Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

Title: Warcross
Author: Marie Lu
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
GoodReads

Synopsis:
For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Review:

I know a lot of people loved this book, but I left it with mixed feelings. I’m going to go with a numbered list just so I can get it all out there.

  1. The Diversity
    I love that Marie Lu continuously puts out books with East Asian characters. I mean, Japan? Yes, please! The characters were of diverse backgrounds, each with a unique voice, and the world was built up really well. It was super realistic (i.e., I could totally see Japan turning into what was imagined in Warcross), and I absolutely went crazy for the cool tech and gaming equipment.
  2. The gaming!
    Again, I loved how immersive the world was. When they were in the game, I could picture the levels and the world so well. I don’t know if my being a gamer helped with this, but I loved the experience and the in-depth descriptions that we were given! I am also loving the number of female gamer characters we’ve been getting in YA recently.
  3. Pulling an SJM
    You know how SJM tends to take her characters’ personalities and flip them like a switch? Marie Lu did that here with a couple of characters, and while I wasn’t surprised (based on the trajectory of the story), I was disappointed. It felt like a cop out with regards to character development. Was that just me? I don’t know.
  4. Predictability
    I knew what was going to happen. That’s not to say it wasn’t still a rich and interesting book, but there was a moment about a third way through where I just thought, “Ah, and this means a + b = c.” And honestly, even then I was still excited, but knowing where it was going took away from my investment in the characters.
  5. Hyped
    That end had me hyped. I really want to read Wildcard now and see where this twist leads us. I’m still picturing an SJM finish, but I hope that Marie Lu manages it better!

As a whole, definitely like the diversity this book brings to the table. Honestly, wouldn’t be surprised if a company picks up Warcross as a game, if only for publicity sake. How cool would that be though?

I’ll definitely be reading Wildcard, but this book on its own left me feeling both excited, but a bit detached.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
World Building: 5/5
Writing: 4/5
Pace: 3/5
Overall: 3.5/5
GoodReads Rating: 4:18/5

Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Hunt the Flame [Sands of Arawiya #1]
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
GoodReads

Synopsis:

People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

Review:

We Hunt the Flame wasn’t at all what I expected. It was a mystical adventure through a dessert island abandoned by the beings who created it, with deep, rich world building that brought to life a world slightly grey – deprived of the magic that once saturated the air and ran through people’s veins. Honestly, I came for the gender swap, but stayed for the ancient Arabian inspired landscape and the friendships forged throughout this book.

Zafira is such a strong female character. Introduced as the Hunter, she’s the only person who can navigate through the Arz – forest that shifts and grows over time, and has magic in it that can confuse even the best navigators. To her village, the Hunter is their saviour. At the time where the Arz is growing and the land is cold, Zafira provides for her village pelts and meat. Her character grows so much throughout this story, and she learns to be comfortable and badass as herself, not just as a woman masquerading as a man.

There is one point in the book where she loses someone important to her, and the death affects her for all of 3.5 seconds and haunts her every 50 pages or so, and that person is all but forgotten by the end. The story takes place over about two weeks to a month. I lost a close friend around the same age and it’s been three years and I still think about them every couple days. I get that she was busy saving the world and stuff, but like where’s the gut-wrenching heartbreak, and the tears, and grief. This is the one thing about this book that just didn’t like. Just because a girl is strong doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel. I hate when protagonists are badasses and therefore aren’t allowed to breakdown and hurt. That’s not a realistic expectation to put on people, no matter their age. Pain is pain, and people (everyone) should be allowed to wallow in it, process it, and then move on. That’s the healthy way at least… /rant over/.

Nasir is compassionate and that is seen as his biggest weakness. I love that the author created this character for the same reasons I hate that she decided that Zafira just had to get over it – compassion, empathy, and love are all a part of being human. Nasir’s biggest battle is his wish to throw his feelings out the window and be the strong, emotionless person his father expects him to be. I liked seeing that struggle because of how relevant it is in today’s culture. The idea that men need to fulfill a certain level of authority without showing weakness. That was Nasir. And his compassion didn’t make him any less badass, which is such an important message.

I’m not even going to touch on the secondary characters here or else this whole review will be pages long. I loved the characters as a whole – their friendship and camaraderie make this book enjoyable. Faizal brings her characters to life and makes you feel for them, makes your heart break for them. This story was phenomenal – the magic, the world building, the wonderful prose – and I’m super excited to read the sequel!

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4.5/5
World Building: 5/5
Pacing: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.89/5

eARC received via Indigo Books & Music via NetGalley.

Review: Maybe This Time by Kasie West

Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Kasie West
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
GoodReads

Synopsis:

One year. Nine events. Nine chances to . . . fall in love?

Weddings. Funerals. Barbecues. New Year’s Eve parties. Name the occasion, and Sophie Evans will be there. Well, she has to be there. Sophie works for the local florist, so she can be found at every big event in her small hometown, arranging bouquets and managing family dramas.

Enter Andrew Hart. The son of the fancy new chef in town, Andrew is suddenly required to attend all the same events as Sophie. Entitled, arrogant, preppy Andrew. Sophie just wants to get her job done and finish up her sketches so she can apply to design school. But every time she turns around, there is Andrew, getting in her way and making her life more complicated. Until one day she wonders if maybe complicated isn’t so bad after all . . .

Told over the course of one year and following Sophie from event to event, this delightful novel from master of romantic comedy Kasie West shows how love can blossom in unexpected places.

Review:

I can usually binge a Kasie West contemporary in one sitting. There’s something about her books that often feel like a palette cleanse for me – if I’ve read too much of a heavier genre, like fantasy for example, then a light easy YA contemporary is the perfect thing to get me out of my slump. However, it didn’t work with Maybe This Time.

The premise is promising – the story is told across nine events during which the character spends time with her best friend, Micah, and newest pain in the butt, Andrew. Sophie works at the flower shop and works the major events alongside her best friend’s family’s catering company. Sophie aspires to be a New York fashion designer though, not a flower arranger in a small town. She wants more. And I think that is perfectly fine. Everyone around her though? Not so much.

Her best friend Micah is judgemental, rude, and keeps pushing Sophie to do things that she doesn’t want to do??? Idk. It was a weird best friend dynamic imo. Andrew belittles her at every turn, her mom keeps trying to tell her dreams are unrealistic, and no one but Sophie seems to stand up for Sophie, and yet everyone judges her for it?? Like this guy yells at her for being stupid cause she did something small and annoying to offend him (BY ACCIDENT might I add) and she’s ready to have at him, but everyone is like CHILL SOPHIE. When Andrew’s dad treats him like trash, Sophie stands up for him, but then Andrew gets mad at her?? I don’t know, this is not a message I was really comfortable with, and the reasoning for everything later on really did not work for me. This was an ARC though, so they may change the story a bit to make it fit the end better, but the end just didn’t fit the build up from the rest of the story. There was just a bit of dissonance between event six to event nine.

Sidebar comment – I LOVE the section transitions – they’re beautiful, entertaining, and are a great addition to the book and Sophie’s character.

All in all, this book left me feeling super meh and blah. Definitely my least favourite of West’s contemporaries.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
World Building: 2/5
Pacing: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Overall: 1/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.78/5

ARC received through Indigo Books and Music in exchange for an honest review.

Tour and Excerpt: Fake It Till You Break It by Jenn P. Nguyen

Welcome to the Fake It Till You Break It tour, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours!

Title: Fake It Till You Break It
Author: Jenn P. Nguyen
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: May 28, 2019
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Mia and Jake have known each other their whole lives. They’ve endured summer vacations, Sunday brunches, even dentist visits together. Their mothers, who are best friends, are convinced that Mia and Jake would be the perfect couple, even though they can’t stand to be in the same room together.

After Mia’s mom turns away yet another cute boy, Mia and Jake decide they’ve have had enough. Together, they hatch a plan to get their moms off their backs. Permanently. All they have to do is pretend to date and then stage the worst breakup of all time—and then they’ll be free.

The only problem is, maybe Jake and Mia don’t hate each other as much as they once thought…

Excerpt:

She planted her foot firmly on my chest and pushed me back down.

“You can’t leave yet. They’re still home.”

“Well, what are we going to do until then?”

“It is Sunday . . .”

