Deadly games, a city based on your sins, historical fantasy vibes, gangs and codes of honor, slow burn romances, revolutions and conspiracies, and so much more... what a (surprisingly bloody) good time.
Characters ★★★ 1/2
Larger story arc: ★★★★★
Take your time in the City of Sin, if you lose your bearings it'll reel you in...
Enne Salta arrives in New Reynes, known in the realm as the "City of Sin," with a bag full of belongings and a note from her adopted mother telling her to who to call if she needs help. Enne can't find her mother and time has run out, so she's desperate for some help. She's looking for a man named Levi Glaiser.
Levi Glaiser is the Iron Lord, the leader of one of the most prominent street gangs in the city. He's balancing on the edge of fealty to his gang, a forced bargain with a mob boss, and the mountain of lies keeping him—and his future—from falling apart. The last thing he wants on his doorstep is a girl calling in a favor from one of the most notorious rebel sympathizers in the realm.
Enne doesn't like the look of Levi, and Levi likes the look of Enne a little too much. Enne has money, Levi needs money. Levi has connections to the pulse of the city, and Enne needs to find out what happened to her mother. Time to strike a bargain...
But things quickly become much bigger than a bargain between the Iron Lord and the visiting new girl when things in New Reynes get complicated, and fast. Trouble is brewing in the city, lords are being murdered, and the noose around Levi's neck is getting tighter and tighter with one of the two mob bosses in the city after him and the other pulling his strings.
Enne and Levi are going to get much more than they bargained for, and neither one of them is truly ready for the hidden secrets of Enne's past to rise to the surface.
The game of monarchies, conspiracies, murder plots, and blood ties is about to begin...
WOW, y'all. I loved this. Ace of Shades is one of those YA books that came out in the surplus of red/black aesthetic fantasy reads released in the aftermath of Six of Crows and V.E. Schwab's rise to popular immortality and to be honest, I thought the book was going to be derivative of the themes it was invoking on the cover.
Totally missed the mark on this one. While you can sorta-kinda-squint and see Schwab and you can definitely make surface-level comparisons to Six of Crows, Ace of Shades quickly diverges from the paths of the expected with a truly explosive and engaging story arc.
I found the first half to be slow and followed a lot of traditional YA tropes. Discovery of world, learning the key players, getting a quick-and-dirty run down of the magic system, introducing the bad guys, etc.
But the second half—d-d-d-damn! Talk about a ramp-up and a showdown all in one. I couldn't put it down. When the ending actually happened, I was on Amazon that very second pressing "Buy Now" on the second book. Very excited to see where the plot takes us, and now that the exposition and beginning stuff is over with the really intrigue and development can take off.
A powerful, moving novel about the everyday grit of young homelessness tinged with empathy, endurance, and subtlety. Definitely not easy to forget.
Living in the homeless community in San Francisco, Maddy has banded together with a small group of others in the Golden Gate Park. Struggling to survive, the last thing Maddy expects to experience is a murder.
Having been an unwilling yet captive witness of a young man's murder, Maddy quickly finds herself drawn in to the investigation with the local police and with the murdered man's parents. Maddy didn't sign up for this—and she certainly doesn't want to give up the secrets of her history in order to help the police and the family find closure.
But will she decide to open up given the circumstances? If she does, what then?
I know the above description is pretty vague, but I really didn't want to give too much away about the novel. It's one of those that you really need to experience first-hand and not read in a blurb. I was surprised at how much this novel moved me—which sounds callous, as obviously a novel about young homelessness is one that you'd automatically assume would be moving. And I did assume it would be. But at the same, I guess I underestimated how much it would move me as a reader. There's a lingering thread of sadness mixed with hope mixed with a sense of trapped circumstance in this, and it's an intense cocktail to experience.
This is a powerful debut that is grappling with some heavy, contemporary topics. I'm glad I got to follow Maddy's journey, however hard. I occasionally wished for more depth, but overall a very satisfying story.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Why aren’t there more people reading this book?? Thieves, Indiana Jones-style adventure quests, queer slow burn Fae/thief romance, courtly betrayals, and a truly masterful and fresh approach to long-form traditional YA fantasy tropes.
Slow Burn Romance: ★★★★
Master of One took me by surprise. Literally. I picked it up on a whim, started reading, and found myself emerging from my reading hidey-hole HOURS later with a crick in my neck and a new obsession.
It's what I wished Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series had been for me. It's what could have happened if Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows band of misfits had been dunked into a mid-2000s-era YA medieval fantasy setting and given an epic quest instead of a heist, less #angst, and more queer humor. And it's also what Snow White's evil queen could have been up to in a parallel reality. And so on.
Basically, this was a book that I didn't realize fulfilled an empty niche on my bookshelves until I started reading it and went "Oh, there you are. I've been looking for you all along."
From the top, we're introduced to a thief named Rags. He's in prison and awaiting some form of torture on behalf of the Queensguard for his attempt to steal some royal treasure. Instead, Rags is coerced into a quest to find an ancient Fae relic for the Queen's magician. And to ensure Rags' compliance, the magician sticks a mirrorshard in his heart as insurance—if Rags tries to run, hide, or break his bargain, the magician will just twist the mirrorshard and kill him.
Brutally effective, and yet oddly beautiful in its theory. Like most of this book.
So Rags and the magician set out to find the relic. This feels like a quest novel for the chosen one, but that's not really what it is. Because instead of a finding a relic, Rags discovers an ancient Fae warrior from the Ancient race long thought dead in the realm. The Fae warrior says Rags has awakened him to help locate the six Masters of the Paragon, and ancient Fae weapon/tool that can only be wielded by the six Masters predestined for it. (In a not-at-all shocking turn of events, it's discovered that this weapon is what the magician wanted to find all along.)
From there, Master of One turns into an adventure quest to discover the other relics, the other Masters, and to somehow thwart the magician before he decides to kill Rags and the team in order to take the weapon for himself. Insert some AMAZING dry humor and slow burn M/M romance between the Fae warrior and Rags—plus a truly eclectic cast of other side characters including an ex-Queensguard, a banished former court lady, a transgender actress, and a disabled prince—and you've got a winner.
This was just so good. I will say it's quite slow to start, and takes its time for the rest of the plot too, but I found that the pacing was necessary for the plot. In a way, it felt like a traditional/old school adult fantasy epic given its slower introduction to the world and its characters. It's also the slowest of slow burns and takes its sweet time introducing all of the POVs and potential relationships at play. Again, I didn't mind, but definitely know that going in.
Overall, a fantastic series opener. I can't wait for more—that ending did NOT resolve the plot, so here's to hoping a sequel is announced soon.
Drama, drama, DRAMA! This insider's look into the world of teen influencers was a wild ride from start to finish—and I couldn't stop reading it.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Binge-level enjoyment: ★★★★
Delilah Rollins is catapulting to stardom in a major way on Instagram. From her Minnesota roots to her recent move to LA, she's scrambling to find her bearings in a world where hundreds of thousands of people know her name, her face, and her life. Is Delilah really ready for her autonomy to be controlled by the opinion of the masses?
Jasmine Walters-Diaz is used to the fame of being an influencer. From her roots as a wholesome child TV star to her teenage years as a brand's dream endorsement, Jasmine should be used to her life being filtered through the lens of perfection and frozen time... but as her need to be herself and love who she loves grows and chafes against her public image, Jasmine finds herself bending and breaking to get out.
Fiona Jacobs is the perfect casual and funny influencer. She's effortless... right? As she listens to her inner monologue critique her every move, every breath, every calorie, and every step, Fiona tries to desperately maintain the facade of put-together perfection while her OCD and fear of past secrets threaten to tear her apart from the inside. Will she survive her own attacks on herself?
Delilah, Jasmine, and Fiona all have one thing in common: they're living their teenage years through the crystalized lens of public opinion, filters, and judgement.
And then there's Scarlett Leigh. Another teenage influencer but with more sex appeal, more ruthlessness, and more drive to win, Scarlett seems to be the three girls' worst nightmare and competition all rolled into one. But you can never trust what's on the surface...and the girls should really know better.
They'll find out just what exactly the truth means when one of them ends up dead. It's time to show off your best angle, ladies, as the part you're going to play now is one of suspect...
My immediate response to this book was WOW, what a crazy premise and an even crazier plot. This reaction was further cemented when I realized that the co-author to this book, Lilia Buckingham, is an actual bona fide teen influencer herself. That definitely lent a more realistic quality to some of the details used in the novel (besides the murder, of course!).
My interest in this book came from the other author, Sara Shepard, who is best known for her drama-laden series Pretty Little Liars. Fans of Pretty Little Liars should be all over this—the amount of drama, gasps, and trainwreck sitcom moments are at the same level here in Influence. Like a reality tv show, I couldn't look away.
Definitely one to pick up if you like drama, glitz, and murder...
Thank you to Delacorte Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What a pleasant surprise? I really enjoyed this. A large part of that enjoyment came from treating it like a contemporary novel, though, and not a mystery.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Mystery/Surprises: ★★ 1/2
So, real quick, let me just say this: if you're coming to this book for intense action, devious mysteries, or any kind of edge-of-your-seat thriller vibes, this is NOT the read for you.
The Cousins is Karen M. McManus' fourth YA novel, and it has a really nice set up. Three cousins from estranged siblings receive a mysterious letter from their reclusive wealthy grandmother, Mildred Story. Their parents were kicked off of the Story family's island in their teens and completely cut out of the will and the family legacy, so to hear from the matriarch at all is strange, to say the least. Mildred asks the three cousins—Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah—to come to Gulf Cove island to work on the family's resort for the summer. "To get to know you," the letter says.
What makes things even stranger is that Mildred didn't know they were coming.
And things aren't exactly what they seem on Gulf Cove island. What exactly happened all those years ago, and why did their grandmother cut all ties from the family?
It's time for Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah to find out.
Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is not the read for hardcore mystery/thriller fans. In a way, I wish this had been billed as more of a family drama contemporary than a mystery. Don't get me wrong, there are quite a few mysteries in the plot. And they're pretty satisfying and not overly easy to guess—I found the final reveal to actually be a surprise.
But I have to say, I treated the plot like a dramatic contemporary novel. And by doing so, I liked it a lot. If you don't try to focus on the mystery it's a great story. If you do focus on the mystery, I'd imagine elements of this story could be quite frustrating. For example, this 300-ish page novel takes place over multiple weeks of the summer and the mystery itself isn't the main (or even side) focus of each chapter. There's a lot of personal relationship drama, coming-of-age realizations, and family-themed bonding content. It's all really, really well done... but not focused on the mystery?
Because of that, when we do focus on the mystery it's in a WHAM BAM rush of events. Not exactly out of place, but definitely not balanced.
Overall, a great and enjoyable YA read filled with atmosphere, drama, and more... but not exactly as advertised.
Goblins, the underworld, and a lot of mythology references... I wish I'd loved this more.
World: ★★★ 1/2
Goblin King is the second book in the Permafrost duology. If you haven't read the first book, White Stag, please avoid this review as there are SPOILERS for the first book in the series. (You can read my review of White Stag here.)
The newbies gone? Good. Let's talk about this one.
So, first off, let me preface this by saying that it's been quite a while since I've read White Stag. Because of that—and how I felt while reading this sequel—I'm sadly coming to the conclusion that this series and my reading tastes have probably split up. Permanently. I'm not sure if it was the plot itself, the writing style, or the pacing but something about Goblin King really didn't work for me.
For those reasons alone, please take this review with several grains of salt. I'd encourage other readers to still pick up this book if it sounds of interest!
In this sequel, we're following Janneke and Soren as they try to come to terms with the new world order in the Permafrost following the explosive ending of White Stag.
Janneke merged her life force with the mythical heart of the land, the stag, in order to save the Permafrost realm and become one with her goblin beau, Soren. He became the Erlking—goblin king—and she his magical stag counterpart.
But all is not perfect in the goblin realm. Janneke is seeing and hearing the specter of her dead past abuser, Lydian, and he's taunting her with some bad news—he says that Janneke is going to bring about the end of the world.
Turns out, he's not wrong.
Now faced with a world ending prophecy of EPIC proportions, Janneke and Soren must lean on each other, venture to the underworld, and figure out how to fix what's already set in motion....before it's too late.
Now I don't know if I was an ignorant newb when I read White Stag, but this sequel was essentially a retelling of Ragnarok—and I DON'T remember this series relying so heavily on Norse mythology. Yes, you heard me correctly: the Norse myth. We had Hel, Frigga, the world-ending serpent, and a lot of references to the nine realms and Yggdrasil.
Because of that, the plot felt quite tired to me from the get-go. It's hard to get excited about a plot when you know the main players and the steps of the game... and when it seems like a total hit out of left field in the first place. Again, I wasn't expecting that element to be so tied to existing myths so that's either on me (for forgetting the first book so much) or on the book (for executing a complete 180 flip in priorities).
In addition to a plot that felt well-traveled, I also had quite a few personal issues with the way the pacing unfolded. We had a lot talking, rehashing, and limited action sequences as Janneke explained, then explained again, and then explained AGAIN to various characters and herself what had occurred in the novel so far. This was tiring. I wanted more developed plot, less debriefing after each new action, and less internal rehashing of old concepts.
Overall, not for me... but maybe a treat for a newer YA fantasy reader or someone very interested in Norse myths.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
This was SO GOOD. Witches, retellings, space thieves, the weighing of hearts, Schwab returns to the world of A Darker Shade of Magic, and Libba Bray returns to the world of Gemma Doyle... What. A. Showstopper.
A Universe of Wishes comes out on January 5, 2021!
As this is an anthology, I've reviewed each story individually and given a one sentence sales pitch of sorts below. Quick take, my favorites were: The Weight by Dhonielle Clayton, A Royal Affair by V.E. Schwab, Unmoor by Mark Oshiro, Liberia by Kwame Mbalia, and The Scarlet Woman by Libba Bray.
Tara Sim - A Universe of Wishes (3.5 stars)
Thorn harvests wishes from the dead and gets caught red-handed by the morgue boy—what now?
Natalie C. Parker - The Silk Blade (4 stars)
Lushly described, beautifully colored—a bisexual female warrior competes to win the heart of the Bloom prince and may or may not fall for her beautiful rival instead.
Libba Bray - The Scarlet Woman(5 stars)
Gemma Doyle has been in New York for a while now, but the world's magical community isn't done with her yet and someone's determined to reel her back in with grisly gifts.
Anna-Marie Mclemore - Cristal y Cerisa (3.5 stars)
A transgender prince, a Mexican girl attends a ball with a pair of fated glass slippers and a desperate plea for her people.
Kwame Mbalia - Liberia (4.5 stars)
Kweke is the primary research officer on the spacecraft Liberia growing plants with ancestral ties to the crew's abandoned homeland, deep roots.
V.E. Schwab - A Royal Affair (5 stars)
Sure to be a fan-favorite for series readers, this behind-the-scenes take on Alucard's origin romance with Prince Rhy was such a treat.
Rebecca Roanhorse - The Takeback Tango (4 stars)
An intergalactic thief is on a mission to steal back her people's treasures from the republic... and she might not be the only one with a conquered people to avenge.
Nic Stone - Dream and Dare (2.5 stars)
Dream escapes her family's expectations to help a monster in the woods. (This story did not resonate with me, so apologies for the bland description.)
Jenni Balch - Wish (3 stars)
A "granter" in a LAMP device is summoned to a set of very bizarre circumstances: a spaceship, a girl, and a dream for space travel.
Dhonielle Clayton - The Weight (5 stars)
A deep cut, damn. Marcus and Grace know they love each other, and they're going to get their hearts weighed to prove it... that's good, right?
Mark Oshiro - Unmoor (5 stars)
Urban fantasy, Felix wants to "unmoor" his painful memories of his lost love, Arturo—no matter the cost.
Samira Ahmed - The Coldest Spot in the Universe (unrated)
No sentence pitch for this one... I'll be honest, I could NOT get into this one and therefore did not complete it. Told in diary entries, some sort of apocalyptic natural disaster mixed with the dead? Confused.
Tessa Gratton - The Beginning of Monsters (3 stars)
High fantasy in miniature—Crystal-taloned Elir designs a new body for King Insarra, who is tired of their female one. Add in one snarky heir and some political intrigue and you get...
Zoraida Cordova - Longer Than the Threads of Time (4 stars)
A truly sensational Rapunzel retelling. There's a Tower in Central Park and every magic user knows those inside are deserving of their prison sentence—too bad one young brujo is curious enough to get close enough to find out the truth.
Onyebuchi - Habibi (3.5 stars)
Told in diary entries, an American Black prisoner and a Middle Eastern protestor behind bars strike up a magical and unworldly pen pal situation with heart-wrenching and emotional results.
Thank you to Random House Children's for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
An interesting take at the writers behind the curtain in a YA anthology filled with underrepresented voices, fantastical fiction, and more. This is a must read for anyone interested in the craft of writing.
Writers' workshop elements: ★★★★★
Foreshadow is a really unique concept for an anthology. Curated by authors Emily X.R. Pan and Nova Ren Suma, this collection features thirteen YA stories from a diverse group of lesser known YA authors—with each of their stories introduced by some of the bigger names in YA, including Melissa Albert, Laurie Halse Anderson, Roshani Chokshi, Jandy Nelson, Sabaa Tahir, and more.
To put it simply, this was a joy to read. As someone who loves YA, loves the craft of writing, and loves discovering new writers to watch, this was the trifecta.
Each of these stories carries something different. Some are romances, some are fantastical, some handle some deeper themes. They're great stories, and that's important. But what was actually more interesting for me as a reader was what came AFTER the stories. Following each of those stories is a writers' breakdown—a section focusing on the particular theme/concept/writing tool that was used by the author, and a technical analysis for what worked for that story to use that particular device/etc.
This is an anthology that is a love letter to the craft of writing YA. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but for the readers who like to peek behind the curtain at the act of writing itself, this one to pick up.
Thank you to Algonquin for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The second installment in the Clue Movie-inspired mystery series—another dead body, another mystery to solve, and (unfortunately) a bit too much time spent looking back at the first story.
Character development: ★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
So I really, really enjoyed the first novel in this series, In the Hall with the Knife. I HIGHLY recommend you check that book out if you haven't yet already—it's the perfect nod to the Tim Curry movie and will make you remember the board game fondly.
This book, In the Study with the Wrench, is the second novel in the trilogy. In this one, we're following the aftermath of the first novel as our motley crew of characters at Blackbrook Academy—Mustard, Scarlett, Peacock, Green, Plum, and the "new girl" to the canon Orchid—try to cope and move on from the tragic murder and events following the death of headmaster Boddy.
The group is referred to by the other students as the "Murder Crew" now. And while the group is trying to shuck off that label and ignore their recent past... fate has other plans. They discover another dead body. Again.
What's a group to do but solve another murder?
So.... this is super painful for me to admit this about one of my most anticipated releases, but I just couldn't love this installment in the same way as the first one. We spend wayyy too much time rehashing the events of the first book. Now, I understand that there needs to be a "recap" grace period at the start of a sequel—it helps us to remember where the story left us if we haven't recently read the first one. But this novel spent 50% of its storyline on rehashing, regrouping, and focusing on the first book.
Because of that, this novel had a hard time standing on its own. I wish it had spent much more time on developing the current murder plotline, and more time on helping the characters grow/adapt. With its stale focus on previous plot, everything felt like one endless waiting room... waiting to wrap up the last story in order to get to the new.
I'm still very excited to read the third book in the series. Hoping this one was just a one-off problem and a victim of sequel syndrome. We'll see! Definitely still check this one out if you enjoyed the first novel—spending more time with the characters was fun.
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Hot demon princes, tattoo magic, underworlds, witches in Italy, and a high stakes murder mystery. Need I say more?
Characters: Besides the main character being more dumb than fully believable? ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Kingdom of the Wicked comes out on October 27, 2020!
Emilia di Carlo grew up with her twin, Vittoria, on tales of witches and demons. Their grandmother raised them to learn about their witch bloodline and magical abilities and taught them to fear the devil and his seven Wicked princes—because there's nothing more dangerous to a witch and her kind than a demon. And there are no demons more powerful and deadly than the Wicked.
Emilia takes—what she thinks as metaphorical—cautions to heart, and she thinks her twin does too.
But then Vittoria is found brutally murdered. Turns out there have been a string of young female witch killings throughout Italy, and Vittoria is the latest victim. As Emilia reels from the loss of her other half, she starts to realize that maybe Vittoria didn't take their grandmother's warnings as seriously as she did—and maybe those "stories" of the Wicked demon princes have more than a grain of truth in them.
With vengeance and blind need for justice in her heart, Emilia decides to follow in the steps of her sister and deal with the devil in order to find out the truth.
But Emilia has never summoned a demon before. To put it bluntly, her summoning doesn't go exactly as planned. Instead of a random, everyday demon from Hell...Emilia finds herself face to face with her nightmares: it's one of the Wicked demons himself, Wrath. In all his gold-and-smoke tattooed glory.
And she may or may not have bound them together more permanently than she intended. Wrath is, to say the least, pissed.
Now bound together, Emilia and Wrath are about to discover the truth behind Vittoria's murder and get WAY more than either of them bargained for.
It's time to wreak havoc on the Kingdom of the Wicked.
So, first off, WOW. As someone who's read and enjoyed this author's first (completely unrelated) series, I thought this book showed a massive leap in writing maturity and plot complexity. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Stalking Jack the Ripper series for its drama, medical stuff, and fun—but Kingdom of the Wicked is something else. It's clear that Maniscalco is honing her craft and exploring new storytelling in this, and I LIKE it.
The strengths: worldbuilding, concepts, push-pull relationship between Wrath and Emilia, unique magic system and take on the "underworld" trope, and the larger plot hinted at for future books to come.
The weaknesses: There's really only one major flaw from my perspective, and that's Emilia herself. This book fell into the trap of making the main character too dumb to be believed for the first half of the book in order to allow for the plot unfold in a very particular series of events—and it's too on the nose. Emilia makes extremely illogical, dumb, and borderline childish decisions for the sake of plot development, and that stung a bit to me as a reader. With such a beautiful concept, world, and plot, why did we need Emilia to stumble about like a bull in a china shop? She does get much better in the second half—so that makes me think this issue will be fixed in the second book—but still.
Overall, amazing book and one of my all-time favorites of the year. Definitely check this one out!
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.