ARC Review: The Lost Causes by Alyssa Embree Schwartz and Jessica Etting Koosed

the lost causes by alyssa embree schwartz and jessica koosed etting book review blog header

Published: September 5th, 2017 by Kids Can Press | Series: N/A | Length: 344 pages | Genre: YA paranormal/fantasy, mystery | Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley | Content Warning: suicide, drug use, murder, abuse

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Summary from Goodreads:

They’re the kids that no one knows — or no one wants to know. The rich depressive, the OCD chick, the hypochondriac, the drug abuser, the athlete with anger management issues. All chosen for intensive group therapy because they’re out of other options. They’re lost causes, the therapist tells them. She promises this support group will help them heal. 

There’s only one problem. She’s not a therapist. And that water she offers? It contains a dangerous serum that gives each of the kids a psychic power. 

Suddenly, they can think clearly, speak to ghosts, see the past, even move objects with their mind. Their earlier problems have vanished, but their new freedom comes with a price. 
Sabrina, Gabby, Z, Justin and Andrew are to help the FBI solve the grisly murder that has rocked their small town. Their new powers will help them uncover clues and follow leads that have eluded the authorities. Their outsider status gives them the perfect cover. 

But the same traits that make them top investigators also make them vulnerable. As they close in on the murderer, they expose a much larger conspiracy that puts them directly in harm’s way and makes them wonder who — if anyone — they can trust.

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Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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Published: April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill | Series: An Ember in the Ashes #1 | Length: 446 pages | Genre: YA fantasy, dystopian | Source: Bought | Content Warning: sexual assault and harassment, violence, abuse (including towards children), death/murder, torture

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Summary from Goodreads:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

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ARC Review: The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember

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Published: August 22nd, 2017 by Harmony Ink Press | Series: Ashes of Gold #1 | Length: 180 pages | Genre: YA fantasy | Source: Received from the author | Content Warning: sexual assault mentioned, use of animals in war, graphic violence

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Summary from Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.

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ARC Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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Published: July 18th, 2017 by Simon Pulse | Series: Book #1 in The Last Magician duology | Length: 512 pages | Genre: YA historical fantasy | Source: Edelweiss | Possible Triggers: sexual assault, racism

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Summary from Goodreads:

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

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ARC Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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Published: May 16th, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | Series: Flame in the Mist #1 | Length: 368 pages | Genre: YA fantasy, retelling | Source: I received an early copy from Penguin’s First to Read program. | Possible Triggers: violence (with some pretty graphic descriptions at times)

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Summary from Goodreads:

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

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ARC Review: Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis

Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis Book Review blog header

Published: April 11th, 2017 by Putnam’s Childrens | Series: Given Duet #1 | Length: 352 pages | Genre: YA fantasy | Source: I received a free copy from Penguin First to Read in exchange for an honest review. | Possible Triggers: Sexual assault & harassment, racism, ableism

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Summary from Goodreads:

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

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Review of The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Rating: 3.5/5

Published: December 14th, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Length: 482 pages

Genre: YA, historical fiction, fantasy/paranormal

Source: Borrowed from the library

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New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

As a big fan of both historical fiction and fantasy, this book obviously was quite appealing to me. I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn’t perfect.

I had a bit of a problem with the pacing. There were a few stretches that seemed really slow to me. It takes quite awhile for all of the fantasy elements to start up in the beginning. I didn’t mind this too much as I was really enjoying getting to see the setting and getting a feel for what Helen’s life was like. Even after the fantasy elements do start up, there are sometimes pretty decent-sized stretches where nothing (or very little) related to the Dark Days Club or being a Reclaimer happens. I think this could have been avoided if the book was a bit shorter. At almost 500 pages, I think it definitely could have been cut down even just a tiny bit and the pacing would have been improved.

I will say that Goodman did a great job of helping the reader learn about the Dark Days Club and what it means to be a Reclaimer. Helen is learning about it for the first time too and through her receiving explanations about all of it, the reader gets a good explanation that’s easy to follow and keep track of.

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Another problem I had with this was that there didn’t seem to be a consistent plot other than Helen learning about what she is and what is expected of her. When I started reading the book, I was expecting the plot to focus around this and around Helen’s missing maid, but the maid doesn’t play as much of a role as I thought she would. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say much else other than about halfway (maybe two-thirds of the way) through the book, the plot shifts to a completely different thing that focuses much more on Helen’s role as a Reclaimer. I would have liked for there to be a more consistent plot or for those two plots to blend together better.

I really loved the role that the setting played in all of this though. Setting a fantasy story in Regency London with a high-class main character was a great idea of Goodman’s. She has to sneak around because no one is supposed to know about the Dark Days Club other than the people who are in it, but the rules about propriety and women during this time period added a whole new layer of complexity to it. For example, the person who is pretty much in charge of introducing her to everything and teaching her about things is a man, but in this time period it’s not considered proper for a man and woman to be left alone unless they’re related or married.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Helen and Lord Carlston. He’s accused of having murdered his wife in the past so naturally everyone, including Helen, is really wary around him and no one trusts him. But Helen also feels as though he’s the only person who can really help her understand what’s happening, so she feels really conflicted on whether or not she can (or should) be around him.

All in all, this is a solid story but definitely has some imperfections. If you like historical fiction and/or fantasy, check it out. It’s an entertaining read and I think fans of the genres will enjoy it despite its flaws.

3.5 stars

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