Review: Harry Potter: A Journey through the History of Hogwarts

Oh, how I love all things Harry Potter!  They make me super happy.  I was given a gift card for Christmas to Barnes and Noble, and after three trips, and a lot of staring at many things, I decided to get this (I have money left, so more trips are in my future…).

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“As the British Library unveils a very special new exhibition in the UK, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, readers everywhere are invited on an enchanting journey through the Hogwarts curriculum, from Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology to Defense Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, and more in this book uncovering thousands of years of magical history.  Prepare to be amazed by artifacts released from the archives of the British Library, unseen sketches and manuscript pages from J.K. Rowling, and incredible illustrations from artist Jim Kay.  Discover the truth behind the origins of the Philosopher’s Stone, monstrous dragons, and troublesome trolls; examine real-life wands and find out what actually makes a mandrake scream; pore over remarkable pages from da Vinci’s notebook; and discover the oldest atlas of the night sky.  Carefully curated by the British Library and full of extraordinary treasures from all over the world, this is an unforgettable journey exploring the history of the magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories.”

It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I liked it. It had some excellent art from the illustrated editions.  There are also great pieces features from the British Library’s actual exhibit, which I wish I could actually see.  I have to say, kids who love Harry Potter would probably love this much more, because they would be learning new fun things about history. Being obsessed with Witchcraft/Wiccans/Herbology/History, I knew most of this but did learn a few new things.

All in all, a must have for any Harry Potter Fan!

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Review: Iron Gold

gold“They call him father, liberator, warlord, Reaper. But he feels a boy as he falls toward the pale blue planet, his armor red, his army vast, his heart heavy. It is the tenth year of war and the thirty-second of his life. A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself? And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever: A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined. An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life. And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes. Red Rising was the story of the end of one universe, and Iron Gold is the story of the creation of a new one.”

I am … unhappy… and conflicted.  Conflicted would certainly be the word I have to use the most.  I was so ecstatic when I found out that Pierce Brown was writing another novel, but I thought it would be around different characters. The truth is, it is and it isn’t.  Some of our favorite characters have returned, including Darrow, his howlers, and characters we know and love, and some new characters have surfaced.  The story is now told from four points of view, including from one character we met briefly, and two new ones.

Darrow is no longer the boy we knew. A decade of war has changed him, and rightfully so.  However, this novel dashes any hopes and dreams I had for him at the end of Morning Glory, and there were many times when I wished we could have just left him there and never returned to his story. Also, many times I just wanted to slap some dadgum sense into his brain, and make him realize that he did not always have to be rash. I mean, like I was seriously so angry reading this novel that I almost threw the blasted thing (except, it is rather large and heavy at over 600 pages). Unfortunately, I could not do that. Pierce Brown is also such a compelling writing that I could not put the story down. I kept reading. So, I am left conflicted.

What I liked most about this story is the young girl we meet on Mars. It was the main thing that kept me reading the story, and I at one point (I’m ashamed to admit) flipped ahead and just read her pieces of the story to make sure nothing happened to her. I’ll leave you wondering whether it did or not… Lyria is my favorite new character. She is brave, and scared, and conflicted.  She is fighting for herself and for others.  Her character knows the cost of war, what it means to be made promises and then left behind, and the dark side of revolution.  A quick study, she works hard to be a better person, and make a better life, but like so many of us, we long for others to understand us, and we become lost.  Her story was certainly my favorite, and the way that Brown connects it to the other three (for they all become connected in some way), is an amazing thing. Actually, the way Brown connects these four characters was truly fascinating. I imagine in my head that he has a whole room dedicated to the story of these novels, with a very long and complicated timeline along all four walls…

As with any book on war, we are met with death and tragedy. I have complimented Pierce Brown before on his ability to write war in such a way as to make it real to those of us who have never experienced it (albeit, in space, and with much fancier weapons than we have on Earth) – he faces down the tragedy, and the horror, and the senselessness of it in his stories, with unashamed transparency to the utter awfulness tha war is. Breaking my heart again, over and over and over. When I sit and think about it, Iron Gold is truly an honest continuation to Morning Glory, because while many authors would wrap the revolution up with a pretty bow, create a new government and move the story along, Brown is showing us the true cost of any war, the way the real-world works, and the cost of one person’s dream.  Even if we did not want to see it. To be clear, I’ve pretty much decided, I did not want to see it. The ending in my head was so very much happier.

