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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Heist Society by Ally Carter (Heist Society #1)

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“Heist Society” by Ally Carter

5 out of 5 stars.

“Heist Society” begins with Katarina Bishop getting kick out of Colgan School for something she did not do; she’s done a lot of things but putting the Headmaster’s Porsche on top of a fountain… really? First of all she wouldn’t have been caught on camera committing vandalism, and on top of that the whole job was just too cliché for her, much too obvious for her style.

Kat would have been just fine with taking the fall for something she had done, but to be framed… so not cool! Katarina would have liked to have told Colgan School the truth but that would have implicated her in a completely different way; forging your way into the most prestigious school in the United States might be slightly incriminating. All Kat had wanted was a fresh start, away from the family business. But for poor Katarina, it seems she will never be able to get out of the net her family has so intricately wound around themselves and her.

Back on the road with her friend and billionaire, Hale, Kat finds herself in the middle of something for more dangerous and mysterious than your average pick pocket job. With her family’s and friends’ lives hanging in the balance, Katarina must pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history: rob the Henley museum in England, and return the stolen paintings to their own who just so happens to be a mobster… No big deal right? But there is more than meets the eye to this heist, and can Kat finish this job and move on with her life, or is she forever doomed to steal instead of own her own destiny? And how can she leave her family if she decides to quit the business? And what about Hale, her best friend who seems to have become much more to Kat than she ever thought possible?

Wonderful. Fabulous. Amazing. These are three words I would use when describing “Heist Society” by Ally Carter. I have waited forever for a new, fabulous and amazing book like this; I was getting a little scared that I wouldn’t have another book for quite a while to write a review on. But alas, there finally came along a book that absolutely surpassed all my expectations; they may have been significantly lowered from waiting for so long, but that is completely beside the point. The “Heist Society” is well written, entertaining from beginning to end, and was the perfect kind of fluff. Just what the doctor prescribed. I enjoyed every minute of this endearing and fun story, and look forward to future installments in this series.

“Heist Society” was so wonderful. I just sat down and read the whole thing in one sitting. It was interesting, fun, and I thought the travels as well as the bits of history woven throughout the story were fantastic. I found the whole history of the Nazi’s stealing different peoples’ art pieces fascinating and it really opened up my eyes to just how horrible they were to anyone who disagreed with their philosophies. It is a very interesting history lesson that they don’t go into too much depth on when you’re in school.

I also really enjoyed Kat as a character. I haven’t found a nice, funny, intelligent heroine in ages, if ever, and that was absolutely refreshing! Kat was awesome, and her and Hale together were just great; the whole gang in general was so much fun, and they all were thoroughly entertaining. “Heist Society” might not be for everyone but I know that I LOVED it. This book was just pure, clean, enjoyable fun. I think that if you like a little mystery, a sprinkle of romance, a bit history, and a lot of fun and well written fluff, than I think you would really enjoy this YA book very much.

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Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

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“Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.

5 out of 5 stars.

Redeeming Love is the retelling of the book of Hosea in the Bible. It’s a gritty tale of one man loving a woman who can’t seem to find her way out of prostitution. Francine Rivers really made this story come alive: Michael Hosea is a living, breathing person whom you can’t help but love, and Angel is the beautiful girl who has been mistreated since childhood. While reading this book I found myself inwardly yelling at Angel to stop hurting Michael, then I realized what Francine did: she made a character (Angel) that is so like me. The whole book in an allegory of our relationship with God and how we so often hurt Him and turn our backs on Him for no reason at all. We believe Him to be indifferent to our plight, yet He feels it even more than we do! I was amazed at how artfully Francine Rivers accomplished this; I still am in awe even after reading it several times.

Redeeming Love  is achingly beautiful; and yes, it hurts at times! I was in pain (yet satisfied) with how things unfolded. Why does Angel have to hurt him every single moment of their time together? I felt so bad for Angel, but at times I wanted to whack her over the head with a frying pan for being so cruel to Michael. I understand why she did it, but still! Ahhhhh, and Michael! Oy, what didn’t that man do right! He was the epitome of the perfect man; no man like him exists in the world, but if you find one, let me know!!! He was so kind and wonderful, yet so unattainable!! I know he is supposed to be the Christ-like figure in the book, but come on, Francine, you are making me want what I can’t have! You’re killing me!

So much happens in this book that it cheapens the story to try and explain it in a one page post, so I won’t try. This is a great book, and even if Michael wasn’t in it (but, thank the Lord he is!) I would still love this story. It is so profound and impacting I recommend it to almost everyone. I will say, though, that it is extremely gritty; the life of a prostitute isn’t pretty. I wouldn’t recommend young readers to pick this up. I picked it up in my mid-teens and at times it was a bit much for me, but it was still good. With that said, Redeeming Love is in my top ten favorite books. It is a great way to understand the book of Hosea more, and even your relationship with Christ. I loved it!