Book Reviews, Categories, Uncategorized

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta

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“In the name of the Garden State Parkway, how many times do I have to tell you guys?” I jogged down the front steps. “For the last time already, I am not a princess!”

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani Dasgupta is the first book in a new middle grade fantasy series called Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond. I’m not sure how many books the series will end up being. There’s not much information out since this book barely came out at the end of February, but there will definitely be a book two.

This is an ownvoices novel with an all Indian cast that draws from many different folktales and children’s stories from West Bengal, India. I knew that from simply reading the novel, but in the author notes at the end Dasgupta lists the different stories she used. The number that she layered together along with all the science elements was seamless, and created a rich world that I’m sad to have to leave now.

Kiranmala has grown up being told all her life she’s an exiled princess. She doesn’t believe her parents until her twelfth birthday when they disappear, two princes appear on flying horses to help, and a demon smashes through her kitchen. Even then, she’s slightly skeptical, but determined to do whatever she has to in order to get her parents back.

The whole story reminded me of Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, but I think I connected to Kiran and Neel and Lal even faster than with Percy and Annabeth. They were all so real, and their relationships and inner struggles were so complicated and well done while remembering their young ages.

I loved this book if that wasn’t obvious. I could gush more about it, but I think I’ll end it here so you can go out and get it yourself even quicker. I’ll be waiting anxiously for any news about book two.

5 stars

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The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clark

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He strung up strands of tree vines and red berry leaves and muttered his charms while I sulked in the corner and watched him. Just cause I was in love with him didn’t mean I wasn’t gonna resent him for locking me away like I was useless, or that I wanted to spend every moment of the day hanging around him.

I didn’t plan on jumping right into the sequel of The Assassin’s Curse but I couldn’t focus on anything else after finishing it. So I picked it up, and ended up finishing it even faster than the first one. I loved this book. I gave it five stars.

At the end of the first book, Ananna and Naji have been stranded on an island, but with the knowledge of how to end the curse. This book is all about curing it, falling in love, friendship, mysterious magic, more pirating, and more fighting. There’s a lot of angst, but such good angst I couldn’t get enough.

I didn’t mention it in the first one because while Marjani was important, she didn’t have as big a role as she did in this one. But she is a woman of color who is in love with another woman of color. And yes it’s on the page, and also, yes, it is happy and well done.

Speaking of Marjani, she has definitely become one of my favorite side characters. Along with the Manticore. Characters continue to drive this book, and I still stand by if you don’t like the main character Ananna then you won’t like this duology much. You might even dislike this book less than the first. It’s not the case for me though. She does a lot of actions through hurt and anger I don’t agree with, and that could have been addressed, but I still love her.

I think this is a great end to this small series. I found out that Clarke has a spin off series that is set in this world, but doesn’t include these characters. I think I might check that out, and even her other books if she has them. She has a nice writing style, and I think she might be one of my favorite authors.

5 stars

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The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clark

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“You can’t escape an assassin,” He leaned forward, shadows swallowing his eyes. “Hangings, bumbling bureaucrats, dishonest crewman, jail – those you can talk your way out of, you try hard enough. But this kind of death is the is the only kind of death.” 

The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clark is the first in young adult fantasy duology. Ananna is the daughter of a pirate captain, one of the most respected families on the Pirate Confederation. Her parents decide to marry her off in an arranged marriage that she wants no part of. So she runs off. And the family of the guy she is supposed to marry sends an assassin after her. This book is how Ananna and the assassin’s, Naji, lives go after they meet.

The world building in this book is not that great. There’s so much that isn’t explained, and it’s such a fantastical world that you will want everything explained more thoroughly.  The pirate life, and the assassin life, and the magic is interesting. Apparently mermaids and sirens and other creatures exist too though we didn’t get to see them. They are only mentioned. I did like how many locations we get to see in the world though. We see a city, the desert, the sea, and a magical island. It’s not something that usually happens in books even if traveling is an element.

