ALC Audiobook Review – The Sunbearer Trials

Today I’m so excited to be reviewing one of my most anticipated releases of the year, The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas.

Welcome to The Sunbearer Trials, where teen semidioses compete in a series of challenges with the highest of stakes, in this electric new Mexican-inspired fantasy from Aiden Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of Cemetery Boys.

“Only the most powerful and honorable semidioses get chosen. I’m just a Jade. I’m not a real hero.”

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all―they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. His best friend Niya―daughter of Tierra, the god of earth―is one of the strongest heroes of their generation and is much too likely to be chosen this year. He also can’t help but worry (reluctantly, and under protest) for Aurelio, a powerful Gold semidiós and Teo’s friend-turned-rival who is a shoo-in for the Trials. Teo wouldn’t mind taking Aurelio down a notch or two, but a one-in-ten chance of death is a bit too close for Teo’s taste.

But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the 13-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival.

***Thank you to Macmillan Audio for providing a copy of the audiobook via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my listening experience.***

I’m a huge fan of this author, and this book was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I was so excited to get the advanced listening copy at the last minute and started listening to it right away. I immediately fell in love with the narrator and the way he brought the characters to life. The story was a fun mix of contemporary elements and Mexican mythology with quite a bit of humor that kept me chuckling at all the antics. I enjoyed getting to know all of the different settings, powers, and creatures that the characters encountered throughout their journey.

The characters were an absolute treat to read with vibrant personalities and compelling arcs. I particularly loved Teo and Aurelio. They both had to deal with their inferiority complexes, and the vibes of their friend to rival to friend relationship were perfection. The trans rep in the book was great, as well, and it was incorporated seamlessly with the story while also providing moving insight into what it is like being a trans person.

The pace of the story plowed forward at breakneck speed as the characters progressed from one trial to the next. It managed to keep the action flowing without sacrificing character development, and each of the five trials amped up the stakes. Despite the ever-growing risks to the characters, I never really feared for any of them. Oddly enough, I found the tone of the book to be surprisingly upbeat despite all the hardships and constant threat of death. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the narrator that set the tone, but I never believed the characters were in any real danger. I didn’t mind it, though, because I loved the characters and thought the adventure was fun regardless.

I saw most aspects of the end coming a mile away, but there were a couple things that took me by surprise. Personally, I didn’t like the ending because the proposed solution to the problem of how the trials finished came too quickly and left me wondering why the sacrifices of the trials ever needed to happen in the first place. Overall, though, this audiobook was a fun and fascinating ride with great trans rep and compelling characters I couldn’t help but love, and I’ll definitely be back for the conclusion of the duology when it releases. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – The Spear Cuts Through Water

book review

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez. This stunning fantasy adventure will be published on Tuesday, August 30. It was kind of a wild ride and unlike anything else I’ve read before, and I hope you will consider picking it up anywhere books are sold once it is released.

goodreads synopsis

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this new epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Tordotcom, BookPage, LitHub

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

my review

***Thank you to Del Rey for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I’m honestly at a loss for words when thinking about how to describe this book and my experience reading it. So, I guess I’ll just start at the beginning. For the first quarter or so, I did not like this book AT ALL. I considered DNFing it multiple times because I had no idea what was happening. The story has a very unique structure that utilizes first, second, and third person narration without much to mark the different voices apart. It took me forever to realize the story (told in third person) was being watched by someone (the second person narrator) in a theater during a dream with occasional narrative input from people the characters met along the way (first person). Knowing this going in would have greatly reduced my confusion and improved my reading experience of the first part of the book. So, you’re welcome. 🙂 I was probably just too dense to figure it out, but in case you’re dense too, I saved you the effort. lol.

Once I discerned what was going on, I quickly fell in love with the story. The prose was stunning and had a lyrical quality that kept me glued to the pages. The world came alive and seemed to leap into being as if I was the one in the dream. The plot consistently surprised me, and I was incredibly impressed with the author’s ability to create a complex, moving story with so many different parts and voices. The pace also picked up considerably once everything got under way at approximately the 25% mark, and it became relentlessly more intense with a wide assortment of adventures filled with violence, magic, mind-reading, and a bit of humor. There was even a good deal of cannibalism, which seriously made my skin crawl. By the end, I was in awe of how it all came together, with even seemingly small details from earlier in the narrative being tied together in ways I never expected.

I became very attached to the characters, which was probably a bad idea given the intense levels of violence in this book. They were all vibrant and multi-faceted, and I especially loved how the author managed to make even the minor side characters seem well-rounded and deep despite some of them only having a few scenes. I enjoyed following the main duo on their adventure and began rooting for them pretty early on in the story. Their slow-burn romance was one of my favorite things about the book, and it led to some pretty hilarious scenes involving mind-reading. My other favorite character was the tortoise. I’m not going to say too much about him because of spoilers, but I absolutely adored him. He made me smile every time he spoke despite his unfortunate circumstances.

One of the main themes about the book was acceptance/belonging. Most of the characters were outcasts in their own way and were driven to some extent by their longing for connection and inclusion. So many of the stories were absolutely heart-breaking, especially the Third Terror. On a related note, most of this narrative revolved around a love story, and I don’t just mean the central slow-burn romance of Jun and Keema. Almost every character was motivated by love (not necessarily romantic), either the desire to obtain it or the anger from being spurned. It beautifully highlighted both the redeeming and destructive powers of love.

This book was an absolutely stunning work of art. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. It used common tropes in unique ways to tell a story that felt simultaneously familiar and fresh. It felt profound while reading it even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and the more I think about it now, the more lessons and themes jump out at me. The story was beautiful, and it is one I will think about for a while to come. Therefore, I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.

5 stars

ARC Review – Daughter of Redwinter

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald. I’ve had a streak of disappointing reads recently, but this book broke it! So, I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts about this one.

Those who see the dead soon join them.

From the author of the critically-acclaimed Blackwing trilogy comes Ed McDonald’s Daughter of Redwinter, the first of a brilliant fantasy series about how one choice can change a universe.

Raine can see–and more importantly, speak–to the dead. It’s a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness–rescuing an injured woman in the snow–is even worse.

Because the woman has escaped from Redwinter, the fortress-monastery of the Draoihn, warrior magicians who answer to no king and who will stop at nothing to retrieve what she’s stolen. A battle, a betrayal, and a horrific revelation forces Raine to enter Redwinter. It becomes clear that her ability might save an entire nation.

Pity she might have to die for that to happen…

***Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Books for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

Daughter of Redwinter had it all: magic, mystery, philosophy, relevant social/political commentary, and a hint of romance. It truly had everything I like to see whenever I read a fantasy book. The writing was excellent with brilliant descriptions, engaging dialogue, and a steady pace that kept me hooked from the very first chapter. The plot had plenty of twist and turns, and even though I figured some of the twists out in advance of the reveals, the book was written in such a way that I kept second-guessing myself, which kept the reading experience exciting and fun.

The world-building was exquisite, and I loved the magic system and lore. The world felt incredibly real and lived in, and I was surprised by how deep it seemed almost from the start. There was a sense that the civilization was old with a storied history, almost like this book barely scratched the surface of unraveling the mysteries of this world’s past and how they impacted its present. It makes me really excited to see what is in store for the future installments of this series. Despite there being such a seemingly vast history, the author did a great job of utilizing it to facilitate this story rather than overwhelming it with endless minutiae, which can sometimes be the case with fantasy books. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but McDonald did it perfectly here and has whetted my appetite for more while delivering a compelling story.

Raine is now one of my new favorite characters. She was just so compelling and complex, and I found her struggles fascinating to read. Her journey illustrated the dangers of suppressing one’s emotions and the power that can come from experiencing and processing them instead. She also dealt with needing to overcome her fear and figuring out where she belonged in a world that told her she shouldn’t exist. All of the other characters were also three-dimensional with interesting motivations. I liked a lot of them, but Sanvaunt was probably my other favorite. He was mysterious, duty-driven, and aloof, and I swear I fell in love with him when I found out what he was writing in his notebook. It was not what I expected to say the least. lol.

One of my favorite things about fantasy is the ability to explore thought-provoking, relevant social commentary in a relatively non-threatening, and often fun and exciting, way. This book does this so well. It explored the ethics of a society that relies heavily on social dominance for what seem to be very good reasons. I’m curious to see where this discussion goes in future books as the history and roots of the civilization are further explored. There was also a great deal of philosophizing in this book, and it was integrated seamlessly into the story. I loved the discussions on the nature of evil and what it means to be truly free while one lives and participates in society. I was honestly surprised by just how much thought-provoking material was packed into this one book, and I’m still thinking about a lot of it days after finishing it.

Overall, Daughter of Redwinter is an excellent start to a new fantasy series. I can’t think of anything critical to say about it, and I’m definitely looking forward to the next book. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and declare it my second ever instant favorite!

ARC Mini Review – Rise of the Renegade Child

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Rise of the Renegade Child by Robert Roth, which is the second book of The Gates Saga. I enjoyed the first book of this series quite a bit, and I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel ever since.

While Cameron Maddock celebrates the rescue of his best friend Tony, his budding relationship with the Turani Protector Jerusalem Finn, and the surprising demise of his murderous nemesis Omni, the lingering question of his true origins still haunts him.

Years after the tragic loss of his last love, Jerusalem Finn has finally opened his heart to someone new. But a fresh mystery reveals how complicated that’s made things, forcing him to reckon with where his feelings and loyalties truly lie.

Renowned physicist Dr. Ella Carvallo is determined to discover the answers behind a series of unexplained quantum events, even if it means a journey into the shadows with the charming but enigmatic NSA Special Agent Edison Lloyd.

And the mysteries only deepen when surprising new enemies and an unexpected ally send Cam and the gang on a multiverse-spanning thrill ride in this explosive follow-up to the critically acclaimed queer sci-fi thriller Into the Lightning Gate.

***Thank you to the author for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I’ve been wanting this sequel for a year now. Rise of the Renegade Child was definitely worth the wait and expanded on many of my favorite elements of the first book in the series. The world-building was, once again, very interesting, and I loved getting to see some new locales while also learning a lot more about the political structures of the different alternate realities. The science in this installment was really cool, as well, and I appreciated that the author included a lot more information about how everything works. The inclusion of the new character, Ella, was a great way to do this, and I really loved her character. I enjoyed the plot of this book even more than the first. I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy, and this book had one that spans at least several different realities, which led to plenty of fun twists and turns as the story progressed. The pacing was intense throughout, and the book felt like one long thrill ride. The characterization was also on point. Each of the main characters had a discernible arc that resulted in a great deal of growth even with all the action going on around them. My favorite arc was probably Omni just because of her badass personality and super fascinating background, which was explored in more depth. I also loved the banter between Cam and Finn and wish there had been more of it and their relationship. I get why it couldn’t happen in this one, though, but I’m hopeful the next book will focus at least a little more on the romance. I did like that the author directly addressed the insta-loveyness? of their relationship despite not being able to spend a ton of time on exploring their dynamic. Additionally, this book continued to center thought-provoking social/political commentary and queerness throughout the story. So, if you enjoyed those aspects of the first book, I’m sure you’ll love it in this one as well. The main thing I didn’t really love was the way the AI was able to fix almost anything. It felt like a major crutch at times. I also didn’t care for the narrative choice of re-hashing the same scenes from different POVs. There were a couple times that I was annoyed by it because I just wanted the story to keep moving forward, which led to skimming through some of the sequences. Overall, though, this was a great sequel that improved upon the first book, which was already good, in so many ways. If you are looking for a new queer sci-fi series with intense pacing, pulse-pounding action, and fascinating world-building, then you need to be reading The Gates Saga!

ARC Review – Heat Wave

Hello, everyone! I’m excited to be reviewing Heat Wave, the conclusion to The Extraordinaries trilogy by TJ Klune. I’ve had this ARC for a few months staring me down on my Kindle, and I just couldn’t wait to read it any longer. I love superheroes and queer YA stories, and this series blends those two things together into something completely unforgettable. If you missed my reviews for the first two books, The Extraordinaries and Flash Fire, be sure to check them out too!

Heat Wave is the explosive finale to the thrilling Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune!

Nick, Seth, Gibby, and Jazz are back in action bringing justice, protection, and disaster energy to the people of Nova City.

An unexpected hero returns to Nova City and crash lands into Nick’s home, upturning his life, his family, and his understanding of what it means to be a hero in the explosive finale of the thrilling and hilarious Extraordinaries trilogy by New York Times bestselling author TJ Klune.

***Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Teen for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I adore the first two books in this series so much, and this finale did a great job of wrapping everything up in a satisfying way. I’m a little disappointed that Nick’s journey is over, but it has been one hell of a ride. So, I guess I can’t complain too much. As with the first two, this book made me laugh A LOT, cry, and cringe hard. The writing exuded Klune’s wit and charm, as always, and I never wanted to put the book down.

One of the main things I love about this series is the absolute extra-ness and cringe associated with the comedy. Klune is an absolute master at writing crass humor and scenes that make me so embarrassed for the characters. If you liked the humor and mortifying sex-ed components from the previous books, you will continue to find a lot of enjoyment here, as well. There was a scene between Nick and his dad that included prolonged instruction on enemas, which had me almost rolling on the floor laughing because it was so awkward. I lost count of the number of times the term ‘fecal penis’ was used in this book, and I’m still chuckling and cringing thinking about it now.

This cast of characters was really just perfect. One of my favorite additions from the second book, the drag queen superhero Miss Conduct, was back with a bigger role, and I enjoyed every second of it. Jazz and Gibby were their usual awesome selves and kicked a lot of ass in this book, which was awesome. Seth continued to be the super reliable boyfriend and the rock for Nick to lean on. Their relationship deepened considerably in this book, and it was nice to see them grow as a couple. Of course, there was also Nick, precious Nick. He was still a damn disaster, but I wouldn’t want him any other way. His character arc was probably my favorite in this book because he matured quite a bit without losing any of his flair for the dramatic. He struggled to accept his new reality of the things he found out about himself in the second book and really learned what it means to be a hero. He faced a lot of obstacles, internal and external, but ultimately he prevailed by rejecting the need for vengeance and relying on those around him who loved him.

I’m not going to say much about the plot because of spoilers, but the second half of this book really kicked things into high gear. There were some epic fights and showdowns that had me reading frantically to see what was going to happen. The first half of the book, though, was a bit weaker. There were still plenty of great moments, but it all felt a bit aimless. There was something happening that the reader was aware of but the characters weren’t, and it took way too long for the characters to find out. It felt like a drag on the entire first half of the story, and once they found out it seemed kind of pointless. It didn’t ruin the book for me; I just think that aspect of the story could have been tightened up considerably.

I also really loved all of the social and political commentary in the book. It got a bit heavy handed and preachy a couple of times, but even then it didn’t feel out of place for the characters to say or think those things. A bunch of topics were tackled, including police brutality, body image issues, and the role of prejudice and fear in the rise of fascism, among others. While the delivery wasn’t always perfect, I appreciated Klune’s willingness to confront such important topics and his ability to make them fun to read about while showcasing important lessons.

The main heart of this novel was the parent-child relationship. The relationship between Nick and his Dad has been front and center throughout this series, and this book was no different. I have enjoyed seeing their frank, open relationship because that isn’t something I often see in YA books. In a lot of YA lit, parents are usually absent, dead, or neglectful to some degree. So, it has been refreshing to to see Nick’s dad be there for the ups and downs, even though he has been far from perfect over the course of the series. This book took it even further and made the parents of the other kids a huge part too. The dads even came together to form the Dad Squad, which was one of the most hilarious things ever.

Overall, if you are looking for a hilarious, heartfelt story about teen superheroes who are queer AF, then this is the series for you. Despite being a bit rocky in the first half, this book pulled off a fantastic finale that brought the story full circle and allowed the characters to learn some important lessons about themselves, the people they care about, and the world around them. I cannot recommend this series enough.