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.

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!

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

 

Review: A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic ★★★★★

24585386.jpgMagic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

-Goodreads

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.

Lisa Papademetriou

Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Origianally posted on Round Robin Writes

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Review: Labyrinth Lost 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

27969081Give me a book about kickass magic wielding ladies set in an incredibly built world, and I’ll fall in love. And I fell head over heels into a portal leading to Los Lagos. Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost was the type of book where, had I read it as an actual teenager, I would have reread it every day until I got sick of it. (Spoiler: I would never get sick of it.)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

wp-1464035380601.jpgI can’t tell you how incredibly excited I was for this book when I first heard about it, some few weeks ago. I had tried desperately to get a review copy (but Edelweiss is so not user-friendly), and was unsuccessful. Then I learned that Zoraida would be at BookCon and signing ARCs of Labyrinth Lost. And I definitely did not let that opportunity pass by!

So once I had my copy, I couldn’t put it down. I was so immediately invested in Alex’s journey through Los Lagos to save her family, rooting so hard for Alex and Rishi, desperately needing to know what was going to happen.

Labyrinth Lost was the book I needed as a kid; to know that it was okay to accept one’s culture and still accept their queerness.

I loved every last minute while reading it and it’s definitely the type of book where I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and experience it all again for the very first time. Though I am incredibly glad that it’s a series, and there’ll be more of Alejandra and more of her family and friends in stories to come.

Labyrinth Lost releases September 6th, 2016.

Goodreads . Amazon . B&N . Author’s Page

Review: The Wolf in the Attic ★☆☆☆☆

23492495The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney is the long winded tale of Anna, a Greek refugee living in London with her father in the early 20th century. There was exactly one exciting, plot driven scene in the first quarter of the book and everything else is countless pages of details, descriptions and character reflections on repeat. I had to mark Wolf in the Attic as a DNF, which I hate to do.

1920s Oxford: home to C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien… and Anna Francis, a young Greek refugee looking to escape the grim reality of her new life. The night they cross paths, none suspect the fantastic world at work around them.

Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beau
tiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

-Goodreads

Anna’s journey is meant to be a magical one, full of mystery, strange creatures and the voices of some classic authors. But I found it dull and ended up forcing myself to get through the first quarter of it.

Anna has come to London with her father after Turks burn their hometown to the ground, and have since become refugees. She desperately wants to find a place of her own, but she is kept away from local children and her only source of companionship is Pie, a doll she’s had since she was very young, with whom she shares many conversations.

And for a long while, that’s the only person she speaks with. Most of the book is full of Anna’s reflections on what’s around her and pages of descriptions and details that never end. The only scene that actively held my interest was about fifteen percent of the way through the book; when Anna is in the meadow, watching a boy kill a man and then that boy following her all the way back to the city. After that, nothing of interest happens.

I really liked Anna’s character. She’s young, spunky and adventurous. I knew almost immediately that she not only had to be dealing with some form of PTSD, having lived through the trauma of her home being attack and losing her mother, but also some form of mental illness. As an eleven year-old still closely attached to her doll, not to mention her incredibly limited view of the world despite being at an age where she should be viewing things around her in a much more multi-dimensional fashion, she reads as someone on the autistic spectrum or as someone with a learning disability.

Since I began reviewing books, I’ve started to learn that sometimes, I won’t be able to finish every book. I’ve long since determined that I also won’t like every book I come across. I used to try and finish every book I get from NetGally, but it’s not always possible, especially if the book I’ve chosen to read that week isn’t a very good one or does not meet my expectations. Finishing books I don’t like just leads to headache, heartache and a long time spent moaning and groaning about how I couldn’t wait to be done.

I don’t particularly like marking books down as DNF; I used to find it unfair to the author, who put so much work and heart into the crafting of their story. But reading is meant to be a pleasure, something I do because I enjoy it and want to do. Reading bad books or books I don’t feel invested in for any reason is not pleasurable.

Finishing books is great, but sometimes, not finishing them is even better.

Review: Akarnae ★★☆☆☆

23569787I always thought I loved portal fantasy stories; after all, I did spend ten years writing one, but Akarnae proved that I did not love portal fantasies as much as I thought I did.

Continue reading “Review: Akarnae ★★☆☆☆”

Review: Asteroid Made of Dragons ★★★☆☆

26159959.jpgIf you gave me the option to read a book with dragons, versus one without, I will pick the dragons over everything else. I love dragons that much. So, of course, being promised an asteroid made of dragons, I was pretty excited. And Asteroid Made of Dragons by G. Derek Adams was pretty exciting–at first.

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Review: Glass Sword 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

If I could sum up my entire experience of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard in a single gif, it would be this one:

If you’ve spent any amount of time at Round Robin Writes, or listening to our Podcasts, you know how much of a fan Jess and I are of Victoria Aveyard. We fell in love with Red Queen last year, and Glass Sword delivered as many emotions as its predecessor. Maybe even more.

Continue reading “Review: Glass Sword 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟”

Review: The Vanishing Girl ★★☆☆☆

19395125The Vanishing Girl by Laura Thalassa promised to be exciting and thrilling, with adventure and teleporting girls, but it ended up being creepy and disappointing.

Continue reading “Review: The Vanishing Girl ★★☆☆☆”