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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Fantasy

The Book of M
Peng, Shepard
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The Book of M is a beautiful dystopian novel about the power and beauty of memories and the pain that comes from losing them.

One day in a market in India, a man loses his shadow for no apparent reason anyone can explain. Shortly after, the man begins forgetting everything he ever knew, but in its place receives a strange and new power. This phenomenon of the lost shadow, soon becoming known as The Forgetting, spreads throughout the world and transform it into a strange dystopian world that is hardly recognizable.

The two main characters, Ory and Max, have escaped The Forgetting so far until one day, Max loses her shadow. Fearing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, she flees across a dark transformed world. All the while holding a tape recorder, on which she records her thoughts and feelings of the journey, and her experience of forgetting. Meanwhile Ory, not wanting to give up the little time they have left, follows her, embarking on a strange journey of his own.

The novel swivels back and forth, every other chapter, between his journey and hers. Max’s chapters to me were the most poignant, the most powerful. The recordings of her experiences on her journey, and the emotions she experiences as she fights against this inevitable loss, and slowly forgets everything, made me want to mourn with her for all she was losing. The emotions portrayed by Max’s character came across so real and raw, and anyone dealing with someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s will be able to sympathize with this very real portrayal of what it’s like for them to forget everything about who they are. This novel is a tear jerker for sure!

Meanwhile Ory’s desperate attempt to find the woman he loves, is a testament to his hope in their survival and his belief in renewal, both for his wife, and I think on a deeper level, the world that was ravaged by the Forgetting. However, as his journey progresses, he is confronted with the reality of this new and dangerous world, and as he begins to adapt to this new world, he realizes that nothing will ever be the same again.

Filled with beautiful prose, strong character development, and peppered with details of a classic dystopian novel, this novel is a testament to the dystopian genre. Peng Shepherd does so much more than just tell a classic dystopian story, though. While it has all the classic elements of dystopian story, her portrayal of Max’s character almost made the novel read like a memoir but feel like a psychological thriller. Yet the existence of magic, and the way it shaped much of the spine of the story, took her novel into the realm of magical realism. The portrayal of war and action took her novel into the realm of an adventure story. Yet the stories focus on the female main character of Max, took the story into the realm of woman’s fiction. However, Max’s musing on her loving relationship with Ory, made the story delve into the realm of a romance. Taking her readers across a large geographic space, different cultures, different people, and different genres, she attempts and succeeds in a telling an ambitious and complicated story that seeks to display the power of the human spirit and ask what it is, to be human.

This story is beautiful, poignant, powerful, dark, filled with adventure, romance, and magic. The long story short, it has something for everyone. This book comes out June 5 but you can put it on your holds list today! If you haven't, please do! You won’t regret it!

Thank you to William Morrow a imprint of Harper Collins Publishers for an ARC of this beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Book Review: Furyborn
Legrand, Claire
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Rielle and Eliana live centuries apart, but they do have one thing in common: the ability to control all elements. Typically, folk can control just one, but Rielle and Eliana could boast mastery of them all – that is, if Eliana was aware she had powers. Rielle’s powers manifested at a young age and led to a great tragedy that her family did everything they could to cover up. However, once Rielle’s magical prowess comes to light, she finds herself at the mercy of the king and his magical trials to determine whether or not she’d use her power for good, or evil. Eliana, on the other hand, is pretty transparently evil. She’s an assassin for the crown in a kill-or-be-killed world. When an atypical assignment sees her switching sides to help the rebels, she ends up on the run. Both women find themselves caught up in a centuries long war, and they are the key to its outcome.

This ended up being a pretty fun read! The book starts off with a bang as we witness Rielle’s (probable) death. I really liked that storytelling device, as we now know where Rielle ends up but get to find out how she got there. Rielle’s story was definitely my favorite of the two – she’s a flawed but interesting character, there were magic trials involved, and there’s a Guinevere/Lancelot/Arthur style romantic dilemma (gender swapped). Romance in YA can be very hit or miss for me (let alone a love triangle), but I really liked this one. But my favorite part was probably the magic trials, we got to witness all of them (many times in books there’s a montage of sorts) and they were creative and sounded horrible but were ultimately really fun to read.

Eliana, unfortunately, was not quite as fun to read. She’s a really unlikable, one-dimensional character who is only looking out for herself and her brother. She consistently makes the worst decisions without talking to anyone about them. She lets people she ostensibly “loves” die with few qualms. Developments at the end (one of which you’ll see coming) make me think that she might be a bit more tolerable in the next book, but I definitely found myself racing through her chapters to spend more time with Rielle.

Normally, I’m not one for angels unless they are evil (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) or silly (Good Omens). I am happy to report that while there are angels in this book, they definitely (mostly) fit in the evil category, so I really enjoyed the rich, complex worldbuilding. There’s also actual cursing in this book, which is something I think we need more of in YA – teenagers curse, y’all. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book is sex-positive!

