Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: Everless, by Sara Holland

BOOK REVIEW: Everless, by Sara HollandTitle: Everless by Sara Holland
Series: Everless #1
Published by HarperTeen
Published: January 2nd 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Book Sparks, Publisher

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

everless - sarah holland, ig: fairy.bookmother
everless – sarah holland, ig: fairy.bookmother

How much time, I think, must there be among us? Centuries and centuries. Ten thousand years or more. And yet every single Gerling has as much as ten of the rest of us.

I went into Sara Holland’s Everless with a little bit of hesitation because it feels like a lot of YA fantasy in the recent years (at least stuff that gets a lot of traction) is just recycled bits of previous works, but Everless caught my attention because it involves a magical use of time. Anything to do with time, time manipulation, or time travel is right up my alley, especially if done well, and my friends, Everless surprised me! I love the concept of time as something to be traded and consumed, used as a bartering tool, and wielded as a power.

Jules once lived at the Everless estate, but she and her father had to escape the estate ten years prior to the main events of the story. She returns to the estate to find work when her father is dying in an effort to save him, and she doesn’t heed any of her father’s warnings about the place. But as she spends more time at Everless and as she reacquaints herself with the surroundings, Jules begins to remember and discover things about her past and her future that she never thought possible.

Sara Holland plays around with the common tropes found in YA fantasy and subverts them. I only guessed at one of the twists, but the others surprised me! Holland’s writing felt effortlessly engaging, and I didn’t want to put the book down while I read it. The only major issue I had with the book was the immense “info dump” at the beginning that took a while to uncoil and understand. Other than that, I felt that the tension was just right, the suspense just right, and the cliffhanger!!! just right. Everless is entirely refreshing, and if you enjoy reading YA fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy this!

Many thanks to BookSparks and HarperTeen for sending me a copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: A Dangerous Year, by Kes Trester

BOOK REVIEW: A Dangerous Year, by Kes TresterTitle: A Dangerous Year by Kes Trester
Series: Riley Collins #1
Published by Curiosity Quills Press
Published: September 26th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 224
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Book Sparks

Seventeen-year-old Riley Collins has grown up in some of the world’s most dangerous cities, learning political strategies from her ambassador dad and defensive skills from his security chief. The only thing they didn’t prepare her for: life as an American teenager.

After an incident forces her to leave her Pakistani home, Riley is recruited by the State Department to attend Harrington Academy, one of the most elite boarding schools in Connecticut. The catch: she must use her tactical skills to covertly keep an eye on Hayden Frasier, the daughter of a tech billionaire whose new code-breaking spyware has the international intelligence community in an uproar.

Disturbing signs begin to appear that Riley’s assignment wasn’t the walk in the park she’d been promised. Now, Riley must fight for her life and Hayden’s, as those around her reveal themselves to be true friends or the ultimate betrayers.

In Kes Trester’s A Dangerous Year, the first in the Riley Collins series, Riley Collins is offered a position at Harrington Academy, a prestigious boarding school in Connecticut. She must, however, use her tactical and diplomatic skills to keep an eye on Hayden Frasier, the daughter of a tech billionaire who’s created a software that promises to uncrack every code and stop wars before they start. Riley is the daughter of an American ambassador, but she’s never truly been immersed in American culture, so the elite world in which Hayden lives is a culture shock for Riley. Riley is smart, however, and learns to adapt and try to fit in as she navigates both high school and her role as Hayden’s security. But nothing is as it seems.

A Dangerous Year is a really fun, fast-paced YA spy thriller that I found well-crafted and well-paced. Sure, the idea of a seventeen year old young woman being another young woman’s security requires a little suspension of disbelief, but in the context of the story, it works. Riley felt like a seventeen year old who was highly skilled in some areas and a little socially awkward. She has to navigate a school with its own weird little hierarchies and try to save the day at the same time, and sometimes that balance is difficult to attain, but Trester made it seem effortless. The only real downside I saw to the whole story was that Riley felt a little too perfect in her skill level, but I hope that will be explored in the next books in the series!

Trester’s A Dangerous Year will be great for readers who like high school boarding school stories, Gossip Girl and the like, and Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls spy series!

I received a copy of this book for review from Book Sparks, and all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Duels & Deception, by Cindy Anstey

BOOK REVIEW: Duels & Deception, by Cindy AnsteyTitle: Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey
Published by Swoon Reads
Published: April 11th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Miss Lydia Whitfield, heiress to the family fortune, has her future entirely planned out. She will run the family estate until she marries the man of her late father's choosing, and then she will spend the rest of her days as a devoted wife. Confident in those arrangements, Lydia has tasked her young law clerk, Mr. Robert Newton, to begin drawing up the marriage contracts. Everything is going according to plan.

Until Lydia—and Robert along with her—is kidnapped. Someone is after her fortune and won't hesitate to destroy her reputation to get it. With Robert's help, Lydia strives to keep her family's good name intact and expose whoever is behind the devious plot. But as their investigation delves deeper and their affections for each other grow, Lydia starts to wonder whether her carefully planned future is in fact what she truly wants…

She quite enjoyed the intensity of the stranger’s gaze whenever their eyes met, and her sudden shortness of breath was not in the least alarming.

Cindy Anstey’s Duels & Deceptions is incredibly adorable, and that’s not a word I really use to describe YA fiction. Not lately, anyway. I think this book suffered one of those cute, but wrong moment kind of reads. It also didn’t have the same pacing that her first book had, so I didn’t feel as swept away in the cute Regency romantic adventure of it all like I was with the first. However, it is incredibly rare to find a YA romance that’s cute, fluffy, and ultimately free of sex? Like, it’s exactly what you might expect from a fluffy romance – breathlessness, lingering glances, fluttery hearts, etcetera. I’m also a sucker for the slow burn stuff, and this is full of that longing.

Anstey plays with the idea of what’s appropriate in Regency society, and most of the tension and drama in the novel comes from an incident in which Lydia and Robert are kidnapped. The two main characters are already aware of each other and already feel something toward each other but haven’t quite figured out what that feeling might be. The story was a bit slow from the kidnapping until the final, somewhat predictable reveal of some bribery and of who arranged for the kidnapping, but it wasn’t a terrible sort of slow. I think, like I mentioned before, I was expecting more of that constant feeling of adventure and excitement like I got from her other book to be present in this novel, especially with the word duels in the title!

If you like cute, fluffy historical romances and are in the mood for a few giggles, Duels & Deceptions might be right up your alley. I’ll certainly be recommending it to readers who are ready to bridge from the children’s section but aren’t quite ready for the heavy-handed drama, tension, and sex often found in the pages of some YA romance!

A copy of this book was provided to me for review by the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bone Witch, by Rin Chupeco

BOOK REVIEW: The Bone Witch, by Rin ChupecoTitle: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Series: The Bone Witch #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. But the girl was fiercer.
Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living—and of the human.
Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong—stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch is a fantasy about a girl who accidentally discovers her powers when she brings her brother back to life. She is taken in by a bone witch for training, and her brother, Fox, becomes her zombie familiar of sorts. The story follows Tea’s instruction from age twelve to about age fifteen? We get to see the “coven” in which she is raised and trained, the day-to-day life, the details of the clothes she and the other people wear, glimpses of the food, and all of the minute details that comprise Tea’s education. In a way, this works, but it also drags the story out and often feels like nothing is happening. Most of the action happens in the first quarter of the book and the last quarter of the book, and the rest is mostly world building filler with a few minor conflicts that Tea has while learning how to utilize her powers.

The world building in this story draws heavily from Chinese influences, and this makes it different for me from any of the recent YA fantasy I’ve read. The atmosphere and setting are richly detailed, and everything is described so vividly, and I enjoyed that a lot. I also like that the main character’s magical powers are necromancy. It’s dark, and it’s different from the soft and beautiful magic often reserved for female characters. I like that, and I want to see how that power grows and manifests itself as she ages. Fox is probably my favorite character, because who doesn’t love a sidekick named Fox who is also a zombie and who also has an interesting personality?

After finishing this, I found myself wanting more, more to have happened and more to have been done with the story. The intertwining parts of a bard recounting his experiences with an asha (who is most likely Tea) in the future with the story of Tea in the past is very reminiscent of Rothfuss’s Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, and I feel like this is like the younger end of the spectrum YA sibling to The Kingkiller Chronicles. The world Chupeco created is so grand and so vivid that I just wanted to see more of Tea’s interaction with that world and within that world rather than descriptions of it, and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll get to read in the sequel.

A copy of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for review; all opinions are my own.