Though we may have had many favorite characters from the original trilogy, be warned that though they are still there (if they were alive at the end of Morning Glory), their parts to play in the new novels are not as large.  We see a few of the original howlers here and there, but they are no longer the central characters to the plot.  A piece of me misses them, but another part of me is glad for the change, and loving the new people we meet. A couple of the howlers are still with Darrow during the story, and seeing how they have grown and changed was a wonderful part of coming back to this world (Sevro, I’m looking at you).

Brown races back into the world we had to come know, and reintroduces us to a world torn apart by war but slowly trying to come back together.  He writes in multiple points of view, flowing from the one to the next without a hitch and still giving each of the four characters their own voice (Darrow’s is much the same, but more depressing).  It would seem as if he writes as naturally as some of us breathe air, and indeed the second (if you view this as a new trilogy, which I originally thought it was)/fifth Red Rising novel (Dark Age) will come out in September this year – only nine months after Iron Gold is released; that is something to be thankful for, though it does not have a promising title.

Our other two new narrators, Lysander au Lune (though someone we briefly met before), and Ephraim, are interesting and add their own flavor to the story. Ephraim is a bitter thief, who understands the cost of war but is lost in his own tragedy.  Lysander is dealing with coming to terms with his own history, and how to become the man he thinks he should be. Ephraim is probably my least favorite of our new narrators, with Lysander coming in second behind Lyria.

This book is as fast paced as the others, leaving us on a major cliffhanger.  I am still playing a guessing game as to who some of the leading bad buys really are, and praying that Darrow eventually comes to his senses, or maybe is making the right choices. I mean, I have never been so conflicted over whether or not I like a book before. I loved so much about this, and then hated so very much at the same time.

As always… I’m looking forward to the next one…

Pierce Brown lives in Los Angeles, where he scribbles tales of spaceships, wizards, ghouls, and most things old or bizarre.  You can connect with Pierce on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. You can also visit his website at http://piercebrownbooks.com/

Review: Perennials

perennials.jpgPerennials by Julie Cantrell is a great read.  I started reading it at about 11 am on one of my days off during winter break, and kept reading it… until I finished it about 8 pm that night.  There were a few interruptions of course, as I have a three year old.

When two estranged sisters reunite for their parents’ 50th anniversary, a family tragedy brings unexpected lessons of hope and healing amid the flowers of their mother’s perennial garden.

Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way.  At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here.

When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi.  Lovey is drawn in to a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, learning how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.  Years ago, Lovey chose to leave her family and the South far behind. But now that she’s returned, she’s realizing things at home were not always what they seemed.”

The back of this intrigued me enough, though I was kinda shaky on whether I thought it sounded good or not.  I’m glad I started to read it.

SPOILER WARNING – Highlight to read: As a warning, this book does deal with cancer.  This is a hard thing for me to read about as my mother in law passed away after a battle with cancer, and so did my husband’s grandmother.  Cancer is such a tough subject to deal with, and when it came up in this novel, (which I suspected long before I knew for sure) I was unsure if I wanted to keep going. However, I liked the characters enough and was wanting to know more backstory, so I did keep going. And I’m glad. Though I cried. A lot. END SPOILERS.

The beginning is slow, but eventually starts to pick up.  I’m so used to reading young adult fiction, I was surprised when I realized the main character was 45 years old. It honestly was quite a refreshing change.  Because even though she of course did not have her life figured out, she had a career, a house, and a whole slew of different worries.  I need to remember to read books like this more often.

I spent most of the book just wanting to royally slap Lovey’s sister, Bitsy. And honestly, still mostly wanted to slap the sister even later. However, the sibling rivalry, the parents, and how the past all factored in, was written very well. It was also spread out nicely and paced through the story.

Though religion is used in the text, it never becomes preachy, and remains powerful. Interestingly enough, it also mixes in some new age/Yoga/Native American traditions as well.  I loved the family dynamic, because it was so well written. It also reminds us that parents can make mistakes as well.  It deals with adultery, lying, grief, and hurt. It deals with coming to terms with our past, and deciding when to forgive.