Furyborn is a pretty inventive YA fantasy with solid worldbuilding that makes good use of a semi-rarely used plot device. I think older teens, especially fans of Sarah J. Maas, will really like it! I know I enjoyed it. 3 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. Furyborn will become available for purchase on 22 May, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Smoke Thieves
Green, Sally
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tash hunts demons for their smoke, which is illegal and highly dangerous. As smoke can be sold on the black market for a pretty penny, Tash does not care.

Catherine is the daughter of a cruel, bloodthirsty king who is soon to leave to marry a prince she’s never met, even though she’s in love with Ambrose, her royal guard. His love for Catherine is dangerous, and he faces losing his head for his infatuation.

March is the servant to yet another prince in another kingdom. His people were destroyed in a war that happened during his childhood, and he wants nothing but revenge.

Edyon is the child of a trader. While his mother’s livelihood depends on her ability to sell her goods, he likes nothing so much as to steal.

Unbeknownst to these five teens, their paths and destinies will cross as they try to save their kingdoms from an evil tyrant.

This is a perfectly good YA fantasy novel, but it was nothing special. The worldbuilding and characters are not at all new; in fact, it really reads like a watered down Game of Thrones for the younger set. Like GoT, the teens start off in separate kingdoms, there’s a lot of politics, and each chapter follows a different person. It’s also fairly bloody – there was a lot more killing than one might expect in a YA novel, and I’ll admit, I kind of liked it. Most of the deaths weren’t impactful, because it’s hard to develop side characters in a book with five mostly separate main characters, but it was refreshing to read a book where characters actually die instead of all of them improbably surviving. The romance between Ambrose and Catherine was tortured and annoyed me and of course, a bit of a love triangle develops, but another romance develops later in the book that I found a lot more promising.

Overall, this is a solid YA fantasy. I may check out book two, because I suspect it’ll be better (this book was largely introduction and worldbuilding) but I’ll probably skip it. The Smoke Thieves was somewhere between 2 and 3 stars for me, but I’m going to round up to 3. It was pretty good.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking for the eARC, which I received for review consideration. The Smoke Thieves is available now and you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Luster of Lost Things
Keller, Sophie Chen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Dreamlike magical realism which combines beautiful prose and thoughtful insight into a young boy's life with a motor speech disorder and the shadows cast by the disappearance of his father. An enchanting read for fans of Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen.

Reviewer's Name: Rebecca
Genres:
Ash Princess
Sebastian, Laura
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

When Theodosia was just a child, she witnessed the murder of her mother, the Queen of Astrea, at invaders’ hands. Those invaders took her country and killed or enslaved all of her people. For the next ten years, Theo was the Kaiser’s puppet – trotted out at banquets wearing a crown made of ash or enduring cruel beatings to represent the oppression and obliteration of her people. But her time with the Kaiser in her old palace was not totally idle.

The whole time, Theo collected information about her enemies. So when a friend from her Astrean past shows up, Theo finds herself embroiled in the machinations of revolutionaries as she has to decide how much and who she is willing to sacrifice to save her people and recover her kingdom.

While this has a fairly typical YA fantasy premise, the execution was a bit different. Usually this sort of fantasy would go what I’m going to call the Throne of Glass route – lady warrior kicks a bunch of butt and saves the day against all odds. This was not that. Theo was more of a politician or a spy. She’s willing to do what she has to save her people, yes, but this book is all intrigue and plotting. The reader is kept on a knife’s edge as Theo and the people around her are constantly close to what is sure
to be terrible death. The book manages to somehow be compulsively readable
but also hard to read at the same time. I found it to be really intense in
the best way possible – I really cared about and for Theo and wanted the best for her and her people. The book ends on an intriguing note (though I found the epilogue to be weak and unnecessary and I hope it got axed before the book was published) which ensured that I’ll be back for the next installment.

I was expecting an enjoyable but generic YA fantasy, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s being marketed to readers of The Red Queen and/or An Ember in the Ashes, but in this reader’s opinion, this book is far superior to either of those. Ash Princess, if not completely original, is a brutal, intense book that I’ll be recommending to teen and adults who enjoy fantasy novels and spy thrillers. If you like your fantasy to be vicious with a healthy side of political intrigue, check this one out. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Thanks to Delacourte Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for the eARC which
I received for review consideration. Ash Princess will be available for
purchase on 24 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Belles
Clayton, Dhonielle
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Camellia is a Belle - a person in the fantastical world of Orleans who has magical powers that allow her to change the appearance of others. These powers, and the way she uses them, puts her in high demand, and rich folks clamor to use the Belles' services. There is one Belle, the favorite, who serves royalty. Camellia's dearest ambition is to be the favorite, like her mother. After a few mishaps, she achieves this goal only to discover that the position is not all it's cracked up to be. Royalty is demanding, and Camellia soon finds herself being asked to do morally reprehensible things - things she can refuse only at her own peril. She must decide what means more: fame and beauty, or doing what is right.

To call the worldbuilding in this book "lush" or "complex" would be a disservice. The author invents a unique new world and mythology that, for me, were the strongest point of the book. If you've seen a Baz Luhrman movie, this world is set in that kind of magnificent, wondrous, almost over-the-top opulence that delight's one's imagination. The luxuriant worldbuilding does lead to something of a slow start, but if you are like me, you'll be so immersed in the marvelous new world that you won't care the the story takes a minute to get going. Once the story does get going, several quandaries and mysteries and introduced, and I found myself racing towards the conclusion. Camellia is a likable character that I think a ton of young women will relate to as she's very much a sixteen year old trying to make her place in a big scary world. She's a bit naive, but has deep seated convictions and is constantly rebelling against rules and regulations to show case her creativity and do her absolute best.

I went into this book with extremely high expectations based on a number of positive reviews from Goodreads, professional journals and the like, and I think those expectations may have hampered my enjoyment of the read, at least somewhat. Not to say this isn't an enjoyable read - it absolutely is. I had to physically stop myself from devouring it all in one go. It just felt more like a guilty pleasure read instead of a read of substance. The book should have been really creepy. When the Belles change a person, they change everything. We're talking like body shape/size, shaving off bones, eyeballs out of sockets, and other sorts really gross stuff that should have been horrific. For whatever reason, the creepiness factor never connected with me, but if it had, I think I would've loved this one. There's a female friendship in here that also didn't really land - we're told more than shown that the girls are close. It never felt believable. There are a few plot points that are introduced that are seemingly abandoned or never fully realized though I imagine they'll factor into future installments. I saw where the romance was going immediately, and also figured out the mystery of the sick princess early on in the story. On the whole, I found the book to be rather predictable.

I did enjoy this one, and I'll definitely be coming back for the sequel. I hope it provides a bit more substance, but either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy it. I'd recommend this to readers who liked The Selection, Caraval or The Red Queen (although let me be clear: this book is better written and conceived than any of those), and I'll be adding it to several reading lists as well as booktalking it. 3 stars - I liked it!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
To Kill a Kingdom
Christo, Alexandra
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Lira steal's princes' hearts. Literally. She lures them into a trance-like state with her siren song, and drags them down to the bottom of ocean where she rips out their hearts. After failing to steal Prince Elian's heart, the pirate prince also known as the "siren killer", Lira's mother, the Sea Queen, turns her into a human in punishment, and commands that she retrieve Elian's heart, or stay a human forever.

Are you getting Little Mermaid vibes from that description? Good, because there is a definitely Little Mermaid inspiration here, though it's definitely more Anderson than Disney (for examples, sirens turn into sea foam a few moments after they are killed). There's also some Greek mythology (I feel like this is the origin of sirens, but I only say that because of the Odyssey), but the influences, while noticeable, are integrated nicely, and the world-building game in this book is super strong. Elian and Lira travel to several different kingdoms, and each kingdom has its own flavor and customs. There's also some cool mythology around sirens vs. mermaids vs. mermen, and I really loved where she went with the mermaids in particular. It was a version of mermaids that I had never read before.

Elian and Lira are both complex but likable characters (if you like your heroes of anti- or bloodthirsty variety, which, I DO). Initially, Lira is a stone-cold killer. She was raised to be one, and the fact that she could be anything but a stone-cold killer after her upbringing is kind of magical. As the book develops, she learns more about humans and begins to *gasp* kind of like them. Her character development and growth are a main theme throughout the book, and Lira's maturation is slow enough to develop seems plausible.

Elian was also fine; he mostly serves as a foil to Lira, and it's fun to see his opinion of her change as he slowly learns more about her. There is a bit of romance between them, but as they are at odds for most of the book, its kind of a forbidden romance which is a trope that I love when done right (needless to say, it was done right here).

Amazing worldbuilding, great characters, no sequel - what's not to love here? If you are into pirates or mermaids or lux worldbuilding, you'll enjoy this book. 4 stars - I really liked it!

Thanks to Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for the eARC for review consideration. To Kill a Kingdom will be released on 06 March, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Train of Lost Things
Paquette, Ammi-Joan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Where to start? This book was poignant, beautiful, lovely and dealt with the subject of loss, through a child’s eyes, in a way that pulled at my heart strings, big time. This beautiful tale follows a young kid named Marty as he deals with the pain and loss that comes when someone close is dying and there is nothing you feel you can do about it. When Marty’s precious possession is lost, his jean jacket scattered with buttons that represent his fondest memories with this person, at first he is devastated, but then he hears the tale of the train of lost things and he goes on a quest to find it and retrieve the precious thing he lost. Along the way he comes across two others, both on similar journeys, and discovers that what matters is not the objects themselves but the memories they represent and the love that he shares with his loved ones.

Paquette’s character Marty, approaches the subject of loss and death with a childlike curiosity. Yet throughout the story, Marty also displays the strong denial that comes with facing loss and death, questioning whether or not what is happening is really true. Marty’s love for his loved one and his need that, retrieving this jacket would make things all better, is what kept his character going. Yet in the end he realizes that life and death are not always that simple. But memories and love have a stronger power over death and loss and sometimes to overcome them you just need to escape reality to really understand that.

I don't usually pick up kids books but I picked up and read this book in one day! That is how good it was! I love this book in every way and I highly recommend it! Even though this book is for kids, I also recommend it for older people, or anyone dealing with loss, as the lessons learned can be applicable for anyone.

Thank you to the publisher Philomel Books for a ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book doesn't come out till March 20 but you can put it on your hold list today!

Reviewer's Name: Anonymous
Tess of the Road
Hartman, Rachel
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Tess Dombegh is ruined. When she was quite young, she met an ambitious young scholar who took advantage of her and left her in the family way. Since then, her main goal has been to find her twin sister, Jeanne, a husband that will save their family from their dire financial straits. Tess successfully finds Jeanne a husband, and after getting extremely drunk at their wedding and embarrassing herself and their entire family, she decides to run away.

Notice that I got through this description with nary a mention of dragons? There are dragons in this world. But only barely, hence the reason I didn't need to mention them in my synopsis. This is actually, I think, the weakest point of the book, but I'll come back to that later.

I am more conflicted about this book than I've been about any other book in recent memory. Tess, our main character, is insanely unlikable and unsympathetic, especially at the beginning. However, she's intentionally unlikable and its entirely because of the circumstances of her world are similar to that of Edwardian England in terms of how the ladies are treated. As Tess travels further down the road - often painstakingly slowly, the unnecessary and at times boring digressions in this book are legion - she learns more about who she is, who she wants to be, and how she can make her way in a world that sees her as less than a person because of her gender.

Those parts, the introspective philosophical parts, I liked. Unfortunately, they were few and far between and were including in those aforementioned digressions that had nothing to do with the plot at large. My interest in the book would wax and wane in huge swings. I did finish it, and I even liked the ending, but wow, this was often a slog.

The thing that bothered me the most about the book was almost the complete waste of the worldbuilding. There were dragons and quigutl (sic), which are like the small, less ferocious cousins of dragons, and while a quigutl was a main character, that character could have easily been a jaded staff member, or really anything else. The fantasy world didn't add to the story, and sometimes, it distracted from Tess' character development, which, at the end of the day was the point of the entire novel. I think making this book pure historical fiction (and I loved the worldbuilding and fantasy setting in Seraphina, the companion series) would've made it a more impactful, better book.

Anyway, complaints aside, at times, I found myself really loving this book, mostly on the strength of Hartman's writing and the very important messaging regarding women's rights. Overall, though, the execution left something to be desired, at least for this reader. I won't be coming back for the sequel if there is one (everything was tied up nicely, but there definitely is room for another book), but I would definitely read another book by this author. 2 stars - it was ok.

Thanks to Random House Children's and Netgalley for the eARC that I received for review consideration. Tess of the Road is released on 27 February, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
In Other Lands
Brennan, Sarah Rees
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

In Other Lands follows young Elliot Schafer as he tumbles through a wall (well, his teacher bribed a weird lady to let him through the wall, but whatever) into another land at age 13. He's given the opportunity to go home or go to magic school, and, like any bright young kid who has ever read, like, any book ever, he decides to go to magic school. There, he befriends golden boy warrior Luke and stoic elf warrior Serene (our fearful nerd Elliot decides to take the council course as he is deathly allergic to exercise and also, killing), and the book follows their exploits throughout the duration of their time in school.

Ok, so, that synopsis does not even begin to do this book justice. I will be forcing this into the hands of any person that walks into the teen center that says that they have even a remote interest in fantasy. Because this was so good. The best thing I've read so far this year for sure (and I've already read like 20 things this year, so that's not nothing). Anyway, on to actual information about the book.

Elliot is kind of a jerk. On purpose. But his jerkiness is mostly hilarious, and a lot of the book is his witty, spot on assessments of himself, the world, and the people around him. Luke and Serene are equally nuanced as characters and are quite lovable despite their flaws. One of my favorite parts of the book was that elf culture has the same messed up gender roles and sexism that we humans do...but the male and female roles are reversed. It makes not just for some of the most hilarious passages that I've ever read, but also serves as probably the most effective argument against said gender roles being a part of any society. It was, quite frankly, brilliant. For example: “Do not have a catfight, boys, even if it is that time of the month,” said Serene, and when she saw them staring at her, she explained: “You know—women shed their dark feelings with their menses every month? But men, robbed of that outlet, have strange moodswings and become hysterical at a certain phase of the moon?”

Insanely great egalitarian commentary aside, this was an excellent coming of age novel. The relationship and friendship between our three main characters is complex, but they all love each other and grow so much together throughout the book. And at the end of the day, this book is not really about other lands, it's about the peoples that occupy them. As an added bonus, it demonstrates that communication and shared experiences amongst peoples could almost always lead to peace. In doing that, it also effectively skewers nationalism.

I really liked the romance in the book, but you figure out Elliot's end game partner (yes, Elliot is bisexual!) at about 50% of the way through the book. They don't actually get together until the end and its one of those situations where you want to knock their heads together and yell COMMUNICATE DANG IT at them until they realize they like each other and just make out or whatever. Speaking of which, there is a lot of sex in this one. It's mostly off camera, but the one scene that makes it in is really sweet.

I obviously loved this book. If I were to try to compare it to something, it's most like Carry On by Rainbow Rowell in that it's kind of a love letter to classic fantasy (it's more Tortall to Carry On's Harry Potter) that then transcends the original source material. It's quirky enough that it won't be for everybody, but I think a lot of readers will love it. I just purchased my own copy. Like, without waiting for a Goodreads deal. It's that good. Or, in PPLD parlance, it was Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome! 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza
Hutchinson, Shaun David
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Elena is not your average teen. As the only human proven to be birthed as a result of parthenogenesis (you might know this as a “virgin birth”), she’s been hearing voices from signs and inanimate objects. But things are about to go to the next level. One day, at work, the Starbucks Siren tells her to heal her crush, Freddie, who looks fine. But then, a kid they know comes out of nowhere and shoots Freddie. Then he disappears into the sky in a flash of light. And Elena DOES heal Freddie. And then, somehow, things get even crazier as the Siren tells Elena she has to keep healing people (which leads to more disappearances) or start the apocalypse.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of unique, quirky books that are more than a little strange (I call them wonderfully weird), and so this one was right up my alley. Elena is an extremely likable character, and we get to listen to most of her thought processes as she thinks about the mundane (her crush, her relationship with her ne’er do well stepfather) and the existential (why she has the powers, and should she use them?). The supporting cast is also pretty great: Freddie, the popular art student who didn’t even know Elena’s name before she got shot, was probably my favorite character. After getting killed, she really doesn’t care so much about what people think of her, and as a result her commentary was extremely snarky, sometimes hurtful and almost always spot on. Fadil, Elena’s best friend, was a good foil as the devout teen, but he also served to demonstrate a powerful male/female friendship. Because of the philosophical nature of the book, the plot takes a backseat to character development and metaphysical conversations. I probably highlighted more in this book than I have in any other in recent memory. The downside to this, though, is that the plot sags a little in the middle and the ending left me wanting a bit more as a lot of plot lines were left dangling.

Another big selling point of the book for me was that the premise immediately made think of this show called Wonderfalls which is a bit of a cult classic from the early aughts. Later on in the book, it’s pretty clear that the author had likely just binged all of Bryan Fuller’s early shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and yes, Wonderfalls as this book contains elements of each of those shows, and there is a straight up name drop of a location that delighted me to no end. If you are a fan of Bryan Fuller’s properties (including recent hits like American Gods), this is a read you should definitely pick up.

If you like to think about the ethics and the big questions – why are we here, what matters, how can you decide the value of one life over another – then you will love this book. It’s a wonderfully weird thought provoking read, and while it’s not perfect, the diverse, likable cast and philosophical quandaries make it something of a rare gem of a book. 4 stars. I really liked it.

Thanks to Edelweiss and Simon Pulse for the eARC, which I received for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Tempests and Slaughter
Pierce, Tamora
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In Arram Draper’s first year at Carthak’s School for Mages, his work ethic and raw power make him something of child prodigy. As such, he is singled out for individual studies with two other similarly passionate and hard-working students: Varice and Orzone. Varice is a charming young lady with a gift for cooking magic and charm for days, and Arram quickly finds himself drawn to her, perhaps as more than a friend. Orzone is the leftover prince which means that he’s the fourth of four in line for the Emperor’s throne, though that list seems to be shortening quickly. The three soon learn that they will not just have to contend with their studies, but a growing struggle for power and control of the Empire that is threatening to change Carthak forever.

If you’ve read some of Tamora Pierce’s other works (if you haven’t, stop reading this review and pick up The Song of the Lioness quartet RIGHT NOW – it is apparently awesome in audio format as well), the lead character of this story will be familiar to you. I read and re-read her books continually in my youth, but while there was a huge nostalgia factor in reading this for me (so many easter eggs!), I absolutely would have still enjoyed it if I were totally new to the character. While you certainly should read her other works, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy this one.

Tempests and Slaughter starts when Arram is just 10. Precocious little bugger that he is, Arram started school a full year early. Because he’s so young at the beginning, the start of the book read as very middle grade to me, which wasn’t a bad thing; it just wasn’t what I was expecting. As in her other series, Pierce perfectly captures the pain and biological changes that come with puberty and I found myself transported back to those awkward times in the best of ways. After Arram gets a little older and meets up with Varice and Orzone, the book begins to pick up as all three characters get developed and the worldbuilding picks up. This is definitely a book that’s primarily focused on character development and worldbuilding, but as Arram is a lovable character and the worldbuilding is rich, the almost total lack of plot did not bother me too much. A very interesting mystery appears later in the book, though it felt a little rushed and the conclusion a bit forced. However, it nicely sets things up for the next installment which I will unquestionably be pre-ordering.

All in all, this was a great read. If you like your fantasy with a healthy dose of complex characters and intricate world building, you’ll really enjoy this one. I’m going to go re-read some backlist Tamora Pierce now, and I suggest you do the same. 4 stars.
Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for the free electronic copy for review consideration. Tempests and Slaughter is released on 06 February, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Clockwork Dynasty
Wilson, Daniel H.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When I picked up this book, I have to admit, I was surprised, because sci fy steam punk fantasy stories is not the type of book I usually read, yet it ended up being so much more than I had imagined. The Clockwork Dynasty is not just a book about a race of humanlike mechanical creatures or avtomats that secretly live among us and are fighting a war that has raged for centuries, but it’s a story about life and the constant search for meaning and purpose.

This book waffles back and forth between present day Orgon, Washington and other places, and the 1700’s beginning in Russia and taking the reader on a journey through history and time. And while this may bother some people, the non-linear storytelling I think, adds so much more to the book and allows the author to unfold the story in a deeper more meaningful way.

In present time it follows the story of June someone who has made a career in ancient technology, ever since an encounter she had a child with her grandpa changed her perception of the world and started her fascination with this avtomat technology. A couple years after her grandfather’s death she receives a avtomat artifact that will cause her to team up with an avtomat named Peter, launch her into a great adventure in the secret avtomat
world, and ultimately determine this race’s extinction or survival. In
the 1700’s it follows the story of brother (Peter) and sister (Elena) two humanlike avtomats that were resurrected by a Russian clock maker using something called an anime which serves as the Avtomat’s heart and soul. As they live through the years they spend it hiding their secret, trying to blend into society, and fighting a war that has been raging among their own race for centuries.

This story explores the character’s constant search for meaning in a way that is both at times sad and extremely insightful. In the book each avtomat’s anime is marked with a Pravda or a special word that is their bond and command. As long as they satisfy their Pravda, they are at peace, otherwise they suffer. In Peter’s case this word is justice. As the book progresses we see his idea of justice shift and change as he lives through the years. Through a fascinating inner dialogue, Peter perception shifts from gaining justice simply by serving rulers in war to something far deeper and more moving, as this quote, when he encounters a dying soldier on the enemy’s side in the battlefield, suggests:

“Once Pravda was clear to me. By obeying my emperor all was well. But what was simple is becoming complex. I can see no evil inside this grievously wounded man, only honor. And though no clockwork flutters beneath his throat, I can see the inevitable forces that led him here, through no fault of his own, fating him to die in the shadow of this crumbling wall.”

As the book progresses a new perspective of right and wrong emerges leaving him questioning not only who he is but why he was made.

Another major theme this story also explores is the theme of war. As Peter recounts from his past, countless experiences on various battlefields throughout his life, and in the present, his own thoughts on his own race’s war; the reality of war is pressed heavy on the reader making this book at times very depressing, sad, and dark.

This reality is made even more real by the moving prose and incredible worldbuilding that takes place throughout the book. Another reason I love this book is the incredible character development between Peter and Elena.
How she is treated by him as a little sister at the beginning of the book, and how he sees her changes through the book from a little girl needing his protection to a sophisticated, wise learned, woman who’s one desire is to make her own way in the world is absolutely incredible. Daniel H Wilson does an amazing job of weaving together past and present into an engaging literary story that has something for everyone. Thank you to Doubleday books and Netgalley for an e- ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:
The Hazel Wood
Albert, Melissa
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Alice and her mom, it seems, have always been plagued by bad luck no matter where they go. One day when Alice’s mom disappears she and a friend set out on a journey to find her. This journey, they soon discover, takes them on an adventure to a place called the Hinterland. It's a place which she has only read about in her grandmother’s stories -- a reclusive authoress with a cult following who published a volume of pitch-dark fairy-tales and then quietly disappeared along with most of her books. This place, she soon discovers, is also much more than meets the eye. It’s a place where fairy-tales are real, fantastical and frightening monsters roam freely, and stories are woven into the fabric of its reality.

Melissa Albert’s tale is filled with dark and vivid writing, and its reliance on the power of stories is something that drew me into this book. It grabbed hold of me and never let me go. A page turner with twist and turns every which way, it has become one of my all-time favorite reads this year. Filled with Original Fairy Tales, a frightening adventure, and one young girl's fantastical journey into the heart of story itself, The Hazel Wood is destined to become a classic in fantasy literature that will leave an impression for generations to come.

Definitely put it on your to read list. It isn't out until January 30, but you can put your copy on hold today! Thank you to Netgalley, Flatiron Books, and Macmillan for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Genres:
Reign of the Fallen
Marsh, Sarah Glenn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Odessa is a rare type of mage: a necromancer. She can resurrect the dead. But not without a price – if any part of the dead’s body is seen by the living, the dead person turns into a Shade (think of an unholy combination between a Demogorgon and Venom, or, if you must, a zombie). When Odessa’s mentor mage turns up brutally murdered by a Shade, and other murders quickly follow, Odessa knows she has to do something before the Shades kill everyone she holds dear.

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. There were things I really liked, and things that didn’t work for me at all. One of my issues was the severe lack of character development – Odessa and two other characters get some level of development, everyone else is more or less a name on a page. So when people started dying, I didn’t really care. Odessa, however, cares a lot and spends a lot of time addicted to pain medication and grieving, which would have been a lot more interesting to read if I knew her at all as a character. For me, this plot line would’ve been better in a future series installment. There’s a lot of romance, and I liked some of it (Simeon and Danial for LIFE), and some of it annoyed me (Odessa and Evander, I’m looking at you). There’s a romance at the end that was excellent, but began a bit too soon for me – I could’ve done with the characters not getting together in this book, especially given their circumstances. I did like the diversity in the ethnicities of the characters as well as in the relationships.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding. None of it was particularly new, per say, but it was all sort of assembled in a way that I thought was really rich and creative. I just wish that worldbuilding had been backed up by stronger
characters and plot. Odessa spends a ton of time grieving, which makes sense, but didn’t exactly make for an exciting plot. That, and the deaths and twists were pretty transparently telegraphed. The identity of the proverbial “bad guy” was pretty obvious as soon as they appeared on the scene.

While this book didn’t work for me on a lot of levels, I think most readers will love it. There’s action, romance (LGBT+), diversity, and some seriously cool worldbuilding. I’ll be recommending this one to a lot of teens, even though it wasn’t necessarily my thing. 2.5 stars.

Reign of the Fallen will be released on 23 January, but you can put your copy on hold today! Thanks to Razorbill and Netgalley for providing the eARC for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Beneath the Sugar Sky
McGuire, Seanan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This series, the Wayward Children series, has become one of my favorite series this year and Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire’s third installment is no different, it has stolen my heart. This series center’s around a school Eleanor West’s home for Wayward Children. It is a boarding school for children, who have found themselves in magical worlds of all types and then had to come back to “the real world”, to become reintroduced to society. But, to the children, the school is a waiting place, a holding cell, a place to stay until they find their door back into the magical world from which they came. This series explores the curiosity of children, their adventurous spirit, and their willingness to believe in the impossible.

In this story, we join our heroes right after the events that took place in Every Heart a Doorway. Right at the beginning we meet Sumi’s daughter Rinni, who comes from one of these magical lands. In it her mother, Sumi, was foretold to birth a daughter that would save their magical land from great evil, but Sumi died in our world before she could fulfill her destiny. But Rinni is born anyway and comes back to our world to bring her mother back from our world, a world without magic. Our heroes then embark on an adventure through many dangerous, intriguing, and beautiful worlds to bring back Sumi and right the wrong that has been committed.

I love Seanan Mcguire’s writing style. It is dark, whimsical, and at times serious and sad, with a touch of magic thrown in. She tackles issues such as how families and children relate to each other, and obesity with grace and clarity. I really enjoyed the fact that one of the main characters in this book, Cora, was overweight and portrayed as a hero. While I do agree with others that have read the ARC of this book, that the character of Cora does, I think, dwell too much on her status as “the fat girl”, it seems like every other page; I also think the character’s inner dialogue of the subject is a good portrayal of how many teens who deal with this issue, think about their weight. I also love the world building in this series and in this book, particularly the world of Confection, the world Sumi and Rinni come from. It is particularly atmospheric, alluring and to be honest, a child’s dream. Finally I really enjoy the diversity of characters in this book from a Mexican American to a child with a broken arm, to a bisexual character, it has a character that is relatable in it for just about anyone.

Studded with beautiful worlds, engaging and believable characters, and atmospheric literary prose, Beneath the Sugar Sky is a diamond in the rough of YA fiction.

Thank you to Macmillan-Tor/Forge books and Netgalley for the E Galley of this book for review! This book isn't out till January 9th but you can put a copy on hold today.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
The Darkest Part of the Forest
Black, Holly
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

This was my first foray into Holly Black’s books, and I coming away from it not as impressed as I thought I would be. While I generally love fantasy and anything to do with faires, or fairy tales, there was just something about this book that made me not fully connect with the characters.

The general story line, I absolutely love! Of a small town forced to live in between two worlds that of fae and human and all the complications that comes with; Of a sleeping beauty like character waking after centuries of sleep; and of a hero that pledges her life to fighting the monsters in the middle of the forest. I also absolutely love the world building in this book, the description was beautiful, atmospheric, and haunting and made me wish fairy worlds were real. But the character development for me was just not as strong as it could have been, which is why rating this book was so difficult.

I am giving this one a solid 3.5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
Genres:
The Cottingley Secret
Gaynor, Hazel
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“ I said my story had many beginnings, and the day the camera arrived was one of them. After all, without the camera, there wouldn’t have been any photographs. Without the camera, I wouldn’t have a story to tell...”

The Cottingley Secret is a story about fairies, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and an old bookshop in a Irish harbor town, what is not to love about this book.
This story is a modern retelling of the real historical legend of the Cottingley Fairies. After coming to live with her cousin Elsie Wright in Cottingley England, during the height of the first world war, Frances Griffiths and her cousin both claim to see real live fairies at the bottom of the garden. The cousins soon prove their claims by photographing the fairies in the garden. These real live photos soon catches the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wholeheartedly believes the girls and proceeds to publish several of these photos in a magazine. Soon after, the girls and the fairies became a national sensation and through the country into the grip of fairy fever. This marks the beginning of a time that would define their lives and have them keeping secrets until the day of their deaths.

Meanwhile in modern day Ireland, Olivia Cavanaugh inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and soon discovers a manuscript that recounts the story of Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths. As she reads through the manuscript, written by Frances, she soon discovers she has more in common with her than she ever imagined.

Hazel Gaynor connects past and present in a way that is both modern and extremely touching. I really connected with Olivia in this book. As she, and the reader, reads through Frances and Elsie’s story, she finds strength to face her painful past and let go of a life that has always been planned out for her to pursue a life that connects her to the desires of her heart.

Filled with amazing literary prose, a beautiful atmospheric environment and strong characters, this story is historical literary fantasy at it’s best.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Cruel Prince
Black, Holly
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

When Jude and Taryn were seven years old, a man who wasn’t a man came to their door and killed their parents. After murdering their parents, the man who was not a man but a fairy, secreted Jude, Taryn and their sister Viv away to Faerie, where they were raised as if they were fairies themselves (nevermind the inconvenient fact that fairies hate mortals). After ten years of living with fairies, Jude wants nothing so badly as to be as beautiful, powerful and immortal. But Jude is a human, so she’s ugly and weak and mortal and has been bullied by her peers who are not her peers her whole life. So when a chance to gain power comes, Jude grasps it with both hands, not knowing that the opportunity will embroil her in the dangerous machinations of power-hungry mad fairies. But even if she had known, Jude wouldn’t have cared. Because she doesn’t just want to be a fairy. She wants to best them all.

This was one of my favorite books of the year. After a crazy fast and brutal start (the book does, in fact, start with a seven year old witnessing the brutal murder of her two parents), the book skips ahead 10 years and seriously slows down to do some worldbuilding. As I’m familiar with the typical rules surrounding the fey, I didn’t find this part to be terribly compelling, but understand why it was necessary. And to be fair, these parts are still at least somewhat interesting – Jude is constantly struggling with love and hate for her adopted father, Madoc, who did kill her parents. Her fairy schoolmates are cruel to the point of not being scared of killing Jude or her sister. There’s a bit of romance (although, as is often the case, it annoyed me). The groundwork for future court intrigue is laid.

Eventually, Jude gets recruited to be a spy for the likely heir to the throne of Faerie and the book goes from pretty good to freakin’ great. The story and character development pick up, and all of sudden it’s all evil machinations, twists, power grabs, allies-turned-enemies and enemies-turned-allies. Jude herself is a very interesting character – she’s not a nice or even necessarily good person, but you will find yourself rooting for despite her willingness to kill or do some seriously shady stuff. Actually, there isn’t one character that you would single out as being “good”, and I have to admit, I loved that. It made an already delightfully twisty read a bit twistier. The second half of the book also brings us some fresh developments on the romance horizon, and I definitely did not hate them. I can’t wait to see where that goes. I can’t wait to see where any of it goes – the ending will definitely leave you waiting for more.

If you’ve read and enjoyed any of Black’s other books, you’ll love this one. She’s known as the “Queen of Faerie” and with this book, she’s earned her title. I buy a fairly small percentage of the books I read, but
I’ll be buying this one. It was AWESOME. 5 stars.

The Cruel Prince will be available on 02 January 2018, but you can put your copy on hold today. Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for providing me with an advance electronic copy for review consideration.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Girl in the Tower
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Katherine Arden's The Girl In The Tower is just as good, if not better, than the first book, The Bear and The Nightingale. Filled with more Russian Fairy tales, atmospheric literary prose, rich and strong characters, and the same enchanting setting of Medieval Russia, this book picks up right where the first one left off. It follows the story of Vasya, now a grown up woman she, instead of conforming to the role woman in her day usually play, of marriage or life in a convent, chooses instead a life of adventure. Leaving her home and traveling the vast Russian Wilderness while dressed as a boy, she soon is called upon to defend the city of Moscow and finds the threat greater and more deadly than she imagined. While fighting this threat, only she can stop, she is also forced to protect her secret as she comes upon her brother and attracts the attention of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

Part of what drew me to this book is the fairy tales, yes, but also the historical setting of Medieval Russia. Katherine Arden does a masterful job of weaving fantasy elements with real life historical details only a great historian would discover. Blurring the line between history, fantasy, and reality this book and, more importantly this series, is contemporary historical fantasy at its best. It is a sketch not only of real life in Medieval Russia, but also displays the power of story and demonstrates the importance of fairy tales and the lessons they can teach us.

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie M.
Awards:

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