Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Summary:

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep

The Review:

This was another book that was on my TBR for a long time, along with the author, and it is a lovely book that was such a fun read.

The writing was magnificent, it felt as if every word as magical and poetry. The writing style with is lyrical prose just made the story just as strong as it already was.

The world building was outstanding, and it takes you on a journey through the world and through the dreams of Lazlo, who is an orphan and a librarian who is always fascinated by the history of the world especially trying to find the lost city of Weep, which is always have been told to be legend. It really does a good job at tying in the lore within the world.

Sarai, is the blue skinned girl who communicates with Lazlo through his dreams and they both form a connection with one another. She is trying to get out of the influence of who her mother was and a world who basically wants her dead. She is very wide eyed and outgoing. As a godspawn she is made of light and darkness and is always at a constant struggle with what to do and it makes her a fantastic character.

The Sarai and Lazlo connection is one of the highlights of the book for me. They form such a good relationship with one another and its a love story that you want to root for. While it does sort of come across as insta-love especially when they first meet each other through Lazlo’s dream, it really helps that both of their characters are well developed.

In the end, Strange the Dreamer was a great first book that introduces you to a great world. Laini Taylor’s lyrical prose made this book truly amazing, and I cannot wait to read Muse of Nightmares.

Grade: 5/5

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One of Us is Lying by: Karen M. McManus

Summary:
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule. 
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess. 
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? 
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.”

The Review:

This is a book sort outside of what I usually read because I don’t read a lot of YA contemporary, but I do like a good mystery book, and this book had it.

It started with five students in detention, all of whom look straight out of The Breakfast Club coming from all different walks of life, and while at first they seem like the cardboard cutouts of those characters as the book went on they started to become more fleshed out.

The “death” happens rather quickly with Simon, having an allergic reaction and dying, while it does start as an accident there is people who believe that he was poisoned. Since all of them were in the room, they all became suspects. As the book goes on, you begin to believe that all of them has a reason to kill Simon, mainly because he posts on a sort of Gossip-Girl type website spilling all of the students dirty laundry, and it revealed a lot of their deepest darkest secrets.

I liked that the book was told through all of their POVs, it really fleshed out a lot of their characters, and you begin to realize that they are more than just a Brain, a Jock, a Princess or a criminal.

I also liked how it talked a lot about the age of social media, and how the story became a national news scandal. It actually had some commentary about news media in general and how it affects those who are involved in the story.

Also with the mystery itself, it actually keeps you guessing with a whodunit, but it also evolves into a whydonit mystery, and a how. Because even with the reveal of the killer you still want to know, how and why.

In the end, I really enjoyed One of Us is Lying. It was a good YA mystery, that kept you guessing throughout the book. The characters were very fleshed out and you wanted to root for. It was takes a lot of good twist and turns.

Grade: 4/5

To Kill a Kingdom by: Alexandra Christo

Summary:

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

The Review:

This was very much a Little Mermaid retelling, with Sirens instead of mermaids, which I liked a lot. It does follow a bit of the same beats as the Disney movie.

It is told through two POVs, Lira and Elian. Lira is a Siren who is tasked in stealing princes’ hearts, literally from their chests. It was a lot brutal than I imagined it would be. She is also the daughter of the Sea Queen, who is ruthless and very cruel towards Lira. She is the one who tasks Lira into stealing Prince’s hearts. The Sea Queen would punish her daughter by turning her into a human, but she still has to steal a princes’ heart.

Lira deals with a lot in terms of her mother. The Sea Queen would constantly abuse her growing up and would manipulate her to do her bidding. With her constantly saying that she wasn’t good enough.

Elian is a prince from a nearby kingdom, who would rather be a pirate than a prince. He spends most of his time hunting down Sirens and killing them to rid them of their evil. I liked a lot of his story arc wanting to branch away from his prince duties in order to hang with his crew of the Saad. 

With the two POVS I got a sense of seeing sort of both sides of the conflict. With Elian, a Siren killed one of his friends and he has been basically on the hunt for them. With Lira it is what she was taught by her evil mother, The Sea Queen. I also liked that Elian spent most of the book not knowing Lira’s true identity.

The book was also paced well. It didn’t slow done one bit and even some of the more quiet moments, which lead to a lot of great character development.

The romance between Elian and Lira was also good. While it did have some cliche moments, and had some parallels with the Little Mermaid, I did spend most of my time rooting them on as a couple.

I also really liked the supporting characters, mainly the crew of the Saad. They each had their own distinct personalities and was pretty fleshed out as I wanted them to be, and they did leave me with the feeling of wanting them more.

This book is also surprisingly enough a stand alone, which is really rare in YA, and I kinda want to see where the characters would go after.

In the end, I really enjoyed To Kill a Kingdom. It had some great characters and a nice twist on the Little Mermaid with some issues about abuse and manipulation.

Grade: 4.5/5

Tradition by Brendan Kiely (CW: Sexual Assualt)

Summary:

Prestigious. Powerful. Privileged. This is Fullbrook Academy, an elite prep school where history looms in the leafy branches over its brick walkways. But some traditions upheld in its hallowed halls are profoundly dangerous.

Jules Devereux just wants to keep her head down, avoid distractions, and get into the right college, so she can leave Fullbrook and its old-boy social codes behind. She wants freedom, but ex-boyfriends and ex-best friends are determined to keep her in place.

Jamie Baxter feels like an imposter at Fullbrook, but the hockey scholarship that got him in has given him a chance to escape his past and fulfill the dreams of his parents and coaches, whose mantra rings in his ears: Don’t disappoint us.

When Jamie and Jules meet, they recognize in each other a similar instinct for survival, but at a school where girls in the student handbook are rated by their looks, athletes stack hockey pucks in dorm room windows like notches on a bedpost, and school-sponsored dances push first year girls out into the night with senior boys, the stakes for safe sex, real love, and true friendship couldn’t be higher.

As Jules and Jamie’s lives intertwine, and the pressures to play by the rules and remain silent about the school’s secrets intensify, they see Fullbrook for what it really is. That tradition, a word Fullbrook hides behind, can be ugly, even violent. Ultimately, Jules and Jamie are faced with the difficult question: can they stand together against classmates—and an institution—who believe they can do no wrong?

The Review:

This book, I sort of picked up on a whim. I knew of Brendan Keily as the co-author of All American Boys that we wrote with Jason Reynolds, and I even talked to him while getting his autograph at Bookcon, and he told me about this book.

The book is mainly told within three parts, a sort of before, during and after, and the book starts pretty much at an event and then goes to how the events lead to that incident. It has two POVs, James and Jules.

James is a transfer student, or a fifth year senior starting at the school and getting a fresh start after what happened at his old school. He has been recruited to play Hockey for them and quickly makes friends with the jock characters. I like that he was already unconformable with a lot of jock characters, who are all basically misogynist.

Jules, is someone who has attended the Fullbrook Academy and is on her senior year, who is basically counting the days until graduation so she could leave that school. She is practially an outsider, with a few friends.

I like that with the two POVs, you got see their own perspectives about each other. I also like how both Jules and James have start of with more of a friendship between each other. and seeing them bond over common interests.

I like the setting of the prestigious prep school, that fosters itself around tradition and order. As someone who has attended an all boys prep school, I can almost vouch for how those boys act, especially towards the young girls.

With the assault itself, it comes right at the middle of the book, and I like that it happened, towards the middle. It really gave me a chance to really recover with the character herself. It actually covers a lot of the beats that deals with sexual assault recovery, and wondering if it was her fault and also the backlash she received from former friends.

With the character of James, his arc revolves around trying to do the right thing with what happened with Jules and to stand up to his misogynist Hockey teammates. I also liked that he was able to be an effective ally without  verging into “not all men” territory.

In regards to the topic of sexual assault, I think more of the book could have dived deeper into the issue. But it did give us, a glimpse into what happens in regards to rape culture especially one that happened at a prestigious prep school, where the school is more likely to protect its reputation than protect the victim. It touches upon how harmful rape culture could be. I also felt that the ending was a bit rushed and could have been a bit more fleshed out.

In the end, I really enjoyed Tradition. It does a good job at tackling a subject such as rape culture, especially at a prep school, through the eyes of two great characters. I think it is a very important read, especially in regards to the #metoo movement

Grade: 4/5

The Poppy War by: R.F. Kuang

Summary:

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The Review:

This book took me by surprise, and after reading it, I just wanted to say wow.

This story is an Asian inspired fantasy novel, which almost mirrors the Nanking Massacre. It deals with Rin, who is an orphan girl who managed to become one of the top students who got tested for the Keju, a very hard test in order to get into the military academy. With her doing so well, people tended to underestimate her because of her background as an orphan and even accused her of cheating.

The book is split into three parts. The first part deals a lot with Rin at the military academy, learning a lot of the background of the Poppy War, and the details of what lead up to those events. The fact it was mostly told through Rin’s class lessons made it so that the world building didn’t feel like info dumping and told more organically. The first part also did a good job at setting up a lot of the supporting characters and their back stories which made them more fleshed out.

It also basically deals a lot with Rin’s training and her mentor Jiang, who I could almost describe was a more bad ass version of Li Shang, who really wants to get down to business. The training chapters really makes this book work as it really dives deep into Rin’s character and you really see what she went through.

Parts 2 and 3, is there the book gets turned up to 11, in which you see the actual 3rd Poppy War, and everything went dark so quickly. From there the story is very fast paced with a lot of things happening at once, but with its great writing it was very easy to follow what’s going on.  It also explored a lot of the mythology surrounding the events and giving the story its own lore and how some of the gods plays a role in it.

I also like the themes that the book presents  in terms of genocide, and drug use, especially with the use of opiates and how that translated into the story. It also deals with the horrors of war and it really doesn’t hold back and dealing with a lot of Rin’s internal struggle.

In the end, The Poppy War was a fantastic book from start to finish. Every page got me hooked and engrossed with its story. I am very looking forward to how this series goes.

Grade: 5/5

The Poet X by: Elizabeth Acevedo

Summary:

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. 

The Review:

This is a book I have heard nothing but good things about, and this is also the second book that I read that was in verse. Earlier this year I read The Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds that I also really loved.

The fact, that the book was written in verse, made the book a lot stronger and easy to read through, it only took me about a day to read it. It also had a sort of meta feel to it mainly because the main plot of the book is about Xiomara dealing a lot with her poetry.

Xiomara, is a girl living in Harlem, also dealing with her immigrant family, and her mother wants her to be the good Catholic girl, which mainly means no boys or dating. She is also often compared to twin brother, Xavier who is basically the genius of the family.

The book style really makes the story stronger, with every verse it was extremely powerful, and you really get a sense of Xiomara’s pain and struggle. The emotion Xiomara felt was real and raw.

The book also deals with Xiomara’s struggle to find her own voice. She mostly writes all of her emotions down in her notebook , and it wasn’t until her teacher encouraged her to join a slam poetry club at her school, and as the book goes on so does her poetry.

I also liked that the book didn’t hold back in regards to her relationship with her mother, and it really felt just as raw, as her poetry, with her mother clearly not understanding why it is important to her. While you don’t actually see her actual poems, the verses within the book just make it more exciting.

In the end, The Poet X was a fantastic read from start to finish. The fact that it was written in verse, you get a good sense of Xiomara’s emotions. While this was my second book that I read in verse, I loved every word on every page.

Grade: 5/5

When Dimple met Rishi by: Sandhya Menon

Summary:

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

The Review:

This was another book that was on my TBR, since last year, and from the sound of the premise, it seemed like a nice cute YA contemporary romance.

The book is told through two points of view, Dimple, a Stanford bound Indian girl who has enrolled in a summer program, and Rishi, someone is who MIT bound and also comes from an Indian background. It was told to Rishi that he is suppose to have an arranged marriage with Dimple through both of their families.

Their first “meeting” was a sort of meet cute fail, in which Rishi snuck up on Dimple, which leads to of course Dimple throwing an iced coffee in his face. But after that fateful meeting they do begin to get to know each other, through their summer program and is even teamed up for a project.

Both Dimple and Rishi, are also pretty fleshed out characters with their own dreams and goals. For Dimple, she is passionate about computers and wants to build an app, and for Rishi he has a passion for comic books and drawing. It was through their individual passions that they begin to fall in love with each other.

Dimple is also sort of not really into the family pressure of having an arranged marriage or even the pressure of finding a suitable husband. While it does seem like a cliche, I felt the story framed it a little better.

The book touched on a bit about their Indian heritages and also family pressure that both Dimple and Rishi face, and it really added to their character development, which made them more fleshed out.

Yes, the book is very much like a Rom Com, and it goes through the usual tropes of a Rom-Com, with two people who don’t really like each other begin to fall in love. I think that is where its weakness comes in. The relationship between both Dimple and Rishi is what I enjoyed most about the book, but then it had that sort of 2nd act break up, which I felt was kinda a dumb reason for.

In the end, I thought When Dimple met Rishi, was a nice cute story, which could almost make for a summer read. It had a nice romance, even though it did feel like a cliche both Dimple and Rishi was a couple you would love to root for.

Grade: 4/5