Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale

25700544by David Kudler
YA Fantasy / Historical Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This is a case of cover love becomes whole book love! Risuko was so fun for me to read! Something completely different, well-paced, and with a heroine you can’t help but love.

Kano Murasaki lives in feudal Japan. She’s never left her home or province before. All she likes to do is climb–trees, buildings, cliffs, anything that gets her as high as possible. (This earns her the nickname Risuko – squirrel). But all that changes when a mysterious old woman buys Risuko from her mother and sister and takes her to a faraway holding known as the Full Moon. There she will learn to be “a very special kind of woman.”

Risuko won me over almost immediately! She has simple desires and a strong will. She is a samurai’s daughter, and holds herself to that standard–even if her father died in disgrace. While a miko (apprentice) at the Full Moon Risuko learns many things about herself, her father, her nation, and her future. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but this short book is a perfectly balanced coming-of-age / mystery / adventure story and I loved it!

You’ll also find female rivalry and female friendship, interesting historical figures, and Risuko’s wry sense of humor as she narrates her story. (I’ve seen this shelved as MG and YA but I would vote YA just based on the tone and some of the everyday life descriptions like butchering animals). I really can’t wait for the sequel to see how her story ends!

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


Similar reads:

  • Eon by Alison Goodman – A girl disguised as a boy is training to be a candidate for bonding with one of the zodiac dragons that keeps balance in an Asian-inspired world. If she’s caught, she’ll be killed. See my review here.
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead – A small remote village faces starvation if they can’t communicate with their supplier at the mountain’s base. Fei chooses to go on a dangerous quest to save her sister and her community. See my review here.
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – The tight pacing and writing of Risuko reminded me a lot of this book, and that’s really why I’m including it here. This is the nonstop race of Safi and Iseult as three different factions try to claim Safi’s truth-telling abilities for their own use. See my review here.
  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke – A fun story set in historic Venice as young brothers Prosper and Bo try to survive on the streets. Then they meet Scipio, who gives them a home and slowly reveals tantalizing secrets of the city.
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Wink Poppy Midnight

23203106by April Genevieve Tucholke
YA Contemporary / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the cover of this little book and I love the writing inside just as much! I’m not used to books with multiple points of view giving each character their own unique voice. First person narratives tend to start sounding alike, but that isn’t the case here. Even more lovely is the fact that I couldn’t pick a favorite—Wink, Poppy, and Midnight all have their own narratives and arcs that drew me in and I was never left wishing that more time was given to just one of them.

Although this isn’t as spooky as I hoped, there are some creepy moments and the writing lends itself to sending a shiver down your spine at the right moments. Midnight has moved to a new house and just broke up with his old next-door neighbor, Poppy. Their toxic relationship has finally pushed him to say enough is enough. Wink is Midnight’s new neighbor, a farm girl from a large family who seems sweet and mature and everything Poppy isn’t. Nothing is simple in this story, and the manipulative nature of the girls has Midnight caught in a web of truth and lies so tangled it takes a horrible accident to sort everything out.

At least, it seems to be clear-cut, until stranger things start happening.

I guessed some of the outcome but there are enough twists to keep you surprised, and I was left wanting more of this strange world and the three main characters. Having three unreliable narrators was fun, and I wish more books experimented with this style!

This reads like a modern fairy tale, with whimsical elements and a plot that weaves in symbolic elements, astute observations, and events that knock everything you know about the characters askew. I really enjoyed it! Recommended for fairy tale lovers who enjoy some thrills and mystery.

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


Similar reads:

  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – A weird blend of paranormal fantasy and YA contemporary, this series focuses on a group of teens searching for a buried Welsh king to claim one magical favor for awakening him. The usual Stiefvater elements of Atmosphere, fast cars, magic, and dynamic characters that drive the story. The writing is exquisite. See my review here.
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – Minnow escapes her cult the night the entire Community burns to the ground, only to go from one prison to another. The detectives want to know what really happened that night, but Minnow isn’t talking about what caused the loss of her hands, or anything else. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Siblings Hazel and Ben have loved the faerie boy in the forest for as long as they can remember. Fairfold’s residents are used to faerie mischief and know how to keep their magical forest content to fool with tourists only. But when the forest begins breaking the truce with the residents, Hazel knows it’s up to her to save her town. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren decides to find her biological father on her 16th birthday—largely because she wakes up that morning to discover her mother has abandoned her. Maren doesn’t blame her mother—it was for her own safety after all. Maren has a tendency to consume the people who care about her, bones and all. She hopes finding her father will explain why she can’t stop herself from eating human flesh. See my review here.

