Children of Blood and Bone ★★★★☆½

34728667.jpgI’ve been waiting for Children of Blood and Bone from the second it was announced. It’s popped up every so often in my Twitter feed and every single time, my hype for it grew. Maybe my hype overshot the book, but I loved this amazing story–pacing issues aside.

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

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, 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 leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

Tomi Adeyemi’s worldbuilding was one of the best I’d seen in a long time. I was immediately interested in her world; her worldbuilding is next to none. I was entranced by the magic–or lack thereof–and how it was treated by the people of Orïsha. I wanted to know more about the story and dig deep.

But then there was the pacing. JM Tuckerman and I talked about it on our Booked All Night podcast about the book a little while back and I still agree that the pacing was whiplash inducing. It felt like an entire trilogy was smushed into one 525 page book. So much happened and we never really got a chance to feel the tension or spend time with the characters. The POV jumped constantly and there were times when I felt we were getting the scene from the wrong character’s perspective. A lot of the time, I felt like we didn’t even need all of those POVs. There’s already so much information coming at us that throwing up to four perspectives really threw me out of the loop.

I wanted to spend time with all the different characters and really get to know them, but with the way the story was going, it was just too fast to wrap my head around.

Not to mention that I didn’t really feel like we hit the meat of the story until 3/4 of the way through, where Inan and Zélie have to work together. It felt like the first 75% of the story was just setup for that moment and that’s a lot to wade through.

But even with the pacing issues, I still enjoyed reading it. I still cried, and as everyone knows, any book that gets me to cry gets bumped up a star category (or is forever immortalized in my Hall of Favorite Books, which is really just a labyrinth). I’m excited for the movie to drop and to see how the world is portrayed on the big screen, and of course, I can’t wait for the sequel!

Granted ★★★★☆½

grantedI initially requested Granted by John David Anderson because my good friend JM Tuckerman loved the cute opening chapter. I didn’t think I’d fall in love with this book as hard as I did.

From the author of beloved novels Ms. Bixby’s Last Dayand Posted comes a hilarious, heartfelt, and unforgettable novel about a fairy-in-training.

Everyone who wishes upon a star, or a candle, or a penny thrown into a fountain knows that you’re not allowed to tell anyone what you’ve wished for. But even so, there is someone out there who hears it.

In a magical land called the Haven lives a young fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. Ophela is no ordinary fairy—she is a Granter: one of the select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day.

It’s the work of the Granters that generates the magic that allows the fairies to do what they do, and to keep the Haven hidden and safe. But with worldwide magic levels at an all-time low, this is not as easy as it sounds. On a typical day, only a small fraction of the millions of potential wishes gets granted.

Today, however, is anything but typical. Because today, Ophelia is going to get her very first wish-granting assignment.

And she’s about to discover that figuring out how to truly give someone what they want takes much more than a handful of fairy dust.

I immediately fell in love with the voice. I loved Ophelia’s attitude and sass, and I loved how she did things because that’s how she was going to do them, thank-you-very-much. The puns and the light-hearted voice really made me see myself reading this book to a child during storytime.

It did get a little old pretty fast, but that could just be the way I as an adult was reading it. But seeing as Granted is a middle grade book, the tone was appropriate and fun.

I felt a little disheartened from reading just because Ophelia kept running into bad situation after bad situation; there was very little time for reflection or trying to recuperate to do better next time. But maybe it was that sort of constant negative situations that led me to cry at the end.

And the end, y’all. JM Tuckerman and I talked about it during our Booked All Night episode on Granted, but I cried. And any book that brings tears to my eyes immediately gets a bump up in the star rating.

All in all, it was a cute read and I highly recommend it to everyone!

The Belles ★★★★☆

23197837Let me just say, The Belles made me so damn hungry. Hungry for snacks and hungry for more story. It was SO. DAMN. GOOD.

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

I was enchanted by The Belles from the moment I heard it’s announcement on Twitter forever ago. I managed to read an excerpt on BookishFirst and I was hooked. I needed this book in my hands ASAP. But I never expected to win their giveaway myself. I don’t win things! But soon, I had a beautiful copy in my hands and I read it immediately.

I couldn’t put it down. I was so entranced by this story and the world building and Dhonielle’s command of language. It was quickly rising to the top of my 2018 Faves list.

Camellia is a powerful Belle and her strength and beauty is revered throughout the story. I loved her and I rooted for her from the beginning.

The only reason I can’t give The Belles five stars was for some pacing issues. The middle slowed me down a lot. I put the book down for a day or two when I got to the middle, because I felt ridiculously slow and I wasn’t even sure how the plot would progress once I got there.

But once I hit the last third of the book, things started popping off like firecrackers one after the other, real fast and real hot that it didn’t even give me the chance to breathe and take what just happened. It was slow and steady in the middle, but the end happened so fast that I blinked and it was over.

But pacing aside, the story was still one I need everyone to read. The Belles is still a wonderful read, a fun, exciting story with horrifying plot twists and a villain that had me shivering. I loved it and wholly recommend it to all y’all booknerds.

This review was initially published on Booked All Night.

Truly Devious ★★★★★

35008814Maureen Johnson has broken my heart in the past (I’m looking at you, Shades of London) and Truly Devious was no different.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Maureen Johnson hooked little Maggie’s heart with 13 Little Blue Envelopes when I was just starting to get into the YA age group. Then I fell in love with her Shades of London series when I started using Audible on my commutes to school. And now, Truly Devious has hooked it’s claws into my heart.

Maureen has a stellar command of mystery and magic, of tossing in a twist at juuuuust the right moment to keep you reading way past your bedtime. The choice to intersperse snippets from the 1936 mystery surrounding Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders never felt intrusive. Whenever those pieces came up in the narrative, I never felt annoyed or cheated out of Stevie’s story, which was set in the modern day. In fact, I enjoyed getting snippets of interviews between the detective and the suspects and chapters following Albert Ellingham. It informed my reading and built a richer story.

Beyond that, I loved Stevie. She was clever, witty, a bit of an outcast and her anxiety spoke true to my heart. Not only that, but the queer representation was stellar itself. It never felt like it was there for “Diversity Points” but rather it felt like a natural part of the world, which as it turns out, is exactly like our real world. Shocker, I know.

Truly Devious was another great read from a favorite author of mine and it’s got its claws hooked directly into my heart. I honestly can’t wait for the rest of the series!

Truly Devious releases on January 16th, 2018.

Conspiracy of Stars ★★★★☆

34848207I only recently came into Sci-fi and I’m glad I did, because it introduced me to Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars and my emotions are still in tatters.

Octavia has only ever had one goal: to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become a prestigious whitecoat, one of the scientists who study the natural wonders of Faloiv. The secrets of the jungle’s exotic plants and animals are protected fiercely in the labs by the Council of N’Terra, so when the rules suddenly change, allowing students inside, Octavia should be overjoyed.

But something isn’t right. The newly elected leader of the Council has some extremist views about the way he believes N’Terra should be run, and he’s influencing others to follow him. When Octavia witnesses one of the Faloii—the indigenous people of Faloiv—attacked in front of her in the dark of night, she knows the Council is hiding something. They are living in separate worlds on a shared planet, and their fragile peace may soon turn into an all-out war.

With the help of Rondo, a quiet boy in class with a skill for hacking, and her inquisitive best friend, Alma, Octavia is set on a collision course to discover the secrets behind the history she’s been taught, the science she’s lived by, and the truth about her family.

You know the reading went well when you can’t write a review for at least a week after finishing the book because your heart has been stampeded on.

I won’t lie though; A Conspiracy of Stars did take me a hot minute to get into. It was a slow start and there were a lot of info dumps when the main characters were learning something in school, but once the story hit the road, it hit the road running and I just had to keep up.

Octavia is not just smart, she’s tough and curious and determined to do what she thinks she needs to do, even if it gets her in trouble. I loved her for it.

When the story really got started, I honestly couldn’t even put the book down. I just had to finish it, I had to know what was going to happen and when I did, it hurt in the best way possible. I would have given A Conspiracy of Stars five stars, had it not been for the fact that a lot of the problems Octavia ended up facing were fixed by Deus Ex Machina, a.k.a. an adult like a parent or teacher. She was given the answers to a lot of questions instead of figuring it out on her own. I would have liked to see her figure it out herself.

But the writing was solid and amazing, and that plot twist at the end had me literally screaming. The first thing I did was reach out to my good friend and fellow book nerd Jessica Henderson and text her to go and get this book. It was that good.

A Conspiracy of Stars releases on January 2nd, 2018.

Shadow Weaver ★★★★★

31246863An unforgettable, magical journey filled with shadows and wonderful writing, Shadow Weaver is not a book to miss in 2018!

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

The first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology, MarcyKate Connolly weaves a tale filled with shadows, danger, and magic that has the feel of a new classic.

I picked up this book because my good friend and fellow booknerd JM Tuckerman (Henderson, now! Yaaaay!) read me an excerpt of the first page and I feel in love immediately. The second I could, I hurried over to Netgalley and requested my own copy.

And the second I got it, I couldn’t put it down.

I devoured this book.

MarcyKate Connolly has a way with words and it’s spellbinding. Shadow Weaver is full of beautiful writing and a hauntingly spooky story about a girl and her shadow. You’re rooting for Emmeline from the beginning and the mystery around Dar, her shadow, grows with each page.

I absolutely loved this magical tale and I’m excited to see what MarcyKate Connolly brings to the table next.

Shadow Weaver releases January 2nd, 2018.

Everless ★★★★☆

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A writing style I couldn’t get enough of, but a middle I couldn’t push myself through fast enough. Sara Holland’s Everless was a pleasure and a bit of a pain.

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

The world Holland painted for us was as wonderful and magical as it was cruel. It rang a little close to home, especially with how those in charge of the “money” (or, in this case, the blood) had it a thousand times easier than the common folk.

Holland had a way with language that was immediately spellbinding within the first few paragraph and Everless dug its claws into me and wouldn’t let go.

Even if I wanted it to.

And around the halfway mark, I sort of wanted it to.

Don’t get me wrong; this story about a girl trying to survive in a world where blood is time and time is money was worth the read. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and the plot twists were fun. But that middle, y’all, left something to be desired.

I had to power through the middle and usually if I have to power through something, I know it’s not going to be a fit for me. But I had already fallen in love with the story in the first several pages and I wanted to know if I would love the last few.

I loved the last few pages. When shit hit the fan 2/3rds of the way through, I was glad I kept going.

My good friend, Jessica Henderson, and I discussed Everless a few weeks ago on the Booked All Night podcast, so give it a listen! But be warned–there are MAJOR spoilers for the entire book!

Everless by Sara Holland releases January 2nd, 2018.

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.

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.

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!