Roar by Cora Carmack

Wow! Just Wow. Roar by Cora Cormack was everything I wanted from a YA fantasy and more!

29939048.jpgIn a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.

Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.

To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.

Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.

She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.

Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

I’ve read Cora’s New Adult work and loved it, but I feel like she’s hit it out of the park with Roar. As always, her characters are so well-developed and push the story forward, but the real star of this novel was the magic system…or should I say storm system. The idea of storm hunters and “taking” the heart of the storm as a form of magic hit every one of my little girl fantasies. (Full disclosure: I wanted to be a tornado chaser since I was in 1st grade and wrote my first report on tornadoes.) The storm chasing scenes were exciting and the tension between Roar and Locke only raised the stakes further as Roar attempts to learn how to “capture” magic from the storm.

I loved the relationship between Roar and Locke. It was so well-built and I rooted for them. What made the tension between them so delicious was the forbidden nature of their relationship and the secrets between them. Roar’s motivations were so pure and believable and Locke was such a good guy. Gah! I love those two! #Rocke4eva!

On the flip side, the drama going on back home in Pavan held my attention as the political plot of Aurora’s betrothed comes to light and her friend/servant holds the truth to Roar’s whereabouts. There was so much more to this novel than meets the eye. I even particularly liked the way the author switched point of view while in third person.

I can’t wait until book two because Cora has built a mesmerizing storm of a novel and I can’t wait for all hell to rain down after that ending. If you like YA fantasy, Roar is the book for you. It was exciting, romantic and completely enthralling.

STARS: 5 out of 5

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Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

When I first heard that Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh was a Mulan retelling set in feudal Japan, I immediately put it on my TBR list. This story started off strong but left me wanting by the end.

23308087.jpgThe only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

I am a huge fan of the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope. There’s something about a girl proving herself an equal amongst men without the baggage that comes with gender expectations. Mariko, as a boy, was my favorite part of the novel. She was a great heroine. She was brave, clever and had a mind for science, which led to the creation of deadly inventions. She wasn’t the typical badass fighter heroine. She knew physical strength was her weakness so she put her mind to work.

There was a significant amount of female empowerment in this novel, which I liked but it came on a little too strong at times.

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

“She remembered Chiyo telling her that finding one’s match was like finding one’s other half. Mariko had never understood the notion.
She was not a half. She was wholly her own.”

I was feeling this novel until Mariko was revealed as a female. Each time someone new discovered her secret, I felt the reader was robbed of the character’s real reaction. They were too accepting, too quickly. I was also blind-sided with the main love interest. I was watching a certain someone and then BAM! She’s suddenly kissing another guy. It was the strangest kind of whiplash, where I had to take a moment to change my allegiances before continuing to read.

I wish this book was a standalone because I wanted the relief of a resolution sooner. The ending packed in too many unanswered questions and unresolved plot threads. Since it’s the first in a series, they’ll be more to come to resolve these things, but I would have been more satisfied with a neater ending.

Overall, I really liked this book. I was hanging on every word until the end. I’ll be reading the second book to see what happens next.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller is such a delight! I read it in one sitting and I could not put it down. It moved quickly, but it was also well-paced, slowly unraveling the secrets of the heroine and the complexities of the Pirate life.

33643994.jpgThere will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

I loved Alosa! She had some serious skill and snark. From the opening scene, when she gambled the lives of her crew for the lives of her crew, I was on board with her badassery. She came off a little overconfident, but once her secret was revealed, it all made sense. The reveal was such a surprise and it made this story that much better. Without that extra element, it may have fallen flat.

The entire time Alosa was on the Nightfarer, her interactions with Riden were so well done. There were times when I wanted more, but since this is the first book in a series, it was just enough of a taste to whet my appetite. I thoroughly enjoyed the scene where Alosa tore up Riden’s room. I can totally relate to Riden’s exasperation and I applaud Alosa’s balls. She always seemed one step ahead.

Near the end, I liked that we got to see the extent of what Alosa could do, and it acted as a catalyst for her and Riden to open up about their feelings for each other. Plus, the twist on the identity of a certain individual was a nice touch.

We only got to see the pirate king for a brief moment, but I can’t wait to see more. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was so much fun to read.

STARS: 5 out of 5

The Great Pursuit by Wendy Higgins

The Great Pursuit by Wendy Higgins is a wonderful conclusion to the Great Hunt Duology.

28370779.jpgLochlanach has traded the great beast for something far more terrible, a Lashed enemy veiled in beauty, deception, and a vengeance passed down through generations: Rozaria Rocato. And she’s offering the hunter Paxton Seabolt power and acceptance he could never receive in his homeland. Pax must decide how far he’s willing to go under her tutelage, knowing she is the opponent of Princess Aerity Lochson.

In a land where traditionalists dread change, the Lochlan throne must contend with mysterious foes and traitors, while attempting to keep revolt at bay. As dire circumstances strike the royal family, matters of the castle are left in Aerity’s hands. It’s time to put aside her fears and grasp the reign, taking actions that have the potential to save or destroy her people.

One hunt has ended, but the pursuit for love and justice continue. In this sequel to The Great Hunt from New York Times bestselling author Wendy Higgins, political intrigue and romance intensify in another thrilling fantasy. Princess Aerity embraces a quest for identity and passion before making the ultimate sacrifice for her kingdom.

I am a huge fan of The Great Hunt. As my first Higgins novel, I knew I wanted to read more of her stuff, so I was ecstatic when The Great Pursuit released.

Right away, I loved being back into the heart of this special story. The Great Pursuit is a great continuation of Aerity’s story. There is duty and passion, romance and danger. Even though the violence is tame, there is plenty of danger and real-world consequences for these characters. This is definitely YA fantasy.

Paxton and Aerity are such a mature couple for their age and this genre. I was yearning for them to be together the entire time. I also enjoyed the secondary romances sprinkled throughout, specifically Aerity’s cousin, Wyneth, and her sister, Vixie. I’m always down for more than one couple to get a happy ending. Other than Paxton, my next favorite character has to be the guard Harrison. He was the most intriguing of all the men. He is extremely loyal yet restrained. The lengths he would go for the sake of the kingdom was so endearing. I’m happy he got what he deserved. And I can’t help but mention Furball. I don’t want to give anything away, but the animal lover in me loved this aspect of the story.

I read this book like a demon – I couldn’t put it down. I thought I would miss the hunt aspect that was so prevalent in the first book, but the impending war and contention between the lashed and unlashed left me breathlessly turning the pages. Plus, my desperate hope for Aerity and Paxton to be together had me clinging to the storyline. If you like YA Fantasy, this is one of the best examples of it that I’ve read in a while. It left me swooning with a goofy grin in the end. I highly recommend it.

STARS: 5 out of 5

Sanguine Moon by Jennifer Foxcroft

I freaking LOVED Sanguine Moon by Jennifer Foxcroft. I devoured it in one sitting.

When Connie Phillips began keeping secrets from her adoptive parents, she was unaware of the darkness she would bring into her world. Discovering she is the daughter of a crime lord had consequences even she could never have predicted. Consequences that put her first real love—Rocks—and her adorable baby sister in mortal danger.

With many lives balanced in her hands, Connie must find a way to save Rocks’ life, while keeping his identity a secret. Navigating the antiquated ways of the Camazotz culture, while trying not to offend the colony’s leaders with her modern technology, is harder than Connie ever imagined.

When Rocks defies certain death using present-day medicine, the Camazotz are torn. If they consider modernizing, they risk discovery and subsequent extermination by the aeronaughts. But hiding away in their mountain roost has left them vulnerable to an unidentified enemy slowly picking them off one bat at a time.

I met this author at a writing conference a few years ago and I’m so glad I did, because I might not have known to pick up this wonderful story. I loved book one in the Camazotz Trilogy, Sanguine Mountain. I was ecstatic to read book two when it finally arrived because these characters have been in my head, and I want more of them.

Bottom line: I love me some Rocks! Rocks is the best kind of love interest. He’s bad boy on the outside, good guy on the inside. Since he’s been isolated from civilization, he’s slightly naive, and with Rocks’ supernatural background as a shape-shifting bat, it’s totally believable. I loved the scenes where Connie had to explain modern technology or common turns of phrase. Rocks and his band of friends were so sweet and endearing. I wanted to squeeze all of them in a big hug, bat-form or no.

Sanguine Moon is the sweetest form of YA lit. The romance between Connie and Rocks was so pure. I loved the slow development of their relationship. It had that sweet high school crush, blush when you see each other feel.

I loved how this book expanded on the bat way of life. The leader of the Camazotz is a bit of a hard ass and I loved peeking into their sacred customs and secret lairs. The danger and tension of protecting the bat colony combined with the forbidden aspect of Connie and Rocks’ relationship was so compelling and had me turning pages as quickly as possible.

I was thoroughly impressed with this book. The writing was excellent and held my interest the entire time. There were only a couple times that I felt the plot slowed a bit, but it always picked right back up until the very end. Just like book one left me reeling, book two left me wanting more — more Connie, more drama, and most definitely more Rocks!

Read this. You won’t regret it.

STARS: 5 out of 5

By Your Side by Kasie West

Trapped in a library…all weekend…with a hot boy? Count me in. By Your Side by Kasie West is every book nerd’s dream come true.

30256248In this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

It’s difficult to review Kasie West’s books because they are all so sweet and fun, and they take place over a short period of time so there is only so much you can say without giving anything away. Plus, I think going into Kasie’s books blind is the best way to read.

Bottom line, I enjoyed it very much. It hit all my YA contemporary romance buttons in true Kasie West style. I smiled, I laughed, I swooned. Her characters appear simple, but they have such complexity built underneath that makes them pop up from the page like real people.

I don’t want to give anything away, but a couple heavy topics are discussed in this book, and I loved the somewhat awkward conversations and interactions surrounding them. It is difficult and awkward to talk about serious things in real life and West played true to exactly how most teenagers would react. I wish I could have heard more of Dax’s story by getting his perspective. I felt his painful past was more intriguing than Autumn’s.

If I’m completely honest, this is my least favorite of all West’s books, and I wish she would have played with the library piece more, but it was still good enough to read in one sitting.

STARS: 4 out of 5

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood had so much potential, but it didn’t quite deliver.

25463009Three royal houses ruling three interplanetary systems are on the brink of collapse, and they must either ally together or tear each other apart in order for their people to survive.

Asa is the youngest daughter of the house of Fane, which has been fighting a devastating food and energy crisis for far too long. She thinks she can save her family’s livelihood by posing as her oldest sister in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the throne of the house of Westlet. The appearance of her mother, a traitor who defected to the house of Galton, adds fuel to the fire, while Asa also tries to save her sister Wren’s life . . . possibly from the hands of their own father.

But as Asa and Eagle forge a genuine bond, will secrets from the past and the urgent needs of their people in the present keep them divided?

From the moment I read the synopsis, I was sold. It was Sci-fi. It had an arranged intergalactic marriage and a heroine that risked it all to save her kin! As I began reading, the plot was all there, the writing was decent but the storytelling wasn’t. It felt like being dropped into the middle of the story and missing the very important prologue that explained crucial background. I think there needed to be more world-building. Taking on intergalactic politics is a huge feat, and I wish the author took more time to describe the setting and customs of each planet to fully appreciate the drastic changes for the heroine.  I felt just as lost as the heroine.

I also wish the author would have spent more time developing the relationship between Eagle and Asa. They speak to each other what seems like five times the entire book but are madly in love by the end. I didn’t totally buy their romance. I wish they would have explored their differences and similarities more. The elements were all there. Eagle had a complex with his body image issues and Asa had to deal with her decontamination side effects. I wish they had recognized the common ground and the author had used it as a platform on loving who you are despite what you look like.

I really wanted to like this one, but it missed the mark. It had everything it needed to be an epic sci-fi romance but it wasn’t well executed.

STARS: 2 out of 5