I’ve got four YA reviews for you today, two fantasy, one sci-fi and a contemporary. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Umbertouched by Livia Blackburne
Series: Rosemarked #2
Also in this series: , Rosemarked
Published by Disney-Hyperion on November 6, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham, Morgan Fairbanks, Sarah Zimmerman
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Wartime violence, Themes of dying)
The mission was a failure. Even though Zivah and Dineas discovered a secret that could bring down the empire, their information is useless without proof. Now, with their cover blown and their quest abandoned, their only remaining hope is to get home before Ampara brings the full might of its armies against their peoples.
As Shidadi and Dara alike prepare for war, Zivah and Dineas grapple with the toll of their time in the capital. After fighting alongside the Amparans against his own kin, can Dineas convince the Shidadi—and himself—where his loyalties lie? After betraying her healer’s vows in Sehmar City, can Zivah find a way to redeem herself—especially when the Dara ask her to do the unthinkable? And after reluctantly falling in love, what will the two do with their lingering feelings, now that the Dineas from Sehmar City is gone forever? Time is running out for all of them, but especially Zivah whose plague symptoms surface once again. Now, she must decide how she’ll define the life she has left.
Together, healer and warrior must find the courage to save their people, expose the truth, and face the devastating consequences headed their way.
This book is the high-stakes conclusion to the Rosemarked non-magical fantasy duology. This second book in the duology felt very different from the first, mostly because it focuses on the aftermath of the choices that Zivah and Dineas made in book one and on the battles that ensue. My favorite part of this book was seeing Dineas deal with the repercussions of his dual life—he’s now an outsider to both his own people and the Amparans. He sees the Amparans as the enemy, but he also knows some of them as friends and he understands them in ways he hadn’t before. His own people look at him with distrust and sometimes outright hostility. His struggle to come to terms with these things and find his place in the new world set before him is a huge strength of the book. Zivah is also struggling with her role as a healer and what that means in the context of war.
The internal battles always interest me more than the external ones, if I’m being honest, and battle strategies are never my favorite part of fantasies (this book is relatively heavy on battles and strategizing), so I didn’t love this one quite as much as the first book. I also missed having Zivah and Dineas together for most of the book, but the romance really isn’t the main point in this series; it’s more of an undercurrent. The stakes were definitely high in this book, though (be prepared to lose some characters you’ve come to love—it is war, after all) and I was always compelled to keep reading. And the ending to the book is bittersweet and just about perfect, in my opinion.
This series is a fantastic (non-magical) fantasy with complex characters and an examination of the true costs of war. It’s a winning combination.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Meet the Sky by McCall Hoyle
Published by Blink on September 4, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Morgan Fairbanks
Length: 6 hours and 1 minute
Source: The Publisher, Library
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Themes of dealing with death)
It all started with the accident. The one that caused Sophie’s dad to walk out of her life. The one that left Sophie’s older sister, Meredith, barely able to walk at all.
With nothing but pain in her past, all Sophie wants is to plan for the future—keep the family business running, get accepted to veterinary school, and protect her mom and sister from another disaster. But when a hurricane forms off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and heads right toward their island, Sophie realizes nature is one thing she can’t control.
After she gets separated from her family during the evacuation, Sophie finds herself trapped on the island with the last person she’d have chosen—the reckless and wild Finn Sanders, who broke her heart freshman year. As they struggle to find safety, Sophie learns that Finn has suffered his own heartbreak; but instead of playing it safe, Finn’s become the kind of guy who goes surfing in the eye of the hurricane. He may be the perfect person to remind Sophie how to embrace life again, but only if their newfound friendship can survive the storm.
This is a sweet story of hope and emotional recovery, perfect for younger teens (who are often overlooked); in fact, I plan to pass it along to my 14-year-old daughter, who is always on the hunt for YA that isn’t too dark or edgy (she’s not a fan of either).
When Sophie and Finn find themselves stranded in a hurricane, they have to fend for themselves. Sophie is still trying to recover from the emotional, physical and financial toll that a car accident has had on her family. Plus she’s struggling to get over the fact that Finn ditched her a year ago when they were supposed to go to the Homecoming dance; he disappeared completely and now he’s come back acting like absolutely nothing happened. When the two are thrown together, they have to fight gale wind and physical injuries and they also strive to save a wild horse that’s gotten stuck in the storm. But the story is mostly a personal one—it’s about Sophie’s emotional journey and her learning to come to terms with her losses and not let them paralyze her.
Some of the conflict feels like it’s resolved a little too easily, but I was invested in their journey and the romance was sweet enough to keep me interested (I was happy that Hoyle managed to use the hate to love trope without making Finn a jerk—that can be hard to do!).
Like I said, I highly recommend this one for younger YA readers or readers who just aren’t all that interested in darker themes.
NARRATION: Overall, I was happy with Morgan Fairbanks’ narration, though I did think she sometimes emphasized details a little too much. Hoyle uses lots of descriptive verbs and adjectives and sometimes I felt like the narrator stressed them and made them stick out slightly. But it was still a very enjoyable listening experience.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review (though I ended up listening to the audiobook version from my library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Furyborn by Claire Legrand
Series: Empirium #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on May 22, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, New Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Length: 17 hours and 24 minutes
Source: NetGalley, Library
My content rating: YA/NA (Some sexual content, Violence)
The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women, centuries apart, who hold the power to save their world...or doom it.
When assassins ambush her best friend, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing herself as one of a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light, and a queen of blood. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven elemental magic trials. If she fails, she will be executed...unless the trials kill her first.
One thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a fairy tale to Eliana Ferracora. A bounty hunter for the Undying Empire, Eliana believes herself untouchable--until her mother vanishes. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain and discovers that the evil at the empire's heart is more terrible than she ever imagined.
As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world--and of each other.
Furyborn is the opposite of Meet the Sky—this one is a very dark YA, perfect for those readers who enjoy a bit of edginess to their fantasy. It reads a lot like epic fantasy, with extremely complex worldbuilding and a story that spans a century.
Something about this book captured me, despite the fact that I was sometimes lost when it came to the details of the worldbuilding. It took me a long time to figure out that Eliana’s POV takes place 1000 years after Rielle’s—it says it right in the synopsis, but I hadn’t read it recently, and listening via audiobook meant that tracking specifics like dates (in a fantasy world where the dates were foreign-sounding) was difficult. Still, I’m very glad I listened to the audiobook instead of trying to read this one because I tend to have a better attention span for complicated (and long) fantasies via audio than when I read.
Eliana’s POV was definitely my favorite. I was captivated by this very morally gray character and her struggle to keep those she loved safe in a world that was anything but. I found myself less interested in Rielle’s chapters, which I think could be attributed to the fact that we find out right at the beginning of the book that Rielle marries (and kills) Audric, and I thought we’d be seeing everything leading up to that, but we really just get a snippet—her overcoming some magical trials. Still it’s Rielle’s POV that puts the magic of the book on full display—and it’s quite a spectacle!
If you’re a fan of epic, complicated fantasies and you love it when you’re not sure who to root for, this is the series for you. (How does Rielle become the eventual villain? Is Eliana a villain too? She’d certainly be seen that way by many of the characters in the book. Who are the angels and why do they seem to want to destroy humanity?) This is one of those books that some people will love and others won’t have the patience for—I think I was somewhere in between.
One note: This book seems to be labeled as YA, but the characters feel older than they are (especially Eliana, but Rielle too since we start the book seeing her married and having a child). They’re sexually active and empowered and they make no bones about it, and there’s some pretty strong violence in the book. Plus, it’s longer and more complicated than a lot of YA fantasy out there. I know there are teens out there who love this type of book, but it’s good to note that this is a story that sort of straddles YA and NA or adult.
NARRATION: I’m a sucker for a British accent, and I thought Fiona Hardingham did a wonderful job with the narration. This is the type of book that I personally prefer in audio, but readers who have a hard time following complex fantasy in audio format might want to read the book instead.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley (and then also listened to the audiobook via my library) in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Reclaiming Shilo Snow by Mary Weber
Series: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow #2
Also in this series: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 6, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Narrator: Sarah Zimmerman
Length: 7 hours and 43 minutes
Source: Won It!, Library
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Theme of human trafficking)
Trapped on the ice-planet of Delon, gamer girl Sofi and Ambassador Miguel have discovered that nothing is what it seems, including their friends. On a quest to rescue her brother, Shilo, a boy everyone believes is dead, they must now escape and warn Earth of Delon’s designs on humanity. Except the more they unearth of the planet and Sofi’s past, the more they feel themselves unraveling, as each new revelation has Sofi questioning the very existence of reality.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sofi’s mom, Inola, is battling a different kind of unraveling: a political one that could cost lives, positions, and a barely-rebuilt society, should they discover the deal made with the Delonese.
But there’s a secret deeper than all that. One locked away inside Sofi and ticking away with the beginnings, endings, and answers to everything. Including how to save humanity.
Another conclusion to a duology, this one brought us back to the sci-fi adventures of Sofi Snow. What I love most about this series is the gorgeous writing. There were so many moments where I just found myself enraptured by Weber’s prose. The series puts a spotlight on human trafficking in a sci-fi setting, and while Weber can sometimes be a little heavy-handed with her messaging, she makes some keen observations about society. This installment was exciting, with quite a bit of sci-fi adventure. And we get the added perspective of Inola, Sofi’s mom. She is the type of morally gray character who makes you think—what would you risk if you thought it would help society? What price would you pay to cure some of the world’s worst diseases, and what ills would you be willing to turn a blind eye to? Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic conclusion!