Considering the fact that I hated the beginning of this, no one is more shocked than me that this is a damn good book.
First 100 pages: ★
Character development: ★★★★★
This is the second book in a series, so if you don't want to be spoiled for Wicked Saints, please check out that book first! (My review of it here.)
Wicked Saints was a surprisingly polarizing read in 2019, and I think Ruthless Gods will be similar—if not for the same reasons. Ruthless Gods, in my opinion, is LEAGUES better than the first novel, but only if you can pass through the first 100 pages of extremely vague writing, frustrating lack of explanation, and several wham-bam 180 degree flips that completely switch many things up.
THIS REVIEW WILL, OUT OF NECESSITY, SPOIL WICKED SAINTS.
I'M SERIOUS, PLEASE STOP IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED.
Nadya, Malachiasz, and Serefin are all having a bad time at the beginning of this book as the end of Wicked Saints left us with a LOT to unpack. Nadya's gods have left her and she's broken many of her homeland's laws to save the enemy. Malachiasz's last-minute betrayals left him with the powers of a god, but no way to keep his sanity and control them. Serefin was literally murdered and brought back to life, and now a god is whispering bad things in his ear.
Oh, and the gods we thought were scary in the first novel aren't even the ones we need to worry about.
Now, like I said above, the first 100 pages of this novel were ROUGH. We're talking, I was so frustrated I thought someone else had wrote this, rough. Considering it takes places very close to the ending of Wicked Saints, I was surprised to find the first bit of this book lagged. It seemed like an odd form of a holding pattern, as not much happened and yet lots was happening, and we were still primarily doing odd character-building scenes that also altered previous facts. I think all of the alterations were positive and made the plot stronger...but wish that they had been either included in the first book or brought to us later, because I was making audible frustrated gripes when the witch, Poletga (spelling is butchered, sorry) gave us these vague nothings over and over with each of our characters.
But, as you can see from my 5 star rating, this was a damn good book. I loved that it kept me on my toes, and the additions to the plot were exciting and made the story more original than I gave it credit for in Wicked Saints. In particular, I hope we see more of the Akolan politics in the third book, as it did give this fantasy world a fresh burst of diversity. AND I hope we continue to keep up the pace with this incredibly dark, mythic approach to old gods that really cemented itself in this installment.
It's unflinchingly bloody, twisted, darkly sensual, unrepentant, and surprising. I loved it.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was lightning in a bottle, a gunshot in progress. Loved it with my entire soul.
Writing: wrap me in these sentences, I'll sleep in a bed of these words
The Vibe: ★★★★★
Tigers, Not Daughters comes out on March 24, 2020!
Tigers, Not Daughters hit me from the side with a punch that I wasn't expecting. Magical realism, grief, ghosts, the unshakable reality of sisters, and use of multiple narrators all collided to bring one unforgettable (and new favorite) read.
The Torres sisters were always a set of four. Ana, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa. Their mother isn't there, and their father shouldn't be there, but life is life and that's how it goes.
Except it's not. Because Ana's dead.
Ana's death cracks the lines of this fragile family into 3 distinct shards. We have Jessica, who misses Ana so much that she consumes her, becomes her, shoving the angry versions of herself under layers of steely indifference. We have Iridian, who feels more comfortable with words than with people, as it's only ever people who hurt her over and over. We have Rosa, whose magical ways of understanding reality leave her with a different lens, but no less pain.
All three sisters have survived the impact of Ana leaving them in waves, but when a ghostly presence interrupts their fragile grief, the storm arrives again.
This was so, so good. I loved it. Mabry's realism was definitely magical, but it was also earthy and gritty in a way that was so exciting to read. These sisters were raw, they were real, and they had all kinds of aspects—the good, the bad, the ugly, and the bizarre in a way that only girls can be. The vibe of sisters was perfect.
I also loved the writing. This is a tale in the telling, and the snapshots of perspectives and the lyricism in the sentences flowed in such a way that this story was all-consuming. You lived the Torres sisters and you were them at the same time. This kind of writing is a gem to read in any situation, and I loved its deft handling of grief, darker themes, and resilience.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
5 theatrical stars
I would read this over and over. A gritty traveling circus, the angel v. the devil, romantic tension to CUT a KNIFE, tattoos, diverse orientations, and again for the people in the back romantic tension on POINT.
Romance elements: literally the best in YA, it is FRESH
Imagery: ★★★★★ *chef's kiss*
So I don't care what's on your TBR for this month. Make room for Ink in the Blood.
If you loved the Night Circus for its iconic imagery and archetypal romance figures that were players on a stage as well as flesh and blood love interests, you'll love this.
If you liked the gritty, broken shards of Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows, just wait until you meet the plague doctor, a man who never takes off his sharp-edged mask because he's already died once and he's too much for your eyes. He's the ringmaster of the troupe, the reminder that death is always waiting, and he'll tempt you to the devil if you'll let him.
But he's not the devil—its Celia, our protagonist, who dons the horns and lies and smoke to hide from herself and her Divine. She believes she can coat herself in enough lies to save herself from her fate. But can she run from the ink in her blood?
Ink in the Blood is all of the above, plus a one-of-a-kind religious system based on tattoos, the Divine, Diavala (the devil), and a matriarchal plot line that feels like the perfect amount of grit, soul, and lying diamonds.
I know the blurb mentions a lot of things, and some of them are what I've said and some of them just allude to things to come. Please don't be disillusioned by the first few chapters. I was, and I thought this was going to be a very different book. But, I promise, it's not. Get to the circus. It is perfection from there.
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
5 bloody stars
She's beauty, she's grace, she's going to put them all in their place—the grave.
Welcome to Hannah Capin's version of revenge. "For the girls who have had enough," indeed.
Writing style: ★★★★★
I had no idea what I was getting into with Foul is Fair, but I'm here now and it was amazing—twisted in the best way, dark in the best way, and so validating in its satirically dark version of female victim agency.
Elle goes to a party for St. Andrews Prep boys when she was 16. She's chosen as a target for their non-consensual idea of "fun." Imagine what a group of untouchable rich, white boys could do to a vulnerable girl with a drink of who knows what. Yes, that. Yes, in the way it is portrayed in so much media. Trigger warnings for those who cannot handle that subject matter.
They picked the wrong girl.
Elle now goes by Jade, and she's got a plan.
Those boys might be golden, but they're not invincible—all men can bleed. And it's their time to pay up.
Jade enrolls at St. Andrews Prep, and Foul is Fair truly begins.
I honestly cannot distill into words how glorious this novel was. First off, it was brilliantly written. Semi-stream of consciousness, semi-loose form narrative, Foul is Fair has the kind of writing that is hard to get into, but once you're in it you can't stop. It's a rolling train and the brakes are gone. Read this one on a weekend, folks, when you can devote some time to reading it in large chunks.
On top of the writing, we have a Tarantino-esque surrealist violent plot line. Jade's got a hit list, and a swat team of girlfriends who are here to take them down from the inside. Now, obviously, I am not a fan of killing people. That's not the point that Foul is Fair is making. It's not a glory piece on violence. That concept is merely a device the author uses to convey the visceral emotions on behalf of every girl who's been abused, every girl who's been the victim of male violence. In a world where women are still fighting for their right to their own bodies and their own safety, this novel is the best kind of social commentary. I was so, so happy that the author chose to be this unflinching.
What a great novel. This one is unforgettable for many factors, the least of which being that you will never read another novel like this it. New all-time favorite, and a new author to watch.
Thank you to Wednesday Books via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The Guinevere Deception is a story about women's agency and their role in myth—and cleverly ties together known aspects of the Arthurian legends with some much needed LGBT+ and modern sensibilities.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
I'm so mad at this book because it does not put its best foot forward. The Guinevere Deception starts out so simplistic, so run-of-the-mill, that it's boring. Boring boring. Skim-worthy, even.
But then, we cross the hump. The second half of this book is gorgeous. It's lyrical, it's feminist, it's evocative of the Kiersten White that I remember from my long-ago read of And I Darken—where women had their own agency and commentary--that I put down my kindle and went what? Is this the same story?
The Guinevere Deception follows "Guinevere," the wife of the newly made King Arthur. Arthur has won Camelot, and now he rules in a realm where magic is pushed to the edges of his borders and everything is free from chaos and everything is wholesome and good. (Ha. Obviously, this is a disaster waiting to happen.) Enter Guinevere, except we, as the reader, know the Guinevere is not really the princess at all, but the daughter of Merlin, sent to be the last line of defense for King Arthur—she is supposed to keep the king safe from magic...by using the forbidden magic herself.
Such a good plan. No holes at all. (Right.)
Guinevere enters into the world of Camelot and starts exploring the city and its people in the most mundane ways possible. The dialogue is meh, the chapters go slowly, and I caught myself jumping ahead several times because we were so clearly treading water, waiting for something to happen.
Then, some things happen.
I won't spoil anything in the plot because I think most of the enjoyment comes from being surprised, but The Guinevere Deception has some significant tricks. Guinevere isn't as milk toast as she seems, Arthur isn't that stupid, Lancelot appears in THE MOST EPIC TWIST as a different take on the character, women support women, some LGBT+ rep enters as breath of fresh air in this traditional hetero tale, and I just really enjoyed the turn of events.
The entire time I was reading The Guinevere Deception, I kept saying to myself: man, I miss Kiersten White when she gets dark. Maybe this is too light for me, and I'll stick with her darker content. But I can see the hints of darkness in the set up for book two, and call me intrigued—I think White has more things up her sleeve.
Definitely pick this one up if you're a fan of legends, myths, retelling, feminism, LGBT+, and good old fashioned plot twist surprises. I think this one is worth enjoying if you can get over its own problematically dull beginnings.
Thank you to Delacorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
We all know the story: The mansion. The colorful guests. The murder. The secret passageways. The weapons.
Mr. Boddy was murdered in the lounge with the candlestick. Or was it the wrench? Or maybe the revolver?
(In the case of In the Hall with the Knife, I bet you can guess.)
I honestly didn't know what to expect when this ARC arrived at my doorstep. I was in love with Clue as a kid (the movie AND the game) and I knew that I'd like it, at the very least. I didn't expect to love it and read it in one sitting!
In the Hall with the Knife is the perfect read for a casual fall evening. It's fast-paced, the coastal Maine spooky academy was the perfect setting, and the teenage characters were all fun to read in individual POVs. There are some changes to the main script: we have an added POV in Orchid McKee, and Mrs. White was an adult, but I didn't mind these changes—and in a weird way, I really enjoyed Orchid's entrance.
In terms of POV switching, I thought the author did a really good job at conveying each character's individual narrative voice. Even if you'd removed the names in the chapter, I would have known who was narrating—that's impressive, given the large cast list. However, hands down, I loved Peacock's entries the best. Everyone else has traditional chapters with third person narration...and then there's Peacock, who is obsessed with fitness and has her POV done within the context of a 1 page workout journal entry with a "notes" field that spills matter-of-fact details about the actual plot. Loved it.
Now, definitely keep in mind that this novel doesn't take itself seriously. Heck, the Clue movie notoriously didn't take itself seriously! The ending isn't a surprise to the discerning reader, but that's not why I loved it. I loved it for the cheese, the camp, and the modern twists on the old nods to nostalgia. It's a fun ride, and even more fun when you realize that it's actually a trilogy.
We haven't heard the last of this group, and so far there's only been one dead body...
(claps hands in excitement)
Thank you so much to Amulet Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was one of the most amazing YA contemporary novels that I have ever read.
The Last True Poets of the Sea hit me hard, knocked me out, and left me in the dust of its emotional magnificence. Like the coastal Maine, aquatic version of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, I couldn't stop the feelings. Talk about an unputdownable one-day read.
Violet Larkin grew up in a family of shipwrecks. Her great-great grandmother Fidelia was the sole survivor of a shipwreck off of Maine's coast in the 1800s, and the family has become known for disaster—and perseverance—ever since. They leave disaster in their wake, but they never get knocked down. Until this summer.
After her younger brother, Sam, tries to take his own life, Violet's family shuts down to crisis mode. Party-hard, reckless Violet is sent to remote Maine to live on the family's ancestral home with her Uncle, Sam is sent to a rehab facility in Vermont, and their parents attempt to tread water at home in New York City.
Violet's not excited to be in Maine, and she's unwilling to process the events that led to her arrival. To pass the time, Violet joins the local aquarium as a part-time volunteer—where she meets the best-looking boy she's ever seen: Orion.
This meet-cute isn't all that it seems, however, as Orion's had a crush on his long-time best friend for years. Orion invites Violet into the fold of his friend group, where Violet meets his crush, Liv. Violet discovers that maybe Orion's on to something--Liv is an entrancing bay filled with hidden rocks, and Violet can't seem to pull her ship out of the tide leading her to the rocky shore.
Will she do what she does best and create a shipwreck disaster, or will she discover what it means to be herself?
Add in a quest to find Fidelia's sunken ship, some ridiculously poignantly and quietly funny scenes from a bisexual love triangle, and a few moments worth more than a few tears, and you have one hell of an amazing debut. This will remain one of my all-time favorites.
Thank you to Disney Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review!
Buffy the Vampire Slayers + The Babysitters Club + 2019 humor. This was cute and funny, but I wasn't the right audience.
Plot: ★★ 1/2
Age range: the young end of YA
The Babysitters Coven is a FUN read. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and makes the comparison to its own roots as the 2019 lovechild of Buffy and The Babysitters Club.
Esme Pearl is a high school student with a passion for quirky fashion and a love of babysitting. She started a babysitting hotline with her best friend, Janis, and while they mainly use it as an excuse to hang out every day, they do get frequent babysitting requests.
However, things are changing in Esme's world. When she gets mad, things move. As things continue to happen around her, Esme realizes that maybe she's not going crazy like her mom did.
Enter Cassandra Heaven, the new girl in school. She seems weirdly focused on Esme, and she's definitely noticed the telekinesis. Oh, and she's obsessed with joining the babysitting club.
What's going on with the babysitters, and why does Esme feel like things are following a pre-destined path? A few spells, demons, and trainings later, and things start to make sense...
The Babysitters Coven made no bones about being filled with tropes, but it was still a rollicking good time. It's nice to see a YA novel cater to the 13-15 year olds, but due to its younger humor and use of tropes it was not a personal favorite. Unlike many of the YA novels coming out, this one is actually for its young audiences and not the many adults (like me!) who read the genre anyway.
Thank you to Delcorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Extremely atmospheric, haunting, and filled with historically tinged Gothic horror, this was something else.
World: ★★★★ 1/2
Plot Execution: ★★★ 1/2
Character Development: ★★★
Gothic Ocean Vibes: ★★★★★
Well hello, Gothic ocean-inspired fairy tale retelling! House of Salt and Sorrows was something I never knew I wanted until I read it. It's a full cast list of sisters and other residents of Highmoor Estate, located on one of several islands that are home to the People of the Salt. One by one, the sisters are succumbing to mysterious deaths. Something spooky and magical is AFOOT.
Annaleigh Thaumas is the second oldest of the surviving sisters. Annaleigh doesn't believe all of her sisters are dying accidentally. With a distinctively historical flair, Annaleigh embarks on a whodunit narrative to find out who killed the last one her sisters, Eulalie, and find out if the rumors about her family are true—is the Thaumas family cursed?
I loved Annaleigh. She was full of character, inquisitive but not aggressive, and felt grounded in her historical time period. Unlike other YA heroines who feel like modern characters plunked into historical settings, Annaleigh was very much grounded in her time.
In the midst of Annaleigh's quest to find her sisters' murderer, another plot is bubbling. The group of remaining sisters and Annaleigh find a "portal" of sorts on the grounds of their estate that leads them to anywhere they mentally desire. The sisters find ball after ball through the portal, dancing their nights away with strangers in glittering settings....but is there something sinister under the surface?
As the nights continue and the girls burn through their dancing shoes, Annaleigh begins to suspect that there is something wrong with the portal, Highmoor, and the people around her.
In a traditional YA move, we are also introduced to a love triangle. While I initially was bored and underwhelmed by its introduction to the plot, this love triangle quickly gained several layers and actually became incredibly spooky and (surprisingly?) terrifying.
I loved this dark story. House of Salt and Sorrows is equal parts murder mystery, ghost story, sweet dream/beautiful nightmare, and an extremely dark rendition of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale. It's a lot for one concept, but it works.
Thank you so much to Random House Children's via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.