AURORA BURNING by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.


Title : Aurora Burning
Author : Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Series : Aurora Cycle (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 512
Genre : YA sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date : May 5, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

So I think I’m in the same boat for book two in this series as I was for book one. There are good, and interesting, and twisty things happening, with some mostly fun characters, but I’m definitely not loving this series compared to the duo’s other books.

There were some big reveals in AURORA BURNING; some I saw coming, others I didn’t, and while there is a bit of overall underwhelmingness happening here for me (and that makes me a little sad), I’m not about to get off this ride because we’re only one book away from the end. However, that said, I did chew through this book in one afternoon, so it’s still got that compulsive readability that you would come to expect from these talented authors, both as solo writers and a duo. It just doesn’t have the kind of characters I’m used to loving unequivocally, and for all the Big Moments, Big Stakes, I’m still just not feeling them.

I’m again surprised (I can’t remember if I mentioned it in my review for book one or not) about the heavy romance element that we have going on, mostly because it feels so less organic than their previous couples, and as a result less romantic despite the additional page time, so, it’s just adding to the weird headspace I have over this whole series.

But.

When it comes down to it, I think if you loved AURORA RISING, you’ll be very satisfied with this follow up — but probably pretty mad about that ending.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

TIME OF OUR LIVES by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

A boy desperate to hold on, a girl ready to let go.

Fitz Holton waits in fear for the day his single mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s starts stealing her memory. He’s vowed to stay close to home to care for her in the years to come–never mind the ridiculous college tour she’s forcing him on to visit schools where he knows he’ll never go. Juniper Ramirez is counting down the days until she can leave home, a home crowded with five younger siblings and zero privacy. Against the wishes of her tight-knit family, Juniper plans her own college tour of the East Coast with one goal: get out.

When Fitz and Juniper cross paths on their first college tour in Boston, they’re at odds from the moment they meet– while Juniper’s dying to start a new life apart for her family, Fitz faces the sacrifices he must make for his. Their relationship sparks a deep connection–in each other’s eyes, they glimpse alternate possibilities regarding the first big decision of their adult lives. 

Time of Our Lives is a story of home and away, of the wonder and weight of memory, of outgrowing fears and growing into the future.


Title : Time of Our Lives
Author : Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Format : ARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date : April 21, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I totally respect what this book is trying to do. And what, I imagine, it will successfully do for many readers. It just didn’t quite work for me.

This is such a great representation of the mixed emotions young people (I was young once!) feel going into the next stage (ie, post-high school) of their lives. The momentum that pushes them forward to escape their current situation (overbearing family, no room to be yourself, too much responsibility at too young an age, etc) and the reluctance to go too far afield (family obligations, health, anxiety, worry, etc). These characters were perfect representations of those, often conflicting though sometimes singular, feelings. I felt it.

I already know what the future holds. It’s right now that has the potential to be extraordinary.”

Where this book failed for me, I think, was I didn’t quite love the characters. I didn’t love what followed their initial meeting and connection, and how that all came about, and I was hard pressed to believe how quickly they just “got” each other. Thankfully this relationship wasn’t smooth sailing, I appreciated the arguments, the speed bumps, but overall it did kind of stretch my belief. Maybe if I had liked them more, I would’ve bought it? I don’t know. Part of me had hoped this had gone a different way, been a story that connected these characters but didn’t quite overlap.. she says, vaguely.

There’s a claustrophobia in comfort. The threads become a web, confining the person I want to be to the person I was.

There are definitely emotional elements to this story, with some suffocating but reassuring (for the character) familial roles (honestly, the first few chapters dealing with Juniper’s family made me want to break out in hives, but that’s just me) and some heartbreaking health issues when it comes to a parent. Again, like before, I could feel it. But..

But overall, no matter how great the writing, how stunning some of the turns of phrase, this was a story very character-focused, and I just couldn’t love them. The characters. Also, a certain cameo from IF I’M BEING HONEST made me so mad initially.. but that was redeemed. Had it not? I would’ve been devastated.

