This ARC was sent to me by the publisher at my request. All thoughts and opinions expressed are completely my own and not influenced in any way. Thank you to Henry Holt (BYR) for giving me a chance to read this book early.
The Merciful Crow Author: Margaret Owen Publisher: Henry Holt BYR Release Date: July 30, 2019 Synopsis:A future chieftain: Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince: When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard: Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?
Rating: The Merciful Crow is an intriguing debut that tackles some hard issues, but suffers from too much journey and a writing style that can be off putting for some. 3 stars
I am incredibly excited to be part of the Summer Lovin’ Blogger Campaign, brought to you by Penguin Teen! On this last day of the tour, I’m bringing you a review + some mood boards for These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling.
Rating: A ghost bopping good time! My Plain Jane is filled with hilarious pop culture references, tongue and check commentary on the Victorian Era, and a fun reimagining of the writing of Jane Eyre. HIGHLY recommend reading via audiobook! 4 Stars
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.
This ARC was provided to me by the publisher at my request. The following review reflects my unbiased opinion of the story and is no way influenced. Thank you to the publisher, Little Brown/JIMMY PATTERSON Books.
Once & Future Author: Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy Publisher: Little Brown/JIMMY PATTERSON Books Release Date: March 26, 2019 Synopsis:I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur. Now I’m done hiding. My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.
When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.
Rating: Built on solid bones, filled with inclusivity, but suffers from poor marketing of the humorous nature of the story. Stars: 2.5
I have to start by saying that this book is directly responsible for my decision to completely revamp my review style (a process I’ll be rolling out once I work out the specifics). Never have I been more conflicted over a book. Because I desperately wanted to love Once & Future, but I was so turned off by the never ending attempts at humor. Not to say that I didn’t find some of the bits funny, but in what I thought would be a mostly dramatic book, the constant lighthearted silliness grated on my nerves.
Let’s start with the good: diversity and inclusivity. This book has it in spades. There is representation of pansexuality, bisexuality, disabilities, gender fluidity, asexuality, characters of African descent, homosexuality, and characters of Arab descent. The sexuality of each character isn’t always explicitly stated and if I over or under represented something from the book I apologize. This is the kind of representation that books need. And O&F doesn’t shy away from calling out the sexism and homophobia in our current time.
Once & Future tackles a lot of serious issues: capitalism, genocide, classism, immigration, oppression, and more. The problem is the execution. The book is riddled with fluffy romance and glib humor that kept me from ever getting emotionally involved in anything that was happening. When something serious happened, there was always someone there with a ridiculous remark or a couple making out in the background. Or both. And that didn’t sit well with me because I wasn’t expecting a romcom story. Yes, from the synopsis I thought there’d be funny moments interspersed in a mostly dramatic story. It was the exact opposite and that really effected my reading.
The other issue is one that is hard to address: plotting/execution of the story as a whole. When I was halfway through the book and I started reading some reviews to see if other people were having similar issues as I was getting through the story. I noticed a few people stating that they had seen the authors mention that A LOT of changes were happening before the final book was released. I’m hoping the changes addressed the flow of the book, because that was another big issue for me. The pace was either break neck action or dragging me down with boredom. I could never find a good rhythm in the story and this also kept me from forming any kind of emotions for the story. I just hate to judge this book by something that was most likely fixed in the final version.
But here’s the deal, I’ll read the next book in a heartbeat. The story is set up to go to a whole different level, and since I’ll KNOW that there is going to be a lot of humor, I’ll be able to read it when I’m in the mood for that style. I won’t say where the next book is going, but I am definitely intrigued.
At the end of the day, Once & Future has some solid bones that I think were mostly likely better used in the final version of this book. If you are looking for an inclusive, humorous space adventure, Once & Future is for you.
Scythe Author: Neal Shusterman Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers Release Date: November 22, 2016 Synopsis: Thou shalt kill.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
Rating: OMG this book is so good, why did I wait so long to read it??? Stars: 4.5
Scythe is the kind of book that sinks it’s claws into you and drags you through a world you’ve never seen before and will likely never see again. This YA novel is a hugely underrated utopian thriller that devours its reader with break neck plot twists and intriguing insights into what our world could become if we defeated death.
Neal Shusterman draws us into a future where all the world’s problems have been solved and humanity can live forever under the care of the mysterious Thunderhead. Resources are limitless, and death has been conquered. However, over population is the one thing the Thunderhead could not stop. Enter the Scythes. Tasked with keeping the population in check, Scythes “glean” people for a permanent death. There is definitely no way that system could be corrupted and go horribly, horribly wrong…
I cannot begin to describe how much I enjoyed the world in this book. It is a frightening yet hopeful look at how our world could be if such things were possible. The idea of living forever has always been intriguing for me, but it is usually kept in the fantasy realm of a few vampires and eternal mages. I loved reading a story of immortality for the whole world that was framed through the perspective of two youths training to end the immortality of their fellow humans.
The writing was stellar. Shusterman writes in a way that makes this story flow effortlessly from the page. I truly loved the journal entries at the beginning of each chapter. Those little insights were gems. I was never bored and always wanted to keep reading. While I loved all the characters, I will concede to the fact that when I stepped back I thought the two main characters lacked a little bit of depth. However, in the grand scheme of the whole story, they had enough for the plot and I still enjoyed their journeys.
I went into Scythe expecting to like this book, but never did I imagine I’d end up loving it as much as I did. This novel has found its place among my favorite books of all time. Do not be like me and let this book languish, unread, on your book shelves for months or years. Pick it up immediately and start reading.
I’m going to start this off by saying that there will be spoilers for each book in the reviews. Normally I try to write non-spoilery reviews, but I just couldn’t avoid spoilers when reviewing these. If you just want my quick thoughts with no spoilers you can read my Goodreads reviews of the books (The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate).
The Crown’s Game Author: Evelyn Skye Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: May 17th, 2016 Rating: 4 Stars Synopsis:Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.
And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.
And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.
The Crown’s Game is a hard book to review. Because I LOVED IT, but when I step back I see the faults with it. I think I’m giving it 5 stars for the entertainment aspect, but 3 stars for critical reasons, and just landing on 4 stars over all.
From the synopsis you’d expect a deadly, fast paced story of two enchanters battling to win the title of Imperial Enchanter. What you get is an addictive story that has very little action but never the less keeps you entranced. While it is a battle to the death, the stakes never feel that dire while each enchanter is taking their turns in the duel. I did love the way they used their magic, but it never felt like they were really trying to kill each other. Granted, that could be down to the fact that these are teenagers and they shouldn’t WANT to commit murder, but the story is about a deadly game. I’ll loop back to that deadly game in a minute.
The characters were all just okay. The only one I really cared for was Ludmila, the bakery owner who acts as a sort of grandmother figure for Vika. Nikolai was good too, now that I think of it, and I liked his background. Pasha was fun, but the whole love triangle between him, Nikolai, and Vika just sort of grated on me. Also, there is insta love and that bothers me in hindsight, though I didn’t care while I was reading the book.
And then we have the culmination of the game. After the Tsar dies (there is a pretty fun twist in how that happens so I won’t tell you how), Pasha is convinced by his sister to force an end to the game, but having Vika and Nikolai fight to the death. Nikolai, being the love stricken gentleman that he is, stabs himself in the heart with a blade given to him by his mentor, Galina, that will never miss it’s mark. Instead of the Nikolai’s heart being pierced, Vika is stabbed through the heart via magic. I LOVE this twist. Love, love, love! Of course, Nikolai then gives Vika all his life force to save her and he seemingly dies. But a part of him remains in the magical realm. While I usually am one for killing off characters and having them STAY DEAD, I loved this ending. It made me immediately want to jump into the next book.
I did love the writing for the most part. While I am certainly no expert on Russia, it seemed like there was good world building and I’m hoping it was based on real world knowledge. Whenever there was talk of the Russian foods I was drooling. And even though the book lacked a lot of action, it was still a book I didn’t want to put down! I don’t know how Skye did it, but her writing is completely absorbing.
The Crown’s Fate Author: Evelyn Skye Publisher: Balzar + Blay Release Date: May 16, 2017 Rating: 2.75 stars Synopsis: Russia is on the brink of great change. Pasha’s coronation approaches, and Vika is now the Imperial Enchanter, but the role she once coveted may be more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever expected.
Pasha is grappling with his own problems—his legitimacy is in doubt, the girl he loves loathes him, and he believes his best friend is dead. When a challenger to the throne emerges—and with the magic in Russia growing rapidly—Pasha must do whatever it takes to keep his position and protect his kingdom.
For Nikolai, the ending of the Crown’s Game stung deeply. Although he just managed to escape death, Nikolai remains alone, a shadow hidden in a not-quite-real world of his own creation. But when he’s given a second chance at life—tied to a dark price—Nikolai must decide just how far he’s willing to go to return to the world.
With revolution on the rise, dangerous new magic rearing up, and a tsardom up for the taking, Vika, Nikolai, and Pasha must fight—or face the destruction of not only their world but also themselves.
Let’s start with something I didn’t mention in my review of The Crown’s Game: Nikolai and Pasha find out they are half brothers, since the Tsar was a scoundrel. Nikolai’s mother, Aizhana, was a healer out on the steppe and had a one night stand with the Tsar, resulting in Nikolai. I mention this now because not only is Aizhana the cause of a lot of strife in this book, but the story focuses a lot on Nikolai trying to over throw Pasha as rightful heir.
The Crown’s Fate was a 2.75 star for me. I don’t want to give it a 2.5, but a 3 feels too high. And I’m going to be very honest, I skimmed a lot of this book. Well, I zoned out on a lot because I read this one via audio (Steve West’s narration was spot on though). This book, though having a bit more action and stakes then The Crown’s Game, failed to grab my attention in the same way that Game did.
I absolutely could not stand Pasha or his sister, Yuliana. Pasha had zero back bone (not something you want in a future Tsar) and Yuliana was an awful human being. Vika and Nikolai (who is definitely alive) spend a lot of time thinking the other doesn’t care about them, to the point where I was rolling my eyes way too much. The romantic angst in this one definitely started to bother me.
I did enjoy the more political scheming plot line of this story. Though Nikolai’s darker side was kind of grating. The revolution kinda fizzled out towards the end but I mostly enjoyed getting there. The writing was good, but this book just felt lacking compared to the first.
I will say that I liked the ending. I’m normally one for death and tragedy, but the happily ever after felt right for this story. I wont give any details past that, but just know that things tie up quite nicely for everyone.
At the end of the day, The Crown’s Game’s and The Crown’s Fate were fast reads that would be good for people who are just looking to get into fantasy books or who need a break from heavier fantasy novels. I am certainly interested in reading more from Evelyn Skye.