Review: Air Awakens by Elise Kova

★☆☆☆☆

I really tried. I mean I really really really tried to find something good about this.
But it’s a day after and I’m still sitting here like

HOW DOES THIS HAVE A 4+ STAR RATING???

Listen. *deep breath* I am. IN LOVE. With Avatar. It’s one of the biggest influences on my own writing. So whenever I hear of an elemental fantasy I PICK THAT BITCH UP AND READ IT. I read it because I already have a pretty heavy inkling that I’ll love it, but ALSO because I’m writing an elemental fantasy and reading other books in the same vein is a bit like studying. How does the author pull this off? How do they explain this? You know, that kinda thing.

ANYWAYs.

This was a dumpster fire. And I hated it within one chapter. So why did I torture myself through the whole book? Because everyone on this godforsaken website gave this book shining stars and said it was fantastic!!!! Was I reading another book?? Idk man. Air Awakens was basically a bastard lovechild between Avatar/The Phantom of the Opera/Twilight. Yes, Twilight. And you know what? I LIKED Twilight.

[ThoughasanadultIcanlookbackandseeitsflawsitstillretainsitsentertainmentvaluekbye.]

So for starters, the main character, Vhalla, is a Mary Sure to the extreme. She’s got messy hair that omg never cooperates, she’s seemingly plain but actually totally beautiful once she puts on a dress and makeup, and—perhaps the worst part—she has literally three guys fawning over her throughout this entire novel. Three. Separate. Men. You thought love triangles were bad, enter THE LOVE QUADRANGLE.

Vhalla (which my computer keeps trying to correct to “Veal”) finds out the superhotprince (literally nicknamed ‘The Heartbreaker Prince’ by the citizens) has been injured in the war, so she does what us nerdy girls do best: she stays up all night reading, trying to find a cure for the poison in his system. Somehow this Awakens her powers, she’s kidnapped for some reason to The Dark Spooky Tower of the Sorcerers, and she finds out the person she saved was actually the ALSOHOTDARKSPOOKYFIREPRINCE and that’s how the story begins. She spends the entire first 25% of the book saying, “NO I CAN’T BE A SORCERER. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE,” just over and over… for probably about 100 pages.

The next 50% of the book is spent falling in and out of the love quadrangle—she gets asked on a date by her friend Sareem—of course hot dark fire prince sees them and narrows his eyes broodingly; she dances with the Heartbreaker Prince (I’m glad I don’t have to come up with a goofy nickname for him since the author managed that for me) and then sex scandal spreads because she was in his room?; and last but not least, of course, the dark hot fire prince tutors her through letters and finally in person and they fall in ~~instalove~~. I skipped a ton of this because I just couldn’t take it.

Aaaand the last 25% of the book was—gasp—actually decent! For a second, at least. The fight scene was great! Really! It was awesome and we finally got to see some of the “dark” side of the prince, some gritty action, as well as Vhalla’s courage. Unfortunately that was short lived; she got thrown in prison afterward for a crime she didn’t commit, and of course there’s an evil senator guy (whose hatred of Vhalla is never really explained?) and this situation was dragged out for days for some reason.

See, I get it. When I started writing my elemental fantasy I thought, “Wouldn’t it be, like, super cool if I had 4 books and each of them had one of the elements in the title?” Seriously, I considered this… And then I MURDERED MY DARLING. It was a bad idea, and it didn’t need to be done to tell the story, and it just makes the concept more cutesy than anything. So I killed the idea and moved on. Unfortunately this author didn’t, and so she had to stretch the first book out exponentially to make the title (“Air Awakens”) work. It’s ridiculous, it’s kitschy, and it ruined a potentially awesome idea! I really wanted to love this story, but I simply couldn’t because the first book was so incredibly tedious and unnecessary (kind of like this review—cough cough).

Anyway, god, I want to read the next book, because the action scene at the end was pretty great. And I want more of that. What I don’t want to do is pay for a book that ends up being a stretched out account of a bunch of characters flirting. I mean, I can get straight romance if I walk into a mall. I don’t need to pay for that. Idk. I might go for it, because elemental fantasy is my THING Y’ALL. But we’ll see.

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Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★☆

This will be a semi short/messy review since I already did a proper one for Six of Crows here.

