Review: “The Faithless Hawk” by Margaret Owen

Title: The Faithless Hawk
Series: The Merciful Hawk #2
Author: Margaret Owen
Publication Date: August 18, 2020
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Court intrigue, secrets, and betrayal abound in this thrilling series ending.

As the new chieftain of the Crows, Fie knows better than to expect a royal to keep his word. Still, she’s hopeful that Prince Jasimir will fulfill his oath to protect her fellow Crows. But then black smoke fills the sky, signaling the death of King Surimir and the beginning of Queen Rhusana’s merciless bid for the throne.

With the witch queen using the deadly plague to unite the nation of Sabor against the Crows – and add numbers to her monstrous army – Fie and her band are forced to go into hiding, leaving the country to be ravaged by the plague. However, they’re all running out of time before the Crows starve in exile and Sabor is lost forever.

As desperate Fie calls on old allies to help take Rhusana down from within her own walls. But inside the royal palace. The only difference between a conqueror and thief is an army. To survive, Fie must unravel not only Rhusana’s plot, but ancient secrets of the Crows – secrets that could save her people, or set the world ablaze.

The Merciful Crow was one of my most favorite titles to come out last year. I loved its world, its story and characters; I loved the romance and the found family element of it but above all I loved Fie. She’s feisty and sharp and so, so, so righteously angry. I loved her every thorny bit and her hidden soft side. So when the chance to read its sequel early came up I grabbed it with both of my greedy, impatient hands. (I might have used my feet, too. That’s how much I wanted it!)

And, all the merciful gods and goddesses, this book was everything!

The Faithless Hawk solidified TMC‘s place as one of my forever favorite series. It tied the whole duology neatly, picking up the threads left over from the first book for a most satisfying ending.

But not without putting Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir through the grinder first.

The story hits the ground running, loaded with explosive revelations even from the very first chapters. Fie, now chief of her band of Crows, meets one of the old Crow gods and receives some very cryptic stuff about the Crows’ birthright, the oath she thought she’d already fulfilled, and, most important of all, about herself — who she was, is, and her possible future self. With the knowledge that more rides on her making good on her part of the bargain and with Queen Rhusana becoming bolder and more ruthless in her quest to grab power, Fie reunites with Tavin and Jasimir to save the Crows and, in turn, the whole of Sabor.

Switching up from TMC‘s quest-type adventure where she took us on a trip throughout Sabor, Margaret Owen seamlessly takes readers deeper into the more intricate parts of the world she has created, exploring the complexities of court politics and social class workings. It was an interesting change, one that I enjoyed very much as it made me understand Fie’s world better — how it worked from the inside, why things were the way they were. Coupled with what had been already laid out in the first book, the new insights TFH gave me made me appreciate Owen’s worldbuilding work and plotting even more. I was detailed, well-planned, and executed with careful precision.

Amazing worldbuilding and plotting aside, what I loved most about this whole series were its characters. Having been thrown together in book one and going through some really tough stuff, Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir formed a strong bond. That bond, however, was tested throughout TFH. I don’t want to go into details because I might accidentally spoil something, but the trio do come through it — bruised and battered, but also a little bit wiser and a whole lot tougher and stronger.

Looking back to the start of their stories, Fie, Tavin, and Jasimir have all grown so much, Fie most of all. While she’s pretty much the same Fie we’ve known and loved from the first book, she’s more vulnerable in this sequel, unsure of herself, and, behind the tough exterior, scared for everyone she loves. But she’s also more open, more in touch with her powers as a Crow witch, and still as relentless as ever in fighting against the injustices done against her people. Of course, though the trio often find themselves in some very dangerous situations in this book, everything is not all doom and gloom all the time. Owen generously injects much-needed levity and humor throughout TFH. Honestly, she got me cackling my head off a lot of times while I was reading this book.

The Faithless Hawk is a gem of a sequel and ending to an amazing series. It tackles issues that hit too close to home sometimes, especially given the state of our own world. Margaret Owen shines as a writer in this one. With her expert plotting and worldbuilding, and especially her characters — from the mains to the secondary ones — she breathes life to such a special story, one that I will be coming back to again and again.

m-owen-headshotBorn and raised at the end of the Oregon Trail, MARGARET OWEN first encountered an author in the wild in fourth grade. Roughly twenty seconds later, she decided she too would be an author, the first of many well-thought-out life decisions.

The career plan shifted frequently as Margaret spent her childhood haunting the halls of Powell’s Books. After earning her degree in Japanese, her love of espresso called her north to Seattle, where she worked everything from thrift stores to presidential campaigns. The common thread between every job can be summed up as: lessons were learned.

Fortunately, it turned out that fourth-grade Margaret was onto something. She now spends her days wrestling disgruntled characters onto the page, and negotiating a long-tern hostage situation with her two monstrous cats. (There is surprisingly little difference between the two.) In her free time, she enjoys exploring ill-advised travel destinations, and raising money for social justice nonprofits through her illustrations.

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Giveaway ends August 29.

(DNF) Review: “Ever Cursed” by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Ever Cursed
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Content warning/s: Sexism, sexual abuse, eating disorder, classism
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

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

The Princesses of Ever are beloved by the kingdom and their father, the King. They are cherished, admired.

Cursed.

Jane, Alice, Nora, Grace, and Eden carry the burden of being punished for a crime they did not commit, or even know about. They are each cursed to be Without one essential thing – the ability to eat, sleep, love, remember, or hope. And their mother, the Queen, is imprisoned, frozen in time in an unbreakable glass box.

But when Eden’s curse sets on her thirteenth birthday, the princesses are given the opportunity to break the curse, preventing it from becoming a True Spell and dooming the princesses for life. To do this, they must confront the one who cast the spell – Reagan, a young witch who might not be the villain they thought – as well as the wickedness plaguing their own kingdom…and family.

DNF’d at 50%

I tried to finish this. I really, really did. But, alas, I can’t and I finally gave up on this book after spending two weeks slogging through its pages.

I was lured into this book first by its gorgeous book cover, then its delicious plot. Sadly, I found the execution wanting. The worldbuilding was two-dimensional:  hazy and boring. The magic system – witches cumbered by a new skirt after each spell they cast, the material of which varies in make and weight depending on the severity of the magic used – could have been something, but its impact was lost on me as the story continued its slow trudge.

The characters, much like the worldbuilding, was also lackluster. Aside from their respective curses of Without, I can barely separate the cursed princesses in my mind. Jane’s voice, although she was one of the two POV characters, was weak at most, nonbearing more often than not as I found her repeating the same thoughts over the 50% of the book that I managed to read.

What stood out, however, was Reagan. I love grey characters, especially righteously angry and vengeful characters. I thought Reagan was going to be one so, even when the story was slow to unfold, I stayed hoping to see what she would do with her anger. 

My hope was for naught.

Maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything from her character, but I was set up by the opening chapter. Instead of the righteous anger and revenge that I was waiting to see, I got pettiness and immaturity. Reagan only ever listened to herself, filtering what others tell her and only hearing and seeing whatever it was she wanted. Though she said, many times, that she did what she had done to avenge her wronged mother, she never listened to her, never considered what she wanted or not wanted Reagan to do. I couldn’t help but believe that Reagan casted her curse on the princesses to appease her own feelings. Guilt or anger, I’m not sure, but it was all incredibly selfish.

Also, for all of Reagan’s professions of rage against the king, she was never forthcoming with the exact reason. The precursor event was alluded to and hinted at numerous times throughout the first half of this book, but nary an essential tidbit about it was directly mentioned and it just got frustrating. If the big reveal was to be done in the last half, I could only imagine it will be heaped and crammed until the end, and I’m not in for that.

Ever Cursed could have been more. It tried to tackle serious issues such as sexism and classism, which was appreciated. All the book’s flaws, however, overshadowed this intent. Still, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from picking up any book. Tastes differ, and while this book didn’t work for me, it could be what sparks the heart of another reader.

COREY ANN HAYDU is the critically acclaimed author of several novels for young readers, including OCD Love Story, which earned her a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. Her books have been Junior Library Guild, Indie Next, and BCCB Blue Ribbon selections. Corey lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her daughter, her dog, Oscar, and a wide variety of cheese.

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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)
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | Apple Books

goodreads-badge-add-plus-d700d4d3e3c0b346066731ac07b7fe47

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: “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.

jane anonymous (1) (1).png

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.

jane anonymous (3).png

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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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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