Review: Burn by Patrick Ness – Dragons, Prophecies, and the Cycle of Violence

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Title: Burn
Author:
Patrick Ness
Publisher:
Quill Tree Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subject(s)/Themes(s): War, Discrimination, Dragons
Representation: Biracial MC, Gay MC

Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm…

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself. 

CW: racism, homophobia, graphic violence, near-assault

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Ah, Patrick Ness. He never goes for the boring, does he? I so admire his drive to create stories that count for something–narratives that serve as pointed commentary on an aspect of society or of human nature, sometimes via non-human characters (he forever has my respect for choosing to tackle an inverted version of Moby Dick from the PoV of whales)–and willingness to branch out into wild genres and concepts. His ideas are like a mystery parfait. A delicious delight to spoon through.

Burn is unlike any of his previous books, yet so entirely like all of his previous books. Bold and imaginative and doesn’t shy away when faced with tough questions, it comes out on the other side with a strong thematic core, even if it does sacrifice a few things along the way.

It’s 1957 and dragons exist in this alternate world, distrusted and looked down on by human society. There have been major conflicts waged between the two groups across history, but all of that is done and out of the way now, with a peace treaty placing the parties in a cold but slightly less hostile relationship.

There is also a Canadian cult that worships said dragons, but not the dragons directly. They instead choose to worship a human proxy who represents the dragon divinity–never mind the fact that the dragons don’t give a toss about humans, cultists or otherwise, and have no voice in electing this pope figure for their own fan club. Then there’s an end-of-the-world prophecy revolving around the protagonist Sarah (it tickles me that the idea of dragons is shrug-worthy in this world, but prophecies and clairvoyance are considered nonsense. I love an alt-fantasy setting with strict rules and boundaries); a sheltered gay assassin named Malcolm who is determined to stop her at any cost; two FBI agents hot on his trail; one red dragon with sandpaper-dry snark; and an examination of inherited hatred, violence, and the human propensity to hurl ourselves into mutual destruction.

And they all work.

Well, mostly.

Most definitely in the first half, which is a stretch of perfect pacing, great character introductions, and a flurry of events that devolve into heartbreak and anger.

I quite loved the main cast of characters–Sarah’s frustration and empathy, her father’s dilemma, Kazimir’s sass, Malcolm’s innocence warring with his cold violence–even though some we don’t see too much of. I found it particularly poignant how Sarah and Malcolm’s storylines are near-mirrors of each other. How both childhoods were shaped by authorities dictating the paths their lives must take, and the boundaries that can’t be crossed, based on what they are and what they are not. And when it comes to good people doing terrible things, morally grey people doing terrible things, and terrible people doing terrible things, the book knows to make you understand what the differences are.

The second half dives deeper into the major themes, and character work takes a backseat as all the plot threads are gathered into one clear moral lesson: that we must be vigilant of how hatred, including self-hatred, curdles and spreads and ricochets across space and time until we can’t even tell where it ends and where it begins. That’s something you can count on with Ness; things like plot and character might skew sideways, but the point of the story never gets lost.

I do think Burn works better if you look at it as a long parable as opposed as your normal YA fiction. There are definitely questions left unanswered by the end, and the characters brush off traumatic events with concerning ease, giving it the feel of a folktale in which things happen and you just have to accept that they do, even though you’re not exactly sure why.

While it’s not favourite story of his, it’s still a strong, memorable entry into his bibliography that had me ruminating for a while after.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

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Guest Post (The Vine Witch): A History of Witches in France | Feat. Giveaway (US)

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I’m so excited to bring you this (belated) guest post today about the history of witches in France, written by author Luanne G. Smith whose debut was released recently on October 1st–a story about witches, revenge, French vineyards, and vine magic (which sounds like the coolest thing). The book is giving me seductive looks from my TBR pile right now, so I’m hoping to get to it soon.

