It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! Today I’m giving mini-reviews of five books that I’ve read (sort of) recently. All of these are YA, but we’ve got genres and ratings all over the place. Let’s get into these reviews!
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
“Justice was a god, and Ayla didn’t believe in such childish things. She believed in blood.”
In a world in which fabricated Automae rule over humans, Ayla is a human servant seeking revenge on the Sovereign’s daughter, Crier. She finally gets her chance when she becomes Crier’s servant, only to realize that there might be more to Crier than she originally thought.
What an incredible and unique fantasy world. I’m fascinated by the concept of Automae and everything involved in their creation and aliveness, if you will, and I hope we get to learn more about this in the second book.
Also, you know I love a slow burn, and this book did it so well. Although early on their relationship felt a bit rushed, as I didn’t quite buy at first that Ayla’s feelings were changing, once it got going, I was very much on board. I was practically screaming at the page for them to admit their feelings to each other. I loved both of them as characters, since they’re each incredibly flawed and fascinating.
In my opinion, the ending was a bit anticlimactic and felt like it was more setting up for the second book than finishing out the first. That said, I need the second book ASAP.
Starsight by Brandon Sanderson (Skyward #2)
“That’s what war is. A bunch of sorry, desperate fools on both sides, trying to stay alive. That’s the part that those stories you love leave out, isn’t it?”
This sequel to Skyward picks up soon after the first book leaves off, with Spensa and her sentient spaceship, M-Bot, still fighting to defend their home planet from aliens. Almost immediately, something happens that changes everything, and I’m being intentionally vague because I can’t say anything without spoiling the whole book.
This book was disappointing on a number of levels: first, in that it was the first book I read in 2020, so not a great way to start out the decade; second, in that I loved Skyward and had such high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, it didn’t manage to live up to my expectations. I think a large part of that might be my own personal preference, since many of the reviews I’ve looked at are very positive. But so many of the aspects that I loved in Skyward weren’t in this book at all, or simply felt like not-as-good repeats. Spensa felt like a different – and less interesting – character than in the first book, and I was not a fan of the rushed romance out of nowhere.
That said, this book wasn’t a complete failure for me. M-Bot is still the greatest character in existence, and as usual Brandon Sanderson makes space battles feel incredibly cinematic and visual despite them being only words on a page. I liked the expansion of the world and getting to see Spensa in an entirely new setting from anything she’s used to. And I certainly will be picking up the next book in this series. I’m just sad that this one wasn’t as wonderful as Skyward.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
“Life never turns out how you imagine it will when you’re young. Everything is smaller than you think, or too big. It all smells a little funny and fits like somebody else’s shirt.”
Content warnings: references to abuse, gore
Alice and her mother have spent her life moving from place to place, trying to outrun bad luck. Just when they think they’ve finally settled down, Alice’s mother disappears. With only a classmate who’s willing to help and the fairy tales from her estranged grandmother’s book – which start to feel less and less like fiction – Alice sets out to find her.
I loved about 80% of this book. The setup of the mystery with Alice’s mother and their strange past was dark and intriguing, instantly making me want to know more. I’m always a big fan of fairy tale-esque stories with meta commentary on the nature of fairy tales, and this one did it really well, with some brand new fairy tales that were the perfect balance between whimsical and terrifying. And I quite enjoyed Alice as a character, as well as her relationship with Ellery Finch.
However, this book sort of fell apart for me at the end. It felt like an abrupt shift that wasn’t entirely earned, making the ending feel like a completely different book from the beginning. I think there was a way for this ending to work, but as it is, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. Still, the rest of the book was fantastic…which only makes the ending more disappointing!
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
“My dad said that the impossible is only impossible if you don’t even try. So I want to try.”
Content warnings: parental abuse
Elle has grown up obsessed with the sci-fi show Starfield, and now that she’s living with her horrible stepmother and two stepsisters, it’s one of the only things in her life that makes her happy. However, she is not happy about the casting of the new reboot, with a soap opera star in the role of her favorite character.
On paper, this book seems perfect for me, as someone who has spent years in online fandom and has a great appreciation for those kinds of communities. And honestly, those aspects were some of my favorite parts of this books. But overall, this book…was not for me.
I started to feel iffy early on, when there was some serious girl-hate towards Elle’s stepfamily because they like traditionally feminine things, presenting Elle as so much better since she doesn’t wear lipstick or the color pink. This is something that happens in a lot of Cinderella retellings, and I hate it every time. I was also not a fan of how much fandom gatekeeping happens throughout this book, and while it was somewhat addressed, it never felt fully resolved. Reading this book required a lot of suspension of disbelief, given the amount of crazy coincidences that happen, and at a certain point it became a bit eye-roll worthy. Ah, well. At least it was a fast read.
Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
“Look here, he told himself, we’ve decided as a unified body not to be in love with her, so stop it.”
Content warnings: racism, excessive drinking, slut shaming
A retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in 1920s New York, in which Beatrice Clarke goes to live with her cousin’s family while she studies for her medical school exams. There, she becomes involved with the family’s failing speakeasy and the cast of characters that go along with it, including an infuriating writer named Benedick.
As with any Much Ado retelling, the dynamic between Beatrice and Benedick is easily the best part of the book. This author got their characterization spot on, since they are both the most annoying people you will ever meet. Beatrice is honest to a fault and has absolutely no filter, while Benedick is a know-it-all who loves bossing people around. They’re perfect for each other. I think Shakespeare would be proud of the banter and insults that come out of their every interaction.
The Roaring Twenties is already such a fun era to read about, and we got to see so many different aspects of it in this book, from the speakeasy party scene to organized crime to the push for women’s rights. This book has a lot of characters, some more fleshed out and interesting than others, with each one bringing something new to the richness of the setting. Certain aspects of this book weren’t done as well as others, in my opinion, but when it was good, it was good.
Have you read any of these books? What was the first book you read in 2020?