The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

After reading such a fantastic YA fantasy novel (I’m referring to The Bird and the Nightingale – if you haven’t read it already, GO READ IT!), I decided to read something else in the genre. This novel has been on my TBR list for a while because its premise just sounded so interesting! Here is my review:

Swallow, Daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heav’n or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, Daughter. Stay alive.

The day my mother was killed, she bound my fate to my father’s: if I died, he would, too. Then she foretold that the king would trade his soul and lose his son to the sky. My father wants the throne for himself and is waiting for the chance to make his claim. But all I want is to be free. But I am a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s ambition. I cannot speak or make a sword, and I have no talent to charm or fight. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left.

I left the blurb in first-person because the entire novel is from the perspective of Lark, the main character. I knew that any novel I read after The Bear and the Nightingale would have a tough time impressing me, but this novel completely missed the mark for me. I did not like Lark’s character. After reading about Vasya, I was eager to read about another strong female with magical abilities. Instead, I got someone very weak who developed powers but no spine. There was a lot of focus on the romance in this novel, but it was a romance that made me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t consider things like “it is your duty to please me” and “I will put a son inside of you” as being romantic or sweet. This is a relationship that is very much about power and control, and it makes Lark even more weak than she already is. However, I really liked the plot of the story and the writing style. The story was good enough for me to want to keep reading past the cringe-y points and get into the real action. The writing was beautiful and lyrical and engaging. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this novel. I didn’t like the characters or the romance, but I enjoyed the story and the writing style. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

When I first heard about this book, I had my doubts. The story sounded interesting but I worried that it would fall into the trap that a lot of fantasy stories based on fairy-tales get into. I am so glad that I chose to read this book anyways, because it was absolutely fantastic!

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind – it means more time with her wonderful siblings, listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When Vasilisa’s father decides to remarry after the death of his wife, it is in the hopes that the new wife will be a good influence for Vasilisa. Fiercely devout, Vasilisa’s stepmother forbids her family from practicing any “pagan” rituals and honoring the household spirits. While the family does her bidding, Vasilisa worries about the consequences of these actions. When crops begin to fail and misfortune plagues the village, Vasilisa’s concerns prove to be true. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows even harsher in her desire to confine Vasilisa and make her conform. As danger looms ever closer, Vasilisa must defy everyone to protect her family.

This was an absolutely beautiful book. I devoured it in one sitting and it is one of my favorite books of this year. I rarely rave about a YA fiction novel but this one deserves all the praise I can give it! I remember reading some of the traditional folk tales native to Russia and I was very happy to see them incorporated so well in this story. It made these folk stories come alive and seem so vibrant! Not only is this story rich in culture, it also has great characters. Vasilisa, also known as Vasya, is such a strong female character and I absolutely adored her. She is not beautiful in terms of traditional forms of beauty, but she manages to capture everyone’s attention with her fire and energy. I love that she is independent and strong and unafraid. I like how there are characters that complement her and that function as points of comparison. The character of the stepmother and the priest were very interesting to me; I liked that the author didn’t just label them as evil but rather, built layers of complexity for them. The mythical creatures were also so interesting and wonderful and I loved reading about Vasya’s interactions with them all. Suffice to say, this novel hit every note and was amazing in every way. I was thrilled to hear that there is a sequel to this novel and I cannot wait to read it when it comes out. Regardless of if you are a fan of YA fiction or not, this is a novel I would recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and strong female protagonists!

Happy reading ~

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

What drew me to this novel was its allusions to fantasy and to a cultural system that I am completely ignorant about. A chance to learn about something new combined with the fantasy tropes that I love? This was an opportunity I could not pass up on. Thank you to First to Read program and Penguin Random House for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

12-year-old Sunny is having trouble adjusting. Having been born in New York, but moving to Nigeria has been quite a big change for her. It doesn’t help that she is albino and very sensitive to the sun. All sunny wants to do is play football and not get bullied. And for a while, it seems that her new friends, Orlu and Chichi, will help with that. But when they introduce her to the world of the Leopard People, Sunny discovers that there is more to life than she ever knew. With new friend Sasha, these 4 form the youngest Oha coven to ever exist. Their mission? To track down Black Hat Otokoto, a man who has been kidnapping and hurting children.

When I first began to read this book, I was unaware that this was for middle school children. It took me a little while to adjust at first, but once I realized who the target audience was, I had a better grasp of the story. I really liked the cultural elements that are infused into this story. The author does a great job of integrating them and explaining them in a graceful and sophisticated manner; nothing feels too simplified or “dumbed down”. It was really cool to read about all of these rituals and customs that are practiced and upheld, and it was just a great introduction to the culture. The story itself is pretty much like Harry Potter. You’ve got your group of friends and they are against an evil foe and they practice magic and learn about their abilities and have to pass tests to move up in levels. I felt that the story and writing could have used some polishing. Too many things were conveniently placed and there were many abrupt and awkward transitions in the book. The characters could also have been a bit stronger. Overall, I can see how this novel would appeal to middle schoolers and I would recommend it to any child between the ages of 8-13 who likes Harry Potter-like fantasy novels.

Happy reading ~

Limbo Lodge by Joan Aiken – Wolves Chronicle #5

It may have seemed as if I had forgotten about this book series… but I did not! As I mentioned previously, I have just had zero time for myself and that has led to a decline in my reading time, but I am working fast to make up for it. So without further ado, here I go:

In her latest adventure, Dido Twite is searching for Lord Herodsfoot, who is scouring the globe for new and interesting games. It’s up to Dido to bring him back to London, where an ill King James is in need of a distraction. Dido’s search takes her to a spice island called Aratu, where foreigners seldom venture due to the presence of the deadly pearl snakes and sting monkeys. When Dido lands on this island, she learns of something far more sinister than the poisonous snakes: there is a plot to overthrow the island’s king at his place on the Cliffs of Death. With the help of the Forest People, Dido rushes to the Cliff … but will she make it in time?

I have to admit, this has got to be one of my least favorite books in the series so far. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some positives and I still enjoyed the ride. Let me begin with what I liked:

  • the magic elements were super weird and cool. I liked the mysticism and the way in which those who could use magic were able to even convince the skeptics in the story.
  • Talisman and the Forest People were by far my favorite characters in the story. They were so different and I think Aiken did a fantastic job in creating them and giving them the ropes.
  • the plot against the King was typical Aiken and I loved it because it’s everything I expected and love about this series!

So clearly, there were some positives. However, there were some flaws that made this book drop below my expectations.

  • Dido lacked that charm I’ve become so accustomed to seeing. In this novel, she was quite flat and had no real purpose; this novel would have still moved fine without her presence.
  • Lord Herodsfoot and King were really blah characters. I just didn’t like their complete helplessness in every situation. I understand that Aiken created them specifically to be this way, but I just don’t like useless characters.
  • there were a lot of holes in the plot that didn’t make sense (and that’s saying something since most of the books in this series are wacky!) and the introduction into this adventure was very awkward and stilted. The transitions could definitely have been better!

Overall, the novel still maintained its wackiness and had an awesome fantasy element to it. However, it didn’t tie things as well as it could have and Dido really didn’t shine. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be better; for now, this novel gets a 3.5/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine – The Great Library #2

After the spectacular journey in Ink and Bone, it was all I could do to not rush out and get this next novel. I wanted to read it leisurely, when I knew I would have enough time and energy to devote to this series. As soon as I finished my last final, I put everything else away and began to read this book. Here is my review:

Jess Brightwell survived his introduction to the Library, but serving in the army is nothing like what he imagined. With his best friend lost and Morgan, the girl he loves, locked away in the Iron Tower, his life and the lives of his other friends has changed forever. After embarking on a mission to save a friend, Jess and his group of allies make one wrong move and find themselves being hunted by the Library’s automata, forcing them to flee Alexandria and head to London. But London is no longer safe. The Welsh army is approaching, London is burning, and Jess must decide where his loyalties lie.

Did this novel live up to the standards of Ink and Bone? Not a chance. To be quite honest, this novel was so lackluster in comparison to its predecessor. Nothing happens. Seriously, it’s just a lot of talking and conspiring. Almost all of the novel was spent with Jess and the rest of the gang trying to figure things out. It was quite annoying to continually read about this, especially once it became clear how things were headed. The craziness and the intrigue and the characters that had me so fascinated were very dull in this book. Jess had almost no personality, and none of the other characters sparked my interest like they did in the previous novel. There was just no growth and no forward movement except in little jerks. This book was definitely a disappointment, especially following the amazing quality of the first book. I hope that the next installment redeems this series!

Happy reading ~

Fyre by Katherine Bogle – Chronicles of Warshard #0.5

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was unaware that this was a novella when I first began reading but considering that I also received the ARC for Haven, the first novel in the series, I thought it would be a good idea to start with this prequel novella as it would give me an understanding of the major players!

Haven has never felt comfortable in royal gatherings and jumps at the chance to sneak away and race her brothers on horseback. But when the young princess is injured, her identity is called into question.

As heir to the Rythern throne, Lucian has a heavy weight on his shoulders. But when he is forced to leave the warfront by his father, he does so reluctantly. Little does anyone know that this decision would prove costly.

The battle for Helms Keep has disastrous consequences for Marcel. Soon he finds himself fighting both enemy forces and his own memories.

For her own safety, Astrid is sent to the family cottage in the Cinder Mountains. However, the cottage is less than cozy what with the frigid temperatures and knee-high snow. With only a few guards to protect her, Astrid must find a way to dig deep into herself and find a way to survive.

This novella served as a sneak preview for the story that comes ahead in Haven. I found the premise intriguing, but the short stories here were a bit too abrupt in the way they end. I liked reading the first story about Haven, but her other siblings weren’t all that interesting to read about. Hopefully, that isn’t the case in the first book! Either way, this novella has me interested in reading this series!

Happy reading ~

The Stolen Lake by Joan Aiken – Wolves Chronicles #4

What I love about this series is that you never feel like you’ve missed anything when you wait before reading the next book. In the beginning of each book, the reader gets a chance to remember the particulars that led to this current situation, and then the story takes up and you get lost in all the action. With this particular book, the author mentions that it can be read as a standalone and has no bearing on the rest of the series. So if you are intrigued by this author but don’t have the time to read the whole series, this book is a good place to start! Anyways, enough rambling, let me get on with my review:

On her way back to London aboard the Thrush, Dido and the crew are summoned to the aid of the queen of New Cumbria. Her island has been a source of help for Britain in the past, and now she uses that connection to seek justice. When the crew arrives, they find that the island is a very unusual place, full of birds that are big enough to carry off men, and fish that eat human flesh and leave only bones as remains. The queen is greatly distressed because she believes that a neighbouring king has stolen her lake. It is up to Dido and the rest of the crew to face the many dangers that are present on this island in order to get the lake back.

In comparison to the previous books in this series, this one is definitely unique. While this novel continues in the style of alternate history, we also see unique fantasy and mythology elements. Once again, we see Dido as the star of the show. Her humor and quick wit save her time and again. I actually loved the adult characters that were introduced here as Dido’s companions; unlike the other books, most of them were quite ready to follow Dido’s directives and were a great asset to her! The plot, while not related to anything Hanoverian, was still delightfully sinister, and the evil characters were quite well drawn up! There are certain things that I found weren’t addressed fully in the book, but apart from that, this novel was just as fun and amazing as every other book in the series! I think this may be one of my favorite stories about Dido so far, but I’m going to read the next one to see if it can top this!

Happy reading ~

Black Friday by B.R. Myers – Night Shift #2

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

After absolutely loving the first book in the series, I was really excited to have the chance to read this one. It’s taken me some time to get here, but now I’m done! So here is my review:

It’s been a month since 19-year-old Daniel Gale survived a vicious attack at Willard’s department store. As the culprit waits behind bars for a court date, Daniel and Mary spend every night shift researching Willard’s history in order to find some clue to save Mary and the others from a life stuck in the department store. But when an ally passes away, it reveals a shocking letter filled with confessions that will make Daniel and Mary question everything they thought they knew.

After really loving the first book, I am sad to admit that this one left me quite disappointed. The magic and the glamorous vibe were non-existent, and the plot plodded on to the point where I simply couldn’t care. Most of this novel was filled with Daniel wandering around, moping because he wanted to spend more time with Mary. And there were so many impassioned moments where they declared their love for each other… and it was really cringe-worthy. I couldn’t really feel the “true love” angle that the author was throwing in, because it just seemed to happen so quickly and with no real development! There was so much focus on the romance that I felt that the actual mystery-solving aspect got very little attention. I was craving clues and the kind of intrigue and suspicion that were the focal point in the previous novel. But since the author just glazed over it, I didn’t really feel invested. There were so many things that the author left open-ended in the book and that really bothered me. I don’t want to reveal any of them now because I don’t want to spoil the story but I really hope she clarifies it in the next novel. The last 50 pages or so moved at a very quick pace, which was a bit startling to read. But the author did leave an interesting segue for the next book in the series. I will definitely give the next novel a chance because there is a lot of potential for this series… I just hope that the author focuses more on the plot than the lovey-dovey feelings between Mary and Daniel!

Happy reading ~

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir – An Ember in the Ashes #2

It has taken me a while to get to this book. Mostly because I really enjoyed the first novel and I was apprehensive as to whether I would like the second book. There’s this thing I like to refer to as “Second-Book Syndrome”; the second book in a series sucks in comparison to the first. I was worried that that would happen and so, I hesitated. But I finally got to reading it, so here is my review:

Elias and Laia are running for their lives. After the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt them as they flee Serra and go on a dangerous journey through the heart of the Empire. Laia is determined to free her brother from Kauf, the most secure prison in the empire. And Elias is determined to help Laia, even if it means he loses his freedom. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and Helene—Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

So…. this novel didn’t meet my expectations. I don’t know, maybe I set them too high? I really really liked the first novel, with its interesting Ancient Rome aspects and the dual storyline with Elias and Laia. In this one, however, the story plot was lacking. The story continued to be told in multiple perspectives but it started to get repetitive when it came to Laia and Elias because they were both together and going through the same thing. I really hated the fact that Elias had to go through so many issues in the novel; he literally never got a break. And Laia was super selfish. There was a love triangle and it made me feel really annoyed and upset, especially because it made the real “love” seem so fake. I really liked seeing Helen have her own perspective, because she was a character I had always been interested in and she was going through her own issues. Overall, the story was fast-paced but seemed to sacrifice on plot and character development because of this. I was quite disappointed with this novel and am probably going to have to give the rest of this series a pass.

Happy reading ~

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine – The Great Library #1

I love libraries. I love books. So it makes sense that I would be drawn to a novel that focuses on both of these things!

What if the Great Library of Alexandria had actually survived? Ruthless and powerful beyond belief, the Great Library controls the world, controlling the flow of knowledge and books to the masses. Through alchemical means, the Library allows its patrons to access the contents of the greatest works of history in an instant – but owning a book is forbidden by law. Jess Brightwell firmly believes in the values and authority of the Library, but his world is full of illegal books that his family sells on the black market. His family sees his love of books and the library and decide to use both to make him a family spy by helping him enter into the Library’s service. But the more time he spends training for a life in the Library, the more his loyalties are tested. In the end, Jess will have to decide if the Library is truly as good as it seems, especially as it seems to value knowledge and books over life.

Wow, was that a great book! I’m not kidding when I say that I loved every bit of it! The whole concept was just so interesting and the author did a great job spinning this crazy world, and I was instantly sucked in!

I really liked the whole concept of forbidden books. Trying to imagine a world where the only source of literature is through a library is so interesting. The author did a really nice job in illustrating both the positives as well as the negatives of having such a system. I liked the whole black market aspect, as it was reminiscent of The Book Thief (another novel that I really enjoyed)! While the author tried to include historical aspects to the novel, it wasn’t the central focus so if readers are expecting to see crazy historical differences, they may be disappointed. One thing I found confusing was that the novel was set in 2025 but there weren’t too many technological advances; you would think that with the amount of knowledge that the Library had, there would be more conveniences available. I mean, I still enjoyed reading about the steam carriages and automatons, but it was a bit weird. I loved all of the characters that were in the book, and I’m really glad that this novel did not have a love triangle; I’m getting quite bored of seeing that happen all the time! This novel chronicles the time that Jess and his fellow students spend getting trained in the Library, which I actually found really intriguing; most people get bored reading about lessons and learning experiences (I do, too) but the author wrote about this material in a way that kept interesting and exciting! I also loved that there were excerpts of letters at the end of each chapter that revealed some of the more secret aspects of the Library; it built up the tension and made the story come together in a really unique way! Overall, this was a really great novel and I’m already eager to get into the next book in the series!

Happy reading ~