City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series: The Divine Cities, Book 3
Published by: Broadway Books on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
Sigrud je Harkvaldsson has been waiting to be called up by his old friend, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, thinking it possible the day may never come. But when Shara is assassinated, Sigrud knows he must act, that he must avenge his friend. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Shara was more active than anyone expected in retirement and she fully intended for Sigrud to pick up her war exactly where she left off. And when it comes to anything mysterious going on in Bulikov, you can almost guarantee there’s some connection to the Divinities. And even though they’ve all supposedly been defeated, they always seem to keep coming back. But to win Shara’s war and, as it seems, to survive, Sigrud will need to find a way to put an end to what amounts to an ancient curse that tests the limits of even his own understanding.
This is an action-packed final installment in what I personally consider to be an epic fantasy trilogy. It is interesting to read a Sigrud-driven story, considering his involvement in the previous two books. And there are elements here that tie back to the very beginning, where the motivations for the events that triggered the start of the first book are explained. And the explanation and Sigrud’s journey take readers down some unexpected paths. An excellent read, and a fitting close to this series…
[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program.]
Wicked Frat Boy Ways by Todd Gregory
Published by: Bold Strokes Books on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)
Phil Connor and Brandon Benson live to challenge each other to a dare. But they do not always think about how their actions affect the people around them. With Phil being president of their fraternity for their senior year, the two know that a wild ride is in store. New pledges, transfers, and straight brothers who have no problem getting a little help from the willing gay guy next store provide so many opportunities for Phil and Brandon to play. But love, sex, and life–these are not games. And if they’re not careful, they just might be faced with unintended consequences they can never take back…
I must say these two guys did very little to make me want to root for them. They are not upstanding young men, but that also seems to be very much the point of the story. And at least some of the people around them see them for who they really are, even if they are quite good at hiding themselves from those who are closest.
There were two things that bothered me a bit as I was reading. First, there are references to how hard it would be to be out and gay in the fraternity. Yet there’s at least a handful of gay men who are brothers, and their sexuality isn’t really a secret from anyone else. And second, the ending was a bit more abrupt than I was expecting. As I take more time to reflect on it, I think it does have an interesting effect in terms of how the story flows. But I would have liked to see at least something about what came after…
But it’s still an interesting read with some very steamy moments.
[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.]
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby
Series: York, Book 1
Published by: Walden Pond Press on May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz like where they live. Not only is there a community in their apartment building, but it is one of the five remaining Morningstarr buildings, part of the architectural vision of the mysterious Morningstarr twins who built much of early New York City. But the Morningstarrs did more than just build magnificent buildings before they disappeared; they built a puzzle, the Old York Cipher, into their design of the city. And legend has it that the one who solves it will find an untold treasure waiting at the end. Tess, Theo, and Jaime set out on a mission to solve a puzzle that no one has been able to solve for nearly 200 years. They hope doing so will prove the cipher is real and save their building. And they also know that once the remaining buildings are destroyed, the likelihood of anyone ever solving the puzzle will go from slim to none. Their journey involves solving a mystery, but it is not one that is without danger. For where there is talk of treasure, there will always be people with less-than-honorable intentions sniffing around…
This is a fun urban fantasy story with some hints of steam punk that I really enjoyed reading. Following these amateur sleuths on their adventure was even a bit exhilarating at times. This is billed as a middle grades book, and it has a spirit and energy that fits for that audience (but also audiences of all ages) quite well. It is a bit on the hefty side for middle grades, both in terms of length and some aspects of the plot, but I think it would be a great choice for earlier advanced readers or older students looking to jump into reading longer novels.
[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher.]
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame in the Mist, Book 1
Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers on May 16, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)
Mariko, the daughter of an influential samurai, finds she has few choices in life. Though she is intelligent, skilled, and driven, her place is to marry the son of the emperor and do her duty to her family. But when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan on her way to the imperial city, Mariko escapes and finds herself alone. Using her cunning, Mariko infiltrates the Black Clan in disguise, and she soon learns there is more to the story of this rogue gang that she had imagined. She also finds that the Black Clan values her knowledge and skills in a way her family never seemed to do. And as she grows closer to the Black Clan’s leader, she finds she may need to make a hard decision about whether her duty to her family is the most important thing for her to consider.
I was a little uncertain of what to expect when I started this book, having only scanned the blurb but hearing a lot of buzz about it beforehand. It is certainly an intriguing story, one where history, social class, and vengeance are big influencers on the lives and actions of the characters. There are a few surprises along the way, which keep the story interesting, and it does a good job of setting up the rest of the series. I will note that while I have seen some categorizations of this as a young adult book, I question that–or at least place some caveats–because of some graphic depictions of violence that may not be appropriate for younger readers.
[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy received from the publisher via the First to Read program.]
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Published by: Hogarth on May 9, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)
Author Lady Daniels needs to finish her memoir. And now that she’s separated from her husband, she realizes she may need some help. And that help comes in the form of S., a young artist who is willing to work as a nanny to make ends meet. She connects right away with Lady’s younger son, and Lady’s capable-of-taking-care-of-himself older son, Seth, does not seem to mind her all that much either. But as everyone in the house gets to know each other better, secrets bubble to the surface that everyone hoped would stay hidden. And sometimes the truth can be the most poisonous of all…
I found this to be an enjoyable and interesting read. There’s quite a bit of embedded commentary here on mother-daughter dynamics, both between Lady and S. and between each of them and their own mothers. Add in the interactions between Lady and her two sons, and there might be more here about parent-child relationships in general. And, of course, there is the question of truth and omission of fact. Is it okay to keep information from someone if you think it will protect them or make their life easier? Or is that really up to anyone else to decide besides the person it all affects? And when our secrets are revealed, regardless of how it happens, do we really have anyone else to blame but ourselves?
[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance reading copy provided by the publisher via the First to Read program.]
There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon
Published by: Pantheon Books on May 9, 2017
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)
Marian never really felt like she fit with the rest of her family, with the exception of her brother, Johnny, who she felt was truly a kindred spirit. And after his tragic death, she broke ties with them and headed to Europe to volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. Now in her nineties, Marian relays her experiences to her granddaughter, Amelia, telling a story that spans two continents and over seven decades. Having been tested by family, friends, strangers, and circumstances, Marian’s story challenges notions of what it means to be a woman, a sister, a daughter, a mother, and a moral person in the face of adversity.
If you enjoy historical fiction and character studies, then this is a book you would be likely to enjoy. Mary Gordon weaves a tale that keeps you turning the pages, watching and waiting to see what happens next in Marian’s journey. Her story is a reflection of an eventful life lived, one of a woman who did the best she could despite the circumstances in which she found herself.
Cold Summer by Gwen Cole
Published by: Sky Pony Press on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)
Kale Jackson has an exciting special ability, but it is one that he is beginning to think is not quite so exciting anymore. He travels through time. That might sound fascinating to many people, but Kale cannot control it. Though he can usually tell when he’s likely to travel shortly before he does, he can’t stop it or force it to happen. And with his recent travels taking him back to World War II, fighting on the front lines as a sharpshooter, the danger has taken much of the fun out of the whole experience. Of course there’s also the fact that he cannot explain to most people why he disappears for days at a time without any notice. They would never believe him–including his own father.
But one person who has always believed Kale is Harper, a childhood friend who used to live next door. And when Kale finds out she’s returned for the summer, he has the smallest glimmer of hope that quickly fades. In the years that have gone by Kale has changed. But so has Harper. Although she promised she would never ask Kale where he travels, she is more assertive and insistent that Kale not resign himself to being alone. The two quickly reforge a friendship that has the potential to become something more. That is, until Harper looks up Kale’s involvement in World War II online. What she finds has the potential to change everything.
This is a wonderfully written young adult science fiction story that doesn’t rely on all of the tropes that are so common these days in the genre. Yes, there’s angst and a budding relationship, but they don’t drive the story. Instead we see Kale, a young man who feels very much at the mercy of this thing he can’t control or explain, finding his way back to feeling like he has some agency over his life. And we see Harper, a young woman who has recently claimed her own agency, working to feel comfortable with her choices while trying to help Kale do the same. And everyone will have to love Uncle Jasper. Definitely recommended reading!
[Disclaimer: This review is based on an advance review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.]