Thank you to D.E. Night and Netgalley for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret...
For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic—and her life—is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever.
I’m having some complicated feelings about this book, so I’m going to split my review into Good/Bad bullet points, so I can portray everything accurately.
I’m going to give The Crowns of Croswald 3/5 stars, because while I had a few issues with it, it was still an enjoyable read for the afternoon.
Thank you to Candlewick Press via Netgalley for sharing an ARC in exchange for my honest review!
Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.
Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.
Queer pirate story??? YES PLEASE! The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea has been one of my highly anticipated reads for a while now, and is on my list of 2020’s hottest queer YA as well. This magical tale of adventure on the high seas is not one to be missed. Without further ado, let’s jump into the review! While reading this book, I found myself breaking it down into three parts: writing, plot, and character, so I’m going to review like that as well.
Writing: Tokuda-Hall has great prose, that’s for sure. The chapters each generally follow the perspective of one character, but my favorite parts were the short passages written about the Sea. The power and beauty encompassed in those paragraphs certainly impacted my experience of the novel and the world within. The flow was perfect as well—I appreciated the relativelyy fast pacing; it was both appropriate for the fantasy setting and also exactly what I needed right now. It is also clear that this book has cutting commentary on misogyny and the effects of colonialism and imperialism. I did appreciate this and the role it had within the context of the story. Would 10/10 read another book in this style.
Plot: It was a fairly standard, quickly-paced fantasy read, which I appreciated, but some things were predictable. I genuinely wish we could have spent more time with the magic—partway through, the “Witch” piece of the title makes a stunning appearance and I was so fascinated! I wanted to see a thousand more spells and really get a full understanding of this part of the world, but unfortunately it’s only used a couple more times. I also wasn’t a fan of the insta-love. It was sort of… “Lady teaches sailor to read… BAM they’re in love” which I just found jarring. I was able to keep reading though, and Evelyn and Flora do go on some fantastic adventures. There are definitely interesting side-plots, and the twists kept me on my toes! I’m a big fan of stories set at sea, so I loved the various pirate adventures and I think I learned some new things about boating along the way.
Character: This is where I had the most issues. I liked Flora—her arc was really well-written and I enjoyed getting a glimpse of her life. She was by far my favorite character and I think she had the most interesting position in the story. However, I didn’t feel very much empathy for Evelyn, especially given how she treats everyone around her. She doesn’t seem to care very much for anyone—even Keiko, her maid with whom she is purportedly in love is tossed aside without a second thought when Evelyn has to leave at the beginning of the story. This really didn’t win her any points with me. Aside from Flora, I felt generally apathetic towards the entire cast. Creating compelling fantasy characters is difficult, but I think part of it needs to be *not* deliberately emphasizing the negative traits of every single person. That just made it harder for readers, I think.
Regardless, I would encourage you to give The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea a try! It’s an entertaining novel and a quick read for anyone looking towards fantasy for a distraction. 3/5 stars.
I won this book in a giveaway by Candlewick Press—thank you for the ARC! I’m giving a short review, just a small collection of the thoughts I had while reading.
After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father's death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.
Author Cynthia Salaysay composes a moving, beautifully written portrait of rigorous perfectionism, sexual awakening, and the challenges of self-acceptance. Timely and vital, Private Lessons delves into a complicated student/teacher relationship, as well as class and cultural differences, with honesty and grace.
This is one of those reads that I struggled with a lot. On one hand, it was full of promise, and on the other, it made me so uncomfortable. Sexual exploitation is definitely a darker topic to explore, and Salaysay handled it with grace. That being said, I didn’t love how graphic some of the scenes were, and I didn’t love the narration.
Even though I felt sympathy for Claire, I didn’t like her at all. She was distinctly unkind to her best friend and her mom, and seemed to think that lacking a sense of who she was granted her the opportunity to lash out at them. We in YA talk a lot about unlikeable female characters, but this goes beyond that, into unsympathetic.
What I did like: Private Lessons did a great job of discussing socioeconomic disparities and ethnic identity. Claire’s family is Filipino, and multiple times through the novel she encounters microaggressions and judgment that resonated with me. I liked this secondary plot line that Salaysay included.
All in all: Give Private Lessons a chance, but definitely know what you’re getting into. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Candlewick Press for sharing a copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review!
All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.
Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.
This magical middle grade novel teaches the power of friendship and the struggles of privilege and power differences. The comparison to Les Miserables is spot-on. The book is equally addictive and I know it will stick in my mind the same way. Soontornvat tuned it for a younger audience, though, which I thought was lovely. She kept the magic alive—literally. The orbs of Chattana that glow in different colors made for a beautiful landscape, both on the cover and in my imagination.
I especially loved how Soontornvat expanded on Pong’s stay with the monks. That has forever been a Les Mis moment that I wish would be more detailed, and she nailed it. Pong’s connection with Father Cham is so unique and beautiful. I loved Father Cham’s blessings, and his way of giving each child exactly what they needed, which coincided with Pong’s need to atone for his perceived wrongdoings. This is the sort of healing connection I think everyone needs right now.
Pong and Nok, the central characters in this story, are magical in and out. The journeys they go on lead them to become better versions of themselves right in front of readers’ eyes. Pong’s quest to reduce the suffering he and those around him face conflicts with Nok’s adoration of the Governor and her certainty that he can do no wrong. Luckily, both of them learn to challenge their views in a way that, again, delightfully parallels Les Miserables.
Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend A Wish in the Dark for any reader—it’s a Middle Grade novel that will appeal above and beyond the bounds of that genre. 4/5 stars for this wonderful new release!
Thank you to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Darkness never works alone...
Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who--and what--he’s become.
As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer.
I am so in love with this novel. Maybe even more than I loved the first in its series, Wicked Saints. Dark and holy, bloody and monstrous and yet, so deeply romantic, it’s just my style. I’ve mentioned before that I’m growing into a dark fantasy person, and this book is one of the catalysts. I’m having a hard time even writing this review because all I can do is scream about how addicted I am to this trilogy. Please! If you haven’t started already, make Something Dark and Holy your priority!
First of all—it is absolutely unfair of Duncan to torture us with these characters. They all need hugs. Immediately. Malachiasz especially. The found family dynamic is strong in this novel, continuing the trend from Wicked Saints. Parijahan continues to be another favorite of mine, and I was glad to see that her character was more fully explored in Ruthless Gods.
I don’t think I can get through this review without a whole paragraph on the ROMANCE, so I’m sticking it up here. Nadya and Malachiasz have my whole heart. Their relationship is all about emotion, and how they challenge each other and worked their way under each others’ skin and into their hearts. I didn’t expect to fall so hard for this relationship, but for me it’s the emotional crux of the novel. So dark! So gothic! Every time I read one of their scenes, I end up clutching my e-reader and squealing. It is terribly unbecoming of me, but I can’t hold in the feels anymore. This is the very definition of an enemies-to-lovers romance, which is my favorite trope. In fact, I also love that Nadya and Malachiasz remain somewhat enemy-adjacent, as they often have theological debates that turn into somewhat blasphemous romance scenes. I love this. It’s a very effective way to make me fall in love with a book.
I’m also in constant adoration of Duncan’s writing. Nadya’s dry wit, Serefin’s suffering, Malachiasz’s light masochism and divinity-seeking—all bleed through the pages and straight into my heart. Her character voices feel so authentic. Even those I disagreed with, I completely understood their reasoning and had empathy for their arcs. It’s interesting to me how some of the characters paths intersect and mirror each other—I’m no spoilers here, so I won’t specify, but read the book and then come talk to me! In terms of plot, I’m blown away by her deft handling of what seems like endless threads of gut-wrenching twists. Everything in this book feeds into itself later, and I find myself making connections across chapters to things I’d thought unimportant earlier.
The pacing was *kisses fingers like a chef* MARVELOUS! Duncan struck the right balance between action and character building, which is hard in a fantasy novel. I appreciate a good slow burn plot, and this is perfect. I think it’s faster than Wicked Saints, but the sheer length quite makes up for that. The plot in general, is simply genius. There’s so much intrigue and internal conflict in all of the characters, which adds to the complexity and uniqueness of the story. I am so excited for book three, and really sad that I have to wait a whole year for it! I think I was spoiled in receiving this ARC, as I now have a longer wait between now and book 3, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (To help me with this, I wouldn’t say no to an ARC of book 3 when they’re made… *wink wink*)
If you can’t tell, Ruthless Gods is a total 5/5 for me, and one of the books I will forever be yelling about. Please, please, please, if you listen to a single one of my recs, hear this one! The Something Dark and Holy trilogy has changed. My. Life.
My first review of a non-fiction book! These will be shorter and less organized than my novel reviews, as they’re more to give you all an idea of what I’m reading these days, but I’ll still be sharing my opinions with the same flair that you’ve come to expect. The slate of non-fiction books that I choose to review will range from YA to adult non-fiction, and expect a lot of science! As you may know, I’m interested in chemistry, and that merges perfectly with my love of reading in the field of non-fiction.
In the spirit of A Short History of Nearly Everything comes Periodic Tales. Award-winning science writer Hugh Andersey-Williams offers readers a captivating look at the elements—and the amazing, little-known stories behind their discoveries. Periodic Tales is an energetic and wide-ranging book of innovations and innovators, of superstition and science and the myriad ways the chemical elements are woven into our culture, history, and language. It will delight readers of Genome, Einstein’s Dreams, Longitude, and The Age of Wonder.
