Dragon’s Reach

Dragon’s Reach

By: J.A. Andrews
Published: 2020
# of pages: 614
Series: The Keeper Origins (#1)
Challenge: What’s in a Name? (Possessive Noun)
Quote: “’That is the curse of life. Judging your past actions in the light of what you know now.’ She tilted her head. ‘Give your past self grace, my child. She did the best she could.’”

Goodreads description:

Sable, a reluctant thief from the slums, can feel truth when people speak. For years she’s been using that skill to try to break free from the vicious gang boss she’s indebted to.

Escape comes in the form of an odd set of companions:
-a dwarf running from the past,
-an actor with a magical, glowing tree
-a too-helpful kobold,
-a playwright with a knack for getting stories out of people, and
-a man and woman with suspicious, magical powers.

But Sable’s freedom is short lived.

On the edges of civilization, they discover hidden, terrifying lies in the offers of peace from the brutal Kalesh Empire.

Now, she must return to the city she fled, and along with her companions, attempt an impossible task—convince everyone, including the powerful Dragon Prioress, of the truth.

Except the Kalesh web of lies has ensnared everyone.
With her land, her people, and everything she loves hanging in the balance, Sable is the only one standing between freedom, and certain death.

Review:

Don’t ask me how I found this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a while. I was picking out a book to match the What’s in a Name possessive noun category and here we are: a possessive noun in the word “Dragon’s.”

I was very pleasantly surprised by this first book in a series! Yes, it’s a typical fantasy, but I still found it refreshing and interesting. I enjoyed the author’s take on “common” fantasy species like elves, dwarves, magicians, but I also liked the inclusion of a kobold (basically a house elf from the Harry Potter series!)

Sable is living a life of crime to protect her sister, but she’s been waiting for a way to remove herself from the crime boss she works for in her part of the city and move to another neighborhood to live an honest life. Soon her big chance arrives, but of course nothing can go the way she planned. Before she knows it, she’s on the road with a traveling troupe and soon discovers that nothing about her country and its religious and political structure is what she belives to be true.

The characters are likeable and relateable, the backstories and world building aren’t overwhelming or boring, and the plot is interesting. I recommend this to both young adults and adults who enjoy fantasy.

The November Girl

The November Girl

By: Lydia Kang
Published: 2017
# of pages: 340
Challenges: Alphabet Soup
Quote: “‘I’m Hector,’ he blurts out. His name is centuries old. I like this. It makes me feel like we’ve met before, that maybe our histories have a more distinct beginning.”

Goodreads description:

I am Anda, and the lake is my mother. I am the November storms that terrify sailors and sink ships. With their deaths, I keep my little island on Lake Superior alive.

Hector has come here to hide from his family until he turns eighteen. Isle Royale is shut down for the winter, and there’s no one here but me. And now him.

Hector is running from the violence in his life, but violence runs through my veins. I should send him away, to keep him safe. But I’m half human, too, and Hector makes me want to listen to my foolish, half-human heart. And if I do, I can’t protect him from the storms coming for us.

Review:

This has been on my TBR list for a while. I was born in November and the main character’s name is Anda, which is similar to mine. I felt like it was meant to be, but then the author shares a name with someone else very special in my life who also has a November birthday! So it’s even more meant to be.

This young adult fantasy follows teenaged Anda, who lives on an island in Lake Superior. During the warm months she shares the island with tourists and during most of the cold months she lives with her father, but there’s one month she spends alone: November. That is, until Hector shows up just as November is about to begin. He’s also alone, fleeing an abusive family situation. Anda knows she should leave him alone, but she’s drawn to him, and not just because he can see her when so many others don’t.

My description sounds like a sappy teenaged love story, but it’s much more than that. It was very deep and poetic at times. While I was reading it I was reminded of another story called The Tempest. I was thinking, the author should have named this character Miranda. Ooohhhh, duh, Anda! Probably other readers would have picked up on that faster, but at least I got it eventually!

Content Warning: Abuse and self harm. I recommend for people looking for a well written magical realism young adult novel. This is something adults and young adults alike will enjoy, but it is very “atmospheric” and a little heavy at times, so not a lighthearted read.

The Rook

The Rook

By: Daniel O’Malley
Published: 2012
Pages: 504
Series: The Checquy Files
Challenges: Alphabet Soup

Goodreads description:

Myfanwy Thomas awakens in a London park surrounded by dead bodies. With her memory gone, she must trust the instructions left by her former in order to survive. She quickly learns that she is a Rook, a high-level operative in a secret agency that protects the world from supernatural threats. But there is a mole inside the organization, and this person wants her dead.

Battling to save herself, Myfanwy will encounter a person with four bodies, a woman who can enter her dreams, children transformed into deadly fighters, and a terrifyingly vast conspiracy.

Suspenseful and hilarious, The Rook is an outrageously imaginative thriller for readers who like their espionage with a dollop of purple slime.

Review:

A friend loaned me this book a few months ago and recently gave me the next book in the series so I figured I’d better get a move on and read the first one! I’m glad I did because this fantasy mystery was funny, fascinating, and fast paced. I’m not into spy novels or criminal thrillers, but the fantasy aspects made all the difference and made me really interested in the main character and her job in a government-like agency.

Myfanwy (pronounced Miffany, rhymes with Tiffany) only knows her name because it’s in a note she finds in her coat pocket one evening when she wakes up in a park surrounded by dead bodies. The note also gives her a choice – face the dangers that will inevitably follow her or flee the country to live in luxury somewhere else. That doesn’t seem like much of a choice, but Myfanwy takes the road less traveled. She merges right into the real Myfanwy’s life, but spices things up a little.

In the supernatural agency she finds herself working for, nothing really needs spicing up, but Myfanwy manages to do just that in the midst of superhero-like characters and situations like sentient fungus houses and evil flesh cubes.

Basically, this is the kind of book I normally wouldn’t enjoy except for the fact that it’s filled with fantasy elements. Government agencies, spies, espionage, politics aren’t normally something I want in a book, but The Rook has lots of fun extras plus it’s well-written and super funny in parts. I laughed out loud once, which is very rare for me!

Overall, it was a fun read and I’m looking forward to reading the second in the series, Stiletto. It looks like a third in the series will be published this year, according to Goodreads. I recommend this to adults who enjoy fantasy, especially when it’s mixed with the modern world.

Blanca & Roja

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Blanca & Roja

By: Anna-Marie McLemore
Published: 2018
# of pages: 375
Challenges: What’s in a Name? (ampersand), Book Bingo (reliving fairytale)
Quote: “There were ways to carve away from your heart everything that did not truly belong, and still come back to life.”

Goodreads description:

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Review:

I’m not going to lie, the cover and the title of this book are what made me put it on my TBR list. Then because it had an ampersand and had been on my list a good while, I decided to give it a go.

All in all, it was an interesting retelling of the fairytale Snow White. I loved the family myth aspect and the traditions and environment the sisters Blanca and Roja grow up amidst.

The problem (for me) was that this is a magical realism novel and it’s rare that I enjoy that genre. I have no clue why because I love fantasy and I think magical realism is such a cool concept, but for some reason I almost always don’t get into the plot or connect with the characters and this book was no exception, unfortunately.

Parts were also repetitive and others didn’t quite make sense. It was frustrating that so much hinged on miscommunication. And while this is true in real life and is a common theme in many novels, it came across as dense and stilted in this book.

What I did like are the many themes of relationships, the mythical aspects, and the original concept.

I’d recommend this to fans of magical realism, fairytale retellings, and anyone looking for a LGBT+ theme.

Vicious

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Vicious

By:  V.E. Schwab
Published: 
2013
# of pages:  366
Series:  Villains (#1)
Challenge:  A to Z
Quote:  “The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t always scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words.”

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Goodreads description:

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Review:  So you’d think that since this is the first in a series and it was published in 2013 would mean that there’s now a complete series to enjoy.  But you’d be wrong!  There is a second book in the series that was just published a few months ago.  But obviously the author took a break from the Villains series to work on other books, such as the Shades of Magic series, which was a good series.

Vicious is about two friends, Eli and Victor, who take a college thesis idea and decide to act on it…by killing themselves.  As you can imagine, things quickly go downhill and 10 years later, Victor is out of prison and seeking revenge on Eli, a self-professed hero in the city of Merit.  Eli has an ability of his own, but he considers himself a hero because he’s ridding the city of everyone with supernatural powers.  Victor doesn’t really care about saving people’s lives, and of course he doesn’t really care about the “strays” he keeps attracting such as Mitch and Sydney, he just wants his revenge.

I really enjoyed this story and the characters.  There were a few things that I thought could have been more rounded out, such as Eli and Victor’s decisions in college, but the present day storyline and all of the characters made this an interesting and original book.  I recommend it to fans of fantasy and superhero/anti-hero fans.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Great characters, original story, could have been a little more detailed.

The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

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Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

Firstlife

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Firstlife

By:  Gena Showalter
Published:  2016
# of pages:  467
Series:  Everlife (#1)
Quote:  “That’s not our way,” Archer says. “Death isn’t the answer. Where there’s breath, there’s hope.”

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Goodreads description:

Tenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live — after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, long-time enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms that will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t where the boy she’s falling for lives? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision…

My review:  My husband listened to this on an audio book and went on to listen to the rest of the series.  He really enjoyed the story so I decided to check it out as well!  This is a fun beginning to what will probably be a fun series.  While the concept of the book is thought provoking, this isn’t an overly emotionally deep story.

At the beginning of the book I found myself frustrated over how silly the whole concept of choosing a realm during life seemed.  At least, to the extent of sending your kids to be tortured to ensure they choose the “right” side.  But as the book progressed I began to understand it more and I realized that for some people, this isn’t neccessarily a fantasy.  There’s plenty of religious people in the real world who manipulate, persecute, discriminate, and even kill all because of a belief that their belief is more important than other people’s beliefs.

The down sides were that at points it became hard to track who was Ten’s current “favorite” and who was rescuing her from the numerous bad situations in which she found herself.  Back and forth, back and forth, it all kind of ran together.  But overall this was an entertaining story that I recommend to fans of YA fantasy.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting story idea, fast paced, entertaining.

The Fifth Season

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The Fifth Season

By:  N.K. Jemisin
Published:  2015
# of pages:  496 (Kindle edition)
Series:  The Broken Earth (#1)

 

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Goodreads description:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

My review:  I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy novel!  The world building was extremely unique and so were the characters.  The timeline was written in such a great way, it really meshed together in spite of the difference in years.

The story begins with Essun, a heartbroken mother who is mourning the violent loss of her youngest child.  Her discovery of the child’s murder coincides with a nationwide disaster that will have far reaching consequences.  Essun is forced to leave the town she’s peacefully lived in for years to set out on a dangerous journey to find her daughter.  Essun has lived in secrecy for years, but knowledge of her power starts leaking through the cracks as she meets other people along the way.

The reader also meets the young and scared girl Damaya, the strong young woman Syenite, the broken man Alabaster, and the confident and boisterous man Innon.  Other characters pop up throughout the novel.  They are all written so well, you can just see them in your mind.  After I finished reading the book I immediately started looking up fan art because I wanted to see what other people thought of the characters and their descriptions.  Here’s my Broken Earth Pinterest board.

I’m eager to read the next two books in the series.  I highly recommend this book to fantasy fans.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Awesome world building, great characters, unique fantasy series.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon

By: Kelly Barnhill
Published: 2016
# of pages:  400
Challenges:  A to Z, Full House (coming of age)

Goodreads description:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

My opinion:  This was such a great, fun book to read!  It’s a children’s book that I think would be great starting around 4th or 5th grade.  It’s a great fantasy/fairy tale with good characters, evil characters, fantastic creatures such as a dragon and swamp monster, and an intriguing setting of a sorrowful town, large cities, and a dense forest with a bog and restless volcano.

The story follows Xan, a gentle witch who lives in the forest and rescues the children the sorrowful town abandons.  One year Xan rescues a baby and starts to fall in love with her on the journey to the cities.  She ends up feeding the baby moonlight instead of starlight, which fills the baby with magic.  So Xan decides to keep the baby and names her Luna.

Luna grows up surrounded by love in her forest cabin, but unfortunately the town she leaves behind isn’t so lucky.  Years pass as the reader sees what happens to Xan and Luna and also the slow changes that take place in the town.  Everything builds up and Luna needs to take action before it all explodes.

I appreciated the way the author wrote this book to be entertaining but also thought provoking.  It would be easy for kids to read, but it doesn’t “talk down” to them.  It’s beautifully written and children and adults alike can appreciate the descriptions.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Beautifully written story with a great message.  Appeals to both children and adults.  Realistic characters.  A little too wordy at times for my personal tastes.

Sunbolt

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Sunbolt

By:  Intisar Khanani
Published:  2013
# of pages: 
142
Series:  The Sunbolt Chronicles (#1)
Challenge:  Monthly Motif (Feb. – 1 word title), Full House (<250 pgs)

4Stars

Goodreads description:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame.

When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

My opinion:  Wow!  An author friend of mine recommended this book to me a few months ago and I put it on my TBR list.  I put off reading it because it wasn’t available at my local library.  Now that I have a Kindle I was able to buy it for 99 cents so I went ahead and bought it.  I wasn’t expecting too much.  The book doesn’t have many reviews on Goodreads and it isn’t very well known.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised by this novella that takes the somewhat overdone young adult fantasy genre and slightly twisted it into something more unique.

The story is about a teenager named Hitomi who works with an group that secretly fights back against the corrupt ruler who has taken over Hitomi’s land.  Hitomi soon finds herself caught up in more than she bargained for when she joined the Shadow League.  She’s far from home, surrounded by dangerous strangers, and is forced to use her hidden powers more than she ever has before.

I loved the relationships and interactions in this book.  Hitomi is reckless, but you can see her growth throughout the novel as she becomes more thoughtful while still retaining her bravery.  I also liked that she isn’t perfect.  In one part of the book she makes a choice that haunts her afterwards.  I completely understand why she made the choice, but also why she later regrets that choice.  I think it’s what most of us would do in her situation.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, but I’m very sad that the series isn’t complete even though this book was published 5 years ago.  I recommend to adults and young adults, especially if you’re a fantasy fan.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Unique story, understandable and likable characters, well written.  I just wish it was longer!