Wednesday, October 26, 2016

#Wednesday Review - Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter #YALit #Fantasy #Retellings @sarahporterbook @torteen

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Publisher 
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair.

Vassa in the Night is a young adult, fantasy retelling by author Sarah Porter. Porter is also the author of the Lost Voices trilogy which features mermaids. Vassa in the Night is Porter's retelling of a Russian tale called Vasilisa the Beautiful and Baba Yaga. Porter's version takes place in what is an alternative version of Brooklyn where night is becoming longer and longer each day. 

In Porter's story, 16-year old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein plays the part of Vasilisa the Beautiful. Vassa lives with her stepmother and 2 older sisters who are about as similar as night and dark is. But, Vassa has a secret which she has never told anyone. Vassa has a beautifully detailed doll she calls Erg which belonged to her mother. Erg is a talking doll who can eat more than her fill, and she also has a tendency of taking things that don't belong to her. 

Not unlike Vasilisa the Beautiful, Vassa in this story has issues with her sisters. One of them, Stephanie, sends Vassa off to a strange place called BY's for light bulbs. BY's is a place that is notorious for beheading anyone who steals from the store. With Erg in her pocket, Vassa finds herself meeting her very own version of Baba Yaga. This is a disturbing place folks. Not going to lie. There is a parking lot that has poles with heads on them. Night scenery for someone who has lived a sheltered life. 

BY's owner is Babs Yagg, and she has a creepy cast of misfits who keep things more than interesting in their own masochist ways. Caught and put into a precarious situation, Vassa finds herself having to stay within the confines of BY for 3 days. She will have to face tough challenges, and even more craziness in swans who seem to be attached to her. She will also have to work out a way to escape and help others out from under Babs magical enchantment. BY has another interesting twist. The store itself dances on chicken legs!

There are also the strange lawyers in Pangolin and Picnic who add their own bizarre angle to the story. But, the strangest part of the story to me is the motorcyclists who drive around in circles non-stop until Babs tells them to stop. Yes, folks, this story has some interesting hi-jinks. Some bloody good times, and a character in Vassa who is helped along by the only "person" who may actually care about her, or what happens to her in Erg. Have to say that Erg is a whole lot of twisted, but were it not for Erg, this story would have not been as interesting to me. I love the relationship between Vassa and Erg. I even have to give credit for the back story which really is important to the overall enjoyment of the story.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#Tuesday Review - Midnight Hour by C.C. Hunter (#YALit, Paranormal, Romance) @CCHunterBooks @StMartinsPress

Series: Shadow Falls: After Dark # 4
Release Date: Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Source: Author
Genre: YA, Paranormal Romance

Being a dyslexic witch is a curse in itself, but Miranda Kane’s time at Shadow Falls has helped her harness her magical powers. Now, just as she’s finally mastered them and is preparing to graduate with her friends, a near-death experience threatens to ruin it all.

Miranda awakens in the hospital with a mysterious tattoo that no one can explain. As she struggles to make sense of it – and questions her feelings for a certain irresistible shape-shifter and a hot new guy – the strange markings begin to spread all over her body, leaving her desperate to find answers. But before she can solve that problem, a new one arises: her sister is missing.

Has her sister been kidnapped? Miranda will risk her life to find out. Will she live to share the day she’s worked so hard for with her friends? When the clock strikes midnight, will Miranda make it to her graduation at Shadow Falls?

C.C. Hunter brings The Shadow Falls saga to a spectacular conclusion in this thrilling finale: Midnight Hour!

Midnight Hour is the fourth and final installment in C.C Hunter's Shadow Falls: After Dark series. In what may be the most ironic move on the author's part, dyslexic witch Miranda Kane gets to close out the series. As readers of this series know, Miranda is the roommate of Chameleon Kylie Galen, and Vampire Della Tsang. But, what's even more curious, is that Hunter adds the perspectives of shape-shifter Perry Gomez, (Miranda's Ex) and warlock Shawn Hanson, who is Miranda's current love interest. 

I could argue that the intentional use of a love triangle is nothing new for this series. Kylie and Miranda had similar issues to disentangle before they settled on the one's they were meant to be with. Midnight Hour starts out with Miranda and her half-sister Tabitha going to a supposed palm reader. When things go sideways, Miranda and Tabitha end in the Hospital. Meanwhile, a mysterious tattoo spreads on Miranda's body and nobody knows it's origin or cause. Miranda's learning mode kicks up to a whole new level of curiosity, and in some ways, makes her a badass like Kylie and Della.

For Perry's part of the story, he has gone off on his own in an attempt to find his parents who abandoned him when he was a child. Perry's adventures with his parent's, leads to a reunion with Miranda. It is Miranda that Perry hears in his head calling for his help. Even though Perry left Miranda behind nearly a year ago, he's never really found another love interest. This, of course, makes things strange when Perry and Shawn have to work together. 

