ARC Review: Crystal Caged (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #5) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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One way or another… she will be the end of the world.

With powers that weren’t supposed to be touched by mortal hands, Vi Solaris is determined to free herself and the world from the deadly vortex it’s trapped in. This mission has taken her to forbidden lands and has transformed her from a sheltered princess to a fearsome warrior.

But the ultimate triumph requires the ultimate sacrifice, forcing Vi to choose between the last tethers to her humanity and the very people she’s sworn to protect.

Vi’s story of magic, sacrifice, triumph, and love reaches its epic conclusion in Crystal Caged.

Release date: March, 14th

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★★★✩✩ 

This book was mostly fine, but I think it suffered a lot because of how it was structured. Potential spoilers below I guess?

The frequent time skips were its weakest point, starting from the fact that it starts a number of years after the end of the previous book. There were also months and years skipped here and there throughout the book and while I understand it was necessary it also made for a read that was hard to get invested into. I admit if it wasn’t for the fact that through it we got to see so many characters and events from Air Awakens my rating would be lower.

I made my peace very early in the series with the fact that I wasn’t invested in the romance and knew this final book wouldn’t change my mind about it. I did enjoy the friendships and the dialogues and interactions with old characters, even when they were painful (why did I have to experience [redacted] again???)

Overall I’m glad I read this series because it reminded of how much I loved Air Awakens, every book was an entertaining enough read but my reading tastes have changed too much since then and I can’t seem to get as emotionally invested as I was in that series.

ARC Review: The Electric Heir by Victoria Lee

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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In the sequel to The Fever King, Noam Álvaro seeks to end tyranny before he becomes a tyrant himself.

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.

Release date: March, 17th

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★★★★

Finishing this book felt like being the “I lived bitch” meme

The Electric Heir messed with my emotions in a way that The Fever King didn’t. I want to make it clear before we start that I don’t consider myself a survivor of the type of abuse portrayed here, and this is a duology that’s especially written for survivors. So there will be things I don’t get and all I can do is listen to those who see themselves in this series.

What I can say is that this book is very hard to read and I don’t know if I recall many books that made me have to stop reading and take a breath because it was becoming too much. I had expectations and thoughts on how this book was going to play out, but even aware of the content warnings I was not prepared for how sudden everything was and how we were thrown in the middle of that whole emotional mess. Saying that I loved it would be inaccurate: this book gets ugly and you can’t help but hate it a little, but it makes its conclusion all the more satisfying.

There isn’t a lot I can talk about while reviewing a second and final book in a duology, but I loved finally getting Dara’s POV and I liked his voice maybe more than Noam’s. I was also under the impression that this series was going to be a trilogy but while I was reading I found out it’s a duology and I have to say, I need more series to be written in this format.

This is a short review because anything I say would be spoilery both for this book and the previous book, but watch out for Victoria Lee and her ability to create unforgettable characters. I’m looking forward to reading whatever she comes up with next.

TWs: inter-generational trauma, genocide, violence, abuse, attempted rape, mental health and suicide, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, emetophobia, drug and alcohol, abuse, parental death, ableist language.

ARC Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales // the queer Grease retelling that stole my heart

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

Release date: March 3rd

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★★★★.5✩

I was taken by surprise by this queer Grease retelling, not because I didn’t expect it to be good (it sounded amazing) but because it kept trying to annoy me and it just…didn’t.

Only Mostly Devastated is both a light-hearted romcom and a book that has many heavy themes within it, and the two aspects felt well-balanced and well-researched. With so many delicate themes at hand, there is going to be space for nuance as every reader reacts to each instance according to their own sensibilities and life experiences. To me, there was so much I could see easily going downhill but instead going the opposite way. Comments that were immediately challenged on page, conflict that could’ve been easily dismissed by one character but instead was acknowledged and respected. (Only one thing that I could think of didn’t really leave me satisfied, because the apology came late and wasn’t really an apology but it’s seen as one because of the character’s personality.)

This is not to say it’s all black and white: these are teenagers and they make mistakes and in the process learn to navigate life, and to me that was enough.

If you’ve seen Grease you might already expect how the romance works: summer fling, same school, two groups of friends. Add in the queer element, and the major conflict becomes the fact that Will is deeply closeted. This constitutes one of the heavier aspects of the book, second to the illness plotline, so I wouldn’t call this story fluffy by any means. But to me it felt very real and all in all I feel like Ollie never expected Will to come out for the sake of their relationship, he was fully willing to keep it a secret from everyone while simultaneously rightfully being frustrated by some of the decisions that Will took in order to keep his sexuality safe.

Will’s sexuality is not the only one in question, and there is a secondary sapphic character who gets outed to the whole school and this kind of furthers the narrative in more than one way. This is not something I had thought much about while reading and ultimately I think it was done more for the sake of the Grease retelling than to further the m/m relationship, but I can see how it might not sit well with everyone.

Ollie’s aunt’s terminal illness is the other major aspect that makes this book not the easiest to read. I don’t want to get too personal but I had to force a sense of distance in order to power through the book, and I found Will’s emotions very real and the grief aspect one of the best I’ve ever seen handled in a book. I wasn’t surprised to go on the author’s biography and find out she works as a psychologist, because she really hit all the spots with this story line.

With so much that was ultimately emotionally heavy content, how come I still called this light-hearted? Ollie’s internal monologue was simply a delight, and this is coming from someone who’s finding herself more and more distant from the “contemporary YA 1st POV voice”, but I could simply not care. Was it over the top sometimes? Yes, but I didn’t care. I liked Ollie’s voice and I thought he was highly relatable and funny.

I also loved the friendships in here. I couldn’t immediately understand the girls but once I did I loved their little messy group, and the guys were annoying but ultimately not unredeemable, especially once they got educated.

Speaking of the girls, it’s the first time I see PCOS being talked about in a book, YA especially, and how it affects the girl’s life. It was something I wasn’t expecting and it almost brought me to tears since nobody ever talks about it.

So, I think it’s fair to say I loved this. I would recommend to make sure you check the TWs first in order to be prepared, and even if you’re someone who doesn’t read a lot of YA (in general or anymore) but you’re still curious to try this, I think you won’t regret it.

Rep: gay MC, bisexual Venezuelan LI, female bisexual side character, POC characters, fat character with PCOS

TWs: a character gets outed against their will, terminal illness (cancer), hospitals, fatphobic and fatshaming comments (not immediately challenged), talk of weight loss and dieting, talk of PCOS and its symptoms and how they affect the character’s weight loss/diet, homophobic comments, death of a family member, grief, underage alcohol consumption

Review: Sovereign Sacrifice (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #4) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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Vi was supposed to be the perfect crown princess. Then, she abandoned her throne.
Vi was supposed to save the world as its Champion. Then, the world she loved vanished.

Now, all she knows is that she has deadly magic and brutal cunning and she’s ready to settle some scores.

Old loves and new allies tell her to play it safe. But Vi is done with caution. She has a chance to right ancient wrongs and this princess-turned-warrior isn’t turning back.

She’s ready to bring an end to the vortex of death the world is trapped in.

The magic, romance, and epic adventure continue in book four of Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles.

Out now!

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★★★.5✩

I went into this book having some contrasting feelings about Failed Future‘s ending but I have to say I actually really liked how things worked out here.

Because this is the fourth book in a series and basically the very premise of this installment hangs on a twist that happens in the last few chapters of the previous one, it’s really hard to talk about the plot without giving anything away, so please only keep reading if you’ve finished Failed Future!!!

I freaking love time travel. I don’t always reach for books that have it in them though, because it can be tricky and I feel like many books leave to many questions open and disregard a lot of time travelling rules. I had some of these problems here as well, but I also found it easy to disregard and focus more on the plot and characters.

I was also glad there was less Taavin because I’m still not feeling the romance (and let’s be honest, at this point in the series I’m never going to get into it), and I like how the focus was more on the female friendships that Vi was able to make.

Overall, I enjoyed this for the plot and the characters and I can’t wait to see where the next (final??) book is going to take us!

ARC Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé // or: if you’re looking for hope, you’re in the wrong place

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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The Blair Witch Project meets Imaginary Girls in this story of codependent sisterhood, the struggle to claim one’s own space, and the power of secrets

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. Moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming she’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

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★★★✩✩

This was my first book by Amelinda Bérubé, so I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t read much horror anymore and I haven’t read a lot of YA horror at all, so I feel like I had contrasting expectations from the end of this book, and it’s hard to say whether they’ve been met or not. But let’s start with the rest of the book before I talk about the ending.

I would describe this as Sadie meets Never-Contented Things(and those are both novels I loved). The quest of the missing sister, the uncaring parents and the overall failure of adults to be there for teens paired well with the creepy forest atmosphere, and it was at times almost terrifying. If I were someone who rates different points of a book to do a mathematical avg, I would definitely be giving the atmosphere a solid five stars.

I have a harder time judging the characters. My first instinct is to mark them as stereotypes, but that’s not exactly right. They’re more archetypes of teens, and a lot of them are terrible (more on this later). If I were to say something about any of them, is how the love interest is a soft boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and since the stereotypical YA love interest is the asshole, brooding type, I more than appreciate this. Whether this book was kind to him, or to any of its character for that matter, is something I doubt, and I’ll let everyone draw their own conclusions.

While I enjoyed most of this book and it was definitely going to be at least a full 4 stars, the ending left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not, per se, a bad ending. I feel like it’s not the plot itself that let me down, but the message that was sent, or at least the message I understood. And here comes what I mentioned before: horror doesn’t have to be hopeful, but YA does. What does, then, YA horror need to achieve? Is it okay to stick to the genre’s message without taking into account the target group? Is it okay to do the opposite? Is there a way to achieve both?

I feel like strictly speaking, the ending tried to be both hopeful and hopeless, which probably wasn’t easy to do. But inevitably when there’s both hope and not-hope, the negative will always override the positive, like mixing a lot of light paint and a little dark one will inevitably result in a dark color. And here there was so much more dark than light. When I say dark I don’t mean tragic. Perhaps that’s what throws me off, it’s so dark because it isn’t tragic. Tragic we can handle, we can get closure. Here, I’m not sure we get closure of any kind. In a way, this is where this book diverges from my Sadie comparison: Sadie is tragic and it has very good reasons to be that. This book had every chance to be hopeful or at the very least tragic, but it wasn’t either.

Terrible teens exist, and there are often reasons why they’re terrible, and all of us are or were terrible as teens in our own way. And we need to see that we’re not alone. But to see that and accept that in a narrative that’s so, ultimately, hopeless, without seeing a sliver of light other than “you’re not alone in being terrible, you’re surrounded by other terrible people too”, is frankly a little disappointing and defies at least part of this novel’s genre. That’s, at least, how I felt about it.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book. If you need hope in your life, if you can handle a dark story as long as there’s light at the end, I would say maybe avoid it. If you don’t care and want to read a creepy novel, give it a try.

TWs: animal deaths, violence, missing girl, blood, gore

ARC Mini-Review: How to be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-gay, super-likable guy that people admire for his confidence. The only person who may not know Remy that well is Remy himself. So when he is assigned to write an essay describing himself, he goes on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him, and get to know the real Remy Cameron.

Release date: September 10th

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★★★.75✩✩

This book follows Remy, an out and proud gay teen, in his quest to find out who he is. I feel like the question “who am I really?” is something that everybody has asked themselves before, and this can be especially hard to answer when you are a marginalized person and you need to understand how your marginalizations intersect.

Personally I felt like the writing improved from the author’s debut and the book’s themes were also stronger. It was still a little awkward at times but I could overlook that in favor of the characters and the themes.

Overall I feel like this is an important book for all teens and I would highly recommend it if “who am I?” has ever crossed your mind.

TWs (taken from the end of the book): discussions of racism, homophobia, past minor characters’ death, and alcoholism, as well as depictions of homophobic bullying, and a scene involving brief sexual harassment/racial fetishism

Review: Failed Future (Air Awakens: Vortex Chronicles #3) by Elise Kova

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the author for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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When worlds collide, and things are rarely what they seem, there may be no one Vi can trust.

Having forsaken her crown for a chance to save her family, and the world, Vi Solaris washes up on the shores of Meru. She’s wounded and barely alive. But Vi’s fight for survival is only just beginning.

As a princess in a foreign land, everyone is after her.

The pirate queen Adela wants to sell her to the evil elfin’ra. The Twilight King wants to use her to settle an old score. And, perhaps most dangerous, is the scheming Lord of the Faithful who sees her as an opportunity to further consolidate his power.

The only path for Vi is forward. But she doesn’t yet know if she’s running toward salvation… or a brutal end to everything she loves.

Vi’s journey continues with even more betrayal, romance, magic, and a twist you never saw coming that leaves readers begging for the next book. 

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★★★✩

Third books in long series are always a turning point and this one was as well, in more ways than one.

In the first half of the book there was a lot I liked. Kova’s ability to introduce new characters and make them interesting right off the bat is something that works really well at the beginning of new series or, in this case, when our main character is somewhere new and has to make new connections.

However, the rest of the book was a little boring to me despite the fact that it was rather fast paced, or maybe that’s why, since I enjoy a bit more focus on characters and relationships. But I might have honestly just not been in the mood for this, because I was also bored with Vi and Taavin’s relationship since it took more page time than the prequels. I did enjoy some moments of course and I was able to focus on the final 20 pages more than I did for the second half of the book.

And that brings me to the ending (no worries, no spoilers from me). I think what Kova did in this book is very brave and I’ll be able to fully process what happened in this book when I read the next, but it’s certainly taken a turn I’d have never seen coming. I’m still not entirely sure what it all means for the rest of the series and for our view of Air Awakens, but I’m very curious to see what will happen next.

Speaking of Air Awakens, I truly believe that while it’s not necessary to read it for the first two books of this series, there will be a lot of connections that are lost if you haven’t read the original series. Especially going into the next books, I fully recommend catching up with the first series if you haven’t done so already.