Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Girl at the Center of the World by Austin Aslan

Title: The Girl at the Center of the World
Author: Austin Aslan
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian 
Series: Islands at the End of the World #2

Hardcover, 352 pages
Publication: August 4, 2015 by Wendy Lamb Books

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. 

As sixteen-year-old Leilani and her family learn to live without electronics, farming the land as her ancestors did, she finds strength in her relatives, her friendships, and her strange connection to the Emerald Orchid--the force whose presence caused global devastation--but suffers regret over what she must do to survive.

Aslan hits another home run with The Girl at the Center of the World, the final installment in his dystopian thriller of a sixteen-year-old Hawaii girl trying to save her family and the entire world. The Girl at the Center of the World picks up approximately three months after the first book. Leilani and her family are trying their best to survive in this post-apocalyptic world without technology. Any semblance of their prior lives is long gone, as they have to learn to farm for most of their food, barter for other necessities, and just basically survive from day-to-day because there’s no more laws or order. Gangs/Tribes run rampant in the streets, controlling areas of Hawaii or people self electing themselves as judge, jury and executioner.

In the first book, readers got to glimpse life before and during the apocalypse but now we’re experiencing the aftermath and it’s just as terrifying as you’d think. Leilani and her father thought it would be safer in the rural area of Hilo, away from the big cities but it was far from it. Aslan painted a vivid image of despair and chaos with people being attacked, stores looted…just a grim idea of what the world would look like if technology was taken out of the equation. Society as a whole would start to crumble, with the police unable to protect the citizens and hospitals unable to heal. It’s scary how plausible it is, especially since societies nowadays are so dependent on technology for every single thing.

While the first book mainly focused on Leilani and her father Mike, which I didn’t mind at all. I was happy to see more characters entering the mix. Many of whom, made a brief appearance in the first book, like Lelani’s family and friends. Aslan sort of stepped away from the mysteries of the Emerald Orchid and spotlighted the relationships between Leilani, her family, and friends. I liked that even though the world is a terrible place, the characters had moments where they didn’t have to worry about saving the world or defending their turf…and just enjoyed each other company. For example when they celebrated Leilani’s birthday or when the girls wondered if the boy she liked, liked her back. It’s good to know they haven’t forgotten life’s simple pleasures. But that doesn’t mean everything was dandy. Leilani learned that she wasn’t just tied to the Emerald Orchid but had the ability to control some aspect of the living cloud. That knowledge was the key to helping mankind, and a knowledge that people would kill for to control.

If you enjoyed Island at the End of the World, you’re going to love the sequel. It had all the elements of the first book and so much more. There’s nonstop action, realistic character development and relationships, and Leilani is just as strong and kick-butt as ever. And if you haven’t read this series yet, you seriously need to get on it. This duology is one of the best young-adult dystopian series I’ve read in the long time!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Islands at the End of the World by Austin Aslan

Title: The Islands at the End of the World
Author: Austin Aslan
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian 
Series: Islands at the End of the World #1

Paperback, 384 pages
Publication: August 4, 2015 by Ember

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. 


Right before my eyes, my beautiful islands are changing forever. And so am I ...

Sixteen-year-old Leilani loves surfing and her home in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. But she's an outsider - half white, half Hawaiian, and an epileptic. While Lei and her father are on a visit to Oahu, a global disaster strikes. Technology and power fail, Hawaii is cut off from the world, and the islands revert to traditional ways of survival. As Lei and her dad embark on a nightmarish journey across islands to reach home and family, she learns that her epilepsy and her deep connection to Hawaii could be keys to ending the crisis before it becomes worse than anyone can imagine.

A powerful story enriched by fascinating elements of Hawaiian ecology, culture, and warfare, this captivating and dramatic debut from Austin Aslan is the first of two novels. The author has a master’s degree in tropical conservation biology from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Dystopian novels have become a dime a dozen. The field is so saturated that it’s difficult to discern what’s or isn’t worth reading. However, The Islands at the End of the World is without a doubt in the former category, a book worth reading! There are so many great things that make this novel stick out from the rest of books in the same market. Unlike most dystopians, where it’s post-apocalyptic, we actually get to see things before and experience it alongside the characters as the world as we know it ends/changes. Secondly, The Island at the End of the World takes place in Hawaii! I think this is the first time I read a book where the location is set in Hawaii and the Hawaiians are the main characters/subject. And thirdly, this novel is all about family and I am such a sucker for anything family related.

Aslan did an incredible job with the world building. I loved all the picturesque details of Hawaii and can see it clearly in my mind as if I were there. I appreciated how he incorporated the use of the native language-lingo, and giving an in-depth look at the background and history of the residents, whether they’re natives, transplants or tourists trapped on the island. I really liked learning about the people, and was surprised to know that hapas, half Caucasian-half Hawaiians get just as much discrimination as any other nationality. Aslan also seamlessly blended Hawaiian myths/lore into the story and the characters, as readers get brief snippets on the different gods and well-known poems/sayings through the book.

The Islands at the End of the World focuses mostly on Leilani and her father Mike as they try to find their way home to Hilo from the island of Oahu. Leilani is pretty much your typical 16-year-old who wants what every girl wants…a normal life, except she’s an epileptic. But never once does she let it get the best of her. Leilani is a strong, independent heroine and is incredibly brave. She’s definitely someone who is beyond her years and always looks for the brighter side of things; I occasionally forget I’m reading about a teenager. Many dystopians are narrated by kick-butt heroine who are constantly fighting and trying to prove that they can do anything a man/boy can do. But Leilani never once came across like she had to prove herself to others…not even to herself. And I love that about her, she’s down-to-earth, realistic and relatable.

All in all, The Island at the End of the World was an outstanding debut novel by Aslan. I’m totally kicking myself for not picking this book up sooner! That revelation at the end about the emerald orchid was a big shocker; I didn’t expect the book to go down that route! If you’re looking for a fresh and unique dystopian, give The Island at the End of the World a try, this is a series you don't want to miss!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Sleepwalker Tonic by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Title: The Sleepwalker Tonic
Author: Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Series: Nightmares! #2

Hardcover, 368 pages
Publication: September 8, 2015 by Delacorte BFYR

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Charlie Laird has a dream life.

1) He has a weirdo stepmom who runs an herbarium.

2) He lives in a purple mansion with a portal to the Netherworld.

3) Since they escaped from the Netherworld, he and his best friends have been sleeping like babies.

But Charlie can’t shake the feeling that something strange is afoot. Charlotte’s herbarium used to be one of the busiest stores in Cypress Creek. Now her loyal following is heading to Orville Falls for their herbal potions.

Weirder, though, Orville Falls is suddenly filled with . . .zombies? At least, they sure look like the walking dead. Rumor has it that no one’s sleeping in Orville Falls. And Charlie knows what that means.

Things are getting freaky again.
Segel and Miller once again enchant young readers as they return to their wholly creative and entertaining world of Nightmares! in the latest sequel, The Sleepwalker Tonic. When we last left Charlie and the gang, we learned that nightmares exist in a place called the Netherworld and Charlie, his brother Jack and their stepmom Charlotte are the last guardians tasked with protecting the portal between the Netherworld and the Waking-World (our world). As we begin The Sleepwalker Tonic, the kids are out for summer vacation and everything seems to be going quite well. Everyone appears to be sleeping soundlessly; as there are no more terrifying nightmares plaguing the residents of Cypress Creek. Or so they thought. All the while in the nearby town of Orville Falls, the populace is all suffering from sleep deprivation due to nightmares. And just as the sleep deprivation worsen; a mysterious shop appears in Orville Falls promising a tonic to help them sleep peacefully…no more nightmares. The tonic not only takes away people’s nightmares but it also takes away their ability to dream. And without dreams, the people of Orville are turning into sleepwalking zombies! Once again, it’s up to Charlie and his friends to figure what’s going on…or there won’t be a Netherworld, Waking-World or Dream Realm.

In the first book, readers got an in-depth look of the Netherworld, and while we’ll explore more parts of the Netherworld, most of the action takes place in the Waking-World as Charlie and his friends tries to find a cure for the sleepwalkers. They’re chasing clues and mysterious shop keepers all over Cypress Creek and Orville Falls but not without a little extra help. The new President of Netherworld, Medusa, lends 3 of her scariest nightmares to cross over to help find a supposed 2nd portal.

The Sleepwalker Tonic is just as fun and engaging as the first book. Everything I loved about the Nightmares! was present plus more. I like how Segel and Miller incorporated nightmares in the plot this time around. I was wondering how the two would keep up with their nightmare theme with the second book…but who would have thought to use sleepwalking and zombies together? I found the concept amusing and fresh...I'm positive kids will get a kick out of it!

In my review for Nightmares! I was hoping that we’d get to see more of Jack and Charlotte, and I’m happy to say we do! We saw plenty of Jack since he basically stole the show for the entire book, playing a bigger role in The Sleepwalker Tonic than before. There’s also a new baddie in town, and boy, was I surprised at the end. I didn’t see it coming! While the main problem of the book was solved, there’s still a tiny plot thread left loose and the baddie(s) will be a bridge into the final book in the trilogy. I can’t wait to see what happens next when The Lost Lullaby releases next year! Overall, The Sleepwalker Tonic was an excellent sequel to Nightmares!. Fans new and old will no doubt be delighted. There's plenty of mayhem and hijinks abound, great characteers, and valuable lessons to be learned! Again, if you or your kids haven’t read this series yet, you need to A.S.A.P! You won't be disappointed!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Nightmares! by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Title: Nightmares!
Author(s): Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal
Series: Nightmares! #1

Paperback, 400 pages
Publication: July 28, 2015 by Yearling

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review. 


Charlie Laird has several problems.

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.

2. He had to move into her purple mansion—the creepiest place in Cypress Creek.

3. He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap.

What Charlie doesn’t know is that his problems are about to get a whole lot more real. Nightmares can ruin a good night’s sleep, but when they start slipping out of your dreams and into the waking world . . . well, that’s something only Charlie can face. And he’s going to need all the help he can get, or it might just be lights-out for Charlie Laird.

For good.

I remember hearing about Nightmares! when it first came out last fall...I mean, it was hard to ignore because it was being co-written by none other than Jason Segel! He’s a great, funny actor and I was definitely intrigued to hear that he was writing a paranormal children book. So when I was asked to review the Nightmares! series, I totally jumped at the chance. And I’m so glad I did! Segel is not only a talented actor/singer but he can also write! I’m sure having a seasoned author such as Miller; with many books under her belt helped. They made a great writing team; the proof is in the book itself. Segel and Miller penned a fun, hilarious and cute story with a surprisingly deep moral lesson, ‘face your fear and don’t let it consume your life...because there’s no obstacle you can’t overcome’.

I thought Nightmares! was really well written, the world building straightforward and very easy to understand. It wasn’t too simple or overly complex; I thought it was just the right amount of creativity. The whole concept of nightmares being real, in the netherworlds was something I’ve never seen done before. I loved it! And underneath all the vividly detailed descriptions, beautiful artwork and hilarious dialogue were great lessons for kids. As I mentioned before one of Nightmares! biggest moral lesson is to overcome your fears. Everyone is afraid of something, and it’s normal, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And the best way to overcome your fears is by talking about it aloud with friends/family…because it won’t go away until you face directly head-on. Some other important lessons taught in the book are how to adapt to changes and overcome grief/loss.

I’ll admit I didn’t like Charlie right off the bat but he eventually grew on me. He was Mr. Grumpy Pants, who was lashing out at his family and friends. But at the same time it’s understandable. I get it. It’s always rough when you lose someone you love and think that any newcomer that enters your family is a threat. And as the book progresses readers saw how Charlie learnt to deal with those issues. Charlie is surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family, I just adored everyone. His friends are amazing. They always had his back and aren’t afraid to call him out when he’s acting irrational. Some of my favorite scenes in the book are of Charlie helping his friends’ overcome their nightmares….and vice versa. Charlie’s stepmom Charlotte and little brother Jack also made quite an impression, even if they only had little page time. I hope we’ll get to see more of them in the sequel.

All in all, Nightmares! looks to be the start of an amazing series. I think all parents should either read this book to their kids (8 years old and up) or get them a copy ASAP. I highly recommend everyone to check this series out…whether you’re young or old. I think we all can use a little reminder now and again on how not to run away when we encounter something we’re afraid of/or don’t understand and instead should face it straight on. Nightmares! hits the marks on all the feelings; it had me laughing, a little bit disturbed with the all the creepy nightmares (Ack, clowns and faceless bunnies!), and a couple of heartfelt moments with Charlotte and Jack. I can’t wait to start the next book, The Sleepwalker Tonic!

Friday, September 04, 2015

Voyagers: Project Alpha by D.J. MacHale

Title: Project Alpha
Author: D.J. MacHale
Genre: Middle School, Sci-Fi
Series: Voyagers #1

Hardcover, 224 pages
Publication: September 1, 2015 by Random House BFYR

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine who will join the secret mission that might just save us all. Project Alpha is a contest of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and political alliances.

The battle is fierce, and only four kids will make the cut. The Voyagers will journey to the far reaches of space, collecting unique elements and facing unbelievable dangers;The future of our planet is in the hands of four kids. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?

I’ve recently started reading more middle grade fiction because I really enjoy all the books aimed within that audience age group. And Voyagers: Project Alpha is no exception. Project Alpha focuses on a group of twelve-year-olds who volunteer to help find a new energy/fuel source for Earth. Readers follow along as the children compete against each other for one in four spots on Team Alpha. Team Alpha's first mission is to retrieve 1 of 6 ingredients needed to create 'the source' (energy to power Earth) and the first ingredient is on an alien planet where dinosaurs aren’t extinct!

