To Best the Boys Review

I don’t consider myself much of a feminist, at least not in the way the term has come to be used today. So, when I heard that Mary Weber was coming out with a new book about girls taking part in an all men’s competition, I admit to a bit of wariness mixed in with my excitement. But I really love Mary’s work and had heard so many good things about the book that I gave it a go anyway. And I’m not sorry I did!

Synopsis: The task is simple. Don a disguise. Survive the labyrinth. Best the boys. In the providence of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands-through the annual all male scholarship competition. With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.

The Good:

  1. Girl Power: There are so many examples of strong women in this book! And I especially appreciate that they come from all walks of life. Rhen wants to be a scientist, a trade reserved for men, and she has the tenacity to pull it off. And I really like Rhen, but I identify with Seleni more. She just want’s to be a good wife and mother some day. She isn’t entering the competition to prove a point; she goes in to help the people she cares about and keep them safe. And I love that her choices are portrayed as having just as much value as Rhen’s.
  2. The Guys: Just as there are many different types of women in this book, there are just as many diverse men. Mary doesn’t pull punches, but she doesn’t bash men either, and in today’s society I find that very refreshing.
  3. Complexity: This book was so much more complex than I was expecting. And I was expecting a lot to begin with! I can’t go in to too much detail without giving spoilers, but just know that this book is about so much more than a girl trying to win a place in college.
  4. Free Recipe: Who doesn’t love a free recipe? I tried out the recipe for Labyrinth Cakes and they are delicious! White chocolate, orange, and caramel together? Yes, please!

The Bad:

  1. Pacing: All together, the pacing wasn’t bad. However, I did feel that it took a bit too long to actually get into the labyrinth. However, with the complexity of the book, I understand that the longer set-up was necessary.
  2. The Twists: Once again, not all of these were bad. Some were actually really good and I didn’t see them coming at all. However, there was one or two I figured out early on and got a bit annoyed that the characters were so dense 😛 I also felt like a few at the end came out of nowhere and didn’t have much backing to give the appropriate emotional weight.

My Rating: 5/5

Though I feel a few aspects could have been strengthened, I fully enjoyed this book. A great commentary on society with plenty of fun and wit thrown in! And did I mention the yummy cakes? Definitely one I will re-read!

Skyward Review

I’ve always been more a fantasy than sci-fi kind of girl, but Sanderson just might change that yet! Though, to be completely honest, I’ve only read the first three Mistborn books. But I liked them and my brother is constantly going on about him. So, when I saw Skyward come across my desk at work, I figured that was a great place to start.

Synopsis: “Spensa’s world has been under alien attack for decades. Pilots are the heroes of what’s left of humanity, and becoming a pilot is Spensa’s dream. Ever since she was a little girl, Spensa has dreamed of soaring skyward and proving her bravery. But her father’s legacy stands in the way—he was a pilot who was killed for desertion years ago, branding Spensa the daughter of a coward, and making her chances of attending flight school slim to none.”

The Good:

  1. The Mystery: I love the mystery surrounding Spensa’s dad. The answers aren’t quite what I was expecting, but it works. What I’m really looking forward to is seeing how Spensa handles the implications moving forward.
  2. The Characters: You know a book is good when you can love the teleporting caterpillar that hasn’t got a single line! Even the killjoy Jorgen grew on me. But my favorite character by far is M-Bot. And seriously, how often is an AI starship your favorite character? I love Spensa, too, of course! I’m always forgetting how small she is, until she climbs on a chair to chew someone out. It’s the best!
  3. The Science: Specifically that I understood it … mostly. I wanted to be an astronaut for a bit when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I’m not very good at math and science, which quickly put an end to that plan. It’s also a large part of why I don’t read much sci-fi, but Sanderson makes even the technicalities easy to understand without taking away from the story for detailed explanations!

The Bad:

Not much to say here. If anything it would be the technical aspects of flight school. But, as I said before, Sanderson does a great job with this!

My Rating: 5/5

I really loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel. I’ll try to catch up on the rest of his stuff in the meantime.

Fawkes Review

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” This poem is all I really knew about the Gunpowder Plot. So when I first heard of Nadine Brandes’ historical fantasy novel, I figured there wasn’t a better way to learn a bit more than in a book filled with magic! The beautiful cover caught my eye and the synopsis solidified the deal.

Synopsis: “Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.”

The Good:

  1. This book really opened my eyes to the political and social unrest of the day. I learned about Luther and the Reformation in school and I knew at one point there was a terrible plague that swept Europe, but I never realized how much of this was happening at once. Through Thomas’ journey I came to a much better understanding of why the Gunpowder Plot happened to begin with.
  2. The world is a vibrant mix of historical England and a unique world built fundamentally on magic. Both of which have always interested me. I love the idea of color magic and the use of masks.
  3. There are some beautifully flawed characters. Thomas’ is torn between his desire for a cure along with his father’s love and his need to know the truth before committing himself to high treason. Similarly, Emma is trapped between her desire to be known for her talents or who she truly is and her fear to leave the safety of what she has always known. They are both be a bit annoying at times, but I enjoyed watching them grow and come to terms with who they are and the decisions they make.
  4. The end is very moving, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out why!

The Bad:

  1. Although the magic system is an interesting concept and very prevalent throughout the book, it is never clearly explained. Especially the role of White Light. The topic is touched upon and vague facts are given when Thomas and Emma argue, but you never quite see the whole picture. The Christian allegory is clear enough that I understood, but I would have preferred for the in-world scenario to be more fleshed out. And honestly, constantly calling it White Light instead of just White (or even Light) like the rest of the color words got a bit irritating, but that’s neither here nor there. However, I must say the slightly snarky personality of White Light was a refreshing twist.
  2. I felt like many of the integral characters and relationships fall a bit flat. The basics are there and you have just enough information to draw your own conclusions, but none of them delve very deep. I especially wanted to see more of Thomas’ relationship with Guy (his estranged father) and Norwood (his father figure). Both of these relationships had so much potential, and exploring them just a bit more would have really upped the stakes.

My Rating: 4/5

Overall, this is a very good book that will appeal to both history buffs and fantasy fans. The writing is well done and the story engaging, with plenty of intrigue and close calls befitting an assassin story.