Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Fire Wish by Amber Lough

The Fire Wish
Amber Lough

Series: The Jinni Wars #1
Genre: Fantasy
Hardback: 320 Pages
Publication: July 22, 2014
by Random House Children's


A jinni. A princess. And the wish that changes everything. . . .

Najwa is a jinni, training to be a spy in the war against the humans. Zayele is a human on her way to marry a prince of Baghdad—which she’ll do anything to avoid. So she captures Najwa and makes a wish. With a rush of smoke and fire, they fall apart and re-form—as each other. A jinni and a human, trading lives. Both girls must play their parts among enemies who would kill them if the deception were ever discovered—enemies including the young men Najwa and Zayele are just discovering they might love.

◆ A copy was provided by Random House for review ◆

I found out the power of author blurbs when I saw that Tamora Pierce blurbed this. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have picked this up otherwise because the synopsis looks so much like a fantasy romance. In a way, it is. At the same time, there's some compelling element to the story that kept me reading even as other elements had me finding it hard to suspend disbelief.

The story alternates between Najwa and Zayele's perspectives. At first, it was hard for me to connect with the characters or even enjoy the story because it switches perspectives so quickly, barely giving me time to immerse myself in one storyline before moving on to the next character. I eventually adjusted to the story's pacing. What really bugged me about the narration from start to end is how both perspectives are told in first person without distinguishing traits in either voice to help me tell them apart. Though Zayele is labeled as braver and Najwa more passive, it's just that—a label. Their characters aren't developed well enough for me to know for sure who is who. Furthermore, though Zayele is essentially raised as a princess, her behavior suggests otherwise, and she does a poor job of carrying out her duties.

I never felt a strong connection to any of the characters, even our narrators. While I know who they are, it's only on a superficial level. I couldn't tell you anything about them except for the most basic of information. There isn't any real depth to the characters or their relationships with each other. The only time I felt any real emotion was when Atish seeks to avenge a wrong done to his girl at the end of the book (if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about). That gave me feels, then clich├ęd things happen, and the feels didn't last very long. I know I should want them to be happy, but it'd be nice if we could spend more time feeling the war damage instead of giving things a Disney ending.

That's the thing. The entire plot felt formulaic. I figured things out before they were revealed ike Najwa and Zayele's unique relationship and where the whole royal wedding before they were actually revealed. And Najwa and Zayele's actions are pretty much what I'd expect from the brash teenage girls so popular in YA books today and who are celebrated as being passionate and kickass. Yes, they take strong action, but there isn't any good cause so far as I can see for them to act the way they do. What they do is stupid and reckless, and they're surprised when older, wiser people lecture them on the dangers of their behavior. I like strong girl characters, but I also want girls who set a good example.

The writing is as youthful as its narrators. I know what it wanted me to see, but it didn't immerse me in the world and the characters' lives. Not only that, but the story didn't have much organization to it. For the most part, it felt like it was taking us from place to place, following the girls as they try to find a way out of the mess they've gotten themselves into, and the story ends rather abruptly without giving us an idea of where it will be taking us in the next book.

I do like the Middle Eastern setting. It's rare to see, and though the crafting could use work, I enjoyed exploring Najwa and Zayele's world for the most part. I'm intrigued and am interested in seeing where The Jinni Wars will take us next.

Additional Information
  1. The Fire Wish
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: The High Druid's Blade by Terry Brooks

The High Druid's Blade
Terry Brooks

Series: The Defenders of Shannara #1
Genre: Fantasy
Hardback: 320 Pages
Publication: July 8, 2014
by Del Ray


Legend has it that Paxon Leah is descended from the royals and warriors who once ruled the Highlands and waged war with magical weapons. But those kings, queens, and heroes are long gone, and there is nothing enchanted about the antique sword that hangs above Paxon’s fireplace. Running his family’s modest shipping business, Paxon leads a quiet life—until extraordinary circumstances overturn his simple world . . . and rewrite his destiny.

