Review: City of Ghosts

City of Ghosts
By Victoria Schwab
Published August 28, 2018 by Scholastic

Victoria/V.E. Schwab is a prolific writer, with multiple adult and YA books, and now she’s turned to middle-grade fiction with City of Ghosts. I really enjoyed City of Ghosts, and I know my ghost-obsessed 10-year-old self would have LOVED it.

Cassidy sees ghosts. She almost drowned and was pulled out of the water by a ghost named Jacob, who becomes her best friend. She and Jacob can travel back and forth across the veil, a sort of gray area inhabited by ghosts. Even before she almost died, Cassidy knew a lot about ghosts because her parents are paranormal researchers who hunt ghoCity of Ghostssts and have a successful series of books about the subject. This leads to the parents being offered a ghost-hunting TV, which takes them to the seriously haunted city of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is wonderfully vivid in the book. Because her parents’ work takes them to the city’s most haunted places, Cassidy is confronted with many more ghosts than she’s even seen in one place, and she finds that the veil is very different here than what she’s used to. She also meets a another girl, Lara, who can see ghosts, and she begins to learn what power and responsibility she has.

This book is genuinely scary. The ghosts are Edinburgh are often creepy and terrifying. The scariest of all is a woman in a red cloak, who’s said to have stolen children. Ever since her near-death experience, Cassidy has been drawn to the veil, but the pull is much stronger in Edinburgh, and although Lara admonishes her to avoid the woman the red cloak, Cassidy keeps crossing her path, with terrible consequences.

I liked the friendships in this book very much. Cassidy is a bit of an odd duck, an outsider at her school, but she doesn’t mind. She and Jacob are best friends who have each other’s backs, and she doesn’t need anyone else. But there’s some distance in the relationship too, as there are things Jacob doesn’t share with Cassidy, like how he died and why he’s still here. When she first meets Lara, the other girl is very dismissive of her, but once Lara realizes that she and Cassidy share their unique talent, they forge a somewhat testy relationship.

This is a great middle-grade book. As an adult reader, I enjoyed it, and I think kids in the target age group will love it.

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

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Review: Mirage

Mirage
By Somiya Daud
Published August 28, 2018 by Flatiron Books.

Mirage is a diverse sci-fi fantasy with Moroccan influences, and I really liked it. It’s very cool to have sci-fi/fantasy books that aren’t rooted in Western European traditions.

Mirage is technically science fiction. It takes place on another planet, and they have advanced technology. But except for traveling on spaceships and some use of technology, this book feels much more like a fantasy.

32768520The main character, Amani, is a peasant living on a moon of the planet Andala. The brutal Vathek empire conquered her planet before she was born, and they’ve crushed all opposition. Amani is a bit of a dreamer, and she wants to write poetry. On the night of her majority celebration, Amani is kidnapped by imperial droids, who take her to the royal palace to become a body double for the heir to the throne, Princess Maram. Amani and Maram are virtually identical. The princess is half-Andalan and half-Vathek, and she’s hated by the Andalan people, so she’s at risk of assassination any time she’s in public. The two girls are worlds apart, and Amani has to be trained to take the princess’ place. Add in palace politics, the princess’ handsome fiance, and a budding rebellion, and you have all the elements on an exciting fantasy.

Princess Maram is cruel and vicious. The Andalans hate her, but the Vath don’t like her very much either. Although she’s supposed to be the heir to the throne according to an old treaty, her father has yet to actually appoint her as his heir, and she has an older half-sister who’s full Vathek, so her position isn’t guaranteed.

The princess has a fiance, the handsome and charming Idris, and Amani finds herself attracted to him. I found the romance the least interesting part of the book. Idris is very nice, but kind of dull and I didn’t feel much chemistry between him and Amani.

