Review: The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Goodreads summary:

Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate? Continue reading

Review: Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

Goodreads summary: 

Margerit Sovitre did not expect to inherit the Baron Saveze’s fortunes—and even less his bodyguard. The formidable Barbara, of unknown parentage and tied to the barony for secretive reasons, is a feared duelist, capable of defending her charges with efficient, deadly force.

Equally perplexing is that while she is now a highly eligible heiress, Margerit did not also inherit the Saveze title, and the new baron eyes the fortunes he lost with open envy. Barbara, bitter that her servitude is to continue, may be the only force that stands between Margerit and the new Baron’s greed—and the ever deeper layers of intrigue that surround the ill-health of Alpennia’s prince and the divine power from rituals known only as The Mysteries of the Saints.

At first Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s services, but soon she cannot imagine sending Barbara away—for reasons of state and reasons of the heart.

Heather Rose Jones debuts with a sweeping story rich in intrigue and the clash of loyalties and love. Continue reading

Review: The Ryogan Chronicles by Erica Cameron

Hello folks! Today is a very special day. Today is the book birthday for Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron, the second book in the Ryogan Chronicles! Thanks to the lovely folks at Entangled Teen, I got the chance to read this stunning sequel a little early, so to celebrate this occasion I will be reviewing the series so far, which began with Island of Exiles. These are both amazing books, and I’m so glad to be able to share my love for them with you today. Continue reading

Review: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember


Goodreads summary:

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies. 

Review:

This is an absolutely spectacular book, and absolutely one of my favourites of the year – possibly ever. Seriously, it’s completely brilliant. Smart plotting, ensnaring characters, evocative language… I love it. 

Firstly, one of the healthiest relationship representations I’ve ever read, for all that both parties are probably murderers. In fact, there’s lots of interesting consent things going on here generally. The king of the glacier has perverted the system that his mother upheld and turned mermaids into broodmares, terrified more than anything of a low fertility count that will doom them to a life despised. On the other hand, they might have a high fertility count and be trapped in a cage by the merman they’re coerced into committing to until they’re exhausted from producing so many offspring and entirely without hope. So, you know. It’s not great either way. 

Ersel has never wanted to play her part in the system. She and her childhood friend Havamal dreamed of leaving the glacier and finding somewhere to live in freedom. But he decides that safety is better than freedom, and joins the King’s guard. Now, she is alone. There are a lot of “I’m not like other girls” moments early on in the book that I squinted at, but stay with it, because it’s challenged in the most excellent way as Ersel finally begins to find her purpose later on. Because it’s often her misunderstanding of other people’s needs and desires – her assumption that she must be alone – that causes her to do the most harm. 

It’s that moment, and others, that brought home to me exactly how smart this book is. Not subverting tropes for the sake of it, because it’s a fun thing to do, but taking specific expectations and very thoughtfully bearing down on them until they shatter. Ersel is belittled by the other merpeople, who think that she’s doing all this because of her love for a human. But she asserts again and again that she’s doing it for herself, for the dreams she’s had since she was a child, and I love her for it. Ersel and Ragna exist as independent people, not compromising themselves for each other but making sacrifices for the things they believe in. 

This is a genuine twist on the version of The Little Mermaid that we all know, not just a simple retelling. Characters are spliced and reconfigured in startling ways, and nothing is quite as you’d expect. I don’t want to issue spoilers here, because it’s too good to spoil, but trust me, it’s great. 

While we’re on the subject of things being not quite as you’d expect, I just have to talk, for a second, about Loki. They are completely marvellous. Contrary and dangerous by nature, but never without cause. They manipulate Ersel and other characters, but not with infinite power. It can be so tricky to have gods in books – often they take over, or get distracting. But Loki’s involvement is completely delicious, and they teach Ersel some valuable lessons that she’s going to need in order to rescue her people from tyranny. And they’re not just here to cause havoc generally – there’s clearly some long game being played here, and I’ll be interested to see what happens here further down the line. 

Ersel is bi in the text, but I also read her as some degree of asexual – I’d be interested to hear other people’s perspectives on this. She frequently asserts that she’s not interested in the kinds of relationships expected of her by her people, and though (minor spoiler) she and Ragna do have sex, she doesn’t express specific sexual desire for Ragna – she just enjoys the experience. But the amount of times that she declares her lack of interest in the mating rituals of her people, and her reluctance to agree to commit to Havamal despite her admission that she cares very deeply for him, all feeds into a personal interpretation of the text that says she’s asexual to me. 

The Seafarer’s Kiss is clever, passionate and compassionate. The characters make mistakes but are driven to actively repent of them rather than simply being condemned. It’s dark in places, comforting in others, and never stops being interesting. 

Also, the beluga whales are super cute. 
Representation:

Plump mermaids are healthy mermaids. Also a lot of body image issues are dealt with. The f/f romance between Ragna, a human, and Ersel, a mermaid. Loki uses gender neutral pronouns.

Review: Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac


Goodreads summary:

A post-Apocalyptic YA novel with a steampunk twist, based on an Apache legend. 

Years ago, seventeen-year-old Apache hunter Lozen and her family lived in a world of haves and have-nots. There were the Ones — people so augmented with technology and genetic enhancements that they were barely human — and there was everyone else who served them. Then the Cloud came, and everything changed. Tech stopped working. The world plunged back into a new steam age. The Ones’ pets — genetically engineered monsters — turned on them and are now loose on the world.

Lozen was not one of the lucky ones pre-C, but fate has given her a unique set of survival skills and magical abilities. She hunts monsters for the Ones who survived the apocalyptic events of the Cloud, which ensures the safety of her kidnapped family. But with every monster she takes down, Lozen’s powers grow, and she connects those powers to an ancient legend of her people. It soon becomes clear to Lozen that she is not just a hired gun. As the legendary Killer of Enemies was in the ancient days of the Apache people, Lozen is meant to be a more than a hunter. Lozen is meant to be a hero. 

Review:

Wow. I mean. Wow. 

Killer of Enemies is a knockout of a book. The post-apocalyptic world is hostile and full of genetically engineered monsters. No-one would stand a chance if they didn’t have a unique set of skills. Lozen isn’t a willing monster-hunter. Her family are held hostage every time she goes out of the compound on a mission from a One. But she does have what it takes to stay alive. More than that, she hopes and plans to one day free her family, and go back to the lands they know and loved. 

Lozen herself is what makes this book. She is a warrior and a tactician. But she is also a daughter, and a sister. She keeps a lot of herself hidden from the Ones who rule the compound that keeps her family safe – well, safe from the monsters outside, anyway. So a lot of what we get to know about her through the first person narrative is hidden from everyone else. We are offered a unique perspective on this world, and it exceeds expectations. 

Lozen is connected to her past and her traditions in a way I don’t think I’ve read before. In some ways, a lot of my recent reading has been about tradition and beliefs: Binti and When Dimple Met Rishi come to mind. But Killer of Enemies isn’t about uniting the old with the new. Lozen’s traditions are urgently relevant to her life now, and her history comes alive in a slow, mesmerising unfurling that captivates the imagination. It’s real. 

But Lozen isn’t just acting for herself, or her family. As the novel moves forward, she begins to realise that something bigger than her is beginning. And she will need every bit of knowledge and history and skill to survive what comes next. Killer of Enemies is spectacular, and I will definitely be picking up the sequel.

Representation:

Lozen and her family are Chiricahua Apache, Native Americans. The author is Native American.


Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac was published in September 2013 by Tu Books. 

Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor


Goodreads summary:

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive. Continue reading

Review: Knit One Girl Two by Shira Glassman 


Goodreads summary:

Small-batch independent yarn dyer Clara Ziegler is eager to brainstorm new color combinations–if only she could come up with ideas she likes as much as last time! When she sees Danielle Solomon’s paintings of Florida wildlife by chance at a neighborhood gallery, she finds her source of inspiration. Outspoken, passionate, and complicated, Danielle herself soon proves even more captivating than her artwork…

Fluffy Jewish f/f contemporary set in the author’s childhood home of South Florida. Continue reading

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


Goodreads summary:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.  Continue reading

Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate


Goodreads summary: 

It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped … revered … all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Review:

She’s the Man meets Pitch Perfect with actual diverse rep. This was such good fun to read – the relationships between the boys, the pranks and rivalries between all-male a capella groups, this is a perfect nostalgia for everything that was great – and hard! – about my uni days. Noteworthy bridged the gap between mine and my brother’s interests – I can’t remember the last time we actually talked about a book together. 

Jordan Sun is a poor bisexual daughter of Chinese immigrants in the USA, so Noteworthy comes with a healthy dose of reality. Kensington is about as liberal as you’d expect a performing arts school to be, but it’s still clinging to its days of elitism and gender exclusivity, and whether Jordan is dressed as a boy or a girl she encounters reminders of that everywhere. But times are changing, and this book welcomes it. There’s some good old a capella contests, music jokes and friendships that stabbed me in the heart, but there is also time given over to considering the consequences of the financial inequality within the group, race and class issues, family troubles and gender roles. 

This is not a book about a transgender transition, but when Jordan realises that she’s adopting techniques used by transgender people, she takes it seriously. Though at several points she might have tried to cover up her lie by claiming to be trans, she never does (here is a link to Shenwei’s review of Noteworthy for a more qualified opinion on this topic. You should also read it because it’s a great and very well written review). Her realisation that she is bisexual during the book comes with its own set of assumptions to deal with. And despite her desperation to win the a capella competition, and so prove to her parents that her pursuit of the arts is worthwhile, she risks her position to confront the Sharps in their rare moments of sexist or otherwise inappropriate language. And she’s articulate doing it. There are several lines which I would love to memorise in order to dish out at prime moments.

Noteworthy reminded me of exactly why I loved university. The freedom of expression, the reassuring educational environment combined with rapidly looming adult life, the independence and the important choices that happen during those years. It stands as a challenge to educational institutions, to do better for all their students, and it stands as a celebration of the Jordan’s determination to not let musical (and mundane) prejudice stand in the way of her performance dreams. 

Representation:

The Sharps are not majority white by much, there are mentions of trans students, and there is a secondary character m/m romance. Clear awareness of minority issues, poor MC who doesn’t just magically produce money from thin air when she really, really needs it. 


Noteworthy by Riley Redgate will be published by Amulet Books on 2nd May 2017. You can pre-order it from Amazon here, or from Waterstones here

Review: The Defectives by Burgandi Rakoska


Goodreads summary:

“I want to be all right.”
“Define ‘all right’.”

Juniper Johnson’s life shattered the moment that her spine did. The teenager had initially planned on attending an elite high school for students with superabilities. Instead, she is shipped off to Effective “Defective” Academy – an institution for children with superabilities and disabilities. With the help of her friends, her kind professor, and her less-than-kind mentor, Juniper learns what it means to be disabled, what it means to be a superhero, and what it means to be human. Continue reading