There was a small smile on her lips as her fingertips tapped together like Mr.  Burns from The Simpsons. My forehead scrunched together as her smile grew even wider. What the hell was she— It finally clicked when she leaned back to open her nightstand and pulled out a couple of those Korean face-mask thingies that made you look like a ghost.

“No. No. NO.”

“Yes. Yes. YES.”

Her hand smoothed them all out on the bedspread like a colorful pack of cards.

“Now which one do you want? I have moisturizing ones with aloe and cucumber. Some collagen wrinkle-free ones. Or even this one with a picture of a baby’s foot. I don’t really know what it does since all the words are in Korean, but I assume it’s something good. Look how soft and glowing that baby’s toes are!”

Picking up her feet, I shoved her off of my lap, and she flopped backward with a squeal. I grabbed the baby-foot mask from the bed and pointed it at her like a sword.

“I’m not doing this.”

Her eyes widened innocently.

“What? It’s not like it’s your first time.”

“One. Time,” I nearly growled.

“And we swore that we would never talk about it again.”

“And now it’s about to be two times that we will never talk about again. Come on, pretty boy. You have to keep up your looks if you’re going to be dating me. By the way . . .”

She knelt and faced me. Her elbows braced against my shoulder as she leaned forward and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

“For future reference, that’s what a kiss on the cheek is supposed to be.”

Not sure why, but the kiss took me by surprise. I stared at Mia for a moment before finally pushing her away.

“Fine, you win. I’ll do it if it means you’ll stop kissing me.”

I ripped open a package before slapping the mask on my face. The strip on my nose wiggled as I sighed. Mia let out an identical sigh and poked at the moist edges around my chin to smooth them out.

“Ah, we’ve only been dating a few hours, and the magic is already gone.”

About the Author:

Jenn Nguyen fell in love with books in third grade and spent the rest of her school years reading through lunchtime and giving up recess to organize the school library. She has a degree in business administration from the University of New Orleans and still lives in the city with her husband. Jenn spends her days reading, dreaming up YA romances, and binge watching Korean dramas all in the name of ‘research’.

Giveaway:
Enter for a chance to win a print copy of Fake It Till You Break It!
Tour hosted by Xpresso Book Tours!

Review: The Empress by S.J. Kincaid

Title: The Empress [The Diabolic #2]
Author: S.J. Kincaid
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
GoodReads

Synopsis:

It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.

But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.

Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?

Review:

What the what did I just what? I don’t think any of you can comprehend how disappointed I was by this book. This isn’t simply second book syndrome, it’s more like why-did-you-force-this-into-a-series-cause-it-is-such-an-absolute-let-down, with a side of what-did-I-just-read kind of syndrome.

I loved The Diabolic. I felt like the first book wrapped up a little too easily in some areas, but the character development was good, the plot was interesting, and the story as a whole was like crack – I was addicted. I burned through The Diabolic twice with ease, and that shows that it’s not S.J. Kincaid, her writing, or her ability to write a good story.

The Empress though. Oof. The. Empress.

The best word to describe The Empress is political warfare. There’s scheming, false promises, betrayals, murder, and a lot of stupid decisions. Which, if you think about it, is interesting. In the first book, everyone is so calculating and careful, with the characters managing to overcome the biggest plot twists. However, in this one, we see how vulnerable people become when they fall in love. We see how this can lead to misplaced trust, broken hearts, and revenge plots.

I just made this book sound super interesting. I’m going to axe that right now and tell you that if you’re not interested in politics, this will be an impossible book for you to get through. Yes, it’s sci-fi, there’s some science and physics that are explained, some space travel, but there’s also internal dialogue that goes on for days, four months that just disappear from existence, and a lot of regular dialogue that just puts you right to sleep.

Now let’s talk about characters. Of the things Nemesis waffles over, being as human as possible isn’t really one of them. Despite what the synopsis says, she doesn’t really dwell on her choices for very long. She know who she wants dead and who she doesn’t and that’s that. Unfortunately, the insecurity of how to navigate through the system, as well as the license-to-kill attitude that she had in the last book really isn’t present in this one. That bothered me. She was almost a whole new person/character, and some of the things she didn’t just wasn’t consistent with what I thought she would do.

And Tyrus. Holy crumb cakes. I don’t know whether I want to hug him, slap him, or kill him. Tyrus’ character went in a direction I kind of didn’t expect from him, but I also saw it coming part way through this book. I can’t say I liked it.

Honestly, the most consistent character was Senator Pasus. Which depresses me a little.

This book had so much potential, but I honestly did not get what I wanted out of this book. The most infuriating thing is that the whole book bored me to death, in that it was slow moving, very political, dialogue heavy, and the characters made me want to rip my hair out, yet I want to read the next book. Know why? Cause the last chapter was everything, and I hate that it took the entire book for that last chapter to happen.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 1/5
Writing: 4/5
World Building: 4/5
Pacing: 2/5
Overall: 2/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.88

eARC obtained via Simon and Schuster Canada via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Blitz: The Upside of Falling Down

Welcome to The Upside of Falling Down Book Blitz, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours!

Title: The Upside of Falling Down
Author: Rebekah Crane
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Skyscape
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
GoodReads

Synospsis:

For Clementine Haas, finding herself is more than a nice idea. Ever since she woke up in an Irish hospital with complete amnesia, self-discovery has become her mission.

They tell her she’s the lone survivor of a plane crash. They tell her she’s lucky to be alive. But she doesn’t feel lucky. She feels…lost.

With the relentless Irish press bearing down on her, and a father she may not even recognize on his way from America to take her home, Clementine assumes a new identity and enlists a blue-eyed Irish stranger, Kieran O’Connell, to help her escape her forgotten life…and start a new one.

Hiding out in the sleepy town of Waterville, Ireland, Clementine discovers there’s an upside to a life that’s fallen apart. But as her lies grow, so does her affection for Kieran, and the truth about her identity becomes harder and harder to reveal, forcing Clementine to decide: Can she leave her past behind for a new love she’ll never forget?

Buy Link:
Amazon

Excerpt:

I was born twice. The first time was on July 9 to Paul and Mimi Haas in Cleveland, Ohio. My mother died six years later. My parents hadn’t conceived another child, and my father never remarried. I was born with brown eyes and brown hair, and for eighteen years, I was, for the most part, healthy.

I was delivered again on June 18, just weeks before my nineteenth birthday. The nurses said I was born unconscious with ash tangled in the burned ends of my hair. Rescue workers pulled me from the belly of an airplane, where I was stuck between two seats, like a cushioned sandwich. There was no mother to gaze down at me in amazement or cradle me if I cried, but according to my nurse, Stephen, there were a plethora of camera crews and flashing lights.

Out of the wreckage of that day, which included thirty dead bodies, I was a miracle. Amid so much death and destruction, I was born.

For a day, I lay in the hospital, unconscious, before I opened my eyes to the world for the first time. I had bleached blonde hair and a nasty bump on my head.

When the doctor sat down gently on the chair next to my bed and asked me a question, I could only think to respond with these words, “There are four emergency exits on this plane—two at the front of the cabin and two at the back.”

A handful of nurses and other staff broke into laughter, but my doctor didn’t. She asked me another question, a puzzled expression on her face, to which I replied, “Please take a moment to locate your nearest emergency exit. In some cases, your exit may be behind you.”

That’s when the room went silent. All the laughter fell out of the air.

“Can you tell me where you are?” the doctor asked in an accent unlike my own. It took me a moment to understand her, partly because of the accent, but also because of the odd question.

“Where I am?” I said, feeling around. “Clearly, I’m in a bed.”

A perplexed expression crossed the doctor’s face as the others looked on at the miracle that I was. “Yes, but do you know where? Specifically, what country?” she asked.

I thought for a long while, touching the bump on my head. The bump was a flaw, and something told me that’s not how this was supposed to be. People are born perfect, right?

“What happened to my head?”

“You don’t remember how that happened?” When I shook my head and didn’t offer an answer, the doctor asked me another question. “Can you tell me your name?”

It was a simple question, but at that moment, the complexity of it weighed me down, so much so that I had a hard time breathing.

“Or better yet, can you tell me anything about yourself?” the doctor asked.

“About myself?” I thought long and hard. As if the people gaping at me weren’t clue enough, my confusion should have been. A person shouldn’t have to think so hard about that question. It should come naturally. It’s me. I know me, right? But concentrating so hard made my head start to ache, and I thought I might pass out. And for all that thinking, nothing happened.

Nothing.

