Thursday, October 23, 2014

Snow Like Ashes - Sara Raasch

Snow Like Ashes Sara Raasch book cover
Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
Series: Snow Like Ashes #1
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Source/Format: Edelweiss (Thanks!) || e-galley
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own. (Goodreads)

It is always a wonderful surprise to discover new authorial voices to love! Sara Raasch is one such voice, as her debut YA fantasy Snow Like Ashes was quite impressive. Raasch brings to life an exciting new world populated with fascinating characters, settings and lore. She makes use of these elements, inserting them into a story that flows organically from start to finish. Compelling, readable and imaginative, Snow Like Ashes is an excellent fantasy series starter.

Raasch will have readers rooting for main character Meira right from the start. Meira is sassy, spunky and smart. She’s also got pretty decent fighting skills, and a desire to serve the kingdom of Winter with her talents. Really, Meira is the brand of female fantasy heroine I personally enjoy – capable of acting like a lady, but fierce as a tigress during battle. It’s all too easy to like her and what she brings to the table.

There are also plenty of other characters – heroes, villains, civilians alike. Among the secondary characters, there are three in particular that stand out: Mather (future king of Winter), Theron (a prince of the kingdom of Cordell), and Sir (the general of Winter that leads the merry band of refugees). Each one plays an important part, complete with actions and witticisms that change the course of this story. It would be a pleasure to get to know them more, along with all the others introduced in this series starter.

It’s story where Snow Like Ashes really shines though. There’s something utterly magical about the world Raasch builds – a land with magical conduits, various kingdoms and power struggles. The world becomes the foundation upon which this tale is told, and it works. The plot is simple – Meira and the remaining Winterians want to reclaim their kingdom, and are fighting to get the locket (a magical conduit) to do so. 

However, the plot does not remain simple as politics and relationships soon throw everything into an uproar – and Meira is in the middle of it all. It’s pretty compelling to watch her navigate through every new turn of events! As Snow Like Ashes progresses, it’s revealed that there’s much more to this mission than just reclaiming a kingdom. There’s just the right amount of fodder to lure readers into wanting more, while still ending the story satisfactorily.

Two minor reservations, however, as a heads up – There could have been a smidge more character development, and the amount of information, while it’s not dumped on the reader, is pretty overwhelming. While I didn’t have much of a problem, I realize that it’s a potential concern for other readers and thought mentioning it would be best.

Sweetness and surprise, tenderness and trouble, mystery and magic – Snow Like Ashes is filled to the brim with all these things and more. From the moment I read the first five pages, it was clear that would be a notable novel. Snow Like Ashes is a debut I’ll be wholeheartedly recommending, especially for those in search of a new fantasy series to fall for.

a collaboration with Rachel

OUR QUESTION: What's your favorite season?

There's definitely something about all four seasons that appeal to me - the new green of spring, the heat of summer, the cool of winter and the white of winter. But I harbor a special spot in my heart for summer! I live for sunny days, blue skies, summer thunderstorms. I love being able to wear all of my favorite dresses and flats, always being out and about, and just the general feeling of being relaxed and blissful during the warmer months. I feel like I always manage to do a bazillion things during the summertime too!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Roomies - Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando (Review)

Roomies book cover
Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 24, 2013
Source/Format: Borrowed from Rachel (Thanks!) || ARC

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met. (from Goodreads)

I'll be honest: I really wanted to read Roomies because I had the whole roommate experience in college. The relationship you form with the people you share a room with is both that of friend and family, as you live, work and play together for four years (or maybe even longer). Even though Roomies is actually more about each girl's summer-before-college experience, and their correspondence during that time, it still wound up being an incredibly charming novel.

I really liked EB and Lauren, and felt that the shifts between their points of view was done quite seamlessly. It helps that they're very different people - EB is the only daughter of a single mom who is looking forward to moving away for college, while Lauren is from a big family with wonderful parents and lots of siblings who is looking forward to having some privacy and space. Their summers play out very differently, but have similar themes: figuring out how to keep tight with old friends, addressing some family things, and just a hint of romance.

Honestly, Roomies has a pretty basic premise, but I really liked it. Perhaps it's the fact that I could totally relate to how, slowly but surely, Lauren and EB formed a friendship. Or maybe it's because I could relate to parts of their separate stories about the summer before college. But what I really appreciated most of all? Roomies makes it clear that friendships can form between the unlikeliest of pairs, given time and proper communication. If you're looking for another contemporary novel to check out, definitely give Roomies a shot!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Zac and Mia - A.J. Betts

Zac and Mia book cover
Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Source/Format: BEA 2014 (Thanks!) || ARC
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

"When I was little I believed in Jesus and Santa, spontaneous combustion, and the Loch Ness monster. Now I believe in science, statistics, and antibiotics." So says seventeen-year-old Zac Meier during a long, grueling leukemia treatment in Perth, Australia. A loud blast of Lady Gaga alerts him to the presence of Mia, the angry, not-at-all-stoic cancer patient in the room next door. Once released, the two near-strangers can't forget each other, even as they desperately try to resume normal lives. (from Goodreads)

Right from the start, Zac and Mia was interesting. It had the same vibe as this novel, so I wasn't particularly surprised that I instantly found it appealing. The premise is pretty straightforward, but what I really liked were the two main characters - Zac and Mia. 

Of the two, Zac is the one I instantly liked. He was really positive, in spite of the difficult circumstances he's in, and I admired his spirit. This is not to say that he didn't have his moments of weakness, because he totally did and that just made him seem human. He's a guy that it seems like it would be easy to be friends with in real life! Mia, on the other hand, is a girl who is prickly and angry and guarded when she first shows up. She's very dramatic, and though it's just a manifestation of her rebellion and anger, it still kind of bothered me. But she experiences quite the transformation, so by the end, I liked her well enough.

There are so many facets to this story - family + friendship, attraction + romance. But the biggest element is, of course, the cancer. Cancer is the reason Zac and Mia even cross paths in the first place, since they're being treated at the same place, and cancer is the thing that ties them both together. The different outlooks on life that cancer patients have is certainly part of Zac and Mia, and something I thought made it fascinating.

Even though I did find myself engrossed in Zac and Mia at the start, my interest had started flagging by the time we reached the (unexpected) end. My feelings for Zac and Mia are quite muddled, considering it started so strong and had pretty well-crafted characters but had an ending that I'm not sure worked for me, as well as some pretty dramatic moments that felt a little too contrived.  So, this time around, I think it's fair to ask you to decide for yourself if you're interested in this one or not!

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