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Staff Book Reviews by Genre: Fantasy

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:
The Bear and the Nightingale
Arden, Katherine
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A perfect winter read! A beautiful atmospheric retelling of the fairytale Jack Frost set in a wintry town on the edge of the Russian wilderness in Medieval Russia. Plus a strong independent female protagonist who risks everything to save her family from the evil forces all around her! What's not to love! Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale is a must read! This novel has it all mystery, magic, adventure, and love! With well developed characters and beautiful, atmospheric, lyrical writing that makes you almost feel the cold wind on your skin and see the snow flakes falling this book cannot be passed up! I cannot wait for the next book in the series to come out, The Girl in The Tower!

Reviewer's Name: Tawnie
The Song From Somewhere Else
Harrold, A.F.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

He was bigger than anyone else in Francesca's class. He was funny looking and he smelled weird. Why, oh why did he have to be nice to her and get her bag for her that the bullies had thrown into the stinging nettles? When the bullies chased them both to Nick's house, why hadn't she run somewhere else? Ugh, she would never live this down at school. A.F. Harrold's novel, The Song From Somewhere Else, will enchant readers age 9 - 12 with a story of another world, just waiting to be discovered.

Reviewer's Name: Barbara
Beasts Made of Night
Onyebuchi, Tochi
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Taj is an aki - a sin eater. Aki are shunned by regular folk, except for when the regular folk need a sin removed from their body. Sins take the shape of smoky somewhat corporeal animals (they can do harm), and are eaten by the aki, which then causes the aki to get extremely sick and leaves a semi-permanent or permanent tattoo on their body. Taj, as a very powerful aki, is recruited by the palace to eat the sins of royalty. While there, he discovers the royals are more corrupt than he could've dreamed, and he decides to do what he can to stop their nefarious plans.

That synopsis was nearly impossible to write because this book was short on plot, but more on that in a minute.
I went into this book really wanting to like it - the setting (alternate-Nigeria) is fairly unique in YA, and I was really excited to read a fantasy loosely set in an African country. I thought the premise of sin-eaters was super cool, and I was eager to learn more about it.

Unfortunately, the premise was the best thing about the book. The book has a lot of promise (and I was reading an advanced reading copy, so some of these issues could've been rectified), but doesn't deliver on much. The first 35% of the book is worldbuilding, but a lot of the worldbuilding could've been incorporated into the plot instead of being presented as what more or less amounted to an info dump. Even worse, the worldbuilding doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense. For example, the "sins" are determined by lawmakers, which, just...how? And then...the magic follows the lawmakers wishes? Is it even magic? I'm not really sure. More will likely be revealed in the next installment as this book ends on a massive cliffhanger, but unless it gets amazing reviews, I probably won't be there to check it out.

Another issue for me was the lack of character development. We learn a lot about Taj, but little about anyone else, and so when side characters died, I found myself feeling pretty apathetic. There was also immense potential for development of the villains, but all was unrealized. A lot of plotting and scheming had to be happening behind the scenes, but as Taj was neither privy to nor interested in it, we don't get to see the villains' machinations, which could have been really interesting. Part of this, I think, was to hide a twist at the end, but as that twist could be seen from about a mile away, I don't think the decision to keep the villains' motivation a secret was worth the payout.

There's not a lack of action in this book, so I can see a certain reader really enjoying it. For me, there was too much wasted potential - the action and the cool worldbuilding didn't make up for the absence of plot and character development. This book could've been great, and I wish that it had undergone a few more drafts in the writing process. As it was, it was just ok. 2 stars.

I received an electronic advanced reading copy from Netgalley and Razorbill for review consideration. This in no way impacted my opinion or the content of my review. Beasts Made of Night will be available on 31 October. Put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Jane, Unlimited
Cashore, Kristin
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Jane's parents died when she was quite young, but she never felt like an orphan due to the amazing parenting skills of her quirky Aunt Magnolia. When Aunt Magnolia heads off to a photography expedition to Antartica never to return, Jane feels unmoored. She drops out of college and continues her dead end job at the university bookstore. When a surprise visit from an old friend results in an invitation to a mysterious mansion, Tu Reviens, Jane jumps on the chance to experience something new. Not only that, but Aunt Magnolia has told her to NEVER turn down an opportunity to visit the enigmatic island retreat, and Jane is eager to learn more about Magnolia's connection to the place.

That was a hard synopsis to write, as this is a book that somewhat defies description. The book starts off as kind of an Agatha Christie meets Jane Eyre meets John Fowler's the Magus, and then quickly turns into an almost Whitehead inspired choose your own adventure. Jane makes the same choice several times with different consequences each time, and the result is a compilation of strange, horrifying, thrilling and delightful stories and plot twists. Cashore's storytelling abilities are on full display here as she seamlessly weaves together a number of different genres. Character development, while it seems like it would be secondary, is also an integral part of the story. I loved all of the side characters (some of them almost eclipse Jane), and would read an entire book about almost any of them.

Jane, Unlimited is a book that I'll reread in a year or so, because there was a lot of intricate plotting and connections that I'm sure that I missed. I actually don't think I've ever read something quite like this, and that's saying something because I read a lot. The unique format of the book was attractive to me, though I can see it being frustrating for some readers; it's not until Jane makes her second choice that you really start to realize what is happening. If you read this book (and you should), I'd say just relax and enjoy the ride - it's a wonderfully weird one. I can't wait to see the art in the final copy, as I think that the right images before certain stories will add to the peculiar ambiance that permeates the book.

