Sunday, May 31, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 2015 Book Haul

May was a crazy month for books! I had books for my birthday, books from traveling, books from author events - books everywhere!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: Just Ella - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Series: The Palace Chronicles #1
Genre: YA, fairy tale retelling
Published on August 1, 2001
Published by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 185
Read From: 5.17.15 - 5.21.15

"Princess, nobody can stop those rumors. People would rather believe in fairy godmothers. . . .than think that you took charge of your own destiny." 

Like every commoner in the land, Ella dreams of going to the ball and marrying Prince Charming. But after she is chosen to marry the prince, life with the royal family is not the "happily ever after" that Ella imagined. Pitiless and cold, the royals try to mold her into their vision of a princess. Ella's life becomes a meaningless schedule of protocol, which she fears she will never grasp. And Prince Charming's beautiful face hides a vacant soul. 

Even as her life turns to misery, the stories persist that Ella's fairy godmother sent her to the ball: How else could the poor girl wear a beautiful gown, arrive in a coach, and dance in those glass slippers? But there is no fairy godmother to help Ella escape the deadening life of the castle. Can she do it on her own?


Dear Just Ella,

You aren’t a new read for me; I picked you up eons ago when I was still a kid and new to the fairy tale retelling genre. My memories of you were fond and with the release of your third installment, I looked forward to revisiting your story. Just Ella, you were a trip down memory lane for sure, but mostly a lane full of holes.

You tell what happened after Ella got her Prince Charming. Everyone knows the story: a young girl forced to act as a servant to her stepmother and two evil stepsisters. A fairy godmother who swoops in to save the day. A magical ball where Cinderella meets the love of her life. A glass slipper, an impossible proposal, and happily ever after. But that isn’t how Ella remembers it. Ella’s story is quite different - and totally bereft of magic. And being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her tutors and ladies in waiting only see her as an ignorant peasant, she’s not allowed to do anything useful or for herself, and she’s discovering that her Prince Charming is perhaps the most boring person she has ever known. The wedding is looming closer and Ella needs to do something fast - or be stuck in an unhappily ever after for, well, ever. But there’s more going on behind this match than she realizes.

I remembered liking Ella and I was pleased to discover that I still do. She’s clever and resourceful. Her willful blindness to Prince Charming’s cardboard personality got a little old, but I could understand at the same time. That ball was one magical, beautiful moment. She worked hard to get where she is now; all she wants is for it to be true. But even Ella realizes in time that she can’t turn a blind eye to the truth, and once she decides enough is enough, she takes action. Just. . . .her method isn’t perhaps the most clever of methods. Prince Charming is as dull and basic as his name implies: outward imperfect - absolutely nothing between the ears. He’s supposed to be like that, so I found it mostly amusing. And then there’s Jed - Ella’s religion and history tutor. Jed is exactly how I remember him being: kind and passionate. Really, all of your characters are how I remember them being. But here’s the funny thing about memory: I also recall them being in the story more. Jed is hardly there at all, and yet I recall him with such deep fondness; like a character that had been present for the majority of the book. In reality, none of the characters were in you enough, Just Ella. They have so much potential that is only hinted at, like a teasing taste of a delectable dessert.

The same goes for your plot. Ella’s “what really happened” narration is thoroughly enjoyable and clever. And the underlying plot with the two warring kingdoms and something possibly sinister going on with her marriage to Prince Charming - all very well done. The climax even takes on a very sinister turn that isn’t often associated with Cinderella. But there could have been so much more - indeed, I remember with perfect clarity a lot of other things happening that actually didn’t. It almost makes me wonder if I read a different edition as a kid. We only get to meet Ella’s stepmother for the briefest of moments at the end and it wasn’t nearly enough - especially when so much more was hinted at.

That’s what you are, Just Ella: a big tease. I enjoyed you and Jed will always be ranked as one of my favorite male characters. But you were not nearly long enough. Everything felt like a glimpse - a trailer - to a much bigger story and world and characters. I was left craving so much more, and I’m not given it.

Feeling unsatisfied,

~ Mara A. ~

Others in The Palace Chronicles:
1)Just Ella
2)Palace of Mirrors
3)Palace of Lies

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm Flyin' High!

That's right, people: for the second time in one year, I'm heading to the airport to catch another flight out! Destination: New York City! And BookCon!! I and my sister are meeting up with a few friends, crashing at a ritzy hotel, taking in the museums and food and bookstores, nerding out over books at BookCon, and then I come home Monday. It's going to be an awesome five days.

If any of you are going to BookCon, let me know! I will have WiFi, so I can check my blog! Maybe we will bump into each other!

