book review

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Laia is a slave. Eli27774758as is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


“Good books don’t give up all their secrets at once.”

-Stephen King

I feel as if this is the case with An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. It begins with two very different characters, each a victim of dire circumstances, who come to find strengths they’ve never known before. They turn their backs on who they’ve been told they are and become something unexpected.

I found myself just as frustrated as Laia and Elias as they struggled to find freedom. Their journeys are peppered with riddles and mixed messages, and it’s only as the story comes to a head that all the answers begin to unfold. I think that’s what makes this story so good: they persevere and trust in their instincts, and as a result, they figure out who they’re meant to be.

The character growth is all I could hope for as a reader. Not even the minor characters remain stagnant, each affected and changed by the events that transpire.

The only character that didn’t convince me was Keenan. He seemed like an afterthought and the attraction between him and Laia felt forced. It was unnecessary except to form some kind of lopsided love triangle between Laia, Keenan, and Elias. I felt that the author was trying to make Keenan more than he needed to be – but who knows, maybe his role will make more sense in the sequels.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the tension between Elias and Helene: it was real and had a solid basis in their enduring friendship. The complexity between them was intense, and throwing Laia into the mix to create another little triangle of sexual tension made things interesting.

The relationships between these characters plays an essential role in their actions. They affect each other, pushing each other beyond what they once thought was their limit. It’s awesome and creates unexpected outcomes.

An Ember in the Ashes is well written, creating a vivid picture of tyranny, rebellion, betrayals, and hard truths. Sabaa Tahir has become one of my must-read authors.

Rating: 4/5 Stars



Review: Built by Jay Crownover

Sometimes you have to tear everything down to build something new…

Sayer Cole is frozen inside. At least, that’s what it’s felt like for as long as she can remember. She’s yet to let anyone past her icy exterior – and the one guy she thinks might melt her heart couldn’t possibly be interested in someone so uptight.

Rough, hard and hot-as
-hell, Zeb Fuller has rebuilt his life and his construction business since protecting his family sent him to jail all those years ago. His elegant client, Sayer, makes him feel like a Neanderthal in denim, but despite the many hints that he’s been dropping to get to know her better, she seems oblivious to his charms.

Just as things finally start to heat up, Zeb’s past comes back to haunt him and he needs Sayer’s professional help to right a wrong and to save more than himself. As these opposites dig in for the fight of their lives, fire and ice collide in an unstoppable explosion of steam…

 Goodreads / Amazon

Rating: 3/5

There’s nothing better than a big, burly tattooed guy. Strap on a tool belt and a heap of compassion, and you’ve got the perfect package. Zeb Fuller is a dream, and I might be a little in love with his confidence and ability to turn shitty situations into something beautiful, whether it’s a beat-up house in need of a remodel or the more complicated aspects of life.

I felt almost the complete opposite about Sayer Cole. There were parts of her I liked – her friendship with her roommate, Poppy (a young woman who’d been abused by her husband), and her determination to fight tooth and nail for children’s rights in court. She has some major daddy issues, and I felt bad for her, but there comes a time when you’ve just gotta let it go. And she wouldn’t. Let. It. Go. Her redundant inner monologue about how she was frozen inside just wouldn’t fly after a certain point, and I got kinda annoyed with her for making choices on behalf of Zeb. He’s a grown-ass (and I mean GROWN) man. Let him make his own decisions about who he wants to love.

Other aspects that knocked this book down in rating for me were the insta-love and never-ending sex scenes. I’m not a prude by any means but I just felt like if a chapter ended with a pages-long sex scene, the next chapter shouldn’t begin with one. Maybe I got bored with it all because most of these scenes had the exact same wording. Anyway, less is more in this case. That, and their feelings for each other felt forced – there was no growth – it was just *BAM* we’re obsessed with each other, and that was that.

I loved, loved, loved the little boy, Hyde, and how he came into the picture (I won’t spoil it for you). I feel like he brought it all together, and I wish we’d seen more of his story. He brought out new emotions in all the other characters and, I feel, was the catalyst in their growth.

Overall, Built is a pretty satisfying read about two people on complete opposite sides of the spectrum coming together. The writing is good and the characters are well-developed. Although this wasn’t a favorite of mine, Jay Crownover receives a lot of raving reviews, and I liked this one enough to be curious about some of her other books.

Last thought: check it out and see for yourself. This book has a lot of five-star reviews, so the odds are that you’ll love it.