What’s new this month

Happy new year! Here’s what I’m looking forward to this month:

209833661/3 – Wayfarer – by Alexandra Bracken

Etta’s debut violin recital culminated with being pulled into the 1700s by an estranged time-traveling relative. With the quest to find the astrolabe and save her mother and the Timeline in tatters, Etta awakens in an unknown time, alone. Nicholas and Sophia have teamed up and are racing through time to find Etta and astrolabe before the Ironwood clan destroys everything. I loved Passenger (see my review here) and I can’t wait to be immersed in a new set of times and place with these characters!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


299393901/10 – Windwitch – by Susan Dennard

The explosive start to this series had me on the edge of my seat the entire time! (You can see my review here). Safi and Iseult are best friends with special abilities, called witcheries. Safi can always tell truth from lies, and Iseult sees the bonds between people. Truth-telling is a rare and valued skill among the three kingdoms, and Safi has kept it hidden until now. With two kingdoms and bounty hunter bloodwitch on their trail, the two friends struggle to stay one step ahead of plans they hardly grasp. Now Prince Merik, a windwitch, must find them and save his kingdom from his conniving sister. I am so excited for this book, her world-building is excellent and the non-stop action is addictive!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


254891341/10 – The Bear and the Nighingale – by Katherine Arden

A story inspired by Russian fairy tales! When a stranger gives Pytor a necklace for his young daughter, he hides it away. Vasya is a wild child who grows up realizing that with the power of the necklace she might be able to save her village the dark foces that threaten to destroy them all. I absolutely adore fairy tales and I can’t wait to see what this winter story holds!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


 


220820821/31 – Our Own Private Universe – by Robin Talley

Aki knows she’s bisexual, even if she has only dated guys. Her best friend is the only person who knows, and that’s fine for now. But when they go on a youth-group mission trip to Mexico Aki meets Christa–the first girl she has wanted to date. This sounds like all the female friendship and all the LGBTQ love! I’m so excited–a cute story with interesting friendship dynamics. I’m curious to see how they explore the church aspect too.

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


306523341/31 – The Crystal Ribbon – by Celeste Lim

So curious about this one! A middle-grade novel about Jing, a girl in medieval China who is sold as a bride to a baby in order to provide money for her family. When she is treated badly by her betrothed’s family and sold again, Jing decides it’s time to take control of her own life. She wants to find home again, and she just might with the help of fantastical creatures guiding her way. I love middle-grade books, and this sounds like something completely new to me. So excited to see how it unfolds!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble


278832141/31 – Caraval – by Stephanie Garber

I don’t think I have the words for excited I am about this book! I’ve been looking forward to it since last MAY. Sisters Scarlett and Tella secure invitations to Caraval, and incredible annual performance where the audience participates in the show. Despite being assured that it’s all a game, Scarlett quickly realizes that losing will have serious consequences. She has five nights to find her missing sister before everything unravels. Siblings! Magic! A carnival! Love! I signed up ages ago and I will devour this book!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

A Darker Shade of Magic

22055262by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this on my list for almost a year and I am so glad I got around to it! I knew from page 1 that this is exactly my type of poison, and it only got better from there. (I am now pestering everyone I know to read it). Dark magic, characters in fabulous coats, and four Londons—my favorite city multiplied by four. For me, it was insta-love!

Kel is one of only two Antari left—powerful magicians that can move between the parallel worlds. He also has a bad habit of smuggling items between the worlds, which is expressly forbidden by laws in all four of them. When he accidentally transfers a piece of Black London (destroyed by dark magic and the reason the four worlds are sealed off and kept separate) he must return it before it destroys the remaining three worlds with its power.

Lila is an aspiring pirate, current thief, making her way in Grey London when she bumps into Kel and proceeds to steal the stone without knowing what it is. Fighting turns to tentative friendship and of course complete chaos follows them from one London to the next.

So much to love here: excellent character studies, fast-paced action, and a twisting plot. The magic system continually evolves and derails what at first glance seems to be a straightforward story, which I loved. You’re never comfortable for long because the minute the characters decide what to do, you can bet it won’t work. I didn’t realize how often you can anticipate the steps of a story until my expectations were thrown aside for an alternative (and satisfying, that’s key) option. The writing isn’t pretty or delicious because it isn’t purple, but it’s my favorite type of specificity that I tend to find with Maggie Stiefvater’s work. There were a few sections of info-dumping but by that point I was so curious I didn’t care. The narration is a bit like a fairy tale or Diana Wynne Jones, so if you like those you will love this!

This is a fun adventure and though you can see its roots clearly (they’re even alluded to on the back jacket flap) this had me hooked! I’m excited to see where the series goes.

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


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I recommend this partly because it’s another book where I knew it was for me from page 1! Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. See my review here.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – Another dark London portal fantasy (unsurprising since Gaiman is one of Schwab’s influences) where ordinary office worker Richard Mayhew meets a young girl wounded on the street. Her name is Door, and the doors she creates and opens will change Richard’s life forever.
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – One of my favorite YA fantasy novels of all time, also featuring a reluctant wizard with a penchant for magical coats who needs a strong-willed female sidekick to keep him honorable. See my review here.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley – Her foray into adult fantasy features vampires, delicious baked goods, and a girl known as Sunshine that finds herself befriending the very enemy her town is fighting against. This is a vivid, memorable book that I love!
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A gang of criminals with an impossible heist unite to beat the odds—even though they all plan to betray each other in the process. This book is amazing, just read it. If you need convincing, see my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Book 2 in a seven-part series, the author describes this as her love letter to London. Paige returns to her underground criminal home with the intent of turning the voyants against the Rephaim. It’s full of intrigue, action, and theatrics! See my review here.
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Mia Corvere is determined to survive initiation into the Red Church to become one of the best assassins in the land. Only then can she avenge her fallen family. See my review here.

The Star-Touched Queen

25203675by Roshani Chokshi
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: April 26, 2016

This story grabbed me from the start—the cover—the Hades/Persephone retelling in a nonwestern setting. Then the gorgeous writing pulled me in and I experienced this wonderful dream of a book! The descriptions are lush, the images exude color and life, and the mystery surrounding Maya is addictive.

Maya’s horoscope declares her marriage will bring death and destruction, and she’s grown up in the harem as an outcast because of it. Then her father does the unthinkable—he arranges a marriage for her as a political scheme to strengthen the country. Maya finds herself thrown in with the king of Akaran, a kingdom she’s never heard of, which lies between the Otherworld and the human world. Every utterly strange thing you can imagine follows as Maya learns about the kingdom Amar wants her to rule with him. That she seems destined to rule with him. Almost as if in a past life, she did.

I was impressed because I typically don’t like stories that can’t reveal the major plot or conflict within the first 100 pages. This one keeps you in the dark close to half of the book, and I didn’t mind at all! I was so engrossed with the writing and the strange clues Maya was uncovering. This isn’t a book for just any fantasy lover—the style almost blends magical realism with fantasy, and it feels like a dream.  As in, an actual weird dream where you wake up wondering what the hell just happened. Rather like Alice in Wonderland. But if you enjoy the first fifty pages, you’ll love the rest. Also, Kamala. You must acquaint yourself with Kamala.

Also keep in mind that this seems like a fairy tale. Fairy tales don’t give you a lot of in-depth character development or world-building. I happen to love fairy tales, so this didn’t bother me.  If you go into it with the right expectations, I think this is an excellent book, and I can’t wait for the companion novel next year!

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


Similar reads:

  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – Shazi volunteers to be the killer king’s next queen after her best friend is the last in a string of girls to be a bride one day and a corpse the next. Shazi plans to be the last—she’s going to kill the king. A beautiful retelling of The 1001 Nights. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Karou wants to know who and what she is, and she gets her wish when a group of murderous angels destroys her chimaera friends and comes after her. This is a wonderful trilogy involving an ageless war between chimaera and seraphim, and star-crossed lovers convinced they can end it and build a new world. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – I savored this story about teen siblings Hazel and Ben who live in a town called Fairfold, whose main economy is tourists coming to see the fae that rule the forest around it. When the fae break their contract with the townsfolk, Hazel steps in to be the knight she always dreamed of becoming. See my review here.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – A strange short story about a hero, a villain, and a liar set in a small mountain town. Told through 3 points of view, you see if you can figure out who is telling the truth. See my review here.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Blue Sargent is the un-psychic daughter of psychics in rural Virginia who gets drawn in to a quest with four prep school boys to find a buried Welsh king in the mountains to claim a wish. Creepy magic, weird twists, amazing friendships, fast cars—one of my favorite series. 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.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

BLLBby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 3 in The Raven Cycle

I’ve read this twice now and both times I think it took me only 24 hours. The previous book is centered around dreams, but this one feels more like a dream when you read it, possibly because it’s far weirder.

Much of the first two books, despite containing weird supernatural events, take place in and are grounded in the real world of small-town Virginia. This book returns us to a different Henrietta—one that is reeling from a revived ley line. Power outages, strange creatures, Noah’s changing presence and personality, and a growing sense of urgency envelope the women of 300 Fox Way and the raven boys.

Adam’s connection to Cabeswater is becoming less alarming as the scope of the ley line becomes broader. Ronan is still working out how to control his dreams, hoping to save Gansey with something he creates. Blue is worried sick (and pissed) that her mother Maura has been missing for a month after leaving nothing but a cryptic note saying, “Glendower is underground. So am I.” Gansey feels like they’re running out of time and road for their quest. (Persephone and Calla agree).

This series features repetition as a theme (and a style), but it’s never been more pronounced than here, probably because the magic in this story is confusing at times and repetition gives you something hold on to as you puzzle it out. Mirrors, using time more than once, secrets—all of these are brought to the forefront as the gang begins exploring a cursed cave that houses a mysterious sleeper—of some kind.

Although the overall tone is heavier thanks to the clear indications that both light and dark magic are at work, Stiefvater expertly includes hysterical moments and jokes, as well as some of the calm, in-between moments of one-on-one conversations between the characters (not just Blue and the boys) to balance it out. But along with this are Blue’s (and the boys’) constant realizations that everyone has different faces they wear and hidden sides you don’t know about—that you can be close and yet strangers. Sometimes because of secrets, sometimes because every day changes you a little until you have to relearn yourself.

I’ve said before that the true strength of this series are the character relationships. I dare you to read it and not want to be friends with them.

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


Similar reads:

  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma – A strange story about ballerina rivalries and time slipping around them. When a girl is murdered, another girl goes to jail. But is it the right girl? See my review here.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman – A young girl moves to a new house with her parents and finds all its secret nooks and crannies. And the dark spirit waiting to steal her and her parents’ souls if she doesn’t win a game of riddles.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three points of view, a hero, a liar, a villain–in a small mountain town. This short book is unique and creepy and hard to describe, rather like The Raven Cycle. See my review here.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – A small town with an unusual forest knows how to keep the faeries happy. When Hazel notices that the agreements aren’t working anymore, she takes up a sword to save her home. See my review here.

The Dream Thieves

dream thievesby Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy / Paranormal
4 of 5 stars
Book 2 in The Raven Cycle

I remember when I first read this I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first book, mainly because Ronan is so prickly. This time around, I loved this story! I think I just didn’t grasp Ronan’s arc and some of the events in this book the first time around. It’s very symbolic and metaphorical at times, and quite honestly Stiefvater’s summaries on Recaptains helped immensely. Dreams are rarely straightforward in real life, and that bleeds through everything in this book.

*spoilers for The Raven Boys*

At this point in the story, Blue is inextricably intertwined with the four raven boys: Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah. They found out Noah’s been dead for seven years. Adam is working out what his agreement with Cabeswater entails. Ronan tells the group he can take things from his dreams (such as Chainsaw), just like his father. Blue experiments with her own power over energy. Gansey remains wistful as ever, about everything.

They’re all beginning to realize they’re part of something bigger.
They’re also learning far more people are after the ley line’s power than they first thought.

This book opens up the world even as it focuses largely on Ronan and his strange power. Through his complicated relationship with Kavinsky, we learn how the dreams work and that Ronan’s family isn’t the only one able to do it.

The same wealth of atmosphere, snappy dialogue, and amazing descriptions are present here and Gansey’s quest for Glendower is even stranger and more compelling. The true strength of this series is the friendship these characters share. I finished this and went directly to the next book!

This series is for anyone wanting to explore the fine line between magic and reality. It’s paranormal without the monsters or heavy romance. It’s very much its own (weird) thing.

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


Similar reads:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – When you think of a book about dreams, this is at the top of the list. Alice’s strange dreamland and her guide the White Rabbit are symbols of exactly how weird your mind can be when you aren’t awake and in charge. Although it’s older, it reads easily and the imagery is addictively strange.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – An adorable, emotional (if a bit inaccurate) story about Alex, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is never sure what is real and what isn’t. Beautiful language and enjoyably wry. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – A story about two sisters, and the powerful dynamic between them. Ruby runs their small town, and Chloe adores her. But when a classmate is murdered and she goes to live with her sister, strange things start happening. See my review here.
  • Tides by Betsy Cornwell – Noah and Lo spend the summer with their grandmother on a small island and find out that selkies are known to roam the waters around it. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: In the Hand of the Goddess

handofby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The titles are overlong but these short books in the Song of the Lioness quartet are some of my favorites. In the first book, Alanna disguised herself as a boy to train as a knight alongside the prince of Tortall and a band of noble boys.

Alanna earns her place as a squire but her closest friends discover her secret identity. Now that they face more responsibility as they train to earn their shields, Alanna must work harder than ever to earn respect in the ranks. As she tries to reject the burdens of her true gender, Alanna must also contend with a plot on Prince Jonathan’s life—when she realizes it’s also a plot against her own. Her growing magical abilities threaten to reveal her to her enemies as she struggles to save the prince anonymously.

The themes and tone of this story have aged with the characters, and this is my favorite in the series. Everything I loved from the first story (secretly beating boys at their own games, political intrigue, dangerous magic, intriguing allies) is present in this installment with better adventures. Alanna fights against the all-too-true realization that when her friends learn she is a girl, their entire treatment of her changes (often in a bad way), regardless of her achievements or opinions. Her refusal to be put in their damsel-to-protect box is the fire of this series and was so important to me growing up. A must-read for fantasy-lovers!

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


Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job at the royal stables. But when she is unable to hide the magical nature of her gift, Daine must confront her past or risk never controlling her magic at all. A new set of characters and adventures with the same flair that made you fall for the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel is studying to take over her father’s role as the kingdom’s Abhorsen (a necromancer that lays the dead to rest). When her father goes missing, Sabriel must rescue him despite having only a fraction of the knowledge and training she needs. One of my absolute favorite stories, see my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – Another favorite of mine, Mirasol struggles to accept her new magical abilities within her demense’s government. If she fails to learn in a few months what most apprentices learn for years, her kingdom could collapse. A Beauty and the Beast re-telling coupled with intriguing characters and slow-burn romance. See my review here.

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