Bookish Buzz: Recently Released YA Books That Need More Hype!

Hey 24hr.YABookBlog here! (~˘▾˘)~💞📚✨ I’m back with my very first Bookish Buzz of 2020 also in collaboration with #QuietReadathon, my year-long readathon to inspire you to read more of those underhyped or quiet books on your TBR! 🎉🎉

Bookish Buzz, if your new to my blog or haven’t checked it out before, is a feature I created last March to talk about upcoming books I feel need more buzz!

Today I’m highlighting January and February book releases, mainly YA and 1 Middle Grade, that may have slipped under your radar 😄❤📚

January

Scavenge The Stars by Tara Sim

1. Scavenge The Stars by Tara Sim (Scavenge The Stars #1)

Release Date: January 7, 2020

Summary: When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.

Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she must trust no one…

Dark And Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore2. Dark And Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Release Date: January 14, 2020

Summary: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

The Mystwick School Of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury3. The Mystwick School Of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury

Release Date: January 21, 2020

Full Review: The Mystwick School Of Musicraft (ARC Review)

Summary: Humor and heart shine in this middle grade fantasy about a girl who attends a boarding school to learn how to use music to create magic, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The School for Good and Evil series.

Amelia Jones always dreamed of attending the Mystwick School of Musicraft, where the world’s most promising musicians learn to create magic. So when Amelia botches her audition, she thinks her dream has met an abrupt and humiliating end—until the school agrees to give her a trial period. Amelia is determined to prove herself, vowing to do whatever it takes to become the perfect musician. Even if it means pretending to be someone she isn’t. Meanwhile, a mysterious storm is brewing that no one, not even the maestros at Mystwick, is prepared to contain. Can Amelia find the courage to be true to herself in time to save her beloved school from certain destruction?

How To Build A Heart by Maria Padian4. How To Build A Heart by Maria Padian

Release Date: January 28, 2020

Summary: All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda and Valynne E. Maetani5. Seven Deadly Shadows by Courtney Alameda & Valynne E. Maetani

Release Date: January 28, 2020

Summary: Kira Fujikawa has always been a girl on the fringe. Bullied by her peers and ignored by her parents, the only place Kira’s ever felt at home is at her grandfather’s Shinto shrine, where she trains to be a priestess.

But Kira’s life is shattered on the night her family’s shrine is attacked by a vicious band of yokai demons. With the help of Shiro—the shrine’s gorgeous half-fox, half-boy kitsune—Kira discovers that her shrine harbors an ancient artifact of great power . . . one the yokai and their demon lord, Shuten-doji, will use to bring down an everlasting darkness upon the world.

Unable to face the Shuten-doji and his minions on her own, Kira enlists the aid of seven ruthless shinigami—or death gods—to help stop the brutal destruction of humankind. But some of the death gods aren’t everything they initially seemed, nor as loyal to Kira’s cause as they first appeared.

With war drawing nearer by the day, Kira realizes that if this unlikely band of heroes is going to survive, they’re going to have to learn to work together, confront their demons, and rise as one to face an army of unimaginable evil.

Diamond City by Francesca Flores6. Diamond City by Francesca Flores (Diamond City #1)

Release Date: January 28, 2020

Summary: Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.

Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.

DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.

To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn’t want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.

February

Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario1. Turtle Under Ice by Juleah del Rosario

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Summary: Rowena feels like her family is a frayed string of lights that someone needs to fix with electrical tape. After her mother died a few years ago, she and her sister, Ariana, drifted into their own corners of the world, each figuring out in their own separate ways how to exist in a world in which their mother is no longer alive.

But then Ariana disappears under the cover of night in the middle of a snowstorm, leaving no trace or tracks. When Row wakes up to a world of snow and her sister’s empty bedroom, she is left to piece together the mystery behind where Ariana went and why, realizing along the way that she might be part of the reason Ariana is gone.

Haunting and evocative—and told in dual perspectives—Turtle Under Ice examines two sisters frozen by grief as they search for a way to unthaw.

This Train Is Being Held by Ismée Williams

2. This Train Is Not Being Held by Ismée Williams

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Summary: When private school student Isabelle Warren first meets Dominican-American Alex Rosario on the downtown 1 train, she remembers his green eyes and his gentlemanly behavior. He remembers her untroubled happiness, something he feels all rich kids must possess. That, and her long dancer legs.

Over the course of multiple subway encounters spanning the next three years, Isabelle learns of Alex’s struggle with his father, who is hell-bent on Alex being a contender for the major leagues, despite Alex’s desire to go to college and become a poet. Alex learns about Isabelle’s unstable mother, a woman with a prejudice against Latino men. But fate—and the 1 train—throw them together when Isabelle needs Alex most.

With a Star in My Hand Ruben Dario, Poetry Hero by Margarita Engle

3. With A Star In My Hand Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero by Margarita Engle

Release Date: February 18, 2020

Summary: A novel in verse about Rubén Darío, the Nicaraguan poet and folk hero who initiated the literary movement of Modernismo.

As a little boy, Rubén Darío loved to listen to his great uncle, a man who told tall tales in a booming, larger-than-life voice. Rubén quickly learned the magic of storytelling, and discovered the rapture and beauty of verse.

A restless and romantic soul, Rubén traveled across Central and South America seeking adventure and connection. As he discovered new places and new loves, he wrote poems to express his wild storm of feelings. But the traditional forms felt too restrictive. He began to improvise his own poetic forms so he could capture the entire world in his words. At the age of twenty-one, he published his first book Azul, which heralded a new literary movement called Modernismo that blended poetry and prose.

Rebelwing by Andrea Tang4. Rebelwing by Andrea Tang (Rebelwing #1)

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Summary: Business is booming for Prudence Wu.

A black-market-media smuggler and scholarship student at the prestigious New Columbia Preparatory Academy, Pru is lucky to live in the Barricade Coalition where she is free to study, read, watch, and listen to whatever she wants. But between essays and exams, she chooses to spend her breaks sweet-talking border patrol with her best friend, Anabel, in order to sell banned media to the less fortunate citizens of the United Continental Confederacy, Inc.

When a drop-off goes awry, Pru narrowly escapes UCC enforcers to find that her rescuer is, of all things, a sentient cybernetic dragon. On the one hand, Pru is lucky not to be in prison, or worse. On the other, the dragon seems to have imprinted on her permanently, which means she has no choice but to be its pilot.

Drawn into a revolution she has no real interest in leading, Pru, Anabel, and friends Alex and Cat become key players in a brewing conflict with the UCC as the corporate government develops advanced weaponry more terrifying and grotesque than Pru could have ever imagined.

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller5. The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Summary: Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

Thanks for joining me on my return to Bookish Buzz! Will any of these books be on your radar?

Are there any recent book releases you think need more buzz? 📚🎉

Author Interview With Isabel Ibañez {Woven In Moonlight}

Hey everyone! Its been over a few months since I attended Yallwest 2019 and I’m thrilled to finally share, that I had the opportunity to interview 2020 YA Fantasy debut author: Isabel Ibañez!! 🎉✨

Her debut Woven In Moonlight is set to be released January 7, 2020 and we chatted all about the inspiration behind her story, its different layers, characters and other parts of her story that she’s looking forward to sharing with readers! (Thanks again Isabel 💕)

This interview was done during Fierce Reads Friday at Yallwest on May 3, 2019!

Here’s Isabel to talk a little more about Woven In Moonlight:

“My debut is a Bolivian political-fantasy and it’s about a decoy Condesa who infiltrates this corrupt monarchy and she sends coded messages back to the rebels through her weaving. So, she uses celestial magic and undergoes an experience unlike any she’s ever been taught or known!”

When talking about the inspiration behind her debut, she mentioned that she never really saw herself represented in any of the books she read―“I mean, [reading about] a South-American character would have been fabulous, but I never did…” 

“I really wanted to write someone that looks like me, understood my culture, the importance of family and so, I wanted someone to share that perspective and worldview that I had while growing up…”

Secondly, she discussed how the political climate in Bolivia is complicated and dangerous, so the antagonist is heavily inspired by the current president/dictator. She “wanted to write and tell this story because it’s not really talked about…”

Next, we discussed the elements of Bolivian culture within her novel and I asked Ibañez if there were any, that while writing, she thought “yes, this has to be in the story!”

“I love food and I love the experiences that are centered around sharing a meal. Bolivia has such wonderful, wonderful dishes and recipes, so all of those foods that I enjoyed eating with my family ended up in Woven In Moonlight!”

Alongside that, Woven In Moonlight is also heavily inspired by the “food, clothing, and the Bolivian history as well. Your going to find snippets of that in the story woven throughout (pun intended 😂✨).”

Ibañez and I then discussed what it meant for her to create this fantasy world inspired by a country that hasn’t really been represented in YA Fantasy before:

“It’s amazing to me that there could be a story that can touch people in this country because growing up Bolivian in the US, I ran into a variety of people from Spanish-speaking countries, but I didn’t often run into a Bolivian. So when I started getting sweet emails from readers who had some sort of relationship with Bolivia (either from there, lived there, or had a relative whose from there), it was astounding that there were people here who had that kind of connection to Bolivia and hopefully, this book reaches them!

I hope they can find and see themselves in this story and that really matters to me.”

Woven In Moonlight is a standalone fantasy novel and it does have a “satisfying ending”  but Ibañez shared that she does leave many threads open! With that said, it was announced on June 21 that Ibañez will be returning to the fantasy kingdom she created  within Woven In Moonlight in 2021 with a spin-off!

If your anticipating Woven In Moonlight, she also discussed some elements of the story that she’s looking forward to see readers explore throughout her story:

“I love YA and I’ve read so many books that center around a revolution, and this idea of fighting for a type of republic/democracy that benefits everyone. We’ve seen those books, I’ve bought those books, read them and loved them. So, I’m looking forward to see readers excited about a revolution story that’s happening in real time, in Bolivia.

If you read the book very closely and do a bit of research with the current Bolivian politics, you might see some parallels.”

Woven In Moonlight by Isabel IbañezNext we talked about her cover! If you didn’t know, it was announced back in March that Isabel would be designing her own book cover and as of June 6, the cover for Woven In Moonlight has been revealed via Hypable!

“My editor reached out to me asking if I knew of any Bolivian artists I could contract for the cover and I happened to be an artist/illustrator + greeting card designer by day! So I sent her my portfolio and I’m excited that they went ahead and trusted me with so much of the book. There was so much support, encouragement, and the fact that they even asked (wanting a Bolivian artist to do the cover) just meant so much to me!

They were doing everything they could to step-up in regards to representation, support, and encouragement for this book!”

Next we talked about the main character of Woven In Moonlight, Ximena, who has the unique ability to spin thread from moonlight. In doing so, she’s able to use this power to help the resistance. Ibañez delved a little more into her inspirations for Ximena’s rare ability.

“In Bolivia, the tradition of weaving tapestries, blankets, pouches, bags, that is a long-standing tradition, its beautiful, bright, and colorful! These women who work the loom are absolutely talented and many of us learn how to weave. Its such a Bolivian art form…I’m a weaver and I wanted to give Ximena something that felt very Bolivian, something I knew intimately well, also as an artist I think there is something so beautiful about being able to create something by hand and have this piece of art you’ve created. Using your imagination and a skill set handed down to you–I really wanted Ximena to have that. Also because I love fantasy, I wanted to infuse her ability with something special. In Bolivia, there are a group of people who still respect and worship different deities, that they’ve inherited from their Incan ancestors, so I wanted to honor that as well!”

“When I was thinking of what kind of ability Ximena could have, I was inspired by Pachamama (Incan goddess of the earth). I also thought about not going downward, but up and that’s how I picked that type of magic…”

I then chatted with Ibañez about the elements of Woven In Moonlight she had the most fun developing!

“I loved creating Ximena! She’s named after my mother and she’s someone who is fierce, loyal, incredibly brave, and outspoken. So, I wanted to create this character out of love and respect for my mother, but also because I’ve always been fascinated by her courage! Ximena came really easily to me because I felt I really knew her–so that was a lot of fun!”

To conclude our interview, Ibañez shared her final thoughts on why readers should check out Woven In Moonlight:

“If you love food, magic, kissing, adventure, stories about girls who are flawed and whose reactions aren’t perfect, are still growing, confronting and called out for their mistakes, I think you should check out Woven In Moonlight! Plus, did I mention there’s lots of good food?”

Also, as part of Isbael’s Inkasisa Street Team for WIM I wanted to share the wonderful pre-order campaign going on! Here’s some of the awesome swag that’ll be included:

Woven In Moonlight bookmark, print, sticker, annotated PDF of Chapter 1, and there’ll be special grand prizes! All the info/details can be found on her Instagram post here!
(*To show support for the street team too, if you find yourself pre-ordering please include this code in your email INKASISA07)

Are you looking forward to Woven In Moonlight? 🌙✨

YA Book Comparisons + Discussing #OwnVoices & Diverse Books {Book Blog Discussion}

There’s many wonderful bloggers and other bookish people on twitter who have elaborated on the  discussion in regards to books by #OwnVoices or marginalized authors, being unfairly critiqued or compared to more popular authors (often white) in the same category. But, I’d like to get into more specifics and just expand on this discussion, because its a topic that really needs to be talked about.

I wasn’t sure when I was going to post this, but the discussion between SOC/TGW came up again on book twiter and I felt it was time I presented my thoughts.

Today’s post is something that’s been on my mind for a while, but in all honesty― it’s always been hard for me to put into words exactly what I want to say.. Sorry if this post seems to be a bit all over the place, but know there are many different layers to this discussion and I may not be able to get to all of them (perhaps for another blog post).

Again, I’m just one blogger, but I hope my discussion today can offer further explanation into this topic.

I’ve gotten my thoughts on this a lot less jumbled in my mind and it’s something that I’ve not only witnessed and dug up more knowledge on myself, but as an aspiring YA writer of color, it’s something that needs to be discussed! And this topic is:

Book comparisons in YA for authors of color vs. white authors (when looking at The Gilded Wolves and Nocturna)

Even when it comes to the disparity in ratings (and general perception) when books by authors of color are so quickly compared to non-marginalized (often white + more popular) authored novels, it is startling and often disheartening to see.

I find there’s so many reasons why this needs to be examined more closely and it needs to be talked about:

Firstly, it establishes this idea that authors (especially non-white/#OwnVoices) can’t write tropes that literally have existed since the beginning of time for their own stories because Popular Author A over here already had a bestselling and well-loved book, with that 1 element that came out 5 years ago?

Think this isn’t true? Look at the disparity of these ratings & top-rated reviews (as of late October 2019) for Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves and Leigh Bardugo’s Six Of Crows:

Gilded Wolves: 9,028 Ratings & 3.70 star average (when I originally drafted this back in June) which is now: 

11, 336 Ratings & 3.67 star average

Six Of Crows: 4.46 star average (over 4 years at 219,107 Ratings)

In my personal opinion, I was sure that the advertising of The Gilded Wolves well before it was officially out on shelves, wasn’t going to click with certain fans of SOC who would interpret specific elements of the story to be similar. Which in turn, would greatly influence the books perception upon/after release in terms of ratings, etc.

So, in turn due to perhaps how it was marketed, among other factors, The Gilded Wolves seemed to leave a somewhat “negative” impression on certain readers who had specific expectations. Due to similarly found story elements, that could be misinterpreted as being exactly like Six Of Crows.

Comparisons were easily made between these two YA Fantasy titles (mainly because it has a found-family crew with comparable characters to SOC and is a heist? Because heists didn’t exist before 2015 apparently?) *But in reality, let me just preface by saying TGW has MULTIPLE heists compared to Six Of Crows, which from I remember only has 1?

There are so many stories out there that have heists and yes, are in fantasy/sci-fi settings (have crews, etc.), but I’ve typically seen unfair critiques between these two books.

The top low-rated review of The Gilded Wolves on Goodreads comparing it to SOC states that Six Of Crows enjoyment factor is “leagues ahead of this book…,” but a general comparison that I’ve seen is that the crew of The Gilded Wolves are exactly like the Dregs from Six Of Crows.

Look, I don’t have a problem with how people rate their books, I know that not every book is for everyone. We all have different opinions and that’s what makes reading so great!

However, it’s really telling when you begin to see similar complaints for a non-white authored book because it’s seen/read as a “copy,” “ripoff,” or “plagiarized” version of this white-authored book ―which often times came out years before the book by the non-white author.

The fact is that #OwnVoices (and especially authors of color) are getting a bigger chance now to write/tell the stories that they needed or would have wanted growing up! This is especially important for the teen audience of YA today, to see themselves represented in these worlds–because we live in a big and diverse one!

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

To provide further evidence against those who say The Gilded Wolves is just a copy of SOC, here’s some quotes, taking place in a single scene that I’ll analyze in regards to colorism, nuanced discussion of culture, and colonization from The Gilded Wolves:

Enrique is gearing up to talk to Marcelo, a member of the Ilustrados, an organization of European-educated Filipinos who dream to reform their Spanish-controlled country. In this scene, Marcelo is discussing an upcoming meeting with the queen of Spain.

“Oh!” said Enrique. “I-I could help?”

Marcelo smiled. “Ah, but of course! Enrique Mercado-Lopez: journalist, historian, and debonaire spy…Of course it must be easy to spy when you hardly look like one of us…” (Ch. 6)

In Six Of Crows, we know Inej’s story and her hardships (I’m not dismissing that), however when it comes to discussion of culture and race, predominately in regards to Inej’s Suli culture, it’s explored or stated in lines quite briefly. Additionally, more of what we know about her culture is interpreted by flashbacks of her past and not necessarily layered world-building that delves into further exploration in the present.

In one single scene of The Gilded Wolves, we are delving into the topic of colonization, its after-effects alongside the discussion of coming from two different cultures, while not feeling accepted or understood in either– to quote Tor’s review:

“That sense of living a half life trapped between two unyielding worlds permeates the novel. All of the characters deal with a life spent constantly crossing through the liminal space between two opposing cultures…”

Another point I’d like to add is that those who’ve unfairly compared TGW to SOC, hardly even mention the #OwnVoices rep. & representation in general that Chokshi weaves throughout her novel: Zofia is Jewish, Polish and on the autism spectrum, Laila who is Indian, Enrique who’s Spanish-Filipino & Bi, Hypnos who is dark-skinned + Queer, & Séverin who is 1/2 French & North African.

Regardless of how I personally feel about the comparison people make between Six Of Crows and The Gilded Wolves, allow me to conclude this section with a wonderful quote from Bardugo via Bustle from September 2016 when discussing fantasy and diversity:

“…The truth is, I get a lot of praise for diversity, but there are far more diverse worlds out there…”

Another comparison that really fueled this discussion as well, was seeing deeper claims of similarity between Maya Motayne’s YA Fantasy debut Nocturna (2019) and ADSOM (or Darker Shades Of Magic Series; 2015).

Nocturna by Maya Motayne

To start, these books aren’t even in the same age-range! Look, I’ve read ADSOM too, but Schwab has made it very clear time and time again, that its an ADULT series, (aka not YA). 

To break it down, Nocturna is set in a Dominican-inspired fantasy world where magic is inspired by the Spanish language, and follows a prince & thief duo who have to find a way to take down a dark magic they’ve accidentally unleashed!

A Goodreads review mentioned that “unabashedly good reviews” of Nocturna must have come from those who either “have never read V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic Trilogy, or who do not care when a book’s entire plot is lifted from another source…”

The comparisons are as follows:

Readers claim Nocturna is a blatant rip-off of the ADSOM series because of a girl/guy duo, the female is a thief (morally-grey female heroine), and there’s a dark magic entity…okay and? Have you never played a Fantasy/Sci-Fi RPG?? Those elements are nothing new…

To see such comparisons right off the bat based on elements and tropes which are by far more popular in other mediums/storytelling spaces, is just disheartening!

What comparisons like this unearth (especially if they are *unfairly comparing #OwnVoices/POC-authored books) is that to certain readers, these stories aren’t allowed to have or use tropes, storytelling devices, character archetypes, etc. that have been around for much longer than we have. Which is incredibly unfair because, that’s how stories work! Artists, writers, storytellers, find that spark of inspiration and that’s how storytelling continues to grow and evolve.

In regards to Nocturna I’ll present a scene in which Prince Alfie has conjured a spell to let a mural of Castallan’s past come to life as it relays the history of the country and how there came “rebellion” and how the “enslaved [broke] free of their shackles…” (Nocturna, 9):

“At his command, the mural moved with life…The mural slowly darkened as Englassen conquerors appeared on the shores. They chained his people…people’s magic was drained from them and transferred to their Englassen masters…The Englassen regime destroyed all the tomes of their language, forcing them to forget the tongue that connected them to their heritage…” (8-9, Nocturna).

“Then came the rebellion, with the enslaved breaking free of their shackles and rising against the conquerors and rediscovering their language…” (9, Nocturna)

These claims don’t even take into account the way Motayne discusses this topic and adds layers and depth to the magic system considering its heavily inspired by the Spanish language, and how it operates differently with each person (among other philosophical/literal ideas that there must be a balance to the magic itself). Also, just the fact that this is an #OwnVoices Latinx YA Fantasy (what an inspiration for aspiring Latina fantasy authors like myself) !!

Also Motayne stated in an interview through B&N Teen Blog that “if you can only take one thing [from my story], I hope it’s this: culture is magic. Your culture is magic. Never give it up, never surrender it. Because when you do, you surrender yourself along with it, and who you are is worth fighting for…”

“…I chose to stop uprooting myself from my heritage and to instead firmly plant myself in it…”

“I put pen to paper and wrote the adventure of a prince, a thief, and the LatinX kingdom that they lived in. A kingdom where your connection to your heritage and the language of your ancestry is your magic…”

Nearly 100% of the time, you’ll never see white-authored books go into lengthy discussions of race, slavery, colonialism, as much as non-white (often female) YA Fantasy authors. I recommend checking out Michelle from Magical Reads blog post where she discusses this exactly, when comparisons are made about The Gilded Wolves and Six Of Crows!

There’s a couple quotes from that post that always resonate with me. First, its that if these popular books are the “mold for YA fantasy”, whose to say these new books from authors of color (with completely different concepts & inspirations) can’t “break the mold…”?

For a diverse, brilliant and expansive community of readers such as that of YA, I do hope there continues to be more nuanced discussion of these very real and important topics authors of color explore and emphasize in their novels. Because in the end, no matter how similar stories may seem, the fantastic authors writing Young Adult are crafting from their own unique, distinct experiences and inspirations.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to blame anyone for how they rate their books, that’s not the point of this discussion. I’m hoping, it allows you to think a little more critically about how quickly book comparisons are made for YA (predominantly YA Fantasy) and why it does a disservice to the authors (especially those of color) who take time incorporating topics such as colonialism, slavery, race, and so much more into their stories/fantasy settings and presenting traditionally marginalized characters at the center of them. We live in a diverse world and we should not overlook the #OwnVoices/Marginalized authors representing that!

As I stated above, this discussion is one I’ve been thinking about for a while, but I hope that with my post here today it offers a bit more clarity on why (negative) comparisons like this can do more harm than good.

Any additional thoughts you’d like to share on this discussion or on the opinions I’ve shared? ✨📚

*Corrections/additions:

1. Gilded Wolves is Historical Fantasy (set in 1889 Paris), while SOC is a spin-off of the original Grisha Trilogy still set in the Grishaverse (Oct. 25, 2019)

2. “Marketing” is mentioned in this post, but upon reflection and further research I meant to say “buzz” (generated by early reviews) (Oct. 25, 2019)

Finale by Stephanie Garber Review

Finale by Stephanie Garber CR: Flatiron BooksFinale by Stephanie Garber (Caraval #3)

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Pages: 478

Available Through The Book Depository: Finale (UK Paperback Edition)

Summary: A love worth fighting for. A dream worth dying for. An ending worth waiting for.

It’s been two months since the Fates were freed from a deck of cards, two months since Legend claimed the throne for his own, and two months since Tella discovered the boy she fell in love with doesn’t really exist.

With lives, empires, and hearts hanging in the balance, Tella must decide if she’s going to trust Legend or a former enemy. After uncovering a secret that upends her life, Scarlett will need to do the impossible. And Legend has a choice to make that will forever change and define him.

Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun. There are no spectators this time—only those who will win, and those who will lose everything.

Welcome, welcome to Finale. All games must come to an end…

*Finale spoilers are in this review*

My Rating:★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: Finale is the page-turning conclusion to the Caraval series! Expansion on the lore of the world, focus on character-development, and romance take center stage as sisters Scarlett and Tella work together to save their world while also finding their happy endings!

Finale! This is a book I was actually surprised I’d put off to the side when it first released because I’d read Caraval and Legendary back to back last year! But I’d finally taken time to see what this final book had in store and finished it within just a couple days! Now that I’ve finally read it, I have so many thoughts on it, but overall I’d say its a really satisfying ending to this series!

What I appreciated about this final book was how it continued to build on the lore and mythology of the world, especially regarding the Fates!

For me, Caraval has always been one of those series where I’d sped through each book within a couple days and enjoyed immersing myself in a fun fantasy world for a while–that’s something I really appreciate these books! No matter my critiques of this series, I’ve always just appreciated finding the fun in following Scarlett and Tella on their grand adventures throughout the world of Caraval!

Finale starts with both Scarlett and Tella in a place of sadness. Scarlett’s felt abandoned by Julian decides to see if she can make her arrangement work with Nicolas d’Arcy, while Tella has felt nothing but loneliness since Legend left her and he only visits her in dreams while he reins over as prince.

Throughout this novel, both sisters go on journeys of growth and development to better understand who they want to be in this magical world they’ve gotten themselves mixed up in.

Overall, as I’m reflecting on Finale I found that message was something that stuck with me as I followed each character’s story. From Legend, Jacks, to the Fates, Paloma, etc. what this last book really takes time to explore is the sacrifices characters learn to make not only for themselves, but for others and their world. This novel really focuses on the growth and healing of our main cast of characters!

Slowly Scarlett, Tella, and Julian begin to realize that now with Fates having escaped, they’ve found their way into the real world and are causing havoc in Elantaine. But, it goes beyond more than just that as Tella learns they still have a connection to her mother, but more specifically one in particular–The Fallen Star.

Finale is incredibly character-driven and I appreciate that! Throughout the series, Garber has always written her characters in such a way that’s allowed me to really connect with them and in Finale I felt she made that an even bigger focus.

This last book also has a lot more romance, which was nice! However, I did find it took up a lot of the story at points, especially when it came to Tella’s story-line. I definitely understood why it did though: Tella feels all by herself and when we learn Legend is avoiding her because its tied to his immortality/powers, Jacks is the only one willing to help and be honest with her, agreeing to alter her emotions to take away her pain.

But as I read, I felt the romance did drag a bit too much for too long. Especially when it came to Tella and Legend, it took steps back when it didn’t need to and the plot point of Scarlett creating a competition between Julian & Nicolas–why??  Its so obvious Julian is meant for her and just felt like filler.

I will say though, I loved Jacks and would say he’s probably one of my favorite characters  & Fates in this book (and the series maybe?), he deserved more in my opinion!! He helped Tella and offered her answers to help with the Fates when she wasn’t sure. Although he is cunning and deceptive, even knowing he just wanted to win over Tella, he still decided to help them anyways.

It was also great to see Julian and Dante interact with the original Caraval crew again, though I am sad because they were only present for a small portion of the story. Finale delivered a lot of growth and development to the 3 guys: Julian, Legend/Dante, & Jacks and you could really see how they each changed over the course of the story!

Now onto more critical points that lowered my rating on this last book! I think the whole reading experience of Finale made me think more about series finales as a whole and how they wrap up. I did read Finale with a more critical lens because the journey of reading this hyped-up series overall and being an aspiring fantasy writer, just made me go into it analyzing different elements of the story a lot more deeply!

Firstly, the pacing. While it was great to get both Scarlett and Tella’s POVs because it added so many layers to the story, compared to previous books, I felt Finale was definitely slower. Which is interesting because when I looked at the page counts, Legendary is only about 20 pages less. Plot points for me really dragged for a while longer than they needed to–such as Tella jumping between Legend and Jacks & Scarlett being trapped with the Fallen Star to name a few.

For me I felt it wasn’t until Jacks helped Tella out, that her storyline began to move forward a lot faster. Though I will say that I appreciated Scarlett taking a more active role compared to her role in Legendary!

Now onto world-building! I loved getting all these facets to explore the lore and how it developed alongside the plot, such as getting to meet the Fates and seeing them interact with the universe of Caraval. For example, seeing Poisoner’s work early on with Scarlett and Julian and understanding how Legend could help Jacks regain all his power. However, I’m not sure what it is exactly, but I didn’t feel like the setting itself expanded or changed in this book a whole lot. I’m also not sure if this makes sense, but when looking at Caraval, Legendary, and Finale together as a whole…it felt like the mechanisms and atmosphere of each of them (in regards to the world) changed between each one and I’m not sure how I felt about that.

The writing itself, while it was cinematic and nice to read, did feel overly descriptive. Generally speaking, I felt it didn’t do much to really build on the actual setting itself. Also, I’m not sure if its just me but there were SO many dress descriptions in this book 😂!

I think another element of the story that made a decline the further I read, was the main villain and his motivations. I felt they really fell apart and just ended up dragging up until Tella, Scarlett, and the team developed their plan, then the story and pacing got a lot better (there’s also time-travel involved! I’m only disappointed it was brought in this late into the series and was used to conveniently tie up the ending).

I will say though that I loved exploring the magic system a lot more in-depth through not only the Fates, but also characters we’ve gotten to know such as Legend, Jacks, and more interestingly Scarlett!

Above all, Finale had a lot of different plot threads and I’m happy that Garber wrapped them all up very nicely!

Finale is Garber’s last return to the world of Caraval, tying together the Dragna’s sisters journeys! The mystery, romance, character-development, and mythology are just some of the many elements weaved into this final book that will keep you reading till the last page! The dark, magical, and immersive world of Caraval comes to an end in this satisfying conclusion!

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen ARC Review

The Merciful Crow by Margaret OwenThe Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (The Merciful Crow #1)

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Pages: 384

Available Through The Book Depository: The Merciful Crow

Summary: A future chieftain

Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.

A fugitive prince

When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.

A too-cunning bodyguard

Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?

*Received ARC from Yallwest*

My Rating:★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: The Merciful Crow is a YA Fantasy debut that takes readers on an adventure following future chieftain Fie, a runaway prince, and his bodyguard as they travel across Sabor to save Fie’s fellow Crows! The setting’s atmosphere and cast of characters will keep readers immersed in this action-filled debut that presents a unique magic system and intriguing politics that build as the story develops!

The Merciful Crow was one of those debuts I knew I just had to read! I was really looking forward to the story not only because it had a really unique concept, but also I’d seen so many positive reviews and that had me even more excited to check it out!

Though Owen’s debut wasn’t a 5-star read for me, it still had a lot of elements that I enjoyed and that I’ll be exploring more in-depth!

From the opening pages featuring a Caste Legend, I knew I was going to be immersed in a distinct fantasy world unlike any I’d really read before!

The world of Sabor is divided into 5 different castes which all have separate classes within them, all named after different birds (Peacock, Swan, Dove, Hawk, and Vulture, to name a few), with Phoenix being the highest caste.

Among these castes, people are all born with a Birthright that gives them a specialized skill or affinity (for example, the Vulture caste has an affinity for hunting). Crows, however have no affinities or skills, so they must take teeth of the dead from other castes to perform magic. Crows are also the only ones with the unique ability to defend themselves against the Sinner’s Plague, a deadly disease that can wipe out entire cities within days. However, even with this life-saving ability, they are still treated poorly by the other castes.

We follow Fie, future chieftain of the Crows, who travels across the land with her band who deliver mercy killings to those struck with illness. When the Crows find themselves at the royal palace that’s been struck by the plague, it’s just another average day. However what we quickly learn is that 2 boys have recently been struck with the illness, and one of them is the crown prince.

It turns out however, crown prince Jasimir and his Hawk bodyguard Tavin, were actually using that as a cover to escape the royal palace, because the queen Rhusana is trying to get rid of him.

As the two join Fie’s Crows, they agree to a pact that will offer the Crow’s lifelong protection from the assassins and castes loyal to the crown, such as the Oleanders and Vultures, who don’t give much thought to how they’re treated.

The Crows do a very important job within this world, but are still seen as outsiders in a society that at the end of the day relies on them, as the illness continues to spread.

The setting and atmosphere of Sabor, with its dense forests, stone infrastructure, traveling bands of friends and family, together painted for me, a picture of an early century Europe. This image I had in my mind definitely wasn’t by accident because, according to a recent article from Tor where Owen discusses the inspiration for The Merciful Crow, she states that she was inspired by the history of executioners of Medieval Europe!

“One of the most overt parallels is the ostracization of historical executioners and that faced by our heroine, Fie. For background, Fie belongs to a caste known as the Crows, who are not quite executioners, but may as well be: they are immune to a fast and terminal illness called the Sinner’s Plague, one that is believed only to initially infect people as divine punishment. The Crows are expected to remove the infected, mercy-killing them if need be, and give them funeral rites. Like executioners of old, they may not hand out the sentence, but it’s their duty to carry it out…”

Owen explored the dynamics between Crows and their societal standing extremely well, where you sense that tension (and division) between castes throughout the entirety of the book. You can see how the politics of each caste and especially treatment of the Crows is built with so many layers/threads that definitely leave for more exploration in the sequel!

When Fie’s tight-knit group of Crows are taken, she embarks on a journey with the help of  Tavin and Jasimir to get them back. However with a pact ensuring future protection for the Crows, she tries not to lose hope even as they avoid the Oleanders, trackers, and monstrous ghasts that chase them at every turn!

While the fantasy world of Sabor was distinct and that’s something I really loved about it,  I wish there was further development of this vast setting as the story progressed. We focus on the Crows, Vultures, and Hawks (mainly) and while we definitely get glimpses into each caste, I felt there just wasn’t enough information to really connect me to the world fully–pockets of this world seemed to be missing and because of that I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the world in its entirety.

As for plot, while I do enjoy journey stories (which this one definitely is), I did find that the team jumped around from one spot to another a bit too quickly. Because new locations were introduced every few pages with very brief descriptions and then moved onto a new place, I felt lost as to where the Crows were headed exactly, early on.

I will say though, what I enjoyed about the journey that Fie, Jas, & Tavin embark on together was how with each new location, it did layer more of the politics and perspective of different castes within the world–I just wish it was more developed.

One of my favorite parts about The Merciful Crow was the dynamic between the main trio! Jas and Tavin had grown up together and as Fie learns more about them, we see how strong their bond really is. While it does seem that Fie has more page-time with Tavin, I liked that Owen weaved in a good amount of development with both of the guys and we learn a lot about their fears and hopes for their own futures and of the world!

Owen’s writing really highlights how wonderfully developed she makes her characters and I really appreciated that! As I continue to read more YA Fantasy, I realize that I also try to find that connection to the cast–the dynamic of Fie, Tavin, and Jas brings a lot of great energy to the story and was a definite highlight of The Merciful Crow!

Fie is a character who’s fierce and loyal to her caste. While it can seem like there isn’t much more explored beyond that, its the little moments in the journey she embarks on, where you see bits of her character shine through.

Jas is a royal prince who jumps at the chance to bring change to his world, especially the Crows! His deal with the Crows, alongside joining them to reach his forces deep in Sabor, takes him on his own journey outside his lavish palace as he sees more of the outside world he’s planning to one day lead!

Then there’s Tavin, Jas’s protector along this journey! As he connects more with Fie, we learn while he’s well aware that he’s in Jas’s shadow, he also fears the uncertainty of where that duty will end and he can begin! I really loved his character arc and felt it explored so much about identity and forging your own path when you feel one has already been laid out!

The writing while immersive and descriptive, just didn’t flow well with the constant starts and pauses in the journey. Through 3rd person, there’s good glimpses into each character and I really appreciated that! However, when it came to the world itself, I still felt a bit distant from it and found the exploration of the setting (either new or previously explored), seemed to be a bit surface level and felt it could been more developed.

While the writing successfully creates a unique atmosphere for the setting, if I were to look at just the writing itself, I found it was a bit generic–descriptive when it needed to be, but in the end it was quite hard to find that special element that also made it stand out alongside the story.

Aside from those critiques though, I’m personally really looking forward to seeing more of how the characters develop in the sequel! They are what kept me reading and I can’t wait to see where their journeys take them next!

The Merciful Crow is an atmospheric fantasy debut that introduces a unique and immersive world! Fie embarks on a journey to save her people and along the way, gather the wisdom to determine if she’s ready to be the chieftain her people need! If your a fan of character-driven journey stories, Owen’s debut is one to check out!

Today I’m also shouting out a fellow book blogger’s review 😍💕📚

The Merciful Crow ARC Review from Sab over at Vengeance & Starlight

We follow each other on twitter & for a while I’d been seeing all her lovely tweets talking about this book! She goes into discussion of a couple topics I wasn’t able to cover much in my review such as the oppression of the Crows and the interesting change in writing voice as the story progresses! 💞

Overall she gave this book 5 stars and as I read her review I could feel the love she has for this delightful book from the characters to the world and how everything ties together! If you need more convincing to check out Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow, check out her wonderful review!

Sorcery Of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson Review

Sorcery Of Thorns by Margaret RogersonSorcery Of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon Teen)

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Pages: 456

Available Through The Book Depository: Sorcery Of Thorns

Summary: All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Sorcery Of Thorns is the latest novel from Margaret Rogerson, its a book that’s enchanting, immersive, and weaves together a tale that pays homage to the power of books!

Elisabeth Scrivener was orphaned, but taken in to the Great Library of Summershall where she grew up surrounded by books and wants nothing more than to become a warden, moving up the ranks from an apprentice librarian!

She continues her studies and knows she is nowhere near ready, so it’s of course a surprise when the Director calls her to assist in moving a grimoire into their facility. This not only ensures its well sealed, but examined and the text within it preserved for the future.

A grimoire comes to life one night that leads Elisabeth on an adventure across the kingdom where she gets tangled up in forbidden sorcery and complicated magic that threatens her world! She stops at nothing to uncover secrets and solve the mystery of grimoires that have become dangerous monsters, aka Maleficts.

With the Director’s death, we see that it acts as catalyst for Elisabeth to take action! I really loved how you could see the Director was a mother figure to her (wanting to show her potential) and it was through the little actions that Elisabeth did in which we saw that her mentor would have been proud, in using her knowledge to help others! Though we see the Director really did have a lot of faith in Elisabeth by leaving her Demonslayer and reminding her that her there is so much to the world of the Great Libraries that leave her many options.

Throughout Sorcery Of Thorns, Rogerson weaves mystery, intrigue, adventure, and as a standalone, I appreciated how all these different elements we’re layered into the story.

According to a feature interview from Kirkus, its mentioned that the journey Elisabeth embarks on mirrors Rogerson’s own upbringing learning more about the religion she grew up with.

“As a teenager, I was discovering a lot of things about the world that were very contrary to what I had always been told as absolute truth…”

As Elisabeth steps away from her world of libraries, she learns more about the world around her and is shocked by the sexism and other societal norms she’s never encountered before.

As a YA Fantasy standalone I loved how Rogerson layered not only the themes of this story, but also the clever foreshadowing, character development, exploration of the world, and plotting!

The way she structured Sorcery Of Thorns was done in such a brilliant way where I was always surprised at the littlest of details! She’d find ways to bring them back 50 or so pages later that had me amazed at how descriptions of characters, backstory, etc. played such a huge part as we uncovered more about the direction of the story.

As an aspiring YA Fantasy writer, I found she explored a lot of different elements in very interesting ways from the growth of Elisabeth and her finding her way, to the layers of world-building that slowly unfold, even the direction of the plot. I felt that the way she weaved all these elements together left me inspired as a writer and I’m looking forward to rereading this book again in the future–maybe annotating it to uncover more that I may not have noticed before!

Told through a 3rd person POV, Rogerson not only allows us to follow Elisabeth on her journey, but also allows us to understand the new friends and people she meets along the way! From sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, his demon servant/best friend Silas, the Director, Elisabeth’s best friend Katrien, even Ashcroft!

Honestly though, if I had to pick my favorite characters, I’d say that I loved Elisabeth, Nathaniel, Silas, & the Director all equally!

There’s not only insight into the main characters, but also the world of Asustermeer and its 5 libraries, the Otherworld of demons where Silas comes from, and even the world of grimoires.

Rogerson’s descriptive writing builds a gritty, dark, and expansive world, unlike any I’ve ever read before! There’s dark magic, but also threads of hope, adventure, moments of humor–overall there’s a lot of different tones and atmospheres to this story that get uncovered and cements itself into this magical tale! Even the tiniest of details from the green sparkles of Nathaniel’s magic to the metallic smell of sorcery made the setting feel lived in and very grounded in reality because we had so many different layers to explore.

Sorcery Of Thorns is the kind of book that even though the writing at times is heavily descriptive, you still want to keep reading! I felt the writing style really brought a lot to this book! The world always felt real and really came to life.

What surprised me as well was seeing how Elisabeth’s world of libraries and magical books completely contrasted what the world was like in Austermeer. Where librarians see sorcerers as nothing but trouble and pure evil, outside they are celebrated and seen as average people. She learns more about not only sorcerers, but demons as she changes her perspective on Nathaniel & Silas when they team up to protect the world.

“― what had it called her?

A true child of the library…”

In terms of the foreshadowing, I found that I was more surprised than anything. As mentioned above Rogerson, weaved in the smallest details into the plot where I was not expecting and I loved that although I realized it less than 1/2 way through, they still managed to be unexpected. They were used really effectively and for so many descriptions to be used to further the plot in such an interesting way, it was something I really enjoyed!

Specifically, I personally loved how we knew who the villain was early on! Not only did it offer more action and intrigue into the story, but what makes it fun is that your constantly left theorizing of what he’ll be plotting next. That was great because we kept learning more, figured out how his plan would impact the world and how his schemes are constantly influencing the world in a lot of ways (going after each library and the consequences of going after all the top Class 8-10 grimoires).

Its not explored until Elisabeth learns more about both Nathaniel & Ashcroft’s pasts, but I really appreciated the importance of family, legacy, and remembering the family that has come before you. It wasn’t until I finished Sorcery where this really symbolized Elisabeth too, growing up orphaned in the library, seeing the Director as a role model/parental figure to look up to, keeping her legacy/teachings alive by saving the world from Grimoiers. I also loved how this journey showed Elisabeth that although she hasn’t found exactly where she wants to be yet, that’s okay because there’ll always new paths open to her!

This is also really random, but the further I read, I loved when I learned why this book is called Sorcery Of Thorns! 😭💖💫🌿

Now I wanted to get into more discussion on why I personally rated this novel 4 stars!

It’s no surprise that I was really looking forward to this book because I adored Rogerson’s debut  An Enchantment Of Ravens and had already seen so many glowing + 5-star reviews!

Although 4 stars is definitely not a bad rating in any way, there were just a few things I wanted to explore that lowered the rating for me personally.

So, as an aspiring writer its no surprise that I really want to work on the craft of writing. With that, I couldn’t help but notice that from my reading experience, I picked up on quite a few writing cues and familiar turns of phrase that took me a bit out of the story.

Also with the very direct descriptions I found the pacing was very uneven at times. There were moments the story moved constantly, but then it was stopped abruptly, it happened a while throughout the story and it was just hard for me to love the book fully because of it.

Also, while I completely understand what Rogerson was doing showing these two different sides to the world of Austermeer (librarians & the regular world), I wasn’t exactly a fan of the sexism and old-era ways of thinking. For example, there’s a scene in which Elisabeth is trying to explain the villain’s plot of using the grimoire’s & how he plans to attack each library. But, she gets seen as “mad” and is almost left to be put into a hospital.

Early on, I personally saw this world as its own universe, so I really didn’t understand why these old ways of thinking had to be present (hope that makes sense??). I see how the author used it to show the strength of the female characters when they’re in the libraries and how it differs from the realities of their world, but I found it was just kind of frustrating to read at times.

Throughout the book I was left thinking: There’s powerful/brave female characters here, but outside a Great Library position their not seen as equal to men & so quickly judged?

And lastly, while the writing is definitely a strength of Sorcery, I also found it was its weakness at points. Because the writing is so descriptive and so “perfect”,  it made the story and its flow somewhat dense. With that, certain setting descriptions made it difficult at points to picture certain elements of the world, setting, and characters (though this was definitely in more specific moments).

Overall though, this was another fun fantasy standalone from Margaret Rogerson and I’m looking forward to seeing what she publishes next!

Sorcery Of Thorns is a novel that’s packed with so many complex layers and they all find their way into the story from beginning to end that will leave the reader satisfied! There’s magic, sorcery, a great cast of characters, beautiful writing, and so much more that cement Rogerson as a master in YA Fantasy standalones! 

Nocturna by Maya Motayne Review

Nocturna by Maya MotayneNocturna by Maya Motayne (A Forgery Of Magic #1)

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Epic Reads)

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Pages: 480

Available Through The Book Depository: Nocturna

Summary: To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.

As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.

After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.

But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Nocturna is a Dominican-inspired YA Fantasy you don’t want to miss! Motayne’s debut follows a grieving prince and a clever thief who have to save their world when a dark magic is unleashed! Character development, a wonderfully developed story, and an immersive world are just some of the many highlights of this delightful fantasy debut!

Nocturna is a novel forged in magic, complex topics and themes, alongside the deep introspection we uncover about the main characters Finn and Alfie!

You know when you read a book and although you know more is coming, you can’t help but feel sad that this introduction to a series is over? That’s how I felt the second I turned the last page of Nocturna! Without spoiling anything my thoughts summed up to:

How am I supposed to wait for book 2?!? I need more page-time with my prince/thief duo–I can’t believe I reached the end!!😭💖

Motayne’s debut is one I had been looking forward to for months because coming from a Latinx background, I was just so incredibly happy to see more Latinx YA (especially fantasy) being released! And more specifically, I was so excited to see more Latinx representation (in this novel its Dominican specifically) get the spotlight!

Just reading the Spanish phrases/words I grew up hearing, recognizing the food, etc. just made me SO SO happy!! 💞 Also just to get this out there, there’s a heist & thievery!! + another bonus ✨: Nocturna has chapter titles & they need to be appreciated 😆💖 because they’re great + who doesn’t love chapter titles!?!

Told through a 3rd person POV, we follow quite a few characters throughout this novel but two that I want to focus on are Prince Alfher (or Alfie) and Finn Voy (though I absolutely loved Alfie’s cousin Luka)!

Alfie returns to his kingdom of Castallan grieving over his lost brother Dez and is unsure he has what it takes to assume his role as king. But, he still hasn’t given up hope on finding his brother, who he still believes is alive! Finn, is a face-changing thief who gets forced to do a seemingly impossible mission of stealing a vanishing cloak from the royal palace!

The 2 collide and Alfie connects with an ancient dark magic that gets unleashed unto the world while trying to save Luka–now the two must team up to stop it!

To get into more detail, since Dez’s death after an attempted royal coup, Alfie has felt nothing but grief for his brother who he believed to be the rightful heir. Not only does he carry that loss with him, but also this feeling of not being the ruler that his kingdom needs! He still holds this anger inside of him for the world having moved on from Dez and he’s still holding onto hope! ( I loved the story of Dez’s carved figurines).

Finn lost her parents at a very young age and has learned to survive on her own as a thief, but also carries the hurt that was caused by her manipulative (adoptive) father figure, Igancio. He essentially felt that she was destined to be just like him, so he manipulated her into always remaining at his side–until one day she finally left!

I can’t put into words just how much I loved Alfie & Finn! The depth to their character arcs and development was another highlight of this book. Looking back, I found that at its core, Nocturna is really about two people from opposite sides who are overcoming grief and obstacles to become better people and in turn be their best selves!

They don’t want to be selfish about their choices to bring about their happiness, but they learn to not let their grief cloud their judgement as they learn to work together and I LOVED that message! Exploring their grief so deeply throughout the story allows them to talk about it and grow!

They both felt so real and I could understand each of the obstacles they were facing throughout the book, but I loved that their journey to growth really developed with one another! Finn’s wit was so much fun to read as was Alfie’s cleverness and how his shyness really bounced off of Finn’s confidence! I loved their banter and friendship so much, their dynamic was great!! 💞💞

Overall though I loved that with each character they all felt so real!

Now onto the magic system–which was one of my many favorite world-building elements to explore in Nocturna!

Within this world that Motayne created, we explore this personal magic that one can carry called a propio! Within the novel it explains that magic itself moves in a cycle of sorts with people–which creates a balance. People can house magic within them and the magic itself “[offers] its wonders to man…” (8).

The magic can be elemental, like in Alfie’s case to control water or a supernatural type of magic, like Finn’s to change her appearance! There’s this overarching theme, however, throughout Nocturna that time and time again (especially when our main characters encounter dark magic) there’s a balance!

I loved that–especially as its explored through the main characters Alfie & Finn! For me personally, I found that the forbidden magic they encounter was a kind of metaphor for the power they wish they had to overcome their traumas.

There’s so much depth to the magic system, from influence of language (Spanish), but also how the unknown/dark magic can impact each person differently–in this case we see that when Alfie attempts to carry dark magic alongside him throughout his journey with Finn!

Next, there’s such a present discussion on on colonialism, slavery, and its effects! I don’t often see this explored in YA Fantasy (from recent memory the only books I’ve seen that explored this were Children Of Blood And Bone & The Gilded Wolves–though that’s more of a historical fantasy). Overall though, I applaud these female authors of color exploring topics like this in YA because again, its something that I don’t always see talked about! As an aspiring YA Fantasy author of color as well, its so inspiring to read these books that explore real-life topics and themes with such depth and complexity!

Castallan in the past, was taken over by Englassen colonizers and with that, their culture was taken away (especially their magic)! Over time they reclaimed what they lost and Nocturna explores this in such a layered way!

Now onto something I wanted to discuss because as a reader who is from a marginalized background, its disheartening to see books by authors of color so quickly compared to previous books.

I’ve seen Nocturna compared a lot to ADSOM (I’ve read them both) and for me personally I didn’t read this book at all with that comparison in mind–the only similarity I saw, but even then it was completely different–was how Finn & Kell can traverse to different locations. Overall I can completely understand the points being made, but for me Nocturna was a wholly unique fantasy in its own right. Also Nocturna tackles discussion of poverty, slavery, and colonialism (which ADSOM doesn’t).

Of course I know that not every book is for everyone and every reader has differing opinions! ^_^ Overall, I just hope with my little discussion here, people are willing to look past some parallels because at the end of the day these stories, characters and inspirations–are different.

Now onto why its a 4.5: There were a few moments of slow pacing. + As the story progressed I wasn’t really liking the villain all that much anymore–I saw what Motayne was trying to do and when looking at it from a character arc perspective I see what it did to Finn’s character in allowing her to grow, but the villain himself was just kind of bland at points.

I would have loved more of an exploration between Finn & Alfie in their world and the magic their forced to carry with them instead of a lot of focus on this villain, but in the end it did work with the story and I loved the ending!! I may have shed a few tears 😭💖

But overall, I can’t wait to see where Alfie & Finn’s journey is headed in the sequel! I’m excited to learn more about the world of Castallan, the magic system, my favorite characters Alfie, Finn, Luka–and see what they’ll be tackling next!

Nocturna is a YA Fantasy debut you should definitely add to your to-read list! If your looking for a fantasy that’s character-driven, has an immersive setting that explores a variety of themes, is filled with adventure, a complex magic system, and a delightful main cast, don’t miss out on Motayne’s debut! Nocturna is a YA Fantasy adventure you’ve got to pick up!

Slice Of Life Fantasy & Book Recommendations {Book Blogger Discussion}

There’s something special about stories that explore and follow characters through their everyday lives. There’s a name for stories like this and that’s “Slice Of Life.”

While this category can apply to such a vast number of different genres, I’d personally learned about this category in my early teens as I continued watching anime and reading manga.

Goodreads describes Slice Of Life as a “…naturalistic representation of real life which has been cut out of a larger story…”

With that, I found my love for these particular kinds of stories one could best describe as Slice Of Life Fantasy!

For me, Slice Of Life Fantasy means that while a story is set in a fantasy world–has a magic system, magical creatures, or is a world that’s unlike our own–at its’ core the plot can fall into a contemporary sphere because it focuses on the characters’ typical/daily lives. It also has core elements and themes that are relatable outside of its fantasy setting! There’s still action, but from my perspective it’s used more for driving certain plot points than being an active part of the story itself!

Whether its going to school, making new friends, or being with family– there’s something special about these types of stories that I just adore!

Today I’ll share with you some books I can categorize as Slice Of Life Fantasy and I hope I can offer some wonderful new recommendations for your TBR! 💞📚

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones1. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl’s Moving Castle #1)

Why Its Slice Of Life Fantasy: I’ve personally only seen the Ghibli movie, but from what I remember of it, the animation & scenery, presentation of Sophie’s life working in her family’s hat shop, and the friends she makes while staying in Howl’s castle present this Slice Of Life Fantasy atmosphere!

Summary: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

Girl-of-Ink-and-Stars2. The Girl Of Ink And Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Why Its Slice Of Life Fantasy: If you were to ask me the earliest book I read which delivered this idea of Slice Of Life Fantasy it would be The Girl Of Ink & Stars! Isabella, a cartographer’s daughter, lives on the island of Joya (which has magic running through it). Isa goes on a search for her missing friend Lupe alongside her friend Pablo as she learns more about her home. There’s themes of adventure, friendship, and the importance of stories through myths. The myths themselves have been passed down to Isa through her father!

Summary: Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O' Neill3.The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill (Tea Dragon #1)

Why Its Slice Of Life Fantasy: This delightful and beautifully illustrated graphic novel follows Greta, daughter of a blacksmith, who learns more about Tea Dragons and caring for them through tea merchant/shop owner Hesekiel, when she becomes his apprentice! The Tea Dragon Society is set in a magical, diverse world that also emphasizes craft and preservation of the arts! Greta embarks on an enchanting adventure as she learns more about the magical Tea Dragons and makes new friends!

Summary: From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever Aftercomes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own. 

* If your looking for a recently released middle-grade graphic novel that may fall into the realm of Slice Of Life Fantasy too, I recommend Sea Sirens by Amy Chu:

Trot & her cat get taken to an underwater magical kingdom where there’s an ancient deep-sea battle rages on! There’s also Vietnamese-American rep. and exploration of Vietnamese Mythology!!

Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama Vol. 14. Witch Hat Atelier by Kamome Shirahama (Witch Hat Atelier #1)

Why Its Slice Of Life Fantasy: In this world, magic has been kept hidden but the main character Coco has been fascinated by it her entire life and wants more than anything–to become a witch! Witch Hat Atelier connects to this wonder and hope that magic lives within each of us. The relatable themes of this story are present not only through the plot, but the optimistic and joyful main character Coco. While there’s a whimsy to it, there’s a depth and complexity to the magic system alongside the captivating world that makes it feel grounded in reality. Coco finds her seemingly “un-magical” life turned upside down as she learns more about the magic she has within herself!

Summary: In a world where everyone takes wonders like magic spells and dragons for granted, Coco is a girl with a simple dream: She wants to be a witch. But everybody knows magicians are born, not made, and Coco was not born with the gift for magic. She’s resigned to her un-magical life, until a traveling magician passes through her village, and Coco learns what what everybody “knows” might not be the truth.

* If your looking for another fantastic and more contemporary example of Slice Of Life Fantasy with witches I also recommend: Flying Witch by Chihiro Ishizuka! Volume 1 of Flying Witch follows Makoto who goes to Aomori, Japan to live with her cousins as she continues her training to become a witch!

And those are my recommendations for Slice Of Life Fantasy books! I had a lot of fun creating this discussion and I hope you’ll check out these wonderful books!

Have you read any of the books I’ve recommended? 😍📚✨

Any books you know of that could be described as “Slice Of Life Fantasy”? 🍃✨📚

We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal Review

We Hunt The Flame by Hafsah FaizalWe Hunt The Flame by Hafsah Faizal (Sands of Arawiya #1)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR)

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Pages: 480

Available Through The Book Depository: We Hunt The Flame

Summary: People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: We Hunt The Flame is a YA Fantasy debut that has been highly anticipated and one you don’t want to miss! From the expansive world of Arawiya, intriguing plot, and wonderfully developed cast of characters, Faizal’s debut takes the reader on an epic fantasy adventure!

Told through dual POV, We Hunt The Flame follows Zafira, known as the Hunter, and Nasir, prince of Arawiya who goes by the title of the Prince Of Death (essentially the kingdom’s assassin!).

Zafira hunts for her people disguised as a boy in Demenhur, which is a kingdom cursed with eternal snow. She hunts within the Arz, a forest of encapsulating darkness– while many have become lost within it, she always finds her way back!

Nasir is the ever-loyal assassin for his father (the sultan) and goes across the kingdom getting rid of those who undermine his father’s rule. He believes he will forever be cursed with a life of darkness and because of that, keeps himself isolated from the world.

Their stories become intertwined when their confronted with a mission that takes them to a mysterious island with magic no one has seen for close to a century!

I loved the entire first part of this story–introducing us to the world of Arawiya through both of our main characters in their natural elements: Zafira having hunted a deer in the Arz and Nasir, assassinating a man suspected of treason against the kingdom.

These lines from Zafira & Nasir’s opening chapters will forever be remembered in my mind anytime I think of We Hunt The Flame:

People lived because she killed…People died because he lived…

What I loved about those lines is how much they tell us about them as characters before their stories even begin! Zafira is the kind of person who always puts others before herself. Although she has her own desires & wishes, she never chooses to act on them–only on what she feels will make everyone else around her safe or happy!

Nasir has been raised to kill and is continually put in situations where he wants to show his loyalty to his father. But, he does it even knowing his father will never be proud–with that, he uses that as a shield to isolate himself from the kingdom he will be destined to rule. Luckily, he does have general Altair by his side (though Nasir begs to differ XD).

This is a debut that surprised me in so many ways and had so many elements I loved–not only the main characters, but also the expansive world, magic system, character dynamics, and intriguing plot!

Nasir and Zafira’s mission has been spurred by a mysterious entity who calls herself, The Silver Witch. Their mission promises the return of magic to their world, even if it means braving this mysterious island where the magic is wild and unexpected.

Another element to the world that I loved was that although their world has been free of magic for quite sometime, you can still sense its presence in the kingdom itself and that’s because of Faizal’s writing– it creates such vivid settings, imagery, and delivers a sense of wonder! There wasn’t a single moment where I was ever pulled out of the story! The lush prose delivers a balance to its characters, world, atmosphere, and dialogue in such a great way!

Their both tasked with finding the Jawarat, the mythical book that bring magic back to their land. But, in addition to that–Nasir is given another task to kill anyone who can get in the way (Altair included) and the Hunter!

As the story progresses where Nasir & Zafira finally meet– truths come to light and their forced to stick together if their going to find the book!

There’s also a very present/relevant theme of identity throughout the book that is explored so well between them! Both Nasir & Zafira face truths about their identity and when they are presented with new info that changes what they first believed about themselves! I felt it really showed how much depth there was to them to see the many differing sides to them not just throughout their journey, but also through them as characters–we see their strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerable moments which really surprised me!

There’s also themes of grief and loss explored throughout as well!

As for other characters, I loved the ensemble dynamics explored! Firstly with Zafira in her home village, with her sister Lana, friends Yasmine & Deen! Next it was Nasir & Altair–their dynamic/banter was the best and easily a highlight of the book!

I also find the exploration of past/current love isn’t always explored in YA Fantasy between main characters–but We Hunt The Flame really highlighted that & it was so well developed (Zafira w/ Deen & Nasir w/ Kulsum). I loved how they also symbolized the thread to their previous lives before coming to the island of Sharr.

As Zafira, Nasir, & Altair find themselves working together we also get introduced to a couple of new characters on the island:  Kifah, & Benyamin!! I loved learning more about them and found them to be such wonderfully developed characters + additions (who do get introduced mid-way through WHTF).

Overall the main crew/characters were just too precious & have to be protected at all costs!! I loved them a lot!! (;´༎ຶД༎ຶ`)❤

Additionally, the way Faizal used dual POV was fantastic–it offered so much to so many different elements of the story from the atmosphere, expansive world, characters, etc. The character-dynamics were also so good, not once did I feel certain characters were forgettable or lacked depth!

When talking about the world, the contrast to the setting of the frozen lands & deserts (Demenhur vs. Sarasin) were so vivid and I could picture both of them perfectly! Even the element of the forest of darkness, The Arz, was something special that really brought the setting to life & made it sparkle.

Now onto what made me rate this a 4–though rating aside, I really loved this book and the ending left on a note where I was in shock, but SO ready to read the sequel! (I can’t believe I have to wait a whole year!!). Those last few chapters–just WOW!!

Honestly, I do think that the pre-release hype had my expectations really high for We Hunt The Flame and overall my personal expectations too. I was so ready for the Assassins Creed elements to shine more throughout the book (though they were really present within Part 1) and it definitely switched gears as the story progressed– I was disappointed, but that’s only because I wanted more–I loved reading the chapters where Nasir traveled throughout the kingdom as an assassin & seeing Zafira brave enough to trek through the Arz as she outran guards!!

I did feel that because the writing is very character-focused, the plot (mainly surrounding the Sharr storyline) felt like it wandered a bit and I was hoping for more of the over-arching plot to be explored for a larger part of those chapters instead of being left to the last chunk of chapters.

Also, for me personally, I felt Nasir & Zafira’s defining characteristics (being the Assassin/Hunter) got a bit lost as the story progressed (mainly with Nasir) and I was hoping for their personas to be more of a focused part of their character that was present throughout the whole book (Hopefully that makes sense?).

But overall, like I said above there were so many wonderful and fantastic elements to We Hunt The Flame that really left this book as a memorable and favorite read of mine for sure! I can’t wait to see whats next in the sequel!!

We Hunt The Flame is a YA Fantasy debut inspired by ancient Arabia that takes the reader on an immersive, magical adventure! Faizal’s debut is an atmospheric fantasy tale that delivers such a vivid world, fantastic cast of characters, important themes woven throughout, and plenty of action! We Hunt The Flame is debut that will leave you wanting the sequel right away when you turn that final page!

I’m also shouting out a fellow book blogger review 😍💞📚 I recommend checking out:

We Hunt The Flame Review from Lila over at HardcoverHaven121

As an Own-Voices reviewer for Arab rep., she talks about the diverse geography of the Middle East and how accurate the setting of Arawiya was for her when listening to We Hunt The Flame on audio! She also loved how the novel showcased so many different aspects of Arab culture, such as language!

She also loved the rich prose that Faizal crafted within her novel (which I loved too!!). Though it wasn’t a perfect rating for her, I loved how she expanded on the different points in her review and her thoughts on it from the audiobook perspective!

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees Review

The Waking Forest by Alyssa WeesThe Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Pages: 297

Available Through The Book Depository: The Waking Forest

Summary: Pan’s Labyrinth meets The Hazel Wood in this novel about a girl with terrifying visions and a wish-granting witch whose lives collide in the most unexpected of ways.

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more–until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns.

The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ½

My Thoughts: The Waking Forest is a YA debut that melds contemporary with fantasy and magic in an interesting way! Rhea begins questioning  what’s real and what’s not when dreams begin merging into her everyday life! With her pet fox by her side she begins uncovering and losing herself in a peculiar magic only she can see! The Waking Forest is an eerie, whimsical debut that introduces fairy tales, a descriptive writing-style, and a story that’s more than it seems!

The Waking Forest is a book I’d really been looking forward to–a girl with terrifying visions and a wish-granting witch–there’s also a magical forest and the main character has a pet fox?!?! This book had a lot of different elements that would work great together! (+ The cover is so beautiful and atmospheric–it really went with the story).

I did find the story to be a bit underwhelming and it got a bit lost along the way. But, I do see myself reading more of Wees books in the future because I loved the unique concept!

There were a lot of different elements that made this book really stand out and kept me invested–from the unpredictability of the plot, atmospheric writing, unique incorporation of fairy tales, and main themes that stay present throughout the book!

Told through dual POV’s we follow our main character Rhea who continuously has dreams about the attic in her house, but can never quite reach it. However early on in the book, she does and fears for what it could mean. Then within the attic she learns of a mysterious boy (who she calls Darkness) whose giving her some sort of test/game to play! If she wins, she can unlock all the answers he’s hiding. If not, her family will pay the price!

As she’s running out of time, she gets even more lost in this game as she tries to find the answers she’s looking for! I found this plot point to be the most interesting because it gets developed throughout the story and it was just a unique plot point I’d never really read before!

Aside from that main storyline, it also follows her everyday life with her parents, sisters (Rose, Renata, & Raisa), and their unique dynamic as Rhea’s dreams begin to worry them.

The 2nd POV follows the Witch In The Woods who lives in her sanctuary hidden deep in the forest with her army of foxes and grants wishes for a price! Throughout her POV its told in a fairytale/storyteller-type fashion as a boy (who for some time was disguised as a fox) tries to learn more about the Witch by intriguing her with a fairytale of a princess, magic, castles, and a forest!

As we delve more into her POV, we learn how lonely she is and that with each continuation of the boy’s story, she begins feeling less alone.

What I really enjoyed about this book that was underlying, but explored throughout was Wees use of fairy tale elements! But, they were incorporated in a very original way! From princesses, magical forests, witches, storytelling–it all felt familiar but also different and I enjoyed how Wees really created her own tale within a tale!

Before the reveal of how these 2 POV’s were connected, I felt that the Witch’s story line (granting wishes, getting told a story & finding herself no longer alone) seemed to mirror Rhea’s growth as well!  Rhea finds herself lost and unsure of the world, but then its through magic that she’s able to find her way again. Wees’s symbolism through both POV’s was an element that I really enjoyed as I began making my own connections as the story progressed.

The Waking Story is also very much a character-driven journey as Rhea learns more about herself as she unlocks the mysteries about these dark dreams and the magic that’s seeping into her everyday life! The way that dreams were developed near the end of the story honestly surprised me in a way I did not see coming!

There’s also the element of family and sisterhood, as Rhea lives with her 3 sisters (Rose, Renata, Raisa). Their dynamic is different and complicated, but no matter what they really do care for each other, even in the most difficult moments! Having sisters myself I liked seeing this sister dynamic explored throughout the book!

Rhea’s story is told through 1st person and found it to be a very introspective POV! While The Waking Forest could have been more developed in other areas, I found what did make this book an immersive read was reading from Rhea’s perspective. The focus on her & her dreams, and the magic that gets explored made this book incredibly character-driven where Rhea really stands out as a protagonist!

Now onto why I rated this 3.5 stars: I just felt the story/writing was just lacking in execution…The writing is very direct, vivid, and descriptive, but described things in a very odd way. It was going for a sort-of purple prose which I could see, but it just didn’t work for me personally.

I also found that as we delve more into the story, Part 2 which reveals more secrets about these 2 POVs and how they work together, was just executed in a way that felt like a bit of a let down.

There’s fantasy elements explored through the story that the Witch hears and as those get developed more in Part 2, I found myself not really connecting with them honestly. I also felt that as the secrets to the Witch’s story are uncovered, they were never really given more detail and merge with Rhea’s POV in a way that while unexpected, wasn’t developed a whole lot.

Overall, I just felt The Waking Forest‘s whimsical, oddly descriptive writing, and execution of plot just didn’t work for me personally.

However, if your looking for a really immersive YA Fairy-Tale/Contemporary fantasy that really puts a focus on its main character– The Waking Forest is definitely an interesting book to check out!

The Waking Forest is character-driven, atmospheric YA Debut that melds contemporary with fantasy in a very unique way! Through the exploration of the power of dreams, nightmares, and magic, Wees immersive debut offers a unique look at magic, if one looks closely!