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!

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.

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.

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!

August Writing Update

Howdy lovelies!

I’ve been getting into the grove of things again and I’m only panicking a little because my first packet is due next week! Yikes!

I’ve been working on a few different things all summer, namely my YA Fantasy and a YA Paranormal? Urban Fantasy? What would you call a book that happens when Buffy meets Hocus Pocus but with a necromancer cult?

I’ve been working on that mostly this month, since technically my self-appointed deadline to finish this draft was August 16.

I love deadlines and the sound they make when they fly by.

But in all reality, I’ve been struggling with writing anything since July between constantly working at the Day Job and with the loss of my grandmother at the end of the month. So when August came, and residency rolled around, I wanted to get my sh*t together and start writing again.

I was so inspired during residency (as I always am) and broke 30k!

And then when I got home, all I felt was jet lag.

But the best thing about self-appointed deadlines is that I can change them to meet my needs, like focusing on my school deadlines instead.

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!

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

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

Amazon . B&N . Indiebound

Originally published on Round Robin Writes

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Review: Truthwitch ★★★★★

21414439.jpgCan someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

-Goodreads

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute….

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well flushed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, in tense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, it’s sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.

Susan Dennard

Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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Review: The Shadow Hour ★★★★☆

27245910Sequels are hard; sequels in trilogies are even harder. So many of them suffer through Sagging Middle Syndrome™ that some people aren’t even able to finish them. I read and reviewed The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey last year, and I fell head over heels and finished it in one go. It’s sequel, The Shadow Hour, was slightly less head-over-heelsy and more…trip and fall.

A battle has been won. But the war has only just begun.

Everything in Echo’s life changed in a blinding flash when she learned the startling truth: she is the firebird, the creature of light that is said to bring peace.

The firebird has come into the world, but it has not come alone. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Echo can feel a great and terrible darkness rising in the distance. Cosmic forces threaten to tear the world apart.

Echo has already lost her home, her family, and her boyfriend. Now, as the firebird, her path is filled with even greater dangers than the ones she’s already overcome.

She knows the Dragon Prince will not fall without a fight.

Echo must decide: can she wield the power of her true nature—or will it prove too strong for her, and burn what’s left of her world to the ground?

Welcome to the shadow hour.

-Goodreads

I was so excited for The Shadow Hour that I pre-ordered it the day it was announced. I didn’t even stop to read the summary attached, just ran straight over to Barnes & Noble’s website and put it in my cart. Melissa Grey had become one of my favorite authors of 2015, so she was surely to keep that Fave Status in 2016. I wasn’t wrong.

The Shadow Hour picks up more or less where The Girl at Midnight left off; Echo has become the firebird and has gained supernatural powers that can either send the world into darkness or bring peace. Quite a lot to put on the shoulders of a teenager, but hey, YA heroines are used to it.

Echo is as snappy as ever, there’s more stolen gazes and furtive kisses (Go Dorian and Jasper!) than in the last book and everyone in the main cast gets equal screen time so that all the character arcs are great and rounded. We even get some new love-to-hate characters on screen (I’m looking at you, Tanith. Why do you do the things you do?).

My only gripe with The Shadow Hour, and the only thing preventing it from entering my Top Books of 2016 list, was that I felt like I had to slosh through thick mud to get to the good parts. Some castle raids and kissing wasn’t enough to motivate me through 400 pages of book. I devoured The Girl at Midnight in a day; it took me over a week to get through The Shadow Hour. The best part of the book was the last 20 to 50 pages, when things hit the fan and Echo faces off against the Big Bad. Right around when that thing happened to Caius was when I started to get interested. (Man, it’s so hard to stay spoiler-free…)

But The Shadow Hour was still a good book and a great continuation of The Girl at Midnight. Now just to check to see if I can pre-order The Savage Dawn yet…

Melissa Grey
Barnes & Nobles . Amazon

Originally posted on Round Robin Writes

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