Review: Crystal Crowned by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Crystal Crowned
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Air Awakens #5
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young adult
Format: ebook
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Silver Wings Press
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Throne of Glass, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Content Warnings: attempted suicide, miscarriage, warfare, graphic amputation

SYNOPSIS

Long live Solaris. One bloodthirsty ruler has been overthrown by another, casting the shadow of death over the Solaris Empire. Vhalla Yarl stands upon the stage of fate, prepared to do battle one final time. Fragile alliances will be tested and new bonds will be formed as the world is reshaped. She fights as the champion of peace, but when the night is darkest will she be able to pay the price of a new dawn?

MY THOUGHTS

An epic finale to an epic fantasy series!

The crystal magic was crazy dark. This book includes lots of heartbreak and tough choices, but also tons of romance, action, politics, magic, and adventure. The battle scenes were incredibly well written. I loved watching how all the characters grew and changed throughout the series.

I feel a little conflicted about something that happened at the end, but overall I loved this book, I adored this series, and I even though I binged it in a week, I never wanted it to end!

Review: Water’s Wrath by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Water’s Wrath
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Air Awakens #4
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young adult
Format: ebook
Length: 362 pages
Publisher: Silver Wings Press
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Sarah J. Maas

SYNOPSIS

Librarian turned sorcerer. Sorcerer turned hero. Hero turned puppet.

The Solaris Empire found victory in the North and, at the cost of her heart and her innocence, Vhalla Yarl has earned her freedom. But the true fight is only beginning as the secret forces that have been lurking in the shadows, tugging at the strings of Vhalla’s fate, finally come to light. Nowhere is safe, and Vhalla must tread carefully or else she’ll fall into the waiting arms of her greatest foe. Or former lover.

MY THOUGHTS

I absolutely loved this installment. Vhalla’s heartbreak and healing were so well written. The action and politics were riveting. The forbidden romance continues to hurt me but is so beautiful.

Just when it seems that everything has been resolved, Kova sets up a new villain with another shocking cliffhanger ending.

Review: Earth’s End by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Earth’s End
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Air Awakens #3
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young adult
Format: ebook
Length: 350 pages
Publisher: Silver Wings Press
Release Date: February 10, 2016
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Sarah J. Maas, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Content Warnings: violence, war

SYNOPSIS

A woman awoken in air, a soldier forged by fire, a weapon risen from blood.

Vhalla Yarl has made it to the warfront in the North. Forged by blood and fire, she has steeled her heart for the final battle of the Solaris Empire’s conquest. The choices before Vhalla are no longer servitude or freedom, they are servitude or death. The stakes have never been higher as the Emperor maintains his iron grip on her fate, holding everything Vhalla still has left to lose in the balance.

MY THOUGHTS

How can something I love so much hurt me so bad?

Vhalla and Aldrick’s forbidden romance is EVERYTHING to me. I love the development of their relationship, and this book gets more heated than previous installments.

This book has one of the best battle scenes I have ever read in a fantasy book. Once again, Elise Kova does an amazing job developing the cast of characters, especially Baldair. I still hate the Emperor and I am so ready for him to get what’s coming to him.

This book takes you on such an emotional roller coaster. It hurts, but it leaves you wanting more.

Review: Fire Falling by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Fire Falling
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Air Awakens #2
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young adult
Format: ebook
Length: 359 pages
Publisher: Silver Wings Press
Release Date: November 19, 2015
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Sarah J. Maas, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Content Warnings: violence, war, attempted suicide

SYNOPSIS

Soldier… Sorcerer… Savior… Who is Vhalla Yarl?

Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?

MY THOUGHTS

You’ll want to make sure that you have book 3 ready to go as soon as you finish this book because WHAT WAS THAT ENDING??

This was so much better than book 1. There is more exploration of the magic system and an excellent cast of characters. Vhalla is a certifiable badass. Aldrick is my dark, burning prince. Their slow burn romance is everything to me. I also love Vhalla’s friendships with Fitz and Larel. The Emperor is one of the best worst villains I have ever read. This is an excellent fantasy series and I cannot recommend it enough.

Review: Air Awakens by Elise Kova

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Air Awakens
Author: Elise Kova
Series: Air Awakens #1
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young adult
Format: ebook
Length: 342 pages
Publisher: Silver Wing Press
Release Date: August 27, 2015
Source: Personal collection
Recommended for fans of: Throne of Glass, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Content Warnings: violence

SYNOPSIS

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all–the Crown Prince Aldrik–she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

MY THOUGHTS

This book is a hidden gem that is much loved by its fans. A couple friends had been encouraging me to read this series for MONTHS before I finally picked it up, and at first I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. This book started off with a few familiar YA fantasy tropes (including multiple love interests), but once this book hit a big twist the story took off in an exciting and unexpected direction.

Vhalla is a great heroine as a library apprentice who discovers a hidden power, which garners her lots of new attention (both good and bad). This book gives a complete overlook of what Vhalla’s life is like before her grand adventure begins, which sets readers up to understand the full scope of her growth across the series. This book ends on quite the cliffhanger that left me not knowing who to trust.

Review: The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Frozen Crown
Author: Greta Kelly
Series: Warrior Witch #1
Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: January 12, 2021
Source: Publisher
Recommended for fans of: Game of Thrones
Content Warnings: violence

SYNOPSIS

A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls. 

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.

MY THOUGHTS

This EPIC (in all senses of the word) fantasy focuses on politics, royal drama, and magic. It didn’t have quite as much action as I expected, but I loved the characters, the political machinations, and the lush world building. This series has a really interesting magic system, and I’m hoping book 2 explores it deeper.

The ending was NUTS. The plot developed pretty steadily throughout the book til we were suddenly hit with twist after twist after twist. I am DYING for the second book in this duology to come out. I have so many questions that I need answered! I have a feeling book 2 will have a different feel than book 1, but I also have no idea what to expect.

Greta Kelly knows how to write a great fantasy. And let’s not forget the cover love!

Thank you to Harper Voyager and William Morrow Books for gifting me a finished copy.

Review: Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Hollywood Park
Author: Mikel Jollett
Genre: Memoir
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Mikel Jollet
Length: 12 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: Celadon Books; Macmillan Audio
Release Date: May 26, 2020
Source: Library
Content Warnings: cults, physical and emotional abuse, addiction

SYNOPSIS

HOLLYWOOD PARK is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country’s most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they’d disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion. …

So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.

Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett’s story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.

MY THOUGHTS

This incredible memoir is a tale of generational trauma that plagues a family with abuse, addiction, mental illness, and cult membership. Mikel’s relationship with his mom was especially toxic.

The writing was incredible. I love how the narrative matured with the age of the author–he captured a childlike voice for his 5-year-old self (for example, word choice and syntax reflected a child’s use and understanding), but the voice became more eloquent as the narrative progressed.

The audiobook is where it’s at. I love the trend of author’s reading their own memoirs, but Mikel Jollett takes it to the next level by adding music from his band The Airborne Toxic Event. At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about the musical interludes throughout the story, but I loved them by the end of the book.

Review: Lilith by Liz Sower

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Lilith
Author: Liz Sower
Series: Ghosts in the Burbs Book #2
Genre: Horror
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Liz Sower
Length: 211 pages
Publisher: self-published
Release Date: September 24, 2019
Source: Ghosts in the Burbs podcast
Recommended for fans of: paranormal podcasts, haunted houses, true ghost stories
Content Warnings: demonic possession

SYNOPSIS

There is something very wrong in the Arnold’s new home. And that something is stalking their daughter. Originally released several chapters at a time on the podcast Ghosts in the Burbs, Lilith is a tale of demonic possession, motherhood, and isolation.

MY THOUGHTS

I loved this deep dive into one of the most chilling tales of demonic possession from my favorite podcast Ghosts in the Burbs. Liz is such a talented storyteller, and while I of course hearing all the tales from Liz’s POV, I also love how she imagined all the different POVs involved in this story and tied everything together.

You don’t need to listen to the podcast to enjoy this frightening tale (although you totally should). The complete audio to Lilith is available through episodes of the podcast, or you can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jorgeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch
Length: 9 hours (391 pages)
Publisher: Philomel Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Library
Content Warnings: rape/sexual assault, war, violence, death of loved ones

SYNOPSIS

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks. 

MY THOUGHTS

This was a very compelling historical fiction book about an overlooked piece of World War II history: refugees in Germany fleeing from the Soviet invasion at the end of the war and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff. I had previously never heard of this tragedy even though it is the deadliest single ship sinking in maritime history.

The narrative is told in short chapters that alternate between 4 POVs. While each character comes from a very different background and was affect by the war in different ways, they were all running away from something and running to something else. The characters developed a tenuous trust as they traveled together, but tensions were always high because every had dangerous secrets.

This book portrays a stark view of the horrors of war with no time for people to process trauma while trying to survive. I think Ruta Sepetys does a fantastic job of making difficult subject matter accessible to young adult readers.

Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: The Shadows Between Us
Author: Tricia Levenseller
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Source: personal collection
Recommended for fans of: The Bridge Kingdom, scheming lady assassins, dark romance
Content Warnings: violence, assassination attempts

SYNOPSIS

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

MY THOUGHTS

I am surprised by how much I absolutely loved this book. I fully expected this to be a 4 star book, but I then I fell in love with the characters and their enemies-to-lovers romance!

I loved Alessandra’s ruthlessness, confidence, and her wardrobe (please someone help me find some fanart of her outfits)! And of course I fell for Kallias, the mysterious and seclusive Shadow King who secretly craves connection (because fantasy readers have a TYPE).

Although many of the plot twists were predictable (except one that absolutely blew my mind), the action, scheming, and romantic angst more than made up for it. This book is largely about plotting murder and actual murder, but it just made me feel good!

My only complaint is that this book is YA. The story would’ve been perfection as an NA fantasy romance with a little more steam.