A Torch Against the Night Book Review

atorchagainstthenightTitle: A Torch Against the Night
Series: An Ember in the Ashes #2
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Publisher: Razorbill
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 452
Format: Purchased Hardcover

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire.

Laia is determined to break into Kauf—the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison—to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own—one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape…and kill them both.

As this is a sequel there may be spoilers in this review.

This sequel to An Ember in the Ashes was nothing short of a roller coaster of a ride, and it was such a phenomenal way to continue the story.

Remember when we weren’t getting a sequel? Oh, how those days were dark and unfair. But now that we have it, and we’re getting two more books after this one, I have to say that the publisher made the right decision because Sabaa SLAYED this book.

The plot picked up right where the first book left off with Elias and Laia running for their lives from the Empire and Blackcliff. It was a few intense first chapters, including with Helene being interrogated for answers, and I thought that it was a strong beginning for the book. As the book continued, the plot began to grow and twist and there were so many hints that I tried to pick up as I went along to figure out if someone was who they were, or if a certain action was going to happen, or if there was something that foreshadowed something later in the book.

It was a roller coaster ride and I think I fell in love with the characters even more in this book, though there were a few bumps along the way that had me wanting to yell at them to pick a different choice.

Laia was just as strong in this book as the last and I felt that she definitely grew as a character. Her mysterious power was revealed more and she didn’t even realize she was doing it until an event later on in the book. I thought that her own surprise was a good thing to incorporate, but I also wish her powers were explained a little more. I do love her, though, because despite everything she’s gone through she still has a very kind and caring heart, and she has a fire in her that doesn’t burn out. Though there was misplaced trust and uncertain feelings, I thought that she was just an exceptional character.

Elias was going through a lot in this book mentally and physically, and I think that coupled with what he had been told about himself being, essentially, a curse kind of took a lot out of him. He held himself back a lot and wanted to do a lot of things on his own when he would have benefited from having someone help him, which was very frustrating to me. But, I understood, at the same time, where he was coming from given his past and everything that went along with it. I did think he was extremely brave, though, and that he made a lot of good and bad decisions. He’s only human, after all.

Helene was probably the most conflicted of all of the characters because her heart and her duty were at war with one another the entire book, and I felt so sad for her because of it. She tries to be the Blood Shrike everyone expects her to be, and she’s extremely smart and capable of her new job, but almost everyone looks down on her because she’s a young woman. I like that she never let that get to her, though, and instead showed everyone just how strong and capable she actually was. I want her to find her own happiness because she deserves it, damn it.

There were so many secrets throughout this novel, so many questions that I have, and I need to know what they are. Why does Marcus talk to himself? What is the Commandant actually doing? What will happen with Elias and Laia? I need to know!

The action sequences were also stellar because they were fast paced and I could imagine every single slice or hit with clarity; I felt like I was watching an action movie. Everything felt like it belonged in that world seamlessly, and I think that the way it was delivered made it beautiful.

There was some romance in the book, and when a certain thing happened I was like, “But why?” And then more things were revealed and I was like, “Oh hell no.” I think that the tension between Laia and Elias was so thick you could have cut it with a knife, even though both of them tried to deny it multiple times. It was cute, really.

I’m just reeling from this book. My mind doesn’t know what to think, where to go, or how to really comprehend everything that went on because there was SO much that happened. I’m satisfied with how it ended the way it did and I’m definitely excited to read the next book.

I rated this book 5/5 stars and highly recommend it if you’ve read the first book.

Orange: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 & 2 Manga Review

orange1Title: Orange: The Complete Collection 1
Author/Illustrator: Ichigo Takano
Publisher: Seven Seas
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
Genre: Manga – Teen – Sci-fi, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: Purchased Paperback

A Plea From the Future

On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she recieves a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny?

When my best friend suggested this manga series to me, I knew I would love it. She knew I would love it. And frankly: I did love it. It was heartwarming, very touching, and it reached all of the places inside of me that I try to not touch – and I needed every minute of it.

There are trigger warnings for depression and suicide and there are spoilers below.

From the characters to the story to the art, I found that each part was expanded upon and really thought over carefully as the story grew and we got to learn more about these characters and just why it is they have to save Kakeru.

Naho, our leading lady, was kind of like your typical shoujo heroine who’s very modest, easily embarrassed, but has a big heart. She cares very deeply for her friends and doesn’t want anyone to get hurt – emotionally or otherwise. I thought that she was very cute and that she did her best to help her friend (who she obviously developed feelings for). I wish she had been more brave at times and had acted as the letters suggested, but I also know that it’s not in her nature to be as brave as she was sometimes.

Kakeru, the main focus of the story, deals with a lot of depression and suicidal thoughts after his mother commits suicide on the day of the entrance exams when he doesn’t return home right after school. He blames himself and, as a result, he holds in his feelings, not sharing with his friends. In the future world (10 years in the future), he is no longer there with them, and they all reflect back on him not being there and what they could have done to save him. In the past life, his friends are changing the future, and as a result he ends up enjoying life a lot more, but he’s still very depressed and puts on a smile so his friends don’t worry. But when they do push and ask him very serious questions, he does eventually break down and tell them some of what’s bothering him and I think those were some of the most important parts.

Suwa, Hagita, Azu, and Takako, the other friends in the group, all try to cheer up Kakeru even though they don’t fully know why they’re doing it just yet. I love that they all try their best to be supportive in whatever way they can and that they don’t back down and let Kakeru drown in a spiral of darkness.

The plot of the story was one that had me reeling from so many emotions. I laughed, I cried (more like sobbed), I was angry, joyful… So many emotions were packed into this first large volume that I felt like this was a story written for me. I loved seeing the progression from the past and the future, to see where they were ten years in the future, how they were living their lives, why they came together, and how they wanted to fix it. And then their past selves, though doubtful at first, really took the letters’ advice to heart and implemented as many changes as possible. It was so inspiring and beautiful.

There was, of course, romance as this is a shoujo manga (girl’s manga, aka, here there be romance and cuteness), and though it was subtle, it was still there and so darn cute. The feelings grew slowly and steadily, and just like any school crush, it was difficult for either party to really speak their feelings. I feel that, if they had, it would have made it just a little bit easier overall.

Overall, my favorite aspect of this book was the friendship because it is such an important element in this story. Not giving up on your friends or taking sides or anything like that. It was all about trying to make one friend happy, yes, but they were all doing it because of how much they care for Kakeru.

This first volume is definitely 5/5 stars and I extremely, highly recommend it.

orange2Title: Orange: The Complete Collection 2 Publication Date: May 31, 2016 Pages: 384 Format: Purchased Paperback

Everyone has regrets in life. So who wouldn’t take the chance to change the past if given the opportunity? When sixteen-year-old Takamiya Naho receives a mysterious letter, claiming to be from her twenty-seven-year-old self, her life is suddenly thrown into flux. The letter informs her that a new transfer student by the name of Naruse Kakeru will be joining her class, and to keep her eye on him. What is Naho to make of the letter’s contents and its cryptic warning?

Orange: The Complete Collection 2 also includes a bonus story, Haruiro Astronaut. This five chapter story is about a pair of twins who discover that they can’t share everything in life – or at least not an alien that suddenly becomes a part of it.

In this second volume, we pick up the story right where it was left off and we find out that all of the friends received letters from their past selves. They all work hard and come together to try to make Kakeru’s life as happy as possible. Of course, sometimes they couldn’t rely on the letters because the events happening in their timeline was different from their future selves’ timeline. Sometimes it would make things worse, but other times it would make things better, and sometimes events would align and they could follow the letters’ suggestions.

Naho really tries to make an effort to express her feelings to Kakeru in this novel, and it does make him happy, until a slip up that causes his thoughts to spiral and he doesn’t want to hurt her anymore and, therefore, turns away from her. This causes a downward spiral that they were hoping they could control, but it ends up happening anyway.

These times were the toughest to read because, as someone who has had similar experiences, once we dove into Kakeru’s point of view and saw his thought process, it was very similar to ones I have had before. When we relived the past Kakeru’s life, it was very saddening, but it also showed just how much the group of friends had come to that point to really make their Kakeru happier and change the outcome to the best of their abilities. I thought that this was a very powerful move and one that was well handled.

The ending, of course, made me burst with happiness. It was so beautiful and heartwarming and it shows just how strong friendship can be; how strong love can be. I absolutely loved this series and thought that it was really well done and showed accurate representations of depression. It’s easy to put on a smile for the world when really you feel like you’re dying on the inside. For Kakeru, this was all too true, and I’m so glad that the friends were able to help him in one timeline even if they couldn’t help him in another.

Beautiful. Simply beautiful. 5/5 stars.

Also, there was a a bonus five chapter story with different characters called Haruiro Astronaut.

This short story followed twin girls, Chiki and Mami, and how Mami always has the boys falling in love with her, and Chiki’s never really had a crush on anyone before. It’s a cute, hilarious story about the girls’ falling for guys, but it mostly focuses on Chiki and I loved it!

I felt that Chiki and Mami were very different personalitywise even if they were very similar in looks. Chiki was more like the mother hen, always looking out for others – especially Mami – whereas Mami is much more like a child and needing to rely on others.

When Mami introduces Chiki to a hot, smart basketball player, Yui, Chiki finds out that Yui likes her sister. So when those two start going out, we’re introduced to two other characters: Tastuki – Yui’s best friend from childhood – and Taskuoki – a kid from Chiki’s class who claims to like Mami, but really…

Let’s just say: hilarity ensues, there was a lot of laughter (A LOT), and it was adorable and really helped to lighten the mood after reading Orange. It was very cute and heartwarming, and I need a whole series just about these characters, please and thank you. This short story is a definite must read and I rated it 5/5 stars, too!

Girl Against the Universe Book Review

girlagansttheuniverseTitle: Girl Against the Universe
Author: Paula Stokes
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary, Romance, Sports
Pages: 379
Format: Received Hardcover in May Uppercase Box

Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

This book was full of surprises in many good ways and I enjoyed every bit of it.

This story follows Maguire, a sixteen year old girl who’s life has been less than awesome since the deaths of her father, uncle, and brother five years prior. She blames herself constantly when bad things happen around her and she finds that it’s safer if she just stays home, under her blankets reading a book where she can’t hurt anyone.

That’s until her therapist, Dr. Daniel Leeds, gives her “shrink homework,” challenges for her to complete if she wants to take a trip out to Ireland with her mom to meet her father’s family for a memorial service. These challenges are to push Maguire into trying to regain her life back, to take back what the Universe took from her, so to speak, and so she reluctantly agrees to these challenges.

And that’s where she meets Jordy, a tennis player dealing with his own problems and also meeting Dr. Leeds to deal with those problems.

Maguire goes through an awesome transformation as this story progresses. She isn’t completely “cured” by the end, but she makes steps toward becoming better and reclaiming her life for herself, which makes everyone in her life proud – but especially her.

I thought that this book was so well done in terms of the mental illness of PTSD and OCD that was displayed because, as I’ve probably said before, not everyone’s mental illness is the same, even if it falls under the same name as someone else’s. Stokes did a good job of writing about how much Maguire’s illness affects her every day life: from five-second checks to make sure everything around her is safe and no one will get hurt, to the panic attacks she has at the beginning, to eventually becoming comfortable enough with friends around to do more than she ever would have thought possible.

Maguire is very cautious of her surroundings and also doesn’t reach out to others to talk about her issues in the beginning. As her relationships grow and she becomes more confident in herself (which is subtle, but still noticeable), she does talk about her issues more and the friends that she has are very supportive of her and never tear her down or tease her mercilessly because of them. I loved being able to see progress in her and that she wasn’t afraid to stick her ground when she knew she couldn’t go through with something and that she was also willing to try out more and more things with different people that she previously wouldn’t have opened up to because of it.

Jordy is a tennis athlete who’s eighteen years old and still has his parents running his life for him – and he hates it. He wants to take control of the reins and decide his future for himself, but he’s also afraid. He was charismatic and real a lot of the times when he wasn’t being Tennis Jordy. I liked him a lot and felt that he was just another teen dealing with his own issues and trying to break out of that and do things for himself instead of for others. I also liked that he didn’t force Maguire to do anything she didn’t want to and would go the extra mile to make sure she knew that he was being cautious.

The friendships in this book were also a delight to read about, even if they weren’t the main focus of the book. The friendships with Jade and Penn were both healthy and different, which was great to see not only in Maguire’s situation, but in a YA book. Even when I thought one character was going to be “the bad guy,” she ended up just having a misunderstanding and she became okay again in my book.

Maguire’s relationship with her mother even mended itself as a result of Maguire taking steps to get better. They didn’t have a bad relationship or anything, but they still grew closer and stronger together as a result. It was so uplifting to see a positive mother figure with a presence in the book. Even Tom, Maguire’s stepfather, gained some brownie points! It was so awesome to read about.

The romance in the book, too, was well done because Maguire and Jordy started off as friends and the feelings between them slowly started to blossom. Nothing was ever forced and both were very awkward about it at times, but I felt the connection they had. Even though there was uncertainty there because of Maguire’s feelings about herself being cursed, the two managed to communicate even when it was hard (sometimes with the help of friends).

Overall I highly enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting. Even the tennis scenes were interesting to me! I’ve never played tennis before, but it’s made me want to watch or try for fun. The dynamic in this book between all of the characters was a healthy one, and I couldn’t have asked for more in the regard.

I rated this book 5/5 stars and highly recommend it!

My Lady Jane Book Review

myladyjaneTitle: My Lady Jane
Authors: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Genre: Young Adult – Historical Fiction, Romance, Comedy
Pages: 491
Format: Received Hardcover in Uppercase Box for June

EDWARD is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown. . . .

JANE is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than in romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended . . .

GIFFORD is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

THE PLOT THICKENS as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?

The comical, fantastical, romantical, entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey but not really

Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger—and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

I had been in a reading slump before I picked up this book and I am so glad I chose to read this when I did because OH MAN, there is so much humor in this book!

This is an historical fiction retelling novel about a young woman by the name of Jane Grey who, upon her cousin’s surmised “death,” she becomes queen for about nine days before the proverbial poop hits the fan.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part being all of the events before and leading up to when Jane becomes Queen and when she is almost killed because of it; and the second part being where the narrators (who break into the story every once in a while) change history.

Of course there are actual differences in real history and their history for this retelling, such as the magic in this world being ones in which humans, depending on their lineage, can turn into animals – these kinds of people were called Eðian (pronounced eth-ee-uhn). And, like any ruling country of the time in the 1500’s, not a lot of people liked those who could change – and these people were called Verities. And then you get the common folk who don’t bend one way or the other.

The plot of the book was engaging and had me wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next, who can be trusted, what kinds of twists and turns were going to happen, and oh. The humor. Yeah, there was that, too. It followed three main characters: Edward, Jane, and Gifford (call him G!) and each chapter was in the point of view of one respectively. I thought this was a great move because it allowed us to have different perspectives and takes as to what was going on in their surroundings and how each person would react in those situations. It started off with a few common problems that needed to be fixed, to betrayal being had, to a forced wedding, more betrayal, and so on.

Edward – or rather, King Edward VI – is a sixteen year old boy-king who doesn’t really rule the country; he lets his advisors do it for him, signing what needs to be signed when he’s told about the changes and such. He hasn’t really come into his own at the beginning and I thought that was interesting and a bit of a refresher because I’m so used to reading about princes and kings that are stuffy and cautious and all of that. Edward was kind of a hot mess, and I appreciated that. He has the worst sense of timing and direction, easily offends the ladies (without meaning to), and he is kind of a whiner. But as the book progresses into the second half, he starts to become much more open minded and accepting of a lot of things and he becomes stronger as a result of the people and circumstances around him. I was actually quite impressed with him at the end.

Jane is a stubborn girl who loves – LOVES – to read books, and carry books with her, and put puts ahead of people. She hates the idea of marriage, but she hates being told what to do more because she believes she has her own mind to make her own decisions, thank you very much. I found that she was kind of lost and troubled in the beginning due to the circumstances surrounding her, but as the story progressed she proved that she is not only brave, but also a risk taker and willing to help those she cares about. She’s very much a modest young lady of sixteen, but I found that she really grew on me and that she was definitely a strong young woman.

Gifford – or G, as he prefers to be called – just wants to be free to run and live without having to worry about the pressures his father may put on him, or his father looking down on him. We learn very early on that G is an Eðian, and that he views himself to be cursed as he changes into a horse when the sun rises, then back into a man when the sun sets. He has some secrets, and he lets people think what they want to about him, but I found that he was one of my favorite characters. He was so willing and ready to protect Jane a lot throughout this book and he also was a great asset to the whole plot. I found him to be stubborn as well, but also so full of emotion.

There were also secondary characters in this story that played a big role, such as Gracie – a Scottish lass with a fiery tongue and wore trousers (gasp!), Pet (Edward’s pet dog), Gran (Edward & Jane’s grandmother), among others. I loved each of these characters because they brought so much life into the story, and obviously helped to further along the plot.

And the romance was also adorable and sweet as we watched the love between characters blossom, and one character being a silly git, and oh man. All the warm, fuzzy feels at the end.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this book. The humor was fantastic and referenced a lot of phrases and sayings that we say today or that would have been said during a later time period, the romance was adorable, the characters each grew in positive ways, and the plot was interesting and made me want to know what was going to happen next.

I rated this book 5/5 stars and highly recommend it!

The Mistake Book Review

themistakeTitle: The Mistake
Series: Off Campus #2
Author: Elle Kennedy
Publisher: Self-published
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Genre: New Adult – Romance, Contemporary
Pages: 297
Format: Purchased eBook

He’s a player in more ways than one…

College junior John Logan can get any girl he wants. For this hockey star, life is a parade of parties and hookups, but behind his killer grins and easygoing charm, he hides growing despair about the dead-end road he’ll be forced to walk after graduation. A sexy encounter with freshman Grace Ivers is just the distraction he needs, but when a thoughtless mistake pushes her away, Logan plans to spend his final year proving to her that he’s worth a second chance.

Now he’s going to need to up his game…

After a less than stellar freshman year, Grace is back at Briar University, older, wiser, and so over the arrogant hockey player she nearly handed her V-card to. She’s not a charity case, and she’s not the quiet butterfly she was when they first hooked up. If Logan expects her to roll over and beg like all his other puck bunnies, he can think again. He wants her back? He’ll have to work for it. This time around, she’ll be the one in the driver’s seat, and she plans on driving him wild.

This second story in the Off Campus series was fun, sexy, funny, dramatic, and so, so awesome. I really enjoyed it more than the first, and I really liked the first book.

Since this is a companion series, there isn’t much in way of spoilers, but there are different characters that are focused on and introduced in this book, but they were all just as dynamic as the last group of characters.

We have Logan, who makes a reappearance in this book as one of the main characters. He’s Garrett’s best friend and another player on the hockey team at Briar. As such, he’s quite the player and he has sex with a lot of different girls to fill a void in himself – which he does realize toward the beginning of the story. I absolutely loved his character to pieces. He’s sarcastic, but sincere (or tries to be) and I think he really shined when he met Grace. I love how much he cares about his family and is willing to sacrifice his own happiness and future to help out when he can because of the situation at home. There isn’t as much animosity between him and his father as there was between Garrett and his father in the last book, but there was still a bit of drama unfolding there due to situations out of Logan’s control. I will say, though, that I loved the way he treated Grace and how they really melded well together. Also, he’s wicked funny, which made him brighter in my eyes as a character.

Then we have Grace, who is a freshman at the beginning of the book and turns to a sophomore about a third of the way through. She’s quiet and hard pressed to mix and mingle with others, but she tries her best with her friend, Romona, and that’s when she ends up meeting Logan. I thought that her character was very level headed and grounded in reality, but she still had a bit of fire in her when the time called for it. She had me smiling and reminding me a lot of myself in ways, which was very much appreciated as a reader. I thought that she handled situations well given what some of the ones she was thrown into were, and I also like how she is very creative in coming up with challenges for Logan to complete in order to gain her trust back. Clever girl.

As far as the story went, I really enjoyed this one. It was steamy almost right from the get go, which was a bit of a surprise, but when the mistake happened, oh man. I could see where Logan blew it big time, and frankly, I don’t blame Grace for being to put off by him. This plot centered around him trying to fix what Logan broke and realizing what he wanted, craved, and, frankly, needed in his life. But it also centered around Grace finding herself and understanding that she doesn’t have to bow to anyone’s will simply because they want her to – she’s her own person who can make her own decisions and stick to them.

I thought that the way they were written was very well done and that they bounced off of each other wonderfully. I loved the tension between them, the hot romance, as well as the dating aspect. I also enjoyed the family bits thrown in there and how there was some give and take toward the end on that aspect. It wasn’t just a steamy romance, but a little bit more, and I think it was done well.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was well paced, steamy, funny, and not so much centered around hockey as the last one, but was still present, and it focused more on relationships of different kinds: romantic, friendships, and family relations. It was very enjoyable and it definitely made me excited to continue this companion series.

I rated it 5/5 stars and highly recommend it.