When his brash young sister is abducted by a menacing stranger, Paxon races to her rescue with the only weapon he can find. And in a harrowing duel, he is stunned to discover powerful magic unleashed within him—and within his ancestors’ ancient blade. But his formidable new ability is dangerous in untrained hands, and Paxon must master it quickly because his nearly fatal clash with the dark sorcerer Arcannen won’t be his last. Leaving behind home and hearth, he journeys to the keep of the fabled Druid order to learn the secrets of magic and earn the right to become their sworn protector.

But treachery is afoot deep in the Druids’ ranks. And the blackest of sorcery is twisting a helpless innocent into a murderous agent of evil. To halt an insidious plot that threatens not only the Druid order but all the Four Lands, Paxon Leah must summon the profound magic in his blood and the legendary mettle of his elders in the battle fate has chosen him to fight.


Paxon Leah runs an airfreight business. He makes  enough to support his family but feels unsatisfied with his life and wonders if there isn’t more out there for him in the world. He constantly worries about his reckless and wild younger sister Chrys, and his fears come to life when she is kidnapped by the sorcerer Arcannen, who seeks to use her as a bargaining chip, as Paxon has something that he wants.

The plot is fairly typical for a fantasy adventure novel. To save his sister, Paxon discovers powers that he did not know he had, receives training from the magical Druids, and confronts the dark sorcerer. Despite this, I enjoyed the book and found it very well written. One aspect I found particularly interesting was how the point of view changed between characters, even showing those of the villains. This gives a lot of insight into the various characters and thus the plot.

As opposed to most fantasy villains, Arcannen is not unrealistically powerful compared to everyone else. In fact, he is not even significantly more powerful than an experienced Druid. He relies more on strategy and wits and readily flees from combat if he feels he cannot win, which I found really cool. I also found Paxon to be a likeable protagonist. He is kindhearted and does not like to put his friends in danger. He does act recklessly at times and without much thought at some points, which does consequently puts his friends in danger and even indirectly leads to a death. However, his behavior is understandable, as he's a young man, and most of his reckless acts are efforts to save his sister.

While I have not personally read any other books in Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, I did not feel lost at all while reading this book. The High Druid's Blade does a good job portraying the parts of the world in the Shannara series that are applicable to it. Still, if you have any interest in reading more Shannara books, I would recommend reading them to get a better understanding of the world.

Additional Information
  1. The High Druid's Blade
  2. The Darkling Child
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Imagine Weekly: Stacking the Shelves 7/27

Imagine Weekly is a weekly feature where we share a summary of what has taken place on the blog the previous week and show off books that we got.


I received for review:

The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace (Goodreads | Amazon)

The Maze Runner by James Dashner - Hardback, movie tie-in (Goodreads | Amazon)
The Maze Runner by James Dashner - Paperback, movie tie-in (Goodreads | Amazon)
Inside the Maze Runner: The Guide to the Glade (Goodreads | Amazon)

The Green Teen Cookbook, edited by Laurane Marchive and Pam McElroy (Goodreads | Amazon)
Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects by Sophie Maletsky (Goodreads | Amazon)

Thanks to Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Zest Books
* Check out more book hauls through Stacking the Shelves at Tynga's Reviews *

On the Blog

Reviews this week

What did you get this week? Leave a link in the comments section, and we'll check out your week's haul!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: All Those Vanished Engines by Paul Park

All Those
Vanished Engines

Paul Park

Genre: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction

Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: July 1, 2014
by Tor Books


In All Those Vanished Engines, Paul Park returns to science fiction after a decade spent on the impressive four-volume A Princess of Roumania fantasy, with an extraordinary, intense, compressed SF novel in three parts, each set in its own alternate-history universe. The sections are all rooted in Virginia and the Battle of the Crater, and are also grounded in the real history of the Park family, from differing points of view. They are all gorgeously imaginative and carefully constructed, and reverberate richly with one another.

