Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire // Book Review

Well, Seanan McGuire’s gone above and beyond to create another story of alchemy and mystery set in the same world as Middlegame. It’s a companion novel, so you can read it alone. However, I think you’ll really benefit more if you’ve read the first. Thanks to Tor dot com for a gifted copy of the book.

Here’s more about Seasonal Fears

Melanie has a destiny, though it isn’t the one everyone assumes it to be. She’s delicate; she’s fragile; she’s dying. Now, truly, is the winter of her soul.

Harry doesn’t want to believe in destiny, because that means accepting the loss of the one person who gives his life meaning, who brings summer to his world.

So, when a new road is laid out in front of them—a road that will lead through untold dangers toward a possible lifetime together—walking down it seems to be the only option.

But others are following behind, with violence in their hearts.

It looks like Destiny has a plan for them, after all….

“One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter.” —Thoreau

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My thoughts

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I knew that there was going to be some wibbly wobbly timey wimey-ness to it because if it’s a companion to Middlegame, then there’s definitely going to be talk of the Impossible City, the Up-and-Under, and maybe even appearances from the A Deborah Baker books she’s written.

And this book does all of those things and more. One of the reasons why I love reading Seanan McGuire is her ability to create these incredible worlds. A place where real life huamsn can dream of places they’ve only read in books or seen on TV. Portals to worlds that coincide with ours, energies that exist that shouldn’t exist. And this one explores these concepts just as much as any of her other books. Alchemy is supposed to be the study of science and magic and I think Seanan McGuire does an excellent job throughout this series with creating her alchemical world.

Seasonal Fears features two main characters, Harry and Melanie, but if I’m going to be honest, this is Harry’s story. Melanie has been sick since she’s been born and Harry is the jock football player with a huge sense of humor. In many ways they’re different, but they’ve loved each other for as long as they’ve known each other. But when both of them collapse one day, only one came back alive and thus began their journey on the improbable road to the Impossible City.

I absolutely love the play on seasons in this one. Seanan McGuire’s creativity is one of the reasons why I come back to her stories. Using the same concepts in Middlegame of embodying intangible things and making them human plays itself out in Seasonal Fears as Summer and Winter. It’s so beautiful to think about; how a person can embody a season and their emotions contribute directly to how the season will play out. On top of that, the corruption and lies behind the seasons and the people who embody them. It was part political, part emotional, and just really blew my mind.

Harry and Melanie were also the kinds of characters you rooted for. While both of them come from different backgrounds and lived very different lives side-by-side, you can relate to either of them in any of the ways. Harry is naive and hard-headed, which makes it difficult for him to understand the alchemical concepts that are being explained to him numerous times. Melanie is made for the season she was built for, which made it easier for her to accept what’s happening. Their relationship was sweet and the kind of young love that makes readers sigh with joy for them and make you fiercely protect that innocence from any outside parties.

And throughout the story, there were numerous outside parties; people who were trying to kill Harry and Melanie for their candidacy as Summer and Winter. I also loved this part of the book because Harry and Melanie weren’t technically the chosen ones. They are candidates for the position and they were on their way to claim the crowns for themselves, but so were a few dozen other people. It was interesting to see them on their journey, but I also felt like it was unnecessarily long. I honestly felt like the journey was too long and the destination scenes were too short. I would have loved the reverse.

Seanan McGuire definitely puts in a lot of effort to make sure every reader understands clearly what’s going on. Perhaps there was some feedback from Middlegame being too difficult in its concepts, so she doubled-down on this one. In some ways, it was a little too much becoming more repetitive than informative. But I can also understand her frustration with receiving “I don’t get it” feedback from her first novel. I truly appreciate that she took the time to really flesh out these ideas creating a much more robust world that’s a bit more digestible. It wasn’t as good as Middle game, in my humble opinion, but it was still something I devoured.

Of course, this book isn’t complete with a few surprises around each corner. I loved seeing the characters from Middlegame make an appearance and also a lot of understanding behind what happened to them, the parallels of the story to the stories by A Deborah Baker, and deeper understanding of the entire alchemical world created by Seanan. I appreciate this book for finally bringing to light some of the more confusing aspects and while it wasn’t perfect, it was definitely the perfect companion.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse // Book Review

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse // Book Review

While this was my second time reading the book, I’m counting it as my first. I read this the year it came out (2020) and suffice it to say, the events of that year were more on my mind than reading and I don’t remember much of what I read. However, this second time around now made it one of my favorite books of 2022 and probably one of my all-time favorites as well.

Here’s more about Black Sun

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

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My thoughts

Wow. From beginning to end, this book captured me heart and soul. Fast-paced, energetic, witty, and hopeful, I couldn’t get enough of this book the second time around.

Falling into this world made me think of authors like Sabaa Tahir and VE Schwab where you’re immersed in a world where magic exists, gods are listening, and the politics are tired of one group always leading the charge. The characters play a huge part of the story and Rebecca Roanhorse does an exceptional job of connecting the characters with the readers. I don’t know much about Pre-Columbian America, so this book really showed it through the food, the politics, the gender identity of some of the characters, and the myths and lore. The characters in this story were also so well developed and different. I loved getting to know Serapio, Naranpa, Xiala, Ithak, and Okoa. I found myself really wanting to read more about Xiala and Serapio throughout the story, but I found Naranpa’s character also so intriguing. I really do hope that Rebecca Roanhorse goes into her character deeper in the second book.

But this is Serapio’s story and definitely the most important part. He’s the “chosen one,” born to be the vessel of a god and enact a revenge set in motion years before he was even conceived. Within the first chapter, you see his mother imbue him with the power of a god. As brutal as that was, Serapio understands his position, understands what he needs to do, and accepts his destiny without even considering otherwise.

One of the central themes of this book is the chosen one trope. I thought a lot about this because while Serapio is the “chosen one” of this story, it almost felt like it’s an un-chosen destiny. It surprised me when I realized this and how Rebecca Roanhorse writes the character. The downside of being the chosen one is that you’re designed for a destiny you didn’t choose. You’re stuck with having to meet some bigger prophecy or need within the story. For the most part Serapio is fine with his destiny. He’s chosen to be the god the cultists want him to be, but I do believe that there are small moments throughout that make him consider otherwise, which make for such a deeper and richer character.

And that’s what’s incredible about Roanhorse’s writing. You know that Serapio needs to make some great sacrifice at the end, but he doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The people he meets along the way, the influence they have on him, it affects him and getting deep into his psyche to read what he’s feeling is where I felt an emotional pull to his story. There were times where I wanted his destiny to be wrong or something different happen at the end because I’d become so emotionally attached to him and wanted the best for him. It’s a sign of good writing when you’re feeling things for a fictional character.

Each chapter begins with a timeline that rushes down to the Convergence; a moment when the sun and the moon come together bringing good luck to the people of Tova. And as you’re reading, you see a lot of events leading up to this. First, there’s Serapio’s mission, then there’s an attempt at assassinating the Sun Priest, Naranpa. And then on top of that, there’s a political shift taking place that all come together. You may think that none of these components work together, but the way that Roanhorse writes the story cleverly combines them into one. You watch as all these pieces come together to its inevitable end and while you see it coming, the characters don’t. I might have been yelling at my book a few times hoping that someone would finally see the bigger picture. But it’s just you and your book yelling out loud and people are staring.

The second central theme is the idea that people can overcome adversity. From Naranpa to Xiala, these characters faced challenges based on their upbringing and their race. It was interesting to see how both of these characters faced it. One pushed against it to the point of denouncing her family. The other fights against the adversity and isn’t ashamed of where she comes from. And the interesting part is seeing how these play out for them throughout the story. Both are judged by outsiders for who they are; one is met with some form of acceptance to a degree while the other is met with adversity at every point she made. Nothing came easy for either of these characters, but I loved their juxtaposition and how some folks embrace their culture while others push it away.

And all top of that, it’s an excellent plot-driven story with a ton of character development and world building. It’s seriously on another level and this book truly made me a fan of Rebecca Roanhorse for life. I couldn’t get enough of this book. I know I’ll definitely be reading book two soon and so surprised at myself for not remembering what I read the first time. I’m so glad I came back and read it again.

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel // Book Review

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel // Book Review

It’s been such a good reading year for me and after finishing Kaikeyi, I can say that I’ve found another favorite of 2022. Filled with magic, adventure, political intrigue, feminist themes, and a woman who believed her fate was much bigger than what was foretold, I think everyone will truly appreciate Kaikeyi. Thanks Orbit Books for the gifted read.

Here’s more about Kaikeyi

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.

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My thoughts

While I’m not the leading expert on Ramayana, I had some idea of how the story goes before I started reading the book. I knew that Rama is supposed to be the hero. I knew that Kaikeyi was essentially the wicked stepmother that condemns him to exile for 14 years in the forest, to fight evil monsters, and then return to become king of Ayodhya. I expected to watch Kaikeyi and shake my head at all the nefarious ways she tried to gain control and power, but what I ended up doing was feeling so bad for her. I felt empathy for the villain, but the uncanny part of the story is that she actually isn’t the villain. In fact in her small way, she was a hero.

