Mirage ★★★★★

32768520.jpgOnce in a while, there comes a book where you go into it with almost no expectations, in a genre you only occasionally read, where you go into it with an open mind. And then it consumes your entire life.

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I picked up Mirage–part of it came from the fact that I loved the cover. Part of it because I wanted to explore sci-fi more. And part of it because I was eager for a new diverse voice in the market.

And Mirage blew me away. I was caught immediately, and it wasn’t letting me go. It was brutal, beautiful and unabashedly amazing. I loved Amani, I loved the romance (though I tried not to at first) and I loved the world.

THIS WORLD.

Somaiya Daud has an AMAZING voice and showed us an AMAZING world filled with richness and splendor. I saw everything, could feel the things Amani felt and saw. I couldn’t put this book down to the point where I was late getting off my break at work.

I rooted for Amani from the get-go. I watched wide-eyed at how her relationship with Maram and Idris changed throughout the book. I cried (of course I did) towards the end.

And all I need right now is to a) read it again, b) shove it at all my friend’s faces because WOW and c) that sequel because OMG the ending left me shattered.

I can’t recommend Mirage hard enough. If I could float down from the heavens like some sort of Bookish Angel, heralding the good news of how much I loved this damn book, I could. But alas, a lack of wings. But I’ll shout it from every Tweet and newsletter and in podcast episode!

Furyborn ★★★★★

34323570I was PUMPED when I was approved for a review copy of Furyborn late last year. It was one of my top anticipated YA Fantasies of 2018. I loved the concept, the cover was gorgeous (why am I such a shallow reader? I love shiny covers) and I’d been following Clare Legrand for some time on Twitter and loved getting all of her updates about her process. And Furyborn–despite taking me too long to finish–quickly entered my Fave Books of 2018 List.

Follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world…or doom it.

When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.

A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.

As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.

Don’t mind that it took me a few months to finish this out. It had nothing to do with the book itself; in fact, it stayed on my desk and taunted me the entire time because I wanted to read it, but I had to work on my thesis instead and that took over my life.

Furyborn is so beautifully written that it grabbed me and I had to literally pry myself out of the book. I never wanted to stop reading it. And it was so easy to pick back up when I did go back. The characters were bright and strong, I fell in love with them and I rooted for them all along, I loved the wildly unique magic system and the descriptions.

I may have guessed some of the twists, but not all of them. But half the fun of reading something is guessing a twist and wondering if you’re right or not and that sense of satisfaction of “I called it, hell yeah!” when it comes to fruition.

There was a lot to love in Furyborn–the main characters, the lovely secondary characters, the interwoven plot, the magic, how sex positive it was, and so much more than I can possibly name in this short review. One of my favorite scenes comes towards the end of the book, when one of the main POV characters, Rielle, is discovered canoodling with the crown prince Audric in the gardens, even though Audric is engaged to Ludivine, their childhood friend and a noble girl.

You would think that Lu and Rielle would be at odds, that they would become jealous of each other and they would never talk about what happened, just giving each other passive aggressive looks until something more plot-heavy showed up. But no! The three friends sat down and talked about it. That’s so rarely seen in fiction and shows just how good of a friendship dynamic these three characters have and it fixed that dumb cliche of “You wouldn’t have this problem if you just talked about it!!” and it was all good! (Until the plot attacked…)

Legrand has such a command of writing that every passage was amazing, and when it comes time for me to do the Five Star Quotes for Furyborn, it’s going to be hard to just pick three!

But pick up Furyborn immediately. Right now. Pick up this beautiful, magical book and read it. I’ll wait.

Furyborn
Barnes&Nobles . BooksAMillion

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Dread Nation ★★★★★

30223025I don’t remember the last zombie book I’d read–it might have been a few years ago–but Dread Nation is not one I’ll forget for a long time. It was thrilling, captivating and all around amazing.

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Ice Wolves ★★★★★

35068585I’ve only ever read one other book by Amie Kaufman, and that was IlluminaeSo when I saw she had a middle grade piece about kids who turned into wolves and dragons well… I needed to get my hands on it! And Elementals: Ice Wolves did not disappoint!

Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragonsare sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

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Twelve-year-old scrappy orphan kids who suddenly become animals and have to join the institution they’ve been avoiding all their life? Oh, and one of them transforms into a dragon and is whisked away from her brother? A brother who depended on his sister for years while they lived on the street? Yaaaasssss.

