Urban Fantasy

Review: Bruja Born

Cover of "Bruja Born," featuring a line drawing of a golden moth on a dark background
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Bruja Born

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #2

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, traumatic injury, car crash, cannibalism, fire

Spoiler Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review may contain spoilers of the first book, Labyrinth Lost.

Back Cover:

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

Review:

This book is intense. The emotions and the drama and the atmosphere and everything grab you from the second paragraph and none of it slows down until the epilogue. I actually had to take a break after the first two chapters because I was not expecting that many feelings (and that intense of feelings) at the very beginning.

This is Lula’s story. I thought before I picked it up that it was going to be a continuation of Alex’s story from Labyrinth Lost, but it actually follows Alex’s older sister Lula. It happens after the events of Labyrinth Lost and continues the story of the Mortiz sisters through a different set of eyes.

I didn’t expect to like it as much because I was already invested in Alex from the last book, but that really wasn’t an issue. I didn’t necessarily love Lula in the usual sense of “loving” characters, but I felt her pain and her emotional conflict and I got really invested in her. She’s a tragic heroine who tried to fix something bad and made things much worse, and I was rooting for her the whole way.

This book is dark and there’s a lot going on. I can’t even touch on the plot because the true state of things slowly gets revealed as Lula and her sisters discover things and they don’t even find out the sheer magnitude of what’s happening until near the end. The story is full of difficult decisions and emotional pain and it was thoroughly absorbing.

There’s also a lot more of the bruja world – there’s more than just brujas dealing with magical things, and this book reveals more of a complex and fascinating world hiding under the world we know. And the end hints that we might get more of it in the future.

Also, despite being such a dark book, it has a mostly happy ending.

I thought going in that the Brooklyn Brujas series was only two books, but I’m glad I was wrong. There’s a third book coming out in 2019. My guess is it’s going to be about Rose, the youngest Mortiz sister, but I’m okay with that. If it’s anything like the previous two books, I’m sure I’ll love it.

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Bruja Born
  3. Currently Untitled (2019)
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Did Not Finish, Suspense/Thriller

Review: Gated

Cover of "Gated," featuring a person with blue eyes and long messy hair peeking out from behind a tree
Image from Amy Christine Parker

Title: Gated

Series: Gated #1

Author: Amy Christine Parker

Genre: Thriller

Trigger Warnings: Missing child, guns, religious abuse

Back Cover:

In the Community, life seems perfect. Lyla Hamilton believes she is one of the chosen. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pioneer invited her family to join the Community and escape the evil in the world. They have thrived under his strict, charismatic leadership. Now seventeen, Lyla knows certain facts are not to be questioned:

Pioneer is her leader.

Will is her Intended.

The end of the world is near.

Pioneer has visions of the imminent destruction of humanity. He says his chosen must prepare to fight off the unchosen, who will surely seek refuge in the Silo, the underground shelter where the Community will wait out the apocalypse.

Lyla loves her family and friends, but a chance encounter with an unchosen boy has her questioning Pioneer, the Community – everything. She needs time to figure out the truth. But with Pioneer’s deadline for the end of days fast approaching, time is the one thing she doesn’t have.

Read to: Page 95

Review:

I am rather annoyed with this book.

I picked it up because of the cult aspect. I’m personally trying to deal with leaving a cult-like religion, so I thought it would be interesting and relatable. That’s really the only reason. And it honestly wasn’t very heavy on the cult stuff. Sure, there’s information about how the Community works and how isolated and close-knit they are, but besides calling Pioneer their prophet, there really wasn’t any religious aspect to it. Which may or may not have been realistic, I don’t know, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Most of the story (at least until where I read to) was about Lyla’s feelings about the Community and doomsday and their preparations for it. Which, unfortunately, were not very interesting because she wasn’t a very interesting character. She grew up in the Community, so it didn’t really occur to her to doubt the apocalypse or Pioneer – she mostly wasn’t happy about target practice and that she would probably have to shoot people to defend the Community when doomsday came. I understand that – I wouldn’t be too excited about shooting people either – but there really wasn’t anything else until Cody came along.

Cody is the outsider boy that comes to the Community by chance, and Lyla has to give him a (limited) tour. She likes him a lot because he’s … well, I guess because he’s handsome. She mentions his extreme handsomeness when she first sees him, before they even meet. They hardly talk (at least on-page), but she’s inexplicably drawn to him. I don’t want to say love at first sight, but it was definitely feelings at first sight. And apparently meeting one really handsome dude is enough to make her question everything she grew up with.

Honestly, though, I kept reading. I wasn’t all that invested and I wasn’t actually sure what I felt about the book, but I knew the apocalypse wasn’t coming and I wanted to see what happened when they found out Pioneer was wrong. What really made me stop was aliens.

Yes, aliens.

A lot of flashbacks are interspersed in this book, covering Lyla’s childhood both before and after the Community. And in one, a flashback to “school” with Pioneer, you learn more about this vision that Pioneer is peddling. The earth is going to start rotating backwards, causing all sorts of natural disasters that will wipe out everyone outside the Community (the Community built an underground bunker to survive it), and then after five months, the aliens will show up to take them to a new life across the galaxy.

I know Scientology exists and aliens in cults are not, like, a completely out of the blue thing, but it still annoyed me. It just seemed so absurd. It also probably doesn’t help that I was looking for a book with a more Christian-like religion and themes of religious abuse, and the aliens just kind of proved to me that this isn’t the book I wanted it to be.

That’s not to say other people won’t like it – it has 3.75 stars on Goodreads, obviously people do – and I can see how some people would really enjoy this. It just didn’t match my expectations, and that kind of ruined it for me.

The Gated series:

  1. Gated
  2. Astray
Fantasy

Review: Mask of Shadows

Cover of "Mask of Shadows," featuring two knives crossed in front of a circular metal crest
Image from Linsey Miller

Title: Mask of Shadows

Series: Mask of Shadows #1

Author: Linsey Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger warnings: Death, blood, mentions of abuse and war – for more details, read this

Back Cover:

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class—and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand—the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears—Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

Review:

This is the book I’ve been looking for.

You may have noticed I haven’t been reading a lot of novels lately. The reason is that I haven’t been able to find a novel that engaged me enough that I actually wanted to read more. (I’m honestly not sure if that’s more a reflection on the books or on me.) But this book – this book was absorbing and I loved it.

Let’s start with Sal. Sal is genderfluid, but it’s not a Big Thing – everyone just accepts it. They’re driven by revenge against the nobles who let their people die, and they have no preparation for being an assassin other than having been a thief and getting in street fights. They were just so determined to succeed, and I love reading about characters that are unprepared but do well through pure determination.

I love books about assassins, but despite Sal being in a competition to become an assassin, there wasn’t a lot of assassin-ing. It was more about competition-ing. Sure, there was some killing of other competitors, but the story was more about the training and learning, the dynamics between characters, and Sal adjusting to their new life and not getting caught while working toward vengeance.

I tried to come up with a “basic plot” for this book, but it’s hard because the two major plots combine so thoroughly. Sal wants to kill the nobles who let her people die, and they are using the audition competition as a means to that end. Some of it is trying to scheme and find which nobles are at fault, a lot of it is trying to survive (and win) the audition. It’s all fantastic and sucks you into the story. There’s a lot of violence, quite a bit of assassin skills (both learning and used), and some great characters in the form of the three members of the Left Hand and in Sal’s maid.

Really though, even the characters the book doesn’t spend a lot of time with are well done. There isn’t much court intrigue but what there is is great, Sal’s love interest is adorable and sweet (although their relationship does develop a little quickly), and the competition is fantastic.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this book. If you can stomach some blood and violence, I highly recommend it, especially if you need something to get yourself out of a reading slump.