And when I get back, it's going to be insane. I am taking some computer classes at the college to improve my job skills so I can eventually be hired as an assistant at the prosecutor's office. Then I'm taking on two dance classes, a self-defense class (hopefully), getting back into rock climbing, building my kayak, and and and and - well, I just have a lot to do. :)

Keep reading, my friends!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Invasion of the Tearling

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

The Invasion of the Tearling
by Erika Johansen
(The Tearling: #2)
Publication Date: June 9, 2015

From Goodreads:

With each passing day, Kelsey Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Why I'm Excited
- I looooooved the first book! I can't wait to see what happens next!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes - Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Series: Ember #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on April 28, 2015
Published by Razorbill
Pages: 446
Read From: 5.11.15 - 5.17.15

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. 

Under the Martial empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all their hold dear. 

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire's impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They've seen what happens to those who do. 

But when Laia's brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire's greatest military academy. 

There, Laia meets Elias, the school's finest soldier - and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he's being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined - and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


Dear An Ember in the Ashes,

Where to begin? Yet another book surrounded in pre-publication hype; I wasn’t certain that I would like you all that much. But I give almost every book a chance, and I was assured by various YA fanatics like myself that I would, indeed, like you. So it was with bated breath that I finally cracked open your pages and was prepared to be swept away by your stunning world.

Elias Veturius is training to be a Mask - one of the Empire’s elite soldiers and assassins. But his year of graduation is different. This year, a prophecy the Augurs long foretold will be fulfilled. He and four other recruits will undergo four Trials, and whoever wins is fated to be the next emperor. It isn’t an honor Elias wants; all he desires is to run away from Blackcliff and leave behind all of the blood and death. But what if undergoing the Trials - becoming either the emperor or the next emperor’s righthand the Blood Shrike - is the only way?

Laia is a lowly Scholar, long since conquered by the warlike empire of the Martials. Her parents, former leaders of the rebels, are dead and she and her brother Darin are living with their grandparents. Until the night her brother is taken by Martial soldiers. Suddenly Laia is on the run, and she is forced to turn to the rebels to help get her brother out before he is tortured to death. The leader, Mazen, makes her a deal: if she breaks into Blackcliff and brings back information on the Trials, they will help free Darin.

Neither Laia or Elias realize it, but their fates are intertwined. The reluctant rebel and the equally reluctant soldier. Together, they discover that there is much more going on behind the Trials - and the rebels’ cause. The battle is just beginning for their people - Martial and Scholar alike.

I still don’t know where to begin, Ember in the Ashes. Your world is amazing; it is brutal and dark and entirely believable. The Martial empire is rather similar to the Roman one, and Sabaa Tahir is not afraid to explore its grittier, more gruesome side. There’s blood and gore aplenty without being grotesque, and rape is something everyone knows happens to slaves at Blackcliff. The characters are battered and bruised and not at all spared from trauma and permanent damage. For once, our female protagonist is actually scarred and tortured and treated the way a slave probably would be. And Elias and his friend Helene’s training is tough. Punishment is handed out on a regular basis, most of the time resulting in death. The plot is twisty and creepy and intriguing. I wasn’t ever bored.

But. The characters. I will say right now that the Commandant is one of the most intimidating, terrifying, brutal, and sadistic villainesses I have ever read. She was amazing. I was, for the most part, rather indifferent to your protagonists, though. Laia was refreshing in that she was actually an average girl. Pretty, determined, unassuming, not inherently courageous. She was terrified, but her love for her brother pushed her to do what needed to be done, and she bore up in a truly inspiring way against the torture of being a slave to the Commandant of the school (who regularly disfigures, abuses, and punishes her slaves). I felt for her. At the same time, I could have smacked her for not listening to the people she should have; Cook, Teluman, even Keenan. Instead, she ran because she was afraid of. . . .knowing the truth? Discovering that she was putting her trust in the wrong people?

It was so nice to have a male protagonist on a military capacity. Elias is at heart a very good, decent, noble young man. He has excelled at his training, despite his mother the Commandant making things as difficult as possible for him. And when Elias is faced with harsher and harsher orders - orders that require the death of more innocent lives - he draws a line. But he struggles with it. Should he do what is needed and just do as he’s told? Or should he stand firm, no matter the cost? It’s not an easy position he’s in, and I also felt for him. But I just couldn’t connect all that deeply with either him or Laia.

