Monday, December 17, 2018

Review: The Similars by Rebecca Hanover

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover 
Release date: January 1, 2019
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 352
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Science Fiction 
Source: NetGalley 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
When six clones join Emmaline’s prestigious boarding school, she must confront the heartbreak of seeing her dead best friend’s face each day in class.
The Similars are all anyone can talk about at the elite Darkwood Academy. Who are these six clones? What are the odds that all of them would be Darkwood students? Who is the madman who broke the law to create them? Emma couldn't care less. Her best friend, Oliver, died over the summer and all she can think about is how to get through her junior year without him. Then she comes face-to-heartbreaking-face with Levi—Oliver's exact DNA replica and one of the Similars.
Emma wants nothing to do with the Similars, but she keeps getting pulled deeper and deeper into their clique, uncovering dark truths about the clones and her prestigious school along the way. But no one can be trusted…not even the boy she is falling for who has Oliver's face.

I really enjoyed THE SIMILARS! It was a unique concept and kept me engaged all the way through. The main setting of the story is Darkwood Academy. The school is meant for the best and the brightest young scholars and is also considered one of the most inclusive schools in the world. So, it makes sense that this would be the school to welcome six (controversial) young clones. I haven't read any books (that I can recall) about clones and while this one only touched the surface of the science behind their creation, I am interested in seeing more of that in the sequels. Cloning is already controversial now, so it makes sense that there would be such diverse opinions about actual clones attending school. The main character, Emmaline, has recently lost her best friend and is shocked when she realizes one of the clones is of her late best friend, Oliver. Emma is quickly caught up in the mystery surrounding the six clones and who they actually are.

For me, the first thing I thought of with the clones is Twilight. They were all raised by a foster father in the middle of nowhere and are basically siblings even though they aren't related. Thus, it seems weird that some of them are couples. The six clones all hang out together and are very mysterious. It all just made me think of the Cullen family and people's reaction to them at school. Anyway, beyond that, I found the idea very new and intriguing. The clones all have a "twin" at Darkwood and while some of the students welcome their clones, others are hostile and worried about how to handle this new version of themselves. There is romance, but it's not the main focus until closer to the end. Friendships have more of a key role. There were quite a few twists and turns in the plot and Emmaline quickly realizes many of the adults and peers in her life are not what they seem. The ending left me with a lot of questions, but I know a sequel is already in the works.

Maybe I missed it, but I'm not entirely sure what year this is supposed to be. There were mixes of new technology beyond the clones such as self driving buses, but I'd be interested in seeing more of this new world in future books. I definitely recommend checking out Rebecca Hanover's debut especially if you enjoy futuristic settings with a strong female character. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi

Outrun the Wind by Elizabeth Tammi
Release date: November 27, 2018
Publisher: Flux
Pages: 360
Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Source: NetGalley
Links: Author • GoodreadsAmazon

Overall: 4.25 out of 5 stars 

The Huntresses of Artemis must obey two rules: never disobey the goddess, and never fall in love. After being rescued from a harrowing life as an Oracle of Delphi, Kahina is glad to be a part of the Hunt; living among a group of female warriors gives her a chance to reclaim her strength, even while her prophetic powers linger. But when a routine mission goes awry, Kahina breaks the first rule in order to save the legendary huntress Atalanta.

To earn back Artemis’s favor, Kahina must complete a dangerous task in the kingdom of Arkadia— where the king’s daughter is revealed to be none other than Atalanta. Still reeling from her disastrous quest and her father’s insistence on marriage, Atalanta isn’t sure what to make of Kahina. As her connection to Atalanta deepens, Kahina finds herself in danger of breaking Artemis’ second rule.
She helps Atalanta devise a dangerous game to avoid marriage, and word spreads throughout Greece, attracting suitors willing to tempt fate to go up against Atalanta in a race for her hand. But when the men responsible for both the girls’ dark pasts arrive, the game turns deadly.


OUTRUN THE WIND was fantastic! I am so glad I took a chance on this one. The Greek mythology intrigued me and the beautiful cover gave me the final push I needed to download it on Netgalley. Elizabeth Tammi's debut follows Atalana and Kahina through alternating chapters as they make their way through Ancient Greece. The Greek mythology was fascinating to me. Kahina is a huntress with the Greek goddess Artemis and Atalana is a well known part of Greek mythology herself. I loved reading about the girls' adventures and how they dealt with danger, family conflict, and romance. This was a highly engaging read and I was eager to research the mythology of the characters after I was finished.

Atalana and Kahina were two very different characters and yet they both shared the same drive and self-determination. It's not every day you come across a novel with so many strong female characters. OUTRUN THE WIND was full of them. These girls were independent and could easily take on any challenge that came their way. The story opens with Atalana and Kahina crossing paths unexpectedly and what follows is an exciting story as the two girls defeat enemies old and new. Atalana's father wants her to marry to secure a future for their kingdom. If you are not already familiar with the mythological background on Atalana, I would recommend not researching it until after you finish reading. I liked not knowing how things would unfold and seeing the challenges Atalana devised for her suitors.

I wish the book was able to delve deeper into the history and background of Artemis and Apollo and how the Hunt works. The ending also did seem to wrap up a bit too easily. Still, I think there may be a sequel in the future so there is time to build on this world. OUTRUN THE WIND was extremely character-driven and the romance was slow-growing but I started picking up on signs earlier than I think even the two characters did. I like the fact that OUTRUN THE WIND featured an LGBT relationship, as that is unique for a fantasy novel like this one. I am excited to see a more diverse set of relationships represented in young adult novels. OUTRUN THE WIND was simply a story of two powerful young girls and how they navigate all of the challenges thrown their way, their feelings for each other are just one small part of these well-rounded characters. When I first finished OUTRUN THE WIND I found myself continuously thinking of Atalana and Kahina and researching the Greek mythology contained in the story. It was not completely accurate, but Elizabeth Tammi was open about the liberties she took with the true stories.

This was a nice break from the nonfiction and political memoirs I have been reading so frequently. Definitely recommend.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: The Last Palace by Norman Eisen

The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House by Norman Eisen 
Release date: September 4, 2018
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group 
Pages: 416
Reading level: Adult 
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: First to Read 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars 
When Norman Eisen moved into the US ambassador’s residence in Prague, returning to the land his mother had fled after the Holocaust, he was startled to discover swastikas hidden beneath the furniture. These symbols of Nazi Germany were remnants of the residence’s forgotten history, and evidence that we never live far from the past.

From that discovery unspooled the twisting, captivating tale of four of the remarkable people who had called this palace home. Their story is Europe’s, and The Last Palace chronicles the upheavals that have transformed the continent over the past century. There was the optimistic Jewish financial baron Otto Petschek, who build the palace after World War I as a statement of his faith in democracy, only to have that faith shattered; Rudolf Toussaint, the cultured, compromised German general who occupied the palace during World War II, ultimately putting his life at risk to save the house and Prague itself from destruction; Laurence Steinhardt, the first postwar US ambassador, whose quixotic struggle to keep the palace out of Communist hands was paired with his pitched efforts to rescue the country from Soviet domination; and Shirley Temple Black, an eyewitness to the crushing of the 1968 Prague Spring by Soviet tanks, who determined to return to Prague and help end totalitarianism – and did just that as US ambassador in 1989.
Weaving in the life of Eisen’s own mother to demonstrate how those without power and privilege moved through history, The Last Palace tells the dramatic and surprisingly cyclical tale of the endurance of liberal democracy.

This was a fascinating story by the former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Every US ambassador lives in this beautiful palace in Prague and have done so for many years. THE LAST PALACE takes the reader through the history of this famous building; we learn about its creation, role in World War II, and how it came to be the residence of the US Ambassador. Norman Eisen also weaves in the story of his mother's life as she was a Holocaust survivor from the former Czechoslovakia. This is not the history of one person though, THE LAST PALACE allows the reader to experience the changes in the country though the eyes of the different residents of the palace. 

The beginning took me a bit to get into, but I found myself moving quickly through this rather long book. Norman Eisen does a great job of fully immersing the reader in what is happening in Prague at different moments in history. Otto Petschek is the original builder of the house and we see as it falls into the hands of the Nazis, Communists, and eventually the United States. As interesting and heartbreaking as the chapters on World War II and the German occupation of Prague were, I found myself enjoying the later chapters on the US ambassadors and recent history a bit more, simply because I hadn't read much about this before . From the Soviet occupation to the student led protests, it was eye-opening to watch these citizens who had already been through so much take a stand for democracy and freedom. I also knew very little about the role Shirley Temple Black played in US government. I knew she played a role in diplomacy, but had no idea just how much she was able to accomplish and experience as US Ambassador to the Czech Republic. I am also interested in reading more about her role as Ambassador to Ghana in the future. 

At the center of THE LAST PALACE is, of course, the palace itself and it was an experience to be able to see how the palace survived and endured through all those years of history. I wish that the ending was a little less.. abrupt? It did feel as though the book ended rather suddenly and I was interested in getting more closure on his mother's story. All in all, I found this book to be an extremely well-written and researched story about an unusual subject- a building. I definitely recommend this to any history or political buff. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books By My Favorite Authors I Still Haven't Read

Book 1: US AGAINST YOU by Fredrick Backman - I have loved every book I've read by Backman. They are at times heartbreaking and uplifting, but the most powerful part of his stories is the characters. Every single one leaps off the page. This is the sequel to BEARTOWN which was at times difficult to read because of the subject matter, but I know I need to see how things play out for all of the characters. 

Book 2: PAPER TOWNS by John Green- I know I am so behind on this one! I've only recently started reading more of Green's books, so I am looking forward to getting to PAPER TOWNS. 

Book 3: TO ALL THE BOYS I'VE LOVED BEFORE by Jenny Han- Jenny Han's Summer series was one of my favorites in high school and now with the popularity of the Netflix movie I know I need to read this one!

Book 4: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles- RULES OF CIVILITY was one of my favorite books of the year already and so I know I need to read this one soon. Towles has a unique and engaging writing style and I enjoy historical fiction that brings the time to life. 

Book 5: ISAAC's STORM by Erik Larson- I have read all of Erik Larson's books but this one! My first read was DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY and my most recent was DEAD WAKE. Highly recommend Larson. This book in particular is about a storm I'm not too familiar with, so I'm looking forward to checking it out. 

Book 6: TRULY DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson - Maureen Johnson was one of my favorite authors throughout high school and it's been several years since I've read anything by her. TRULY DEVIOUS sounds like an exciting murder mystery and is the start to a new series. 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES was actually one of the first YA books I remember reading, so I am excited to see what's new for Maureen Johnson.

Book 7: THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY by Liane Moriarty - Liane Moriarty's popularity escalated with the release of the Big Little Lies tv show on HBO. I admit that is when I jumped on the Moriarty train and I have since read all but one of her published books. I have this one on my shelf and look forward to reading it this fall.

Book 8: LILY OF THE NILE by Stephanie Dray - LILY OF THE NILE appeals to me for two reasons. The first being that two of the best books I read this year were by Stephanie Dray, stories about Patsy Jefferson and Eliza Hamilton. The other reason is that I am currently reading CLEOPATRA'S DAUGHTER by Michelle Moran and am loving it. I would love to read more about this family.

Book 9: EMMA by Jane Austen - Jane Austen is legendary and I have a huge book that contains all of her published works. I recently read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and loved it. I also have read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE several times. EMMA is next on my list.

Book 10: VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon - I devoured the first two books in the Outlander series and am eager to see how Jamie and Claire's story continues. This book is also waiting on my shelf and I hope to read it soon. These books are long, but extremely engaging.


Have you read any of these?

Top Ten Tuesday Is Hosted By: The Artsy Reader Girl 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Review: Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter 
Release date: August 21, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 480
Reading level: Adult
Genre: Thriller
Source: Publisher
Links: Author  Goodreads  Amazon 

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars 
Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?
But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.
The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

I guess I have been out of the loop because this is my first Karin Slaughter book. When I went to mark PIECES OF HER as "currently reading" on Goodreads I realized Karin had a ton of other books that were bestsellers and highly rated. PIECES OF HER had a lot going on and was an exciting thriller, but I also found certain aspects of the plot predicable and other plot points not well explained at all. The story follows Andrea Cooper as she deals with the aftermath of a shooting that revealed a side of her mother she has never seen before. Andrea's mother, Laura, is no longer the person she believed her to be and it's up to Andrea to find out the truth.

There isn't too much I can say without spoiling, but I will do my best. The early chapters of the book were exciting and tense. I had no idea what the truth was about Laura or Andrea and I flew through the pages. When other time lines are introduced I quickly realized much of the truth and while it didn't explain everything, it was enough to not keep me as excited about where things were headed. Soon though there are a ton of characters and plot points thrown together and that also left a bit to be desired. What started as an exciting thriller soon left me thinking that many aspects of this story were not even believable. I also struggled to connect with Andrea. She made dumb mistakes and didn't question things in a way I would think a normal person would. I was impressed with how deep Slaughter went with this story, it was very elaborate, but once I started realizing certain parts of the mystery I was less enthused.

This was a long book but I flew through it. It's definitely fast paced, but the end left me with a little to be desired. I still didn't think it was clear why Andrea's mother made her do what she did. I read a lot of thrillers and this was something different which was refreshing, but I had several issues with it. Slaughter's other books seem to all have positive comments so I will certainly check her out in the future. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis

Give the Dark My Love by Beth Revis
Release date: September 28, 2018
Publisher: Razorbill 
Pages: 456
Reading level: Young Adult 
Genre: Fantasy 
Source: First to Read 
Links: Author • Goodreads • Amazon 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
When seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yugen Academy, she has only one goal in mind: learn the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island's wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn't quite fit in with the other kids at Yugen, who all look down on her.

All, except for Greggori "Grey" Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who he notices is especially invested in her studies. And that's for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the North, and it's making its way toward the cities. With her family's life--and the lives of all of Lunar Island's citizens--on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra continue to grow closer, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy's most dangerous corners--and when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.

Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE trilogy was one of my favorites. I loved how unique and engaging it was. So, of course, I was eager to read GIVE THE DARK MY LOVE. While I didn't love this one quite as much, I still found it to be a great read. Fast paced, dark, and mysterious this was a great start to a new series. The story follows Nedra as she leaves her small town and family behind to attend school for alchemy. Meanwhile, there is a deadly plague ravaging the country and Nedra quickly becomes caught up in how she can find a cure for this disease, protect her family, and succeed as an alchemist.

The book was told in semi-alternating chapters between Nedra and fellow-student Greggori Astor. To me, this was Nedra's story though and I didn't get too much out of Greggori's character or felt he contributed much. It was sweet to see her be vulnerable with him, but beyond that I didn't love this part of the story. Nedra is incredibly strong-willed and independent and knows what she wants to accomplish. I enjoyed reading about her experiences at school, but even more so when she became more involved in directly combating the plague. What a horrible disease! Beth Revis did not hesitate to describe gruesome surgeries, slow deaths, and painful amputations. The practice of alchemy was interesting to me, but I would like to know more about the reasoning behind the rats and other aspects of alchemy that I didn't feel were fully explained.

The last half of the book was especially exciting and we get to see certain characters begin to descend more and more into the darkness. At almost 500 pages this is not a short book, but I read it fairly quickly. There are several plot twists that kept me guessing and while the ending wasn't necessarily a cliffhanger, I am interested in seeing what the sequels will bring. I am hoping to learn more about the world and how alchemy and necromancy will continue to shape the characters.