Categories
Contemporary Fantasy Romance Young Adult

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon, Evelyn Skye (ARC Review)

Thank you to Wednesday Books for the early digital copy of Three Kisses, One Midnight by *all those authors* lol!  I haven’t read anything by Skye or Menon but I love Chokshi as a YA author and was happy to grab a copy of this.

This is a young feeling YA with witchy & folklore elements, that hit me like a Halloween version of Cinderella.  Three friends are attending the town’s annual masquerade gala and are intent on finding true love prior to midnight.  It was a little silly but magical and cute overall, and I think that younger YA readers will enjoy the book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Three Kisses, One Midnight: A Novel
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon, Evelyn Skye
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 08/30/22
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Rate & Recommend:  ⭐⭐⭐✨  for younger teen readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads: 

New York Times bestselling authors Roshani Chokshi, Evelyn Skye, and Sandhya Menon craft a spellbinding novel about discovering the magic of true love on one fateful, magical night in Three Kisses, One Midnight.

The town of Moon Ridge was founded 400 years ago and everyone born and raised there knows the legend of the young woman who perished at the stroke of twelve that very same night, losing the life she was set to embark on with her dearest love. Every century since, one day a year, the Lady of Moon Ridge descends from the stars to walk among the townsfolk, conjuring an aura upon those willing to follow their hearts’ desires.

“To summon joy and love in another’s soul
For a connection that makes two people whole
For laughter and a smile that one can never miss
Sealed before midnight with a truehearted kiss.”

This year at Moon Ridge High, a group of friends known as The Coven will weave art, science, and magic during a masquerade ball unlike any other. Onny, True, and Ash believe everything is in alignment to bring them the affection, acceptance, and healing that can only come from romance—with a little help from Onny’s grandmother’s love potion.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. And as midnight approaches, The Coven learn that it will take more than a spell to recognize those who offer their love and to embrace all the magic that follows

The synopsis sounded a little not-my-style but I’ll read anything that Roshani Chokshi writes.  The first friend, Onny, has an insanely rich family and her parents host the Moon Ridge founding day gala every year.  Since it’s the 400th anniversary they are sparing no expense and creating the most magical, amazing celebration ever.

There was a good overall mood and setting, I would totally go to that masquerade.

I think the best part was also the most jarring part – Chokshi’s prose.  The other authors wrote the dialogue and stories, and then her lyrical and magic descriptions were tagged into paragraphs.   Text, Text, text, “and it was like *insert block of Chokshi prose*”.

I think they should have melded it together a little better somehow but it really did flow well overall.

Split into three sections, a section for each friend, we get to see how each teen embraces both the literal and figurative magic of the night.  I was surprised to enjoy the third story the most – True had an amazing personality and I feel like the authors gave us a rough idea of her at first, so I got to overcome my first impression of her as she also had her own struggles.  I liked her story the most too.

Each teen had a little adventure and I think True had the best one.  Each character was good though, I didn’t particularly dislike any character or segment.  Ash’s was slowest but interesting, Onny was insufferable and had to learn to look under the surface of people, and I already talked about True!

There are good youth friendly themes of being yourself, honoring family, accepting yourself and others, and others.

Overall, I’m pretty excited that these authors got together.  I do think some of the content isn’t quite as cute as they intended it to be, which is why I went with my neutral rating.  I do appreciate that they kept the main characters to kissing only. The characters tend to talk and text like 12 year olds and they are intended to be 17+! Like I said, I would recommend for the younger YA spectrum and also have no trouble giving this to a strong middle grader.

Thanks again to Wednesday Books for my advanced copy, all opinions are my own.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Burn by Patrick Ness (Book Roast)

I don’t like to waste a lot of time on books that I truly hate. It seems like a lot of my Bookstagram friends have this book on their list though so I’m going to run it down quickly.

I also said I would review everything I read for book bingo this month. Unfortunately.

Why? Because this book was just absolutely f*cking terrible. Thankfully Libby had the audio available and the narrator had a very pleasant voice, because I could not read one more page with my eyes

My actual thoughts:

The synopsis sounded amazing and it was off to a good start, like the first 50 pages was interesting. Then Ness took all these cool main ideas that he started and just dropped them for CONVENIENCE.

The main theme of the book was convenience. There was an alternate history ish cold war aspect that just ended … for convenience.

Ness killed everyone off then switched to alternate universe… for convenience.  What, can be not finish one idea that he starts?

Two teenage boys met conveniently at a camp ground and had insta love, and then there was way more intimacy than I want to see in a YA book. That was the only topic that stuck because apparently Ness writes queer fiction, except there was nothing to this relationship except that the boys happened to be at the same campground and took off together.

The prophecy girl wasn’t special at all, she was just the convenient person there to interfere with the sequence of events.  Literally convenience was the main topic and theme.

After like 6 days, I don’t even remember how the book ended.  I’m sure it was all very convenient. Additionally I don’t even know what the f*ck genre this was supposed to be, alternate history? Dystopia? The world build was so weak I didn’t expend the brain power to try to figure it out.

I give him two stars only because I did like one single theme of duplicity and prophecy that ran throughout the text.  Ness kind of had an interesting idea about how magic is created in a world but it was more weird than anything and not fleshed out.

I’m not even going to bother with the characters because they were all cardboard cutouts of whatever they were supposed to represent

To quote another reviewer named John Mechalas

“I have no idea who the audience is supposed to be. The dialog is so clunky and cringe-worthy that it’s too young for mature readers, but the surprisingly descriptive (and jarring) romance scenes are too adult for younger ones. The rest is just handled badly….. This thing is junk. Time-wasting junk. Life is too short. Read something else

Just … Really, really hard no thanks on this one

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Burn
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Patrick Ness
  • Publisher & Release: Quill Tree Books, June 2020
  • Length: 384
  • Rate & Recommend: 😵😵 no

Here’s the synopsis from Am*zon:

On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm…

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (Audio & Book Thoughts)

When I polled my friends for their favorite books, one of my bookstagram buddies  responded that her whole family loves Skulduggery Pleasant!

It sounded a little silly. A middle grade novel with fantasy/horror/humor elements about a snarky skeletal detective. I have seen it recommended before and said ok why not, I could use a laugh!

The audiobook didn’t disappoint.  I absolutely loved it enough to put holds on the next few books.  I’m told that the series goes downhill and gets PC/political later on so I am a little bit wary, but plan on enjoying the books until it gets to that point!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Skulduggery Pleasant
  • Series: Skulduggery Pleasant #1
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Publisher & Release: HarperCollins, April 2007
  • Length: 400 pages:
  • Rate & Recommend: 4.5⭐  for fans of middle grade-YA. (Remember that I rate these books mainly off of age appropriateness and overall enjoyment)

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Meet Skulduggery Pleasant

Ace Detective
Snappy Dresser
Razor–tongued Wit
Crackerjack Sorcerer and
Walking, Talking, Fire-throwing Skeleton

—as well as ally, protector, and mentor of Stephanie Edgley, a very unusual and darkly talented twelve-year-old.

These two alone must defeat an all-consuming ancient evil.

The end of the world?

Over his dead body.

There are a lot of books bridging the Middlegrade to YA reading gap and this is one of them.  A mature 10 year old could read or listen to this, or an adult could find a few things to laugh at too.

It’s funny, very funny, and I think the narrator brought out the banter and personalities of the characters really well.  Some of the dialogue is clunky but for a debut novel I really liked the characters.

Stephanie didn’t seem to have a lot to be upset with in her life, but she is seeking adventure and finds it after her uncle dies and a skeleton in disguise shows up at the reading of his will.

Between Stephanie’s adventure sense and Skulduggery’s one liners and absolute lack of any idea of how to handle a 12 year old, they make quite a pair. I say again how much I love the banter and how awkward Skul could be

The book moves at an appropriately fast pace for middle grade fantasy. The fighting got a bit repetitive but the story moved quickly and I was absolutely not bored at all.  I think that 10-16 age group would devour this book

The biggest thing I noted that set this one apart from it’s genre peers is how dark it got at times.  Age appropriately dark, but still dark.  Where other books in this genre stay fairly light on tough themes, this went into grief and torture, betrayal and madness, among other things scattered between the jokes and lighter content.

I liked it for that contrast of light and dark, highlighting the gray zones and debating who the “good guys” are.  

Here are a small few of my favorite quotes:

I’m placing you under arrest for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and, I don’t know, possibly littering


A living skeleton isn’t enough for you, is it? What does it take to impress young people these days?


To betray is to act against, I just haven’t acted at all


Content wise – there’s very little language, I think he says “damn” once. There is no romantic content and the dark content stays pretty age appropriate which I love and find necessary in order to rate these books!  Any one liners targeted at adults are going to go straight over the little one’s heads, even I hardly caught them.

Overall: I would definitely recommend this as a fun, fast paced read or listen for anyone interested in middle grade/ early YA books

A quick note on the audio: approximately 7 hours, narrated by Rupert Degas.  I loved his accent so much and found it perfect for the text, characters, banter, etc. There’s music at the end of each chapter that set the mood for the next chapter, corny but fun. 100% going to listen to a few of these because I need a laugh in my life and if nothing else, I was laughing out loud for sure 😂

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Bloodsworn by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

Hi all – coming at you today with a short and sweet post about Bloodsworn! Without further lollygagging, let’s talk about this book!

I liked Ashlords quite a bit, but didn’t love it. Bloodsworn matured a lot in both plot, world building, and character development, and I don’t hesitate to recommend the duology to YA fantasy fans at all.

Plus – omg the cover artwork, right?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Bloodsworn
  • Series: Ashlords #2
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, February 2021
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon: 

Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.

The Races are over. War has begun.

Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.

Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.

Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

All the characters from book one – Imelda, Pippa, Adrian, plus Quinn and now the gods, are back in a big way in Bloodsworn.

 I loved meeting the gods! Each had an interesting domain, abilities, “hobbies”. Seeing the other realm was cool too and I liked how Reintgen broadened the scope so much without letting the plot get away from him.

The lore was well done and I never saw the big plot twists coming at all.  Kind of hard to talk without spoiling but when the four characters (races) discover their history and team up against the gods…

…I loved the teamwork.  Overcoming racial differences and doing what is RIGHT, vs just continuing what past generations did, is a great theme for teens and this ties massively into the character growth shown here in book two.

Pippa and Adrian and Imelda might be sons and daughters of political leaders but they really step up and find their own future now.

Reintgen upped the emotional states a bit too with a few well placed side character deaths – I actually like when YA authors do this because war is not pleasant, nor should it be described as such.  I think he captured a lot of wartime atmosphere and ethical concerns well

It was cool to see the new phoenix rebirths and learn some of the ancient alchemy practices too.  I wish Reintgen had packed in more horsie related Phoenix things and alchemy related trick riding, but I have no real gripes about this book.

The end was a little corny but it packed a lot of emotional appeal.  Each of the three main characters obtained major victories and resolution. I was happy with how much each character came into their own and found some happiness going forward.  

Spoiler free ** regarding the “corny” ending – I have learned with YA books that I’m going to eye roll at a lot of endings, and I don’t dock for it anymore.  Teens eat this stuff up and because the language and broader content of the book is appropriate for the age group, I dropped 5 stars with no hesitation

Highly recommend for YA fantasy fans. If you are even vaguely interested after book one, keep reading!

** Quick note on the audio – the crew is back. Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Foftgang are back and deliver a decent narration. I think Eiden stepped into the Aiden character a little better than he did in book one and overall I enjoyed listening. About 10 hours, 41 minutes from Listening Library!

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Ashlords by Scott Reintgen (Book Thoughts)

My last read of June was Ashlords by Scott Reintgen! The book was pegged as Scorpio Races meets Red Rising; there are strong Hunger Games vibes too. It was one of the books that I got through ShelfLoveCrate and meant to read as soon as it came out, because hello PHOENIX HORSES, but I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to the synopsis and be a letdown!

Thankfully that didn’t happen.

My cover is the alternate dust jacket from shelf love crate, this is the originally released cover

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Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Ashlords
  • Series: Ashlords #1
  • Author: Scott Reintgen
  • Publisher & Release: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2020
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of the books listed above!

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

Red Rising meets The Scorpio Races in this epic fantasy following three phoenix horse riders–skilled at alchemy–who must compete at The Races–the modern spectacle that has replaced warfare within their empire.

Every year since the Ashlords were gifted phoenix horses by their gods, they’ve raced them. First into battle, then on great hunts, and finally for the pure sport of seeing who rode the fastest. Centuries of blood and fire carved their competition into a more modern spectacle: The Races.

Over the course of a multi-day event, elite riders from clashing cultures vie to be crowned champion. But the modern version of the sport requires more than good riding. Competitors must be skilled at creating and controlling phoenix horses made of ash and alchemy, which are summoned back to life each sunrise with uniquely crafted powers to cover impossible distances and challenges before bursting into flames at sunset. But good alchemy only matters if a rider knows how to defend their phoenix horse at night. Murder is outlawed, but breaking bones and poisoning ashes? That’s all legal and encouraged.

In this year’s Races, eleven riders will compete, but three of them have more to lose than the rest–a champion’s daughter, a scholarship entrant, and a revolutionary’s son. Who will attain their own dream of glory? Or will they all flame out in defeat?

For a Young Adult book – I loved Ashlords. What more could I want than phoenix horses controlled through alchemy, danger, betrayals, strategy, war, gods, and a race where anything except murder goes.

I almost gave it 5 stars just because it’s so damn refreshing to not have a terrible YA romance involved. Reintgen left romance out and I can only hope that he also left it out of book 2. Hello and thank you authors not every damn book needs romance forced into it.

The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is because the world building was a little confusing at first. We did get the necessary history throughout the book but it first it was a little hard to grasp which faction was which and what their goals are. I also would have like to know what the actual differences were between the Ashlords, longhands, and dividians, whether there were physical differences or what.

I would have loved a deeper dive into the horses themselves and the alchemy parts too.  The Phoenix horses were cool and I liked the horse crazy vibe that Imelda gave off, but some more lore and physiology would be cool. Like if they rebirth every day, how do the riders form lasting bonds? I love the idea though

The races lasted long enough to be satisfying and each character got ample page time to make tough decisions and strategize.  A lot of these books with races or competitions tend to under represent the event itself and I didn’t think that was the case here.

Most of the gods and some of their atrocities were revealed here too – I’m pretty excited to see how that develops in the next book. Reintgen took on a lot here to set up religious and economical power struggles between the factions.  The flavor of rebellion reminded me of Red Rising for sure

Character wise- the book is told through three rotating points of view. I liked all of them well enough. Pippa surprised me as the most dynamic character, she seemed high horsed at first and was narrating herself in second person like she saw her life through a television camera. Adrian was funny, badass, and set in his ways already. He seemed to be a product of his upbringing. Imelda was so naive, she outdanced a lowly country lord and then thought she could take on the rebellion 🤣thankfully she figured out quickly enough that she was in over her head. She kept her head on fairly straight when people started dying in the early skirmishes, so… We will see how she holds up. I would have liked to see her do more in the race though.

Overall, this was a plot and action-heavy book and it moved along fairly quickly. I liked it for those reasons but I would have liked a little bit more world building overall. I definitely adore the fact that there was no real romance. I’m pretty excited for book two which I plan to read either this month or next!

A quick note on the audiobook – I did read about half of the hardcover before switching to audio when my hold came in. Each point of view gets its own voice and I think that they all did a great job.   The audio is about 10 hours long from Recorded Books, narrated by Rebecca Soler, Andrew Eiden, Lauren Fortgang, and Neil Hellegers

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Human Hearts by Mary Beesley (Book Review)

Thank you endlessly to Monster Ivy Publishing for my finished paperback of Human Hearts! I have gushed about this series from the start and am not about to slow down because it’s over now 😅

I posted about this book a few times when I first received and started reading.  It is a super fast read.  I think I blanked and never posted my final thoughts because in my head it was already here! That said, I’ll keep this as spoiler free as I can but it is book three!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Human Hearts
  • Series: Draco Sang, #3
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Monster Ivy Publishing, June 6, 2022
  • Length: 296 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

A terrible battle rages between the humans and the Draco Sang, half human half beasts…

And the fate of mankind lies in the hands of three.

Jade. The emotionless killer. She’s trained to find the weakest in the human army and slaughter them. But witnessing love and loyalty has her hesitating to wield her blood-stained sword.

Ferth. The son of a mighty Draco Sang chief. He’s tired of fighting and wishes to find a place where he can finally lay down his sword. But there are enemies to face, slaves to free, and a father to battle.

Suza. A protector of liberty. She’ll give her life to defend humanity. But when she loses her heart to a Draco Sang, she must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice for love.

Here are the reviews for Dragon Blood and Wolf Pack – books 1 and 2 in the series.

The first thing I noticed about the conclusion is that it’s shorter than the prior two books! Usually the end of a series is the longest and most drawn out, but Beesley has already set her characters and world and is out to finish her story.

Not to say that there isn’t plenty of characterization in this installment. Ferth, Jade, and Suza are our three points of view and share fairly equal page time.  Ferth is on his quest to slay Nogard, Suza is fighting for love and family and Jade…. Well, Jade has a beast and empire to conquer. I loved her pages the most.

