Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy #1) by Emily A. Duncan #bookreview #fantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

I’d seen rave reviews for this book throughout the blogosphere, and that, along with a gorgeous cover and riveting description, had me requesting this book from NetGalley.

Did this book live up to the hype?  Well…mostly.  This is a captivating dark fantasy that weaves the elements of religion, magic, and politics into a thought-provoking storyline.  Many reviews stated the beginning is a slower pace – something I agree with – but the brisk pace and shocking reveals at the end make up for it.  Yes, the pace takes off – but I’d guessed the shocking reveals early in the book, so maybe it’s my fault I was a tad underwhelmed.

The three primary characters exist in the fluctuating areas of gray between good and bad – and that’s my favorite type of character.  Each are wonderfully flawed, possess traits to love and hate, and are ruthless, driven, and distrustful at certain points.  They all believe they’re doing the right thing.  Supporting characters are loyal, well-developed, and occasionally humorous.  Stellar characterization.

Wicked Saints is a brutal, bloody, dark fantasy set in a world rich in history and lore.  It’s very well-written, and if you’re not into YA, give this book a try, because it’s easily a crossover.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

Killing November (Killing November #1) by Adriana Mather #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #thriller

It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim. 

What an awesome premise – a school that trains assassins.  Throw in some murders, and you’ve got a ton of suspects, right?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book.  The cover didn’t do much for me, but the description sounded crazy good.  And it delivered – I wanted to finish this book in one sitting.  November’s life changes vastly almost overnight – and she has no clue what’s going on.  Every student at the school seems to know things about her, but she’s never met any of them, and no one is willing to share their knowledge.  Every student is also a trained killer and strategist, and trusting the wrong person could be a fatal error.  The stakes are high throughout the book, and I found myself holding my breath in some scenes.  I’m pretty sure I suspected almost everyone at some point in the story.  It’s obvious the author did her research in nonverbal communication and  weapons, with some historical tidbits thrown in that add to the authenticity of the story.

Once the secrets are revealed, some are surprising and some predictable, but they sure do make for a tense, exciting read.  With fabulous character development, political intrigue, a complex, thrilling plot, and a main character whose life is in jeopardy on nearly every page, Killing November is addictive, and one of my best reads this year.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

The Fever King by Victoria Lee #bookreview #LGBT #fantasy

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

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

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

I’ve read some good reviews of this book and seen it on lists of highly anticipated releases.  Considering that and the beautiful cover, I requested it on NetGalley.

The different take on magic in this novel is intriguing.  Magic is a virus, and only a slim percentage of people survive after being infected.  If they are fortunate enough to survive, they become a witching and possess magic with varying powers.  A lot of time and creativity were put into the world-building – it’s complex and politically charged.  The treatment of undocumented aliens is brutal and heart-wrenching, but also timely, and Noam finds himself straddling two different worlds.

Initially, the pacing is on the slow side, and it took me a while to get into this story.  On the flip side of that, the ending is exciting, full of twists, and moves at an astounding pace.  There are conflicting opinions on the world-building in other reviews I’ve read.  Some readers wanted more, some thought it was more of an information dump.  I’m with the group that’s unsure if they understood all the political angles.  I found it a little confusing at times.

The Fever King is filled with political intrigue, characters who possess powers along the lines of X-Men, and a wonderfully diverse cast.  Overall, it’s an enjoyable read, and more for the older YA crowd.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young #bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog #scifi

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

Truth – I was skeptical about this book because of the cover, but then I saw the author’s name and read the blurb, which has a kind of Stepford Wives feel.  Friends, I couldn’t put this book down.

The description is maddening enough for women, but trust me – your blood pressure will reach new heights once you read about the way these girls are treated.  At 400 pages, it’s long, but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  I wanted to finish it in one sitting – it’s that compelling, and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.  Some of the interactions between the men and the students will make your skin crawl, but the friendships between the girls are strong, wonderful, and will make you wish for that kind of bond.  Everyone deserves friends like these.

This is a dark, twisty novel, and some scenes are tough to read.  But it’s also empowering when the girls realize their world is skewed very much in the bizarre and unnatural direction, and then decide to regain control.  I’m anxious to see what happens next.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.  I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Devouring Gray (The Devouring Gray #1) by Christine Lynn Herman #bookreview #YA #fantasy

On the edge of town a beast haunts the woods, trapped in the Gray, its bonds loosening…

Uprooted from the city, Violet Saunders doesn’t have much hope of fitting in at her new school in Four Paths, a town almost buried in the woodlands of rural New York. The fact that she’s descended from one of the town’s founders doesn’t help much, either—her new neighbours treat her with distant respect, and something very like fear. When she meets Justin, May, Isaac, and Harper, all children of founder families, and sees the otherworldly destruction they can wreak, she starts to wonder if the townsfolk are right to be afraid.

When bodies start to appear in the woods, the locals become downright hostile. Can the teenagers solve the mystery of Four Paths, and their own part in it, before another calamity strikes?

When I saw the cover of this novel, I wanted to read it without even seeing the description.  Comp titles like The Raven Cycle and Stranger Things are the equivalent of leaving a trail of chocolate to lure me in.

What a dark, atmospheric story this is, with spine-tingling moments, complex, flawed, fully-realized characters, and layered secrets intermingled with lies.  Small towns always hold the most secrets and lies.  Occasionally when I read, I’m skimming the pages and getting the gist of the story.  With this book, I was completely absorbed from page one, and read every single captivating word.

These characters – oof.  Complicated relationships, a diverse cast, and a few different POVs.  All of them are compelling, but with a tragic, mysterious past, Isaac is the character that most intrigued me, and it looks like more about his past will be revealed in the next book.

The Devouring Gray is an enticing blend of YA fantasy and horror.  It’s not a fast-paced story, but more of a slow burn – and what a tantalizing burn it is, with all those secrets and lies slowly coming to light.  The second book in this duology will be on my wishlist for next year.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

 

The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson #bookreview #YA #scifi

When all hope is gone, how do you survive?

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves. But their solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected. 

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

My book club requirement was to read a YA book optioned for movie/TV, and The Sandcastle Empire was snatched up by Paramount before its release date.  And I’d just bought it during a Bookbub promotion a couple of months ago so, an obvious choice.

The beginning of this book is absolutely captivating, and I fell hard for it.  An exciting escape on the beach, explosions, stolen boats with questionable traveling companions – I couldn’t read fast enough.  Once Eden reaches the island – wow.  If you’re a Lost fan, this island will bring back memories.  After one night on the beach, a character is missing – grabbed while everyone slept.  Eden and the other two girls trek through the mysterious jungle in search of her and experience extraordinary occurrences.  Color me enthralled.

Then the storyline ventures into familiar tropes:  insta-love, girls more focused on cute boys than on their fight for survival and appearing helpless – after they’d just braved a life-threatening, danger-filled trek through the jungle without the help of the male persuasion.

The world-building is fantastic, the writing descriptive, and the plot original, if a little predictable in some places.  Overall, I enjoyed the read, but hoped the plot would concentrate more on the science fiction/dystopian aspects of the story as in the first half, rather than introduce distracting romantic elements.

 

Black Bird of the Gallows (Black Birds of the Gallows #1) by Meg Kassel #bookreview #YA #paranormal #TuesdayBookBlog

A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.

Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.

What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

I bought this book several months ago during a Bookbub special.  The cover is stunning, and the original paranormal premise grabbed me.

It was refreshing to read a paranormal novel that didn’t involve the usual werewolves or vampires (although I’ve read vampires are making a comeback, and I can’t wait).  The Harbingers, who signal death is coming and feed off the energy, and Bee Keepers, who house poisonous bees that cause mental instability, are morbid and add a nice degree of creepiness to the story.  The Harbingers turning into black birds are just icing on the cake.

The brief description on the Bookbub email didn’t imply this novel was so heavy on romance, so I was a bit disappointed, but that’s my fault for not checking the expanded description on Amazon before buying it.  The relationship between Reece and Angie falls into standard paranormal trope – sweet, but insta-love and pretty predictable.

I thought the relationship between Angie and her father was done exceptionally well.  She’d been raised by a drug addicted mother who was estranged from Angie’s father, and he’d been searching for Angie for years, only reuniting with her upon the death of her mother.

Although more romance than I usually prefer, this was an intriguing read that held my interest, and one I’d recommend to fans of paranormal romance.