Review: “Beyond the Shadowed Earth” by Joanna Ruth Meyer

book coverTitle: Beyond the Shadowed Earth
Series: Beneath the Haunting Sea #2
Author: Joanna Ruth Meyer
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

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

Featuring morally gray characters and an intricate plot, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s companion novel to her 2018 debut Beneath the Haunting Sea is a complex tale about vengeance, guilt, and redemption.

It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown

Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.

Though not without flaws, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was, overall, an enjoyable read. Set in the world of Meyer’s debut Beneath the Haunting Sea, this book was ambitious in its coverage; expanding on already established elements and exploring characters previously introduced.

The story focuses on book one’s antagonist, Eda. Intent on taking revenge on the baron who stole her inheritance, a grieving nine-year-old Eda makes a deal with the god Tuer: her life in his service in exchange for the crown. Bargaining with gods, however, are tricky transactions and when Eda fails to fulfill her end of it, she realizes, much too late, that the consequences are bigger than her.

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I’m going to be honest. I had a hard time with this book. Yes, the plot was intriguing, and yes, the world building was well done. I loved and enjoyed both elements. I am, however, of two minds about its characters.

Eda, to say the least, is unlikable. She’s selfish, self-centered, naive, and vengeful. She is so blinded by her anger that it clouds her judgment. She bartered with a god, schemed and killed her way to get the crown. She is everything a villain is.

Being unlikeable, though, isn’t the reason why I have conflicting feelings about her.

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All throughout the book, things happen to Eda – tough ones. She lost both of her parents at a very young age, was displaced and betrayed and used. Her best friend, the one person she truly cares for, is taken from her all while her hold on her empire slips, her barons making their own moves to grab whatever power they could. All these are meant and should have made me, at the very least, a little bit considerate if not totally empathetic towards her. But it was so difficult to connect with Eda. Her character was shallowly drawn and one-dimensional. There just wasn’t so much to her, no hidden depths. This also holds true for most of the supporting characters, which, for a character-driven story, is a big problem.

Setting my issues with character development aside, I still found many things to like in Beyond the Shadowed Earth.

The world building was exquisite. From its complicated politics to its intricate religion, Enduena was fully alive and I gladly immersed myself in it. The magical and almost mythical nine gods, the center of this story’s religion, was the most interesting part for me, and, admittedly, it was what kept me reading especially when Eda’s story wasn’t progressing much.

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Ultimately, even with its share of issues, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was a good read. The conclusion to Eda’s story was satisfying, open-ended enough but with clues that she’s on to the right path. This book is the second of the series, but could pretty much stand on its own. YA fantasy readers, especially the ones that love a good redemption arc will love this story.

about the authorJoanna Ruth Meyer

JOANNA RUTH MEYER hails from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her dear family, a rascally feline, and an enormous grand piano. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to convince her students that Bach is actually awesome, or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. One day, she aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in, of course!)

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Review: “Jane Anonymous” by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Book CoverTitle: Jane Anonymous
Author: Laurie Faria Stolarz
Publishing Date: January 7, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Content Warnings: Abduction, Stockholm syndrome, manipulation, PTSD, obsession, stalking
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

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

Compelling and haunting, Laurie Faria Stolarz’s explores trauma, healing, and hope in her newest novel Jane Anonymous.

Then, “Jane” was just your typical 17-year-old in a typical New England suburb getting ready to start her senior year. She had a part-time job she enjoyed, an awesome best friend, overbearing but loving parents, and crush on a boy who was taking her to see her favorite band. She never would’ve imagined that in her town where nothing ever happens, a series of small coincidences would lead to a devastating turn of events that would forever change her life..

Now, it’s been three months since “Jane” escaped captivity and returned home. Three months of being that girl who was kidnapped, the girl who was held by a “monster.” Three months of writing down everything she remembered from those seven months locked up in that stark white room. But, what if everything you thought you knew – everything you thought you experienced –turned out to be a lie

Aware of the theme of this book, I went into this story with a prepared heart. But, alas, it was to no avail.

As gut-wrenching as it was gripping, Jane Anonymous is one story that’ll get under your skin and get through your heart. It explores trauma – its effects on both the victim and the people around them – healing and hope.

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LAURIE FARIA STOLARZ: I love that you’ve chosen this text. I struggled so much with it. I didn’t want it to reveal too much, and yet I wanted a degree of retrospection here. I rewrote this text again and again, trying to get the right balance – just enough insight but not too much. 

Gutsy main character “Jane” narrates the story, going back and forth between then, which covers the time before and during her seven-month captivity, and now, three months after her return home. She has a compelling voice, honest and raw and vulnerable. It was so easy to empathize with her.

The exploration of trauma, and the long and varied road to healing is at the heart of this book.

jane anonymous (2)

LFS: I really wanted to show that therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. Brave acts as therapy for Jane, giving her a sense of purpose. Brave also cries out when Jane can’t, and helps Jane see that life is worth fighting for; despite all of the abuse Brave has lived through, she still hasn’t lost her will to live. It is her instinct – something Jane admires.

Jane, at the beginning of the story, was in pieces: isolated, made to question her own experience. All throughout the book I felt like Jane stood alone. Her parents, even her best friend Shelley, seemed to expect her to just go back to her normal self once she returned home. It could be because they don’t know how to deal with it, but I don’t think they ever understood what Jane has gone through. The only one who was open and willing enough to try was Jack.

Bleak her start may be, Jane ends the book at a hopeful place. I think she started coming to terms with what has happened to her, ready to start healing and take back control of her life.

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LFS: In this scene, Jane is overhearing her father talk to a nurse at the hospital. Jane doesn’t feel she has a voice in her own life. People are talking about her in the third-person, as though she’s not even there, not even part of her own healing. Jane uses their words here to convey how alone she feels (the notion of luck feels so foreign to her at this point.) The point here is that people talk about her, as though everything is about her (her health, her growth, her safety, etc.). But things aren’t about her at all – not really. They’re more about them – how Jane’s time in captivity affects them/their lives.

Though heavy, I enjoyed reading Jane Anonymous. It was fast-paced and suspenseful. The story flowed really well even with all the switches between Jane’s then and now. Stolarz was able to handle trauma with care and sensitivity.

That said, there were a few things that didn’t work for me. Most characters, with the exception of Jane, were two dimensional. You really don’t get to know them much – Jane’s parents, Shelley; “Mason” and Jack were a little bit better but not by much.

Still, overall, this was a good read. Readers of crime and suspense YA thrillers will find something to love in this one. I highly recommend this especially for those who love Courtney Summers’ Sadie and Kathleen Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces.

about the authorLaurie Faria Stolarz

LAURIE FARIA STOLARZ is an American author of young adult fiction novels, best known for her Blue is for Nightmares series. Her works, which feature teenage protagonists, blend elements found in mystery and romance novels.

Stolarz found sales success with her first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, and followed it up with three more titles in the series, White is for Magic, Silvers is for Secrets, and Red is for Remembrance, as well as a companion graphic novel, Black is for Beginnings. Stolarz is also the author of the Touch series (Deadly Little Secret, Deadly Little Lies, Deadly Little Games, Deadly Little Voices, and Deadly Little Lessons,) as well as Bleed and Project 17. With more than two million books sold worldwide, Stolarz’s titles have been named on various awards list.

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The Reading Life – Guest Post
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Review: “The Wolf of Oren-yaro” by K.S. Villoso

The Wolf of Oren-yaro (2020)

Title: The Wolf of Oren-Yaro
Series: Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #1
Author: K.S. Villoso
Publication Date: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Orbit
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository| Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo| Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

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

 

A queen from a bloody lineage is desperate to unite her divided land in this compulsive and addicting series opener by debut author K.S. Villoso.

Born under the crumbling towers of Oren-yaro, Queen Talyien was the shining jewel and legacy of the bloody War of the Wolves that nearly tore her nation apart. Her upcoming marriage to the son of her father’s rival heralds peaceful days to come.

But his sudden departure before their reign begins fractures the kingdom beyond repair.

Years later, Talyien receives a message, urging her to attend a meeting across the sea. It’s meant to be an effort at reconciliation, but an assassination attempt leaves the queen stranded and desperate to survive in a dangerous land. With no idea who she can trust, she’s on her own as she struggles to fight her way home.

I must admit, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I started this book. With my obvious preference for plot-driven stories – especially when it comes to both sci-fi and fantasy – this was out of my comfort zone, but I took the plunge anyway.

And, oh boy, am I grateful I did.

The Wolf of Oren-yaro was a thrilling ride. Set against the backdrop of a country teetering on the brink of war, this is a story of love and betrayal, of family, duty, and legacy. It is a complicated tale, tangled with the politics of the world. At the center of it all, though, is one woman: Queen Talyien aren dar Orenar.

Queen Talyien is the heart and soul of this epic fantasy. This is her story. 

Told from her point-of-view, Talyien is the readers’ connection to this story’s world, and there couldn’t be anyone better. She is easily one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long while. Talyien – the Bitch Queen – is a complex character: brash, proud and quick to insult, yet she is also insecure, afraid and so full of uncertainties. The daughter of the warlord who started the war that tore their nation apart, she has inherited her father’s bloody and ruthless legacy. Her marriage to the Ikessar heir, the Oren-yaro’s rival clan, and their subsequent rule is supposed to bring peace – no matter how tenuous – to their land. But one night before their joint coronation, he abandons her leaving Talyien to hold together Jin Sayeng on her own.

Talyien is not easy to like. Jumping from one danger to another and committing herself to half-formed decisions, she is infuriating and frustrating in equal measures. Still, I found myself immediately empathizing with her. Though physically capable and mentally sharp, there is this certain vulnerability about her. Talyien, having been born, bred and grown into duty, wasn’t really given any chance to get to know who she is a woman and as a queen. These two roles often blend and blur together, and it creates so much inner conflict – in addition to outside forces *hint hint* warlords, councilors with misplaced loyalty and a creepy megalomaniac prince – in Talyien and fuels much of her actions.

This is where K.S. Villoso truly shines, mining and building on her characters’ inner tumult, creating depth and breathing life into them. She works her magic from Talyien to the soft-hearted con-man Khine down to self-made lord Lo Bahn. Every character in this book stands out, their voices clear and easily distinguishable. Her secondary characters manage to both add texture to Talyien’s story, and live their own. You can effortlessly imagine what they do beyond the page-time they are given, and that is something that’s not easy to do.

The world-building, though it is not the focus, is also one of the things I love about this book. From page one, the world, its people, the food felt familiar to me. Villoso drew much of her world’s elements from Asian culture and history. But that’s not the reason why the setting of this book was instantly familiar to me because as much as Talyien’s world felt Asian, it felt, more so, Filipino. I’ll be limiting what I put here to avoid spoilers, but take Jin Sayeng as an example. The warlords who rule over their region are reminiscent of feudal Japan while the clans with their defining traits reminded me of the Philippines’ regionalism/province-centric attitude.

The book though is not without its fault. The story took more time before it really gained its momentum. The first half was slow without much happening. Talyien’s recollections of the past, while interesting, interrupted the story’s pace most times. The last quarter of this book makes up for this though, trust me. 

Overall, The Wolf of Oren-yaro is a great series opener. With compelling, fully-formed characters carrying the weight, this a little bit more personal than the usual epic fantasy. You can be sure that I’ll be making grabby hands for the next installment, especially with the way this one ended. This is one book you shouldn’t miss. 

about the authorAuthor photo (K.S. Villoso)

 

K.S. VILLOSO writes speculative fiction with a focus on deeply personal themes and character-driven narratives. much of her work is inspired by her childhood in the slums of Taguig, Philippines. She is now living amid the forest and mountains with her husband, children, and dogs in Anmore, BC.

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Review: “Across a Broken Shore” by Amy Trueblood

40024145Title: Across a Broken Shore
Author: Amy Trueblood
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Flux
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

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

 

Set in the latter years of the Great Depression in America, Amy Trueblood tells the story of a young woman divided between family and ambition in her latest YA historical.

The last thing eighteen-year-old Wilhelmina “Willa” MacCarthy wants is to be a nun. It’s 1936, and as the only daughter amongst four sons, her Irish-Catholic family is counting on her to take her vows – but Willa’s found another calling. Each day she sneaks away to help Doctor Katherine Winston in her medical clinic in San Francisco’s Richmond District.

Keeping secrets from her family only becomes more complicated when Willa agrees to help the doctor at a field hospital near the new bridge being built over the Golden Gate. Willa thinks she can handle her new chaotic life, but as she draws closer to a dashing young ironworker and risks grow at the bridge, she discovers that hiding from what she truly wants may be her biggest lie of all.

It’s been a handful of months since the last time I read a historical having favored SFF heavily for most of this year. It was a good run but, admittedly, I missed the cozy comfort that a good historical brings and, reader, I couldn’t be gladder to dip back into this genre with this book.

Across a Broken Shore quote 1

With the construction of San Francisco’s famed Golden Gate Bridge in its background, Across a Broken Shore will transport readers to late 1830s America – a time of great hardship for many, but also of hope. It was an enjoyable read, both touching and relatable in equal measures.

The story centers on eighteen-year-old Willa MacCarthy. Having finished high school, Willa’s all but bidding time, albeit with increasing dread, until she enters the convent. It was a fate her traditional Irish-Catholic parents had set for her ever since she was young and, burdened both by guilt and duty, Willa had consigned herself to it that was until she met Dr. Winston. 

Across a Broken Shore quote 2

Across a Broken Shore dealt with some complicated and tough topics: the often-limiting and disembodying weight of familial duty and expectations, the stifling rules of tradition and convention, the challenges and prejudices women had to weather and pretend to be immune from in a world built for men. I loved that Trueblood incorporated all these issues within her narrative. It made the story believable and relatable because even if this novel was set some 80+ years ago these are issues are still pretty much a problem for so many other people. 

Still, crucial though they may be, the heart of this novel is still Willa.

Willa, as a character, was relatable and readers will find themselves empathizing with her. She’s strong in her own way, smart, resourceful and capable. I couldn’t help feeling angry on her behalf for the way her whole family, with the exception of Paddy, treats her. They limited her, forcing her to conform to be this person they think she should be. 

Across a Broken Shore quote 3

Dr. Katherine Winston was another character I loved. She was a mentor and a friend to Willa, encouraging her to follow her heart’s desire and, in the end, giving her the means to do so. She along with Willa’s brother Paddy, Cara, Willa’s best friend, and Sam, her love interest, were bright lights in Willa’s life. They advocated for her and pushed her to assert her agency amidst the one-tracked fate her parents laid out for her.

Across a Broken Shore quote 4

Though perhaps the last 50 or so pages were a bit circular before finally coming to a final resolution, Across a Broken Shore was a solid coming-of-age novel. Readers will be inspired by Willa’s determination and will identify with her struggles. This is my first book from Amy Trueblood but it certainly will not be the last. I highly recommend this read, especially for those who love historical fiction.

about the author

amy-t.-bio-photoAMY TRUEBLOOD grew up in California only ten minutes from Disneyland which sparked an early interest in storytelling, As the youngest of five, she spent most of her time trying to find a quiet place to curl up with her favorite books. After graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism, she worked in entertainment in Los Angeles before returning to work in Arizona.

Fueled by good coffee and an awesome Spotify playlist, you can often find Amy blogging and writing. Nothing But Sky, a 2018 Junior Library Guild selection, is her first novel.

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Review: “The Never Tilting World” by Rin Chupeco

The Never Tilting World
Title: The Never Tilting World
Series: Never Tilting World #1
Author: Rin Chupeco
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves
ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Two young goddesses try to right a world gone wrong in Rin Chupeco’s newest fantasy duology The Never Tilting World.

Generations of twin goddesses have long ruled Aeon. But seventeen years ago, one sister’s betrayal defied an ancient prophecy and split their world in two. The planet ceased to spin, and a Great Abyss now divides two realms: one cloaked in perpetual night, the other scorched by unrelenting sun.
While one sister rules Aranth – a frozen city surrounded by a storm-wrecked sea – her twin inhabits the sand-locked Golden City. Each goddess has raised a daughter, and each keeps her own secrets about her sister’s betrayal.
But when shadowy forces begin to call their daughters, Odessa and Haidee, back to the site of the Breaking, the two young goddesses – along with a powerful healer from Aranth, and mouthy desert scavenger – set out on separate journeys across treacherous wastelands, desperate to heal their broken world. No matter the sacrifice it demands.

“A demoness is what men call a goddess they cannot control.”

A strong opening for a strong story, The Never Tilting World blew me away. From the amazing world-building down to all the carefully laid out plot twists, this book had everything I wanted and more. It entertained and made me think: about sisters and that invisible thread connecting them, about power and sacrifice, and of the broken world handed down to us and what we could do to heal it.

Rin Chupeco’s writing really shone through in this book.

With details so vividly described they’re almost tangible, this story’s world-building is just something else. The idea of a world that has stopped spinning, split in two by a great unknowable abyss was a fresh one to me. The two halves – one veiled in the darkness of a never-ending night frozen and battered by tempestuous storms, the other languishing under the heat of a set that never sets – and the element-based magic system reminded me a bit of The Avatar: The Last Airbender and Mad Max.

Having multiple point-of-view characters can be a tough thing to work with. Sometimes it works, others it doesn’t. For TNTW though, it’s the latter. In fact, I think, it’s the best way to tell this particular story.

The two halves of the split world setting of this world is a huge ground to cover. Each side’s widely (and wildly) differing natures create an equally diverse set of challenges for everyone in this book. Chupeco, however, used her characters effectively and maximized the use of the first-person narrative. The four POV characters – Odessa and Lan, Haidee and Arjun – give readers a complete and comprehensive view of the story’s world all while moving the plot.

I must admit, for the first 20% of the book I felt kind of overwhelmed. There were a lot of foundational parts of the world-building thrown in with the narrative in the opening part and it was a sensory overload. Processing and separating the plot while trying to get a feel of what the world looked like and how it functioned became a task. Once things start gelling together though, everything just flowed and those bits laid out at the beginning of the book made a whole lot of sense. Plot twists (especially that ONE involving a supporting character) were deftly foreshadowed without sinking down the surprise factor. This is actually one of the first books I’ve read in a while that I wasn’t able to predict how things will go, and I was all the better for it.

The main characters were a treat to read about. They all have distinct voices and unique personalities, making them easy to tell apart. I enjoyed reading about them – Arjun more than most because he’s just hilarious even when he’s not trying. But, as fun as following their journeys through their world and, in turn, watching them grow as characters, I wasn’t able to really personally connect with any of them. This is not something necessarily bad, it’s just a matter of different experiences. Nevertheless, this difference did not stop me from rooting for all four MCs to succeed (or stay alive and unharmed.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It’s an epic adventure featuring young characters who are willing to take on the challenge of righting the wrongs of those who came before them – to break the cycle. It tackles climate change in all its harshness and destruction, but it still carries with it a hopeful note.

The Never Tilting World is a great start to a new series. It tied off a handful of the plot threads it pulled in but left enough to give the sequel a comfortable starting point. I definitely have a number of questions I want to be answered (What exactly did Asteria and Latona do?) and you can be sure that the moment the next installment hits the shelves, I will be making a grab for it. This is a must-read!

about the author

Rin Chupeco

Raised in Manila, Philippines, RIN CHUPECO writes about ghosts and fantastic worlds. She is the author of The Bone Witch series, The Suffering, and The Girl from the Well.

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