Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out

 

Goodreads Blurb

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.

 

Review

This was such a quick read! One, it’s written in verse instead of prose. Two, it was a wonderful read so I zipped through it in a day. I originally ordered this book from Amazon because I was looking for a good nonfiction novel to read with my 7th graders this years. And I love the fact that it’s written in verse. I don’t think many of my kiddos have read any books written in verse so it will be good to expose them to that too. And the book is full of symbolism and figurative language to touch on poetry as well. As well as tie in some history aspects of the times (1960-1970’s) and how Communism impacted the whole world.

The story of Ha is based on the author’s life in Saigon in the beginning and then later it’s about how she, her mom, and brothers take refuge in the United States to get away from the Communism in Vietnam. They are hosted by a family in Alabama so that one of her brothers can work as an apprentice car mechanic for the man of the house.

There, Ha and her brothers must adjust to American culture and have to deal with their peers bullying them daily. The author explains it later in the book, that when she moved to Alabama it took her years to realize that she and her family represented what all of these kids were seeing on their TV screens at home and that they had never actually seen Vietnamese people in rural Alabama before. So if the kids were being mean to her she finally realized they were just copying what they were hearing and seeing at home from their parents and from the American news anchors.

I can’t imagine what that kind of culture shock would be like. Ha talks about her memories in Saigon, her friends, the plant life, the food, the landscape and how much she misses all of these things. From reading the book and have never been to Vietnam, they sound sooooooooo different. I cannot imagine. It almost sounds like they moved to a different planet.

I don’t read too much nonfiction so I was really glad I liked it! I think one of the last nonfiction books I read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about the World War II pilot and his crew members that survived on a raft for months. And I actually read that one with my kiddos and they liked it so much that we started an after school book club where we finished the YA adaption of the book and watched certain parts of the movie.

I’m hoping Inside Out & Back Again will interest them as much! And I think it would be great as a film if they ever decide to adapt it! I’d definitely go see it.

 

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Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

Never Fade

 

Goodreads Blurb

Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children—and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts—has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future—and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam—and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart—she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?

 

Review

I’m really liking Alexandra Bracken’s books. I can’t decide if I liked this book better or the first one, The Darkest Minds, more… I really missed Zu in this one but at least the majority of the characters came back together! I tried going to Barnes & Noble yesterday to find the third book In the Afterlight, and they didn’t have it 😦 So I ended up buying The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virture by Mckenzie Lee instead. Maybe next time they’ll have it or I’ll just break down soon and buy it off of Amazon.

I think Ruby and Liam’s relationship seemed a little more over the top in this one but I loved the new characters Jude and Vida. Vida is the best! I love people who are super caring and protective but they don’t want you to call them out on it. Her tough exterior is entertaining and endearing even though she doesn’t want it to be.

And have you seen the new covers for these books? They’re even better than the original ones! *Photos from Alex Bracken’s website * I think the Never Fade one is actually my favorite.

 

I don’t want to put any spoilers in this review since it’s just the second book I’m reviewing but the ending was heart wrenching. So so so so so so sad. I wasn’t expecting it! It’s the first time that Bracken pulled on my heartstrings like that and it was very sudden. You’ll know what I’m talking about once you get to the ending. All I can say is, have a box of tissues next to you. All you want to do is console everyone in the end but the team knows they must go on and help the rest of the kids stuck in these awful camps if they ever want their life to be somewhat normal again. What is surprising to me is that Liam and Chubs aren’t exactly in the same boat with Ruby.

In the first book Liam seems like he’s going to end up being a martyr just to help everyone escape the camps but he flip flops in Never Fade. I don’t know if things got too real for him or he just feels like he has something to lose now (Ruby), but he just wants the 3 of them to go into hiding and to protect themselves and to go to California to make sure Zu and her cousin made it there. I think Chubs just wants to be with his friends or his family and that he’s tired of running the way they have been.

The third book sounds like it’s taking them more westward and in the direction of Zu no matter where they end up. I can’t wait to pick it up but we move this week and we’re having our baby the next week so reading may take a backseat for awhile. I have a few more reviews coming for A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi and a middle grade novel called Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a nonfiction novel about the author’s life leaving Saigon in the 70’s and moving to Alabama in the United States.

 

 

Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices #2) by Cassandra Clare

LOS

 

Goodreads Blurb

Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

Review

I’ve had lots of luck with sequels lately. First I fell in love with the sequel to Stalking Jack the Ripper and now I have fallen in love with the sequel to Lady Midnight. I enjoyed Lady Midnight I just think it took me awhile to get back into the Shadowhunter world after not reading it for a few years. I devoured The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices back in college, but then there was kind of a dry spell where there weren’t any new Shadowhunter books for awhile. I think they were busy making the movie and trying to figure out the TV show there for a few years.

But I could not put Lord of Shadows down. I finished it within a week, which is no easy feat with these books because they’re HUGE! I thought I wouldn’t have it finished by the time the baby got here in September. I had already mentally prepared myself that it was most likely the last book I was going to finish during summer. But I completed it and now I’m onto Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken. The sequel to The Darkest Minds. Another sequel! I guess it’s just been a catch up summer for me! I finished all of my professional development by the first week of July so I’ve had lots of time to read.

Lord of Shadows seemed much more emotional to me than the first book. I loved all of the Edgar Allan Poe references and the “Annabel Lee” poem in it but I couldn’t get into it right away. However, I was fully invested in all the characters by the second installment to the series. I loved them all. Emma, Christina, Gwyn, Ty, Livvy, Kieran, Mark, and then the appearances throughout the book by our old favorites Magnus and Alec. The whole plot seemed more cohesive than the first book. More was set up, relationships had been built, there was love, betrayal, and all that’s in between.

I loved when they traveled to Faerie too. I think that’s what hooked me at first. I have loved all Fae books since I was a freshman in high school when I read the Wicked Lovely books. The setting drew me in. I love how mystical and barbaric the world is. It’s such a conundrum! And I feel like this reflected in Kieran and Mark’s relationship. Everything with them and Christina was so emotional and twisted, just like all things Fae. You never know what to expect! And it was done really well in this book. There was no sense of hodge-podgeness.

This is why I enjoyed Gwen and Diana’s relationship too. Nothing is black and white with the Fae. It’s all kinds of shades of gray.

The ending of this book was absolutely heart wrenching. Several people died, loyalties were shattered, and you find out there’s more to the Shadowhunter world falling apart. It’s a great lead for the next book in the series. One of the best cliff hangers at the end of a book I’ve seen in awhile. I have no idea how I am supposed to survive until The Queen of Air and Darkness (The Dark Artifices #3) comes out in 2019!!!! That’s two stinking years!

I hear there’s supposed to be another sub-series coming out that feeds out of The Infernal Devices series. Supposedly it’s about the generation of Lightwood’s and Blackwood children that come after Will, Tessa, and Jem’s generation in the early 1900’s. I guess I can bide my time with that. I believe the first book is targeted for 2018 at some point.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about trying the TV show out again. I thought the first season was so-so. I watched the first episode of the second season and gave up though. Should I try again? Does it get better? But then I saw a clip of Sarah Hyland as the Seelie Queen and I thought even her acting was bad as the queen. How can you make Sarah Hyland’s acting bad??? I love her in Modern Family! And I think Sebastian has to make his appearance in the second season at some point. That’s another reason I’m interested. I don’t even know who’s supposed to play him. Let me know what you think!

And I gave this book a 5/5 stars. Wholeheartedly, without a shadow of a doubt. It was splendid.

 

Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

HPD

 

Goodreads Blurb

In this hotly anticipated sequel to the haunting #1 bestseller Stalking Jack the Ripper, bizarre murders are discovered in the castle of Prince Vlad the Impaler, otherwise known as Dracula. Could it be a copycat killer…or has the depraved prince been brought back to life?

Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper’s true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe’s best schools of forensic medicine…and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life’s dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school’s forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again

 

Review

This was one of the rare incidences that the sequel was better than the first book. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Stalking Jack the Ripper, but I feel like the story in Hunting Prince Dracula was much more entertaining. Maybe because I enjoyed the setting better. And I really do think Maniscalco’s writing became stronger with the second book. The plot seemed more elaborate and surprised me more in the end than the first book.

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC from the Texas Library Association convention this year. Well… my mom snagged it for me. She’s the librarian at the middle school where I teach. Hunting Prince Dracula will officially come out in September this year, so only one more month! September will be a good month since it comes out then and so does Warcross by Marie Lu. (Which was also spectacular, as most Marie Lu novels are.)

I was hooked on Hunting Prince Dracula throughout the entire novel. Knowing it was going to take place in Vlad the Impaler’s castle in Romania made it intriguing to me. The castle/school seemed creepy and so did many of the students. I kept waiting to see if this book was going to turn out having fantasy elements in it. Which in a way it did but it was still mostly historical fiction. Most of the fantasy aspects came from hearing about all of the myths and legends that surround Romania with vampires and werewolves. I do wish that my ARC had a completed glossary of Romanian translations in the back. It would have been helpful while reading. I guess I’ll have to go buy a copy when it comes out next month. Some of the language was difficult to keep up with.

The ending of this one took me completely by surprise! The whole time you’re wondering is it a real person who lives near the castle committing these copy cat acts to Dracula’s or is it Dracula himself come back to haunt his bloodline? You even see the main character Audrey Rose doubt her thoughts a few times. She always argues scientifically but there’s so many parallels in this spooky place that she can’t help but wonder.

Of course I love the main characers, Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell. They’re both witty and Cresswell’s lack of shame in flirting is hilarious. But then you meet new characters like his sister Daciana and the maid Ileana and you love them too! Daciana has about as much shame as her brother and never apologizes for what she believes in. I love her! And Ileana just seems like she knows a little more than she lets on the entire book but she’s also a very good friend to Audrey Rose. You don’t know what to make of her character until the end of the book.

I don’t want to post too many spoilers for this book since it’s not even out yet but I do want to talk about the next novel. And yes, there will definitely be a next one. When the story ends Audrey Rose and Thomas find out they will still be abroad this next year with her uncle as apprentices. And they will be traveling to… AMERICA! You kind of expect that to happen because Audrey Rose drops a few foreshadowing comments here and there about how she’s always wanted to travel there. I think she says New York specifically if I remember correctly. I’m hoping we cross paths with her cousin Liza in the next book since they talk about her traveling abroad the next year as a coming of age thing like Daciana does in this book.

I’ve heard a lot about this type of travel year lately that young adults took in the 19th century. I know there’s a new YA novel out called The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue that it just specifically about a young mans travel year. I wish it was still feasible to do things like that now. Maybe it is… I just don’t know how I’d feel about my daughter traveling on her own with a friend to different countries for a year. Sounds expensive and kind of dangerous. I think for me to be okay with that it would need to be with a study abroad program. But the idea of it sounds marvelous!

Anyway, this book definitely got 5/5 stars from me. I highly recommend it. It is dark like the other book but it’s wonderful! Rich with Romanian folklore and all things Dracula. I cannot wait until the next one debuts. I’m already having withdrawals.

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

sjtr

“Roses have both petals and thorns, my dark flower. You needn’t believe something weak because it appears delicate. Show the world your bravery.”
― Kerri ManiscalcoStalking Jack the Ripper

 

Goodreads Blurb

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

 

Review

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes or the recent Jackaby novels by William Ritter then you would absolutely adore this book. Except the main character is a female, and all around awesome.

Audrey Rose is a strong female character who doesn’t bend to societies rules based on gender. She thoroughly enjoys studying as an apprentice underneath her uncle as a medical examiner and they help Scotland Yard solve the case of Jack the Ripper who is terrorizing the streets of London and killing young women and taking their organs for an unknown reason. They do this along with her uncles other apprentice, the dashing but oh-so-aggravating Thomas Cresswell who is a know-it-all and a shameless flirt.

However, the plot thickens even more when Audrey Rose realizes these murders have happened to many women who have worked as maids in her home over the span of her lifetime. And that one had been previously betrothed to her uncle. Can this be mere coincidence? Could she possibly know the killer or even be living in the same house as him?

She and Thomas must find out the truth.

I highly enjoyed this novel. I liked Maniscalco’s writing voice and how witty and sassy she made Audrey Rose and her cousin Liza, I liked how Audrey Rose didn’t let 19th century English society tell her who to be (Propriety be damned!), and it took me by surprise! I had no idea who the murderer was until the last 3rd of the book. It took me quite awhile to catch on.

You know how sometimes you read a mystery novel and you figure out where they’re going with it about halfway through the book? That was not this book. Her style of writing was wonderfully refreshing! I gave this book 5/5 stars. And I received an ARC of the 2nd book, Hunting Prince Dracula, from the Texas Library Association convention this year and will be posting a review of it soon as well. So get ready to leave England and head to Dracula’s castle in Romania for Audrey Rose’s next adventure!

***I do feel like I need to add a disclaimer to the end of this review… this was a pretty dark, gory book. If you are squeamish or not into that sort of story you may not want try this one out. Or if you do be prepared because they go into full detail when they are examining the victims bodies murdered by The Ripper.***

 

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo

CK

“Fear is a phoenix. You can watch it burn a thousand times and still it will return.”
― Leigh BardugoCrooked Kingdom

 

Goodreads Blurb

Welcome to the world of the Grisha.

After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn—and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city, Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld.

 

Review

Alright, so if you’ve read the first book in this duology then you know this is about a crew of friends who dabble in the illegal going-ons in Ketterdam in the Grishaverse. All of the same characters come back into play for this final book in the duology.

Kaz is still calling the shots, even if they are at last minutes and no one else knows what they are. Inej is still ambitious and wants to find her way back to her homeland and family and save other people being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Nina is dealing with the aftermath and withdrawals from taking the Jurda Parem and learning to harness a new ability that has come from the drug. Matthias is still trying to capture her heart and planning for their future. Wylan is finally seeing how horrid his father actually is. And Jesper is mending his relationship with his father and working on becoming a better person for his father and for Wylan.

There’s lots of moral lessons learned int his installment to the duology. I feel like Kaz and Wylan grew the most out of all the characters in the series. Kaz finally realizes what he has with Inej and shows her more kindness than he did in the first book and tries to open up to her more. Wylan basically goes from being a lost boy to a man and taking what’s rightfully his and not apologizing for it. I think Wylan is my favorite character in both books. Inej comes in at a close second.

One thing that I absolutely loved in Crooked Kingdom was how there was a crossover of characters from this series and the Shadow and Bone series. It was really neat to see them interacting together. Especially when they would reference Sankta Alina and knowing what really happened to her. It’s like that excitement I felt when I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and they brought it all the original cast members like Princess Leia and Han Solo.

One thing that surprised me was the death at the end of the story. I don’t want to say who dies because that’s a pretty big spoiler but it was heart breaking and it came out of nowhere! These characters complete impossible tasks on the daily and someone so small and trivial managed to kill one of them. It was so sad. Yet, the actual ending of the book wasn’t. I appreciated that from Bardugo. She takes you on an emotional roller coaster but doesn’t leave you with lingering sadness over the book. Most of the character’s still had a happy ending.

I’m not sure why that character was chosen as the one who was killed off? Maybe because they really didn’t have a home or place in the Grisha world? I’m not sure.

Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars. While I did really like it, it was a little slow in some parts and seemed very similar to the first book. I wish they had been in a new setting or had bigger changes to the plot. It just felt very much the same.

I hope they make this duology into a movie one day. I think with it’s unique plot it would do really well if it was done correctly. It probably would be somewhat difficult due to the type of magic in the story but it has the potential to be one of a kind and awesome!

 

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

ruin and rising

 

Goodreads Blurb

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

 

Review

I finally finished this one! I started it months ago and had to set it down. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, I just needed to step away from The Grishaverse for awhile. I started off reading Six of Crows and then went back and read Shadow and Bone and then Siege and Storm. From there I tried finishing the series but I needed a brain break from it.

But I picked it up and wanted to get it read before school started and before the baby got here. And I loved it! I liked how it didn’t have a completely tragic ending. It seemed like a darker series that was heading that way for most of it but I was pleasantly surprised! I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

One thing that I can’t decide if I’m on-board about is who Alina ended up with. I love Mal, don’t get me wrong. I love how they grew up together and always looked out for each other but I feel like they both neglected each other so much. He was always off flirting and messing around with other girls before she get pretty and famous, and she could never make up her mind when it came to all of the men in her life. It just seemed like they both settled in the end.

In my opinion, I was hoping she would end up with Strumhond. I enjoyed his character more than Mal’s and it seemed like they just meshed well. They could have had time to fall head over heels for each other. But I guess in the end, it was best that Alina disappear after what happened on The Fold. Sigh. I just wish he would have fought a little harder for her. It was like each male in her life had something the other two didn’t.

Strumhond had charisma and charm and respect for Alina but was a little cocky.

The Darkling was a mysterious, torutred type who was on the same level as her. (Power wise) And who she seemed the most physically attracted too. But he was evil and awful. Unfortunate.

And then there’s Mal who she had a history with and who was her best friend but who neglected her and denied her until she became someone with power and fame.

It’s like there was no perfect person for her to end up with. But since she lost her power she became who Mal wanted her to be again. I just feel really conflicted about it.

As for the backstory with Morozova and The Darkling. I kind of saw that coming. I knew they would end up being related in some way. It was inevitable. I think that story about Morozova was supposed to be loosely related to Rasputin’s death and the whole myth of Anastasia Romanov surviving the family massacre that happened in Russia. His death seemed similar and there was a girl who miraculously survived… Lot’s of parallels. And Rasputin was thought to be more than just an adviser, he had a strange hold over the czar.

I liked the parallels, it made it interesting. And Ravka seems so Russian anyway. The landscape, the names, the way of life, the politics in the story.

I gave this book 4.5/5 stars because I enjoyed it so much. I am trying to finish up Crooked Kingdom right now and will hopefully have a review up in the next week! I can’t wait till Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns novel and her Wonder Woman book come out!

 

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star Touched Queen

 

“I love you,” he murmured into my hair. “You are my night and stars, the fate I would fix myself to in any life.”
Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen

 

Goodreads Blurb

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

 

Review

This book! Omg this book. It has been a great summer for reading. It’s the first summer I’ve gotten to relax and I’m not doing a million and one things so I’ve really enjoyed knocking out a few books on my TBR. I’ve read 24 of 35 books for my Goodreads challenge so far. I’ve been trying to burn through them pretty quick since I know I won’t have a ton of time to read once the baby gets here in September and teaching makes it hard to read for pleasure in the first place.

I picked this book up in Baltimore when we were visiting my husbands family this summer. I’ve been following the author, Roshani Chokshi on Instagram and Twitter for awhile now. She and Sabaa Tahir crack me up but this is the first thing I’ve ever read that she’s written. I know she has a sequel to this book out now, A Crown of Wishes, but from what I’ve read about her she also has some published short stories. And she’s working on a middle grade mythology novel for Rick Riordan’s new mythology publishing line coming out. I’m super excited about it! I love his books and now I love hers!

I was blown away by this book straight away. Her writing style is very eloquent and whimsical and it reminded me a lot of Renee Ahdieh’s writing style. Which might partly be because they’re both writing about Indian mythology and folklore but I just really enjoyed it. The entire story and the world building was so beautiful! Enchanting would probably be the best word for it.

I also highly enjoyed the main character Maya. Yes she’s technically a Princess but she didn’t come off that way. She’s an ambitious character who knows what she wants and loves with everything she has. And I appreciated how Chokshi didn’t make her perfect. Most heroines in books are beautiful, talented, witty, etc. While Maya was quick-witted she was also a normal 17 year old girl. She was has normal teenage insecurities and suffers from mild acne and has nappy hair. Everything about her is great in the book. She’s very relatable and endearing and strong-willed. There’s nothing at all I would change about any of the characters in The Star-Touched Queen.

Then there’s the Dharma Raja, her Prince of Death (Amar) who always finds her. Hubba-hubba! He is Mr. Perfect! I love him! He is patient with Maya and keeps a tree of memories for her to always remind her of their past lives together. He is a deity so he’s had to bring her back multiple times and always finds her because she has a very specific horoscope when she’s born. A dark, and mysterious horoscope that most people fear.

There’s something so romantic about reincarnation and the idea of finding your soulmate in each life. Like in the N’SYNC song “This  I Promise You” from back in the day when J.C. sings “I’ve loved you forever… in lifetimes before.” One of the best lyrics ever! I’ve always wanted to read, and even thought about writing a story about lovers who find each other in each life. This whole story was just really special!

And then Nfritti comes along, who used to be Maya’s best friend in a past life but who is heartbroken over losing her beau, and feels like Maya betrayed her and did not help save him since she’s the queen that rules over death takes revenge on her and Amar. Maya must sift through all of the truth and lies weaved from Nfritti and from the half-truths that Amar has told her since he cannot speak about who he is and what he does until the moon allows it. Putting her blind faith into people is hard to do when the entire world has always been cruel to her and treated her like a pariah because of her unfortunate horoscope.

When Maya doubts herself and makes a huge mistake she must go to great lengths to correct her errors. This is when the story gets really interesting. Maya befriends a crazy, demon horse, aids her old kingdom and little sister who is now grown, and travels far and wide to get back to Amar and defeat Nfritti before it’s too late.

I gave this book 5/5 stars. It’s one of the best romantic stories I have read in YA and just an overall magical ride throughout the book. I can’t wait to order the second book. Chokshi is such an amazingly talented writer!!!!

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken

prosper.jpg

 

Goodreads Blurb

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet thee, Prosperity Oceanus Redding, but truly, I only anticipate the delights of destroying thy happiness.”

Prosper is the only unexceptional Redding in his old and storied family history — that is, until he discovers the demon living inside him. Turns out Prosper’s great-great-great-great-great-something grandfather made — and then broke — a contract with a malefactor, a demon who exchanges fortune for eternal servitude. And, weirdly enough, four-thousand-year-old Alastor isn’t exactly the forgiving type.

The fiend has reawakened with one purpose — to destroy the family whose success he ensured and who then betrayed him. With only days to break the curse and banish Alastor back to the demon realm, Prosper is playing unwilling host to the fiend, who delights in tormenting him with nasty insults and constant attempts trick him into a contract. Yeah, Prosper will take his future without a side of eternal servitude, thanks.

Little does Prosper know, the malefactor’s control over his body grows stronger with each passing night, and there’s a lot Alastor isn’t telling his dim-witted (but admittedly strong-willed) human host. 

 

Review

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alex Bracken is one of my favorite middle grade novels now. I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much! Usually I read middle grade books as fillers in between awesome series I’m reading or if I’m in a reading slump between books. I received an ARC of The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding from the Texas Library Association convention so my book looks a little bit different than the actual published copy of the book. I wish it looked more like the one they went with. I like the fox on the cover and Toad, the kitten with wings is on the back. The one I have is a little plain and looks unfinished.

This is the third novel I have read by Bracken. I read Passenger last year and it took me quite awhile to finish. I think I kept forcing myself to read it when I wasn’t in the mood for the genre because I really liked the book it was just a whippin’ to get myself to finish it. I loved the plot and how it was like Outlander for teens. And then I read The Darkest Minds a few weeks ago and loved it.

But I sped through Prosper Redding. The character is just so strong in his convictions, even if he knows it doesn’t make him the most popular kid. I enjoyed reading about how much he loved his twin sister and how he can really teach kids to stand up for what they believe in.

The setting was awesome in this book too. It was very Halloween-esque. It reminded me a lot of Halloweentown, the Disney channel movie from the early 2000’s. It was full of witches and creatures from the Downstairs (the demon world that Alastor, his parasite demon is a prince of). And while it was a little creepy at times, it was highly entertaining and so different and unique compared to anything else I have ever read. Especially with being a middle grade novel! I can’t wait to get the published version of it when it comes out to keep in my classroom. I think my 7th graders will love it! Maybe we can even read it as a book club book since I run that at my school. It’s a little thick for that but I think the kids would enjoy it a lot and it would be fun to read aloud to them during meetings or at Read-a-loud Lunch.

This book definitely leaves you with a cliffhanger so you know there’s going to be sequel. Prosper always struggles with the idea of making a contract with Alastor, except when one of his family members is kidnapped and taken to the Downstairs. Will he be able to save them from the demon world below? Is he strong enough or will his new demon friends help him?

I hope Alexandra Bracken is working on the sequel as a type this. I want to know what happens! I gave this middle grade novel 5/5 stars.

Sidenote: I posted the above picture with the ARC and my cat Junebug and Bracken responded! She just said “I’m so happy you like this one! And Junebug is a cutie!” It made my day!

Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Black Widow

 

Goodreads Blurb

Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.

Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments—until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.

Until now.

When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned—and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams…

 

Review

I want to start off by saying I gave this one 3.5/5 stars and then I want to explain why.

I think this novel was geared to a younger audience than I was anticipating it was. I was expecting a full on YA book, but it read a lot more like a middle grade book. With that being said, it was very easy to read and entertaining. However, I felt like every single relationship in this book was a little too forced and moved a little too quickly. I didn’t understand any of them except for maybe Black Widow’s and Ava’s.

I thought Alexei and Ava’s relationship moved way too fast. It may have been more believable when I was about 12/13 years old but it came off cheesy in the book. Then there was Alexei and Black Widow’s relationship… totally threw me for a loop. It was like once the secret was out, Alex was so gung-ho about it that he couldn’t stop the cheesiness from oozing out of his mouth. I just wished that had been tamed a little bit more in the book.

In the beginning of the novel, Black Widow is rescuing Ava when she is a child from a crazy Russian guy preforming a science experiment on her and who has had both of the girls as captives at one point or another in their lives. So it was really easy for them to relate to each other, and Ava had no parents anymore so Black Widow was her savior. But then betrays her by not ever stopping by to check on her when she needs her. That dynamic relationship I can get behind. I understand it. The others were too forced.

Another thing that halfway confused me in this book was that Black Widow is not the main character… but the book is titled Black Widow: Forever Red and has the Marvel logo on the front. So shouldn’t the front runner in the book be Black Widow? I know it has alternating perspectives between Black Widow, Ava, and Alexei but it still felt like the main focus was on Ava the entire book. It was a little disappointing.

The ending of this book took me completely by surprise. It went from an action packed, superhero, spy story to having a sad ending. And since it felt like a middle grade throughout the first 2/3 of the book I was surprised when you were hit with something as heavy as the ending. I don’t want to say what happens in case any of you reading this haven’t read it yet.

There is another Black Widow novel out right now. I’m not sure if I will purchase it for myself but I will probably end up buying it to put in my classroom library for my middle school kiddos. I think Black Widow and Ava are both great female heroine’s in the superhero realm and you can never heave enough of those! Especially for girls in middle school. I think they will enjoy it.