Wilder Girls by Rory Power

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Wilder Girls by Rory Power is a dystopian sci-fi for young adults. I read an excerpt on Bookish First and was so grateful that I had an ARC from NetGalley and Delacorte Press/Random House so I could finish reading the book immediately! The opening frightened and piqued my curiosity. I also felt sorry for the Tox survivors because civilization deserted them, except for limited, intermittent supply drops from the Navy. Told in alternating points of view between friends, Hetty and Byatt. (I cannot seem to get out of my mind, the fact that if the first letters of both names are exchanged, the names would be Betty and Hyatt);) Hetty starts the story and continues until Byatt suffers a Tox episode and is taken away. Hetty searches for her, can’t find her and overhears one of the leaders on the radio talking about an exchange. Then it’s Byatt’s turn to tell the story. She wakes up in a strange place and she struggles to talk. Soon, she’s surrounded by people in surgical clothing and is forced to take a bitter tasting pill. Byatt has a few more experiences to share but the majority of the story is told through Hetty’s perspective. Strange and frightening discoveries are made and the story ends with a wide opening for more to come. I do enjoy science fiction when it’s in dystopian form and the ending left me wondering what’s next! 4 stars!

Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian

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Strong, dynamic characters make a wonderful fantasy!
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian!
Theo is on Smoke, Dragonbane’s ship, with her Shadows and Soren. They are all working towards gathering allies to get her palace and reign back. Dynamic, strong characters plus the world building make Lady Smoke interesting to read and the uncertainty of Theo’s future drew me into the story even more. The characters’ backgrounds are intense and built fascinating characters that keep growing and stay steadfast by Theo’s side. Amazing strength and loyalty create unparalleled love for the kingdom they are all trying to get back. As the story carries on, more atrocities are brought to light and make the group even more determined! I don’t want to spoil anything but I’m thoroughly enjoying this series and anxiously awaiting the third book! 5 stars for great world building and strong, dynamic characters!

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

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Dynamic Fantasy!

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian.
A six-year-old Theodosia watches her mother as her life is taken from her. Her mother tells Theodosia that she’s the only hope for their people. The story jumps ahead ten years. Theodosia is a prisoner in the palace with the man who killed her mother, the Kaiser’s second in command- the Theyn. The Kaiser and the Theyn keep her with their own children in the palace, except she receives frequent whippings to remind her of their cruelty and her kingdom’s weakness. The Kaiser also gave her new names, Thora and Ash Princess. The Kaiser summons her to kill a rebel. This man used to be her guardian and he’s also her father. He pleads with her as his queen. He tells her to remember her rightful place as a princess and now a queen. He also tells her to kill him and she fulfills his request knowing that the guards will drag out his death but she will make it quick. The Prinze escorts her to her room and she vomits because of the trauma she’s just been through. Her maid helps her get undressed and puts ointment on her whip marks. Hoa, the maid, can’t speak because her mouth has been sewn shut. The stitches are cut every few days to allow Hoa to eat, then her mouth is sewn back up! There are no words to describe how horrible and deplorable that is. Thora is bolstering herself up to do what both her mother and father asked of her, to be their queen and she knows it’s up to her now because there’s no one left to rescue her. She discovers that a childhood friend is in the palace, Blaise, and he gives her hope once again. Blaise and two other rebels take the place of Thora’s private guards and together they plot the death of the Kaiser, the Prinz, the Theyn and his daughter. Pressure and learning more about the violent crimes towards her people make Thora determined to be the queen she was meant to be. 5 stars for this dynamic fantasy full of strong, interesting characters!

And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Tumultuous historical fiction!
And I Darken by Kiersten White, book one of the Conqueror’s Saga tells the story of Lada (a female version of Vlad the Impaler) and her brother Radu, as well as Mehmed, who will become a great Conqueror. Lada was born with an intense and strong personality; this is the only way to catch the attention of her father. The only time she’s kind or shows weakness is in helping her younger brother. Their father wakes them before dawn and takes them to a different ruler’s home for protection, but he ends up leaving his children to receive an education. This education consists of cruelty along with their lessons. As Lada and her brother Radu grow, they each find their particular talents and tend to go their separate ways. Lada is outspoken, boisterous and skillful in fighting and Radu is quiet and personable and enjoys religion. I learned more about Islam because of this book and my appreciation of Islamic beliefs grew. The author used the historical information that she could find on two great leaders- Vlad the Impaler and Mehmed the Conqueror- to create this interesting series of intrigue, action and danger. I love when authors explain their process of creating their books and share the research they discovered. Kiersten White lists historical books of information on her subjects and also tells readers why she chose to make Vlad the Impaler a female character- Lada. Lada adds depth, drama, love, loyalty and intensity to the story. And I Darken is the beginning of the turmoil of The Conqueror’s Saga, 4 stars!

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris

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Wonderfully informative and humorous guide to Meditation.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren. I chuckled at the Table of Contents and how accurate the section and chapter titles were when applied to human nature. Some of the headings are “I Don’t Have Time for This”, “If I Get Too Happy, I’ll Lose My Edge” and “People Might Think I’m Weird”. So great and opens up the path for humor in its pages. I was excited to discover the app that accompanies the instructional meditation given in this book. The commentary is full of humor and deals with thoughts that swirl through our minds as we try to relax and meditate. Short and easily doable meditations are introduced along with helpful, concise cheat sheets. I love the “RAIN”, “Walking Through Sound” and “Ten Good Breaths”! This quote captures the true essence of this practical and useful book, “Meditation is basically the end of boredom.” I was surprised and disturbed by the results of the study “Pandora’s Box” where people were left alone in a room with no stimulus, except a button that produced an electric shock. Many of the participants chose to give themselves electric shocks because of their discomfort of being quietly alone. Wonderfully informative instructional guide on meditation for anyone who wants to try but is skeptical of meditating, 5 stars!

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. Arram, young and gifted beyond his age, attends Mage Academy with older students. He doesn’t have friends but that soon changes when he causes chaos with magic and has a conference with the Academy masters. They deem him gifted and place him with other students similar to him. Academy life becomes much more enjoyable and entertaining after the new placement. Arram, Varice and Zorne become great friends and when Arram is bullied because of his young age, his two new friends help him cope and discover how much fun their time at the academy can be. Varice is smart, fun and a very good kitchen witch while Zorne is seventh in line to the throne of the current prince. The three friends each have different gifts which grow in strength the longer they attend classes. The main focus of the story is on Arram, his powers, education and relationships but we do get a glimpse of the inner workings of the lives of Varice and Zorne. Arram has to learn to build the stomach for being around horribly injured people and his strength as a healer. Varice deals with being looked down on because she’s female and a lowly kitchen witch. Zorne is continuing to move up higher on the list of heirs to the throne, and is worried about his unhealthy mother and how to deal with his protective guards. The story is strong and the world building is a mix of renaissance and ancient Greece. I thought the whole approach to Arram’s puberty was odd and I understand that it will potentially help male preteens with their own changes. I did enjoy the Tempests and Slaughter. 5 stars for this fantasy and its underlying mystery!

The Dragon’s Price by Bethany Wiggins

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Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
Thanks to NetGalley and Crown Books for the opportunity to read and review The Dragon’s Price by Bethany Wiggins! Sorrowlynn, Sorrow for short, is destined to die by her own hand and is awaiting the choice of a forced marriage or becoming a sacrifice for the fire dragon. Sorrowlynn meets the royalty of Andhar and is angered that she has to marry an heir from their kingdom. The young Prince Golmarr follows Sorrow when she’s lowered into the dragon’s cave to become the sacrifice because he wants to help her survive. Sorrow has been raised by an abusive father, her king, who whipped her violently and now she has white, puffy scars all over her legs. One of the reasons she was whipped was when Sorrow called the queen “mother”, even though the queen is Sorrow’s mother. She has felt completely alone and unloved her entire life except for the woman who helped take care of her. Golmarr and Sorrow live through and save each other from life threatening adventures while their relationship grows. Fantasy is my all-time favorite genre and The Dragon’s Price hit the spot! The first book in the Transference series had me diving into a world with dragons and princesses, loyalty and danger, love and kingdoms. I anxiously await the sequel! 5 stars! I appreciate the acknowledgements at the end of the book because Bethany Wiggins’ struggles with being backed by a publisher will give encouragement to aspiring authors everywhere.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review.
Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Marina dies after giving birth to Vasya, who is supposed to be special and mysterious in the same way Marina’s mother was. Years later, when Vasya is a young girl, she wanders into the forest and gets lost. She meets two strangers. The first one is told to sleep by the second man. Vasya bolts and is found by her brother, Sasha. Vasya’s father decides to find a new wife so Vasya can have a mother to raise her. Pyotr returns from Moscow with his new wife, Anna. Anna sees strangers just as Vasya does, but she treats Vasya cruelly even though they have this in common. Vasya’s nurse, Dunya, loves Vasya unconditionally. When Dunya dies, Vasya asks for the help of her brother Alyosha. Alyosha truly believes Vasya and helps her to rid the village of evil. After Vasya was threatened with being sent to a convent, Anna bargains with her. If Vasya will venture into the frozen woods and gather snowdrop flowers for Anna’s daughter, Irina, then Anna will let Vasya stay home. While Vasya is in the woods, she’s saved and taken by the stranger, Morozko the Frost Demon, on the white horse. Set in the Russian wilderness and based on Russian history and folklore, this debut novel is beautifully written and imagined. I give it 5 stars because this is the perfect book to read in the middle of a snowy winter.