I am definitely not within the age group for Project Alpha but I had so much fun reading it! Voyagers is the first of a six book multiplatform series and it is unlike anything I’ve ever experience. The series will be published within the year, each book written by a different blockbuster/Best Selling author. Not only are we experiencing the story and characters by reading the book, but there is also an interactive site in which readers can log on and explore the missions, check out the alien planets, solve codes (hidden within the book) to unlock special messages/information, and even design your own ZRK Commander (Steam)! This is probably the best idea I’ve ever seen aimed at middle-grade readers, and I know a lot of kids will love it especially in this tech-savvy era (My niece and nephew who are age 5 & 7…know way more about computers than I did at that age!).

The whole plot with children being the savor of man-kind isn’t anything new really, but nonetheless, I found the characters and action-packed plot entertaining. While the characters were pretty well-written, with the length of the book I hope that in subsequent books the characters will be more fleshed out so we can get to know them better. I loved that there was action from start to finish. My favorite part of the book is probably the competition and training. If I had to compare this book to another, it’d be Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the movie not the book (since I've only seen the movie) but I loved it. Project Alpha reminded me a lot of the movie, which isn’t a bad thing. Overall, Project Alpha was a great start to a new series. MacHale did a wonderful job setting the stage for the entire series and I can’t wait to read more of it! 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

[Series Spotlight] The Song of the Shattered Sands Series by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Unlike my other series spotlight, with many books already out in a series; Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in the Song of the Shattered Sand series released on September 1st! I haven't read it yet but I'm dying to! I mean just look at the beautiful cover and intriguing synopsis. Did I mention Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is an Arabian Nights inspired fantasy? Yes, please. Check out the synopsis below and author bio to learn more!

Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu 
The Song of the Shattered Sands #1
Available Now!
Published by DAW
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings—cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite company of Blade Maidens, and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

Image via Author's site 

Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but life eventually intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn't going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, and many more.

Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades including two Hotties—the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice—on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo and more:

* Top Ten Book and Debut of the Year for 2011 on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Best New Voice of 2011 on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
* 2011 Gemmell Morningstar Award Nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Ranting Dragon's Best of 2011
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Mad Hatter's Best of 2011
* Top Five Book for 2012 on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist for The Straits of Galahesh
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on Staffer's Book Review
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on The Ranting Dragon
* 2013 Most Anticipated for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh on The Ranting Dragon

Brad continues to work on his next projects, including an Arabian Nights epic fantasy and a Norse-inspired middle grade series. He also runs the highly successful science fiction & fantasy podcast, Speculate, which can be found at


Wednesday, September 02, 2015

[Blog Tour] Series Spotlight: Noctis Magicae Series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter + Giveaway

Do you love reading about history, myths or magic? Well look no further, the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Izzo Hunter has it all! Check out the series synopses below and don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post!

 Noctis Magicae #1

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…

Noctis Magicae #2

In her second year of studies at Merlin College, Oxford, Sophie Marshall is feeling alienated among fellow students who fail to welcome a woman to their ranks. So when her husband, Gray, is invited north as a visiting lecturer at the University in Din Edin, they leap at the chance. There, Sophie’s hunger for magical knowledge can finally be nourished. But soon, Sophie must put her newly learned skills to the test. Sophie returns home one day to find a note from Gray—he’s been summoned urgently to London.

But when he doesn’t return, and none of her spells can find a trace of him, she realizes something sinister has befallen him. With the help of her sister, Joanna, she delves into Gray’s disappearance, and soon finds herself in a web of magick and intrigue that threatens not just Gray, but the entire kingdom.


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Image via Author's Website
Sylvia Izzo Hunter was born in Calgary, Alberta, back in the days before Star Wars, and started making up stories at approximately the time she learned to talk. A couple of decades ago she moved to Toronto, Ontario, where she now lives with her husband and daughter and their slightly out-of-control collections of books, comics, and DVDs. She studied English and French literature (with a particular focus on medieval and Renaissance poetry and drama) at York University; she has since discovered that her mom was right: in order to be a functioning grown-up, you really do need to know how to do math.
Over the course of her working life Sylvia has been a slinger of tacos, a filer of patient charts and answerer of phones, a freelance looker-up of unconsidered trifles, an Orff-singing stage monk, and an exam tutor, but has mostly worked in not-for-profit scholarly publishing, where she started out making lots of photocopies and now gets to make XML and EPUB files (which is more fun). She also sings in two choirs (including the Orpheus Choir of Toronto), reads as much as possible, knits (mostly hats), and engages in experimental baking.

Connect with Sylvia