Serena’s Review: “The Queen’s Assassin”

39334176._sy475_Book: “The Queen’s Assassin” by Melissa de la Cruz

Publishing Info: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia’s deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he’s the Guild’s most dangerous member and the Queen’s one and only assassin. He’s also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow–to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts–to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she’ll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they’re forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they’ll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they’ll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen’s Secret series.

Review: Something, something, quippy and non-spoilery intro. *Sigh* But frankly, this book didn’t make any effort to be good or original, so why should I! Yes, holding myself to the standard of books that I hated is the writing goal I want to set for myself and this blog! This was a whim book request for me, even though the synopsis didn’t seem particularly inspiring. I’ve had some great results from reading random books I haven’t heard a bunch about before (see “The Bones Houses”), but it does seem that it really goes one of two ways: I’m either blown away, the surprise only adding to the fun, or I absolutely hate the book and wonder why I ever risk it. Obviously, this was the latter.

I’m not going to even bother re-summarzing this book. The book blurb does a decent enough job and as the story is so predictable, there’s nothing new I could add to my summary of the story that isn’t an out-right spoiler. So let’s jump right into it! Usually I would start with the things I liked, but I have to be honest, there was really nothing I liked about this book. Often, if I don’t like the story itself, the writing is still good. If the writing is bad, there’s a character I can enjoy. Not so, here. The best I can say was that perhaps this book missed a publishing window where it wouldn’t have been quite so bad. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but perhaps some of its most trope-y plot points wouldn’t have felt quite so egregious had this been released five years ago. It sure does read like a book that has completely missed the fact that everything it is doing has been beaten into the ground already over the last several years of YA fantasy publishing. So, good points: maybe passable if existed in an alternate reality where it came out in 2015.

The plot is incredibly predictable. Read the summary again. Make a few predictions. Spoiler alert! They’re all right. The book takes itself way too seriously with these supposed surprises as well. When I wasn’t simply exhausted by the pretense of it all, I was flabbergasted that anyone, anywhere, would ever think that these “reveals” could be read in a serious light. Shadow’s (there you go, another thing to hate! That name…) entire history is obvious to any one who has even a passing familiarity with these stories. The one aspect of her tale that could even be a surprise didn’t work in the book’s favor as it then retroactively undermined much of Shadow’s own narration throughout the book. Her story is told in first person. There are certain rules to first person narration, and this “surprise” threw all those rules in a dumpster fire in pursuit of “surprises.”

Speaking of first person narration, the writing was fairly bad in this book. Mostly this was due to the choice to alternate POVs between Shadow and Caledon and, inexplicably, to switch between first and third person narration for these two characters. This type of switch is always jarring and rarely justifiable. The only books I can think of that pulled off something similar were N. K. Jemisin’s “Broken Earth” trilogy titles, and those books were award winners, so you know they’re already a rarity. The choice here is not only bizarre but exists for no clear reason. If the author can’t differentiate between these two characters’ voices without switching writing tenses, that speaks to a whole new problem. If it was meant to represent some greater distinction between these two, I couldn’t spot it. And in the end, all it did was interrupt any flow or rhythm that the story was trying to establish.

Even without this, the pace of this story was all over the place. In the first few chapters, a million things seemed to happen one after another, leaving the reader confused and unable to connect to anything of these events. Worst of all, Shadow’s motivations behind these actions were never clear or explained. She just did things, so that things would happen, so that she could react to those things. And then the story took a jarring halt for a good chunk, and then again with the manic pacing. This, finally, was unpredictable but in the worst way.

The romance was also cringe-worthy and full of unnecessary angst and drama. At one point, the two go undercover…as siblings. Why? Because now there can be all of this increased awkwardness when others discover them being romantic! Angst! Drama! The author’s fingerprints were all over this, and each smudgy, forced moment just made me, again, cringe. To offset this, for a book with the name “assassin” in the title, there are next to no actual assassinations. It’s just yet another example of playing to the supposed YA fantasy crowd. People like books with the word “queen” in the title. And they like assassins…so.

