Review: The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From ​the New York Times bestselling author comes a breathtaking fantasy of a cursed kingdom, warring clans, and unexpected salvation.

Bayr of Saylok, bastard son of a powerful and jealous chieftain, is haunted by the curse once leveled by his dying mother. Bartered, abandoned, and rarely loved, she plagued the land with her words: From this day forward, there will be no daughters in Saylok.

Raised among the Keepers at Temple Hill, Bayr is gifted with inhuman strength. But he’s also blessed with an all-too-human heart that beats with one purpose: to protect Alba, the first girl child born in nearly two decades and the salvation for a country at risk.

Now the fate of Saylok lies with Alba and Bayr, whose bond grows deeper with every whisper of coming chaos. Charged with battling the enemies of their people, both within and without, Bayr is fueled further by the love of a girl who has defied the scourge of Saylok.

What Bayr and Alba don’t know is that they each threaten the king, a greedy man who built his throne on lies, murder, and betrayal. There is only one way to defend their land from the corruption that has overtaken it. By breaking the curse, they could defeat the king…but they could also destroy themselves.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

The First Girl Child will be available August 20, 2019. 

I hardly know where to begin with this review. I’m going with a trusty list.

*The the book is set in a fantasy world within a Norse mythology framework. I will show my ignorance on the subject and admit I thought Thor was just a comic book character. But he and Loki and several others are mentioned throughout this story, though they aren’t main characters or anything.

*I found the synopsis just a little misleading. While Bayr and Alba are definitely main characters, they feel like supporting characters until the last quarter of the book. The story follows them from birth to adulthood, with much of book taking place while they are still children. I don’t want to diminish their importance, but I just expected for them to play much bigger roles. Dagmar and Ghost felt a lot more like lead characters and they aren’t even mentioned in the synopsis.

*There is some fabulous character development. Harmon takes her time telling the story and really focuses in on the characters and she did a good job of it. I definitely felt a connection to many of them. I loved sweet Bayr and tragic, tragic Dagmar.

*Though there was great characterization, I felt like it was a little at the expense of the pace. Though I was enjoying the story, I felt like it took me a lot longer to get through the book than it normally would a book of a similar size. Harmon’s writing is as beautiful as ever, but it also felt a little exhausting at times. I felt like it could have been edited down a bit more.

*I liked the slight parallel between Bayr and Moses from the Bible. Speaking of the Bible, though, it is mentioned that a leader from Saylok’s past spent some time among Christians and liked them so much he decided to make Jesus one of the gods they worship in Saylok. Which kind of defies the point of Christianity.

Overall, I enjoyed The First Girl Child. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but that turned out to be ok. Though it was a little longer and slower than it needed to be, I loved the characters a lot, especially Dagmar and Bayr. I think fans of Harmon’s other fantasy novels will really enjoy this one.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

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Review: Storm and Fury (The Harbinger #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed…

I received copies of this title via NetGalley and via a Goodreads giveaway. It does not impact my review.

Storm and Fury will be available June 11, 2019. 

I really enjoyed this. I must confess, I was never a huge fan of the original The Dark Elements series that this series spun-off from and I thought I would feel similarly about this one. However, it definitely surpassed my expectations.

I thought Trinity was a good main character. She frustrated me a little bit with her impulsiveness and argumentativeness, but she was a pretty classic JLA heroine. One thing that really made her stand out is that she’s dealing with a vision disability – Retinitis pigmentosa. It causes tunnel vision and a host of other vision problems and will most likely end in blindness. JLA has been diagnosed with this in real life and I have to imagine including this in a character was a bit cathartic, but also difficult. There are parts here and there when Trinity says something about it that I have seen JLA say on social media, so you know this character is very personal to her and it made her that much more special to read.

I also liked seeing Zayne again. I was Team Zayne in The Dark Elements series, even though I knew it was never going to happen, so I was happy to see him really start to move on a bit. I liked his banter with Trinity and his protectiveness of her. I also thought we got just the right amount of Roth and Layla. They’re around enough to make fans of the original series happy, while also contributing to the plot in a big way, but they don’t take the focus off of Trinity and Zayne.

