Review: Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Shadow Weaver (Shadow Weaver #1)

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

 The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

I am always on the look out for good middle grade reading material for my students. When I saw Shadow Weaver on Netgalley, I fell in love with the cover. Look how spooky it is! The claws on the shadow grabbed my attention right away. I don't know about you, but my students LOVE a good spooky read, so I decided to check this out. 

I felt that the pacing was a bit awkward in a few places because it seemed to lull then rocket forward, but overall it was easy to breeze through the pages to see what would happen next. Most chapters ended with great cliff hangers that made you want to keep going, so that will be a plus for younger readers. 

The plot is pretty solid as well. Lonely girl feels like an outcast, discovers that her only "friend" isn't much of a friend, takes advice from a really bad influence out of desperation and a sense of loyalty (plus having too good of a heart for her own good), meets new friend, makes a few poor choices but redeems herself in the end, and then finds herself in a big mess that needs fixing. Obviously, there is a bunch of fun magical things occurring in between, but that's the gist of it. 

Emmeline is a little bit gullible and too trusting, which made her a perfect protagonist. How many young readers find themselves with those character traits? It's not that she was dense or anything; it's just that she's been sheltered for various reasons and hasn't had a chance to really experience the world. That lack of experience adds a lot to the plot of the story as Emmeline has to learn to stand on her own and think for herself. As a subtle theme running throughout the novel, I could easily pick out examples of true friendship and accepting yourself as Emmeline, Dar, and Lucas navigate this magical world. 

There was also a pretty solid plot twist at the end that I think was great! Such a surprise and it will make young readers want to keep reading the series so they can find out what happens next. 

The writing style was accessible and not too difficult. Some parts might be confusing or too wordy in the descriptions, but I think it's manageable for all reading levels. Having short chapters and lots of action will help keep readers interested.

Hanging out at ILA's annual convention (International Literacy Association)

If you do not know, I am a teacher. That's how I started blogging many years ago, and also why I sometimes have lulls. Teachers stay busy! I am always scouting out new reading material for my students and ways to grow as an educator. Every few years, ILA (formerly IRA) comes within driving distance. Recently, the conference has switched to a summer schedule. That makes things great for me, but not so great when it also runs up against San Diego Comic Con. (I mean seriously, who books a literacy conference back to back to a HUGE event like that?)

This year we planned a mini vacation near the event so I could hop over to a few sessions during the weekend. Unfortunately, most of what I attended didn't teach me anything new professionally, but I did discover some AMAZING new books coming our way!

I also learned that graphic novels are the publishing world's new craze. Look for many more to be popping up over the next year as one representative said, "we're finally catching up."

Here are a few of the books I was generously given by various publishers (and of which I am THRILLED to start reading):

The Librarian of Auschwitz  Refugee 31213713The Bombs That Brought Us Together  Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein Irena's Children: A True Story of Courage

Notice a theme here? There were sooooo many historical fiction books (and obvious time period interests).

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole   The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! 

A few books that my son was excited about. Middle Grades fiction ran the show this year for sure. There were many books out for this age group.

Target Practice (Cleopatra in Space, #1)

We already had this series from a previous event with the author, but my 9 YO son LOVES them, so I thought they were worth mentioning. 

No Filter  Ghosts of Greenglass House (Greenglass House, #2) 
The Whisper in the Stone (The Unicorn Quest #1) 33843362 

I was sad that there weren't as many YA authors present this year as there have been in the past. A few years ago in San Antonio it was absolute heaven. I'm still blaming SDCC and the West Coast for hogging all the YA action this year. At least that is the conclusion I get from my Facebook feed.

I still managed to grab a few books in the YA genre that looked interesting. I was gushing over WE WERE LIARS, so the nice lady at Delacorte Press gave me GENUINE FRAUD. I'm really hoping it has the same jaw-dropping ending that WE WERE LIARS had.

It was a fun weekend, all in all. I may not get the chance to attend again (who knows when it will be this close again), but I'm glad I went this year.


The Winner's Crime ( Marie Rutkoski)

The Winner's Crime (The Winner's Trilogy, #2)Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement... if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

What is this woman doing to me? I loved The Winner's Curse and didn't know if the second book could top it. You know how those sequels tend to be: slow, disappointing, lack luster. Well, none of that applies with The Winner's Crime! 

 I am absolutely blown away by Marie Rutkoski's talent. This was such a tightly woven masterpiece. So many plot lines and key details sprinkled about. My brain was working at warp speed trying to piece the puzzle together right along with Kestrel. A-mazing.

I appreciated the new characters that have taken hold as well. At first I wasn't sure what purpose they would have, but oh what a surprise that turned out to be. The Winner's Kiss is going to be good, y'all! When all those delicious details finally get put together... I cannot wait. I would love to be this woman's friend. To just sit and talk books and the writing process. I'm having a fan girl moment at how brilliant she must be to keep track of so many details. This is not an easy process, for if you have read these books you realize how complicated the stories are. Definitely the work of someone with incredible talent.

All I can say is, this is a series worth reading. It's fast paced-- like hold on to your seat-- and full of so many surprises (my word that ending!). Your brain will work in overdrive to fit all the pieces together, but I don't think you will. At least, not far in advanced. The pacing and timing of events is so well planned that the reader makes discoveries along side the characters (or maybe just slightly ahead). This is one of the best written and well plotted books I have read in a long time. 

Review: The Winner's Curse (Marie Rutkoski)

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)Winning what you want may cost you everything you love...

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

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

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

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

I have checked out this book at least twice from the library over the last year and returned it unread. Why, I have no idea. That cover is beautiful, and it has called to me with its subtle siren song from the moment I first saw it. But something has kept us apart... until now. 

But it is better to be tardy to the party than to never arrive at all. Unless you are Kestrel... in which case you should just stay home, but that's not really the point I was trying to make. The point is, The Winner's Curse is AMAZING. Believe everything you have heard. It's all true. I thought it couldn't possibly live up to the hype, but it has. In fact, it might have actually-- gasp-- exceeded my expectations.

I can't recall the last time I have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to read a book. Or, better yet, binged read a series. When I finished The Winner's Curse I frantically sought out The Winner's Crime. Luckily, I found the digital copy at the library and devoured it in one sitting. But now I have to wait for book 3. I'm not too happy about that. I need this book like I need air.

Marie Rutkoski has a remarkable talent for weaving a story that will have you enchanted. The characters are so well developed! My word. It's hard to imagine that they only live on paper. As I sit an contemplate exactly what I want to share about the books, I find that maybe Ms. Rutoski has done a disservice to YA literature. How will other writers be able to compare? How will she be able to top her own work? The bar has been set high, I'm afraid.

If you are wondering what you will find between these pages, here is a short run down:

  • clean romance
  • lots of danger and trickery 
  • lies, lies and more lies 
  • so many feels 
  • beautiful descriptions
  • powerful insights into the complex nature of emotions and what fuels them

Minute Review: And I Darken (Kiersten White)

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)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, 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. 

Well, here is a review that will be a bit embarrassing to write. How about I did not realize And I Darken was a gender flip about Vlad the Impaler until 5 minutes ago? Seriously. So I read the book over six months ago, and didn't really think it was anything amazing... apparently I completely missed a major detail to the story line. 

(On a side note, I've been crazy busy with adult responsibilities so I do feel I get a slight pass on missing something so crucial.)  

Now that I realize the error of my ways, things that were unclear make more sense. I can appreciate this story more. It doesn't really change my feelings about other aspects of the story line and the characters, but it helps redeem a few things. As one would expect from the author, the writing is well done and rich with descriptions. At times, I found myself skipping chunks of text because it was too rich, but then again I didn't really feel invested in this story. For whatever reason, I did not click with these characters. It was probably Radu. He got on my nerves. Actually, Mehmed bothered me too. I liked Lada though. Even though I realize now that I probably should not like Lada? And I Darken definitely gets all the gold stars for originality and having a unique setting, so that was much appreciated. Even if I will likely not continue reading the series. 

Review: The Bone Witch (Rin Chupeco)

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1)The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves. 

Let's take a minute to discuss the beauty of this cover. The deep purple with the gold swirls... that skull that just floats. Tiny Tea sitting on top of the rock lost in thought. It's perfect in so many ways. 

When I started this book, so many months ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. I don't even think there was any buzz about it at that time, either. For me, it was just something to break the monotony of my usual reading. (To be fair, there hasn't been a lot of reading going on lately due to school/work obligations, but that is a side note.) Alas, I could tell from the moment I opened The Bone Witch that I was reading something very different from my "usual" likes.

I am not typically a fan of alternating points of view. They tend to irk me. Probably because most of the time they aren't done to standard and the characters just seem sub-par. When I realized that The Bone Witch might be an alternating point of view story, I got a little nervous. But then I realized, it wasn't p.o.v. switch at all, but more of a time switch. So, that was interesting. I met Tea in the present who obviously had a lot of things to work out (someone really pissed her off) and Tea from the not too distant past.

It has been months since I read this book (at least 4) and I still remember a good portion of the finer plot details and things I liked. That is such a good sign! It's always so disappointing to read a book and tell someone you liked it, only to find you can't recall much about it when they asked what you liked. I feel like The Bone Witch is a story that will linger. It will make you think and pick details out. I also think Tea's story is going to become even better as the series continues. I am anxiously waiting to see what happens next! Rin Chupexo has an incredible talent for writing and story telling. The setting and world building sucked me in and held me captive. I could not put this book down. I wanted to be there with Tea. When deception and trickery found her, I felt her pain and anguish. I felt her fury as my own. I felt the loss of her brother (and you know what I mean) as if I walked beside her myself. This is a book I recommend time and time again to fans of fantasy, and it has not failed me yet. 

Review: The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places (Pete Begler)

The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places

Twelve-year-old Nell Perkins knows there is magic at work that she can’t yet understand. Her mother has been taken by witches and turned into a bird. Nell must journey to get her mother back, even if it takes her deep into the Wicked Places — the frightening realm where Nightmares resides. There she must break the spell and stop the witches from turning our world into a living nightmare.

I must admit that the cover of this book is what caught my attention on Netgalley. Look at how the different elements blend together, creating this sense of some sort of eerie fog hovering off in the distance. I love how the different dream elements are creeping in from the edges as the three children stand in the middle waiting for a confrontation. And don't miss the ominous, looming purple cloud.  It really does a great job of setting the tone for the story that readers will encounter.

Unfortunately, I read this book months ago and got so busy that I did not get a chance to write a review immediately after finishing it. I'm terrible about keeping notes as I read, so only major details stick around when I get ready to write reviews. Maybe that makes my reviews more authentic? After all, don't we want to experience those stories that linger with us long after the covers have been closed?

For me, I found, The Fearless Travelers' Guide to Wicked Places to be best suited for younger middle-grade readers-- probably the 4th to 5th grade age range. Sitting at 384 pages, it might be a bit daunting for younger readers, but a good fan of fantasy/ adventure stories can easily over come the length. The confusing plot, however, will be a bit harder to overcome for a struggling reader. I remember running into a few places that made me pause and reread. I cannot honestly say if it was wording or maybe just descriptions, but something through off the flow. When I read books geared towards the kids I teach, I tend to imagine what they might experience as I read so I can be prepared for my recommendations. I also found a few places that I felt had pacing issues. They either moved too slowly to keep interest or sped through scenes that could have benefited from more development. The good news, though, is that the characters are different enough that readers looking for something "scary" will probably stay engaged by the novelty without running the risk of being kept awake at night from fear (no Stephen King quality chills here). 

My 13 reasons why you should avoid Netflix's 13 Reasons Why

If you subscribe to Netflix, you should know about the book to film adaptation of Jay Asher's novel, Thirteen Reasons Why. I remember reading the book years ago on a recommendation, and fell in love with the story. It took me through so many emotions as I read Hannah's story. You can see my thoughts on the novel here, because this post isn't about the novel per se.

This post is about what bothered me about Netflix's attempt at capturing this story. So here goes, my 13 reasons why I shouldn't have watched "Thirteen Reasons Why" on Netflix.

1. The language. My goodness, the language. I understand that teenagers curse worse than sailors in many situations, but if you aren't bothered by the ridiculous use of the f bomb as both an adjective, verb, and general space filler-- there is a problem. I stopped counting in one episode its use because I reached 20 before the half way point. Twenty! I don't think they even bothered to come up with other words. Many people feel it was realistic, but I disagree. I work with teenagers. They don't all speak like that. I felt making every character use that word so often really boxed them in and portrayed a stereotype. Instead of kids that curse when they are angry or overwhelmed, they became kids that dropped f bombs just because they could. It was completely overused in my opinion.

2. Why did so much have to be added? What's wrong with just telling the book's story? Why must every film attempt try to make its own story in the process? WHY?! Some parts I felt worked well enough, others did not.

3. Some scenes were so graphic. Ok, this is me being a bit sensitive, but those rape scenes. I just couldn't deal. It was too real. I know it's a huge part of the story, but why couldn't they just hint at it or something? Was there really a need to show all of Bryce's thrusting and such? It made me want to throw up. I also don't like they switched up Hannah's suicide method and made it (yet another) super graphic scene. Wasn't really necessary. She could have just taken the pills like the author intended.

4. Some of the modern updating made for serious plot holes. There were times that I wanted to scream, "Just use your phone, idiot!" but the character in question didn't have one. But 10 seconds later, they are playing on the new iphone. That does not work for me. If we're being honest, the people that say it was "so real" better be taking notes that it is unlikely a teenager goes anywhere without his/her phone attached to their hand. I have to yell at mine to put his down all the time.

5. The Bakers. That is all. Okay, not really. Why does Hannah's mom have such a large presence? She seems to drop hints along the way that the reader never got. The parents' role makes sense because you can see their pain. It felt real. But them being in the picture so much complicates the plot too much. Again, another time filler for the sake of trying to create 13 episodes to match 13 tapes.

6. Okay, not really. That whole lawsuit fell flat. I didn't mind adding that in, actually, until the end. The 13th episode felt rushed. It was a quick, last minute attempt to tie in all the extras. Personally, I don't think it worked too well. It left more questions and wonderings than it answered.

7. Who the heck is Sheri? Still don't understand the name change.

8. I kind of missed Clay's book references, especially when he filled out the dollar valentine as if he were a famous book character.

9. Who is Jeff? (I actually liked him.) Maybe Mr. Asher should have thought about making a Jeff. It worked for the show, but again, not true to form here. When Jeff dies, that's pretty upsetting.

10. Going back to the idea of extra backstory, I don't remember the other characters being after Clay. I really didn't like Marcus' and Justin's "get him" attitude. Seemed a bit stupid. Were they seriously considering killing Clay? Really? I also don't recall Clay being so bent on justice against the others. I know it's been a while, but I feel like I would have remembered that. Going against the others the way he did doesn't really seem to fit with his character that is being portrayed (both in the book and film).

11. This might be due to a bad memory, but was Tony gay in the book? I liked the character they made for the show, but I just don't recall him having a huge presence in the book. Again, this felt like a creation fueled by the need to fill 60 minute episodes.

12. Jessica and Justin's created story made me want to vomit from annoyance.

13. It would have been pretty badass if Clay got a confession from Bryce on tape, but.... Am I really supposed to believe he takes that kind of beat down and then sits and has a drink with the attacker? And am I supposed to believe that Bryce gives Clay "mad respect" for surviving such a beat down? C'mon!

Overall, I think there were elements of the film I thought helped the story along. But I am a book purist. If there is going to be a film, it needs to stick to the book. As far as book to film adaptions go, this one does a much better job of sticking to the original but there were still things added that I felt took away from what could have been an amazing experience. Do yourself a favor, read the book.

Review: Morning Star (Pierce Brown)

Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied—and too glorious to surrender.

The final installment in the Red Rising series delivered a satisfying finish to a beloved story line.  

A good portion of Morning Star takes place in space (hello epic battle sequences), which didn't really appeal to me much. I'm not a fan of sci-fi books, and spaceships and/or aliens is a sure fire way to lose my interest. But I stayed with it! Even though I felt this book started to drag on a bit (it's 524 pages) and got way too technical in the battle scenes for my tastes. 

One thing I do love about this series is the characters. The third book, Morning Star, introduces more new characters. Yes, more characters that you will appreciate too. Of course, there is also more loss of previous characters that you will be sad over. The idea of honor even into death is powerful.
It's hard to capture how much growth these characters undergo throughout this series. It's spectacular. The Darrow and Cassius from Red Rising are not the same Darrow and Cassius you see in Morning Star.  But I think it's Sevro that steals the show in the end. He has really changed in spectacular ways. His crude nature is still there (and often brings humor to tense situations), but the little goblin develops a heart. I really enjoyed his story. 

Morning Star also takes a pretty strong political stance. There are lots of hints at themes dealing with honor and class systems. I should probably reread this one just to make note of those from beginning to end.   

Also, as to be expected, there are twists and turns galore. Sometimes it was hard to keep up! I usually can spot plot twists a good bit before they occur, but the jaw dropper of Morning Star caught be off guard. I didn't know what was happening until it was happening, and I swear it left me misty eyed. I don't think I've ever experienced a more satisfying ending for a character. Wow. Just wow.

I heard a rumor that there will be a spin off series, and I really hope that's true. As much as I liked the ending, I don't want it to be the end of these characters. 


Minute review: The Leaving (Tara Altebrando)

The Leaving
Six were taken. Eleven years later, five come back--with no idea of where they've been.

Eleven years ago, six kindergarteners went missing without a trace. After all that time, the people left behind moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Today five of those kids return. They're sixteen, and they are . . . fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mom she barely recognizes, and doesn't really recognize the person she's supposed to be, either. But she thinks she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, except they're entirely unable to recall where they've been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn't come back. Everyone wants answers. Most of all Max's sister Avery, who needs to find her brother--dead or alive--and isn't buying this whole memory-loss story.

This one starts off spookily enough. I was captivated by the idea that these kids returned with no memory of the previous 11 years. All kinds of theories are thrown out there and sorted through, but the one that remains was a bit surprising and disappointing. But, as disappointing as it was, it was also the ending that made the most sense. I think if anything else would have occurred, I would have rolled my eyes. 

The characters are just meh. Nothing earth shattering or really worth remembering long after the book is finished. I know that sounds harsh, but that's just how most books are. The Leaving isn't revolutionary, but it is a quick and mostly satisfying read. Overall, The Leaving wasn't as suspenseful as I had hoped for, but it was a solid read.

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