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LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK. LOOK AT IT.

This was super enjoyable; I read it in the car, at work, till two in the morning, in the bathroom, while stuffing Chipotle into my face, etc. (None of those things at the same time, though, just to be clear.) BUUUTTTTTT, for the sake of honesty, it didn’t blow me away, even though I’ll say I loved the duology as a whole and Bardugo is a god damn genius when it comes to crafting characters.

To begin, there was a loooooot of deus ex machina going on here. I mean truly every scene where the odds were totally beyond their scope, where everything was hopeless, one of the characters would find this new power inside them and it would work! perfectly! each time! For instance, [SPOILERS BELOW]

  • Jesper learned that one of the reasons he might be such a good shot is because he’s a Fabrikator. Cool idea, and I’d assumed from the beginning that that’s why he was a sharpshooter, but then he went on to make an impossible shot where the bullet actually curved in midair around a corner and hit the person in the chest. SO YEAH it was cool, but like… too cool and too convenient. I have a problem with that.
  • Nina learns that after using jurda parem, she can’t control her powers like she used to. Then, against impossible odds, she finds she’s able to control dead bodies. Which was super gross to begin with, but she uses these CORPSES to not only defeat her enemies but then miraculously carry a net out under Inej right when she falls off a grain silo (this probably sounds super weird if you haven’t read the book, lmao). I’ve read other reviews for Six of Crows that mention the total lack of morals that these characters have, and I hadn’t had a problem with it because that’s the story, and I’ve read Game of Thrones which is a hundred times worse. People are sick and self-serving for the most part (can you tell I’m an optimist?), so these lawless characters didn’t make me grimace. But this… using dead people as props and controlling them… I had been gobbling up the pages and then that happened and I was like

It threw me off to such an extent that I wondered if I could recover from it and still enjoy the book. There are other instances too, but those are two that really annoyed me. And I mean, it wasn’t TOTALLY terrible because inklings of these abilities were sprinkled through earlier on in the story, but it was still just cringe-worthy in my opinion.

Other than that, the book was good but long and rambling in a lot of ways. It didn’t have a clear plot like Six of Crows; it was more a jumble of a bunch of Kaz’s failed plans and then the gang recovering from the previous heist and doing something else to get their money back. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun to read, but it seemed like the book was a lot longer than it really needed to be and like the author couldn’t come up with one central heist to cover the length. It was a lot of back and forth, and that constant planning, executing, OOPS WE’VE BEEN BACKSTABBED or OOPS IT’S A TRAP, failing, replanning got dull after a while, to the point where I was skimming the more politic-driven scenes to get to the parts I cared about, aka the action and the kissing. (I’m not too ashamed.)

Last but not least, perhaps my BIGGEST issue was (pretty major spoiler ahead so don’t click unless you’ve read the book) Matthias’ death. It was, to put it shortly, completely random, out of place, and wholly unnecessary. It added absolutely nothing to the plot, it was brought on by a random character that was never explained or even reintroduced or ANYTHING, and it was just hard to read because of how forced it was. I have this very strong feeling that Matthias was killed off because someone, probably an editor or something, was like, “Listen, your readers are probably expecting one of these guys to die in the end, so we’ve gotta kill someone off. Who’s your least favorite?” The problem is that he was killed off in the most random way possible, like the heist was done, everything was falling into place, but NOPE: [insert random character death here]. I HATED IT. HATED IT.

Honestly though, the terribleness of those few things was BY FAR made up for by the adorable romances between Wylan/Jesper and Kaz/Inej, the wonderful character development, and the exquisite world-building. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are some of the most believably invented characters I’ve come across lately. I’ve been so fed up with YA books lately; it’s all so boring and manufactured. But this wasn’t at all. I couldn’t contain the ~~feels~~. Also, Wylan and Jesper honestly overtook Kaz and Inej as my favorite pairing in this, and I ended up liking Wylan even more than Kaz.

Okay, enough fangirling. GO READ THIS DUOLOGY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

God. Damn. I love Leigh Bardugo so much.

I went into this book with such impossibly high expectations. I mean, a band of ragtag orphans, thieves, and cutthroats; an impossible heist (even the word ‘heist’ gets me riled); elemental magic and mayhem and unrequited love—it’s literally my book wishlist all wrapped up in one. How could I not love it?

