Review of The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

TheShadowQueenThe Shadow Queen
By: C.J. Redwine
Release Date: February 16th 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

My Thoughts:
I was eager to read The Shadow Queen because of the Snow White retelling element. Snow White has always been a favorite of mine and I was excited to see how Redwine would morph the story into a more fantasy setting. Once I started reading I was even further excited to realize that this was fantasy WITH dragons! Hooray! Well, my excitement didn’t last too long. Sadly, I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The writing, pacing and characters fell a bit flat to me and I was never able to get invested.

I really, really wanted to love everything about The Shadow Queen and I believe that a good amount of readers will enjoy this reworking of Snow White. For me, I found the writing to be a bit simplistic and I was unable to really sink into the words. I had trouble immersing into the world or feeling anything for the characters. I felt that the author provided enough insight and description of the world to allow me to visualize the setting and understand what had driven the characters to their actions. Though I had all the information what I lacked was feeling.

You know, you’ll read a book and not connect and you honestly can’t pin-point why exactly and that’s how I feel about this book. When I look at all the elements, dragons, Snow White retelling, strong female main character, romance, and fantasy in general these things equal to all the things Kristen loves. But, for some reason, it didn’t mesh for me. From the start I struggled with getting into the story and pushing myself to read. For a bit in the middle I found myself enjoying it much more and thought I’d finally gotten into it and would fall in love. The further I read though-my interest waned. It became more and more a struggle for me and I could clearly see where the book was headed.

As I said earlier- I did really love the concept behind the book. Some of the imagery Redwine employed (especially in regards to the evil queen, Irina) were amazingly graphic and SO CREEPY. I loved that she created a heroine that was strong willed, brave and heroic. And who am I kidding- there were dragons so that was pretty damn awesome.

Final Thoughts:
Sadly, The Shadow Queen, wasn’t a hit with me due to my lack of becoming invested in the story or characters. I did appreciate the creative reworking of Snow White and the fact that Redwine incorporated dragons and some incredibly gruesome/disturbing elements in regards to the evil queen.

Review of Tangled Webs by Lee Bross

TangledWebsTangled Webs
By: Lee Bross
Release Date: June 23rd 2015
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
London, 1725. Everybody has a secret. Lady A will keep yours—for a price. This sumptuous, scandalous YA novel is wickedly addictive.

Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer in the city. With just a mask and a gown to disguise her, she sweeps into lavish balls and exclusive events collecting the most valuable currency in 1725 London—secrets.

But leading a double life isn’t easy. By day Lady A is just a sixteen-year-old girl named Arista who lives in fear of her abusive master, Bones, and passes herself off as a boy to move safely through the squalor of London’s slums. When Bones attempts to dispose of his pawn forever, Arista is rescued by the last person she expects: Jonathan Wild, the infamous Thief Taker General who moves seamlessly between the city’s criminal underworld and its most elite upper circles. Arista partners with Wild on her own terms in the hopes of saving enough money to buy passage out of London.

Everything changes when she meets Graeden Sinclair, the son of a wealthy merchant. Grae has traveled the world, has seen the exotic lands Arista has longed to escape to her whole life, and he loves Arista for who she is—not for what she can do for him. Being with Grae gives something Arista something precious that she swore off long ago: hope. He has promised to help Arista escape the life of crime that has claimed her since she was a child. But can you ever truly escape the past?

My Thoughts:
I tend to love historical YA so when I read the summary to Tangled Webs I was captivated and knew I’d want to read it. I had hopes that this book would be romantic, atmospheric and addictive. Sadly, I didn’t end up enjoying it nearly as well as I hoped.

Though this book took place in 1725 London the setting never felt all that historical to me. I didn’t feel swept back in time nor did I get a clear visual of this world that Lady A/Arista lived in. There were some pretty descriptions and I did enjoy a scene taking place at a masquerade ball. Really though, masquerade balls are always a hit with me.

I enjoy a story where the main character is leading a double life so I did like seeing the way Arista handled that aspect of the story. I felt like it gave the reader a good picture of the character and added much needed dimension. Though I felt a slight connection to Arista I didn’t much care for her character. I didn’t necessarily need to like her to enjoy the story but for this book I found myself annoyed with her more often than not. For being the most notorious black-mailer she seemed a bit lost when it came to anything sneaky- yes she is only 16 but if she’s touted as the best I want to see evidence.

Sadly, I never was able to really connect to any of the other characters. I thought I was going to like Nic, Arista’s childhood friend and crush, but he really only came around when it was convenient to move the story along. Grae was easy to like but not easy to really care about. I wasn’t overly concerned about what happened to him or any of the characters throughout the story.

Because of my constant disconnect I wasn’t able to really get behind the romance which really impaired my enjoyment since it was a pretty prominent factor in the book. I never felt chemistry between the romantic leads and honestly everything between them felt rushed. It all seemed pretty insta-love. I really wouldn’t have minded the instant attraction if I’d have been able to feel it while reading.

Final Thoughts:
The summary for Tangled Webs sold me on romance, a historical setting, a girl dressing as a boy–all things I love in YA fiction. Sadly, none of these really felt executed all that well. I do think readers who can connect to the characters and the romance will enjoy this far more than I did. And I must say, this arc was absolutely beautiful as I’m sure the hardcover will be as well.

Review of The Eternal City by Paula Morris

TheEternalCityThe Eternal City
By: Paula Morris
Release Date: May 26th 2015
Publisher: Scholastic
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
Laura Martin is visiting Rome on a class trip, and she’s entranced by the majestic Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon. . . . Everything in this city seems magical.

That is, until the magic seems to turn very dark.

Suddenly, statues of Cupid and ancient works of art come to life before her eyes. Earthquakes rumble and a cloud of ash forms in the sky. A dark-eyed boy with wings on his heels appears and gives her a message. Laura soon realizes she is at the center of a brewing battle — a battle between the gods and goddesses, one that will shake modern-day Rome to its core.

Only she and her group of friends can truly unravel the mystery behind what is happening. As tensions mount and secret identities are revealed, Laura must rely on her own inner strength to face up to what may be a fight for her life.

My Thoughts:
This was the first book I’ve read from Paula Morris and so I really didn’t know what to expect. The writing was easy to read and I was excited by the idea of the setting being in Rome. Some part of me, based on a vague recollection of the summary, thought our main character, Lauren, would be traveling back in time. I only briefly read the summary before requesting this one and when it arrived I jumped in without refreshing my memory. I kept waiting for something to drag Lauren back through time but that didn’t occur. Instead, things happened in present day.

Though this book proved to be a fast read it wasn’t overly enjoyable mostly due to my disconnect to the characters. They each felt rather flat to me especially our lead, Lauren.  She never felt more than two dimensional. We read about her attachment and past with her grandfather but I never felt it. Sadly, I never felt any of the emotions she was described as feeling. There was a tiny bit of romance and even that felt meh to me.

The setting was beautifully described and it did seem easy to picture what was happening around Lauren and her friends. I really enjoyed the visuals of a modern day Rome being overrun with statues (did seem a little Jumanji esq.) As for the big mystery about why the mayhem is occurring it wasn’t overly difficult to figure out. Little tips led me easily to predict what was coming which did detract a tiny bit.

Final Thoughts:
Regardless of my disconnect to the characters and the predictability, Paula Morris’ writing was engaging and I had no problem finishing The Eternal City. It wasn’t a book I regretted reading and I felt that I did derive some enjoyment from the story, especially the setting.

Review of The Cage by Megan Shepherd

TheCageCoverThe Cage
By: Megan Shepherd
Release Date: May 26th 2015
Publisher: Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher

A copy of this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage.

The Story:
I really didn’t know what to expect with The Cage. I read 2 of Megan Shepherd’s last series and really love hear writing style but wasn’t a fan overall of the books. I was excited to see her going in such a different direction and knew I’d want to see what she’d do with a science fiction edge. I will say, The Cage was highly readable. I started it expecting to read a chapter and read about a third of the book before I knew what I’d done.

There was no hesitation to jump into the story. Shepherd plops us right into the alien habitat and we are immediately introduced to the surroundings and characters. I felt that this was a great way to start the novel and felt pretty strongly about what I was reading. I was as curious as the characters to find out where they were and why.

As the story progresses the pacing slowed down for me and I felt that a good chunk in the middle dragged. It was still easy to read but I could have done without some of the details. I did love that we got to venture out of their zoo enclosure a view times though the world outside of their ‘cage’ was very vague. Such a small amount was described I look forward to learning more.

Now, I think I’ll be one of the only people to think this book mimicked another book, The Bone Season. I saw some similarities that I couldn’t ignore. We have a Warden, alien-type characters that wear gloves and the people be treated as less (okay this is a really common theme but still). The summary suggests that the characters are part of a human zoo (ala Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five) but for me it really didn’t come across as a zoo. It felt more like experiments on humans and a way to control rather than a way for an alien species to view humans in their habitat (which is how I think of a zoo).

The Characters:
Now, I could take all the above about the story pretty easily. It did feel like a rework of other books and nothing felt overly original to me but with every chapter I began to loathe the characters more and more. By the end of the book I downright hated every single character in the book. I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. Not a single character stood out to me as someone I cared for or wanted to succeed. They could really all blow up and I’d be A-Okay with it. That’s awful, right?

The main character, Cora,  was determined…I give her that. But determined to the point of stupidity. She was dead set on a course of action through a large part of the book-she wanted to escape. But really, if you are not even on your own planet and floating out in the universe even if you get out of the enclosure how will you get far? She didn’t seem to really care about anything other than getting out. It was somewhat frustrating for this reader though I could see why she wanted to leave. Things sorted out towards the middle and end but it was a bit too late in the game. I’d already spent a good amount of time wondering what she was thinking.

The secondary characters were so bad to me. Not even in the start did I care for them. They each were fairly shallow though there was an attempt to give them depth. I never cared about their backstories. I imagine it was given to show the reasoning for their actions in the enclosure but it didn’t work for me. As the story progresses the characters all get more and more unhinged. Things did improve for me the more awful and crazy they each became. It got a bit creepy in a few places and I highly enjoyed those bits.

For those curious about a love triangle–there was one…sort of? The main character’s feelings are pretty easy to decipher and I never felt that she truly was drawn to one of the love interests. There are two men that had feelings for Cora and I did prefer one over the other. I’ll not go into spoilers but I felt it was obvious who she was attracted to. So I’m not sure it’s a traditional triangle but it might bother some of the more triangle sensitive readers out there.

Final Thoughts:
As many problems as I had with The Cage I will say that Megan Shepherd is a gifted writer and this book was able to gain my interest and keep me glued to the pages. I was never surprised of the outcome or twists but it was a fun ride. Will I read the sequel? I really don’t know. I do think that other readers will really enjoy this book especially if they are able to enjoy the characters (or at least a few of them).

 

Review of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

RedQueenRed Queen
By: Victoria Aveyard
Release Date: February 10th 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Format: E-ARC
Source: HarperTeen via Edelweiss

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My Rating:
star

Summary:
The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

My Thoughts:
There was a substantial amount of hype surrounding this title and I think that lessoned my enjoyment. I went into this book with high expectations. I expected something epic, blood soaked and ultimately different than what I got. With that tiara dripping blood and the title, Red Queen, I imaged court politics, gruesome violence and an all out battle for power. Yes, that isn’t anything really like the summary. I should have not expected something based on the cover but it happens.

Red Queen played out like so many other dystopian books… heroine fighting for her life in an impoverished society only to realize she’s something more. I was still able to become immersed in the first section of the book because of the strong visuals and strong writing. Sadly, as the story progressed my enjoyment waned. I wasn’t at all impressed with the action sequences and felt that the god-like powers weren’t all that original.

I’ve got to mention the similarity I saw between this novel and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda

I think you can see just from the summaries that there are similarities between the two books. I felt that Red Queen veered off a good amount from this common plot but it did feel a bit like Red Rising light to me. Where Red Rising was brutal and incredibly detailed on its character development I felt that Red Queen sort of felt stunted. I didn’t connect with the characters and though a good amount happened to our lead I wasn’t ever to really gain an interest in her story.

There were hints of a love triangle for those sensitive to those…but it wasn’t too big of a deal. As for the romantic interests I never felt chemistry between either pairs. I think it all comes down to my disconnect with Mare. If I’d been able to have that I think the book would have worked so much better for me. From the early reviews I’ve seen this one is loved by many people so I seem to be in the minority.

Final Thoughts:
Sadly Red Queen was a disappointment to me because I was not able to connect or get invested in the main character’s story. I felt that this book didn’t bring anything all that new to the genre. I think it’ll be a hit for many readers because the writing was well done.