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Book Review: Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh

Title: Ivory and Bone

Author: Julie Eshbaugh

Series: Ivory and Bone #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Hunting, gathering, and keeping his family safe—that’s the life seventeen-year-old Kol knows. Then bold, enigmatic Mya arrives from the south with her family, and Kol is captivated. He wants her to like and trust him, but any hopes of impressing her are ruined when he makes a careless—and nearly grave—mistake. However, there’s something more to Mya’s cool disdain…a history wrought with loss that comes to light when another clan arrives. With them is Lo, an enemy from Mya’s past who Mya swears has ulterior motives. As Kol gets to know Lo, tensions between Mya and Lo escalate until violence erupts. Faced with shattering losses, Kol is forced to question every person he’s trusted. One thing is for sure: this was a war that Mya or Lo—Kol doesn’t know which—had been planning all along. -Goodreads

The Review:

Ivory and Bone is set in the mammoth hunting era of prehistory, and the constant cultural infusion was easily my favorite part of the book. It was doubtless a lot more fanciful than life in that era would’ve been, but I didn’t mind because it kept the plot light-hearted and fun, and allowed story focus on the relationships. The book is supposed to be a creative retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly enough, it was only after finishing the it that I was clued into this fact (sometimes it really helps to read the overview). As I’m not one for classic literature, I didn’t put two and two together, but in hindsight it was kind of obvious. During the read, I had a few issues with logistics – there was a lot of traveling back and forth between clans which felt a little forced and unnecessary. Discovering that Eshbaugh was trying to stay true to a pre-existing plotline made me a little more forgiving. As the next book goes beyond that initial framework, I am especially excited to see what the author can weave without these constraints.

The writing style and format were also major selling points of the novel. A boy tells his side of things to a girl about their journey together thus far. It’s a mix of first-person and second-person narration that I found to be quite beautifully woven together. As an aspiring writer, I’m inspired by the creativity and usage of different techniques in this novel – it was very well done. I’ll admit that I’ve been having difficulty enjoying Young Adult books lately, so it really speaks to how unique Ivory and Bone was that completely devoured it in a day.

Overall, if you’re in the mood for a cool setting, interesting writing style, and classic love story Ivory & Bone is the book for you. I’m thrilled to continue on with Obsidian and Stars, out June 13, 2017.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Title: Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Series: Everlife #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF Rating

The OverviewTenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision… -Goodreads

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Firstlife a chance?

Yes – I made it about halfway through before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’ve loved a lot of things from the YA genre, although I admit lately I’ve had less patience for teen angst in general. I haven’t read anything quite like Firstlife before, but it had vague similarities to these other titles, which I enjoyed (mostly):

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Unfortunately I had low expectations going into Firstlife, but decided to pick it up despite a few negative reviews. Even more unfortunate was that it lived up to my low expectations.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Two things: 1. It was just too bloody weird. Now, I’ve always appreciated Showalter for dancing to her own drum (a quality I’ve adored in other works of hers), but Firstlife was a bit too far-reaching even for me. The very beginning explains these “influencers” of the two philosophical groups venturing down to the “Firstlife” world to influence the main character to join their side. Both influencers are male, but one goes down in a girl’s body… it was weird. It, along with an odd sequence of events, was just too weird for me. Did I mention it was weird?

2. I did not like the main character, finding her decisions contradictory (which I hate). She was supposed to be this tough, somewhat stubborn girl who chose to undergo imprisonment and physical torture rather than stray from her convictions. But, as soon as the two “influencers” walked-in, she started waffling about everything before they’d even really made their pitch on why she should join their side. Especially the boy – all he had to do was ask her to jump and she’d say “how high?” It was a frustrating contradiction of character – she came across very weak minded when the framework of the story set her up as someone incredibly strong unswayable. I really, really hated that.

Was there anything you liked about Firstlife? 

I liked a lot of things at first, such as character, world building, and story, but quickly soured to all of them because of the issues listed above.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Yes, although I’m now terrified to read her other YA trilogy – signed hardcovers I’ve had on my shelf for ages. If I ever need a delightfully cheesy paranormal romance, however, she’s still one of my first picks.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I don’t think so. There are too many other books I’d recommend first.

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: United by Melissa Landers

United by Melissa Landers

Title: United

Author: Melissa Landers

Series: Alienated #3

Genre: Teen Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: After thwarting a deadly coup and saving the alliance between their worlds, Cara and Aelyx have finally earned a break. Their tiny island colony is everything they dreamed it would be―days spent gathering shells on the beach and nights in each other’s arms. But the vacation is short-lived. The treaty between Earth and L’eihr has awakened an ancient force that threatens to destroy them all. The Aribol, mysterious guardians charged with maintaining interstellar peace, deem the alliance a threat to the galaxy. They order a separation of the races, decreeing humans and L’eihrs must return to their own planets within the month or face extinction. In fact, they already have agents in place on Earth, ready to begin… -Goodreads

The Review:

Alienated has to be one of my favorite YA books. It was sweet, charming, creative, funny, and an all-around feel-good story (imagine if Rory Gilmore hosted an alien exchange student – delightful, right?). Invaded was just as good, and I honestly wish the wait hadn’t been so long between it and United, as it kind of stole my momentum and excitement (that’s what I get for hounding for early copies, I suppose). At any rate, while United was an enjoyable end to the series, it didn’t blow me away quite like its predecessors.

Some of the things I found charming in the first two books struck me as a bit silly in United. I imagine a lot of that had to do with the fact that United was the only one I listen to on audio. The narrator made the aliens sound unintelligent and immature, which sapped a lot of my enjoyment from the story. “Cheesy” is the word I’m searching for. It was cheesy.

