#Review: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner #YASciFi #ScienceFiction #SeriesReview

Summer + COVID Lockdown = Jessica reading whatever the heck she wants!

I made the choice early on in the pandemic that I was going to dramatically slash my blog tour commitments and use my reading to feed happiness when the world descended into the symbolic dumpster fire that is 2020. So fair warning friends, the vast majority of the reviews that I post in the coming weeks are going to be YA, mostly fantasy, and probably part of a series that I started ages ago and just recently got around to finishing (because my heart needed to know the ending).

First up, This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner – the second book in the epic Starbound series.


shatteredTitle: This Shattered World

Series Title: Starbound

Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: December 23, 2014

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Themes: Romance, Rebellion, Cost of war, Fight the state

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The second installment in the epic Starbound trilogy introduces a new pair of star-crossed lovers on two sides of a bloody war.

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met.

Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion.

Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

Purchase Links:

Canada: https://amzn.to/3l8j8dY 

UK: https://amzn.to/34v5b3R

U.S.A.: https://amzn.to/2EqtuVQ

As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.


My Review

If you had told me that I would end up falling in love with a YA SciFi series heavy on the fuck-the-corporation sentiment (which I’m almost always there for) and heavier yet on the romance I would have laughed and said yeah right. But guess what? I’m kind of obsessed.

I checked out These Broken Stars a while back because it was available for immediate listening through my library’s Libby platform and because I had loved Kaufman’s collaboration on The Illuminae Files. I knew going into this series that there was going to be more focus on the romance than I typically enjoy, but I was looking for light and fun while still being cerebral, and I most definitely found it.

I adored the flipped gender roles with our heroine being the snarky and mysteriously resilient soldier, and the reluctant hero being an idealistic soft-boy pacifist (though why this has to be read as flipped gender roles is an entirely different discussion). They both exhibit and command different modes of loyalty and pathways to honour, and when combined together highlight the reality of disparate narratives on major issues.

At the start of the book they both start off firmly entrenched in their ideals but quickly fall into the grey space that comes with having their beliefs rocked to the core. This ambiguity provides the foundations for some serious character development and when combined with the generous exploration of their emotional wounds creates characters that are both easy to fall in love with and even easier to root for.

To top it all off, the enemies to lovers trope is used exceptionally well. While there is certainly a touch of instant attraction, this attraction remains an appreciation of physicality until the characters are given the grounds and opportunity to develop a legitimate romantic attraction. The romance is both sweet and complicated, but the challenges presented ultimately bring them together in realistic ways.

Normally a trilogy suffers from second book syndrome where the first book is amazing and does a fabulous job of setting the stage, book two carries things along and builds a lot of tension without a whole lot of action, and then book three is the big finale with all the fireworks. I am pleased to say that second book syndrome is not at all present here! In choosing to have each book focus on a different romantic arc with only cameos from the other instalments, This Shattered World is a self-contained bundle of excitement that doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘slow’.

The world building in this book is second to none. It’s got an extensive backstory layering historical precedent with political depth, and an evocative setting reminiscent of a cross between Higgin’s Moon from Firefly and Star War’s Dagobah. In stepping away from the empty world discovered by Lilac and Tarver and onto societally fraught Avon, we get to explore the whispers and the corporation that’s abused them from an entirely different angle. Readers are presented with corruption, class suppression, and bigotry at every turn and must work to unpack the messages buried beneath the action and romance.

Though this book was published nearly six years ago, I have no doubt that today’s teen readers would have no problem drawing parallels to the corporate and political corruption running rampant in the world today. It might be Sci-Fi, but all the best fiction has foundation in reality.  

#Review: The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall #YA #Fantasy #LGBTQ+

Have you ever gone back to read over old reviews and came across one that makes you stop in your tracks, and not in a good way? Well, recently I circled back to my review for The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea and was absolutely mortified with what I’d put down on the page. It was just… mean, and rude, and completely unacceptable on so many levels.

Let me be clear. I ADORED this book.

So for anyone who read my original review – I am so sorry. And to Maggie Tokuda-Hall and the team that made this amazing book a reality – I simply can’t apologize enough. I was a dick. And it’s time to set things right.

A revised (read completely rewritten) review is now posted below.


mermaidTitle: The Mermaid The Witch and The Sea

Author: Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Fantasy

Themes: Colonialism, Imperialism, Pirates, Romance, Arranged Marriages, Family

Features: LGBTQ+ rep, diverse characters


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

A desperate orphan turned pirate and a rebellious imperial daughter find a connection on the high seas in a world divided by colonialism and threaded with magic.

Aboard the pirate ship Dove, Flora the girl takes on the identity of Florian the man to earn the respect and protection of the crew. For Flora, former starving urchin, the brutal life of a pirate is about survival: don’t trust, don’t stick out, and don’t feel. But on this voyage, as the pirates prepare to sell their unsuspecting passengers into slavery, Flora is drawn to the Lady Evelyn Hasegawa, who is en route to a dreaded arranged marriage with her own casket in tow. Flora doesn’t expect to be taken under Evelyn’s wing, and Evelyn doesn’t expect to find such a deep bond with the pirate Florian.

Soon the unlikely pair set in motion a wild escape that will free a captured mermaid (coveted for her blood, which causes men to have visions and lose memories) and involve the mysterious Pirate Supreme, an opportunistic witch, and the all-encompassing Sea itself.


My Review

When it comes to YA fantasy I love a western-inspired courtly drama featuring a not-so-helpless heroine as much as the next girl, but the minute you mention pirates you can forget the courts and castles gimme some ships, a set of morally grey characters, and a little adventure and everything else takes a back seat. And let me tell you, this baby did not disappoint – it has it all!

  • pirates – check
  • badass characters – check
  • sapphic romance – check
  • a gender fluid MC – hella check!
  • diversity in character representation – yup, yup, yup!
  • noticeable non-western influences & perspective – I see you
  • the sea as a nascent being – um, yes please, more of this
  • timid characters that turn out to be secretly shabby – check
  • unconventional mermaids – check
  • oodles of betrayal and plot twists – don’t get too comfy my friends
  • complicated family dynamics for some added drama – I mean, I know characters are supposed to have emotional wounds to make them grounded and all that, but why’d you gotta go and hurt me so good?
  • and, say it with me, WITCHES!

Yes, this baby has pirates and witches all bundled up into one delightfully action packed adventure. It is… *chef’s kiss*. An as complicated as everything gets towards the climax, it all just makes sense. There is never an easy out to a difficult situation, societal roles and expectations are nearly inescapable, magic doesn’t just miraculous happen – it’s difficult to learn and comes at an extraordinarily high price, and you can’t just run away and become a pirate for funsies – there are serious consequences. The consistency in adherence to this internal logic makes this book both emotionally fraught and easy to get attached to. You know what’s going to, or could, happen and you still end up with all the feels when the event takes place. Again with the hurts so good!

There’s a beautiful balance between world building, character development, action, and romance that will pull you through some of the most creative settings I’ve seen in a good long while. But it’s not all fluff and fancy. This book dives deep into some tough topics like imperialism, misogyny, slavery, and cultural genocide. And all without every coming across as trying to ‘teach’ the reader anything. The critiques are there to spark though and likely make more than a few readers uncomfortable in the best possible way (hello introspection, my old friend). But, the option is always there to engage in this discourse as deeply as the reader desires. Just reading for the high seas, high stakes action? Suspend your disbelief and carry on. Want to unpack some serious societal critiques? Get your tissues and punching bags ready.

The only place where I stumbled a little was the writing style for a few of the characters. On the whole, the writing is lyrical, imaginative, and highly evocative. But there were a few perspectives where I found the shift in style to be somewhat jarring. However, my discomfort lasted only a short while and I soon acclimatized to all the different voices, and was gobbling up every word regardless of which POV it came from.

Altogether this is a phenomenal read that doesn’t get near enough of the hype that it genuinely deserves. Bring on book two, baby, I am here for it.


Many thanks to NetGalley for proving a copy in exchange for an honest review.

#Blogtour #Review: The Ringmaster’s Daughter by Carly Schabowski @carlyschab11 @Bookouture #BooksOnTour

The Ringmaster's Daughter - Blog Tour

Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Ringmaster’s Daughter by Carly Schabowski. This book takes two of my great loves – WWII Fiction and the circus (once upon a time I dreamt of being a german wheel and lyra performer) – and weaves them beautifully together. If you’re in the mood for some romance set against harrowing odds and a rag-tag troupe of misfits who redefine the idea of family, then I highly suggest you pick this one up.


The-Ringmasters-Daughter-KindleTitle: The Ringmaster’s Daughter

Author: Carly Schabowski

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication Date: July 7, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: WWII, Survival, Friendship, Romance, The Circus


Synopsis

Circus people don’t ask who you were before, or what god you believe in… when you join the circus, you are family, whatever your past.

Paris, 1940. Twenty-year-old Michel Bonnet lives on the edge of the law, finding work where he can breaking in horses on the outskirts of the city. But when the Nazis invade, Michel takes refuge as a stowaway on a rickety train bound for the rural south. It’s a journey that will change his life forever.

The train is property of Le Cirque Neumann – a travelling circus owned by the troubled and irritable showman Werner Neumann. Neumann offers Michel a job caring for the company’s horses – a lucky break, but with an unusual condition attached. Michel must keep to himself and never speak of what he sees behind the glittering curtain of the big top.

But as Michel finds himself pulled into the strange and wondrous world of the great spectacular it becomes more difficult to keep his promise. Why does the man with the performing monkey never speak, and the sword swallower turn his face away? Who are the silent, shadowy figures who flit like moths between the wagons when the sun is down? It’s clear that Neumann is keeping his performers hidden away… but why?

And how can Michel win the love of the beautiful and exotic trapeze artist Freida – the graceful, green-eyed star of Neuman’s spectacular – when he’s been forbidden to even meet her gaze?

A heartbreaking and uplifting wartime novel– perfectforfansofWater for ElephantsThe Nightingale and The Tattooist of Auschwitz. 

Purchase Links:


Review

I knew from the blurb that I was going to love this book, and love it I did.

Packed full with mystery, drama, fear, and romance there is a little something for most lovers of WWII fiction here. I have always been drawn to the enigma that is the circus, and Schabowski’s writing captures the close-knit and notoriously exclusive attitude of a troupe with vivid clarity. Everything from the domineering ringmaster to the little cliques and even the divisions between workers and performers felt incredibly authentic.

And while I adored the representation, I really appreciated that circus life – especially circus life during the second world ward – wasn’t overly glamourized. Schabowski exposes the haphazard fabric, smoke, and mirrors that go into making any show run – from the cheap jewels and tattered tents, to old lions the magic of nightfall and and a few strings of light brings to the surface how illusory these experiences are. Everyone struggles to eat, struggles to earn, and above all else, struggles to stay out of the sights of German troops drawing closer by the day.

All of the the characters are likeable, but the story centres around Michel and his last-minute flight from Paris. But it quickly becomes about much more than his personal plight as he is slowly let into the inner-circle of a tight-knit group. He collects friendships and suspicions in equal number, begins to appreciate the beauty of diverse communities, and watches helplessly as the war begin to take its toll and whittle their numbers down. All of the fear and fight for survival is interwoven with moments of love and lust and longing, true friendship, and the terrible cost of sacrifices that have to be made for the common good.

Though I found the Ringmaster Werner to be a prickly, unlikeable fellow at first, he soon grew to be one of my favourite characters in the book. His method of induction might be that of trial by fire, but once you’re in he’d give the shirt off his back to protect you. And he might initially come off as indifferent towards his animals, but really he’s just a great big teddy bear inside trying to provide a life for anyone and anything that he can.

The romantic arc is sweet and so full of longing that you feel it in your back teeth. It’s full of red-herrings and dangerous assumptions that set people off on the wrong path, but it certainly makes for a good laugh when it all comes together. It will keep you guessing as to why our lovebirds can’t be together, and it will definitely keep you rooting for love to overcome the odds.

If WWII fiction and stories about found families are your jam, then this one might just be for you. Sumptuous and emotional, this story will pull at your heartstrings and stoke the fires of the imagination in the space of a page. If you’re looking for a summer read that will stick with you through the darkness of winter, this is it!


About the Author

Carly Pic 2Carly Schabowski worked as a journalist in both North Cyprus and Australia before returning to Oxford, where she studied for an MA and then a PhD in creative writing at Oxford Brookes University. Carly now teaches at Oxford Brookes University as an associate lecturer in Creative Writing for first and second-year English literature students.
Twitter:  @carlyschab11

Many thanks to Sarah Hardy at Bookouture for inviting me to participate in the Blog Tour.

 

 

 

#Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor #YA #MG #Fantasy

If you’re looking for a thrilling MG/ YA fantasy read that has as much action as it does substance, then look no further, Akata Witch has it all. And don’t let the age of the MC fool you – this is the kind of book that will appeal to middle grade, young adult, and adult reader alike.


akataTitle: Akata Witch

Series: Akata Witch #1

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Viking Children’s

Original Publication: April 14, 2011

Audiobook Publication Date: March 30, 2018 (Tantor Audio)

Read By: Yetide Badaki

Genre: YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Fantasy, Middle Grade Fiction, Middle Grade Fantasy


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Akata Witch transports the reader to a magical place where nothing is quite as it seems. Born in New York, but living in Aba, Nigeria, twelve-year old Sunny is understandably a little lost. She is albino and thus, incredibly sensitive to the sun. All Sunny wants to do is be able to play football and get through another day of school without being bullied. But once she befriends Orlu and Chichi, Sunny is plunged in to the world of the Leopard People, where your worst defect becomes your greatest asset. Together, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi and Sasha form the youngest ever Oha Coven. Their mission is to track down Black Hat Otokoto, the man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children. Will Sunny be able to overcome the killer with powers stronger than her own, or will the future she saw in the flames become reality?

