The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson #bookreview #YA #scifi

When 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 their 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.

My book club requirement was to read a YA book optioned for movie/TV, and The Sandcastle Empire was snatched up by Paramount before its release date.  And I’d just bought it during a Bookbub promotion a couple of months ago so, an obvious choice.

The beginning of this book is absolutely captivating, and I fell hard for it.  An exciting escape on the beach, explosions, stolen boats with questionable traveling companions – I couldn’t read fast enough.  Once Eden reaches the island – wow.  If you’re a Lost fan, this island will bring back memories.  After one night on the beach, a character is missing – grabbed while everyone slept.  Eden and the other two girls trek through the mysterious jungle in search of her and experience extraordinary occurrences.  Color me enthralled.

Then the storyline ventures into familiar tropes:  insta-love, girls more focused on cute boys than on their fight for survival and appearing helpless – after they’d just braved a life-threatening, danger-filled trek through the jungle without the help of the male persuasion.

The world-building is fantastic, the writing descriptive, and the plot original, if a little predictable in some places.  Overall, I enjoyed the read, but hoped the plot would concentrate more on the science fiction/dystopian aspects of the story as in the first half, rather than introduce distracting romantic elements.

 

Black Bird of the Gallows (Black Birds of the Gallows #1) by Meg Kassel #bookreview #YA #paranormal #TuesdayBookBlog

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

I bought this book several months ago during a Bookbub special.  The cover is stunning, and the original paranormal premise grabbed me.

It was refreshing to read a paranormal novel that didn’t involve the usual werewolves or vampires (although I’ve read vampires are making a comeback, and I can’t wait).  The Harbingers, who signal death is coming and feed off the energy, and Bee Keepers, who house poisonous bees that cause mental instability, are morbid and add a nice degree of creepiness to the story.  The Harbingers turning into black birds are just icing on the cake.

The brief description on the Bookbub email didn’t imply this novel was so heavy on romance, so I was a bit disappointed, but that’s my fault for not checking the expanded description on Amazon before buying it.  The relationship between Reece and Angie falls into standard paranormal trope – sweet, but insta-love and pretty predictable.

I thought the relationship between Angie and her father was done exceptionally well.  She’d been raised by a drug addicted mother who was estranged from Angie’s father, and he’d been searching for Angie for years, only reuniting with her upon the death of her mother.

Although more romance than I usually prefer, this was an intriguing read that held my interest, and one I’d recommend to fans of paranormal romance.

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive? 

With a description that reads nearly like a fairy tale and a magical cover, do I really need to explain why I wanted to read this book?

The writing is lush, beautiful, and velvety, with imagery that will transport you to another place.  Some lines I re-read several times because of the way the author weaves words together.  There are basically three stories in this book, and the chapters alternate.  Somewhere around the middle or so, it’s revealed how they’re connected.  Rhea and her family are adorable and quirky, and the Darkness in the attic is spine-tingling and alluring.  It’s a nice touch.

With the first half of the book, I was all in and just wanted to find a secluded corner with no interruptions.  And then I got to the second half, and it lost me.  It has the feel of a fairy tale, but I felt untethered, and unsure of what was real in the story.  Even the dialogue was off, sounding more juvenile, and I found myself skimming the pages instead of savoring them as I had in the first half of the book.

Many other reviewers loved the dreamy, storybook feel of this novel, but I need to feel more grounded in my reading, with a better grasp of the plot.  Even though it turned out not to be for me, I’d still recommend this book because of the extraordinary writing, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read another novel by this author in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

The Tesla Legacy by K.K. Perez #bookreview #YA #scifi

THE TESLA LEGACY follows a precocious young scientist named Lucy Phelps whose fateful encounter in the Tesla Suite of the New Yorker Hotel unlocks her dormant electrical powers. As Lucy struggles to understand her new abilities through scientific experimentation, she is thrust into a centuries old battle between rival alchemical societies.

One side wants her help and the other wants her dead, but both believe she is the next step in human evolution. Unfortunately, carriers of the genetic mutation—including Nikola Tesla—have a greatly reduced life expectancy. Even if Lucy can outrun her enemies, she can’t outrun herself.

Admittedly, I’m a science nerd, and when I see the name Tesla (not the car), I get excited – that’s what drew me to this book.

A lot is packed into this novel – Lucy’s typical high school life rapidly turns into a tug of war between two agencies trying to ‘win’ her.  Unfortunately, one of those groups isn’t too concerned with her survival.  There’s a good bit of science talk that may throw off some readers, but it’s pertinent to the story and explained well.

I loved that Lucy is an unabashed science geek, heavily into STEM, and isn’t afraid to display her intelligence.  Her numerous pop culture references to Star Trek, Wonder Woman, etc., also made me smile.  Lucy’s sense of betrayal and confusion of who she should trust is portrayed well.  I did feel that some repetition regarding relationships in the middle of the book slowed the pace somewhat, but it turned into a whirlwind race near the end.

If you enjoy reality-based sci-fi with a splash of X-Men and a pinch of The Davinci Code, I’d recommend The Tesla Legacy.  It’s action-packed, with some surprising twists.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Why has it taken me this long to read a book by Mary Weber?  I’m now a confirmed fan, and To Best the Boys was an absolute delight to read.

You can’t help falling in love with Rhen.  She’s exceptionally intelligent, compassionate, driven, and is more comfortable in the presence of dead bodies than at an opulent party.  She’s also dyslexic, and has found ways to succeed in spite of it.  Although society expects her to be content with ‘wifely duties’, she sees a different future for herself, and takes risky steps to make it happen.  It’s important to mention that when Rhen’s cousin, Seleni, says being a wife and mother is what she wants, her choice isn’t disparaged – it’s the path that’s right for her.  And that’s what this book is about – knowing what’s right for you, and not compromising your dreams to fit someone else’s expectations.

It’s also about outsmarting the labyrinth.  Riddles, creatures, death, dangerous feats – all lie within, and you’ll be holding your breath through some tension-filled moments.  Besides all of that, ghosts and sirens are also dangerous elements in this world, inhabiting the streets and sea at night.

I have to mention Rhen’s relationships with her parents, Seleni, and her other friends – all are honest, loving, and done so well.  Everyone needs their support people.

To Best the Boys is an exciting adventure with a splash of a mystery, and I’d highly recommend it to young women interested in STEM.  And as a bonus, there’s a mouth-watering recipe for Labyrinth Cookies!  A joy to read from beginning to end.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

 

Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera #bookreview #dystopian #scifi #TuesdayBookBlog

At night, Las Mal Criadas own these streets.

Nalah leads the fiercest all-girl crew in Mega City. That roles brings with it violent throw downs and access to the hottest boydega clubs, but the sixteen-year-old grows weary of the life. Her dream is to get off the streets and make a home in the exclusive Mega Towers, in which only a chosen few get to live. To make it to the Mega towers, Nalah must prove her loyalty to the city’s benevolent founder and cross the border in a search for a mysterious gang the Ashé Ryders. Led by a reluctant guide, Nalah battles other crews and her own doubts, but the closer she gets to her goal, the more she loses sight of everything—and everyone— she cares about.

Nalah must do the unspeakable to get what she wants—a place to call home. But is a home just where you live? Or who you choose to protect?

All girl gangs, throw downs, and a quest?  This description was unlike anything I’d read before, and with this beautiful cover, I couldn’t resist.

Such intriguing and creative world-building.  Mega City is a matriarchal society led by a beloved woman, and men are primarily considered secondary citizens.  It’s a gritty, dangerous way of life, with gangs gaining power and moving up the food chain through physical battles against each other.  At the age of seven, girls are sent to soldier training camps.  Many of the citizens are hooked on pills that induce lucid dreaming, and are also a used as a form of payment.  It’s not an easy way of life by any means.  The only thing I had difficulty buying into was eleven and twelve-year-old girls having the capacity to take down much older teens – it just seemed too young.

Nalah and her gang are tightly bonded, and consider each other family.  The dynamics between the crew are messy, heartfelt, and difficult at times, but completely realistic.  Nalah’s strong loyalty to them and need to secure their futures through obtaining a spot in The Towers is the driving focus of the story – until some hard truths are revealed.  Her character arc is sensational, and really made the story for me.  Her journey from having such strong beliefs about herself and her environment to questioning everything she thought she knew is compelling.

Dealing in Dreams is dark at times, full of action and surprising revelations, and a book I’d recommend to dystopia and sci-fi fans.  This book is scheduled for publication March 5, 2019.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the digital ARC.

 

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!