◆ A copy was provided by Tor Books for review ◆

To summarize what I think was going on in part one: the protagonist of an alternative historical South, where a matriarchic Confederacy has won the American Civil War, is writing/thinking about an alternative steam punk-esq America in another war against invaders. The protagonist of this alternate world, who is a mirror of the first protagonist, is also telling a story, which is actually the first protagonist’s life. Sounds completely mind boggling right? That summarizes a small part of my experience reading All Those Vanished Engines.

This book uses the concept of “Braiding” is used to weave multiple plots together to form a whole story. This in itself is not uncommon, see Game of Thrones for a proper demonstration. All Those Vanished Engines differs, however, in that it uses multiple dimensions of inception so that the stories simultaneously weave in and out of each other. The concept in and of itself is incredibly interesting and innovative, but the execution is handled so poorly that I had a hard time following even a few pages. I had to step away from the book and re-approach to get the full picture.

I like the idea behind the three-part narrative. It is balanced on key locations and artifacts, which keeps the reader more or less focused during the narrative progression. In many ways, it reminds me of tag words used in Norse poetry and prose that date before Latin comes to Scandinavia. In these forms, like the “Lay of Rig,” certain key elements are repeated in order to help the listener keep track of the story’s progression. The protagonists themselves aren’t particularly interesting but serve their purpose as part of the overall plot movement.

That said, parts two and three are far, far better in terms of readability. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that the overall book is worth the read, as the poor narrative framing of part one ruined for me what could have been at least a moderately decent book.

I give this 1 out of 5 K. W. Jeter’s

Additional Information
  • N/A

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll

Genre: FantasyLiterary Nonsense
Paperback: 208 Pages
Publication: March 17, 2011 (originally 1871)
by Puffin


Nothing is quite what it seems once Alice journeys through the looking-glass, and Dodgson's wit is infectious as he explores concepts of mirror imagery, time running backward, and strategies of chess-all wrapped up in the exploits of a spirited young girl who parries with the Red Queen, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and other unlikely characters.


Much like Wonderland, we’ve probably all heard at some point the basic story of Through the Looking Glass. Alice is in her family’s drawing room when she climbs onto the mantel, slips through the drawing room mirror, and finds herself in the Looking Glass world, a place with the loose structure of a chess game and where things happen in reverse. Just like in the previous story Carroll wrote, Alice wakes up and finds that her adventure was all a dream.

Like its predecessor, there wasn’t a firm plot in the story. Alice’s driving motivation seemed to be her desire to become a queen, a feat she could accomplish by arriving to the eighth square. Like I said before, the Looking Glass world is supposed to be structured like a game of chess, hinted at by the fact that some of the secondary characters are game pieces brought to life, and the pieces' behavior is different according to their color (the red pieces are more aggressive, while the white ones are more meek).

The tone of the story seemed rather different than the one in Wonderland. Where the previous story came across as colorful and had a few more fun characters, the denizens of the Looking Glass world seemed more aggressive, and the world itself seemed darker to me. The biggest problem I had with the story was that it felt too confused. Even though there was the whole deal of Alice wanting to become a queen, there didn’t seem to be a real payoff when she accomplished it. Where in Wonderland there are several memorable characters, some of whom return during the trial at the end, there weren’t as many in the Looking Glass world. The majority were just quick cameos that, in my opinion, could easily have been cut.

The saving grace for this book, I think, was the portrayal of the few memorable characters. The Tweedles were absolutely fun, and the sibling rivalry between them is nonsensical but still funny to watch. There were brief cameos made by the March Hare and Mad Hatter from Wonderland, though in Looking Glass, they went by different names. The White Knight was easily my favorite character in the book. Despite his clumsiness and tendency to invent unusual and mostly useless utensils, he was gallant and chivalrous, and he wasn’t offensive nor easily offended, making his company more enjoyable for Alice and, in turn, for the reader. Even though he only appears for one chapter, I would’ve loved to have seen more of him. I personally think he would’ve been a great companion for Alice through the rest of her journey.

Again, I would recommend you watch the Disney film if you haven't done so in a while. Though it mostly adheres to the storyline of Wonderland, it does include some bits from this story as well. (The edition of the book I read for this review contained both stories. If you would like to check it out, click here.) Among the iconic elements associated with Alice present in Looking Glass include the Tweedles, the Walrus and the Carpenter, the concept of an unbirthday, and the Jabberwocky poem. The fun part will be spotting these elements in the film and seeing how they were blended in with the other story. Though Wonderland is the better known (and in my mind, the better done) of the two Alice stories, Looking Glass does have some strong bits that make it worth checking out.

Additional Information
  • N/A
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: The Year of Chasing Dreams by Lurlene McDaniel

The Year of
Chasing Dreams

Lurlene McDaniel

Series: The Year #2
Genre: Contemporary
Hardback: 336 Pages
Publication: July 22, 2014
by Delacorte Press


Ciana Beauchamp hasn't seen or heard from Jon Mercer in months. Until now. He's back in Windemere to see her. Deep down Ciana is filled with joy and relief. She's never stopped loving him. It's proof of Jon's love that he has returned, but what will their future be?

Working hard to maintain the family land that her grandmother left to her, Ciana is approached by a real estate developer who offers her a deal that could benefit the Beauchamp estate and possibly the entire town of Windemere, which has seen better days. But Ciana is determined not to sell—for the sake of her heritage and the honor of her grandmother.

When tragedy strikes, almost no one in town is left unscathed. Tragedy has a way of bringing people together, but it can also tear them apart. Ciana can hardly face her choices, but she knows she must, and there are now people who she can turn to if only she is willing.

◆ An ARC was provided by Random House for review ◆

The Year of Chasing Dreams made me feel a whole mess of emotions.

Months have passed since he and Ciana parted, and it's rather shocking to see Jon turn up on Ciana's doorsteps all of a sudden at the start of this book. As we aren't given much context on what has transpired since then, and time jumps around with Ciana unsure of how to deal with his reappearance into her life, it takes some time for the story to warm up. The slow development and Ciana's refusal to confront her feelings for Jon and his betrayal of her made it hard on me emotionally, as I still can't quite find it within myself to forgive Arie... and Jon... for putting Ciana and Jon's relationship through the wringer in the last book. I don't believe in affairs, and it was really unfair of them to put Ciana through all that.

Though time does pass in this novel, Ciana and Jon's relationship seems to progress surprisingly fast, especially for a couple that has avoided talking about what happened between them in the past. I guess it works for some people(?), but I would have expected them to need to sit down and work through some things. Getting over my initial disbelief, however, I found myself more and more engrossed in their developing relationship as the novel progressed. There's real chemistry and connection between these two, and I found myself emotionally invested in their relationship. The same goes for Eden and Garret. They're a wonderful couple, and I'm so happy that they find each other again!

At the same time, the multiple perspectives didn't work for me in this book. The story switches perspectives frequently between Ciana and Eden, and it can be jarring to jump from one girl to the next. It's disappointing because I love both girls so much and would have liked to spend more quality time with each of them, and I'm not fond of the time lapses in between each turn with have with a girl. There are plot threads that come up and go away without having been given much attention such as the appearance of Garrett's ex-girlfriend, who wants her man back.

Some shocking things happen in this book. It's almost as if the worst things that can happen do happen for these girls. Though it also means that the wonderful, beautiful things that find them are all the more beautiful and amazing. Like the amazing, supportive guys they've found in their lives. (The romance definitely gave me a lot of feels in this book!) And the family they find in each other. It does seem like a disturbance has come up in Eden and Garret's relationship, however, and I'm intrigued to see how their relationship progresses from here on out. I'd also love to see more of Ciana and Jon and the life they are building for themselves at Beauchamp.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I'll definitely be on the lookout for another book in The Year saga!

Additional Information
  1. The Year of Luminous Love
  2. The Year of Chasing Dreams
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This post was made as part of the Year of Chasing Dreams blog tour hosted by Random House