And I think it was because of the romance. There’s a rather complicated love triangle/square going on in you, Ember in the Ashes. Laia has a thing for Keenan - a young rebel who is initially rude and condescending towards her, but of course softens as time goes on. And then Laia meets Elias, who encourages her bravery and taking things into her own hands. Meanwhile, Elias is caught between his best friend Helene - a fellow trainee and only female at Blackcliffe (yes, there is a reason for this and yes, it actually works) - and Laia, the beautiful Scholar slave-girl whom he protects and helps so he will feel less guilty about the blood on his hands. The romance didn’t exactly annoy me; I have read worse. I liked Helene a lot; she was strong and believable in her military role. I had issues with her later, but that would be spoilers. I understood Elias’s struggle; they were good friends and he was afraid any attempt at reciprocating her feelings would spoil things. But his “love” for Laia felt shallow; all he ever talked about what her beauty. And I couldn’t understand Laia’s flip-flopping at all. Keenan is kind of an ass and Elias just. . . .meh. I wasn’t feeling any chemistry between them.

Probably what annoyed me the most with all of the characters, though, was their lack of communication. So much would have been avoided if they had just communicated - or listened to the right people, instead of storming out before they finished saying their peace. I am well aware that that’s how life works. People are pigheaded and sometimes childish and will play the “I’m not talking to you” game because they can. But when it is so consistently done in a book, and the Reader knows that this is only going to cause a massive headache for everyone, it’s just plain annoying. I wanted to slap Laia, Elias, and even Helene more than once, and that feeling affected everything about them.

However, Ember in the Ashes, that ending was amazing. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out and I was stunned speechless more than once. Your world was so believable and brutal and immersive, your plot engaging, and while I did not connect to your protagonists, I can accept them in their roles. The villains are so good and the side characters full of life. Weighing that against the frustration I held for Elias and Laia sometimes, I can only say that I was more impressed than annoyed. Your sequel can’t come soon enough.

Feeling excited,
~ Mara A. ~

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hedgehog Life: 5/18/15 - 5/24/15

I am only a few days away from leaving for New York City and BOOKCON!!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! I was surprised at unbusy this past week was, to be honest. Went and saw Pitch Perfect 2. And my story decided to throw me a new one and I'll now be in the process of my 5th complete draft rewrite. But aside from that and filming, I've been pretty lazy.

This Week I Read
- The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (5/5 strawberries)
- The Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black (4/5 strawberries)
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (4/5 strawberries)
- Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (3/5 strawberries)

This Week I Reviewed
- The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
- Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
- Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg

What's In Store for Next Week
Review of An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Top Ten Books in My Beach Bag
Waiting on Wednesday with The Invasion of the Tearling
Review of Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
May Book Haul
Hedgie's Must Reads for May 2015

Wednesday night my sister and I catch a flight out to New York, and the following weeks will be BookCon and other craziness. I probably won't be posted anything on my blog except whatever is pre-scheduled during that time. I'm going to hopefully try and keep things updated while I'm in New York. I can hope that the hotel will have a better internet connection than what I had in Nashville. And I will do my very best to try and do a video about it all when I get home on time (I'm so sorry my videos about Nashville and meeting Michael Buckley have been late; I haven't been motivated lately).

So, yes! I will see you all when I return from my Travels!

Keep reading, my friends!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Discussion: Literature in Translation

At a very, very young age, language has held me a captivated prisoner. I marveled at the worlds it created, the characters it made me fall in love with, the stories and dangers and lessons it wove. There isn't a person among us who hasn't been affected by language: the thing that separates humanity from beast. It is how we communicate to each other, tell stories that shape our way of thinking, teach us valuable lessons and compassion. And with a way to translate websites, documents, and stories into a million different languages - we can spread the joy of these stories, further communication, share ideas.

This actually makes me think about all of the books I've read that were originally written in a different language, and probably would not have been made available to me if it weren't for translation. Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart and Reckless, is originally from Germany and she writes her books in her native tongue before they are translated and published in English for readers like myself. Inkheart is a book that had significant impact on my life. I picked it up at a sensitive age, when I was feeling especially alone, uncertain about my future, and helpless. I buried myself so thoroughly in books and my own writing, and I desired more than anything to sink into a magical world that wasn't the one I currently lived in.

Inkheart spoke to this desire. I understood Meggie, our young protagonist, and her father Mo's love for books. I was constantly seeking the magic that they saw the world with, and Mo's ability to read fictional characters into reality was something I would have killed to do. If I could read my favorite characters into existence, maybe I wouldn't be so lonely! But then there is Dustfinger; a fictional character that Mo has accidentally read out from a book. My heart completely went out to Dustfinger, and a part of me identified with him. Dustfinger spends nine years trying to fit into our world, but he can't. It isn't his home, his family isn't there, he is completely out of place. I always felt out of place, and I wished I could somehow be read into a book, just as Dustfinger wishes to be returned to his world.

