A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir // Book Review

The third book in the Ember in the Ashes series! With every book I read, I approach the ending of this series and I don’t know if I’m ready to let this one go. It’s been a long time since I’ve been enamored with an entire series (the last one being Throne of Glass, which didn’t work for me). I’ll be sad when the series is finally over, but I’m so ready for its exciting and twisty conclusion!

Here’s More About A Reaper at the Gates

Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike, is desperate to protect her sister’s life and the lives of everyone in the Empire. Yet danger lurks on all sides. Emperor Marcus, haunted by his past, grows increasingly unstable and violent, while Keris Veturia, the ruthless Commandant, capitalizes on the Emperor’s volatility to grow her own power—regardless of the carnage she leaves in her path.

Far to the east, Laia of Serra knows that the fate of the world lies not in the machinations of the Martial court, but in stopping the Nightbringer. During the hunt to bring him down, Laia faces unexpected threats from those she hoped would help her, and is drawn into a battle she never thought she’d have to fight.

And in the land between the living and the dead, Elias Veturius has given up his freedom to serve as Soul Catcher. However, in doing so, he has vowed himself to an ancient power that demands his complete surrender—even if that means abandoning the woman he loves.

My Thoughts

Once again, I’m just so impressed by Sabaa Tahir and this world she’s created. It’s a nonstop action-packed story that moves. I was worried with this one being the third book in a four-book series that it would be a filler between the second and the fourth book. However, there was so much happening in this one that I didn’t even imagine could take place.

In many ways, it is a filler. There’s the downfall of a major city that The Blood Shrike, Elias, and Laia are all working towards. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg for what will happen next. So you can say that this book fills the space between the second and the fourth novel, but it does it in a way that will entertain you and digs deeper into the world and the characters. I’ve read so many books in the middle of the series where it pushes you nowhere until the very last 50 pages and then it moves like fire.

I’m so glad Sabaa Tahir’s got that ability to tease and taunt you throughout the novel, make you keep reading her book, and then surprise you. She’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve in this one and they didn’t disappoint.

I know many folks had issues with Laia and her involvement in the story, but at the same time it makes sense to her character. She doesn’t know how to fight. She’s not strong like Helene or Elias, but she has that will. I think her will to find her brother and her will to stop the Nightbringer is what really makes her interesting to me. I also love the fact that this doesn’t come easy for her. She’s losing friends left and right. Her plans never go perfectly. She tries her best, but I find I’d rather see a character fail and get back up then succeed at every attempt. She’s definitely no Mary Sue (thank God), but I love that despite her shortcomings she’s still able to keep her head up and use what she has available to her. She’s a very interesting character despite her not doing much.

And the surprises keep rolling out. Seriously, I feel like I’m watching a soap opera and every single turn there’s some bigger twist that shocks me to the point where I’m yelling at imaginary characters. They weren’t just devices to keep you guessing or surprise you, but really made the world much more complex.

I could not get enough Nightbringer. While he didn’t get a dedicated narration during the book, I absolutely loved how he popped up everywhere. It almost felt like this book showed you the dance the Nightbringer has been dancing for thousands of years. Knowing how important the story is with his specific story line made me keep a close eye on him. I think the final book will definitely have more Nightbringer and I think it’ll be really fudging good.

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho // Book Review

Wicked Fox by Kat Cho // Book Review

There’s this mythological creature that lives within the East Asian countries. China, Korea, and Japan all have myths about this wild beast and so many interpretations. I’ve seen Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tv shows including this character. It is the nine-tailed fox. And this story written by Korean American, Kat Cho, is most definitely that tale come to the States. I couldn’t be more excited.

Here’s More About Wicked Fox

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret–she’s a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men in order to survive. Because so few believe in the old tales anymore, and with so many evil men no one will miss, the modern city of Seoul is the perfect place to hide and hunt.

