Blog Tour | Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1) by Emily A. Duncan

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ARC given to me by my kind friend – Lilly at Lair of Books!

“If you fall to him the war will be lost. You have to live, Nadya.”

I’m going to be really honest with you all; I feel like Wicked Saints is the book of my heart. From the lyrical writing, to the cold atmosphere, to the beautiful themes, to the characters that I’d already be willing to give my life for; this book just felt like it was written for me. This debut fantasy, all about blood magic and a cleric who can speak to all the gods (be still, my wishful D&D heart), blew me and my expectations out of the water.

The author very much pulls from Russian and Polish inspiration and we get to see two countries, the Russian inspired Kalyazin, and the Polish inspired Tranavia. There is also the desert lands of Akola, which we meet a few characters from, but I think the land will be explored much more in later books! But we quickly see how differently the first two places view religion, and how both nations are willing to do whatever it takes in the name of their beliefs. These two countries are warring, and the author never shies away from that, but they are also beautifully woven together to create such an immersive and captivating world and setting.

“Cannons only meant one thing: blood magic. And blood magic meant Tranavians.”

But this tale starts out with a girl who has lived and hidden within the protection of a monastery’s walls her entire life. She has a power unlike any other, and it is her people’s hope to not only restore the faith of the gods, but bring them back into power. Yet, there are people who are willing to do anything to make sure the gods and their religion(s) stay silenced forever. And one night, the girl’s monastery is brutally attacked, and she and her friend barely escape with their lives, while everyone else stayed back to ensure they could run away. Yet, the war commander prince notices that this girl is not among the dead. The girl, desperate to live and to not have the gods be silenced, is willing to do anything it takes to live. Even if that means getting help from a powerful rebel mage, who is harboring many secrets of his own.

“The girl, the monster, and the prince…”

Nadya – The cleric who can speak to all of the gods.
Malachiasz – A blood mage, who believes he is a monster.
SerefinBisexual icon. Also, a blood mage prince of one of the most powerful realms in this world, but the king is trying to ensure that no one can contest his power, while also wanting to use his son as a martial pawn. He also has a visual impairment and is unable to see out of one of his eyes.

(Breathtaking art by Therese at warickaart!)

And all three of these characters? As morally grey as they come. And they all equally stole my heart. Okay, maybe I have a little bit of a soft spot for Serefin, but I can’t help it, okay? But there is more disability and sexual representation with some of the side characters, and many characters of color. I am truly in love with all the side characters, and I can’t wait to see them develop even more, but Ostyia was easily my favorite and the author confirmed she is a tiny murder lesbian, and I’ve never read anything so perfect in all my life.

Okay, I’m going to spend a little more time talking about Nadya because I truly was obsessed with how the author crafted religion and the saints in this book. First off, I’m Catholic, so you know that I fuck hard with saints, anyways. But, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have played probably over a hundred D&D campaigns in my life, and I swear to all the gods that I have probably rolled a cleric at least 50 of those campaigns. Seriously, teenage Melanie (and her Pathfinder loving friends) was obsessed with Sarenrae. But reading a book about a cleric who could speak to ALL the gods, and harness their powers if they allowed it? I am quaking. Also, the banter between Nadya and all the different gods, all of whom have very different personalities, was probably my favorite element of the entire book.

Again, this is a very dark book and I implore you to read my trigger and content warnings listed down below if you are on the fence if you are in the right headspace or not. But one of the major magic systems in this book is blood magic, where people will use their own blood (most of the time, freshly cut) and merge it with pages of a spell book to be able to wield their prepared spells and harness their magic. I loved this. I loved this so much. It is something that I feel you see so much in D&D and videogames, but never in literature and I really think it was expertly done and completely made the book for me.

I feel like I should talk about the romance, since I see many early reviewers not loving it as much as I seemed to. I always thought Nadya was the star of this book, regardless of who she was developing feelings for. I mean, you all know I always fall in love with the one the main character doesn’t pick, so there is that, but I still loved the romance in this book. Also, I kind of hinted a bit about this in the character breakdowns, but when Serefin was following the king’s wishes to find a marriage? I was invested, friends. Too invested, probably. But during all the situations, the angst almost killed me, in the best way possible, and I can’t wait to see where the author takes everything in book two. It was the perfect slow burn feeling, while giving us so many breadcrumbs that all tasted delicious.

