Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

Book Review: The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Diabolic

By S.J. Kincaid

YA, Science Fiction

A Diabolic is Ruthless.

A Diabolic is Powerful.

A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.

Nothing else.

For Nemesis, that person is Sidonia, heir to the galactic Senate. The two grew up side by side, and there’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the Imperial Court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced Senators’ children, and Nemesis must find within herself the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have—humanity. With the Empire beginning to fracture and rebellion looming, that could be the one thing that saves her and the Empire itself.

oOo

The writing in Diabolic is A+. But I couldn’t really lose myself in this book. The premise of Diabolics themselves make me a little itchy. The first chapter we meet Nemesis. She’s kept in a cage, like an animal, and Sidonia’s family comes through and chooses her like a puppy at a pet shop. She’s then taken to a laboratory and she’s introduced to Sidonia and *waves hands vaguely* science happens. But the important part is that whatever they do to Nemesis—grow her frontal lobe?—she cannot not love Sidonia. The entire premise of the Diabolics is that they don’t have a choice in these people they are bonded to. People come through and chose them and Science and then they are pair-bonded for life to this person and that never changes. Nemesis has no choice but to love Sidonia, to want to die for her to keep her safe, not because they are friends or lovers or have any sort of intimate bond, but because she has to.

So Diabolics are test tube grown, genetically modified, People who are trained and treated like animals and then when someone comes through and picks them out they are forced to love whoever is put in front of them. They are slaves and they have no choice in their lives nor in their deaths. Nemesis is fully aware that she exists only to keep Sidonia alive and healthy, but all of that is underscored by the “love” she has for Sidonia.

And I just can’t get behind any of that.

But I read through Diabolic really hoping that we’d hit a turning point that would make the first few cringe chapters pay off and…no. There’s an effort made to…do…something? There’s a sci-fi version of a dog fighting gambling ring with genetically modified animals that fight to the death for the Senators’ kids, and Nemesis feels a kinship with them but that’s as far as it goes.

It all feels very clumsy. Like, you can tell the author is trying to make this a story of love and triumph, but the whole issue of Diabolics themselves is never touched on. And it never shakes that itchy cringe feeling of the first chapters. Nemesis is a slave. She is a person who is treated as a thing, an animal, a dog. And I’m just not here for it.

There is a second book called Empress and maybe it does more to fix the issues laid out in Diabolic, but, personally, I’m not invested enough in the story to find out. The Diabolic is a well written book from a technical perspective, I just did not like how the portrayal of slavery, love, and personhood were presented. We all have our hills to die on. While I personally could not recommend The Diabolic, there are plenty other reviewers that say it’s a great read.

If you’d like to give it a go, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author: S.J. Kincaid

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Book Review: Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Book Review: Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows

By Frances Hardinge

YA, Historical Fantasy

Sometimes when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

Young Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts that try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish, and strong, and it may be her only defense when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful family. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans to escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession—or death.

oOo

You guys, I cannot get enough of Frances Hardinge. After Face like Glass her books are an automatic buy. A Skinful of Shadows is, thus far, my favorite of her books. I absolutely love the dark whimsy and bite of her worlds and characters. It’s like reading the original Grimm Fairytales in all their terrifying glory.

Makepeace is crafty, intuitive, trusting, and wary and is caught on the backfoot in the political game she gets tossed into once she reaches her relatives’ castle. Her partner in crime, James, matches her in wit and skill and—HAPPY DAYS—there is no romantic love plot! James is her best friend and Makepeace moves mountains to help him, but there are no true love confessions at the end. They continue on their way as best friends and it’s LOVELY. I am always here for platonic friend love.

Makepeace does spend the first quarter of the book doing everything she can to keep the spirits out of her, but when times get desperate, she starts looking for allies. The first spirit is a wonderful surprise, so I won’t give that away, but acts as Makepeace’s guardian and confidant and it’s the purest thing ever and I love it.

The other spirits she acquires are varied in their temperaments and skills and not all of them are super welcome at first. There is a great chapter where Makepeace picks up a male doctor’s spirit and they get into a scuffle over who can control Makepeace’s body. It’s rage-inducing and brilliant and I love the way it’s written and handled throughout the rest of the book.

There’s a lot of text and subtext on consent and body autonomy, not just life and death and life after death. This book is packed full of metaphors and just writing about it makes me want to reread it.

I really enjoyed the final battle because it comes down to Women Helping Women and Burn the Patriarchy and Eat the Rich and I stan for all of that. It takes all of Makepeace’s wit and intellect as well as the unique and everyday skills of her skinful of shadows to win the day. The best part about the win is that all these shadows Makepeace has, all these ghosts, they work together, not just to save themselves, but because they respect Makepeace enough as a person that they want to preserve her right to choose which spirits she holds inside her and her body autonomy. That’s probably the biggest reason I like this book.

So while I will always recommend Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows in particular is a phenomenal read and will do well on any bookshelf.

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author: Frances Hardinge

Book Review: Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Book Review: Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Dactyl Hill Squad

By Daniel José Older

Historical Fantasy, MG

It’s 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.

Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community—a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker.

Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it’s too late?

oOo

Full disclosure: I will ready anything Older writes. His writing is so full of life and verisimilitude that even dinosaurs in 1863 being used as carriage horses is completely convincing. His characters are unapologetic in speech and behavior and appearance. Magdalys doesn’t have to go on a long journey of self-discovery, she’s ready to take the world by storm and fuck anyone who gets in the way. Magdalys is our main girl and right off the bat we have her asserting herself as the head matron tries to force the anglicized name “Margaret” on her.

There’s so much packed into these pages, we have that interaction with the head matron in the first few pages and then there’s the line about how it had just become legal for colored folks to ride dinos. So we’ve already set up that just because there are dinosaurs, not much else is different from how black/brown people were actually treated in the 1860s. I did look up whether or not it was illegal for colored people to ride horses in the 1860s and from what I can tell—I didn’t dive super deep into it—it wasn’t, but I did learn that early in horse racing a lot of jockeys were former slaves. In the 1880s as Jim Crow laws picked up steam they started losing their jobs and horse racing became the white-associated sport we know in the modern era.

But I digress.

You’ll do that a lot while you’re reading Dactyl Hill Squad, there’s so much stuff in here that you’ll want to look up and see Did That REALLY Happen? And Older has helpfully supplied an index of places and people and events he used as a jumping point for a lot of what happens in this book.

Back to the story though. Magdalys has a special connection with dinosaurs that, because she’s not allowed around them that often, she’s only just discovering when the whole world goes up in flames. Magdalys and her fledgling ability to communicate with dinosaurs gets her and her friends out of the heart of the riots overtaking Manhattan. This is probably my favorite part of the book. The kids are escaping on a brachiosaurs—brachy—with Magdalys in the driver seat and another orphan, Amaya, firing flintlock pistols at magistrate Riker and his Kidnapping Club. Meanwhile, literally, riding shotgun is a black Shakespearean actress, Cymbeline, who has a double barrel shotgun and is also blasting away at the Kidnapping Club and their ankylosaurses and raptors. It’s girl power to the Nth degree and I can’t get enough.

I will give fair warning that Older doesn’t pull any punches or gloss over what exactly it meant to be black in 1863 NYC, there is a lynching. There’s nothing graphic in the description, but it’s there. Personally, I think a white author would have had the character shot or simply disappeared or died in the fire, but the offscreen death softens the edges of things. These are black and brown characters existing in a time period when they weren’t considered human by a large portion of the US population. The lynching is a gut punch, but it’s truth.

I like the variety of dinos that Older brings to the table, too. It’s not just triceratops and t-rexes, we’ve got ankylosaurses, knuckleskulls, brachys, and some delightful tiny things called microtriceratops that people use as pets.

I said on twitter I was ready to pre-order the entire series and I meant it. Even if middle grade isn’t the usual thing you read, you can make an exception for Dactyl Hill Squad. I blew through this in an afternoon and I’ve been thinking about it for two days. I’m sure I’ll do another read through in the next couple of weeks because Older writes books that require more than one reading to really put things together. I’m sure there are things in this book that three books from now will become lynchpin information. It’s how he writes and it’s so amazing.

There is a character towards the end of this book that appears in his YA Shadowshaper trilogy, and I’d love to gush about him, but I haven’t decided if it counts as a spoiler. I know I about threw the book when he appeared, so I think I’d like to keep it as a delightful surprise for everyone else.

As always, you can pick up Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here: http://danieljoseolder.net/

 

Review: A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan

Review: A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan

Touch of Gold

By Annie Sullivan

YA, Fantasy

After King Midas’s gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, he relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish; her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.

Kora spends her days concealed behind gloves and veils. It isn’t until a charming duke arrives that Kora believes she could indeed be loved. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals treasures her father needs to survive. Thanks to Kora’s unique ability to sense gold, only she can find the missing items. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not her companions, or the thieves, or Kora herself.

oOo

A continuation of the King Midas tale from the daughter’s POV? Yes please! As a huge fan of Disney’s Tangled and Frozen, Kora reminded me a lot of Elsa and Rapunzel. She’s terrified of the powers she has and thinks they make her unlovable, but she wishes to travel far and wide seeing the whole world. Being cloistered in the castle most of her life doesn’t make her as naïve as Rapunzel, though. She’s aware of the rumors that follow her and assumes if anyone looks twice at her it’s because they’re either afraid of the rumors or they’re looking for a good way to exploit them if they’re true.

Kora’s kingdom is in dire straights when we meet Kora and her cousin—but sister at heart—Hettie. Wars have plagued the kingdom and since Midas’ brush with gold he’s been an absent ruler. Kora is now playing the marriage game to bring the kingdom back from poverty and give it some stability. She’s not super thrilled about any of this, and who could blame her. No one’s paid her much mind until now, because now she’s a useful bargaining chip.

I like Hettie, she’s got a short fuse and definitely reminded me of Anna with her blunt personality and initial haughtiness when we meet the crew of the Swanflight. But she learns to wield a cutlass pretty quick and falls right in with the boys. I think Hettie has an interesting story inside her, I’d love to know what she does after the book ends. She doesn’t seem like she’d be one to stuff herself back into gowns and corsets after their adventure. Hettie does tiptoe the line of being more interesting than Kora, like Han and Luke. The story is told from Kora’s POV and she does a lot of growing during the adventure, but Hettie gets into swordfights and cuts pirates down like she was born for it. Is that rage? Is it inborn talent? Did she watch the palace guards practice? I have a lot of questions about what’s going on inside of Hettie.

Our villain is Captain Skulls, so named because he likes to keep the heads of his enemies as souvenirs. We all have weird hobbies, don’t judge. Captain Skulls fits nicely into the mold of Disney villain. He is bad through and through, there are no glimpses of humanity or deeper character story. He’s there to chew bubblegum and steal heads. And he’s all out of bubblegum. There are other antagonists in the story, and they start off with the promise of a complex character arc, but once the charade falls apart they also become bad through and through. I’m pretty sure all Disney villains are sociopaths, has anyone looked into that?

When Kora sets off on her journey there’s a sense of urgency, the stolen treasures are tied directly to her father’s life, so the longer they’re away, the weaker he becomes and he’s already a shadow of himself. But there’s no real ticking clock, there’s no definitive “Get the gold back in a week or he’ll be dead.” It’s just every now and then Kora checks in and we get an update of him slipping away more and more. Still the time spent on the ship doesn’t hold a lot of urgency. She frets over getting the gold back, but she also spends equal time fretting over boys and Hettie being seasick.

I would say it’s the last three or four chapters will have readers turning pages fast as they can. There are a lot of twists and turns and false leads in this book and the end is a breathless maze. The fight with Captain Skulls is dramatic, but it’s everything that happens afterwards that really seals Touch of Gold as an enjoyable afternoon read. This being a Hyperion print, there’s no gratuitous violence, lots of the fighting is dramatic sword fights and off screen deaths, so if you have a younger reader who’d like to read a swashbuckling tale of King Midas, this is a good one.

You can pick up A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here: https://anniesullivanauthor.com/

 

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

For weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her bould-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the soverign’s brother, saying goodby to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most poerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

oOo

This is a really good follow up to Flame in the Mist, but it focuses more on the love story between Mariko and Ōkami so I wasn’t quite as riveted as I was with the first book. Still lots of ninjas, though. There’s more political drama in this one as well. Mariko is in the imperial city and everyone; the emperor, empress, concubines, heirs, and ladies-in-waiting all have an agenda and are all maneuvering to get more power. That definitely keeps the pages turning. There’s a sorceress in the palace as well, so we keep that thread of fantasy going throughout the book.

Mariko is still the fierce and adaptable character we had in the last book, but Smoke in the Sun is more love story than adventure story. To me, it sometimes feels like Mariko’s interactions with Ōkami are a little too HOW DO I LIIIIVE WITHOUT YOUUUUUU. Sure, Ōkami is set to be executed literally any day, but, they’ve known each other all of three months or so.

Calm down.

Or maybe that’s a solid reaction. I don’t know. I’m aro/ace, my gauge on appropriate romantic reactions didn’t even get installed.

Anyway, we’re given better introductions to Roku and Raiden who we meet in Flame in the Mist. Roku is the heir apparent and his brother, Raiden, is Mariko’s betrothed. They’re brothers and thick as thieves even though their mothers hate each other. As Roku gains more and more power though we begin to see that he’s not just a cunning and spoiled little prince, he’s also a genuine sociopath.

Raiden is little better, constantly following his brother’s orders and whims, but as the story continues we see the two begin to diverge. As Roku becomes more and more depraved, Raiden becomes more and more uncomfortable and begins to question his blind loyalty.

Meanwhile, Mariko and Ōkami are in the background with “I Will Always Love You” playing on repeat and the rest of the Black Clan waving their lighters in the air.

But, even with this being more a love story than anything else, I will happily read this again because it is a wonderful conclusion to Flame in the Mist. And I still love Takeda.

 

You can find Smoke in the Sun by Renée Ahdieh at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author here.

 

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

By Renée Ahdieh

YA, Historical Fantasy

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

oOo

Oh boy, you know I love me some ninjas. I had this book at the checkout counter before conscious thought caught up to me. It’s hard to find good fantasy with ninjas. I don’t know why; their mythology is ripe for excellent stories. But Ahdieh has made an incredible story with a smattering of supernatural elements that elevate this Finding Yourself/Love story from good to great.

Mariko is a wonderful protagonist. She comes from wealth and has lived a life of luxury, but she doesn’t fall into that floundering fish out of water trope we often see with wealthy characters suddenly thrust among People. She’s smart, adaptable, resourceful, and fierce. But she still has her blind spots. She’s the daughter of a well known samurai and as such she’s never known cold or hunger and this book takes the time to show her that the lovely bubble she grew up in doesn’t apply to the peasants working the fields. This is as much a political drama as it is an adventure and love story.

The Black Clan speaks true to the workings of ninja clans in feudal Japan. They’re ronin and peasants who have banded together for revenge against the ruling class. But we get a little bit of the mythos with our Black Clan leaders, Takeda and Ōkami, who have made a deal with a demon to get supernatural powers.

My favorite of the boys is Takeda, he’s a cheeky little jackass and I just adore him. Ōkami swings between apathy and agitation, depending on how much Takeda is teasing him. The two are best friends and have been through hell together and it shows. There’s a lot of friendship on the page, but so much subtext in all of their interactions you know the author has taken the time to think through the entirety of their lives, not just what’s written down.

I say this with pretty much every book I read, but I don’t care about romance or love because so often those stories follow the same formula over and over again. It’s tedious. But Ahdieh throws a nice little twist into things. When Mariko meets Takeda and Ōkami, she’s dressed as a boy. No one knows she’s a girl in disguise and they treat her like they would any other boy.

Which makes things delightful when Ōkami starts catching feelings. So much fun. I’ve read other books where a character poses as a boy but the love story doesn’t start its arc until they’re revealed as a girl, because gods help us if a someone finds themselves attracted to what they think is the same sex. So a round of applause to Ahdieh for breaking the trend and making this fledgling romance funny and true to life.

The story ends on a cliffhanger. While Mariko is out searching for the people who want her dead, her twin brother, Kenshin, is searching for her. He, like everyone else in Mariko’s previous life, think she’s meek and fragile and likely being horribly traumatized and brutalized by being captured by bandits. So when he finally finds the Black Clan stronghold there’s an intense battle and we get to see Mariko, once again show off her intellect not only in the weapons she designs but also in how she figures out how to end the confrontation when the Black Clan begins losing ground.

This is definitely a book I will read again, not only because I love all things ninja, but because Ahdieh has written a great character with Mariko and a compelling story. Even if you take out the ninjas (but why would you?) you’d still have a page turner on your hands.

There is of course a sequel, Smoke in the Sun, where we see Mariko heading to the imperial city and the nest of vipers that awaits her there.

 

If you’d like to pick up Flame in the Mist, you can find it at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author, Renée Ahdieh

 

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

Review: Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo

By F.C. Yee

YA, Fantasy

Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.

But when her hometown comes under siege from Hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged. Enter Quintin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quintin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukon, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tail and penchant for peaches.

Suddenly, acing the SATs is the last of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance.

oOo

I feel that anyone out there flogging themselves about less than perfect scores on tests and worried about future career paths will relate to Genie. Genie is a hyper-rational sixteen year old girl and it takes quite a bit for Quentin to get her to finally believe the fantastic and otherworldly things that are happening. It’s nice to have a character who translates their fear of the unknown into concrete mathematical equations and proven scientific theories. Even if all that rationale doesn’t work on magic and gods.

Quentin is…well, he’s a god in mortal form. So if you’ve seen Thor, I’d say Quentin follows that character arc really well. He’s kind of a jackass when Genie first meets him and she does everything she can to tell him to piss off. It’s great to have a protagonist that doesn’t immediately swoon over the cute new weird kid in class. It’s not until halfway through the book or more that attraction is even brought up. Again, it’s really nice to have that. So often in YA books we’re introduced to our protagonist and then two possible love interests within the first two chapters and it’s. so. Boring.

Not here! And the relationship between Genie and Quentin is so wonderfully organic. It’s not like all at once they’re BFFs and then dating. Genie still routinely butts heads with Quentin and resists all the weird things happening in her ordered life. Their personality clashes are consistent but not extreme enough to make their attraction to each other feel forced. It’s so much fun to read their interactions even while they’re not battling demon hordes.

I hope to see more adventures from Genie and Quentin. The way the book ends it could either work as a standalone or as a series. I really like all the characters introduced in this book, not just Quentin and Genie, but our secondary characters as well. So get out there a buy this book, so we can see more from F.C. Yee!

 

You can find The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about the author here.

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Review: Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson

Ice Dogs

By Terry Lynn Johnson

MG, Adventure

Lost.

That’s how the fourteen-year-old dogsledder Victoria Secord has felt ever since her father died. A champion musher, Victoria is independent, self-reliant, and, thanks to her father, an expert in surviving the unforgiving Alaskan bush. When an injured “city boy” and a freak snowstorm both catch Victoria and her dog team by surprise, however, a routine trip becomes a life-or-death trek through the frozen wilderness. As temperatures drop and food stores run out, Victoria must find a way to save them all.

oOo

Of course spending a few months in Alaska working with dogs I had to pick up a book about sled dogs. If you have someone in your life who’s interested in mushing then I would highly recommend this book. The author did the leg work to make this book authentic. The commands and equipment used and even Victoria’s attitude toward her dogs are very true to life. There are a couple of moments of artistic licensing, like when Victoria falls off the sled but manages to catch up to them and gracefully hop on the runners. When I told the mushers about that scene they all laughed. Dogs are great, but they will 100% leave your ass if you fall off.

Victoria is a headstrong and stubborn character. Sometimes she reads like she has something to prove, but nothing concrete ever comes up. She’s well received and respected in the mushing community as a great young musher, so it’s not the usual “woman must prove her place” trope that this could have fallen in to.

Victoria is pretty messed up from her dad’s death just shy of a year prior. Her dad is the one that taught Victoria to run dogs and how to survive out on the trail and that was their thing. Her mom is categorically uninterested in dogs and that puts the two at odds. That’s a problem, because Victoria wants to go look at some more dogs from another musher who’s getting out of them, but her mom doesn’t want to drive her there. So Victoria, in all of her teenage righteousness, decides to take herself there using her own dog team while her mom is at work.

Now, first off, if she found a dog, how was she going to get it back? Second, she was born and raised in Alaska, it’s late winter/early spring, but she doesn’t even bother to look at the weather before undertaking this journey. Third, she’s never taken a team over to this musher’s house and plots a vague course on how she thinks she can get there and packs according to that.

This is where the book started to lose me.

You can’t set this character up as someone who knows how to run dogs and survive in the bush and then have her make these huge oversights. I can understand the hubris that lead her to packing for her trip based on what she assumed her team could do. But not checking the weather? Again, it’s late winter/early spring in Alaska and she’s going on a thirty-five mile run with her dogs through unfamiliar territory.

Our “city boy,” Chris, is pretty much a stock character of “fish out of water” trope He’s from Toronto who just moved to the area four days ago. He is the physical manifestation of “If things continue to get worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping.” Literally everything he touches just bursts into flames. I wasn’t really sold on his character and their friendship arc felt a little stiff.

Overall, this is a good story. It’s full of action and it’s tearful towards the end when Victoria finally accepts that her dad’s death was an accident and no power on Earth could have saved him.

