Review: Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

29560003In this diverse, gritty survival fantasy, a girl warrior turns against her island clan to find the brother they claim died, uncovering secrets. Perfect for fans of Graceling and Snow Like Ashes.

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

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

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

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

I’m a fan of stories about platonic relationships in general, but those about siblings have a special space in my heart. So when I first heard about Island of Exiles, I was excited, especially since it also featured a bisexual main character and an asexual side one. Though the book ended up being a pleasure to read, I must admit I wasn’t as captivated by it as I thought I would be.

First, the good: the protagonist, Khya, is incredible. She’s strong and determined, and I very much liked her more cold/impassive personality. Her two main relationships, with her brother and Tessen, are wonderfully complex and the best part of the story. Khya and Tessen’s relationship in special was incredibly refreshing and very different from your usual (and in my opinion boring) YA romance.

The mythology and worldbuilding in Island of Exiles is also great. Shiara is different, original and the author was successful in showing how its desolate climate shaped Khya’s people’s culture (also another highlight). The writing is good, though nothing extraordinary, and the plot is interesting if slow at times.

But what made this book sit in the “it was nice, I guess” category for me were, well, the characters. Yes, I just said Khya is an amazing protagonist, but aside from her (and maybe Tessen) no one is fleshed out enough and even Khya and Tessen themselves didn’t manage to make me actually care about them. Find them interesting? Sure. But care? Sadly, nope. And since I couldn’t care about them, much of the book’s emotional punch fell flat, maybe bordering on boring.

As for the rep, I can’t speak on the bisexual rep (though I couldn’t find fault in it) and the ace character is sadly super minor, so I honestly couldn’t care much about them.

Still, Island of Exiles is a good book and a great start to a new series. I don’t know if I’ll read the next one, but I certainly recommend The Ryogan Chronicles to fantasy lovers who would like to read about a different world & interesting characters. 3.0 stars.

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Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

33958230An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

I was super excited to read A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns from the moment I read its blurb and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

From the moment I started reading this book I just couldn’t stop. The writing is good and flows easily, making it easy to get a good impression of all characters and to visualize what is happening (something very important for me, since I have trouble visualizing virtually anything). The characters also felt very real, even the secondary ones, though Xifeng, of course, is the true star of the story.

Xifeng isn’t likable by any means. She’s selfish and way too vain, and other people’s safety or well-being aren’t often enough to damper her ambition or stop her from doing what she wants. Still, I couldn’t help but feel for her during the whole book, from when she lived with her Guma (who abused her constantly) to when she became part of the empress’ household. Xifeng is more than just a well developed character – she is interesting, and it’s fascinating to read about her and about her relationships, especially the one with the Empress. It was very complex and felt for both of them.

The world where she lives is just as interesting and feels very real. I loved the mythology, especially the demons of the forest (I loved their chapters), and as a fan of prophecies I really liked Xifeng’s. The one thing I didn’t like about A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns and the reason I didn’t give it five stars is the “darkness” inside Xifeng. I didn’t find it convincing and the moments where she says she feels it inside her were the only ones where I felt kicked out of the story, so to speak. Still, it’s a minor detail in an otherwise incredible book.

I can’t wait to read the next book and to see where the author will take Xifeng’s story. 4 stars for A Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.

 

 

Review: Citywide by Santino Hassell

35495782A record-breaking heatwave engulfs the Five Boroughs, and emotions run as hot as the temperatures.

In Rerouted, Chris Mendez is trying to live a drama-free life. That doesn’t include another threesome with Jace and Aiden Fairbairn. But then a citywide blackout leaves them trapped together, and Chris is forced to re-examine everything he thought he knew about relationships and his own heart.

In Gridlocked, former Marine Tonya Maldonado is keeping real estate heiress Meredith Stone on permanent ignore. Mere isn’t Tonya’s type. Not even close. Who cares if she kisses like a dream and has the filthiest mouth this side of the East River? But then a security detail at a summer party ends with her saving Mere’s life and discovering they have more chemistry than she’d ever imagined.
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In Derailed, Stephanie Quinones escapes the heat and her complicated love life by going on a company retreat. Trouble is, it’s a couples’ retreat, and she lied about having a boyfriend. Unfortunately, the only person willing to play pretend is her on-again/off-again fling, Angel León. They’re currently “off again,” but after a week in the woods, Stephanie realizes she wouldn’t mind them being permanently on.

