What to read again:

Ever since Harry Potter I’ve enjoyed re-reading the previous books in a series before the next one comes out. You get to soak up all the nuances and speculate about what’s going to happen next—it just makes the whole experience richer and more fun! What am I going to start re-reading?

Snow Like Ashes series by Sara Raasch

This is a unique trilogy about a girl’s hidden destiny and the political savvy required to rule a kingdom coming back from the brink of destruction. The economics and alliances feel very true to life and I’m excited to see how Meira’s decisions steer the kingdom of Winter! (See my reviews here and here). Although the second book surprised me and wasn’t entirely what I hoped for in the sequel, I’m still impatiently waiting to see what happens next! I don’t want to spoil anything, so just pick up these gorgeous books before the last one comes out next month!



Finnikin of the Rock

10636358by Melina Marchetta
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

This book perplexed me. I think it might be a case of right book / wrong time. The writing is good – the story is good – I just had so much trouble connecting with it. Part of it might be because I don’t have a strong sense of “home” or “national pride” and since that is essentially the entire theme of this book it would explain why I couldn’t get into it.

Finnikin of the Rock and his mentor Sir Topher are traveling around various kingdoms chronicling a list of names and stories from Lumateran refugees. During the five days of the unspeakable, the royal family was murdered and an imposter king took the throne. For ten years, Lumatere has been bound by a dark blood curse, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the kingdom. Then Finnikin encounters a novice named Evanjalin who claims to know the prince lives and wants to reunite Lumaterans to take back their kingdom.

Lots and lots of world-building: countries, politics, trade, people – names and names and names – in the first fifty pages. The writing feels very formal (think Lord of the Rings style) and for me that always puts distance between me and the main character. I had trouble seeing any stakes for these characters (again, since I don’t relate to the reclaiming a home theme) and I never felt like I knew what they were thinking. Aspects of the religion and magic fascinated me, but those got the shortest explanations.

There is a strange blend of overt sexism (also trigger warning for attempted rape) with overt feminism. It also made me very uncomfortable that the character who escaped being raped was forced to be around her rapist for the remainder of the book—and even befriended him in a way. At times he would attempt to leave the narrative and she was the one returning him to their group for unclear reasons.

I think revisiting this at another time would allow me to be more objective. As it stands – hm, I say to this story. Hmmmm.

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

Similar reads:

  • Dragonfly by Julia Golding – A betrothal between a wild prince and an orderly princess goes awry when they are both kidnapped. They must work together to escape and save their kingdoms, and along the way you get plenty of world-building and intrigue.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Seraphina is a talented musician working for the king, but as tensions mount between the dragons and humans she begins to worry her own past might be revealed. Fascinating characters and a world that will stick with you. See my review here.
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – Another example of myth and world-building adding to the story.  A thief is released from prison to hunt a treasure for the king. Cleverness and adventure and amazing writing! I loved this and need to read it again.
  • The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien – If you’re talking about a king returning from exile to reclaim his kingdom you have to think of this classic story. Friendships, battles, plenty of world-building history and mythology as well. The Fellowship’s quest comes to a close in this epic finale.
  • Eon by Alison Goodman – An incredible non-western setting where Eon (a girl disguised as a boy) competes to be chosen for one of the twelve zodiacal dragons which help rule and stabilize the kingdom. See my review here.

What’s new this month

Still in a slow season for releases (at least for me!) but here are a couple that might pique your interest!

261144638/9 – Nevernight – by Jay Kristoff

“In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.” Sign me up! Interesting world-building, assassin school, plots and intrigue and killer prowess – I can’t wait to dive in and see what Mia is like. This cover has been popping up for months and every time I want it on my shelf! YA has been filling up with assassins recently but this sounds more adult and this trilogy could be epic. Some adventure for the last days of summer!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

255586088/30 – A Torch Against the Night – by Sabaa Tahir

The sequel to the best-selling An Ember in the Ashes follows Laia and Elias as they fight to save her brother. I confess I haven’t yet read the first book but I have heard nothing but good things about this series! Political intrigue isn’t always my cup of tea but I think anyone who enjoyed Rutkoski’s Winner’s series would love this. Sure to be an epic end to your summer!

More here: Goodreads and Barnes & Noble

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.

The Winner’s Kiss

The Winner's Kissby Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This book is incredible, but I’ll attempt to tone down my fangirling! I had no idea what to expect with this book–I recommended The Winner’s Crime constantly last year (seriously, if you read my blog on the regular you were probably wanting me to get a grip, but I just loved it that much!)–and I knew this trilogy could end with a clever happily ever after or a satisfying tragedy. I was fine either way–I trust the author that much.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you how it ends!

*Spoilers for The Winner’s Crime*

Kestrel and Arin’s story has taken a dark turn at this point. They’re on the same side (but Arin doesn’t know that) and they’ve agreed they can’t be together (for completely different reasons) and just when Kestrel decides she’s ready for Arin to know the truth, Arin doesn’t get the letter pouring out her heart and detailing her secret deceptions. Her father does. And he lets the emperor banish her to a work camp in the north. Now we see how Kestrel and Arin handle the worst challenges they’ve ever faced. Understandably, Arin is trying to forget Kestrel, and Kestrel has some deep-rooted daddy issues to sort out.

Personally, I have loved Kestrel since about halfway through the first book. My shelves are full of warrior girls, girls finding their Destinies as queens and goddesses and leaders in rebellions. They’re all small but fierce, talented with some weapon or magical skill. They are very fun, but Kestrel is nothing like any of them. And I kind of like her better. Kestrel’s untalented physically. She can’t fight, and she doesn’t want to. She relies on outwitting her opponents, and she continues to do so here. The game of wits between her and the general is agonizing and emotional from start to finish. Her arc deeply resonates with me and her struggle to put names to her emotions is so moving. This book is a fitting end to her story–I’ll say no more!

I’ve never been as enthralled with Arin, but he was much more interesting to me in this book. Both of them experience so much growth with the perfect balance of light and dark moments–Rutkoski devotes most of this book to their changing feelings (amidst the backdrop of war and plenty of battles) and it has a serious mood I don’t often find in YA, but I love it.

The tone is heavier than the first two and there are a lot of descriptions, so I can see how this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re in the mood for a different type of YA, it’s going to delight you!

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

Similar reads:

  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – A band of criminals is drawn together with the promise of a payout if they complete an impossible heist. They have nothing in common but this prize, and they all plan to betray each other once they succeed. This is YA at its finest–it’s flawless and you’ll fly through it! See my review here.
  • Kings Rising by C.S. Pacat – This trilogy is remarkably similar to The Winner’s Trilogy, with m/m romance and more explicit scenes. The devious characters plot and play at the adult level here, the writing is top-notch, and there are more schemes than you could wish for. See my review here.
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore – A companion novel to Graceling, this follows the last human-shaped monster, Fire, as she becomes a tool to Prince Brigan to uncover a plot against the king. Fire’s beauty and gift for mind-control means she can have whatever she wants, but all she wants is not to become the monster her father was.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Aelin returns to Adarlan for her most difficult mission yet-destroy the empires of the King of the Assassins and the King of Adarlan at the same time. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Alanna – The First Adventure

alannaby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: September 1, 1983

My childhood followed many predictable phases. The I-must-own-a-horse phase. The unicorns-are-better-than-horses phase. The (ongoing) Harry Potter phase. This book began my (ongoing) girls-who-kick-ass phase. Even if I was not allowed to say “ass” at the time!

Alanna and her twin brother want each other’s jobs, so Thom goes to sorcery school pretending to be a girl, while Alanna pretends to be a boy and goes to the king to become a knight. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember what happened when the nuns discovered Thom’s identity…) Alanna disguises herself and goes through all the grueling training, bullying, and lessons of knighthood. She makes a lot of enemies, but a few good friends too, and her no-holds-barred attitude towards achieving her goal was so awesome to me as a kid. Alanna became my standard for Coolest Characters Ever. Then along came Sabriel, Lyra from The Golden Compass, Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, Hermione…and I’ve never looked back!

Although the quartet starts almost middle-grade it transitions to YA by the second book. Alanna’s trials for knighthood are interwoven with a sinister plot for the king’s throne and interesting encounters with George, the King of Thieves, who quickly realizes “Alan” has a secret. Alanna has to figure out who to trust and how to save the king, even as her own secret identity and dreams are at stake. This quartet is classic fantasy and Pierce’s characters are well-drawn and lovable. It was very progressive for its time and the first two books especially hold a dear place in my heart. Visit Tortall for a few hours—the books are short and worth it!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Alanna: The First Adventure 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 in the royal stables. But Daine slowly realizes the gift she tries to hide is actually magical, and to control it she must face her past. (I know, the only thing better than having your own horse as a girl is being able to magically speak to the horse. You’re welcome, every horse-loving girl out there!)
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – The world-building and tone of this YA book strongly reminds me of Pierce’s work. Safi and Iseult are fierce friends facing a lot of trouble. Safi’s ability to tell truth from lies has her wanted by everyone who suspects her secret. Iseult’s inability to master her Threadwitch apprenticeship makes her a threat to her tribe. When the girls’ pasts begin to catch up with them, mayhem ensues. See my review here.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – Jones and Pierce are inextricably intertwined in my mind. They are both amazing fantasy writers with vivid worlds and complex systems of magic that have enthralled me for years. This features two stories about the Chrestomanci (the sorcerer with 9 lives entrusted with keeping order and balance within the Twelve Related Worlds). Both of these manage to be amusing and dark in equal parts and aren’t to be missed.

Prince’s Gambit

gambitby C.S. Pacat
4 of 5 stars

*This trilogy is intended for mature readers*

I had to start this trilogy when all my writing friends were giving it 5 stars—it was sure to be amazing! And this sequel completely lives up to the first book. 

The political intrigue, smart banter, and slow-burn attractions are all here, as well as more wartime strategies and a bit more action. Damen has agreed to help and protect Laurent on his uncle’s mission to the borderlands, but he’s going to escape back to Akielos as soon as they arrive. Freedom is finally within his grasp, and he’s determined to return to his country and reclaim his throne. Laurent knows that his uncle has arranged everything to eliminate him from the line of succession, and must stay two steps ahead of every obstacle and threat that crosses his path.

The grudging respect between Damen and Laurent continues to solidify as they train their sub-par troops and travel to across the country. Although they don’t always agree, they have the same end-goals and find themselves compromising and using each other’s strengths to achieve victory. Honestly, my favorite part of this book was how these two strong-willed characters kept forcing themselves to give compliments to each other when due (despite residual annoyances) simply because their personal codes of honor demanded it. The tension of attraction between them keeps climbing in spite of themselves and it’s hard to put this book down—I had to see if they would ever tell each other the truth!

The writing and pacing are fantastic. And the dialogue is seriously to die for. I love the growing relationship between Damen and Laurent but I felt kept at arms-length most of the time, which is the only reason I’m not giving this five stars. Although there’s many pages spent on emotions and emotive moments, the narration is sparse enough that I couldn’t fully invest in the characters like I have in other books. I still can’t wait to read the final book—although I’m just as nervous as I am excited!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Prince’s Gambit 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 – A YA fantasy series of political cat and mouse. Kestrel and Arin are separated, on opposite sides of a war between their countries, unsure of what each other’s feelings truly are. See my review here.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik –  A dark, well-written fantasy about a young woman taken by a wizard to be his servant for ten years. But she might have her own powers to master. See my review here.
  • The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon – Paige has escaped captivity with the help of her master, Warden, and returns to Scion London’s underbelly to rally the clairvoyants together to face the government determined to kill them. See my review here.

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