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Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Physical violence (brutal fighting), semi-graphic wounds, scene of assault, mentions of bullying, racism/colorism, transphobia, homophobia, mentions of menstruation, abandonment

“The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.”

Be still my weeping heart! In all my years of reading retellings and fairy tales, Blaca y Roja is by far the best one I’ve read so far! McLemore has such a beautiful way of writing and the way she reimagined Snow-White and Rose-Red completely stole my heart away. This might be the best retelling I’ve read in a long, long time. The magic, the lyrical writing, the relationships and bonds, this book had everything that I love. Not even the multiple povs could sway my feelings about this book and yall know I’m not a big fan of multiple povs! This book will truly capture your heart!

“We had started to believe that Roja was the sister whose heart was a handful of hard red jewels, and I was the one as insubstantial as the hollow center of a cranberry. The lie of who we were had killed who we might have been. It had buried us. It stripped us down into girls uncomplicated enough to be understood.”

We follow two sisters, close as can be, who are destined to be torn apart by a curse that was placed upon their family. A curse that has happened for generations and marked the women, two daughters will always be born, but on one of those girls’ fifteenth birthday, the swans will come to claim one back. Many sisters formed rivalries, parents are turned against one another, but these daughters are choosing to take things into their own hands, they want to trick the swans. Hoping the swans will choose to leave them both alone and waiting until the next generation is to come. But this isn’t just a story of two sisters, this is a story of four people who’s destinies are all intertwined with one another, who are all feeling a little displaced, for multiple reasons.

🦢 Blanca – The “good” sister, light skin, fair, soft, and doing everything she can to prevent the swans from ever taking Roja away from her. The favorite of most of the women left of their family.

🦢 Page – A transboy, who uses he/she and him/her pronouns, and currently hiding from her family because even though they support Page in being trans, they don’t seem to understand why Page would still claim she/her pronouns.

“Him and her, I kinda like getting called both. It’s like all of me gets seen then. Doesn’t usually happen, though. Most people can’t get their head around boy and she at the same time, I guess.”

🦢 Roja – The fierce, angry, and stubborn younger sister with brown skin and deep red hair, the apple of her father’s eye, but no one else. Fighting tooth and nail to prevent the swans from ever claiming her and making her one of them.

🦢 Yearling – A boy from a terrible home life. He’s constantly physically fighting with his cousin, being egged on by his entire family, and due to suffering a loss of vision in his left eye, he struggles in day to day life. All he wants to do is escape his family, the name that cause people to be weary, and the secret and truth he knows about his family. After going into the woods to get lost, the woods ever listening, grants his wish.

All of these characters have their paths set, but the funny thing about paths… they tend to intertwine with others. And that’s exactly what happens with these characters. These four characters become tangling within each other’s destinies and realize, they need each other and care about one another. They’ll discover things about themselves, learn about unconditional love and what it means to sacrifice everything for those you love. Two beautiful romances will bloom, so beautifully and so eloquently written.

As I mentioned, this is a Snow-White and Rose-Red reimagined tale. This is McLemore’s ownvoices, Latinx, queer version of this fairy tale. And it’s everything. It’s truly everything you could want in a retelling, everything I wanted in a retelling! There’s themes of respecting people’s genders and sexuality journeys, how it’s fluid and how you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone especially if they don’t understand or accept you as you are. There’s also a huge theme of how we don’t have to be what our families, society, and the world wants us to be. We don’t have to fit that mold, we can be our own unique selves, and this book shows how you can break those cycles.

“We find what is beautiful in what is broken. We find what is heartening in what is terrifying. We find the stars in the woods’ deepest shadows.”

And this book shows us how everyone handles grief, pain, and trauma differently. That it’s okay to do so and you’re not alone in those feelings. This book reminds us that love and kindness are powerful forces that can heal even the most broken heart, how bonds of family (blood and found) plays a huge role in that and how it can change someone’s story completely. It’s the most powerful thing and McLemore conveys it so beautifully in this book.

Most importantly, this book is a love letter to all sibling bonds out there. Family is everything to me especially my siblings and I like to think I’m open about that, as much as I can be. I’m very protective of my siblings especially my younger brother and younger sister. And as the oldest sibling, I would do anything to make sure they were safe and could enjoy life to the fullest. I think I rave about sibling relationships every time I read a book with one in it (or the family dynamics). I’m also very open that I’m very white-passing. Everyone on my dad’s side is darker skin, mostly all dark hair, dark brown eyes. A lot of people wouldn’t know I’m Apache unless I was with my aunts because they fit the mold of what a Native American woman should look like. And I don’t fit that mold. I’m a white-passing, two-spirited, urban Apache woman and I constantly feel out of place. Yet, I will always acknowledge the privilege I have because of my white-passing and my biraciality, but my heritage and my family’s culture is very important to me. I was raised to always honor my heritage, my ancestors, and my family. And I think this book does such an amazing job at conveying all of this. This book really is about loving yourself, all parts of yourself, visible and non-visible, where you come from, and honoring your family. And if you couldn’t tell, this book really made me emotional and feel soft in all the spaces of my heart.

“They had seen in me the softest, weakest part of my heart where I held my sister. They knew I would do anything, give up anything, if it meant my sister keeping her own body. And now they wanted me to prove it.”

If there’s one thing that you take away from my review, let it be how much this book completely took me apart and stitched me back together. The way I fell in love with this book was so gentle at first and then hard. I don’t think there will ever be enough words to express how much this book means to me, what it made me feel, and how my heart is still weeping at how beautiful this story is. And as I mentioned before, this book is multiple perspectives. I’m not one to usually enjoy multiple perspectives, but the way McLemore wrote each perspective enchanted me from the beginning and stole my heart away. It takes a very special kind of book with multiple povs to make me fall in love with it and this book did just that. This book truly is a gift.

“It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.”

Overall, I loved this book so much! How could I not love this book? There’s no amount of words that can express the things this book made me feel, the whirlwind of making me come undone and putting me back together, this book truly is something special. I don’t think a book has ever made me cry this much before. This is probably the best retelling I’ve ever read and I think as readers, we sometimes forget the power of words, of books, and healing that can be found within the two. This book truly is a blessing and if you were looking for a retelling to pick up, let it be Blanca y Roja. It truly is a gift and I think I’m going to be shouting about this book for a long time.

Read for the Latinx Book Bingo 🧡

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In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4) by Seanan McGuire

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🚪 Every Heart a Doorway – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

🚪 Down Among the Sticks and Bones – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

🚪 Beneath the Sugar Sky – ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Bullying, sexism, loss of a loved one, death, abandonment, and scene of child abuse (slapping of a child)

“Sometimes ‘fair’ is bigger than just you. Sometimes ‘fair’ has to think about what’s best for everyone.”

I think my heart truly melted for this story. As much as I fell in love with Down Among the Sticks and Bones, this might be my new favorite for the series. Who am I anymore?! I truly fell in love with this book though. Something about this book speaks to me on so many levels and if you’ve been here for a minute, I’ve been falling in love with this series so hard. This might be an all time favorite series of mine now!

Our story follows Katherine Lundy, you may remember her as the therapist who leads the group sessions in Every Heart A Doorway. She was placed as Elanor’s second in command, though she looks to be about eight-years-old, she claims to actually be eighty years old. This is her tale, the story of how everything began with a door and the goblin market.

“When a very serious little girl finds a magical door in the woods, she decides to leave behind a life of loneliness to go off in search of adventure, never expecting to find a mystical Market on the other side—where anything can happen, as long as you pay your debts.”

