Book Review: Shadow Frost

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The Blurb

In the kingdom of Axaria, a darkness rises.

Some call it a monster, laying waste to the villagers and their homes. Some say it is an invulnerable demon summoned from the deepest abysses of the Immortal Realm. Many soldiers from the royal guard are sent out to hunt it down. Not one has ever returned.

When Asterin Faelenhart, princess of Axaria and heir to the throne, discovers that she may hold the key to defeating the mysterious demon terrorizing her kingdom, she vows not to rest until the beast is slain. With the help of her friends and the powers she wields-though has yet to fully understand-Asterin sets out to complete a single task. The task that countless trained soldiers have failed. To kill it.

But as they hunt for the demon, they unearth a plot to assassinate the princess herself instead. Asterin and her friends begin to wonder how much of their lives has been lies, especially when they realize that the center of the web of deceit might very well be themselves. With no one else to turn to, they are forced to decide just how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect the only world they have ever known.

That is, of course, if the demon doesn’t get to them first.

Review

Read: April 2019

Rating: 2 stars out of 5

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC! 

*Mild spoiler warning.*

I really had high expectations for Shadow Frost. The synopsis held so much promise. And the cover – oh, it’s just gorgeous!

Sadly, this book wasn’t the vaulting champion I anticipated. I actually didn’t even finish it. You know how some books are so atrocious that you forge on because the whole thing is so laughably dreadful? Not the case with this book. It was just so mediocre that I couldn’t even chuckle over its absurdity.

Don’t get me wrong. There were things that I liked. The world-building was pretty solid, and I enjoyed Orion and Asterin’s and Asterin’s and Luna’s friendships (okay, I enjoyed the latter until the end of the book), as well as Luna and Eadric’s relationship. Unfortunately, the characters themselves were quite bland – and Ma had plenty of opportunity to develop them, given that just about everyone was a viewpoint character at one time or another. Without that crucial characterization, the characters seemed more like the vaguely described players in old fairytales: They were there and they were somewhat entertaining, but I never really felt connected to them. Instead of existing in their own rights as distinct individuals, the characters merely functioned as plot devices. Some of these characters were just jackasses – particularly Quinlan, who apparently thought it perfectly acceptable and safe to crash through Asterin’s window just to show off a baby bird that he’d found. Like, what a shithead. And he’s the love interest?? And like The Crown’s Game, the protagonists were way too powerful. One being omnifinitied would’ve sufficed, but two or three pushed the line from cool to cheesy.

The plot itself was inane and formulaic, and even the “twist” was way too easy to predict. (Yes, I read the end. Guilty.) By the time the fight at the Rainbow Salmon Inn concluded, I was getting the distinct impression that much of the action would just be Quinlan Showing Off™. Also, some of the grand plans didn’t make a ton of sense, like evacuating all the occupants of the inn except the princess heir, who was then imprisoned in her room as a wyvern monster tore gaping holes in the walls of the inn.

Perhaps worst of all was the uneven pacing. Take, for instance, the first sixty-seven pages in the book. Much of it focused on introductions, Asterin and Priscilla engaging in tense interactions, and sparring. While I understand that a good story demands a good exposition, so much of this content was just vapid filler. Ma could have eliminated at least fifteen pages and still been able to include the important events and grant her readers adequate background information. Then, once page sixty-eight hit – bam! – three dozen guards were dead and the heroes had to take action to eliminate their killer. The ensuing debate over who else to send on the mission proceeded to consume way more page space than it should have. Quinlan got to show off, and he secured his spot on Team Hero.

What started out with so much potential quickly stultified me. With final exams and project deadlines approaching, I deemed continuing on to just not be worth it. I have neither the time nor the tractor to deal with this overabundance of corn.

Cover image is from BarnesandNoble.com.

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Book Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

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The Blurb

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

*Spoiler alert!*

Fun fact: I considered purchasing this book to read it, but I was deterred by the texture of the dust jacket because it felt like a nasty-ass gritty chalkboard. Instead I saved myself some money and a lot of goosebumps by renting it from the library, complete with a nice, smooth library cover.

I’ve been trying to expand my horizons by reading more books with diverse casts of characters. In the current climate, that’s not so difficult to do, as the issues of diversity and discrimination have been brought into the spotlight by the rise of far-right ideologies and the resulting backlashes against them.

The setting of We Set the Dark on Fire isn’t as immersive as that of, say, The Hunger Games, but it doesn’t need to be. It functions as a commentary on current issues including sexism, homophobia, classism, and xenophobia. You might have heard comparisons of We Set the Dark on Fire to The Handmaid’s Tale because of its feminist elements and criticism of sexism, and those claims are accurate. But even more poignant than the discussion of gender equality is Mejia’s commentary on the struggles of undocumented immigrants. Dani herself is the equivalent of a real-world DREAMer, having immigrated from the outer island with her parents at the tender age of four. Her experiences as a poor, undocumented immigrant drive much of the story: Her fear of discovery and subsequent arrest and her desire to honor her parents’ sacrifices compel her to work with rebel group La Voz. Through both current events and Dani’s flashbacks, readers bear witness to the various obstacles manifested by Dani’s immigration status and class. The poverty she and her parents were subjected to in the outer island motivated her parents to cross the border illegally; the poverty and fear in which they lived in the inner island pushed them to sacrifice much to elevate Dani’s standard of living. Because of her immigration status, Dani balks from forming friendships with her fellow students, hindering the development of a healthy social life (or as healthy a social life as possible in this fucked-up society). And in perhaps the most alarming example, La Voz utilizes Dani’s immigration status to extort her into spying for them, an endeavor that – while perhaps might be considered beneficial – thrust Dani into a very precarious position that could have cost her her life. The use of flashbacks to explain Dani’s background might cause some readers to feel disconnected from the plights of the undocumented immigrants and the impoverished of Medio. I argue that this delivery tactic is aptly applied. Not only does the use of flashbacks highlight the distance that Dani has tried to place between her past and her present; it also emphasizes the theme of injustice existing even if it’s not directly in front of you. Dani eventually reaches this epiphany and becomes a willing agent of La Voz.

Mejia’s characterization of “good” characters is generally strong. Dani’s character in particular undergoes drastic changes, from the discovery of her sexuality to her growing urge to act on her animus against the regime, rather than simply accepting things the way they are. Carmen’s character develops too, but she is not as fleshed out as Dani due to her enigmatic nature. Likewise, Mejia grants readers satisfying yet tantalizing glimpses into Sota’s complex character without completely tearing down the mystery surrounding him. On the other hand, the antagonists are villains worthy of contempt, but for the most part they are not fully formed. For example, Mama Garcia resides in Dani’s mind as a threat for most of the book but has few interactions with Dani, and in the end it’s revealed that she is not wise to Dani’s illicit activities but is to Mateo’s before she dies in a car crash. She might have just been Mateo’s lackey, but I think that Mejia could have crafted her to be more sinister. Mateo himself is a little flat, although he’s still repulsively cruel and unhinged. As I mentioned before, though, Mejia’s glossing over of his methods might be a part of the “distant injustice” theme that plays such a huge role in this book. Interestingly, despite Mateo Garcia and Median government being at odds with each other, they are both separate antagonists and different iterations of the same antagonist: Mateo is both an embodiment of the regime and an embodiment of a worse version of it.

Although the romance sometimes seems rushed, it’s ultimately a sweet story about two young women discovering themselves and finding love even when it’s difficult or dangerous. Median high society isn’t exactly amiable toward the idea of same-sex relationships, so Dani and Carmen face adversity that stems not only from the possibility of the discovery of their affair (does it count as an affair when you’re sort of forced into a marriage?) but also from the resulting outing they would face. And at the end of the novel, Dani and Carmen are separated suddenly after Carmen is forced to reveal her allegiance to La Voz to protect Dani, who is heartbroken and bewildered by this turn of events. Readers will be anxious to find out whether Carmen will be able to make her way back to Dani!

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading We Set the Dark on Fire, even if it sometimes felt like there was something missing that I just couldn’t put my finger on and the world wasn’t as complex as I usually prefer it to be. When the sequel pops up on my library network’s catalog, you can bet I’ll place my hold on it ASAP.

I borrowed this book from my library. Remember to support your local library!

Coming Up…

Hey guys!

Things have been pretty busy for me lately since finals are next month, but I still find time to read. Here are the books I’ve been working on:

  • We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia (already on the shelves!)
  • As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker (on sale 2 April 2019)
  • Shadow Frost by Coco Ma (on sale 24 September 2019)

I plan to write reviews for all of three. Hopefully I’ll have the first review posted by the end of the week, so keep your eyes peeled!

Thank you for visiting the Book Hawk!

~Jamie

Book Review: Bloodwitch

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The Blurb

High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.

The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

Review

*Spoiler warning!*

Read: February 2019

Rating: 5 stars out of 5!

As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve discovered some amazingly good books (and their attached series) through the “Books Under $2.99” section of the NOOK Store. That’s how I tumbled into the Witchlands series: My poor spending habits and I spotted Truthwitch, looked at each other, and said, “Eh, why the fuck not?” I will admit that I had my trepidations about Truthwitch as I was reading it, but I saw a lot of potential in it and forged on. By the end of the first book, I was completely hooked on the Witchlands series and read the next book, Windwitch, about a month later. It turned out to be even better. And OH MY GOODNESS, BLOODWITCH WAS GOING TO FOCUS ON AEDUAN?!?!? Try as I might to convince myself that I shouldn’t, I preordered it around the holiday season. The day it released, I was glued to my NOOK.

Susan Dennard’s debut series features an intricate system of magic, and with complicated magic systems, there exist greater opportunities for bungling both details and delivery. Witchlands avoids these mistakes: Dennard eschews info-dumping, instead opting to provide information as things crop up. Bloodwitch builds well upon the material of the first two books. In this installment of the series, readers get an even closer look at the mechanics of both regular magic and (*shudder*) Cleaving, and – in what I pictured as a super-intense Monsters, Inc. sequence – our heroes utilize a set of magic doorways between numerous locations (many of which are apparently very near to the Origin Wells). Those of you who are history/geography buffs won’t be disappointed either, since Bloodwitch‘s setting explores even more of the Witchlands. Although Safi and Vaness have actually made it to Azmir, Aeduan and Iseult – along with their headstrong charge, Owl, and her monstrous mountain bat, Blueberry – are still en route to the Carawen Monastery in the Sirmayan Mountains, and Merik has been whisked away to Ponzin. The variation in setting throughout the story will satisfy your inner adventurer and fend off setting fatigue. And the complex plot will make you anything but bored: There’s plenty of action and big reveals to keep you entertained.

The character development in Bloodwitch is top-notch. I’m gonna be honest: I didn’t like Safi’s character all that much at the beginning of the series. But she really has grown on me as she herself has grown, and now I love her. While she may not be clever in the way that Iseult is, she has proven to be smart in her own right. When Vaness’s birthday celebration devolves into a complete and dangerous fiasco, Safi’s leadership skills step to the fore as she reasserts her autonomy and helps Vaness escape. In Lovats, Vivia is stepping into a new leadership role as Queen-in-Waiting, but her opponents – including her own manipulative father, King Serafin  – have no qualms about stomping on her toes to curb her ascent. Vivia eventually realizes that she doesn’t need her father and that she needs to make her own decisions rather than constantly submitting to him. Meanwhile, Iseult continues to take initiative and have confidence in her snap judgments. Owl too evolves from being an overpowered mega-brat (get it? It’s a pun on “mega-bat”… Never mind) with a contrarian attitude problem. Slowly but surely, she emerges from her shell to befriend Iseult and proves herself unfalteringly loyal to her friends, even if she is still obstinate.

Obviously, though, this book focuses most on Aeduan’s internal journey, and his redemption arc is a powerful one. For more than a decade, Aeduan has been plagued with guilt and self-loathing. In Bloodwitch, readers gain an in-depth comprehension of why. The long and short of it is that Aeduan’s childhood traumas caused him to brand himself as a monster, and this view of himself allowed him to justify his unquestioning loyalty to his father, even when Ragnor’s orders were patently immoral. By the end of Bloodwitch, Aeduan has learned to forgive himself and that there is a path towards salvation for him.

And finally, the romance. God, the romance. Throughout Bloodwitch, Dennard continues to build upon the romantic tension between Aeduan and Iseult, culminating in the implication that they are Heart-Threads. At the end of the book, Aeduan has been separated from Iseult but vows to find her, and all I can say is that I am so ready for that journey back to each other. Just let my OTP be together. (Side note: Does anyone else spy a blossoming romance between Vaness and Vivia?)

Here I am at the end of this review and there are so many things that I haven’t touched on, simply because I can’t do them justice. Bloodwitch has more than earned its place on my Favorites and Cream-of-the-Crop shelves, and I enthusiastically recommend the Witchlands series to any fantasy fanatic. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for Book Four!

Book Review: Beasts of the Frozen Sun

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The Blurb

Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland-one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun-Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun…

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

When I first began reading Jill Criswell’s debut novel, I really wasn’t certain that I was going to love it. Beasts of the Frozen Sun was… just fine, for maybe the first third of the book. But I was well rewarded for reading on. 

This book’s biggest flaw is that the non-main characters simply didn’t feel as animated to me as they should have. Some character introductions and the subsequent interactions with other characters seem a bit abrupt. Quinlan, for instance, is introduced as Lira’s close male friend and someone whom Lira might or might not have feelings for, even though Lira does not mention him until his first physical appearance. Criswell often consigns minor characters brimming with potential to the sidelines, but I hope she will expand their roles in the next book. Right now it feels like she’s focusing so intently on Reyker and Lira that she’s skimping slightly on the other characters. Paying them some mind would, in my opinion, render this tale more colorful.

That’s not to say that the characters are unlikable, or that the main characters are uninteresting – just that there’s room for growth (and perhaps that’s what Criswell has planned for the sequel). While Reyker, a complicated warrior from Iseneld, embarks on a poignant and heart-wrenching redemption arc, Glasnithian Lira grapples with the societal constraints foisted upon her as both a young woman and a god-gifted individual and battles against the guilt she feels over the death of her mother several years prior. Lira’s elder brother, Garreth, proves to be noble and clever – and something of a maverick with a surprise up his sleeve, and Quinlan is a treasure – both as a friend and as a human being.

Although the lore of Criswell’s world isn’t complex, it’s not overly simple either – and that moderation suits this story. Likewise, Criswell is even-handed with her imagery: she doesn’t catapult her readers into a choppy sea of detail, but she provides enough for a reader to conceptualize the surroundings to a satisfactory degree. As far as the romance goes, this is one whirlwind love story. Despite the occasional over-gooeyness, Criswell executes the enemies-to-lovers trope well. Readers will find themselves invested in Reyker and Lira’s blossoming relationship and riveted by the parallels between their love and that of Aillira and the Great Betrayer. And at the end, the villain divulges a revelation that not only sheds a new light on his character but also leaves them bursting with questions.

Beasts of the Frozen Sun might not be a masterpiece, but it’s a solid beginning to Criswell’s series. I had some difficulty tackling the first portion of the book, but that hump was not insurmountable and the story ended up being entertaining. Adrienne Young’s Sky in the Deep has found its kin in Beasts of the Frozen Sun: If you read and enjoyed the former, I enjoin you to pick up the latter (which I’d argue is better).

You can purchase Beasts of the Frozen Sun at Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, IndieBound, Indigo, and Amazon. 

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.

 

 

Book Review: Alien Minds

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The Blurb

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

Review

Read: March 2019

Rating: 1 star out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC.*

Honestly, I expected little from Christina Bauer’s Alien Minds – and this book lived up to my expectations. I plowed through Alien Minds quickly, simply because it was tedious and jejune and I wanted to be done with it. 

Alien Minds plays host to a plethora of flaws, least of which is the sloppy editing. Although the writing is legible, Bauer’s strong suit clearly does not lie in grammar and spelling conventions, nor does her editor’s strength lie in noticing and correcting them. Several words are missing letters, have their letters transposed, or contain letters that transform them into different words altogether. Take, for example, Meimi yammering into her “smart witch” (smart watch) and explaining her “thughts” (thoughts) to the reader, and Thorne’s name being spelled “Throne” at one point in the book. Errors like that, while obvious, are easy enough to parse out, but missing or jumbling words in sentences are more difficult to deal with. 

Bauer also has a penchant for doling out the wrong amount of detail for the wrong subjects. Lush imagery and meticulously crafted lore are well and good, but it seems to me that Bauer gives more thorough descriptions of trivialities like clothing and appearances than of more important aspects of her story, particularly background information. Yes, I know Meimi is suffering from amnesia. Yes, I understand that some things will be left out as a result. That said, Bauer frequently just dumps readers into a scene, blathers about the sartorial choices of nearby characters or what color the walls are, decides, “Fuck it!” and then careens onward through her haphazardly assembled plot. To make matters worse, she tends to gracelessly insert information, frequently at inappropriate points in a scene. These interruptions compound with negligible buildup to events, adversely affecting the flow of the story overall. (Side note: In a futuristic science fantasy novel, never use the word “modern” when describing architecture. No one knows what “modern” means in the context of two-and-a-half centuries in the future.)

The characters themselves have little appeal. Characterization is anemic from the start, and there’s little character development to remedy that. Meimi is purportedly an adroit scientist, but readers don’t really get to experience her problem-solving – they just see the results. She’s portrayed as a perfect girl, a state of being established less by actions and events and more by statements about Meimi. Furthermore, Meimi is the queen of patent observations. More than several times she notes something completely obvious in the stupidest way possible. Thorne, her extraterrestrial love interest, isn’t a huge improvement. The son of an alien emperor, Thorne’s character centers around being in love with Meimi and dealing with his daddy issues, but mostly around being in love with Meimi. In fact, Thorne’s callow, near-constant exultation of Meimi is a major irritant. Thorne also has a creepy habit of smelling Meimi. Not catching a whiff of her scent in passing and remarking that she smells nice, but legit purposefully sniffing her. And when you sleep next door to someone, even if you’re concerned about their safety, it’s definitely obsessive to sleep on the floor directly in front of the door, not to mention imprudent. What if Meimi tries to run from danger and she opens his door and trips over him? Just sayin’. Their instalove romance is dull and moves way too fast. In one scene, while Meimi is still suffering from amnesia, Thorne purchases undergarments for her. Slow the fuck down, dude, she only kinda remembers you. Thorne is also overprotective of Meimi and, much to my vexation, calls her “my girl” about one million times throughout the book; Meimi, meanwhile, repeatedly chooses the term “yummy” to describe Thorne. This romance is so contrived that it would be fitting for Thorne to forgo the rose bouquet and instead gift Meimi an entire fucking bushel of corn. 

So much of the story focuses on instalove that the supporting characters are glossed over, and the antagonists aren’t well-constructed either. Zoe and Chloe Fine are useful but only superficially entertaining; the Hollow’s backstory is glossed over. Vargas, a Merciless soldier charged with marking society outcasts for execution – often with the unwilling aid of his poor Pokemon, Marro – is little more than a death-hungry lech with muscles and a pea brain. Dr. Godwin is basically the alternate-dimension Dr. Doofenshmirtz: he’s genuinely evil but completely cheesy and absolutely not subtle.

When all is said and done, I wouldn’t read this book again, nor would I recommend it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have read it in the first place if it hadn’t been free. It’s definitely not my cup of tea, but if Alien Minds is yours, by all means, please read it.

You can also read this review on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2737340812

Cover is from BarnesandNoble.com.