A Gathering of Shadows

20764879by V.E. Schwab
5 of 5 stars

I loved the first book in this series from the first line (magic coats? Yes, there are never enough). In keeping with this fantastic year for sequels, this one completely lived up to my hopes! I put off reading it for a few months because of sequel fear, and now I’m glad I did that because the cliff-hanger ending is terrible and I have to wait months for the last book!

Set in Red London four months after the magic and mayhem in the previous book, we find Delilah Bard adrift at sea while Kell and Rhy deal with their newfound bond in the castle. A magical contest is scheduled to begin soon to unite the three empires in a traditional, peace-keeping event. Will this bring together our heroes in dangerous, unexpected, often hilarious and sexually charged ways? You know the answer to that!

Lila’s new temporary home aboard the Night Spire with Captain Alucard Emery highlights her acute confusion about her future as she achieves most everything she ever wanted yet still wants to run. Kell chafes at the new restrictions placed on him after the disaster months ago and tries to hide it from Rhy, which doesn’t work because Rhy now feels everything Kell feels.

Although the setup for the magical contest takes up most of the pages, if you love these characters you won’t mind the gradual buildup and relational drama as they reveal uncomfortable truths about themselves. Especially since relational drama was in very short supply in the first book. If you view the trilogy with each book taking Act 1, 2 or 3, it is flowing along perfectly in that respect. Welcome to Act 2 – dealing with the inciting incidents and how they want to handle future incidents. Enjoy some familiar tropes (magical contests) with addictive secrets and biting remarks.

My favorite thing about exploring any fantasy world is delving into the inner workings. Any book introduces the rudimentary aspects, but in a series you can go beyond the surface level and find surprising new things about how the magic works, or what the characters are responsible for, or new locations and favorite haunts. And in this case, tons of amazing coats as well. (Diana Wynne Jones ruined me, don’t judge me!)

If the most important thing for your enjoyment of a series is consistency, you will find that here! If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, A Gathering of Shadows is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – If you just love mythical forms of London, soak up this vision of a futuristic underworld ruled by clairvoyants fighting against a regime that seeks to destroy them. Paige returns to her old haunts hoping to win her old boss Jaxon Hall to her cause—and when he seems hesitant she decides to fight on without him. See my review here.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – If you can’t get enough of angsty wizards in magical coats, enjoy some time with Wizard Howl as he avoids all responsibilities to multiple kingdoms and deals with Sophie, an infuriating girl under a spell who insists on seeing the best in him. See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Another version of London with strange magic and stranger inhabitants. Richard stops to help a strange girl on the streets and is pulled in to a battle for the city and for himself.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – A village thinks their local sorcerer is the most dangerous thing they face, but the reality is much worse. Agnieszka becomes his unwilling apprentice and finds that she has unusual magic that might defeat the evil looming at the kingdom’s borders. See my review here.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – A magical competition between three sisters for the crown. A Poisoner, a Naturalist, and an Elemental must see who is strongest by killing their sisters before they kill her. See my review here.

Eona: the Last Dragoneye

7992995by Alison Goodman
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Book 2 of a duology

This is an intense follow up to the first book! It provoked so many emotions in me that it was hard to read at times.

With her true identity exposed and the country torn apart by civil war, Eona must master her power or risk the destruction of everything and everyone she loves.

As with the first book, there’s a lot of political intrigue and secrets. I felt like this time it was not solely based on characters refusing to talk to each other though, so I enjoyed it more. Eona evolves so much as a character here–I loved her unquestionably in the first book, and in this one she made so many decisions that angered me–yet I could see her reasoning. As she made deals for knowledge and power I kept feeling a love-hate relationship with her and it was such an interesting read. Especially since I felt many of her choices that upset me at first wouldn’t have upset me if a male character had made them. The double-standard of women and men in power is examined a lot as a side theme, and it’s eye-opening.

Along with that, Eona faces the struggle of being a woman in a man’s world. Aside from relearning how to dress and carry herself as a woman, the disparity of power between the genders impedes her. She is expected to speak, walk, think, reason differently as a woman, court protocol continually reinforces her inferior rank, and her closest friends make her re-earn their respect. There is so much here any woman can identify with from personal experiences.

As with the previous book, the side characters Ryko and Lady Dela continued to endear themselves to me–which helped when I was frustrated with Eona. They’re interesting foils to Eona since they both have immovable convictions, whereas Eona is learning what her moral and ethical boundaries are. Lord Ido also has a larger role in this book, and he is just a fun character to analyze, love him or hate him. He keeps you on your toes!

There’s a lot more action in this book, and we learn a lot more about the dragons, their history, and their powers. Everything tied together so well, yet in such a surprising way!

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

Similar reads:

  • Risuko by David Kudler – Risuko is just a peasant girl who loves to climb. When a noblewoman notices her abilities, she is recruited to the Full Moon, where she will learn to be a “very special kind of woman” and possibly save her country. See my review here.
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina’s abilities have led her to assist the crown, but now she must seek out and recruit the half-dragon’s like herself if she wants to stabilize their fractured land. See my review here.
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – A girl disguised as a boy takes her brother’s place as a page to learn the skills and discipline of knighthood. See my review here.
  • Soundless by Richelle Mead – Everyone in Fei’s village has been deaf for generations, but when they begin to go blind too, and their food supply is cut off, she decides to risk her life by descending their remote mountain to find help. See my review here.
  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina’s journey to power and descent into darkness becomes more compelling and dangerous in this sequel. See my review here.

Of Fire and Stars

25164304by Audrey Coulthurst
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: November 22, 2016
**This is a review of an uncorrected proof copy

I was sold on this book the minute I read the description (princess with fire magic is betrothed to prince in a country where magic is illegal, but she falls for his sister) and when my lovely CPs Katy and Akshaya got ARCs in May I immediately began begging them (with no dignity whatsoever) for the chance to read it. Akshaya brought me an ARC at Leviosa Con in July and I devoured it immediately after! (Dreams do come true you guys).

This was everything I hoped for! Romance, adventure—did I mention romance? The best kind: friends-to-lovers slow-burn tension with cute scenes and jokes and surprising moments of daring. I loved everything about Denna and Mare’s relationship! All the things normally reserved for the “hero” to do for his girl get to happen between two women instead and it’s amazing. We also explore the different responsibilities they had to consider since they are both princesses. Everything they do ripples out into their respective kingdoms and it was interesting to see how they balanced their decisions based on that. Denna’s secret affinity for fire magic added a fascinating dimension both to her and to the plot, since magic is illegal in Mare’s country. The religion and ritual surrounding these powers is so interesting and I wanted to see more of it! It also allowed both women to be powerful and smart in different ways which I love.

The story otherwise is mostly political, with lots of meetings and spies (and assassinations!) and ideas discussed with the occasional new clue leading to more chaos. Alliances, power plays, prejudice warring with pragmatism. It could be tightened a bit but overall I was flying through the pages eager to see what would happen next!

The ending is a nice balance of closure and potential openings for a sequel (please oh please let there be a sequel). Read this and swoon!

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

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Another story of falling in love with someone you shouldn’t. Kestrel and Arin’s kingdoms are at war, and her impulsive decision to buy a prince disguised as a slave could be the downfall of them both. See my review here.
  • Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge – A retelling of Romeo and Juliet where you never know who will live and who will die—and come back to life. Strange magic and death rule these re-imagined star-crossed lovers in a world that pays homage to Shakespeare while still having a life of its own.
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo – Kaede and Taisin (one magical, one ordinary) are chosen to lead a group on a quest to the faery kingdom to restore sunlight to the world. Falling in love was not part of the plan.  A subtle story perfect for a cozy night.
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Brother and sister Noah and Lo spend the summer on the coast with their grandmother. Their plans change dramatically when Noah pulls a girl from the water, and they begin to suspect she—and someone else they know—may be selkies. See my review here.
  • Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat – For those seeking mature romance, this trilogy is fantastic! Damen’s brother seizes the throne, murders their father, and sends Damen to their rival kingdom as a pleasure slave to Prince Laurent. Damen is determined to escape and reclaim his kingdom, but he can’t reveal his true identity to Laurent because he killed Laurent’s older brother. Tension, plotting, betrayal, more tension—enjoy! See my review here.

The Raven King

Raven Kingby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 4 in The Raven Cycle

This was my most-anticipated book of the year! I even pre-ordered it (which I never do). Then I found a copy in the wild a week early (hence why I never pre-order!) and of course bought it immediately and read it before my pre-ordered copy showed up! Of course, the downside of reading a book before everyone else is that you must handle your book hangover alone (gah!). Maybe I’m getting more emotional in my old age, but this book made me tear up at least twice, and ordinarily that’s a 5-star story for me since I am half-robot and books don’t make me cry. Especially not since I moved to Denver and am now perpetually dehydrated. Anyway, not a perfect score in this case because, (for reasons I won’t discuss here but which I’m positive are all over Tumblr at this point), it wasn’t quite what I expected.

That doesn’t mean this book wasn’t insanely awesome! It just means the roller-coaster looked like it was going one way but that was just an optical illusion.

All my reviews have highlighted the amazing friendships in these books. Now that we are in the fourth installment, we get the best dynamic between Blue and the boys. In book one, we’re told they’ve been friends for a while (the boys at least), and we get the sense that there is history we weren’t around for. But in book four, we’ve been a part of the last year of history, and you get the solidity of intimacy that you’ve witnessed and shared, not just moments that were implied or technically must exist in the non-canon past. The closest thing I can think of are books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter, where now you have years of experiences and knowledge of these characters and you don’t have the getting-to-know-you moments, you have the finishing-each-other’s-thoughts moments. This is my favorite book-feeling out there—when the characters feel real enough that you could bump into them on the street. All that to say, welcome to the best versions of these characters: best dialogue, best inside jokes, best fights, best everything. SAVOR IT.

This series is hard to review without spoilers because it’s so weird, so in summary: yes, the creepy Cabeswater magic gets creepier; yes, the opponents hunting the ley line get stronger; yes, Gansey’s time is running out; yes, the sense of running toward a very uncertain ending haunts you for 400 pages. Yes, the relationships that came to the foreground in book 3 get more screen time here (because sometimes Stiefvater is merciful!). Yes, the entire book is spent teetering between wanting to know what happens and never wanting it to end.

My favorite moments were the in-between scenes though. The scenes revolving around families giving advice, romantic tension in the most unlikely ways, character arcs approaching resolution as loose ends are tied up to make way for them to find the Raven King. This wasn’t the ending I was expecting but it’s a good one, and I’m sure once I read the series again I’ll love it even more. Go forth and read this!

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

Similar reads:

  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – This story told from three points of view is dark and different. Midnight broke up with Poppy for the summer after years of an on-again off-again relationship where Poppy held all the power. His new next-door neighbor is Wink, a girl from a strange family who isn’t like anyone he’s ever met. But when something terrible happens, it’s unclear who is telling the truth and how intertwined these three characters really are. A short, spooky read with gorgeous prose! See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – Chloe moves in with her sister Ruby after a terrible accident befalls a classmate. It soon becomes clear that Ruby’s manipulative nature is growing, and stranger things are happening in their small town. Chloe has to decide what’s real and what’s true, and her perfect older sister might not be the best person to ask. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Hazel and Ben are used to Fairfold’s mischievous fairies and magical forest. Their town depends on tourists coming through to see the strange and unexplainable. But when Hazel senses that forest’s magic might be turning on the townfolk too, she knows it’s time to pick up her sword and save her beloved home. See my review here.

The Abyss Surrounds Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Similar reads:

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

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

19547856by Becky Albertalli
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: April 7, 2015

My lovely friend Akshaya read this book in three hours last fall (in the bookstore where she bought it, no less!) so I knew I had to add it to my list. I enjoyed this so much!

I’m a bit picky about my contemporary YA voices, especially if they’re meant to be sarcastic or humorous. It’s so hard to make that resonate (at least to me) and even harder to keep it up for the duration of 300+ pages. Simon’s voice is flawless! Distinct without being annoying, smart but not in an irritating way. I devoured this!

Simon hasn’t told anyone he’s gay—except a guy named Blue. They’ve emailed each other for weeks, and although they know each other’s most intimate secret, their identities are private. Until Marty tells Simon he found those emails, and will release screenshots of them to the school’s gossip Tumblr account if Simon doesn’t get Marty a date with Abby—the new girl who has become fast friends with Simon.

Filled with typical high school drama, friendship, smart observations, and sharp discussions about sexuality, this reads like a typical YA rom-com—except it’s about a boy falling in love with a boy. Extra points for sibling and parent relationships instead of the usual ghost family situation (i.e. protagonist has a family we just never see them on-screen). His frustration with his parents’ inability to accept his continuous change (which is just being human after all) is so accurate. Of course we try new foods, new music, new things—that’s life! I felt that so much.

There are beautiful themes in this book, but my favorites are these: 1. As Simon tries to discover Blue’s identity, he reminds us how little we can know our own family and friends without intentional conversations and interest outside ourselves. 2. White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default.

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

Similar reads:

  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Another favorite for me. Gabi is Mexican-American caught between her own modern values and her family’s traditional (if contradictory) views. Excellent voice and character with so many high school struggles seen through fresh eyes. Hilarious, feminist, diverse. See my review here.
  • Luna by Julie Ann Peters – Regan’s brother Liam has a secret—her true identity is Luna. Regan has helped Liam keep his transsexuality from their family and friends, but now Liam is ready to introduce Luna to the world, and Regan isn’t ready for her life to change because of it. Not the best representation of a trans character but interesting.
  • George by Alex Gino – A better representation of a trans character. George knows she’s a girl, but isn’t sure how to get her friends and family to see her true self. But then her school begins casting for that year’s play,Charlotte’s Web, and if George could get Charlotte’s part, maybe that would help introduce herself to the world. See my review here.

Kings Rising

KRby C.S. Pacat
4 of 5 stars

*This series is intended for mature readers*

This is a surprising and satisfying end to the trilogy! Once again, the level of plotting amazed me. Within the first twenty pages everything is turned on its head, and I spent the rest of the story slowly piecing together what was really going on. It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but I’ll do my best!

Damen’s true identity is revealed, and that changes everything. His people want him back. Laurent wants him out of his sight. Damen is unsure what he wants now, but he knows that he’ll help Laurent keep his throne and overthrow the Regent’s schemes. But the Regent has plans running deeper than Damen could ever suspect, and it will test the reserves of his strength, honor, and will to restore peace to Akielos and Vere.

These characters—I don’t know how to properly express how compelling they are. Damen and Laurent’s individual arcs and their relationship seize your attention and never let you go until you’ve turned the last page. Although I find the writing style a bit distant, the political intrigue wrapping around these men continually raises the tension and the pacing is almost flawless. The romance is amazing.

It’s not often you get a good twist in a story but this one had three or four of those and it was incredible! This trilogy is dark with moments of humor, and presents a detailed character study of two princes in rival nations that’s unlike anything I’ve ever read. There—no spoilers—go read it! Although there is mature content, I found most of the trigger warnings from the first book weren’t repeated in the next two.

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

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel and Arin are separated, on opposing sides of the war between their nations. Kestrel is determined to help her former slave without his knowledge, while Arin tries to reconcile the girl he thought he knew with the fact that she is set to marry the heir to the empire destroying his kingdom. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Paige escapes the prison of Sheol I and tries to gather the bitter rivals of clairvoyants under one banner to fight the corrupt Scion government. But her former mentor will stop at nothing to keep her from disrupting his carefully constructed network. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agniezska becomes the Dragon’s unwilling apprentice and prisoner, but slowly learns her captivity isn’t for the reasons she thought, and she has a power that might save the kingdom from darkness. See my review of this incredible book here.

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