January 13, 2020

Abbreviations #99

In an effort to get back on track with my book reviews and start 2020 with a cleaner slate, I'm sharing as many of them as possible before the year ends! We're going right back to fantasy and sci-fi, with a dash of dystopian, for today's post, which features a bunch of books I was lucky enough to receive for review.

The Beautiful is set in New Orleans, 1872, and follows Celine, a young seamstress who left behind her life in Paris for a fresh start in a new city. She quickly falls in with a new crowd, and soon finds herself involved in the investigation for a series of murders. This book might look long, but it flies by once you’ve started it! That’s a testament to Ahdieh’s writing style (it’s easy to devour) and plotting (it’s evenly paced and consistently unfolding with every chapter, though it does have a few predictable bits). She also did a great job with her setting, as I really enjoyed seeing more of historical New Orleans (and it gave me The Originals feels). The only aspect of this story that didn’t win me over completely were the characters and their relationships. In comparison to the plot and setting, this aspect felt a touch underdeveloped and that made all the difference in my investment in the story. Still, it was fun to read overall! (And vampires are a part of it, just not as much as maybe I would have liked… yet.)  [The Beautiful was published on October 8, 2019 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. I received an ARC from the publisher during BookExpo 2019 for review.]

In Ninth House, Galaxy “Alex” Stern is invited to attend Yale, on the condition that she works with the house Lethe to make sure the other eight houses involved with the occult stay aboveboard. But Alex starts investigating an incident that is connected to a bigger conspiracy, even as she is forced to confront her own demons too. Now, before anything else, please note that there is a lot of very adult content that you need warnings for: violence, rape, physical abuse, drugs and alcohol abuse, occult rites, murders, racism, child rape, boddy horror, to name a few. Anyway, it is hard to say that I enjoyed Ninth House when it had some of the most traumatizing and uncomfortable scenes that I’ve ever read in a novel (and the only other time that I felt this way was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo years ago). I expected to take my time reading this one, but I ended up flying through it faster than I expected even though it’s not my usual type of read. That is, in large part, because the novel still possesses Leigh’s signature style of storytelling and character work. She had me engaged from the start as we were introduced to Alex, the world of the different societies and the murder mystery conspiracy that unfolds, and I was swept up in it all. I liked it well enough, though I also have to say that I did end up having very visceral physical reactions to certain moments that had me setting the book down twice in the course of reading to give myself a break. But I can certainly objectively see what was good about this story, and I also intend to continue reading the series (especially after that ending). [Ninth House was published on October 8, 2019 by Flatiron Books. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]

I had high hopes for Into the Crooked Place, first in a brand-new duology by Alexandra Christo (who wrote one of my favorite books in 2018). The story follows an ensemble cast with a variety of motivations who team up in order to take down the Kingpin (who basically wants to take over everything), namely Wesley (an underboss who works for the Kingpin), Tavia (a busker for magic who works for Wesley), Saxony (a Crafter who is able to create and perform magic) and Karam (a warrior whose line is dedicated to protecting Crafters). It’s such a great premise, but the execution fell flat. The novel was underdeveloped, in my opinion, and I didn’t care for the world, characters or even the magic. It almost felt as if pieces were taken from other stories and cobbled together haphazardly to create this one, and it was simple to figure out where things would go. I’m so sad that I didn’t end up loving this one, and I will not be continuing on with the series. [Into the Crooked Place was published on October 8, 2019 by Feiwel and Friends. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]

I can’t believe that Finale, the finale (yes, intentional use, obviously) to the Caraval series, is out in the world and that our time navigating the fantastical world of Caraval with sisters Scarlett and Tella has finally come to an end. In Finale, readers are treated to the perspectives of both Scarlett and Tella, as the sisters are both faced with big life decisions that will affect their lives and the lives of those they care for. It differs from its two predecessors as it no longer contains the same carnival/magical performance backdrop that I loved so much, and that threw me off for a bit when I started reading. But eventually, I got swept up in the magic and mystery and mayhem that this series has constantly presented readers with, which is a testament both to Garber’s way with words and the fact that she created these characters whose stories I care about. Immersing myself in this whimsical world that Stephanie Garber created has always been a treat for my imagination, and this time around, it was no different! I was invested in finding out just how it all would end, even when the turns of the story took me down roads that had me internally screaming because of the emotional roller coaster they took me on. Apart from my reservations regarding the lack of an actual Caraval happening, I did also find the wrap-up to feel a little rushed compared to the actual build-up. But other than that, I still very much enjoyed this series ender and would highly recommend it (along with the rest of the books, of course). [Finale was published on May 7, 2019 by Flatiron Books. I downloaded an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for review. You can also check out my reviews of Caraval and Legendary.]

Girls of Storm and Shadow was one of my most anticipated sequels of the year after I loved Girls of Paper and Fire so much (and that fact was cemented upon my recent reread). This novel begins with Lei and company recovering after what happened at the palace, and eventually continues with the group embarking on a journey to collect more allies in the war against the throne. I did like this book, but it’s so evidently a second book in a series. The world grows, with more cultural details and geography included to paint a bigger picture. The cast of characters expands, with new faces to fall in love with and care for. The plot is not only about a group journeying together to complete a mission, but also about Lei, Wren and the others having to face the consequences of what they’ve done, what was done to them and the secrets they’ve kept. It’s a great mix of elements, truly, but it didn’t engage me as quickly or consistently as the first book did. While it didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly high) expectations, Girls of Storm and Shadow is a solid addition to the series. And I’m looking forward to seeing how Natasha Ngan ends Lei’s story in the finale! [Girls of Storm and Shadow was published on November 5, 2019 by Jimmy Patterson Books. I received an ARC at BookExpo 2019 from the publisher for review.]

Evermore is the conclusion to the series that began in Everless, and it’s overall a fun, quick fantasy YA read. The fallout of the events in book one have a major impact on Jules and her journey, and readers are thrown right into the action (which, if you’re not reading the books back to back, might feel a little clunky). When the story eventually hits its stride and readers piece together what will unfold, it does manage to entertain (even though it goes in a different direction and has a different vibe than its predecessor). I did think it ended a little too neatly (and abruptly, as we don’t spend much time on the big showdown we’ve been building up to) for my tastes. But I still thought it was a good story overall, and it definitely had me interested in seeing how things would turn out. (I listened to this on audio, and it was well-done. I think I preferred reading it that way because the narrator did a good job bringing more emotion into the storytelling with her voice.) [Evermore was published on December 31, 2018 by Harper Teen. I downloaded an e-ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss for review.]

Undying picks up directly after the events of Unearthed, and the story is now centered around aliens invading earth. Jules and Mia, armed with their knowledge that the Undying race desires to make earth their home, are forced to figure out what best to do, even as they also try to work out their relationship’s dynamic upon a return to earth. Honestly, having read this back to back with its predecessor, I genuinely feel like it could have been one book in two parts (and I’d recommend binge reading them for a fuller reading experience). While I did prefer Unearthed (I’m a sucker for that Indiana Jones set-up), it was worth the read to find out what happens to Jules, Mia, their loved ones and the rest of planet Earth. Kaufman and Spooner very neatly wrapped up the series, giving us some familiar plot twists but also surprising me with others and giving readers a better understanding of the Undying race. I’m glad I finished the series, and think it’s an enjoyable sci-fi read overall. (P.S. I listened to this book on audio, and that format really works for me with this genre. The narrators were A+ and really brought the two narrators to life.) [Undying was published on January 22, 2019 by Disney-Hyperion. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]

If I had read this when I was a child, I have no doubt in my mind that I would have loved The Bookwanderers. It has all the elements that would have appealed to a young me: a feisty heroine just bursting with curiosity, literary adventures that include books that I love and a magical ability that I would have wanted to have for myself. However, as the story that kicks off the series, there was a distinct air of set-up that permeated this book, particularly in the latter half as all the rules were explained. It made the pacing feel a little clunky (especially when the events pick up again after all the explanations), and that affected my overall thoughts on this one. Overall, this was a decent start to a new middle grade series, and I think it’ll get better with every book! (Plus, if you’re a reader or giving this one to a young reader, all the literary details will be a bonus.) [The Bookwanderers was published on September 24, 2019 by Philomel Books. I downloaded an e-galley from Edelweiss for review.]

Continuing the trend where I attempt to keep up with all the fabulous and exciting titles that the Rick Riordan Presents imprint has coming out, I finally picked up Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. It centers around Min, who has always dreamt of joining the space force and who also happens to be one of the gumiho in her clan. When news is brought to her home that her brother has turned traitor in pursuit of the legendary object known as the Dragon Pearl, Min doesn’t believe it for a second and heads off-planet on a space adventure of her own in order to find out what really happened. And, friends, I’m pleased to say that Dragon Pearl was so delightful! Honestly, when it comes to books set in space, I tend to be partial to one specific type of story: space quest shenanigans, whether on a ship or on a planet. Since this is exactly that sort of tale (complete with the high stakes, quick pace and the unbelievably convenient plot lines), it’s not surprising that I liked it a lot. Humor and heart mingle in equal measures as the story unfolds, and while I was a little nervous to see how it all wrapped up, I can confidently say that it does so well. It does feel like it’s written for a slightly older middle grade audience, but I think readers of any age will find it an entertaining jaunt as we accompany Min on her search for her brother and the truth (even though I had to remind myself a time or two as I read that this was meant for a younger audience, not an adult). I recommend checking out Dragon Pearl if you get the chance (and for any younger readers in your life)! [Dragon Pearl was published on January 15, 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents. I received a finished hardcover from the publisher for review. I also read this for the Dragons & Tea Book Club hosted by Melanie and Amy.]

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a book I would have liked better if I had gone into it knowing that it wasn’t a purely fantasy read. Instead, it’s historical fiction with a dash of fantasy (in the form of the doors that lead to different places). January is a girl who lives in a rather large house with her father’s rich employer, and she discovers early on that she can find doors that open into other worlds. Armed with her newfound ability and growing knowledge, January is determined to discover what happened to her father. The plot is, admittedly, interesting (with all the threads A, B and C woven in quite nicely), particularly in a world that is equipped with just a touch of magic to make it special. But I didn’t end up loving the writing (which felt a little sparse and dry), and I also didn’t feel emotionally invested the characters. It ultimately wound up being a solidly three-star, middle of the road sort of read. [The Ten Thousand Doors of January was published on September 12, 2019 by Orbit. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]

In The Grace Year, when girls turn sixteen, they must survive a “grace year” where they live in an isolated community in order to spend that time purging their natural magic before returning to settle into their assigned roles for the rest of their lives. Tierney is about to embark on her grace year, and she simply wants to survive and return to become a laborer for their village. That choice is taken from her when she is picked to be a ‘bride’, and she’s grappling with that, on top of the antagonism of the other girls when they are finally at their home for the year that eventually leads to her being thrown out. I started out really interested in the story, as it set things up really well (even though it was hard on my emotions to read about what the girls were put through) and made me wonder how it would all work out. Additionally, I liked the way that Liggett was exploring male fear and prejudice against female power (and their attempts to control it), as well as the complications that can occur with an all-female dynamic. But after that strong start, Tierney’s story went in a direction that just didn’t feel like a natural development for her character. It felt like it invalidated the core of who she was at the beginning, and that didn’t sit well with me (among the many things that ended up just not being my cup of tea). Unfortunately, I ended up not appreciating this one as much as I’d hoped. [The Grace Year was published on October 8, 2019 by Wednesday Books. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]

The Bone Houses is a great reading pick for the spooky season, and I’m happy I liked it! Aderyn, daughter of a gravedigger, is determined to find a way to make enough money to ensure that she and her siblings can keep their home. Enter Ellis, a mapmaker, who wants to hire Aderyn to accompany him as he works to map the surrounding terrain. The pair find themselves journeying together as they explore the mountains and discover more about the bone houses that have been plaguing Aderyn’s small village. I really enjoyed the magical aspect of the story, particularly what brings the bone houses (which are basically animated skeletons) to life and the root of all magic. And Lloyd-Jones has a storytelling style that suits this tale perfectly, giving it the feel of a modern fairytale. I enjoyed the characters and found them generally well-developed, and they made for interesting companions as the story played out. It was an engaging read that I flew through, and would recommend checking it out! [The Bone Houses was published on September 24, 2019 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I received an ARC from the publisher for review.]


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