Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

Goodreads | Amazon US | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“I fell in love with the forest. And the forest loved me back. And so we traded hearts. Mine is here, larger and stronger than it could have been in the small cavern of my body”

I’ve read over one-hundred books so far in 2018, and Strange Grace is easily my absolute favorite. And I anticipate that it will be my favorite book of 2018 come December 31st, too. What a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Literally perfection. A true gift to the literary world. Friends, if you’re looking for a spooky book, with a dark fairy-tale vibe, that heavily talks about society’s gender expectations, while being a love letter to gender fluidity, with the most heartwarming polyamorous relationship, look no further than this masterpiece.

“The old god and the youngest Grace witch. The story says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all?”

In Three Graces, no harm comes to anyone. Babies are born safe, and parents deliver in less pain. Crops are perfect and produce an abundance. Animals never get sick. People heal from cuts overnight and broken bones in a few days. This village is magical, and the community is able to thrive without fear, except for one thing. That one thing? Oh, the devil in the forest that surrounds the village.

Long ago, there were three witches. And the youngest one fell in love with the devil in the village and chose to give him her heart. And together, they made a deal. Every seventh year, when the slaughter moon comes, and the red from the Bone Tree releases, the best boy from the village will run into the forest, willing to sacrifice his life to protect his village for another seven years.

Except this year, the forest is requesting another boy, even though the village should be safe for another three years. The village has to come together and decide what to do. Should they sacrifice their newest best boy, in hopes that the devil that dwells in the forest will accept the offering?

“He was bold and powerful, beautiful and dangerous, but he loved the first Grace witch, and it was from that love the bargain blossomed. This valley is made on love, little bird. Find love. Seek it, always. That is where our power resides.”

We get to follow three characters, who all are tied to the sacrifices by just being born. We get to watch them deal with the safety of their village being removed, and we get to see how each reacts. And they are willing to rise up, they are ready to fight, but they are also so very willing to sacrifice.

Mairwen – White, half witch (from her mother), half saint (from her father that was sacrificed while her mother was pregnant), but wholly called to the forest. The youngest witch, and maybe the most powerful. And shares her heart with two people, and one best friend, that make up her entire universe.

“She is a piece of the wild forest: tangled vines of hair; beautiful dress torn and heavy at the hem with mud and water; insistent, dangerous eyes; lips parted; cheeks flushed. An ax loose in one hand like she’s the vengeful spirit in a terrible story.”

Arthur – White, was raised as a girl, because his mother couldn’t bear the thought of him being sacrificed, but the secret came out. And Arthur has felt trapped between the two worlds ever since, while wishing people could understand that there is more than just two genders. Yet, Arthur feels the need to prove themself as the best boy in the village, not just for the rest of the men to see, but to save the true best boy.

“Nobody can change who he is except for himself, not any saint ritual, not an ignorant, terrified town, not a night spent in the forest, not a dress or a kiss”

Rhun – Black, and the boy that completes this beautiful triad. Good, pure, kind, caring, and truly, above all else, the best boy in the village. But his goodness made it so that he was always literally raised for the slaughter.

“If love can protect anybody, it will protect Rhun Sayer.”

And these three have completely captured my soul and I’ve never shipped or loved a fictional relationship more. This story is a masterpiece, the discussions are life changing, and the writing feels like it comes from some sort of higher-power and/or magical deity. I promise you all, this story is now embedded in my very DNA. If you could only pick up one book that I recommend in 2018, please have it be Strange Grace.

Gender roles and the constructs that every society places on them is a constant theme in this book. Arthur’s character is so wonderful, and even though it was painful at times, was such a breath of fresh air to read about. We get to see Arthur feel ostracized from “girl things” but also never being able to fit in with the “boy things”, and we get to see Arthur realize how toxic that way of thinking truly is.

“What hurt him was the rule change. Being forced out of girlhood into boyhood, as if it were only an either/ or, as if to make any other choice was unnatural.”

And in general, the sexual representation is amazing. Like, everyone in this book is queer. Mairwen states attraction to different/no genders, obviously Rhun and Arthur are attracted to different/no genders, Arthur is (in my opinion) non-binary, Mairwen’s mom has a woman partner; this book has a whole lot of gay. And you all know how much the polyamorous rep meant to me, and how much I was living for it, while turning every page of this book. And I’m just going to pretend like they are all pansexual and go to sleep with a smile on my face each night. Thanks.

“It’s fear. Not of the devil, but fear of change. Fear of doing anything different that might cause a ripple and bring it all down. Fear of a little boy in a dress, because he didn’t fit into the structure of town, the rules. There was never anything wrong with Arthur.”

And this entire book is a love letter to found families everywhere. Mairwen, Rhun, and Arthur have created something so beautiful and their friendship is honestly goals. Unconditional love is always at the forefront of their relationship and of this story. And this entire book feels like a bright light that celebrates that the family you create and choose will always be superior than the once you are born into without any saying. Also, I haven’t talked about her yet, but Haf, Mairwen’s other best friend, is the sweetest soul in the book. I loved her. I’m happy the town believe in their misogynistic hearts that they had to sacrifice only their best boys, instead of their best human, because Haf is truly the best character in Three Graces. Like, I would totally sacrifice myself for her, Mairween, Rhun, and Arthur. Like, I’m walking into the forest now, because I love them all so much. Bye.

“I love you,” […] “Both of you, and all of you. Hold on to my heart and I’ll be fine.”