So this was a mixed bag, but also a strong read. These authors are definitely talented, and not writing the same story in each release (thank goodness for that), but this was also not what I got from IF I’M BEING HONEST and maybe, in part, that’s also contributing to some disappointment. Even though I said different things are great. And they are. If you’ve enjoyed this duo before, I think you’ll like this, too. Maybe not as much, maybe more. Who is to say. What I can say, though, is even though I didn’t love it, I’ll continue to read whatever they put out.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

RUTHLESS GODS by Emily A Duncan

Darkness never works alone…

Nadya doesn’t trust her magic anymore. Serefin is fighting off a voice in his head that doesn’t belong to him. Malachiasz is at war with who–and what–he’s become. 

As their group is continually torn apart, the girl, the prince, and the monster find their fates irrevocably intertwined. They’re pieces on a board, being orchestrated by someone… or something. The voices that Serefin hears in the darkness, the ones that Nadya believes are her gods, the ones that Malachiasz is desperate to meet—those voices want a stake in the world, and they refuse to stay quiet any longer. 


Title : Ruthless Gods
Author : Emily A Duncan
Series : Something Dark and Holy (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 544
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

I feel like I’m in exactly the same place with RUTHLESS GODS as I was with WICKED SAINTS. This series, the content in these books, the twisty story of betrayal and blood and more betrayal, is both worthy of love and full of frustration for me. The worldbuilding, the pantheon of gods, of monsters, of heretics and holy people, it’s all very complex and fascinating, but equally confusing and repetitive.

I feel this one did hold together better than book one, where we know so little and even less is made clear (which is apparently how the author wanted it), whereas things took a turn here that revealed both more and, in some ways, well.. not less but definitely not everything.

Another aspect that I both loved and didn’t was the romantic element(s). One couple I was hugely there for (yes, please, more), and the other? I felt smitten by it at times and over it for others. It’s a very push, pull, and then throw the other off a cliff kind of dynamic and it makes it fascinating and fun and also agonizing (not in a good way) as you struggle to keep up and, also, parse it all. Also like in book one, I’m pretty sure I would die for Serefin, and, I mean, I would at least call 911 for the others. If they asked me to.

So, yes, hardly a glowing review, but I think book three has the potential to knock this out of the park. We’re on stronger footing at the end of this installment — it definitely didn’t feel like book two syndrome — and if this trend continues it’ll be bigger and bloodier and probably even more betrayalier (it’s a word). I’ll read on. I’m two books in, after all; can’t stop me now.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

EMPIRE OF DREAMS by Rae Carson

Even though Red Sparkle Stone is a foundling orphan with an odd name and a veiled past, she’s about to be adopted into the royal family—by Empress Elisa herself. Sixteen-year-old Red can hardly believe her luck. Then, in a stunning political masterstroke, the empress’s greatest rival blocks the adoption, and Red is left with no family and no future.

Grieving and lost, but determined to find her place, Red hatches a daring plan: she will prove herself as a recruit for the world’s most elite fighting force, the legendary Royal Guard—something no woman has done before. But it’s no coincidence that someone wanted her to fail as a princess, someone whose shadowy agenda puts everything she loves at risk. As danger closes in, it will be up to Red and her new friends—and maybe some new enemies—to save the empire. If they can survive recruitment year.


Title : Empire of Dreams
Author : Rae Carson
Series : Girl of Fire and Thorns (book four)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 448
Genre : YA fantasy
Publisher : Greenwillow Books
Release Date : April 7, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

Set in The Girl of Fire and Thorns series, this book takes place eight (ish?) years after THE BITTER KINGDOM and focuses not only on Red, a mixed race girl the protagonist from the main series had adopted, but also on the tensions in a world post-major conflict between two warring peoples.

I loved being back in this world, getting small glimpses of the much beloved dynamic between one of my favourite couples, and I did enjoy Red.. mostly. This book flashes between past and present perspectives, we see what Red endured before meeting Elisa, and all the trauma she experienced and now knowingly carries and also unknowingly carries, and how she’s coping. She’s not quite welcome as the Empress’ heir, both because of prejudice and conspiracy, and so she finds a different way to prove herself and also discover her true self — all while also challenging so much of the tradition and stereotyping built into this society.

I’ll admit I wasn’t really interested in the flashback POV chapters. Maybe because it felt a little rehashed (we know some of Red’s life pre-on page meeting but obviously not to quite this extent) but also it kept pulling me away from the more exciting training montages and dialogue in the present day where Red was, like, fighting the patriarchy.

I’ve never trained a girl before.”
You’ll find it uncannily similar to training any other person.

That said, I wasn’t always super into the present day stuff, either. There are some big high stakes moments near the end, a lot of which is built up along the way to that point, but things do come to a head pretty quick, and then its all over. I got the happy feels and excitement and joy at the end, don’t get me wrong, but this story somehow felt both a little dragged out and also over too fast. A standalone in an existing universe where we previously had a trilogy.. I mean, that’s tough. But there is an eclectic mix of new faces amongst the familiar, some good banter, and the one thing you can always depend on from this author is a fabulous ensemble cast.

So, I had almost rounded up because bias and nostalgia (infact, after finishing, I had rated this a four with a “but it’s really a three” caveat but as I drifted off to sleep that night.. I knew I shouldn’t have, so, here I am fixing the situation slightly) but ultimately I think where I’ve put it is true to the story itself. But. I loved being back with these characters, seeing some grown up, grown into their own, and others thrive despite the history and tragedies, not to mention traitor’ing (it’s a word), that predate them. But is it perfect? No. But I don’t think most fans will care and, best of all, I hope it inspires those who haven’t yet read The Girl of Fire and Thorns series to pick it up. Because it’s excellent.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE ELECTRIC HEIR by Victoria Lee

Six months after Noam Álvaro helped overthrow the despotic government of Carolinia, the Atlantians have gained citizenship, and Lehrer is chancellor. But despite Lehrer’s image as a progressive humanitarian leader, Noam has finally remembered the truth that Lehrer forced him to forget—that Lehrer is responsible for the deadly magic infection that ravaged Carolinia.

Now that Noam remembers the full extent of Lehrer’s crimes, he’s determined to use his influence with Lehrer to bring him down for good. If Lehrer realizes Noam has evaded his control—and that Noam is plotting against him—Noam’s dead. So he must keep playing the role of Lehrer’s protégé until he can steal enough vaccine to stop the virus.

Meanwhile Dara Shirazi returns to Carolinia, his magic stripped by the same vaccine that saved his life. But Dara’s attempts to ally himself with Noam prove that their methods for defeating Lehrer are violently misaligned. Dara fears Noam has only gotten himself more deeply entangled in Lehrer’s web. Sooner or later, playing double agent might cost Noam his life.


Title : The Electric Heir
Author : Victoria Lee
Series : Feverwake (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 469
Genre : YA dystopian / sci-fi / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Skyscape
Release Date : March 17, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 2 star review

After coming out of THE FEVER KING with much less love than I thought I would, I was pretty pleased by how strong I felt this follow up was. At least, initially.

My main problem was where this story went in regards to a certain relationship and the direction it took. There are so many complicated emotions, so many traumas, so much grief, wrapped up in the why or maybe the how of it. And Lee does (I think, at least) a good job of trying to explain the messiness of it all, the conflicting perceptions and means to which one might convince themselves of something, through her characters. But I still didn’t like it, and every time it came up I wanted to put the book down and walk away. One particular exchange, between the two POVs and leads, made me oh so very angry. And hurt. So, I mean, kudos for that. But that didn’t make me like the story anymore.

And the story itself, well, there’s not much I can say regarding the plot for a sequel/finale, but mostly I’m just confused. I have no idea how we got to the ending we did, and how it’s going to stick, considering.. everything. Additionally I guess I just don’t understand why the story, the series, happened in the first place? Why these kids, why couldn’t Lehrer just.. I don’t know. I feel like I understood what I read, what happened, but I’m missing the point, I guess.

For all that I clearly have no idea how to feel, despite knowing I didn’t love this, I have to say that Lee’s writing is strong. She doesn’t shy away from darker topics (there’s a warning at the front, and content/triggers listed at the back) and I feel she handles a lot of it with dignity and care. These characters, all of them, have been through so much, are still dealing with so much, and while sometimes it felt like too much, it’s all rather tied up in one catalyst. It’s heartbreaking and awful and while I didn’t hate Noam, one of our POVs, I absolutely adored Dara. Full stop.

Anyway, I don’t know. I feel like this is a series I should’ve loved and, when pitched to me, I knew I wanted to read it. Something about this just didn’t connect. And I’m sad about it. But I’m also an outlier, so, please read the glowy reviews and, if this sounds like your thing, definitely give it a try.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE FEVER KING by Victoria Lee

In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.

The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.

Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.


Title : The Fever King
Author : Victoria Lee
Series : Feverwake (book one)
Format : paperback
Page Count : 376
Genre : YA dystopian / sci-fi / LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Skyscape
Release Date : March 1, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

This is a book that my mind is shying away from being too critical about because it’s doing a lot of great things. And yet..

Beyond the representation offered in Lee’s characters (one lead is bisexual and Jewish/Latinx, the other is black, I believe), this is a sci-fi/dystopian story that heavily deals with how society treats refugees. For all that this is set, like, a hundred years (or something?) in the future, this is a very timely narrative and I felt the author did a good job of making this less of just a conveniently relevant backdrop and, instead, you really feel the struggle, the disparity between the social classes, which is made more dramatic by the haves, and the locals, being magical while the have-nots, those who have fled their home, are not.

But I found the worldbuilding somehow overly complex, or confusing, and I’m not entirely sure why. It centers around this big event that tore apart the US and left the remaining habitual areas into their own countries, the wars and tragedies that ensue, and along the way we’re given glimpses into that history, and particularly the figureheads of that time; one of which happens to still be around, now that he’s not only all powerful but also immortal. Somehow Carolinia is the only place in the world where it’s okay to be witching, someone who survives the fever brought on by a magical surge (or something.. notice a trend?) and Britain and Canada had tried bombing them, because to hell with magical people, but now.. they don’t? But, instead of Carolinia being a refuge for people, they close their borders? And, specifically relevant to the current plot, there’s the Carolianians vs the Atlantians conflict, because in Atlantia apparently it’s really terrible and toxic and you die, but somehow they make it to Carolinia anyway, but Carolinians want nothing to do with them, and.. I don’t know, like, I get what was happening but I also feel like I have no idea what was happening. Even in writing that summary (ish) I confused and doubted myself. I have no idea what’s just happened, I think I blacked out.

This paragraph is where I had a bunch more words written that I’ve since deleted. I mention this to honour their memory. You tried. You tried to make this review work. But it just didn’t.

Suffice it to say, this book is doing a lot. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of characters we don’t know if we are supposed to like, and a hate-to-love romance I wanted to get behind.. but only sometimes did. This book should’ve been a new favourite because of all that, plus a lot of darker and adult themes which made this YA the least YA-feeling YA book I’ve read in a long time (take a shot for every time I said “YA”) but I found it easy to put down, either because I was bored or my brain was just processing white noise. This should’ve been action packed and thrilling (and I guess it sort’ve was in a muted kind of way) and I should’ve been speculating and making theories (some of which I did, shoutout to my buddy Amanda who loves this book and got some of my reactions), and while I was clearly invested and following along enough to guess some things correctly, to see things coming, I’m still not sure what to do with any of it. Particularly after that ending. I think half the problem is there’s so much still not being revealed, or left unknown, and that is why I have one foot out the door on this one.

I can only hope book two has me diving into the feels, and the love, with both feet.

** I received a finished copy from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

WICKED AS YOU WISH by Rin Chupeco

Tala Warnock has little use for magic – as a descendant of Maria Makiling, the legendary Filipina heroine, she negates spells, often by accident. But her family’s old ties to the country of Avalon (frozen, bespelled, and unreachable for almost 12 years) soon finds them guarding its last prince from those who would use his kingdom’s magic for insidious ends. 

And with the rise of dangerous spelltech in the Royal States of America; the appearance of the firebird, Avalon’s deadliest weapon, at her doorstep; and the re-emergence of the Snow Queen, powerful but long thought dead, who wants nothing more than to take the firebird’s magic for her own – Tala’s life is about to get even more complicated….


Title : Wicked As You Wish
Author : Rin Chupeco
Series : A Hundred Names for Magic (book one)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : LGBTQIA+ YA fantasy
Publisher : Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date : March 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

I honestly try not to let other reviews and ratings affect me prior to diving into a book but unfortunately this one was definitely a victim of me doing a whole lot of side-eye as the GR rating went down, down, down in the weeks leading up to release (and, as of writing this review, there’s still three weeks to go..). I stayed away from reviews for the most part but I went into this with concerns not only due to the rating but also after seeing a few DNFs pop up in my feed.

Suffice it to say, I understand why this was a struggle for some readers. The worldbuilding, the mythology, the folklore, the history.. it’s so much. It’s so extra. This is a world where, like, fairytales are on crack. Think of every story, every myth, every legend, everything you’ve ever heard of or read, throw them into a blender, and top it all with a sprinkling of real-world concerns and politics. That’s what this universe is like. There is so much going on just in the every day common knowledge (or not, if you’re the MC, who knows almost nothing, Jon Snow), not to mention this big life-changing, world-altering event, of Avalon, a country where magic first began (or something..?) was frozen over by the Snow Queen, killing Avalon’s rulers, and sending the prince into exile and hiding. Said prince shows up into the armpit of Arizona, where most of this story takes place, and is now being taken in by Tala, our protagonist’s, family, who are all a bunch of famous ex-Avalonian.. militia, or something.

Anyway, eventually they are discovered, the Snow Queen invades a place they once believed she never could, and Tala, the prince, and a ragtag group of teens, find themselves returning to Avalon to break the curse. One of the many curses because, like, everyone has a curse or a doom or a geas and like.. I’m already tired trying to explain this. Because, again, it’s a lot. There’s a huge cast of characters. Prophecies and secrets abound and there’s a lot we, as a reader, are left in the dark about, while other characters seem to prefer to just spout weird prophetic statements without any care to shed light on things, and we bounce from one battle or confrontation to another, all while watching this group form rather predictable connections, despite themselves, and while the Prince acts like an ass.. for no discernible reason.

So, yeah, I have no idea what to do with this. This book was a big floppy trade paperback of an ARC, with tiny tiny writing, and I spent two days slogging through what was, admittedly, a clever and interesting world that I should’ve really loved reading about, but somehow never quite did, and dealing with a pile of characters who should’ve been interesting and fun and only ever sometimes managed a little of that.

The upsides? Beyond the creativity and the astounding amount of work it must’ve taken to put this together and keep it all consistent (seriously, my brain, it hurts), this is heavily steeped in the author’s own culture and there is a lot of representation. Also, I might even pick up book two. But that last point is probably less to do with the book and more to do with my stubbornness and curiousity, so. I don’t know. I can’t recommend. But nor do I think I want to not recommend. There are definitely going to be people who love this but I see just as many, like me, who won’t know what to do with it.. or can’t even get far enough to bother.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **