Sigil in Shadow by Constance Roberts

Sigil in ShadowSigil in Shadow
by Constance Roberts
Pub Date: June 12,2016

Thank you Constance Roberts and Sweetwater Books for letting me read a proof of this book!

So, I enjoy fantasy, especially when that fantasy includes a strong female with loyalty and brains. Ellory Dane is one such protagonist. She is not a simpering female waiting for someone to save her: she is a loyal daughter who takes care of her unstable father and makes potions to sell at the local market in order to support her family. Unfortunately, taking care of her father and tending the herbs keeps Ellory so busy she has no time for anything else. Desperately, Ellory even sells her hair to buy enough food and fuel to last through the winter. Between trying to keep her father alive, putting food on the table, and worrying she will never find a man to marry, Ellory has little hope that life will get better.

Then one day, a rumor is spread that Ellory brought a man back from the dead with one of her potions. The king insists on bringing her to the castle to replicate the resurrection potion and to be trained by the royal herbalist. Suddenly, Ellory must learn to maneuver castle politics and hide the truth from everyone in order to survive.

This story was quite a page turner with several twists in the plot. I often found myself saying ‘just one more chapter,’ and then reading another after that to see what would happen next. I enjoyed the focus on medicine and herbs, as well as the way the story examines difficult issues such as social class, addiction, political games, infidelity, and abuse.  The romance is sweet and innocent, with a few funny moments—personally, I got a kick out of the closet scene. Some relationships seemed rushed to me, but all in all I felt it was a well-thought out story with an enjoyable protagonist, a great friendship between Ellory and her mentor Treya, and a sweet romance. I would definitely recommend this to someone who likes fantasy with a strong female protagonist and a compelling story line.

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer

HeartlessHeartless
by Marissa Meyer
Pub Date: November 8, 2016

Usually, I do not read books I know end unhappily. I also didn’t like Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass. Still, I couldn’t resist Heartless. The story explains how the “off with your head” Queen of Hearts became the ruthless, cruel, intelligent woman she is in Alice in Wonderland. The journey has several twists and turns that explain different stories from Lewis Carroll’s classic and kept me guessing. Even though I knew how it would end, I had to keep reading because I wanted it to end differently. I couldn’t put the book down, and I couldn’t help but cheer for the woman I knew would become the merciless Queen of Hearts.

Before becoming the Queen of Hearts, Catherine was simply a girl who wanted to change her destiny. Instead of being a member of the royal court who must marry the wealthiest man who offers for her hand, Catherine wants to open a bakery and make the most amazing confections in all the land of Hearts. The King loves eating anything she makes, and Catherine hopes she will be able to get the King of Hearts to give her the title “Royal Tart Maker of the Kingdom of Hearts.” Unfortunately, the adage “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” applies with the King of Hearts. He proposes to Catherine, and Catherine knows she can’t refuse even though she doesn’t love him. To make matters more complicated, the mysterious Court Jester may be the kind of man she could lose her heart to.

To give you an idea of how amazing this book is, it made me appreciate Alice in Wonderland and Into the Looking Glass. I found myself remembering passages from the stories, and wanting to reread the books to appreciate this book even more. Catherine is the kind of protagonist I like: intelligent, strong, independent, loving, and loyal. I love how Marissa Meyer is able to create so many ties with the original stories, while still writing something original that can stand on its own. I would recommend this book to fans of Alice in Wonderland, those who love a good romance with a strong female protagonist, and for readers who love a good story plot with intriguing characters. This is definitely a book to put on your future reading list. I am so elated I received a pre-published copy!

The Lost Hero, by Rick Riordan

The Lost HeroThe Lost Hero
by Rick Riordan
Pub Date October 12, 2010

When I saw the new book by Rick Riordan, The Trials of Apollo, I was excited to get my hands on it. The plot sounds fabulous: a god being demoted to be a mortal teenager who has to live at Camp Half Blood with his own children. Before I could get my hands on it though, my niece informed me I must read The Heroes of Olympus series first. With a five book series before me, I knew I needed to get started right away.

If you have not tried Rick Riordan, I strongly implore you to read his series. When I studied gods and goddesses in school, I couldn’t make them stick in my head. Basically, I remembered Zeus. Reading Percy Jackson and the Olympians made the gods and goddesses more real and relatable, especially how he adapts them to the modern day world.  His books make demigods seem possible, and I love that dyslexia and ADHD are signs of the demigods’ powers in his stories.

                The Lost Hero focuses on three demigods: Jason, Piper, and Leo. The three meet up at a camp for troubled youth where they are attacked by wind spirits, and escape to Camp Half Blood– the camp that protects demigods from monsters. Their first day at camp, these three demigods are sent on a quest to save Hera, the queen of the gods. If that wasn’t hard enough, Jason doesn’t remember anything about his past, Piper is worried about her father being kidnapped, and Leo has abilities he can’t reveal. No one believes Jason, Piper, and Leo will succeed in saving the day, but the more insurmountable the odds, the more fun the story becomes. Jason, Piper, and Leo meet multiple gods, monsters, giants, and villains as they complete the first part of their quest in this series. I am excited to see what happens in the rest of the series.

The Elite and The One, by Kiera Cass

eliteThe Selection’s The Elite and The One
by Kiera Cass
Pub Date April 23, 2013 & May 6, 2014

In my first post, I wrote about The Selection by Kiera Cass. In my crazy desire to read all sorts of princess stories, I couldn’t forget the next two books in The Selection series. I also had to write about them together since I read the two books in two days- I literally went back to the library on my day off just to get The One after I finished The Elite in one night. I couldn’t put it down until I knew what happened between America Singer and Prince Maxon.

 

The oneFor those of you who haven’t read the series, The Selection is based in a future America where our current government has collapsed and is now a monarchy that separates the population into eight castes, each with a different type of job and social standing, from the top number one being royalty and the bottom eight being peasants. When the prince is of marrying age, a competition is held where 35 girls from different castes and areas of the country are sent to compete for the prince’s hand in marriage. America Singer, a number five caste member, is chosen to compete in the selection for Prince Maxon’s hand in marriage.

Reading these books, I found myself incredibly grateful that dating is not like this in reality, similar to the reality tv show The Bachelor where one guy (or girl depending on the season) goes on dates with multiple people and it is expected that he will kiss, if not all of the candidates, most of them. What a weird dating ritual: hanging out all day long with girls who are competing with you for one guy and all the power and wealth he will share with you. America has to figure out if she truly loves Maxon and if she can be a proper princess before loses Maxon forever.

Honestly, America Singer drove me crazy, which is one of the reasons I truly loved this series. In the tv series The Bachelor, no one really questions whether or not being chosen is a good thing. Yet, America questions it all the time. She is a realistic girl with confidence issues who often compares herself to others. She is confused about what she wants and what she can handle. Throughout the series, you can see her confidence grow, although she is constantly making her relationship with Maxon more complicated. Dangerous revolutions, political intrigue, and secret associations are a constant part of this budding romance, and I could not drag myself away from these books. I am so excited for the 5th book in this series to come out this May.

This Side of Home, by Renée Watson

This Side of HomeThis Side of Home
by Renée Watson
Pub Date: February 3, 2015

Stories about the last year of high school hold a special place in my heart right now as I watch my oldest niece approaching graduation and making plans for college.

Maya and Nikki Younger are twins who have done everything together. All their lives they have planned their future: they will graduate from high school with amazing grades, go to college at Spelman-a historical black woman’s college, and they will marry their boyfriends they have known all their lives. But like all idealized plans, life has some detours.

First, Maya and Nikki’s best friend/neighbor is forced to move. Second, the family who moves in is white and has a daughter who quickly becomes Nikki’s best friend. Third, the family next door also has a son who is more likeable and cute than Maya is ready to admit. Fourth, the new school principal keeps butting heads with Maya as senior class president. This is not the senior year Maya planned. Instead, Maya is forced to accept other people’s choices and that she can’t always be the model black girl.

I really appreciated this novel. I wasn’t sure I would relate to the main protagonist, Maya, since she seemed so focused on her identity as a black woman, while I am white and grew up in a town that was predominantly white. Still, Renée Watson does a good job of showing this aspect of Maya’s personality while also making her relatable to a wider audience. I admired Maya’s grit, intelligence, and tenacity. She focuses on the importance of family, friendship, and acknowledging history while looking to the future. This story made me think about different cultures, and how difficult the “race” questions can be even today. One of my favorite things about reading fiction is that I’m invited to see the world through a different perspective. This perspective opened my eyes. I am glad I read this book, and highly recommend it to others.

March Book One, by John Lewis

MarchMarch Book One
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Pub Date: August 13, 2013

I admire the people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. So when I heard that John Lewis was going to write an autobiography of his life in a graphic novel format, I knew this was a book we needed in the library. It didn’t disappoint. The story describes what the South was like for black people, as well as showing some of the beginning events in the Civil Rights Movement. Graphic novels are such a great way to take history beyond words into something visual. I am glad John Lewis decided to tell his story, and to tell it as a graphic novel.

After reading this, I am sure that I could not have been one of the protestors. The training they went through to prepare to be violently and physically abused was rigorous. With rules like ‘do not strike back or curse if abused,’ ‘do not laugh out,’ and ‘show yourself friendly and courteous at all times,’  I could not have handled violent or tense situations for hours. It is truly remarkable what John Lewis and people like him were able to accomplish through peaceful protest. As John Lewis says, “We wanted to change America—to make it something different, something better.” They certainly did.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to learn about history in a personal way, especially if you have never read a graphic novel. This is a great history book: it’s not dry facts and it’s fast-paced. Also, March is a great book for reluctant or struggling readers.

All Fall Down, by Ally Carter

All Fall DownAll Fall Down
By Ally Carter
Pub. Date: January 20, 2015

After devouring the Gallagher Girls series, when I heard Ally Carter was coming out with a new book I knew I would have to read it. For those who haven’t read the Gallagher Girls series, I would highly recommend it. Picture this: a hidden all-girls school to train spies where hacking into government websites is homework, martial arts and combat training is p.e., and friendship means risking your life to save each other. These books dealt with some serious issues, but had enough comedic moments to keep it light.

All Fall Down, the first book in the Embassy Row series, has a lot of secrets and twists with another unreliable narrator like the Gallagher Girls series, but it is darker without as much humor. Grace is the daughter of a military man, the granddaughter of an ambassador, and the witness of her mother’s death. Three years later after her mother died, Grace still has daily flashbacks, only made worse by the knowledge that no one believes her when she says her mother was murdered. She is trying not to act too crazy, but she knows everyone is worried about her mental state. Now she is living in Europe at US embassy with her grandfather, where a wrong move could start a war and everyone wants her to act normal and go with her grandfather to state functions. Of course, things do not work out as planned and Grace finds herself getting into even more scrapes than usual with a new group of teens as she tries to figure out how to stop the man she believes murdered her mother.

I thought this novel was well done: it has a unique setting based on life in an embassy and it does a good job staying in a first person narrative with a complex story line. I often found myself annoyed with the protagonist, but I can see she is the way she is because Grace went through a traumatic experience. The Gallagher Girls series is still my favorite though, because I liked the humor and I enjoyed the characters and felt more invested in what they were doing. Altogether, I would recommend reading All Fall Down for those who want a good suspense where the teenage girl everyone thinks is crazy collaborates with her friends to save the world. It doesn’t have any romantic entanglements (although there is a hint of one), and it doesn’t have a lot of violence. I enjoyed reading it, although I kept myself distant from the protagonist.