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!

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
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Book Reviews

Review: The Hate U Give ★★★★★

32075671Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen year old girl from Garden Heights, a predominant black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Angie Thomas’s Website

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Originally published on Round Robin Writes

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Book Reviews

Review: Windwitch ★★★★☆

29939390.jpgI’ve got so many emotions about this one guys, I was a wreck reading it from start to finish. I loved Windwitch, and it definitely lived up to the high bar Truthwitch set up.

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

It was a little weird to start Windwitch off, I’ll be honest. I didn’t exactly read Truthwitch. And before y’all get mad, I first listened to the audiobook. This was back when I first started commuting back and forth to school, so on my daily three hour car ride, I’d get through a lot of books. And Truthwitch was one of the ones I picked up one day. And I loved it so much I rushed out and bought a hard copy when I was done listening to it.

And now Windwitch is here and I actually read it. Listening to a book and reading a book are two completely different experiences. For instance, I never knew Kullen’s name was spelled with a ‘K’ (I always thought it was a ‘C’) and every time I read Iseult’s chapters, I heard the narrator’s voice (which was cool).

But Windwitch is a story that works in whatever format you consume it. Mainly, because it consumes you with emotion. I have so many feels about this story, about Merrik and Safi and Isuelt and Aeduan. I just want to hug all of them and tell them it’s going to be okay. The writing was immediately grabbing, the action had me staying up all night just so I could find out what happened, and let me tell you how much I fell in love with all the POV characters.

Windwitch is the sequel you don’t want to miss. This entire series is something you 100% need on your shelves. Plus, the third book, Bloodwitch, will be coming out soon! Not soon enough, mind you, but eventually!

Susan Dennard’s Website

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Originally published on Round Robin Writes

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Book Reviews

Review: The Edge of the Abyss ★★★★★

26219455.jpgIf there’s anything I love in my YA books, it’s feels and queer pirates. And The Edge of the Abyss threw my feelings through the mouth of a vicious Reckoner, chopped it up and spit it back out to have Emily Skrutskie stomp on it. The point I’m trying to make is that The Edge of the Abyss destroyed me for the rest of the weekend when I finished reading it.

Three weeks have passed since Cassandra Leung pledged her allegiance to the ruthless pirate-queen Santa Elena and set free Bao, the sea monster Reckoner she’d been forced to train. The days as a pirate trainee are long and grueling, but it’s not the physical pain that Cas dreads most. It’s being forced to work with Swift, the pirate girl who broke her heart.

But Cas has even bigger problems when she discovers that Bao is not the only monster swimming free. Other Reckoners illegally sold to pirates have escaped their captors and are taking the NeoPacific by storm, attacking ships at random and ruining the ocean ecosystem. As a Reckoner trainer, Cas might be the only one who can stop them. But how can she take up arms against creatures she used to care for and protect?

Will Cas embrace the murky morals that life as a pirate brings or perish in the dark waters of the NeoPacific?

I can’t remember the last time I thought the sequel was better than the first book. But The Edge of the Abyss outshone it’s predecessor—which wasn’t easy, since I also gave The Abyss Surrounds Us five stars—and had me staring at a wall for at least fifteen minutes when I closed the last page.

Edge of the Abyss opens a few weeks after Cas promised herself to the Minnow as one of Santa Elena’s protege’s, and we’re immediately thrown into the thick of the plot when a rogue Reckoner attacks the ship. All the illegally sold Reckoner pups were set loose in the NeoPacific and are tearing the ecosystem apart.

So it’s up to Cas and the rest of the Minnow to fix the problem, or die trying.

Skrutskie’s mastery of language left me speechless at the narrative, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to tattoo some of the gems she dropped into the book somewhere on me as a badge of honor. (Which I totally want to do.) I immediately tore through half of the book while sitting at work one morning and I didn’t want to put it down at all. I was sucked in and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

And let me tell you how the last third of the book had me in tears; from the moment they set sail with the rest of the Salt until the very last page, it was Feels Central on my face. I was my own little waterfall with how deeply this book hurt—in all the best ways possible.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered The Edge of the Abyss, or for some silly reason haven’t read The Abyss Surrounds Us, go and buy those right now. I won’t even mind if you stop reading this review to head over to your preferred book shop and bought these books. Not only are they masterfully written and insanely good, the queer characters are my absolute favorites. And if there’s ever a time to read a story about two girls in love and kicking ass, it’s right now.

The Edge of the Abyss releases on April 18th, 2017.

Emily Skrutskie
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Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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