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.

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.

ARC Review: Enchantée

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.

Enchantée
Author: Gita Trelease
Release Date: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Flatiron/Macmillan
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.

ARC Review: Warrior of the Wild

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].

End spoilers.

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.

Blog Tour: Strange Days by Constantine Singer [Review + Author Guest Post

StrangeDays_BlogBanner

Happy Tuesday all and welcome to day two of the Strange Days Blog Tour! I was ecstatic when Penguin Young Readers reached out to me to be a part of this blog tour. I have been craving a good science fiction book lately and this one definitely hit the spot for me.

Strange Days by Constantine SingerCover
Release Date: December 4, 2018
Genre: Contemporary/Science Fiction (YA)
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis: Contemporary fiction with a sci-fi edge, perfect for fans of Ernest Cline and Marie Lu. 

Alex Mata doesn’t want to worry about rumors of alien incursions–he’d rather just skate and tag and play guitar. But when he comes home to find an alien has murdered his parents, he’s forced to confront a new reality: aliens are real, his parents are dead, and nobody will believe him if he tells. On the run, Alex finds himself led to the compound of tech guru Jeffrey Sabazios, the only public figure who stands firm in his belief that aliens are coming.

At Sabazios’s invitation, Alex becomes a Witness, one of a special group of teens gifted with an ability that could save the Earth: they can glide through time and witness futures. When a Witness sees a future, that guarantees it will happen the way it’s been seen, making their work humanity’s best hope for stopping the alien threat. Guided by Sabazios, befriended by his fellow time travelers, and maybe even falling in love, Alex starts feeling like the compound is a real home–until a rogue glide shows him the dangerous truth about his new situation.

Now in a race against time, Alex is forced to reevaluate who he can love, who he can trust, and who he needs to leave behind.

Debut author Constantine Singer’s fresh-voiced protagonist leaps off the page in this captivating novel that weaves sci-fi and contemporary fiction.

Strange Days by Constantine Singer is a fun science fiction/contemporary YA novel that will keep readers invested and intrigued in Alex’s journey through his new reality of alien invasions and time travel. Singer deftly brings Alex and all of his inner turmoil to the page in a way that is accessible to readers, regardless of their age or gender. I have always had issues feeling anything for male POV characters in contemporary fiction besides wanting to smack them upside the head. While I did want to throw things at Alex every once in a while, I also genuinely felt for him and understood why he did the things he did. I think many young readers will see themselves in Alex. The rest of the characters in the novel are well written and while there is a pretty full and diverse cast, each character gets enough time for you to know and love them.

The technology was one of my favorite parts of the story. I loved the idea of “glides” and how they worked. While I consider myself a huge fan of time travel (where my Whovians at?), I have a hard time with time travel novels. But the way time travel was used in this story was unique and it didn’t make my brain hurt.

While I did figure out the plot twist early on, it did not mar my enjoyment of this novel at all. This story is one heck of a ride and I’m glad I went on it. The writing style is pretty straight forward and while it isn’t the usual fantastical style I go for, it felt right for this story. There was a grittiness and immediacy to this novel that got its claws into me. I read the book in a day and a half because I just wanted to know how it was all going to play out. Strange Days is the kind of book that will act as a gateway for readers of all ages looking to get into science fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Young Readers and Constantine Singer for the opportunity to read an advance reader copy of this novel. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and not influenced in any way.

About the Author

2148587_singer_constantine_jConstantine Singer grew up in Seattle, then earned his BA from Earlham College and his Masters from Seattle University. He currently lives in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with his family, and teaches history at a high school in South LA. He is of the opinion that all foods are better eaten as a sandwich or a taco. This is his first novel.

Author Guest Post

Top Sci Fi Books for people who are just starting to get into SciFi

I put out a request on my Facebook feed for help with this list and was overwhelmed by suggestions from a horde of middle-aged sci-fi nerds like myself, so I drew up some criteria.  To be on this list, a book:

  1. has to have stood the test of time (nothing less than 10 years old),
  2. have at least one tentacle in a realm outside of science fiction,
  3. have wormed its way into the broader literary psyche on its merits as a piece of literature,
  4. use science fiction as a tool to explore human things
  5. be a book I still think about years after reading it.  

