Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Series: Legacy of Orïsha, #1
Pages: 525
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 6th 2018

      “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
      But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
      Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
      Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.”

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“I gasp as the sweltering jungle heat around us snaps to a freezing cold. The chill bites through my skin, cutting straight to the bone.But the icy rush only lasts an instant. As quick as it comes, it vanishes, leaving us bewildered on the mountainside.”

Tomi Adeyemi’s much-anticipated debut, Children of Blood and Bone, is full of breathtaking adventure and features a world that is both stunning and complex. The land of Orïsha once overflowed with magic. The maji worked wonders, but hatred and a thirst for power turned the crown against them. When magic mysteriously disappeared, King Saran ordered the eradication of the defenseless maji, robbing the world of any trace of magic. Zélie knows intimately the injustices of Saran’s enmity toward those like her mother. As a divîner, Zélie and children like her who bear the mark of a once-promised magic, cannot hide what they might have become. Though magic no longer exists, it does not protect them from the prejudices held against them. When Zélie is unexpectedly thrust into an impossible scheme by Saran’s daughter Amari to restore magic to the divîners of Orïsha, she embarks on a journey that will test her resolve and courage.

Adeyemi has build a world that is inventive and multi-layered. In Orïsha, magic has divided its people. The divîners, those who would have become maji if magic still existed, remind King Saran and those who think like him of the corruption of magic. Those like Zélie are treated as inferior, subjected to daily prejudice and harsh punishment. She, along with other divîners, have trained in secret for years, knowing that one day Saran may come for them the way he came for their parents. The gods once occupied an important part of this world, but since magic’s disappearance, many believe the gods have abandoned them for good.

Told in three perspectives, Children of Blood and Bone, gives its readers an in-depth look at the young people who will ultimately shape the fate of this world. Zélie is an easy character to like. She’s tough and determined, and even when she is reckless, it’s hard not to admire her for wanting to do the right thing despite the consequences. Her doubts about her abilities are what ultimately make her a relatable character. Zélie lost her mother at a young age to Saran and his war against the maji. Magic is the strongest tie Zélie has to her mother; it’s a link to a past where those like her were able to thrive; it’s freedom from the oppression of Saran and a chance to right the wrongs she and those like her have endured. Her relationship with her brother, Tzain, is one of my favorites in the novel. He feels a strong obligation to protect her, but finds it hard when Zélie is more of a leap-first, think-later kind of person. She loves her brother, but finds his protectiveness to be stifling.

As princess of Orïsha, much is expected of Amari. Expectations that both her parents are disappointed that Amari fails to meet. She’s timid and soft-hearted. Though her father has wanted to raise both of his children to be strong and unrelenting, Amari has refused to raise a hand against those she cares about. I loved Amari’s entire arc, how she learns to embrace her own strengths when much of the world sees such traits as weak. Inan is destined to take over Orïsha from his father. He has learned to hate magic and will do anything to keep it from returning. His mission to retrieve a stolen artifact takes an unexpected turn when he crosses paths with Zélie. I loved his early interactions with Zélie as he is forced to face truths about himself and Saran, but does so very reluctantly. His relationship with Amari has been poisoned by their father. I really wanted to explore this aspect of both of their characters more. Saran is such a strong influence in both their lives, but we hardly get to see them interact with him.

Children of Blood and Bone is an impressive debut that takes readers on an epic journey full of hope and heartbreak. With an ending that will shake you to the core, Adeyemi has introduced readers to a world you won’t soon forget.

4/5

★★★★

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ARC Review: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Title: Starry Eyes
Author: Jenn Bennett
Series: N/A
Pages: 432
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: April 3rd 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.
      But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.
      What could go wrong?
      With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.
      And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?”

