Monday, May 21, 2018

ARC #Review - Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Conspiracy of Magic # 1
Format: E-Galley, 372 pages
Release Date: May 30, 2018
Publisher: Another World Press
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult / Urban Fantasy

In the contest to keep their magic, the only options may be die... or kill.

Each year, the North American Confederation of Mages assesses every sixteen-year-old novice. Some will be chosen. The rest must undergo a procedure to destroy their magical ability unless they prove themselves in the mysterious and brutal Mages' Exam.

Disadvantaged by her parents' low standing, Rocío Lopez has dedicated herself to expanding her considerable talent to earn a place in the Confederation. Their rejection leaves her reeling—and determined to fight to keep her magic.

Long ashamed of his mediocre abilities, Finn Lockwood knows the Confederation accepted him only because of his prominent family. Declaring for the Exam instead means a chance to confirm his true worth.

Thrown into the testing with little preparation, Rocío and Finn find themselves becoming unlikely allies—and possibly more. But the Exam holds secrets more horrifying than either could have imagined. What are the examiners really testing them for? And as the trials become increasingly vicious, how much are they willing to sacrifice to win?

The first in a new series by USA Today bestselling author Megan Crewe, Ruthless Magiccombines the magic of Harry Potter with the ferocity of The Hunger Games alongside a poignant romance. Fans of Cassandra Clare and Holly Black, look no further for your next urban fantasy fix. 

Ruthless Magic is the first installment in author Megan Crewe's Conspiracy of Magic series. The story is actually told in two separate narratives; 16-year old Finn Lockwood, son of the man, Jonathan Lockwood, who helped bring Mage's into the light of day. The second narrative is by 16-year old Rocio Lopez who is a much, much better magician than Finn but doesn't have the same options open to her. While Finn is from a long lineage of mages, Rocio's parents have been Dampered, or, had their magic contained so it's at the barest minimum. 

Let me say that I recommend readers pick up Magic Unmasked before you read this story. Magic Unmasked actually takes place 40 years before this story, however, there are several key players in the story, including Jonathan Lockwood, and Raymond Lockwood, who appear in both installments. Magic Unmasked focuses on Jonathan and another character who I won't spoil since there's no point. It was because of Jonathan's action in Unmasked, that have led to the world these characters live in now.

This is a world where old magic, mixes with new magic, mixes with those like Rocio who are extremely talented but are often left out of the elite schools where magic is taught at a higher level. In this world, when you turn 16, you are either chosen for the College of North America Confederation of Mages, or you are Dampered. There is, however, another choice and that is to opt into a brutal contest called the Mage's Exam where only the top survivors are chosen for the College, or other opportunities.

Both Finn, who doesn't believe his family takes him seriously, and Rocio, who spent years at a much less prestigious school in Manhattan, opt into the Mage's Exam along with 54 other candidates from all over the country. Since Finn's best friend Prisha Mathurs is an important secondary character, I will mention that she chooses the Mage's Exam as well. Prisha is what the author calls new money. To become a Champion, Finn, Rocio, & Prisha will have to survive 5 days of testing. 5 days of the most brutal, the most diabolical, the most nerve shattering testing you've read about since, well, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau.

As a reviewer, we are supposed to tell you who our favorite characters are and why, right? Well, I have to say that I give Rocio the edge since she is utterly impressive, powerful, and really good at magic. Without her magic, she would be just another person on the streets with no future and no expectations. Rocio is also searching for answers to what happened to her brother Javi who disappeared 3 years ago, and has been presumed dead. 

Finn is second since he is someone who is trying to prove himself and not be taken for granted because of his name. He isn't at the top of any mage list. He's not even in the middle. He's probably at the bottom which gives certain family members pause to question what they are going to do with him. What makes Finn a really good hero, is that he wants to actually use his magic for good, not unlike his own father in Magic Unmasked. Finn doesn't like that the Confederation has so much power to decide a person's fate, especially when there are those like Rocio and Prisha who are just as talented as those from old money magic families.

I am definitely eager to read the sequel whenever it is planned for release. There are a whole lot of avenues the author has left for herself to explore from both Finn and Rocio's perspectives after the final bell is tallied, and those who survived are named Chaptions, or end up Dampened.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

#Stacking the Shelves #284 (Week Ending 05/19/2018)

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course ebooks!

Thanks for Stopping by!
A smaller haul this week. Good thing too since my Kindle decided to stop working. Thankfully, Amazon had a Mother's Day special which I took advantage of. I must admit. I am an addict. I have way too may books on my Kindle. Not kidding! I have 140 pages of books! Grrrr
Have a great weekend!

This Weeks Reviews: 

 Monday - Inferno by Julie Kagawa (YA, Fantasy)

Tuesday - Personal Demons by Rachel Collett (YA, Paranormal)

Wednesday - Stormcaster by Cinda Williams Chima (YA, Fantasy)

Thursday - Legendary by Stephanie Garber (YA, Fantasy)

 Friday - Infamous by Alyson Noel (YA, Mystery)

Saturday - War and Wind by Alex Lidell (YA, Fantasy)

*REC'D VIA Publisher & NetGalley & Library

Friday, May 18, 2018

Weekend #Review - War and Wind by Alex Lidell #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Tides # 2
Format: E-Book, 356 pages
Release Date: June 20, 2017
Publisher: Danger Bearing Press
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

A cowardly captain. An incompetent crew. A mission she can't fail. 

Nile and her small band of loyal midshipmen saved the ship, and Captain Rima might just kill them for it . . . one young officer at a time. No one and nothing on the Aurora is safe anymore, least of all Nile's explosive secrets or her connection with Domenic, which vibrates between them like a cutlass speared into the deck. 

When the shifting tide of war suddenly turns Aurora's backwater outpost into a vital battleground, Nile faces an impossible choice between duty and freedom. In a cascade of violence, gunpowder, and lies, Nile will soon discover who has her back and who wants to stab a dagger in it. To save the ones she loves, Nile may have to sacrifice everything.

War & Wind, by author Alex Lidell, is the second installment in the authors Tides series. This installment picks up where Air & Ash left off. As a summary, Princess Nile Greysik has found herself onboard the Lyron League Ship Aurora under Captain Rima and first officer Domenick Dana. Barred by her own Kingdom of Ashing from serving on any naval vessel thanks to her own brothers nonsense and a political marriage to a Prince from Felielle she had no desire of participating in, Nile slipped into the night and joined the crew of the Aurora.

Niles, aka Ash, has tried to remain as an unknown sailor, but that really didn't last long with Captain Rima's actions and the fact that she is Gifted, a trait that is considered abhorrent in most of the six Kingdoms of the Lyron League. Due to her own actions in the previous installment, there is a deep, and troubling feeling among the crew, especially the midshipmen who listened to Niles in a pivotal moment in the previous story. This leads to betrayal, destroyed friendships, dishonor, and cowardice by a ship's captain, which leads Nile to doing something absolutely brilliant. 

I'm repeating myself from my review of Air & Ash, but so be it. Even though Niles tends to make some silly mistakes, she is absolutely fantastic. You can push her, but she doesn't easily break. Yes, she is human, and therefore emotions do play a part in her actions. However, she's intelligent & she's had more seafaring time than nearly everyone onboard the Aurora, and yet, time and time again she faces challenges because of a Captain who is a coward, arrogant, spiteful, hateful, and deviously corrupt. 

We absolutely learn that Niles is a born to lead. When trouble raises its ugly head, and the Captain runs away like a dog with his tail between his legs, Nile's takes the bull by the horn and does what others are too afraid of doing. She commandeers a ship along with Catsper and his Marines. Are there consequences for her actions? Oh, yes. Niles relationship with Domenic Dana continues to be one of ups and downs and everything in between. In all honesty, I would have preferred that Niles found a way to connect with Marine Lieutenant Catspar who has found ways to be around whenever Nile's is in trouble.

In this book, we are introduced a new character; Captain Ral Quinn of the People's Republic of Tirik ship Hope. Quinn isn't someone who suddenly shows up and then disappears in a blaze of agony, or glory, or whatever else you would like to come up with. The other knock to the head is when Nile's secret of who she really is comes out and trouble arrives on her doorstep in the form of Rima. Rima is an opportunistic slime ball. There I said it and I'm glad. As I said before, Nile can make some really silly mistakes, but more often than not, she makes level headed decisions that proves that she was born with the heart and the mind of a much wiser and older leader.

There is yet another character who appears in this book, Prince Tamiath of Felielle who is supposed to be Nile's intended. And yet, the author twists his story to the point where I almost reduced my rating by a half. Not a fan of the twist at all, but that's on me, not the writer. I'm just saying it's an easy cop out and unnecessary. I did, however, like Aaron who is also from Felielle. Aaron adds a bit of humor which is desperately needed. There is a bit more of a political aspect to this story since Nile's is the first person to be allowed in the territory of a country that has remained neutral while the rest of these countries have been at war for years. As with Air and Ash, the ending of this book definitely bridges to the third installment called Sea and Sand which I have also just finished. 

Friday #Review - Infamous by Alyson Noel #YALit #Contemporary

Series: Beautiful Idols # 3
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages 
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Mysteries

There’s no shortage of suspense, glitz, or scandal in the gripping conclusion to #1 New York Times bestselling author Alyson Noël’s Beautiful Idols trilogy.

Layla Harrison never imagined she’d see the inside of a jail cell, but sometimes fate can be as nasty as a commenter on her celebrity gossip blog. Luckily, she wasn’t alone—fellow promoters Aster Amirpour and Tommy Phillips were also detained when Hollywood It Girl Madison Brooks’s dead body turned up at an Unrivaled nightclub.
But it wasn’t Madison at all. The real Madison Brooks is alive and hiding out after escaping a kidnapping attempt that almost took her life. Once the police discover they’ve made a mistake, Layla, Tommy, and Aster are set free—only to discover that they’re all being played.

However, none of their dirty little secrets compares to the one Madison has been keeping her entire life, and her past is dangerously close to being revealed. Which means Madison must come out from behind the shadows to ensure that she doesn’t lose everything she’s worked for, regardless of who might get caught in the crossfire.

Infamous, by author Alyson Noel, is the third and final installment in the authors Beautiful Idols trilogy. Club promoters Layla, Aster, and Tommy never imagined that entering the Unrivaled competition would land them in the middle of a celebrity murder investigation, but sometimes fate can be as nasty as the anonymous comments on a Hollywood gossip blog. But Madison Brooks isn’t dead. Layla, Aster, and Tommy have been set up, and as Madison’s dirty little secrets creep closer to the light, they discover Madison will do anything to keep her past hidden—no matter who gets caught in the crossfire. Once more we find that the author has decided to tell her story through the narratives of Aster Amirpour, Layla Harrison, Tommy Phillips, Madison Brooks, Mateo Luna, and Trena Moretti. Infamous picks up right where Blacklist left off. 

As the story opens, we find that Madison has been rescued by long time supporter, and protector Paul Banks. She's wounded, sore, malnourished, weak from her captivity by an unknown person or persons who apparently have a vendetta planned out to perfection against her, and holding a deeply seething anger against those who were responsible. Madison knows that Hollywood is a fickle town and while someone is destroying her reputation by digging up her past, she knows that one can have both devastating defeats, and soaring personal triumphs.

Layla's life has been turned upside down. She has been arrested, her blog, Beautiful Idols, has taken a huge hit and she is receiving death threats for her presumed participation in what is happening to Madison. Layla once again is in a precarious situation. Someone continues to send her strange text message, as well as packages wherever she may be. Whomever is responsible for what's happening to Madison, has apparently decided that Layla will be the person to totally tear apart Madison's life apart for the entire world to read about and expose her for her secretive background.

Aster spends most of the story with Ryan which in my opinion is a good thing. Ryan keeps her head straight and in the right direction when all she wants to do is be angry towards the persons who set her up for Madison's alleged murder and disappearance. With a court date soon approaching, and her future all but destroyed, Aster, who is also being blackmailed by the anonymous source, has to pull together every ounce of support she can find in order to remain free.

Tommy is the last person to see Madison alive, a fact that he can't live down no matter how hard he tries. Even though he has a deal of a lifetime with a record company, he has no idea what his future holds. Will he be sent to prison again, and spend the rest of his life behind bars? Or, will Madison be found and Tommy's name cleared? Tommy isn't from California. He moved here to find fortune and discover who his father was. That being discovered, it now becomes a question as to whether or not his father is behind what is happening to his friends, and himself. 

Mateo is the odd man out in this story. He's Layla's ex, who has been taunted, teased, and propped up by Heather Rollins which has lead to some much need capital to help his very sick younger sister Valentina. Mateo is just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and pretty much remains a non-factor throughout the story. But, I do believe that Mateo has a whole lot more moral high ground and standing than our last character. 

Trena Moretti's stardom has rocketed to the top quickly thanks to her never relentless search for answers about Madison's past, and why she disappeared and who was actually responsible. To me, Trena is a morally ambiguous sellout just like all journalists on cable TV today who chase after the gold unicorn, while leaving facts behind. He even goes so far as to use Aster's younger brother Javen. 