Shawn is a member of the FRU, working closely with Chase and Lucas. Shawn's storyline is one that made me scratch my head. There were subtle hints that Hunter intended to give Shawn a twisted storyline, and she did just that. Not sure if it was intentional on Hunter's part to do what she did, but in the end, things end up as I expected. I'm thankful that the strangeness between Perry and Shawn don't ruin the story. I am thankful that the choice Miranda has to make between the two isn't dragged on until the very end.

One could say that Midnight Hour is a nice way to say good-bye to the characters we've come to love. We see that Burnett and Holiday really do consider each of these characters family, and would do anything to ensure that they are taken care of. Sometimes Burnett can be a misogynistic
ass, but he means well when it comes to Miranda, Della, Kylie, and the rest of the students at Shadow Falls.  The next thing that I loved was the author not covering up how terrible dyslexia can be. Miranda struggles mightily in comparison to her roommates. She struggles with passing the SAT so that she can go to college with her friends. She struggles in remembering things. But, Hunter doesn't try to cover up her struggles. She embraces them, and shows how Miranda grew up right before our eyes thanks to those surrounding her.

I'm happy that Miranda got to close out the series. I am sad that she didn't get more than one book and a novella considering that Kylie got 5 books, and Della got her own storyline. In the end, the series closes on a warm and cuddly moment, and not an ending that readers are forced to do their own thinking of what happens next for these characters.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

#Monday Review - A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: YA, Fantasy

A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.

No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

A Darkly Beating Heart is a young adult, science fiction novel by author Lindsay Smith. Smith is also the author of the Skandal duology which I loved. A Darkly Beating Heart is about a troubled American born girl of Japanese ancestry named Reiko Azumi. Reiko is sent to Japan by her parents to sort out her issues, while also waiting for word on whether or not she gets into the school of her choice. 

After being discharged from school, and sent to a psych ward, Reiko sets herself on a path towards destruction and revenge. She feels betrayed by her ex, let down by her parents and brother, and plans on making one helluva exit when she gets her revenge.  

"I am mastering the path of hatred. I am in control. I will make them pay." 

In the three months she's been in Japan, Reiko has been working for her uncle's company as a photographer. Since she speaks barely any Japanese, the language barrier is often an issue for Reiko. Surprising or not, Reiko has little understanding of her own parents culture and heritage. Her cousin Akiko is all about me, me, me, and more me. When Akiko takes Reiko, Kenji, and Mariko to the Kuramagi village for a cultural fair, Reiko is swept away to the Edo era of Japan.

There she becomes a girl named Miyo who is hated by the entire village, and loathed even by her own father. Reiko believes that she can permanently leave the present behind and all her grievances, and become Miyo who has her own revenge plots just waiting to be revealed. Miyo, not unlike Reiko, has made mistakes that have ostracized them. Both of them, in a way, have embarrassed their families to the point where they both now want revenge on those who they feel stabbed them in the back.

Both girls are about violence, upheaval, and renewal. Both girls find comfort in a Samurai warrior named Jiro, but Reiko may also like a girl who works at the Bed & Breakfast she's staying at. One could say that this story is a multi-diverse story. Reiko is not only Asian-American, but she is also bisexual. Reiko is a character who takes a whole lot to like, but eventually you get the whole story of what made her turn towards revenge. The time travel part of the story is definitely the highlight of this book. There are some minor cultural issues that I had problems with, but nothing so drastic that I would throw a hissy fit over.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

#Stacking the Shelves / Bought, Borrowed, & Bagged # 36 *Featuring Blog Tour Tuesday!

Bought Borrowed and Bagged is all about the latest additions to your library – virtual or actual, with books that are  bought, borrowed, won or ARCs  you will be reading soon. Bought Borrowed and Bagged is a homage to to Barron’s Books and Baubles from Karen Marie Moning’s amazing Fever series, and is hosted by Braine over at Talk Supe. 

Thanks for Shopping by!
If you like Giveaways, check out Blog Tour Tuesday! Short and sweet week. A few approvals via NetGalley and nothing from the library. Gives me a chance to catch up on 2015 reads I really want to read.
Have a Great Weekend!

