“Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland

Another surprising read I didn’t expect to enjoy.

I’d given up on YA books because I became annoyed that they were mostly romance novels touted as other genres. Whether they are categorized as fantasy or horror or sci-fi, the main focus of the story is always the romance and often it is the weakest part of the story. Because of that, I stopped reading YA books for a while. But the few rave reviews I’ve seen of Dread Nation, as well as this article, got me curious and made me want to read the book. So I did.

Genre:

Historical fiction — alternative history; Horror (it’s not scary)

Pubbed:

2018

Goodreads summary:

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

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“Geekerella” by Ashley Poston

I’m surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did.

Genre:

Contemporary; Romance

Pubbed:

2017

Goodreads summary:

Cinderella goes to the con in this fandom-fueled twist on the classic fairy tale.

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom. Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win…unless her stepsisters get there first.

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“The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. I was so eager to read it, but for some reason, I delayed doing so until later in the year. I was also convinced I would love it. I’d read/listened to a few interviews with Arden and loved what she said about her book and the books that have inspired her over the years. It all made me excited for The Bear and the Nightingale. But maybe I was too excited and eager because when I did read the novel, I thought it underwhelming and didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Quick summary:

The Bear and the Nightingale is the first novel in a YA fantasy trilogy seeped in Russian history and folklore. It’s about a girl, Vasilia “Vasya” Petrovna, who was born with the fabled powers her grandmother possessed. Vasya can communicate with spirits, fey creatures who protect the hearth and home and help make her father’s lands prosperous.

Vasya’s father is a boyar, a royal who’s similar to a prince, but his lands lay in northern Russia, where winters can be hard and harsh. Though affluent, not many people live on his lands and I got the impression that he oversees a small village of people who help to maintain his lands. Vasya is the youngest of her siblings. Her mother died during childbirth, convinced that finally she has given birth to a child possessing the fabled powers of her maternal line.

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“Shadowshaper” by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper

I love the cover.

When I heard there was a young-adult, fantasy novel coming out that’s set in Brooklyn with a Latina as its protagonist, I HAD to read it. But for some reason, the first couple pages didn’t grip me and I avoided purchasing and reading it for a long time. After rediscovering that I own a library card (yes, I sometimes forget. I’m not great at borrowing things), I rented it on Overdrive. Here’s what I thought.

Quick summary:

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Sierra Santiago planned to have an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a mysterious fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for herself and generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper marks the YA debut of a brilliant new storyteller.

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“Shadow Scale” by Rachel Hartman

Shadow ScaleI was surprised when I received a copy of Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale in the mail. I’d sent a request for an ARC after seeing a giveaway in a Shelf Awareness newsletter. Once I got it, I delayed reading. I knew that if I started reading immediately, I’d probably get stuck in a fantasy rut and forget about completing Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, a book on habits. Also, I had to reread Seraphina, the first in the series to acclimate myself to the story once again. I even read the prequel, The Audition, though it didn’t add much to the story, I find. But reading the books back-to-back helped me to keep up with the story.

Re-reading Seraphina made me appreciate the story more. Though I enjoyed my first read, I didn’t find the story fulfilling because I rushed through it. This time I read quickly but also paid attention and thus grew to admire both Hartman’s world building and Seraphina’s strength and gumption. These elements are heightened in Shadow Scale, which is adventurous where Seraphina is more introspective. The adventures Seraphina embarks on while searching for the half-dragons requires her to draw on all her skills and also exposes the foundation of Hartman’s world of dragons.

A quick recount: (spoilers)

Shadow Scale picks up a few months after the events is Seraphina. The dragon civil war is in full swing. Demands have been made for the Comonot to return to Tanamoot to be excised and punished but Princess Glisselda refuses to turn him over, which places Goredd in danger of a dragon attack. Since Goredd doesn’t have much dracomachia machines, or many men knowledgeable in fighting dragons, they are at a disadvantage. Therefore the Princess, Prince Lucian, and Seraphina were all happy when Orma sent a note detailing a weapon that ityasaaris (a.k.a. half-dragons) can wield to fight the dragons and protect Goredd. The weapon requires that the ityasaaris link their minds using their mind-fire, the source of the special abilities. After having Abdo and Lars test a small version of it, the Princess consents to Seraphina’s search for the ityasaaris she encountered in her mind to bring them to Goredd to help with the war. With the consent, Seraphina hopes to make real the garden she has created in her mind.

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“The Blue Sword” by Robin McKinley

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

Available on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble thinking I read it back in high school. The book I recalled reading had a girl with flaming red hair, wielding a sword, and fighting a dragon that burnt off all her hair, which was never again as lustrous as it once was. After reading The Blue Sword, I realized that the book I was thinking of was The Hero and the Crown. As I mentioned in my reflection on Spindle’s End, The Hero and the Crown was the first book I read by Robin McKinley. Like Ursula Le Guin and J.K. Rowling, McKinley’s characters tend to stay with me for years. The details of the story may cloud over with memories but the characters never fade away.

At first, I did not expect any aspect of The Blue Sword to stand out to me. When I discovered it was not the book I thought it to be, I got upset and felt gypped and threw the book back in my bookcase. I didn’t bother to give it a chance. And how rude of me to do so, especially to Robin McKinley! A few months later, I saw The Blue Sword again while I was organizing my bookcase and decided to read it

A quick summary: (Here be spoilers!)

The Blue Sword is about a girl named Harry Crewe who moves to Ihistan, a military outpost in Daria, a land claimed by Homelanders, to live closer to her brother after their father died. She finds herself bored by the area but fascinated by its native inhabitants, the Damarians, or the Hillfolk, as they are referred to by the Homelanders. (The Hillfolk call the Homelanders Outlanders.) The Homelanders invaded and colonized Damar, a fabled land that is said to contain magic, to access the mines in its hills. Leaving the desert to the invading Homelanders, the Damarians retreated to the mountains that surround the desert. While some Damarians mingle with the Homelanders, others refuse to associate with them. Both, though, refuse to share much of their culture with the Homelanders, whom they see as obnoxious. The Homelanders instead speculate about what they do not know of the Damarians, who they think to be peculiar and secretive.

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“Lioness Rampant” by Tamora Pierce

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

Available on Amazon and at you local bookstore.

A quick summary:

The Song of the Lioness series continues with Alanna and Coram in Maren, a country to the east of Tortall. Her purpose there is to find a friend of Myles’, who can translate a map she was given by the nameless woman who died in the last book. She discovers that the map points the way to the Roof of the World, where the Dominion Jewel is kept. The Dominion Jewel is a powerful object that only a true leader can wield. Alanna decides to embark on an adventure to claim the Dominion Jewel for Tortall to prove her worth as a lady-knight and to further fortify Tortall.

But before she begins this adventure, she meets a dragon. No, not one with pointy teeth and fiery breath but one just as deadly. She meets Liam, a member of the Shang warriors. He is called the Shang Dragon, “the best of the best,” and is lethal both with weapons and weaponless. Immediately Alanna is drawn to him and it’s lust at first sight. The Lioness and the Dragon engage in a stormy affair that’s short-lived due to their stark differences, stubbornness, and Liam’s fear of magic. After hearing of their plans, Liam decides to accompany Alanna and Coram to the Roof. Along the way, they meet Buri, a K’miri warrior, who accompanies Thayet, the exiled princess of Sarain. They both travel with children, fugitives of Sarain’s civil war.

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