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: ★★★★★

The Night Country

The highly anticipated sequel to Melissa Albert’s beloved, New York Times bestselling debut The Hazel Wood!

In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

The Night Country – Melissa Albert
January 7th, 2020

I wasn’t a fan of The Hazel Wood. In fact, I DNFed it pretty quickly. But I was a little deeper invested in the events of book two.

After a quick internet dive to get a full synopsis of the first book, I put on my headphones and began listening to The Night Country.

While I was a little confused at first, even with the found information, Melissa Albert did a wonderful job reminding readers what happened in the previous installment, an issue I often find in book series.

I made it through book two but didn’t find much stayed with me. Alice’s characterization felt inconsistent. Does she like Finch? Is he just a friend? Is she mad at him? Does she understand his actions? Even Alice doesn’t know.

I flipped back and forth about my rating. I didn’t hate it, the writing flowed smoothly, but I also didn’t love it. Somewhere in the middle I experienced a story.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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Blood Heir

This hot debut, perfect for fans of Shadow and Bone and An Ember in the Ashes, is the first book in an epic new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and the con man she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder.

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

Blood Heir, Amelie Wen Zhao
November 19, 2019

We begin as Ana is trolling a prison looking for a specific prisoner to help her clear her name. Desperate to keep her Affinity (magic) hidden from the guards, Ana spends a lot of time telling us she’s trying to keep it under control.

There is, perhaps, too much backward information at the beginning of Blood Heir. Her father is dead but we didn’t see him die, she’s on the run because people think she did it, but we’re not sure why, she somehow knows this prisoner will help her, but we don’t know who he is.

I was certainly intrigued by the action of the opening chase scene but it wasn’t enough to keep me going with all my questions.

The other reason I put it down was the way the writing flipped. Some parts were very well written. They felt perfect for a YA audience. But other parts felt overly informative and talked down to the reader. Basically, I don’t need a description for a sword so much as I do for the magic system.

I ended up not finishing.

My Rating: DNF

The Hate U Give

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give blew up the book community when it released in February 2017, and for good reasons. The Hate U Give is an intense look into the lives of black kids living in a racist society that’s trying to keep them down. It was not only an incredibly well-written story that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, but it was also very heart-wrenching in a way that made me, a white woman, realize my privilege because I knew that I would never be found at the end of such an injustice.

In The Hate U Give we follow Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl from Garden Heights, a predominantly black community, as her life gets turned upside down when she’s the sole witness in the shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil. She’s pulled into the rollercoaster of the movement to give Khalil the justice he deserves.

The Hate U Give comes right on the heels of the Black Lives Matter movement, the largest movement of the current generation. It’s a must-read for anyone and everyone.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of contemporary stories. They’ve never been for me. I mainly read fantasy for the escapism, but when it comes to police brutality and the state of our world, there’s no place for escapism. The Hate U Give hooks you in and keeps you in the real world, a world where violence against children isn’t always met with the right justice, a world that can still have hope among all the darkness, a world worth fighting for.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Three Dark Crowns Series

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

Ok, so, I binged through this whole series via audiobooks and my unnaturally long car rides lately. I absolutely loved the first two books, but I had significantly less love for book number three.

In Three Dark Crowns, I was really in love with the presentation. I loved that the story seemed to revolve around the place more than the characters and Blake’s narrative style never left me confused, which considering it’s written in third person omniscient, that’s pretty impressive. Like, five stars impressive. In fact, it felt incredibly episodic. I could easily see this whole series turned into a TV show and my nerdy ass would be firmly planted on my couch with a bowl of popcorn each week to watch.

I think that narration worked really well, actually, because instead of making sure each of the sisters, their friends, and their caretakers all have unique narrative voices, Blake was able to jump between these characters without beating me over the head with the POV change.

It also worked really well to hint that something was wrong with one of the queens. After being thrown into the center of the island, Katharine climbs her way back to life, but she is exponentially stronger than when she went in. Her coming back was suspicious enough, but with her gifts and personality change, the arch is even more intriguing. And because we’re distanced by the narrative instead of lead to experience it as we are in first person, we have the room to speculate what happened to her.

The second book is action-packed, full of betrayals, murder, and all sorts of scheming and the writing remains on par with the first one. We picked up right where the first book ended and missed no time at all.

Which is probably why the third book, Two Dark Reigns, has been such a turn-off. It seems months have passed, lives have happened, and an uprising, which was only hinted at before, has already started. Names of dead queens are dropped but we’d never heard of them before. Katharine has been scaring herself. The island’s mist, its defense system, is especially thick and eating people.

And I want to see when this happened. It may be that it’s in the companion novels but it’s barely recapped at the end of the series proper. We don’t see life on the mainland as the two queens who fled there are already on their way back at the beginning of book three, we don’t see the mist take its first life, we don’t see Jules come into her War Gift or accept her role as the Legion Cursed Queen, and we don’t even see her mother get captured–we just sort of find out that Katharine has managed to do so.

Overall, I did enjoy the series, but it peters out at the end, as so many books nowadays.

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.

Sparrowhawk

After a young woman is kidnapped by an evil Faerie Queen and trapped in a far off realm, she must survive teen Victorian fairy fight club in order to get back home.

As the illegitimate daughter of a Naval Captain, Artemisia has never fit in with her father’s family, nor the high class world to which they belong. However, when she is targeted by the Faerie Queen and pulled into another realm, she has no choice but to fight her way back home, amongst evil fairies who want her head, and untrustworthy allies that claim solidarity but have ulterior motives. New York Times bestselling author Delilah S. Dawson (Ladycastle, Star Wars: Phasma) and illustrator Matias Basla (The Claw and Fang) present a gripping dark fantasy tale of a young woman claiming her time and her agency.

Sparrowhawk, Delilah S. Dawson, Matias Basla

Definitely intriguing but perhaps too fast paced. The set up for Artemisia’s journey works well on all sides. Her Cinderella-esque background, being the bastard child of a Naval Captain and a slave, ensures she never fits in at home. Her stepmother is cruel and shows her no affection.

Then Artemisia is pulled into Faerie, the land of the fae. She meets Crispin, a Cheshire cat type, who convinces Art to kill the Unseelies she meets along the road. Her first kill transforms her and gives her wings.

This dark, twisted magic kept my interest for much of the story. Each time she killed, she became more and more Fae, and we were given a little flash of memory.

But great art and great story can’t cover up the speed that we blew through emotions. Artemisia readily accepts that she will have to kill to get home and doesn’t seem to acknowledge what a big change that it. The only time that she seems hesitant is when she has to kill her last Unseelie, before continuing back home to seek revenge on the Unseelie queen.

The lack of character development definitely holds this work back. I hope that, in future installments, that this is addressed.

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Truthwitch

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In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Truthwitch, Susan Dennard
January 5, 2019

Can someone love a book more than I loved Truthwitch by Susan Dennard? Can anyone love anything more than I loved that book? Probably not. I loved Truthwitch (and Susan Dennard. I nearly cried when I saw her in the hallway at BookCon Chigaco) so much.

I just need to sit here for a moment to revel in my love for this story. Just give me a minute…

Okay, I’m ready to tell you how great this story was. Two kickass girls from different backgrounds trying to survive in a magic world with immense and sought-after powers, with a deep power budding inside both of them, the world may never be the same after coming to face them.

This was the first fantasy book I listened to on Audible and while the voice acting may have played a great role in my incredible love for this book (Cassandra Campbell was awesome) that when I finished listening, I immediately ordered a physical copy. I needed to hold this book in my hands so badly that I actually went out and bought a physical copy. I bought Truthwitch twice. That’s how much I loved it.

The characters are so well fleshed out and the quiet undertones of love that followed the whole story (seriously, just kiss him Safi!) made for a perfect balance of action and plot and characters. There were so many times I just screamed out loud to Truthwitch; in frustration, in horror, intense anticipation, you name it. I didn’t want to get out of my car just so I could keep listening.

The only bad thing about Truthwitch is that it ended. That’s it. There was a back cover. Thankfully, its sequel, Windwitch, should be out soon.

Eon ★★★★★

2986865.jpgThere are few books that I hold in high enough regard to give them a five star rating. The only other book I’ve ever done that for is Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I had a lot of trepidation going into this book, but I came out of it feeling like a kid again; like I had been a part of that story and that I could do anything. But there’s so much more to Eon than just making me feel like a hopeful reader that can’t get to the bookstore fast enough for the sequel.

Spoilers below.