I figure if a book has done all of that, even if someone isn’t that interested in science fiction they might be willing to give it a read.

The list, in no particular order:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    Still one of the silliest, funniest, strangest books ever written in any genre.  Follow Arthur Dent as he travels the universe with his friend who he’s just learned is an alien.  Original home to 90% of the dorkiest references ever made on the internet. If you don’t like sci-fi, don’t worry, it’s so cleverdumb you won’t even notice the spaceships.
  2. The Tripods Series by John Christopher
    Published in 1967, they may be the first YA sci-fi and have all the hallmarks of YA literature – character-based conflict, young mains, and a focus on friendship/interpersonal relationships.   The story is amazing – Europe in a future where alien colonizers have control of the Earth and maintain their control by “capping” all humans in their early teens. The caps render the people compliant, but there’s a small but growing resistance….
  3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
    It’s the first great book of science fiction.  I read it in high school because I was forced to, but I’ve read it a dozen times since because I love it.  We all know the essential story – a man dabbles in God’s realm, creates life, and it all goes wrong – but the nuance and beautifully human rendering of the monster and the reflections on the nature of humanity and love are what bring me back.  If you like Gothic lit like the sisters Bronte, this would be a great intro to science fiction.
  4. Octavia Butler – Anything but I’d suggest the Earthseed Series
    I don’t think any list of introductory science fiction would be complete without Ms. Butler.  She used science fiction as a venue for exploring the ramifications of and circumstances which created our current issues, specifically with race and gender.  The Earthseed Series also explores climate change and the origins of faith, which make it the ultimate book series for the current time even though it was written 25 years ago.
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Not the whole series)
    To me, Hunger Games is the ultimate blend of science fiction and young adult sensibilities.  The intimate personal relationships are defined by the setting and the setting is a perfectly drawn hidden future-history in which the clues to what led the world to its current place are believable, allowing us to reconstruct the events which created the Hunger Games without ever being told.  On top of that, the technology is astonishingly well visioned.
  6. Rendezvous with Rama Arthur C. Clark
    This series has fallen by the Sci-Fi wayside in recent years, but I’m hoping that the speculation surrounding Oumuamua will bring it back to the forefront.  The story is essentially a visitor from space story but is beautifully rendered and doesn’t bother answering any of the questions it raises until much later in the series.  It is the purest science fiction book on this list because its entire focus is on discovering and interacting with an alien race’s technology, but it reads like a grand adventure.
  7. Contact by Carl Sagan
    Carl Sagan wrote a lot of incredible books and it was a toss-up between this and Childhood’s End for the list.  I went with Contact because it’s a great introduction to science fiction in that it focuses entirely on the human story and uses the sci-fi elements to accentuate the humanity in its characters.  It gets a little ethics-heavy at places because Sagan, but it’s well worth the read.
  8. Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
    We can’t ignore graphic novels or anime if we’re talking science fiction – they’re the largest and most fecund subsets of the genre and are the well-spring of amazing ideas and great art that filters into everything we see and read.  Akira is one of the earliest Animes to cross over to the “mainstream” here in the West, and it’s a great story even if you don’t generally think of yourself as an anime fan.
  9. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
    I read this book as an early teen and images from it have stuck with me ever since.  I didn’t understand it at the time – it’s very heady in terms of both science and politics – but it turned me into an anarcho-syndicalist for much of my teens and early twenties.  It’s on this list because it speaks to what sci-fi does best – explores our current world’s problems in a controlled petri-dish scenario and allows us to think through the ramifications of our decisions, our political ideas, our religions, and our social structures.  The other book that would’ve been here is one of my favorites of all time, 1984 by George Orwell, but us teachers ruin that book for too many kids so I left it off.
  10. Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
    I hemmed and hawed about including this on the list.  Vonnegut can be problematic, especially in how he draws women, and this book is no exception.  Even so, it’s still one of my favorites and a good introduction to science fiction for several reasons.  First, it is a perfect exploration of why humans mess things up – the world ends in the book because individual people made a series of understandable and very human decisions which collectively led to disaster.  Secondly, it’s the book in which Bokononism is developed and the world needs more Bokononists.

 

Thank you to all for stopping here for this blog tour! Be sure to check out tomorrow’s stop over at The Young Folks with an Author Q&A!

Book Reviews: The Spellwork Syndicate

Hello bookish peoples! I’m here today with TWO reviews. I stumbled upon Sugar Spells (The Spellwork Syndicate #2) on NetGalley the other month and once I got approved to read it I immediately went and bought a copy of the first book, Deadly Sweet, on Amazon. I’ve recently found that I have a sweet spot for magical murder mysteries that involve food magic. So let’s dive into this scrumptious story…

Deadly Sweet (The Spellwork Syndicate #1)deadlysweet
Author: Lola Dodge
Release Date: January 16, 2018
Genre: Urban Fantasy (YA/NA)
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Goodreads Synopsis: Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spell books in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad no one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter.

Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl.

The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target.

If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée.

Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?

Deadly Sweet is fun, if sometimes slightly aggravating, YA urban fantasy that involves two of my new favorite things: magic and baking. Anise Wise is our plucky main character who leaves her sheltered life behind after unfortunate incident and goes to live with her Great Aunt Agatha in the witch friendly town of Taos. Once Anise gets to Taos she finds it is not exactly what she expected. Not only is she sent to beginner baking classes to improve her skills but she is saddled with an extremely rude bodyguard with no real explanation as to why. After a near death experience, Anise decides to try and find out what happened to Agatha’s previous apprentice.

In general, I liked this book. It was a fun, quick read with a unique setting and magic system. The problem was I wanted to learn more about the magic system. I felt like we just got the bare bones of witches could do in this world. I liked that witchcraft was known to the world at large and that there were specific cities where witches basically ruled.

There were a lot of characters but I only want to focus on Anise and Wynn, the bodyguard. One thing I like about Anise is she is not some all powerful witch. She is average, she is a young adult who has young adult thoughts and attitudes, and she struggles like so many young adults do. However, she can be very fickle in her thoughts and sometimes make really, really poor choices. And then there is Wynn. Look, I like a grumpy love interest as much as the next book nerd, but Wynn is just an asshole. And not for any good reason. This guy…I just want to punch him. ALL THE TIME. His interactions with Anise are pretty degrading. I get that he is a bodyguard and his duty is to protect Anise, but all this guy does is sleep and act like a misogynistic prick. And Anise’s reactions to him are aggravating to say the very least. There is no communication at all. Like, Anise should have called out his attitude to her aunt and then they all could have had a nice little chat to get any bad feelings out in the open and the move the heck on. But, the antagonism between Anise and Wynn serves to create conflict that leads to the action at the end so I guess there is that…

All in all, this a decent paranormal YA/NA book. It did feel like it was lacking a little bit of magic, but I generally enjoyed reading it. Read this book if you love baking and/or need a quick and fun read.

FYI: There are spoilers for Deadly Sweet below.

sugarspellsSugar Spells (The Spellwork Syndicate #2)
Author: Lola Dodge
Release Date: October 30, 2018
Genre: Urban Fantasy (YA/NA)
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Goodreads Synopsis: After her run-in with a jealous warlock, apprentice baker Anise Wise can’t wait to get back the kitchen where she belongs. But thanks to her brush with death, the land of the living isn’t all cupcakes and marshmallows.

Anise’s magical mojo is way out of whack and her evolving powers are stirring up trouble. As the town buzzes with news that Anise can bake deathly spells, unsavory characters start lining up for a taste. They’ll stop at nothing for the chance to use Anise and her witchcraft to further their own plots.

She plans to hole up researching magic recipes until the attention dies down, but then she discovers the horrifying terms of her bodyguard’s contract. Wynn has saved her life so many times, she can’t leave him trapped. But doing the right thing will mean risking death or worse—being cast out of her dream job.

For this witch, justice might not be as sweet as advertised.

Sugar Spells was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher at my request. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own and are not influenced in any way.

I’m going to start this off by saying the first book in this series should have been called Sugar Spells, and this book should have been called Deadly Sweet. I mean, the whole book is about death magic…okay, now that that is out of the way (seriously, it’s been bugging me for weeks), let’s get to the actual review.

Also, since this is the second book in the series there will be some spoilers for the first book, Deadly Sweet.

Sugar Spells jumps straight into Anise Wise’s next set of woes in her life: after her near death experience with the villain in Deadly Sweet, her magic has become tainted with death magic. All her bakes are self destructing and she is banished from Great Aunt Agatha’s bakery incase her death magic messes with the aura of the bakery. On top of that, Anise learns the terms of Wynn’s shield contract and decides to help him buy out the contract so he can go live his life. Both these issues lead us to the creepiest character, Girrar. He is a vampire, which also inhabit the witch friendly town of Taos, and is the ultimate creeper. He wants Anise’s death magic baked goods and is willing to pay a lot for them. I won’t go into too much more, but we all know nothing good can from all of this.

Wynn and Anise were a little less antagonistic in this one. Wynn, getting his tragic backstory finally told, is a little more relaxed in this. But honestly, it doesn’t make up for how much of an ass he was in the first book. I see where things seem to be heading with Anise and Wynn, and while I’m not 100% on board with it, I can handle it. I think my main problem is I don’t really care for either Anise or Wynn. I don’t hate them, but I haven’t found myself rooting for them either.

Again, this was a quick, fun read, but it felt like it was lacking a layer of the story. The villain situation was weird in this one and while I won’t go into details for spoiler reasons I can say that the big bad they have to face is forgettable. Like, I don’t remember anything about it. I don’t want to use the term “fluffy read” because it’s not a fluffy book, but it is lacking a bit of depth. Still, I enjoyed myself while reading it and I am looking forward to the third book.


While I enjoyed these two books for the most part, there was just something missing. It was like one of those cute, delicious looking cakes you see in a shop window but when you actually get to eat it you find out it is mostly over sugared frosting and very little cake. And as much as I like frosting, you need a solid cake to make things really good.

Book Review: Haze: The Devil of Dublin

Title: Haze: The Devil of Dublinhaze
Author: Haze O’Hagen
Release Date: October 31, 2018
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads Synopsis: Dublin Ireland 2050. Cursed as a boy, now dreaded as the Devil. Join Haze O’Hagan on his quest for justice and redemption as he battles against forces he cannot understand or explain. God, no longer a necessity to prosperity became a hindrance in the eyes of many, causing Haze to grow up in a world where men through science could perform their own miracles. As technology became almost indistinguishable to magic, a new god was born: “Patrick Lynch” the father of neo micronisation. The Devil of Dublin is an epic tale of good vs evil, but within our telling, good and evil are not always what it seems. What defines good? What defines evil? Why does evil seem to prosper while the good perish? One man’s search for immortality awakens an ancient evil, forcing Haze to fight for freedom, identity, faith and love in this thought-provoking tale. As darkness plagues across the Emerald Isle, a light will rise to meet it. (Goodreads)

Haze: The Devil of Dublin is a fantastically unique novel. At its core, it is a story of good vs evil and how power influences that fight, but this novel approaches it in an intriguing way. Haze, the titular main character, is strikingly real in ways that one does not always see in books these days. He is a teenager, and though he finds himself with superpowers, he is STILL a teenage boy and that is felt in his characterization.

The world building is intriguing. The story is set in 2050 Dublin and the futuristic setting is well built around the already established city of Dublin. I am by no means a science minded person, so I cannot comment on if the science-y aspects of the story check out in any way, but they were intriguing. I liked the inclusion of the game Rush, even though I did feel like it threw off the pacing of the story a little bit.

While I did enjoy the story, the writing style was a little off for me. It was a bit blunt and straight. Maybe it comes from reading too much epic fantasy, but I do like a bit of flair in descriptions. For lack of a better term, I believe in “show, don’t tell” and this book told more than showed. There was good dialogue and humor throughout the story and that kept this fantastical novel feeling real.

At the end of the day this is a solid debut novel. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes books that are a little bit Science Fiction and a little bit Fantasy, with an examination of power and how it influences people.

An eBook copy of this novel was provided to me by the author. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own and were not influenced. Thank you to the author for the opportunity to read this novel.

The Confectioner’s Guild: The book directly responsible for me re-watching Great British Baking Show…again…

The Confectioner’s Guild by Claire Luana
Publisher: Live Edge Publishing
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Rating: 4.5/5
Spoiler Warning: No major spoilers revealed. One, very minor reveal of a character’s intentions.