As everyone probably already knows, Five Boroughs is my favorite romance series ever and Hassell is my favorite romance author ever. One his biggest strengths are how developed and interesting his characters are, and the secondary characters of Five Boroughs are not exception. So when I say Citywide was about them I was more than excited to read it and I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

Citywide tells three stories: Aiden, Jace and Chris’, Tonya and Meredith’s and Stephanie and Angel’s. I can’t tell which one I liked more – they were well written, with the amazing characters I already knew and a romance I could enjoy. I loved knowing more about everyone, especially Tonya (who is genderqueer!! This is awesome!!) and Chris. In fact, this anthology made miss the characters of the series and I think a reread will happen soon.

Citywide was a fast and very enjoyable read, with deeply developed characters and interesting relationships. I always love Hassell’s romances because they make sense and focus on the characters’ emotional side/development and here the same thing happens. Though the stories are short, they aren’t lacking in any aspect.

I also loved the Raymond/David cameo in Chris’ story. They are my favorite couple ever, so I’m always here for anything about then.

I can’t wait for more stories set in the Five Boroughs series world. 4.0 stars.

 

Review: Sightlines by Santino Hassell

30364806Chase Payne is a walking contradiction. He’s the most powerful psychic in the Community, but the least respected. He’s the son of the Community’s founder, but with his tattoo sleeves and abrasive attitude, he’s nothing like his charismatic family. No one knows what to make of him, which is how he wound up locked in a cell on the Farm yet again. But this time, the only man he’s ever loved is there too.

Elijah Estrella was used to being the sassy sidekick who fooled around with Chase for fun. But that was before he realized the Community wasn’t the haven he’d believed in and Chase was the only person who’d ever truly tried to protect him. Now they’re surrounded by people who want to turn them against their friends, and the only way out is to pretend the brainwashing works.

With Chase playing the role of a tyrant’s second-in-command, and Elijah acting like Chase’s mindless sex toy, they risk everything by plotting a daring escape. In the end, it’s only their psychic abilities, fueled by their growing love for each other, that will allow them to take the Community down once and for all.

I expected Sightlines to be my favorite of this series and I’m glad to say it definitely was.

Elijah was always my favorite character and it was delight to have him as one of the MCs of the story. He and Chase have an interesting dynamic that makes them, in my opinion, the best couple of the series, maybe because their story was happening, so to speak, in the background of the first two books. That made them feel more real and their relationship more developed, at least for me, though I have to admit I expected a bit more from them, of them, in this book. When I got to the end I still felt like there were things that still needed to be sorted out and some conflicts/problems to be dealt with. That was, frankly, my main and only problem with this book – it doesn’t feel like the end of a series, which it apparently is.

Sightlines is fast-paced and hard to put down. I read it one sitting and though the ending felt a bit rushed and just a tiny bit too easy for me, it was satisfying. The characters, Hassell’s biggest strength in my opinion, were great. It was awesome to see everyone together and I liked how they dealt with the Community and Chase’s father. Again, it still feels like it isn’t an ending because things were left (at least when it comes to the Community) in a happy for now kind of way.

In conclusion, Sightlines was an enjoyable read, even with its faults. Hassell is still my favorite romance author and I can’t wait to see what his next books will bring. 4.0 stars.

 

 

Review: The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

34328217Luke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can’t break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn’t be falling for.

Jeremy’s been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something’s missing. Jeremy’s family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it’s tied to Jeremy.

This might be the one curse Luke can’t uncross. If true love’s kiss fails, what’s left for him and Jeremy?

You know when you are really excited for a book, but cautiously wary because you’ve been disappointed too many times? That was me when I started reading The Uncrossing. This book looked like everything I want from a retelling, minus the contemporary setting: it’s queer, the worldbuilding seemed incredible and I had heard only good things about it.

I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

The Uncrossing won me over at first because of said worldbuilding. I loved the world Eastlake created, with curses and uncrossing and magical families fighting over NYC, but it was the characters that made me love this book. Luke and Jeremy just worked, together or otherwise. I could understand them, sympathize with them and root for them since the beginning. Together they were awesome: Jeremy’s love for Luke was so endearing and I liked how the author managed to portray Luke falling in love with him too without it feeling forced.

The secondary characters were also great and so developed. My favorites were Luke’s sister and Jeremy’s uncles. Not because they are good people (Jeremy’s uncles are quite questionable) but because they were complex and interesting, and I liked reading about them just as much as about Luke and Jeremy.

My only complaint is the ending, which was a bit confusing. I couldn’t understand well what was going on, but maybe that’s just me and I need a reread to get it right. Still, I finished the book knowing I had loved it but confused at how it had ended.

In conclusion, The Uncrossing is fast read that manages to develop most if not all of its characters and still has an awesome plot. I can’t wait to read more from this author. 4.0 stars.

