Captive (Blackcoat Rebellion #2) by Aimée Carter

After reading Book 1 in the Blackcoat Rebellion, Pawn (reviewed here), I was happy to get an ARC of Book 2, Captive. This volume may seem fairly short, clocking in at just 298 pages, but it’s full of action.

Captive Front Cover (Harlequin)

Captive Front Cover (Harlequin)

SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for Book 1, Pawn.

 

THE PLOT: At the end of Pawn, Kitty Doe had discovered that the real Lila Hart was still alive, and Daxton Hart was actually a masked former V. Kitty is still playing the role of Lila, but she hasn’t told Knox (real Lila’s fiancé) that Daxton doesn’t have amnesia like he’s pretending. Knox is trying to lead the Blackcoats, but Kitty is stubbornly throwing some chinks in his plans. Then Kitty is caught trying to get papers revealing fake Daxton’s real identity out of his office. She manages to hide the papers, but her boyfriend Benji is killed…by Knox. Daxton has Kitty sent (as Lila) to Elsewhere, the horrible prison/hunting grounds for Is and criminals. Kitty is rebranded with an X, losing her precious VII forever, and somehow has to manage to survive Elsewhere. But does she even want to survive without Benji? Whose side is Knox really on? Who is fake Daxton? And why were there papers on Kitty’s pre-Lila past in the safe?

MY TWO CENTS: The action really starts once Kitty arrives in Elsewhere. We’re introduced to a bunch of new characters: prison guards, prisoners, snitches, and secret Blackcoats. The reader doesn’t know who Kitty should trust, and there are several curves I didn’t see coming. I think the overall plot moved along quite nicely by taking Kitty away from Benji and Knox and throwing her into a den of wolves. It also helps develop Kitty’s character, since much of the action is instigated by her immaturity at the beginning of the book. We finally learn about Kitty’s heritage.

BOTTOM LINE: This was a fairly tense read. I enjoyed this book as much as, maybe more than, its predecessor, and am very much looking forward to the final book in the series, Queen.

TEACUP RATING: I give Captive four out of five teacups for suspense and action.

ON SALE DATE: Captive will be available in hardcover and eformats on November 25, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

 

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The Word Exchange by Alena Graedom

I owe this author a big apology. I have been reading this book since April. It NEVER takes me this long to read and review a book. All I can say is, I had a lot of trouble getting into it and STAYING into it, yet I really wanted to finish it.

Word Exchange Hardcover (XX)

Word Exchange Hardcover ((Knopf Doubleday)

THE PLOT: In a slightly futuristic world, almost all written word has been replaced by devices called Memes that respond to thought. Anana is searching for her father, Doug, who worked on the North American Dictionary of the English Language and refused to use Memes. Helping her is her coworker and father’s colleague, Bart, who also serves as an alternating narrator. Bart is in love with Ana, but is also sort-of friends with her ex, Max, whose company is introducing an even more invasive version of the Meme. Is he behind Doug’s disappearance? Then people start showing signs of aphasia…mixing up words and making up fake words in an illness known as “word flu.” Will technology wipe out language as we know it?

MY TWO CENTS: As an editor, I thoroughly abhor what texting and Twitter have done to our language. Language is being dumbed down to fit in 144 characters or less, and new “words” like vacay make me sick. In that mindset, I was totally ready to enjoy this book and its message. Unfortunately, I feel like the message got a bit lost in an overly long sea of too many words. I realize that wordiness is part of the punchline, but an author also needs to keep the reader moving along. Maybe the editor needed to be more brutal in streamlining it. I got bogged down in the reading so many times that I finally switched to the audio version about 1/3 of the way through. I will say that I connected with Bart as the narrator more than I connected to Anana.

BOTTOM LINE: A great premise, but a little too detailed and dragged out, and too many unimportant characters. Some readers love it; I found it okay. I wanted to love it.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover, eformats, and audio. It will be released in paperback will be released on 2/3/15.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Atlantia Sample Chapter by Ally Condie

Atlantia Front Cover

Atlantia Front Cover (Dutton/Penguin)

I’m not sure what drew me to check out this sample chapter. It might have been the cover, or the title; and when I read the summary copy, I thought, “Why not?” Having read it, I’m definitely interested enough to check out the book. In a different dystopian twist, most humans now live in a city under the ocean. In a coming-of-age ceremony, teens choose whether they will live out their lives in the underwater city or be transported to the surface and, therefore, separated from their family and friends forever. Only one person from each family can go above. Rio always wanted to go to the surface. But after their mother dies, Rio’s twin, Bay, convinces her to stay. So in the ceremony, Rio chooses Atlantia…and Bay goes next, choosing the surface! Since Bay is immediately hustled away to the transport, Rio is left wondering what made Bay choose going above. Was it something as mundane as a boy? Now Rio wants to escape the city, but it’s never been done. The only person who might help is Rio’s estranged aunt, who’s known as a sea witch.

