Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton


Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton
Book Two of the Rebel of the Sands series
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al'Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she's fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. 

When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan's palace—she's determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan's secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she's a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she's been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.

Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

What I Liked:

I've seen reviews from both ends of the spectrum - both positive and negative, satisfied and disappointed. Sequels can be tricky because you'll find a lot of second books in a trilogy, in Young Adult literature, that are awful. This "sequel slump" happens a lot and it's so annoying. But I'm happy to say that I personally did not think that this book suffered from sequel slump. I enjoyed the story very much and I'm looking forward to reading the third novel.

This sequel novel begins approximately six months after the end of Rebel of the Sands. Amani is working with the Rebellion, and constantly putting herself at risk for the cause. She is unexpectedly captured and taken to the Sultan. He has found a way to control her, and so he traps her in his palace. She is under his protection but she is forced to reside in the harem. But being in the palace can work to Amani's advantage - she begins to uncover secrets of the Sultan's, that will help the Rebellion. With a little outside help - and inside help too - Amani begins to feed the Rebellion coveted information. But in a palace and deception and lies, Amani must not underestimate the Sultan - or anyone. She quickly discovers that it is those that seem harmless that are the most dangerous.

At first, I was a little put out when I realized that most of this book would take place in the Sultan's palace, and that Amani would be separated from the group... and living in a harem, under the Sultan's total control. BUT, a couple of things about this. The Sultan has no interest in Amani, except for her Demdji power (she can't speak lies, etc.). Furthermore, he forces her to call a Djinni, but beyond that, he doesn't really make her do much that is totally awful. Do you get what I'm saying? Despite Amani being forced out of her ability (control sand), she isn't forced to do anything horrible, which is one of the things I was afraid of.

Another thing I was afraid of was Amani living in the harem... where the Sultan's heir, Kadir, often frequents. He has like, four wives, and he immediately sets his attentions on the blue-eyed Demdji. But Amani is never forced to do anything against her will, with Kadir or anyone else. I probably would have screamed for the entire world to hear me, if sexual assault or rape made its way into this book. Amani was untouched, I promise!

The third thing I was afraid of was the massive separation. Amani is in the Sultan's palace for MONTHS. But... so much happens at the Palace under Amani's watch, so it didn't really feel like months, and the tone of the story didn't feel desperate or panicky, for Amani. Her time at the palace was never unsafe or particularly dangerous, though there were a few close calls. A whole host of characters are introduced in the palace, some awful, some valuable allies. In any case, the separation isn't so bad because the story really captured my attention, Yes, Amani is separated from Jin and the others for a long time - but so much happens during that time, it doesn't feel hopeless.

And besides, the story has a sandwich-like quality to it. It starts with Amani being with Jin and the rest of the Rebellion group (Shazad, Ahmed, the twins, etc.). Then Amani is captured and taken to the palace. And then, after most of the book, Amani is reunited with some of the Rebellion group. I won't say specifics with the exception of Jin - I feel like I have to say that. Amani and Jin are reunited towards the end. I'll get to them in a bit.

I love how complex and complicated the author has made the story, with this sequel. The plot thickens! At the palace, we're introduced to several of the Sultan's fifty billion children, and the entire ridiculous harem, and many foreign diplomats and politicians. We learn a lot about the Sultan, who has Amani call a Djinni. We get to see betrayal after betrayal, with some characters playing a double role and beyond. It's not only about the Rebellion trying get the throne to Ahmed and unseat the Sultan - there are darker, more infinite forces at work (captured Djinn, for one). 

The romance - okay, I'll talk about the romance. I mentioned that Amani and Jin are together in the beginning, and in the end. In the beginning Amani is angry with Jin because he went off to do some undercover work for the Rebellion... as she was bleeding to death. This was a few months before this book started, but months after Rebel of the Sands ended. Amani is angry with him for leaving her, and then she gets captured, and all of this angst lays between them. But I promise, when they reunite, they hash things out, and they find their way. Amani and Jin have a mess between them, but it's their mess, and while they run when they're scared, they always come back (this is more figurative than literal, though it's a bit of both, really).

No love triangle. There is nothing triangular about the primary romance in this book - it's Amani and Jin all the way. There are other "sub-romances" among secondary characters, which is cool. But I'm mostly glad that Hamilton didn't touch the main ship. Amani and Jin definitely get closer, even with the massive separation. The reunion scenes and the ones following are so sweet and heartwarming.

