Black Ice

My latest read, Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, features heavy snow, serial killers, deception and secrecy, surviving in the most extreme conditions, and a fair amount of violence. What did I take away from it, though? Don’t go hiking. Don’t go backpacking, camping, or anything else that involves being “one with nature.” Actually, don’t go outside and interact with people, and you’ll be just fine. A message from your hermit-in-training.

All jokes aside (though I’m really not joking), Black Ice is a thrilling–and sometimes aggravating–book that will likely keep many readers guessing until the very end. I thought I knew what was going on through most of the book, but even I was thrown for a loop a couple of times. I do like a book that keeps me on my toes.

Many girls spend spring break of their senior year at the beach–swimming, hanging out with friends, relaxing, and getting ready for that final push to graduation. Not Britt Pheiffer. Britt is planning to hike the Teton Range with her reluctant best friend, Korbie. Britt’s ex-boyfriend (and Korbie’s older brother), Calvin, is also along for the ride. Britt isn’t thrilled about that particular development, but maybe forced proximity will give her closure regarding the end of their relationship…or ignite a whole new spark.

Circumstances, however, force Britt and Korbie into a dangerous situation before they’re able to meet up with Calvin. While driving to Korbie’s family lodge, the girls encounter extremely hazardous conditions. The two girls are forced to abandon their car and look for shelter before they freeze to death. They eventually find a remote cabin, occupied by two young men, Shaun and Mason, who appear to be very normal at first glance.

But there’s nothing normal about this situation.

Britt and Korbie quickly learn that Shaun and Mason are on the run, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to evade capture. That includes forcing Britt, a self-proclaimed expert in navigating the area, to lead them to the highway. They leave Korbie behind and journey into the frozen wilderness.

Britt hopes that Calvin will somehow come to her rescue, but she’s ultimately responsible for saving herself. She looks for opportunities to escape, and she becomes even more determined when she discovers shocking evidence that her captors may be responsible for the deaths of several local girls.

Something, though, is not adding up. Britt thinks that Shaun, the more violent of these two fugitives, is capable of murder, but she’s not so sure about Mason. He seems to have some sort of moral code, and Britt has observed some tension between Mason and Shaun. Could there be more going on here than meets the eye? Can Britt possibly count on Mason to be an ally? Or is he really the more dangerous of the two men?

As Britt navigates this terrifying, treacherous, confusing reality, she reflects on her relationships with Calvin, Korbie, her own family, and she comes to understand that she’s much stronger than even she realized. And she’ll need that strength for what’s to come. As Britt moves closer to what appears to be her salvation, she also uncovers some horrifying secrets–secrets that shake the very foundation of her world and place her in a more perilous situation than she could have ever dreamed of.


So…Black Ice definitely kept me on the edge of my seat–and that’s great–but this book was not without its issues. Maybe they’re more my issues than anything else, but I’ll address them anyway.

First up, there’s Korbie. I 100% loathe this character…and I figure I’m supposed to. It’s obvious to me–and to Britt–that Korbie is not a good friend. She acts superior and spoiled, and I seriously doubt she would have thought of Britt’s safety over her own. Her attitude provides a good contrast to Britt’s, and that’s probably the best thing I can say about Korbie.

Then there’s the messed up love triangle. I’m not going to go into specifics because that would give you a major spoiler, but I think Britt has a serious problem with her taste in guys. I mean, really. Both potential love interests were not exactly great to her, and one may or may not have been a deranged murderer. Sure, it miraculously and inexplicably works out for Britt in the end, but it just didn’t track for me. Maybe I’m cold and completely devoid of romantic sentiment. (I probably am.)

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way too neat and completely unrealistic ending. It was much too “rainbows and sunshine” for my taste, especially in a book that had been so intriguing up to that point.

Even with these issues, I did enjoy Black Ice. It was exciting, easy-to-read, and kept me engaged the whole way through. I think it’s a great fit for YA suspense collections.

If you’d like more information on Black Ice and other books by Becca Fitzpatrick, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Steel Scars

Steel Scars is the second novella in Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series. It is a very good idea to read Red Queen before this story so that you have a bit of context. Otherwise, I doubt much of it will make sense.

Last night, I forced myself to sit down and finish reading Steel Scars, which gives a little more background on the character of Farley, a member of the Scarlet Guard, from Red Queen. This story is the second Red Queen prequel novella, and, unlike Queen Song before it, I found it kind of difficult to get through this one. Maybe it was all of the military-like correspondence. Or maybe it was because I didn’t feel a huge connection to Farley in the first place. Either way, it wasn’t easy for me to keep 100% of my attention on this story.

So…is Steel Scars a bad story? Certainly not. Once you figure out how it’s set up, it adds some depth to Farley’s part in the series as a whole. We see more about how the Scarlet Guard operates and the plans they have in motion. It also gives readers at a look at one of the characters from Red Queen that was a bit of a surprise at the end. (I’m trying not to spoil too much here, but the character I’m referring to has a connection to Mare. I’ll leave it at that.)

My biggest issue here is that Farley didn’t make much of an impact on me in Red Queen, so I didn’t feel that I simply had to know about her early work with the Scarlet Guard. (If you feel differently, please let me know in the comments.) I did, however, appreciate seeing how Farley’s path intersected with Mare’s. I think that connection could have been explored a bit more, but that’s just my opinion.

Even though I ended up liking Steel Scars for the most part, I guess I was expecting more. I wanted to like this story as much as I did Red Queen and Queen Song, and I just didn’t. Maybe the latest novel, Glass Sword (which came out on Tuesday), will focus a little more on Farley and make her early actions more relevant. We shall see.

To learn more about Steel Scars, the other Red Queen storiesand Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page.

Queen Song

Note: Even though Queen Song is a prequel novella to Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, it’s a good idea to read Red Queen first. (Also, Red Queen was published first, so there you go.)

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading Queen Song, the first prequel novella in the fabulous Red Queen series. This short story tells the tale of Coriane, who you may recall was the mother of Cal and was the first wife of King Tiberias. That’s not where her story began, though. Coriane was a simple girl–or as simple as a Silver can be in this world–and she had resigned herself to a somewhat mundane existence. Fate, however, had other plans…

All Coriane has ever wanted is to build things. She delights in taking things apart, figuring out how they work, and putting them back together better than they were before. She spends her spare time poring over technical manuals…when she’s not being forced to suffer through etiquette lessons or the like. As a Silver of somewhat noble birth, she’s expected to take part in the trappings of the royal court, even though she’d rather be doing almost anything else.

One evening at the palace, Coriane comes into contact with two people with the power to change her life forever. First, there is Elara, a girl with the ability to enter–and toy with–the minds of others. Coriane finds herself as Elara’s terrified plaything for several horrible minutes, and she escapes to the relative safety outside. It is here that she meets Tibe, the Crown Prince. The two strike up a conversation…a conversation that Coriane never expects to lead to anything more than an unlikely friendship. It seems that Tibe may have other ideas…

As Coriane and Tibe grow closer together, it becomes clear to everyone that the Crown Prince has chosen his future queen. This puts an enormous target on Coriane’s back, and, even though she has come to love Tibe, she remains fearful of what others may do and expect of her…especially the dangerous and devious Elara.

Documenting her thoughts in a diary, Coriane reveals what it’s like to go from Silver nobody to Queen. Little by little, she feels herself being lost to the world around her. She’s simply not the girl she once was. She fears for the fate of her loved ones–especially her brother Julian, her husband Tibe, and her son Cal–and herself. She worries over the continuing war and what it could mean for her family. And she wonders if the disturbing thoughts in her head are her own.

Is Coriane in control of her own fate, or is someone else whispering deadly thoughts into her mind to further their own agenda? You decide…


Given how Queen Song ended and what happened in Red Queen, I have no doubt as to who was pulling–and cutting–Coriane’s strings. I’m guessing that anyone who’s read either of these stories will come to the same conclusion I did.

Queen Song gives readers a quick look at the early lives of several characters from Red Queen. Readers see what lead to some of their decisions and what continues to drive them. This is particularly true for Cal, Tibe (the King), Julian, Elara, and even Maven. (I doubt I have to explain why.)

Coriane’s story, while often heartbreaking, gives a bit of insight into her relationship with both her brother and the man who would be her husband. It also shows how dedicated Coriane was to her son and having him grow up in a world without the constant threat of war. This young woman wanted a better world for her family, but, sadly, someone else wanted to be in control of that world. (Again, if you’ve read Red Queen, I don’t have to explain anything more.)

I think Queen Song is an excellent addition to the Red Queen saga, and I look forward to reading even more. There is one more novella, Steel Scars, which is already out, and I plan to read that this weekend. The second full-length novel, Glass Sword, comes out next week (!!!), and I’ll get my hands on that as soon as possible.

To learn more about Queen SongRed Queen, and Victoria Aveyard, visit the author’s websiteblogTwitter feed, or Facebook page. Have fun out there.

The Kiss of Deception

I love books with strong women at the forefront. I adore fantasy. I’ve also been known to enjoy a good love triangle. Well, I got all that and more in The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, but…let’s just say it took me a while to get into this book.

My copy of The Kiss of Deception is an uncorrected galley (thanks to NetGalley), so I’m hoping that some of the things I had issues with will be worked out in editing. The book is scheduled to be released on July 15th, so I may have to pick up another copy to see if anything changed. Now, I’m not saying it was a bad book. Trust me, I’ve read LOADS of bad books, and this one definitely has the potential to be a truly outstanding book in a promising new series.

Our story begins with Lia, the Princess of Morrighan, preparing for her wedding to the prince of a neighboring kingdom. She’s never met the prince, but Lia wants no part of a marriage where love is never considered and she’s viewed as little more than a broodmare. So, on the eve of her wedding, Lia and her maid Pauline make a run for it.

Lia and Pauline evade everyone looking for them–soldiers, barbarians, bounty hunters–and arrive in Pauline’s hometown of Terravin. Here, the two are no longer princess and maid. They are now girls who work in an inn for their wages…and Lia has never been happier. She’s finally escaped a destiny that was mapped out for her, and she’s the one in charge of her life.

What Lia barely considers, however, is that there are people out there looking for her…and two have found her.  The prince she left at the altar and an assassin sent to end her life.  They have tracked young Lia to the inn where she now lives and works, and each of them is determined to see his own agenda through…but they don’t count on their own feelings for this girl. Lia has captivated both young men, Kaden and Rafe, and it seems they will do nearly anything to earn her favor. But what will Lia do when she discovers who these young men truly are? Will she be able to trust either of them when so many lies stand between them?

Soon Lia is faced with an untenable choice. Should she stay in her somewhat comfortable life in Terravin, or should she come out of hiding and face her past and her future? Lia does what she must in the hopes of preventing war, but that choice will lead her into troubles that she could scarcely have foreseen, troubles that could endanger her very life.

Will she be able to get out of alive? Who can she trust to help her? And what will Lia do when she realizes that she’s more important than anyone ever thought? Is she strong enough to fight–and win–the battles in front of her?

_______________

So, in the little recap above, I think I’ve made The Kiss of Deception sound pretty good, and I’ve captured the highlights without giving too much away.  It is a good book, but here are a few things that bugged me a little:

  • I didn’t figure out what a Remnant was or what was so special about it until about halfway through the book. Since this is book one in The Remnant Chronicles, I thought a little more explanation at the beginning of the book would have been nice.
  • Sometimes, the story seemed to drag on. There was a lot of time spent on donkey- or horse-back, and I felt like I experienced every single one of those miles. I could have done without some of that.
  • A pronunciation or translation guide would have been helpful for all of the foreign words and phrases in the book. Sometimes, they just weren’t explained adequately by using context clues.
  • It wasn’t exactly clear where or when this book was set. Is it post-apocalyptic Earth? Is it an alternate history? I just wasn’t sure, and that was a little aggravating.

All that being said, I do think the main character, Lia, is one to be admired. That girl has a backbone of steel, and I’ll probably read the rest of this series just to see her make mincemeat of the Neanderthals around her. (The next book, by the way, is The Heart of Betrayal and will be out sometime in 2015.)

I also liked reading the chapters from the prince’s and assassin’s points of view. Eventually, we learned their names, but it was still unclear which one was the royal and which was the killer. Personally, I had the two mixed up, so the big reveal was a bit of a shock for me. I’m sure other readers will feel the same way.

I hope you’ll give The Kiss of Deception a try.  I’ve been impressed with a couple of Mary E. Pearson’s other books (The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Fox Inheritance), so I knew this would be a good book. With a little polishing, I think it could be a great one.

Bitterblue

While it’s not entirely necessary to read Graceling and Fire (the first two books in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series) before reading Bitterblue, it is highly recommended…simply because all of these books are freakin’ fantastic!

On May 1st of this year, I rushed out to my nearest bookstore to pick up a book that I had every intention of reading immediately.  Sadly, as it often does, life got in the way, and I just recently made the time to read Bitterblue, the third book in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling trilogy.  I’ve been anticipating reading this book for a LONG time, and it was very much worth the wait.  I absolutely adored Graceling and Fire, so I knew that Bitterblue would be no exception, but I wasn’t prepared for exactly how much I would love this third installment.  It did take me a long time to read this one–nearly three weeks.  (A lot of different things factored into this, including but not limited to being displaced from my home due to a break-in, webmaster training and faculty meetings at school, sickness, fatigue, work, and just being busy doing other stuff.)  Anyway, I think taking so long to read Bitterblue helped me to really absorb what was happening, and, at least in this case, made entering this fantasy world the escape that I really needed it to be.

Bitterblue picks up eight years after the conclusion of Graceling. King Leck of Monsea is dead, but his legacy of cruelty–and his Grace of having everyone believe his lies–lives on.  His daughter, Queen Bitterblue, is left with the arduous task of picking up the shattered pieces of Monsea and putting them back together again.  But who can she really trust to help her?  She is certain that her advisors–who also worked for her lying, sadistic father–are keeping things from her.  She can’t get a straight answer from anyone, and anytime she brings up the past, those around her simply shut down.  (Some things, it seems, are simply too painful to remember.)  Her true friends and confidantes (Graceling‘s Katsa and Po among them) are few and far between, and, though they’re willing to help Bitterblue when they can, it ultimately falls to Bitterblue to find the answers she needs…even if she has to disguise herself and escape her guards to do it.

Bitterblue finds a new freedom when she leaves the castle and loses herself in the capital city of Monsea.  No one knows her as their queen.  She can be anyone and do anything.  She can find some answers to the questions that plague her every waking minute.  She can become friends with people who won’t make a habit of lying to her…because they don’t know who she truly is.

One of those friends is a Graceling named Sapphire.  Bitterblue is drawn to him like no one she’s ever encountered.  What’s so special about this young man?  And what will he do when he finally learns the truth…that the girl he’s come to care about is actually the Queen of Monsea?

While Bitterblue is facing her new, confusing feelings about Sapphire, she’s also dealing with betrayal at every level, the haunting legacy left by her father, spies in her midst, uncovering the lost history of her people, and the threat of war with neighboring kingdoms.  It’s all a little much for an eighteen-year-old monarch to handle.  Bitterblue is doing all she can to keep her head above water, but the pressure of everything weighing on her is starting to make her question her ability to rule.  Will she be able to rebuild Monsea while retaining her sanity, or did her father do more damage than Bitterblue can ever hope to repair?  Read Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore to learn if one young girl can be the queen–and the hope–that her people need.

So, yeah…I loved this book, and you should read it.  It’s beautifully complex, and it allows those of us who adored Graceling and Fire to revisit some of our favorite characters while introducing us to new characters to love and loathe.  I think I’ve said this about the previous two books, but I’ll say it again because the same applies to Bitterblue:  Tolkien fans will delight in this book and its companions.  (My fellow Ringers know this is super high praise.)  Kristin Cashore is wonderfully adept at world-building, and I found myself, at several points in this book, looking outside and being disappointed that my surroundings didn’t mirror those in Monsea (especially Bitterblue’s castle).

I can’t say enough good things about the entire Graceling trilogy.  I just wish there were more books to look forward to.

If you’d like more information about this series or author Kristin Cashore, check out her blog at http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/.  You may also enjoy the Bitterblue book trailer below.  I truly hope you enjoy this book and the others in this series as much as I have.