Mini Review: They Both Die at the End (Audio Book) by Adam Silvera

In his newest book, Adam Silvera reminds readers that there’s no life without death and no love without loss in this devastating yet uplifting story about two people whose lives change over the course of one unforgettable day.

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

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MINI MONDAY: Reign the Earth by A.C.Gaughen (AUDIOBOOK)

Reign the Earth by A.C. Gaughen was released in North America on January 30, 2018, and while it was on my Reading List, it wasn’t one I was really highly anticipating, so I did not get to it until March, in the form of an audiobook I listened to whilst at the gym, driving to and from work, and around the house.

Shalia is a proud daughter of the desert, but after years of devastating war with the adjoining kingdom, her people are desperate for peace. Willing to trade her freedom to ensure the safety of her family, Shalia becomes Queen of the Bonelands. But she soon learns that her husband, Calix, is motivated only by his desire to exterminate the Elementae—mystical people who can control earth, wind, air, and fire. Even more unsettling are Shalia’s feelings for her husband’s brother, which unleash a power over the earth she never knew she possessed—a power that could get her killed. As rumors of a rebellion against Calix spread, Shalia must choose between the last chance for peace and her own future as an Elementae.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

It has been called the biggest fantasy debut novel of 2018 – and after reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi for myself, I can certainly understand why. Released in North America on March 6, 2018, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is the first in the Legacy of Orïsha #1. Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of Zelie, a young girl from a fictional West African kingdom who is fighting to restore magic to her people, after it’s been banned by a ruthless king. The novel has deep roots in Adeyemi’s own Nigerian culture, and this shines through in the heartfelt and powerful tale that Adeyemi weaves.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy. 

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Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron

Sorry for the delay bookworms, but here it is – my full post for Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron! I am participating in the Sea of Strangers Blog Tour, hosted by Chapter by Chapter, which I am so excited about! Unfortunately weather, travelling and family commitments delayed this post, but I am still excited to share it with you all! For the remainder of the blog tour stops, or to check out previous stops, check here!

Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron is the second book in an epic fantasy series titled the Ryogan Chronicles (you can find my review for Island of Exiles here), by Cameron, which will be released on December 5th, 2017. The Ryogan Chronicles is currently predicted to be a trilogy, so there’s at least one more book to look forward to in this fresh and exciting fantasy series (Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of Sea of Strangers from Entangled Teen in exchange for an honest review)!

The only way for Khya to get her brother back alive is to kill Varan—the immortal ruler who can’t be killed. But not even Varan knew what he was doing when he perverted magic and humanity to become immortal. Khya’s leading her group of friends and rebels into the mountains that hold Varan’s secrets, but if risking all their lives is going to be worth it, she has to give up everything else—breaking the spell that holds her brother captive and jeopardizing her deepening relationship with Tessen, the boy who has been by turns her rival and refuge since her brother disappeared. Immortality itself might be her only answer, but if that’s where Khya has to go, she can’t ask Tessen or her friends to follow.

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I had really enjoyed the first book in this series, Island of Exiles, and I couldn’t wait to read the next installment in this sprawling YA fantasy series! With engaging characters, human struggles, a society that (in some ways) is reflective of our own, and an engaging mission, I couldn’t imagine what I wouldn’t like about this one!

I have to spend a moment here talking about the fantastic world building in this series: It’s complex, diverse in so many ways and oh-so-amazing for the reader! As with Island of Exiles, I simply loved the sprawling nature of Sea of Strangers. Cameron immersed readers in a rich and intense culture – one that is similar but unique to the culture explored in Island of Exiles. The Ryogans have their own prejudices and problems, and they are also subject to the changing nature of their environment, just of the residents of Shiara are, but this new continent also brings with it a while new host of problems, beliefs and magical understandings. There are (seemingly) no easy solutions to this struggle, and new information emerges at every turn, quickly grabbing the reader’s attention and hanging onto it as the story progresses. Furthermore, the magic system was well established in Island of Exiles, and while complex and vast, it did not feel too overwhelming – although I would recommend a quick re-read of Island of Exiles to refresh yourself. Each new power was explained, and each caste of magic-wielder has a title and a role, making it easy to follow along. And, perhaps more importantly, this character and term heavy novel featured both a character list and a glossary.

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Now, on to the plot of Sea of Strangers. As mentioned, the plot is quick, action-packed and full of twists and turns. Not only this but the plot just flows so instinctively and never feels forced. The characters are faced with situations and frustrations that make so much sense and there’s absolutely no unrealistic surprises which I can definitely appreciate! As I have mentioned before, a pet-peeve of mine is when authors create some mythical power and/or item at the last moment that is conveniently capable of solving all the problems presented throughout the story in one fell swoop. Cameron instead sticks to her guns, with minimal alterations to the pre-established magic system, and what few new reveals she does insert are far from what could be described as the Holy Grail of solutions.

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While this was a fantastic and epic fantasy adventure that will certainly have fans of the YA Fantasy genre intrigued, it was the inclusive nature of Cameron’s writing that really reeled me in. The diversity is amazing and what I love about it is that it is so raw and genuine without ever being forced upon the reader that ‘this book is diverse’. It’s not there for the sake of being diverse – it just is diverse. There’s diversity of culture, of skin colour, of gender (including a third gender), of sexuality (including asexuality). Cameron handled to topic of LGBTQ2+ characters, racial diversity and cultural diversity with ease, twisting the topics together until they felt natural within the society she has created. I especially lied how, at the beginning of the novel, Cameron had a character list. While this is not uncommon, especially in YA Fantasy novels with large casts, it was something else that Cameron included on this list that caught my eye – she included the preferred pronouns of all of her characters (he/him, she/her, em/eir). Beyond this, Cameron also tackles the topic of prejudice against individuals of supposed “deviant” sexual prejudices and different abilities/physical features. While the society in Shiara was generally accepting of these differences, the Ryogans are less so, and this is perhaps a reflection of our own society.

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Overall, readers of the genre will really enjoy this addition to this fantasy series by Erica Cameron, which presents a sprawling, diverse world with complex issues and a wealth of magical power. Readers will be ensnared by the scope of the world Cameron is creating, but also by the depth of the characters, and the humanity behind their struggles (4.5/5).

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Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

Released on August 29th, 2017, Mask of Shadows is Linsey Miller’s debut novel, and the first book in a planned duology. Riddled with action and deceit, Mask of Shadows is sure to draw readers in right from the get-go. Perfect for YA fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard and Leigh Bardugo, Mask of Shadows features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action. I initially received an ARC of this book through Net Galley, and quickly fell in love with Miller’s writing style and irresistibly human characters – now that the finished book has (finally) been released to the world, I knew I had to pick my own copy up and share my thoughts with the world!

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class-and the nobles who destroyed their home. When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand-the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears-Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge. But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive (Chapters.Indigo.ca).

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Diverse and #OwnVoices Books

If you’re active in the book community, you may have seen this hashtag kicking around – you may have even read up about it. Especially after the recent outrage from the book community surrounding racist and ableist themes in Veronica Roth’s Carve the Mark. Which is good – because this is an important conversation, and it’s not one that’s going away. In fact, it seems that the discussion surround Carve the Mark spread the call for more diverse, inclusive books to the wider community, and now, more people than ever, are recognizing the need for diverse books.

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Just look at these statistics (above) – and that’s just in regards to children’s books. The #OwnVoices movement calls upon writers to respect the voices of the characters they write – to not disrespect the diversity in the world around them. We Need More Diverse Books (WNDB) defines diversity as “all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.” It asks – can a white, upper-class author really write about the experiences of a minority teen living in poverty? Can a straight author write about the experiences of a LGBTQ2+ youth? And it calls upon the book community to respect #OwnVoices by respecting a diverse community of books, authors and readers, not just the one story of books they know. Respecting diversity in literature is not just a social trend; it’s critical to developing cultural literacy, and to overcoming long-held stereotypes. Susie Rodarme, of BookRiot, sums this up pretty well:

“If you don’t actually know anything about the lives of the people that you’re writing about, though–if you haven’t experienced anything like it in your real life and what you know actually does come mostly from TV and movies–it’s going to come out in cliches and stereotypes when you try to write it.”

And as white, middle-class university student from Canada, do I really have any right to be writing about this? I might not, which is why I’ll keep my judgments on the topic short, but I wanted to make my readers aware of the movement, and I wanted to challenge all of you to make yourselves more aware of the growing diversity in literature, and the need for it.

“So when we call for more diverse stories, I think this diversity must come from diverse authors. It’s not enough to have the same group of primarily white, cis, hetero, able-bodied authors writing more diversely; even with good intentions, they may not get it right. The call for diverse stories comes from groups of people who want to see themselves depicted in stories. That call isn’t answered if we read someone else’s depiction of us and we find that it isn’t true to life” – Susie Rodarme, Book Riot

Books are a type of media – like newspapers, like social media, like the 6 o’clock news, thy perpetuate stereotypes and norms to society, and they dictate our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not.

So the next time you pick up a book, try checking out a #OwnVoices book – I’ve taken the liberty of including some recognized #OwnVoices books below, and I’d love to hear what you think of them, or if you have some that should be added to this list!

And if you’re looking for more information about #Own Voices, please check out WNDB

You can also find my recent post regarding the importance of including diverse books in the classroom on my education blog, titled Miss Vosper.

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MINI MONDAY: A Crown of Wishes (ARC) by Roshani Chokshi

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, the much anticipated sequel to The Star-Touched Queen, is set to release on March 28th, 2017. The story follows the (mis)adventures of Gauri, the princess of Bharata, and Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land. Both protagonist have much to fight for, and plenty to lose, as they enter the Tournament of Wishes as unwilling partners (Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Ready Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review).

“Who cares if a story is true or not, so long as it is told?” – Roshani Chokshi, A Crown of Wishes

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes – a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels. Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire (Chapters.Indigo.ca).

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