest of the book handled the healing process very well. It glossed over a lot of it and I wanted the book to have more of a focus on overcoming and dealing with anxiety instead of just kind of skirting around it. While her family didn’t necessarily understand her focus on her comic and they finally understood it once they realized how big it was, the fact that it was so successful did not and should not mean that Eliza’s behavior was okay. There’s a middle ground there that just wasn’t obviously pointed out. I feel like the message, without meaning to, kind of sounded like “it’s okay to let anxiety control your life if you just do something successful.” The book did start to go in a more positive direction towards the end, but it just wasn’t as detailed or in depth as the whole rest of the book, so it just fell short for me and made the actual message it was trying to give a little less clear.

If you love comics, graphic novels, the creation of art, fan-fiction, and/or characters who are more comfortable online than in person and find that easy to relate to, this book is absolutely awesome and I definitely recommend it. But it’s not without flaws.

Star 3

Review – The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

 

The Upside of Unrequited

By Becky Albertalli

SummarySeventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. 

Right?

Source: I received a hardcover in April’s Owlcrate.

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Review:

The Upside of Unrequited was about Molly, a girl who crushed hard and often. She had some self esteem issues that seemed mainly due to weight and had never actually had a successful relationship, start of a relationship, or anything. Her sister Cassie met Mina and became and instant puddle of goo about her for the first time Molly could remember. And for some reason, they kept trying to hook Molly up with Mina’s friend Will to finally end the stream of Molly’s unrequited crushes. And Molly began a job at a store where she met a nerdy guy named Reid who made her comfortable for the first time in a long time. She wasn’t tongue tied around him, so they became fast friends. 

The book had such a great premise. A socially awkward girl with self esteem issues finally comes into her own somehow and gets the guy? I love books like that and I thought I would also enjoy getting a nice group of supportive friends and a great family in a YA book. In a lot of ways, it was perfectly quirky, upbeat, and romantic. 

I loved how diverse the entire cast of characters were. Different body types, different personality types, different sexual preferences, ethnicities, religions, etc. all made an appearance in the book and it was kind of awesome to see everything fall into a story that way. I absolutely love getting characters with different backgrounds and body types and ethnicities, etc to make appearances in fiction, be main characters, and have it be so nonchalant like it’s not the main focus of the book or a big deal or anything. They just are what they are and it’s not weird or forced. The author was able to just drop a thing about a person like it’s the color of their hair and it’s so natural and I admire that. It was one of my favorite things about this book…… But the characters were little more than their own diverse aspect and that’s where I started to get a little aggravated. I felt like no one really had much more depth to them, which makes them seem a lot like “token” characters with an existence only to show off how diverse you can be as an author and that is NOT cool. The beginning introduction to Molly and her world was amazing, but I never got much more character building for most of the characters and it started to feel like there was some thing artificial about what originally seemed like such a natural type of thing.. I got this amazing group of diverse friends and family and yet none of them have real personalities? I can’t really tell you much about WHO the characters really are deep down and that’s my issue with the book. However, I’m not completely sure that it was done with the intent to just check off diverse aspects. I think perhaps the book was just not long enough and the author was trying to stay on point with Molly and not delve too deep in the side characters, which is what I hope was the case.

I also kind of had an issue with Molly’s acceptance of her self and her worth being tied so closely to her relationship and ability to finally get the guy, but I expected a love story and I think it was done in a way that worked well despite the flaws. Still, it would be nice for a girl to learn to love herself without it being tied to how much a guy likes her. Also I can’t stand when a character who has self esteem issues gets to be judgmental about image and no one bats an eyelash. It was completely not okay for her to immediately dismiss Reid in her head because he was super into Tolkien and not afraid to proclaim it by wearing a Tolkien shirt and dorky white sneakers. 

I didn’t hate the book, though, because it was a fun and quick read and I liked seeing the relationship unfold and all of the drama between Molly and her sister. I loved Reid SO MUCH as a character. It should’ve been Molly who was fierce and unafraid to be herself, but it was Reid. He was aware of his “uncool” hobbies, but he did not let it bother him. He wasn’t afraid to be himself and I loved that. I think that was why I was ultimately not so bothered by Molly finding her worth through her relationship with him because I knew he came from such a good place in his heart. He genuinely liked her for who she really was and his confidence could only be a positive influence on her. 

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and got through it quickly. It isn’t a book I would’ve bought on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. I liked it. I recommend it, but would probably just recommend borrowing from the library or something. 

Star 3