I don't know how I could have gotten through that particular part of my life without Inkheart - or any of Cornelia Funke's books. Every single one of them seemed to come to me when I needed them most: The Thief Lord, Reckless, even Ghost Knight and Igraine the Brave. Whether it was I needed a magical world to lose myself in, a quick adventure, or something that spoke deeper to my soul; something that reminded me what it was like see the world through kids' eyes. Without translation, I would never have discovered Cornelia Funke's books. I would love to learn German, but I probably never will.

And then there are just the books I read that were enjoyable that would not have been accessible without translation. Kerstin Gier, Homer, Goethe, Johan Harstad's 172 Hours on the Moon - just to name a few. And what about all the books written in English that have been translated in other languages? J. K. Rowling, James Dashner, John Flanagan, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Dickens - all authors whose books are extremely dear to me. It makes me very happy that people around the world can read these stories, too, and know that maybe they will reach someone when they most need them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Candy and the Cankersaur - Jason Sandberg

Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg
Genre: children's picture book
Published on June 17, 2012
Published by Jason Sandberg eBooks
Pages: 32
Read From: 5.16.15 - 5.16.15

This is the sweet and funny tale of a young girl named Candy and a Cankersaurus Rex! Candy receives a dinosaur as a gift and is determined to train him to be a good pet.


I don't normally review picture books because they are, quite frankly, very difficult to write reviews for. But Jason Sandberg contacted me and asked, and I thought, Why not?

Candy and the Cankersaur is a delightful, quick read with colorful, captivating illustrations. Not usually my preferred style, but kids will love it. Woven into Candy's tale of a workaholic dad and a mythical dinosaur that may or not may not be the best kind of pet, is also a lesson on jealousy, sharing, kindness, and spending quality time with your kid (or friend, too; the lesson can be applied to that as well). The "message" is obvious, but also not so in your face that it detracts from the fact that this is just a fun kids' story.

Even better, it's fast-paced enough and written playfully, so parents who will no doubt be required to read it over and over again won't feel like it's a drag. And it's a picture book that as kids grow older, they'll gain more from it.

Candy and the Cankersaur was a lot of fun and delightful. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: Mark of the Thief - Jennifer A. Nielsen

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Series: The Praetor War #1
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fantasy
Published on February 24, 2015
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 352
Read From: 5.9.15 - 5.11.15

When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar, filled with a magic once reserved for the gods - magic some Romans would kill for. 

Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within. Traitors and spies lurk at every turn, each more desperate than the next to use Nic's newfound powers for their own dark purposes. 

In a quest to stop the rebellion, save Rome, and secure his own freedom, Nic must harness the magic within himself and defeat the empire's most powerful and savage leaders.


Dear Mark of the Thief,

As a fan of Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy, Ancient Rome, and fantasy, when I heard about you, I absolutely knew that I had to read you. My expectations were somewhat high, as Jennifer A. Nielsen totally impressed me with her previous series. And when I go into a book with high expectations, it can sometimes make me disappointed. Mark of the Thief, you weren’t one of them.

You tell the story of young Nicolas Calva, a slave in a Roman mine, who has always done as he’s told - but only if he thinks the order is worth his time. But then Nicolas is ordered to go down into a mysterious chamber that reportedly houses the lost treasure of Julius Caesar. Several slaves have already died and Nic isn’t about to become another one. But slaves don’t have the luxury of disobeying their masters and he’s forced to go down and retrieve a specific object: Caesar’s bulla. But as soon as Nic touches the bulla, he’s endowed with godlike powers that turn him into the most feared and most hunted slave in all of Rome. Before he realizes it, he’s caught up in a dangerous game of political intrigue, warring Roman families, and abilities that only the gods should possess.

Once again, Jennifer A. Nielsen presents us with a snarky, quick-witted protagonist in Nic. But unlike Sage from The Ascendance Trilogy, Nic doesn’t have the devil’s own luck. In fact, quite the opposite; he seems to have the worst luck on earth. Nic doesn’t ask for anything that happens to him; he has tried to live his life as a slave relatively quietly, looking after his sister and praying that one day he can eke out a better life for them both. But fate just won’t leave him alone and he can’t seem to trust anyone - not even people who claim to be his friends. Everyone wants to use him for their own means, and I felt just so bad for him as he was used and abused by one person after another. I wanted him to finally trust the right people, but his distrust was completely and utterly understandable. At the same time, I wanted to smack some characters for not trusting Nic. The poor boy is a victim of circumstance; he isn’t asking for any of this; he has no clue what’s going on. Just be nice to him, please? Aurelia is an equally-intelligent and tough female companion; she looks after herself and no one else. I totally understood her motivations, but I also wanted to smack her for continually refusing to help Nic and not believing him about things. Then there’s Radulf, the villain, who was properly intimidating, cold, and calculating. I could respect him.

