Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Mageborn debuted February 18th.
Jessica Thorne’s book The Queen’s Wing blew me away last year; I fell in love with its characters, its science-fantasy feel, and the can’t-look-away plot. So when I saw that Thorne has a new series out, I immediately hit the request button on NetGalley. Mageborn was an all right read for me, but I don’t think that it measures up to Thorne’s other series, unfortunately. In all honesty, I do think that because I’ve read the other series and know Thorne’s potential, this knowledge kept me from fully falling in love with Mageborn.
The premise is pretty interesting–a woman who tracks down rogue magic users is given an assignment that puts her in close contact with the heir to the throne. There’s a lot of your standard fantasy tropes: court intrigue, prejudice against those with magical abilities, shaky or repressed memories, brewing rebellion. I saw some people on Goodreads complaining about the Graceling and Sarah J. Maas comps–I don’t see much of SJM in Mageborn, but I was reminded of Graceling throughout, especially because of the jumbled memory thread of the plot. The problem is that Graceling did it much better. It’s been a while since I read the trilogy, but it sticks pretty heavily in my mind, and I’m not sure if Mageborn will. I enjoyed it while I was reading, but there wasn’t one thing that stuck out to me as setting the book above other fantasy.
There’s another thing that I debated mentioning, but I’m just going to go ahead and say it: there are too many fragmented and repetitive sentences in this book for my taste. I don’t remember Thorne’s other series relying on these stylistic choices so much, or perhaps the intense plot of that series made it so that I didn’t notice. I noticed it here, though, a lot; it feels like you can’t go two sentences without a fragment or repetition. For example:
She didn’t pull away and for that he was grateful. Stupidly grateful.
Or this one, which takes the repetition to a ridiculous level:
“Tell him… tell him I didn’t want this. I didn’t want any of this.”
“He knows, pet,” said Simona. “Divinities protect and defend you, he knows.”
Did you count? That’s tell him, I didn’t want… this, and he knows, all repeated in the span of twenty-six words. Don’t get me wrong; repetition can be a powerful tool for writers to place emphasis on something, but you can’t go a page in Mageborn without seeing Thorne leaning on these writing tricks. It got old for me fast, sadly, in the same way that SJM’s writing can wear on a person.
Essentially, I had decent fun reading this book, but it didn’t leave me with a deep impression. Maybe I’ll pick up the next in series, but mostly I’ll be hoping for a third in Thorne’s other series, since there are still a lot of plot threads left to explore there.
Happy New Year! 😀 I waited to put out this post until today, just because I had the sense that I was going to be sneaking in one more book on the last day of the year. My instincts were right; I ended 2019 with the very sexy number of 69 total books read, along with more than thirty short stories for my Short Tuesday series.
2019 was officially the year that I became a whale reader, which I define as finishing 52 or more books a year (at least a book/week). A lot changed for me in 2019 that got me reading more. Can you believe that prior to 2019 I scarcely ever read ebooks? That changed this past year; I started reading on my phone, which really helped me get in more books. I also started reading ARCs, which gave me the necessary pressure to finish books, even if I didn’t really feel like it. I also discovered tons of new authors that I love, and, perhaps most crucially, I stopped watching as much YouTube, which opened up A LOT more reading time.
I haven’t quite kept up my reading pace these last few months of the year, but that’s because:
I’m drafting my Beauty and the Beast and Aliens book;
I was in the throes of NaNo throughout November;
and the holiday season always requires a lot of attention.
My Goodreads goal for 2019 was 45; this year I’m going to set it at 52. Here’s exactly what I read in 2019, but keep scrolling for all my statistics, my picks for all sort of different categories (sexiest book, funniest book, etc.), and my top three reads of the year!
This year my reading habits shifted dramatically in terms of audience, to my surprise. My 2018 reading habits were dominated by YA, but this year most of what I read was adult, in large part due to bingeing Sookie Stackhouse novels and diving deeper into romance. In 2020 I want to maintain a good mix of YA, New Adult, and adult books in my reading.
I want to give a big caveat that I’m the one doing the categorizing here, so some books that I define as speculative for example (The Warehouse) others might place in the sci-fi category.
What do I take from this graph? First of all, I read very widely this year, though almost everything here falls under the umbrella category of “genre fiction.” Urban fantasy was a dominating force, but really those were just Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackouse novels. (More on those down below.) Romance was a huge surprise for me this year–I found some authors that I just adore (Eloisa James, Julia London), and I discovered exactly how binge-worthy the genre can be. Fantasy continues to be less and less of a presence in my reading, which is so interesting to me as I used to primarily read fantasy. As we head into 2020, I hope to keep my genre selections wide, while still reading what I love.
Crazy that I didn’t give any books a one-star review this year, though, to be fair, I DNF’d a few here and there. I continue to get better and better at judging what kind of book is going to agree with me, so I don’t see anything wrong with the distribution here. Let’s turn the whole graph green for 2020!
ARCs vs. Books Purchased/Borrowed
This was the first year I used NetGalley, and I dove in whole hog to the ARC game, signing up for books left and right. Reading ARCs come with their fair share of headaches, but my reading selection was very broad this year, mainly due to how many ARCs I read. In 2020, I want to continue reading a lot of ARCs, since reading widely is an ongoing goal of mine.
Indies vs. Hybrid vs. Traditionally Published
Here I’m defining indie as an entirely self-published book, hybrid as a book that’s been put out by a publisher that produces books with an indie mindset and grants authors a higher royalty rate, and trad pub as books that have been put into production by a publisher with a more traditional business model. Sometimes it can be hard to tell where books fall, especially as indie authors get more and more professional, but I believe the numbers up top are accurate.
The indie community as it stands right now is essentially a return to pulp fiction, with an extreme emphasis on quantity of output, since rapid release is a proven technique for making money. It’s not unusual to see an indie author who’s putting out 4+ books/year. Needless to say, the quality of a lot of indie books can be shoddy, so that’s why one of my reading goals for 2020 is to discover more indie authors who are putting out a quality product. I found a few this year, and I just want to keep broadening my horizons. 🙂
Top Three Favorite Short Stories
This year I started my Short Tuesday series, where I review a short story every Tuesday and provide a link so that everyone can read it. The vast majority of what I read are horror or SFF, since I mainly stick to either Tor.com or Nightmare Magazine. Out of the thirty-odd stories I read in 2019, these three are my top picks!
I wax lyrical about Thorne’s book The Queen’s Wing down below, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that I adored the two books by Thorne that I read this year, and I’ll be the first in line for future books. I’m also curious to check out the other books she has out under her other pen names, R.F. Long and Ruth Frances Long. Isn’t it great when a new-to-you author has a back list? 😀
Three-Star Read That Left the Deepest Impression
Esaping Exodus had its flaws–scattershot character development, overbearing social justice themes, a too-much-of-everything plot–but boy, was it memorable. Scenes such as climbing through a giant space-beast’s sphincter just to have a private conversation tend to stick in your mind. It’s going to take a long time for the riotous journey that was Escaping Exodus to fade from memory, and I’m curious to read future books by this author.
I won’t lie–I expected The Shape of Water to be garbage. Guillermo del Toro for me is a drawback, not a plus, and I suspect it was the concurrent (and awful) movie tie-in that kept this book from being a five-star read. Lo and behold, the book was great, and now I’m waiting with bated breath for Kraus’s YA alien horror release next year. He’s a really talented author, and I’m super curious to see how he tackles a YA book, since this book was decidedly adult fiction.
I read not one, but two YA books this year that claimed to have aliens in them but actually didn’t. Just look at that cover–When the Sky Fell on Splendor makes promises to its readers that it simply does not keep. I was hoping for a Stranger Things-esque story with an alien flair, and instead got a navel-gazing mess of characters that I didn’t really care about. This book was unfortunately a huge disappointment.
I loved Milman’s first book, Scream All Night, and Swipe Right for Murder was even better, and funnier. Milman is an auto-buy for me at this point, and he truly understands how to take his readers on a trippy, hilarious ride. If you’re in need of a laugh, then give this contemporary YA thriller with a cyberpunk feel a try.
I… did not know that a romance book had the ability to make me feel the way When Beauty Tamed the Beast made me feel. Not to go into the gory details, but this book had my nerves physically on fire when I was reading it. I think that’s all that needs saying, hahaha.
Best Plot Twist
I’m putting up two books for this category. I tore through Sager’s Lock Every Door and did not see the plot twist coming at all–but God, was it great. You know how some plot twists are deus ex machina-esque and just make you groan? That was not this in the slightest. As for Definitely Dead, the sixth Sookie Stackhouse novel, I was so floored by the revelation involving Vampire Bill in this book that I couldn’t help but share all the deets with my husband–that’s how shocking it was to me. (He was also very surprised, lol.)
Most Touching Book
I cried–‘nuf said. Hardly any book has ever made me cry, but Lovely War managed it. Yes, the Greek god framework of the book was a little janky, but the main love story in this book was incredibly moving. Whenever anyone who’s not a big genre fiction person has asked me for a book recommendation this year, I’ve used Lovely War as my go-to choice.
Top Three of 2019
(with some admitted cheating)
I know it’s lame, but I honestly could not make a decision for the number three spot between these books. Here There Are Monsters debuted to less-than-stellar reviews, which was heartbreaking to me because I adored it. The author’s lyrical language, the fraught relationship between the two sisters (gotta love a sister story), and the entirely unexpected ending–for me, Amelinda Bérubé is an author to watch. I get it, the main character and her sister weren’t that likable, but that was half the point of the book. I would change literally nothing about Here There Are Monsters, it was that strong of a book for me.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies caught me completely off-guard–I was looking for a book about an agoraphobic character, but I didn’t expect this book to be so moving and thought-provoking. This book is entirely character-driven, and I did not want to give these characters up at the end of the book; I was sorely tempted to head back to page one and do an immediate reread. If you’ve been looking for a palate-cleanser, give this book a try.
I happened upon a glowing review of this book and decided to take a chance on it, only to discover my favorite new-to-me author this year. The Queen’s Wing consumed me; it has that “science-fantasy” feel that I just adore, similar to theLunar Chronicles series, and the character development, setting, plot–literally everything here is perfect. I’m not sure if Thorne will be continuing this series with a third book (I see she’s working on another series on Goodreads) but I’m praying that she does. Anyone who loves young adult/new adult sci-fi or fantasy needs to place this at the top of their list. It is such a gem, and it’s flying under the bookish community’s radar.
I never did a formal review of the Sookie Stackhouse books, but Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series dominated my reading for the latter half of the year. I read the first book, Dead Until Dark, last year, but then binged all other twelve books in the series within a few month span at the end of 2019. There were a few days in there where I would finish one book, check the time to make sure Barnes and Noble was still open, then dash out of the house to buy the next in the series; that’s how much I loved these books, and I’ve been having a book hangover ever since I finished up the last one. Was every single one absolutely perfect? No, but the series is so long, has such a wide cast of characters, and is so entertaining that I can’t put anything else as my number one for 2019. I will forever adore these books, and now I’m left with the unfortunate task of having to find more books that will give me a spiritual successor feeling. Mehhhh…
2020 Bookish Goals
Like I mentioned up top, I’m striving to read at least 52 books in 2020, which should be pretty doable. I also want to read at least one non-fiction book, since not a one featured in my reading selection this past year! A third goal of mine is to discover more indie authors whose work I enjoy, since quality can be an issue with indie books. Finally, I want to finish more series; I got caught up on and/or finished six series this past year, but I still have a lot to go.
What about you–what are your reading goals for 2020? Looking back at 2019, were your reading habits satisfactory, or is there something you want to change for the new year? Comment down below, and have a great year, everybody! ❤
The first in this science-fantasy series, The Queen’s Wing, is the best book I’ve read this year hands down, so suffice it to say that I was beyond excited to read The Stone’s Heart and bought it the day of release. The Stone’s Heart picks up pretty much exactly after the last book ended and introduces Petra, Bel’s bodyguard, as a new POV; the book shifts between their POVs throughout. It took me a little while to feel fully immersed in the book, but that was really a me-thing instead of a book-thing—sometimes you’re just not in that SFF mood, you know? But things clicked for me about a quarter of the way in, and I was fully along for the ride.
Thorne crafts great characters and excellent plots, with world building that’s just the perfect ratio of science fiction to fantasy. As I think I said in my review of the first in the series, whoever is doing the marketing for this series is picking the wrong comps (Sarah J. Maas and The Selection). I think a wayyyyy better comparison is the Lunar Chronicles series if it were aimed at slightly older readers. And can we talk about that last bit? Because this series is not YA; I don’t care what the marketing and the cover indicate. Yeah, it’s written in a YA-ish voice that’s going to appeal to YA fans, but these characters are too old for that designation, sorry. I get it, that’s where the money’s at, but… can we try the New Adult thing again? Pretty please? Because a couple books I’ve read this year fit super well in that category, and I just wish traditional publishing and bookstores would acknowledge that we can make this a thing if we all just take a trust fall together.
I really enjoyed the new POV; these characters are full-fledged, with their own hopes, dreams, and back stories. If you are a fan of courtly (and interplanetary!) intrigue, definitely pick this series up, since there are a ton of twists, turns, and back stabbings. Thorne is really skilled at writing plot twists that truly come from left field but feel absolutely plausible. There’s no listed third book on Goodreads, but I’m praying that the author has one in the works, since I’m on board for this series for the long haul—hoping it’s not a trilogy, so we can get more, more, more! And in the meantime, I might take a look at her back list, since she also writes under Ruth Frances Long and R. F. Long.