Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Book Review: The Severance Game by Geanna Culbertson

It’s Middle Grade March! So back in 2019 I won Crisanta Knight, book #2 – The Severance Game – in a giveaway, then never read it because I kept forgetting to get book one! So I finally read book one (click to see review here) and now I am digging into the series in earnest! I promise no spoilers!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Severance Game
  • Series: Crisanta Knight, #2
  • Author: Geanna Culbertson
  • Publisher & Release: BQB Publishing, December 2016
  • Length: 460pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for fans of book one, middlegrade/YA, and people looking for clean content!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A lot of questions ran through my head as I desperately clung to the roof of a magic train crossing over a gaping canyon. Like: How did I get here? What could I have done to avoid this fate? And, did I remember to shave my underarms before coming on this quest?

But even after taking on a witch in a gingerbread house, bloodthirsty actors, and a whole mess of magic hunters and other fairytale shenanigans, the biggest, most pressing question pulsing through my brain as my fingers started to slip and my enemy bore down on me was this: Could I really trust the person whose life I’d ruined to keep me from falling?

With antagonists closing in, inner demons threatening to consume me, and vivid nightmares chewing up my soul every time I shut my eyes, I was running out of options. I knew the moment to decide whether or not I could truly trust any of my friends was fast approaching. But my head and heart were stuck. For just like the precarious position I now found myself in, the pain of holding onto the path I’d chosen thus far was outmatched only by the worry I had over (gulp) letting it go…

The Plot/ story: per the end of book one, Crisa and friends are now on their quest to find the Author and change their fates. They escaped Century City, and book two starts the search for the lost mermaid princess of Adelaide’s heart. Travelling through the Forbidden Forest first, and eventually coming back to Adelaide, we see them confront all sorts of magic, beasts, and dangers.

Crisa’s dreams start to make a little more sense too as we learn about her spark of magic.  Despite the action and quest, dangers, antagonists, and more, this book took on a more personal nature for the characters and it’s mostly about Crisa coming into herself as a responsible protagonist.  

The main theme is that she wants to break the princess archetype of a damsel in distress, and be a hero. 

The World: unlike book one, now we are out in the world.  The woods of Red Riding hood, the grove of Hansel & Gretel’s witch, and even Earth of all places.  The sheer number of fairytale characters pulled into this book is amazing, and especially in the forbidden forest I liked how the world expands in both scope and magic.

The Characters: I hate to say but Crisa was such an insufferable brat in this book, it was hard watching her push her friends away.  She gets it into her head that she can’t trust them and has to do everything by herself in order to be strong… but is that how heroes work?

SJ and her potions keep the journey afloat, and she is patient while Crisa wraps her head around her problems.  Blue and Jason mostly sideline but reinforce the notion that the group should be working as a trusty unit. Daniel… Is just Daniel, he’s as bad as Crisa and… Dyhfgdhfvj no spoilers

The Antagonists omg I want more antagonists.  Arian and Tara and Nadia seem like a nasty lot, but we still don’t find out the motives in this book.

Overall: A+ for another clean, middlegrade / YA appropriate read with practically nonexistent content. I have to say I liked book one better, but definitely plan to read book three sometime soon. Crisa’s internal monologue was just too repetitive and, similar to the thorough nature of the Far Forest Scrolls books – it takes a LOT of pages to advance the plot. Book one was a faster read and I hope that three picks up the pace again now that we have established the group as a unit!

What are you reading for Middle Grade March!?

Categories
Adventure Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Namesake by Adrienne Young

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the early digital copy of Namesake by Adrienne Young! It is always hard to review sequels and such without spoilers so I will just share my general feelings about the book! To recap, here is the review for Fable

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Namesake
  • Series: Fable, #2
  • Author: Adrienne Young
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books, 3/16/21
  • Length: 368
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ if you liked the first book

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Trader. Fighter. Survivor.

With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.

As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception, she learns that the secrets her mother took to her grave are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

Namesake is the second book in the Fable duology.  Due to the continuation of the storyline, this can absolutely not be read as a standalone.  If you skim my review for book one, you can find most of what I have to say about the world building and characters in general.  

There is more action than in Fable. This one was a much quicker read, although at the end of the day, the action fell into anti climax before drifting off to the ending. A few times during the action, Fable would think something like “ok *THIS* is the only way out,” and then she would never explain what *THIS* is and it drove me nuts.  Something else would just happen.  There is a chance that this will be clamped down in the final book though.

The title? Do you want to know where Namesake fits into the book? Hahahah probably the best storyline, you have to read to find out.  The only magic in the whole duology and it’s a great plot line.

Holland is the only new character worth mentioning, and we see a bit more from Zola and Saint as well.  I really liked this trio of adversaries.  Talking about any more characters may spoil book one. Learning more about West was also good for the story. The Fable and Saint storyline resolved a little bit cleanly for my tastes, and I swear that Fable and West never actually resolved any of the issues they were having.  These were big, real, practically unforgivable issues and they just *poof* went away in the next chapter, the same with the issues the crew were having with the situations. *Poof*.  The magic of the 7-9 grade level books.

Overall, I do enjoy the story and world Young has built here.  It’s a fun, high seas world with a tidy resolution and despite my gripes, they are good for that 12-18 ish age range.  Would I recommend the duology? Sure, if you like characters and romantic inklings more than constant action. 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme

Thank you so much to Tor Teen for the digital ARC of The Stolen Kingdom via NetGalley!  This is a great standalone YA fantasy, with everything from a king killer plot to just a twist of romance!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Stolen Kingdom
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Jillian Boehme
  • Publisher & Release: Tor Teen, March 2nd 2021
  • Length: 332
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 sure for fans of YA fantasy!

Here is the description from GoodReads:

For a hundred years, the once-prosperous kingdom of Perin Faye has suffered under the rule of the greedy and power-hungry Thungrave kings. Maralyth Graylaern, a vintner’s daughter, has no idea her hidden magical power is proof of a secret bloodline and claim to the throne. Alac Thungrave, the king’s second son, has always been uncomfortable with his position as the spare heir—and the dark, stolen magic that comes with ruling.

When Maralyth becomes embroiled in a plot to murder the royal family and seize the throne, a cat-and-mouse chase ensues in an adventure of dark magic, court intrigue, and forbidden love

This book to me is exceptionally well done as a stand alone fantasy.

The Magic: My favorite magic systems are the ones tied to the land, tied to a Kingdom, because they not only make sense to me but add so much to the richness of the world building.

A pure, healing magic, was given to the original King of Perin Faye by the land’s deity. Corrupted into dark and destructive magic when it was stolen, it twisted a king killer into something terrifying.  This is the legacy passed down through generations to the current king.

The plot/story: the plot ran at breakneck pace, again making it a great standalone.  A rebel lord has decided to replace a true descendent of the first king on the throne to seize power.  He finds a magic wielder and a plot to murder the ruling family is put into action.  Will the corrupted magic even allow this?  The current king is away while his sons entertain the heir’s wedding party.  The first son/heir is incredibly important as the stolen magic requires a vessel at all times.

Maybe a better question is, will Maralyth play along with this scheme of murder or will she fall for the prince?

The Characters: I liked the characters! A vintner’s daughter, Maralyth, has hidden her magic but doesn’t really know why it is considered illicit. The second prince, Alac,  who doesn’t want the throne OR the dark magic of his father, is the other point of view.  They are both drawn unwillingly into this insane queen maker plot.  There is instant attraction between them, but then it buds slowly over months.  I liked this tiny bit of romance.  Both characters had full arcs as they realized how tied to the kingdom they are, and the side characters were great too.  Why not throw in an insane and terrifying king, and funny guard? There is banter for days between them all.

The World: so much magic and lore. I wish she had discussed the religion more, although it only played a side role it would have added to the lore. There was more than enough world building for a standalone for sure. Food, wealth distribution, bit of history, economy, political structure, plus two sides of the same magic. Betrayal and a tiny bit of intrigue too.

Very low content as well, just a FEW kisses and a bit of poison and swordfighting.

I just can’t get over how the magic was tied to everything in the plot, I kind of feel like this is how fantasy magic should be! Plus strong, brave, funny characters, and plenty of action, this book was a huge win for me!

Check it out, again it publishes March 2nd!

Categories
Contemporary Paranormal Science Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Mortal Remains by Mary Ann Fraser

Thank you so much to Sterling Teen for the giveaway win! I won a finished copy of Mortal Remains and found it to be a quick and entertaining YA contemporary / paranormal read.

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Mortal Remains
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Mary Ann Fraser
  • Publisher & Release: Sterling Teen, 2/2/20
  • Length: 360pg
  • Rate & Recommend:  🌟🌟🌟🌟⚡ for Young Adult Readers and fans of YA

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Morticia. Ghoul Girl. Freak. Eighteen-year-old Lily McCrae has heard it all. But despite what the bullies say, she loves her job doing makeup for the dead for her family’s failing funeral home business. Lately, though, Lily’s best friend Mallory is too busy reinventing herself to hang out, her stepbrother Evan is preoccupied with college applications, and her father is pushing her into taking over the family business without even asking her opinion, so she feels lonelier than ever. She finds herself spending all her time in the prep room talking to her “clients.” After all, the dead are the only ones who really listen.

Then the neighboring house is leveled in an explosion, dredging up memories of Adam, the boy who lived there and saved her life the day of the accident that left her scarred and disabled, and of the things she saw there that she just wanted to forget. When she, Mallory, and Evan go exploring and find a mysterious hatch in the rubble, they discover that someone’s been trapped inside. Someone who says his name is Adam. Trouble is, Adam has been missing for four years. And this Adam doesn’t have any memory of her and seems to be keeping a lot of secrets. As she spends more time with him, she can’t help her growing feelings even as his unwillingness to be open leaves her troubled.

Lily is forced to reconcile her feelings for Adam as together they delve into his mysterious past while she also struggles to figure out what she wants out of life and tries to fix her rocky relationships with Mallory and her parents. Will Lily ever decide who she wants to be? And is love enough to overcome truth?

Wow, for once I am actually in the minority of favorable opinions on this one.  GoodReads seems split but hey, I enjoyed it.

Lily works in her family’s funeral home.  She is extremely talented at the makeup and fixing required to make bodies presentable for open casket funerals, although this profession earns her quite a bit of bullying and teasing from peers.  Lily had an accident as a child as well that left her slightly crippled, and now she finds her solace talking to bodies and honoring their lives.

Measure twice, box once

Adam was the neighbor kid that Lily used to hang out with until his father chased her off.  Did she see a body one night??  When Adam’s house is blown up and he is found weeks later in an underground laboratory, with none of his old memories, all weirdness breaks loose.

Tread lightly on hallowed ground

I think the relationship arcs in this book are great.  Finding Adam starts to slowly bring  out the self confidence and self acceptance that Lily needs to find her own path.  The father wants her to take over the mortuary  business, the step mom is kind of just mean, actually they both are.  Lily needed an external source to start seeing her actual worth.  Watching her gain the confidence to deal with the bullies AND her family was nice. Both teens have a great character arc.

Each death helps us to become more human

The supernatural part includes Adam and whatever his father was doing down in that underground lab.  No spoilers here but the mystery involved kept the story moving as they searched for answers about his life.

Don’t lose yourself in the narrative of death and dying

There was a bit of teen partying too, Lily had one friend that still tried to bring her out into the social world of her peers, with mixed results.  There are not so subtle hints at party safety and drunk driving included.  These parts were good to round out the lives of the characters and give them that real teenager aspect.

Leather has no place in a mortician’s wardrobe

So yes – a cute budding romance (only to kissing, nothing more), a paranormal mystery, also a murder mystery, mortuary science, a girl overcoming her fears and her bullies, and friends sticking together.  No language or sex or anything else that kids really don’t need to be seeing either.