Your plot, Mark of the Thief, is extremely fast paced. I love an action-packed plot, but at the same time, yours was almost too fast. Nic hardly gets any time to rest from any of his ordeals, and the Reader is given even less time to absorb all of the twists and revelations that keep popping up. I could, because of this, totally sympathize with Nic’s exhaustion and bewilderment and uncertainty. But by the end, I was tired, I wasn’t sure what had just happened, and I wanted time to sit and think. Who can I trust? What are all the deals characters are making with each other? What just happened?! One thing is for certain: you aren’t boring at any point.

I really, really liked you. You are an extremely promising beginning to a brand new historical fantasy-adventure series. Nic is a wonderful protagonist and the side characters equally well fleshed out. I was even gleefully surprised to discover that Middle Grade or not, you didn’t shy away from the brutality of the Roman world - nor did the Author shy away from being cruel to her characters. You aren’t graphic, but you are very intense and your poor characters go through a lot of very realistic trauma. Your plot was just a little too quick; I would have liked a bit more spacing in between revelations. Even so, you were a terrific book.

Feeling wowed,
~ Mara A. ~

Others in The Praetor War Series:
1)Mark of the Thief
2)Rise of the Wolf

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Cage

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

The Cage
by Megan Shepherd
(The Cage: #1)
Publication Date: May 26, 2015

From Goodreads:

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn't know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments - tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures - all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn't alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora's past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer - a handsome young guard called Cassian - appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren't from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo - where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer - though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so. . . .what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

Why I'm Excited
- A human zoo in an alien world; sounds awesome and weird and creepy!
- A forbidden romance between a human in the zoo and one of the "zoo attendants" - sounds less awesome and mostly creepy. But I can hopefully deal with it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #82 + Teaser Tuesday #43

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

It's a freebie week! And I choose: Top Ten Fairy Tale Retellings. I've read a lot fairy tale retellings - most of them good. But I still have my "Top 10" that I will forever and always love.

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading

I hid the boots behind a tree and stood there for a moment, watching luxurious carriages pull up to the castle gates and discharge girls like me, most of them obviously unaccustomed to finery. They were all in giggly bunches: "Coo! Get a load of me in a ball gown!" "Aye, Jane, you're a fine sight. You gonna think you're too good to slop the hogs now?" Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix (pg. 72)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Bitter Kingdom - Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Series: Bitter Kingdom Trilogy #3
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on August 27, 2013
Published by Greenwillow Books
Pages: 433
Read From: 5.4.15 - 5.9.15

Elisa is a fugitive. 

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight. 

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa ne Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy's kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history. 

But that's not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for. 

Even of those who hate her most.


Dear The Bitter Kingdom,

With the conclusion of Crown of Embers, I was very eager to see what you would bring next - the finale to this wonderful epic fantasy trilogy.

Elisa's kingdom stands on the brink of civil war and invasion. Her commander and love of her life, Hector, has been taken by the enemy and it's up to her to retrieve him, find and destroy the last source of magic for the Inviernos, keep her country from falling into civil war, reclaim her throne, and restore peace to the kingdoms. With the help of her handmaid Mara, the Invierno ambassador Storm, and Belen, Elisa might succeed and finally fulfill her destiny as God's Chosen. And then she might die, like so many bearers before her.

You, like the others, were an emotional rollercoaster. Elisa has grown into a very strong, capable, intelligent protagonist, but she still has doubts about herself - about her destiny. However, she doesn't let it keep her from doing what needs to be done. And at last, she's listening to her heart. She takes wise council from her friends, but she's no longer just doing what she's told or what's totally best for her kingdom. She's also doing what's best for her and it honestly made me cry to see her finally come full circle and go after her desires. Though she and Hector's romance is still cheapened by Elisa's physical desire for him, I still very much root for them and enjoyed their romance. Mara and Belen are the emotional couple with a lot of history between them that we don't know if it'll ever be resolved. And I'm not telling. ;-) For some reason, though, Storm has become my absolute favorite character. He's a fairly quiet person; cautious, honest, sarcastic, and loyal.

I was admittedly a little concerned about the plot pacing. For two books, we've had journeys across deserts and I wasn't sure I could do another one. Desert journeys are only so interesting for so many books. In the beginning, I started getting a little bored. But your pace picks up after a few chapters and we get more political intrigue and less aching limbs, sandstorms, stark provisions, and everything else that goes with traveling. Even better - we get to see the Invierno kingdom! And we get to learn a bit more about the Godstones, the animagi, the magic system, and the Joyans and Inviernos themselves. After that, your pace quickly picks up and trots its eager way to a very, very exciting and heart-pounding conclusion, where I then became extremely worried for some characters. Rae Carson proved in the first book that she's not afraid to kill important characters off, and the last time a first-person trilogy suddenly split narrators - well, it didn't end so great.

The only thing that really bothered me about you, Bitter Kingdom, was how many questions I still had at the end. About the Godstone, the prophecy, the Joyans and Inviernos, and so many other things. And even this didn't bother me that much because it leaves a ton of room for a potential spin-off series in the same world. For the trilogy, enough questions were answered that I wasn't left feeling confused and disappointed. Admittedly, Elisa's fulfillment of her prophecy wasn't at all what I was expecting, and I'm still not entirely certain how I feel about it, but it worked in the end.

Your trilogy, Bitter Kingdom, has been a fun and emotional ride. Your world is new and refreshing; your characters deep and sympathetic. At times you have dragged, but I have overall enjoyed you a lot.

Feeling satisfied,
~ Mara A. ~

Others in This Trilogy:
1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns
2)Crown of Embers
3)The Bitter Kingdom

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Hedgehog Life: 5/11/15 - 5/17/15

I'm back from Nashville! Can't believe that happened; it all went by in a blur. Probably because I had a stupid cold most of the time, but setting that aside - five days goes by quickly!

This Week I Read:
- Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen (4/5 strawberries)
- Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg (5/5 strawberries)

This Week I Reviewed:
What's In Store for Next Week:
Review of The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Top Ten Fairy Tale Retellings
Waiting on Wednesday with The Cage
Review of Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Review of Candy and the Cankersaur by Jason Sandberg

This week hasn't been all that crazy, though it feels like it has been. Probably because I've been a bit lazy and not getting everything done that I need to - hey, sometimes a person needs to be a bit lazy. Wednesday I went and saw Avengers: Age of Ultron with friends; very entertaining. No, I'm not an Avengers fan, but I'm not going to turn down an action flick with friends. Tuesday I returned to swing after a two-week absence! So, so, so nice to be back.

Next week will be a little crazy. Because I'm leaving for BookCon (!!) the week after, so I need to spend time getting things in order before my departure. It shouldn't be as hectic this time, as my sister is coming with me. But it's also the week I have Lit Club, Book Club, and a birthday party that I'm in charge of organizing. I have a lot of baking ahead of me. :\

Friday, May 15, 2015

ARC Review: Beastly Bones - William Ritter

Beastly Bones by William Ritter
Series: Jackaby #2
Genre: YA, historical fantasy, mystery
Published on September 22, 2015
Published by Algonquin
Pages: 304
Read From: 5.1.15 - 5.3.15

In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. 

First, shape-shifters from a particularly vicious species disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then, in nearby Gad's Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.


Dear Beastly Bones,

Perhaps I was biased when I picked you up. I mean, I loved your first book - Jackaby - so much; I knew there was no way I was going to dislike you. I’ve been hungry for more Jackaby and Abigail ever since I finished Book #1, and so it was with eager hands and bated breath that I picked you up. And, Beastly Bones, I was the furthest thing from disappointed.

Abigail Rook continues on as the investigative assistant of idiosyncratic supernatural detective R. F. Jackaby. Together, they scour New Fiddleham, New England for the unexplainable and right supernatural and magical wrongs. Their latest case is the mysterious disappearance of someone’s cat and her remaining kittens which are looking suspiciously fishy. But then Abigail and Jackaby receive a letter from Charlie Cane, the recently exiled policeman and werewolf, about some dinosaur bones that have gone mysteriously missing. Jackaby and Abigail are soon caught up in a wild investigation involving shape-shifting carnivorous creatures, a possibly resurrected dinosaur, two rival archaeologists, and brutal murders. In other words, just another day on the field with R. F. Jackaby.

I can’t say much else about Abigail, Jackaby, and Charlie that I haven’t said already. Abigail is sensible and tough and cheeky and everything that I like in a female protagonist - especially a Victorian era female protagonist. She craves adventure and to prove to herself that she can do what people don't expect - but she has no feminist attitude or chip on her shoulder. She’s still true to her time period. Jackaby is all levels of awesome, with Sherlock’s brilliance and the Doctor’s energy and good cheer. He’s a figure of great mystery still, but we wouldn’t have him any other way. I want to keep Charlie; he’s so sweet and kind and wonderful. The romance between him and Abigail is gradual and sweet - I loved it. And of course, Jackaby’s other live-ins - Jenny the ghost and Douglas the former investigative assistant who got turned into a mallard duck. We get a further glimpse into Jenny’s past, and there’s a promise of even more revelation in the next book. I can’t wait! There are a few new characters: the charming  archaeologist Owen Horner and his rival Lewis Lamb; Nellie Fuller, the sassy, smart, devil-take-you journalist who’s always looking for an interesting story; and Hudson, a trapper and collector of odd animals - and one of Jackaby’s old friends. I loved them all. They were bursting with personality and backstory and added so much to the story.

