Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

As You Wish: A Review

cover art for As You Wish by Chelsea SedotiWhat if you can make one wish and know that it will come true?

That’s the question Eldon has to answer as his eighteenth birthday approaches. Eldon’s small town, Madison, is unremarkable except for one thing: every person in town gets one wish on their eighteenth birthday and that wish always comes true.

But Eldon has seen enough wishes go wrong to know that wishing for something to make you happy isn’t the same as being happy. As his birthday approaches Eldon will have to decide if one wish can secure his future happiness. Or, if he’s smart enough and makes the right wish, maybe it can fix all the broken wishes that came before in As You Wish (2018) by Chelsea Sedoti.

Sedoti delivers a haunting story with fantasy elements in her sophomore novel.

With his birthday approaching, Eldon grapples with his own desires for a wish (getting his girlfriend back) and pressures from his mother to wish for enough money to pay his sister’s medical bills and maybe help the entire family. Eldon’s first person narration is interspersed with stories from the town of other wishes. These anecdotes include Eldon’s mother who wished, against all advice and reason, for her high school crush to love her forever–even when she falls out of love with him, and other wishes with disastrous results.

As You Wish is a bleak, claustrophobic novel. Eldon, like a lot of people in town, feels trapped. Unlike others Eldon isn’t so sure a wish can help. His struggle with that moves the novels forward and has the potential to change the entire town’s future. Despite the high stakes, the bleak backdrop and meandering tone make this a slow read. Eldon’s anger and distance as a narrator further remove readers from the immediacy of the story.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

Reign the Earth: A Review

Shalia loves the desert and her place there with her family. But she also knows that her people are desperate for piece and it’s in her power to give them that. Shalia is willing to give up her freedom and leave the desert if it means her family will be safe.

Marrying a stranger and becoming Queen of the Bonelands is a terrifying prospect but no more so than watching more of her family die as the Bonelands try to track down the resistance movement that’s been plaguing them.

Shalia’s hopes of finding love in her arranged marriage are soon dashed when she realizes that her husband, Calix, cares more for power than he ever will for her. Calix is determined to destroy the few remaining Elementae–people who can control mysterious elemental magic–like Shalia’s best friend and, disturbingly, like Shalia herself. 

Struggling to hide her growing powers from Calix and make sense of the dangerous murmurs of rebellion Shalia will soon have to choose decide if she is willing to give up her own future in a bid for peace in Reign the Earth (2018) by A. C. Gaughen.

Reign the Earth is the first book in Gaughen’s Elementae series.

This fast-paced adventure is set in a world where magic has been forced into hiding and dangers lurk everywhere. While Shalia struggles to resign herself to the future she chose for herself she also longs for more as she begins to realize she can no longer live with only the well-being of her family in mind.

A dense beginning filled with clunky world building bog down the start to this otherwise sweeping story. While brown skinned Shalia is a daring and sympathetic heroine, her first person narration is often narrow in focus making the pacing slow and adding misplaced naivete to an otherwise often dark story of magic, abuse, resilience, and strength.

Recommended for fans of high fantasy, fierce heroines, and readers who enjoy novels with an evocative setting.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Rebel of the Sands: A Review

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn HamiltonHappiness and freedom are hard things for a girl to find anywhere in Miraji–especially in Dustwalk. With her mother hanged and her father dead, there is nothing left to keep Amani tied to a town that would sooner her see her dead than independent.

After plotting her escape for months, Amani finally makes it out of Dustwalk in a flurry of gunfire accompanied by a mysterious foreigner who calls himself Jin. Desperate to get away at any cost, Amani accepts the risks of tying her interests to a man wanted for treason.

Turns out, getting out of Dustwalk was the easy part. With no one to trust and survival far from certain, Amani will have to confront hard truths about herself and her traveling companion Jin if she wants to stay alive in Rebel of the Sands (2016) by Alwyn Hamilton.

Rebel of the Sands is Hamilton’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

This book presents an interesting combination of western sensibilities (sharpshooters and horses and psuedo-cowboys, oh my!) blended with the Arabian mythology surrounding Djinn or Djinnis. With Dustwalk or the stark Miraji desert as a backdrop, this creates a setting that is at once evocative and atmospheric.

By contrast, the characters and plot fall decidedly flat. While readers are told a fair bit about Amani’s prowess with a gun as well as her spit-and-vinegar attitude, she remains one-dimensional for most of the story. Despite her first person narration, it’s difficult to identify with Amani let alone connect with her or her story in any meaningful way. The rest of the novel is filled with a cast that, while diverse, is similarly wooden often falling into obvious archetypes and tropes ranging from the power-hungry villain to the misunderstood henchman.

Being the first book in a series Rebel of the Sands also falls into the trap of providing too much setup without the story to back it up. A solid two thirds of the story does an admirable job of building the world and laying the groundwork for plot points sure to come later in the series which leads to a slow start to the story. The pacing issues are compounded by waiting until the final third of the book to introduce most of the major characters not to mention several major plot points.

Rebel of the Sands is an interesting interpretation of the western novel that deftly avoids some of the traps found in rehashing tasteless stereotypes and tropes of westward expansion. Unfortunately, a slow and predictable story do little to embellish this novel’s unique premise.

Rebel of the Sands is an interesting read for fans of westerns or fantasy novels featuring djinnis but is ultimately underwhelming as an exemplar of either sub-genre.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Nemesis by Anna Banks, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

Vessel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vessel by Sarah Beth DurstLiyana has trained most of her life to be the vessel of her clan’s goddess, Bayla. When Bayla comes, Liyana’s soul will disappear as the goddess inhabits Liyana’s body and uses magic to ensure that the Goat Clan will continue to survive in the unforgiving, but beautiful, desert.

Except Bayla never comes.

Deemed unworthy, Liyana is blamed and left behind by her angry clan as they try to once again curry Bayla’s favor. Alone in the desert, Liyana doesn’t expect to live long until a dust storm brings a boy searching for her and a sudden change in Liyana’s fate.

Korbyn is a god inside his vessel–a trickster god. He is also the only one who noticed five other gods go missing. With Liyana in tow Korbyn plans to rally the other vessels and, he hopes, rescue the missing gods. Unfortunately, Korybn did not earn his reputation as a trickster for his honesty. With many obstacles to face and Korbyn’s true purpose constantly questioned, their task is far from easy.

The farther Liyana travels from her clan, the more she learns about Korbyn and herself, the less sure she is of her fate as a vessel. The Goat Clan needs Bayla to survive. Which means Liyana has to die. Unless a trickster god can pull off one more stunning feat and a mortal girl can find her own magic in time in Vessel (2012) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Vessel is a great choice for anyone looking for a fantasy they can sink their teeth into. In a genre that is filled with tales of forbidden love and damsels in distress, Durst keeps the focus squarely on Liyana–a capable, clever heroine ready to rescue herself and maybe everyone else too.

Durst peppers the novel with stories of her own making to show readers more of Liyana’s world and culture. Set in a haunting world filled with myth and magic this evocative book is filled with varied motives and a story that never quite leads where you expect from the completely original start to the refreshing and satisfying finish.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jody Lynn Anderson, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Updraft by Fran Wilde

You can also read my exclusive interview with Sarah Beth Durst starting November 8, 2012!

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher/author