But after feeding one full moon, Miyoung crosses paths with Jihoon, a human boy, being attacked by a goblin deep in the forest. Against her better judgment, she violates the rules of survival to rescue the boy, losing her fox bead–her gumiho soul–in the process.

Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than just a beautiful girl–he saw her nine tails the night she saved his life. His grandmother used to tell him stories of the gumiho, of their power and the danger they pose to humans. He’s drawn to her anyway.

With murderous forces lurking in the background, Miyoung and Jihoon develop a tenuous friendship that blossoms into something more. But when a young shaman tries to reunite Miyoung with her bead, the consequences are disastrous . . . forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

My Thoughts

I’m going to be honest with you, this book read like a K-drama. That’s not a bad thing! I absolutely love a good K-drama. It was filled with its tropes, but it also has one of my favorite Asian folklores; the nine-tailed fox! There were even moments in this book where I thought I was watching a dramatic moment in a K-drama. If you’re a fan of K-dramas, this might be the book for you. As much as I love the tropes in K-dramas, I’m not sure if they worked in this particular fantasy story.

In many ways, it felt like this book was grappling between being a Korean drama and being a YA fantasy story. The juxtaposition took me out of the story a few times especially when the focus became more about Jihoon and Miyoung’s budding romance. In those instances, it felt like a drama; getting drunk at the children’s playground in the middle of the night (no children present), almost being hit by a car with the headlights beaming right before the dude pushes her out of the way of the car. Even Jihoon’s grandma owning a stew shop was so reminiscent of the older “rich girl/poor boy” trope.

As for the YA fantasy components, I really liked them. I wasn’t a fan of how Kat Cho presented the world building through truncated stories between chapters, but it did give you an idea of where this particular nine-tailed fox story came from. I was definitely intrigued by that part of the story and I really wanted more world building and more development in this area. I think my main issue with this story is that it felt like it didn’t know what it was itself. In some cases, it was a story about mythical beasts among us, but in other instances it felt like a budding romance between Jihoon and Miyoung. And it felt like jumps between story. One minute they’re concerned about some mythical thing happening, but then the next minute they’re getting drunk at a children’s playground in the middle of the night.

That all being said, I did really enjoy the story and the immersion into a story that took place in Seoul. There aren’t many Korean-based YA fantasy stories out there, so I’m glad that this one is included. While I wish this didn’t read so much like a debut novel, I’m very excited for the books in the series after this. I think Kat Cho’s potential can only go up from here.

Pub Day Picks // August 11, 2020

I’m so excited about this pub day. While I only have one book to highlight, I’m very excited about it. So excited that I’ll even be doing a spotlight on it this weekend on Instagram. I love that there are more South Asian authors coming out and this one isn’t one you should sleep on.

Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

You had me at Neil Gaiman meets Hindu mythology. And if you guessed this was the book I was extremely excited about, you are most definitely right. This book sounds so good and I’m so excited because I received it from Epic Reads over the weekend and I’m so ready to read it. Sadly, it won’t be until next month, but I’ll just stare lovingly at the gorgeous cover until then.

This gorgeously imagined YA debut blends shades of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and a breathtaking landscape of Hindu mythology into a radiant contemporary fantasy.

The daughter of a star and a mortal, Sheetal is used to keeping secrets. Pretending to be “normal.” But when an accidental flare of her starfire puts her human father in the hospital, Sheetal needs a full star’s help to heal him. A star like her mother, who returned to the sky long ago.

Sheetal’s quest to save her father will take her to a celestial court of shining wonders and dark shadows, where she must take the stage as her family’s champion in a competition to decide the next ruling house of the heavens–and win, or risk never returning to Earth at all.

Brimming with celestial intrigue, this sparkling YA debut is perfect for fans of Roshani Chokshi and Laini Taylor.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir // Backlist Reads

I’ve been quietly collecting Sabaa Tahir’s books for years, but it wasn’t until recently when I heard her final book for the Ember in the Ashes series was coming out. That alongside a partnership with Penguin Teen has me finally picking up this series and reading it. Let me tell you something, folks, this book did NOT disappoint. Usually, I end up giving the first book in a new (to me) series 3 or 4 stars. It’s not a bad thing, but usually I feel like first books need to establish a ton of world building, introduce the characters, have some growth, and also include some plot devices to move the story forward.

With this particular story, I felt like this was next level. The world building was probably the most minimal part of this story, but I’m figuring that with the other books in the series that will easily be remedied. Here’s more about the book (CW: Rape and sexual harassment threats):

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My thoughts

I am so amazed and impressed by this novel.

This story is told through dual POVs alternating between chapters. There is some backtracking on some of the chapter starts because simultaneous scenes happen.

First, the pacing. It feels so natural and moves quickly without overlooking the details. I felt like each event led up to the next. I read some reviews where people thought Elias and Laia’s relationship was forced, but truthfully it didn’t feel like that for me. I thought their progression towards becoming friends was natural. I think it helped that there was an immediate physical attraction to one another. Ahhh young love.

The gradual growth on Laia’s part was my favorite. She starts off as this meek young woman who lived her existence pretty quietly. The experiences she faced while being enslaved to the Commandant really toughened her up. Granted, no one should experience what Laia experienced, but it did lend to her growth and strength. If anything, I would have loved to see more of Laia’s thought process and how she defied the Commandant than just see her pick up a knife and get right to it.

Elias was also a great and complicated character. I felt like the book emphasized Elias’s story much more especially with the surprises about his family, his upbringing, and the decisions he needs to make during the trials. I was way more enamored with Elias’s chapters than with Laia’s. Don’t worry, though. Laia goes through her own personal trials and they aren’t ones to be scoffed at.

I think the only issue I had was that there were a lot of sexual harassment and rape threats. While I understand this is the world that Sabaa Tahir creates, I thought it was weird that the only thing soldiers were interested in doing with women was forcing sex on them. Isn’t that weird? Maybe that’s just me.

I also loved that this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. It was the perfect stopping point to get you pumped for the next book without making you wait a million years to see what happens. I felt no rush to get into the next book aside from my own personal excitement.

Overall, I really loved the story and the introduction to this world. I hope that with the next book Tahir will dive a little bit further into this world, but for a first book in a new (to me) series I’m very impressed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova // Book Review

Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova // Book Review

Earlier last week, I did a promotion for Incendiary by Zoraida Cordova. I was so excited about this book that I decided to read it right there and then even though the book comes out in April 2020. While I absolutely loved this book, I struggled with sharing my thoughts way too soon. However, looking at Goodreads, I can see a few folks have already read the book and since it was offered as a giveaway ARC at YallFest, some folks have already written their reviews. So, what’s stopping me?

But you know me, I need to break down this book and share with you not only the plot but the whole universe. Here’s what goes down in Incendiary.

In this world, there used to be a powerful group of people with abilities to mess with your mind. There are people who can create visions in your head, persuade you to do something you didn’t want to do, read your lies, and steal your memories. However, these people were close to extinction by an opposing group who found these magics to be a source of evil. They were slaughtered to near extinction pushing those with magics into the dark as a new King works to get rid of all the magics in the world.

Renata Convida is a young person who has the very rare ability to steal people’s memories. As the ward of one of the Royal Justices, she used her power to create Hollows; humans who have been removed of all their memories creating a hollow shell. Their deaths are eminent after being hollowed out. Renata has hollowed over 100 people before she escaped the Justice and went to live with people like her. However, the others don’t really trust her as her power to remove memories can happen with a single graze of her finger. Renata is willing to prove herself worthy to be with the other magics.

