The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself. 

I’ve seen this book on more ‘Best Of 2018’ lists than I can count.  Holly Black is a talented and widely read author, but I’ve never gotten around to any of her books, despite having The Coldest Girl in Coldtown on my shelf for over a year.  With strong reviews, several friend recommendations, and a discounted Amazon day, how could I not read The Cruel Prince?

Admittedly, I haven’t read many books involving the Fae, so much of this world was new to me.  And the world-building is magnificent – dark, intriguing, and politically charged.  The political maneuvering, alliances, and manipulation really captured my attention – some of these characters would fit in well with House of Cards.

And that’s another thing I liked:  none of these characters are entirely ‘good’.  Many of them desire power and position, while others enjoy bullying, threats, and playing with the lives of others.  And I’m okay with that – I love to see shades of gray in characters.  In fact, it’s the primary reason I kept reading.  Twists are aplenty in this book – some of them I saw coming, others I didn’t until right before they happened.

People may throw rocks and garbage at me for saying this, but the first half of the book didn’t win me over.  Not a lot happens, but right around the 50% mark, the pace becomes turbo charged and never lets up.

Overall, I enjoyed The Cruel Prince, and I plan to continue the series with The Wicked King, but when that will be, I have no idea.  I need a month long vacation just to read!

The Last 8 (The Last 8 #1) by Laura Pohl #bookreview #YA #scifi

A high-stakes survival story about eight teenagers who outlive an alien attack—perfect for fans of The 5th Wave 

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it. 

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

I’m always up for a good alien invasion story.  When you toss in Area 51, a handful of surviving teens, and an adorable canine named Sputnik, it becomes a must read for me.

This book gives the reader just enough time to care about Clover before throwing her in front of the aliens, so the pacing gets off to a good start.  It slows a bit once she reaches Area 51 due to drama between her and the other teens before picking up again.  I felt like there was some character inconsistency on Clover’s part, with comments and actions coming out of the blue based on her prior behavior.  The group of survivors are wonderfully diverse, but some of their voices are similar and I had trouble distinguishing between them.

As a sci-fi geek, the pop culture references to Back to the Future and Independence Day had me doing happy dances.  For me, it’s difficult to read or watch any alien story without thinking about Independence Day, and this novel contains some similar elements.

The Last 8 is strong out of the gate, drops intriguing clues throughout the book, and has interesting twists toward the end, but some plot holes and character inconsistencies slowed the momentum for me.  This book is scheduled for release March 1st, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.’  How could you not want to read this book after a line like that?  I needed to know why July came back.

I had a love/hate relationship with these characters.  At times, I loathed both of them – especially July, as she comes across as extremely self-centered and incredibly selfish.  A couple of moments I warmed to her, after the reason behind some of her actions came to light.  Deep down, both Dino and July have some heavy self-esteem issues, but deal with them in different ways.

The friendship between these two is puzzling.  They appear to care deeply about each other, but make hurtful, biting comments (especially July), and then a couple of paragraphs later, are friends again.  It’s true those you love the most can inflict the deepest wounds.  Towards the end, Dino and July’s conversations are more heartfelt and honest, and a couple hit close to home for me.

It’s hard to classify this story.  It’s made up of laugh-out-loud funny lines and situations, bittersweet conversations, deep character introspection – and I learned far more about how morticians prep bodies than I wanted to.  Things I’ll never be able to forget.  An unusual, darkly amusing portrayal of death, and a sometimes too honest, but deeply loving friendship.  This book is scheduled for release February 19th, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

Immoral Code by Lillian Clark #bookreview #YA #thriller

For Nari, aka Narioka Diane, aka hacker digital alter ego “d0l0s,” it’s college and then a career at “one of the big ones,” like Google or Apple. Keagan, her sweet, sensitive boyfriend, is happy to follow her wherever she may lead. Reese is an ace/aro visual artist with plans to travel the world. Santiago is off to Stanford on a diving scholarship, with very real Olympic hopes. And Bellamy? Physics genius Bellamy is admitted to MIT—but the student loan she’d been counting on is denied when it turns out her estranged father—one Robert Foster—is loaded.

Nari isn’t about to let her friend’s dreams be squashed by a deadbeat billionaire, so she hatches a plan to steal just enough from Foster to allow Bellamy to achieve her goals. 

Although I’m far from a computer genius (it’s a miracle I’ve managed my blog for so long), hacking stories fascinate me.  Nothing is private anymore, and a good hacker can get nearly any information they desire.  And that’s downright scary.

These five friends are fiercely loyal and supportive of each other, and it’s understandable that they want to help Bellamy.  Suspension of disbelief isn’t anything new to me – plenty of stories require it.  But in this case, a phone call to MIT’s admissions office seems like a logical first step before planning a heist of this magnitude – especially considering the numerous laws broken by these teens and the potential consequences of their actions.  Yes, Bellamy’s dad is a total deadbeat for not having any contact with her, but it would have been more believable if all other possibilities had been exhausted.

