Fantasy · series · young adult

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard: immediately a favorite

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Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1)

author : susan dennard

pages : [hardcover] 416

memorable quote :

Sometimes justice was all about the small victories.

favorite character : safi

summary :

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

review :

Why did it take me so long to finally read this book?? It’s been on my TBR since 2016. I could have been in love with this series and Susan Dennard’s writing two years ago. Because Truthwitch is now–immediately, wholeheartedly–one of my favorite books.

My best recommendation is for you to pick up this book without reading any more on it. Let yourself be immersed in the story itself. Dennard creates such a detailed, fantastical–terrifying–world that’s impossible not to get drawn into. This is one of those fantasy novels where you can easily picture yourself in the setting. You wonder what sort of witch you’d most like to be, in their world. You wonder who your allies would be. And your enemies.

I always say that plot comes second to me, just behind the characters, but this one really holds out against an amazing cast. Really, with the nuanced, flawed; and hilarious main characters, everything else is just extra. Every unpredictable plot twist or witty quip or bit of romance. Yes, there are some very intriguing relationships developing here that I’m already obsessed with.

And then that ending, that really takes what’s left of your heart and shoves it through a shredder.

But, like, in a good way. It’s fine. Read it anyway.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. Don’t delay as much as I did–read it now!

5/5 stars

 

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5 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Sightwitch by Susan Dennard: SO GOOD SO GOOD SO GOOD

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Sightwitch (The Witchlands #0.5)

author : susan dennard

pages : [hardcover] 208

memorable quote :

What is life except perception?

favorite character : ryber

summary :

From New York Times bestselling author Susan Dennard, Sightwitch is an illustrated novella set in the Witchlands and told through Ryber’s journal entries and sketches.

Before Safi and Iseult battled a Bloodwitch…

Before Merik returned from the dead…

Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.

Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sight—and though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.

On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.

Set a year before TruthwitchSightwitch is a companion novella that also serves as a set up to Bloodwitch, as well as an expansion of the Witchlands world.

review :

I can’t say it enough: I’m so glad that I finally read these books. The Witchlands series is something special. It’s creative, immersive, and nuanced. The characters are lovely, flawed, and relatable. The diversity is done well. The plot is . . . well, I don’t think my heart can take much more. If you haven’t read these books yet, start with Truthwitch, then read your way here.

Sightwitch is a collection of maps, drawings, and journal entries that not only tell more of Ryber’s story. They give a better perspective to this world as a whole. More of the fun (well, sometimes terrifying) world building that couldn’t be lingered over in the first two books. It’s a look into the past–sometimes the very far past, as in thousands of years, and sometimes just the earlier days of characters we’ve learned to love. It all blends together in this beautiful, much too short book that will keep you reading late into the night.

I just didn’t want to put it down.

There’s adventure and romance, yes. But also bravery–characters coming into their own. Loss. Reunions. Hope, and plans for the future. Worry, and the chance that literally everything will crumble to ruin.

Sightwitch is quieter than the previous two books, possibly because it is a prequel. It doesn’t have as many characters or locations as the others, and I love it. I love being drawn so personally into the lives of these characters we really needed to learn more about. Basically what this book taught me above all else is that I will read anything Susan Dennard writes and won’t be pleased until there are, like, fifty books in this series.

So if you haven’t started to read it yet . . . you should probably pick it up today.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

All of This is True is NOT the contemporary you were looking for

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All of This is True

author : lygia day penaflor

pages : [ebook] 432

summary :

Miri Tan loved the book Undertow like it was a living being. So when she and her friends went to a book signing to meet the author, Fatima Ro, they concocted a plan to get close to her, even if her friends won’t admit it now. As for Jonah, well—Miri knows none of that was Fatima’s fault.

Soleil Johnston wanted to be a writer herself one day. When she and her friends started hanging out with her favorite author, Fatima Ro, she couldn’t believe their luck—especially when Jonah Nicholls started hanging out with them, too. Now, looking back, Soleil can’t believe she let Fatima manipulate her and Jonah like that. She can’t believe that she got used for a book.

Penny Panzarella was more than the materialistic party girl everyone at the Graham School thought she was. She desperately wanted Fatima Ro to see that, and she saw her chance when Fatima asked the girls to be transparent with her. If only she’d known what would happen when Fatima learned Jonah’s secret. If only she’d known that the line between fiction and truth was more complicated than any of them imagined. . . .

review :

I received an e-Arc of this book from Epic Reads in exchange for my honest review.

I was very excited to read All of This is True because I want to read more contemporary this year. The book is told in alternative format, which I love–in podcast interviews, emails, texts, and book excerpts. There’s a book-within-the-book going on, which I think is an interesting move. I was highly interested and didn’t know much about the plot before I dove in.

Let’s start by talking about the format. Some of the alternative text didn’t lend itself well to ebook format, though this may just be an issue with the ARC, so I’d suggest getting a physical copy to get the full affect. Still, I think it could have been done in a better way to really capture the narrative voice. The podcast interviews were impossible to tell apart—all of the girls being interviewed ended up sounding the same. Because the names of the people in the book-within-the-book, characters based on the characters we’re learning about in ‘reality’, all began with the same letters as the people they were based on, it was hard to keep track of who was who. There was no real foundation for the story to stand on.

Next, the characters. If the voice couldn’t be the foundation, surely the characters could. But they were all very unlikable, and I’m not certain that was done on purpose. I didn’t really care about any of them. I didn’t care if they were hurting, or in trouble, or excited. I didn’t want to hear their perspectives on the incident. Actually, I still don’t knowwhy the book was told in this format. Why did we need to hear their perspectives on the incident? Only one character actually says anything that adds to the intrigue of the book (such as it is). In that case, we could have focused on her for the whole of the story and made things less confusing.

The book-within-a-book was . . . bad. This is another thing that, if I knew for certain was done on purpose, I would like a lot more. The book-within-a-book is supposed to be written by this young, best-selling writing prodigy. I think she’s in her mid-twenties and she’s supposed to be really, really great at writing amazing, thought-provoking passages. The book-within-a-book was so laden with cliche and specifically YA cliche that I thought it had to be done as a parody. I really hope it was. Matching this terrible book-within-a-book with the supposed prodigy author, within the context of the theme of the real book, would make things very interesting.

The plot twist . . . as soon as that portion of the plot was mentioned, I called the resolution then and there. Actually, I thought that the book would have been better and bolder if the plot twist hadn’t existed and the plot had taken a completely different direction. Instead, the plot relied upon and built up to this twist that was completely unnecessary, that needed ‘shock value’ I guess, and made the book pretty . . . boring.

It was a very unique idea, but I can’t say that I recommend it.

2/5 stars

 

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

Girl Out of Water: another contemporary I couldn’t get into

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girl out of water

author : laura silverman

pages : [paperback] 350

favorite character : lincoln

summary :

Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves?

review :

I keep trying to find contemporary books I’ll love. I promise. But I’m beginning to think the genre really just has it out to get me.

Girl Out of Water is different. I’ve never quite read anything like it—I can certainly give it that much. Unlike most beach-y reads, where the main character moves to the shore for the summer, Anise is forced away from the ocean. This is mostly horrible to her because she loves surfing and wants to be a competitive surfer. But the move is temporary and not only that, it’s for a really, really good reason. As in, Anise doesn’t really have much room to complain about it.

But, I get it. Just because I have to do something or it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t always mean I want to do it. I can respect that. It’s just that, when those thoughts begin to overtake the entire plot it gets to drag, on and on.

The characters are fairly realistic and were surprisingly diverse, which was a nice touch. But they were fairly boring. Most of them had flat personalities. Again, this could stem from my aversion in general to contemporary stories. Their problems, for the most part, were pretty minor and petty. Their problems which were larger and more interesting ended up for the most part unresolved. Less used for character growth and more for the drama of it.

I did enjoy the fact that this book shows active girls, surfing and skating and generally enjoying sports. Not once is it mentioned that Anise is good at things “for a girl”. She’s always simply good at it (and, okay, her ego is GIGANTIC when it comes to physical activity and makes absolutely no sense. If I were the best baseball pitcher I wouldn’t just ASSUME I was also the best quarterback, you know?). I feel like this book will be really interesting to early teens who are passionate about sports.

Honestly, though, this book is a bit forgettable. There isn’t much suspense or action; it wasn’t very character-driven. It just sort of happened, and certainly wasn’t for me.

2.5/5 stars

 

4 stars · science fiction · young adult

Landscape with Invisible Hand — a great, unique sci-fi read

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Landscape with Invisible Hand

author : m.t. anderson

pages : [hardcover] 149

memorable quote :

The hand that records is also what makes everything unclear.

favorite character : adam

summary :

National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth – but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem “classic” Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and what he’s willing to sacrifice – to give the vuvv what they want.

review :

I’ve been excited to read this book since I received a sampler of it at last year’s Book Con. I can honestly say it was everything I expected and more.

Landscape with Invisible Hand serves up a tone that tastes like a blend of contemporary YA and sci-fi aliens. The Earth has had contact with this extraterrestrial species for years now and those creatures that found Earth came in peace. They promised to cure all disease and end meaningless jobs. They promised to help. And they did . . . didn’t they?

The story revolves around Adam, a budding teenage artist who has many problems. Most extend from the vuvv–those aliens that didn’t quite invade. Because things on Earth . . . aren’t looking so bright. But they aren’t in an interstellar war, or anything, so it can’t be too terrible. The story is told through Adam’s paintings; each chapter title is a different landscape he’s done. It’s an interesting look at the world through his eyes–what comes from the humans, what the vuvv have touched, and what happened when the two species blended on the planet.

I loved this book. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever read before. This isn’t your typical take on sci-fi, it’s no typical coming-of-age. It speaks just as much about our current worldview and society as it does about interplanetary consequences and arrangements. I always love a book that leaves me thinking afterward and I believe this is one that I won’t be able to shake for a while.

This book is very short, at around 150 pages. That’s partially why I don’t want to get into anything more specific. There isn’t much room there for me to not spoil anything important. But if you’re looking for a unique book, with beautiful writing and characters that are funny and a little absurd, definitely pick this one up. If you’re bored of alien and dystopian tales that all feel the same, this one will definitely be unlike any you’ve read before.

And it leaves you to think about what would be worse when humanity finds aliens, or the aliens find us: war, or ‘peace’?

4/5 stars

 

 

fairy tale · poetry · young adult

the princess saves herself in this one

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the princess saves herself in this one

author : amanda lovelace

pages : [paperback] 156

memorable quote :

repeat after me:
you owe
no one
your forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.

summary :

A poetry collection divided into four different parts: the princess, the damsel, the queen, & you. the princess, the damsel, & the queen piece together the life of the author in three stages, while you serves as a note to the reader & all of humankind. Explores life & all of its love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, & inspirations.

review:

I don’t read much poetry, but I had some spare time and my library participates in a digital sharing service called Hoopla. I downloaded the princess saves herself in this one and I read, and I read, and I read.

It’s hard to compare to other poetic piece I’ve read. For one, poetry is possibly the most subjective literary form. Poetry is so personalized, which is amazing, but it does a disservice to everyone to compare them to, say, Shakespeare, and not consider how different HIS poetry would have been had he lived in this time period. One of the things I loved most about this collection was how steeped it is in the contemporary. The flow, wording, even this certain type of feminism, all ground it solidly in the present.

It’s all so very relatable. Even though the writing is very simple, vying for message rather than complex symbolism, it’s powerful. And it successfully conveys not only the poet’s story, but her thoughts, her wishes–and she makes it easy for you to have an emotional connection as well.

Of course, I’m excited about any sort of extended metaphor that involves fairy tales–or, perhaps more interestingly, the breaking down of our expectations of those stories. It just makes me so happy to see how the normative narrative can be subverted in such a clever way. To do it as an extended metaphor in such short poems DOES come off as clever.

I want to read more by this poet, really sink my teeth into her writing. It’s different, original, and I can see why it is popular even in the mainstream. I don’t think that detracts from the writing at all.

I’d recommend picking this up and reading to see for yourself what all of the fuss is about. It’s worth it, and you never know what you might find in these poems.

4/5 stars

 

2 stars · fiction · young adult

The Radius of Us: a unique contemporary

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the radius of us

author : marie marquardt

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite character : phoenix

summary :

What happens when you fall in love with someone everyone seems determined to fear?

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just daily routine, but who you are as a person. Gretchen Asher knows this, because that’s how long a stranger held her body to the ground. When a car sped toward them and Gretchen’s attacker told her to run, she recognized a surprising terror in his eyes. And now she doesn’t even recognize herself.

Ninety seconds can change a life — not just the place you live, but the person others think you are. Phoenix Flores-Flores knows this, because months after setting off toward the U.S. / Mexico border in search of safety for his brother, he finally walked out of detention. But Phoenix didn’t just trade a perilous barrio in El Salvador for a leafy suburb in Atlanta. He became that person — the one his new neighbors crossed the street to avoid.

Ninety seconds can change a life — so how will the ninety seconds of Gretchen and Phoenix’s first encounter change theirs?

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is a story of love, sacrifice, and the journey from victim to survivor. It offers an intimate glimpse into the causes and devastating impact of Latino gang violence, both in the U.S. and in Central America, and explores the risks that victims take when they try to start over. Most importantly, Marie Marquardt’s The Radius of Us shows how people struggling to overcome trauma can find healing in love.

review :

The Radius of Us is an important book and an interesting book, but not an entertaining book. By that I mean in a contemporary novel, I usually expect a more gripping plot. Unfortunately this one kept the characters at the distance and didn’t delve as deeply into its themes as I thought it might.

I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about it. That’s how I find some of my favorites. But I have to admit that contemporary has always been a hit or miss genre for me; you have to have some speculator writing, characters, and themes for me to read about life as I already know it. Usually I don’t really need someone else to tell me about the world.

But books like The Radius of Us are usually the exception, because this book presents a viewpoint I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in YA literature. The book is told in alternating points of view. Half of the book is told by Gretchen, a teen from Georgia who has a myriad of issues after experiencing something horrible, and Phoenix, a year or two older than her, having run from El Salvador to seek asylum in the US.

Honestly, I might have liked this book better if it was gold only from Phoenix’s POV. So young, having been through so much, and having to face so much more still in Georgia. I understand Gretchen as a counterpoint–a reference US readers might relate to more easily–but her character felt so flat compared to Phoenix. I rooted for him, hoped for him, felt sympathy for him–and Gretchen could only fail as a comparison.

The Radius of Us did succeed in making me determined to read more books from diverse POV, because these different experiences are so important to try to understand through literature. It discusses privilege, racism, gang activity, immigration, and more. All amazing, important themes that the writing just falls flat on supporting.

2/5 stars