Like I said before, the best I can say for this book is that some of the surprises, had they come in a book published five to ten years ago, could  have maybe worked. But the poor writing with the swaps in tenses and fast/slow pacing would remain. The poor characterization would remain. The romance, such as it is, would remain. And you’d still have to take a character named “Shadow” (get it? cuz she wants to be an assassin?) seriously for an entire book. I really can’t recommend this book to anyone. The author has several other books, so perhaps her die-hard fans will enjoy this. But for everyone else, there are better things out there. My usual recommendation for those looking for a good assassination book is “Skullsworn” so check that out instead.

Rating 2: I didn’t like anything about this book. The characters and plot were tired re-hashes of things we’ve seen a million times before in YA fantasy fiction. And the writing was poor, to really put the last nail in the coffin (a coffin that was not necessary to the plot as, again, no assassinations.)

Reader’s Advisory:

This book isn’t good. You shouldn’t look for ones like it. But here’s a generic Goodreads list that it’s on: “Queen in Title.”

Find“The Queen’s Assassin” at your library using Worldcat! If you must…

Serena’s Review: “The Shrike & the Shadows”

51012361._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Shrike & the Shadows” by Chantal Gadoury and A.M. Wright

Publishing Info: The Parliament House Press, March 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Men have gone missing before.

The village of Krume is plagued by a haunted wood and a hungry witch. It’s been that way for as long as Hans and Greta can remember, though they have never seen the witch themselves; no one has.

When men start to disappear once again in the cover of night – their bloody hearts turning up on doorsteps – the village falls into frenzied madness.

Hans and Greta, two outcast orphans, find themselves facing accusations of witchcraft and are met with an ultimatum: burn at the stake, or leave the village forever.

With nowhere else to go, they abandon their only home.

As they venture into the strange forest, their path is fraught with horrific creatures, wild and vivid hallucinations, and a mysterious man tied to the witch’s past.

The Shrike is watching, just beyond the deep darkness of the woods.

Review: A lot of fairytales have been retold a million different times in a million different ways. And I, being the sucker I am for fairytale retellings, am more than happy to read the millionth and one version of many of these popular tales. That said, it’s always particularly exciting when I see a new book coming out that it tackling one of the less popular story. I’m sure I’ve read a “Hansel and Gretel” story in the past, but I couldn’t think of one off the top of my head, so I immediately placed a request for this book. Unfortunately, this was not only a disappointment as far as new fairytale retellings go, but also, in my opinion, just not a very good book overall.

The village where Hans and Greta have grown up has long been haunted by an evil that claims the lives of its men, leaving their hearts on the doorsteps of the grieving families. It is under this constant threat that Greta and Hans have tried to make a life for themselves, praying each night that Hans won’t be next. But when they are driven out of the only home they’ve ever know, the two siblings find themselves alone in the very same forest in which lurks this evil force. Will they make it through this woods? And what waits on the other end?

I was really bummed to find that this book was such a miss for me. I seem to have had a recent run of either books I’ve really enjoyed or ones that have really, really not worked for me. I’m hesitant to make this comparison, but what first came to mind was that this book read like a bad fanfiction story. I say this having read and enjoyed a good amount of fanfiction, some of which with writing as good or better than many published novels I’ve read. So this is in no way a ding against fanfiction as a whole. That said, this book exemplifies several of the pitfalls that poor works of fanfiction have been known to fall into: lackluster world-building, washed out characters, and, unfortunately, over use of sex scenes and trauma, seemingly to make up for a lack of real story at its heart.

The world-building is lacking and transitions from scene to scene are awkward at best and nonexistent at worst. I’d have a hard time describing much of anything about the world in which this book takes place. In the beginning of the story we have a scene with Greta frantically searching for her brother. She runs around quite a bit, but I was completely unable to track her movements. She’s at one point in her cabin, then outside, then, I think, in a field. Shortly after that, she and Hans are in the village itself. This action takes place in the first few pages, but it is a perfect example of the lack of attention that went into setting the scenes for this story. There is no foundation upon which any of this happens, and the writing makes no effort to draw a picture in the reader’s mind.