When their leader’s son and Renata’s lover, Dez, is taken prisoner by the king and sentenced to death by public execution, Renata’s friends aren’t worried. They know Dez will easily escape death. But what Dez and the rest don’t know is Renata’s accidentally took Dez’s memories on how to escape. After watching him die brutally at the hands of the prince, Renata vowed revenge in the only way she knew how; returning to the Justice she ran away from. While the justice believes Renata’s return to be a good sign, Renata’s working on the inside to find out about the King’s plans to destroy all magic people. As she looks for these weapons within the castle walls, Ren finds a much bigger truth hidden inside the palace.

When thinking about this, it reminds me a lot of Fireborne (which I read earlier this year). Both stories are about a group of people marginalized because of their abilities or because someone else came into power. This isn’t me criticizing this trope because it’s a big one and it happens often, but I love that more stories like this are popping up in the universe.

When I first read the description of this book, someone mentioned that its beginnings remind you a lot of Game of Thrones. I’m here to confirm that yes, it has this Game of Thrones quality in the beginning but that’s about where it ends. Come for the Game of Thrones, but stay for the departure from Game of Thrones. I’ll admit I wasn’t surprised at all by the twists, but that doesn’t mean they were bad. In fact, the twists made me want to read more and find out why they’re happening. Zoraida Cordova really knows how to write an intriguing novel filled with suspense and intrigue. I was definitely drawn in when the truths started coming up.

Ren is also an extremely complex character. She doesn’t remember parts of her childhood and has worked as a weapon for the King for most of her life. Every time she comes up with a plan, she runs into it without a second thought only to be captured. Her so-called friends are weary of her despite being on the same side. She has immense power, but hates what she has done with it (or forced to do with it). Honestly, she’s a wreck of a human and you’ll root for her like a mom rooting for her kid. She’s not perfect, but you also don’t care as long as she finds someone to trust and care for.

The writing style is also breezy. It’s not convoluted or overwrought with a lot of fancy language. There is a lot of world building in this story, but luckily you won’t have to remember a host of character names or remember a lot of thematic pieces. It’s high fantasy, but definitely a lot easier to read than most high fantasy.

I absolutely loved this story. Filled with people of color and marginalized voices, it was definitely a departure from the other fantasy stories I’ve been reading lately and I’m here for that breath of fresh air. I will say there are lull moments while Ren scopes out the castle looking for clues on how the King is removing magic from folks like her, but aside from that this story is so solid.

I received a copy of this book from Glasstown Entertainment for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.

Welcome to My Fall Fantasy Kick-Off!

Welcome to My Fall Fantasy Kick-Off!

Welcome to a new week and welcome to FALL! Well, I know fall officially started last month, but I don’t feel fall until October. I grew up in New York where summer lasted through all of September and you don’t really feel fall until mid-October. Because of that, I feel like the only time I deem worthy to be fall is mid-October. And here we are!

This year, I don’t get to experience all the magic of fall. Living in LA means sacrificing those beautiful changing seasons, but that’s okay. The weather drops enough to warrant sweaters and I’m hoping that winter will be more like fall and I don’t mind an entire winter of fall.

Of course I’m drinking my pumpkin spice, making apple everything, and reading what I love to read during the fall; FANTASY.

For me, fantasy reads and fall weather go hand-in-hand. I think it has a lot to do with those late nights waiting to see the new Harry Potter movie or Lord of the Rings. Somehow, my brain has mapped fall with fantasy and I’m so excited about it.

I’ve collected a pretty good number of fantasy reads that I’ve been dying to read for a few years now. I think this will be the perfect season to finally catch up and maybe level up my fantasy reading. I’ll share my list in a couple of days.

What are you excited about reading this fall?

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Remember, it’s only a game…

Maybe it’s me or the most recent weeks, but I’ve been watching and reading a lot about warp realities and the mind playing tricks on you. What is real? What’s not real? How can you tell the difference?

In a world where you can’t tell what’s real and what’s not real, how do you know who your allies are? Who can you trust?

You can easily say the same with the characters in Caraval by Stephanie Garber.

Synopsis (from Goodreads.com) 

27883214Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Rating: 5/5 buttons

My thoughts

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What I would do for a letter to arrive to me with an exciting journey to a magical place. I’ve been waiting for my Hogwarts letter since I was a kid. Still haven’t gotten it yet.

For Scarlett, it came at the most inappropriate time; ten days before her wedding to a guy she doesn’t know. While she’s wanted to be invited since she was a kid, it wasn’t until she was an adult and getting married to someone that it finally happens. I think there’s a strong metaphor in where childhood fantasies end and real life begin. Stephanie Garber makes an amazing argument that sometimes we all need a little magic in our lives regardless of how old you are.

And Scarlett deserves it. I don’t want to give anything away, but living the life she’s had I’m surprised that she came out of her younger years with the hope of magic still in tact.

I love that Scarlett makes mistakes and tries things that fail. I love how human she is and how slowly she learns the magic of Caraval. I think that if she found things out quickly or tested a theory and it worked on the first try then the story would be a little less believable. She’d be a little less relatable and maybe even a less interesting novel. Who gets everything handed to them on a platter?

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For a fantasy novel, there isn’t a lot of world-building but in this case I think it’s fine since the majority of the novel takes place in a fantastical world within the world. For most world-building, you’re assuming that the characters will be roaming across this world to do whatever it is that they need to. Because Caraval is specifically about the game, the only world you really need to understand is Caraval and Stephanie Garber does a good job at that.

However, I would have loved to feel a little bit more a part of this world. While Stephanie Garber includes handwritten letters throughout the story, I’d love to see the green glass key or the carousel or even the room of stars at the very end. I get that it’s up for your mind to make up what these places will look like, I think if every chapter started with a little illustration then it’d really bring you further into this story.

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Finally, I also wonder if Stephanie Garber has synesthesia. I don’t know how to describe it well, but it’s your brain processing two things at once or doing them together. For example, some people are able to perceive different colors or numbers when associating a word, a person, or a food. It’s like two sensory parts of your brain combining together to create one. Anyway, the way Scarlett associates people with color and smells feels like she may be dipping into that part of her brain capacity. It’s quite interesting and it makes me wonder if the author is as well.

 

A Conjuring of Light by VE Schwab

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If you’re into video games, this book and its series definitely feels like you’re playing one. I think that goes double for A Conjuring of Light in which they have to fight a mega boss; a shadowy creature that inhabits its prey and forces them to do things. What would you do with your rag-tag team of magical people trying to save London?

If you’re into anime, this is also a good one for you. I could easily see this book series as an animated series as well. I guess that’s why it’s being optioned right now for a TV show!

Synopsis (from Goodreads.com)

29939230Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Rating: 3/5 black-eyed princes

My thoughts

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I want to be really honest with you here. I love this book. I love this series. I love that it’s come to an end and everything is tied up into a nice little bow. But there was something about reading it that irked me. I think it had something to do with the length.

VE Schwab is an incredible author, but like many fantasy writers she falls prey to the world she’s creating. Every scene is detailed. Every movement is described. And for some, that’s an interesting part of the book. It helps to create the scene in their head. For others (like myself), it’s a little too much and sometimes it takes away from the rest of the story.

I don’t want my review here to influence you to not like this book. There will be tons of reviews who praise this book and find it to be an amazing end to a series. Trust me, I agree with those reviewers myself. But being the individual I am and the reader I am, I was a little disappointed by how long this final story was and how it dragged out a little bit. It’s the kind of thing that makes me like a story less. I’m sorry!

However, getting back to the good parts of this book, I swear it reads like either an anime or a video game. While you don’t get to learn about what Osaron actually is, you get to learn about Holland’s background. You get an ending that wraps up the entire series perfectly. You don’t get to learn about the origins of Kelly, but you’ll get some love action between Kell and Lila.

I think this books definitely has its ups and downs, but I want to stress how that’s never important to a novel. If the book is well written, it’s well written despite the things the author chose to omit. Perhaps they’ll be a prequel! Then that’ll be really fun.