The big themes in Human Hearts are claiming family, freedom, and finding your honor.   It stayed fairly clean with no language, and only insinuated closed door coupling between wolves, that was in general a hilarious scene.  The wolf banter has been *everything* and it continues with no mercy here.

So there’s plenty of adventure and war, heart and heartbreak, and Beesley sets a characteristically breakneck pace that made it hard to not read the book in one sitting.

I would say an easy five stars if I thought Human Hearts held up to Wolf Pack.  It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly lacked but a lot of issues seemed easily resolved and I wish she had taken a little more page time to explore things like Jade’s hewan, Tobin and Jade, what Imanna ended up doing, even the Nogard sequence seemed easy.  I was hoping for some kind of epic dragon battle I think, I mean he was the root of everything. Beesley ruined my heart in the first two books and I didn’t feel it here.

That said, it’s still a great read and series. The characters had each been through more than enough already and the conclusion was satisfactory.  I absolutely 100% recommend this series to any fans of YA fantasy, sweet romance, and clean reads.  I can’t wait to see what the author does next!

Categories
Science Fiction Thrillers Young Adult

Exo by Fonda Lee (Book Thoughts)

I’ve been on a sci-fi binge recently and have absolutely no regrets about picking up Exo by Fonda Lee. Everyone talks about The Green Bone Saga books but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Exo on Bookstagram or Twitter, so here we are.

YA scifi is totally hit or miss and I only have good things to say about Exo. Content and theme wise I’m all about this one both as a sci-fi and YA book! (If you see Categories – I also gave this one credit as a thriller because it’s more action than ideology based, although there’s plenty of both).

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Exo
  • Series: Exo #1 (Duology)
  • Author: Fonda Lee
  • Publisher & Release: Scholastic Press, January 2017
  • Length: 384
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for Sci-fi thriller and YA fans

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip . But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one…

Excellent synopsis, ok here we go. So Earth is now a few generations post invasion and governed by an alien race. Humans are part of the government and enjoy many rights, they have been given advanced alien technology in including these fused Exocels, protection from other alien races, and many other benefits

There’s a faction of humans that didn’t benefit so much though and have turned into a terrorist organization called Sapience. Donovan’s security patrols are primarily concerned with rooting these terrorists out, although *most* are smalltime offenders.

Long story short, things go badly and Donovan gets thrown into the world of Sapience.  He has literal and figurative bombshells thrown at him and learns both sides of the war.  He sees the face of “evil” and ultimately faces legitimate moral conflicts involving family, loyalty, the alien races, and the big picture of Earth’s survival.

The ideas of nature vs nurture and natural vs unnatural are huge themes in this book. The main character has significant life changing events that allows him to see both sides of the story and I think this is great for YA readers.  Both of Donovan’s parents had terrible choices to make and also made terrible choices, and isn’t it eventually the child’s burden to sort this out and make their own choices? Yes, and Lee NAILS this 

There’s also first contact from the perspective of the leader of the alien race. This is an interesting choice and not done so frequently.  He comes to survey Earth and has never seen humans before, even though the aliens on Earth have grown up with humans and protect/care for them. The leader is like “ew, the hell are these little squishy things and why do they have Exos? Do we need to save these things?”

Another thing I appreciate is the LANGUAGE! World appropriate slang that is based off the Zhree (alien) language is a great touch.  Tell me again why SFF books need modern day swearing, especially in YA … they don’t!

Lastly a note on the characters – I liked Donovan and Jet too.  Jet is a saint and Donovan is lucky to have him as a best friend.  I do think the little romance could have been cut out but it was clean and gave the characters incentive to bridge the gap between their politics.

Overall: fast moving plot, plotting, frequent action, great characters, micro and macro threats, family… This is a really solid Young Adult book and I think some adults may enjoy it as well.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard

Happy slightly late pub day to Game of Strength and Storm! Thanks to Flux Books via NetGalley for the digital arc, all opinions are my own

This is a very loose labors of Hercules retelling. It sounded interesting despite the fact that I don’t tend to be a fan of mythological retellings and have been breaking up with YA, so maybe don’t take my opinions too seriously

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Game of Strength & Storm
  • Series: The Labors of Gen
  • Author: Rachel Menard
  • Publisher & Release: North Star Editions, 06/07/2022
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for me personally. Content wise I would recommend for a pretty clean YA fantasy read

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Victory is the only option.

Once a year, the Olympian Empresses grant the wishes of ten people selected by a lottery—for a price. Seventeen-year-old Gen, a former circus performer, wants the freedom of her father, who was sentenced to life in prison for murders she knows he didn’t commit. Castor plans to carry the island Arcadia into the future in place of her brother, Pollux, but only after the Empresses force a change in her island’s archaic laws that requires a male heir.

To get what they want, Gen and Castor must race to complete the better half of ten nearly impossible labors. They have to catch the fastest ship in the sea, slay the immortal Hydra, defeat a gangster called the Boar, and capture the flesh-eating Mares, among other deadly tasks.

Gen has her magic, her ability to speak to animals, her inhuman strength—and the help of Pollux, who’s been secretly pining for her for years. But Castor has her own gifts: the power of the storms, along with endless coin. Only one can win. The other walks away with nothing—if she walks away at all.

I seem to be in the minority here as the book has great early ratings, but I didn’t love it. It’s solid enough for YA but took me almost three weeks to finish because I honestly was not interested and had trouble with the repetitive inner monologue.

The concept was interesting and there was plenty of action interspersed throughout, but overall as an adult reader I just wasn’t as engaged as I think a teen would be.  I also like the theme of family loyalty which is explored in different ways.

Character wise- I can’t deal with inner monologue that never changes. Pollux said the same thing over and over and so did Castor who had no character growth at all.  It’s hard for me to read multiple points of view when the characters just keep repeating themselves. The main character, Gen, didn’t really change much either except to open her barriers to a proximity romance and gain slightly more awareness of the way the empire works. I liked the magic, abilities, and attitude of the characters, although the most enjoyable part for me was the animals

What do you think it would be like to ride in a whale’s mouth? A monkey with 100 eyes? Flesh eating mares?

Gen’s ability to communicate with different creatures was the high point for sure

Plot wise I wanted a little more from some of the tasks. Overall it was fairly fast paced but I found myself skimming over a lot of repetitive introspection. The final battle’s ending struck me as a bit silly and I thought the book would be a standalone. I can’t see myself reading the sequel.

I like that the content and language was appropriately clean for YA.  There were a few kisses between m/f and briefly w/w but otherwise the content was extremely low. One of my favorite things about the Flux imprint is that they tend to keep things on the tame side!

I would recommend for YA 100% and accordingly went with my three star, aka neutral rating

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (Book Thoughts)

I group read Sorcery of Thorns finally and was able to chat about it finally.  I valued the group’s perspective and it helped me put my finger on how I felt about the book too.  P.S. I read 6 whole books off my shelves this month!!

This is a great YA fantasy that had lots of YA inconsistencies. I’m trying not to think about it too hard

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Sorcery of Thorns
  • Series: n/a
  • Author: Margaret Rogerson
  • Publisher & Release: Margaret K. McElderry Books – June 2019
  • Length: 464 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for YA Fantasy fans and books about books

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads:

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire, and Elisabeth is implicated in the crime. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Alright so overall, without over thinking this, I enjoyed it for the most part as a YA fantasy.  It’s mostly fast paced with plenty of action, magic books, and demons who are the best characters.

It’s a magical gaslight era fantasy where books are living things with breakable hearts and women aren’t held in very high regard. Sorcery has a bad reputation, as do grimoires, and the main theme of the book is about uncovering the nature of things despite their appearances or what society says.  Knowledge is power – a great YA theme.

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The characters are… Ok.  Elisabeth is literally a strong, tall, hard to kill woman, and Rogerson avoided MarySue-ing her by not bringing other girls into the picture in comparison.  Her special traits ended up having a feasible explanation.

Nathaniel is supposed to be a typically dark, brooding man, but even in completely inappropriate situations (danger, levity, middle of a battle) he always seems flippant and ready to banter.  He did have some extremely serious moments but then would snap out of it real quick and I mean heck he just wasn’t believable 90% of the time.

The banter was funny though, like legitimately funny so it’s hard for me to layer this enjoyable comic dialogue over some of the scenes it was occurring during.  The dark scenes at night though – ok, ok, there were some good ones.

Now I’m joining everyone else who thought Silas saved the day entirely.  All my highlights were Silas related.  If for no other reason besides magic books, read the book for Silas.

P.S. hello we have another Garth Nix copycat.  Silas in cat form and Silas in general really reminded me of Mogget. Can anyone think of a white cat/demon/magic familiar before Mogget? I can’t for sure, but can name about 5 since!

I also didn’t love the sorcery magic but the demon to owner magic was cool, and, omg the books.  If you’re not reading for Silas, read for the books. Books and atmosphere.  Rogerson loves atmosphere and went over the line at times with purple prose, but sometimes I enjoyed it.

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Anyway – I did the positives first, now let me do the negatives. I docked a star because while it was super YA even in the most serious moments – or most of them anyway – the characters went from like two quick kisses, to clothes off, mad quick, in a gaslight fantasy era where I’m sure Elisabeth would have had reservations.

Gaslight – think stagecoaches and insane asylums and women being diagnosed as insane because they read books. Which then becomes SUPER INCONSISTENT because some of the library directors are women, as are lots of the apprentices and wardens and librarians.  Now we know the libraries aren’t cut off from social prejudice because they don’t like sorcerers, but they randomly allow women in while a huge point was made elsewhere that women were treated …. poorly.  It is the biggest plothole inconsistency ever.  Plus it’s apparently totally cool for Elisabeth to just live with Nathaniel and ignore all social norms, right lol.

Sooo I’m trying hard to stick with 4 stars and not overthink this because I did enjoy it while reading.  I didn’t love it but for a YA audience I think it’s a good bet

Categories
Historical Fiction Young Adult

The Silent Unseen by Amanda McCrina

Thank you to Bookish First and the publisher for my free copy of The Silent Unseen in exchange for an honest review! I don’t remember entering this raffle. I also don’t regret the read, even if it ultimately fell flat for me

I am a terribly myopic history reader, so a book about WW2 era Ukraine + Poland + Russia was hard to put into context.  Apparently the Germans were mining the area for slave labor and worse, and once they left, the Russians were coming in to mop up the forces still fighting (Polish transplants vs native Ukrainians)?

This is the setting, with Maria and Kostya on two very different sides of what seem like the same page, yet having to work together. Both had villages ruined by war, dead family, and were fighting for whatever they had left.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  •  Title: The Silent Unseen
  • Author: Amanda McCrina
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar Strauss & Giroux (BYR) April, 2022
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA readers

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

Poland, July 1944. Sixteen-year-old Maria is making her way home after years of forced labor in Nazi Germany, only to find her village destroyed and her parents killed in a war between the Polish Resistance and Ukrainian nationalists. To Maria’s shock, the local Resistance unit is commanded by her older brother, Tomek—who she thought was dead. He is now a “Silent Unseen,” a special-operations agent with an audacious plan to resist a new and even more dangerous enemy sweeping in from the East.

When Tomek disappears, Maria is determined to find him, but the only person who might be able to help is a young Ukrainian prisoner and the last person Maria trusts—even as she feels a growing connection to him that she can’t resist.

Tightly woven, relentlessly intense, The Silent Unseen depicts an explosive entanglement of loyalty, lies, and love during wartime

I feel like this book is SUPER YA and missed it’s emotional impact due to the rushed and somewhat silly romance and ending. While I learned of some of the horrors (forced labor and murders and kidnappings and such) that happened, I had trouble with the broader historical context.

First let me say a few good things.  It was a quick read and the action (if not confusing at times) was constant.  I couldn’t keep the three resistance/military groups apart in my head very well without understanding their conflict and governmental reach.  It was an exciting plot though and I would like to know more about this area during the end of WW2.

Also I liked the characters.  Maria was brave and a little silly at times (like a teen) but I liked that she and Kostya showed both their strong and scared kid sides.  That made them feel like real people.

I wasn’t buying the romance though, not one bit, not at all. Even becoming friends would have been challenging for the two main characters, and meaningful, but they hadn’t even trusted each other before they started having feelings and it went from enemy to romance nearly instantaneously.

I also think the book wrapped up super quickly like it just glossed over the plot points towards the end, not explaining a lot.of things, and then ended. Maybe there’s meant to be a sequel but this ending was just silly to me and felt like it shrugged off the gravity of the rest of the novel.  That said though, the author probably did not want to leave YA readers feeling depressed afterwards so she gave all of the characters something to be hopeful about.

I didn’t dislike it but didn’t love it either. Would recommend for YA / WW2 readers who like YA romance elements.  The content (minus some violent acts and descriptions of violent acts) is appropriate for the age group and I think she left a lot of room for a sequel in Kostya’s storyline.