[This Savage Song: Monsters of Verity I] Victoria Schwab

I’m going to be honest: I’m glad I read this author’s adult fiction works before I read her young adult fiction. It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, but it was considerably tamer than I expected, especially coming off of the Shades of Magic series. I expected to be more captivated by the characters and world than I ultimately was, which is okay. It just means that I enjoy V.E. Schwab’s grittier and darker worlds, despite this one also having those qualities.

This Savage Song is a story of a divided city and the heirs that live inside of it. The divided city is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, but with a lot more monsters and no distracting qualities of romance. I LOVED that there was no romance in this novel. Too often the plot of dystopians get overtaken by the romantic ramblings of teenagers in love, but not so in this book. Kate and August were their own characters with their own agendas. When they were pushed together, they had to deal with the tension of technically being each others’ enemy on top of running for their lives. That made the book far more interesting than a romantic-dystopian novel.

It’s rare, I think, to read a dystopian novel that doesn’t have a romantic sub (or main) plot. That’s why This Savage Song was such a refreshing read. The plot didn’t focus on it, which allowed the world to be fleshed out more and the focus to be on everything happening instead of the two characters catching feelings. Their friendship grew tentatively and I loved seeing how their feelings about each other changed into an understanding that only they could create. There needs to be more great friendships in young adult literature that doesn’t become a relationship. I love reading those stories too, but there doesn’t always need to be a romance. I love that Schwab didn’t go the route that now seems the norm in young adult literature.

While I loved that, I didn’t find myself connecting to the characters as much as I expected. Kate wasn’t very relatable and I never really got why she wanted to return to the city, other than her desire to be near her father. He wasn’t someone that was there for her, so that being her main drive was odd to me. She presents herself as a badass, but really she has the hard exterior created to hide her softer feelings inside. I couldn’t really figure out what her goals were exactly, which made her feel very one dimensional. I’m hoping I’ll like her personality more in the next book, because she had grown on my slightly by the end of This Savage Song.

August  is my favorite. Unlike Kate, I definitely related to his feelings of being lost and not knowing himself. He was a far more sympathetic character; the monster who doesn’t want to be a monster. I love reading takes on characters like this. August’s character arc is what made the book so interesting for me to read. I wanted to see what would happen to him more than I cared about Kate or the problems within the city. I am looking forward to reading where he goes in the next novel.

The world in This Savage Song is very well-written, as I expected of a Schwab book. It did take me a few chapters to get into the book, but once I did I found myself reading during any spare downtime I had. Schwab as a way of easing you into the world that doesn’t feel like it’s too heavy. The world is built through small moments as the characters go about the day, teasing you just enough to make you curious and hopeful that it’ll be explained later down the line. I loved her take on violence breeding literal monsters and the explanation for them. It seems like it could be just a step away. Schwab has a real world-building talent that I am both inspired by and jealous of. I can trust that she’s going to have an amazing world created in whatever book I pick up next.

I will be continuing this duology, and I definitely recommend it for readers who have enjoyed V.E. / Victoria Schwab books before. If you enjoy dystopians but not the romance that’s often included, I think you’ll enjoy this book. There’s a reason that readers keep coming back to Schwab books. They’re full of great characters that you both like and loathe, set in a world that is carefully created and feels like it could be just around the corner even with it’s fantastical elements.

3.5 stars.

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[Furyborn] Claire Legrand

The premise of Furyborn is the legend of two queens: one of light and one of blood. Legrand takes the legend of these two queens and sets them miles––and years––apart. As the story spans across centuries, the legend of the two queens becomes just that––a legend. But when a girl who can’t be injured comes along, people begin to believe that perhaps it’s not just a legend.

To start off, I think that the premise for this book is amazing. I love the idea of things that don’t seem connected at first, especially when they involve the falls of kingdoms and of powerful women who don’t downplay their talents. It’s something that I love seeing in books, because I feel like there’s a ton of female characters who write off their talents. This was not the case for Rielle and Eliana. They both know that they’re talented––one with the elements and one with knives––and they’re both really unapologetic about it. There need to be more women like this in fiction. Having the book focused on the two of them made it really enjoyable, and I liked how both of their perspectives were super different. Their lives were so different too and seeing that contrast showed more of the world than if they’d both come from the same background.