When Lundy is eight-years-old, she already knows how the rest of her life will be. She will be studious, quiet, and do what is asked of her. And if all goes according to her plan, one day she’ll become a librarian (she’s loves books something fierce) and then maybe one day, she’ll be a wife, and maybe a mother. This was the dream or at least the one that her parents wanted for her. But this isn’t the dream that feels right to Lundy and one day, she’ll find that glittering door on an old trail, and her life will never be the same again.

📜 Rule One – Ask for nothing
📜 Rule Two – Names have power
📜 Rule Three – Always give fair value
📜 Rule Four – Take what’s offered and be grateful
📜 Rule Five – Remember the curfew

“Your name is your heart, and you don’t give your heart away.”

Being a child who enjoys knowledge, she learns a wide plethora in the goblin market about who she is as a person and who she truly wants to become. Lundy has been given the gift of traveling back and forth between the goblin market throughout this book. We see glimpses of different time periods in Lundy’s life and during different ages. Within these moments, we see the sisterly bonds between Diana and Lundy, but we also see the found family aspect with Moon, an owl-like girl who lives in the goblin market, (who might be one of my favorite characters thus far). Each relationship is so pure, so wholesome, and fills my heart with so much love. The love and loyalty Lundy has for both Diana and Moon just warms the heart. You know I love sibling bonds and found family in books.

I truly loved Lundy’s character. While the circumstances and the environments were different, I felt like I could relate to Lundy the most thus far in this series. My family had often tried to keep me bound to their own dreams for me and to keep me as a quiet child. I felt connected to Lundy even more when it talk about the loneliness, one that even Lundy didn’t recognize at first. And the way she would spend her time reading and filling her time with her love for books truly made me appreciate her as a character. I know it’s more of a personal connection, but I think that’s why Lundy has become one of my favorite characters.

“In the way of bookish children, she carried her books into trees and along the banks of chuckling creeks, weaving her way along their slippery shores with the sort of grace that belongs only to bibliophiles protecting their treasures.”

As always, Seanan McGuire has absolutely beautiful writing and finds a way to make every world feel alive, in more ways than one. I loved how in this book we get a sense of the goblin market being a living breathing person. Always watching, always knowing who’s being fair or unjust. Speaking of which, that’s the theme of this whole book. Like the others in this series, In An Absent Dream has a theme about what’s fair, what’s right, and what’s just. Throughout this book, we see how privilege comes into play and how without some form of balance there would be chaos. The way the goblin market is written is designed to make us realize how our system is broken and we as people need to do better by each other.

“That’s because you don’t know what fairness means. You’ve been in a place that wasn’t fair for so long that the things we’d been trying to teach you have been driven back into the shadows.”

We truly just need to be kinder to one another, to learn from the errors we make and realize we need to do better. And we truly need to do better at acknowledging our privilege and realizing that not everyone has the same privileges. And overall, just read Seanan McGuire’s books. I haven’t seen many books talk about important topics that usually never get addressed or sometimes get ignored because no one wants to hear about it. I’m truly grateful there’s a series out in the wild bringing these topics up. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it, but I truly think this series needs to be celebrated a little bit more and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series. If you’re a fantasy lover like me and you enjoy portal worlds, I whole heartily recommend this series to you.

“Enjoy yourself. There are many good things in the world, and each of them happens for the first time only once, and never again.”

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Witchy by Ariel Slamet Ries

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Content/Trigger Warnings: Loss of a parent, bullying, transphobia, medical examination difficultly, violence, oppression, abandonment

Friends, I have to say that I was really surprised by how much I fell in love with this graphic novel. I loved so much about this book from the the art style to the captivating story line, I really appreciate so many elements. This world is whimsical yet dangerous as a witch. You can also read this comic for free HERE!

Witchy is a graphic novel that takes place in the witch kingdom, Hyalin. Within this kingdom, the witches who live here are dependent on the length of their hair and depending on the length determines how powerful that witch may be. Thus, they take great pride in their hair length while those with shorter hair are often looked down upon. However, if a witch’s hair is too long, the government within the kingdom will hunt you down and burn you to your death. There’s also a school in this kingdom that teaches the youths to harness and develop their powers. These students are tested in their magical abilities, and if they complete all the tasks then they can be conscripted into the military guard to protect the kingdom. With this, many young witches and families see this as another great honor.

Yet our story doesn’t follow someone who loves their kingdom or desires to be part of the military guard, we follow a young witchling called Nyneve, who has a very different view of things. After she saw her father burned alive for being a powerful witch, Nyneve has come to resent the government of the kingdom and is forced into hiding her long hair. With the day of the conscription getting closer and closer, Nyneve begins to worry that someone might discover her secret.

During this whole book we follow Nyneve as she tries to survive the conscription at her school, following the ramifications of her actions, making friends in the unlikeliest places, and a new journey to discover the truth of this kingdom. The world itself is vast and beautiful, as we shift from scenes like the country side to the city, all the way out into the forest. There’s also some scenes inside an abandoned temple and you can tell just how much history the temple holds.

We also have a very diverse cast. For starters, the family dynamics with Nyneve and her mother. I’ve said this a few times in past reviews, but I have a super soft spot for books with a single mother household (I come from a single mother household). We also have many characters of color (I’m not fully sure, but I want to say most of them are South Asian), there’s a transgender character (I have no doubt they’re going to play a larger role), we also have multiple plus-sized characters featured throughout (but there are various body types featured throughout this book).

I also have to take a moment to appreciate a side character called Banana. They’re a talking raven who ends up finding Nyneve in the forest. Their banter together is hilarious and even though he’s a little ball of grumbles, all they want to do is help and protect Nyneve. It’s so precious and I can’t wait to see how they’re role comes into play later on!

“If others pull you from the darkness, it’s because they believe your life is worth living. Don’t push them away because you don’t feel you deserve it.”

Overall, I truly loved this graphic novel. I don’t want to reveal too much because I think any reader who picks this graphic novel up should go in without knowing too many details. I’m really curious to see what will happen next in this world. I want to know more and lowkey ship Nyneve and Prill together. And of course, I can’t wait to see more of the hilarious banter between Banana and Nyneve. I love reading books that have characters who take their own destiny into their own hands to choose their own path. I have high hopes for the next installment and I hope you all give this graphic novel a chance!

Read for The Reading Rush 💚

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The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Incurred racism, alcoholism, mentions of human experimentation, public execution, descriptions of graphic injuries, colonization, mentions of fertility issues, chronic fear, anxiety and panic attacks

“But they don’t know that rebels are made in the worst of circumstances, and even death can’t stop them. Us.”

I’ve been putting this review off for so long. Normally, I know exactly what I want to say and write, but… this book, this powerful, beautifully written book has my thoughts turned into scrambled eggs. I loved it. I loved every second of it. I could barely put this down and when I did, I was thinking about this book all over again. My reading experience was also different. I listened to this on audiobook and read it at the same time with my physical copy. Friends, I don’t have the words to describe all the emotions, all my thoughts, but I hope that somewhere within this review, you’ll be able to understand my love and affection for this book.

Our story takes place during the Ilori invasion, an alien race that has declared Earth it’s new vacationing spot. Janelle or Ellie Baker handles this in an entirely different manner than most people do. Her whole life she’s lived in a dangerous, unsafe world for her and her loved ones, but now it’s just different circumstances. But her situation is just as dangerous as she runs a secret library to help her fellow prison-mates even though she knows the penalty, if she were caught, would mean death. M0R1s or Morris is a lab made Ilori who was raised to be emotionless, but still manages to fall in love with music. Then one fateful day, Morris discovers a secret library and soon crosses path with Ellie. With their love for literature and music, they’ll put everything on the line in a deadly world to enjoy the things they love, the company of one another, and somehow find a way to save humanity from the invasion.

