Tag Archives: secrets

Review: Of Jade and Dragons by Amber Chen

Of Jade and Dragons by Amber Chen

Of Jade and Dragons (Fall of the Dragons #1)
Amber Chen
Viking Books for Young Readers
Published June 18, 2024

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About Of Jade and Dragons

Eighteen-year-old Aihui Ying dreams of becoming a brilliant engineer just like her beloved father – but her life is torn apart when she arrives a moment too late to stop his murder, and worse, lets the killer slip out of reach. Left with only a journal containing his greatest engineering secrets and a jade pendant snatched from the assassin, Ying vows to take revenge into her own hands.

Disguised as her brother, Ying heads to the capital city, and discovers that the answer to finding who killed her father lies behind the walls of the prestigious Engineers Guild – the home of a past her father never wanted to talk about. With the help of an unlikely ally – Aogiya Ye-yang, a taciturn (but very handsome) young prince – Ying must navigate a world fraught with rules, challenges and politics she can barely grasp, let alone understand.

But to survive, she must fight to stay one step ahead of everyone. And when faced with the choice between doing what’s right and what’s necessary, Ying will have to decide if her revenge is truly worthwhile, if it means going against everything her father stood for . . .

My Review

This book definitely has some Mulan vibes. It reminded me a bit of Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, especially in the first quarter. (Girl goes to a big city and attempts to enter an elite, male-only guild.) I liked the relationships Ying cultivates with the other guild hopefuls, especially a younger one who becomes a close ally. (I hope book two includes this character.)

When I first saw this book, for some reason, I thought it was a middle grade book. It’s not. It’s clearly intended for a young adult audience. Sometimes, the writing and the way the characters related to one another felt more in line with a middle grade story. That isn’t to say anything is wrong with the writing or character relationships. It’s possible I felt that way because I had the other age group stuck in my head already.

There is a romantic subplot in the story, too. I love that the author doesn’t follow every expectation readers might have with a romance story. Ying is a strong character and has a deep commitment to her mission. She doesn’t want anything to distract her from finding out who had her father killed. She wants entry into the engineers’ guild to finish his work.

I love that this book includes so much about engineering as a field of study. A lot of the lessons and tests shown in the story involve defensive or offensive vehicles and weaponry, but some characters mention other kinds of engineering. I would have enjoyed seeing more of a spectrum of engineering projects, but I can see why those focuses would fit better in the story because of the push toward war.

On the whole, I enjoyed this one. It looks like the start of a series, so I’m curious to see where the story goes from here.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Characters are Chinese-coded.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Characters pray to and mention Abka Han, the god of the skies and guardian of Ying’s homeland. When a good or bad thing happens, it’s taken as an omen from Abka Han.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Characters face assassins and armed enemies in several scenes. References to and reports of warfare. In one scene, an assailant stabs an unarmed man after ransacking a room.

Drug Content
Characters drink alcohol at social events.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor

Hotel Magnifique
Emily J. Taylor
Razorbill
Published April 22, 2022

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About Hotel Magnifique

For fans of Caraval and The Night Circus, this decadent and darkly enchanting YA fantasy, set against the backdrop of a Belle Époque-inspired hotel, follows seventeen-year-old Jani as she uncovers the deeply disturbing secrets of the legendary Hotel Magnifique.

All her life, Jani has dreamed of Elsewhere. Just barely scraping by with her job at a tannery, she’s resigned to a dreary life in the port town of Durc, caring for her younger sister Zosa. That is, until the Hotel Magnifique comes to town.

The hotel is legendary not only for its whimsical enchantments, but also for its ability to travel—appearing in a different destination every morning. While Jani and Zosa can’t afford the exorbitant costs of a guest’s stay, they can interview to join the staff, and are soon whisked away on the greatest adventure of their lives. But once inside, Jani quickly discovers their contracts are unbreakable and that beneath the marvelous glamour, the hotel is hiding dangerous secrets.

With the vexingly handsome doorman Bel as her only ally, Jani embarks on a mission to unravel the mystery of the magic at the heart of the hotel and free Zosa—and the other staff—from the cruelty of the ruthless maître d’hôtel. To succeed, she’ll have to risk everything she loves, but failure would mean a fate far worse than never returning home.

My Review

This is another book that’s been on my TBR because of the buzz I heard about it when it came out. The premise reminded me a lot of THE SPLENDOR by Breanna Shields, which I really liked, so I think it took me a while to try this one because I worried they would be too similar.

There are definitely some similarities. A magical hotel. Romance. Sisters whose relationship can only be restored by uncovering the secrets within the hotel.

But there are a lot of differences, too. The magic system is very different, and it has a huge impact on the story. In THE SPLENDOR, Juliette solves the mystery solo, hoping it will reunite her with her sister. In HOTEL MAGNIFIQUE, Jani pursues the hotel’s secrets in order to free herself and her sister. They work together to find a way out. I think Juliette is also the younger sister, whereas Jani is the older one, if I’m remembering right.

Reading the book, I definitely see the comparison to CARAVAL, too. It’s got the same capricious magical fair feel to it, where magic is both amazing and dangerous. I really liked the way the magic system was used in HOTEL MAGNIFIQUE.

I’m a huge fan of sister books, and I loved the relationship between Jani and Zosa in this one, too. Jani’s protectiveness, Zosa’s mischievousness, and the lessons they both learn that ultimately draw them closer together were some of my favorite moments in the book.

There’s also a romance subplot that I enjoyed. I didn’t see it coming right away, but as they got to know each other, I found it very easy to root for Jani and her romantic interest to get together.

On the whole, I feel like this one lived up to the hype. I loved the rich, magical setting. I appreciated the way the author described the skin tone of every character and included diverse representations of gender, relationships, and race.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Jani is described as having an olive skin tone. Bel is described as having a copper skin tone. The author describes the skin tone of each character. Same-gender couples appear in the background of several scenes.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have the ability to use magic.

Violent Content
Magic can be unpredictable and harm others if not carefully managed. Some scenes show brief but graphic torture. In one, Jani witnesses someone gouging out a woman’s eye. In another, someone slams a toothed door on a girl’s fingers, severing them. Someone uses magic to kill an opponent in a couple of scenes.

Drug Content
Guests drink alcohol. Jani sips a drink she later learns had a truth serum in it.

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Review: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken

Brightly Woven
Alexandra Bracken
Adapted by Leigh Dragoon
Illustrated by Kit Seaton
Disney Hyperion
Published February 2, 2021

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About Brightly Woven

A graphic novel about discovering your own power.

Extraordinary things just don’t happen to fourteen-year-old Sydelle Mirabil, a talented weaver who dreams about life outside of her tiny village. But that all changes when a mysterious young wizard named Wayland North appears and asks for Sydelle’s help. He’s got a shocking secret that could stop a war between kingdoms-if he can reach the capital with the news in time. North needs a navigator who can mend his magical cloaks, and Sydelle is perfect for the job.

As Sydelle and North race against the clock to deliver their message, they must contend with unusually wild weather and a dark wizard who will do anything to stop them. But the sudden earthquakes and freak snowstorms may not be a coincidence. As Sydelle discovers more about North’s past and her own strange abilities, she realizes that the fate of the kingdom may rest in her fingertips.

My Review

I stumbled into this book as I was looking for middle grade fantasy graphic novels for my niece. This past year, I read HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE for the first time and loved it, so the comparison of this book to that one also had me intrigued. I guess I see why the comparison was made if it’s because a wizard and a girl who doesn’t recognize her own power travel around and get caught in some political intrigue.

It didn’t take me long to read the novel, and I especially enjoyed the illustrations. I liked the way the relationship between North and Sydelle developed. It’s a sweet friendship with hints at their attraction toward one another.

This graphic novel covers the first part of Alexandra Bracken’s debut novel of the same title, which I have not read. It doesn’t look like there will be follow-up books to this one, which is sad since I’d have liked to read more.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 9 to 12.

Representation
Major characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
North is a wizard. His family has been cursed.

Violent Content
Situations of peril and (cartoonish) battle scenes.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog.

Review: The Dark Fable by Katherine Harbour

The Dark Fable
Katherine Harbour
Bloomsbury
Published January 30, 2024

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About The Dark Fable

Magical heists. Deadly secrets. Come along for the ride . . . if you dare. This heart-stopping, seductive fantasy is perfect for fans of Six of Crows.

Evie Wilder is an orphan who has gone through most of her life unnoticed . . . until she’s caught up in a dramatic heist and captures the attention of the Dark Fable. They have chosen her for a she can turn invisible. This skill would make Evie a treasured asset to the legendary group of thieves known for spiriting away obscure and occult artifacts.

Evie cannot resist their allure and is eager to join this newfound family. But she discovers there are more skeletons in the Dark Fable’s past than she could have ever imagined. And these secrets might be the answer to her own tragic past.

No one is who they seem to be and the price of uncovering the Dark Fable’s cryptic history just might be fatal . . .

My Review

I’m starting to realize that I have a real interest in low fantasy, or stories set in the “real world” with additional fantasy elements, in this case, special abilities. THE DARK FABLE is kind of a single point-of-view SIX OF CROWS but set in Los Angeles? There’s a close-knit team led by a dangerous guy who definitely holds back information and has ulterior plans/motives, committing heists of expensive artwork and artifacts. So there’s a similar vibe. The main character is new to the crew, and she’s got her own past trauma, ulterior motives, and cards she keeps close to the vest.

All of that setup really had me interested in this book. I liked some of the characters a lot more than others. Mad, short for Madrigal, was probably my favorite. She winds up being the main character’s closest ally. I liked their friendship and how she looked out for Evie.

I struggled with two things about the book, and unfortunately, they’re both spoilers. I’ll put them below in a spoiler section for anyone who doesn’t want to see them. One element is kind of a trope that just isn’t one I prefer in stories, so that’s very much a personal preference, and I think unless you have tropes you feel very strongly about avoiding that have to do with when information is revealed, this probably wouldn’t bother you.

The other thing was also just weird to me. The characters keep asking themselves and others this question throughout the entire book. It feels like a deeply important question because of the way they consistently come back to it, like how they feel about themselves and what they’re doing hinges on the answer to this question. I didn’t feel like the question was answered satisfactorily, which made it harder for me to really enjoy the last bit of the book because I kept thinking, wait, what?

Conclusion

I liked the blend of Los Angeles and magic elements. I liked the characters. The plot went in some directions that didn’t always work for me, but I think those amount to personal preferences. I think if you enjoyed FOUL LADY FORTUNE by Chloe Gong or GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi, then check this one out.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Major characters are white, I think. One heist team member is Black, and another is Indigenous. One is bisexual.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
The main character has a guide she pictures in her mind. She also has the ability to disappear. Her allies have other abilities, too.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Battles between heist teams or mercenaries and heist team members. Evie remembers events surrounding her parents’ murders. Other characters have been murdered or died by suicide– sometimes the truth is unclear.

Drug Content
Characters drink alcohol. One character creates poisons and other solutions that cause adverse effects on enemies, from stunning them to killing them.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE DARK FABLE in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Spoilers for The Dark Fable

Read on if you want spoilers on the two things that I struggled with about this book. Select the text below to see it.

The characters in the heist team keep asking themselves, “What are we?” They each acquired a supernatural ability during a traumatic experience. Is this an evolutionary advance? Do they have magic? Did this come from somewhere? They are really interested in figuring this out. Late in the book, like maybe 80 percent through, Evie asks her mentor this question point-blank. Her mentor responds like, “you haven’t figured it out yet? You’re possessed by demons.”

She’s like, it’s no big deal. You’ve got magic power, so enjoy it? Understandably, the team has a hard time processing this, but they come to accept it pretty quickly. I don’t know. I thought it was really weird. Like, definitely the kind of thing that I would have wanted to know earlier in the book so everyone had more time to explore what it meant and how they felt about it. Plus, demons? Really?

The other thing I had a hard time with is more in the vein of a trope. I’ve seen this in other books, but I had a hard time with it then, too. The main character has a whole set of ulterior motives and plans that the reader isn’t privy to until late in the story. It can make for a shocking reveal; it just feels disingenuous to me to have a character in a close first-person point of view hiding THAT much for THAT long. It’s a me thing. If I didn’t mind that, I would have enjoyed the book a lot more than I did.

Review: The Librarian’s Ruse by Thirzah

The Librarian’s Ruse
Thirzah
The Pearl
Published July 30, 2023

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About The Librarian’s Ruse

Amelia’s peaceful life as a librarian is cut short when she and her older brother Leon are sent on an errand to Eldnaire, the capital city of the vicious Vilnarian Empire. After witnessing a crime carried out in the woods, Amelia and Leon enter the capital only to be faced with an impossible choice: tell the truth and risk imprisonment, or lie and face far worse if they’re caught.

One deception leads to a dozen more, and before she can put an end to the lies, she and Leon are swept up into Vilnaria’s high society. Amelia finds an unlikely ally in Vilnaria’s handsome new ruler, Emperor Kyvir. But as the secrets and scandals continue to pile up and danger closes in on all sides, Amelia must decide once and for all what matters: the truth…or her life?

My Review

Apart from the gorgeous cover, I think my favorite thing about this book is the fact that it centers around a relationship between a brother and sister. I really don’t see that often enough in young adult fiction, and this book absolutely made me wish for more of it. I liked the banter between Amelia and her brother and the way they approached situations completely differently.

While I really appreciated how short this book is– it’s about 130 pages– I found myself wishing for a touch more world-building here and there. I felt like I had to fill in a lot of blanks as a reader, which mostly worked okay, since I’ve read a lot of fantasy. It did make the story feel a little more generic, though, when based on the other elements, I think it could have been really unique.

On the whole, though, I enjoyed the relationships between the characters. I also appreciated that the book’s protagonist is a librarian. That is always fun!

If you’re looking for a quick fantasy read, especially one that centers on sibling relationships, check out THE LIBRARIAN’S RUSE.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Though there aren’t a lot of character descriptions listed, the story references several different cultures and the path toward rebuilding trust between them.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
References to thieves and people having been murdered. Amelia fears imprisonment or execution when she and her brother impersonate someone.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE LIBRARIAN’S RUSE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Ruptured by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz

Ruptured
Joanne Rossmassler Fritz
Holiday House
Published November 14, 2023

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About Ruptured

The sensitive, suspenseful story of a family coping with a life-changing tragedy, told in stunning verse.

Is it wrong to grieve for someone who is still alive?

Claire’s mom and dad don’t talk to each other much anymore. And they definitely don’t laugh or dance the way they used to. Their tense, stilted stand offs leave thirteen-year-old Claire, an only child, caught in the middle. So when the family takes their annual summer vacation, Claire sticks her nose in a book and hopes for the best. Maybe the sunshine and ocean breeze will fix what’s gone wrong.

But while the family is away, Claire’s mother has a ruptured brain aneurysm–right after she reveals a huge secret to Claire. Though she survives the rupture, it seems like she is an entirely different person. Claire has no idea if her mom meant what she said, or if she even remembers saying it. With the weight of her mom’s confession on her shoulders, Claire must navigate fear, grief, and prospects for recovery.

Will her mom ever be the same? Will her parents stay together? And if the answer to either question is yes, how will Claire learn to live with what she knows? This beautifully written novel speaks to kids’ fears and credits their strength, and stems from the author’s incredible experience surviving two ruptured aneurysms.

My Review

I devoured this entire novel in one sitting. Claire’s frustration with her parents, the pressure she feels at her mother’s secret, it all felt so real and raw. Then, after her mother had the brain aneurysm rupture, Claire’s fear and grief were palpable. I’ve never been through something like what she went through with a parent, but the author brought me with her through that experience.

Another thing that I really liked was the way that Claire built a community of support for herself and her family. It isn’t something she does intentionally, but she does make choices that help her to create those connections. From making friends with a boy at the hospital to joining a support group and attending counseling at school to leaning into her relationship with her aunt, Claire finds ways to connect with others.

I love that there are books about these experiences not only for kids who will go through them or have been through them, but also for kids who haven’t. Reading about a child whose parent has a brain aneurysm rupture and recovers can help someone respond with more compassion and understanding if someone they know has a loved one going through this.

I think this is actually the second book about a brain aneurysm rupture that I’ve ever read. In Cammie McGovern’s JUST MY LUCK, which is also wonderful, I think the dad has a rupture and a long recovery that impacts the family.

I loved Rossmassler Fritz’s debut novel in verse, and this one must be shelved right beside it. What an emotional journey! Whew. And bravo to a fabulous writer for finding the courage to share such a personal story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Claire’s family is white. She befriends a Black boy whose mom has also had a brain aneurysm rupture. Claire’s best friend is Latine.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
People mention praying for Claire’s mom and her family.

Violent Content
Claire’s mom collapses after experiencing terrible head pain. Claire calls 911 and waits at a hospital to hear whether her mom will survive.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything but help support this blog. I received a free copy of RUPTURED in exchange for my honest review.