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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What’s new this month

It’s almost time for fall releases but these are some interesting reads to tide you over til September!

329560088/1 – Sour Heart: Stories – by Jenny Zhang

A collection of seven stories about immigrants coming to terms with their families, cultures, and identity in 1990’s NYC. Renowned for her poetry, this is something new for the author and I’m intrigued the themes of family history complicating your present. This is coming out under Lena Dunham’s new imprint so I’m also guessing feminism and sexuality will be explored too. Waiting to see what else is in store with this read!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


320517208/15 – Wicked Like a Wildfire – by Lana Popović

Two sisters, two gifts, and a secret family curse. Iris and Melina have different powers that let them control beauty. For Iris it’s glasswork, for Melina it’s music. But their mother has rules: don’t tell anyone about your gifts. Don’t fall in love. Their quiet small-town life is rocked when their mother is attacked, and the sisters begin uncovering family secrets to find out why and whether the powers that have bonded them will rip them apart. Sounds like a good debut to me!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


327136628/16 – Crushed: A Graphic Memoir – by Trinidad Escobar

This sounds so interesting and bittersweet! The story of Trinidad’s adoption by a California family and her quest at age 25 to discover her biological family’s roots to better understand herself. While her life in America was full of love, she feels out of place, and dark visions plague her mind, distorting what’s true. When she visits the Dorognas in the Philippines, they are more than happy to give her the stories of their lives to help her piece together who she is.

More here: Goodreads and Tattered Cover


327117018/22 – Dress Codes for Small Towns – by Courtney Stevens

I met the author at an event a few months ago and what she told me about this book put it on my list! “It’s the small town from Footloose but about queer identity instead of dancing.” Preacher’s daughter Billie has her group of friends that gets into trouble and always looks out for one another. But when Janie Lee tells Billie she’s in love with Woods, Billie realizes she might be in love with both of them. I love groups of friends, I love Billie’s hesitance to mess with the group dynamic, I love that this will explore fluidity instead of labels. Sign me up!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


323362768/29 – Wonder Woman: Warbringer – by Leigh Bardugo

I am not really a superhero fan, but I have to admit I’ve been loving the Wonder Woman projects this year! This origin story follows Diana, Princess of the Amazons and destined to become Wonder Woman, and Alia, the girl Diana saves, who is a descendant of Helen of Troy, a Warbringer. Diana’s choice to save Alia will force them to face and fight all kinds of enemies who want to decide the Warbringer’s fate. Friendship and superpowers and adventure from one of the queens of fantasy!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

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.

What’s new this month

I’m so excited for this month’s books! I tend to gravitate towards contemporary stories in the summer and I will have plenty to choose from:

303128605/2 – Always & Forever, Lara Jean – by Jenny Han

Lara Jean is a senior now, and she has her wonderful boyfriend Peter and her dad is getting remarried–which means Margot is coming home for the summer! But it’s Lara Jean’s turn to make the tough decisions Margot faced: where to go to college, and what that means for her relationship with Peter. I love these sister relationships and I’m ready for one more story with Lara Jean! These are fun, light-hearted summer reads with gorgeous covers.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


278302875/9 – It Started with Goodbye – by Christina June

This debut’s gorgeous cover grabbed me months ago and I’m so excited to dive into this modern-day Cinderella retelling. Tatum Elsea is stuck in her grandmother’s house for the summer after being falsely accused of a crime. Between community service and her secret graphic arts job she’s keeping busy–and then she finds out she isn’t the only one in the house with secrets. I’m so intrigued by the hint of romance and what her “step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother” is going to do for her!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

 


314492275/9 – Ramona Blue – by Julie Murphy

This book has received a lot of attention due to a somewhat confusing synopsis. Ramona Blue is described as one of only two out lesbians in her small town. The town is recovering from Hurricane Katrina, her younger sister is pregnant, and Ramona picks up a lot of responsibilities around the house thanks to her parents’ issues. Then her childhood best friend Freddie returns, and they start swimming together–and then Ramona might have feelings for him. The description has changed a few times, but I think the intent is for a girl who thought she was a lesbian to discover she is bisexual, which can be polarizing.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


