Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The January Short List

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I know some of you might be reading this and thinking “the short list, what does that mean?”. Well, its pretty simple. I read a lot of books, but I don’t necessarily review all of them. This is for a variety of reasons. Sometimes there are books that I don’t feel strongly enough about to review, and for some it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, the book in question discusses a very niche topic or it’s one of those books that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously or analyzed. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about books like this, so I’ve decided to create The Short List, which gives me a chance to talk about these books without writing a full review. In order to preserve my own sanity, I will be posting these towards the end of every month.

With my explanation out of the way, let’s get into January’s Short List.

Image result for is god a mathematician

Is God a Mathematiician by Mario Livio
This is a non-fiction book written by an astrophysicist. The book examines the connection between mathematics, which is a collection of abstract concepts, and the physical world. It tried to answer the questions of how, if math is an entirely intangible concepts that humans invented, can it be used to so easily explain things in physical reality? For example, the work of  British mathematician who was well-known for his contribution to number theory (the study the properties of whole, positive numbers), was used decades later to make breakthroughs in cryptography. There’s also the matter of earlier individuals such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Isaac Newton, whose discoveries in their time have wide applicability today. The book attempts to answers a simple question: did we discover math when learning about the world around us or did we invent math and it just so happens to explain so much about the world around us?

This book is on the Short List, because not many people I know personally would be interested in a book like this. I have a math degree. If I had the money, I’d probably be working on earning a Master’s degree in math right now. I found this book interesting, but not everyone will.

Image result for i could pee on this

I Could Pee on This (And Other Poems by Cats) by Francesco Marciuliano
Yes, this is a book of poems. Yes, these poems are written from a cat’s perspective. It’s a little weird, but it’s a fun book with a creative premise. I bought it on a whim because the title made me laugh. It’s a short, cute, fun read and anyone that has or had cats should read it. There are lots of cute cats pictures inside as well.

What Will I Be? STEM Edition By Katie Greiner
I know you might be thinking, this is a kid’s book. Why did you read a kids book? Well, two reasons. One, I have somewhat of a connection to the author. While I’ve never met her, she and I are both alumnae of the same sorority, from different colleges, for women studying in technical fields. I wanted to support one of my sisters. Second I liked the message it was sending. 

There’s a stigma around women studying math, science and technology and I, for one, am tired of it. This book tells kids, especially girls, that they can be a doctor or an astronaut or a computer scientist and I like that message.

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The Prose Edda
This is, no doubt, the oldest book I’ve ever read that’s not about the Trojan War. It was written in the 13th century in Iceland. It’s one of the most well-known pieces of Scandinavian literature and our biggest source of information about Norse Mythology. Unlike its older relative, The Poetic Edda, it gives more detail into the myths it tells and it’s a little easier to understand, since The Poetic Edda is, as one might guess, a collection of poems. Given that The Prose Edda takes inspiration from The Poetic Edda, they’re sometimes referred to as the Younger Edda and the Elder Edda respectively.

As someone who, up until reading this, had only read Greek myths, the differences are quite fascinating. Every mythology has a creation myth, but very few have a detailed, soon-to-come destruction myth. I would advise anyone thinking of reading this, or anything derived from this book, to leave anything you learned from Marvel comics at the door, since they changed quite a bit.

Those were all of the books I completed in January but did not review. I know that this is a very varied list, but variety is the spice of life as they say. What are some books that you read this months? Any recommendations?

Monday, January 27, 2020

Dorothy Must Die

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Dorothy Must Die book cover.jpg

Dorothy Must Die is a 2014 young adult fantasy adventure novel by Danielle Paige. It was published by Harper Collins. It was the author's debut novel and is the first book in the series, also titled Dorothy Must Die. The author has written a number of prequels since the series debuted, explaining some events that set-up the world of the story in addition to the main series. The novel can be purchased here from

The novel tells the story of a teenager named Amy Gumm from Kansas. She's neglected by her mother and bullied at school. One day, their trailer is swept up in a tornado and Amy wakes up in Oz. Except, the Land of Oz is very different from what the books and film portray. Instead of a beautiful, bright, happy place, it's a grim dystopia with the facade of being a dreamland. Good witches are bad, Wicked witches appear to be good and even the Yellow Brick Road is crumbling. It turns out that Dorothy found her way back to Oz after returning to Kansas and decided to seize power for herself. Amy is recruited by a resistance within Oz to help rid the land of Dorothy.

I'm very skeptical of retellings, continuations or re-imaginings of popular and beloved stories. While there have been many good ones, there have also been an untold number of ones that don't quite work. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this one worked and fit into the existing world of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Now, just to be clear, I didn't hate Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but the explanation that was given about why Dorothy returns to Oz (Kansas was too dull after experiencing Oz) and how Oz fell into its current state (Dorothy was given an immense amount of power and its gone to her head) make sense. It's easy to understand, in that context, how Dorothy, Glinda, the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion became dark perversions of themselves. The book had a great hook, but a so-so execution of that idea.

Let's discuss the characters first. Amy is the main character, and she has a lot of personality. She's three-dimensional, she has a goal driving her forward throughout the story. The other characters aren't as well fleshed out. The characters we know from The Wizard of Oz's characterization begins and ends with "what if they were evil and their admirable traits are taken to a dark extreme". They're evil now, but one-dimensional evil. As for Amy's allies, they're meant to seem complex, but for the most part, they all fit into the categories of "I'm your ally because your enemy is also my enemy" and "trust me, but don't trust me too much" which was refreshing to begin with, but after the third or fourth character basically said those exact things, it got annoying. There were also a few characters who only appear in a handful of scenes who were a little too fake-edgy for me. Maybe the trope of "tough guy/girl" just didn't translate well in my opinion,  but there were some lines of dialogue that just read as overkill to me. I wanted to like these characters, and hate the ones I'm supposed to hate, but the only character I liked was Amy and I couldn't connect with any of the others.

The pacing of Dorothy Must Die is a bit slow. The beginning tells us a bit about Amy's life and her problems. We see enough to get a feel for the character, but too much, since what really matters is Amy traveling to Oz. Once she lands in Oz, however, the plot slows down. Paige was dropping the reader into a world they were supposed to already know, but had been drastically changed. This is Oz, but not the Oz we know. As a result, there needed to be a degree of world-building added to the story in order to explain how and why Oz had changed. I enjoy world-building, but not if it comes at the expense of the story being told. There are lengthy parts of this book where Amy doesn't appear to be doing anything that furthers the plot. Instead, they're being used to build up Dorothy and her friends into these horrible monsters that must be destroyed when the reader already knows that. Part of this pacing issue is due to this being the first book in the series. There needed to be a lot of set-up for future books, which meant the plot itself doesn't have a lot going on.

An aspect of the story that I did enjoy was that the author didn't shy away from making things dark in this new Oz. Not only do characters say how terrible Oz has become, but it's shown. There's blood and gore and scenes that are genuinely frightening, which I liked. When stories tell me that a place is horrible, but never show an example of it, it gets under my skin. If you want me to think something or someone's bad, you need to show something that verifies it. In this story, the terrible world is backed up by the terrible events the reader gets to witness. I also enjoyed the fact that, while it did slow the plot a bit, Amy's training with the rebellion wasn't glossed over. I don't enjoy time skips, but I also don't enjoy wishy-washy explanations of how a character who's never fought before can suddenly kick butt. The story showed enough of her training to indicate it was happening, but focused more on relevant lessons she's learning than just adding to the length.

I liked Dorothy Must Die, but I didn't love it. The premise behind the novel is intriguing, even though the execution leaves a bit to be desired. Some of my criticisms are due to this being the author's debut novel and those tend to need a little bit more polish than a non-debut novel. There are also aspects that I found disappointing that are a result of this being the first book in the series. There's a lot of world-building and explaining, with not a ton or plot and very little resolution at the end. I haven't decided whether I'm going to read the next book in the series, The Wicked Will Rise, but this book didn't disappoint me to such a degree that I'm adverse to the idea. Dorothy Must Die had a lot of potential and maybe my expectations were a bit too high going into the story.

