Author: R.F. Kaung

Publisher: Harper Voyager


Synopsis:

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.


But surprises aren’t always good.


Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.


For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .


Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

Review:

“Morally grey characters clash with power-hungry gods in this epic debut.” J.M. Buckler, award-winning author of the Seeker of Time series.

Kaung doesn’t just deliver her readers a handful of morally grey characters, she delivers them a story of epic proportions. Ren, an orphan raised by opium dealers, goes from an externally meek young woman to a badass warrior. No, she didn’t always make the best decisions, and honestly, I’m concerned she’ll go down a destructive path in the next book, but damn, Kaung made me feel her struggles. And let’s not forget about Altan. His internal demons made my stomach churn.

The pacing was fantastic, and the dialogue flowed beautifully. Author Kaung’s writing kept the pages turning. I cared deeply for the characters. I wanted them to succeed and my heart broke when they failed. I loved the balance between action and quiet conversations. On a personal level, one scene rubbed me the wrong way. Eastern culture has taught spiritual students that once they reach a level of enlightenment, negative emotions and desires such as vengeance and attachment dissolved. This was not the case for Ren. It was the opposite. Her 180-degree turn in the book felt out of character. The theme of self-discovery quickly switched to brutal vengeance.

This is NOT a book for the faint-hearted. Kaung pulled graphic, disturbing historical references from The Rape of Nanking. One chapter, in particular, revisits that horrible time period in vivid detail.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading the second book in the series.

Readers: Excellent for those who love a healthy mixture of character/plot-driven books, fast-paced action, morally grey characters, and military strategy.

Writers: Excellent for those who need guidance with pacing, battle scenes, military strategy, dialogue, morbid descriptions, and world-building.

Warnings/Triggers: adult language, self-harm, self-sterilization, graphic imagery, drug abuse, sexual assault/rape. Veterans suffering from PTSD may find certain scenes disturbing.

Grading Scale:

Plot: 4/5

Pacing: 4/5

Escapism Factor: 3/5

Emotional Connection: 3/5

Character Development: 3/5

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Completed Read: 10/11/2020

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Updated: Oct 25, 2020


Author: Shelby Mahurin

Publisher: Harper Teen

Synopsis:

Lou, Reid, Coco, and Ansel are on the run from coven, kingdom, and church—fugitives with nowhere to hide.

To survive, they need allies. Strong ones. But as Lou becomes increasingly desperate to save those she loves, she turns to a darker side of magic that may cost Reid the one thing he can’t bear to lose. Bound to her always, his vows were clear: where Lou goes, he will go; and where she stays, he will stay.

Until death do they part. 

Review:

“A magical journey that missed the mark.” J.M. Buckler, award-winning author of the Seeker of Time Series

I struggled to finish this book. It’s slow pacing, confusing magic system, and lack of character development left me scratching my head, wondering why I kept turning the pages. I waited for something epic to happen, but it never did. Most of the novel explored Lou and Reid’s developing relationship. Mahurin failed to deliver an engaging plot. Side characters, such as Coco and Ansel, fell flat. I’m not sure why this happened. I loved these characters in the first book but lost interest in them while reading Blood & Honey. I tired of Reid’s moping and Lou’s internal struggle. I wanted to see more of Coco and Lou’s friendship. The author solidified this in book one but dissolved it in book two.

The magic system confused the hell out of me. Magic must follow rules. The system Mahurin created kept changing. Some witches’ magic followed certain rules, while others wrote their own script.

I enjoyed Lou’s snarky attitude and the banter between her and Reid. I just wanted more. More action, more tension, more altercations. Each time a character ran into a problem, they escaped or survived too easily. I became detached from the outcome of the story about halfway through.

Book two leaves the reader on another cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to pique my interest.


Readers: Those looking for an easy YA read about witches and unique magic systems will enjoy this book.

Writers: Helpful for those studying romantic relationships and internal struggle. Relationship drama, banter, and visual descriptions are strong suits of author Mahurin.

Warnings/Triggers: some adult language and adult content

Grading Scale:

Plot: 3/5

Pacing: 3/5

Escapism Factor: 3/5

Emotional Connection: 2/5

Character Development: 2/5

Star Rating:⭐️⭐️⭐️

Completed Read: 10/02/2020

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Updated: Mar 3, 2021



Author: Kelly McWilliams

Publisher: Little Brown

Synopsis:

Agnes loves her home of Red Creek -- its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her younger siblings and follows the town's strict laws. What she doesn't know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet.

Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn't a sin. Her younger brother, Ezekiel, will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, even though medicine is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister, Beth, a sinner for dreaming of the world beyond Red Creek?

As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with Ezekiel and leave everyone else, including Beth, behind. But it isn't safe Outside, either: A viral pandemic is burning through the population at a terrifying rate. As Agnes ventures forth, a mysterious connection grows between her and the Virus. But in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, will Agnes be able to choose between saving her family and saving the world?

Review:

“An unforgettable story of courage and self-discovery.” J.M. Buckler, award-winning author of the Seeker of Time series


I went into this book with zero expectations and left entranced by McWilliams exquisite writing. The story is told in third person and switches between the sisters' POV, which adds depth to the intricately woven plot. The story continuously moves forward and keeps the reader guessing. There were scenes that left my heart pounding, and others that left it broken.

McWilliams’s characters left a lasting impression. At times, I wanted to yell at Beth or give Agnes a hug. The side characters added to the emotional connection I felt to the duo while reading. The dialogue and pacing flowed effortlessly. I appreciate books with meaningful takeaways, and this one had plenty of life lessons. If you are looking for a standalone novel with a strong female lead who’s willing to risk everything for her family, then check out Agnes at The End of the World.

Readers: Excellent for readers who love standalone stories of survival, powerful female leads, heart-racing scenes, and creepy imagery.

Writers: Excellent for writers who are looking to elevate their craft. Pacing, a variety of sentence structures, believable dialogue, and escapism factor are strong suits of author McWilliams.

Warnings/Triggers: minor adult language, disturbing imagery, heavy religious references

Grading Scale:

Plot: 5/5

Pacing: 5/5

Escapism Factor: 4/5

Emotional Connection: 5/5

Character Development: 5/5

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Completed read: 09/18/2020

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