Book Review: Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau

Pokemon-like creatures and undead assassins, with a healthy dose of romance. If any of that sounds appealing to you, I’d recommend Kingdom of Exiles as a very fun fantasy read.

Kingdom of Exiles follows Leena, the titular exile, who’s been thrown out of her home city for a crime she didn’t commit and forced to do things she finds abominable in order to survive. Leena is a Charmer, who, not unlike a Pokemon trainer, has the ability to find and catch magical beasts, whose powers aid her and whose companionship she loves. She wants to clear her name and return to her mystical home of Hireath, where Charmers and their creatures exist in a seeming utopia, but first she has to capture a creature capable of proving her worth. Enter Nox, whose guild of assassins has been hired to take Leena out, but who finds her intriguing and useful enough to strike a bargain: his assassins won’t kill her if she’ll find useful magical creatures for them. This kicks off a journey through gorgeously imagined settings, featuring a number of wonderful-sounding magical creatures, a healthy dose of banter, strong friendships, and plenty of action.

Fantasy worldbuilding, and placing your reader directly inside scenes that may be taking place in, say, an evil and magical forest, or a city inhabited by magical beasts and their Charmers, can be really difficult, but I think that’s something Kingdom of Exiles really excels at. As a character-focused reader, sometimes I’ll find myself having to force myself to re-read descriptions of scenery in books to try to imagine where exactly these characters are spending their time, and sometimes it can be a struggle. I never felt that way during this book, even though its setting is wholly unique. The variety of magical creatures in this book is another huge strength; every time we were introduced to a new one, I was fascinated by their uniquely imagined abilities, and the powers and world of the Charmers was a great concept.

What I liked less about this book was, unfortunately, the romance. I liked both Leena and Noc quite a bit, and I very much like the idea of them together, but I did feel that the chemistry was a bit lacking for me. I also found myself struggling with certain plot points towards the end of the story, which felt rushed and/or jarred slightly with the pacing that had been established earlier in the book.

Overall, I found this to be a very enjoyable fantasy read, and I’m quite interested to hear more about what happens to Noc, Leena, and friends in the second book. I’m also very much hoping for even more magical creatures. 3.75 stars.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casa for the opportunity to read an eARC of Kingdom of Exiles in exchange for an honest review.

May Reading Wrap-Up

Extremely belated with my May monthly wrap-up, since June has been quite a busy month so far. I was at BEA/BookCon at the beginning of the month (recap/discussion blog is forthcoming), on a road trip with friends for a long weekend the second week, and have been busy with work ever since. Consequently, both my reading and blogging have suffered a bit, but now I’m finally getting myself back on track.

May was a weird reading month–I’d hoped to be a lot more productive than I was, but I still enjoyed quite a few of these books and managed to finish several Book of the Month selections. No five-star reads, but I was pleasantly surprised by a book with very negative reviews and also found a new great YA series to follow. Reviews below!

Total books read: 6

Audiobooks: 0

#Readmyowndamnbooks: 4

ebooks: 2

Can't Escape Love by Alyssa ColeLucky You by Erika CarterThe Bride Test by Helen HoangAurora Rising by Jay KristoffSeverance by Ling MaMouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (4 stars) -Although I fell in love with Samanta Schweblin’s deeply weird novel Fever Dream, unfortunately this short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, didn’t quite measure up, although it was a solid magical realism collection overall. Favorites included “Butterflies,” an extremely haunting yet brief story; the title story, “Mouthful of Birds;” and “Underground.” While some of the stories were disturbing and creative, some themes and topics became repetitive and I wasn’t overall blown away the way I like to be by short stories.

Lucky You by Erika Carter (4 stars) – This was one of my first Book of the Month picks, and it’s taken me over two years to actually pick up due to me being a chronic procrastinator. I’ve held onto it despite the fact that it has truly terrible ratings on both Goodreads and Litsy, since I sometimes have unpopular bookish opinions and I wanted to give it a fair try. I’m very glad I did, since I ended up really enjoying this book. Lucky You follows three very unlikable narrators, who are friends and/or frenemies and after becoming unmoored in their lives for various reasons all move into a remote house owned by one of their boyfriend’s parents and enter into an experiment to live off the grid. We follow the three women forming and breaking their self-destructive patterns, navigating early twenty-something lives selfishly and with abandon, in tight, well-written prose and a concise account that shifts between their perspectives. If, like me, you really enjoy flawed main characters who are flawed in interesting ways, you’ll also like this book. Recommend.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (4 stars) – Unexpectedly fun and well-written YA science fiction book featuring a band of misfits, that reminded me slightly of Six of Crows but in space. I picked up this one randomly after reading a recommendation on Litsy and was not at all sorry. The trope of a bunch of extremely different people teaming up has always been one of my favorites (Six of Crows, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Lord of the Rings, etc, etc) and it worked really well in the context of this new first-in-series book by the co-authors of the Illuminae Files trilogy, which I also very much enjoyed. Lots of humor, lots of action, and many lovable characters. Excited for the next book to come out and glad to have found a new YA series I can get on board with.

Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole (3.5 stars) – A very cute novella revolving around Reggie, the twin sister of Portia, who’s the heroine of the series’ second book A Duke by Default.  My main complaint is that I wish this had been much longer; it seemed like the characters really deserved a full-length book rather than a (very short!) novella. The end seemed abrupt, especially because my ebook copy ended at 76% (the last section was actually the first few chapters of the third book in the Reluctant Royals series, A Prince on Paper, which I’ve already red & loved). Reggie is a FANTASTIC main character and honestly a great role model; she’s extremely smart, organized, and driven, but you never get the sense that she hasn’t earned every bit of her success with hard work. She runs a wonderful-sounding website called Girls With Glasses that focuses on basically everything a somewhat nerdy woman could possibly be interested in, which I wish existed in real life, and which she’s turned into a social media phenomenon. She’s also in a wheelchair due to a childhood illness, and the book deals with her disability in a very realistic way, highlighting how one of her issues has been how past romantic partners have treated her disability. I didn’t feel like we got quite as much insight into the backstory of Gus, Reggie’s love interest, but I did like how the plot of the book revolved around them working together to create an escape room. You can absolutely pick this one up without having read the rest of the series, and I think it’s honestly a great place to start if you’ve been hearing about Alyssa Cole’s books and want to give them a try.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (3.5 stars) – I love Helen Hoang’s writing style, and will continue to immediately read her books as they are released. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as her first book The Kiss Quotient, which remains one of my favorite contemporary romance reads, but it was still a very enjoyable, fun read.

Severance by Ling Ma (3 stars) – This book was quite a disappointment for me, and in that fact as well as the apocalyptic/plague setting it reminded me of the way I felt reading Find Me by Laura Van den Berg. The difference with Severance was that I was really expecting to love this book; I put it on my top 10 TBR for the year and had a really good feeling about it since it was pitched as a milennial post-apocalyptic novel and, well, I’m a milennial who enjoys post-apocalyptic books. Severance really unfortunately follows a protagonist living through an outbreak of a disease that forces its victims to repeat their routine actions over and over again before they eventually succumb, and who throughout the entire book never develops even a semblance of a personality. Seriously, at the end of the book I still felt like I didn’t know her at all and couldn’t name a single trait associated with her, because her actions, relationships, and career all seemed completely random and only designed to bring together a bunch of disparate elements that did not blend well to create a book. There were a lot of really interesting ideas in Severance, but they didn’t make any sense together, and they weren’t anchored to a strong enough character to feel impactful. My main feeling while reading this book was frustration, because I kept hoping for a more interesting story which never emerged. I do think that the writing was overall good, and that the premise was interesting, but I really would not recommend this one.

Bout of Books TBR!

Grab button for Bout of BooksThe Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, Twitter chats, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 25 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

 

I’m reading slumping again, so you know what that means–it’s time for a readathon!

There’s been a lot going on in my non-bookish life, and sometimes stress will very much start to negatively impact my reading life. Conversely, I know that reading is one of the things that helps decrease my stress levels, so sometimes when I’m stressed the best thing to do is actually to just double down and force myself to read more than I normally would. (This happens with writing, too. More on that later.)

I even set a TBR for May hoping that this would help me focus, but it’s not, partially because two of the three books on that TBR I’m kinda hating and considering DNF-ing. So I think that for now I really need to switch gears for a bit and use Bout of Books, a readathon I’m a huge fan of and have participated in many times in the past, as a way to motivate me to actually make some good things happen reading-wise. I’ll be putting the books I’m not liking on hold and instead picking up some highly anticipated 2019 releases, ARCs, and short stories. Let’s do this!

So, here’s what I’m going to focus on reading for Bout of Books:

Aurora Rising (The Aurora Cycle, #1)Mouthful of BirdsKingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer, #1)

Ebooks: Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (which I’m currently reading and really loving, since it’s a little Six of Crows-in-space-esque), Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Maritneau (eARC, thank you so much to Avon Books Casa, which comes out in June).

Physical books: Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (short story collection by an author whose previous book I loved, also a 2019 new release), and possibly either a physical ARC (The Fall by Tracy Townsend or The Binding by Bridget Collins) or The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

Audiobooks: TBD, since I can’t seem to focus on audiobooks lately, but I’m going to ask for some recs in an instagram story.

 

Are any of you participating in Bout of Books? What are your thoughts on getting through a reading slump? Let me know!

April Reading Wrap-Up

Sorry that this is so belated! I honestly don’t know where the first few weeks in May have gone, because it somehow still doesn’t feel like spring.

Anyways, I read some really fun and wonderful books in April, but I’m still feeling a bit disappointed in my reading progress. I was in a reading slump for part of the month, and even though I made it through to the other side and finished a good number of books overall, I’d have liked to pick up more from my physical TBR shelf and read from my TBR for the month, which I totally abandoned. I shouldn’t feel so down on my reading progress, particularly since I finished 2 wonderful 2019 eARCs, but that’s where I’m at for the moment. On to the stats!

Total books read: 8

eARCs: 2

Audiobooks: 2

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & MagicRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonA Princess in Theory by Alyssa ColeA Prince on Paper by Alyssa ColeLagoon by Nnedi OkoraforWicked Saints by Emily A. DuncanConvenience Store Woman by Sayaka MurataIt Happened One Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (4 stars) – I loved this political rom-com, and I think it could potentially be the “it” book of the summer. Check out my full review here. 

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole (4 stars) -This was, hands down, my favorite book in the Reluctant Royals series so far. The first two books in the series (A Princess in Theory and A Duke by Default) were definitely cute, smart, well-written books with awesome female protagonists, but I really didn’t love the actual central romances in either one, which isn’t really what you want in a romance novel. A Prince on Paper had all of the awesomeness from the first two books in the series–extremely supportive female friendships, political drama and intrigue, imaginary countries, etc–with the addition of a central romance that had, in my opinion, much more chemistry than the previous two books combined.

Our heroine, Nya, is dealing with the aftermath of emotional abuse by her father, but she’s also on a journey to figure out her own brand of self-confidence and path to happiness. She’s always been intrigued by Johan, the bad-boy tabloid prince of what is basically Luxembourg but isn’t, and the two of them begin to grow closer at their best friends’ wedding, which leads to a fake engagement to help with various political things. It’s cute, it’s sexy, it’s a super fun read about two people struggling with their own issues and coming together to support each other. Highly recommend!

I received an eARC of A Prince on Paper via NetGalley.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (4 stars) -I really enjoy first-contact science fiction, because it’s a premise with so much room for the exploration of new ideas of what other life in the universe could look like. In Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, aliens land in the waters off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria with the goal of introducing change. They begin with the oceans, where they help sea life become more beautiful and monstrous, and then with humans, by bringing three seemingly random people (a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rapper) together to help introduce one of their own to the city. As Lagos contends with the very real knowledge that aliens have arrived, violence erupts, friendships are forged, and legends awaken. Would definitely recommend if you’re interested in a unique SF book that at times reads like an intricate thriller.

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F.T. Lukens (4 stars) -Really enjoyed this one. It’s a cute and funny contemporary fantasy about Bridger, a high school senior navigating school and college applications and whether or not he’s ready to come out as bisexual when two earth-shattering things happen: a cute boy moves in across the street, and he gets a part-time job assisting an intermediary between our world and the world of myth. Many supernatural and adorable shenanigans ensue. Great for fans of urban fantasy and/or rom-coms. I found it last year at BookCon at the Interlude Press booth, and since I’ve been trying to read all or most of my BookCon acquisitions from previous years before attending this year’s Con, I’m glad to have finally picked it up.

It Happened One Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton (4 stars) – I’ll be posting a full review of this one later, since I received a free copy to review from Pyr Books (thank you!!), but the short version is that this was a really fun and fast-paced urban fantasy read with a likable crew of characters and a great kickoff to the series.

Wicked Saints by Emily Duncan (3.5 stars) – I had mixed feelings about this one. There were some definite issues with structure/pacing/consistency, but I loved the concept and the three main characters. I did overall enjoy the read and will definitely pick up the sequel, but it wasn’t without its issues. Basically, we’ve got a longstanding war between two countries with Eastern European vibes, and three main characters with the potential to shake things up: the Crown Prince of one country, who’s been acting as a general and has sort of forgotten how to be a prince in the process; a cleric, or mage whose powers are drawn from the gods of the other country, who may be her side’s last hope; and a rogue blood mage with mysterious allegiances. We have a story that’s part road trip and part court intrigue, with one section that gave me Hunger Games/The Selection vibes but could have been better developed, and a lot of great ideas that I felt were explored either too much or too little. Would I recommend this one? Yes, but with a few caveats.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (3 stars) – I really enjoy Alyssa Cole’s writing and I LOVE her badass female protagonists, but I had the same problem with this book that I did with book 2 in her Reluctant Royals series, A Duke by Default, which I accidentally read first: I wasn’t a huge fan of the love interest. In A Duke by Default, it was because the titular Duke was just way too grumpy for my taste; in A Princess in Theory, what bothered me was that he was lying to the main character for a good portion of the book.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (3 stars) – I was really hoping to like this one more than I did. I picked it up after seeing recommendations on Bookstagram and hearing that it’s an extremely short and easy listen on audio (it’s only 4 hours long), but there were several aspects of the book that didn’t work for me. Our protagonist, Keiko, is neurodiverse and has difficulty interacting “correctly” in social situations until she finds a job at a convenience store where she is given clear instruction and examples of how to relate to others. I found this aspect of the story, and Keiko’s characterization, extremely interesting, and I was sucked into the story quickly because I enjoyed seeing the world from her perspective. I also like reading books set in Japan, and reading sort of an everyday, slice-of-life type of story set there was very interesting to me. But then we’re introduced to a disruptive male co-worker who proceeds to upend Keiko’s life and her way of relating to the world, and I just absolutely hated where the book went from there. The male character is sort of an MRA-type asshole who can’t stop continuing to spout his toxic philosophies every time he’s on the page, and the repetitiveness of this was really just a terribly unpleasant experience to read. Not only did you have to deal with hearing what he had to say about men and women and how we’re still living in the Stone Age once (which was more than enough), but you had to keep hearing it over and over again through the second two-thirds of what became a short book that was still too long for what it was. I felt like Convenience Store Woman was interesting enough to have Keiko’s character arc on its own without the male character being necessary, and wished that he could have been portrayed in a more interesting fashion. I overall did like Sayaka Murata’s writing style, though, and because of this and Keiko’s character I still ended up giving this book 3 stars, even though a lot of it was frustrating to read.

 

Have you picked up any of these? What were your thoughts?

Book Review: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – 4 stars

I’m calling it right now–Red, White, & Royal Blue is going to be the “it” contemporary romance of the summer. It’s going to be 2019’s The Kiss Quotient, or The Hating Game: a romance that pulls in non-romance readers and ends up a crossover hit.

Why? Because it’s one of the most delightful books I’ve ever read. In addition to a wonderfully sweet enemies-to-lovers romance, it’s got a ton of humor, great friendships, and a political component that’s perfect for readers like me who are a fan of The West Wing and/or Veep.

Red, White, & Royal Blue follows Alex, the snarky and ambitious First Son of the United States; his aspiring journalist sister June; his best friend Nora, who’s his ex-girlfriend and also a genius, in an alternate 2019 where Alex’s mother, a Texas Democrat, has succeeded President Obama and is currently working on her 2020 reelection campaign. (I know. Part of the fun of this book is living, just for a little while, in that world.) When Alex accidentally embarrasses himself at the Royal Wedding by getting into an altercation with Henry, the Prince of England that Alex has always held a grudge against, the two are forced to pretend a friendship in front of the media to salvage international relations. And thus begins an adorable hate-to-friendship-to-love romance as both boys learn about themselves and each other through finding that their worlds aren’t so different after all.

Red, White, & Royal Blue is a book that, to put it simply, will make you happy. There are complications along the road, of course, but it’s sweet and genuine even amidst the snarky humor. There were a few places where the plot felt meandering to me, but I was completely gripped by the story and relationship throughout, and Alex and Henry are a couple you can’t help but root for. I think in a lot of ways this is a book that we need right now, and even if you’re not traditionally a romance reader, you’re still going to love it.

Thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of Red, White, and Royal Blue.

Book Review: A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole

A Prince on Paper (Reluctant Royals, #3)

Book Review: A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole – 4 stars

This was, hands down, my favorite book in the Reluctant Royals series so far. The first two books in the series (A Princess in Theory and A Duke by Default) were definitely cute, smart, well-written books with awesome female protagonists, but I really didn’t love the actual central romances in either one, which isn’t really what you want in a romance novel. A Prince on Paper had all of the awesomeness from the first two books in the series–extremely supportive female friendships, political drama and intrigue, imaginary countries, etc–with the addition of a central romance that had, in my opinion, much more chemistry than the previous two books combined.

Our heroine, Nya, is dealing with the aftermath of emotional abuse by her father, but she’s also on a journey to figure out her own brand of self-confidence and path to happiness. She’s always been intrigued by Johan, the bad-boy tabloid prince of what is basically Luxembourg but isn’t, and the two of them begin to grow closer at their best friends’ wedding, which leads to a fake engagement to help with various political things. It’s cute, it’s sexy, it’s a super fun read about two people struggling with their own issues and coming together to support each other. Highly recommend!

I received an eARC of A Prince on Paper via NetGalley.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon Recap

That’s a wrap on another round of Dewey’s 24-hour readathon! I had what was possibly my least productive readthon ever this month (including not posting my usual TBR and mid-readathon check-in blog posts), but was totally fine with that since I’d spent the entire prior week with the flu and hadn’t read anything at all during the month of April before the readathon started. I was glad that Dewey’s provided a good excuse to get my reading back into gear, and as always I loved the feeling of joining a community of readers engaged in bookishness for a full day. If you’re not familiar, Dewey’s is a day-long readathon where people around the world join in for a full day (or as much free time as they can spare) dedicated to reading and talking books. It’s a lot of fun, and if you’ve never participated, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Here’s my closing survey for the readathon:

  1. What hour was most daunting?

I’m not sure I’d call any hour daunting, but I did sleep in and go to bed earlier than I normally would during a readathon since I wasn’t feeling amazing after having the flu. I did enter into a bit of a what-to-read-next crisis after finishing my first book of the readathon, but I dealt with that by switching to an audiobook.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!

The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic by F.T. LukensRed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonA Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals, #1)Lagoon

I started and finished one book (The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic by F.T. Lukens), finished the last 10% of an eARC (Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston), and read the first 1/3 of two books (A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole on audiobook and Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor).

3. What was your favorite snack?

I was drinking a Trader Joe’s matcha latte while reading in the afternoon, and it was the perfect bookish beverage.

4. What was your favorite facet of the day?

Finally finishing a book this month felt great, as did chillaxing and mood-reading after a stressful and flu-filled week.

 

Did any of you participate in the readathon?

I write about nontraditional beach reads for nontraditional readers