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Book Review: Unraveled by Kate Jarvik Birch [and Blog Tour!]

Title: Unraveled

Author: Kate Jarvik Birch

Series: Perfected #3

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Ella isn’t anyone’s pet anymore, but she’s certainly not free. After exposing the dark secrets about NuPet’s breeding program, forcing them to repeal the law that allowed genetically modified girls to be kept as pets, she thought girls like her would finally be free. She never dreamed that it would backfire. NuPet may have convinced the public of their intentions to assimilate pets back into society, but Ella knows it’s a lie. They aren’t planning mass rehabilitation…they’re planning a mass extermination.  Now, with the help of a small group of rebels, Ella and Penn, the boy she’d give up her life for, set out to bring down NuPet for good. But when her group gets implicated in a string of bombings, no one is safe. If she can’t untangle the web of blackmail and lies that extends far beyond NuPet’s reach, she won’t just lose her chance at freedom, she’ll lose everyone she loves.

The Review:

I’m a fan of this series. Kate Jarvik Birch is such a lovely writer, and Ella’s story is one I won’t soon forget.

The beauty of the Perfected series was Ella’s inner story. I’ll always hold Perfected (book 1) on a pedestal for how much the innocent love story within touched me. It’s where Ella learned to see herself as a person, and a person of worth at that. Tarnished (book 2) will stick with me for the pit it put in my stomach. It’s where Ella learned the ugly cruelty of the world, but used those experiences to find and shape her convictions. More poignantly, it’s where those convictions blossomed into hope for a better world, and turned into determination to make her vision reality.

Unraveled, this final book of the trilogy, is where Ella, molded by her experiences of love and hardship, stands strong on her own and fights for vindication. Because it’s her choice.

I fully loved the journey and appreciated what each installment brought to the story. Admittedly, some of the events and dynamics in Unraveled required some suspended belief, but because the strength of the series is in the beautifully conveyed concept, I was able to put aside the need for super-realistic and just enjoy the action-packed ride to the end. This is one of those series where delivery makes a difference, and the author’s lovely writing always had me on board. Overall, these beautiful hardcovers get a permanent home on my shelves. :)

Recommendations: Perfected was a trilogy of unforgettably poignant moments that fits snugly into what I’m calling the “elegant dystopia” genre, where pretty dresses and fancy lifestyles are underscored by ugly realities (you know what I mean if you’ve read any… it’s one of my favorite weird sub-genres). Each book offers something different, the first of which landed in my conservative list of all-time favorites.

I’d like to thank Entangled Teen and Kate Jarvik Birch for the chance to read and review an early copy of Unraveled. :)

About Kate Jarvik Birch:  Kate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals including Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids. Author Website: katejarvikbirch.com Author Twitter: @katejarvikbirch Author Facebook Author Goodreads Author Instagram 
Buylinks: https://entangledpublishing.com/unraveled.html

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Title: Radiant Shadows

Author: Melissa Marr

Series: Wicked Lovely #4

Rating: 3/5

The Overview: Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers. Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries’ coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani’s death. Ani isn’t one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin’s plans–and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other? -Goodreads

The Review:

So, Radiant Shadows was better than Fragile Eternity. Just when I thought all the new elements of this fairy world had been revealed, Marr presents a bunch of additional characters with new and interesting abilities. It really reinvigorated the story and pulled together some pieces I think are going to be important in the final book.

Take my conservative rating with a grain of salt. The fact that I’m still even reading this series when I abandoned 20+ YA recently because of a mood change says something about the merit I think it has. Compared to other YA, the Wicked Lovely series is strong. Compared to my personal tastes atm and the broad array of robust fantasy novels I’m reading, it’s a little too angsty. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series ends and imagine it will continue with good quality writing, interesting world, and broody characters.

Recommendations: Since I said what I meant in the last review, here’s a repeat: this highly character-driven YA Paranormal Romance is something I wish I’d continued shortly after reading (and loving) the first two books. Wicked Lovely is one of the strongest in the genre and I still recommend it with gusto to older teens (and up). If you’re in the mood for a YA story as lovely as it is unique, this is the series for you.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr

Title: Fragile Eternity

Author: Melissa Marr

Series: Wicked Lovely #3

Genre: Teen Paranormal Romance

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Seth never expected he would want to settle down with anyone – but that was before Aislinn. She is everything he’d ever dreamed of, and he wants to be with her forever. Forever takes on new meaning, though, when your girlfriend is an immortal faery queen. Aislinn never expected to rule the very creatures who’d always terrified her – but that was before Keenan. He stole her mortality to make her a monarch, and now she faces challenges and enticements beyond any she’d ever imagined. In Melissa Marr’s third mesmerizing tale of Faerie, Seth and Aislinn struggle to stay true to themselves and each other in a milieu of shadowy rules and shifting allegiances, where old friends become new enemies and one wrong move could plunge the Earth into chaos. -Goodreads

The Review:

Okay, let’s keep it real. We all know I’ve had trouble getting into YA lately, but I needed something light to listen to while doing yoga. It turned out to be a rather insightful experience, however, because reading Fragile Eternity help me pinpoint a little better why YA just hasn’t been hitting the spot lately (and I don’t think it’s because I’m getting too old for it, thank the stars).

You see, I’m in a reading point in my life where I’m looking for more world building and event-driven novels. Good character development is important, but I need more than a strictly character-driven “are they going to end up/stay together” story to grab and keep my attention. As many YA plot structures are romance-centric, this would explain why I’m not loving them like I used to. Something keeps me reaching for them, and I genuinely like what I read, they’ve just been getting lower ratings because I’m in the mood for something more robust. Fragile Eternity was solely a romance/character-driven plot with a ton of introspection, communication, and zero world building and action. Nuff said.

Don’t get me wrong, the story was on par with Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange (which were also character driven), and I absolutely loved both of those (they’re among the strongest teen paranormal works, in my opinion). So if you love those, you’ll love this… unless you’re having a reading crisis like me. Although it would seem all of the interesting things about this world have been revealed by this point, so maybe Fragile Eternity was slightly weaker because it just maintained the status quo. Overall, it was a light read filled with plenty of teenaged angst, and I’m looking forward to half paying attention to the final two as I do yoga, lol.

Recommendations: This highly character-driven YA Paranormal Romance is something I wish I’d continued shortly after reading (and loving) the first two books. Wicked Lovely is one of the strongest in the genre and I still recommend it with gusto to older teens (and up). If you’re in the mood for a story as lovely as it its unique, this is the series for you.

Other books you might like:

 by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Nyxia by Scott Reintgen

Title: Nyxia

Author: Scott Reintgen

Series: The Nyxia Triad #1

Genre: Teen Sci-fi

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family. Forever. Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden–a planet that Babel has kept hidden–where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe. But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human. -Goodreads

The Review:

Red Rising Fans: I have a YA recommendation for you.

As someone who has admitted to having trouble with young adult books lately, it should come with some extra weight that I loved Nyxia. It had a fun concept, fantastic competitions, and a page-turning story that promises even more in the books to come. So, personal endorsements aside, I think it’s important to know what you’re signing up for with Nyxia. All the advertising I’ve seen for it describes a gritty Hunger Games in space read that initially gave me the impression teens were being dropped on a planet (much like The 100) and forced to fight for survival/domination. While this might be true in future books, at the moment the story has very little to do with either space or new world discovery (other than on the periphery).

It is, in fact, a story much more similar to Survivor (the show) than Hunger Games, where teens subject themselves to grueling competition for eventual monetary rewards. Aside from the cool technology, this story could have taken place at any old facility on Earth. The “space” element of the whole thing was in concept only and definitely an under-realized aspect of the book.

But you know what? The characters and their competitions were so dang interesting, I didn’t care one whit about the lack of world-building.

I am a huge sucker for a book with a good competition and Nyxia contained a nice variety of challenges that had me page-turning endlessly to see what would happen next! Based on how I normally evaluate books, Nyxia would receive a solid 4 stars. But because it struck a chord with me (for how well it did the things it did well), I’m giving it an extra .5 for that intangible “it” factor. I can’t wait for the next one!

<b>Recommendations:</b> I think the characters, the writing style, and the overall concept would definitely appeal to Red Rising fans, especially if you don’t mind the occasional YA read. It doesn’t have the same grit, but I’m hoping it is shaping up to have the same heart. Don’t go into this one expecting space-exploration and new world discoveries. Go in expecting great competition and loads of fun.

Other books you might like:

 by Niki Hawkes

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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.

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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 thank 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