May 25, 2015

Daughter of Smoke & Bone, by Laini Taylor

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.





Summary:
Intended Age-Group: 16+
Issues of Violence: fantasy violence, war violence
Intimacy Level: A lot of kissing. Mentioned sex out of wedlock. Passion.
Language: h*ll, sh*t, b*st*rd, d*mn, b*tch, 
Recommendation: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Back Cover Blurb:
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. 
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grow dangerously low. 
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war. 
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages -- not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out. 
When one of the strangers -- beautiful, haunted Akiva -- fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? 

Initial Reaction: *****
Let me set the scene:

I'd purchased two different books from Barnes and Noble, read them, hated them, and returned them. Each time I did this, I ended up having the same cashier and she finally said, "Having a hard time finding something you like?"
"Yes!" I groaned.
Then she drilled me. "What's your favorite movie?" "What do you like to read?" "Favorite Genre?" Etc. The end result was this book recommendation. I was pretty impressed with her because Daughter of Smoke & Bone did end up having many of the things I love -- a deep culture, rich writing, unique concept, and more.

The World: *****
I liked the culture, even though it is a very fantastical view on angels and demons (referred to as seraphs and chimaera in this book.) The writing is rich in descriptions and unique wording -- the type of writing that makes me want to go write better. :)

Characters: *****
Karou (main character) works for a wishmonger -- he creates wishes of various strength and Karou's greatest desire is to earn a bigger wish that would allow her to do something magnificent like fly or turn invisible.

If you've talked to me at all, you'll know that I roll my eyes at most romance. Don't get me wrong, I like a good fall-in-love story just like the next girl, but I generally like it to be believable. In this book, the "insta-love" between Karou and Akiva was just...sappy. Too sappy for me, especially because when it happens Karou is on a mission to save her dearest friends and family from certain death. And she just lets herself get distracted by this guy who tried to kill her at one point and now "watches her" because he's "in love" (Warning! Stalker! Warning!)

In the story's defense, the writing alludes to a mysterious past between these two characters that neither of them can seem to put together. But even with a mysterious past, even if they were in love in some other life, it wasn't enough to convince me that Karou would "forget" about her family and just fall in love with this stalker-like warrior guy.

Which brings me to another point: when we first meet Akiva, he is E-M-O-T-I-O-N-L-E-S-S. I mean dead eyes, no heart, utterly and impenetrably emotionless. It's cool. The author delivered this aspect of his character perfectly and it made him stand out. It made me intrigued. But then, all he had to do was look at the blue-haired human girl and poof! suddenly he's your every-day paranormal sappy stalker-lover. (Edward Cullen, anyone?)

Plot: *****
Right about when I was completely sick of the insta-love, then we're hit with a flashback of sorts. We enter the story of an alluded to character named Madrigal  (Akiva's past lover) Frankly, I just didn't care about her. I didn't want to jump into another character's story (especially one who had been dead for a long time) 3/4 of the way through the book. But, to my surprise, it took about one chapter to suck me into Madrigal's story and let me tell you...
...her story is one of the strongest parts of this book.

In a mere sliver of pages, the author introduces a plot, a freaky villain (THIAGO! AHHH!), and a very convincing, realistic romance. It was delightful and it then made Karou just pale in comparison once we had to return to her point-of-view.

Now, as with any good book, there are huge plot twists that the reader tends to put together before they even happen. I won't reveal any in here, but I will say that the book lost me 3/4 of the way through, but snagged be again with Madrigal's story...enough to push me toward book two.

Spiritual Content: *****
Well, it's a story about angels and demons when you really break it down and...it complete fantasy. It has no spiritual merit and there are no messages one way or another. There are the myths on how the seraphs and chimaera came to be -- both of which are slightly disturbing. I can't say I liked the new take on Biblical truths, but when viewed as pure paranormal fiction, it's your every-day YA book.

Profanity, Violence, and That Other Stuff:
I'll keep it short:
40+ instances of casual swearing (aka: the way teens talk today)
Lots of references to sex, implied repeated sex between two lovers, etc. But there are no actual "scenes." Frequent kissing.
Typical violence (it's a war between seraphs and chimaera, what did you expect?) but nothing graphic.

There's not enough of this to bother me, but it'd be enough to keep me from recommending it to a young teen. Still, everyone has their own levels of tolerance which is why I include these details.

Overall:
I really enjoyed about 70% of this book -- enough to give it four stars. I'll be reading book two and I'll let you know if I continue on to book three. ;)


Find the book on:
Goodreads
Amazon

Find Laini Taylor on:
Twitter
Her Website












Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.

May 18, 2015

Of the Persecuted, by Angie Brashear

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.






Summary:
Intended Age-Group: 15+
Issues of Violence: fantasy violence
Intimacy Level: Kissing
Language: none
Recommendation: 5 out of 5 stars

Back Cover Blurb:
Laila Pennedy awaits death by hanging. For the Rendow Clan rules the Woodlands Region, aiming to slaughter the Faithful. And she deserves to die. But Lars Landre, the man destined to lead the Faithful out of persecution, has other plans hidden behind his rare and mysterious blue eyes. Rescue. 
Following the daring escape, Laila seeks the path of a warrior and vows revenge against the Rendow Clan. She embarks on a dangerous journey with Lars, one in which they endeavor to reach the promised safety of a magical village, to train for battle, and to ultimately assure freedom for those with faith in the Maker. 
Clashes of weapons and souls. Brutal loss of lives. Unrequited love. How in all the Woodlands will Laila survive? 

Initial Reaction: *****
The main character starts with her neck in a noose. How could I not be hooked?