I’ve seen many mixed reviews for this book, and I think the main thing that will decide if you like it is if you like Anannna. It’s first person in her point of view so the reader is very close to her. I personally love her so that is going to influence how I describe her. She is tough, smart but not educated, loyal, and a complex, good character. Her one goal in life is the be the captain of her own pirate ship which isn’t really a thing because sexism. She’s a good fighter, endlessly determined and stubborn. She does have this thing with beautiful people where they aren’t trustworthy. I thought I would be annoyed by it, but honestly it’s not a big part of the book at all. Ananna is only vaguely described with a bigger frame, bigger boobs, and frizzy hair. The general consensus is she is not attractive which is kind of nice for a main character. 

The summary and even other reviews always talk about romance, but really there is none. If you are going into this book expecting a wild romance, you will be disappointed. I haven’t read the second book, but in this one there is only an unrequited crush. It pops up a little bit, but it isn’t a big part of the story at all.

A lot of this book is about survival. It takes a lot of pages between plot points. So in general it is a slow story. This is where I think liking Ananna is key is liking the book. For me, I was fascinated with how Ananna hid and got water, and did basically very simple things in between the big scenes. So I sped right through them, and didn’t notice how slow it was until I finished the book and thought on it. If you don’t like her, it is sure to be a drag, and I think that’s where people struggle with liking this book.

I gave it four stars. I am definitely picking up the next book. If anyone is looking for a short book with a tough, different main character, pirates, assassins, unrequited love, and blood magic, I think you will like it too.

4 stars

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Our Favorite Books We Read in 2017

Isis:

Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell – This is the last book I read and enjoyed this year. It contains two short stories with lovely characters and love stories. I really liked it.

 

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My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame – This was a cute manga. The illustrations were beautiful and so were the characters. It’s centered on family and acceptance.

 

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Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – I liked the way this book portrayed fandom. I wrote a full review about it if you want to know my full thoughts. It was a great read.

 

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Shelter the Sea by Heidi Cullinan – This is a sequel to one of my favorite books, Carry the Ocean. I loved the way the story wrapped up. These books are very personal to me because one of the main characters suffers from a lot of anxiety and it’s easy to relate to. But it never got overwhelming.

 

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At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson – This is the first book I read this year and it left a big impression on me. I consider Shaun David Hutchinson one of my favorite authors now because of this book. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and eye-opening. I haven’t been able to let go of it.

 

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The Last Cigarette on Earth by Benjamin Alire Saenz – I loved this collection of poetry. I don’t read much poetry, but I read all of Saenz’s poems. He’s my favorite poet. He writes about personal subjects that are so universal somehow. It’s powerful.

 

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Prince’s Gambit by C. S. Pacat – I read the entire Captive Prince series this year in a short span of time. I didn’t like the first book, but I loved the second one, even more than the third. I’m not sure I’d recommend this series to anyone, but this book was worth the read.

 

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Nicole:

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan – I’ve been obsessed with this series and this book is the main reason for that. I love the characters, the humor, and the writing. It’s a story that calms me, and really sweeps me away from reality.

 

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Iron Cast by Destiny Soria – This historical fantasy is so underrated. The characters are wonderfully complex, and the world is rich and vibrant. I’m still really sad it is a standalone because I would love to read more.

 

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Serpentine by Cindy Pon – I was nervous for this fantasy for a long time. A half-serpentine protagonist was very outside my comfort zone, but I’m very glad that I did. It was fun and well written.

 

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The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi –  This debut middle grade was my favorite book for a long time this year. I had trouble reading anything after because this book was so much fun. The board game concept is still one of my favorite plots I’ve read this year.

 

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Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh – This one of the many middle grade mysteries I read this year, and easily one of my favorites. Harper is a great protagonist with a great voice. I loved the ghosts, and the family relationships.

 

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The Ghost of Cutler Creek by Cynthia C. DeFelice – Another middle grade mystery about ghosts, but it’s also completely different from Spirit Hunters. I don’t think it’s the greatest book ever written. That’s not why it’s a favorite. I just read it at the perfect time when I needed it. That might be a little odd to say about a silly little mystery book but oh well. It is what it is.

 

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The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee – A beautiful and heartbreaking autobiography of a woman born in North Korea. It’s a book others should really read.

 

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The Ghost of Cutler Creek by Cynthia DeFelice

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“Here we go again. It sounds as if Allie Nichols, Ghost Magnet, is back in action.”

The third book in DeFelice’s mystery novels about eleven year old Allie Nichols. As with previous books, another ghost needs some help, and they go to her for help. School is ending for the summer, there’s a new kid in town, and she has a summer job of looking after her teacher’s dog. I don’t want to spoil anything but dogs play an important part of this book. I’ll leave you to make the inference about how they would be involved. I know that can be very upsetting for some people.

The mystery in this book is pretty straight forward in this one, but I still enjoyed it. I like how Allie is getting used to doing this, and how she learns from each case. Also, Michael, her little brother, is becoming a bigger part of the story, and I find that very interesting to watch unfold.

As always I zipped through this book. I gave it five stars. I simply find whenever I’m in a rut with reading or in life, picking up these books will pep me up a little bit.

5 stars

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The Demon Notebook by Erika McGann

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The Demon Notebook by Erika McGann is the first book in a middle grade quartet. It’s about five middle school friends who find a book with spells and try to test them out. They try eleven on them, but all fail. They move onto trying the Ouija board when finally something happens, but it’s more scary than they anticipated. Now one of them is acting weird, and one by one their spells are happening. And not all of them are harmless. 

I wasn’t expecting much from this book, and that’s a good thing. That doesn’t sound nice, but I mean it in the best way possible. I read this basically one sitting. The writing was simple. The plot was simple. It was fun, but it wasn’t the most complex piece of work. If I was expecting something truly complexly developed or something to scare my socks off, I would have been disappointed. Instead, I enjoyed my time with the story.

The strong friendship between the girls was a surprise for me. I’m so used to reading catty and competitive friendships between girls I don’t expect much anymore. But this group of friends wasn’t like that at all. They cared about each other deeply and equally.

I liked the lesson underneath the book as well. The girls made a mistake, and they did their best to right it. Even when it wasn’t easy or in their best interest at the time.

I gave this book an average three stars. The magic was nice. There were nice action scenes to bring up the tension too. I didn’t find this scary at all. For people looking a book with magic and demons without being creepy, I think this would be the book for them.

3 stars

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Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh

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One elderly ghost peered over her round spectacles and shook her head before returning to her ghostly knitting.

“In my day, young children didn’t come to the cemeteries trying to raise the dead,” she tsked. “What is this world coming to?”

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh is an own voices middle grade ghost story. Harper and her family move into a new house. There are rumors that it is haunted, and then her little brother, Michael, starts to act strange. Harper has her own mysterious past that she has to deal with because she’s recently lost some of her memories. As events begin to unfold, Harper knows that both her memories and Michael’s odd behavior are somehow tied together.

Harper’s family includes her younger brother that I’ve already mentioned, an older sister, her mom and dad, and an estranged grandmother. This story really touches on the dynamics between all of them in a very natural and real way. I enjoyed the siblings relationships, the love and the fighting. Harper’s relationship with her mom is tough, and it mimics her mother’s relationship with her own. It’s a strong element to this book.

The formatting in this book was a very nice touch. In between normal chapters are pages of Harper’s journal she has to keep on orders from her therapist. In it, she lists things she hates, and has small rants about life. These brief pages added a lot to Harper’s character, and always made me smile.

I had a blast with this book. It was funny yet creepy in all of the right places. The Korean influences threaded throughout make this book stand out compared to the other very similar ghost stories out there. I gave this book five stars. I’m not sure if this is going to be a series, but I hope so.

5 stars