Faith Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

A lot of people have told me over this quarantine that they’ve gotten into things that they previously weren’t as interested in. Whether said interest was a new Netflix show, virtual yoga, or becoming a less-than-expert chef, the common theme seems to be that people are trying something new. And as I am no exception, my “new thing” during this pandemic has been superheroes. I was always more of a fantasy person, but recently I’ve become obsessed with these heroic stories. However, as I watched every Marvel movie available and read every comic strip in the house, I noticed something common about every hero pictured in these stories. Almost every single one of them seemed to be straight, white, and thin. And that’s where Faith Taking Flight comes in. 

“Faith Taking Flight” by Julie Murphy is the first in a duology that tells the origin story of superhero Zephyr from the Valient Comics universe. Faith is a pretty average 16 year old, who spends her time volunteering at the local animal shelter, writing for her school’s journalism club, and hanging out with her two best friends, Ches and Matt. However, she has a secret, and it’s a pretty big one- she recently discovered she is able to fly. Throughout the story, Faith must learn to control her newfound powers in order to save everyone she loves from a mysterious group wreaking havoc on her town. 

Faith is a hilarious and witty protagonist, and in addition to her charming personality, she’s also plus-size and queer, two things that are scarce in the superhero realm. And the best part is that these two traits aren’t the main focus of the book. It was really refreshing to see a story about an LGBTQ person where their sexuality isn’t the main focus. Murphy did a great job of making sure readers would see representation, while also making it clear that Faith’s weight and sexuality doesn’t define her. And it makes for some pretty cute LGBTQ romance, too!

Although the beginning of the book was a bit confusing, I really enjoyed Faith’s story. It is rich with suspense, mystery, and action, and although the plot twists were slightly predictable, I appreciated them all the same. I personally can’t see myself rereading this book, but I really liked the diversity and charm it brings to the superhero world. And I really hope to see most superheroes like Faith in the future!

 

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

 Namina Forna has created an intriguing and captivating world in her novel The Gilded Ones. A world in which women are subjugated to men, and monstrous deathshrieks roam the land. When Deka is revealed to have the cursed gold blood, marking her as a demon, her only choice is to join the emperor’s army and be trained as a soldier to fight the deathshrieks. However, what she learns there changes her world forever. Maybe the deathshrieks aren’t the monsters she was taught to believe?

I give props to Namina Forna for creating an original, and exciting storyline. While areas of the story and characters may have been underdeveloped, it’s impressive the amount of action and plot she managed to get through in 400 pages. I also enjoyed the strong female heroines, and sense of sisterhood Forna added to this novel. In a world dominated by men, she shows the strength, perseverance, and intelligence that only comes from bringing women together.

Throughout the book Namina held my attention, and while I don’t see myself rereading it, I enjoyed it. The Gilded Ones is a fun, light read for those obsessed with fantasy, adventure, and discovering new worlds.

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

When I first heard about Wayward Son, I was dubious. After all, the first book (Carry On) was essentially a Harry Potter fanfic from a book about fanfiction, and it seemed as if it had been pretty thoroughly wrapped up. The premise of the second book is a time honored favorite among fanfiction authors as well— a road trip. Hearing this, I naturally assumed that it would be a fluffy, feel-good story about the main characters post-adventure shenanigans. Perfect, I thought, for a quick, cute read as I waited for the final book in my favorite trilogy to be released. I would already know the characters and the world, Rowell is always fun, it will be a fast, fairly easy read. I mean, it’s a road trip fic

    Going in with these expectations I was somewhat surprised when right from the start the book did its best to defy conventions. The initial chapters address the fallout from the events of book one. Simon is suffering from depression as he struggles with a bevy of repressed issues, ranging from the loss of his powers to figuring out that has been in love with Baz this entire time. Stuck between the worlds of Mages and Mundanes by his lost magic and newly gained wings and tail, Simon has been living with Penny and Baz as they all try and figure out their lives after the events of Carry On. As the story progresses, we see development in the characters, but this angst persists in a way that is unusual in books of its kind.

It is here that the series’ quick POV switches and short chapters truly shine, as we alternate between Baz, Simon, Penny and occasionally Agatha away in California. Because of the short chapters and informal format, Rowell is able to switch points of view without disrupting the narrative, a feat few multiperspective books manage to achieve. It is this seamless transition that allows the reader to see different parts of the story, without being taken out of the storytelling. This is incredibly important as a reader, since all of the main charactes are extremely unreliable, and only when we are allowed to compare and contrast their perspectives on a situation does that situation become clear.

Still, the tone doesn’t quite work. It is a subversion of the usual road trip tropes, yes, but the pacing is a little off, and the end result is a book that feels like the author tried to put multiple plots into one novel. It is readable, and it is entertaining, but the plot was weaker than that of the first book. The villains in particular felt like fillers, a big baddie that could be easily defeated in one book and a blaze of glory. Which would have been fine, except that a recurring conflict througout the book was dealing with the four main character’s mental health and their struggle with various traumas. This ended up as a ridiculously underutilized plot point considering that it had so much more potential and was far more interesting to me as a reader than the bad guys ever were. 

So it is that the worldbuilding ends up being the strongest part of the book, which came as a surprise. The first book established a Harry Potter style world, you knew the general rules but that was about it and in the end that was all you really needed to know. But in book two our main characters are in a foreign country (America, which added a running gag of culture shock) and have to learn new rules and come to terms with some of the realities of the magical world. This is aided greatly by the introduction of some new characters of differing backgrounds who pop up in later chapters and give some much needed context. And while a lot of the ideas presented are as yet undeveloped, or at least underdeveloped, I have hope that further exploration will happen in book three. Overall, Wayward Son is a solid YA. You don’t want to think too hard or else it unravels, but it is engaging and fast paced enough to be forgiven.

   

Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi is an extremely compelling novel about an alternate history of 1800s Paris. Upon opening the book you are immediately thrown into a world with a type of magical technology and a crew, made up of long time friends with different specialties, who find themselves on a heist. This world is so lush and detailed and complex, but my only criticism is that there were times when I got a bit lost in all of the information while reading it. However, this is made up for with the beautiful and vivid imagery, as well as the misfit gang of enjoyable characters it follows. The book is written in such a way that you can get a glimpse into the minds of each member of the diverse cast, while also getting an understanding of their makeshift family. The story takes you on a ride of twists and turns, constantly leaving you on the edge of your seat. I don’t want to say too much so as not to spoil it, but I would highly recommend this book, and I sincerely look forward to the rest of the series.

A previous review of this book by a different reviewer can be found here.

A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

A Treason of Thorns surprised me. I had seen references to it in the past, the premise sounded good, and the cover was pretty— although I am still unsure where the title comes from, but it got my attention, so I suppose it did what it was supposed to. But the point is, it wasn’t high on my TBR. Coming out of a reading slump and bored during quarantine, I picked it up on a whim. I had read the author’s debut novel (The Light Between Worlds), and while I liked it, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to recommend it to book club, per say. But while The Light Between Worlds was a slow, reflective read, A Treason of Thorns picked up the pace quite nicely. It has a simple but compelling plot, interesting characters and an overarching question about the importance of the roles we choose and the ones that are chosen for us.
A Treason of Thorns is set in what seems to be early post Elizabethan era Britain, although to my remembrance, there were no specified dates. However, in this version of the past, there exists a magical phenomenon known as the Great Houses, magical, sentient estates scattered across the world. In Britain, these houses are bound by magic to the Crown, and their power can only be safely channeled by the caretakers, men and women who live in and love the Great Houses. These caretakers use magical keys in order to use their House’s magic to help the surrounding countryside flourish. This is not a wholly unique premise, but it is unusual enough to still be a novelty, which is an unfortunate rarity in YA fantasy.
Our protagonist and narrator, Violet Sterling (Vi for short), grew up in Burly House, one of the six Great Houses of Britain. Her father, George Sterling, is the caretaker, and is grooming Vi to be his successor. Her mother left when Vi was a child, unable and unwilling to be a part of a family in which Burly House came first, above anything and anyone, and unable to take an unwilling Vi with her. So Vi grows up isolated, with her father often away on caretaker’s business, and her mother starting a second family. Left with Burly House and her father’s ward (and Vi’s best friend), Win, Vi roams the grounds with her house and her playmate, dreaming of the day when she will become caretaker.
But when her father is convicted of treason, and sentenced to house arrest (a cruel punishment that eventually forces the House to kill its caretaker), she loses everything. Her father will not be alive the next time she sees him, Burly House is closed to her until he is dead, and for unknown reasons, her father forced Win to stay behind. Now, seven years later, Vi has been living in the Fens with an old couple who used to work as house and groundskeepers. When she gets the news that her father is dead and Burly has once again opened its gates, Violet makes a deal with the king and races home. But what she finds is nothing like what she remembers. Burly is in pain and disrepair, and Win is distant and in as much of a hurry to leave as she is to return.
This was a fun ride. I probably won’t reread it, but it made for excellent escapism. Weymouth isn’t one for a lot of action, but she is excellent at creating meaningful relationships of various sorts between characters and these relationships and how they are used generate much of the drama and intrigue that keeps you turning pages. All in all, I really enjoyed A Treason of Thorns— it was entertaining and engaging and as I said, it made for great escapism.

Don’t Call the Wolf by Aleksandra Ross

Don’t Call the Wolf, by Aleksandra Ross tells the breathtaking story of Lukasz, a famous Wolf-Lord who kills monsters and dragons for a living, and Ren, the young queen of the forest who’s half-lynx, half-human. Lukasz was once one of ten Wolf-Lords. The brothers were an unstoppable team. But one by one, they all got called back to their home in the Mountains by a familiar tug for the same reason: to kill the Golden Dragon. After Lukasz’s last remaining brother, Franciszek, leaves for the Mountains, he realizes he must kill the dragon to continue his brothers’ legacy and hopefully find Franciszek. He meets Ren in her magnificent fury, and a spark erupts. She tells him that the dragon is destroying her forest and the animals she rules over. The two of them form a promise: she will help him find his brother, and he will slay the dragon. They embark on a long journey filled with colorful characters, littered with monsters, and brimming with magic.
Ross writes this incredibly complex tale with plot twists and dangerous fight scenes jumping off the pages, while devotion and romance fill the chapters. The vocabulary is composed of Polish and European pronunciations and spellings for added character. Don’t Call the Wolf is a perfect story for any classic YA lovers; it’s packed with adventure, magic, imagination, and fantasy, with a smattering of romance.

The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa De La Cruz

Shadow is a young girl, living with her two aunts in a small cottage (definitely gives off Sleeping Beauty vibes) training to be a noblewoman meant to go live in the castle with her mother – although it is never mentioned who her mother is or why she’s training, although, the “who” and “why” is pretty clear from the start of the story, if paid close attention to.
However, Shadow is not in the mood to be all noble and dainty. She’d rather join and become a member of the Guild – a network of spies/assassins working for the Queen of Renovia – and fight for her country.
Caledon Holt/Cal is the Queen’s deadliest, most feared assassin who does his job with utmost perfection, no wonder he’s the queen’s favorite. However, Cal didn’t want to be a servant of the kingdom but was forced to take up the job, because of a blood promise made by his father. Now all Cal wants, is to find the scrolls that Queen wants and free himself from his duty and promise.
When Cal kills the King’s brother, Grand Prince Alast, whilst saving Shadow (whom he doesn’t know at the time), he is deemed a traitor and is sent to prison by the Queen. Shadow sees this as a way out of her imperial duties and hatches a plan to save Cal, by freeing him from prison and posing as his apprentice to help him in his mission. What she doesn’t know is that Cal is just feigning the whole arrest, so as to complete the plan laid out by the Queen herself.
Unbeknown to each other’s secrets and purposes, they both set out together to find the scrolls that hold all information regarding the magic in the country, and what could either be the uprise or the downfall of their kingdom, depending on who gets it. Along the way they’re going to have to battle evil monks, suspicious hosts, each other, especially when it comes to their own feelings for one another that just seems to be growing…
Albeit a confusing start, the book manages to grasp the reader’s attention within a few chapters. What I appreciated most about the book was its fast-paced plotline, diving straight into who the characters are, what they want, and how they are going to get it – the adventure starts off almost instantly, keeping your attention entirely fixed on every word. If you are a fan of fast-paced, fantasy books, this one is definitely an add-on to your TBR list.

B Witch By Paige McKenzie and Nancy Ohlin

B Witch represents the intrigue of a murder mystery and the imagination of a fantasy world all rolled into one spellbinding story– both literally and figuratively since the book is about witchcraft! The novel takes place in a town called Sorrow Point, where a new student is forced to keep her identity as a witch secret because of her country’s anti-magic laws and the emergence of a violent, witch-hating group known as the Antima. Luckily, she discovers she is not the only witch at school. In fact, there are two rival covens who are actually competing with each other to get her to join their side. When one of their fellow witches is murdered, however, the covens are forced to desist from their feuding and join together to uncover who the killer is, before they become the next victims.

This book is both quirky and charming, making it a quick read that was both short and sweet. The plot is a little slow to start off, with most of the novel seeming to be exposition until the end when more of the action occurred, which I found to be the part of the book where I was truly hooked. It also took me a while to get adjusted to some of the language and writing choices, like the use of texting abbreviations in place of phrases like “in real life” and the fact that one character uses Pokemon cards to perform magic. Once I got used to it, however, the language choices just made the book seem almost relatable to its teen audience, and even more relevant to our own world, even though it’s technically a fantasy novel.

I’d recommend B Witch to fans of Pretty Little Liars and to anyone who loves fantastical settings, charming female protagonists, or high school drama mixed in with a whole lot of magic.

Coral by Sarah Ella

The book Coral, by Sarah Ella, is an emotionally heart-wrenching story about a girl, a boy, and a mermaid. The girl, Brook, has extreme depression and anxiety. She is put in a facility to help her cope with it, though she doesn’t think it will help. She isn’t planning on staying long anyway, she wants to kill herself. The boy, Merrick, has a hard time with his father, the owner of a very successful company in San Francisco. His father is controlling and is too hard on Merrick and mean to his little sister, Amaya, and his mother. When Amaya tries to kill herself, Merrick feels it’s his father’s fault. He feels like he isn’t in control of his own life. The mermaid, Coral, is different than everyone else around her because she has the Disease. The Disease is emotions. Mermaids are supposed to be soulless creatures who kill sailors. She stands out in a society where blending in is vital. She feels even more alone when her oldest sister, the only one who really understands her, is at risk of being taken away by the Red Tide. When all three meet, they must save each other in order to truly understand themselves. Merrick must talk Brooke off the ledge. Brooke must help Coral see that she is not alone in the world. Coral must help Merrick understand that his father might not be the problem.

I really liked this book a lot. I thought the view that the author took on mental illness was really interesting and made it easier to understand. There was a quote in the book that I couldn’t find but it was along the lines of; you wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to just get over it, so why do people tell this to people with mental illnesses? I have firsthand experience with this because I have anxiety and depression and I have been told to “get over it”. It really helps to have a good support system of family and friends who you can rely on to be there for you and help you through the hard stuff. Brooke feels very alone until she meets Hope who helps her by reminding her that “You are not nothing, and neither am I”.

Coral, by Sarah Ella, is magnificent and definitely tear-inducing. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a mental illness or wants to learn more about what it’s like to live with mental illness every day. I would also recommend this book to anyone who likes an emotional love story, and mermaids.

The End and Other Beginnings by Veronica Roth


The End and Other Beginnings is a collection of six short stories (two from the Carve the Mark universe) written by Veronica Roth. All of them are set in the future, with all kinds of sci-fi fantasy technology. Some are more realistic than others, but all of them draw you in and leave you wanting more. Roth successfully writes six journeys, setting the scene, addressing the conflict, and sewing up the ends in the shorter amount of space than usual. But these stories feel like their own, drawing you in and letting you live in that world. Her writing is effective and beautiful, bringing in love, hatred, loss, and friendship. Her characters find the true meaning of the feelings they possess without previously knowing what was going on in their minds.
This collection is an interesting read, perfect for any sci-fi lovers and Veronica Roth lovers because it stays true to her previous writing, just taking on a different pathway. Roth makes us realize that despite the non-human beings and massive technological advances possible for the future, humans will always have the same set of problems