Review: Fire and Heist

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Fire and Heist by: Sarah Beth Durst

My Rating: 4 Stars

In Sky Hawkins’s family, leading your first heist is a major milestone–even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It’s a chance to gain power and acceptance within your family, and within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated, especially when you’re a wyvern–a human capable of turning into a dragon.

Embarking on a life of crime is never easy, and Sky discovers secrets about her mother, who recently went missing, the real reason her boyfriend broke up with her, and a valuable jewel that could restore her family’s wealth and rank in their community.

With a handpicked crew by her side, Sky knows she has everything she needs to complete her first heist, and get her boyfriend and mother back in the process. But then she uncovers a dark truth about were-dragon society–a truth more valuable and dangerous than gold or jewels could ever be.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger warning: Trauma regarding absent parent, mention of murder, blackmailing, imprisonment, mention of blood, abusive parent, and physical violence.

Sky Hawkin’s used to have it all. The perfect family, friends, and boyfriend. Until her mother disappeared. Now shunned by the wyvern society, Sky’s family is dealing with the aftermath regarding her mother. Her father doesn’t smile anymore. Her brothers ignore her. And the Hawkin’s family refuses to speak about what happened.

Much to Sky’s surprise her ex-boyfriend Ryan gives her information regarding her mother. Sky decides to put her foot down and complete the mission her mother failed. With a rag-tag crew, Sky sets out for answers. 

After reading the author’s previous works’ I was highly anticipating this! I am happy to say that I enjoyed it! Fire and Heist is written in first person limited, following Sky. There are chapter numbers and one list.

I had such a blast reading! So much fun but also had it’s serious moments. I particularly enjoyed the play on history! The Hawkin’s are distantly related to King Atahualpa and other historical figures.

I absolutely loved the Hawkin’s! They had such a great relationship, despite all they’d been through. Charles is the oldest. He had this tough guy attitude. Tuck and Liam are fraternal twins. And like most twins had a close relationship. Sky’s the youngest and the baby of the family. Her father and brother’s do their best to keep Sky out of everything. Which just makes Sky even more inclined to look for answers.

There’s a large focus on ‘Before’. As in before the events of this book. When Sky and her family used to be happy, and when they actually had a place in society. After being shunned and dumped by her boyfriend, everyone else followed suit. Sky’s wyvern friend’s ditched her. No one wants to do business with the family. Naturally Sky is angry with all these people. Even when Ryan comes back in her life Sky still holds some resentment.

The world building was excellent! There are a lot of rules within the wyvern society. Even regarding a person’s first heist. Wyverns’ history plays a huge role in the story. Most of it is nothing new. Though I felt that Durst did a good job making it unique.

I really liked Sky! She was a great character. Realistic with her own insecurities. Also very mature which seems to be a thing with Durst’s heroine’s. I enjoyed reading about her character development and journey throughout the story.

Gabriela is Sky’s human friend. Now that Sky doesn’t have any wyvern friends. She is Spanish and loves to do research. Also very self-assured, whilst some insecurities. The friendship between Sky and Gabriela was sweet! They really grew from their relationship with one-another.

Maximus is a wyvern who can also use magic. His character was quite something. At first I didn’t know how to feel about him. As the story continued I grew to appreciate his character. He’s very dramatic which makes for a fun reading experience.

Ryan’s character surprised me. When I read the synopsis I figured the audience is supposed to like him. I did not except him to be helping Sky in her heist. Let alone encourage it. He was sweet and a total dork. I liked the romance between them. I thought they were cute together. It also didn’t take away from the plot.

The heist was so much fun! I really enjoyed reading about their practice. And the part each character had to play. Once all the twists came into play, there were a lot of genres explored. Such as some Sci-Fi elements. I didn’t see anything coming! And enjoyed all the tibits of the world building explored.

The main themes were forgiveness and power. I respected Sky when she said that she would forgive Ryan and the rest of her friends. It showed character growth. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions about power. It was very interesting and thought provoking.

Overall I really liked it! I highly recommend it.   

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Review: One Fell Sweep

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One Fell Sweep by: Ilona Andrews

My Rating: 4 Stars

Dina DeMille may run the nicest Bed and Breakfast in Red Deer, Texas, but she caters to a very particular kind of guest… the kind that no one on Earth is supposed to know about. Guests like a former intergalactic tyrant with an impressive bounty on her head, the Lord Marshal of a powerful vampire clan, and a displaced-and-superhot werewolf; so don’t stand too close, or you may be collateral damage.

But what passes for Dina’s normal life is about to be thrown into chaos. First, she must rescue her long-distant older sister, Maud, who’s been exiled with her family to a planet that functions as the most lawless penal colony since Botany Bay. Then she agrees to help a guest whose last chance at saving his civilization could bring death and disaster to all Dina holds dear. Now Gertrude Hunt is under siege by a clan of assassins. To keep her guests safe and to find her missing parents, Dina will risk everything, even if she has to pay the ultimate price. Though Sean may have something to say about that!!

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger Warning: Mention of war, death, and mention of annihilating a species.

Despite being a tad disappointed in Sweep in Peace I was still looking forward to reading One Fell Sweep. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it!

It’s been a few days since Sean and Dina went to the movies together. Gertrude Hunt has become quite. Sean and Dina are attempting to form a relationship. At night Dina senses a presence. It turns out to be Sean. Sean explains that he had a really bad feeling and came to the inn. A wormhole appears in the sky and a supernatural being emerges. Sean and Dina quickly deal with the situation.

The supernatural being is a Ku who has come to deliver a message to Dina. The message turns out to be from Dina’s sister Maud who is in trouble. Dina requests Arland to take her to Maud (who is on a different planet). All three then go to retrieve Maud and her daughter Helen. This journey will be the last of Dina’s problems.

I’m so happy that I enjoyed One Fell Sweep! The book is narrated in first person following Dina. There are some more pictures. And new characters. As well as an expansion on the world.

One Fell Sweep was more action packed! I enjoyed the additional new characters. Maud and Helen were awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship Maud shared with Dina. It gave readers an insight to Dina’s life before the book series. Helen was so cute! I really enjoyed reading about her interactions with all the characters.

The Hiru and Draziri situation was well done! The Draziri believe that if they kill one Hiru then they are guaranteed a place in heaven. It is not stated in any records why it is that the Draziri God’s preach this. A Hiru comes to Dina requesting help. The Hiru states that they have found a solution through the Archivarian. A sentient being of intelligence. In order to accomplish this the Hiru says that they will need to gather all the Archivarius. Once all the parts are gathered then they’re home free. In return Dina will get to ask the Archivarian a question. 

Dina wants to help but can’t really put her guests in jeopardy. The Draziri are known to not obey rules. And will likely reveal themselves to her neighbors. Which goes against the Earth treaty. However she ends up accepting as the Draziri launch an attack on her inn for housing the Hiru. Dina decides to ask the Archivarian about her parents.

Maud’s character was very intelligent. Maud’s ex-husband was a vampire who pulled a lot of stupid actions. This resulted in them being sent to Kahari an almost dead planet. Maud’s husband was murdered for his actions, leaving her to fend for Helen. Her insight into politics was awesome to read about! Also she was such a great parent!

The romance was really good! Maud and Arland had some of the best interactions. Arland falls hard for Maud. He’s also really great to Helen. Sean and Dina were adorable in this installment! I actually felt something for them. I didn’t feel much in the second installment. Sean’s parents also come in. They were actually really nice to Dina. Which I really appreciated.

George should truly get a medal for all his scheming. It’s revealed that George is the one that gave Maud the Ku and sent the Hiru to Dina. It’s really amazing how much he can accomplish in the name of good. Officer Marias gets involved in the supernatural war. He takes the information about the supernatural pretty well and proves to be helpful towards their cause. The Assembly and Ad-Hal is expanded upon. I really like how in every book that is some world-building. 

I really appreciated all the quirks in this installment. Gertrude Hunt, Olasard (Dina’s cat named by Helen), Caldenia, Beast, and Orro. Each off these characters made such a great addition to this installment. I especially loved Gertrude Hunt’s role. 

I’m just going to clarify something: One Fell Sweep is not a final book. It ends on a cliffhanger. Dina doesn’t find her parents (she does get some information), the Assembly summon Dina but you don’t get to meet them, and there is something that is hunting the Ad-Hal’s.

Considering how popular these authors are, I don’t think they mean to end the series on a cliffhanger. This series is self-published and over the past two years they’ve been really busy with other releases. There will likely be more books. It’ll just take some time. Thus far (on their website) they are working on a short story with Arland and Maud. I do still hope that it comes soon though.

Overall I really enjoyed One Fell Sweep! I highly recommend this series.       

Review: Sweep in Peace

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Sweep in Peace by: Ilona Andrews

My Rating: 3 Stars

Dina DeMille doesn’t run your typical Bed and Breakfast. Her inn defies laws of physics, her fluffy dog is secretly a monster, and the only paying guest is a former Galactic tyrant with a price on her head. But the inn needs guests to thrive, and guests have been scarce, so when an Arbitrator shows up at Dina’s door and asks her to host a peace summit between three warring species, she jumps on the chance.

Unfortunately, for Dina, keeping the peace between Space Vampires, the Hope-Crushing Horde, and the devious Merchants of Baha-char is much easier said than done. On top of keeping her guests from murdering each other, she must find a chef, remodel the inn…and risk everything, even her life, to save the man she might fall in love with. But then it’s all in the day’s work for an Innkeeper…

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger warning: Death and mention of war.

After finishing Clean Sweep I was excited awaiting my turn in my library. Sweep in Peace had a lot of expectations to meet. I am happy to report that I enjoyed it! 

Sweep in Peace begins with a prologue from a new characters point of view. Said character has just murdered somebody due to personal reason. The unknown character is confronted by Klaus (Dina’s brother) and offered a job. The character’s name is revealed to be George. George accepts Klaus’s job offer.

Life has become boring for Dina. There’s no Sean or Arland, and just nothing to do. Caldenia mentions as much and suggests Dina should do some better advertising. Much to Dina’s surprise an Artibrator whose name is George asks for her help. George needs an inn to host a peace summit. Dina is a bit reluctant at first as it will be quite difficult to maintain all the parties of the guests arriving. However she agrees once she sees the amount of money she’ll earn. Dina does not anticipate just how taxing this peace summit or George can be.

I enjoyed reading Sweep in Peace! The story follows Dina’s point of view in first person. There are pictures throughout the book. The book opens with a prologue in third person following George. New characters are introduced.

As the new characters were introduced the world building was expanded upon. I really enjoyed reading about the situation on Nexus and how it affected the vampires, the Hope-Crushing-Horde, and the Merchant Clan. I was surprisingly interested in all the politics. I usually don’t care for politics. So this was a nice change.

There was an emphasis on understanding everyone’s side in the story and realizing that everyone has emotions. Which I appreciated and thought it was really important. Considering the different sides of the war.

As usual Dina was fantastic! She really does get better every time I read about her. Of course Caldenia played a vital part in the story. I’m also really surprised that Caldenia is treated very well for a criminal. All the new characters respect her and when speaking refer to her title. Orro and Dina’s cat were my favourite new additions!

Orro is a former chef that Dina hires to cook for the peace summit. The descriptions of the food he made was fantastic! It can really get you hungry. Orro himself is quite the character. Very dramatic but truly cares for people and what others think off him. The cat was a bit of surprise to Dina as well. I enjoyed reading about their interactions.

Sean does come in but much later on. And there was a plot twist regarding his appearance. He goes through quite a few changes in this book. It did hurt but it also made for good character development.

George, Jack, Gaston, and Sophie are some of the new characters. They play a major role in the book. George was extremely intelligent and manipulated a lot of the situations that occur. His role as an artibrator allowed him to get away with most things. Of course it came to a point where Dina stopped taking his nonsense. The Sci-Fi elements are expanded upon as George is from another Earth.

I did have some issues. I thought that because Klaus was introduced in the prologue that he would make an appearance. That didn’t happen. It almost felt like the prologue was written for the purpose of enticing the reader, but the information was never expanded upon. The mind games that all the guests (mostly George) partake in became very frustrating. When it all came together it made sense, but that didn’t really help.

Overall I enjoyed Sweep in Peace! I highly recommend the series.     

Review: Defy the Stars

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Defy the Stars by: Claudia Gray

 Nate Begle (Narrator) and Kasey Lee Huizinga (Narrator)

My Rating: 4 Stars

Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Trigger warning: War and death. Dystopian society.

Part of Defy the Stars was read during #rimpysreadsathon. 

Defy the Stars was recommended to me by my dear GR friend Elise! Click on her name to read her review. When I heard that Claudia Gray was releasing a new book I didn’t particularly care. I’ve never read any of her books nor did I care too. Then I came across Elise’s review and was instantly captivated! Listening to the audiobook sample sealed the deal. I am happy to say that I enjoyed this!

Noemi along with the rest of the pilots is about to go on a suicide mission. She isn’t necessarily comfortable with this, but is still ready to die. However Noemi is considered with her adoptive sister and best friend Esther. Plunged early on into the an attack from Earth Noemi sees Ether’s ship in the far distance. Steering herself to it, Noemi comes across an abandoned looking ship.

The two land on the ship, while Noemi quickly tries to save Esther’s life. In the process she runs into Abel. A mech that has been abandoned for the past 30 years. Abel swears himself to Noemi and proclaims that he will follow her every order. Thus shenanigans ensue.

Defy the Stars is a unique Sci-Fi! I had a lot of fun reading. It is narrated in third person omniscient following Noemi and Abel. There are some flashbacks. The narrators did an excellent job bringing the characters to life! Nate Begle was especially impressive as he did a monotone robot like voice for Abel.

Let me start off with saying that Defy the Stars is a journey book. I mean this in a literal sense. Abel and Noemi travel to many different planets. This took up a good 20 percent. So if you don’t like that then I would suggest that you read another book. Or you could finish this, as each planet had it’s own culture and religious views. Which was written beautifully!

My other point is that there is a large focus on religion. Noemi identifies as a Christian and throughout the book she is questioning God’s existence. And how she fits into this world. I personally thought that the author did an excellent job! It was relatable and I do think that others would relate. There are also several other religions and races. Yay for well done diversity!

And lastly Defy the Stars deals with refugee’s, assimilation, and the messy war. Each planet has a different culture and in order to fit in to said planet you have to assimilate to said culture. Also when Earth was in terrible condition they migrated to the other planets and assimilated. The refugee’s actually had a name but because I was listening to the audio I have no idea how to spell it. The refugee’s travel the galaxy and try to find a home. The Liberty War and all the different sides was handled excellently! It was messy and really great to read about all the different sides and opinions.

Defy the Stars is very similar to most YA dystopian books. I personally think that this book is much better than a lot of dystopian books. Earth is the villain, which is a surprise because most books have another planet as the main villain. There is a man made disease, a rebellion, and a war. Regardless all these points are handled really well where as some books aren’t.

Noemi and Abel’s relationship was fantastic! They don’t agree with each other at first. And all Abel is to Noemi is a tool and a means to a mission. As they spend more time together Abel grows to genuinely care about Noemi. From her health to her mental well being. Noemi too grows to really care for Abel. They develop a really great friendship! The romantic aspect doesn’t come until the end of the book. I appreciated that the author develops Noemi and Abel through their friendship. 

Noemi’s relationship with Esther and Esther’s family is a huge part of her character. She thinks that she’s always angry and not compassionate. Abel is the one to point out that isn’t true. Noemi overcomes a lot of her misgivings with the Gatson’s and tries to move on with her life. Her parents and baby brother died in a car accident. Noemi is a Lationa! Her culture isn’t mentioned but her religion is.

Abel’s fatherly relationship with his creator Mansfield is a huge part of his character arc. Abel truly loves Mansfield and wants to see him one day. Throughout the book Abel comes to terms with the fact that he has feelings. And even begins to question Mansfield and his motivations. This is partly due to Noemi. Also Abel’s sarcasm was really funny! And it was surprisingly sweet to read about his love for Casablanca. 

While on their journey Abel and Noemi come across various people. They come across the Razors. A group of hackers who aid Noemi and Abel. The leader of the Razors is Virginia and she was awesome! Her and Noemi’s friendship was really sweet to read about. Also Virginia is implied to be LGBTQ. Virginia’s lines were some of the best. Like so on point and hilarious. 

Harriet and Zayan are a biracial couple. Harriet a black and Zayan an Indian. They were so nice! Riko and Ephraim are a part of Remedy which is a rebellion. Both were very interesting as was their relationship to one-another. All the side characters are useful to the plot and have their own back stories. Which is quite rare in YA.

There are multiple hints throughout Defy the Stars about Mansfield’s questionable motives and the reason behind creating Abel. I still have to admit that I did not see that plot twist coming! I look forward to reading about more of his motivations in the sequel. 

The book does end on a sort of cliffhangers. Noemi and Abel are separated. With Noemi being back on Genesis and Abel seemingly starting up a business of sorts. Considering how high the stakes are I am excited for the sequel!  

I only had a few problems with Defy the Stars. I wasn’t invested in the first 20%. This is a character driven book, so in the beginning I wasn’t that into Abel and Noemi’s story. However the more I read the more I grew to love Abel and Noemi! Seriously those feelings kind of snuck up on me!

With the amount of POC and religions I was really surprised that there wasn’t any racism. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just kind of odd. And logically speaking it doesn’t make sense. To be honest I didn’t really mind while I was reading. But now that I’m typing this review I’ve come to realize this. Maybe this will come up in the sequel. We’ll have to see.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Defy the Stars! I am looking forward to the sequels. I highly recommend it! 

 

Review: Clean Sweep

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Clean Sweep by: Ilona Andrews

My Rating: 4 Stars

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

Beware spoilers ahead! 

Trigger warning: Gruesome animal murders, descriptions of murders (fantasy creatures), and abusive behaviour.

Ilona Andrews is an author pair that I have been hearing about for years now. The duo are well received within the paranormal and adult community. I was in the mood for a strong female character book, so I found Clean Sweep. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it!

One of Dina’s neighbors dogs has been murdered yet again. Although this time the body is nearby her Bed and Breakfast. The neighbors leave Dina to talk to said neighbor. In the process Dina confronts new neighbor Sean Evans about the murders. The conversation doesn’t go well with Sean calling her crazy. That night Dina sees an unknown monster. Presuming this is the monster attacking the dogs, she attacks and kills it. Dina then finds herself facing something that she may not be prepared for. And she can’t do it alone. 

I had so much fun reading Clean Sweep! The book is written in first person whilst in Dina’s point of view. There are chapter numbers as well as pictures. The pictures are in color. I really liked how the authors added that. You don’t really see many adult books with pictures in color.

The world building was incredible! It was a perfect blend of paranormal romance, fantasy, and sci-fi. There are actual planets that Dina has traveled through. The vampires and werewolves have their own residing planet.  I have never read a book as such. The magic system was unique! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Dina’s role as an innkeeper and the rules behind the world. I even enjoyed reading about the broom, the house, and Dina’s dog Beast.

Dina was such a breath of fresh air! She had a no-nonsense attitude, was highly intelligent, hilarious, and very relatable! And she read like a 24 year old. There is a bit of mystery surrounding the disappearance of her parents. It’s only barely touched upon in this book. While Dina wasn’t aware of everything that was happening, she knew enough about her the magic system. Breaks the stereotypical females in fantasy.

Sean was previously in the army and has recently retired. He moved to Dina’s neighborhood for a peaceful life. Of course this gets disturbed when the attacks start happening. Sean really grated on my nerves in the beginning. A majority of his behaviour was abusive. He did get significantly better as the story went on and apologized for his behaviour.

Sean’s interactions with Dina do cause him to grow. Dina is the one to explain the world his people comes from and the magic system. I have to admit that he did grow on me. Also his military knowledge was useful whenever they needed to plan anything. 

There isn’t much to say about Arland (the vampire). He has a very esteemed position in the army. The plot actually does revolve on him and some of his connections. He was smart and a charmer. That’s all I can think off. Arland is introduced towards the end of the book. Not much was revealed about him.

Caldenia is the only guest at Dina’s Bed and Breakfast. Holding a high position of sorts, she is a wanted murderer. Caldenia has killed thousands and for her own safety she is sent to Dina’s inn with the orders off never leaving. She actually paid Dina a lifetime worth of stay. In her own right she is also mysterious. Not that much is known about her. Caldenia knows quite a bit and was able to piece everything together before anyone else. Some of the best lines come from her. She was seriously funny.

The highlight off Clean Sweep is how well Dina managed to handle everything. She never resorts to anger. While she does get angry here and there, she is able to maintain a level head. She handled both Arland and Sean excellently. I just really love and appreciate Dina!

I had two problems with this book. I felt that the love triangle bogged everything down. Arland and Sean actually have fights over her. Usually which way is best to protect her. Although I appreciated that it was because of her lack of combat skills. Not her good looks. I also felt that Sean’s feelings for Dina were rushed. I felt no chemistry between them. While I would prefer for Sean to be end game, I mostly felt mutual respect and friendship between them. Not a crush. Had it not been for these points I probably would’ve rated it 5 stars otherwise.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Clean Sweep! I am looking forward to the next book. I highly recommend this series.         

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies

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Empress of a Thousand Skies by: Rhoda Belleza

My Rating: 5 Stars

Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

Beware spoilers ahead!

Empress of a Thousand Skies was taking the book community by storm. Not surprising considering that synopsis. Coupled with all the 5 star author reviews. I was hesitant to pick it up. While I enjoy Sci-Fi, I have found that the most popular YA Sci-Fi has not been for me. I was in the bookstore and I saw Empress of a Thousand Skies. I started to skim and knew that I needed to buy this book. I am happy to say that I enjoyed it!

Rhee is preparing for her coronation. She has finally come of age to take the throne. While preparing Julian’s (her best friend) father comes to see her. Much to Rhee and the readers surprise he attempts to kill her. In self defense Rhee murders him and creates a ceremonial killing. To let whoever sent him know that she’s coming from them. Before the whole ship blows up she is rescued by a stranger.

Aly is quite disappointed to hear that Rhee was murdered. Her murder disrupts a peace treaty between all the planets. After filming an episode for DroneVision Aly and his partner Vin go to investigate a mysterious space pod. While Vin goes off, Aly comes across the pod and opens it. Much to Aly’s surprise there is a grown man murdered in a ceremonial killing. Aly realizes that Rhee is alive and attempts to connect his superiors. After being chased by unknown droids Aly is framed for murdering Rhee.

Empress of a Thousand Skies really surprised me! I was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The writing is in third person in the points of view off Rhee and Aly. There’s a planet map and a character list. It is divided into parts and in the beginning of the those parts there is a text of history. Which gave some interesting incite and provided for extra world building.

Once I begun reading I had my doubts. Rhee wasn’t exactly that likable and she could be really stupid. Every time I would think to myself ‘Huh that doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘This is really dumb’. I swear it was like the author could read my mind! Belleza would then come in to show and explain us why that certain thought process was written as such. This is how the whole book went for me. I came to appreciate this because it made the characters feel real and flawed. Not Mary Sue’s or Special Snowflakes.

My favourite thing about Empress of a Thousand Skies was how well the diversity was done. Aly is a black and Rhee is Chinese. Black stereotypes was actually used as a plot device to propel the war to come. Aly dispels all these stereotypes and I really felt for him. Rhee also mentions who everyone hints at her too small eyes and make other jabs at her.

Sometimes it felt like I was reading about our world. Belleza did an amazing job showing how fear, racism, and hatred can propel a war. And how easy it is for some people to believe everything they are told. 

Religion does play a huge part of the story. As there are so many races’ each one has their own religion and belief system. A part of the peace treaty is respecting each planet’s religion rather than colonizing them. 

Another plus is that there’s barely any romance! It is hinted but the romance takes a backseat for the plot. This is a journey book. There’s a considerable amount off travel/running away. I felt that it was done well! As it was actually fast paced. To be honest a lot of the plot is predictable. But I still found myself enjoying it and was eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

You know all those cheesy future movies which always show a cell-phone in the brain? Belleza actually does that. The Cube is inserted into the brain and has some cell-phone features. You can call people and even message them. You also have to update it. What’s most interesting is that you can replay memories. Rhee does this quite often.

Now of course once she escapes Rhee has to deactivate her Cube. Rhee begins to experience ‘Organic’ memories. Like flashbacks coming to her whenever she thought of something. It was really interesting to read about her comparisons of the Cube vs. Organic memories. Similar to how we discuss people missing out on experiences for their phone. The Cube becomes a huge plot point as it can be hacked.

Belleza doesn’t hesitate to kill off characters. There are 4(?) characters killed off in Empress of a Thousand Skies. I did think some of these characters would play an important role. I was surprised when they were killed off. I wonder how many people will die in Blood of a Thousand Stars?

Despite what the synopsis says Aly and Rhee do not meet each other. They vaguely look at each other but never actually interact. They happen to be in the same places at the same time but again no interaction. I really don’t understand why the synopsis states as such. 

Rhee spends a majority of her story arc consumed by revenge. Her point of view is written formally. Rhee’s family is a huge part of her arc, as she believes they were murdered. Her sister in particular was in a lot of flashbacks. I enjoyed reading about the flashbacks as they give some more insight into her past.

Rhee has a crush on Julian and the two have known each other since they were children. Surprisingly Julian will likely make an appearance in Blood of a Thousand Stars. He comes in the last chapter. Considering that she killed his father it would be very interesting to see where their relationship goes.

Rhee has a crew of sorts. The guy who saved her (Dahlan) brings a few people to help Rhee in her quest to take the throne. Dahlan himself is consumed by revenge. They each have that in common. Which made for an interesting relationship between the two. Rhee grows a bit past her revenge and chooses to act instead of chasing various people.

Aly’s point of view is much more chill than Rhee’s. There are made-up swear words and he uses them often. Aly is actually a refugee from one the planets that used to be at war with Rhee’s planet. His family also plays a huge role and why he does not want to go back home. There are some flashbacks about his family and his time in a refugee camp. I felt that they were well written and I enjoyed reading it!

Vin who is his co-worker on the tv show DroneVision is vital to the story. It is revealed that Vin is in fact a spy and has had suspicions of the attack on Rhee being staged. Aly doesn’t exactly take this too well. But I really couldn’t blame him as it was a lot to take in. Still their friendship was fun to read and well written.

Aly meets a girl whose name is Kara while on the run. Kara is looking for her mother who was a scientist. She went missing along with other important people at a summit meeting. The two make an alliance to help each other. It’s through Aly’s point of view that readers find out about the Cube experimentation.

I am giving Empress of a Thousand Skies an extra star for all the issues that Belleza discussed. Without getting preachy.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Empress of a Thousand Skies! I will definitely be reading Blood of a Thousand Stars. I highly recommend it for everyone.     

Review: There Once Were Stars

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There Once Were Stars by: Melanie McFarlene

My Rating: 1 of 5 Stars

Peace. Love. Order. Dome. That’s the motto that the Order has given the residents of Dome 1618 to live by. Natalia Greyes is a resident of Dome 1618, a covered city protected from the deadly radiation that has poisoned the world outside for four generations. Nat never questioned the Order, until one day she sees a stranger on the outside of the dome. Now Nat wants answers. Is there life outside the dome and if so, what has the Order been hiding from everyone?

Beware spoilers ahead!

I had heard about this book through Twitter. There was a blog tour going on at the time. It sounded interesting so I added it to my shelf. I came across some reviews that mentioned cluttered writing style. Rather than buy this I downloaded a sample. I didn’t enjoy it. 

The book begins with Natalia’s 18th birthday. Her parents died when they exited the dome due to the radiation. Since then Nat has been living with her grandparents. Now that she is officially an adult she has to start working.

Behind everyone’s back she sneaks out and spies on the outer edge of the dome. She wants a better understanding of what happened to her parents. She falls asleep and wakes up to seeing strangers roaming outside of the dome. This shouldn’t be possible because of all the radiation.

This was a case of ‘It’s not you but me’. When I started reading this it felt off. Yes the writing style was a bit of a mess here-and-there. But for some reason it felt really weird to read the sample. I wasn’t interested in knowing about Nat’s life so I ended up skimming a lot of it. I also found it somewhat boring. I never felt any anticipation when she fell asleep and woke up to strangers. I felt nothing the whole I read and skimmed it. I could not bring myself to read more. 

Overall this book was not for me. But I still recommend it. I think it would actually be a good Sci-Fi.