Fantasy · YA

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

5 Stars

This is one of the easiest ratings I’ve ever given. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I knew that I was giving this book a 5-star rating.


Cover from Goodreads


“What’s your name?”


“Serena?” Elliot asked.

“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”

Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

Our main character, Elliott, is annoying. Seriously annoying. He embraces his annoyingness and uses it to whatever advantage he can. Exactly like every thirteen-year-old boy I’ve ever met. He’s whiny, obnoxious, kind of a jerk, terrible to his friends, and yet really accepting of people as they are. In Other Lands follows Elliott through four formative years – the most crucial years of his life to date. Elliott has a lot of growing up and self-discovery ahead of him, and that journey is one of the many things that makes this book special. Elliott is surprisingly oblivious to things that are obvious to the reader, despite being pretty introspective.

He goes over the wall into the Borderlands and chooses to stay. His portal opens and he runs right in and makes it his home. He has to navigate cultural differences, teenage emotions, relationships, friendships, classes and his own personal desires.

I don’t want to spoil the magic of discovery for other readers, but In Other Lands is inclusive, witty, and touching. I laughed out loud and leaked tears on and off throughout my read. I didn’t want to put it down, and when I had to, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In Other Lands is what you’d get if Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway had a baby with Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The tone is light, but the subject matter is meaty and full of pointed and poignant observations about our own culture.

My one and only complaint about In Other Lands is the cover. It’s a beautiful cover, but a misleading one. Let’s be honest here: people judge books by their covers. It’s an unfortunate fact of life. Another unfortunate fact is that many boys won’t pick up books that they think are for girls. (Girls generally pick up more “boy” books than vice versa) This cover feels feminine, and I fear has turned boys off from picking this book up. If I were to re-cover In Other Lands I’d give it a gorgeous, adventure-y cover reminiscent of the Percy Jackson books. (Or we could have both covers and the world would rejoice.) I want this book to be in as many hands as possible, and it makes me sad thinking that anyone might pass on this book because of the cover/content mismatch. Everyone with even a passing interest in YA, Fantasy or a combination of the two should read this book.

In Other Lands is on shelves now and everyone should be tripping over themselves to go out and get a copy RIGHT NOW!

Fantasy · Magical Realism · YA

The Wicked Deep – Shea Ernshaw

4 Stars

The Wicked Deep is one of the most polished debut novels I’ve read in a long time. Shea Ernshaw has written a witchy YA novel that flirts with tired tropes and breathes fresh new life into them.

Cover from Goodreads

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

In The Wicked Deep we get a fresh new take on small, tourist-town life. It reads a lot like a contemporary novel with some fantasy elements woven in. A little tooo much to be Magical Realism, but I wouldn’t argue too hard if someone wanted to classify it that way. Ernshaw’s thoughtful novel is tightly plotted and carefully crafted. I’ve been reading for a long time and this felt fresh and new. She even managed to surprise me with a couple of twists at the end – I was delighted! (There were even a couple of emotional gut-punches!)

The characters had depth and felt multidimensional, and the quick romance that buds is sweet without being eye-rollingly saccharine or completely tropey. The threat of revenge from the drowned sisters was believable, though not fully explained.

I read the book in a night because I simply didn’t want to put it down. The Wicked Deep is also, delightfully, a standalone. In an age where more and more YA novels are parts of series (especially in fantasy), it’s a singular delight when I find a standalone that feels complete. I don’t need more of The Wicked Deep because everything I needed in the story is right there, between the pages.

The Wicked Deep is on sale March 6, 2018. If you’re a fan of YA fantasy or contemporary YA, The Wicked Deep will be a fun, satisfying read.

Fantasy · YA

Fire and Bone – Rachel A. Marks

2 stars

Here’s the synopsis from the publisher:

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.

Thrust into a magical world hidden within the City of Angels, Sage discovers that she’s the daughter of a Celtic goddess, with powers that are only in their infancy. Now that she is of age, she’s asked to pledge her service to one of the five deities, all keen on winning her favor by any means possible. She has to admit that she’s tempted—especially when this new life comes with spells, Hollywood glam, and a bodyguard with secrets of his own. Not to mention a prince whose proposal could boost her rank in the Otherworld.

As loyalties shift, and as the two men vie for her attention, Sage tries to figure out whom to trust in a realm she doesn’t understand. One thing is for sure: the trap she’s in has bigger claws than she thought. And it’s going to take a lot more than magic for this Celtic demigoddess to make it out alive.

