The Abyss Surrounds Us

24790901If there’s anything that can be said for me, is that I love my fiction to have a hearty dosage of pirates. And queer girls. And queer pirate girls. The Abyss Surrounds Us is that, and more. So much more.

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Cas became one of my absolute favorite characters in 2016. She’s smart, cunning and strong. She’s not afraid to face off against a pirate queen and a legion of pirates for what she believes is right. She’s loyal and best of all, queer. It’s always so hard to find good representation in fiction; but The Abyss Surrounds Us was great representation of lesbian and POC characters. There was nothing to not like about this book. Emily Skrutskie knows how to weave a good, action-packed story and can wrench your heart out of your chest with all the strength of a Reckoner pup.

The semi-futuristic not-quite dystopian setting was perfect for pirates and sea monsters. It felt a little old-timey and a little futuristic and it was totally perfect for the story.

Cas’s relationship to Swift, the pirate girl that’s meant to keep an eye on her when the pirates kidnap Cas, grows naturally and out of mutual respect and fondness. The possibility of Stockholm Syndrome and it’s problematic nature within the story is brought up between both characters. But it never comes to feel like Stockholm Syndrome is the reason these girls fall in love.

The whole story was tense–will Cas escape, will Bao survive, what’s going to happen to Cas and Swift–but the finale was quite possibly the tensest thing I’d read all year. Literally edge of my seat. Well, bed. You get the point.

The Abyss Surrounds Us is everything I ever could have wanted and more. This is the book you need on your shelves if you like pirates, sea monsters or queer representation. Perhaps all three.

My Rating: ★★★★★

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic

Bestseller and author of the popular middle grade series Confectionately Yours Lisa Papademetriou is back with a magical, page-turning adventure for readers of all ages—a touching tale about destiny and the invisible threads that link us all, ultimately, to one another.

Kai and Leila are both finally having an adventure. For Leila, that means a globe-crossing journey to visit family in Pakistan for the summer; for Kai, it means being stuck with her crazy great-aunt in Texas while her mom looks for a job. In each of their bedrooms, they discover a copy of a blank, old book called The Exquisite Corpse. Kai writes three words on the first page—and suddenly, they magically appear in Leila’s copy on the other side of the planet. Kai’s words are soon followed by line after line of the long-ago, romantic tale of Ralph T. Flabbergast and his forever-love, Edwina Pickle. As the two take turns writing, the tale unfolds, connecting both girls to each other, and to the past, in a way they never could have imagined.

A heartfelt, vividly told multicultural story about fate and how our stories shape it.

Magic is my favorite thing in a story. I get to see how it works in the universe and how it affects the characters. Magic in a modern day world, like the one in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, where cell phones and blogs make a regular appearance, always intrigues me. How will magic and technology interact? Will one negate the other, or will they work in highly unusual harmony?

I promise I’m not telling everyone how much I loved A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou because I met her during my first semester at Sierra Nevada College. It’s because the story of Kai and Leila is so heartfelt and runs much deeper than one might initially think.

Kai and Leila are both headstrong girls, lost in the surrounding newness they have found themselves in. Kai is on her own for the first time with her great-aunt in a town she’d never been to, and Leila is halfway across the world visiting family in Pakistan by herself for the first time. Then both girls find a magical book and a new story that connects them in an unusual and slightly magical way begins to unfold.

Leila gets herself into some trouble regarding a bad translation and a goat on her first time in town on her own. She has to find a way out of it and in the process changes from the self-conscious, self-doubting girl she was into a strong and well-rounded young girl.

Kai finds a friend with a strange obsession–moths, of all things!–and she finds the key to her friend’s success means revisiting her failures. When she travels down the hard path of her past, she finds it easier to navigate with a friend at her side.

I truly loved the interwoven stories of both Kai and Leila, not to mention the third story hidden within the Exquisite Corpse, the magic book. And while we don’t get a closed ending in A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, we do get an open ending: there are plenty of things that could happen after the closing of the story, lots of places for the reader to imagine the possibilities that might befall Kai and Leila after their jaunt with the Exquisite Corpse is all said and done. The only question is whether it’ll be highly unusual, or highly magical.

