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/

 

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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

 

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Review: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face like Glass

By Frances Hardinge

MG, Fantasy

In the underground city of Caverna, in virtual darkness, the world’s most skilled craftsmen create the extraordinary—wines that remove memories; cheeses that bring on visions; and perfumes that convince people to trust the wearer, even as he is slitting their throats. Like their goods, the people of Caverna appear normal. But their faces show no emotion; they are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach someone the art of displaying joy, despair, fear—or how to fake them.

Into this shadowed and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past, and a face so terrifying that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths—and real. That makes her very dangerous indeed…

oOo

This story reminded me a great deal of Alice in Wonderland with its dark whimsy and strange foods that alter the mind and reality. Neverfell is apprentice to the reclusive cheesemaster, Grandible and spends seven years of her life locked away in his tunnels helping him craft cheeses and keeping her face hidden behind a mask on the rare occasion someone stops by.

She escapes one day—chasing a white rabbit no less—and the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. She’s an Outsider. The people of Caverna never leave their subterranean burrows, but they do trade with other people who live in the above ground. But they themselves never leave because they think the sun will scorch their skin off. It’s illegal for Caverna people to bring Outsiders in because they believe they carry diseases. So Neverfell is promptly caught and thrown in the dungeon where someone immediately tries to murder her.

It’s a really rough day.

From there, she’s thrust into a spiderweb of political alliances, lies, murder, and more assassination attempts. There’s a great deal of political intrigue in here as well which is complex enough to keep older readers interested but simplified in explanation so it remains accessible to younger readers.

I’m on the fence as to whether or not I like Neverfell. She grows up with no memory of her early life and extremely sheltered in Grandible’s tunnels so the first time she gets out she’s like a baby chick and imprints on the first people she sees. She decides this girl, Zouelle, is her friend because she likes that she’s pretty and graceful and an eloquent speaker. Again, she’s super sheltered and it’s clear from the way Zouelle speaks to her that Neverfell is another playing piece in her complex game, but Neverfell doesn’t see it.

Neverfell spends the first two thirds of the book as other people’s pawns in one way or another, but she’s never passive. The trouble she gets into is mostly her doing it or her trying to make it better, so I can’t complain there. But she takes everyone at face value, even though she knows people are taught different faces and can use whatever face they want whenever they want. She still believes what they say, unerringly. And that—as someone whose cynicism increases exponentially every year—is really annoying.

But I get what Frances is doing; the learning curve Neverfell has of who she can trust and how to separate what someone’s face says versus who they are. As you read, you’re learning with Neverfell and that’s a pretty neat thing to do. Her wide-eyed naivete is still frustrating, but I can appreciate the reason why it’s done.

It seemed to me this book had three endings. Every time we reached a point where the storyline could neatly resolve I looked and realized I still had a hundred pages left. I think the front third of the book should have been loaded a little heavier with the different problems that needed to be resolved so that it makes sense for the book to keep going even when there’s a natural ending point.

If you like Alice in Wonderland then I think you’ll enjoy A Face like Glass. The world building is excellent and so subtle you don’t question when the floor becomes the ceiling or vise versa. It’s a very well written novel and trusts young readers with a fairly complex web of political intrigue and alliances which I really enjoyed.

You can find A Face like Glass at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Frances Hardinge at her website: www.franceshardinge.com

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

Review: 27 Hours by Tristina Wright

27 Hours

By Tristina Wright

YA, Sci-Fi

Rumor Mora fears two things: hellhounds too strong for him to kill and failure. Jude Welton has two dreams: for humans to stop killing monsters and for his strange abilities to vanish.

But in no reality should a boy raised to love monsters fall for a boy raised to kill them

Nyx Llorca keeps two secrets: the moon speaks to her, and she’s in love with Dahlia, her best friend. Braeden Tennant wants two things: to get out from under his mother’s shadow and to unlearn Epsilon’s darkest secret.

They’ll both have to commit treason to find the truth.

During one twenty-seven-hour night, if they can’t stop the war between the colonies and the monsters from becoming a war of extinction, the things they wish for will never come true, and the things they fear will be all that’s left.

oOo

I wasn’t sure if I would even review this book since an arc reviewer, Aimal, did a really great job of laying out the good and bad of this book. I really encourage you to read her review.

So Tristina Wright does a great job of gender/sexuality inclusiveness; Rumor is bi, Jude is gay, Nyx is pansexual, Braeden is ace, and Dahlia is a trans girl. Nyx is also deaf and uses ASL and reads lips for the entire story. Again, great representation in this area and I know a lot of people are going to be moved to happy tears reading about characters that feel the same things they feel. And good, that is awesome and we need so, so much more of that.

Where we start to go off the rails is when we look at the ethnicity of our main characters. And by that, I mean there is none. If there weren’t a few sentences of each character listing their heritage there would be nothing to distinguish these characters from any other white sci-fi heroes/heroines.

27 Hours is set in the future, it’s never said how far in the future, but humans boarded a generational ship and then landed on a forested moon. Our main characters are the first generation born on the moon and they’re all about seventeen. Now, all these humans live in colonies and they’re a cross-section of humanity. And yet the only human-on-human prejudice we see is against the “forest-humans” who live with the Chimera outside of the colonies.

I know we would all like to believe that one day we’ll move past racism, but I can hardly believe that just because you put a bunch of humans on a ship and blast them off to a moon they’re going to come out of it with perfect equality. And maybe Wright is more optimistic than me, but if you’re going to tell a story with POC characters who never once experience a microaggression or any sort of racism, you’re gonna have to dedicate a paragraph or two to how that came about. We’re one hundred and fifty years removed from the Civil War and there are still people on TV right now who will say without hesitation that black people aren’t people. There are people on Youtube right now posting vlogs about genocide. How much time has passed in 27 Hours that this generational hate has burned itself out?

**Slight Spoiler Alert**

No major plot points are given away, but it might take some emotional suspense out of the end of the book.

I will say, one thing I found particularly cringe worthy that I haven’t seen anyone else comment on: Dahlia’s near death experience. The book revolves through four different POV, Dahlia, our black/latinx trans girl doesn’t have any chapters. She’s not quite a side character but not really a main character. When we get down to the wire and war is imminent it’s pretty obvious our plucky little group is going to suffer some losses. And Dahlia takes the hit, literally. I don’t want to bombard you with statistics, but one of the most vulnerable populations in the US today are trans women of color. They’re more likely to be homeless, more likely to be beaten, more likely to be killed. They’re also one of most underrepresented groups in…well, everything. So when Dahlia, a trans girl of color, who is essentially without a voice in this narrative is the one who gets mauled and almost dies…Yikes. Maybe I’m reading too far into it and I don’t think there was a ‘better’ character who could have been attacked, but again, Yikes.

**End of spoiler**

I didn’t really connect with any of the characters, except Angel and George, two Chimera that only get a handful of pages each. But they seem like fun people. Rumor is so driven by hate for the Chimera he flings himself into suicidal battles and drags everyone else along with him. He has nothing left to lose and it shows in the decisions he makes.

Jude was a bit more interesting since he had a lot more at stake, since he is a human who lives among the Chimera in a commune thing. He’s an enemy to colony humans because he lives among the Chimera and many of the Chimera see him as an enemy because he’s human. Divided loyalties are always interesting.

Braeden also has divided loyalties, his mother is in charge of the colony military that are tasked wiping out the Chimera, but he’s also open to Jude’s way of life. He’s also ace, so I enjoyed his chapters because they were the only ones not saturated in teen hormones and sex.

Nyx spends her chapters pining over Dahlia. That’s it. That’s what she does.

Overall, I think if the characters had just been white and not airbrushed darker, this would be an enjoyable middle of the road YA science fiction story. But the gaps in the world building in regard to how humans have shed all of their racial biases left me wondering more about those questions than anything going on in the story.

 

You can find 27 Hours at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And learn more about Tristina Wright at her website: www.tristinawright.com

 

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Review: Tool of War by Paolo Bacigalupi

Tool of War

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Adult, Science Fiction

In a dark future swamped by rising seas, depleted resources, and endless civil war, the price for survival is brutally high. The wealthiest powers buy and breed self-protection by creating bioengineered “augments”: half-men, half-beasts designed solely for combat and blind obedience. But then an anomaly breaks free: the legendary half-man known as Tool.