No, no, no and no again. Authors and publishers really need to stop writing creepy, stalker characters and wrapping it up in a pretty bow with “my love.”

You know who calls an unwilling woman “my love” despite repeated rejections? Stalkers. Creepers. Sexual harassers. It’s not sexy. It’s not cute. It’s disgusting. I kept reading in hopes the Fire and Bone would pull a Court of Thorns and Roses and flip the script, but nope. It sort of tries, in that Kieran doesn’t end up being QUITE as awful as he seems the first 4/5 of the book, but in the end, not being a totally awful person doesn’t negate KIDNAPPING AND STALKING Sage.

All of the characters are uninspired rehashings of the same YA archetypes we’ve been seeing over and over the last few years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the archetypes, but they’re not well done.

Sage, the main character is so naive and clueless. She is given the world on a platter. Plied with riches. Rags to riches, boring boring boring. Reading the scenes from her POV was grating.

Faelan is no better. Literal protector, sexually repressed, predictably attracted to Sage. Angry and dark and brooding. Snore.

Kieran, the dark prince, acts disgustingly, as I described above, and then is upset when Sage fails to fall for him, despite calling her “my love” over and over. She doesn’t even know him and he is calling her “my love”… GROSS.

The story finally got somewhat interesting in the last 20 pages, but it wasn’t enough for me to want to read more in the series. I was really disappointed in this one.

I received an eARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Fire and Bone comes out on February 20, 2018. 

Fantasy · YA

Tempests And Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

5 Stars

Way back when I was wee, I didn’t actually like reading very much. My mom would buy me books, and I’d look at them, set them aside and forget about them. One day, I finally picked up Magic Steps from Tamora Pierce and something about it drew me in. I was eight, in third grade and I finally fell in love with reading. I devoured the book and begged my mom to buy me the rest of the series. What I found was not just a couple more books, but enough to keep me busy reading for months. Magic Steps was the first book in the second of Pierce’s quartets set in her fictional world of Emelan. But, Emelan is not her only universe – there’s also Tortall. Tortall is the world of knights and magic and strong women, and the world in which Tempests and Slaughter takes place.


Cover from Goodreads


The synopsis from Goodreads:

Arram. Varice. Ozorne. In the first book in the Numair Chronicles, three student mages are bound by fate . . . fated for trouble.

Arram Draper is a boy on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting danger. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram begins to realize that one day soon he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

In the Numair Chronicles, readers will be rewarded with the never-before-told story of how Numair Salmalín came to Tortall. Newcomers will discover an unforgettable fantasy adventure where a kingdom’s future rests on the shoulders of a talented young man with a knack for making vicious enemies.

Fans of Tamora Pierce will be delighted to find that the story of Numair, of Arram Draper, is both familiar and new. All the elements of classic Tamora Pierce that we know and love are present. A lovable protagonist, standing up for others, study groups in the library, magical animal sidekick, frustrating and meddling god, adventures, magic and a wry sense of humor about describing the realities of growing up and growing bodies. There are even a few easter eggs along the way to delight fans of the other books set in Tortall. But the story is fresh and still unpredictable. Despite “knowing how it will end” from reading the books that take place after Tempests and Slaughter, I still bit my nails and worried about our lovable cast of characters.

But readers new to Pierce’s work shouldn’t be afraid they’ll be lost or find themselves alienated. Tempests and Slaughter takes place before the events of most of the other books set in Tortall, and hundreds of years after books set earlier in the universe’s timeline. One need not know anything about Tortall or Pierce’s writing to be welcome and enjoy the delight that is Tempests and Slaughter. Pierce is a master of her craft, writing stories that are heartfelt, gripping and hilarious. Her characters have depth and diversity, and she tackles tough storylines with finesse. In Tempests and Slaughter, Pierce is on top of her game and hits a homerun with the first installment of the Numair Chronicles.

I’m already dying for the second installment, but Tempests and Slaughter hits shelves February 6, 2018.

Fantasy · YA

Markswoman – Rati Mehrotra

4 Stars

Markswoman is the first in a new YA series (Asiana) and debut novel by Canadian author Rati Mehrotra.

The publisher’s synopsis:

Kyra is the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, one of a handful of sisterhoods of highly trained elite warriors. Armed with blades whose metal is imbued with magic and guided by a strict code of conduct, the Orders are sworn to keep the peace and protect the people of Asiana. Kyra has pledged to do so—yet she secretly harbors a fierce desire to avenge her murdered family.

When Tamsyn, the powerful and dangerous Mistress of Mental Arts, assumes control of the Order, Kyra is forced on the run. She is certain that Tamsyn committed murder in a twisted bid for power, but she has no proof.

Kyra escapes through one of the strange Transport Hubs that are the remnants of Asiana’s long-lost past and finds herself in the unforgiving wilderness of a desert that is home to the Order of Khur, the only Order composed of men. Among them is Rustan, a disillusioned Marksman whose skill with a blade is unmatched. He understands the desperation of Kyra’s quest to prove Tamsyn’s guilt, and as the two grow closer, training daily on the windswept dunes of Khur, both begin to question their commitment to their Orders. But what they don’t yet realize is that the line between justice and vengeance is thin . . . as thin as the blade of a knife.

Markswoman is set in what appears to be a future version of India so far away as to be largely unrecognizable as our world. I enjoyed getting to know the world and learning to understand the Orders and meeting Kyra and Rustan. Kyra and Rustan both face moral quandaries, where they must wrestle with what is right and wrong and the shades of gray. The emotional journies they face are directly tied and sometimes at odds with their lives as Markswomen/Marksmen – assassins.

There is also evidence – the Hubs – of an alien presence far in the past, which adds an interesting element that I’m excited to explore in future books.

All the elements of a story I like are present, and I enjoyed reading Markswoman but I found the story to be a bit predictable. Mehrotra laid down threads to carry the story forward, through this book and into sequels, but those threads are obvious to someone who reads a lot of YA fantasy, so I found myself reading almost for confirmation that I was right than out of a sense of discovery and curiosity.

I appreciated the diversity of a novel set in India and featuring a largely non-white cast, something sorely lacking in mainstream media, but that alone isn’t enough to move Markswoman out of an average story.

I’m looking forward to the second book in the series, if only because I want to know what happens to Kyra and Ruston after the bloody ending of the book.

Markswoman hits shelves Tuesday, January 23, and while it isn’t groundbreaking, I did enjoy the read.

I received an eARC of this book from Edelweiss and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Fantasy · YA

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

5 stars

Oh, Readers that was good. Godsgrave is the second novel in Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight Chronicle and I just can’t wait for the third and final book to be released. I’m so mad that I have to wait for the next one.


Cover from Goodreads


As in the first novel, Nevernight, Kristoff employs a dual storytelling structure, weaving past and present together, but Kristoff is a master of suspense and twists. I certainly didn’t see half of this book coming. Twist after surprising twist. Even when I thought I knew where things were going because of the dual storylines, I was surprised again and again.

Mia murders her way through any obstacle between her and her ultimate goal of retribution against the men who murdered her family – though something more is going on around her. The body count is high, and the pages bloody, but oh, the adventure is good. Mia isn’t a hero (or is she?) but it’s sure fun to follow her as she slits throats and takes no names as she climbs over literal mountains of bodies toward her goal. She might think she’s the spider at the center of the web, but others are pulling strings that she’s still unaware of.

Despite the violence and high body count, Kristoff finds room for raw vulnerability, emotional connection and even a little romance. An LGBTQ romance even! (And boy does Kristoff write some sexy scenes. I did a little face fanning here and there.)

The Nevernight Chronicle is a fully rounded dark fantasy like nothing else I’ve read.




Fantasy · YA

Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire

4 Stars

A friend shared her ARC of Beneath the Sugar Sky with me recently (and is giving this copy away in the Seanan McGuire fangroup on Facebook) so I had the opportunity to read the novella last night.


The synopsis from Goodreads:

Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

I think this might be the fluffiest thing Seanan has ever written. It’s a delightful story, with lots of disturbing little details that are signature Seanan, but it’s significantly lighter than most of what she writes, and I struggled with that. I particularly loved Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the previous two Wayward Children novellas, because they were heavy with emotional weight. Even beneath the sugary surface of Beneath the Sugar Sky I found a fluffy cotton candy core, a bit too light for me.

That’s not to say that Beneath the Sugar Sky is without emotional weight or an important story – Seanan carries on her tradition of making the Wayward Children series inclusive and the characters, both familiar and new, are diverse in myriad ways. This book might resonate more strongly for others than it did with me. In the first two stories, I saw a lot of myself in Nancy and in Jack. In Beneath the Sugar Sky, I just didn’t have that same emotional connection with any of the characters (though it only made my desire for Christopher’s story that much stronger!).

The Wayward Children series is for all of us who felt like the world didn’t quite fit us, in one way or another.

Beneath the Sugar Sky hits shelves January 9, 2018 and is the third in the Wayward Children series.