Tag: fantasy

Book Review: White Stag, by Kara Barbieri

white stag
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   White Stag
Author:   Kara Barbieri
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old Janneke was the last child in a family of daughters, so she was raised as a son and heir. Instead of being trained as a wife and mother like her sisters, she learned to track, hunt, and fight.

A hundred years ago, goblins attacked and destroyed her village and her entire family, leaving her bound to the cruel goblin prince Lydian, who tortured her for years, before she became bound to his nephew, Soren.

Janneke is slowly losing her humanity amidst the violence of the goblin court, but when the king dies and the ancient hunt for the white stag to choose the next king begins, she must choose between her lingering memories of being human and her loyalty to Soren, who has only helped her grow stronger.

White Stag was dark, atmospheric, and broody—in a good way. The Permafrost setting is stark and made me shiver. Janneke grows a lot, especially as she learns truths she never knew. However, I didn’t get a good feel for the goblin culture, apart from violence and cruelty, and I really wanted to know more. There must be a reason for the violence, so more information would have given the culture more nuances. And I found all the characters besides Soren and Janneke to be mostly one-dimensional.

Kara Barbieri lives in Wisconsin. White Stag is her debut novel.

(Galley provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Iron Flower, by Laurie Forest

the iron flower

Title:   The Iron Flower
Author:   Laurie Forest
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

High Priest Marcus Vogel and his influence—not to mention his army—is spreading quickly, along with his hate-filled, racist beliefs. The Gardnerian soldiers are tightening their hold everywhere, and the strict laws make life difficult, not to mention the fear their cruelty instills. Every non-Gardnerian is a target, and death is the sentence for many.

Elloren Gardner may be the granddaughter of a murderess, but she is a mage with almost no power. She’s determined to fight to save her friends and family. For Elloren, “family” is her brothers, her uncle, and her friends—of all races and species. Most of all, she wishes she weren’t Gardnerian and seen as the enemy by many she wants to help. As if that isn’t enough, she is the very image of her evil grandmother—and even the forest whispers dark things against her.

As the darkness around her grows worse, Elloren struggles to find a way out for her friends and family—any way out—and is willing to risk her life to save whoever she can. Then there’s Lukas Grey, commander of the military base and determined to win Elloren over, no matter what. The pull between them is strong, but Elloren has no way of knowing which side he’s truly on—or what he wants.

Let me say that I have not read The Black Witch, the first book in this series, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of The Iron Flower. (And, I’ll be buying and reading it immediately!) This was a fantastic read, and I was drawn in from the very first page. Elloren is fighting her heritage and what she’s always known as she realizes just how horrible those beliefs are. Diversity is something the Gardnerians hate, but Elloren sees its beauty—and will fight to protect it. This is a dark book, but completely compelling, and I read it in about 24 hours, staying up far too late to find out what happens!

Laurie Forest lives and writes in the woods of Vermont. The Iron Flower is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Once a King, by Erin Summerill

once a king
HMH Books for Young Readers

 

Title:   Once a King
Author:   Erin Summerill
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   5 out of 5

The kingdom of Malam has a dark history of persecuting Channelers, women with magical ability, but now the young king, Aodren is seeking to end the persecution and unite his kingdom. But decades of hatred cannot be undone with words, and rumors of a Channeler-made drug are causing fears to burst into flame, and violence to erupt.

Lirra was born in Malam, but her father fled when she was an infant, after her mother was murdered. She distrusts Malam and its new young king, and wants only to perform in the magic showcase, her chance to let her talents shine. But the deadly drug makes a kingdoms-wide summit even more dangerous, and soon Lirra is forced to work with Aodren as they try to find the source of the mysterious drug—and who’s behind it—before Malam’s future is destroyed forever.

This is a standalone, but it’s linked to the other books in the Clash of Kingdoms series, and I had no trouble picking this up without reading the first two (which sometimes does NOT work out). The worldbuilding was fantastic, and the sense of history gave so many compelling layers to this story! The characters are struggling to work together despite the many things that should make that impossible, as they do everything they can to overcome years and a culture of hatred. Highly recommended!

Erin Summerill is an award-winning author. Once a King is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by HMH Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Fire and Heist, by Sarah Beth Durst

fire & heist
Image belongs to Random House Children’s/Crown Books for Young Readers.

Title:  Fire and Heist
Author:   Sarah Beth Durst
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

Sky Hawkins’s family fell from grace and lost some of their wealth and most of their good name when her mother disappeared after a heist gone bad. Sky lost her mom, her friends, and her boyfriend all at the same time, as well as becoming a social media and paparazzi pariah. Sky is a wyvern (a were dragon), after all, and the media is fascinated by her family and culture.

No one will talk about her mother’s disappearance, and Sky wants to know what really went down, so she starts to plan her first heist to find out. The first heist is a coming-of-age for wyverns, and Sky is determined to succeed at hers, and save her family’s good name, her mother, and her relationship at one time. Until she learns more about the mysterious jewel her mother was after—and realizes someone has been hiding dark secrets about wyvern history for years.

This is a clean read, and suitable for even younger YA readers. The wyvern society is intriguing and well-thought-out. It makes sense for were-dragons, and I loved how it tied in historical figures to the wyvern worldbuilding. Sky is kind of an innocent about life, so I’d say this is skewed a bit towards younger readers, and a few things seemed a little too easy, but it was a an entertaining and fun read.

Sarah Beth Durst writes fantasy books for all ages. Fire and Heist is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Random House Children’s/Crown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Shadow of the Fox, by Julie Kagawa

shadow of the fox
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   Shadow of the Fox
Author:   Julie Kagawa
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Yumeko has been raised by monks in the Silent Winds temple. The isolation helps hide her half-kitsune nature—along with the training of the monks who want to suppress her mischievous personality. The temple exists to protect part of an ancient scroll fated to summon the great Kami Dragon. The last time the dragon was summoned, a thousand years of darkness followed.  When the temple is destroyed, and the monks slain, Yumeko is left with the scroll fragment—and instructions to find a hidden temple.

But Yumeko isn’t the only one interested in the scroll. Kage Tatsumi, a samurai of the mysterious shadow clan, has been charged to find the scroll—and let no one stand in his way. Yumeko has no idea how to survive outside the temple and promises to take Kage to the scroll if he helps her find the temple. Kage has no idea she’s holding a piece of the scroll, and her deception could tear them apart—if his dark secret doesn’t destroy them both first.

I am fascinated by Japanese culture and mythology, and I really loved the Iron Fey series, so I was excited to read this. However, I found it pretty slow going until the last third of the book. The setting is fantastic and fascinating, but the plot seemed a bit predictable. Yumeko was very naïve—to be expected from her upbringing—and I actually liked that about her, although I think she needed some more common sense at times to counteract her lack of experience. A solid read.

Julie Kagawa is a New York Times-bestselling author. Shadow of the Fox is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Nightingale, by Amy Lukavics

nightingale+cover
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   Nightingale
Author:   Amy Lukavics
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old June Hardie does not fit in. In 1951, young women are expected to want marriage and a family, and to know how to cook and clean and take care of their husband. June wants to write stories about alien abductions and travel the world as a writer. Her father forces her into a relationship with his partner’s son, and June finds herself practically engaged to the domineering boy, her dreams of becoming a writer shattering, along with June herself.

June ends up in an asylum, a hospital to help women get better. But things there don’t make sense. The words of the other girls make her realize she’s not the only one who thinks this, but those who speak up disappear or worse. And there’s something odd about the head nurse and the doctor. Maybe June really is losing or mind—or maybe there’s more to her story than she ever imagined.

This is marketed as horror, but I didn’t think it was scary—and I’m a big chicken. Instead, it was just weird. Okay, the complete lack of women’s rights plus what was expected of women was horrifying, but the rest of the books was just odd. June is an unreliable narrator at best, and I spent the entire book wondering what, exactly, the point was. The cover is beautiful, though.

Amy Lukavics writes horror fiction. Nightingale is her newest novel.

Book Review: Embolden, by Syrie James and Ryan St. James

embolden
Image belongs to LDLA Publishing.

Title:   Embolden
Author:   Syrie James and Ryan St. James
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   3 out of 5

Being half angel isn’t easy for Claire Brennan. Her mom and grandmother keep a constant eye on her. She must keep her angel boyfriend, Alec, secret from the local Watcher. She’s trying to find her angel father, who was kidnapped 16 years ago. She tries to avoid her vengeful enemies. And then there’s high school, with all its drama, including the school musical.

Claire is developing new powers, ones that will have every person in her life afraid, but it’s the only way to find her father and keep Alec safe. Except Alec is keeping secrets of his own, secrets that could prove dangerous for them both.

