Category Archives: YA novel

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

truthwitch cover 01This. Book. Was. AWESOME. High fantasy set in the mythical Witchlands, it follows the story of Threadsisters Safiya and Iseult, Windwitch and Prince Merik, and Bloodwitch and assassin Aeduan. The story focuses mainly on the relationship between Safiya and Iseult, two strong and powerful women bonded by friendship, whose strengths beautifully even out the other’s weaknesses. I typically enjoy any novel with a strong female protagonist, and this novel had two, both interesting and involving, and I loved it.

The world building was excellent in this novel. In the system of magic, witches have a specialty. A Windwitch can control air, even including a person’s “air” (or breath) depending on their level of power. A Truthwitch can tell if a person is telling the truth. A Poisonwitch has poisonous blood and can use it as a weapon. These are just a few of the witches we met in this novel. The land itself is nearing the end of the Twenty Year Truce, which (almost twenty years ago, obviously) ended a Great War. The war destroyed many of the lands belonging to the Witchlands, and now that the Truce is nearing its end, various empires are fighting for power. So Safi and Iseult’s personal struggles occur in the midst of significant political drama, which effects them both directly and indirectly, most notably when Prince Merik becomes involved. He belongs to a land devastated by the War, and seeks to do everything he can to help his nation Nubrevna grow and flourish before the Truce ends. Bloodwitch Aeduan is a more enigmatic character, one who is chasing Safiya at the behest of an emperor. We see part of the story from his POV, but know little about him other than he rejects his lot in life, and his power is considered a myth by most, at least until they meet him. His mysterious father, another king, is referenced but not explained, and presumably we will learn more about him in the next installment of the series. He is possibly the most complex character of the group, with much more story to tell.

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My copy of the book read used cover art above, but when I found this one online I loved it so I included them both. 

The stories of the land and its history are skillfully woven into the tales about the girls’ lives by author Susan Dennard. Clearly the Witchlands have a detailed past and well-thought out religious beliefs, both ancient and current. The world, and strong leading ladies, put me in mind of Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, which made sense when Dennard mentioned Maas as her best friend in her acknowledgments. If you liked Maas’s writing, you will like Dennard as well.

I discovered this book because I happened to be wandering around Barnes and Noble when the second book in the Witchlands series, Windwitch, released, and the beautiful cover caught my eye. I’m glad it did, and I’m also glad Windwitch is already out and available at my local library, so I don’t have long to wait before I can read more of Safi, Iseult, Merik, and Aeduan’s stories. I give this book a rare 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of high fantasy, magic and politics, strong female characters, and very minimal love stories. Go read and enjoy it!

The Elite by Kiera Cass

The Elite by Kiera Cass is the second book in The Selection series. Therefore, it goes without saying that MAJOR SPOILERS for The Selection, book 1 in the series, will be found in this review. I have not reviewed The Selection, and I read it too long ago to do a complete review now, but I will summarize it below. DO NOT read this review if you have not read The Selection!!

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The setting for this series is post-apocalyptic southwest United States, specifically Los Angeles. World War Four has passed, and a new system of government is in place, which includes a royal family and an inescapable caste system. America is a young woman whose family belongs to the artist caste, one of the lowest, and her talents lie in song and violin playing. America is randomly selected to participate in The Selection. During the Selection, a group of 35 eligible young women are invited to the royal palace and eventually one of them will be chosen to marry Prince Maxon and become the new queen. Initially, America does not want to be part of the Selection, wanting to stay with her childhood sweetheart Aspen (who also happens to be a caste below her). Eventually, America realizes Prince Maxon might not be so bad after all, and feels like she may have the opportunity to change things for the better if she stays part of the Selection.

 

In The Elite, America has made it to the final group of eight in the quest to win Prince Maxon’s love and become queen. After several weeks and plenty of inner conflict, America has found herself falling in love with Prince Maxon. Even though America’s former love Aspen has joined the palace guard to be close to America, she is still on the cusp of deciding to tell Maxon she loves him and is willing to become his queen. Mere moments after America makes the life-altering decision to stay with Maxon, and thinks to herself nothing could possibly change the way she feels, everything changes.

True confession time: there are few things I hate more than books, whether they be YA or adult, in which the plot is centered around a girl trying to decide between two near-perfect boys. The worst part of these stories is not just that the girl can’t make a decision and strings along two unsuspecting boys, but that the boys let her. Alright, so Maxon doesn’t know about Aspen–but he continually tells America she can have “more time” and he will wait for her because she is just so wonderful in every way. (*gags* – sorry but come on!) Aspen DOES know about the competition with Maxon, but rather than tell America he’s going to take his gorgeous looks and fabulous charm elsewhere, he also chooses to wait for her because, again, she is just soooooo amazing. This plot device doesn’t say much about the girls OR the boys in series like these.

Luckily, there is just enough “extra” in this series that I can tolerate the silly love triangle. In The Selection, the author teased us with information about the history of the world the characters are living in. The history of the caste system and how the US went from democracy to monarchy are what really interest me about this novel, and who are the North and South Rebels that keep being mentioned? We moved closer to the answers to these questions in The Elite, and the story became a bit more interesting. I have the impression the next novel, The One, will bring us more about the Rebels and the former rulers.

I give this novel 3 stars out of 5, and recommend it to fans of YA, dystopian literature that includes a slightly-sappy love story.

Dark Descendant by Jenna Black

Dark Descendant is the first book in the Nikki Glass series. Here’s the summary from the back of the book:

Nikki Glass can track down any man. But when her latest client turns out to be a true descendant of Hades, Nikki now discovers she can’t die. . . .
Crazy as it sounds, Nikki’s manhunting skills are literally god-given. She’s a living, breathing descendant of Artemis who has stepped right into a trap set by the children of the gods. Nikki’s new “friends” include a descendant of Eros, who uses sex as a weapon; a descendant of Loki, whose tricks are no laughing matter; and a half-mad descendant of Kali who thinks she’s a spy.
But most powerful of all are the Olympians, a rival clan of immortals seeking to destroy all Descendants who refuse to bow down to them. In the eternal battle of good god/bad god, Nikki would make a divine weapon. But if they think she’ll surrender without a fight, the gods must be crazy. .

dark descendant coverI was pretty excited to read this book because I’m into mythology, and it sounded like it would be different than the vampire love-triangles I had been reading recently. On one hand, I was not disappointed. There certainly was no love triangle or vampires. On the other hand, the mythology wasn’t nearly as exciting as I had hoped it would be. In this world, a group called Liberi are immortal descendants of the gods who thanks to their ancestry have powers reminiscent of the gods from whom they descend. One group of Liberi, called the Olympians, are led by a power-hungry Liberi named Konstantin who wants to control everyone and thinks the only Liberi who deserve to live are those descended from the Greek gods. Anderson leads the other group of Liberi, a small faction that doesn’t agree with Konstantin’s way of thinking and tries to protect other Liberi from Konstantin. In the course of her work as a Private Investigator, Nikki Glass discovers she is a Liberi and her ancestor is the highly sought-after Artemis, goddess of the hunt. When Konstantin finds out about Nikki, he wants to use her to track and kill other Liberi. Nikki is forced to turn to Anderson for help, but his group of part-gods doesn’t like Nikki much, so Nikki has to avoid the bad guys, watch her back around Anderson’s good guys, all while learning to deal with her new life which has been totally turned upside down.

The Liberi and it’s various factions doesn’t read nearly as complicated as it did in the description I tried to write, because Nikki spends the entire novel talking about them and trying to figure out which is the lesser of two evils. In fact, Nikki spends a lot of time telling us things, like how she has a “bleeding heart,” how she’s jealous/not jealous of her perfect, older adopted sister, how every male around her is attractive. All of them. Even the ones that only make a token appearance to mention the god they descended from and then disappear totally, thus allowing the author to say “look! mythology!” I think that was the frustrating part of this book for me. It had several good ideas that were all mentioned but not developed. Characters would show up for two seconds, but we never learned anything about them and by the time they reappeared I had forgotten who they were. Maybe these characters and their backstories will be explored in more detail in later books. I hope so, because at the very least I want to know more about Blake, the half-sex-god.

Not bad for a first book in the series. Started slow, but by the end I was emotionally invested and didn’t want to put it down. I’m not dying for the next book, but I would like to read it eventually. 3 stars out of 5 and recommended for fans of urban fantasy and female heroines who don’t spend half the book sleeping with everyone. Happy reading!

-Branwen

 

In the After by Demitria Lunetta

Amy survived the apocalypse. The aliens arrived and wiped out almost the entire human race, but through using her brain and more than a little luck – she just happens to live in a house with solar panels, a water filtration system, and an electric fence (powered by the solar panels) that keeps her safe from the very fast, green, hungry-for-human-flesh creatures. On one of her outings to search for food, Amy finds and takes in a toddler she calls Baby. The two learn to communicate in sign language, since noise summons the monsters, and keep each other company for almost three years until they are suddenly rescued and taken to the mysterious survivor colony New Hope. Everything in New Hope seems perfect with a clear set of rules and tasks for everyone. As usual, nothing is as perfect as it first appears.

in-the-afterIt’s possible that I have just become tired of YA novels where the only one who notices anything about anything is a 17 year old girl who also happens to be smart but not popular, stunningly gorgeous despite the apocalypse (or trials/tribulations/whatever) and the boy (also really really ridiculously good looking) immediately falls for her without knowing anything about her. But that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t like about this book. I thought Amy had a much too easy time of it during the end of the world. Sure, her parents died and she had to deal with that, which sucked. But she also had ELECTRICITY AND RUNNING WATER!! And an electric fence that conveniently kept the creepy green creatures out of her house. She had to stay quiet during her showers, poor thing. Maybe I’m being a little dramatic. But it got on my nerves.

I was wildly unsurprised when Amy discovered what life was really like in New Hope. From the first moment, it was clear it was much too structured and everyone was too happy for everything to be as it seemed. Amy and her “Advanced Theory” class finally coming to the realization that the creature were called “floreas” because they had plant-like qualities was definitely a head desk moment. These teenagers are supposed to be the smartest of the bunch, who created the synthetic impenetrable suits the Guardians (who “fight” the Floreas) wear and they didn’t realize “floreas” meant plants?? Dude, the creatures are green and thrive in sunlight. I also wasn’t thrilled with Rice. I thought he was under-developed and clearly just a bland, unimportant love interest.

There were some things I enjoyed about the book. While there wasn’t anything surprising about the general plot, I did like the relationship between Amy and Baby. I thought it was pretty cool that they developed their own form of sign language which they used to communicate. I also noticed that Amy always told Baby female-empowering fairy tales, which was a nice touch. I also liked the way the author wrote the second half of the book, giving us hints about the terrible things that were happening to Amy after she was committed to the Ward. This writing technique made this part of the book much more interesting that it would have been otherwise.

Overall, I would give this book 3 out 5 stars. Fans of The Hunger Games and especially the Divergent series will definitely enjoy it. I’m interested to see what will happen in the next book, but I won’t be running out to get it tomorrow.

May harmony find you,

-Branwen

Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Sadima, Franklin, and Somiss, driven out of Limòri by a suspicious fire, are living in a cave hidden within the cliffs that overlook the city. Somiss is convinced the dark passages of the caves were the home of ancient magicians, and his obsession with restoring magic deepens. Sadima dreams of escape — for her, for Franklin, and for the orphaned street boys Somiss has imprisoned in a crowded cage. Somiss claims he will teach these boys magic, that they will become his first students, but Sadima knows he is lying.

Generations later, Hahp is struggling to survive the wizards’ increasingly dangerous classes at the Limòri Academy of Magic. He knows the fragile pact he has forged with his secretive roommate, Gerrard, will not be enough to put an end to the evil. It will take all the students acting together to have any chance of destroying the academy. Building trust, with few chances to speak or plan, will be almost impossible, but there is no choice.

sacred scars coverIn this second book in Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series, all Sadima’s efforts are focused on convincing Franklin to leave Somiss. She, Somiss, and Franklin are living in a cave in the woods where Somiss has been keeping the boys he kidnapped, claiming they will be his first students. Sadima is sure this is a lie, and Somiss’s real purpose for the boys is much more nefarious. Somiss’s mania to find the secrets of magic has increased, and he treats Franklin worse with every passing minute. Something must be done. Meanwhile, in the future, Hahp is busy trying to convince Gerrard that the only way they can truly defeat the wizards is for their entire class to band together both to survive, and eventually destroy everyone else at the Academy.

I ran to my library to get this book almost as soon as I finished the first book in the series, because I just had to know what happened next. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as the first one (Skin Hunger, reviewed here). It was soooooooo slow. Sadima spent chapters and chapters and chapters exploring cave tunnels. Hahp spent chapters and chapters and chapters (again) making food or figuring out how to make other random things with the “magic stone.” It droned on and on. I felt like the book could have been 150 pages shorter. Now, it did have some interesting moments. The action that did happen was dramatic and unexpected. Sadima and the boys’ escape attempt was suspenseful (though it would have been even more suspenseful if it had been about 5 chapters shorter). I also thought learning more about the Eridians was interesting, since Somiss and Franklin talked about them all the time in the first novel, but don’t really explain who they were. Towards the end of the novel, I was sure the timelines were about to come together, but whether or not they did was never made clear. I think that was supposed to get me excited for the next book (which, at the time Sacred Scars was published, was not even in the planning stages) but really it just frustrated me. Notice I did not really find anything about Hahp’s story interesting enough to mention here. I desperately wanted to be emotionally invested in Hahp–I felt like I should be–but I just wasn’t.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for readers who read and enjoyed the first book, but warn you not to get your hopes up too much. According to Duey’s website, the third book is in the revising stages (though Goodreads doesn’t know anything about it, which is a little suspicious). We can only hope the third book releases soon and is better than the second!

Happy reading,

-Branwen

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

Skin Hunger coverSadima lives in a world where magic has been banned, leaving poor villagers prey to fakes and charlatans. A “magician” stole her family’s few valuables and left Sadima’s mother to die on the day Sadima was born. But vestiges of magic are hidden in old rhymes and hearth tales and in people like Sadima, who conceals her silent communication with animals for fear of rejection and ridicule. When rumors of her gift reach Somiss, a young nobleman obsessed with restoring magic, he sends Franklin, his lifelong servant, to find her. Sadima’s joy at sharing her secret becomes love for the man she shares it with. But Franklin’s irrevocable bond to the brilliant and dangerous Somiss traps her, too, and she faces a heartbreaking decision.Centuries later magic has been restored, but it is available only to the wealthy and is strictly controlled by wizards within a sequestered academy of magic. Hahp, the expendable second son of a rich merchant, is forced into the academy and finds himself paired with Gerrard, a peasant boy inexplicably admitted with nine sons of privilege and wealth. Only one of the ten students will graduate — and the first academic requirement is survival.

Skin Hunger, the first book in Kathleen Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series, follows two separate timelines in the same world. In the first, young lady Sadima has  the magical ability to read the feelings of animals but no one around her believes her. In her time, magicians are feared as charlatans and crooks and all magic has been banned. Needing to escape her farm life, Sadima flees to the city and meets up with wizard friend Franklin, who has promised to help her with her talent and that he and his colleague Somiss are trying to bring magic back safely to the world. Many, many years later, young boy Hahp is sold to the wizard academy by his hateful father. Hahp’s teachers are none other than Franklin and Somiss, who “train” young boys to become wizards by starving them and forcing them to discover their inner magic or die.

Initially, I was hesitant to read Skin Hunger because I didn’t understand how the two separate time periods were going to work together. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the two different timelines–almost two entirely different worlds–connected in an interesting way that made logical sense and made the story exciting. I’d never read anything like that before, and thought it was original and well executed.

This book very much read like a first-book-in-the-series type of novel. I realize this is to a certain extent a normal feature of books that are the first in a series: lots of world building, back-story of many characters, leads up to some major action that doesn’t actually take place. I thought this book had a little too much of all that at times. It was slow in sections (how many times did we really need to read about Hahp trying to make food, and the guilt he felt when then he could and others could not?) and I was bored; however, the fact that there were two stories at once helped with this immensely. Where one character’s story was slow, the other was faster, with more interesting details. Overall, the balance was well done. Ultimately, we received just enough about each character’s story–Sadima and Hahp–that I’m going to the library right away to pick up the next book.

3 stars out of 5. I recommend this book for fans of YA fantasy literature involving magic. Happy reading!

-Branwen

Cress by Marissa Meyer

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 high 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.

cress coverI just love this series. The characters are perfect, the world-building is great, villain is easy to hate and the love stories don’t overwhelm the plot. In this novel, we meet Cress for the first time. Cress, a Lunar “shell” who has none of the usual Lunar mental powers, has been trapped on a satellite for years, perfecting her hacking skills and protecting the Lunar space fleet from Earthen detection. She made contact with our heroine Cinder back in book one (Cinder, reviewed here), and Cinder and her team, including orphan Scarlet, genetically engineered fighter Wolf, Iko the android-turned spaceship, and the dashing fugitive Captain Thorne have finally gotten around to rescuing Cress. Naturally, the rescue goes wrong, the characters are split up, and Cinder’s plan to stop the evil Lunar queen Levana from marrying Emporer Kai and taking over Earth gets even more difficult.

Cress’s satellite crashes to Earth with her and Captain Thorne, who Cress has been crushing on since she first started reading about him on Earthen newsfeeds, aboard. Thorne goes blind in the crash, and Cress has never set foot on Earth before. Suddenly Thorne and Cress must work together to survive in the desert where they have crashed. They make an interesting pair, Thorne being the “tough guy” criminal and Cress being the naive young girl relying on him to keep her safe and trying convince Thorne he’s not as bad as he thinks. This isn’t a new theme in YA fantasy novels, but it was well-written and mostly believable. The only part I thought was strange was that (assuming my math is correct) Cress is about 14, and Thorne is around 20…which makes their love story a little weird as far as I’m concerned. Maybe I missed something so it’s not really as creepy as I think, haha.

I like how Meyer introduces new characters in this series without pushing out the characters from previous books. True, we don’t hear much from Scarlet and Wolf in this novel, but the overall plot of trying to stop Queen Levana stays consistent and in the forefront throughout the series. This impresses me, since often the love stories not only make me want to puke (was that too strong? haha), but they are often so important the initial plot is non-existent or completely ridiculous. My only very minor complaint about this series is Meyer’s insistence on basing her characters on fairy tales. Not that I necessarily mind, I just find it unnecessary. The books are excellent and don’t need those ideas to make me want to read them.

I love this series more with each book I read and I don’t know how I’m supposed to wait until NOVEMBER of 2015 for the final book, Winter. I recommend this book for readers of the first two Lunar Chronicles of course, and also readers who enjoy futuristic sci-fi YA novels. 5 stars out of 5.

Happy reading,

-Branwen