The Hunger Games, Revisited, Review

The Hunger Games, Revisited, Review

By Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Print Length: 374 pages

Release Year: 2008

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.33

Available on Amazon and B&N and be sure to check your local library/Libby

WINNING MEANS FAME AND FORTUNE.

LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH.

THE HUNGER GAMES HAVE BEGUN. . . .

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and once girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weight survival against humanity and life against love. (Goodreads)

In a post-civil war United States now called Panem, a battle royale is held among 24 children between the ages of 12-18, chosen in pairs at random from twelve districts. The titular Hunger Games is used as a form of propaganda to remind the citizens of Panem what would happen if they revolt against the countries capital. When a young woman named Katniss finds herself in the arena she is forced to make some hard decisions in order to survive.

When I first read the Hunger Games I was starting middle school and preteen me loved it! Me now– who is not only an adult but a writer– found the book mediocre at best. My primary complaint, which seems to be common, is regarding the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. While rereading the book I found it hard to understand her and her overall personality. It seems as though her personality changes for the convenience of the plot. Though acting differently was crucial for her survival, her mental commentary was inconsistent in its representation of her true personality. She seems to constantly change her mind for the sole purpose of progressing the plot when it starts to fall a little short. Additionally, the use of dues ex machina was often obvious, and could leave the reader thinking: Well that was convenient. 

I have to give the book credit, though, for being a good battle royale. It introduced many to the concept for better or for worse, as well as sparking a mass interest in YA fiction and dystopian settings. Additionally, the world is well developed and even with the relatively minimal introduction, it is easy to understand. Part of this may as well be due to the fact that Panem is a post-civil war United States– this fact may not always be obvious to younger readers. Character-wise, secondary characters were handled very well and were well written as well as consistent. In fact, I can’t help but believe the book would be overall better if it had been written in some interaction of the third person. 

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Always Human Theme Analysis + Fan Art

Always Human Theme Analysis + Fan Art

By Ari North

Publisher: Little Bee Books

Print Length: 256 pages

Release Year: 2020

Genre: Graphic Novel, LGBT, Science Fiction

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.38

Available on Amazon and B&N

In the near-future, people use technology to give the illusion of all kinds of body modifications—but some people have “Egan’s Syndrome,” a highly sensitive immune system that rejects these “mods” and are unable to use them. Those who are affected maintain a “natural” appearance, reliant on cosmetics and hair dye at most to help them play with their looks. 

Sunati is attracted to Austen the first time she sees her and is drawn to what she assumes is Austen’s bravery and confidence to live life unmodded. When Sunati learns the truth, she’s still attracted to Austen and asks her on a date. Gradually, their relationship unfolds as they deal with friends, family, and the emotional conflicts that come with every romance. Together, they will learn and grow in a story that reminds us no matter how technology evolves, we will remain . . . always human.

Rendered in beautiful detail and an extraordinary color palette, Always Human is a sweet love story told in a gentle sci-fi setting by a queer woman cartoonist, Ari North.

Always Human is a fun and light-hearted read, but within it is a plethora of deep themes rarely explored in YA Science Fiction, let alone graphic novels. While reading it is an absolute pleasure, you are absorbing concepts that are for many hard to understand. The author, Ari North, does an exceptional job presenting these themes in a way anyone can understand while not losing the overall tone of the story. I’d like to take some time to look deeper into some of the themes I picked up on while reading Always Human and further discuss their representation and lessons. 

Self-Expression is the theme that truly at the forefront of this series. After all, this story takes place in a future where people use technology to enhance their bodies in various ways, including aesthetically. These modifications are implied as being endless and allow the society represented to be much better suited for a wide variety of self-expression. Always Human is unique in that it includes a wide variety of characters with differing sexualities, race, and gender identity. It’s implied that such differences no longer hold the weight they do in our current society, as it’s much easier for one to alter their physical self to better reflect their feelings and personal views. It’s interesting to see how society would view people in a world where you can truly look however you want, and “other” is commonplace. 

Invisible Illness (disability) is the second most important theme as it closely pertains to the protagonist, Sunati’s, love interest Austen. Austen suffers from the fictional Egan’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that makes her unable to use mods, which in many ways leaves her “disabled” in a world where people use mods to help with things such as memorization and illness prevention. Throughout this volume we see not only how this affects her but how people respond and act towards her. North does an exceptional job illustrating life with an invisible illness and how it can often skew other’s perception of someone, as well as how it can negatively affect the person’s mental health and relationships. It’s refreshing to read such an honest representation that manages to stay away from some potentially harmful tropes that often follow characters with a disability. We view Austen’s struggle in a very honest way from both her perspective and Sunati’s which provides a lot of room for learning to the readers. 

Communication is the key to a healthy relationship and is explored at length in this graphic novel. Whether through mistakes and triumph, North presents a realistic representation of communication that is mostly healthy but definitely not perfect. There are things to be learned from the conversations that go well and, of course, lessons to be learned from the ones that don’t. Both are in this book and so well written. 

Humanity in the technological era is a theme often explored in science fiction, and North definitely takes a more literal approach to this one. We are given a society that is very different from ours in a way that could be seen for the better. The amount of self-expression allotted to individuals in this world has opened up peoples mind to many things otherwise considered “other.” At the same time, this leaves some people at a great disadvantage (those with Egan’s syndrome). The way disease is handled is different, and the human body becomes, in a way less organic. The book explores what it means to be human is an area of endless possibility. 

In addition to my analysis, I was to create fan-art for this comic which was an absolute pleasure. This series is truly worth the read and the publication of it is also for a good cause. I highly recommend looking into it and buying a copy of your own. 

Special thanks to Hear Our Voices book tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

The Rise of Kyoshi Review

The Rise of Kyoshi Review

By F.C. Yee, Michael Dante DiMartino

Publisher: Amulet Books

Print Length: 442 pages

Release Year: 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.49

Available on Amazon, B&N, and check your local library/Libby

F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. The first of two novels based on Kyoshi, The Rise of Kyoshi maps her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice who is still feared and admired centuries after she became the Avatar. (Goodreads)

If you haven’t heard of this book, or only have recently, don’t worry. I don’t blame you. Personally I found this book late 2019 while browsing the Young Adult section of Barnes and Noble. At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes, then I was kicking myself– ashamed to not have known of its existence. I bought the book then and there, knowing it was a must-have for my collection. 

I’ve read this book twice now and was even at my local B&N bright and early for the recent release of the sequel The Shadow of Kyoshi. I thoroughly enjoyed this book both times I read it and definitely see myself reading it many more times (much like the way I rewatch Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.) With every read, I notice more and more details that add to this vibrant world and its lore. I find myself falling deeper in love with a series that already has a permanent place in my heart. 

The Rise of Kyoshi is a must-read for fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender as it more closely examines the fan favourite past life of Aang. As mentioned above, it only adds to the rich lore of this world, expanding on its histories and people. It includes themes not thoroughly explored in previous instalments in the franchise and in many ways is more accessible than the comics (which, if possible, I recommend looking into as well.)

The only downside to this book lies in the action. At times it seems a bit slow and the fighting described is difficult to understand and subsequently follow. When it comes to the descriptions of bending, I find myself being lax on the author. As a writer myself, I can’t help but imagine how difficult it must have been to describe something so well-suited for more visual formats. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I can’t recommend it enough. Like, really, go get this book because you don’t know what you’re missing out on. 

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Girls of Paper and Fire Review

Girls of Paper and Fire Review

By Natasha Ngan

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books

Print Length: 385

Release Year: 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 3.82

Available on Amazon, B&N, or you local library/ Libby

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge. (Goodreads)

This review was originally published on my personal blog (crystinaluna.com)

It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, and though my memory of it is beginning to fade I still remember it fondly. It was the first book I had read in a while that I really enjoyed, and was one of the first fantasy books I’ve enjoyed in a few years. I’ve never really been a huge fan of fantasy (until recently), but yet this book had me utterly enthralled in the world. So much so, there were times it overwhelmed me and I was forced to set the book down for a short time. 

There are many great things about the book, but what made it stand out to me (other than the LGBT representation) was the exceptional world-building. I found the caste system in this book particularly interesting, with its heavy ties to species dictating the hierarchy. An allegory for race, that was inclusive and relatable to all readers. The real surprise was how well-developed and easy to understand it was upon first reading. It was easy to catch on the customs of this society without the book becoming lengthy to the point of absurdity. YA has a reputation for underdeveloped world building, the focus often put on the characters and the situation. While this book is very character heavy, it does a very good job of creating a realistic and understandable world. Not so fantastic that it’s unimaginable, but fantastic enough to allow the reader to escape the clutches of reality. The only downside is, especially at the beginning, the story seemed very info-dumpy. After reading the first few chapters I found my brain a little tired from absorbing so much. Regardless, I enjoyed the world.

The true downside of the story, for me, was the characters. They were not bad, in the sense that I enjoyed reading about them, but they were not the best. The protagonist particularly often came off as inconsistent. She constantly went back and forth between being empowering and annoying in her indecisiveness. To be entirely honest, I found her love interest far more interesting, with a backstory more prone to action and with a certain amount of finality in her decisions and fate. Lei, the protagonist, on the other hand, lacked this. And though I understand why the author chose to focus the story on her, I struggled to relate to her constantly going back and forth between deciding to try to live happily and rebel. It is not an easy decision, I understand, but her belief that she had no hope of escaping her reality made her indecisiveness all the more annoying.

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A Court of Mist and Fury Review

A Court of Mist and Fury Review

By Sarah J. Maas

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Print Length: 626 pages

Release Year: 2016

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Romance

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.64

Available on Amazon, B&N and check your local library/Libby

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights. (Goodreads)

Okay, I’m going to be completely honest… I’m total Maas trash. I’m absolutely in love with the A Court of Thorns and Roses series and will accept any opinions that follow. This is a series I can read over and over again. 

A Court of Mist and Fury marks A Court of Thorns and Roses official departure from the retelling-realm as it pushes the series in its own unique direction. Now our protagonist is a resident of the fairy realms and we follow her as she becomes a more reliable narrator as she becomes more knowledgeable of the world around her. We watch a sort of coming-to-self story with relativity relatable internal struggles (of course, no matter how abstract you look at them some of the experiences are not relatable.)

Oh.. and Rhysand. He’s annoyingly perfect, but let’s just be real, he’s so damn loveable. He still manages to make my queer heart swoon. 

You can’t talk about A Court of Mist and Fury without mentioning the covet-worthy friend circle depicted throughout. Maas does such a good job creating a diverse (albeit racially stagnant) group who are truly complementary to each other. With witty banter, realistic disagreements, and a tight knit found-family the characters are to die for. 
You can already tell that I love this series and at some point, I plan on writing an in-depth analysis of the original trilogy. Until them, I’m going to be (im)patiently waiting for the upcoming A Court of Silver Flames.

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Fangs Review

Fangs Review

By Sarah Andersen

Publisher: Andrew McMeel Publishing

Print Length: 112 pages

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Romance

Release Date September 1, 2020

Available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N

Special thanks to NetGalley and Andrew McMeel Publishing for providing me with an ARC.

Vamp is three hundred years old but in all that time, she has never met her match. This all changes one night in a bar when she meets a charming werewolf. FANGS chronicles the humor, sweetness, and awkwardness of meeting someone perfectly suited to you but also vastly different. (Goodreads)

A cute collection of short comics by Sarah Anderson is bound to be great, and Fangs is no exception. The comics follow the heart-warming and adorable relationship between a vampire and a werewolf and gives us glimpses into their quirky lives as well. The writing is precise and the illustrations are cute. Anderson manages to put a humorous twist on the sub-genre of supernatural romance that is deliciously dark and will make your heart squeal. If you can’t wait for Halloween this book is definitely for you!

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Kind of a Big Deal Review

Kind of a Big Deal Review

By Shannon Hale

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Print Length: 304 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fantasy

Available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N

Special thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan/Roaring Brook Press for providing me with an ARC.

Josie Pie was born to be a star. So she dropped out of high school to pursue her Broadway dreams, but after months of failed auditions, she finds herself broke, beaten-down . . . and nannying in Missoula, Montana. Lonely and directionless, Josie checks out the local bookstore, looking for the ultimate escape.

And escape she does. Literally. She falls into the plots of her books, including a bodice ripper, a dystopian thriller, a YA romance, and more, all filled with swoony co-stars who just make her yearn to repair things with the boyfriend she left behind in NYC.

As her reality begins to unravel, what starts as a welcome break from her lackluster life soon begins to feel like a stifling nightmare—but is it too late for Josie to get back to the real world? (Goodreads)

Kind of A Big Deal is a short entertaining read that plays on the idea of books being a getaway for faraway fantastical worlds. It’s a fun concept that I’m sure every reader has daydreamed about but in a book form. Though, from my point of view, this story probably would have benefitted from being released in another form, such as a television series or film. In the form of a book, the effect of being transported into all these different stories fall short as the author doesn’t do the best job distinguishing the transitions even with the use of chapter breaks. 

Overall, the writing is lacklustre. The style of writing is stagnant throughout the book, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that some of the sections are meant to be from other fictional books. The writing is simple, which is good for a quick read but not much else. 

Honestly, for me, this book is one of those you pick up for a short bit of fun. It’s a way to break up the monotony of ones TBR with a quick and relatively lighthearted contemporary that can be read in one sitting. Will you read it more than once? Likely not. Will you regret reading it? Probably not.

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Ironspark Review

Ironspark Review

By C.M. McGuire

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Print Length: 336 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT

Available for pre-order on Amazon and B&N

Special thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan/Swoon Reads for providing me with an ARC.

For the past nine years, ever since a bunch of those evil Tinkerbells abducted her mother, cursed her father, and forced her family into hiding, Bryn has devoted herself to learning everything she can about killing the Fae. Now it’s time to put those lessons to use.

Then the Court Fae finally show up, and Bryn realizes she can’t handle this on her own. Thankfully, three friends offer to help: Gwen, a kindhearted water witch; Dom, a new foster kid pulled into her world; and Jasika, a schoolmate with her own grudge against the Fae.

But trust is hard-won, and what little Bryn has gained is put to the test when she uncovers a book of Fae magic that belonged to her mother. With the Fae threat mounting every day, Bryn must choose between faith in her friends and power from a magic that could threaten her very humanity. (Goodreads)

Ironspark is a fun adventure story with action at every turn. It’s a refreshing addition to the fae-centric fantasy sub-genre of YA, with it being heavily inspired by the more traditional fairy lore. It includes some creatures we don’t often read about in modern YA fantasy, primarily due to the fact that they aren’t the ethereal beauties that are unseelie fae nor are they the complete terrors lurking in the deep forest. Additionally the depiction of magic is evidently inspired by real-life practices and the fantastical depiction we often get.  

For romance lovers, this book promises a queer love triangle, and while it delivers the romance often takes the backseat to the action. Which is a bit refreshing in itself as romance tends to overshadow the overarching plot. As a result, though, the romance tends to feel less real, but this book isn’t meant to be a romance; hence in my opinion it’s action focused tendencies are warrented. Additionally, this book includes a rarely represented group, with the character Dom being canonically asexual. The way his asexuality is decribed in the book is probably one of the more realistic versions I’ve ever read and therefore am grateful for. 

The book ends in such a way as to set up a sequel with the potential to have an even more riveting adventure, this time in the fae-lands. I’m interested to see more of this author’s depiction of the fairy world because of their already quite traditional rendition of the fae-folk.

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White Stag Review

White Stag Review

By Kara Barbieri

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Print Length: 368 pages

Release Year: 2019

Genre: New Adult Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 3.70

Available on Amazon, B&N, and be sure to check your local library/Libby

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling. (Goodreads)

This review was previously published on my personal website crystinaluna.com

Considering I am not super acquainted with fantasy it probably isn’t surprising that I found the concept of this book considerably unique and subsequently interesting. And though I must admit I don’t think the writing is the best, what it achieved is admirable. Aspects of the story aren’t outright told and action scenes are handled well and are easy to follow. 

Arguably, poor writing can be excused due to the fact that this is the writer’s debut novel. And by no means is the writing horrible, it just shows that this writer still has some growth ahead of them and honestly don’t we all? My main problems with the story come from the characters and the fact that they often come off as two dimensional with very basic motivations. The romantic subplot comes off as undeniably forced and is unnecessary to the story. The romantic subplot could have been reduced to a platonic relationship and the dynamic between the characters would have remained largely unchanged.  

For a debut novel, this book is surprisingly well-done. The author definitely has talent, though she definitely has room for growth (which makes me all the more excited for her future works. In the end, I gave this book a primarily subjective rating heavily due to my relatively low expectations with not only book but the genre. In the end, I was left with an appreciation for higher fantasy I did not prior have. Though I am curious about how my opinion will change as I become more acquainted with similar storylines.

After Re-reading in 2020

My general opinions of this book haven’t really changed, even now that I am much more acquainted with fantasy than I was a year ago. I’m looking forward to the upcoming sequel.

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Bone Crier’s Moon Review

Bone Crier’s Moon Review

By Kathryn Purdie

Publisher: Kathrine Tegen Books

Print Length: 480 pages

Release Year: 2020

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 3.79

Available on Amazon and B&N, or check your local library/Libby

Bone ​Criers have a sacred duty. They alone can keep the dead from preying on the living. But their power to ferry the spirits of the dead into goddess Elara’s Night Heavens or Tyrus’s Underworld comes from sacrifice. The gods demand a promise of dedication. And that promise comes at the cost of the Bone Criers’ one true love.

Ailesse has been prepared since birth to become the matriarch of the Bone Criers, a mysterious famille of women who use strengths drawn from animal bones to ferry dead souls. But first she must complete her rite of passage and kill the boy she’s also destined to love.

Bastien’s father was slain by a Bone Crier and he’s been seeking revenge ever since. Yet when he finally captures one, his vengeance will have to wait. Ailesse’s ritual has begun and now their fates are entwined—in life and in death.

Sabine has never had the stomach for the Bone Criers’ work. But when her best friend Ailesse is taken captive, Sabine will do whatever it takes to save her, even if it means defying their traditions—and their matriarch—to break the bond between Ailesse and Bastien. Before they all die. (Goodreads)

For me, this was one of those books that you by not because you know what it’s about and curious about it, but because the title is cool and the cover is gorgeous. As I’m starting to do more and more, I went into this book not knowing what to expect, and I don’t regret it whatsoever. I ended deeply enjoying this book, and can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. 

This book plays on the whole enemies to lover trope in an interesting way. Setting up a predictable circumstance only for it twist in another direction as the book comes to a close. I found myself so emotionally involved in what was going on that every twist and turn was made so much more exciting (even in retrospect I should have seen so many of them coming). 

The book includes such interesting mythologies and a magic system unique to itself. There is definitely a trigger warning for those sensitive to the literary deception of animal sacrifices, but I personally believe the author handled it quite tastefully. The system of belief is what really makes this book shine as it is quite unique and refreshing, though at times a little underdeveloped. It being underdeveloped may likely be a result of the characters own lack of understanding regarding it though, something I hope to see remedied in the sequel. 

The female relationships depicted in the book was quite refreshing with its depiction of sisterhood and familial bonds. The only thing I would ask to see is this series tackle romantic relationships between two of the women, rather than all the women being depicted as heteronormitive. 

For fans of young adult fantasy who want to get there hands on something new and entertaining and absolutely full of angst I recommend this book. Let me warn you though, the book is going to play with your emotions. Whether it be an annoyance with the characters or relating to them; it’s an emotional ride.

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