It’s time for another bunch of reviews! I’ve finished a few things recently but wanted to group them all together 🙂 This bunch includes a lot of upcoming books that I finally got to and wanted to talk about and one that’s already out that people NEED to check out! Let’s jump right in!
Title: House of Dragons (House of Dragons #1)
Author: Jessica Cluess
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: May 12th 2020 from Random House
Format: Library eBook
Goodreads Synopsis: Five royal houses will hear the call to compete in the Trial for the dragon throne. A liar, a soldier, a servant, a thief, and a murderer will answer it. Who will win? Think THREE DARK CROWNS meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB with DRAGONS.
When the Emperor dies, the five royal houses of Etrusia attend the Call, where one of their own will be selected to compete for the throne. It is always the oldest child, the one who has been preparing for years to compete in the Trial. But this year is different. This year these five outcasts will answer the call. . . .
THE LIAR: Emilia must hide her dark magic or be put to death.
THE SOLDIER: Lucian is a warrior who has sworn to never lift a sword again.
THE SERVANT: Vespir is a dragon trainer whose skills alone will keep her in the game.
THE THIEF: Ajax knows that nothing is free–he must take what he wants.
THE MURDERER: Hyperia was born to rule and will stop at nothing to take her throne.
I had read this author’s debut novel A Shadow Bright and Burning in the early days of this blog and I really loved it. So when her dragon book was announced, I was excited but had forgotten about it until it was closer to the release date. So I got the eBook on hold from my library’s Overdrive app and I actually got it on release day! This book has one of the best opening lines ever and it immediately sucked me in! This book was a ride from beginning to end and this is a new release you NEED to get to if you love dragons, a great ensemble cast and YA fantasy books.
The first thing I loved was the world building! This world is huge with five different families ruling the different continents. There’s also five different dragons for each nation and you can see the designs for each dragon on the cover! But the lore of how the Empire got started, conflicting histories, clashing ideas, political machinations and the mystery of the Chaos powers was really cool. I also loved how each character was chosen for this Emperor’s Trial. Some where the wrong person chosen, compared to who people thought would compete and one person (*cough* Hyperia *cough*) took her spot out of anger and drive. It makes the stakes and the plot even more interesting when most of the characters chosen for this trial were the wrong people.
Next, let’s talk characters! We have Emilia (the liar) who keeps her dark power a secret. She’s afraid of her power and doesn’t want to get close to anyone because of this power. She knows Lucian (the soldier) from childhood and while she cares for him, her powers make things complicated. With Lucian, he was a soldier turned aspiring monk before he’s chosen for the the trial. He’s a good guy who never wants to a weapon again and wants to atone for the bad things he’s done. Then, we have Vespir, a girl who takes care of dragons and treated like dirt by the noble family she serves. She’s in love with the noble daughter and really doesn’t want to be in trial. Then, there’s Ajax, the 27th bastard child of a nobleman (the thief) whose chosen and he will do anything to become Emperor for reasons only he knows. Then…we have Hyperia (the murderer) who is crazy and ruthless and takes her place in the trial by force. I love how different each character was, how they handled each trial and even how they grow (or maybe get worse) from these trials. Most of them don’t want to the spot for Emperor/Empress at first, but that changes with the things they find out. I like that these characters had to really fight and struggle, with themselves, the trials and the politics! I have a major pet peeve when I feel like a character never actually seems challenged by their circumstances, but the author brings her A game and this group goes through a lot. These trials show these characters that they are not invincible and that they don’t know everything.
I rooted for Emilia, Lucian and Ajax the most in this book. I loved with Emilia how she fought against who she was with her powers. Her fear is understandable but there’s a few ways that she uses her power to her advantage that made her more interesting. She was clearly one of the underdogs that I cared for right from the beginning. I liked Lucian’s admirable actions, seeing how he hates who he was in his solider days and how he never wants to raise a weapon again. He also cares for Emilia and I liked that they never gave up on each other. I smell a romance between the two but it’s really sweet. Then there’s Ajax, the smart mouthed bastard child who takes what he wants and isn’t afraid to do what’s necessary. His reasons for wanting to be Emperor are personal and I liked seeing some of his true self in the book. Plus his bond with this dragon Dog (DOG IS THE BEST DRAGON EVER, LONG LIVE DOG!!!)
Vespir was too whiny and a bit of a wuss for most of this book, so she was okay. Hyperia however was interesting. She’s complex in her actions and also her thoughts. I like how she was made to be a layered instead of a one dimensional killer. I was wondering where her character was going to go! I’m especially interested where her arc goes in the sequel after the ending.
Next is the plot! I hardly had any idea of where this story was going to go! We have the different parts of the trial that the characters have to face, but besides that, I liked not knowing how things would turn out. How the different tests were won and handled, as far as some big truths revealed later really gave this book the entertainment and fast pace I was looking for. The author doesn’t give you a lot of information regarding this Emperor’s Trial, so I love that most of it is pretty much unknown, since contestants cannot talk about it. Plus, the world is also mysterious to our cast of characters so I like that the reader learns about the history, politics and major truths along with the characters. That’s my favorite kind of story and I was sucked in the whole time. But there was one thing that I’m still mad at the author for doing! I’m not going to spoil it but man I hated this certain part. Then finally, the ending opens up a new plot thread for the next book. I did sense that this ending was coming but that’s not a bad thing. I like seeing the vague idea of where the sequel and finale is going to go 🙂
There’s just a small con that I have that prevented it from being a 5 star book. I think that the found family aspect wasn’t quite developed enough for me. I’ve read books like The Way of Kings, The Gilded Wolves and Aurora Rising that have memorable and a very strong found family. I do think the group in this book had a few good moments together, but honestly, it was slightly underdeveloped. While I think there is room for this to be stronger in the next book, it could’ve been strengthened more in this first book to make us care even more for the next book.
Overall: This was really awesome from beginning to end! Jessica Cluess gives us a great series opener with awesome dragons (A.K.A DOG), great plot machinations, great struggles from the characters and great world building. Please don’t sleep on this if you love dragons and YA fantasy in general. This author is so talented and this was book was a thrill ride from beginning to end. I read this book at the right time, since I’m still struggling from the hangover that Aurora Burning gave me. This is a must read!
Rating: .5 stars
Title: Half Llife
Author: Lillian Clark
Genre: YA Contemporary/Science Fiction
Release Date: June 9th 2020 from Random House
Format: NetGalley ARC
Goodreads Synopsis: An overachiever enrolls in an experimental clone study to prove that two (of her own) heads are better than one in this fast-paced, near-future adventure that’s Black Mirror meets Becky Albertalli.
There aren’t enough hours in the day for Lucille–perfectionist, overachiever–to do everything she has to do, and there certainly aren’t enough hours to hang out with friends, fall in love, get in trouble–all the teenage things she knows she should want to be doing instead of preparing for a flawless future. So when she sees an ad for Life2: Do more. Be more, she’s intrigued.
The company is looking for beta testers to enroll in an experimental clone program, and in the aftermath of a series of disappointments, Lucille is feeling reckless enough to jump in. At first, it’s perfect: her clone, Lucy, is exactly what she needed to make her life manageable and have time for a social life. But it doesn’t take long for Lucy to become more Lucy and less Lucille, and Lucille is forced to stop looking at Lucy as a reflection and start seeing her as a window–a glimpse at someone else living her own life, but better. Lucy does what she really wants to, not what she thinks she should want to, and Lucille is left wondering how much she was even a part of the perfect life she’d constructed for herself. Lucille wanted Lucy to help her relationships with everyone else, but how can she do that without first rectifying her relationship with herself?
DNF @ 37%
I first heard of this book when I saw the author speak at a book event with Kelly Coon who wrote Gravemaidens last November! This author talked about this book she had written and I was interested in it after hearing her talk about it. The idea of a girl getting cloned sounded interesting, but ultimately, I’m sad to admit that I think that my age is showing and I couldn’t finish this book. I felt like this protagonist was too one dimensional with her rude, abrasive and off putting personality that there was nothing else to her that made her interesting. I always feel like protagonist should have a quality, quirk or interesting thing about them that makes you want to keep reading. But I didn’t entirely see that. She’s a very rude person whose trash to her best friend, only thinks about herself but that’s it about her. Then, she gets the invite from Life2 and she gets the chance to get cloned.
While this isn’t a long book and I could have finished it, I decided not too. I’m of the thought that if you’re not enjoying a book, it’s not nice to make yourself finish something you don’t like. While the ideas of the cloning was interesting and I liked the way that some of the science was explained, that was about it. Besides Lucille being quite the rude and uptight teenager, I never saw WHY she was such an overachiever. Her parents aren’t making her get those high grades and get into a good college. I saw no pressure from anyone towards her to make her be that way. While it could just be internal, I never saw the reason why she was that way. I’m sure that there is some character stuff that’s explained later that I have missed on, but I think having a small explanation of why she’s such an overachiever in the beginning could’ve help ground her character and make her a bit more human. I knew kids like her in school who got super high grades and focused really hard on school, but they did because they either wanted to be a lawyer or doctor or their parents made them do it. But I feel like Lucille never had a reason and she just seemed to like being an uptight teenager and I wasn’t here for that. If this turns you off as a reader, I would skip this one…
Title: Hunted by the Sky (The Wrath of Ambar #1)
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: June 23rd 2020 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan)
Format: Edelweiss ARC
Goodreads Synopsis: Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.
Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort… a world with secrets deadlier than their own.
DNF @ 17%
I downloaded this ARC clear back last fall (October I believe) when I was able to download YA titles from Macmillan on Edelweiss. I loved the cover and the synopsis sounded interesting. But…it sat on my Kindle shelf for a long time until I tried to see if it could help me finish a prompt for Medieval-a-Thon. But sadly, this was another DNF for me and the reason is kind of a sad one: the quality of this story felt like an early 2000’s YA fantasy. I primarily read YA and over the past 5 years, I have read much better quality books than this one. This one felt like it was 10+ years old, despite the fact that it’s a 2020 release. But I could never get into this story. It felt very childish, like it was a much lower YA or even middle grade writing and the younger protagonist. There was a also a female general, one of the antagonists, who read too much like Keris (the Commandant from An Ember in the Ashes). This book felt like a good draft, but not polished enough. The world was not quite established, the sudden harshness of the first chapter replaced with lots of info dumping and silly shenanigans and the main thread that the synopsis mentions is just mentioned but never really takes off in the beginning.
I usually give books longer than 17% to see how it develops, but since I couldn’t completely connect to the story and how it didn’t really feel serious. The bad generals liked to inflict pain because that’s what bad guys do and the first boy you encounter is the one you’re gonna fall in love with. These tropes are starting to get old for me personally. I think young teens who are just getting into fantasy might want to give this a try, but I have read better stuff that stood out more than this title. But I do want to try her debut novel A Girl Like That, since I have heard good things about her more serious contemporary book. But this was a real miss…
Title: The Jewel Thief
Author: Jeannie Mobley
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Historical Romance
Release Date: May 26th 2020 from Viking Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Format: Edelweiss ARC
Goodreads Synopsis: A lush, slow-burn romance set in 17th century France, and centered around the broken history of the Hope Diamond– the high-society intrigue of Richelle Mead’s Glittering Court series meets the romance of Melissa de la Cruz’s Alex and Eliza.
In the depths of the Bastille, sixteen-year-old Juliet Pitau sits cold and filthy in her cell. Charged with stealing what has come to be known as the Hope Diamond from King Louis XIV, she has one final chance to convince the King that her motives were pure. If she fails, this night may be her last. Recording her confession is Rene, a scribe for the king and the man she loves. But Rene won’t even look her way, let alone begin to forgive her for her betrayal of him.
Before Juliet was imprisoned, she was the daughter of the finest gem cutter in all of Paris. The young King Louis XIV hand-selected Jean Pitau to be his crown jeweler, the only man who could make him shine like the sun. When Louis purchases the Tavernier Violet, a large, deep-blue diamond the likes of which the French court has never seen, Jean is tasked with turning it brilliant. But Juliet’s father has never cut a diamond quite like this–and shaping it is risky business. While Jean spirals into depression, Juliet takes it upon herself to have the diamond cut for the King. But with every misstep, she brings her family closer to ruin, and closer to probable death at morning’s light once Louis casts his sentence.
When I was approved for this title on Edelweiss, I was shocked! For those of you who use Edelweiss, you’ll notice that Penguin is a very picky publisher who hardly approves anyone who isn’t a bookseller for their titles. But I did get approved for this book and Goddess in the Machine (last review, down below), I was ready to give this one a try. This book is centered around the famous Hope Diamond, which is one of the most famous gems in the world. It’s a rare blue diamond and in 1678, King Louis did commission his crown jeweler to shape this rare diamond for him. It’s been on permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History since 1958. But according to the author’s note, some historical events and our protagonist’s father (Jean Pitau) and a few side characters were real people.
Since this book was based around a real object and time in history, and there’s a heist involved in the book, I was excited for this book. I love historical fiction and I’ve read quite a few YA titles that are based in Paris. But while I was somewhat hyped for this book, this was ultimately a disappointment for a few reasons. The romance is extremely cheesy and feels like it’s all told to you and not shown, somewhat slow pacing and I also don’t agree with a story style the author chose. Since Juliet is telling this story about her father got the diamond, how he made it and how it was stolen, the author makes this entire story be told to you. We don’t actually go into the past with Juliette as she tells her story. Instead, all the foreshadowing of stuff like “we knew what happened next” or “the worst was yet to come” and that would ruin any kind of tension that was built in the story. Juliet and Rene are lovers, since they met before her father got the diamond. Their romance is “on the rocks” as she’s telling this story, so all the hurt and emotion is there as she tries to tell the story. I just didn’t like we are told everything that happened and given so much foreshadowing that bad things were gonna happen or things were gonna change. I wish would’ve had past chapters from Juliette’s POV but be in those moments as she goes through her experiences like normal historical fiction stories. If the author had two timelines, a past and a future one but kept separate, the story would’ve been much stronger and held more actual tension, mystery or emotion.
The next biggest thing that bugged me was Juliette as a character. This girl was stupid, foolish and kept putting people in danger! She never once thought through her plans, never did good disguises or even suspected people who were sketchy. There’s a section where she goes to a high class lady to get valuable information. Juliette was told by several people to not trust this woman too much. So what does Juliette do? She lets her guard down and while she does get her information, she is sexually harassed and humiliated. But it’s only after this happens that she thinks that she shouldn’t have trusted them. She never listens to advice she’s given, especially when it can keep her family alive. She is so selfishly driven to get this diamond made that she puts people she cares about at risk. I can respect that she wishes to clear her father’s name and help him achieve success, but I could not believe the level of her stupidity. If she had thought things through and communicated better, than a lot of things wouldn’t have screwed up.
But I will say that I was fascinated by the jewelry aspect. Since Juliette’s father is the crown jeweler, I loved learning how jewels and gems were cut and fashioned. Its a skill I don’t know anything about and the author did do her research on it. I liked seeing how some gem techniques have to use math and angles and how one mistake can ruin it. I liked how the technique to make the diamond what it is now was secret. I also liked how ruthless King Louis was and how Paris felt like the time period. The author did do her research on how setting, the politics, discrimination of the time period and also the gem cutter skills. I also did want to read to the end to find out what happened to the diamond and how Juliette escaped her fate.
Overall: While I liked a couple aspects of this book, this really felt like a rough draft. The way the author tells the story was something I severely disagree with and Juliette was too stupid and really put people at risk. I think she had some smarts, but the author just made her a lovesick and selfish girl who never thought anything through and was too trusting. This had potential, but it really missed the mark. But I am glad that I read it to the end and learning some history was also a plus. If you like historical fiction and this sounds interesting, do check it out but know that there are better YA books set in Paris.
Title: Goddess in the Machine (Goddess in the Machine #1)
Author: Lora Beth Johnson (Debut)
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Release Date: June 30th 2020 from Razorbill (Penguin)
Format: Physical ARC via publisher request
Goodreads Synopsis: Not only that, but she’s in a hot, dirty cave, it’s the year 3102, and everyone keeps calling her Goddess. When Andra went into a cryonic sleep for a trip across the galaxy, she expected to wake up in a hundred years, not a thousand. Worst of all, the rest of the colonists–including her family and friends–are dead. They died centuries ago, and for some reason, their descendants think Andra’s a deity. She knows she’s nothing special, but she’ll play along if it means she can figure out why she was left in stasis and how to get back to Earth.
Zhade, the exiled bastard prince of Eerensed, has other plans. Four years ago, the sleeping Goddess’s glass coffin disappeared from the palace, and Zhade devoted himself to finding it. Now he’s hoping the Goddess will be the key to taking his rightful place on the throne–if he can get her to play her part, that is. Because if his people realize she doesn’t actually have the power to save their dying planet, they’ll kill her.
With a vicious monarch on the throne and a city tearing apart at the seams, Zhade and Andra might never be able to unlock the mystery of her fate, let alone find a way to unseat the king, especially since Zhade hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with Andra. And a thousand years from home, is there any way of knowing that Earth is better than the planet she’s woken to?
Since I saw this cover and read the synopsis a while ago on Goodreads, this became SUCH a highly anticipated release for me! So when I got this physical ARC in the email right before the virus stuff got crazy, I was ECSTATIC! I had gotten such an anticipated book from the publisher and I was so ready to dive in! I will say right off that this is one of the most genius, creative and awesome YA science fiction books out there! If you love the genre, you have to try this! This book tackles science fiction in a different way compared to other books in the genre. In this book, technology is now regarded as “magic”, there’s a whole new dialect and the main character is worshiped as a goddess when she wakes up. So while this wasn’t a 5 star read, this was still a great ride with great twists and an overall great debut!
First I have to talk about the new setting and dialect. Our protagonist Andra wakes up 1000 years in the future in the year 3102, much later than she thought. Everyone she would’ve known is dead and she has no idea where she is. Then, this mysterious boy who speaks strangely says that she’s a goddess and she tries to figure out what’s happened in the past 1000 years. But the people in this new land have a strange way of speaking, with some new words meaning other things that we know as humans. The author was inspired to write this book from a linguistics class she had taken, so I love seeing what people could possibly be speaking far into the future. A lot of the new words are easy to interpret as well. This world is also very dirty, primitive with wood buildings, dirt floors and rough spun clothing. I liked both the futuristic feeling with some of the technology that’s used and also the culture and older feeling setting of the world. The author does a beautiful job with immersing us into this strange new place along with our protagonist.
Next is the oh so twisty plot! I never knew who to trust in this book as Andra tries to figure out what went wrong a thousand years ago. The ruler of this place teases that he knows about her fate and also the technology he has is something she wants. Be prepared for how twisty this book is in the best way! The first 100 pages or so was completely riveting once Andra wakes up. Her fear, desperation and anger so palpable and also very understandable when she learns that she is alone. But the things that are revealed were things I didn’t see coming, with the exception of one that’s easy to figure out but I was fine with that. But this two book series really sets itself apart from the other YA sci-fi books with how this first book wraps up and I was really satisfied with how it all came together.
Next is our two characters Andra and Zhade. Andra is from a thousand years in the past. Her mother was the head of the Lacuni program that pushed for space exploration. Her mother was ruthless and not the kind mother and Andra has some hatred for her famous mother. Andra didn’t want to go into space and help pouplate a new planet, but ultimately she does and it went wrong somehow. But Andra is really smart with using whatever she can get her hands on to learn the truth. I like how STEM oriented she is, with loving languages first and understanding a lot of tech as well. She doesn’t fall in love with Zhade at first, so her distrust makes for some interesting banter between them. I liked that she fought for what she wanted and didn’t give up her goals. Then, we have the bastard prince Zhade who is the current ruler’s bastard brother. Zhade has motivations of his own for waking up Andra and bringing her to the capital Eerensed. He’s good at combat and a smooth talker and while I never trusted him completely, he was sassy and funny at times and a good contrast to Andra in many ways.
Now while I really enjoyed a lot about this book, I do have a couple of cons that prevented this from being a 5 star read. The first con is that I think this book was a tiny bit too long. The middle of this book did drag and had a few repetitive moments as far as information, so I think it could’ve been trimmed by 50 pages to tighten up the plot to go into the second half. The second con is that I didn’t believe the budding relationship between Zhade and Andra. His lack of trusting her with information and how he’s admitted to using her for his own gain made his “feelings” never real and I think it does distract the plot a little bit. I am curious of how this possible romance might develop in the next book, but I wasn’t the biggest fan.
Overall: I’m so happy that a lot of this lived up to the hype for me! Lovers of sci-fi need to give this a try, since it does some things in new and different ways. The author has such great ideas and it never fell into familiar tropes. Please check this book out when it releases at the end of next month! Not a 5 star read, but still great!
Have you read any of these? Are you excited for any of them? Let me know in the comments!