Just like Jackaby, your plot doesn’t slacken at all. Again, maybe I’m bias and just love anything and everything in this world, but I loved all of the world building and the lore and legends, and I was swept up immediately by the mystery. Who was stealing dinosaur bones and why? What was murdering people and slaughtering farm animals? Was it connected and how? While the mystery in Jackaby was a little easier to solve on my own, this one was a bit more complicated. And it’s not totally solved in the end. There promises to be a continuation; smaller pieces to a bigger puzzle were laid out in you, Beastly Bones, and maybe we’ll be getting our very own supernatural Moriarty/Master!

The climax was as crazy and impossible and awesome as one might expect it to be.  And I’m thrilled about the foreshadowing for Book #3. I knew you wouldn’t disappoint, Beastly Bones. With Jackaby and Abigail as our protagonists, there’s just no way you could. Your writing is spot on and very Victorianesque, and you are just as quotable as your predecessor. I cannot wait until Book #3!

Feeling ecstatic,

~ Mara A. ~

Others in This Series:
2)Beastly Bones

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review: Rook - Sharon Cameron

Rook by Sharon Cameron
Genre: YA, classic retelling, futuristic
Published on April 28, 2015
Published by Scholastic Press
Pages: 464
Read From: 4.27.15 - 4.30.15

History has a way of repeating itself. In the Sunken City that was once Paris, all who oppose the new revolution are being put to the blade. Except for those who disappear from their prison cells, a single, red-tipped rook feather left in their place. The mysterious Red Rook is a savior of the innocent, and a criminal in the eyes of the government. 

Meanwhile, across the sea in the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy's arranged marriage to the wealthy Rene Hasard is the last chance to save her family from financial ruin. But when the search for the Red Rook comes straight to the doors of Bellamy House, Sophia discovers that her fiance is not all he seems. Which is only fair, because neither is she. 

As the Red Rook grows bolder and the stakes grow ever higher, Sophia and Rene find themselves locked in a tantalizing game of cat and mouse.

Dear Rook,

From the moment I picked you up, I knew I would like you. Part of that may be because of your author, whose previous works I enjoyed so thoroughly that I am convinced I’ll never dislike anything she writes. Ever. So yes, I went into you with a bit of bias, but I did my best to have an open mind regardless. Rook, you were the furthest thing from a disappointment.

It’s about 700 years in the future. The magnetic poles shifted way back in time, causing technology to malfunction and life as we once knew it to cease to exist. The time of cars, computers, and other electronics has sunken into the past as mysterious, forbidden legends of how people once lived. Paris, now known as the Sunken City, is in the middle of another Revolution. Convinced that technology was the cause of the Ancients’ downfall, the Premier of the Sunken City is executing aristocrats who (he claims) are funding laborers to recreate technology and “steal jobs from honest, hardworking common folk.” And like times of old, they are being put to the guillotine. But the wrongly condemned are not without hope. There’s the Red Rook - a mysterious figure who spirits them away from their prison cells before they can be executed. No one knows who the Red Rook is; divine spirit? Ghost? Mortal man? But the premiere wants his head. Only Sophia Bellamy knows the Red Rook’s secret: that he is a she - and in fact Sophia herself. But her plans are put in danger with her upcoming nuptials to a Parisian gentleman whose marriage fee might just save her family from ruin. But like Sophia, Rene Hasard is not all he seems, and suddenly she and her family are caught up in a very dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.

The world building is incredibly well done. While 700 years in the future, society has regressed to a Georgian-style era. Technology is banned, because it caused the downfall of the old society - the Ancients - and it steals away work opportunities for the peasants (so Premier Allemande and his Minstre of Security LeBlanc claim). But like civilizations in the past that have fallen and there’s very little left of them, Sophia’s world has turned things like plastic and old CDs into priceless artifacts. They wonder at what they used CDs for, theorize that little action figures might have been idols or representations of what the Ancients wanted to look like. So much information and history was lost in that 700 years. It was really fun and unique to read about “our society” from this viewpoint, and it actually was very realistic. While it’s hard to imagine, living as we do now, that plastic could ever be a mystery or people would value it, give humans a natural disaster big enough to wipe out records and 700 years to bury the remaining knowledge and maybe it isn’t so hard to believe after all. And of course, with the regression of technology and ways of living, Sophia’s world still had the historic charm that a retelling (or homage) of The Scarlet Pimpernel needs.

In this somewhat strange, yet amazing, landscape we have our main characters: Sophia Bellamy, her brother Tomas Bellamy, Rene Hasard, Tom and Sophia’s best friend Spear Hammond, Orla, and Rene’s mysterious manservant Benoit. On the other side of the spectrum are the villains: Albert LeBlanc and Premier Allemande. I could go on and on and on about each of these characters, but I will try and be fairly concise. I loved each and every one of them. Sophia is quick-witted, strong, and fiery. She has what it takes to be the Red Rook and save wrongly condemned aristocrats and anyone else LeBlanc wants to execute. Her brother Tom was wonderfully supportive and loving. He wants to protect Sophia, but knows that she has to do what needs to be done, so he doesn’t smother her. Orla and Benoit were mostly background characters, but had so much personality. Orla cares for Sophia as if she’s her own daughter, but also doesn’t smother Sophia. Benoit was quiet and mysterious and there was obviously so much more to him, and I just love characters like that. He knew things and turned up in odd places and clearly held more power than you realize, and he was just awesome. Rene is complicated, and I can’t say too much without giving things away. Suffice it to say, he’s a bit of a rogue, but it’s mostly an act, and when we get to know the real Rene, I fell in love. Spear is also another complicated character; I loved his support of the Bellamy family, and then he started to get his own agenda and I stopped trusting him, and in the end I kind of hated him. LeBlanc is a downright intimidating villain. He is totally and absolutely convinced that the Goddess of Fate is real; that he serves her and can hear her wishes; that Fate has plans for him. He becomes obsessed in his role, in killing anyone and everyone he thinks is standing in his way to bringing the Goddess glory. He’s zealous and it’s creepy. Allemande just serves himself, is cold and calculating, almost thinks of himself as a god. But these two together and they make for realistic dictators.

I even liked your love triangle, Rook. It’s safe to say that Sophia’s initial dislike of Rene doesn’t stay that way after a while. But she struggles with realistic feelings. She’s getting to know an entirely different Rene from who she originally met, and she likes this new Rene. But can she trust him? Is this really Rene or just another facade? She wants to trust him, but can she? Meanwhile, her childhood friend Spear has fallen pretty hard for her. And this is where I actually liked the love triangle: Sophia doesn’t feel that sort of love for Spear and she never did. He’s like a second brother to her, and unlike most protagonists in her situation, once Spear reveals his feelings, Sophia doesn’t suddenly start to wonder if maybe she does like him in that way after all. She knows she doesn’t. But Spear won’t take no for an answer, and he starts acting like there’s already an understanding between him and Sophia, and that’s when I started to dislike him. He wouldn’t listen to Sophia’s plans, he went behind her back, he ordered her around, and it just made me like Rene all the more. And that last move Spear pulled. . . .I couldn’t forgive him after that.

Your plot is half world building, half build-up, half action. I love world building if it’s done well, and yours was. I loved the attention to detail Sharon Cameron paid to the real French Revolution and how she incorporated it into this “history repeating itself” scenario. Here’s an author who took the time to research the Revolution ideals and how destructive they were. So many people glorify the French Revolution; try to claim that the American Revolution copied it (which makes no sense, since the American Revolution happened first. . . .). But the American and the French Revolutions were motivated by two very different things; their ideals were almost complete opposites. And in doing her research, Sharon Cameron presented a very real and very frightening regime. The cat-and-mouse game was so much fun to follow; it got to the point where I really didn’t know who I could trust. I followed my gut feeling, but I honestly didn’t know for sure. And the ending is so suspenseful and exciting and perilous that any slowness the plot might have suffered (and I didn’t think it did) was totally justified.

I loved everything about you, Rook. I loved your characters - main ones and side ones; especially all of Rene’s uncles and his maman. I loved your world and the detail and history Sharon Cameron utilized and blended in to create a relatively plausible 700-year-later future. I loved your nod to The Scarlet Pimpernel; enough to be obvious, not so much that it can be called a straight-up retelling. I loved your premise, your twists and turns, your writing style, and your conclusion, which is one of the most satisfying ones I’ve ever read.

Feeling completely pleased,
~ Mara A. ~

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Illusionarium

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine.
It's a weekly meme about upcoming books we're excited about!

by Heather Dixon
Publication Date: May 19, 2015

From Goodreads:

Jonathan is perfectly ordinary. But then - as every good adventure begins - the king swoops into port, and Jonathan and his father are enlisted to find the cure to a deadly plague. Jonathan discovers that he's a prodigy at working with a new chemical called fantillium, which creates shared hallucinations - or illusions. And just like that, Jonathan is knocked off his path. Through richly developed parallel worlds, vivid action, a healthy dose of humor, and gorgeous writing, Heather Dixon spins a story that calls to mind The Night Circus and Pixar movies, but is wholly its own.

Why I'm Excited
- Heather Dixon has finally written a new book! I loved her other book Entwined so much.
- It looks steampunk-ish.
- And sounds whimsical.