Review: Shadows on the Moon

Shadows on the MoonTitle: Shadows on the Moon
Author: Zoë Marriott
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 447
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before.

Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.

Suzume died officially the day the Prince’s men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.

Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?

Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love.—(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I went into Shadows of the Moon expecting a revenge-thriller-with-magic-and-Cinderella-elements set in a Japanese-inspired fantasy world…and I only sort of got what I wanted. When I sit down for a tale of revenge, I expect that a good portion of the work in question will center on planning revenge and the attempts at enacting said revenge. Unfortunately, Suzume/Rin/Yue (hereafter referred to as Heroine because she really does use three different given names over the course of the book) doesn’t actually get around to vocalizing, let alone enacting, the grand revenge scheme hinted at in the summary until page 262. That’s quite the delay considering the slaughter in her father’s house is over by page 16 and Heroine discovers who was behind the slaughter by page 112.

Instead, a good portion of the book actually centers on Heroine’s survivor’s guilt, particularly how she deals/doesn’t deal with her mother’s sudden remarriage and other spoiler-ific events. Heroine’s self-destructive attempts at keeping her sanity were actually quite engaging, but it took a long time for her to take control of her own life. I feel as if I spent the first half of the book wishing we could move onto more interesting things, like the revenge.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about this book is its magic. I’m not opposed to magic that’s more about the wonder than strict rules—see my love for N. K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series—but I prefer magic that seems consistent. It’s one thing for Heroine to be able to create illusions or hide herself and quite another for her to be able to shape-shift, create matter from nothing, and heal. I could not figure out how those four separate powers went together, and I eventually had to throw up my hands and say I guess I’ll believe it if you really want me to. Heroine also does surprisingly little with her wide array of powers, to the point where in some scenes I wanted to point out other, cleverer things she could be doing with them for the sake of her revenge.

The side characters were a lot of fun, particularly Otieno and Akira. Heroine’s budding romance with Otieno was very cute, provided you’re able to roll with the fairytale-style InstaLove. At least the couple got to spend a lot of time together compared to most fairytale romances, despite the complete absence of Otieno from the summary. Akira brought a nice depth to the book with her history, especially as the ultimate enabler of Heroine’s revenge. I’m always pleased to run into adults who support teenage protagonists and allow them to make their own decisions—even if they don’t agree with those decisions.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Shadows on the Moon needed 100 fewer pages spent on being passive, confused, and/or powerless and 100 more pages on revenge, plot twists, and moral quandaries.

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom

Bitter
Title: Bitter Kingdom
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Epic/Heroic Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 433
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Availability: August 27, 2013

Summary: The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads.

Background Info: If you haven’t started this series, here is a video that will give you an overview of the first book and the general direction of the series.

Review: In the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is a tentative sixteen year old trying to figure out how to be “the chosen one” for her people and wondering if she’s up to the task. There is also a significant amount of romance involved. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s confidence increases as she takes on more leadership and continues to grow into her responsibilities, her abilities and her relationships. Finally, in The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa’s country has been brought to the brink of a civil war. Within the conflict, Elisa has the opportunity to show her many facets: Queen, Godstone bearer, the chosen one, sorcerer, woman, friend, lover, and horse thief. By the way, that last one is not really something Elisa enjoys since horses are one of her fears, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Elisa has many talents, but she is not perfect by any means. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way – typically due to her impatience. Fortunately, she loves to learn and most importantly she has a close circle of companions who watch out for her and help keep her on track. What really stands out in all three books is the relationships both romantic and otherwise. Elisa and her travel companions trust each other to the point that they have meaningful conversations that are open and painfully honest at times. Over time, Mara, Elisa’s handmaiden, becomes much more than a servant. They become confidants. This is a tight-knit group, but they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them and they don’t just ignore a misstep. Hector, the man Elisa loves, is not above questioning Elisa when he fears her impulses are in control. They also show their faith in each other, pointing out and applauding strengths.

Though the adventures and discussions are often serious, Carson also allows room for humor. Elisa does sarcasm well and there are even some awkward and funny moments amid the romance. Speaking of romance…wow! I can’t tell much for fear of spoiling things, but if you have read the first two, you know that Carson writes romance beautifully. She balances very realistic situations and concerns with a healthy dose of sensuality. What sets her apart is how she manages to do this without making it all about sex. The focus remains firmly on developing the whole relationship. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly significant, but it does not overwhelm the other parts.

Unlike some trilogies, this series started out very good and then each book was better than the last. The Bitter Kingdom is a fast paced adventure with chases, fights, sorcery, erupting volcanos, and much more. Rae Carson shared intriguing characters that draw readers into the story and keep them wanting more.

Recommendation: If you have already read the first two books, you will want to get this as soon as it is available on August 27th. If you haven’t, you need to grab The Girl of Fire and Thorns to go ahead and get started. Probably you should just get all three because you are likely to want to read them in quick succession. For fantasy lovers, this is a must read.

 

 

 

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New Releases

Happy book birthday to The Weight of Souls (release date: August 6, 2013)!

the weight of soulsThe Weight of Souls

by Bryony Pearce

Sixteen year old Taylor Oh is cursed: if she is touched by the ghost of a murder victim then they pass a mark beneath her skin. She has three weeks to find their murderer and pass the mark to them – letting justice take place and sending them into the Darkness. And if she doesn’t make it in time? The Darkness will come for her… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Definitely grabbing this book when I get the chance!

 

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Review: Team Human

Team HumanTitle: Team Human
Author: Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 344
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Borrowed from roommate
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Team Human works best if you are familiar with and have a fondness for vampires. Even though I’m only middling on both of those criteria, Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan did a great job of keeping my interest with Mel, their American Born Chinese protagonist.

What I find most fascinating about Mel is how, in a book from Cathy’s point of view, she would fit neatly into the Meddling Second Lead™ role. Most books and Korean television shows have trained me to despise such characters and their repeated attempts to break up True Love™, but I adored seeing the vampire romance play out from Mel’s point of view. The fact that Mel is motivated by genuine concern and fear for her friend (as opposed to romantic jealousy) helps a great deal in this regard. While I was occasionally annoyed by Mel’s insistence that she knew what was better for Cathy than Cathy did, I was still extremely sympathetic to her. In her place, I probably would have acted much the same after my best friend fell in love with and decided to become a vampire (which carried a 10% chance of death and a 10% chance of zombification) in a matter of weeks.

The other character standout was Kit, the vampire-raised human that Mel falls for. Kit’s backstory (and how some of his vampire family treated him) made me rather upset on his behalf and wishing for all sorts of bad fortune upon minor characters. Despite this, Kit was consistently a source of humor and awkward misunderstandings thanks to his lack of knowledge about human society. Some of these misunderstandings were brilliant and hilarious (kissing) and others were disappointingly easy to predict (promising to call).

The world building for this book was unexpectedly delightful, from therapists who deal with vampires who are having trouble transitioning to laws requiring smoked glass in all public buildings to block vampire-killing UV rays. I love that turning people into vampires is a regulated process requiring counseling and you-could-turn-into-a-zombie scare tactics. Mundane details like that really make this world feel like it could exist if vampires were real.

Unfortunately, the mystery surrounding Anna, her mother, and her missing father wasn’t something that held my attention very well. If Anna had been the narrator, I would have been more invested in it, but Mel was constantly distracted by getting in the way of True Love™ or establishing a loveline of her own. While I’m normally not much of a comedy person, I really wish that Team Human had focused more on the comedy/satire of the vampire genre and less on a mystery that I did not find compelling.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Ultimately, Team Human is a quick read, but it doesn’t have much staying power for me. It would be a great beach book for the last part of summer, especially if you are in the mood for some gentle mocking of vampire tropes.

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Review: Prophecy

prophecyTitle: Prophecy
Author: Ellen Oh
Pages: 312
Genre: fantasy
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: library
Availability: January 2, 2013

Summary: Kira’s the only female in the king’s army, and the prince’s bodyguard. She’s a demon slayer and an outcast, hated by nearly everyone in her home city of Hansong. And, she’s their only hope… Murdered kings and discovered traitors point to a demon invasion, sending Kira on the run with the young prince. He may be the savior predicted in the Dragon King Prophecy, but the missing treasure of myth may be the true key. With only the guidance of the cryptic prophecy, Kira must battle demon soldiers, evil shaman, and the Demon Lord himself to find what was once lost and raise a prince into a king. [Summary and image via Goodreads]

Review: When I read the little blurb on the cover (“One girl will save us all.”), I couldn’t help hearing Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender’s voiceover. Prophecy, like Avatar, is pretty epic. And like Avatar, world-building is definitely one of its strengths.

The fantasy setting of Prophecy is a refreshing change from the usual dime-a-dozen medieval European setting. Prophecy is set in Hansong, which is inspired by ancient Korea. Hansong, as one of seven kingdoms, is drawn into conflict with other nations such as Yamato when the demons begin to invade. With the heroine Kira as cousin to the prince of Hansong, you get to see the royal court at work. The only issue I had was with the politics, which was a little overwhelming at first, but once I got into the story, I figured it out.  From the setting to the tone, Prophecy has a rock solid setting for Kira’s journey.

Kira herself is fantastic. It’s always great to see a heroine at the center of an epic fantasy. The plot — fulfill the prophecy! find magical treasures! — is nothing new, but Kira brings it to life with her spirit and determination as she fights to protect the prince and the kingdom. And I love the addition of the trusty dog Jindo. Every quest needs an adorable (and surprisingly clever) dog along for the ride.

With its tightly written fantasy setting and fierce heroine, Prophecy is a great addition to the fantasy genre. I look forward to reading the sequel next year.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you love fantasy.

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New Releases

This week we have steampunk, urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and historical fiction to tempt us. Which ones are calling your name?

Cold
Cold Steel (Spirit Walker #3) by Kate Elliot

Orbit

Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue. Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.
— Cover image and summary via Goodreads

ink
Ink by Amanda Sun (Paper Gods)

Harlequin Teen

On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn’t know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks, and she can’t seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building.

When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school’s kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they’re near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life.

Somehow Tomo is connected to the Kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan-and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
— Cover image and summary via Amazon

girl
The Girl of His Dreams by Amir Abrams

K-Teen

Summary: The rules are simple: Play or get played. And never, ever, catch feelings.
That’s the motto 17-year-old heartthrob Antonio Lopez lives by. Since his mother walked out, Antonio’s father has taught him everything he needs to know about women: they can’t be trusted, and a real man has more than one. So once Antonio gets what he wants from a girl, he moves on. But McPherson High’s hot new beauty is turning out to be Antonio’s first real challenge.

Miesha Wilson has a motto of her own: The thrill of the chase is not getting caught. Game knows game, and Miesha is so not interested. She’s dumped her share of playboys and she’s determined to stay clear of the likes of Antonio Lopez–until his crazy jealous ex aggravates her. But when she decides to play some games of her own, Miesha and Antonio find themselves wondering if love is real after all. . ..
– Cover image via Goodreads — summary via Amazon

 

Fairy
Golden Girl (The American Fairy #2) by Sarah Zettel

Random House Books for Young Readers

Callie LeRoux has put her grimy, harrowing trip from the depths of the Dust Bowl behind her. Her life is a different kind of exciting now: she works at a major motion picture studio among powerful studio executives and stylish stars. Still nothing can distract her from her true goal. With help from her friend Jack and guidance from the great singer Paul Robeson, she will find her missing mother.

But as a child of prophecy and daughter of the legitimate heir to the Seelie throne, Callie poses a huge threat to the warring fae factions who’ve attached themselves to the most powerful people in Hollywood . . . and they are all too aware that she’s within their reach.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

 

moment
A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

As the partition of India nears in 1947 bringing violence even to Jalandhar, Tariq, a Muslim, finds himself caught between his forbidden interest in Anupreet, a Sikh girl, and Margaret, a British girl whose affection for him might help with his dream of studying at Oxford.
— Cover image and summary from Goodreads

Reviewed previously on Rich in Color

 

 

 

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