The relationship between Amani and Maram is much more interesting. It starts off badly, as Amani is completely in Maram’s power, and Maram is very cruel to her. But in order for Amani to successful impersonate Maram, the two are forced to spend a lot of time together. Amani starts to get inside the princess’ head and figure out what makes her tick. A sort of grudging respect develops between the two women. They’re not exactly friends, but by living in Maram’s shoes, Amani sees that the princess’ life is not an easy one in many ways.

Mirage is the start of the trilogy. The author has done an excellent job of world-building, and I’m interested to see where the story goes.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Seafire

Seafire
By Natalie C. Parker
Published August 28, 2018 by Razorbill

Seafire is the all-girl seafaring adventure I didn’t know I needed in my life. It’s a terrific book with non-stop action and some serious girl power.

Caledonia Styx is the 18-year-old caption of the Mors Navis. She leads an all-female crew on a journey of survival and revenge against the man responsible for killing her family. SeafireFour years earlier, Caledonia and her best friend Pisces watched as a ship of Bullets, fighters in the service of a vicious warlord named Aric Athair, killed their families. Since then, Caledonia has built a crew of over 50 women and they sail the seas, staying alive and making it their mission to bring down Aric.

Caledonia has a tough job. She’s in charge of keeping her crew safe in the dangerous waters they sail in, and she’s often crippled by self-doubt. She blames herself for her family’s death because she let her guard down with a Bullet, just for a moment, but long enough to spell her family’s doom.

The world-building in this book is really fascinating. It’s a fantasy and it takes place sometime in the future. It seems to be a post-apocalyptic future where most of the world is water. There is still some advanced technology in the world, but not everything works and most of the Mors Navis‘ parts are scavenged from other ships and cobbled together.

Conflict develops on the Mors Navis when Pisces is saved by a Bullet and she brings him aboard. Caledonia wants to kill him, but Pisces pleads for his life. The Bullets are unpredictable because Aric gets them addicted to Silt, a drug that he traffics. Caledonia is ready to toss him overboard, but then Oran reveals that her and Pisces’ brothers, who were thought to have died in the attack that killed their parents, are alive and with the Bullets. Caledonia is forced to work with Oran to make a plan to rescue the boys.

I really liked this book. It was very entertaining, and there was tons of high-stakes action. Caledonia is a very compelling main character. The book delves into how hard it can be to lead. She has to make tough decisions, and sometimes, she makes mistakes. She’s already living with the guilt of her family’s deaths, and she knows that whatever decisions she makes now may lead to the deaths of her crew, and she sometimes falters under that knowledge.

This is the start of a trilogy, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story goes.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: Toil and Trouble

Toil and Trouble
Edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe
Published August 28, 2018 by Harlequin Teen

When I heard about an anthology of young adult witch stories, I was like, “sign me up.” I’m into witches, and I like short stories, so this is a perfect fit for me.

Toil and Trouble is a really great anthology. It’s a diverse collection, with lots of POC and LGBTQ+ characters. All of the writers are women, and many of the stories have a deeply Toilfeminist bent. I enjoyed all of the stories, some more than others, but there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch.

“Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia. This one has a Latinx heroine and a queer romance. The heroine is a bruja who reads the stars. This one was cute, but a little slight.

“Afterbirth” by Andrea Cremer. This story has the most historical context of any in the collection, being set in 17th century New England, not a good time for anyone who didn’t stick to societal norms. A midwife is accused of witchcraft after a woman dies in childbirth. This was one was dark and made me glad once again that I live now.

“The Heart in Her Hands by” Tess Sharpe. This was one of my favorites. In this world, teens wake up one day with writing on their bodies. It’s the first words their soulmate will say to them. But the heroine is already in love with someone, her female best friend, and she has to fight the established power structure to be able to live her. I loved this look at rebellion and not accepting the fate that society forces on you.

“Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith. This was another favorite. It has a very urban fantasy sort of feel, and I would like to read a full-length book set in this world. The heroine is an outcast witch who’s pledged to the Lady of Slumbers (a sort of death goddess), something the other witches look down on, until they desperately need her help.

“The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert. This one is as much about love as it is about magic. The heroine is in love with her best friend. She has powers, but she hasn’t accepted them or learned to control them yet, and she’s forced to deal with it when her friend comes home with a new girlfriend.

“The Moonapple Menagerie” by Thveta Thakrar. This one is very dreamy. A group of girls are putting on a play when a creepy creature shows up to demand a role in the play. It’s funny and pretty weird/

“The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley. This one is set in the 70s and features a girl having to deal with a family curse. It has a queer romance. It’s dark and has some slightly Carrie vibes.

“The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma. What happens when a group of women meet around a fire in the woods? This one is typical Nova Ren Suma: creepy, mysterious, and compelling.

“Divine Are the Stars” by Zoraida Cordova. A girl is called home to her family’s ranch in Colorado by her grandmother only to find that her grandmother has literally taken root and become part of the house. This was another favorite, and it has a Latinx heroine.

“Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff. Two witches team up to get revenge on the worst people at their school. Another one with slightly Carrie vibes. It’s creepy and good.

“The Well Witch” by Kate Hart. This one takes place in Texas in 1875. A woman living alone has water magic, but is it enough to save her when three men show up on her property? This one has a POC heroine.

“Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood. Another story about the power of fate. A young witch has a vision of her future that leads her to take drastic actions, thinking she’s saving her sisters from a terrible fate. But what if things don’t fall in line? One of the sisters is bisexual,and this is apparently not an issue in their society.

“Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore. A bruja who makes spells to cure lovesickness falls in love with a trans altar boy who accepts her when the rest of the church turns away. I really loved this one, and I’m planning to pick up the author’s other works.

“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord. This one was another favorite. It’s about a trio of sisters. One has recently left an abusive relationship and her sisters are trying to support her. This is one of the least “magical” of the stories, but it’s also one of the most emotional. Two of the sisters are queer.

“Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May. The last story was my favorite. It’s set in the near future where inconvenient women are accused of witchcraft and sent to labor camps. It’s beautiful and disturbing and a little reminiscent of the The Handmaid’s Tale.

I highly recommend this collection.

 

Review: Dance of Thieves

Dance of Thieves
By Mary E. Pearson
Published August 7, 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.

When I heard that Mary Pearson was writing a new trilogy set in the world of the Remnant Chronicles, I was excited but also a little worried. I love the original trilogy so much, and I wasn’t sure a new one would live up to its predecessor. But I needn’t have worried. Dance of Thieves is a worthy successor.

Dance of Thieves_FINAL 9.18It’s not strictly necessary to have read the previous trilogy before you read Dance of Thieves, but I think you’ll enjoy the new book more if you’ve read the original books. We’re introduced to two new characters, Kazi and Jase. Kazi is a former street thief, who’s reformed and become a member of the Queen of Venda’s guards. Jase has just become the head of the Ballenger clan, a band of outlaws who run a large territory that’s mostly outside the authority of the other kingdoms. Kazi is on a mission to find a missing war criminal who may be hiding out somewhere in the Ballenger’s domain.

When Kazi and Jase meet, it doesn’t go well. She publicly humiliates him, not realizing he’s the head of the family, and they end up being kidnapped. The first third of the book is basically the two of them alone on a long journey. This is a trope I love: two people who can’t stand each forced into an uneasy alliance. It works really well here, and we see a lot of character development through their interactions.

I liked Kazi right from the start. She’s had a rough life, she’s tough, and she’s anxious to prove herself to the queen. I wasn’t sure about Jase at first. He comes across as a cocky jerk at first, but as we learn more about him, I liked him much better.

Their relationship is an interesting one. They’re forced to trust each other when they’re on their own in the wilderness, and they grow closer, but when they’re back in Jase’s territory, there’s a lot of tension. Each of them has secrets they can’t share with the other, and they build up walls, even as they’re developing feelings. Their cat and mouse game is highly entertaining.

I loved getting to explore a new part of this world. The Ballenger’s domain and the kingdom of Eislandia are new places. Also, just as in the original trilogy, there are bits and pieces of the early history of the Remnants, and we see briefly how the Ballengers fit into the history of Gaudrel and the other kingdoms. I love the backstory of the kingdoms and it’s interesting to get a new perspective on the history.

This is the first book in a two-book series. The end has some closure, but also opens up a lot of other issues, so I’ll be anxiously awaiting the second book.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

Review: The Cheerleaders

The Cheerleaders
By Kara Thomas
Published July 31, 2018 by Delacorte Press

The Cheerleaders is a twisty YA thriller that kept me guessing until the very end.

Five years ago, the town of Sunnybrook was devastated by the deaths of five cheerleaders from the local high school. The first two died in a horrific car crash, two more were brutally murdered, and the fifth committed suicide a few weeks later. The The Cheerleaderscases were quickly closed: the car crash was a terrible accident, the police caught and shot the murderer, and the suicide was just another unfortunate casualty.

Five years later, Monica, the younger sister of the suicide victim, Jen, starts to wonder if they really know the full truth of what happened. Her stepfather is the cop who shot the murderer, so she thinks she knows the full story. But then she finds her sister’s cell phone locked away in her stepfather’s desk, and she begins to see that the story she’s been told may not add up. Monica has always had trouble believing that her sister could have committed suicide, and she starts digging into the events of 5 years ago. But most people in the town aren’t interested in dredging up the past, least of all Monica’s family.

Most of the book is told in Monica’s first-person narrative, but there are a few chapters set 5 years earlier where we see Jen’s point of view, and it gives the reader some insight into some aspects of the mystery that Monica doesn’t have access to.

This book is really gripping. I started it at night, figuring I would just read a chapter or two before bed. Ha–the next thing I know, I’m 70 pages in and having to force myself to stop reading, which is definitely the sign of a good mystery. I read a lot of mysteries, and I get frustrated when I can figure out the killer halfway through a book. That was not the case here. Kara Thomas threw in a ton of red herrings, and the book kept me guessing until the end. I want to check out the author’s other books, which sound like really interesting mysteries.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

 

 

 

Review: Storm-Wake

Storm-Wake
By Lucy Christopher
Published July 31, 2018 by Chicken House/Scholastic

Storm-Wake is an interesting book, and it’s beautifully written, but I never felt a connection to it. It’s a reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it initially stays quite close to the plot of the play. A young girl named Moss and her father, Pa, live alone on a deserted island where they were shipwrecked some years before. Pa tells Moss that Storm-wakefloods have claimed the rest of the world and that they’re safe on their island. The island is covered in flowers that Pa tries to use for magic to cure the rest of the world.

One day, a boy comes out of the water and joins their family. They call him Callan, and he seems not quite human. He looks like a boy, but has webbed hands and feet and scale patterns on his skin. Moss and Cal grow up together, but Pa begins to not trust Cal, thinking that Cal may be stealing Moss away from him. Then when Moss and Cal are teens (their ages are never specified, but they seem to be older), two more boys come out of the sea and threaten the fragile peace of the found family.

The first half of the book meanders along. Not much happens. Pa eats flowers that seem to drug him. He may be sick. Moss and Cal explore the island. Pa gets mad at Cal. Years pass. When two boys shipwreck on the island, the pace of story picks up, and Moss begins to question her relationship with Pa. Has he been lying to her? Is he mentally ill?

I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, but the initially slow pace made it hard for me to feel connected to the story or the characters. Even when the story became more compelling, I was never that absorbed in it. I can’t decide whether I feel it should have been a shorter book that focused on the action in the second half, or a longer book that explored the odd family dynamics in more detail. That said, Lucy Christopher’s writing is beautiful.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.