Even the books themselves are freaking gorgeous. They have dyed black and red edges. I cry.

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And with my employee discount, I nabbed a beautiful boxset at B&N for $20. Can’t say no to that!

So to recap: everything I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy book + unending media hype + one of my favorite authors + books as beautiful on the outside as they are potentially on the inside = insanely high expectations.

So the fact that I, though seemingly impossible to please, came out of this book glowing with the perfection of it all, is noteworthy.

six of crows

Art by @kevinwada

Bardugo has crafted an awesome, diverse cast of characters that you can’t help but root for. Each character has a defining characteristic, something that makes them memorable instantly. Bardugo splits the story up masterfully between them all, with each chapter told from one of their POVs (except Wylan, for some reason). This is a storytelling technique few authors can pull off, so it could’ve ended badly, but those defining characteristics I mention aren’t abused and they never feel gimmicky, so the characters don’t come across as caricatures. Each of them is wonderfully fleshed out, with vivid pasts and individual problems they need to solve.

Did I mention that Kaz Brekker is the newest addition to my “book boyfriends” list as well as my “favorite characters ever” list? I mean… look at him. I have a type, ladies and gentlemen, and apparently it’s pale, emotionally-stunted pickpockets.

 

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Six of Crows never never got stale, and it never failed to surprise. Every time I thought, “That’s it, they’re done for,” Bardugo pulled out another risky maneuver or cunning plan. When you read enough YA fantasy, plot twists can start to get a lot less twisty; you realize that half of these books have “twists” that are the same across the board. Not so with Bardugo. She just has a way of making everything fresh and exciting, the same way she did with the original Grisha trilogy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this duology, and I highly, highly recommend Six of Crows to anyone with a book wishlist like mine. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Review: The Meek by Der-shing Helmer

★★★★★

My favorite webcomic has finally made its way into print (I DID MY WAITING. SEVEN YEARS OF IT–), and what a print it is. I am truly dead. It has beautiful spot gloss, especially this super creative bit on the back cover that I almost didn’t see:

Dreamy sigh. The artwork is so friggin’ beautiful and dynamic, the colors vibrant and knock-out gorgeous, the characters all soooo lovely and well-designed… I could go on.

And did I mention FRENCH FLAPS?!

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(Why do I love French flaps so much? No idea.)

So of course the minute it arrived on my doorstep I had to drop everything and read the whole thing again. Since I donated to the Kickstarter, I received a few extra goodies as well: Three beautiful bookmarks and a gorgeous postcard (that I’ll never send—it’ll be on my wall next to my desk from now on).

The Meek has a big cast of characters and a few storylines going on at once, but it hinges around a young girl named Angora who has been sent by her “Grandfather” on a quest to find “the center.” The only problem is she has no idea what that means, or that she’ll probably end up needing to save the world (dun dun dun!). And if you’re wondering why I said “Grandfather” in quotes, it’s because “Grandfather” is actually a giant lizard with trees growing out of his head. (I love this design so, so much—but please ignore the grainy, badly lit iPhone picture.)

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Oh, and Angora has the ability to control plants. They even live in her hair (which is why it’s green). On this page she wakes up on a previously dead stump, now covered in tiny new trees:

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(She also spends the entirety of the book naked, because why not.)

I love this story so much. ~*~*~(っ˘ω˘ς )~*~*~

I’ll be recommending this graphic novel up and down for the rest of my life. The gorgeous art, the lore, the cool powers (There’s a character with microwave hands. MICROWAVE HANDS.), the politics, the humor—everything just hits the sweet spot for me. (It doesn’t hurt that it reminds me so much of Avatar: The Last Airbender which will forever be one of my favorite shows.)

So yeah, take my word for it and go read this comic. This beautiful print edition includes the first three issues (introducing three of the main characters’ plot lines) but you can also read online for free HERE until volume 2 is published!

Review: The New Policeman by Kate Thompson

 

★★★★☆

I have a lot of books. Last I counted, it was nearly 250—and about 98% of these are Goodwill or secondhand finds. The problem with this is I’m a notorious procrastinator when it comes to reading the stuff on my shelves. With so many new, shiny books cominnew-policemang out constantly, and so many more popping up on my Goodreads suggestions, it’s hard to get around to actually reading the things I already own. Besides, what’s the harm in buying more books? So although I bought The New Policeman and its sequel, The Last of the High Kings about four or five years ago (purchased for probably a dollar or so each at a library book sale), they’ve ended up sitting on my shelf ever since. I was interested enough to buy it for a bargain, but I guess I couldn’t muster enough interest to put the time into reading the first one. Series are such a big time investment that I always hesitate to start.

Luckily, this year I decided on a new method of choosing my next book. Using a cute wooden bowl I found at Goodwill, I filled it with all the titles of the unread books on my shelves, so now whenever I’m ready to read a new book, I just mix the names around and pluck out my next book title.

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This method has worked so wonderfully and has actually gotten me to start reading some of the books I’ve either been hesitant to read or uncomfortable with for whatever reason—my next book, The Devil in the White City, is in a genre I’ve always been wary of: nonfiction. But because of this new method I’m going for it instead of opting for something more familiar, like YA fantasy (which, admittedly, I’m starting to detest).

Either way, I’m glad I finally got around to it! The New Policeman was a really fun middle grade novel set in Ireland, and it centers around a boy named J.J. who feels stretched too thin in a world where there is simply not enough time. (Obviously this main conflict makes it instantly relatable to basically any reader in the world.) So when another year rolls around and his mother is on the verge of celebrating yet another birthday, she wishes only for more time. When J.J. sets off on a mission to buy her some time, he soon discovers that the time from their world is leaking into Tír na n’Óg, the land of eternal youth, and he has to find a way to make it stop.

The book had a great balance of realism and fantasy, and it focused heavily on traditional Irish folklore, music, and dance. For people who can read music, the book includes after every chapter a short scrap of traditional Irish sheet music, so it might be fun to play along.

Overall I found this to be a wholesome middle grade book that shows the loving and trusting relationship between a mother and her son. This is one I’d suggest to any parents looking for reading material for their children, and especially any parents looking to introduce their children to Irish mythology or perhaps traditional Irish music. Even if you’re not Irish, this was simply a great, quick read with an interesting premise, and concise, effective writing that made me keep turning pages to solve the many mysteries. I’m definitely going to be reading the next two in the series!

Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnson

★☆☆☆☆

Ithousand-nights can count on one 6-fingered hand the number of 1-star ratings I’ve given (at least of the books I’ve rated):

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (although I may need to reread this now that I’m in the intended demographic)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Choke by Chuck Palahnuik
  • The Maze Runner
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Fifty Shades trilogy (which were mindless, stupid fun to read but awful in general)

And now this.

I considered giving it two, because it wasn’t awful, it was just ridiculously boring, but I really need to start being more harsh in my critiques and not rewarding mediocrity.

Basically, the story is a reimagining of A Thousand and One Nights, and centers around a girl (who is never given a name) who takes her sister’s place and weds an evil king. The king marries one bride from each village and they all die, normally after one night. But the girl lives and keeps on living, because she tells beautiful stories to her captor. Inspirational, right? It might have been, except literally this entire story is a slow, drawn out monologue on the boring parts of this character’s life, and she never actually got around to telling any of these beautiful, entrancing stories. To summarize, here are some things this character does:

  • Weaves things
  • Has dreams and visions that come true. Repeatedly. (The novelty of this wore off after the first time.)
  • Talks about her village
  • Remembers things about her village
  • Worries about her sister
  • Has her hair done
  • Talks about goats
  • Does some random, unexplained but super helpful magic (??)
  • Weaves some more

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And of course, there’s some intrigue mixed in to keep you reading: How did Lo-Melkhiin become possessed by this demon? Will he ever be free? How will the girl escape from him?

Listen, I love me some magical realism. It’s my thing. But if that magic isn’t ever explained, or if it has a really flimsy explanation, I’m instantly turned off. The girl gets her powers from the prayers of her people, who believe her to have become a smallgod. So when she weaves a tale, the tale comes true. It’s an interesting premise, but the execution was so slow and boring that I could not hold my interest for long. It took me like two weeks to finish this, which is ridiculous for a short, easy-to-digest YA book.

The girl is a good heroine, of course. She’s brave, she’s strong, she’s calm in the face of danger and fear, she sacrifices herself to save those she loves. And I think these qualities are some of the reasons this book has so many fans. But is a strong female character really enough to carry a book? I don’t think so. If it had been flipped and the protagonist were a young man, I have a feeling this book would have bored a lot of its readers. Simply the presence of a strong female character seems to be enough for some people, but it wasn’t for me. I was bored to tears.

Another issue for me is that I had figured a vast majority of my issues with this book would be explained in the sequel (which I’m not going to read), but apparently the sequel is set generations in the future. So all of those questions I had are probably never going to be answered. Maybe I missed something vital in the reading of this, but it was just incomprehensible for me.

Anyway, on to the next one. My next book for 2017 is The New Policeman by Kate Thompson! Check back for my review of that soon.

 

 

 

 

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

★★★½

“All my life,” she said, “I have been told to ‘go’ and ‘come.’ I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me.”

the-bearFirst of all, what a gorgeous, evocative book this was. Everything about it—from the cover to the writing to the entrancing main character—had me soaking up every word. As someone who is pretty sick of the YA/NA genre in general, this appeased me for a few reasons:

  1. We had a fantastic, strong, bold main character, Vasya, who is frequently described as ‘ugly’, although the way she commands herself and her presence is captivating to nearly everyone around her. She also refuses to accept her ‘lot in life’, aka being married off to a man, getting fat, and popping out a few kids, or alternatively going to a convent to live out her years as a quiet, docile virgin.
  2. Vasya doesn’t get all swoony over men. In fact, though there is some kissing and hinting, there’s really no romance in this book. *fist pump*
  3. Although I really don’t know anything about Russian culture (and I should probably change that), the lore and mythology in this book were fascinating and easy to understand for a noob like me.

Okay, now why only 3 stars? I was wondering that myself, because as I was reading the last few chapters I was thinking, “This is awesome. It’s well written. Vasya is authentic and I want to chill with her. So why do I kind of just want this book to end?”

I guess my problem was that a few things throughout the story were compounding and made the ending lackluster. Here are a few (spoilers below, obviously):

  1. A big subplot through the story is that Vasya’s father is given a necklace from the winter king to give to his daughter. Instead, Dunya, the nurse, keeps it to give to Vasya once she’s older. Dunya repeatedly has dreams where the winter king comes to her and, in a pretty threatening manner, demands that Vasya receive the necklace. Dunya begs him, a few times, to give her “one more year,” because Vasya is still just a girl. This all makes it sound as if the giving of the necklace will mean something terrible for Vasya, like the winter king is going to steal her or she’ll be sent on some dangerous mission or something. Well, the giving of the necklace happens finally, and … nothing happens. Maybe I’m missing something, but basically the necklace didn’t do anything or change anything in any way, since what was coming was coming not due to Konstantin’s meddling, not anything Vasya could prevent (even with the assistance of the necklace). The evil force in the book wasn’t deterred by the giving of the necklace, nor did the necklace protect Vasya from harm. Sometimes the necklace would burn like ice against her skin but I’m not sure what exactly that was supposed to … mean. Sure, it sounds cool (pun not intended, but I’ll roll with it), but overall the entire necklace subplot had no purpose other than keeping readers wondering what would happen once Vasya received it. And the answer is … nothing.
  2. At the battle in the end, Vasya calls on the household spirits to come and aid her fighting against Medved/the Bear/the one-eyed man. Then she realizes that’s kinda fruitless, since the household spirits are bound to their hearths and can’t leave. But then they arrive. Somehow. I kept waiting for there to be an explanation for this, but there wasn’t. Further, the spirits don’t even do anything in the battle other than look ragged, enforcing the idea that, if Vasya wins, her victory will have been again nearly unbeatable odds.
  3. I was ridiculously excited to see Vasya kick some evil spirit ass at the end of this book, because she was truly an awesome, strong character. I wanted to see her prove everyone wrong and save the village. But in the end, who does the saving? Her father. UGH. Her father, who was away on some journey to help out a village that had burned down (and this didn’t factor into the plot at all), comes back in the nick of time, barrels into the fight, and gives up his life to save his daughter, which apparently binds the Bear from doing any more harm. Think Lily Potter binding Voldemort with her love for Harry. So yeah, viola, fight scene is over, father is dead, evil force is vanquished, etc. This would’ve been sad because her father was a kind character, except it happened so fast and was so completely random that I barely had time to process it. Adding insult to injury is the fact that we didn’t get to see Vasya beat the odds. Instead, a man saved her. This annoyed the crap out me, because I LOVED this line that Vasya said right before the fight:

    “To the oak-tree. To the Bear’s clearing,” said Vasya. “As fast as you can run.” (…)
    Solovey put his head up, a stallions scenting battle. But he said, You cannot do it alone. (…)
    “Cannot?” said Vasya. “I will do it. Hurry.”

    What a BAMF! Alas, her BAMFness was foiled by a middle aged man.

  4. Konstantin, the priest who is basically bringing about all of this evilness by making the villagers afraid (that is what the Bear feeds on), is tossed from the story at the end in almost a throwaway scene: Vasya and the winter king go to his room, and the winter king stands behind her menacingly, projecting himself like a flame-eyed skull, and Vasya basically tells the priest to get lost, which he does. This happens right after Vasya is supposed to be mourning her father’s death, and instead the scene came off as comical—they walked out of the room laughing. I feel like this was included because there was no other way to wrap up Konstantin’s plotline.

Overall, the book had so many loose ends that I can’t even count them all. As I was writing this, more and more kept popping into my head. The gorgeous writing honestly made up for a lot of what it lacked in plot, but in the end I didn’t feel connected to anyone in the story but Vasya, none of the deaths affected me, and the climax/battle scene was a let down.

Still, I encourage you to read this if you’re looking for a beautifully written book with a strong main character. On both of those fronts, The Bear and the Nightingale is gold.

ARC received through Barnes & Noble. The Bear and the Nightingale goes on sale January 17, 2017.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

★★★★★

hp-cursedThis might be one of those books where five stars is a knee-jerk reaction and it really should be four, but I’m going to go with my heart and give it five because I really, truly loved some parts of it. I’ll be the first to admit that it was undoubtedly cheesy at times, but somehow I honestly didn’t care. I went into it with such low expectations that I think even pure, flaming garbage would’ve impressed me a bit, but this was a lot more interesting and twisty-turny than I hoped! I had no idea what to expect, so the wibbly-wibbly, timey-wimey stuff took me by surprise and honestly got me so riled.

First of all, the bad: Albus sucks. He was a truly unlikeable main character. Scorpius, however, was not. Secondly, some of the dialogue is cheesy. Majorly. Especially the “meaningful” moments between Dumbledore (or his portrait, at least) and Harry, as well as between Delphi and her … ahem … relative.

The good: This book made me like Harry. Yes, I love Harry Potter, but I’ve never actually liked Harry Potter. He’s always been a boring character for me, for the most part, but Cursed Child had me wanting to give him a big ol’ hug. In one especially heartbreaking scene, while Harry blames himself for all that’s happened to Albus and Scorpius, he says to Ginny, “How many people have to die for the Boy Who Lived?” It tore my heart out and made me take back every bad thing I’ve ever thought about him. My poor precious magical forty-year-old bean.

While some parts weren’t convincing, and while I do wish that the playwright had left more to the imagination rather than laying all of the characters’ feelings out in the open — I’m one of those people who likes subtlety, and the writer had very little, unlike Rowling — the book as a whole flowed really well and it was fast-paced and exciting. Overall, way better than I expected, and a lot better than all those liars saying it was a total dumpster fire.

I would loooove to see the live action of this. It definitely brought back some intense waves of nostalgia (I cried, btw, if that’s any indicator), and now has me dying to reread the series in 2017.

Review: What Was Forgotten by Tim Mathias

★★★★☆

Full disclosure: I read this book as a beta reader and copy editor.

But hey — just because I edited something doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy it! And enjoy it I did. This book was almost perfectly polished when it came to me; it was a fast-paced, exciting read, and the best part is how different it is. I’m a fantasy reader, but lately, fantasy (especially YA/NA fantasy) has just gotten kind of dull. I’m not sure if it’s because I read too much of it, or because I can’t turn off my editor side to enjoy it well enough, but all of the fantasy books that I’ve read lately have just been kind of formulaic and dull.

Not so with What Was Forgotten.

The best things about this book are its world-building and its character development. I’m a huge fan of fantasy cultures (and cultures in general) and Tim doesn’t disappoint with his creations. A huge part of this book centers around imperialism; the Ryferian army is out to absorb or destroy any culture that doesn’t believe in their “one true god”.

Imperialism is such a great theme in books, because it’s something that is a huge problem in our own world and doesn’t get touched on enough. But this book gets right into the nitty gritty of the effects of imperialism, and shows the moral dilemmas faced by both sides of the conflict: the absorbed and the absorbees (that’s totally a made up word, by the way). For instance, if your people are on the brink of extinction, would you choose to accept a culture and a god that you don’t actually believe in, just to keep your people alive? Would you sacrifice your beliefs to save your family, or would you rather die knowing you never wavered?

This survival aspect is a huge part of both this book and the next (not yet published) and I think Tim does a fantastic job of showing the deeper workings of this conflict, and how, from whichever side you’re on, you may feel your actions are justified. (Yes, even the “bad guys”!)

So if you like books with fantastic world-building, multi-faceted, ambiguous, or “gray-area” characters, and NO ANNOYING LOVE TRIANGLES (praise be to the NA and YA gods!), then What Was Forgotten is the book for you. (And trust me, the sequel is just as good, if not better!)

Synopsis:
The Ryferian Empire is a “godly” bunch, intent on annihilating or absorbing all other religions and cultures to accept their god. Zayd is a member of the Tauthri, a race of black-eyed hunters and gatherers that have had their culture stolen from them by the Empire. To protect his family, he joins the Ryferian army as a conscript. Now nearing the end of his service, he has only to do his job for a while longer before he’ll be reunited with his wife and son.

Of course, things are never that easy. When a mysterious, ominous artifact is unearthed during the Ryferian’s latest seige, a darkness that had been dormant for millennia is unleashed, and Zayd is caught between his duty to his family and people, his duty to the empire, and his duty to the world. [Did anyone else get shivers? Because I’ve got shivers.]

The story also follows a rather cocky, ambitious priest in his journey to become a cleric. To reach his goal he only has one more test, and he knows he can pass it with flying colors. But when something goes wrong, and he begins seeing a dark specter stalking him at the corners of his vision, Osmun fears he might be losing his mind. As cocky as Osmun was at the beginning, he probably never thought the fate of the world would rest on his shoulders. But now, it just might.

Will Osmun and Zayd be able to fight back against the evil pressing in on them, or will they fail?

You’ll have to read the book to find out. 😉

Review: Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

★★★★★

touch-of-ironIn all my years of being a nerdy fangirl over things (books, movies, TV shows, etc.), the pinnacle of my fangirling has always been “does *thing* make me want to draw really bad fanart?” If yes, you can guarantee I was hooked. And probably shipping like crazy. I read this book as a beta reader, and my reaction was exactly that. I wanted to draw Diaz and Nora smooching. And maybe just Diaz being a badass with a sword.

I am unashamed.

First things first: Touch of Iron is not for the faint of heart, or those averse to gratuitous swearing. There’s also a hefty amount of graphic gore that made me make a face like this:

But I love that stuff. Not gore, but nasty, gritty reality. I love dark fantasies, and this is categorized as a “grimdark” fantasy. I’m not sure if I’ve ever consciously read a grimdark fantasy before, but I must like ’em!One of the big things I loved about this book was the subtle inclusion of fantastical elements. There’s a delicate balance – for me, at least – where fantasy is concerned. And Touch of Iron had me interested in the lore, the quiet magic of the world, but not oversaturated with dragons and wizards and elves (oh my!).

Nora was a great character to follow. And lil’ studious Owen. Honestly, all of the characters were so real that I couldn’t help but root for them all. Even Prince Bashan, the bastard, was such a great, nasty character that I loved him. The writing is witty, quick, laugh-out-loud at times and in other moments it’s so quietly heart-wrenching that it kills you a little. (I’m looking at you, Diaz.)

Perhaps the best part was the romance, or lack thereof. I’m kind of a killjoy when it comes to YA or NA novels anymore; I want gritty heroines and hints of romance, but when the romance becomes cannon I almost instantly get bored with it. The tension snaps. Touch or Iron definitely held out, tension wise, and basically this is me now:

I ship it, guys. I ship it hard.I totally can’t wait to read the sequel!