The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

Title: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo
Author: F.C. Yee
Series: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo, #1
Pages: 336
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: August 8th 2017

      “Genie Lo is one among droves of Ivy-hopeful overachievers in her sleepy Bay Area suburb. You know, the type who wins. When she’s not crushing it at volleyball or hitting the books, Genie is typically working on how to crack the elusive Harvard entry code.
      But when her hometown comes under siege from hellspawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are dramatically rearranged. Enter Quentin Sun, a mysterious new kid in class who becomes Genie’s self-appointed guide to battling demons. While Genie knows Quentin only as an attractive transfer student with an oddly formal command of the English language, in another reality he is Sun Wukong, the mythological Monkey King incarnate—right down to the furry tale and penchant for peaches.
      Suddenly, acing the SATs is the least of Genie’s worries. The fates of her friends, family, and the entire Bay Area all depend on her summoning an inner power that Quentin assures her is strong enough to level the very gates of Heaven. But every second Genie spends tapping into the secret of her true nature is a second in which the lives of her loved ones hang in the balance., Is there evil in all of us?

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“I scrabbled backward on my heels and hands, trying to get away from the radius of their malice. My heart hadn’t beat in the last minute. I was looking at two people trying to kill each other.”

F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo brings Chinese mythology to life in an action-packed and entertaining novel. Genie Lo is a sixteen year old with Harvard ambitions. Her number one priority has always been school and she’s never let anything distract her from that goal. But when Quentin Sun walks into her life and introduces her to a world of gods and demons, Genie is forced to reprioritize. Genie isn’t as ordinary as she’s always thought. Gifted with abilities beyond her wildest imagination, Genie must join forces with Quentin to defeat demons who have descended upon her city.

I immediately took to Genie as a protagonist. Not only is she relatable, but her voice is playfully comedic, making it hard not to immediately love her. She is also a bit of a hothead, but it made me love her more rather than subtracting from her character. Genie often struggles with her self-image. She’s never been dainty and has always been valued (like her spot on the volleyball team) because of her height and not her skill. Genie’s self-consciousness is made worse by her mother’s often backhanded remarks. Though she knows her mom means well, this doesn’t make these snide comments any easier to swallow. Genie also has a complicated relationship with her father and is part of the reason she feels that it is important to have her whole future already planned out. Discovering that she is the reincarnation of a powerful entity makes discovering who she is as a young adult even more complicated. Genie has to contend with this important destiny that often pulls her away from those she’s close to and refusing to do so could result in the end of the world. It isn’t easy for Genie to suddenly have all this responsibility on her shoulders. I felt for her so much when this journey took her away from her best friend especially and she couldn’t even tell her what was really going on in her life.

I really liked Quentin both as a character and love interest for Genie. His first impression isn’t all that great and in many ways he comes on a little too strongly, but he ends up being incredibly supportive of Genie. He sees strength in her even when she does not. I loved how much room he gave Genie to grow and even though he wanted her to see just how powerful she really was, it never felt like he was being too pushy. Genie and Quentin’s relationship felt genuine. Any romantic feelings between the two didn’t start right away. Their relationship felt earned as they both earn each other’s trust first, but I did find myself rooting for them from the very beginning. If you’re looking for a fun fantasy with an likable protagonist, look no further than F.C. Yee’s The Epic Crush of Genie Lo.

4/5

★★★★

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Mini Reviews: First & Then + An Enchantment of Ravens

MiniI meant to post these mini-reviews before the end of the year, but with all the posts I was hurriedly putting together, I didn’t get a chance to post this one. In a rare case, I actually regret not writing a full review for An Enchantment of Ravens as I enjoyed it more than my mini review implies, so if my brief thoughts don’t convince you to pick it up, I’m hoping this little note will. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: First & Then
Author: Emma Mills
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: October 13th 2015 

      “Devon Tennyson wouldn’t change a thing. She’s happy watching Friday night games from the bleachers, silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon’s cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent for football, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive star running back, Ezra, right where she doesn’t want them: first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
      Pride and Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights in this contemporary novel about falling in love with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.

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“It was endearing, in that way that almost ached sometimes, how much my folks wanted Foster to be okay. And I think even more than I did, they wanted Foster to be normal. For me, being normal meant fitting in. For them, I think it just meant being happy.”

Emma Mill’s First & Then is a Pride & Prejudice inspired contemporary that failed to grip me emotionally, making it difficult to enjoy. I had a hard time getting immersed in this book and a lot of this had to do with the protagonist. Though I understood that Devon’s judgmental thoughts were meant to create that needed tension with her love interest Ezra and draw parallels to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, it was still difficult to get behind a protagonist who referred to the freshman gym girls as “prostitots.” Her long-standing crush on her best friend Cas never radiated with me, but this was mostly the fault of the author never showing her readers why someone like Cas was worthy of such a crush. I wanted to swoon along with Dev over Ezra and knowing their relationship was gradual should have made my slow-burn loving heart skip a beat, but I mostly found the star athlete to be too wooden and meaningful interactions between the two to be lacking. The standout character and who really held the whole story together was Devon’s younger cousin Foster. He gave Devon and Ezra a common purpose and added heart to a story that would have completely fallen apart otherwise. There isn’t anything extraordinary about First & Then, but if you’re looking for a simple Jane Austen retelling, you might enjoy this one more than I.

Rating: 2/5

★★


Title: An Enchantment of Ravens
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 26th 2017

      “Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.
      Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.
      Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

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“Just like that the wrongness spread. The breeze dropped away, and the air grew still and oppressively hot. The birds stopped singing, the grasshoppers stopped buzzing, and even the wheat dropped in the stagnant air. The stench of decay grew overwhelming.”

Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens is a enjoyable fantasy with intriguing world-building and multilayered characters. Isobel lives her life dealing with the fair folk on a daily basis. As a talented portrait artist, many fair folk have commission her to paint their portraits in exchange for an enchantment. Isobel has learned that though the fair folk are beautiful, they are incredibly deceptive. She has relied on this knowledge and her own shrewdness when dealing with them. Her connection with the autumn prince Rook is more of an unspoken connection at first and it is for this reason that I hesitated to get behind their relationship. I’m not a fan of the insta-love trope, but as the story progressed, the author ended up selling their relationship better over time. I probably would have taken to the idea of Rook and Isobel sooner if the story had shown them interacting more during his portrait painting. The fair folk were fantastic antagonists in this book. I loved how dark and twisted Rogerson’s wrote them. Their fascination with humanity helped, but also hindered Isobel as she tried to escape their realm. I loved the imagery of the different fairy courts and like Isobel, readers quickly learn that just because something is enchanting, doesn’t make it innocuous. An Enchantment of Ravens does a wonderful job of showing two contrasting beings trying to navigate the other’s world and after finishing, I’m really surprised that this won’t end up being the start of a series rather than a standalone.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Title: Daughter of the Pirate King
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #1
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: February 28th 2016

      “Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.
      More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

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“Everything is loud. There’s nothing to hear except the wind and waves. Nothing to feel except the bitter cold.”

Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King won’t awe you with its world-building, but is still an undeniably entertaining fantasy. Alosa is on a secret mission from her father to steal a map that leads to the mythical island of Isla de Canta. Feigning her own capture is only the first step. Alosa must contest with a ship full of pirates, convincing them she’s nothing more than the daughter of a pirate king instead of a skilled pirate in her own right all the while searching the Night Farer in secret. But it is the ship’s first mate Riden who gives her the most troueble. Just when she thinks she might succeed, Riden seems to catch a glimpse of who she really is beneath her facade, but she can’t risk failing no matter the cost.

Alosa is a strong character that many readers will be drawn to. Her father rules the waters and as his heir a lot is expected of her. She’s had rigorous training and constantly needs to check herself in order to conceal her skills from her captors. She’s incredibly strong-willed and while this doesn’t always work to her advantage, it’s hard not to root for her. The most interesting part about her character was her relationship with her father. While readers do not get a chance to meet the pirate king Kalligan until the end of the story, it’s clear from Alosa’s perspective that he isn’t a man to be trifled with. It becomes clearer as the story progresses that Kalligan has used destructive methods to train his daughter. Alosa herself needs to believe that her father loves her, that his methods come from a place of love, but it is clear that this is not the case. This mission is her way of proving herself to him, but it’s also about her proving to herself that she is more capable than she’s been given credit for.

Alosa isn’t the only character with father issues. Riden’s older brother Draxen has taken over captaining the Night Farer from their father. Though readers aren’t given the full story until later, it’s clear from the start that Riden didn’t agree with his father’s ruthlessness. Riden, much like Alosa with her father, needs to believe that his brother is better than their father, but his unwillingness to confront the truth often renders him ineffectual. Riden’s greatest weakness is his love for his brother, but unlike Draxen, he has a moral compass that he constantly struggles with. Alosa calls him a coward and while this isn’t an inaccurate description, I would have liked to have seen Riden call her out in turn. There was a lot of give and take between the two and while I do think it pushed Riden to confront issues with his brother, I wanted to see Alosa struggle with her own demons as well.

Much of the story is driven by the tension between Alosa and Riden. I loved the banter between the two and it was really easy to enjoy the exchanges. There’s a hate to love element underneath these conversations that made the ride more enjoyable. That being said, the plot does take a backseat as a result and sometimes feels like it disappears altogether. There are some interesting fantasy elements like the Isla de Canta that is said to house a trove of treasures, but is also the home of beautiful and deadly sirens. Sirens were the most interesting part of the worldbuilding of the story and while we learn a few things about their abilities, I was really eager to travel to this isla and learn more.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fun fantasy if you’re looking for something more on the light side. A lot of fun can be had with Alosa’s adventure, but if you’re looking for a book with really complex characters and worldbuilding, you might want to look elsewhere.

3/5

★★★

The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores by Danielle Vega

Title: The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores
Author: Danielle Vega
Series: The Merciless, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Razorbill
Release Date: July 5th 2016

      “Sofia is still processing the horrific truth of what happened when she and three friends performed an exorcism that spiraled horribly out of control. Ever since that night, Sofia has been haunted by bloody and demonic visions. Her therapist says they’re all in her head, but to Sofia they feel chillingly real. She just wants to get out of town, start fresh someplace else . . . until her mother dies suddenly, and Sofia gets her wish.
      Sofia is sent to St. Mary’s, a creepy Catholic boarding school in Mississippi. There, seemingly everyone is doing penance for something, most of all the mysterious Jude, for whom Sofia can’t help feeling an unshakeable attraction. But when Sofia and Jude confide in each other about their pasts, something flips in him. He becomes convinced that Sofia is possessed by the devil. . . . Is an exorcism the only way to save her eternal soul?
      Readers won’t be able to look away from this terrifying read full of twists and turns that will leave them wondering, Is there evil in all of us?”

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“The wind blows, spreading red petals over the dead grass. I shiver and wrap my arms around my chest, watching the petals dance across the crumbling stone angels and moss-covered tombstones. Almost like droplets of blood.”

Danielle Vega’s sequel The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores takes all the horror elements from the first book in the series and kicks it up a notch. After being pulled into an exorcism by her new friends, Sofia found herself witnessing their murder by the girl they meant to save. Sofia can’t shake Brooklyn’s final words to her before she disappeared. We don’t kill our own. Convincing herself that she can’t possibly be possessed by a demon is harder said than done, but in order to move on, this is exactly what Sofia needs to do. But when tragedy strikes, Sofia ends up enrolling at St. Mary’s Prep School where it gets harder and harder for her to deny the growing darkness inside her.

The Merciless II has its flaws, but in terms of horror, there were several frightening scenes that kept me turning the pages. Vega’s sequel does improve on her previous book both in characterization and build-up. Sofia is fighting an internal battle with herself. Every ugly thought she has reminds her of Brooklyn’s words. Her new roommates have her hoping that she can start anew at this new school, but things grow complicated very quickly. Feeling jealous of one of her new friends isn’t exactly alarming and her less than charitable thoughts are fleetingly enough that even readers begin to convince themselves there is nothing wrong with Sofia. However, the tension in the novel begins when this friend begins to experience a bout of bad luck. Sofia grows increasingly concerned that she may be causing these bad accidents, but she doesn’t have anyone to turn to. Wrecked with guilt, Sofia reaches out to the one person she’s vowed to stay away from. Jude is one of the only bright spots in her life, though she’s promised herself not to pursue a relationship because of a new friend’s crush on him. Jude has some very zealous religious views, which raised a ton of alarm bells, but as a reader, you’re forced to watch Sofia open up to him and know that eventually Jude will start to believe himself that Sofia is possessed.

I sympathized with Sofia when it seemed that nothing in her life could go right. She tried so hard to fight her envious thoughts, but these thoughts seemed to have a life of their own. Though it’s clear from the synopsis that Sofia’s story is going to take an even darker turn, it did not prepare me for the horror she endures. It’s important to note that this book can be extremely triggering. I won’t go into the details, but there are several brutal scenes in this novel in which characters are subjected to physical abuse. That being said, The Merciless II: The Exorcism of Sofia Flores is an engrossing horror novel that will leave you aghast and begging to find out what happens next.

4/5

★★★★

Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 3rd 2017

      “For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.
      The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

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“Fireflies lit the flowers, drawn by the damp air and mild scent of azaleas and dahlias. During the hottest summer months, Estrella and her cousins slept in the afternoons and woke at dusk, gardening by the lightning bugs’ glow.”

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Wild Beauty is as complex as it is beautiful. Estrella and her cousins are part of a long legacy of Nomeolvides women who have cultivated the La Pradera gardens for the last century. Flowers bloom and flourish under their fingertips at will, but their enchanting gift is not the only inheritance passed down from mother to daughter. For the Nomeolvides women, their love is a curse upon the men they love. They either watch them disappear, some vanishing right before their lover’s eyes, or watch them walk away, never to be heard from again. When Fel, a mysterious boy, appears in their garden with no memory of who he is, the Nomeolvides women believe his arrival may mean the return of their past lovers. But Fel’s quest to discover who he is will uncover dark truths that will change the Nomeolvides women’s lives forever.

McLemore once again dazzles with her storytelling ability. With lush and intimate descriptions, the gardens of La Pradera come to life. The setting is equal parts magical and strange. There is both darkness and light in the Nomeolvides’s world that the author is expert at exploring. The women in Wild Beauty are well-rounded and engaging. I loved how the author let’s the reader learn more about these young women as they learn about themselves. When the novel opens, Estrella and her cousins are desperate to outrun their family curse. Though history says that it is only men that disappear, none of them want to take the risk when it comes to Bay Briar. Bay has been a part of their world forever and ever since she lost her grandmother, who owned the land the Nomeolvides have cared for for generations, they feel even more protective of her. When they all discover that each of them has fallen a little in love with her, they take action, sacrificing their greatest treasures to La Pradera in exchange for Bay’s safety. McLemore focuses on the alienation these young women experience because of their gift, but she also explores how the possibility of finding love can alienate them from one another. It’s a consequence predicated on the idea that love is something that will eventually caused them pain.

Fel adds another wrinkle to the story. The ease at which the Nomeolvides women welcome him into their family filled me with so much affection for them. Though sadness is ingrained in their world, it is their love for one another that motivates and drives them. There’s a growing affection between Fel and these women. They care for him like one of their own and he in turn feels the need to protect them. He wants to discover who he is, but there’s a part of him that is afraid of the truth and what this will mean for his relationship with these women. Estrella and her family are an ensemble I’d like to see more often. There are three generations of Nomeolvides women under the same roof who are joined by and large by their shared grief, but are inevitably separated by experience. While the older generations know grief intimately, the younger ones have not yet lost someone they love. The older women have walked this life for decades. They know what it’s like to love and grieve, to watch those closest to them crumble under the weight of loss, and what it’s like to give everything to the land that has both blessed and cursed them. Estrella and her cousins are only beginning to learn what it means to be a part of the Nomeolvides family.

Wild Beauty is a multi-layered story that will have readers enthralled from the very first page. McLemore has crafted a novel that devastates readers both with its beauty and sorrow in equal parts. If you’ve never picked up this author’s novels, you are missing out on some of the most profound and stunning writing published in recent years.

5/5

★★★★★

Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Bad Blood
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #4
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 1st 2016

      “When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.
      The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.
      They’re being hunted themselves.

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“The smell of burning flesh never really leaves you. Ash scatters. Skin scars. Pain subsides. But the smell is always there.”

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals series coalesces into a thrilling conclusion with Bad Blood. Cassie Hobbes’s world turned upside down with her mother’s gruesome murder. Years later, recruited by the FBI to be a part of a team of gifted teens that assist in the investigation of unsolved murders, Cassie has forged a new kind of family for herself. But the past refuses to let go and Cassie’s world is once again turned upside down when she discovers her mother is alive. Cassie will do anything to find the people who have kept her mother captive all these years including going toe to toe with a dangerous organization of serial killers who’ve be wreaking havoc across the country for decades. The hunt for answers will brings Cassie closer to her mother, but will also bring her and her team into the crosshairs of a group of killers who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Barnes’s series is how well she balances plot and character development. Hunting serial killers means the stakes are always high and sometimes they become personal. Much of Cassie’s motivation stems from guilt for having failed her mother in some way. These cases bring out the best in Cassie’s ability to profile the killer and sometimes even the victim, but they also have an emotional toll. In Bad Blood, Cassie is desperate to find her mother, but it may turn her into someone she no longer recognizes and cost her the people she’s found a home with. Of the five members of The Naturals, Dean Redding, son of an infamous serial killer, may be the most well-adjusted. The earlier novels focus more on his story and him having to constantly prove to everyone that he isn’t like his father. His relationship with Cassie is one my favorites in the series as the two of them play off each other so well. I missed seeing more of this dynamic and would have liked the author to show how both characters are learning to be vulnerable with the other despite their pasts.

Standout character for the second book in a row goes to Lia Zhang. Probably the most well-rounded character in the series, Lia isn’t always open to sharing who she is. In those rare moments of vulnerability, we see a girl whose been emotionally manipulated and who had to make tough choices at very young age. She’s adopted the art of lying as a means of survival, but this often means that even those closest to her don’t know her entire story. Michael comes from an abusive home and is more likely to hide behind a cocky smile than give any indication of what he might really be feeling. I wasn’t a big fan of the Lia and Michael dynamic, not because I didn’t think they were compatible, but because they quarreled more than they built each other up. I think it would have gone a long way to see these two take things slow (their history aside) and learn how to communicate in an open and honest way–not just for their relationship’s sake but also for their individual development. Sloane is used to being the odd one out and after the events of the last book, it becomes vitally important to her to feel like part of the team. Not just as someone who can crunch number or hack into an FBI secured laptop, but as a valuable member of this makeshift family. It is Sloane who I see as making the most strides when it comes to expressing her emotions in a group rapt with dark pasts.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Bad Blood is just as compelling as its predecessors with dark twists that will keep the reader on their toes from start to finish.

4/5

★★★★