Overall, this book just had too many things in my personal wheelhouse for me not to completely fall in love with it. I mean, I originally heard this pitched as “a gothic Joan of Arc” and I knew from that moment my life was going to be changed. I think Emily A. Duncan has really crafted such a unique story, and such a beautiful debut and start of a series. I can’t wait to see what comes next, especially because the end of this book truly slayed me and every emotion I have ever had.

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

Content and Trigger Warnings for self-harm (both as a magic system, and talk of self-harm in the past), torture, parental abuse, abandonment, abduction, a lot of alcohol consumption (maybe addiction), gore, violence, and war themes.

Buddy read with Jocelyn at Yogi with a Book! ❤


 

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

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

“Four Paths had its charms, if you could ignore the fact that it was also a monster prison she apparently had some ancestral obligation to deal with.”

This is a really hard review for me to write, because this book had some of my favorite things of all time; lyrical and beautiful writing that I could nonstop highlight, an atmosphere setting that gives me goosebumps even just thinking about, a mystery all surrounding what hides in the dark depths of the forest, and a very diverse cast of characters. Like, damn. But if this isn’t the first review of The Devouring Gray you’ve read, yes, all the Riverdale and Stranger Things comparisons are all valid. I kind of think The Raven Cycle one is a bit of stretch, but I can kind of see it. But this debut novel really impressed me, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.

But The Devouring Gray follows four teens in upstate New York, all living in a little secluded town called Four Paths. And in this mysterious forest town, four families are held to a higher standard, because their descendants were the reason the town is protected from the Beast who hunts them. And all the descendants are able to harness the powers that should be passed down through their bloodline, but only if they survive a ritual pertaining to their ancestor. But now the town is under attack, and all hope is with four teens who are the descendants that are needed for survival, yet they might not be ready to provide protection for themselves, or anyone else, just yet.

“in eighteen forty-seven, a group of settlers seeking a new life in upstate New York decided to end their pilgrimage here. On this day, we celebrate the leaders of that group—Thomas Carlisle, Lydia Saunders, Richard Sullivan, and Hetty Hawthorne.”

Harper Carlisle – Missing one arm from the elbow down after her ritual to harness her powers went wrong, and holding a grudge over someone who used to be her best friend but wanted nothing to do with her after her accident. Also, her father is a predominant figure in the safety of the town. Also, also, a warrior babe who can wield many weapons.

Violet Saunders – Bisexual, just moving to Four Paths after the death of her sister and trying to learn to live with an astronomical amount of grief, while also learning that she has a hidden bloodline she never knew about. Also, piano playing goddess.

Isaac Sullivan – Bisexual, living on his own after the rest of his family died in an accident. He is also Justin’s best friend, a broody reader babe, and he has the best and most scary power of them all. Also, he was easily my favorite character.

Justin Hawthorne – The popular boy, who has the most powerful family in town, even though he feels like he must always do what his mother (also the sheriff of the town) wants, even though he is keeping a very big secret from her. Side note, I would die for his sister, May, my tarot card reading baby.

“Powers or not, he was still a Hawthorne. He would find a way to keep Four Paths safe.”

Yet, even though these are the four main characters, we have so many side characters, too! And this, in addition to the fact that the story jumps points of view a lot, I just feel like I never truly cared about any of the characters, even though I didn’t have a problem with any of them. I mean, it really is a strange feeling, because I can mentally break down that these are the four main characters, but while reading the chapter switching just makes me feel like I’m reading ASOIAF or something else that feels like we are given so many different points of view. I feel like this was the biggest factor that kept me from loving this book; I never truly got to know any of these characters because of the way the story jumps around.

Also, if I’m being honest the Beast and the Gray felt too much like Stranger Things to me, but also with not enough explanation. I obviously am here for a good mystery, but I think seeing more of this parallel world, the mysterious creature and its powers, would have really benefited the story by filling in some much-needed gaps and made the situation feel scarier and more high-risk. Like, I was honestly convinced that some type of humans or other beings were going to reside in this world! Or we were going to fully understand the powers and what this thing was capable and not capable of! I don’t know, the concept is just so amazing, but I felt really let down by the biggest risk factor of the story.

But I still loved watching all these teens learn how to find their powers and learn how to use their powers. I loved seeing them grow, both apart and together. I loved seeing all the different friendship roots; both brand new and old ones healing. I loved seeing how these four handled grief and trauma all very differently but still all very validly. And I loved to see all of these teens realize they are worth a hell of a lot more than the past mistakes of the ancestors they are forced to live up to.

“Something inside Violet had cracked the day Rosie died. There was an abscess in her chest, a gaping hole in the back of her skull. A place for evil things to slip right in.”

Overall, I really loved the ownvoices queer rep, and the atmosphere and setting were truly nothing short of amazing. I do want to mention that the main relationships in this are not f/f, but there are lots of hints at side f/f relationships! Also, even though I could never truly connect with the story, I still think there is so much good here. And I think many readers will still really enjoy this one upon release. But that epilogue ending made me audibly gasp that made my cat give me angry eyes for waking her! Is this the start of a series? Because I am totally down with reading whatever Christine Lynn Herman comes up with next, but especially with this setting as a backdrop.

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

Content and trigger warnings for loss of a loved one, a lot of talk of death, murder, grief and trauma depictions, violence, abandonment, talk of rituals and self-sacrifice, and assault.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

“Is it possible you willfully forgot about the biggest international event of the year because you don’t want to see your arch nemesis?”

I honestly do not think that any book has made me happier than Red, White & Royal Blue, ever. I laughed, I swooned, I cried, but, most importantly, I finished the last page and felt such a powerful amount of hope that transcends any amount of words that I could possibly string together for this review. This is easily the best debut novel I’ve ever read, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it ends up being my favorite book of the entire year.

First off, in this story, the characters are living in a world where the President of the United States is a democratic woman who was elected after Obama, and her 2020 reelection is quickly approaching. And I just need to take a minute to… *cries forever*! But this book really focuses on two young men, who happen to be very much in the media’s spotlight 24/7, because of the families they were born into. Oh, and one of them happens to be the First Son of the President, and up until this point he thought he was straight, that is until he finally is forced to spend time with his arch nemesis. And I’ll be damned, but this book made me simultaneously believe in love and believe in America.

Alexander Gabriel Claremont-Diaz – The First Son, who is quickly realizing that he is bisexual, but slowly coming out to those he feels safe with. Alex is also biracial (Mexican and white) and (thanks to my beautiful friend Alienor) confirmed to have ADHD!

“Straight people, he thinks, probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they’re straight.”

Henry George Edward James Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor – A Prince of England, who is closeted gay to many in his family (and to all media), because he constantly feels the weight of the expectations placed on him by his family and his country.

“O, fathers of my bloodline! O, ye kings of olde! Take this crown from me, bury me in my ancestral soil. If only you had known the mighty work of thine loins would be undone by a gay heir who likes it when American boys with chin dimples are mean to him.”

Alex has followed Henry and his fame long before his mother became president. But at the start of this novel, both men officially meet, but quickly get into a very messy predicament at a royal wedding they were both attending, which ends up being a PR nightmare for both countries, but especially for Alex’s mom, who is up for reelection. So, they are both kind of forced to fake a friendship to appease the press to save face. But a fake friendship quickly turns to a romance, that leaves both men questioning what they are willing to risk, while the press is always watching.

“First, you’ve been, like, Draco Malfoy–level obsessed with Henry for years—do not interrupt me—and since the royal wedding, you’ve gotten his phone number and used it not to set up any appearances but instead to long-distance flirt with him all day every day.”

I also wanted to make sure that I stated in my review that the author is queer (I believe they ID as bisexual, like Alex!) And even though Alex and Henry are obviously queer in their m/m relationship, this book also has such a beautiful and full cast of diverse side characters! I’m completely willing to give my life for June, Nora, Pez, and Bea, right this very second.

Like, I absolutely loved the side characters in this book. Also, you all know that I am always here for strong sibling relationships, and this book has that in spades! Alex’s family in general was everything to me; both of his parents being so supportive and always putting him (and his pace) first really meant a lot to me and makes me so soft just thinking about it. Seriously, this book is found family and blood family goals.

