All of these books release(d) in February. Some of them are new favorites! Read on to see which!
Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.
But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity--and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.
Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki--near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire's greatest threat.
Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she's ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be--not even Deka herself.
The Gilded Ones was dark, often quite brutal, but it was hopeful, too. Deka finds out that she carries the blood that will make her worse than an outcast in her village. Her neighbors, friends, and even family turn their backs on her, and she figures she’s destined to suffer until the end of her days, at the hands of some pretty severe and vile torture. But when she’s given the opportunity to leave her town and her oppressors, she may be able to find her agency.
Deka meets a lot of other like-blooded women along the way, which I loved. They form their own sort of family, and I thought it was such a fabulous message that Deka could find a new family here, a chosen family who will treat her with the love and respect she deserves. In turn, she is fiercely loyal to them. She even encounters some men who don’t agree with the way the women are being treated, which was refreshing. I really don’t want to give too much away, because I really enjoyed where the story went, so I am keeping this purposely short. Deka learns so much about herself, especially about her own strength, as the story goes on.
I found the magic and world systems pretty easy to understand once I got into the story. The author did a great job of making the whole world come together in a way that was believable, and exciting. Deka is a phenomenal character, and I adored the friends she made along the way. And while Deka didn’t always know who she could trust, neither did the reader, which makes for an intense reading experience.
Bottom Line: Loved Deka, super intrigued about the world as a whole, eagerly awaiting Book 2!
The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of "Killing Eve" and "Westworld"
Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.
Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.
Look, we knew cloning was messed up after Dolly the Sheep, didn’t we? Okay just kidding, humans never learn, and we’re probably going to do some really messed up stuff like this someday. That’s the thing- The Echo Wife is too eerily plausible. Because yes, humanity will be tempted enough to clone people, and yes, eventually it will be used for evil instead of good. I mean, you’ve met us, right?
And here, we see a startling example of how that day may come to be. Evelyn is smart as they come, considering she’s the person who perfected cloning. But her personal life is kind of in shambles. She’s mid-divorce, and her husband left her for her own clone. Talk about a messy situation. She has no friends, no relationship with her family, and I found her life kind of depressing, despite her professional success. She’s quite cold, but it makes sense given the context of her life thus far.
Enter a pregnant (even though whoopsie, clones are not supposed to be able to reproduce) Martine, who has a real problem on her hands, and doesn’t know who to turn to except Evelyn. Evelyn isn’t exactly tickled at the idea of helping her clone/ex-husband’s mistress, but she feels a sense of duty to Martine. And so, the women enter an unlikely partnership, and learn a lot about themselves in the process.
I loved the commentary about how women in general are treated. Clearly, Nathan was The Worst™. If you want out of a marriage, cool. Making a clone from your ex-wife, only more obedient and less independent? Disgusting. And throughout the divorce, Evelyn bore the responsibility of keeping up appearances, of not speaking ill about Nathan, etc. Because she feared the societal and professional repercussions. And you know what? She’s right. Society looks down on divorced women in a way it does not men. Like Nathan leaving Evelyn for her pregnant clone was somehow Evelyn’s failure, something lacking in her. And while I don’t want to give too much away, you’ll see this concept play out throughout the story, quite brilliantly.
Bottom Line: It’s part mystery, part sci-fi, and wholly thought-provoking.
The Girl from Shadow Springs by Ellie Cypher
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 9, 2021
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley
The Revenant meets True Grit with a magical twist in this thrilling and atmospheric debut fantasy about two teens who must brave a frozen wasteland and the foes within it to save their loved ones and uncover a deadly secret.
Everyone in Shadow Springs knows that no one survives crossing the Flats. But the threat of a frozen death has never deterred the steady stream of treasure hunters searching for a legendary prize hidden somewhere in the vast expanse of ice. Jorie thinks they’re all fools, which makes scavenging their possessions easier. It’s how she and her sister, Brenna, survive.
Then Jorie scavenges off the wrong body. When the dead man’s enemy believes Jorie took something valuable from the body, he kidnaps Brenna as collateral. He tells Jorie that if she wants her sister back, she’ll have to trade her for the item he thinks she stole. But how can Jorie make a trade when she doesn’t even know what she’s looking for?
Her only source of information is Cody, the dead man’s nephew and a scholar from the South who’s never been hardened by the harsh conditions of the North. Though Jorie’s reluctant to bring a city boy out onto the Flats with her, she’ll do whatever it takes to save her sister. But anything can happen out on the ice, and soon Jorie and Cody find they need one another more than they ever imagined—and they’ll have to trust each other to survive threats beyond their darkest nightmares.
The Girl From Shadow Springs follows Jorie on her quest to find her sister after she is stolen from some baddies. She meets Cody in town, and he sets off with her. There was stuff I liked, and stuff I didn’t as much, so let’s get to it!
What I Liked:
- The atmosphere was on point! I mean, you asked for cold desolation, you got cold desolation! This world is rough. I don’t have any idea if there are like, nice, moderate climates anywhere, but wow would I be out searching for those! The weather is brutal, the people are brutal, there are few supplies to be had, and nearly everyone Jorie’s ever known is dead. It’s clear to see why she’s so desperate to find her sister, right?
- I enjoyed the banter between Cody and Jorie. It lightened the mood, for sure, to have them squabbling and such. And, frankly, it made them seem more relatable.
- I love me an adventure! I mean, it’s not a road trip, but a dog-sled trip, and that is pretty fabulous. I love the themes of surviving in dire conditions, fighting the elements, and things of the like. This book definitely had tons of that!
What I Didn’t:
- The magic part confused the heck out of me. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t understand it at all. There’s a line where Jorie says “There may be a lot of this I don’t right understand—near all of it, to be honest”, and hard same. It isn’t introduced in earnest until later in the story, and I just didn’t have enough time to really have it make sense to me.
- I didn’t feel like I knew Jorie at all. Did she have anything going on other than staying alive? Genuinely asking because I don’t know. It didn’t seem like it? And maybe that is the case, but it felt very hard to connect to her when I couldn’t really get a sense of who she is, other than she loved her sister, which wasn’t exactly a groundbreaking revelation.
- While it was high stakes, it didn’t always feel that way. First, I didn’t really ever think that Jorie wouldn’t find her sister, frankly. I won’t tell you whether I was correct, but that is how I felt through the story. Second, I know Jorie loves her sister, I get it. Obviously, they’re family. But it felt more like Jorie was telling me she loved her sister, rather than showing any meaningful connection between the two other than just… blood.
Bottom Line: Definitely atmospheric and full of action, the magic and characters fell a bit short for me.
All it takes is one hit on the football field, and suddenly Ash’s life doesn’t look quite the way he remembers it.
Impossible though it seems, he’s been hit into another dimension—and keeps on bouncing through worlds that are almost-but-not-really his own.
The changes start small, but they quickly spiral out of control as Ash slides into universes where he has everything he’s ever wanted, universes where society is stuck in the past…universes where he finds himself looking at life through entirely different eyes.
And if he isn’t careful, the world he’s learning to see more clearly could blink out of existence…
Game Changer is, as every Neal Shusterman novel is, quite the thought provoking story. It features Ash, a young man who has a pretty solid life. He’s on the football team, has a lot of friends, he’s a straight, cis, white guy from a middle class family. Basically, things are going fairly smoothly for Ash. Until, that is, he finds himself with a concussion and a slightly altered universe.
At first, the changes appear minor. A different colored stop sign, a slightly different history. But as Ash traverses the universes via football field hits, he finds that things get pretty dicey. He enters worlds in which POC are treated even worse than they are in his home world (presumably, our world), and in some, things are still so bad that he doesn’t know his best friend, a young black man, because segregation is still a thing and they had never met. In some worlds, Ash finds that he is no longer a straight man, and he has a boyfriend who he loves very much. Basically, the gist of the story is that as the universes change, so does Ash’s worldview in general.
I am going to break it down, because while I did find the story quite enjoyable and thought provoking, I have seen some complaints that have merit and I’d like to address.
What I Loved:
- Ash growing and learning, of course. Obviously, we cannot go around hitting obtuse white guys in the head every time we’d like to teach them something, so there’s that. But in seriousness, he does learn a lot from his journey. Sometimes he’s put into someone else’s shoes literally, but sometimes he just gets a more in-depth view, perhaps a wake-up call, as to what the fates of his friends would be if things were just a little different.
- Ash’s friends were just the best, and Ash had to navigate his relationships in every world. Leo is my favorite, I adore Leo. He’s Ash’s best friend, and he’s just awesome. He tells Ash like it is, he’s smart and funny, and I just loved him. Katie, Ash’s other friend/maybe-crush (depending on the world) also tells Ash like it is. She’s dealing with a lot of her own stuff, which I won’t give away, but she’s trying to figure out Ash’s mystery all while navigating a really unhealthy relationship. And Ash’s family changes wildly with each universe, and I liked that he often had to stand up to his parents in various universes, trying to make them see the error of their ways.
- It’s an entertaining story! I mean, I was excited to find out what was happening to Ash and/or the world too! Why is this happening? Or, more specifically, why is it happening to Ash? Can it be stopped? There’s a lot of questions, and when we get an answer, it generally unlocks a new question, which is fun.
- It’s incredibly thought provoking. I mean, how could the reader not wonder who we would be in a different universe, where perhaps we have a different level of privilege, a different worldview? Ash takes us along while he grapples with answering these very questions.
The Messy Stuff:
- So, I have read a lot of reviews that mention that there were so many topics tackled in such a short time period that perhaps none were done justice. I have also seen some talk of the “white savior” trope, and I wanted to address both. Yes, there are a lot of topics. And I understand the criticism in that regard. For me, I felt like since these are all hugely important in our world, it made sense to include them all in Ash’s journey, for the sole fact that I think it may have been irresponsible to not touch on them?
In regard to the “white savior” trope… I get it. I don’t think that is the intention, or even necessarily the case, because I think the whole point of the story was not for Ash to try to save the world, but rather saving himself by being more sympathetic and understanding, by becoming a real ally. The author even addresses the trope at one point in a conversation where Ash even tries to act like he’s the savior, and Leo has to remind him that he is very not. And so while I understand the concern (hell, it was a concern I had mid-reading as well!), I felt that it didn’t necessarily take that route.
Bottom Line: Incredibly thought-provoking and encompassing a lot of hard-hitting (pun absolutely intended) issues, I quite enjoyed Game Changer.
Esther dreams of so much more than the marriage her parents have arranged to a prosperous silversmith. Always curious and eager to explore, she must accept the burden of being the dutiful daughter. Yet she is torn between her family responsibilities and her own desires; she longs for the handsome Joseph, even though he treats her like a child, and is confused by her attraction to the Roman freedman Tiberius, a man who should be her sworn enemy.
Meanwhile, the growing turmoil threatens to tear apart not only her beloved city, Jerusalem, but also her own family. As the streets turn into a bloody battleground between rebels and Romans, Esther's journey becomes one of survival. She remains fiercely devoted to her family, and braves famine, siege, and slavery to protect those she loves.
This emotional and impassioned saga, based on real characters and meticulous research, seamlessly blends the fascinating story of the Jewish people with a timeless protagonist determined to take charge of her own life against all odds.
How do I even begin to do this lovely book justice with a review? No really, accepting tips! Instead, I shall just do a list of what made me fall so in love with Rebel Daughter, and why you need to read it too! (I will caution, there are parts that are incredibly dark and difficult to read, as well as some certain triggers, including slavery, rape, and murder/death.)
- I don’t know how to explain how much Rebel Daughter broke my heart then put it back together over, and over, and over. It’s such a gutting, heart-wrenching story, but it’s also a story of hope and survival and the strength of the human spirit. So basically, it’s incredibly emotive, and will own your soul.
- To say the author did her research would be a gross understatement. “Research” is the wrong term here, but I don’t know the correct one. The author breathed life into Esther’s story. The details, from the bigger historical elements down to the most minor details of everyday life were incredible. I absolutely felt immersed into this first century Jerusalem, in a way I never imagined I could. Often in historical novels, I have a vague sense of the world, but cannot truly feel myself in it. Not so here. And as a reader, I could genuinely tell that the author poured her soul into every page of this novel. There’s truly no better way to explain it.
- I adored Esther with every fiber of my being. Esther herself is just such a well-rounded, well-developed character. When we first meet her, she’s so relatable, worries about boys and spends time with family and does chores. And as her life unravels before her eyes, we see the loveliness of her spirit persevere, despite the overwhelming odds against her. There’s a quote, one that really struck me, that sums it up so much:
“But someone had to gather the eggs and milk the goats, check the wood pile and fetch the water. Not having a choice didn’t make her strong. It made her tired.”
But the truth is, as much as she didn’t feel it, she was strong. Just being able to keep going is strength, and one we should give ourselves credit for, even when we don’t think we deserve it. Because in the moment, I knew that Esther could have chosen differently. She could have given up, threw up her hands in disgust, but she didn’t. She kept going, because she wanted to live, wanted her loved ones to live. It speaks volumes about who she is as a person, frankly.
- Not only did I love Esther, but her family and their relationships as well. It was great to see that they were all loving and caring, but that they did have their issues as well, aspects that were complicated and messy. None of them was perfect, but they were all good. Decent people, trying to get through everyday life, then trying to get through something far worse. Their love for one another was so incredibly uplifting.
- I learned so much about this time period that I’d never known. I don’t know about your education, but my crappy American one basically brushed past the history of everyone, in every time, because we are gross. Like did I know that the Romans were kind of the “big bad” of the era? Sure. Did I know the extent? Goodness, no! And I think it’s so important to know the atrocities mankind has inflicted on each other. It made me so angry, frankly. That, sometimes, is worth remembering.
- Telling Esther’s story as something beautiful instead of solely tragic is worth everything. Was this a tragic time period for the Jewish citizens of Jerusalem? Of course, I don’t think “tragic” is even a severe enough word. It was inhumane, frankly. And the author certainly did not shy away from these atrocities, not at all. But to show the love and hope that Esther and her people unarguably possessed was equally important, and this book somehow managed to incorporate both.
Bottom Line: I genuinely cannot remember the last time a book has affected me this much. Esther’s story, and the story of her people, owns my whole heart. This is truly a book I’ll never forget.