An Ember in the Ashes

Brutal. That word sums up Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes better than a long blog post ever could. Is that going to stop me from giving you more words? No, but be prepared. This book is no happy-go-lucky stroll through a meadow. It’s dark, savage, and, at times, difficult to read.

An Ember in the Ashes–the first book in the series–is loosely based on ancient Rome, but it’s also extremely relevant to the sometimes terrifying world we live in today. When you read it, I’m confident you’ll see the parallels.

Laia lives under the thumb of the Martial Empire. Born a Scholar, Laia and her family are treated as less than human. They live in constant fear of the Masks, deadly soldiers who seek out and eliminate those who would defy the Empire.

One night, the Empire’s minions come for Laia’s brother. A vicious Mask kills Laia’s grandparents and takes her brother prisoner. Laia’s only salvation is running and hiding in the city’s catacombs. It is here that she meets up with the Resistance.

These rebels seek to end the Empire’s reign of terror, and Laia hopes that they will help to free her brother. They agree, but Laia must do something for them first–something that could put her life in more peril than ever. She must become a spy and live as the Commandant’s slave at the Blackcliff Academy, the training ground for Masks.

Elias is in his final year of Mask training. He is one step away from becoming one of the Empire’s most savage weapons…and he wants no part of it. He can’t stand everything he’s forced to do, and he hates the brutality that surrounds him. Elias has plans to desert, but those plans are put on hold when he learns that he’s meant to go along a different path, one that could lead to the freedom he’s wanted for so long. Freedom from both the Empire and his mother, the cruel Commandant of Blackcliff.

As Laia looks for a way to save her brother, Elias is attempting to find his own way to escape his destiny. The two young people meet and are immediately drawn to each other, even though they appear to be at odds. They may seem to be working at cross-purposes, but they do not yet realize just how similar their goals are.

Both Laia and Elias, in their own way, seek to thwart the Empire, and, in the end, they may just have to join forces to realize their desires…and save their own lives.


There is nothing light-hearted about An Ember in the Ashes, but I loved it just the same. It is an uncomfortable, nightmarish read, but it definitely makes a reader think. It made me reflect on the rise and fall of empires throughout history, rebellions in both reality and fiction, and what it takes to overthrow what seems to be an all-powerful regime. (Pretty easy to see how this connects to what’s happening right now, yes?)

I would recommend An Ember in the Ashes to young adult and adult audiences. In my opinion, some of the imagery is simply too brutal for younger readers. The somewhat lackadaisical reactions to rape and torture, for example, make this book (and probably the others in the series) more suited to mature readers.

Speaking of the rest of the series, book two, A Torch Against the Night, is already out. From what I understand, there will be a third book and maybe a fourth book, but I don’t know titles or release dates yet.

To learn more about An Ember in the Ashes and Sabaa Tahir, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You may also want to take a look at the completely unspoilery book trailer below.

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Black Widow: Red Vengeance

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Black Widow: Forever Red, turn back now. I promise this post will spoil parts of this first book (and possibly the second) for you. This will be your only warning.

As you’ve no doubt gathered, I recently finished reading the sequel to Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl. The second book, Red Vengeance, will be released to the masses next Tuesday, October 11th, though I have seen it in stores already. I got to read the book a little early thanks to NetGalley, and I thought it was wonderful. It was action-packed, convoluted at times, horrifying, and entertaining. Like the first book, I loved seeing some of my favorite Marvel heroes–aside from Black Widow–in a different light.

If you enjoyed the first book, Black Widow comic books, or her appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think you’ll definitely appreciate getting a closer look at this enigmatic character in Red Vengeance.

Red Vengeance picks up several months after the events of Forever Red, and it once again focuses primarily on Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow) and Ava Orlova (Red Widow). Both are still reeling after the death of Alexei, Natasha’s brother and Ava’s first love. Ava is training with Natasha, trying to learn to use and control her new powers. Natasha is attempting to come to grips with everything that has happened and find some way to regain her confidence in her instincts. Soon enough, both Widows will have to put all of their training and instincts to use to face threats both old and new.

While following a tip about Red Room activity in Brazil, Natasha and Ava come into contact with a girl in a green dress. After that initial contact–a stellar brush pass–everything begins to go haywire. Someone manages to hack and erase all of Natasha’s secure files. Who could possibly have the ability to do such a thing, and why would they target the Black Widow?

Natasha and Ava attempt to escape to safety only to have Natasha’s Widow’s Cuff–and her motorcycle–blow up. They seek refuge in one of Tony Stark’s many homes, and they call in SHIELD to help figure out what’s going on. They confer with Phil Coulson, Maria Hill, Tony Stark (Iron Man), and Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) to see who could possibly have pulled off such a genius hack. Nobody really knows, but it’s clear that something serious is afoot. Red Room serious.

Natasha knows that Ivan Somodorov is dead, but it seems that someone else is trying to continue his evil work. Someone who has it in for Natasha and her rather explosive apprentice, Ava. The two Widows follow the clues into the Amazon where they discover something truly appalling. Not only is the Red Room’s work continuing, but whoever is running the show has five nuclear missiles at their disposal as well as a terrifying new drug called Faith.

Natasha and Ava do what they can to minimize damage, but even the Widows can’t totally stop the catastrophe that’s coming. Someone–a person with a connection to Natasha’s past–has their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to see it come to fruition. Does that mean deploying nuclear missiles? Does it involve distributing a gruesome, mind-altering drug? (The answer to both questions is a resounding “YES.”) How can Natasha, Ava, and their assorted friends possibly eliminate such a threat? And what if this is only the beginning of what’s in store for the Widows?


I probably should have stopped writing a few paragraphs ago. I feel like I’ve given way too much away. Let’s just be grateful I called a halt when I did. I could seriously go on and on about this book and its predecessor. Black Widow is one of my favorite Marvel heroes, and I adore both of these books.

I also really appreciated the appearance of Captain Marvel in this story. She’s another favorite, and I loved that both she and Black Widow were part of a “Women of Power” poker night. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. From what I understand, there’s a possible Captain Marvel novel in the works, written by Shannon and Dean Hale, but I don’t have any details on a possible release date.

Speaking of future Marvel books, given the way that Red Vengeance ended, we can be sure that at least one more Black Widow novel is on the horizon. Unfortunately, there’s no word yet on when we can expect the next story. Bummer.

For more information on Red Vengeance and other books by Margaret Stohl, visit the author’s website and Twitter page. These are probably the first places you’ll find an announcement on book three. Given that book two hasn’t been officially released yet, though, you could be in for a long wait.

Be sure to pick up Black Widow: Red Vengeance on October 11th!

Black Widow: Forever Red

After the success of nearly every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many people–myself included–have been clamoring for a Black Widow feature film. Sure, she’s one of the Avengers, and she played a vital role in Captain America: Winter Soldier, but where’s her movie?! Where’s the story of Natasha Romanoff?

Well, thanks to the brilliant Margaret Stohl (co-author of the fantastic Beautiful Creatures series), I think we have a pretty amazing basis for a Black Widow film. Black Widow: Forever Red takes a look at what–or who–made Natasha into the kick-butt assassin we know and love. (This was briefly alluded to in Age of Ultron, but this book gives a much more in-depth, gritty peek into Natasha’s disturbing past.) Now, though, there are two more people Natasha has to worry about, a girl who shares remarkable similarities to the famed Black Widow and a boy who is somehow connected to both of them.

Natasha Romanoff didn’t have a typical childhood. Very few other girls know what it was like to be trained by the evil Ivan Somodorov in his infamous Red Room in Moscow. This horrible man taught Natasha how to be lethal, how to lie with conviction, and how to follow orders blindly.

Natasha is not that girl anymore. She’s moved on from her life as one of Ivan’s girls, and she’s done all she can to put things behind her. Unfortunately for Natasha, the past has a way of catching up to her…

Ava Orlova once encountered the woman the world now knows as the Black Widow. After Ava was rescued from the clutches of Ivan Somodorov, Natasha Romanoff promised to look out for Ava. That was the last time Ava saw her. After escaping SHIELD custody, Ava is now on her own, virtually homeless on the streets of Brooklyn. She fences at the Y, sketches the boy who haunts her dreams, and takes care of Sasha Cat, a stray like herself. Like Natasha, though, the past that has always haunted Ava is about to become a very real part of her present…

Alex Manor is a normal kid. He goes to school, he hangs out with friends, and he argues with his mom. Typical stuff, right? So what if he often feels like he’s being watched. So what if his instincts completely take over when he fences or fights. So what if he doesn’t seem to fit in his own life. Well, Alex will soon realize that “normal” is not a word that should ever be used to describe him. Especially not after he encounters Ava, a girl he’s immediately drawn to, and Natasha Romanoff, Black Widow herself.

Natasha, Ava, and Alex come together at a fencing tournament…and nothing is ever the same. Almost immediately, they must escape an enemy threat, unravel a convoluted mystery, and figure out just what they mean to each other. None of them are truly prepared for the answers they find…or the sacrifices they’ll have to make to get out of this alive.

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I don’t want to give away too much more about this book, so I’m going to wrap this up. I think it’s enough to say that this Black Widow fan is ecstatic about this book–which will be released next Tuesday, October 13th–and I hope to see more Black Widow (or Red Widow) novels in the future. (There may have been a spoiler in that last sentence. I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out.)

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this book a little early. I loved everything about it, particularly the awesome female characters (who displayed many different kinds of strength) and appearances from Agent Coulson and Tony Stark. Black Widow: Forever Red whetted my appetite for all things Marvel, so I see a movie and comic book marathon in my immediate future.

If you are a Marvel nerd, I strongly urge you to read Black Widow: Forever Red (which I think is fine for libraries that serve middle grade and teen readers). You will not be disappointed.

If you’d like to learn a bit more about this wonderful book, check out the video below for an interview with author Margaret Stohl.

Also Known As

Every once in a while, Amazon offers some pretty great Kindle Daily Deals. (Most of them are less than $3.00.) Recently, one of those deals came in the form of Robin Benway’s Also Known As. I previously read and liked Audrey, Wait!, one of the author’s other books, so I was pretty sure that I would enjoy this one. After reading the synopsis, I was even more certain. You see, this book is about Maggie, a teenage spy. After reading Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series, I really dig books about teenagers who are spies or use, shall we say, less than legal means to right wrongs. That’s just what I got with Maggie in Also Known As.

Maggie is an expert safe-cracker. She’s been a spy for the Collective for over ten years…and she’s a teenager. Maggie picked her first lock as a preschooler, and she’s been working ever since. But now, she’s facing her first solo assignment. She and her parents (also spies) are relocating to New York, and Maggie is tasked with obtaining information that could expose and bring down the entirety of the Collective’s operations. How will she do this, you ask?  Well, her mission begins with enrolling in high school…

Maggie has never been what one would call a traditional student. She’s never been in a regular classroom, had to make friends, been judged on her fashion choices (which are many even with school uniforms), or faced the horror of a school cafeteria. Her first and most daunting task here is going to be just trying to fit in. This might just take every one of her super-spy skills.

Eventually, Maggie becomes closer to Roux, a social pariah at school, who has a connection that Maggie needs to complete her job. Roux is acquainted with Jesse Oliver, a boy whose father may just be printing the article that could end Maggie’s world as she knows it. As spies have always done in the past, Maggie must use every weapon at her disposal, including budding friendships, to get the job done, and that’s exactly what she does.

What Maggie didn’t count on, however, is actually becoming close to both Roux and Jesse. (How could she anticipate such a thing? It’s not like she ever had real friends before?) Now, Maggie is torn between doing the job she’s always been groomed for and being honest with the first real connections she’s ever had with people her own age. Could there possibly be a happy medium here? And can Maggie complete her mission–and figure out who would put the mysterious Collective in jeopardy–before it’s too late? Follow Maggie on her quest for the truth–and lasting friendships–when you read Also Known As, the first book in an exciting new series by Robin Benway!

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Also Known As is a quick, thoroughly entertaining read that, in my opinion, is a great fit for upper middle grade and young adult readers. There is some swearing, but I don’t think it’s excessive, and it’s true to the situations in this book. (I dare you to be a teenage spy or son/daughter of extremely permissive, absent parents and not drop the occasional expletive. Go ahead. I dare you!)

I think this book is more about developing Maggie’s character than it is about spying…but there was plenty of intrigue, especially in the latter part of the book. The biggest mystery for me was how Maggie was going to reconcile her work with her new relationships…and I feel like Benway resolved that in a rather satisfactory way, one that I’m sure will pop up in subsequent books in the series. (At least, I hope so!)

Speaking of sequels, the next book, Going Rogue, will be out in less than two weeks! It will be released on January 14th, and I’m definitely planning to read it as soon as possible. I’m sure it will be just as captivating as the first book!

If you’d like more information about Also Known As and other books by Robin Benway, check out her website at http://www.robinbenway.com/index.php. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Enjoy!

United We Spy

Spoilers! Don’t read this if you haven’t kept up with Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series. I just finished the sixth and final book in the series, and I’ll be talking about this book and the series as a whole in just a bit. Check out my posts on the first five books in the series below.

Now…onward to United We Spy!

For those still with me, I guess you’ve figured out that I finally finished reading United We Spy, the last book in Ally Carter’s thrilling Gallagher Girls series.  This final installment was, perhaps, the most action-packed of the entire series, and the fascinating characters I’ve come to know are putting everything they ever learned at the Gallagher Academy to the test. Their ultimate mission? Save the world. No biggie, right?

Cammie Morgan is starting her last semester at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women. She should be worrying about senior pictures, college admissions, and final exams…but those things don’t matter all that much when the fate of the entire world could be in your hands. Cammie and her friends are facing a plot to engage the world in an epic war…and it’s up to them to stop it.

Cammie, Bex, Liz, Macey, and Zach may have been training for years to be spies, but their training may not have prepared them for everything that’s about to unfold. They’ll have to brave the harshest of elements, breaking into a super-maximum security prison, and heavily-armed enemies to prevent all-out war. And when it’s revealed that the enemy’s plans were hatched from the mind of a Gallagher Girl–someone very close to Cammie–things become even more intense.

These Gallagher Girls (and Guy) can’t trust or depend on anyone but themselves right now…but will their own efforts be enough to save the world? Can they put everything they’ve learned at the Gallagher Academy to use before the enemy, the dreaded Circle of Cavan, succeeds in its mission to start World War Three? What secrets will be revealed in the process, and will everyone make it out of this battle alive?

Things are coming to a head at the Gallagher Academy, and everything is about to change. Will Cammie and company succeed in preventing war, and if they do…what then? What does the future hold for Cammie and her friends? One thing is certain–Cammie has to get out of this fight alive (and relatively well) before she can even think about her future…whatever it may be.

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United We Spy is an action-packed read that kept me hooked from the first page. It built on everything from the previous books, and it showed just how much a group of strong young women is capable of accomplishing. (No, I’m not discounting the contributions of the guys in the series. I’m just saying that the series as a whole focuses on the ladies, their abilities, and their tremendous strength in adverse situations.) I hope this series will inspire more young women to be confident in their own abilities–whether it’s being a spy, a musician, a public speaker, a writer, whatever.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way things played out in this book, and I thought the conclusion–oddly reminiscent of the final battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows–was particularly fitting. I hate to say goodbye to the characters I’ve come to know and love in these six books, but I take comfort in the fact that I can revisit them anytime I want.

If you’d like more information on this series and other books by Ally Carter, go to http://allycarter.com/. You may also enjoy the United We Spy book trailer below. It doesn’t give much of anything away, but it does provide just a glimpse into what it means to be a Gallagher Girl.

I hope you enjoy the Gallagher Girls series as much as I have. It’s been wild!

Only the Good Spy Young

I’ll keep this short. If you haven’t already read the first three books in Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, go no further. Seriously.

Last month, I started my journey with the Gallagher Girls in I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You. The journey continued with Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy and Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Cover. This weekend, I finished the fourth book in this series, Only the Good Spy Young.

Just like the third installment, this book has Cammie and her friends facing very real dangers (instead of simply training to one day face danger as top-notch spies). This fourth book was rife with tension, and I’m still not entirely certain who can be trusted. I guess that’s what happens in a world filled with spies–people who are trained to lie for what they believe is the “greater good.” Cammie is really no different. Even though she’s a target, she’ll do what she has to–even lie and continue to break about a thousand school rules–to figure out what’s going on in her increasingly tumultuous life…

When Cammie Morgan, Gallagher Girl and spy-in-training, realized that she was a target for an international terrorist organization, she thought her life couldn’t possibly get any more complicated. Oh, how wrong she was. When someone close to her is revealed to be a double agent for the very group trying to get to Cammie, her world tailspins once again. Who can she trust? Is there anywhere that is safe? And why is she so important?

When Cammie returns to her beloved Gallagher Academy, things are more tense than ever.  A new teacher on the scene doesn’t make things any easier, and Cammie suspects that this newcomer knows more than he is revealing. But how to get him to talk… Well, that’s where her three best friends come in.

As Cammie, Bex, Liz, and Macey investigate what’s really happening around them, danger draws ever closer…but the danger may not come from who they expect. These girls will have to put their trust in each other and one very important unknown quantity to even begin to uncover the truth. They’ll have to use their considerable skills to crack codes, disarm explosives, bypass security, and break into top-secret locations. Are they good enough to succeed in their missions and find the answers they seek? Can they do it and keep themselves–and those they care about–out of harm’s way?

Cammie and company will uncover long-held secrets, but even more questions will arise. Is Cammie ready for what she finds? I guess we’ll have to find out…

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I guess it could go without saying that, after four books, I’m thoroughly invested in this series. Knowing there are only two books left to wrap up everything is just a little anxiety-inducing. (I’m going to give myself a little break before I pick up book five, Out of Sight, Out of Time. Man, even the title is making me nervous. Maybe I’ll get to it sooner than planned…) This is one series I can definitely see being adapted for TV. If the rumors are true, it could happen one of these days!

If you’d like more information on the Gallagher Girls series and other books by Ally Carter, check out http://allycarter.com/.

Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover

Warning! This post is about the third Gallagher Girls book. If you haven’t read the first two books–I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You and Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy–please do so before proceeding.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, but I think the third book, Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover, took this series to a whole new level. I know I still have three books to read in this series, but, as it stands right now, the third installment will be hard to top.

It’s the summer before Cammie Morgan’s junior year at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (aka spy school), and this will end up being a summer Cammie will never forget.  She’s spending some time with her roommate, Macey, whose father just so happens to be running for Vice President of the United States.

Almost immediately, Cammie is called upon to use her spy training to thwart potential kidnappers. Why would someone want to abduct Macey, and can Cammie and company figure out what’s going on before someone tries again?

Life is becoming increasingly dangerous for Cammie, Macey, and their friends.  An unknown threat lurks in the background. People from Cammie’s past return to the scene, but just what are their motives? Who can be trusted, especially when a friend’s very life is on the line?

This fall, Cammie will face dangers she never expected (even though she is a spy-in-training), and she’ll have to use every tool–and friend–in her arsenal to uncover the truth…and even that may not be enough. Things aren’t exactly what they seem, and the real story will rock Cammie’s world to it’s foundation. Just what is going on with the girls at the Gallagher Academy? Find out when you read Don’t Judge a Girl By Her Cover by Ally Carter!

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I haven’t really hinted at everything that happens in this book. I honestly think you have to experience it for yourself. It’s action-packed, funny at times, and just a great girl-power adventure. It will be interesting to see how the events in this book play out in the rest of the series. I can’t wait to get to it!

For more on this series and other books by Ally Carter, go to http://allycarter.com/.  Enjoy!