233080875/16 – Flame in the Mist – by Renee Ahdieh

My fantasy pick for this month! Pitched as a Mulan-inspired story of Mariko, a girl pledged in an arranged marriage for her family, only to be attacked on her way to her betrothed. Disguised as a boy, she infiltrates the ranks of the Black Clan hired to assassinate her, and uncovers a lengthy history secrets and murders. I have not had a girl-impersonating-a-boy story in so long, and I’m so curious how this one will go and what Mariko will do to set herself free!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


300389065/16 – The Names They Gave Us – by Emery Lord

Emery Lord, my feminist giver of life advice, finally has a new book out! Lucy has the rug pulled out from under her this summer. Her mother’s cancer reappears, her boyfriend wants to take a break, and instead of working at the Christian Bible camp she is assigned to a camp for “troubled” kids. She attempts to be positive about all these changes, but she can’t fully stifle her questions and doubts; and when family secrets come to light she will have to decide how to handle her relationships and her future. Her books always make me laugh and cry and I’m sure this will be no different!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


284585985/30 – When Dimple Met Rishi – by Sandhya Menon

Another debut! An arranged marriage between two Indian-American teens with both of their POVs. Dimple and Rishi have completely different ideas about romance and relationships, but when they both show interest in the same web-developer summer program their parents think it might be a good match. This sounds so cute! Their opposing views, natural attraction that was possibly influenced by their parents without Dimple’s knowledge–this sounds like the perfect rom-com setup and I’m sure I’ll devour this with a big smile!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

Serafina and the Black Cloak

23507745by Robert Beatty
Children’s Fiction
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: July 14, 2015

I bought a bunch of MG books last year and this one has sat on my shelf the longest. I wasn’t sure what to expect (especially given my limited experience with the Disney imprint) but it was not the “safe” adventure I expected!

Serafina and her father secretly live in the basement of the Biltmore mansion. Her father is the estate’s head engineer, and Serafina does not exist, as far as the Biltmores are concerned. But when children start disappearing from the estate, Serafina reveals herself to the Biltmore’s nephew, Braeden, and they try to save the children before it’s too late.

What surprised me is just how dark this story got when it came to tracking down the Man in the Black Cloak! Not only is the Cloak super sinister, the things Serafina encounters as she hunts him down made me squirm with the creeps. (I read it on a plane and actually squirmed, several times). Encounters with various bloody remains and dark places in the Forest had me cringing in the best way! Serafina is a tougher girl than I am, and could grit her teeth and keep going.

It’s not the subtlest in terms of Serafina’s mysterious past and such, but it was fun and pretty satisfying. Gothic vibes made for middle-grade readers!

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


Similar reads:

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – The other gruesome MG book I have read. Coraline’s family moves to a new house, and she has fun exploring it. Then she finds the Other Mother, who is determined to keep Coraline forever if Coraline can’t outsmart her trap.
  • Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi – A girl’s quest to locate her father in a neighboring magical realm goes horribly wrong. This is an interesting blend of total lighthearted whimsy and the darker depths of human nature. Enjoy this journey through two realms who use magic very differently! See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Definitely YA, but with that same creepy, country vibe. Three unreliable narrators tell you what they think happened one dark night at the haunted house. See my review here.

Wintersong

24763621by S. Jae-Jones
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: February 7, 2017

One of my highly anticipated reads for this year! JJ co-hosts the fantastic podcast Pub(lishing)Crawl about all things writing and publishing and I have been dying to read her gothic fantasy for months. Not having seen “Labyrinth” I didn’t really know what to expect but she is so wise I knew it would good regardless, and I was not wrong!

The eldest of three, Liesl’s dark life of poverty in the Bavarian woods is only lit up by music. Her younger sister Kathe is the beautiful one, engaged to be married to Liesl’s childhood crush. Her younger brother Josef is the musical genius—the talent their parents obsess over. An upcoming audition could change his life forever. Only Josef acknowledges Liesl’s talent: composing. Josef can bring any song to life, but Liesl hears new songs in her head.