Characters: *****
Laila Pennedy's steps of growth toward confidence and faith felt very natural for a teenager. Since she'd spent four years surviving with and relying on her brother, Niles, I could completely understand why she looked to Lars for leadership, for confirmation, and for confidence. It made sense with her history and I loved watching her rise beyond that dependance and find contentment in who the Maker created her to be.

Plot: *****
The plot captures what we most love about epic fantasies -- a war between good and evil, sacrifice, losses, and adventure. It's seen all through Laila's eyes as she discovers a new world and a new self through her journey.

The plot wraps itself up beautiful, tying up just enough strings to leave the reader satisfied, but leaving enough openings to wave in a sequel (hurray!)

Spiritual Content: *****
This book is allegorical. The Faithful represent believers, the Maker represents God (obviously) and it's a lovely view looking at what the Christian walk might be like if we faced physical persecution. Would our faith be stronger? How hard would we fight and what would we fight for?

Angie Brahsear does a fantastic job capturing this struggle and conveying what the fellowship of the church has the potential to look like. It makes me want to visit Tuveil and celebrate with the other Faithfuls until the sun sets. Though the characters go through trials and pain, they are still able to cling to the Maker through it all. It's uplifting and a great spiritual encouragement.

Overall:
Step into a world of magical cities, heroic wars, creatures bound in evil and good, and a community of which you will miss once you close the book. Angie Brashear's writing continues to impress me and I already itch for what her future writings will bring! Of the Persecuted is a fantastic debut. It's not just a story, it's a journey...and you'll be glad you took it.


Find the book on:
Goodreads
Amazon

Find Angie Brashear on:
Facebook
Her Website















Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.

May 11, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Disclaimer: All reviews are the result of my personal opinion from a Christian stand-point. These reviews are provided for those who share my beliefs and morals, to help guide what fiction a reader may wish to pick up. For those who do not share these beliefs, please refrain from hateful comments. It is due to rude commenting that I must now include this note prior to all reviews. For more information, visit my purpose behind this blog. Thank you for your understanding.




Summary:
Intended Age-Group: 16+
Issues of Violence: torture, attempted rape, fantasy violence, 
Intimacy Level: Passionate kissing
Language: d*mn, h*ll, b*st*rd (moderate language)
Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Back Cover Blurb:
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 solider -- 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.w 

Initial Reaction: *****
Hm...how to describe An Ember in the Ashes? It's like Equilibrium meets Gladiator...meets fantasy.

I loved this book.

The World: *****
The world is unique from the very start. I don't know about you, but I sure haven't read many fantasy Roman-era type books. Now, don't get me wrong. It's not set in the Roman Era from Bible times, it simply feels that way, just like most epic fantasies feel like they've been set in King Arthur's knights-and-sorcery time. This world is fascinating, filled with myths and trials and different classes of people. I was sucked in from the first page.

Characters: *****
Two main characters, both told in first person POV. I never got confused, in fact I barely even noticed it.

Elias Veturius is a Mask who's questioning his commitment to the Empire. Laia is a cowardly Scholar who abandoned her brother to certain death, and now is determined to be brave and save him. These characters grow incredibly through this story. Thinking back to who they were when I started the story, it's almost hard to imagine them that way anymore. The way each character grows through the circumstances is very natural and admirable.

I connected more to Elias than Laia. Sometimes I had a difficult time understanding why the men in the story found her so appealing, other than her natural good looks. I know that plays an important part, especially in a culture where looks are really what influence most of the mens' decisions, but on occasion it had me quirking an eyebrow and wondering, "Really? Him, too?" Thankfully, it wasn't overdone.

Plot: *****
Depth, depth, depth. That's what makes a solid plot, especially a solid fantasy plot. An Ember in the Ashes has that. The culture and plot are so intricate and yet not confusing. Because of that, I felt immersed in the world, taking sides and cheering for who I thought I could trust. There are no cardboard "good guys" or "bad guys". Everyone has their mixture of good intentions and bad choices, which makes each people group seem real.

Language, Violence, and that Other Stuff:
The language is typical, what you'd expect from a military-like culture. It's consistent, but not overbearing. I have a hard time actually noticing swearing so there's probably a bit more than I remember, but it doesn't get too over-the-top.

The violence is...well...fairly graphic. As I read, I wondered if I'd be able to stomach certain scenes if this book ever turned into a movie (which, gathering from the rumors, is highly likely to happen.) It teetered on the edge of my tolerance level, so if you're not one for battle violence or cruelty from evil leaders, this may not be the book for you.

Sexual innuendos are scattered throughout. The "Masks" of this culture are the high-up protectors of the Empire and they are known for taking what they want. Not only is there a lot of talk about rape, but when in the servants' points-of-view there is a lot of fear of it. It's a very sad predicament, which makes the gentlemen of the story stand out as even more heroic.
There is brief kissing and passion, but nothing that ever goes past kissing.

Spiritual Content: *****
There are jinns and sorcerers, ghost-like beings and myths. It is all very fascinating and makes for a rich culture, but the author certainly isn't sending any overall spiritual message. The story doesn't lean one way or another. I read it solely for the sake of skilled storytelling.

Overall:
An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books I couldn't put down. It creeps into my dreams. I don't want to read anything else for weeks afterward. It makes me want to write better. Those are the experiences every reader craves and it's become more and more difficult for me to find books that bring that depth and experience to a read.

The story concludes with just enough strings tied up, though there's no "confirmed" sequel. However, the author has expressed hoping to write one, so I'm crossing my fingers. :)

Despite the harshness of the content, I'm still giving the book a high rating because it's a tome of originality joining the ranks of powerful fantasy. As long as it stays within its intended age group (16+) I think it should be okay.



Find the book on:
Goodreads
Amazon

Find Sabaa Tahir on:
Twitter
Her Website













Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released September 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine's not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com.