Aldersey-Williams wanders through history and chemistry in this compilation of anectotes on the history of the elements. I tried and failed to stay awake (multiple times) as I read, due to the intrinsic nature of this book. First of all, it is SO LONG. Maybe I’m a complainer, but the book suffers from a severe lack of focus. Sure, the chapters were divided by the purposes of each element, which lended a semblance of organization. However, in truth, the subsections could be as long or short as the author pleased, which led to some elements taking up too much oxygen (excuse the pun) and others gasping for breath. Overall, the 451 pages felt more like four thousand.
I considered DNF’ing, but some of the stories were so interesting that I couldn’t bring myself to abandon the book. I especially enjoyed the chapters on radium and polonium, as you can’t talk about those elements without mentioning Marie Curie. She’s my favorite chemist, and a pioneer of discovery. That alone almost made the less-than-ideal reading experience worth it.
The last chapter, as well, piqued my curiosity. It detailed the discovery of rare earth metals in Sweden, and the intersection of hands-on mining and theoretical chemistry in Ytterby. I loved this connection of elements with a place—it’s what I bought the book for. My only wish is that more of it had been spent in this kind of philosophical exploration of the human urge to discover.
You might need to be a chemistry enthusiast to get through this book. I’m having a hard time imagining any less interested reader sticking with it through the end. I hate to put books down. You all know me. I don’t want to instill fear in anyone, but perhaps consider my experience a cautionary tale. I’m going to give Periodic Tales 3/5 stars, because I did manage to finish it somehow. If you’re in seek of more non-fiction reviews, please comment below! I’d love feedback on this new adventure.
Thank you to DC for sending me a copy in exchange for my honest review!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Alex and Eliza and The Witches of East End comes a reimagining of Gotham for a new generation of readers. Before they became Batman, Catwoman, and The Joker, Bruce, Selina, and Jack were high schoolers who would do whatever it took--even destroy the ones they love--to satisfy their own motives.
After being kicked out of his boarding school, 16-year-old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to find that nothing is as he left it. What once was his family home is now an empty husk, lonely but haunted by the memory of his parents' murder. Selina Kyle, once the innocent girl next door, now rules over Gotham High School with a dangerous flair, aided by the class clown, Jack Napier.
When a kidnapping rattles the school, Bruce seeks answers as the dark and troubled knight--but is he actually the pawn? Nothing is ever as it seems, especially at Gotham High, where the parties and romances are of the highest stakes ... and where everyone is a suspect.
With enchanting art by Thomas Pitilli, this new graphic novel is just as intoxicating as it is chilling, in which dearest friends turn into greatest enemies--all within the hallways of Gotham High!
WOW! I was blown away by Gotham High. I don’t usually read comics, or superhero novels, but this one checked all of my boxes and made for a fun afternoon read. I loved de la Cruz’s take on Bruce, Selina, and Jack—she’s made a Batman enthusiast out of me!
The kidnapping storyline was fast-paced, and even though it wasn’t spelled out for me I could follow the plot easily. However, I was mostly motivated by the characters. The character development was careful and I appreciated the effort taken to humanize each of them. My favorite part was the flashbacks to Selina and Bruce’s childhood friendship, and the moments where they reconnected in the present. Gotham High is about in/famous characters before they came into their full selves, and it succeeds at building their personalities and getting the reader to empathize (even with future villains). I’m not an avid follower of the Batverse, so I appreciated this background info and I look forward to seeing the gang grow into their heroic selves in future installments.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews talking about the ways women are presented in this book, and I don’t disagree. However, I don't think a work in the DC universe exists in a vacuum, and so the context and the characters’ backgrounds also matter when reading. Yes, the characters are human and in high school, however they’re still Batman, Catwoman, and the Joker. Those personas are important to consider as well, and I think Selina’s behavior makes perfect sense in that context.
Pitilli’s art is incredible. Each page is packed with color and pop, and I definitely want to see more of his work. I especially love the way he used color and light to give emphasis in scenes. As Gotham High is a graphic novel, there’s very little text in the book, but I had absolutely no issue with that. I could look at the illustrations all day long. The characters appear so dynamic, and the scenes are in such vivid color that they leap off the page.
Overall, I’m giving Gotham High 5/5 stars. This graphic novel is a great adventure read that all will enjoy. You might also enjoy Mera: Tidebreaker, another DC graphic novel.
Thank you to Delacorte Press and Netgalley for sharing a copy in exchange for my honest review. I apologize for my lateness!
In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls' lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn't sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh's involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it's a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.
I love reading books based on lesser-known fairytales. Think The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but more creepy and romantic. I loved it. Now, I’ve never actually read the original tale, but I don’t think that had much bearing on my enjoyment of House of Salt and Sorrows. This book was always going to have my heart because of its atmosphere and world.
Annaleigh's life is filled with gorgeous dresses and silk shoes, but also tinged with grief after the death of her sisters. She balances her mourning with her family's desire to move forward and her own budding romance. However! There is also an element of mystery (which will always, always get me) because Annaleigh’s sisters have all died dramatically, and she wonders if they might have been murdered.
The mystery aspect of the novel is as sweeping as the glamour. I was deeply invested in finding out what happened to Annaleigh’s family, and found myself easily carried away by various aspects of the story. The plot grows more and more intense towards the end, and Craig brought the novel to a solid conclusion. Of course, I never wanted the book to end at all! I was trying to unravel the mystery as Annaleigh put the clues together, but a few twists had me gasping in surprise.
House of Salt and Sorrows seems like a magical book from the very beginning, what with the rituals of Salten and the Thaumas’s glittering lifestyle, but the magic becomes more real towards the end of the novel. Despite the late introduction, I found everything completely believable, and didn’t hesitate to let myself fall into Highmoor.
No fairytale fantasy would be complete without a romance either, and especially one with a mysterious stranger! Cassius, Annaleigh’s new beau, has some secrets of his own, but oh my wow! What a stunning and romantic relationship these two had! I’d put this one in the books with Feyre and Rhysand of A Court of Thorns and Roses and Harper and Rhen from A Heart so Fierce and Broken.
Overall, House of Salt and Sorrows earns 5/5 stars from me! It was one of my favorite reads of 2019, and I hope you all will pick it up as well.
Thank you to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for sharing this copy in exchange for my honest review.
Tala Warnock has little use for magic – as a descendant of Maria Makiling, the legendary Filipina heroine, she negates spells, often by accident. But her family’s old ties to the country of Avalon (frozen, bespelled, and unreachable for almost 12 years) soon finds them guarding its last prince from those who would use his kingdom’s magic for insidious ends.
And with the rise of dangerous spelltech in the Royal States of America; the appearance of the firebird, Avalon’s deadliest weapon, at her doorstep; and the re-emergence of the Snow Queen, powerful but long thought dead, who wants nothing more than to take the firebird's magic for her own – Tala’s life is about to get even more complicated….
I am… very confused. I love Rin Chupeco’s writing so much, as well as the ways she shifts her fantasy writing away from the typical Western approaches. However, this book just didn’t hook me, and I’m not totally sure why. I think my main source of confusion is the world building, which is central to the story but somehow never fully fleshed out. There’s Alice in Wonderland inspiration, “spelltech” (what?), as well as the Slavic Firebird myth and an Ice Queen. What do these stories have in common? How are they somehow combined and real?
The best part of the book is clearly the characters. Tala is cool—she’s a bit of a chosen one, but there’s a reasonable explanation so I don’t have a problem with this. She’s Filipina, living in the US (where there’s a royal family, but many aspects of our IRL government are still in place), and has a tight-knit family around her neighborhood, who are all affiliated with Avalon.
Alex, the Prince of Avalon, is kind and dorky and I just! want! him! to be! SAFE! I love him so much, if anything happened to him I would reach inside of this book and resuscitate him myself. Well… that’s an exaggeration. However, he and Tala are the best characters in this novel, so my love is justified. Two things about Alex that I like: first, he’s gay (queer rep, yay! see my list of 2020’s hottest LGBTQ+ YA here!) and he’s not given a tragic story because of that. Yes to having queer characters in fantasy novels! No to the bury-your-gays trope! Second, he’s got an angsty backstory and new curse to live with, (a la Rhen from A Curse so Dark and Lonely), a trope I love.
A hallmark of Chupeco’s books is the diverse cast, which includes characters of many ethnicities, gender identities, and sexualities. So many people will be able to find themselves in this novel, and I can definitely get on board with that.
I appreciate how much attention Chupeco gives to the plot, so each character has clear goals and motives. Even the side characters had purpose, which helped me remember them. Two of my favorites are Lola Urduja and Tala’s mom, who are both fierce warriors. They had some truly awesome fight scenes in the book. Even through my confusion, I didn’t want to put the book down, just so I could find out what happens to Tala, Alex, and Avalon. In the beginning, I worried that I wouldn’t feel connected to Tala’s quest because I couldn’t understand the world, but that fear faded as I kept reading. I wouldn’t say that everything makes sense at the end, but I am surprised by some of the different plot points and excited for their potential in future books.
As always, the writing is perfect. I’m a big fan of Chupeco’s prose; I find it deft and adaptable, which serves all of her novels well. I will be anticipating the second book in the series, in the hopes that it fleshes out more of the world building and characters. 3/5 stars. I am still confused about the ways fairytales and the real world intersect here, but the pace picks up in the second half of the book, so I didn’t want to stop reading. Perhaps other readers will be able to unlock the secrets of this book’s magic, but until the sequel comes out, I will say it’s just not for me.
Hey, I'm Shreya! I love to read, write, travel, and drink coffee.
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