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Book Review: Obsidian and Stars by Julie Eshbaugh

Title: Obsidian and Stars

Author: Julie Eshbaugh

Series: Ivory and Bone #2

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: After surviving the chaotic battle that erupted after Lo and the Bosha clan attacked, now Mya is looking ahead to her future with Kol. All the things that once felt so uncertain are finally falling into place. But the same night as Kol and Mya’s betrothal announcement, Mya’s brother Chev reveals his plan to marry his youngest sister Lees to his friend Morsk. The only way to avoid this terrible turn of events, Morsk informs Mya when he corners her later, is for Mya to take Lees’ place and marry him herself. Refusing to marry anyone other than her beloved, and in an effort to protect her sister, Mya runs away to a secret island with Lees. And though it seems like the safest place to hide until things back home blow over, Mya soon realizes she’s been followed. Lurking deep in the recesses of this dangerous place are rivals from Mya’s past whose thirst for revenge exceeds all reason. With the lives of her loved ones on the line, Mya must make a move before the enemies of her past become the undoing of her future. -Goodreads

The Review:

If you caught my recent review of Ivory and Bone, you’ll remember me saying I really enjoyed the book, but had a few issues with the logistics feeling a bit forced. Eshbaugh was modeling the story after Pride and Prejudice, trying to follow the same basic storyline. My hope going into Obsidian and Stars was that it would feel a little more organic and free-flowing – which it actually did. The trouble is, I found a different set of issues to complain about long the way…

Obsidian and Stars lost a bit of the magic that made Ivory and Bone so unique. The creative story construction in I&B around an atypical narrative was my favorite part – it was presented as recounting, where a boy told the girl his perspective from the point when they first met. It was so cool! In O&S, however, the POV switched to straightforward first-person. There was also very minimal cultural immersion, which took away the other element that set Ivory and Bone apart. The one consistency I can praise is Eshbaugh’s beautiful writing voice – if I finish the series, it might be for that alone.

My biggest issue, however, were the conflicts.

Most of the obstacles the character faced in Obsidian and Stars were caused by what I viewed as bad decision-making and a general lack of common sense… almost to an infuriating degree. Because of this, I felt very un-invested for most of the novel while they ran around fixing these self-induced problems (most of which also felt incredibly unfeasible – the juxtaposition between teen angst toleration and the harsh realities of prehistoric life are pretty laughable. I overlooked it in I&B, but I lost patience in the second). Furthermore, all of the remaining conflicts were so similar to what happened in the first book that I found myself losing interest even further to the point where it was a struggle to finish.

I’d really hoped the second book would’ve taken the story beyond the narrow framework of the first and really expanded on this cool setting. Despite my disappointment with Obsidian and Stars, I like Eshbaugh’s writing voice and the basic components to her story well enough that I might still pick up the third book when it comes out in 2018. I’m just really hoping when I do I’ll see stronger conflicts and a heavier focus on the things that make this series special.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Reviews: Steeplejack & Firebrand by A.J. Hartley [+Giveaway!]

Titles: Steeplejack and Firebrand
Author: A.J. Hartley
Series: Alternate Detective #1&2
Genre: Teen Fiction
Rating: 4/5 stars

Steeplejack and Firebrand were two of the most unique books I’ve ever read – the type of stories that continue to resonate long after you finish them!

The books were successful on several accounts. The “whodunit” detective mystery was engaging, made all the more compelling by Anglet’s (the main character) personal stake in solving the crime. Her involvement felt more organic than not, and the passages dedicated to developing her convictions and motives were my favorites of the book. She also had a heartfelt side story going on, which offered a satisfying amount of character depth. Anglet is definitely the best part of this series.

The second best part is the inclusion of diversity of characters and an author who wasn’t afraid to write about unfair class systems and discrimination. He offered a variety of dynamics between races not usually seen in YA, for which I applaud. Anglet is a non-white main character, and in a market clamoring for more diversity in books, she was a breath of fresh air. My only issue is that the cover art makes her race a little ambiguous – I would’ve liked to see her more strongly represented.

The books take place in what feels like a 1920s era city, complete with tall buildings (obviously, based on the need for steeplejacks), a neat alternate light/energy source, and plenty of dirty-dealings and underground crime. Interestingly enough, this urban setting is fringed by hippo-occupied rivers, lion-prowling brush lands, and native tribes people. Needless to say it made for a unique atmosphere. I wasn’t totally convinced of its feasibility, given pollution issues and humanity’s tendency to dominate and destroy any threats around major hubs. Then I discovered A.J. Hartley spent some time in South Africa doing research for this series… and now imagine the story reflects this weird dichotomy fairly accurately. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around, but I can’t deny that the threat of charging hippos and lurking crocodiles added a lot of spice to the story. Sometimes it’s the most unlikely of real-life situations that are the most unbelievable in fiction. Side note: A.J. Hartley has to be one of the most interesting authors I’ve come across (you can see what I’m talking about on his website).

Both novels were equally compelling. While Firebrand didn’t have quite as much growth for the main character, it made up for it by having her become much more immersed in her new “career.” At one point near the beginning I thought it was flirting with hokey, then the author surprised me with an awesome twist, and I was hooked!

Overall, this series (so far) has been incredibly entertaining, memorable, and thought-provoking. I was especially glad to see a YA/Mystery hybrid that felt like a true merge of those genres (where the mystery felt sophisticated enough to appeal to readers of that market). Overall, there wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like about Steeplejack or Firebrand – both exceeded my expectations with flying colors. I’m eagerly awaiting another Alternate Detective novel.

I want to think the publicists at TOR/Forge and A.J. Hartley for a chance to read and review an early copy of Firebrand – I enjoyed it thoroughly!


Steeplejack and Firebrand Giveaway!

Open to US and Canada Residents!
Click on the link to enter:

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

A winner has been chosen and notified. Thanks for entering! :)

 I wish this went without saying, but please verify your GR friendship/Blog following status before claiming entries (all of your entries will be disqualified if you’re dishonest or mistaken).

This giveaway will run until midnight [MST] on Friday July 21, 2017. Good Luck! :)

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by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter by Marissa Meyer

Titles: Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #4

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mark her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend–the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long. Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? -Goodreads

The Review:

Dear YA,
I think we need to see other people. It’s not you, it’s me.
Love, Niki

There was nothing wrong with Winter – it was a perfectly delightful conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles. I just found myself struggling to finish it. Maybe it could have been a bit shorter, as there were a few repetitive elements, but then I’d probably be complaining that it needed to be more robust. I did end up really appreciating how Meyer infused the fairytales so seamlessly, and that goes for the series as a whole. Overall, despite my incredibly conservative, perhaps unfair rating of Winter, I actually do consider this series one of the easiest to recommend. It’s filled with a lot of fun, several organic romances, and a unique storyline.

It’s clear I’m just not feeling YA lately. I knew this day would come eventually. I’m not hating on the genre, by any means. Some of my all-time favorites have come from it. I just need to break up with it for a while. ;P

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Rithmatist #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles. As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever. -Goodreads

The Review:

I hope no one gets tired of hearing me say “I read another Sanderson, and it was amazing!” because I say it a lot.

The Rithmatist, while not as sophisticated as some of Sanderson’s high fantasy (for obvious reasons), is still one of my new favorite works from him. The magic system was particularly fun to read about – Rithmatists who duel one another using chalk drawings (ground wards for defense, animated chalk drawings for offense),and set in a school setting where they learn everything from geometry (for proper ward creation) to complex dueling strategies, to boot! I love when books introduce some sort of competition, especially magic-related. The Rithmatist definitely reminded me of Hermione’s role in Harry Potter – very academically inclined and whenever she was around I felt like I learned a lot about magic. Joel fit that roll for me here – he knew so much about the Rithmatists’ craft that, by the end of the book, I felt like an expert too. The friendships formed in this book were also reminiscent of HP, and I especially love that Joel and Melody’s relationship was organic and atypical – very different from most YA.

