Book Review: Elysium Girls

If you like weird west stories and chosen one narratives, then read Elysium Girls. The setting and the world are something of a twist on classic western with a vibe that isn’t quite steampunk but something similar. There is even a magic showdown.

While I did enjoy the book, I didn’t find myself as immersed in it as I would have liked, and I’m wondering if it is because I knew a little too much too early on. 

The blurb summarizes a lot of  the story, so I think instead of just engaging with the narrative, I was waiting for the described things to happen. For example, I kept wondering where the scrap metal horses were and when they were going to come into play, and was waiting for them so long that when the finally came, it was anticlimactic. However, that was because of the blurb, not the book. Had they not been mentioned in the blurb, I would’ve had a different reaction. 

I enjoyed the world the author created. I appreciated how small of a role romance played in the story. I was happy to see the lesbian rep, which was subtle, but visible. I liked that it wasn’t a story about being gay, but there were still gay girls being badass outlaw heroes. 

Another thing I liked was how thought provoking the concept was in examining how just trying to flip the power in a society doesn’t always make things equal. A leader can’t just force people to stop being racists and sexist. 

The end was good, but to avoid spoilers, I won’t say why. 

I’d read more from this author.

Book Review: To the Flame

To the FlameTo the Flame by A.E. Ross

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: To the Flame

 

When I first heard about To the Flame and realized one of the main characters was nonbinary, I had to read it. I preordered it right away, but then when the author was looking for people to review ARCs, I requested one and read it within a few hours of receiving it. I was so excited to not only read something with #ownvoices nonbinary rep, but one that also had a contemporary setting and a paranormal element.

To the Flame lived up to my hopes and expectations. There are so many things I liked about it .

The prose were beautiful but not to purple. There were some fantastically vivid descriptions that really brought me into the moment without overwhelming me.

The college setting was perfect for the romance between a human and a moth person, and put the characters at just the right age to be navigating the kind of feelings they have for each other.

As far as the plot goes, I didn’t get bored thinking I knew how they were going to get from A to Z, and felt satisfied both when something surprised me and when I felt I had figured it out right. I also really enjoyed Morrie’s emotional arc, and how the narrative wove back and forth between their past and present.

There was a range of queer rep in the story in the “everyone is gay” kind of way. But of course, my favorite was the nonbinary character, and reading something written in third person from the point of view of someone using they/them pronouns.

The characters were easy to like and root for. When the story was over, I wasn’t ready to be done with them. I’d happily read more, longer stories about Emmerson and Morrie.

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Book Review: A Dream So Dark

I received a copy of A Dream So Dark from NetGalley. 

I enjoyed the world, the characters, and the voice in A Dream So Dark as much as I did the first book, A Blade So Black. It wasn’t too hard to fall back into this world, and by the time I was about 30% of the way through, I had to just finish the book. Had there not been so much time between me reading this and me reading the first book, I think this would’ve been a read the whole thing in one sitting type story. 

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the queer rep.

 Alice still has feelings for Hatta, but she also is crushing on a  another dreamwalker, a girl named Haruka. We learn that Hatta was in love with a guy (won’t say his name to avoid spoilers) who has resurfaced after being missing for a long time. 

The  Hatta/Alice relationship definitely got way more interesting in this book. 

All the relationship drama seemed perfectly balanced with plot, which actually surprised me a couple times. I admit, there were a couple places I got a little lost, but it was never so bad that it hurt my ability to enjoy the story. Overall, it was a great romp, dark yet funny, through McKinney’s version of Wonderland. 

My biggest complaint was that at times, Alice’s mom felt more like an obstacle than a fully developed character. 

I liked how the story ended, but there were a lot of loose ends left. At first, I was mad about this because I thought this was the last book in the series. Then I did a little research and realized that it was not the last one, that the author is writing a third book. The end works a lot better for me knowing there is going to be another book. I can’t wait to read it! 

