Category Archives: book review

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.

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.

Book Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

Never-Contented Things

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter (4 stars)

This is a story about love, and about consent. It’s one of those fantasy novels that uses its fantastical elements to emphasize real-world issues and turn them hyper-real, which is one of my favorite things the genre can do. It’s an exceedingly disturbing book at times, not only due to the creepy magical imagery but because it explores how sometimes even the people who love you the most can do terrible things to you.

Never-Contented Things is the story of Ksenia and Josh, foster siblings with trauma in their past who love each other more than anything, and also of their best friend Lexi, who Ksenia has never truly let in the way she wants to. Ksenia, the older sibling, knows that Josh has come to love her in a more-than-brotherly way, but their more immediate problem is their impending separation as Ksenia is about to turn eighteen. Before this can happen, however, their entire reality shifts after the introduction of a group of frighteningly beautiful strangers appears one night at the gorge. I really don’t want to give much away about the plot; I think this is a book where it’s better to let things unfold slowly, because it enhances the disturbing qualities of what in many ways reads like a very dark fairy tale.

It’s beautifully written, with a continuous battle between describing the inhuman and unreal things happening and allowing the reader to realize along with the characters that some of what they’re seeing is too difficult for a rational mind to perceive. It feels like a dream and a nightmare, and I’d highly recommend it to readers of dark fantasy, dark fairytale retellings, and anyone looking for a story to get lost in.

I received an eARC of Never-Contented Things from NetGalley.

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (4 stars)

I had no idea when I started The Last Romantics that I’d end up loving it so much. It’s the story of the unbreakable and transcendent bonds between four very different siblings, and how even their disparate paths in life can never truly keep them apart. It’s a story about what’s really important when the world is shattering around you, and how we grow together and apart from the people who mean the most in our lives.

The story starts in the future, in 2079, when a renowned poet named Fiona Skinner is giving a talk about her work in the midst of a world destabilized by climate change. Her talk turns to her three siblings, her source of love and inspiration throughout her life, and spans a century in its telling. The four Skinner siblings’ reliance on each other is cemented during a period in their childhood known as the Pause, when their mother enters a deep depression and they commit to taking care of one another until she recovers. As they grow older, their bonds are tested by the very different directions they find themselves moving in, but their childhood personalities continue to define them; Renee, the eldest, has always been the smart, responsible one with her life together; Caroline is more emotionally connected with those around her; Fiona, the youngest, buries herself in poetry and words; and Joe, their brother, has always been somewhat of a golden boy, although the cracks in this persona reveal themselves more and more over time.

I don’t usually tend to read books that could be considered family sagas, but I was really drawn to this one because of its emphasis on the bonds between siblings. I wasn’t aware prior to starting this book that there was any type of science fictional element; I have to say that although the science fiction is light, this was a huge plus for me as a lover of SFF. Having climate change woven into the story, and the hints throughout of a future that is far less stable than the world the Skinner siblings initially grew up in, felt very real and gave the story’s emotional bonds even more depth as we feel the fragility of the world. The Last Romantics is beautifully structured, with the story unfolding in bits and pieces throughout the Skinners’ lives, even as we’re given hints of the future world and the story’s telling. The writing throughout is also gorgeously done, with each of the four siblings given equal weight and their stories equal importance, even as Fiona remains our primary narrator. I have to say that I really loved this book; I felt very connected to the story and invested in all of the siblings’ lives throughout. I’ve already been recommending it to people and will be continuing to do so, as I think it’s a book that, with its emphasis on family, can find resonance with just about anyone.

I received an ARC of The Last Romantics from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Book review: In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (4.25 stars)

If you’re not already reading Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, it’s one I’d highly recommend. It’s a series of novellas that explores the adventures as well as the consequences of portal fantasy, where children are spirited away from our world to other, stranger worlds better suited to their individual natures, and then are often forced to return to reality afterwards and deal with the loss of the world they have been made to abandon. In An Absent Dream is the fourth installment of this series, which has followed different main characters in every iteration, and focuses on a girl named Lundy and her escape into the rule-bound yet treacherous world of the Goblin Market. There, deals and bargains are struck according to the invisible hand of the concept of fair value, and incurring too much debt means losing pieces of your humanity.

It’s hard to say for sure, since I’m a big fan of the Wayward Children series as a whole, but I think that In An Absent Dream is my new favorite of the four books. It’s probably because I identified more with Lundy, our protagonist, more than I have with previous characters. Like many of us bookworms, I grew up reading constantly, like Lundy; like Lundy, I also tended to follow the rules and do well in school, although I also always searched for loopholes and ways to be creative while still staying out of trouble. When I was younger, I also believed strongly in karma, our world’s version of the concept of fair value–that the actions you put out into the world would eventually come back around to you, if not always directly, then in some form or another. And so I loved reading about the intricacies of the rules governing the Goblin Market and about Lundy falling into deeper understanding of them as she grows older.

Books that fall into the category of fairytale retellings or re-imaginings of classic concepts like portal fantasy can sometimes struggle with whether to imagine a retelling that is darker or sweeter than the tales they pay homage to. In the case of In An Absent Dream, I thought that Seanan McGuire perfectly balanced the wonder and beauty of a traditional portal fantasy with the darker edges of growing up in a world where even the concept of fairness itself may not even be truly fair. The result is a story that becomes more and more urgent as Lundy gradually approaches the age of eighteen, where she will be forced to permanently choose between the real world and the Goblin Market, which seems to have become her true home. It’s a story that feels true in the way that great fantasy literature sometimes can, because it makes a strange kind of sense; my only wish is that it could have been longer, and some of Lundy’s adventures in the Market explored further. I’d highly recommend this book and series to fans of portal fantasy and books like In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and the Magicians series by Lev Grossman, that lovingly critique and explore classic tropes of the genre while making them into something entirely new.

 

Thank you so much to the YA Cafe Podcast and to Tor.com publishing for the opportunity to win an ARC of In An Absent Dream.

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

Book Review: The Nine by Tracy Townsend

4.25 stars

            I’d like to start off by saying that this relatively lesser-known low fantasy adventure was a completely surprise to me, and in the best way possible.

The Nine is set in the city of Corma, at the heart of an empire that centuries ago decided to merge science and religion together and now adheres to scientific principles with religious fervor. In this city, humans coexist—sometimes peacefully, oftentimes not—with treelike creatures called the lanyani and also with ogrelike beings with their eyes on the heels of their feet called the aigamuxa. The story follows a large cast of viewpoint characters: Rowena Downshire, a young girl working as a somewhat illegal courier in order to pay off the debt that holds her mother in prison; her employer Ivor, the sadistic head of the courier operation; Bess, a courier attempting to escape her trade and work her way upward; Rare, a skilled and admired thief and her sometimes-lover, Anselm Meteron, a retired mercenary turned criminal entrepreneur; Haadiyaa Gammon, the somewhat moral and somewhat corrupt chief of police; the Alchemist, a mysterious former mercenary and current purveyor of knowledge and possibly magic; and Philip Chalmers, a reverend doctor (a sort of religious scientist) researching arcane and potentially earth-shattering aspects of the world they exist in. These characters all connect with the emergence of a mysterious Book that promises to hold answers to questions that humankind has been asking for centuries, and for that reason, the Book is something that many people would kill for.

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot, but I was completely caught up in the story of The Nine from the very beginning. The book’s frenetic pace and constant perspective-switching makes it an addicting story to read; new reveals come as quickly as constant plot twists. If you’re more of a fan of character-driven fantasy than plot-driven fantasy, like me, I also think you’ll love this book because its cast of characters is so broad and filled with a lot of depth. I think that fans of Game of Thrones in particular might be drawn to this book not because they’re similar in plot (they’re definitely not, plus I liked this book a lot more than Game of Thrones) but because all of Tracy Townsend’s characters, like George R.R. Martin’s, are morally grey. It takes a lot of courage to create a cast of characters who aren’t exactly “good guys” by any stretch of imagination—they’re criminals, opportunists, and even cowards—but as a reader, you root for them anyways. Well, you root for some of them—although this story may not have good guys, it definitely has bad ones.

Townsend’s skillful writing and creative worldbuilding also help carry you through a world that might be initially confusing—it did take me a little while to understand the motivations of the different species in play, and to understand the organization of science as religion, but once I was on board, I was really impressed with how Townsend kept all the moving pieces of the book’s plot cohesive and yet surprising at the same time. It’s a world that I didn’t want to leave when the book ended, and I’m so glad to have received an ARC of the second book in the Thieves of Fate series, The Fall, which I’ll be picking up soon so that I can dive back in. I’d highly recommend The Nine to fans of original fantasy worlds with a lot of action and unique characters.

I received a free copy of The Nine from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.