This Weeks Reviews: 

 Blog Tour TuesdayOf Flame and Light by Cecy Robson (PNR)

Wednesday - Once Faith Broken by Seanan McGuire (Urban Fantasy)

Thursday - The Courier by Gerald Brandt (Science Fiction)

Friday - Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake (YA, Fantasy)

Scheduled for Next Week: 

Monday - A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith (YA, Science Fiction)

Tuesday - Midnight Hour by C.C. Hunter (YA, Paranormal Romance) 

Wednesday - Vassa in the Night by Sara Porter (YA, Fantasy, Retelling)

Thursday - Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson (YA, Historical Fiction)

Friday - Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge (YA, Fantasy, Retelling)

Saturday - The Immortal Heights by Sherry Thomas (YA, Fantasy) 

*Received from NetGalley*


Friday, October 21, 2016

#Saturday Review - They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. Maclagan #YALit #Mystery

Series: Alexandra Gastone # 1
Format: Kindle, 226 pages
Release Date: May 20, 2015
Publisher: Full Fathom Five Digital
Source: Amazon
Genre: YA, Mystery, Contemporary

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.

She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.

Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.

For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.

But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.

Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.

Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

“For the blood of the fallen. For the blood of the living. For Olissa we fight.”

They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is the first installment in author T.A. Maclagan's Alexandra Gastone duology. 17-year old Milena Rokva was given away by her father when she was only 7 years old. She was given to an organization called Perun who may be called freedom fighters in some circles. They claim to be fighting for Olissa independence from the US, who stood in while other countries tried to take over the country. Milena was trained to become a sleeper agent, and took the place of the real Alexandra Gastone when her family was killed.

"Lex" has always been thought of as necessary, especially by the woman who pushed her to her limits. She's necessary in order to get close to Albert Gastone, a public liaison and analyst at the CIA. She's supposed to go to college, and then apply to the CIA where she will become a mole for Perun. But, after being given the order to assassinate a foreign leader who is visting DC, while blaming her "grandfather" and then taking the responsibility, Lex's heart is torn to pieces. Is she faithful to Perun who trained her? Is she faithful to Albert who has done nothing but loved her and given her everything she ever wanted?

"I'd played a part for so long, who was I? A spy? A granddaughter? A high school student? A friend? A liar? A traitor? I was all of these people, and the contradictions where starting to rip me apart."

They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is an interesting story because no matter how hard you train someone to do a certain job, and try to break them to do what you want, they will always have free choice of finding other avenues to follow instead. I have to admit something. I actually really liked Grant as Lex's boyfriend. I admit that I have often found the characterization of Quarterbacks to be ego driven, steroid for brains, male sluts who want to sleep with the entire female population, and little of anything else. In this case, Grant is sweet and fun, and supportive even though he is totally out of his depth with Lex.

I also deeply care for Albert. He is such an adorable man, who has given his heart and his time to Lex and even goes as far as takes her around the globe! I love that he teachers her to question everything, which makes sense when so many plot twists are thrown at you by the author. I am curious about the setting of this book. Even though this reads as a contemporary/mystery, this story is set against the back drop of a major war in the Middle East. (shocking, right?) It is set against the back drop of $6.00 per gallon gasoline, which the media once screamed about earlier this decade. So, I ask the author, is this an alternative reality setting? Or a futuristic world?

This book reminds me a whole lot of the cold war stories I used to read as a kid. You never knew what was going to happen next, or whether or not your neighbor was actually a Russian sleeper agent. I am all in for the sequel, and I do hope the little surprise the author comes as a support mechanism for Lex, and not another difficult challenge.

#Friday Review - Three Dark Queens by Kendare Blake #YALit #Fantasy @KendareBlake @harperteen

Series: Three Dark Queens # 1
Format: Hardcover, 398 pages
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. 

Three Dark Crowns is the first installment in author Kendare Blake's Three Dark Crowns series. On the island of Fennbirn, triplets, were born. Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella. One is fated to become Queen, while the others are fated to die by one of the others. When the girls were six, they were taken and placed with host families. Katherine with Poisoners, Arsinoe with Naturalists, and Mirabella with Elementals. The story features a revolving storyline told in the third person narrative. 

Three dark queens
are born in a glen,
sweet little triplets
will never be friends.

Three dark sisters
all fair to be seen,
two to devour
and one to be Queen.

Katharine is the smallest, and the youngest of the triplets. She is also apparently the weakest of the three sisters. But, don't let that fool you. She has been preparing for Ten years to become the next poisoner Queen and can mix a mean brew of poison. Katharine has felt the affects of every imaginable poison thanks to her host family and survived even though it has taken a huge toll on her. One could say that because of those who have trained her, Katharine is the one who isn't afraid of killing in order to become the next Queen. 

Arsinoe is the second Queen introduced. She is supposed to be a Naturalist, who can make flowers bloom, and have a familiar like her best friend Jules. But, her talents seem to be holding back, leaving her exposed to being easily killed by her other sisters. Which is why it is easy to forgive her for wanting to escape to the mainland where she can be free. If you are looking at a character to really pay attention to outside the sisters, then I suggest Jules. Jules is really an interesting character, with a familiar who easily as badass as Jules is.