There is also a beautiful mix of literature history of Oxford woven into this story, which I greatly enjoyed. The gardens and flower talk (though not my forte) was also enjoyable.  Metaphors and layers are used throughout in ways that worked well.

Secrets of the past and present are reveled, Kleenex is needed, and overall it is a story of warmth, emotion and healing.

Review: Reclaiming Shilo Snow

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“Trapped on the ice-planet of Delon, gamer girl Sofi and Ambassador Miguel have discovered that nothing is what it seems, including their friends. On a quest to rescue her brother, Shilo, a boy everyone believes is dead, they must now escape and warn Earth of Delon’s designs on humanity. Except the more they unearth of the planet and Sofi’s past, the more they feel themselves unraveling, as each new revelation has Sofi questioning the very existence of reality.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sofi’s mom, Inola, is battling a different kind of unraveling: a political one that could cost lives, positions, and a barely-rebuilt society, should they discover the deal made with the Delonese.

But there’s a secret deeper than all that. One locked away inside Sofi and ticking away with the beginnings, endings, and answers to everything. Including how to save humanity.”

5/5 Stars!  I love sequels that manage to up the game, and this one certainly did.  Part of me also especially likes the fact that this was a duology, something I do not see often anymore in the literary world.  Then again, trilogies are also becoming rarer, as everyone just writes in a series forever and ever…. Ahem, anyways.

I started reading this novel, and remember why I love Weber’s writing so very much. Or well, the many reasons I love her writing so much. She can transport us to another world with her descriptions and the characters’ actions, and it is easy to imagine their world, and what they feel. It takes no effort to be in “their shoes.”  I also love her writing because Weber writes for a cause.

For example, she dedicates this book to all the children who are being trafficked.  It is easy to see that this book speaks to what is happening on Earth.  With the speech that is given by one character at the end, I was close to tears.  We have to to remember who we are, and how we can change the worlds ourselves, and Weber reminds us of this with this story.  Fiction is such an amazing thing.

The pace of this story is perfect.  It pulls you along as you pray and hope for happy endings.  It has tragedy, and comedy, and hope.  I was especially happy at a new point of view we got to see (Inola), because it allowed us another view into the world around Sofi and Shilo and how they came to be who they are. Perhaps most interestingly, it gave us another view of a person and the choices they make – and the realization that we do not always make the right ones, even if we make the choice for the right reason or the greater good.

I don’t want to give too much away, but of course we see our favorite characters, Sofi and Migeul.  We also see others return, and a few new characters. We learn more about each of them, see into their past, and learn more about the Delonese.  The Delonese are particularly interesting in this book, as their past and their own fears become more apparent.

There is romance, there is intrigue, there is family affection.  There are so many emotions: sadness, grief, happiness, feeling lost, defiance, and more!  It certainly has its own core of strong women, something else I loved.  Overall, a truly great novel.

On a more important note – I mean I know we should not just a book by its cover, but can I just say how awesome this book cover is? Sadly, the ARCs have another version before final approval, so mine does not look this awesome.

-sighs-

If you have not read The Evaporation of Sofi Snow yet, you are in luck! I am fixing to do a giveaway of an AUTOGRAPHED copy of the book! Hardcover even!  So keep an eye out for that, and comment if you would like to participate!

Christmas At Carnton

“Christmas at Carnton: A Novella” by Tamera Alexander. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. 2017. 256 pages. $12.99.

“Amid war and the Carntonfading dream of the Confederacy, a wounded soldier and a destitute widow discover the true meaning of Christmas – and of sacrificial love. Recently widowed, Aletta Prescott struggles to hold life together for herself and her six-year old son. With the bank threatening to evict, she discovers an advertisement for the Women’s Relief Society auction and applies for a position – only to discover it’s been filled. Then a chance meeting with a wounded soldier offers another opportunity – and friendship. But can Aletta trust this man? Captain Jake Winston, a revered Confederate sharpshooter, suffered a head wound at the Battle of Chickamauga. When doctors deliver their diagnosis, Jake fears losing not only his greatest skill but his very identity. As he heals, Jake is ordered to assist with a local Women’s Relief Society auction. He respectfully objects. Kowtowing to a bunch of “crinolines” isn’t his idea of soldiering. But orders are orders, and he soon discovers this group of ladies – one, in particular – is far more than he bargained for. Set against the backdrop and history of the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, Christmas at Carnton is a story of hope renewed and faith restored at Christmas.”

