Staff Book Reviews by Genre: LGBTQ

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Book One
Ferris, Emil
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A lot of people put down graphic novels as just comic books and many are little more than that. But there are a few that transcend this genre. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 is such an example. This debut novel by Emil Ferris tells the story of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, a girl growing up during the turbulent 1960s in Chicago. Reyes is an aspiring artist and her story is told in her perspective with detailed drawings filled with B-movie horror monsters from her beloved matinees, all sketched by a very talented schoolgirl with a Bic pen in her spiral notebook. Her neighborhood is a scary place and so is dealing with her mother's late-stage cancer and her older brother's drug-dealing and pimping. It's why Karen wishes she was a monster -- to be safe from those she sees in real life. As just a family drama, this novel delivers. Then this beautifully illustrated work of art reminiscent of Robert Crumb and Otto Dix, becomes so much more. The ever-curious Karen decides to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. That sudden plot twist turns this work into an historical epic, a detective story and a psychological thriller that garnered numerous industry accolades and award nominations worldwide. Vol. 1 is currently available through PPLD while Vol. 2, the conclusion of the story, is scheduled to be published in September 2021.
AWARDS: 2018 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album-New, Best Writer/Artist and Best Coloring; 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBTQ Graphic Novel.

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Awards:
This Is How You Lose the Time War
El-Mohtar, Amal
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This time-travelling story of love and genocide centers on two rival agents battling to secure the best possible future for their warring factions. It opens with a blood-covered Red, the last woman standing on a battlefield heaped with corpses. She finds a letter that starts with “Burn Before Reading” from Blue, her rival whom she has spent lifetimes trying to thwart. So it starts with a taunt followed by a challenge scratched in a lava flow and a message woven into the DNA of a tree cut down by marauding armies. These spies never meet but these compromising letters – certain death if discovered by their superiors – build upon a mutual understanding that evolves into love. Who better to understand someone weary and confused by merciless, contradictory orders than their rival? Or is this an attempt to turn the other into a double agent? Or lay a deadly trap? This novella deftly avoids the confusion that spoils average time-travel yarns by making each of the chapters into a vignette, told from either Red or Blue’s perspective, until a satisfying, meaningful conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Nebula Award for Best Novella, 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

Reviewer's Name: Joe P.
Book Cover
Bayron, Kaylynn
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Cinderella is dead is about a girl in a society where women are expected to behave like Cinderella in the beloved (well, they're forced to love it) fairy-tale: wait until you're somethingth birthday and then you must go to a ball to be chosen by a boy/man/grandpa who you will be forced to obey for the rest of your life. Those who refuse are executed. When our main character falls in love with another girl instead of waiting to be chosen at the ball, she decides it's time for a change.

I saw this book ages ago on Netgalley and while I love the cover (and don't be afraid to chose a book by it's cover, kids!), I'm pretty over anything to do with Cinderella as I feel as though I've read around 8 million re-tellings in the last five years or so. Then, I heard some folks from Bloomsbury talk about this book at a recent conference, and I was sold! Unfortunately, though, there was way too much Cinderella in it for me to truly enjoy it. The worldbuilding and plot waffled between being creative and a bit silly. The characters were one-dimensional and the romance unearned. That said, I think the book's audience, younger teens, will enjoy it, so I'll definitely be recommending it.

This is the perfect book for younger teens who just can't get enough of Cinderella or who are looking to make the jump from middle grade to young adult fiction. For this older reader, the coolness of the author's innovation with the Cinderella fairytale was outweighed by bland characters and forced romance. 2 stars - it was ok.

Thanks to Bloomsbury YA and Netgalley for the eARC which I received for an unbiased review. You can put Cinderella is Dead on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Cover
Cho, Zen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water follows a nun who joins a group of bandits trying to protect a religious relic from those who would destroy it. It's a novella, so that's really most of the book, but Zen Cho crams a ton of character development and plenty of plot into this short little read. The two main characters are so well drawn, and I absolutely fell in love with them. The banter between the bandits is loads of fun - I laughed out loud on multiple occasions. There are plenty of fight scenes. I got to learn the word wuxia (think Chinese martial arts heroes). It's very rare that I want a book to be longer, but I so wanted more of this. I'll be checking out Cho's backlist work, Sorcerer to the Crown. 4 stars - that was very good.

