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: 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!

Review: Bad Boy by Elliot Wake

★★★☆☆

**ARC courtesy of NetGalley.

I have mixed feeling about this book. I seriously couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, so perhaps I went into it with my hopes too high. First things first: I’ve only read Cam Girl so far, and if I had known that this was a continuation of several characters from Wake’s previous novels (published under the name Leah Raeder), then I probably would have elected to read the books in order. It doesn’t really affect your understanding of the novel, but I think that now that I’ve seen the characters “down the road”, it may affect the way I read his other novels, Black Iris and Unteachable.

bad-boyThat aside, I flew through Bad Boy in about two days. The writing was more of the flowery, poetic style I had grown accustomed to in Cam Girl, although in my opinion it was a bit more subtle in this book compared to CG (which makes sense because the narrator in CG, Vada, is an artist). There definitely wasn’t as much ~sexy time~ as in CG either, but what there is is as swoon-worthy as I’ve come to expect. Basic synopsis: Ren, the main character, is transgender and makes a living off of vlogging about his transition on YouTube. When he’s not on camera, he’s a vigilante with Black Iris, scaring some sense into abusive, misogynistic trolls who threaten women online.

My biggest issue with this book is that it’s so heavy handed and laden down with explanations; about feminism, about misogyny, about transitioning — everything. The explanations of concepts sometimes detracted from the story in such a way that I would skip them. As someone already familiar with a lot of these ideas, I found it to be overkill. A large majority of the book felt more like it was the author teaching the reader what feminism is instead of showing it in action. In fact, at least two of the characters aren’t very feministic at all. Ingrid is by far the worst; she was just a mean person and I didn’t enjoy any of the scenes with her. Cam Girl has this “co-dependency” friendship angle as well, but where I could understand why Ellis and Vada didn’t want to be apart, I seriously couldn’t understand why Ren didn’t drop Ingrid like a hot coal. She was nasty, oppressive, invalidating his identity at every turn—it often came as a shock to me as a reader, because she was supposed to be his “best friend”. Honestly, it seemed the only reason she was in Ren’s life was [[MILD SPOILER]] as a plot device.

Biggest takeaway: Bad Boy included a lot of sections labeled “vlog #__” where Ren would talk directly to the audience as if through a vlog. Especially in the parts where he’s describing how certain things work (for instance, the vlog on detransitioning), it felt much more like I was reading a how-to article rather than a book. Because of this style, the plot felt shaky and strung-together by these vlog sections, which made it seem almost as if the book was written solely to explain trans* people rather than to have a cohesive book featuring a transgender person. I understand that some readers might need some extra education on the subject, but that’s what Google is for.

And I know I shouldn’t keep comparing this to his other books, but I likedCam Girl a lot more (of course, that’s not my reason for rating this 3/5, but it bears mentioning). With Bad Boy, I guessed a lot of the plot twists about halfway through the book, and I had a hunch who the “bad guy” was as well. This made the eventual reveal a lot less powerful, for me at least.

Don’t get me wrong; I still really liked the book (although I wish Ellis was more prominent, tbh; she’s my favorite character and the one I identify with the most, and I also want to kiss her right on the face). Wake’s books feature a great cast of lgbtqa+ characters, with lots of lessons to be learned by the reader and truths for them to think about. Seriously. This is stuff that will make you question your own identity and sexuality. And I love books like that; books that make me think, that make me wonder and question and realize truths about myself and other that I may not have known before. I’m just a fan of subtlety. The lesson learning was heavy inCam Girl as well, but Bad Boy seemed much more heavy-handed with it.

Bad Boy comes out December 6, 2016. Go give it a pre-order if you’re interested!

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

★★★½


This was un-put-downable.

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 8.03.53 AMI love different fantasy. I can’t stand wizards and dragons anymore for some reason. This was certainly different. The worldbuilding is incredible and immersive; set in a desert, with Roman-esque names, an underground resistance movement, prophecies, immortal Augurs who can hear your thoughts, brutal slavery, interesting cultures, face-sucking silver masks, and a school that puts its students through hell to become master weapons. It’s dark as hell but infused with Laia’s enduring hope, and that’s what made this into the classic it’s being touted at.

There’s great character development, too. I started off not liking Laia very much, but she grew into a pretty great character. I wouldn’t say she’s badass, but she’s strong and smart and not afraid to go through horrendous trials to help those she loves.

tumblr_nrlzwbsifj1qfm9h6o1_500

The Commandant, Laia, Helene, Elias, and Marcus. Art by Annalise Jensen.

Elias, on the other hand, is my newest book-boyfriend. Oh, how I love those tortured, honorable, hunky souls. And Helene—damn. I absolutely love her. She was by far the most nuanced character in the book.

I’m definitely a Helene/Elias shipper, though, and didn’t really like the insta-love between Elias and Laia (or Keenan and Laia, tbh). This is one of the reasons I didn’t give it 5 stars; there was a lot of insta-love surrounding Laia—who, conveniently, doesn’t know how drop-dead gorgeous she is (ugh). This basically transformed into a love-rhombus, which is so much worse (in my opinion) than a love triangle.

Curmudgeonly bitching aside, this was an awesome book and I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel. If you’re like me and can’t stand love-triangles/parallelograms/etc, still give this book a chance cuz the lovey-dovey parts are easy to gloss over.

I’m pretty terrible at writing reviews when I really like a book—all I can think was “IT WAS AWESOME, OKAY?!” But just know that the hype IS REAL. This is a great book, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where this series goes.