At over 500 pages, I did think this book was a little too long, though. There is honestly not that much going on and I think it really could’ve been cut down a bit. However, there is lots of character development and I never felt bored or anything, despite the slow moving plot. There were several reveals saved until the end that I thought were pretty obvious much earlier in the book, but there was one big one that I hadn’t seen coming and I liked that it managed to surprise me.

Other than the length, there was only really one other thing I didn’t care for. I expect a little more mature content from a JLA book, but there is one scene that I thought was a little too explicit for YA. I could see that an argument could be made for this being New Adult instead of Young Adult since Trinity is 18 and Zane is a few years older, but everything else reads very much YA, so it still felt a little inappropriate.

Overall, I really enjoyed Storm and Fury. I thought it improved upon the original series it spun off from. I liked the characters and shipped the romance. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Restore Me (Shatter Me #4) by Tahereh Mafi

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?

Well. I am glad I decided to wait for a library copy of this book instead of buying it. Despite being very excited for the continuation of this series (my love for Warner knows no bounds), I was a little cautious about it. I loved this series the first (several) times I read it, but the last time I tried re-reading it I felt like I had maybe outgrown it a little bit. I realized some of the things that happened – like basically destroying Adam’s character just to make sure that everyone would pick Warner in the love triangle debate – was kind of lazy. I was still looking forward to revisiting these characters, though, hoping that Mafi would make up for some of the things I had issues with. Unfortunately, it fell short of even my lowered expectations.

Let’s start with Juliette. I kind of hated her in this book. I felt like she had grown so much throughout the series into this really strong character, but here she was back to the whiny, self-centered Juliette of book 2. She had no idea what taking over as Supreme Commander means and we do not see her do anything but complain about how much mail she has to go through, go for leisurely walks with Kenji, and hook up with Warner. She is completely overcome with doubts, but gets angry any time someone tries to help her. NOTHING she did made any sense. She was so childish I couldn’t even feel sorry for her.

Then there’s her relationship with Warner. Warner, who has never been good about talking about his past. Warner, who has repeatedly shown her his insecurity in their relationship. Warner, whose father she just killed. When he discovers important information about her past and tells her about it, she blows up about the one piece of information he did know and hadn’t told her about beforehand. I thought in Ignite Me they started a very solid partnership and I was looking forward to seeing that grow, but they took several gigantic steps backwards. It just really annoyed me that lack of communication and childish behavior were the main sources of tension Mafi used to reboot this series. Instead of giving the characters new challenges and letting them continue to grow, she reverted them back to how they used to be and are going to make them re-learn all the same lessons we’ve already seen them go through. 

And can we talk about Castle for a minute? Juliette is the supreme commander and Castle still beckons her like a student to the principal’s office and she just goes and gets all nervous about whatever he has to say. Like, girl, you are in charge now! You don’t have to do what he tells you. And you can make him tell you the things he’s being evasive about. Also, all of sudden Castle knows everything about everything? I don’t buy it. Nothing in the past books made him come across so knowledgeable or connected. It just felt way too convenient.

There were a few things I liked, though. Adam got a personality change again and went back to being a nice guy. And he reaches out to Warner and I liked their scene together. For the most part, though, I feel like he’s outlived his usefulness to the story and he only had a couple of appearances. (The same goes for most of the Omega Point characters from the previous books, except for Castle and Kenji.) I also still love Warner. Even though his nonsense with Juliette annoyed me, I did feel like he grew in some ways in this book and was the only character to do so. The story is told in alternating first person POV between him and Juliette and I found myself kind of unable to care about Juliette’s chapters because I liked Warner’s so much more.

Overall, Restore Me left me extremely underwhelmed. It basically saved all plot development that didn’t have to do with relationship drama to the last couple chapters and then it rushed through them. I thought it was pretty lazy writing to just have all the characters revert to previous versions of themselves and repeating past drama. I’m really hoping that Mafi will come up with some fresher ideas in the next books, which I will still read – because Warner.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Minutes Before Sunset by Shannon A. Thompson – 3 stars (out of 5)

Minutes Before Sunset (The Timely Death Trilogy, #1)

*I received a copy of this title from the author. It does not impact my review.*

Synopsis from Good Reads:

She was undoubtedly a shade, but I didn’t know her.

