The Last Namsara

32667458by Kristen Ciccarelli
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut: October 3, 2017
*ARC review

I was eagerly awaiting this book the moment I heard the author was inspired by my favorite novel. At ALA I got my hands on an advanced reading copy and I could not be more excited!

Asha is the Iskari–the most-feared dragonslayer in the land. To atone for a terrible dragon attack when she was a child, Asha is determined to eradicate all dragons from their land, and the threat of the old stories along with them. But no matter how many heads she brings to the king, she is still set to marry the commandant, a man Asha despises and fears. Until her father makes a deal with her: bring him the head of the First Dragon, Kozu, and escape the betrothal. Asha only has six days, but she has never failed to kill a dragon she’s hunted.

The mythology of this world is addictive! I was most fascinated by the old stories that poisoned their tellers–for a story to eat a person from the inside out whether they speak or write it down kept my imagination up late into the night. Several of the stories are included in the book and I found myself wanting a bound copy of all of them. Of course, the dragons kept me enthralled! It is HARD to find good YA stories with dragons. I don’t know why. I would have loved even more of them, but their presence in this story always stole the show.

Asha’s journey was surprising to me and I’m interested to see what the next two books explore with the world and her place in it! I also hope to see more of Safire and Roa!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Last Namsara is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – This was the main comp for Namsara and it’s my favorite story ever. I am so blinded with love that I can’t see it clearly but it’s about a disgraced princess slaying dragons and trying to save her prince and her kingdom. See my review here.
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – Lessa is a kitchen slave harboring a plan for vengeance on those who killed her family and stole her land. But everything changes when she is selected to bond with the dragon queen, elevating her to leadership she has only dreamed of and forcing her to face a threat to the entire planet.
  • Eon by Alison Goodman – Eon has been training for years in magic and combat for the chance to become the next Dragoneye apprentice–the successor to bond with one of the twelve zodiacal dragons that governs the land. But Eon’s secret is that she is a 16-year-old girl, not a 12-year-old boy, and if this is discovered the penalty is death. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is a talented musician with connections in the royal court. Yet she fears the discovery that she has more than diplomatic ties to the scientific geniuses that are the dragon ambassadors to humans. This is a complex, interesting world where dragons and magic must coexist with wary humans intent on preserving peace. See my review here.
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Wild Beauty

33158561by Anna-Marie McLemore
YA Contemporary / Magical Realism
5 of 5 stars
*ARC review

This is one of my new favorite authors! I read When the Moon Was Ours earlier this year and it blew my mind in every way. I’ve been hotly anticipating this book since spring and I snagged an ARC at ALA this summer (AND I got to meet Anna-Marie and babble something about how much I love her and her work while trying to stifle my emotions). I’m a mess where her writing is concerned–I love it so much, and I honestly would not be able to say whether I enjoyed Moon or this one more, but she is on my auto-buy list from now on! Ready for my completely unbiased review yet?

Estrella and the rest of the Nomeolvides women live their lives rooted to the mysterious garden, La Pradera, that protects their magical abilities to grow plants (abilities that make most people fear and shun them as witches). The cost of this safe haven is their hearts: if they love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But when a boy appears in the gardens, they begin to hope the gardens’ curse is ending. Of course, it’s nowhere near that simple.

Estrella pulls you into the Nomeolvides household and it feels like you become part of their family. The food, the squabbles, the arguments, the fierce loyalty–I never wanted to leave. The relationships between the five cousins, their mothers, and the cousins with their aunts and grandmothers are rich with complexity and shatterproof bonds. I loved exploring the layers and lives of all of these women!

Through her trademark magical realism, delicious prose, and imagery you swear you can taste and smell, McLemore weaves this utterly bewitching story that explores family, love, loss, secrets, and bisexuality. I adored every page of this! Her writing is an experience. How she takes ordinary words and turns them into this–that is its own magic.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wild Beauty is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Finn is horrified when Roza goes missing, just like the rest of Bone Gap, Illinois. He alone wants to keep searching for her several months later, despite his disgrace. He was the only who saw the man that took Roza–but he can’t remember his face. This story is filled with magical realism and heartbreaking truths about people. See my review here.
  • Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar – Another story featuring bees and magical realism, this one takes place in the Southwest. Carolina’s family is spending the summer at her grandfather’s ranch, prepping it for sale. Her grandfather is going to an assisted living home (against his will) and Carolina is caught in the middle of her family’s drama. Then her grandfather’s story about a village, a tree, and magic bees starts to seem less like fiction and more like family history. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – I love this magical realism story about a small town with a reservoir and two sisters–Ruby, who is everything, and Chloe, who looks up to her older sister. Ruby will do anything to keep her sister safe with her–even if it means bending the reality of their town and everyone in it. See my review here.
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Brother and sister Noah and Lo spend the summer on the coast with their grandmother. Their plans change dramatically when Noah pulls a girl from the water, and they begin to suspect she—and someone else they know—may be selkies. See my review here.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction

28915986by Donald Maass
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

My CP’s recommended this to me and I’m so glad they did! Packed with practical wisdom and insight, it’s one of the best craft books I’ve read.

Many books about writing novels focus on the elements of a novel. The plot, setting, characters, pacing, etc. All of those are important, but this book takes a different approach. If the most important element of the reading experience is how a book makes you feel, approach all of the tent poles of a novel with the emotional effects in mind. The best story in the world falls flat if it doesn’t connect emotionally. When you recommend a book, isn’t it because it made you feel something or think about something in a new way? I know that’s definitely true for me!

Broken into sections that highlight the inner and outer journeys of the character, and the journey of the writer in bringing that character to life, it lays out tips for what causes our emotional reactions to fiction and how to guide those reactions to create the resonance you intended. It’s definitely not easy, but the rewards are huge.

I found this to be immensely helpful, and much less condescension towards women / genre writing than is typical in craft books (at least in my experience!). There’s also a helpful checklist in the back of all the techniques covered, so you can quickly refer to them. This is one I will be referring to a lot going forward!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Emotional Craft of Fiction is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder – I’ve heard great things about this screenwriting book and I keep meaning to check it out! Many authors recommend this as one of the most helpful books they read.
  • The Positive / Negative / Emotion Thesauruses by Angela Ackerman – These are three invaluable guides to psychology and character motivations! Also a good way to find the most accurate and interesting way of writing your characters’ emotions and plans as they try to survive your story’s plot.

The Savage Dawn

28872472by Melissa Grey
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I was determined to catch up and finish this series and I got to it only a month after it ended, so…success! Echo and her band of allies has come a long way from an ill-timed museum heist and they managed to stay optimistic in the face of unbearable darkness in this book.

Tanith is the vessel for the kuçedra, the opposite of Echo’s firebird in every way. Tanith is determined to unmake the world and remake it into one that the Drakharin rule. Echo and her fragile Avicen/Drakharin alliance are left scrambling, always one step behind, wondering if any power they possess can combat Tanith.

From the beginning, Echo’s sharp wit and ready jokes combined with the alluring and sometimes dark magic of her world drew me in, and in the second book I was even more impressed with the balance of bravado and gravitas. This time, things grew so serious that I found their attempts at humor a bit off. I was so struck by the dire events surrounding them that jokes fell flat for me.

The inexorable pull of threads to tie up keeps the pages turning, but the stakes rose so rapidly I struggled to pace. There were bold choices made in this installment which I admire. Overall, this is a good end for the trilogy and it holds true to its themes throughout. I just love this cast of characters! 

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Savage Dawn is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – The massive and spell-binding conclusion to this trilogy about seraphs, chimaera and star-crossed lovers that hoped to stop their endless war. Karou and Akiva’s splintered relationship is all that remains to ally them against Jael’s army of seraphs that want to rule all of Eretz and Earth. See my review here.
  • Valiant by Holly Black – When Val runs away to New York City, she falls in with a group of friends and their mysterious, at times dangerous magical contacts. They live in the subway system, and Val quickly learns that monsters come in many forms.
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane – I was enthralled with this story when it came out! Nita finds a “how to” guide book in the vein of learning a career, except this book teaches you how to become a wizard. Once she meets fellow wizard Kit, they are drawn into adventures. It’s like an American “Harry Potter” before HP hit it big.

Saints and Misfits

32333055by S.K. Ali
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: June 13, 2017

This is a perfect depiction of high school–a YA book truly written for teens, and I loved it!

Janna Yusuf is an Indian-American hijabi teen trying to fit her identity into every part of her life while making the fewest waves. But when her best friend’s cousin assaults her, she must decide if she will be the one to expose him. He’s a saint in their community, and she’s the only one who knows he’s a monster.

This is a serious novel and a heavy read, but the writing is excellent. Janna’s stress and emotional turmoil is portrayed in big and small moments. Sometimes she lashes out, sometimes she makes a surprisingly compassionate decision, but she does everything while navigating her parents’ recent divorce, her brother’s courtship with the perfect Muslim girl, and her network of friends. She learns who to trust, and what her personal beliefs are, and what forms a solid faith and what does not. Her female friendships are the brightest and lowest points of the book and I loved how true that is to high school. There are feel-good moments in this story but it doesn’t sugarcoat anything either. I rec this to anyone who enjoys YA contemporary with more nuance and reflection.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Saints and Misfits is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy – Ramona is as well-known in her small southern town for her blue hair as she is for being a lesbian. But her surety of her identity is tested when an old friend moves back and she discovers not everyone fits into a box. See my review here.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – Starr’s life comes under intense scrutiny from both her white high school and her black neighborhood when she witnesses the police shooting of her unarmed friend Khalil. See my review here.
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – An art-filled story of friendship–and rivalry. When Julia is expelled and becomes the only Deaf girl in a mainstream school, she throws herself into her art even more. But she unwittingly stumbles into a turf war and must figure out who is trying to push her out. See my review here.
  • Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley – Aki has always known she is bi. At least, she’s pretty sure, even though she’s only had boyfriends. But when she develops a crush on another girl during their Mexico mission trip, she finds herself putting her theory into practice as they deepen their secret relationship. But Christa doesn’t want to keep it a secret. See my review here.’
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi is caught between two worlds, trying to please her traditional Mexican American family, and trying to fit in at school. Both worlds give her nothing but stress: college apps, one best friend coming out to his religious family, her pregnant sister, her father’s drug habit, and her mother’s constant advice to lose weight. Finding her voice through poetry might be the only way she survives. See my review here.

Goldenhand

23302838by Garth Nix
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading about the Old Kingdom since I was….12? Sabriel (remains a favorite), Lirael, Abhorsen and then Clariel the prequel and now this one, another chapter in Lirael’s story. I love this world, I love the characters, the magic–it feels as familiar to me as our world and returning for a new story is always a cozy feeling!

Lirael is trying to fit in with her newfound royal family and manage her duties as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. She also has to adjust to her glowing, golden hand that Sam made her, and the loss of the Disreputable Dog. Sabriel and Touchstone go on holiday to enjoy the peace–which is of course when chaos returns. Ferin is trying to reach Lirael with a vital message from the north, and Nick is trying to reach Lirael about a Free Magic creature south of the Wall, and it takes some time for these events to be linked.

Although slower than some of the other books, I found the lead-in to the inevitable meeting between them all interesting, because we learn so much more about the Old Kingdom and its inhabitants, as well as about Charter Magic.

This hit all the sweet spots I expect for a continuation of a favorite series. Although the emphasis on romance was a bit disappointing, and I’ll always hope for more of Sabriel’s adventures, this was a satisfying, enjoyable read.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Goldenhand is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – A trilogy filled with dark magic and destiny. Lyra gets drawn into the political and religious fronts about to start a war for the freedom of human souls. It’s action-packed but thoughtful as Lyra grows up and faces her role in a prophecy that could change her world forever.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci vol 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – The Chrestomanci is the nine-lived sorcerer responsible for keeping balance in the Twelve Related Worlds, but first he has to learn how that’s done. Especially if he can’t seem to do magic at all. These novellas are fun and imaginative like all of Jones’ work.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Kell is one of the last Antari, magicians that can travel between the four parallel worlds. Officially, he works for the king of Red London (where magic is vibrant and free) but unofficially, he smuggles objects between the worlds for those willing to pay. But when he accidentally smuggles a piece of Black London (which should be extinct) into Red London, all hell breaks loose across the four worlds. See my review here. See my review here.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

32191710by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Nonfiction
5 of 5 stars

This is perfect for anyone like me, anyone with a lot of questions about complicated matters and who isn’t entirely sure how to Google them. I enjoyed this book and I learned a lot!

Perhaps the most charming element of this book (aside from corny humor) is that the response “We don’t know yet” is presented with excitement rather than embarrassment. The sense of wonder in this tiny volume is pervasive and infectious!

Organized roughly chronologically and small-to-large, the chapters discuss topics ranging from the origins of the universe, spheres, and chemical compounds to life on other planets, dark matter, and stars. There’s a lot of information packed into this book and it truly is ideal for picking up to read 20 pages at a time. And despite taking some of the greatest mysteries humans have encountered, it presumes only a high school level of education and is easy to understand.

Highly recommend for everyone! I’ll probably check out more of his books–somehow he’s had time to write quite a few.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner – Another slim volume packed with bite-size insights about links between seemingly unrelated events. I really enjoyed this and it’s great for learning to organize information in your mind differently than you’d expect.
  • The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – Another short book that ruthlessly pares down your possessions to only those that “spark joy” in you, leading to a simpler, presumably happier life. Or if not happier, definitely less stressful. See my review here.
  • The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey – Although perhaps not quite as informative on a grand scale, this is an excellent illustration of the sacredness of life in any state or size. See my review here.

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