Book Review: Eclipse the Skies

 I received a copy of Eclipse the Skies from NetGalley. I was excited to read this sequel, but it took me a little longer than I expected to really get into it. I was about half way through before I reached a point where I really did not want to put it down. 

What I liked most was the character arcs. Eclipse the Skies seamlessly picked up where Ignite the Stars left off, and I really enjoyed seeing how characters grew and changed as the story continued.  

I got a little annoyed at one point because I thought some kind of a love triangle was forming. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with love triangles, I’m just not a big fan of them. Thankfully, this didn’t really turn into a love triangle, and it did add some depth to the characters. 

Another thing I liked about this novel was how the narrative explored some moral and philosophical questions through plot and character decisions. If I were to ever use this in a class, I would be able to get some interesting discussion prompts out of it. 

The worst thing about this book was the way it ended. I won’t go into detail so I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say this: I kind of understand the author’s choice, but as a reader, it was not what I wanted. 

I like happy endings. I want to know for certain that all the main characters to survived. The end of Eclipse the Skies was hopeful and well executed, but it was not exactly the happy ever after or happy for now type ending I personally enjoy most.

Book Review: Anya and the Dragon

I took a big hiatus from reviewing books here, really from reading in general, but I’m back!

Anya and the Dragon had been sitting in my NetGalley queue for a long time. It is the first novel I have read since August, and it was like getting a nice cold drink of water after being really thirsty on a long hike. I missed reading, and this was a great story to sit down with after a very  stressful semester. 

Anya and the Dragon was a story about a girl, her goat, a new friend, a dragon, and tough choices. I loved most of it, but there was one little thing that bothered me.

I’ll start by telling you what I loved about this book.

I love novels with Slavic folklore, and this one was filled with it. I loved how the Domovoi’s personality.

Speaking of personality, Zvezda the goat was my favorite. He was adorable. He was brave, stubborn, loyal, and always chewing on something. 

I loved how the plot seemed to meander for a little while, letting the readers really get a full taste of the characters and the world before the plot really picked up the pace. Shortly after I reached the half-way mark, the story flew by and I couldn’t put the book down. 

The voice, imagery, and the friendships that developed were beautiful. 

The story felt very grounded in historical context and how in spite of that context, I didn’t feel completely smothered by some of the social issues and prejudices of that time. 

Anya seemed certain she didn’t want to get married, not even when she was older. While adult characters may have seemed a little skeptical when it was mentioned once, no one was telling her she had to get married when she was older. No one was every telling she could or couldn’t do something because she was a girl. I loved that the adults in town didn’t treat her any different than the treat the boy characters her age. Sometimes historical fantasy gets bogged down in alleged period sexism. This story didn’t. 

Sexism may not have been an issue in this story, but it didn’t completely ignore other prejudices of the time. The narrative discussed the antisemitism of the time. One of the antagonists was very anti semitic, but then he  got what deserved in the end…or maybe a kinder fate than he deserved. 

I feel like with historical fiction, addressing some of the prejudices of a time period is necessary, to an extent,  and when done right, it can drive home how bad that kind of hate was. 

The problem comes when it becomes gratuitous and/or the narrative doesn’t criticize the hate.

Which leads me to the one little tiny problem I had with this book. 

There was one scene in Chapter 6  where the narrative hinted that Ivan, the second most prominent human character, isn’t straight, but it came up in the context of his brothers making fun of him for having water-magic, like his mother, and for thinking a boy was cute once. 

Nothing about the narrative voice seemed critical of these bothers. There are much kinder ways to hint that a character is possibly gay or bi. 

I was excited to learn Ivan once thought a boy was cute. I’m always excited to see LGBTQ+ rep in books, especially middle grade books. I just wish the author could’ve found a better way to work it into the narrative. Using this casual homophobia as a way to say “this character isn’t straight” is not cool. 

That is the reason this book has 4 stars and not 5, because honestly, I loved just about everything else about it.