The worldbuilding in this novel was great! The world was easily my favorite part about this novel. It was really interesting to see how Legrand built up the world by subtly putting in information as Rielle was going through the elemental trials. It was just enough that I really wanted to know more––or perhaps I could read some prequels about the Saints?? please and thank you––without taking away from the rest of the story. This novel kind of has two different settings and worlds, too; even though both Rielle and Eliana technically exist in the same world, they exist a thousand years apart. That means that Rielle’s reality, the one that we’re shown with angels and magic, is not Eliana’s reality. In fact, so many years have passed that people don’t really believe that magic ever existed. They think that they’re just stories. I loved that we could see these two settings side by side because of the dual perspective. I also really appreciated that Legrand showed negatives and positives to both times and didn’t make one better than the other.

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Ten books I disliked* but still appreciated something about them

*Sometimes dislike is too strong of a word. So a lot of these are disappointments, which––for anyone who’s ever disappointed someone before––is far worse than if they just dislike you.

I’m going to try my best to not be super negative in this post because I tend to go all angry English major when I read books that disappoint me in some way. As a result, I tend to avoid books that I know I’ll dislike because I don’t want to spend time on something that makes me unhappy. But sometimes, a book comes up to you with a beautiful premise and a visually engaging cover, promising that it will be the next thing you’ll love, only to disappoint you in the end.

I’m splitting my post up between dislikes––or changed opinion––and disappointments. I think that better reflects my readings of these books.

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Disappointments

I’m finishing up my review on this upcoming novel this week, but if I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be about the unfulfilled promise of its premise. I wanted to love this one––and there’s two more in the series so maybe things will be better in the next ones––but ultimately it just was looooonngggg without much going on. There’s a lot of potential, though, so I’ll be continuing it!

The one Scott Westerfeld book that has disappointed me. Somehow the fact that he wrote this with two other authors makes it worse. Someone should have had the writing power to make this interesting.

I fully expected to like this one when I read it. I’d liked her sister’s Jane Eyre and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But Wuthering Heights wasn’t what I was expecting and that made this a difficult one to get through. I’d like to think that if I gave it another chance I may find enjoyment in it, but I also don’t know if I can get over Heathcliff’s aggression. I don’t really see how this is a great love story.

The disappointment I felt for this one tasted especially bitter. Seraphina was such a unique and fascinating story, but the sequel did not bring back everything that I loved about the first novel. I’m really interested in checking out Tess of the Road, as it’s set in the same world.

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[Tyler Johnson Was Here] Jay Coles

Tyler Johnson Was Here is the second book I’ve read this year that throws light on the experiences of members of the black community in the United States. It focuses on twins Marvin and Tyler Johnson, who are slowly drifting apart as they prepare for college. Marvin wants to be close to his brother again, but there are some things that Tyler isn’t telling him. In an attempt to keep an eye on his brother, he follows him to a party where there’s a shooting. When Tyler doesn’t come home, it’s up to Marvin to cover for his brother. As the hours pile up, Marvin finally reveals the thing that scares him the most: he doesn’t know where Tyler is. When his brother is found dead and a video showing his death surfaces, Tyler is suddenly a hashtag trending on the internet. In his search for justice, Marvin wants to show the world that Tyler was so much more.

This is another hard book to review. I think that the book was successful in telling a story that shows what it means to be black in the United States (and elsewhere in the world, but this is specifically set in the U.S.) and how Marvin Johnson’s whole life––his whole survival––is based around the idea that he has to act a certain way in order to not be killed. This is something that I’ve never had to experience. I have a lot of privilege that allows me to move through life without thinking about daily survival. While I had other lessons on “how to behave,” I didn’t have the lessons that Marvin and Tyler were taught. Books like Tyler Johnson Was Here are part of my lesson in learning how my life is drastically different than others around me. Like The Hate U Give and Long Way DownTyler Johnson Was Here struck me in the heart and made me incredibly angry about the systemic racism that has permeated all aspects of the society of the United States.