Hope you enjoy this little piece! (I definitely did)

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It’s always an interesting question to consider the witch trials of the past. One thing that’s always struck me as a rather obvious notion is that none of the people executed for sorcery, in France or elsewhere, were actually witches. They were invariably mortal men and women (and France was less gender-biased in the persecution of “witches” than other nations) who perhaps dabbled in herbs and fortunetelling on the side, but that was fairly common stuff in certain circles. France, in particular, has had a reputation for being obsessed with the occult for centuries, going back to the days of Louis XIV and the Affair of the Poisons. If you’ve never heard about Catherine Deshayes Monvoison, aka La Voisin, and the things she was up to, you’re in for a ghastly read. But in general, the accusations of witchcraft against citizens often served more than merely appeasing moral righteousness and saving the world from the Devil’s influence. They were often acts of retaliation or outright villainy by aggrieved neighbors who used the law to disguise their motives. I mean, if you think about it, a real witch ought to have had the cunning and skill to escape a hapless group of pitchfork-wielding mortals.

From what I was able to discern, the last person to be burned for the crime of witchcraft in France occurred in 1745. That’s why, in The Vine Witch, the laws for witches are referred to as the 1745 Covenants. I was playing off the premise that mortals and witches were forced to come together as a matter of necessity in that year. Too many mortals had been executed as witches, and too many witches had been getting away with harming mortals. So, the two sides drew up the Covenant Law agreements and each, from then on out, left the other alone. Mostly. Which is my interpretation for why there’s no more mention of witches being executed in the public record after that date. Doesn’t mean witches went away. Or mortals stopped being afraid of witches and their powers. Or that everyone obeyed the laws. After all, stories aren’t written about the law-abiders.

 

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About the Book

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The Vine Witch (Vine Witch #1)

Author: Luanne G. Smith
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction

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About the Author

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Luanne G. Smith is the author of THE VINE WITCH, a fantasy novel about witches, wine, and revenge set in early 20th century France, and the forthcoming second book in the series, THE GLAMOURIST. She’s lucky enough to live in Colorado at the base of the beautiful Rocky Mountains, where she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, a glass of wine at the end of the day, and finding the magic in everyday life.

 

 

Giveaway (US Only)

One finished copy of The Vine Witch is up for grabs! ENTER HERE

 

Tour Schedule

You can go check out the other stops on the tour HERE!

 

Blog Tour Spotlight + Giveaway (INTL): The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

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Title: The Good Luck Girls
Author: Charlotte Nicole Davis
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: October 1st 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Western, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 352 (hardback)

    

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis

Westworld meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this stunning fantasy adventure from debut author Charlotte Nicole Davis.

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst

The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls–they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a “welcome house” as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta’s most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It’s going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

 

 

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About the Author

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Charlotte Nicole Davis
is the author of The Good Luck Girls, a young adult fantasy novel releasing in Fall 2019 with Tor Teen. A graduate of The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program, Charlotte loves comic book movies and books with maps in the front. She currently lives in Brooklyn with a cat with a crooked tail.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

 

 

 

 

Giveaway

The giveaway is open internationally (must be +13 to enter), and there will be 5 winners selected. Ends October 21st. ENTER HERE

 

 

Tour Schedule

WEEK ONE
SEPTEMBER 30th MONDAY JeanBookNerd GUEST POST
OCTOBER 1st TUESDAY Twirling Book Princess EXCERPT
OCTOBER 2nd WEDNESDAY A Court of Coffee and Books REVIEW
OCTOBER 2nd WEDNESDAY Kait Plus Books EXCERPT
OCTOBER 3rd THURSDAY Bibliobibuli YA GUEST POST
OCTOBER 4th FRIDAY Novel Lives REVIEW
OCTOBER 4th FRIDAY Movies, Shows, & Books EXCERPT

 

WEEK TWO
OCTOBER 7th MONDAY BookHounds YA REVIEW
OCTOBER 8th TUESDAY Lisa Loves Literature REVIEW
OCTOBER 8th TUESDAY Pages Below the Vaulted Sky REVIEW
OCTOBER 9th WEDNESDAY Casia’s Corner REVIEW
OCTOBER 10th THURSDAY Lauren’s Bookshelf REVIEW
OCTOBER 10th THURSDAY Starlight Reads REVIEW
OCTOBER 11th FRIDAY Nay’s Pink Bookshelf REVIEW

Blog Tour + Giveaway (INTL) : Crier’s War by Nina Varela

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Hey all! So I ended up taking an unexpected hiatus these past two weeks, because life got busy and I got tired and also kind of sick, and I’m hoping to be back later this week and catch up on…uh, well, a hell of lot of things. *stares bleakly at my pile of draft posts*

In the meantime, enjoy this review for Crier’s War, as part of the blog tour hosted by the lovely Karina of Afire Pages. It’s a couple of days late and I feel horrible about it, and even more horrible about the fact that I selected the fan art option but just couldn’t get to it on time. So I’m aiming for later this week with that as well.

Let’s get to it!

 

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Title: Crier’s War
Author: Nina Varela
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 1st 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Politics, Revolution
Page Count: 448 (hardback)

Rating: 7.0/10

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After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

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Crier’s War was one of my most anticipated reads of this fall, and while I wasn’t blown away by it as I’d hoped I’d be, it’s still a very solid fantasy read. Though a little light on the fantasy and heavier on the politics and interpersonal drama.

Most stories featuring synthetic humans/A.I. have their plot revolve around the oppression of these beings and their eventual uprising. This book takes place decades after such an event, with the automae in power and the humans relegated to second class citizens. I found it to be an interesting change of pace.

The book says a lot about history repeating itself, of ownership and oppression giving rise to a cycle of rebellion and subjugation of the masters, which I really appreciated. It also explores the role of women in political stages. Because even with the fall of humans, misogyny is apparently still a huge thing, and women are seen as either too soft or too unstable to be successful in politics. That’s a road Crier tries to navigate, and seeing her excitement turn into disillusionment is frustrating and heartbreaking.

The dynamic between Ayla and Crier is laid out wonderfully–starting out as suspicion and anger, morphing into reluctant fascination to understanding and then into something keener and more desperate; it’s hands-down one of my favourite examples of slow-burn romance this year. And there’s a scene near the end that’s a perfect culmination of everything that came before it. Just so much pining warring with righteous fury–it’s gorgeously written. With the story getting quite grim in places, the girls’ relationship is a much needed spot of brightness.

The worldbuilding is fine…but nothing to write home about. I like the hints of steampunk mixing with a classic medieval fantasy setting. But aside from a couple of major locales, the city (and the kingdom as a whole) felt kind of bland and lacking in details. There’s nothing solid about the setting that sticks in my mind, no clear picture other than fleeting images, and that’s a bit of a disappointment.

My biggest complaint is with the ending (surprise, surprise). Info dumpy cliffhangers aren’t fun on a good day, and there’s a string of big revelations that are thrown into the last chapter at the last minute. The result is just awkward and baffling.

Still. The book has a lot of good things to offer, and Crier and Ayla alone makes it worth your time.

 

 

Giveaway (INTL)

You have a chance to win one finished copy of Crier’s War! Open Internationally. Ends on October 23rd. ENTER HERE

 

 

About the Author

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Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at www.ninavarela.com

 

 

Tour Schedule

WEEK 1

Sept. 23 – Afire Pages | 21 Questions with Nina Varela

Sept. 24 – The Sparrow’s Perch | Fan Art
F A N N A | Reasons for Game of Thrones and Westworld Fans to Read Crier’s War

Sept. 25 – Forever and Everly
Your Tita Kate | Bookstagram Photos

Sept. 26 – Lori’s Bookshelf Reads 
Pages Left Unread | Characters Aesthetics

Sept. 27 – Caitlin Althea 
Pages Below the Vaulted Sky | Fan Art

Sept. 28 – Lauren’s Bookshelf
Reads Rainbow | Playlist

WEEK 2

Sept. 30 – Boricua Reads | Sapphic Rebellious Women in YA
Read With Ngoc 

Oct. 1 – Once Upon A Bookcase
Read at Night | Favorite Quotes

Oct. 2 – Mel to the Any
A Cat, A Book, and A Cup of Tea

Oct. 3 – Novel Nerd Faction | Playlist
Shut Up, Shealea

Oct. 4 – Sage Shelves | F/F Fantasy Recommendation
The Book Bratz

 

