Review: “A Song of Wraiths and Ruin” by Roseanne A. Brown

Title: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
Series: A Song of Wraiths and Ruin #1
Author: Roseanne A. Brown
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Content warning: Anxiety, chronic pain, child abuse (implied)
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Destiny, magic, trickster deities, and vengeful spirits bring two young people on a collision course that’ll upend both their lives and the world as they know it in this debut YA Fantasy inspired by West African folklore.

For Malik, the Solstasia festival is a chance to escape his war-stricken home and start a new life with his sisters in the prosperous desert city of Ziran. But when a vengeful spirit abducts Malik’s younger sister, Nadia, as payment into the cit, Malik strikes a fatal deal – kill Karina, Crown Princess of Ziran, for Nadia’s freedom.

But Karina has deadly aspirations of her own. Her mother, the Sultana, has bee assassinated; her court threatens mutiny; and Solstasia looms like a knife over her neck. Grief-stricken, Karina decides to resurrect her mother through ancient magic… requiring the beating heart of a king. And she knows just how to obtain one: by offering her hand in marriage to the victor of the Solstasia competition.

When Malik rigs his way into the contest, they are set on a course to destroy each other. But as attraction flares between them and ancient evils stir, will they be able to see their tasks to the death?

Some stories start on a breakneck pace, hitting the ground running and taking off immediately right from page one. There are others, still, that go the opposite direction, gathering its bearings and doling out its bits and pieces before finally coalescing into something more solid.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is firmly in the second category, something that both works for and against it.

Debut author Roseanne A. Brown took care to lay down her story’s world. Taking inspiration from West African folklore, she transports readers to a world of elemental gods and goddesses, powerful beings, and ancient magic. Ziran, the desert city where the story takes place, is a vast place teeming with peoples from different Zirani territories and allied kingdoms. It was an intriguing and complex world brought to life by meticulous detail work. However, with the hefty amounts of information needed to be unloaded, worldbuilding took up most of the book’s first half and slowed down the pace significantly.

Unnecessary exposition, of which there were many, also didn’t help even out this story’s pace. It did more telling than showing, explaining ideas and situations rather than dramatizing them through effective use of dialogue and the characters’ unvoiced thoughts. Reading these bits felt a lot like going around in endless circles. It was pretty frustrating.

Its faulty pacing aside, this book gives readers interesting characters who are each other’s polar opposites. Karina, the reluctant crown princess of Ziran, is brash, reckless, impulsive, and a bit arrogant and self-centered. But she’s also insecure, and hurting from all her losses. Malik, an Eshran refugee, has only known hardship most of his life. He is meek, filled with so much self-doubt, and suffering from debilitating panic attacks brought about by his anxiety. But he also has the biggest heart, his love for his family becoming both a strength and weakness. It was interesting watching them together and seeing them learn from each other. Karina shows Malik that he can be someone strong, while Malik softens Karina’s edges.

The politics inside Ksar Alahari and Ziran was also one of the things that kept me reading. The oppression and discrimination the Eshrans experience depicted in the book could open discussions about race and equality, topics that are forever relevant but even more so in our world today.

Though it starts slow, the story finds its footing and hits its stride in its last quarter. The explosive ending is sure to make readers come back for the last half of this planned duology once it comes out next year.

Overall, even with its wonky pacing and info dump in its first half, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is a satisfying read. YA fantasy readers, especially those who loved Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone will enjoy this book. Roseanne A. Brown is a promising author, and I’m definitely coming back for the sequel if only to know how Malik and Karina’s stories end.

ROSEANNE “ROSIE” A. BROWN was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. Writing was her first love, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to use the power of writing – creative and otherwise – to connect the different cultures she called home. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets.

On the publishing side of thing, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Never content to stay in any one place for too long, Rosie currently teaches in Japan, where in her free time she can usually be found exploring the local mountains, explaining memes to her students, or thinking about Star Wars.

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Review: “Incendiary” by Zoraida Córdova

Title: IncendiaryIncendiary - book cover
Series:
Hollow Crown #1
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers/Hachette Book Group
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Genocide, torture
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Taking inspiration from Spanish Inquisition Spain, Zoraida Córdova’s duology starter is an ambitious work with love and war at its core.

I am Renata Convida.
I have lived a hundred stolen lives.
Now I live my own.

Renata Convida was only a child when she was kidnapped by the King’s Justice and brought to the luxurious palace of Andalucia. As a memory thief, the rarest and most feared of the magical Moria, Renata’s ability to steal memories from royal enemies enabled the King’s Wrath, a siege that resulted in the deaths of thousands of her own people.

Now Renata is one of the Whispers, rebel spies working against the crown and helping the remaining Moria escape the kingdom bent on their destruction. The Whispers may have rescued Renata from the palace years ago, but she cannot escape their mistrust and hatred – or the overpowering memories of the hundreds of souls she drained during he time in the palace.

When Dez, the commander of her unit – and the boy she’s grown to love – is taken captive by the notorious Príncipe Dorado, Renata must return to Andalucia and complete Dez’s top secret mission herself. Can she keep her cover, even as she burns for vengeance against the brutal, enigmatic prince? Her life and the fate of the Moria depend on it.

But returning to the palace stirs childhood memories long locked away. As Renata grows more deeply embedded in the politics of the royal court, she uncovers a secret in her past that could change the fate of the entire kingdom – and end the war that has cost her everything.

There are those rare stories that grip you, latch on to you from the first page until the last – those stories that make you stay up all night just so you could finish it. Incendiary is one of those rare stories.

Action-packed and so full of twists and turns from start to end, Incendiary sank its claws on me and dragged me on a trip to a volatile and dangerous world. I enjoyed this book so much. It has everything I ever wanted in a fantasy – magic, court intrigue, spycraft, and revenge – I ate it all up.

The story follows Renata Convida, a róbari – a memory thief – the rarest of the magic-wielding Moria. Kidnapped when she was a child and manipulated into being an instrument to hunt and persecute her own people by the cruel King Fernando and Justice Méndez, the leader of the King’s Justice, she was rescued by the Whispers. Now a young woman and a member of the rebel Moria group, Ren is dead set on destroying her former captors’ rule and to take back Memoria from her conquerors. But when Dez, her friend and love, is captured and executed by the Bloody Prince, Prince Castian, Renata is forced to go back the palace, to her enemies, to finish Dez’s last mission.

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Córdova takes on an ambitious work with this book, and it pays off.

Inspired by Spanish Inquisition Spain, this story’s world feels real and familiar in its brutality and its workings. The degradation of the subjugated peoples and the erasure of their way of life – their culture, traditions, religion – felt uncomfortably close especially to someone who is from a country with a long history of being colonized. I couldn’t help but see my own people in the Moria.

Incendiary is intricately plotted and heavily driven by this same element. At any given time, there are about two or three plot threads being explored in the same chapter. But, amazingly, it doesn’t overwhelm, coalescing and adding up instead to form a solid, formidable base for this whole series to stand on. It was fun trying to piece together stuff and try to figure out how things will go down, try being the operative word in that statement. It was, I think, the most enjoyable bit of this book for me.

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The magic system, while it could use some more elaboration, was another thing I loved about this book. The use of metals – gold for the illusionári, silver for the ventári, copper for persúari, and platinum for róbari – to amplify the magics of the Moria was an interesting detail and makes me wonder if alchemy will play a bigger role in the next book.

Córdova also did an awesome job creating intriguing characters you’d want to get to know and root for. Though, with this story being heavily plot-driven, the exploration these characters – Sayida, Margo, and Esteban, Lady Nuria and Leo, even the main trio of Ren, Dez, and Prince Castian – suffers a bit. It’s one of the things I wish will be remedied in the next book.

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Still, even with its flaws, Incendiary is a riveting story full of nail-biting action and intriguing politics. The conclusion of this first installment leaves a lot open for the next one to explore, and I, for one, am excited about it.about the author

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ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA is the author of nine fantasy novels for kids and teens, most recently the award-winning Brooklyn Brujas series, Incendiary, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of ViewCome on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is the co-editor of Vampires Never Get Old: Eleven Tales with Fresh Bite. Her debut middle grade novel is The Way to Rio Luna. She is the co-host of the podcast Deadline City with Dhonielle Clayton. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.

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Review: “The Seventh Sun” by Lani Forbes

Title: The Seventh Sun48088682
Series:
The Age of the Seventh Sun #1
Author: Lani Forbes
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Blood rituals, animal sacrifice, parental death
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Lani Forbes explores the complexities of faith, religion, and tradition in the first book of her series inspired by Aztec mythology The Seventh Sun.

Thrust into leadership upon the death of his emperor father, young Prince Ahkin feels completely unready for his new position. Though his royal blood controls the power of the sun, he’s now responsible for the lives of all the Chicome people. And despite all Ahkin’s efforts, the sun is fading – and the end of the world may be at hand.

For Mayana, the only daughter of the Chicome family whose blood controls the power of water, the old emperor’s death may mean that she is next. Prince Ahkin must be married before he can ascend the throne, and Mayana is one of six noble daughters presented to him as a possible wife. Those whose are not chosen will be sacrificed to the gods.

Only one girl can become Ahkin’s bride. Mayana and Ahkin feel an immediate connection, but the gods themselves may be against them. Both recognize that the ancient rites of blood that keep the gods appeased may be harming the Chicome more than they help. As a bloodred comet and the fading sun bring a growing sense of dread, only two young people may hope to change their world.

To be honest, I didn’t quite know what this book was about when I first saw it on Edelweiss. I think my mind just zeroed in on Aztec mythology and, having not read many books inspired by Mesoamerican cultures, I requested it and luckily got approved for a review copy.

Well, folks, ya girl is super glad she took a chance.

The Seventh Sun was the nicest of surprises. Thrilling and romantic in equal parts, Lani Forbes weaved together a story about faith and tradition, and of two young people who must challenge everything they’ve ever known and believed in if they are to have hope of saving their people and the world.

There is much to love in this story. From the characters to the intricate plot, to the surprising and unexpected twist revealed near the end of this installment, The Seventh Sun is an engrossing and intriguing read.

The story follows Ahkin, heir to the Chicome empire, and Mayana, the only daughter of the noble family of Atl. With the sudden death of the emperor, both Ahkin’s and Mayana’s lives are altered: the former forced into leadership while the latter is sent to either be the new empress to rule by the prince’s side or as a sacrifice to the gods.

Ahkin and Mayana were a great match. Alike and different at the same time, their personalities and their beliefs complement one another’s. Introspective, untested, and still grieving the deaths of his parents Ahkin was unready and ill-prepared to be emperor but, with another apocalypse looming, he doesn’t have much of a choice. Curious, compassionate, and kind to a fault, Mayana is born into a world whose practices goes against the very core of her. She stands alone and without an ally in her corner of the empire, weighed down by guilt over her mother’s accidental death. Still, wanting to earn her father’s approval, she abides by the ancient rules and rites set upon her even as she starts to question them.

It took me a while but I grew to like both Ahkin and Mayana. These two were put through the grinder, and I just couldn’t help but feel for them. Despite the vast difference between our world and theirs, I was still able to relate to Ahkin and Mayana. They grappled with similar questions I’ve often asked myself – questions about faith, religion, and tradition, and about staying true to yourself and doing what your feel is right.

As good as Ahkin and Mayana were as main characters though, it is this story’s world that really shone the brightest.

Built upon various Mesoamerican cultures & mythology, The Seventh Sun featured a unique world, rich and lush from the very first page. Forbes mainly takes inspiration from Aztec mythology – the ancient gods and a great part of rituals and the religion depicted in the story – but she has also taken creative liberties where it is necessary, threading in inspiration from ancient Mayan and even Egyptian cultures. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t encountered a lot of books featuring the ancient cultures that this book did, but the world of this story was the part that I enjoyed the most. It just drew me in and into the pages, so intrigued by everything described – the food, the way of life of the Chicome – that I became even more engrossed reading and following Ahkin and Mayana’s stories.

While there are still a few things I wished were better – secondary characters lacked depth, a few action sequences felt like filler- I absolutely loved this book. It explored ancient myths and cultures that haven’t been featured on a lot of stories. I’m definitely coming back to this series next year once the sequel is out. I mean, you couldn’t possibly think I’d want to miss it not with the way this installment ended. Readers of YA fantasy and the romance genre will definitely find something to love in this book.

P.S. The author has a pronunciation guide on her website. You can check it out if you’re curious (and tongue-tied) as I was. And in that same vein, I highly encourage you to read more about ancient Mesoamerican cultures and myths. about the author

Lani ForbesLANI FORBES is the daughter of a librarian and an ex-drug smuggling surfer, which explains her passionate love of the ocean and books. A California native whose parents live in Mexico, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest where she stubbornly wears flip flops no matter how cold it gets. She teaches middle school math and science, and proudly calls herself a nerd and Gryffindor. She is also an award-winning member of Romance Writers of America and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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Review: “Tweet Cute” by Emma Lord

Tweet Cute_CoverTitle: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Publication Date: January 21, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

 

Two teens engage in a Twitter brand war online all while, unknown to themselves, they fall in love with each other in real life in this cute and fluffy debut that is sure to give readers all the feels!

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming — mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account. 

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time. 

All’s fair in love and cheese — that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life — on an anonymous chat app Jack built. 

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate — people on the internet are shipping them?? — their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected

Toothachingly sweet!

That’s how I would describe Tweet Cute. This book is troupe heaven! Just think an updated version of You’ve Got Mail –rivals falling in love with each other – with a tinge of some Gossip Girl vibe on the side mixed with some overachiever and class clown pairing. It’s as soft and fluffy as you expect it to be!

But more than the obvious (and totes adorbs!!!) romantic plot, Tweet Cute packs more, tackling familial pressure, self-discovery, and charting your own path all while serving up some snarky, sassy banter and Twitter gold punny moments.

The story follows Pepper and Jack. Heiress and heir to their family’s respective food businesses, the two had to balance academics and extra-curriculars – not to mention college applications and interviews – wading through the competitive air of their swanky Upper East Side prep school with helping out their parents run their businesses’ social media accounts.

The summary pretty much covers the highlights of this book, but what it doesn’t mention is just how wonderfully Pepper and Jack’s (#TeamPepperjack! Get it? Pepperjack?!?) story unfold. These two characters’ relationship is easily my favorite thing about Tweet Cute. Their sniping and snapping on Twitter, fighting over who has the right to the pool for swim/dive practice, their exchanges on Weazel, and all of the little twists and turns they both take were what made this story so fun to read. They seemed so different at first, but as the story progressed, their similarities surfaced. Their high involvement with their families and their respective businesses was a common ground: Pepper, caught in between her mother and sister’s fight, pressured into handling Big League Burger’s Twitter account by her mom, and still expected to bring home straight A’s; Jack, feeling secondary to his twin, expected to take over his family’s deli, his parents – especially his father – oblivious to the fact that it’s not what he wants.

You just couldn’t help but feel for these two darlings, and I think a great part of that is because of Emma Lord’s solid work on these her characters. She built Pepper and Jack’s story layer after layer letting them grow as they face and solve the conflicts laid out on their path. Lord’s easy and flowing writing style, her expert handling of all the social media bits incorporated into this story (god, gimme all the memes!)  also adds color to this already fun read.

I enjoyed this book so very much. It came at the right time when I needed and wanted something light and happy. Tweet Cute was fluffy and romantic and cheesy – everything I could ever as of from a rom-com. Dare I say, this is going to be among my favorite books of this year. Just, maybe, some warning before you go into this story: have food and drinks on hand because you’ll get hungry reading this (grilled cheese sandwiches, anyone?)

P.S. If you’re so inclined, I had the chance to ask Emma Lord a few questions about Tweet Cute. You can find it here.

about the authorEmma Lord

EMMA LORD is a digital media editor and writer living in New York City, where she spends whatever time she isn’t writing either running or belting show tunes in community theater. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a major in psychology and a minor in how to tilt your computer screen so nobody will notice you updating your fan fiction from the back row. She was raised on glitter, grilled cheese, and a whole lot of love. Her sun sign is Hufflepuff, but she is a Gryffindor rising. TWEET CUTE is her debut novel.

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Review + Q&A: “Foul is Fair” by Hannah Capin

42595554Title: Foul is Fair
Author: Hannah Capin
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Content warning: Sexual assault, rape, physical violence, murder, suicide, transphobic bullying
(For a more comprehensive list of CWs please visit the author’s site.)
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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ARC provided by the publisher. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Dark and gritty, Hannah Capin tells a tale of burning rage and bloody vengeance in her sophomore offering Foul is Fair.

Elle and her friends Mads, Jenney, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Elle’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Elle as their next target.

They picked the wrong girl.

Sworn to vengeance, Elle transfers to St. Andrew’s. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly.

Revenge and murder, these two words seem to always draw my attention, and it’s those same words that brought me to this book.

Foul is Fair is vicious, bloody and unapologetically angry. Capin channels the Bard’s Macbeth putting her own twists to it supplanting power-grabbing, murderous Scottish nobles and prophesying witches with entitled rich kids from an elite prep school and a group of knife-sharp girls bonded by their pact of vengeance.

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This book doesn’t hold anything back but consider yourselves forewarned: a good chunk of what happens in this book is implausible so suspend your disbelief, leave it at the doorstep before delving in.

This book was just impossible to put down. The story is fast-paced; the writing is crisp and sharp. Capin tackles rape culture and privilege head on, no frills, no social commentary buried in complex prose. Manipulative, diabolic, and so full of dark, deadly secrets, her characters in this story are not ones you usually see or even want to root for. These characters are shallowly drawn, almost like a caricature – something that usually turns me off but for this story, it works.

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It may not be for everyone, Foul is Fair is grim, even more grim than I thought it would be. At several points, the story could be too much that’s it’s hard to continue pushing back your disbelief, but there is certainly something freeing reading something that puts into words some of the deepest and darkest thoughts you’ve had. If you’ve enjoyed Sadie (Courtney Summers,) The Female of the Species (Mindy McGinnis,) and Sawkill Girls (Claire Legrand,) this book is for you.

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Though it was tough at times, I enjoyed reading Foul is Fair. It was filled to the brim with heedless, reckless rage, which was just so deliciously gratifying.  So, I’m happy to have a chance to ask Hannah Capin a few short questions about her new book.

What inspired you to write Foul is Fair?

For a very long time, I’ve wanted to write a story that subverts the expected narrative of a sexual assault survivor. FOUL IS FAIR centers a girl who seizes her power back by any means necessary. She isn’t a “good girl,” she doesn’t do what she “should” do, and she absolutely never apologizes.

What would you like readers to take away after finishing this book?

That’s up to the reader! Books should *make* you think, not tell you *what* to think.

In 2 GIFs or emojis, sum up Foul is Fair.

about the authorHannah Capin

HANNAH CAPIN is the author of Foul is Fair and The Dead Queens Club, a feminist retelling of the wives of Henry VIII. When she isn’t writing, she can be found singing, sailing, or pulling marathon gossip sessions with her girl squad. She lives in Tidewater, Virginia.

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Special thanks go out to Meghan Harrington and Wednesday Books for inviting me to this tour and giving me the chance to read Foul is Fair in advance.