Starfish ★★★★☆

29456598It’s always rare for me to pick up a contemporary book and love it. The last one that did that was They Both Die at the End earlier this month and that one made me sob. Starfish was emotional for different reasons.

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

A little slow to start, Starfish took my own self-confidence and rattled it around. Kiko has confidence issues and social anxiety that stem from a past trauma and an unloving, racist mother. So when she distances herself from her toxic home, she starts to find parts of herself in California, with the help of her childhood friend Jamie.

The romance subplot didn’t draw me in (though usually I’m a sucker for friends to lovers romances) and any time there was romantic screen time, I felt like I just wanted to get a move on. I was mostly interested in Kiko’s growth into a braver, more confident person.

The portrayal of anxiety was the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t suffer from as intense social anxiety as Kiko, though I do have some milder form of social anxiety, but I know people whose anxiety is as bad as Kiko’s. Bowman knew her stuff when she was portraying Kiko’s anxiety and how people around her reacted to it, especially if those people didn’t have anxiety themselves.

I loved watching Kiko grow as the story went on, and I resonated with a lot of her insecurities about beauty. I may never full understand how societal beauty standards affect girls of color, but as a fat girl myself, I’ve felt that pressure to look a certain way just to be seen as beautiful in a parent’s eye. I’ve felt that hopelessness when I knew it wasn’t something I could control and how my simply existing was a disappointment to some people.

I cried as Kiko made the realizations about herself and beauty and as she became this braver person because of her experiences. I couldn’t put Starfish down and it changed my view on life.

Starfish publishes September 26th, 2017.

Mask of Shadows – ★★★★☆

29960675Pre-order it here!

Mysterious and tense, Mask of Shadows delivered on almost every promise it had given. I was pulled in by the characters and Linsey Miller’s writing was thrilling and poetic. Plus the representation of genderfluid and other queer identities was everything that fantasy books have been missing. And yet…

I Needed to Win.
They Needed to Die.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

The moment I heard that Mask of Shadows had a genderfluid main character, I knew I needed to get my hands on it, whether for reviewing purposes or just pre-ordering it to have and to hold. Then when I learned Mask of Shadows was a fantasy assassin fight to the death story, I was already in love.

Fantasy is a genre close to my heart, one I’ve always loved, but the lack of representation and diverse characters is glaring. In a world where magic and dragons are real, why shouldn’t there be queer characters? Why is a queer main character so unbelievable? Well, that’s a discussion for another blog topic.

I had some hesitations about Mask of Shadows, in that Sal would have been the only queer character and that the book would have used their identity as a marketing ploy; it wouldn’t be the first time books or movies have tried to garner queer readers, simply because we were starved for representation. But in reading, all my hesitations were thrown out the window at how well the representation was handled.

Sal was never only identified by their genderfluidity; they were a thief and an assassin first, a fierce competitor, clever and flirtatious and had terrible aim. The subject of pronouns was brought up, showing how natural asking or presenting pronouns should be, something we in our modern day world can’t seem to handle. Characters asked, “How should I address you?” and when characters that didn’t respect Sal’s pronouns tried to misgender them, that character was corrected (or punched in the mouth, depending on which character was doing the correcting).

Miller’s writing was lyrical and bright in many places, but sometimes I found certain passages confusing and ended up having to read over those several times. It was never enough to throw me out of the story, but it did slow me down. The only reason I can’t give Mask of Shadows five stars is because of the worldbuilding. The little worldbuilding we got left me wanting more, a little confused and sometimes frustrated.

We get a timeline of the history of the world towards the end of the book, but what I would have loved the most is having a map. A fantasy world is hardly complete without a map for readers to peruse and explore, or to reference when it’s brought up in the story. Especially since Mask of Shadows was rife with politics, a map would have been crucial to have. Barring a map, then there could have been better descriptions regarding the nations and the state of the world around the characters. Miller does a fantastic job of painting an intriguing character, but the setting often felt like a vignette: detailed the closer we were to the character, but fuzzy and empty the further away we got.

Mask of Shadows was still an entertaining read and one I think I’ll come back to again and again. If more fantasy books had the representation this one did, I think we queers would be alright.

Zero Repeat Forever – ★★★★☆

Pre-order Zero Repeat Forever here!

28945665When the apocalypse comes and the invading Nahx destroy civilization, Raven struggles to survive with her friends in a world that’s slowly burning. A dark and lonely sci-fi story, Zero Repeat Forever was enthralling—but also a little disappointing.

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

I will 100% admit that I was drawn to Zero Repeat Forever by its shiny cover. It’s just so pretty. Take a minute to really cherish it.

Now back to this story.

On my list of favorite genres, Sci-fi trails somewhere in the middle of the list; it’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it. I find it hard to get into, most of the time. Zero Repeat Forever was half sci-fi, half apocalypse story. I couldn’t even call it a dystopia, since that would mean there was some sort of societal order to the setting, but there was just death and invasion.

I was intrigued by the dual POVs of the story, one of Raven, a human girl lost in the wilderness with some camping friends, trying to survive after the aliens invade, and the other was Eighth, a Nahx boy who’s “defective” and rebels against his people.

The survival plot was intense and definitely the reason I kept reading, but for most of the books, as the characters are traveling to and from certain points, not much happens. As my good friend J.M. Tuckerman likes to put it, “a whole heck of a lot of nothing happens. Twice.”

My biggest gripe with the story was that we didn’t even really get a sense of what the Nahx were doing, even though half of the book is written in one of their perspectives. We don’t know where they really came from, what they were doing on Earth and what their goals were. And I understand not knowing what the characters don’t know, but little hints dropped from Eighth’s perspective, just little bits and pieces we could try to put together would have made the story that much better.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, but the ending was ultimately unsatisfying. Had we known more about what the Nahx were up to and how their process worked, the ending might have had a bit more weight to it. I won’t spoil anything, but I felt like the ending was too abrupt and it’s obvious it’s supposed to be setting up a sequel—but I would have liked at least some loose ends wrapped up, or certain things revealed.

G.S. Prendergast’s Website . Twitter

Zero Repeat Forever releases on August 29th, 2017.

Freeks ★★★★☆

28220899Magic 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.

 

Freeks publishes January 3rd, 2017.

Amanda Hocking is doing a blog tour with us starting January 2, 2017! Check out the first chapter here and the fifth chapter here, the giveaway here, and her Q&A interview here!

Author’s Website
Amazon . B&N . Goodreads

The Lie Tree – ★★★★☆

I’m always enamored by girls in stories that seem innocent and invisible but use that to their advantage to carve their own path — which is exactly what Faith Sunderly does in The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. It’s impossible to put down this historical mystery, set just after the advent of Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, where young Faith takes the matter of her father’s murder into her own hands.

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy—a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. Lie Tree.jpgBut inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree only bears fruit when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder—or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

-Goodreads

Historical fiction has always been that tiny love of mine, the flame of a candle burning in the back of my mind while I busied myself with fantasy. It’s always forgotten while I adventure with dragons and goblins, but I’m reminded how brightly that candle burns when I read something like The Lie Tree.

When I opened Lie Tree up, I couldn’t close it until I was almost halfway through, and the only reason I did was because it was 3 in the morning and I had work in a few hours. Faith is an incredibly strong female character–and not in the ways most people expect when they hear those three words. She’s immensely flawed, selfish and brash, but she’s kind and brave and willfull too. She seeks the truth when everyone else is blind to it, and she puts herself in danger to get to the bottom of it.

Every detail comes full circle in every aspect; Hardinge is a talented writer who wastes no word.

My only gripe, if I really could call it that, is the huge cast of characters. Some are only mentioned in passing and others we physically see on the page, but they end up flowing into one another and often I find myself asking, “Wait, who is that?”

It’s not a good thing to have happen, especially in a murder mystery where everyone you meet is a potential suspect. You forget who wronged whom or when they were last seen, and it gets confusing.

But regardless of your favorite genre, whether it’s fantasy or historical fiction, you ought to pick up The Lie Tree as soon as you can.

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

The Lie Tree publishes on April 19th, 2016.

California Skies ★★★★☆

California Skies by Kayla Bashe is an endearing and exiting Western romance featuring Maggie Valerian, a spirited heiress and author, and California Talbot, the most dangerous bounty hunter in the West, and Maggie’s childhood friend.California Skies

Bandits came looking for the legendary emeralds belonging to Maggie’s family, killing her older brother and scarring her face. She can’t change the past, but finding the jewels will help her injured sister recover. In need of reliable muscle, she goes to an old friend of her brother’s: tough-as-nails nonbinary bounty hunter California Talbot.

While Maggie expected hard roads and violence, given the tragedy that provoked the journey, she wasn’t expecting the bar fights, snakes, and bandits to be the easy part—and the difficult part to be a growing attraction to someone who’d probably never look twice at her mutilated face.

 – lessthanthreepress.com

The Girl At Midnight ★★★★☆

The Girl at Midnight CoverThe Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey had everything I could have hoped for: danger, magic, romance. I’m not usually one who actively searches for romance in novels (as I’m more interested in the plot than most relationships; but who doesn’t enjoy a little extra icing on their cupcake?) and I found myself rooting for all of the relationships blooming in the story.

The Girl At Midnight revolves around a young human thief, Echo, who lives with creatures called the Avicen—bird-like people—in this YA urban fantasy. Echo is tasked to find a mythical thing of legend called the firebird, which is rumored to be able to end any war in favor of the one who controls it. And the Avicen want to end their war with the Drakharin—dragon-like people—as soon as possible. But when Echo and her best friend Ivy, a dove Avicen and apprentice healer, are captured by the Drakharin Dragon Prince, things go awry and it’s a race against time to find the firebird before the world and its inhabitants burn.