Mini-Reviews: Scarlett Undercover and Ember in the Ashes

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Mini-Reviews, where you can get my take on a book in half the time. This post is also a promo asking you to Follow/Friend me on Goodreads. I always friend back and Goodreads is the place where I publish my off-the-top-of-my head reactions to books, which often results in some interesting discussion and commentary. Lately, Goodreads friends and I have been discussing the LTP (Love Triangle Potential) of A Court of Thorns and Roses.  

Scarlett Undercover
by Jennifer Latham
to be published on May 19, 2015
by Little Brown

Source: eARC for review

Synopsis from Goodreads:  Meet Scarlett, a smart, sarcastic, kick-butt, Muslim American heroine, ready to take on crime in her hometown of Las Almas. When a new case finds the private eye caught up in a centuries-old battle of evil genies and ancient curses, Scarlett discovers that her own family secrets may have more to do with the situation than she thinks -- and that cracking the case could lead to solving her father's murder.
My take: Scarlett Undercover definitely had a lot of positives for me. Scarlett was a great main character -- a smart, independent, seventeen year-old Muslim private investigator. I love finding books with diverse characters and I liked that the story delved into what Scarlett's faith meant to her as an American teenager. Reading this book, I learned more about Islam and a little Arabic, too.

I also enjoy PI stories and was happy that at times this book had a snappy, witty Veronica Mars vibe: "My patience hit its limit faster than a college freshman's credit card." I assume that the setting, a place called Las Almas (the souls, in Spanish) was a fictional town like Neptune, since Google didn't recognize it. And I also assume, like Veronica, Scarlett lives on the wrong side of the tracks, as one character calls her a "ghetto Nancy Drew."

I must confess my disappointment that this book didn't have lot of character development, which was a shame, because there were some interesting characters. The mystery had some borderline paranormal elements, which I liked, but it also had a Scooby Doo feel at times and some villains that didn't seem that villainous. (Except when they engaged in a truly horrifying act of animal cruelty that almost made me stop reading.)

But I do recommend Scarlett Undercover, both for mystery lovers and for my fellow Veronica Mars fans.  I liked Scarlett's character and voice and could forgive the things that (for me) were slight flaws. (Hey, I didn't LOVE every single Veronica Mars episode either. Season one was excellent, season two went off the rails a little (the bus crash, Wallace and Jackie, and the kidnapped baby were not high points in my opinion) and I thought season three got things back on track.) So while the mystery aspect of Scarlet Undercover wasn't my favorite part of the story, I liked Scarlett a lot and would not be opposed to checking out future installments of her adventures.

Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Razorbill
on April 28, 2015

Source: bought
Synopsis from Goodreads: Laia is a slave. Elias 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. 

My take: Baa, baa, I'm the black sheep on this one. I can see why others liked it, but it really wasn't for me.  Martial, violent, brutal -- I know that ancient Rome was probably all that and more, but I just didn't enjoy reading about constant beatings and murders and brandings and disfigurement. I kept putting the book down because I needed a break.  I did like Laia's undercover job, which felt a little like Downton Abbey ... if Laia were Daisy and Cook were Mrs. Pattmore and the Granthams were cruel bloodthirsty villains. (See, I definitely prefer my historical stuff on the fluffier side....)

Dual POVs can work for me, but the chapters were really short and I felt constantly yanked back and forth between the two storylines. The romance is .... complicated. A possible love rectangle that may be disguising an OTP? Hard to say, because another of my complaints is that the two POV characters didn't have enough interaction in this installment to really get a romance going. But the ending is very unresolved so I assume this will be a series. If you love historical fantasy and don't mind a heavy dose of violence, definitely give this one a try.

Thanks for reading. Don't forget to friend me on Goodreads -- and come join in on the ACoTaR discussion: Love Triangle or Not?!?


  1. I was wondering about Scarlett Undercover and although it had some flaws, I'm very much intrigued because of the diversity and it being about mysteries!
    I'm sorry to hear Ember wasn't exactly your thing, I still need to read it since my preorder still hasn't arrived in the mail yet!

    1. If you like mysteries, definitely try it! And hope your book comes soon!

  2. I'm reading this now, but I'm not too far in. I'm worried about that love rectangle you alluded to. Welp.

    1. Yeah, I'm not sure why that was necessary....

  3. You're definitely not alone with regards to An Ember in the Ashes. I gave it a 3 but I was mostly dissatisfied with it... it was just so telling than showing and boring! There were times I even set it aside so I could eat dinner, only to remember that I set it aside a day after. It was kind of forgettable that way haha. Plus, the constant use of rape as a plot device just turned me off.

    Faye at The Social Potato

    1. I saw your review on Goodreads. It did seem like that was a main source of tension in the plot.

  4. Okay, with the first one, I'm a little shocked about the lack of character development because of the potential. The MC alone sounds like a rich ground for just about ten thousand directions to see her grow. She just sounds really interesting, so, pity... The second, I haven't read the first book yet, but if it features that much violence (rape, too...?) I don't think I will. Can't say I fancy reading a book that has me putting it aside to catch my breath.

    1. The character of Scarlett was fairly well developed, but I didn't feel like other characters were. I really do think that mysteries are among the hardest books to write. You have to have a smoothly moving plot, plant clues, and develop the characters and themes. It's a lot to balance.

  5. ooo Scarlett, I want! I've never read a Veronica Mars book or seen the show, but I appreciate the sass and wit!

    I'm halfway through An Ember in the Ashes and while I like it, I can see your complaints. It's a pretty heavy read that takes a lot out of me.

    1. Sass and wit are everything in a book!

      Yeah E in the A was not a book I wanted to read at the end of a long day...

  6. I've read similar thoughts on The Ember in The Ashes. I was really excited for that one.. but after reading through such reviews, I still want to read it but not that pumped up for it.

    czai @ the Blacksheep Project

  7. Oh, I'm really excited to read A Ember in the Ashes. I'm sorry this wasn't for you though. Some books just aren't meant to be for everyone. But that's the beauty of it too otherwise we wouldn't have much to discuss if everyone else likes it. Hehe! Great mini reviews.

  8. Great reviews. I had passed on requesting the ARC for Scarlet Undercover because I wasn't sure if I would like it. Now I'm kind of sorry I didn't get it.


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