Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Book Review:  The Names They Gave Us by Emery LordThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 390
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us is a book that I was actually a little apprehensive about reading even though I fell in love with her writing when I read When We Collided.  My hesitation this time around was because I had read that this book focuses a lot on religion and faith.  Since I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, I was a little worried the subject matter might put me off.  Thankfully, my worries were unfounded.  Even though faith does play a prominent role in the story, Emery Lord handles it in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all.  The Names They Gave Us is essentially a coming of age story and part of the main character’s coming of age journey is to actually question her own faith.

The Names They Gave Us follows Lucy Hansson, a high school student who is also the daughter of a preacher.  Because religion has just always been a part of Lucy’s life, she has always felt secure in her faith and has never questioned it.  That is, until her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.  That diagnosis sets off a chain reaction of events that strips all of the constants out of Lucy’s life.  Her longtime boyfriend Lucas, the boy she fully expects to marry someday, suddenly decides that the two of them should take a break and make sure they really love each other.  Not only that, but Lucy’s mom also decides that instead of Lucy being a counselor at their church camp like she has for every summer for as long as she can remember, she should take a job as a counselor at Daybreak, a local camp for troubled kids.

Lucy is crushed that Lucas would choose now of all times to break up with her and is also completely baffled as to why her mom would not want her to be with them at the church camp.  She is also starting to question her own faith:  After all of their prayers and the prayers of everyone in their congregation, how could her mom’s cancer have possibly come back?  Feeling like her whole world has been turned upside down, but ultimately knowing that she doesn’t want to do anything to upset her mother, Lucy reluctantly agrees to work at Daybreak for the summer.

When she first arrives at Daybreak, Lucy feels overwhelmed and wants nothing more than to be back at the church camp with her parents, but then she eventually starts to make friends – real friends that she actually has things in common with, friends who are also going through or have been through some bad times in their lives.  They provide a support system for Lucy that she has never had before, even with friends from school she thought she was close to – and suddenly things aren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.

Could this be why Lucy’s mom insisted that she go to Daybreak?  Is this Lucy’s mom’s way of making sure her little girl will be okay no matter what happens.  Or is there more to it than that?

 

I really liked Lucy and her family right away.  They’re just good people who fully embrace their faith but who also don’t try to force their beliefs on to others.  I was immediately devastated for them when it was revealed that Lucy’s mom’s cancer had come back.  The family was just getting back on its feet after her first battle with it, and now it sends them all reeling again.

Lucy was so easy to root for her not just because she was likable, but also because her emotions and fears, and those questions that just kept running through her mind felt so real.  Emery Lord does a very nice job of getting inside the mind of someone who is having a crisis of faith and possibly facing the loss of a loved one.  It was often heart-wrenching to read, but the portrayal felt very authentic.

I also loved that Lucy keeps an open mind about going to Daybreak and that her character undergoes tremendous growth during her stay there.  The counselors and the children who come there are a diverse group and, as such, Lucy meets a lot of people there who are very different from her and from anyone else she has ever known.  She doesn’t shy away from them or judge them at all though.  She meets a lesbian and a transgender counselor, for example, and she’s very open to asking any questions she has about their experiences.  She just genuinely wants to know everything about them and does so without trying to push any of her own beliefs on to them.

The beautiful friendships Lucy makes with her fellow counselors at Daybreak are one of my absolute favorite parts of The Names They Gave Us.  Each counselor has their own issues to deal with, whether it’s severe anxiety, abuse, or something else, but they come to camp and set aside those issues and try to help other kids who may be going through similar hard times.  Because the kids they counsel are often having such a rough go of things, they are not allowed to show any signs of their own issues while around them.  The counselors therefore lean on each other for support behind closed doors and, over their many years of working together, have become a very tight-knit group of friends.  And even though Lucy is the new girl and they know nothing about her, they still welcome her in with open arms.  Once she gets to know them and sees how much they truly are there for each other, Lucy slowly starts to realize that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens alone, that her friends will be there to support her.

This theme of the importance of friendship was what resonated with me most, as did the idea that it’s perfectly okay to question your own faith and beliefs from time to time.  It’s all just a normal part of that journey to find yourself and figure out your place in the world.

 

The only real issue I had with The Names They Gave Us is with the way Emery Lord left one important aspect of the story unresolved.  I don’t want to give away the ending so I’m going to be a little vague here.  I know this is Lucy’s story and that I should be satisfied knowing that she’ll be okay no matter what happens, but I still wanted to know how everything was going to turn out for her family.  I guess maybe I got a little too invested in the Hansson family but the characters were just so beautifully drawn that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all.

 

With its focus on heavy topics such as cancer and religion, The Names They gave Us is not what I would consider to be a light contemporary read.  It is a beautiful read though and one I would highly recommend if you’re into books that focus on love, friendship, family, and faith.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

four-half-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

Book Review – Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review –  Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh BardugoWonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
four-half-stars
Series: DC Icons, #1
Published by Random House Children's Books on August 28th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 376
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I hardly even know where to begin with my review of Leigh Bardugo’s Wonder Woman: Warbringer.  As a lifelong Wonder Woman fan and a huge fan of Bardugo’s, my expectations for this book were extremely high.  And I’m just going to say that the fact that it has taken me two weeks to stop flailing about this book long enough to write down my thoughts should tell you how much I loved it!  Wonder Woman: Warbringer was everything I wanted it to be and so much more. I found the strong women, the sisterhood of the Amazons, and the fierce action scenes that I expected to find, but then I also found so much more that really took this book to the next level for me.  In addition to all of those elements you would expect to find in a superhero novel, there is also a focus on friendship and on finding oneself that made the characters so easily to relate to.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer begins on the island of Themyscira, more commonly known as Paradise Island.  We follow Princess Diana as she is competing in a contest, hoping to prove herself once and for all to her Amazonian sisters.  Even though she is a princess and destined to be their queen someday, many of the Amazons look down on Diana (thus making her look down on herself) because of her origins.  Whereas all of the other Amazons came to Themyscira as warriors, Diana was born from the earth on Themyscira when Hippolyta created her out of clay and begged Zeus to bring her to life.  Because of her origins and because they live in peace on Themyscira, Diana has never been battle tested and is often perceived as weak.

In the middle of this contest which is so important to Diana, she happens to see an explosion off the island’s coast and goes to investigate.  She sees a ship on fire and can tell that there is at least one survivor, a girl.  Even though it is against Amazonian law to bring mortals back to Themyscira, Diana decides she can’t just watch this girl die so she swims out to save her, deciding that she’ll figure out what to do with the girl afterwards (and hopefully before she is caught).

Diana gets more trouble than she bargains for though because no sooner does she bring the girl, whose name is Alia Keralis, back to the island, than the Amazons start to fall ill one after the other.  When Alia starts to show signs of illness too and the island starts to experience earthquake-like tremors, Diana quickly makes the connection that it must have something to do with Alia and goes to the Oracle to seek guidance.  What she learns is shocking and unexpected:  Alia is known as a Warbringer.  What that means is whether she realizes it or not, wherever Alia goes, fighting, war, and ultimately death follows right along behind her.  The Oracle advises Diana that she doesn’t need to do anything at this point – that nature is already working its magic and Alia will soon die, thus ending the Warbringer cycle and returning the earth (and the island) to a healthy, peaceful state.

Diana balks at this.  She didn’t just save this girl and risk banishment from Themyscira only to have her die anyway.  She begs the Oracle to tell her if there is another way to save both the Warbringer and the world.  The Oracle advises her that the only possible way to save both is to take Alia to southern Greece, to the place where Helen of Troy is buried.  There is a spring there, and if Alia is purified in that spring before the sun sets on the first day of Hekatombaion, then she should be stripped of her Warbringer status and peace should return to the world.  The Oracle also advises Diana, however, that this quest is far beyond her strength and skill level and that it would be foolish of her to risk the world just for the sake of her own vanity, to prove herself.  The more prudent action at this point is to just let the natural correction run its course and let Alia die.

Knowing that the tremors are increasing and that her Amazonian sisters are getting sicker, Diana refuses, and tells Alia what she has learned and what they need to do.

Even though she’s a bit hesitant to trust Diana at first, Alia ultimately believes what Diana tells her because all her life, she has noticed that everywhere she goes, bad things seem to happen.  She has usually chalked it up to coincidence, but the Warbringer story makes sense and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it all stop.  She does not want to be responsible for any violence or death in the world.  In fact, the idea of being responsible for it is so repugnant to Alia, she makes Diana vow to end her life herself if they cannot make it to the spring in time.

The whole reason she was on that ship in the first place was because she was trying to prove to her overprotective older brother (her only living relative) that she can live just fine on her own and doesn’t need his constant protection and supervision.  Because Alia and Diana both feel like they have so much to prove, the two of them agree to team up and thus set out on a quest to save Alia and the world.

It’s not only a race against the clock to get Alia to the spring in time, especially when the magic they’re using misfires and they make an unexpected trip to New York City instead of Greece, but it’s also a race against unexpected enemies, both mortal and otherworldly.  The Oracle apparently is not the only one who knows about Alia’s Warbringer status and there are many who want to kill her to keep the world from war as well as many others who not only want to keep her alive but they also want to prevent her from purging her Warbringer powers because they crave war.

It’s a high stakes mission for both Diana and Alia.  Can Diana and Alia work together as a team and complete this seemingly impossible quest and what will happen to both of their worlds if they are not successful?  Will Diana keep her vow to Alia and end her life if that ends up being the only way to stop the world from descending into war?

 

This is one of those times where I just want to type ‘I LOVED EVERYTHING’ and leave it at that, but I’ll try to be a little more specific, lol.

It goes without saying that I loved Diana and it was no surprise that she was a total badass, especially when she and Alia accidentally detour to New York, and encounter more than their share of bad guys.  I loved Diana’s strength, both her physical and emotional strength, as well as her strength of character. I loved that she was willing to risk everything, even banishment from her home, to save a mortal in distress.  What made me feel the most connected to Diana, however, was that Bardugo also infused her with enough vulnerability and self-doubt to make her very relatable.  She might be an Amazonian Princess, but she’s also a teenage girl who is doubting that she is worthy of her own destiny.

There’s so much more to love in this book than just Diana herself, however.  I also adored her friendship with Alia.  Even though she is a mere mortal, in many ways, Alia is just as much of a badass as Diana.  I loved how quickly they bonded and how fiercely protective of one another they are.  As we move through the story, the sisterhood Diana and Alia share seems to grow even stronger than Diana’s bond with any of her sisters from Themyscira.

There are also several other epic friendships that really made this book a winner for me.  When Alia and Diana end up in New York, Diana gets to meet several of Alia’s friends, in particular Nim and Theo.  In many ways, Nim was my favorite character in the book.  She is the friend that is there for Alia at a moment’s notice, no questions asked, and she’s also a sassy, lesbian fashionista whose wit and sarcasm kept me in stitches everytime she opened her mouth.  She also has a bit of a crush on Diana, which is just precious to watch.  Theo is a fantastic character as well.  He’s kind of a super dork, which is adorable, but like Nim, he’s there when you need him, no questions asked. Theo and Nim are fun to watch because they have a love/hate relationship.  They are constantly trading barbs and threatening to end each other, which provides a lot of comic relief in the midst of the otherwise very serious situation of trying to save the world.  It also appears that Theo, the super dork, might have a crush on Alia, so there’s a bit of subtle romance in the air for those who enjoy that sort of thing.

I’ve already mentioned that Wonder Woman: Warbringer is action-packed, which is another win for me.  Bardugo starts the story off with the adrenaline rush of this huge contest that Diana is participating in, followed immediately by the boat explosion and the ensuing chaos, and expertly keeps that action going as we move into the ensuing quest that Diana and Alia set out on and all of its dangers.  The story was fast-paced, the action never lagged, and I devoured the book in less than two days.

As is expected with any novel from Bardugo, the world building is fantastic.  She paints an incredibly vivid portrait of Themyscira (Paradise Island), which is especially helpful for anyone who might be unfamiliar with Wonder Woman’s story.  I also loved how she skillfully wove so much Greek Mythology into the tale and how seamlessly the story flowed from the immortal realm of Themyscira to the bright lights, big city environment of New York City, and finally to the rustic Mediterranean landscape of southern Greece.

The last thing I want to touch on is the Diversity.  I hadn’t really given Diversity any thought going into this book because I was so tunnel-visioned on the Wonder Woman aspect of the story, but I was pleased to see how diverse the characters in the book are.  Alia and her brother Jason are half-Greek, half African American, while Nim is Indian and a lesbian, and I believe Theo mentions that his family comes from South America.

 

I have absolutely nothing for this section.  This is the third book of Bardugo’s I have read and I am consistently impressed with the quality of her writing and her ability to create characters and worlds that I just fall in love with.  She is now an auto-buy author for me and I look forward to reading more of her works.

 

Filled with strong women, fabulous friendships, and non-stop action, I think Wonder Woman: Warbringer is a book that is sure to please both readers who were already fans of Wonder Woman, as well as those readers who know nothing about Wonder Woman going in.  If this first installment of the D.C. Icons series is any indication, readers are in for a real treat as more of the books are released. I know I’m excited for them!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Daughter of immortals.

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

four-half-stars

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Book Review: STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Book Review:  STARFISH by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

When I first requested Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel, Starfish, I didn’t really know much about it other than the fact that it had one of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve ever seen.  I was completely unprepared for the emotional punch this book would pack.  Covering a wide spectrum of heavy subjects such as sexual and emotional abuse as well as suicide, Starfish is not an easy read by any means, but ultimately it is a powerful story about discovering who you really are and what you want out of life.

Starfish follows the story of Kiko Himura, a high school senior who suffers from social anxiety and therefore often has trouble expressing herself and fitting in.  Kiko, however, is also a gifted artist who uses her art to say what she can’t seem to say with words.  One of Kiko’s biggest dreams is to get into the prestigious Prism art school.  She feels like once she gets away from home and can throw herself into her art, her real life can finally begin.

Kiko is also half Japanese and her parents are divorced.  She lives with her mother, who is blond haired, blue eyed and is obsessed with her appearance.  She also constantly makes Kiko feel unattractive and implies that she would be more attractive if she were not of Asian descent. Her mother is also a narcissist and so whenever Kiko tries to talk to her, she always manages to twist the topic around and make it about herself.  On top of that, instead of supporting Kiko in what she is passionate about, Kiko’s mom belittles her art and can’t be bothered to attend Kiko’s art shows at school.

Then, as if Kiko’s mom isn’t bad enough, Kiko’s abusive uncle moves in with them.  After an incident that took place the last time he lived in their house when Kiko woke up and found him in her bedroom, Kiko now refuses to live in the same house as him.  She tells her mother as much, but her mom ignores her and tells her she is being overly dramatic about what happened.

Kiko longs for her mother to believe her and support her and let her know that she cares, but it just feels like that’s never going to happen.  She knows she needs to get away from the toxic environment that she is living in, but her dreams are shattered when she receives a rejection notice from Prism. Having applied to no other schools, Kiko doesn’t have a Plan B.  How will she recover from this unexpected rejection? Will she ever get the support and affection that she so craves from her mother or does Plan B involve starting over alone somewhere new?   What happens next for Kiko?

I fell in love with Kiko right away. As someone who also tends to get very anxious in social situations, I felt an immediate connection to Kiko as I watched her struggle to interact both at school and at parties.  The author did a wonderful job in those scenes of portraying social anxiety and how truly crippling it can be.

Kiko was also a favorite of mine because she’s such a sympathetic character.  In addition to her social anxiety issues, her home life is just awful.  It’s hard enough being a child of divorced parents, but it’s especially hard if you feel like the parent you’re living with doesn’t seem to care about you and either ignores you or criticizes you every time they see you.  I absolutely loathed Kiko’s mother and the way she treated Kiko.  At the same time though, I completely understood why Kiko kept trying to connect with her and kept trying to show her the art she was working on.  It’s completely natural for a child to want their parent’s approval and it was heartbreaking to watch Kiko keep getting rejected every time she tried.  I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her she deserved better because it was obviously killing Kiko’s sense of self-worth.

Even though Kiko’s mom had no interest in Kiko’s artwork, I sure did.  Some of my favorite scenes in Starfish were where we got to see Kiko immerse herself in her art.  Watching her completely at ease with herself because she’s in her element and then reading the author’s descriptions of what she was actually drawing and painting honestly made me wish the book was illustrated.  The art work sounded so gorgeous and magical!

Aside from Kiko herself, some of the other elements of Starfish I really enjoyed were the overall themes.  There is a huge focus on beauty, with a specific emphasis on the message that there is no set idea for what is considered beautiful.  We’re all beautiful in our own unique way, and someone who is Asian is just as beautiful as someone who happens to be blond and blue-eyed.  To go along with that truth about what is beautiful, there is also a huge emphasis on self-love.  You should love yourself exactly as you are and not let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

Along the lines of accepting that you’re beautiful just the way you are, Starfish can also be considered a powerful coming of age story.  After she is rejected from the art school of her dreams, Kiko embarks on a journey of self-discovery to slowly but surely figure out who she really is, what she wants from life, and how she can stand on her own two feet regardless of whether or not she has her mother’s support and approval.  It’s an often painful journey for Kiko, but in the end, it’s a beautiful one that is full of hope and promise.

One final element of the story that I liked was Kiko’s reunion with a long-lost friend from her childhood.  There is a romantic element there and I liked the way the author handled the transition from friends to lovers.  I also liked that the romance wasn’t just a way for Kiko to escape her home life, but that in a twist I really liked, it also presented Kiko with some unexpected opportunities and allowed her to make some empowering decisions about her future.

Aside from my utter dislike of Kiko’s mother, I don’t really have anything for this section.  And even though I completely disliked her, she was still an incredibly well drawn character and served an important purpose in Kiko’s story.

I think Starfish is going to be one of those books that I will continue to think about long after finishing the last page.  As I mentioned earlier, it packs an emotional punch and Kiko’s journey is one that I think many readers will relate to on some level, whether it’s the feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you’re not good enough, or dealing with a less than ideal home life.  For this reason and because the writing and storytelling is top notch, I fully expect to see Starfish on many ‘Best of’ 2017 lists before the end of the year.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Rockstar Book Tours: Dear Martin Review & Giveaway

Rockstar Book Tours:  Dear Martin Review & GiveawayDear Martin by Nic Stone
four-half-stars
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on October 17th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: a Blog Giveaway
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from a Blog Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the RockStar Blog Tour for Nic Stone’s powerful new novel, Dear Martin.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for your chance to win a finished copy of DEAR MARTIN.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the Dear Martin Blog Tour!

MY REVIEW:

Dear Martin is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and most important books I’ve read this year.  It follows the story of high school student Justyce Mcallister.  Through Justyce’s eyes, readers see firsthand what it’s like to be a young black man in America.  We experience the fear and the frustration of constantly having to worry about being singled out by police, or even shot and killed, because of the color of your skin, the clothes that you’re wearing, or perhaps even the type of music that you’re listening to and how loud you have that music turned up.

Justyce has worked hard all his life in order to secure the best future possible for himself.  He thinks everything is going his way too until one fateful night when he is stopped by a police officer and immediately placed in handcuffs.  It doesn’t matter that Justyce is an “A” student and that he has been accepted to an Ivy League university; the police officer just automatically assumes that Justyce is up to no good.

The racial profiling is blatant and it makes Justyce all the more sensitive to the racism that goes on around him every day.  When he returns to school, for example, one of his white classmates (and someone he thought was a friend) implies that the only reason Justyce got into an Ivy League school was because of his race and Affirmative Action.  Not only does the student accuse Justyce of not having truly earned his spot at the university, but the implication is that Justyce stole the white student’s spot as well.

Justyce is not only frustrated by these comments but also by comments from those he grew up with who accuse of him forgetting his roots and selling out because he moved out of their rough and poor neighborhood to go to a better school.

When the unthinkable happens and someone near to him is killed in an incident involving a white off-duty police officer, Justyce is left feeling caught between two worlds and alone.

Armed with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, (the “Dear Martin” of the title), Justyce takes us on what is ultimately a journey of self-discovery.  His story is raw, gritty, and poignant, but it is still ultimately a hopeful one.

 

Justyce of course was my favorite part of Dear Martin.  He is not only an extremely likable character, but he is also a much needed voice in YA literature.  There aren’t nearly enough books out there with young male protagonists, and especially persons of color.  Nic Stone makes Justyce give a voice to every other young man who has experienced similar kinds of prejudice and/or who has been racially profiled..

Justyce is also a great character because he is so complex and well-developed.  The journey that we go on with him is so poignant, especially experiencing the wide range of emotions he goes through – the initial almost disbelief that such blatant racism still exists, the mounting frustration as he realizes it’s all around him, and the questions that run through is mind about how to deal with it.  Nic Stone does a beautiful job of fleshing out this character from every angle.

I also liked that Dear Martin packed such a huge punch with so few words.  It’s only about 200 or so pages long, which would make it ideal for Required Reading at schools (hint, hint!), and it’s 200 of the most powerful and relevant pages I’ve read this year.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of action and riveting dialogue that I think would keep even the most reluctant reader engaged.

The Dear Martin letters that Justyce was writing throughout the story were another highlight for me.  I loved the balance between those letters and the rest of the action of the story.  The letters Justyce wrote were so reflective and conveyed every emotion he was feeling as he tried to process everything that was confronting him.  They also powerfully illustrated how badly he wanted guidance to know how to survive in such a racist world “What Would Martin Do?”, along with his questions about whether or not the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were still relevant today.

