Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Overall Rating: 3/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 1/5

Quality of Characters: 3/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 2/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: All summer

A 1 Sentence Summary

While awaiting her marriage to the imperial prince, Mariko attempts to free her love Okami from prison, figure out why her brother betrayed her, and discover who was behind her assassination attempt.

My Favorite Quotes

“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman…but more because you have always been treated as less than you are…We should create a world for women like us. It would be a thing to see.”


What I Loved About It

As a sequel to Flame in the Mist, a novel I absolutely loved, there are, of course some automatic redeeming qualities to Smoke in the Sun. First, it’s written by the genius Renee Ahdieh, who is usually so amazingly good at creating complex characters, writing incredibly sensuous and descriptive prose, and developing super compelling action, suspense, and romance. Ahdieh did all of those things in Flame in the Mist (and she definitely did them in The Wrath and the Dawn and The Rose and the Dagger), but I found that while the characters she created in the prequel were still strong and complex in this novel, I cared far less what happened to them. This is even more true with her new characters that didn’t appear in the prequel. Her prose is less interesting in this novel, and the trademark action and suspense that usually lead Ahdieh’s plots is lacking as well. The reason it took me so long to finish Smoke in the Sun is because literally nothing happens in the first 75% of the novel. Okami is tortured, Mariko argues with her brother and meets the princes’ mothers. That’s it.

It’s true that Ahdieh’s sequels are never as good or as interesting as the first books in her series. But The Rose and the Dagger, while certainly not as good as The Wrath and the Dawn, was still a very compelling read, with new characters, new plotlines, less romance but a whole lot of–super interesting–action. And this was simply not the case in Smoke in the Sun. As a HUGE Renee Ahdieh fanatic, in a word, I would call this book disappointing. (And it truly pains me to say that, as The Wrath and the Dawn series is my all-time favorite YA romance/fantasy series and as I really, truly loved Flame in the Mist.)

I’m not saying Ahdieh has lost her touch (I refuse to ever believe that), just that this particular novel is not quite up to her usual unmatched quality–which, come to think of it, was also the case with de la Cruz’s Love and War or Jae-Jones’ Shadowsong.

Sequels are hard.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Despite my own crushing disappointment, I think my students who enjoy a good fantasy romance would still enjoy this novel and the series as a whole. And, like all of Ahdieh’s books, it still features a very strong female lead, a great feminist message, and a window into ancient Japanese culture. Which are definitely some redeeming factors.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Overall Rating: 2/5

Quality of Prose: 2/5

Quality of Story: 1.5/5

Quality of Characters: 2/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 0/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

Betrothed to the Demon Prince from birth, Nyx travels to his enchanted castle to be his bride and to get close enough to him to kill him and free her people from his captivity.

My Favorite Quotes

“I had been waiting, all my life, for someone undeceived to love me.”

(You can tell by the quality of this quote (or lack thereof), that there were no impressive or notable quotes in this novel that I loved.)

cruel beauty

What I Loved About It

I usually love fairy tale retellings and I especially love Beauty and the Beast, but this particular retelling just seemed contrived and far-reaching. If it wasn’t marketed as a retelling of beauty and the beast, I probably wouldn’t have even guessed that it was meant to be one. The only similarities are that the heroine is locked in a castle with a seemingly evil man who she eventually falls in love with. The comparison stops there.

The whole hermetic magic part of the plot and the mysterious and magical castle setting just seemed so silly to me and put me off from the very beginning. The plot itself seemed tortuous and gratuitous and not the magical and intriguing fairy tale retelling I expected. I also didn’t find the Demon Lord or his mysterious shadow, Shade, to be attractive characters.

The whole time I was reading this book, I thought of my favorite folk tale retellings, Wintersong and The Wrath and the Dawn (if you haven’t read them, go read them right now. Right now!), and how I wished Cruel Beauty was more like them. I honestly didn’t even know this was a book people actually read and liked (I checked out the Kindle copy from my local library’s app after reading the summary and had never heard of it before then) until I looked at Goodreads after reading it. I honestly don’t see the appeal at all.

What My Students Could Learn From It


Wintersong: A Novel by S. Jae Jones

Wintersong: A Novel by S. Jae Jones

Overall Rating: 4/5

Quality of Prose: 4.5/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 4/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 3.5/5

How Long It Took Me To Finish: 4 days

A 1 Sentence Summary

A sexy German fairytale about a young, female–and therefore often overlooked–musician who is whisked away to the Underground to become the bride of the mysterious, dangerous, but somehow familiar Goblin King.

My Favorite Quotes

“This was the immortality humans were meant to have: to be remembered by those who loved us long after our bodies had crumbled into dust.”

“’A sparrow is beautiful in its own way,’ Käthe said severely. ‘Don’t force yourself to be a peacock, Liesl. Embrace your sparrow self.’”


What I Loved About It

I really loved this book.

Jones’ prose is phenomenal. It’s musical and magical and drew me in from the very beginning. It’s similar to Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina (which I also love) in that the main character’s musicality reflects in the prose of the book itself.

The magical fairy tale-ness of the book makes it a fun and compelling read.

It’s also just a great romance. Jones does such a good job in making the Goblin King a tragic yet sexy villain AND hero. And the love story between Leisl and the Goblin King is alluring and also probably the steamiest romance I’ve seen in a YA book.

Though the novel is a fantasy and is set in Germany in the 1800s, I found it easy to relate to the main character, Leisl/Elizabeth. One of my favorite quotes (the one above about the sparrow and peacock) alludes to the fact that Leisl has always been considered plain by everyone who knows her except the Goblin King who sees the beautiful music in her soul and loves her for it (I know that sounds insanely corny but trust me, Jones pulls it off so well). As a girl who has been considered on the plainer side (but with a great personality!!) by many people, I definitely related to that feeling of being a sparrow on an embarrassingly visceral level. I think my students could relate to that too.

What My Students Could Learn From It

Not a whole lot. Though I truly LOVED this book, the main reason for its 4 star rating instead of a 4.5 or 5 is because while it is a fantastic and fun romantic read, it’s not a book that changes your views on something or puts you in a melancholic funk for days (like All the Bright Places). There’s not a ton my students could learn from it, other than a little bit about 19th century German culture and folklore.

Nonetheless, it’s a FANTASTIC romance and a really fun read. And I’d definitely recommend it. To my students AND my readers.