Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Untouched by Jen Atkinson

genre: young adult fantasy

Having been homeschooled all her life, starting high school for her senior year is more than a little daunting for Thankful Tenys.  It's REALLY daunting.  So when she meets the super standoffish Liam, that all the kids in her small town school are convinced is cursed, she knows it is in her best interest to just stay out of his way.  And yet, there is something about him and his "otherness" that really resonates with her own loneliness.  So she doesn't stay away - and Thankful learns enough about Liam and those "curse" rumors to start making her own choice about this untouchable boy.

It's a fast read and I particularly appreciated Thankful having a challenging home life with a sick parent, something you don't see super often in young adult books.  The romance is cute and for the most part I believed where the story took me - up until about the last 1/5.  Then it just became too Twilighty for me (and it had already reminded me of Twilight enough to make me roll my eyes a little).  I also found myself frustrated by Liam's constant growling, eyebrow knitting and Adam's apple bobbing.  I wanted more from him, a little more depth.  And it's hard for me to imagine a young man that is always growling.  Despite that, I did read it fast and there were a few good plot twists that I didn't totally see coming.   Less picky readers might like it a lot better than me.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Stolen Enchantress by Amber Argyle

genre: young adult fantasy

Larkin knows what happens to the girls that wander into the forest: they never come home.  So when she must chase someone she loves beyond its boundaries, suddenly the forest and its creatures become very real.  It's not only animals that live in the forest, though, and unbeknownst to Larkin, there is something even darker at work.  When those offer help still don't seem to believe Larkin or trust her judgement, she knows she'll have to find a way to save herself.

First of all, this was a super fun and fast read for me.  I found the romance, if maybe a little shallow, interesting enough to keep me reading.  I liked the magic set-up and the Pied Piper-esqueness of the plot felt plausible in the grander world building.  I will say, though, that Larkin could be pretty irritating.  There was a lot of back and forth, out of the forest and into the forest lots of times, even KNOWING it was a horrible idea, which got a bit old and keeps me from giving it five stars.  I kinda wanted to shake her.  But the writing was tight, for the most part (except for an excessive use of the word "grunt") and I really did like the story enough that I would definitely read the next one to see where it leads.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (audiobook)

genre: science fiction

George Orr has a problem. When George falls into a deep sleep and dreams, the things he dreams become reality. If he had some kind of control over this phenomenon then it would be a blessing, a miracle. But he doesn’t. And so when he medicates himself to stop dreaming, George ends up in therapy.  And that is when things become even more complicated.

Wow is this book trippy. It is fascinating and surreal, to imagine that our world is constantly shifting and changing based on the unconscious whims of one citizen. I especially appreciated how one tiny shift, one tiny change that you'd hope is for the better can end up with massive unintended consequences. George’s journey is a very cerebral one and I am sure that there is so much symbolism and meaning that I missed but even for what I got out of it, it was very interesting.  So many ideas here, it would be a great springboard for discussions about human nature, ethics and the results of Playing God.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Warrior Queen by Emily R. King

genre: young adult fantasy

(this is the fourth book in the Hundredth Queen Series, so read the first three first :)

A kind of peace has finally settled.  Bhutas are in the palace, unashamed, and Ashwin is preparing to accept his rightful place as ruler.  But for Kalinda, her foundation has been shaken.  So much of who she was is no longer a part of her life.  Friends have been lost and, most importantly, her love is in the Void.  Deven has managed to find a way to come and visit her, but at what cost?  His life there is unsustainable and Kali would give anything to save him - if she can just figure out how to do it. 

Finally!  On this, the fourth book, I felt like the author came into her own and the plot really moved forward.  So many different storylines, twists and turns that really interested me and didn't require me to crazy suspend my disbelief (at least not as much as the other books did).  The writing was tighter too - her word choice still drives me crazy sometimes - but overall this was for sure the best of the four books for me.  I liked how so many of the different characters we met throughout the books came into play in the final scenes.  And I actually really liked the ending.  I'm glad I stuck it out with this series so I could appreciate the Kalinda who rose from the ashes of disaster into a life she actually could choose for herself.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Rogue Queen by Emily R. King

genre: young adult fantasy

This is the third book in the Hundredth Queen Series, so read The Hundredth Queen and The Fire Queen first :)

Kalinda is still far from home, desperately in search of peace but still so far from it.  Now, not only is a warlord ruling in her palace, but a demon disguised as her deceased husband, Rajah Tarek, has mustered HER army to take the palace and rule over bhuta and humankind alike.  With her own powers being changed and stifled by the demon's icy fire, Kalinda almost doesn't even know herself.  Who can she ally with that will help her to defeat a seemingly immortal demon?  Will she ever find a way to be by Deven's side without terror of one kind or another always hanging over her head?

I'm of two minds again.  The plot does move forward.  The world building and folklore/religion/legend is expansive.  Sometimes so much so that I just couldn't follow it.  For whatever reason, I had a hard time fully wrapping my brain around the whole vendetta of the demons.  I eventually just had to let it go and believe they had their reasons - I couldn't keep the genealogy and stories of the Gods straight enough to have it all settle in and make sense.  I want more from the romance, truthfully.  Sometimes Deven feels melodramatic and juvenile in a way that grated on me.  Yes, I sensitivity is good but begging with your hands together "as if in prayer" just doesn't ring true to the soldier he's made out to be.  Despite that, though, I did care about how it all turned out.  Even if in a huge battle I had to read sentences over three, four times to try and understand whaaattt?  How did that happen?  I think why I keep reading is that I can appreciate the grand scheme of the story - the palace with its rani and courtesans, the temple of the sisterhood with its wards and sister warriors, all the other lands with their people and their specific strengths and histories.  Sometimes the nitty gritty of the writing drives me crazy but I've come this far, I'm going to read the dang fourth book and see it out.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (audiobook)

genre: middle grade historical fiction

One chance meeting in the forest with three sisters.

One boy watching the rise of Hitler who has to be brave in the face of hatred and ignorance.

One older brother struggling to find a place for himself and safety for his younger brother.

One girl facing prejudice who knows that keeping her family together is the most important thing

One lowly instrument that ties all their fates together.

Oh, the beauty of this book, the way that children have power to do good and make change with their mature decisions, the way their struggles are portrayed with respect and grace.  Music, its power to change lives and to shine a beautiful light on people who could use some light - this is one of the strongest and most elegant threads throughout this story.  When these three plots are finally woven into their glorious finale, I got actual goosebumps and tears, it felt that deep and powerful to me.  The only reason it doesn't get five stars is because as soon as I was super involved and caring about each character, I was switched to a new one and it felt very jarring to me, to be left hanging so precariously.  But I CARED about them and when I learned how their story ended, I forgave everything.  Also, here is what I came away with, an idea that you always sorta know in the back of your mind but sometimes don't think about: everyone, EVERYONE, has a story.  No matter how capable or elegant or lowly or famous or downtrodden - there are reasons why people do what they do, there is heartache they must face and decisions that brought them to wherever they are.  I love when you can imagine a tableau of individuals and appreciate how incredible each person's story is.  Every child born on this planet has much promise.

I need to also note that I was SO GLAD I did the audio!  There's so much sound and music in this story and the producers did an excellent job of including it in the story, it felt rich and multidimensional in a way that really worked for me.

The Fire Queen by Emily R. King

genre: young adult fantasy

This is the sequel to The Hundreth Queen, so for sure read that first.

Kalinda has killed the Rajah, yes, but she is still not safe.  In fact, life is as complicated as ever when she arrives at a neighboring kingdom to try and get aid for her fleeing people.  With a warlord in her palace and a people who don't even know of her fire powers, Kalinda is forced to play whatever political games get thrown at her. Another tournament?  What can she do but say yes?  Be separated from her love, Deven, and have to work with Crown Prince Ashwin, the son of the man she killed?  How can she avoid it?  Kalinda has no choice but to step into the role she chose to accept: the kindred.

Okay.  So.  This was a fast read and there are a few interesting twists and turns - I liked the other characters that come into play with the tournament but I was, honestly, sort of annoyed by the fact that she had to do ANOTHER tournament.  I feel like that plot device has been played out now and sometimes while some things seemed super challenging and were - other things seemed super challenging and then just sorta...happened.  Where I had to suspend my disbelief a lot.  The ending made me intrigued enough to read the next one but I can't gush over this installment.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hundredth Queen by Emily R King

genre: young adult fantasy

Kalinda has lived a rather solitary life in a mountain convent, a ward of the Sisterhood.   Beset by childhood fevers, she has never become the kind of warrior she might have been. She knows, however, that the expectation is for her to do her best, especially when it comes to The Claiming.  The Claiming where young women of the convent are taken to live as the servants or wives of whomever can afford it - and Kalinda will have no say in the matter. So when Rajah Tare arrives and instead of choosing someone beautiful and strong, he chooses HER for his hundredth wife, she has no choice to join him in the palace with all his other wives and courtesans.  The more she learns about palace life and, the more it seems as though she has no choice but to fight and play the role that Rajah Tare has chosen for her - unless she can use her own wits to find another way.

It's a fast enough read - the world building isn't awesome but it's different enough to be intriguing.  The setting is definitely a pseudo-India, although I would've liked it to be fleshed out a bit more and sometimes her word choice and dialogue jarred me out of the world she created (like the word "dolt").  The romantic plot was rather insta-love, which isn't my favorite.  The plot moved quickly enough to keep me interested and several plot twists in the latter part of the book are making me, despite the annoying things, care enough to want to read the second book.  I'm hoping to see more girl power and solidarity as opposed to the catty infighting that was there for much of this book.

note: while there isn't any graphic sex, the idea of sex and courtesan life is a big part of the plot - I wouldn't recommend for young teens

Saturday, November 17, 2018

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

genre: contemporary fiction

When Fabiola arrives in Detroit, not only is she without her beloved mother who was detained by U.S. Immigration upon their arrival from Haiti, but Detroit is also NOT what she'd imagined.  She has her cousins, yes, but facing the foreignness of the west side takes all her courage.  Trying to find a place for herself, trying to learn the ways of life within this family that she knows but doesn't, trying to somehow get her mama back by her side - these things keep Fabiola's mind occupied all the time.  With her Haitian Voudou lwas watching over and guiding her, Fabiolas has to get her feet under her, and quickly, before the streets of Detroit swallow her whole.

Fabiola is such a strong character - deeply loyal to her mother and her rituals, hard working and patient, your heart just aches as she navigates a world that just feels like one dead-end, one heartache, after another.   I loved the narrative style that gives us all of Fabiola's story but snippets of those around her too.  It's actually a really painful book to read as Fabiola's life just never can settle into a peaceful happiness - like it's not even a thing that can be reached for.  It hurt me to think about all the kids like her who just want to fall in love, learn at school, be with their friends, feel safe.  And it's just not even a thing.  The language in this book is off the charts for young adults - and the themes are heavy.  But the writing is absolutely superb and the ideas in American Street are heavy in a different way, in a way that slides in your bones and makes you think about what you take for granted and what you would do when faced with an actually impossible choice and how far you would go to protect your own.  I want to hand Fabiola a happy ending.  I want America to be a place where people really are welcomed to come and enjoy a good life - not perfect or free from hard work - but still good.  My fingers are crossed for Fabiola and the real girls like her out there who are fighting this fight every day.

The Traitor's Game by Jennifer A Nielsen

genre: young adult fantasy

Kestra knows how little control she has over her life.  After an attempted kidnapping, the daughter of evil Lord Kendricks' right hand man was exiled to the Lava Fields, and as much as she didn't desire to go there - she doesn't desire to go back either.  But go back she must, at the beck and call of her father who has designs for her that Kestra knows don't have her best interests at heart.  With rebel groups threatening to rise up and rumors of a legendary Olden Blade that can kill the purportedly immortal Lord Kendrick beginning to seem more real than legendary, Kestra is unwittingly drawn into a plot that will take all her wit and cunning to survive, if she can figure out which side she truly wants to fight on.

Great world building here!  I appreciated that I had a firm "historical" foundation right from the beginning so I understood what was at stake and where Kestra fit.  With three different factions at odds here, the story could've gotten mired down in politics or explanations, but I felt like the plot moved along swiftly and really kept my attention.  The romantic storyline was on point and both the love interest and Kestra are fully fleshed out as we switch between their points of view.  The writing was sharp and the dialogue flowed in a way that resonated with me.  I'd have liked to see a little more of the "magic" in this world but overall, I really enjoyed this first installment and I'm anxious to see where Kestra's choices lead her. 
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