Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes
By Sabaa Tahir
Published: April 28, 2015

I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.

THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.

IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW

AND I WILL DESTROY YOU.
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.
My review:
Laia's people value learning and culture but they have been enslaved by the Martials. Laia lost her parents and older sister years ago to the Resistance. She and her older brother Darrin were raised by her grandparents until the fateful day that Martials attack, killing her grandparents and capturing Darrin who tells Laia to run. Laia escapes but is filled with overwhelming guilt and the feeling that she should have fought to help save her brother. Her plan is to find the Resistance and ask them to help save her brother's life. They reluctantly agree to help her if she goes undercover as a slave at Blackcliff, the military academy that trains the Empire's Masks, lethal soldiers like the one that attacked her family. She becomes a slave to the deadly Commandant, a woman who routinely tortures her slaves and always finds the spies that the Resistance tries to plant. Laia is desperate to save her brother but she finds herself in over her head. 
Elias Veturius is about to graduate from Blackcliff but he has secret plans that don't involve serving the Empire as a Mask. He is the best soldier at the school and he also happens to have an unfortunate connection to the evil Commandant. When he meets Laia, he feels sorry for her but he has serious problems of his own as the Empire prepares to choose a new Emperor.  
My first impression of An Ember in the Ashes is that it was a very dark book. There is unrelenting violence and brutality. From the opening pages with the attack on Laia's family to the fate that awaits a young student at the academy who tried to desert and the Commandant's treatment of her slaves there is nothing but bloodshed. The Martials seem to revel in it. Even their methods of choosing a new leader are barbaric. At times, it became too much for me and I had to put the book down and pick up something else to give myself a break from the darkness. 
What kept me reading was my desire to find out what happened to Elias and Laia. I liked Elias's character. He is conflicted between his duty and his desire for escape. He is the heir to House Veturia and he doesn't want to let them down. Nor does he want to betray his friends, especially Helene, the school's only female warrior and someone he is starting to have feelings for. Elias is strong physically and he also has a good moral character despite the world he is part of. Laia is by contrast an initially weak person. She comes across as frail though she is determined to save her brother. She relies solely on the strength of others and almost seems to have a mental breakdown. At first I didn't like her that much because I've become used to stronger female protagonists like Katniss Everdeen or Tris Pryor and instead Laia is portrayed as a victim for much of the book. Although I was not a fan of Laia at the beginning I think she is a more honest portrayal of how an ordinary teen would react in that situation. Fortunately as the book goes on she begins to find her own inner strength and stop relying on others to save her. 
The main villain doesn't have much depth but she definitely has some secrets that make me curious to find out more about her and her motivations and what her endgame is. There are also supernatural creatures woven into the story. Laia believed that jinns and efrits were fictitious beings but found out that they actually exist. There are also augurs with supernatural abilities (they can't die and they can read minds and see the future). The book combines elements of Ancient Rome and Middle Eastern mythology. I thought the Martials were similar to the Spartans and the Scholars were like the Athenians.
Overall I thought this was a good YA fantasy debut. There is an interesting (if violent) setting and good character development though I would have liked more depth for the villain. There is also plenty of action and suspenseful moments. I would have liked it if there wasn't so much romantic attraction between the characters. Elias and Laia are attracted to each other but Elias is also attracted to Helene who has feelings for him. Laia also finds herself drawn to Keenan, a member of the Resistance. Fortunately for all the romantic attraction there isn't that much angst or time devoted to romance because the characters are too busy trying to survive. I hope things resolve in the next book though a sequel is yet to be announced. I think fans of YA fantasy novels like Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes or The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski will like An Ember in the Ashes

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of Amazon Vine

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sunday Post (2)

The Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

I had a busy schedule this week but I finally feel like I'm getting organized for my library's summer reading program. The overall theme this year is "superheroes" which is fantastic for children's programming but less inspiring when it comes to programs for adults! I attended an adult services programming workshop on Wednesday with other area librarians and came back with some good ideas like holding a back to school clothing swap. I also ironed out the details for our summer reading program which involves book bingo and a grand prize of an iPad Mini 3. I still need to figure out smaller prizes but I think that the iPad Mini should be a big draw. We still have a lot of planning to do for our all ages event which started out as a mini Fan Con but has now become "Hero Fest" since our patrons were kind of confused by the idea of "Fan Con" (so was I).

On the reading front I read two books and tried and failed to listen to two audio books (The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and Z by Therese Fowler). I am going to try those books in print sometime in the future I think but the audio books just didn't work for me. I am very picky when it comes to audio books. I love Jenna Lamia's narration of other audio books but Z just wasn't holding my attention. I also think I'd appreciate The Raven Boys more if I read it instead of listening to it.

Last week on my blog:


The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord (review)
Edible Book Festival (post and pictures)


Books read:



Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

I thought this book started out really well. I thought the elephant information was interesting and I wanted to know what happened to Alice. I should have prepared myself better for the "shocking twist" that happens in every Jodi Picoult book. Maybe then I wouldn't have been so taken off guard! It definitely made me want to go back and read things to see the clues that were planted. I liked the book but I don't know how I feel about the twist. I was definitely emotionally punched in the gut by it. I wish she'd picked a different twist as this one has been done before. I won't say where or it will spoil the book for other readers :)

Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

This is the sequel to Prisoner of Night and Fog and continues the story of Gretchen and Daniel after escaping Hitler's clutches. The book picks up in England in 1933 but quickly moves the action to Germany after Daniel goes back to help his family and ends up framed for murder. I liked the book but thought Gretchen still had a lot to learn. She heads to Germany without any kind of solid plan to help Daniel which although touching is really a reckless thing to do. Once there she continued to make reckless choices. She is brave which I admired but not as cautious or wise as I had hoped she'd be after the last time.


Currently reading:



Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby

I loved Golden and Moon Glass so I knew I was going to like this book and so far it is really good. The main character is dealing the the pain of her boyfriend's death by meeting the recipients of his organs. The only one who never replied to her letter is the boy who received Trent's heart. After tracking him down she visits his town just to see him from afar but she ends up running into him and is surprised to find herself connecting with him even though she keeps the truth a secret.


What I plan to read next:



A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

This is my evening book group's selection for April. The story is about a cranky old man and what happens when a friendly young family with two little girls moves in next door. It sounds funny and hopefully will be a lighthearted book. Our last one was kind of dark.

Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

I loved Still Alice and I've read many positive reviews of this book which deals with Huntington's Disease and how it affects a family.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This is sort of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with other mythical folklore. I've heard that this book is considered "new adult" fantasy. I thought "new adult" usually referred to contemporary novels. I think it sounds like a fantasy novel for adults but maybe the publisher wanted to emphasize that it may be more mature than a teen fantasy novel. Some early reviews have mentioned that it is a little racy in the romantic content so that may be why.

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

I've heard this book is amazing and powerful and emotionally charged. It is about a girl who is raped and then suffers at the hands of her disbelieving community.


New books received:


Flame Tree Road by Shona Patel (for review from Netgalley)
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (from library)
Z: a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Fowler (audio book from library)
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (audio book from library)







Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: The Start of Me and You

The Start of Me and You
By Emery Lord
Published: March 31, 2015

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

My review:

Paige is tired of getting "that look" from people who know she lost her boyfriend Aaron. As the new school year starts, she decides to make a plan to show everyone that she is just fine. Her plan involves becoming more social by attending parties and social events, joining a new group, dating, traveling and swimming, which she has been scared to do since her boyfriend drowned. To help her accomplish her goals she has the support of her friends Tessa, Morgan, and Kayleigh who have been there for her and helped her through her grief. Her family is also supportive although her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer's and her parents are divorced. In addition she has a new friendship with Max, the cousin of Ryan Chase her longtime crush. 

I loved how friendships are so important to the story. Paige has some truly wonderful friends though things are tested particularly when one of her friends is dating a jerk and they can't get her to see that. I think that is something that teens could relate to. I know I could when I was a teen!

Paige is a fully developed character with personality and interests. I loved the relationship she had with her grandmother who encouraged Paige to become a screenwriter in the first place. I also liked her parents though Paige has some issues with them since they are dating again and happen to be dating each other. Her relationship with Max starts out as a friendship and slowly grows to something more even though she is convinced it is Ryan she wants. Max is a really nice guy and so is Ryan. I think most of the teens in the book are actually portrayed in a positive way (except for her friend's nasty boyfriend). The novel also handles grief in a sensitive and realistic way. Paige definitely goes through some tough times both with mourning Aaron and with her grandmother's Alzheimer's but through it all she has the love of her family and friends.  

I was a huge fan of Emery Lord's debut novel, Open Road Summer and this book definitely lived up to my expectations. I especially loved the inclusion of Quiz Bowl. I was a member of my school's academic team (our version of Quiz Bowl) so I really enjoyed those scenes and I was glad Paige decided to try it. Overall I thought this was a fantastic book and perfect for summer reading. The characters are likable and easy to relate to and while there is some sadness the book maintains an overall light and positive tone. I think readers who enjoy authors like Jessi Kirby and Morgan Matson should add Emery Lord to their reading list. She is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors.


Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday (151)

"Waiting on" Wednesday is a weekly meme to discuss upcoming books we can't wait to get our hands on. Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week, I'm waiting on:

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
Release date: September 1, 2015

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.
London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.
But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.
I loved the Lady Julia mysteries and it sounds like this book will be the first in a new mystery series too. I enjoyed her historical adventure novels but I do miss the mysteries and I like that this is set in Victorian times.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edible Book Festival

On Saturday April 11th, my library participated in the International Edible Book Festival for the first time. The edible book festival takes place in public and academic libraries and bookstores all around the world on or around April 1st. The purpose is to create edible works of art that celebrate books!

Here are some of the entries from our festival:


"The Catcher in the Rye"

My boss made this with a loaf of rye bread that he carved and a paper print out. Very creative :)


"Fast Food Nation"

Our teen librarian made this fun edible book using food from McDonald's 


"Frank n' Stein"

This edible book won the prize for best individual entry and best pun/funniest entry.


"Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover's Soul"

My coworker made each of the dogs out of pipe cleaners and they look like different dog breeds with proper markings. Very impressive and cute :)

"Shades of Blue"

A coworker made this blue themed Easter basket with blue coconut grass that she dyed herself and all kinds of blue Easter candy. I think it is very pretty.

"Save the Cupcake"

This edible book won best youth entry and People's Choice. The teen's father told me that he'd started teaching her how to bake when she was just three years old, the same age that his mother taught him. I thought that was really sweet and was happy she won.


"Some Pig"

This was my entry inspired by Charlotte's Web. I got the idea for the pig from Taste of Home but I used store bought sugar cookies that I dipped in pink candy melts. I used strawberry wafer cookies for the ears, a strawberry marshmallow (also dipped in melting chocolate) for the nose and chocolate chips for the nostrils and eyes. Charlotte is a mini doughnut with pretzel legs and M&M eyes (found on Pinterest) and the letters are made using a candy mold. The web was made from melted white chocolate. 

"Game of Thrones"

This impressive Game of Thrones cake was made by a teenager and her younger brother. They used fondant and air brushed the cake like professionals. Needless to say, they won for best group/family entry and most creative.

In addition to voting on the entries, we also had a cupcake decorating contest for kids and teens and served a book shaped cake and punch for refreshments. I thought our first edible book festival was a big success and hopefully it will become something we participate in annually. 












Monday, April 13, 2015

Sunday Post (1)

The Sunday Post


The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimba @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news. A post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.

This is my first time participating in The Sunday Post and I'm a little late to the party :)
I feel like my reading has slowed down lately but this week I actually managed to finish three books. The book I am currently reading is really interesting to me so I have a feeling I will finish it in the next few days. I've also started listening to audio books again which helps since it takes me 40 minutes to get to work.

This past Saturday was my library's first Edible Book Festival. The event was a big success and I won for best library staff entry for "Some Pig" from Charlotte's Web. I was really impressed with the creativity and effort people put into their entries and the turnout was better than I expected so maybe next year more people will decide to participate.








Last week on my blog:


The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (review) 
A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack (review)



Books read:





An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I thought this book was dark and violent but I still liked it in the end. I just had to be in the right frame of mind to read it so I kept putting it down and picking it back up. My review will be posted later this month, a little closer to the release date.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

This novel is inspired by the romance between Prince William and Kate Middleton but in this version, the prince falls in love with an American he meets at college. The book reminds me a lot of the Lifetime film William & Kate and a little bit of The Prince and Me.

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks (audio book)

I thought the story started out well but I got bored towards the end. I didn't like the narrator for Ira. That became tedious to listen to and the ending was pure Nicholas Sparks at his saccharine best. I was glad there was a happy ending for this one but it wasn't my favorite of his books.

Currently reading:



Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Her books are hit or miss with me but I am really enjoying this one. I am curious about the mystery and I love the information about elephant behavior. They are one of my favorite animals.

What I might read next:




Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby
A Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman
Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova

New books received:




The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig (review)
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (review)
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain (review)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review: The Royal We

The Royal We
By Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Published: April 7, 2015

"I might be Cinderella today, but I dread who they'll think I am tomorrow. I guess it depends on what I do next."
American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.
Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.
Which is how she gets into trouble.
Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.
My review:
If you like reading about the British Royals, you'll enjoy this book. It is inspired by the "fairy tale romance" of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The cover even designed to remind readers of William and Kate. In this fictitious story however Prince Nicholas meets an intriguing American girl at college. They become friends and gradually fall in love. It isn't a fairy tale though as Bex is now under the pressure of paparazzi and the disapproval of the Royal Family as well as the expectations of dating or marrying a royal heir. 
Things definitely become darker as Bex realizes what she is in for and I liked that the book portrayed the ups and downs of her relationship with Nick and trying to juggle that with her own dreams and personality. I liked Bex though I think she does make some big mistakes (she could be a little self destructive with alcohol and partying). She has a rough time of adjusting to the spotlight and her relationship with her twin sister Lacey doesn't help matters. I didn't like Lacey as a character. She is the one character who I had a hard time with. She is supposedly smart enough to get into medical school but  in my opinion she is portrayed as an empty headed fame seeker. Bex is supposed to be the more sporty one though she is smart enough to attend Oxford through an exchange program. 
I thought the authors did a good job of showing the difficulties that Nick faces with the constant pressure of the public eye and the responsibilities of being the heir. He isn't sure he can completely trust any of his friends and even his dating life is complicated. I wasn't always happy with how he treated Bex. The two of them definitely had communication issues. I thought that was a realistic portrayal of their relationship and the struggles they had to overcome.
This was a fun book even though it had some darker moments. It is classified as a "New Adult" novel though it isn't like the kind of book I'd typically consider New Adult. It almost had a chick lit vibe at times.  I thought it was a "realistic" portrayal of a love story between a prince and an American commoner. I enjoyed picking up similarities between this fictional couple's story and the real British royals. I think readers who are interested in the British royal family and fans of movies like The Prince and Me will like this book too. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss