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Review – Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

 

Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns #1)

By Kendare Blake

SummaryEvery generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

I loved getting this book when I opened up one of my previous Owlcrate boxes. I loved Anna Dressed in Blood by the same author and I knew that she would weave and dark and unforgettable tale of three would-be queens. I did not read the synopsis before jumping in, so I only knew what I could discern from the title and cover, which is how I prefer to read if I’m in the mood to not necessarily know what I’m getting.

Essentially, the island has a queen. The queen has triplets. Only one of them can be crowned queen. To take the throne, she must kill her sisters and take the throne. Every generation. Each potential queen has an ability and possesses a certain strain of magic. In Three Dark Crowns, Katharine was a poisoner queen. She could ingest poisons with no real ill effect, but her power was weak and virtually nonexistent. She was, however, adept at poisoning and poison mixing. Having been subjected to rigorous training, she was shy and had no real confidence. Arsinoe was said to be a naturalist, which meant she should be able to control plants and animals. Instead, her power was also weak and close to nonexistent, though her best friend Jules was a very powerful naturalist and controlled a wild cat. Mirabella was the only real talented would-be queen. She was an elemental and could control the elements, generating storms and controlling fire. The other two were much weaker, but as long as they could put on a show, they’d get the opportunity to be courted and could kill their other sisters and win the crown. 

The sisters were separated early in life and did not know each other aside from intelligence gathered by their supporters. Each sister was essentially trained and raised by those adept in their skills and guided each one. However, there was also a game of politics being played. No one wanted their queen to lose, even if their powers weren’t really strong.

I loved the premise of the book, especially as I got to meet the characters. None of them really wanted to be vicious and kill their siblings, it was simply what was always done and what was expected of them. Generations of poisoner queens had been in the lead, so naturally, the poisoner family of the Arron’s wanted Katharine to take the throne as the next poisoner queen to keep everyone in the lead and in the same position. Between politics and temples backing certain queens and not others, who knew what could happen to any of the queens.

As the story went on, I felt like i got to know and like all the sisters, so even I wasn’t sure who should win. Mirabella certainly had the most power, but she also had dreams, memories even, of her sisters and was less inclined to murder them. The temple attempted to take matters into their own hands. There was drama, mystery, romance, and violence in the book and I was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen to each of the three possible queens.

I definitely recommend the book and I can’t wait for the sequel. It was a good choice for Owlcrate and I don’t know that I would have necessarily picked it up otherwise!

Star 4

Review – Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

 

Vassa in the Night

By Sarah Porter

Summary: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate box.

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Review:

What the hell did I just read?

Vassa in the Night has to be one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. I mean, I think I enjoyed it, but I don’t even really know? How can I possibly explain this correctly?

There’s magic in Vassa’s world. There’s a convenience store that spins/dances and is the only thing open at night and they behead shoplifters and place the heads in the parking lot on poles. Also the nights are longer, but they last the same length of time, it’s just the hours pass more slowly. Also Vassa’s father left and she lived with her stepmother and half sister and stepsister and her dad left to become a dog. And Vassa has a wooden doll that she feeds and it talks.

So. Yeah. The book is super weird. 

But the story was well told. It was a bit confusing, especially because even the things I mentioned above are revealed in a nonchalant type of way so your brain has no choice to be like “wait, what?” Because the rest of the story reads like a normal novel, it’s not the type of story that sweeps you away into some fantasy land. But as weird as it sounds, I kind of loved how unique it all was and how the author just threw those things in without making a big deal out of it.

The book is supposed to be a retelling of Wassalissa the Beautiful, a Russian folk tale. I do not know if it comes close or does it justice or anything like that, but the story was interesting.

If you’re easily put off by confusing books or world-building that isn’t super upfront and obvious, then this book is NOT for you. But if you have an open mind and want something a little weird, it’s definitely fun. It’s seriously perfect for those moments when you kind of get sick of so many similar plots and you just want a book to take you on an adventure you haven’t been on and can’t guess where it goes. Because there’s no way on earth you can predict what will happen next in this book. I promise. I’m giving it four stars just for being absolutely one of a kind and unlike anything else I’ve ever read. 

Side note: I believe the story is easier to understand if you’re familiar with the original tale, so if it’s super confusing, I suggest trying to read that before giving up on this book. 

Star 4

Review – Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things

By Julie Buxbaum

SummaryEverything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?
Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.

Source: I purchased a Kindle copy. 

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Review:

I’ve been eyeing Tell Me Three Things for awhile, but hardcovers are expensive and I almost never fork out book money on hardcover YA contemporaries because I read them so quickly. And to be honest, I love waffles and I wasn’t quite sure if I only noticed it because of the waffles on the cover. I mean, that’s not a great a reason to pick up a book. I’ve been burned before by enticing covers. But when the kindle version went on sale over the holidays, I snatched it up. I’ve been in the mood for a nice contemporary that wasn’t totally dark or sad, so I finally picked it up and read it.

Tell Me Three Things was so good. I absolutely loved it. I flew through the book in an evening because I just couldn’t put it down without knowing who SN was. (See what I mean about how quickly I read contemporaries?)

Jessie’s life was completely upside down. Her mom died, her dad got remarried, they moved across the country, and Jessie ended up in an LA private school with a bunch of rich teenagers. And that was pretty much just the first paragraph. I hated being the new girl, so her situation was something I totally got. And while I fortunately have both my parents, I did have to deal with step parents and step siblings as a teenager, too, so I even understood that. It’s tough, and it’s even tougher when you have to also deal with grief. I knew I was settling into a book that hooked me.

After a rough first couple of days at her new school, Jessie received an email from SomebodyNoboby (SN for short) who offered to help her navigate the wilds of her high school. It was just the rope she needed to help keep her afloat. Here was a guy who really got her, but who was he? She took the help and ended up having some pretty meaningful conversations and he gave her some great pointers.

With SN’s help, Jessie was able to make some friends. She started working a project with a guy in her class and started to develop a bit of crush on him, but she was also desperately trying to figure out who SN was. She started a job and ended up working side by side with a guy dating one of the girls who was mean to Jessie, which created some drama for her. It was a complicated mess she was trying to navigate, while also trying to manage her home life. Her new home was huge, came with a flamboyant stepbrother who refused to talk to her in school, but was at least opening up a bit at home, a “helper” who made all of the food and made Jessie a bit uncomfortable, and a stepmom who was practically a stranger. The LA lifestyle was an alien world and Jessie was trying to figure it all out and still maintain her friendships back in Chicago.

I can’t really give anything away, but I loved the book so much. I loved the build up to the big reveal, the complicated boy drama, and the coming of age, figuring out who you are and how to be a better friend and forgive your parents. It was cute, but with just enough seriousness to balance it all out. 

I loved the end so much I reread it a few times just to experience the moment one more time! 

I definitely recommend Tell Me Three Things to fans of YA Contemporary. The book is every bit as delicious as the heart shaped waffles on the front. 

Star 4

Review – Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

 

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

By E.K. Johnston

SummaryVeronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in E.K. Johnston’s latest brave and unforgettable heroine. 

Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale

Source: I purchased a hardcover

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Review:

I’ve been wanting to read Exit, Pursued by a Bear for some time and I finally bought it over the holidays and decided to read it shortly afterwards. 

The book is a YA contemporary involving rape, which I knew going in and caution anyone else about so they can decide if that’s a subject they prefer to read about. I didn’t have any real expectations, though I have to admit I did expect a somewhat dramatic novel due to the subject matter.

Surprisingly, the book was not the dark and turbulent novel I was expecting. Though Hermione did have to deal with being drugged, raped, and the aftermath, the book wasn’t focused so much on the darkness of the subject, but rather the support she received through her friends, family, and even her cheerleading team. Hermione was fortunate in many ways to have a support system and it changed how her story of survival went. Results aren’t typical for many people, but I was grateful for the unique perspective. She did not want to be a victim, a cautionary tale, or anyone’s object of pity, and she did whatever she could, with the help of her support system to maintain her normal life and recover.

There are a few negative reviews, admittedly among a sea of very positive ones, that mention how unrealistic the book is and how Hermione’s situation is an insult to real victims. I think there are hoards of rape stories from many perspectives and many, if not most, have fairly dark and awful truths, a lot of struggling and depression and blame going around. A lot of people don’t have support systems and most works of fiction involving the subject matter reflect that. They have to fight tooth and nail against legal systems, families, friends, social groups/towns, even religious groups, to be believed and heard and may not ever get any closure. It may ruin their lives in more ways than one and they remain victims of more than just the rape at that point. But one person’s experience (even MOST people’s experiences) does not negate the experiences of others. Hermione’s tale may not be typical, but it doesn’t make her story any less relevant or realistic. People with wonderful lives, friends, families, etc still get raped and have to live their lives after that. They have to deal with the situation, make tough decisions, and move on in whatever way works for them, through trial and error, with or without breakdowns. In fact, Hermione even mentioned to her therapist that she felt like something was wrong with her because she didn’t feel anything because she didn’t remember. I feel that Hermione’s determination to not be victimized by the situation was an attitude I admired, even though I realize it’s not that simple for most rape victims.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a story about a teen girl who was drugged and raped at a cheerleading camp and the events afterwards. She had a wonderful support system. No one really doubted her, the legal system did what they could to pursue the case. But even still, she had some tough and awful moments. She faced a decision about whether she’d have to terminate a pregnancy as a result. She lost time due to being drugged and struggled with waking up in the morning because she didn’t know where she was. She couldn’t remember the event, which halted her ability to really “deal” with the events because she had nothing to relive, no emotions to work through, until pieces of her memory were recovered after being triggered by certain smells, sounds, etc. Her lack of emotion regarding her own circumstances concerned her, since it felt like it had happened to someone else. In a small town, she also had to do her best to avoid being the tragic case for everyone to remember. She wanted to remain herself and hold onto the wonderful life she knew she had. But her support system made all of these things a million times easier than they are for many people and her friendships strengthened her. 

I’d recommend this book. I recommend reading it for various reasons. As a person who has not experienced what Hermione has, it was helpful because I was able to see how much a support system matters and how not to treat victims, how to be sensitive without pitying, how to be compassionate without making the victim feel fragile, how to be a friend to someone who has had this terrible thing happen to them and be a good one. The book even talked about slut shaming, victim blaming, and the way society still places a portion of the blame on the victim by asking questions like, “what could you have done to prevent it” without even realizing how screwed up that mentality is. I don’t think all stories involving rape need to be focused on being a victim. I thought this book was refreshing because, in an ideal circumstance, despite the awfulness of the situation, Hermione could overcome the events that might have otherwise further impacted her life. It’s not always simple to decide not to be a victim, but her attitude and her support system allowed her to do so. Still, if you feel that it’s a negative thing to have a character not be defined by her situation or if you feel it’s unfair to showcase a victim’s perspective when they had it relatively easy, then this is NOT the book for you. For others, including myself, it’s a refreshing point of view.

Side note: Hermione does release a breath she did not realize she was holding. *That phrase does not bother me, but if you’re already on the fence about the book, you might not like the writing. 

Star 4

Review – The Merciless by Danielle Vega

The Merciless 

By Danielle Vega

SummaryForgive us, Father, for we have sinned

Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.
 
Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.
 
Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls . . . unless she wants to be next. . . .
 In this chilling debut, Danielle Vega delivers blood-curdling suspense and terror on every page. By the shockingly twisted end, readers will be faced with the most haunting question of all: Is there evil in all of us?

Source: I received a paperback as a gift for Christmas.

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Review:

The Merciless was crazy. It was like Mean Girls, maybe a little of The Craft, and a dash of Stephen King. It’s hard to really describe it. I picked it up expecting a YA Mean Girls type of horror novel, not really sure how it would all go. It was recommended by a friend and she bought both of us a copy. 

The story began with Sofia. She was a new student in her high school and had a brief encounter with Brooklyn, who seemed friendly enough, but a little rough around the edges. Sofia immediately drew the attention of the popular trio, Riley, Alexis, and Grace. She had never been popular, so she was happy enough to fit in with them. There was some history between Riley and Brooklyn, but Sofia wasn’t sure what it was. 

The girls were religious, but not in the southern way that seemed familiar. Instead, they seemed heavily focused on Catholicism and had a ritualistic approach, relying heavily on those comforting things like holy water and communion. Their interest seemed obsessive and not necessarily genuine, which is partly why I associate the book a bit with The Craft. Riley accused Brooklyn of being possessed by the devil, sure that it was the cause of her wicked ways. The few strange things that happened in town, like the weird skinning of a cat in the school grounds, were attributed to Brooklyn, though Sofia wasn’t so sure Brooklyn was even into anything like that. 

Sofia was a follower in every sense of the word and it seemed to work out until she entered the basement of one of Riley’s parent’s abandoned homes in a development and saw Brooklyn tied up and terrified. And Riley was ready to do an exorcism…

And then, things just got CRAZY.

I loved how fast paced the book was and how quickly things spiraled out of control. It teetered delicately on the line of being believable and yet completely insane at the same time, which was great. The ending was probably the best part. 

The book gets a bit violent and horrifying, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s also not like nail biting scary either. It’s disturbing and fun and I’m glad I read it. I definitely recommend it to anyone who likes horror and stories where teens go a little crazy and gang up on others. The occult symbol and horror synopsis on a bright pink cover really says it all… lol.

Star 4

Review – Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1) by Alwyn Hamilton

 

Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)

By Alwyn Hamilton

SummaryShe’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from. 
Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

Source: I purchased a hardcover. And a kindle copy on accident because I forgot I owned it already.

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Review:

I purchased Rebel of the Sands after seeing it win the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 category for the Best Books of 2016 on Goodreads. I’d seen the book around beforehand, but never picked it up. I read a lot of books each year and 99% of them I buy myself. I’ve been burned by new releases so many times, so I’ve been relying on reviews, overall star ratings, and things like “Best Book of the Year” awards to help me decide what to pick up instead of buying random books at the bookstore. 

Rebel of the Sands was a blend of cultures. I expected Arabian/Eastern type of desert mythology, but I got a bit of American West at the same time. Amani’s life resembled that of the American West, a desert town full of guns and liquor and people who didn’t trust one another. At the same time, the creatures in the desert and the political setup resembled the East, a bit of Arabian Nights, with Sultans and harems. I don’t know that I’ve read a book that took place in the desert and combined Eastern and Western settings. I feel a little conflicted because I thought the combination was unique, but I wish there was an explanation for it. The author isn’t American, otherwise my first thought would be that she wanted to stick with her own comfort zone and she did that by including the American West, but that’s not the case. It’s just a little weird as I’m not sure those two things really go together. 

Regardless, the book was compelling and I read it quickly. I liked Amani. I felt like she was a tough heroine who wasn’t afraid to try dangerous things. She wanted out of her life in a town where her gender determined whether she was listened to. Her uncle was going to force her to be one of his wives, but she needed to leave with money if she was ever going to get out of her town. There was a war going on and a ton of conflict, but Amani didn’t need to get involved until it showed up on her doorstep. Her path crossed with a mysterious foreigner and she was off on an adventure she wasn’t quite sure about.

A lot of reviewers have mentioned Amani’s lack of direction throughout the book and how she had no real purpose once she fled Dustwalk. What was she doing out there? Why was she so content to follow Jin? I understand the frustration when we are so used to heroines having something to focus on, even if it’s just revenge, but I liked that Amani didn’t really know what she was doing because I think sometimes that’s how life is. I get frustrated when heroines discover their strengths and somehow know exactly what to do to tear down some awful regime. I like that Amani knew what she was good at and every step she took lead her to discover the world she dreamed of wasn’t anything like she expected. Maybe she could escape to that city her mother came from, but then what? Why not just follow Jin and see what tricks are up his sleeve? At least by his side she could use her guns. She wasn’t trying to rage against the government or anything crazy. She just wanted out of her life and had no real other plan.

I do love that eventually Amani figured out what Jin’s whole deal was and found a bigger purpose. I liked that she didn’t just immediately jump on that bandwagon and that she stayed conflicted at first because it fit with her whole lack of direction. I don’t want to give too much away, but I liked how it all ended and how she ended up finding her place in everything. 

I can see why Rebel of the Sands won the category for Debut in 2016 on Goodreads. It was an interesting book and it was certainly unique. I also like that, while it is part of a series, it didn’t end with some crazy cliffhanger that makes me regret reading it so soon before the sequel’s release. It was satisfying, but there’s still so much more that can and probably will happen. I definitely recommend the book.

Star 4

 

Review – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

 

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness

SummaryThe monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

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Source: I purchased a paperback

Review:

A Monster Calls has been on my radar for quite some time, but I never picked it up for some reason. I suppose the illustrations made me think it would be too juvenile or something. With the movie out, I’ve been seeing it around more, seeing other reviews, and the previews for the movie, so I felt it was time to finally pick it up. I had been warned multiple times that the book would be sad and it would make me cry, but I didn’t quite believe that I would be so moved by such a short novel.

A Monster Calls is the kind of story that will stay with me forever. It was so incredible. It was powerful and moving. 

I did cry. I ugly cried and sobbed and gasped and loved it so much. 

It’s hard to really go into detail because I didn’t know what to expect and I think it’s best that way. A boy encountered a monster who would tell him three stories. And the boy would tell him a fourth. The boy was sad, angry, and tormented by nightmares. 

I cannot gush about the book enough. I never expected to like to so much. I see why it has won so many awards and received such high praises. It is a story we need and one I recommend. Not only is it enjoyable to read, but it perfectly describes the way guilt eats at us. 

A Monster Calls is a must read. It’s short, so there’s no reason not to pick it up and add it to your to-read list. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did. Just.. bring some tissues. You WILL cry. 

Star 5