Blog Tour: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

‘Sometimes the princess is a monster’

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is the sophomore novel for Melissa Bashardoust; one I have been highly anticipating.

Her debut, Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a wildly creative reimagining of Snow White, blew me away when I read it back in 2018. I was astounded by her vivid imagination and level of skill bringing it to the page.

This latest story is an original fairy tale following a princess, Soraya, who due to a curse put upon her before she was even born, is poisonous to the touch. Because of this, her family has kept her locked away, a secret from the rest of the kingdom.

As she grows older, watching the world move around her from high atop the castle, unseen, she begins to grow resentful. Her brother, the Shah, is set to marry a girl she once considered her best friend; who was in fact, her only friend.

When circumstances arrive that bring a captured Div, a magical demon, into the castle’s dungeons, Soraya believes they may hold the answers she seeks. The cure for her curse. Little does she know, that one bit of information could be the downfall of them all.

I enjoyed this so much. Bashardoust’s writing continues to impress. The world-building was fantastic. I loved the Persian feel of it all.

Although this is an original story, I could feel the influences from many other mythologies and fairy tales. I thought it was executed beautifully. There were moments when I could see a bit of Beauty and the Beast, Arabian Nights, Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel, to name a few.

Although it was a story full of magic powers and beings, the writing didn’t suffer from trying to be overly whimsical. I find with some stories, they try to up the magic so much that it ends up overshadowing the overall plot with its whimsy. That certainly wasn’t the case here!

As Soraya discovers the truth of her curse, she begins to question her entire life, what she has been told and who she can trust. There was a lot of back and forth between different characters, where as the reader, you weren’t even sure who she could trust.

There were a few deep deceptions, a lot of plotting and a lot of monsters. The stakes were high and I was definitely cheering for Soraya the whole way through. She has a great arc over the course of the story as she grew in confidence and courage.

I would highly recommend this to YA Fantasy readers. If you are looking for a diverse Fantasy, Soraya is a bi-MC and the Persian influence can be felt throughout. I think this book really has something for everyone. There is a lot more I could talk about with regards to the plot, it has plenty of depth and intricacies to explore, but I think it is best to go into the story knowing as little as possible.

You can enter this one confident you are in the hands of a skilled storyteller. Bashardoust has never let me down and I will continue to pick up anything she has published.

I would like to thank the publisher, Flatiron Books, for not only providing me with a copy of this read and review, but also including me on the blog tour for its release. It is an honor to be able to help promote Bashardoust and her beautiful stories!

 

 

Review: All the Pretty Things by Emily Arsenault

All the Pretty ThingsAll the Pretty Things by Emily Arsenault
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

**2.5-stars**

Going into All the Pretty Things, I had some reservations. I had heard some mixed reviews and wasn’t quite sure what sort of experience I would have with this book.

First off, the synopsis describes this book as an ‘all new thriller about a boy who turns up dead under suspicious circumstances.’

I would not classify this as a Thriller and the death of the boy, which wasn’t the main plot BTW, didn’t seem that suspicious, certainly not so much so, that a girl not even involved in the incident would make it her life mission to investigate.

Okay, I think I am getting too far ahead of myself. Let’s go back.

High schooler, Ivy, spends her summers working at her Dad’s amusement park, Fabuland, in rural New Hampshire. She mainly makes cotton candy, but sometimes helps out with other positions as well.

After taking some time off to visit relatives, she returns to find the park in chaos. While she was away, one of the park’s employees, Ethan, died. Her best friend, Morgan, discovered his body.

Morgan, apparently distraught from her discovery, gets drunk one night and climbs to the top of the ferris wheel. Authorities, fearing she may try to take her own life, contact Ivy and have her go to the top of the wheel to talk Morgan down.

Plausible?

Morgan promptly gets sent to a psychiatric ward.

Ivy then begins an investigation into the death of Ethan.

There were some moments of interest for me within this story. I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad book, for me it just seemed like a poorly formulated story.

This is really, if you look at the actual biggest issue in the book, which I would not say is the death of poor Ethan, a hard-hitting YA Contemporary. Why it would try to be spun as a murder mystery is beyond me.