I think one of the downsides of villain stories and myth retellings is that you end up seeing the exact steps a villain takes to become the person they’re portrayed. The evil queen was evil because people made her evil. The wicked stepmother had no choice but to be wicked. However, Vaishnavi Patel approached Kaikeyi in a different way. Instead, she shared a villain that’s only flaw was loving her family. She shared the story of a woman redefining her role in the kingdom that didn’t listen to her and giving voice to the voiceless. There was no evil in Patel’s Kaikeyi, just a series of unfortunate missteps that led to her losing almost everything.

And that’s how you garner the level of empathy you feel for Kaikeyi throughout the story. It shapes itself into its own story creating a modern tale of empowerment and strength. It’s less about how she wickedly banishes Rama so that her son can become king and more about a woman who lived in a world that granted her no power and she did what she could.

Let’s not forget that Kaikeyi’s biggest passion outside of her family was bringing a voice to the voiceless; namely to the women of this time. Beholden to older beliefs that women are child rearers, home carers, and any choice they make is an offense against their beliefs and the gods. I loved that Patel explored this throughout the book not only for Kaikeyi, but for the people she served. It’s truly the biggest component of the book that lends itself in ways I didn’t even see by the end.

The magic in the story is also incredible. Aside from the monsters and gods that make appearances throughout the story, the magical power Kaikeyi has was also very interesting. I won’t get into the details of it because it plays such an important role in the story. I want you to read about it and see how it works itself into Kaikeyi’s life. And it really weaves itself throughout the book not as a tool for manipulation (which is what I thought because she’s supposed to be the villain), but as a tool of self-assurance; that what she’s doing is the right thing and that she can help others with it as well.

Each of the characters are also so well written. They play such vital roles in Kaikeyi’s life and you can see that enforced through her bonds with them. I loved that there were men in her life that loved the change she was bringing. I loved that her husband, Dasharath, was supportive of her work in the city. I also loved that there was opposition; that the ways of the past continued to encroach on the progress she’s led. I loved that it didn’t come easy for her and that she had more to protect than just her family. Even the gods and goddesses that made their way into the story were elegantly written to give the readers an understanding of their power and their intelligence.

The story is almost poetic in its writing and the pacing kept you reading on. There were moments where I didn’t want to put the book down! That’s always a good sign that the book has my full attention and my mind isn’t wandering off on some menial task I needed to accomplish.

Overall, Vaishnavi Patel has written something truly special. It’s a story that will win over the adventure seekers and fantasy readers, but it will also speak deeply to those who feel hopeless and bring a level of light to those who are wandering in the dark.

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher // Book Review

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher // Book Review

It’s my first read from T. Kingfisher and I think I’ll be reading more from her in the future. If you’re a fan of unconventional stories like The Princess Bride or Shrek, then I highly recommend this one.

Here’s more about Nettle and Bone

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra—the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter—has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince—if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

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My thoughts

This is my kind of fairy tale. It’s a little bit dark, a lot bit hopeful, and features an interesting group of misfits that all work together to storm the castle.

The story sets off running as we follow Marra, our heroine, around the banished lands in search of bones. What does she needs the bones for? Well, she needs them to resurrect a dog. Yes, she’s making a dog out of bones. It’s the first task of three that she’s willing to do in order to garner the help of a gravewitch. If she’s able to get the help of the witch, then she can begin her journey to saving her sister.

The beginning jumps between what Marra accomplishes for the witch and what’s already happened. Marra is the third princess from a super small country. Her older sister is married to the prince of the Northern Kingdom and deeply abused by him. While Marra is a princess, she’s been spending the last half of her life in a convent in the Southern Kingdom waiting out her fate. But after seeing the state of her sister and seeing that no one is willing to help her, she’s taken it upon herself to try and save her from a cruel husband and a life of pain.

As Marra completes the impossible tasks for the gravewitch, they head off with a demon-possessed chicken and come across a disgraced knight who can’t go home, and a fairy godmother who’s only good at casting curses on children. Together, they plan on storming the castle, saving the queen, and breaking whatever spell that lives on the land and keeps the cruel prince’s family in power.

Most of the story is the journey to the castle. Marra comes across the different characters of her group as she gets closer to her sister’s new kingdom and you see a glimpse of this world through their journey. The world building was exquisite. I was worried that some things would be sacrificed because of the length of the book, but there was no exceptions for world building. You can really imagine this place with strange monsters and weird magic all throughout it. It felt like a real place you can visit and while this wasn’t the highest of high fantasy novels, it was nice to escape from reality for a little while. Dogs made from bones and monsters who can play a song to dance your teeth out of your mouth, it was such a wild ride and I found myself enjoying every minute of it.

It’s a lot of fun following Marra and the group through their world in hopes of saving Marra’s sister before it’s too late. Each character is so inspired and hold their own personality. I can imagine the faces they made and the language that they use feels spot on with their personality. I even liked that the chicken had a personality. The fun part is that they were so flawed; as flawed as Marra herself. The gravewitch was just a snarky old lady who takes care of her demon-possessed chicken. The disgraced knight was looking for something to fight for after being banished from his own kingdom. The fairy godmother who can only do bad, but wants to be good. They all had flaws, but I loved seeing them be more than that throughout the story.

It was interesting to watch Marra grow so much from the character she starts with to the character she ends up. At first, she’s timid. She’s spent most of her life in a convent embroidering tapestries and helping birth babies. Then, she goes off to save her sister without a clue where to start and fosters help along the way. Nothing comes easy to her and she does fail a few times, but I love that she’s not willing to quit especially since her sister’s life is on the line. I feel like the strength of the people she collects as she’s journeying to the capital really lend to help pull her from her own shell and become the stronger person she is. At the end, she knows who she is. She knows what she wants. And she’s done playing puppet to a family who only see her as a bargaining chip.

Of course, it also deals with some bigger themes of domestic abuse and violence. Hearing Marra’s sister dealing with the pain her husband doles out and the lack of help from the people around her, I really felt for Marra and her situation. It would hurt me to see my sister in such pain and going to such destructible lengths to avoid it. I definitely would leave my life as a nun to help her even if I didn’t even know how to help her.

Quite a fun story and definitely the kind I love finding myself dreaming about. I may not want to get in the way of that chicken, but I will definitely read more from T. Kingfisher.

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan // Book Review

An Arrow to the Moon by Emily XR Pan // Book Review

The long-awaited sophomore book from the writer of An Astonishing Color of After. It was beautifully written, deeply discusses themes that young Asian Americans face, delivers a beautiful retelling of Chang’e and Houyi, and even has a cute rabbit.

Here’s more about An Arrow to the Moon

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love…but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

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My thoughts

The story first starts off like you’re reading Romeo and Juliet: two teenagers from families that hate each other fall in love and want to be together forever despite their parents’ wishes. But the conflict in the story felt less about being from two warring families and more about the romance between Luna and Hunter, the unexplained happenings in the town, and the eventual ending that both these characters were fast approaching.

While this book is marketed as a Romeo and Juliet meets Chinese mythology retelling, it felt less like Romeo and Juliet and more like a story of Chang’e and Houyi. I actually much preferred it being more about the Chinese myth than the Shakespearean play. As much as I love both, Romeo and Juliet is such an overdone trope, especially in YA so I’m glad it seldom showed up throughout the story. However, the book is most definitely a YA romance story more than it was a fantasy story. To be honest, it felt like a YA romance where the magic just made the love between the two main characters even more special. I found myself fawning over their romance, sighing at the little things they did for each other.

The writing here is just as I remember Emily XR Pan writing. It was lyrical, poetic, and lush in description. I couldn’t get enough of her writing and wished that I could read more! Her writing is always done with a great amount of care, making sure that the reader never worries about how something looks, acts, or require extra explanation. It was subtle and injected the bits and pieces of the Chinese mythology into the story. I loved how she treated Hunter and Luna. Their traits as individuals were well described and executed, but their relationship together was tender and sweet making it the kind of couple you want to root for. In many ways, they complemented each other bringing different parts of themselves into their relationship making it much deeper and sweeter than other romantic YA couples I’ve read.

There are also many themes in this book directly related to the experiences of Asian American teenagers. Not only did she discuss the overbearing nature of immigrant parents, but she also touched on the differences between Chinese and Taiwanese culture, the usage of bound feet as a beauty statement, and being slung between two very different worlds with very little navigation. I honestly felt seen and all the things that I felt as a kid growing up in the U.S. and also being the kid of immigrant Asian parents were spot on.

There were so many different narratives in this story. While the bulk of the story derives from Hunter and Luna, you also get the perspectives of their parents, Hunter’s brother Cody, and a mysterious man named Rodney. I loved the way that this was setup because there was a lot going on and all of it is slowly explained as you progress in the story. You see a little bit of Luna and Hunter’s romance, but then you see the difficult dynamics between them and their parents. Then you see how Rodney fits into this whole story and it definitely pulls you in, begging you to continue reading for that ultimate ending.

As much as I loved reading this story, there were a few things that bothered me. First off, the world building. I know that I shouldn’t be trying to criticize a YA fantasy for not having enough world building, but I felt in the dark a lot of the time. There were a lot of strange things happening in the small town that they lived; cracks in the earth, an indescribable funk that permeated the emotions of people in town, a strange stone with mystical powers being hunted down by a gangster, fireflies that kept following the characters, and money just being found randomly. Maybe it’s because of my ignorance and I don’t know enough about Chang’e and Houyi, so I wanted some explanation about that. It was never explained.

The second part were all the things happening to Luna and Hunter’s families. There was a lot of backstory for both of their families; where they came from, the lives they lived before Hunter and Luna came along, their hopes, dreams, and wishes are also very realized here. However, nothing really came from it. I actually loved these perspectives because they gave you such a deeper look at these families and what they’re going through, but the ending really lacked any kind of resolve and leaving you with a lot of unanswered questions. At the same time, I understand why Emily XR Pan did that. Because destiny doesn’t wait for you to resolve everything; sometimes destiny does what it wants to do and the rest takes its cues from that.

But the legend of Chang’e and Houyi ended the way that it did as both Luna and Hunter relive the tale right at the very end. I absolutely loved that part of the story and I didn’t see it coming to that conclusion. I was so bogged down by all the questions I had about everything else that when it finally did happen, it took me by surprise. It was a beautiful ending for a beautiful book.

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer // Book Review

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer // Book Review

The Hugo Award finalists have been announced and I’ve already got a head start on my reading. While I wait for the other books to finally come in from the library, I’ve already finished the first book on the list. And let me tell you, it’s a sleeper success.

Here’s more about Catfishing on CatNet

How much does the internet know about YOU?

Because her mom is always on the move, Steph hasn’t lived anyplace longer than six months. Her only constant is an online community called CatNet—a social media site where users upload cat pictures—a place she knows she is welcome. What Steph doesn’t know is that the admin of the site, CheshireCat, is a sentient A.I.

When a threat from Steph’s past catches up to her and ChesireCat’s existence is discovered by outsiders, it’s up to Steph and her friends, both online and IRL, to save her.

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My thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect from this YA sci-fi thriller. I don’t think I’ve read anything set in the real world with real technology and a tiny tinge of fiction in there to make it all impossibly possible. And yet, here we are with a book that I would have picked up years ago if I knew anything about it.

It follows Steph Taylor, a teenager whose been on the run with her mother from her estranged father. They’ve been running for the last ten years worried that Steph’s father will find them again. And it’s definitely messed with Steph’s mental health; trouble with making friends since they move so often, trouble with stability because they don’t stay in one place long enough. It felt like for much of the novel Steph was looking to find somewhere to belong, which is why she loved CatNet.

CatNet is an online community of people who love to share cat photos. Steph was able to find a specialized chatroom filled with friends she can always talk to regardless of where they lived. They don’t know her real name, what she looks like, or where she lives because her mother forces her to keep that information under lock and key. Much of her mother’s paranoia leaks into Steph’s life, but at the same time she just wants to be a regular teenager.

The technology in this story was probably the scariest part because it felt so real. While I don’t know if there’s conscious AI out there, I do know that the idea of sentient AI makes me nervous. What I know from similar sci fi movies (like the Terminator, I, Robot), you don’t want to be hanging out with these kinds of inventions. However, the AI in this book felt more like Haley Joel Osment in AI than it did Arnold Schwarzenegger and it made it more palatable.

In fact, the AI in this story reminded me a lot of Murderbot from Martha Wells’s series. Instead of a soap opera loving killing machine that protects its humans, it’s a sentient AI technology that loves cat photos and protecting its humans. Seriously, this book was Murderbot Lite for young people, so if you’ve ever loved Murderbot, then you’ll like this one as well.

In terms of thriller, this one is pretty mild. In fact, the story read more contemporary YA than it did sci fi or thriller. You read a lot of Steph’s POV; how she wants to make friends, how she finds Rachel to be a kindred spirit, and how she loves bats and photography. In fact, I really loved Steph throughout the story. She reminded me of so many people I knew in high school; the artsy weirdos who had a found family among their friends and never felt self-conscious around them. But the thriller elements were there and provided a level of suspense that kept me reading. It does get much deeper as the story progresses (sorry, no spoilers here) and I couldn’t put the book down without knowing what happens at the end.

And I loved how it ended! The story here definitely wraps up, but it opens it up for something bigger in book two. The second book, Chaos on CatNet, is the one that’s up for a Hugo award this year, so I’ll definitely grab that from the library and read it soon!

