Book Review: Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls by Rory Power (release date 7/9/19)

Genre: YA weird fiction

Rating: 4 stars

A lot of people have been calling Wilder Girls a female version of Lord of the Flies; I’d say it’s much more of a YA take on Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, since both involve an all-female cast, weird fiction focused on a very specific environment, and an overlying sense of unease and strangeness. Unlike Vandermeer’s creation of humid Florida otherness, Wilder Girls is set on an isolated island off the coast of Maine, home to an all-girls boarding school that has been completely cut off from the mainland for a year and a half after the outbreak of a mysterious disease referred to as the Tox. The Tox, along with causing intermittent episodes of crippling pain and affliction, warps the bodies of the girls to suit its opaque purposes: one character’s hair glows, and the cover illustration shows a metaphorical look at the potential for beauty in these mutations, but the reality for the rest of the girls is much more sinister: our main character Hetty’s eye has been sealed shut, her best friend Byatt has grown a second, alien spine, and our hair-glowing friend Rae can’t use one of her hands.

The disease and quarantine, however, are affecting more than just the girls’ bodies. The majority of their teachers are dead, and no other adults are left alive on the island; the Navy sends food intermittently, but it’s never enough; and the girls are forced to be constantly vigilant against the threat of attack from Tox-warped wild animals from the surrounding forest. Contact with the outside world is almost non-existent, but the girls still left alive have become survivors, adapting to an unthinkable new reality with pragmatism and strict adherence to the new rules of their lives. Until a few crucial things change: Hetty acquires new information that makes her question what’s really happening on the island, and her best friend, seemingly irrepressible, blue-blooded, capricious Byatt, goes missing.

I love weird fiction (think Vandermeer or Samanta Schweblin) and am delighted to find the genre finding a foothold in YA. Powers creates an intensely atmospheric setting in Raxter Island that feels like a character itself, and the mysterious illness plaguing the island’s inhabitants is a constantly creeping antagonist, at times forced to the background and at other times reasserting its presence forcefully, throughout the other horrors that the characters encounter. Hetty is a tough, survival-focused main character, and I loved her loyalty to her friends, her determination, and her slowly developing romance with Rae. I also loved complex, morally grey Byatt, who I could easily read another entire book about.

Wilder Girls is fascinating and immersive, and I didn’t see a lot of the plot twists coming, but the pacing is a bit irregular and unconventional, which may bother some readers, although it wasn’t an issue for me personally. And I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I do need to address the ending. I really don’t mind an open-ended or thought-provoking ending as long as it’s done well–Kelly Link is one of my favorite authors, for example, and all of her stories both end and begin ambiguously. But I didn’t feel that this was the case in Wilder Girls, and rather than feeling ambiguous, the ending struck me as unfinished, and unfortunately didn’t work for me, which is why I’m giving this 4 stars rather than 5.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an eARC of Wilder Girls in exchange for an honest review.

 

Most Anticipated New Releases: Second Half of 2019 (Belated but still happening!)

Earlier this year, when I posted my two blog posts (here and here) about my most anticipated new releases for the first half of 2019, I promised to later compile another post featuring the books I’m most excited about for July through December. And then I forgot about it until June, when I was planning to post it, but then somehow forgot about it again after finishing about half of it, because it’s been a really crazy summer. I thought about not posting this at all, considering it’s now September and this is a few months late (and many of the books on the list have already been released), but decided to go for it anyways. Personally, I love looking at lists of anticipated new releases and adding the intriguing ones to my TBR, and since we’re not all completely on top of our new release reading anyways (me especially!), I figured that this would still be somewhat relevant, and would, if nothing else, still help me to track the books I have an eye on for the fall and early winter.

So, here we go! There are a ton of books on this list; some are from authors I already know and love, but others are debuts or from new-to-me authors, and we’ve got a lot of different genres represented as well. Let’s jump in, from earliest release to latest…

Oval

Oval by Elvia Wilk (release date 6/4) – Near-future literary science fiction that I don’t know a ton about, but am nevertheless intrigued by. Goodreads says that “Oval is a fascinating portrait of the unbalanced relationships that shape our world, as well as a prescient warning of what the future may hold.”

