All posts by jaleenajo

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!

July Reading Wrap-Up (Yes, July)

Apparently it’s now a trend for my monthly reading wrap-ups to be super delayed; I’m sorry! I’ll try to get back on track next month, but July was pretty crazy: I turned 30, and to celebrate went on a 10-day trip to Croatia, which was absolutely amazing. Because my trip was right in the middle of the month, it was pretty hectic with trip preparation and then catching up with life things once I got back. And because it was my birthday month, I decided that I was in the mood to re-read some past favorites in addition to picking up new-to-me books.

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #2)A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3)

First, I re-read the second two books in the Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas, which are possibly my favorite YA fantasy books (even if they’re technically New Adult?). I would have re-read the first book as well, but I wasn’t able to check it out from the library in time. I’ve re-read ACOMAF several times, as it’s mine and everyone else’s favorite of the series, but unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy ACOTAR and ACOWAR as very close seconds.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, #2)Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse, #3)Dead to the World (Sookie Stackhouse, #4)

Next, I turned to one of my favorite book series, which I was first introduced to back in college: Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. Unlike ACOTAR, it’s been many years since I’ve picked one of these books up, and they’re just as fun, funny, and addicting as I’d remembered. I love all of Harris’s little character details, and the Bill/Eric/Alcide love square situation is quite a fun one.

And here are all of the new-to-me books I read this month, plus reviews:

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina LaurenWilder Girls by Rory PowerThe End We Start From by Megan HunterHag-Seed by Margaret AtwoodWith the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoThe Right Swipe by Alisha RaiSweep of the Blade by Ilona AndrewsFix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (5 stars) – As with most of my 5-star reads, I can totally understand why someone might not like this book–I think it’s written to a very specific taste, and the writing style is very Margaret Atwood. It’s also extremely Shakespeare-focused and also extremely meta, so if you’re not a fan of any of those things, you may hate it. But for me, a diehard Margaret Atwood fan who enjoys weird and weirdly written books, and who went to see a production of The Tempest the same evening that I started reading this book, it was an absolutely fantastic read. I never had the chance to study The Tempest in college; if I had, I probably would have gotten even more out of the reading experience than I did, but I also felt that I was able to keep up just fine with having only seen the play. Hag-Seed is a story within a story (within a story?) about a disgraced former Shakespeare theater director who, after sequestering himself in obscurity for years, re-emerges to direct a modern production of The Tempest through his new role as a theater director in a prison. I loved this book because every scene works on multiple levels; it kept me thinking, and kept me engaged with Shakespeare’s work, while bringing new insights at a constant pace. There’s a lot of critical analysis of Shakespeare, and as a book nerd, I’m always going to be into that. It’s definitely not realistic fiction, as you might expect from the synopsis; I’d put it closer to magical realism as far as genre goes, although it’s hard to classify. Reading this book was a fun, thought-provoking experience that reminded me why I fell in love with Atwood’s writing years ago, and why I’ll continue to read from her in the future.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power (4 stars) – I read an eARC of Wilder Girls courtesy of NetGalley, and will be posting a full review in the next few weeks, but essentially I’d call it the YA version of Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation. It was well-written and disturbing, although with an unresolved ending that I didn’t love.

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this ARC of a smart, fun contemporary romance that I was lucky enough to win in a Goodreads giveaway. Check out my full review here.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter (4 stars) – This very short book about a flood-centric apocalyptic event wasn’t my favorite post-apocalyptic read, but it wasn’t my least favorite, either. Even for the brief length of this book, there wasn’t very much plot or character growth, but I did find the writing really lovely in parts, and I enjoyed the short, prose poem mini-paragraphs that comprised the narrative. It’s not a book that has stayed with me long after reading it, but I did overall enjoy the experience.

Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey (4 stars) -I love being surprised by a book. I’d say that I’m someone who reads pretty widely across genres, and who’s willing to try something new or give a book a chance, but there are always certain things that, when I see them in a book description or review, don’t appeal to me at all and tend to make me want to avoid a book rather than reach for it: epic fantasy with a lack of female characters or set in a pseudo-medieval European setting; anything self-help-related; WWII historical fiction. Add to that list romances with former pro-sports players as the love interest, because that’s a trope that I just don’t find appealing at all. Strangely, I found myself pleasantly surprised by two books with this trope this month, including this one, Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey. On the surface, Fix Her Up didn’t sound like my type of book: not only does it feature a former pro-baseball player as the male main character, but it also deals with a lifelong unrequited crush/hero worship on behalf of Georgie, the female main character. But after hearing fantastic things from several reviewers I trust (namely Chelseadollingreads and Meltotheany ) I decided to give it a chance and really enjoyed it. I still didn’t love the male main character, Travis, but Fix Her Up is a very fun romance with a fake dating trope and a heroine who helps found a feminist organization in her town to help women empower each other. Would definitely recommend this one for fans of contemporary romance looking to start a new series that focuses on supportive female friendships in addition to the romance.

With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (3.5 stars) – I enjoyed this YA contemporary featuring an aspiring chef who’s balancing high school; a difficult relationship with her father; supporting herself, her grandmother, and her daughter; figuring out her future, and maybe falling for the new kid in school. I especially enjoyed the recipes and how Elizabeth Acevedo describes the main character’s love for food, since although I’m not even close to a chef, I am a huge fan of Chopped and the Food Network.

Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews (3.25 stars) – Compared to how much I normally love Ilona Andrews books (which is a LOT), Sweep of the Blade was a bit of a miss for me. It’s ostensibly a love story between Maud, the sister of previous books’ main character Dina, who is a fierce warrior and mother to a half-human, half-vampire child, and Arland, a medieval-ish vampire warrior from another planet (yep) (I’m actually totally into the medieval space vampires, that’s not my issue with this story), but it’s really a sort of mystery/political subterfuge type of story (again, not a bad thing). For whatever reason, I didn’t find the main characters as charismatic as most Ilona Andrews leads tend to be, and the plot was pretty lackluster, while the romance was pretty nonexistent. It was still a fairly fun read, but I’ve read much better from this author.

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This was a fun, quick listen on audiobook; I picked it up after hearing the Heaving Bosoms podcast review and saw myself in the mood for a rom-com. I definitely wouldn’t say that I loved it, because although I did like Josh and Hazel together, the plot didn’t really work for me.

 

Well, it’s basically September now. I’ll be back soon with more reviews (including Wilder Girls!).

Book Review: The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai: 4 stars!

Alisha Rai quickly became one of my favorite contemporary romance authors when I binge-read her Forbidden Hearts trilogy last year, because her books are full of all the chemistry you could possibly want in a romance novel, with the added bonus of fantastic side characters, complex family dynamics, and strong female friendships. When I heard that she was developing a new series called Modern Love, I knew I’d need to pick it up immediately; my only hesitation about reading The Right Swipe was that it focused on a former professional athlete, which is not exactly a favorite romance trope of mine.

The Right Swipe follows intelligent, ambitious dating app creator Rhiannon Hunter, who we actually met as a side character in the Forbidden Hearts trilogy (but don’t worry, you don’t have to go back and read those in order to enjoy this book–although I highly recommend them) and who is laser-focused on helping her company Crush not only succeed but expand and thrive. In her quest to purchase an older dating site in order to expand Crush’s reach, she runs into a one-night stand who committed the cardinal dating sin of ghosting her after an amazing night a few years prior. Meanwhile, her past hookup Samson Lima, a former pro football player who spontaneously retired in the middle of a game to protest the lack of concussion safety regulations, hasn’t been able to stop thinking about her–and actually had legitimate reasons for ghosting. But Rhiannon doesn’t know that, and when she finds out that Samson has signed on to do a marketing campaign for the company she’s trying to acquire, she wants nothing to do with him…until she does.

For me, The Right Swipe was everything I wanted in a summer read. I brought it with me on vacation (the picture above is from Croatia!), and it kept me hooked throughout a 6-hour delayed flight ordeal, which in my opinion is a true test of the quality of a book. Alisha Rai’s writing is smart and addicting, and you grow to love her characters instantly. Like in her previous trilogy, the side characters stood out just as much as the main couple: in particular, I can’t wait to read more about Katrina, Rhiannon’s best friend and sometime roommate, who is a former model dealing with trauma from a past relationship manifesting in severe social anxiety, and Lakshmi, Rhiannon’s supremely competent and confident assistant. But I grew to love both Rhiannon and Samson, who complemented each other in all the right ways: where Rhiannon is more cerebral and business-savvy, Samson is quieter and more in touch with his emotions, and their dynamic worked really well. A lot of summaries I’ve read of The Right Swipe seem to imply that Rhiannon and Samson have a competitive business rivalry going on, but that’s actually not the case, which I was relieved about; they quickly begin to work as a team rather than rivals.

If you look for not only fun banter and chemistry but a healthy relationship dynamic in your romance reads, The Right Swipe has got you covered. And if you’re a fan of smart contemporary romance that features a badass female main character, you’re really going to need to pick this one up, and then start waiting impatiently for the next book in the series (fingers crossed that it focuses on Katrina or Lakshmi!).

Thank you so much to Goodreads and Avon for the opportunity to read an ARC of The Right Swipe!

ARC August TBR!

This August, I’ll be participating in a month-long readathon called ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat. The goal is to spend the month reading as many ARCs (advance reader copies of upcoming books) as possible, and I’ve got my hands full with highly anticipated releases that I picked up at BookExpo.

I’m trying to be strategic with my TBR; I want to focus on the ARCs that are being released within the next two months, starting with my two August releases:

Rage (Stormheart, #2)The Other's Gold

Rage by Cora Carmack is the YA fantasy sequel to Roar (release date 8/27), and The Other’s Gold by Elizabeth Ames is contemporary fiction focusing on four best friends (release date is also 8/27).

Next up are the 4 ARCs coming out in early September that I haven’t picked up yet:

After the FloodGideon the Ninth (The Ninth House, #1)Lost in the Spanish QuarterThe Ten Thousand Doors of January

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag is post-apocalyptic science fiction (release date 9/3); Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is science fantasy featuring necromancers in space (release date 9/10, I’m currently reading and loving this one at the moment); Lost in the Spanish Quarter by Heddi Goodrich is a coming-of-age story set in Naples and is being compared to Elena Ferrante’s novels (release date 9/5); and The Ten Thousand Doors of January is portal fantasy (release date 9/10).

If I have time after reading those 6 books, I’ll try to pick up one of more of these end-of September releases (if not, they’re at the top of my September TBR):

Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative FictionThe Future of Another Timeline

Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson is a nonfiction book about female creators of scifi and horror (release date 9/17), and The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, which I’ve already started and really like, is feminist time-travel science fiction (release date 9/24).

This seems like a lot, but they’re all books that I’ve been really looking forward to. To add even more reading to my month, I do plan as well to pick up some non-ARC books (although I haven’t decided what yet). All of the books I’ve talked about will need to be read in physical copy, and since I also like to consume books via audiobook and ebook, I’ll use those media to read some backlist titles or new releases in August as well.

 

Are you participating in ARC August? Are any of these on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

June Reading Wrap-Up

And it’s another belated wrap-up in 2019! June got a lot busier than I expected (BEA/BookCon and a road trip to Philly another weekend both ate into my reading time), but we’re finally here with some reviews and some recapping.

I really, really struggled with reading in June; I felt like I was having a hard time finishing books, and although I didn’t read anything that I necessarily disliked, I also felt like the books I was picking up overall weren’t as enjoyable for me as I’d hoped they would be. I felt like I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to read a certain number of books before the end of the month, and also that since the end of June marked the halfway point of 2019, that I wanted to have read more 5-star or standout reads than I felt that I had. I found myself feeling more pessimistic about my reading than I normally do, and the books I gravitated towards tended to be shorter reads because of this. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; I love a tightly written short book, but in this case it was more about the fact that I simply wasn’t able to finish anything longer.

I’m already doing much better with my reading in July, and hopefully my reading slump seems to have abated some. That being said, here are my June stats and reviews:

Total books read: 7

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 1

HoneybeeKingdom of Exiles (The Beast Charmer, #1)The Royal We by Heather CocksThe Rose (The Red, #2)The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidBarbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren HolmesWhose Story Is This? by Rebecca Solnit

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (4 stars) – an unexpectedly great short story collection that I picked up on a whim at an outlet bookstore last year. There were some stories in this collection that I absolutely loved and felt were 5-star stories on their own; there were others that I connected with less, but overall it was a very strong collection that delved into complicated relationship dynamics extremely well. Favorites of mine were “How Am I Supposed to Talk to You?,” “I Will Crawl to Raleigh if I Have To,” and “Desert Hearts.”

Whose Story is This? by Rebecca Solnit (4 stars) – This is my fourth Rebecca Solnit book, and I continue to be impressed by her concise, clarifying essays. I’ll be posting a full review of this one closer to its release date (September 3rd); thank you so much to Haymarket Books for the opportunity to receive an ARC at BookExpo.

Honeybee by Trista Mateer (4 stars) -After giving a lot of thought to which BEA/BookCon book I would pick up first, I found that the decision was made for me on the first day of BookCon, when I found myself in a long line to get a signed book for a friend and needed something to read. I was drawn to a gorgeous little book of poetry I had purchased earlier that day: Honeybee by Trista Mateer. From the very first poem, I was hooked; I found myself wishing that the line was even longer so that I could read more (and after days of lines, that’s saying something.) Honeybee is a poetry collection but it’s also a memoir of the author’s experience ending a relationship with her girlfriend that had gone from beautiful and loving to unsustainable, in part due to her girlfriend’s internalized homophobia. It’s about the impossible feeling of being in love yet having a relationship that you come to realize is bad for you, and it’s told in eloquent snapshots of the breakup, its aftermath, the healing and questioning and fixating that are all part of how we deal with love in all its messy iterations. Several of the poems in this collection made me tear up or gave me goosebumps; all of them made me feel things. Highly recommend, even if you’re not typically a poetry reader.

The Rose by Tiffany Reisz (4 stars) – An extremely intelligent romance novel full of Greek mythology, great banter, and two very likable main characters.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (3.75 stars) – After seeing this on so many reviewers’ favorites of the year lists, I expected to be wowed by this one. And although I really enjoyed the plot, especially delving into Hollywood in the 1950s-1980s, and the characters, particularly Evelyn Hugo herself, I wasn’t blown away by the writing.

Kingdom of Exiles by Maxym M. Martineau (3.75 stars) – Pokemon-like creatures and undead assassins, with a healthy dose of romance. If that sounds appealing to you, check out my full review here. 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.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (3.5 stars) – Cute, fun rom-com that I listened to on audiobook. It’s really the perfect light, fluffy summer read featuring a Kate Middleton/Prince William type of love story, with plenty of drama and humor along the way. We follow Bex, an American exchange student at Oxford, and her unexpected romance with Nick, the future king of England, and the ensuing problems with tabloids and family drama that we know are coming but are fun to read about anyways. If you enjoyed movies like The Prince and Me or The Princess Diaries, or if you need a fix after Red, White, and Royal Blue, then you’ll like this one. Apparently there’s a sequel, The Heir Affair, coming out in 2020, which I’ll definitely be picking up.

 

And that’s it! How do you deal with reading when you’re in a reading slump? Do you take a reading break or try to power through? Let me know in the comments…