Fawkes by Nadine Brandes

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“Fawkes” by Nadine Brandes

Publishing House: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 10th, 2018

Quality of Writing: 5 out of 5 stars.

How Much I Enjoyed It: 4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared, but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.”

*Thanks to Nadine Brandes for sending a copy of “Fawkes” to a friend of mine, and to said friend who was generous enough to let me borrow their ARC of “Fawkes” so that I could write this review.* ;-D

“Fawkes” was a total surprise to me when I started reading it. I had heard a little bit about it from Ashley Townsend, who had already read it, but I was pretty much in the dark concerning the plot of “Fawkes.” In all honesty, I think that helped with the reading experience for me, because I went into this book without any expectations for the story line or its characters, other than knowing that Nadine is a talented writer and the sweetest and squishiest person you will ever meet. Seriously, Nadine’s like the human equivalent of a stuffed animal. Knowing so little about this book’s plot, but trusting its author, made for a very enjoyable reading experience, and I was also so excited to have the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of this novel well before its release date. Okay, now for the actual review!

Thomas was one of those main characters who was not instantly loveable. He was a little petulant in the beginning of “Fawkes,” albeit justified. Thomas might as well have been an orphan, since his mother’s death caused his Father’s subsequent departure to wars and lands far away. In the alternate England that Nadine wrote, children are raised in the anticipation of receiving their color masks from their parents when they come of age. These masks are humankind’s only hope and protection against contracting the plague, enabling them to bond with and control a particular color. For Thomas, the mask he was meant to receive from his father was not only his birthright, but it was also his last and only hope; he was already plagued and it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the stone sickness unless he bonded with a color and a mask of his own. Yeah, I would say that could jack up most kids growing up, so Thomas’s desperation to have his way made perfect sense while reading this book. And then when his father failed to show up to his masking ceremony ( no back-up masks allowed), I totally got why he was pissed and freaked out. Yeah, massive #ParentingFail on Guy Fawkes’ part.

That all being said, Thomas was one of those characters who you really have to be patient with while they grow into themselves and transform into someone who is resilient and competent. Thomas was massively flawed and needed to grow a lot, but Nadine got him there by the end of her novel. In the end, I was happy with the personal progress Thomas made in “Fawkes,” but the character that I really loved in this book was Emma.

Emma was a total female badass. She had a depth of character that made me really root for her, and her backstory aided in making her actions much more believable than Thomas’s at times. I feel like Nadine delivered a heroine that YA readers have been craving for in historical/fantasy novels, so I was quite happy about that. Honestly, I just wish that there would have been more of this book centered on Emma’s character! As much as I want to go on and on about Emma, I can’t really talk about her too much because her story line has some explosive surprises for readers. Just take my word for it, she’s pretty awesome!

Besides great characters, I did find Nadine’s fantasy twist on historical fact to be very creative. In Thomas’s version of England, there are Keepers and Igniters. Keepers are the traditionalists when it comes to their color powers, each person only “morally” being allowed to wield one color. Igniters, on the other hand, play with fire: they train to wield every color. Both factions are at war with one another, Keepers being persecuted by their Igniter rivals. Both sides are trying to eliminate one another. I thought that Nadine did a great job of paralleling the religious strife between Protestants and Catholics during the last leg of the Renaissance, representing both parties with the various attributes and faults of her Keepers and Igniters. Both sides did some pretty shady stuff to one another, but I will let you read “Fawkes” for yourself to see how Nadine resolved the issues of her fictitious England. 😉

Overall, I really enjoyed reading “Fawkes.” I was truly surprised to find out that this is a standalone novel. Despite that, I thought that Nadine wrapped everyone’s stories up quite well and closed the door to her world soundly; I like when an author properly ties up loose ends. It was refreshing to read a story that was intended to just be one book, and I was happy by how complete and finished the ending of “Fawkes” felt. If you enjoy the historical fiction or fantasy genres, definitely give this book a try!

Now I am just going to sit her until Nadine’s next novel, “Romanov” comes out. *Sees release date is in 2019…*

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And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conquerors Saga #1)

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“And I Darken” by Kiersten White

Publishing House: Delacorte Press

Release Date: June 28th, 2016

Quality of Writing: 3 out of 5 stars.

How Much I Enjoyed It: 1 1/2-2 out of 5 stars.

“NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.”

Thank you, NetGalley and Delacorte, for the e-galley of “And I Darken.” In no way has this affected my review.

This is going to be a fairly short review, since I have very little to say about “And I Darker,” especially good things. While Kiersten White is a fairly good writer, I personally found everything about this book to be quite difficult to read, from its empty feeling chapters to its cruel and awful characters. Normally I can kind of enjoy a book if it has a mildly intriguing plot, or if the world/historical elements are done well, but all if the characters in “And I Darken” were so unrepentant in their awful behaviors to an extreme that they tainted anything else that I might have liked about this book.

“And I Darken” began with Lada as a young girl, and I have truly never read a book with a heroine who was as awful as her at such a young age, or who was just awful in general. Lada wasn’t just a difficult child, she was a vicious, cruel little hellion from the start of “And I Darken,” and I was quite disturbed by how horrendously awful she was toward everyone, including her younger brother. I was completely shocked by just how wickedly Lada acted in the first half of this book, but I kept reading it despite how much I disliked her because I wanted to see if there was a moral to this story, a drop of redemption for this girl who enjoyed being a terror upon the earth.

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Yeah, no, that was a terribly foolish thing to hope for concerning “And I Darken” and its protagonist, because there was no redemption to Lada, no moral to her story, and I was thoroughly disturbed that a heroine, whom we are supposed to be rooting for, was no better than the villains who stole her home from her. Honestly, Lada felt more like an antagonist because of how little character growth she had in this book.

I get that Lada was the daughter of Vlad the Impaler, and obviously that’s going to create some familial and emotional issues, but Lada’s aggression went above and beyond that, and even reached sociopathic levels in her utter lack of respect for life. Lada constantly complained that she deserved to have her homeland back, that no one loved it as she did, but upon reading those parts of “And I Darken,” I realized that Lada’s love for her kingdom was only extended toward the land itself and not to the people who lived within the boarders of Wallachia. Question: kingdoms are made up of territories and people who live on said land, correct? Yeah, I thought so. Lada was a terrify creature to read about, and I kept thinking about what would happen to the people, whom she cared nothing for nor ever thought about, when they were under her rule. Lada was barely better than the sultan in how merciless she was, and it felt like she would only be the lesser of two evils when acting as a ruler.

I wanted to enjoy “And I Darken,” but my dislike for Lada and the other characters, who were only slightly easier to read about, stopped me from being able to enjoy anything else that might have been interesting about this book. I was also sad about the plot because it seemed to drag a lot and was empty enough that, when I started grazing pages, there was nothing to miss; I could skip a few chapters at a time when I wanted to and still deduce what was happening quite accurately, which made this books lose what little hold it had left over me.

I finished “And I Darken” because it was a review e-ARC, but if that had not been the case, it would have been a DNF for me. This book never drew me in, not even with its historical aspects, and since the characters were all pretty despicable and manipulative, I had no one to root for and cheer on, which sealed the deal on my dislike of this book. I am so sorry for my strong feelings toward “And I Darken,” especially if you were a fan of it, but there was honestly nothing likable, redeeming, or interesting enough about this book to make me want to move forward with “The Conquerors Saga.” Sorry, but this was a major miss.

 

Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor (Into the Dim #1)

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“Into the Dim” by Janet B. Taylor

Publishing house: HMH Books for Young Readers

Release date: March 1st, 2016

Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

How much I enjoyed it: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing. Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.”

Thank you, HMH publishing, for sending me a review ARC of “Into the Dim.” In no way has influenced my review.

I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable “Into the Dim” ended up being! It took me a while to get adjusted to Janet B. Taylor’s writing style and her heroine’s voice, but one I did, I started to feel more immersed in the historical and time-travel elements that were in “Into the Dim,” and that made reading this book quite fun. Janet is a very good writer, and I enjoyed the “science” of her time-travel in this book, which felt very similar to the style of time-travel in “Timeline” the movie. I adored that film growing up, so the similarities between it and “Into the Dim”definitely endeared this book to me more than anything else in it. Despite being partial to its “Timeline” vibes, I did find some of the characters in “Into the Dim” to be quite likable.

Hope turned out to be a pretty good character. At first, I felt a bit disconnected from the writing style and this character’s voice, but after about a hundred pages, I realized that Janet B. Taylor’s book was going to be a much younger feeling YA novel than was advertised online. “Into the Dim” was marketed as 14 and up, which made me go into reading this book with the expectation that it was going to be far darker and more gritty than it actual ended up being. Once I got into my head that the female character was supposed to feel quite young and that this book seemed to have been written with a younger audience in mind, then I was able to enjoy this character’s perspective and the rest of “Into the Dim” a lot more.

Like I said before, Hope felt like a very young heroine, which was appropriate since she was only sixteen in this book. I have gotten so used to reading protagonists who were sixteen- to nineteen-years-old, but who felt like mature adults, that it was slightly off-putting at first to read a book about a heroine with such a young voice, but once I got used to Hope feeling so young, I was okay with how young she and everyone in this book seemed. In most cases, I prefer more mature protagonists, but I did like that Hope’s young voice left a lot of opportunity for her character to grow and mature over the course of this book, which I liked. I don’t really think that a week and a half is long enough to drastically change and mature an individual, but I still appreciated that Hope and the other characters in “Into the Dim” experienced some personal growth during their journey through time. Although Hope was a pretty good character, I was slightly unsettled by Hope’s infatuation with Bran Cameron.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Bran in “Into the Dim,” especially since he reminded me a wee bit of Zach Goode from the “Gallagher Girls” series by Ally Carter, but I personally did not buy into Hope’s insta-affection towards Bran Cameron. I liked Bran and thought that he was an interesting and slightly mysterious character, and I did not mind his side of the romance in this book, but even after having finished “Into the Dim,” I am still a little unsettled by Hope’s half of the romantic relationship in this book.

Despite my not-so-fond feelings towards Hope and Bran’s romance, I thought that Janet B. Taylor did a good job of writing a pretty likable heroine and an interesting lead male character, but I think that my favorite part of this book, other than it’s “Timeline” vibes, ended up being the secondary characters. Phoebe, Doug, Collum, Bran, and the adults in this story made it endearing and likable, and at times it felt as if they were more dynamic than Hope, even though she was the protagonist. Oh, and William Lucie and Rachel were adorable together! I really wanted to get to know Janet’s secondary characters better, so I am hoping that she will choose to focus more on them in second book of her “Into the Dim” series.

Overall, I enjoyed reading “Into the Dim.” Janet B. Taylor’s book was well-written and fast paced, but there were also times when it felt a little too rushed, and I found myself wishing for a bit more layering of the historical aspects. All of the historical facts in “Into the Dim” were well-researched and interesting, I just wish that there had been a bit more of them threaded throughout this book in order to make the era that Hope had traveled back to come alive for me as a reader. Other than wishing for a bit more from the setting and historical elements, I enjoyed “Into the Dim,” and I think that it would be a good read for mature middle school aged kids and younger teens.

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund (An Uncertain Choice #2)

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“A Daring Sacrifice” by Jody Hedlund

Publishing house: Zondervan

Release date: March 1st, 2016

Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

How much I liked it: 2 1/2-3 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“In a reverse twist on the Robin Hood story, a young medieval maiden stands up for the rights of the mistreated, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. All the while, she fights against her cruel uncle who has taken over the land that is rightfully hers. Forced to live in the woods and hide with the poor people she’s grown to love, she works to save and protect them, but she never anticipates falling in love with the wealthy knight who represents all she’s come to despise.

Thank you, Zondervan, for sending me a review ARC of “A Daring Sacrifice” by Jody Hedlund. In no way has this influenced my review.

The beginning of “A Daring Sacrifice” started off with a quicker pacing than Jody Hedlund’s first book, “An Uncertain Choice,” and I liked that because it helped me to be a little more interested in this book. I think that Jody Hedlund is a good writer for her genre and younger readers, but I’m personally not the hugest fan of this author’s stories. “An Uncertain Choice” and “A Daring Sacrifice” were both very small books, more like short stories, and I think that combined with me not caring for the characters kind of doomed me to the fate of disliking both of Jody’s books; I feel terrible for not enjoying her books, but sadly, they were just not the kind of stories that I like or connect with.

One of the things that I did not particularly care for in this book was its formatting, and how the perspectives shifted from the main female character’s to the male character’s with no real definition; the publisher used a slightly different font, but that was it. Granted, I love fonts and tend to notice them, but with the two protagonists in “A Daring Sacrifice,” I found their voices to be quite similar, despite being different genders, and that was a bit frustrating to me. When I wasn’t deliberately think about the font type, I kind of just floated through the chapters, not fully paying attention to the plot or the characters, and then I would realize that I didn’t know whose perspective I was reading from. There were obviously key words and characters that hinted at whose head I was in, but it still bothered me a little bit at times that I felt like I was adrift while reading “A Daring Sacrifice.” I did not get the chance to really find out who the characters were or understand their motivations in this book because of how short it was, and Julianna’s and Collin’s slightly disengaging perspectives kept me from being gripped by and pulled into the story that Jody had written.

In all fairness, I did like Juliana, the heroine of this story, more than Jody Hedlund’s previous female protagonist, whose name I no longer remember. (oops!) I appreciated the fact that Juliana was a more go-out-and-get-them kind of person, and I found her’s to be an easier perspective to read from, despite not being particularly attached to her. Although Juliana was a more pleasant female, she did not feel super distinct compared to some of the other fairy tale retelling characters. A lot of authors have been remaking the “Robin Hood” legend to star a female character, which is great, but it also does not make for the most diverse or unique protagonists in young adult fiction. A. C. Gaughen wrote a book about a female Will Scarlet who was a part of Robin Hood’s crew, and Melanie Dickerson combined the legend of “Robin Hood”  with the “Swan Lake” fairy tale that starred a heroine who stole and poached to save the poor… Retellings are great and some of them have even become my favorite books, but at times it is hard to distinguish between them when the concepts are so widely used and the characters do not possess distinct pasts or traits that set them apart from each other. Juliana was an okay heroine, I just felt like she fell into the pile of many heroines in this genre who are fairly similar.

I don’t have a lot of words for Sir Collin, the “hero” in “A Daring Sacrifice,” because I was not at all a fan of him in it. Collin was supposed to be a charming, handsome lord with a heart of gold, but instead, he came off as an irritating male who was unattractively self-assured. The “banter” between him and Juliana was in no way charming or endearing, and I had a distaste for this character that started during the second chapter from his perspective and it lasted through the rest of this book. I can acknowledge the fact that he supposedly experienced some character growth over the course of “A Daring Sacrifice,” but this book was just so short that it felt like I never got the chance to actually see any development or progress in this character. The insta-love romance between Juliana and Collin also didn’t help with the fact that I did not like this book.

*sighs* Maybe the time period this book took place in can justify how quickly Juliana and Collin “fell” for each other, but I just did not buy it. This book was only 221 pages, which meant that the romance had to occur at a very rapid pace, and I think that Collin said in his head those three little words by page 100 or 120. All I can tell you is that it felt like it happened WAY too soon.

I feel really bad about not liking “A Daring Sacrifice” and for my not-so-pleasant review, but sadly, it’s how I feel. I know that Jody Hedlund has won a couple of awards for her books, so don’t let my review steer you away from reading her books if their summaries sound interesting to you. “A Daring Sacrifice” was a fairly well-written book and would be great for younger readers because of how easy it was to read, but it just did not end up being for me.

Starflight by Melissa Landers (Starflight #1)

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“Starflight” by Melissa Landers

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Release Date: February 2nd, 2016

Writing Quality: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

How much I enjoyed it: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads Summary:

“Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She’s so desperate to reach the realm that she’s willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he’s been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world–and each other–the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe…”

I just want to say thank you to Disney-Hyperion and the lovely lady who allowed me to borrow a galley of “Starflight.” In no way has this affected my review. In all fairness, “Starflight” was a pretty good book. Melissa is a good writer who created a fast, readable book, but I personally didn’t fall in love with this story or its characters. There was just something missing for me in the main and secondary characters, and that prevented me from connecting with them in “Starflight.” Besides them missing something to make me like them, they were kind of irritating at times and there wasn’t anything that endeared them to me while I read this book; they felt a little two-dimensional, so I lacked the attachment to root for them and feel involved in the story. I also didn’t buy into the romance due to my lack of emotional connection with these characters and their circumstances. I have a felling that a lot of people will like this book and its characters, but sadly I am not one of them right now.

Melissa did do a good job of making sure that this book’s pacing didn’t drag, and I was able to read it over the course of an evening. It was entertaining, but again, there was nothing in particular that drew me into the story and the world she had created, so I remained very distant. Melissa Landers’ world in this book was interesting, if a bit generic, which would have been fine if I had found something, anything, to make me grow fond of this book. Generic and reused it okay, and I don’t usually call people out on it if I find something in their work that I end up loving. Not all of us have perfectly original ideas, and that’s okay, but what I look for in these recycled stories is at least one character or an environment/world that draws me in, makes me root for that character or world to rise above the difficult circumstances set before them. In “Starflight,” I felt like it was “Firefly” meet “Guardians of the Galaxy” minus the endearing characters and humor. Neither of those entertainment pieces are perfectly original, but there are elements to them that make their stories and characters really stand out in my mind. “Starflight” was good for what it was going for, it just didn’t stand out to me, and it wasn’t the kind of science fiction or romantic adventure story that I like.

If you like Melissa Landers’ “Alienated” series, then I’m pretty sure you’ll like this one. I haven’t read her other books, but from what I’ve heard about them and read in “Starflight,” the two series are similarly written (adventure stories, alien science fiction, romance, random crude humor dispersed throughout, the last one being a major turn-off for me, personally). I love alien stories (thank you, Roswell!) and various types of science fiction, but “Starflight” and its characters just did not do it for me. “Starflight” was a well-written story, and I’m sure that a lot of other people will like this book, it just wasn’t for me.