I have not read Ally Condie before, but I was drawn in by her descriptions of the city and the immediate suspense she created during the ceremony. There are some Little Mermaid parallels, but not a direct retelling by any means. I’m interested to see where this goes.

Atlantia will be released in hardcover, eformats, and audio on October 28, 2014.

Note: Review is based on a sample chapter provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Jewel (Jewel #1) by Amy Ewing

The Jewel has an absolutely gorgeous cover, similar to its HarperTeen family members The Luxe and The Selection. If you put a glorious ballgown on the cover, it’s probably going to catch my interest (and that of its target market, teen girls). So how is the book behind the cover?

The Jewel Front Cover (HarperCollins)

The Jewel Front Cover (HarperCollins)

THE PLOT: Like many dystopian novels, this world is divided into levels: the Marsh (the poor), the Smoke (factories), the Farm (food production), the Bank (merchants), and the Jewel (royalty). But royal women can’t bear their own children, or aren’t allowed to. Instead, teen girls from lower levels are tested to see if they have the power of the auguries, magic that allows them to change an object’s appearance and even make something grow. If positive, the girls are taken from their families and farmed to become surrogate birth mothers for royalty’s children.

Violet is one of these girls, and she’s about to be sold at auction. She’s purchased by the Duchess of the Lake and forced to leave behind her name, her friends, her family, and her entire identity. Supposedly, once she has borne the Duchess a child, she will be sterilized and sent to a quiet area to live out her life with other surrogates.

There are many catches to this scenario, though, including: Violet will have to bear a daughter and make the fetus develop quickly to beat all the other royal women trying to match a daughter up with the son of the Exetor. Using the auguries to that extent causes nosebleeds, dizziness, fainting spells, and maybe even death. The Duchess is cruel, using physical luxuries as both carrot and whip to ensure Violet’s cooperation. Finally, Violet meets a boy who’s as much of a slave as she is, but a forbidden love develops. Is there any scenario where Violet can ever be a person in her own right?

MY TWO CENTS: I felt that too many things were going on in this story. Segregated society, forced surrogate mothers, magical powers, weird feuding royalty…it’s not like it was difficult to keep track of what was happening; it just felt like a lot of elements thrown together.

I’m also trying to figure out what this book might be saying about the empowerment (or lack thereof) of women. On one hand, the Lone City seems to be run entirely by women; men seem to play a very minor role. Surrogates are even artificially inseminated. On the other hand, the royal women are all gossipy, backbiting, and devious. Their power is based on negative behavior. The surrogates have all the power to produce future generations of royalty, yet they are completely powerless to choose pretty much anything for themselves. So what message are we to take away?

Despite these concerns, The Jewel is immensely readable. While it’s true that the message is ambiguous, and Violet doesn’t have the strength or intelligence of a lot of her dystopian heroine counterparts, the writing really sucked me in. I just wanted to keep reading. I didn’t want to put down. Plus, it ended on a serious cliffhanger (with some elements that I saw coming, granted), so I’ll be looking out for the sequel.

In some ways, The Jewel reminded me of VC Andrews books like Heaven, Dawn, and Ruby. A poor but talented teenage girl is catapulted from poverty to the very heart of wealthy society, but of course the price for bountiful food, sumptuous living arrangements, and glamorous clothes is measured in self-esteem instead of money. Her foster mother can be kind, but only to achieve her own ends, and is abusive more often than not.

BOTTOM LINE: While not great literature by any means, the writing drew me in. I’m officially calling it a guilty pleasure. If you like VC books, you might want to give this one a try. I’ll definitely be waiting for the sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Out of five teacups, I give The Jewel between three-and-a-half and four.

ON SALE DATE: The Jewel is available now in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Tung Richmond

The first time I saw this YA book in a catalog, the tagline caught my eye: “What if Hitler had won World War II?” And my response was, “SQUEEEEE!” Not at the thought of Hitler’s victory, of course; but at the idea of a new book that deals with the consequences of imagined alternate history. I put it on my watch-list and requested it as soon as it popped up on Netgalley (Thank you so much, Scholastic!) I did wonder how the Nazis would have won the war in this reality…and that’s when a little bit of  Captain America crossed with X-Men is added to the mix. Wheeee!

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

The Only Thing to Fear Front Cover (Scholastic)

THE PLOT: (Imagine movie voiceover guy here…) In a WORLD where Adolf Hitler won WWII and executed President Roosevelt, and Washington D.C. is now known as Neuberlin…

It’s been 80 years since the Allies lost the war, and the world is divided into territories ruled by Nazis, Japan, Italy, and the Soviet Union. Germany won the war by developing genetically enhanced “super soldiers” before America could develop the atom bomb. These sentinels continue to enforce the rule of the Empire by wielding special powers. American “peasants” are known as Kleinbauern.

Zara St. James is a teenager who lives in the Shenandoah Valley of what used to be the United States, but is now the Eastern American Territories of the Nazi Empire. Zara is the product of a Japanese soldier who used and abandoned his American lover, so she is looked down on as a Untermensch, a sub-human half-breed, or a Mischling of mixed race. Zara’s mother was killed in the last attempt at rebellion. Her uncle Redmond (Red) also used to be a revolutionary, but now lives a docile life trying to fly under the radar of the Nazi government while he brings Zara up.

Zara has lost friends and loved ones who dared to speak out against the regime. Her life of servitude is spent cleaning the nearby Nazi academy and serving the cadets who attend. She tries to keep out of the cadets’ way and avoid drawing attention to herself, but Bastian Eckhart, son of Fort Goering’s commanding officer, seems to have an interest in her. What are his real motivations?

Plus, Zara is hiding a secret: she’s an anomaly—she has special powers like the sentinels, probably passed down through her father. She can control the wind, and eventually finds out she can create lightning as well. Uncle Red begs her to keep her powers hidden because the Nazis kill Kleinbauern anomalies, who might be a threat to them. But a series of events eventually pushes Zara straight to the heart of the American rebellion.

MY TWO CENTS: I have a lot of respect for any author who writes alternate history.  First the author has to KNOW history, and then he or she has to deal with the ripple effect of how changing the events also changes the outcomes. That’s a LOT of detail, from the big things, like how France is now the “French Territorial State,” to all the horrible detail stepped out in the White House scene in the climax. Maybe some readers will be drawn into researching some details of WWII. For example, do kids today even learn who Goering was? If not, maybe they’ll be intrigued enough to find out.

The book gradually builds toward two battles, a prison break and a final, massive mission. The first half of the book lays a lot of groundwork, while the second half pays off with a lot of action. My one semi-gripe could be that Zara becomes so important to the final mission, which seems to happen very quickly. I don’t know, though, if a sequel is guaranteed, and if not, it makes a lot of sense for Zara to fulfill a lot of potential by the end of this book.

Finally, I cannot stress how glad I am that this book his fairly little romance in it. Yes, we get that Bastian and Zara have a spark between them, but there is no full-blown romance and, thank you SO much, no love triangle.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a young adult book for the thinking reader. The spirit of The Hunger Games, but with a basis in actual world history. Young readers who are just looking for entertainment might learn something without even realizing it! A tiny hint of possible romance, but the book doesn’t revolve around it.

TEACUP RATING: A solid five out of five teacups. I’m glad this book lived up to the excitement I felt before reading it, and I sincerely hope there’s a sequel, if not a series.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover and eformats on September 30, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Immortal Crown (Age of X #2) by Richelle Mead

I love Richelle Mead books. Flat-out love them, unapologetically. I don’t see them as “guilty pleasures”—just plain-old pleasure reading. They’re usually engaging and fairly light, easy reads. The characters are interesting, and the plots don’t require a lot of thoughtful analysis afterwards. Therefore, I was slightly taken aback by the first book in Mead’s adult “Age of X” series, Gameboard of the Gods. To begin with, it was written in third person with three narrators while her other books are first-person with one female lead. Second, it just seemed overly ambitious, maybe even heavy. I’m not saying Richelle Mead shouldn’t try to change up her game; I just didn’t love it for reasons I usually love Richelle Mead books. So on to Book 2!

The Immortal Crown front cover (Dutton/Penguin)

The Immortal Crown front cover (Dutton/Penguin)

WARNING: This review will contain spoilers from Book 1, Gameboard of the Gods.

THE PLOT: The series takes place in a dystopian society where the Republic of United North America (RUNA) is a superpower. The decline took place after a genetic disease referred to as Cain ravaged the world, and religious beliefs aren’t tolerated. But the ancient gods are rising and ready to take over the world.

In this installment, “religious investigator” Justin is still dodging being officially pledged to the god Odin, whose two ravens live in Justin’s head and provide guidance. (That sounds REALLY weird if you didn’t read the first book.) Praetorian Mae is still protecting him, and they head with a group of politicians to Arcadia (i.e.,  the country made up of the former southern United States such as Alabama). But Mae has a secret agenda of looking for her long-lost niece in the horrible Arcadian wife-and-concubine farms. An unknown goddess seems to be providing her with assistance, but what will be the price? Justin is defusing an Arcadian plot to bring religion to the RUNA, all while wondering if he should just finally cave and become Odin’s priest. And of course, he has to fight his attraction to Mae, because “claiming her” will mean he belongs to Odin. There’s some political intrigue, and also Justin’s ward, Tessa, possibly being used by various forces to stir the pot.

MY TWO CENTS: I really got into this book and wanted to keep reading to see what happened…with the exception of the Tessa sections. I just felt like all the action ground to a complete halt with her. I just don’t find Tessa that interesting of a character…which bums me out, because, hey, love the name! 😉 I wouldn’t recommend SKIPPING the Tessa chapters or anything, because you know it’s all going to tie together. But all the action is with Mae and Justin, and that’s where the reader wants to be.

As a side note, when Odin was revealed as Justin’s god in the first book, I wondered about that in light of the recent popular Thor movies. Mostly, I wondered if we were going to see this guy:

Hiddles, I love you so much.

Hiddles, I love you so much.

Okay, maybe not in this Disney/Marvel incarnation, but, you know, the character of Loki is pretty popular. All I’ll say is, keep reading.

BOTTOM LINE: Maybe I just knew better what to expect from the series this time, but I liked this installment much better than the first one. That said, I’d like to go back and reread the first one now, so I’m inclined to make that purchase when I wasn’t on the first read.

TEACUP RATING: I give it a solid 4 out of 5 teacups, maybe even a little more. I’m now fully engaged in this series.

ON SALE DATE: The Immortal Crown will be on sale in hardcover and ebook formats on May 29, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Pawn (Blackcoat Rebellion #1) by Aimée Carter

 

Pawn

Pawn Front Cover (Harlequin Teen)

Dystopian is the new vampires in YA. While I don’t claim to have read every dystopian YA novel or series since “Hunger Games,” I have read a few. For me, this one stands out a little from the pack as an engrossing story with a sympathetic yet spunky heroine.

 THE PLOT:  Like many other future worlds, this one has a caste system where people are grouped by numbers from I to VII. Seventeen-year-olds take a test that designates what their number will be. VIIs are the “elected” royalty, while Is are sent “Elsewhere,” along with other drains on society, like anyone over the age of 60 (except VIIs). No one really knows what Elsewhere is, but when readers find out…it’s actually even worse than you think. Anyway, poor Kitty Doe has dyslexia and doesn’t test well, which results in her earning a lowly III. She knows this means she has pretty much wrecked her life and that of her boyfriend, Benjy, who is sure to score a fantastic VI when he takes the test. Kitty chooses a life of prostitution instead, but before she can really act on this plan, her life changes forever.  [This is one plot point I have a serious problem with: In this future world, they can “mask” someone to look exactly like someone else, even change their height and bodily bone structure with minimal recovery time…but they cannot change someone’s EYE COLOR? Not with lasers? Not with contacts? Really?]

Kitty is pulled from the brothel based on her unusual eye color to be surgically altered into Lila Hart, a deceased member of the ruling Hart family; become a VII; marry Lila’s fiancé, Knox; and enjoy all the perks that come with it…but of course, there’s a price. Or several prices. To make sure she cooperates, her new “uncle” Daxton Hart has one of her friends killed, and then shows her the true meaning of Elsewhere using someone Kitty loves as a victim. But even the ruling family has issues. Lila Hart is dead for a reason. She was a not-so-secret rebel leader, and other members of the family were working with her…and want Kitty to step into Lila’s shoes as a rebel as well.

MY TWO CENTS:  There are several twists, turns, and surprises in this book, which keeps it moving at a quick pace. The reader definitely feels for Kitty and wants her to navigate this horrible mess successfully. I do wish it wasn’t set up to become a love triangle, but that seems to be almost a requirement for YA.

BOTTOM LINE:  Despite some flaws, I was intrigued enough by this book to look forward to its sequel, “The Captive.” Bring on the rebellion! I also like this better than the author’s “Goddess Test” series.

TEACUP RATING:  I give it 4 to 4½ out of 5 teacups full of rebellious black tea.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

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