Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko

Wow. This book ya’ll.

Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself?

I really loved this book yall. It felt like everything I loved about fantasy when I was first discovering the genre and yet nothing like I’ve ever seen either. It was beautiful and harsh and bright and touching.

Sometimes fantasy can feel blurry around the edges, in that we get so much detail about what is going on in this particular area of the world that the rest of the world doesn’t feel fleshed out. This isn’t always a bad thing, I get why an author may choose not to fill those edges in, but I do appreciate when a story that takes place primarily in one land is able to still create credibility about the whole world.

The prose is what drew me in the most. I said it earlier, but it felt like coming home. Reading the story of Tarisai was a breath of fresh air. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and I think it comes down to the way Ifueko is able to state something about a fantasy world in such a relatably simple way. As a child and teen reading a book brought concepts to my head that would leave me thinking for days. They were new and fascinating. To me, this book just leveled up the potential of Young Adult Fantasy. Ifueko doesn’t underestimate her target audience and brings them complex ideas to examine. She does it in such a beautiful way.

There are many tropes claimed here, and each is brought to the table with a new spin on them. I was almost certain a love triangle was incoming, but that was vanquished in a delightful way. The chosen one is played with and tugged around but doesn’t quite come out the way I expected, either. Seeing these stories not only subvert expectations but do so while empowering diverse characters was thrilling.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

You can find out more about Jordan Ifueko at her website here. The sequel to Raybearer will be out in 2021!


AJ’s Favorites – The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

I wrote the following before Return of the Thief came out. Now, I have read the story and am adding a bit more to the bottom. These books are unique and beautiful. I cannot recommend them enough.

I wanted to get this out before Return of the Thief came out. My history with these stories has evolved over my life and I’m feeling rather nostalgic about them all right now. In a way it feels like I’m running out of time to appreciate them, because there is a finality in the story being finished. Like a vacation I know I’ll never take again.

Well, I didn’t mean to start out so dreary.

I am an only child with a working mother. After school I would usually walk to the library on my way home and pick out a book and read it, until the library closed at five and then I’d walk home. It’s also worth mentioning I grew up in a small town and my mother was the youngest of eight, so many of the people knew my last name if they didn’t know me. Like Gen, I had a million cousins.

Mind you, this was in the middle of the 00’s and Young Adult didn’t even exist as a section at that point. I had read every Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley adjacent thing I could get ahold of. (But not Harry Potter. My mother refused for me to read them as a kid. Which is almost a favor looking back, but then it was very annoying.)

The children’s librarian gave me a copy of The Thief and promised me I would like it. I did. I loved it. I still love it. Every re-read my mind gets absolutely blown by the story. I buy up copies of it when I find them at thrift stores and give them away whenever I come across someone who hasn’t read it before. Once, when I was checking out at Half-Price Books the worker said that that one was on their list and so I bought it and then gave it to the worker right there. I hope they liked it.

Spoiler talk starts here. I’m going to indulge myself with some reminiscing.

If these are books you haven’t read, I IMPLORE you to please stop here at my recommendation and not return until you have read them. Trust me. If there is a good example of, “You can only read a book for the first time once.” It is these.

I am always very careful to not act like there is a surprise at the end. Everyone deserves that reaction. The gut unfurling oh dear type reaction.

Which is the truest magic about Megan Whalen Turner’s God-tier writing. It’s special. I remember reading Thick as Thieves, thinking to myself there was no way that Gen doesn’t know about Kamet’s masters death. The truth revealed left me facepalming. I knew better.

Turner’s mastery in POV feels risky to me as a writer, but awe-inspiring as a reader.

Really my biggest hope as we go into the last book is this, that Gen is able to surprise us one last time, and that we get to see his world have the Happily Ever After it deserves.

ETA: Return of the Thief reaction.

What a beautiful, beautiful book. Holding the chonker in my hands was lovely. Reading the inscription on the back was like seeing a hype trailer. I was ready to begin my journey with Erondites.

There was so much to love in this book. A few moments of mouth dropping moments as well as some dialogue that left me reeling. (Gen’s promise of vengeance anyone? Gen stating his name and all his titles?)

I hope if you read these stories that you love them as much as I do. I hope they bring your lessons and comforts. They’re beautiful and teach me so much about life and the plainness of even the greatest of us.

I think they’re a must read for anyone interest in YA Fantasy, as a reader but even more so as a writer.

It is so. It is so. It is so.

Shielded – KayLynn Flanders

This book was written for my tastes exactly.

  • Hidden Identities
  • Mage Jewelry
  • Betrayal’s so fine

Any one of these things would absolutely draw me in, but together, I feel like that gif of Pacha from The Emperor’s New Groove. Mmm perfect.

For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.

As an adult reviewer for YA, or really as a reader in general, I have gotten to a point where it is extremely, extremely hard to surprise me. But this one kept me on my toes. I had suspicions, but I was never sure. I kept thinking, ah so this is what’s gonna happen, only to be taken another direction. I appreciated that.

For me Jennesara was such a star. She had a sense of hustle that was incredible to me. The sheer instinct to survive was fabulously done. Some of her decisions might have led to more trouble, but I could always understand why she chose to make them.

The side characters were also full of energy and personality. The sibling relationship in this story is as heartbreaking as it is sweet. There is a surly-out-of-loyalty friend and guard. A touching royal family bond. A lot of these details were just absolutely lovely and enhanced the world.

The comps are solid to me. This has just the adventure and soft boy that A Sorcery of Thorns had, (And Mages. Love me some mages.) but I would also compare it to some fantasy classics, the atmosphere and prose bring Kristin Cashore’s and Robin McKinley’s works to mind as well.

Ultimately, this story was perfectly epic and a great starter fantasy for anyone jumping from MG to YA as well as an essential addition to anyone’s YA fantasy collection.

There’s also a few more days to participate in KayLynn’s preorder campaign, which is GORGEOUS. You’ll get the following:

  • vintage travel postcard featuring a scene from SHIELDED, art by Danielle Sylvan
  • official bookmark and sticker
  • laptop sticker to first 40 entrants
  • digital download of chapters 1 & 2
    of Shielded
  • signed bookplate 

Find all the details, as well as pre-order links on KayLynn’s website.

KayLynn Flanders debut will arrive on July 21, 2020.

This title was provided on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

What I’ve Been Reading – May 2020

I’m actually surprised I didn’t read more this month. I did spent a lot of time in story though, which makes me happy. I really hope to be done with the draft of my current WIP before summer ends.

Books finished in May:
You Deserve Each Other – Sarah Hogle
Fable – Adrienne Young
City of Brass – S.A. Chakraborty
Kingdom of Copper – S.A. Chakraborty

I struggle with my writing sometimes, but at the end of the day consistency seems to win the most for me. I have to remind myself, the only way out is through. With those words I try and push forward.

We Hunt The Flame – Hafsah Faizal

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.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

-Summary from Goodreads
I love that the quote at the beginning of the summary is used on the back design of the card.

Ya’ll this book is massive. Something I note a lot of in YA is that it seems the first act gets boiled down to the inciting incident. The first act of We Hunt the Flame is big in a way that makes it feel like more of a mature fantasy. I really appreciated that atmosphere being brought to the table. Some will probably say the pacing felt off because of this, and I admit there are places that are easy to set the book down and return, but I think that really enhances the novel more than it takes away. It allows you to cherish the words more, to feel the descriptions and truly ground yourself in Arawiya. It’s that sense when you turn off a really good episode of a television series and you can think on it for awhile and appreciate it. This aspect worked really well for me.

It’s something of note too in the way we perceive storytelling. I can be entranced and compelled by the quiet parts of a novel, just as much as I can be by the fast paced, constantly-engage your readers type stories. This is a very thick fantasy. If that sort of pacing is going to throw you off, this might not be the book for you.

By the time we get to the second act we know the characters. We have ideas of where their relationships stand with their families and friends, we know what their normal world is like and so when they leave it the tension becomes strong as these two groups begin to hurtle towards one another.

Which brings me to the characters. The big two, our POV characters, are Zafira and Nasir. I love that we have pretty detailed knowledge of them before they have their first encounter. This makes the tension and reveal just A++.

If you are into the opponents, rivals, foes-to-lovers trope, I think you will enjoy this book. Their internal struggle with one another is crafted well and I love that the relationship is stretched out. It’s not a slow burn, it drives the speed limit, and lets you enjoy the scenery. Ha. I personally enjoy me some angsty thoughts and this had some beautifully angsty thoughts.

Another thing I appreciate is how much emotion is brought to the male characters. I think through certain lenses showing emotion outwardly in the case of male characters is thought of as weak. It may even be an internalized bias about what we think a man should look like. Showing the range of emotions, sadness, anger, despair, happiness, love, even joy, on a male character is a huge plus for me. This story does it well with Nasir as well as the other male lead, Altair.

And their emotional side does not take away from their shows of power either. They still strike an impressive figure in my mind based on their charisma and own strengths. Even when they are dangerous and therefore “cool” the fact that they may shed tears later doesn’t diminish their coolness.

I really, really adored this story and this world. I’m looking forward to the sequel so much!

Fable – Adrienne Young

In my journey to discover what it looks like to be a writer who wants to be published I have started to become more aware of the different publishing houses. Adrienne Young’s titles are all published by Wednesday Books. As I look at the company these books keep I have realized that I really enjoy the books Wednesday puts out into the YA SFF world. So, thanks Wednesday. You’re doing fabulous.

I had the pleasure of meeting Adrienne during a tour stop with Isabel Ibanez and Shea Earnshaw. I had really enjoyed Sky in the Deep, specifically the religious parts of it. As a religious person I am always drawn to religion, even in fantasy and Sky in the Deep had some religious themes about the afterlife and character motivation I admired. When she talked about Fable I immediately wanted to read it.

Fable feels so deliciously YA to me. We have a girl seeking to find her place in the world and we are pulled into the adventure along the way. What more is there to a coming of age tale?

As the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home seventeen-year-old Fable has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

I think my favorite thing about Adrienne’s writing is the atmosphere she invokes. I felt taken away to this world of oceans and sea ports. However it was the characters that sell this story to me.

The relationships are atypical. The crew of the Marigold all are developed pieces of a puzzle. I loved untangling their relationships, and if I’m honest, I had expected there to be a bit more drama between them all, instead I found myself with a true found family situation. At least for now.

I also appreciate that this story seems aware of the readers intelligence. A few of the things I had expected to be revealed were revealed, but much quicker than I expected and then pushed further. I appreciated that in the plot very much. It is what ultimately kept me reading and able to finish this book in one day.

I would recommend this for fans of Makiia Lucier’s atmospheric fantasies, or those who enjoy heroines ala Marie Lu and Merissa Meyer. Fable is out on September 1st, 2020.

This title was given by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

What I’ve Been Reading – April 2020

April has actually been a very busy month for me. Even though we have been quarantined with the rest of the world I am an introvert and have been really enjoying my ‘me’ time. I’ve been writing as much as I can on a new project that I absolutely love, and feeding my brain some truly amazing stories in the meantime.

Books finished in April:
The Beautiful – Renee Ahdieh
Bone Crier’s Moon – Kathryn Purdie
Illuminae – Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
The Darkest Power’s Trilogy – Kelley Armstrong
The Darkness Rising Trilogy – Kelley Armstrong
The Shadows Between Us – Tricia Levenseller
What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter
Bringing Down The Duke – Evie Dunmore
Ruthless Gods – Emily A. Duncan

So I read a lot during April, which probably isn’t the best thing, because I spent most of that time avoiding writing. There is something to be said about filling your well and I believe reading fills my writing well.

There is nothing more encouraging than reading something absolutely amazing and being inspired.

Here’s to a happy May!

Foul Is Fair Blog Tour

TW: rape, mental health

Hannah Capin’s Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Holy bananas.

This book is insane in a great way. It was very different from my normal type of read but I found that to be the most exciting thing about it.

I’d heard many people talking it up and it really is as ruthless as the expectation put on it.

When our main character is raped at a party she decides revenge is her best option. She, along with her friends, do everything they can to infiltrate the lives of those who allowed the deed to happen in an absolutely gripping way, serve out their punishment the way they see fit.

This is just. Worth a read even if it is just for the emotions and disgust and satisfaction of everyone’s actions. Gratuitous… something goes around and it happens in just the right method that you can’t look away from.

I recommend broadly on this one and urge you to go outside your comfort zone.

About the author:
Hannah Capin is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

Arc provided in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Frankly, In Love – David Yoon

High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all. -Goodreads Description

I may be ready to hop into contemporary again as a genre if it is all as good as this.

David’s writing was real and characterized in such a way I was imediately drawn into Frank’s world and view.

The big looks in the book at race from multiple angles and how different experiences inform those things was executed extremely well. There is something in there for everyone to identify with.

For me it made it more endearing and I loved it. Yoon doesn’t preach to us about what’s right and wrong through Frank, instead he shows that even 18 year olds can understand nuance. Frank can love his racist parents and also decide for himself they’re wrong. But it doesn’t change his love for them.

I fell through this book quick. Quiet stakes abound, which is a massive change from my usual Sci-Fi Fantasy stakes. But it let me look through a writers lens and really appreciate the craft.

I saw on goodreads that there was going to be a sequel and I am eagerly awaiting it.

I would recommend this book for anyone struggling to feel like they belong to any one world.

Fireborne – Rosaria Munda

I loved this book. Dearly. The writing is stellar and transporting. It is what I aspire to in my own writing.

Annie and Lee were just children when a brutal revolution changed their world, giving everyone–even the lowborn–a chance to test into the governing class of dragonriders.

Now they are both rising stars in the new regime, despite backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. Annie’s lowborn family was executed by dragonfire, while Lee’s aristocratic family was murdered by revolutionaries. Growing up in the same orphanage forged their friendship, and seven years of training have made them rivals for the top position in the dragonriding fleet.

But everything changes when survivors from the old regime surface, bent on reclaiming the city.

With war on the horizon and his relationship with Annie changing fast, Lee must choose to kill the only family he has left or to betray everything he’s come to believe in. And Annie must decide whether to protect the boy she loves . . . or step up to be the champion her city needs.

From debut author Rosaria Munda comes a gripping adventure that calls into question which matters most: the family you were born into, or the one you’ve chosen.

Everything I love about fantasy is in this book. A unique dragon riding world. Both side and main characters that pop off the page. Lessons that you can apply to your own world.

Lately, I have found myself drawn to the grey. When it comes to what is right and what is wrong I think lines can be blurred. I don’t want a book to preach to me, but I do want a book to lay things down for me to pick up and examine. This book does that and it does it well.

This is near a masterclass in the art of creating tension, while keeping it fresh. Tension is constantly shifted in this story, it maintains so well because it flows with the story arc so well. It’s almost like there is overarching tension and then smaller tensions and they just work so well. It is rare for me to find something that provides book long tension, while also being unpredictable. When those books come along they’re like a huge exciting exclamation point in my reading year.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to get into huge commentary, but if you’re interested in:

  • Character driven books
  • A non-preachy look at the marxist cycle

Then this book is for you. I read it in November and it skyrocketed into my Best of 2019 list easily. Will be one of my most highly recommended.

You can find out more about Rosaria Munda at her website, Fireborne is her debut novel, the first of a trilogy.