 

I have to admit that at first I was a little down on the romantic relationship in Dear Martin.  (Yes, my usual lament that not every YA contemporary needs to have romance.)  In the case of Dear Martin, while I liked the relationship itself and thought the couple was a great match, I just felt like it was a little distracting from the main themes of the story.  But then Nic Stone did something that changed my mind — she took what was seemingly a distraction and, through a conversation between Justyce and his mother, ended up tying it right back to one of her novel’s most important messages — that no one, white, black, or any other color, should be judged based on the color of their skin.  Taking what could have been a potential distraction and linking to one of the central points of the story made the romance work much better for me than I thought it was going to.

 

Dear Martin is a book that everyone should read.  I really wish this book had been around back when I was teaching high school because I just know Justyce’s story would have resonated with so many of my students.  It not only powerfully tackles important social issues such as racism, racial profiling, and police brutality, but Nic Stone has also delivered a beautifully written story with a captivating and complex main character that you’ll fall in love with.  I look forward to reading more from her and just can’t recommend Dear Martin highly enough.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

 

 

PURCHASE LINKS:

AmazonAudibleB&NiBooksTBDGoodreads

 

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

3 winners will receive a finished copy of DEAR MARTIN, US Only.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

DEAR MARTIN TOUR SCHEDULE:

 

Week One:

10/16/2017- LILbooKlovers Interview

10/17/2017- YA Bibliophile– Review

10/18/2017- Mama Reads Blog– Guest Post

10/19/2017- Here’s to Happy Endings– Review

10/20/2017- Eli to the nth– Excerpt

Week Two:

10/23/2017- Chasing Faerytales– Review

10/24/2017- Omg Books and More Books– Interview

10/25/2017- BookHounds YA– Review

10/26/2017- Novel Novice– Guest Post

10/27/2017- The Bookish Libra– Review

Week Three:

10/30/2017- Never Too Many To Read– Review

10/31/2017- Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook Interview

11/1/2017- Reese’s Reviews– Excerpt

11/2/2017- Novel Ink– Review

11/3/2017- Wandering Bark Books– Guest Post

Week Four:

11/6/2017- Amanda Gernentz Hanson– Review

11/7/2017- Lisa Loves Literature– Excerpt

11/8/2017- Feed Your Fiction Addiction– Review

11/9/2017- Lost in Ever After– Interview

11/10/2017- A Backwards Story– Review

 

 

four-half-stars

About Nic Stone

Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

You can find her goofing off and/or fangirling over her husband and sons on most social media platforms as @getnicced.

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – MARKED BEAUTY Book Review & Giveaway

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – MARKED BEAUTY Book Review & GiveawayMarked Beauty by S.A. Larsen
four-stars
Published by Ellysian Press on October 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 305
Source: the Author
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for S.A. Larsen’s exciting new novel, Marked Beauty.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for a $25 Amazon Gift Card.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the Marked Beauty Blog Tour!

 

MY REVIEW:

 

S.A. Larsen’s Marked Beauty is a fresh and imaginative YA contemporary fantasy that follows high school student, Anastasia Tate, or Ana as she is called. For most of her life, Ana has been carrying around a secret: she’s an empath and can feel the emotions of those around her. Not only can she feel their emotions, but she can actually see them as well. Everyone she meets has colored life energy auras floating around them.  It’s not an ability that she fully understands and so the emotions of others often overwhelm her, so most days she just tries to get by while drawing as little attention to herself as possible.  When she senses a dark shadowy presence stalking her at school one day, it becomes clear that life as she has known it is about to change.

That same dark shadowy presence nearly costs Ana and her best friend, Katee, their lives, but a young man named Viktor Castle intervenes and rescues them.  Viktor, however, is no ordinary young man.  He possesses abilities of his own and is also carrying around a secret – Viktor is the victim of an ancient curse and Ana is the only one who can set him free.  His original purpose for being in the right place at the right time is to retrieve Ana so that he can free himself, but once he sees her, he decides he can’t go through with it and instead vows to protect her at all costs, even if it means he is cursed forever.

From the moment she lays eyes on Viktor, Ana senses that the two of them have a connection that she has never experienced before.  It’s an undeniable attraction.  Ana also senses that he has the answers to questions she has had all her life about her abilities and so she begins to question him relentlessly and gets furious when he evades her questions at every turn.  What Ana doesn’t realize, because she doesn’t know the full extent of her history and where her powers come from, is that by interceding and saving her life, Viktor has actually put her in even more danger.

Will Viktor finally come clean to Ana and answer all of her questions about her powers and about this bond that the two of them clearly share?  Will Ana and Viktor be able to escape the dark forces that threaten both of their lives?

There’s so much to love about Marked Beauty.   There’s mystery, action and adventure,  romance, a lush fantasy world, and ancient curses, as well as characters that will immediately draw you in and keep you invested in their stories.

I especially enjoyed the main character, Ana.  I thought the author did a brilliant job of illustrating her empathic powers and how challenging and often overwhelming they could be for Ana, while still infusing Ana with qualities such as being feisty, determined, and quite often stubborn.  She has these powers that she’s not quite sure what to make of, but once she decides she wants to know everything about them, there’s no stopping her.  That realistic and relatable mix of strong and determined yet somewhat vulnerable had me cheering Ana on from the first pages of the story.

Viktor was also a great character.  I loved the sense of mystery that surrounded him from the moment he enters the story.  I also liked that even though he knew Ana was the only way to free himself from this curse, he chooses the selfless route instead and vows to protect Ana and keep her hidden from those who would love to harness her power and use it for their own sinister purposes.

The unique fantasy world that S.A. Larsen has created was really what kept me so mesmerized by this story.  I really enjoyed how the novel itself is set in a normal high school contemporary setting, but that just below the surface, there’s this rich fantasy world filled with the Lynceus, Rifters, hybrids, the mysterious Sixth, bloodprints, life energy auras, family curses, and so much more.

I don’t want to give too much away about the fantasy world since I think it’s best to watch the details of the mystery unfold for yourself and see how they ultimately tie back to both Ana and Viktor and their families, but it’s definitely one of the most intriguing fantasy worlds I’ve encountered.  I also kept finding myself thinking about what a great film this story would make.  The descriptions of the auras, in particular, were so lush and vivid that I just kept wishing I could actually see them for myself on film.

While the mystery of finding out how this fantasy world relates back to Ana was my favorite part of Marked Beauty, I have to admit that I also enjoyed the romantic aspect of the story as well.  Those who follow my reviews are probably shocked since I’m usually quite critical of romance in YA fantasy and I’ll admit that I had a moment of ‘OMG, no. It’s instalove!’ but I changed my mind.  Yes, Ana and Viktor are immediately attracted to one another, but in this case, there’s a clear reason for it because they’ve been somehow bound together by this curse.  Their destinies were intertwined back before they ever met, so I was okay with them having that instant bond.  The bond is what initially brings them together, but they do end up having enough chemistry that it worked for me.

I can’t say that I had many issues at all with Marked Beauty.  The only thing that dropped it from a 5 star to a 4 star rating for me was that I occasionally had a little trouble following the mystery of the curse and how it related to Ana.  The story itself is fascinating but some of the details were so intricate that they lost me once in a while.  That said, by the end, all of my questions were answered so I was satisfied even though I had that occasional confusion about what was happening and why.

If you’re into fantasies that are filled with action, romance, mystery, and a hint of danger, I’d say give Marked Beauty a chance.  S.A. Larsen has created a unique fantasy world that I definitely wouldn’t mind visiting again.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Uncovering hidden secrets can sometimes kill you . . . or worse, steal your soul.

