22544764by Naomi Novik
5 of 5 stars

My friend Erin recommended this book to me and I’m so glad she did – this is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read! I loved every page, so thank you Erin! This book is essentially flawless.

Agnieszka and Kasia knew their entire lives that their village’s protective wizard, the Dragon, would choose Kasia–beautiful, brave, perfect Kasia–to be his servant in the tower for ten years, and after that they would never see each other again. But when the choosing day comes, the Dragon doesn’t choose Kasia, and it’s a whirlwind of dark magic and darker adventures for the rest of the story.

The way magic works in this world is a wonderful mix of carefully ordered chants and wildly unmeasured instincts, and Agnieszka’s unwilling tutelage under the Dragon is funny and entertaining. It’s a vivid picture of an architect trying to work with an abstract artist and finding the balance in their techniques.

My favorite aspect of this book was Agnieszka and Kasia’s friendship. It’s so rare to find equally powerful women who are fiercely loyal to one another. They recognize that neither of them is perfect, and that sometimes they harbor resentment or envy towards each other over how their lives unfolded, but they both choose to hold their friendship as more important than those things. They risk their lives for each other multiple times, without hesitation, and I want to see that kind of relationship in novels of any genre.

I don’t want to spoil anything else – if you like fantasy novels, read this one!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Uprooted 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 – Her first fantasy novel for adults follows the huntress Feyre and her terrible bargain with the fae to keep her life and her family safe. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Another dark secret lurking in the heart of a forest, with a young girl determined to become a knight to save everyone from the faeries’ dark magic. See my review here.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – The Chrestomanci is the nine-lived sorcerer responsible for keeping balance in the Twelve Related Worlds, but first he has to learn how that’s done. Especially if he can’t seem to do magic at all. These novellas are fun and imaginative like all of Jones’ work.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley – A woman finds herself in trouble with vampires – then finds herself with the power to keep them away. A unique and interesting take on vampire lore with McKinley’s usual style.
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – A lyrical and moving friendship between two magical beings and their struggle to survive in 1899 New York City. See my review here.
  • The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I’ve had this on my to-read list for months (shameful, yes) but from the rave reviews I’ve heard I think this would be an interesting follow-up to Uprooted.
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – Lyra finds herself caught up in a political and religious struggle for the fate and future of parallel worlds in this vibrant and spell-binding trilogy. The symbolism and world-building is captivating, and Lyra’s journey to find her place in the universe is moving.

The Winner’s Crime

20443207by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy / YAFiction
4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by the first book in this trilogy, and I grabbed this one as soon as I could. I enjoyed it even more than the first! The few clunky missteps establishing the first book weren’t present in this one. It was smooth, cat-and-mouse royal court intrigue from beginning to end, and I loved watching it play out. As with the first book, I was never quite sure what would happen next, and that is the best praise I can give.

Kestrel and Arin are rarely together, which could have been disappointing, but I felt their plot lines were stronger when they were kept apart. The growing internal tension they both experienced made their decisions feel so real. Jess isn’t the dumb best friend that Kestrel assumed she was, and she pressed the flip side of Kestrel’s assertive nature with the declaration that Kestrel never does anything against her will. Despite feeling cornered and caught between horrible options, part of Kestrel’s trap is being known for going her own way, and this betrayal from her own nature was brilliant. Her internal unraveling under the unending pressure of her new life as the future empress made her character arc so believable, and I really fell in love with her in this book. Arin’s struggle to discover Kestrel’s true feelings amidst his own political responsibilities was equally moving. These characters came to life and I can’t wait for the final book!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Winner’s Crime 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:

  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas – A YA fantasy series following assassin Celaena Sardothien as she uncovers a plot in the kingdom and her own destiny. This has similar court intrigue with a bit more magic and adventure. See my review here.
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – The second in a trilogy about Alina, the Sun Summoner who realizes the kingdom’s most powerful sorcerer, the Darkling, isn’t all that he seems.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sophie Bellamy is pushed into an arranged marriage, then discovers her fiance is more than meets the eye. This is almost a relief, because she has a secret too. See my review here.
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore – Katsa decides to rebel against her uncle the king when a foreign prince asks for her help with finding his grandfather. This is beautifully told and rich in detail. See my review here.
  • Scarlet by Marissa Meyer – This quartet about four different women from fairy tales is an excellent genre-mashing epic. Scarlet becomes concerned about her missing grandmother, and reluctantly trusts a street-fighter named Wolf to see if they can find her. But when Cinder crashes into their lives, things get more complicated. See my review here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – Shazi swore to avenge her best friend’s murder and kill the king responsible for so many girls’ deaths. But when she volunteers to be his next bride, she becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding his court of death. See my review here.
  • Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat – (An m/m romance for mature readers). Damen and Laurent have begun to build trust between them to combat the regent’s schemes, but all of it could come crashing down at any moment if they don’t continue to stay one step ahead. The plot and characters are incredible! 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.