Thanks to Tor and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected on Water is available now - put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: The Guinevere Deception
White, Kiersten
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Premise: Guinevere died in the convent where she'd been sent by an her father. An imposter, Merlin's daughter and Arthur's new protector, is her replacement, and all have been fooled into thinking she's the "real" Guinevere, save Arthur, who she immediately marries and starts to protect.

I found the beginning of the book, with its delicious hints of a larger story of evil and darkness, to be captivating. Unfortunately, those hints, for the most part, stay hints, and the book ended up being a pretty predictable retelling of sorts that was paradoxically too faithful and not faithful enough to its predecessors. It had glimpses of the humor from Mallory, T. H. White and Steinbeck. It had the promise of the adventure that lies in those tales. It just never fully delivered. And the end, when it finally came, was predictable enough to be a bit disappointing.

That said, I do love Arthurian legend, and this version of Guinevere is not without promise. If the next entry gets great reviews, I'll give it a go as my familiarity with the characters and story would render a re-read unnecessary. 3 stars. I...liked it? I'll recommend it to younger readers new to the legend.

Thanks to Netgalley and Delacorte for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Guinevere Deception will be on sale on 05 November, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: A River of Royal Blood
Joy, Amanda
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Eva's nameday is coming up. And on that day, she'll become a Rival Heir. From then on, she'll be expected to try to kill her sister (or die in the process), so that one of them could take the throne. Eva's always been her father's favorite, but in this matriarchal society, her mother, the Queen, who, of course favores Eva's sister Isadore, would do anything to make sure that Eva doesn't get the throne. Including helping Isa with her magic while trying to keep Eva from accessing hers. But the throne is Eva's destiny. It's that, or death.

This was another instance of the plot being hard to describe, though that's mostly due to the fact that there are so many things happening in this book. It's pretty complicated. Not in a bad way - I really enjoyed it. The worldbuilding was very cool, I loved the khimaer. A lot of it was new to me, or a fun twist on a familiar concept. I loved the book's mythology. Something about it felt fresh. I also bizarrely really liked the middle part of the book - its full of layered mysteries, court intrigue, training montages and the right amount and type of romance. It's built on mutual and earned respect (and yes, hotness). There's a lot to like in this book, and it won't be the last by this author that I read.

That said, the beginning and ending were rote and felt a bit weak. The end, in particular, felt like it existed only to get you to read the next installment. There was no resolution, and it felt very rushed, especially after a story that was otherwise taking its time unfolding. I don't want to spend a lot of time criticizing what was otherwise a fun read - give it a go!

TLDR: This was so close to being really good, but it just missed the mark (rote beginning and ending, super strong middle and worldbuilding). I quite enjoyed it, nonetheless. 3.5 stars - I almost really liked it. :)

Thanks for the eARC Netgalley and Putnam for the advance copy! A River of Royal Blood will be available for purchase on 29 October, but you can put your copy on hold today.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: War Girls
Onyebuchi, Tochi
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Onyii and Ify live as sisters in an all-girls refugee/war camp on the edge of the Redlands, an area riddled with radiation from a long-ago nuclear disaster. Nigeria, their home, is in the midst of a civil war. Children are conscripted as soldiers and pilots for mechanized warrior robots. Onyii and Ify are separated, and as truths are revealed to each of them, they must decide where, and with whom, their loyalties lie all while trying not to die a terrible death in a bloody civil war.

Going into this, I knew nothing about the Nigeria - Biafran civil war of the 1960s, which is at the heart of this novel. Personally, I enjoy learning about parts of history that I know nothing about (I typically don’t gravitate to one of the 1,983,784,767 WWII novels, for example), and I really enjoyed the unique setting. The book is set in the future, and the futuristic elements really added a lot to the plot and were well employed by the author. Onyii, for example, is an Augment, meaning that she’s a little bit of a bionic woman. While I didn’t really relate to the main characters, I did really like them. They didn’t always make the best decisions, but their decisions made sense to their characters and their respective arcs. They were easy to root for. Really, my only complaint was that it felt overlong, and I skimmed through some of the battle scenes, but that’s more a matter of personal preference.

TLDR: Looking for something to read after Children of Blood and Bone? You’ve found your next great Nigerian inspired read! (And, honestly, if you haven’t read Children of Blood and Bone but it’s on your TBR, I’d suggest replacing it with War Girls, which is a much more original, engaging book). For readers who like apocalyptic novels and futuristic sci-fi battles. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Razorbill for the eARC which I received in exchange for an honest review. War Girls will be available for purchase on 15 October, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Drama
Telgemeier, Raina
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This was a very sweet book. The three things I liked best about it were the following:
1. It was a play within a play.
2. A character breaks up with his girlfriend because she was trying to get someone to cheat on a test.
3. The main character doesn't give a second chance to the boy who disrespected her.
It's a lighthearted book that addresses some deep themes and is fun to read.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Awards:
Giesbrecht, Jennifer
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Monster of Elendhaven follows two characters – Johann, the eponymous monster, and Florian, a mage that ultimately forces him to do his bidding. Mages are forbidden to exist in Elendhaven, and the locals in power kill Florian’s family, so Florian is out for revenge. And he’ll use Johann to ensure he gets it.

It’s rare that I wish a book was longer, but that’s definitely the case here. The worldbuilding was spectacular, as was the prose, but the plot was pretty basic, and the end jarring. I could have spent much longer in this dark, twisted world with our dark, twisted characters. I kept thinking of Patrick Suskind’s book, Perfume: A Story of a Murderer, as both of our characters were somewhat similar to the protagonist of that book. There’s a romance that I wouldn’t have minded so much, but again, it wasn’t given time to breathe in this short little novel.

TLDR: This book is nasty in that deliciously evil sort of way. If that’s your thing, you’ll love it. I wish it were a bit longer.

3.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Tor for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Future of Another Timeline
Newitz, Annalee
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Tess is a time traveling member of the Daughters of Harriet, a group that does it's best to make their present time, 2022, a safe place for women, whether cis or trans. There's a men's right's activist group from further in the future trying to undermine their efforts by erasing the Daughters of Harriet and women's rights folks from the timeline. Meanwhile, in 1992, teenager Beth, a friend from Tess' past, finds herself in a bit of a pickle. She and her friends kill a boy who was in the process of sexually assaulting their friend. This starts the girls down a murderous path that Tess will do her best to stop.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I usually enjoy time travel, unless its being used as a cheap plot device which was definitely not the case here. Newitz did a lot of homework for this one - the historical notes at the end were really interesting and trips to the past often include historical figures. The story alternates between Tess and Beth with a few other perspectives thrown in on occasion. Tess mainly splits her time between the late 1800s (easily my favorite parts), the early 1990s and her present in 2022, while Beth's story is firmly situated in 1992. While I enjoyed both stories, I never really felt compelled to read the book. Both perspectives were interesting, but not captivating or thought-provoking (though I suspect the book will provide plenty of thinking material for some readers). As a result, certain plot points felt unnecessary and the book felt overlong. I really hated the way Tess' story ended. Nonetheless, its an enjoyable read that makes a great point (women are people too, who knew?) that I would recommend to science fiction readers that are interested in women, women's and LGBT rights. There's also quite a bit of 90's punk rock that readers of a certain age will love. The ending is also quite optimistic, which I wasn't expecting, but did welcome.

TLDR: The Future of Another Timeline is interesting book full of time travel shenanigans that is plagued by the same issues that all time travel book face. Ultimately, while the book was fun, feminist and full of salient social commentary, it wasn't compelling.

3 stars - I liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tor for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Future of Another Timeline will be available for purchase on 24 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Soul of the Sword cover
Kagawa, Julie
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Soul of the Sword picks up directly at the end of the events of the first book in the series, Shadow of the Fox. If you haven’t read Shadow of the Fox, and you like Japanese mythology, what are you waiting for? Pick it up now! Also, skip this review, because spoilers.

If you liked the first book, you’ll like this one too. I did not remember the first book that well as I read it last summer, but Kagawa writes this in such a way that it’s easy for the reader to jump right back in. Most of our characters (save Tatsumi, because he’s mostly a demon now) get further development, and Yumeko in particular really seems to have grown a lot throughout the course of the book. My favorite character, the ronin Okame, has an exceptionally fun development. The worldbuilding, which was fantastic in the first book, continues to be alluring as Kagawa further fleshes out what was already a well-drawn world. The plot, like the first book, is fast-paced and while this is definitely something of a bridge book, it’s a bridge book that is really fun to read.

Readers of Rick Riordan who are looking for something a little more grown-up, or folks who like their fantasy to be steeped in mythology, you won’t go wrong with this series. I’m excited for the next one to come out. 4 stars – I really liked it!

Thanks to Harlequin Teen & Netgalley for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Soul of the Sword will be available for purchase on 18 June or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Devouring Gray Cover
Herman, Christine Lynn
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

After the tragic, premature death of Violet’s older sister Rosie, Violet and her mother move back to her mother’s home town in the sleepy little town of Four Paths, NY. But Four Paths has more going on than originally meets the eye: it’s secretly the prison of a nefarious beast. Captured by the founders of the Four Paths, the beast lives in a shadow world on top of the regular world, called the Gray. As more and more people get pulled into the Gray and are violently, Violet and her new friends are called to use their newfound magical powers to stop the beast at any cost.

The book is being marketed as “Stranger Things” meets “The Raven Boys”, and I would say that is a pretty spot on comparison. The Gray is not unlike The Upside Down or Cabeswater. The difference, really, is that this book is lacking in a few areas where Stranger Things and The Raven Boys succeed: detailed characterization, nuanced worldbuilding, and extremely good writing. The characters in this one were one dimensional; Violet and Harper, two of our four main characters, were fairly interchangeable to me. The book fluctuates between following the children of the four main founders, and as a result, we only get to know a few of them really well. They are still interesting – they all have to deal with quite a bit of pressure from their parents and the town, but I wish they had each been developed more.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding at first, but then a few details were introduced that clearly just served as plot devices. For example, if the children of the founders date each other, they will lose any magical abilities they may have inherited – there’s no need for this aside from generating romantic tension that could have been generated in a number of other ways. There were a few other plot points (like the rituals) that were never explained in a satisfying way. That said, I raced through the book. As I got closer to the end and realized there would be a sequel, I got a little less interested (this did not need to be a duology).


TLDR: While it’s not quite as good, folks who enjoyed Stranger Things or The Raven Boys will find a lot to like here too. Despite its many problems, it was a creative, compelling read, and I did end up enjoying it! 3 stars. I liked it. I’d read another book by this author.


Thanks to Titan Books and Netgalley for the advance electronic copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Devouring Gray will be available for purchase on 02 April, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Kingdom of Copper
Chakraborty, S. A.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Kingdom of Copper is the sequel to City of Brass, and there are spoilers for that book ahead.

Kingdom of Copper picks up about five years after the events of City of Brass. Nahri is married to Muntadhir and is navigating court politics and learning to use her skills as magical healer. Ali, after getting exiled from Daevabad following the events of City of Brass, has managed to survive several assassination attempts and has made a life for himself in a small village. Forced to return to Daevabad, Ali quickly returns to his post as resident trouble maker/possible emir (which in this case means heir to the throne), and Nahri finds her world rocked once again.

The complex, Middle Eastern inspired world and world-building that were the best part of City of Brass are still present in this book, while they are less of a focal point. Overall, I much preferred Kingdom of Copper to City of Brass. My short review of City of Brass read as something like: "great worldbuilding, annoying characters, promising ending." But because we had that time jump of five years, our characters have separated, matured (at least a bit), and the love triangle that brought down the first book died a satisfying death. The worst part of the first book to me was the romantic angst, and little of that exists in this sequel to the betterment of the book.

TLDR: If you liked the first book, you’ll love this one. If you were on the fence about City of Brass as I was, know that the sequel is much improved.

Kingdom of Copper would appeal young, new and other adults and fantasy readers who like rich world building and a unique setting. 3.5 stars.

Thanks to HarperVoyager for the advance edition, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kingdom of Copper is available now!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Four Dead Queens
Scholte, Astrid
2 stars = Meh
Review:

This book was not for me, but I think a lot of young adults will really love it. The following is essentially a laundry list of my issues. First, the worldbuilding was pretty weak. The fours quadrants are fairly reminiscent of those in Divergent, but they rarely interact and the farming sector basically works on Amish rules while the technological sector has holographs and advanced biosuits and all sorts of stuff. It does not make a ton of sense. And neither does the “queenly law” or really anything to do with the rules the palace or kingdom operates under – it all seemed pretty transparently created to serve the story that was written. Moving along. The characters really left something to be desired. Most were one-dimensional. The main character, Keralie, couldn’t make a good decision if her life depended on it and falls squarely into the snarky and ostensibly clever thief trope. We do get to hear from the queens a bit, but as I knew they’d end up dead and we only spent a little time with each of them, I didn’t find that it added to the story. And, of course, there is instalove between Keralie and our extremely boring male lead, Varin.

Some components of the book are pretty enjoyable. I think the premise is really cool (if executed poorly). The first queen’s murder took me a bit by surprise, and was deliciously gruesome. There were a few twists that I didn’t see coming. I quite liked the last 50 pages or so – the author, a debut, clearly has some really great ideas. Unfortunately, they didn’t come together in this book, though I’d try another book by this author pending favorable reviews.

TLDR: Readers who loved The Red Queen and Divergent will probably enjoy this one as well. I couldn’t get past the weak characters and worldbuilding, but I think a lot of readers will likely devour this one nonetheless. For me, it was just ok. 2 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and G. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Four Dead Queens will be released on 26 February.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Gilded Wolves cover
Chokshi, Roshani
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Severin’s legacy has been stolen. And he wants it back. As the sole heir to the House of Vanth, leading it should be his birthright. But folks from two of the other three houses stopped him from assuming the mantle of head of House Vanth. So when a secret society, the Order of Babel, approaches him and promises him his true inheritance in exchange for an artifact, he agrees to find the artifact along with his crew.

I enjoyed this one, though it isn’t without its flaws. Normally I end a review with my complaints, but in this case my main issue is also a positive so we’ll just start there! This book is quite similar to Six of Crows. Arguably a bit too similar. I mean, there are character analogs (Severin is fairly close to Kaz, Laila is like a Inej/Nina hybrid), and aspects of the plot are pretty similar as well. It felt like I was reading really incredible fanfiction on occasion. The thing is, though, I loved Six of Crows, so I really ended up enjoying this book too. Where Six of Crows is gorgeously bleak, The Gilded Wolves is exuberantly lavish. Set in late 19th century Paris, the trappings of this book are dazzling. Each scene is more lush than the last, and our characters’ surroundings are brought to life in the most whimsical of ways. Magical extravagance abounds, and I had the best time imagining the various rooms, secret chambers and tunnels. The world building was cool, although it occasionally felt convoluted. Overall, though, the author manages to blend religion and science and math, which is really no easy feat. The other thing that I really liked about this book is that the cast is very diverse in race, ethnicity and sexuality and that the author makes commentary about important, relevant issues such as colonialism, racism, and immigration.

I’ve read a few other books by this author, one that I hated (Star Touched Queen) and one that I enjoyed (Aru Shah). This one was much closer to an Aru read for me, although I do find that the rich prose reads as purple on occasion. There will obviously be a sequel, and I’ll definitely give that a go when it comes out in something like two years. I think a this book may also improve upon a reread. Some of the characters were a bit hard to keep track of - when the villain was ultimately revealed, I was like…who was that again? The end also felt super rushed and disjointed, and I think several of the plot points and character developments introduced might have made more sense at the top of the next book.

TLDR: A lavish heist and adventure fantasy for readers of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, Ryan Graudin’s Invictus or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I think most readers of YA fantasy will like this one – I did! 3.5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Gilded Wolves will be available for purchase on 15 January 2019, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
The Paragon Hotel
Faye, Lyndsay
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

1922. Alice James finds herself on a westbound train with two bullets in her stomach and $50,000 worth of counterfeit cash. On the run from the mob, she befriends a black porter who saves her life by taking her to his doctor friend in the only black hotel in Portland, Oregon. When a mixed race child goes missing from the hotel, the residents panic as KKK activity in Portland has been escalating. This excellent novel switches back and forth from the events leading up to Alice’s shooting and then her experiences at the hotel after arriving.

Alice James is one of my favorite characters in recent memory – she’s flawed, but self-aware, whip-smart and most importantly compassionate. Her empathy gets her into the trouble and she knows it, but she’s the sort who is willing to sacrifice herself for the greater cause. The supporting characters, especially Blossom, are equally flawed but lovable, especially as their truths slowly come to light. I’m a sucker for a 20s setting, and we get a lot of the good stuff here, especially linguistically. Our Alice has quite the endearing way of explaining herself in 20s style aphorisms.

In addition to being a charming read, the book covers some really important issues around race, gender and sexuality. The author has a deft enough hand at covering these issues that she manages to make the commentary work for the 20s as well as present day. If you decide to read this book, you’ll laught, cry and rage along with the characters at the injustices handed to them based on their gender, race or sexuality. My one complaint is that the middle sagged a bit – this is book that’s largely focused on character development and the mystery really just served to get Alice to learn things about her new friends.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but the promise of mob-excitement, mystery and racial commentary brought me to this book, and I’m so glad it did. Richly drawn characters and a fascinating setting pretty much guarantee that most fiction (historical or otherwise) readers will enjoy this one, and I’ll be pre-ordering a copy for my mother. 5 stars – I adored it.

Thanks to Netgalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for the advance copy, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Paragon Hotel goes on sale on 08 January, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Every year one girl from the lowest caste in each of the 8 provinces is selected to be a Paper Girl - a concubine to the king. Usually, the girls choose to put themselves forth for the selection. But this year, there will be nine girls. Lei, the ninth, was ripped from her home by a General trying to curry favor with the King. And unlike the other paper girls, this was in no way a choice for her. As she learns more about her fellow Paper Girls and life in the palace, she becomes further disgusted with the caste systems and the concept of Paper Girls. And she'll do everything in her limited power to defy the king - even if it costs her her life.

Girls of Paper and Fire was awesome. I've been burned by heavily hyped diverse YA fantasy lately (Children of Blood and Bone, Mirage), but luckily for me, this one did not disappoint. The premise sounded fairly...gross for lack of a better word - a girl stripped from her home against her will to become a concubine to the king. You know there's going to be some unconsensual sex happening. And there was, but it was handled really well by the author. She takes a very sensitive issue and does not sensationalize it. In fact, its presented in such a way that women who have had similar experiences might find some solace in the book, which, if you read the Afterword, was clearly the author's intention.

Unlike some YA fantasy, this was a slowly paced book that was mostly about developing our main character. Lei really grew as a woman and a person throughout the course of the book. She stands up for her beliefs, herself, her body, even though it almost gets her killed. There's also romance, and its a slowly developed, realistic story of love in the worst of times. The worldbuilding was stunning - the setting was Malaysia inspired, and the formation of the three different castes and their traditions was well thought out and presented in such as way as to be simultaneously creepy and gorgeous. My two complaints are fairly minor: there were a few very predictable plot elements, and the writing occasionally leaned into too flowery territory. Otherwise, though, I loved it.

If you are looking for a feminist fantasy read with excellent worldbuilding and character development, you won't go wrong with Girls of Paper and Fire. 5 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
The Brilliant Death
Capetta, Amy Rose
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Teodora DiSangro is the daughter of one of the heads of the five families. And, while most people wouldn’t expect this of a woman, she’s the heavy. That’s because she’s got a secret: she a streghe, a witch. She can turn people into inanimate objects. So, when her father is poisoned by the Capo, she heads to the capital. Not just to represent her family as the new head of the family: her ultimate goal is revenge. NO ONE crosses the DiSangros. No one.

I really enjoyed this one! YA fantasy is one of my preferred genres, but after a while, much of it can seem pat or a bit too similar, so it feels so refreshing when something new comes along. This was something new, at least to me. A mob story that features gender queer protagonists who also happen to be a witches? I loved everything about that, and the book delivered on the plot and character development as well. The worldbuilding is rich, the characters are likable with understandable and clear motivations, and there are a few twists and turns that will keep most readers guessing. I’m not sure if there’s a sequel planned, but the book was tied up nicely with enough loose threads to justify a sequel should the author choose to write one. I know I’d read it.

TLDR: Looking for a mob based fantasy with a strong, engaging gender queer protag? Not to worry – The Brilliant Death has you covered. For fans of The Godfather and/or The Brooklyn Brujas, or really for anyone who likes inventive and inclusive YA fantasy. 4 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley and Viking Books for Young Readers for the advance copy which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. The Brilliant Death will be available for purchase on 30 October 2018, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Genres:
Black Wings Beating Cover Image
London, Alex
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In a world where dominion over birds of prey equals power, twins Brysen and Kylee have a love/hate relationship with falconry. Brysen longs to be good at the sport, but lacks the patience and ability. Kylee is a natural, and even has powers that allow her to speak with the birds, but she just wants to pay back their family’s debts and then leave their village forever. When Brysen compounds their debt and then agrees to hunt the ghost eagle – the very same eagle who killed their father – Kylee knows that she has to help, or lose her brother to the birds as well.

The world building in this book is phenomenal. London creates a rich world with opposing religions about to go to war, and creates an entirely new mythology built around falconry. Now, I know there are other fantasies based around falconry, but as I’ve not read them, this was all totally new and fascinating to me. Kylee and Brysen take turns narrating, and their perspectives were realistic and different enough that you had a great feel for them as characters quite early on in the book. They were so authentic as not to be entirely likable – Brysen in particular makes quite a few stupid and/or impulsive decisions and I found him to be a bit hard to root for. I really enjoyed Kylee, though, and I loved how the world was presented with equality in terms of sexuality and race. Several of our characters are people of color and/or LGBTQ+, and they don’t seem to be oppressed or seen any differently because of it, which was refreshing to read.

For this reader, the plot left something to be desired. The book starts off with a bang, but then quickly devolves into an adventure story in the woods as Kylee and Brysen search for the ghost eagle. The aforementioned “opposing religions about to go to war” parts show the most promise, but were unfortunately relegated to the background. That will likely change in the sequel, but it made this book a slow read for me. I actually put it down in the middle and read an entirely different book as it wasn’t really holding my interest. I felt like the book might have worked really well as a prequel novella, but as a full length novel, there was a lot of filler as Kylee and Brysen navigate the woods with only one important seeming development.

Black Wings Beating was an interesting dive into the world of falconry that sets up a sequel with a lot of promise. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes adventure stories with a touch of the fantastical. 3 stars – I liked it!
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Black Wings Beating will be available for purchase on 25 September, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Kill the Farm Boy
Hearne, Kevin and Dawson, Delilah
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Normally, I’d start off my review with a synopsis, but plot wasn’t exactly the point of this book, so I’m going to skip it. What you need to know is this: Kill the Farm boy is a satirical fantasy novel that skewers the “chosen one” white male narrative. Tonally, it’s as if Deadpool were your dungeon master and he had recently swallowed a thesaurus. If that appeals to you, you will love this book. If not, pass on it.

I had fairly mixed feelings – humor is subjective, and while I sometimes found it funny, I also found it grating at times. For example, there was a chapter about trolls that had me in stitches. But there was also an entire chapter about the group entering the Morningwood that had me rolling my eyes. A certain type of audience will absolutely love this one. I was not that audience, but I still, for the most part, appreciated it for what it was as I generally found the writing quality to be very high. There’s little character development, and the plot is just a vehicle for jokes, but again, those things aren’t the point.

This is definitely one of those books that will be very hit-or-miss for people, and while it was mostly a miss for me, it’s one that I think I’ll be recommending to a lot of patrons, particularly teens. If you like Mel Brooks or Monty Python, you’ll probably like this too (it would make a pretty funny movie).

Thanks to Del Rey and Netgalley for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Kill the Farm Boy will be released on 24 July, but you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: Britt

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