Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: The Quest

Book Review: The Quest by Dani Hoots 

Goodreads Description: Eleven years ago, my life was ripped away from me. My father, my brother, my humanity. Everything. I was thrown into the Kamps, created to be a mindless machine. But I fought against it, not letting them take away my memories of the past. 

And I succeeded. 

It has been seven years since I was taken out of the Kamps and made into the Emperor's Shadow. Now I only take orders from him, and him alone, without questions. That is, until my brother, who I thought was dead, shows up and kidnaps me in order to help him find some long lost planet that our father used to tell stories about. 

According to the legend, and who finds the planet Sanshll can rewrite the past, and my brother wants to use it to destroy the Empire. My loyalty will always be to the Emperor. But what if this planet is real? The longer I stay with my brother, the more I begin to find that the Emperor has been keeping secrets from me. But I can't turn my back on him... 

Or can I?

My Review: I was given a copy of The Quest by the author, Dani Hoots, in exchange for an honest review. 

Eleven-years-ago, Arcadia lost everything when the empire killed her father and dragged her off to the Kamps to be tortured and used for experiments. While in a fight to the death, Arcadia managed to impress the visiting Emperor himself and won herself a place as his shadow- the Emperor’s secret assassin. But when her brother reappears after so many years, she no longer knows where her loyalty lies: to the brother who abandoned her to the Kamps, or the ruthless Emperor who saved her from them.

The Quest starts us off with Arcadia and her brother, Rik, high above a planet with their father, watching as it is overtaken by Empire soldiers. To ease their fears, their father tells them a bedtime story, which launches them into a tale of a mysterious planet and a lost daughter to two powerful illusionists who is the galaxy’s hope for peace. As cute as it is to get a glimpse of our characters’ lives before the calamity sets in, the opening prologue here gives far, far too much away. The use of a “chosen one” prophecy is really overdone, and something needs to be twisted for the troupe to have any sort of effect. As that wasn’t the case, the prologue only stood as an outline of what to expect by the end of the book. As the book had no other hints to a “chosen one” narrative, leaving out the prologue would have added to the surprise and revelation at the end, when we find out who Arcadia really is. Instead, it was a giant red arrow pointing to the main character exclaiming, “Look out, we’ve got a super special snowflake over here.” 

It was delightful to see a full story captured within a single book. The book ends on a cliffhanger and there is definitely more to the story, but the characters achieved in one book the goal they set out for themselves (finding the planet Sanshll), as opposed to outlining a goal that (in many fantasy/sci-fi books) takes a whole series to complete (E.g., Characters are out to get rid of the empire, but in Book 1 only find one component of a spell to destroy it). So it was a real breath of fresh air to find a book that finishes what it says it will. 

Now, the element that ultimately brought my rating down for this book was the main character. I had problems with nearly every characterization, (from motivations that made no sense, to cartoonish reactions to situations, to alliances that made no sense with that’s been established in the characters’ pasts), but ultimately it was Arcadia herself that made this book incredibly difficult to get through. Though she’s presented as a “strong, female character,” her personality can be reduced to two elements: the fact that she’s a murderous, cold-blooded, feel nothing monster who seems to take pleasure in carrying out this role, and the sexy bootylicious babe that everyone wants to bang. Throughout the book, Arcadia boasts about the people she’s killed and doesn’t have a lick of remorse. Even when her actions are brought to her attention, and characters try to lead her to feel remorse, Arcadia shrugs it all off and takes it as “who she is,” which is extremely off-putting. Throughout the entire book, Arcadia did maybe a handful of things that could be considered sympathetic, and even then the only reason she did these things was to “fool the crew” into believing she was trustworthy. Her motivation relied entirely on the fact that she got “orders” from her Emperor, which made her come off as a mindless puppet without a single likeable or sympathetic aspect to her character. It was an attempt to come off as a “hard, badass female” but what we’re left with is the cartoonish equivalent to a 16-year-old waving around a Swiss army knife. The author spent so much time trying to prove their MC was a badass that the character lacked any sort of humanity. 

