Review: Light & Shadow Trilogy by Moira Katson

Series: Light and Shadow trilogy
Author: 
Moira Katson
Genre(s): Young Adult Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback | Kobo

It has been only two generations since Arthur Warden seized the throne of Heddred from the Conradines, and now the crown rests on the head of Garad, sickly and weak. Shadows gather: legacies of the centuries-long rivalries for power, old betrayals, the endless plots of the courtiers, and the murmur of rebellion in the southern provinces …

Catwin, plucked from her life at the edge of the Kingdom, is thrust abruptly into the world of the Court when she is chosen by the Duke of Voltur to be a Shadow-spy, shield, and blade-to his niece, the Lady Miriel DeVere. The Duke’s ruthlessness is legendary, and he will stop at nothing to become the power behind the throne, using Miriel as a pawn to catch Garad’s heart.

But the Duke’s carefully-laid plans are only a piece of the intrigue of the court, and greater forces than Catwin can imagine are massed against her, determined to eliminate Miriel and impose a new order of their own. If Catwin and Miriel are to survive, they must learn quickly who to trust, and when to turn their skills against the very people who have trained them …

Shadowborn by Moira Katson

Book #1: Shadowborn
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Shadowforged by Moira Katson

Book #2: Shadowforged
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Shadow's End by Moira Katson

Book #3: Shadow’s End
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was impressed by this series, the Light and Shadow trilogy, which was another one of my fabulous Bookbub bargains. (Er, by the way, since I talk about them so much, one might wonder if I’m affiliated, but I’m not. Though I’ve acquired enough $0.99 and free books from them, I should probably take out stock.)

This is both a fascinating character-driven and an interesting plot-driven story, wrapped in an engrossing fantasy world. Catwin, the main character, comes from a poor family, and until she’s noticed by the Duke of Voltur, she’s destined to amount to nothing but kitchen help. Instead, he sees potential in her and sets to training her to be his niece Miriel’s bodyguard and assassin–whether she wants to or not.

Her struggles with the atrocities she’s forced to commit are potent and heart-rending. The uneasy friendship that grows from initial hatred between the two girls is well-crafted. They dance around one another, neither sure if the other can be trusted, but having no choice but to rely on one another.

I’m not going to spoiler anything from the second and third books, but I loved how the story developed. The stakes continue to raise, as Miriel must do her uncle’s bidding and, well, Catwin must, also.

I rated the third book as four stars because I wasn’t impressed with the culmination of Catwin’s prophecy: As a baby, her mother refused to raise her because she foretold that her daughter would be betrayed. A lot of that back story made no sense, and when the betrayal comes, I can’t really understand why. It’s almost … or completely … a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I don’t really understand why the characters involved choose their actions.

Overall, I loved this series and I heartily recommend it. If you enjoy fantasy, either young adult or adult, you’ll enjoy the Light and Shadow trilogy. Ms. Katson is now on my list of “Authors I Must Read More of If Ever My TBR Pile Diminishes.”

Have you added my forthcoming release, Guarding Angel, to your Goodreads to-be-read list? You can also find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Advertisements

Review: Gateway by Christina Garner

Gateway by Christina GarnerTitle: Gateway (Gateway Trilogy #1)
Author: Christina Garner
Genre(s): Young Adult Urban Fantasy
How To Purchase: Kindle | Barnes & Noble

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Gateway in exchange for an honest review.

Ember has always known she doesn’t belong in this world. But when she tries to correct the mistake, she wakes to find herself in a mental institution.

She’s soon drawn to Taren, the mysterious boy with hazel eyes. He’s not what he seems, but what is he?

When chaos erupts, they are forced to flee the institution together, and the secret that Taren has been keeping brings Ember closer to understanding her own. And leads her to… the Gateway.

I liked Gateway, but it lacked something. Although it’s full-length novel, it seemed short, as if the plot was too small. I enjoyed the world-building, and I really liked Ember, but I wished for more from this first installment in the Gateway Trilogy.

I’m particular about Young Adult books, as I’ve mentioned before. I decided to read this one because I liked the premise–demons and chaos. What’s not to love? There’s plenty of that in the book, although I wished for more revelation of the world behind the world. I’m guessing more will be uncovered as the series progresses.

One of the things I loved about the book was the main character, Ember. I’m particularly picky when it comes to my YA protagonists. I’ve never been one for teenaged drama, even when I was a teenager, so now that I’m adult, I’m fully out of that phase. (Pregnancy hormones not-withstanding–we’ll just not go there, since my condition is temporary.) But Ember never comes across as angsty or whiny. She’s always forging onward, looking to the next crisis, and generally being a badass. Even cynical old me found the romance interesting, with little to no time spent mooning over the color of Taren’s eyes or where the relationship was going. A+ on the character development.

I’ve pondered what it is about the plot that makes me feel like it wasn’t enough, but I can’t put my finger on one thing exactly. The ending seemed satisfying, although some of the prose got a little purple and over-dramatic for my taste. It just feels like there’s not enough development of the middle. Ember gets swept away into a new world after she’s committed to a mental institution, and then BAM! Time to fight the boss at the end.

If you like urban fantasy young adult books, you’ll enjoy this. The characters are interesting, and the world seems fully fleshed out. Hopefully more will be revealed in later books, and Ember continues to be a rock-steady teen protagonist.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaTitle: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Genre(s): YA Paranormal Romantic Fantasy
How to Purchase: Amazon | Kobo

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea was not a bad book, but it didn’t live up to its hype. Some of the writing was atmospheric, but not enough to move me. The characters were memorable, but I neither loved nor hated them.

The story gets underway when our main character Violet meets River, a boy her age who wants to room in the guest house in her old, rundown mansion. River is mysterious and attractive, and she goes about falling in love with him as quickly as any teenaged girl can fall in love with a mysterious and attractive teenaged boy.

Soon it’s revealed that River has a mysterious power that he uses to manipulate those around him. Is her attraction to him real? Is he manipulating her own emotions for his gain? Does she actually care if it’s not genuine? Those are the questions that made me keep reading, that make me want to read the second book, though the questions aren’t posed in a particularly compelling manner.

The weather–sunbeams, thunderstorms, salty ocean air–is over-used to create atmosphere. Although the usage wasn’t terrible, I feel like it could have been more deftly woven to the story. Each mention seemed a jarring contrast to whatever was going on, an add-on that seemed like Ms. Tucholke chose “because it needs to be there,” rather than to enhance a scene.

The climax was a bit anti-climactic, even though it was well-written. Series(es) have a tendency to do that, I think; I felt the same disappointment at reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater. It’s as though the author says, “I have some choice morsels that I will save for the next book,” without thinking that perhaps I will not read the next book because this one doesn’t live up to its potential. Without giving anything away, a near deus ex machina forms the climax, which I think leads to the feeling of being cheated. The climax is not brought about my our main characters, but something that was lurking outside The Machine, something discovered too late in the story to be emotionally satisfying. Nothing is resolved between Violet and River, and we must read into the second book to find out what comes about.

In the description, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is described as “blending faded decadence and the thrilling dread of gothic horror.” Yes, maybe, OK, I see it if I squint. If you’re looking forward to reading this, I say go ahead and pick it up. I will likely buy the sequel, too… But I’m prepared to be disappointed a second time.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent, Divergent #1
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre(s): Young Adult Dystopia

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Title: Insurgent, Divergent #2

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Title: Allegiant, Divergent #3

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I wanted to like the Divergent series. I really, really wanted to like it, since everyone else does. Far be it from me to criticize something just because it’s in pop culture. Despite Twilight‘s brainlessness, I devoured it. Despite the Hunger Games‘s excessive angst, I enjoyed it (although the first is the best and it devolves as the series goes on). But in these books, the publishing industry seems to be trying to capitalize on a dystopian trend without thought to what it’s promoting for us to consume.

The books were easy to read, the protagonist was likeable enough, and her struggles were difficult and potent. However, as I finished the first book and started the second, I found myself wondering why Tris’s difficulties seemed hollow. The storyline was all right, and the themes it explored were thought-provoking. But as I thought more about it, I tried to understand this society.