Bunny

Bunny by Mona Awad (release date 6/11) – This literary fiction release is set at an MFA program and deals with complex female friendships, so I’m in. I think there might be a magical realism element as well, but I can’t quite tell from the synopsis, so don’t take my word for it. Per Goodreads, “the spellbinding new novel from one of our most fearless chroniclers of the female experience, Bunny is a down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, friendship and desire, and the fantastic and terrible power of the imagination.”

Wilder Girls

Wilder Girls by Rory Power (release date 7/9) – A lot of people have been calling this a female version of Lord of the Flies; I’d say it’s much more of a YA take on Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, since both involve an all-female cast, weird fiction focused on a very specific environment, and an overlying sense of unease and strangeness. I was able to read an eARC of this one from NetGalley and gave it 4 stars; my full review will be up shortly.

The Golden Hour

The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams (release date 7/9) – I’m normally not into World War II historical fiction (like Tudor-era historical fiction, I read tons of it when I was younger and got burnt out awhile back), but this book is about spies, there’s a strong romantic element, and it’s set in the Bahamas, so it feels like a new angle on the time period. I’m currently listening to this one on audiobook and enjoying it.

The Last Book Party

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess (release date 7/9) – From Goodreads: “In the summer of 1987, 25-year-old Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer languishing in a low-level assistant job, unable to shake the shadow of growing up with her brilliant brother. With her professional ambitions floundering, Eve jumps at the chance to attend an early summer gathering at the Cape Cod home of famed New Yorker writer Henry Grey and his poet wife, Tillie. Dazzled by the guests and her burgeoning crush on the hosts’ artistic son, Eve lands a new job as Henry Grey’s research assistant and an invitation to Henry and Tillie’s exclusive and famed “Book Party”— where attendees dress as literary characters. But by the night of the party, Eve discovers uncomfortable truths about her summer entanglements and understands that the literary world she so desperately wanted to be a part of is not at all what it seems.” Sounds bookish and drama-filled, so I’m on board.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (release date 8/8) – Somehow, I missed hearing about this new novella from Becky Chambers until just recently, and it’s currently on its way to me from Book Depository. Not a part of her Wayfarers series, Goodreads says that “in her new novella, Sunday Times best-selling author Becky Chambers imagines a future in which, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the solar system instead transform themselves.”

Rage (Stormheart, #2)

Rage by Cora Carmack (release date 8/27) – You can check out my full review for Rage, sequel to romantic YA fantasy Roar, here; I really enjoyed this new installment in the Stormheart series, which for me is a very underrated YA saga.

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy, #4)

Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (release date 8/27) – Sapphire Flames is technically the fourth book in Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series, although it’s also technically the start of a new trilogy featuring the younger sister of books 1-3’s protagonist. I’ve actually just finished this one and LOVED it; I’m an Ilona Andrews superfan, but this was actually one of my favorites of hers. It’s set in a version of our world that features warring dynasties of magical families, and our main character Catalina has a very unique power; we follow her trying to solve a friend’s mother’s murder, protect her own family, and maybe connect with her crush, Alessandro, who has more than a few secrets up his sleeves. Honestly, this book is SO GOOD, and I think it’s also a great starting point for readers new to Ilona Andrews.

Whose Story Is This?: Old Conflicts, New Chapters

Whose Story is This? by Rebecca Solnit (release date 9/3) – Rebecca Solnit writes politically relevant, concise essays that make you think more deeply about issues you only think you understand; I’ve read three of her previous collections (Men Explain Things to Me, Call Them by Their True Names, and The Mother of All Questions), which were all excellent. This newest collection focuses on marginalized voices and who gets to tell the story of our politically divided present.

Well Met

Well Met by Jen DeLuca (release date 9/3) – rom-com set at a Renaissance Faire. I think that’s all I need to say? I’ve been reading more and more contemporary romance lately, and this one sounds very cute.