I read Forbidden and Embolden back-to-back. I like the premise of angels and Nephilim but have a few difficulties with the basic set-up of these books. Like, why is Alec, over a hundred years old, interested in a teenager? That’s a little creepy. No matter what he looks like, the life experience puts a pretty big gap between them. And Claire herself is…basically a selfish, clueless teenager. She has no problem using her powers on those around her. She only wants to talk about her problems and can’t understand her friends wanting to have their own lives. She’s willful, whiny, and childish, and somehow thinks it’s a good idea to tell all her friends the details of the whole angel/Nephilim world, which is supposed to be a secret. So, not smart, either. Again, interesting concept, but the characters detracted significantly from the execution.

Syrie James and Ryan St. James are a mother and son writing team. Embolden is their newest novel.

(Galley provided by LDLA Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Darkest Star, by Jennifer L. Armentrout

the darkest star
Image belongs to Tor Teen.

Title:   The Darkest Star
Author:   Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

When Evie Dasher agrees to go to a club where humans and Luxen can both hang out, she never expects to be caught up in a police raid. Nor does she expect to find herself talking to the very attractive Luc, who annoys her from the beginning. But, one lost cell phone later and Evie finds herself back at the club in search of Luc.

With girls from her high school turning up dead—and left in public places—it’s not safe for Evie to go anywhere, much less with the mysterious Luc. She thinks he might be one of the Luxen, and the girls appear to have been killed by one. But Luc is hiding bigger secrets than that, and soon Evie finds herself right in the middle of a battle.

I’ve never read any of the Luxen books—or anything else by this author—so I was pretty neutral going in. I ended up enjoying the read, despite a few predictable “twists.” Luc was not the most likable character. I found him quite arrogant, and Evie has a few clueless moments, but I still enjoyed the read.

Jennifer L. Armentrout is an award-winning and best-selling author from West Virginia. The Darkest Star is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Tor Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Umbertouched, by Livia Blackburne

umbertouched
Image belongs to Disney Hyperion.

Title:  Umbertouched
Author:   Livia Blackburne
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   5 out of 5

Zivah and Dineas failed at their mission and barely escaped with their lives. They have information, but they have no proof of what they know. They desperately need to get home before Ampara attacks their people—who need to be warned of the looming danger.

Dineas spent months thinking he was an Amparan soldier—and now his fellow Shidadi warriors question his loyalty—as does he. Zivah made choices during their mission that broke her healer’s vows, and she’s not sure she can ever regain what she lost—especially when the leaders ask the unthinkable of her. She and the Dineas from Sehmar City were in love, but that Dineas is gone now, leaving both stumbling over their feelings and their history. As Zivah’s plague symptoms return, she struggles to come to terms with her reality—and Dineas fights battles of his own.

I loved Rosemarked, and Umbertouched is just as good! These characters and this world are so vivid and so compelling, that I just can’t put the books down. Zivah is a strong person, but she struggles under so many burdens, afraid to hope as she suffers. And Dineas is torn between two truths:  his whole life as a Shidadi warrior, and his brief time as an Amparan soldier.

Livia Blackburne has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from MIT. Umbertouched is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Salt, by Hannah Moskowitz

salt
Image belongs to Chronicle Books.

Title:   Salt
Author:   Hannah Moskowitz
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old Indi has only ever known one life:  roaming the oceans with his parents, his older sister, his younger brother, and his younger sister as they seek out and destroy the sea monsters plaguing the seas. Their life is spent in secret, trying to keep others outside their calling from knowing about the monsters. Indi grew up thinking it was normal, until his parents disappeared while on the trail of a huge monster, leaving he and his sister Beleza to take care of their younger siblings.

Beleza wants revenge on the monster that killed their parents and will stop at nothing to track it down. Oscar seems intent on becoming a pirate, or at least a very adept thief. Six-year-old Zulu is brilliant but has no chance at an education on the ocean. Indi just wants to take care of his family—and maybe, just maybe, do something for himself just once.

The premise of this novel is pretty incredible:  sea monsters exist, and families that have hunted them for centuries continue to do so, keeping them secret from the rest of the world. I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth and fleshing-out of the characters, but the concept was unique. The final battle was a bit of a letdown, but I still enjoyed the adventure.

Hannah Moskowitz’s new novel is Salt.

(Galley provided by Chronicle Books in exchange for an honest review.)