Mirabella is the elemental Queen who might be the strongest of the three sisters. Mirabella has access to fire, and wind, but fire may be her weakest link. She has been guided by priestesses of the Temple Rolanth. The priestesses, may have something up their sleeves to ensure that the poisoners reign as Queen, comes to an end. One could say that since Mira is the strongest, that she would have the edge. But, Mira is the one who has the most memories of the sisters and may not be able to kill them when it counts the most.

One of the more curious aspects of this story, is the aspects of romance that encompasses all three sisters. For Katharine, it is Pietyr, nephew of the woman raising her, and her personal attendant. For Mirabella, it is Joseph, a boy who was sent away for 5 years after trying to escape. I am not hopeful of this relationship, and no, I will not say why. For Arsinoe, it is Billy, one of her intended who comes to see her as a person, not as the next queen, and the one who understand who vulnerable she is to her sisters without her own gift.

I found myself actually feeling for each of the sisters. They've been through so much. They each are pushed, and pushed some more in order to overcome the obstacle of staying alive and becoming the last Queen standing. By the end, you have three sisters who are dangerous, and are looking forward to eliminating the other two. I would have liked a bit more world building, especially after the author mentions Cape Horn. Cape Horn is off the coast of Chile. So, does that make the mainland Chile? (Author response: Cape Horn was just an accidental cape of the same name! The Island isn't geographically off the coast of Chile. Not that you could travel thru the MISTS to find the Island! Thanks, Kendare!

There are a whole lot of secondary characters who play huge roles in this story. I would love to know more about their backgrounds. I want to know more about the Black Council, and how members are chosen. I want to know who came up with the idea that only ONE could be queen, while the others are killed. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

#Thursday Review - The Courier by Gerald Brandt (Science Fiction, Action & Adventure) @GeraldBrandt @dawbooks

Series: San Angeles # 1
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Release Date: November 1, 2016
Publisher: DAW
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction

Kris Ballard is a motorcycle courier.  A nobody.  Level 2 trash in a multi-level city that stretches from San Francisco to the Mexican border—a land where corporations make all the rules.  A runaway since the age of fourteen, Kris struggled to set up her life, barely scraping by, working hard to make it without anyone's help. 

But a late day delivery changes everything when she walks in on the murder of one of her clients. Now she's stuck with a mysterious package that everyone wants. It looks like the corporations want Kris gone, and are willing to go to almost any length to make it happen. 

Hunted, scared, and alone, she retreats to the only place she knows she can hide: the Level 1 streets.  Fleeing from people that seem to know her every move, she is rescued by Miller—a member of an underground resistance group—only to be pulled deeper into a world she doesn't understand.

Together Kris and Miller barely manage to stay one step ahead of the corporate killers, but it's only a matter of time until Miller's resources and their luck run out..

The Courier is the first installment in author Gerald Brand'ts near future Science Fiction trilogy called San Angeles. Brandt's protagonist is Kris Ballard, a motorcycle courier in a world where corporations run everything, but use couriers for things they don't want to send over the Net. San Angeles is actually an area that stretches from San Diego to San Francisco. There are (7) levels to the megalopolis. The higher you go, the more likely you will be able to see actual sun, and not filtered light. Kris lives in the lower levels. 

Kris finds herself in a precarious situation after picking up a late delivery from her boss. Dispatch claims the pick-up and delivery will be quick and easy, and will make Kris some money she needs to keep her motorcycle running and food on her plate. But, after walking in on a scene straight out of a horror film, Kris finds herself on the run being chased by Quincy, a man who has no morals and no compunction about using brutal means to get what he wants. By a stroke of luck, Kris runs into an underground anti-corporation resistance group that sends Ian Miller to recruit her, and to get her out of the mess she's in. But, trouble is one-step behind her at all times.

Let's chat about Kris for a moment. Kris has a background that one would describe as continued abuse until she decides enough is enough. Loss of parents. Taken in by relatives, abused, and ignored. Kris experiences a plethora of bad situations where she is force to run and hide, and run some more until she finds that her luck may be coming to an end. She faces her mortality more times than not, but luckily, she understands the streets better than those chasing her. Kris isn't the only key character that Brandt focuses on, but the only one that truly matters. The other two characters are simply power hungry and don't give a hoot who they destroy in order to get what they want. Including Kris.

I'm going to say something that will make you mad, probably. Authors. Do. Not. Need to write rape scenes into book. Rape scenes are NOT entertainment. Abuse scenes are NOT entertainment. Authors can skim over the ugliness of rape and abuse by just saying that the character survived a part of her life that she doesn't want to dwell on or look back on. That being said. I loved the world building. I loved how Kris finds the strength to keep moving forward even though things look bleak. I love that this isn't just a story that takes place in San Angeles, but on a space station as well. I am positive that I will be reading the sequels called The Operative, (which the publisher kindly sent to me) as well as the final book in the trilogy.