It’s impossible to read this book without feeling emotional, and I went through a lot of anger and sadness as I read the story. While this is a fictional story, Coles did a good job of weaving fiction with reality. That’s what makes books like Tyler Johnson Was Here difficult to read.  You can’t just read it as a work of fiction. It can’t be thought of as only a work of fiction when the book illustrates the reality of black men and women being harmed and killed by the police. There’s a reality that is unavoidable when you read books like this, and I don’t recommend that you try avoiding it. It’s something that needs to be read. It’s something that needs to be understood by those who have never had to experience it. It’s so important, and I’m so glad that books like this are being talked about.

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[Lose Me.] M.C. Frank

When a book starts with Today is not the day I die, you know you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions. Lose Me. is a lovingly written story about the complications life throws at you, first loves, and moving forward with your dreams. Ari is a stuntwoman with her first job coming up: a movie loosely based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She’ll be doing most of the stunts for the female lead, a prospect she’s equally nervous and excited about. She knows that she’ll be able to do her job, despite a problem she recently discovered; a problem she keeps pushing to the back of her mind.Frank quickly sets the tone of the novel, with tight and twisting streets and clear blue waters. Both the setting and the characters are richly described, making it difficult for the reader to not enjoy the book.  Ari is spunky and takes no slack from anyone, particularly Wes, the rude lead that believes he’s better than most everything on her island. I loved that her job was performing stunts. I’ve never read a character with a job quite like hers. These two characters are the primary focus of Lose Me., though there’s plenty of secondary characters that are just as vivid. I loved all of the characters in this novel. The characters that Frank created are very real. I had a clear picture of their personalities and desires, even their fears. I loved following their story.

The romance in this story closely mirrored the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. There were moments of beauty and moments of misunderstanding. I really enjoyed that they were filming a Pride and Prejudice movie and that their romance always paralleled it. I love when books are homages to other books that I enjoy, and Austen is an author that I love seeing referenced. I think that Frank did a wonderful job of connecting both modern day and classical novel.  Continue reading

[Sky in the Deep] Adrienne Young

It was what we’d been taught our entire lives––vegr yfir fjor––honor above life. 

Sky in the Deep is a Viking inspired story with battles, betrayal, and the realization that your enemy isn’t as different from you as you thought. I really loved this one! I read it in the bulk of one day and then immediately wished I hadn’t because it was over.

Sky in the Deep takes starting in the action very literally. We find ourselves in the middle of a battle with Eelyn and her fighting partner, Mýra, readying themselves to charge at members of the Riki clan. They’re members of the Aska clan, and once every five years, they meet on the battlefield to avenge those of their tribe who fell in the years before. For Eelyn, this is her brother. She fights to avenge his death five years before, pushing down her own guilt about being unable to give him proper rites after the battle. When she meets him on the battlefield and he saves her life, people think that she’s been touched by Sigr, their God. Eelyn isn’t so sure. When she discovers that it wasn’t a spirit sent by her God, Eelyn is thrust into the world of her enemy.

I thought that the beginning of the story was strong because it was right in the action, but it also meant that I felt a little blindsided as a reader. I didn’t know much about the world, just that they were fighting. Initially it did put me off a bit because of how frantic it felt. Young dials it back by having Eelyn captured, which helped immensely. There’s still the feeling of being in the action, but it’s bubbling underneath the surface instead of being right there. I loved that. Young used this time to show the different cultures that are in the book, and I was able to get a clearer picture of the world. I love world building, and this novel was full of everything I like seeing when authors build new worlds: different cultures and ways of life; different religions and celebrations; lush settings. It was great!

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[Read-Only: A Collection of Digital Horror] Caitlin Marceau and M. Regan

This is a short anthology by two authors who have put together a series of stories connected to our use of––and obsession with––technology. It’s horror, but few of the stories deal with gore. Instead the authors focus on the horror that can be hidden behind screens and underneath casual words. Most of the stories are in prose form, but there are a few that are in a text or forum style, which made me read them more quickly and provided suspense that built to the end of the exchange.