After the Flood

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag (release date 9/3) – I’m still a sucker for any type of female-driven post-apocalyptic fiction, and this one focuses on a mother and daughter attempting to survive in a world overrun by flood waters.

Serpent & Dove (Serpent & Dove, #1)

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin (release date 9/3) – Another weakness of mine is romantic YA fantasy, and this one’s getting comparisons to Sarah J. Maas (hopefully in the vein of ACOTAR rather than Throne of Glass, which I’m not a fan of). It involves witches and an arranged marriage between a witch and witch-hunter, which sounds very intriguing.

The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (release date 9/10) – the unexpected sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale is on mine and everyone else’s TBR for the fall. I’m not sure what to expect, and haven’t read anything about the plot, nor do I want to, before diving in.

Gideon the Ninth (The Ninth House, #1)

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (release date 9/10) – I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Gideon from the publisher at BookExpo, and it turned into my favorite book so far of 2019. It’s an awesome, twisty science fantasy read featuring necromancy, political intrigue, a competition between magical Houses, and humor. Check out my full review here.

Bloodlust & Bonnets

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern (release date 9/17) – I absolutely LOVE McGovern’s webcomic My Life as a Background Slytherin (it’s seriously hilarious; check her out on Instagram @emilyintheweb), and I somehow missed hearing about her new graphic novel until recently. It sounds like tons of fun–a satirical historical fantasy featuring vampires and Lord Byron. I’m eyeing it as a potential read for Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon this fall.

The Future of Another Timeline

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz (release date 9/24) – I’m actually reading this one right now, and it’s got an awesome premise: feminist time-travelers from the near-future are trying to prevent the erasure of women’s contributions to society by an insidious MRA-type time-travel group, while we also get flashbacks to the Riot Grrl era of the early ’90s. I’m picky about time travel books, but this one really works for me.

Ninth House

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (release date 10/1) – this one has to be on pretty much everyone’s list of most anticipated books of the year. It’s the adult debut from previously-YA author Bardugo, whose Six of Crows duology I absolutely loved, focusing on secret societies at Yale, with fantastical elements. It sounds dark and twisty and like a perfect book to pick up in October.

Trinity Sight

Trinity Sight by Jennifer Givhan (release date 10/1) – I’m going to let Goodreads take this one (I picked up an ARC at BEA): “Anthropologist Calliope Santiago awakens to find herself in a strange and sinister wasteland, a shadow of the New Mexico she knew. Empty vehicles litter the road. Everyone has disappeared-or almost everyone. Calliope, heavy-bellied with the twins she carries inside her, must make her way across this dangerous landscape with a group of fellow survivors, confronting violent inhabitants, in search of answers. Long-dead volcanoes erupt, the ground rattles and splits, and monsters come to ominous life. The impossible suddenly real, Calliope will be forced to reconcile the geological record with the heritage she once denied if she wants to survive and deliver her unborn babies into this uncertain new world. Rooted in indigenous oral-history traditions and contemporary apocalypse fiction, Trinity Sight asks readers to consider science versus faith and personal identity versus ancestral connection. Lyrically written and utterly original, Trinity Sight brings readers to the precipice of the end-of-times and the hope for redemption.”

Aphrodite Made Me Do It

Aphrodite Made Me Do It by Trista Mateer (release date 10/1) (poetry collection) – I read Mateer’s poetry collection Honeybee and absolutely loved it after picking up a copy at BookCon this year, and it made me want to read a lot more from her. Based on the title, I assume that this collection also focuses on love and lost love.

The Last True Poets of the Sea

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake (release date 10/1) – I heard about this one at the YA Buzz panel at BookExpo, where it was pitched as being extremely unique and hard to describe–and even though that was pretty vague, I was still intrigued enough to pick up an ARC after the panel. Early reviews are very positive, and several mention that it’s either inspired by or a retelling of Twelfth Night.