Okay, before I start screaming about how much I loved this book (because y’all, I LOVED THIS BOOK), let me first give you the synopsis snagged from GoodReads:

A magic cupcake. A culinary killer. The perfect recipe for murder.

Wren knew her sweet treats could work wonders, but she never knew they could work magic. She barely has time to wrap her head around the stunning revelation when the head of the prestigious Confectioner’s Guild falls down dead before her. Poisoned by her cupcake.

Now facing murder charges in a magical world she doesn’t understand, Wren must discover who framed her or face the headsman’s axe. With the help of a handsome inspector and several new friends, Wren just might manage to learn the ropes, master her new powers, and find out who framed her. But when their search for clues leads to a deep-rooted conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, she realizes that the guild master isn’t the only one at risk of death by chocolate.

If Wren can’t bring the powerful culprit to justice, she and her friends will meet a bittersweet end.

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I have literally never requested a book through NetGalley as fast as I did for this book. YA magical murder mystery with a handsome inspector? My hopes rose like bread dough in a proving drawer. Oh gosh, no, that was bad and will be the only baking simile I attempt. Needless to say, I was expecting a lot from this read.

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And this book delivered!  It has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun reading a book. I’m fairly certain I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading it. Though there are small bits a darkness, this story was light and fun and an absolute delight.

Wren Confectioner is a slightly sassy orphan girl who goes from an underappreciated apprentice at a baker’s shop to a journeyman at the Confectioner’s Guild AND gets accused of murder, all within the course of a couple days. There is a lot to love about Wren: she is confident in her skills as a baker while also being humble, she knows what she wants, and she has a mysterious back story. She is not an all knowing, perfect main character and that makes her seem real. While she can hold her own against the flirtations of the extremely handsome Hale, she makes mistakes and learns from them. My one issue with Wren is her age…16. You’ll understand why that is problematic in a minute…

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Let’s move one to the main men of the book, Lucas and Hale. Don’t be alarmed, this book is no love triangle. Lucas is tall, lean, and dark (lord help me, he has slightly graying hair, gray eyes, is an inspector, and lives above a bookstore. SIGN ME UP FOR LUCAS!). Hale is taller, broader, brighter, and described as virile. We are told Lucas is around 20 and while we don’t get an age for Hale, he is always described as a man, so I’m going with 20s for him as well. Remember when I said Wren was SIXTEEN? I honestly felt she was more of an 18 year old, but her character was written to be 16 because ALL YA female MCs are 16.  I had to ignore the age thing so I didn’t feel too cringe-y when Hale came at her with his flirtations or when I accepted that Lucas was wanting to court Wren instead of me.

26BRNqyHdCgrRPyWk(Me, when I read about Lucas)

There were a fair amount of other characters in this book so I won’t go into each of them, but the core cast was well fleshed out. I think Sable was probably the most intriguing and relateable of the bunch. I hope we learn more of her backstory as the books go on. The secondary cast of characters were a little less realized and I’m hoping that is just because we’ll get more of them in future books. But everyone felt real and beneficial to the story.

Outside of the characters, we’ve got some stellar world building and a nice mystery to solve. I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp on the world this book is set in. It took me a hot minute to figure out the Guilds and how they worked with the politics of Alesia. There is definitely set up for more story outside of the Guilds in future books. I liked the mystery aspect of the book, though I think avid mystery fans will figure things out sooner rather than later. For me, I try not to figure out the “whodunit” aspect of stories. I tend to enjoy reading mysteries more if I just roll with the main character on their investigation.

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And now for the ending of the book…

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Kidding, I’m keeping this spoiler free. Mostly, I just wanted a reason to use that Great British Bake Off gif because it is in fact the perfect description of the ending of this book.

At the end of it all, I love this book. Love, love, love it. This book has reminded me that even though I love tragic, dark stories, there is something to be said about fun, feel good books. Especially ones with handsome inspectors.

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Visit the author’s website, claireluana.com, for more information about pre-orders, pre-order swag (!!!), and her other books (which I’m probably going to go buy all of now)!

This book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley at my request. All thoughts and opinions are completely my own. Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.