The writing didn’t serve the story any better as far as the plot goes either. Early in the book there’s a scene depicting an attempted assault (this comes out of nowhere, by the way, and was jarring in and of itself). It’s a serious topic, but the way it is depicted is cartoonish in its villainy. The assaulter’s lines of dialogue were cringe-worthy, and the villain himself was made up of only the broadest strokes of stereotypes without any effort to delve into the seriousness of the real-life history behind the power imbalance that was being described. Again, this was only an early example, but this writing problem continued throughout.

Hans and Greta were also difficult to care about. While the writing seemed a bit better equipped to handle these two main characters, they still often felt flat at times. Hans, in particular, was very hard to sympathize with. Greta had the stronger moments of the two, but as the story was split between them, this wasn’t enough on its own to balance out Hans.

And then there’s the sex scenes. As I mentioned, there’s an attempted assault that comes out of nowhere within a few pages of the start of the book. There’s very little build up to this, and, overall, it doesn’t feel handled particularly well. I’m not in the camp that says every book that has scenes like this should have an overt trigger warning on the cover. Mostly this is because strong writing will build to an event of this nature in a way that allows readers time to decide whether to read the event or not. But with weaker writing, these scenes are a bit trickier. And from there, once our characters are in the woods, there are still numerous sex scenes. I enjoy romances here and there and am not a prude about scenes like this in my books. But the sheer volume of them was off-putting, not to mention the jarring juxtaposition of these scenes against the story’s effort to build up the horror and threat of their travels through the woods. Like I said, kind of like bad fanfiction.

I didn’t enjoy this book. I’m not familiar with either of these authors, so I’m not sure if this is indicative of either of their other works. But on its own, this wasn’t a strong story. I had a hard time connecting to the characters, and the world-building was so superficial that I couldn’t describe much of the book if you asked.

Rating 4: Very disappointing, “Hansel and Gretel” deserve better.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Shrike and the Shadows” is on this Goodreads list: “Parliament House Novels.”

 

Kate’s Review: “Deathless Divide”

38124119._sy475_Book: “Deathless Divide” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The sequel to Dread Nation is a journey of revenge and salvation across a divided America.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother.

But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America.

What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her.

But she won’t be in it alone.

Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Watching Jane’s back, however, is more than she bargained for, and when they both reach a breaking point, it’s up to Katherine to keep hope alive – even as she begins to fear that there is no happily-ever-after for girls like her.

Review: A couple years ago, Justina Ireland wrote the YA horror/historical fiction book “Dread Nation”, a novel about the zombie uprising during Reconstruction in the U.S. Her main character, Jane, was a black teenage girl being trained to be a personal bodyguard for upper class white people, as after the zombies came Black and Indigenous people were recruited to protect the white people of society. It ended with an overrun town and Jane, her frenemy and fellow attendant Katherine, her old flame Jackson, and a group of refugees deciding to head West to California, as Jane was hoping to find her mother. When I heard about “Deathless Divide”, the sequel to “Dread Nation”, I was anticipating another zombie horror novel with the usual apocalypse themes. What I got was something completely different. This time, we get a horror historical fiction novel with distinct themes of a Western, and the lonesome redemptive attempts that come with that genre.

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Spoiler Alert: It does. (source)

“Deathless Divide” picks up right after the end of “Dread Nation”, and almost immediately it gets turned on it’s head as to what I had expected from the narrative. For one thing, we are not only getting Jane’s POV, we also get the POV of Katherine, the high strung, prim, and incredibly talented classmate and sometimes friend of Jane. I wanted to know more about Katherine in “Dread Nation”, so when we got to get inside her head in “Deathless Divide” I was overjoyed. Katherine always intrigued me the most from the first book because I loved that she is unabashedly feminine, and is still an incredible fighter, perhaps the best in the book. Too often we see women characters who are made ‘strong’ at the expense of having their femininity stripped away. This is fine, of course, as there are lots of ways to write female characters, but women can fight and kick butt in a corset if they want to, dammit! I also liked getting a deeper exploration of Katherine and the issues that she has to contend with as a very attractive woman who is constantly underestimated, and who, as a woman who passes for white, doesn’t always feel like she has her identity all figured out. Getting to see more of Katherine was delightful. 