Speaking of secondary characters, there are so many new characters introduced to the story. At one point, it was a little overwhelming. But the important ones - Rahim (one of the Sultan's sons), Sam (an informant for the Rebellion, and a shameless flirt who is hilarious), even Leyla (Rahim's sister and fellow offspring of the Sultan) - stuck in my mind, and were hard to forget. Some old secondary characters show up, like Shira and Tamid. And then there constant secondary characters, like Shazad and Ahmed and Imin and Hala and Delila - I love this group so much. Shazad is so kickbutt and fierce, and I especially loved her role in this book.

Jin - Jin is one of my characters, despite him being sparse in this book (remember, that is because Amani is at the palace and not near Jin, for the most of the book. Given that the book is told from her first-person POV, we don't get to see a lot of Jin in this book). Jin is still so important to the story. I love how he is like Amani, in that they are both fighters and yet they are both prone to running when things get too difficult. But I like that they both work on this, in the end. Jin is so fiercely loyal to Amani, and so very in love with her. But he is more than a love interest, and this is clear, given his role away from her (when she was in the palace).

Amani grows in her way, given what she has to live with, in the harem. So many jealous wives who want to destroy her, and people in general who think she is a monster - Amani always had thick skin, but living in the palace is an entirely different experience for her. Even being trapped there with no Demdji ability, Amani is powerful. She is clever and intelligent. I liked seeing her character grow and mature, especially without her sandy gift. Keep in mind, that loss is not permanent. Hint hint.

I think I've gushed enough! I know others struggled this one (too slow, too boring, too much separation, too few scenes between Amani and Jin), but I liked it a lot and I think it did the series justice. I love Rebel of the Sands a little more, but I think this one was an excellent follow-up. Props to Hamilton for not ending this book in a cliffhanger (not really, anyway). The ending is actually a pretty good one, given that it's the ending of a book two (usually the end of book two's are all sorts of cruel and unusual). 

What I Did Not Like:

Read my comments above, about the separation. However, of course I'm going to put it down as a dislike. In general, I hate the whole separate-the-female-and-male protagonist crap that YA authors like to include in sequels (specifically book two of a trilogy). I'm so over that trope. The separation wasn't terrible in this book, and the romance is stronger than ever by the end, but still. I hate the separation trope, it's annoying. It definitely served a good purpose here, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. 

For that matter, I expect many, many swoony (and hopefully a little steamy) scenes between Amani and Jin in book three. 

Would I Recommend It:

If you like YA desert fantasies, or epic fantasy in general, this is definitely a book (and series for you). I loved Rebel of the Sands and I personally don't think this book disappoints at all. Of course, you should find out for yourself - because I can definitely see where those with negative/so-so reviews are coming from. This one is a long book but it's such a good story!

Rating:

4 stars. This book did exactly what a sequel should do - go deeper into plot, and set up for an epic showdown for book three. I am so excited to read book three! Hopefully we get it in our hands in March 2018, because I don't think I'll be able to survive for longer than that!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#217)


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!


So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, February 12th to Saturday, February 18th?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


In the mail:

I'm not going home this week! Watch my Twitter for mail updates, which will happen on Sunday night. I'll also post everything on next week's STS post.


From NetGalley:



Eeeeee! So excited to read this one. I loved Undecided. :D


From Edelweiss:

    


Thank you, S&S and Harper!


Friends, I have some really really good news that I will be sharing soon! I hope you all will be as excited as I am! Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me, especially in the last six weeks. All the hugs! =)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review: Hunted by Meagan Spooner


Hunted by Meagan Spooner
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

What I Liked:

I've read Spooner's solo books (her debut trilogy), and her co-written books with Amie Kaufman. Her Skylark trilogy was so-so for me, but I loved the Starbound trilogy. When I saw that she would be publishing a new fantasy series, I was definitely intrigued and hopeful - maybe I would love this new solo series of hers. I'm so happy to say that I really enjoyed this new book of hers!

Yeva and her family have fallen on hard times, and they move far from town to their old cabin, where Yeva's father will hunt in the forest in order to provide for his three daughters, and make some money back to pay debts. Yeva's two older sisters, Lena and Asenka, are not like Yeva and her father. Yeva loves being in the forest, away from town, being able to hunt at will. But something dangerous lurks in the forest - a Beast who Yeva's father feared, right before he went missing. Yeva hunts the Beast, and what she finds isn't quite what she expected. She hates him, but she begins to understand him. How is it that he is just as trapped as she is? Yeva learns that the world she knows is not the only world that exists - and she is caught up in the magic.

Beauty and the Beast retelling, anyone? Perfect timing, given the live-action movie to be premiered soon. Personally, I'll take books over movies any day. This retelling is on its own level! I loved it. I was so curious to see how Spooner would handle the fairy tale, especially with all of the controversial aspects of Beauty and the Beast (Stockholm Syndrome, for one). 

Yeva is a not an angelic, naive heroine, nor is she a fierce, kickbutt type of heroine. She is sweet and selfless, but also tough and very independent. She likes to hunt in the forest, and enjoys the solitude. She cares for her two older sisters and her father, so much so that she makes different sacrifices when the opportunities present themselves, in order to help her family. When Yeva ends up in the Beast's castle, she is angry but unafraid. I really, really liked Yeva. Arguably, she is one of my favorite Spooner heroines (I liked the ladies in the Starbound trilogy though). She is so selfless, when it comes to her sisters and father, and eventually, the Beast.

The Beast... we all know the story of Beauty and the Beast, so I couldn't help but feel pity and remorse for him, from the start. But in the beginning, the author makes readers feel a little angry with him. He is not kind or patient with Yeva, and he seems more animal than human in the beginning. But his humanity comes about more and more, the longer Yeva is with him. The Beast is a character that I knew I would feel for, and my heart broke for him constantly.

In this book, Yeva actually gets to know the Beast for a bit before she finds out that he is the Beast, if that makes sense. She believed him to be a fellow prisoner at first, and he brought her food and supplies in the dungeon cell. But then all is revealed that he is actually her captor, and she hates him. It's interesting because Yeva gets to know the Beast before she learns that he is her captor, and then she finds out and hates him, and tries to kill him several times. But she quickly figures out that he is cursed, under a wretched spell, and that he seems to be both human and Beast. I liked this setup, in terms of the story. It sort of accounts for why Yeva might fall for him - she knew him as a "good guy" at first. Furthermore, she tries to keep hating him after she finds out that he is her captor, but he is kinder to her, and not a terrible, abusive captor. Still a captor.

The way this story is told, you won't find Stockholm Syndrome here. Yeva recognizes that she probably shouldn't care about her captor, but she also recognizes herself in him (the loneliness, the love of the forest, the desire for more). She talks to a friend about loving a cruel man, but realizes that the Beast is not that type of "cruel man". I think the author handled this aspect of the fairy tale extremely well, and worked around Stockholm Syndrome.

The progression of the relationship is extremely slow, and there is no physical aspect of the romance. In fact, it's hard to call the romance a "romance" because while Yeva does fall for the Beast (and vice versa), it's definitely more of a progression of an emotional connection than a physical one. This is kind of obvious, right? I liked the development of this powerful emotional connection, though it's hard to say in my mind that it's a "romance". It definitely becomes one after the spell is broken.

There is a good deal of magic in this book! Yeva's father used to tell her tales of magical beasts he used to see while hunting in the forest. Now, Yeva begins to see them herself, like the Firebird. Soon it becomes clear that the only way for Yeva to free the Beast from his spell is to seek out magic, and that is what Yeva decides to do, towards the end of the book. 

The setting is very Russian-esque, with the snowy scenery, forest, mountains, castles, and the obvious Russian names. I loved the setting and how it added to the magical world-building! Spooner did a beautiful job in crafting this fantasy world.

Overall, I really liked this retelling. Beauty and the Beast retellings can be extremely tricky, given the obvious Stockholm Syndrome problem, and bestiality, but I think Spooner rewrote the classic tale extremely well. There is so much more than two people falling for each other, but I'll let you discover that on your own. This is a great story, friends!

What I Did Not Like:

This is definitely a standalone novel and I absolutely love that it's a standalone novel, but I can't help but want a little more from Yeva (Beauty) and her "Beast", when he becomes human! We only get a few pages of them as a human man and human girl together, and the epilogue is a little on the vague side. Wishful thinking on my part, but I would have loved to get scenes showing the pair together, in the end. Like a more specific epilogue, showing their obvious love and adoration for each other.

But still, I'm really satisfied with this book overall.

