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.

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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.

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Fantasy · YA

Jane, Unlimited – Kristin Cashore

3 Stars

I picked Jane, Unlimited up from the library on a whim the other day, after seeing a description and the cover in a Facebook group I’m active in.

Jane
Cover from Goodreads

The metallic cover was intriguing and I am sometimes a sucker for a pretty cover. The description was also interesting:

If you could change your story, would you?

Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”

What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.

Jane, Unlimited was quite a strange book. I got very serious Rebecca vibes from the book – which Cashore reinforced in her afterword where she explains that she was inspired by Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It would make sense then, that I wouldn’t enjoy Jane, Unlimited much, since I HATED Rebecca when I had to read it in high school.

I also struggled with the structure of the book. Cashore starts by building a story with many threads and mysteries swirling around and then abruptly things get weird. It’s as though Cashore couldn’t figure out how to weave all her various storylines together, so instead of writing one cohesive ending, she wrote five – each ending more absurd than the last. This made for somewhat dull reading. Each new ending started at the same moment the others did and therefore was fairly repetitive. For cohesion, some details and events remained the same throughout each ending which was pretty boring.

Ultimately, I loved the fifth and final ending, even though it was very nearly the most absurd of them all (though #4 sure gives it a run for its’ money.) I could have read an entire book based just on the fifth ending and done without all the rest of the book.

Jane, Unlimited hit shelves on September 19, 2017. If you check it out, let me know what you think!

Urban Fantasy · YA

Wolves and Roses – Christina Bauer

3.5 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Surprise! I’m officially moving back to three posts a week, so this week you get two posts in two days!

I love fairy tales. I love fresh, fun retellings of fairy tales – especially when they’re all mashed together. Wolves and Roses is just that kind of story.

Bryar Rose is a Sleeping Beauty life template, her bestie Elle is a Cinderella life template, and wizards, witches, fairies, and shapeshifters are just part of her world.

Bryar wants nothing more than to turn 18 and not get married. If she can just manage that, she can live a normal life and not succumb to her Sleeping Beauty life template. But of course, the universe – and her aunties – have other plans for Bryar.

Wolves and Roses was a fun, quick read. Bryar and Elle have a great friendship, as do the guys that tag along with them on their adventures. Their friendship is the best part of the book.

The rest of the book is a little predictable and just a little convenient. It doesn’t take away from the fun of the story, but it does hold it back from being as strong a story as it could be.

If you’re looking for a fun, fluffy read that is a fun take on fairy tale mashups, Wolves and Roses is your book.

Wolves and Roses is the first in The Fairy Tales of the Magicorum series and will hit shelves on Halloween, 2017!

 

Fantasy · YA

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

5 Stars

Reader, I just had to see what all the buzz was about. I’m in a fair number of bookish Facebook groups and one happens to have a focus on YA books and that group has just been absolutely abuzz about Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae Files and Nevernight series. A good friend of mine vouches for Illuminae, so I plan to pick that one up from the library in the near future, but my library hold for Nevernight came first, which is convenient since the second book in the series, Godsgrave just hit shelves earlier in September.

20170917_123638I have no idea how or why, but my library is circulating a signed first edition of Nevernight.

So, what is Nevernight about? Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Kristoff has built an interesting new universe – one where the Light is dark and the Dark is darker. This universe of his feels like he threw Leigh Bardugo’s Ketterdam (from Six of Crows), the Roman Empire and Renaissance Italy into a blender. It’s dark, unforgiving, classist, full of subterfuge and betrayal, with a dash of occasional kindness and finished with more than a few hard knocks.

Kristoff opens Nevernight with gorgeously lyrical prose and an interesting use of parallel storytelling. He uses this device throughout the book, to an interesting effect. He adds backstory and context through flashbacks and repetition as though Nevernight were an epic poem being recited to an audience, rather than a novel being read silently. This makes me curious about the audiobook; I wonder if that experience is as lovely as reading the book.

The novel itself is peppered with footnotes galore. While I did enjoy the asides and additional backstory and worldbuilding the footnotes offered, I found they broke up the flow of the story quite distractingly. Some of the asides were very funny, but others were basically history lessons that I’d have preferred woven into the actual story itself better.

Kristoff’s Nevernight universe is built well as are his characters. All of the main cast, except for the villains of the series, are multi-dimensional. They’re crafted to have strengths, flaws, backstories, and mysteries of their own. When any of the main cast die (and of course they die, it’s a book about a school for assassins) their deaths hit like a punch to the gut (or in some cases are cause for audible shouting of “YES!”).

I didn’t blow through Nevernight as quickly as I have other, similar novels from Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J Maas, but I really enjoyed the journey and definitely understand what all that buzz has been about. Kristoff has built an interesting universe and set his characters up with a hard road ahead.

I’m very much looking forward to picking up Godsgrave when my hold comes in at the library.

Nevernight was released August 9, 2016 and the next in the series Godsgrave was released on September 5, 2017.

Science Fiction · YA

Nyxia – Scott Reintgen

4 Stars

I received an eARC of Nyxia in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.

Nyxia
Image Source: Goodreads

Nyxia is a young adult space thriller that feels very much like a blending of Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games – or as the publisher calls out The Maze Runner and Illuminae. (I haven’t read either of those yet, so I can’t comment on the comparison.)

The synopsis on NetGalley:

Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.

Forever.

Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.

But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.

Emmett has to fight for his seat on Eden and the rules keep changing on him. He’ll have to be more clever, stronger, and faster than the others in order to earn his spot. Despite a somewhat slow beginning, by the end I found myself utterly drawn in and rooting for Emmett’s victory.

When I read, especially YA, I’m always keeping my eye on the cast, looking for diversity. Racially, Nyxia didn’t disappoint. Our hero, Emmett, is a young black teenager from Detroit. The rest of the cast is diverse too. Characters come from all across the globe: China, Japan, India, Columbia, United States, Palestine, Kenya, Brazil, etc. And there’s a nice balance between male and female competitors, though all the Babel staff seems to be male. They all have one thing in common, the reason Babel chose them: they’re all poor. Every one of them has come from poverty.

I do have to say, I bumped pretty hard against the name of the Japanese boy being “Katsu.” After some googling, it appears Katsu used to be a fairly common girl’s name in Japan about 80 years ago, but to a Western audience, “katsu” is something you order for takeout at a teriyaki place. Nyxia also fell into the trap of the “perfect Asian” trope, which was disappointing. Additionally, Nyxia lacks diversity when it comes to LGBTQIA representation. Hopefully, in the next two books, this omission can be rectified.

Despite these pitfalls, Nyxia was a fun read, and I am looking forward to the continuation of the “triad” (trilogy).

Nyxia is action-packed – the training sequences are well written and full of tension. Moreover, Emmett knows there’s more going on than what Babel is telling them – and the tension builds throughout the book as Emmett makes discoveries and Babel reacts to what he’s found.

Nyxia is the first book in the Nyxia Triad and will be released on September 12, 2017.

 

Fantasy · YA

Ash and Quill – Rachel Caine

4 Stars

I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Like many bibliophiles, I have a soft spot in my heart for libraries. Because of this, I am always intrigued by stories set in, around, or about these great storehouses of knowledge. The Great Library series, by Rachel Caine is no exception to that attraction.

Caine has built a world in which the great library of Alexandria did not burn, and where the library’s reach is far and deep. Not only does the Library give of its scholarly discoveries but it also hoards information and power. Here is the beauty of the series – an exploration of what happens when the Library loses sight of its mission to be a storehouse of knowledge and crosses the line into a perversion of that mission into the land of censorship. Once that line is crossed, what lengths will the Library go to in order to preserve its own power?

As dry as that idea may sound, Caine folds it into an addictive series with realistic well-crafted characters, a twisty plot, and a dash of romance. The story follows a group of former Library employees as they struggle against the Library’s machinations. At times the story feels a little predictable, but Caine makes up for it by dropping in surprising twists. The third installment doesn’t suffer from “middle-book syndrome” like other mid-series books sometimes can. The story clips along at a nice pace and has its own distinct goal to achieve and its own satisfying ending. A short-lived ending, of course, because the book must set up for the next installment in the series.

I read Ash and Quill in one evening and am very much looking forward to the next installment.

Ash and Quill is the third in The Great Library series by Rachel Caine and was published July 11, 2017.