This was such a cute book and a wonderful story about a little boy who turns into a confident kid when his life turns upside down. I couldn’t put Ice Wolves down for a second! It was not just cute, but Kaufman has a way with words. She doesn’t talk down to the kids that would be reading her book; she weaves a masterful story that’s intriguing and unforgettable.

So often, a middle grade piece sacrifices either a complex story or its vocabulary to be made “appropriate” for it’s intended demographic. People often forget that kids are smart and want deeper, complex books with a narrative that doesn’t talk down to them.

Ice Wolves didn’t sacrifice a thing. It showed the hardship of growing up on the streets, how hungry Anders and Rayna go when they’re not able to steal food or the sort of trouble they would face if they were caught pickpocketing. It shows how other kids on the street look out for one another.

And when Anders enters the Academy, he notes how everything there is more than he might have ever had in his life; the overabundance of food, a warm place to sleep at night, an education.

I loved the sense of found family Anders had with his pack, and how he never wavered in his quest to rescue his sister, despite finding out that she didn’t need rescuing after all.

And when I hit the last page, I was incredibly upset. Not because of the story, but because it was over and I knew it’d be at least a year before the second book came out.

So don’t hesitate to pick up Ice Wolves right now. You’ll thank me for it. Also, I won’t be alone in my suffering while I wait for book 2!

Ice Wolves
Amazon Barnes&Noble . BooksAMillion

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Sightwitch ★★★★★

35481848It’s no secret that I love a good fantasy book, and Susan Dennard sure knows how to write one. Sightwitch has catapulted to the top of my fave books of 2018 list and I have a feeling it’s going to stay there for a while.

From New York Times bestselling author Susan Dennard, Sightwitch is an illustrated novella set in the Witchlands and told through Ryber’s journal entries and sketches.

Before Safi and Iseult battled a Bloodwitch…

Before Merik returned from the dead…

Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.

Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sight—and though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.

On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.

Set a year before TruthwitchSightwitch is a companion novella that also serves as a set up to Bloodwitch, as well as an expansion of the Witchlands world.

Companion novels or pre-quels are a hard thing to nail down. A lot of authors like to use them to retcon something or to reestablish canon. Sightwitch wasn’t that way. It took what we knew about the world and Ryber and expanded on it. We saw the world through a wider lens, learned more about the past than we did in the main series book, and came out of it richer for having read it.

The second I heard about Sightwitch getting published, I pre-ordered it that day. And it was a long wait to get it in my hands, but it was absolutely worth it.

I loved Ryber’s voice, I loved the interspersed stories from Eridysi, a sightwitch from hundreds of years ago, I loved everything.

Oh, and did I mention there were illustrations too?

They weren’t just illustrations depicting a scene we were reading, but it was supplementary, it built on our understanding of the story and how we could see what on the page even clearer.

Plus, I’m a big sucker for maps and art.

It was just a gorgeous book, okay?

The entire time I was reading, I just couldn’t wait to get back into the rest of the series and re-read the other books. It rekindled my love for the entire story all over again.

I 100000% recommend the Witchlands series since it’s a wonderful fantasy story, but also because Susan Dennard is just the bee’s knees.

Truly Devious ★★★★★

35008814Maureen Johnson has broken my heart in the past (I’m looking at you, Shades of London) and Truly Devious was no different.

Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”

Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.

True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.

Maureen Johnson hooked little Maggie’s heart with 13 Little Blue Envelopes when I was just starting to get into the YA age group. Then I fell in love with her Shades of London series when I started using Audible on my commutes to school. And now, Truly Devious has hooked it’s claws into my heart.

Maureen has a stellar command of mystery and magic, of tossing in a twist at juuuuust the right moment to keep you reading way past your bedtime. The choice to intersperse snippets from the 1936 mystery surrounding Truly Devious and the Ellingham murders never felt intrusive. Whenever those pieces came up in the narrative, I never felt annoyed or cheated out of Stevie’s story, which was set in the modern day. In fact, I enjoyed getting snippets of interviews between the detective and the suspects and chapters following Albert Ellingham. It informed my reading and built a richer story.

Beyond that, I loved Stevie. She was clever, witty, a bit of an outcast and her anxiety spoke true to my heart. Not only that, but the queer representation was stellar itself. It never felt like it was there for “Diversity Points” but rather it felt like a natural part of the world, which as it turns out, is exactly like our real world. Shocker, I know.

Truly Devious was another great read from a favorite author of mine and it’s got its claws hooked directly into my heart. I honestly can’t wait for the rest of the series!

Truly Devious releases on January 16th, 2018.

They Both Die at the End ★★★★★

33385229Holy mother of feels, y’all. I was warned this one had a lot of heart-smashing, toe-curling feels to dish out, and even thought I knew what was going to happen (because, regardless of how hard you hope, the title tells you everything you need to know about the ending) I still cried like a baby.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

I really really really wanted this title to be a lie. I wanted to have Mateo and Rufus survive and be happy and together forever and the entire time I had hope that the title was wrong and that I wouldn’t cry forever.

I’m not a fan of contemporary. I don’t hide that fact. But this was just enough fantasy to pique my interest and I was hooked. The ways the characters and the story intersected was amazing. I loved the little details that tied it all together.

Though the closer I got to the ending, the more I despaired. I was sure the ending was going to happen a certain way and then it didn’t, and Mateo’s and Rufus’s actual deaths were fitting and just so goddamn painful to experience. I was barely able to read with all that rain coming out of my eyes.

I did have a lot of unanswered questions about Death-Cast and how that came to be and how it all worked. I wanted more out of the story in a world building way that I didn’t quite get.

So, in summary: feels on feels on feels on feels.

Beyond the Red ★★★★★

21414439.jpgWhen it comes to the broad sibling genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, I’ve always been more in the favor of Fantasy. But Beyond The Red by Ava Jae showed me a whole new world within the Sci-Fi realm, and I have fallen in love.

Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

– Goodreads

I’ve been a long time follower of Ava Jae’s writing advice Writability (and you should be too!), and when I heard that their debut was coming, I was ecstatic. Surely, someone who gives such great and dependable writing advice should have written an amazing book, right? And Ava delivered, beyond all expectations.

Reading the book of someone who you hold in high regard due to their advice can feel like you’re walking on a fine line. On one hand, their book could not hold up to your expectations, and fall flat, thereby disillusioning you to their advice. It could be just plain bad and you’ll forever doubt any sort of advice they may try to give, because clearly their advice wasn’t good enough if they didn’t follow it. But, like in the case of Beyond the Red, it could be everything you could have ever hoped for and more.

I felt deeply connected to Ava’s characters, rooting for them from the start. Ava’s writing is rich and powerful, and their prose is almost lyrical when read. The book has a strong set of characters, all with their different agendas, and the story itself has the potential to become a classic and a staple in the sci-fi/fantasy community.

My one and only gripe comes from the sudden end of the book, which sets up for a sequel, and perhaps it comes from my deep need to know more and submerge myself in the world of Sefara. I want more world-building, more stories, a comprehensive guide to the Sephari language, a history of all things Sephari and how humans came to the world. I essentially want this to become as wide and detailed as Harry Potter or LoTR, where I can learn the language and read everything there ever is to read about this story.

Goodreads . Amazon . B&N . Indie . Author Page

Glass Sword ★★★★★

If I could sum up my entire experience of Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard in a single gif, it would be this one:

Glass Sword? More like Glass Case of Emotions!

If you’ve spent any amount of time on this site, or listening to our Podcasts, you know how much of a fan Jess and I are of Victoria Aveyard. We fell in love with Red Queen last year, and Glass Sword delivered as many emotions as its predecessor. Maybe even more.

Chameleon Moon Review ★★★★★

Before I get into my (hugely delayed) review of Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver I have to talk about how I found this book first.

I’m a big fan of tumblr, specifically, I enjoy wasting time on tumblr. It’s a great source of procrastination. Sometime in early 2014 or late 2013, I saw a post go around with a picture of our friend and author RoAnna Sylver literally on the floor, unable to get up because they just received word of their manuscript, Chameleon Moon, being accepted by their publisher. And I was knee-deep in revisions on my own book, and what Sylver just experienced was exactly what I wanted and probably how I would respond (except probably with plenty of screaming too). So, excitedly, I followed Sylver’s blog and waited until October 2014, when it would be published.

I didn’t just follow Sylver’s blog because they had what I wanted. I was incredibly excited by this book’s release because of how they described it: a book where there was so diverse a cast that there was not a single straight, while cissexual character, which is so prevalent in all books. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with straight white cissexual characters in fiction. But when that’s the only flavor of character you can have, you get pretty tired of it pretty quickly.) The book doesn’t shy away from mental illness or disabilities, especially when a core point of the plot centers around a “miracle” drug that supposedly can cure anything, nor does it shy away from gender and sexual identities of the wide cast of colorful characters.

And Chameleon Moon delivered.