Book Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh

Book Review: Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen OhFlying Lessons and Other Stories by Ellen Oh, Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Kelly J Baptist, Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Pena, Meg Medina, Soman Chainani, Tim Federle, Tim Tingle, Walter Dean Myers
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on January 3, 2017
Genres: Anthology, Diversity, Middle Grade
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Book Review:

FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES is a short but powerful anthology of diverse stories by diverse authors. Really, these stories could fit into any anthology, because the themes — sibling relationships, first crushes, friendship, etc — are universal. But these stories are extra important for young readers (and old!) who might not see themselves reflected in many books and stories.

The stories in FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES span a range of voices from a boy on vacation with his eccentric grandmother to a disabled basketball player to Sam, who’s awed by/wants to know the new girl at school. I would’ve liked to read longer versions of every story in the anthology, which for me, was a sign of each author’s success at pulling me into their characters’ lives in a handful of pages. I’m a greedy reader — I always want more when I get invested in characters.

The opening story, “How to Transform an Everyday, Ordinary Hoop Court into a Place of Higher Learning and You at the Podium” was a bit of an outlier at first for me. Unlike the others, it’s written from the second-person POV. But after I got further into the book, I personally took Matt de la Peña’s story as a way to open my mind. Grace Lin’s story about a Chinese girl sold into slavery who escapes her fate in an unusual way… I definitely want a book about Lingsi! And Meg Medina’s “Sol Painting, Inc.” hurt my heart for Merci and Papi. “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains” was the one story that I didn’t understand.

I didn’t find any of the stories too preachy or heavy-handed with messages. The kids are kids, doing their thing, and hopefully along the way, they’ll show the rest of us how to be more tolerant and open-minded of others who have different backgrounds/viewpoints than us. A great book for the intended middle-grade audience and adults too!

Check out the authors:

FlyingLessonsAnthology.com | We Need Diverse Books

– leeanna

Book Review: The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn Gale

Book Review: The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn GaleThe Wizard's Dog by Eric Kahn Gale
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on January 17, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
Meet Nosewise. He's spunky. He's curious. And he's a dog who can't understand why his pack mates Merlin and Morgana spend all day practicing magic tricks. If it's a trick they want, he's the dog to ask! He can already Sit!, Stay!, and Roll Over!

But there's no way Nosewise is Stay!ing when his master and best friend, Merlin, is kidnapped. There's nothing Nosewise won't do to get Merlin back, even if it means facing the strange Fae people and their magic-eating worms, or tangling with the mysterious Sword in the Stone. But it may take more than sniffing out a spell to do it!

Book Review:

THE WIZARD’S DOG is a fun fantasy romp full of magic and adventure. It’s narrated by Nosewise the dog, who has an excellent nose and a talent for magic. When I was younger, I loved books written from the perspectives of animals, and Nosewise rekindled that love.

Nosewise is curious as to why Merlin and Morgana spend all day in the study. He picked up his tricks quickly enough, why do they need so much more practice? When Nosewise learns some magic of his own, he’s the only one capable of rescuing Merlin after the wizard is kidnapped. So he sets off on the adventure of a lifetime, aided by his capable nose and brain.

THE WIZARD’S DOG is, as I said above, a fun book. Nosewise’s observations about humans are amusing, his travels are quite the adventure and learning experience, and he gets in and out of trouble like, well, a dog. I liked that the author kept Nosewise a dog — sure, he’s smart, but he can’t see all colors and he thinks poo is great. He’s loyal to the humans that deserve it; there’s even a little about animal abuse mentioned.

I do wish the Nosewise on the cover looked less silly, because my younger self might have passed this book up because of his comical appearance. Yeah, he’s funny, but he and this story are more than that.

THE WIZARD’S DOG is an enjoyable, unique take on Merlin, Arthur, and the Sword in the Stone, starring one very special dog. I know this is a standalone, but I gotta say, I’d like to see more of Nosewise!

Socialize with the author:

Eric Kahn Gale:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson

Book Review: Belle Chasse by Suzanne JohnsonBelle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #5
Published by Tor on November 8, 2016
Genres: Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: eARC
Source: Blog Tour
Goodreads
4 Stars
With the wizard-elven treaty on the verge of collapse, the preternatural world stands on the brink of war. Unless former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco manages to keep the elven leader, Quince Randolph, focused on peace and not personal matters.

With no one on the throne, Faerie is in chaos, with rival princes battling for power. The still-undead pirate, Jean Lafitte, is building his own army of misfits, and DJ—stripped of her job and hiding in the Beyond to avoid the death sentence handed down by the wizard Council of Elders—can’t get anywhere near her beloved New Orleans or her significant something-or-other, Alex.

It's time to choose sides. Friends will become enemies, enemies will become allies, and not everyone will survive. DJ and her friends will learn a hard lesson: sometimes, even the ultimate sacrifice isn’t enough.

belle chasse by suzanne johnson blog tour

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for BELLE CHASSE by Suzanne Johnson. The tour is hosted by Bewitching Book Tours and you can visit all the stops here. There’s a tour-wide giveaway after my review. This is a series I’ve enjoyed over the years, so I was excited to see BELLE CHASSE release!

Book Review:

“There was a bounty on my head, it was four days before Christmas, and I was having turtle gumbo with a merman, an undead pirate king, two loups-garou, and my best friend–a human pregnant with the half-elven child who had unknowingly helped set this whole debacle in motion. Plus a newbie vampire upstairs who didn’t like the smell of food anymore.”

And so kicks off BELLE CHASSE, the fifth book in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series. BELLE CHASSE picks up immediately after the game-changing events of PIRATE’S ALLEY; the author gives a good refresher if it’s been a while since you read that book.

I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since DJ had to run for her life, and it delivers everything about this series that I like. There’s humor, deadly moments, preternatural politics, Rene, Jean Lafitte, wizards being stupid, New Orleans flavor, and even a jaunt into Faery. As a fan of Jean Lafitte (I got a question right on Jeopardy about him, thanks to this series!) and Rene, I was very happy to see both of them get plenty of page and plot time. Plus, I snickered every time I thought about Rene buying DJ pink items on his shopping trips.

Thanks to all the political maneuverings, I felt like BELLE CHASSE was longer than it actually is. I mean that in a good way — the preternatural is on the verge of war, and there’s a lot of factions to consider and plenty of people out for themselves. This series has some a long way from the first book; it’s one of those series that gets better with every installment. I had no idea the series would end up here back when I read ROYAL STREET in 2012. Sentinel DJ has come such a long way, it’s seriously incredible.

When I reviewed PIRATE’S ALLEY, I said that book was setting the scene for some serious preternatural action. Some of that action is in BELLE CHASSE, but this installment also increases the buildup, really raising the stakes for everyone involved, be it wizard, elf, or outlaw. DJ really has to think through her own loyalties and assumptions about the different factions, realizing what she can change and what she can’t. I admired her dedication to Eugenie, the determination to do what’s best for her friend while not compromising her moral values.

I was happy to return to DJ’s New Orleans, and after reading BELLE CHASSE, I’m eager for even more of this fantastic series!

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*giveaway is tour-wide

About the author:

author suzanne johnsonSuzanne Johnson is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series but perhaps is best known for her romantic suspense and paranormal romance books written as Susannah Sandlin, including the Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series, the Wilds of the Bayou suspense series, and The Collectors romantic thriller series. Her awards include two Holt Medallions in 2013 and 2015, a 2015 Booksellers Best Award in romantic suspense, and nominations in 2014 and 2015 for the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award. A displaced New Orleanian, she currently lives in Auburn, Alabama. Suzanne loves SEC football, fried gator on a stick, all things Cajun, and redneck reality TV.
Website
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– leeanna

Book Review: Libertarians on the Prairie by Christine Woodside

Book Review: Libertarians on the Prairie by Christine WoodsideLibertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books by Christine Woodside
Published by Arcade Publishing on September 6, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 292
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
Goodreads
4 Stars
This myth-busting book finally reveals the true story behind the beloved children's classics.

