Tag: fantasy

Book Review:  Monsters Born and Made, by Tanvi Berwah

Image belongs to SourcebooksFire.

TitleMonsters Born and Made     
Author:  Tanvi Berwah  
Genre: Fantasy, YA   
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers―the ruling elite, have indentured Koral’s family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they’re lucky―survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family’s financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can’t afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral’s only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against contenders―including her ex-boyfriend―who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. When a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose―her life or her sister’s―before the whole island burns.

She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn’t prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite.

I enjoyed this read a lot!  The culture this is set in is very dark and depressing—basically hopeless—and Koral’s struggles to save her family were set amidst that darkness. Though dark, the culture is vividly portrayed, with hints at centuries of history that hide many secrets. Of course this story will draw Hungry Games comparisons  because of its very nature, but I found it compelling in its own right.

Tanvi Berwah graduated from the university of Delhi. Monters Born and Made is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  A Venom Dark and Sweet, by Judy I. Lin

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: A Venom Dark and Sweet      
Author: Judy I. Lin   
Genre:  Fantasy, YA  
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

 A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

I loved the first book in this duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, but I don’t think this book quite lived up to that first one. I still loved the characters and the world, but the last half of the book felt a bit rushed and almost superficial, like the author was describing what happened—but not actually letting the reader experience it.

 Judy I. Lin lives in Canada. A Venom Dark and Sweet is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Master of Iron, by Tricia Levenseller

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feewel & Friends.

TitleMaster of Iron    
Author:  Tricia Levenseller
Genre:  YA
Rating:  4.2 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.

When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.

The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.

I hadn’t read the first book in this duology, so it took me a few minutes to get into this, but then I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ziva’s point-of-view is well-done and really shows how her anxiety feels from the inside—and the things she notices about how people respond to it. A nice level of magic and an interesting culture, as well as vivid and likable secondary characters made this an above-average fantasy read.

Tricia Levenseller is from Oregon. Master of Iron is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Violet Made of Thorns, by Gina Chen

Image belongs to Random House Children’s.

Title: Violet Made of Thorns     
Author: Gina Chen  
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.5

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

I enjoyed this story, but I have to say, Violet and Cyrus are both kind of unlikable jerks. Especially to each other. Cyrus’ arrogance is almost overwhelming at times, and Violet is just rude and hateful at least half the time. I enjoyed the culture and mythology, but their personalities were almost enough to make me DNF this. I’m interested in reading more about them—probably—but this isn’t a warm and fuzzy tale.

Gina Chen lives in California. Violet Made of Thorn is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in July (2022)

In July, I read 18 books, bringing my total for the year to 136 books. I also DNFed 12 books, which is a lot. I’m eight books behind schedule for the year. Hopefully I catch up! Of those 18, several of them were excellent. The best of those were:

The Bodyguard, by Katherine Center. I love this author’s books, but this one was the best of hers I’ve read. This made me laugh out loud several times (especially the “attacking” cow) and really relate to the main character. If you need a fun weekend read, grab this.

Long Story Short, by Serena Kaylor. This has everything: an awkward main character, a hot, brooding love interest, the enemies-to-lovers trope, great secondary characters. and lots of Shakespeare!

The Shadow Wand, by Laurie Forest. I’m still loving every page of this sometimes dark magical series.

Book Review and Blog Tour:  Ruthless, by Gena Showalter

Image belongs to Harlequin.

TitleRuthless    
Author:   Gena Showalter
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating: DNF

Micah the Unwilling, fae King of the Forgotten, can tame even the most violent of beasts. Forged on the battlefield, this iron-willed warrior considers his soldiers his family, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim their dispossessed land. Gearing for war with a sadistic enemy, he is disciplined and focused—until a feral beauty he encountered long ago wanders into his camp.

Viori de Aoibheall wields a terrifying ability to sing monsters to life. Having spent her childhood in a forest, raising herself and her frightening creations—the only friends she’s ever known—she’s ill prepared for the scarred royal and his fearsome brutality. Not to mention the ferocity of their connection and the carnality of his touch. But the real problem? Her brother is Micah’s greatest foe. And though the sensual king makes her burn, she must stop him, whatever the cost.