The book also had a fun “whodunit” style mystery that did a great job keeping me guessing all the way until the end. If I can’t figure out who the culprit is by the halfway point (or better yet, if I’m certain I know who it is and I’m wrong), the author has done a great job weaving together a good mystery – as was the case here. I felt invested in the story because I was constantly trying out different theories of whodunit. With so many things keeping me glued to the pages, it’s no surprise I devoured it so quickly.

Overall, The Rithmatist had a great mix of good characters, compelling mystery, and magic infusion. It hit an A+ for me on all accounts and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy. This is one of those titles I find easy to recommend because it has appeal for a wide range of readers. Before diving in, I was under the  impression The Rithmatist could essentially function as a stand-alone novel – not the case. I need the next one like, yesterday! According to the author’s 2016 “State of the Sanderson” post, we should be seeing a sequel “Soooooon.”

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Swarm by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Swarm by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Title: Swarm

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #2

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes. These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground. But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister. Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him. Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army? -Goodreads

The Review:

Zeroes was an interesting YA read – I liked the concept, the writing voice(s), and the characters (all but 1, anyway). What I didn’t like was that the events within it seemed a little inconsequential. In Swarm, I found that much needed substance in the second half of the book and, incidentally, liked it better.

It finally utilized that “good vs evil” vibe, diving further into each teen’s magical abilities, bringing in that fine distinction of moral boundaries. I thought it was quite creative, even if it is an old concept. The characters are definitely the selling points behind the series so far. The authors did an excellent job diversifying and representing minorities (and not in a “token” way, by any means). I’d love to see more such diversification in books, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it here.

All that said, it was still a good 75% in before I felt truly emotionally invested in the story. So here I sit, now fully invested after all that effort, looking out for the release of the final book (Nexus) which should be released sometime in September 2017. The trouble is, there’s not even a cover, much less a solid date. This is the epitome of my luck – as soon as I decide I want to know what happens next in a series, its outlook becomes shaky.

Overall, this wouldn’t be my first recommend of the genre, but at the end of the day I liked it and was kept interested the whole way through. For subject matter and language, I would only hand this to older teens (and adults like myself who refuse to grow up).

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Cress and Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Cress by Marissa Meyer

Titles: Cress & Fairest

Author: Marissa Meyer

Series: Lunar Chronicles #3 & 3.5

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a higher price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has. -Goodreads

The Reviews:

Cress [4 stars]: Even though I liked Cinder and Scarlet, Cress took the series to the next level. It also happens to be one of the few rare YA books I’ve actually enjoyed lately (I’m going through a phase). Part of the reason I found it (and the series as a whole) so successful has to do with Meyer’s plot construction. Although each book focuses on a different title character, Meyer doesn’t push the others into the background, but continues their storylines with the same momentum. Cress was a convergence of stories which produced plenty of action, romantic tension, and plot progression. Many of my fellow blog buddies say it was the best of the series, and I can’t say I disagree (I’m almost finished with Winter – RTC). My favorite elements were the creativity and the organic semi-atypical love stories. Overall, this series makes itself easy to recommend – it’s a lot of fun.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Fairest [3 stars]: Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy FAIREST, as the story components were a bit unsavory, I did think it essential to my enjoyment of the series as a whole. Before reading it, Queen Levana was an enigma, but a rather shallow one. I could never really take her seriously because her motives weren’t evident. Fairest provided that much-needed insight as to why Levana’s brain ticks the way it does. It also gave crucial information as to why she’s not just evil, but totally off her rocker (it was a really subtle drop-in that explained what’s wrong with her mind… Did you catch it?). In any case, after reading it, I then had the backstory I needed to fully enjoy Levana’s role in Winter. I believe Fairest is required reading to get the full experience out of the Lunar Chronicles.

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by Niki Hawkes