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.

Book Review: Heartless

Heartless
Author:
Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Rating: 4 Stars
Synopsis: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland—the infamous Queen of Hearts—she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.
Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.
Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.


FYI: while I try not to say spoilers out right, this review could be viewed as mildly spoilery.

Heartless is a beautifully written origin story for the Queen of Hearts. Knowing what we know of the Queen of Hearts, we can surmise that this doesn’t end well. While I was anticipating some good heartbreak, I found myself oddly unfeeling at the tragic plot twist. But that disappointment in not shedding a tear (I like it when books make me cry), did not overshadow the brilliant and often scrumptious writing.

Cath is a nobleman’s daughter with dreams of opening her own bakery with her maid and friend, Mary Ann. Cath is…not my favorite character. At least not until the end when she evolves into the Queen of Hearts (don’t @ me, that isn’t a spoiler). Cath is wishy-washy and reminds me of those rich girls whose lives are just so terrible, even though they have all the money and boys in the world. I don’t know what it says about me that I only liked her when she became a full on, hardcore B. I will say that she does have a lot of terrible people in her life *glares in the general direction of Cath’s parents*, but homegirl just needed to grow up, drop that toxicity, and do what she needed to do to make herself happy. Also, maybe heed creepy prophecies given by creepy little girls.

Just as Cath is about to get betrothed the wimpy King of Hearts, she meets Jest and suddenly she wants more than just a bakery in her life. Jest is mysterious and snarky and all things I love in a book boyfriend. His backstory is really interesting and I love what we find out about his life. And while I really liked him, I just didn’t feel much for him. His courtship with Cath was tortured, which I love, but Cath’s inability to make a damn decision for herself kinda killed it for me, so I was never able to get fully invested in their relationship.

I absolutely loved all the side characters. Heck, I was more emotionally impacted by a early death of a side character than I was for the big tragic twist. Hatta is sheer perfection. His descent into madness and the reveal of his hidden feelings were the hardest thing for me. I was endlessly fascinated by the different creatures and characters of Hearts, from the flamingo croquet mallets to the cards. Everything was so perfectly whimsical.

Even through all my disconnects with Cath and the tragic plot twists, I will say that the writing in this book was stellar. I am fully surprised that I didn’t gain weight while reading this because I constantly wanted to eat desserts every time Cath baked. I don’t know much about Lewis Carroll’s original story of Wonderland, but I’ve gathered from other readers that this novel was respective of, but built more on, the original Wonderland. Based on Meyer’s writing in Heartless, I am now even more excited about starting her Lunar Chronicles series.

Heartless is a damn fine book and I can see why so many of my friends recommended it to me when I asked for tragic book recommendations. But looking back, I was walking myself straight into the trap of hype. I think because I guessed how things would end, I never let myself get too invested in the romance, and that left me feeling…well, heartless.

I buddy read this with the awesome Sabreena @ Books and Prosecco, who also posted her review of Heartless today. Her reviews are always amazing and well written, so I recommend checking it out!

Book Review: Shadow of the Fox

Shadow of the Fox
Author: Julie Kagawa
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Rating: 4.25 stars
Synopsis: One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.
Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.
Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.
There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.
With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.


Shadow of the Fox is one of those books that I could never quite pin down my feelings on. From the time I started it to right now as I write this review, my rating has fluctuated from 3 stars, to 5 stars, to finally landing on 4.25 stars. I went into this book with fairly high expectations because I have been a fan of Julie Kagawa since I devoured her Iron Fey and Blood of Eden series many years ago. I am happy to say that my exceptions were met.

I think the issue most people will have with Shadow of the Fox is the pacing. And so did I…until I had an epiphany. This book reads like an anime series. I think it was at the scene with the bear and the cave that something just clicked in my head and screamed “This is like an anime!!” From there, I loved the journey we were being taken on. I’m not even a huge anime fan (with the exception of Cowboy Bebop and Shokugeki No Soma), so it wasn’t the fact that it’s like an anime that made me like it. My epiphany just made me understand the pacing more. I think if people who aren’t familiar with anime go into this book with the knowledge that it isn’t paced like your average YA fantasy novel, they will enjoy it more.

Yumeko, who I consider the main character, is sixteen-year-old half human and half kitsune who has been raised by the monks at the Silent Winds Temple. After her home is destroyed, she sets out on the journey the head monk of the Silent Winds Temple gave her before he died: take the temple’s portion of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers to safety. On her journey she meets Kage Tatsumi, demon slayer of the Shadow Clan, and strikes a precarious bargain for him to travel with her as protection. Both are keeping secrets from the other and any slip of truth could destroy the tenuous alliance they have. Both Yumeko and Tatsumi have POV chapters and my BIGGEST issue with this book is the lack of indication that a POV has changed from chapter to chapter. Because the book is written in the first person it can take a minute to figure out whose POV we are reading at the beginning of each chapter. I got more used to it by the book’s end, but in the beginning, it really bothered me. I read this book with a book club and the POV switches were a problem for a lot of people in the group. Beyond Yumeko and Tatsumi, we are introduced to a host of secondary characters that bring mystery, danger, and whimsy to this story. My favorite of the secondary characters is definitely Okame and if any harm befalls this lovable ronin I WILL RIOT!

The thing that initially kicked my rating up to 5 stars for a while was the ending. It was SO GOOD! A certain part of it was predictable but the way it played out was not. There was action and betrayal and the promise for more story. AND THAT EPILOGUE OMG! I’m not sure how I’m expected to live while I wait for the next book, Soul of the Sword. All I can say, is I definitely have a pre-order already in.

At the end of the day, I settled into a 4.25 star rating because the POV issue and weird pacing. Even though I came to appreciate the pacing after a time, it still was rough in the beginning and can be a real make or break situation for a lot of people (there were a few people in my book club who DNFed this book because of pacing). I think this book would be good for fantasy lovers who are looking for a story that is structured a little differently from the typical YA fantasy.

Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper

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Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalo
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Horror
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Rating: 4 Stars
Goodreads Synopsis:Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.
Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.
The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

This. Damn. Book. I technically started reading this book in October 2017, but put it down because my book follow through has been terrible the last year. I finally started SJTR back up in September of this year and pretty much devoured it. And then I mentally yelled at myself for ever putting it down.

Let’s talk about the best part first: THE BANTER! Y’all, I lived for the banter between the mains, Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell. It was just so damn good. I am hoping that the delicious banter between these two continues through the rest of the books in the series.

The world building is immersive without being overbearing. I felt like all the characters were well written and believable. I wavered with figuring out the mystery of the story as I usually do, but that was fine. I normally don’t read mysteries for the sake of the mystery. I find that I like mysteries more for the characters. There are always such outlandish characters in mysteries.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. I gave it 4 stars strictly because I just felt like it didn’t stick with me quite as a book should to garner a 5 star from me. I am definitely going to be continuing this series in the coming year.

The Backlist: The Illuminae Files

Hello all! I’m back with another set of backlist reviews. This time around I look at The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This trilogy was one of my surprise reads of 2018. I constantly avoided these books, honestly, because I hated the bright orange cover of Illuminae. Well, you know the saying about judging book covers and ooooh boy did my aversion to orange kick me in the teeth because The Illuminae Files are STELLAR!

 

Illuminae | Read March 1 -3, 2018 | 5 Stars

HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! I didn’t know to expect going into this read, but a fast paced, hilarious, and INTENSELY CREEPY science fiction story that was told in an incredible and unique format was not it.

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Me for basically the entire book.

To say this book exceeded my expectations would be a vast understatement. The story stars Kady Grant, a spectacularly snarky computer hacker, Ezra Miller, her very pretty and very recent ex-boyfriend, and AIDAN, who I won’t say much about because I’m not sure if it’d count as spoilers but hot damn they are the best character. There is inaudible profanity, snark, slow burn creepiness, snark, space battles, snark, dire situations with dire consequences, and oh, did I mention the SNARK? This little quick review doesn’t even begin to describe all the awesome held within the obscenely orange cover of this book. If you like science fiction, or want to dip a toe into this genre pool, I 1000% recommend this book. Honestly, it is probably my favorite book read in 2018.

 

Gemina | Read March 7 – 16, 2018 | 4.5 stars

Oh boy, was I full of trepidation going into this one. I’m never a fan when a story suddenly shifts to the perspectives of whole new characters for large chunks of the story. What if these new characters didn’t fill the snarky, murder-y desires of my heart? But my fears were for naught BECAUSE HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! Honestly, I have but one issue with this book and I’ll save it for the very end of this review because it is a spoiler (don’t worry, I’ll put up a warning before it hits). In Gemina, we get a new main trio to love, along with a cast of awesome and/or villainous characters. Hanna is the rich, spoiled, but well-trained daughter of Jump Station Heimdall’s captain. Nik is the attractive bad boy from the station’s crime family who supplies Hanna with drugs and snark. And Ella is Nik’s cousin who put’s Kady’s wit and hacking skills to shame. All three of them are forced to work together as a BeiTech strike team attack the jump station. But there is another sinister and creepy plot going on throughout the jump station and basically everything crescendos into glorious chaos. This book is another intense and snarky space adventure told in the same amazing format as the previous book. And now we come to the…

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SPOILER ALERT!