And we come to the second big ticket element of our MC’s personality-- her attractiveness. Oh, don’t worry, Arcadia doesn’t waste time talking about how beautiful and sexy she is (she’s got to spend that time explaining how badass she is), but that’s why every other character with a dick has to make a move on her. Within the first chapter, she is objectified by 1) the Emperor, 2) the head general 3) some guy she has a sort of relationship with (who has to show up and see her canoodling with the other two for little to no reason). Every male (thankfully except her brother) makes a point to hit on her or make a move on her. (Meanwhile everyone else hates her guts. These very polarizing responses which got dull fast.) There’s nothing wrong with having a character who is sexual and is wanted by others, but this was another case of overkill. When you spend every chapter asserting your sexuality and dominance in your character, it loses its affect. Often saying something once is more powerful than repeating something ad nausea until the reader learns to tune it out. 

Further, the motivations (Arcadia as well as everyone else’s) made no sense. All the decisions that are made in the beginning of the book to push things into action (the Emperor telling her to go with her brother, Rik waiting so long to find his sister, and why he bothered since her use doesn’t become apparent until later), felt so forced. Nothing flowed organically. Even Arcadia becoming the Emperor’s shadow made no sense. The empire kills her father, drags her from home and puts her in a place of torture, and then when the Emperor makes an appearance, she attempts to assassinate him. The Emperor (I guess?) is turned on by chicks throwing knives and hires her, even though she still attempts to kill him. And then, for some reason, Arcadia’s whole motivation flips and she becomes exceedingly loyal to the person who completely destroyed her whole life. There’s no explanation given for this besides “he saved her from the Kamps,” which, being that he was the reason she was there in the first place, didn’t make for a believable transformation. 

As far as the writing goes, I was fairly disappointed. The author spends far more time telling than showing, which makes description thin. Instead of showing us the world and letting the story reveal itself, the author holds the reader by the hand and tells them everything. A little telling is fine, but as the writer spent the whole time telling us the backstory, telling us how characters felt, telling us what other characters thought at times, it really took away from the experience. I wanted to know what the ship looked like. I wanted to wonder what other characters really thought of Arcadia. Instead of letting the reader draw their own conclusions, the book drags you to the conclusions it wants you to draw. 

In the last quarter of the book, Arcadia’s motivation completely changes, and with it, so does her character. She claims near the end (when it’s clear she’s not following orders anymore, nor is she incredibly sympathetic to the PAE and their struggles), she decides her reason for finding the lost planet was to rid herself of nightly dreams. It was at this point that Arcadia finally resembled something human. She wasn’t a mindless drone! She actually had her own thoughts! And though it didn’t make her sympathetic or likeable by any means, it at least gave me something as a reader to hold onto and use to relate to her. As well, during this final quarter we actually see some inner conflict, some turmoil. When Arcadia is injured, she has a moment of humanity and admits she doesn’t know who to side with. I felt like if we had more of that -- the inner conflict, the uncertainty, the utter humanity-- and less time talking about her kills or getting her into bed, this book would have had a much greater impact. 

TL;DR: All in all 1/5 stars. An unlikable character dressed as a strong female lead in a story that delivers what it promises. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Book Review: Something in Between

Book Review: Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

Goodreads Description: Jasmine de los Santos has always done what’s expected of her. Pretty and popular, she’s studied hard, made her Filipino immigrant parents proud and is ready to reap the rewards in the form of a full college scholarship.

And then everything shatters. A national scholar award invitation compels her parents to reveal the truth: their visas expired years ago. Her entire family is illegal. That means no scholarships, maybe no college at all and the very real threat of deportation.

For the first time, Jasmine rebels, trying all those teen things she never had time for in the past. Even as she’s trying to make sense of her new world, it’s turned upside down by Royce Blakely, the charming son of a high-ranking congressman. Jasmine no longer has any idea where—or if—she fits into the American Dream. All she knows is that she’s not giving up. Because when the rules you lived by no longer apply, the only thing to do is make up your own.

My Review: I was sent a copy of Something in Between by MB Communications in exchange for an honest review. 

Something in Between is the incredibly delightful story of Jasmine and her family on their journey to become American citizens. For most of her life, Jasmine de los Santos believed she was an American citizen. But when she receives a prestigious scholarship straight from the federal government, her parents are forced to admit that no one in their family has green cards, and so she cannot accept the scholarship. Worse yet, she may not even be able to go to college at all, since they cannot apply for financial aid. Not to mention that if they are discovered, the entire family could be deported at any time. 