The more I think about it, the more I am turned off by the whole thing.

There were some fairly serious issues touched upon in this book, but in my opinion they were not handled well.

Yeah, that’s really all I have to say. Sorry I can’t provide more clarification. I certainly do not want to spoil anything for people who want to pick this one up.

Let me be clear, just because this book wasn’t for me, I know there are readers out there that will enjoy this a lot. Unfortunately, that just wasn’t me.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Delacorte Press, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. Although this wasn’t necessarily the story for me, I still greatly appreciate the opportunity!

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Review: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

The Black FlamingoThe Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED THIS SO MUCH!!!!

The Black Flamingo is a novel written in verse. My first read ever in verse. Going in, I was concerned. I wanted to read it because of the subject matter, but I just wasn’t sure if the format would work for me.

My experience with poetry, of any sort, is limited, and those I have had, were not great. My mind just generally doesn’t work that way. Maybe I’m too literal, but I tend to have a hard time deciphering the meaning and I become easily frustrated.

I decided to try the audiobook because it is read by the author, Dean Atta, who happens to be a well-known poet, and I figured, who better to hear the words from, in the way he wants them to be heard.

Upon conclusion, I know that was the correct decision for me. I definitely recommend the audiobook for other readers who may be apprehensive about a novel written in verse.

It literally feels like you are sitting down to coffee with a new friend and hearing about their life thus far.

This story follows Michael, a mixed race, gay boy growing up in the UK. The narrative follows him from the very beginning of his life, up through his time at University; although the bulk of it does take place during his teen years.

He goes in depth into his thoughts and feelings surrounding his family, his heritage of being part-Greek Cypriot and part-Jamaican, his heartache over his absentee father, his discovery of his sexuality and many other topical issues.

As a reader, it completely sucks you in. I could not stop listening. I just let the words wash over me and take me into Michael’s world.

With this novel, I felt the same as I did with Kacen Callender’s, Felix Ever After, in that I was completely and whole-heartedly entranced by the main character’s story and emotions.

I think with both it has to do with the writing. You are reading from the main character’s perspective the entire way through and you get access to their deepest, most open thoughts. Thoughts they may never choose to vocalize to other characters.

I think due to this special insight and openness with emotion, it is very easy to become attached to them, as you know how precious they are and how hurtful the world can be. It made me feel protective of both Michael and Felix; it also opened my eyes to perspectives they discussed that I will never experience myself.

That’s the best way I can think to describe how this book made me feel. My apologies if that makes no sense at all.

My best advice, read it for yourself. I think you’ll understand after you do.

I loved the evolution of Michael’s character as he literally grows up and discovers the best ways for him to express himself and live happily. His character is very open to the experience of University life and takes in all the activities that may not have been available to him when he was younger.

When he joins the Drag Society he begins to gain the confidence he needs to finally be the person he wants to be. These sections, particularly the final scene with his performance, were incredibly moving. Applause for days!

In short, this is an amazing novel, one I think any person can read and take their own lessons from. I will definitely be more comfortable picking up novels written in verse in the future.

Let this be a lesson to you, read outside of your comfort zones!! You never know what GEMS you will find!

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Review: Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

PetPet by Akwaeke Emezi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Angels can look like many things. So can monsters.

Wow, this book is a lot to swallow. It is heavy; there is so much here to process.

Pet is a wildly creative story following, Jam, a black transgirl, living in a sort of metaphorical utopian city called, Lucille.

In this futuristic-feeling city, the angels have gotten rid of the all the monsters. There are no monsters left, or so they say.

Jam lives with her parents, Bitter and Aloe. They are so loving and supportive of Jam. She is content.

That is until when night when she is alone in her Mom’s art studio, Jam accidentally cuts her hand and drips blood on one of the paintings.

Okay, no big deal, right? Her Mom won’t get that mad.

But then the painting starts to come to life!

A being is literally crawling off of the page and coming to life. He’s big, he has horns, he has claws; Jam can’t believe her eyes!!

This mess is certainly going to require a bit more explaining then a few drops of blood on a page.

Jam begins communicating with this new being. His name is Pet and he is here to hunt a monster from the House of Redemption.