Review: Missing, Presumed Dead – A Gritty Queer Paranormal Mystery that I’m Side-Eyeing

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Title: Missing, Presumed Dead
Author: Emma Berquist
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: May 21st, 2019
Genre(s): YA Paranormal, Mystery
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+ (f/f)
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: ???

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With a touch, Lexi can sense how and when someone will die. Some say it’s a gift. But to Lexi it’s a curse—one that keeps her friendless and alone. All that changes when Lexi foresees the violent death of a young woman, Jane, outside a club.

Jane doesn’t go to the afterlife quietly. Her ghost remains behind, determined to hunt down her murderer, and she needs Lexi’s help. In life, Jane was everything Lexi is not—outgoing, happy, popular. But in death, all Jane wants is revenge.

Lexi will do anything to help Jane, to make up for the fact that she didn’t—couldn’t—save Jane’s life, and to keep this beautiful ghost of a girl by her side for as long as possible.

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Here’s a fun dilemma:

What rating do you give a book that contains literally everything you love–a complex bisexual female protagonist, a gritty paranormal mystery, exploration of mental health, ghost girls, f/f romance–and executes most of them very well, but then you come across three or four lines that make you go, “I’m sorry, what??” and put a damper on the whole thing?

Asking for a friend. (Hashtag-I-am-that-friend)

Okay, let’s backtrack for a bit. Missing, Presumed Dead is like the queer YA version of Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black series, starring a girl who can tell the how’s and when’s of someone’s death by touching them skin-to-skin. Except I’m not sure ‘YA’ is even the right label because many of the characters either feel older than their teenage years or are actually older; personally, I think it’d sit more comfortably as a New Adult.

As far as paranormal mysteries go, it’s fairly typical of what you’d find in a lot of adult books: a club that doubles as a sanctuary for people with magical abilities (witches, psychics, etc), a sudden surge of missing and/or dead kids, and a ghost girl with no recollection of how she died. Thing is, though, we don’t really find these kinds of stories in YA–especially ones tinted with shades of horror and noir–so this was a much-needed breath of fresh air for me. The mystery is engaging, the pacing is quick, the worldbuilding just vivid enough to hold your interest, and the protagonist is….well. The protagonist is messy and sharp all over and I was such a huge fan in the beginning.

Lexi is, to be blunt, miserable, and understandably so, considering how her abilities don’t allow her to engage in physical affection and intimacy of any kind. Through Lexi’s lens the story becomes a portrait of loneliness and depression, and I can’t emphasize enough how much I adore stories that dive deep into the psychological baggage that comes with having supernatural powers.

Really, the only major issue I had was with the love interest Jane, who just isn’t as interesting or well-developed as Lexi.

And then I ran up against The Problem, which starts with this little passage:

“My Jane has never looked this carefree, this innocent. My Jane is angry and wild and a little cruel. I know which one I prefer.”

and this one:

“I’d rather have her furious and bitter, I’d rather have her sad, anything but this scornful, spiteful ghost sneering at me across the seat.”

It’s perfectly normal to desire a connection with someone who understands first-hand the pain you’re going through. I get it. I’ve been there. And that’s what initially drives Lexi and Jane together. But you can’t build a relationship on a foundation of mutual suffering. “I can fix your pain and you can fix mine” may sound sweet and romantic, but what it often ends up becoming is an echo chamber of hurt coupled with codependency.

And wanting someone to remain miserable and fucked-up, because that’s how you feel most of the time, is selfish and unhealthy. I’m all for YA stories exploring unhealthy relationships or unhealthy mindsets regarding relationships, but I need them to address the fact that yes, this is, in fact, unhealthy and here’s how we can move forward from that, which this book never does, and that sits so wrong with me.

