Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

After failing to kill the Demon King, Lei and Wren barely escaped with their lives. But this isn’t the end of their journey, unaware their plot failed, the duo must travel the kingdom to gain support from clans from all corners of the world. But a heavy bounty on Lei’s head makes this even more difficult and when tensions begin to make Lei doubt what she knows, can she succeed in her quest or will the dark magic finish the war before its even begun?

After finishing Girls of Paper and Fire, I eagerly anticipated the release of Storm and Shadow. And I can say that I’m not disappointed, although I was a little underwhelmed. But I still found it a solid read.

I won’t lie, Lei, despite being our main protagonist, was not the star of the show for me. Lei and Wren are joined by others, some familiar, some new. Despite how fractured it all becomes at the end, I truly loved the moments of everyone banding together in their journey. I thought the brashness of Bo and Nitta would be off-putting, but their sibling banter was hilarious and I had come to love their sibling relationship a lot. Merrin got my attention the most, his anger and frustration with everything going on around them was admirable. My heart broke a lot during a pivotal moment in this book. Lei and Wren go through a lot in this. Wren, in particular, shocked me quite a bit. I won’t say too much, but I’m glad Ngan utilised Wren’s past a lot more in this book, a shocking revelation made a lot of sense and really amped up my excitement for whatever comes next in the finale.

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Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

The Santos women are cursed by the sea, and Rosa Santos knows better than to get involved with anyone involved with the sea. As her college deadline looms over her, she is caught between the town she calls home and the island of Cuba, a familial past her abuela refuses to talk about. But when her town falls into trouble, Rosa must work fast to save her town and face her fear of the shore before it swallows her whole.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a book with little expectations, only to have them exceeded way beyond my imagination. From the description, I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about this one but, wow, I really liked Don’t Date Rosa Santos.

The world-building was rich and vibrant. Port Coral really opened up with each new chapter. The community was so unique and its residents were so lively. The community of Port Coral truly felt real and not just a static background for Rosa’s story. The main theme of Don’t Date Rosa Santos is how Rosa struggles to connect with her Cuban roots, and through the entire novel, she worries that her connection is not enough and she can’t access more of it due to her family’s past. Her experience is very rooted in Cuban culture, but I found myself really relating to her thoughts about diaspora and her disconnection to her family. Moreno did a really great job here, evoking such strong emotions in such a digestible way.

The people around Rosa make their mark as much as Rosa herself. Her grandmother, Mimi, whose loss in the past leads her to close her heart when Rosa comes calling with questions. Her mother travels to run away from the grief that always seems to follow her. The family trauma runs three generations deep, and Rosa tries to get her family to finally face their fears together. Her neighbours are sweet, her schoolfriends hilarious, and a love interest that I actually really loved and rooted very strongly for.

I was not expecting to be so emotionally affected by this book. Rosa’s monologues, her worries about her future and her own self-imposed expectations, it all hit really close to home. Rosa undertakes an internal journey to better understand a culture she yearns to learn more about. And while doing that, she works towards understanding this so-called “curse” on her family that follows the women in her family. If I’m being honest, the curse is a hit or miss aspect because it frustrated me a lot as it concealed so much information, so watch out for that. But everything else was brilliant.

Overall, Don’t Date Rosa Santos was delightful and moving. Its emphasis on family and community makes it such a touching read, and one of my most surprising reads of the year. It really was something special.


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Review: The Surface Breaks

Review: The Surface Breaks

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Beneath the sea, Muirgen patiently counts down the days to her fifteenth birthday where she can finally see the world above hers, but only for a quick moment as her controlling father urges her to keep her head down below. On what should be her first and only visit, she is drawn to a human boy and decides that she too wants to be a part of his world. But doing so risks her place in the sea, but this little mermaid will do anything to find her place.

The Surface Breaks is an O’Neill novel for a YA audience, and she has done a brilliant job with it. Often described as a “feminist retelling” of The Little Mermaid, and it definitely does fit the description. Muirgen and her sisters live under the controlling thumb of their father, the Sea King. Angered by the loss of their mother years ago, his controlling behaviour and treatment of his daughters as mere property has them competing for his attention.

When Muirgen is enthralled by the human world, she finds herself asking for the help of the Sea Witch, an enigma of a character, a guardian of the Rusalkas — underwater creatures who were once human women that were abused. The merfolk despised them for their unruly behaviour but the Sea Witch assures they are but themselves which highlight a key theme to the novel: women who reclaimed what had been taken from them and unapologetically raise their voices when they’ve been told to stay quiet.

If I had to think of any flaw, it would be the depiction of the world and setting. I didn’t really find myself falling for the merfolk’s kingdom and the human world too felt underdeveloped. But the effect is minuscule and doesn’t affect my overall opinion of the book. The strength of the book is in the characters and journey of Muirgen.

Overall, The Surface Breaks is an interesting retelling of The Little Mermaid O’Neill has used the original tale brilliantly and adding her own flair and originality. I especially loved the added backstory to their mother. If you’re looking for a fairy tale with a touch of darkness and empowerment, this one is definitely for you.


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Review: I Wish You All The Best

Review: I Wish You All The Best

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

“Whatever happens, I wish you all the best, Ben De Backer.” 

Just three words have Ben De Backer kicked out of his family home and living with their estranged sister and brother-in-law. After coming out as nonbinary, they are forced to start life anew in a different school, aiming to keep a low profile. But any attempts by Ben to live their life unnoticed is quickly interrupted by Nathan Allan, a charismatic student, who decided to take Ben under his wing. Slowly, Ben comes out of their shell and what began as a horror story could very well have a happy ending. 

When Ben is rejected by their parents, they are taken in by their older sister, Hannah, who has also left home suddenly due to their parent’s judgemental behaviour. With ten years lost between them, they begin to work fixing the gap they have between them. I appreciated Hannah and how she finally had enough of her parent’s actions and decided to make a move to leave. Deaver portrays her struggle well, and I enjoyed how it intertwined with Ben’s life, and her actions still resonate in the current story. Hannah and Thomas, her husband, try their best to help Ben get settled into a new school and create a healthier and affirming environment for Ben to thrive in. They’re learning, and doing their best to do it right. 

A shining point in this story is Ben’s support system. It begins with Hannah, but it doesn’t stop there. Mariam is their online nonbinary mentor who provides much-needed support, but the online space creates some disconnect. They also meet with a therapist who allows Ben to address what they’ve faced in a safe environment, allowing them to tackle their anxiety in a space that suits them. Ben also meets unlikely friends in school, including Nathan who brings in his friends and Ben thrives in their new environment. Ben still has trouble, but that’s okay because for once, they can think of a future that isn’t so unstable. 

I managed to get this book down in under three hours, and it was time well spent. Ben’s story is a much-needed one. Ben’s fear felt so real, and it showed on-page. They may have left their home, but their parent’s reaction isn’t far off from their mind, reminding them that everything they have now could go in an instant. Deaver’s debut begins with a tragic outcome but ends with a wholesome promise of a new beginning on one’s own terms. 

Overall, I Wish You All The Best is quiet but satisfying. A story about a nonbinary teen by a nonbinary author; this is a story that celebrates life amidst terrifying circumstances and is a shining example of what future contemporary YA literature has to offer. 


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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

After growing up under the watchful eye of her wealthy benefactor, Cornelius Locke, who employs her father to travel the world in search of unique oddities and treasures to add to his growing collection, January Scaller can’t help but feel part of the furniture: well kept but mostly ignored. However, when her father disappears, she discovers a book that sends her into the new worlds which lay behind secret doors. With an unlikely crew including the grocer’s son and a mysterious woman hired by her father, January begins her search which will ultimately question what she knows and the world around her.

It’s been a few days between finishing the book and writing the review you read now, and I’m kept thinking about it. So I’m not even sure how to explain what worked so well with this book. I didn’t even have any expectations for this book, and its cover mainly enticed me. However, when I finished reading, I was utterly enthralled. The open concept of the story seems so simple, but Harrow does such a great job at making it so unique, spinning a tale of love and loss and finding yourself after a long time. The characters stood so well on their own, but when they come together, they are a team to adore. This book is what I’d call a quiet read: nothing loud nor brutal. Harrow creates such an atmospheric tone that shone through this book entirely. As a child, a common daydream of mine was finding doors to new worlds, so January’s journey truly felt like a love letter to my own childhood dream. 

January is a young girl who feels lost until she accidentally discovers a book that opens her world beyond the Locke estate. Set in the early 1900s, January is aware of her privilege and her ability to live a life of wealth that most mixed-race girls would never have been granted. I also appreciated that the book didn’t shy away from racism, classism and sexism, especially for the period its set in. She discovers the existence of Doors that open into new worlds and learns about the true circumstance of her family history. Reading this book felt quite dreamlike, the writing so lyrical and immersive, a calling to those who wish to wander to lands beyond our wildest dreams. 

January as our protagonist is incredible, a fish out of water and must survive on her own for the first time in her life. I felt for her need to leave and discover life on her own terms. Jane, hired by January’s father, is equally compelling. Samuel, the grocer’s son, is lacking in characterisation but can’t really give it much fault as he isn’t as crucial to the story as the two leading ladies. The book also follows two others: Adelaide and Yule Ian, two people who cross many worlds to find each other, their story the most heartbreaking in my opinion. The villains are corrupted, faceless men who move in the shadows they have created, and are hellbent on making sure January doesn’t bring a flame to their power. 

Overall, I adored the Ten Thousand Doors of January. A charming and magical adventure about a girl who persevers in the face of resistance. A story I didn’t know I needed, but I will appreciate for a long time. 


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Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Review: The Black Veins (Dead Magic #1)

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the author in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

After Blythe witnesses her family being kidnapped right in front of her and her best friend injured, she’s forced into a road trip like no other. In search of other powerful magicians like her or “Guardians”, she must make her way to Electric City. But in a world where magic thrives and an imminent war between the two magician governments forces Blythes and her new friends to think on their feet and discover magic in a new way.

I found The Black Veins an interesting read. The writing is easy and enjoyable, and I found myself barrelling through the book with much ease, despite my own issue with the pacing. I particularly enjoyed the way Monet brings together all these teens who seemly have nothing in common. It was hilarious and sweet, watching them fall apart and come back together as a team. All the guardians have their own quirks that make them stand out. At first, I wasn’t too sure about the comedy aspects of this book, but I found it so funny, and I really loved how realistic all these teens came alive.

Blythe is the leader whose family kidnapping kickstarts her journey across the states. Slowly, she comes in contact with the guardians. Cordelia is a stuck up hacker, Daniel has never left his parents side, Antonio is confident and brash with a hilarious comedic flair. The last three I’ll keep unnamed were equally exciting and fun to experience.

I found the pacing to be quite the biggest pitfall for this book, and the lack of consistency in its pacing is where I struggled the most in the book. The overall journey we witness was quite exhilarating, and Ashia Monet is clearly a talented writer, but the story felt quite long and what we’re given in terms of worldbuilding doesn’t feel the gaps as well as I expected it to. Given the number of Guardians we meet, I feel like I didn’t really connect with the last three as much. But I do believe this is something that will most likely be worked upon in the sequel.  

Overall, I found The Black Veins to be a strong debut. A YA urban fantasy that follows a group of teenagers. I found their journey to becoming a found family quite sweet, and I would definitely recommend this book. I might just chalk my negativity as the result of myself never really enjoying the first book as much as the rest of the series. If you’re interested in an urban fantasy road trip that follows a ragtag group of teenagers with enough power to destroy the world basically, then The Black Veins is definitely a treat for readers. And considering the ending of The Black Veins, I’m excited to see what happens next.


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