April 5, 2019

April 5th, 2019

Fresh Reads Friday #9: To Best The Boys by Mary Weber

Rating: 4 stars

Every year, the enigmatic Mr. Holm holds a competition for a full-ride scholarship to Stemwick University, one of the most prestigious schools in the province of Caldon. Though brilliant, Rhen Tellur’s gender means she is ineligible for this all boys school. Instead, she works with her father in their basement lab researching the deadly new illness sweeping through the poorer parts of her city — an illness slowly sapping away her mother’s life. When a new mutation in the disease accelerates the disease, Rhen decides that to find a cure, she will need better equipment than what she and her father have scraped together. With her cousin at her side, Rhen disguises herself as a boy and enters the competition.

To Best The Boys entertained me from beginning to end. Mary Weber deftly includes women from all walks of life in a story that could have been oversaturated with male characters. The result is a subtly feminist book that reminds girls that they don’t have to turn down their light to humor the boys around them. Though lacking in racial diversity, I did appreciate that Weber still touched on how wealth and privilege can negatively affect societal structures. I also appreciate the fact that this is one of the few fantasy novels that I’ve read with blatant neurodiversity rep.

Rhen as a main character was an absolute pleasure. From the way she struggled with dyslexia without questioning her intelligence to her focus on facts and science. I loved that in most emotionally charged moment, she would start spouting random facts that pertained (sometimes loosely) to the situation. I also loved the glimpses we got of Rhen’s family and friends. She a very mobile girl socially and because of that we’re exposed to all kinds of people in her world.

The romance in this book was adorable and exactly what I was looking for at the time. It was a little messy — as relationships can be — and the love interest was a little dense at times, but the way the tensions between them led to organic discussion about female agency was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The plot was fast-paced. Weber weaves a series of micro-arcs into the main narrative, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat as they wonder how Rhen and her friends are going to tackle each challenge. I will say that the first chapter is a little muddled, but once you get into the plot things smooth out and it’s much easier to keep track of what’s going on.

This novel definitely focuses more on character than world-building. The world-building isn’t lacking, but if you’re looking for grand, purple prose world-building this isn’t the book. Weber grounds her reader’s in a world equal parts science and magic, but most of the reader’s time is focused on the plot and the characters. I did really appreciate how aware we are, through Rhen, that Rhen frequents male-dominated spaces and while she isn’t afraid to speak up against unfairness she does keep her own safety in mind. That was a nice touch.

If you enjoy pseudo-historical settings and girls who aren’t afraid to be badasses, I definitely think you should check out this book. Also, if you’re looking for more neuro-diverse fantasy, specifically with rep for dyslexia and autism, this is a good one to check out.

March 22, 2019

March 22, 2019

Fresh Reads Friday #8: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Rating: 3 stars

Set in 1491 Granada, during the last days of the Iberian sultanate this follows the sultan’s concubine, Fatima, trapped despite her lavish surroundings. The one bright spot in her days are her visits to her friend Hassan, a mapmaker with the singular ability to draw things he has never seen. When a delegation from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain comes to talk surrender, the outsiders discover Hassan’s “unnatural” magical ability. With the Inquisition looming over them, Fatima and Hassan escape the palace and flee across the Spanish countryside, searching for a place where they can be safe and free.
In The Bird King, Wilson weaves magic into the real world. Fatima, and the readers, begin the story grounded in the familiar with only the hint of Hassan’s magic and are slowly drawn into an increasingly fantastical world. The atmosphere was exquisite. The prose was beautiful and descriptive without being overwrought, perfectly matched with the setting of the story.
Fatima as a main character was so compelling. You understood her struggle, understood why she wasn’t content to stay in the palace. I felt that her central storyline was a little rushed at the ending, but it was poignant and communicated clearly. However, as this was an ARC, these issues may have been corrected for the finished version. Please note that at the beginning of the novel, Fatima is in a non-consensual relationship. It is not a violent relationship and there are no graphic scenes, but it is discussed in detail on multiple occasions in the first quarter or so of the book.If that is something that would bother you, I would approach with caution.
Her friendship with Hassan was heartwarming and wonderful, though I could have done without the multiple laments that his sexuality meant they could not be together. Perhaps if this had been raised by an outside character it wouldn’t have rankled me, but as it was I found the complaints undermined the platonic nature of their friendship. It was entertaining to see how each new character introduced affected our little twosome, for the better and for the worst. I loved how even Wilson’s side characters felt real, like people you might share a few words with standing in line or pass on the street.
The plot is a touch on the slower side, but I found myself pulled in almost immediately by the strength of the characters and the initial questions surrounding Fatima’s position and Hassan’s magic. The beginning and middle of this book were solid. No sagging middles here, the tension through acts one and two held perfectly for me. I did feel things got a little muddled toward the end and that, along with the lack of any solid romance, did keep this from being an instant favorite. However, I think that anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, magical realism, and stories focused on platonic friendships would really enjoy this book.

January 25, 2019

Spoiler free review of The Wicked King by Holly Black. This fantasy series takes place in a world that is both vicious and delightful, with a truly kickass female protagonist and cast of characters that will appal you even as you fall in love with them. Fantastic for people who like dark fantasy and antiheroes.
Part two (with spoilers) can be found here:
You can find my review of the first book here:

November 23, 2019

Spoiler-free series review of both Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor. This fantastic series explores grief and wonder and impact a person's actions can have. The writing is beautiful and lyrical as it introduces you to a lush world with compelling mythology and engaging characters. Strange the Dreamer: https://bit.ly/2oFHEJu Muse of Nightmares: https://bit.ly/2KsCSXT

November 9, 2018

A spoiler-free book review of Pride by Ibi Zoboi. This Pride & Prejudice remix was one of my most anticipated reads of the fall. This is perfect for those who like retellings and clever writing.

October 24, 2018

October 19, 2017

A non-spoiler review of Illuminae, the first book in the Illuminae files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. At first, I was hesitant to start this. The hype was scary, but it lived up to that hype and then some! This is a great book for those who like a good mix of romance and sci-fi. And for those dipping their toes into the sci fi waters.

October 12, 2018

October 12, 2016

A spoiler-free review of Alexa Donne's Brightly Burning. A Sci-Fi retelling of Jane Eyre. Imaginative and clever, you don't HAVE to have read Jane Eyre to enjoy this story. If you like science fiction, but are turned off by excessive description of technology, then this a good book for you. It's also the perfect soft Sci-Fi book for those who want to read more science fiction, but are unsure where to start.

Alexa's Channel: https://bit.ly/2uvjccQ