Categories
Contemporary Fiction Paranormal Young Adult

Book Review: Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Quick Facts:

  • Title: Watch Over Me
  • Author: Nina LaCour
  • Publisher & Release: Dutton Books for Young Readers, Sept 15th 2020
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of contemporary!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.

My Thoughts:

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

Watch Over Me is a deeeeeply atmospheric young adult contemporary read, with a paranormal/magical realism twist involving ghosts and residual hauntings related to trauma.

Mila becomes too old to remain in foster care, and goes to teach on a farm in northern California where the owners have fostered 40+ children. The interns cook, clean, teach, tend to the farm and children, and everyone lives in a structured environment and seem like one big amazing family.

Then there are the ghosts. Ghosts of children playing in the yard. A dancing ghost that plays the piano. A ghost that re-enacts Mila’s past traumas?

The less I think about the ghost element, the more I enjoy the book. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me to bring residual hauntings to actual life, but I understand it in a symbolic sense. The theme of residual hauntings due to trauma is deep and difficult and handled so well by LaCour, and these resilient kids who have been through so much. There is a literal but symbolic gesture of embracing the lost and detached part of oneself that still deserves love and belonging and healing.

I loved the little kids, especially Lee, the farm family, and the whole found family theme in general. The farm atmosphere was so real that I always felt like I was walking in the chilly air next to the characters, or joining them at dinner or in the family room.

It’s a shorter and quick book that kept me rapt the entire time, and if I had more time it could have easily been read in a day.  A similar book that I read this year, and the review is here somewhere, was Echoes Between Us by Katie McCarty.

Content for gas lighting, housefires, parental abandonment, child abuse, sex overheard and then imagined in no explicit detail, two naked girls in a bath tub with nothing sexual occurring, one usage of the word f**k, near drowning, personal injury, ghosts, and pain related to ghostly encounters

Categories
Fiction Young Adult

ARC Review: Hood by Jenny Elder Moke

  • Title: Hood
  • Series: no. stand alone
  • Author: Jenny Elder Moke
  • Publisher & Release: Disney – Hyperion, June 9th 2020
  • Length: 320 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for fans of the genre!

Thank you so much to Disney Book Group via NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Hood is actually the first Robin Hood retelling I have ever read.  It follows Robin & Marien’s daughter, Isabelle, as she learns her parents’ true identities and discovers her place in the world.

Here is the summary from GoodReads:

You have the blood of kings and rebels within you, love. Let it rise to meet the call.

Isabelle of Kirklees has only ever known a quiet life inside the sheltered walls of the convent, where she lives with her mother, Marien. But after she is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, Isabelle becomes the target of the Wolf, King John’s ruthless right hand. Desperate to keep her daughter safe, Marien helps Isabelle escape and sends her on a mission to find the one person who can help: Isabelle’s father, Robin Hood.

As Isabelle races to stay out of the Wolf’s clutches and find the father she’s never known, she is thrust into a world of thieves and mercenaries, handsome young outlaws, new enemies with old grudges, and a king who wants her entire family dead. As she joins forces with Robin and his Merry Men in a final battle against the Wolf, will Isabelle find the strength to defy the crown and save the lives of everyone she holds dear?

I don’t know much about the actual historic time period but rotten kings and dashing outlaws and overcoming oppression always attracted me to the Robin Hood story.  Even with little to no historical knowledge, Hood makes a great story.  I loved seeing Isabelle grow in confidence and strength, and was so happy when she made a few choice excellent bow & arrow shots.

The characters are great, I never felt too attached to any of them but they are a witty, loyal bunch of mixed talents. The banter in Hood is definitely note worthy.  Isabelle’s romance probably could have been left out – I didn’t see any context to it – but the Robin and Marien love story was PERFECT. Truly perfect.  What a pompous ass Robin was 😂

The pacing was very well done as well, plenty of action spread out so that I never got bored.  I read the book in two sittings and enjoyed it fully.  Between the plot itself, the characters, and the absolutely excellent ending, I would definitely recommend this one to young adult readers and fans of these types of legends.

I docked the star for a tad bit of repetitive language and for not feeling the romance aspect at all.

Have you read it? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment below!

Categories
Dystopian Horror Young Adult

Book Review: The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

  • Title: The Grace Year
  • Series: No, Standalone
  • Author: Kim Liggett
  • Publisher & Release: Wednesday Books (October, 2019)
  • Length: 407 pages
  • Rating & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes

Here is the description from GoodReads:

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

Thankfully I finally picked this one up! It was a buddy read with two Instagram friends and we had a great time talking about the book. There are a ton of good points for Book Club discussions and a lot of aspects left open to interpretation/imagination, which makes The Grace Year an ideal buddy read pick.

The plot is absolutely unique to me.  16 year old girls are sent out during their “Grace Year” to lose the magic that they are allegedly born with.  There is a definite Salem Witch Trials vibe as the men have total control of the society and can accuse women of magic at any time, resulting in hanging.

The book is definitely a bit violent at times, everything from bullying to hanging to men harvesting girls for body parts. There is scalping, missing fingers, and more than a few bloody crazy people to deal with.  I didn’t find it terribly graphic though, the grade 9+ (high school and onwards) actually seems appropriate.

Tierney is the main character and a black sheep of sorts among the other Grace Year girls.  She has survival skills and finds a nemesis in Kiersten, the leader of the pack of girls and….. I’ll argue that she’s the main antagonist too.  I didn’t really love the characters though and found the plot/story itself to be my main point of enjoyment.

The pacing is fantastic as well. I read the first half steadily and the second half in one sitting.  It just got too good to put down, even if I wasn’t connecting with the girls.  The little mysteries and end of exile, building team work, then the conclusion were all pretty engrossing.

I had a LOT of questions though, which again all make great book club discussions.   Where is this isolated town with such a Handmaid’s Tale type society? One main and lovely recurring theme is the use of flowers for language, since apparently a bunch of immigrants converged at some point, so where did they come from? Was this a planned, constructed society and how did it evolve? Also what time period is the book taking place in? Is the recurring life from death theme enough to explain the ending?  Did the love story really make any sense at all?

I liked the grim outlook of the book. A lot of young adult books aren’t written to be so desolate with only little shoots of hope poking through. I liked the grim realizations that the women and girls were too busy clawing for standing to help each other and have unity.  It is a very good but not very happy book and I think it’s absolutely great.

I guess the biggest question is – is the magic real?

I totally recommend for anyone 16+. I think it’s a little too much for younger readers but teens, definitely, and adults alike can enjoy this.  Be warned away now though if you hate open endings.

Thank you as always for reading! Have you read The Grace Year? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

  • Title: Warrior of the Wild
  • Series: no
  • Author: Tricia Levenseller
  • Publisher & Release: Feiwel & Friends, February 26, 2019
  • Length: 328 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ yes for YA readers

Tricia Levenseller is a huge “Bookstagram made me do it” author for me. I saw her books all over Bookstagram and then was pretty psyched when Shelf Love Crate included this book, what about a year ago? I finally read it though!

Here is the description from Goodreads:

As her father’s chosen heir, eighteen-year-old Rasmira has trained her whole life to become a warrior and lead her village. But when her coming-of-age trial is sabotaged and she fails the test, her father banishes her to the monster-filled wilderness with an impossible quest: To win back her honor, she must kill the oppressive god who claims tribute from the villages each year—or die trying.

The premise is right up my alley and I was excited to read it based off the initial question posed: How do you kill a god?

Rasmira hilariously failed the test required to become an adult and join a profession in her village.  I know it wasn’t supposed to be funny, but it really was.  She is a rather naive 18 year old who is slated to become the next village ruler, but she has a lot to learn about leadership.

After being banished to the Wild, she meets two exiled boys and they start a whole adventure together after gaining each other’s trust.  Rasmira learns a lot of hard lessons about trust and leadership and…. Well… Nothing says that the impossible tasks can’t be accomplished with a little help.

I think there are a lot of really good lessons in the book for YA readers. Trust and teamwork and leadership skills, fairness and humility and family.  There is a lot of witty banter as well which is always something I enjoy.

The world building was pretty intensive for a standalone.  A lot of animal names and plant descriptions were thrown out right at the beginning, as well as village customs and building models.  I had a solid image of the area even if there were a LOT of names tossed out in the first chapter or two.

Plotwise, there are a lot of individually good or cute or action packed scenes –  but the plot itself fell a little flat for me by the end.  The whole concept was well done and fairly unique as far as I can tell, but it just felt too easy at times.  Someone was grievously injured but there happened to be a magic regenerative salve handy? I guess everyone gets a mulligan.  There was one other scene where at the heat of battle, they stop to smirk and dust off their hands and I felt like it got a bit cartoon-ish.  Of they would be joking around while fighting off vicious, poisonous attackers.  That said, there were a lot of good monster fighting and god-challenging bits too and I did enjoy reading the mystery come unglued.

I am also now wondering if it was just my mood at the time of reading, but I think young adults will like this one more than adult readers.  Some YA I can really get into, but this, while a very solid book, was just not making my pulse race.  The pacing was very even though, I never felt bored for any long stretch and appreciated how the action was spread out evenly.

I don’t have a ton to say about the characters.  I was definitely rooting for them and I think a lot of readers might be able to relate to some of Rasmira’s struggles, such as trying to please parents or learning about bullies and how to trust at your own discretion.

Overall this is a very solid book and I would definitely recommend it for young adult fantasy readers, or those who enjoy survival stories. Another good woman-warrior-esque book is Sky In the Deep by Adrienne Young, which I think I enjoyed a bit more.

I do want to read more of Levenseller’s books and will be moderating a Shadows Between us buddy read on the Addicted to YA goodreads forum in July if anyone is interested, feel free to ask more for info if interested.

Thank you as always for reading! Have you read the book? Want to discuss it? Drop a comment!

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Dark Skies by Danielle Jensen

  • Title: Dark Skies
  • Series: Dark Shores #2 (can be read first)
  • Author: Danielle Jensen
  • Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Teen
  • Release: May 5th 2020
  • Rate & recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes

Thank you so much to Tor Teen for the advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own.

Here is the description from Amazon:

A RUNAWAY WITH A HIDDEN PAST
Lydia is a scholar, but books are her downfall when she meddles in the plots of the most powerful man in the Celendor Empire. Her life in danger, she flees west to the far side of the Endless Seas and finds herself entangled in a foreign war where her burgeoning powers are sought by both sides.

A COMMANDER IN DISGRACE
Killian is Marked by the God of War, but his gifts fail him when the realm under the dominion of the Corrupter invades Mudamora. Disgraced, he swears his sword to the kingdom’s only hope: the crown princess. But the choice sees him caught up in a web of political intrigue that will put his oath – and his heart – to the test.

A KINGDOM UNDER SIEGE
With Mudamora falling beneath the armies of the Corrupter, Lydia and Killian strike a bargain to save those they love most—but it is a bargain with unintended and disastrous consequences. Truths are revealed, birthrights claimed, and loyalties questioned—all while a menace deadlier and more far-reaching than they realize sweeps across the world.

I will have to find my review of Dark Shores and post that too.  The two books occur at the same time and can be read in either order, although I enjoyed publication order. Here is a quick spoiler-free recap:  In Shores we read about Teriana and the Maarin traders, Marcus and the Cel legion, and the initial exploration and conquer of the Dark Shores.  Remember the puppet king of the Raiders and some larger threat that is revealed at the end? In Dark Skies, we follow Teriana’s friend Lydia who we briefly met before.  We learn the truth of the betrayal, see Lydia take another route to Mudamora, and meet Killian who leads the King’s forces.  This book starts in Cel but we learn a lot more about the Gods, the mystical forces, and the people of the Dark Shores.  The third book is going to be an amazing meeting of the two plot lines.

The pace is incredible. I read the first 300 pages kind of slowly but ended up taking the last half in a crazed four hour sitting where I don’t think I breathed or blinked.  The intrigue, assassinations, BLIGHT ZOMBIES, reckless chases, magical evil army leaders, more scheming, and a race against a huge deadly clock just made it impossible to stop.

The magic of the world was hinted at in Shores, but in Skies we learn all about it.  The God-Marked people each have an ability like strength, healing, growing/restoring, water breathing, and it seems they were meant to create teams of people.  A great theme this is, and I appreciate the idea that healing is a drain on someones life force.  The triage they use is so interesting.  The seventh god’s power is just terrifying and that will continue in book 3.

All I will say about the additional world building is that the desperation and fear are  real, the hurt is real, and the darkness is real.  The feelings of the people and the world seeping through the pages into the reader is what separates exquisite world building from the rest.

I 100% liked Lydia and Killian both a LOT more than Marcus and Teriana.  They have flawed but endlessly brave personalities, are good problem solvers, and are both loyal to no end.  I even liked princess Malahi for the most part, she had some admirable moments and the banter was hilarious between her and Killian and the female guards.  It’s hard not to root for every single character in the book, including Killian’s mother who is a rare gem.

The combination of great characters, more shippable romantic pairings, breakneck pace,  magic, and the intrigue of plots to end all plots make Dark Skies (and Dark Shores) a series that I absolutely 100% recommend to anyone with even the slightest interest in fantasy. Thank you so much again to Tor Teen for the advanced copy

 

Categories
Fantasy Young Adult

ARC Review: Ruthless Gods by Emily Duncan

I have been sitting on this review for weeks and with the release now imminent, I should probably post it.  I believe the review is spoiler free for both books.

Thank you so much to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own.

I read Wicked Saints as an ARC last year and enjoyed the basis of the story, but if you all remember I just absolutely hate her writing style. I found Duncan’s writing repetitive to the nauseatingly “I need to skim” point of being terrible.  A good author would take that significant round of criticism from Wicked Saints and build a better novel in Ruthless Gods….but OH god was I wrong in thinking it would happen.  (My review of Wicked Saints

Here is the description for Ruthless Gods:

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become.

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.

The first thing to note is that book one was supposed to be Nadya’s (HAHAH), this is  Serefin’s (got it, he was no hero though) and book three is to be Malachiasz’s.  I don’t think Duncan is doing a great job of clarifying this but Serefin did have a very large, if not incidentally passive at times role in this book.  I will come back to him later on but do appreciate the title character having a firmer role.

So. Duncan’s writing. If I had to read “*one of 5 adjectives* + boy” one more time I would have DNF’d, and almost did. Again.  Duncan has the continent’s ENTIRE future political leadership trekking across the country together in this book and all they do is continue to pine and chase each other’s tails. Maybe the hunter couldn’t have done much politically but can we treat Serefin like the actual king of Tranavia? The entire trek could have been EPIC and brilliant and all we got was more of “blah blah I was betrayed blah and now I’m afraid but let’s kiss again…” and Nadya’s broken record just played, and played, and played.  The plot and mechanisms did advance but it took a lot of weeding through nonsense to get there.

Oh yeah, Nadya thinks that she learned but she really learned nothing from book 1 and she’s still terrible. She is changing but doesn’t seem to be internalizing any of her lessons, although Kostya comes back long enough to force some true self-reflection. That particular dynamic was surprising and one of the more interesting ones.  Nadya is basically a punching bag and while she knows it, she doesn’t seem to care.

Duncan did do a better job showing monstrosity versus just talking about it, but again it was so repetitive. I liked the shifting faces and did like her take on the gods and monsters and older beings, but she could have used Nadya’s broken record headspace to talk more about some of the Slavic lore she was throwing out in names and titles only. That is something I’d like to have read about.  Think Winternight Trilogy – if you’re going to mention the Chyerti why not talk about them?

Serefin was my favorite character again because he is amazing, even though Duncan turned him into the token “other” character. I really think Ostyia would have been enough in that department but she got sidelined plot wise. Serefin and his moths and his bad vision and his nonexistent brutality (talk talk talk, never shown) just make me happy, and I think he had the most interesting arc in this book. If nothing else Duncan did use his and Malachiasz’s time together to explain all of the Tranavian political hierarchy that was missing from Wicked Saints.  I fully enjoyed the parts in Serefin’s head where he was grappling with the God-Monster-Deity-Chyerti-Other.

The ending sounded cool but that last sentence…was a terrible word choice.  It sounded cool but ENTROPY doesn’t even fit, just say his name already.  It was almost enough of a cliffhanger to make me think about book 3, but the plot is not enough to cancel out Duncan’s writing. I will be waiting for the cliffnotes version.

Last but not least: the @OneReadingNurse infamous medical rant. Have you ever actually seen a pupil blow? I have. Someone having a stroke? A blown pupil is TERRIFYING, and having someone’s pupils “blow open” is A TERRIBLE choice of phrase for someone surprised or experiencing adrenaline. Not only that but I think it was used at least 3 times throughout the book and I just don’t understand why an editor didn’t clam this up

This is the second book this year that shut me down in the middle of a trilogy, *cough* Heart of Flames * cough*.  These are the authors that must not read their critical reviews and editorial advice at all.  I haven’t posted it yet but when I feature The Silvered Serpents, I will highlight and throw praises down on Roshani Chokshi for elevating her second book above and beyond the first in every conceivable way.  Duncan and Pau Preto need to learn from her!

In summary: if you liked Wicked Saints, read Ruthless Gods, if not or if you were on the fence, stay away. Ruthless Gods IS marginally better but I personally can’t do it for a third novel.