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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
This ARC was sent to me by the publisher at my request. The decision to review the book was my own. All thoughts and opinions in the following review are my own.
Author: Gita Trelease
Release Date: February 5, 2019
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…
When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.
But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns…
Enchantée is an alluring debut novel from Gita Trelease that weaves its spell around the reader and transports them to the richly imagined magical Paris of 1792. From the small, run down family apartment on the poverty-stricken rue Charlot to the dangerously decadent parties and treacherous gambling tables at Versailles, we follow Camille Durbonne as she struggles to shed the weight of her misfortunes and create a better life for her sister and herself…at any cost.
Camille works la magie ordinaire to turn simple metal pieces into coins to support herself, her sister, and her drunkard brother. When her situation deteriorates, as tends to happen when you have a wasteral brother, Camille decides to work the darker magic of glamoire to transform herself into the Baroness de la Fontaine, thus gaining access to the gambling parties at Versailles. The more time Camille spends with the nobles at Versailles the harder it becomes to keep her two lives separate.
Some have said this book is predictable, and I will agree that at times it is. But this book reads so beautifully that it did not matter to me. I felt like I was walking through this novel with rose tinted glasses, everything was so deliciously described and exquisitely laid out that I didn’t notice any cracks in my path as I went along. One thing I’ve come to realize now that I’m done with the book is that there wasn’t a lot of character development in the side characters. Though I liked all the sides, they all lacked depth. Even the villain was pretty easy to spot and lacked the depth to make him truly villainous. But again, rose tinted glasses kept this from being bothersome to me.
I will say that the short chapters were the perfect fix for the pacing in this one. If the chapters had been 20 – 30 pages long like some books, I feel this novel would have felt like a slog. When I stepped back from the book after finishing it I realized that there was not much action in this book. But the quick chapter turnover gave the sense of urgency that kept me intrigued. There is also the slow build of revolution in the background of this story that pops in every now and then. And while I think it was well researched (I can’t say for sure how accurate the historical points were. I was stealthily reading paranormal romance books during my history classes in high school), the revolution honestly felt anticlimactic.
I think what surprised me most about Enchantée was the underlying current of addiction that ran throughout the story. Camille constantly has a running internal monologue about how much the glamoire takes from her and how she will stop once she has enough money. But as is usually the case with addiction, there is always another excuse to use again. (FYI: I have personal experience with addictions in various forms. I am not making this generalization lightly or without a base of knowledge.) Though there wasn’t a lesson learned about addiction and the resolution to the addiction in this novel was far too easy, it was still interesting to read Camille’s descent into the addiction of magic. I do wish that addiction could have been explored a little more in the story, but at the same time this is not the book to tackle the stark depths of addiction.
Enchantée is, at its core, a story about how hope and love can survive even through the darkest points in our lives. People make mistakes and hide truths and find themselves slowly draining away their souls to addictions, but there is still hope and love to be found.
I personally find Enchantée to be a strong debut novel from a promising author. Trelease weaves her words in such a way that one feels they are surrounded by the world they are reading. I thoroughly look forward to reading more from her in the future.
This book was sent to me by the publisher per my request. I chose to review it on my own and all views and opinions expressed are my own and are not influenced.
Warrior of the Wild
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Release Date: February 26th, 2019
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Rating: 1.5 stars
Synopsis: How do you kill a god? As her father’s chosen heir, eighteen-year-old Rasmira has trained her whole life to become a warrior and lead her village. But when her coming-of-age trial is sabotaged and she fails the test, her father banishes her to the monster-filled wilderness with an impossible quest: to win back her honor, she must kill the oppressive god who claims tribute from the villages each year or die trying.
Warrior of the Wild really missed the mark for me and a lot of it had to do with the main character. And the world building. And the side characters. And the romance. I guess I just need to say it: I really did not like this book very much.
Let’s start with Rasmira, the main character. I was expecting a fierce, feminist female main character because that’s what the hype around this book was saying. What I got was a girl who by page two of this book was obsessing about a boy kissing her. And sure, fierce warriors can want romance, but it grated on me because there was nothing about Rasmira that seemed fierce to me at all. Rasmira, to me, is the equivalent of a rich white girl who excels at a school sport and receives nothing but praise because her parents are donors to her private school. I got so annoyed whenever she was thinking her “poor me” thoughts. I never connected with her and found her to be whiny, immature, and unlikable.
And then there was the world building. The whole premise of this book is how Rasmira is banished to *The Wild* and must survive to win back her honor. The Wild…isn’t that scary. It’s basically a forest with some wild creatures in it (creatures that never attack unless it is important to the plot, which is basically never). Color me unimpressed. Like, how have so many of the “warriors” from villages been banished to the Wild and then died? Sure, if you go poking around the dwelling of the Peruxolo, the “villain” of the book, you might find yourself at the wrong end of a knife, but by and large the Wild seems like a place where you could take your family camping as long as you have some mild campsite fortifications. And outside of the very not scary Wild, there wasn’t much to be learned about this world. There are a couple villages, we get their names…and that’s about it.
I’m going to mash my issues of side characters and romance into the next paragraph but first a spoiler warning because the next paragraph definitely has some spoilers:
Okay, I will admit that I like romance in my books. At bare minimum I need one longing glance between two characters to enjoy a book. But never, in all my reading, have I been more annoyed and put off by a romance than I was in this book. When Rasmira is banished to the wild she find two boys who have been living in the wild for the last year. Which I thought was cool at first. And then I got to know the boys. Iric and Soren are from the same village and were basically brothers (by choice, not blood). But Soren is basically a selfish pretty boy and manipulated Iric to go out for the warrior trial, which he failed and was subsequently banished, and Soren decided to get himself banished as well because he felt guilty. The friendship and animosity between the two boys felt wooden at the best of times. Then we come to one of my big issues: the “romance” between Rasmira and Soren. The whole basis of their relationship is the fact that they are the only two hetero characters in the wild and the author even writes this observation into the story. It kinda disgusts me that Rasmira learned to trust again by falling in love with another dumb boy, but I guess we can’t all learn our personal strength outside of relationships with men [insert sarcastic eye roll here].
So all that being said, I did like certain parts of this book. I thought the revelations about Peruxolo were interesting. I liked that this book went in a direction I was not anticipating. While the writing style wasn’t perfect, I was a least consistently drawn into the story, even though I never connected with it. And…I think that’s about it. This book just missed the mark so hard for me. For a book that has been so hyped as a fierce, feminist story, I felt incredibly let down.