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

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/