Book Reviews · Reviews

Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

Book Reviews · Reviews

They Both Die at the End ★★★★★

33385229Holy mother of feels, y’all. I was warned this one had a lot of heart-smashing, toe-curling feels to dish out, and even thought I knew what was going to happen (because, regardless of how hard you hope, the title tells you everything you need to know about the ending) I still cried like a baby.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

I really really really wanted this title to be a lie. I wanted to have Mateo and Rufus survive and be happy and together forever and the entire time I had hope that the title was wrong and that I wouldn’t cry forever.

I’m not a fan of contemporary. I don’t hide that fact. But this was just enough fantasy to pique my interest and I was hooked. The ways the characters and the story intersected was amazing. I loved the little details that tied it all together.

Though the closer I got to the ending, the more I despaired. I was sure the ending was going to happen a certain way and then it didn’t, and Mateo’s and Rufus’s actual deaths were fitting and just so goddamn painful to experience. I was barely able to read with all that rain coming out of my eyes.

I did have a lot of unanswered questions about Death-Cast and how that came to be and how it all worked. I wanted more out of the story in a world building way that I didn’t quite get.

So, in summary: feels on feels on feels on feels.

Book Reviews · Reviews

Mask of Shadows – ★★★★☆

29960675Mysterious and tense, Mask of Shadows delivered on almost every promise it had given. I was pulled in by the characters and Linsey Miller’s writing was thrilling and poetic. Plus the representation of genderfluid and other queer identities was everything that fantasy books have been missing. And yet…

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

The moment I heard that Mask of Shadows had a genderfluid main character, I knew I needed to get my hands on it, whether for reviewing purposes or just pre-ordering it to have and to hold. Then when I learned Mask of Shadows was a fantasy assassin fight to the death story, I was already in love.

Fantasy is a genre close to my heart, one I’ve always loved, but the lack of representation and diverse characters is glaring. In a world where magic and dragons are real, why shouldn’t there be queer characters? Why is a queer main character so unbelievable? Well, that’s a discussion for another blog topic.

I had some hesitations about Mask of Shadows, in that Sal would have been the only queer character and that the book would have used their identity as a marketing ploy; it wouldn’t be the first time books or movies have tried to garner queer readers, simply because we were starved for representation. But in reading, all my hesitations were thrown out the window at how well the representation was handled.

Sal was never only identified by their genderfluidity; they were a thief and an assassin first, a fierce competitor, clever and flirtatious and had terrible aim. The subject of pronouns was brought up, showing how natural asking or presenting pronouns should be, something we in our modern day world can’t seem to handle. Characters asked, “How should I address you?” and when characters that didn’t respect Sal’s pronouns tried to misgender them, that character was corrected (or punched in the mouth, depending on which character was doing the correcting).

Miller’s writing was lyrical and bright in many places, but sometimes I found certain passages confusing and ended up having to read over those several times. It was never enough to throw me out of the story, but it did slow me down. The only reason I can’t give Mask of Shadows five stars is because of the worldbuilding. The little worldbuilding we got left me wanting more, a little confused and sometimes frustrated.

We get a timeline of the history of the world towards the end of the book, but what I would have loved the most is having a map. A fantasy world is hardly complete without a map for readers to peruse and explore, or to reference when it’s brought up in the story. Especially since Mask of Shadows was rife with politics, a map would have been crucial to have. Barring a map, then there could have been better descriptions regarding the nations and the state of the world around the characters. Miller does a fantastic job of painting an intriguing character, but the setting often felt like a vignette: detailed the closer we were to the character, but fuzzy and empty the further away we got.

Mask of Shadows was still an entertaining read and one I think I’ll come back to again and again. If more fantasy books had the representation this one did, I think we queers would be alright.

Buy it here!

Reviews

Zero Repeat Forever – ★★★★☆

Pre-order Zero Repeat Forever here!

28945665When the apocalypse comes and the invading Nahx destroy civilization, Raven struggles to survive with her friends in a world that’s slowly burning. A dark and lonely sci-fi story, Zero Repeat Forever was enthralling—but also a little disappointing.

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

I will 100% admit that I was drawn to Zero Repeat Forever by its shiny cover. It’s just so pretty. Take a minute to really cherish it.

Now back to this story.

On my list of favorite genres, Sci-fi trails somewhere in the middle of the list; it’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it. I find it hard to get into, most of the time. Zero Repeat Forever was half sci-fi, half apocalypse story. I couldn’t even call it a dystopia, since that would mean there was some sort of societal order to the setting, but there was just death and invasion.

I was intrigued by the dual POVs of the story, one of Raven, a human girl lost in the wilderness with some camping friends, trying to survive after the aliens invade, and the other was Eighth, a Nahx boy who’s “defective” and rebels against his people.

The survival plot was intense and definitely the reason I kept reading, but for most of the books, as the characters are traveling to and from certain points, not much happens. As my good friend J.M. Tuckerman likes to put it, “a whole heck of a lot of nothing happens. Twice.”

My biggest gripe with the story was that we didn’t even really get a sense of what the Nahx were doing, even though half of the book is written in one of their perspectives. We don’t know where they really came from, what they were doing on Earth and what their goals were. And I understand not knowing what the characters don’t know, but little hints dropped from Eighth’s perspective, just little bits and pieces we could try to put together would have made the story that much better.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but the ending was ultimately unsatisfying. Had we known more about what the Nahx were up to and how their process worked, the ending might have had a bit more weight to it. I won’t spoil anything, but I felt like the ending was too abrupt and it’s obvious it’s supposed to be setting up a sequel—but I would have liked at least some loose ends wrapped up, or certain things revealed.

G.S. Prendergast’s Website . Twitter

Zero Repeat Forever releases on August 29th, 2017.

Reviews

The Best Kind of Magic ★★★½☆☆

25436641A cute premise with great potential that was squandered by a forgettable character voice and boring writing.

Amber Sand is not a witch. The Sand family Wicca gene somehow leapfrogged over her. But she did get one highly specific magical talent: she can see true love. As a matchmaker, Amber’s pretty far down the sorcery food chain (even birthday party magicians rank higher), but after five seconds of eye contact, she can envision anyone’s soul mate.

Amber works at her mother’s magic shop–Windy City Magic–in downtown Chicago, and she’s confident she’s seen every kind of happy ending there is: except for one–her own. (The Fates are tricky jerks that way.) So when Charlie Blitzman, the mayor’s son and most-desired boy in school, comes to her for help finding his father’s missing girlfriend, she’s distressed to find herself falling for him. Because while she can’t see her own match, she can see his–and it’s not Amber. How can she, an honest peddler of true love, pursue a boy she knows full well isn’t her match?

The Best Kind of Magic is set in urban Chicago and will appeal to readers who long for magic in the real world. With a sharp-witted and sassy heroine, a quirky cast of mystical beings, and a heady dose of adventure, this novel will have you laughing out loud and questioning your belief in happy endings.

A lot about this world is never clear from the start, including many key points about our protagonist. Her voice fluctuates from sounding like a 13 year old to a 16 year old, I never get a clear picture of her—and in fact only find out she had funky colored hair about a third of the way through the book—and her slang is outdated. In fact, it goes from Amber saying “amazeballs” to saying “gag me”.

There’s a lot of overcorrection and inconsistencies in the narrative, which not only means it’s annoying to the reader but also confusing. It feels like a waste of my time if the character spends a paragraph going “Well, actually…”. On multiple occasions, Amber mentions that not a lot of people know about magic or the magical underworld of Chicago, and yet a majority of her high school population is some brand of fey or troll or magical being.

I wasn’t invested in the story or even interested in really finding out what happens to the characters until nearly half way through the book. As a matter of fact, I was bored through most of it.

And even worse, the climax felt cheap as the threat never threatening at all. The one redeeming quality of the finale was Kim, as that would have been the only reason I would continue to read the story.

All in all, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it, and I was more intrigued by the concept than the actual story. Amber’s voice irritated me and I didn’t quite root for her during the story. I would read book 2, but I wouldn’t buy it.

Buy it here!

Reviews

Review: The Dragon Waking ★★★★☆

9780807517048_The-Dragon-Waking-1An endearing tale of a girl who meets her best friend in the Nevada desert, who just so happens to be a dragon. The Dragon Waking by Grayson Towler is a heartwarming tale of friendship, adventure and a splash of magic.

For thirteen-year-old Rose Gallagher, having a friend who is really a dragon and can perform magic, change shape, and fly her away from the predictability of small-town life feels like a dream come true. But secrets have a price, and the more Rose learns about her friend Jade and the world of dragons, the more dangerous her life becomes. Helped only by her fantasy-obsessed friend and a local occult enthusiast, Rose soon finds herself risking her life to help Jade recover a mysterious fragment of a meteorite called the Harbinger, which has the power to awaken countless dragons from their sixty-five-million-year slumber. Can they find the Harbinger before Jade’s enemies? As their battle unfolds over the neon-drenched skies of Las Vegas, Rose must face this overwhelming threat by drawing on the magic that humans possess the power of friendship, compassion, and trust.

The Dragon Waking is a little slow to start; we’re introduced to a lot of characters that don’t show up again after the first chapter or two and we’re not even given the meat of the reasoning of how Jade, our dragon friend, got to Earth until nearly three-quarters of the way through the book. For more than half of the book, we’re led to believe that dragons are aliens of some sort, since the only dragon we meet is tied to a meteorite–a tektite–that fell from space. When we do learn that dragons actually roamed Earth 65 million years ago, alongside the dinosaurs, it’s a little unbelievable.

The most redeeming quality of The Dragon Waking are the main characters, Rose and Jade. Their friendship was strong, built up slowly through lots of work, and their success relied heavily on their teamwork and them being stronger together. Rose is artistic and clever, able to think her way out of sticky situations and patient with Jade when trying to teach her English–another great thing about The Dragon Waking was the huge difference between the human language and the dragon language, and the barrier both girls had to overcome. The language barrier wasn’t swept aside and solved because Jade had magic and instantly learned how to speak human, but it was something both girls learned to process and communicate with through time.

Many of the characters did seem a little unnecessary; Rose’s friend Clay held no particular plot relevance other than to show that Rose had at least one human friend at some point, and to marvel at Jade being a dragon a little later on. But once the climax was approaching, he was put to sleep by the antagonist and didn’t appear again until the closing chapter. There was a heavy reliance on Mrs. Jersey, a teacher and neighbor of Rose’s, and also an adult. Middle-grade ought to have kids solving their problems on their own, but Mrs. Jersey seemed to smooth every problem and question and provide a little too much counsel to the girls in the first half of the book. Though, once she’s put to sleep at the same time as Clay, the girls are left to fend for themselves in true middle-grade fashion.

All-in-all, The Dragon Waking was a cute story about friendship and the prospect of human progress now that dragons are waking from their 65 million year slumber. Poetic language and plenty of lost in translation humor, this book is sure to please any kid with a love of dragons and dinosaurs.

Grayson Towler

 Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

 

Book Reviews

Review: Freeks ★★★★☆

28220899Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

Freeks publishes January 3rd, 2017.

Amanda Hocking is doing a blog tour with us starting January 2, 2017! Check out the first chapter here and the fifth chapter here, the giveaway here, and her Q&A interview here!

Author’s Website
Amazon . B&N . Goodreads