Frankissstein

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (release date 10/1) – Winterson’s The Passion was one of my favorite reads a few years ago, and I’ve been wanting to pick up more from her ever since. Frankissstein is supposedly half historical fiction about a take on Mary Shelley and her inspiration for Frankenstein and half speculative literary fiction about AI, and I’m very intrigued.

Wayward Son (Simon Snow, #2)

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (release date 10/3) – The sequel to Carry On, which is probably one of my favorite YA books, has been on my radar for months. I read Carry On in one sitting during my first ever round of participating in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon, and it fits into one of my absolute favorite niche genres: satires/homages to portal fantasy tropes and classics. I have no idea what to expect from Wayward Son, except that it’s set in the U.S., but I’m hoping to love it just as much as the original.

The Grace Year

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (release date 10/8) – Another ARC I picked up at BookExpo’s YA Buzz panel, this one is being called a YA version of The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Beautiful (The Beautiful, #1)

The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh (release date 10/8) – YA historical fantasy featuring New Orleans vampires, inspired by Anne Rice. There’s no way I’m not picking this one up, and I stood in line for a veryyy long time at BookExpo to pick up an ARC! To me, this is the epitome of a great-sounding October read, and I’m very much hoping to love it.

It Would Be Night in Caracas

It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo (release date 10/15) – I’m very interested in this new release from new imprint Harper Via, which focuses on translated, international fiction. From Goodreads: “Told with gripping intensity, It Would be Night in Caracas chronicles one woman’s desperate battle to survive amid the dangerous, sometimes deadly, turbulence of modern Venezuela and the lengths she must go to secure her future.”

The Deep

The Deep by Rivers Solomon (release date 11/5) – this is a short novel based on a Hugo-nominated song and written by the author of An Unkindness of Ghosts, a science fiction work I read last year. It sounds like it will be an intense and moving read; Goodreads describes the premise thusly: “Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian.”

The Witches Are Coming

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (release date 11/5) – I really enjoyed West’s previous essay collection Shrill, which talked a lot about feminism and body positivity; this one is supposed to be more of an examination of how Trump won the 2016 election and how pop culture trends contributed to current societal issues.

In the Dream House

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (release date 11/5) – Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties is one of my all-time favorite short story collections, so I’ll absolutely be looking to pick up her new book, which is a memoir about her experience in an abusive relationship.

Queen of the Conquered

Queen of the Conquered by Kacen Callender (release date 11/12) – The Goodreads blurb says it all for this one: “An ambitious young woman with the power to control minds seeks vengeance against the royals who murdered her family, in a Caribbean-inspired fantasy world embattled by colonial oppression.”

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air, #3)

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black (release date 11/19) – I’m cautiously looking forward to the third and final (I’m assuming?) book in Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, considering that I did enjoy the first 2 books in the series, but they weren’t quite perfect. They’re definitely twisty books with memorable characters, but I’m hoping that book 3 will bring more depth and resolution to the series.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha, #2)

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (release date 12/3) – the anxiously awaited sequel to YA fantasy hit Children of Blood and Bone finally comes out in December, and I’m very excited to see where the story goes after Book 1’s twist ending. I really loved the characters and lush worldbuilding of the first book, and I have a feeling that Book 2 won’t disappoint.

 

Are you excited for any of these new releases? Do you know of any intriguing ones I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

August Reading Wrap-Up

It feels strange to already be putting together my August wrap-up, mainly because my July wrap-up was so belated that August had already almost ended by the time I posted it. I’m also thinking that I’m going to stop starting each wrap-up blog by remarking on how late it is; my wrap-up blogs are belated, guys, that’s just how it is lately. Maybe I’ll post one early at some point in my life and then I can comment on that?

Anyways, August had the distinction of being the month I read my favorite book of the year so far! I also finished 3 of my BookExpo ARCs; listened to 2 nonfiction books on audio; and picked up an unfortunately disappointing dystopian read. Let’s get to the stats and reviews…

Total books read: 6

ARCs: 3

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Columbine by Dave CullenGideon the Ninth (The Ninth House, #1)My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache WilliamsVoxRage (Stormheart, #2)The Ten Thousand Doors of January

 

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (5 stars) – Gideon was, without question, my absolute favorite book of the year so far. And I did not at all expect it to be. You can find my full review here, but to summarize: read this book, because it made me so happy and I just want to talk about it with everyone. (I received an ARC of Gideon the Ninth from Tor at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review).

Columbine by Dave Cullen (4 stars) – This was a very difficult read emotionally, especially considering how school shootings continue to tear lives apart today, and for that reason I think it’s a very important book for people to keep reading. It’s also extremely well-researched, and focuses a lot on media coverage of Columbine and how that contributed to various misconceptions about the events that persist to this day. I listened to the audiobook, and would recommend it, but only if you’re prepared for an emotionally heavy nonfiction read.

Rage by Cora Carmack (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this follow-up to romantic YA fantasy Roar; you can find my full review here. (I received an ARC of Rage from Tor Teen at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review.)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow (3 stars) –The Ten Thousand Doors of January had an intriguing premise and was solidly written, but unfortunately missed the mark for me. I do, however, think it’s a book that a lot of readers will love, particularly readers of historical fiction looking to dip a toe into the fantasy genre, or YA readers looking for an approachable crossover adult fantasy. You can find my full review here.  (I received an ARC of The Ten Thousand Doors of January from the publisher at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review.)

My Friend Anna by Rachel Deloache Williams (3 stars) – An entertaining listen on audiobook, although at times also frustrating and naive. My Friend Anna is nonfiction and follows young New Yorker and former Vanity Fair assistant photo editor Williams as she befriends Anna Delvey (actually Anna Sorokin), allegedly a wealthy German heiress, who turns out to instead be a Russian con artist. It’s a fascinating true-crime story and one that I was really interested to read more about; the “millennial scammer” grabbed headlines earlier this year due to hiring a stylist for her courtroom appearances and her unrepentant attitude towards her crimes, and Williams has a very personal take on the story. Essentially, Williams befriends Sorokin, and the “heiress” shares dinners, personal training sessions, spa visits, etc with Williams, which turns into a short but fairly close friendship. Eventually, Anna proposes a lavish trip to Morocco that she assures Williams she’s paying for, but once they arrive, none of Sorokin’s payment methods work and Williams is forced to “temporarily” put the ($60,000) trip on her own cards, despite the fact that she doesn’t have the money. Anna swears she’ll pay Williams back, but this turns into a drawn-out saga of Anna inventing every excuse in the book to avoid paying Williams, and Williams gradually coming to the realization that Anna isn’t who she says she is. I did overall find myself very engaged by the narrative, but I was also frustrated by Williams’s reluctance to believe the truth about Sorokin even when it became extremely obvious, and her insistence, even in the face of Anna’s crimes, that theirs was a true friendship. I’d still recommend it overall, and will be interested to see Shonda Rhimes’s Netflix series on the topic.

Vox by Christina Dalcher (3 stars) – This book was, unfortunately, quite disappointing. I wavered a bit about rating it lower, but honestly, I rarely give books 1 or 2 stars because if I dislike a book enough to rate it that low, chances are I’ll have DNF’d it long before finishing. And I did consider DNF-ing Vox, but I was still interested enough, and the writing was still strong enough, to make it to the end, so 3 stars it is. So, why did I dislike it so much? First of all, I’m generally a fan of dystopian books, and although I find them difficult reads in particular when they focus on the erosion of women’s rights (like The Handmaid’s Tale), I still think that they are important works to consume as warnings and political catalysts. And I understand that this genre has exploded in recent years, and that it’s hard for a feminist dystopia book to stand out unless it has a particularly intriguing premise. But Vox, to me, fell into the same kind of trap as When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which I read a few years ago and also strongly disliked–the premise just doesn’t make any sense, even if the political inspirations do, and the subsequent plot makes even less sense than the premise, leading to a book that’s nonsensical and the opposite of cohesive. (The ridiculous premise of When She Woke involves peoples’ skin being dyed certain colors based on crimes they have committed, and their first few days after the skin dyeing process being broadcast on a weird version of reality TV.) In Vox, an extreme branch of the religious right has gained power, and somehow, over the course of a year, every woman in America has been forced to wear a word counter on her wrist that administers a painful electric shock if she speaks more than 100 words a day. Somehow also in this single transition year, the entire school system has become gender-segregated; LGBTQ people have been imprisoned in camps; all women have been forced to leave the workforce; and cameras have been installed in both public and private areas to make sure that the population follows these rules. Note that democracy is still in place; it’s the president who has started these changes, not some kind of creepy overthrow situation like in The Handmaid’s Tale, but yet still, in ONE YEAR, with our current laws and bureaucratic system, all of this has happened. It’s just not plausible. I’m someone who can set aside a strange premise; I like when books are weird, and if they’re really good, I may not care whether or not they make sense, but this was just too much for me. Also, the main character’s husband is part of this administration (?!) and we’re supposed to believe he had no idea that any of this was going to happen before it did. Once we found that out, I had a really hard time feeling like the main character’s husband, and the main character herself, weren’t complicit in the formulation of the dystopia they found themselves in. And I get that this is sort of the point of Vox–that passive objection isn’t the same as active resistance, and that you have to fight to protect your rights–but the message is greatly undermined by having the central family so close to the president and his cronies in the first place. Even setting aside the premise, I found that the rest of the story was unfortunately equally nonsensical, and that there were a lot of other paths the author could have taken plot-wise that might have been more interesting. Personally, I would recommend giving this one a pass, and picking up The Power by Naomi Alderman instead.

 

Have you guys read any of these? Any on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – 3 stars

Release date 9/10/19

Standalone historical fantasy

The Ten Thousand Doors of January had an intriguing premise and was solidly written, but unfortunately missed the mark for me. I do, however, think it’s a book that a lot of readers will love, particularly readers of historical fiction looking to dip a toe into the fantasy genre, or YA readers looking for an approachable crossover adult fantasy.

Ten Thousand Doors follows January Scaller, the ward of a wealthy New England businessman, Mr. Locke, whose father traverses the globe searching for other cultures’ treasures for Locke’s Archaeological Society to make their own. January is mixed race and has a hard time determining her place in the world; she lives in a sprawling mansion, but isn’t wealthy herself; she’s curious and intelligent, but her options as a woman in the early 1900s are limited;  and she’s often treated with confusion about her background or outright prejudice when she’s not under the eyes of the influential Mr. Locke. January’s worldview undergoes a dramatic shift when she discovers the existence of magical doors that can lead from our world to others, and later a mysterious book that elucidates some of the secrets of the doors, as well as some of the mysteries of her own past.

I loved the concept behind Ten Thousand Doors; portal fantasy is a subgenre I’ve been obsessed with from a very young age, and some of my absolute favorite books are portal fantasies (In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan; The Magicians by Lev Grossman; Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, etc). I was intrigued by the prospect of thousands of such doors and the different worlds to be encountered behind them, and I loved the discussion throughout the book about how the doors are bringers of change and societal upheaval, as they introduce new concepts and ideas into stagnant worlds. I loved as well how a certain door-related magic manifests later in the book (I don’t want to go into any more specifics to avoid spoilers). What I didn’t love was that we really didn’t get to see many of these worlds; we’re really only given glimpses into a few of them, and the most interesting one of those is only discussed secondhand, for a short period of time (albeit by an extremely badass side character, who I wish was the central character in this story). Ten Thousand Doors feels very much like a historical fiction book with just a hint of fantasy, and while that might appeal more to some readers, it wasn’t necessarily for me; I wanted more portal fantasy and less early 1900s.

I also overall wished for more character development and consistency over the course of the book. There were times when I really liked January and found her genuinely interesting and admirable, but I found her characterization to be uneven, and none of the side characters, allies or enemies, felt fleshed out enough to give the story emotional weight. Ten Thousand Doors has several characters who, on the surface, should be fascinating–a life-sucking vampiric being, a warrior-woman, travelers who hop from world to world–but as a reader, I never really got to connect enough with any of them since they were all filtered so heavily from January’s limited perspective on the situation. I also had a lot of difficulty due to the predictability of the plot; most of the twists were very much foreseeable, and one that wasn’t lacked the emotional weight I wished it had. The story is told from two perspectives and includes excerpts from the mysterious book that January finds, and at first I really liked the changing narratives and slow reveals, but since I was able to see what direction the plot was heading in fairly early on, this worked less and less for me as the book went on.

Although this wasn’t the book for me, I do think it’s a story that many readers will connect with and love. I received an ARC of The Ten Thousand Doors of January from the publisher at BookExpo.

Book Review: Rage by Cora Carmack

Rage by Cora Carmack (release date 8/27/19) – 4 stars

Genre: YA fantasy, 2nd book in the Stormheart series

I read a lot of fantasy, but I have certain draws and preferences within the genre; not all magic systems work for me and hold my interest equally. Weather magic, however, almost always does, which was why I was initially drawn to the Stormheart series by Cora Carmack. In 2017, my first year attending BookCon, Tor was selling finished copies of Roar, the first book in the series, ahead of publication and for a discount, and between the gorgeous cover featuring a stormy sky and a Danaerys Targaryen-looking main character, I was instantly drawn in. Roar ended up being the first book I picked up after BookCon, and I fell in love with Aurora, an unsure young heroine who doesn’t quite fit the role of princess and weather magic wielder that she was born into, as well as the harsh, unforgiving, storm-ridden land she inhabits. (I’m going to try to review Rage without spoilers for either Rage or Roar, since I think this series deserves a lot more attention than it’s been getting, and I don’t want to deter any new readers by spoiling the plot of the first book.)

In Roar, Aurora flees her country after learning of her impending engagement to Cassius Locke, a prince she doesn’t trust, and after being belittled and forced to hide her true self for many years due to her terrible secret: although a princess and daughter of a powerful storm magic-wielder, Aurora herself has no power, which, if she were to take the throne without a partner, would leave her kingdom defenseless to the storms that regularly ravage the land. This is especially true due to the emergence of the Stormlord, a malicious storm magic-user who is able to call storms to do his bidding, not merely battle them as storm magicians tend to. Aurora falls in with a band of Stormhunters, who seek to harvest magic from the heart of storms in the wild country, at great personal risk, and the journey she takes forces her to question her beliefs about both the nature of storm magic and her own power.

 


When we pick back up with Aurora and her band of Stormhunters in Rage, a lot has changed. Aurora has gone through a lot of personal growth, which is ongoing in Rage, and provides a constant theme: Aurora isn’t perfect, but she’s trying, and she’s learning, and she genuinely wants what’s best for her friends and for her people. She also finds out what’s been going on in her home country of Pavan during her absence, which is more dire than she had realized; there’s a refugee crisis storyline that’s extremely politically relevant. We also learn a great deal more about the mysterious Stormlord and his motivations, which made me much more interested in him as an antagonist, and we get to hear more from side characters as the story jumps from perspective to perspective with less constant focus on Aurora compared to the first book, while still centering her personal growth in the narrative.  The multiple perspectives make the book flow quickly and retain tension throughout; I was never bored with the narrative but rather constantly looking for the next chapter in each character’s story.

The Stormheart series has a strong romantic component, and although I love the series overall, I’ve never actually been a fan of its central romance between Aurora and one of the Stormhunters she meets. I am, however, very much a fan of a burgeoning romance between two female side characters that’s set up in Rage, as well as the possibility that Aurora and Cassius Locke may be drawn together as the series goes on; I’m a sucker for the arranged marriage-turned-enemies-turned-something-more? dynamic that they have going, even though the characters haven’t spent much time together on the page.

In my opinion, the Stormheart series is a fun, weather-magic-fueled, romantic YA fantasy series that doesn’t get nearly enough hype considering what a fun read it is. I’d recommend jumping in if you enjoy your YA with a through-line of empowerment and growth, lovable characters, and a unique magic system.

