An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Some days I am good at writing book summaries. Some days I am not. Today is the second sort of day, so I am borrowing the book blurb from Goodreads.com:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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An Ember in the Ashes was excellent. The characters were real and relate-able. I particularly emphasized with Laia, desperate to save her brother but terrified of basically everything. She doesn’t want to be part of the resistance, doesn’t want to become a spy, certainly doesn’t want to constantly withstand abuse from her owner, but her determination overcomes her fear. She is not magically a wonderfully talented fighter, she doesn’t take over the resistance – she is just a regular young woman doing what she has to do to save the only family she has left. She is brilliantly written.

Elias was fabulously written as well. He was a smidgeon more stereotypical for this sort of story – orphan, taken in by the tribesman (the token outsiders) but then brought back to the military and becomes their greatest fighter, all the while hating everything the military stands for. But then Elias is pulled into a game where he can win and take over not just the military but the entire empire, and change it for the better. His internal struggles over whether he should stay and fight or run, his feelings for his oldest friend and his feelings for the new, unusual slave-girl make great, believable reading.

This book had several twists and turns, and nothing turned out the way you would expect. It left me excited for the second book in the series, without a cliffhanger ending that just made me angry and left too many loose ends. And it never got bogged down my romance. I give it 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to fans of high fantasy and books centered around slave resistance/revolt. The second book in the series is also available as well: A Torch Against the Night.

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 Witch by Nora Roberts

Iona Sheehan has never felt like she belonged. Fed up with her mediocre life and heeding the suggestion of her Nan, Iona sells everything she owns and moves to Ireland to track down her family history. She meets her cousins, Branna and Connor O’Dwyer, and discovers she is the Third O’Dwyer – the third descendant of the Dark Witch. Now that the three descendants are all in one place, the time has come to finally defeat the Dark Witch’s oldest enemy, the demon Cabhan. Iona must quickly adjust to the fact that not only is she a witch, she is one of three witches who must defeat an evil 800 years old.

I picked up this book in hopes it would be something like Nora Roberts’s Circle Trilogy – mythology, magic, heartbreak, romance, and action. Additionally, as someone who loves horses and has been horseback riding almost her entire life, I figured a book in which the main character couldark-witch-coverd TALK to HORSES could not possibly be bad. I was sadly disappointed. The characters were so flat and boring. The leading lady, Iona, said every single thought that popped into her head and her personality consisted of talking too much and “living in the moment.” Iona’s love interest, Boyle, was confusing and completely unrealistic. I think he was supposed to be dark and mysterious, and struggling with these newfound feelings of love he never experienced before. But he was written so arrogant and dumb with dialogue like, “sure I made her cry, but I’ll just apologize and she’ll see reason!” Anything endearing or attractive about him was lost. The other characters had the same problems. Cliched dialogue. Shallow, uninteresting personalities. The “romantic tensions” between couples were so obvious it was like being hit over the head with the book. It’s hard to get emotionally invested in a character and their heartbreak when you can very clearly see who they are going to end up with.

The action wasn’t much better. The system of magic didn’t always make sense. And when you are a serious fantasy reader, the system of magic must make sense. There was some sort of time travel involved I think. I’m not even sure it was so poorly explained. The entire book was leading up to the final confrontation with the demon Cabhan, and the battle was over so quickly I barely realized it happened. Even the accurately described horsemanship wasn’t enough to distract from the lousy plot. Truthfully, the best part of the book was the first few chapters where we met the original Dark Witch Sorcha and her children who end up being the ancestors of Branna, Connor, and Iona. I would like to read an entire book about them.

I probably won’t continue with this series. Maybe if my library happens to have it available as a downloadable e-book. I’m mildly intrigued to hear more of Fin’s story – the guy who fights on the side of the “good guys” but is a blood relative of Cabhan. Otherwise this series falls into the category of Too Many Books, Too Little Time. Oh well. Nora Roberts has written soooo many books a few of them had to not be as awesome as the rest.

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

 

Night Shift by Charlaine Harris

night shiftStrange things are happening in Midnight, Texas. Stranger than usual, that is. People are traveling to the crossroads in the middle of the town to commit suicide. Resident vampire Lemuel believes the answer to this epidemic can be found in the old books from the pawn shop, including a book about all the magical and paranormal places in North America. The bad news is the books are written in Etruscan, and Lemuel has to translate them fast before whatever weird force beneath the crossroads starts effecting more than just Midnight.

There were things I both liked and disliked about this book. On one hand, we learned more of Lemuel’s story, which I had been waiting for since the first time he was mentioned. He isn’t your typical vampire, feeding off of both blood and energy. He was also quiet and pretty much left alone by the other people in town in the first two books. Being in his head was interesting, but not particularly unexpected.

The demon-under-the-crossroads story line was interesting. I liked that the whole town had to come together to stop him. I thought the virgin sex ritual was a little awkward, and it’s not like you couldn’t figure out who Fiji was going to pick for her big moment from several chapters in advance. Unfortunately, I thought the whole book was a bit rushed. I discovered after reading that Harris intends this to be the last Midnight, Texas book in a trilogy. Which made the whole thing make a lot more sense. All the explanations were very rushed, and didn’t entirely match up with the setup in the first two books. I was especially bothered by the Teacher/Olivia plot line, which came out of nowhere and ended with Olivia acting rather out of character. I felt like all these characters had a lot more story left to tell, and while I didn’t necessarily want this to turn into a never-ending series like the Sookie Stackhouse series, which I eventually stopped reading, I did think the wrap ups for each character was cookie cutter, uninteresting, and left too many unanswered questions. I hope Harris will change her mind and write more books in this series, because I love these characters and I don’t want this to be the end for them.

Reap the Wind by Karen Chance

Reap the Wind is the seventh installment in the Cassandra Palmer series by Karen Chance. When I first got into this series, I devoured the books. Cassie was one of my favorite characters of all time, and the world building was right up there witreap the windh the Mercy Thompson series and the Kate Daniels series. I could not get enough…I actually BOUGHT the sixth book, Tempt the Stars (reviewed here). And I was disappointed. The series had reached the point where there was too much action and yet not enough action. Pages of action sequences, like running/fighting/shifting through the demon realms, without any advancing of the plot. I was getting tired of Cassie going round and round with Pritkin and Mircea as well. Reap the Wind was finally different.

**SPOILER ALERT!!** 

I’m not necessarily spoiling the plot here, but I am going to give away some of Cassie’s character development in this novel. Read on at your own risk.

In previous novels, Cassie spent her time being pushed around by various individuals. Whether it was Tony, the vampire who originally “owned” her; Pritkin, who bossed her around in the process of training; Mircea, who sure became her sort-of-husband but was also a high level Master vampire and bossing people around is what Master vampires DO; Jonas, leader of the Circle who believes he should control the Pythia; even Agnes, former Pythia who had a plan for how she wanted Cassie to follow in her footsteps. Cassie threw her power around and expressed some strong opinions, but never really stood up for herself – more so complained when people didn’t do what she thought was right or ethical. Not anymore. Cassie comes to the realization that while she may control the Pythia power, it hasn’t magically (pardon the pun) earned her the respect of all the people trying to boss her around. This major turning point finds Cassie taking charge of her life, making decisions for herself, and forcing the people around her to take her seriously. It was refreshing, and the Cassie I have been looking forward to for several books.

Now the bad news is: Chance leaves us with yet another cliffhanger. Not as bad as the last few books maybe, but a cliffhanger all the same. Worst is that her publishing company announces one date of publication for the next book, and then pushes it off at least 6 months, sometimes longer. It didn’t bother me as much as it may have since I was expecting it, I just sort of sighed and moved on with my life. Maybe someday Chance will actually resolve something in this series. I still love the characters and the world (more Kit Marlowe please!), and I’m going to keep reading them. From a library. I won’t be spending any money on them and I’m not in a hurry to get the next one.

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

I don’t even know where to begin with this…story (I hesitate to even call it a book). Hang on, yes I do. WHY is this book called Wings if the “thing” growing out of Laurel’s back is a flower and she can’t fly?! This bothered me more than almost anything else in this book, and A LOT of things bothered me.

Ugh I can’t believe I read this entire book. Maybe I kept hoping it would start making sense? I should have given up as soon as the main character figured out she was a plant. A PLANT! A walking, talking, human-shaped PLANT, who has of course the perfect looks, blonde hair, doesn’t need to eat anything ever. What? First of all, that’s not how plants work. And I don’t mean the obvious part – walking, talking – I mean the getting “food” part. Plants don’t eat peaches for sustenance. At least not in any science class I’ve ever taken. Pretty sure they need roots for that sort of thing, which a walking plant would not have. Additionally, I have read quite a few things about faerie lore, and while yes they are always associated with plants, they aren’t walking talking plants. Allow me to reiterate: UGH!

And another thing. How convenient that for these people-shaped-plant-things, “sex is just for fun.” A detail which, by the way, had NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the plot. Which to be honest there wasn’t much of to begin with… I mean, this could have been a cool story with Laurel’s family owning the land with the Gate to Faerie, and needing to brainwash a changeling to try to protect it. If the faeries weren’t, ya know, PLANTS! I wanted desperately to enjoy that plot arc. I even tried to talk myself into getting over the whole plant thing. (PLANTS!!) But alas. The rest of the story was driven by a ridiculous love triangle. I can’t handle female characters whose love triangle consists of them literally flirting with two men (males? what do you call a outrageously good-looking boy plant?) at the same time. In the same car. So within like 5 feet of each other. And they’re both madly in love with her even though they barely know her. Guess it helps when you’re really really ridiculously good looking, huh? No one cares that you’re a plant-person that doesn’t bleed. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.

I wouldn’t recommend this book. Choose a better piece of faerie literature instead. Sorry. I don’t usually write such negative reviews because I know there is a real live person out there who wrote the book and whose feelings would be hurt if they read it. But I just can’t find anything redeeming about this one. Maybe the next one in the series will be better? I won’t be reading it, but hey if it is, someone let me know.

May harmony find you.
-Branwen