There were also a lot of things I accepted in the first two books that didn’t work for me in the third. The idea that a teenage girl could have so much political power and all of the government resources of earth took a backseat while her and her boyfriend fought an earth annihilation threat by themselves was… stupid. It screamed YA logic like crazy and left me feeling disappointed (and old).

Perhaps I’m just cynical. And perhaps I’m a little burnt out on YA in general. I’ve definitely been craving the more robust storytelling of adult novels lately. It certainly doesn’t help matters that I just finished Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes – a killer space opera series with loads of politics and moving parts (also one of the best series I’ve ever read). No, I’m sure that didn’t help at all.

The positive take away from United was how much I liked the sweet romance that blossomed throughout the trilogy between two really great main characters. Aside from the weird circumstances surrounding my experience with United, I still am a fan of Melissa Landers as an author and I’m looking forward to diving into her Starflight duology. Overall, if you like YA science fiction at all, Alienated is a must-read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Mini Book Review: Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

bad blood

Title: Bad Blood

Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Series: The Naturals #4

Genre: Teen Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!

The OverviewWhen Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock. New victims. New betrayals. New secrets. When the bodies begin piling up, it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.

The Mini Review:

This book. This series. Is perfection.

Need more convincing?

Niki Reviews The Naturals – in which I gush profusely.
Niki Reviews Killer Instinct – in which the gushing continues.
Niki Reviews All In – in which I completely lose my shit.

Seriously. It’s my all-time favorite series. Read it.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld & Co.

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Zeroes

Authors: Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

Series: Zeroes #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Don’t call them heroes. But these six Californian teens have powers that set them apart. They can do stuff ordinary people can’t. Take Ethan, a.k.a. Scam. He’s got a voice inside him that’ll say whatever you want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t—like when the voice starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly best friends these days. Enter Nate, a.k.a. Bellwether, the group’s “glorious leader.” After Scam’s SOS, he pulls the scattered Zeroes back together. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases. Filled with high-stakes action and drama, Zeroes unites three powerhouse authors for the opening installment of a thrilling new series. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’ve been eyeballing this book for a while. I’m a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and thought the premise (teens with special abilities – a concept that never seems to get old) sounded right up my alley. And I liked it!

Before diving in, I wondered if the name Zeros was a coincidence, or if they were trying to pay a cheeky nod to the show Heroes. I’m not sure which is the case, but there were many similarities between the two. The introduction of several gifted characters that slowly revealed their ties to one another was the biggest common thread, although the show did this more expansively.

The beginning was great – I found myself hooked immediately. Where Heroes was broader in its conflicts, I found Zeros more narrowly focused. Almost to the point where I wasn’t sure I cared, to be honest. All the troubles in the book were created by the characters’ actions (which felt inconsequential in the whole scheme of things). I actually thought most of the drama would come from other gifted teens on the “wrong” side of morality, which was very much not the case. In a way, it’s good that it wasn’t totally predictable, but at the same time, fixing screw ups isn’t quite as compelling as good vs. evil.

Even so, what kept me reading were the characters and how cool their powers were. I’m always drawn to the most mysterious character, so Anonymous – the Zero who people can’t remember, was my favorite. But they were all compelling in their own way. That said, I didn’t actually like all the characters. The first one introduced had an interesting power, but the more I learned about him, the more of an ass he turned out to be. There’s not really one main character in the book, but readers have a tendency to latch onto the first one introduced as an indication that their plot-line is going to be the most important. I don’t hold the entire book responsible for the dislike of one character, and actually liked the bit of antihero variety it added to the story, but at the same time if I could just punch him in the face I’d feel a lot better…

Overall, Zeroes was a decent 3 star (I liked it) book, but not the best I’ve read in the genre. That said, I’m definitely still picking up the second book and look forward to what the future holds for these interesting characters. There are so many directions the authors could take next, and I’m excited to jump on for the ride.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliot

Title: Poisoned Blade

Author: Kate Elliott

Series: Court of Fives

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the change to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion….She must become a warrior. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’d like to start out by saying I’m a fan of this series and am really excited about Buried Heart, the conclusion to the trilogy coming out in July 2017. That said, I didn’t enjoy Poisoned Blade quite as much as Court of Fives.

What initially drew me to the series was the high-fantasy feel and element of competition. Poisoned Blade had very little focus on the games, which I found a bit disappointing. Rationally, I realize the entire plot can’t revolve around the games and still be a well-rounded story, but I was hoping for at least a little more focus on it. I also had a few plausibility issues. The main character always somehow managed to be at the right place at the right time for important moments. She was included in events and discussions well above her rank to the point where it was a little unbelievable. The movers and shakers even went as far as to tell her their grand schemes (usually treasonous and punishable by death) when I couldn’t see any logical reason for them to include her in their circle of trust. At least not to the degree that she was, anyway. I found most instances totally implausible, and it knocked my rating down a few notches.

There were still plenty of things I liked. I appreciated even more so in Poisoned Blade how well-developed and individualized all the characters were, especially Jessamy and her sisters. They really make the story complete and I can’t wait to see where their choices take them next. And, actually, I can’t wait to see where everything goes next. There are a lot of moving parts to this series, and I can tell it’s building towards something profound. Judging by how well Elliott ended each book, I’m predicting the trilogy-ender will be just as good. I still have lots of questions that need answers though.

Overall, as I mentioned in my review of Court of Fives, my new favorite trend is high fantasy authors tackling YA stories. Elliott is doing such a great job with the Court of Fives series that I plan on picking up other works by her sooner rather than later.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes