Review: Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One

Review: Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Hazel Hill keeps her head down and her eyes on the ball. This year’s goal? Win this year’s speech contest, and nothing can bring her down, not even last year’s mistake where she accidentally mispronounced hyperbole. And not even Tyler Harris, who made it his life’s mission to talk Hazel’s ear off about every crush he’s ever had, can distract her. Until he says, Ella Quinn has a crush on her. And suddenly, she’s all that she can focus on, and Hazel discovers that the girls in her school are being harassed, and she finds herself amid a plan to take the harasser down. 

This was a surprisingly fun read. I never thought to pick up Middle-Grade books nowadays. Still, after being enticed by the adorable cover, I did not expect to find myself reading a powerful story about three girls standing up against sexual harassment. There is so much to say about this story that it is hard to put my thoughts into words. After reading this, I felt a sense of happiness, knowing that a book like this will be going into the hands of young kids. When the New York Magazine can publish an article defending a seventeen-year-old boy who was ostracised for showing nudes of his girlfriend at a party as a childish mistake, stories like Hazel Hill will be crucial for the younger audience. Inspired by the author’s own experience as a child, she has perfectly captured the spirit of a young girl navigating school life alone who suddenly finds herself defenceless when her classmate Tyler Harris is revealed to be terrorising most of the girls in the school. All the adults she was told to trust brush off his remarks and begin to pin the blame on the girls for acting in such a way. Hazel Hill discusses sexual harassment in a way that I can see be a great tool for younger audiences to understand the topic without going into too much detail. 

Hazel Hill is Gonna Win This One is a story of empowerment and standing proud. An incredible tale with great bouts of humour that was a pleasure to read. Tackling an experience most girls will sadly face in their lives, this book will, in no doubt, foster discussion in a healthy way.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Name She Gave Me

Review: The Name She Gave Me

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a proof copy from Harper360YA in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

When Rynn was born, she was named Scheherazade and that is the only thing she knows about her past. Growing up on a farm in Maine, her relationship with her adoptive family is somewhat fine, her father is kind, but her mother is cold. Now, at age sixteen, she finds out that she has a younger sister and the fracture line that she has grown up on threatens to break when she wants to reunite with her. 

I went into this book with zero expectations. I had requested it from the publisher’s list based on the fact that it was a novel in verse, a story format that I’ve recently wanted to delve into more. And I was floored away about The Name She Gave Me. It was a compassionate tale about a young girl desperate to find some semblance of answers about her past using only her birth name. 

Drawing from her own experience as an adoptee, Culley writes with nuance about family, both born and made. A cast of characters that are equally fleshed out within the format with a straightforward way of writing that really packs a punch. Rynn’s verses highlight an emotional journey from finding her biological half-sister to becoming distant from her adoptive family in her search for finding herself. A few chapters slip into the perspective of her sister, highlighting her own life, separate from her older sister. It was unexpected but I particularly enjoyed seeing how different their line of thought compares especially with their different upbringings. 

A compelling and fascinating tale in verse which delves into the intricate and often heartbreaking truths of what becomes of family and how it can make or break everything. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Review: Six Crimson Cranes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After losing control of her magic on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Princess Shiori accidentally catches the attention of her stepmother, Raikama. Magic is forbidden in Kiata, and when Shiori discovers that Raikama has her own, she is banished from her Kingdom, her six brothers turned into cranes, and she is cursed never to utter a word unless she wishes for one of her brothers to die. Voiceless and alone, Shiori must find her brothers, break the curse and discover the truth behind her magic. Or risk losing her kingdom to the battling armies of the neighbouring lands. 

Six Crimson Cranes was fantastic! This one has been sitting in my TBR for a year now; its gorgeous cover enticing to me to pick it up during one of my reading blocks. My god, this was so much fun. Sure, I’ll be honest, the plot was a bit predictable, but in this case, the journey you take to get there makes it all worthwhile. 

The youngest of her family and the only girl amongst her siblings, Shiori is brash and hard-headed. She is led to her betrothal ceremony when her paper bird slips out of her sleeve. She panics because no one is supposed to know she can enchant things to life. So, she runs. And in doing so, she meets a dragon who saves her life.  Her outburst worries her family and delays her ceremony, but the only one who seems to believe her meeting a dragon is her stepmother. The mysterious Raikama. Shiori begins to delve deep into her stepmother, and when she accidentally discovers her powers that will harm her family, she tries to tell her brothers the truth. That sets Raikama off, who then turns her brother into cranes, curses her voice to kill them if she speaks and then throws her into a corner of the world where no one will know who she is. Even if she tried, no one would believe her anyway. 

Complicated family dynamics is a core theme in Six Crimson Cranes. From Shiori’s relationship with her father, her stepmother, and her six older brothers. Shiori is quite stubborn and, in the beginning, very immature. I was worried that she wouldn’t grow out of it thus ruining my enjoyment of the book. But Lim smashes it out of the park and I adore the way Shiori grows as a character in a way that makes sense and feels rewarding as a reader. I just adore how the relationship she has with her brothers. While she adores them all she recognises the varying connections she has with each brother, some closer than others. I would’ve loved to have seen more from her brothers but I don’t rate the book less because of it since giving a spotlight to all six might be too much. 

Usually, romance in stories like these never appeals to me. I was actually shocked to find myself actually enjoying the growing relationship between Shiori and her love interest. It was so sweet and real, and never once distracts from the main plot. I read an interview where Lim explains that their relationship was a challenge for her, but I hope she knows she thoroughly succeeded. 

Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Wild Swans”, Lim takes the tale and makes it her own, spinning together a gorgeous tale of a young girl who grows to find power in her own voice. An incredible start to a duology. I cannot wait to read more. 


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Blood Scion

Review: Blood Scion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

**I received a proof copy from Harper360YA in exchange for an honest review**

As a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods, being a Scion is a death sentence under Lucis’ violent rule. When she is conscripted into the Lucis army, Sloane uses it to get the revenge she has always strived for. But as she rises through the ranks, learning to fight the enemy, she risks losing herself as her ability to suppress her powers weakens and threatens to harm all those around her. 

Blood Scion is remarkable. As someone who has been losing interest in YA fantasy, I found myself thoroughly surprised by Bloodscion, which is a shocking and action-packed debut that has the potential to be a hit for older timers and new fans alike. 

Fifteen-year-old Sloane has constantly searched for her mother’s body, hoping to clear the rumours of her disappearance and death. During her nightly trawls, she is ambushed by a Lucis soldier and uses her powers to kill her intruder. Scions are descendants of the Yoruba people who were gifted with magical abilities from the Orisha. A dwindling population that the Lucis are currently hunting. Even being wrongfully accused of being a Scion is a death warrant. When Sloane is conscripted to join the Lucis army, despite every bone in her body telling her to run, it is the only chance she has to find the truth of her mother’s death. Thus begins her journey toward revenge and seeking justice for others of her kind. 

Blood Scion looks straightforward from the outside—a typical young girl infiltrating an enemy base. You would probably think you’ve read this before.  But what makes this stand out is the story. It is complex and well built, solidified with characters that stand on their own and together. Sloane goes to Avalon and joins a squad of other children who have their secrets about joining the army. The story moves fast and keeps you informed without getting confused. The world Solane presides in is dangerous and brutal. The Lucis are colonisers, and there is no beating around the bush about the genocide they have committed and continue to engage in the story as Sloane and her peers are trained to become the next crop of soldiers. 

Falaye is a remarkable writer, and I’ll definitely be watching out for future releases from her that are not in the Blood Scion series. She writes with great detail that informs the reader and brings to life the world around Solane despite the story taking place mainly within Avalon, their training ground. Solane is a complex protagonist whose character is pulled apart and rebuilt together by the very people who would want her dead if they knew the truth. A child soldier who fights so hard for the truth, it is heartbreaking to see her go through so much pain. 

As mentioned, the Lucis are colonisers. And Blood Scion does not shy away from the atrocities they commit to Scion and their own soldiers alike. Falaye balances the storytelling well while also discussing war and oppression. Sloane must navigate a world where the Lucis and their propaganda are rampant. The intensity of violence was surprising to see in a YA as the experience of children soldiers will never be easy to witness. Falaye does not water down anything and brings to light every harsh detail Solane faces. While a fantasy world, it is still the reality for many children worldwide. 

Overall, a gritty and dark debut about a young girl’s journey for survival and revenge. Based on Yoruba mythology, Blood Scion is intense, further elevated by Falaye’s imagination. With excellent characters and an intriguing fantasy world, Blood Scion is the start of a story that promises to be exceptional.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: Sisters of the Snake

Review: Sisters of the Snake

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

The 100 Year Truce is soon approaching its end, and if Princess Rani wants any chance of inheriting her throne with no issues, she must escape her cage and delve into the deep magic of her past. Drafted into a war she wants no part in, trickster thief Ria must parade as her long-lost twin princess sister and discover the real reason why they were separated at birth. As the time ticks, both sisters must work together or risk letting magic tear everything apart. 

Rani and Ria have no idea the other exists until they accidentally meet after Ria hopes to use stolen jewellery to fund her escape from Abai. Instead, she is met with Rani, who shares her face and confusion. Desperate to figure out the truth behind her abandonment, she agrees to stay behind in Rani’s place. Ria is left to navigate palace life and see what else lies beneath the walls of her birthplace while also tricking her betrothed, Saeed, and family. At the same time, Rani embarks into the land beyond her city to discover the truth behind the brutal death of her old tutor, convincing Ria’s friend, Amir, and others that she is nothing but a lowly thief.

 A significant highlight of this book is the characters. I enjoyed watching Ria navigate the life of a princess in disgust while also rooting her to find the truth behind her birth. Rani is way out of her comfort zone as she is forced to question her entire upbringing while also dealing with dangerous magic that will threaten the world she knows. Each sister has a cast of characters that are equally important and extremely fun to discover. After a somewhat rocky start, the story redeems itself. It keeps you on edge as chapters alternate between the twins barreling through secrets of their past and nation’s history before coming together in a fast and thrilling resolution. 

Set in an Indian-inspired setting, the Nanua sisters do a great job of bringing to life the city of Abai, making a clear contract between the clean palace walls to the murky streets below. As the first in a series, Sisters of the Snake would’ve benefitted from more world-building, in my opinion. I see the immense potential to expand Rani and Ria’s story into the surrounding Kingdoms.

 If I had to point out a flaw of some kind, the connection between Rani and Ria deserved more screentime than relying on their connection as descendants of snakespeakers. The sweet moments of empowerment and sisterhood fall flat when you realise the girls barely interact in the story at all. For example, Rani is the one who pushes Ria to take her spot and then leaves her with no preparation or instructions. Rani has her pet snake (connected in the same way as a familiar), and it was such an odd decision to introduce Shima as a snake who can talk to Ria through her thoughts but then never have her help Ria at all during her time in the palace. It just read rather strange to me to introduce something that could be useful as a plot device but not utilise it in a way that would’ve improved the story. Especially as their connection as snakespeakers is very pivotal to the plot. 

Sisters of the Snake does exactly what it says on the tin. A YA fantasy with deep lore and a fascinating world design. It’s a solid start to a series, and I have to say I was surprisingly impressed by Sisters of the Snake. While my expectations weren’t low, I did find myself enjoying this series starter from the Nanua sisters. While nothing is out of the water, this is a decent start to a series that I’m very interested in seeing to completion.


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR

Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Review: The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Storms have ruined Mina’s homeland for generations. Her people believe that once the Sea God has found his true bride, he will end his people’s suffering. Shim Cheong is fated to be the true bride, but doing so means leaving Mina’s brother forever. So on the night, Cheong must be sacrificed, Mina and her brother break the rules and follow her to her fate. Desperate to save her brother and her friend, she throws herself into the water instead. Stranded in the Spirit Realm, Mina finds the Sea God trapped in an endless sleep and to wake him; she must face every lesser god and beast who wishes to keep him asleep.

I’ll be honest; the story starts in not the strongest footing for my taste. Mina is already boarding the ship destined for Shim Cheong’s demise, and her sacrifice is made so quickly it feels like we almost miss the moment. Her descent into the spirit realm is fast, and in moments, we’ve already made it halfway through the book’s own synopsis. I have been highly anticipating this book, so I was apprehensive it would go downhill from there. 

I can gladly say I was very wrong. Once in the Spirit Realm, Mina really takes off. With time ticking, she must figure out how to wake the Sea God and return her homeland to prosperity only a month before she is stuck forever. And the only person who can give her any information is the mysterious god named Shin and his rogue men, Kirin and Namgi. She is also momentarily accompanied by other spirits who you will love and mourn all the same. 

The crumbs Axie Oh drops in the story slowly come together in the most heartbreaking way. The world-building is in the same vein as Ghibli movies, whimsical and childlike. Mina is strong and compassionate who continues to grow in each chapter. It’s kind of a shame this is standalone because the potential to delve into other folklore through the Spirit Realm is vast. If anything, the only remotely disappointing aspect was that the romance could’ve been developed a lot more in the beginning. Still, towards the end, I was rooting for Mina’s happiness like my life depended on it. 

Spirited Away meets Korean folklore in this standout retelling from Axie Oh. A world of gods and beasts can’t compare to softspoken Mina, who steals the show in her honourable journey to save her homeland.  


GOODREADS | AMAZON | AUTHOR