And the crazy thing is that the core this issue can be fixed by just taking out those four lines.

So yeah. I’m conflicted. And frustrated. And I spent more time trying to figure out what rating to give the book than writing the actual review.

Which is why I’m giving it a big fat ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the end.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Review: Destroy all Monsters – Messy with a Chance of Dinosaurs

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Title: Destroy all Monsters
Author: Sam J. Miller
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 2nd, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Contemporary
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 400 (hardback)

Rating: 4.0/10

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Solomon and Ash both experienced a traumatic event when they were twelve.

Ash lost all memory of that event when she fell from Solomon’s treehouse. Since then, Solomon has retreated further and further into a world he seems to have created in his own mind. One that insulates him from reality, but crawls with foes and monsters . . . in both animal and human form.

As Solomon slips further into the place he calls Darkside, Ash realizes her only chance to free her best friend from his pain is to recall exactly what happened that day in his backyard and face the truth—together.

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CW: Child abuse

So. I really, really like Sam Miller. The first reason being that he’s one of those writers who takes outlandish ideas and doesn’t hesitate–just dives headfirst into them. I mean, his novels so far include a cyberpunk rebellion story starring a woman who’s an orcamancer, a villain origin story about a boy whose eating disorder gives him superpowers, and now a dual perspective story about a girl with magical camera powers and her best friend who lives in his imaginary world filled with monsters and dinosaurs. Even though they don’t always work (ahem, foreshadowing), they’re still memorable and push the boundaries of what speculative fiction can achieve. And I’ll always love creators who take chances.

The second reason is that there’s always a heavy thread of compassion running through his stories. You can tell he’s writing them because he truly cares about people–the marginalized, the lost, the broken–and wants to shine a spotlight on their struggles.

Or maybe reading The Art of Starving flipped a switch in my brain and now every book of his I read feels like a heart-to-heart conversation. Either way, genuine goodness and imagination makes for a lethal combination.

Well, Destroy all Monsters has both of those, which is fantastic, but for me it severely falters in the storytelling department, ultimately making this a disappointment.

The main culprit behind the issues? Alternating PoVs.

We switch back and forth between Ash’s chapter, which shows the MCs’ lives as normal highschool students, with Solomon dealing with severe trauma, and Solomon’s chapter, which takes place in an alternate fantasy world where Ash is a princess-in-hiding. The problem is that the blurb and the early part of the story has you thinking that Solomon’s chapters are all occurring in his head. So I spent half of the book trying to figure out where the two PoVs line up, because surely some aspects of Ash’s PoV should be seeping into Solomon’s.

But they don’t line up–at least, not until the end, and even then the connection is tenuous.

The characters in Solomon’s PoV are the same people as the ones in Ash’s PoV, but their personalities, actions, and motivations differ (well, only slightly with the personalities). So basically you’re getting two different plots–starring two sets of characters–crammed into one 400-page book, and neither of them is developed enough to be engaging.

Also, friendship is a huge theme in the story but because of the alternating format, we don’t spend enough time with either sets of Ash and Solomon to get a good feel of what their relationship is like.

But the reveal at the end regarding Solomon’s world has to be the biggest letdown because it turns the narrative from a “Exploration of Mental Health via Fantasy” story to a “I’m Suffering from an Identity Crisis” story. It strips away the emotional impact that the previous chapters were building up to and I found the result messy and unsatisfying.

So yeah…Sorry, Sam.

I really dig Solomon’s dinosaur mount, though.

 

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Last Bus to Everland – Life Sucks But We’re in it Together

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Title: Last Bus to Everland
Author: Sophie Cameron
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: June 18th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Contemporary, Portal Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

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Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants.

Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again. Will Nico take the last bus to Everland?

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“You’re magic, Fairy. Remember that.”

Surprises can be a hit or a miss for me. Sometimes it’s like sticking my hand in a mystery box and hoping nothing cuts my fingers off.

I came into Everland thinking it’d be a light and quirky story about a boy who goes to a magical world and discovers himself while befriending a band of misfits. Instead, I got something more quiet and poignant: a story about mental health and identity and what happens when life becomes too heavy to bear on your own.

So I think things worked out pretty well with this one. All fingers intact.

If you’re looking for a portal fantasy story with an emphasis on “fantasy,” this probably isn’t for you because Everland is one of the least developed portal fantasy worlds I’ve come across. That’s not entirely a criticism, though, because detailed worldbuilding wouldn’t have fit the vibe of the story. It’s supposed to be a world that’s magical in a vague and scattered kind of way, more like a virtual reality club than an actual fantasy setting–cool things to see (massive libraries, festivals, beaches) and interesting people to meet, but not a whole lot of depth to it all. A place that’s different enough from the the real world for it to be an escape.

There were definitely moments where I wished I had something more to chew on, but overall I didn’t mind it.

So what makes the book good? First of all, it’s a YA contemporay-ish novel that’s set in Scotland which already sets it apart from most of its peers. Secondly, Brody’s narration is easy and charming (I loved his Scottish brogue) and his empathy pulls your right in. Thirdly, the cast is super diverse–Everland allows people from all over the world to mingle–and they’re all interesting characters with their own little backstories.

Fourthly, and most importantly (for me, anyway): the mental health representation. Pretty much every character is struggling with something in their lives. Like Cameron’s father, for example, which was a complete surprise for me because we don’t often see father figures in media going through mental health issues. Either they’re strong and well put-together, or their illness manifests in violent and abusive tendencies. Empathetic portrayals are few and far between.

Well, serious kudos to Cameron because Brody’s father has agoraphobia and her portrayal of it is stunningly real and painful.

What I love most about the story, though, is that it explores the invisible hardships that people deal with on a daily basis–depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders–and the idea that just because you think someone’s life is perfect and untroubled, doesn’t mean it actually is.

When I was in undergrad, a friend opened up about how she was going through anxieties and depressive episodes and how uncertain she was about her future. Then she punctuated it by saying that I couldn’t possibly understand her feelings because I was happy; I had a loving boyfriend and knew exactly what I wanted to do once I graduated.

And well. Talk about words that make you feel small.

I get why she said it. Often times we can be so wrapped up in our own heads that we don’t see past our own darkness. And we can’t help but weigh our suffering on a scale and see how it compares to someone else’s. See whose life comes out the shittiest. But I think that’s a train of thought that only does harm in the long run, breeding resentment in a world that already has its fair share.

Life is hard and people hurt in different ways. Ways that aren’t often visible to others. Your rich and successful neighbour might be dealing with panic attacks on a regular basis. Your friend who wears a smile 24/7 might be wrestling with suicidal thoughts. You just don’t know sometimes. Your demons don’t negate the existence of other people’s demons and, conversely, other people’s demons don’t make yours worth any less. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

And the book addresses all of that in a beautifully candid way. Characters get open and honest about their feelings by the end of the story, and it’s touching to see friends and families air their problems and come together in moments of mutual understanding. A lot of “You feel that way? I’m sorry, I didn’t know that” and “I know what you mean–I’ve felt that way too.” Some people might call it cheesy; I found it cathartic.

Everland isn’t a book that had me bouncing off the walls and wanting to scream from the rooftops, but it is a book that made me feel warm and satisfied and a little wistful. Like waking up smiling from a dream and trying to chase the tail ends of it.

And sometimes that’s enough.

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Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: The Fever King – Baby, You Burn My Brain Up Like a Fever

The Fever King Character Highlights & Giveaway

Title: The Fever King (Feverwake, #1)
Author: Victoria Lee
Publisher Skyscape
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Paranormal, Dystopian
Subjects and Themes: LGBTQIAP+, Politics, Abuse
Page Count: 384

Rating: 6.5/10

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In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.

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The Fever King has been getting 5 stars left and right, so before my rating scares you off, I’d to like say that 1) Anything I rate above a 5 is not bad, and 2) I don’t even know if 6.5 is the right rating for this because overall I think (??) I liked it, but I had some major issues with the execution, but at the same time I still recommend it. I haven’t been this conflicted about a book in a while (hence the review title).

This is gonna be a messy one, folks. Strap in. (We’re doing sections today. :D)

 

Some general things I really liked about the book:

♦ The story features very, very pointed themes of immigration policies, refugee crises, and fearmongering–ones that obviously parallel U.S’s political climate in the past handful of years. One could call it too on-the-nose, I suppose. I found it passionate and unapologetic. For me, the political message and scenes relating to it are the strongest aspects of this book.

♦ The integration of science with magic. Something I’ll never not love.

♦ The diversity. We have a protagonist who’s biracial, Jewish, and bisexual, and a queer brown love interest.

♦ Noam and Dara’s relationship, once it gets going, is about navigating the line between unbridled affection and respecting boundaries, which I thought was done very well. And the two are really sweet together.

♦ The last 1/4 of the book ramps up in pace and it’s one crazy event after another. Really entertaining stuff.

 

Onto more specific things:

Worldbuilding:

I love the setup of this world–this future dystopian North America that’s been ravaged by plague that can turn you into a magic user (“witching”). I would have loved to see more of it, but I feel like what I got in the end was a handful of blurry images.

And for such an elite training program, we see so little of Level 4 (the government’s witching school) and the people involved–students and instructors and all–so most of the time it feels like Noam, Lehrer, and Dara are interacting in their own little vacuum. That made things weirdly stifling.

 

Noam:

Noam. Noam. Noam. Noam. Noam.

I love his passion and his determination to fight for what’s right, I really do; he’s got a big heart and the anger that runs through it is utterly infectious. But some of the other aspects of his personality–his obliviousness, naivete, doing things without thinking–annoyed me to no end. Not because I have a problem with those character traits in general, but because they didn’t seem to really fit him.

Noam Alvaro’s background: hacker whiz; political activist; newly-made orphan; been to juvie; and knows first-hand the corruption of government and the sting of discrimination. He’s not some sheltered rich kid who’s ignorant about the ways of the world, and his life thus far has been a string of hardships underlined with tragedies.

So I had trouble reconciling all of that with someone who has the naivete of a storybook princess and the situational awareness of a brick wall. Someone who, among other things, breaks into a high-security government building with zero foreplanning and thinks, “I should just surrender. I’m sure they’ll understand” when he’s about to get caught. It just didn’t make sense.

 

Lehrer and Dara:

Lehrer reminds me quite a bit of Magneto from X-Men, which is probably why I find him the most interesting of the three. Going down the checklist, he’s: German-Jewish; survivor of experimentation and torture; wanted to create a utopia for witchings to live without discrimination; and has a moral compass that veers wildly from “manipulative SOB” to “caring leader.”

My problem with both Lehrer and Dara is that the book (or Noam, rather) keeps nudging me in the ribs and whispering, “Oh wow, aren’t these guys so contradictory and fascinating?” without really showing me that. While we get to see more of Lehrer’s past from the excerpts at the end of the chapters (which I did like), we don’t get much from him in the main story, and Dara is all evasiveness and cryptic “I can tell you things, but I won’t.” And while there’s a good reason for that, a more in-depth look into his character would have been great.

But Dara did grow on me in the last 1/3 of the book, and his story is one that’ll have you reaching for a pillow to hug.

 

Conclusion:

If it seems like I’ve just been ragging on the book, let me give you this:

My brain sometimes acts like an overly persistent, sporadically cantankerous dog that thinks it has something to prove to the world, so once it snags a particular issue, it doesn’t like letting go. And that kind of ends up setting the tone for the rest of the reading experience.

But there’s a a high chance your brain is a nice affable pup. An annoying squirrel throwing nuts at you from a tree? Who cares! Shake if off! (Literally!) The day is sunny and warm, the flowers are in bloom, and holy crap, there are miles and miles of sticks to chew on. Life is amazing.

So some of these issues I had you might be able to easily overlook. And if that’s the case, then I think your experience will be a much, much less conflicting one.

TL;DR. The Fever King was too uneven for me to fall headlong in love with it, but it’s got a good foundation, a heartfelt message, and an ending that just begs you to pick up the sequel (which I will be doing). 

 

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Favourite Quotes

 

Everything worth doing had its risks.
Sometimes you had to do the wrong thing to achieve something better.

“And I meant it when I said I wasn’t gay,” Noam said.
Ames looked disbelieving, but she didn’t pull away.
Noam smirked. “Bisexual isn’t gay.”

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whisky.
Victoria writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work.
She is represented by Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.

 

Giveaway (US Only):

Giveaway starts on March 19th and ends on the 30th. ENTER HERE.

 

Tour Schedule:

Check out the other tour stops HERE.

Blog Tour Spotlight + Giveaway: Smoke & Summons (Numina 1)

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This is a tiny bit late because I was squeezed into the tour at the last minute! Thank you to Fantastic Flying Books Club for the opportunity to participate!

 

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Title: Smoke and Summons (Numina Trilogy #1)
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Publisher: 47North
Release Date: February 1st 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

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SYNOPSIS 

A captivating world of monsters and magic from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series.
As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.
A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.
Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…

 

Author Information

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Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie N. Holmberg was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. She is a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog. Her fantasy Paper Magician series, which includes The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, and The Master Magician, has been optioned by the Walt Disney Company. Her stand-alone novel, Followed by Frost, was nominated for a 2016 RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance, and her novel The Fifth Doll won the 2018 Whitney for Speculative Fiction. She is a board member for Deep Magic Ezine and currently lives with her family in Utah.
Visit her at www.charlienholmberg.com.

 

 

TOUR SCHEDULE

Check out the other stops on this tour HERE

 

GIVEAWAY

Giveaway is U.S. ONLY and you can win 1 of 2 finished copies of the book. ENTER HERE!

Review: White Stag – Pretty and Air-Headed

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Title: White Stag
Author: Kara Barbieri
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Goblins, Norse Mythology
Page Count: 368 (hardback)

Rating: 5.0/10

Add to goodreads

 

 

 

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling

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I’m keeping this one short(ish). Because turns out I have even less to say about the book than what the book has to say to me. And that’s a bit of an achievement.

I went into this expecting something similar to Labyrinth. A gritty norse-goblin story dressed ill-fittingly as YA and dripping berserker rage–minus elements that would actually make a gritty norse-goblin story with berserker rage interesting–wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

First of all, I don’t think this should have been labelled as YA. They don’t show anything, but there’s graphic talk of how the main villain had raped the protagonist insensate over three months and mutilated one of her breasts. And there’s no point to this detail aside from hammering home the fact that the villain is, indeed, truly villain-y.

Aside from that, “hazy” is the best word to describe this book. The overarching plot? Hazy. The worldbuilding? Hazy. Character development (aside from the MC)? Ha-zy.

The relationship between Soren and Jenneke starts out in a skin-crawling place, with Soren determined to turn her fully into one of the goblins because he knows what’s best for her and apparently what’s best for her is to have no say in whether or not she loses her humanity.

“You’re still human enough to think I’m doing this to hurt you,” he said softly. “But I’m not. This is because I care for you.”

Uh huh.

It gets better as the story goes on but not because of any real effort on Soren’s part. Really, any character becomes a saint when placed next to Soren’s uncle and Soren is no exception.

I think the worldbuilding is what frustrated me the most. The premise gives you such an interesting foundation to work with and yet the end result is like low-budget play that comes with only a handful of background scenery–wintery trees, generic stretch of land, generic castle/mansion interior, and a dark cavernous area. And when you point to the space beyond the trees and ask, “What’s over there?” the book shrugs and goes, “I don’t know.” And that’s never fun.

It’s not a badly written book, but with a world that’s sorely underdeveloped, secondary characters that are just merely present, and a plot that sits around twiddling its thumbs, White Stag made for a curiously hollow and stagnant reading experience.

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Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.