Generations of children have fallen in love with the pioneer saga of the Ingalls family, of Pa and Ma, Laura and her sisters, and their loyal dog, Jack. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books have taught millions of Americans about frontier life, giving inspiration to many and in the process becoming icons of our national identity. Yet few realize that this cherished bestselling series wandered far from the actual history of the Ingalls family and from what Laura herself understood to be central truths about pioneer life.

In this groundbreaking narrative of literary detection, Christine Woodside reveals for the first time the full extent of the collaboration between Laura and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose hated farming and fled the family homestead as an adolescent, eventually becoming a nationally prominent magazine writer, biographer of Herbert Hoover, and successful novelist, who shared the political values of Ayn Rand and became mentor to Roger Lea MacBride, the second Libertarian presidential candidate. Drawing on original manuscripts and letters, Woodside shows how Rose reshaped her mother's story into a series of heroic tales that rebutted the policies of the New Deal. Their secret collaboration would lead in time to their estrangement. A fascinating look at the relationship between two strong-willed women, Libertarians on the Prairie is also the deconstruction of an American myth.

Book Review:

The first books I remember buying as a kid were the Little House books. I still have them; they’ve been read so many times I had to tape the spines. In the 1990s, I read the books about Laura’s daughter Rose, and kept going to the books about Laura’s mother and grandmother. But Laura’s stories were always my favorite, and I loved Laura’s plucky attitude and pioneer spirit, and the knowledge that the Ingalls family would survive any hardship because they had each other.

Essentially, I’ve been a huge fan of the Little House books and Laura Ingalls Wilder all my life. I even embody some of that pioneer spirit. I’m a farmer. I love the land. I like being self-sufficient. After reading LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE, I have to wonder if I absorbed the intended messages of Rose Wilder Lane, the themes she slid into her mother’s books. The author deconstructs the “new” pioneer myth Rose built, shaping her mother’s stories into a vehicle for her political beliefs of freedom, love of nature, self-sufficiency, and so on.

I’m not sure if LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE will appeal to all fans of the Little House books. It can be hard to see the layers peeled back on childhood favorites, to learn that Rose carefully edited the books, picking which of Laura’s experiences best fit the ideal she wanted to portray. But I geeked out over learning more about Laura and Rose, their writing process, and their relationship, as well as how their personal beliefs and politics influenced the books.

LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE is, in part, a biography of Rose’s adult life. At first I didn’t know why Woodside was including information on Rose’s travels through Albania or her writing career. But it made sense as the book went on, showing how those travels and experiences shaped Rose just as much as her early life on the farm did. I also learned quite a bit about libertarianism; for example, I never knew Rose was one of the founders of the movement.

Overall, I found LIBERTARIANS ON THE PRAIRIE interesting, educational, and eye opening. For the most part it was easy to read, laid out chronologically and written almost in a conversational manner. But I do have one quibble. Sometimes the author referred to a person by their first name, then their last name, or sometimes both names, and I didn’t always know who she meant. Or a person wouldn’t be mentioned for chapters, so when they showed up again, I didn’t remember who they were. I wish the book had a summary of important figures for reference.

– leeanna

Book Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Book Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuThe Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Series: The Dandelion Dynasty #1
Published by Saga Press on April 7, 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 623
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.

Book Review:

I have a confession to make: at first, I didn’t like THE GRACE OF KINGS. I almost put it down a couple of times because the book just wasn’t clicking for me. But a couple of chapters in, things changed, and I started to really like the book. By the time I finished, I went back and reread the chapters that I’d mostly skimmed in the beginning because I wanted to see if I’d missed any details.

The reason I didn’t like the THE GRACE OF KINGS at first? I’m a character driven reader. I like to connect to a book’s characters, to have someone to root for or against. But in this book, the country of Dara is the most important character. How its territories and people prosper or suffer based on who’s in charge or how the rebellion is doing.

THE GRACE OF KINGS also has a different feel at first, because of the unique style of storytelling, a style that combines Eastern and Western influences. Once I got used to that as well, I flew through THE GRACE OF KINGS, and was quite disappointed to turn the last page. I need the next book in the Dandelion Dynasty now!

What I liked best about this book is that it explores what happens after you win. Most fantasy books stop when the tyrant is overthrown and the good guys are in power, but THE GRACE OF KINGS goes many steps further than that. Kuni and Mata are opposites in every sense of the word, and the author uses them to show flexible versus inflexible thinking, breaking out of the box versus following traditions, etc. Add in “silkpunk” — a new technology where fantastical devices are developed from organic materials like silk and bamboo — and there are some awesome ideas here.

I do wish the characters — especially female characters — had more development. I also would have liked to see more females in the book, as they were often relegated to the sidelines or used as tragic devices. I understand that fits the time period, but still.

Overall, I liked THE GRACE OF KINGS a lot, and I’d recommend it for epic fantasy fans looking for something a bit different. I also recommend checking out interviews the author’s done, which isn’t something I usually say, but the interviews added even more to the book for me.

Socialize with the author:

Ken Liu:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan GraudinWolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Series: Wolf by Wolf #1
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers on October 20, 2015
Genres: Alternate Universe, Young Adult
Pages: 388
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
Her story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.

Book Review:

I was super excited to read WOLF BY WOLF. A young adult, alternate history imagining what might have happened if the Nazis won the war? What would Europe look like if Hitler and Emperor Hirohito controlled much of the world? What if Nazi medical experiments produced a human with supernatural powers? What if one of those humans fought back?

I love alternate history, especially alternate history of the WWII variety. I think author Ryan Graudin did a great job of creating a plausible post-war Third Reich and getting across her vision for a mostly Axis-controlled world. The Axis Tour, a motorcycle race over 20,000 kilometers, from Germania (Berlin) to Tokyo, is the center of WOLF BY WOLF. A race to show off the best of German and Japanese youth, it’s a fierce competition filled with sabotage and danger. Only open to boys, until Adele Wolfe stole her twin brother’s identity and won last year’s Axis Tour.

Enter Yael. She survived a death camp and medical experimentation to come out stronger, but cursed with the ability to skinshift. She can shift her features to impersonate anyone, which makes her perfect for the Resistance’s plans. This year she’ll enter the Axis Tour as Adele Wolfe, win, and assassinate Adolf Hitler.

All Yael has to do is fool Adele’s brother Felix and another racer she has history with, escape detection, deal with the sabotage attempts of the other competitors, and come out on top. Easy, right?

WOLF BY WOLF has an excellent balance of past and present events. Most of the book focuses on the race, and Yael’s efforts to impersonate Adele in the presence of Felix and Luka. But there are a few sections set in her past, showing the people most important to her, the people she’s lost. Yael isn’t entirely sure of who she is, but she remembers herself by remembering them. I quite liked the author’s writing style — it was perfect for developing Yael’s character and thoughts, as well as the world. Graudin has a unique way of describing things, and I also liked that she included Yael’s inner voice. Yael is a great character: she’s survived hell and found a way to fight back. She’s sure of her mission at first, but as she spends time with the other racers, she begins to question who they are. In the author’s note, Graudin says she wrote about identity — what makes people who they are — and I think she did a good job at exploring that, by showing the other racers through Yael’s eyes.

WOLF BY WOLF captivated me, from the author’s version of a world where Hitler still lives to the deadly Axis Tour. There were times when I wasn’t sure if Yael would be able to complete her mission, or even survive the race without getting her cover blown. I rated the book 4 stars instead of 5 because despite lots of action, it dragged a bit in the middle for me and I wanted things to move along. Otherwise, I’m eagerly waiting for the second book, and I’ll be recommending WOLF BY WOLF to anyone looking for a creative, fast-paced, unique YA book.

Socialize with the author:

Ryan Graudin:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica CluessA Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers on September 20, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?


Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces a powerful, unforgettably heroine, and a world filled with magic, romance, and betrayal. Hand to fans of Libba Bray, Sarah J. Maas, and Cassandra Clare.

Book Review:

The best description for A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING is in the Acknowledgments: Victorian Cthulu Harry Potter. I saw that when I finished the book, and yeah, that’s a great way to describe it.

Jessica Cluess takes a bunch of tropes and cliches and builds off them, turning tired old stuff into a fun, well-written series starter. I read A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING in a day, absorbed by the author’s besieged London and Henrietta.

Because a witch was partly responsible for summoning the Ancients who are trying to destroy England, female witches are now executed. Henrietta’s hidden her magic abilities her entire life, but when she saves her best friend’s life, a sorcerer sees it. But instead of being killed, Henrietta’s whisked away to be trained as a sorcerer. Female sorcerers don’t exist, but it’s prophesied that one will defeat the Ancients.

There’s only one problem: Henrietta’s living a lie. She knows she isn’t the Chosen One.

One of the things I liked the most about A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING is there’s not a lot of romance. There’s a little there, but I was really worried this book would slide into love triangle or even love quadrangle territory, given that Henrietta’s fellow students are all male. Sure, one of them tries, and the banter is fun, but I so, so appreciated that the author didn’t turn the book into a romance with a light side of fantasy. No, Henrietta remembers what’s at stake.

The book did lag a bit for me in the middle, and I was tired of the misogynistic attitude of some sorcerers. Not to mention the whole blaming all witches for the Ancients when a male magician was also responsible. I also don’t know why the Ancients are trying to take England for their own, but I’m guessing that will come up in the next book.

Socialize with the author:

Jessica Cluess:
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth LettsThe Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts
Published by Ballantine Books on August 23, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion comes the riveting true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II. As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred horses. With the support of U.S. general George S. Patton, a passionate equestrian, the Americans planned an audacious mission to kidnap these beautiful animals and smuggle them into safe territory—assisted by a daring Austrian colonel who was both a former Olympian and a trainer of the famous Lipizzaner stallions.

Book Review:

THE PERFECT HORSE is the amazing story of a daring U.S. Army mission to rescue priceless horses taken from all over Europe by the Nazis. For all the reading I’ve done on World War II, I can’t believe I had never heard of the German horse breeding program, the difficulties the captured horses endured when Germany faced defeat, or even the plight of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

The first half of the book sets everything up: introducing the major players such as Alois Podhajsky, Gustav Rau, Colonel Reed, and Witez. The big U.S. rescue doesn’t come in until the second half, which was fine with me, because I was so interested in everything else going on. For example, I never knew Poland had a big Arabian breeding program, which was almost entirely wiped out by the war. I learned a lot in THE PERFECT HORSE, from Poland’s Arabians to the different Lipizzaner lines to the lessening of the U.S. cavalry during WWII.

The book was well-researched and well-written, educational and entertaining. I did feel like the author got a little carried away with recounting the emotions of the horses. Imagining Witez’s thoughts drew me out of the narrative, because it just didn’t fit for me in a non-fiction book. At the end of the book, there’s a nice summary of what happened to many of the people/horses/places mentioned, although I thought there were a few curious exceptions, such as Podhajsky.

I’d recommend THE PERFECT HORSE even if you don’t have a huge interest in horses — by no means is this just a “horse book.” It’s a fascinating story of living treasures who were almost destroyed because of the Nazi obsession with purity. It’s also a fascinating story of how enemies came together to rescue those treasures.

Socialize with the author:

Elizabeth Letts:
Website
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– leeanna

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteAnd I Darken by Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Saga #1
Published by Delacorte Press on June 28, 2016
Genres: Alternate Universe, Historical Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 496
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Book Review:

AND I DARKEN asks one very cool question: what if Vlad the Impaler had been a girl? That was all I needed to pick up this book, because I really liked the idea of gender-swapping Vlad into Lada.

THE GOOD:

–Lada. Lada is the real standout of AND I DARKEN. I absolutely loved that she was vicious and mean. Sometimes she’s almost a silly caricature (because she’s always so bloodthirsty), but I so adored having a female character who didn’t want to be liked and didn’t care about what other people thought of her. If I were Lada, stuck in her world where women were supposed to embroider and be gentle and marry like chattel for the advantage of their fathers, I’d be just as nasty and determined to find my own way. Vlad the Impaler didn’t have an easy childhood, and neither does Lada.

–The love triangle. I’m quite surprised that I liked the love triangle aspect of this book. Well, I liked some of it. There’s no obvious choice here. Mehmed really could have Lada or Radu or both. I liked that the author explored the toxic branches of the triangle, the jealousy and hard choices it made for Lada and Radu.

THE BAD:

–Too long. AND I DARKEN is almost 500 pages. It’s the first book in a trilogy. AND I DARKEN is way too long. There were parts where I wanted to put the book down and take a snooze. I appreciate the author trying to make sure the reader understood the various politics of the time, but I wish she had condensed some of it.

–Mehmed. I didn’t like Mehmed at all. I didn’t really know why Lada and Radu were both attracted to him. The author kept telling me he was charismatic and a great guy, but she never showed me he was. She did show me he was a jerk — I can’t believe he told Lada the women of the harem were just a duty, not special like she was. I can’t see vicious Lada buying that, can you?

Overall, I liked the idea of AND I DARKEN. The execution was off at times, but it’s a series I would continue. I need more of Lada in my life!

Socialize with the author:

Kiersten White:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel CainePaper and Fire by Rachel Caine
Series: The Great Library #2
Published by NAL on July 5, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
4 Stars
In Ink and Bone, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…

With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

Book Review:

INK AND BONE, the first book in the Great Library series, was one of my favorite books last year. I’ve been looking forward to the continuation of Jess’s story ever since, and PAPER AND FIRE did not disappoint.

I described INK AND BONE as a book lover’s nightmare. PAPER AND FIRE is a herd of nightmares trampling over every page.

Now that Jess is part of the Library proper, in the High Garda (the guard for Scholars and the Library), he sees even more of the horrors initiated by the Archivist and those under his control. Every move he makes is like a chess match, as the Archivist is watching for Jess to put half a toe out of line. But Jess, being Jess, doesn’t hesitate to throw himself into danger to save others. I really liked how he protected his chosen family, and how the author showed blood isn’t always thicker when it comes to families.

The main story in PAPER AND FIRE is the rescue of Thomas. In INK AND BONE, the postulants were told Thomas had been killed, but Jess discovers otherwise. If you’re dangerous but still useful, the Library takes you, tortures you, and exploits you. The first half of the book is a little slow, but looking back, I saw the Archivist’s trap closing around Jess and his friends as they tried to find whatever information they could. The second half is action-packed, with Jess, Glain, Santi, Wolfe, Khalila, Dario, and Morgan. It was great to see the “crew” again, as well as see how the decisions of the Library and fighting against it impacted each of them.

I had absolutely no idea what would happen in PAPER AND FIRE, and I loved that. I always enjoy when a book is unpredictable. I also liked getting to see more of the world of the Library; I think this is one of my favorite worlds, ever. There are some scenes near the end, where you see how much the Library has hidden and controlled people, and I had a moment.

And that ending! Oh my, oh my. Waiting for the next volume in the Great Library series is going to be rough.

TL;DR version: Alternate history, where books are more important than a single life. The Library is all-powerful and all-seeing, but Jess can’t let it keep his friend. Full of action, thinky moments, and great characters.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to the publisher, I am offering one copy of INK AND BONE to U.S. readers.

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– leeanna