Purchase this book in Canada, the U.S.A., or the UK.

As an Amazon Affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.


My Review

Following 12 year old Sunny as she embarks on a journey of magic, friendship, and self discovery with a healthy side of saving the world this is the kind of book that hooks you from the beginning and keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very last words. It’s filled with a beautiful range of characters from the eclectic personalities of the Oha Coven, to complex villains, and some incredible mentors to help the kids along their way. It’s got a healthy dose of teenaged angst and some turbulent emotions, but more than anything it’s got a group of outsiders coming together to find their community and I am so here for it.

While there are definitely some familiar tropes that are popular in genre I think it’s important not to play the comparison game. Yes, there are a group of kids that have discovered that they’re magical, they’re attending a secret school unknown to the mainstream world, and they have to come together to defeat a villain who wants to release an unimaginable evil on the world. But I love it when someone takes an existing trope and breathes a new and unique life into it. Okorafo’s magic system is beautifully crafted and infused with culture, deep learning, and genuine consequences for using power. And unlike some series that fall into the magic school category, Akata Witch places significantly more emphasis on celebrating differences and finding community rather than categorically dividing people based on personality traits or lineage.

If there is one thing I’m going to complain about it’s the constant descriptions of food. Seriously. It’s always described in such sumptuous detail that I was hungry the whole damned time I was reading. Honesty though, I thought this was a touch of genius as it highlights the connection that food has to family, feelings, and culture. It creates a grounding and constant thread through all the trials and tribulations that our kiddos face.

There were a few moments, especially when it came to the various romantic arcs in the book, where I questioned whether certain actions were realistic for characters of their age. But the reality is that 12 year olds have crushes, find people attractive, steal kisses, and often have older friends that have even done a little more. I have seen a number of reviews coming down particularly hard on Chichi for being unrealistic and have to respectfully disagree. While Sunny is only 12, it’s important to remember that Chichi is, in fact, a young woman. There are a number of times that Okorafor mentions that not only is Chichi the oldest member of the Oha Coven, but that none of the other kids know her exact age. From what I can guess she’s likely in her mid-to-late teens and from this, both her relationship and impulsive teen-like behaviour are exactly on point for her age. This age disparity creates a nuanced depiction of group dynamics amongst friends of different ages. It highlights the camaraderie and loyalty amongst friends as much as their differences, as well as providing a tender exploration of the challenges of growing up.

Altogether this was an incredible read. It’s beautifully written, expertly narrated if you opt to listen to the audiobook, and transports you to a magical world that will leave you wanting more. It’s an absolutely must read.

Like the sound of this book? Buy it here.


I borrowed this audiobook from my public library as a result of blogger recommendations, all opinions are my own.

 

#Blogtour #Extract: In Two Minds by K. T. Findlay @rararesources #HistoricalFiction

In Two Minds

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for K.T. Findlay’s medieval historical fiction novel In Two Minds. If you’re a fan on time-slip novels or alternative history, check out the excerpt below!


In Two Minds CoverTitle: In Two Minds

Series: The Prince Wulfstan Series

Author: K. T. Findlay

Publication Date: November 1, 2019

Genre: Historical Fiction, Alternative History

Themes: Medieval History, Time Displacement


Synopsis

Hurled twelve hundred years into the past, into someone else’s body, things could hardly be worse. And then the body’s owner wanted it back…

Museum curator Thomas and ten year old Anglo Saxon Wulfstan have to cope with a fifty year age gap, a huge culture clash and never knowing from one moment to the next who’s going to be in control.

As they’re trying to come to terms with it all, they inadvertently antagonise Wulfstan’s father, King Offa of Mercia. The King is already frustrated with his son’s “late” development and issues the boy a challenge. Wulfstan is given just a year to find and train ten slaves who can beat the King’s own champions in a fight to the death, but there’s a twist.

When his son accepts the challenge, Offa turns the screws to make him back down and limits him to females only. In the brute strength world of Anglo Saxon battle they surely haven’t a chance, but Thomas convinces Wulfstan that if they can find the right people, a few new ideas and enough practice might just give those women the tools to become the heroes Wulfstan so desperately needs.


Extract

The extract takes place in the palace market the day after Rowena and Berthilda have joined Thomas and Wulfstan’s team. They’re taking advantage of the fact the market sells the best horses in the country.

‘Now,” he said, “I believe you’re a pretty good horsewoman too. Let’s go and choose our mounts.’

Being the palace marketplace with the King in residence, some of the finest horses in the country were there. They did an initial check of all three horse merchants to see just what was on offer, before they settled down to the selection process.

‘We’ll start with one for you Hengist.’ said Wulfstan.

‘But I already have a horse Your Highness.’ said Hengist.

‘That’s true, but he’s your personal mount. I’m going to get you one specifically for our challenge. That way, if anything happens to it, you’ll still have your own. Now, go and choose one, and don’t worry about the money. You can get your own back on my father at this point!’ he laughed.

Hengist grinned, a little sheepishly, then picked out a beautiful piebald stallion that at 14 hands was one of the biggest in the country. He also seemed to have a mind of his own, but Hengist was confident he could handle him.

Rowena fell for an almost pure white gelding. The horse was beautifully muscled, yet gentle in nature. When she was astride it, with her glorious red hair and pale complexion, the effect was otherworldly.

Berthilda chose a lovely roan gelding with three white feet. He wasn’t quite as good looking as the other two horses, but handsome enough and Berthilda sensed something in him. He in turn seemed to bond almost instantly with her.

That left Wulfstan, but at this precise moment he found himself outside the body again, watching Thomas.

‘Bother! I could get really tired of this!’ he shouted. ‘Oh well, we both want the same one, so go get him Thomas.’

From the moment they’d seen him, Thomas and Wulfstan’s hearts had settled on an almost pure black gelding. Its muscles rippled under the sheen of its coat as it stood proud and aloof, held by the merchant’s servant.

The boy was bored and began to play a game, tossing the end of the lead rope into the air and catching it in the same hand. The higher he tossed it, the less accurate he became, and eventually he got it wrong. The end knot landed heavily on the horse’s nose, causing it to flick its head in alarm. The boy took the blow full in the face and was sent flying. The merchant rushed up and prepared to strike the horse with his whip, but Thomas leapt between them and held up his hand to stop him.

‘Your Highness!’ called Hengist. ‘You should stay back! He could flatten you!’

Thomas turned slowly to face the horse, who watched him warily. He held out his hands in front of him, open, showing he had nothing in them before taking a step slowly towards the animal. The horse stepped skittishly away, keeping the distance the same.

Thomas cocked his head to one side, dropped his shoulder, and snaked his head gently towards it.

The horse stood still, watching carefully.

Then Thomas turned his body so he was parallel to the horse, and again cocked and snaked his head.

The horse remained still.

Another couple of rounds of this and Thomas was next to the horse. He held up the back of his hand, limp, so the horse could smell him. It began to nuzzle him gently, and in turn allowed Thomas to softly stroke its nose.

Within a minute it was calm enough for Thomas to nestle his forehead into its neck. The horse lowered its own head over Thomas’ shoulder, and closed its eyes in pleasure as the little human scratched it behind the ears.

‘We’ll take him.’ said Thomas.

The others were watching him with astonishment. He shrugged his shoulders with an embarrassed smile. ‘I just behaved like a horse. I used my body like another horse would, and he understood I meant him no harm.’

‘But where did you learn how to do that?’ asked the merchant. ‘It’s like magic!’

Thomas shook his head. ‘No. Not like magic. I’ve been watching horses for a long time, and learned how they behave, how they move. I thought that if I tried to speak their language, it might help, and it did. Berthilda does it too if you watch her. That’s why she’s so good with them. They trust her.’

‘I do that?’ asked Berthilda.

‘Sort of, only you’re much better than I am. For you it’s a natural thing. You’re just not aware you do it. But how many others can ride with no reins? Very few. The reason you can, is that they trust you, and you’re directing them with your legs. That’s all they need from you. It’s a gift, but it isn’t magic.’


About the Author

In Two KT FIndlay above swing bridge 1 - CroppedK.T. Findlay lives on a small farm where he dovetails his writing with fighting the blackberry and convincing the quadbike that killing its rider isn’t a vital part of its job description.

Follow K.T. Findlay

Webpage : www.ktfindlay.com


Many thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in the Blog Tour.