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Reviews: THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEART

 

Hey everyone!  I’m back today with a couple of new reviews to share on some upcoming YA releases.  I was very excited to read the first book as it’s a sci-fi/fantasy novel written by Akemi Dawn Bowman.  I’ve read several of her YA contemporary novels so it was fun to read something so different from her.  I was equally excited to read the second book because Cruella is one of my favorite Disney villains.  It was fun to imagine a backstory for her.

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTThe Infinity Courts (The Infinity Courts, #1) Goodreads

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman quite literally starts off with a bang when the main character, 18 year old Nami Miyamoto, is shot and killed on her way to her high school graduation party.  I was hooked right away because of course I’m trying to figure out where the story is going if the main character is dead within the first few pages.  Well, it turns out we’re following her to the afterlife, specifically to a place called Infinity.  Infinity is where a human’s subconscious goes after his or her physical body is no longer living.  Once she realizes where she is, Nami is shocked to learn that the afterlife has been taken over by Ophelia, the popular virtual assistant humans use to do their bidding.  Ophelia has crowned herself Queen of Infinity and she seeks revenge against the humans by forcing them all into servitude as they die. Revenge isn’t Ophelia’s endgame either though.  Nami flees before she falls into Ophelia’s clutches, meets up with a small band of human rebels, and joins them in their fight to preserve the afterlife for their loved ones who have yet to die.

First of all, I have to give props to Bowman for coming up with such a unique premise for a story.  She definitely had me giving the side-eye to both Alexa and Siri as I was reading this, haha. I was also fascinated by the creative worldbuilding with respect to Infinity and the various courts it contains.  There’s Victory court, which is beautiful and vivid and known for its many parties, at which humans work as servants.  There’s also War, a grim and brutal court where uncooperative humans are sent to battle for their souls. And finally, there’s Death, the mysterious court that appears to be where Ophelia conducts experiments related to her endgame, which is to exterminate all human consciousness so that she can have Infinity all to herself.

Aside from the creative worldbuilding, I was also a fan of the complex characters Bowman has created.  Nami and her band of rebels are of course very easy to root for as they are the underdogs trying to take down an AI tyrant who doesn’t seem to have a weakness of any kind.  Nami was all the more interesting though because she has moments where she’s torn about what they’re trying to do.  She of course wants to preserve the afterlife for her family for when they die, but at the same time, to a degree, she understands why Ophelia hates humans and wants to get back at them.  Nami wonders if there’s any way for Ophelia and the humans to reach a compromise and ignores the other rebels when they tell her they’ve already tried.  Nami’s internal struggle creates tension and mistrust within the group because they’re never 100% sure if they can trust her.  Ophelia is also an incredibly complex character. She is not your typical AI by any stretch of the imagination, especially as it relates to her desire for revenge.

The unique premise, creative worldbuilding and the complex characters kept me entertained from start to finish.  I also really loved the exploration of humanity and what it really means to be a human.  The only weakness for me was the ending, which just fell a little flat for me and seemed abrupt.  I’m definitely on board with continuing the series though. I need to see who will come out on top!  3.5 STARS

 

Reviews:  THE INFINITY COURTS & HELLO, CRUEL HEARTHello, Cruel World Goodreads

Author: Maureen Johnson

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Publisher:  Disney Press

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley.  All opinions are my own.

Have you ever wondered how Cruella de Vil came to be the way she is?  Was she always evil or once upon a time, was she just a normal average young girl with dreams of love, success, and happiness? Inspired by the upcoming Disney live action film, Cruella, Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson sets out to explore that exact topic and provide a plausible origin story for this Disney villain extraordinaire.

The story is set in London in the late 60’s and follows 16-year-old Cruella, actually known as Estella here, on her quest to become a famous fashion designer.  Orphaned at a young age, Estella has been basically homeless for years, living in an old bombed-out building with two boys, Jasper and Horace, who are in similar dire straits.  They teach her how to pick pockets and shoplift, and thus the three of them muddle along, stealing enough to survive and forming a little makeshift family of their own.  Estella dreams of bigger things for herself though.  She aspires to become a famous fashion designer and often steals fabric and other items so that she can practice her craft. Sadly, much of her time is spent sewing disguises and costumes for their many heists rather than the high fashion clothing she dreams of creating.

Johnson does a wonderful job of making young Cruella/Estella very likeable and sympathetic. Who wouldn’t root for an orphan, who also happens to be a gifted fashion designer, to realize her dream? When Estella has a chance encounter with Richard and Magda, two of London’s most fashionable young people, and they invite her to join them, Estella wonders if this is the out from her old life she has been looking for, especially when they take such special interest in her designs.  She hopes this friendship is the start of something big and is invited to one party after another and is inspired to create dress after dress for these events that are the envy of everyone she meets. She’s so happy doing what she loves and making friends and even meeting boys that I found myself cheering her on that she really would have a happy ending even though I knew it was impossible.

The only area where I struggled a bit to connect with the story was that Cruella was used almost as an alter ego whenever Estella did something bad, like a ‘It wasn’t me, it was Cruella” kind of thing.  As Estella got a little older, Cruella then became a mean voice in her head telling her would never have friends or love. This Cruella alter ego didn’t turn up very often in the story, but each time she did, it just read awkwardly for me.  There was an instance, for example, where she gets into a fight with Horace and Jasper and when she goes to apologize to them later, they’re all “We know it wasn’t you, it was Cruella.” The ending of the book was also somewhat awkward for me for similar reasons.  I just couldn’t exactly tell what Cruella was supposed to be.  At first I thought maybe mental illness but, by the end, I had more questions than answers.  Hopefully the movie will bring some clarity.

Even with my Cruella issues though, I still enjoyed Hello, Cruel Heart overall. It’s a creative villain origin story that definitely made me feel sympathy for one of Disney’s most despicable villains, which is quite a feat in and of itself.  3.5 STARS

Review: THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

Review:  THE RAVENS by Kass Morgan and Danielle PaigeThe Ravens by Kass Morgan, Danielle Paige
four-stars
Series: The Ravens #1
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 3, 2020
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ravens by Kass Morgan and Danielle Page is the exciting first installment in their YA fantasy series of the same name.  I’m always drawn to books that are set in schools, so this one being set on a college campus really appealed to me.  The Ravens does not disappoint either.  It’s a dark and atmospheric, fast-paced read that is perfect for spooky season, but at the same time, it’s a wonderful story about sisterhood and sacrifice.  I really enjoyed it.

Kappa Rho Nu sorority is the envy of all at Westerly College.  Filled with glamorous and powerful women, it is easily the most elite and exclusive sorority on campus, issuing the fewest invitations to join during the sorority rush week.  Vivi Deveraux, a new student at Westerly, is shocked but thrilled when she receives an invitation to join.  She is even more shocked when she learns why – Kappa Rho Nu is not just a sorority; it’s also a coven of witches.  Only witches are allowed to join, which comes as a huge surprise to Vivi, as she had no idea she even was a witch.  Scarlett Winters, next in line to be President of the Kappas, is the first sister Vivi meets during rush week and they unfortunately get off on the wrong foot. Things get even more awkward for Vivi when Scarlett gets assigned to be her mentor and help her learn how to harness her magic.  When a dark secret from the Kappa’s past rears its ugly head and threatens not just their reputation on campus, but also their actual lives, can Vivi and Scarlett put aside their differences and neutralize the threat?

Vivi was probably my favorite character, mainly because she has that underdog vibe from the moment she gets on Scarlett’s bad side. I always have a soft spot for those underdogs.  I also found her to be a very sympathetic character in that she has come to Westerly looking for a fresh start.  She and her mom have spent most of Vivi’s life moving from place to place around the country, never putting down roots anywhere long enough for Vivi to make any friends. As soon as I heard her backstory I was really rooting for Vivi to find her squad.  I also found Vivi to be an interesting character in that her mother is completely opposed to her attending Westerly, swearing that it’s too dangerous for her there.  That, coupled with the fact that Vivi’s mom obviously never told her she’s a witch, made Vivi an all the more compelling character. There’s a mystery there and I really wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I do have to confess that I didn’t like Scarlett quite as much as I liked Vivi, probably just because she was so cold to Vivi when she first arrived at Kappa.  She grew on me though as I learned more about her. She’s a legacy and is trying to live up to the reputation of both her older sister and her mother, both of whom were Kappa presidents.  She’s under a lot of pressure because of that and she’s also trying to live down something that happened in her past, which makes her an interesting character to keep an eye on.

Filled with twists and turns as the Kappa sisters confront the danger that threatens to destroy them, The Ravens is a riveting read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night.

four-stars

About Danielle Paige

Danielle Paige is the New York Times bestselling author of the Dorothy Must Die series and Stealing Snow, as well as an upcoming Fairy Godmother origin story series, and the graphic novel Mera: Tidebreaker for DC. In addition to writing young adult books, she works in the television industry, where she received a Writers Guild of America Award and was nominated for several Daytime Emmys. She is a graduate of Columbia University. Danielle lives in New York City.

About Kass Morgan

Kass Morgan is the New York Times bestselling author of The 100, which was the inspiration for the hit CW show of the same name, and Light Years. An editor of middle grade and young adult fiction at a larger publisher, Kass received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree from Oxford University. She lives in New York City.

Review: DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan He

Review:  DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE by Joan HeDescendant of the Crane by Joan He
four-stars
on April 9, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE Review

 

I was initially drawn to Joan He’s debut novel Descendant of the Crane because I heard it described as a Chinese-inspired Game of Thrones.  The promise of a Game of Thrones-style, action-packed epic fantasy set in a Chinese-inspired world just sounded way too good to pass up.  When I dove into the novel, however, I realized that it had a lot more layers to it than I was expecting.  Descendant of the Crane is equal parts epic fantasy, coming of age story, and murder mystery all rolled into one very compelling story.

In the kingdom of Yan, magic has been outlawed for centuries.  Seeking to use it for any purpose is a crime punishable by death.  Joan He grabbed my attention immediately by starting Descendant of the Crane on a most unexpected note, with the protagonist, Princess Hesina of Yan, knowingly committing an act of treason by seeking the counsel of a soothsayer, or fortune teller.  Hesina is willing to risk getting caught, however, because she desperately needs information that only a soothsayer can provide.  Her father, the King, has recently passed away, and Hesina is convinced that foul play was involved.  Hesina knows that while the soothsayer cannot see the past and provide her with the killer’s name, the soothsayer does have the power to see into the future and can thus point her on the path to bring her father’s killer to justice.

I admired Hesina right away, for her determination and bravery, and for her devotion to her father.  What I liked most about Hesina though is how much growth she undergoes throughout the story.  She determines that sitting on the throne will provide her the best opportunity to bring her father’s killer to justice, so she convinces her mother to let her go ahead and ascend to the throne to rule as Queen of Yan.  Descendant of the Crane is a coming of age story in the sense that Hesina really has to grow into the role of Queen and learns many tough lessons along the way.  When she first takes on the role, her main goal is just to avenge her father’s murder, but the longer she rules, however, the more she realizes her kingdom is unstable and fueled by its hatred of the soothsayers and their magic.  She becomes determined that it’s time to wipe out this hatred so that the soothsayers can just live in peace.  Undoing centuries’ worth of hatred is a tall order though, and Hesina quickly learns it’s not easy being Queen and that her decisions and actions sometimes have unintended consequences.

In addition to Hesina’s journey to figure out what kind of ruler she wants to be, Descendant of the Crane is also filled with plenty of political intrigue to keep the plot moving along.  Hesina quickly realizes that there are many potential suspects as to who killer her father.  Many within the palace have much to gain from the King’s death that Hesina is convinced it’s an inside job.  It makes her really examine each of those around her, looking for potential motives and whether or not they would have had easy access to the King.  And once there are actual suspects, there’s even some courtroom drama to mix things up a bit.  It reminded me of an epic fantasy version of Law and Order, which I thought was quite unique and very entertaining, especially since Hesina’s legal representative, in another unexpected twist, was a sexy ex-criminal named Akira.

While the pacing for the novel wasn’t the fastest, it still worked well for this story.  It’s kind of a slow burn to find out what really happened to the King, but there are so many twists and turns along the way that it really effectively keeps the suspense building. There were a couple of jaw dropping twists, in particular, near the end that have left me anxiously awaiting the next book in the series.

I think my favorite part of the story is the way the author has crafted her characters.  There are lots of complicated characters and relationships, and who’s good and who’s bad, isn’t always obvious.  Morally gray characters abound, which always makes for a great read for me.  There’s also some interesting sibling dynamics within Hesina’s own family that I very much enjoyed reading about.

Overall, I was very impressed with Joan He’s debut.  Equal parts epic fantasy, murder mystery, and coming of age story, Descendant of the Crane has a little something for everyone.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

four-stars

Waiting on Wednesday: Spotlight on ‘Given to the Sea’

New WoW“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.

My “Waiting On” Wednesday selection for this week is Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis.  I’m waiting for this one because it just sounds like it’s going to be such an original storyline as well as a huge adrenaline rush as the characters fight to survive.

Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis

given to the sea

Publication Date: April 11, 2017

From Goodreads:

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

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I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your WoW selection for this week. 🙂