I would recommend Ice Dogs for anyone who enjoys adventure and action.

 

You can find Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson at:

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

And learn more about the author at her website

 

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

By Tomi Adeyemi

YA, Fantasy

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed once magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, the maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest threat may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feeling for an enemy.

oOo

Oh. My. Gods. Not only is the cover of this book absolutely stunning the writing is for sure swoon worthy. I have tried for three days to write this review and honestly, all I can say is READ THIS BOOK!

The writing is lyrical, the world building is gorgeous (I want a leopanaire), and the story itself is heartwrenching and empowering. This book is an experience that is made all the more powerful if you’ve spent any time whatsoever listening and learning about the struggles of Black Americans.

This is one of my favorite books this year and I can’t wait to see the rest of this trilogy.

BUY THIS BOOK!

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about Tomi Adeyemi at her website: http://www.tomiadeyemi.com/books/

 

Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Review: Weregirl by C. D. Bell

Weregirl (Book #1)

By C.D. Bell

YA, Fantasy

Nessa Kurland is running for her life.

High school junior Nessa Kurland is a cross-country runner with her eyes set on one thing: a college scholarship as her one-way ticket out of Tether, Michigan, a town on the brink of shutdown since it was devastated by corporate polluter Dutch Chemical.

Talented teammate, Cynthia, invites Nessa on a nighttime run through Tether’s overgrown forest trails. But she speeds ahead, leaving Nessa alone to discover a trapped wolf. Nessa tries to free the animal but is badly bitten, seemingly ruining her hopes for a strong fall season.

Instead, Nessa’s freakishly quick recovery is followed by improved running times. All her senses are heightened. Nessa has transformed.

She has become a werewolf.

In her new state, Nessa learns that Tether has many secrets. What is really going on at the small-town clinic? Can she decipher what the wolf pack she’s been running with is trying to tell her?

Nessa must navigate true human darkness and the uncertainty of young love, while making peace with her new, wild nature.

oOo

The cover for this book is what drew me in. It’s gorgeous. Get into the pages and it’s a good read, too. I like Nessa, she’s an active character that makes things happen in the book. The initial bite is the most passive thing she does. After that, though, she dives straight in to figuring out what secrets are hiding in the woods and the clinic. Nessa is pretty generic in her looks—blonde hair and blue eyes—but at least she’s fit because she runs cross country and not just because.

Nessa’s little brother, Nate, is autistic. I wasn’t able to find any reviews that noted how this representation shook out, but as an allistic person I thought Nate’s character was well done. He was well rounded, he’s not treated as a burden or a plot device. Nessa often comments on how she reads his body language to know how much physical contact he’s familiar with at any given time. I think he was a positive representation for autism, but, again, this is coming from an allistic person. If anyone finds or writes a review about Nate and his representation I would be really interested in reading it.

We do have a “Magical Native American” in the book, sort of like the “Magical Negro” trope in a lot of fantasy movies. This character exists solely as a way to convey information and pops up in some cringe worthy deus ex machina ways. So I wasn’t thrilled about that and it takes some of the luster away from this otherwise tightly written story.

There’s one other Native American character, his name is Luc, but he reads like a white character slipped into brown skin. He’s also portrayed as mysterious and standoffish for the first half of the book.

This story starts off sounding like it’s going to be a Chosen One trope, but in a nice twist, while Nessa is important to the story, it’s teamwork that solves the mystery and brings down the baddies. Nessa’s best friend, Bree, is a great character. And the two never fight. Even when they’re both crushing on the same guy, there’s no girl-hate or catty behavior between the two of them or any other girls they interact with. I was really excited about that because it’s all too easy in YA books to have girl besties turn on each other for dramatic tension. Even if they make up at the end, it’s still tiring to read.

Speaking of tiring things to read: There’s no love triangle! I thought for sure one was being set up, but NO! And I am thrilled. It was so nice to read a book and not have to slog through a seventeen year old try to decide if she wants to go with tall, golden, and handsome or tall, mysterious, and dark.

Honestly, for that alone I would recommend this book. But the story is very good and the mystery isn’t resolved until the final ten pages which will keep you up. So our Native American representation is…nonexistent, but I think we have a great character with positive autistic representation. Nessa is a take charge character that doesn’t have all the answers and her becoming a werewolf doesn’t make her all powerful or The One.

You can pick up Weregirl by CD Bell at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

Also, check out Book 2 Chimera