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.
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???
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.
This week I am doing a backlist review of the Charlotte Holmes books from Brittany Cavallaro. I am stoked to get my hands on the fourth and final book in the series, A Question of Holmes, which was released on March 5th. One of my dear friends is getting me a signed copy, so until she gets a chance to send it to me, I will satisfy myself with reliving these books through reviews. The synopsis for A Question of Holmes is at the very bottom of the page for you to check out!
A Study in Charlotte
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Rating: 5 Stars
Here’s the deal: I strongly dislike contemporary novels, especially YA contemporaries. But a Sherlock Holmes inspired YA contemporary? I couldn’t buy this book fast enough. The story is about the descendants of the original Holmes and Watson (yes, they are real in this universe), Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes. Jamie transfers to the same Connecticut private school that Charlotte attends and from there the games is afoot. Yes, I am also disappointed in myself for going there.
Jamie and Charlotte very obviously come together to solve a murder, one that they are being framed for. The whole mystery behind the murder is wild to say the very least. This book is far darker than I was expecting. Not only is there the whole murder thing, but drug addiction and rape. While these are very difficult topics, I felt they were handled respectfully. I am far from being a teen these days, but I think it’s important have YA stories that deal with harder topics.
I really enjoyed the way that Jamie and Charlotte were similar to the original Watson and Holmes (or at least what I can remember of the original stories. My brain also remembers the TV/movie version too well so I’m sure I’m leaning more towards those interpretations), but in a perfectly modern way. Charlotte is highly intelligent and though she can be abrasive at times, I felt she does care. From past traumas and her harsh upbringing (which you learn more about in later books), it is just hard for her to care for people in traditional ways. And then there is Jamie. The boy is kind of a doof sometimes, but he’s a teenage boy who has been brought up with stories of all the great Holmes and Watson’s before him. We can hardly blame him for diving head first into a not so healthy and fairly co-dependent friendship with Charlotte.
A Study in Charlotte is so vastly different from any YA contemporary that I’ve ever read, and I am so happy I picked it up. If you like Holmes/Watson, wildly dramatic murder mysteries, layers of secrets and betrayals, and high levels of snark, A Study of Charlotte is for you.
The Last of August
Release Date: February 14, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
The tag line for this one is “Watson and Holmes: A match made in disaster.” This describes the relationship of these two characters so perfectly I cannot even. I thought A Study in Charlotte was twisty and turny, but The Last of August dials the chaos up to 11.
I loved that the story is based in England and Berlin this time around, so we get a nice scenery change. I loved the art forgery aspect to the case. We get more background on all the families, most importantly the Moriartys. The three families are endlessly fascinating and dysfunctional.
While I still enjoyed this one, I had two problems: the ending and the Charlotte/Jamie dynamic. The ending was chaotic, and I found myself not really following what was going on. It feels fast paced, but then you suddenly realize you are lost in the plot, but you are reading so fast you feel as though you can’t stop and go back. I felt like I needed a flow chart of how everything came together in that ending.
Then we have Charlotte/Jamie. Look, I love a good angsty romance, but this book took it to the point of me not enjoying it. Its been a while since I’ve read the book, but I just remember having an overwhelming sense that Jamie wanted to fix Charlotte and the PTSD she suffers from her rape. And this is NOT OKAY. The almost love triangle that goes on is not fun either. August Moriarty is probably one of the more sympathetic characters in this whole book and Jamie constantly needing him to be the villain was annoying.
While I still mostly enjoyed this when I read it, looking back I see a lot more problems with it. I originally rated this a 4 star but I’m going to knock it down to 3.
The Case for Jamie
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Rating: 4 stars
Where The Last of August was kind of a mess for me at times, The Case for Jamie really drew me back in. None of the characters miraculously turn into better people, but the writing and plotting was better and I think having Charlotte and Jamie apart for a while was a good idea. Getting more of Charlotte’s POV really helped too. I still kinda want to smack Jamie through the whole book, but he is a teenage boy so that doesn’t really surprise me. Looking back on this book and the series as a whole, I feel like Charlotte and Jamie are my original trash children (current trash kids are Jude and Carden). Like, I love them, but also, they are so terrible. But the author isn’t going for a perfect, healthy relationship with these two. It’s hard because, I’m reading this as an adult, so I know that relationships like the one between Charlotte and Jamie are not great, but I can revel in the drama because the relationships in this book aren’t shaping my views on relationships. I like that the author shows the ugly sides of the relationship and how Charlotte and Jamie work through it. No person and no relationship is ever perfect, so I don’t want them written that way, but toxic relationships shouldn’t be glamorized to teens. I think these books walk that line, though sometimes they are a little too close to the edge. And I’m going to hop off this slippery slope rant I’ve sudden found myself in.
At the end of the day, The Case for Jamie is a vast improvement on the second book. Each book in this series is like pulling back the layers on these families and seeing the flawed humans they are. But like I’ve said, no one is perfect. I really feel like the characters in these books are all too human in a way we try to pretend we aren’t. I cannot wait to read the final book in the series, A Question of Holmes.
A Question of Holmes
Release Date: March 5, 2019
Synopsis: Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson think they’re finally in the clear. They’ve left Sherringford School—and the Moriartys—behind for a pre-college summer program at Oxford University. A chance to start from scratch and explore dating for the first time, while exploring a new city with all the freedom their program provides. But when they arrive, Charlotte is immediately drawn into a new case: a series of accidents have been befalling the members of the community theater troupe in Oxford, and now, on the eve of their production of Hamlet, they’re starting all over again. What once seemed like a comedy of errors is now a race to prevent the next tragedy—before Charlotte or Jamie is the next victim.
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!