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Jenn Bennett’s Starry Eyes suffers from an interesting synopsis that never quite gets delivered on page. Zorie and Lennon were once best friends, but now regard each other with nothing less than scorn. Though the synopsis boasts of a turbulent relationship between their families, the reality is less dramatic. Zorie’s mother has always been friendly with Lennon’s moms. The major point of contention between the two families is Zorie’s father. His bitterness about the failure of his career and his own bigotry toward Lennon’s moms are what fuels the tension between the two families. At times, the novel felt too long and the conflict between Zorie and Lennon felt too short-lived that the initial animosity at the beginning felt rather pointless.

I liked that Zorie, a devoted planner, learns to appreciate spontaneity, that she learns that there is value in the unexpected. Her relationship with her mother is my favorite in the novel. Joy is patient and understanding with Zorie. She never ridicules her daughter for bad decisions, but is always there to help her through her problems. Joy makes a striking contrast to Zorie’s father, Dan, and much of the time, I wondered what he really brought to the table in their marriage and Zorie’s upbringing. So much of the novel hinges on Zorie’s father’s destructive behavior without giving the character anything else to work with. As a result, Zorie’s father falls very flat. The revelations surrounding his character and the consequences with regard to his relationship with his daughter did not have a strong impact on me as a reader because I never could value him as an important influence in Zorie’s life.

One of my major issues with the novel is the hostility between the main character and her love interest. Part of the build-up is revealing what went wrong between former best friends, Zorie and Lennon. Though the two do their best to avoid one another, it seemed obvious from the beginning that this wasn’t something that Zorie felt strongly about. I expected a relationship with more tension, but after only a couple of bantering scenes, the two were already quickly on their way to reconciliation. My problem with this whole dynamic is when everything is put on the table, I could not help but shake my head because a little communication could have saved both characters from a lot of heartache. Strangely enough, I was more interested in finding out more about their friendship than their thwarted romance. It’s an aspect that is forced to take a backseat, but one I was more invested in.

Starry Eyes will probably appeal to those who enjoy second-chance romances and Bennett’s previous novel Alex, Approximately, but left me wanting more overall.

3/5

★★★

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 2nd 2017

      “Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
      To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
      In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

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“I thought I was supposed to be good and follow the rules…But I am done with being weak. I am done with being good. I think I am going to be something else.”

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince features a complex heroine who is forced to become more ruthless than the monsters who surround her in order to survive. Jude was taken from the human world along with her sisters when she was a child and has grown up under the watchful eye of Madoc, the High King of Elfhame’s powerful general. As a mortal, Jude will never truly belong in the Faerie realm, but she has been so altered by its cruelty and majesty, that returning to the human world is unthinkable. Jude must find a way to earn her place in the High Court, to ensure her own safety and protection for those she cares about. But sparring with a foe who is stronger and more powerful than she will ever be will push Jude to her limits and could turn her into something even more terrible than than the Fae themselves.

Jude was such an interesting character in that she never wanted to embrace her humanity, but instead understood that she had to rid herself of her very human weaknesses in order to gain any kind of footing in the Faerie world. Her relationship with this world is rooted in opposing emotions. She hates these immortal beings for taking away her parents, for their cruelty, and the alienation she feels being a part of their world but not of it. But on the other hand, she has found a home in this strange and inhuman world. She admires their strength, ruthlessness, and power. Jude longs for the kind of power that no mortal has ever been granted. For the Faeries, mortal are playthings. There to amuse or serve them one minute and then to be discarded the next. It is for this reason that Jude is able to move undetected among them, it’s why her defiance is so provoking to those with more power, and why, though improbably, Jude finds a way to shape not just her own story but those around her.

I loved all the different relationships Jude has with each member of her family. Her twin sister Taryn very much wants to embrace the Faerie world, but in a very human way. She ultimate believes love will be her protection. She is everything that Jude might have been if she hadn’t been consumed by her own ambition. Jude’s older sister Vivi is half-Faerie and half-human. She longs to return to the human world where she has fallen in love with a human girl. Vivi hates her father Madoc for shattering her world and perhaps blames him for her sisters’ love for the Faerie realm. As far as side characters go, I thought Vivi was the most interesting and deserved more page time. For Jude, Madoc has always represented the best and worst part of the Faerie world. He murdered her parents, but has also shown her and her sisters a great deal of affection. He pushes her, but in many ways, also hold her back.

Making these vicious creatures romantic characters is always tricky. Faeries are inherently cruel and selfish. After finishing this first installment, I wonder if there is any goodness to be found in these creatures that you could call redeeming or if their nature is such that the morality we apply to human characters cannot be applied to them. It is for this reason that I found it hard to root for certain characters. Though it is revealed later that the motives of some may not be solely rooted in hatred, I still found it hard to forget the malice shown to the protagonist. I understood more what a Faerie might see in Jude in that she finds a way to overcome her own weaknesses despite her fragility as a mortal, but couldn’t quite see what Jude would see in someone who has been a thorn in her side. Still, I’m curious to see where the author decides to take a certain relationship.

Overall, Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince was a fascinating read that had me racing to the end with its startling conclusion.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Title: The Price Guide to the Occult
Author: Leslye Walton
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: March 13th 2018
*I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “The Blackburn women are cursed. Ever since the extraordinary witch Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island centuries ago and was shunned by the eight ‘original’ settlers, Blackburn witches have been doomed to carry out a brief whirlwind affair with a descendant of the Original Eight. The vengeful curse, however, had unintended side effects: it diluted the Blackburns’ supernatural powers. That’s perfectly all right with seventeen-year-old Nor Blackburn. All she wants is a quiet, unremarkable life—her powers are blissfully unexceptional, her love life pretty much nonexistent. Nor hopes the curse has played itself out through enough generations that she’ll finally be spared the drama. But when a mysterious book comes out promising to cast any spell for the right price, Nor senses a dark storm headed straight for Anathema—and straight for her.
      In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author—Nor’s own mother—looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.”

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Leslye Waltons’s The Price Guide to the Occult is a captivating fantasy that pits its heroine against her own mother in a novel full of magic and pain. Nor is part of a long line of Blackburn women whose magical abilities have both beguiled folk on Anathema Island and caused them to regard these women with suspicion. Nor would like nothing more than to have everyone forget the notoriety of her family name even as the magic that courses through her veins grows harder and harder to ignore. When the book, The Price Guide to the Occult, makes its way to the island, Nor can’t help but notice its contents bare a striking resemblance to spells cast long ago by her ancestor Rona Blackburn. Something grows amiss with the people on the island who once pledged their allegiance to Nor’s mother and she can’t shake the feeling that something is coming. As much as Nor would like to fade into the background, the danger heading her way will force her to confront her past and embrace the magic inside her she has tried so hard to deny.

When one loves a book like I have loved Walton’s first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, it’s inevitable that I will compare this second to the first. While Ava Lavender was steeped in magical realism, The Price Guide to the Occult reads more like a fantasy novel. Curses, witches, and spells fill this new world. While I found lots of charm in the idea of people like Nor’s grandmother using her Blackburn gift to heal ailments that may not be treated with modern medicine, I really wanted the author to delve more into this world. But the novel is limited to Nor’s perspective and she would rather distance herself from any kind of magic and so we as readers miss out on exploring this kind of magic more in depth. The island felt like a distinct character itself. Being isolated from the mainland, it felt like a place where magic could be whispered about, but go largely unnoticed to the rest of the world. Nor’s world is small, but also full of people who have taken part in her upbringing, who have occupied that space once reserved for her mother who abandoned her long ago.

Nor’s avoidance of magic is tied specifically to her relationship with her mother. Next to Nor, Fern Blackburn is the most clearly defined of the characters. Fern was never a nurturing mother. Her obsession with Nor’s father overrode any love she may have once felt for her daughter. Willing to do anything to get what she wanted, Fern didn’t bat an eyelash when it came to harming her own daughter in order to do so. Able to manipulate others, Fern has made a living off of other people’s pain. Nor lives in fear of becoming her mother, of being the kind of person that uses others without a second thought. But the people in Nor’s life, from her best friend Savvy to her grandmother Judd, are evidence that Nor is not like her mother at all. I do want to mention that the novel does deal with self-harm. Nor has hurt herself in the past and struggles with overcoming the urge to do so again throughout the story.

The Price Guide to the Occult is a short novel and in many places this shows. The development of certain relationships suffer from lack of page time. While there’s a budding romance between Nor and a boy she thought she would never see again, I found myself more invested in her relationship with the prickly Gage Coldwater. He and his family play a vital role in the island’s history and while this explains the animosity he feels toward Nor, I really wanted to see more about how this relationship shifts. There is a time-jump later on in the novel where this development takes place and so wish I could have witnessed more of their interactions. The novel also comes to a close rather quickly. There is a lot of build-up where Nor’s mother is concerned and I expected the battle to be a bit longer.

Overall, The Price Guide to the Occult is a wonderful example of Walton’s storytelling ability. Nor is a memorable character and the world Walton has built is filled with both beauty and horror.

4/5

★★★★

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi
Author: Sandhya Menon
Series: N/A
Pages: 380
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: May 30th 2017

      “Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the ‘Ideal Indian Husband.’ Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
      Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
      The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this ‘suggested arrangement’ so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
      Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

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“It was beginning. Her freedom, her independence, her period of learning—about herself, about the world, about her career. She was finally doing it. Here she wouldn’t be Dimple Shah, wayward, Americanized daughter of immigrant parents; she’d be just Dimple Shah, future web developer. People would judge her on her brain, not her lack of makeup.”

Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi is a delightful rom-com that captures how magical and unpredictable first love can be. Dimple Shah knows she will never be the kind of daughter her mother wants her to be, but she is determined to do everything in her power to make her own dreams of becoming a web developer come true. Attending Insomnia Con will bring her one step closer to realizing this dream. Unbeknownst to Dimple, her parents have co-conspired with the Patels, to get their children to meet at the con in hopes of getting them to agree to an arranged marriage. Rishi is happy and willing to meet Dimple, of having an arranged marriage altogether, but their meeting will challenge both of them in ways they never expected.

I often bemoan the lack of dual perspectives in contemporary romances. Though I love getting to know one protagonist, I’m often left wanting to know more about the love interest. Menon’s story playfully jumps from Dimple’s perspective to Rishi’s, allowing both characters to become fully-realized and partaking in perfect comedic timing. As a result, it was hard not to smile with every page turned. I loved how Menon explored the cultural significance of having an arranged marriage through her two characters. As children on Indian immigrants, both Dimple and Rishi experience the weight of their parents’ dreams. For Rishi, these means embracing his heritage, of making his parents proud, and continuing a cultural tradition. For Dimple, it means forever being trapped in a box, of never being able to discover what she wants out of life, of following a path that will only smother all her untapped potential.

Dimple is a character who I immediately liked. She’s opinionated, temperamental, and often doesn’t have a filter. She has all this passion inside her just waiting to get out. Her ambition and dedication to furthering her education and need to discover what she can truly accomplish if given the right opportunities is hard not to admire. Dimple is sure of her future plans, but in the novel she learns to accept that life happens and sometimes those plans end up changing for the better. One of the things that resonated with me the most was Dimple’s relationship with her mother. They often clash when it comes to what one expects and wants of the other. Even though there’s a lot of love between the two, this doesn’t mean they don’t get fed up with one another, especially when their views on things like marriage differ so widely. Dimple wants to be valued as more than just a potential future wife, and she struggles with the fear that that’s all her mother sees her as.

Rishi is one of the sweetest characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He’s thoughtful, kind, and sensitive. When he finds out Dimple had no idea about their parents’s plan, he backs off immediately. He feels the need to be responsible, to fulfill all the dreams his parents have for him. Unfortunately for Rishi, this means giving up something he’s truly passionate about. I admired how sure he was of himself and how easy it was for him to be assertive when he had to be. I loved his interactions with his brother Ashish. These are two characters who could not be more different, but who in the end, find common ground and becoming really supportive of one another. Rishi’s first interaction with Dimple could not be more of a disaster, but I loved how both of these characters became friends and pushed each other to embrace their dreams.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a wonderful contemporary that allows its characters to make mistakes and grow. It’s a coming-of-age story as much as a fun rom-com and I loved every second of Dimple and Rishi’s story.

5/5

★★★★★

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 327
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Release Date: October 24th 2017

      “In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.
      Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
      Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.
      The Beautiful Ones is a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the Belle Époque.

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“Hector raised his hands, the candle flames rising with them, and with one movement of his arms they merged into a prodigious ball of fire that he then snuffed out with a clap of his hands, causing several spectators shriek because, for a moment, it seemed like he was about to scorch himself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Beautiful Ones is a character-driven novel that combines fantasy and romance in a eloquent story rapt with emotion. Antonina “Nina” Beaulieu has been invited to stay with her cousin in Loisail for her first Grand Season. The city is a far cry from Nina’s home in the country, but she can’t help but see its appeal when she meets the mysterious Hector Auvray. A gifted telekinetic, Hector has risen to prominence performing for audiences across the globe. When Hector begins courting Nina, she’s convinced that they are meant to be. Hector, however, has a ulterior motive, one that will bring Nina’s world crashing down.

Moreno-Garcia juggles three perspectives and does a masterful job of fleshing out each character, making them feel real to the reader and allowing each to have their strengths as well as their faults. Nina is more comfortable trying to catch beetles and butterflies than a potential husband. Not the kind of young woman that suitors line up for in a city like Loisail, Nina finds rules regarding etiquette to be stifling. It doesn’t help that her telekinetic ability often manifests at inopportune times. While those in Loisail can appreciate such a talent as a means of entertainment, it is not something suitable for ladies to display. Nina is markedly younger than the other two characters and it very much shows. Hopelessly romantic and naive about the world, Nina is easily taken in. She believes the very best about people because she has never been exposed to those who would use others for their own gain. Her inexperience opens her up to plenty of heartache. Though her openness was one of the first things I admired about her, her growth as a character made me appreciate her even more. I loved that Moreno-Garcia took the most humble of the three characters and allowed her to develop and show strength unparalleled.

Hector is not a character that you immediately fall in love with. Yes, in some ways, he can be seen as simply a tragic figure. Coming from nothing, Hector has managed to accumulate the kind of wealth that people in Loisail are either born with or marry into. While trying to recognize this dream, he ended up losing his first love in the process. His choice to court Nina only as a means to get close to another instinctively made me bristle. That being said, his is a really rewarding character arc as he is forced to confront his own naivety. Even as a grown man, he still has a lot to learn. Hector learns to see the past and present how they are and now how he wishes them to be.

At times I wanted to dislike Valérie wholeheartedly, but Moreno-Garcia has created such a complicated character that it’s difficult not to admire her in some way. Valérie was pressured into marrying Nina’s cousin Gaeten in order to save her family from financial ruin. But lest you think she is some tragic figure, Valérie is also vain, resentful, and prone to jealousy. She often regards Nina with disdain because, unlike her, Nina has more freedom to choose who she marries. Nina also has the love of her cousin, something Valérie doesn’t necessarily want, but which her proud personality demands. She’s an incredibly manipulative person who is much more comfortable being cruel than sentimental. For her, loving someone means they have power over her and she refuses to be under another’s thumb. There’s no way to justify Valérie’s every decision, but because she is such a well-developed character, I understood why she did the things she did and this ultimately made her an exceptional antagonist.

The Beautiful Ones showcases just how versatile and gifted a writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia is. The world she builds is very easy to fall in love with and my only criticism is that I wanted to see more of the telekinetic aspect. Still, there are few books that leave me feeling completely satisfied and The Beautiful Ones is one of them.

5/5

★★★★★