Blood for Blood

26864835by Ryan Graudin
Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This year has been absolutely fantastic for sequels! Once again I was not disappointed.

Welcome back to 1956 under the rule of the Axis Powers. Skinshifter Yael’s mission to assassinate Adolf Hitler went disastrously awry, and now she’s fleeing for her life with Double Victor Luka Lowe and Adele Wolfe’s brother, Felix. They are trying to meet up with the resistance, which is struggling to overthrow the Third Reich even as reports of Adolf Hitler surviving the Victor’s Ball start surfacing throughout the empire.

Now that she’s not alone, Yael must decide who to trust–and how much–with her past and her present. Through all three characters’ points of view, we see the iron grip of Hitler begin to crumble, and tenuous alliances form.

The break-neck pacing and continuous cliff-hangers of the first book are here too; moments to breathe are brief and few! Through Yael we see desperation, vengeance, and hope from someone who can’t afford the luxury of putting their head down to survive. Through Luka, what happens when “good people” avoid looking at what is going on around them because it is easier. Through Felix, how selfishness can crowd out empathy for anyone else.

I’ve found revolution books tend to struggle in the final act because the stakes have gotten too large for the main characters. Their role in events becomes unbelievable (teens with no experience leading armies?), or it becomes overwhelming to read. This isn’t the case here! Yael and the rest fit in perfectly and realistically in the narrative and still their decisions are surprising.

This is a fitting end to Yael’s story and if you liked the first book it will captivate you just the same!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Blood for Blood is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – Kate’s father was killed over a map to a rumored gold mine and she is ready to avenge him. This YA western is addictive and atmospheric! See my review here.
  • Risuko by David Kudler – Risuko is just a girl who loves to climb, but when her skill is noticed by a noblewoman, she is plucked from obscurity and begins training to become a “very special kind of woman” who may change the course of her country. See my review here.
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – Etta’s violin debut does not go as planned. She is dragged to 1776 by an estranged family member and her family history only gets stranger from there. Etta wants to return to her own time but if she doesn’t locate the astrolabe for her grandfather, she won’t save her mother’s life. See my review here.
  • Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard – Eleanor’s brother goes missing and when she contacts the Spirit Hunters to find him, she learns that a necromancer has captured him. And that a horde of the Dead are going to invade Philadelphia. This might put a damper on her mother’s plans to set her up with a nice boy. See my review here.
  • Briar Rose by Jane Yolen – A contemporary retelling of Sleeping Beauty through Becca’s quest to uncover her grandmother’s past. As she travels the world and starts realizing that her grandmother’s bedtime stories were all true, she must confront dark secrets before she can learn who her grandmother really was.

Six of Crows

23437156by Leigh Bardugo
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

I will do my best not to over-hype this book, but if you love YA fantasy, you need to read it. There’s no way around that. This is my pick for best book of 2015 – the deal is the deal! I will attempt to explain why this is true with limited hyperbole and gushing, but bear with me–this book is one hell of a ride!

I always say a 5-star rating is a book with zero complaints from me, and this one is no exception. The characters and the plot – both weighted equally, both bringing the two halves of a story together into a satisfying thrill ride of unforeseen twists and turns. So many times a complicated plot involves the awkward withholding of information from the reader and a deus ex machina escape from the jaws of death. Neither of these crutches is put into play here and the result is incredible. It’s cinematic and startling and addictive.

Normally having six point-of-view characters would throw up a huge red flag for me, but each member of this group of criminals has their own past, their own push-and-pull relationship with the Dregs, their own reasons for going along with the mad heist Kaz proposes. You care about all of them and each time a chapter ends and the next character takes over, there isn’t one that you want to skip. You don’t groan and say “I wish this chapter was so-and-so”–you are just as eager to see what they are thinking and doing. There is never that feeling of “oh, we are back with the author’s favorite character now, they get all the action and the good lines”–this group is a team of equals and you will love them all!

Perfect pacing, smart dialogue, air-tight plot, hold-your-breath action scenes, badass women, subtle romance, shifting alliances – check, check, check. It’s all here, and it’s amazing! Whether you read the Grisha Trilogy or not, this book takes her world to a whole new level. I spent a week enjoying this savory read and it will be in my end of year wrap-up for sure. I’m already looking forward to the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, due next September!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Six of Crows is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab – Two college students, one thesis seeking the ultimate potential of humanity. Oh, the things that could go wrong and the rivalries that could emerge. This is a suspenseful read with ruthless characters. See my review here.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina discovers the path to becoming her country’s most-feared Young Elite is complicated and filled with small choices. This is an excellent trilogy about the darkness in all of us. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Until Six of Crows, the best fantasy novel I read this year. The magic feels real and the relationships between the characters are incredibly deep. There are some great surprises with the plot. I loved every page! See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – For another story centered around revenge and schemes, the fourth installment in the Throne of Glass series does not disappoint! See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel’s delicate dance along both sides of a war gets more dangerous and complicated by the day. I loved the strategies and mind games in this novel. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A one-and-done story about espionage and alliances in a re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Sophia might be in over her head when it comes to covert activities and saving her family’s fortune. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Divergent

8306857by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – April 25, 2011

Right after The Hunger Games, the YA shelf needed a dystopian series to catch readers, and the Divergent series won that battle. This trilogy follows 16-year-old Tris, who faces the momentous choice of which faction (and virtue) to dedicate her life to: will she remain in Abnegation (the selfless) with her family, or follow her heart to the Dauntless (the brave)? And what consequences will she face as a result?

I heard about this book from my best friend, who happened to attend the same university as Roth and wanted to share the excitement that somebody our age could sign a 3-book + movie rights deal. This was my first exposure to peers writing best-selling material for teens and I was thrilled that this was becoming more commonplace–honestly, I still am!

This was a fun story to read, and several key scenes were so cinematic and beautifully written through Tris’ sparse, direct voice that I couldn’t wait for the next installment.  As it turns out, I feel the first book is the strongest of the trilogy, but it was worth following Tris to the end, and this is still one of the better dystopian options out there, in my opinion. As an added bonus in this genre, there is no love triangle. Tris is a complicated heroine and her world has plenty of mysteries to unlock, but which boy she’ll choose isn’t one of them. I also enjoyed her constantly evolving relationship with her brother Caleb; he challenges her commitments in the best way. Jeanine is an excellent antagonist, with her own complexity and motivations. This small core cast of characters is what pulls you through the wreck of Chicago and its faction systems as Tris struggles to solve her identity and why the Erudite faction believes it should eradicate the Abnegation. Although the series didn’t go where I expected, I appreciated the author’s creative freedom and choices, and I’m curious to see what she does next.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Divergent is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The most obvious comparison, but it is very similar. Twelve districts must send two tributes to the capital to fight to the death on live TV as a reminder of the brutality the totalitarian state saved the people from decades earlier. Katniss volunteers to save her sister, but she quickly learns half of the game is mastering the politics and alliances surrounding her. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – As a literal interpretation of municipal darwinism, the largest cities are mobile and sweep across the world consuming and absorbing each other for resources and labor. Tom finds himself stranded on solid ground and must find a way to survive in this stark post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Mary spent her life in the fenced village deep in a forest, and she knows what happens if she leaves its protection – death by zombies – but she can’t stop dreaming about the ocean, and whether the Sisterhood is telling the truth when they say no one else survived. See my review here.
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver – I haven’t read this yet, but Roth recomends it as an engaging dystopian trilogy that explores a world devoid of all love, and the consequences that brings to the very fabric of society.

To Hold the Bridge

23213811by Garth Nix
YA Fantasy/Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars

Reviewing a book of short stories is hard, even if they are all by the same person. In a collection this size, there were some that I absolutely loved–so much that I wished they were full-length novels–and there were others I struggled to get into, despite knowing they would only be 20-30 pages long. Overall, I’m a fan of his work, and I would recommend these as a way to explore a bunch of worlds and premises in a short amount of time. These are well-written and the majority do an excellent job of pulling you into some level of suspense within the first few pages.

I was most excited about the Old Kingdom novella, To Hold the Bridge. The Old Kingdom Trilogy (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) is one of my favorites, and I was excited to get back into that world. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped–much of the novella is set-up, and the only action occurs at the very end. There’s a lot of exposition, but I was hoping for more from the characters. As always, it just left me wanting more of the Old Kingdom! Another story is a prequel to his novel Shade’s Children, so fans of that book would probably enjoy this peek at that world. It made me want to read it!

The rest of them were a nice surprise and I enjoyed the obvious creative freedom he had with this collection. It felt like anything he ever felt like writing about but couldn’t put into a book deal was included in this volume, and it’s a fun read!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, To Hold the Bridge is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – My favorite Nix novel and the first book in the Old Kingdom trilogy. Sabriel must fight the Dead as she tries to save her father and their kingdom. See my review here.
  • Shade’s Children by Garth Nix – The enigmatic computer-generated Shade rescues children from the Overlord’s dormitories before they are killed and harvested to make war machines. All he wants in return is for them to provide information from increasingly dangerous missions. I haven’t read it yet but this sci-fi novel is one of his more well-known works.
  • Rags and Bones edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt – This collection of short stories crosses all genres with a paranormal thread running through all of them. See my review here.

What’s new this month

Here are a few books I’m looking forward to this July:

Ink and Bone7/7 – Ink and Bone – by Rachel Caine

The mythic Alexandrian Library is always something that piques my interest. In this case it houses the antagonists, the elite who control knowledge and ban the private ownership of books. I love the tangled emotion put into the blurb, about the Library’s value vs the ability to find knowledge and own it yourself. It’s not black and white and I think there’s potential here for a lot of fascinating conflicts and commentary. This sounds like something different and worth checking out.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Silver in the Blood7/7 – Silver in the Blood – by Jessica Day George

This falls into the somewhat typical YA fantasy/paranormal genre, but there are a few key things that put this on my list. First of all, that cover art! Love. It. Second, by going to Romania I’m hoping this becomes a mashup of Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter universe and Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Eastern European influences combined with magic and a central female friendship? Girls discovering their powers together? Yes.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Go Set a Watchman7/14 – Go Set a Watchman – by Harper Lee

It’s safe to say this novel is unprecedented! There is some controversy about releasing this volume, but since it is coming out whether I agree with the decision or not, I feel compelled to read what she spent so much time working on. To Kill a Mockingbird is such an important novel, and I’m sure having this companion piece will be valuable, too. It follows many of the same characters twenty years after the events in her first novel, and I’m intrigued to see how Scout’s mindset has changed and how she feels about those memories.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon

Pretending to be Erica7/21 – Pretending to Be Erica – by Michelle Painchaud – Debut novel

This novel’s premise gripped me immediately – I couldn’t believe it was a debut at first. A girl pretending to be a missing heiress years later to pull off a heist? It’s bold and unique, and I can’t wait to read it! I’m curious to see if the writing lives up to the plot, but I’m hoping this turns out to be one of the more memorable books this summer.

More info here: Goodreads and Amazon


23399192by Sharon Cameron
YA Fiction / YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars

This is a genre-mashing action-packed read and I loved it! Centuries after a global cataclysmic event, the Sunken City that was once Paris finds itself on the brink of revolution once again. The Razor beheads anyone who disagrees with the new regime. The Red Rook liberates prisoners from their fate in the dead of night, and everyone wonders who he is and how he does it. Everyone except Sophia Bellamy, because she is the Rook.

This story of spies and smugglers takes place over the course of a few weeks, as the Rook evades capture and the net tightens around Sophia’s secret identity. It’s full of plots, counter-plots, betrayals and surprises and the pacing is marvelous! I’ve never read The Scarlet Pimpernel, so I’m not sure how much of the plot would be easier to guess thanks to the intentional homage by the author, but that being said, everything comes together in the end in a satisfactory way, rather like an old movie.

It’s a bit long, and the characters don’t experience much of an arc, but it’s a standalone novel and it was too fun for those critiques to annoy me. I’d recommend this for something different in a very genre-based market.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Rook is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – This is a similar tone and way of wrapping up the plot strings. Alliances are formed and changed as Echo and her companions seek the Firebird to save their world from destruction. See my review here.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar – An older story that has a similar feel of narration. We follow Stanley Yelnatz as he tries to break an old curse on his family while at a summer camp with questionable activities.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – A zombie who doesn’t want to be undead finds himself experiencing strange feelings around Julie, a beautiful girl who doesn’t want to accept the zombie apocalypse as the end of the world.

Casino Royale

15954464by Ian Fleming
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – first in series – 1953

“Mine’s Bond. James Bond.” I finally got around to reading this book because the James Bond franchise is so huge. I grew up watching the old films with Sean Connery and then Pierce Brosnan, and now finally Daniel Craig. I enjoyed the campy spy stories that gradually grew to define the action adventure genre for me, and I had to know how much of it came from the author and what bits Hollywood added in to sell it. Minor spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen or read Casino Royale.

Fleming’s style strongly reminded me of Ernest Hemingway. It’s dry, sparse, but just when you let your guard down there’s a line that cuts right to the heart of human nature. They both exhibit a negative view toward women, which I expect from the 1950s. People also smoked in hospitals–times change. As a product of that era, this doesn’t bother me but it is worth mentioning.

As on screen, Bond is cool, confident, and misogynistic (a trait he recognizes but shrugs off as a side effect of female uselessness). He views his unexpected partner Vesper Lynd first as an annoyance, then upgrades her to slightly useful. He gets downright excited (professionally and sexually) at the idea of her being a competent partner both in the field and possibly as a wife, but after her betrayal she is downgraded to “dead bitch” (instead of superior double agent?) and he moves on.

What most impressed me was turning the rather dull act of watching a high stakes card game into a fascinating sequence of power plays and tension. It’s easy to narrate game-play. “Draw a card, examine it, determine your move” and so on, but I found this to be more engaging than I expected and it wasn’t stretched overlong. It was also a pleasure getting to know James Bond as the author intended. Bond isn’t as inhumanly capable here as he is in the films, and he actually gets a little philosophical after brushes with death. There’s a lot more going on in his mind than snappy one-liners here, which I liked.

The book itself is quite short (about 170 pages), and if the other novels are the same I’ll probably end up reading more of them. It’s a good, quick read, with understated but believable details. I highly recommend reading up on Ian Fleming himself, as well. These stories are all based on his experiences within the British government.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Casino Royale is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  •  From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming – This is regarded to be one of the best in the series.
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – For unparalleled diction, look no further. This also has a similar atmosphere of war and intrigue, and a man finding his place in it.
  • The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie – This jumps into the mystery genre, but it mixes the humor and darker forces at work in a similar manner.

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