Literally the ONLY reason I knock this book down to a 4.5 is because of the author’s fall back on killing off a main character in an emotionally traumatic way and then bringing them right back. I LOATHE when this becomes a repeat thing. And while it was handled in a different way than in Illuminae, it still irritated me a bit.

END SPOILERS!

 

Obsidio | Read March 17 – 24, 2018 | 4 stars

I struggled with the rating of this one. Honestly, as I write this I am still wavering if I should kick it up to 4.5. Because this was a fantastic end to this trilogy. But I can’t explain much without being completely spoilery. I’ll dance around it for a bit and see if I can figure out how to say it. This book brings us yet another new set characters and I think these are the ones that deeply explore the emotional trauma of war/invasion the most. The scenes on the occupied surface of Kerenza are intense. It reminded me a lot of Season 3 of Battlestar Galactic. But even with how emotionally impactful the concept of the Kerenza scenes were, I felt like I had very little left to give the new characters. I think they were still well written and the Kerenza plot was good, but I spent most of the time waiting for scenes with the original crew. The plot is tense, and the action is superb. There are twists and turns and some damn fine writing. Certain things that are revealed in this book kinda blew my mind a little bit. As an ending goes, it was wholly satisfying.

SPOILERS BELOW FOR WHY I KNOCKED THIS ONE DOWN TO 4 STAR

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The authors pulled the “dead but not dead” fake out AGAIN! I was so damn angry with this. So angry. It’s lazy and I saw it coming a mile away. It makes me even angrier considering how often Jay Kristoff harps on other writers for lazy writing (his Instagram stories are amusing AF). And now that I’m typing this out I am fully okay with a 4 star. Either kill your darlings or don’t. You shouldn’t have it both ways. Especially more than once. Ugh.

END SPOILERS

 

All in all, I am angry at myself for staying away from these books for so long (*shakes fist at orange cover of Illuminae*). While I had one consistent issue with these books, I still consider them one of my new favorite Sci Fi series. I’d give the trilogy as a whole 4.5 stars. Kaufman and Kristoff have a new Sci Fi series that they are working on and HOLY HECK I CANNOT WAIT!

 

Thanks for joining me for another Backlist post! I’m not sure which ones I’ll be doing next. I must go stare at my shelves and see what jumps out at me.

In which I finally review a book and that book is CARAVAL!

 

Do you want a book with two sisters escaping an abusive home to what is basically a carnival themed LARPing convention? Do you want a book with deliciously descriptive passages and scrumptious scenes that make you question if you want to stay in your reality? Do you want a book where you don’t know who to trust, especially the sexily secretive, rough and tumble love interest?

Then Welcome, Welcome to CARAVAL!!!!

“She didn’t realize how toasty it had been in the tavern until she escaped into the brittle evening. Crisp, like the first bite of a chilled apple, smelling just as sweet, with hints of burnt sugar weaving through the charcoal night air.”

First of all, I LOVE the writing in this book. The author, Stephanie Garber (who, for the record, is such a nice human), pieces together words in such a wonderous way. She weaves beautiful webs of descriptions that I often found myself stuck in them. I would stop reading and just stare in awe at certain passages. I fell straight from the pages of this book on to the streets of Caraval.

The main plot of the books revolves around Scarlett and Donatella Dragna (those NAMES!!), who find themselves at the mysterious Caraval. Donatella goes missing on the first night and it is up to Scarlett, with the assistance of Julian, the handsome sailor who helps Scarlett through Caraval, to find Donatella and beat the game. But who can Scarlett trust when everything is part of the game and you don’t know who the actors are?

And this is where my two main issues with the book come into play. While I love mysteries and the whole “Can I trust this person?” guessing game, it starts to wear on my nerves when EVERYTHING can be a lie or a trick. And I got just to the edge of annoyed with this book. It wasn’t overboard, but the constant threat of trickery started to wear thin by the end.

Which brings us to the end. That moment when the magic got sucked away in a sudden vacuum of truth. I felt like the big reveal of the story was rushed and every lovely bit of magic disappeared. Caraval was no longer a fun, twisty game, but simply a drawn-out ruse to help the Dragna sisters escape their miserable and abusive home life. If the execution of the ending had been a little better this would have been a five-star read for me.

At the end of the day, this was a solid four star read for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants a carnival themed story. I liked all the characters, except Donatella who I wanted to smack every time she was on the page. I’ve heard a lot of people say they thought Scarlett was whiny but I just didn’t feel that way. I will say that though I am not a fan of Donatella, I am thoroughly intrigued for the sequel, Legendary! I’ll be going to the Launch Party tonight and I can’t wait to hear Stephanie Garber talk about this book!

 

My next review (Bad Things Play Here by Chani Lynn Feener) should be up by the end of the week! Until then, happy reading!