Freeks

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Magic abilities, a traveling performance troupe and a monstrous secret that could kill everyone sounds like the perfect recipe for a great story. That’s exactly what Amanda Hocking’s Freeks delivers!

Welcome to Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow, where necromancy, magical visions, and pyrokinesis are more than just part of the act…

Mara has always longed for a normal life in a normal town where no one has the ability to levitate or predict the future. Instead, she roams from place to place, cleaning the tiger cage while her friends perform supernatural feats every night.

When the struggling sideshow is miraculously offered the money they need if they set up camp in Caudry, Louisiana, Mara meets local-boy Gabe…and a normal life has never been more appealing.

But before long, performers begin disappearing and bodes are found mauled by an invisible beast. Mara realizes that there’s a sinister presence lurking in the town with its sights set on getting rid of the sideshow freeks. In order to unravel the truth before the attacker kills everyone Mara holds dear, she has seven days to take control of a power she didn’t know she was capable of—one that could change her future forever.

Mara is a no-nonsense type of girl; someone who gets the job done and makes sure everything is running smoothly. Which, when it comes to their magical band of performers, doesn’t always happen. Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow is often the source of ridicule for their strange and often freakish acts, but they always manage to draw a crowd.

Caudry is a small town in Louisiana and when Gideon’s troupe arrives, things seem to start bad and get worse. When members of the troupe start to get attacked by a mysterious creature, it takes everything within Mara and her family to not turn tail and run. Mara struggles with staying to settle down for a normal life with town hottie Gabe and sticking to her family and helping to uncover who–or what–is killing them.

A slow start that goes from 0 to 100 in 3.5 seconds when the first attack happens to one of Mara’s childhood friends, Freeks will consume you and your entire afternoon. Once I got to the meaty bits of the plot, I didn’t want to put the book down at all. Mara’s internal struggle and desire for a normal life was enough to carry me through the first few chapters, because I cared about Mara.

Hocking does a fantastic job about painting these characters and showing you their best and worst parts all at once. I wanted Mara to find her gift and a place within the troupe other than roadie. I wanted her to fall in love and lead a normal life (though, I mainly wanted her to fall in love with Gabe’s sister Selena, and not Gabe himself, but that’s just me).

Freeks had a great voice; Mara’s unique perspective and choice of snappy comebacks left me giggling and really enjoying the story even more. If you’re already a fan of Amanda Hocking’s work, this is a great addition to your library. If you love paranormal oddities and thrilling mysteries with a sprinkle of romance, Freeks ought to find its way onto your TBR list.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

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Bitter, bored, and sarcastic-Lizzie Lovett is a girl after my own heart. Want to go back to high school and talk to You: Senior Year Edition? Great. Because she’s in this book.

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

You remember them. The popular kids. They had everything and nothing bad ever happened to them. Hawthorn had one direct interaction with Lizzie Lovett and held onto it in the darkest place in her heart.

And when Lizzie went missing-Hawthorn didn’t care… sort of.

With her wild imagination, Hawthorn believes she figures out what happened to local dream queen Lizzie Lovett, but as she immerses herself into Lizzie’s life she finds out she not only doesn’t know what happened recently, but she didn’t know much about this girl she came to loathe entirely.

Hawthorn latches onto a few surface items about Lizzie, namely her love of wolves, and concocts an entire-fantastical-story about her disappearance. This is really where The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett lost a star for me but after that arc is over I really enjoyed watching Hawthorn come to terms with herself and her prejudices against a girl she never knew.

The character’s journey is always so important and watching Hawthorn grow and realize that the things she originally thought Lizzie lied about were just things that contradicted the girl she’d made up in her head was great. I was also 100% creeped out and a little outraged to watch as Hawthorn moved in on Lizzie’s life. I thought we were going to get a flashback any moment and find out that Hawthorn was a murderer. Spoilers: she’s not. But The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett could absolutely have gone in that direction and I would have been fine with it.

Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

28962906A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamous murder cases, right up there with the Black Dahlia, and tackling that case or even that time period is a difficult feat for any writer given the amount of prejudices readers will bring along with knowledge of the case.

I am always worried about historical fiction acting more like a museum that new characters are walking through as they explore a story that isn’t there own. But Maniscalco did a wonderful job adding her own characters and making this their story.

Perhaps my only real gripe is figuring out who Audrey Rose’s Jack was, and the subsequent half a chapter which tightly wrapped up any and all problems she encountered outside the brutally murdered women. I won’t tell you who it is so don’t worry, but I will discuss the end.

Throughout the story, Audrey Rose’s father constantly scolds her about living up to her place as a woman born into high society and looks down on her for studying forensic sciences with her uncle. Then–right at the end–poof! He’s totally fine with it. Even sends her off to a school to study it…

IN ROMANIA!

Along with her love interest.

It completely broke with the character that was built up for Lord Wadsworth and popped me right out of the story. Which, I’m not griping about as strongly as I could because it happened at the end of the book, but it definitely ruined what could have been five stars.

I definitely recommend Stalking Jack the Ripper, even with its terrible ending, because the rest of this book is amazing and beautifully written.

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A Tail of Camelot ★★★★★

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I have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of this book ever since I heard about it from the author herself. I’m so happy that it’s finally out and that I can review it.

Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day when he will become a Knight of Camelot like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, Calib’s family has lived among the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. Calib just hopes he will be able to live up to the Christopher name.

Then, on the night of the annual Harvest Tournament, tragedy strikes. The mice suspect the Darklings are behind the vicious sneak attack, but Calib has his doubts, so he sets off on a quest for the truth. Venturing deep into the woods beyond the castle walls, Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a threat far greater than the Darklings is gathering, and human and animal knights alike are in grave danger.

With help from a host of unlikely new allies, including a young human boy named Galahad, Calib must get the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together. Only then will they be strong enough to save Camelot.

Stalking Jack the Ripper ★★★★☆

A thrilling mystery with a terribly wrapped up ending. But most of the book was amazing and a great approach to popular period of history.

The Magician’s Workshop ★★☆☆☆

The-Magicians-WorkshopThe Magician’s Workshop started with an interesting concept: magic that can make illusions from one’s own imagination, a girl who wants to make beautiful things but can only make monsters, and a boy who wants to have fun but is an outcast in his own town. But it turned sour pretty quickly. I wanted to like The Magician’s Workshop, as it promised to be thrilling and fun, but my expectations just weren’t met.

Everyone in the islands of O’Ceea has a magical ability: whatever they imagine can be brought into existence. Whoever becomes a master over these powers is granted the title of magician and is given fame, power, riches, and glory. This volume of books follows the journey of a group of kids as they strive to rise to the top and become members of the Magician’s Workshop.

Layauna desperately wants to create beautiful things with her magical powers, but all she can seem to do is make horrible, savage monsters. For years she has tried to hide her creations, but when her power is at last discovered by a great magician, she realizes that what she’s tried to hide might actually be of tremendous value.

Kai just wants to use his powers to have fun and play with his friends. Unfortunately, nearly everyone on his island sees him as a bad influence, so he’s forced to meet them in secret. When one of the creatures they create gets out of control and starts flinging fireballs at their town, Kai is tempted to believe that he is as nefarious as people say. However, his prospects change when two mysterious visitors arrive, praising his ability and making extraordinary promises about his future.

Follow the adventures of Kai, Layauna, and a boatload of other characters as they struggle to grow up well in this fantastical world.

The Magician’s Workshop did not read like the first book in a series. It was littered with jargon, most of which was presented without context clues so you couldn’t even discern what most of it meant. I felt a bit like I should have known what was going on, but I was lost from the beginning.

We start the story with Layauna looking out a rainy window, then being called to join her family for magical storytime, where they image a story and it plays out in miniatures before them, sort of like a puppet show if the puppets were able to walk and talk on their own. It’s not a type of beginning that grabbed my attention. Layauna brooded and noted feeling like the oddball in her family, and I wasn’t interested until her magic turned the story from one about a knight and a princess and into one about a rampaging monster.

It’s an interesting character flaw, to only be able to make monsters, but the stakes aren’t quite there because we’re reminded that it’s all in her head and that the threat is imaginary.

The dialogue didn’t do much to keep me invested either; it was stilted and mainly expository. It did very little to build character besides someone saying, “Hey, remember that time we did this thing and this happened and we had to do this to fix it?”

Though the biggest reason I had to mark The Magician’s Workshop as a DNF was the characters’ age. For the first third of the book, I believed that Layauna, Kai and Kai’s friends were twelve, maybe thirteen if I stretch my disbelief. They interacted, reacted and behaved like children. That was a fact I was entirely able to accept. It felt right. But when one of Kai’s friends mentions how they’re seventeen and still haven’t achieved something a child is meant to achieve by sixteen, I was thrown right out of the story, firmly on my @$$ and I couldn’t fight my way back if I tried.

An entire chapter is dedicated to Kai and his friends playing make-believe with an illusion of King Kong. The way they acted and spoke had me firmly believing they were twelve or thirteen, maybe younger, because no sixteen or seventeen year old who is supposed to be entering adulthood and even the fantasy workforce/college that is the Magician’s Workshop, would be acting the way they did.

I could believe that Layauna was sixteen, with her slightly more mature outlook on life, but Kai’s desire to play with his friends in their make-believe worlds didn’t read as a teenager. The entire story read like it was either a mature middle-grade piece or wasn’t sure what teenagers are supposed to sound like.

Frankly, it dumbed down its teenagers, which are meant to be the target audience, and even though I haven’t been a teenager in years I was practically offended at this portrayal.

Having a child-like personality as a sixteen or seventeen year old is believable. But being a sixteen or seventeen year old and viewing and interacting with the world as if you were eleven and trying to market that character to me as a teenager is not. I wish I could say I’m going to finish The Magician’s Workshop, but I just can’t suspend my disbelief enough to make it through.

Scythe ★★☆☆☆

28954189Neal Shusterman’s Scythe is a tale of humans conquering death, and taking the matter of population control into the hands of the scythes, a group of men and women entrusted with the power of permanent death. I’ve always been a fan of Shusterman’s work–I loved his Unwind series and Everlost–but Scythe was lacking something I desperately needed in a book, which ultimately turned me away from this series.

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Citra and Rowan are both present when a scythe comes to call for someone they know, and through that they’re both brought on as that scythe’s apprentices. They then learn the art of killing, and are privy to more knowledge and information than they ever have before.

But as their apprenticeship is a rather unconventional one, it comes with a stipulation: only one will receive their hood and scythe and as their first act within the scythedom they must kill their peer. This is, obviously, a problem as both Citra and Rowan start to fall for the other, despite strict rules that they can’t.

There’s a lot of time spent on building the world of this book, to the point where it was practically pure exposition in every chapter. I didn’t feel connected enough to either character because we very rarely get to see them in action, and only see them as shadows and students.

Shusterman has a great track record of incredibly complex and deep characters that are easy to relate to, but that seemed to have been lost in Scythe. The book was borderline boring to the point where I felt I had to force myself to finish–“Just one more page, and I’ll be that much closer to the end”–in order to justify buying the book.

I hope that Shusterman’s future works have their old spark back, and in which case I will very happily return to his world of words.

Carve the Mark ★☆☆☆☆

carve-the-markI was so excited to get Carve the Mark, especially since I loved Divergent and I am an enormous Star Wars fan. But Carve the Mark left so much to be desired that I put it on my #DNF list when I was a quarter of the way through the book.