I received an ARC of Rage from Tor Teen at BookExpo in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth (AKA My Favorite Book of 2019 So Far!)

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (5 stars)

I’d like to start this by saying that Gideon the Ninth is, without question, my absolute favorite book of the year so far, and I did not at all expect it to be. Sure, I’d been hearing a lot of hype and seeing plenty of 5-star reviews leading up to BookExpo, and the premise sounded intriguing (it’s frequently pitched as “lesbian necromancers in space!”), but I’ve been burned by hype before, and I tend to go into most popular new releases with cautious optimism rather than sky-high expectations as a result. And then, less than 100 pages into Gideon the Ninth, I realized that my cautious optimism had turned into full-blown joy at how much I was absolutely loving  this book, and that I was reading something really special.

We’re thrown into the bleak, empty, skeleton-filled world of the Ninth House, where Gideon Nav, a sword-obsessed indentured servant, schemes and dreams of escape. An opportunity arises in the form of a magical competition of sorts between the nine Houses of the realm, where Gideon will need to form a tenuous alliance with her greatest enemy, Harrowhawk, the Reverend Daughter (princess/cult leader) of the Ninth, in order to survive. I don’t want to give away any more of the plot than that; I honestly feel that going in with very little plot knowledge is ideal, since Gideon the Ninth is full of twists, but I will tell you that the plot that we’re thrown into contains an abundance of dark humor, necromancy, alliances, betrayals, murder, scheming magical Houses, escape room-esque magic tasks, sword fights, and sarcasm.

It’s hard to express just how happy reading Gideon the Ninth made me feel. There’s this absolutely wonderful feeling you get when you’re completely obsessed with a world that you’ve only just met a few hundred pages ago, and it’s almost shocking how quickly you’ve been immersed, and you desperately want to keep reading because it’s so awesome, but you also want to slow down so that the book won’t end. That’s how it feels to read this book.

Tamsyn Muir imbues this story with so many completely intriguing concepts; the magical and political systems are intricate and yet we, as newcomers to this world, are able to become enmeshed in them alongside Gideon, whose isolation in the Ninth have kept her both literally and figuratively in the dark. And then there’s the characters, every one of whom I wished for more time with, because they’re all flawed, complicated people practicing dangerous magic and/or deadly swordsmanship, and because their interactions with each other illustrate the cultural differences between each House.

In summary: read this book. It comes out on September 10th, it’s the first book in a trilogy whose second book I literally cannot wait to read, and it’s something special.

 

Thank you so much to Tor for the opportunity to read and review an ARC of Gideon the Ninth.

September TBR: BookExpo ARCs and More

It’s September, and my reading for this month, like August, is going focus primarily on reading the ARCs that I was lucky enough to pick up at BookExpo in June. I’m trying to be systematic about this, while still leaving a little wiggle room for mood-reading, ebooks, and audiobooks. I’m also planning in advance a bit for October reading, since I like to read Halloween-ish books during that month (which to me can mean dark fantasy, horror, mystery/thriller, etc), so a few ARCs that fit into those categories will be pushed back into next month.

In August, I managed to read 3 out of the 6 physical ARCs that I was prioritizing (which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible), so I may likely be reaching for one or two of those unread end of August/early September ARCs this month to catch up:

After the FloodLost in the Spanish QuarterThe Other's Gold

I’ll also want to be attempting to keep up with upcoming release dates by reading as many books that come out at the end of September or early in October as I can, which include both adult and YA titles that I’m very excited for:

Late September/early October ARCs (adult):

The Future of Another TimelineFrankissstein[Dis]Connected: Poems & Stories of Connection and Otherwise Volume 2Trinity Sight

Late September/early October ARCs (YA):

The Grace YearThe Last True Poets of the Sea

And, if I have time, or if I want to get non-Octoberish reads out of the way before October (November ARCs):

The DeepQueen of the Conquered

 

What are you planning on reading this month? Are any of these books on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers