The Edge of the Abyss

26219455by Emily Skrutskie
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I have been waiting for this since I read the first book last year and it did not disappoint! More pirates, more adventure, more mayhem, more kissing!

Cas has had a tough three weeks since she pledged her loyalty to the pirate queen Santa Elena. But keeping busy with training lets her avoid Swift as much as possible, which is perfect. Then the crew of the Minnow discovers that Bao isn’t the only unregistered Reckoner in the NeoPacific—sightings of the untrained sea monsters, dubbed Hellbeasts, start popping up everywhere, threatening the entire ocean’s ecosystem (not to mention all the ships). Cas must find Bao and train him to fight the Hellbeasts if they want to restore balance to the ocean.

This book is filled with manipulative mind games from Santa Elena and the broken pieces of a relationship between Cas and Swift and I loved every page of it. All three women are ambitious, stubborn, ruthless, selfish, and constantly abrasive to each other. The power dynamics here are just addictive as Swift and Cas try to see if equal footing is even possible, and as Santa Elena challenges them to see who will be her successor. It’s a satisfying character study of pushing people to the brink of their conscience to see what they’ll do.

I felt like I could smell the sea the entire time, this story feels that real! I’m still impressed by how much the writing crams into such a short space. Every sentence is working hard and yet it’s easy to read. This short duology is a swashbuckling adventure you shouldn’t pass up!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina chose to embrace her powers and it is leading to a rift between her and her sister Violetta, and her allies. It’s also opening a darkness within her that she must face before it destroys her. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel and Arin engage in games of deception that affect the war between their nations and the warning desires in their own hearts. For power plays and mind games there’s no better book than this! See my review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – A fun romp of a graphic novel about shape-shifter Nimona’s goal to become a villain’s sidekick. The usual themes of good vs evil, what makes a monster, does your past define you, what is justice, with plenty of good jokes thrown in the mix! See my review here.
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The Abyss Surrounds Us

abyss surrounds usby Emily Skrutskie
YA Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 8, 2016

This book was an amazing surprise! I’ve had this on my list since I heard “pirates + sea monsters + LGBT” and it was nothing like what I expected–in a good way! The setting was a lot to absorb. In the first few pages we learn the United States has dissolved due to rising sea levels, and pirates are destroying the limited sea trade that’s trying to survive. In response, giant, genetically engineered monsters (Reckoners) are bred and trained in labs to sink pirate ships. Cassandra (Cas) Leung is one of those trainers–in training. As you can probably guess, her first solo mission is a complete disaster. Enter: the pirate queen Santa Elena and her crew of miscreants!

The first fifty-ish pages are a bit clunky from explaining what the world is like and introducing a bunch of characters amidst near non-stop action. After that, it was smooth sailing (sorry, I had to)! Santa Elena ties Cas to one of her trainees, Swift–a teenage girl with a partially-shaved head and a short fuse–and orders Cas to train the Reckoner she’s mysteriously acquired to fight FOR the pirates. If Cas doesn’t do it, Santa Elena will kill Cas and Swift. At first, Cas doesn’t care. Swift is just another pirate girl responsible for terrible attacks on innocent people. All pirates are the same.

But as Cas shares Swift’s room and learns what the pirate girl is really like, the lines between “good” and “evil” begin to blur.

Cas is an incredibly nuanced character! She is the gold nugget of this book. Cas starts off seeing the world as black and white, and her narration matches that. She’s direct, honest, stubbornly holding to her principles. But then Swift introduces all sorts of shades of gray and Cas realizes she herself might be as monstrous as the pirates–it’s just hidden on the inside. (I don’t want to say more because of spoilers). As she gradually develops mixed feelings about her past and her current imprisonment aboard the ship, we see how someone’s point of view can change so subtly, with just one choice at a time. And it’s not until the end when you realize you are so far from where you meant to be.

The end of this story had me completely riveted, and I’m pretty sure my jaw was hanging open for most of it. Cas is a new favorite character for me (even though I’m not sure I like her–explain that!)  and I’m incredibly exited for a potential sequel!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Young Elites by Marie Lu – Adelina has never been the favorite sister, but when strange and terrifying powers manifest in her, she realizes she is one of the Young Elites–survivors of the blood fever given dangerous abilities. Now she has to decide what to do with them. See my review here.
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – The second in a trilogy that features plenty of swashbuckling, betrayal, and battles with darkness. Alina gains further knowledge of her power as the Sun Summoner and fears the only way to destroy the Darkling and his grip on her country is by embracing the same darkness.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – A breathless chase across the seas and the world as rogues and allies hunt Safi for her truth-seeing ability. Safi and Iseult know the price on their heads, but they don’t know there’s a bigger conspiracy at work. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel has always been unconventional just because she doesn’t want to be a soldier or a bride. But when she accidentally wins the slave Arin, she begins to question her entire world and how she could change it. See my review here.
  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas – Specifically, the novella The Assassin and the Pirate Lord. Celaena Sardothien is on her way to becoming the most feared assassin in Adarlan, but some of her missions are starting to turn her stomach. When she finds out about an unsavory deal between her master and the Pirate Lord, she decides to go rogue. See my review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – Nimona is a shape-shifter determined to work for the baddest bad guy around, Lord Blackheart. But she has her own reasons for this partnership that Blackheart has to uncover if he is to understand and control the rage that lives beneath her skin. See my review here.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A group of criminals agree to join forces for the greatest heist of the century–kidnapping the only man known to create a serum that enhances Grisha magic. Naturally, they all plan to betray each other given the first opportunity. See my review here.
  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab – Victor and Eli were brilliant college roommates that successfully found a way to given humans superpowers–then discovered they have completely incompatible views on how those powers should be used. See my review here.

Winter

Winterby Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
5 of 5 stars
Fourth in a quartet

This came out months ago and it took me so long to get to it because of the holidays, and then my insistence on re-reading the series first (which I am so glad I did!). This was worth waiting for! The perfect ending to this fantastic series of fairy tales told with a few science fiction twists.

To be honest, I worried about the size of this book. Once you start creeping over 600 pages I start to wonder if all those words *need* to be there. We’ve all encountered the stories that didn’t need to be that long, right? (Looking at you, Charles Dickens). Cress meandered a bit for me, so I had some anxiety, but it turns out those fears were unfounded! The writing is direct, compelling, and the characters kept surprising me! The pacing and points of view are perfectly balanced. Zero complaints.

Winter becomes one of our POV characters and she is fantastic! Unique from the other three girls and with her own demons to overcome. Through her we see the Lunar court and the damage done by Queen Levana’s regime, while through Cinder and Scarlet we see what life is like on Luna for the average citizen (spoiler: not good). As Cinder and her friends infiltrate the moon right before Levana and Kai’s wedding ceremony, Levana becomes more and more paranoid. When she attempts to have Winter killed for her beauty, all hell breaks loose on the moon. Winter is running out of places to hide, and Cinder is running out of time to claim her throne!

This had so much action and so many deeply emotional scenes–probably the most emotive in the series. Yet there’s still humor mixed in with the continued exploration of what makes us human. I highly recommend this series to anyone who loves fairy tale re-tellings!

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


Similar reads:

  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rose wakes up after 62 years in stasis to find out everyone she knew is dead and she is the missing heiress to the largest company in the world. And not everyone is happy she’s alive.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A dark and compelling fantasy novel (with humor too!) about a girl taken by the local sorcerer to be his assistant for ten years. This wasn’t her plan at all–and neither is the discovery that she may have her own powers. See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan to dismantle the web of corruption controlling the country, starting with her old master, the King of the Assassins, and ending with the King of Adarlan himself. See my review here.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals unites to retrieve a prisoner with the knowledge of how to enhance a person’s magic (with fatal results). They all plan to betray each other eventually, and it’s a question of who will crack first. See my review here.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Echo is a common thief (who happens to be friends with the Avicen, a bird-like race) who decides to steal the Firebird, the only thing that can stop the perpetual war between the Avicen and their dragon enemies. See my review here.

Cress

13206828by Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars
Third in a quartet

I feel like the last person to read Winter since it came out…four months ago? But I wanted to re-read the entire series first so I spent all of February doing just that! At first, I debated whether I’d even read Cress again (I know) because I felt so pressed for time and I didn’t remember enjoying it all that much the first time I read it. It felt slower, I didn’t connect to Cress as much as I did with Cinder or Scarlet, and if I skipped its 550 pages I’d be reading Winter that much sooner! But thanks to Erin’s encouragement and Kiwi’s review, I picked up a paperback and gave it a second chance. I’m so glad I did! I actually changed my rating on Goodreads (something I’ve never done before) from 2 stars to 3 stars. It’s still my least favorite in the series so far, but the writing is good and this story has none of the errors warranting 2 stars on my rating scale. Unfair rating – overturned!

Cress has spent the last seven years living on a Lunar satellite spying on Earth (particularly Prince Kai and the Commonwealth) for Queen Levana. And secretly protecting Earth and subverting Luna whenever she could. Her skills with hacking and programming are top-notch, which is great, because Cinder’s team needs to stay hidden. When they rescue Cress from her satellite, she thinks her fairy tale dreams are about to come true—until she and Thorne crash-land in the desert, separated from the rest of the crew.

The break-neck speed of the first two books doesn’t last in this one. The pacing loses any sense of urgency as we meander from satellite to desert to final mission. I understand Cress is experiencing the world for the first time, but her lengthy observations and constant emotional assessments drag the action to a gentle walk. Despite all the time we spend in her head, she never feels as concrete as Cinder, Scarlet, or the rest of the crew. She’s understandably coping with issues from her extreme isolation and abusive upbringing, and although this is realistic and well-done, it means her point of view lacks some focus and depth.

However, there’s still plenty of wry humor, laugh out loud moments, and adventure. Kai and Cinder’s complicated relationship gets more time in this book, and Iko is hilarious. Definitely one of the stronger YA series on the market, and I can’t wait to see how it ends!

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


Similar reads:

  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – I feel like Carswell Thorne and Nikolai would get along famously or tear each other apart. This remains one of my favorite “middle books” in a series due to all the action and the fantastic characters. Alina can’t leave her identity as the Sun Summoner or her past with the Darkling behind no matter how far she runs. New allies, new enemies, more dark magic. Alina must make sacrifices to save her country from the Darkling’s rule.
  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas – The second in the series finds King’s Assassin Celaena Sardothien surrounded by potential allies and enemies in the court. A greater destiny is calling her that won’t be put off by her petty attempts to undermine the King’s rule. See my review here.
  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rosalinda Fitzroy awakens from 62 years of statis to find that everyone she loved is dead, and she is the missing heir to her parents’ interplanetary empire. Rose just wants to pick up the pieces of her life, but not everyone is happy to see her again. This is a dark Sleeping Beauty retelling with an amazing character arc.

 

Scarlet

13206760by Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars      
Second in a quartet

We left Cinder with the startling realization of her identity and we pick up with Scarlet, an ordinary girl living on her grandmother’s farm in rural France. Scarlet’s grandmother disappeared three weeks earlier, and Scarlet is worried sick about her. But the police have no leads and no interest, and she doesn’t know what to do—until a mysterious street-fighter named Wolf shows up. He is both charmingly naïve and ruthlessly tough, and he has the only lead to her grandmother, if Scarlet can trust him.

I love Scarlet—I know her temper and trusting nature might not endear her to everyone, but I actually felt given the stress of her situation she was pretty grounded. As a follow-up to Cinder’s practical expertise (and snark), Scarlet was an interesting protagonist with her own goals and opinions. There’s a lot of fast-paced adventure and betrayal in this book and although there are still visible nods to the original fairy tale of Red Riding Hood, that doesn’t make the story predictable.

Most of this book takes place over a 48-hour period! While Cinder is escaping prison with the help of fellow fugitive Carswell Thorne, Scarlet is trekking across the French countryside by ship, train, and foot. Of course they are going to meet up—but the journey there provides a surprising amount of time for character development in between shootouts and frenetic chases. When you finish, all you want is the next book!

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


Similar reads:

  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – A sci-fi retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Rose wakes up after 62 years in suspended animation to find that everyone she loved is dead and she is the heiress to the largest company in the world. But not everyone is excited about her return, and she has to find out who her real allies are before someone makes her disappear again.
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – This feels similar to me in a weird way, just with the combination of magic and intrigue in the real world. It’s a very fun story about Echo the thief who decides to steal something the world wants: the firebird. See my review here.
  • Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey – Killashandra isn’t talented enough to be an opera singer, but when the opportunity for a lucrative mining position opens up, she takes it immediately. Mining the valuable crystals requires tuning the tools with her own voice, and Killa may have found something more satisfying than being on stage after all. This is an older sci-fi story that is rather unique.
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – The second book in this YA fantasy trilogy follows Alina and Mal as they try to escape the Darkling. But Alina’s powers are hard to hide, and she begins to realize that beating the Darkling to the legendary living amplifiers of Grisha power might be the best way to stop him.

Vicious

13638125by V.E. Schwab (Victoria Schwab)
Fantasy / Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This book blew up in my social media feeds a few months ago as if it just came out, but in actuality this is from 2013. The author recently sold a sequel to it, and I’m very excited about that! I wasn’t sure if this would be my cup of tea, but as it turns out I couldn’t put it down. Aside from a slight lull in tension about halfway through, I couldn’t wait to unravel the characters’ connections and see what happened next. This was like a superhero blockbuster movie with better dialogue and more planning. The writing is visual and sharp, and although I think some more time could have been spent on character development, I really don’t have anything to nitpick.

Victor Vale and Eli Cardale were college roommates with a penchant for scientific discovery and aspirations for greatness. When they decide to see if near death experiences could result in giving someone superhuman abilities, they immediately test their theory themselves–and find out they are right. But while Victor rejoices in learning that humans can be capable of so much more, Eli is convinced their abilities mark them as unnatural and against God. Obviously, when they can’t reconcile their opinions, mayhem ensues.

I went into this thinking that it was a villain’s origin story, but Victor and Eli are both painted in shades of gray, and this made it so much more enjoyable. Their interactions with everyone around them, whether normal or ExtraOrdinary, are riveting, as are the plans for their showdown. If anyone remembers the TV show “Heroes” (or this year’s reboot, “Heroes: Reborn”), this is what that show tries and fails to do–showcase people with unique abilities as they encounter obstacles to their existence. It’s just that unlike that show, this book is easy to follow. I highly recommend this and can’t wait for the sequel!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Vicious is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Young Elites by Marie Lu – When the blood fever sweeps through the continent, it leaves hundreds of marked children in its wake, and some of these children possess startling new powers. Adelina discovers her own when she runs away from her abusive father, and she is not going to let anyone else hurt her. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – In a world where clairvoyance is both rampant and illegal, Paige Mahoney navigates London’s underworld as she tries to assemble the voyants to fight back against the totalitarian regime. See my review here.
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – This does take the leap into space but it has a similar narrative style and it’s a suspenseful story about one boy finding out if he is destined to save the world–or hasten its destruction. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel becomes trapped in the empire’s plots as she tries to both keep her father alive through the war and aid her lover’s country behind the emperor’s back. See my review here.

Never Let Me Go

18515951by Kazuo Ishiguro
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This has been on my “should read” list for a few years (probably since the movie came out, honestly) and I finally picked it up for a book club read. I’m so glad I did, because the writing is beautiful and I’d forgotten enough of the plot to appreciate the few twists that Kathy H. narrates. This is the kind of science fiction I tend to prefer – our world but with a few key differences that twist society.

Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth grow up at Hailsham, an isolated and exclusive English boarding school. At 31, Kathy looks back on their friendships over the years and why the guardians of the school stressed how special they were. Her gradual revelations regarding their status as clones and organ donors are haunting because they are so matter-of-fact. Kathy is perceptive and practical, and her portrayal of their gradual acceptance is wistful without begging for pity. Much of the strength came from lack of specifics as well. We don’t know what four donations the donors are expected to make, what begins their donation period, or how far apart they are. We don’t know how they get around in “normal” life as they learn to be carers and prepare for their donations.

The questions Kathy leaves us with go beyond ethics regarding cloning and organ donation. She asks us whether they were better off being sheltered from their fates, or if they should have been told from the beginning. Was it worth giving them an education, a sense of culture, or should they be treated as property, kept in ignorance? Why give them a sense of self-worth that the public doesn’t have for them?

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Never Let Me Go is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – At first glance this is probably an odd recommendation to make. However, the similar simplistic narration and themes are the connecting points for me. This novel deals with the exploitation of children, gradually revealed secrets, and the feelings of the children as they realize their position as pawns. See my review here.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This deals with creating a perfect society rather than healthcare, but the themes of genetic manipulation, control of information, freedom, and human rights is in keeping with the questions asked in Never Let Me Go.
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – A short novel that is credited as the birth of science fiction as a genre. The Time Traveler relates his adventure 800,000 years into the future and the decayed, divided society he found there.
  • Eva by Peter Dickinson – This is intended for a younger audience, but it’s still one of the strangest novels I’ve ever read. My advice is to check it out and try to avoid plot spoilers at all costs. I read this a long time ago and the uncomfortable realizations have stuck with me.

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