Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

The Magician’s Workshop ★★☆☆☆

The-Magicians-WorkshopThe Magician’s Workshop started with an interesting concept: magic that can make illusions from one’s own imagination, a girl who wants to make beautiful things but can only make monsters, and a boy who wants to have fun but is an outcast in his own town. But it turned sour pretty quickly. I wanted to like The Magician’s Workshop, as it promised to be thrilling and fun, but my expectations just weren’t met.

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

The Magician’s Workshop did not read like the first book in a series. It was littered with jargon, most of which was presented without context clues so you couldn’t even discern what most of it meant. I felt a bit like I should have known what was going on, but I was lost from the beginning.

We start the story with Layauna looking out a rainy window, then being called to join her family for magical storytime, where they image a story and it plays out in miniatures before them, sort of like a puppet show if the puppets were able to walk and talk on their own. It’s not a type of beginning that grabbed my attention. Layauna brooded and noted feeling like the oddball in her family, and I wasn’t interested until her magic turned the story from one about a knight and a princess and into one about a rampaging monster.

It’s an interesting character flaw, to only be able to make monsters, but the stakes aren’t quite there because we’re reminded that it’s all in her head and that the threat is imaginary.

The dialogue didn’t do much to keep me invested either; it was stilted and mainly expository. It did very little to build character besides someone saying, “Hey, remember that time we did this thing and this happened and we had to do this to fix it?”

Though the biggest reason I had to mark The Magician’s Workshop as a DNF was the characters’ age. For the first third of the book, I believed that Layauna, Kai and Kai’s friends were twelve, maybe thirteen if I stretch my disbelief. They interacted, reacted and behaved like children. That was a fact I was entirely able to accept. It felt right. But when one of Kai’s friends mentions how they’re seventeen and still haven’t achieved something a child is meant to achieve by sixteen, I was thrown right out of the story, firmly on my @$$ and I couldn’t fight my way back if I tried.

An entire chapter is dedicated to Kai and his friends playing make-believe with an illusion of King Kong. The way they acted and spoke had me firmly believing they were twelve or thirteen, maybe younger, because no sixteen or seventeen year old who is supposed to be entering adulthood and even the fantasy workforce/college that is the Magician’s Workshop, would be acting the way they did.

I could believe that Layauna was sixteen, with her slightly more mature outlook on life, but Kai’s desire to play with his friends in their make-believe worlds didn’t read as a teenager. The entire story read like it was either a mature middle-grade piece or wasn’t sure what teenagers are supposed to sound like.

Frankly, it dumbed down its teenagers, which are meant to be the target audience, and even though I haven’t been a teenager in years I was practically offended at this portrayal.

Having a child-like personality as a sixteen or seventeen year old is believable. But being a sixteen or seventeen year old and viewing and interacting with the world as if you were eleven and trying to market that character to me as a teenager is not. I wish I could say I’m going to finish The Magician’s Workshop, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it through.

Scythe ★★☆☆☆

28954189Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is a tale of humans conquering death, and taking the matter of population control into the hands of the scythes, a group of men and women entrusted with the power of permanent death. I’ve always been a fan of Shusterman’s work–I loved his Unwind series and Everlost–but Scythe was lacking something I desperately needed in a book, which ultimately turned me away from this series.

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Citra and Rowan are both present when a scythe comes to call for someone they know, and through that they’re both brought on as that scythe’s apprentices. They then learn the art of killing, and are privy to more knowledge and information than they ever have before.

But as their apprenticeship is a rather unconventional one, it comes with a stipulation: only one will receive their hood and scythe and as their first act within the scythedom they must kill their peer. This is, obviously, a problem as both Citra and Rowan start to fall for the other, despite strict rules that they can’t.

There’s a lot of time spent on building the world of this book, to the point where it was practically pure exposition in every chapter. I didn’t feel connected enough to either character because we very rarely get to see them in action, and only see them as shadows and students.

Shusterman has a great track record of incredibly complex and deep characters that are easy to relate to, but that seemed to have been lost in Scythe. The book was borderline boring to the point where I felt I had to force myself to finish–“Just one more page, and I’ll be that much closer to the end”–in order to justify buying the book.

I hope that Shusterman’s future works have their old spark back, and in which case I will very happily return to his world of words.

Carve the Mark ★☆☆☆☆

carve-the-markI was so excited to get Carve the Mark, especially since I loved Divergent and I am an enormous Star Wars fan. But Carve the Mark left so much to be desired that I put it on my #DNF list when I was a quarter of the way through the book.

Maresi ★★★☆☆

28818217.jpgMaresi by Maria Turtschaninoff is a tale of girls looking out for each other in a world where they’re abused, mistreated and often thought of as less than human. There are plenty of diverse characters, bright young women, and strong role models. Unfortunately, what this book had in great female characters, it lacked in action and suffered from poor pacing.

Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.

-Goodreads

Maresi is a young girl who lives in the Red Abbey, having been sent there after their family struggled through an incredibly harsh winter. Maresi buried herself in reading and in studies, eventually becoming someone who took care of the younger girls coming into the Abbey.

It’s how she becomes guide and mentor to Jai, a fresh face to the Red Abbey with a cruel past and a heart set on revenge.

I thought Maresi was a great main character, she was kind and gentle and patient, but she was the wrong narrator for this story.

When I learned about Jai’s past, about her terrible and abusive father, and how she desperately wanted revenge, that was when I knew she should have been the narrator. It would have provided a better story, more deeply seeded in the world of this fantasy than it was with Maresi as the narrator.

Had we followed Jai from the beginning, we would have seen first hand how terrible this world is to women instead of learning about it through memories and flashbacks. We would have seen how amazing of a haven the Red Abbey was to girls who went through hell to get there and it would have made the island that much more precious. Jai’s revenge and survival seemed like the main story, but it was told from an outsider’s point of view, and we never really got to connect with either character.

I wanted to love Maresi more than I did, but all in all, it was still a good story and the translation from the original Finnish made it feel more authentic.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett ★★★★☆

25546710Bitter, bored, and sarcastic-Lizzie Lovett is a girl after my own heart. Want to go back to high school and talk to You: Senior Year Edition? Great. Because she’s in this book.

Freeks ★★★★☆

28220899Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

 

Freeks publishes January 3rd, 2017.

Amanda Hocking is doing a blog tour with us starting January 2, 2017! Check out the first chapter here and the fifth chapter here, the giveaway here, and her Q&A interview here!

Author’s Website
Amazon . B&N . Goodreads

Dragon Round ★★☆☆☆

27276218A swashbuckling adventure! Dragons! Ships! High fantasy! Sounds like the perfect recipe for a perfect book. Dragon Round by Stephen S. Power seemed like it’d be entering my Top Books of 2016 list. It even has a gorgeous cover to boot! Look at how pretty it is. Unfortunately, the cover and the summary hyped me up more than the actual story did.

A swashbuckling adventure with a dark side. When a ship captain is stranded on a deserted island by his mutinous crew, he finds a baby dragon that just might be the key to his salvation…and his revenge.

He only wanted justice. Instead he got revenge.

Jeryon has been the captain of the Comber for over a decade. He knows the rules. He likes the rules. But not everyone on his ship agrees. After a monstrous dragon attacks the galley, the surviving crewmembers decide to take the ship for themselves and give Jeryon and his self-righteous apothecary “the captain’s chance”: a small boat with no rudder, no sails, and nothing but the clothes on his back to survive on the open sea.

Fighting for their lives against the elements, Jeryon and his companion land on an island that isn’t as deserted as they originally thought. They find a baby dragon that, if trained, could be their way home. But as Jeryon and the dragon grow closer, the captain begins to realize that even if he makes it off the island, his old life won’t be waiting for him and in order get justice, he’ll have to take it for himself.

-Goodreads

Everyone knows me as the person who loves dragons in my stories. There’s very little you have to do to make me love a book about dragons. But Dragon Round was everything I could have hated about a book with dragons in it.

It started off pretty well–the present tense was a bit odd for a high fantasy, but it worked for the opening scene, which involved Captain Jeryon, our main character, trying to steer his ship away from a potential dragon attack. When that plan fails and things start hitting the fan, Jeryon gets booted off his ship by his crew and is told he has the “captain’s chance” of survival: a dingy and the clothes on his back and nothing else. If he survives to tell the tale, he gets off scot-free.

He’s also got the ship’s healer, whom he mostly refers to as Poth (short for Apothecary, I presume), and things aren’t going well for them. A storm, starvation, dehydration and that’s before they land on the island full of flesh-eating blue crabs.

I was excited for the idea of two people trying to train a dragon and seek revenge, but I only got 25% of the way through the book before I had to put it down, for good. The present tense wasn’t working for me and it just kept bringing me out of the story. The narration, which often jumped from POV to POV within the same paragraph at times, was too full of jargon and I had to stop every line to look up the definition of half the words. It dragged on and there were so many times when I just wanted something, anything, to happen.

It never did.

I hate to do it, but I have to slot Dragon Round as a DNF. But I give it at least two stars for the stellar opening, the awesome premise and the gorgeous cover. I’d print it and hang it on my wall if I could.

The Dragon Waking ★★★★☆

33313452An endearing tale of a girl who meets her best friend in the Nevada desert, who just so happens to be a dragon. The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure and a splash of magic.

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Helped only by her fantasy-obsessed friend and a local occult enthusiast, Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their sixty-five-million-year slumber. Can they find the Harbinger before Jade’s enemies? As their battle unfolds over the neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, Rose must face this overwhelming threat by drawing on the magic that humans possess the power of friendship, compassion, and trust.

The Dragon Waking is a little slow to start; we’re introduced to a lot of characters that don’t show up again after the first chapter or two and we’re not even given the meat of the reasoning of how Jade, our dragon friend, got to Earth until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. For more than half of the book, we’re led to believe that dragons are aliens of some sort, since the only dragon we meet is tied to a meteorite–a tektite–that fell from space. When we do learn that dragons actually roamed Earth 65 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs, it’s a little unbelievable.

The most redeeming quality of The Dragon Waking are the main characters, Rose and Jade. Their friendship was strong, built up slowly through lots of work, and their success relied heavily on their teamwork and them being stronger together. Rose is artistic and clever, able to think her way out of sticky situations and patient with Jade when trying to teach her English–another great thing about The Dragon Waking was the huge difference between the human language and the dragon language, and the barrier both girls had to overcome. The language barrier wasn’t swept aside and solved because Jade had magic and instantly learned how to speak human, but it was something both girls learned to process and communicate with through time.

Many of the characters did seem a little unnecessary; Rose’s friend Clay held no particular plot relevance other than to show that Rose had at least one human friend at some point, and to marvel at Jade being a dragon a little later on. But once the climax was approaching, he was put to sleep by the antagonist and didn’t appear again until the closing chapter. There was a heavy reliance on Mrs. Jersey, a teacher and neighbor of Rose’s, and also an adult. Middle-grade ought to have kids solving their problems on their own, but Mrs. Jersey seemed to smooth every problem and question and provide a little too much counsel to the girls in the first half of the book. Though, once she’s put to sleep at the same time as Clay, the girls are left to fend for themselves in true middle-grade fashion.

All-in-all, The Dragon Waking was a cute story about friendship and the prospect of human progress now that dragons are waking from their 65 million year slumber. Poetic language and plenty of lost in translation humor, this book is sure to please any kid with a love of dragons and dinosaurs.

Grayson Towler

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Truthwitch ★★★★★

21414439Can someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

-Goodreads

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute….

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well flushed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, in tense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, it’s sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.

Susan Dennard

Barnes & Nobles . Amazon