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez // Book Review

Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez // Book Review

I don’t know about you, but I’ve read pretty much everything Abby Jimenez has written to date. And I have to say, I really loved this one. It’s probably now my new favorite from her and I can’t wait to read the rest. Thanks to Read Forever for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Part of Your World

After a wild bet, gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich, and cuddle with a baby goat, Alexis Montgomery has had her world turned upside down. The cause: Daniel Grant, a ridiculously hot carpenter who’s ten years younger than her and as casual as they come—the complete opposite of sophisticated city-girl Alexis. And yet their chemistry is undeniable.

While her ultra-wealthy parents want her to carry on the family legacy of world-renowned surgeons, Alexis doesn’t need glory or fame. She’s fine with being a “mere” ER doctor. And every minute she spends with Daniel and the tight-knit town where he lives, she’s discovering just what’s really important. Yet letting their relationship become anything more than a short-term fling would mean turning her back on her family and giving up the opportunity to help thousands of people.

Bringing Daniel into her world is impossible, and yet she can’t just give up the joy she’s found with him either. With so many differences between them, how can Alexis possibly choose between her world and his?

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My thoughts

This is quite possibly my favorite Abby Jimenez book to date. The Friend Zone and the others were great, but this one hit differently and I welcome it very much.

The story hits the ground running as our protagonists, Alexis and Daniel, meet when Alexis’s car is stuck in a ditch and Daniel happened to be around and help. From there, Alexis goes to the local watering hole only to see Daniel there again. Daniel’s friends have a bet going to see who can pick up the girl at the bar. Alexis and Daniel discuss the bet and Alexis decides to help him win it by walking out with him. From there, these two start their romance with some major exceptions.

Alexis Montgomery comes from a very long line of doctors who’ve worked in this one hospital for decades. They’re the rich, legacy family who only breeds to make more Montgomerys and continue their line of work. After her brother ran off with a pop star and moved to Cambodia, Alexis is now the new face of the Montgomery family. And while Alexis is an excellent doctor, she’s been thrust into this role against her will. Her parents are overbearing believers of “we know best” forcing her to stay in an abusive relationship because the guy has the reputation deserving of their respect as chief of surgery.

Daniel Grant is quite the opposite. He’s also from a legacy family, but his legacy is much smaller being the mayor of a super small town in rural Minnesota. He also runs the local B&B, makes furniture from reclaimed wood, and honestly cares for the townspeople and his guests. And while he is a legacy, no one in his family is forcing him to do anything. He wants to continue what he’s doing because there’s no one else around to do it.

And their relationship together is beautiful. It’s the kind of relationship you want; where your partner is supportive and caring and doesn’t get bogged down by petty things like wealth or status. However, with Alexis’s family breathing down her neck to make something of her career and marry the man her father approves, she doesn’t see the relationship lasting in the long run.

I also really loved the conflict in this story. There are some romances I read where the conflict just feels so not real. However, being from two different worlds where you’re not sure if it’ll mesh well but doing it anyway felt real to me. Rich girl, poor boy dynamic? Yeah, pretty much but not in a condescending way. It was obvious at the beginning that Alexis was a bit of a snob, but as the story unfolds and she learns more from Daniel, she really takes on some serious character growth. It really made me proud for her. And the opposite can be said about Daniel as he learns to step out of his comfort zone, take charge, and live the dream life he’s always wanted.

One of the major themes in this book (as Abby Jimenez always has a bigger theme around her novels) is physical, mental, and emotional domestic abuse. You see it in many ways and it resonated deeply with me. Being emotionally abused to believe that love is earned and conditional really takes a toll on your brain and seeing a main character who exhibits the same behaviors I did when I was younger truly made me feel seen. It’s not something that just goes away overnight, but permeates into everything you do and the relationships you hold in the future. I’m still learning from it. But it was really nice to see and feel seen because of it. I wish it wasn’t that particular part of my life that I resonated with, but I appreciate its existence regardless.

I truly loved the characters in this book. Not only were Alexis and Daniel interesting characters to read and see what happens to them, but their friends and relatives also felt extremely well developed. I know this book is only the first in a new series for Abby Jimenez, so I know that the next few books will be based around the secondary characters from this book. And I can’t wait! Bri, Alexis’s best friend, was definitely the kind of person you want to root for, and Doug, Daniel’s best friend, was another.

The story was also laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling more than one time throughout the book (especially during the dick pic photo shoot scene). It felt like I knew these people when in reality they were just pure fiction. And the prose were really beautiful. I found myself bookmarking more than one really great quote about love.

Overall, this was such a great read and a romance where I felt like the ending wouldn’t be an HEA. I was on the edge of my seat to see how it all ends and while I’m not a huge fan of the epilogue, the rest was definitely worth the read.

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne // Book Review

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne // Book Review

This is my first John Gwynne and I have a feeling it won’t be my last. The level this book took it when it comes to fantasy and world building was definitely worth not understanding a bit of the Norse language.

Here’s more about The Shadow of the Gods

After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.

Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave – or desperate – enough to seek them out.

Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.

All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods

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My thoughts

I’m always intimidated when it comes to big high fantasy books because I’m worried it’ll be confusing and hard to follow. Trust me, I’ve had so many fantasy books that I’ve had to start again because I couldn’t really get a grasp of it from the start. But The Shadow of the Gods was different in a good way. It wasn’t complicated keeping it to a three-person max with narratives and kept you pretty entertained throughout the entire story.

The story starts off in a world where the gods are dead and no one cares. Because of their ruthless fighting throughout their time alive, the people of this world want little to do with them and want to live their lives in peace without them. Anything to do with the gods is shunned or destroyed. The Tainted (god-born humans who also have their power) are mostly enslaved or killed because of who they are on the power they possess. Most of them are trying to just live their lives, but others are looking for reparations for what people have done to them.

There’s three main characters in this one and a dozen other side characters that these three interact with throughout the story:

Orka – a former warrior whose now a mother and homemaker. When her son is kidnapped by a mysterious band of troublemakers, she sets off to find him leaving a path of death and destruction in her wake. My favorite line from her was “I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.” to give you some idea of her bad assery. I think Orka was my favorite character from the entire story.

Varg – a former thrall (which I think are the enslaved people of this book) whose looking to avenge his sister’s death. He doesn’t know much of what happened, but he’s determined to find a witch to help with seeing her final moments before she died. He comes across the Bloodsworn, a band of warriors who kill monsters, hunt for treasure, and protect the lands. And as he becomes one with them, more is revealed about himself.

Elvar – a warrior of the Battle-Grim group. They’re basically guns for hire looking for treasure and enslaving Tainted people to sell to wealthy land owners. Elvar is trying to prove that she’s more than what her father has planned for her.

The more I sit on this story, the more I learn that I loved it. The Viking vibe with the Norse mythology was truly a unique concept to explore and it was probably my favorite part of the entire story. This book isn’t for the faint of heart. I honestly found myself grimacing at more than a few of the battle scenes because of the graphic level of blood and death happening. And I’m pretty good when it comes to graphic violence having been exposed to it since I was a little kid. But wow, John Gwynne goes really deep into the descriptions making sure that nothing is incorrectly portrayed.

It’s also supremely well written. Aside from the Norse language that I couldn’t understand (and no glossary), it was so visualized, plot-driven, and interesting to dive into. The pacing is a bit slow in some areas and I definitely felt a lull here and there, but there’s so much action taking place either contributing to the overall plot or just happening to the characters that you won’t be bored. I mean, I devoured this book over four days and it’s not a small book.

I will say, you need to pace yourself with this book because it took a while for the plot to show itself. It also took some time for the characters to really mean something to the overarching story. It might have just been me, but I kept expecting things to come together much sooner than it did. But this seriously is one of those stories you need to sit back and let it be told and trust that the author will deliver what you’re waiting for.

And the ending was superb. The last 100 pages of this book was the most intense part and I can see it all culminating to the big reveal, which didn’t surprise me, but definitely the part I was anticipating the entire time.

Overall, this was such a great start to a new epic fantasy series. You get all the characters, their personal development, the world building, and bigger plot points. And at the end, you get this glorious sweet treat that really sets you up perfectly for the next book. I can’t wait to read the next one.

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I Lin // Book Review

I’m seriously going to write this review with my head and not my heart. Because my head noticed a few little things that I wanted more clarity on, but my heart just wants to give it five stars. I might just split the difference and call this 4.5 stars, but that always rounds up.

Here’s more about A Magic Steeped in Poison

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu.

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

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My thoughts

I think the star of this book is the tea. I mean, you have to consider the fact that the book uses metaphor as a title, the main character is a tea-making apprentice, and she’s on her way to a tea competition to be the royal tea master. Tea plays a vital role in this story and the culture of this story expertly combining with real world tradition including the use of medicinal herbs is just fantastic. There were moments throughout the story where I worried that this tea business would take a backseat to the rest of the plot, but it didn’t. It was prominent and it was bold like a really well brewed cup.

But the story is about young Ning, a physician’s assistant who’s sister is summoned to the palace and win a coveted position as the princess’s “shennong-shi”. This isn’t some simpleton position making tea everyday of your life, but you’re a wielder of magic and using that magic not only for its medicinal purposes, but also to guide the hand of the kingdom. I mean, this position is important and comes with the ear of the princess at your beckon call. However, Ning has her reasons for going in her sister’s stead; her sister has been poisoned by tea and she needs the help of the princess to save her.

What Ning doesn’t know is that there’s some bigger problems brewing (pardon my pun) within the kingdom. There’s word of a rebellion and an old banished prince who wants to claim the throne for his own. And as Ning spends weeks in the capital city earning her place as the Shennong-shi, she learns that there is much more at stake for the entire kingdom.

Ning was my kind of main character. She doesn’t have it completely together and easily able to insult the leaders of the country by accidentally reciting the wrong poem, but she’s smart. She may stumble and perhaps make the wrong deduction from time to time, but that’s what I love about her. And what I love about the writing in this story. Judy Lin is able to really lay the character out for you through her almost poetic tone. I felt like I knew Ning and following along with her as she finds out more truths within the palace. I loved that I was seeing what was happening rather than being told or worse, being left behind while the characters go off to carry out some truth the reader doesn’t even see.

The royal and political drama was palatable and I really loved the pacing here. The competition stages weren’t rushed, but you also get an idea of what’s happening beyond that. I found it so difficult to see where Ning’s loyalties lie, which is great because that level of mystery kept me reading. Is it with the princess? Is it with the mysterious boy, Kang, who’s somehow captured her heart? Is it with her sister and ensuring that she can save her life? A lot is held back and even as I approached the final pages of the story, I found more of it unfolding in front of me. Judy Lin holds a lot close to the chest only revealing enough for you to know who really is behind the mysterious deaths throughout the kingdom, but doesn’t give you the resolution you crave.

Because this is a duology and the cliffhanger is nasty. The second book hasn’t come out yet, but oh yes, I’ve already requested it.

I think the only things I found issue with is the magic and world-building. Probably like every other review I write on here, I’m looking for that well-developed magical system that doesn’t leave me with a bunch of questions. This did leave with a few questions especially with how the magic worked. It was a bit…confusing. At one point, I thought I understood it; the shennong-shi are magical people who imbue their powers in the cups of tea they brewed. But then it got confusing when Ning started Shifting and drinking cups of tea I thought were brewed for other people. It was difficult for me to really get my head around, but I think I got it through context.

Overall, this book captured me and after a month of pretty meh reads, I’m so glad to finally have a five-star read again. I can’t wait to see what happens at the end.

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor // Book Review

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor // Book Review

I was so surprised by how quickly I devoured this book! But who can resist a magical hotel that travels every night to a different city, holds powerful magic, and has a mysterious past that our protagonist is about to uncover. If you’re looking for something fun, magical, and reads a lot like Caraval, then I will highly suggest this one. Thanks to Penguin Teen for the gifted book.

Here’s more about Hotel Magnifique

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.

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My thoughts

This was such a fun book and after slogging through March, I very much welcomed an entertaining book to get me back in my mood. It helped a lot! Filled with magical worlds, beings, beautiful sights to behold, I was definitely enamored by the story from the beginning.

It follows Jani and her sister as they enter Hotel Magnifique, a unique hotel with a high-class guest list and the only place in this entire world where you can practice magic and be a suminaire without hurting someone. So people love coming to this hotel for the entertainment and traveling for two weeks to different cities every single night. The only caveat is that you forget the entire experience when you leave. Very strange.

That isn’t the only strange part of this hotel and as you travel with Jani into the hotel and beyond, you realize there is way more going on than what you expected.

The writing for this one was good, easy going and not ever serious. It’s definitely the vibe you want when you’re reading for entertainment. I loved the descriptions of the different suites, the entertainment, and even the back kitchens where Jani worked. I will have to say that this book was overall fun to read and if you’re a fan of YA fantasy, then you’ll definitely love this one.

There was a lot of mystery behind this book as well because from the moment Jani steps foot into the hotel, things seem a little bit off. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Spirited Away and that scene when Chihiro meets Yubaba for the first time and she’s asked to sign a contract that owns her name. Yeah, it gets dark like that in this book. And I welcomed the darker portions of this story. I was honestly concerned that it would be all fun and games like Caraval, but I appreciated the level this book went and the twisty turns it made.

While it was a predictable story, I still had a lot of fun watching it all unfold. It’s beautifully brilliant, utterly cruel at times, and such a great way to spend some time with a book.

I think the only issue I had is that the world building was a bit unclear. I found myself trying to understand how the artefacts work alongside the magic, but it really wasn’t too big of a deal. You get the idea of it through context and I’ve come to term not to expect too much from YA fantasy when it comes to world building. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.