It really pains me to say this, but I didn’t read more than 15% of this because it was…not good. I’m normally a big Gena Showalter fan, especially her YA novels, but this…I just couldn’t do it. It was very clichéd, like a bad rip-off of a fairy tale. And the characters were unlikable. Micah was a jerk, concerned about himself—and his insta-love, which is another cliché. Viori was just an all-around terrible person, completely selfish and self-absorbed, cruel, and erratic. And…she has this mysterious history in New York, although she lives in the fae kingdoms, which wasn’t really believable for me. The worst thing, and the deciding vote for me not wasting any more time on this novel, was the mention of Cookie the Uncrumbled. If that’s not a bad, b-rate movie name, I don’t know what is.

Gena Showalter is a bestselling author. Ruthless is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  This Vicious Grace, by Emily Thiede

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   This Vicious Grace   
Author: Emily Thiede
Genre: YA, fantasy  
Rating:  5 out of 5

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

This was such a fantastic read! Alessa’s snark is so much fun—and it only gets better when Dante shows up. I really loved their interactions and banter. The world and culture were quite unique to me, and, while it isn’t really a culture I’d want to live in—or visit—the world-building was vividly realized and fascinating to read. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Emily Thiede lives in Virginia. This Vicious Grace is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Ordinary Monsters, by J. M. Miro

Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title: Ordinary Monsters   
Author: J. M. Miro
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

This took me a long time to read. It’s long, and I didn’t find it very fast-paced, even though there’s a lot going on. I thought it was fairly dark and a bit depressing, and there are echoes of other books I’ve read in there. There were a few loose threads, too, like Alice’s backstory, that just kind of stopped and I didn’t feel were resolved. Possibly for the rest of the trilogy?

J. M. Miro is from the Pacific Northwest. Ordinary Monsters is the first book in The Talents trilogy.

(Galley courtesy of Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour:   Breaking Time, by Sasha Alsberg

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

TitleBreaking Time  
Author:    Sasha Alsberg
Genre:    Fantasy
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

When a mysterious Scotsman appears out of nowhere in the middle of the road, Klara thinks the biggest problem is whether she hit him with her car. But, as impossible as it sounds, Callum has stepped out of another time, and it’s just the beginning of a deadly adventure.

Klara will soon learn that she is the last Pillar of Time—an anchor point in the timeline of the world and a hiding place for a rogue goddess’s magic. Callum is fated to protect her at all costs. A dark force is hunting for the Pillars, to claim the power of the goddess—and Klara and Callum are the only two standing in the way. Thrown together by fate, the two have to learn to trust one another and work together…but they’ll need to protect their hearts from one another if they’re going to survive.

This was a decent read. Nothing too unique, but nothing completely cookie cutter, either. I enjoyed Klara’s personality and I liked Callum, but sometimes his dialogue sounded like he was from the 1500s—appropriate—and sometimes it sounded like he was the boy next door—not appropriate at all and threw me out of the story. A quick read, but one I never really felt like the stakes were very high in—despite the supposed consequences of the plot.

Sasha Alsberg lives in Massachusetts. Breaking Time is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:   Kagen the Damned, by Jonathan Maberry

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:    Kagen the Damned
Author:    Jonathan Maberry
Genre:    Fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Sworn by Oath

Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods

Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of this enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.

Fueled by Rage

To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

This book took me a long time to read. Like, two entire weeks. The different cultures were so vivid and realistic, and I very much enjoyed that part of the story. The first third or so seemed to drag on a bit, although I liked Kagen enough to keep reading. I liked Tuke and his colorful language the most, though. Kagen spent a solid amount of time drinking himself into oblivion and feeling sorry for himself, so he kind of got on my nerves at times. I’d definitely keep reading this series though, just to find out how it all plays out.

Jonathan Maberry is a bestselling author. Kaen the Damned is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)