Monday, April 23, 2018

Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst Review

Title: Inkmistress
Author: Audrey Coulthurst
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Series: Of Fire and Stars, book two
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Audrey Coulthurst caught my eye last year with her lovely, romantic slow burn of a debut, Of Fire and Stars. So when I found out that she was writing a new novel, set in the same world but taking place hundreds of years before, I was so excited. It’s been sitting in the library pile for a while now, and when I realized I couldn’t renew it, I pushed it to the top of the stack, and I’m so happy I did. Honestly, I liked Inkmistress better than I liked Of Fire and Stars; the worldbuilding was much clearer and concise. If you like your fantasies with diverse characters, romance, action, magic, mysterious secrets and political intrigue, go pick up this book, I can promise you won’t regret it. Easily one of my favorite books of 2018 and the best book of the duo, in my opinion. Asra and her journey will stay with me forever, engraved on my heart.

Asra is a lonely and powerful demigod, blessed (or cursed, depending on whom you ask) with the power to change the future by writing the outcome in her own blood. Longing to be part of the valley community below her, she wishes that she knew more: about her god parentage, about the outside world, and what love truly feels like. When her lover, Ina, returns to the mountain for a long-awaited reunion, Asra feels as if the missing parts of her life are gone. But when Ina begs for help, Asra reluctantly uses her power, not realizing that this small favor will change her life forever. Desperate for revenge against a corrupt king, Ina delves into forbidden blood magic to get her way, even if it means sacrificing Asra for the outcome. But what she doesn’t know is that Asra herself is behind the slaughter. Forced to face her mistakes and attempt to make things right, she leaves her solitude behind on the mountain and is thrown into a dangerous web of political intrigue, lies, magic, and secrets. Asra must discover who she really is and what she’s capable of, or risk losing everything she’s gained…

This book was so wonderful! Due to time constraints, I almost shelved it and returned it to the library. I’m so glad that I didn’t. I loved Of Fire and Stars, but Inkmistress was even better. The worldbuilding was more clearly explained, and the pacing was breakneck; I was immediately drawn into Asra’s dangerous, magical world, entranced by her voice. I loved her as a character; she was biracial and bisexual, and it was so exciting to see a main character with those characteristics. I loved how brave, feisty, and relatable she was. My heart broke for her as I followed her on her journey from her lonely mountain out into the big, wide world. I loved her character development, it was so refreshing. She transformed from a meek, uncertain young woman into a heroine in her own right, and it was so cool to see. I also really liked Ina and the foil she provided for Asra’s character, though there were many times when I had to put the book down due to pure rage. The other characters, especially Hal, were standouts, and I liked the series of quests that Asra went through to discover herself. And that ending! It was so satisfying and tied up all of the loose ends that lingered. Inkmistress stole my heart and bewitched my imagination, and as such, became one of my favorite books of 2018! The bottom line: Set in the same world as her debut, Of Fire and Stars, but taking place hundreds of years before, I loved Inkmistress! It contained all of my favorite things about fantasy: forbidden romance, magic, political intrigue, danger, and strong characters, especially Asra! Next on deck: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones Review

Title: Shadowsong
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Wintersong, book two
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Wintersong was one of my favorite books of last year—a dark, romantic fey retelling of The Labyrinth film, set in 1800s Bavaria—and at first, I thought it was a standalone. So imagine my surprise and delight when it was announced that it would be a duology! Shadowsong has been sitting in my library stack for a while, and when I realized it was on its last renewal, I pushed it to the top of my stack. Right when I finished with Blood Water Paint, I began Shadowsong. (Actually, I tried reading The Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh and it just wasn’t gelling with me, so I shelved it and moved on to Shadowsong.) Of course, as with all sequels, it took me a little while to remember the events of the last book, but Shadowsong was lovely and just as compelling as its predecessor. This time, though, it explores the theme of family, friendship, desire, love in all its forms, dangerous secrets, and most importantly, mental illness. That was honestly what I loved most about this book; it provided an honest and compassionate look at bipolar disorder, and at the same time, it gave me the happy ending that I so desperately craved. With her duo of magical, dark and romantic novels, S. Jae-Jones has become one of my new favorite authors, and I can’t wait to see what she has in store next!

Liesl has returned from the Underground, and is desperate for contact from her siblings, mother, and grandmother. Broken and desperate for a connection to who she once was, she is soon presented with an irresistible opportunity to go to Vienna to search for her brother and finally make contact. But what starts as a new start at a fairy tale life slowly turns into a nightmare. Liesl is haunted by her past, by the wounds she will not acknowledge. So when she begins to see visions and hear voices, she fears that she is losing her mind. Liesl must decide to face her pain, or risk losing everything she knows, including her family and beloved Der Elkoning.

I really, really enjoyed this book, though it was much darker and more serious in tone than Wintersong. I liked the way that the script was flipped; if Wintersong was about Liesl’s passion and self-discovery, Shadowsong was its dark, somber mirror, one that focused on her past and her (mostly) human family. I loved the prose, musical and gorgeous, the breakneck pacing that traveled back and forth between Liesl, her family members, and the Goblin King’s past. But most of all, I loved the character development of the novel. I loved the way that it explored Liesl’s relationship with her family, especially her sister and brother. I also really adored the way that it explored her mental illness—we need more books like this, that show what mental illness is with compassion and understanding. (Dismantle the stigma, folks!) The new characters were wonderful, providing an enchanting, creepy foil to the ones I already knew. Full of magic, tenderness, and the worst kind of pain, the kind that cuts you to the bone and stomps on your soul. And the ending! Oh my gosh, it was so satisfying and emotional! What a perfect, beautiful and bittersweet ending to one of my favorite duologies of the last two years! The only thing that really bothered me was that the pacing was a little stilted, moving as it did between three different points of view. But nonetheless, what a wonderful sequel! I will never forget Liesl, her loving, odd family, or her beloved Goblin King! The bottom line: Lush, tender, and dark, Shadowsong was a beautiful sequel to one of my favorite books of last year, with an ending that broke my heart and put it back together again! Next on deck: Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCollough Review

Title: Blood Water Paint
Author: Joy McCollough
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I found Blood Water Paint through a recommendation list, and it’s been sitting in my library stack for a while, beckoning me with its minimalist, colorful cover.  When I realized that I couldn’t renew it anymore, I pushed it to the top of the stack. I still needed some time to recuperate from the beautiful bombshell that is Children of Blood and Bone, so I left the book for the morning, while I was getting ready to go to a botanical garden. Blood Water Paint tells the story of one of the world’s first well-known female artists, presented with the impossible choice of being a nun or apprenticing for her artist father, whose abusive behavior forms the first benchmarks of her life after losing her mother.  Nonetheless, she clings tight to her dream and the Biblical stories that her mother told her. Her life changes forever when her father hires an artist to tutor her; she falls in love with the dynamic, romantic Tino, and the relationship later morphs into something abusive, something that calls her very being and sense of self into question. Artemisia must decide whether to speak her truth, even if it means losing what she holds most dear.

This painful and relevant novel, told in spare, beautiful free verse form, told the story of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi, forced to work as an apprentice for her less-talented father. Honestly, I didn’t know about her before I read this book, but she was one of the most well-known painters—male or female—after the generation of Caravaggio. I felt a personal kinship with her, partially because we share a birthday. But honestly, after reading this book, I felt like I’d been hit with a lightning bolt. Artemisia was alone, trying to gain entrance into a world that, during this time period, belonged solely to men. My heart bled for this woman, desperate to follow her dreams in a world determined to crush her. She turned to her much older mentor for love, acceptance, and encouragement, and only received brutality in return. To add insult to injury, she is forced through a humiliating trial; the only thing that keeps her close to sane is her artwork and the stories of Judith and Susanna from the Bible. Searing, powerful, timely, brutal yet tender, Blood Water Paint is simply one of the best books I’ve ever read; I devoured it in a matter of hours. Highly recommended to all, especially those looking for a feminist narrative on fine art and the long-lasting effects of rape culture. The bottom line: A beautiful and timely story about a budding female artist in a time where women were not welcome, I loved Blood Water Paint—one of the best books of 2018! Artemisia Gentileschi will be in my heart and mind forever, and not just because she and I share a star sign! Next on deck: Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi Review

Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Legacy of Orisha, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

Children of Blood and Bone has been in my to be read pile since before its publication, and since there were many holds on it, I couldn’t renew it. As soon as I finished Truly Devious, I pushed it to the top of the stack and plunged into the dangerous, beautiful, and magical world that Adeyemi renders; this book was absolutely breathtaking. I finished it on Saturday, and I’m still reeling from it. The prose was beautiful, the plot original, the characters remarkable, its brutality terrible. This is one of the best books of 2018, and I will never forget it; it has left a lasting impression upon my heart, shining with humanity and empathy. Told from three different points of view, this book captured my imagination and held me by the throat and didn’t let go, not even until after I closed it. I cannot wait until the sequel comes out!

Children of Blood and Bone takes place in the once magical land of Orisha, told from three different points of view: Amari and Inan, a prince and princess who fear the maji, a powerful race of people who harness different abilities: some can control the elements, others, the dead, and more still have the power to heal or even kill with disease. There’s Zelie as well, the defiant, strong-willed daughter of a powerful Reaper maji, heartbroken and angry after the King Saran has crushed her people, and her heritage. The three teens’ destinies collide (literally) when Amari crosses her path with a magical scroll, offering help. Inan, under orders from his vicious and corrupt father, chases the pair across the country, hiding a dangerous secret that could get him killed. Zelie is determined to fight back in any way that she can; when she receives signs that magic could return to the land, she jumps at the chance. Three people must decide if the perilous quest is worth seeing through, dealing with long nursed grudges and prejudices along the way.

This book, for me, was nothing less than a game-changer. It pulled absolutely no punches; Adeyemi throws you straight into the thick of the conflict, exposing you to the beauty and brutality of the broken land of Orisha. The prose was gorgeous, perfect, hard-hitting. I loved the worldbuilding of the novel; I was absolutely spellbound. I can’t wait for more from the world that the author has created. I laughed, I cheered, I cried. (Mostly I cried. This book was heavy and soulful in the best kind of way.) This book took every single thing I loved and flipped it on its head, and I’m so happy about it! I loved how the book took place in a West-African inspired country; it’s so nice to finally see diverse books in the spotlight! (Now if we could just get that trend to continue…) But I think my favorite part of Children of Blood and Bone was its characters, each distinct and real and wonderful; I loved the development of each of them. It was so refreshing, especially as far as Amari and Inan were concerned. I also really loved the way that Adeyemi used the book as a platform to raise awareness toward the issue of police brutality towards African Americans—her author’s note at the end of the book tore me open, split me apart, and I couldn’t stop crying for days. Frankly, I’m still very shaken by this dark and beautiful novel, and I’ll never forget it; I can’t wait for more from this promising new author! The bottom line: Gorgeously written, smartly paced with its roots in reality, Children of Blood and Bone is one of the best books of 2018, and all I can say is that I’m salivating for more! Next on deck: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCollough!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson Review

Title: Truly Devious
Author: Maureen Johnson
Age Group: Teen/Young Adult
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Series: Truly Devious, book one
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

I borrowed this book from my local library and reviewed it.

I’ve been a fan of Maureen Johnson’s work since I had the pleasure of reading her debut novel, 13 Little Blue Envelopes. From there, I was a devoted, shameless fangirl. So when I heard that she had a brand new book coming out, the first in a projected series, I was thrilled. It’s been sitting in my library stack for a while, and I couldn’t renew it anymore, so I pushed it to the top of the stack and went for it. Johnson presents a tantalizing, creepy, and humorous series debut that had me guessing until the last moment; I finished it on Saturday and I’m still chewing on it, reeling, wondering if there was something that I missed. Rife with riddles, intrigue, and dark humor, I loved Truly Devious—one of the best books of 2018, hands down, and I can’t wait for the sequels!

Truly Devious opens with a creepy, frightening ransom letter that rhymes, setting the tone for the rest of the novel. In a way, this book is like a two for one; it goes back and forth from 1936 to the present day. Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell has been accepted to the prestigious Ellingham Academy, named after the riddle-loving millionaire who opened the school. Drawn to the school for the mysterious double murder that occurred there, she finds a group of friends who accepts her for all her quirks. But when one of her classmates dies in an accident, she finds herself wrapped up in a web of lies, deceit, and intrigue, racing against the clock to stop Truly Devious once again. But it seems that this time it is Stevie herself in the killer’s crosshairs, and some secrets just won’t stay buried…

This book was, in a word, fantastic. I was utterly captivated, and I loved the way Johnson transitioned between 1936 and the present day. The pacing was breakneck; the book grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go, not even after the last killer cliffhanger. The format was part of what drew me in; it went from the present day to various documents from the cold case of the Ellinghams’ murder. I was captivated; I loved the historical angle of that part of the story. I also really liked Stevie, who is a bit of a weirdo with an obsession with true crime (much like yours truly!). She was one of my favorite characters in the book, spunky and smart and so unapologetically herself. The pacing was breakneck, and I was laughing, cheering, and scratching my head; this is one of the best books of 2018, and one of the best mystery-thriller novels I’ve read recently. I was constantly guessing, riveted by the prose, chock full of dark humor and heart. And that ending—oh my goodness, I need the sequel right now! Like, right now. Maureen Johnson, I love you so much, and I can’t wait for more from this new, deliciously creepy series opener! The bottom line: A creepy, riveting murder mystery that goes back and forth between 1936 and the present day, Truly Devious was exciting, feminist, and shocking, and I can’t wait for the next books in the series! I’ll never forget Ellingham Academy, its residents, and its dark history! Next on deck: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi!