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ARC Review: Inherit the Stars

12.08.2015
Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
Published: December 8th, 2015 by Running Press Kids
Source: NetGalley
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren's life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

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Inherit the Stars tells the story of Asa, the daughter of a man who kind of runs a dying planet. The sister she’s closest to is in a coma. The other sister is about to be married to a stranger from a different planet in a political deal to get food to their own planet. Through a series of events, Asa ends up impersonating her sister and marrying Eagle, betraying the original deal. Inter-planetary conflicts! Sounds awesome, right?

Unfortunately, for me, it was not. The synopsis throws out a whole lot of awesome, but the book itself doesn’t deliver a lot of it. The bit about her mom barely felt significant—it led to a big thing, definitely, but so much more could have been done with it so that it had a bigger impact. That was a big problem for me—nothing had an impact on me. We’re supposed to care about these characters, to feel with them and for them, and I personally didn’t. The emotions just didn’t come across to me as they were written. I've been having that problem a lot lately; I'm probably just not very sympathetic because of my ice cold heart.

Review: Menagerie

11.16.2015
Menagerie by Rachel Vincent
Published: September 29th, 2015 by MIRA
Source: NetGalley
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie…

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.


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I made the mistake of waiting a very very long time to actually write this review, which is a mistake I haven't made too often, but I'm just gonna tell you to never follow in my footsteps because it makes life very hard. BUT. But. The thing about Menagerie is that it definitely stays with you for awhile. There's so much of it that still sticks out in my mind.

I think a lot of people have put this warning in their reviews, but I'm still going to say it: Menagerie is not YA. I knew that going in, but I've still seen a lot of misconception about it. Menagerie is also not a romance, nor is it really for the faint of heart. It's not gory, but the topics it deals with are hard.

Rachel Vincent does a beautiful job with something that makes you feel really really...gross. A beautiful, incredible job. Delilah has lived a relatively normal, human life. But then she visits Metzger's Menagerie for the first time since she was a little girl, where sirens and oracles and werewolves are put on display for people willing to pay the price of admission. And there, she sees how the crew really get their subjects to perform - with force. With volts of electricity. And it's there that, in front of spectators and her friends that she transforms into something. Something not human. Something that isn't legal in her world. And so she's thrown in jail, poked and prodded as her rights and her dignity are stripped away, and then she's sold to that very same Menagerie.

ARC Review: Velvet Undercover

11.14.2015
Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown
Published: October 20th, 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.

Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a Girl Guide and messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. After her father disappears on a diplomatic mission, she continues their studies of languages, high-level mathematics, and complex puzzles and codes, hoping to make him proud.

When Sam is asked to join the famed women’s spy group La Dame Blanche she’s torn—this could be the adventure she’s dreamed of, but how can she abandon her mother, who has already lost a husband to the war? But when her handlers reveal shocking news, Sam realizes there’s no way she can refuse the exciting and dangerous opportunity.

Her acceptance leads her straight into the heart of enemy territory on a mission to extract the most valuable British spy embedded in Germany, known to the members of LDB only as Velvet. Deep undercover within the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Samantha must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous—and secretive—residents to complete her assignment. To make matters worse she finds herself forming a forbidden attraction to the enemy-a dangerously handsome German guard. In a place where personal politics are treacherously entangled in wartime policy, can Samantha discover the truth and find Velvet before it’s too late…for them both?

From author Teri Brown comes the thrilling story of one girl’s journey into a deadly world of spycraft and betrayal—with unforgettable consequences.

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I have, once again, made the mistake of waiting WAY too long to review this after I've finished the book, so pardon my vagueness. Hopefully I still manage to convey my overall thoughts of the book, but my brain has also been fried six times over this weekend, so we'll find out.

I am ALWAYS interested in spy books. And Velvet Undercover has a little bit of a different setting - World War I. I'm not really a history buff, so that wasn't what drew me in. I think if you are, though, you might be a little disappointed. I can't tell you how true it is to history but it felt pretty weak to me. Unsurprisingly, I know FAR less about the WWI than I do about II, but I still feel like we should have felt a little more presence from the war. Samantha is obviously removed from it - it's not like she's fighting on any frontlines. She's searching for someone in secret, and I imagine that the reality of that is far less thrilling than what I've come to expect from movies and books. But that's the thing. This is fiction, and I like a little thrill.

Samantha is certainly a great character. She's very intelligent, hard working, a positive and bright force during a dark time. She's not all dark and twisty like I've come to expect from a lot of characters. Most of the people in this book aren't, which I imagine can be a refreshing change for a lot of people. I didn't have a problem with this, but admittedly I think I usually feel a lot more emotions for the dark and twisty characters, which is totally a personal preference. I am basically a thundercloud 24/7 and so optimism can be hard for me to swallow. Samantha is resourceful, but I do feel like things kind of...fell into her lap, so to speak, and when it came to all the secondary characters, no one really felt developed. They felt more like props.

Favorite Blog Designs

10.09.2015
I think by now we've all agreed that blog designs are pretty important. Not the most important, but if I can't read your posts because it's black font on a white background and my eyes are burning, well, then I'm not going to be reading your blog.

Of course, everyone has their own styles and tastes. I prefer muted colors and slightly more minimalistic themes while others like bolder colors and more elaborate designs. I've also found that I abhor the colors yellow and orange a lot of the time. (Which is totally unfortunate, considering my current design.) And personally, I prefer blogs with only one sidebar instead of two because I'm so easily distracted. But obviously, the point is that the blogger likes their own design. These are just a few of the ones I've come across so far that I really love.

Please keep in mind that this! is just! my! opinion! And there are plenty of blogs that have awesome designs that I maybe just haven't seen yet/can't remember right now!



This is an example of the times when I actually do like the bolder colors. I think the logo is adorable and basically love everything about this design!



There's just something that feels so unique about Kelly's design! I love how it all fits together so well.

ARC Review: Nameless

10.08.2015
Nameless by Jennifer Jenkins
Published: October 6th, 2015 by Month9books
Source: Publisher
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.

Four clans have been at war for centuries: the Kodiak, the Raven, the Wolf and the Ram. Through brutal war tactics, the Ram have dominated the region, inflicting death and destruction on their neighbors.

Seventeen-year-old Zo is a Wolf and a Healer who volunteers to infiltrate the Ram as a spy on behalf of the allied clans. She offers herself as a Ram slave, joining the people who are called the “nameless.” Hers is a suicide mission – Zo’s despair after losing her parents in a Ram raid has left her seeking both revenge and an end to her own misery. But after her younger sister follows her into Rams Gate, Zo must find a way to survive her dangerous mission and keep her sister safe.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the friendship of a young Ram whose life she saves, the confusing feelings she develops for a Ram soldier, and an underground nameless insurrection. Zo learns that revenge, loyalty and love are more complicated than she ever imagined in the first installment of this two-book series.

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I will start off saying that I zipped through Nameless, especially when you consider my reading speed since classes started. I won't lie, though. It was definitely disappointing, but from what I've seen I seem to be the minority there. I was expecting a dangerous, heart-pounding spy mission. I was expecting this rich history between the clans and their feuding. And I didn't really get any of it.

That's not to say there wasn't any history or background given. But these "brutal war tactics" that keep them on top? I dunno, I didn't really see any of it outside of their own walls. I couldn't really see why they were on top. It's hard to explain, because they definitely are brutal - you see that in the games they play, the way they force Nameless to fight young Rams who take pride in their kill. Beatings are not uncommon, and the Nameless are slaves. There's nothing astoundingly original about it to me, and I never really felt immersed in the world, but I will say their brutality felt authentic. Which is kind of contradictory to what I just said, but I think the point I'm trying to make is that I didn't see any true reason for all this tension and fighting between clans. There appears to be food shortages and such, but I guess I didn't really see or feel the kind of despair of a shortage that would cause this magnitude of tension. DOES ANY OF THAT MAKE SENSE?

As I was saying, I wish the world-building had just been . . . more. We hardly see or even really hear about the other clans besides the Ram. How do their societies differ from the Ram? What are their people really like? What is their territory, their climate? I WANT TO KNOW.

When it comes to the characters, I mentioned earlier that I expected a lot more from the spy aspect. Still, it's interesting to see Zo hide among the Nameless, to see how she's treated differently than the others because she's a Healer. It's something that she really struggles with - using the abilities her mother taught her to heal members of the Ram, the clan she absolutely wants to defeat. And she's certainly got a lot to lose here - namely, her younger sister. I just wish there had been some more, you know, actual spying.

Gryphon, too, struggles with his loyalties. He fell a bit flat for me, but I did like how conflicted he was. He was firm but willing to bend the rules of everything he'd ever known to do what he thought was right. (Though how ANYONE ever believes that stuff is right is beyond me, but I can't really speak for fantasy worlds.)

As for the connection between him and Zo? It definitely didn't go too fast, and I didn't feel as if it was agonizingly slow and drawn out, either. There certainly was a connection present, and I could appreciate it, but I didn't . . . intensely ship it? I think Blue and Gansey have just ruined other YA ships for me for life. But I think it's something a lot of people would like. Somehow, despite their different beliefs, their different clans, the danger, it's a simple, barely-there romance.

tl;dr: The writing isn't bogged down; instead, it's light and easy and quick. I wish there had been more background on the clans and the entire world, really, and although I wasn't totally invested in the characters, I did read Nameless rather quickly and think it's a fun story. 3 stars.


ARC Review: Illuminae

10.06.2015
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Expected Publication: October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Traded (ARC)

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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It took me a long time to write this review. It's so, so hard to put into words how incredible and gripping this book really is.

So I'm just going to start by saying that Illuminae is the coolest fucking book I have ever read. Which is probably no surprise, since the synopsis itself talks about how the entire book is written through hacked documents and such. But I didn't know it was going to be this cool. There are IMs, journal entries, audio transcripts, data from the AI's POV, artwork, and so much more. And it works. It works so, so well.

I think the data from the AI was my favorite, to be honest. I LOVED Kady and Ezra's conversations, but there was so much artwork involved in the AI stuff. Everyone who worked on this book deserves a round of applause. HOW DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN? I was constantly amazed by the detail that went into this.

ARC Review: First & Then

10.05.2015
First & Then by Emma Mills
Expected Publication: October 13th, 2015 by Henry Holt and co.
Source: NetGalley
*I received an eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.


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When I read First & Then, I was on a HUGE contemporary kick. I couldn't read more than four pages of a fantasy without wanting to dropkick it out the window. (Which is, you know, ridiculous, because fantasy is my favorite genre but I'm writing this and it's 95 degrees out so maybe I am just IN A MOOD.)

In my opinion, First & Then isn't a hugely powerful story, nor is it a hugely heartwarming one (though my poor little heart may have felt a little squeezed sometimes). But it's a quick read, it's enjoyable, it's quiet, it's got heart. Primarily in the relationship that Devon shares with her cousin, Foster. 

Foster's a bit of a weird kid. He's suddenly been thrown into their lives because he can no longer live with his own family. Devon, seventeen, doesn't particularly want to be in a PE class filled with freshmen, but it's even harder when she sees that fourteen year old Foster is there, too. At first, Devon just wants Foster to be normal and fit in because she thinks he'll be happier. Over the course of the book, she really learns about Foster. That there's nothing wrong with him the way he is. That he's actually a pretty cool kid - a pretty cool kid who's basically a brother now. And what I really loved? He's just Foster. And he's happy to be that way, confident in who he is.

And Foster's got a secret - he can kick. He can kick a field goal better than anyone on the varsity football team. (I don't think he actually did field goals. Whatever he did got one extra point, not three, but IT'S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME SINCE I'VE BEEN TO A FOOTBALL GAME SO WE'RE GOING TO ROLL WITH IT. Maybe he does field goals too? I honestly couldn't tell you.) And of course, who better to help him out than the quiet and brooding star player of the team?

Ezra and Devon had me grinning widely quite often. Ezra is not a man of many words, and so their sometimes awkward interactions made me feel weirdly giddy. There was so much realistic hesitance and uncertainty there, and they were definitely more on the slow burn side. Which gave their slightly uneasy friendship more time develop, and okay basically I LOVED IT.

And Devon? She's got voice. It's a wonderful and unique narration to read from. Yes, she's one of those characters who discusses how average/ordinary she is. But I had no problem with it, because she was so similar to how I was senior year. Unsure of what colleges to even apply to, feeling like she had absolutely nothing to put on her applications or resume. But she grows in that way that I think only high school seniors can and sort of comes into her own.

And also finally grows out of her longtime crush on Cas, the best friend who didn't really seem much like a best friend at all for most of the book. He makes a pretty big asshole move at one point, and I really wish there had been more resolution with this. I think Devon deserved that.

tl;dr: Devon's voice is so, so good that I would probably read about paint drying from her POV. (That's a little drastic. But you get the idea.) Ezra and Devon were CUTE CUTE CUTE and both a little awkward in the best way possible, and fourteen year old Foster is the kind of kid I wish I could have been. 4 stars.


ARC Review: A Thousand Nights

10.01.2015
A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
Expected Publication:  October 6th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below. 
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
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I'd definitely already heard a lot of mixed things before I started A Thousand Nights. And I'd actually started it a lot earlier than intended, but THAT COVER, YOU GUYS. THAT COVER.

The thing about A Thousand Nights, for me, is that it felt like both nothing and everything was happening at the same time. Nothing in terms of the actual plot; our heroine - who doesn't even have a name! - spends most of the book simply doing things and speaking to people in Lo-Melkhiin's palace and it feels as if nothing is progressing. Meanwhile, it feels like everything is happening because our narrator often goes off into tangents about tales she's been told of the smallgods or thoughts/sort of flashbacks about her sister and her family. I found these to be very interesting, particularly because of the way they were written - it's the kind of beautiful writing that legends and myths should be written in. But this was, at times, very hard to get through. And very easy to start skimming without even noticing. 

Don't get me wrong, all the little stories could be very interesting, and they gave a FANTASTIC glimpse at the heroine's life before all this and the kind of world they live in. All too often, we don't get very much in the way of backstory, so this was appreciated. But A Thousand Nights could be very light on the dialogue, which is something I struggled with. 

That said, I think the world-building here was fantastic. I felt so immersed in the world, and it was definitely a breathtaking one. (Not as breathtaking as that cover, though.) There were so many little details - whether they be about her family or stories of Lo-Melkhiin or of other people in the palace, such as the man who carved stone. This story had the potential to just play at being whimsical but never commit to it and throw you into a very unbelievable world, but that's absolutely not what happened. All those tiny little details added up to create a true fantasy world. 

While most of the plot often felt very slow, the last 15% or so felt like it moved far too fast. I can't get into details about it because it would be the mother of all spoilers, basically, but I think if this had been stretched out more and started earlier in the book, I would have been much happier. And I do wish we had seen a little bit more AFTER the climax of the book, but I understand why there wasn't. I just think it would have been really interesting to see a little more.

Lo-Melkhiin is such an interesting character. We get glimpses into his head and it's unlike most things I've read, so that was fun. And I really appreciated our heroine and her quiet defiance. She's not trying to lead a rebellion or take down an empire. She's just trying to protect her sister, and the bravery she has is so incredible. She doesn't need to be afraid of Lo-Melkhiin, because she knows what he's going to do to her, and she accepted that the second she decided to trick him into taking her as a wife instead of her sister. 

Overall: Beautifully and artistically written, A Thousand Nights is a very mystical story. However, I did find that it dragged quite a bit and found myself skimming more often than I would like. I think it's definitely something to check out if you like legends and gorgeous writing. 3.5 stars.



ARC Review: Dreamstrider

9.21.2015
Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith
Expected Publication: October 6th, 2015 by Roaring Book Press
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.
A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.

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The first thing I need to say about Dreamstrider: confusing. Confusing, confusing, confusing. Confusing from page one. I'm finished with the book and I still don't fully understand the different kingdoms and how the Dreamworld works and how Livia does what she does or how the Barstadt society works. Livia came from a life in the Tunnels, but I don't know what that life was like or how people live their lives there. I have a lot of unanswered questions. Too many. I'm getting kind of irritated as I type this because I DON'T KNOW IF I UNDERSTAND ANYTHING AT ALL.

But. BUT. Despite the confusion, despite the details I think were left out, I enjoyed Dreamstrider. The highlight was the main character. Livia has an ability no one else has - but she's not a Special Snowflake who conveniently runs perfect missions every time, tricks and fools everyone into giving her whatever information she needs. You're not going to see her in an action sequence in the style of Black Widow. She's a spy, sure. But she's clumsy. And not in an "oh oops I tripped look how cute I am!" Clumsy in a way that can put people in danger on missions. She doesn't have the sharp eye that others working for the Ministry have, can't talk her way out of a situation. She's only there because she's the only person with the ability to dreamstride. She is constantly surrounded by people who are forced to rely on her, people who don't really believe in her. She's a spy who definitely doesn't know how to be a spy in any conventional sense, and I loved it.

I think some people might end up annoyed by all of Livia's insecurities and pining, but I think it added character, made her feel more real, gave her depth. Take your pick. I actually really loved it.

And I did love the concept of dreamstriding. Livia can enter someone else's body while they sleep, impersonate them, move in their body, dip into their memories. But if she goes too far, she risks waking them up when they can take back control - and throw her unconscious into a place it might never come back from. I'm just really fuzzy on some of the details of how she holds the inhabitant back - there were bits about lizards and foxes and not making them angry and I DON'T KNOW. I JUST DON'T KNOW.

I think the world-building could have used some work, too. I never really felt like I got a clear picture of what Barstadt looked like, how its economy worked, what the people did. All we see is their devotion to the Dreamer - their version of God - and just tiny glimpses of the inequalities. Livia's best friend, Brandt, is an upper class man who's eventually going to have to leave the Ministry - and Livia - to be a Real Man with his family. Or something. Basically I'm just going to say "I don't know" again. And the surrounding kingdoms/empires/cities? We find out very little about them. BUT. But. I really enjoyed what we did get to see. It sounds like a really cool world.

As for the overall plot, I can't say there was anything particularly astounding to me. There were definitely quite a few weak points, but I keep coming back to loving the idea of dreamstriding. And I know I've sounded really negative about it all but the truth is that I enjoyed Dreamstrider. I enjoyed reading about a heroine who was so different, and despite all my confusion about the Dreamworld, it still felt very unique to me and the author did a great job of making it its own world.

And I was, of course, rooting for the romance. I'm a sucker for best friend romances, for people in totally different classes who find love. I wish that Brandt and Livia had had more intense or passionate moments together, but overall, I really liked it. (And there's no love triangle. Not really. Promise.)

tl;dr: Personally, I definitely suffered from confusion. I wish there had been a lot more detail concerning the aspects of dreaming and the entire world. But Livia was one of my absolute favorite characters to read about. Lindsay Smith did something really special with her. 3.5 stars.


ARC Review: Spinning Starlight

9.18.2015
Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
Expected Publication: October 6th, 2015 by Disney Hyperion
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.
Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it's hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it's just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi's vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers' survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for survival in this companion to Stitching Snow.
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Spinning Starlight is one of those books that's incredibly hard to review because you really don't have much to say about it. I didn't have particularly strong feelings about either way, so I spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen and glancing at the keyboard.

In Spinning Starlight, we experience the story of Liddi Jantzen struggling to get her 8 brothers back after they've mysteriously disappeared. Her brothers are all Liddi has. She's meant to inherit the company once she turns 18, even though she's the only one in the family who's never been able to live up to the Jantzen name - the Jantzen who are techno gurus who are always inventing. But Liddi hasn't been able to come up with a single astounding idea, and so instead the vid-cams follow her every move and report on her fashion and belittle her. We get to see glimpses of her brothers, both through flashbacks and other means, and I really liked the family element of the novel.

For a great majority of the book, Liddi can't speak. On her planet, the ability to read and write has all but been done away with. But Liddi finds herself on another planet, where the "handsome dignitary named Tiav" tries to teach her so they can communicate in some small form. I love how frustrated Liddi gets - it's a very slow process that they eventually adapt so that a computer can speak for her in short, fragmented sentences that make her feel stupid. She had other insecurities that I empathized with and a fierce determination to save her brother. 

The romance was kind of underwhelming, which is how I feel about the entire book, I think. Tiav is sweet, seems to respect Liddi, genuinely wants to help her. But I never felt a real connection between them, never really felt any passion. Which I feel like I say about a lot of books? I dunno. There's definitely nothing WRONG with their relationship; it just didn't intrigue me personally. 

My biggest problem comes with the world-building and the technological jargon that made hardly any sense and was used to explain away everything. I envisioned this super cool and advanced world when I read the synopsis, but honestly, I have no idea what anything was like. The descriptions could have been beautiful. The world could have been incredible and enthralling and there's always so much potential in a futurist world, but Spinning Starlight did not deliver. I was just left with a very vague impression. 

Also: THERE ARE ALIENS! But once again, Spinning Starlight didn't really deliver. I wish we would have learned more about them, and I wish they had been more creative/exciting. They weren't.

As for the science stuff, it felt very weak. There are portals that exist between planets, but the explanations about them and how they work - and why they're not working - were . . . not that great. Liddi understood some of it, but not all. And me? It all just felt like it was haphazardly thrown together. 

tl;dr: Spinning Starlight was a pretty quick read for me. But I was very underwhelmed by the science, the world-building, the romance. Liddi wasn't an astounding character, but I did enjoy her. 2.5 stars.

12.08.2015

ARC Review: Inherit the Stars

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
Published: December 8th, 2015 by Running Press Kids
Source: NetGalley
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren's life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

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Inherit the Stars tells the story of Asa, the daughter of a man who kind of runs a dying planet. The sister she’s closest to is in a coma. The other sister is about to be married to a stranger from a different planet in a political deal to get food to their own planet. Through a series of events, Asa ends up impersonating her sister and marrying Eagle, betraying the original deal. Inter-planetary conflicts! Sounds awesome, right?

Unfortunately, for me, it was not. The synopsis throws out a whole lot of awesome, but the book itself doesn’t deliver a lot of it. The bit about her mom barely felt significant—it led to a big thing, definitely, but so much more could have been done with it so that it had a bigger impact. That was a big problem for me—nothing had an impact on me. We’re supposed to care about these characters, to feel with them and for them, and I personally didn’t. The emotions just didn’t come across to me as they were written. I've been having that problem a lot lately; I'm probably just not very sympathetic because of my ice cold heart.

11.16.2015

Review: Menagerie

Menagerie by Rachel Vincent
Published: September 29th, 2015 by MIRA
Source: NetGalley
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a richly imagined, provocative new series set in the dark mythology of the Menagerie…

When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger's Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus black-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah in her black swan burlesque costume is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she's forced to "perform" in town after town.

But there is breathtaking beauty behind the seamy and grotesque reality of the carnival. Gallagher, her handler, is as kind as he is cryptic and strong. The other "attractions"—mermaids, minotaurs, gryphons and kelpies—are strange, yes, but they share a bond forged by the brutal realities of captivity. And as Delilah struggles for her freedom, and for her fellow menagerie, she'll discover a strength and a purpose she never knew existed.

Renowned author Rachel Vincent weaves an intoxicating blend of carnival magic and startling humanity in this intricately woven and powerful tale.


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I made the mistake of waiting a very very long time to actually write this review, which is a mistake I haven't made too often, but I'm just gonna tell you to never follow in my footsteps because it makes life very hard. BUT. But. The thing about Menagerie is that it definitely stays with you for awhile. There's so much of it that still sticks out in my mind.

I think a lot of people have put this warning in their reviews, but I'm still going to say it: Menagerie is not YA. I knew that going in, but I've still seen a lot of misconception about it. Menagerie is also not a romance, nor is it really for the faint of heart. It's not gory, but the topics it deals with are hard.

Rachel Vincent does a beautiful job with something that makes you feel really really...gross. A beautiful, incredible job. Delilah has lived a relatively normal, human life. But then she visits Metzger's Menagerie for the first time since she was a little girl, where sirens and oracles and werewolves are put on display for people willing to pay the price of admission. And there, she sees how the crew really get their subjects to perform - with force. With volts of electricity. And it's there that, in front of spectators and her friends that she transforms into something. Something not human. Something that isn't legal in her world. And so she's thrown in jail, poked and prodded as her rights and her dignity are stripped away, and then she's sold to that very same Menagerie.

11.14.2015

ARC Review: Velvet Undercover

Velvet Undercover by Teri Brown
Published: October 20th, 2015 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.

Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a Girl Guide and messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. After her father disappears on a diplomatic mission, she continues their studies of languages, high-level mathematics, and complex puzzles and codes, hoping to make him proud.

When Sam is asked to join the famed women’s spy group La Dame Blanche she’s torn—this could be the adventure she’s dreamed of, but how can she abandon her mother, who has already lost a husband to the war? But when her handlers reveal shocking news, Sam realizes there’s no way she can refuse the exciting and dangerous opportunity.

Her acceptance leads her straight into the heart of enemy territory on a mission to extract the most valuable British spy embedded in Germany, known to the members of LDB only as Velvet. Deep undercover within the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Samantha must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous—and secretive—residents to complete her assignment. To make matters worse she finds herself forming a forbidden attraction to the enemy-a dangerously handsome German guard. In a place where personal politics are treacherously entangled in wartime policy, can Samantha discover the truth and find Velvet before it’s too late…for them both?

From author Teri Brown comes the thrilling story of one girl’s journey into a deadly world of spycraft and betrayal—with unforgettable consequences.

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I have, once again, made the mistake of waiting WAY too long to review this after I've finished the book, so pardon my vagueness. Hopefully I still manage to convey my overall thoughts of the book, but my brain has also been fried six times over this weekend, so we'll find out.

I am ALWAYS interested in spy books. And Velvet Undercover has a little bit of a different setting - World War I. I'm not really a history buff, so that wasn't what drew me in. I think if you are, though, you might be a little disappointed. I can't tell you how true it is to history but it felt pretty weak to me. Unsurprisingly, I know FAR less about the WWI than I do about II, but I still feel like we should have felt a little more presence from the war. Samantha is obviously removed from it - it's not like she's fighting on any frontlines. She's searching for someone in secret, and I imagine that the reality of that is far less thrilling than what I've come to expect from movies and books. But that's the thing. This is fiction, and I like a little thrill.

Samantha is certainly a great character. She's very intelligent, hard working, a positive and bright force during a dark time. She's not all dark and twisty like I've come to expect from a lot of characters. Most of the people in this book aren't, which I imagine can be a refreshing change for a lot of people. I didn't have a problem with this, but admittedly I think I usually feel a lot more emotions for the dark and twisty characters, which is totally a personal preference. I am basically a thundercloud 24/7 and so optimism can be hard for me to swallow. Samantha is resourceful, but I do feel like things kind of...fell into her lap, so to speak, and when it came to all the secondary characters, no one really felt developed. They felt more like props.

10.09.2015

Favorite Blog Designs

I think by now we've all agreed that blog designs are pretty important. Not the most important, but if I can't read your posts because it's black font on a white background and my eyes are burning, well, then I'm not going to be reading your blog.

Of course, everyone has their own styles and tastes. I prefer muted colors and slightly more minimalistic themes while others like bolder colors and more elaborate designs. I've also found that I abhor the colors yellow and orange a lot of the time. (Which is totally unfortunate, considering my current design.) And personally, I prefer blogs with only one sidebar instead of two because I'm so easily distracted. But obviously, the point is that the blogger likes their own design. These are just a few of the ones I've come across so far that I really love.

Please keep in mind that this! is just! my! opinion! And there are plenty of blogs that have awesome designs that I maybe just haven't seen yet/can't remember right now!



This is an example of the times when I actually do like the bolder colors. I think the logo is adorable and basically love everything about this design!



There's just something that feels so unique about Kelly's design! I love how it all fits together so well.

10.08.2015

ARC Review: Nameless

Nameless by Jennifer Jenkins
Published: October 6th, 2015 by Month9books
Source: Publisher
*I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.

Four clans have been at war for centuries: the Kodiak, the Raven, the Wolf and the Ram. Through brutal war tactics, the Ram have dominated the region, inflicting death and destruction on their neighbors.

Seventeen-year-old Zo is a Wolf and a Healer who volunteers to infiltrate the Ram as a spy on behalf of the allied clans. She offers herself as a Ram slave, joining the people who are called the “nameless.” Hers is a suicide mission – Zo’s despair after losing her parents in a Ram raid has left her seeking both revenge and an end to her own misery. But after her younger sister follows her into Rams Gate, Zo must find a way to survive her dangerous mission and keep her sister safe.

What she doesn’t expect to find is the friendship of a young Ram whose life she saves, the confusing feelings she develops for a Ram soldier, and an underground nameless insurrection. Zo learns that revenge, loyalty and love are more complicated than she ever imagined in the first installment of this two-book series.

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I will start off saying that I zipped through Nameless, especially when you consider my reading speed since classes started. I won't lie, though. It was definitely disappointing, but from what I've seen I seem to be the minority there. I was expecting a dangerous, heart-pounding spy mission. I was expecting this rich history between the clans and their feuding. And I didn't really get any of it.

That's not to say there wasn't any history or background given. But these "brutal war tactics" that keep them on top? I dunno, I didn't really see any of it outside of their own walls. I couldn't really see why they were on top. It's hard to explain, because they definitely are brutal - you see that in the games they play, the way they force Nameless to fight young Rams who take pride in their kill. Beatings are not uncommon, and the Nameless are slaves. There's nothing astoundingly original about it to me, and I never really felt immersed in the world, but I will say their brutality felt authentic. Which is kind of contradictory to what I just said, but I think the point I'm trying to make is that I didn't see any true reason for all this tension and fighting between clans. There appears to be food shortages and such, but I guess I didn't really see or feel the kind of despair of a shortage that would cause this magnitude of tension. DOES ANY OF THAT MAKE SENSE?

As I was saying, I wish the world-building had just been . . . more. We hardly see or even really hear about the other clans besides the Ram. How do their societies differ from the Ram? What are their people really like? What is their territory, their climate? I WANT TO KNOW.

When it comes to the characters, I mentioned earlier that I expected a lot more from the spy aspect. Still, it's interesting to see Zo hide among the Nameless, to see how she's treated differently than the others because she's a Healer. It's something that she really struggles with - using the abilities her mother taught her to heal members of the Ram, the clan she absolutely wants to defeat. And she's certainly got a lot to lose here - namely, her younger sister. I just wish there had been some more, you know, actual spying.

Gryphon, too, struggles with his loyalties. He fell a bit flat for me, but I did like how conflicted he was. He was firm but willing to bend the rules of everything he'd ever known to do what he thought was right. (Though how ANYONE ever believes that stuff is right is beyond me, but I can't really speak for fantasy worlds.)

As for the connection between him and Zo? It definitely didn't go too fast, and I didn't feel as if it was agonizingly slow and drawn out, either. There certainly was a connection present, and I could appreciate it, but I didn't . . . intensely ship it? I think Blue and Gansey have just ruined other YA ships for me for life. But I think it's something a lot of people would like. Somehow, despite their different beliefs, their different clans, the danger, it's a simple, barely-there romance.

tl;dr: The writing isn't bogged down; instead, it's light and easy and quick. I wish there had been more background on the clans and the entire world, really, and although I wasn't totally invested in the characters, I did read Nameless rather quickly and think it's a fun story. 3 stars.


10.06.2015

ARC Review: Illuminae

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Expected Publication: October 20th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Traded (ARC)

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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It took me a long time to write this review. It's so, so hard to put into words how incredible and gripping this book really is.

So I'm just going to start by saying that Illuminae is the coolest fucking book I have ever read. Which is probably no surprise, since the synopsis itself talks about how the entire book is written through hacked documents and such. But I didn't know it was going to be this cool. There are IMs, journal entries, audio transcripts, data from the AI's POV, artwork, and so much more. And it works. It works so, so well.

I think the data from the AI was my favorite, to be honest. I LOVED Kady and Ezra's conversations, but there was so much artwork involved in the AI stuff. Everyone who worked on this book deserves a round of applause. HOW DID THIS EVEN HAPPEN? I was constantly amazed by the detail that went into this.

10.05.2015

ARC Review: First & Then

First & Then by Emma Mills
Expected Publication: October 13th, 2015 by Henry Holt and co.
Source: NetGalley
*I received an eARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below.
Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.

Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.


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When I read First & Then, I was on a HUGE contemporary kick. I couldn't read more than four pages of a fantasy without wanting to dropkick it out the window. (Which is, you know, ridiculous, because fantasy is my favorite genre but I'm writing this and it's 95 degrees out so maybe I am just IN A MOOD.)

In my opinion, First & Then isn't a hugely powerful story, nor is it a hugely heartwarming one (though my poor little heart may have felt a little squeezed sometimes). But it's a quick read, it's enjoyable, it's quiet, it's got heart. Primarily in the relationship that Devon shares with her cousin, Foster. 

Foster's a bit of a weird kid. He's suddenly been thrown into their lives because he can no longer live with his own family. Devon, seventeen, doesn't particularly want to be in a PE class filled with freshmen, but it's even harder when she sees that fourteen year old Foster is there, too. At first, Devon just wants Foster to be normal and fit in because she thinks he'll be happier. Over the course of the book, she really learns about Foster. That there's nothing wrong with him the way he is. That he's actually a pretty cool kid - a pretty cool kid who's basically a brother now. And what I really loved? He's just Foster. And he's happy to be that way, confident in who he is.

And Foster's got a secret - he can kick. He can kick a field goal better than anyone on the varsity football team. (I don't think he actually did field goals. Whatever he did got one extra point, not three, but IT'S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME SINCE I'VE BEEN TO A FOOTBALL GAME SO WE'RE GOING TO ROLL WITH IT. Maybe he does field goals too? I honestly couldn't tell you.) And of course, who better to help him out than the quiet and brooding star player of the team?

Ezra and Devon had me grinning widely quite often. Ezra is not a man of many words, and so their sometimes awkward interactions made me feel weirdly giddy. There was so much realistic hesitance and uncertainty there, and they were definitely more on the slow burn side. Which gave their slightly uneasy friendship more time develop, and okay basically I LOVED IT.

And Devon? She's got voice. It's a wonderful and unique narration to read from. Yes, she's one of those characters who discusses how average/ordinary she is. But I had no problem with it, because she was so similar to how I was senior year. Unsure of what colleges to even apply to, feeling like she had absolutely nothing to put on her applications or resume. But she grows in that way that I think only high school seniors can and sort of comes into her own.

And also finally grows out of her longtime crush on Cas, the best friend who didn't really seem much like a best friend at all for most of the book. He makes a pretty big asshole move at one point, and I really wish there had been more resolution with this. I think Devon deserved that.

tl;dr: Devon's voice is so, so good that I would probably read about paint drying from her POV. (That's a little drastic. But you get the idea.) Ezra and Devon were CUTE CUTE CUTE and both a little awkward in the best way possible, and fourteen year old Foster is the kind of kid I wish I could have been. 4 stars.


10.01.2015

ARC Review: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
Expected Publication:  October 6th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected the opinions stated below. 
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.
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I'd definitely already heard a lot of mixed things before I started A Thousand Nights. And I'd actually started it a lot earlier than intended, but THAT COVER, YOU GUYS. THAT COVER.

The thing about A Thousand Nights, for me, is that it felt like both nothing and everything was happening at the same time. Nothing in terms of the actual plot; our heroine - who doesn't even have a name! - spends most of the book simply doing things and speaking to people in Lo-Melkhiin's palace and it feels as if nothing is progressing. Meanwhile, it feels like everything is happening because our narrator often goes off into tangents about tales she's been told of the smallgods or thoughts/sort of flashbacks about her sister and her family. I found these to be very interesting, particularly because of the way they were written - it's the kind of beautiful writing that legends and myths should be written in. But this was, at times, very hard to get through. And very easy to start skimming without even noticing. 

Don't get me wrong, all the little stories could be very interesting, and they gave a FANTASTIC glimpse at the heroine's life before all this and the kind of world they live in. All too often, we don't get very much in the way of backstory, so this was appreciated. But A Thousand Nights could be very light on the dialogue, which is something I struggled with. 

That said, I think the world-building here was fantastic. I felt so immersed in the world, and it was definitely a breathtaking one. (Not as breathtaking as that cover, though.) There were so many little details - whether they be about her family or stories of Lo-Melkhiin or of other people in the palace, such as the man who carved stone. This story had the potential to just play at being whimsical but never commit to it and throw you into a very unbelievable world, but that's absolutely not what happened. All those tiny little details added up to create a true fantasy world. 

While most of the plot often felt very slow, the last 15% or so felt like it moved far too fast. I can't get into details about it because it would be the mother of all spoilers, basically, but I think if this had been stretched out more and started earlier in the book, I would have been much happier. And I do wish we had seen a little bit more AFTER the climax of the book, but I understand why there wasn't. I just think it would have been really interesting to see a little more.

Lo-Melkhiin is such an interesting character. We get glimpses into his head and it's unlike most things I've read, so that was fun. And I really appreciated our heroine and her quiet defiance. She's not trying to lead a rebellion or take down an empire. She's just trying to protect her sister, and the bravery she has is so incredible. She doesn't need to be afraid of Lo-Melkhiin, because she knows what he's going to do to her, and she accepted that the second she decided to trick him into taking her as a wife instead of her sister. 

Overall: Beautifully and artistically written, A Thousand Nights is a very mystical story. However, I did find that it dragged quite a bit and found myself skimming more often than I would like. I think it's definitely something to check out if you like legends and gorgeous writing. 3.5 stars.



9.21.2015

ARC Review: Dreamstrider

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith
Expected Publication: October 6th, 2015 by Roaring Book Press
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.
A high-concept, fantastical espionage novel set in a world where dreams are the ultimate form of political intelligence.

Livia is a dreamstrider. She can inhabit a subject's body while they are sleeping and, for a short time, move around in their skin. She uses her talent to work as a spy for the Barstadt Empire. But her partner, Brandt, has lately become distant, and when Marez comes to join their team from a neighborhing kingdom, he offers Livia the option of a life she had never dared to imagine. Livia knows of no other dreamstriders who have survived the pull of Nightmare. So only she understands the stakes when a plot against the Empire emerges that threatens to consume both the dreaming world and the waking one with misery and rage.

A richly conceived world full of political intrigue and fantastical dream sequences, at its heart Dreamstrider is about a girl who is struggling to live up to the potential before her.

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The first thing I need to say about Dreamstrider: confusing. Confusing, confusing, confusing. Confusing from page one. I'm finished with the book and I still don't fully understand the different kingdoms and how the Dreamworld works and how Livia does what she does or how the Barstadt society works. Livia came from a life in the Tunnels, but I don't know what that life was like or how people live their lives there. I have a lot of unanswered questions. Too many. I'm getting kind of irritated as I type this because I DON'T KNOW IF I UNDERSTAND ANYTHING AT ALL.

But. BUT. Despite the confusion, despite the details I think were left out, I enjoyed Dreamstrider. The highlight was the main character. Livia has an ability no one else has - but she's not a Special Snowflake who conveniently runs perfect missions every time, tricks and fools everyone into giving her whatever information she needs. You're not going to see her in an action sequence in the style of Black Widow. She's a spy, sure. But she's clumsy. And not in an "oh oops I tripped look how cute I am!" Clumsy in a way that can put people in danger on missions. She doesn't have the sharp eye that others working for the Ministry have, can't talk her way out of a situation. She's only there because she's the only person with the ability to dreamstride. She is constantly surrounded by people who are forced to rely on her, people who don't really believe in her. She's a spy who definitely doesn't know how to be a spy in any conventional sense, and I loved it.

I think some people might end up annoyed by all of Livia's insecurities and pining, but I think it added character, made her feel more real, gave her depth. Take your pick. I actually really loved it.

And I did love the concept of dreamstriding. Livia can enter someone else's body while they sleep, impersonate them, move in their body, dip into their memories. But if she goes too far, she risks waking them up when they can take back control - and throw her unconscious into a place it might never come back from. I'm just really fuzzy on some of the details of how she holds the inhabitant back - there were bits about lizards and foxes and not making them angry and I DON'T KNOW. I JUST DON'T KNOW.

I think the world-building could have used some work, too. I never really felt like I got a clear picture of what Barstadt looked like, how its economy worked, what the people did. All we see is their devotion to the Dreamer - their version of God - and just tiny glimpses of the inequalities. Livia's best friend, Brandt, is an upper class man who's eventually going to have to leave the Ministry - and Livia - to be a Real Man with his family. Or something. Basically I'm just going to say "I don't know" again. And the surrounding kingdoms/empires/cities? We find out very little about them. BUT. But. I really enjoyed what we did get to see. It sounds like a really cool world.

As for the overall plot, I can't say there was anything particularly astounding to me. There were definitely quite a few weak points, but I keep coming back to loving the idea of dreamstriding. And I know I've sounded really negative about it all but the truth is that I enjoyed Dreamstrider. I enjoyed reading about a heroine who was so different, and despite all my confusion about the Dreamworld, it still felt very unique to me and the author did a great job of making it its own world.

And I was, of course, rooting for the romance. I'm a sucker for best friend romances, for people in totally different classes who find love. I wish that Brandt and Livia had had more intense or passionate moments together, but overall, I really liked it. (And there's no love triangle. Not really. Promise.)

tl;dr: Personally, I definitely suffered from confusion. I wish there had been a lot more detail concerning the aspects of dreaming and the entire world. But Livia was one of my absolute favorite characters to read about. Lindsay Smith did something really special with her. 3.5 stars.


9.18.2015

ARC Review: Spinning Starlight

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
Expected Publication: October 6th, 2015 by Disney Hyperion
Source: NetGalley
*I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinions.
Sixteen-year-old heiress and paparazzi darling Liddi Jantzen hates the spotlight. But as the only daughter in the most powerful tech family in the galaxy, it's hard to escape it. So when a group of men show up at her house uninvited, she assumes it's just the usual media-grubs. That is, until shots are fired.

Liddi escapes, only to be pulled into an interplanetary conspiracy more complex than she ever could have imagined. Her older brothers have been caught as well, trapped in the conduits between the planets. And when their captor implants a device in Liddi's vocal cords to monitor her speech, their lives are in her hands: One word and her brothers are dead.

Desperate to save her family from a desolate future, Liddi travels to another world, where she meets the one person who might have the skills to help her bring her eight brothers home-a handsome dignitary named Tiav. But without her voice, Liddi must use every bit of her strength and wit to convince Tiav that her mission is true. With the tenuous balance of the planets deeply intertwined with her brothers' survival, just how much is Liddi willing to sacrifice to bring them back?

Haunting and mesmerizing, this retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Wild Swans strings the heart of the classic with a stunning, imaginative world as a star-crossed family fights for survival in this companion to Stitching Snow.
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Spinning Starlight is one of those books that's incredibly hard to review because you really don't have much to say about it. I didn't have particularly strong feelings about either way, so I spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen and glancing at the keyboard.

In Spinning Starlight, we experience the story of Liddi Jantzen struggling to get her 8 brothers back after they've mysteriously disappeared. Her brothers are all Liddi has. She's meant to inherit the company once she turns 18, even though she's the only one in the family who's never been able to live up to the Jantzen name - the Jantzen who are techno gurus who are always inventing. But Liddi hasn't been able to come up with a single astounding idea, and so instead the vid-cams follow her every move and report on her fashion and belittle her. We get to see glimpses of her brothers, both through flashbacks and other means, and I really liked the family element of the novel.

For a great majority of the book, Liddi can't speak. On her planet, the ability to read and write has all but been done away with. But Liddi finds herself on another planet, where the "handsome dignitary named Tiav" tries to teach her so they can communicate in some small form. I love how frustrated Liddi gets - it's a very slow process that they eventually adapt so that a computer can speak for her in short, fragmented sentences that make her feel stupid. She had other insecurities that I empathized with and a fierce determination to save her brother. 

The romance was kind of underwhelming, which is how I feel about the entire book, I think. Tiav is sweet, seems to respect Liddi, genuinely wants to help her. But I never felt a real connection between them, never really felt any passion. Which I feel like I say about a lot of books? I dunno. There's definitely nothing WRONG with their relationship; it just didn't intrigue me personally. 

My biggest problem comes with the world-building and the technological jargon that made hardly any sense and was used to explain away everything. I envisioned this super cool and advanced world when I read the synopsis, but honestly, I have no idea what anything was like. The descriptions could have been beautiful. The world could have been incredible and enthralling and there's always so much potential in a futurist world, but Spinning Starlight did not deliver. I was just left with a very vague impression. 

Also: THERE ARE ALIENS! But once again, Spinning Starlight didn't really deliver. I wish we would have learned more about them, and I wish they had been more creative/exciting. They weren't.

As for the science stuff, it felt very weak. There are portals that exist between planets, but the explanations about them and how they work - and why they're not working - were . . . not that great. Liddi understood some of it, but not all. And me? It all just felt like it was haphazardly thrown together. 

tl;dr: Spinning Starlight was a pretty quick read for me. But I was very underwhelmed by the science, the world-building, the romance. Liddi wasn't an astounding character, but I did enjoy her. 2.5 stars.