The other unexpected shift in the narrative was, as I mentioned before, the fact that it has a distinctly Western theme about it. Usually as a rule I am not a fan of Westerns, as the themes usually don’t grab me AND so many of the Westerns that I think of feel imperialistic. But in “Deathless Divide” Ireland does a really good job of taking the theme of the lone gunslinger and applying it to Jane as her journey progresses, especially since the usual trope of that is a white man. I loved the role for Jane, as she has endured so much trauma and loss and violence because of her race and the fact that Black and Native people have been used as protectors and bodies to protect the White people in a zombie ravaged society. It’s no wonder she would become morally ambiguous as she travels the west looking for revenge. It makes the idea incredibly tragic. And it’s just another of many ways that Ireland once again explores themes and issues of race and racism in America, and like in “Dread Nation” it works very well. From POC being used as guinea pigs to further scientific research to race and class relations in urban settings and capitalism to colorism, “Deathless Divide” shows that some times don’t really change much, and that we still have a long way to go. 

As for the zombies, not much has changed from the first book, and they aren’t as centered this time around. But that said, we do get to delve into the ideas of potential cures, and how different science experiments can bring different outcomes when it comes to the zombies and how they interact with their potential prey. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but just know that Ireland still manages to make the zombies feel fresh and interesting even when they aren’t at the forefront. After all, like in all good zombie stories, it’s the humans that are the bigger threat.

(note: As I mentioned in my review for “Dread Nation”, there had been criticism of the Native characters in that book. I’ve not seen anything in that regard about this book, and I don’t think that I as a white woman can say if Ireland has been more responsible this time around. We do get a more complex and deeper dive into the character of Daniel Redfern, however. If anything changes on this front I will update this post.)

“Deathless Divide” is the end of the road for this world and characters (at least for now; Ireland has said that it COULD happen that more gets written, maybe), and I think that it’s a great follow up and completion. I’ll miss Jane and Katherine.

Rating 8: A satisfying ending with a bold new genre take, “Deathless Divide” wraps up a world of zombies, racism, and empowerment for Black women.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless Divide” is included on the Goodreads Lists “Black Heroines 2020”, and “LGBT SciFi and Fantasy 2015-2020”.

Find “Deathless Divide” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Night Spinner”

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Info: Page Street Kids, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Review: Another beautiful cover! It seems like I’m a broken record recently in my praise of the cover art of my books, but it’s also just true that many of them have been extraordinary! It’s nice to see original cover art that properly reflects the book itself rather than trying to brazenly mimic other successful titles in an attempt to trick readers into picking books up. I mean, I get it, publishing is a business and all of that. But a beautiful cover will do the job just as well, as many readers, myself included, will pick up titles like this because the cover is lovely and unique. The book was also marketed at a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And because I can’t even really picture what that looks like, this was an immediate request for me!

Enebish’s life is now one of seclusion and repression, a far fall from a few years ago when she had been on the cusp of becoming a great warrior and great leader for her people. But when a horrific accident occurs, killing many and crippling Enebish, her life takes a drastic turn, leaving her hated and feared by those who used to respect her. But, after years of hiding from her own powers and ignoring the temptations of the night, she is finally given a path forward to redeem herself. As she chases down a notorious criminal, however, she learns that there are many secrets in the night, not least of all her own.

While this book wasn’t the home run I’d been hoping for, there was still a lot I ended up liking about it. For one thing (and in my book, most importantly), Enebish was an excellent character. While some of her secrets and the reveals she discovers throughout the book were easy to guess, her own process of exploring these new insights was always sympathetic and relatable. As the story progresses, we see more and more clearly that her physical injuries are not nearly as crippling as her fear. Fear of her past, fear of the judgement of others, and, of course, fear of herself.

I was also a fan of the writing style and world-building. It was the kind of book that I was able to immediately sink into. Writing is always one of the hardest aspects of a book to review because what makes one author’s style work and another’s struggle can be both very subjective to the reader as well as almost impossible to pinpoint with specifics. I can usually tell within the first few chapters of a book whether the writing is going to click for me, and right off the bat, this one did. The world-building was also interesting, and I was able to easily picture the various locations that Enebish travels to.

The romance is definitely on the slow-burn side and there were hints of a love triangle at points. Luckily, the story didn’t commit fully to said triangle and the romance itself was very sweet, what little we had of it.

My struggles had to do with the length/pacing of the story, as well as the comparison to ” The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To the latter point, I found this expectation more distracting than anything. I can see the base elements for why this was referenced in the blurb, but frankly, in the first half of the book I spent way too much time comparing characters and events to that story and not enough appreciating the book before me. I think, as a whole, the comparison is too weak to add anything to the story and is likely to prove more distracting to readers. I recommend trying to put that thought out of your head immediately to better enjoy the book. The middle of the story also lagged a bit, and, overall, I think the book was a bit longer than what was necessary. As the writing and characters were strong, these were minor concerns, but still worth noting.

Overall, I thought this was a really interesting read. I’m not biting at the bit to get to the second one, but it laid down a decent foundation for the plot going forward, and I’m fairly invested in Enebish herself. If you’re looking for an original fantasy novel this spring, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A bit longer than was necessary, but a compelling lead character and interesting magic system pulled this one into the “win” column.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Night Spinner” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “Profiles in Silhouette.”

Find “Night Spinner” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Review: This book was a no-brainer for me to request. I mean, look at that gorgeous cover? I’m not sure I can remember a book with a cover like that; it immediately stands out and I’m sure the book will benefit from many a spur-of-the-moment pick-up while on the shelves at stores. The book description itself was also incredibly unique-sounding and dealing with a people, place, and culture that I am only passingly familiar. In many ways, the cover and description reminded me greatly of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” which I read last summer and loved. Unfortunately, this comparison didn’t hold true in the actual reading experience…

Ximena has lived most of her life pretending to be someone else, a queen, the Condesa. But mostly a queen under siege: managing dwindling supplies, sending out scouting parties, and dreaming of one day returning her people to their homeland and the city that is now occupied by the cruel king Atoc. Now, with a demanded-marriage between the two leaders of these divided peoples, Ximena has the greatest of all performances before her. She must marry the usurper and serve as an embedded spy, searching for that crack that can benefit her people and her sister-friend, the true Condesa.

Even typing up that description makes me excited about the story this could have been. Yet, alas, could have been, but wasn’t. This is one of those strange books where I question whether I read the same story others read. Currently, it’s rated over 4 on Goodreads, so many people are loving it. Perhaps I can see elements of what all of these other readers are latching on to, but it all seems like too little, too familiar, and too inexplicable to really earn those 4 stars.

The biggest strength this book has going for it is the unique setting, the unique culture (what little we really get of it), and the descriptions of Ximena’s weavings. There are some truly lovely depictions of these detailed creations, and having a mother who is an avid weaver, I could see the magic in her abilities here, even without the actual magic involved. What descriptions we received of the countryside and the city itself were intriguing, but this is also where the bare minimums began to show. I had just enough to form loose images, but I have to admit that many of these were probably drawing from stereotypical images of South American culture (there isn’t even such a thing, hence the extreme stereotype of my mental images that were just drawing from random images from other books and movies set in South American countries). I wish there had been a more detailed look into the daily life of the people, a clearer image drawn of their lives and the world they lived in. Half of the reason I picked up this book was because of the uniqueness to be had here. Finally not another European fantasy novel! But then it felt like the author only went halfway, and I was left wanting.

From the “too little” we move to the “too familiar.” Most of this plot will read as incredibly predictable to anyone who reads a lot of YA fantasy. I could quickly guess who El Lobo was as well as predict several of the other major plot points of the story. Perhaps for readers who aren’t as well versed in current YA fantasy tropes this would read better. Or even age it down to middle grade readers who simply haven’t had the time to build up these stores of memory that make stories like this feel rote and tired. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it; I’ve just read it too many times before. And when the surprise has been taken out of most of the twists, there’s not a lot of drive behind speeding through the rest of the story.

And lastly, the “too inexplicable.” I really struggled with Ximena herself. The love story was, again, predictable. And she kept referring to said characters as “the boy” which I just found cringe-worthy. I get that typing out “young man” seems kind of silly and obviously “guy” is anachronistic and has its own issues. But given the situation we’re meant to be in (she’s there to marry a king), I think we can just stick with “man” and be done with it. Regardless of age, this is an adult situation, and she’s been an adult for many years, making decisions as a ruler and now serving as a spy meant to marry the enemy. Referring to someone as “a boy” can only be a demeaning comment in these circumstances. But she uses it as a bland, seemingly objective description, and it bothered the heck out of me. If he’s “a boy,” he’s a kid and my mind will neatly file him away in the “non-love-interest” section.

Beyond that small nit-pick that I blew out of proportion with my own annoyance, it was hard to understand Ximena. We’re meant to believe that she’s been training, and acting, as the Condesa for almost all of her grown life. Not only would the real Condesa have to be well-versed in self-control, cool thinking, and precise speaking/acting, someone who grew up to serve as a decoy in this role would have to be all of that twice over. But Ximena routinely and regularly loses all self-control. It’s hard to believe that she wasn’t immediately seen through. Or, if not that, it would seem that all respect would be quickly lost for “the Condesa” as a leader since she can’t stop behaving like a rash, easily provoked youth. Ximena spends way too much time caught up in her own personal angst and far too little behaving as a true Condesa would. Sure, she always comments after the fact on how that was really “un-Condesa-like,” but that doesn’t do away with the fact that had she been trained to do this her entire life, there should be nowhere near as many outbursts as there are in the first place.

A book is always going to be a hard sell for me if I can’t connect with the POV character. I found Ximena unbelievable at best and incredibly annoying at worst. From there, the predictable story just lowered it further. I’m really sad that this wasn’t a great read for me. So many people are enjoying it, and I really wish I had read whatever book they’re loving so much. There are many great elements of this story, particularly with the snippets of the world, culture, and history we get. Unfortunately, there’s not enough of any of those things to counteract the weak main character and tired story. But, like I said, lots of people are liking it, so if you’re looking for an ownvoice, Latinx story, it might still be worth a shot.

I didn’t love this one, but a lot of people do. So I’d like to share it with someone who will appreciate it more than I was able. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, make sure to enter the giveaway for a hardback copy!

Rating 6: A really confusing read where I’m not sure what I’m missing that so many other people are loving.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Woven in Moonlight” is on these Goodreads lists: “Latina Leads in YA and Middle Grade Fiction” and “Upcoming 2020 SFF Books with Female Leads or Co-Leads.”

Find“Woven in Moonlight” in your library using WorldCat!

Giveaway: “Woven in Moonlight”

40877706._sy475_Book: “Woven in Moonlight” by Isabel Ibnez

Publishing Info: Page Street Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst

Book Description: Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.

When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.

She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.

Giveaway Details: Though it did take me until February to get around to it, I was excited enough about this book to include it as one of the three titles I was most looking forward to in January. And now the time has come! My full review comes up on Friday, so I won’t go into any spoilers as to my opinions here.

I will say that the concept is an intriguing one, intertwining a unique magic system with the political upheaval and history of Bolivia. It’s an ownvoices work, so the author brings much vibrancy to her story and world. And here, the cover artist really upped the ante creating a cover image that perfectly communicates the heart of the story and is sure to draw readers in. I know it worked well on me!

It’s always great to see young adult fantasy escape from the often overwhelming European-centered stories that are everywhere. And this one presents an area of the world and history that I’m sure many readers are only passably familiar with. For myself, I knew very little and, while this book is still clearly fictional and, you know, magic, it did inspire me to do some research of my own into the country’s history.

So, for those of you who still haven’t gotten around to this book, or for those of you who have already read it and loved it (according to Goodreads, there are many of you!), here’s your chance to get your hands on a hardback copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and closes on February 12.

Enter now!

Kate’s Review: “Foul is Fair”

42595554Book: “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: Elle and her friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Foul is Fair is a bloody, thrilling revenge fantasy for the girls who have had enough. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

Review: Thanks to Wednesday Books and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

When I was in ninth grade my English class read “MacBeth”, the Shakespearean tragedy involving assassination, witches, torment, and revenge. I loved it from the very start, from reading the book itself to when our teacher showed a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds the Roman Polanski film adaptation, which is horrendously bloody and disturbing. I remember turning to my friend Blake at one point and both of us clearly thinking ‘whaaat the fuuuuuck?’ By the time my younger sister got to that class they’d replaced Polanski’s version with the offbeat “Scotland, PA”, a retelling of the classic story set in the world of fast food. It’s hilarious and dark, and I had been waiting for a long time to see another retelling of my favorite Shakespeare play. You can imagine how excited I was when “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin was in my email box. A YA retelling of “MacBeth”, from the female point of view, as a revenge story? On paper, this seems like everything that I would want for the Scottish Play. And yet, it became pretty clear pretty early that this wasn’t really going to work for me as much as I’d hoped it would.

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I had certain expectations when I opened up this eARC, and I’m incredulous that basically none of them were met. (source)

Okay, let’s start with the good. Frankly, these days given the repeated reminders of the misogynistic and sexist culture that we live in, and the prevalent stories of abuse and trauma that have been exposed due to the #MeToo movement and powerful abusers falling from grace, I am all for a story that wants to tackle these issues with unrelenting rage. Catharsis is important, especially when it feels like some things never change and that privileged abusers will never see any true consequences (or sometimes hold high places of power, be it a Supreme Court seat or the Oval Office). So the fact that “Foul is Fair” is a power fantasy in which a rape victim is taking out all of her rage  and revenge against her rapists and taking her power back does give it lots of points. Especially since justice in the real world can be so hard to come by. Plus, I really did like the writing itself, as it’s vivid and visceral with a raw power that makes it almost burn off the page.

But when it comes to the characters within this book, I was supremely disappointed. One of the things about “MacBeth” is that while there are clear heroes and villains, each hero and villain has some complexity and nuance to them. MacBeth and Lady MacBeth in particular have moments of ruthlessness and vulnerability, and you understand the motivations for both of them even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, like the whole regicide thing. In “Foul is Fair”, all of the characters feel like two dimensional beings that aren’t defined by much else beyond their scumminess, or their unrelenting rage, or their weirdness. Can this be entertaining? Sure. But I didn’t feel like I really got to know our protagonist, Elle/Jade, outside of her understandable anger about what the golden boys at St. Andrews did to her. Effective plot? Absolutely. But it does not characterization make. Her interactions with her ‘coven’ (I’m also a little confused here, as she is clearly the stand in for Lady MacBeth, but she’s hanging out with Jenny, Summer, and Mads, who are the stand ins for the Weird Sisters. I don’t want to be a purist to the original material, but why was this a choice?) always felt a little ‘2edgy4me’ as they always, ALWAYS talk with coolness and malevolence, and even when they start turning on each other it still comes off as trying way too hard to be badass when all I wanted was to see some relatability amidst the badassness. And on top of all that, sure, there are some “MacBeth” aspects to it, but it definitely felt like it picked and chose the themes that would work best for the story at hand as opposed to actually trying to make it a “MacBeth” retelling. You take away the character names that reference the characters they’re based upon, and it’s not so easy to find the “MacBeth” aspects, it was shifted and changed so much. You can definitely adapt old texts to modern times and do it in ways that still give the original intent and feel of the source material (one of the best moments of this is in “Clueless” where Josh gives summation of Knightley’s dressing down and scolding of Emma with ‘you’re such a brat’. PERFECT!). “Foul is Fair” did not achieve this.

(and as a side note, poor Lady MacDuff gets thrown under the bus in this ‘reimagining’. The poor woman and all of her children are brutally slaughtered because MacDuff is a threat to MacBeth. In this she’s turned into a bitchy queen bee who is complicit in rape. It’s like ya didn’t even TRY to adapt that character! There were other instances of pick and choose feminism, but whatever, I don’t need to get on a soap box.)

There is something to be said for the ultimate rage message of standing up against violent misogyny, and that maybe it needs to be beaten over the head to get the point across. But I had hoped for a little more vicious and biting satire with Shakespearean flair.

Rating 5: The beat down of misogyny and the overall power fantasy was cathartic, but “Foul is Fair” had two dimensional characters and a grasp on the source material only when it suited.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Foul is Fair” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Shakespeare Retellings”, and “ANGRY LADIES’ BOOK CLUB”.

Find “Foul is Fair” at your library using WorldCat!