The Wrath and the Dawn/The Rose and the Dagger

Wrath Dawn Rose Dagger

SYNOPSIS: In a land ruled by a murderous king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all. Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a man with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Prepare for a gush, you guys, because these books… ((swoon))

I knew within the first seventy-five pages that The Wrath and the Dawn, a story based loosely on the classic A Thousand and One Nights, was going to be an all-time favorite. You are thrown immediately into the passion of one of my favorite female protagonists, only to be slowly won over by what soon became one of my favorite male protagonists. This is how you write a love story. Two strong, deep, real people. A celebration of how a healthy relationship fuels both people toward their true potential, individually and together. They reminded me strongly of fiery Claire and strong but quiet Jamie of Outlander. The way this man loves this woman is enough to take your breath away:

You kneel before no one. Least of all me.
My soul sees its equal in you.
You are not weak. You are not indecisive.
You are strong. Fierce. Capable beyond measure.
A true plague of a girl. And yet a queen in every sense of the word.

Ahdieh’s beautiful writing style only adds to the reader’s experience. Her imagery of this Persian world absorb you into the page: Arab design, food, flowers, clothing, even smells. You can smell this book if you try hard enough. The fantasy elements aren’t overwhelming, but enough to keep things interesting. Secondary characters become absolutely beloved, a twist in the second book took me by complete surprise, and there was even a lump in my throat moment toward the end. I favored The Wrath and the Dawn over A Rose and a Dagger overall, but that’s not to say the second isn’t a strong, satisfying conclusion to the first. This duology has definitely earned its spot on my Makes Me Melt list, and that’s my favorite list of all. (Plus, look at those covers. Aren’t they stunning?!)

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An Ember in the Ashes/Torch Against the Night

Tahir books

SYNOPSIS: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

Finally, a story that pulled me out of my incredibly dry reading slump!

I really connected to the characters, and I thought there were more well-written people in this YA story than your typical protagonist + love interest + snarky sidekick formula. The villains are truly nasty, some based on Nazi scientists. Everyone has gray areas; nobody is black or white. And the addition of every new character gives the story a new layer, making it more complex. I also appreciate that every character gets their own path and a believable arc: some frustrating, some sad, some shocking.

Okay, it’s YA, so let’s talk love-triangle. This story approaches the concept differently, and I found it refreshing. First of all, it’s a dual-triangle, four characters total. One triangle eventually becomes incredibly clear. The other is much harder to draw the line in the sand. None of these characters are weak. Even after you decide which characters you hope end up together romantically, you still root hard for the success of the other, and that’s to Tahir’s writing credit.

Tahir also does an excellent job building this world, and it only becomes more fascinating as you progress through the tale. Cities and forests and seasons and deserts and prisons and catacombs and societies and caste systems and weapons and creatures… I got lost in this place, and that was one of the best parts.

This was also my first desert-based fantasy novel. I really enjoyed venturing into a world where customs and culture are so different than my own. It’s also the highest fantasy I’ve ever read (even though my high-fantasy loving husband would laugh at that). I had to look up a few terms as I was reading, only to learn these are common myths and legends originating in the Middle East. I love it when an author can teach me something in the middle of a good story.

This book should likely come with a few warnings, though. While there is never an actual rape scene, the rape of women and even children is prevalent in this society, modeled after the height of Ancient Rome. Many characters are almost raped, have been raped, or barely escape rape, so if that’s a trigger for you, be warned. Also, torture and murder are common in this society, also including children. Spilling blood is far more common – and more brutal – than in any other YA series I’ve ever read. Tahir remains within the definitions of Young Adult, but within those parameters, she doesn’t pull any punches.

All in all, four out of five stars. These are the first two installments of a slated series of four. The next in the series, A Reaper at the Gates, is expected to be released in April 2018. And yes, I will be buying it immediately.

The Great Gatsby

great-gatsby

SYNOPSIS: The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers.

My 2016 reading year was sad. I finished a grand total of 4 books. FOUR. But at least I can say The Great Gatsby was one of them. And no one is more surprised than me to type that sentence.

I openly confess American classics aren’t my favorite. Not by a long shot. I don’t find them even remotely enjoyable. Which is why I never rushed to check out this Fitzgerald classic. But I will admit, with hat in hand, that was a great error.

The Great Gatsby is a short 180 pages, and yet, the wordcrafting within those pages is sublime. The kind of writing that feeds your soul. I felt a kinship with the author before I’d finished the first chapter, and Nick Carraway may be one of my favorite snarky narrators ever written.

And then, there is Jay. To say I relate to him is an understatement. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament”–it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No–Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

I plan to read more Fitzgerald, and this classic short story will long be one of my favorites.

Illuminae

Illuminae

SYNOPSIS: This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded. The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again. Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Congratulations, Amie and Jay. This marks the first 600-page book I’ve devoured in under 24 hours.

In all honesty, if the plot for this one had been plunked out for me, I might not have picked it up. So if you’ve heard this is The Walking Dead aboard the Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you’re wondering what the big deal is, I get it. I mean, zombies in space?  Really??? And yet, not picking up this novel would be an error, because this thing is exquisite.

First of all, it’s written beautifully. Unique and creative voices for the many widely-varying characters. Legitimate science fiction crammed full of quotes from classic literature. Complex world-building and a plot that grabs you from page two and doesn’t let up…well, ever. (No, seriously. I have yet to read a single review in which the reader didn’t finish within 24 hours, so strap in.)

But the most fascinating part of Illuminae is its non-traditional structure. These two authors have broken almost every rule in the book – no pun intended – so that you don’t read Illuminae; you experience it.  We don’t get a single sentence of internal monologue from any of our characters, and yet, they’re excellently multifaceted and fleshed-out.  Its pages are riddled with source code, graffiti, redactions, splatter patterns, deliberate misspellings. Sentences are printed in patterns that mirror the action of the story they tell. On some pages, you have to literally spin the book around in your hands to read them.  Sounds bizarre, I know; but not only does it work, it creates incredible fuel to the story. These visuals evoke powerful concepts that traditional Times New Roman simply wouldn’t have been able to achieve.

It’s too bad this novel will likely be skipped over by many readers because A) young adult, and B) space zombies, because it really is a thing of beauty.  Just give it a shot and see if you aren’t sucked in, too.

And for those who need to hear it, while it is the first in a trilogy and leaves an excellent opening for the story to continue, the end wraps up quite nicely….after having twisted several times, of course.

The Body Electric

Body Electric

SYNOPSIS: The future world is at peace. Ella Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her mother’s dream technology to help others relive their happy memories. But not all is at it seems. Ella starts seeing impossible things: images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her knowledge to experience – and influence – the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love, even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing: someone’s altered her memory. Ella is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings. So who can she trust?

I’ve hit a pretty impressive reading slump. Leave it to a Beth Revis page turner to get me out of it.

The author of the Across the Universe trilogy is great with suspense, and The Body Electric is no exception. Her world-building in this stand-alone novel is worth the read alone, combining Asimovesque androids, Orwellian government, and Inception-like dream sequences, all set in a futuristic, double-deckered Venice.  The pacing of these short yet plentiful chapters keeps pushes the story forward well. I will admit I suspected the Big Baddie early on, but I appreciated the several surprising twists and turns it took to get there. Speaking of, I commend Revis’ capacity for sci fi twists; she really knows how to give you the, “Wait, what???” in a good way. Permanent addition to my collection.

Never Never

Never Never

SYNOPSIS: Best friends since they could walk. In love since the age of fourteen.  Complete strangers since this morning.  He’ll do anything to remember. She’ll do anything to forget.

The description is cryptic for a reason.  Go in blind and enjoy the ride.  It’ll be short ride; it only took me an hour to blow through these 152 Kindle pages.  But they’re worth it.  An intriguing mystery and a hopeful love story with an excellent cliffhanger ending.  I cannot wait for the conclusion, set to release in May.

Last night, I posted that I was getting desperate for a great read.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher; I found it.

Read. This. Novella.

A Thousand Pieces of You

Thousand Pieces of You

SYNOPSIS: Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him. Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.

I’m not gonna lie; this one started out as pure cover lust.  (I mean, look at that thing!)  The sci-fi murder mystery plot only reinforced my interest.

I liked the different universes.  The characters travel to four of them – futuristic London, Romonov Russia, an underwater city in the Pacific, and a slightly different California – and they’re all interesting enough to be believable.  The difficulty, however, is that you don’t get much time for world building in several of them.  I would’ve enjoyed a lot more detail and opportunity to invest emotionally in these dimensions.

Also, while the love story is built on a decent premise, the writing of the relationship seems too juvenile.  The sex scene took me by surprise, since the characters seem so young and naive.  It was hard for me to believe any strong emotional connection had actually taken place.  The overarching mystery was paced well; there were a few twists that I didn’t see coming.  However, the overall Bad Guy was so obvious.  I had it sussed incredibly early.

Overall, not bad.  Just not great.  And I think I’m in major need of a great book.  I’ve read too many disappointments lately.