🌠 Janelle aka Ellie – Plus sized, 17-year-old Black teenager, who’s also pansexual and demi-ace, with anxiety and a secret library. She’s fierce, strong, and brave, though not in the most obvious way. Her strength and rebellion are more subtle, until she’s forced to run for her life.

🌠 M0R1s aka Morris – Lab-made Ilori, who’s demi-ace, with a deep love and appreciation for humanity. A true cinnamon roll who only wants peace. Though he tries to hide it, he’s an Ilori who feels the depths of emotions and gets so overwhelmed by those feelings that he doesn’t know what to do with them.

The first thing you need to understand is that I don’t usually enjoy sci-fi, but oh, oh did I fall in love with this book. The world building was absolutely beautifully chilling. There were often times as I was reading that it felt like I was there, experiencing it, feeling the weight of the situation, and yes, I cried a few times. When I read sci-fi books like this, it makes me wonder why I’m so quick to pass up a sci-fi book that isn’t Star Wars related. I can’t emphasize how powerful the writing is and how there are so many moments that will punch you in the gut, but it’s all woven together so gorgeously. The author also delivers such in-depth detail about the aliens and the information is given to us when we need it, there’s no sense of information down pours. And I loved how there was a cast system setup among the Ilori. I really appreciated the amount of detail that went into the two casts, the True Ilori and the lab-made Ilori.

What really surprised me was the fact that this is a standalone. I briefly mentioned that I was really hoping for a second book especially the way the ending had concluded, kind of sets things up for a second book, if the author wanted to. Despite that, I was shocked to find out it was a standalone because so much was done within the pages of this book. Alechia explores social issues drawing comparisons from the way the alien occupation treats humans and the systematic racism Black people face in our society today (which if you read this right now with everything happening in the world, there will probably be a lot that hits really hard for many readers, so please make sure you practice self-care). It’s powerful and emotional, and it’s so very important.

“If we get separated and you have to choose between life and joining us, choose life, okay? Live. Live for us. Breathe for us. Survive for us.”

I think what I loved most was the way literature and music brought Ellie and Morris closer together. But most importantly, anyone who reads this book will be able to tell this is a love letter to the arts, more specifically music and literature. I have always said since I was very young that arts have the ability to bridge gaps between people, between countries, and cultures. I still stand by that statement today. My heart can’t help but growing warm and fuzzy from the amount of love radiating from the pages for music and books. The fact that music and books in this book truly show that these tools can spread hope to one another, fill in the spaces between us as people, and even guide us to love.

Then we have that ending. It knocked me right out of the park. I think this will be a love it or hate it type of ending for many readers. Obviously, I loved it and I was constantly holding my breath. I’m not going to lie, I was ready to throw the book across the room and I may have gripped it so tight that pages crinkled a few times while reading those last few chapters, but it all felt worth it. It wrapped up in a way I never expected, it left me wanting more, and honestly, I mentioned this already, it felt like the ending was left open enough where this book could have a sequel (I’m still holding out hope that this turns into a duology instead of a standalone). I would even settle for a spin-off series, a mini series, something because I truly can’t believe this is the end of the adventure for our main characters.

“If music is a story, it comes alive with love. The more love it has, the more likely the story will never end.”

Overall, it’s so hard for me to say that this book is over. I truly fell in love with everything within this book. There were times where I thought about Mass Effect, times where I was thinking of a girl with Ellie’s personality (the one that got away), and so many times I reflected on the little things. You want to know what it’s like to listen to Crashing Cars by Snow Patrol and Heroes by David Bowie for hours on repeat while laying on the floor after finishing this book, reflecting and recapping everything happening in the world, go read this book and find out because that’s what I did. Do I recommend this book? Absol-freaking-lutely!

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Soul of the Sword (Shadow of the Fox #2) by Julie Kagawa

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🌸 Shadow of the Fox – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Content/Trigger Warnings: Death, murder, graphic violence & injuries, grief, loss of a loved one, death of a animal, war themes, threats of torture, and much more!

“All souls have a destiny. Some are simply brighter than others.”

It’s no secret that I fell in love with Julie Kagawa and her captivating writing in 2019 when I first read Shadow of the Fox. I loved it so much that I knew from the moment I read the first page that I would be continuing the series. And I’m so glad that I did! Book Two had so many surprises, a lot of tension, and many question on how the end game will conclude. Needless to say, book two was everything I wanted and more!

Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, Hakaimono has returned and Tatsumi is gone. After saving Master Jiro, everything seems to have taken a turn for the worst. Our band of heroes now knows Yumeko’s biggest secret, Hakaimono has been unleash into the world, and they seem further away from completely their goal then they ever could have imagined. Despite the challenges they face, they will continue to travel and fight side by side. But in the shadows, a dark presence is rising and will stop at nothing to have all pieces of the Dragon Scroll.

👹 Yumeko – Raised by monks in the Temple of the Silent Winds, half kitsune, who is a lot better at illusions than she gives herself credit to. Soon she finds her life thrown into chaos as her only home is ripped away from her by the destruction of an army of demons. Now she will embark on a quest to a hidden temple to bring half of the ancient scroll to safety.

👹 Tatsumi – Samurai/Shanobi of the Shadow Clan, one of the most feared and deadliest warriors and demon slayers ever, even though he is very young. Wielding the blade of Hakaimono, a sword sealed with one of the most deadliest demon generals of his time, Kamigoroshi, Tatsumi is constantly tested with how strong his will is. Sent on a mission by his clan to retrieve a piece of the ancient scroll by any means, instead he finds Yumeko and makes a promise to deliver her to the hidden temple in exchange for the scroll. Only now, Tatsumi has been completely taken over by Hakaimono because love can make even the most disciplined person crumble.

👹 Suki – Bits and pieces of her were sprinkled throughout the first book, but now we see her playing a roll in this book as well. Daughter of a celebrated flute maker, Suki is shipped off to work as the new maid for the favored concubine of the emperor to live a better life than running his shop. Suki was turned into a sacrifice, now a spirit that continues to cling to the mortal world, only she’ll play a much larger role than she ever imagined.

👹 Seigetsu – We meet Seigetsu in the first book when he first encounters Yumeko and saves her from a terrible situation. Now, we see him playing a bigger role in book two. He’s still a mysterious person, but we now come to know that he’s a master of shogi and is able to know about events in the future with his companion, Taka.

👹 Hakaimono – The sealed within his own sword, Kamigoroshi, Hakaimono was one of the deadliest demon generals of his time. And now he’s finally on the rise after he’s possessed Tatsumi’s body.

👹 Reika – The priestess from the Sun Clan’s territory. Agreed to come along with Yumeko and the others to find Mast Jiro, and save him from whatever trouble he would be in. Now, she travels to ensure the piece of the Dragon Scroll is delivered to the Steel Feather Temple.

👹 Master Jiro – Head priest of the temple in Sun Clan territory. Ended up being taken captive in the first book. Now he travels with Yumeko, Reika, and the others to lead the way to the Steel Feather Temple.

👹 Okame – Often referred to as Ronin, but is actually the sweetest and a damn good shot in archery. Originally a bandit, but changed his tune after Yumeko showed him kindness, compassion, and understanding. Having nothing better to do, he decides to join the team. He’s snarky, witty, and secretly a cinnamon role.

👹 Daisuke – A noble who was once as a great samurai who fought fighters for passage on a bridge, but after meeting Tatsumi, he was unable to fulfill the greatest battle of all. Now, he travels with this unlikely group of friends. Even after finding out Yumeko is a kisune, he still swears his sword to her and promises to protect her as she travels to the Steel Feather Temple. He’s also a complete romantic and is sweet on one of the traveling companions.

I love these characters with every fiber in my being. Even Hakaimono has a piece of my heart and I know he’s one of the deadliest demon generals, but… I just love him and despite it all, I bet he’s a secret cinnamon roll (probably not, but one can hope). Every part with these characters is just fantastic, including when we flash from the three povs. Each pov was executed so well and no matter who’s perspective we were in, as the reader, we get to see the full picture with all the side characters.

Speaking of the characters, Daisuke and Okame threw me for a loop! They couldn’t be more different from each other, but they both shine in their own ways. However, I never realized how well their conversations between one another melt together so well. And their scenes together are so good. There’s warmth, there’s tension, they challenge each other, and they’re just an all around good time!

We also branch away from the Tatsumi perspective and instead get Hakaimono. Now that was a wild ride. I’ll admit, I was secretly hoping Kagawa would take this series it there and have Hakaimono take full control of Tatsumi’s body, but the way she made Hakaimono’s point of view so enthralling, we love to see it. We also see what Tatsumi is like since Hakaimono has taken over his body. When Yumeko goes to find Tatsumi’s soul in the dream world, we see how much Tatsumi has suffered. That was the moment, the moment I realized I want Tatsumi to be happy and to watch him flourish into everything he could be outside of his clan.

“But then, he let out a breath, and it seemed to release all the fear, uncertainty, horror and doubt of the past nightmare. He crushed me to his chest, clinging to me like a lifeline, like I was his sanity and he was afraid I would abandon him.”

I also loved how we see Yumeko really come into her kitsune side. Yumeko clings to her humanity in this series, but in Soul of the Sword, her character development is fantastic. In the first book, Yumeko was very timid and didn’t use her powers that often. In this book, that isn’t the case. Yumeko does whatever she can to keep her friends safe, she learns how powerful and deadly her powers can be, and she uses them to save Tatsumi. I have no doubt that in the final book we’ll see her be taken to a whole new height as she’s forced to use ever ounce of kitsune magic to protect her loved ones and the entire country.

Also, how dare Kagawa give us an ending like that! I think I choked on my drink several times reading the last handful chapters. I knew things were going to get really intense, but I never thought it would go the way that it did. This is probably one of my favorite endings in any series I’ve read so far. True blessings for such high stakes and surprises. And I’ll admit that there were a few parts I should have seen coming, but I was so wrapped up in all the chaos and Tatsumi/Hakaimono that I was hardly registering anything else.

I truly loved everything about this book and I don’t want to reveal too much especially if you haven’t read the first book yet. However, if you were expecting this book to follow the romance between Tatsumi and Yumeko, then you’re going to be disappointed. The romance has never been the main focus of this series, but it’s a key factor in the story-line. I went in knowing that it wasn’t focused on the romance and I still loved it so much. I still have questions I want answers to! Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but the story-line, plot, and world building is so good that it doesn’t matter to me if there’s a romance or not. If you think you need the romance to keep you motivated to read this book, the romance is still there, but it’s not so heavily focused or even as obvious as it was in book one.

“My master used to say, sometimes a whisper is all that is required to calm a storm, but when words fail, sometimes you need the thunder.”

Overall, I have heard the good and bad about this book, but I still fell in love with it just like the first book. I loved the world building, I see every ounce of Japanese mythology that went into this, and I just really, really love this series. If you haven’t picked this series up then let me tell you that you should. Even if you’re not much of a fantasy reader, I believe any kind of reader can find something that they’ll really love and appreciate in this series.

Read for the Asian Readathon 🏮

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A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Abduction, captivity, talk of cancer, terminal illness, loss of a loved one, murder, death, grief, torture, trauma/PTSD, abuse, a pedophile comment, attempted sexual assault (by Lilith), thoughts and attempts of suicide, a lot of ablest speech (always in a negative light from the villain)

“I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.”

Friends, I truly wanted to love this books with my whole heart. I mean, it’s a retelling and a Beauty and the Beast retelling at that. And we all know I love a good retelling, but despite many good elements this book offers, I couldn’t give this book five stars. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that book two will be better.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a Beauty and the Beast retelling that has the crown prince sealed into a Groundhog’s Day effect, where he’s forced to repeat the same season to find a love that will break the curse. But at the end of each season, should the prince fail to find love and break free of the curse, blood will be spilled and terror will descend upon the people of the kingdom. However, after three-hundred seasons, this will finally be the last season.

⚔️ The Characters ⚔️

⚔️ Harper – The Belle. Eighteen years old and living with high functioning cerebral palsy, Harper isn’t living the easiest life before she’s captured. Living with a mother who has cancer and can’t afford medical treatment, a father who vanished after stacking a high debt to crime lords, and a queer brother (Jake) who takes on the burden of providing and protecting the family. *Side Note: There are many forms of cerebral palsy, I can’t confirm if this is accurate representation. However, if you are an own voice reviewer please send me a link for your review so I can boost your voice and feelings about the representation!*

⚔️ Rhen – The Beast. The prince of the kingdom. I mentioned above that his goal is to bring a girl back to his kingdom and make her fall in love with him. Should he fail, he turns into a different beast each season and destroys anything and everything in his path. Then a new season will begin and the curse repeats itself.

⚔️ Grey – Rhen’s guard commander, the only living person left in the castle. He takes his job very seriously, loyal to the bone, and the only one with the ability to portal between worlds. With all that being said, Rhen bestowed the task of capturing the girls and bringing them back to the castle.

⚔️ Lilith – The enchantress. The one who cast the curse over Rhen and his kingdom.

⚔️ Freya – An underrated character of this book! A single mother of her own child and taking care of three of her sister’s children. A character that hit so close to home in every single way. I would love if she received her own novella or series because she is a true gem in this whole book and deserves her own happy ending.

All these characters will come together to set the scene for the rest of this tale and to deliver a different story of Beauty and the Beast. You will see Harper become a warrior princess and decide if she’ll save this kingdom from impending doom, Rhen decide if he truly wants to spend his last season withering away in a castle or if he’ll step up to save his people, and watch how things come into place.

Throughout this entire book, there’s a heavy element that opens up the discussion of responsibility. More specifically about taking responsibility for things you don’t have control over. Whether that be deteriorating health of loved ones or people doing bad things to you and the people you care about. There were so many scenes sprinkled throughout the book that open this discussion and I truly believe it’s important to shine light on that. Some things are out of our control and I think it’s very easy to just take responsibility. If you don’t who will, right? But sometimes it’s not our responsibility, when do we say enough is enough, and I like how it opens up so many discussions around this topic because so many fall to this default.

“We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals. The choices we face may not be the choices we want, but they are choices nonetheless.”

I also want to talk about the mental health representation in this book. Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of mental health representation and struggles throughout this book, and I encourage any reader to practice self-care while reading this book. There were a lot of scenes in this book that were extremely hard to read through. More so from Rhen’s perspective of the book. Rhen undergoes a great deal of trauma and I believe with my whole heart that it is important to say that the trauma and PTSD Rhen suffers is very accurate, valid representation. Not all trauma comes from wars and sometimes it comes from someone mentally breaking you repeatedly, watching the people you love and care for have harm dealt to them. It touched very close to home and I really wanted to shine light on that because in society we don’t often talk about trauma or PTSD and the best way to break the stigma is by talking about it more. I also liked seeing the representation for mental strain, guilt, and the waves of grief we see Harper go through in the first couple of chapters of being separated from her mother and brother. One thing that isn’t often talked about is the guilt and mental strain someone can feel when they’re miles away from a loved one who is terminally ill. Seeing that representation with Harper in the first couple chapters of this book, it hit close to home and I know for many readers this will also hit home. There will be a lot of hard moments to read through in this book, but the representation of mental health is so accurate and I hope more readers will shine light on it.

“Not all scars can be seen, my lady.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t give this book five stars. What really hindered my thought process and impacted my reading was the odd pacing and length of this book. There were chapters in this book that felt like it was just dumping information or details while there were other chapters that felt like they went by too quickly. I don’t often say this, but for the length of this book, I think the author could have introduced either Grey’s or Lilith’s perspective, have that three point of view situation, and I would have enjoyed it far more. Normally, I don’t like more than two point of views, but I truly believe the author could have really made this interesting with adding that third perspective instead of just giving us Harper and Rhen.

Overall, this was definitely a unique spin on Beauty and the Beast. I think if you’re a lover of Beauty and the Beast or retellings then you will probably want to add this to you list. And this is a trilogy! So there’s two more books right after this one and you bet your apple pie I’m rooting for Grey and Harper to end up together, someway, somehow. However, I don’t know if I’ll continue on with the series. I haven’t heard enough about the second book to consider picking it up. Maybe in the near future I will though, you never know. I am a sucker for a retelling!

Buddy read with Donna from Moms Book Collection ❤️

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Infinity Son (Infinity Cycle, #1) by Adam Silvera

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Death of a loved one. murder, grief, anxiety, panic attacks, trauma, abandonment, graphic violence, scene animal/creature fighting/abuse, death of a creature, body shaming, paranoia

ARC was given by Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.

This review is being published before the release date (January 14th, 2020)

“Your humanity is what makes you heroic, not your powers.”

It’s no secret that I love a book that has good mythical beasts especially if they’re dragons and phoenixes. This book had me hooked and fully excited to see how phoenixes would be woven into a ya fantasy. Top that off with a super hero element, you had me. However, while I was overly excited for a book full of magic and mythical beasts, I did become exposed to a lot of negative reviews early on. So when I had finally received an arc of one of my anticipated books of 2020, I was a worried about picking it up. Friends, I truly wish I could say that the start to 2020 kicked off with a good start, but this wasn’t the book for me and my heart is incredibly heavy admitting that. I truly wanted to love this book with every fiber in my being, but sadly that wasn’t the case.

Infinity Son follows the perspective of four characters throughout this entire story. I will leave a breakdown below. Emil and Brighton have always dreamed about becoming heroes someday, but at some point, Emil reached a point of wanting all the fighting to stop while Brighton only wants to join in the fray of it all. Among all this chaos and fear, a gang of specters have been rising from the shadows and getting bolder every day, making peace nearly impossible. Then one day, Emil and Brighton get caught up in a situation that leads to Emil developing his own powers and nothing will be the same ever again.

Different Classes

🔥 Humans – Just like you and me!

🔥 Celestials – Born with magical powers. Example; the ability to heal any wound, controlling wind or fire, etc…

🔥 Specters – Steal powers, violently takes the essence of magical creatures

POVS

🔥 Emil – The “chosen one,” ability is that of a phoenix, wants nothing except for the war to stop and there to be peace

🔥 Brighton – Power hungry and thirsty for fame, brother to Emil

🔥 Maribelle – Member of the Spell Walkers, wants vengeance for the death of her parents, hates the leader of the Spell Walkers

🔥 Ness – Specter, shape-shifter, mysterious, wild card of the story-line, love interest to Emil

Each character plays an important role in the development of the story and offers their own experience and personal view of the events taking place. With so many character point of views, it’s very easy for a lot of the details and plot to get muddled together. There’s also a lot that happens in each perspective that causes a lot of the povs to be more character driven than actual story-line or plot driven. All of this aside, every reader will find someone they’re strongly drawn to regardless if they’re a side character or one of the main characters.

Characters aside, I love the story telling built around phoenixes and hydras in this book. As I mentioned before, I love phoenixes and a lot of the details the wove around the phoenixes, the way they live and rebirth themselves, and just the symbolism of what they stood for in this book just took hold of my heart. Same for the hydras. Hydras are a species of dragons and they appear all throughout legends, stories, mythology, and of course, MTG. They symbolize power and strength, and they were no exception in this book. I wish we had received just a little bit more with the background and relationship between hydras and phoenixes, but I won’t complain with what we got. However, I do want to point out that there is a scene in this book between and phoenix and a hydra that is very similar to animal fighting in the real world. While these are mythical creatures, I wanted to point this out because there are details of how the creatures are handled and treated. It’s even to the point that Emil is even internally recognizing that both creatures are terrified and are being forced into a situation that has been caused naturally.

I want to take a moment to truly appreciate Prudencia. I loved her as a side character and I loved the way she showed her love, her loyalty, but also how we got to see her moments of fear, sadness, frustration. Also, I just know in my soul she is going to play a much bigger role in this series and I can’t wait to see her bring her full potential to the table. She’s such a treasure and she’s one hell of a friend to Emil and Brighton.

I also have to mention that I love the way therapy and seeking help is handled in this book. I loved that there was an open invitation for Emil and his family to seek guidance and counseling to navigate the tough, emotional strain they were all put under. I also liked that we get a few scenes of therapy session and how it was normalized and worked in to everything else happening in the book. And I really loved how Emil decided to have a private session and voice his struggles, his concerns, and his fears. That was one of my favorite scenes because Emil is so vulnerable, but we see him realizing and deciding he can’t work through this on his own.

And of course, I have to mention the wide variety of family dynamics. We get so many diverse family situations in this book and I loved every second of it. We have an aunt and niece dynamic, a widowed mother of two, there’s an adopted element thrown into the mix, there’s so many and I don’t want to spoil them all because some of them do play into the plot. But it was so great reading about so many different families in this book. It truly made my heart warm even if many of the situations weren’t the greatest.

I also want to point out ow much I loved Emil and Ness near the end of this book. More specially there’s a scene where Emil is body shaming himself and Ness says the most wonderful things. The whole scene is very pure, very raw, and becoming comfortable with one another. It just made my whole heart swell with so much love and appreciation. Despite everything this book does (and it’s a lot), this scene had me awing, crying, and I never wanted that scene to end with them parting. I loved it so much. And just so you know, their connection is very slow burn and that good enemies to lovers trope.

“You should only feel beautiful to yourself. And only be with someone who gets that you’re beautiful because of who you are.”

Despite all of the good this book has and even though there are many, many moments that I loved and wanted more of, there were also a lot of things that I didn’t enjoy and even now am still bothered by. For starters, I mentioned before this book is a four character pov, but I’m not a fan of 4+ character pov. I feel like important details get lost because the majority of a book is spent building up the characters and then we’re getting backstories when we should be getting more of the story-line or hitting a plot twist, something should be happening. It was also really troublesome because we have two povs that go from being a unique povs to being completely laced with hated, jealousy, anger, immense vibes of craving power; especially near the end where it seemed like these two povs really showed their true colors of absolute hostility. It just left a never ending bad feeling with my reading experience.

Now, I understand every television show or book has one, but I thought it completely unnecessary to have Brighton act like a complete fool and make idiotic decisions for two-thirds of the book. For the majority of the book, Brighton was making extremely poor choices to the point of it putting the team or mission in jeopardy, the situations being frustrating because he’s so hot-headed and won’t listen to anyone, and it made me not want to read through his parts throughout this book. The same thing with Maribelle. Majority of the book we have Mariabelle either being disrespectful to the Emil or the team captain and being spiteful towards her or we just get parts of her completely obsessing over the death of her parents instead of seeing her being productive and helping the team. They were both frustrating and irritating characters to the point of them being my least favorite parts of the book, and any scene with them in it had me dreading their parts.

And we need to have a serious talk about Emil’s character development. There are many times in this book where Emil could have had potential character development, but instead we just receive development of his powers. For the majority of the book or at least two-thirds of the book, Emil spends it having panic attacks in thinking he’s going to die or he’s talking about how much he doesn’t want to be a solider in this war. The only time we really see Emil setup in this book is during events that something happens to his brother. I also have to address that Emil never once steps up and calls anyone out on side characters pressuring him to do things he doesn’t want to do. For example, near the beginning of this book therapy is made an options, but Emil didn’t want to go to therapy because he was internally trying to work things out. Instead of the other characters leaving him be, his own brother and best friend trick him into going to therapy and forcing him to sit through a session. Situations like this, Emil could have taken charge, told everyone to back off or just leave him to figure it out, but instead Emil just silently endured these situations instead of speaking up for himself or standing his ground. Despite all of this, Emily is still a great character and one of pure heart, but he definitely deserved more moments for development that were outside of his powers.

I also want to point out to those who read comics often or have read them enough will find that this book seems like a comic book written in a ya fantasy format. What I mean is this feels like a graphic novel or comic turned into a thick book when this feels like it could have done really well as a comic. Also, there are large parts of this book that feel very familiar to situations and scene that have happened in the Marvel and DC Comic universe, more specifically with the Justice League from DC Comics and X-Men from Marvel. Due to that feeling, the last third of this book became very predictable and was a very familiar story-line/plot that I’ve seen a lot in those type of graphic novels before. So that last third of the book really left a lot to be desired especially since this book seemed so unique and original in the beginning up until that part.

Aside from all of this, the biggest issue I had with this book was this constant feeling of hopelessness throughout the book. Once it hit about 50%, it was like a switch got flipped because there was an immense sense of dread and hopelessness. And following that, the way this book concluded left me feeling drained and left me feeling terrible. So much happened at the end and it was like one terrible thing after another. There was no ending on a good note or even a climatic cliffhanger, it left on a terrible note of darkness, dread, death, and spite. Not the kind of ending I was expecting and definitely not a satisfying one.

Overall, this was just an okay book for me. It wasn’t terrible, but it also wasn’t the greatest. For me, this book left a lot to be desired and I had my hopes pretty high for this. While I’m sad that one of my anticipated releases of 2020 didn’t live up to my expectations, I truly enjoyed a lot this book offered. There were many things that I loved seeing like the different powers and the phoenix history, the different family dynamics, the great moments of vulnerability Emil shows, the talking and displaying of “it’s okay to go to therapy and seek out ways to work things out,” there were so many more great points this book offered. I will definitely continue this series. I believe this series is going to be a trilogy and I’m excited to see how these characters grow and develop. More importantly, I’m ready for more phoenix and hydra action!

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Child trafficking, child slavery, minor section of child abduction, torture, death/loss of a loved one, grief, PTSD/trauma

“People lived because she killed.”
“People died because he lived.”

Please note, that when you read this book there is no glossary in the book and not all the words are defined after they are said. 75% of this book (meaning the first two acts in the book) is with words most readers won’t understand without researching the word or going to the author’s website to look at the author’s glossary.

We Hunt the Flame is a story about two main characters; Zafira, a Hunter who has made a name for themselves and yet has a secret that could change everything, and Nasir, an assassin who has only ever delivered death to the people of the kingdom and suffered the consequences of caring too much and worse for loving someone. Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya. War is brewing on the horizon, the Arz keep closing in to consume the kingdom whole with each passing day. Sent on a quest, the hunter and assassin will come together with a group of people to track down a lost artifact that could change everything and restore magic to their world. But, they’re not the only ones searching for this artifact. A dark evil stirs in the shadows waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

This was definitely an intriguing book, friends! I have a lot of feelings and thoughts to share with all of you with this review. It’s going to be a long one, so grab some snacks and a drink because there’s so much to break down. In the meantime, all the character art for this book can be found on the lovely and talented Arzzz’s Instagram!

I’m probably one of the few people I’ve seen who actually enjoyed this book. There were a lot of elements that made it mystical and of course, this book follows a group of people set out on a quest! I adore character groups and the wide range they offer when a book offers that dynamic. It’s probably one of my favorite things to read about especially in a fantasy book! Speaking of characters, let’s do an introduction! Also, all of these characters are snarky, witty little monsters that don’t really do much, but snipe at each other ever ten minutes and I am here for it!

Main Characters

“Be as victorious as the name I have given you, and bring the desert to its knees.” 

🌻 Hunter of her village, hiding the fact she’s female (think Mulan)
🌻 Lost her father to the Arz and wants to avenge his death
🌻 Has a close relationship with her younger sister
🌻 Hasn’t talked to her mother in years
🌻 The only one who can walk through the Arz and return alive, untouched
🌻 Has two incredible, witty best friends, Deen and Yasmine
🌻 Hears the calling of the darkness
🌻 Has the power of a compass/navigator/tracker
🌻 The definition of stubborn and fierce
🌻 Suffers from trauma
🌻 Trust issues

“His mother used to say that a person without hope was a body without a soul.” 

🌻 Prince of Death, the sultan’s assassin and crown prince of Arawiya
🌻 Zafira’s love interest
🌻 Takes everything seriously
🌻 Has a desire to rebel
🌻 Lost his mother at a young age by his own hand
🌻 Thinks he’s a monster and unlovable
🌻 The only one who can find Zafira
🌻 Hears the same calling of darkness as Zafira
🌻 Has a tattoo on his arm
🌻 Suffers from PTSD/trauma by the hand of the sultan
🌻 Also has trust issues

“If I could sell my arm to make him breathe again, I would. He did not deserve such a death.”

🌻 The sultan’s general, Altair
🌻 Bromance (on many levels) with Nasir
🌻 Huge flirt
🌻 Insanely witty
🌻 Has contacts, informants, spies everywhere
🌻 Friend of Deen
🌻 Similar personality to Zafira’s Yasmine
🌻 One of my favorite tropes: Enemies to Besties
🌻 Sultan’s favorite

Side Characters

“Safin are immortal, Huntress; we heal quickly and never fear old age.”

🌻 Full of wisdom and history
🌻 The glue to the whole group, Benyamin
🌻 Tattoo on his arm that means ‘truth’
🌻 Has suffered great amounts of loss
🌻 Likes to read books in his spare time
🌻 Speaks in riddles, a lot
🌻 The type of character you’ll end up loving before you know you even love him
🌻 Dreamwalker
🌻 Immortal
🌻 Likes to keep his appearance flashy and sharp

“Kifah Darwish, sworn of the Nine to the great Calipha Ghada bint Jund of Pelusia, south of the realm.”

🌻 Fierce beyond measure
🌻 Most level headed person of the zumra
🌻 Carries around spices from her homeland
🌻 Does the hunting for the group
🌻 Banters with Altair
🌻 Watched her brother die

My Thoughts

This is where things get interesting and very long! We Hunt the Flame is a young adult fantasy that follows two main characters and their point of views through this whole entire book. The book is actually broke down into three different acts to help section the book off with the first act setting the scene and giving the reader basic information about our main characters, the build up to the climax and establishing the zumra while still giving us details, and then the third act delivering the climax and height of everything falling apart to set things up for the next book. Each act will be broken down a little, spoiler free a little later in this review.

We Hunt the Flame is told from two point of views. We have sections that are specifically told from the Zafira and then the other sections are told from the perspective of Nasir. While I loved these two point of views, I definitely would have liked little snippets of the other characters just to have a little insight into what was running through their mind at the time especially during certain scenes. To me, it would have made things a little more interesting instead of constantly keeping it limited to Nasir and Zafira.

Okay, seriously though, this was actually an enjoyable fantasy to read. Each character has their own unique personalities, ideals, and what they want to see happen for the future of the entire kingdom, but they all have one thing in common… they want the artifact to set things right with for the people of Arawiya. Each character of this group has seen a lot of pain, suffering, and they’re all watching the kingdom fall into a deep darkness all pushed by the sultan and one mysterious shadow that’s pulling all the puppet strings. With each character in this group, you can’t help falling in love with all the unique personalities, their strengths, and their weaknesses. There are plenty moments between everyone in the group that will pull your heart strings and I’ll admit, there was more than one scene in this book that caught me crying. If I had to pick a favorite or a bias, I would say Benyamin is probably my one character I grew the most attached to throughout this book. While I love each character, individually, Benyamin is a slice of my heart and I want to protect him with my entire being.

However, let me say this, this book has some serious Assassin’s Creed vibes. Even more so when it comes to a lot Nasir’s parts. And it’s not due to him actually being an assassin! There are a lot of moments in this book that will remind anyone who has played the Assassin’s Creed Franchise of specific moments throughout various sections of the franchise. It took me a while to figure out why there were parts of this books that felt familiar and that’s why. It’s been a while since I played the games, but oh, does it remind me so much of that franchise!

As for the trope in this book, we actually get two tropes! A lot of readers are going to be focused on the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope between Nasir and Zafira. Which, I’ll admit openly, it’s really juicy. I wish we had a more moments with them because whenever they’re together, you can feel the electricity shooting between them. The build up between them is absolutely amazing, as well. When we finally get to the scene we’re all dying for, it delivers so well and it won’t disappoint. The only disappointment you’ll find is there’s not enough of it! I want more and I’m hoping the next book will give us a lot more of those intense, heated, steamy moments between Zafira and Nasir. However, our other trope is ‘enemies to besties’! I feel this trope gets overshadowed so much due to the ‘enemies to lovers trope’ in this book. Altair and Nasir don’t have the greatest relationship… in the beginning. In fact, I’m pretty sure Nasir would have shot Altair in the butt with an arrow long ago with how much Altair gets under his skin. Although, as the story blooms and grows, so does the relationship between Nasir and Altair. There are so many moments of bromance in this book and it takes Nasir a long time to realize the dear general actually cares about him to the extent of standing up for him and defending him against Zafira’s spite. These two also banter a lot and it’s absolutely hilarious and precious. If I could have a novella of just Altair and Nasir bantering at one another, I would be content for the rest of my days. With the drop of one giant information bomb, this is definitely a trope that deserves to recognized more. Also, I want to take this moment to appreciate the blooming companion ship between Altair and Kifah. While it’s not set in stone, there does seem to be a deep fondness blooming between the unlikely pair and my hopes is that our general and warrior queen will find an oasis of love between themselves!

“A thousand leagues and a thousand sands. For you, a thousand times I would defy the sun.”

Among all the good of this book, this book is far from perfect and I can understand why many readers have disliked this book or even struggled to enjoy this book to the fullest. Something to be conscious about while reading this book is that it truly does follow what a lot of ya fantasy books follow and it does hold many familiar tropes that you might be tired of reading about. It also has a very foreseeable story arc that many readers are aware.

One of the biggest things for me was the lack of a glossary in this book. While I briefly mentioned it before, I want to go into a little more depth with it. For myself, personally, the lack of a glossary was felt really hard while I read this book. I would say that about 75% of this book uses words that don’t get that added definition in the text, that will cause a language barrier for many readers. I had to get the assistance of my spouse to do some translating and they even struggled a bit with translating some of the words because of how some of the sentences were worded and it opened too many possibilities of what that specific word might mean. At the time of starting this book, I wasn’t aware there was a glossary made on the author’s website. Once someone finally told me about the glossary, it became extremely inconvenient to use the glossary. Suddenly I wasn’t just juggling a book, but I was juggling my laptop, my tablet, or even trying to keep in mind what was happening in the book while I searched the glossary on my computer. If the glossary had been put in the book from the beginning, I think more readers would be able to enjoy the language being used in this book and appreciate the way the words were used a lot more. For my experience, it was a constant struggle. The fact that you don’t see words being defined in the text until Act Three in this book, it’s frustrating and puts inconstancy into this book. So everything with the added language fell flat for the majority of the book.

Then you have the matter of pacing. This is not a fast paced book, but it’s not truly slow either. There’s a medium pace of the story build, but in a general sense, this is a steady pace. It wasn’t super slow, but it wasn’t fast either. When you hit Act Two, this is the part where you really how the pace for this book is set. Parts in this section of the book were dragged out for far too long and it’s easy to feel like the story is being dragged slowly or the story is getting muddled in unnecessary details or moments that weren’t truly needed for this book. Yet, even though there were parts dragged for too long or too much detail, the pace is still steady and it’s still easy to read.

Before anything else, there are a lot of hard hitting trigger warnings that can be extremely difficult to read about. Even for myself, there were bits where I regressed a bit and felt myself pull back from. Please make sure you know your limits and take a break from those sections. Know you limits, take care of yourself, I love you! ❤️

Section Breakdown

🌻 Act One – We meet Zafira and we meet Nasir. We also meet the Silver Witch, see glimpses of the Sultan and his way of ruling, we also meet Altair. We also get introduced to Zafira’s two closest, most trust friends, Deen and Yasmine. As the reader, we get a lot of detail in this first section, all of it to give the reader an understanding of the two main characters before Act Two begins.

🌻 Act Two – A lot happens in this section. This section makes up the bulk of the book. This is where our two main characters end up joining together. We also get introduced to Kifah and Benyamin during an action packed section. However, lots of trauma, tragedy, and a lot of dangerous, action packed moments develop. The reader gets full blown romance build up and all the bromance you could want in this section. Also, a lot of plot twists and turns, drama bombs, secrets, and all kinds of things get dropped for the reader in this section.

🌻 Act Three – This is where everything starts blowing up in chaos! This is the section that will probably leaving you feeling hollow and yelling at your book. Just so you know. This is the climax of the book. We meet the dark evil hiding in the shadows that’s pulling all the strings and I’m not going to lie, those seduction tactics were steamy! The lesson of ‘love being the fiercest power in the world’ is definitely emphasized in this section. The band of misfits really show how their loyalty and love for one another in the first chapters in this section. Once again, lots of drama bombs and secrets get dropped in this section. Also, steamy romance moments happen in this section between Nasir and Zafira. However, things fall to chaos this section and you should really keep a box of tissues near you.

“We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves.” 

Overall, for my own reading experience, I think I did enjoy the most of this book. This is book readers will either love or they’ll hate. For myself, I’m the odd one who finds herself somewhere in the middle. There were aspects that I loved and aspects I strongly disliked. In general, everything balanced itself out and I think many readers should give this book a chance. I’m eager to see how book two will unfold and what will happen next. That epilogue has me wanting more from this series and these characters!

🌻 Read for the Barnes & Noble YA Book Club

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Shadow of the Fox by (Shadow of the Fox, #1) by Julie Kagawa

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Content/Trigger Warning: Human sacrifice, graphic death/murder, war themes, graphic violence, loss of loved ones, physical abuse, implied/talk of torture, threat of rape, talk of suicide, and there is a scene that might be hard for people with arachnophobia

“He told me that the tiniest pebble, when dropped into a pond, will leave ripples that will grow and spread in ways we cannot comprehend.” 

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos. Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Shadow of the Fox is an absolute blessing and Julie Kagawa has delivered a captivating book. The first chapter will leave you wondering what is about to happen next or have you saying “Just one more chapter!” Once I made the connections with Japanese mythology and legends, I was hooked and now I can’t stop talking about it. This has definitely been a book of great highlight for me and has made it’s way into my top 2019 books! And the second book in this can’t come soon enough!

In case you didn’t know, this is an own voices Japanese inspired fantasy. While this book does follow three main characters, there are two minor characters to keep an eye on because they may play a bigger role in the future that we, as the readers, aren’t aware of yet. They all end up being forced to work together, while a demon army rains death and destruction.

Main Characters

🌻 YumekoRaised by monks in the Temple of the Silent Winds, half kitsune, who is a lot better at illusions than she gives herself credit to. Soon she finds her life thrown into chaos as her only home is ripped away from her by the destruction of an army of demons. Now she will embark on a quest to a hidden temple to bring half of the ancient scroll to safety.

“In this vision, I have seen blood and flames and death, demons shrieking and rivers of bones, and the world grows dark with fear. But a single fox stands above it all, untouched, a great dragon cast in her shadow. Her name is Yumeko, child of dreams, for she is our hope against the coming darkness.”

🌻 KageSamurai/Shanobi of the Shadow Clan, one of the most feared and deadliest warriors and demon slayers ever, even though he is very young. Wielding the blade of Hakaimono, a sword sealed with one of the most deadliest demon generals of his time, Kamigoroshi, Tatsumi is constantly tested with how strong his will is. Sent on a mission by his clan to retrieve a piece of the ancient scroll by any means, instead he finds Yumeko and makes a promise to deliver her to the hidden temple in exchange for the scroll.

“He didn’t know how to laugh, or smile, or have any fun. He didn’t know the pleasures of the simple things – laughing, dancing, finding beauty in the world.”

🌻 Lady SatomiThe wild card in this entire story! Cruel, wicked, and unpredictable, she’s a diabolical lady with an evil plan up her sleeve. She’s the emperor’s favorite concubine, but little does anyone know what she does in her free time. Sacrificing newly hired maids to her demon army, Lady Satomi is after the ancient scroll as well. Leaving a trail of blood, death, and demons in her wake.

“Lady Satomi stood a few paces away, her hair unbound and tossed by the wind, the sleeves of her red-and-black kimono fluttering like sails. Her eyes were hard, and her lips were curled in a tiny smile.”

Minor Characters to Watch

🌻 SukiBits and pieces of her were sprinkled throughout this entire story. Daughter of a celebrated flute maker, Suki is shipped off to work as the new maid for the favored concubine of the emperor to live a better life than running his shop. Soon turned into a spirit, Suki keeps holding on to the realm of the living to spy on the one who caused her death. I truly believe Suki will play a much bigger role in this whole series and I can’t wait for it!

“It was raining the day Suki came to the Palace of the Sun, and it was raining the night that she died.”

🌻 SeigetsuA mysterious person indeed. A stranger who ends up saving Yumeko from a terrible situation. Possibly a lone samurai, wields a giant sword. He does come back later on in this book and that twist was everything I needed! I have no doubt he is going to be playing a key role in future books!

“He looked powerful, with his golden eyes and giant sword; even the wind witch seemed afraid of him.”

When all of the pieces of the scroll are finally combined together, whole once more, a dragon will rise and the person who has summons it will be granted any wish their heart desires. So long as their heart and soul is pure and good, that is. Should that person be anything but pure and good, I hope you brought a wet suit because it’s going to get very messy. Many people are searching high and low for these pieces of the scroll so that they can combine them to have their wish granted. And let’s not forget, there’s a demon army running rampant trying to bring the end of the world, true apocalypse type stuff. But some people really need their wish granted. You know, for the sake of all humanity to survive.

One thing I will say about this book, if you’re not familiar with Japanese culture, history, legends and mythology ( Granted, things and creatures mentioned in this book are described) then there will be a lot of parts that might not make a lot of sense. Blessings upon Julie Kagawa because she also included a glossary at the back of the book for those who aren’t familiar with the Japanese language, as well. But sometimes, our imagination cannot measure up to the real thing or seeing a physical representation. So if you ever read this book and you have no idea what different types of yokai and demons are supposed to look like, I encourage you to look things up.

I think the biggest thing for me with this book, it feels like a slice of familiarity. Reading about this group of people traveling together remind me so much of some of my favorite anime shows like Inuyasha or Samurai Champloo or even Naruto. I always love seeing various group dynamics come together and how their personalities mesh with each other. Julie Kagawa has done a marvelous job with this. The way Yumeko and Tatsumi are together is so unique and works so well with one another, that I’m constantly craving more. Even as characters were added to their group, the way the different personalities bounced off one another was so good. I love it and I can’t wait to see how the various personalities continue to bloom and grow in Julie’s future books in this series!

Of course, at the heart of this book you will find that there is always friendship. Yumeko constantly shows us in this book that kindness and unconditional love are the two most powerful forces in the world. As you read this book, Yumeko is slowly opening Kage’s world and showing him just how truly powerful both of those are. Their dynamic will make readers go speechless. I can’t even put into words how much I adore their dynamic and how much they open each other’s world. Not to mention, this is only the beginning of a slow burn romance and I am here for every second of it! The minute these two characters crossed paths, I knew I was going to be very attached to them and they did not disappoint!

Original art by sXeven. Shared by Julie Kagawa on Facebook.

“Watching her, I found myself holding my breath, unable to look away. For just a moment, with her dark hair rippling about and her skin glowing under the lantern light, she was mesmerizing.”

The most important thing the author weaves into this book is probably the most heaviest topic, but one that isn’t often talked about. We always have a choice, there is always two paths to take. No matter our past, no matter where we come from, no matter the sins our family has made or the wrong our ancestors have done, we have a choice of making things right and to start doing good. And there is no small or big act of kindness that won’t go unnoticed. That one little act can make ripples that we can’t even see or know about. It’s never to late to apologize, right any wrongs, and forgive. Hate is a very consuming and heavy thing for the heart and soul to bear, but revenge is just as heavy.

“The future,” she said, her voice echoing over the crowd, “is an ever changing stream. Every choice, every decision we make, sends it down a different path.” 

Overall, Julie Kagawa has given me a book to love and cherish for the rest of my reading days. This is the own voices Japanese fantasy I needed to wake me up and push me to get back into fantasy. I don’t think I could love the book anymore than what I already do. By the time this review is going up, the next book in this series will be releasing shortly after and I’m so ready for. The ending makes you want to keep reading and I have a thirst for needing to know. Everything this book has is simply magical and holds such an important message. I simply love this book and I don’t think I will ever be over these characters!

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