ARC Review: Defy by Sara B. Larson

DefyHow did I get it? Netgalley (thanks @ Scholastic Press)

Publication Date: January 7, 2014

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Summary: A lush and gorgeously written debut, packed with action, intrigue, and a thrilling love triangle.

Alexa Hollen is a fighter. Forced to disguise herself as a boy and serve in the king’s army, Alex uses her quick wit and fierce sword-fighting skills to earn a spot on the elite prince’s guard. But when a powerful sorcerer sneaks into the palace in the dead of night, even Alex, who is virtually unbeatable, can’t prevent him from abducting her, her fellow guard and friend Rylan, and Prince Damian, taking them through the treacherous wilds of the jungle and deep into enemy territory.

The longer Alex is held captive with both Rylan and the prince, the more she realizes that she is not the only one who has been keeping dangerous secrets. And suddenly, after her own secret is revealed, Alex finds herself confronted with two men vying for her heart: the safe and steady Rylan, who has always cared for her, and the dark, intriguing Damian. With hidden foes lurking around every corner, is Alex strong enough to save herself and the kingdom she’s sworn to protect?

My Thoughts

I must say, I enjoyed this book. Alexa is a fantastic protagonist, and I love that she refuses to be a damsel in distress. She kicks everybody’s asses and saves everybody and she refuses to just lie back and do what the men tell her. I. Love. Her. She is my spirit animal and if I could call on a fictional character to have my back in a fight with the mafia, I would choose Alexa. Every time.

I will say it was a bit heavy on the romance, especially the love triangle situation, but that’s partly due to the fact that I would much rather see her fighting than making out with a guy, just because she’s so awesome at it. I would have found it more interesting if the animosity between her and Damian was real, or if Rylan was less of a Jacob Black clone. As it was, the love triangle annoyed me, especially because it seemed to transform Alexa into some starstruck idiot “discovering her newfound femininity.” And (slight spoiler), I was a bit bummed that there was no “OH MY GOD YOU’RE A GIRL WTF IS THIS” moment. Apparently Alexa is really shitty at pretending to be a boy. And apparently it’s not like anybody caught a glimpse of her lady bits; they just went “oh that’s a effeminate looking guy, must be a girl” and then went quietly about their business while allowing Alexa to keep believing she was the best fake boy to ever fake boy.

And when Damian is an ass (which, let’s be honest, is like once a page), Alexa takes none of it. She demands answers and is rightly furious at what he does, and although she does lose steam rather quickly, I still loved how feisty she is. By the end of that book, everybody and their mom knows not to mess with Alexa Hollen.

Also, SHE SAVES PEOPLE. There was no girl-plays-miniscule-role-in-actually-killing-bad-guy. Nope. This girl kicks the bad guy’s ass herself and becomes a national hero. It’s like Mulan except with a really not-cool king instead of an old emperor who is basically a Chinese Dumbledore.

Serious note: I was impressed with the inclusion of “breeding houses”. Rape is a really difficult and sensitive topic but I think the author approached it very well and it made me root for Alexa to succeed even more. Just the thought of what those girls were going through in that place is horrific, and it instantly made the plot so much more real and urgent for me. BUT, with that being said, I’ve heard other opinions and I know that not every reader will see it in that light. I can certainly see where it would come across as offensive, so just be aware of that.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Alexa was an great protagonist and I’m very excited for the next book in the series!

Rating:

Four Stars

Recommend it?

Absolutely!

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Book Depository

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ARC Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton

Witch FinderHow did I get it? Netgalley (thanks @ Hodder Children’s Books)

Genre: YA, Fantasy/Paranormal

Synopsis: London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.

My Thoughts

I fell in love with Witch Finder from the cover alone. I mean, it’s freaking GORGEOUS. And also I love reading witch stories, so I was really excited to get approved for this one.

It actually turned out even better than I thought it would. Ruth Warburton has a lovely way with words and Luke and Rosa just gave me a lot of feelings. I loved Luke’s conflict over what he’s sworn to do; it was written perfectly and he did some things that I was rather surprised by. He’s not immediately torn with grief over his task of killing this upper-class witch, nor is Rosa a glowing beacon of virtue winning him over with the sheer purity and goodness of her heart. They both have faults and weaknesses and they had splendid chemistry together. The romance between them felt so sweet and genuine and I had to allow myself a few fangirling moments while reading.

There are some heavier issues in this book that I did not expect, such as abuse and financial problems, which really enhanced the story to me. The “villain” role, while a bit shallow in this book, has clear potential as a deeper character who has a legitimate reason for what he’s doing, and I was especially pleased by this because I hate typecasted antagonists who are bad just for the sake of being bad. It’s such a cop-out and it drives me nuts when authors do that.

I also really love the fact that Rosa does not just lie down and take everything that’s thrown at her—she’s a brilliant, strong character who, although having moments where she is powerless and defeated, really comes into her own by the end of the book. Luke, of course, made me want to throw myself off a cliff and paint rainbows everywhere simultaneously. He’s not fearless but he’s not a pushover either; I loved his protective side and the way he interacts with Rosa and the conflict he feels.

Overall, I loved this book. It was sweet, brilliantly written, and the ending came far too soon.

Rating:

Five Stars

Recommend it?

Absolutely.

Pre-order it:

Amazon | Book Depository

Other books by the author:

A Witch in Winter            A Witch in Love             A Witch Alone

ARC Review: A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

A Dance of CloaksHow did I get it? Netgalley (thanks @ Orbit)

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Thren Felhorn is the greatest assassin of his time. Marshalling the thieves’ guilds under his control, he declares war against the Trifect, an allegiance of wealthy and powerful nobles.

Aaron Felhorn has been groomed since birth to be Thren’s heir. Sent to kill the daughter of a priest, Aaron instead risks his own life to protect her from the wrath of his guild. In doing so, he glimpses a world beyond poison, daggers, and the iron control of his father.

Guilds twist and turn, trading allegiances for survival. The Trifect weakens, its reputation broken, its money dwindling. The players take sides as the war nears its end, and Thren puts in motion a plan to execute hundreds.

Only Aaron can stop the massacre and protect those he loves…

Assassin or protector; every choice has its consequences.

My Thoughts

I must say, I was surprised by A Dance of Cloaks. It didn’t take me where I expected to go, but it was a very intriguing book to read. The main protagonist (though I don’t really think there is a concrete main protagonist) is a young boy named Aaron, and the way he was introduced was enough of a shock to make me just about fall out of my seat. He, Thren, Kayla, Alyssa, and numerous other characters all have extremely conflicting ambitions and motivations, and all the tension kept me on the edge of my seat for the majority of the time.

I’ll confess that I wasn’t really invested until at least halfway into the story, which may have been partly due to my mood while reading, but by the time Delysia is introduced, I was fully on board. I didn’t even know who to root for, as every character had bad/not nice intentions that were entirely justified. No matter whose side I chose, there was a problem or some factor that made choosing that side conflicting. Even Aaron, sweet, not-entirely-heartless Aaron, had some seriously not-cool ideas/plans/desires.

That was probably what I loved most about A Dance of Cloaks. It felt very real and raw, nothing hidden or glossed over. There is torture, rape, violence, greed, cruelty, revenge, and all the worst aspects of the human character, and I appreciated that unflinching portrayal where no one is perfect or even truly understandable. And the negatives were, in my opinion, nicely balanced with the positives: Delysia’s influence on Aaron, Kayla’s kindness, Robert Haern’s wisdom, Alyssa’s determination to overcome those who would use her, Maynard’s love for his daughter.

This novel, while certainly not without flaws or weaknesses, tells a good story and builds a unique and intriguing world of thieves, kings, and the power struggle between them.

Rating:

Five Stars

Recommend it?

If you like A Game of Thrones, there’s a good possibility you’ll like this one.

Purchase it:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Other books by the author:

A Dance of Blades Night of Wolves The Weight of Blood

Review: Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

Another Little Piece of My HeartHow did I get it? Netgalley (thanks @ Harlequin Teen), and then I bought it on Barnes & Noble

Genre: YA, Romance, Contemporary

Summary: What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

My Thoughts

I had a great time reading this last week. It was a great retelling and even though I didn’t stop hating Jared until more than halfway into the book, I did enjoy the connection between him and Claire. They had a lot of problems but the little things that brought them together, like “hun” and other inside jokes, made me love them together.

And also, I knew I was going to at least like this book, if not love it, because I love a modern retelling of Persuasion about as much as I love chocolate and kittens, just on principle. It’s my favorite Austen novel (with Pride and Prejudice at a close second), so I expected to enjoy this, and I did.

However, that being said, while I enjoyed a lot of things about this novel, there were two aspects of it that turned me off.

1.) Claire whines.

I mean, I wouldn’t say excessively, but she’s clearly throwing a pity party most of the time and while I get that her life is pretty much awful and she’s had a gigantic heap of huge disappointments in the past two years, it kind of grated on my nerves at times. It’s a small complaint though and in the end, it didn’t bother me that much.

2.) Zach

I can deal with minors smoking and drinking and going at it like bunnies. It’s not model behavior, sure, but I can live with reading about it. But there is a scene which made me very uncomfortable, and Claire’s reaction to that scene made me even more so. Despite having come very close to being raped (and yes, it is rape if a girl says “no” and “stop” like 4 times, which apparently some people haven’t gotten the memo about), Claire completely brushes it off and gives the man “the benefit of the doubt”, and then literally nothing happens. No consequences, no confrontation, nothing. And that was a big issue for me. I would be fine with the scene itself if Claire had gotten angry, if she’d done anything rather than the “we were drunk, forget it” routine. Even the most intoxicated person can understand the word “no”. But I was very bothered that the author introduced such a sensitive topic and then had the protagonist downplay it. It was only mentioned once in passing after the scene, and I was just baffled. Claire, you were drunk with a man taking off your clothes and touching you despite the fact that you didn’t want him to and you repeatedly told him to stop. You are supposed to be more bothered by that. And also it just plays into this idea that when someone tries to rape you, it’s not a big deal and you should just get over it.

Conclusion

I really did love this novel, and I would be giving it a higher rating if it weren’t for the second issue I just mentioned. Maybe it won’t bother other readers, but I was very disturbed by that scene and it ruined the rest of the novel for me a little bit, which is why I’m giving it 4 stars instead of 5. Other than that, however, this was a great, fun, well-written retelling that I’m glad I read.

Rating:

Four Stars

Recommend it?

Definitely.

Purchase it:

Barnes & Noble | Amazon

Stacking the Shelves #6

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. It’s a chance to share any books you’ve bought, borrowed, or received in the past 7 days. All of the books on this list are linked to Goodreads.

For Review

Heartbeat The Lost Boys The Summer I Found You

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott (thanks @ Harlequin Teen)

The Lost Boys by Lilian Carmine

The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry (thanks @ Albert Whitman Teen)

Bought

Persuasion Wuthering Heights Proxy

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Proxy by Alex London

I really haven’t gotten much at all this week as I’ve caught every illness under the sun and am currently swathed in blankets surrounded by tissues, cough drops, and soup. Hopefully I’ll get better over the weekend, since next week is finals and I have absolutely no time for being sick.

What books have you added to your shelf this week?

Netgalley November Update

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We’re in the final stretch of Netgalley November! This Saturday will mark the end of the month of Netgalley marathoning, at which point I will (if all goes as planned) be celebrating the polishing off of my stack of e-galleys waiting to be read. I’ve had a lot of fun and found some fabulous books.

Read So Far

Damselfly The Curse Keepers Endless Counting Shadows A Dance of Cloaks Witch Finder Defy

Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic (read my official review here)

The Curse Keepers by Denise Grover Swank (read my official review here)

Endless by Amanda Gray (my official review will be up this Friday)

Counting Shadows by Olivia Rivers (my official review will be up next Monday)

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish (my official review will be up in a few weeks)

Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton (my official review will be up in a few weeks)

Defy by Sara B. Larson (my official review will be up in a few weeks)

Reading Next

Branded

 

Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki

Really looking forward to this one! I’m pretty sure this will be my last book for Netgalley November, which I’m quite happy with since I originally only planned to read 4 books, and instead I’m on #8 with time to spare!

How is your reading going this fine November? Have a wonderful week!

Stacking the Shelves #5

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. It’s a chance to share any books you’ve bought, borrowed, or received in the past 7 days. All of the books on this list are linked to Goodreads.

For Review

Defy Witch Finder Girl on the Golden Coin

Defy by Sara B. Larson (thanks @ Scholastic Press)

Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton (thanks @ Hodder Children’s Books)

Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson (thanks @ Thomas Dunne Books)

From the Bookshop

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Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Carolly Erickson

Halo by Alexandra Adornetto

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (ordered from B&N)

Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin (pre-ordered from B&N)

Jane by April Lindner

WWW Wednesdays #1

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. It’s a chance for us all to talk about books we’ve just read, books we’re reading now, and books we’re planning on reading soon.

Ash by Malinda Lo

In case you aren’t following me on Twitter and are thus spared my daily intellectual wisdom (in which I talk about highly sophisticated topics such as butts and how many ways one can use a particular swear word in a sentence), I was drooling over this book the second I saw it, and when I finally got it, I had to wait to read it for nearly a week because of stupid life, and it just sat there on my shelf looking seductive and alluring until I couldn’t take it anymore and I scrapped all my work to curl up with it for the afternoon.

“Why, Sam, what makes this book such an irresistible temptation?”

1) It’s a Cinderella retelling.

2) Cinderella’s a freaking BADASS.

3) How can I NOT love a book which is basically a gay version of a traditional fairytale? I mean, you guys, let’s be real here. This is the good stuff. There’ll be a review coming up next Wednesday (November 20) so check back in if you’d like to know what I thought. Hint: I loved it.

This was really a neat coincidence because the book was set in Philadelphia and I was actually on a flight bound for that very city when I read this. There should be a review up within a few weeks.

Reading Now

This one is nice and light, so I’ll probably finish it in like 30 minutes. All the coffee talk is making my mouth water, and I don’t even like coffee.

It’s taking me a while to get through this one, but I like it. Ophelia’s got spunk.What's Next

Book #5 on my Netgalley November list, because the Easy Level was too, well, easy. :)

What are your reading plans this week? I’d love some recommendations for my TBR list to liven things up a bit. Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading!

Netgalley November and NaNoWriMo

Happy November 1!

This is just a quick post to let you guys know that I’ve signed up for Netgalley November! This event is hosted by A Daydreamer’s Thoughts, K-Books, and Bookish Treasures, with the idea being to make a dent in your pile of TBR Netgalley books this month. There are five levels ranging from Easy (1-4) to Netgalley Superstar (21+). I’m doing the Easy level because I have other things on my plate that are hogging my time, so I just have to decide which book to read first!

I’m going to do my best to post some sort of update once a week or so on my progress and the books I’m reading, and there should be some ARC reviews going up as well, so if you’d like to know more about Damselfly or The Curse Keepers, keep an eye out!

Also beginning today is the fabulous/masochistic NaNoWriMo, which I for the sake of my sanity and preferred sleeping pattern will not be participating in this year around, however much I wish I had the time to. But honestly, I’m happy with the pace I’m going at for the moment, though I’m doing a bit of a mini NaNoWriMo myself just to keep on track. I do, however, wish all of you participating in the writing festivities the best of luck. Just keep going and writing and believing, and even if you don’t make it all the way, something is better than nothing, so be proud of yourself no matter what happens. Work hard and, most importantly, have fun!

 

Stacking the Shelves #2

***Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. It’s a chance to share any books you’ve bought, borrowed, or received in the past 7 days. All of the books on this list are linked to Goodreads.
I’ve recently sold my soul to Netgalley, so I’ve got a few new additions to my shelf to share, though fortunately (at least for my wallet) not as many as last time. Although I don’t plan to review all of these books (except the ARCs of course), if you see anything in particular you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!




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Mafia Girl by Deborah Blumenthal (thanks @ Albert Whitman & Company)

Endless by Amanda Gray (thanks @ Month9Books)

The Curse Keepers by Denise Grover Swank (thanks @ 47North)

Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac (thanks @ 47North)

The Hazel Tree by Julia Debski* (thanks @ Julia Debski)

Mind Bond by Julie Haydon (thanks  @ Feather in Cap Publishing)

Damselfly by Jennie Bates Bozic (thanks @ Patchwork Press)

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke** (thanks @ Angry Robot)

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish (thanks @ Orbit Books)

*If you’ve seen my update post, you probably already know that Julia is a very good friend of mine who just self-published her first novel, The Hazel Tree. From what I’ve seen, it looks like a pretty fabulous book. I’ll be reviewing it most likely in early November, so stay tuned for that as well.

**I’ve actually already read this gorgeous novel, so if you’d like to know my thoughts on it, check back on Monday for my official review.

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Emma by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

The Art of Uncertainty: How to Live in the Mystery of Life and Love It by Dennis Merritt Jones

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

Red Riding Hood by Sarah Blakley-Cartwright

Hopefully, the gods will grant me the self-control not to go book-hunting for a little while considering the sheer size of my TBR pile at the moment. I would offer you a picture of said pile, but I don’t want to frighten you so I’ll refrain.

See you Monday!