Novella Review: Poison Dance by Livia Blackburne

poison dance by livia blackburne

James is skilled, efficient, and deadly, a hired blade navigating the shifting alliances of a deteriorating Assassin’s Guild. Then he meets Thalia, an alluring but troubled dancing girl who offers him a way out—if he’ll help her kill a powerful nobleman. With the Guild falling apart, it just might be worth the risk. But when you live, breathe, and love in a world that’s forever flirting with death, the slightest misstep can be poison.

Description taken from Goodreads.

Two days ago, I wrote a review for Livia Blackburne’s recent official YA debut, Midnight Thief. In it, I mentioned that this novella to the MIDNIGHT THIEF series, was an amazing companion to the first book. It was then that I realized I had yet to review this book and after I got an anonymous user request to review it, I decided to.

POISON DANCE is all about James. His backstory, his personality, and the conflicting elements of good and evil that readers are able to see collide over the course of MIDNIGHT THIEF. This book is definitely not my favorite novella, but it is one of the most well-written novellas I’ve ever read, because more than being entertaining or having beautiful prose or elegant structure, it completes the job of a novella very well.

There are quite a few novellas I know of that are like POISON DANCE, based around the events that happened to one of the major characters to the main story. Right off the bat, I think of the novella THE BLUE HAIRED BOY by Courtney C. Stevens, author of Faking Normal. Or Infinite Repeat by Paula Stokes, author of The Art of Lainey. I must admit that THE BLUE HAIRED BOY and INFINITE REPEAT were significantly more entertaining and well-rounded than POISON DANCE, but POISON DANCE provided a complexity of character that I can’t help but admire.

Throughout the story of MIDNIGHT THIEF, James can be perceived as nothing but a bad guy, but that’s not true. In many moment of MIDNIGHT THIEF, James’s sense of justice and morality comes through. It’s the life he lives that doesn’t allow him to show that most of the time. And in POISON DANCE, as I got into James’s inner thoughts, I was very impressed by the way he comes to truly care about other people and see things in them and notice things about life that other people don’t stop to see.

While this book didn’t really feel complete to me, that was okay, because this is a novella. In a regular novel, I wouldn’t accept that nearly as easily, but it came without too much effort for POISON DANCE. It’s more what comes through in the story, the course of events that throws James into MIDNIGHT THIEF, that I admired–if a little lacking in other ways.

I think the most important thing about a novella is being able to pair well with the series that it correlates to, and POISON DANCE does an excellent job of that, going right back to character.

If you’re interested in reading MIDNIGHT THIEF, I would really recommend that you read this book first, as I didn’t think too highly of it in my review and ended up being disappointed. However, if you enjoy this read and want to see more, I encourage reading MIDNIGHT THIEF. Overall, I had a good time with this book and I really enjoyed seeing more of James and I think that Blackburne did an amazing job with him. (If you want to read this book, it’s free on Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook.) 4 stars.

pg count for the ebook: 86

Review: Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

midnight thief by livia blackburne

Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.

But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.

Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.

When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.

Description taken from Goodreads. 

I really, really wish I could have liked this book. I have been wanting to read this book since 2013, and it was one of my highly anticipated high fantasies of 2014. The only thing that really brought this book down for me was the characters, Kyra especially.

Let’s start from the beginning, which is the fighting scenes. Kyra is supposed to be this awesome thief that’s amazing. In actuality, she’s more of a happy-go-lucky, motherly character who has someone magically appear and save her from whatever situation she’s in once she gets in a pinch. The maternal part is fine, there’s nothing wrong with her, it’s the fact that your characters’s personalities need to fit their character.

On to the romance. If this had been a good love triangle, I could’ve accepted it. Heck, if this had been a good love PYRAMID, I would’ve accepted it. But I couldn’t, because for one all the guys fall in love with her in this story, for no real reason in particular. Oh yes, it’s her grace and skill right? Yeah, the skill she doesn’t have and doesn’t earn.

The hardest part about disliking Kyra is her character. It’s not even the annoying things she does. It’s that she has no sense of street smarts, lacks common sense, is weak and loyal to no one–constantly betraying people for what she perceives as her own gain.

When it comes to Tristam and James, the leader of the Assassin’s Guild, Tristam was acceptable. I really appreciated the backstory and the way he grows so much as a character through his friend’s death. It was very well executed by Blackburne. And then there was James, the one character who especially stuck out to me for the better.

I originally read POISON DANCE, the novella telling James’s story set before MIDNIGHT THIEF, as a way to hold me over until MIDNIGHT THIEF came out, but if you want to get a glimpse into this story and Blackburne’s style, I recommend that you read POISON DANCE. It meshes very well with MIDNIGHT THIEF for one reason–and that reason is it shows a completely different side of James. Having read the novella, I admired James because of how well his character is crafted. He’s complex and fleshed out, showing no clear line between good and evil and constantly tricking the reader.

The world-building in this book description wise was okay, but dwindled towards the end of the story and there were many things that weren’t explained that are crucial to the core of the story, such as explanation of the magic or the beasts. This book was a let down for me, but I did really love seeing James again and some parts of the story were very entertaining, but not enough to save it. Would only recommend this book if you read POISON DANCE and really enjoy it. 1.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 376

Series: Midnight Thief

Review: Acid by Emma Pass

acid by emma pass

The year is 2113. In Jenna Strong’s world, ACID—the most brutal controlling police force in history—rule supreme. No throwaway comment or whispered dissent goes unnoticed—or unpunished. And it was ACID agents who locked Jenna away for life, for a horrendous crime she struggles to remember. But Jenna’s violent prison time has taught her how to survive by any means necessary.

When a mysterious rebel group breaks her out, she must use her strength, speed, and skill to stay one step ahead of ACID, and try to uncover the truth about what really happened on that terrible night two years ago. They have taken her life, her freedom, and her true memories away from her. How can she reclaim anything when she doesn’t know who to trust?

Description taken from Goodreads. 

I think what surprised me the most about ACID was how much of it was spent in futile explanation. The beginning is awesome, with Jenna showing off how cool she is and what kind of situation she’s in. I also got a good grasp for what her world looked like inside the prison. I admired the way that Pass wrote her fight scenes and the way Jenna thought, but most of all the scenes where Jenna gets sick. There was so much description that I really enjoyed in the first quarter of the story, but–like much of the other good components to this book–that dissolved pretty quickly.

ACID is one of those questions books, where all the author wants to do is torment their main character and the people around them until finally the MC breaks free and goes off to find their own answers. The problem with stories like these for me are that often times, by the time the MC has figured out some of their situation, their questions still far out number their answers and I’ve figured out all the things that the main character has and then some to the point where any information that they get is useless. It was incredibly frustrating to think about all the questions that are asked over the course of the story.

There is so much to this book that is left as an extremely promising, half-baked idea but then is completely wasted and thrown into the flames before those ideas can ever come together and be fully formed. I think that was the most irritating part of ACID and one that I felt was a shame because of how much promise this story had to it. The world-building and plot were unfocused and not detailed as well.

Overall, I think that there are much better books with these types of elements out there. I expected a lot more from ACID than I got and was really disappointed to find that it wasn’t all that it had appeared to be in the first few chapters of the story. If this was a series, I might have been able to continue on just to see if things get better, but unfortunately I wasn’t happy with the ending and there was just too much to this story that wasn’t completed. For fans of this type of world and romance, you might want to try the MATCHED series by Ally Condie. 2 stars.

pg count for the paperback: 431

Review: Red by Alison Cherry

Red by Alison Cherry

Felicity St. John has it all—loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.

Having red hair is all that matters in Scarletville. Redheads hold all the power—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note:

I know your secret.

Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovered the truth, she’d be a social outcast faster than she could say “strawberry blond.” Her mother would disown her, her friends would shun her, and her boyfriend would dump her. And forget about winning that pageant crown and the prize money that comes with it—money that would allow her to fulfill her dream of going to art school.

Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?

Description taken from Goodreads. 

Ariel Scott
Ginger St. John
Mayor Redding
Rose Vaughn
Ruby Johansen

There are exactly five characters that have red-oriented names in this book. The only way that this book could get more red is if the font was red. Even the author’s name is Alison Cherry, and yes–she’s a redhead. In this story, everything is about the color red, specifically having red hair. That grows to be a fun concept that’s also incredibly annoying.

There’s nothing special with the writing in RED. It’s actually quite simplistic and not at all hard to understand. The characters follow the same principle. Each one of them have a defining characteristic and don’t show a whole lot of depth over the course of the story. Especially with Felicity, I was hoping that she would grow and change, but she doesn’t do much of that over the course of the story. Yes, she grows to understand many things better, but she never truly as a revelation big enough to inspire a change in her character.

During the whole course of the book, I was entertained but I also felt like the story was held down because of the themes behind the premise and plot. Basically, someone discovers that Felicity is a “strawbie” and this fact alone is enough to ruin her entire life so Felicity has a meltdown and almost loses her best friends, her boyfriend, her family and many of the people who care about her because of the things she does under the blackmail of the person who knows her secret.

If you want a quick, fun read, RED may seem like the perfect book, but I would not recommend it. The whole book is very dramatic and certainly fun to read at times, but it’s also wearing and not to be taken seriously. The prejudice in RED is the most exhausting thing about it. Still, it’s believable, which is why I didn’t try to judge that part of it too harshly. I felt like it was understand and realistic. The real reason why this story let me down was because of how these themes (being dramatic, all the prejudice, the backstabbing) made the plot descend into a wave of pettiness and immaturity.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad read, but the themes really got to me. I wish it could’ve come out on a positive note, as a life-lesson kind of story, but it didn’t for me. I also disliked the way that Cherry left things hanging. She didn’t fully capture the power of the story she had built up. There were so many questions as to what happens now? that don’t get answered, but all in all, it was an okay read. 2.5 stars.

pg count for the hardback: 320

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

the winner's curse by marie rutkoski

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Description taken from Goodreads.

So I’m pretty late to the party.

About six to seven months ago, about a month or two months before THE WINNER’S CURSE released, the buzz for this book started up. It only got stronger as the release date approached. And when I say buzz, I mean

oprah releases bees gif

Marie Rutkoski is Oprah.

I knew that I HAD to get my hands on this book, because ever since the book released I’ve never seen a review from a blogger than I respect that says this book isn’t worth reading. And fantasy is my favorite genre, so, you know. There was that.

And I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t already, you NEED to read this book.

There are so many things that were just spot on, pitch perfect about this story. The elements of it all come together to make it all come to life, and stories like these begin and end with amazing characters–so that’s where I’ll start.

None of the characters in THE WINNER’S CURSE are perfect. They’re flawed. Kestrel and Arin especially. So many of the things they want, they need, and a lot of the time they’re not even sure what they want, come with conflicts and consequences. They’re constantly in a state of gaining something and losing anther, and that is what this whole story is about.

Kestrel has her own set of shortcomings. Sometimes she’s naive and blinded by what she wants, but she’s also skilled and willing to make sacrifices. Instead of trying to blind herself of the fact that she’s not a fighter, she turns the situation to her advantage in clever ways. She’s one of the most smart, clever heroines that I’ve ever read–and that’s saying something. She isn’t a weak character in any way, and I admire her strength in a way very similar to Hermione’s.

When it comes to Arin, I really enjoyed his tactility as well. I could sympathize with both sides of the war and pitting Kestrel against Arin was a lot of fun. Arin can go toe to toe with Kestrel, which I enjoyed seeing. The way they go back and forth with their plans and reactions is awesome and very entertaining. The political aspects to this story were lit up mostly because of Arin, and his position as a strategist in THE WINNER’S CURSE is entirely deserved.

As the story goes on, both of these characters, as well as all the characters and even the supporting characters, are people that I came to love and hate. The villains are more than just evil and the heroes are more than just good. The complexity and simplicity behind the world that Rutkoski has made is nothing less than beautiful. It isn’t traditional fantasy, but more of a historical-fantasy kind of feel. I loved seeing all of the elements come together from different influences. I do hope to see more of the world in the next stories. The backstory is also very well crafted.

When it comes to the plot, I wasn’t bored for a second in this story. The pace has highs and lows, but it never drags or grows old. The main points to this story are highlighted excellently and the action/fast paced scenes don’t sacrifice any detail.

Then there’s the romance.

I guess at the heart of this story, it’s a romance. It’s a political historical fantasy romance about slaves, but really–it’s so much more than that in the way that THE HUNGER GAMES is not just about kids who are supposed to kill each other. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is not just about kids that fall in love that have cancer. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY is not just a story that a girl who killed herself. THE WINNER’S CURSE could very likely become one of my five star books.

The romance is definitely an underlying tone to this story, but it’s not rushed at all. Even though Kestrel and Arin both love each other, their love doesn’t get in the way of what they both know is true and the things that they know that they have to do. Kestrel and Arin both go through with their own duties, for the greater good.

i ship it gif

I have to say that sometimes it’s not always a good thing when you love all the characters (or love to hate them) because there’s still the issue of certain characters who don’t get what they want, and you know that they will never get what they want. For example, Ronan in this story. I do hope that he eventually finds his own happiness and is able to reconcile with Kestrel so that they can be friends again.

It’s things like these that I hope to see resolved in the books to come, but overall–this story is AMAZING and you need to read it. There were so many things I loved about how the story was crafted, the plot, the characters, the ideas, the premise, and there’s so many other things that I could say about this book, but I’ll tie up here and say I LOVED IT. 4.5 stars.

pg count for the ebook: 355

series: The Winner’s Trilogy

In Comics: James Mascia and Most Dangerous Game

most dangerous game by richard connell

“The Most Dangerous Game” features a big-game hunter from New York, who becomes shipwrecked on an isolated island in the Caribbean and is hunted by a Russian aristocrat.

Description taken from Goodreads. 

Written originally in 1924, James Mascia is hoping to renew interest in Richard Connell’s MOST DANGEROUS GAME by bringing it into graphic novel form and putting a sci-fi twist on the island survival story. The high school English teacher is heading a project to bring the story to life with stunning artwork, aliens and action at every page. He is also hoping that the graphic novel will bring attention to other literature classics and be as successful promoting reading to teens as his other works.

I recently had the chance to interview James and learn more about his crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter, more details about the book, what inspired these retellings and himself.

That inspired you to do an adaptation of Most Dangerous Game? Does the story itself mean anything special to you? 

I am an English teacher in Maryland. And many of my students don’t like to read, and some of those same students think there isn’t anything that will interest them. So, last year, I took the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and put them all together into a single story in my graphic novel called “The Poe Murders”. This got students to become familiar with the works of Poe who had never read him before. Some of my students even went on to read some Poe stories after being introduced to him in my graphic novel.

So, with that success, I decided I had to do another. One of the first stories that popped into my head was, “The Most Dangerous Game”. It has danger, and action, and I believe high interest for young readers. The plot is about a human being being hunted by another human being, after all. I checked into it, and the story is in the public domain, which means I can use it without fear of infringing on anyone’s copyright.

However, I didn’t want to do just a straight adaption, because to me that isn’t creative enough. So, I thought, what if it’s a science fiction story and instead of one human hunting another, the story will be about an alien hunting a human being. So, I rewrote the story and now we’re working on the artwork for it, which is amazing!

Have you always wanted to create graphic novels/comics?

I’ve always enjoyed reading comic books and graphic novels, and I’ve always enjoyed writing. So, I suppose becoming a graphic novel author seemed only natural. The only problem I have is, while I am good at writing, I suck as an artist. So, creating a graphic novel isn’t as easy for me as it is for others as I have to work with artists. However, as I stated above, our artist, Satine Zillah, is amazing.

In Most Dangerous Game, what was the hardest thing to envision or draw? (i.e. the aliens, the planet itself, characters, etc.) 

I am really not the person to answer that question since I am not the artist. What I can tell you is that I wrote very detailed descriptions of our four major characters (Rainsford, Whitney, Zaroff and Ivok). Satine has drawn them better than I could have imagined them. The way they are drawn is exactly as the descriptions suggest. She takes the words of my script and transforms them into masterpieces on the page.

What do you hope that reading the graphic novel version Most Dangerous Game will do for students as a companion or visual guide to the book? 

Well, I want it to do a number of things. First, I want students to read it who have never read it before, and possibly then have them go back and read the original work. I would like to see teachers use it in classrooms to possibly have students compare and contrast this version with the original, or, use it as a replacement for some lower-level readers. I also hope that it inspires students to read as well as inspire them to create their own stories. As I tell my own students, if I can do it, so can they.

If “The Most Dangerous Game” is as successful as “The Poe Murders” has and continues to be. I will likely continue on with other classic literature, adapting and updating them to make them accessible to our teens today.

To find out more about this project and how you can help, visit the MOST DANGEROUS GAME Kickstarter page. You can see examples of the fantastic artwork below.

RainsfordconceptartWEB IvokconceptartWEB WhitneyCharacterConceptartWEB TMDG_01 ZaroffconceptartWEB

Review: The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

What I liked and didn’t like about this story was very black and white for me. What I liked included things like world-building, political aspects, action, fighting scenes and a few parts to the plot. What I didn’t like included aspects such as most of how the plot was pulled off, the characters, the romance, the unrealistic points to this story and the predictability of it all.

Despite all that, this was still entertaining enough to keep me from wanting to DNF.

If there was ever a time where I seriously wanted to skim or just skip a few pages was with Riven. Riven gets to be so incredibly annoying she makes certain parts to the story ridiculous.

Riven is a Legion General. She’s the right hand of the Prince of Neospes and a tough, seasoned, smart fighter who doesn’t have time for emotions or any kind of foolishness.

That’s how she’s portrayed in the blurb, but in the story Riven is continually making stupid mistakes and doing everything but blending in. People who want to blend in don’t ride Ducatis, nor do they ride motorcycles. And keep in mind she’s still a teenager. They don’t get in trouble with the police, make a few friends but keep them at arm’s length and not be too friendly or especially not too mean to anyone.

Riven was sent to Earth to find the prince’s brother who is hidden away on Earth. Of course, she falls into instalove with Caden [Prince Cale's brother] despite her every attempt to keep him away from her. Hmm. She cares so much about him and his life and staying away from him that he cheats on his girlfriend and she lets him. She doesn’t even think twice about his girlfriend. As a matter of fact, neither does he.

And Caden’s such a good guy.

I think the one relationship I enjoyed in THE ALMOST GIRL was the relationship between Riven and her long-lost sister, Shae. The only problem I had with this relationship was that when they’re both introduced, Shae and Riven appear to be wary and have a mutual hate of each other, which makes no sense because as they go through the book there’s no real revelation or big talk about the supposed thing Riven did to betray Shae, but they still grow closer together anyway. However, I did appreciate that they made up and understood each other and their intentions in the end, so I didn’t mind as much.

The world-building, action scenes and time spent in Nesospes was great though. I really enjoyed learning about the worlds, time skips and the distance between the parallel worlds. Howard does a great job of showing off her characters in fights, but I wished that she would stop saving Riven. Every single time Riven and company starts getting in real trouble, someone either saves them or Riven commands them to be still and they obey.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read if you can get past the predictability of it all and some annoying decisions the characters make. I would like to see the sequel to this story just to see what happens, but if you’re not usually into fantasy/sci-fi, I wouldn’t recommend this story for you. 2.5 stars.

pg count for the kindle edition: 410

Series: The Almost Girl