Book Review: The Winner’s Curse (Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

Book Review: The Winner’s Curse (Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie RutkoskiThe Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Series: Winner's Trilogy #1
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) on March 4, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 355
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Winning what you want may cost you everything you love.

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Book Review:

“Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married.”

That sentence in the summary for THE WINNER’S CURSE is what caught my attention. Immediately I wanted to know what sort of world Kestrel lived in, that those would be her only choices. And I wanted to know what she would do, because I was sure it wasn’t going to be either one of those things. That wouldn’t have made for a very exciting book.

THE WINNER’S CURSE is a book with a lot of hype behind it. A lot of other readers have LOVED it. For me, it was a so-so book, mainly because I never got behind the romantic relationship. And as that relationship is pretty important to several of the events in the book, I had an okay reading experience. Not a great one, but I probably will continue this trilogy, because I do want to see what will happen next.

Kestrel is a Valorian. Her people have conquered the the Herrani, turning them into slaves in their own land. The Valorians are great warriors, especially Kestrel’s father, who was responsible for the victory over the Herrani. General Trajan expects his daughter to follow in his footsteps by joining the military, and while Kestrel is a brilliant tactician, she can’t fight very well and doesn’t want to kill anyone. But she doesn’t really want to marry, either. She wants to play the piano, but playing music isn’t something the Valorians regard highly.

When a slave goes up for sale, one who supposedly sings, but is defiant on the block, Kestrel impulsively buys him. You know what happens next: forbidden love develops between Kestrel and Arin. At least their relationship wasn’t insta-love, but I just didn’t feel any chemistry between them. They spend time getting to know each other, Kestrel asking Arin to always be honest with her, but … I don’t know. I’m not going to spoil the story, but as I said above, their feelings for each other turn out to be quite important, and because I didn’t feel the relationship, I was meh on a lot of the events.

I also wanted more worldbuilding in the book. In the Author’s Note, the author says she was inspired by the Greco-Roman period after Rome conquered Greece. Little bits of the world are revealed, such as all Valorians wearing weapons, or the wall color in a Herrani room signifying its usage. But I had a lot of unanswered questions, from where Valoria was located in comparison to Herran, to why Kestrel had to have an escort for going out in public.

THE WINNER’S CURSE does unfurl slowly, the story building layer upon layer. I did enjoy that aspect, as well as the writer’s style. Marie Rutkoski has a way of describing things in this book that I found poetic but readable. Here’s an example from Arin’s auction: “The bidding spiraled higher, each voice spurring the next until it seemed that a roped arrow was shooting through the members of the crowd, binding them together, drawing them tight with excitement (p. 14, ARC).”

While THE WINNER’S CURSE didn’t quite hit the mark for me, it wasn’t bad, and if you’re a fan of forbidden relationships, you might enjoy it more than I did.

Socialize with the author:

Marie Rutkoski:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel Neumeier

Book Review: Black Dog (Black Dog #1) by Rachel NeumeierBlack Dog by Rachel Neumeier
Series: Black Dog #1
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 6, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 448
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.

But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.

In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.

Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.

But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.

Today I have a twofer: a review of BLACK DOG by Rachel Neumeier and an interview with the author. Be sure to check out both posts, because I asked Rachel some questions about the book, including where the idea for BLACK DOG came from!

Book Review:

BLACK DOG is a werewolf book, albeit a very different type of werewolf book from the usual sort. Rachel Neumeier’s black dogs are more like hellhounds, the dog side constantly fighting the human side for control. Black dogs transform at will, whenever they need to fight, prove their dominance, or when emotions get too high. It takes great strength of will to control the black dog shadow. There also are the traditional werewolves that follow the call of the moon, but they aren’t as powerful as black dogs.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Alejandro, a black dog, and his sister, Natividad, a Pure, BLACK DOG is a book that unfolds slowly. Alejandro, Natividad, and her twin, Miguel, are Mexican, and it was great to see some diversity in a YA book. There are some Spanish words and phrases sprinkled throughout the book; most have context translations or are easy to figure out.