First of all, I absolutely adored this story. After reading so many books with dark themes and tones, this was a breath of fresh air. Jasmine de los Santos is such a great character. She is so positive and driven, sometimes to the point of being competitive, and filled with so much love for her family. If I ever met her in real life, I know I'd probably roll my eyes at the way she gets so worked up about things or is so over-focused on school and the need to succeed. But those parts of her personality added to her character and made her perfect for the story. It was refreshing to see such a go-getter character like Jasmine in young adult. I can't remember the last time I found a character with such an unbreakable drive. Of course, Jasmine wasn't the only character that delighted me. From Royce, to Jasmine's parents, to her friends Kayla and Lo, all were wonderfully balanced. I especially found myself impressed with Jasmine's parents. In contemporary, it's very common for writers to skim over the parents' personality and thus make them background robots. As this novel is very family-focused, it was essential to have the rest of her family as vivid as Jasmine herself, which the author pulled off perfectly. 

Overall, this novel is very much a romance. From the first few chapters we get a glimpse of Royce Blakely, the handsome congressman's son who keeps popping up in Jasmine's life. Jasmine, however, has always been very focused on school, and has never kissed a boy much less had a boyfriend. Still, when she begins shyly texting Royce and they strike up an awkward friendship, she can't deny how attracted she is to him. I really loved Royce, and felt he was nicely developed. A lot of time romance can gloss over the love interest, so it was nice to see him be as human as Jasmine was. As well, the relationship is not all kissing and holding hands. I loved all the ups and downs that these two have together-- from breaking up and getting back together, to fighting about family issues, and so on. It felt so real because the romance wasn't just the fairy tale lead up to how these two got together. The book showed how their relationship evolved and grew, which was really awesome to see. The only issue I took with the book--- and it's another thing I find common in romance-- is that the guy will do back flips, pull down the moon, run a mile and then go further, all to impress the girl. And the girl, often, does little to nothing in return. No huge romantic gestures or efforts made. Royce states in the book that Jasmine gives him the courage to be himself and follow his dreams, but it would have been nice to see Jasmine put a bit more effort into the relationship to make it seem more balanced. 

The writing in this book is smooth and even, and with no swearing or any mature content (Jasmine and Royce don't make it past heavy kissing), I could see this very much appealing to younger audiences of young adult. Aside from the looming threat of deportation, there isn't a whole lot of tension. A lot of action takes place between every page but unless you're engaged in the characters and their day to day life, it can start to drag. That said, there is a lot of meat to the story, so those that fall in love with the characters will be delighted at all the adventures they get to enjoy. 

The heart of this story comes down to Jasmine's story of immigration. It is an incredibly empathetic story and really allows readers who may be so far removed from situations like this to understand what's it's like to be an immigrant in America. I really believe this book will do a lot of good in helping young people build empathy for those in this kind of situation. Not only was the glimpse into Filipino culture delightful and enlightening, but the points the book raises on what it means to be American are especially pertinent in this day and age. I'd strongly encourage librarians to sneak this book into the hands of those looking for romance, as they will get all that and so much more. 

The only issue that I had with the book comes down to how it all ends up resolved. No spoilers, but I found that the solution felt a little too simple, and like it was an option right from the beginning. There was a lot of work the characters put into achieving that end, but the way it was actually achieved-- with a single phone call-- made all that effort feel pointless. It made it feel like the book could have been half its size, if that was all it took to resolve the conflict. 

TL;DR: 3/5 stars. A culturally delightful story that builds empathy for immigrant struggles. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: This Savage Song

Book Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab 

Goodreads Description: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

My Review: This review will contain some spoilers regarding the end of the book. There will be a warning before you reach the spoilers. 

I'm sure that Victoria Schwab doesn't actually write. I'm sure that she sits in front of her computer and waves her hand, and with a magic only she can master, summons words and twines them into a visual tapestry. Her words literally have a possessive power, and once I crack a cover I can't stop until I've reached the last page, no matter what kind of torture Schwab has in store. 

This Savage Song begins with a spark. In a desperate attempt to be moved home with her father, Kate burns down a chapel at her religious boarding school and succeeds in getting expelled. She returns to V-City, where her father runs the northern half by offering protection from monsters for those who can pay. On the south side of the city, August lives in a compound with his Sunai siblings and his human parents, who are struggling to keep the southern city free of monsters. When Kate attends a new school in the city, August enrolls to get close to her in the hopes of using her for leverage in case the truce between the two sides of V-City should fall. 

As always, the writing is pure genius. Schwab writes in a way that is incredibly descriptive without being overbearing. You can taste the air in V-City and hear the music trilling from August's violin. I mean it when I say her words possess readers, as as soon as I begin I no longer feel as though I'm reading. I'm simply there. Along with the gorgeous writing, the part of this book that truly sings are the characters. No surprise, as Schwab has always had a knack for creating vivid and emotionally 3D characters. It's one things to have your characters emotionally reactive to what's going on around them. It's another when your character has a backstory that haunts them. But Schwab does an excellent job of not only doing both of those, but of taking that backstory and making it an emotional motivator for the characters. Everything that happened to Kate and August in their past is what's currently motivating them, and all those emotions come to a head within the book. It's what make the book so emotionally powerful. 

As well, This Savage Song breaks away from the norm of YA in two distinctive ways: there is no romance within the book, and one main character, Kate, is an unflinching asshole in many ways. She burns down a school, threatens her classmates, brutally murders monsters, and yet it's all portrayed with a delicate balance. You can see that a part of her is a much softer, kinder person, but the world she lives in has shaped her to be so rough. I love it when authors actually step out of the 'hero' box and actually examine other parts of our humanity. For that reason alone, this book was very endearing to me. 

Despite the irresistible nature of the writing and the excellent tension and pacing, I found the beginning of this book a little slow in that not a lot of action happens. It is a lot of back and forth high school drama, and while it is necessary and didn't harm the book in any way, I could see some readers being put off by that initial slump. Also, the reason for August to go to school felt a little weak. Just to "get close to her" so she could be "leverage" if things went wrong? It felt a little thin. If there was a bit more explanation of how they planned to use her as leverage this way, then it would have felt a lot stronger. By verse 3, the plot picks up and it's a raging adventure straight to the end. I enjoyed the beginning, but by the second half of the book I couldn't put it down. 

** Spoilers start here. Stop if you don't wish to know.** 

I don't normally include spoilers, no matter how I feel on a book, because I like to let readers draw their own conclusions without spoiling anything. But as my major issue with this book lies in its climax, I will have to break one of my cardinal rules. 

Near the end of the book, Kate's soul goes "red" by killing a man who was attacking her. Later, when confronting her father, she has the chance to kill him when August stops her, tells her to leave, and that he'll do the job himself. The whole thing felt really off to me. I wish Kate had lost her soul through killing her father. She spends the entire book trying to convince us she's a monster, and then when the hammer falls, it's this act that would make her unforgivable. So she gets away with doing all these horrible things, while August, who has spent the entire book trying to be a good person and get away from his perceived destiny of being a monster, has to do the dirty work. 

It wasn't intentional, but it left me with a strong feeling of "Bad people get away with whatever they want, while people born to crappy circumstances have no hope of escaping their destiny." It drew an uncomfortable morality line about who is okay to kill and who isn't based only on their race. Kate kills multiple monsters without a second blink, but the second she accidentally kills a human (which you can justify as self-defense) suddenly she's irredeemable? Killing her father would damage her beyond repair but killing the other man was sorta okay? There was an inequality there that didn’t feel right. I understand that these monsters are supposedly “born from violence,” but when you have a character like August, who is a monster, it feels more like, “You can be as awfully violent and horrible to this boy as you want, because on a technicality he’s not like us.” This is probably all just my interpretation, but I just couldn't shake the bad taste in my mouth after I turned the last page.  

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. A brilliant book with amazing characters and an immersive world. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Cover Reveal: Come On Up To The House

Hello all! I'm very pleased to bring you a shiny new cover from Dane Cobain for his upcoming book, Come On Up To The House. Dane has been on the blog before when I reviewed one of his previous novels, so I'm excited to see what's coming up in the works next for him.

Without further ado, I present...

Doesn't life seem nasty, brutish and short?

This horror novella and accompanying screenplay tells the story of Darran Jersey, a troubled teenager who moves into a house that's inhabited by the malevolent spirit of his predecessor.

As time goes by and the family begins to settle, Darran begins to take on more and more of the qualities of James, the dead teenager who committed a bloody suicide.

As tragedy after tragedy threatens to destroy the family, Darran's mother Alice decides to leave the house behind and start afresh, but is it too late? 

Find out when you Come On Up to the House...

Check out the Book Trailer:

Dane Cobain (High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK) is an independent poet, musician and storyteller with a passion for language and learning. When he's not in front of a screen writing stories and poetry, he can be found working on his book review blog or developing his website. Check him out at