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Maja (The Nocturnal Library) (Buje, Croatia)

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The Stars Never Rise
The Stars Never Rise
by Rachel Vincent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellently paced and dark enough to satisfy even a more demanding reader, 23 July 2015
This review is from: The Stars Never Rise (Paperback)
A blend of futuristic dystopia and urban fantasy, The Stars Never Rise follows in the famous footsteps of Downside Ghosts and Kate Daniels, at least genre-wise. In her new series, as of yet untitled, Vincent takes us to a world of demon possessions and fallen governments, where souls are a hot commodity and terrified people are ruled by the Church’s iron fist.

Rachel Vincent’s previous work wasn’t all that interesting to me, mostly because of all the love triangles she so loved to introduce, but here she abandons cheap tropes in favor of excellent plot development and a romance that is creepy and complicated all on its own, without any help from a third party.

We meet Nina as she struggles to keep her little sister clothed and fed, and we see right from the start that she is a heroine worth knowing, a resilient, strong young lady willing to do anything it takes to survive. Their mother is an addict who spends her days locked in her room, refusing to participate in life in general and spending most of the money Nina earns on drugs. Nina herself isn’t above stealing, lying, cheating and even using her body if it means her little sister will get food on her table. She is a heroine in the truest sense right from the start.

While Nina may be ready to become a member of the Church just to protect Melanie, destiny has other plans for her. In a single day, she becomes aware of her powers, which instantly turns her into the Church’s enemy number one. But her powers bring her backup as well, a group of young people with those same abilities and same fugitive status.

Although at times predictable, Vincent’s story is excellently paced and dark enough to satisfy even a more demanding reader. Most characters may be young adults, but the content is balancing a thin line between YA, NA and adult. I’m not a fan of shielding teens from the harsh realities of life and I admire Vincent for writing so honestly and openly, without barriers or concerns.

Unlike Vincent’s previous works, this series utterly captivated me, making me wonder how I’ll survive until next year, or more precisely June 2016, when The Flame Never Dies is set for release.

Rogue (The Talon Saga, Book 2) (Talon Saga 2)
Rogue (The Talon Saga, Book 2) (Talon Saga 2)
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ember in the Middle, 12 May 2015
The best thing about Julie Kagawa is that she can get away with almost anything. She put us through hell so many times – just think of that cliffhanger in The Eternity Cure – and still we keep coming back for more.

The very simple truth is that I liked Rogue more than I liked Talon. The first read like light contemporary YA at times, what with all the surfing, parties and teens hanging out. It’s true that we needed to really see Ember as part human in order to understand her struggles, but it’s also true that for a dragon book, Talon had very little actual dragons to speak of.

Rogue is certainly an improvement in that (and every other) regard. There is more tension, more danger, more drama, and there are more dragons flying around. Kagawa still doesn’t explore them to their full potential, but she’s getting there, and we’re happily following along.

Ember, being two-natured, is torn between two men, one for her human, and one for her dragon self. It’s clear, as it usually is, who she leans toward more strongly, which makes the whole thing tedious and unnecessary. Fortunately, the focus in this book is very far from romance. There is a war brewing which puts romantic entanglements very low on everyone’s priority lists.

The title of this book could just as easily be Ember in the Middle, and I don’t only mean romantically. With Talon’s search team on one side (led by her twin brother), and the Order of Saint George on the other, Ember has no shortage of enemies to run from. But even worse than guns are the secrets. It seems that everyone has something to hide.

The worst thing about Julie Kagawa is that she can get away with almost anything, and she knows it. Using the same tropes, putting us through hell and back, leaving us hanging from a cliff by our very fingertips… all is fair and all is forgivable. And we’ll always keep going back for more.

Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson)
Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson)
by Darynda Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Multiple gold medalist, 23 May 2014
Holy cliffhanger, Batman! Darynda sure knows how to end a book with a jaw-dropping moment. It may take my poor heart a good long while to recover from this one, but seeing as the next book comes out in October, rest assured, recover I will.

At this point, picking up a new Charley Davidson book feels a lot like coming home after a long and rather painful absence. Darynda’s characters have such strong personalities that it’s almost too easy to imagine them having lives beyond these pages. Getting a glimpse of their hilarious existence is very much an honor and a privilege.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though. Truth be told, Sixth Grave seems to be a bit of a rush job. I was disappointed by the lack of structure in this plot, some conversations that lead absolutely nowhere and more than a few loose ends. I realize that unfinished storylines can be expected this late in the series, but some of them seemed forgotten rather than left purposely for later installments. It’s not something Darynda normally does and while I enjoyed Sixth Grave overall, I felt just a little bit let down.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that this is a series one can count for fabulous entertainment, sizzling hot romance and too many sidesplitting one-liners to count. Charley herself takes few things seriously which makes her different from every other UF or PNR heroine out there.

I’ll keep this short because, at book six, there’s little to say I haven’t said before: the Charley Davidson series has hordes of fans for a reason. I suspect Darynda Jones might have a hard time moving on from this series because there’s too much of her in Charley, but as long as she’s writing these, there’s not much to worry about. If making people laugh and swoon at the same time were a sport, Darynda would be a multiple Olympic gold medalist.

Illusion: Number 5 in series (Chronicles of Nick)
Illusion: Number 5 in series (Chronicles of Nick)
by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good old hilarious Nick is back!, 15 May 2014
I suspect I’m one of the very few people who are enjoying this YA spin-off, but aren’t at all familiar with the original adult paranormal romance series. In all honesty, Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series doesn’t appeal to me in the least. It’s not the type of thing I normally read, having developed allergies to PNR a long time ago, but her Chronicles of Nick, now at their fifth installment no less, are a whole different thing.

Even though it’s often more Middle Grade than Young Adult, I’ve been a fan of this series from the start. Sherrilyn Kenyon has a fabulous sense of humor and her series is often laugh-out-loud funny. Nick’s self-deprecating voice, his modesty and kindness, his protectiveness toward his tiny but fierce mother are all such endearing traits. He is an easy boy to love.

Illusion picks up exactly where Inferno left off, with Nick unwillingly thrown into a different dimension. Everything is different here: Caleb is human and a geek, Nick’s mother is married to Bubba (who just happens to be a shrewd businessman), and Nick himself, as Bubba’s son and not the Malakai, is significantly shorter, whinier, and entirely powerless. Kody is gone, the history is different, and Nick is, once again, in constant danger.

Kenyon expanded the world significantly in this installment, adding a never-ending number of enemies for Nick, and I must admit if all became a bit confusing. I kept forgetting the names and all the different species, I couldn’t keep track of all Nick’s friends and enemies even though I was trying very hard to keep track.

But the end result was still the same. I was entertained by Nick’s sarcastic remarks, warmed by his love for his family and friends, I cheered quite loudly when he faced his enemies and teared up when it all became too much for him. Not bad for a mostly Middle Grade series, huh? Not bad at all.

Dare You To (A Pushing the Limits Novel)
Dare You To (A Pushing the Limits Novel)
by Katie McGarry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected hero, 1 July 2013
I doubt I was the only one who was convinced Dare You To would be Beth and Isaiah's story and I confess to being a bit disappointed when I found out it wasn't. I was already somewhat invested in this couple and I wanted to see how McGarry would make things work between them. But what I didn't realize at the time was that she never could.

I can't imagine that two severely damaged people would be good for each other in the long run. I don't minimize the value of their friendship and the fact that they saved each other more times than they can count, but a good relationship needs to be built on healthier foundations and there was very little that was healthy in Beth and Isaiah's relationship. Although I was reluctant to admit it at first, Beth needed someone like Ryan to help her clear her life of shadows and find a more peaceful path.

Ryan isn't without problems himself and he makes many mistakes along the way, but overall, I love his gentleness and his endless patience and he quickly turned into my favorite among McGarry's characters.

My problem with Katie McGarry's books isn't her writing, or her stories, or even her characters. It's how they react to emotional trauma, how they handle pain that bothers me. I never feel that it's genuine, there's something textbook perfect about it that fails to convince me every time. Not everyone reacts to trauma in the same way and not everyone can be fixed with two hugs and a conversation and that is a mistake McGarry keeps repeating with all her characters, in my opinion.

It was a huge problem I had with Pushing the Limits and unfortunately, McGarry's understanding of troubled teens hasn't improved any. But I enjoy her books enough to read the last one, although I doubt I'll remember much about the first two by then.

by Kathryn James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely Middle Grade adventure, 18 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Frost (Paperback)
I honestly never thought I'd say this, but Frost is even better than Mist. The stakes are higher, the romance is more intense (although still appropriate for MG readers), and the action is far more exciting.

After spending two months far north, trying to open the iron camps and release their elders, Evan had to return to help the other Elven children, but he is not the lighthearted boy he once was. Watching his parents and hundreds of other Elven waste away in the iron camps changed him, made him mistrustful of all humans, including Nell. During those two months, Nell tried to go back to her usual, everyday life, but a part of her remained with the Elven and especially with Evan. When Star comes to her for help, terrified and panicky, Nell is ready to do anything to save Evan's world.

The harps that are keeping the Elven world alive are slowly going quiet. Without them, there will be no more forest behind the mist, no place the Elven kids can call their own. They would be forced to come to the human world, where they would surely be hunted down by the Watchers and forced into iron camps. There are no adults they can turn to, only Nell and Evan.

This time, the sweetest almost-couple had more than just prejudice and fear to fight - they had to join forces against the cold-hearted ice Elven. A brother and a sister, Loki and Laki, showed up in Nell's little town and turned Nell's older sister and her friends into mindless servants. While immune to their powers, Nell was still desperate to protect her sister Gwen.

In Frost, the world around Evan and Nell expanded even more and Kathryn James was really able to let her imagination run wild. When she combined that with her beautiful writing, what resulted was a book that was rich and magical, gentle and more satisfying than any fairy tale.

Nell was even more fierce and daring in this book, and rightfully so. She did achieve the impossible last time after all. Evan, while wounded and traumatized, still kept showing his sweet side, especially around Nell.

All the loose ends were tied in Frost so I don't think there'll be another book, but I can hope, right? For someone who doesn't even read Middle Grade, I'm enjoying this series more than I can put into words.

Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson)
Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson)
by Patricia Briggs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as urban fantasy can get, 15 Mar. 2013
A few weeks ago, Patty Briggs and her husband Mike joined a chat room to discuss both Frost Burned and Patty's previous books. The idea was to discuss each Mercy Thompson book separately, but that's not how it went in the end. I was able to join them just once because the timing didn't work for me, but the half hour I spent talking to Patty and her fans further convinced me that she is both a great author and a very pleasant person. When I shared with her my opinion that Fair Game, her third Charles and Anna book, is the best one she's ever written, she assured me that Frost Burned is even better. At the time, I took that statement with a healthy dose of skepticism, but now that I've finally read it, I both agree and disagree with Patty.

Frost Burned is neither better nor worse than Fair Game - both are as good as urban fantasy can get. From the first Mercy Thompson book (so far there are ten books in this universe), Patty has been getting better and better. In pacing, characterization and plot development, she has reached perfection. Big words, you say? Well, yeah, but so is this series.

After all that fear of her mate bond and of losing herself to the pack, it was nice to see Mercy so comfortable in her role as mate of the Alpha of the Columbia Basin Pack. She and Adam have such a beautiful, healthy relationship. In River Marked, Mercy was feeling more comfortable as part of the pack, but she was still adjusting and she still had her doubts. In Frost Burned, she is truly the Alpha's mate - she thinks as one, acts as one, and protects as one.

The addition of Adam's point of view was so very unexpected that I had to take a moment to think about it and decide whether I liked it or not. I certainly understand the need: Adam and Mercy spent most of this book apart and their mate bond can only be used so much. Besides, I feel that I now understand Adam just a bit better, and Patty did an excellent job writing from a male perspective. And yet, something bothered me about it, and it took me a while to figure it out. It wasn't the change in perspective, it was the switch from first-person view to third person view. I wish she'd done both Mercy and Adam in first person. I think that would have worked much better.

Although he was mostly absent from the second half of this book, one Mr. Kyle Brooks stole the first half all to himself. Yes, that's right - an ordinary human (though admittedly a lawyer) won me over by being a bigger hero than all those other heroes Briggs has created. Kyle has always been the brightest star in Mercy's universe, but I felt that he finally got due respect in Frost Burned.

All of the secondary characters appeared, at least for a little while, with the exception of Samuel and Bran. I didn't miss Samuel all that much (I never did warm up to him), but I missed Bran greatly. He was a constant comforting presence both in Mercy's mind and mine, but I missed his subtle sense of humor and everything else that makes him who he is.

Those of you who are still unfamiliar with my favorite coyote and her wolves should consider giving this series a chance. And I doubt I need to say anything to those of you who've read this series before... except: We waited two years for Frost Burned to be released and now it's finally here. Yaaaay!

Defiance: Number 1 in series (Courier's Daughter Trilogy)
Defiance: Number 1 in series (Courier's Daughter Trilogy)
by C.J. Redwine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful surprise!, 19 Dec. 2012
Well, it seems I can still enjoy dystopian after all! Now, this statement (and my delight) may seem a bit odd to those of you who don't know me very well, but I was never a big fan of the (sub)genre in the first place, and there are only a handful of dystopian titles that I actually loved. (Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me trilogy and Ann Aguirre's Razorland are the only two that quickly come to mind.) I was more than a little surprised and more than a little thrilled when I was able to add Defiance to this very short list.

The story is equally divided between two points of view, Rachel's and Logan's. These characters won me over in a heartbeat. Rachel, our heroine, is a strong, independent, stubborn girl in a society in which girls like her shouldn't exist. While her peers sat demurely with their mothers or their Protectors and learned embroidery, Rachel was secretly being taught how to survive in the wilderness by her liberal father. Logan is her father's apprentice, a brilliant young inventor who was orphaned as a boy when his mother dared walk the streets without her Protector and was whipped to death on the town square. As much as Rachel hates living under the Commander's iron fist, Logan hates it even more because when he looks at their leader, he sees the man who murdered his mother.

When Rachel's father disappears outside the town limits, where there are no guarantees of safety and a huge monster, the Cursed One, preys on the unprotected, Rachel and Logan will have to go against the Commander to bring him back.

Now that I think about it, the worldbuilding wasn't nearly as complete as I'd have liked it to be, but in all honesty, I got so caught up in the action and the romance that I completely failed to notice until much, much later. In retrospect, there really should have been more background, more explanations offered. What little there was, however, I liked well enough.

The romance was multilayered and complicated, just the way I like them, and I was feeling things along with Rachel and Logan from the very first page. There were, however, hints of a love triangle in the last part and I fervently hope that C.J. Redwine won't take that road and that she'll continue to build the wonderful, honest, warm romance between Rachel and Logan without unnecessary drama.

"I need Logan. Not because he could plan our way out of this. But because on some basic, soul-deep level within me, he is the solid ground beneath my feet. The one who will move mountains to keep his promises. The one who looks at me and sees."

Which brings me to Logan himself, (again) and let me tell you, he is one amazing guy. He's not just Rachel's love interest, he is a hero in his own right. I love that he's both a skilled fighter and a brilliant inventor, and that he knows exactly what his goals are and what sacrifices he needs to make to accomplish them.

My hat's off to you, C.J. Redwine. I can't wait to see where you'll take them in the next book.

The Diviners: Number 1 in series
The Diviners: Number 1 in series
by Libba Bray
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling new series set in the Roaring Twenties!, 5 Oct. 2012
The Diviners is my first book by Libba Bray, but I can tell you right now that it won't be my last. I'm thrilled to have discovered another YA author of such talent and prominence. I would have given her a chance even before now, especially considering all the raving reviews written by my most trusted friends, but I simply never got around to it. Fortunately, she left me no choice with The Diviners. New York in the 1920s was impossible to resist.

I'll start with my favorite part - the setting. Libba Bray did an extraordinary job in taking her readers to New York during the Prohibition era. I could hear the music and the laughter, smell the forbidden alcohol, and it made me want to put on a flapper hat and dance my feet right off. I could spend an eternity reading about the Roaring Twenties, and the ghost of a serial killer only made it that much more interesting.

Yup, you read that right: there's a ghost of a vicious serial killer on the loose, and the only ones with any chance of stopping him are an 18-year-old psychic girl and a group of people that share the same dream. Even Evie's uncle Will, who runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult, also known as The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies, is powerless against this murderous ghost. And if that isn't enough to freak you out, there are religious fanatics involved as well, and seriously, nothing is creepier than that.

To be quite honest, there were parts of this book that were a bit hard to get through. I'm not a fan of 3rd person, multiple points of view narrative to begin with, and The Diviners offered far too many perspectives for my taste. It's so hard to connect with the characters that way, and Evie was the only one I really felt close too.

To top that off, Evie was a hard character to like. She was occasionally self-centered and a little too care-free. (I'm very organized and responsible and people who just breeze through life tend to annoy me.) But there were times when I felt I truly understood why she behaved in such a way, and I could connect with her regardless of her frustrating actions. The loss of a family hero, Evie's older brother, damaged her family irreparably, and acting out was her way to cope.

But don't let my ranting or those 600 pages scare you off. The Diviners is a book worth reading, although it will force you to read slowly and carefully - something I'm not quite used to. Bray's talent for creating an eerie atmosphere is matched only by her intelligent humor. At times, I had to fight the urge to hide under my bed, only to burst out laughing five minutes later at something witty Evie said.

Make no mistake, The Diviners is a demanding book. It requires your full attention, but whatever it takes, it gives back tenfold. If I were you I wouldn't hesitate to pick it up. As for me, I'll just sit right here, very patiently and without making a sound, and wait for Libba Bray to finish the sequel. Some things were left unsaid and I need to know, need to know, needtoknowneedtoknowneedtoknow... Oh, shut up, brain!

When It Happens
When It Happens
by Susane Colasanti
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A truly adorable read, 14 May 2012
This review is from: When It Happens (Paperback)
Adorable isn't a word I use often to describe books. In Majaland, the word is not even a compliment in that context- it's almost insulting, really, like calling a guy cute. But there have been a few exceptions along the way, and When It Happens happens to be one of them. It's just... adorable.

Told from alternating POVs, this is a story about Sara and Tobey's senior year in high school. They both start the year single, but Sara has a small crush on Dave, the new boy, and Tobey has a huge crush on Sara. The thing is, while Dave has both the looks and the popularity, Tobey spends his time playing chess with his best friend Matt and chokes up every time Sara comes near him. He gets very nervous when she's watching and often does the craziest, most embarrassing things, like falling UP stairs and dropping all his books at her feet.

Our poor Tobey doesn't have it easy. Getting a girl to notice him while she's busy dating the blond-and-popular - especially a girl who's been shy and withdrawn all her life, but seems to be enjoying being at the center of attention now - is no easy task, that's for sure. But all those ours of playing chess and strategizing are finally paying off - Tobey is very good at planning ahead and rearranging players in a way that will checkmate the other king.

When It Happens is everything contemporary YA should be. It's very realistic and it has a set of extremely well-developed characters, the language is straightforward, easy to digest, and used in a way that contributes to characterization. It is Susane Colasanti's debut novel, first published in 2006, but I never would have guessed that based on the narrative alone. It radiates experience, maturity, but most of all, understanding. She's not one of those authors who set out to write a young adult novel without any kind of insight into the mind of teens.

Out of the two, Tobey was my favorite. I suppose I have a soft spot for boys who know exactly what they want and how to get it, but are as far from arrogant as they can possibly be. As for Sara, although she made some stupid choices, her behavior was something I'd expect from a shy and withdrawn person who suddenly finds herself in the spotlight. In other words, her actions didn't strike me as something Colasanti did just to further complicate the plot, but rather as something that came from genuine understanding of both teens and shy people in general.

Alternating POV narration is always a bit risky, in my opinion. It can be very hard to separate voices of two characters with similar backgrounds, but that wasn't a problem here. This is another point where Colasanti used language to her advantage: she made Sara sound like a girl and Tobey like a boy, and she made it very easy to tell their voices apart.

Truth be told, contemporary YA is never my first choice. Or my second, or my third. But if I do decide to read it, this is exactly the kind of book I want.

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