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book if you like fantasy novels, fairy tale retellings, Beauty and the Beast, magical settings, clever heroines, and a romance that isn't a "romance" like you think. Plus, this is a standalone (though I think Spooner is writing more fairy tale retellings, possibly set in the same world but I'm not sure). It's perfect for fans of YA fantasy and fairy tales!

Rating:

4 stars. I had some expectations for this book, and I'd say Spooner met them. I'm excited to see what other solo projects she has, though I'm also looking forward to reading more co-written books!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#212): Freedom's Slave by Heather Demetrios


- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting


This week, my swoon is from Freedom's Slave by Heather Demetrios!


She stopped him with a hard kiss, one that obliterated all though and turned them into a tangle of limbs, their clothes thrown in every direction. The sheets turned gray from the Eye's dust and the ash of the burnings. The grit on their skin had trails running through it of sweat, kisses, tongues, teeth. Nalia held on to him and didn't let go, didn't look away. I am yours yours yours. Raif pulled her close, gentle, then fierce, and nothing, nothing would ever separate them again.

- eARC, 70%



All the love for this book! There were plenty of swoony moments between Raif and Nalia in this book, but this one is one of my favorites. It's not the reunion scene, but one just as intense and sweet. =)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday (#216): The Keep of Ages by Caragh O'Brien


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.


This week, I'm featuring:


The Keep of Ages by Caragh O'Brien
Book Three of The Vault of Dreamers series
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: August 29, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the fast-paced, high-stakes conclusion to the Vault of Dreamers trilogy, Rosie travels to a derelict theme park to shut down dream mining once and for all.

Determined to expose Dean Berg's dream mining operation to the world, and desperate to find her suddenly missing family, Rosie follows a series of clues across the country, where she discovers a derelict, horror-themed amusement park hiding a labyrinth of tunnels beneath its grounds. There, Rosie uncovers the vault, where her sister sleeps among the dreamers she is determined to set free. Meanwhile, nefarious subliminal messaging embedded within the Forge Show poses a danger to all who watch. And Rosie discovers the terrifying implications of mining and unlocking the consciousness of countless victims.

Propulsive and deeply speculative, The Keep of Ages concludes the Vault of Dreamers trilogy by taking readers on a wild and satisfying ride. 




I've enjoyed the series so far, so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing how things end!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Release Day Blitz: Ex-Con by Katana Collins

Happy Tuesday! Today is the publication day on the third and final part of Ex-Con by Katana Collins. I absolutely loved this book and I highly recommend it! Each part is now available at $1.99 each (which means the full-length novel is only $5.97). Don't miss out!



About the Book:

    

Ex-Con by Katana Collins
Book One of the Harrison Street Crew series
Publisher: Swerve
Publication Date: January 31, February 7, February 14th

Official Summary:

Worse than bad. Hotter than hot. These are the bad boys of the Harrison Street Crew, and they answer to no one. They take what they want. And what they want is you.

Ex-convict Shane McGill is as rugged and wild as they come. Bad to the bone and back on the streets, he’ll do anything and say anything to survive. Even if that something means joining the one car club he had worked so hard to avoid. But there’s one person out there who can match him toe-to- toe...the hot mechanic pin-up doll of a woman with the body of a goddess and tomboy attitude would even give him a chance.

Part I: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks
Part II: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks
Part III: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks


About the Author:

KATANA COLLINS is lucky enough to love her day job almost as much as she loves writing. She splits her time evenly between photographing boudoir and newborn portraits and writing steamy romances in a variety of genres -- paranormal, contemporary, new adult and suspense.

She bounces between living in New York and Portland, Maine, with an ever-growing brood of rescue animals: a kind of mean cat, a very mellow chihuahua, and a very not mellow lab puppy... oh yeah, there's a husband somewhere in that mix, too. She can usually be found hunched over her laptop in a cafe, guzzling gallons of coffee, and wearing fabulous (albeit sometimes impractical) shoes.



The Excerpt:

“I was thinking, maybe I should take Eve elsewhere—”

Her gaze jerked to his, her blue-green eyes flashing like a bolt of lightning against a rough ocean. “Why?”

Because you make me so hard, I’m worried my dick will get caught under the hood, Shane thought sarcastically. “Just seems like you got a good thing here. I’d hate to screw it up.”

On the outside, there was a quiet calm to her, but he could see the storm below the surface. She was just more controlled than the average person. The hollows of her cheeks were gaunt as though she were sucking them in in anger. “If I was a man, you wouldn’t be saying tha—”

Shane stepped forward, his actions interrupting her before his words could. He dropped his hand gently to her hip, the dampness of his own palm cool against her skin. “If you were a man, I wouldn’t want to bend you over that Audi right now.”

She swallowed and the delicate movement rolled down her svelte throat. “If our positions were reversed . . . if you were a man who owned a garage and I was working for you, would you feel the same reservations?”

He thought about that for a moment. “I would. But most men wouldn’t.” With the back of his knuckle, he brushed the underside of her cheekbone where she was chewing the inside of her cheek. It was pure instinct, to touch her where he saw tension. And yet he hadn’t expected the little gasp that came from those gorgeous lips at his touch. He hadn’t anticipated the way her breasts would hitch with a sharp breath. And he really hadn’t counted on how good her face would feel beneath his touch; like silk. Comforting, soft, and sexy as all hell.

They stayed like that for a long second until Shane’s thumb stroked, finding the underside to her jaw. If there was any question of whether or not she felt the same desire as he did, he could certainly feel it with her quickening pulse that pounded against his thumb. What in the hell am I doing? Shane thought as he dropped his hand to his side. This was the exact shit he was trying to avoid. This was why he needed to get away from Charlie Wakeman.

Charlie looked disoriented for only a moment before she collected herself, grabbing a clipboard off the table and handing Shane the sheet of paper from the top. “I had a good feeling about you after last night, so I ordered your parts this morning. If you want to use your earnings for today to pay a tow truck to take Eve to another garage, it’s your choice. I’m sure the garage would buy the parts off of me. I’m gonna be here late working on my Hornet after hours if you decide to send someone tonight.” She scribbled a number down on a check and tore it off, handing it to Shane. “Sorry, don’t know your last name. I figure you can fill out the ‘pay to’ section yourself. But if you decide to come in tomorrow, I’m here Mondays through Saturdays at seven. And I’m happy to keep our deal.”

He took the check, folding and tucking it into his wallet. “McGill. My last name’s McGill,” he murmured.

She nodded, flicking a glance at the bulge between his legs. Thank God for loose-fitting pants and good boxer briefs. But even still, Shane wasn’t a small guy and he was pretty certain that his arousal wasn’t easy to hide. “Well, Shane McGill. It was nice meeting you. But for the record? I’m pretty sure we could fuck and still come to work in the morning like adults.”

His muscles twitched to step closer. To pull her against his body. One fuck would be great. One night with no attachments and nothing more to it. But it wasn’t realistic. He was already drawn to her. And one night would never be enough. The last thing he needed was more of a reason to stay in Boston longer than he had to for his parole. “It’s nice to think that’d be true. But something tells me one taste wouldn’t be enough, Red. And I think you know that too.” He saw her mouth opening with a retort, but before she could speak he turned and walked out of the garage.


February 2017 New Release Giveaway!


Welcome to the February New Release Giveaway Hop! The February New Release Giveaway hop is sponsored by It Starts At Midnight.


This month, I'm giving a February '17 book that I read! Yep, a little different compared to previous months. Your choices are:

    

(Click on the covers to go to Goodreads!)


The Giveaway:

Win a February '17 book pictured above! Print or ebook (print = The Book Depository only).  It must be one pictured above. Winner has 48 hours to respond.

Open INTERNATIONALLY! Good luck!







Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: Freedom's Slave by Heather Demetrios


Freedom's Slave by Heather Demetrios
Book Three of the Dark Caravan Cycle series
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

An Empress Fighting for Her Crown
After three long years in exile, Nalia is ready to return to her homeland and sit on the throne that is rightfully hers. But the gods might have other plans. Forced to endure untold horrors on the journey to Arjinna, Nalia learns that it will take more than cutting down the tyrant Calar to get her crown.

An Army Fighting to Survive
Raif’s return to Arjinna as the commander of the revolution against Calar and her army isn’t as smooth as he’d hoped. Though he has more soldiers than ever before, his love for Nalia is losing him the trust of his comrades...and the war. But little does the resistance know that insurrection is brewing among Calar’s own ranks—and from the one person she trusts the most.

A Land Worth Fighting for
Arjinna is dying—Calar’s evil experiments with dark magic and the strength of her own psychic powers threaten to destroy the land of the jinn. Is Nalia and Raif’s enduring love enough to transform and rescue their homeland? Will they be willing to save the realm, no matter the cost? 

What I Liked:

***SPOILER-FREE REVIEW***

This book... this book. I just finished it a few minutes ago and I'm pretty speechless. I liked Exquisite Captive and Blood Passage, but I think this book is Demetrios's best work. I loved this book, and I hated it a little too (you'll understand why, and it'll make you love/hate the book too), in the best of ways. The author took me on quite the emotional roller coaster, but the book was brilliant and stunning because of that roller coaster.

In this final novel of the Dark Caravan Cycle series, Nalia and Raif return to Arjinna. Raif must lead the dissenting tavrai, who begin to distrust him because of his faith in Nalia. He and the army of jinn find allies in unexpected places, as all of Arjinna looks to the fall of Calar. Meanwhile, Nalia must learn ways from the old empresses - on her own. She'll need to find her way back to the battle - to Raif - in order to claim her throne and bring peace to Arjinna. No one will be spared, from Calar, or from the gods.

I will do my very best to keep things as vague as possible! But bottom line - I really recommend this conclusion novel, especially if you've read Exquisite Captive and Blood Passage (or even just Exquisite Captive). This conclusion is nothing short of intriguing, mind-blowing, heartbreaking, terrifying, sexy, and satisfying. 

This book had a bigger focus on Raif than it did on Nalia. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that Nalia is not physically present in the first half of the book. It was strange, her not being anywhere significant (in relation to Arjinna, Raif, and the others). BUT, she was somewhere she needed to be. And the story would not have been as complete with her glued to Raif's side (and the others). With Nalia's absence, there are a lot of chapters in the perspectives of other jinn - jinn are somewhat newly introduced in this book but play a very significant role in the story. 

While Nalia isn't really in the first half of the story at all, she is extremely present in the second half of the story (like, reunited with Raif, etc.). She is every inch the warrior and survivor that we have known her to be - and then some. I love the completeness of her transformation into empress. In this book, she is confident and yet unsure of herself, protective and merciful, compassionate and yet merciless when it comes to the safety of those she loves. While I stand by my original statement (that this book focuses more on Raif than Nalia), Nalia is always the center of the trilogy's story. I loved seeing her reach her full potential and make her claim for the throne.

Raif... oh Raif. Raif, to me, is the most important character in this book. With Nalia not being by his side in the first 50% of the book (or thereabout), it's hard on him. He's lost at first, and it's so heartbreaking to see him try to fight a war and be separated from his rohifsa at the same time. I can't say too much about things, but I really, really felt for him. But Raif is the strongest character of this book, and series. He endures so much, and fights through so much pain (not the physical kind), and he is so strong and selfless and every bit the leader he has proven himself to be. 

Two characters change the course of this story - Taz, the commander of the jinn army, and Kes, Calar's lover. When we're introduced to Kes, it's strange - why is the perspective of the lover of Calar (the story's villain) being presented? But Kes no longer stands with Calar, and wants her deposed. He secretly starts to support and meet with the resistance, and eventually, Raif and the tavrai. Kes's story is so heartbreaking and almost hopeless, and yet he finds his own hope and light. I didn't like him at first (for obvious reasons) but it wasn't before long that I absolutely loved him. 

I love how Demetrios does that. She takes characters that you think you'll absolutely hate - Kes, Shirin, to an extent, Malek, and makes you feel for them. Well, Malek, no. I didn't like him at all, and never would have. We all read Blood Passage, right? Good riddance. He's not in this book.

Taz is the other really important secondary character that gets chapters from his perspective. He is several thousand years old and the commander of the jinn army that came through the Eye with Raif. He becomes a good friend to Raif, and a huge support for Raif when Raif was stuck (I'll leave it at that). Taz is a good man, and it's hard not to love him. My heart broke for him like my heart broke for Kes. But, like Kes, I loved how Taz found his hope and light.

As with the other books, I love the world-building of this book and series. The Middle Eastern touch, all of the jinn lore and myths and magic, and the Arjinnan setting of this book - Demetrios did an amazing job in crafting this world. Clearly she did her research, with all of the italicized words, the settings, the tales and lore. This is easily the best written and most researched jinn story/series in YA literature that I've ever read!

Okay fine, I'll talk about the romance. I mentioned that Raif and Nalia are separated for about 50% of the book. Let me (sort of) discuss that first. This separation - it's necessary on several levels, but it's something that you don't really realize is necessary until the story starts to move. Like at first you're like WHAT? Because the separation happens immediately as the story begins. But you will see how necessary it is (in my opinion). I hate separations like that (what is worse is the separations in which they don't know the state of the other). But I get why the author did it, AND in some ways it was good, because it opened the story to focus more on Raif, and give way to chapters from Taz's and Kes's perspectives.

But the romance is so strong, in this book. Even in the first half of the book, with them being separated, you can practically feel the strength of Raif and Nalia's love. Their bond is so strong and unshakable, and the distance doesn't hurt them at all. Their reunion, around the 50% mark, was so beautiful. And from that point on, the romance is sweet, sexy, and so heartwarming. I loved seeing Raif and Nalia back together! Like any couple, they have their arguments, their moments of doubt, and their slip-ups. Raif was definitely dealt the harsher end of the stick, in terms of, well, everything. But I love how powerful and unshakable the romance was. They endured quite a bit and yet they never stopped loving each other.

Yes, there are plenty of sexy times in this book. Demetrios does some fade-to-black but she also doesn't leave everything up to the imagination. Which I applaud!

One thing that I was a huge fan of - so I mentioned that Raif is more of the focus, in this book. And yet, it's really all about the empress (Nalia). I LOVE how Raif is so willing to cede everything to Nalia (all of his power and influence over the tavrai, for example). But what I love even more? Nalia does the same; she brings Raif to be her equal, at her side, and not behind her. If she is empress, she is emperor - that kind of thing. I love this. 

I don't want to say anything about the battles and Calar and the ending, but I will say - this book is a whirlwind of action and death and scheming. There was never a dull moment in the book. I should also follow up on my comment about this book taking me on an emotional roller coaster. Um, yes, Demetrios really takes readers through every single emotion possible, in this book. And she does it so well. For example, Raif's defeat and anguish was so palpable, or Shirin's frustration, or Nalia's desperation, or Kes's disgust, or Taz's pain. Everything was so amplified, and I truly felt the characters' pain and joy and hope like it was my own. 

In the end, this book was incredibly satisfying. It's full of nonstop action, life-or-death craziness, plagues, magic, heartbreak, hope, sexy romance, and love. Not every character gets a HEA (which is so sad!), but Raif and Nalia get a nice ending (yes, I will say that much, spoiler or not). After everything that Raif (Raif and Nalia, but Raif more so) was put through, he'd better get a nice ending with her! I think Demetrios wrapped up the series perfectly, and ended the story in a way that really fit and made things work. I loved this book, with all of its heartbreak and despair, its hopefulness and passion and love.

What I Did Not Like:

I already talked this to death, but my sole complaint would be something that is and isn't a complaint. I always hate long separations between the main couple, and the separation between Raif and Nalia was brutal. It was tough more so because it was so long (the duration of time, I won't say specifically), and they don't know how the other is doing, during this separation.

BUT AGAIN. I think the separation was necessary, in the end. When it first, errr, happened, it definitely didn't feel that way. But the story couldn't have gone in the direction that it did, without the separation. Still, I hate separations!

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book, if you're already somewhere in the series! This is an excellent and highly engrossing conclusion novel that will take you for a ride, make you feel every emotion possible, and keep you on your toes until the epilogue. In general, I recommend the series. It started off looking like there would be a crappy love triangle, but that wasn't the case. I love the culture and magic and lore behind this series, and the sweet and sexy romance between Raif and Nalia, and the gritty, bloody battle to reclaim Arjinna. Demetrios has masterfully written a powerful, epic fantasy series here! 

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I'm rounded down but I really enjoyed this book. Demetrios makes up for all of the separation and heartbreak in the second half of the book, I promise. This is such a great conclusion novel! I wish more YA trilogies ended as well as this book - with a HEA, but also a realistic ending that doesn't have all of the problems magically fixed or gone. I'm excited to read more by this author, whether series or standalone! Bad Romance is next for me.


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Science in Fiction (#25): Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza


Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!

This month, I'm featuring Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza!



Empress of a Thousand Skies is an interesting space-opera type of science fiction novel, involving a girl who has trained her entire life to become the rightful ruler of the planetary region. But she isn't empress yet, especially since someone else has assumed power and is unwilling to give it up, especially not to a sixteen-year-old girl. Like a dictator with no regards to policies, rules, or the people he governs. 

We all know about a certain recently elected leader who fits that description.

Today, I'm going to be talking about all of the ways that President Trump has already started to move against the environment, and science in general.

Before I begin, recall my Science in Fiction post for December (2016). I said I would check in and keep an updated list of everything Trump has been doing. This is update post #1 for 2017.

- Climate change information no longer appears on the White House website. Everyone knows that Trump (and many Republicans) believe that climate change isn't real, and/or that it's all a hoax cooked up by the Chinese (or something absurd like that). But it was shocking to see all evidence of climate change mentions completely scrubbed from WhiteHouse.gov.

- Climate change information is starting to disappear on the EPA website. This is scary to me personally because I use the EPA website a lot, to study and for various projects and points of information. The Trump administration is doing a number on that website, in addition to the White House website. The United States is a leading authority on many different types of environmental research and knowledge - if WE take away climate change information and data, other countries will follow suit (or continue not to care). 

- EPA employees are banned from given social media updates. And there are additional specifications on press releases, posts, and updates on the agency's accounts. This might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Straight-up banning employees from putting information out to the public is NOT okay. Trump and his administration could sweep so many things under the rug (like the lack of environmental controls in the DAPL project) and EPA employees wouldn't be able to say a thing about them. Speaking of DAPL...

- The Dakota Access Pipeline project has been advanced. The Keystone XL project too. Which... is a problem? There is no Environmental Impact Statement associated with the project (and an EIS is required for EVERY and ANY project disturbing the environment). There are little to no environmental controls on this project. But of course, Trump has stakes in the project, so he's rather invested in its construction. Because THAT is how the president on the United States should make decisions - with his own interests in mind!

- Sean Spicer is telling everyone that the Trump administration will ensure that coal is the cleanest and safest form of energy possible. Yeah, right. "Clean coal" is indeed a term, and it's sort of a thing, but let's be real: there is no such thing as clean coal. No coal is "clean". Coal mining alone is a dirty, toxic process. But Trump and his rich businessmen buddies need to keep profiting so... no solar/wind/tidal energy for us! Just so we're on the same page - coal has NEVER been considered environmental friendly, or a form of "clean" energy. Ever.

- Trump rolled back coal regulations, in terms of waste dumping. Coal sludge and coal mining waste can now be dumped into rivers and streams, because that makes a lot of sense. Do Republicans/Trump not realize that water is connected everywhere and dumping coal waste in one waterway will eventually affect the world? WHO is benefiting from scaling back Obama's regulations on coal mining waste dumping? Not the coal industry - the industry will lose jobs, since dumping coal into waterways (rather than trucking it away and treating it or disposing of it) is now acceptable.


I could keep going, if I kept digging. I'm thoroughly disgusted so I'm stopping here. Look, keep yourself educated and awake, okay? Science and the environment are not the only areas that are being massively affected by this presidency. I could spend posts upon posts on the environment, or immigration, or healthcare. I'll post another Science in Fiction update in a few months! Let's see how much worse things will get.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#216)


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!


So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, February 5th to Saturday, February 11th?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


In the mail:

To be updated when I go home on Saturday night! There... is a lot. Y'all have been seeing the pictures of Macmillan packages on Twitter over the last few days, right? Welp. Get ready.

EDIT: updated!



Thank you SO much, LB! The packaging of this one was beautiful.



This was a surprise! Thank you, Berkley. I loved Kery's Looking Inside (unrelated to this one), and I'm definitely in the mood for more of her books.



This. Sounds. EPIC. Celtic fantasy? Yes, please! Thank you, Tor!



This one is new to me (and unsolicited)! I've heard good things about it. :D



Thank you, Disney/Cassie! I am looking forward to reading this book.



Gaaaaaaaahhhhh. Thank you, Macmillan! SO EXCITED!


From NetGalley:

  
  

Outlaw by Katana Collins (Part I, Part II, Part III)

From Edelweiss:

    
  

A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes


Yes, I have 1000% more books than I know what to do with. All of these auto-approval downloads and recently approved requests are messing up my review schedule! Always grateful though. Thank you, pubs! I really, really needed this (massive) pick-me-up this week.