The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees #bookreview #YA #fantasy

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive? 

With a description that reads nearly like a fairy tale and a magical cover, do I really need to explain why I wanted to read this book?

The writing is lush, beautiful, and velvety, with imagery that will transport you to another place.  Some lines I re-read several times because of the way the author weaves words together.  There are basically three stories in this book, and the chapters alternate.  Somewhere around the middle or so, it’s revealed how they’re connected.  Rhea and her family are adorable and quirky, and the Darkness in the attic is spine-tingling and alluring.  It’s a nice touch.

With the first half of the book, I was all in and just wanted to find a secluded corner with no interruptions.  And then I got to the second half, and it lost me.  It has the feel of a fairy tale, but I felt untethered, and unsure of what was real in the story.  Even the dialogue was off, sounding more juvenile, and I found myself skimming the pages instead of savoring them as I had in the first half of the book.

Many other reviewers loved the dreamy, storybook feel of this novel, but I need to feel more grounded in my reading, with a better grasp of the plot.  Even though it turned out not to be for me, I’d still recommend this book because of the extraordinary writing, and I wouldn’t hesitate to read another novel by this author in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

To Best the Boys by Mary Weber #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port receive a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. Every year, the poorer residents look to see that their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women are trained in wifely duties and men are encouraged into collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her Mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone’s ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the maze.

Why has it taken me this long to read a book by Mary Weber?  I’m now a confirmed fan, and To Best the Boys was an absolute delight to read.

You can’t help falling in love with Rhen.  She’s exceptionally intelligent, compassionate, driven, and is more comfortable in the presence of dead bodies than at an opulent party.  She’s also dyslexic, and has found ways to succeed in spite of it.  Although society expects her to be content with ‘wifely duties’, she sees a different future for herself, and takes risky steps to make it happen.  It’s important to mention that when Rhen’s cousin, Seleni, says being a wife and mother is what she wants, her choice isn’t disparaged – it’s the path that’s right for her.  And that’s what this book is about – knowing what’s right for you, and not compromising your dreams to fit someone else’s expectations.

It’s also about outsmarting the labyrinth.  Riddles, creatures, death, dangerous feats – all lie within, and you’ll be holding your breath through some tension-filled moments.  Besides all of that, ghosts and sirens are also dangerous elements in this world, inhabiting the streets and sea at night.

I have to mention Rhen’s relationships with her parents, Seleni, and her other friends – all are honest, loving, and done so well.  Everyone needs their support people.

To Best the Boys is an exciting adventure with a splash of a mystery, and I’d highly recommend it to young women interested in STEM.  And as a bonus, there’s a mouth-watering recipe for Labyrinth Cookies!  A joy to read from beginning to end.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

 

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black #bookreview #YA #fantasy

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself. 

I’ve seen this book on more ‘Best Of 2018’ lists than I can count.  Holly Black is a talented and widely read author, but I’ve never gotten around to any of her books, despite having The Coldest Girl in Coldtown on my shelf for over a year.  With strong reviews, several friend recommendations, and a discounted Amazon day, how could I not read The Cruel Prince?

Admittedly, I haven’t read many books involving the Fae, so much of this world was new to me.  And the world-building is magnificent – dark, intriguing, and politically charged.  The political maneuvering, alliances, and manipulation really captured my attention – some of these characters would fit in well with House of Cards.

And that’s another thing I liked:  none of these characters are entirely ‘good’.  Many of them desire power and position, while others enjoy bullying, threats, and playing with the lives of others.  And I’m okay with that – I love to see shades of gray in characters.  In fact, it’s the primary reason I kept reading.  Twists are aplenty in this book – some of them I saw coming, others I didn’t until right before they happened.

People may throw rocks and garbage at me for saying this, but the first half of the book didn’t win me over.  Not a lot happens, but right around the 50% mark, the pace becomes turbo charged and never lets up.

Overall, I enjoyed The Cruel Prince, and I plan to continue the series with The Wicked King, but when that will be, I have no idea.  I need a month long vacation just to read!

Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns #3) by Kendare Blake #bookreview #YA #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead—or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.

Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the mainland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn. 

Jules, too, is in a strange place—in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.

This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed—or expected.

I’ve loved this dark fantasy series from book one.  And those covers – oof.  Stunning.

This author continues to throw in unexpected surprises, whether with plot twists or character traits.  I’d fully intended to dislike Katharine after the events that occurred in One Dark Throne, but she honestly seems to have some good intentions in this book.  Not all good.  But some.  And the ending?  Just one surprise after another.  I’m glad it took me a few months to get around to reading this one, because that means I have a shorter wait for the next book.

This was a longer read at over 450 pages, and although it may not have moved the story along quite as well as books 1 and 2, there are some major developments, and I got to spend a good amount of time with these characters.

If dark fantasy with exquisite world-building is your thing, this is your series.

The Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves #1) by Roshani Chokshi #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #YA #fantasy

Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.

My expectations for this book were high, and it more than surpassed them.  If I could rate it more than 5 stars, I gladly would.

With such unique, magical world-building, and a closely bonded clan of charming characters planning a dangerous heist, The Gilded Wolves has the feel of Six of Crows.  I’ve also seen this book compared to Indiana Jones and National Treasure, and with clues, puzzles, and historical elements, I can see why.

The incredibly well-developed characters made this novel for me.  They’re a family of their own choosing, and along with that comes humorous dynamics – I laughed with them, but also felt their pain.  Each of the six has their own talents and skill set and bring something to the table.  And such wonderful inclusion!  Bisexual, gay, autistic, with different cultures and backgrounds.

At over 400 pages, this is a chunk of a read, but I didn’t want it to end.  An intricate plot, beautiful writing with so many quotable lines, charismatic characters, and masterful world-building – I highly recommend The Gilded Wolves to fantasy, history, and adventure fans.  Easily one of my best reads of 2018, and the next book can’t come soon enough.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

Fire and Heist by Sarah Beth Durst #bookreview #YA #fantasy

In Sky Hawkins’s family, leading your first heist is a major milestone–even more so than learning to talk, walk, or do long division. It’s a chance to gain power and acceptance within your family, and within society. But stealing your first treasure can be complicated, especially when you’re a wyvern–a human capable of turning into a dragon.

Embarking on a life of crime is never easy, and Sky discovers secrets about her mother, who recently went missing, the real reason her boyfriend broke up with her, and a valuable jewel that could restore her family’s wealth and rank in their community.

With a handpicked crew by her side, Sky knows she has everything she needs to complete her first heist, and get her boyfriend and mother back in the process. But then she uncovers a dark truth about were-dragon society–a truth more valuable and dangerous than gold or jewels could ever be.

Humans that turn into dragons?  Heists?  Why wouldn’t you want to read this?  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sky’s family and friends are the most important things in her life – along with kissing and ice cream.  Her priorities are straight, and her humorous voice makes this such a fun read.  The world-building is amusing – in the wyvern culture, leading your first heist is cause for celebration.  As dragons, stealing and hoarding gold is encouraged, so in Sky’s world, her situation is pretty much a coming-of-age story.

The family dynamics make up a good portion of this story – a family mourning their mother gone missing, an overprotective father, and brothers who clearly care about Sky, but show it in awkward, yet heartfelt ways.  Most of the supporting characters are well-drawn, and Sky’s human friend, Gabriela, is like an adorable puppy you want to hug.

Fire and Heist is more of a fluffy read, but with an Ocean’s Eleven-like heist, a lovable family, and a charming and determined MC, it’s light and enjoyable.  Also, dragons!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

 

 

Bright Ruin (Dark Gifts #3) by Vic James #bookreview #YA #dystopian

Magically gifted aristocrats rule–and commoners are doomed to serve. But a rebellion threatens the old order. The dystopian trilogy that began with Gilded Cage and Tarnished City concludes.

In a world where the lower classes must endure ten years of forced service to unfairly advantaged, magically powered rulers, a teenage boy dreams of rebellion, his older sister yearns for love and knowledge, and a dangerous young aristocrat seeks to remake the world with his dark gifts. In Bright Ruin, the final book in the trilogy set in modern-day England, our heroes will lead a revolution that will transform–or destroy–the world.

With phenomenal world-building, both loathsome and lovable characters, political intrigue, rebellion, and power struggles, Dark Gifts has been an exceptional and intelligent YA dystopian/fantasy series from beginning to end.

If you’re familiar with the term ‘book hangover’ – that’s an adequate description of how I felt upon completing this novel.  Two days later, I was still going back to re-reading parts and mull them over.  I’m sad to see the series end, but what a satisfying ending it is – no spoilers here.

If I’ve read other series with such incredible character arcs, they don’t immediately come to mind.  Several of these characters will surprise you, and aren’t what they initially seem or eventually become.  As with the previous books, the author certainly doesn’t balk at putting them through trials and tribulations, heartbreak and heartache, and occasionally even death.

I can’t recommend this series enough, and it’s easily a crossover for adults who are skeptical about reading YA.  If you’re a fan of complicated and intricate storylines with remarkable world-building and character development, this series is for you.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.