Netgalley Review: Black Bead by J.D. Lakey

28869444Title: Black Bead (Black Bead Chronicles #1)
Author: J.D. Lakey
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Publication Date: June 8th 2011
Rating

Synopsis: If you liked Avatar and Ender’s Game, you’ll love Black Bead!

On a savage, outlying planet an enclave of psionically-trained humans have built a utopian, matriarchal society that lives in harmony with all life. Leaving behind the polluted and corrupt world in which they lived, they colonized a new home far from the eyes of the galactic empire. Shielded from the rest of the galaxy by the dangerous beasts that inhabit their lush, forested world, the village lives a simple life under their Home Dome. But their goal was more than just to live in peace – they wanted to create the perfect human who could bring peace to the galaxy. Rather than merely cloning themselves, they began to manipulate genes in order to create a race of mutants with enhanced telepathic powers. Under the direction of the ruling coven, each child of the Windfall Dome is tested at a young age to asses their abilities – a test which is can plot the course for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, Cheobawn – the daughter of the ruling First Mother to the dome – is marked with the Black Bead on her Choosing Day, a symbol of bad luck and shame. It seems the child the village had placed so much hope in would not be the future ruler they had hoped for. Yet there is something powerful about her that the elders don’t understand. Finally of age, Cheobawn is chosen to join a pack to act as the psychic Ear on a foraging mission outside the dome. She knows this is her chance to prove herself. But something sinister stalks them and each member of the pack must draw on their unique strengths and a lifetime of training if they want to survive to see another day. In her visionary new series, The Black Bead Chronicles, author J.D. Lakey invites you to journey along with Cheobawn, Megan, Tam, Connor, and Alain as they use their wits and their Luck to unravel the mysteries of the deceptively bucolic life beneath the dome in this coming of age metaphysical science fiction adventure.

Please note that I received a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: This was a book that randomly peaked my interest on NG and was surprised when I actually sat down to read it. Now, usually I feel weird about books that take place in a very short period of time. I like having good development in characters and in settings. So when I start Black Bead and got more invested in it, I realized the entire time line of the book happens in about a day or so. And to be honest, usually that alone deters me from reading a book. I tend to feel like I’m not getting enough from the book but I must say Black Bead surprised me.

I actually really enjoyed the story. Though having such young characters as the main focal point was also something I wasn’t used to. Especially because this was classified as teens & ya but the characters were between the ages of 6 and 10? So at first I was a little ??? when it came to connecting with the characters. But that became less of a factor as I read more. It really made me step back and change the way I usually think when it comes to the characters. Part of me wanted to expect more but at the same time I was blown away by their developments in such a short time.

What I really loved about this book was the world building aspects and an interesting magic system they had established. It definitely had the vibe of some previous dystopian/post-apocalyptic ya books I’ve read. Which I think is really what helped my connection to the story. You have a city within walls and only certain people can go outside those walls. And once you are outside those walls, it’s this luscious untamed wilderness and I fell in love with.

Now the main plot itself, is about a pact of young kids who finally get to go outside the walls. But of course, deviate from their designated path and find themselves on an adventure to stay alive. Now, the main character, she was given a black Bead because of her failure of a test of magic. Now this kind of taints her amongst the community but she is able to go with this group of kids and in the end, they wouldn’t have made it through their crazy adventure without her.

So I definitely really liked the message as the characters grow to accept her and such. And even with my initial surprise over the age of the characters and the way the plot ties timed, I thought this was a really good book. I’ll even probably pick up its sequel.

Have you read this? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

30269126Title: Empress of a Thousand Skies
Author: Rhoda Belleza
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Publication Date: February 7th 2017
Rating: 3.5-3.75 stars???

SynopsisCROWN PRINCESS RHIANNON TA’AN WANTS VENGEANCE.

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, RHEE has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

ALYOSHA is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, RHODA BELLEZA crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

 

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies was probably one of the few books that I struggled with trying to rate. Maybe because I really don’t know how I felt about the book in general. Did I like the book? definitely. But did I love it? Meh. It took my five days to read Empress of a Thousand Skies, which is very unusual for me. I wanted to keep reading it and yet it was easy to put down at the same time. I don’t know how to explain it. It was a good book! But that’s it, just good.

(Can I just mention quickly that I really do love this cover. More covers like this please!)

Lately, I’ve been really into space and planets and aliens when it comes to books. And let it be said that the world building was something I really liked. Then again most things that take place in space are a-okay with me. Though, sometimes I feel like space and planet descriptions can be a little rough and not good with imagery, but Empress of a Thousand Skies was perfect when it came to that. I could see the planets in my head very easily which was really nice.

Throughout the book we get two POVs and I have to say, one I liked and one I didn’t. I would trudge through Rhiannon’s chapters whereas with Alyosha’s I couldn’t wait to get to and dig in. Rhiannon was your typical YA princess MC that left me struggling to keep interested in her POV.

  • Lost her family
  • only surviving member
  • someone is trying to kill her so she doesn’t take the throne
  • a mysterious stranger from a foreign planet arrives just in time to help her
  • wants vengeance

I could just keep checking off all the little boxes.

I was a little worried at first about the mysterious stranger, she called him insufferable. And instantly, I thought he was going to go from insufferable to the love of her life by the end of the book. But thankfully that wasn’t the case. Rhiannon’s mantra through out the book was “Honor, Bravery, Loyalty” and I just don’t think she lived up to that at all. I wont go more into detail about that as to avoid spoilers but let’s just say that Rhiannon’s character fell super flat for me and that was just disappointing.

Now in Alyosha’s POV I just kept wanting to know more about his character and storyline. He felt genuine and more real than Rhiannon. Maybe because I liked that his storyline, his journey more. It just felt like Alyosha’s struggle was worth more. Though, I’m super interested to see Alyosha and Rhiannon cross paths. Surprisingly, it didn’t really happen in this book so I hope that means we are getting a good build up to the two storylines connecting in the next one.

What I thought was an interesting theme though between the two storylines that in their universe everything is record, every moment is uploaded for you to rewatch any time. When that’s taken away from both characters they both struggle with ‘organic memories’. And I think it shows that our minds can easily play tricks on us, we can replay the same moments over and over and over again in our heads but we could have completely distorted it without even realizing. Maybe the things we remember aren’t exactly what they seem and that was something I liked a lot in this book.

I have to be honest here, what really sold the book for me, what really pushed me to want to read the next was the epilogue. I kind of knew what was coming but the epilogue gave me so much hope for the next book. So if you are thinking about reading this or just pushing through, and you are a sucker for a good ending like I am, definitely pick this up and give it a chance. It might surprise you!

Review: Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

29560003Title: Island of Exiles (The Ryogan Chronicles #1)
Author: Erica Cameron
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBTQIA+
Publication Date: February 14th 2017
Rating

SynopsisIn this diverse, gritty survival fantasy, a girl warrior turns against her island clan to find the brother they claim died, uncovering secrets. Perfect for fans of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes.

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

Review: How do I even begin talking about this book? Straight to the point, I really freaking loved it. It’s all the things I could want in a book. Survivalism, fantasy, strong female main character, diversity in all the characters, and betrayal?!? Island of Exiles delivers on so many levels, I don’t understand how more people aren’t talking about it. All the time in the book community people are begging for good diversity, and let me tell you, this book has it.

Let’s start with the entire third gender in this book. With their own pronouns, their neither male nor female called ebets. There’s also no segregation by gender amongst the caste system. (It’s completely segregated by their magical abilities). I was ecstatic when I realized that there was a third gender. As someone who is non-binary it’s really amazing to see any type of gender identity that isn’t male or female.

There were also multiple sexual orientations; the main character had relations with multiple genders. A prominent side character who is asexual and an ebet!

“I mean, you’re more my preference than he is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see the appeal. No need to be ashamed. Sex is perfectly natural. Everyone does it.” “Almost everyone,” Etaro corrects, cheeks flushing darker. Ey once told me that ey couldn’t see the appeal of rolling around naked with someone. When most of eir yearmates started experimenting, ey declared emself ushimo.”

And it was also hinted that another side character was in a poly type relationship.

“Are you two starting something again? I thought he had a thing now with the guy and the ebet quartered in the Southeastern Zon, the nyshin-pa who— Bellows. What were their names?”

All of it was so causal, none of the plot was effected at all by any of this. Which is a beautiful thing. Something I want to mention is that in their belief system there is a special bond called sumai and this is how it’s described:

“Siblings, friends, or ushimo—those who love deeply but never want sex—it doesn’t matter. The desire to lie with someone has nothing to do with the sumai; the only thing that matters for the bond is trust, abiding love, and the desire to keep them close through this life and the next.”

How beautiful is that? To have a bond beyond the social constructs of relationships, is amazing.

Now, I really loved the main character. She is everything I love in a strong female main character. Kickass with weapons and magic. Her struggles though, some of them were so similar to mine that I really just connected with her. And watching her grow from those struggles was something that I could read over and over again. Now, there wasn’t any insta-love but there was an obvious connection (to the reader, not necessarily right away to the mc). I really didn’t mind that it took almost the whole book for that connection to really become a thing. It felt very realistic and that’s something I can appreciate.

OH, can we talk about how the main character had her PERIOD and there was a whole little bit about it???

“I shuck the loincloth and breast band I slept in, and stare at the spots of blood on the cloth. What? Did I injure myself or— Oh. Right. Of course. Muttering curses to myself, I toss my clothing in a pile to bring to the yonin in charge of laundry. With everything that has happened the last week, I lost track of the moon cycle and ignored the minor cramps. I should’ve been expecting my gensu. It’s late, but that can happen.”

“The process of tying the extra layer into my loincloth and getting dressed takes a few minutes, and it’s something I’ll have to deal with several times a day for the next few days.”

With a (male) side character involved who didn’t blink an eye at it.

“He doesn’t protest when I need a longer break to run to the washroom attached to the training yard to deal with the necessary inconveniences of the gensu.”

There was nothing squeamish about it, there was no mocking, it was just fact. A female having her period in a fantasy world was simply a. fact. Yes yes yes yes yes yes. Thank you. It’s about time that this was talked about so casually in Young Adult. Especially in Young Adult Fantasy. So kudos to the author for that.

I also really enjoyed just the overall world building and the setting of the book. The author painted a great picture and it was pretty easy to grasp the concepts of the plot. I was intrigued and surprised by the plot twists and I loved being so easily drawn into this book.

So if you like magic, fantasy, betrayal and diversity, I definitely recommend this book!

Mini Reviews: Empath & Spells and Sorcery by S. Usher Evans.

25170477Title: Empath
Author: S. Usher Evans
Rating

Review: So here’s the thing about Empath. It’s not just a story about a heartbroken girl suddenly ripped away from the world and a mind invading dragon. It’s a message; a message that hits super close to home.

I’ll admit Lauren wasn’t necessarily my favourite character. But let’s be honest, her reaction to a break up and everything following were completely realistic and just plain out human. So many characters in books suddenly have all the answers when they unexpectedly have powers or are dropped into strange new worlds. To watch Lauren actually struggle to understand what’s happening was interesting to say the least. Because for once, I really had to look past the surface; the fantasy world and the characters there to really see the story.

The journey of learning to live and let go. To learn it’s okay to reach out to someone for help.

29933704Title: Spells and Sorcery
Author: S. Usher Evans
Rating

Review: Let me start off by saying, don’t be put off by my three star rating. This book is definitely worth picking up. The writings of Sush are always great and Spells and Sorcery were no exception. Lexie Spells was another one where the characters and their reactions are so utterly human, it’s almost shocking. I feel like Sush has this great ability of being able to bring real human emotions and reactions to the world of fantasy and it works really well.

But here’s the thing. Lexie and I, we didn’t mesh well at all. Which is super crappy considering she’s the main character. I mean sure, we can chalk it up to her age but come on. The constant whine made it hard to get through most of the book. I get it though, she’s 15, her world has drastically changed and no one is obviously helping her. But the whining and whining and whining was definitely unnecessary. I liked her anger though (that emotion was something that could easily be relatable to) and her stubbornness. I also liked when she finally seemed to get her head on freaking straight and stand up for herself. So as you can see, there was a pretty big love/hate relationship happening there.

I hope we get to se more magic in the next book, to be honest though. But then again, I ealize that again this book is already so much more than it’s fantasy aspect and that’s something to love about it.

Overall, I really felt like Empath and Spells and Sorcery could have been sister novels (and not because of that little easter egg drop 😉 ). Both main characters didn’t mesh with me well but I liked everything else about these books. So please go out there and support this amazing author! She deserves it.

Review: As I Descended by Robin Talley.

28218948Title: As I Descended
Author: Robin Talley
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQIA+, Paranormal
Publication Date: September 6th, 2016
Rating

Synopsis: Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple—even if no one knows it but them.

Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey.

Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Acheron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word.

But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock in her attendance at Stanford―and four more years in a shared dorm room with Lily.

Maria and Lily will stop at nothing to ensure their victory—including harnessing the dark power long rumored to be present on the former plantation that houses their school.

But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.

From acclaimed author Robin Talley comes a Shakespeare-inspired story of revenge and redemption, where fair is foul, and foul is fair.

 

Review: Another book I am on the fence about (heh. surprise). I really liked the premise of this book. I thought it had a lot of originality to it (probably because I don’t read in the paranormal genre very often). Also probably because I’ve never actually read Macbeth, so even though it’s a retelling, I don’t know much about the original play. So I can’t really tell you the similarities or how well it played out to Macbeth, itself.

I really liked how the story captivated me for the entire book. I was left questioning and wondering with every turn of the page. The book reminded me how much I still like the boarding/private school setting – I think it automatically gives off a certain vibe that really works for me.

So there’s obviously no denying that As I Descended is full of diverse characters. I feel like that’s definitely why it’s so popular among the community pushing for more diversity in books. We have POC’s and characters on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Which I for a fact, love that we have both of these characters in one book. But my excitement for all of that slowly dwindled as I read more.

Of course, it was because of the f/f relationship that was prominent line in the plot. I understand about them keeping it secret due to having high profile parents. But what I struggled with the most was the borderline abuse between Maria and Lily. At certain times in the book I definitely felt like that line was crossed and nothing was done about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, the m/m relationship turned into a great thing. Especially by the end of the book, but the relationship between Maria and Lily went downhill fast for me. I know, I know; most of it had to due with the paranormal influence. But not all of it was because of those factors and that, is pretty much the main reason this book wasn’t a full five star for me.

It’s always so disappointing to read book after book where the f/f relationship, turns out to be problematic in some way. And by all means, pick this book up, read it for yourself, for all the diverse characters. But understand this, not every f/f relationship is problematic. Not every romance has some sort of abuse. There are plenty of great, healthy, long lasting relationships between young women.

But besides that problematic relationship, the rest of the plot was compelling and intriguing. And I’ll be honest, had me covering my eyes at times (because I’m obviously a scaredy cat). I’ve never once touched a ouija board and I plan to keep it that way. I mean, why mess with that stuff? no thanks. O_O;; But at the same time, I really liked how brutal and intense this book was. So overall, I feel like everything else that made up this book makes it worth picking up and reading. Even despite the problematic crap with the f/f relationship.

Have you read this? Did you feel the same about it or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!