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.

What’s new this month

I’m a bit overwhelmed by the February releases this year! Here are the books I’m adding to my list this month:

KR2/2 – Kings Rising – C. S. Pacat

The much-anticipated conclusion in this trilogy centered around political intrigue and the relationship between banished prince Damen, now a slave in enemy territory, and his new master, Laurent, prince of that country. So much drama and (all kinds) of tension! It’s so character-driven, which is unusual in the fantasy genre, so I can’t wait to read more. I devoured the first book and I need to find out how this ends immediately!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble



assassin's heart

2/2 – Assassin’s Heart – by Sarah Ahiers

Pitched as The Godfather meets Romeo and Juliet, this story about assassin families and intrigue caught my eye immediately. If anyone has gotten obsessed with the Throne of Glass series, here’s another assassin to keep you on the edge of your seat until September! Lea must avenge her family’s death which probably happened thanks to her secret relationship with Val, an assassin from a rival family. I expect plenty of murder and intrigue!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


stars above2/2 – Stars Above – by Marissa Meyer

For everyone who just can’t handle the end of The Lunar Chronicles, enjoy this collection of novellas set in the same world with more to love from your favorite characters. As someone who still hasn’t gotten around to the brick that is Winter, I probably won’t read this for a while, but I think it’s timed perfectly for everyone who finished the last book in November. I love that publishers are getting more comfortable with short fiction! (5 new stories are included with 4 previously published tales).

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


abyss surrounds us2/8 – The Abyss Surrounds Us – by Emily Skrutskie

Pirates! Sea monster/dragon creatures! Lesbians! Story, you have my interest – please please please don’t disappoint! The takes the adventure and kick-ass heroines I love and promises some new twists and exciting world-building. This is part one of a duology, so more points for not stringing me along for years. I’ve found this structure tends to cut down on the “middle book” syndrome of stretching out character arcs and events just to fill space. This is the first of several pirate debuts for 2016 –I’ll resist making a pirate joke of some kind.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


morning star2/9 – Morning Star – by Pierce Brown

I’ll admit, I think I’ve read enough dystopian books to get the gist and I’m kind of over the commoners uprising against the rich ruler types. I admit the Communist leaning of the cover intrigues me. Anyway, I know this has a strong following so to all the existing fans, rejoice, the conclusion is here! Darrow’s long-standing battle to bring justice to his world (no doubt at steep cost) will wrap up in this volume. His plan is to bring down the Golds from the inside, but we all know plans tend to go wrong…

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


blackhearts2/9 – Blackhearts – by Nicole Castroman

The story of Blackbeard before his legendary status as a pirate captain! Edward Drummond is chafing against the restraints of high society. Anne Barrett loses her family fortune and must become a maid—in the Drummond household—when her true dream is to return to her mother’s island. I can’t wait to see how these characters chase their “unconventional” dreams together! I’m also intrigued by pirates used in a slightly historical sense as well.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


these vicious masks2/9 – These Vicious Masks – by Tarun Shanker

Jane Austen meets X-Men? I’m down for that. A girl searching for her missing sister, Victorian romance, family secrets, London (my favorite city!)…I think this will be a fun little adventure! I’m a bit worried about some of the tropes but if the characters are well-drawn it will be quite fun enough for me. I’m hoping this will be similar to Silver in the Blood but with smoother pacing.

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


girl from everywhere2/16 – The Girl from Everywhere – by Heidi Heilig

Similar to January’s Passenger, we have time-travel and high stakes relationships! Nix has followed her father through time for years and even has an out-of-time love interest on board their ship. But now her father wants to return to Honolulu, Nix’s birthplace—before her mother dies in childbirth. He wants to save her mother. Nix isn’t sure what will happen if her father tries to change time, but his dream could kill her. The relationships and conflicts in this story sound amazing, I can’t wait!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


A Gathering of Shadows Final2/23 – A Gathering of Shadows – by V.E. Schwab

OK, I haven’t gotten the chance to read the first book yet (A Darker Shade of Magic) but I fell in love with her writing last year and I want to read more of her stuff! Again, set in London and promising tons of addictive mayhem, I want to explore these characters as soon as I can. Time-travel, magic, intrigue—I’m sure it’s amazing! I just need to make room on my shelf. This month has too much awesome stuff coming out!

More info here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


Raven King2/23 – The Raven King – by Maggie Stiefvater

Remember that this gorgeous, epic book was delayed until April 26th! I know it’s the second delay, but it stings less. I have to re-read the books – and all of these amazing February releases – so April will be here before I know it! And at least we have cover art now. 🙂

Six of Crows

23437156by Leigh Bardugo
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

I will do my best not to over-hype this book, but if you love YA fantasy, you need to read it. There’s no way around that. This is my pick for best book of 2015 – the deal is the deal! I will attempt to explain why this is true with limited hyperbole and gushing, but bear with me–this book is one hell of a ride!

I always say a 5-star rating is a book with zero complaints from me, and this one is no exception. The characters and the plot – both weighted equally, both bringing the two halves of a story together into a satisfying thrill ride of unforeseen twists and turns. So many times a complicated plot involves the awkward withholding of information from the reader and a deus ex machina escape from the jaws of death. Neither of these crutches is put into play here and the result is incredible. It’s cinematic and startling and addictive.

Normally having six point-of-view characters would throw up a huge red flag for me, but each member of this group of criminals has their own past, their own push-and-pull relationship with the Dregs, their own reasons for going along with the mad heist Kaz proposes. You care about all of them and each time a chapter ends and the next character takes over, there isn’t one that you want to skip. You don’t groan and say “I wish this chapter was so-and-so”–you are just as eager to see what they are thinking and doing. There is never that feeling of “oh, we are back with the author’s favorite character now, they get all the action and the good lines”–this group is a team of equals and you will love them all!

Perfect pacing, smart dialogue, air-tight plot, hold-your-breath action scenes, badass women, subtle romance, shifting alliances – check, check, check. It’s all here, and it’s amazing! Whether you read the Grisha Trilogy or not, this book takes her world to a whole new level. I spent a week enjoying this savory read and it will be in my end of year wrap-up for sure. I’m already looking forward to the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, due next September!

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

  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab – Two college students, one thesis seeking the ultimate potential of humanity. Oh, the things that could go wrong and the rivalries that could emerge. This is a suspenseful read with ruthless characters. See my review here.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina discovers the path to becoming her country’s most-feared Young Elite is complicated and filled with small choices. This is an excellent trilogy about the darkness in all of us. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Until Six of Crows, the best fantasy novel I read this year. The magic feels real and the relationships between the characters are incredibly deep. There are some great surprises with the plot. I loved every page! See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – For another story centered around revenge and schemes, the fourth installment in the Throne of Glass series does not disappoint! See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel’s delicate dance along both sides of a war gets more dangerous and complicated by the day. I loved the strategies and mind games in this novel. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A one-and-done story about espionage and alliances in a re-telling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Sophia might be in over her head when it comes to covert activities and saving her family’s fortune. See my review here.

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

2986865by Alison Goodman
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Book 1 of a duology

I am starved for YA stories featuring dragons and girls interacting with dragons in particular, so when I chanced upon this at the library I had to grab it. I was hoping it would have some similarities to my favorite novel, The Hero and the Crown, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a close comparison, I loved every twist and turn of this story! It’s Mulan meets Avatar the Last Airbender, and the combination is brilliant!

Eon is a crippled candidate in training with eleven other boys hoping to be chosen by the next ascendant dragon to become a Dragoneye apprentice. The twelve Dragoneyes and their apprentices control the twelve dragons of the zodiac, each with its own powers and virtues, each helping the others keep their world in balance with nature and one another. But Eon’s secret is that he is actually Eona – a teenage girl masquerading as a boy because she has the power to see the dragons, and becoming a Dragoneye would save her from impoverished slavery. In the ceremony she isn’t chosen by the Rat Dragon – she is chosen by the Mirror Dragon, the dragon that has been missing for over 500 years. With this auspicious rise in power comes the expectation that Eon will thwart the plans to seize control from the aging emperor, and assure Prince Kygo’s rightful rise to power – even if both of these men would kill her instantly upon discovering her true identity.

Although the novel is largely setup for the next book, Eon’s struggle with herself and the burden of responsibility to the kingdom as she navigates the royal court kept me enthralled from start to finish! The supporting characters are as layered and interesting Eon. Ryko, the eunuch bodyguard and Lady Dela, a transgender protocol instructor, both felt powerful enough to have separate stories of their own. The magic system and the world-building feel unique in a forest of western-based fantasy. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants a royal court fantasy drama with action and dragons in the mix.

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

** Note that this book is also available under various titles, including Eon, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and The Two Pearls of Wisdom. The titles vary based on publisher.

Similar reads:

  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – A richly detailed story about a half-dragon half-human woman drawn into the royal family’s struggle to keep the peace between the two cultures as the anniversary of their treaty approaches. See my review here.
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley – A bit the opposite of Eon in that Aerin is an outcast princess struggling for acceptance by slaying the dragons in her kingdom, but her personal journey is much the same. See my review here.
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – Alanna switches places with her twin brother so that he may study sorcery and she can become the knight she has always dreamed of being. Begins a bit middle-grade but the quartet is YA by the second book and the series as a whole is excellent. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Alina struggles with accepting a power she didn’t know she had until the Darkling (the most powerful sorcerer in the land) plucks her from the obscurity of making maps for the army. See my review here.
  • Flight of the Dragon Kyn by Susan Fletcher – Kara feels a kinship to birds, but her ability to call them down from the sky is then exploited to call down dragons to kill them. Kara must find a way to free herself and the dragons before everything is destroyed.

The Wrath and the Dawn

18798983by Renee Ahdieh
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – May 12, 2015
Book 1 in a duology

I was apprehensive about this book since I saw so many mixed reviews, but I’m glad I wasn’t dissuaded! I’m actually torn between 3 and 4 stars, but since I was sucked in enough to read it in two days, I feel it’s only fair to give the higher rating.

This is a retelling of The Arabian Nights and there is a good mix of homage and original material. The characters in particular feel fresh and unique. Shazi, Khalid, and even a few members of the supporting cast have their own tone and arcs, and the diversity was a bonus. Shazi made a few decisions that aggravated me, but overall her battle of feeling connected to her friend’s killer felt stubborn enough and understandable enough to me.

Minor spoiler ahead!!

Shazi first realizes she might have some feelings for him after he saves her from execution. It’s very normal to feel attached to anyone present for a traumatic experience, and since he did save her life I felt that was the only feasible way for her begin to soften towards Khalid.

Spoiler free!!

I sympathize with anyone taking issue with Shazi’s back-and-forth struggle to kill or spare Khalid, but given that she’s a 16-year-old girl I felt this vacillation was pretty realistic. It would have helped if Shiva was more present in Shazi’s mind–her grief was so distant that it was hard to pull for her rage against Khalid. Overall, I enjoyed the tension and conflicted feelings the characters experienced–that kind of complexity is what you encounter in real life and I loved seeing it in this story.

I would have liked to see more magic and quicker pacing when it came to giving us plot-moving information, especially since the writing felt a bit stilted. It tends to mimic the style of older fairy tale language which doesn’t feel entirely natural. There is a lot of sensory detail that pulls you into their desert world, and the dialogue still sparks. Shazi and Khalid kept me interested and curious the entire time, and I definitely want to see how things get resolved in the next book!

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

Similar reads:

  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir – A rebellious relationship under a tyrannical government kindles a revolution. I haven’t read this yet but it’s been getting great reviews and the characters have similar motivations to Shazi and Khalid.
  • The Arabian Nights by Anonymous – This collection of tales is assembled and translated by numerous people. Any version is going to have the stories you remember (Aladdin) and plenty of new tales to surprise and enchant. Some translations keep to almost biblical language (thee, thou) but there are more modern versions available if you prefer.
  • Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee – A girl with the power to manipulate the threads of time will stop at nothing to find her missing brother. Together with her best friend, she also discovers what her power means and the destiny that is waiting for her. See my review here.
  • Dragonfly by Julia Golding – A detailed world of differing countries and a prince and princess that must learn to respect each other and their customs if they want to survive their kidnapping. This has a similar predicament and tone to it and is also a duology.
  • The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron – A retelling of the most famous wizard (prior to Harry Potter). It starts out middle-grade but by book two or three becomes a YA series exploring the adventures Merlin had before becoming the wizened adviser to King Arthur.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – This has hints of a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Mirasol feels thrust into a position of too much responsibility and must forge a relationship with the feared Master of the lands. More mature in tone, but similar to Shazi’s struggle with Khalid. See my review here.
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi – A magical story steeped in Indian mythology. Maya is cursed with a horoscope that says she will bring death to any marriage. On her wedding day she’s swept away to a strange kingdom with a mysterious rule. See my review here.

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