The siblings are on the run from a dangerous black dog, Vonhausel, who killed their parents and wants to kill them. Their only hope is the Dimilioc pack, the last remaining civilized group of black dogs. But with only Natividad being worth anything to the pack, Alejandro must prove his control of his black dog, and Miguel, a human, must also show he’s useful. When Vonhausel shows up and tries to wage war, the siblings must help Dimilioc, each in their own way, because the alternative is death. Or something worse than death, in some cases.

Some readers might be bothered by Natividad being fifteen and expected to mate with one of the black dogs. Natividad is Pure, able to wield magic that can calm the ferocity of the black dogs’ shadows. Usually I would have an issue with that sort of alpha behavior, but I thought the Master of the pack handled it very well — he said no one could touch Natividad until she turned sixteen, and she would have her choice. Natividad didn’t have an issue with it, either. So all the possible mates were respectful, and wanted to protect her. There’s not really any romance in BLACK DOG — Natividad’s future relationship is a side topic. I just wanted to mention it.

Like I said above, BLACK DOG is a slow book. It’s over 400 pages, and I do think it could have been shorter and tighter. There were a lot of phrases repeated in dialogue, over and over, such as “I think” or “you know,” and they did pull me out of the narrative. I’m picky about things like that, though.

In the author’s world, black dogs are known to the public, thanks to the disappearance of vampires and their mindclouding magic of anything supernatural. The vampires and their war with the black dogs happened before the book, and so is offstage, but does have some influence on the events of BLACK DOG. I had some questions that I would have liked answered, but they didn’t really affect my understanding of what was going on.

Aside from that, once I got into the book, I did enjoy piecing the story together and learning about the siblings’ pasts, Vonhausel, and Dimilioc. I really liked the pack dynamics, and watching the black dogs control their shadows. It was also interesting to see regular humans interact with the pack. Natividad’s interactions were the best of all, because she wasn’t afraid of any black dog, knowing they wouldn’t hurt her. So it was fun and different to see a fifteen-year-old be taken seriously, her opinion valued, by the much older pack master.

The end of BLACK DOG does neatly tie up the main story line. I’ll admit, when I got to what I thought was the end, I was like, “No! That’s it?!” But it wasn’t! It’s hard to say anything about the ending, because I don’t want to spoil it, but the real ending was good. Very insightful. And there will be a sequel to BLACK DOG, so the other things I wanted to see, such as who Natividad will choose, and what will happen to Dimilioc, will most likely be addressed in that.

About the author:

Rachel Neumeier started writing fiction to relax when she was a graduate student and needed a hobby unrelated to her research. Prior to selling her first fantasy novel, she had published only a few articles in venues such as The American Journal of Botany. However, finding that her interests did not lie in research, Rachel left academia and began to let her hobbies take over her life instead.

She now raises and shows dogs, gardens, cooks, and occasionally finds time to read. She works part-time for a tutoring program, though she tutors far more students in Math and Chemistry than in English Composition.
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– leeanna

Book Review: Such Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout

Book Review: Such Sweet Sorrow by Jenny TroutSuch Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout
Published by Entangled Teen on February 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
3 Stars
Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo…But true love never dies. Though they’re parted by the veil between the world of mortals and the land of the dead, Romeo believes he can restore Juliet to life, but he’ll have to travel to the underworld with a thoroughly infuriating guide.

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, may not have inherited his father’s crown, but the murdered king left his son a much more important responsibility—a portal to the Afterjord, where the souls of the dead reside. When the determined Romeo asks for help traversing the treacherous Afterjord, Hamlet sees an opportunity for adventure, and the chance to avenge his father’s death.

In an underworld filled with leviathan monsters, ghoulish shades, fire giants and fierce Valkyrie warriors, Hamlet and Romeo must battle their way through jealousy, despair, and their darkest fears to rescue the fair damsel. Yet finding Juliet is only the beginning, and the Afterjord doesn’t surrender souls without a price…

Book Review:

SUCH SWEET SORROW is an intriguing mix of Shakespeare, Norse mythology, and Greek mythology. If you’ve ever wondered what happens after Romeo and Juliet, if you can return to life after death, or what a journey through the Underworld might be like, this could be the book for you.

The author draws on two plays by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, for her main characters. In her version, Romeo has survived, although weakened from the poison that failed to take his life. Unable to live without Juliet, he visits a witch to find out how to bring her back. The witch tells him to find the seat of a murdered king, and thus he eventually crosses paths with Hamlet. Hamlet is the keeper of a corpseway, a portal dividing the realms of the living and the dead. He offers to let Romeo use the corpseway to find Juliet, as long as Romeo reports back about his journey.

But Romeo drags Hamlet in with him, and they land in Valhalla. After the Valkyries kick them out, they go in search of Juliet. But once they find her, Romeo’s faced with a question he never considered: how do you bring the dead back to life?

SUCH SWEET SORROW has some really creative ideas. It makes so much sense to mix all the various underworlds, and I really enjoyed watching the characters traverse the different areas/mythologies. I did find the book to be a bit long, and thought the beginning/middle could have been edited down a bit, to cut out some of the more boring/slow bits. But after the boys find Juliet, the story really picks up. By the way, you don’t need to be familiar with either of the plays; the author fills in any background info as needed.

Juliet was my favorite character in the book. I liked how she grew into a confident, strong woman after reflecting on her past and realizing she didn’t want to be used or seen as just a girl anymore. She made a surprising choice at the end of the book that I applauded. The ending overall was good for me — I couldn’t see the book ending any other way, in fact.

Socialize with the author:

Jenny Trout/Jennifer Armintrout:
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– leeanna

Book Review: The Seers (The Holders #2) by Julianna Scott

Book Review: The Seers (The Holders #2) by Julianna ScottThe Seers by Julianna Scott
Series: The Holders #2
Published by Strange Chemistry on February 4, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 430
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour, NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
After nearly being drained of her ability and betrayed by a man her father trusted, Becca Ingle was left with one clue — Ciaran Shea. He holds the key to the downfall of the power-mad Holder, Darragh, and can ensure the safety of both Holder and Human kind alike... but is he willing to help?

Becca, Alex, Jocelyn, and Cormac set out for Adare Manor to meet with the Bhunaidh, an aristocratic group of pure blooded Holders of whom Ciaran is a rumored member. However, when Becca discovers that they might not be the only ones after the information Ciaran has, everyone begins to wonder if Bhunaidh might not be as uninvolved with Darragh as they claim.

A race to uncover Ciaran’s secrets begins, where the line between friend and foe is blurred, and everyone seems to have their own agenda. Becca will have to call on every ability at her disposal to uncover the truth, all the while knowing that sometimes the answer is more dangerous than the question.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for THE SEERS by Julianna Scott. The tour is hosted by Xpresso Book Tours and you can check out the full schedule here.

Book Review:

THE SEERS is the second book in The Holders series by Julianna Scott. Last year I described book one, THE HOLDERS, as “a perfect book for an afternoon of light reading.” I’d describe THE SEERS the same way: it’s an enjoyable fantasy with a sweet romance and outspoken characters. A good book to spend the afternoon with.

THE SEERS picks up a couple of weeks after THE HOLDERS. There’s not a lot of recap of the events of book one, so for the first couple of chapters, I was lost and couldn’t remember who anyone was or what had previously happened. Basically, Becca, her father, and a few others are trying to find information on Ciaran Shea, but he died three years ago … and therefore couldn’t have been part of Darragh’s quest for power. Darragh is an extremely powerful Holder; he’s the bad guy of the series.

THE SEERS takes Becca and co. into the world of full-blooded Holders. Think of the pure-blood wizards of Harry Potter — the Bhunaidh place high importance on purity and magical ability. Becca really doesn’t like Bhunaidh society, especially once she finds out the head family has disowned one of their sons because he’s powerless.

The start of this book was a bit rocky for me. I couldn’t remember much of THE HOLDERS, and Becca was somewhat annoying at first. Her inner monologue and the way she was acting made me want to tell her “get over yourself!” But then I realized she was acting like a teenager would. And as the book went on, Becca’s attitude gradually changed, and I liked that she grew up somewhat.

Once I got to the halfway point of THE SEERS, I really got into the book. In the quest for information on Ciaran, Becca has to learn more about her own power, be more mature in the ways she deals with people, and work on her relationship with Alex. Oh, and do some rescuing, too, when things don’t go according to plan. I got into the mystery of Ciaran’s journal and what it would reveal. I thought the author used the power to see the future in a neat way.