The ending felt both forced and rushed to me, but I think I'll enjoy it more the second time around (as I said earlier, this book practically demands to be reread). I almost loved this one, and now I really can't wait to see what Cashore comes up with next. 4.5 stars.

I received a free copy of this eBook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Awards:
Genres:
House of Furies
Roux, Madeleine
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Louisa is on the run. Leaving the private boarding school she attended, and with no family to speak of, she plans to masquerade as a fortune teller in order to obtain enough money to leave Britain for America. After one fortune telling session goes awry, she finds herself at the mercy of an old crone who offers her a position as a scullery maid at a nearby mansion, Coldthistle. Louisa is excited to have employment, but after seeing strange, solid apparitions in the night, she learns that Coldthistle Manor is a house that attracts the most horrid of visitors, and that their punishment (death) is meted out by the employees of the house. She has to decide whether or not to stay and try protect new visitor and possible romantic interest Lee, or to resuscitate plan A and flee to the Americas.

I enjoyed this entertaining, gothic style horror story. Louisa, our protagonist, is fairly interesting, especially as you learn more about her upbringing and experiences with abuse at her boarding school. She doesn't lack a backbone, which is something I appreciate in a protagonist, especially in a Victorian setting. However, for this reader, Coldthistle and Mr. Morningside are the interesting parts, and as this book is the first in the series, we only scratched the surface of discovering more about them. The mythology of the peoples living in the house is revealed by short vignettes at the beginnings of some chapters, and those creature's appearances were illustrated by someone quite talented. The occasional chapter was also preceded by artwork - pictures have meaning in the book, and some chapters featured a creepy looking wall featuring random, old school looking pictures of things that were usually relevant to the next few chapters.

Some readers have complained that the pacing of the book is a bit slow at the start, but I did not find this to be the case as I was pretty instantly swept up in the mystery of Coldthistle. I will say that I didn't find the book to be especially scary, even after a few extremely gruesome murders, but it was definitely a bit creepy. The lack of scariness, for me anyway, was because despite the pictures and fabulous illustrations, I never really bought into the creepy, gothic atmosphere. The lack of chills notwithstanding, I enjoyed the characters, setting and new-to-me mythology enough to ultimately enjoy the book. I think that teens that read horror novels will find a lot to like here, and I'll be booktalking this one (in high schools, it really is quite gory) in the fall. 3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
A Face Like Glass
Hardinge, Francis
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

There's something wrong with Neverfell's face. In Caverna, where people live underground, people's facial expressions never change, unless they want them to. But Neverfell's face is horrifying, and so her caretaker Master Grandible, cheesemaker extraordinaire, makes her wear a mask at all times. Confined to Grandible's chambers, Neverfell gloms on to all visitors, until one day she meets a special visitor, escapes Grandible's corridors and truly starts to experience the horrors of Caverna - all of which are more terrible than her face.

First, this is not a horror book. I went into it thinking that it was (I mean, look at that cover - it's creepy!), and I think that expectation hampered my enjoyment of the read a bit.

By all rights, I should have loved this book. It has the ingredients of a book I would love: a strong(ish) female heroine, intricate worldbuilding, court intrigue, unreliable characters and a few fun twists. Unfortunately, I was never able to really connect with the characters, aside from Neverfell. Neverfell, and to a lesser extent her friend Zouelle, are the only characters to really get much development, and unfortunately, Neverfell spent most of the book annoying me. The first part of the book is also short on an overarching plot - I kept wondering where we were going (aside from, potentially, outside). Neverfell spends the middle 200 pages or so making silly, avoidable mistakes and almost getting herself or her friends killed. Which makes sense, given her sheltered upbringing, but it wasn't super fun to read, and despite a strong beginning, the middle of the book seemed to drag on. However, the last 100 pages or so, once our protagonist has a larger objective, were delightful. There's a reveal in the epilogue that I didn't see coming, and I loved it.

While the book wasn't perfect, the worldbuilding was amazing, and I definitely want to read author's other book, The Lie Tree (which apparently is horror), now. A very solid middle grade read. 3 stars - I liked it.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Book Review: The Little Prince
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I don't know, maybe it's because I was reading this out loud to my daughter, but I just don't see what all the hubbub is. It was heavy-handed to me. There were some sweet spots, but overall I was underwhelmed.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
The Screaming Staircase
Stroud, Jonathan
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Fans of Bartimaeus will not be disappointed by Jonathan Stroud’s series, Lockwood & Co. The “Problem” started about 50 years ago in London. Ghosts became true, dangerous, and very real threats to the living. Only young people have the ability to “see” and eradicate these creatures of the night. Enter Lockwood & Co., a company of three who go out nightly to defend the city. Great adventure, ghost story, and humor interweave for perfect storytelling in The Screaming Staircase, the first in the series.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin
Genres:
Scurvy Goonda
McCoy, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Scurvy Goonda is a pirate ab-com who is ruining Ted’s life (an “ab-com” is an abstract companion). What other self-respecting 14-year-old still has an imaginary companion?! Soon it becomes clear that great evil is afoot, when all the world’s ab-coms disappear – along with Scurvy and Ted! Chris McCoy’s first bacon-filled novel is rife with invention, fun and whimsy, a page-turner that will keep you up all night.

Reviewer's Name: Kristin

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