Category Archives: book review

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.

Book Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
3 stars

Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of a governor who serves the powerful Empire and a woman from a persecuted group of desert-dwelling people called the Amrithi. Growing up in her father’s household after her mother leaves, Mehr struggles to preserve the traditions of the Amrithi even as they are hunted down throughout the Empire. Her life changes rapidly when her actions during a magical storm bring her to the attention of the Empire’s spiritual leader and his mystics, and she is forced to confront harsh truths about the Empire she inhabits and the power she possesses.

I love fantasy novels centered around strong female characters, and I was so intrigued about this book when I first heard about it at BookCon. I think that Empire of Sand’s worldbuilding and its magic system are some of its strongest aspects; over the course of the novel, we are introduced to magical, mysterious desert beings called daiva who once walked the earth like humans but who now take on other forms; the magic stemming from dreaming gods; and Amrithi magic created through dance and sigils. Mehr is a protagonist you want to root for in her struggles against a corrupt, discriminating Empire, and I was fascinated by one of the side characters, Mehr’s friend and surrogate mother figure Lalita, an Amrithi woman who survived for years in disguise and supported herself as a courtesan. I also thought that Tasha Suri’s writing was quite good; I was able to easily visualize everything she was talking about, and her writing flowed nicely throughout the book.

There were also several aspects of Empire of Sand that I felt weren’t as strong. It’s not very long for a fantasy novel, but its pacing is very slow, and the plot is sparse. A great deal of the book involves repetition; the same concepts and actions are reiterated over and over again, which in my opinion wasn’t necessary to convey meaning and didn’t add anything to the story. I generally don’t mind books that are slower-paced and more focused on ordinary life than action, but in this case the structure really didn’t work for me. I also wasn’t a fan of the romance, which felt forced, and I wish that both protagonists had more charisma.

If you’re looking for a new, well-written fantasy series with a unique concept and setting, you may really enjoy Empire of Sand. Personally, it’s not a series I’m planning to continue with, but I’ll definitely be interested to see what Tasha Suri writes in the future.

*I received an ARC of Empire of Sand from the publisher at BookCon.

Book Review: Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton

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Book Review: Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton

3 stars

Warning: this review contains minor spoilers!

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton is a fantasy novel about a young woman named Charlotte who was abandoned as an infant and taken in by an unconventional guardian—a vampire. The vampire, Valek, a skilled healer, raises Charlotte in an occult city in the Czech Republic. There, they live surrounded by supernatural creatures of all varieties, including witches, shapeshifters, Elves, and fairies, but Charlotte is the only human present due to a strict code of laws that segregate magical society from interacting with the outside world. As Charlotte grows up, her feelings for Valek become more complicated than those between a guardian and his ward, and she must face these feelings as well as a society whose laws are rapidly becoming more strict and restrictive when it comes to vampires.

My favorite part about this story was easily the fact that the author was so inclusive of different types of supernatural creatures and so creative when it came to developing and populating her world. Not only do we have the standard sorts of monsters like vampires and fairies but we also get to meet a living scarecrow (who is sweet, gentle, and works in a store) and a half-man, half-spider (who sounds like he would be terrifying but actually isn’t scary at all). The idea of occult cities that exist alongside modern human ones but are hidden and sequestered was fascinating; the city that Charlotte and Valek live in is more like a small supernatural village, and the way the author described its preparations for fall celebrations made me picture it a little like the movie Halloweentown, which was sort of a delightful image. I also thought it was interesting that the main conflict of the story came from the fact that some of the supernatural creatures were trying to gain more power by scapegoating the vampires; the political maneuvering and propaganda that went into this was well thought-out and created very hateful antagonists.

Although I loved the setting and concept of this book, and I am in general a huge fan of vampires, I do have to say that I wasn’t a fan of the central romance between Charlotte and Valek. Valek has raised Charlotte since she was a baby and has always been a father figure to her, so it was hard for me to get behind them as a couple because they were essentially family. I also had a hard time pinning down Valek’s character in general; he’s portrayed often as an intellectual, kind-hearted, soft-spoken man whose main goal is protecting Charlotte, but he kills all of the humans he feeds on, and judging by his age, this means that he’s killed quite a lot of innocent people. He also never expresses remorse for doing so, or discusses the idea of feeding on humans without killing them, which is often an alternative for vampire characters. There is some discussion of feeding on animals instead, but this is not something he seems willing to do long-term. Charlotte, as well, is shown to be generally a brave and good-hearted person, but she’s also responsible for abducting humans for Valek to kill. I think that this attitude toward feeding on and killing humans would have fit better in a darker, grittier novel, but it seemed out of place in this story and with these characters.

In general, I’d describe Of Light and Darkness as a vampire novel with a fairytale vibe and the development of a found family at its core. It’s a story about love and magic and fighting against prejudice.

I received a free ebook copy of Of Light and Darkness from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.