And I honestly feel like, somehow, this forest crept into my home and crept into me. This was so spooky and so atmospheric, but I couldn’t put it down. No matter how scary or how dark it got; I was so completely addicted. Some of these passages left me feeling like I was on my own alter, deep in the forest, chest open, ribs cracked, leaving my heart bared for all to see. Yeah, that good. I don’t have words.

I truly believe that sometimes you just completely connect with an author’s writing and it will wholeheartedly teleport you into that story. I read the anthology Three Sides of a Heart , and I fell so completely hard for Tessa Gratton’s writing. I always pick a favorite short story in anthologies, but normally it’s a hard choice, yet Tessa made that anthology’s pick so easy. And then I fell in love with another short story by her in All Out, and I knew I had to read a full-length book from this author. And friends, it was like picking a book up for the first and time and realize that power that books can hold. Tessa’s writing is on another tier all by itself, and I am still, days later, left in awe of it. If you like lyrical writing, with captivating stories that are completely transportive, you need to give Strange Grace a read. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

But this being said, I went into Strange Grace only expecting good writing and nothing more. But I can’t believe I found probably the best book of 2018. And this might be the best written book I’ve ever read in my entire life. I honestly had goosebumps while read at least 75% of this book. And even though this is a dark and spooky read, those goosebumps where completely from Tessa Gratton’s writing completely piercing my soul.

“You can break it all, or remake it.”

Overall, I recommend this with my heart and soul. Not only is this probably going to be my favorite book of 2018, it also has the best polyamorous relationship I’ve read ever. I’m not sure my heart has ever beat so fast, broken so painfully, or warmed so much, for any fictional relationship. The woods, the writing, the spell this book placed on me, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experience. Please, friend, pick this book up. Not only is it going to make the perfect autumnal read, it just feels like the book of my heart. Thank you so much, Tessa, for this once in a lifetime book that I’ll cherish forever.

Instagram | Goodreads | Twitter | Tumblr | Twitch | Bloglovin’ | Wishlist

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for animal death, bullying, trauma, grief, murder, torture, human sacrifice, abandonment, and just in general, this is a spooky book that I would for sure classify as horror. Please use caution, friends.

Buddy read with Candance at Literary Dust, Lilly at Lair of Books, & Julie at Pages and Pens! ❤

The Bird and the Blade by Megan Bannen

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“Now, cold and exhausted, a girl disguised as a boy, tottering after the losing end of a battle, I have to second-guess that assessment. It seems to me that I’ve made some choices—some very bad choices—that have led me to this moment.”

The Bird and the Blade is a completely enthralling and heart-breaking YA fantasy debut. I enjoyed this so much, and I was completely teleported and captivated every time I opened this book up. Plus, this is a story about the descendants of Genghis Khan’s sons, mixed with the Italian opera Turandot, and that’s one of the most unique concepts of any story I’ve read in 2018. And this might not be the most historically accurate novel out there, but I loved reading about the Song dynasty and the Mongol Empire.

Genghis Khan had four sons, who had trouble deciding who would rule after their father. Well, this story centers around a prince from Jochi’s blood line. Jochi was the oldest of the sons, who ended up not being the ascended ruler, but still ended up being a great military leader, and his great, great grandson is no different. That is, until his men are killed, and he and his ruling father are forced to go into hiding with a girl who has many secrets.

And I fell in so in love with that secret keeper. Jinghua is now a companion to the Prince Khalaf and his father, Timur, but she was once a slave for the them and their entire family. Khalaf always showed her kindness and during a split-second decision, Jinghua goes into hiding with these two royal men. And while traveling she teaches him many things from her culture, including the language.

“Cruelty is easy to repay, my lord. Kindness is another matter.”

While they are traveling and hiding from their enemies throughout the Mongol Empire, they find out about the daughter of the Great Khan, Turandokht. She is so desired among all the princes for her hand in marriage, she has set up a contest for every royal suitor, where they must answer three riddles correctly given to them by herself. And if they answer any incorrectly, they will forfeit their lives. Khalaf wants nothing more than to try his hand at the riddles to marry Turandokht and restore the glory of his people, or die an honorable death trying.

And this story is told from present time where we first see Jinghua witnessing Khalaf being told the first riddle that will decide if he dies or moves on to the second. We are then teleported back in time, and we get all these puzzle pieces that slowly start to fit together. From Jinghua and Khalaf before they were forced into exile, to Jinghua with her family before she became a slave, to Jinghua falling in love with Khalaf slowly but ever so surely. And this beautiful story that is equal parts heart-warming and heart-wrenching slowly begins to take form.

This book puts the spotlight on a discussion about the beauty standards for women that we’ve endured for all our pasts and still in our present day. Like, how so many people feel like beauty is all that that women have to offer. And how we will pit girls against one another and created all this ugly jealousy, when we should be using that energy to uplift and support and celebrate all women.

“Her beauty doesn’t make you ugly. Her intelligence doesn’t make you stupid. Her value doesn’t make you worthless.”

Overall, this is the highest three star rating I’ve ever given a three star book. I loved this and was completely enthralled in the tale. I just really disliked the ending, which I suppose if I knew about Turandot before going in, I would have been better prepared. It completely broke me, and I know how beautiful it is when I take a step back and reflect upon it. But, I just really didn’t like it when I read it. But this really is such an impressive debut, and I can’t wait to see what Megan Bannen does next, because they created such a brilliant standalone that really impressed me.

Trigger and content warnings for slavery, kidnapping, heavy war themes, mention of rape, graphic deaths, graphic violence, torture, gore, loss of a loved one, and self-harm.


Instagram | Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Goodreads | Twitch

 

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh & Elsie Chapman

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

This is the anthology I’ve been waiting my entire life for. As a Filipina woman, I have no words to express how happy my heart is to just read a collection of short stories that are all ownvoices. And at the end of each short story is an author note on why they wrote the story that they did. And, I think I cried reading at least 75% of the author’s notes. This anthology is so beautiful, so powerful, and it means more to me than I have word combinations to express.

“We fell in love with all those myths about powerful gods being vulnerable, about humans becoming heroes. Such stories taught us about mythology, about the beauty of folktales and legends, and about how stories of gods and goddesses are also stories about the human heart. But we never found similar compilations that were distinctly Asian.”

Friends, please preorder this and fall in love, too! If you’d like to get me a birthday gift this year, please just preorder this, read, and review this collection. Honestly, it’s the only thing I want in 2018. I’ll beg, I’ll plead, I’ll scream from the rooftops: please preorder this anthology and show the world that Asian stories can not only sell, but can also change lives. I will cherish this book forever and ever. (While also apparently rereading Roshani’s from my ARC copy over the phone to my grandmother 100 times!)

This collection honestly has so many amazing additions, but my personal favorites were Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi, Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, and Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa. But my all-time favorite of the collection was The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers.

But I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi – ★★★★★
Filipino

“It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.”

I am in tears writing this. Best opening story of any anthology ever. This is a version of the Philippine mythos of Maria Makiling that my grandma has been telling me stories of since I was a little girl. And Roshani’s take on it was beyond words beautiful. This opening story was enough for me to preorder three copies of this book. And I know I’m being completely biased, but this was nothing short of magnificent, and I’ll cherish it forever and ever. Roshani, thank you, with every bone in my body, thank you.

Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★
Chinese

“Can’t they see the ghosts all the time?” she asked. “Not like you and I can. The Festival is when ghosts are most themselves instead of what the living want them to be. Not everyone will like what they see tonight.”

Everyone knows I’m a huge fangirl of Alyssa Wong, but the reason for that is because she truly writes the best short fiction out there right now. There are so many amazing authors out there, but talent like Alyssa’s, where it just shows that she was meant to weave words together and craft these life changing stories, is so rare, but so awe-inspiring. She is such a blessing to the literary world, and I’m forever thankful. Every anthology collection I’ve read that includes a story from her ends up being ten times better for the inclusion. And her story always ends up completely stealing the show, my soul, and my heart, while also becoming my favorite. And Olivia’s Table was no different. This is a perfect story about a girl dealing with grief and depression but honoring her family by cooking at the Hungry Ghost Festival. And this was such an honor to read, and I know I’ll carry this tale with me forever. TW/CW: loss of a loved one, terminal illness, grief, and depression.

Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee – ★★★★
Hmong

“The brain is just a highly complex circuit of electrical impulses, so it stands to reason that it can be artificially manufactured. Scientists have been trying to understand this process for decades. What. Makes. Emotion?”

This is a sci-fi tale about a girl and her strained relationship with her father, who hasn’t been the same since her mother died (TW/CW: loss of a loved one, grief, and abandonment). But she and her friend soon start to unravel a mystery concerning the androids that were recalled long ago for being too intelligent. And this was such a beautiful story, with such an amazing ending. And the end note about this reimagining of The Woman and the Tiger, a Hmong folktale, completely made me fall even harder in love.

Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra – ★★★
Punjabi

“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”

This one wasn’t my favorite in the collection, just because it stars a young girl at a club with her friend when a strange young man appears and keeps following them. I mean, all the red flags, right? And even though his intentions always seemed good, it still made me uncomfortable to read. I did love the author’s note for this one, I just sadly didn’t love this vision. But oh my gosh, the atmosphere and the food descriptions? Perfection. Like, don’t read this if you’re hungry, because my stomach is growling just thinking about the food and drinks from this short story.

The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard – ★★★★★
Vietnamese

“We can’t go home, but that doesn’t mean we have to be caged.”

I loved this tale about two sisters and that unconditional bond. This story felt so full, so atmospheric, so perfect. This story was inspired by Tấm and Cám, but the version that Aliette De Bodard created is so heartwarming and so inspiring. This is an empowering little tale, that truly emphasizes that we can be anything we want in this world, with whoever we are in this world, regardless of what others want to shape and mold us to be.

The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers – ★★★★★
Korean

“I finally know how it ends.”

I cried through 80% of this story. Easily, this was one of my new favorite short stories of all time. I will never forget this story for as long as I live. And I am immediately buying everything E. C. Myers has created. This is a story about a gwisin (ghost), and a girl that is still dealing with the death of her mother, five years later. It doesn’t help that she’s still living with her father and her mother’s father (her grandfather), who reminds her of her mother’s presence constantly. But it is undeniable when the MMO that was her mother’s life, and the reason her parents met, is being shut down forever, but has drawn Sunny into playing again. And Sunny has just found out about a new private server that will preserve the game, and maybe the memory of her mother. I loved this more than words. MMORPGs have meant so much to me during my life. I have played them since high school, and I have some of my very best friends and loved ones to this day because of them. And this short story is a love letter to video games and the impact they can make on your life. And video games are such a huge part of Korean culture, and the significance and importance shined through this story so very brightly. This story just had such a profound meaning to me, because it made me realize that one day I’m (hopefully) going to be a mom that is a gamer, and a con lover, and a writer, and so many of the things that Sunny viewed her mom as. Like, I promise, I was bawling through almost this entire story. This was beyond words beautiful. I have no word combination to string together to let you all know how perfect this was and how much this story meant to me. TW/CW: death, loss of a parent. And RIP to my favorite NPC of all time, Ephoenix (Ezra Chatterton).

The Smile by Aisha Saeed – ★★★★★
South Asian

“Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.”

This was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I need a full-length of this story, I need to know what happens next, I need so much more. But I guess that’s the beauty of this tale; anything could happen next. This is an extremely feminist short story about a girl who serves a prince who is in love with her. But this story is about love, and how it should only be given freely and to those deserving. Seriously, this is such a treat of a story. I think this will be one that everyone who picks up this anthology will love.

Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber – ★★★★
Gujarati

“There are three reasons I know fall is awesome: the most anticipated Bollywood movies are always on a fall release schedule, my mom starts practicing her delicious party dishes, and it means it’s time for Navrātri!”

I loved this adorable story that switched between Hinduism mythos, and to current time to a girl celebrating Navaratri at a party with her friends, while they also plot revenge on a boy that’s being rather rude. Navaratri is celebrated in honor of good defeating evil, and the battle of Durga and Mahishasura, a buffalo demon. And Preeti Chhibber does such a wonderful job transitioning and showcasing these two stories together. Also, I just loved learning about this Hindu holiday that’s so empowering to women. This was expertly crafted and such a joy to read.

Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh – ★★★★
Korean

“Many years ago, a girl and a boy lived with their parents in a bark-shingled home near a flowing river’s edge.”

Oh, this was such a fun and whimsical read! This was a super unique spin on The Goblin Treasure, which is actually a story I grew up hearing, too. But Renée Ahdieh did such a wonderful job making me feel every single thing for this set of siblings. And there is such a wonderful message about how we all carry goodness and badness inside of ourselves, but how we choose our actions based on which is what is truly important.

Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia – ★★
South Asian

“When I’d agreed to his offer, it was because I had thought I’d be a hero.”

This is a long short story about what it truly means to be a hero, and if being a hero only means accomplishing what you set out to do or winning the battle you set out to fight. There are a ton of lighthearted pop culture references in this, but a ton of hard-hitting questions of war and what is worth losing one’s life for. I just thought that sometimes the writing was a little too harsh and a little too dry for me.

Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz – ★★
Filipino

“I almost murdered a girl yesterday…”

Friends, I’m heartbroken. I was supposed to love this one! I just read the Fresh Ink anthology, and Melissa de la Cruz’s story was easily my favorite out of the entire collection! But this? This just didn’t work for me at all. It’s about a vampire that is living in hiding, but has lost her journal that has a spell attached to it, so no human can read it. But it is still causing her a lot of trouble. Also, TW/CW for sort of a graphic animal comment, since she feeds from them. One line in this kind of made me shudder upon reading, so use caution. But I think this might be a set-up or something for her series Blue Bloods, but it just really felt strange being a part of this anthology, and I really didn’t enjoy it as much as it pains me to say.

Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman – ★★★★★
Chinese

“Don’t forget we’re only ever soldiers here in Shangyu, and soldiers never get to be the ones who wake up from a spell, or who even get to break a spell. We’re just the dragons guarding the gate, ordered to keep breathing the fire of those who cast the spell in the first place.”

I loved this so much. I loved this more than words. This is a reimagining of the Chinese legend Butterfly Lovers, and it was so beautiful and so impactful. The theme of loyalty to one’s family, but also to one’s heart and happiness is constant throughout this tale. And just all of the ways that war impacts every single person, whether they are forced to create, forced to fight, or forced to any duty against their true heart’s desires. This story was wonderful and made me such an emotional mess. For sure a highlight in this already amazing anthology.

Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar – ★★★★
South Asian

“She sang for her parents, for the hue-switching heavens, for herself. She read fairy tales, epics, and legends and imagined performing them on a stage draped in velvet. But it wasn’t enough. She longed for a friend.”

This was a beautiful story inspired by two of the stories in the longest epic poem in history, The Mahābhārata. One about Princess Savitri and Prince Satyavan, and one about Ganga and Shantanu. This was a moving story about destiny and sacrifice and how important it is to always follow your heart, regardless of the outcomes and/or circumstances. And I was high-key living for the feminist undertones that were expertly woven throughout this.

The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon – ★★★★★
Chinese

“…whatever I might make for myself in this life: hearth, home, or family—they would mean nothing without you.”

Please, excuse me while I go buy more from Cindy Pon because this story was one of the greatest blessings of 2018. And this is her version of the Chinese folklore tale of Cowherd, and the magical girl who saw him first. I actually had never heard of this tale before, so I spent some time afterwards reading everything I could, and I am even more in love. This is for sure one of the best stories in this anthology, and Cindy Pon’s giving a voice to this magical, fairy, weaver girl is something so beautiful I don’t even have words for it. One of the most romantic short stories I’ve ever read too. All the feels, all the happiness, all the tears.

Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa – ★★★★★
Japanese

“She could charm bears with that smile, Takeo thought. If he were a bear, he would lie down with his head in her lap and not move until the hunters came for him.”

I loved this with every fiber of my being. I loved this writing so much that I think I’m actually going to pick up everything I’ve been neglecting on reading from Julie Kagawa, too. Like, this was the perfect closing story. And it surrounded one of my favorite mythical creatures of all time: Kitsunes! Again, the writing was so perfect, I was instantly teleported into this small village. The main character, Takeo, was the sweetest little cinnamon roll. And this short story was honestly perfect in every way. And the ending of this was absolutely haunting. I would buy and read anything else about this heartbroken girl, and the small boy that missed so much because of evil men.

Out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 63 stars (84%). But I am giving this five stars regardless, because I loved it so much. The stories in this collection meant more to me than I have words for. And I truly hope you all pick this up upon release.

Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitch

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Ash Princess (Ash Princess Trilogy #1) by Laura Sebastian

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

“My name is Theodosia Eirene Houzzara, Queen of Astrea, and I will endure this.”

Friends, I couldn’t put this down. This was such an addicting and captivating read. This was the first book of 2018 that I read in one day, which is saying something because this book is almost 450 pages. I was just so invested with the romance, the rebellion, and the betrayals, that I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Ash Princess is Laura Sebastian’s debut novel, which is a story about a girl named Theodosia (yeah, I’m going to be singing Hamilton all day after writing this review), whose ruling mother was murdered, and their land taken over by another kingdom when she was only six-years-old. the Kaiser allowed her to live, but only so that she could live among them, while they take everything she has ever known away. She is used as a reminder for her people that the Kaiser has enslaved, and when they do anything to rise up, Theodosia takes the punishment. Her back is incredible scarred from the whippings she has had to endure, but the Kaiser also inflicts so much mental and emotional abuse alongside the physical.

“The last person who called me by my true name was my mother, with her dying breath.”

The Kaiser conquered Theodosia’s land because there are caves that run beneath four major temples that her people worship (air, fire, water, earth). And gems come from those caves to give people magic, but they also give people with an affinity for the element(s) a lot of magic. The caves have so much magic inside them, that when Theodosia’s mother would rule, people would go down and stay in the caves, most dying, but some emerging and proving that they are worth the element the god and goddesses gave to them. Now that the Kaiser rules, he forces the slaves down there to mine, but most lose their minds after being around the power(s) for too long, and eventually lose their lives.

Theodosia’s only friend is a girl named Cress, whose father is the one who swiped the blade across her mother’s throat. Inside, Theodosia feels a constant battle about what she can do while feeling so absolutely helpless. Yet, Cress also lost her mother when she was very young, so an unconventional friendship grew from two girls both mourning the mothers they never got to know. I loved seeing their friendship develop and become what it was by the end of the book. But Theodosia is constantly reminded of all the things she lost alongside her mother, but she is forced to do the only thing she can: survive. That is, until one day a boy from her past comes and offers her a way out, and a way to maybe right a few wrongs that have happened to her people.

“A life where a crown—gold or ash—doesn’t weigh heavy on my head.”

As I said above, this is a dark story about a girl who is forced to live among the people who ruined her life and killed her mother. Trigger/Content Warnings for racism, enslaving humans, abuse, torture, graphic beating, humiliation, captivation, gore, murder, death, loss of a loved one, bullying, talk of rape in the past, talk of animal murder in the past, sexual assault (unwanted touching), and rebellion/war themes.

The other thing I’d like to talk about is that the Kaiser and his people are white with light features, where Theodosia and her people have darker features and are said to have a “tawny” skin color. On top of the fact that this is a story about how one empire colonizes another, and puts the remaining population in chains and are force them to work (and die) in the mines harvesting gems.

“Maybe his interest in me isn’t just about saving the damsel. Part of him also wants to be saved. If he’s stained by his father’s sins, then maybe I’m the only person who can absolve them.”

My favorite thing about this book was easily the romance. Now, a lot of books have kind of vague, blurry, love triangles, but Ash Princess just has a blatant one, and I loved it. Theodosia is torn between her childhood friend and first love, Blaise, and a boy whose father has taken everything from her, Søren. It is legitimately friends to lovers and enemies to lovers and my shipper heart was so full of happiness. I personally like the enemies to lovers side of the triangle more, and I was falling off my bed, swooning so damn hard, during the last tunnel scene. Like, that is my romance kink, 100%, and if you’ve read this book you’ll know what scene I’m talking about. The romance in this is perfect, and I will read Lady Smoke at midnight upon release to see how these romances progress, because your girl is invested.

“You could ask me for the ocean itself and I would find a way to give it to you.”

So, you’re probably asking, “Melanie, why did you give it four stars if you enjoyed it this much and won’t stop gushing over it?” And that’s because, I’ll be honest, this story doesn’t bring anything new to the YA Fantasy world. If you read a lot of other reviews on Goodreads, you’re going to notice the same line of “this is nothing new” and it is true. A lot of reviewers are also comparing this to Red Queen and An Ember in the Ashes, but I haven’t read either of those! Basically, this isn’t groundbreaking or even unique, but it’s super well written and crafted and it truly made for an un-put-downable read for me.

Overall, I truly loved and devoured this. This was easily the most addicting thing I’ve read in 2018 thus far, and I completely recommend it with my whole heart. Again, it might not be the most original thing, but that doesn’t make it not worthwhile. I loved the characters, the twists, the plot, the friendship, the perfect romances, the atmosphere, the writing, I loved it all. This will probably be one of my favorite YA Fantasies of 2018, and I hope you all give it a try upon release!

“We are not defined by the things we do in order to survive.”


Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitch

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

 

LIFEL1K3 (Lifelike #1) by Jay Kristoff

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Metal or meat. Blood or current. Everyone deserves a choice.”

Gentle friends, I loved this. This was an absolute treat to read! Jay Kristoff’s writing and storytelling is so unique, but if you love it then you will love it with the sum of your being. This book was one of the best things I’ve ever read, and I instantly knew it would make my top books of 2018.

I recommend this with my whole heart for fans of Borderlands, Mad Max, and even Fallout, because that is this book’s aesthetic. Yet, this book also is very reminiscent of one of my favorite Disney Animation movies, but to say which would be such a big spoiler, so I will refrain, but it was so amazing! I was constantly reminded of all these stories constantly, and I loved each and every moment. LIFEL1K3 is such a different book, that I can only compare it to these video games and movies, but I truly think it’s going to completely win over the YA world upon release.

The prologue to this book is one of the most heart-filled, heart-pounding, heart-breaking things I’ve ever read. I was instantly captivated and instantly immersed, and even though I was crying, a hand over my mouth, I could never stop reading. The start of every chapter tells more and more (in true Jay Kristoff style), and my heart continued to break and break, but I promise you; this story is so well crafted. I have no combination of words to even weave together to express how smart and seamlessly this is woven together.

“They used to call it Kalifornya, but now they called it Dregs.”

This story starts out in an alternate post-apocalyptic future of The United States. Robots in this world are the equivalent to slaves, and robots that look like humans (androids) are completely outlawed. Our main protagonist is battling in the WarDome, against robots, in a mech she has built herself from scavenging. She does these battles so that she can afford her grandfather’s medication, and in the opening of the book, she is in desperate need to win. So desperate that something happens to put an X on her back, and she and her friends are forced to flee, because the battles are broadcasted all over Dregs.

Eve – A seventeen-year-old girl, who has been living with her grandpa in Tire Valley for two years now. Eve also only has one eye, and I loved that representation with my whole heart. Also, Eve soon realizes that the life she has always known, might not be the only life she has ever lived. So many secrets. So many twists. So many choices.

“Two lives, colliding like stars inside her mind. The life she knew—the life of Evie Carpenter. Domefighter. Top-tier botdoc. A skinny little scavvergirl eking out a living on the island of Dregs. And someone else. Another girl entirely.”

Lemon – Eve’s best friend, who lives with her. Also, the funniest character I’ve read about in a really long time. I’m talking about full on, have to put the book down, giggles. Like, this book has the best banter I may have ever read, and all of the amazingness came from Lemon Fresh. One of my new all-time favorite characters. But I will say that Lemon does have a scene that bothered me, when she tried to take a peak at what was under a lifelike’s pants. It didn’t happen, but still, things like that are never cute, and her being a girl and him being a boy doesn’t make it okay. But besides this one thing, Lemon Fresh was truly the star of this book for me, and I want to be her when I grow up.

“I don’t care who’s after you. Where you’re from or where you’re going. It’s you, me, Crick and Kaiser. No matter what. Rule Number One in the Scrap, remember? Stronger together, together forever.”

Cricket – AI that was made to protect Eve by her grandpa. And even though they are adorable, my only complaint is about this character. Cricket is with the girls when they find a lifelike, and when they find him, he is missing an arm since it was a really bad crash. Throughout the book Cricket calls Ezekiel “Stumpy” and “Braintrauma” and it just read really bad. It also kind of makes me not like Cricket as much as I’m sure many others will.

“If he wasn’t a real person, why does this hurt so badly?”

Ezekiel – I loved Ezekiel, so much, instantly, right off the bat. He is the lifelike that Eve and Lemon find, when they are rushing home after the events that happened at the WarDome. lifelikes are outlawed everywhere, because they somehow broke the Three Laws that are hard-coded into every single robot.

“He gave us life, but he intended us to live it on our knees.”

And many of these lifelikes resided in a place called Babel. Growing up, you guys might have learned about the story of Tower of Babel as a lesson about why we speak so many different languages. Basically, after the Great Flood happened, a bunch of people came together and agreed to build a tower that would touch Heaven itself. God, realizing what they are attempting, scatters them all around the world and makes them all speak different languages, hence our world today. And the irony was not missed on how perfect of a title for a residence this is. And all the lifelike’s names are also super biblical.

The soul of this novel is about oppression, and the sick things we are willing to tell ourselves to justify it. How people will treat other living being differently, and unjustly, because they feel like they are higher on the social hierarchy. This book may be about humans vs robots, but I think it mirrors a lot of issues going on in today’s world, and I think a lot of people could take away many things from this book.

“Look outside that door, and you will see a world built on metal backs. Held together by metal hands.”

The heart of this novel is about love, and how we are always deserving of it, even if we are searching for it our entire lives. The romance in this was exceptionally done, and I was swooning so hard at so many different scenes. But this book doesn’t just focus on the romantic love between two people, but also the importance of love between friends. Eve and Lemon’s friendship is honestly goals. And this book is for sure a love letter to found families everywhere.

“It’s simple to love someone on the days that are easy. But you find out what your love is made of on the days that are hard.”

And in true Jay Kristoff fashion, he ripped my heart out at the end of this book. I honestly am not sure how I’m going to be able to cope and deal with the wait for the next book. It will easily be one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and I am so curious what direction the story is going to go. I also believe, with my whole heart, that the second book will be even better than LIFEL1K3. Even though this was a five star read, it was setting the stage for something that’s going to be such a damn masterpiece.

Overall, I loved this. I loved seeing Eve discover who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be. I loved the beautiful, lyrical writing. I loved the important themes and discussions that were expertly woven in. I loved laughing and crying and feeling everything in-between for the characters. I loved this world and traveling it alongside these characters. I even loved all the twists and turns. Also, to say that this has a cliffhanger ending is a damn understatement. But this was such a fun read, and I think there is so much that so many will love, too! I hope you all pick this one up come May 29th!

“Your past doesn’t make calls on your future. It doesn’t matter who you were. Only who you are.”

Content/Trigger Warnings: murder, gore, violence, death, loss of a loved one, bullying, robotic animal cruelty, talk of suicide, talk of cancer, terminal illness, child abandonment, physical abuse, torture, bombings, and war themes.

Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitch

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Chelsea at The Suspense is Thrilling Me! ❤



Submit your proof of preorder HERE by May 29th, 2018 to receive a collectible print featuring an original illustration of a map of the Grande Ol’ Yousay by artist Virginia Allyn and four beautiful LIFEL1K3 bookmarks by artist Mona May! (US mailing address required. I’m sorry.)

Circe by Madeline Miller

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

This is the pièce de résistance I’ve been searching for my entire life. Not only did I fall in love with this story, I predict that this will be the best book I’ll read all year. This book is about healing and doing what it takes to come into your own. This book is about love; the love between lovers, the love of a mother, and the love you must find in yourself. This book proves why family of choice will always be greater than family of origin. This book is about magic, and how we can find it in ourselves if we look hard enough. This is a book about becoming the witch you’ve always buried deep inside you.

“They do not care if you are good. They barely care if you are wicked. The only thing that makes them listen is power.”

Okay, maybe I should start this review off with a somewhat personal story. I was very privileged to go a very good high school where I was able to study The Iliad and The Odyssey for a class my freshman year. And fourteen-year-old Melanie fell in love. To say I was obsessed was an understatement, and more and more my heart was filled with love for Odysseus, Athena, and a certain love affair with the witch-goddess Circe.

(Beautiful art by Kevin Nichols)

Even upon finishing that class, I still couldn’t get enough of Homer’s words. And to this day, The Iliad and The Odyssey are the only books that I collect many editions of. All my loved ones and family correlate these epic poems with me, and always bring me new editions from their travels, and give me gifts for special events and holidays the same way they do with Harry Potter. One of the most prized possession I own is an edition of The Odyssey that was given to me by someone who meant a lot to me, at a very important time in my life. And these two tomes will always be a big part of my identity, and I will always recognize that they not only shaped me as a reader, but they shaped me as a human being, too.

So, when I found out that that Greek mythology retelling queen, Madeline Miller, was writing a book centered around Circe, I knew it was going to end up being one of my favorite books of all time. And it ended up being everything I wanted and more. I hate to throw around the word masterpiece, but if I had to pick a book to give that title to, I’d pick Circe.

“Odysseus, son of Laertes, the great traveler, prince of wiles and tricks and a thousand ways. He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

And even though Odysseus plays a huge role in this story, this book is Circe’s and Circe’s alone. We get to see her growing up in Oceanus, with her Titan sun god father Helios, and loveless nymph mother Perse, and her three more ambitious siblings, Aeëtes, Pasiphaë, and Perses. We get to see her living her life of solitude, exiled on the island of Aiaia. We also get to see her make a few very important trips, that are very monumental in Greek mythos. But we get to see all of Circe, the broken parts, the healing parts, and the complete parts. We get to see her love, her loss, her discovery, her resolve, and her determination. We get to see her question what it means to be immortal, what it means to be a nymph in a world ruled by gods, and what it means to just live. Her journey is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and probably unlike anything I will ever read again. I have no combination of words to express how much her life and her story means to me. But I promise, I’m not the same person I was before reading this book.

“…All my life had been murk and depths, but I was not a part of that dark water. I was a creature within it.”

This is ultimately a story about how different the tales will always be told for a man. And how the ballads will always be sung for heroes, not heroines, even if a woman was truly behind all the success the man greedily reaped. How the light will always fall to vilify the woman and showcase her as a witch that needs to be tamed, a sorceress that needs to be subdued, or an enchantress that needs to be defeated. Women, no matter how much agency they carve out in any male dominated world, will always be a means to an end to further the achievements of man. Always. And Circe displays that at the forefront of this story.

Circe is most well known for turning Odysseus’s men into pigs when they come to her island in The Odyssey, but Madeline Miller does such a wonderful job weaving all this Greek mythology into a fully fleshed out, brand-new tale. She has created something so unique, yet so breathtakingly good, I think so many readers will find it impossible to put this new-spin of a story down. I was completely captivated and enthralled from the very first line to the very last line. This book just feels so authentic, I felt like I was in the ocean, on the island, and traveling right beside Circe throughout. And I never wanted to leave her side.

“It was their favorite bitter joke: those who fight against prophecy only draw it more tightly around their throats.”

Overall, I understand that this is a book that is very targeted to me and my likes. Not only is this a character driven story, with a main protagonist being a character I’ve been in love with for over a decade, but the writing was lyrical perfection. I’m such a quote reader, and I swear I would have highlighted this entire book. This book is also so beautifully feminist that it makes me weep just thinking about the things Circe had to endure. And it showcases the unconditional love of found families, yet also between a mother and her child, while simultaneously abolishing the notion that blood is worth more than anything else in any world. This book heavily emphasizes that you will never be the mistakes that your parents have committed. The entire story is a love letter to love itself and reveals all the things we are willing to do in the name of it. And most importantly, this is a book about how we are truly only ever in charge of our own stories, even though our actions may change the fate for others around us. Please, pick this masterpiece up, and I hope it changes your life, too.

Thank you, Madeline Miller, I will carry your Circe in my heart for the rest of my life.

“That is one thing gods and mortals share: when we are young, we think ourselves the first to have each feeling in the world.”

Trigger/Content Warnings: Violence, gore, murder, torture, physical abuse, child abuse, thoughts of suicide, brief scene with cutting, graphic childbirth scenes, mention of bestiality, mention of incest, animal sacrifice, death of a sibling, death of a child, death of a loved one, death of an animal, rape, adultery, and war themes.

Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitch

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.


✨ Signed and personalized copies are available through Main Point Books! (They can ship anywhere in the US, anywhere in the UK, and also to some other international locations!)

Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #2) by Mark Lawrence

Goodreads | Amazon US| Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

ARC provided by Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Red Sister ★★★★★

“But I must warn you, sister, that a sickness runs in me, and if you fashion yourself my enemy I will make a ruin of your life, for I am born of war.”

Grey Sister is such a wonderful addition to this world, and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Mark Lawrence truly never disappoints, and Nona will always be one of my favorite protagonists of all time. If you guys haven’t, please pick up Red Sister and discover how amazing this world, these characters, and this story truly are.

This is a dark world, where many parents will sell their children because they cannot afford to keep them. Some of these children end up never having their stories told, but a few of them end up having a bit of magic from being a descendant of one of the four tribes, and go to Sweet Mercy’s Convent in hopes of them becoming a very powerful warrior that will always fight for good.

Four Tribes that the people in this world can descend from:
Gerant – Great size and strength.
Hunska – Quick speed.
Marjal – The ability to tap into lesser magic.
Quantal – The ability to walk the Path and work greater magic.

And after horrible situation after horrible situation, our dear Nona gets purchased in Red Sister at the age of eleven. Now, it’s been five years, and Nona is just now entering Mystic class where, despite being one of the strongest young ladies in the school, she is having a difficult time.

“It’s hard to see old friends with new eyes.”

Four Classes in the Convent for the novices to learn as a group:
Red Class – Ages 9-12 typically.
Grey Class – Ages 13-14 typically.
Mystic Class – Ages 15-16 typically.
Holy Class – Ages 17-19 typically.

But these young ladies, who will be training extremely hard and diligently for ten years, can become many different things. Nona, so far, has proven that she will become one of the most feared Red Sisters to ever walk this world. But Zole, her friend from the Ice Tribe, who everyone believes is the chosen one that Nona will protect her whole life, is proving to be one of the most powerful Mystics ever.

Four Paths for the novices to take once they become nuns:
Bride of the Ancestor, Holy Sister – Honors the Ancestors and keeps the faith.
Martial Sister, Red Sister – Warriors skilled in armed and unarmed combat.
Sister of Discretion, Grey Sister – Masters of stealth and potions with shadow work.
Mystic Sister, Holy Witch – Walks the Path and manipulates threads.

But sadly, Nona can’t shake her past, or the terrible things that happened when she was only eleven- years-old. Five years later, people are still after her, and they are relentless in their pursuit to settle past grudges. Yet Nona is now carrying a new friend with her, who amplifies her powers, but at the cost of losing her shadow.

“She had lost a shadow, lost two friends, and gained a devil.”

But about half way into this book, everything gets flipped on its head, and I’m not even sure if my body can produce any more tears. Tears for sadness, tears for happiness, tears because I don’t want to wait a year to read the next book, all the tears, okay? From shiphearts, to arks, to demons, to poisons, to chains, to prophecies, to even the moon; this book has everything and makes you feel everything. And I feel forever thankful for this tale.

This book is also different, because it switches points of view with Abbess Glass a lot! And man, oh man, do I love that woman with my whole heart. This book heavily deals with betrayals, and all of the twists and turns were out of this world. But the things that these Sisters are willing to do for one another? I don’t have any combination of words for how perfect it is.

The theme of friendship, and what we are willing to do for the found family we choose, is constant throughout this amazing book. Unconditional love is the most powerful force in any world, and this book just reinforces that statement. And seeing all these phenomenal girl friendships, while they kick ass side by side? It’s something I don’t even have words for. But I’ll be forever thankful that this series exists.

Another major theme in Grey Sister is forgiveness. Some people will never learn the word, and they will let revenge poison their entire life. Forgiveness isn’t always easy, Nona proves it time and time again, but sometimes its truly the only path worth taking. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)

“Trust is the most insidious of poisons.”

Trigger/Content Warnings: Physical abuse, bullying, torture, murder, death, gore, death of a child, death of a loved one, and themes of war.

You all know how much I love Nevernight. Truly, with my whole heart. And these two series are so very similar, when it comes to kids training and fighting for a church, when it comes to a girl running from a past she had no control of, when it comes to both of those girls having very distinct companions. You can’t miss the similarities. And even though I do love both, the Book of the Ancestor series is just better. It feels more real, it feels more adult, and it makes me feel even more things. But if you, too, enjoy Nevernight, you have to give this series a try. I promise, you’ll fall in love!

Another amazing thing that I want to mention here, is that Mark Lawrence put a recap section at the start of this book, and it was one of the most helpful things I’ve ever seen an author do. I felt completely aware of everything going on in the world, and which specialty every teacher had, after reading. It was so damn thoughtful, and I wish every single author would do this and make it a series norm.

“We are all part of the Ancestor’s tree. A twig that breaks free will, however advantageous the wind, fall and wither in time.”

Overall, Mark Lawrence weaves together a tale that is so eloquent, yet so filled with action. I love nothing more than seeing the events of the past and the events of the present slowly coming together into a masterpiece of a series. I truly believe this is a once in a lifetime series. Mark Lawrence’s writing is so very teleportative and nothing short of beautiful. I swear, I could highlight at least half of this book. When I open a book of his, I am instantly captivated and enthralled. And I never ever want to put it down. When I say Nona is my favorite protagonist of all time, I don’t throw around that title lightly. And this story is just on a whole other tier for adult fantasy. I will forever cherish these books, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Holy Sister!

Bloglovin’ | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Goodreads | Twitch

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Lilly at Lair of Books! (If you all aren’t following her, stop depriving yourself, and hit that friend request or follow button now, because she’s a confirmed angel who blesses my life on the daily!)