The doctor glanced at the nurses, who stared at each other, but all the looking didn’t find them any answers. I started to think answers don’t come that easily.

I died and was reborn on June 18 in a plane crash in Ballycalla, less than eight kilometers from Shannon Airport, and I awoke to a new life a day later in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Ireland, not far away. When the nurse called me by name, I didn’t respond.

He touched my arm. “Your name is Clementine, love.”

“Clementine.” I said the name over and over in my head, hoping one idea would stack on top of another and another and create something concrete. A person filled with a lifetime of memories.

But nothing happened. Instead, I said, “I have no idea who you’re talking about.”

About the Author:

Rebekah Crane is the author of three young-adult novels—Playing Nice, Aspen, and The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland. She found a passion for young-adult literature while studying secondary English education at Ohio University. After having two kids and living and teaching in six different cities, Rebekah finally settled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to write novels and work on screenplays. She now spends her day carpooling kids or tucked behind a laptop at 7,500 feet, where the altitude only enhances the writing experience.

Author Links:
Website | Twitter | Facebook | GoodReads

Giveaway:

Enter to win 1 of 10 copies of The Upside of Falling Down + stickers! Open to US/CAN. Ends Dec 14/17.

Book Tour + Excerpt: Spell Book and Scandal

Welcome to the Spell Book and Scandal Book Tour, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours!

Title: Spell Book & Scandal [#1]
Author
: Jen McConnel
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Shelby King is tired of living in her sister’s shadow. Just because Christina is the most powerful caster in school doesn’t mean Shelby’s any good at magic; she’s a scribe, like her mom, and everyone expects her to write spells for her sister, the way her mom always has for her dad. But Shelby’s spells fail spectacularly, and by the time she’s a sophomore, Christina won’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole; their parents aren’t much better. Shelby is fed up, and she decides to show the world she doesn’t care if she isn’t as good as her stuck-up sister, or as talented as their powerful parents. In fact, she decides it’s time to break all the rules, magical and otherwise, and she starts sneaking out to meet Jeremiah Smallwood, the second-best caster in school at illegal pop-up spell battles around town. She may not be able to scribe for him, but she doesn’t mind letting him think that she could; Shelby’s been half in love with Miah as long as she can remember, but he’s never paid attention to her until now, and she’s not going to risk her chances worrying about a pesky thing like the truth. But when Christina rats her out to their parents, Shelby can’t control her anger, and words come pouring out of her that she can’t take back even if she wanted to, threatening Christina’s future…and Shelby’s own chances with Jeremiah. It’ll take more magic than Shelby’s ever dreamed of to set things right, but no scribe has that much magic…right?

Buy Links:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo

Excerpt:

I glance around at the milling crowd of casters and scribes, but before I can ask another stupid question, a bell chimes and everyone falls silent. Their eyes swivel to a bench in front of the lion enclosure, where a tall, slender girl dressed in a black leather jacket over black skinny jeans stands looking out at the crowd. She grins, a wicked glint in her eyes. “First up, Sampson and Delilah.”

Sampson groans. “The names don’t mean anything!” He calls, but people around us are already laughing as he and Manuel break off from our clump and move toward the girl on the bench. A petite girl with curly auburn hair is already standing there, next to a guy with more piercings than I can count in his face. I take a step closer to Jeremiah. “Are you going to tell me what this is, or do I have to guess?”

He looks down at me with surprise, like maybe he forgot I was there. “Spell battle. Totally illegal, but wicked fun.”

I’m still completely confused, but Jessica slides her arm through mine and tips her head close to my ear. “You know how normies do stuff like poetry slams and rap battles?”

I nod. Our English teacher showed us a video of two poets eviscerating each other with their words at the end of last year, and it had been pretty amazing to see the power that non-magical words could hold. “This is like that? Only…with casters?”

She smiles. “Exactly. You can see why our boy here wants some of your spells; with a King on his side, Jeremiah would blast the competition to smithereens.”

Or get blasted by one of my crappy, backfiring spells. I lick my lips, hoping she can’t read my mind, and wonder why I let Jeremiah talk me into coming tonight.

While we talked, Sampson had been conferring with Manuel, their dark heads close together, shuffling through the stack of papers Manuel is holding. They’re his spells, I realize, and suddenly I understand his nervousness. I’ve never let anyone handle my notebook but me, but here he is, surrounded by people, with his spells ready to blow away in the first gust of wind. The girl, Delilah, hasn’t said a word to her scribe; she’s too busy examining her nails to seem like she’s paying much attention to anything around her. But when the girl in black leather claps her hands again, Delilah barely acknowledges Sampson’s polite nod before her lips are moving, casting the first spell.

Sampson tries to speak over her, but his spell is still half-formed when he begins to lift off the ground. It’s like there’s a rocket strapped to his back; he shoots into the air above us, and a few people clap and whistle, cheering for Delilah. I can’t hear what Sampson says, but clearly, the spell works, because in an instant, he stops flying and hovers in place, like he’s standing on a glass platform over our heads.

Delilah opens her mouth, but before she can get her next spell out, a blast of purple fire knocks her over. She summersaults and lands on her feet in an instant, but I can tell by the way she clenches her fists that she’s mad. “Sampson shouldn’t have done that so soon,” Jess murmurs next to me, and I can tell that she’s worried, too; the red-head may be small, but she’s clearly a powerful caster.

Just as that thought crosses my mind, the girl flicks her hand and Sampson begins to fall through the air. He doesn’t fall straight down, though; it’s like he’s caught by some powerful wind, and he falls sideways. With horror, I watch as he plummets into the lion enclosure. The crowd around me inhales sharply in excitement, and a few people whistle.

I grab Miah’s arm. “Shouldn’t we do something?”

He looks down at me quizzically. “He’s got this. You don’t think that girl would actually hurt him, do you? This is all just for fun, Shelby.”

But somehow, I’m not sure.

Sampson staggers to his feet and shakes his head like he’s trying to get rid of a bug, and over his shoulder, I notice one of the sleeping lions twitch. My heart is pounding in my throat, but Miah is right; by the time Sampson has taken stock of the situation, he’s already started to cast another spell. This time, he flips through the air like a gymnast, landing in front of Delilah outside the lion enclosure. She has a smug expression on her face, but her smile turns to a grimace as Sampson lashes out with his magic, pulling her legs out from under her. She lands in a puddle, and a few people chuckle.

Sampson raises an eyebrow, like he might ask the girl if she’s ready to give up, but before he can say anything, she lifts both hands and blasts him with a spell. Manuel sees it coming and hollers, “Use the counter spell! The one I wrote last week!” But Sampson is too slow. A whirlwind tears at his clothes, ripping the fabric and tossing him around in its embrace, even though there isn’t so much as a breeze where I’m standing. In an instant, the wind dies down, and somehow, Sampson has been stripped down to his plaid boxers, socks, and shoes. He flushes from the tips of his Mohawk all the way down to the waistline of his underwear, and then he hangs his head in defeat.

Everyone cheers, and Delilah takes a prissy bow. Sampson immediately casts a silent spell, and he’s dressed again like it never happened, except for the tell-tale blush on his face. Miah crosses to him and claps him on the shoulder, probably saying something encouraging, but I’m not listening. I glance behind me at the lion enclosure, and my eyes meet the golden gaze of a lioness. She’s awake, and she’s watching the people around me with a calculating expression. I almost imagine that I can hear her thoughts, sizing up the casters and deciding which ones might make the most delicious morsels, and I swallow my fear. After a moment, the lioness looks away and puts her head down on her paws, closing her eyes as if she’s asleep. Before I can worry needlessly about what could have happened, Jess gives my hand a squeeze.

“Not everyone fights like Delilah,” she says softly. “The next round should be fun.”

And she’s right; the rest of the battles are fast, furious, and frighteningly fun, and nobody else gets tossed in with any of the sleeping animals, but I stick close to Miah and his friends, knowing that I’d be toast if anyone decided to fly me in with the lions. Sure, the casters are the ones who are battling, but a little voice inside my head warns that things could turn ugly fast if anyone in that crowd had a score to settle with a caster… or a scribe.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Jen McConnel writes NA, YA, and nonfiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on her yoga mat or wandering off on another adventure. Visit http://www.JenMcConnel.com to learn more!

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Giveaway:

Enter to have your name in Book 2! Open internationally! Ends Nov 23/2017.