Queen of Shadows

18006496by Sarah J. Maas
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This was a tough book to review. There were so many things I absolutely loved, but also a few things that really bothered me. Like they took me out of the story, bothered me. In the end up I rounded up to 5 stars though, because of the cleverness of the plot and the fact that the powerful women in this story received far more screen time than the guys – and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

So what did I love? Aelin is smarter than ever in this book, and her plans for revenge and strengthening her court are so layered and complex, I had several instances of “Damn, girl! Did not see that coming!” Aelin/Celaena has always been clever of course, but there’s a sense of calculated maturity here that wasn’t present in the previous books, and I appreciated how she’s grown up.

What else did I love? MANON. She is my new favorite character – I loved her in Heir of Fire, and her chapters here are even more compelling. She is complicated and always changing, and the more we see her relationships with the Thirteen, the more I rooted for the Witch-clans. I know, even though they aren’t “the good guys.”

What else did I love? ALL THE OTHER WOMEN OF THIS BOOK. This is the first YA fantasy novel I’ve read in some time that devoted the majority of its pages to female characters, and it’s amazing. Six female POVs, and even more women who tell their stories to our main characters. They are all given depth, secrets, emotions, motivations, and their interactions are the heart of this story. This is what bumped up the rating for my review. This is why I’ll return to this book again and again.

With all that, what could possibly bother me? I’ll tell you: Chaol. He was one of my favorite characters in Crown of Midnight. In Heir of Fire he was frustrating as he waffled over his loyalty/honor, but he got there in the end, you know? After this book, I feel like I don’t even know him. Worse, I felt like he didn’t know Celaena/Aelin at all. It didn’t feel true to his character previously, and when it feels like something is forced for dramatic effect, I get annoyed. Luckily, I met Sarah J. Maas at a signing event a few days ago, so I asked her about Chaol!

Sarah explained that Chaol is in a lot of pain during this book with his internal struggles and Dorian’s fate, and that as people do (as Celaena did frequently), he lashes out and becomes an asshole. She wanted to show that sometimes people go back and forth on their personal journeys, that sometimes a step forward is followed by two steps back. “Not everything is solved with a short talk and a training montage!” she said. “That doesn’t fix everything.” Ultimately, at the end of this book Chaol is now in a position to grow as a person and become better, and she said that he needed a healing journey just like Celaena did in Heir of Fire. I’m still not thrilled with how abrupt Chaol’s reactions felt, but I do respect Sarah’s answer and what she was trying to portray. For her part, she’s excited that Chaol has sparked so much debate among fans, and said that it’s rewarding to write something that makes people talk and argue, not just geek out with happiness.

With all that said, the plot twists and unexpected ending were great, and if the next two books hold up, this is what will push the series to the next level. Fantasy is always in danger of succumbing to genre tropes, and this book took the opportunity to thwart some of those expectations, and I like that. Now the agonizing countdown begins for Book 5!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Queen of Shadows 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:

  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – If you can’t stomach a year-long wait between Throne of Glass books, this is the fantasy series she started in May 2015, with the next book due out in the spring of 2016. Feyre accidentally killed a faerie, and trades her life for the safety of her family in this Tam Lin/East of the Sun, West of the Moon retelling. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – If you want more fantastic female friendship, look no further. Agnieszka is the unwilling apprentice to her valley’s protective wizard, the Dragon, but she learns there is more at stake than her village. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa is her uncle the king’s Graced assassin, but she longs to leave her life of killing behind. A foreign prince brings this opportunity to her when she joins him on a quest to find his missing uncle. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel is in a game of political chess with everyone she meets, most of all with Arin, her former slave that holds her heart but can’t know her true feelings. See my review here.
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater – This installment of the paranormal/YA fantasy series focuses on Ronan, the angry, brash boy of the group who can take things from his dreams. What he soon learns is he isn’t the only one who can. This is a beautifully written quartet that wraps up in February 2016.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Book 2 in the series finds Paige back in London’s underworld, struggling to reveal the truth to other clairvoyants, blocked at every turn by her old master’s manipulation. If you enjoyed Celaena and Arobynn’s twisted mind games, there is plenty of that in this book. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Divergent

8306857by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – April 25, 2011

Right after The Hunger Games, the YA shelf needed a dystopian series to catch readers, and the Divergent series won that battle. This trilogy follows 16-year-old Tris, who faces the momentous choice of which faction (and virtue) to dedicate her life to: will she remain in Abnegation (the selfless) with her family, or follow her heart to the Dauntless (the brave)? And what consequences will she face as a result?

