Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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“Lucky in Love” by Kasie West

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Can’t buy me love…

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?”

“Lucky in Love” was the YA contemporary novel that I have been looking for since “The Fill-In Boyfriend”! It has been very difficult to find a YA contemporary novel that I enjoyed this past year/year and a half, and the only one that truly stuck out to me this year so far was “Geekerella,” which was several months ago. But now the wait is over, and Kasie once again delivered a fantastically adorable and light-hearted contemporary novel that I absolutely loved reading.

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Kasie West is the best at writing contemporary fluff pieces that always feel like coming home or like comfort food. Whenever I read one of her novels, I know that I am going to have a smile on my face the entire time I am reading it, and that I am going to get a couple of great laughs out of Kasie’s amazing comedic timing. Most of the time contemporary novels are a hit and a miss for me, but with Kasie West I can pretty much be guaranteed a good time, and “Lucky in Love” was no exception to the Kasie standard.

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“Lucky in Love” was just one of those books that I could finally sit down and enjoy, even after an interminably long reading slump. It was adorable like all of Kasie West’s contemporary books, but it also felt a little different and had a flair of its own that made it stand out next to the other stories that Kasie has already told, The whole concept of an newly eighteen-year-old winning the lottery was a charming and funny idea to begin with, but Kasie made it pretty hilarious and even cuter than I had anticipated it would be, and it was her characters who were at the heart of the adorable awkwardness and fun.

Maddie was such a cute and relateable character! I loved reading from her perspective because she did not have a diva attitude, she definitely did not have her life or family situation figured out, and she had some great friends. I think we can all predict what might happen when someone, especially an eighteen-year-old, wins the lottery. Despite that fact, though, I felt like Kasie did a great job of keeping me as a reader engaged in the story, even if I could see something terrible that was going to happen from a mile away. Maddie was just so endearing and likeable, so between that and her newly acquired money, “Lucky in Love” was as cute as it was comical!

Besides just Maddie being great, I also really liked Seth, who was her co-worker/kind-of-friend/love interest. Seth was super cute and endearing in “Lucky in Love,” and I liked how their relationship slowly evolved over the course of this book. Honestly, all I wanted was for Kasie to have Seth in this book more because of how great a character he was. Kasie West has a knack for creating likeable and unique characters, and I just adored Maddie and Seth together. They were supportive of each others’ dreams and they had very cute dialogues, so I was completely on board with their relationship! Now all I really want in a book about the college years! ;-D

Besides it be all fun and games, I feel like Kasie did a good job of pointing out all of the disastrous things that can happen when someone comes into a lot of money suddenly. Even though Maddie was a complete sweetheart, she fell victim to the curse of the lottery, as well as her family. The family dynamic between Maddie and her sibling and parents was pretty interesting and accurate for a struggling middle-class family, and it’s no wonder that they went a little crazy when Maddie won the lottery, despite her best intentions for how the money should be shared and used. For how light-hearted and delightfully fluffy most of this book was, I think that Kasie did a fairly good job of addressing Maddie’s family’s issues, as well as leaving her readers with the feeling that many of those problems had the potential to get resolved eventually.

If you are looking for a sweet treat for the summer, you definitely need to give “Lucky in Love” a try. It was a light, quick read, but it still had depth and substance, which I always appreciate in a contemporary novel. The only thing I might warn you of is that, if you should choose to read “Lucky in Love,” you might want to quit your current job and go work for your local zoo. Or maybe that’s just me…

Thank you again, Kasie West, for not disappointing!

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Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!

Release Day: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Good morning, readers! I am so excited to announce that “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon is out today in bookstores and online!!!!!

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This is the YA contemporary novel that both my sister and I have been anxiously awaiting, and I am beyond excited that it is out today! The story sounds insanely charming (keep scrolling if you want to read the summary), and I started following Sandhya and she seems like the sweetest, most adorable author. Also, she loves Bollywood movies and her newsletter is called “Cupcakes and Tea with Sandhya Menon,” so….that’s like an instant win in my book! (If you are interested in following this author, here is Sandhya’s website.)

Do yourself a favor today and go pick up or order a copy of this beautiful and adorable novel, and enjoys the contemporary FEELS!

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Goodreads summary:

“A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.”

Spirit Followers by Lydia Redwine (Instruments of Sacrifice #1)

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Quality of writing: 4 out of 5 stars.

