ARC Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
    Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
      As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.”

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Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns captivates with its luscious world-building, an exciting plot, and dynamic characters. Orphaned and left on the doorstep of the Great Library of Summershall, Elisabeth Scrivener grew up surrounded by a treasure trove of books. Elisabeth has worked hard to earn her place, apprenticing until she can convince the Director of the library that she is ready to become a warden, tasked with protecting both the library and the dangerous books they keep in their underground vaults. When Elisabeth happens upon a theft, she stumbles upon a scheme to rob the six Great Libraries and bring about a cataclysmic end. With no one to turn to, Elisabeth reaches out to the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his demon servant. A decision she may come to regret as she’s been taught that magic is inherently evil and those who practice it, while bound by the laws of the land, are capable of acts of great malevolence.

Rogerson proved what a great world builder she was in her debut An Enchantment of Ravens. In her sophomore novel she once again impresses. Every setting is vividly drawn from the Gothic and ominous library vaults to the enchanting and mysterious Thorn Manor. Even the small glimpses we get of the Otherworld feel fully formed, readers peeking into a universe whole and dark, yet undeniably alluring. Booklovers will be in rapture of Rogerson’s magical world, where books speak and have mercurial personalities. The most dangerous whisper words of temptation, taking in the weak-minded and manipulating them. Dark sorcery of the past gifted the world with grimoires, but produced grotesque tomes made from human parts. And when one of these books is damaged, it sets free a monster capable of killing all in its path.

Though Elisabeth has grown up surrounded by all the knowledge books contain, her world is very small. She learns that not everything is black and white. That it is not magic that can corrupt, but greed and power. She’s a brave heroine with just the right amount of recklessness, making you cheer, but also keeping you on the edge of your seat. Nathaniel makes the perfect love interest, he is mysterious but sardonic enough not to come across as too rigid. Much of who he is has been defined by the mistakes of his ancestors, making him a reluctant ally. Elisabeth becomes a catalyst for change in him, forcing him to finally confront the nightmares of his past. Nathaniel is also bisexual, which is something I still find really refreshing since male bisexual characters as so rare. Sorcery of Thorns also has a great pair of minor characters. Katrien, Elisabeth’s best friend, though she doesn’t get a lot of page time, is her equal in curiosity and propensity for trouble. I wouldn’t mind a companion novel devoted to her. But it’s Nathaniel’s demon servant Silas who stole my entire heart. He has been more of a friend and caretaker to Nathaniel, though it goes completely against his nature to care. He is complicated and dangerous and yet still comes across as the kindest of all the characters.

Sorcery of Thorns is a lush fantasy which will cast a spell on readers and its surprisingly unrelenting action scenes will have you racing to the end.

★★★★★
(5/5)

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ARC Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

Title: Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Author: Nina Moreno
Series: N/A
Pages: 336
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 14th 2019

      “Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.
      But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
      As her college decision looms, Rosa collides-literally-with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?”

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Nina Moreno’s debut, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, perfectly blends romance and family in a coming of age story infused with heart and magic. In the small town of Port Coral, people have always whispered about the Santos women. How Milagro came from Cuba with a newborn babe and a face full of grief, having lost her husband at sea. The babe in turn grew up, fell in love with a sailor and he too was swept away, leaving a young Liliana heartbroken and pregnant. Rosa grew up hearing how the Santos women are cursed by the sea, how it takes from them the ones they love too much. As Rosa grapples with impending decisions about her future, her mother and grandmother’s grief continues to press in on her. And if Rosa isn’t careful, a new resident to Port Coral, a boy with a boat and a quiet smile, could once again spell tragedy for the Santos women.

Moreno does so many things well in her debut. Not only do her characters feel real, but the town of Port Coral feels like a living breathing world. It’s easy to fall in love with this town’s sights, sounds, and smells. From Mimi’s home, Rosa’s grandmother, to the town’s marina, every place feels like it could and does exist in the real world. Moreno first and foremost most builds this small town around its people. As Rosa navigates her hometown, readers are introduces to a myriad of locals, each bringing something unique to the narrative and forming the personality of Port Coral. I loved every single minor character in this one from the viejitos who make it their mission to spread chisme around town to the Peñas, Rosa’s best friend’s family, who own the local bodega, a place where people and food come together and which feels like the heart of Port Coral.

Much of the novel explores people’s ties to their homeland. For Mimi, Cuba is a part of her past. Having left during a time of political upheaval, so many of her memories of it are tied to traumatic events. For Rosa, Cuba is a safe she doesn’t know the combination to, but which holds the answers to who she is. Rosa is a product of diaspora, stuck between two worlds and not knowing if she is enough for either. So much of Rosa’s plans are tied up in Cuba, as she longs for the home she’s never known but one that feels etched onto her bones. To Rosa, Cuba is the key to healing her family, to mending the ties between daughter and mother. It’s a link to her past as well as who she will be in the future, but it’s never felt quite within her grasp like it does when she is presented with an opportunity to study in Havana.

I really loved exploring the mother-daughter relationships in this novel. Liliana has been dealing with her grief by constantly moving, leaving Rosa to be raised by her mother. Every interaction between Liliana and Mimi is filled with tension. Grief, resentment, disappointed are present in every word they exchange. Rosa is caught in the middle, between a woman she is too afraid to ask to stay and one she is too afraid to disappoint. Navigating this family isn’t easy when there are wounds in their pasts that each are too afraid to revisit. Family traumas have been swept under the rug, keeping the pain too raw and too fresh, even decades later.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is one of those rare novels that breaks your heart and begins to heal it all within the same chapter. Its emphasis on family, friendship, and community coupled with a touch of brujería, makes it one of the most touching and magical reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of picking up.

★★★★★

(5/5)

ARC (Snapshot) Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali


Title: Love From A to Z
Author: S.K. Ali
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Salaam Reads
Release Date: April 30th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

      “A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
      An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how ‘bad’ Muslims are.
      But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.
      When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.
      Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, ‘nicer’ version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
      Then her path crosses with Adam’s.
      Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.
      Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.
      Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
      Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…
      Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
      Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.”

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  • Zayneb – I feel a strong kinship to Zayneb and this has largely to do with how angry she is. Often times anger is depicted as a negative characteristic, but I loved that Zayneb’s anger isn’t where she begins and ends. Her anger is often justified and says more about her incredible capacity for empathy. That being said, Zayneb also begins to realize that she is only one person and she has to find that right balance between caring and self-care.
  • Adam – I’ll always have a soft spot for soft boys. Adam is such a kind character and I loved his relationship with his little sister Hanna. One of his goals is to make sure she has as many memories of their mother as possible, who passed when her MS took a fatal turn. Adam struggles with his own diagnosis and the lingering fear that his fate might be the same as his mother’s.
  • Centering two Muslim characters – I loved that our two leads had very different experiences being Muslim. For Zayneb, her hijab is an immediate indicator of her religion and makes her a target more than Adam. For Adam, he hasn’t experienced this kind of prejudice, but learns to open his eyes to the things that he might not have first-hand knowledge of.
  • The way the characters balance each other out – Although I’d argue that Zayneb is empathetic, she does have her blindspots and I think Adam helps her recognize these. For Adam, Zayneb pushes him out of his often complacent safe zones.
  • Confronting prejudice head-on – Not only do characters challenge Islamophobia in the story, the narrative challenges readers to confront both the direct and indirect ways this kind of prejudice has all over the world.
  • Idealism vs reality – If the novel had ended its story in the middle of the novel, it would have been an incredibly beautiful love story, but Ali leads her characters and story in a different direction, challenging them to see how they both have been viewing each other through idealistic lenses.

  • More conflict – I kind of wish the conflict between the two leads would have happened sooner and that it lasted longer. They learn so much about themselves and each other because they are at odds and I wouldn’t have minded exploring this more.

S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z is an uplifting, thought-provoking, and incredibly satisfying contemporary. If you haven’t had the pleasure of picking up Ali’s novels yet, I highly recommend you do so.

★★★★
(4/5)

ARC Review: The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

Title: The Last 8
Author: Laura Pohl
Series: The Last 8, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: March 5th 2019
**I received an eARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.
      When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.
      Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.”

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Laura Pohl’s debut, The Last 8, is an edge-of-your-seat, sci-fi adventure that will delight readers with its likable cast. Clover Martinez was dreaming about MIT and working for NASA the day the aliens arrived on earth. It takes less than a week for the aliens to decimate her town, leaving Clover as the only survivor. With no way to contact other survivors, Clover embarks on a cross-country road trip. But with each passing day, Clover begins to believe she might be the only one left on earth and it gets harder and harder to keep going. Then everything changes when she hears a voice on the radio, calling for anyone who might still be alive to come join them. Clover is not alone. When she makes it to Area 51, she find a group of teens hiding out, oblivious to just how dire their circumstances are. Clover isn’t one to just give up and so she makes it her mission to convince them to fight back. When the group discovers what the aliens are really after, they have a chance to stop the destruction of their planet but at a great cost to the tight-knit family they’ve created for themselves. No matter what they decides to do, nothing will ever go back to normal.

Clover is my kind of protagonist. When disaster strikes, she’s calm and calculating. She doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her and I loved that despite the losses she suffers, there’s that part of her that still wants a chance to live and thrive. Clover is also one of the few aromantic lead characters I’ve come across. There is a really important secondary storyline where Clover talks about learning that she isn’t romantically attracted to anyone. I loved that an aro character got to be MC in a science-fiction novel as most aro and/or ace characters appear in contemporary novels. Though Clover is a self-sufficient kind of character, the kind I’m immediately drawn to, I loved seeing her discover that the bonds she makes with the other survivors are also important when it comes to facing the end of the world. She goes from “I don’t need anyone” (which is probably true) to “I don’t need anyone, but these people have become my friends and I’d rather face the apocalypse with them by my side.”

The supporting cast of The Last 8 is one of the highlights of the novel and my only criticism is that we don’t get a chance to spend more time with them. Brooklyn runs the Apocalypse Radio Station and is an absolute ray of sunshine. She brings a level of humor that is vital in any end of the world scenario. I really wanted to see more of her relationship with Avani, the group’s genius scientist. There is a lot of romantic tension between the two and I really wanted to know what happened or didn’t happen between them in the past. Flint is incredibly nerdy and would have loved more scenes with him. Rayen is the epitome of badass and is probably the one character besides Clover that I’d want on my apocalypse team. Adam reminds Clover of her ex-boyfriend and is the first person she opens up to when she arrives. Violet is the official leader of the group. She’s hard and defensive because she believes she has to be in order to keep this group alive. I really liked her interactions with Clover as the two are really mirror images of one another. Andy has been by Violet’s side from the beginning and her hacker skills have come in handy with all the information Area 51 carries.

The Last 8 is at its core a novel about friendship and how strong these bonds can be. It’s about teens making mistakes and just trying to survive in a world that counted them out. If you like fun, end-of-the-world kind of stories, Laura Pohl’s debut needs to be on your radar. TW: suicidal thoughts, suicide.

★★★★
(4/5)