What’s Ashley Reading?: An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason

Some of the classics are hard to read.  Either we do not understand the language or the story is not as fast paced as the latest thriller.  However, there are so many great things about them.  They have survived the times.  The stories still speak to readers today.  One of greatest is the bard, William Shakespeare.  I read several plays during high school English, my favorite being Hamlet.  Do you have trouble with Shakespeare?  Trust me sometimes I do too.  Check out Alyssa’s blog post about her recent interest in the works of Shakespeare.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

First line: It is not the usual interrogation.

Summary: When Katherine’s father is killed in front of her she vows that she is going to take revenge on the person responsible, Queen Elizabeth I. She travels to London dressed as a boy to meet with fellow Catholic conspirators to hatch a plan to kill the Protestant queen. Toby, an agent of the queen, is on the lookout for any assassination plots. When he teams up with William Shakespeare and his company of players, he sets a trap for the would-be assassins. However, Katherine and Toby are drawn to each other complicating both of their missions.

Highlights: Assassination plots and William Shakespeare?! Yes please! I found the story to be lots of fun from the very beginning. I enjoyed both of the main characters. Katherine is a strong willed young girl who is determined to avenge her father. Toby is a heartbroken playwright working as a spy for the queen. I loved watching Katherine throwing off her inhibitions as she took on the role of a man. She gets to see things that women would not be privy to normally. As their relationship progresses I got more and more nervous about how the story would end. This story was fit for Shakespeare with the mistaken identities, daring murder attempts and tragic love.

Lowlights: I would have loved more Shakespeare. Any time he entered the story it became even better! His patron even mentioned how he liked to make up words, which he does throughout the story. Such a nice little historical tidbit to add into the dialog.

FYI: Perfect for fans of A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee.

Book Review: Catwoman: Soulstealer

Catwoman: Soulstealer by Sarah J. Maas

First line: The roaring crowd in the makeshift arena didn’t set her blood on fire.

Summary: Selina Kyle lives in the slums of Gotham City. In order to take care of her ailing sister she enters the underground-fighting ring of Carmine Falcone. However, when the chance for a better life for her sister comes along she takes it even if it means she has to sacrifice everything. Two years later, she returns to Gotham in order to bring her own brand of justice to the city that let her down.

Batwing, the secret identity of Luke Fox, is doing his best to keep the streets of Gotham safe for its people. When a new villain arrives and starts wreaking havoc on the city, he realizes that he may have met his match in Catwoman.

Highlights: Sarah J. Maas is one of my favorite young adult authors. She writes great stories with interesting characters and lots of action. I have never been a big fan of Catwoman (other than in the show Gotham) but since Maas was writing her story, I decided to give her a try. I am glad I did.

We get a backstory for Selina that helps flesh out her character and give her a reason for her villainy. This is one of the reasons I have enjoyed the TV show Gotham because we get to see how our villains came to be. I loved the inclusion of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as her sidekicks/cohorts. Their brand of chaos and camaraderie was fun to read.

I had never heard of Batwing and therefore had to Google his character. Even though I have seen most of the movies and TV shows in the DC universe there is still so much I do not know. I am slowly wanting to pick up some of the graphic novels and comic books here at the library and get to know the stories better. I am looking forward to the next in the DC Icons series, Superman: Dawnbreaker, coming out in March 2019.

Lowlights: I wish we could have gotten more of the Joker. He is mentioned several times and Selina met him once. He is such an iconic DC villain and with Harley in the story, it would make sense. But maybe one day we will get a Joker book?!

FYI: If you like this try Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo and Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu.

Book Review: Dark Tracks (Book 4 in the Order of Darkness series)

First line: There was an angry bellow from inside the woodcutter’s hovel; the woman, struggling up from the stream with a heavy bucket of icy water in each hand, raised her head and shouted back.

Summary: In the fourth installment of Philippa Gregory’s young adult series we follow Luca, Isolde and their companions on their journey. As they stumble into a small village, they find the townspeople besieged by a troupe of dancers. However, these are no ordinary dancers. These dancers seem to be possessed. What is causing this dance sickness and how can it be cured? These are just a few of the questions Luca wants to find out. But when Isolde is taken by the dancing fever the need to find a cure becomes even more important.

Highlights: I have really enjoyed Gregory’s young adult novels. She is my favorite author. Her historical fiction is amazing. She does a great job of describing the time. This is a great way to get younger readers interested in the past. Even as an adult, I learn new bits of information with each story. I also really like the covers. But if you have read my other reviews you know how much I love a good cover!

Lowlights: These are definitely for young adult. They are not as in-depth and detailed but still gets the story told in a fun and interesting way.

FYI: This is book 4 in the series. Check out her other books (Changeling, Stormbringers, and Fool’s Gold) before reading this one!

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

First line: I try not to think of her.

Summary: Magic once flowed through the land of Orisha. Maji’s controlled the magic. However, the king led a raid on the Maji of the land, killing them all. Zelie had to watch her mother die because of her magic and she has never forgotten. When Zelie stumbles upon the escaping Princess Amari she starts a quest to bring back magic to the land and revive the Maji. On their tail is Amari’s brother, the prince of Orisha, Inan who is determined to stop the return of magic but he is also hiding a dark secret.

Highlights: That cover! Skies! It is amazing. The author, Tomi Adeyemi, is a born storyteller. In her debut novel, she develops a fantasy world with great cast of characters and rich history. Tomi builds a world that resembles West Africa. The beasts and landscape are easily comparable but also very different. She weaves magic and heart into the whole story. While I was reading, I could easily picture it all happening right before my eyes. I loved all the action sequences. Zelie is badass! She has to hide her skills but she can whoop anyone. Also secretly, Amari is skilled as well. I love seeing amazing female characters that can kick butt and do!
The story is told from three different perspectives. Zelie, Amari and Inan each play an important part in the narrative. Zelie, a Diviner, is the child who had everything taken away from her when the Raid killed her mother. Amari is the princess who grew up sheltered but sees her friend, a Diviner like Zelie, killed by her father. And Inan, the crown prince, who has been taught to fear magic and fight to eradicate it. From each character, we get a look into the prejudices and history of Orisha and its people. All three have to learn from the events of the story and overcome their challenges in order to find peace and equality.

“You crushed us to build you monarchy on the backs of our blood and bone. Your mistake wasn’t keeping us alive. It was thinking we’d never fight back!”

This book is a powerful story that was written in a time of unrest. In the author’s note, she describes turning on the TV and feeling afraid. It is important that we have more books that show that just because we look different we are really all the same no matter what.

Lowlights: The only fault I found was the quick progression of the love story. At least to the reader very little time had passed and they were already talking love. This is one of the biggest troubles with YA fiction but it can easily be overlooked when there is a great story line like this.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and the movie, Black Panther!

Book Review: How To Stop Time

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

First line: I often think of what Hendrich said to me, over a century ago, in his New York apartment.

Summary: Tom Hazard may look like an ordinary man but he is anything but. He is several hundred years old. He has seen the world change from Elizabethan England to the modern era. Sounds like a dream right? Maybe so but it can be lonely. When a group called the Albatross Society discovers him, he learns that there are many more people like him. Their main rule is to never fall in love. It complicates things. Tom has led many different lives but now he takes on a role that could jeopardize his existence, a history teacher. When he intrigues a fellow teacher, he has to decide if it is worth it to break from the rules of society or start over again.

Highlights:

“I sometimes want to stop time. I sometimes want, in a happy moment, for a church bell never to ring again. I want not to ever have to go to the market again. I want for the starlings to stop flying in the sky…But we are all at the mercy of time.”

Such a great story! I love the thought that someone can live forever and see so many things. I would love to be able to see the world of Shakespeare and the Roaring Twenties. These are iconic times in history. Being a history major, this book was right up my alley.

“It’s not that long ago, not really. History is right here, Anton. It’s breathing down our necks.”

I like that Tom does age. He is not immortal. He just ages slower than the average person does. He has demons. He wants to know what and who he is. He feels guilt. He knows love. He is a flawed character instead of the perfect ones in many stories of immortals. He has made mistakes and learned from them. He has not collected tons of wealth and profited off his condition. He has lived. He has searched for years for someone and never given up.

Lowlights: I listened to part of this on audiobook. The reader was good but when there are many changes from time and location it makes that story harder to follow. Tom often looks back at his past in order to help explain his present. However, while reading it flowed much easier.

FYI: It is already optioned to be a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch!

Book Review: Everless

Everless by Sara Holland

First line: Most people find the forest frightening, believing the old tales of fairies who will freeze the time in your blood, or witches who can spill your years out over the snow with only a whisper.

Summary: In a world where blood is time and time is currency, resides Jules Ember. She is a young girl determined to save her father’s life by returning to the Everless estate in order to earn more blood irons (the currency that can add days to years onto a persons life). However, when her father dies at the gates of Everless Jules becomes entangled in a mystery about her past and the family she has been serving.

Highlights: The idea of blood being transformed into currency but can also be consumed to add more time to a person’s lifespan is very intriguing. I never would have considered this premise but it is fascinating to think about. I liked the twist at the end. I figured out several pieces but many of them were great details that added to the mystery. This is a typical dystopian YA novel but it still feels fresh and new.

Lowlights: Being a reader of YA I could easily predict several plot points.  There are similarities to books such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.

FYI: Book 1 in a series!

Book Review: Tarnished City

Tarnished City by Vic James

*May contain spoilers–see my review of book one, Gilded Cage.*

First line: Jenner reined his horse to a halt, and it stamped and snorted in the long blue-black shadow of the trees.

Summary: In a modern day Great Britain the powerful are called Equals. They have magical powers called Skill. And the common people live their lives just as we do except for each person is required to serve 10 slave years during their lifetime. Many are sent to the slave towns to work in factories but the Hadley family are assigned to work at a home of an Equal. However, when Luke kills the Prime Minister he is condemned and sent to the dreaded prison island for a lifelong punishment. His sister Abigail is determined to rescue her brother. She escapes and tries to find the other rebels who are intent on bringing down the Equal regime and end the slave days. Revolution has begun in Great Britain and it will be a battle to the death.

Highlights: This series reminds me of the Hunger Games. There is lots of action and drama. The characters are really well established. I hate Whittam Jardine almost as much as President Snow. I was deeply saddened by several deaths in the story. I was completely shocked when they happened that I gasped and had to take a minute to recover from them. If a book can make you do that, you know that you are invested in it. I keep having complicated feelings about Silyean. He is an interesting character that I cannot decide if I want to trust or not. When I was nearing the end the whole story sped up and it was like a marathon. I had to finish it and was exhausted at the end. It was great! I cannot wait till the author releases the final book to find out how the story ends, if I can trust Silyean and see if the Hadley’s survive the revolution.

Lowlights: The magical powers of the Equal is called Skill. I felt like the word was over used at times. On several pages, the word is mentioned multiple times. As a reader of the series, we understand what they are doing. It does not have to be pointed out repeatedly.

FYI: Lots of violence.

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

First line: A sex tape.

Summary: Five students are in detention. All were put there because they were caught with a phone on them in class. However, when one of the students, Simon, dies during detention the others are all suspects. Simon is the school gossip. He posts all the rumors and secrets of his classmates on the internet making him one of the most hated kids in the school. Each of the “Bayview Four” know that they were being framed but by who?

Highlights: This has been compared to The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars and I think that is spot on. I love both and together they are great. I really enjoyed this debut novel. The mystery is good with little twists. The characters are great representations of teens and the problems that they deal with. Problems with family, friends, relationships, sports, and school. There was the jock, the brain, the popular girl and the burn out. It was a fun fast-paced novel. I will definitely keep a look out for the author’s next book.

Lowlights: Nearing the end I started to guess at the conclusion. It felt like all the likely scenarios were too easy so the better option was the not so obvious one.

FYI: Great for younger readers who want a good thriller.

Book Review: Renegades

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

First line: We were all villains in the beginning.

Summary: Nova is a villain. Adrian is a super hero. Nova was orphaned as a child when the group called the Renegades failed to save her parents from an assassin. Fueled by hate for the group of super heroes she joins a group called the Anarchists. When the plan to kill the leader of the Renegades fails Nova devises a plan to join the super hero force in order to bring them all down from the inside. But she did not intend to like the people she is meant to hate. Or even fall in love with the son of leaders of the Renegades.

Highlights: The cover is amazing. It is truly a cover for a super hero book. The bold colors and design are perfect for the story. This book falls in during the perfect time. Super hero movies and books are on the rise and this one great for readers of this genre. I liked that the characters. My favorite was a minor character, Winston (the Puppeteer). He is creepy and funny at the same time.


Lowlights: Most of the book is an introduction to the world and characters. The beginning is slower moving with most of the action happening at the end of the book.

FYI: This is the first of a duology. If you like this check out the author’s series, The Lunar Chronicles, a sci-fi fairy tale adventure.

I was lucky enough to attend an event at Watermark Books in Wichita when Marissa Meyer was promoting this book.  She was wonderful!  I loved listening to her talk about her ideas and plans for the book.  She has a great sense of humor and can tell a great story.  I laughed a lot while listening to her stories about writing.  I was really excited to get her to sign Cress, the third book in The Lunar Chronicles series.

 

Book review: The Shape of Ideas

The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider

This review will not look like one of our normal reviews, because this graphic novel isn’t a story with a first line, or story, but a fun collection of ideas.

I love the subtitle of this book—”An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity” because I feel that’s the essence of this book. I’ve read a couple reviews that indicate that this book isn’t great at motivating or being a self-help book. However, I’m not sure that’s what it’s meant to be.

If you’ve ever consciously engaged in the creative process in any way (art, writing, creating in any form including sewing, fiber arts, paper crafts, anything!) you’ll find some familiar feels in this book. From variations on a blank page to a walk in the park, I love the thoughts and experiences shared in this fun book.

The pictures are so detailed and fun to examine. And it seemed like on every page I found words or a picture that just spoke to me and my own creative experiences.