Review: Rule

Rule
By Ellen Goodlett
Published September 11, 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Rule is a terrific young adult fantasy novel.

It’s the story of three young woman who are called to appear before the King of Kolonya. Each of the young women has a terrible secret, and each assumes that the summons means that her secret is out and she’s about to face punishment. All three are astonished rulewhen they come before the king and are told that they are his illegitimate daughters and that he’s going to choose one of them to success him since his legitimate son was recently killed.

The three daughters are very different. Zofi is a traveler, a member of a nomadic band that is looked down upon by most of the other people of the kingdom. She loves her life on the road and finds her new existence in the palace torturous. Ren grew up at court as a ladies’ maid, and she understands how this insular society works. Akeylah grew up in an outer province of the empire in an abusive household, so although she’s not exactly sure she’s queen material, she’s relieved to have escaped her previous life.

Characters with secrets are pretty typical in YA fantasy, but often, the secrets turn out to be underwhelming. We learn the sisters’ secrets early in the book, and they are all whoppers that would mean execution if they were discovered. So, when they begin to receive anonymous threatening messages indicating that someone knows their secrets, they all freak out.

The three main characters all have distinctive voices, and although the narration switches in each chapter, I never had any difficulty telling them apart; they’re all very different characters. I found each of them appealing in their own way. There’s a natural rivalry among the sisters at first, because only one can be chosen as heir, even if two of them aren’t particularly interested in the job, and they all initially assume that the mysterious blackmailer is one of the three of them. But as the threats escalate, the three begin to work together. I loved watching them get to know each other, and figuring out their various strengths. Zofi is a fighter, Ren understands court machinations, and Akeylah is the researcher who can find anything in books.

I really liked the magical system in this book. People use blood magic, a system of tithing that gives them boosts in speed, agility, and other abilities. Zofi’s people, unbeknownst to everyone else, have figured out a way to harness the blood magic to their advantage. And there’s a more sinister form of blood magic, the forbidden Vulgar Arts, which involves tithing against someone else’s blood and can be used to curse someone.

The book also has some decent diversity. Most of the characters are described as having darker skin, and one of the sisters is queer. There’s not a ton of romance, but the most prominent is between two women.

I highly recommend this book, and I will be anxiously awaiting the sequel (there’s a big cliffhanger, and I can’t believe I have to wait over a year to find out what happens).

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

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Review: Not Even Bones

Not Even Bones
By Rebecca Schaeffer
Published September 4, 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Nita sometimes worried–well, not worried precisely, because it didn’t actually bother her, but thought about in a concerned way–that she was a bit of a sociopath. She was socially inept, she hated people, and the only thing that made her feel calm and peaceful was cutting up dead bodies. There was normal, there was abnormal, and then there was Nita.

Warning: Not Even Bones is not for the faint of heart.

In a world where supernatural creatures are real and out in the open, there’s a thriving black market for supernatural body parts. Nita’s mother hunts and kills supernaturals, and Nita dissects them so the parts can be sold. She tells herself that it’s ok. She’s not doing the killing, and they’re mostly bad creatures who hurt people. Then one day, her mother brings home a live boy and orders Nita to start removing pieces. From a live boy. Nita has her limits, and this is it. She lets the boy go, and then she ends up in a cage herself. Her only chance for escape is to test the limits of how monstrous she can become.

Not Even BonesNot Even Bones is really good and completely unexpected. It’s definitely a bit gorier than most YA books, what with all the body parts being chopped up, but if you can handle some blood, I highly recommend it.

Nita is a fascinating character. She is actually a supernatural herself, as is her mother (they’re an unnamed and unusual sort of creature who can heal themselves), but she’s ok with carving up other creatures. Her upbringing has been very odd. Her mother pulled her out of school years earlier, and although her parents are still married, she’s usually on the road with her mother and rarely sees her father. Her mother is a straight-up sociopath, and Nita both loves and fears her. (When Nita was younger and refused to cut up some fluffy harmless creatures, her mother killed them anyway and left the bodies in Nita’s bed. Not exactly Mother of the Year.)

This book delves into what what makes a monster. Are you destined to be a monster if you’re a supernatural? Does what Nita is forced to do to survive make her a monster? Nita makes an uneasy alliance with a zannie, a creature that feeds off the pain of others. The zannie Kovit has definite lines he won’t cross, but his very nature forces him to eat people’s pain. Nita starts out with lines she won’t cross, but they get blurred quickly. She’s in a cage, with people threatening to chop her up piece by piece, and self-preservation is key.

Not Even Bones has some good diversity. Nita is Latinx, and Kovit is Thai. The book takes place entirely in South America. (The author lived in Peru, where the book is initially set.) It also has no romance, which is a little unusual (and very welcome) for YA (although the stage is set for a potential romance down the line). This is the start of a trilogy, and the book ends on not quite a cliffhanger, but a definite “whaaattt?” moment. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next book.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

 

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.

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: 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.