Book Review: Seafire

seafireSeafire
by Natalie C. Parker
Young Adult/Fantasy
374 pages
Published August 2018

First, Caledonia Styx is an AMAZING name, and the Mors Navis is another fantastic name. I had to google it – it basically translates to Death Ship. Possibly Ship of the Dead. Something to that effect.

Seafire is the first book in a trilogy, and it’s very well done. The main goal in the first book was achieved, but we can definitely see the story arc that they’ve set themselves on for the trilogy.

The world of Seafire is post-apocalyptic, though so far post-apocalypse that the old world has faded into myths and stories, and all that’s left is a mish-mash of old technology, like solar power and electricity, used on more primitive objects, like boats and rope-and-pulley lifts. Most ships are equipped with sun sails – sails covered in tiny solar panel scales to provide energy to the ship’s propulsion engines. If you’re limited to wind power, you can’t hope to escape or fight the powered ships. Instead of grappling hooks for latching onto an enemy ship, there are giant magnets. It’s an interesting mix of old and new tech, but a believable one in this context.

The geography is also fascinating; there’s a sea of constant storm bordering the known lands, and the known lands are mostly sea themselves. Caledonia and her crew are women and girls she’s rescued from the grasp of Aric Athair, the warlord who controls pretty much all of the seas. He does this by forcing boys to serve him and getting them addicted to a substance called Silt, which encourages loyalty. The threat of going through withdrawals from Silt also encourages loyalty! We never actually see Aric on-page in this book, but I have no doubt he’ll show up in the sequels, which I am anxiously awaiting. Aric is ruthless, killing those who defy him as Caledonia’s parents did. She only survived because she was off-ship gathering food when the attack came.

I realize this review is a little disjointed, but the book is a bit hard to explain. The world-building is complex but makes perfect sense, and the plot is fast-moving. The blurb compares it to Mad Max: Fury Road, and I definitely get that vibe from it. I can’t wait to see where the next two books take us, but they don’t even have titles or publication dates yet!!

There is a little bit of LGBT content in the book as well, with relationships forming between girls in Caledonia’s crew.

From the cover of Seafire:

The first in a heart-stopping trilogy that recalls the undeniable feminine power of Wonder Woman and the powder-keg action of Mad Max: Fury Road, Seafire follows the captain of an all-female ship intent on taking down a vicious warlord’s powerful fleet.

After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all . . . or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all the boys i've loved beforeTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han
Young Adult
355 pages
Published 2014

I picked this up mostly because the trailer for the Netflix adaptation looked AMAZING. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I really want to read the other two now! Lara Jean is the middle daughter in a house of three daughters, being raised by their widower father. The relationships between the four of them play a large part in the book, as they are all adjusting to the eldest daughter being away at college. Everyone’s roles are changing, and in the middle of that, Lara Jean’s private love letters get mailed to the boys she wrote them to, throwing her love life into chaos as well.

I loved almost every character in this book – even Lara’s troublemaking best friend has a good heart. I definitely need to watch the Netflix show now, because I really want to see how Chris – aforementioned best friend – is represented!

The family scenes around Christmas really tugged at my heart – Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and the author absolutely NAILED the nostalgic, slightly dreamy, loving holiday atmosphere.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was a cute, sweet read, and really my only negative thing to say about it is the ending left me hanging! Which is part of why I really need to read the other two books, so I suppose it was a good strategy. But man I hate cliffhangers!

From the cover of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before:

Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved – five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control. 

Book Review: What If It’s Us

what if it's usWhat If It’s Us
by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Young Adult Gay Romance
437 pages
Published October 2018

This was a super cute gay romance that I read for YA_Pride’s Twitter Book Club. The authors have separately written some pretty popular YA books; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Albertalli) and They Both Die at the End (Silvera), neither of which I have read yet, so I had no idea what to expect with this one!

The book alternates viewpoints between Arthur, a Georgia boy in New York for the summer who recently came out as gay but has not yet gone out on a date with anyone, and Ben, who recently broke up with the boy he lost his virginity with. The difference in experience between the two is a plot point, as is the temporary nature of Arthur’s visit to New York.

There is SO MUCH in this book. These are complex characters, and the romance between the two is simply the frame that the rest of the book revolves around. Arthur is still coming to terms with what being out means for him; he thinks his friends are being weird about it, his parents are fighting all the time, he’s never dated and doesn’t really know how to go about doing so. Ben is recovering from heartbreak with his first boyfriend. He’s Puerto Rican but can pass for white, so people forget and think he’s white, and that upsets him. His break up, and his best friend’s, has splintered up their friend group and he misses the group, and his best friend seems to have moved on and doesn’t have time for him anymore. He’s in summer school, with his ex, and is struggling to pass so he can continue to his senior year of high school, while Arthur is an amazing student who’s probably getting into Yale. All of this is set against the glittering backdrop of New York, seen as wondrous and new through Arthur’s eyes and boring and old through Ben’s. There’s just SO MUCH going on.

I did have to double-check a few times who was narrating the chapter I was reading, but Twitter said the audio book actually has separate narrators for Arthur and Ben. So if you like audiobooks, that might be the better way to go for this book.

I loved that this book didn’t just explore the romance between the two boys, but the friendships they had with each other and the people around them. More than a romance, I think this is a book about building your own family. People who will be there for you whether you’re dating them or not.

Twitter also mentioned that the book could be disappointing if you were reading it for either of the author’s signature styles. No one dies, and it’s not completely happy fluff. So definitely set aside any expectations based on their previous books. I hadn’t read them, so I enjoyed it for itself.

The next YA_Pride book club pick is This Is Kind Of An Epic Love Story, and we’ll be talking about it on Twitter at 8pm Eastern Time on Thursday, November 29th, using the hashtag #YAPrideBookClub. Join us!

From the cover of What If It’s Us:

ARTHUR
is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

BEN
thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway show?

But what if it is?

Best friends Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in this smart, funny, and heartfelt collaboration about two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together – or pulling them apart.

Book Review: Like Water

like waterLike Water
by Rebecca Podos
YA LGBT Romance
312 pages
Published 2017

I’m always interested in queer young adult books, and this one especially caught my eye with its mention of “performing mermaids.” Because y’all know I love my mermaid books! So Savannah isn’t a real mermaid, she just plays one at a water park. But it was enough to make me pick up the book, and it’s a good book. Young adult books about discovering your identity are always needed, and this book is about Savannah realizing she’s bisexual.

Much of the angst in this book comes from Savannah not knowing if she has the same disease her father does, and she’s not sure if she wants to know. Altogether, in this book we have chronic illness, hispanic teens, bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer teens, small-town angst….there’s really a LOT of demographics covered in this book.

I like Savannah, but I don’t like her love interest, Leigh, very much. Leigh does NOT have her shit together, and between drinking and doing drugs, all while underage, she poses a very real threat to Savannah’s well-being.

I’m a little nonplussed by the ending of the book. It leaves a few questions unanswered, but not in a cliff-hanger-y way. It’s more of a possibilities-left-open kind of way. Which makes sense for a “first love” romance. It’s not necessarily a “true love” story. It reminds me of John Green novels in that way.

So – it’s a great book for representation, but don’t expect a tidy, wrapped-up ending. You won’t find that here.

From the cover of Like Water:

In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck – but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person threatens the walls Vanni has carefully constructed to protect herself and brings up the big questions she’s hidden from for so long.

With her signature stunning writing, Rebecca Podos, author of The Mystery of Hollow Places, has crafted an unforgettable story of two girls navigating the unknowable waters of identity, millennial anxiety, and first love.

Book Review: Summer Bird Blue

summer bird blueSummer Bird Blue
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Queer YA
373 pages
Published September 2018

This is the second YA_Pride book club chat I’ve participated in – the last one was The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burger in Los Angeles. (Which was great.) Summer Bird Blue was just as good, but where Jordi Perez was a lovely, lighthearted beach read, Summer Bird Blue is a tearjerker that you’ll want to read in private so you can sob the entire way through the book. Or at least that’s what I did.

Gorgeous and evocative are both words that could be applied here. Rumi’s grief over losing her sister is profound. She feels abandoned by her mother, sent to live with the aunt she barely knows in Hawaii. Rumi has absolutely lost everything – her sister/best friend is truly lost. She feels like she’s lost her mother, her home, any semblance of normality, and her musical ability. It’s a lot for a kid to deal with.

In the middle of all that, she’s trying to figure out her sexuality – she might be ace or demi; she spends most of the book questioning and trying to make sense of it. As we discussed in the Twitter chat, even if she doesn’t come to a conclusion on what her sexuality is, even having “questioning” as a sexuality is so important in YA books. Showing that you don’t need to have everything figured out is really important.

I loved Rumi’s relationships with the neighbors, both Kai and Mr. Watanabe. I wish Rumi had been nice to Mr. Watanabe in the beginning, but she comes around eventually. And she was dealing with A LOT, so I’ll give her a little slack. She was beginning to try my patience near the end of the book, though.

The one real disappointment I had with this book is that while Rumi is portrayed as this awesome musician whose lyrics and melodies are really good – the other characters say so – I don’t like her lyrics. Of course I have no way of knowing what her melodies sound like, but I just don’t think her lyrics are that good.

Other than that little quibble, this book is really, really good. But also really, really sad. Prepare to cry.

From the cover of Summer Bird Blue:

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of – she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends Rumi away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music from her life. With the help of the “boys next door” – a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago – Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.

Series Review: The Bone Witch

the bone witchThe Bone Witch/The Heart Forger
by Rin Chupeco
Young Adult Fantasy
411 pages/501 pages
Published 2017/2018

I’m reviewing the first two books of a trilogy here, The Bone Witch and The Heart Forger. The third book, The Shadowglass, is due out in March – but I wish it was out now!!

Both books are told in an alternating chapter format; short chapters, told from a nameless bard’s viewpoint as Tea tells him her story, and longer chapters told from Tea’s viewpoint, being the stories she’s telling the bard. All of the bard’s chapters take place over the course of a few weeks, while Tea’s story covers her entire life up to that point. So you get glimpses of what she’s currently doing, while getting backstory and explanation of why she’s doing it.

First thing I want to say is Tea is BADASS. The book opens on her raising a terrifying monster from the dead and making it into a pet. A PET. The bard she’s talking to is intimidated, to put it mildly. Then we launch into her story. Tea tells us how she went from farmgirl to Asha – think a geisha with magic and combat training, and you’ll get the picture. Tea’s world is fairly rigid on the gender roles – women with magic become asha, men with magic become Deathseekers. A significant side-plot revolves around a young boy with magic who wants to be an asha instead of a Deathseeker, and Tea’s efforts to help him. Tea turns out to be a rare kind of asha – a dark asha, or bone witch – whose powers are mostly concerned with raising the dead.

heart forgerA major point of this world is heartsglass – in several of the kingdoms (but not all of them) everyone wears a locket around their neck with their heartsglass inside. Heartsglass is basically a small ball of light summoned forth from a person’s soul when they come of age. It can’t be given away unwillingly, and the different colors of someone’s heartsglass means different things – whether they’re a magic user, or a bone witch, or an asha, or a heart forger. Or rather, whether they have the potential to become those things. Some people – the ashas, death seekers, any of the magic users, really – can see peoples’ emotions in their heartsglass, and can tell when people are lying, or guilty, or a number of useful things. People in love often trade their heartsglass with each other, literally holding each other’s hearts. This can be dangerous; the bone witch who trains Tea in the first book gave her heartsglass away, but her lover died without returning hers. And she doesn’t know where he hid it. Without a heartsglass, her powers – and life force – are dwindling.

I love Tea so much. She is incredibly powerful, but hurt and pissed off and out for vengeance. At the same time, she doesn’t want to be evil, so she is tempering her vengeance to a knifepoint so innocents aren’t caught in it needlessly. She’s doing horrifying things while you’re thinking “Oh. Yeah. That’s justified.” The writing in these books is excellent. The side characters are fleshed out with motivations of their own, the villains have interesting reasons for their villainy, strange events get revisited later and explained – it’s just amazingly well done.

Between raising the dead, flirting with princes, taking down army-destroying monsters, and taming dragons, the only bad thing I have to say is I HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL MARCH FOR THE THIRD BOOK?!

From the cover of The Bone Witch:

The beast raged; it punctured the air with its spite. BUT THE GIRL WAS FIERCER.

Tea is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy makes her a bone witch, who are feared and ostracized in the kingdom. For theirs is a powerful, elemental magic that can reach beyond the boundaries of the living – and of the human.

Great power comes at a price, forcing Tea to leave her homeland to train under the guidance of an older, wiser bone witch. There, Tea puts all of her energy into becoming an asha, learning to control her elemental magic and those beasts who will submit by no other force. And Tea must be strong – stronger than she even believes possible. Because war is brewing in the eight kingdoms, war that will threaten the sovereignty of her homeland…and threaten the very survival of those she loves.

Lyrical and action packed, this new fantasy series by acclaimed author Rin Chupeco will leave you breathless.

From the cover of The Heart Forger:

Life isn’t fair. AND SOMETIMES, NEITHER IS DEATH.

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her – and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.