I really want to talk about Ira for a moment. While all of this with Madison, Aster, Layla, and Tommy is happening, Ira's business is blooming. He's raking in so much money now, that truth be told, you have to ask yourselves if Ira was working with whomever planned and set up this revenge plot against Madison. Would Ira really do that to his own son? Absolutely. Would Ira cast away the girl he thinks of his daughter? Again, absolutely. But, can Ira really be that cold and disturbed to put four innocent people thru literal hell? Read the book and find out!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday #Review - Legendary by Stephanie Garber #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Caraval (#2)
Format: E-Galley, 464 pages
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

The sequel to the New York Times bestselling and #1 IndieNext Pick Caraval, following Scarlett’s younger sister, Tella, on a journey to the empire’s capital to fulfill a dangerous bargain.

A heart to protect.
A debt to repay.
A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun.

Legendary, by author Stephanie Garber, is the second installment in the authors Caraval series. This book follows Scarlett’s younger sister, Donatella Dragna (Tella), who is the life of every party and every scene she appears in! This time, however, the story moves to a new location and this time it is Tella who chooses to participate in the Caraval games. For those who have read Caraval, Legendary picks up the day after Scarlett's experiences in the twisted game created by the secretive Legend. 

Caraval is a magical performance which usually occurs once a year. But, this year, Legend has chosen to travel to Valenda for Empress Elantine's 75th birthday where a whole new game will take place. Legendary takes place in the opulent, gilded, slightly menacing capital of the Empire. It’s Legend’s Island of Dreams times a hundred. As a reminder, Caraval is a game that is orchestrated by Legend. Nobody knows who Legend really is since there are always different actors playing his part. 

Tella finds herself in an untenable position of owing a favor to Legend. But, that's just the icing on the cake. There's another player involved this time as well, and Jacks is as twisted and as diabolical as they come. Readers will find themselves asking themselves, is this real this time, or just another Legend game? Tella has been trying to discover what really happened to her mother, Paloma, who disappeared 7 years ago. A disappearance that caused lots of problems for Scarlett and Tella alike. 

We've gathered that Legend is a curious sort of character who most likely has a whole lot of enemies chomping at the bit to uncover his identity and to take him down. Who better to use as a pawn than Tella who played a role in Scarlett's games and now owes Legend a favor? Never fail, Scarlett and Julian are still around, but they are more or less tertiary characters with minor roles to play. The most curious part of this story is that Tella is told that if she wins Caraval, she will see her mother again. 

As an added bonus, she is also told that if she wins, she will discover who Legend really is. The story is twisted with a web of lies, and secrets, and revelations that I'm not even going to bother to explain. I would just say to you that if you enjoyed Caraval, get ready for another ride that you won't see what's happening until it hits you in the face. I have to say that Tella is a very intriguing character. However, the ending leaves a whole lot of questions. 

According to the author's page, there will be one more installment in this series called Finale. Release date to come later. When the next installment (Finale) comes out, who will be the lead character? Will it switch back and forth between Tella and her sister Scarlett since Scarlett seems to have her own path ahead of her? Or, will the author continue Tella's journey, especially with what transpired in the end? Guess we shall have to wait another year to find out!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday #Review - Stormcaster by Cinda Williams Chima #YALit #Fantasy

Series: Shattered Realms # 3
Format: Hardcover, 544 pages
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

The empress in the east—the unspeakably cruel ruler whose power grew in Flamecaster and Shadowcaster—tightens her grip in this chilling third installment in the series.

Vagabond seafarer Evan Strangward can move the ocean and the wind, but his magical abilities seem paltry in comparison to Empress Celestine’s. As Celestine’s bloodsworn armies grow, Evan travels to the Fells to warn the queendom of her imminent invasion. If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose.

Meanwhile, the queen’s formidable daughter, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, is already a prisoner aboard the empress’s ship. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled territory. Multiple intricately interwoven storylines converge in this gripping novel about a brave, coordinated effort to undermine a horrific tyrant.

Stormcaster, by author Cinda Williams Chima, is apparently the third out of four installments in the Shattered Realms series, with the final installment supposedly releasing in 2020. If you haven't read this book yet, let me give up a heads up. This is a story filled with multiple storylines from Evan Strangward to Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa and everyone else who has been introduced so far. Like the previous installments, the author spends quite a bit of time introducing you to Evan who we actually have met before.

We ride with him as a 15-year old who is being sought after by Celestine Nazari who claims that she is trying to unite all those with Nazari blood. Apparently, Evan not only wears a magemark on his neck, but also is a Nazari. Later, Evan finds his way to Fallsmarch where he meets characters we've seen in previous books, and characters who have been around since the authors last series which was set 25 years before this one. Really, in essence, it takes a full third of the book to get where the previous installment left off. 

Then, it's a hodge podge story that encompasses everyone including Adrian sul'Han, Lila Barnwell, Captain Halston Maklan, Destin Martin, Jenna Bandelow, and of course,
Alyssa ana’Raisa who was taken along with Breon by Celestine. Let's just save some time, shall we? In the end, Adrian and Lila make their way home and there is a touching reunion which leads to news about Alyssa. Jenna meets Alyssa along with her dragon compatriot Cas. Jenna is still planning on killing Celestine. 

Meanwhile, Lila is involved in almost every single storyline, except Jenna's. I do mean that. I'm not talking hyperbole. She has her hands in so many different characters plans that I am not sure who she is really working for. After escaping from Celestine's army, Hal arrives back home in Ardenscourt
hoping to gather an army to fight against Celestine as well as rescuing Alyssa. Lastly, Destin is also in Ardenscourt trying to avoid a civil war and gain an upper hand by removing obstacles to his plans. 

Oh, and let's not forget that there has been a war going on for 25 years, and now we can add Celestine's advancing armies to the massive kerfuffle. I am rather glad that Raissa hasn't been shoved aside fully. I think there is way more that is to come when it comes to her longevity and ability to survive numerous attempts on her life hoping to end the war. I'm not really a fan of Evan's, nor was I impressed with the author's direction for his character. The problems with having way too many characters and way too many storylines going on at the same time is that certain characters get shoved to the background, like Jenna & Cas. The issue is that all of the storylines are happening concurrently, and thus while something is happening, something else has already happened. I would prefer less characters, and a straight forward storyline. Silly me, right? The only positive is that when we do get to Alyssa's perspective, we get to visit a whole new land and meet Celestine's army that has been blood sworn to her. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday #Review - Personal Demons by Rachel A. Collett #YALit #Paranormal

Series: Personal Demons # 1
Format: E-Book, 374 pages
Release Date: January 28, 2017
Source: Xpresso Book Tours
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal


Deadly with a knife and skilled in hand-to-hand combat, nineteen-year-old Sarah Mathis is far from normal, despite her efforts to be so. Trained from youth to battle the paranoid imaginations of her father, she pushes into society after a lifetime of isolation, only to learn that a supernatural adversary wants her hidden… or dead. 

When her best friend dies in a horrible crash, Sarah learns that the collision was triggered by a man named Jonathan, a deceptively handsome demon that now stalks her—in life and in her dreams. No longer just imaginary shadows, the agents of the supernatural realm target Sarah, compelling her to uncover the truth her father kept concealed. Sarah must accept her destiny as mankind’s Defender and defeat her personal demon before he destroys her soul and everything she loves.

"Simple things will tell you all you need to know about someone you don't know."

Personal Demons, by author Rachel A. Collett, is the first installment in the author's Personal Demons trilogy. As the story opens, 19-year old protagonist Sarah Mathis has suffered a devastating loss of someone who was the first person to ever love Sarah outside of her parents. She has two friends, Laith and Elisa, who she has the same course in college with. What makes Sarah different? She has very vivid dreams. Dreams that have attracted the attention of a character named Jonathan who seems to be everywhere she goes. 

Sarah has had years of training. Training that very few other people have had. She's been taught boxing, self-defense, knife fighting, wrestling, archery, and quarterstaff. She is able to fight off an attacker, and not break down into an emotional wreck. This is sort of a diabolical story in many ways. We, as readers, are told, besides her curious training, that Sarah has an unknown destiny. We are told by a familiar character that she must accept the truth that has been kept from her. She must find what needs to be found. She must accept the destiny that was meant for her. And, she must fight for those left unprotected and right what has been wronged. 

Sarah has had a slew of close calls. People have tried to kidnap her, her house was set on fire by gangsters, a woman tried to run her over for no apparent reason, and mean girls ganged up on her in a bathroom. She does have a curious pendant she got from her deceased mother that seems to warn her when danger is happening. But, Sarah isn't a patient character. She tends to take off to another state entirely and ends up finding major trouble that leads to even more questions, and perhaps a major turning point in her own life as well. 

Jonathan is the most in your face character in the entire book. He is every place that Sarah goes. He haunts her, he tempts and teases and taunts her. He has answers that Sarah needs, but it will only come when Sarah has nobody else to rely on. I also liked Aaron, and that's mainly because he seems to be one of the few who can actually help her stay out of trouble. Elisa and Laith are also interesting characters, but it takes a whole lot of time for them to open their mouths and let Sarah know what is really happening to her. I am totally not impressed with Darius. I think there is more to him than meets the eye test, and will hopefully discover that on my own by reading the sequel.