I heard about this book from my best friend, who happened to attend the same university as Roth and wanted to share the excitement that somebody our age could sign a 3-book + movie rights deal. This was my first exposure to peers writing best-selling material for teens and I was thrilled that this was becoming more commonplace–honestly, I still am!

This was a fun story to read, and several key scenes were so cinematic and beautifully written through Tris’ sparse, direct voice that I couldn’t wait for the next installment.  As it turns out, I feel the first book is the strongest of the trilogy, but it was worth following Tris to the end, and this is still one of the better dystopian options out there, in my opinion. As an added bonus in this genre, there is no love triangle. Tris is a complicated heroine and her world has plenty of mysteries to unlock, but which boy she’ll choose isn’t one of them. I also enjoyed her constantly evolving relationship with her brother Caleb; he challenges her commitments in the best way. Jeanine is an excellent antagonist, with her own complexity and motivations. This small core cast of characters is what pulls you through the wreck of Chicago and its faction systems as Tris struggles to solve her identity and why the Erudite faction believes it should eradicate the Abnegation. Although the series didn’t go where I expected, I appreciated the author’s creative freedom and choices, and I’m curious to see what she does next.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Divergent is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The most obvious comparison, but it is very similar. Twelve districts must send two tributes to the capital to fight to the death on live TV as a reminder of the brutality the totalitarian state saved the people from decades earlier. Katniss volunteers to save her sister, but she quickly learns half of the game is mastering the politics and alliances surrounding her. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – As a literal interpretation of municipal darwinism, the largest cities are mobile and sweep across the world consuming and absorbing each other for resources and labor. Tom finds himself stranded on solid ground and must find a way to survive in this stark post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Mary spent her life in the fenced village deep in a forest, and she knows what happens if she leaves its protection – death by zombies – but she can’t stop dreaming about the ocean, and whether the Sisterhood is telling the truth when they say no one else survived. See my review here.
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver – I haven’t read this yet, but Roth recomends it as an engaging dystopian trilogy that explores a world devoid of all love, and the consequences that brings to the very fabric of society.

Silver in the Blood

22929540by Jessica Day George
YA Fantasy / YA Urban Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

To be honest, this is probably my biggest book disappointment of 2015. That sounds bad, but I actually plan to read the sequel! So let me explain myself…

All the right elements are there: it’s set in Romania, we follow cousins Lou and Dacia as they discover their family secrets, magic comes into play when they least expect it, and of course the cover art is gorgeous! From the blurb I expected….something completely different from what I read.

It doesn’t really matter that it’s set in Romania. Aside from (unending) descriptions of Parisian vs Romanian dresses, there are no details bringing Romania to life. It’s any typical urban fantasy setting of small towns and forests. The family secrets and magic take 204 pages to reveal. The book is not much longer than that….so for the majority of it I was sitting around waiting for something to happen as the cousins discuss how clueless they are, too. By the time things start happening, there’s been enough foreshadowing to remove the tension from most of the climax. This story shouldn’t have felt so dull, but it was.

Finally, the end of the book bothered me simply because I couldn’t figure out the tone of this story. It’s extremely light-hearted most of the time, with a few disturbing paragraphs thrown in that unbalance it all. I liked Lou and Dacia, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of story they were in, and unfortunately they couldn’t either.

Despite all this, I’m going to stick around for the next book! This one seemed to be a lot of setup, but now that the framework is in place, I’m hoping the sequels have a bit more zip to them.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Silver in the Blood is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare – One of the chief comparisons to this novel, it has more magic, romance, and excitement. This is a really fun trilogy set in Victorian London. Tessa is a shape-shifter trying to discover her origins with the help of the London Institute’s Shadowhunters.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray – The other chief comparison to this novel-this follows Gemma Doyle at a Victorian England finishing school where she accidentally unearths the secrets to an ancient power with the help of her three friends. This is a typical boarding school environment where the events between classes have you turning the pages.
  • Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede – An epistolary novel between two girlfriends as they handle English high society and a series of strange, magical events.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – I hoped Silver in the Blood would be more like this…a Russian-inspired setting with dark magic and court intrigue. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Set largely in Prague, this has more of the flavor and fast pacing that I hoped to find in Silver in the Blood. See my review here.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer – When it’s a normal girl discovering some alarming shape-shifters within her community, look no further than miss Bella Swan, the hapless protagonist in this paranormal quartet. Before the wing, claw and smoke there were just some vampires and werewolves. I found the first book to be the most enjoyable but if the characters grab you, settle in for a thousand pages. See my review here.
  • Written in Red by Anne Bishop – Meg can see the future when her skin is cut. She escapes her captors and takes shelter among the most unlikely group possible-the shape-shifters known as the Others. See my review here.

Wintergirls

5152478by Laurie Halse Anderson
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read an Anderson book since high school, but Speak and Catalyst stuck with me for years, so I decided it was time to try another one. This was the darkest by far, and although it’s short, it is a gripping and harrowing glimpse into mental illness. Lia and Cassie’s toxic friendship is sealed by their childhood trauma and desire to be attractive, but it all ends when Cassie’s bulimia destroys her. Lia is left in a maelstrom of grief, confusion, and self-loathing. She’s trapped in her own mind, and the stream-of-consciousness/present tense narration makes you feel how each day is a long battle between her dysfunctional family, food, and herself. If she can become small enough, she’ll escape everything that hurts her.

This goes into some detail regarding anorexic behaviors and the side effects. Some people wouldn’t be comfortable with including the tricks Lia uses to make everyone think she isn’t losing weight, but in my opinion this is fairly balanced with the list of terrible health problems and side effects Lia experiences. A part of Lia knows that she is sick, dangerously sick, that she doesn’t see her body accurately, but she doesn’t know how to stop. There’s commentary here too, on the failings of counselors, therapists, and doctors. They tell her she’s a danger to herself, but then go on to say “your hour is up, make way for the next patient, you’re stable” and cast her adrift. It’s a balanced, excellent story that explores a disease too often treated with insensitivity or whispers.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wintergirls is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mary Iris Malone is not okay. When her father remarries and moves the family hundreds of miles away from her mother, Mim decides to go back to her mother alone. Her road trip doesn’t go at all like she expects. The tone isn’t as dark, but the internal struggle Mim feels is similar. See my review here.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Clay receives a collection of tapes from Hannah Baker, explaining why she killed herself. Dark, suspenseful, and challenges everyone to think about their daily interactions with someone.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Quiet freshman Charlie confronts all the “firsts” of high school while dealing with the emotional damage of childhood trauma. It’s reflective but has its lighter moments, too. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – A more surreal story than Wintergirls, but Maren has a lot of the same mental health issues to work through. See my review here.
  • The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter – An intense look at the toxic relationship between a mother and daughter. Cassie intends to start her freshman year of college free from her mother and her past, but then her mom turns up promising all the love Cassie always wanted. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Bone Season

13636400by Samantha Shannon
Fantasy/Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel – August 20, 2013

This 2013 genre-mashing novel was hyped as a seven-book series by a 21-year-old author slated as the next J.K. Rowling. So you know, no pressure! Although I was hesitant to believe all the gushing reviews, I knew I had to check it out. The world combines Victorian-esque England with the magic of clairvoyant abilities and the paranormal existence of the Rephaim, all set in the year 2059. The Rephaites took over the government, called Scion, and systematically hunt voyants to use for their own purposes. Ordinary people hate and fear voyants, so the only refuge for them are underground organizations, much like the mafia.

Paige is a dreamwalker, able to break into other people’s minds and steal information, which is why her crime lord Jaxon Hall keeps her safe for his use. When Paige is captured by the Rephaim as part of Bone Season XX, she discovers the hidden world within her own. If she doesn’t escape she’ll die in the service of the beings who enslaved her people.

As you may have guessed, there is a lot of information to absorb from beginning to end! In addition to the political workings of the oppressive Scion government, there is the underground network of voyants, a long glossary of terms and slang, and a large cast of characters to keep straight. It’s extremely ambitious for a debut novel and for that reason I was intrigued enough to finish it. I wasn’t “wowed” at first, but about 250 pages in, it becomes much more impressive and engrossing. What I enjoyed most was the villainous Nashira, always two steps ahead of our heroine and not prone to excessive dialogue regarding her plans for world domination.

The sequel, The Mime Order, came out earlier this year, and it was far more enjoyable, so for that reason I definitely recommend checking out this series! It’s sure to get even better as it progresses.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Bone Season is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Samantha Shannon touts this as one of her favorite books, and there are similarities in style and narration here, as well as the idea of an all-seeing government. See my review here.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This is similar in that ordinary people are controlled through pleasure and trust in the system, and questioning that existence or treatment of other humans is rebellion.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – In 1899 New York City, the titular characters escape their masters and try to forge an existence in a land they don’t understand. It has similar pacing, with a touch more magic, a smaller cast, and no political layers. See my review here.

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