The Mask of Shadows duology:

  1. Mask of Shadows
  2. Ruin of Stars
Personal Development

Review: Just Tell Me What I Want

Cover of "Just Tell Me What I Want," featuring the title in a dark gray box on a background of palm trees and flamingos
Image from Sara Kravitz

Title: Just Tell Me What I Want: How to Find Your Purpose When You Have No Idea What It Is

Author: Sara Kravitz

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Gendered language, Christianity

Back Cover:

This book is for anyone who has ever been told to “follow their bliss” and then immediately wanted to punch that person in the face. Maybe you feel like you should have things figured out by now. Maybe you think things should be better, but you don’t know how to get started. Maybe you would love to work really hard toward something, but aren’t totally sure what that something is.

What if there was actually a way to get you pointed in the right direction? And what if it didn’t involve someone telling you to “follow your bliss”?

This book will:

  • give you concrete tools to figure out what you want
  • help you take steps toward a life that you actually want to be yours
  • help you understand that everyone feels this way at some point, but you don’t have to feel this way forever
  • not tell you to follow your bliss

Change can be scary. Change can feel risky. But taking a chance is always worth it. This book will help you take the right steps for you to figure out what you want.

Review:

This is going to be a short review, because this is a pretty short book.

I found a free copy somewhere, picked it up because I was bored at work, and was honestly unimpressed with chapter one. It was boring and unspectacular, and I almost stopped reading.

But I’m glad I continued, because the rest of the book was pretty good.

Let’s be clear – it doesn’t exactly tell you how to figure out what you want. But it does give you some techniques for figuring out what you don’t want, which is a step in the right direction. It talks a lot about feeling out what’s not right for you and understanding that you have options, which is a great thing to talk about. And it’s also pretty inspiring.

There were a couple things that bothered me about it, though. One was that there was a surprising amount of swearing. Most of the time swearing doesn’t bother me, but in this case it didn’t fit with the tone at all and I think it would have read better if there wasn’t swearing. The other thing that bothered me was a few mentions of God in a Christian context. This may not bother everyone, but I wasn’t expecting it and I wasn’t a fan.

I want to say more about it, but there’s not much more to say. It was good. It had some good tips. There also wasn’t a lot that I hadn’t already heard before. It was a lot better than I expected, but still not fantastic.

Dystopian

Review: Fight For You

Cover of "Fight For You," featuring a sunny picture of the Roman Coliseum with a girl holding a sword in one of the archways
Image from Kayla Bain-Vrba

Title: Fight For You

Author: Kayla Bain-Vrba

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood/violence, sexual assault, whorephobia, sexualization of female characters

Back Cover:

Sold off to pay her father’s debts, Cherry spends her nights dancing and her days longing for freedom. Determined to break free of her life, she transfers from the dance halls to the stadiums, where all the real money is made.

The only problem with her plan is that she’s not a fighter. In order to learn, Cherry approaches Berlin, one of the best fighters in the stadium. Berlin, however, wants nothing to do with her, and Cherry realizes the hardest fights do not take place in the arena …

Review:

I was really excited about this book. It even made my Top 5 Want to Reads for this year. I guess the joke’s on me for getting so excited about the concept and not reading the reviews. This is the most disappointing book I’ve read this year.

So you know how based on the back cover, it seems like a lot of the story is going to be about Cherry convincing Berlin to teach her to fight? Yeah, Berlin agrees to train her on page 2. Right after their first kiss. Berlin gives Cherry an aggressive kiss after tackling her as a “show of dominance.”

Which leads me to my next problem with this book – Cherry and Berlin are both overly sexualized. At once point, Cherry says “I want people to see me as more than tits and ass,” and yet the author describes both girls mostly in terms of tits, ass, and how horny they make each other. There’s a lot of nudity. There’s a lot of random nipple sucking. There’s a lot of sexual situations that don’t fit the fact that these girls hardly know each other. And most of it reads like amateur erotica.

I don’t want to be That FeministTM, but this novella reads like it is by and for the male gaze. Cherry and Berlin are described in terms of sex appeal, their relationship develops through mutual horniness, and the level of physical intimacy they have as strangers is straight out of a random encounters erotica story. If there had been actual on-page sex when the girls had sex, I would call this amateur erotica with a veneer of gladiators slapped on top.

The pacing was also very bad. It moved much too fast and didn’t focus enough on anything to give either of the girls real emotions. The conflicts between Berlin and Cherry feel contrived and both girls get over them within a few paragraphs with no emotional growth shown, and you get no sense of the world (other than this is some sort of dystopian society where people or their family members are sold to work in The Zone if they can’t pay their debts).

A short list of other problems that I want to mention but not spend an entire paragraph on:

  • Both girls act like sex work is awful/shameful/makes you less of a person.
  • Two unnecessary sexual assault scenes.
  • It’s not really clear how one actually makes money off the fights. Maybe betting on them?
  • It’s mentioned offhandedly that the fights are mostly about the sex appeal – which is just, what???
  • The line “You’re going to be turned on when you’re fighting.”

This could have easily been expanded into a novel – and I think with time to flesh out the world and the characters of Cherry and Berlin, this could have been at least good. Berlin has an interesting past, and Cherry at least has some family history that could have been explored. The world could have been interesting. And I still love stories about fighting in arenas for money. I’m mostly upset about this novella because it could have been good, and I wanted it to be – it just wasn’t.

High Fantasy

Review: The Golden Yarn

Cover of "The Golden Yarn," featuring a golden tree branch that forms the silhouette of a face on a blue background
Image from Cornelia Funke

Title: The Golden Yarn

Series: Mirrorworld #3

Author: Cornelia Funke

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, sex mentions, mild body horror

Spoiler Warning: This book is third in a series, so this review may contain spoilers of the previous books.

Back Cover:

Jacob Reckless continues to travel the portal in his father’s abandoned study. His name has continued to be famous on the other side of the mirror, as a finder of enchanted items and buried secrets. His family and friends, from his brother, Will to the shape-shifting vixen, Fox, are on a collision course as the two worlds become connected. Who is driving these two worlds together, and why is he always a step ahead?

This new force isn’t limiting its influence to just Jacob’s efforts – it has broadened the horizon within MirrorWorld. Jacob, Will and Fox travel east and into the Russian folklore, to the land of the Baba Yaga, pursued by a new type of being that knows our world all too well.

Review:

This is a book best read in quick succession with Reckless and Fearless, because it picks up right after Fearless leaves off and it does a disservice to this book to be trying to piece together things you don’t remember while reading it. Although it has been five years since I read Fearless, so it’s probably my own fault for not rereading the first two books before this one.

And since it’s been five years, I can’t really compare the characters to how they were in the previous books. And The Golden Yarn follows a LOT of them. Jacob and Fox, Nerron the Goyl treasure hunter, Will, the antagonist, the Dark Fairy, Kami’en the Goyl king, Jacob’s father …. There’s a lot of storylines woven through this book. (This is a book best read without distractions, otherwise it’s easy to get confused.)

The only characters I’m really going to touch on are Jacob and Fox, since they are the main protagonists and the bulk of the story focuses on them. And most of the other characters’ stories were more about plot than character, anyway.

Jacob’s theme for this book was “love.” His love for Will (and his desire to protect him) drove most of his actions, and his love for Fox drove most of his emotional arc. You still get some of his awesome treasure hunter-ness, but not as much. Fox took a bit of a back seat and ended up caught in a love triangle (which didn’t annoy me like love triangles usually do, but still).

The characters (even the minor ones) are all solid, but you really read a Mirrorworld book for the world – and the plot, which often ties in with the world. The world is enchanting and vivid and woven full of myths and magic. You get a lot in the previous books, but you get even more in this one – the characters cross multiple countries and the diversity of the magic and legends reflects that.

I want to say so much more about this book, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. This entire book is amazing. All of the subplots are fascinating and engrossing, the world is wonderful … it’s everything you want out of a Mirrorworld book. And I haven’t found anything about a sequel, but the ending of The Golden Yarn is too open-ended for this to be the last book. And besides, I want more.

The Mirrorworld series:

  1. Reckless
  2. Fearless
  3. The Golden Yarn
Women's Issues/Feminism

Review: Loving to Survive

Cover of "Loving to Survive," featuring red text on a tan and white background
Image from Thrift Books

Title: Loving to Survive: Sexual Terror, Men’s Violence, and Women’s Lives

Author: Dee L.R. Graham

Genre: Women’s Issues/Feminism

Trigger Warnings: Discussion of rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and abuse

Back Cover:

The authors of this book take Stockholm Syndrome as their starting point to develop a new way of looking at male-female relationships. “Loving to Survive” considers men’s violence against women as crucial to understanding women’s current psychology. Men’s violence creates ever-present, and therefore often unrecognized, terror in women. This terror is often experienced as a fear for any woman of rape by any man or as a fear of making any man angry. They propose that women’s current psychology is actually a psychology of women under conditions of captivity, that is, under conditions of terror caused by male violence against women. Therefore, women’s responses to men, and to male violence, resemble hostages’ responses to captors.

“Loving to Survive” explores women’s bonding to men as it relates to men’s violence against women. It proposes that, like hostages who work to placate their captors lest they kill them, women work to please men, and from this springs women’s femininity. Femininity describes a set of behaviors that please men because they communicate a woman’s acceptance of her subordinate status. Thus, feminine behaviors are, in essence, survival strategies. Like hostages who bond to their captors, women bond to men in an effort to survive.

This is a book that will forever change the way we look at male-female relationships and women’s lives.

Review:

This was an interesting book.

Right off the bat I was skeptical of the concept – that because of male violence, all women have Stockholm Syndrome (a phenomenon called “Societal Stockholm Syndrome” in the book) and women’s relationships with men are filtered through that lens. (There was also an implication that heterosexual women are only heterosexual because of Stockholm Syndrome, which was just plain weird to me.) But I decided to give it a chance.

The book started with a discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. It went over in detail the Swedish bank robbery that the syndrome got its name from, which was actually a fascinating read, and covered the conditions necessary for it to develop. Then it moved into examining the situation of women in (modern American) society and matching that up with the conditions for Stockholm Syndrome to develop.

Some of the points made sense – like that women have no way to “escape” from men or be completely positive that they will not be victims of male violence. Others – like the idea that the only perspectives women have access to are male perspectives – seemed like a bit of a stretch. Dee had some good ideas and gave a solid explanation of many aspects of patriarchy, but ultimately, I was unconvinced. It’s definitely a theory worth exploring, but in my opinion, there just isn’t enough solid evidence to call it a fact.

The last chapter, though, was worth the entire read. It covers ways women have and can resist the patriarchy and is full of practical, actionable things you can do to work on de-Stockholm-Syndrome-ing yourself. I’m not a woman, but I definitely plan to use some of those suggestions.

And speaking of that – I am not a woman (I’m agender), and I also don’t have a lot of experience with male violence, so I didn’t find this book all that relatable. Women and those who have experienced a lot of male violence will probably see themselves more in these pages. This book also doesn’t even touch on trans or nonbinary issues – it is 100% about cis women and cis men.

Overall, though it lacked enough evidence to convince me, Loving to Survive presented some good ideas, made some solid points, and gave an excellent discussion of the violence aspect of the patriarchy. And if nothing else, it’s a fascinating read.

Personal Development

Review: Braving the Wilderness

Cover of "Braving the Wilderness," featuring a few pine trees in front of a light blue sky
Image from Brené Brown

Title: Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Author: Brené Brown

Genre: Personal Development

Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia (mention)

Back Cover:

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

Review:

I am a huge fan of Brené Brown, so much so that this book make my top 5 anticipated reads of 2018. I was especially excited because it talks about belonging, which – as someone who feels like the misfit in most situations – promised to be really helpful for me.

And overall, this was a solid book. I just had one major issue with chapter four, which made me put down the book for a little bit – but I’ll get to that.

Brené starts by talking about disconnection, how it’s a basic human need and modern society is very disconnected. She also talks about the “wilderness,” which is basically her conception of a place where you’re authentically yourself and radically vulnerable and open to connection with others. Then she goes into four steps her research has found to move towards that wilderness:

  1. People are hard to hate up close. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

Chapter four was the first step: “People are hard to hate up close. Move in.” And I agree with her idea here, which is that if you make the effort to truly understand where people are coming from and what they believe, it’s hard to hate them. My problem was that she brought politics into it, and she’s definitely coming from a white moderate, “let’s all be friends” view. Which, on one hand, I understand. If you’re privileged like she is (white, straight, cisgender, rich, Christian), it can be easy to want to get along with everyone because politics doesn’t affect you a lot. But if you’re queer, a person of color, poor, Muslim, or any other variety of minority, politics has the potential to affect you a lot. I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t bother trying to understand someone with different politics from you, but in the age of neo-Nazis who want people dead for being black, queer, Muslim, etc., safety is more important than understanding. Despite what Brené Brown says, it is not necessary to attempt to understand people who want you dead.

Beyond that one problem, though, I didn’t have issue with the book. Brené goes on to talk about setting boundaries and standing up for yourself while still being vulnerable, avoiding black-and-white thinking and searching for the gray areas, avoiding superficial and negative connections based on mutual dislike, and the power of seeing people in person. There are a lot of good and applicable ideas that inspired me and made me want this “true belonging” that Brené talks about.

This one of those books where I feel like I’ll have to read it a couple times to fully … I don’t want to say fully understand it, because I did understand it, but I guess fully acknowledge and understand how I can apply this to my own life. Even though I definitely disagree with Brené’s politics, I still think this is a very worthwhile book.

Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Review: Otherbound

Cover of "Otherbound," Featuring pink and purple text in front of two faces, mostly in darkness, facing opposite directions
Image from Corinne Duyvis

Title: Otherbound

Author: Corinne Duyvis

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Verbal abuse, physical abuse, blood/injury, character death

Back Cover:

Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected.

She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he’s yanked from his Arizona town into Amara’s mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He’s spent years as a powerless observer of Amara’s life. Amara has no idea . . . until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she’s furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan’s breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they’ll have to work together to survive–and discover the truth about their connection.

Read To: Page 268

Review:

I wanted to love this book. I really did. The concept was awesome (person in our world is connected to someone in a fantasy world to the point where he literally sees through her eyes), lots of other people have good things to say about it, and the female lead is bisexual. I got about two thirds of the way through it because I wanted to love it. But I finally realized that I just didn’t care enough to finish it.

My main problem was Nolan. I didn’t like his parts of the story at all. He wasn’t a very active character – everything that happened to him seemed to happen by accident, and when he eventually discovers he can affect something in Amara’s world, he uses that power to have conversations with Amara – and compared to what was happening with Amara, his world was really boring. It was kind of hard to care about Nolan’s relationship with his sister when Amara is running for her life.

I was much more invested in Amara’s story. Amara was a solid character, with a lot of conflicting thoughts and feelings that gave her a lot of depth. She also had a crush on Cilla (the princess), which was a fun subplot and added some more complicated feelings to the mix. Her world was interesting – a pretty basic high fantasy world, but with interesting takes on mages and magic, and her situation was interesting. Difficult and seemingly hopeless, yes, but at least interesting.

Around where I stopped reading, though, even Amara’s world lost the plot a little bit. In the beginning, Amara and Cilla are running from their lives from mages who want to kill Cilla, but the man “protecting” them is also horribly abusive. It’s a life-or-death (or physical pain) high-stakes situation. But it kind of loses that – not that there isn’t danger, but it’s dialed down in exchange for some conspiracies. Which, to be fair, were interesting in their own right, but still felt like a step back from the danger of the previous parts.

If the story had been only about Amara, I might have finished it. Even though it lost the plot a bit, I might have pushed through to see how the conspiracies worked out. But I didn’t have the patience to read through Nolan’s parts, and I didn’t care enough about Amara’s story to push through his for hers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. It just couldn’t make me care enough.

Fantasy

Review: Ice Massacre

Book cover trigger warning: Blood

Cover of "Ice Massacre," featuring an underwater image of a mermaid's tail with blood billowing off the fins.
Image from Tiana Warner

Title: Ice Massacre

Series: Mermaids of Eriana Kwai #1

Author: Tiana Warner

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood, violence, character death

Back Cover:

A mermaid’s supernatural beauty serves one purpose: to lure a sailor to his death.

The Massacre is supposed to bring peace to Eriana Kwai. Every year, the island sends its warriors to battle these hostile sea demons. Every year, the warriors fail to return. Desperate for survival, the island must decide on a new strategy. Now, the fate of Eriana Kwai lies in the hands of twenty battle-trained girls and their resistance to a mermaid’s allure.

Eighteen-year-old Meela has already lost her brother to the Massacre, and she has lived with a secret that’s haunted her since childhood. For any hope of survival, she must overcome the demons of her past and become a ruthless mermaid killer.

For the first time, Eriana Kwai’s Massacre warriors are female, and Meela must fight for her people’s freedom on the Pacific Ocean’s deadliest battleground.

Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it was one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a while. On the other, it was kind of like a gory mess that I couldn’t look away from.

I got a free copy of Ice Massacre … somewhere. I don’t even remember where at this point. But I read it in three days, which is very fast for me lately. It’s definitely an engaging read, the kind that draws you in and makes you have to know how it ends.

Which is interesting, since I didn’t really get much of a feel for Meela, even though she was a narrator. There was an extended flashback at the beginning that gave some insight into her past and actually a pretty good understanding of her as a 10-year-old. But 18-year-old Meela is not a very robust character – character took a back seat to all the drama happening. That’s not to say I didn’t like her, because I did, and I was rooting for her. She just wasn’t a character with a lot of depth.

What really kept me so into the book was all the action and drama. The majority of the book takes place on the mermaid-hunting ship, so there’s a lot of mermaid attacks (which somehow managed to feel unique even though they were basically the same thing every time). There was also a remarkable amount of drama as mean girl/popular asshole Dani grows more and more unhinged.

Dani was actually my biggest problem with the book. And it’s not that she’s a bad character – on the contrary, she made a great antagonist. Characters like her, though – the one that’s absolutely horrible to the main character (and others) but always gets away with it – get under my skin. I hated her. Which, I suppose, is the point. But even though characters like her make for good reading, they bother me, and that was a strike against the book for me. You may have a different reaction.

Also, this is a very violent book. A lot of blood, a lot of gory injuries and gorier deaths. I normally don’t mind violent books, and this was almost too much for me (although to be fair, I haven’t read a super violent book in a while). So be warned – if you don’t have a stomach for gore and death, this is not the book for you.

Overall, this was a good book. Not fantastic, but definitely better than average, and an extremely engaging and absorbing read. I rooted for the protagonists and wanted to see how it ended. But I wasn’t really invested enough to read the rest of the series. If they fall into my lap like Ice Massacre did, I’ll definitely give them a shot, but I’m not going to go out of my way for book two.

The Mermaids of Eriana Kwai series:

  1. Ice Massacre
  2. Ice Crypt
  3. Ice Kingdom