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Book Review: A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan

Title: Pilgrimage of Swords

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: It is two hundred years since the deity known as the Absolved went mad and destroyed the Kingdom of Alnachim, transforming it into the Execration, a blasted wasteland filled with nameless terrors. For decades, desperate souls have made pilgrimage to the centre of this cursed land to seek the Mad God’s favour, their fate always unknown. Now a veteran warrior known only as Pilgrim, armed with a fabled blade inhabited by the soul of a taunting demon, must join with six others to make the last journey to the heart of the Execration. Allied with a youthful priest, a beast-charmer, a duplicitous scholar, an effete actor and two exiled lovers, Pilgrim must survive madness, malevolent spirits, unnatural monsters and the ever-present risk of treachery, all so that the Mad God might hear his prayer and, perhaps, grant redemption. But can sins such as his ever be forgiven? -Goodreads

The Review:

Pilgrimage of Swords is a breathtaking start to another amazing world from Anthony Ryan.

I think Ryan has a split personality in his writing. One Ryan loves to tell adventurous novels with expansive world building and the sorts of discoveries that leave you in awe and wonder at what you’ve just experienced. This is very much the case with Draconius Memoria (my all-time favorite series). The other Ryan gives you deep, slow-burn character novels where the focus is almost completely on a single POV making his way in the world, as with Blood Song and Pariah. Pilgrimage of Swords falls into the latter category. Even though it’s a novella, he managed to cram a great deal of exploration and discovery within, and I can’t wait to see what sort of cool things we’re going to come across next!

I really didn’t think there would be enough substance in such a short book to win me over, but I was wrong – it was really good. The only thing that perhaps suffered is that I didn’t feel I had enough time to get to know all of the side characters, and even continued to mix a couple of them up until the very end of the book. They didn’t seem particularly fleshed out (or is it flushed out? I could make a case for both words, lol) and after finishing the book, I can sort of see why. But I could’ve gone for a few extra pages establishing character because then I may have felt more invested when stuff started happening to them.

What I liked most about the novella is how most of the cool things about this series were revealed gradually, providing a huge payoff at the end that instantly hooked me into wanting to read on. It seems like many books start out telling you exactly what the characters are struggling with and give you a road map on how they’re going to fix it. This novella is a beautifully written showcase on how to show readers rather than tell them the point of your story. I continue to hold this author in very high regard.

Recommendations: this could actually be a great introduction to Ryan’s works if you haven’t tried him yet. If you love stories with expansive world-building as much as I do, then this one is a must-read! I feel like he’s only just scratched the surface on what this new world has to offer, and what I’ve seen so far is epic!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Title: Body Finder

Author: Kimberly Derting

Series: Body Finder #1

Genre: Teen Paranormal

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Violet Ambrose is grappling with two major issues: Jay Heaton and her morbid secret ability. While the sixteen-year-old is confused by her new feelings for her best friend since childhood, she is more disturbed by her “power” to sense dead bodies—or at least those that have been murdered. Since she was a little girl, she has felt the echoes that the dead leave behind in the world… and the imprints that attach to their killers. Violet has never considered her strange talent to be a gift; it mostly just led her to find the dead birds her cat left for her. But now that a serial killer is terrorizing her small town, and the echoes of the local girls he’s claimed haunt her daily, she realizes she might be the only person who can stop him. Despite his fierce protectiveness over her, Jay reluctantly agrees to help Violet on her quest to find the murderer—and Violet is unnerved by her hope that Jay’s intentions are much more than friendly. But even as she’s falling intensely in love, Violet is getting closer and closer to discovering a killer… and becoming his prey herself. -Goodreads

The Review:

Hail the first YA I’ve enjoyed in ages! Join me for a minute for a mini-rant before we get to the review stuff:

I’m testing a theory on why I haven’t been enjoying YA as much lately (5 or so years). Now, I don’t think it’s because I’m no longer a YA – I first got into the genre long after that ship had sailed lol. It might have something to do with the number of books I’ve read and getting tired of similar tropes. But many of the books I’ve picked up over the last few years have actually been quite original. So what changed?! I spent some time examining my reading history, and then it hit me:

Audiobooks.

That’s it. Audiobooks. As soon as I discovered them as a means to consume more content, my average YA rating plummeted dramatically (I could draw up a chart, but I can’t be bothered atm – just trust that there’s a strong correlation). I love audiobooks in general, but something about the production of YA books where it’s always the exact same sounding 20-something woman trying to make her voice more vocal fry to appeal to the younger generation just throws me off. And they never get the content out fast enough, where even listening at 2.0+ speed makes me feel like I’m wasting my time. And the love interests. Omg the love interests who sound anything but appealing, despite the narrator’s best attempt to infuse masculinity. I just don’t like them. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I don’t think I’ve listened to one yet (note: I did not try listening to the audio for Body Finder, so I’m not specifically criticizing any one production here, just speaking in generalities based on my personal experience).

Anyway, so I tried an experiment – physically reading my next YA book…. And Attempt 1/1 was a huge success!

The Actual Review! (thanks for sticking with me)

I loved this book! Now, granted, I was starting with a gem to begin with. The concept is compelling – a girl who can sense the resonance left by the dead and gets caught up in a local murder mystery. It had the perfect blend of paranormal and whodunnit that had me page-turning all the way to the end.

The book also included a surprisingly good romance! The type where the characters already had a deep history of companionship and you could totally see and feel their draw to one-another throughout the book. It was based on connection and experience without a single insta-love trope in sight. I loved it. I will say the drama may have played out just a tad too long for my tastes when considering overall pacing, but at the end of the day it’s still one of the most delightful ones I’ve read (uh, ever).

I’m hoping the next book will contain even more mystery and magic and perhaps slightly less emotional drama, but after all it’s still a YA, so it’s par for the course.

Another thing I appreciated is that the main character wasn’t a total idiot. There were one or two questionably borderline decisions, but for the most part I thought she handled the situations shrewdly. I liked that.

I had the chance to meet Derting at a signing event several years ago and listen to her speak on a Q&A panel. To this day she is still one of the coolest authors I’ve ever met. Her approach to storytelling and her dry humor in person translates perfectly into her books, and I can’t wait to read more from her. I still have the rest of this series, a prep-school one, and an alien one (I’m really interested in the last one).

Recommendations: if you want a fun mystery infused with a cool paranormal magic on top of a compelling romance, this is a great book! One of my favorites I’ve read this year.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Title: Pure

Author: Julianna Baggott

Series: Pure #1

Genre: Dystopian (Too gritty for YA)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: We know you are here, our brothers and sisters . . .
Pressia barely remembers the Detonations or much about life during the Before. In her sleeping cabinet behind the rubble of an old barbershop where she lives with her grandfather, she thinks about what is lost-how the world went from amusement parks, movie theaters, birthday parties, fathers and mothers . . . to ash and dust, scars, permanent burns, and fused, damaged bodies. And now, at an age when everyone is required to turn themselves over to the militia to either be trained as a soldier or, if they are too damaged and weak, to be used as live targets, Pressia can no longer pretend to be small. Pressia is on the run. Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . There are those who escaped the apocalypse unmarked. Pures. They are tucked safely inside the Dome that protects their healthy, superior bodies. Yet Partridge, whose father is one of the most influential men in the Dome, feels isolated and lonely. Different. He thinks about loss-maybe just because his family is broken; his father is emotionally distant; his brother killed himself; and his mother never made it inside their shelter. Or maybe it’s his claustrophobia: his feeling that this Dome has become a swaddling of intensely rigid order. So when a slipped phrase suggests his mother might still be alive, Partridge risks his life to leave the Dome to find her. When Pressia meets Partridge, their worlds shatter all over again. [Sheesh, read this and you wont need to read the book] -Goodreads

The Review:

Sick of typical YA Dystopia but still love those types of stories? I have a recommend for you…

According to Barnes and Noble shelving standards, this series is actually categorized in the adult fiction section rather than YA (this is the publisher’s call) most definitely because it’s much edgier than your typical post-apocalyptic story involving mostly teen POVs. There are a lot of gritty, visceral things that happen in this book. To the point where I had a hard time with it the first time I read it (this review is the product of a reread to continue the series), but I’ve grown a lot as a reader since then and was better prepared to handle it (it helps that I knew to brace for impact lol).

I’ve been consuming a lot of Grimdark novels over the last few years, and while I wouldn’t categorize Pure in that genre, it would help to have the stomach for that type of gritty, dark storytelling before diving in.

Worth noting: this book is weird.

Mostly within the story components. Fallout from mass weapon distruction has caused humans to become fused to whatever they were touching or near when the blasts hit. Which leaves some freaking odd results. Almost, almost to the point of hokey, but it just manages to pull it off with a serious edge. My advice: just go with it.

Overall, there are a lot of moving parts in this first book hinting at some deeper complexity I’m hopeful we’ll get to explore in future novels. Having read this one already but never initially making time to get back to it, my mind has lingered with the plot in a way that’s compelling me to start again to finally see what’s really going on in this world. I hope the eventual payoff is worth the effort.

My only criticism is a couple of too-convenient moments where the characters suddenly had the perfect answers without buildup or context. But as I was already in the “just go with it” mindset, I took it in stride… but it was still annoying.

Recommendations: for YA Dystopian readers who want something off the beaten path and significantly more mature than the norm.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Announcement!! :)

If you follow me on Youtube, this might be old news. But if you haven’t caught it yet, I’m excited to announce that I’m expanding my content creation to include excusive content for those who sign up for Patreon. My goal is to provide as much value as possible to those who choose to go above and beyond in supporting my creativity. Thank you for your consideration! <3

Here’s the link to my new Patreon!!

Happy Reading! :)

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Novella Reviews: Wayward Children 1-3 by Seanan McGuire

Book Info: Every Heart a Doorway (book #1)

Rating: 4/5 stars

I’d been eyeballing this series since a friend recommended it to me a couple of years ago. I’d thought they were full-length novels, but was pleased to discover the series as bite-sized novella chunks. Very satisfying.

This first book could’ve taken a lot of directions. One of my favorite things about it is that I was never quite sure where the author was going with the story. Seanan McGuire is, most prominently, an author I look to for the unconventional. I loved that most of this book took place at a boarding school for these wayward children. School settings are my favorite, and this had enough “learning cool new things” components for it to be a good one. Then the tale took on an unexpected murder mystery, and I found myself completely on board.

Granted, the magic of this first book was more in what it promised in future books rather than just on its own merit. It had a lot of great setup, and the anticipation for what’s to come is why I was left feeling really positively about it.

Book Info: Down Among the Sticks and Bones (book #2)

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

So far, this was my least favorite of the series. While I continued to like the writing voice and overall concept, I had a lot of issues with pacing and plot decisions.

I was very interested in the backstory of these two characters, and appreciate the almost nursery-rhyme presentation of the narrative early on. However, the beginning was a bit long-winded, especially considering readers already knew what was going to happen from the first book.

Then we get to the new realm, and that’s really where my disappointment in how it was executed manifested. First off, the world itself wasn’t very well-realized. There were enough atmospheric details and explanations that my brain could sort of create a picture, but the narrow focus on just immediate characters made it feel like we were walking around in little bubbles. It didn’t seem like a real place with a functioning society. It felt like a big old castle with only three occupants and a town with only two or three folk, until the mob scene drew them out of the forest. Or wherever they were hiding. I’m finding it hard to explain, but essentially, the world-building was really thin, and more there for overall atmosphere creation than anything else.

One of the most compelling things about this series is allowing me to psychoanalyze these very troubled characters and try to figure out what circumstances and trauma cause them to behave the way they do. This opportunity is probably why I’m so tickled with the series so far, because it’s giving my brain a lot of extra food for thought (keeping me engaged). Based on what we know about these characters so far in the series, their behavior at the end of the book did not make a lot of sense to me. Both girls felt wildly out of character, and it bothered me enough that in my Buddy Read for the story, we spent a lot of time discussing what would’ve made more sense to have happen. The biggest dock to my rating was from this unsatisfying inconsistency of character.

However, this is just one facet of the story McGuire is building, so I was still eager to pick up the next book, despite some objections with this one.

Book Info: Beneath the Sugar Sky

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I’d no idea what to expect next. Would the series take all the characters in the first book and use the following novellas to tell their backstories like they did in Down Among the Sticks and Bones? I was okay with that trajectory, but feared I’d miss the boarding school element too much to stay invested. Luckily for me, Book 3 managed to progress the storyline developing at the boarding school while also giving some great backstory tidbits and other world exploration.

It was fantastic.

Or should I say “fantastical” because we got to explore our first nonsense world in this novella.

I, for one, am definitely more at home in the logical worlds, but since the beauty of this installment was more about the characters and the sense of adventure and camaraderie, it didn’t bother me too much (I have a hard time with the ridiculous in books, which is why my stint into Piers Anthony, Pratchett, and Douglass Adams was very, very brief). Overall I love how it progressed the story in multiple worlds and how it started a convergence of realms.

Additionally, Beneath the Sugar Sky had a number of instances where it promoted female body positivity which was integrated naturally, feeling very organic to the character profiles, and 100% freaking fantastic. It also explored the idea that your worth as a person is made up of so many components that aren’t always tangible or visible things, and continually appreciating those things rather than focusing on external appearance and how society indicates you “should” be can be a very powerful shift in mindset. It’s not ignoring the stigmas around you, because that’s nigh impossible in the culture we live in, it’s allowing reality to be what it is and still have a quiet confidence in why you are special. Cora is definitely a character I’ll have my eyes on going forward. Loved.

Overall, this series (so far, books 1-3) has been an absolute highlight to my year, and I can’t wait to explore more. I appreciate that I’m getting much more out of these books than just your basic portal fantasy story. I’ve come away with so much unexpected food for thought, which is incredibly exciting.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium

Title: Delirium

Author: Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium #1

Genre: YA Dystopian

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: In an alternate United States, love has been declared a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure. Living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Portland, Maine, Lena Haloway is very much looking forward to being cured and living a safe, predictable life. She watched love destroy her mother and isn’t about to make the same mistake. But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the “Wilds” who lives under the government’s radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love? -Goodreads

The Review:

The book takes place in a reality where love is considered a disease. Making you do things that don’t make sense and go against your better judgment. There are even physical signs – shortening of breath, increased heart rate; it can be dangerous. Don’t worry, though, because luckily, there’s a cure.

When I first picked up Delirium I was certain it would sound like every other YA on the market. No surprise: it does. Here’s the funny thing, though… I really liked it. There’s something incredibly absorbing about the author’s writing. A relaxed quality that makes you feel like you should be in a cozy chair with some tea while reading. I also found this true with her novel, Panic, which is even further away from my preferred reading genre, but I loved it also. Something about her storytelling just works for me.

I’ve heard a lot of people bash Delirium because, even though it’s a dystopian, it lacked the same edge people expect from comparable novels like Divergent and Hunger Games. It’s definitely more of a romance-heavy title (for obvious reasons, given the concept), which didn’t bother me too much in this first book. In fact, I’ve read it twice. The second time was in preparation to continue the series, but I never quite made it around to reading more… again. I think I’m worried it will go the route of most YA trilogies and give me an entire middle book of useless angst and very little plot progression. I also think, aside from a few side enigma characters I’d like to know more about, I probably have a pretty good idea where the story is going to end up, and am not sure I want to commit the time to get there. It’s weird lol. Maybe eventually I’ll finally pick up the rest of the trilogy, but for now I’m content to consider it an open-ended stand alone that I enjoyed immensely.

Recommendations: if you like the more fanciful, romance-driven YA dystopians, this is one of the better ones. There’s a whole sub-genre that I call “girls in pretty dresses in a slightly dystopic world” that I can’t seem to get enough of. This book has the same feel as those.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes