Reviews

Review: The Girl and the Grove

39934046The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: May 8th 2018 by North Star Editions
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: adopted MC of colour (#ownvoices) with seasonal affective disorder

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend, Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Is she ready to answer?

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Girl and the Grove was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. I requested the ARC months ago and I was overjoyed when I got it, but somehow I only got around to reading it in May.

It was awesome to read a book with a teen protagonist whose hobby is protecting the environment, with a fondness for trees in particular. I also think this is one of the only #ownvoices books with an adopted protagonist that I’ve read, especially a protagonist who was adopted as a teen and not as a small child. (In fact, the only one I can suddenly think of is one of Vavyan Fable’s books, but as far as I know, that wasn’t #ownvoices.) It was really interesting to read about Leila’s experiences, and how she struggled with accepting that she finally had a home and a family.

I also loved the text messages, Google searches and messages from a forum/board that appeared between chapters. I always love books that have some kind of quote or social media messages in each chapter that gives more information about the characters and their lives, even outside of what we see in the books.

The plot itself was exciting as well, and even terrifying at some points as Leila and her friends were running out of time to save the grove and their city. I loved Leila’s best friend, her parents, and also her love interest. (Jon’s dad jokes were the best, and also the way he and Liz cared for Leila.)

I’m giving it four stars because the characterisation and the writing style didn’t always work for me, but ultimately this was a pretty great book. It’s an urban contemporary story with just a little fantasy/magic written into it.

My rating: 🌳🌳🌳🌳/5.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

ARC Review: Sky in the Deep

Sky in the Deep_cover imageSky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Published: April 24th 2018 by Wednesday Books
Pages: 352 (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
Sex on page: No (fade-to-black yes)
LGBTQAI+: None

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient, rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I am usually skeptical of books that get a lot of hype, especially books without queer characters. Based on the cover and the blurb, I also expected a cold, gritty, bloody tale of warriors and betrayal.

(Note: There are minor plot spoilers in this review, but honestly, the blurb already gives away a lot of things that happen quite late, so you won’t find anything major that’s not already in the blurb.)

“Do you know how?” Halvard asked, looking up at me from where he sat on the ground.
Inge laughed. “She has hair, doesn’t she?”
“I used to do my brother’s,” I answered. The breath caught in my chest.

Don’t get me wrong – I got all of that. There is cold and ice, there are betrayals, and there certainly are warriors. And yet, this book is anything but gritty. Finding out that her brother has been alive and living with the enemy all this time, and forced to live among the enemy for the winter, Eelyn is full of anger and betrayal and doubt.

And yet, there is so much gentleness in this book. Gentleness between Inge and her children. Gentleness between Eelyn’s brother and his new family. Gentleness between Eelyn and the Riki family she lives with. Gentleness between community members who help each other and take care of their own.

“We find things, just as we lose things, Eelyn.” Inge stood. “If you’ve lost your honor, you’ll find it again.”

In a lot of places, this book reminded me of Ice Massacre, another book of teenage warriors who are trained to kill and fight yearly against a specific enemy from a young age. I only read the first book in that trilogy, so I don’t know where the story goes – but Sky in the Deep is a standalone, so you get the ending in the first book, and it’s much more positive than I expected.

I am also wary of m/f romances in YA because many of them are built on no chemistry and toxic tropes, but that wasn’t the case here. This might be strange to say given the circumstances, but Eelyn and Fiske felt equal in their relationship from the beginning. I admit I didn’t read the whole blurb, so I wasn’t actually sure they would end up together at first, but I could feel the romance and the trust build between them.

I uttered the words that had once been said to me, the night my mother died. “You run into the forest. You don’t stop until morning. No matter what.”

In the end, this book had much less grittiness and betrayal, and much more gentleness and found families than I expected. And by that I mean, there are found families literally everywhere.

In short, Sky in the Deep was a beautiful standalone novel that had a violent plot in a cold climate, and yet still felt heartwarming.

Content warnings: attempted sexual assault. violence. cutting out an eyeball at one point.