The Blue Sword

131936by Robin McKinley
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

I first encountered this story when I was around 12, the same time I discovered its companion prequel, The Hero and the Crown. That book went on to become my favorite novel–and it still is, 20+ re-reads later–but The Blue Sword faded into distant memory. I finally decided to pick it up again to see if I could learn why this happened. I enjoyed it so much more this time! It has a slower pace than its counterpart, which is probably why when I was younger I found it dull. McKinley is known for more description than dialogue in her work, and since these descriptions didn’t include slaying dragons, I set it aside once I was done and forgot about it. I was unjust!

Harry’s story of coming to a strange land and discovering an even stranger destiny for herself is rich with gradually growing emotion and stakes. Instead of the more “traditional” quest of Aerin, we follow Harry’s rather more realistic journey of learning about a new and ancient culture and her blind struggle to find her place in it. She feels the battle we all feel at some point–that we’re meant to do something important, but we can’t see the future, so we just have to hope that each choice we make is the right one. Typically a wise wizard hangs around long enough to give the hero the specifics of the quest, but in this case Harry forges her path alone with the barest cryptic hints. She is a lovable heroine, and the slow revelation of clues to her fate kept my attention with her wry narration of it all.

Fans of McKinley’s work will enjoy this, as will anyone who prefers a book meant for a slow read in a cozy chair. If you are new to McKinley’s style, I would suggest reading Aerin’s story first.

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

Similar reads:

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira is part of a small band of Winterian refugees struggling to restore the rightful king to the throne and overthrow Spring’s invasion. Like Harry, Meira discovers her true destiny isn’t what she expected. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel lives in a world of strategic games, whether it’s against her father’s plans for her future or society’s constraints. When Kestrel bids on and wins a slave named Arin, she realizes choosing her own path isn’t as simple as she hoped. See my review here.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – Two novellas about the enchanter with nine lives that keeps the magic of the Twelve Related Worlds in check. Before becoming the Chrestomanci, Christopher Chant and Cat Chant have a lot to learn about magic and their role in the multiverse. These are fun, inventive stories and some of my favorites by this author.
  • Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee – Kai has always known she can see and manipulate the threads of time, but when her brother disappears, her quest to find him leads her to her own unexpected destiny. See my review here.
  • The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip – The first in a close-knit, heavily symbolic trilogy about Morgon and his betrothed, Raederle, as they try to solve some of the greatest riddles of their world and save it from the shape-shifters’ destruction. This has polarized reviews but McKillip is worth checking out.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – If you enjoyed The Blue Sword, this book is similar and beautifully written. It’s one of my favorites – a vague Beauty and the Beast retelling – and simply delightful. See my review here.

The Winner’s Curse

16069030by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy / YA Fiction
4 of 5 stars

I was skeptical at first but this book won me over. At first glance it had too many tropes–the girl caught between two loves, one perfect but boring, the other fiery but impossible–the best friend who is just around to gossip, the militant father (in more than one sense), blond white people enslaving darker people, the fate of two kingdoms hinging on the relationship between Kestrel the general’s daughter and Arin the slave.

However, this book was nothing like I expected. First of all, the pacing was so fast! Instead of spending long chapters agonizing over issues, the short chapters with cliff hangers flew by–I couldn’t put this book down for long. The continually rising stakes in the cat-and-mouse games between Kestrel and Arin, Kestrel and… okay everyone she encounters, was incredibly satisfying. To have characters outsmarting and out-gambling their opponents was awesome. And it helped balance the few amateur mistakes made early on, because yes, Kestrel and Arin both had a few lapses in judgment that were exasperating. I’m still not entirely sure if I understand why they are in love–if it’s even strong enough to call it that–but I suppose everyone wants something forbidden.

Fast-paced, strategic, with an eye for efficient world-building and power plays–I’ll definitely be finishing this series!

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

Similar reads:

  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira has lived her whole life in exile, working towards freeing the kingdom Winter from Spring’s tyrannical grip. But the process involves more than luck and magic–it pits Meira into a world of politics and strategy that might be beyond her. See my review here.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Alina’s unique abilities present an opportunity to save her kingdom from the spreading darkness–if that’s all the Darkling truly wants. This has a similar relationship between two main characters and a similar tone. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Speaking of star-crossed relationships that could ignite a war, Karou’s mysterious past finally finds her, but in the way she least expects. This is probably the most similar to The Winner’s Curse. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A fun, fast-paced adventure following another pair of strategists as they spy, plot and slip around each other trying to free innocent victims from the violent city’s regime. See my review here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – The evolving relationship between the king who killed so many girls after one night, and Shazi, the girl determined to avenge them, set against the backdrop of political intrigue and mystery. See my review here.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Mare Barrow finds herself with the people she hates most – the supernaturally powerful Silver-blooded royal family – after a strange display of her own gift. The gift she shouldn’t have, because she’s Red-blooded. Spies, plots, and twists abound as Mare navigates her new life and tries to find a way to free the oppressed Reds before she’s killed. See my review here.
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – Kate is inexplicably drawn to the new boy at school – and once she realizes it’s because she needs to break his family’s deadly curse, they have to work fast before he is the next victim. This is a light YA fantasy with some fun twists.

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.

Daughter of Deep Silence

23281652by Carrie Ryan
YA Fiction/Suspense
3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Forest of Hands and Teeth (if not the sequels) so when I heard about this book it was a no-brainer to add it to my list. This is a standalone story of one girl’s quest for revenge–with the twist being she has taken on the identity of her rich best friend who did not survive the yacht’s sinking. Libby’s father suggests this as a way to protect Frances (the only survivor aside from a wealthy senator and his son–who lied about how the ship sank). So she assumes Libby’s identity, wealth, and life for four years, biding her time as she tries to uncover the truth to take the senator down. So far, so good.

The hangup for me was the romance. Frances and Grey (the senator’s son) experienced some insta-love on the cruise ship before the attack, and in the interim Frances comes to hate him because he goes along with hiding the truth. But when she returns to the estate (neighboring the senator’s of course) and begins to put her plans in motion to find out what the senator is hiding and get her revenge on his family, part of that plan involves forming a relationship with Grey. Of course it does, he’s a sensible tool for her revenge plot. However–she finds she still has feelings for him, four years later, based on a week of cruise ship 14-year-old insta-love? And these feelings proceed to alter and wreck her carefully laid plans? NO.

This was a fun, fast read until the last 50 pages or so. I was prepared to give it 4 stars. The suspense was spot-on, and even dealing with her growing attachment to Grey wasn’t so bad. But ultimately this book felt like a bit of a letdown. The revenge payoff wasn’t there for me–I’m not sure what I was expecting–but the build-up implied there would be so much more behind the attack and its motivations. I hate to fault it for being too realistic, but it didn’t match the tone of the rest of the story. Frances’ character arc was odd to me as well, because she wasn’t a total battle-hardened revenge badass (except in her own mind…) but this also wasn’t the tale of redemption we find in something like The Count of Monte Cristo.

I do recommend this book for a quick summer read–it has a fantastic blend of dark details and it’s a page-turner–but you decide what you think about the ending.

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

Similar reads:

  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – Weird things are happening around Chloe’s sister Ruby, and she isn’t sure she wants to find out why. This is a suspenseful, semi-paranormal story about two sisters in a small town. See my review here.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The first in a detective series following Cormoran Strike, this has all the things to love about dramatic noir movies wrapped up in a suspenseful mystery novel. A good introduction to that genre if you haven’t tried it before.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Told from two unreliable points of view, this thriller takes the revenge plot to a new level. Nearly impossible to put down!
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren just wants to be a normal teenage girl – if only she could stop eating every person she becomes close to. Her story of trying to find her father is dark but captivating. See my review here.
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes – This story is along the same lines. It having a more polished feel, but other than that check out the reviews on Goodreads and be prepared to add it to your list. See my review here.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – This takes a similar feeling of suspense and mystery and adds a touch of paranormal to it, if you want to cross over into another genre. See my review here.

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