Then the Goblin King takes Kathe to become his wife, and Liesl must challenge the Lord of Mischief to save her sister, and ultimately herself.

This is a soul story. Liesl’s quest to save her sister leads her to make sacrifices that could kill her (in mind or in body) and she continues on. But her struggle to claim her identity, her music, her life, feels so deeply personal. JJ’s passion for this story is lovingly drawn on every page but it doesn’t feel like self-insertion because what Liesl fears is universal. Who doesn’t struggle with finding a sense of self and place in the world? Who doesn’t fear their own potential? It’s not often reading a novel feels so intimate without creating the feeling of intrusion. This journey Underground is slow and winding, a fitting pace for the gradual way that understanding sinks into our bones with every experience we gain. It’s a savory, personal journey that leaves you feeling as changed as Liesl.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book of goblin magic and music! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Wintersong is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agniezska is forced to serve their wizard, known as the Dragon, only to realize she has a role in saving the town from a dark forest determined to devour them. See my review here.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – An atmospheric story in the wilderness of Rus’ with one girl facing her village’s censure as she tries to protect them from dark forces at work in their land with rituals out of favor with the new Christian church. See my review here.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is only passionate about music, but her post in the royal castle requires her to become a diplomat of sorts between humans and dragons. Her desire for musical recognition is tempered by the secret she hides that would ruin her. See my review here.
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber – Scarlett enters the magical game-world of Caraval to save her sister Tella—but as the game plays out the lines between reality and entertainment are blurred. See my review here.

You’re Welcome, Universe

25701463by Whitney Gardner
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 7, 2017

From the first chapter, Julia’s adamant self-confidence prepared me for a wild ride! When her friend is the victim of a graffiti slur on the school’s wall, Julia takes care of it herself. It’s what friends are for, right? Apparently not, because Jordyn rats her out, and Julia is expelled.

At her new school, Julia has to have an interpreter–she is the only Deaf student.  She’s ready for a fresh-start trust-no-one no-friends year, until her tags start getting attention from another artist, forcing her to retaliate.

The short chapters flew by (embellished with artwork!) as Julia reluctantly befriends an ex-cheerleader she dubs YP and hides her continued passion for painting from her moms. Her friendship with YP ended up being the gold nugget of this book for me! I loved that this story explored the highs and lows of friendships through Jordyn and YP–the devastation of betrayal and the joy of finding someone who Gets You.

Julia’s self-assurance gives her the confidence to strike out on her own, but it also lands her in serious trouble. The contrast of needing faith in yourself with knowing when you’re wrong made her such a fun character to spend time with. Even when I knew she was screwing up I was cheering for her! So many YA books focus on obtaining confidence to begin with, which is fine, but it’s fun to spend time with a girl who acts first and contemplates later (if ever).

What else did I love? Every character had the chance to show Julia (and me) the layers beneath a first impression. Good or bad, nobody was merely what Julia saw at first glance and it’s even more impressive in such a short book.

What else did I love? We stick to a pretty routine high school schedule. So often I find myself thinking “Oh yeah, homework, class, an after-school job…where are those elements?” For me, high school was busy! Julia is too, and her mundane job at McDonald’s is part of her life. Having a crush on her coworker–and watching her ex-best friend flirt with him–is part of her life. That feeling of high school being a small and pervasive bubble of drama you can’t escape is so real here!

Honestly there’s just a lot to love! This is a quick read with cool art, grab it! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, You’re Welcome, Universe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – What struck me about You’re Welcome, Universe was the friendship and this is a goldmine of female friendships! See my review here.
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – A beautiful story about a girl finding herself and her strength through her poetry, as told in her senior year diary. See my review here.
  • Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes – Maguire is convinced she is cursed with bad luck, but a trip to her family’s relatives in Ireland convinces her to try a new form of therapy. A wry and emotional story of Maguire’s progress in the form of challenges she sets herself, with good friendships and a bit of romance along the way. See my review here.

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