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.

Screenshot_20220429-221607

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.

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Book Thoughts)

My entire adventure into YA fantasy started because of Bookstagram. Strange the Dreamer was put on that reading list very early and I’m glad I finally had a chance to read it. A solid follow-up to the DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series -which I apparently never blogged about – let’s take a look at what I loved (and didn’t love) about Laini Taylor’s magical book

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Strange the Dreamer
  • Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
  • Author: Laini Taylor
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – March 2017
  • Length: 544 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐for those who like lush fantasy worlds where the romance may or may not make sense

Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:

From National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor comes an epic fantasy about a mythic lost city and its dark past.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around–and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared his dream chose poorly. Since he was just five years old, he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the form of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? And who is the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams?

In this sweeping and breathtaking novel .. the shadow of the past is as real as the ghosts who haunt the citadel of murdered gods. Fall into a mythical world of dread and wonder, moths and nightmares, love and carnage.

The answers await in Weep.

Alright I don’t want this to turn into a 5 page long essay so I will hit the mainstays –

The Worldbuilding: One thing I’ll say for Laini Taylor is that she is a master of lush world building.  The settings are so vividly described, the buildings and architecture, weather, terrain, food, mood of the citizens, everything you could want from the micro world building is present.

On a larger macro level, there is also lots of history and custom given.  Many stories and folklore and popular legends are given through Lazlo’s storytelling, which really adds another dimension to the world

One of the main mysteries – where the Gods came from and what they are doing -will likely be discussed in Muse of Nightmares. 

The Characters: speaking of the Muse of Nightmares – let’s do characters next. I really applaud Taylor for starting the book out the way she did –

How can you turn away from a book after learning that a blue girl falls out of the sky?  Sarai and the other godspawn had a complicated and interesting dynamic.  Their imprisonment and survival chipped the humanity away from some, while it seemed to flourish in others.  I liked Sarai and felt for Minya, they were all just surviving in the world of their parents. And wearing their underwear. 

Lazlo is one of my favorite YA MC’s ever, except he is around 20 or so.  While completely appropriate, I think this book falls into that NA age category.

I love this quote almost as much as I love Lazlo. He was an orphan who was swallowed by the Great library. He is funny and has a wonderfully vivid imagination, is deeply caring, and might be “just a librarian” but definitely has a sense of adventure.  He always sought out the good that he could do regardless of whether or not it would benefit him in turn.

A lot of the side characters had important rules as well. No one was there just to be a plot device. Master Hyrrokkin was one of my favorites, just because his old man banter was not what you would expect from an ancient librarian.  It was also funny when his Warrior friends were giving Lazlo mistranslations and having him say silly things 

The magic:  tying into the world building, Taylor also created a lush magic system. Each of the god’s children had an ability, some of which were kind of cool. All the abilities were useful for survival. Sarai’s involved moths and Nightmares, and if that doesn’t make you interested in the book I don’t know what will.

What I didn’t love: I enjoyed the book immensely up until the point where the action was ready to boil over, and Laini grinds it to a full halt. A *screeeech*ing halt.  Then takes something like 10 chapters to expand on a true insta love – OMG HE *SAW* ME – gag. I hate insta-love. It was a cute sequence but I don’t think jumping at the first (second)? boy she’s ever interacted with constitutes a romance that I care about.  It just seemed like an excuse for Laini to add more magic into an already magical world, where that page time could have been spent trying to help keep the peace, keeping the action going, or literally anything else.  Seeing each other and being fascinated doesn’t constitute a romance, even if Lazlo did have a wonderful mind to spend time in. One other thing is that I actually spotted ‘The Twist’ this time, as soon as it was said. No spoilers but it’s pretty rare that I actually get the hint so I thought it was worth mentioning

Random:  I also liked that there were some harder themes tackled, such as survival

That’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can – Sarai

And hard truths like justice

You think good people can’t hate? .. You think good people don’t kill? […} Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice – Sarai 

Don’t forget found family!

“You two idiots,” said Azareen, and Lazlo felt a curious twinge of pride to be called an idiot by her, with what might have been the tiniest edge of fondness

One final parting quote, even though half of the book is quotable-

“Dream up something wild and improbable. Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.”

Overall – stupid “romance” in an otherwise  wonderful world.  The plot unravelled mysteries as it went and created (minus the block of “romance chapters”) a fantastic reading experience.  The banter had me laughing out loud, the writing is beautiful, and the magic felt real within the world. Check it out!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

The Lost Dreamer (Book Review) by Lizz Huerta

Thank you so much to the publisher via Bookish First for my finished copy of The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta!

I’ve never read anything based off of MesoAmerican type culture so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. The story idea is a good one, and I enjoyed the read, but I think the overall execution hurt the end result. Let’s take a look at this newly released YA fantasy!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Lost Dreamer
  • Series: I *think* it’s going to be a duology
  • Author: Lizz Huerta
  • Publisher & Release: Farrar, Straus and Giroux – 03/01/22
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ for YA fantasy readers  – for adults I think it will read young

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

A stunning YA fantasy inspired by ancient Mesoamerica, this gripping debut introduces us to a lineage of seers defiantly resisting the shifting patriarchal state that would see them destroyed—perfect for fans of Tomi Adeyemi and Sabaa Tahir.

Indir is a Dreamer, descended from a long line of seers; able to see beyond reality, she carries the rare gift of Dreaming truth. But when the beloved king dies, his son has no respect for this time-honored tradition. King Alcan wants an opportunity to bring the Dreamers to a permanent end—an opportunity Indir will give him if he discovers the two secrets she is struggling to keep. As violent change shakes Indir’s world to its core, she is forced to make an impossible choice: fight for her home or fight to survive.

Saya is a seer, but not a Dreamer—she has never been formally trained. Her mother exploits her daughter’s gift, passing it off as her own as they travel from village to village, never staying in one place too long. Almost as if they’re running from something. Almost as if they’re being hunted. When Saya loses the necklace she’s worn since birth, she discovers that seeing isn’t her only gift—and begins to suspect that everything she knows about her life has been a carefully-constructed lie. As she comes to distrust the only family she’s ever known, Saya will do what she’s never done before, go where she’s never been, and risk it all in the search of answers.

With a detailed, supernaturally-charged setting and topical themes of patriarchal power and female strength, The Lost Dreamer brings an ancient world to life, mirroring the challenges of our modern one

Lets talk about execution first: A TON of names, places, abilities and different magics were thrown out at first with no background given, creating a lot of initial confusion. I see a lot of people agreeing that they started out without knowing what was happening or being able to keep track of characters, which can sour a book.  It definitely did for me until I got about 100 pages in and became more interested.

Many things are explained at some point but especially at the end I could just not keep track of so many minor characters.  Most big world building things were at least touched on at some point but per a typical YA, Huerta focused more on the characters than explaining the world 

I also wasn’t sure about describing everyone by their structure, hips, and build, but I read that as a nod to the Mesoamerican culture.  What she did describe very well was the natural world: flowers, animals, hidden temples,  smells, and some of the ceremonies and rituals.

The characters were decent.  I loved Saya’s story.  She deals with escaping abuse and finding family, discovering herself and her abilities, and watching her find joy in the world was awesome.  I loved her Singing abilities too and how it connected her with natural spirits.  In general, I think the different innate magical abilities of the clans were the best part of the book.

Indir, the first main character, felt like cardboard to me.  She clearly has some kind of social anxiety and never liked to leave the Temple.  She was a powerful Dreamer but seemed essentially worthless when it came to travelling or really doing anything 

That said, and needless to say I was SHOCKED when she randomly and very quickly became attached to a male warrior, and hooked up without much hesitation.  It was a means to the end for the story but that “romance” storyline became a WTAF thing real quick in a book that I would otherwise hand to a 12 year old

Thankfully – it was vague and more or less had to be inferred but still – I didn’t see it as consistent with Indir’s character at all. 

There is a big “twist” towards the end that – again – it was a good idea but I had to backtrack and consider the book from a new angle. I think when readers will appreciate the big reveal more than adults.  For me, the timelines should have been given along with the points of view and let people reason the twist out on our own if they hadn’t figured it out already

The end result was a starting point going forward for the next book with a LOT of background missing. I have so many questions about the meantime, like the book was getting too long and Huerta just found a way to wrap it up!

Even with the issues, I thought there were many good themes like dealing with the death of a relative for the first time, sisterhood, girl power, different beauty standards, choosing your family, being curious about the natural world – and many more.

Overall – I think this is a good series for teens.  Other than a 15 (I think) year old shy character having a sexual partner, there was absolutely no language and a bit of blood and violence but nothing explicit at all.  I would be ok with my teens reading this one!

 


As always, thank you again to the publisher for my free reading copy! All opinions are my own ❤

Categories
Fantasy Paranormal Young Adult

Edgewood (ARC Review) by Kristen Cicarelli – plus words for the publisher

Hey Wednesday Books… thank you for the review copy of Edgewood! All opinions are my own. (I do briefly review the book below, in a bold paragraph.  Bookish quick facts and synopsis below that).

I love y’all truly but we need to have a chat: this is this second pretty obviously “new adult” or at least “upper YA” book that I’ve read from Wednesday coming out this year and I’m having a moral conflict

I am over seeing these books advertised for the 13-18 age group. I strongly believe Amazon is heavily at fault for not having more specific age options for books – AND – I get that the “new adult” market is fuzzy.  The thing with these books though is that these characters are out of the house already, leaving home for careers and coming back home, and EVERY SINGLE BOOK I’ve read from you guys this year is pushing sex on that YA age group. I get that it’s a “crossover” imprint but still still STILL what message are you and the authors trying to send to young teens?  That is something the editors/publishers/authors can control and frankly as far as I’m concerned it comes down to integrity

I’m not ok with y’all trying to attract adults to these books too.  Send these books to the adult imprint. Edgewood would have had a market with the adult fae/fantasy romance crowd with a bit more spice.  With the two sexy scenes deleted it would have been at least suitable for teen/YA readers, if the themes weren’t still targeting that 18-22 crowd 

In a world where 16 and pregnant is a real TV show I know content is a moot point, but you wouldn’t believe how many people agree that this isn’t what teens need to be reading in Every 👏 Single 👏 Book👏. Heck I’ve got TEENS messaging me to say they agree and don’t want to feel that pressure.  

⭐⭐This isn’t a bad review, this is me having a conflict.  I think Edgewood is a great book. I love magical forests and mischievous fae and the theme of keeping the grandfather with memory issues safe.  Found family, remembering, dealing with dementia – all wonderful themes. Being your true self is beautiful.  I liked Emeline and Sable, Rooke and Hawthorne especially.  The book has great characters with real and very personal struggles.  There are darker themes too like curses and entrapment. With a little more spice Edgewood would have fit right in with that adult/NA fae romance genre. With 2-3 scenes deleted it would have been a YA masterpiece. There are some great themes for that 18-25 age group. Like really, I enjoyed the book immensely. I read it in 3 sittings. A lot of her similes read a little YA (x like y, x like y, x like y, sometimes more than one in the same sentence – otherwise I like the author’s style.) That said, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO RATE IT AS A YA book when y’all are killing me content wise?⭐⭐

 I’m asking Wednesday to find a way to do better as a ‘crossover’ imprint and stop selling sex in every single book to young teens.  I know they aren’t the only publishers doing it but honestly – it’s most consistent that I’ve seen.

For now – I’m out on the YA reviews.  If I keep reading and buying YA books, fine, but I am not obligated to rate something I purchase with my own money and this stress will go away

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Edgewood
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Kristen Cicarelli
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 03/01/22
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: for the 18-25 group sure, and I did enjoy it.  

Here’s the synopsis:

Edgewood has everything I love in a Kristen Ciccarelli book: lyrical prose, a romance that will hurt, and themes rooted in raw and intimate questions, making for a timeless tale.” – Joan He, New York Times bestselling author of The Ones We’re Meant to Find

Can love survive the dark?

No matter how far she runs, the forest of Edgewood always comes for Emeline Lark. The scent of damp earth curls into her nose when she sings and moss creeps across the stage. It’s as if the woods of her childhood, shrouded in folklore and tall tales, are trying to reclaim her. But Emeline has no patience for silly superstitions.

When her grandfather disappears, leaving only a mysterious orb in his wake, the stories Emeline has always scoffed at suddenly seem less foolish. She enters the forest she has spent years trying to escape, only to have Hawthorne Fell, a handsome and brooding tithe collector, try to dissuade her from searching.

Refusing to be deterred, Emeline finds herself drawn to the court of the fabled Wood King himself. She makes a deal―her voice for her grandfather’s freedom. Little does she know, she’s stumbled into the middle of a curse much bigger than herself, one that threatens the existence of this eerie world she’s trapped in, along with the devastating boy who feels so familiar.

With the help of Hawthorne―an enemy turned reluctant ally who she grows closer to each day―Emeline sets out to not only save her grandfather’s life, but to right past wrongs, and in the process, discover her true voice.

Haunting and romantic, Kristen Ciccarelli’s Edgewood is an exciting novel from a bold, unforgettable voice in fantasy.

“Darkly gorgeous and moving, Edgewood is full of curses and fae magic that will capture your heart and wrap it in thorns before setting you free again, forever changed. I devoured Edgewood whole and couldn’t put it down.” – Evelyn Skye, New York Times bestselling author of The Crown’s Game

Synopsis from Amazon.  I included the two plugs too because yes – honestly it’s a great read.  My issue isn’t with the book at all 

Pardon my rant as part of the review, do check out the book and let me know what you think!

Categories
Dystopian Science Fiction Young Adult

Thunderhead (book thoughts) by Neal Shusterman

Happy Presidents Day! In the spirit of historical figures and Shusterman’s many nods to obscure ones from across world history, who is one of your favorite lesser-known historical figures?

The OpenlyBooked Book Club read Thunderhead earlier this month to continue the ARC OF A SCYTHE series. I think Scythe should have been left as a standalone – it had a Printz nod and wrapped up so nicely.  Thunderhead felt way too long and the new points of view weren’t very interesting to me, detracting from the overall reading experience.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Thunderhead
  • Author: Neal Shusterman
  • Series: Arc of a Scythe #2
  • Publisher & Release: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers – Jan, 2018
  • Length: 512
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ it will be hit or miss with the sequel, but a good series for YA readers

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the chilling sequel to the Printz Honor Book Scythe from New York Times bestseller Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

The Thunderhead cannot interfere in the affairs of the Scythedom. All it can do is observe—it does not like what it sees.

A year has passed since Rowan had gone off grid. Since then, he has become an urban legend, a vigilante snuffing out corrupt scythes in a trial by fire. His story is told in whispers across the continent.

As Scythe Anastasia, Citra gleans with compassion and openly challenges the ideals of the “new order.” But when her life is threatened and her methods questioned, it becomes clear that not everyone is open to the change.

Will the Thunderhead intervene?

Or will it simply watch as this perfect world begins to unravel?

Overall: this was a much longer book.  I liked the Scythe and Thunderhead history and world building.  Faraday and Curie brought a lot to this second installment.  Tyger and … Uh … Grayson? Not so much. It was fun to get a better look at the Tonists too.  Thunderhead was the true star!

Although I do not require devotion, am I not deserving of it?

The last 25% picked up in pace again and  finished on a truly dramatic and apocalyptic note.  I appreciate Shusterman’s willingness to be brutal.  Some parts were truly brutal too with more political scheming, injustice, and murder overall.

If we were judged by the things we most regret, no human being would be worthy to sweep the floor

❤❤My favorite part was the Thunderhead’s little chapter segues, when it was meditating on divinity and responsibility.  It reminded me of Aidan having to make some tough choices in Illuminae.  It was also interesting to see all the random scythe names that Schusterman was plucking from world history, it would be a fun classroom activity to have kids pick a name and research the person❤❤

How ironic, then, and how poetic, that humankind may have created the Creator out of want for one. Man creates God, who then creates man. Is that not the perfect circle of life? But then, if that turns out to be the case, who is created in whose image

I liked the character arcs of Citra/Anastasia and Rowan, i just don’t think they have one bit of chemistry. Not. One. Ounce. I lost a chunk of respect for the way he ended the book with the two characters. Overall he could have done much worse and it was a closed door scene – but still – like just why.   Authors need to stop throwing in what they think people ‘expect’ in books.

That’s exactly what the scythedom is: high school with murder.

I’m not too keen on reading The Toll, after this one, but I probably will finish the trilogy.  I would 100% still tell teens to read Thunderhead. There’s a lot of good food for thought there and compared to a lot of modern YA, these are excellent books.  I am probably just bitter that the author caved to what he thinks people want to read but I  respect Thunderhead‘s many great qualities