I would happily recommend this one to teens and fans of YA!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: House of Dragons by Jessica Cluess

Wow, thank you so much to Random House  for the free advanced copy of House of Dragons in exchange for an honest review! This book was published in 2020 so it’s out there for anyone interested! I see the sequel is coming soon so maybe they still had a few arcs lying around to send out, but I’m happy to help generate buzz!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: House of Dragons
  • Series: House of Dragons, #1
  • Author: Jessica Cluess
  • Publisher & Release: Random House Books for Young Readers, May 2020
  • Length: 438 pg (arc was longer, not sure where the changes occurred)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for all YA, fantasy fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Three Dark Crowns meets The Breakfast Club with DRAGONS.

When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call…

THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.

THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.

THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.

THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.

THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.

I finally found something to fill that Green Rider sized hole in my heart. This book is everything I wanted Crown of Feathers to be, except those books were terrible. Sentient dragon mounts!!

Lets start with…

The Characters: I was in love from the start with these characters. I thought it would be hard to keep track of five different points of view, but each competitor has such an extremely distinct voice and personality that it was quite easy.

From murderous, bloody Hyperia to dorky Ajax, smart and bookish but also incidentally deadly Emilia, conflicted Lucian, and brave Vespir, I just can’t get over what a random but amazing group they made.  They each excelled in certain challenges and it was interesting to watch them form tentative alliances, or not.  I felt like this was a pretty legit feeling group of teens put together.

Dragons are a huge part of the empire as well and each mount is a character in itself.  One of my favorite fantasy themes is sentient, bound mounts! The dragons are like big dogs and so friendly and funny, but also cunning when they need to be, and they hold some of the coolest moments of the book.

Imagery, setting, world building: Ever wonder what a huge golden hydra looks like, flying with the sun rising behind it and fire rumbling in it’s gullet? Let Cluess show you!  She has a knack for vivid imagery, including sights, smells, noise even.

There was a LOT of world building to cover but Cluess gives us what we need.  The reader learns why the Emperor Trial exists, the reason for it’s structure, the main characteristics of each kingdom, politics and the main alliances, and where the Priests and magic orders fit in.  The magic itself had a great backstory too, but in current practice it came out under developed.

Besides vivid images and background, we see architecture, food, a few little tribal customs and lore, history and more, enough to give the world those little personal touches that shows me the author cares.

The Plot/Story: The selection of the competitors seemed like a huge fluke, or was it? I liked the plot from the get-go, watching each character be summoned and then the book just never slowed down.  I liked the Trials too, each test had thoughtful elements and catered to the strength of one competitor or another. Each was interesting and showcased the various strengths and weaknesses of the individuals.  The characters weren’t perfect either, I loved seeing the flaws and cracks come out.

The story had a subplot of betrayal and scheming which is always a bonus.  I would love to share some quotes from the characters and images but I have no idea what made it into the final copy.

My literal only qualm:  Some of the language – mostly spoken by Ajax – brought in modern slang and expressions with threw off immersion, but only slightly. Not enough to dock a star because it was funny and made Ajax relatable where he wouldn’t be otherwise.  Speaking of Ajax, I liked that the book nodded to boy problems (sticky balls anyone?) too, to give the guys something to read.  I love when I can recommend YA books to everyone!

Gosh what a fast paced and great story though, plenty of scheming, brutality, friendships, laughs, and stabbings to keep me rapt for the entire 500+ pages.

That cover too, omg that cover.

Absolutely can NOT wait for the sequel, I requested it and have my fingers crossed!

Categories
Adventure Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Fable by Adrienne Young

In my quest to read more books that I already own, I picked up Fable by Adrienne Young as my second physical book this year!  I enjoyed Young’s Sky in the Deep duology quite a bit, and wasn’t disappointed here either

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Fable
  • Series: Fable, #1
  • Author: Adrienne Young
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books,  September 2020
  • Length: 361
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes for YA adventure fans

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue and adventure.