How can this be? There are no monsters left and Jam knows Redemption.

He’s her best friend. She knows his whole family; there are no monsters there!

Pet is insistent though. He is not wrong and Jam begrudgingly agrees to help him in his hunt. She doesn’t think he will find anything, but she’s goes along with him anyway more to appease him than anything.

Jam and Pet work together to try to weed out the monster hiding among them.

As mentioned above, this book is heavy. Initially, I was under the impression that this was Middle Grade for some reason, but that can’t be correct. I would definitely classify this as YA and maybe the marketing even does that, I’m not sure.

Dealing heavily in metaphor, this story lays out a horrifying reality for Redemption and his family. I was moved by where this went and the vigilante justice that followed.

If you are looking for an impactful, unique, moving story to pick up this summer, with a ton of great rep and beautiful, metaphoric writing, you should ABSOLUTELY pick up Pet!

I am looking forward to reading more from Emezi!

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Review: Immunity (Contagion #2) by Erin Bowman

Immunity (Contagion, #2)Immunity by Erin Bowman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD

After narrowly escaping an infectious zombie horde on Achyls, Nova, Thea and Coen find themselves facing a completely different threat altogether.

What they thought was their salvation, may actually end up as their demise.

The three must band together, along with some new allies, to stop the possible destruction of the galaxy.

So, no pressure.

With fewer characters in this sequel, at least to start, I felt like I had a bit more time to get to know them. While that was nice, it did give it a slightly different feel to the first novel.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still a ton of action here, but in my opinion, there was definitely more character examination.

Another difference in feel concerns the atmosphere. As high-stakes as Immunity is, we’re talking possible interstellar catastrophe here, the atmosphere of this installment was completely different.

In the first book, we have the slightly unqualified crew heading out on a SAR-mission to an abandoned mining planet.

It’s remote, cold, dark and dangerous. They have no idea what they are go to find and what they found was terrifying.

Contagion, the first book, grabbed me because of its edge-of-your-seat SciFi-Horror narrative; one of my favorite subgenres within Science Fiction.

While this is still a really good book, I would categorize this as strict SciFi.

So, for me, it lost a bit of that edge over the course of the evolution of the story.

With this being said, the events were wrapped up nicely and I am happy to have another completed duology on my shelves.

Overall, this is a super solid YA Science Fiction duology that I would absolutely recommend to any fan of the genre.

Even though I didn’t love this one quite as much as Contagion, I can definitely appreciate how fully developed this story is.

Well done. I look forward to reading more from Erin Bowman!

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Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn, Edited by Patrice Caldwell

A Phoenix First Must BurnA Phoenix First Must Burn by Patrice Caldwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it did not disappoint! Definitely one of the most unique anthologies I have ever read.

A Phoenix First Must Burn is full of super diverse SFF elements, black girl magic and lyrical storytelling. This is a book everyone should be reading right now!!!

I always find it difficult to review anthologies. As with any anthology, there were definitely some stories I enjoyed more than others.

However, with this being said, there is something for every reader. Whether you are a fan of science-fiction with futuristic societies, fantasy with earth magic, mermaids or vampires; you will absolutely be able to find stories within these pages to sink your teeth into!

My personal favorite was, Kiss the Sun by Ibi Zoboi. It was heavy and dark, speaking to the history of colonization, as well as continued oppression of native cultures in areas heavily touristed by privileged whites.

You could feel the Afro-Carribean influence throughout the story. It is actually the first I have ever read by Zoboi and I am really looking forward to picking up more of her work.

Kiss the Sun centered around a group of Soucouyants. I had never heard of a Soucouyant and have discovered they are a type of magical entity in Caribbean folklore.

They are shapeshifters and sort of like vampires, in that they drain blood, or spirit from the individuals they attack. Now I am fascinated and want more stories where these supernatural beings play a role; if you know of any, comment down below!

Other stories I loved include, Elizabeth Acevedo’s, which followed a slave uprising on a sugar plantation, which I believe, if I understood the Afterword correctly, was loosely based upon an actual revolt in 1522; Melie by Justina Ireland, which followed a magician’s apprentice on her hunt for mermaid tears and dragon’s heat; Hearts Turned to Ash by Dhonielle Clayton, which included a bottle tree, a tradition I learned about recently in Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong novel; and, The Actress by Danielle Paige, where a witch and a vampire take center stage.

While these are the stories that resonated the most with me, as I mentioned before, this has stories for every type of reader. It’s super diverse, extremely fast-paced, empowering, uplifting and a must read for 2020. This group of authors, and Patrice Caldwell, as editor and contributor, nailed this!

Update: My library hold has FINALLY come through!!! I’m so excited; definitely reading this week!!!

Original:

THE ANTHOLOGY THE WORLD NEEDS!!!!!

This.
Sounds.
Incredible.

It’s official, this is one of my most anticipated releases of 2020!

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Review: Dark Skies (Dark Shores #2) by Danielle L. Jensen

Dark Skies (Dark Shores, #2)Dark Skies by Danielle L. Jensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading Dark Shores last year and consider it to be an extremely underrated YA Fantasy novel.

Going into this second installment, I was completely prepared to enjoy it, but Dark Skies takes it to a whole new level.

One very interesting point of note on the format of this series, which I was unaware of going into this, is that this book’s storyline runs parallel to the storyline of Dark Shores.

I expected this to be a linear continuation of the series, picking up directly after the events of the first book.

However, that is not this case. This book follows two completely different perspectives during the course of the same period of time as the first book.

It was so interesting to see the story unfold this way. Lydia, one of the protagonists in this book, is a side character in Dark Shores. The other protagonist, Killian, is new, I believe.

Lydia lives within the Celandor Empire and she was actually the impetus for a great many of the events in Dark Shores, but as the reader, you don’t know the whole story.

Dark Skies fills it in. Not only does this book fill in some missing pieces, it continues to grow the world at an impressive rate.

Lydia meets Killian when she is forced to flee her home due to a botched assassination plot. She ends up in the West, on the far side of the endless sea.

Killian is a solider, marked by the God of War for great things. He is sworn to protect the Princess of Mudamore, a principality on the brink of war.

There are too many incredible elements of this story, but some of my favorites include: Lydia’s character arc, the brutal world that seems inspired by ancient Rome, the political intrigue, the dangerous, dragon-like creatures terrorizing the city by night, the blight infecting the citizens and yes, the extremely slow-burn romance.

This book is close to 500-pages and there is always something going on. These characters have to constantly be on guard and it certainly made me tense.

I had no idea where this was going to go. There is so much left to this story and I was shocked and delighted to learn, this is slated to be a 4-book series!

If you have not picked this series up yet, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

Personally, I did enjoy this more than Dark Shores and that’s saying a lot. I think the main reason is because of Lydia and Killian. Not their relationship, well yes, that helps, but just because I loved each of them both as characters.

Lydia is the legit best. A bookworm who gets in over her head and then learns to be a certifiable badass. Talk about coming out of your shell!

I cannot wait for the next book in the series, which if I understand correctly, will follow the events of the first two books and will have all four main character perspectives: Teriana and Marcus, from Dark Shores, and Lydia and Killian, from Dark Skies.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Teen, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I am really looking forward to continuing with this series!

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Review: Hood by Jenny Elder Moke

HoodHood by Jenny Elder Moke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

What happened after Robin Hood and Maid Marian rode off into the sunset together?

They had a daughter, Isabelle. This is her story.

Finding herself on the wrong side of the law, Isabelle is forced to flee the village of Kirklees and the priory where her mother, Marian, is Prioress.

With her mother’s aide, she sets out with a destination in mind, where dwells one of her mother’s old friends who can help her hide from the King’s men.

After a fearful journey, over many days, she reaches the Inn her mother advised her to go to.

It’s there she joins up with the Merry Men, learns the truth of her parentage and grows ever closer to meeting the infamous, Robin Hood.

This was an action-packed, super fun story, full of adventure and close calls.

I enjoyed where Moke took this, finding out how Robin and Marian’s ‘happily ever after’ went.

While I had fun reading this, it was quick and light, I wasn’t necessarily blown away by anything here.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a good story, and if you are a fan of the Disney animated version, you should definitely check it out, but I can’t help but wish it would have been built out further.

Moke has a very pleasing writing style and all the bones were here, but I just wanted more.

I believe this is a standalone, but I sort of wish it was going to be a duology. I started to feel very connected with Isabelle towards the end, and the rest of the Merry Men. Personally, I would really enjoy following them on further adventures.

While I wasn’t crazy about some of the content of the conclusion to this tale, I do believe there is a lot more story to tell and Moke is the perfect person to tell it.

Give me more Isabelle. She is just starting to come into her own!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Book Group, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to reading more from Jenny Elder Moke!

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Review: Star Wars Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston

Queen's Peril (Star Wars)Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

Queen’s Peril, when it releases on June 2, 2020, will be the newest addition to the Disney Star Wars Canon.

The events in this novel take place after the events of Master and Apprentice and just before the film, The Phantom Menace.

In fact, to my surprise, the last quarter of the book runs parallel to The Phantom Menace.

It is not a novelization of the events in the movie, it’s more of an expansion.

With that bit of timeline info out of the way, let’s get into this story, shall we?

At just 14-years old, Padme Naberrie is elected Queen of Naboo. Her parents exposed her early to civic duty and the idea that she could one day be Queen never felt far-fetched to her.

After her election, the Head of Security Forces for Naboo, Quarsh Panaka devises a plan to select special handmaidens for the Queen.

These handmaidens will be a lot more than meets they eye. They will actually serve as body doubles and protection.

Each one, chosen with care by Panaka himself, brings a different skill to the table. Together they make quite a team.

A large portion of the story is learning about the girls and how they contribute to the function of the Queen’s reign.

It was interesting to follow as these girls go from being strangers, to companions and ultimately, to friends.

As Naboo becomes threatened by the Trade Federation, maneuverings take place to secure the Queen and gain help for Naboo.

Once the events begin to align with those of The Phantom Menace, we get more insights into what was going on behind the scenes during Padme’s flight from Naboo.

E.K. Johnston writes with such care and skill within the Star Wars universe.

You can tell that she knows the ins-and-outs of this world, complex as it is, and that she is equally passionate about it as we are as readers.

I loved the subtle feel of the narrative. It’s a character driven story, although the action does pick up towards the end, and I feel like I learned a lot.

Some of the highlights for me were learning about each of the handmaidens, why they were chosen and what their specific skills were.

I also liked the little cameos of beloved characters popping up throughout, including Yoda, Anakin, Qui Gon and Jar Jar Binks.

Senator Palpatine is also explored in greater depth here which I loved.

The duality of his character is so freaking interesting and the way Johnston wrote from his perspective was perfection!

Overall, this book is a joy to read and for Padme fans, an absolute gift!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney Lucasfilm Press, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I had already preordered my copy prior to receiving my ARC and was beyond the moon excited to be able to get my hands on it early!

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Review: All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban

All Your Twisted SecretsAll Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

Arriving at a purported scholarship dinner, Amber Prescott, and her classmates, quickly discover something isn’t right.

The teens seem to be the only people in the building and after the door to the banquet room closes, they’re locked in.

Once the purpose of them being trapped is revealed, they realize they have an important decision to make.

They have to choose one of them to die. If they don’t, they’ll all die.

Alternating between the present timeline and the months leading up to the night of the action, this story pieces together the relationship dynamics of all the characters.

Amber is our narrator. She is a musical prodigy, whose main goal is to go to USC for musical composition. The other characters include Queen Bee, Sasha, Amber’s ex-BFF, Priya, Amber’s boyfriend, Robbie, bad boy, Scott, and childhood entrepreneur, Diego.

The characters were fairly stereotypical, but generally I don’t mind that and I didn’t really mind it here.

While the set-up was compelling, I was hoping for a bit more of a mystery. This seemed like a dramatic YA Contemporary to me, with a teensy-tiny bit of suspense sprinkled over the top.

While some of the interactions between the teens was interesting, it just wasn’t what I was looking for going in.

Overall, it was entertaining, though I wouldn’t say particularly memorable. If you are looking for a quick, dramatic story though, it’s absolutely worth reading, just expect more drama than suspense.

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