Tool has found a way to resist his genetically controlled impulses and has gone rogue from his masters, emerging as the victorious leader of a pack of human soldier boys. But he is hunted relentlessly by a global force determined to destroy him, led by someone who knows the darkest secrets of Tool’s past. Soon, Tool must make the inevitable, bloody choice of whom to serve: his gods, his pack, or himself.

oOo

Originally, I bought this because it looked like a good comp title for one of my manuscripts. This is the third book in a series of connected stories set in the same world. I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the characters so I don’t think it’s necessary to read the first two books, but I really enjoyed this world and Paolo’s writing so I’m going to pick them up as well. The first two are called Shipbreaker and The Drowned Cities. I powered through Tool of War in a day. The characters don’t have a great deal of nuanced inner lives, but their struggles and conflict keep the story moving forward.

The main character is Tool a genetically bioengineered Frankenstein monster or some kind. I never got a clear visual of what he was supposed to look like, but I haven’t read the first two books, so it’s possible a more detailed description has been given before. I do know that the augments are made to be virtually indestructible. Tool is napalmed, shot, stabbed, and falls out of the atmosphere and still gets up ready to maul. So he’s kind of a badass. Reading this book is like reading a Superman comic. You’re told right off how goddamn strong and resilient he is and the other characters spend the book looking for chinks in the armor.

Much as I enjoyed this book, the more I thought about it the more I realized Tool’s character is an iteration of the “Noble Savage” trope. But literal. He has some human DNA in him—which I assume is what allows him to speak despite having a dog muzzle for a mouth—but he’s mostly animal. He’s a military genius, which again, I assume is illustrated more in the first two books, because here he gets out of a few tight jams, but he does that mostly because he’s eight feet tall and can throw a full grown man through a wall. There’s some strategy he uses when he’s evading his pursuers after he’s injured but again, the ‘genius’ part doesn’t seem very apparent.

He speaks in a stilted overly formal way. I’m really curious to know what kind of schooling augments are given because none of the characters he interacts with speak like he does. Except other augments. All the augments have the same Thor-esque manner of speaking with grand statements and rhetorical questions.

The antagonists aren’t much more than antagonists. Like I said, it’s the action and conflict that really drive this story. I think there’s supposed to be some love/hate relationship between General Caroa and Tool, but it never really comes to fruition. The final confrontation between the two has a good bit of drama but it still felt a bit lacking. The emotional attachment didn’t quite take hold. And even if that relationship is explored in a previous book, the lack is still apparent in this. This is Tool’s story. The other two books center on human characters wherein Tool is in a supporting role. The emotional history of General Caroa and Tool should bleed through the pages in this book. Luke vs. Darth had more emotional output than the final battle between these two characters.

So I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more from the characters, but I still enjoyed this book and I’m sure I’ll read it again once I get the first two. It’s a good quick read and if you’re looking for something like a palette cleanser between genres this would be a good one. There aren’t a lot of characters you need to keep straight and it doesn’t delve too deeply into the politics of the world. It’s pretty much nonstop action from start to finish.

If you’d like to read Tool of War you can find it at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Paolo Bacigalupi at his website: www.windupstories.com

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Review: Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex (Book 1)

By Sarah Kuhn

Adult, Fantasy

 

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right…or see her city fall to a full on demonic invasion.

*~*~*~*

This was a fantastic read from start to finish. It reminded me a lot of Summer Heacock’s The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky in humor, swearing, and spunky protagonists. All the characters in Heroine Complex are nuanced and well rounded, even the characters that only pop in from time to time. Evie and her best friend Aveda are wonderful foils for each other. There are moments early in the book where it feels like Evie is set up to be “different from other girls” but—in a nice change of pace—the arc ends by showing there are different types of strength and we all have our own style.

Sarah Kuhn does a fantastic job handling multiple character arcs and subplots like Evie’s and Aveda’s rocky friendship, Evie doing her best to take care of her wild-child sister, and Evie figuring out how romance works after a three year hiatus.

The story is interspersed with snippets from San Francisco’s demon tour website and reviews as well as Maisy’s—our Mean Girl antagonist—blog. These short intermissions give the world more depth and reflect the world that we live in that’s rife with gossip blogs and good/bad reviews about everything from nail salons to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The blog entries also help bridge time jumps in the story without the story feeling rushed and characters interact with the information in the blog posts so they aren’t happening in a vacuum. It’s a really great piece of storytelling and skill to weave the story around these outside POV pieces.

Another great thing about this book that might get lost in the shuffle of everything else happening: Both Evie and Aveda are Asian-Americans and they interact with the world as such. There are a lot of stories out there with characters that are Asian or Black or Latinx but they still interact with the world in the same way a white character does and that doesn’t make sense. Evie talks about how she and Aveda were teased when they were younger about their features and about the food they brought to school. She also observes that the food that made them targets for bullying is now trendy. It’s a subtle thing, but it adds so much verisimilitude to the characters and the world they live in.

Evie and Aveda have been friends since elementary school, but right now as Aveda becomes more and more of a diva, the relationship is starting to fray. When the story opens up, they’re not really best friends anymore, it’s a boss-assistant relationship first with friendship coming up a distant second. As the story progresses and Evie starts to come out of her shell as she masquerades as Aveda Jupiter there’s a great tension build up. The release of that tension is even more subtle than its buildup and it makes for a very real conversation between friends.

A lot of the high drama points in Heroine Complex are short conversations between characters and not all action-y explosions and shows of force. There are plenty of cool action sequences, but what makes this book great aren’t the superpowers but the relationship dynamics. Like Evie and her seventeen year old sister, Bea. As someone who has a wild-child for a younger sister, I weathered the storm with Evie as she tries to connect and help Bea grow. I can remember plenty of frustrated conversations and fights with my sister. I just wanted to reach through the pages and tell Evie that things will get better; they don’t stay—as wild—forever.

I know it says on the back cover that there’s unexpected romance, but I totally forgot about that when I started reading. So the romance really was totally unexpected. As with The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky, I didn’t’ find the romance in Heroine Complex to have the same tedium that I feel in other stories. Most of the time when I’m reading I accept that romance is part of the story and gloss over it to get to back to the primary storyline. But in this, I was interested in Evie’s relationship and wanted to see how it evolved and how the arc would end.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn really has it all: romance, action, cool superpowers, and demons in San Francisco. It’s a story that really needs two or three reads to appreciate how well Sarah Kuhn weaves in subplots, drama, and red herrings. I would recommend this as a Sunday afternoon read so that Monday you’re ready to go out and save the world.

You can find Heroine Complex at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And you can learn more about the author, Sarah Kuhn, at her website: http://www.heroinecomplex.com/

And after you finish book one, pick up book two! Heroine Worship

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Star’s End

By Cassandra Rose Clarke

Sci-Fi

 

Esme Coromina has always known that one day, she would run the Four Sisters, the small planet system that her father grew into a corporate empire. Raised as the pampered heir to the company, Esme lived the best years of her life at Star’s End, the estate her father built on the terraformed moon where he began his empire. In the tropical sunlight and lush gardens, Esme helped raise her three motherless half-sisters. But as Esme is groomed to take over the family business of manufacturing weapons for the mercenary groups spread across the galaxy, she slowly uncovers the sinister truth at the heart of her father’s company. And when those secrets are finally revealed, Esme is sure that she’s lost her sisters—and a part of her soul—for good.

Now, after a lifetime of following her father’s orders, Esme has a second chance. For the first time, Esme is making her own decisions and the impact of her decisions will reverberate throughout the Four Sisters. As Esme struggles to assemble her estranged sisters for one last good-bye with their dying father, she has to choose whether she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps—or blaze a daring new path.

 

It took me awhile to finish this book. The world building is stunning and it’s well written, with an interesting narration choice. There aren’t chapters, but the book alternates between a third person limited present storyline, following Esme’s current mission to find her sisters and a first person past storyline following Esme throughout her young adult years. The past portion on the book really dragged for me, I was much more interested in what present day Esme was up to than her growing up in Star’s End. Despite the back cover synopsis, the only way Esme helps to raise her sisters is telling the fleet of nannies and tutors to keep an eye on them while she’s off doing her company internship.

I could not find it in me to care about Esme. The Coromina family owns four planets. They literally make trillions of dollars a year manufacturing bioengineered soldiers and weapons to equip those soldiers. The ‘company’ is a government system called coporcracy and Esme’s father is the current ruler/CEO. People who live on the four planets are called citizen-employees. This is capitalism at full throttle. Everyone and everything on the four planets exists solely to fuel the weapons manufacture and to add to the upper echelon’s wealth. There’s a hefty dose of Big Brother as well, of course. Media is strictly monitored, business espionage is the norm, and the CEO often has troublesome people ‘relocated’.