I found myself wondering: Where’s the rest of the world? Why does this only take place in Chicago with no mention of other places? Hunger Games is very clear that different cities exist. In Divergent, the rest of the world is left as a mystery, and not a good one. Young people are naturally curious, and Tris has propensity for Erudite. How could she not wonder about it?

Then I started to wonder further. Why do these kids have to pick a faction to stick with for the rest of their lives? God forbid I made a decision like that when I was sixteen. I’m a totally different person now. While teenagers in our society do get forced to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives, we all have the capacity to change our fates. It might be difficult the older we get, but mechanisms still exist.

I was happy to see that some of the questions about the society itself were answered in the third book; however, I didn’t like the answer. I now know why they were insistent on people only clinging to one virtue, but it doesn’t seem natural nor does the setup into factions make sense. I just don’t believe that the people who created the society were that dumb. I get the whole back story–but it doesn’t mean that the founders wouldn’t have tried to make it operate within the confines of human behavior.

As I thought about this, other things started to bother me:

The entire “factionless” concept made no sense. First of all, if people are cast out of society, they’re going to band together. People gravitate toward one another. Why was anyone surprised by this? Secondly, why was anyone cast out of factions anyway? What’s the point? It just seems like a recipe for disaster. And, finally, wouldn’t the Abnegation take in the rejects? That just seems like something they would do.

The more I think about these books, the less I like them. Struggles are only meaningful in fiction if they stem from something believable. The more I read the books, the more I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief. The more information I got on the founding of the factions, the less I was able to buy into the premise. And as the third book progressed, the heavy-handed morality lesson–set within the confines of a society that made no sense–grated.

I really liked Tris and Tobias (although at one point, I feel like Ms. Roth created conflict between them just for the sake of conflict). Overall, their interactions and choices seemed natural. Allegiant had a solid, well-thought-out, realistic ending.

But I just can’t believe the world they live in.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack

Title: There Comes a Prophet
Author: David Litwack
Genre(s): Young Adult Dystopia
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon) | Kobo

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A thousand years ago the Darkness came—a terrible time of violence, fear, and social collapse when technology ran rampant. But the vicars of the Temple of Light brought peace, ushering in an era of blessed simplicity. For ten centuries they have kept the madness at bay with “temple magic” and by eliminating forever the rush of progress that nearly caused the destruction of everything.

A restless dreamer, Nathaniel has always lived in the tiny village of Little Pond, longing for something more but unwilling to challenge the unbending status quo. When his friend Thomas returns from the Temple after his “teaching”—the secret coming-of-age ritual that binds young men and women eternally to the Light—Nathaniel can barely recognize the broken and brooding young man the boy has become. And when the beautiful Orah is summoned as well, Nathaniel knows he must somehow save her. But in the prisons of Temple City he discovers a terrible secret that launches the three of them on a journey to find the forbidden keep, placing their lives in dire jeopardy. For a truth awaits them there that threatens the foundation of the Temple. But if they reveal that truth the words of the book of light might come to pass:

“If there comes among you a prophet saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”

There Comes a Prophet was mysterious at first. I wasn’t sure if this was standard fantasy fare or something else. As the book progresses, it becomes apparent that this is a far-in-the-future dystopia where people live without technology and in rural areas. The longer I read, the more I enjoyed it.

The voice reminds me a great deal of Anne McCaffrey, especially the books I most recently reread, the Harper Hall trilogy. As we follow the three friends, Nathaniel, Orah, and Thomas, their emotions are told in stark simplicity but with maximum impact. On several occasions, one sentence reframed an entire relationship, event, or assumption; at the beginning, I was convinced of one thing, but by the end, I was certain of another.

I’m a sucker for the evil religious monolith archetype, so I really enjoyed how it fleshed out the story of love, friendship, and sacrifice. The fantasy world was new and interesting. It kept me thinking, “How would I have reacted if I’d been brought up with those assumptions?” The fear of “the teaching” was palpable and confusing to me as it was to the characters.

The grammar was crisp, the language was clear, and the plot moved along at a steady pace. I honestly have no gripes with this book. The use of third person omniscient meant that I didn’t fall in love with the characters as much as I would have if it was told a different way. But I still rooted for them.

There Comes a Prophet was quieter than many of the dystopians exploding onto the big screen right now, but its underlying theme of hope for the future made me love it. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Review: The Haunting Season by Michelle Muto

Title: The Haunting Season
Author: Michelle Muto
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Be careful what you let in…

Siler House has stood silent beneath Savannah’s moss-draped oaks for decades. Notoriously haunted, it has remained empty until college-bound Jess Perry and three of her peers gather to take part in a month-long study on the paranormal. Jess, who talks to ghosts, quickly bonds with her fellow test subjects. One is a girl possessed. Another just wants to forget. The third is a guy who really knows how to turn up the August heat, not to mention Jess’s heart rate…when he’s not resurrecting the dead.

The study soon turns into something far more sinister when they discover that Siler House and the dark forces within are determined to keep them forever. In order to escape, Jess and the others will have to open themselves up to the true horror of Siler House and channel the very evil that has welcomed them all.

Creepy old mansion I found on PinterestThe Haunting Season is a spooky, fast-paced read. I love getting that “can’t put down, must finish as soon as possible” feeling about a book, and this one grabbed my throat and forced me onto my couch when I should have been doing stuff.

Its four main characters arrive at a haunted house that’s, even at first glance, hiding something. I love old mansions, and this one has sinister personality. I don’t care what was lurking, I’d start combing through the endless rooms of the Siler House as soon as I arrived, which our main character Jess does. Awesome.

Jess soon realizes that her invitation to participate in a science experiment about her paranormal abilities is more than it seems. As she opens doors, she uncovers the secret of the evil child Riley and his dead nieces. This is how I imagined Riley, especially near the end:

Seriously, don’t click on this if you get creeped out easily.

Each chapter is paced well and left me flipping to the next to find out what would happen next. As each secret is revealed, the book leaves you doubting the motives–and sometimes sanity–of Jess’s companions and hosts.

The grammar was clean and the language crisp; however, I felt at times that the writing voice was less mature than it should have been. Jess is eighteen, but the book sounds years younger. Additionally, Ms. Muto included a romantic sub-plot that I felt was unnecessary and jarring against its youthful voice. I would have loved to see it replaced with something more in the vein of the horror and supernatural, perhaps some further back story about our band of heroes.

The Haunting Season kept me on the edge of my seat. If you’re looking for some fun Halloween fare, I’d recommend it.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Review: Ever and Evade by Jessa Russo

Ever by Jessa RussoEvade by Jessa Russo

Title: Ever (Book 1), Evade (Book 2) in the EVER Trilogy
Author: Jessa Russo
Genre(s): Young Adult Paranormal Romance
How To Purchase Ever: Paperback (Amazon) | Kindle | Kobo.com
How to Purchase Evade: Kindle | Kobo
Author Website: Jessa Russo

My rating for Ever: 3.5 out of 5 stars
My rating for Evade: 3 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Evade in exchange for an honest review; however, I purchased my own copy of Ever.

Ever, Book One

Seventeen-year-old Ever’s love life has been on hold for the past two years. She’s secretly in love with her best friend Frankie, and he’s completely oblivious.

Of course, it doesn’t help that he’s dead, and waking up to his ghost every day has made moving on nearly impossible.

Frustrated and desperate for something real, Ever finds herself falling for her hot new neighbor Toby. His relaxed confidence is irresistible, and not just Ever knows it. But falling for Toby comes with a price that throws Ever’s life into a whirlwind of chaos and drama. More than hearts are on the line, and more than Ever will suffer.

Some girls lose their hearts to love.

Some girls lose their minds.

Ever Van Ruysdael could lose her soul.

Evade, Book Two

**Note: Book blurb contains spoilers for Book One**

In this thrilling sequel, Ever Van Ruysdael’s race to beat the odds—and the clock—begins with the introduction of an integral part of her past. As secrets are revealed, and truths uncovered, she learns her imminent death is the least of her problems: Ariadne did more than just put an expiration date on her life; she marked Ever’s soul by upping its value for greedy collectors looking to buy their freedom.

Condemned by the countdown on her life, and hunted by hired Seekers, Ever’s journey leads her to question everything she’s known and everyone she’s trusted, while growing closer to the one person from her past she was determined to avoid—and the one guy she never could—Toby James.

