Book Review: A Crown of Wishes

Title: A Crown of Wishes (The Star-Touched Queen #2)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 369 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: She is the princess of Bharata—captured by her kingdom’s enemies, a prisoner of war. Now that she faces a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. But should she trust Vikram, the notoriously cunning prince of a neighboring land? He promises her freedom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together they can team up and win the Tournament of Wishes, a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. It seems like a foolproof plan—until Gauri and Vikram arrive at the tournament and find that danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and twisted fairy revels. New trials will test their devotion, strength, and wits. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Review:  I really enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen so I was really looking forward to A Crown of Wishes. Initially I was hoping it would be more of Amar and Maya’s story, so I was a bit sad that it was not. However, I do love “sequels” that are not really sequels to a story, but rather the story of a peripheral character from the first book. I do like when authors do that because it gives us more of the world but from a different perspective. We get a sense of the young woman Gauri has become from her and Maya’s brief interaction in the first book. We learn she has become a fierce warrior and is willing to take risks her brother won’t. Outside of that we don’t know much about her, so A Crown of Wishes allows us to learn more about Gauri and so much more. We also learn more about Vikram, the soul whose thread Maya has to make a decision about in the first book. In Crown of Wishes, we ultimately learn what her decision was and how it has affected his life. All that being said, I totally and completely loved the book!

One critique of The Star-Touched Queen”that I had was there was so much description that it sometimes slowed down the story a bit. With A Crown of Wishes, while Chokshi’s signature lyrical descriptions of the Otherworld are there, the strength of this novel comes from the character interactions between Gauri and Vikram. In this novel, Gauri and Vikram both narrate so we get to spend time in each of their heads as they go on the journey to the Tournament of Wishes, and their time in Alaka, where the tournament is held. They begin their relationship as enemies, barely trusting each other. In fact, their first interaction was a delight to read as their chemistry practically flew off the page. Both are equals to each other and treat each other as such, which is refreshing as Vikram doesn’t see Gauri as a “female warrior” but just as a warrior. Both also have emotional walls surrounding them due to the way they were raised, and through their experiences, they eventually learn to open up and trust one another. As they do, the sarcastic barbs between them become less and less, and they become more honest with each other. Again, refreshing as there was none of the “noble idiocy” trope in this novel at all. They truly become a team who works together to solve problems and survive the tournament. Of course they fall in love too, but the development of their relationship is a healthy one full of mutual respect for the other’s skills and their flaws. And as they came to love each other, they were able to grow as individuals as well. Gauri and Vikram’s personal growth and relationship growth is what made this book so wonderful.

Chokshi also added a new character to the narrative who reflects the main theme of the story – personal choice. While the premise of the tournament is to gain wishes, through their experiences Gauri and Vikram learn that wishes cannot solve all problems, and that it’s our choices and how we use them that do. The character, Aasha, is a vishakanya who was taken from her family at the age of 4 and raised to be an assassin. She longs for a different life, however, and her attendance at the tournament allows her that opportunity as everyone, both human and non-humans, are all contestants in the tournament. For her, all she wants is to have choices in life, and through her actions, befriending Gauri and Vikram when it is dangerous to do so, is an example of how our choices matter in who we become, who we believe ourselves to be. I loved her character and I’m hoping that if there is a third book, we’ll have more of Aasha’s experiences.

Recommendation: I was planning on reading this novel slowly, but got so caught up that I did a marathon session. You know what that means, you have to get A Crown of Wishes now!

Share

Mini-review: America

Title: America
Author: Gabby Rivera
Artist: Joe Quinones
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: 
At last! Everyone’s favorite no-nonsense powerhouse, America Chavez, gets her own series! Written by critically-acclaimed YA novelist Gabby Rivera (Juliet Takes A Breath) and drawn by all-star artist Joe Quinones (HOWARD THE DUCK), Marvel Comics’ brand new AMERICA series shines a solo spotlight on the high-octane and hard-hitting adventures of the one and only America Chavez! America has always been uncontestably awesome, and as the newly appointed leader of the Ultimates, she’s now officially claimed her place as the preeminent butt-kicker of the Marvel Universe! But while leading a team of heroes and punching out big bads is great and all, it doesn’t really leave much time for self-discovery… So what’s a super-powered teenager do when she’s looking for a little fulfillment? She goes to college!

Review: 
Last year I kept hearing about the fantastic debut novel Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera. I finally read it earlier this year and loved Juliet. When I heard Marvel had asked Rivera to write about America Chavez, I knew I’d have to read it even though I didn’t grow up immersed in all things Marvel. A queer Latina with superpowers sounded beyond amazing.

With very little background knowledge, I expected to be confused, but since it was the first issue, readers get a brief explanation of America’s backstory. There’s a nice bit of superhero action in the beginning where we see America’s power and then some more intimate scenes to get a feel for America as a person before she heads off to college. I loved the campus map and the highlight of Sonia Sotomayor. What a college! A standout is the Department of Radical Women and Intergalactic Indigenous Peoples.

The artwork is fantastic and it was fun to get to know a bit about America’s personality in this first installment. As a newbie to comics, I’m not sure if they always leave you wanting more, but this one did. The first issue came off as an appetizer so I am definitely looking forward to the next issue which comes out next week.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Extras:
Click here to see cool twitter video

Share

Review: Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2–4

Title: Ms. Marvel, volumes 2–4
Author: G. Willow Wilson with Jacob Wyatt, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Elmo Bondoc as illustrators
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 112 to 136 pages each
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary (for volume 2): Who is the Inventor, and what does he want with the all-new Ms. Marvel and all her friends? Maybe Wolverine can help! Kamala may be fan-girling out when her favorite (okay maybe Top Five) super hero shows up, but that won’t stop her from protecting her hometown. Then, Kamala crosses paths with Inhumanity for the first time – by meeting the royal dog, Lockjaw! Every girl wants a puppy, but this one may be too much of a handful, even for a super hero with embiggening powers. But why is Lockjaw really with Kamala? As Ms. Marvel discovers more about her past, the Inventor continues to threaten her future. The fan-favorite, critically acclaimed, amazing new series continues as Kamala Khan proves why she’s the best (and most adorable) new super hero there is!

Review: I reviewed the first volume of Ms. Marvel about a year and a half ago, then got distracted and didn’t read the next three volumes even though I’d already bought them. I’m pleased to say that coming back to Kamala Khan’s world was just as fun as my first plunge into it.

Kamala’s story expanded nicely through these volumes. Her progression through obstacles (and villains) was peppered with a lot of cute, geeky moments. While there were a couple scenes were I think things got too preachy, I didn’t mind too much since I agreed with the messages. Kamala is a great example of a heroine who struggles to handle two different lives she is living but refuses to give up on either.

One of the ways that Ms. Marvel shines is that Kamala has so many important people in her life who she loves. Sure, her superhero moments are grand, but the character beats with her family, friends, and even idols are some of the best scenes. I was particularly fond of a scene with her mother in the fourth volume—you’ll know it when you see it—because I adore un-fridged mothers who love their daughters wholeheartedly. Other side characters got more development and screen time throughout these volumes, which helped give Kamala’s determination to protect her city more weight.

An unexpected downfalls of reading all three volumes back-to-back was that the change in art style between (and even within) volumes was glaring. The lack of a consistent illustrator was very distracting, and it tossed me out of the story every time the switch was made. Some of the artists were better at showing movement and action than others, and on occasion I had difficulty identifying minor characters because they looked so different from artist to artist.

Recommendation: Get them (and the first volume) soon if you’re into comic books. These three volumes are great sequels to the first Ms. Marvel volume. Readers who loved the first volume will be sure to like these, and this series is a good starting point for comic book newbies. I’ve added the next two published volumes to my TBR pile, and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kamala Khan’s adventures.

Share

Review: A Torch Against the Night

torchTitle: A Torch Against the Night
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Genres: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Pages: 452
Publisher: Razorbill
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead.

Review: I was a little worried going into A Torch Against the Night just based on the summary—how could planning and executing a prison break while someone chased the planners possibly fill an entire 452-page book without everything feeling drawn out and bloated? Luckily, it didn’t take long at all for Sabaa Tahir to gain my confidence. Tahir is wonderful at raising the stakes repeatedly for the main characters while simultaneously planting hints for future plot twists and, undoubtedly, books three and four. More often than not I found myself with a nagging sense of worry as I realized I had picked up on something but didn’t know exactly what it was or how it would be used later on. As a reader, it was a lot of fun to be surprised so frequently.

The first book, An Ember in the Ashes, alternated between Laia and Elias’s POVs. Torch added a new POV character: Helene, who was one of my favorite characters in Ember. I loved seeing things from her perspective as her vow to be loyal to the Empire brought her into conflict with her repulsive Emperor and his orders. Helene’s struggle to gain respect as the new Blood Shrike and deal with a spy in her midst while being antagonized and outsmarted by the Commandant earned her a lot of sympathy from me. I’m looking forward to what she does in the future. There were many other new characters who made memorable impressions, and I hope the ones that survived will be back in the next two books.

Elias and Laia returned as viewpoint characters, and it was great to be back with them. I particularly enjoyed the first half with them, but I felt as if Laia got shoved to the side a little as Elias took the forefront. Laia wasn’t entirely ignored, but it felt like there was a long stretch where we didn’t get as much from her as I would have liked. Still, Laia set the groundwork for things that I’m certain will be important later, and I’m hoping we will get a lot more of her to compensate.

There was really only one thing that annoyed me about Torch, and it was how many female characters were killed. This is, perhaps, a petty complaint considering actual genocide is committed (and called out as such) and dozens of characters are killed “on screen” in gory detail, but it still bothered me how many significant women died, especially in light of plot twists centering on two of the male characters. Torch manages to avoid fridging since the women who die do so mostly for either Laia’s or Helene’s character arcs, but it still made me tired enough to put down the book and take a break.

Recommendation: Buy it now. A Torch Against the Night is a worthy successor to Ember in the Ashes. An additional viewpoint character and an increasingly compelling—and brutal—plot keep the story moving despite the book’s length. There are some promising plot points that make me look forward to the rest of the series.

Share

Review: The Smoking Mirror

The Smoking MirrorTitle: The Smoking Mirror (Garza Twins, Book 1)
Author: David Bowles
Genres: Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Pages: 220
Publisher: IFWG Publishing, Inc.
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins soon learn that their mother is a nagual, a shapeshifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec underworld and face the dangers that await them.

Review: The Smoking Mirror is exactly the kind of book I wish I’d been able to stumble across when I was in the target audience’s age range. Protagonists of Mexican descent as heroes in a fantasy book? Facing trials in nine levels of a hellish underworld to save their mom? That would have meant the world to me when I was twelve, and as an adult, it still makes me really happy. It also made a lot of other people happy—The Smoking Mirror was named a 2016 Pura Belpré Honor book.

Author David Bowles straddles the line between middle grade and young adult with The Smoking Mirror. It is a great action/adventure story—the nine levels of the Mictlan prove to be a harrowing (and gruesome) checklist for the Garza twins to get through. Each section is distinct (and terrifying), populated by gods and monsters who get in their way, and thereby keep the pace from lagging by providing ever-new challenges for the twins. Each time they made it through a level of the underworld, I was eager to see what they would be up against next. Occasionally, it felt as if their victories weren’t as difficult as I wished they were, but there were many other, more satisfying encounters.

While I felt that some of the writing was weak in places (or distracting—my taste in humor didn’t always line up with the author’s) and wished that there had been more space to explore the world (including their relationship with their grandmother and their family’s grief), Bowles made up for it by creating a pair of protagonists I enjoyed rooting for. Carol and Johnny are engaging heroes, and I enjoyed the back and forth of their distinct POVs. Despite their not-infrequent clashing, watching the twins come back together and depend on each other during the story was a rewarding journey. The descriptions of the Mictlan and the frequent use of Spanish are also some of my favorite parts of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon! The Smoking Mirror is an entertaining adventure story that moves at a quick pace and features a memorable and underrepresented mythology. While the book isn’t without its flaws, it nevertheless kept my attention on the story it was trying to tell. I’m happy to learn that the next book was recently released—I think this series would be a great addition to one of my younger sibling’s bookcase.

Extras
“Author David Bowles on his Garza Twins Series and the Pura Belpré Honor”

“Twins battle Aztec gods in ‘Smoking Mirror’”

“Castle Horror Podcast: Interview: David Bowles, author of ‘A Kingdom Beneath the Waves’”

Share

Review: Outrun the Moon

moonTitle: Outrun the Moon
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Genre: Historical
Review copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: May 24, 2016

Summary: San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Review: Mercy Wong always has a plan. Once she knows what she wants, she figures out the steps she’ll need to take to get there and she’s off like a shot. Mercy doesn’t seem to know the word impossible. She’s strong willed and has “bossy cheeks” like her mother. Some people say this about her as a put-down, but Mercy takes it as a compliment. Her mother says those bossy cheeks mean Mercy can “…row your own boat, even when there is no wind to help you.”

Mercy has ambitions and the know-how. She has thoroughly studied The Book for Business-Minded Women by a woman named Mrs. Lowry who has achieved hero status in Mercy’s eyes. Mercy’s prepared to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve her goal, but her ambitions are not only for herself. She wants to succeed so her father won’t have to work sixteen hour days and her little brother, who has health issues, won’t have to follow in his father’s difficult footsteps. Her dreams are big, but her family’s comfort and health is what inspires her and keeps her moving forward.

Mercy has a long way to go make her dreams come true though. She realizes that the key to becoming wealthy is opportunity. Having been born into poverty in Chinatown, Mercy has a short supply in the area of opportunities. “And if opportunity didn’t come knocking, then Mrs. Lowry says you must build your own door.” Mercy sets about building those doors which involves much scheming, plotting and more than a few adventures. I loved the adventures. There are even hot-air balloon rides. Along the way, Mercy makes connections with people from many different backgrounds. I loved meeting the unique characters and didn’t want to say good-bye. I’m hoping there will be a companion novel or even a sequel so we can meet them again.

Another aspect I truly enjoyed about this novel was the sayings. Throughout the book, Mercy quotes Mrs. Lowry, her mother, her father and many other people she respects. She also has some wise statements of her own. It makes the book very quotable. Here are a few sayings I especially appreciated:

“It amazes me that even when the world is going to hell in a handcart, there’s still beauty in the fringes.”

“Our success is determined not by external forces, but how we react to them.”

“As Ma likes to say, you cannot control the wind, but you can control your sails.”

“Your circumstances don’t determine where you can go, only your starting point.”

In addition to the many young women in the story, there is a love interest. Mercy has loved Tom for quite some time, but there are complications and he is moving far away. I appreciated that there’s a romance in the story, but it’s not the main focus of the novel. Mercy has many different things going on in her life and he is important, but is just one of her concerns.

I also found the history interesting. Because I went to school in California, I had a basic understanding that many Chinese people came to California in the 1800s and understood that there was racism, but either didn’t know or didn’t remember the many restrictions placed upon the immigrants and their children even when they were born in the U.S. One of those restrictions was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which severely limited Chinese immigration and made it virtually impossible for men to bring over their wives and children. Mercy experiences racism over and over again. At one point she notes that “people will never stop seeing my color first, before me.”

Recommendation: Get this one as soon as you can especially if historical fiction is your thing. Stacey Lee is a wonderful storyteller. She does a fabulous job bringing the setting to life and she creates memorable characters that are sure to steal hearts. Oh, and you might need a tissue once in a while.

Extra: Pre-order special

Share