Let’s start with The Plot and Story: I liked the story quite a bit. Fable is abandoned by her father after a shipwreck, and has to find her way first back to him, and then to a life of her own.  There is plenty of danger and storms on the high seas, as well as tension on the ship to keep things interesting.  The reader learns the twists and secrets along the way, as there was no info dump and we learn about the world as Fable sees and remembers it. I was never compelled to keep reading at any point but was never bored either.  Young is one of those authors who sacrifices a lot of potential action and exciting events for character time, which caused Fable to lose points from me

The Characters: Like I said, Young spends more time on her characters than anything else, so I will go there next.  Thankfully they are good characters.

Fable is a great example of showing, not telling, how bad-ass a character is.  She survives on the island of thieves through pure determination and skill, then holds her own on a crew of suspicious traders.  We are never told, she just acts, and that is what separates a true leading lady from all the Mary-Sues of the literary world.  I like her!

West is a mystery and we get the sense that he still has a lot to uncover.  His crew is a great lot once you get to know them, with limited banter but you know they’re a family.

Saint, her father and the most influential of the traders, is also a mystery but he will come back in book two, I’m sure.  They had one nice moment towards the end though and I felt almost bad for him!  Fable’s scar though- geeeez.  At least he did give her the tools to succeed.

The World:  The world is called…..oh wait, it’s not.  The area of the sea is generally referred to as “The Narrows,” but Young really did not focus on world building.  There are multiple regions mentioned with people that may be influential in book two, but the map only shows the places on West’s trade route and the country is given no name.  There is so much world building you can do with traders (ask Garth Nix) but Young follows the belief that YA readers want characters, so we don’t get that.

The area/country isn’t given leadership either, in some books featuring traders there is one person at least overseeing things, or the guilds have power.  Some powerful trader lady elsewhere is mentioned but not as leadership.  There are trading guilds in another area, which I love, but they aren’t expanded on so we don’t know how they run,  just that for example,The Merchant’s Guild can revoke trade licenses.  Saint is the most prominent trader and has a lot of political influence, and there is an antagonist, Zola, but without much background he just seems like a jaded cartoon villain.  There isn’t much on local customs and traditions at all except for the sailor who feeds the birds

Setting: The towns/cities/islands are described pretty well, as well as life on the boat at first anyway, and I think her best world-building came in the descriptions of the seas and the storms.  There is one scene where they go underwater, everything is silent and the lightning illuminates bodies and the ship breaking….  ….setting is where the book makes up a lot of brownie points, the ocean and Fable’s memories are well told.

Young still hasn’t learned how to tell time either.  Sky in the Deep was notorious for passing time in an impossible manner, and this is no different.  A journey that should take a few days happens….oh….lets say they get there in the morning, including a break to drop anchor for a few hours at least.  Someone’s severe wounds are healing and apparently it either happens in three days, or more time passes and she doesn’t show it well.

Overall: This is YA, and thr teens probably don’t care if the action is a little bit anticlimactic or just glazed over at times,  because the characters kiss instead, right? It was still a good story though and I’ll be reading my ARC of book 2, Nameless, soon due to the cliffhanger at the end! Would recommend for fans of young adult adventures, and books that take place on the seas!

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Happy new year! I had always meant to read The Conqueror Saga one after the other, but life happens, and now I have finally finished Now I Rise!  You can see my review for book one, And I Darken, HERE

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Now I Rise
  • Series: The Conqueror Saga, #2
  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, June 2017
  • Length: 476 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

The Story: The story itself is equally if not more interesting and engaging than book one.  There is absolutely no down time between the siblings and the skirmishes prior to the siege, Lada’ s bloody path, and all the political maneuvering (aka murdering) heheh.

‘Let them come,’ she said. ‘I will drink their blood and dance on their corpses’

The Characters:  Lada is razing cities, striking fear and seeking allies to take back Wallachia.  She gains some unlikely allies including John Hunyadi (an interesting historical figure), and a slimy politician that unbeknownst to Lada, thinks he can control her once she’s in power 😂 funny, right?  Lada is an unholy terror and I love her.  She is also very human in this book, once running out of the woods in her undergarments as she was trying to warn her men and forgot to get dressed 😂 another funny point was when they had to go on a treasure hunt to see if her castle actually even had a Treasury.  White is trying to make Lada more relatable, lonelier, more vulnerable, which contrasts so sharply with her brutal, impaling, murdery side.  The character arc is amazing in this book.

Perhaps she will find a balance”

“No. She will go down in flames and blood”

Radu is as whiny as ever, serving as a spy in Constantinople as Mehmed’s forces are getting ready to engage in the famous siege.  Now there’s not one, but two men that he has to constantly whine about and decide which one to betray.  When Radu isn’t being a terrible, cutthroat spy, he’s whining.  Radu once again gets the star docked from the book, even if he is a decent spy.

Hunyadi might have been my favorite side character for his fatherly advice to Lada and that whole wonderful beautiful alliance.  Constantine and Radu’s party in Constantinople really do a good job showing two sides of a conflict, how both are human and led by great, but terrible men.

Hold hands with the devil until you are both over the bridge

The Setting: the new setting is Constantinople, which is perfectly portrayed as a dying city.  In the one biblical/paranormal sequence of the book, there is a flood, followed by the light of God physically leaving the church and then bloody crescent moon when it should have been full.  Gave me the chills.  White does a great job with the moral and religious concerns of both sides, I mean who are the infidels in this case?  The wall and the siege and the desperation just felt so real, as did Lada’s trek through the borderlands seeing what the Boyars did to her country

It was always jarring to hear the Ottomans referred to as the infidels, because that was what they called the Christians

One quick note on the audiobook: at one point I wanted to keep reading and found the audiobook on Libby – it sounds like it’s read by a native speaker, which threw me off only because her pronunciations were so different than what I had been reading in my head that it threw me off.  I did listen long enough to get a better sense for the dialect but honestly didn’t love her as a narrator.

Put his body on a stake in the Square as proof that I keep my promises

Takeaway: The scope of these books is unbelievable and just so well done.  I love both dark and alternate history and the combination is first rate.  So much conflict, amazing characters, and all out war just makes these books unputdownable.  Book three, Bright We Burn, is definitely being read soon.

Categories
Fiction Historical Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

This is a book that I actually read last year in a buddy read, but since I am finishing the series now I think it makes sense to bring the old reviews onto the blog here!  The Conqueror Saga is generally an antihero retelling of Vlad the Impaler taking Wallachia (now Romania) back, Mehmed II’s (The Conqueror) reign as the Ottoman Sultan, and eventually the clashing of the two parties.  And I Darken starts Lada and Radu off as young kids, sent to live with the Ottomans as bargaining chips, aka hostages.  They grow up with the young heir to the Empire, Mehmed ….

Quick Facts:

  • Title: And I Darken
  • Series: The Conqueror Saga, #1
  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, June 2016
  • Length: 486 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes!

Here is the summary from GoodReads:

No one expects a princess to be brutal, and Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

This is everything I could ever want in historical fiction.  Right from the start, Lada is a feral and passionate child and I was sucked into the book immediately.  The short chapters made it hard to put down for a very, very long time.

The Story:  The story and plot kept moving pretty quickly throughout the book.  From Wallachia to Edirne to Constantinople, there was plenty of treachery, political intrigue, assassinations, friendships, brutality, and self actualization to keep the pages turning.

I could hardly ever put the book down as the power swung back and forth and everyone’s lives hung in the balance.

Between her father’s brutal nature and being introduced to people like The Head Gardener, who planted bodies on stakes in the Sultan’s square, the stage is set for Lada’s future.

The World: I think White does a great job with setting and world building.  Architecture, weather, language, enough geography to envision the land are all present.  So is the mood – the mood of each scene was so well permeated through the pages that I think it really sealed the world building for me.  I learned a lot about Islam and those customs as well, which was presented tastefully as a peaceful religion.

Another thing I didn’t know much about was how sultans behave, the hierarchy of the wives and harems, and warfare in that era.  I think White really blends facts into fiction well and without being boring.

The Characters: Lada is probably my favorite YA character of any series ever.  She is bent on taking back her homeland, and all other loyalties pale to that towards her Wallachia.   Watching her grow from a terroristic child to.. well.. A terroristic young woman, was a really interesting character arc.  She’s not untouchable and I really felt for her as she tried to iron out her adult feelings of happiness vs homeland, being a woman in a patriarchal society, and what she knows she deserves vs. what is offered to her.  Her military strategy and political cunning are believable and I just am rooting for her and her band of soldiers.

Radu, her brother, is terrible, neither character is meant to be liked but Radu was really truly terrible.  He was a scared, whiny child, who ends up hero worshipping Mehmed, then both siblings end up being in love with him.  Radu spent so much of the middle of the book just whining about Mehmed that I got sick of it and docked a full star.   Later Radu turns into a political worm, I mean spy, wait no I mean worm.  Lada was always terrible to him and I have a feeling she’s going to end up paying for it.

Mehmed was a spoiled brat but he eventually has to become the sultan, at age 15.  I don’t have much to say about him, he has to grow up quickly and make some tough choices once he learns how savage the world truly is.  They all do.  The side characters and political plotting, including Mehmed’s mother, are another strong point.  That woman is just savage!  Lada’s band of Janissaries have great banter too, and so does much of the dialogue.  The relationships in the book are interesting and generally complicated.

Misc: I want to gush about so many things related to these books but I can continue to do so in the next review.  I never feel like I do some of these books justice, and this is one of them.  The political intrigue and cunning is just so freaking intricate that it kept me rapt.  If Radu had been slightly less insufferable it would have been a solid 5🌟, even Lada riding off into the frozen wastes with her men can’t undo that for me

“The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.”

The authors note states that Vlad the Impaler as a woman makes for a more interesting story… And I totally agree.  She also points out that each of these characters is historically portrayed differently by the conquerors vs the conquered… another interesting story lens that (spoiler alert (not)) will be exploited more in the coming books.

Stay tuned for my review of Now I Rise, book two, hopefully coming tomorrow!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Dragon Blood by Mary Beesley

Thank you so much to Monster Ivy Publishing for my gorgeous finished copy of Dragon Blood in exchange for an honest review! I’m so happy to have connected with a publisher that focuses on clean reads and can’t wait to read and share more of their books!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dragon Blood
  • Series: Draco Sang Trilogy, #1
  • Author: Mary Beesley
  • Publisher & Release: Monster Ivy Publishing, November 2020
  • Length: 416 Pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Yes!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Cal, a hungry sixteen-year-old sick of mining the sand, wants to fit in and make his ma proud, but instead, his violent tendencies bring shame – And the truth. He’s the son of a Draco Sang. Carriers of the Dragon’s blood, the Draco Sang transform into half human, half beast, as they mature into adults. And if Cal can’t control the dark impulses of his dragon blood, he’ll grow into a man-beast – and he’ll be hunted.

Ferth, son of a Draco Sang chief and last of his class to grow claws, needs to prove his worth to his father, or he’ll be sent to the slave house. Hiding his human heart, he joins the army headed south to conquer the fertile human lands.

Neither brother feels they belong. Cal is human, fighting against becoming a beastly Draco Sang, while Ferth is struggling to push back his humanity and transform into a worthy Draco warrior.

Before ever meeting in open battle, Ferth is sent to kill Cal. But when he learns they are brothers, he must decide which loyalty is stronger, blood or country. And whether to finally give in to his humanity.

The story/plot:  This is an amazing story of two brothers on either side of a war, and the powers of nature vs nurture in one’s upbringing. I think the synopsis is a little spoilery – but it didn’t affect my reading, enjoyment, or surprise as I went along.  One of my favorite tropes is when siblings are on opposite sides of a war, so it did entice me to read the book originally.  Trust me, you know about as much as the brothers do as the book goes along.  The plot kept moving at a steady pace, the chapters were perfect lengths, and I really enjoyed the story in general.

The World: this is a young adult fantasy world where the Northern race, the Draco Sang, have animal personas. Similar to His Dark Materials, the more “human” Draco Sang have an animal partner, where the “beast” ones turn into something like the chimaera from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I promise you will actually like these White Wolves though.  To Cal and the humans on one side of the war, the Draco Sang are the monsters, the enemy. To Ferth and the rest of the Dragon descendents, the humans are weak, slaves, ripe to be conquered, and the Sang who reject their inner beast are at the highest level of blasphemy.

As well as a well developed conflict to set the stage for war, the world itself was so well developed.  The seasons change, the terrain is varied and well described.  I felt like I had a good handle on the layout and geography and climate.  There is food, camp roles, military strategy, wildlife, and many real life issues that deepen the level of world immersion.

The characters: I just can’t get over how well these characters are crafted and how each one transforms as their blood and family ties become less of a mystery. Cal isn’t meant to be liked at first, and Ferth is more of a lame but good guy, and they both quickly grew on me.  The inner conflicts are real and made sense, grappling with humanity vs inner beast.  It is an interesting study in nature vs nurture, with each brother having to reconcile his nature, his blood, with his own conscience, humanity, and upbringing. The secondary characters are a fully developed (but not overkilled) lot as well, and I love them. I know and hope we will be seeing a lot more of them in book two.

There is plenty of banter and loss and closeness and found family elements within Cal’s army unit.  I recently saw an Instagram question about which crew you would spend Christmas with? I would totally spend it with Cal, Ferth, his close little unit, the baby, and the entire military family.  It was just so heartwarming at the end.

And WHAT A BOLD ENDING!! I LOVE IT! No spoilers but oh my gosh I can’t wait for book 2 to come out!

Overall:  this is a great fantasy novel and it is entirely, completely appropriate for the young adult reading level. I also think the adults can enjoy it with no problem as I certainly did! I would totally recommend to anybody with even the slightest interest in the novel so far and for those seeking clean reads. Thank you so much again to Monster Ivy for my copy!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Paranormal Young Adult

ARC Review: The Door to Inferna by Rishab Borah

Thank you so much to the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Door to Inferna
  • Series: Elkloria #1
  • Author: Rishab Borah
  • Publisher & Release: Three Rooms Press, October 2020
  • Length: 236 pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 sure for the middle graders!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Fourteen-year-old Khioneus Nevula is beginning to realize something strange is going on. Adopted from unknown parentage, he has always been marked as different by his purple eyes.

Now a winter break that should have been nothing but goofing around with his best friends is haunted by some other presence—ghostly apparitions appear to him in the dark of night, the surface of his mirror ripples like a pool of water, and he dreams of a girl with a long blue braid who invents fantastical devices.

Drawn into a mystical land, he meets his twin sister, a proficient mage, a slightly mad scientist, and a princess. In this land where he is a prince, he finds himself and his friends caught in a war between the inhabitants of Elkloria and an ancient and powerful evil.

I am extremely impressed that a tween/teenager wrote this book.  He started when he was 11 and is now 16 so thats a huge accomplishment. That said – I can tell it was written by a youth, and, I think he did an absolutely phenomenal job. The story is nothing new, a teen gets whisked away to an alternate universe and finds out that he is more or less a “chosen one”.

That said, I like how he took an interplanetary and inter-dimensional route with the story line. I think the universes and dimensions and layers folded on top of each other (hints of a Wrinkle In Time almost) are super interesting. The transporters make things a bit convenient but hey – it’s for middle grade.

I think Borah does a pretty good job with world building too, the gadgets and architecture and spells and those talking doors are all pretty cool. I liked that we hear about the food, natives, some lore, and some of the religion / myths of the world too, it gives it depth.

The characters are pretty standard.  There are strong friendships, trust shown, also mistrust, overcoming that – and one awkward moment where one character had to put down a romantic awkwardness. I liked the found family element and how close the group of friends are though. Honestly the last page was the only part that threw me off, since at no other point was Khi worried about being or sounding truthful and that last paragraph just came out of nowhere.

Anyway – I 100% recommend for middle grade readers. Totally age appropriate, good descriptive language, easy to picture scenery, and a moderately diverse group of friends make this a great fantasy read for the age group. I think if he keeps writing, and I hope he does, that he’ll put out some great fantasy some day!