Review: Three Dark Crowns

crownsTitle: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Availability: September 20th, 2016

Summary: 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. If only it was that simple… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Three Dark Crowns is a mirror into the lives of three future queens fated to kill each other for the crown. The triplet sisters belong to three groups, each with their own powers, motivations, and schemes to maneuver their queen to a bloody victory. But of course, nothing goes according to plan.

The world of Three Dark Crowns and the inner lives of sisters Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe are rich and complex. Of course, as a result, there’s a bit of a learning curve in the first few chapters. It takes a little time to figure out what’s happening, who’s who, and everything else, but once you do, it’s easy to sink into the fascinating and, at times, heartbreaking twists and turns of the story.

Three Dark Crowns is told from the perspective of the three sisters, and it’s incredibly well done. In contrast, I was a bit thrown by a side character’s motivations and actions (Joseph, what?!). Similarly, the romance at times veers toward the classic YA insta-love. But, considering the pace and epic fantasy style of the book, it almost felt fitting.

I pretty much read this through in one go — and usually, I steer clear of dark fantasy, but after the first few chapters, I was ready for the long, 400-paged haul. I’m definitely grabbing the sequel when it comes out!

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Review: Sacrifice by Cindy Pon

ponTitle: Sacrifice
Author: Cindy Pon
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 304
Publisher: Month9Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Sacrifice, the sequel to Serpentine, plunges Skybright into the terrifying underworld where demons are bred and whisks her up to the magnificent Mountain of Heavenly Peace where the gods dwell.

Stone is stripped of his immortal status and told to close hell’s breach, which mysteriously remains open, threatening mortals.

Zhen Ni, Skybright’s former mistress and friend, has been wed to the strange and brutish Master Bei, and finds herself trapped in an opulent but empty manor. When she discovers half-eaten corpses beneath the estate, she realizes that Master Bei is not all that he seems.

As Skybright works to free Zhen Ni with the aid of Kai Sen and Stone, they begin to understand that what is at risk is more far-reaching then they could ever have fathomed.

Review: After reading Serpentine earlier this year, I knew I had to get my hands on the sequel. I’m happy to report that everything I loved about the first book is here: fantastic world-building, unique characters, and memorable mythology.

Cindy Pon still excels in writing descriptive passages, whether that’s clothing, fight scenes, building layouts, or supernatural/demonic creatures. Her ability to set a scene is remarkable, and I loved her descriptions of the underworld to the Mountain of Heavenly Peace and everywhere in between. Pon made good use of Skybright’s reliance on smell and life-sensing in this book—it was a great way to show that Skybright was developing and getting used to her abilities as a serpent demon.

While Skybright was the sole narrator in Serpentine, the scope of Sacrifice was wide enough that two additional POVs were necessary: Zhen Ni and Kai Sen. Of the two of these, Zhen Ni was the strongest, and her slow discovery of what was truly going on in her new husband’s manor was terrifying in the best sorts of ways. Kai Sen had an important, though not as compelling, part of the narrative. It was great when their plots converged with Skybright’s, and I admired the (somewhat tumultuous) friendship and love between them. I enjoyed being able to get their takes on the events of the previous book and see them drive their respective plots forward in this book.

In the previous book, I didn’t like Stone all that much, which made my eventual appreciation of him in this book all the more surprising. Getting his powers stripped from him—and thus no longer able to drag Skybright around with him at his whim—definitely helped me (and Skybright) stop hating him entirely. I’m still not sure how I feel about the romance that developed between Skybright and Stone, because while it felt better paced than the one between Skybright and Kai Sen in the previous book, something Stone forced Skybright to do prior to losing his powers crossed my “actions that are acceptable for love interests” line. And once that line is crossed, I can’t completely get rid of the nagging voice that says the heroine should run the other way, even if he consistently proves he isn’t that person anymore.

Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you enjoyed Serpentine. It was a treat to come back to the Kingdom of Xia, and while I’m a little sad that this will be the last book to focus on Skybright, I feel like this was a good place to conclude her story. I’m looking forward to Cindy Pon’s next work, both in the Kingdom of Xia and outside of it.

Extras
Interview with Cindy Pon: On Writing, Sacrifice, and Beyond

Whoo hoo! Sacrifice Blog Tour: Guest Post by Cindy Pon

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Book Review: Ghosts

ghostsTitle: Ghosts
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Genres:  Graphic Novel/Magical Realism
Pages: 240
Publisher: Graphix
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn’t happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister’s sake — and her own.

Review: With Hispanic Heritage month just finishing and Dia De Los Muertos coming in a little over a week, I thought Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel would be a good fit for this week’s review. I’ve never reading anything by Telgemeier before, nor have I reviewed a graphic novel either, so I went into this book without any preconceived notions. I saw that the characters were Mexican and thought – cool! I saw the inclusion of Dia de los Muertos and got excited about an author who incorporated a culturally significant holiday. Unfortunately, I didn’t stay that way.

At it’s heart, Ghosts is a story about family, specifically sisters. At the beginning of the story there is a bit of tension between the sister, specifically on Cat’s behalf as Maya seems none the wiser, because they are moving to a small town in Northern California due to Maya’s cystic fibrosis. We also learn that the two shared friends which gives us insight into how much Maya depends on Cat, and how often Cat is responsible for her sister. While there is love between the two, and they are close, Cat does yearn to establish herself apart from her sister. Initially this makes Cat seem like a bit of a brat, but to me, she was written as the typical teenager who is trying to adjust to life just when peer relationships are becoming important. I was actually endeared to Cat because of it as I could totally understand where she was coming from. It also made her growth more believable. Through meeting friends and Maya’s illness taking a turn for the worse, Cat is able to come to a place of acceptance and be open to her new life in Bahia de la Luna.

I love magical realism and Ghosts is swimming with it because, well it is essentially a ghost story. Cat is really afraid of ghosts as they make her think about death, especially in terms of Maya’s illness, so much of Cat’s growth comes with accepting that she lives in a town that is filled with harmless ghosts. At the beginning Cat runs away from the ghosts because she believes they harmed Maya, while Maya just wants to get to know the ghosts. Eventually, in a lovely heart to heart, Cat decides to go to the midnight Dia de los Metros party the town has for the ghosts on behalf of Maya. This is also where the book falters. In incorporating Dia de los Muertos at this point of the story, Telgemeier changes the meaning of the holiday to fit the narrative. The celebration of Dia de los Muertos doesn’t come out of no where as Telgemeier does a good job of explaining the ofrendas, and having the girls make an alter for their grandmother, but the main crux of the holiday for Telgemeier is the big party at the end. Though, I will say this reminded me of the ending of The Book of Life (if I’m remembering it correctly) so I am a bit conflicted with Telgemeier’s use of a festival like atmosphere to the day instead of the close family atmosphere. I do know that Dia de los Muertos festivals are growing as more and more people come to celebrate the holiday, for example, my school incorporates Dia de los Muertos into our Halloween activities as we create a communal alter to celebrate deceased family members, so while her use of the holiday in such a manner is troublesome, it does reflect how the holiday is currently changing.

What I did love, besides the story of sisterly love, is how diverse this novel is. Bahia de la Luna is a small town but actually reflects the population of California as I know it. The friends that Cat meets are of all different backgrounds and in crowd scenes, the variety of the human palette is reflected. Telgemeier also has a character state that the ghosts prefer to speak in Spanish because many of the ghost there are from Mexico (which CA originally was) and she doesn’t translate the Spanish. All the interactions with the ghosts are in Spanish therefore the reader must figure out what the ghosts are saying if they don’t understand Spanish. To me, this inclusion is important because I feel like when Spanish, or any language really, is translated on the page, it’s made for the comfort of the reader and may not actually fit the story. The fact that her publishers allowed her to not translate the story made me respect them so much, and added to my enjoyment.

Recommendation: Overall, I enjoyed the book for it’s sweet story despite it’s troublesome elements. I think before this is shared with kids, an adult reads it for themselves and makes their own decision. Or even, read it with a group of students and use it as a learning tool for Dia de los Muertos.

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Review: When the Moon Was Ours

moonTitle: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Magical Realism, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Romance
Pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Review Copy: Received electronic ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Review: Last October I read The Weight of Feathers on a plane ride, so it seemed fitting for me to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours while on my trip last weekend. If you loved Feathers, you’ll most likely love Moon as the curses, family problems, and magical realism are all still present. The prose itself is excellent, with many beautiful, sometimes haunting, frequently memorable lines and passages. Moon is a fascinating world filled with women who can cure lovesickness, girls made of water, roses that grow from people’s wrists, boys who paint and hang the dozens of moons, and sisters who can get whatever and whoever they want.

Miel and Sam are the heart of the story, and they are engaging narrators. I loved their perspectives on each other, their relationship, and their trials throughout the book. I always appreciate a romance more when the characters have conflict with each other in addition to conflict from outside sources—it makes the relationship seem more real and makes any eventual triumph all the sweeter. Their romance felt like a natural progression from their friendship, which is no small feat considering their history together isn’t told linearly.

Aracely and Yasmin were also great characters, and the relationships they had with Miel and Sam were both interesting and backed by a great deal of love. I’ve been craving stories with good parents(/parental figures), and Aracely and Yasmin helped satisfy that itch. The Bonner sisters were particularly interesting antagonists, and the way they were alternately chilling and sympathetic made me crave more of their stories. I think McLemore handled their one-entity-in-four-bodies portrayal (and its slow subversion) well.

There were a few points in the book where I felt the story dragged a little (if your tolerance for long descriptive passages is low, it may drag a lot), and I occasionally wished we had a wider view of the world than the one we got. While there are a few plot points I would have adjusted, the story and the characters kept my attention so much so that I was a little sad when I finished.

Recommendation: Buy it now. When the Moon Was Ours is a wonderful successor to McLemore’s debut novel, The Weight of Feathers. Moon would be a great introduction to magical realism for teens and treats romance, sex, and (gender) identity thoughtfully.

Extras
Excerpt from When the Moon Was Ours

“Where Our Magic Lives: An Introduction to Magical Realism”

The Love That Lives Here: On Queer Girls, Transboys, and Sex on the Page

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Review: Not Your Sidekick

29904219Title:  Not Your Sidekick
Author: C.B. Lee
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 262
Publisher: Duet Books
Availability: September 8th, 2016

Summary: Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The moment I heard about Not Your Sidekick, I bought it — and waited. I waited for months (months!) until its release date, and then happily read the whole thing in one go, as one does when there’s work tomorrow but consequences and sleep debt are for other people. The moment my brain registered “superhero intern” and “that’s an Asian girl!” all those months ago, I knew I had to get the book.

In the world of Not Your Sidekick, Jessica Tran is the daughter of two small town superheroes. In an all too relatable twist, Jess struggles to figure out who she is as a powerless daughter of superpowered parents and ends up in the first paid internship she trips upon. Her internship is for the supervillains who regularly keep her parents busy with their criminal doings. Conspiracies and crushes continue from there.

The mix of superhero intrigue and adorable blossoming romance was just perfect. I shipped Jess and Abby — and, well, you’ll just have to read the rest. Basically, the adorable romance was my favorite thing about the book. A close second was the set-up and worldbuilding of a superhero populated future world not too different from our current one. I would love to read more in this world, and fortunately, the ending left plenty of room for a sequel.

There are quite a few LGBTQIA young adult novels coming out this fall. Of that number, a tiny but awesome fraction center around/are written by PoC. This is one of those books, and I was happy to discover that it lived up to, and exceeded, my expectations.

Catch this book, for sure. It’s got Asian and LGBTQIA representation, superheroes, and the struggles of a first internship. What’s not to love?

Recommendation: Buy it now! Especially if superhero YA is your thing.

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Book Review: The Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives #2)

bladeTitle: The Poisoned Blade (Court of Fives #2)
Author: Kate Elliott
Genres:  Fantasy
Pages: 468
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Review Copy: Amazon comes through
Availability: Available now

Summary: In this thrilling sequel to World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s captivating young adult debut, a girl immersed in high-stakes competition holds the fate of a kingdom in her hands.

Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…. She must become a warrior.

Review: Just like Court of Fives, The Poisoned Blade throws you right into the action and doesn’t let up until the end, sort of…it ends with another cliffhanger. Elliott’s sequel begins a few hours after Jessamy’s victory on the Fives court where she became a Challenger, but the victory was tainted because it came at the cost of someone else, someone Jessamy was close to.  The novel opens with her attempting to not burn that bridge and ends up right in the middle of Garon Palace where she decides to use her father’s lessons to her advantage. Jessamy’s sole focus throughout the novel is to find a way to reunite her family and get them to safety. She meets Ro-emnu again, as the last time she saw him he had left her and her family alone under the tombs. Knowing she needs help she decides to trust him again, begrudgingly, but through him she is exposed to a larger underground network of Efeans who are are quietly planning revolution. In fact, they aren’t the only ones, which I cannot reveal due to spoilers, but it is a plot twist that no one can see coming. In fact, it takes their entire society by surprise and Jessamy ends up in a alliance with the very last person she thought she would be in an alliance with. Then, boom, cliffhanger!

Poisoned Blade is not full of non-stop action as Elliott does take time to give us those meaningful character moments that are the heart of any good novel. Some of my favorite moments were the stolen moments between Jessamy and her sister Amaya. Both are in precarious positions within the Garan household and if anyone were to find out they were sisters, trouble would find them, however, many of their moments are filled with sisterly-love and sisterly-bickering. The relationship of the two sisters is fleshed out more and we get a glimpse of what life was like before the girl’s world was up-ended. Elliott also spends more time developing the relationships between Jessamy and the other adversaries in Garon Palace. I really liked this change of pace for the novel as it allowed Jessamy to rely on her own strength, her own fortitude to protect her family.

Through Jessamy’s travels we are able to see the larger world that Elliott creates. Jessamy travels to Lord Garon’s country estates, and in turn, ends up visiting Efean villages for the first time. She connects with her Efean roots and we learn more about the culture that was denied to her.  She meets more Efeans and learns how they cope with the racism they experience, which in turn gives Jessamy more strength to deal with her plans to best Lord Garon.

While I loved the plot’s twist and turns, the expansion of the world and learning more about Efean culture, but what I loved the most was learning more about the relationship between Jessamy and her father. In Court of Fives, Jessamy’s anger and sense of betrayal towards her father was so negative that he was almost a villain. In Poisoned Blade, Jessamy has more interaction with her father and we finally get a sense of what their relationship was like. The two, who really are very similar in personality, start taking the steps back to healing their relationship and also begin to work as a team. For me, this portrayal of a parent/child relationship in a YA novel, specifically where parents are often off-screen in novels, is what made Elliott’s novel for me. I can’t wait for the next book.

Recommendation: If you loved Court of Fives, then you need you get on this sequel!

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