With her ex-boyfriend by her side, and the countdown clock rapidly ticking away, Ever tries thwarting fate’s plans. But as her nineteenth birthday approaches, and desperate Seekers follow her every move, she may be too late.

A marked soul is hard to come by … and even harder to escape.

**End Book One spoilers**

The EVER trilogy so far has a solid premise and interesting characters, but the plot pacing never allows it to rise from “I liked it” territory to “I loved it.” Ever, Book One, was faster paced with more plot twists, but Evade, Book Two, lagged a bit and disappointed me.

Ever, Book One

The premise of the books is fantastic: Ever, real name Eleanor, becomes ensnared in a supernatural world that, so far in both books, seems unique and interesting. Her boyfriend Frankie died in a car accident, and he’s haunting her house. Not in a “I don’t know I’m dead” way, but in “I’m moping and creepy because I don’t like being dead” way. I don’t know about you guys, but I love it.

Another boy, Toby, moves into the neighborhood, and Ever must work through letting go of Frankie. And, of course, Toby isn’t just any boy: He’s got his sights on Frankie. What does it mean? What’s he going to do? Why is he here? Love it, love it, love it.

As the story progresses, the plot picks up speed. We find out that Toby is, of course, not just the pretty face he seems. Ever’s family has a past. Toby has a past. His dad Ted has a past.

Toward the end, the book goes off the rails. The ending is a cliffhanger, but not in a good way. (Disclaimer: I loathe cliffhangers, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.) I feel as though a good portion of the beginning of Evade, Book Two, should have been the denouement of this book, which would have resolved the disquiet I felt about Book One.

The only part I struggled with was the relationship that Ever had with Toby versus the one she had with Frankie. Toby’s relationship sparked, but Frankie’s seemed non-existent. I understand that Frankie was her first love and best friend since birth, and the nature of that is different than a lusty teenaged love affair; however, I felt as though I was being told that he was her best friend. I didn’t feel the comfortable love that was between them. Quite frankly, Frankie was flat.

Evade, Book Two

Here’s the non-spoiler part: While Ever was more urban fantasy than paranormal romance, Evade was more paranormal romance than urban fantasy. I liked both Ever and Evade for their plots, but I wished for more, sooner, in Evade. It doesn’t pick up speed until about three-quarters of the way into the book, and by that point, I was wondering if anything unexpected was going to happen. It does: The stakes raised and I got excited, but the book was over all too soon.

**Note: Contains spoilers for Book One**

Evade picks up where Ever left off: Ever now has less than a year left to live. Trying to make the best of it, she heads to a vacation in Mexico and is plunged into more chaos. She discovers that Ariadne’s mark attracted all manner of unsavory dead folk, and she must run for her life.

I struggled with this premise because it didn’t make sense. If I were Ever, I’d be demanding answers–real ones–especially when her bitch-face nemesis and ex-boyfriend show up again to make her life difficult. Sometimes Ever seems to be going along for a ride, allowing all these things to happen to her. As I mentioned before, it’s only in the last quarter of the book that she starts taking charge.

Something about the world-building was missing from both Ever and Evade: We never get a glimpse into the Soul Collector life. I’m reminded of that part in Men In Black where J first goes down the elevator and sees all the aliens wandering amongst the humans. Neither Ever nor Evade has a “reveal” moment where we see what it is that Toby, Ted, and Ariadne do. It’s a fabulous premise. It’s lacking in delivery.

**End Book One spoilers**

What I liked most about both books was the bonus material. After Ever‘s ending, it contained the opening chapters from Toby’s perspective, and Evade‘s epilogue was also written from Toby’s point of view. For whatever reason, those parts scintillated. Also, I was nearly in tears (in the waiting room of a doctor’s office–nope, not embarrassed, I own my emotions) reading Ms. Russo’s afterward. It gave me insight into some things about the plot that I loved / hated. But I’m a sap and a writer, so I identified with her struggles.

If you enjoy Young Adult, romance, and characters with real struggles, I recommend this book. I’m looking forward to Book Three and hope that Ms. Russo rediscovers her enjoyment of writing this series.

Find me on Twitter and Pinterest.