Eric Welborn isn’t completely human, but he isn’t the only shade in the small Midwest town of Hayworth. With one year left before his eighteenth birthday, Eric is destined to win a long-raging war for his kind. But then she happens. In the middle of the night, Eric meets a nameless shade, and she’s powerful—too powerful—and his beliefs are altered. The Dark has lied to him, and he’s determined to figure out exactly what lies were told, even if the secrets protect his survival.

He had gotten so close to me—and I couldn’t move—I couldn’t get away.

Jessica Taylor moves to Hayworth, and her only goal is to find more information on her deceased biological family. Her adoptive parents agree to help on one condition: perfect grades. And Jessica is distraught when she’s assigned as Eric’s class partner. He won’t help, let alone talk to her, but she’s determined to change him—even if it means revealing everything he’s strived to hide.

MY THOUGHTS – BEWARE OF SOME MINOR SPOILERS:

-I found the beginning of Minutes Before Sunset to be a little confusing. Shoman is a Shade – an important one that is destined to win a war for the Dark against their enemies, the Light.

“The Dark was a secret for a reason. We protected the humans from evil, because they weren’t capable of determining the evil for themselves.

The Light was evil, and it always had been. Forget archetypes. They’re completely wrong, and they always will be.”

I’m still not entirely sure what that means. We don’t see any interaction between the Dark and the humans, except when the Shades are in their human form, and even then they’re not going around playing superhero. So I’m taking it to mean that the Dark protect the humans from the evil Light by fulfilling the prophesy and defeating the Light in their war. I would’ve liked a little more information about the Light, about why they’re so evil, other than their greed for power. What exactly is going to happen to the human population if the Light wins?

-The story is told in 1st person POV between Eric (Shoman’s human name) and Jessica. As we all know, multiple 1st person is my favorite POV and I feel it’s done well here. There was never a time when I got confused about who’s “voice” we were reading and the shifts between POVs always seemed appropriate.

-I found both Eric and Jessica to be likable, though I think I liked them both better in their human form. I enjoyed their bantering and interactions in the human world more than I enjoyed Shoman and the Nameless Shade’s interactions in the woods. However once identities are discovered, I liked them together regardless of form.

-I liked Camille/Teresa, Eric’s guard, but I felt like she should’ve paid more attention to what he was doing. She came through when it counted, but for the most part she was a pretty horrible guard. I also liked their friend Pierce/Jonathon, but would’ve liked to have seen him a little more developed. I didn’t care for Jessica’s friends, Crystal and Robb. I always felt like there was more to them than what we saw and I didn’t trust them.

-I liked the use of the double lives – that everyone looks so different in their Shade or Light form than they do in their human form. It made me look more closely at everyone that Jessica meets. I look forward to finding out who Darthon, the Light descendent, is as a human.

-Overall, I enjoyed Minutes Before Sunset. It had a little bit of everything – mystery, fantasy, romance. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did it became a quick and fun read and I look forward to find out what happens next. I would recommend this book to those interested in YA Fantasy.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – 3 stars (out of 5)

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

So I’m not really sure how to review The Raven Boys. I really liked the characters, I just kinda wish they were in a different story.

MY (SOMEWHAT SPOILERY) THOUGHTS

-The book is in told in 3rd person POV, traveling between Blue, the 16-year-old non-psychic in a house full of psychic women, Gansey, Adam (2 of the 4 Raven Boys), and Barrington Whelk, a former Raven Boy who is now a much poorer teacher. While I don’t mind 3rd person POV, there were times when I thought the multiple viewpoints were a little much and jumped around too often. I prefer 1st person from 1 or 2 narrators.

-Am I the only person who thought Adam was in love with Gansey after the first chapter with his POV? The way he described him, adored him, and also kind of resented him. But then the next chapter he’s crushing on Blue. So even though he turns out to be straight I still think he’s just a little in love with Gansey. And there’s a fine line between love and hate.

-I didn’t really like the description that was used in this book. It just struck me as odd. If I was a better reviewer I would list some examples, but the only one I have marked is, “The smile on Gansey’s face could have lit coal mines.” Which really isn’t that weird now that I look at it, but that’s kind of the general idea. Like too many similes and metaphors that weren’t really that clever.

-The synopsis of the book makes it sound like it’s focused much more on romance than it really is. I don’t mind that, actually. It’s a lot more about friendship than romance and the inevitable YA love triangle is just barely implied.

-In the beginning Noah says that he’s been dead for seven years. So it’s not entirely a surprise later on when it turns out he actually has been dead for seven years. But what I did think was a good twist was that Noah turned out to be the same person as Whelk’s old friend Czerney – Noah Czerney. This is the kind of twist and surprise that I like – something I didn’t see coming, but makes sense after I thought about it.

-What I really liked about this book were the characters. Blue is well-developed and I was very rarely, if ever, frustrated by her actions. I also enjoyed the crazy cast of characters that she lives with – her mother, Neeve, Calla, and Persephone in particular. I also thought the Raven boys were well-developed, particularly Gansey and Adam. Noah and Ronan kind of got the short of the stick in this book, but I still mostly enjoyed them. I always felt like Ronan’s actions could have been explored more, but I guess we’ll get that in the second book, which I’ve heard focuses mostly on him. I did really like Gansey and his big heart and his unintentional condescending ways. I liked Adam too, but as the story went on I liked him a little less. It seemed a little cliché to make the poor kid the most prideful and obsessed with money.

-My favorite parts of the book were when it focused on Blue and “her boys”. Their interactions and character developments as a group is what really made the book for me. The story – psychics, ley lines, finding Glendower – was just ok. But, I’m looking forward to see what happens to the characters in the future. What happened to Ronan’s father and why is Ronan the way he is? Does Blue’s first kiss really kill her true love? Is that true love Gansey? Will Adam stop being a douche about Gansey’s money?

Overall, I enjoyed The Raven Boys and look forward to the next installment in the series. I would recommend this book to fans of fantasy/paranormal.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – 4 stars (out of 5)

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)

Synopsis from Good Reads:

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unraveling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

MY THOUGHTS:

-This is another of those books that I thought didn’t look like anything I’d like, but I really ended up enjoying it. It reminded me a bit of the Shatter Me series and a bit of The Bone Season, while still being it’s own story.

-There was a list in the beginning of the book that listed the different kinds of Grisha – people with special powers. It didn’t really explain what they were, though, and there was little definition in the actual story. I would’ve liked a little more of an explanation to start with instead of just throwing out the terms and letting us eventually catch up.

-Alina was a well-developed and mostly likable character. The story was told through her 1st person POV, so I felt a good connection with her. I would’ve liked to have seen Mal – her best friend/love interest – a little more developed. And then there’s the Darkling. I wanted more, more, more of the Darkling. Not because I loved him, but I was intrigued by him. Like Alina, I could never really get a good read on him.

SPOILERS

-I was actually surprised when we find out that the Darkling is the bad guy – The Black Heretic. I know I shouldn’t have been. I mean, his name is Darkling. Like there was ever a chance that he’s the hero of the story. But even in his villainy, he’s still such an interesting and charismatic character. I’m still not completely convinced that he won’t be redeemed later in the series.

-I felt like Alina and Mal’s relationship was pretty predictable. They’ve been best friends since childhood and she’s in love with him. He obviously feels the same, but doesn’t realize it until after she’s gone. None of the revelations or happenings between them was at all a surprise. I still like them together, though. I’m always a sucker for the neglected best friend – even if in this instance it was the guy neglecting the girl.

END OF SPOILERS

-Overall, I really enjoyed Shadow and Bone – much more than I thought I would. Though there were a few slow parts, it was mostly well paced and always had me eager for the next chapter. I’ve already read the next book in the series, Siege and Storm, and really look forward to the conclusion coming out next year. I would recommend this book to all those interested in sci-fi/fantasy YA or those that enjoyed The Bone Season and Shatter Me.