Darkdawn: ARC Review

Darkdawn is a masterful end for this stabby, smutty, snarky, and definitely not YA series. As usual, I’d like to say thank you and fuck you to Jay Kristoff in equal measure.
Rating: 5 stars

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The Beckoning Shadow: ARC Review

This ARC was sent to me by the publisher via Storygram Tours. All thoughts and opinions expressed are completely my own and not influenced in any way. After reading the ARC I pre-ordered my own copy of the book. Thank you to Katherine Tegen Books and Storygram Tours for giving me a chance to read this book early.


The Beckoning Shadow
Author: Katharyn Blair
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Synopsis: Vesper Montgomery can summon your worst fear and turn it into a reality—but she’s learned the hard way that it’s an addicting and dangerous power. One wrong move and you could hurt someone you love.

But when she earns a spot in the Tournament of the Unraveling, where competitors battle it out for a chance to rewrite the past, Vesper finally has a shot to reverse the mistakes that have changed her forever. She turns to Sam Hardy, a former MMA fighter who’s also carrying a tragedy he desperately wants to undo. However, helping heal Sam’s heart will mean breaking her own, and the competition forces her to master her powers—powers she has been terrified of since they destroyed her life.


Rating: The Beckoning Shadow is the electric debut novel from Katharyn Blair, filled with snarky and strong characters, a magical fight club, and heart-breaking plot twists. Welcome to my new favorite book!
4.75 stars


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The Merciful Crow: ARC Review

This ARC was sent to me by the publisher at my request. All thoughts and opinions expressed are completely my own and not influenced in any way. Thank you to Henry Holt (BYR) for giving me a chance to read this book early.


The Merciful Crow
Author:
Margaret Owen
Publisher: Henry Holt BYR
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Synopsis: A future chieftain: Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

A fugitive prince: When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

A too-cunning bodyguard: Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?


Rating: The Merciful Crow is an intriguing debut that tackles some hard issues, but suffers from too much journey and a writing style that can be off putting for some.
3 stars


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Aurora Rising: ARC Review

This ARC was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The following review reflects my unbiased opinion of the story and is no way influenced. Thank you to the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers.

FYI: This review is spoiler free.


Aurora Rising
Authors:
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 7, 2019
Synopsis: The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm
A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunk mates
A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder
An alien warrior with anger management issues
A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from inter-dimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

They’re not the heroes we deserve. They’re just the ones we could find. Nobody panic.


Rating: Kaufman and Kristoff have once again struck me deep in my Sci-Fi loving soul with their new high stakes space adventure featuring found families and healthy doses of snark.
Stars: 4.5

Aurora Rising is the newest YA Sci-Fi offering from my favorite killers of feelings, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. They have once again created an in depth SF world, given us a group of misfits to love, and then put them through many ghastly situations. It’s the kinda of emotional trauma we’ve come to know and love from these two.

While each character is unique, all were well fleshed out with the exception of Zila, which is a damn crime. The few, very brief POV chapters she had were perfection, but I wanted more of her straight-forward observations of the wild situations Squad 312 found themselves in. I almost feel like the authors didn’t know how to flesh her out and just left her characterization to be built through the other character’s POVs. I am certainly hoping for more Zila in the next book. That being said, all the other characters had their own voices and each were extremely lovable in their own right. Squad 312 will easily shoot their way into your heart.

The plot was well paced, and the slower bits were filled with intriguing back story or world building, so they never felt boring. I got some Firefly vibes, which I loved, but this story is entirely it’s own. If Kaufman and Kristoff know one thing, it’s how to write a gripping, hilarious, mysterious, and emotional space adventure.

Did I mention it has super hot space elves?

If you haven’t pre-ordered this book already, I highly urge you to do so. Don’t let your squad down. Pre-order links can be found at the publisher’s website.

Once & Future: ARC Review

This ARC was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The following review reflects my unbiased opinion of the story and is no way influenced. Thank you to the publisher, Little Brown/JIMMY PATTERSON Books.

Once & Future
Author: Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
Publisher: Little Brown/JIMMY PATTERSON Books
Release Date: March 26, 2019
Synopsis: I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur. Now I’m done hiding. My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.


Rating: Built on solid bones, filled with inclusivity, but suffers from poor marketing of the humorous nature of the story.
Stars: 2.5

I have to start by saying that this book is directly responsible for my decision to completely revamp my review style (a process I’ll be rolling out once I work out the specifics). Never have I been more conflicted over a book. Because I desperately wanted to love Once & Future, but I was so turned off by the never ending attempts at humor. Not to say that I didn’t find some of the bits funny, but in what I thought would be a mostly dramatic book, the constant lighthearted silliness grated on my nerves.

Let’s start with the good: diversity and inclusivity. This book has it in spades. There is representation of pansexuality, bisexuality, disabilities, gender fluidity, asexuality, characters of African descent, homosexuality, and characters of Arab descent. The sexuality of each character isn’t always explicitly stated and if I over or under represented something from the book I apologize. This is the kind of representation that books need. And O&F doesn’t shy away from calling out the sexism and homophobia in our current time.

Once & Future tackles a lot of serious issues: capitalism, genocide, classism, immigration, oppression, and more. The problem is the execution. The book is riddled with fluffy romance and glib humor that kept me from ever getting emotionally involved in anything that was happening. When something serious happened, there was always someone there with a ridiculous remark or a couple making out in the background. Or both. And that didn’t sit well with me because I wasn’t expecting a romcom story. Yes, from the synopsis I thought there’d be funny moments interspersed in a mostly dramatic story. It was the exact opposite and that really effected my reading.

The other issue is one that is hard to address: plotting/execution of the story as a whole. When I was halfway through the book and I started reading some reviews to see if other people were having similar issues as I was getting through the story. I noticed a few people stating that they had seen the authors mention that A LOT of changes were happening before the final book was released. I’m hoping the changes addressed the flow of the book, because that was another big issue for me. The pace was either break neck action or dragging me down with boredom. I could never find a good rhythm in the story and this also kept me from forming any kind of emotions for the story. I just hate to judge this book by something that was most likely fixed in the final version.

But here’s the deal, I’ll read the next book in a heartbeat. The story is set up to go to a whole different level, and since I’ll KNOW that there is going to be a lot of humor, I’ll be able to read it when I’m in the mood for that style. I won’t say where the next book is going, but I am definitely intrigued.

At the end of the day, Once & Future has some solid bones that I think were mostly likely better used in the final version of this book. If you are looking for an inclusive, humorous space adventure, Once & Future is for you.

Oh, and Morgana deserved better.

ARC Review: To Best the Boys

This ARC was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The following review reflects my unbiased opinion of the story and is no way influenced. Thank you to the publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishing.

To Best the Boys
Author:
Mary Weber
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: March 19, 2019
Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis: Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.


To Best the Boys is the kind of book that I want to give to every young girl I see. The themes of empowerment woven through this story are wonderfully timed and thoughtfully executed. We follow Rhen Tellur, a scientifically minded young woman, who lives in a town where girls are expected to learn only to be good wives and boys are the only ones allowed to attend college. After her concerns about the deadly, crippling disease that is plaguing the poor parts of her town are once again dismissed by the rich elitist men of parliament, Rhen decides to take matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a boy and enters the yearly competition thrown by a mysterious Mr. Holm for a full-ride scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University.

This story was oddly fast and slow paced, but it is intriguing enough that I finished it in less than a day. The build up to the competition took a little over half the book, but it was necessary for setting up the tension and stakes. Even though the world building was a little light for my usual tastes, I LOVED what I did learn of the town and its inhabitants. There was some solid characterization and growth for the main and secondary characters, especially considering the book is only 311 pages. I think my favorite character was actually Seleni. She really shines and she says some truly empowering things about being a strong woman AND a strong wife. Another thing I really liked about this story was it wasn’t the traditional “put a sword in a girl’s hand to make her strong”. I love strong sword wielding women, but I also like women who win the day with their minds.