My rating: 🗻🗻🗻🗻🗻/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC Review: Nothing But Sky

35223711Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Series: Standalone
Published: March 27th 2018 by Flux
Length: 284 pages
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Sex on page: No

Grace Lafferty only feels alive when she’s dangling 500 feet above ground. As a post-World War I wing walker, Grace is determined to get to the World Aviation Expo, proving her team’s worth against flashier competitors and earning a coveted Hollywood contract.

No one’s ever questioned Grace’s ambition until Henry Patton, a mechanic with plenty of scars from the battlefield, joins her barnstorming team. With each new death-defying trick, Henry pushes Grace to consider her reasons for being a daredevil. Annoyed with Henry’s constant interference, and her growing attraction to him, Grace continues to test the powers of the sky.

After one of her risky maneuvers saves a pilot’s life, a Hollywood studio offers Grace a chance to perform at the Expo. She jumps at the opportunity to secure her future. But when a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether Henry, and her life, are worth risking for one final trick.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading this book, my first thought was that it would fit perfectly in The Radical Element anthology that I read recently. It’s a historical fiction with a 18-year-old female protagonist who is truly radical and defies convention by performing tricks on the wings of moving airplanes in the 1920s.

After I read the book, I would like to say that I probably would have enjoyed it more if it truly had been a short story/novella in an anthology instead of a full-length book. This way, I often felt like it dragged on, or the exact same type of conflicts and scenes kept repeating (some practice, someone trying to convince Grace not to fly, Rowland showing up…). While it was overall a good story, I feel like it would have worked better if it was half as long.

Another problem for me was the characters. Other than Grace and MAYBE Henry, I couldn’t really get connected to anyone. Grace’s two female friends were nice, but they didn’t appear that much. The Uncle, Daniel and Nathan were interesting as Grace’s family, but – especially the last two – barely felt like individual people to me (up until a certain spoiler-y event).

It was clever how the book kept hinting at one character being a traitor when it was really another one, so it gets a few points for not being predictable, but the eventual reveal just made me less enthusiastic about both of these characters when I already wasn’t too attached to either.

Overall, I think this book had a great setting but unfortunately I didn’t find it very enjoyable to read.

My rating: 🛩️🛩️🛩️/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Not Your Sidekick

31698951Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Genre: YA, SFF, Superheroes, LGBTQAI+
Series: Sidekick Squad #1
Published: September 8th 2016 by Duet
Length: 296 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Bisexual girl main character (#ownvoices), main f/f relationship, trans guy side character (I’m also pretty sure Emma is a-spec but it’s not mentioned in this book yet)
Sex on page: No
Note: Chinese/Vietnamese main character

Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

Pretty much everyone I know has either read this book or is planning to read it, so here I am, officially joining the squad. (Not the sidekick squad, unfortunately, though that would be badass.)

There are never enough #ownvoices bisexual heroines, especially non-white ones, and Jess is amazing – as are all her friends. This book was fun and easy to read, although way too predictable at times, but I suppose that comes with the genre. After all, is it really a superhero novel without all those incredibly obvious secret identities that somehow nobody notices? And the main villain very conveniently detailing all their plans and secrets? I don’t think so.

Before going into this, I thought this was a contemporary/near-future setting, but turns out the story is set a couple of hundred years into the future, and in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, which was a nice surprise. I loved the little details, like driving your own car or having a pet being a luxury.

I loved laughing at the ineffective villains pulling pranks, then gradually realising that there’s so much more behind their actions. I loved how the main conspiracy was set up, and how history being rewritten and the media conveniently influencing people was focused on.

The main romance between Jess and Abby was adorable and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel. I also loved all of Jess’s family, especially her little brother and his totally-not-obvious crush on Bells. I am heartbroken about Jess’s sister and I’m curious to see where that relationship goes in the sequels.

I also really, really loved the recurring mentions of the Rainbow Allies club working at their school. I live in Hungary, and while I’ve heard about GSAs in the US, I’ve never heard of any here and certainly not in my city,  so it’s always interesting to read about.

All in all, I think this is a really fun read if you don’t take it too seriously (because yes, some of the parts are really THAT obvious). I also have an e-copy of the sequel (Not Your Villain) which is from Bells’s POV, so I can’t wait to read that one. Hopefully next month?

My rating: 🤖🤖🤖🤖/5.

~ Alexa