Rating: 2.7 stars

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Saturday, January 25, 2020

20 Questions Book Tag

Books tags interest me because they tend to ask interesting questions that I, for one, wouldn't think to ask someone individually. I also enjoy seeing the creativity that goes into creating the prompts/questions for the specific tag. Not to mention the fact that reading different people's responses to a specific tag.

I've been wanting to do more book tags, but I honestly didn't quite know where to start. I wasn't sure what the etiquette was for the, Did I need to be tagged in something in order to do it? Or can I just pick one I like and do it? Am I overthinking this? It turns out I was, because I tweeted something like "I want to do some book tags, how do I find them?". Most of the responses that I got were either "Find one on Google that you like" or "I do book tags on [insert day here], I'll tag you in my next one".

Knowing I wasn't breaking some unspoken rule, I turned to the Internet and started looking for tags. The first one (of many) that interested me was the "20 Questions Book Tag" by Paper Fury 

Now, let's answer some questions!

1) How many books is too many for a series?

This is probably going to sound like a cop-out, but it honestly depends. Sometimes, you can tell that a series was intended to be a trilogy or quadrilogy, but ends up having more books added. Other times, it seems like the author isn't sure how many books the series is going to be when the first book is released, and I'm a little more lenient. The thing that bugs me is when a series has come to a natural conclusion, and then more books get added.

Personally, I usually restrict myself to series with four books or less.

2) How do you feel about cliffhangers?

I'm not a fan of a serious cliffhanger, because I feel like its gimmicky. If a book ends with characters finding out some new information that they'll need to defeat the evil wizard in the next book (or whatever the main conflict is) that's one thing, but if the book just ends in the middle of a scene, or before some part of the plot is resolved, it makes me mad. You need to have some unresolved aspect from Book 1 to carry into Book 2, but if Book 1 feels like a build-up to this cliffhanger, I'm going to be mad.

3) Hardcover or paperback?

Paperbacks because I feel less nervous leaving the house with them. I love hardcovers, but I get scared I'll hurt the book.

4) Favorite book?

Okay, if I have to pick just one, The Hobbit. Which I'm picking because it was the book that made me love reading. Also, The Lord of the Rings is my favorite series of all time, so it makes sense that The Hobbit would be my favorite book. 

5) Least favorite book?

The Great Gatsby (sorry, every English teacher I've ever had). Everyone talks about how it's a classic and one of the "great American novels" but I don't see the appeal. I've never seen the appeal of the book and being forced to read it multiple times didn't make me like it any more.

6) Love Triangles, yes or no?

In general, no. Sometimes, I don't think they're written very well. Other times, I don't see the purpose in having it in the story. I'd like to see subversions of love triangles rather than just straight-forward love triangles.

7) Most recent book you couldn’t finish?

All the Light We Cannot See I just couldn't get into the story.

8) Books you’re currently reading?

Beautiful Blunders by Mario Livio

Gheist by Richard Mosses

9) Last book you recommended to someone?

If we're going by the last book where I put in my review "read this"' Countdown to Omega. If' we're going by the last time I told a specific person to read it, Nothing to See Here.

10) Oldest book you’ve read by publication date?

Not including things like The Odyssey which don't have publication dates, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

11) Newest Book you’ve read by publication date

The Girl the Sea Gave Back which was published in September of 2019.

12) Favorite author?

Tolkien, if I have to pick just one. I also enjoy Frank Herbert, Delia Owens and Ray Bradbury.

13) Buying books or borrowing books?

Buying books for the most part. While I do love libraries, I'm not able to get to my closest library as often as I like.

14) A book you dislike that everyone seems to love?

This could turn into a long list, but I'm not the biggest fan of Sarah J. Maas or Ruth Ware.

15) Bookmarks or dog ears?

Bookmarks. People who dog-ear books are my least favorite kind of people.

16) A book you will always reread?

The Hobbit or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

17) Can you listen to music while reading?

No, I don't remember what I just read when I try to do that.

18) One POV or multiple?

One POV in general. Multiple POV has become a trend these days, and it doesn't always benefit the story.

19) Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

I try to read in one sitting, but sometimes I need multiple days. It depends on the length of the book.

20) Who do you tag?

Anyone who wants to do this tag!

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Monday, January 20, 2020

Countdown to Omega

Image result for countdown to omega

Countdown to Omega is a 2019 science fiction novel by Robert Wingfield. It was self-published by the author and released in August of 2019. The author's website can be found here. I was provided with a free copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The novel tells the story of a girl named Anthea who lives on a paradise planet and is an outcast of a colony of refugees and religious pilgrims. One day, a storm of meteorites begins to bombard the planet. She believes this to be an omen of the Gods returning. The “Gods” are in fact the remnants of the race Anthea is descended from, left behind by her own ancestors and evolved over millennia in order to survive. Their arrival causes an alien artifact given to Anthea as a child to activate, seemingly counting down, and sets off a chain of events that threatens a deadly conflict. Unsure if the amulet is the key to salvation or her doom, Anthea goes on a journey to prevent the devastation of her planet.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Countdown to Omega, the novel didn’t quite fulfill the expectations I got from the tagline. The tagline reads “Ancient Aliens meet Greek gods in an epic confrontation that spells the end of the world” which I thought was a bit misleading. I thought the story would depict an epic war between aliens and gods, not of a possible war between humans and aliens believed to be gods. I guess the truth of the tagline depends on how the reader chooses to interpret it. The tagline and the novel’s plot not quite meshing together isn’t a criticism by any means. The story within is more engaging and nuanced than a straightforward “Olympians vs. Aliens” battle royale.

The novel has a wide array of characters, far too many for me to list, but I would like to discuss a handful who I see as the most important to the story. First, there is Anthea, the main character. She’s a outcast among her people because she’s different, having a different hair color and complexion, from the others on the planet An-Ki. She draws ire from others in her community because she questions things, mostly the religion she’s an acolyte of, and if she needs to follow certain rules, she wants to know why. In addition to her rebellious streak, she has a very dry sense of humor and is quite sarcastic. Naturally, being incredibly sarcastic myself, I connected with her very early on. The two “Gods” Anthea encounters early in the story are a male and a female “Watcher”, named Phoebus and Diana respectively, who were sent to observe another planet and report their findings back to their own people. Their mission goes awry and thus, they end up on An-Ki. They’re both very clinical and emotionally stunted, much to Anthea’s confusion and frustration. However, despite being members of the same alien race, they have very distinct personalities. Diana is very cynical of many things and willing to do whatever is needed to accomplish their mission. Phoebus, on the other hand, is a far more curious about the world surrounding him and doesn’t have the same laser-like focus on the mission the way she does. The final character I’d like to mention is Tiresias, the main antagonist of the story. There are a number of antagonistic characters, but Tiresias does the most to drive the plot forward and, given that other antagonists are either his allies or his followers, he’s clearly the main villain. Wingfield wrote all of the villains really well, but Tiresias I feel is the best written one, because he perfectly embodies the power-hungry villain trope and it becomes clear in the first scene he appears in that he’s not meant to be liked. Anthea makes a number of allies throughout her journey, and this review would be far too long if I mentioned all of them, but something that I noticed, and enjoyed, about the characters was that they were all flawed and it wasn’t all the same flaw. Some were too trusting, some were very distrusting with no reason. There were characters who are religious zealots and others who don’t seem to believe in the religion, but see it as a gateway to more power. I loved flawed characters, I feel that they make a story more interesting, and having a variety of characters with different flaws makes a story even better.

It’s clear early on in the novel that the author did a great deal of research for this story and was passionate about what he was writing. The knowledge and the passion help guide the reader through the story. Wingfield wrote very vivid descriptions of the world, the people and events that effortlessly create the scene in the reader’s mind, allowing them to lose themselves in the story. This is a story that makes you think about creation, the origins of mankind and evolution. There are some questions about the inherent destructive nature of humanity and our tendency to create structures that foster corruption thrown in as well. Wingfield wrote a unique and thought-provoking explaining both the origins of humanity and some of our oldest mythologies.  The story is the right level of confusing, which might seem like a contradiction, but hear me out. Very little is revealed up front, but as the story moves forward, more details and answers are provided. The author also included appendices and a glossary that can be referred to if necessary. There are nods and hints along the way indicating where the story ends and what the author is trying to convey happens after, but they aren’t so straightforward and obvious that it gives away the ending. There were a few parts or moments within the story where I stopped and went “oh, that’s clever” after finishing the book when I thought about it.

While I did enjoy Countdown to Omega overall, there are some critiques I need to express. The book is a bit dialogue heavy. This didn’t bother me very much, but there were some parts where I would’ve enjoyed less talk and a little more action. I can see why there’s a lot of dialogue, it’s the only in-universe way to explain or reveal past events but at a few points it did get a little annoying. While the plot is very well-paced, it did get repetitive at a point. By that, I mean that three times the same basic situation, a confrontation between Anthea and her enemies, took place and those confrontations ended more or less the same way each time. The third time it happened, it started reminding me of that Charlie Brown bit with Lucy and the football. Each confrontation further the plot, but I found myself getting annoyed at the characters for repeating the same mistakes over and over.

Countdown to Omega is an excellent book. It takes two seemingly very different topics: Greek myths and aliens and melds them together quite well. It’s not suited to be a fast, casual read though. I think any fan of sci-fi should read it. It’s a fascinated, deep, well-executed story. I’m not sure if the author plans to write a sequel or not, as the ending works for both a stand-alone novel or the first in a series, but I’m excited to read what other stories he has to offer.

Rating: 4.4 Stars

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Monday, January 13, 2020

A Dream Within A Dream

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Image result for a dream within a dream kristina mahr

A Dream Within A Dream is a 2019 fantasy young adult novel by Kristina Mahr. It was published by Uncommon Universes Press. It is the second and final book in the Dreamworld duology. The first book is titled All That We See or Seem. I read the first book in the series a while ago, but I haven’t written a review because I read it back before I started this blog. Perhaps I should’ve reread the first book in the duology before reading this one, but I remembered enough of the details to be able to follow and understand the story. The novel can be purchase here from

The series follows a girl named Reeve who lives in a kingdom called Acarsaid. She travels to another world, Tenebris, when she sleeps due to a magical breach in the spell connecting the two worlds. In the first book, Reeve travels to Tenebris and falls in love with a boy named Bran who lives there, but at the end, a wizard in her kingdom closes the breach so that nefarious forces from Tenebris can’t enter Acarsaid. In A Dream Within A Dream, Reeve is still able to travel there in her sleep, but she’s invisible to everyone, including Bran. She tries to find a way to reopen the breach so that she can be with Bran, as a war between the two kingdoms looms in the distance.

The three most important characters in this novel are Reeve, the narrator and main character, Arden, Reeve’s fiancé who she’s set to marry within the novel’s time frame, and Bran, the Tenebris soldier who she’s fallen in love with and desperate to be reunited with. There are other characters that play a significant role, such as Carrick, the king of Acarsaid and Reeve’s uncle, Thrall, the court wizard, and Rancore, the villain of the series and an evil wizard, but there’s not much I can say about them withour spoiling the end of the series. Of the three most important characters, my favorite was Arden since he was written with the most personality. He was complex, sometimes putting forth a façade of indifference , while at others showing how deeply he truly cares. Additionally, I found the dreams and goals he expresses to be the most understandable and relatable. Trapped within the confines of his own social class, all he wants is to see the world. Of all of the characters, his desires are the most concrete and specific. I had trouble relating to Reeve, which is unfortunate because in the previous book, I was able to connect with her a little better. I know that I don’t necessarily need to like a main character to enjoy a book, but I actually found myself rooting against her in certain parts. Some of her actions didn’t make sense to me and I found myself getting annoyed at her hopelessly romantic attitude. Unlike Arden, who had a set goal he wants to fulfill, Reeve seemed to be of the mindset that if she can make herself visible to Bran and reunite with him, all of her problems would be solved. It seemed a little too simplistic. Bran is kind of a non-entity to me. I can’t remember if I felt this way about him in the previous book, but nothing about him stood out to me in this novel. He felt like a very cookie-cutter YA love interest, and I found myself not being too invested in their relationship.

One thing that I enjoyed about this novel is that it wraps all of the plotlines up. The magical barrier separating Tenebris and Acarsaid is taken care of. The antagonist is defeated. The Arden-Reeve-Bran love triangle is resolved. I know that may sound silly that I’m happy the last book in a duology wraps up the story, but I’ve read a number of duologies that turned into trilogies that then became longer series and, more often than not, the series as a whole suffers. Everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow and there’s no need for a third book. I also enjoyed the world of Tenebris, the so-called dreamworld. The kingdom is dark, and depressing and there were elements of it that I genuinely found fascinating, but they weren’t explored enough in my mind. The sorcery keeping the two worlds separate and the rules of how magic works in each world took a backseat to the romance aspect of the story and that decreased my enjoyment. The cover art is also incredibly beautiful and I like the mirrored  world aspects of it. A Dream Within A Dream has potential to be a more interesting story, but it wasn’t taken advantage of.

While there were elements of the story that I enjoyed, this book was a miss for me.  Kristina Mahr’s writing style wasn’t really to my taste. Sometimes the language got a little too flowery. At points, I felt like she was repeating words to make a point that the reader had already gotten. There were a few parts where I read a sentence or a paragraph and it felt like they were intended to sound deep or thought-provoking, but it didn’t really work. The pacing was also a little weird. The majority of the pages are spent with Reeve thinking about how much she wants to be with Bran or considering whether she should move on and marry Arden. The dreamworld, which should be the focus of the series, took a backseat to the relationship stuff. In fact, so much of the plot is driven by the romance aspects that the ending feels completely rushed. The better part of two books are spent building up Rancore as this massive threat who wants revenge and will destroy anything and everything in his way. It’s disappointing then when he only appears a handful of times in the entirety of the second book and is defeated incredibly easily. The battle between good and evil could’ve been a very interesting and high-stakes fight, where the tides keep turning. The good guys are winning at first, but then Rancore turns the tables of them and it starts to look like they might not triumph, making the victory sweeter. The ending could’ve been a great magical fight but instead, its more of a one-punch knockout. All in all, it didn’t quite live up to me expectations.

A Dream Within A Dream is a slightly below average book. I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style, finding it a little distracting at points. Some parts of the plot weren’t given enough attention or depth while others dragged on a bit too much. Overall, my disappointment stems from the fact that it’s miscategorized in my opinion. It’s categorized as fantasy and the blurb makes it seem like a fantasy novel with some romance thrown in, but it’s actually a romance with some bits of fantasy thrown in. It’s a quick read and a pretty easy story to follow though.

Rating: 2.6 stars

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Monday, January 6, 2020

The Girl the Sea Gave Back

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The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a 2019 young adult fantasy novel by Adrienne Young. It was published by Wednesday books. It is part of the same series as Sky in the Deep, but reading Sky in the Deep prior to this novel is not necessary to understanding it. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t read Sky in the Deep prior to this novel, so please keep that in mind for this review. The novel can be purchased here from

The novel follows Tova who has lived among the Svell people after being found washed ashore in their lands as a child. She is a Truthtongue, able to read portents and see in the future, which is a gift the Svell have used to their advantage for years. With two nearby clans joining together, the chieftain of the Svell looks to Tova to advise them on what course of action to take. By looking into the future, she sets into motion a series of events that could change everything. The conflict could give Tova the one thing she thought she’d never have again- a home.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back doesn’t have one protagonist but two. Tova is a Truthtongue and half of the novel follows her story. The other main character is Halvard, the man who will be the next chieftain of the Nadhir people. The Nadhir are the group the Svell are debating whether to go to war with or not. Switching between Tova and Halvard’s perspective, the conflict between the two group draws the pair close together and it’s clear from early on that the two share a connection. Given that I would describe the story as being more plot-driven than character-driven, there’s not a lot I can say about Tova or Halvard. Halvard is a young man, only 18, who is unexpectedly called to lead his people in the midst of a crisis. He wants to lead his people in the best way he can, but has no idea how to do that. Tova is an outsider who has always wanted a place to belong but has never found it. Despite her abilities making her valuable to the Svell, a number of them want her dead and believe her to be cursed. As expected, Tova finds a place to belong over the course of the story and Halvard learns how to lead his people.

Aside from the two main characters, there are a few others worth mentioning, most of whom are Svell. Jorrund is a Tala, a religious figure, of the Svell. He was the person who found Tova as a child. While there are moments where its clear he cares about his surrogate daughter, one starts to wonder if he cares about her or the power her abilities give him the more the story progresses. Vigdis is one of the tribal leaders of the Svell and becomes the new chieftain after the old one, his brother, is killed early in the book. He’s the villain of the story, being responsible for both the main conflict, the war between the two peoples, and the inner conflict Tova feels throughout the story. There are a number of friends and mentors Halvard has, but the most interesting of which is Kjeld, who is one of the Kyrr. The Kyrr are another tribe that live on the headlands of the sea, while the other tribes live along fjords and the coasts. Tova is also one of the Kyrr, although she remembers very little of her homeland, as she was found by the Svell at the age of six. She believed they had cast her out and left her to die. The two Kyrr meeting in the midst of this conflict pushes Tova further in her journey of self-discovery and changes the tide of the war.

One of the central themes of the book, and most consistent one, revolves around destiny. Tova is perhaps the only character who fully understands how fate works, given that she can see the future. Everyone else, especially the Svell, are under the impression that nothing is destined to happen, even as events she predicts come to pass. An interesting pattern I noticed was the unspoken idea of self-fulfilling prophecies. In telling the Svell the future she sees in her omens, is she causing it to change or would things always turn out this way? This idea is something she struggles with in the middle of the book when she believes that her casting stones, the way she sees the future, about whether war is wise led to the destruction of an entire village. She believes her reading caused the destruction, while it could be argued that it was the Svell’s leadership’s actions that are responsible. The connection between Halvard and Tova is hinted to be as a result of destiny. When she looks into her own future, she sees him and this causes her to seek him out to understand why.

The story is told mostly in first person from Tova and Halvard’s alternating perspectives. The prologue and a few chapters that take place in the past are told from the third person perspective and give insight on both narrators’ childhoods and events that shaped who they are. I’m normally not a fan of alternating perspectives because, more often than not, I think that they don’t serve a purpose. I often see alternating POVs being used to serve a plot twist rather than something that serves the plot itself. Alternating perspectives are effective in this story because Young doesn’t just show events from two different perspectives, but also provides extra context along the way. Being told from only one perspective would make the story feel a little disjointed and the climax wouldn’t make as much sense.

I found the story and the world enjoyable. The clans are inspired by Viking history from what I can tell and it shows. Young does an excellent job weaving the story together and explaining aspects of the world without making it seem like too much or too little. Each clan felt unique, as did their way of life and beliefs. It was the most enjoyable coming of age story, and self-discovery story, that I’ve read in a while. And, while certain aspects of the plot are a little predictable, I liked the risks the author was willing to take. The Girl the Sea Gave Back isn’t a story where only specific character archetypes die. it’s not a story that’s entirely black and white and the gray area leads to some interesting character dynamics and changes to the plot. Characters you’d think are one-dimensional actually have quite a bit of depth and characters who appear trustworthy turn out not to be.

One thing I wish there had been more of was explanation about the Kyrr. There is a scene at the very beginning of the book, showing how Tova ended up in the Svell village, but aside from that not much about that group is explained until the very end, and even then, it’s not much. I suppose the reason for this could be to keep the Kyrr as mysterious as possible. Depending on which character is describing the Kyrr, they’re either demons or this strange, almost mystical race that no one knows much about. Another critique I have is the pacing of the story. The main conflict between the Svell and Nadhir is concluded in the span of about 10-20 pages and the way it was resolved felt a tiny bit forced to me. If the ending went on for a little longer, or the closing events felt less contrived, I would’ve enjoyed the story a lot more.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a book that I found by random chance. I picked it up on a whim due to both the title, which intrigued me, and the cover art which is beautiful. I was happy to discover that the story within its pages more than met my expectations. It’s not a perfect book, but better than I expected it to be. The fantasy aspect doesn’t make the story too difficult to follow, making it an ideal choice for someone looking to start reading fantasy. It’s also a novel that is easy to read quickly, once the first few chapters are over and the story truly starts. I would recommend and I plan on reading the author’s first book that takes place in this world.

Rating: 3.9 stars

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