This is a book that’s slightly out of my comfort zone because of the word horror on the cover. But the idea of digital horror was intriguing so I was glad to be given a copy by one of the authors.  I’ve read M.Regan’s work before but Caitlin Marceau was a new author for me. While both authors are similar in that they’re focusing on a theme, their writing styles are different in ways that set them apart from one another.

Regan tends to focus on the lyrical, her writing producing images both beautiful and grotesque, depending on the situation. I love alliteration, so I was pleased with her use of it. I think there’s an amount of intelligence in her work that keeps the reader on their toes intellectually, meaning that you have to pay attention to what’s going on instead of reading through quickly. I think that her stories are packed with potential and they went in ways that I couldn’t always predict. I liked how she led her reader down certain paths and left hints for them to unravel.

As for Marceau, she puts us in the minds of her characters immediately. Whether they’re looking for the one or looking for the next 100 likes, they’re vividly created in a short amount of time. Her stories are longer than M. Regan’s in this anthology, which allows her to meander as she builds the setting and creates the tone of the story. I found her stories to be the perfect blend of real and what if?, making her stories spookily possible. I enjoyed reading her work, the stories pertinent to our digital age and obsession. They were well thought out and plotted. I do wish that tildes and asterisks weren’t used as section breaks, though. 

I’ve decided that I’m going to individually review the stories and then give an overall rating of the anthology itself. If you’d like to see my final thoughts on the anthology and my rating, please scroll to the end.

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Kinda Stuck

M. Regan

This is the first story in the anthology and I think it works really well. It introduces a text element immediately, which sets the tone for the rest of the anthology. I found the use of repetition to be delightfully creepy. The suspense is created in just a short amount of time and it was very effective. While I enjoyed this story, there was a point where I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that multiple people would fall into the same trap within the story.

4 stars.

This is also the story that watchmojo decided to create a video on, so if you’re intrigued by what this anthology is about, check it out.

Troll

M. Regan

Honestly I’m not sure how I feel about this one. I enjoyed the idea of it, but there’s a lot happening in a short amount of time. I would have liked to have been given more details in order for the buildup to the end to be more satisfying. I was disappointed that it ended when it did because I feel like it’s more of a beginning of something rather than a short story. I liked the idea of technology going after people (at least that’s how I read it!) and I wanted to see more. It seemed like the idea could have blossomed into a longer story.

3 stars.

#NoFilter

Caitlin Marceau

The obsession in this one was insane. And highly relatable, which was kind unsettling. Most everyone has some form of social media today; most everyone is cruising for those likes or little hearts. If you look to the side of your screen, you’ll see that I do it on bookstagram. There have been times when I’ve had to remind myself to step away from the screen because I find myself thinking What more can I do? and it’s very disheartening. Such is the feeling that Ava has when she manages her social media account. She is desperate for those likes, to the point where she considers a potentially dangerous app that is said to make you extremely beautiful. I didn’t like the amount of woman on woman hate, particularly when it was against her supposed best friend. But I did think the execution and pacing of this story was done really well, despite the predictability of the ending. This was my favorite of Marceau’s stories.

5 stars.

Honey

M. Regan

This was my favorite short story in the whole anthology. I enjoyed the references to mythology as well as the subtle notes that led the reader to the end of the story. I also liked the idea of a character who learned everything from the internet. Honey is a great example of horror happening in the everyday. Technology took a backseat as Regan focused her story on the conversation happening between two friends. It was very much the familiar being tainted with the feeling that something isn’t as it seems, which made me feel unsettled as I followed where the story was leading me. The pacing was superb in this one. It was a great short story that had me chuckling at the reveal, happy that I had properly guessed the ending. The addition of the third character, a daughter, gave the story Hitchcock and Poe vibes in my opinion. I’d like to know what will happen to the daughter in the future.

5 stars. Continue reading