The ending of THE SEERS might have been the best of all. Without giving too much away, I’ll say there’s a big rescue, a big tragedy that affects one of the new characters, and some good development for Becca and Alex’s relationship. Yeah, they go there, which I always love to see in YA books!

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the author:

author julianna scottJulianna was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spent the majority of her educational career convinced she would be a musician. However, after receiving her music degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she realized that she’d been born in the wrong era for her dreams of singing jazz to adoring fans clad in zoot-suits and flapper dresses to come true, and began to wonder if her true calling might be elsewhere.

While Julianna had always excelled in writing throughout school, she’d never considered it a career possibility until about three years ago, when she’d gotten her first story idea and decided to go for it. She grabbed her laptop, started typing away, and has never looked back.
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Buy links: Amazon | B&N

– leeanna

Book Review: Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman’s Daughter #2) by Megan Shepherd

Book Review: Her Dark Curiosity (The Madman’s Daughter #2) by Megan ShepherdHer Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd
Series: The Madman's Daughter #2
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: Gothic, Historical Fiction, Horror, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
To defeat the darkness, she must first embrace it.

Months have passed since Juliet Moreau returned to civilization after escaping her father's island—and the secrets she left behind. Now, back in London once more, she is rebuilding the life she once knew and trying to forget Dr. Moreau’s horrific legacy—though someone, or something, hasn’t forgotten her.

As people close to Juliet fall victim one by one to a murderer who leaves a macabre calling card of three clawlike slashes, Juliet fears one of her father’s creations may have also escaped the island. She is determined to find the killer before Scotland Yard does, though it means awakening sides of herself she had thought long banished, and facing loves from her past she never expected to see again.

As Juliet strives to stop a killer while searching for a serum to cure her own worsening illness, she finds herself once more in the midst of a world of scandal and danger. Her heart torn in two, past bubbling to the surface, life threatened by an obsessive killer—Juliet will be lucky to escape alive.

With inspiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is a tantalizing mystery about the hidden natures of those we love and how far we’ll go to save them from themselves.

Book Review:

Inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, HER DARK CURIOSITY is the second book in the Madman’s Daughter trilogy. Picking up months after the end of THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER, Juliet has escaped her father’s island, and is now living in London, the ward of one of her father’s old friends. But life isn’t peachy, as she’s still struggling with her illness and having trouble fitting into “respectable” life. Juliet is also missing Montgomery, one of the boys she loved.

One of the few things that bugged me in THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER was the love triangle between Juliet, Montgomery, and Edward. Unfortunately, that love triangle is back in HER DARK CURIOSITY. Although Juliet thought Edward was dead at the end of book one, he actually survived, and follows her to London. Montgomery eventually shows up too, hunting Edward, as his Beast side is slowly taking over his human side. I didn’t mind what she did with them, but I didn’t get behind her flipping between them. Meh. I’m just not a fan of love triangles.

Otherwise, I liked HER DARK CURIOSITY. When I started the book, I got halfway through it before I realized it. It’s very easy to sink into this book and keep flipping the pages. My favorite parts where whenever Juliet’s thoughts went into a dark direction, such as when she asked Edward what it was like to be the Beast. The title of this book really fits, as Juliet does a lot of thinking about her father’s experiments, wondering if he was right or wrong to try and create human life from animals. There’s a part near the end where Juliet does something very dark, and I liked that the author went there.

The book does end on a cliffhanger (boo!), so I am looking forward to the end of the trilogy to see how everything wraps up with Juliet and the rest of the characters.

Let’s talk about it:

What do you think of love triangles?

Socialize with the author:

Megan Sheperd:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Witch Fall (Witch Song #3) by Amber Argyle

Book Review: Witch Fall (Witch Song #3) by Amber ArgyleWitch Fall by Amber Argyle
Series: Witch Song #3
Published by Self-Published on January 15, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 332
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
3 Stars
With the magic of their songs, the Witches control the seasons, the storms, even the sea. Secure in their supremacy, they have forgotten the unmatched destructiveness of mankind. For the world has begun to covet their power, seeing them as weapons to be controlled instead of rulers worthy of obeisance.

Born of witches but raised among their enemy, Lilette searches for a way to heal the rift between mankind and the witches. But it may be too late to save either. For if there is one thing Lilette has come to know for certain, it’s that all things fall.

Today on my stop for the WITCH FALL blog tour, I have a review. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway. The tour is hosted by Xpresso Book Tours, and you can check out the full schedule here. Also, during this tour, WITCH SONG is free on Amazon.

Book Review:

WITCH FALL is the third book in Amber Argyle’s Witch Song series, but it’s also the prequel to the series. Instead of following Brusenna as the other two books have, WITCH FALL is Lilette’s story. If you’ve read WITCH BORN, the second book in the series, her name should be familiar to you. If you haven’t, don’t worry. You could read WITCH FALL before the other books if you want. This series is more of a circle than a straight line, if that makes any sense.

Although I knew some of Lilette’s story, I liked getting the chance to see it unfold from her perspective, and also seeing the real history of the witches. In WITCH BORN, Brusenna learned about Lilette and the cursed land of Harshen. But what she learned wasn’t the whole story, just as history doesn’t always record events truthfully. What I read in WITCH FALL answered some of the questions I had throughout the series, such as why witches are so hated in Brusenna’s time.

WITCH FALL is probably my favorite of the author’s books. I liked Lilette much more than Brusenna, because Lilette never gave up. Anytime she was in a bad situation (and there were a lot of bad situations!) she just kept going. Even if the odds were against her, she would keep thinking of what she could try next to escape.

I also liked Jolin, a character who reminded me a bit of myself. Jolin is high on intelligence but low on societal conventions, and her desire to be a power among the other Witches leads her to making some not-so-smart decisions. Every chapter of WITCH FALL starts with a quote by Jolin; when I read the last chapter of the book, I appreciated those quotes even more.

Overall, I feel that WITCH FALL is a solid prequel/ending to the Witch Song series.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

amber argyleAmber Argyle is the author of Witch Song and Fairy Queen trilogies. She grew up with three brothers on a cattle ranch in the Rocky Mountains. She spent hours riding horses, roaming the mountains, and playing in her family’s creepy barn. This environment fueled her imagination for writing high fantasy. She has worked as a short order cook, janitor, and staff member in a mental institution. All of which has given her great insight into the human condition and has made for some unique characters. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and Physical Education from Utah State University. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and three small children.
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WITCH FALL buy links: Amazon | B&N

– leeanna

Book Review: Witch Born (Witch Song #2) by Amber Argyle

Book Review: Witch Born (Witch Song #2) by Amber ArgyleWitch Born by Amber Argyle
Series: Witch Song #2
Published by Self-Published on September 5, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 330
Format: eBook
Source: Author
Goodreads
3 Stars
Brusenna thought it was finished. She defeated the Dark Witch, saving the Haven Witches from imprisonment and death. She found love and a place to belong. She was wrong. Haven is not the sanctuary it appears to be. Even love is in danger of slipping away like water through cupped hands. Some things can't be saved. A new threat merges with the old as the Witches' dark history begins to catch up with them. Only Brusenna knows the extent of the danger and how to stop it, though doing so might cost her everything. Including her life. Will Brusenna be required to make the ultimate sacrifice?

Book Review:

WITCH BORN, the second book of the Witch Song series, picks up where WITCH SONG ended. Senna is now at Haven, learning all about her Witch abilities, but life isn’t happily ever after. She’s separated from Joshin, her Guardian, because the Witches don’t approve of their relationship. Senna’s powers are also increasing, and when she discovers a huge secret, she’ll stop at nothing to set right the wrongs of the past.

One of my minor quibbles with WITCH SONG was that Senna just used plants and seeds in conjunction with her songs. In WITCH BORN, the magic system is elaborated upon, showing how the Witches control the elements and create potions. When Senna travels back to Tartan, the land the Witches cursed at the end of WITCH SONG, we get to see the effects of their curse to deny Tartan life: in mere months, the country is a destroyed husk of its former self.

Senna’s romance with Joshin cools a bit, both because of their forced separation and also because when they are reunited, Joshin tries too hard to protect Senna. I appreciated that Senna realized she had to accept and love herself before she could love someone else.

I did have a big peeve with WITCH BORN, though. The other Witches, especially the ones in charge, know that something is happening to Senna. She’s become extremely powerful, and unlike the others, she can actually hear the elements. They know she is Creator-touched, yet they refuse to tell her what that means, and why it’s important. I HATE that sort of thing, especially since Senna was attacked over and over again, almost kidnapped, etc.

I also thought that the book was a bit long, just like the first in the series. I think some of the book could have been edited down, to make it a bit tighter. That said, I did like the second half, and did like where the author went with the story, revealing secrets the Witches have kept forever.

Socialize with the author:

Amber Argyle:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Witch Song (Witch Song #1) by Amber Argyle

Book Review: Witch Song (Witch Song #1) by Amber ArgyleWitch Song by Amber Argyle
Series: Witch Song #1
Published by Self-Published on September 1, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 325
Format: eBook
Source: Author, Kindle Freebie
Goodreads
The Witch Hunters have come for Brusenna, for she is the last. All the others have been captured by the Dark Witch. And without their magical songs to control nature, the world is dying.

Though young and untrained, Brusenna must succeed where every other Witch has failed. Find the Dark Witch. Fight her. Defeat her. If Brusenna fails, there will be nothing left to save—for the Witches, for mankind, or for the young Guardian who has committed his life to protecting hers.

Book Review:

In WITCH SONG, Brusenna is the last Witch left alive and free. The only hope of the other Witches, she must find a way to beat the most powerful Witch in the world, Espen, who has captured all the other Witches and taken their power for her own. The only problem? Brusenna is an untrained teenager. She barely knows anything about being a Witch, and is almost scared of her own shadow.

I liked what the author did with witches in this book. Witches have power through their ability to sing, and the better the song, the more responsive the spell. They use seeds and plants as their weapons and tools, singing them to life from a seed to a full tree in seconds. Although, I did wonder why the witches only drew upon the Earth for power when they sang to all the elements for aid.

Brusenna, or Senna, goes through quite the journey in WITCH SONG. At the start of the book, she’s the target of bullies and isn’t very confident of herself. Gradually, as she learns about her powers and travels to try and free her mother and the other captured Witches, she becomes more confident and self-assured. However, I’m not a fan of girls thinking things like, “I’m not pretty enough, a guy like Joshen couldn’t like me like I like him.” Senna wavered back and forth a lot on Joshen (her Guardian, aka protector), even trying to send him away to protect him multiple times. I wanted to tell her to get over it, and accept that Joshen was going to stay and do his best to keep her safe.

On one hand, I feel like the book was a bit too long. Halfway through it I was wondering if it shouldn’t have been two books instead of one, because the story just kept going and going. But on the other, some important events were skipped right over. Senna spends a year or more training herself, learning everything she can from books left behind, but that year is just mentioned. Whenever Senna uses her powers after that, it’s explained as something she learned on the island. I would have liked to see her learning, and experimenting, rather than being told about it.

Overall, I thought WITCH SONG was a decent book. It’s the start of a series, one I would continue based on how I feel about this book.

Socialize with the author:

Amber Argyle:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Gated (Gated #1) by Amy Christine Parker

Book Review: Gated (Gated #1) by Amy Christine ParkerGated by Amy Christine Parker
Series: Gated #1
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers on August 6, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Dystopian, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine, NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
A fast-paced, nerve-fraying contemporary thriller that questions loyalties and twists truths.

Appearances can be deceiving.

In the Community, life seems perfect. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pioneer invited Lyla’s family to join his group and escape the evil in the world. They were happy to be chosen, happy to move away from New York and start over in such an idyllic gated community. Now seventeen, Lyla knows that Pioneer is more than just their charismatic leader, he is their prophet . . . but his visions have grown dark.

Lyla is a loyal member of the Community, but a chance encounter with an outsider boy has her questioning Pioneer, the Community—everything. And if there’s one thing not allowed in the Community, it’s doubt. Her family and friends are certain in their belief. Lyla wishes she could feel the same. As Pioneer begins to manipulate his flock toward disaster, the question remains: Will Lyla follow them over the edge?

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand why anyone would join a cult. But Gated tells the story of the Community from the inside looking out, and from behind the gates things are not quite so simple. Amy Christine Parker’s beautiful writing creates a chilling, utterly unique YA story. Perfect for fans of creepy thrillers and contemporary fiction alike.

Book Review:

Lyla lives in Mandrodage Meadows with her family and the Community. They are under the strict but loving control of Pioneer, who has received visions of how and when the world will end. But Mandrodage Meadows is an anagram for Armageddon Meadows, and hidden in the innocent looking settlement is an underground shelter and an armory. Once the end of the world comes, only the Community will survive, safe in their underground refuge.

GATED starts off with Lyla and her friends at the shooting range, practicing for the day they’ll have to defend their Community. Lyla is reluctant to shoot to kill, but her friends and betrothed are not. The beginning sets the tone for the rest of the book, with Lyla starting to question her beliefs while others, including her parents, push her to obedience.

Although Lyla is seventeen, her voice reads a lot younger, which I think goes really well with the way she and her family live, obedient to Pioneer’s wishes. Notice I say obedience — GATED is a look inside the gates of a cult. One of the things I liked most about the book were the quotes at the top of each chapter. The quotes are by Pioneer at the start, but once Lyla starts to question her beliefs, the quotes switch to ones by well-known cult leaders such as Jim Jones and Charles Manson.

GATED is a fast but chilling read. There’s a scene where Pioneer uses footage from Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes/tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia to manipulate his flock. He claims they all happened at the same time, and are evidence the end of the world is coming even faster than he was told. It’s a great way to show how easy it is to manipulate people who don’t have access to news, and how easily you can twist things to your own ends.

I think GATED is a good book for readers who haven’t read many other cult books. I’ve read a few, so Lyla’s story wasn’t entirely new to me. I do feel like the author did a good job with her character and exploring why a person would follow someone like Pioneer. But I wish more had been explained about Pioneer. What was his motivation? Why did he create the community? Why were the other families there? Etc.

Socialize with the author:

Amy Christine Parker:
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– leeanna

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgeCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
3 Stars
Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

Book Review:

“I was raised to marry a monster.” –Nyx, CRUEL BEAUTY, page 1.

CRUEL BEAUTY is an intriguing mashup of the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast” and Greek mythology. Nyx is a girl with a horrible destiny. The product of a deal between her father and Arcadia’s Gentle Lord — the prince of demons — she’s been raised from birth to marry and then kill him.

But Nyx isn’t so happy about her destiny. She’s resentful, and rightfully so, because her father loves her sister, Astraia, and sees Nyx as only the means to an end. Nyx is Arcadia’s only change for the country to regain its freedom, instead of being cut off from the rest of the world. I liked that Nyx was often angry and bitter, and didn’t always do the right thing at first, because I thought that was realistic.

Nyx doesn’t get right down to business when she’s married to the Gentle Lord. Finding the four Hermetic hearts of his house is difficult, as is solving the riddle of Ignifex the demon prince. And at night, Nyx is visited by Shade, Ignifex’s shadow and servant. I had trouble believing both of the relationships in this book. Nyx falls in love with Shade almost immediately, as he seems to like Nyx for who she is, and not what she can do. Ignifex and Nyx, I don’t know. I just couldn’t see any chemistry between them. It didn’t bug me that Nyx fell in love with a monster, but I just didn’t know where it was coming from.

The middle of CRUEL BEAUTY read slowly for me, and I put the book down for a few days and almost forgot I was reading it. Nyx just spends lots of time roaming the house, searching for the Hermetic hearts, or aspects of the elements, and moaning over Shade and Ignifex. I do wish the Hermetic bit had been more clearly explained, as I was kinda confused by it, as well as the deals with demons.

However, once I picked the book back up, the ending redeemed it for me. I’m not going to spoil it, but I really liked the choice Nyx made, and how the book ended. Despite my annoyances with the relationships, I think I’d reread CRUEL BEAUTY in a year or two, just to revisit the world the author created, a mix of Greek history/mythology and magic, as well as spend some more time with Nyx.

Let’s talk about it:

What fairytale would you like to see retold?

Socialize with the author:

Rosamund Hodge:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna