Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Title: Mirage
Author: Somaiya Daud
Series: Mirage, #1
Pages: 320
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: August 28th 2018

      “In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
      But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.
      As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.”

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“The bones of our old ways of life were there, barely traceable, and I wanted them back. I wanted all of us to remember what we’d been, how strong we were. And endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.”

Somaiya Daud wows with her debut Mirage, a sci-fi novel that also functions as a commentary on the effects of colonialism. Amani’s majority day should be a time for celebration, as it marks her transition into adulthood. There are very few traditions Amani and her people are allowed to take part in since the Vath have conquered their home planet and surrounding moons. When droids interrupt the celebration, kidnapping Amani and whisking her off to the planet Andala where the Vathek have established themselves as rulers, she has no idea what’s in store for her. That is until she comes face-to-face with Maram, High Princess of the Vath, and implausibly her doppelgänger. Forced to be the princesses’s double, Amani is thrust into a world wholly unlike her own where any wrong move could cost her her life.

One of my favorite things about Mirage is how full-realized the world is. Daud has created a people whose history and culture feel very real. For Amani and her people, Vath rule has cost them more than their ability to govern themselves. It has meant a loss of their religion, their language, and their customs. Using the fear of rebellion as a front, the Vath have made it nearly impossible for the Andalaan people to keep their culture intact. Large gatherings are prohibited, their religious poetry is deemed illegal, and if caught aiding rebels, they are quickly exterminated. Though Amani cannot remember a time when the Vath were not their rulers, she understands the loss that her people have endured. She knows she’s been cheated out of experiencing the full scope and beauty that is her culture. The Vathek people for their part do not see Andalaans as equals. But a treaty between the two was necessary to stop a war that would have resulted in even more deaths. Mathis, the High King of the Vath, married an Andalaan woman, and their only child, Maram, has the only legitimate claim to the throne. But for some Vathek, this doesn’t sit well with them and there is always the threat that some may rise and take the throne by force.

Amani was content to live a quiet life, but circumstances have dropped her into a position to do more for her people. She has the ability to see goodness even in those that do her wrong, to feel pity even when someone doesn’t necessarily deserve it. Amani is tasked with taking on a persona that is often cruel and never generous, but Amani never loses her ability to be kind. My favorite relationship in the novel was Amani’s and Maram’s. Maram is used to getting her way, of basking in her own power, and never having to worry about the needs or wants of others. I never expected to like Maram, but seeing her through Amani’s eyes changed my opinion of her. She grew on me and I didn’t simply see her as a cruel princess, but as a person caught between two worlds and forced to embrace only one side of herself. Amani’s relationship with Maram’s fiancé, Idris, an Andalaan himself, will either thrill the reader or leave them wanting more. I fell somewhere in the middle. I do think their relationship should have taken a little more time to develop and wouldn’t have minded having to wait until the next book to see their relationship blossom. On the other hand, I loved their connection with one another. Idris is old enough to remember how his family was taken from him, but he is beholden to the Vath for keeping him alive; the peace treaty is also contingent on his marriage to Maram. Amani is taken with Idris almost immediately and in him she finds a safe haven from her precarious position. For Idris, Amani helps him reconnect with a part of himself that he lost thanks to the Vath.

Somaiya Daud’s Mirage won’t thrill you with its non-stop action, but its charm lies in the brilliance of its worldbuilding and the message that enduring hope can be found even in the bleakest of circumstances.

4/5

★★★★

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ARC Review: Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Blanca & Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher:  Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 9th 2018
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review*

      “The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.
      The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
      But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.”

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I’ve been enamored with Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing since her debut The Weight of Feathers. With each novel she has written, I have fallen even more in love, not with just her words but with her ability to weave together stories where sadness and hope, magic and reality meet as though they were two sides of the same coin. In Blanca & Roja, a novel inspired by the fairy tale Snow-White and Rose-Red, two sisters have grown up knowing that a bargain made by their ancestor means one day the los cisnes, the swans, will come to claim one of them as their own, as they have done with each generation of their family. Their love for one another has kept them from falling into the same trap sisters before them have, allowing the fear of being taken from this world to overpower their love for one another. The del Cisne girls have always been viewed by outsiders as something more akin to witches, these strange and unknowable sisters who live in the woods and whose very existence they blame whenever anything goes wrong in town. With each passing day los cisnes do not come to claim one of them, Blanca and Roja grow more confident that they have outsmarted them. But the swans are not to be cheated and when two boys disappear into the woods, they are inexplicable lured into a story that could break both them and the de Cisne sisters.

Blanca & Roja alternates between four different perspectives: the del Cisne sisters and the two boys whose stories collide with theirs. Blanca and Roja are as different as night and day. Blanca has always been viewed as the more gentle of the two, her golden hair and lighter skin have made it easier for her to move around in the world, for people to see her as otherworldly and blessed, rather than feared. She instinctively protects her younger sister, wanting to save her from being taken by los cisnes. Blanca has done her best to keep her sister close, to not allow any discord to grow between them. She’s tried to harden her edges, to make herself a little more like her sister while also helping Roja become softer, so when los cisnes comes to claim one of them, the sisters would be too much alike for the swans to lay claim to either. But her fear that Roja has already been marked as the “bad” sister leads her to decisions that will inevitably cause a rift between the two. Roja has never been an easy child. When she was younger her temper always got the better of her. Though prized by her father for her unwavering curiosity, there aren’t many others who’ve seen Roja as anything other than a foil to her sister. Unlike Blanca, Roja has all but accepted that she will be the sister taken. She knows that fairy tale stories are never about the darker of the two sisters, the one with brown skin and sharp edges. Both sisters are desperate to save the other, but secrets have a way of sowing distrust and when you grow up being told you are only allowed to be one thing while your sister is another, resentment inevitable follows.

This is as much Page Ashby and Barclay Holt’s story as it is the title characters’. Page is non-binary and has fought to claim himself in a world where everyone wants to attach one name to him and be done with it. Barclay becomes the first person to accept Page as he is, but it is Blanca who becomes the first person to ask. Page does not have a preference when it comes to pronouns, sometimes “he” feels right and sometimes “she” (McLemore uses both pronouns for Page throughout the novel), the most important thing for Page is that people don’t box him in. Page and Blanca are drawn to one another, but also doomed from the very beginning because like Roja, Page knows that people like him do not get to be princes in fairy tale stories. Barclay has grown up in a family where loyalty to your blood is placed above all else. When he ends up in the woods, he is trying to outrun the consequences of not holding fast to this mantra. He carries a secret that he isn’t quite ready to let out, lest everything he’s ever known to be true be destroyed. Unlike Page and Blanca’s relationship, Barclay and Roja are too rough around the edges to be taken with each other so readily. They navigate around each other like wounded wolves, afraid the other won’t or will make the first move. 

Anna Marie McLemore’s Blanca & Roja has every element I’ve come to love about her novels. Her descriptions are lush, her storytelling skill unparalleled, and her ability to bring such nuanced characters to life keep me invested from page one.

5/5

★★★★★

ARC Review: Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria

Title: Beneath the Citadel
Author: Destiny Soria
Series: N/A
Pages: 544
Publisher: Amulet
Release Date: October 9th 2018
*I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review*

      “In the city of Eldra, people are ruled by ancient prophecies. For centuries, the high council has stayed in power by virtue of the prophecies of the elder seers. After the last infallible prophecy came to pass, growing unrest led to murders and an eventual rebellion that raged for more than a decade.
      In the present day, Cassa, the orphaned daughter of rebels, is determined to fight back against the high council, which governs Eldra from behind the walls of the citadel. Her only allies are no-nonsense Alys, easygoing Evander, and perpetually underestimated Newt, and Cassa struggles to come to terms with the legacy of rebellion her dead parents have left her — and the fear that she may be inadequate to shoulder the burden. But by the time Cassa and her friends uncover the mystery of the final infallible prophecy, it may be too late to save the city — or themselves.”

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Destiny Soria’s Beneath the Citadel has interesting political and magical systems, but I found the story overall to be a little too convoluted. Soria’s debut Iron Cast‘s biggest strength was the friendship at its center and it’s the same with this sophomore novel. Beneath the Citadel focuses on four friends infiltrating the center of an all-powerful political power in hopes of discovering why people in the city of Eldra have been disappearing. In a world ruled by seers’ prophecies, the ruling chancellor and council have used these visions to wield power over the people, squashing any rebellion before it can gain any footing. Cassandra “Cassa” Vera is the daughter of rebels. Her distrust of the council runs deep; she along with her friends, Alys, Evander, and Newt hatch a plan to infiltrate the Citadel and find answers. The novel opens with these four friends being dragged in front of the governing body, their plan having been thwarted. I’m still not sure how I feel about the choice to open the novel with the leads having already been arrested. I was really interested in reading about their scheme, how they each contributed to the plan, and how they worked together. What follows is the lead characters trying to stop the council by teaming up with a mysterious player who has his own motives.

Cassa is the unofficial leader of the pact. She’s bold and confident, with a leap-first-and-ask-questions-later kind of personality. Her drive, however, is infectious. Perhaps the reason people are so drawn to her is the legacy she carries. Her parents were prominent rebel leaders who died trying to protect the people of Eldra. In a way Cassa’s hatred of the citadel is the only way she knows how to honor her parents. Much of the time, it felt like Cassa wanted to do things only on her terms and while there is some character development in this department, it felt like she was never really a part of the group dynamic. I never felt her connection to the other characters, including Evander, with whom she had a past romantic relationship.

I really liked Alys. She’s more brains than brawn and not someone you would immediately think of when trying to break into a secure facility. Still, she’s an invaluable asset to the team and excels in her own area of expertise. She’s very science-based and believes everything can be explained through science, hence her passion for apothecary. Alys also has anxiety which hits her at inopportune moments. I loved her relationship with her brother Evander. These two are very different, but I loved how close they were and that they balanced each other out. Evander was an easy character to like, charming and sly. He’s one of the few bisexual male characters I’ve come across. There’s an openness to him that the other characters didn’t possess. He had a really interesting relationship with Cassa that I kind of wanted to explore more as it gave us more insight into who she was, but I understand why Soria chose to distance him from her as his relationship with Newt is in the first stages of a romance.

Newt has a really interesting backstory involving his father and his tumultuous relationship with the rebel group Cassa’s parents belonged to. His father has raised Newt to be better than him, but in a very abusive way. Due to his size and demeanor, Newt is used to being underestimated, but of the four, I believe he is the most talented. There is also a fifth character who is important to the story who threw me for a loop when I first picked up this book. Juggling so many different perspectives with an already complicated storyline involving people who could not only see visions of the future, but could also take memories, and see your thoughts, sometimes made the novel hard to follow. I appreciated how intricate the story was, but some of the decisions made by the characters didn’t feel like it carried as much weight as they should have. Part of these characters’ motivation is the people of Eldra, but aside from a handful of scenes, we’re never really introduced to regular folk.

I liked the high stakes in this one, but wish the world outside of the political walls of the citadel had been fleshed out. I will say that Destiny Soria’s Beneath the Citadel has one of the boldest endings I’ve read in a long while and I applaud the gutsy move.

3/5

★★★

Mini Reviews: The City of Brass + Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

MiniI have a set of very different books for you for this round of mini-reviews. These are both titles that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’m glad I finally found the time to pick them up. Everyone has been raving about S.A Chakraborty’s The City of Brass and I’m so happy to have finally met these characters. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero has been on my TBR for years. With the start of Latinx Heritage Month coming, I wanted to finally get to this one in early September. I am very disappointed in myself for not picking it up sooner. You can read my thoughts on these two titles a little more in depth below. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The City of Brass
Author: S.A. Chakraborty
Series: The Daevabad Trilogy, #1
Pages: 533
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: November 14th 2017 

      “Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.
      But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.
      In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.
After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for…”

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“A hot breeze swept past her cheeks, and Nahri lifted her eyes. The cliffs were on fire; the wet trees snapped and cracked as they burned. The air smelled poisonous, hot and seeded with tiny burning embers that swept across the dead landscape and twinkled above the dark river.”

S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is an all-encompassing fantasy with great characters and a world that’s spellbindingly brilliant. Orphaned and penniless, Nahri has managed to survive on the streets of Cairo, stealing and swindling her marks out of money. When she inadvertently summons a dangerous djinn, Nahri discovers the fantastical stories she grew up hearing are rooted in truth. Chakraborty’s world is deliciously multilayered and I loved that with every page, we discovered something new. Nahri was an easy character to like. She’s cunning and resourceful; she wants more than what life has dealt her and is willing to do what is needed to get it. I really enjoyed Dara, not just because he’s the kind of brooding character I’m immediately drawn to, but because like Nahri, he is also thrown into a world he doesn’t quite understand. The world as Dara left it has shifted. His people are no longer in control of the city of Daevabad; instead, the Qahtani, a djinn family, have taken over. The royal family have tried to find a balance in their city between djinn, daeva, and the shafit (offspring of djinn and humans). Their methods are not always humane. Ali is King Ghassan’s second son, both a scholar and a warrior; his own convictions often pit him against his own father. Ali was often times a frustrating character. I liked that he wanted to be better than the example his father and often his brother gave him, but his self-righteousness and naivete made me want to shake him by the shoulders. Chakraborty does a fantastic job giving voice to every side in this story. The internal conflict in Daevabad is not new and the characters’ decisions have far reaching consequences. The City of Brass is a perfect read for those looking for a dynamic fantasy and complex characters.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Gabi,a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Series: N/A
Pages: 284
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14th 2014

      “Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
      July 24
      My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

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“I felt my head lifted up and my neck bared, somewhere distant between all the pain. Tears streamed down my face and my body twitched uncontrollably. I wondered if this would, at least, put an end to my torture.”

I am mentally kicking myself for not picking up Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces sooner. This contemporary features one of the most genuine voices I’ve come across, handling difficult issues with honesty and care, with representation that spoke directly to this Latina reader. Gabi Hernandez is many things. Best friend. Daughter. Sister. Fat girl. Mexican-American. In her senior year of high school, Gabi is trying to juggle all her different identities while simultaneously not disappointing her mother and not letting her father’s meth addiction take her whole family down with him. Told in diary entries, Quintero’s novel feels intimate and personal. Gabi feels fully-fleshed out; she’s candid, self-depreciating, and had me laughing out loud on several occasions. So many of these characters felt familiar from the eccentric tía to the judgmental mother. The novel addresses teen pregnancy, homophobia, being the child of an addict, and gender roles in the Latinx community. I loved that Gabi found a creative outlet in her poetry and found it really rewarding to see how her poetry matures over the course of the novel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the kind of novel I wish I had as a teen as several of Gabi’s hopes and fears felt like my own. TW: homophobia, fatphobia, slut shaming, rape, and drug use.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Title: Always and Forever, Lara Jean
Author: Jenny Han
Series: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, #3
Pages: 336
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 2nd 2017

      “Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.
      Life couldn’t be more perfect!
      At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news.
      Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

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“Everything is ruined. My chest hurts; it’s hard to breathe. All my plans, everything I was counting on, none of it will come true now.”

Jenny Han bids farewell to her protagonist Lara Jean in the final book in her To All the Boys I Loved Before series. In Always and Forever, Lara Jean the beloved protagonist is on the brink of adulthood as the end of her senior year approaches. The last year of Lara Jean’s life has been a whirlwind of new and exciting events. She’s been dating Peter Kavinsky for a year, her dad has reentered the dating scene, and her college plans are all but set in stone. Then the unthinkable happens and Lara Jean is forced to rethink her entire future. Suddenly things that she was so sure about like her future relationship with Peter and the university she’s going to attend are no longer a guarantee. Lara Jean must decide who she is going to be, how this will affect her decisions for her future, and who she is able to make room for and who she isn’t.

Lara Jean has always been one of my favorite contemporary protagonists. She doesn’t stand out with her bold personality or wow with her unrivaled genius. She enjoys baking, spending time with her family, and volunteering at a local retirement home. As much as I admire ambitious and sometimes over-the-top characters, Lara Jean has always been more my speed. Sometimes she lacks confidence and has to be pushed out if her comfort zone and these two things make her instantly relatable In Always and Forever, Lara Jean, Lara Jean discovers that even the best laid plans cannot account for life just happening. Lara Jean’s greatest comfort is that her life is predictable. When it isn’t, she will grab on to her hobbies like baking and scrap-booking as a way to feel like she’s in control again. I’m so happy that Lara Jean got to a place where she began making decisions based on what was best for her and her own wants rather than what others were pressuring her to do. The decision she ultimately makes might be Lara Jean’s greatest act of courage in the entire trilogy.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean was a bittersweet novel. I’ve come to really love Lara Jean and her entire world. I love how important her family has always been to her. Lara Jean has always presented herself and her family like a package deal. Her father has been raising her and her sisters alone since her mother’s unexpected passing. The biggest constants in her life have been her wise older sister Margot and her rambunctious little sister Kitty. Han not only taken us on Lara Jean’s journey to maturity, but we also got to see her sisters grow up some as well and see the evolution of their sisterly bond. Kitty will always be a favorite if mine with her I-know-what-I-want attitude, but I loved that we got a Margot arc involving the Covey’s expanding family. Ms. Rothschild was a delightful addition to this unit. How each of the girls felt about their father dating again was very faithful to who these characters are at their core.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean unexpectedly hit me with a wave of nostalgia, reminding me of those uncertain and exciting final days of high school. With this final book Jenny Han has solidified Lara Jean and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as a character and series that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: Daughter of the Siren Queen + Every Heart a Doorway

MiniI’ve had this set of mini-reviews in my drafts for over a month and couldn’t quite find the time to fit it in. I finally have a chance to share a few thoughts on Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, the latter of which I’m so glad I finally got to. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Daughter of the Siren Queen
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King, #2
Pages: 341
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 27th 2018 

      “Alosa’s mission is finally complete. Not only has she recovered all three pieces of the map to a legendary hidden treasure, but the pirates who originally took her captive are now prisoners on her ship. Still unfairly attractive and unexpectedly loyal, first mate Riden is a constant distraction, but now he’s under her orders. And she takes great comfort in knowing that the villainous Vordan will soon be facing her father’s justice.
      When Vordan exposes a secret her father has kept for years, Alosa and her crew find themselves in a deadly race with the feared Pirate King. Despite the danger, Alosa knows they will recover the treasure first . . . after all, she is the daughter of the Siren Queen.”

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“Warmth envelopes me. The sea enfolds me into the world’s most gentle caress. I am one of her own, and she missed me during my long absence.”

Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Siren Queen, conclusion to her swashbuckling duology, excels in its entertainment value much like its predecessor Daughter of the Pirate King, but still falls short when it comes to world-building and sometimes characterization. I loved seeing Alosa with her own crew in this sequel. Her father Kalligan has yielded a tremendous amount of power over Alosa, having shaped her into a ruthless and loyal pirate. Captaining the Ava-lee has been the one place where Alosa has had control over her own life. She’s put together a crew made almost entirely of women and one of my favorite parts about this book is when we get to see them working together. Still, I wanted more, especially from the vast array of minor characters. It also would have been nice if most of the conversations Alosa had with her close female crew members didn’t always revolve around men. I’m glad we got to learn more about Alosa and her siren side, but do feel like there was a missed opportunity when it came to her mother. I wanted more interaction between these two, but every meeting was so truncated. Part of the fun of the first book was the banter and growing tension between Alosa and Riden. Levenseller is able to maintain this often entertaining rapport while also pushing her characters outside of their comfort zones. The most rewarding part of their relationship is watching them learn to open up to one another. Daughter of the Siren Queen could still do a little more flushing out with its world-building. I enjoyed finally becoming acquainted with sirens, but I still wanted to know more about this world that Alosa and company occupy. If the first novel didn’t blow you away, you probably won’t be taken by surprise by the second; but if you found the first to be a really enjoyable read, there’s plenty to look forward to in this sequel.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children, #1
Pages: 357
Publisher: Tor.com
Release Date: April 5th 2016

      “Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
      No Solicitations
      No Visitors
      No Quests
      Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
      But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
      Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
       But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
      No matter the cost.”

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“Hope hurts. That’s what you need to learn, and fast, if you don’t want it to cut you open from the inside out. Hope is bad. Hope means you keep on holding to things that won’t ever be so again, and so you bleed an inch at a time until there’s nothing left.”

Seanan McGuire’s novella Every Heart a Doorway poses an interesting question: what happens to the children who return from their adventures from places like Wonderland? At Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, students are learning to cope with returning to the “real” world. For some, the transition is difficult. How can you accept your place in the world when you always want to return to another? For others, the transition feels impossible. Why stay in a world that does not see you for who you are when you can go home to the place that let you be yourself instead of a version forced upon you by others? McGuire’s novella is enchanting and haunting. I loved that each child had their own world that they escaped to, that made sense to them even when it didn’t to those with similar experiences. There are dark Underworlds and bright ones, some with logical foundations and others that thrive on nonsense. While Nancy is the protagonist of this short story, I was really drawn to Jack. She’s such an animated character. The fact that she apprenticed for a mad scientist and carried all these eccentricities back into this world made her such an interesting character. The mystery in this one felt short-lived, but that’s understandable for a novella. The ending was not what I expected. I thought Nancy had gotten to a place of acceptance and so I was surprised by the conclusion. All the children’s stories were so intriguing, I wouldn’t have minded a full-length novel and am happy to discover the next novella in this series covers Jack and her sister Jill’s story. I’d recommend Every Heart a Doorway to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories that involve hidden doors and portals to unseen worlds, and who ever wondered what happens to those who come back.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★