Christmas is always a great time read something uplifting, and a romance novel is even better. I was excited to get this in the mail, as I was certainly in the mood for a quick read that would bring up my spirits, and this book certainly fit the bill.  It is a perfect historical, southern, romance story. Even better, it is a launching a three book series!

The Civil War is always a tough topic, and at first I was a little worried, but overall, Alexander does an amazing job of weaving together the history and the characters. The story starts off with Aletta feeling hopeless, and we quickly are drawn into her story, her world, and the history surrounding it. I fell in love with Aletta’s son, Andrew, and it was perhaps my favorite part of this story. As a mother of a three year old boy, it was easy to visualize his face, his movements, and the way he would have responded to things.

The author also did a good job of challenging our own ideas.  Aletta’s father was a carpenter, and therefore she knows how to work with wood – an important piece to the overall story and a nice change for a woman in a historical novel. She was well developed as a character, a wonderful mother, and it was great to see her journey and her strength, even when she felt like she had failed.  The other women around her were also great characters, and I enjoyed their interactions and how they worked together.

One of the reasons that I loved this book is because of the glimpse it gives us into another life style, and time.  There is no major technology, no phone calls to be making, it was so often a waiting game for news. Alexander mentions how many women found out their loved ones had perished on the battlefield from reading the newspaper, because it was there before their letter came to their doorstep. We so often become removed from the history and the hardships we once faced, and it was good to be reminded of it as well.

Alexander simply knows how to tell a lovely, heartwarming story that is good for the soul. For those whom enjoy it, there is also a religious aspect to this novel, and as it takes place around Christmas, it is more special to those in the story.  Carnton Plantation is still in Tennessee today, and is now a museum. For more about Tamera’s books, visit http://www.TameraAlexander.com

*Longer review will be published in The Bowling Green Daily News*

YA Bookcon

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*Update – I started reading Reclaiming Shilo Snow last night and have devoured half of it. Plan to finish it tonight and review it! (Silly work!)

So, Bowling Green hosted the YA Bookcon, which was truly amazing, and tons of fun.  I got extremely lucky, and was able to moderate the panel with Mary Weber on it, and finally meet her in person. They asked people to dress up for the event, …. soooo of course I did!  Next year I plan to do an even more amazing job, but this was short notice!

If you cannot tell, I was the TARDIS… and I took all my books for Mary to sign, which means I also got to win swag!  Always fun. There were tons of high school students from surrounding areas, some I knew from my drama class when I was an American College Coach at ECHS in 2016, so that was fun too!

I moderated a great panel, entitled:  Like a Boss: Writing Your Way Through An Identity Crisis — “Figuring out who you are is tough in high school. Luckily, it’s tough for everyone, as these authors point out – whether you’re in the real world or one that’s made up!”

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The authors on the panel were:
1. Isabel Quintero, Gabi, A Girl In Pieces
2. Mary Weber, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
3. Cinda Williams Chima, Shadowcaster
4. Courtney C. Stevens, Dress Codes for Small Towns

They did a great job. Courtney Stevens was on the very first panel I moderated for our SOKY Bookfest, and I always think she does a dynamic job of engaging people. Sadly, after my panel I had to head back to work.  Lucky for me it was a two day event, so the next day I got to back, and attend a game of trivia about Harry Potter (which I sorely disappointed myself on, and must reread all of those at once – oh and the Hufflepuffs won!).

CJ Redwine hosted the Trivia Game (She is awesome as well).  She was on my panel this year for SOKY.  She brought a giant suitcase of books to give out as prizes, and then told us to take as many as we wanted, because she was not taking them back home!  Loved it.

Also, posted above in the middle, is Mary Weber’s daughter (Avalon), who was super nice. We got to talk about studying abroad, Harlaxton and college in general (you can’t tell what I do for a living, can you?).

All in all, it was an awesome couple of days, in which I spent too much money (though some of those books I got for moderating).  They also gave away free pins, which was way too much fun.

I cannot wait for our next SOKY Bookfest!

Snow Time! Mary Weber’s Mad Hatter Society!

Hello Everyone!

I realize, that quite often, I blog a bit and then disappear for quite a while. I am sorry about that.  I keep hoping to make writing a focus of my life, but all too often let that slip away because everything is crazy.

However, a good person I know who works at WKU (Dr. Dye) was speaking to us about self-care and she said women often live a “checklist life” and strive to always be checking things off, and we forget to just be.  In an effort for my own sanity, and self care, I am going to start writing. I have three more work days until WKU closes for 20 days, and I get time off. I plan to clean, get rid of some stuff, celebrate Christmas, and chill.

Oh, and finish potty training training Xander.

In good news, my book club is going well. We added a new member, who is a friend from college (and writes excellent things).  We will celebrate Christmas this month, and are reading “The School for Good and Evil.”

The most awesome Mary Weber also started a “Street Team” of which I have been added as a member! She sent us a Christmas card, a welcome note, a tattoo and tea!! She is calling it her Mad Hatter’s Society.  I also received a signed copy of The Evaporation of Sofi Snow, so I see a give away in our future! If you are interested, comment below, and I will set one up!

In even better news – She sent me an ARC of Reclaiming Shilo Snow, which I have started on and hope to speed read in the next couple of days, and review here and for the Daily News. I also have an ARC of Iron Gold which I cannot wait to read as well.  My book pile is growing and growing. Why can’t I get paid 40k a year to just review books??

If there is anything you would like to see here, let me know! Also, my book club had a Mad Hatter’s Tea Part – and I totally need to write about that here, so look forward to that (I dressed up as a Steampunk Belle), and we had the YA Bookcon, where I finally met Mary Weber, and her daughter!

For my reviews so far:

Storm Siren

Siren’s Fury

Siren’s Song

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

#ReclaimingShiloSnow #ShiloSnow #SofiSnow #MaryWeber #MWMadHatters

Fates Aflame

34788631“Fates Aflame” by P. Anastasia.  P. Anastasia (Self-Published). 430 pages. $16.95.

“In a society secretly fueled by unbridled magic, an ever-changing landscape of politics and formalities tugged the threads of my fate in all directions, shrouding the future in uncertainty. Earth granted her the ability to conjure fire at will, but the birth of her powers awakens a curse and a perilous trial unfolds, putting the lives of those she loves in jeopardy. When extinct beasts brought forth by ancient magic threaten her life, she has no choice but to take a stand…”

Valhara Hawksford is a young (18 years old) lieutenant who lives on a base in space – the Celestial Galaxy Academy.  Because of a mission to bring the two academies together, Valhara is being transferred to the Silver Diamond Academy, which is back on Earth, a place she does not want to go back to since a tragic accident.  We learn more about the two different academies, as well as the world itself and all the changes, as the story progresses, and I must say that Anastasia did a wonderful job of creating and building a world that is slightly familiar but overall very different.

I did become slightly restless with the first part of the book because I wanted to find out where the flames and magic pieces of the story came into play, but then a nice little romance starts to bud, and that helps carry you through.  To answer the question, it takes quite a bit of the book to get to the magical pieces of the story, and I do wish that that had occurred sooner.  If you read the synopsis, you do continually ask when that is going to come into play, and I wanted to see more of it in the book then just the last third (roundabouts). Also, in the description it says that the society is fueled by unbridled magic, but there is no hint about any of that for a very long time.

However, the overall plot is done well, and generally the pacing works because the story itself does build the entire time.  Anastasia creates a world in which we can see the characters growing, and we come to learn more about them so that we can understand the choices they are making.  There is a nice sense of history to everything, with even a detailed back story on one the character’s father’s and how he fought in an important war.  There is a library (yay for print books still existing), and old tomes of great information that I really enjoyed. The world and character building is what truly makes this book, and I think if the pace had picked up to get us to magic a bit quicker, it would that much better for it.

One thing I did particularly like about the world is that it is an interesting futuristic blend of science fiction, with advanced technology, military, and academies, as well as magic, and the legends that surround it.  There was quite an added twist with the King Author legend, and while I might not like how he was portrayed, I did very much like how it added to the story, and the fact that it was different from everything we normally read. I also very much liked the idea that the magic is reawakening and things are starting to shift and change as they had not for centuries, and things that were thought extinct are resurfacing.  Never doubt the world you live on!

The romance within the novel is well done. It is not a swooping “I fell in love at first sight” type of deal. They truly get to know one another, first as friends, and then maybe as more.  Now, I will say that the whole “her never having been kissed before” thing was slightly irritating, but I suppose there are 18 year old girls who have never kissed someone before… it’s just unlikely. Or seems that way. Her love interest is very likeable however, and I was always afraid that for some reason it was going to turn him into the bad guy… I’ll leave you hanging on that thought.

This would be a fantastic story for teenage girls and young adults.  Or you know, those of us who are not young adults but still mostly read that type of fiction… If you like fantasy, this is a nice combination of that world with a little bit of sci-fi thrown in.  I did love that there was a strong female lead, and it was never a question of if she could be promoted or not.  There were other female characters in leadership positions as well, though one country did have only a king, and both commanders of the academies were men as well (come on, let’s change that in our writing!).  I’m not one to usually harp on gender stereotypes, but it was something I noticed.  I think it would have been interesting if she could have had a female mentor within the book, who was her commander, or higher up in the hierarchy.  I also thought it was interesting because Valhara herself says that she does not want to be caught up in romance or anything else because she is so focused on her career – and how many times have we felt that, if you are a woman? It can be very hard to balance it all, and also we often hear how you cannot do both, but must choose one or the other. I liked that dynamic within the novel quite a bit.

I am hoping that we find out more about Valhara’s past, seeing as how she has this ancient mythical sword, and while we do mostly find out that story, I wanted to know more about it, and what she had done to get where she was.  This book did have young adults seemingly doing jobs fit for older people, but then again her role was to be a student at the academy, so it made sense.

This can be a standalone novel, though it does set it up nicely for the second book. Anastasia was at our SOKY Bookfest this past April, and has written several books including “Dark Diary.” She believes in writing the truth, and telling your character’s story, whatever that may mean. I look forward to the next Fates Aflame book, and the rest of her work!

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

Book CoverMARY WEBER IS COMING TO BOWLING GREEN, KY! -squeals-  For the Young Adult Southern Book Con in October – I am so excited I can hardly stand it.  Below you will find my review of The Evaporation of Sofi Snow that will be published in the Bowling Green Daily News.

“The Evaporation of Sofi Snow” by Mary Weber. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. 352 pages. $15.99.

“Ever since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi’s dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth’s corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth’s Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi’s the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she’s convinced he’s been taken to the ice-planet. Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there. For Miguel–Earth’s charming young playboy–the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight’s bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he’s a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.”

Mary Weber is one of my favorite authors (if you have not read the Storm Siren trilogy I suggest you do that now – it was the first book I reviewed for Bowling Green Daily News), and when I received this book I was over the moon.  I was not disappointed.  Weber has the ability to weave together a beautiful tapestry of words, linking diverse cultures, sci-fi and fantasy is a way that had me turning page after page, until the point I could no longer keep my eyes open.  I finished this book in two days – and it only took me that long because I had to go to work.

Perhaps my favorite thing in this novel is the use of technology in the future (and a scary future it is).  Tech, due to alien influence, has taken on a whole new level of amazing when it comes to gaming – but it also has changed our lives and our privacy.  Anyone who likes gaming or advancing technology is going to love this book.  They hack into systems, change living environment digitally and write code. The best part is that it also deals with the negative side of all of these changes, and sometimes that gets glossed over within futuristic novels.

Characters, I believe, have always been Weber’s strong suit and she did not let me down now.  Perhaps my favorite character is Claudius, because he constantly made me laugh out loud while reading. He was certainly a great point of comedic relieve when needed, but he also was serious as it was called for – a dual character which I always appreciate.  Miguel and Sofi have some serious trust issues going on due to their past, and I generally loved their story line together.  Though I did occasionally really wish they would just speak up, I understand the difficulty that we all have doing that, and how we often sink back into our “protective” selves when our hearts are broken.

Characters also surprised me. I had suspicions about some of them – some proved true and some did not.  Something I always like in a book.  The characters have flaws, and their reactions always proved pretty genuine to reality.  Time wise, they also seemed to fit within the world – not to mention being pretty culturally diverse.  In this day and age that can be a hard thing to pull off well, but Weber did it.  The best thing is that Weber weaves in many themes that you pick up on if you know her writing, such as human trafficking.  On the plus side, because fans were asking she wrote back on Goodreads and gave us a list of themes she was exploring beneath the surface: “human trafficking, politics & elitism, strong women, identity, sibling relationships, parent/child relationships, how our words & actions impact others, the role the past plays in a person’s choices, how we retain our humanity.”

On the note of sibling relationships, I loved Sofi and her brother Shilo.  It is the driving force of the novel, and that really is a great change.  While I appreciated the love story sort of happening, I almost wish it did not factor in at all.  It would be nice to have a few books where siblings, family and friendships take the main role, and love stories do not have to be mentioned (I see the selling points though – literally).

Action is not at all lacking within this novel.  Though there are a few slow moments as needed, we quickly jump from one scene to the next, with unexpected turns.  Weber always writes from the point of view of both Sofi and Miguel, so be prepared for the shift – but always in third person and from chapter to chapter. I did want more information on the past history of Earth, but Weber does a great job of world building at a decent pace, without leaving us hanging or slowing down the story.  I learned everything I needed to, in order to understand things as they happened. In large part, there are things we do not know simply because the characters themselves do not know it.

One criticism I have seen, and that I kind of agree with is the fact that these teenagers have jobs way beyond their years.  Now, the game that starts the book off is for teenagers, age 17 and under only, but Miguel is a 17 year old ambassador.  While this is a futuristic world, and we do not know the age demographics of everyone, supposedly technology cures many things.  Perhaps that will be explored more in the next book. Maybe not.  It is a young adult book, and good enough that I threw that piece of common sense out the window and just enjoyed the story, and what was happening.

Be prepared – it does end in quite the cliffhanger. It is a duology, and the sequel, “Reclaiming Shilo Snow” will be released on March 6th 2018.  You can connect with Mary Weber via her website (http://www.maryweber.com/) on Facebook @MaryWeberAuthor, Iinstagram @MaryWeberAuthor, Twitter @mchristineweber, and Goodreads. She is lots of fun to follow, and her website stays pretty up to date.

No Damsel in Distress Here – A Stranger at Fellsworth

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A Stranger at Fellsworth by Sarah E. Ladd – Published by Thomas Nelson, 2017, 324 pages.

Buy here @ Amazon. (And no, right now I make no commission from this :P)

I was sent this book by the publisher for an honest review.

I must say, I loved it. I had another book I had to finish first, and my fingers were itching to start reading this one once it arrived in the mail. I was in the mood for a good romance. And this certainly was, and then some.  I always love romances based in the past, and in England.  My title may be just a tad bit misleading – she is in distress a few times, but rightly so. However, what I utterly loved about this book is that SHE chooses to get herself away from a bad situation, and in every thing that follows, she is a woman making choices for herself.  There was no captured/kidnapped/etc. type romance going on here.  There was even a greater plot to the book. So I loved that aspect of it.

The pacing is quite well done. I did not want to put it down to sleep, and finished it the next day after work. I even read it on my lunch break.  The timing of the romance is great (even if slightly cheesy. But I mean, come on! It has to be a little cheesy!). Oh and Owen, I do love Owen.

There a people you despise, people you pity, and people you love.  There are some you question, some you could care less about. It’s all pretty great.  I liked the topics that are tackled in this book (abuse/bullying/rumors) and I think that is always a great thing for an author to do.

The locations are lovely, and the descriptions beautiful.  They are nicely detailed and I would  not say overdone (though I do love details).  We get to see London, and then Fellsworth.  There is a school, and normal every day life.  The issues that a woman faced during this time period are also brought up quite well.

As a quick note – this is Christian Fiction.  She talks about her mother’s faith, her faith, etc.  So that is a topic that is brought up – she prays to God – etc.  It is not over done.  Just a warning to those who do not like that kind of thing.

There are two other in this series so far (The Curiosity Keeper and Dawn at Emberwilde).  They have pretty great reviews as well.  I will be writing a more detailed book review of this for Bowling Green Daily News, which I will link when it is published.  I rate it 4 stars!

And hey – do you want me to try my hand at a video review? Let me know in the comments!