So there’s a lot going on and in the middle of it is Esme and I wouldn’t say I hated her, but I disliked her immensely. She’s a coward and despite what the ending tries to spin, she is just like her father in terms of power ambition. She only on two occasions finds her spine and stands up to her father, but those moments are quickly over and she goes back to doing everything her father asks.

Her father is Exhibit A for sociopath. He doesn’t care about anything but his wealth and status. There are a few moments in there where Esme thinks she sees something else in him, but I chalk that up to an unreliable narrator ploy. The dude is an AssHole.

This book is 432 pages of things happening to Esme. She’s never proactive and most of the book is her waiting to be summoned or waiting for the other shoe to drop. She spends a lot of time slumping against chairs, sitting on beds, headaches from too many thoughts, and sleepless nights. The only reason this story exists is because her father sets her out to collect her estranged sisters. She wasn’t going to do it on her own.

She also spends the entirety of the book afraid. Honestly, her entire narration is dictated by fear. Fear of her father, fear she’s becoming like her father, fear for her sisters, fear of her sisters, fear for her mother, fear she’s going to do/say the wrong thing. The list goes on and it never ends. I can’t tell if Esme is supposed to be a sympathetic character or an unlikeable character. All those fears would make sense if this was a YA, but Esme is in her forties. At this point it’s Learned Helplessness and I have no time or sympathy for it. She has the emotional depth and fortitude of a wet tissue.

The characters of this book never fully come to life Esme, with all her cowering, is the most well rounded of them all. Her sisters are plot devices on Esme’s convoluted journey to redemption, her closest friend, a bioengineered soldier named Will, is another plot device whose only purpose is to help her find her sisters. Her father is the evils of capitalism personified. It gets tedious, especially since Esme does little more than fret about everything.

The ending of the book, I think, is supposed to have an A Tree Grows in Brooklyn vibe; not happy, but hopeful, but it falls a little flat. Esme may not have her father’s cruelty, but she still wants the power being CEO/ruler affords her. She promises to only use her powers for good and she’s going to help people and blah, blah, blah. But the whole thing reads like those ridiculous accounts of ‘good’ slave owners. Yeah, so some of them didn’t flay children, but they still had slaves. Yeah, Esme wants to change the company’s focus, but she’s still keeping a system in place that has proven to be easily corrupted, abused, and refers to its citizens as employees and property.

I can’t say I’d recommend Star’s End. As a dystopic system of government, it’s awesome, but the main character, Esme, has little to enjoy and can make getting through some places a chore. But if you’d like to give it a try, you can find it here:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Learn more about the author Cassandra Rose Clarke

Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer

Wolves and Roses by Christina Bauer

Wolves and Roses (Fairy Tales of the Magicorum Book 1)

By Christina Bauer

Seventeen year old Bryar Rose has a problem. She’s descended from one of the three magical races—shifters, fairies, or witches. That makes her one of the Magicorum and Mgicorum always follow a fairy tale life template. In Bryar’s case, that template should be Sleeping Beauty.

“Should” being the key word.

Trouble is, Bryar is nowhere near the sleeping beauty life template. Not even close. She doesn’t like birds or woodland creatures. She can’t sing. And she certainly can’t stand Prince Philpot, the so-called “His Highness of Hedge Funds,” that her aunties want her to marry. Even worse, Bryar’s having recurring dreams of a bad boy hottie and is obsessed with finding papyri from ancient Egypt. What’s up with that?

All Bryar wants is to attend a regular high school with normal humans and forget all about shifters, fairies, witches, and the curse that Colonel Mallory the Magnificent placed on her. And she might be able to do just that—if only she can just keep her head down until her eighteenth birthday when the spell that’s ruined her life goes buh-bye.

But that plan gets turned upside down when Bryar rose meets Knox, the bad boy who’s literally from her dreams. Knox is a powerful werewolf, and his presence in her life changes everything, and not just because he makes her knees turn into Jell-O. If Bryar can’t figure out who—or what—she really is, it might cost both her and Knox their lives…as well as jeopardize the very nature of magic itself.

*~*~*~*

I like modern fairy tale retellings and Wolves and Roses looked promising when I picked it up. Bryar’s defining characteristic is that she’s sarcastic, otherwise, she falls squarely into the YA heroine template of “Beautiful with big blue eyes and long gorgeous locks of brown hair, athletic, and handy with a weapon.”

Three of the five characters in this book have big blue eyes.

She’s also good with computers, but that’s only relevant because of her obsession with the papyri and how she’s slowly breaking an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic code. Which…how she’s breaking a code Egyptian scholars have been trying to crack for a hundred years is never really explained. There’s a quick line about long nights of research over the last five years. But that puts here at twelve years old learning ancient Egyptian well enough to find a touchstone with this Code of Isis that she can now piece it together. Also, the papyri are in pieces, so she has to put them in order as she finds them and then translate them.

The love interest in here, Knox, is supposed to be seventeen as well, but reads more like someone in their early twenties. I would even say that’s initially how his character was written, but at some point someone said, “You can’t have a twenty-five year old getting frisky with a seventeen year old, people will riot.” So a passing line of why Knox doesn’t like going to high school was added in.

Knox is a werewolf and he is massive. He’s about 6’5” as a human, I assume, but when he changes into a wolf? He’s twelve feet long. And as tall as a horse. He is literally the size of a sedan. Where did all that extra mass come from? He has to weigh a literal ton. Just…how? “Magic” can only explain so much. How does he fit through the average doorway without bruising his shoulders or smacking his ears? Look at your doorway right now and ask yourself, “Could a quarter horse walk through there?” Or maybe a Clydesdale. It never specifies what kind of horse he is as big as.

Also, Knox’s wolf decides as soon as they meet Bryar Rose that she is their mate and it is now his job to protect her at all costs because she is his.

Cue side-eye.

But it’s totally fine, because Bryar Rose also comes to think of Knox as hers.

Side-eye, part two.

If you’re looking for a quick read, this book will work. I read it all in an evening. There are a couple of unresolved questions that I assume the next book will begin to answer, but if you’ve read enough YA fantasy you can pretty well guess what will be in the second book. So, Wolves and Roses was a decent read, but follows the template of YA fantasy better than Bryar Rose does the Sleeping Beauty.

Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Serafina and the Black Cloak By Robert Beatty

Fantasy, MG

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity…before all of the children vanish one by one.

*~*~*

For some reason, the first twenty or so pages of this book were a little hard to get in to. But the book finds its stride about thirty pages in and it’s a quick page turner. This is a young middle grade novel, so some of the hints at Serafina’s true nature can feel somewhat heavy handed to adults, which might be why it didn’t grab my attention very well. But I think young readers will be just as intrigued at unraveling the mystery of Serafina as they will the terrifying specter Man in the Black Cloak.

Serafina is a feisty character and the Chief Rat Catcher of the Biltmore Estate, except no one knows she exists. Her pa is the chief handyman of the estate and they live in the basement in secret. Serafina has a complex inner life. She loves her pa but she wants more than anything to know who her mother was. I think what this book does best is illustrate that courage is not the absence of fear, but acknowledging it’s there and going forward anyway. Serafina is a smaller-than-average twelve year old girl facing down a supernatural foe and she is scared. She’s scared she’ll be caught, she’s scared her friend will be caught, she’s scared if the Man in the Black Cloak doesn’t catch her one of the Vanderbilt adults will catch her and put her pa in jail. But she goes on the hunt anyway, because leaving the Man in the Black Cloak to roam and harm others is worse than her other fears.

Towards the back end the book gets a little heavy handed again on morality and what makes one good and what makes one evil. I think that theme should have been introduced sooner since Serafina’s decision is an important turning point for her inner life and thoughts.

There’s also some folklore introduced near the ending, which again, I think should have been brought up sooner since it is a critical piece of information that ties the ending together. It’s not brought up by anyone until close to the 200 page mark. As much as Serafina reads, I think it could have been inserted much sooner when we were learning about some of her favorite books.

Young readers I think will enjoy the ending, the epic battle and how clever Serafina is, as well as the happy ending that leaves room for many more adventures. But as an adult reader I was put off by the winning-the-lottery levels of luck needed to make this ending so happy. I try to avoid spoilers in reviews, so I can’t say much else without giving things away, but the ending did leave me with one question: How? How did these characters just so happen to once again be in the same place at the same time?

Serafina and the Black Cloak is a good story for young readers if they want a Halloween vibe outside of October. For adult readers, I think it would make a good ‘car book’, that book you leave in the backseat to read when you have waiting time like at the doctor’s office or DMV.

 

You can find Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

And Robert Beatty’s website: http://robert-beatty.com/

 

 

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Book Review: Shadowhouse Fall (Shadowshaper Cypher #2)

Shadowhouse Fall (The Shadowshaper Cyper, Book #2)

by Daniel José Older

YA, urban fantasy

Sierra and her friends love their new lives and shadowshapers, making art and creating change with the spirits of Brooklyn. Then Sierra receives a strange card depicting a beast call the Hound of Light—an image from the enigmatic, influential Deck of Worlds. The shadowshapers know their next battle has arrived.

Thrust into an ancient struggle with enemies old and new, Sierra and Shadowhouse are determined to win. Revolution is brewing in the real world as well, as the shadowshapers lead the fight against systems that oppress their community. To protect her family and friends in every sphere, Sierra must take down the Hound and master the Deck of Worlds…or risk losing them all.

*~*~*

This is the second book of Older’s YA series, the first is Shadowshaper, so if you haven’t read that one, skip over to a bookstore and pick it up or you’re going to be confused in the next few paragraphs.

Daniel José Older is one of my favorite authors. I thoroughly enjoyed his Bone Street Rumba trilogy, but I love his YA. We’re still following Sierra in this book and she’s tiptoeing into her role and Lucera. The crew is still with her and they’re growing with her as they all figure out their new abilities. The book starts right off though with hinky hijinks unsettling the tentative equilibrium Sierra picked up at the end of Shadowshaper.

On top of one of her classmates telling her the Sorrows haven’t given up on annihilating her and Shadowhouse, personal tragedy also strikes, shady cops seem to pop up at the worst times, and there’s also boy trouble. It’s a lot for one young girl with the ancient powers of ancestors to handle, but she’s got a cadre of ride or die friends helping her out.

The writing throughout the book feels like the breathless, breakneck, tumble Sierra is in as she tries to find answers to what the Deck of Worlds is and what it means for her and those she loves. Sierra is just trying to keep her head above water with everything happening in the spirit world and in the physical world. It’s not until you get to the final twenty or so pages that you feel like you can breathe. Finally, things start falling in to place, characters reveal their true motives and Sierra can go on the offensive.

All of Older’s books are rapid page turners and Shadowhouse Fall is no exception. Answers are always juuuuust out of reach and you’ll find the whole night gone as you tell yourself, “One more chapter, then I’ll go to bed.” But by then you should be at the end and you’ll have all the answers and you won’t be tossing and turning thinking about How’s the Scooby gang gonna get out of this one?

Let’s take a moment to talk about dialogue. If you’re a writer, take notes of Older’s dialogue. These characters come alive on the page because it’s not just the world of NYC that is fully realized it’s in how characters talk to each other, it’s in their nonverbal interactions, it’s in their silences. Take a page, any page from Shadowhouse Fall or any of Older’s book and read the dialogue out loud. Even when talking about spirits and otherworldly creatures it still sounds like a conversation you’d hear in the gas station or at a bus stop. I can’t get enough of Older’s dialogue. That’s the realness at the heart of Older’s work.

The stakes in Shadowhouse Fall in the spirit world are up a notch, because while her family and friends were in danger in Shadowshaper just for associating with her, now they’re targets themselves. In the physical world, Older keeps things true to a group of young POC running the streets of NYC. Illegal arrests and abuse from police and white teachers in primarily black classrooms tiptoeing through lessons on slavery and Civil Rights. And if that makes you uncomfortable then it’s time to have a good long conversation with yourself about why that is.

Anyway, I’m not here to get on a soapbox. Yet.

I really enjoyed this book as I did Shadowshaper. Sierra is a well rounded and conflicted character. It does seem to me though that she keeps making the same mistakes that she made in Shadowshaper of keeping secrets from people closest to her. The threat of a spy in this book makes it understandable, but there are a few chapters I wanted to knock my head against the wall. The goal though is to get Sierra to the point that she realizes she doesn’t have to shoulder this burden alone, that she has people who have her back and will step up next to her no matter what.

Still.

But if an MC doesn’t make you want to bang your head against a wall a couple times, are they really a good MC? People make the same mistakes all the time in real life and they, too, will make you want to jump out a window.

Shadowhouse Fall is an excellent follow up to Shadowshaper. You can read the first book and immediately pick up this one and feel like you’ve just turned to the next chapter. While I highly recommend all of Daniel José Older’s work, Shadowshaper Cypher series is at the top of the list.

 

As always, you can find Shadowshaper, and Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel José Older at:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Read more about the author on his website: http://ghoststar.net/