Title: Diamond City
Author: Francesca Flores
Series: Diamond City, #2
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 28th 2020
**This review is based on the bound manuscript of the novel received through a giveaway from the author, which does not influence my review**
“Good things don’t happen to girls who come from nothing…unless they risk everything.
Fierce and ambitious, Aina Solís as sharp as her blade and as mysterious as the blood magic she protects. After the murder of her parents, Aina takes a job as an assassin to survive and finds a new family in those like her: the unwanted and forgotten.
Her boss is brutal and cold, with a questionable sense of morality, but he provides a place for people with nowhere else to go. And makes sure they stay there.
DIAMOND CITY: built by magic, ruled by tyrants, and in desperate need of saving. It is a world full of dark forces and hidden agendas, old rivalries and lethal new enemies.
To claim a future for herself in a world that doesn’t want her to survive, Aina will have to win a game of murder and conspiracy—and risk losing everything.
Full of action, romance and dark magic, book one of Francesca Flores’ breathtaking fantasy duology will leave readers eager for more!”
- Aina Solís – Aina was left orphaned at a young age, but grew up under the tutelage of one of her city’s most notorious gang leaders, the Blood King. She has risen through the ranks as a skilled assassin, but has high hopes of one day being his equal. Her personal arc has her working out her complicated feelings for boss/mentor, reevaluating her worldview when it comes to the classes, and prioritizing her own needs over any potential romance.
- World-building – I really like the world Francesca Flores has built. It addresses classism, includes immigration, and deals with religious persecution in a really interesting setting. Kosin underwent a civil war years ago and many people, including Aina, lost their family. When the war ended, the lower class became even more powerless as the upper class, known as Steels, profited heavily from industrialization, but left places like the Stacks, overpoliced and subject to the laws of its gangs. There is also a magical element to the story involving diamonds, blood magic, and the worship of two goddesses known as the Mothers which I found really interesting.
- Teo – Aina isn’t the type of person who makes friends easily, but she found a kindred spirit in the mercenary Teo. He’s charming and though he lacks Aina’s efficiency, is still a very skilled killer. He, like Aina, has been forced into the life as a mercenary because people like them do not get the same opportunities as Steels. He’s driven by the love he has for his mother, whom he is desperate to provide medicine for. His friendship with Aina was my favorite in the novel. There’s is mutual respect and both are more vulnerable with the other than they are with other people.
- Ryuu – Ryuu is first introduced as a spoiled, out of touch upper class Steel, but he has a lot more layers. Unlike those in power, he does not have the same kind of disdain for those who worship the Mothers. He is more likely to help than to turn someone over for practicing their religion. His tenuous alliance with Aina opens both of their eyes to each other’s circumstances and they discover they have more in common than either initially believed.
- Too many potential love interests – I honestly didn’t know where to invest myself in emotionally when it came to all of Aina’s potential love interests. I wish the author had chosen one or even two, but there were three characters that Aina expressed interest in at one time or another. While I don’t fault a girl for being interested in multiple parties, it felt more like the author couldn’t decide who she wanted readers to root for. I will say that I did like how open Aina is in the end and how she wants to prioritize herself first.
- Stilted writing – Sometimes with debuts you come across some awkwardly worded dialogue or prose. For the most part this doesn’t bother me as I understand new writers are still finding their writing style. This is a bound manuscript review so these awkward instances may have been edited, but it definitely had me pausing and reflecting on how strange certain things were worded while reading.
Francesca Flores delivers a solid fantasy debut with Diamond City. With an impressive setting and an interesting set of characters, I will be keeping my eye out for the sequel.
★ ★ ★
Title: Analee in Real Life
Author: Janelle Milanes
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 18th 2018
TW: scene of sexual assault (forced/unwanted kissing)
“Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.
Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner-in-crime, Xolkar—aka a teen boy named Harris whom Analee has never actually met in person.
So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.
But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?”
“Slowly, unexpectedly, Seb links his hand with mine.
There’s no turning back now. I don’t have to look at anyone to realize the enormity of Seb’s move. There are literally gasps that echo through the hall. I hear his name repeated in whispers, so frequently that they blend together into one long hiss.”
- Analee – There was so much about Analee that I found relatable. She’s an introvert who finds it easier to share her feelings in a journal than out loud. She’s still dealing with the loss of her mother and how that loss reshaped so many of her other relationships. She has social anxiety and is not comfortable being the center of attention. Analee never refers to herself as fat (which might leave something to be desired when it comes to fat rep), but she calls herself chubby and has self-esteem issues, but I loved her entire journey throughout the novel which focuses on self-love.
- Analee and Seb – These two are very different from one another, but I loved their dynamic all throughout the novel. I loved that Milanes shows them becoming friends first before exploring anything romantic between the two.
- Familial relationships – I always love when contemporaries have such a family-focused story and Analee in Real Life is so good at navigating the MC’s relationship with her father, his fiancée, and her soon-to-be stepsister Avery. I loved that none of these relationships remain stagnant, but grow as a result of the MC’s growth.
- Positive stepmother-stepdaughter relationship – Analee’s evolving relationship with her soon-to-be stepmother, Harlow, was my favorite to read about. Harlow is the complete opposite of Analee’s mother and has changed her dad as a result. And Analee can’t help but resent her for it. For example, Analee can’t help compare Harlow’s vegan meals to her mother’s Cuban cuisines. In the end, the two come to understand each other more.
- Realistic romantic arcs – The fake dating trope is one of my favorites and although it can be predictable, I just love the tension that seems to underscore these relationships. I don’t want to give too much away, but I love that Milanes writes both Analee and Seb in such a way that they feel flawed and real. They make mistakes and hold themselves back. The ending of the novel felt truly empowering from Analee’s POV because it prioritized where she was in her journey and not necessarily where they were in their relationship.
- Seb in the beginning – While I ended up really enjoying Seb as a character, the beginning made me pause. I was immediately put off by his dynamic with his ex-girlfriend where he didn’t seem to get the message that she wanted space.
- Analee and Lily – One of the reasons Analee agrees to fake date Seb is her desire to win back her ex-best friend, Lily. I was disappointed that there were not more scenes between the two of them.
Janelle Milanes’s Analee in Real Life will delight fans of the fake dating trope, but shines brightest with the MC’s personal arc that’s rooted in self-love, bravery, and personal growth.
★ ★ ★ ★
Title: With the Fire High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Release Date: May 7th 2019
“From the New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award longlist title The Poet X comes a dazzling novel in prose about a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to feed the soul that keeps her fire burning bright.
Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions—doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness.
Even though she dreams of working as a chef after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she thinks she has to play by, once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.”
“And something special does happen when I’m cooking. It’s like I can imagine a dish in my head and I just know that if I tweak this or mess with that, if I give it my own special brand of sazón, I’ll have made a dish that never existed before.”
- The writing – It’s no secret that I loved The Poet X. It reintroduced me to poetry and created a thirst for more. Acevedo’s sophomore novel is told in prose and it’s no surprise that her writing is just as poetic. There were times while reading where I had to pause just to appreciate her imagery.
- Emoni – I really enjoyed Emoni as a character. She has so much love for her daughter and her grandmother. All throughout the story, you can feel her hesitation when it comes to pursuing her dreams. She has responsibilities that have kept her from doing so, but learns that it is herself that has been holding her back for so long. I loved reading about her passion for cooking. It’s an outlet for her emotions and her creativity. Something she is a natural at, but a skill where she still has a lot to learn.
- Afro-Latinidad – The exploration of what it means to be Afro-Latinx is at the center of who Emoni is. I loved that the MC was so adamant about her identity. Being black and Latinx aren’t mutually exclusive; being black does not subtract from her Latinidad and being Latinx does not subtract from her being black.
- Teen parenthood – Most books I see about teens with children have to do with teen pregnancy, so it was refreshing to read a book about a teen mother with a toddler.
- Emphasis on family and friends – Emoni might not have much, but she has an incredible support system, from her best friend Angelica to her abuela. As strong as these relationships are, Emoni doesn’t have the best relationship with her father and feels distant from her mother’s side of the family, but I loved that these relationships end of shifting for the better.
- Magical realism – Although this one might strictly be called contemporary, Acevedo weaves in elements of magical realism. Emoni’s cooking is said to elicit emotional responses from those who taste it. It’s presented very subtly, but I think that’s one of the reasons I loved it so much.
- Elizabeth Acevedo creates another wonderful and very relatable MC in With the Fire on High. Emoni is a character who is both vulnerable and strong and whose successes at the end of the novel feel like your own.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Title: My So-Called Bollywood Life
Author: Nisha Sharma
Publisher: Crown BFYR
Release Date: May 15th 2018
“Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.
Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart, charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.”
“As much as I love Bollywood damsels in distress, I don’t need saving. I’m my own hero.”
- Winnie – It was hard not to admire Winnie’s passion for film and in particular her love for Bollywood films. She’s ambitious and driven. I love reading about characters who know who they are, even when their interests aren’t always mainstream.
- Bollywood – I’m not all that familiar with Bollywood films, but this book has spark my curiosity. Sharma infuses just enough drama into this novel to make this one fun and I loved that she wasn’t afraid to make Winnie a bit of a drama queen. Also appreciated the pithy Bollywood reviews before each chapter from Winnie’s film blog.
- Dev – Winnie’s love interest is passionate about film making. Though he isn’t into Bollywood films like Winnie, he sees the importance of them to her. He and Winnie have enough in common that their interactions feel so natural, but are different enough to make things interesting. I loved that Dev was willing to go outside his comfort zone in order to make Winnie smile.
- Family – I always appreciate contemporaries that keep family involved in the protagonist’s life. Winnie’s family was always there for her and although she often wished they didn’t take such a keen interest in her love life, I found it incredibly sweet and moving.
- No big complaints for me.
- If you’re looking for a fun and diverse contemporary, look no further than Nisha Sharma’s My So-Called Bollywood Life which charms with just the right degree of teenage drama.
★ ★ ★ ★