The banter and one-liners were perfection. This author completely understands what it is like to speak and text in your twenties, and they have mastered the craft to perfection. I was either cackling like a banshee or clutching my pearls with heart eyes during all of Alex and Henry’s exchanges. Also, since there is an ocean in-between these two, they correspond a lot of the time through emails, all of which added five years to my life.

Speaking of those emails, the romance in this is just truly a tier above the rest! The dynamic that Henry and Alex are forced into, and then the new dynamics they are forced to overcome, makes for something that you can’t help but root for with everything in your soul. Also, they are truly polar opposites with their personalities, but seeing them together truly feels like you are witnessing soulmates interact. I hate to say this but, your OTP could never.

And obviously because of the setup of this novel, this book does not shy away from US politics, and you should for sure know that going in. But the most tears I shed in this book was when Alex talked about what he felt like to be a biracial kid, and how America truly is a melting pot of immigrants and how that is something beautiful, and should be celebrated, not shamed and something that people consider to be a crime.

This is a book about two men, both in their early- twenties, discovering what they want for their lives and for their countries. Both for themselves and together. In a world that is cruelly unaccepting to anyone who isn’t white and straight, or who are just deemed different. They find friendship, they find love, and they find their voices. And to this Filipino American, pansexual, whose grandparents are both immigrants, who a lot of times really struggles to find their own voice, it meant the world to me. I’ll carry this book with me forever and always.

Overall, this book was just everything I’ve ever wanted. Put your library holds and preorders in now, because I know that so many readers are not only going to fall in love with this tale, but it is going to be one of their favorites for the rest of their lives. I promise you, it is truly that good, and this truly feels like a once in a lifetime book. Casey McQuiston has created something that is going to mean so much to so many readers, and this book is going to bring so much joy to our much-needed world. I’m just forever thankful that I was able to escape into it for a little while, while doing everything I can to make my country’s 2020 and on just as hopeful.

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

Content and Trigger Warnings for homophobia (always in a negative light), talk of racism in media, anxiety depiction, talk of cancer (pancreatic) in the past, talk of past loss of a loved one, talk of past drug use, talk of attempted sexual assault (very briefly) in the past from a very minor side character, and (in my opinion) outing. Also, this is a New Adult novel, so there are many sexual scenes throughout this book, even though they are fade to black for the most part!

❤ I also gush about this in my February Wrap Up on BookTube!

Buddy Read with Kerri from Kerri The Book Belle! ❤

❤ I also read this for Contemporary-a-thon!

The Waking Forest by Alyssa Wees

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

“Let’s start with the Witch in the Woods.”

This is going to be such a hard book for me to review. Mostly because this debut novel has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. I was so positive that I was going to five star this leading up to the half way point, but I feel like things just started to fall apart and the story got harder and harder to follow. So, even though I’m not giving this the highest of star ratings, I still am really impressed by the author’s craft and I can’t wait to see what they do next because their prose was seriously nothing short of magical.

The Waking Forest is a story that is telling two very different tales with alternating chapters. One is a girl in our world, living in a beach house with her family, and she has suffered from nightmare like dreams her entire life. The second is a witch in the magical woods, who grants children wishes with her heart, and she is being told a story by a very different kind of fox. These tales simultaneously go on and weave together that is actually really beautiful.

“What if I told you that there’s a boy in the attic? And he seems to know me even though I don’t know him? And I don’t know where he came from or how he got there?”

Rhea – The sleepwalker, who keeps experiencing these nightmares, and is finding herself more and more close to understanding who the boy of shadows in the attic is, who only she can see.

The Forest Witch – The granter of wishes to different children who visit her each night, but her newest visitor is a fox that is unlike the rest who live in her forest.

“…after my encounter with the Darkness, that if we have secrets, they aren’t juicy at all. I think, more likely, our secrets are bloody.”

Sadly, it is when the tales come together that the story started falling apart for me. I feel like the author has so many amazing concepts, and she was weaving them separately almost perfectly. It is when they came together that I started to get so confused and so uninvested. Like, I take really extensive notes while reading and this story was so damn hard to keep straight. And I felt like my beautiful lucid dream while reading the first half, turned quickly into my own personal nightmare.

But another thing I did really like about this story is that it mentions, on page, many times about living with anxiety and how much it will and can impact your life. A couple of the characters bring it up many times, and really show how you can live a normal and happy life with your anxiety, even if at times it feels like it is something that is constantly holding you back. And as someone who lives with anxiety, it was just something that I really appreciated.

Overall, I really loved the first half of this book, and I am still completely and utterly blown away by the beautiful prose. And I know I’ve talked about the writing in this review a lot, but the atmosphere is actually perfect, too. The descriptions in this book were always equal parts frightening and beautiful and I had goosebumps while reading many passages. And you all know I have a very special place in my heart for stories about entering people’s dreams. And even though I lost interest with the last half of this book, I am still so impressed with the writing quality, and the way that Alyssa Wees wove her words together, that I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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

Content and trigger warnings for a tiny bit of physical abuse, torture (branding), captivity, slavery, loss of a loved one, scenes with spiders, and blood depiction.

Buddy read with Julie from Pages and Pens! ❤

 

Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

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ARC received via #arcsfortrade on Twitter!

“If you could go back and do London all over again, knowing everything you know now, would you do it?”

Friends, I wanted to love this so badly. So damn badly. Christine is not only the actual Queen of BookTube, she was one of the first channels I ever watched. She just seems so kind, and genuine, and I always feel like she radiates positive energy, and she was such a massive part of why I wanted to read Shadowhunters in the first place. But this review isn’t going to be about that, nor is it going to be a drag or me spilling the tea; this review is just going to be about why this debut was only okay for me. Even though I very much hope it works for you come May 2019! Also, please keep in mind that I have a very early ARC copy of this book. Many things could be changed upon publication!

This story centers around a girl named Shane, who has had her life completely predictated by her parents’ wants and aspirations for her. Her parents want her to study medicine and to one day become a doctor, while all Shane wants to do is read and write. Yet, she somehow manages to be able to study abroad to the UK, where she will also be able to intern as a writer for a travel magazine and, most importantly, escape her parents’ expectations.

The book is also told in two parts; the first part being set in 2011 where Shane is 20, and the next part set in 2017 where Shane is 26. But the book starts out in 2011 and we soon follow Shane during her oversea travels, and we soon meet all of her flat mates, most of which who have ridiculous names; Babe, Atticus, Sahra, and Pilot Penn. Yeah, you read that last one right. But Shane is making sure that she is going to make the most of these three months of freedom, while trying to make friendships and connections that will last her entire life.

This books just reads so personal. Like, I would even go as far as to say that I would feel comfortable as classifying this as semiautobiographical. But instead of me being interested in the story, it really took me out of it because it felt so much like Christine and, in turn, felt so damn invasive.

Like, you will not be able to read this book and not picture the main character, Shane, as Christine. From studying abroad, to being open about not making many friends in college, to *gasp* Shane’s blog name being French Watermelon, to the constant Lost references, to the endless Cassandra Clare and Shadowhunter references, to Harry Potter galore, while the character of Shane also just has a personality and the same mannerisms as Christine. This just feels so semiautobiographical. I promise, you won’t be able to not see it. And maybe that will completely make the reading experience for you, and I truly hope it does, but it really pulled me out of the story constantly.

Also, Christine constantly is trying to make you remember that the story is set in 2011 for a majority of the time. Which is fine at first, but it becomes so heavy handed and forced that it really made for an unenjoyable reading experience. Angry Birds, to Jamie Foxx’s ”Blame It”, to every popular book of that time period! It was just too much, and it really did a disservice to the story, in my opinion.

But my biggest problem with this book was the grey-area cheating and even eventual cheating (a kiss). This was truly the reason that I could never love this book or ever feel anything for the characters. Plus, the character that is getting cheated on is always villainized to look like a bad girl, when she has every right to feel threatened.

Also, just because this is something that is personal to me, I really didn’t like how Shane’s parents were never said to be abusive when they most certainly were. Like, the verbal abuse alone her father showed in the text, on top of the constant emotional abuse throughout the entire story, it just made me so upset and I really was disappointed when the parents were never viewed as being shitty parents. Especially at the end when they are being portrayed as good parents, just because their child was able to succeed without them. It feels and reads so very bad. Seriously, if your parents only want to love and support you when you are successful then they aren’t that great of parents.

I really loved how this entire story and book shines a light on the constant theme of social anxiety. I’m not saying that Shane makes the wisest of choices throughout these six years but seeing her live with social anxiety was something that really meant a lot to me and something that I really appreciated.

My favorite thing about this book is how it truly is a love letter about how you have to live your life for yourself. I know that Shane learns this the hard way, but I think that this is a concept that more kids need to not only hear but to let the message absorb into their hearts. I know that I learned it way later in life, and I wish so desperately that I could go back and learn that my life is only ever mine and that I deserve happiness so much sooner. And I really hope that because Christine has such a huge audience, that so many teens and young adults will be back to learn this earlier and truly live and lead the lives that they want for themselves.

And this book is a really fast paced read, that will really leave you turning the pages because you’ll be super curious where everything is going. Even though I really didn’t like the romance in this book, I was really invested with all the different paths and connections that Shane was making constantly. And I truly believe that I could have sat down, with a big cup of tea, and read this book from cover to cover in one sitting.

Another thing I liked, that I don’t want to talk too much about because of spoilers, but there is for sure a magical element of this book that I was not expecting at all. And even though I think things could have been handled better (grey area cheating), I really enjoyed how this fantastical element was implemented into the story, and it was a surprise that made me happy.

There is also a very diverse cast. Even though the main characters, Shane and Pilot are white, I feel like most of Shane’s coworkers at the magazine were people of color, and Babe is black and plus sized, Sahra is said to be tan, and Atticus is Asian, gay, and a Gryffindor (which feels like a personal attack in the best way, because… it’s me)! There is also another queer minor character who comes out because Shane takes a second to talk to them, which is meant to be heartwarming but I was side eyeing a bit.

Overall, let’s be real, people are going to one star and five star this just based on who Christine is upon release, which is never okay, but these are truly my feelings, even though I think Christine is a six star human! Even though I didn’t love a lot of elements of this debut novel, I still really appreciated some of the themes and thought it was a fun and quick read!

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for constant grey area cheating, cheating (a kiss), assault (an unwanted kiss), and the use of ableist language like cr*zy.

Buddy read with Madalyn from Novel Ink! ❤

 

My Ten Favorite 2018 Author Debuts


Hey, friends! I knew that I wanted to write up a post about some of my favorite debuts of the year before 2018 came to a close! Being a debut author is so hard, and I always want to boost new and rising voices, but these ten debuts were my very favorite of the year!


➽ 10.) Ash Princess (Ash Princess Trilogy #1) by Laura Sebastian

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, 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.
⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 9.) The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep is a story about a small town off the coast of Oregon, called Sparrow, that is the pinnacle of a small, sleepy town, except for in June when tourists come from all around in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Swan sisters who were drowned to death for witchcraft over two hundred years ago. From June 1st until Just 21st (summer solace) no one is safe. And each and every summer, accusations get thrown at more and more girls, from boys who claim them to be the sisters who are responsible for the drownings. Friends, if you’re looking for something atmospheric, spooky, and completely captivating, that is so very beautifully written, please pick The Wicked Deep up.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 8.) To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

In this world, humans fear the sirens that lurk below the water. And under the ocean, sirens are forced to bring back a human heart during the month of their birth and present it for all to see. But our dear Lira has taken to only the hearts of royals. This story is very loosely inspired by The Little Mermaid, therefore, I’m sure you guys can somewhat guess how these two’s paths cross. But after Lira upsets her mother, the Sea Queen wants to find a new way to ridicule and humiliate her, so what better way than to force her to steal the most royal heart of all, but also forcing her to do this task as a human, and while no longer having her siren voice to lure towards her.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 7.) The Queen’s Rising (The Queen’s Rising #1) by Rebecca Ross

I feel like I keep reading YA SFF and just not feeling like there is anything new or unique. I went into The Queen’s Rising expecting to feel the same, especially amidst all the lower reviews I kept seeing on Goodreads, but this ended up being a treat to read. I really enjoyed this, and I was constantly surprised by the twists and turns. In this world there are Houses, which are small boarding schools that specialize in five passions: art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge. If you have a natural talent for one of these five categories, you will go away to school once you are ten-years-old and begin your education that will last for seven years. And the unique thing is the House will only admit one child per passion for those seven years!

⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 6.) Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

In this world of Orïsha, magic used to thrive and be celebrated. Our main protagonist, Zélie, remembers this time and what a powerful Divîner her mother was. But she also remembers the way her mother’s body looked, when it was left on display the day that magic died. Now, the king of Orïsha wants to make sure magic is kept dead, while also keeping all the Divîners that live in Orïsha oppressed. The king ensures that the Divîners are reminded they are lesser, in hopes that they will forget how powerful they once were, along with everyone else. And this has worked, for the last eleven years, that is until a powerful artifact is found and if it is combined with a couple other powerful artifacts it can bring magic back to Orïsha once and for all.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 5.) Mirage (Mirage #1) by Somaiya Daud

Mirage is a magical, wonderful, important, gift to the YA SFF world. From characters I fell in love with, to the messages about the importance of your culture and your family, to the most lyrical and beautiful writing. I loved this story with my whole heart, and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with it. This story is an ownvoices Moroccan inspired story about a young girl named Amani, who has known nothing but oppression on the moon that she and her family live on. She and her family are farmers, trying to live the best life possible, even with the constant heartbreak surrounding them.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 4.) The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War is a fantastic debut that I feel so very privileged to have received an ARC of. This is the first book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy story, and this first installment is told in three parts; each getting darker and darker. But in part one we meet our main protagonist, Rin, who is a war orphan who is living with a foster family that was forced to adopt her. Rin has been working at the family’s local business, while also being forced to deal drugs. That is, until one day her family decided that it would be more in their interest for them marry Rin off to a man who is much older than her and who she has never met before. Rin is then forced to do the only thing that will allow her to not have this life forced upon her.

⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 3.) The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

The Sisters of the Winter Wood follows two Jewish (ownvoices) sisters who live on the outskirts of a town, in a forest, with their mother and father. Their family feels rather isolated in Dubossary, (on the border of Moldova and Ukraine), but they make do the best that they can, always relying on each other. That is until one day the mother and father get called away and leave their precious daughters behind. Yet, before leaving, the mother tells them a secret that she has been keeping from them their entire lives. And this secret changes everything.  I loved this book so very much! And I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 2.) The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

This is an ownvoices novel about a high-functioning autistic woman who has succeeded in every aspect of her life, except for love. Her mother is putting pressure on her to find someone and start thinking about family, now that she turned thirty. Plus, Stella is kind of lonely anyway, and as much as she loves throwing herself into her work, she wants to spend her life with someone who she can completely be herself with. The problem is, Stella thinks her autism makes her unable to successfully date, and maybe even unable to be good at/enjoy sex. So, she hires the dreamiest escort to help her! I am so excited Helen’s next book, set in this world, to drop in 2019!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


➽ 1.) The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s powerful, moving, poignant, lyrical, important, and touched me beyond words. From the discussion about mental health and the stigmas we still have in 2018 (especially in Asian cultures), to the true portrayal of grief, to the heartbreaking truth about depression, to the realistic depiction of what it means to be not only biracial but to be white passing, to the discovery of your identity. The Astonishing Color of After is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life and a story that I will carry inside of my heart for the rest of my life. Emily X.R. Pan has crafted something that is so raw, but so magical. Plus, this is one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve ever read in my entire life.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


 


Honestly though? 2018 was such a great year for debut authors! I could honestly make a part two to this blog post talking about ten others! What was your favorite debut of 2018? What is the debut you’re most looking forward to in 2019? Descendant of the Crane by Joan He is the one I can’t stop thinking about! And I can’t wait to start it at the very beginning of the new year, because I can’t possibly wait any longer! I hope you’re having an amazing end of the year! ❤

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The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

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

“But I warn you, little warrior. The price of power is pain.”

First and foremost, please go read one of my best friends in this entire world’s review: Petrik’s review is not only amazing, he is also an ownvoices Chinese reviewer. Next, I just want to warn you guys that this is a very dark book that is heavily inspired by Nanking Massacre. Please use caution and know that this book has major trigger and content warnings for war themes, drug use, substance addiction, self-harm, racism, misogyny, genocide, bullying, abandonment, abuse, animal death, animal cruelty, brutal torture, brutal killing, brutal rape (off screen, but still maybe the worst I’ve ever read), mutilation, very graphic depictions of how children and adults died, experimentations on people against their will, colorism, colonization. Again, this is a very dark book that carries some very dark themes. Please use caution.

“War doesn’t determine who’s right. War determines who remains”

The Poppy War is a fantastic debut that I feel so very privileged to have received an ARC of. This is the first book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy story, and this first installment is told in three parts; each getting darker and darker. But in part one we meet our main protagonist, Rin, who is a war orphan who is living with a foster family that was forced to adopt her.

Rin has been working at the family’s local business, while also being forced to deal drugs. That is, until one day her family decided that it would be more in their interest for them marry Rin off to a man who is much older than her and who she has never met before. Rin is then forced to do the only thing that will allow her to not have this life forced upon her.

“Well, fuck the heavenly order of things. If getting married to a gross old man was her preordained role on this earth, then Rin was determined to rewrite it.”

In this world, children will study their entire lives for a test called the Keju. And the top fifty students in the country will be allowed to go the empire’s capitol to study at the best military school in the world. There they will be able to become the world’s best generals, tacticians, soldiers, and more. And all the students wish to one day be warriors for the Empire. And Rin dedicates herself to studying so that she can not only escape this marriage, but to also escape her abusive foster parents, and the entire town that has treated her awful just because she was born a war orphan.

And against all odds, Rin gets accepted. But once she gets to the school, she soon realizes that her spot isn’t guaranteed to last. At the end of the year, the different teachers will pick which students they wish to have study under them. And Rin soon starts to see that most of the school is not only very privileged, but also have power just from their last name and who their family is already in the current military.

And the reason part one of this book is hands down my favorite is because I love this school setting so much. And like many other reviewers have already said, it is very reminiscent of The Name of the Wind. From the attending kids that have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths, to unexpected companionship, to horrible teachers, to wonderfully odd teachers. And Rin becomes obsessed with not only impressing these teachers and her peers, but to prove that she is also deserving of her spot.

“You’re a war orphan. You’re a southerner. You weren’t supposed to pass the Keju. The Warlords like to claim that the Keju makes Nikan a meritocracy, but the system is designed to keep the poor and illiterate in their place. You’re offending them with your very presence.”

And while Rin is working to become the best at her school, terrible things are brewing outside the walls of the academy. Terrible, unthinkable things, that are about to impact the whole world. And Rin is forced to quickly learn about another world all together, where gods can make a person a shaman that can wield that power, but at a cost. And Rin has to discover for herself if the price is worth it.

“The nature of this god is to destroy. The nature of this god is to be greedy, to never be satisfied with what he has consumed.”

This is an action packed read, with beautiful writing that feels like a treat to read. This is a story filled with twists and turns, and you might think you know where the story is going, to only be completely dumbfounded. I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough.

Also, there is sort of an enemies to friends (maybe lovers eventually) element in this book, and I’m dying to see more in book two. Like, there is going to be more of it? Right? Please. Seriously, what God do I have to let inhabit my body? I need it.

“Because I can,” she said. “Because he thought he could get rid of me. Because I want to break his stupid face.”

And ultimately, this is a story about a girl who has been given nothing but pain in a world that constantly reminds her that she is lesser. And she overcomes every single hurdle and becomes not only what the world said she couldn’t be, but she becomes what she wanted to be. Like, this book is powerful, empowering, and a love letter to all girls that are told they can’t do something daily.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, even if it got even a little too dark for me at times. I think this is a really amazing set up for what is sure to be an impressive debut fantasy series! I cannot wait to see what R.F. Kuang does next, because I really think The Poppy War is a bright shining star in 2018 releases.


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

Buddy read with Jules! ❤