Title: This Is How You Lose the Time War
Author: Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: July 16th 2019
“Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.”
“Red wrote too much too fast. Her pen had a heart inside, and the nib was a wound in the vein. She stained the page with herself. She sometimes forgets what she wrote, save that it was true, and the writing hurt.”
- The writing – El-Mohtar and Gladstone have weaved together a beautiful story that is both hopeful and somber. The imagery is gorgeous and I found myself pausing just to appreciate the language
- The world-building – I don’t think I’ve ever come across a world quite like this one. Red and Blue are on different sides of a war that is waged across time. Their missions require them to travel to the past, to manipulate certain events or people in order to bring about futures that will benefit their sides.
- The romance – The progression of Red and Blue’s relationship was perfect. I love the enemies to lovers trope and bought in so fast to these two characters finding an unlikely connection. I loved how they both challenged each other, teased one another and fell so hard when they began to realize how much their feelings for one another grew.
- The letters – The letters exchanged between Red and Blue is my favorite portion of the novel. These two have in a sense met their match in one another. But it is when these letters grow more intimate, where, despite the danger, they lay out their whole selves, that this book drilled itself into this reader’s heart. These letters are vulnerable and moving and some of the most lovely pieces of writing I’ve read.
- Sometimes hard to follow – The unusual setting and unfamiliar language made the story a little hard to follow at the beginning.
- Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War is one of the most unique books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The f/f romance completely swept me off my feet and I will no doubt revisit this one.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Title: Escaping from Houdini
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 18th 2018
“Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.
But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea.
It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?”
“Next time the victim will be revealed in a grander fashion, one that cannot simply be thought of as a performance. Wherever he is now, he’s seething. Enraged that more people weren’t afraid of his opening act. When he strikes again, every passenger aboard this ship will be imprisoned by their fear. I guarantee he means to turn this cruise into a fantastical nightmare.“
- Audrey Rose – I’ve really enjoyed this MCs journey throughout these first three books. As she works under the direction of her uncle, a forensic scientist, she’s had to deal with sexism from her classmates and society’s stifling expectations of her as a woman. One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose as a character is she never loses her vulnerable and soft side. She’s seen a lot of violence and come face to face with murderers and though a part of her thinks it might be easier to numb herself, she never gives in.
- The setting – I immediately fell in love with the setting for this third installment. The Moonlight Carnival is shrouded in mystery. It’s showy and shocking and its illusions make for an interesting backdrop for characters like Audrey Rose, who have so much faith in science. I also loved that this takes place on a ship, where there is no escape, further adding to the isolation and fear passengers begin to feel with each murder.
- Thomas – One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose’s partner in crime, her equal in many ways, is how respectful he is of her. Thomas is very much in love with her but never wants to make her feel like she is obligated to be with him. I’ve enjoyed his quick wit and playfulness so much throughout the series.
- The love triangle – My major issue with this third installment is how odd it felt for Maniscalco to introduce another love interest so late in the game. This isn’t because I think Audrey Rose shouldn’t have options should she wish it, but because it all happens so fast. Literally a week before she meets this other potential suitor, she was saying yes to marriage with Thomas. It felt like this cheapened the bond they had already developed over the course of the first two books.
- Mephistopheles – I didn’t not like the ringmaster of the traveling carnival. My issue with his character is that personality wise if you told me all his lines were said by Thomas, I would have believed you. Their personalities were far too similar.
- The epilogue – This is slightly spoilery, but I will avoid specifics. I did not like the epilogue because it felt like it erased everything that happened for the past 400 other pages. It patched together relationships far too easily and makes me wonder how certain dynamics will play out in the fourth. If none of the issues that arose in this third book are addressed in the fourth, I really don’t understand the direction this one took at all.
While Escaping from Houdini is my least favorite in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, it still offers an enjoyable and entertaining read.
★ ★ ★
Title: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Author: Carlos Hernandez
Series: Sal and Gabi, #1
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Release Date: March 5th 2019
“How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?
When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared.
Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken–including his dead mother–and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.
A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in this mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.”
“The entire back of the locker had become a portal into another world. I could see across dimensions into a whole new reality. Who knew what bizarre aliens lived there, what strange lived they led, what mind-blowing powers and technology they had?”
- Sal – This kid had me laughing out loud for almost the entirety of the book. He’s mischievous, sometimes sarcastic, and has a knack for getting into trouble (then talking his way out of it). What I really loved about him was how open he was to being wrong. It was so refreshing to see a young male character not let pride get in the way when it came to apologizing.
- Diabetes – I think this is the first time I’ve read a book about a character with diabetes and I’m so glad it was a middle grade novel. There is something about this age group that is so open that you know how important such a storyline will be for readers.
- Gabi – Gabi is fierce and stubborn. She’s smart and unafraid to challenge things she doesn’t understand (like Sal). I definitely want her in my corner. Family is so important to her and I love how she embraces her judgmental side with regard to them. She will judge you based on whether you accept her family for who they are.
- Light and heavy topics – The humor in the novel made me smile more times than I can count, but the emotional aspects are what kept me reading. Sal is still dealing with the death of his mother. His ability to pull things from other universes has intersected with his grief and sometimes he accidentally brings another version of his mother into his world. There is also Gabi’s storyline about her newborn baby brother being in the ICU. Both are handle with a lot of care and I really appreciated seeing the uncertainty and fierceness of these young characters when faced with issues that would make most adults crumble.
- Different familial dynamics – There are some unconventional familial relationships in this one and some that defy stereotypes. One such relationship that really stood out to me was Sal’s relationship with his stepmother. I loved their interactions and how she was never a roadblock for Sal’s growth but just another adult in his life who was always in his corner.
- The adults – I adored so many adult characters in this one. Loved that they didn’t hold the kid characters back, but were still ever-present. They didn’t talk down to child characters, but loved them and wanted what was best.
- Conflict – As much as I adored this one, I do think it could have done with a little more conflict to drive the plot.
Carlos Hernandez’s Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is a fun middle grade SFF novel with charming characters who always manage to get themselves in the best kind of trouble. I cannot wait to read the sequel.
★ ★ ★ ★
Title: The Queen of Nothing
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #3
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 19th 2019
“After being pronounced Queen of Faerie and then abruptly exiled by the Wicked King Cardan, Jude finds herself unmoored, the queen of nothing. She spends her time with Vivi and Oak, watches her fair share of reality television, and does the odd job or two, including trying to convince a cannibalistic faerie from hunting her own in the mortal world.
When her twin sister Taryn shows up asking of a favor, Jude jumps at the chance to return to the Faerie world, even if it means facing Cardan, who she loves despite his betrayal.
When a dark curse is unveiled, Jude must become the first mortal Queen of Faerie and uncover how to break the curse, or risk upsetting the balance of the whole Faerie world.”
“I know what happens next. He’s going to deliver the final blow. Lopping off my head. Stabbing through my heart. The strike that’s a kindness, really. After all, who wants to die slowly when you can die fast?”
- Jude – At the end of The Wicked King, it seemed that Jude had finally achieved her goal of attaining power; but after being betrayed, she must once again climb up from her lowly position and claim what she has rightfully earned. It was so rewarding to see how far Jude has come not just as a mortal in the faerie world, but as someone who is worthy of being shown deference regardless of who she is.
- Sisterly bonds – Seeing Jude and Vivi, and even Taryn, whom I haven’t been very fond of, come together in this one to assist one another was so delightful. It had me rooting for their relationship and hoping for an ending that united them.
- Madoc – In the first novel, Cardan is painted as Jude’s adversary, but as the series progressed and Cardan became someone capable of being an ally, another adversary emerged. Jude found herself pitted multiple times against her adopted father. This seemed appropriate on many levels. Madoc is her parents’ murderer, but also the strongest parent figure she’s had. He’s shaped her into the person she is, whether for better or worse. Ultimately, he sees her as an equal in a way most fae probably wouldn’t if pitted against her.
- Cardan – I loved seeing a more vulnerable Cardan in this one. He’s more open and you can see the positive influence certain relationship have had on him. He’s come a long way since the first novel and a lot of readers are going to be happy with his development in this one.
- Character deaths – This section is going to be vague on purpose to avoid spoilers. There was one particular character death in this one that I felt I was cheated out of. I feel like we had seen enough of this character in the previous two books to warranted readers being able to see them die rather than just hear about it. Another character lives who I expected to die and after mulling it over, I really wish we had seen them kick the bucket.
- Cardan – Although I did enjoy a more vulnerable Cardan, I did miss the dark side of his character. He didn’t feel quite as complex in this one as he had been in the previous novels.
- The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black has its share of flaws and isn’t quite as good as the previous two novels, but still manages to provide a satisfying ending to a twisty and dark faerie series.
★ ★ ★ ★