Beasts Made of Night

33395234by Tochi Onyebuchi
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars
Debut: October 31, 2017
*ARC review

Taj is the best sin-eater in Kos, but when he’s called to Eat the sin of the city’s prince, he’s drawn into a web of intrigue that will determine not only his fate, but that of the city he loves.

This is such a fascinating world! Kos is ruled by a religious monarchy, and sins can make people physically ill. Only the wealthy can afford an aki, or sin-eater, to Eat the sin that a mage calls from their body. The sinner is left purified, the aki is left to bear the guilt and emotional trauma of the sin, while a tattoo of an animal brands their body for each sin they Eat. Taj’s sin-spots don’t fade with time, which has given him a reputation among the aki and makes everyone else shun his “impurity.” The more sins an aki eats, the quicker they will go mad with the guilt.

Obviously, there is so much to explore here in regards to religion and sin and social classes and economics. My main disappointment with this book is that it’s so short! I would have loved to spend more time in Kos, exploring the city, and getting more information about the religion and sins from Taj. He’s instantly likable, and a great window into this world, but I felt so rushed through this story. I wanted more of his relationships with Bo, the princess, and the scholar. There are plenty of surprising and dark revelations about the sin-beasts and the magic in this world that will keep you turning pages and wishing you could sneak away to the mage library.

Probably my favorite aspect was the micro-setting of Kos. The city breathes life on every page and there’s something new around every corner! Taj races through it with expertise, and I felt like I knew it so well by the end.

This is a great fast-paced read, but you will definitely want a sequel!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli – Asha’s kingdom has banned the old stories for the deaths they cause, but that doesn’t stop her from telling them lure dragons. She’s determined to kill every dragon in the land, but the biggest one has a story to trade that will change her world. See my review here.
  • Eon by Alison Goodman – Eon is secretly Eona, a girl disguised as a boy to become a Dragoneye apprentice and bond with one of the 12 dragons that rules the land. It’s her only chance to leave her life of poverty and servitude for one of influence and power. See my review here.
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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

33958230by Julie C. Dao
YA Fantasy / Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October 10, 2017
*ARC review

This was one of my most-anticipated releases for this fall and I was lucky enough to snag an advanced reading copy at ALA this summer. This swept me away from the first chapter and I’m so sad this dark dream is over!

Xifeng’s impoverished existence is shadowed by her aunt Guma’s continual predictions for her greatness. Every time she reads Xifeng’s cards, they indicate she is meant to be Empress. Xifeng scoffs at the idea. She is no one, her incredible beauty and cleverness wasted in obscurity. Guma wants her to reject Wei, the man who loves her, because of her destiny, but Xifeng continues to see him–enduring brutal beatings from her aunt as a result. When Wei gives her the chance to run away, Xifeng thinks she is free of Guma’s abuse and can find her own fate. But her journey takes her to the imperial palace, and Xifeng decides to embrace her destiny and enter the palace as a lady-in-waiting. The competitive house of women tests Xifeng’s cunning in ways she didn’t expect, but each choice and gamble brings her closer to her goal. But becoming Empress will mean sacrificing everything she values and the man who loves her to claim the Emperor’s heart.

This is such a dark, addictive character study of a woman who believes her only worth lies in her flawless face and the power it provides. Xifeng is ruthless yet insecure as she feels the pull of destiny unraveling her morality. All she wants is the ability to control her own life, but as a woman in a patriarchal society her options are limited. Becoming Empress symbolizes safety and happiness for her because no one would outrank her.

Based on the stories of the Evil Queen, the fairy tale skeleton is visible beneath layers of fresh material and it provides additional significance to key moments in the best way. Xifeng’s journey feels inevitable and yet it’s clearly happening based on the choices she makes. Despite her darkness I could never bring myself to stop hoping she succeeded.

Although this is marketed as YA fantasy, I think the pacing, style, and themes better fit adult fantasy. Any readers who enjoy fairy tale re-tellings would enjoy this though!

The writing is vibrant, poetic, yet just as direct as its protagonist. Xifeng is unapologetically ambitious and I just wanted this story to last forever. Her rise from lowly peasant to life in the palace reads like a magical, disturbing Jane Austen / royal court drama and I was completely addicted to her bold game of chance and fate. I can’t wait for the sequel!

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


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. This is the only fantasy novel nearly as dark and addictive as Forest that I’ve come across. See my review here.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – The Queen of Hearts used to be a girl that wanted to open a bakery, but from the day she makes tarts for the King her parents try to push her towards royal ambitions. Cath is convinced she doesn’t want status or riches, but she doesn’t expect a forbidden romance with a joker to change her fate. See my review here.
  • 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.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina’s journey to power and descent into darkness becomes more compelling and dangerous in this sequel. The stakes continue to rise and Adelina must continually sacrifice to achieve her dark dreams. See my review here.

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.

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.

When Dimple Met Rishi

28458598by Sandhya Menon
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: May 30, 2017

I heard nothing but good things for months leading up to this release and I snagged a copy at her Denver signing!

Dimple is preparing for Stanford where she wants to code apps that change the world. She’s used to explaining this to her mother every day: marriage is the last thing on her mind, thanks. Rishi was accepted at MIT for engineering and his parents’ pride is his own satisfaction. When Rishi finds Dimple at InsomniaCon (a 6-week coding competition) he is so excited to introduce himself and begin their relationship. The only problem is Dimple has absolutely no idea that their parents have planned for them to get married and thought that InsomniaCon might be an easy way to put them together.

The inevitable clash of ideals between Dimple and Rishi is just as funny as I hoped! They are both so sure of what their futures hold and yet both of them are surprised by the other’s dreams and personality. They have cute moments, serious conversations, chances to compromise and chances to stick up for what they value.

I can’t stress enough how fun this story is, and how adeptly it handles serious topics. Dimple and Rishi are earnest, with good intentions, yet they both are so obviously teens. I saw so much of my high school self in Dimple and Rishi! How simplistically and idealistically you can view the world and how hard it is to accept that things are complicated. How you can feel so confident one moment and so vulnerable the next. (Actually I still feel that way.) But Dimple and Rishi both learn and grow so much in a short time, and it’s a nice reminder that we’re meant to keep changing and striving to be better than before. I absolutely adored this book!

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


Similar reads:

  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills – Sloane doesn’t expect to make friends in her new town, but then she falls in with the complicated lives of twins Vera and Gabe. This is a fun, emotional story about senior year in a new place that might be the perfect place for you. See my review here.
  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown – Jo has a tough choice when it comes to pleasing her parents or being herself. Jo’s dad is a pastor, and for years she has wanted to add an LGBTQ-friendly radio show to his extensive radio ministry. She might finally get her wish—if she can pretend to be straight for his new wife’s extended family, until she graduates high school. Sketchy, but fine, Jo agrees. And then she meets beautiful, funny, sensitive Mary Carlson.See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – Vivi’s summer in a beach town is already off to a great start when she meets the attractive and quiet Jonah. A summer romance, perfect! Because neither of them could possibly have intense personal secrets that could erupt at any time. See my review here.
  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Simon is only “out” with his mysterious email pen pal Blue. Both of them haven’t told each other their real names, but their growing relationship is threatened by another student who will expose their emails to the school unless Simon helps him land a girlfriend. See my review here.

The Hate U Give

32075671by Angie Thomas
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 28, 2017

I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said – important, powerful, emotional, hopeful – all of those things and more.

Starr Carter has two identities. She is one of the only black students at her preppy high school, careful never to present herself as “sassy” “loud” “angry” or any other stereotype that will make her friends raise an eyebrow. In her neighborhood, she’s Big Mav’s daughter who works at the store, “too snobby” to hang out at parties or date any guys. (Her boyfriend is Chris–rich, white, and definitely a secret). When she does go to a neighborhood party with her friend Khalil, they have to leave when shots ring out. But on their drive home, a cop stops them–and five minutes later, Khalil is dead. Starr is the only witness to the shooting, and what she decides to say or not say about that night will have far-reaching consequences.

Although there are definitely moments of humor, love, and hope, the overall mood is somber, as it should be. I suppose the pacing is unhurried, but it definitely captures the feeling that law enforcement is unhurried when you need them. When it’s your situation, the waiting is agonizing. Around all that, Starr shows us how her two worlds are colliding and it can be the best or worst thing imaginable.

The true strength of this story is Starr’s voice. Everyone you meet and every place you go feels so real you could blink and be there. I loved her, her parents, her friends (even her “annoying” younger brother). This story doesn’t pull any punches–I teared up so many times–and it’s something I will recommend to everyone.

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


Similar reads:

  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – When Julia puts a graffiti mural over an offensive slur meant for her best friend, she’s shocked when her friend rats her out. Being expelled and becoming the only Deaf student in her new high school is another shock. This is a fun, fast read that deftly takes you to new turf. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – A brutal, unflinching take-down of rape culture in America. Alex Craft took vengeance into her own hands when her sister’s killer walked free, but keeping that secret becomes harder when star athlete Jack and preacher’s daughter Peekay befriend her during senior year. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – An excellent and uncomfortable portrayal how insidious toxic relationships are, especially when it’s someone in your immediate family. Cassie is determined to put her abusive relationship with her mother behind her as she goes to college, but when her mother turns up promising a fresh start and the love Cassie has craved her whole life, she wonders where a second chance will lead. 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.

The Princess Saves Herself in This One

32334098by Amanda Lovelace
Poetry
4 of 5 stars
Debut: March 23, 2017

My nonfiction entry of the month! There aren’t exactly any surprises in this volume but it was a satisfying read nonetheless.

This was originally self-published via CreateSpace and much like Milk and Honey, it garnered such a response that the same publisher grabbed it and put out a hard copy. This deeply personal collection explores the arduous healing process after abusive relationships and has an uplifting ending. Broken up into four sections (The Princess, The Damsel, The Queen, You) it’s only after reading the darkest parts of the earlier sections that the final one can provide universal inspiration.

A short, powerful read and one that bravely lets you step into someone else’s soul. It’s impossible to ignore the emotion and courage poured into each piece, and it’s lovely reminder that no matter the grief and loss you suffer, there are bright spaces ahead of you.

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


Similar reads:

  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur – This emotional journey is tragic, beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring. I’ll be reading this many, many times.  Highly recommend – these simplistic and raw verses can speak to anyone! See my review here.
  • The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas H. Johnson – Dickinson’s unique style is often well-remembered from English classes. This collection is unaltered (many collections change her punctuation or wording to “clarify” the poems), presented in chronological order, and even includes several drafts of some of her work. She explores all kinds of themes (life, death, loneliness), but the ones that hint at her unconventional life as an unmarried woman were the ones I found most interesting.
  • Classic Haiku edited by Tom Lowenstein – This collection of four haiku masters’ poems (Basho, Buson, Issa, and Shiki) is poignant, reflective, and at times surprisingly funny!
  • Moon in the Pines translated by Jonathan Clements – This has a really good intro that helps you understand and enjoy the poetry. Beautiful artwork is interspersed and there’s some brief interpretations of the poems in the back. I loved it!

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