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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.

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I basically only read SFF and nonfiction, with the exception of my favorite read of the month, which I would classify as magical realism. I didn’t feel like I did a great job with reading from my physical bookshelf, and my reading in general felt slower and less productive than normal. I was out of town for two of the weekends in September (I was in Montreal for Labor Day weekend, and Toronto last weekend) and although both weekends were very fun, they didn’t leave a lot of reading time. On the other hand, I enjoyed every book I read this month!

Stats:

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

Ebooks: 2

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and TrumpI'm Afraid of Men by Vivek ShrayaMagic Triumphs by Ilona AndrewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisFear by Bob WoodwardThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee BenderBannerless by Carrie Vaughn

And here are my reviews, from most enjoyed to least:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (4.5 stars) – Due to its cheerful cover, I’d always thought this book was going to be a light, summery read–which was why I wanted to finish it during the summer. I knew that the premise was a reverse-Like Water for Chocolate situation (If you haven’t read either of these, in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel the main character is able to imbue the food she cooks with her emotions, whereas in Lemon Cake the protagonist gains the ability to taste the emotions of others, such as the people who have picked, packaged, or prepared the dish, in the food she eats) but I didn’t realize that the book as a whole focused closely on an unhappy and dysfunctional family. It’s a book about growing up and slowly finding out who you are, and a lot of the time it’s deeply sad. That being said, it’s a novel that builds, and by the last third of the book I was completely in love and fascinated. Bender explores the implications of tasting emotions every time you taste food and the impact it would have on a person, as well as how it would help her gain insight into the issues of her family members. The novel starts with our protagonist as a child and follows her into young adulthood, and we grow with her as family secrets are exposed and also as she comes to better understand the people she sees every day. I absolutely loved the ending and the direction the book took, and I was left thoughtful and entranced. I’m very glad that I started reading Aimee Bender this year, and I’d highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – It’s really difficult to rate or review the tenth and final book in my favorite fantasy series, but I’m trying. I really can’t say anything at all about the plot, except that it builds on a lot of things that have been happening throughout the series, and that almost every character we know and love showed up at some point. I thought that it set things up really nicely for both the Iron Covenant trilogy (which focuses on Hugh, who’s sort of a villain throughout most of this series; the first book came out earlier this summer and I really enjoyed it) and a possible spin-off series focusing on Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter. Basically, if you enjoy fantasy with strong female characters, found families, and a lot of action and humor, you should really be reading this series, and know that Andrews does not disappoint with the finale. I can’t say that I loved every single thing about how the plot of this book went, but overall it’s been a wonderful ride, and this is a series I’ll continue to revisit in the future. I’m glad that Andrews isn’t ending things with this world or these characters for good, even if she won’t be putting out anymore Kate-centric books.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – This is the third book in the excellent Wayfarers series and was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. This book focuses on the Exodus fleet of spaceships, which originally was how humans fled a dying Earth and discovered a greater universe of other peoples, and now exists as a home for humans not interested in living on Mars or other planets among alien species. We follow five characters as they mediate on the values of tradition versus exploration and innovation, and what the purpose is of a fleet of ships that technically completed its mission decades ago.

I love Becky Chambers’ writing style, and her universe is a place I want to continue to read about in many books to come. That said, the pacing in this book felt too slow to me, and I wanted to hear more from members of non-human species since their cultures and perspectives are some of the most interesting things in Chambers’ books. I really enjoyed reading this one, but for me it wasn’t as good as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite science fiction reads.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) – It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.

There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!

*I received an ARC of An Easy Death at an autographing session at BookCon.

Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (4 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of Yes We (Still) Can, which is half a memoir about working for President Obama during his campaign and presidency and half an advice guide for Democrats on how to move forward and beat Trump. Dan Pfeiffer was President Obama’s Communications Director (prior to that the Deputy Communications Director and traveling Press Secretary on the campaign) and he has some great stories of what it was like to work in the Obama White House. This book made me miss President Obama even more than usual, and I’ll definitely be checking out Pfeiffer’s podcast Pod Save America next.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (4 stars) – this was an extremely short, extremely personal memoir about Shraya’s experience as a transgender woman, both before and after her transition, and her experiences with how men have treated her throughout her life. It’s very short–you could call it a long essay, or a very short book–and very powerful.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (3.5 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of this one because, as a liberal who faced a rude awakening after the 2016 election, I almost felt like I had to. I want to understand as much as I can about why Trump was elected and what’s been going on since then, and how we can turn things around and repair what he’s been doing to our country. I thought Woodward’s book was a very interesting read and a necessary piece of the puzzle; he clearly had a bunch of very high-level sources in the administration speak to him about this book, and it paints a disturbing picture of a disorganized White House with an incompetent bully at the helm. If you’re interested in politics, or if you’d like to read a book that’s sort of like a written version of an episode of the West Wing or Veep, then you should definitely pick this one up.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (3 stars) – I didn’t really dislike anything about this post-apocalyptic mystery, but I wasn’t in love with anything about it, either. Bannerless follows Enid, a young investigator living in what’s now called the Coast Road communities, a collection of towns along what was once the West Coast of the U.S. The book is set a few generations after what’s known as the Fall, when the countries and societies of our current world were destroyed by a combination of epidemics, natural disasters, and prolonged financial crisis, and people in this part of the world have re-organized themselves into a society strictly based on division of labor, conservation of resources, and population control. Only households and communities that have proven themselves able to sustain an extra mouth are given a banner, which is an indication that they are allowed to conceive a child; it’s based on the idea that overpopulation, waste, and greed were the main factors leading to the Fall.

Enid’s job as an investigator is to expose and punish those who violate the communities’ laws, and the book begins when she is called in to investigate a possible murder in a seemingly thriving town. Since murder has become a rarity in this world of interdependency and communal living, the prospect is daunting, and we follow Enid through her uncomfortable investigation in a community that doesn’t seem to want her there, interspersed with flashbacks to a younger Enid meeting her first love and discovering her independence as an older teen.

For me, this book was interesting; I love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I’m always interested in hearing about an author’s interpretation of how society is likely to collapse and what they imagine humanity’s response to be. Post-apocalyptic SF is often fairly dark, and Bannerless definitely isn’t; as readers you can see flaws in how society is organized, but for the most part the people of the Coast Road are healthy and happy, and there is no exploitative ruling class. It was nice to see something different in that regard, but I kept wanting more from the book. More reveals, more depth, more exploration of the implications of strict reproductive control. And I just never got them. The writing is good and solid, but didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed the read, for the most part, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.

 

And here are the books I purchased during the month of September:

July Reading Wrap-Up

So, where did July go? Seriously, guys. Anyways, it’s the end of the month, and we all know what that means–wrap-up time!

My reading in July was a little bit weird and out of the box for me (what else is new). I participated at least a bit in three separate readathons (!), dove headfirst into a new-to-me genre, and finished a book that’s been sitting on my shelf staring at me for over 2 years. I also went on a road trip to Portland, Maine and while there discovered my new favorite indie bookstore: Longfellow Books, which has an amazingly curated combination of new and used titles, along with bookish merch. Seriously, their used book section was the best I’ve ever encountered, with recent titles and everything in great condition. I may or may not have bought 8 books there, seven of which are used books.

To go into a little more detail about the readathon side of things, I kicked off July by participating in the Tome Topple readathon for what I think is the 4th time. I’ve had The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell on my TBR for Tome Topple literally every time I’ve done it, but I was never quite in the right mood for it so I always ended up reading something else. Until now! I feel so accomplished. Tome Topple focuses on books over 500 pages long, and lasts 2 weeks, but due to my mood-reading tendencies, it usually takes me more than the 2 weeks to actually finish the tome since I’m picking up other reads in between.

And then I also decided to participate in both 24 in 48 and the Reverse Readathon, even though I knew I wouldn’t actually have that much time to read during those weekends since I had other plans too. Basically, I just tried to read as much as I could and was in the mood for around what I had planned. In my opinion, as long as you read, you’re technically participating in a readathon, and even if I’m not able to fully commit I sometimes use it as motivation to help me read more than I would have otherwise. I spent the Reverse Readathon at a lake beach with friends, so I got in some nice beach reading during that one.  Usually I’d be doing separate blog posts for these readathons, but since my participation wasn’t super enthusiastic this time around, I didn’t. (I will be actually participating in and doing blog updates for Bout of Books in August, though!)

Anyways, here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 0 (technically I listened to some audio for 2 of the physical books)

ebooks: 3 (a lot of ebooks for me!)

Iron and Magic by Ilona AndrewsNot That Bad by Roxane GayThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean WeirThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellOf Light and Darkness (Of Light and Darkness #1)Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret KilljoyWrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts, #2)Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

And here are my reviews!

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (5 stars) – Roxane Gay never fails to blow me away, and this anthology of essays examining different aspects of rape culture was no exception. A difficult read emotionally that should be required reading for everyone. I’d recommend spacing out your reading of this book; I listened to the audio all in one sitting (during a road trip) and it was really rough. If I could do it over again, I’d read one or two essays at a time over a few weeks.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (4.5 stars) – This book is long and complex, and reading it was a journey. I love long books, but they do require a big time investment, so I was very glad this one was worth it. I’ve only read one previous David Mitchell book (Cloud Atlas) and I’d definitely say I preferred The Bone Clocks overall. The Bone Clocks is about Holly Sykes, who we first meet as a rebellious British teenager in the 80s and follow through shifting perspectives and the frame of a mysterious psychic war that she becomes entangled in. It’s hard to talk too much about the actual plot without giving anything away, and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave the summary at that. Mitchell’s writing is consistently strong and he’s so adept at switching perspectives that you never second-guess the authenticity of each new voice. I honestly can’t even imagine the amount of research and time that it must have taken to craft a story as intricate as this one and decide the best way to tell it, but Mitchell did an amazing job. That being said, I did of course enjoy some sections and plot twists more than others, and there were a few things that I wish were revisited a bit more closely toward the end, but overall this is a fantastic book and I’d definitely recommend it.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (4 stars) – I received an ARC of Spinning Silver at BookCon at an autographing session; I will be posting a full review here in the next few days (I’ll link it here when I do), but I haven’t had a chance yet since I just finished it last night. Basically, I really, really enjoyed this historical fantasy novel told from multiple perspectives; I found it to be really well-written and to have a nice blend of magic, political maneuvering, and explorations of how women and marginalized groups were treated during the time period. The reasons it didn’t reach 5 star status were that I felt like 3 of the 6 viewpoint narrators really didn’t need to narrate (the story would have been better told by just the 3 main female characters) and the scenery descriptions tended to be overly long. Overall, though, this was great and I’d highly recommend it. It’s actually a really good and atmospheric winter read, and at times reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews can do no wrong in my eyes, but I still had some skepticism heading into this new spin-off series featuring one of the villains of the Kate Daniels series as its main character. I shouldn’t have been concerned! They knocked it out of the park as usual with a whole new cast of intriguing, snarky, lovable characters, and there were some guest appearances from characters from the KD series as well. I never thought I would say this, but I really liked Hugh as an antihero, and Elara is an awesome new female lead. This book also has a ton of action, and as soon as I was done I immediately became super impatient for book 2. To summarize, Ilona Andrews crushes it every time, and I will continue to read every single book they come out with and love them. Oh, and I do not recommend jumping into this new trilogy without having read the Kate Daniels series–definitely read those first, because major spoilers.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this contemporary romance (which isn’t a genre I usually pick up!). After reading The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang last month and loving it, though, I’ve been wanting to give more romance a try, and this one (the first in the Forbidden Hearts series) came highly recommended. It follows Livvy, a tattoo artist, and her ex-boyfriend Nicholas, who broke up ten years ago when tragedy struck both of their families and who have been secretly meeting up every year on Livvy’s birthday for, um, some fun. When Livvy moves back to town, all of the emotions they’ve been suppressing rise to the surface and they’re forced to actually confront all of their angst and family drama. All of the characters in this book–including all of the side characters, not just the two leads–are really well-developed, and I thought there was a good level of angst with all of the family conflict. I loved the central relationship as well, and I’m really looking forward to picking up more from Alisha Rai in the future! I’m so glad to find an author that lives up to the hype. I received a free copy of Hate to Want You from the publisher at BookCon.

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I also really enjoyed the second book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series. I have to say that I wasn’t as much of a fan of the romance in this one compared to Hate to Want You, but I LOVED the female main character and her family. This one focuses on Sadia, a single mom whose husband died tragically a few years before the book begins, and Jackson, the brother of both Sadia’s husband and the main character from Hate to Want You, a chef who fled town ten years earlier after he was accused of a crime and condemned in the court of public opinion. I’m very much looking forward to picking up the third book in this series, Hurts to Love You.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy (3.5 stars) – This is a novella set in the near future in an anarchist town that summons a guardian spirit, a three-antlered deer, for protection. Our main character shows up in town looking for information about the death of her friend, and discovers that the spirit may turn out to be more of a threat than a protector. It’s an interesting, unique premise, and there were some good eerie moments, but it did feel somewhat rushed.

The Book of Essie (3 stars) – This was a fast-paced read that worked well for me on audio during a road trip; the premise drew me in and I was absorbed throughout. I did, however, guess all of the major reveals very early on, and I had some issues with how certain things were handled later on in the book. It also felt a bit strange that this book was told in three perspectives; one of the storylines, the journalist’s, felt like it should have been its own separate novel.

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton (3 stars) – There were aspects of this fantasy novel that I enjoyed (especially the setting and concept) and that I didn’t enjoy (the characters and romance). You can check out my full review of this book here.

And here’s my book haul for July, which is mostly indie bookstore finds:

Have you read any of these? How was your reading in July? Let me know in the comments!

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.

June Reading Wrap-Up

June is over and it was a fun reading month! Lots of fantasy and beach reads for me this month, and even though I didn’t get any 5-star reads, I did find several that I loved and plan to re-read in the future. BookCon at the beginning of the month (and I do still plan on posting a rundown of how much I loved BookCon, I swear, I’m working on it) and a weeklong beach vacation with friends did cut into my reading time a bit, but I ended up with a very respectable number of books read.

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 1

ebooks: 1

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha IrbyThe Kiss Quotient (The Kiss Quotient, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca RoanhorseBetween the Sea and StarsMEMAce of Shades by Amanda FoodyThe Dying Game by Åsa AvdicThe Female Persuasion

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (4 stars) – Believe the hype about this one! It’s a sweet, sexy, well-written romance that even I, as someone who almost never reads contemporary romance, really enjoyed. Looking forward to more from this author.

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (4 stars) – I’m so excited to have found a great new urban fantasy series to follow! In the world of Trail of Lightning, a series of rapid catastrophic climate-change-related events have fractured what was once the United States and buried much of it underwater on an accelerated timeline. In the aftermath, the Navajo nation of Dinetah has formed in what was once the Southwestern United States, and Navajo legends and magical powers are manifesting among its people. Our main character Maggie possesses gifts that help her to slay the monsters that threaten her people, but also have her questioning whether she herself may be monstrous as well. An especially strange new monster has Maggie set on a new path, where, in between fighting monsters and dealing with beings out of Navajo legends, she grows closer with an attractive young medicine man while being haunted by her history with her former love, the legendary Monsterslayer.

Urban fantasy can be very hit-or-miss for me, but I really enjoyed this book. With its post-apocalyptic setting and mythology-laden world-building, I think it would be great for readers of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series. I loved that Rebecca Roanhorse took the very real threat of climate change as inspiration for the book’s setting and used that as a jumping-off point to introduce Navajo mythology into the world. It was so interesting getting to learn more about Navajo myths and legends.

Maggie is a prickly, somewhat isolated main character at the beginning of the book, but we see a lot of growth even during this relatively short novel. I found it very easy to root for her, and I loved the concept of the clan powers, which played a large role in the book. The book’s secondary characters were also great; I especially loved Kai, her mysterious medicine-man love interest, and of course his grandfather Tah as well, but also thought Coyote was a great character.

I think the world that Rebecca Roanhorse created has the potential for so many more stories, and I’m very excited to see where she takes Maggie next. Definitely recommend.

*I received a free signed copy of Trail of Lightning at an autographing session at BookCon.

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (4 stars) – The Female Persuasion is the second Meg Wolitzer book that I’ve read, after The Interestings, and I did definitely prefer this one. The Female Persuasion follows four viewpoint characters but centers on Greer, a young woman who becomes interested in feminism during her freshman year at a liberal arts college when she meets famous second-wave feminist Faith Frank. The book follows Greer, her boyfriend Cory, and best friend Zee as they navigate college and their lives and careers after college, and eventually Greer reunites with Faith to work for her new company, and we get a lot of Faith’s story as well. I did a mixture of physical reading and audio listening for this one, and I recommend both versions as the audio is very well done.

Overall I enjoyed this book and thought it was a very good read, but not an amazing one. I wasn’t sure at first that I liked all of the main characters, but by about halfway through the book I was really interested in all of them and their stories. I ended up wishing we got more time with Zee, a young activist, and Faith, because those two were probably focused on the least in terms of narration. Some plots twists were really shocking and others more predictable; the book meandered more than I’d have liked it to and I felt that it could have been much tighter in terms of structure. The main reason I picked this book up was because feminism plays a prominent role in the story, however, and I would have liked an even deeper focus on feminist movements and goals.

Mem by Bethany C. Morrow (4 stars) – I enjoyed this concise, thoughtful, well-written historical science fiction novel that asks what it means to be human. Recommend if you enjoy literary scifi. Mem takes place in 1920s Montreal, which is a really interesting setting for a science fiction book, and focuses on the idea of a new technology where the wealthy can pay to have memories they no longer want extracted and placed into living clones, or “mems,” who can only think about and reenact those memories. Except for our main character, Elsie, who is her own complete person but doesn’t know why.

The Dying Game by Asa Avdic (4 stars) – It’s really hard to classify The Dying Game into a single genre; if I tried, I’d have to say that it’s sort of a futuristic dystopian spy mystery/thriller without being fully any one of those things. In the world of The Dying Game, the Soviet Union never fell, and Sweden is one of the countries that’s been annexed. Our protagonist is working for the government when she’s asked to go on an unusual assignment: to travel to an isolated island with a group of potential applicants for a position with a mysterious organization, and to fake her own death and then judge the applicants on their responses to a crisis situation. Except that things don’t go as planned, and as conditions deteriorate on the island, we learn more about our protagonist’s mysterious past. It’s fast-paced and addicting to read, and it had a great amount of weirdness for someone like me who isn’t always interested in traditional thrillers.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby (3.5 stars) – A funny yet moving personal essay collection that I really enjoyed. I highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by Irby herself.

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this book! Enne Salta travels to the nefarious City of Sin searching for her missing mother and has to struggle to keep herself alive in an environment unfamiliar to someone raised to be a lady. Along the way she meets Levi Glaisyer, a young street lord who she convinces to help her in her search, and also learns a lot about her and her mother’s mysterious pasts.

This book is getting a lot of comparison to Six of Crows, but they are definitely not the same book; their main similarity is that they both are set in cities in fantasy worlds and deal with street gangs. The similarities really end there (and Enne and Levi would definitely not come out well in a fight against the Six of Crows gang) but I still really liked this one. Great worldbuilding, likable characters, and a really cool magic system where everyone inherits abilities from each parent, and unique powers run through family lines that are used to secure power for their wielders.

Between the Sea and Stars by Chantal Gadoury (3 stars) – I received an eARC of Between the Sea and Stars from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. You can see my full review here.

Book Review: Between the Sea and Stars by Chantal Gadoury

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Book review: Between the Sea and Stars by Chantal Gadoury

3 stars

Between the Sea and Stars is the story of a young merrow girl named Lena who lives with her father and brother beneath the sea, but dreams of exploring the surface. Unfortunately, it’s forbidden for merrows to explore the land or even emerge from the sea after the merrow queen was betrayed and killed by her human lover, who sought her magical shell that allowed her to transform from a merrow to a human. Through an unforeseen course of events, Lena does find herself on shore and immersed in the human world, although not in the way she had expected, and is forced to quickly adapt to a world of intriguing new friendships and enemies alike.

I’ve always loved mermaids and fairytale retellings, so I was of course drawn to this book due to its undersea setting and Little Mermaid inspiration. I really enjoyed learning about the world and culture of the merrow, and I thought that the Danish influences in the book’s language made it very unique. I thought that the story of the merrow queen, which may not have happened exactly the way Lena’s always heard it told, made an intriguing backdrop to Lena’s story, and it kept me curious about the assumptions that the humans and merrows make about each other’s worlds.

What didn’t work quite as well for me in this book was Lena’s character. It’s stated that she’s nineteen, but to me she seemed younger. She comes across as somewhat sheltered and naïve, which in some ways is very understandable considering her circumstances; after all, she has to adapt to living on land in a very short period of time, and she’s also dealing with the land and the sea both being very patriarchal in structure. However, I did find it frustrating that Lena rarely acts to assert or defend herself. To be fair, Lena has to deal with the aftermath of trauma over the course of this book, which absolutely affects her actions to a certain degree, but as a reader I couldn’t help but want her to stand up for herself. I also would have loved to have seen more female characters in general.

I did have some difficulty with the pacing of this book; it’s very short and moves quickly, but I felt like after the initial inciting events, there’s not much forward motion of the plot over the course of the book. I would have preferred that the book was longer so that we could see how the different tensions building in the novel would play out. There is so much interesting worldbuilding in this book that I would have loved to see more of both the human and merrow worlds, but I’ll have to wait for the next book. Overall, this was a fast, enjoyable YA novel rooted in fairy tales and mythology, and fans of mermaid stories will likely want to check this one out.

*I received an eARC of Between the Sea and Stars from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

Book Review: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

4.25 stars

Furyborn follows two young women, Rielle and Eliana, who are living in the same world but 1,000 years apart. Rielle is the daughter of the king’s general, and she has been forced to hide her staggering magical powers for her entire life, until they are unintentionally revealed. Once her talents come to light, Rielle is forced to undergo trials to prove that she will use her magic as a force for good as the prophesied Sun Queen, protector of the realm, rather than the also prophesied Blood Queen, who will bring ruin in her wake. And 1,000 years later, Eliana is serving a tyrannical empire as a bounty hunter in order to support her family, but she is torn out of the world she is familiar with when her mother disappears and she has to make a deal with an underground rebellion in order to find her. Their stories are told in alternating chapters as each of these very different young women are forced to battle their way through tremendous obstacles and find out who they can really trust.

I’d like to start by saying that I loved this book. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I’m very picky when it comes to YA, and maybe especially YA fantasy, and there are a lot of books that I’ll DNF fairly quickly if they’re not what I’m interested in. Furyborn kept and held my interest the entire book; the alternating chapters made me constantly anxious to know what would happen next with each character, and I felt like I was getting little tastes of their stories that kept me motivated to find out more. It’s difficult for me to choose which story I preferred since they were both so captivating, but if I was forced to choose, I’d probably go with Eliana’s. I liked that she was an unabashedly morally grey character who had to make tough choices in her line of work in order to protect her family.

I honestly thought that it might bother me to read the story of someone set so long after the other main character’s, since I thought that might mean that you would already know how Rielle’s story ended and Eliana’s might then seem too distant to care about, but it didn’t work out that way at all. Instead, I loved that we got hints of each girl’s story through the worldbuilding, and I especially loved how things like magic, which are commonplace in Rielle’s world, are treated as myth in Eliana’s. It’s a risky, creative premise, but for me it definitely worked.

Furyborn as a whole is a well-written, well-plotted, absorbing, feminist YA fantasy. There’s a great amount of action and worldbuilding, and also some romance, which I’m always a fan of in my YA. Since it’s the first book in a planned trilogy, I’m extremely excited to see where things are headed, and I’ll absolutely be planning on picking up the next book.

*I won an ARC of Furyborn in a giveaway.