Review: City of Strife & City of Betrayal: diverse fantasy about politics and friendship

I had the opportunity to read the two first books in the Isandor / City of Spires series by Claudie Arsenault (you might remember her from her guest post a while ago). As I am completely into diverse fantasy right now (and probably until the end of the world tbh), I was really glad to have gotten the opportunity!

I will mostly mix my opinions of both the books, since they were both quite similar in build-up and characters and things like that. So this is a double-review! There will be no spoilers!

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30977572A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.

Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor’s most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.

Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.

In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.

(this is the synopsis of the first book, not the second)
City of Strife is the first installment of the City of Spires trilogy, a multi-layered political fantasy led by an all LGBTQIAP+ cast. Fans of complex storylines criss-crossing one another, elves and magic, and strong friendships and found families will find everything they need within these pages.

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It took me a while to really get into the first book. This book features a lot of perspectives and for me, that was quite hard. In the first part of the book you get constantly introduced to new people and keeping up with everything was a bit of a struggle. Sadly, that also slowed down the story overall. However, after the beginning, it did pick up and a lot of things started happening. To my tastes, it could have been a little more fast-paced but that’s just a personal preference. In the second book, I did not have that problem, because I already knew all the characters, so therefore I enjoyed the second book more from the start.

“He found reasons to grin even when there were none, in defiance of the never-ending hardships and the world beating down on him. Maybe if he smiled enough, the happiness he projected would stop being a lie and coalesce into the truth.” – City of Strife

The story is about a city (duh) and the city is lead by a group of noble families. Some of the characters are part of this family and some aren’t and you can get to see the situation from many eyes. There is danger and intrigue, but this story is mainly about family and friendship. The characters form strong bonds and care so much about each other. I loved seeing them come together and especially in the second book, where almost all the characters get to know each other. In those final hundred pages of the second book, I have laughed with them and cried with them. They were amazing.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and I could write pages and pages about all of them, so I will only focus on my favourites. My favourites are definitely Cal and Arathiel. Cal is aromantic and he is just very sweet and kind and caring. He loves his friends and would do anything for them. Arathiel is the outsider in the story. He is strange, mysterious, quiet but also very caring. Besides these characters there were plenty more amazing ones. Hasryan and Vellien would get a shared third place on my favourites ranking, because they deserve to be mentioned. I could relate to so many of the characters in very different ways and I loved that they were all so different from each other.

“Arathiel is a warm blanket: simple, reliable, soft. He’s the friend you kind of forget, but when it really matters he’s there. Leaping of bridges to save your neck from the noose, even though you expect nothing of him.” – City of Betrayal

I cannot end this review before discussing the amazing diverse representation in these books. There were characters of almost every sexual orientation you can imagine and there were characters of different descents and different skin colors. I loved in particularly, Cal’s aromanticism because usually aro characters are described as unfeeling or cold and Cal was the absolute opposite. I also really enjoyed the non-binary/enby representation (because whenever I read about one of those characters I just can’t help but love them).

“You can’t always choose your fights. Some battles need to be fought, whether you want to or not — whether they can be won or not.” – City of Betrayal

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For the first book, my rating is 3,5 stars. But after writing this review, I am really tempted to move up my rating for the second book from 3,5 to 4 stars but I think I’m going to just leave it in the middle: 3,75 stars! What I loved most about these two books was the representation of diverse characters and the characters in general. The only thing that could have been improved, to my opinion, was the pacing of the first book. It took me a long time to get into the story (mainly because I struggled with the many perspectives), but after that it was great. I would definitely recommend these books if you like political fantasy, I don’t know if that is a genre but oh well

Review: Girls Made of Snow And Glass: an Enchanting Retelling of Snow White

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust is a retelling of Snow White. It is a YA fantasy story about Lynet and her stepmother Mina with magic and is about friendship and family and love and it’s just amazing.

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32768509Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairy tale

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.
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Review Starfish: relatable and perfect

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman has a cover that makes you want to go out and buy it immediately, but please just wait a few minutes because after this review you’ll want to read it even more 🙂

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Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

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This is a story about friendship, about family, about love and about choosing for yourself. It’s a wonderful book and basically incorporated everything I look for in a book. I love books about friends and families. I love books that are set in the last year of high school, before life really starts and you need to decide your future.

Kiko is such a relatable character. She has social anxiety and is extremely socially awkward. Her relationship with her family is distant. Her mother is pretty much the most annoying person ever (my words, not hers, but I’m pretty sure she’d agree). She’s tortured by childhood trauma. Her escape is art, she draws and paints and when she doesn’t get accepted to the art school she has always dreamed of going her life suddenly got another turn.

I loved reading from Kiko’s perspective. I found an endless number of situations I recognized myself in, from the way her relationship with her brothers is distant, to how socially awkward she is in conversations. She often doesn’t say what she wants to say and I really liked the way that was described in the book. I also loved the way in which her art was incorporated in the book. At the end of almost every chapter, there is a short description of something she draws/paints.

“I don’t know the right words to say to sound cool, because “being cool” does not fall within my skill set.”

Kiko is half-Japanese (or half-white depending on how you see it) and I found it incredibly interesting to read about how it is to grow up as mixed-race. Kiko wasn’t raised with Japanese culture but throughout the story, she learns more about her roots. I think the book really captured this really well, the author is also mixed-race and her experiences really shine through in the book.

“Fixing me isn’t like fixing a loose screw or a little bit of rust. I’m like a giant mess of problems, all linked together and tracing back to my childhood. Back to when things got so complicated.”

I want to mention the love story, even though it is not a major part of the story. It was really cute, and I found the way Kiko dealt with it very realistic. I loved that she didn’t just let herself “be saved” by someone else, she wanted to be able to stand on her own two feet. I loved that the message wasn’t that you need love to fix yourself. I feel that is often the case in similar coming-of-age contemporaries dealing with issues like is. I’m a huge advocate of the idea that you don’t need a boy to save you. (who run the world?)

“I don’t want to need anymore. I want to stand on my own two feet. I want to control of my own life and my own emotions. I don’t want to be a branch in someone else’s life anymore — I want to be the tree on my own.”

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I am giving this book 5 stars because it was all I hoped this book would give me. I loved Kiko and Jamie basically everything. I literally can’t think of anything that might have made this book even better (well maybe except having Kiko’s actual art in the book but that’s not a possibility I think). It was emotional, funny, relatable, and the writing style was wonderful.  I will definitely recommend this book if you like contemporaries!

I would like to thank Akemi for providing me with a copy of this wonderful book!

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman will come out in September of 2017.

Mini-reviews: Something Beautiful & Chasing Eveline

I won both these books in a giveaway hosted by Armchair BEA a while ago, so now I’m going to do a mini-review for both of them!

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Something Beautiful by Amanda Gernentz Hanson

Cordelia and Declan have been best friends since they were three years old. By the time they hit middle school, Cordelia—Cord, to Declan—is already feeling the blackness in her life as depression takes hold. Their mutual attraction to each other leads to a serious high school relationship, one with their foundation of friendship at the forefront. Cordelia seems to have her mental health under control. All appears to be well.However, when Declan starts to accept his own fluid sexuality, it sets something in motion in their lives that is both beautiful and tragic as they learn to love each other for who they are.
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Review: The Butterfly On Fire: both contemporary and fantasy at the same time

E.L. Croucher, the author of The Butterfly on Fire, reached out to me to do a review on her book. The Butterfly on Fire is a seemingly strange mix of contemporary and fantasy, the story lines do however fit together. I think I would consider this a New Adult book, since the characters are in their twenties.

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The Butterfly on Fire is the story of three different lives, each linked together by a tragic, unchanging truth.

Eric is growing up and realizing how different he is to those around him. How much longer can he hide from himself?

Beam is trying to balance work and romance like everyone else living in London. When embarking on such a journey, anything could happen.

Fubuki is Queen of a magnificent world known as Macha Land, but finds herself struggling to maintain the peace after an innocent man mysteriously dies at one of her Songshows. Will her utopia last with death at her doorstep?

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Review: Fallen Flame: a bit flat and unoriginal but a decent start for a series

Fallen Flame by J.M. Miller is an action-packed YA fantasy story about a girl with magic, in a world without magic. The premise sounds a little unoriginal and now that I think back of it, the whole story isn’t really that original, it is a fun book though.

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34209180Fallen Flame by J.M. Miller

Nineteen years ago, on the island kingdom of Garlin, a girl was born. With charred skin as rough as rock, Vala was instantly feared. For how could one be scorched by magic when it had perished ages before?
Recognizing an asset, the royal family welcomed her on their Guard. Her detail: the prince.
To watch. To protect. She has grown with him, lives her life for him.
When the high kingdom’s princess comes to assess the prince, assassins of rival courtiers come to claim his life. One nearly succeeds in his mission. But with shadowy movements and charred skin like her own, Vala knows he is not like the rest.
As threats to the prince continue and questions about Vala’s life begin to rise, she faces a fear worse than fire or water, worse even than losing him.
She fears finding out who she truly is.

Continue reading “Review: Fallen Flame: a bit flat and unoriginal but a decent start for a series”

Review: On The Spectrum: Romance and Diversity in Paris

As I barely remember any of my opinions and I read it a month ago, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

General rating: ★★★☆
Diversity rating: ★★ (POC, disability)

On The Spectrum by Jennifer Gold34415919

Growing up in the shadow of a famous mother, Clara has never felt good about her body. Now, at sixteen, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. After a social media disaster, she decides to escape for the summer to Paris to stay with her estranged dad and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum. Charged with his care, Clara and Alastair set out to explore the city. Paris teaches Clara about first love and gives her a new love of food. And Alastair teaches Clara about patience, trust and the beauty of loving without judgment.

What I really liked about this book was the diversity and representation in it. Clara is orthorexia, which is basically anorexia but then with a focus on healthy eating. I really enjoyed this, because I hadn’t heard about it before and I learned a lot about it. Clara’s mother has a large influence on how she became to be. Clara doesn’t know her little brother, who now lives with her dad in Paris. Her little brother has autism spectrum disorder.

Her reasons for running to Paris after a debacle on social media, was a bit strange to me. I didn’t really understand why it was such a big deal. Clara and her friend act a bit spoiled, and I didn’t really like them, but during the book, Clara changes a lot and there is a lot of character development.

The love interest in this book is absolutely the perfect, cute, boy-next-door type of guy. He tries to help Clara get better. He works at a bakery and has a hard time understanding why Clara has such a difficult time eating, though he tries very hard to be supportive. This book is about food and how Clara learns to love food. Though the romance was cute, it was not really necessary for the story, and because I’m not usually a big fan of romance in books, I again felt not really that engaged in their relationship.

The joy of this book came from Alastair, the little brother. He is very cute and has a hard time functioning in the world. Clara helps him to fit better in his class. He is very straight-forward, like children with ASD usually are. He is a sweet boy, and I really enjoyed watching Clara and him build a real brother-sister relationship.

I am giving this book 3.5 stars because it was a cute and romantic read, with lots of diversity. The story was fun and interesting, with great character development. Though, I did not enjoy it as much as I would have liked, for no obvious reason. I would recommend this book if you like contemporary books that are short, sweet and diverse.