If you are looking for a fast, empowering fantasy read, look no further than To Best the Boys.

ARC Review: Last of Her Name

This book was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The decision to review this book was entirely my own. My review is in no way influenced and all opinions are my own.

Last of Her Name
Author:
Jessica Khoury
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: February 26, 2019
Rating: 3 stars
Synopsis: Sixteen years ago, rebellion swept the galaxy known as the Belt of Jewels. Every member of the royal family was murdered–down to their youngest child, Princess Anya–and the Union government rose in its place. But Stacia doesn’t think much about politics. She spends her days half-wild, rambling her father’s vineyard with her closest friends, Clio and Pol.
That all changes the day a Union ship appears in town, carrying the leader of the Belt himself, the Direktor Eminent. The Direktor claims that Princess Anya is alive, and that Stacia’s sleepy village is a den of empire loyalists, intent on hiding her. When Stacia is identified as the lost princess, her provincial home explodes into a nightmare.
Pol smuggles her away to a hidden escape ship in the chaos, leaving Clio in the hands of the Union. With everything she knows threading away into stars, Stacia sets her heart on a single mission. She will find and rescue Clio, even with the whole galaxy on her trail.


Last of Her Name is a solid YA science fiction inspired by the story of the Romanovs. The story follows Stacia Androva as she finds out the truth of her heritage and runs away from the revelation across her galaxy (wonderfully named the Belt of Jewels) with Pol, one of her best friends. But when Stacia realizes Clio, her other best friend, has been taken by the Union and its violent leader, Alexi Volkov, her only thought is to save Clio, no matter the cost.

All told, I liked this book, but it almost never evoked any strong emotions from me. I kept getting to the precipice of LOVING the story, but nothing ever pushed me over the edge. The story moves at a fairly fast pace, but the writing style is simple. Looking at all those “but”s, I realize there was just something missing from this book for me. I wanted to reach in and draw out more depths to the story.

I feel like Last of Her Name is a YA book truly meant for young adults. Stacia is seventeen, just found out she isn’t who she thought she was, her best friend is taken from her, and she’s running away with her other best friend who, thanks to a well-timed step into manhood, is suddenly very attractive. Stacia is driven by her emotions, as confused and illogical as they are, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t how many teens are. But with the exception of a few scenes, I never felt much emotion for any of the characters. While I tend to try and balance my YA character opinions by considering that I am not a young adult, I still was not able to bring myself to care much for anyone in the story.

However, I loved loved loved the world building! The idea of how the humans left earth and came to find the Belt of Jewels, the prisms and how they function, the different planets: LOVED IT! I want other stories told in this universe!! Just with slightly older characters. This story didn’t have the most in-depth world building I’ve ever read in SF, but the world I built from Khoury’s words was dazzling.

I cannot speak for any solid connections to the story of Anastasia because my knowledge of the Romanovs extends to that cartoon movie that wasn’t actually a Disney movie, but I always thought it was. I did find the history of the Leonovas very interesting and I liked the twists that we get when we learn more about them.

The big reveal was a surprise to me in some ways, but I know sleuth-y readers will probably figure it out. As far as I can tell, this is a stand-alone book, so take what you will from that about the ending. Some aspects of the ending were a little too easy for me, but I was happy with what I got.

I think that a lot of people will really like this book, but it never quite connected for me. I was talking to a friend about this book the other day and I described it as a good palate cleanser book between heavy fantasy novels. I hope that doesn’t come off in a negative way, but that’s just what this book was for me. The book was fun and it never took too much from me to read. Some books demand your soul, but Last of Her Name asks you to just relax and come along for the ride.