Book Review: The Bone Garden

The middle-grade reading spree continues with The Bone Garden. I got a free ARC of this creepy but cute little book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I didn’t think necromancy could be the cute, but alas, it was. In spite of its cuteness, I wasn’t as engaged with The Bone Garden as I hoped to be, but I still enjoyed it.

The main character, Irréelle, was adorable even though she was essentially made of dead people’s bones. For a creature most would label as a “monster” she was kind and often put others before herself. Early in the book, I got very annoyed at how she loved her creator even though the woman was cruel and abusive, but towards the end, I was very happy when Irréelle learned to stand up for herself. 

However, the side characters were flat and didn’t have much of an arc. They were good friends for Irréelle, but they didn’t change or grow like she did. Even though I loved seeing Irréelle’s friendship with them bloom, I got a little bored watching them stay the same while she developed. 

The antagonist, Miss Vesper, was too cliche for me. 

The story and plot were a little more complex than I expected, and there were a couple times where I was actually surprised. There were some scary moments, but for the most part, the book was just morbid in a cute way. There was necromancy and bones were the morbid part, but the character and her friendships were the cute. 

The prose were accessible but not bland. 

The Bone Garden would be a great story for a kid who likes things like bones, worms, and dirt, but doesn’t want to be too scared by what he/she/they are reading.

Book Review:All the Impossible Things

Alright, so I’m back to that middle grade reading spree! Granted, it hasn’t felt like much of a spree yet since this is only the third middle grade book I’ve read this summer…

Spree or not, I received a free copy of All the Impossible Things from Netgalley  and read the whole thing in one night.

The first thing I want to say is that I want to meet Gandalf the dog and give her treats and play fetch and be her friend. Really, I want to meet and befriend all the animals.

Second, this book was beautifully written and made me cry more than once. Even though at times it was heart-breaking, it was also heart-warming and up lifting. 

In some ways, All the Impossible Things was a book of contradictions. There were times when on the surface, it felt like not much was happening, but below the surface, everything was happening. There may not have been much as far as external action or adventure, but the internal growth was incredible. 

All the Impossible Things is a story about a girl with magic wind adjusting to life in a new foster home, one with two loving retired people and a whole bunch of amazing animals: dogs, goats, horses, a donkey, chickens, and a giant tortoise. The author did a fantastic job bringing the setting and all its four-legged inhabitants to life. The sense of wonder never flagged. Additionally, there was never a page with no emotional beat. Red/Ruby was constantly learning, growing, being set back, and moving forward throughout the book.

As someone who is used to reading genre fiction, this book was quieter than what I’m used to, but I was never bored with. I was invested enough in the character and her arc that despite its quietness, I just had to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Red. It was a good reminder to me that the action in a story can be small as long as what is happening inside a character is compelling.

I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the foster-related representation. I have no first hand experience with foster care, and only have acquaintances who have adopted children through the foster care system.

I can say the sentences, character and story are beautiful, thought provoking, and emotional. Based on that, I’d recommend All the Impossible Things.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.

City of Ghosts had everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.

As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the  mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.

A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.

On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.

I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.

The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.

I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.

Book Review: Cthulhu Blues

I finally got around to reading Cthulhu Blues, the third installment in the Spectra Files trilogy.

It was refreshing to read a book set New England. Many of the books I’ve read lately have either been set on the West Coast or in the rural midwest. While I do enjoy reading about places I’ve never been, especially in the Pacific Northwest, I also like to see my corner of the US represented in novels.

Another thing I like about Cthulhu Blues is the mental health representation. Becca’s depression always seems well described, and I appreciate how the narrative doesn’t shy away from talking about how Becca’s meds and therapy help her. This is something I rarely see in speculative fiction.

Becca’s love for photography, cargo pants, and her dog is another thing that allows me to connect with her. Django is a faithful, intelligent four-legged sidekick, is the only character in the book that I like more than her. While there were a few times I worried about him, he always makes it through okay.

The other characters are well developed, but Becca and Django are why I read the series.

This series is labeled as horror, but it feels like dark urban fantasy to me. Yes, there are cosmic, tentacles monsters, but they’re not any scarier than beasts one encounters when reading The Dresden Files or The Mortal Instruments.

One thing that annoys me a little is how the narration will start out wide and distant. A chapter will have an omniscient tone in the beginning, then it will zoom into close third one Becca or another character. While it does give the book an interesting tone, it slows things down and keeps me away from my favorite character. Sometimes I’m tempted to do things like this in my own writing. However, when I find myself getting annoyed at it in a book like this, I understand why I shouldn’t start chapters that way.

The end seemed abrupt and left me a little confused. The book really needed one more chapter, or at least an epilogue, to really wrap things up and make it feel complete. I understand not wanting to drag it out, but when ending a series, it is important to really bring everything to a close.

Click here to buy a copy of Cthulhu Blues.

Book Review: Empire of Light

I received a free copy of Empire of Light from the author, Alex Harrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Empire of Light was an action packed read that was challenging to review without giving away, but I think I’ve manage to come up with something spoiler free.

There was no shortage of action in this book. There were gun fights, fist fights, explosions, and even some of the steamy scenes were a little violent (because the mc and his love interests were into that). Sometimes in books, big action sequences can get confusing, but I didn’t have any trouble with these. The blocking was clear and well executed. I never lost track of who was who and where everyone was.

The downside to all the action was that it distracted me from the characters. Despite all the excitement, I was at least third of the way into book before I really became invested in the characters. They were so busy fighting, never coming up for air, that it was hard to see past their snark, outer shells, and shooting skills to see what growth they needed and were experiencing.

Once I was half way through the book, I couldn’t put it down. When Damian had lost so much and had his back against the ropes and was forced to rest a little because of the injuries that kept battering his body, then I finally got to know and like him a little more. Despite the ease with which killed people and a high tolerance for gore, he was a complex character who grew and matured throughout the book.

The rest of the cast was fascinating, but because of all the action, I felt like I didn’t get to spend quite enough time with them. A lot of these fascinating side characters die, so I guess not getting too invested in them was a blessing, otherwise I would’ve gotten grumpy at the book right around when I ended up getting more invested in it.

I was a little concerned with how violent some of them were towards people they cared about. It seemed standard for the Shadows to beat each other up when they got mad at each other and snippets of flashback and backstory showed their leader/mother figure beating them up when they made mistakes. However, their almost pirate-like status seems to give permission to this and make it acceptable to readers. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it as sometimes I write characters like this too. It just makes me think about what kind of violence and abuse readers tolerate in certain kinds of settings.

The plot and setting were not quite what I expected, but they were still good. Harrow had described this as a gay Firefly with magic, but I found Empire of Light  had little in common with Firefly. Empire of Light  was more dystopian than space western. Still, the plots, assassination attempts, rescue missions, and the romance were well executed and  nicely built to the end and I could never quite predict what was going to happen next. I just knew that no one was going to give up, and that there would be plenty more explosions.

The city Empire of Light  was set in was fascinating and very much a character in the story, though until a few  hints near the end of the book, I was wondering what was in the world beyond this two sided city, where the food came from, and where things were manufactured because the wealthier people in this story did seem to have new things. Because this world was so interesting, I wanted a few clearer hints about the bigger picture of it.

There was a love triangle in this book. I’m not generally a fan of these because they never end well, but I really didn’t mind this one and it was wrapped in a far less painful way than most other love triangles. I actually kind of liked this one.

This may sound like a lot of criticism for a four star review, but in spite the problems I pointed it out, I really did enjoy Empire of Light  and suspect the sequel (assuming there is one) will be even better.

If you are looking for a dark future with plenty of action, a side of romance, and a glimmer of hope, buy your self a copy of buy your self a copy of Empire of Light  .