Some of the interactions and dialogue between this group are amusing, and I especially enjoyed Bellamy’s rational and literal explanations of things.  Even though the dialogue is entertaining at times, there’s a tremendous amount of it among this group that does nothing to advance the plot, and other than Bellamy, I had trouble distinguishing the voices of each character.  Writing from five POVs is admirable and allows the reader more insight into the characters, but I referred back to the chapter header numerous times to see who was speaking.

Looking at other reviews, I’m in the minority on this one.  If you enjoy a good heist story (and who doesn’t?), strong friendship bonds, witty banter, and are able to suspend disbelief, this may be the book for you.  In my case, I was hoping the plot would be heavier on the heist action.  Immoral Code is scheduled for publication February 19th, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns #3) by Kendare Blake #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead—or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.

Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the mainland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn. 

Jules, too, is in a strange place—in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.

This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed—or expected.

I’ve loved this dark fantasy series from book one.  And those covers – oof.  Stunning.

This author continues to throw in unexpected surprises, whether with plot twists or character traits.  I’d fully intended to dislike Katharine after the events that occurred in One Dark Throne, but she honestly seems to have some good intentions in this book.  Not all good.  But some.  And the ending?  Just one surprise after another.  I’m glad it took me a few months to get around to reading this one, because that means I have a shorter wait for the next book.

This was a longer read at over 450 pages, and although it may not have moved the story along quite as well as books 1 and 2, there are some major developments, and I got to spend a good amount of time with these characters.

If dark fantasy with exquisite world-building is your thing, this is your series.

The Deceivers (Vale Hall #1) by Kristen Simmons #bookreview #YA #TuesdayBookBlog

Pretty Little Liars meets Ocean’s 11 in this intrigue-filled contemporary drama from acclaimed author Kristen Simmons.

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials–because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark–a senator’s son–and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

A school for aspiring con artists?  That’s all I needed to know before requesting this title from NetGalley.

Right away, Brynn tugged at my heart strings.  With a rough home life and a less than promising future, she’s committed to her education, works a part time job, and is determined to claw her way out of Devon Park.  Running cons on unsuspecting victims supplements her meager income.  All the supporting characters are exceptionally well-developed, with their own complicated backgrounds and various reasons for being at Vale Hall, but as the comic relief, I think Henry is probably my favorite.

Nothing in this novel is black and white, and I loved that.  Nearly every person, action, and circumstance is colored in differing shades of gray, and I found myself, along with Brynn, being surprised how actions and behaviors can sound logical and necessary after weighing the positives versus the negatives.  For me, books like that are few and far between.

These characters are put into some tense situations where there’s little to no wiggle room for escape, and I plowed through the pages, excited to see what they’d do next.  The final con is a carefully orchestrated, and intricately layered work of art, and will delight fans of Ocean’s Eleven.

Although The Deceivers doesn’t end with a cliffhanger, it’s the start of a series, and I’m anxious to see where it goes next.  If you’re a fan of heists, cons, morally ambiguous, determined characters, and hold-your-breath life-threatening situations, this is your book.  I loved every minute of it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin #bookreview #YA #contemporary

Mean Girls meets The Tudors in Hannah Capin’s The Dead Queens Club, a clever contemporary YA retelling of Henry VIII and his wives (or, in this case, his high school girlfriends). Told from the perspective of Annie Marck (“Cleves”), a 17-year-old aspiring journalist from Cleveland who meets Henry at summer camp, The Dead Queens Club is a fun, snarky read that provides great historical detail in an accessible way for teens while giving the infamous tale of Henry VIII its own unique spin.

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

I’m not a big history buff, but I watched The Tudors series on Netflix several years ago and was hooked.  Given, it was highly dramatized, but you can’t tell me there weren’t clandestine meetings, backstabbings, political maneuverings, and power plays during that time.  And then, of course, there was Henry and his wives.  When I saw this book, I was instantly curious about a modern day retelling – in high school, no less.

The author is very clever in how she created her characters based on the historical figures, bringing the queens, Henry, and some of their acquaintances into modern day.  Cleves, based on Anne of Cleves, who was queen for a few short months, is Henry’s best friend.  Like Henry VIII, this Henry has a wandering eye and a long string of girlfriends.  Loosely paralleling their historical relationship, Cleves and Henry date for an awkward couple of weeks, but decide they’re better as friends.  Cleves is blindly loyal, awkward, and her snark had me chuckling several times.

Make no mistake – this high school is just as socially treacherous as Henry the VIII’s court, with suspicious deaths and characters falling out of favor.  Scheming, plotting, and gossip abound, making up a large portion of the book, but occasionally don’t do much to advance the story.  All the back and forth is difficult to follow at times, but once the book hits the 75% mark, things move along quickly.

I didn’t enjoy this read as much as I’d hoped, but that’s more me than the book.  I’m not a big fan of Mean Girls and erratic high school drama, but judging by other reviews, many readers thought The Dead Queens Club was fabulous.  This book is scheduled for publication January 29th, 2019.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.