Reviews: Aru Shah and the End of Times by Roshani Chokshi and The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes

I’m going to do a double review for these two books because they are both published under Rick Riordan Presents publishing tent and I read them back to back. Like Rick Riordan’s work, they both are children’s books that are based in Mythology. So why didn’t Rick write them? Well, I think he learned from his Kane Chronicles that you can do all the research you can on culture and mythology you are not a part of or familiar with it’s going to come out a bit messy. Not to say that the Kane Chronicles was a bad series. I think for many of his readers, it was their first introduction into Egyptian mythology so they were not aware of any errors but I could tell that Rick was comfortable and the flow of his writing wasn’t as crisp. So Rick decided he was going to use his platform and start his own imprint and publish Authors of color tell their own stories and mythologies. This is how you ally. Use your resources to uplift marginalize voices and give them a platform to speak.

Both Aru Shah and the End of Times and The Storm Runner follow the same formula that Rick uses in his Greek stories. Introduces the Demigod, send them on a world saving quest that requires them to complete smaller quests along the way to help them be successful, while interacting with other mythological characters or using the myths they grew up hearing to help them get out of trouble. Here I was taken through various Indian and Mayan myths and it was enjoyable. I do admit I enjoyed Aru Shah a lot better then The Storm Runner. Aru lives in Atlanta with her Mom and goes to a elite prep school. Aru is a liar. Well, she has a huge imagination. She often tells her fell kids at schools lies about her life to make her life seem more exciting and things start to go south when a few them catch her in her lies. Technically, Aru isn’t a demigod but the reincarnation of one of Indian mythologies greatest heroes. With the help of Mini, who is also a reincarnation of Aru’s brother hero, are able to save the day. What I liked about this book is that Aru is not the perfect girl. She’s a liar and definitely a troublemaker. She doesn’t have a lot of friends because she feels like an outsider and bullied. Both girls have had trouble making friends and opening up to each other isn’t easy but they do and it’s what allows them to succeed. I love who it really plays up their friendship and the importance of female friendships. Not to mention, Aru is a hoot. I laughed all the way through this book.

Maybe one of the reasons I liked Aru better is that I have some familiarity with Indian Mythology. I know nothing about Mayan. So I was going into this book fresh and learned quite a lot. Did you know the Mayan’s have a Goddess for Chocolate? That is awesome. The Storm Runner follows Zane who lives in New Mexico with his Mother and Uncle, next to a volcano. Who knew there were volcanoes in New Mexico? One night, a plane crashes into his volcano and then Zane meets Brooks, who he calls the most beautiful girl he has ever meant and boom we are off and running. Zane releases Ah-Puch, the God of the Death among of other things and well now he’s in trouble. Only he can kill him and do it before the other Mayan Gods find him and well kill him too because Gods are not supposed to have children because they see this as an imbalance in the world. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book. I did but I found Zane to be frustrating. He really doesn’t listen to what people tell him. He is given good advice throughout the book and he either ignores it or doesn’t want to listen because “who are they to tell him what to do”. Things kinda go from bad to worst when he does this until the end when faced with his own death does he actually listen to what people are telling him and it turns out okay. There were moments in the book that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish. I’m glad I did because it turned out to be alright but it wasn’t easy to get through. Again this could be because I don’t know anything about Mayan mythology. With Rick’s Greek and Roman and even a little with Aru’s Indian, I knew enough Myths to figure out what was going ton and how they might be able escape. I didn’t have that here and maybe that made it harder. I also found Aru to be more likeable then Zane but I also identified more with Aru. I should mention that Zane has a disability. One of his legs is shorter then the other and he has to walk with a cane. It seems like his weakness but it turn out it s his strength. I think that is an important message for kids to read and allow them to be seen. I would recommend both books for anyone who loves Percy Jackson and are looking for stories outside Greek and Roman mythologies. They both are good in their own right and I look forward to reading the next books in both series..

Quick Review: The Reckoning of Noah Shaw by Michelle Hodkin

So not a lot of happened in this book. Noah Shaw has already been a mess but he’s even more so after the events of the last book. If we are being truthful, he’s never really dealt with the events of Mara Dyer trilogy and now that everything has spiraled out of control, he’s really not dealing well. He broke things off with Mara after discovering what she has done and kept from him. He discovers that Mara’s Grandma, who should be dead is still alive has plans for him. If that wasn’t enough, he lost his power to heal and is a little lost M, Mara’s grandma, wants him to do what Mara did and access his memories and find the clues that can help her and Mara against the Professor but Noah isn’t so keen. The last thing that Noah wants to do remember and feel and after everything that has happened is a little bit paranoid. So yeah, he resists and avoids but also does what he is asked. We get a few answers to how everything began and why some are dying but we are mostly still left in the dark. I wouldn’t say this book was boring but it didn’t have the oompf of previous books. I can only hope that the pay off will come in the final book.

Quick Review: Defy Me by Tahereh Mafi

The second book in a trilogy is always a difficult one and this one is no different. I felt it was a little uneven. It first felt a little slow in the beginning and then lose it’s momentum in the end. This was also difficult because this book really lays out all the abuse and trauma that Juliette/Ella has been put through by the Reestablishment. So much of her young life had been taken from her and not just from her but Warner and the other children of the World commanders. It’s very heartbreaking everything that she has been through and everything that continued to be done to her, her sister and friends. I really enjoyed the chapters in Kenji’s POV and was sad when they stop halfway through. MORE KENJI. The ending was sweet but also kinda cruel because for a brief moment they all were in peace that we all know will not last long. So it wasn’t t he best book in the series but it was a good set up to what is to come and reminder of all that is at stack from them.

Quick Review: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

This is an interesting piece of speculative fiction in which humans hibernate in winter. Set in Wales, it follows Charlie Worthing as he joins the Winter Consuls, a group of folks who elect to change their hibernation period so that they can be up during winter to look after the people regularly hibernating. In this world, a company has patented a drug that allows people to hibernate without dreams, which has helped people make it through the hibernation period in greater numbers, which has been great for society. The downside is, a small number of people wake up from hibernation with the drug as nightwalkers, essentially brain dead (and often violent) but sometimes with enough function to be trained to do odd jobs. Charlie has to survive his first winter solving a mystery, facing villains, and avoiding fairy tale WinterVolk.

This was really entertaining. I enjoyed the world that it was set in (and, I’m always here for books set in Wales that implies that all of the community is primarily Welsh speaking). I liked the exploration of what it would be like if humans hibernated. That was really interesting. There were a few conceits that did not work for me, but in general this book was an excellent escape from reality.

Quick Review: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton

The Everlasting Rose is a good sequel to The Belles.Camille and her fellow Belles are on the run from Sophie, who is now queen. Their world has been turned upside down with new found knowledge about how the Belles are born and many other secrets. In the first book, I found Camille beyond frustrating because she made a lot of naive and well stupid decisions. In this one she is much more clearheaded and ready to fight. She knows the what is at stake is willing to do anything to stop it. She discovers a strength inside that she never knew she had. She still makes the occasional stupid decision that made me want to scream but not as many. That is what we call growth. I’m not sure if this is the last book in the series because it does wrap up pretty nicely but also leaves a few things open for the story to continue. Camille and the Belles are in a better place now then the beginning of the first book but I’ll be interested to see what happens now that certain ideas have been introduced to the story. However, if this is the end then I am satisfied with how it ended and thoroughly enjoyed this series.

Review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

I finished this book a couple of days ago but needed a few days to fully digest it. It was a very good and well written but it is also very uncomfortable. I’ll admit I was drawn in by the cover. It is about sexual violence towards women and doesn’t hold back. In fact the book has a warning of his contents of violence and sexual assaults. Even knowing that it was part of the plot didn’t make it any less upsetting or uncomfortable to read. That being said, it also has a beautiful love story between two equally powerful women and female friendships that is not always depicted in YA. I’m going to put my review under the cut because I want to sensitive to those who are experience trauma and may not want to read. I also there will be spoilers as there is no way to talk about the themes of this book without doing so. Continue reading

Review: On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas knows how to write a story. On the Come Up is the follow-up to her debut novel, The Hate U Give and while it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch it also doesn’t hold back either. Taking place in Garden Heights about a year after the events of The Hate U Give . It’s not a sequel but you really should read The Hate U Give anyway because it is truly powerful. Bri lives in the Garden and has dreams of being a rapper like her late father who was an underground rapper that died just as he was about to make it big. Bri is your typical teen. She’s stressing about ACT prep and teen romance. Like many families in the Garden, hers is struggling. Her mother is a recovering drug addict that is struggling to pay rent and the bills. Things only get worse when she loses her job and Bri will do anything to make it as a rapper because she thinks it the only way to save her family and get out of the Garden. After an incident at school, inspires her latest rap song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, she is caught up in Gang battles and arguments of social justice. In her desperation to make it Bri almost loses who she is. I like that Bri is a flawed heroine because we are all flawed individuals. Bri is hard-headed, stubborn and is not easy to trust. She is also very loyal and will do anything to help her family. When her song goes viral for the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself torn with wanted to make it to save her family and playing a role that is not herself. She’s tired of people assuming that she is a threat because the color of her skin and that she is poor but that might be her ticket to success. Angie Thomas gets every nuance in this novel. Everything is not black and white. We all make decisions based on thousands of life experience. Bri’s desperation to save her family makes her make a lot of mistakes. Some of those you can chalk up to her being so young but others it being vulnerable to others. She is constantly fighting people’s own thoughts of who she is before she even really gets to decide who she is. Throughout it all, Bri is resilient and while we don’t know what her future will take her, she is knows hat she has the support of the family and friends and the strength to get her Come Up.

Review: King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

***Possible Spoilers from this book and the previous Grishaverse novels***

In King of Scars is the perfect mix of the previous two series in the Grishaverse. It has the mystery and court intrigue of Shadow and Bone and the caper mystery of Six of Crows. In a way it’s two different novels. You have King Nikolai who is trying to save Ravka from falling apart while trying to vanquish the monster from within. Left over power from the Darkling. Then you have Nina, who has returned to Ravka’s service by helping to smuggle Grisha from neighboring nation Fjerda. She is also there to bury Matthais. Nina is still dealing with the aftereffects of the Parem addiction and how it has changed her powers. While at the moment these two story lines don’t have a lot in common, you can bet it will all come together in the end. Nikolai is just as charming as he has always been, even with the world seemingly against him. His country is struggling financially and in between two powerful nations. He’s trying to do everything he can to keep them afloat while avoiding another war. To complicate things more, he’s turning into a monster, thanks to the power the Darkling put on him during the last war. Nikolai has always come off as flippant and care free but his love for his country has never been in doubt. More proof of that is the lengths he will go to keep it safe, even from him. A welcome character development is Zoya. The beautiful but hard as nail Grisha from Shadow and Bone. In the past series, she was nothing more then the mean girl who wanted to be the best, the favorite. She did come around to Alina’s sign when the Darkling finally revealed who he was. Here we finally get to know her better and why she is so stand offish. As always there’s more then meets the eye and I found myself liking her, which is something I never really thought I would before. Meanwhile, Nina’s new power takes her mission to horrifying places. They may have destroyed the Fjerdian’s research on Jurda Parem in Six of Crows but apparently that strain wasn’t the only one they were working on. Nina organizes her own heist-like rescue to save more Grisha’s from a truly terrifying fate. I like how Nina is dealing with her grief. I like how she admits that she is not always the noblest of people and has thoughts of lashing out and being rash. It’s real and despite the pain, she hasn’t stopped. She still is out there fighting for the good. There were a lot of twists and turns in this one as you would expect from Leigh Bardugo. It was truly enjoyable and I can’t wait for the next one.

Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

I really did not expect to be so drawn into this book. I knew it was going to be good but I was really touched by Shirin’s story. She is a 16 year-old Muslim girl living in the US 1 year after 9/11. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy for her. It was just easier for her to get through her day to just shut down and not let people in. She tried to convince herself that she didn’t care that people called her names or insulted her or just plain treated her like a walking stereotype. She had seen the worst of humanity after the post 9/11 fear of all things Islam and her wearing a headscarf made her an easy target. She went through the motions at school and break-danced after school with her brother and that was it. That was until she met Ocean James, a boy who seemed interested in actual getting to know her. This terrifies her. She doesn’t know why a guy like him would be interested in a girl like her and knows that while he might be a nice boy the world is not. She tries to push him away to try to protect him but also to protect herself from the world of hurt. The worst thing is that when she finally let him in and things inevitably go bad, she questions whether she is worth all the drama and hatred that is brought his way. That was truly heartbreaking. Over the course of the book, Shirin starts to open up not just to Ocean but to everyone else too. Yes, people are horrible. Even more so when they are afraid but shutting everyone else only shuts you out of opportunities and experiences that you would have missed otherwise. It gives them power over you. I know easier said than done. Ocean is also a good example of well meaning White Allies who try hard but don’t really understand how white privilege works. Ocean, truly doesn’t care that Shirin is Muslim or that she wears a headscarf. If anything, he likes that she is different and unapologetic. Shirin spends most of the book trying to push Ocean away because she knows what a shitstorm it’s going to be when their relationship goes public. He doesn’t believe her and tries to convince her it’s going to be okay. Well, sadly she is right and when racism against her threatens him and his place in school, it’s Shirin who has to make the decision to stay or go. The problem that many of us White allies is that we think we know what’s the best thing to do but fail to listen when our brothers and sisters of colors speak about what they really need from us. Ocean, while in love and well intention thought she was overacting, that he understood his classmates better. What he failed to realize was that he lived a privilege life and people will always accept him no matter what because of who he is. His life may not be perfect but it will always be easier then those in the marginalized communities. It’s a lesson we all need to learn. This is just a beautifully written book and I hope that it’s added to school curriculum for years to come because it has so much to give.

Review: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

I really do love a good mystery, especially when it’s well done. I thought I knew what was going to happen only to find that I was wrong. The clues were there but unless you were paying attention, you completely missed it. Just as many of the characters. Stevie is an amateur sleuth who wants to solve one of the greatest mysteries in American history. The Ellingham Academy was started by an eccentric millionaire. He had a dream to have the brightest kids study at his school and focus on what they want. An educational experiment unlike any other but when his wife and daughter were kidnapped and another student was killed during the first school year, the school became infamous. Despite it’s history, the school still strives and Stevie is determined to solve it’s most famous mystery. The problem is that once she arrives another student is killed and another goes missing. Her conservative parents pull her out of the school for fear it isn’t safe only to be convinced by their employee, Senator Edward King (not so subtlety modeled after Steve King) that the school is safe. Of course, King has his own reasons for Stevie to return. His son, David, is also a student at Ellingham and Stevie and him have a complicated relationship. Stevie doesn’t like making a deal with King but her want to go back overrides her concerns. A bright spot is when the author of the definitive book on the Ellingham case needs a student to help with research on a new edition of the book. Soon Stevie is making breakthrough in the case but at what cost. This is the middle book in the trilogy and they often times feel slow but this one moved at a pretty fast clipped. One of the revelations, I knew it was coming but I wasn’t expecting it to come midpoint of the book, really throwing me off. It was a great misdirection by Johnson, to get us to focus on one direction while the answer was in the other direction. There were answers and part of the original crime was answered but who so many more are still unanswered. Who killed Iris Ellingham and is Alice alive? What happened to David and Hunter and how do they play into the mystery? Were Hayes and Ellie’s death really accidents or did they know something more? I’m really looking forward to the finale next year.