How much I enjoyed reading this book: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“When a Royal dies, the realms elect the one to take their place. By reasons Camaria does not know, her realm elects her as the next Royal. Now that she is the new-found sixteenth Royal of the nation of Mirabelle, Cam embarks on a journey with her sisters and a young huntsman to the four realms of the nation to complete training in the four kinds of magic. Once she has completed this training, she will then be permitted to consume her annual amount of magic and possess manifested powers. Her ventures are unexpectedly steeped in precarious events when Cam discovers a secret plan of revolt, a past she never knew, and an ancient people group thought dead who call themselves the Spirit Followers.”

This review has been long in coming, and I am grateful for Lydia’s patience with how long it took me to get to her book! College and life got the better of me, but I was finally able to read the review copy that Miss Redwine sent me, and I am excited to be reviewing it! In lieu of that, I just want to say ‘thank you’ to Lydia Redwine for sending me her book in trade for an honest review. In no way has this influence my opinion or review regarding “Spirit Followers.”

Lydia Redwine’s book, “Spirit Followers,” was a very good debut to what seems to be a promising career as a writer. Lydia is a talented writer, this book being a fairly complex novel for not only the first book in a series but also a debut novel. While reading “Spirit Followers,” I thought that the approach Lydia took toward the fantasy genre was fairly unique compared to some of the other books that I have read within the genre, and her world building was well done. The society and different “cultures” that Lydia introduced in “Spirit Followers” reminded me a lot of Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series in how each teenager had to decide which magical inlet they wished to become a part of and to live in for the remainder of their lives, especially because of how each “district” was divided by certain abilities and cultural traits. Basically it was the factions renamed with a dash of magical giftings; that aspect was not particularly original feeling, but I don’t think that it was a problem or detrimental to the plot, despite the similarities between this book’s society and other dystopian novels’. Besides the differing magical enclaves, some of the other rebellion themes were reminiscent of other YA fantasy and dystopian books that have been written throughout the years, but I thought that Lydia Redwine did a good job adding different dynamics to her story that made a similar theme completely her own.

Lydia definitely started her debut off with a bang , but for me personally, I wished she had taken a bit more time to introduce her characters and the society before throwing me as a reader right into the thick of the plot. I didn’t feel like I got to know Camaria (AKA Cam) as well as I wanted to before her whole life started to implode and the drama started saturating the story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy action-packed, fast-paced plots, but I would have liked to have had the time to get attached to Cam and the other characters before their world suddenly went up in flames in the traditional YA way. The pacing was a little problematic for me in the beginning of “Spirit Followers,” but Lydia did a really good job of keeping her plot moving by introducing new characters and having Cam and her group travel around the different “factions” throughout this book.

As with Cam, I did not feel like I got attached to any character in particular. Oliver, Cam’s friend, made an appearance just in the beginning of “Spirit Follows” only to disappear for 90% of the book, and I was a little bummed by that because I thought that he could have been a more dynamic character if he had been present in this book for longer. Riah’s story was vague, but I totally got what Lydia was going for with this character, although I wish it had been more “fleshed-out,” so to speak. I don’t go for the bad boy type where they are actually the enemy, despite their inner struggle between good and evil; that’s just not my personal taste, so Riah was the kind of character that was fairly interesting, but I was not particularly invested in him. Fiera was probably the character that I liked the most, and she reminded me a lot of Nesta from “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Normally I don’t like the prickly, super intense female characters, but she ended up being the most dynamic character in “Spirit Followers,” and she got business done, which I totally respected.

Besides the characters, I was quite surprised by Lydia Redwine’s world building. She did a fantastic job of not just telling her readers about all of the different regions of her world, but also showing them. Cam and her group of reluctant rebels traveled to most of the little enclaves where she (and her readers) learned about the different cultures and the magic that was present in the region. Lydia did a very good job of making her world feel expansive, and I think that there is a lot of potential in the next couple of books in this series to explore in-depth the history of Cam’s world.

Overall, I thought that Lydia Redwine’s debut was well-written and creative with a fast moving plot, but I do wish that certain aspects had been more developed (like some of the characters) before you-know-what hit the fan. I did not feel as attached to the characters as I had hoped I would be, but they were still very good. I have other things that I want to talk about regarding the plot and the loops that Lydia took her characters for, but I do not want to spoil anything for those of you wanting to read this book! I feel like “Spirit Followers” would be a great book for fans of both the fantasy and dystopian genres, especially fans of the “Divergent” series, and although this book had a high body count, I think that younger readers (middle school) would like this book, too.

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #1)

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“Blackhearts” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.

Edward “Teach” Drummond, son of one of Bristol’s richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There’s just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.

Following her parents’ deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to Curaçao—where her mother was born—when she’s stuck in England?

From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.”

“Blackhearts” was such an amazing read! The story and concept of Nicole Castroman’s debut novel had seemed quite promising from its summary, but the reading material of the first part of this year has been a little spotty; some good and some not so good. I was wary going into “Blackhearts” because I desperately wanted to fall in love with the story and its character, and goodness knows I have a weak spot for historical fiction, but I was afraid that it would turn out to be another novel that did not reach out to me. I should not have worried because “Blackhearts” was the diamond in the rough that I had been searching for, and I was deliriously happy by how wonderful Nicole Castroman’s debut novel ending up being!

Nothing makes me happier than when an author writes a book that honors the historical fiction genre. I love how books have to ability to not only transport me to a different place, but to also help me discover and learn about something that I had little to no knowledge of before picking them up to read. Historical fiction, when it is well done, is the icing on the cake for me because it combines the magic of literature with facts and knowledge, and my favorite novels usually involve historical themes and events or a fantastical world that mirrors ancient cultures. When I had heard that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel based off of the life of the elusive pirate Blackbeard, I was as excited as I was wary, because some historical books can read like a dream, whereas others can be a bit mundane to get through. But let me tell you, “Blackhearts” is the kind of novel that reads like a dream.

Nicole Castroman is a truly gifted writer, and I fell in love with how she wove history into her retelling of Blackbeard’s life. I felt like I learned new things about the late 17th century from reading “Blackhearts,” and it was one of those books that seemed to just pull me into its story, characters, and era from the first chapter. Another thing that I admire about Nicole Castroman was how she was able to write such vivid characters who seemed to belong in the late 1600s, but who also resisted the restraints and the prejudices that existed during their time. Anne and Teach pushed against the boundaries of the world they were a part of in ways that made sense for the time period and what they had been raised to think and believe about the world. How they fought against their situations in life made perfect sense to me, and it made this story, their story, feel real, as if it could have been a part of history. I was so pleased to read a book where the mindset of the era was not disregarded in the protagonists, however wrong it may have been, for convenience’s sake. I was happy to see Nicole honor the historical facts and atmosphere, while still writing two amazing characters who were era appropriate, but who also thought for themselves and saw the world differently than those around them.

I loved Anne as a heroine. I thought that Nicole did such an amazing job of writing a female character who had been mistreated most of her life, but was not jaded into becoming a mean, abrasive person. Anne had endured a lot over the course of her life due to her heritage and what people perceived as “polite” society, and despite being driven to do a few unsavory things, her past and present did not strip away the determination and goodness of her heart. She was a strong female who stuck to her guns without becoming too intense or overbearing, even when what she really wanted was to be with Teach. Nicole did an amazing job of writing a genuine feeling character who responded to situations and acted like a person from her time would have, while still being a witty, independent female with a mind of her own. The ease in which Nicole seemed to mix historical facts and what we all love to see in female characters together made me love “Blackhearts” all the more, and I also loved that Nicole Castroman wrote a male character who was just as intelligent and independent as Anne.

I did not fall for Teach Drummond right away. I had been hearing many good things about this book and its characters, and how Teach was very similar to Ross Poldark from “Poldark,” which is a new favorite BBC show of my sisters and me, and so I was quite excited to meet Teach Drummond. The opening of “Blackhearts,” however, did not paint him a hero’s light, which made for an uh-oh moment, and I was worried for a little bit that I would love everything about this book except its hero. Despite the more…abrasive introduction, I ended up falling in love with the character that Nicole Castroman wrote, and I adored how I gradually began to care for Teach over the course of “Blackhearts.” Edward “Teach” Drummond was destined to become the dreaded pirate Blackbeard, and that should have repelled me on some level, but instead I found myself slowly falling in love with this character as he began to show me that he was an extremely dynamic and likable character. The more I got to know Teach, the more I liked him, and I loved the side of him that Anne brought out whenever they were together.

I completely fell for the slow-burn romance that blossomed and bloomed between Teach and Anne in “Blackhearts.” I loved that Anne and Teach started out mildly hating each other, because that meant there was no love at first sight for this couple. I think that was great decision on Nicole’s part because it led her hero and heroine down the path of them getting to know one another for a little bit, rather than them just being obsessed with each other. Nicole Castroman’s approach to Teach and Anne’s romance was perfect for this book because of its historical and fantasy foundation, and the progression of their relationship felt deliciously slow, even if this book did not span over that much time. I also liked the fact that both Teach and Anne were kindred spirits because of how they felt confined by the meaningless perceptions and expectations of the upper classes and “polite” society, and how they wanted to travel and see the world. Teach and Anne were individuals who desired more out of life than to just play the game that those in power had created, and I liked that they did not read like rebellions teenagers but like mature individuals who saw what was wrong with their time and wanted for it to change. Anne and Teach’s relationship felt well founded, and I thought that it felt genuine and was perfectly paced for who they were.

Most of the people who did not like “Blackhearts” thought that it was not “piratety” enough, and they were right. This book is not a pirate book, it’s a story about a young man and his journey to becoming one of the worlds most infamous pirates. What people disliked “Blackhearts” for was exactly what I loved it for, though; it was a strictly historical romance novel with a twist, not an adventure novel. The majority of YA books that I read are supposed to be epic tales of protagonists going on a journey where they find themselves and become heroes, with maybe a little (or a lot of) romance thrown into the mix. Nicole Castroman’s choice to write something a little bit different from everything out there made “Blackhearts” feel unique in how I got to know the characters and how the pacing made this story unfold. This book was a coming of age story, but I loved that there was not much action because its absence allowed me to have enough time to bond with Anne and Teach and to feel truly worried about what might happen to them. The lack of action almost made this book more suspenseful because I was drowning in my fear and sadness as to how Teach and Anne’s story would end. Oh, and let me tell you, those last few chapters hurt. The ending of “Blackhearts” was what I deem a “quiet heartwrencher” (just read Nicole’s book and you will understand what I am talking about!), but I thought that it was, in sense, perfect for the story that Nicole Castroman had told and for who her characters were. It was beyond bittersweet, and I loved it!

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Overall, “Blackhearts” was the perfect read for me. This novel was a completely immersive experience with its beautiful, slow-burn romance, its wonderful main characters, who were just right for the time they were supposed to have lived in and for each other, and the historical facts woven throughout it. The ending was also perfectly bittersweet, and it left me with quite the book hangover. Nicole Castroman is an amazing writer, and I cannot wait to see what she has planned for her second book, “Blacksouls.”

Cover Reveal: Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

You all know how much I LOVE Katie McGarry and her books, so it’s probably no surprise to you that I would go full fangirl at any kind of news concerning her books. Tonight I entered that crazy fangirl zone because Katie McGarry just released her cover for “Walk the Edge,” the second book in her “Thunder Road” series!!!!! *shrill screaming* I wasn’t expecting for the cover to be released so soon, so I went a little crazy when I saw it pop up on goodreads…

e41ed85c76f4ee837d1e5e2876ef3d3bOkay, you probably don’t want a play-by-play of my excitement over seeing the cover for “Walk the Edge,” so I’ll get to the cover real part of this post. *takes deep breath* Here it is!!!!

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The cover is so amazing that I wanted to cry/dance when I saw it…

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sue heckand now I have lost all ability to can!!! I’m just going to lie here in a puddle of FEELS until March 30th, 2016…

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes #1)

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“An Ember in the Ashes” by Sabaa Tahir

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

After a raid by Martial legionnaires, Laia is left without a family, without a home. She would be dead alongside her grandparents if it hadn’t been for her older brother, Darin, who sacrificed himself so that she could flee into the night. The guilt and shame of her cowardice that night is suffocating her, and Laia is determined to free her brother from whatever terrifying prison the Martials have condemned him to. Afraid and alone, Laia discovers a rebel group that agrees to help save her brother from the Martials, but the deal is not without its risks. To get Darin back, Laia must pretend to be a slave at the Blackcliff Academy and serve the most deadly person within its walls: the Commandant. One wrong move and Laia could die, and then she’ll lose her one and only chance at redemption, at saving her brother.

Elias has been planning his desertion of the Blackcliff Academy for some time now. He loathes the Academy for all of the death and pain he has inflicted upon others in its name, and he wants nothing to do with it anymore. The day he graduates, Elias plans to leave Blackcliff and its horrors behind him forever; his only regret is lying to his best friend, Helene and that he will have to leave her behind when the time comes. But if she knew, faithful Mask that she is, she would tell on him and he would end up in a Martial prison or worse. Secrets and false sincerity before the Martial Empire has kept him alive at Blackcliff, and a few more days of it won’t kill him. Freedom is within his grasp and he won’t waste his one and only chance at having it.

 As Elias and Laia fight to gain their freedom from the Martial Empire, their paths cross and these two unlikely allies will have to rely on one another to survive. With the odds stacked against them, can Elias and Laia find the freedom, the redemption, they crave, or was fate against them from the start?

Sabaa Tahir’s debut was truly amazing. I am so impressed that this was her first novel because of how well-paced and developed the story of “An Ember in the Ashes” was, and I was also impressed with how dynamic and fleshed out her characters were. Sabaa created a vivid, lush, and evocative world that drew me in from page one. For world building alone this book deserves four stars!

Sabaa Tahir’s world in “An Ember in the Ashes” resembles the Roman Empire, and her social dynamics between the Martials and the Scholars were reminiscent of the relations between the Romans and Greeks. Rome conquered Greece, they stole their culture and “Romanized” it while enslaving the Greeks, and they claimed all of the Mediterranean as theirs. The Martials did to the Scholars exactly what Rome did to Greece, and another similarity was that the Scholars were the philosophers and slaves whereas the Martials practiced warfare and dominated by force, killing or enslaving those who do not submit to their authority. I really liked “An Ember in the Ashes” for the fact that, at moments, it felt like a historical recounting of those two civilizations, and I loved how I could see the influences of Grecian and Roman dynamics reflected in this book’s social and cultural atmosphere. Another reason why I loved learning about Sabaa’s world was because the more I knew about it, the more easily I could understand her characters and where they were coming from.

I really enjoyed Laia’s as a character. Most of the reviewers on goodreads and on some of the blogs didn’t like Laia’s perspective because they felt like she was weak and too timid to be a “good” heroine. In their opinion, she was no Tris or Katniss, and I thank God for that! To be quite honest, the things that reviewers didn’t like about Laia are the things that actually made me like her. Laia had grown up under the tyrannical and oppressive rule of the Martial Empire, and Scholars such as herself were treated like dirt. Because of that, Laia fears and timidity made sense to me. She wasn’t a go-out-and-conquer-the-world kind of person, even though she desperately wished she was; Laia wanted to be brave and courageous like her brother and her parents, but she didn’t know how. I loved Laia because she was real, she had fears that overwhelmed her and made her keep quite when she should speak up, but she was also kind and she loved her family fiercely and wanted to protect them. Characters like Katniss and Tris are very irritating to me because of how cold and unfeeling they can be towards people, and yet they are hailed as amazing people and strong females. Yeah, sure, they can kill someone at the drop of a hat and without batting an eyelash, but those kinds of actions don’t equate a strong person. I liked Laia because she had an amazing heart and she wasn’t a warrior in the physical sense. As “An Ember in the Ashes” progressed, however, she started to grow a lot as a person and she became a much stronger, and more courageous individual. Laia had paralyzing fears, but she slowly learned to not give in to them or allow them to control her life.

I also loved Laia because she responded to the horrors of her world similarly to how one of us actually would, yet she grew as a character into a strong young woman who could be brave despite her fears, even if she couldn’t wield a sword all that well. I think one of the things I loved so much about this book was that Elias’s and Laia’s characters showed very different kinds of strength: mental, emotional, and physical strength. Both Elias and Laia were strong individuals, but they had very different forms of strength.There are so many ways a person can be strong, and I like that Sabaa showed so many of the forms that strength can come in through each of her characters and the journey she took them on.

Elias was a pretty good male lead. I thought that he was interesting considering his situation (being a Martial, and a Mask at that) and how he’d still retained his humanity, and that made him a more dynamic character. Elias’s main struggled was with figuring out if he could still have a soul after what he had done throughout the years, but as a reader I could see that he still had a good heart. He wasn’t malicious like a lot of the other Masks and despite some of the awful things he had done, I ended up liking Elias. He was a pretty well-developed character, and I found his struggle between surviving and keeping true to who he actually was to be really interesting. I wanted for him to be free of Blackcliff and its never-ending horrors, but time and time again, Elias got sucked back into that awful place, and it wasn’t until he met Laia that the cycle shifted so that it could be broken.

It took until about halfway (or just over) through “An Ember in the Ashes” for Laia and Elias to really meet each other; they had encountered one another before, but not like this, where I as a reader could see something come in the future from that moment. This wonderful scene that Sabaa Tahir wrote happened when Laia and her little friend from Blackcliff were in the Scholar district while a festival was taking place. In those handful of chapters, Laia and Elias met, and it was so lush and vivid compared to the grit and grime of the rest of the book that those chapters ended up being my absolute favorites in this book. I wish that there had been more scenes like that one because I think they would have made me like this book more! I felt like that scene also helped to develop Laia’s and Elias’s personalities outside of Blackcliff, and I liked seeing them in a different environment. In that moment, “An Ember in the Ashes” wasn’t just gritty and harrowing, it was dynamic and interest, especially with Keenan and the Tribal woman added into the mix. Sadly, though, this was also the only real moment where I felt like Elias and Laia connected. I kinda wanted to ship them during that scene, but there just wasn’t enough of moments like that one in the remainder of “An Ember in the Ashes” for me to fully jump on the Laia/Elias train; I liked Elias and Laia separately, but I’m definitely not a shipper..

Helene, Elias’s best friend, is the last character I want to discuss in-depth. Helene was the other “main” character in “An Ember in the Ashes” despite the fact this book did not shift entirely to her perspective.  A lot of people preferred Helene to Laia as a female lead, and I can see why: she’s a more likeable version of Katniss Everdeen. Helene is a warrior, a Mask, who held her own in the Blackcliff Academy. She was also the only female recruit on the Academy’s grounds, and she and Elias had a lot of history together. Helene was far more likeable to me than Katniss, but she still exuded the same instinct to kill rather than evaluating the consequences that could result from her actions. She was fiercely faithful and loyal to those she loved and I really admired that about her, but I still felt like she was too abrasive for my taste. I didn’t dislike Helene, but I was not the hugest fan. She was a strong female character in both determination and physical attributes, so I won’t discredit that. Helene was a strong, independent, and smart character, and I thought that her and Elias’s dynamic was interesting, but I just preferred Laia’s quiet determination of overcoming her fears to Helene’s ferocious desire to be the best at the Blackcliff Academy. At times, it felt like Helene forsook her humanity to get business done, and that’s just not my style.

All of Sabaa’s characters were pretty amazing, so I think that the only thing that I didn’t like about “An Ember in the Ashes” was the supernatural element. For me, the creatures and special powers that were interspersed throughout this book felt a bit unnecessary; Sabaa’s world was already amazingly well-designed and I was completely engrossed, and I also liked that idea of it being more like a high fantasy in the sense that the world was epic, yet had those Greco-Roman themes. Lots of people loved the supernatural creatures added to this book, but for me, they were a little off-putting and they felt a bit random in the already extremely gritty world that Sabaa Tahir had written. I did love the metal-like masks that soldiers like Elias wore, but beyond that, I don’t feel like the supernatural elements ended up being pivotal to this story.

Other than the mythical creatures and supernatural abilities that were incorporated into “An Ember in the Ashes,” I enjoyed this story. A lot of brutal things happened in it because the world itself was brutal and unforgiving, but Sabaa Tahir did a great job of creating characters and moments that reminded her readers that there is always hope, and people have the ability to change the world if they let that spark stay alive. Laia and Elias were sparks, embers, in a world of despair and pain, and they held great power within themselves because they didn’t let their hope burn out. They fought back against the soul-crushing hopelessness that consumed those around them with all they had, and I’m interested in seeing how Sabaa plans on revolutionizing the world they live in.

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or those looking for a light read, but I ended up enjoying; I didn’t love it, but it was a well-written and interesting book to read. I would recommend “An Ember in the Ashes” to fans of the “Prince of Persia” movie, or anyone looking for an epic fantasy book to read.