Anastasia Tate has a secret. She can feel the emotions of others through their life energy auras. Not a welcome gift for a teenager. Especially when a sinister presence begins stalking her.

Viktor Castle also has a secret. He’s tasked with protecting humanity yet cursed by an ancient evil to destroy it.

After Viktor saves Ana’s life, her abilities grow stronger. Drawn together, she senses Viktor has answers to lifelong questions. Only he shuns her at every turn, knowing he has saved her only to put her in more danger. As Ana struggles with her attraction to Viktor, he tries everything to bury his unexpected feelings for her. But they must find a middle ground. For only together can they combat the dark forces threatening both their lives . . . and their souls.

 

Purchase Links:

Chapters | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | iBooks

 

Blog Tour Giveaway:

One (1) winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card (INT)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

four-stars

About S.A. Larsen

S.A. LARSEN is the author of the award-winning novel Motley Education, the first book in a fantasy-adventure series for middle grade readers. Her work has appeared in numerous local publications and young adult anthologies Gears of Brass and Under A Brass Moon by Curiosity Quills Press. Marked Beauty is her debut young adult novel. Find her in the land of snowy winters and the occasional Eh’ya with her husband of over twenty-five years, four children, a playful pooch, and three kittens. Visit her cyber home anytime at www.salarsenbooks.com.

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – 27 HOURS Book Review & Giveaway

Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour – 27 HOURS Book Review & Giveaway27 Hours (The Nightside Saga, #1) by Tristina Wright
three-half-stars
Series: The Nightshade Saga #1
Published by Entangled: Teen on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 404
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

 

Today is my stop on the Chapter by Chapter Blog Tour for Tristina Wright’s exciting new novel, 27 Hours.  Please check out my review and then be sure to scroll down and enter the giveaway for a 27 Hours Prize Pack.  Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the other stops on the 27 Hours Blog Tour!

 

 

MY REVIEW:

Tristina Wright’s YA science fiction debut, 27 Hours, is a diverse and imaginative, action-packed story that follows four teenagers who are trying to save life as they know it from certain destruction.

The story is set on a distant moon named Sahara, where nights last 27 hours and where three groups of individuals are not-so-peacefully coexisting.  First, we have the humans from Earth who, over the course of the past 150 or so years, have traveled to and colonized Sahara.  Second, we have the Chimera (or Gargoyles, as the humans refer to them).  The Chimera are actually a species indigenous to Sahara, so the human colonists have encroached on their land by settling there.  Not only have the colonists taken their land, but they have also deemed the Chimera dangerous monsters and have done everything in their power to eradicate as many as possible and force those that remain underground.  Needless to say, tensions between these two groups run high and they battle often.

Lastly, we have another group of humans, the forest rebels, who believe that peaceful coexistence between humans and Chimera is entirely possible.  Because they disagree with the colonists’ beliefs about the Chimera, this group chose to abandon the colonies and live on their own in the forest.  The colonists consider the forest rebels to be traitors.

While relationships between these groups has never been good, things come to a head when a group of Chimera launch a lethal assault on HUB2, one of the major hubs where the colonists live, leaving behind only one survivor, Rumor Mora.  Rumor, who has been fed stories about how monstrous the Chimera are and been trained to fight them all his life, flees to the nearby colony of Epsilon to warn them in case the Chimera expand their attacks out to other colonies.

While at Epsilon, reeling from what has happened, Rumor becomes acquainted with a diverse group of teenagers and together they learn there is more to this Chimera attack than what they have originally been led to believe.  Realizing that someone is keeping secrets that could be getting people killed, they decide to strike out on their own to uncover the truth, and in doing so, to hopefully put a stop to the conflict once and for all.

Will they be successful or are they doomed to suffer the same fate as the first hub that was destroyed by the Chimera?

 

If you think 27 Hours sounds like an intense, action-packed story, you’d be right.  I love a story that has lots of great action scenes and this one truly delivers in the action department.  It quite literally starts off with a bang when the Chimera attack HUB2, and there is rarely a lull in the action from that moment on.

Wright skillfully weaves plenty of tension and suspense into the story by making it a race against the clock.  The humans can only stop the Chimera while they are above ground, and the Chimera only come above ground at night.  Once they go back underground, no one knows where the Chimera will next surface so Rumor and his friends must uncover the truth and stop the attacks before the night is over.  Since a night on Sahara lasts for 27 hours, that’s their timeline and the clock is already ticking when the novel begins.

In addition to the action and the suspense, I also loved the diversity that is present in this cast of characters. It’s truly the most diverse cast I’ve ever come across.  There’s Rumor, who is biracial as well as bisexual; Nyx, who is deaf, pansexual, and Latina; Dahlia, who is black, trans, and bisexual; Jude, who is gay; Braeden, who is asexual; and Yi-Min, who is gender neutral and prefers to go by “they” pronouns.

What was especially fantastic about all of this representation was that it was the norm rather than the exception in the colonies.  Instead, being straight and white was the exception. This futuristic society has reached a point where racism and homophobia seem to have disappeared and everyone is accepted for who they are without question.  As I was reading, I just really liked Wright’s vision for our society and hope that we’ll continue to strive to get there sooner than 150-200 years from now.

I also liked that 27 Hours explored some big themes as well: prejudice (against other species, in this case), loss and grieving, friendship, love, and, finally, humans vs. monsters and the question of which one of them really is monstrous.

 

I’m not going to call them dislikes, but I did have a few areas that caused some issues for me while I was reading.  I wish these had been clearer or more fleshed out.  If they had, this would have definitely been a solid 4 star read for me.

Lack of connection with the main characters.  27 Hours is presented from the perspective of four of the teens who are working together:  Rumor, Nyx, Braeden, and Jude.  I sympathized with each of these characters because of all they were going through – the confusion, the loss of loved ones, the fight for survival, etc. but I can’t say that I felt like I really connected with any of them.   I’m hopeful that will change in future books in the series.

Missing points of view.  While I liked seeing the story told from the perspective of each of these teens, I would have also liked getting some chapters from the point of view of one of the Chimera.  I just think it would have taken the story to the next level to give them a voice, instead of just hearing their story relayed through Jude, the forest rebel teen.

I also would have liked the worldbuilding to be a little clearer up front.  I think by the end of the book I had a clear picture of what life on Sahara was like, but it really did take most of the story for me to put all of the pieces together into a cohesive picture that made sense to me.

Lastly, and if you read my reviews, you probably know what I’m going to talk about next: yep, the romance.  Okay, to be fair, I actually liked the pairings that Wright was trying to put forth in this story.  Nyx and Dahlia were cute together, as were Rumor and Jude.  My issue was the trying to squeeze all of these budding romances into this 27-hour window when they’re supposed to be trying to save human kind.  How is there time for the grabbing of butts and the random “I’ll show you something hard” jokes?  On more than one occasion, I found myself yelling at them:  “Come on, kids! Save the world first, unleash your hormones second!”

 

While 27 Hours was not a perfect read for me, it was definitely a thrilling one.  I loved how unique the story was, as well as the energy of the book, the nonstop action, and the important themes that Wright tackled. I also enjoyed watching these teens come into their own and am ready to get to know them even better in the next book in the series, especially after the ominous cliffhanger ending that Wright leaves her readers with!

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill, and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters, and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them.

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from his mother’s shadow, and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

27 Hours is a sweeping, thrilling story featuring a stellar cast of queer teenagers battling to save their homes and possibly every human on Sahara as the clock ticks down to zero.

 

 

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Amazon Australia | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Entangled

 

 

Giveaway Details:

 

A 27 Hours Prize Pack, including:

* A 27 Hours Candle

* A set of 27 Hours Character Cards

* AND a copy of an October release *

*Open internationally wherever The Book Depository ships

a Rafflecopter giveaway

three-half-stars

About Tristina Wright

Tristina Wright is a blue-haired bisexual with anxiety and opinions. She’s also possibly a mermaid, but no one can get confirmation. She fell in love with science fiction and fantasy at a young age and frequently got caught writing in class instead of paying attention. She enjoys worlds with monsters and kissing and monsters kissing. She married a nerd who can build computers and make the sun shine with his smile. Most days, she can be found drinking coffee from her favorite chipped mug and making up more stories for her wombfruit, who keep life exciting and unpredictable.

Book Review: The Hundredth Queen

Book Review:  The Hundredth QueenThe Hundredth Queen (The Hundredth Queen, #1) by Emily R. King
three-half-stars
Series: The Hundredth Queen #1
Published by Skyscape on June 1st 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 291
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Okay, so I have to admit that what initially drew me to this book were the first lines of the synopsis:  “He wanted a warrior queen. He got a revolutionary.” That just screamed kick ass heroine to me so I couldn’t wait to dive into Emily King’s The Hundredth Queen, the first book in The Hundredth Queen series.  The Hundredth Queen follows eighteen-year-old Kalinda, a sickly orphan girl who is a ward of the Sisterhood. Because she has been prone to fevers her entire life, she has not received much of the training that her fellow wards have received.  This makes her a very unlikely candidate for the future that most of her fellow wards wish for – that of being ‘claimed’ by a royal family. Wards who are ‘claimed’ go on to become servants, or sometimes even courtesans or wives.

Kalinda is fully prepared to join the Sisterhood when the time comes and live a life of seclusion and prayer.  In fact, she’d much prefer this over the alternative.  When Rajah Tarek, who has the reputation of being a tyrant, comes to the Sisterhood looking to claim a new courtesan, as well as his 100th wife, Kalinda and her beloved friend Jaya conspire so as not to be chosen by Rajah.  Their plan unfortunately backfires and Rajah chooses Kalinda to be his 100th wife, taking her away from Jaya and the only life she has ever known.

What Kalinda soon learns is that being the 100th wife means she must take part in a Rank Tournament to defend her place among Rajah’s other wives and courtesans and that the Rank Tournament is basically a fight to the death.  Kalinda is horrified by the idea that all of these women are willing to kill each other just to improve their wifely ranking and is desperate to find a way out of her predicament, especially since she has no interest in being Rajah’s wife.  Instead, she has fallen head over heels for one of Rajah’s guards, Captain Deven Naik.  Kalinda wants nothing more than to find a way to escape her unwanted fate and be with the man she loves.  Her best chance for escape comes when she learns that those fevers she has suffered from all her life are actually so much more than just fevers.  Instead, they are a manifestation of a latent power she possesses but that the Sisterhood has kept hidden by dosing her with a “fever” tonic.  Why?  Because the power Kalinda possesses is forbidden and could mean death if the wrong people were to find out about it.

Can Kalinda harness this power while keeping it a secret from those who would harm her?  And can she use it to escape this death match that Rajah has set her up for?

Kalinda was definitely my favorite part of The Hundredth Queen. I always enjoy reading about an underdog that I can root for and with her fevers and lack of training, she is immediately presented in the role of the underdog.  As I was reading about the ‘Claiming’ process and seeing how few options women have in this society, I was completely turned off, so I found Kalinda very relatable as soon as it became clear that she felt the same way I did about the few choices women had. After seeing that all she wanted was to be able to choose her own path rather than have it dictated to her, it was that much more heart-wrenching to see her taken away and therefore separated from Jaya, who is obviously like a sister to her.

I continued to relate to Kalinda once she learned about the Rank Tournament and was horrified to find out what all of these women are willing to do to each other just to compete for Rajah’s attention.  The treatment of women in the book is truly appalling, and Kalinda’s recognition of that, along with those first lines of the synopsis made me perk up once more:  Is Kalinda going to be the revolutionary who changes everything?

As awful as the idea of the Rank Tournament was, I have to admit that the training scenes and especially the combat scenes in the novel are pretty amazing.  Those wives and courtesans are not people you want to end up on the wrong side of.  They are fierce and they’re willing to fight dirty to get what they want.  Lakia, Rajah’s number 1 wife is especially vicious and I feared for Kalinda on more than one occasion because Lakia really seems to have it in for her.

Aside from a relatable underdog main character and some epic action scenes, another aspect of the novel I enjoyed was the forbidden magic.  Those who possess the magic are called Bhuta and they are just fascinating.  Rajah has had many of them killed over the years, but those who have survived are in hiding and hoping to find a way to strike back at Rajah.  We don’t learn too much about them in this book, so I hope they will be explored in more depth in future books in the series.  What we do know is that their powers appear to be elemental, based on earth, wind, air, and fire.

Even though I enjoyed The Hundredth Queen overall, I did have some issues with it. My biggest issue with it lies in the relationship between Kalinda and Captain Deven Naik.  As soon as Kalinda and Deven see each other for the first time, they’re mutually obsessed, and for no apparent reason.  For me, it just felt awkward and forced since there was no build up to it at all.  It was 100% instalove, which never works well for me. What I also didn’t like though was the way Kalinda keeps putting Deven in compromising positions.  She knows full well that Rajah will kill Deven if he suspects Deven and Kalinda are romantically involved, but yet she keeps talking to him in private and otherwise calling attention to themselves when they should be keeping a safe distance from each other.  At one point she even kisses him where anyone could have walked in and caught them.  I just didn’t care very much for her reckless behavior.  Deven of course is equally to blame.  If he wants to stay alive, he needs to stay away from Rajah’s soon-to-be wife.  It’s not rocket science.

I honestly thought Kalinda had a lot more chemistry with a character named Brac.  He is one of the magical Bhuta, and while I don’t want to say too much about him because of spoilers, he actually ended up being one of my favorite characters and I preferred his interactions with Kalinda’s to her interactions with Deven.

One other issue I had was that I didn’t have a clear understanding of the Rank Tournament.  It didn’t make sense to me that these women were really willing to die or to murder someone else in order to reach a higher wifely rank or else to move from courtesan status to wife status.  I would have liked more explanation about why these women were so eager to challenge each other and if there was some other point to it aside from getting more attention from Rajah.  Speaking of Rajah, I also didn’t really understand why he was so obsessed with following some obscure legend step-by-by, especially since it meant his chosen women had to kill each other.  Following this legend is why he instituted the Rank Tournament in the first place and it was unclear to me why it was important enough to him to warrant killing people.  Those areas of the storytelling were a little vague and I would have liked them fleshed out more.

Even though I clearly had some issues with The Hundredth Queen, I still found it to be an entertaining read overall.  I’m definitely invested enough in Kalinda’s story to pick up the second book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

As an orphan ward of the Sisterhood, eighteen-year-old Kalinda is destined for nothing more than a life of seclusion and prayer. Plagued by fevers, she’s an unlikely candidate for even a servant’s position, let alone a courtesan or wife. Her sole dream is to continue living in peace in the Sisterhood’s mountain temple.

But a visit from the tyrant Rajah Tarek disrupts Kalinda’s life. Within hours, she is ripped from the comfort of her home, set on a desert trek, and ordered to fight for her place among the rajah’s ninety-nine wives and numerous courtesans. Her only solace comes in the company of her guard, the stoic but kind Captain Deven Naik.

Faced with the danger of a tournament to the death—and her growing affection for Deven—Kalinda has only one hope for escape, and it lies in an arcane, forbidden power buried within her.

three-half-stars

About Emily R. King

Emily R. King is a reader of everything and a writer of fantasy. Born in Canada and raised in the USA, she has perfected the use of “eh” and “y’all” and uses both interchangeably. Shark advocate, consumer of gummy bears, and islander at heart, Emily’s greatest interests are her four children. She’s a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and an active participant in her local writers’ community. She lives in Northern Utah with her family and their cantankerous cat.

Book Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review:  Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoCrooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Also by this author: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
five-stars
Series: Six of Crows #2
Published by Henry Holt and Company on September 20th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 546
Also in this series: Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Wow, what a book!  I honestly don’t think I could have asked for a better series ender.  Crooked Kingdom is one of those books that not only lives up to all of the hype surrounding it, but it far exceeded my own super-high expectations for it.  As much as I loved Six of Crows, in many ways I enjoyed Crooked Kingdom even more.  I remember while reading the first book, it took me about 100 pages to really get invested in the characters and hooked on their story.  With Crooked Kingdom, I was hooked from page 1 and captivated by the story because the action picked up right where it left off in Six of Crows, where Wylan’s nasty father, Van Eck, had kidnapped Inej, and Kaz and the team were plotting how to get her back.  Honestly, I fully expected the entire second book to focus on rescuing Inej, so I was thrilled as I was reading to see that it was so much more than that.

Hopefully, I’m not being too vague in the next section but I really don’t want to do anything to spoil the series for anyone who hasn’t yet started reading it.

What really took Crooked Kingdom to the next level for me was how it’s a perfect balance between being plot driven and character driven.  Bardugo delivers an entertaining, action-packed storyline that is equal parts heist and revenge, but also combines it with an in-depth exploration of each of the members of Kaz’s crew.  I remember raving about these wonderfully complex characters when I reviewed Six of Crows, and Bardugo takes us even deeper into the minds of each of them this time around.  Even as they are actively engaged in carrying out Kaz’s plans, each member of the team is also taking their own personal journey, and in many cases, facing their own inner demons.  Going into this book, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about each of them, but I was so wrong.  The more Bardugo fleshes out each character and shows them fighting those personal demons, the more I fell in love with each of them, especially Jesper, Wylan, and Matthias, who all just experience so much growth in Crooked Kingdom.

I don’t want to give away any details of what they all go through in Crooked Kingdom, but I will say that this read took me on an emotional roller coaster ride.  I laughed, I cried (tears of both joy and sadness), I truly feared for Inej’s life on more than one occasion, and I got my heart ripped out in an unexpected plot twist late in the novel.  I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever been more attached to a group of characters so I give Bardugo major props for all of those little details that made me so invested in all of them.

Not only did Bardugo make me fall in love with these characters, she even turned me into a hardcore shipper even though I’m usually anti-romance. I didn’t even just ship one of the pairings; I shipped them all!  Nina and Matthias were my favorites just because they’re such a wonderful combination of sweet and sassy. Every time Nina would say or do something that would make Matthias blush, it would just make me chuckle because they were so cute. I also thought the relationship between Inej and Kaz was fantastic, mainly because of all of the mystery surrounding it. Inej never quite knows where she stands with Kaz – is he attached to her only because she’s useful to him, or does he feel something more for her?  These two badass characters are at their most vulnerable when they are together and I liked seeing past those tough exteriors to what lies beneath. And don’t even get me started on Jesper and Wylan?  They definitely win the most precious couple ever award.  Love them!

I know it sounds like there’s a lot going on with the heist/revenge storyline, the character explorations, and three potential romances, not to mention the story is told from each of their perspectives, but Bardugo does a brilliant job of weaving all of these elements together into an intricate yet easy-to-follow storyline that is incredibly compelling.

 

I can’t think of a single issue or dislike.  It was pretty close to a perfect read for me.  I’m just sad that it’s over because I’m not ready to say goodbye Kaz and his wonderful band of outcasts.

 

I can’t recommend Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom highly enough.  If you enjoy fabulously complex characters, anti-heroes, phenomenal world building, intricate plots, and romances that will make you smile, this is the series for you!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn—and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city, Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld.

five-stars

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

ARC Review: All the Crooked Saints

ARC Review:  All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
three-half-stars
Published by Scholastic Press on October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from a Blog Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

All the Crooked Saints was my first time reading a Maggie Stiefvater novel so I wasn’t at all sure what to expect.  I’ve read tons of rave reviews about The Scorpio Races and The Raven Cycle though so I expected it to be a fantastic read.  All the Crooked Saints was actually one of my most anticipated fall reads because the synopsis just sounded so unique and intriguing.  With all of that said, it’s safe to say I really wanted to love this book.  While I definitely liked All the Crooked Saints, I unfortunately can’t say that I loved it.  It was a good, solid read with a focus on family that I really liked, but overall it just didn’t blow me away like I hoped it would.

All the Crooked Saints takes place in Bicho Raro, Colorado, which is shrouded in an atmosphere of dark saints, forbidden love, and so much more.  The novel follows the Soria family, a family where each of the members has the special ability to act as Saints and perform unusual miracles.  These miracles have become well known enough that pilgrims travel from all around in hopes of securing a miracle of their own from the Sorias to rid themselves of the darkness in their lives.  What they don’t know is that the miracles are two-fold, the Saint performs the first part of their miracle, which reveals their inner darkness, but then it’s up to the one receiving the miracle to somehow perform a second miracle, which actually rids them of that darkness once and for all.  What has started to happen over the years, however, is that people are having a harder and harder time figuring out the second miracle so the Soria household has started to accumulate an assortment of pilgrims that are caught in limbo between the first and second miracles.

Why can’t they just return to their lives and wait for the second miracle?  Well, because the darkness that is revealed by the first miracle sometimes manifests itself in strange ways.  For example, there is a young woman named Marisita who is wandering around with basically a rain cloud over her head.  It just rains on her all the time – when she sleeps, when she cooks, whatever. There’s also a man walking around that has the head of an animal and the body of a human. Needless to say, these pilgrims would prefer to hide out until their second miracle has been sorted.

So, why can’t the Sorias help them?  Well, that’s the catch.  If the Sorias interfere with any of the pilgrims, they unleash darkness on themselves and end up in exactly the same predicament as the pilgrims, if not worse.  Apparently the Soria darkness can be pretty dangerous and unpredictable when unleashed.

Although the pilgrims and their miracles are definitely a focus of the story, the heart of All the Crooked Saints truly centers around three Soria cousins — Beatriz, Daniel, and Joaquin — and the journey they are all forced to take when Daniel accidentally unleashes his own darkness and flees Bicho Raro to protect his family from it.  As determined as he is to keep them safe from him, they are equally determined to help him by figuring out a way around the rule that says they cannot help to get rid of the darkness. Will they succeed or will Daniel be lost to them forever?

 

Even though this was only an okay read for me, there were still several things about the book that I really did enjoy.  I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s three main characters, the Soria cousins. The relationship between the three cousins was probably my favorite part.  Beatriz believes that she has no feelings and therefore throws herself into science, technology, and examining her own thoughts.  She’s the brains of their operation and has helped Joaquin, who I’d call the Dreamer of the group, try to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a disc jockey.  She has built him an illegal radio station that they run out of the back of a box truck in the desert, and he spins records at night and calls himself Diablo Diablo.  Daniel is the designated saint of the group and so his focus is to grant miracles to all of the pilgrims who come to Bicho Raro.  I just loved each of their personalities.  They were all so complex, unique, and just really likable.  I especially enjoyed reading about how loyal they were to each other and how they were willing to risk everything to try to save Daniel.  Even though they were just cousins, the bond they shared felt like they were truly siblings.

I also enjoyed the overall plot of the story.  Sometimes magical realism is hit and miss for me but I liked how she incorporated it into this story and the way the various miracles manifested themselves with each of the pilgrims.  I liked the direction the story took when we move from showing how the Sorias create these miracles to what happens when they break one of their own rules and bring the darkness down onto themselves.

Lastly, I also thought Stiefvater’s writing was gorgeous, very lyrical and filled with vivid imagery.  Even though this story was just a ‘like’ for me instead of a ‘love,’ I wouldn’t hesitate to try one of her other series.

 

Slow pacing was an issue for me while reading All the Crooked Saints.  The story thankfully picked up a bit once Daniel got into trouble, but for the most part, it was just a slow read for me.

I also had some trouble keeping track of all of the characters. Between the various pilgrims, the three cousins, and all of the other assorted Soria family members, there were just a lot of people to keep straight.  With so many characters, it also made it harder for me to really connect with any of them as much as I would have liked to.  As I said above, I really liked Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel, but I still didn’t feel especially close to them because so many other characters were competing for my attention.

 

All the Crooked Saints is a book about love, family, miracles, darkness, and how to overcome that darkness.  Even though I had some issues with the story, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who enjoys magical realism or who just enjoys books that focus on family and the trials they go through together. I would also, of course, recommend it to Stiefvater fans.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Here is a thing everyone wants: A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears: What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Maggie Stiefvater has been called “a master storyteller” by USA Today and “wildly imaginative” by Entertainment Weekly. Now, with All the Crooked Saints, she gives us the extraordinary story of an extraordinary family, a masterful tale of love, fear, darkness, and redemption.

three-half-stars

About Maggie Stiefvater

New York Times bestselling author of The Shiver Trilogy, The Raven Cycle, and The Scorpio Races. Artist. Driver of things with wheels. Avid reader.

All of Maggie Stiefvater’s life decisions have been based around her inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you’re a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which she’s tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists and artists. She’s made her living as one or the other since she was 22. She now lives an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with her charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, two neurotic dogs, and a 1973 Camaro named Loki.

ARC Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

ARC Review:  Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. DaoForest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
four-stars
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Published by Philomel Books on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an engaging Snow White retelling that focuses on the Evil Queen and her rise to power.  The story is set in a lush East Asian fantasy world and follows the journey of eighteen year-old Xifeng, a peasant girl who has been told by her aunt Guma, a witch who has the ability to read tarot cards and predict the future, that she is destined to become Empress of Feng Lu someday.  While Xifeng finds the idea of becoming Empress enticing, her aunt has also told her that her path to the throne can only be secured if she is willing to embrace and use the dark powers that apparently lie within her.  She also must be willing to abandon all that she knows from her current life, including the young man she has loved since she was a young girl.  Xifeng must decide what is most important to her: Does she want power so badly that she is willing to give up on love?  And if so, does she have it in her to embrace this dark magic and whatever may come from unleashing it?

 

Xifeng, the “Evil Queen” character, was definitely my favorite part of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.  Wow, what a character! I can’t say that Xifeng was an especially likable character, but she was a complicated one and for me anyway, there’s just something so compelling about complex characters. Xifeng is conflicted between following her heart to be with the man she loves and following her ambition to become the next Empress of Feng Lu.  Because she has grown up poor all her life, the idea that greatness lies in her future is a huge temptation.  However, to become Empress and achieve this greatness that she appears to be destined for means that she must give up all that she has known from her former life, including the love of her life.  Dao does a beautiful job of depicting how this inner conflict plagues Xifeng throughout the novel.  Even as Xifeng seems to have made her choice and be firmly moving in the direction she has chosen, thoughts of what she’ll be giving up if she continues down that chosen path linger in her mind.

As I’ve said, Xifeng isn’t always a likable character and I’ll admit right now that I didn’t always agree with the choices she made, I do have to say that I admired her sense of cunning and her resourcefulness.  Once she makes her choice and is committed to it, Xifeng is determined to let nothing and no one get in her way.  I don’t want to give away any specific details, so I’m just going to say she’s not afraid to get a little blood on her hands if the situation calls for it.  This is a story about the rise of a villain, after all!  As I was reading and watching Xifeng hatch plan after plan to advance her objective, I just kept thinking “Okay girl, if you want it that badly, you go for it!”

A fabulous cast of secondary characters also rounds out this book nicely.  There’s Ambassador Shiro, a kind, elderly gentleman of dwarfish stature, who takes a liking to Xifeng and becomes a confidante and mentor of sorts. Then there’s the dashing and ambitious Emperor Jun, who Xifeng must use her beauty to win over if she is to become Empress, and the mysterious eunuch, Kang, who seems to be overly eager to become Xifeng’s bff when she starts working in the palace, which left me wondering throughout the story if his motivations were sincere or was he up to something?

We also have the delicate and nurturing Empress who Xifeng is also conflicted about, because at times she feels like the Empress is like the mother she never had, but then at other times, she knows the Empress must go if Xifeng is to follow her destiny and take her place.  And finally, there’s another of my favorite characters, Lady Sun, the Emperor’s favorite concubine and perhaps the biggest obstacle in Xifeng’s path to become Empress.  Lady Sun would love nothing more than to gouge out Xifeng’s eyeballs and send her packing.  Their rivalry makes for some very entertaining reading and those were the sections of the book that I really flew through.   I found all of the secondary characters to be so interesting; not one of them fell flat for me, which made for a wonderful reading experience.  I especially wanted to see more of Shiro

The world building in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is also rich and beautifully crafted, especially once Xifeng leaves her hometown to begin her new life at the palace working as a lady-in-waiting.  The story is steeped in Asian folklore and the overall effect was dark and mysterious and pure magic.  The Asian influences played such a predominant role in the story that I almost forgot at times that it was meant to be an Evil Queen retelling.  The world Dao creates is just so lush and unique that it doesn’t feel at all like a rehash of another story.

 

The only real issue I had with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was that the pacing was a bit uneven at times.  I breezed through the first 50 pages or so, but then the next 50 were a much slower read.  This happened a couple of times as I was reading.  Thankfully the story itself was still so interesting that I kept pushing through and never felt the urge to give up on the book even when the pacing lagged.

 

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a wonderful read that I think would be enjoyed by fans of both retellings and anti-hero stories.  While it does borrow the basic premise of the Evil Queen’s story, it still reads as a fresh and unique story on its own even without thinking of it in terms of the Evil Queen.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. 

 

four-stars

About Julie C. Dao

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.