Review: Would it be okay to love you? by Amy Tasukada

36182496A robot fanboy. An erotic voice actor. When love comes calling, will they shed their armor?

Sato’s only long-term relationship is the one he shares with his Gundam collectibles. He dreams about the kind of unconditional love his parents enjoy. If only he could break out of his shell, he might find his special someone…

Outgoing playboy Aoi has sworn off relationships. He knows they only distract him from his budding voice acting career. He’s earned a few loyal fans, and if he keeps at it, he may even earn enough to never worry about being evicted again…

When Sato meets Aoi at the local anime store, there’s definitely a spark. But even as they tread carefully, their commitment issues and Aoi’s troubled past soon muck things up before they can start. In order for Sato and Aoi to have their happily-ever-after, they’ll both have to take a leap of faith… and hope to be caught.

This book legit had everything I like in a romance book: slow burn, nerdy things and characters who seemed to be endearing (and very little sex, amen). A plus, obviously, was also the fact that it is set in Japan and I love reading romance books (or just books in general) set outside of the U.S.

But the connection just didn’t happen.

I’m still trying to figure out why, so maybe writing this review will help. Would it be okay to love you? has an interesting premise and good writing, but I could never connect with the characters. With the idea of them, yes – it’s impossible not to sympathize with Aoi’s money struggle or with his complicated non-relationship with his parents, or understand Sato’s desire for a relationship. On the surface, everything is perfect – but book never quite manages to make both characters seem real.

To make matters worse, the relationship between Aoi and Sato just isn’t interesting. There is no chemistry (and here I’m not talking in the sexual attraction sense – just chemistry) and its central conflict is too weak and solved too easily. It was basically just Aoi realizing he likes Sato and that’s it. Relationship problems solved!

The ending also came out of nowhere. Things weren’t tied up nicely. At one moment Aoi is isolating himself from everyone because he isn’t getting any jobs & blames himself for a certain accident for no reason and the next moment everything is fine, he has jobs and the urge to isolate himself is gone. I wanted to see this process, to understand his development, but the story doesn’t give me the chance to do so.

And that’s the problem with it. Too much happens too fast with very little development and because of that the ending feels unsatisfying. Still, I enjoyed some of the book: its setting and the idea of both characters’ personalities, mainly.

In conclusion, Would it be okay to love you? had a good premise and could have had good characters, but the execution was too weak to make that happen. 2.0 stars.

Review: An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

30969741Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There’s only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

Know when you are excited but still kinda wary about a book? That was me with An Enchantment of Ravens. I had heard wonderful things about this book, but the blurb made me a bit wary because I’m just not the person for YA fantasy books that focus on romance. I usually hate the guys, don’t care about the girls and am in general very annoyed with everything going on. Still, the reviews I read for this one praised it a lot for its writing so I decided to give it a try. I’m happy to say I’m not disappointed.

The writing is indeed gorgeous and yes, the book focuses 100% on the romance, but I actually enjoyed it. The reason? Rook. He was so different from the usual boring hot love interests in YA – I loved, for example, how his flaws were obvious and not excused (he’s super vain and arrogant), and his lack of understanding of mortal issues (like eating) was so endearing. Even his relationship with Isobel convinced me and I loved their dynamic.

(This might sound petty, but it just made it more clear to me how the fae of Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses are annoying and, honestly, boring. I loved the faeries of An Enchantment of Ravens).

The book would be damn near perfect for me if not for two things: how easy the ending was and the lack of explanation about some things.

Example: why is it forbidden for faeries and humans to fall in love? It’s the Good Law, all right, but that’s it? The Elder King said so millennia ago because he was feeling like it, I guess? Which, okay, fine, I can understand, but it does feel a bit deliberate.

Second example: Rook’s emotions. Why can Rook feel stuff if the others faeries can’t? (And since faeries can’t feel anything, why does the Good Law even exist? I mean, the love had to be mutual for the Law to be broken, but how could it be mutual if faeries can’t fall in love?). I wish all of this had been explained and I don’t believe it would’ve been hard. As it is, it feels like a lot of the book’s conflict exists because the plot said so and not because it has a plausible reason for existing.

Now, the ending…. I liked it, but it happened too fast and the final fight, so to speak, was just too easy. I get why it went like that and again, I likeit, but it was a bit anticlimactic.

I wish this book was a series, honestly. There is just so much I wanted to know (like, why were the faerie lands dying/rotting? Was it just because the Elder King was asleep?) and it felt like the author didn’t have the space/time to show everything. But An Enchantment of Ravens was still an awesome book and I would recommend it to anyone. 4.0 stars.