Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

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“Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.”

“Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young is one of the best books of 2018, and it is in my top ten favorite books ever as of May 21st, when I finished this beautiful novel. I went into reading this book by Young with low expectations; I was intrigued by the clansman and Viking-esk vibes that the cover and synopsis hinted at, and I had heard fairly good things from other readers and reviewers. I have learned, though, not to trust pretty covers, well-constructed summaries, or (usually) popular opinion. That being said, I honestly could have gone into reading “Sky in the Deep” with extremely high expectations and I still would have come out on the other side of reading this novel satisfied and shocked by how addictively good it was. This novel was intelligent and compelling, beautiful yet brutal; it was a consuming read that had me torn in two from beginning to end. The last book I read that had so completely captured my attention in a similar way was “The Winner’s Curse” by Marie Rutkoski. There was a ton going on when I was reading it, and normally that would prevent me from picking up a book, let alone finishing it. Lately I have found myself getting easily distracted by the tv or computer work when I am not working, but “Sky in the Deep” was so addictive and engaging that I honestly tuned everything out. This book was SO good that I tried to hide away so that I wouldn’t be interrupted by anyone or anything.

Alright, now to the reason(s) why “Sky in the Deep” was such a refreshing and addictive fantasy novel.

Eelyn, the heroine of “Sky in the Deep,” both surprised and impressed me. I admire Adrienne Young so much for how she was able to write such an intense, driven, and compassionate character. Eelyn was a literal warrior, and at times I truly feared that she was going to become the next Katniss Everdeen, but she never did. I do not know how Young managed to do it, but Eelyn was written in such a way that her fire and her anger toward the Riki were realistic, yet her attitude and internal dialogue never come off as being bitchy. Eelyn bore some pretty horrible scars left by her past, but she had a good heart, and I loved seeing how she grew to understand just how similar the Aska were to the Riki. I was rooting for Eelyn throughout “Sky in the Deep,” and I was truly impressed by how Young was able to bridge the gap between a fierce warrior and a strong, yet kind-hearted woman. In my opinion, Eelyn is one of the most interesting and engaging female heroines in YA fantasy right now. If not for the beautiful and fluid writing, read this book for Eelyn and the other fierce women in it.

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Eelyn is a heroine to contend with, and another thing that I adored about this book was how Adrienne Young managed to create side characters who were just as impressive and moving as Eelyn was.

Oh, Fiske…

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Fiske was a tough cookie to crack, and I was taken by surprise with how much I liked him as a character. He kind of just simmered in the background for half of this novel, but I really grew to like this character, much to my surprise. The dynamic between Fiske and Eelyn was SUPER tenuous for a large majority of “Sky in the Deep,” but I liked what they brought out in each other and how they challenged one another throughout this novel. I also loved seeing Fiske and his family interact, because it made what could have been a cold story feel rich and warm despite the brutality of the tribal lifestyle. Okay, no more about Fiske, otherwise I will spoil the reading experience for you!

As well-developed and interesting as the characters were in this book, I was also insanely impressed by Young’s ability to write such a brutal world that was as chilling at times as it was beautiful. I adored how different “Sky in the Deep” felt from other fantasy books that have come out recently. I loved the historical feel that this book had, and Adrienne Young did a fantastic job of capturing the brutality and fear of everyday life that was rooted in the tribal cultures. These clans created their own dynamic cultures and communities, yet they built that culture and society off of the unnecessary belief that any clan other than their own was meant to be their enemy. They were always warring with one another, sometimes for no real reason other than tradition and because of hate, and I thought that Young displayed that aspect so well in “Sky in the Deep” with her Scandinavian- inspired Aska and Riki clans.

There are obviously so many things that I loved about “Sky in the Deep,” and I could honestly go on and on about how much I adored reading this book, but I have to end my review sometime. “Sky in the Deep” was such an amazing read and I am so happy that I picked it up after my sister recommended I give it a try. Adrienne’s debut was elegantly written, with its brutal yet moving story and fabulously flawed heroine. I wouldn’t change a thing about “Sky in the Deep” or my reading experience, and my only regret is that it wasn’t longer!

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I will definitely be picking up the companion novel to “Sky in the Deep” when it comes out next year.

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The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (The Belles #1)

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“The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton

4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.”

From the very start, “The Belles” had an entrancing quality to it. I could feel the textures, see the colors, and experience the sounds of Clayton’s novel from the first chapter of Camellia’s story. I instantly connected with the rich and fluid quality that Dhonielle’s storytelling style seemed to possess, and I really love how “très français” the begging of this book felt while I was reading it. Between the opulence of the court, the fashion, and the absolute need and desire for beauty and power, I felt like I was reading about King Louis XIV’s court. It has been a long time since I have read a book that has so instantly drawn me into its story, and I was both enthralled and disgusted by the opulence and excess of the broken world that Dhonielle portrayed in “The Belles.” Dhonielle Clayton is a very impressive author to elicit so spontaneously both positive and negative emotions; the beauty was alluring in this book, but then I would pause to think about how vicious and truly disturbing the heart of the “culture” of Orléans was. With this book, I appreciate the fact that I felt so strongly opposed/drawn to the world that Dhonielle had created for her heroine. I was also pleasantly surprised that Camellia was not a born rebel, already prepared to usurp the authority of Orléans, when I was “introduced” to her.

Camellia was a follower. She was obedient, subservient. Most people might have issues with that aspect of this character’s personality, but I rather liked it. Sometimes I feel like YA novels get more than a little too formulaic with the development of their heroines and heroes. Somehow these girls and boys are just born rebels, unlike anyone else in their culture or society, and that their “perfectly” devised rebellion against the rules is exactly what all the world needs. I’m tired of reading the same type of characters recast with new names. So for me, Camellia was a breath of fresh air. This poor girl was unique by her society’s standards due to the fact that she was born with the gift of beauty, but she was otherwise the opposite of a rebel in the beginning of this book. What I so enjoyed about “The Belles” was how it took trials, experiences, and seeing the ugly truth behind the elegantly constructed façade of her world to make Camellia think about the consequences of such a cruelly stratified society. Gradually, she began to see what needed to stopped, what needed to be changed, and learned to be brave enough to do what was right. Camellia was not born with the tools that so many other heroines are given in their own books, but Dhonielle did such an amazing job of writing the struggle between Camellia’s desire to only see and create beauty for her society, while also wanting to be free of the confines of the Orléans’ toxic culture. I loved that Camellia’s character development was a slow-burn; she still has a long way to go in the next book, but I am really looking forward to seeing Camellia grow more fully into who she has the potential to be.

A unique aspect to this book was how the tone of the novel changed as Camellia began to discover what made her world keep spinning. I know that many books get darker as they go along, or they become grittier as the characters uncover what’s going on or who needs to be stopped. But with “The Belles,” it felt almost artful in how the tones were fluffy, elegant, and airy while Camellia was enamored with the court of Orléans, but as she became aware of what others were doing to gain power and beauty and that she was just a pawn in their game, the tone became darker, almost grayish in hue. I know that most books attempt to do this as its hero or heroine evolves, but the writing style in “The Belles” made the transition and change in tone feel so fluid and elegant that I did not notice the contrast right away, because I was so engrossed in the story. Dhonielle’s writing style didn’t lose its fluid descriptiveness even as it maintained a sense of gravity that was appropriate for the situation and the parallels it was drawing between this book and our current society.

Oh, the parallels! Honestly, I just loved how Dhonielle put societies’ standards of beauty, past and present, on display in “The Belles.” The culture of Orléans was built off of the idea that you are only good or valuable if you maintain the ever evolving standard of what it is to be beautiful. Sound familiar? Fallow the trends, or else you’re an outcast. Ostracize those who do not fit into your groups based on how they dress or how you look. Block the less pretty people/accounts from your instagram because they’ll “kill your image.” I saw in “The Belles” so much of the current generation of what beauty is, what men and women do to themselves to obtain it, because beauty is power, right? It is a tale as old as time, and I admit that I have been guilty of this same behavior at times in my life, just like everyone else. But to me, I loved the fact that Dhonielle brought these parallels to the forefront of her book, not to accuse, but to encourage people to stop that kind of behavior, and to not let others’ ideas of what beauty is to make you hurt yourself or change how you look, just to make them comfortable enough to accept you. I thought her message was poignant considering the swipe right and instagram generation we live in. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful or wanting things to make you feel pretty (I love my makeup and pretty clothes!), but what makes it wrong is when that desire becomes an obsession that consumes and hurts you, driving you into a mindset that leaves you unhappy.

I was truly surprised and impressed by Clayton’s refreshing approach to her heroine, and her book’s progression and message. I also found the other characters like Ivy, Rèmy, and her sisters to all be very interesting, despite not getting as much time to get to know them as I had wanted. I feel like “The Belles” was really about setting up the world, revealing the villain, and beginning Camellia’s true journey, rather than throwing too many other dynamics into the mix. It was a fairly complex book, but I can definitely tell that there is going to be a LOT more going on in the next book. I hope that Rèmy and the sisters get a bit more page time, because I felt like there is so much more to all of these characters, and I am curious to see where Dhonielle intends to take her story.

This book was a big win for me!

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Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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“Lucky in Love” by Kasie West

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Can’t buy me love…

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment—

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun…until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?”

“Lucky in Love” was the YA contemporary novel that I have been looking for since “The Fill-In Boyfriend”! It has been very difficult to find a YA contemporary novel that I enjoyed this past year/year and a half, and the only one that truly stuck out to me this year so far was “Geekerella,” which was several months ago. But now the wait is over, and Kasie once again delivered a fantastically adorable and light-hearted contemporary novel that I absolutely loved reading.

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Kasie West is the best at writing contemporary fluff pieces that always feel like coming home or like comfort food. Whenever I read one of her novels, I know that I am going to have a smile on my face the entire time I am reading it, and that I am going to get a couple of great laughs out of Kasie’s amazing comedic timing. Most of the time contemporary novels are a hit and a miss for me, but with Kasie West I can pretty much be guaranteed a good time, and “Lucky in Love” was no exception to the Kasie standard.

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“Lucky in Love” was just one of those books that I could finally sit down and enjoy, even after an interminably long reading slump. It was adorable like all of Kasie West’s contemporary books, but it also felt a little different and had a flair of its own that made it stand out next to the other stories that Kasie has already told, The whole concept of an newly eighteen-year-old winning the lottery was a charming and funny idea to begin with, but Kasie made it pretty hilarious and even cuter than I had anticipated it would be, and it was her characters who were at the heart of the adorable awkwardness and fun.

Maddie was such a cute and relateable character! I loved reading from her perspective because she did not have a diva attitude, she definitely did not have her life or family situation figured out, and she had some great friends. I think we can all predict what might happen when someone, especially an eighteen-year-old, wins the lottery. Despite that fact, though, I felt like Kasie did a great job of keeping me as a reader engaged in the story, even if I could see something terrible that was going to happen from a mile away. Maddie was just so endearing and likeable, so between that and her newly acquired money, “Lucky in Love” was as cute as it was comical!

Besides just Maddie being great, I also really liked Seth, who was her co-worker/kind-of-friend/love interest. Seth was super cute and endearing in “Lucky in Love,” and I liked how their relationship slowly evolved over the course of this book. Honestly, all I wanted was for Kasie to have Seth in this book more because of how great a character he was. Kasie West has a knack for creating likeable and unique characters, and I just adored Maddie and Seth together. They were supportive of each others’ dreams and they had very cute dialogues, so I was completely on board with their relationship! Now all I really want in a book about the college years! ;-D

Besides it be all fun and games, I feel like Kasie did a good job of pointing out all of the disastrous things that can happen when someone comes into a lot of money suddenly. Even though Maddie was a complete sweetheart, she fell victim to the curse of the lottery, as well as her family. The family dynamic between Maddie and her sibling and parents was pretty interesting and accurate for a struggling middle-class family, and it’s no wonder that they went a little crazy when Maddie won the lottery, despite her best intentions for how the money should be shared and used. For how light-hearted and delightfully fluffy most of this book was, I think that Kasie did a fairly good job of addressing Maddie’s family’s issues, as well as leaving her readers with the feeling that many of those problems had the potential to get resolved eventually.

If you are looking for a sweet treat for the summer, you definitely need to give “Lucky in Love” a try. It was a light, quick read, but it still had depth and substance, which I always appreciate in a contemporary novel. The only thing I might warn you of is that, if you should choose to read “Lucky in Love,” you might want to quit your current job and go work for your local zoo. Or maybe that’s just me…

Thank you again, Kasie West, for not disappointing!

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

 

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“Since You’ve Been Gone” by Morgan Matson

4 out of 5 stars.

Emily’s summer is looking up. Sloan, her best friend, and Emily have the perfect summer planned out: get jobs somewhere where they can hang out together, and experience new adventures together all summer long. But before Emily can live her dream summer, Sloan disappears without a word. It’s happened before, Sloan leaving without so much as a call or text, but Emily can’t help but feel that this time is different, more permanent than the last. Their friendship can’t end like this, can it? Can over two years of friendship be so easily forgotten? But after two weeks a letter arrives addressed to Emily, and inside is exactly what she had been hoping for: a list.

Whenever Sloan leaves, she usually sends a list to Emily, a list of things her friend must complete before she comes back from where she disappeared to. Emily has always tried to do as many things on these lists as she could, but was never able to complete one, but all that’s going to change. This is the year Emily is determined to do everything on the list, and by the end of the summer, Sloan will come back and then they can share their stories, once again fast friends. All will be right in Emily’s world after that. There’s only one problem, though: all the things on the list are really hard and some even require Emily to conquer some of her biggest fears. Can she really do it all by herself, or will she once again shy away from the challenge?

This was a very spontaneous buy for me. My sisters and I had gone to Barnes and Noble (coupons in hand), and I had been planing to by a different book. As I perused the shelves, sniffing paper and ink, my older sister brought this beauty over to me. I literally fangirled over the cover.

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It was so pretty I couldn’t resist buying it. And so, here we are, writing a review about one of my most recent spontaneous buys.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” by Morgan Matson was a really cute book. Morgan Matson is a very good author, and I liked how the story built up steam the longer I read it; this book was a bit hardier than most Chick Lit reads that I have experienced. I had fun watching Emily grow as a person, and some of the situations Morgan put her character in were interesting, and they kind of made you wonder what you would do if you were in Emily’s shoes.

Besides it being a really great light summer read, I liked “Since You’ve Been Gone”  because of Morgan Matson’s secondary characters. Usually the secondary characters in Chick Lit books fall flat (except in Katie McGarry’s and Ally Carter’s books), but in this one I found myself enjoying everyone, and I was especially happy to see Emily help out her brother a lot more nearing the end; I always enjoy it when siblings look at for each other in books. One of the other things I liked was that each of the characters were pretty average, but in a good way. They were real people, not perfect, gorgeous, and unrealistic like a lot of books characters I’ve read. They were all endearingly average and I really liked that.

Overall, I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light, well written summer read. It was clean and cute, and I am very happy to have purchased it!

Hemlock by Kathleen Peacock

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“Hemlock” by Kathleen Peacock

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Hemlock is a murder/fantasy fictional book that is the beginning of a new series/trilogy. Hemlock holds lovely characters that will capture your heart, an enjoyable heroine, and some…werewolves? A deadly virus has been created by someone and it is causing humans to be turned into werewolves.

Hemlock begins with Mac’s best friend, Amy’s, funeral. Distraught over her friend’s eerie death, Mac feels broken and guilty. If only she had kept her plans with Amy instead of studying, her best friend would still be here, still be safe. But Mac isn’t the only one who feels guilty; Kyle, the faithful protective friend blames himself for not picking up his phone when Amy called for help, and Jason, Amy’s boyfriend and a trouble maker, blames himself for saying something that made Amy get out of the car, and then letting her walk away alone. Alone…

All of them feel responsible in one way or another for Amy not being there now; the three friends, who once there were four, are wracked with an undeniable guilt that for some, is turning into anger and revenge. But little do they know that there is more to Amy’s death than a freak occurrence; murder was its purpose, and it was not done completely by a werewolf. Someone wanted Amy dead. Can the three friends stick together long enough to find Amy’s true killer, or will the rifts caused by her death be too much to forgive, too wide to heal?

Mackenzie is funny and cute, but has a darker past. Hank, her father, was a criminal and abandoned her when she was very young, and she is now taken care of by her older, and certainly less wizened, cousin, Tess. With the loss her best friend, and the withdrawal of her other friend, Jason, Mac feels very alone in this big bad world. Lucky for her, she still has her other best friend, Kyle, to look after her. Or does she? Mackenzie’s world begins to crumble with some new revelations concerning Amy’s death, and Jason’s joining the Trackers. Kyle is a mystery too! Is anyone who she thought they were, and can the truth somehow be even worse than the lies she has been fed for months? The answer is, “yes.”

Kyle is smart funny and sweet, but despite his and Mac’s deeply rooted friendship, he has some secrets of his own. Can Mac and Jason be trusted with a secret as dangerous and hard to keep as his? If he tells them, can they find it in themselves to forgive him for lying, and still love him despite his dark secret? Or will the shadows and secrets Hemlock breeds within itself destroy not only him, but everyone he loves?

Jason is the bad-boy of Hemlock. He’s been friends with Kyle since third grade, and is friends with Amy and Mac. Ever since Mac came to town three years ago, his happy little bubble has been a little different, somehow fuller and better than it had been. But after Amy’s death, and the secrets he has kept from Mac, it will be hard for him to trust her not to hate him because of the truth. And why does everyone look at him, or at least Kyle and Mac, like he’s some psychopath for wanting revenge for what he/she did to his girlfriend. Well, maybe they are right. But can he let go of his desire for revenge and realize that he is losing the only two people left in his life who love him before they too are lost forever?

Wow! Hemlock was fantastic, and is in my top ten favorite books. Peacock has a gift for writing and creating likable and “real” characters that reach out to your heart and threaten to never let go. I was enthralled from beginning to end, and I enjoyed that the plot was well planned and finished as strong, or stronger, than it began. I did guess a few things, but when you assume that everyone is a killer, you have a greater chance of being right! I enjoyed the twists and turns that Kathleen takes her reader through, and I felt that I was involved in the story somehow; I just felt like I was there with them, watching it all happen from the not-so-far-away sidelines. Also, there was nearly zero language, which was fantastic. I am longing to read the next book that will continue thee three friends’ stories.