ARC Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

ARC Review:  Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. DaoForest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
four-stars
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Published by Philomel Books on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an engaging Snow White retelling that focuses on the Evil Queen and her rise to power.  The story is set in a lush East Asian fantasy world and follows the journey of eighteen year-old Xifeng, a peasant girl who has been told by her aunt Guma, a witch who has the ability to read tarot cards and predict the future, that she is destined to become Empress of Feng Lu someday.  While Xifeng finds the idea of becoming Empress enticing, her aunt has also told her that her path to the throne can only be secured if she is willing to embrace and use the dark powers that apparently lie within her.  She also must be willing to abandon all that she knows from her current life, including the young man she has loved since she was a young girl.  Xifeng must decide what is most important to her: Does she want power so badly that she is willing to give up on love?  And if so, does she have it in her to embrace this dark magic and whatever may come from unleashing it?

 

Xifeng, the “Evil Queen” character, was definitely my favorite part of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.  Wow, what a character! I can’t say that Xifeng was an especially likable character, but she was a complicated one and for me anyway, there’s just something so compelling about complex characters. Xifeng is conflicted between following her heart to be with the man she loves and following her ambition to become the next Empress of Feng Lu.  Because she has grown up poor all her life, the idea that greatness lies in her future is a huge temptation.  However, to become Empress and achieve this greatness that she appears to be destined for means that she must give up all that she has known from her former life, including the love of her life.  Dao does a beautiful job of depicting how this inner conflict plagues Xifeng throughout the novel.  Even as Xifeng seems to have made her choice and be firmly moving in the direction she has chosen, thoughts of what she’ll be giving up if she continues down that chosen path linger in her mind.

As I’ve said, Xifeng isn’t always a likable character and I’ll admit right now that I didn’t always agree with the choices she made, I do have to say that I admired her sense of cunning and her resourcefulness.  Once she makes her choice and is committed to it, Xifeng is determined to let nothing and no one get in her way.  I don’t want to give away any specific details, so I’m just going to say she’s not afraid to get a little blood on her hands if the situation calls for it.  This is a story about the rise of a villain, after all!  As I was reading and watching Xifeng hatch plan after plan to advance her objective, I just kept thinking “Okay girl, if you want it that badly, you go for it!”

A fabulous cast of secondary characters also rounds out this book nicely.  There’s Ambassador Shiro, a kind, elderly gentleman of dwarfish stature, who takes a liking to Xifeng and becomes a confidante and mentor of sorts. Then there’s the dashing and ambitious Emperor Jun, who Xifeng must use her beauty to win over if she is to become Empress, and the mysterious eunuch, Kang, who seems to be overly eager to become Xifeng’s bff when she starts working in the palace, which left me wondering throughout the story if his motivations were sincere or was he up to something?

We also have the delicate and nurturing Empress who Xifeng is also conflicted about, because at times she feels like the Empress is like the mother she never had, but then at other times, she knows the Empress must go if Xifeng is to follow her destiny and take her place.  And finally, there’s another of my favorite characters, Lady Sun, the Emperor’s favorite concubine and perhaps the biggest obstacle in Xifeng’s path to become Empress.  Lady Sun would love nothing more than to gouge out Xifeng’s eyeballs and send her packing.  Their rivalry makes for some very entertaining reading and those were the sections of the book that I really flew through.   I found all of the secondary characters to be so interesting; not one of them fell flat for me, which made for a wonderful reading experience.  I especially wanted to see more of Shiro

The world building in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is also rich and beautifully crafted, especially once Xifeng leaves her hometown to begin her new life at the palace working as a lady-in-waiting.  The story is steeped in Asian folklore and the overall effect was dark and mysterious and pure magic.  The Asian influences played such a predominant role in the story that I almost forgot at times that it was meant to be an Evil Queen retelling.  The world Dao creates is just so lush and unique that it doesn’t feel at all like a rehash of another story.

 

The only real issue I had with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was that the pacing was a bit uneven at times.  I breezed through the first 50 pages or so, but then the next 50 were a much slower read.  This happened a couple of times as I was reading.  Thankfully the story itself was still so interesting that I kept pushing through and never felt the urge to give up on the book even when the pacing lagged.

 

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a wonderful read that I think would be enjoyed by fans of both retellings and anti-hero stories.  While it does borrow the basic premise of the Evil Queen’s story, it still reads as a fresh and unique story on its own even without thinking of it in terms of the Evil Queen.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. 

 

four-stars

About Julie C. Dao

Julie C. Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is her debut novel. Julie lives in New England. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.

ARC Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a feminist Snow White retelling

ARC Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass, a feminist Snow White retellingGirls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
four-stars
Published by Flatiron Books on September 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I have to confess that Snow White has always been one of my least favorite fairy tales because I could never get into the idea of one woman deciding she needed to poison another woman just because she might have taken her place as “the fairest of them all.”  That said, as soon as I heard that Melissa Bashardoust’s Girls Made of Snow and Glass was being advertised as a feminist retelling of the Snow White fairytale, it immediately became a must-read book for me.  I just couldn’t wait to find out what a feminist retelling would entail.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass was everything I hoped it would be and more.  It’s a beautifully written, character-driven exploration of the relationship between two women who are doomed to be rivals.  Lynet is the Snow White character in the story.  She is the 15 year old daughter of the King of Whitespring.  Lynet is a free spirit who loves to run, climb, and have endless adventures.  She has no interest whatsoever in politics or in ever becoming Queen.  Much to her frustration, her father constantly reminds her how much she looks like her beautiful dead mother and how one day she will take her mother’s place and become Queen of Whitespring.  Lynet doesn’t want to hear it because she just wants to grow up to be her own person, not a mirror image of a mother she never even met.  If she had to choose to be like anyone else, she would, in fact, choose to grow up to be like her strong and fierce stepmother, Mina.

Mina is, of course, the stepmother/Evil Queen figure in the story, and she also very unexpectedly turned out to be my favorite character.  Bashardoust writes such a rich and intricate backstory for Mina that even though she eventually ends up on a similar path to the stepmother in the original tale, it’s easy to see how she ends up in such a predicament.  We meet Mina while she is Queen of Whitespring, but the story quickly takes us back to when Mina was about Lynet’s age and being raised by her father, a well-known, often feared, magician in the kingdom. Mina’s father is cold, controlling, and sometimes hurtful.  In a particularly spiteful moment, he tells Mina that she nearly died of heart failure at age 4, and that to save her, he used magic to replace her dying heart with a glass one.  He tells Mina that because she has no actual heart, she cannot love and cannot be loved.  He goes on to tell Mina that all she can hope for is to make people love her because of her beauty.

When Mina’s father uses his magic to help the King one day, the King decides to repay him by offering him a place to live on the royal grounds.  Once living there, Mina comes up with the idea that if she can make the King fall in love with her, she can someday become Queen and thus earn the love of all of those in the kingdom.  Mina’s plan starts to fall into place and she and her stepdaughter Lynet actually become quite close, that is, until Lynet becomes old enough to become a threat to the throne.  Even though Lynet swears she has no interest in becoming queen, the threat she presents to Mina, who is so desperate to be loved, still starts to drive a wedge between them.

Are Lynet and Mina truly doomed to be rivals or can they figure out a way for each of them to get what they most want?

 

LIKES

My favorite part of Girls Made of Snow and Glass is the complexity of the relationship between Mina and Lynet.  Their relationship is ultimately the driving force behind this story and it’s no simple battle about who’s the fairest of them all.  These two women, care about one another, and as Lynet grows up, have truly become like family.  When Mina comes to the realization that Lynet may be the greatest obstacle to her finding that love she is so desperate for, it absolutely guts her.  She doesn’t want to have to hurt Lynet in any way to get what she wants.  Their relationship is just beautiful and heartbreaking.

Equally glorious to the complex relationship between the two main characters is the magic!  Okay, so there’s no dwarves, no poison apple, and no kiss from a handsome prince to break a curse.  A bit of a bummer maybe, but the magic Bashardoust has given to her characters more than makes up for it.  It’s just so creative and well, for lack of a better word, magical, haha!

As I’ve already mentioned, Mina’s father used magic to save Mina by giving her a glass heart.  As you probably also gleaned from the book’s title and synopsis, if Mina is the girl made of glass, then there is another girl who is made of snow.  Lynet is of course that girl.  There’s a very good reason why the King keeps telling Lynet she looks just like her mother.  The King had called Mina’s father to him, desperate to save his Queen, who was dying.  Mina’s father was unable to save her, but at the King’s request, used his magic to create an infant girl in the Queen’s likeness.  Using snow, Mina’s father gave the King what he wanted, Lynet.

Mina’s father somehow transferred a portion of his magic to each girl when he used it on them, thus infusing both Lynet and Mina with powers of their own.  That’s all I’m going to say about the magic for now, but trust me, it’s important and it’s awesome and these two young women are just badass, especially when they start using these powers.

Another element of the story that was really a highlight for me was an unexpected f/f relationship between Lynet and a young female surgeon named Nadia.  The romance comes about and develops in such a natural, low-key way and doesn’t at all distract from the rest of the plot, and I just thought it was beautifully written.   

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I only had a couple of issues with this story, the main one being that the men in it are just so UGHHH.  The King was basically a good man and he meant well, but at a certain point, it really started to bother me how much he kept obsessing on how much Lynet reminded him of her dead mother and how she was destined to take her mother’s place someday.  I know he didn’t mean it in an incestuous way, but it was still a little creepy.

Don’t even get me started on Mina’s father.  If you’re one who likes to have characters to hate, he’s your guy.  Aside from the fact that he did save Mina’s life when she was a little girl, there’s nothing else redeeming about him. He’s just a selfish, manipulative jerk.  He also had a creepy obsession with Lynet since he “made” her.  I have to admit, I spent much of the book wishing something horrible would happen to him.

Aside from the horrid men in the story, I did think the pacing was a little slow early on in the story and that it took me a little while to get used to Mina’s narrative being told from a present-day perspective as well as one from when she was 16.  Once I got used to the way Mina’s story was being presented, it was no longer an issue for me.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Girls of Snow and Glass is a book I’d recommend without hesitation to anyone who enjoys stories that are character driven.  I’d also recommend it to those who love fairytale retelling and even to those who say they’re burnt out on retellings. Even though this story borrows the overall idea of a young girl being in the way of her stepmother, Bashardoust has crafted such a creative story that if I hadn’t known this was a Snow White retelling going in, I don’t know that I would have guessed it.  It’s a uniquely fresh take on a timeless tale.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Melissa Bashardoust, and Flatiron Books for allowing me to preview Girls Made of Snow and Glass. This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale

At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

four-stars

ARC Review – Mask of Shadows

ARC Review – Mask of ShadowsMask of Shadows by Linsey Miller
three-half-stars
Series: Untitled #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on August 29th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Sallot Leon, the protagonist in Linsey Miller’s Mask of Shadows, is out for revenge.  Sal is the sole survivor of the territory of Nacea.  Nacea and all of its people were destroyed when the land of Erlend started a Civil War with the land of Alona.  Erlend was supposed to protect Nacea but when mysterious and deadly shadows were unleashed during the war, the Erlend lords chose to abandon Nacea and retreat to safety.  Completely alone and forced to live as a thief in order to survive, Sal is determined to make those Erlend lords pay for what they did to Nacea.

When Sal steals a poster advertising a contest to become Opal, one of the Queen’s group of elite assassins, it sounds like the perfect way to gain access to the lords and thus begin seeking revenge.  There’s just one catch – the competition to become Opal is basically a fight to the death, the last one alive wins.  So Sal’s plan is ultimately to get revenge or die trying.

 

LIKES

I’d have to say that Sal is definitely my favorite part of the novel. They are charming, witty, and extremely resourceful.  Sal is also the classic underdog in this competition because the majority of the competitors are heavily trained in combat and other lethal skills, whereas Sal is used to getting by on their street smarts.

You’ll also notice my use of ‘they’ as I’m referring to Sal.  Sal is a gender fluid protagonist, and in most cases is referred to as they, although Sal indicates that what gender pronouns are used should be dictated by what type of clothing is being worn. If Sal is wearing a dress, for example, using ‘she’ is perfectly acceptable.  I had never read a book with a gender fluid character in it before so this made for a unique read.  I don’t know much at all about gender fluidity but I thought Miller did a very nice job portraying it here.  I also liked that it was incorporated smoothly into the overall story and didn’t overshadow other plot points.  A few characters inquired about it in terms of how to address Sal, but otherwise they accepted it without question and moved on. It wasn’t treated as an oddity.

Another aspect of Mask of Shadows I enjoyed was the competition itself.  Yes, it was reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but it was still an exciting, action-packed part of the book regardless.  The rules were basically to kill as many of your fellow competitors as possible, but do so without being caught.  Since the competition is to become one of the Queen’s assassins, stealth is one of the most important qualities needed.  Miller does a fantastic job of building plenty of tension and suspense as the reader follows Sal through the competition, playing this ultra-intense kill-or-be-killed game, never knowing when a potential assassin might be hiding around any corner, or up in any tree, looking for the perfect opportunity to take them out. One distinct difference between this competition and The Hunger Games was that all of the competitors were referred to by numbers and wore numbered masks over their faces at all times.  They were only referred to by their numbers, which added an almost-dehumanizing element to the competition. I had mixed feelings about the masks because there were a few competitors I would have liked to know more about, but it was hard to connect with any of them since they were just faceless numbers.

Also somewhat reminiscent of The Hunger Games, but in a good way (for me anyway) is that each competitor is assigned a servant to help them dress, bathe, ensure they have safe, non-poisoned food to eat each day.  Sal’s servant, Maud, was one of my favorite characters in the book.  She’s not allowed to give Sal any kind of advantage during the competition, but behind the scenes, she is hard core in Sal’s corner.  Why?  Because if Sal wins, Maud gets a reward and a huge promotion.  So she’s very excited each day that Sal doesn’t die.  She’s sassy too, so she adds a much-welcomed element of lightheartedness in the middle of what is otherwise just scene after scene of murders and attempted murders.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

My biggest issues with Mask of Shadows had to do with pacing, which was slow at times, especially when the author was detailing Sal’s backstory and the reasons why they wanted to become one of the Queen’s assassins.  I lost interest a few times along the way and only came away with a vague notion of what the world of Mask of Shadows entailed so I would have loved more world building, but without it being in the form of info dumps.

I also had issues with the romance, which I found to be out of place and unfortunately distracting from the main storyline.  Although I thought Sal and Elise had a lot of chemistry when they first met (while Sal was robbing Elise), as the story went on and they are reunited as part of the competition, I preferred them  as teacher and student rather than romantic partners.

Overall, I think more action-packed competition scenes and little or no romance would have better served Mask of Shadows.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I did have some issues with it, overall I still enjoyed reading Mask of Shadows.  While parts of the storyline are in some ways reminiscent of The Hunger Games, the similarities did not bother me because there are still enough differences to make it a unique and entertaining read.

RATING:  3.5 STARS

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Linsey Miller, and Sourcebooks Fire for allowing me to preview this book.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book being reviewed.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class and the nobles who destroyed their home. 

When Sal Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen’s personal assassins named for the rings she wears — Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal — their world changes. They know it’s a chance for a new life.

Except the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge. 

three-half-stars

About Linsey Miller

A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in August 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Book Review – This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series was such a glorious read that I was actually a little hesitant to move on to This Savage Song.  As good as its synopsis sounded, I was just convinced that nothing could top the adventures of Kell, Rhys, and Lila and the 4 Londons.  Well, my concerns were completely misplaced because while it may not have topped Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is equally brilliant in its own way and easily one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year.

This Savage Song is an urban fantasy set in the war-torn city of Verity.  Not only is the city practically destroyed by war, but the violence that has taken place has actually led to the creation of actual monsters who threaten to overrun what is left of the city.  A treaty has divided Verity into two halves, one run by the ruthless Callum Harker, a crime boss who controls the majority of the monsters.  Being the “nice” guy that he is, Harker offers his services to protect the citizens on his side of the city from the monsters – for a fee.  Cross him or don’t pay your protection fee, and you’re the monsters’ next meal.  The other side of the city is run by Henry Flynn, a much more fair-minded individual who just wants to honor the terms of the treaty, keep the peace, and most especially, keep the monsters at bay so that his people are safe.

The story doesn’t actually focus on these two men, however, but rather on their children.  Kate Harker and August Flynn, and what happens when two children of powerful men become desperate to prove themselves to their fathers. But if you’re familiar with Schwab’s stories, you can guess that this is not your typical coming of age story.  Why?  Because August Flynn is a monster…literally. Yes,  Henry Flynn has monsters of his own, a rare breed that Kate’s father would love to get his hands on.  When August is finally given the opportunity to prove himself useful – by posing as a student at Kate’s school in case the Flynn resistance needs to grab her to use as leverage against her father, he actually ends up befriending Kate. He has to be careful though because if Kate finds out what he really is, what better way for her to prove herself to dear old dad than by capturing and bringing home one of Flynn’s rare monsters?

If you’re not familiar with Schwab’s writing, all I can say is be prepared for a ride that is dark, intense, creepy, and thrilling!

 

LIKES

I could go on for days about what I loved in this book, but here are some highlights to give you an idea of how amazing this book is.

The Monsters! I never thought I would hear myself gushing about a collection of monsters, but Schwab does a brilliant job of coming up with some of the most unique monsters I’ve ever encountered, and the idea that these monsters are “born” from violent acts committed by humans is just pure genius.  Schwab gives us the flesh-eating Corsai, who appear mainly as shadowy figures; the Malchai, who look like corpses and drink blood, and then finally the rarest form of monster, the Sunai.  The Sunai can actually pass for humans and they are the soul stealers.  The Sunai are, by far, the most fascinating of the three types, primarily because whereas Corsai and Malchai will attack anyone at any time, the Sunai seek justice and will only attack those who have committed heinous crimes.  They’re even more fascinating in terms of how they actually “attack” – each of the three Sunai uses music as their weapon.  They play music and draw the human’s soul to the surface and then feed on it.  It’s beautiful and awful all at the same time.

Complex Characters.  Kate Harker and August Flynn are the definition of complex characters.  Kate is a young woman determined to prove herself to her father by behaving like a monster, while August Flynn actually is a Sunai monster who wants nothing more than to be human.  August constantly fights against the Sunai instinct to feed on souls and just wants to prove himself to his “father” by being an active participant in the resistance.  In this sense, This Savage Song is as much a coming of age story as it is a dystopian story.  Both Kate and August have to make some difficult decisions as they decide what kind of people (or monsters) they want to be.

Action-Packed.  This Savage Song is set in the middle of a city that is already war torn and where the monsters are getting restless. There are monster attacks, assassination attempts, resistance missions, and so much more.  If you like action, this is your book.

The Overriding Theme.  The central idea that runs through This Savage Song – that human beings can be monsters may not be a unique one, but the way Schwab presents it – contrasting the behaviors of humans with actual monsters — totally is. It’s also a theme that seems very relevant these days with everything that is going on in the world.  There’s just so much hate and division out there.

 

DISLIKES

I thought the book was fantastic and had no issues with it at all.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While it is a very different kind of read from what we saw in the Shades of Magic, This Savage Song is still a powerful read.  If you’re into dark, gritty narratives that make you think about human nature and the tough choices we all have to make in difficult times, This Savage Song is a great choice.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. 

five-stars

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Book Review: Caraval

Book Review:  CaravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
three-half-stars
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 407
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW

It’s always so disappointing when one of your most anticipated reads doesn’t quite live up to the hype.  Unfortunately, this was the case for me with Stephanie Garber’s CaravalCaraval is a book that was instantly on my radar as soon as I started seeing people comparing it to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, which is one of my all-time favorite books.  Based on that comparison and so many glowing reviews from my fellow bloggers, I fully expected Caraval to be a 5 star read for me and ended up so disappointed that it didn’t come close to that.  That’s not to say I didn’t like the novel, because I really did. I just didn’t love it like I had expected and hoped to.

Caraval tells the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live on a tiny island with their overbearing father. Ever since their mother passed away, their father has become cruel and abusive to his children and practically holds them both prisoner, never allowing them to leave the island.  Since she was a child, Scarlett has dreamed of attending Caraval, a once-a-year magical mystery and scavenger hunt of sorts, the winner of which is granted one wish. When her father arranges for her to be married to a man she has never met, Scarlett assumes that her dream of attending Caraval is dead once and for all, until her long-awaited invitation arrives.  Thanks to an elaborate scheme concocted by her sister Tella, and with the help of a sexy sailor named Julian, Scarlett and Tella run away for a few days so that Scarlett can finally experience the magic of Caraval before settling into this married life her father has chosen for her. The catch?  Her father has scheduled the wedding date so close to when Caraval takes places that it’s going to be a race against the clock to sail to Caraval, participate in the events, and then sail back home.  Can they make it back in time? And is experiencing Caraval really worth possibly exciting the wrath of their abusive father?

 

LIKES

I’d have to say my favorite part about this novel was the world building itself once the girls actually make it to Caraval.  I loved the idea of the exotic faraway setting and the hints of magic that were everywhere. Garber does a beautiful job of setting the stage for this great adventure and infusing everything with a touch of whimsy. One of my favorite parts was when Scarlett and Julian first enter Caraval and are greeted by a young woman riding a unicycle, immediately invoking a carnival-esque atmosphere.  Another whimsical touch I enjoyed was the outfit Scarlett was given to wear soon after her arrival.  At first glance, it looked like little more than a potato sack, but then it magically transformed into whatever attire the powers that be at Caraval decided Scarlett needed at any given moment, whether it was a gorgeous and daring evening gown or a sexy negligee.  How handy would an outfit like that be?!

I thought the whole concept for the event itself was brilliant too. I mean, seriously?  A magical game of illusion and trickery that will seem so real that you actually have to sign a contract acknowledging that you fully understand it’s all just a game before they will even let you play? How fascinating is that?  I also loved that the game was only played at night.  The participants played only once the sun went down and had to be back in their rooms before the sun came back up the next morning.  This added an extra layer of mystique to the already magical atmosphere.

I also liked the relationship between the two sisters, Scarlett and Tella.  Since their mother died, Scarlett has taken on the role of protector when it comes to her younger sister, Tella, and sometimes she has her hands full because Tella is much more free-spirited and rebellious than she is.  It is Tella’s love of taking risks that makes Scarlett’s dream of attending Caraval possible, and once they get there and Tella is “kidnapped” as part of the game, Scarlett is desperate to find her sister to make sure she’s safe.  That sisterly bond is beautiful – it’s clear either would do absolutely anything for the other.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so I loved the world of Caraval, I liked the overall premise of the game, and I enjoyed the sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella.  So where did Caraval not measure up for me?

Characters that weren’t well developed or likeable.  While I felt tremendous sympathy for these two girls because their father was such a cruel beast, I just didn’t particularly like them all that much.  They kind of fell flat.  Even though I loved the bond between Scarlett and Tella, I got so tired of listening to Scarlett constantly whine about needing to find her.  I mean, seriously, she was told by two employees as soon as she entered Caraval AND had to sign a contract stating she was fully aware this was all a game, and she still kept whining about needing to get to her sister like she was truly in mortal danger.  I just found that incredibly frustrating.

I did like Tella more than Scarlett because I did enjoy her sense of rebelliousness, but she disappears for 90% of the book, so yeah, it didn’t really matter if I liked her or not.

I couldn’t stand their father of course because he was a monster, but at the same time, I didn’t understand why he became such a monster.  It’s stated in the novel that before his wife died, he was a much kinder man.  So the love of his life dies and he chooses to grieve for her by abusing their children?  I just didn’t get this at all.

Too many twists and turns.  I never thought I would see myself complain about twists and turns, but in the case of this book, I just thought there were too many. Once Scarlett started playing the game, at first the twists and turns were fun to follow along with, but after a while it felt like every page was filled with lie after lie and plot twist after plot twist.  It just got so convoluted that I often found myself going in circles, and since I wasn’t overly invested in any of the characters anyway, after a certain point, I just really wanted it to be over.

Distracting romance.  Julian, the handsome sailor Tella enlists to help them get to Caraval, decides to participate in the game with Scarlett after Tella disappears.  Even though Scarlett at one moment is frantic with worry about her sister, the next moment she’s practically falling all over herself as her attraction to Julian grows.  I wasn’t a big fan of the romance because it seemed to come out of nowhere, especially since in the opening pages, Julian and Tella were mad flirting with one another.  The romance did grow on me a bit the further into the book I got, but for a large portion of it, it just felt cringe-worthy and too ‘love at first sight’ for my taste.

Flowery prose.  I like vivid descriptions as much as the next person, but some of the descriptions in Caraval were just too much for me.  The book is just packed with sentences like this one:  “She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist.” I’m sure there are plenty of readers that would love a book written with these types of descriptions, but I like prose that is more simple and straightforward.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In some ways I think I probably set myself up for disappointment because I had overhyped Caraval so much in my own mind.  Those comparisons to The Night Circus set the bar really high for me.   Even though it didn’t quite achieve the magic and mystery of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it enough to stick with it until the end and will probably continue with the second book when it comes out.  I think for the right audience though, maybe someone who hasn’t read The Night Circus, Caraval would make for a wonderful and imaginative read.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

three-half-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Book Review:  Heartless by Marissa MeyerHeartless by Marissa Meyer
Also by this author: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 453
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Marissa Meyer’s Heartless is one of the most wonderful, whimsical, and heartbreaking books I’ve read this year.  It was actually one of my most anticipated reads for 2016, but for reasons I can’t explain, I’m just now getting around to reading it.  Thankfully though, it was so worth the wait! I devoured Heartless in just a couple of sittings and feel like I can’t sing its praises high enough.

For anyone unfamiliar with the premise for Heartless, it’s meant to be an origin tale for the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, basically providing a plausible backstory for her and explaining what then led her to become the character that we all love to hate.  Well, not only does Meyer create a plausible backstory for the Queen of Hearts, complete with new characters and an original storyline, but she is also able to do all of this while retaining all of the whimsy and wonder from the original fairytale.  Although I knew the story would ultimately end badly for Meyer’s heroine, I still loved reading every magical moment of her journey.

 

LIKES

Cath.  Even knowing that she would eventually become the Queen of Hearts, I still fell in love with Cath right away.  She’s smart, sassy, and a girl ahead of her time.  While most girls in the kingdom of Hearts would dream of having a chance to marry the King and become Queen, Cath has absolutely no interest in that whatsoever.  Why?  Because she and her best friend and maid, MaryAnn, have their own dream.  They want to go into business together and open a bakery.  Cath is a gifted baker and MaryAnn has a head for numbers, so they have a whole business plan all worked out and ready to go, if only Cath’s parents would just let her follow her dreams instead of theirs.

Jest.  Jest was actually my favorite character in Heartless.  He is the new court jester for the King of Hearts, and he’s mysterious, a bit roguish, witty, and a real showman when it comes to entertaining the King and his guests.  He piques Cath’s interest from the first moment she watches him perform, and there is an instant connection between them when they finally come face to face.  I don’t know if I’d call it love at first sight, but there’s definite chemistry there and once Cath and Jest do start to get closer, it’s almost impossible not to root for them, especially when the alternative for Cath is the ridiculous, always giggling King of Hearts.  I swear, that King is way more of a fool than his court jester. I just cringed every time I read a scene with him in it, haha.

Characters and Scenes from the Original Fairytale.  I thought Meyer did a brilliant job of seamlessly weaving so many beloved characters and memorable scenes from Alice in Wonderland into her story.  It made me smile every time I came across something familiar, whether it was the mischievous Cheshire Cat, being just as much of a pain in the rear as he is in the original tale, or Caterpillar smoking his hookah pipe and asking “WHO…ARE…YOU?” or the Mad Hatter (Hatta in Meyer’s tale) with his tea party, and especially the croquet match where they used hedgehogs for balls, flamingos for clubs, and the deck of cards as wickets.  And don’t even get me started on what Meyer did with the Jabberwock…it was brilliant!  Much of my excitement while reading was because I was so eager to see how else she had incorporated elements from the original tale into Heartless.

Shout-outs to Other Famous Rhymes.  As if all of the cameos by characters from Alice in Wonderland weren’t enough, Meyer takes it a step further and includes a couple other famous tales that are sure to be recognized by most, if not all readers.  Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater and his wife actually play a major role in the story, and then there’s also the most delightful shout-out to Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem, The Raven.  There is literally a raven, a sidekick of Jest’s of course, flying around and quoting lines from ‘The Raven: “Nevermore!”  And you might read this and think that sounds kind of hokey, but nope…trust me, it’s fabulous!

The idea that a sexist world is what ultimately creates the Queen of Hearts.  As much as I kept hoping something miraculous was going to happen and save Cath from the dreaded fate we all know is in store for her, I thought it was somewhat poetic that sexism plays such a huge role in Cath’s fate. I swear, if I lived in a place where no one took me or my dreams seriously and where everyone told me it was my duty to marry some daft king, I’d be running around yelling ‘Off with their heads!’ too.  Just ugh!

After everything goes dreadfully wrong for Cath and it appears she has no options left other than to marry the King, her parents try to make amends by asking what would make her happy (even though it’s already too late), Cath’s response just says it all: “How different everything could have been if you had thought to ask me that before.”  (I have to admit I shed a few tears when I read that line.)

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I loved pretty much every aspect of this story (aside from the ending of course since we already know, because this is an origin story, that Cath is doomed to become the Queen of Hearts. *cries*).  The only thing I didn’t particularly care for were the character names, Cath and MaryAnn.  They just seemed so ordinary compared to so many of the other names we came across.  Obviously, the names in no way hampered my enjoyment of Heartless, but I kept wishing the names were a little more whimsical in keeping with the rest of the story.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Heartless is one of those books I’d recommend to almost anyone.  I loved that it was an original read but that it also had so many familiar elements and characters that reading it reminded me of my childhood.  Meyer’s take on the original tale made me laugh and it made me cry. If that kind of read is one that appeals to you, then definitely consider giving Heartless a try.

RATING:  4.5 STARS

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

 

About Marissa Meyer

meyer

“One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER was my first completed novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around, too.

I married my husband in 2011, two months before the release of Cinder, and we adopted our two beautiful twin daughters, Sloane and Delaney, in 2015. Reading lots and lots of bedtime stories is most definitely a new favorite pastime.”

Marissa Meyer in her own words, from www.marissameyer.com

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Book Review:  Strange the Dreamer by Laini TaylorStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
five-stars
Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
on March 28th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 532
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I finished reading Strange the Dreamer last weekend and have been trying to think of some way to eloquently explain just how much I adored this book.  There’s something so special about this story that words fail me every time I try to write this review.  Everything I write sounds inadequate when it comes to conveying just how much this story completely captivated me. All I can really say, and it doesn’t feel like nearly enough, is that Strange the Dreamer is one of the most beautiful and unique stories that I’ve ever read.

It grabbed my attention from those first harrowing moments where, seemingly out of nowhere, a girl with blue-tinted skin plummets to her death. Who is this mysterious blue-skinned girl, where has she fallen from, and why did she fall?  If that’s not an immediate attention getter, I don’t know what is!  The mystery of finding out what happened to this girl immediately had me flying through the pages.

Rather than delving directly into her story though, we instead begin following the journey of another character, Lazlo Strange.  Lazlo is an orphan who was raised by monks and later becomes a junior librarian.  This is the perfect job for young Lazlo, because you see, Lazlo is a big dreamer and for a dreamer who likely cannot afford to actually go anywhere and make his dreams come true, the next best thing is to immerse himself in books and escape to his dreams that way. Lazlo’s dreams primarily center on one thing, a lost, mythical city.  Lazlo has been nearly obsessed with finding this city for most of his life.  According to legend, something happened there 200 years ago and, when Lazlo was a young boy, the name of the city was somehow stolen from the minds of everyone who had known it, Lazlo included.  He actually remembers feeling the name of the city disappear from his memory, and all that is left behind is the name Weep in its place.  Lazlo devoted himself to figuring out what happened to Weep and spends every free moment in the library researching everything he can about his now unnamed city.  His coworkers and many others in his town think he’s foolish to waste his time following what is now mostly a myth, but Lazlo can’t stop. He’s determined that one day he will set out on his own and try to find Weep.

Lazlo’s chance to find Weep comes along a lot sooner than expected when a gentleman rides into town, declaring himself from Weep and looking to recruit the services of qualified men and women to help him rebuild his city.  Even though Lazlo has no practical skills that could help rebuild a city, he manages to convey just how much a trip to the mythical Weep would mean to him and demonstrates his passion for the city so thoroughly that the gentleman agrees to let Lazlo journey with him to Weep as well.

The rest of the story richly unfolds as we learn about what really happened to Weep, who the blue-skinned girl is and how she fits into the rest of the story, and most importantly, we learn who Lazlo Strange really is because he is so much more than an orphaned junior librarian and his connection to Weep is much more than just a passionate curiosity.

That honestly just barely scratches the surface of what happens in Strange the Dreamer, but hopefully it’s enough to show how easy it is to get drawn into Lazlo Strange’s world without giving away any major spoilers.  I honestly think the less you know going in, the more magical it is as the story unfolds.  Just know that there’s a little bit of everything: action, adventure, a romance, Gods, a God slayer, ghosts, and there are even God spawn (offspring of Gods and humans).

 

LIKES

Again, I don’t want to give too much away because I think it’s better that way, but here are a few highlights of this book for me:

Lazlo Strange.  I loved everything about this character.  The fact that he comes from such humble beginnings gives him that underdog quality that I always sympathize with, and then don’t even get me started on his love for the library.  A boy after my own heart… What I liked most about Lazlo though was his kind heart and his passion.  He’s just such a precious character and, even though I’m not all that much of a romance fan, it warmed my heart when he unexpectedly found someone that he felt that ultimate connection with after having been so alone for so long.

God spawn.  I can’t say too much about these characters, but I will just say that they are fascinating and complex.  Like Lazlo, they come across as underdogs because of the situation they’re trapped in, but then at the same time, they engage in some problematic behaviors of their own.  In many ways they are victims of a past they had no control over, but they aren’t without their own flaws either.  They also each have unique magical gifts that were fascinating to see in use.

The World Building.  Just…wow.  This is one of those places where I have a hard time coming up with the words to describe my love for what Laini Taylor has created here.  The world of Weep and especially the environment the God spawn live in are so rich, lush, vivid, unique…I really need more words here!  It’s just world building at its best, in part because we’re dealing with not just the physical worlds that these characters are actually in, but also dreamscapes.  One of the God spawn possesses the ability to enter the dreams of anyone she wants to and actually alter them as it suits her.  She often uses her gift to induce fear and horror, but when she enters Lazlo the Dreamer’s dreams, she is blown away by the beauty he creates in his mind while he sleeps.  His dreams are so beautiful that she can’t bear to change them.  She wishes she could stay in them forever and it was easy to see why.  As I was reading, the magical quality of those dreams reminded me of childhood stories like Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Taylor’s writing/storytelling.  This was my first experience reading Laini Taylor’s writing so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in.  What I loved about her writing was that it’s both lyrical and poetic, yet it still flows so smoothly and so naturally.  As rich and complex as the storyline of Strange the Dreamer is, it still reads like a simple bedtime story.  It just has that “Once upon a time in a faraway land….” quality about it that really takes Strange the Dreamer from your average fantasy story up to the next level.

Cliffhanger ending. Wow, what an ending!  Everything leading up to the ending took me by surprise and then the actual cliffhanger just left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open desperately wanting to get my hands on the next book.  I normally hate cliffhangers because I hate having to wait so long to see what happens, but just like with the rest of this story, even the cliffhanger is a unique one, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  My reaction was pretty much “NOOOOOOO….but you know, if it had to be a cliffhanger, that was a pretty cool one.”

 

DISLIKES

There was literally nothing I disliked about this book.  I know there’s really no such thing as perfect, but this book is about as close to perfection to me as it gets.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is no doubt in my mind at this point that Strange the Dreamer will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.  I’ve rated it 5 stars but I feel like 5 stars just isn’t even enough because it’s so special.  It makes me want to go back and lower the ratings of some other books I’ve rated 5 stars because there’s truly no comparison in quality.  If you’re looking for a truly unique read, I highly recommend this gorgeous book.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

five-stars

About Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor is the author of the National Book Award Finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, as well as the novels Blackbringer and Silksinger. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter.

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Book Review:  A Court of Wings and RuinA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Also by this author: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 699
Also in this series: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’ popular A Court of Thorn and Roses series.  Although several more books have been announced for the series, my understanding is that those will be more along the lines of spinoffs and that A Court of Wings and Ruin is pretty much supposed to wrap up Feyre’s storyline.  So, how did it do wrapping things up?  Well, for me there was definitely a lot to love about this book. At the same time, however, I had some issues with it.  I guess my overall feeling is that while I did enjoy it, it didn’t blow me away like I really wanted and expected it to, especially considering how truly incredible the second book in the series was.

LIKES

Feyre’s Growth.  Watching Feyre grow from a young woman who seemed to have minimal self esteem when we first met her into the powerful and confident High Lady of the Night Court has been one of my favorite parts of this series.  She is now courageous and badass and has truly become Rhysand’s equal in every way.  She’s also just as much invested in saving their people as Rhys is and I loved watching her in action and seeing the lengths she would go to in order to save them.  She has grown from what was practically a little girl in that first book into a warrior and a queen by this third book.

The “Family.”  My absolute favorite part of this series continues to be the family dynamic that we witness between Rhys, Feyre, Mor, Cassian, Azriel, and Amren.  I can’t ever seem to get enough of these guys bickering back and forth, sometimes like children, but always like family.  Their banter gives me life.  There was some awkward family drama this time around when Rhys puts Mor in an uncomfortable situation without giving her any kind of head’s up.  Because these characters are so real and so complex, there were hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal, but like a true family, they’re able to put aside their differences and come together when they need to.  This group is so fiercely devoted to each other and any one of them would lay down their life if it meant the others would be saved.

Cassian and Azriel.  I’m not sure if this was supposed to happen, but somehow Cassian and Azriel have risen from the ranks of amazing characters to become my actual favorites from the series.  I can’t even explain specifically what it is about them, but I just adore them both and want them to find love and be happy.  It gutted me every time something bad happened to either of them. I also just love watching each of them in their element.  It was especially thrilling watching Cassian command the Illyrian army.

The World Building.  You wouldn’t think this far into a series there would still be such lush world building going on, but WOW!  I was so excited to finally get to see some of the other Courts and they were just as enchanting as the Spring and Night Courts.  After seeing the polar bears and the cute little vest-wearing foxes(!), I kind of wanted to live in Winter Court, haha.

Fascinating New Characters.  I loved meeting the new characters from the other Courts and lands throughout the kingdom. There were so many interesting dynamics at play as the various High Lords came together to discuss Hybern.  I think Helion intrigued me the most, but I really liked the introduction of Miryam, Drakon, and Vassa.

Lucien.  Lucien remains one of my favorite characters so I was pleased to see that not only were he and Feyre able to re-establish their friendship, but that he also seemed to find a place for himself in the service of the Night Court.  I was a bit disappointed that he got sent off on a mission for a large chunk of ACOWAR, but I LOVED that we were given an incredible backstory for him that I hope will be further explored in future books.

The Bone Carver and the Suriel.  I didn’t really expect to see either of these characters, so I was thrilled to have them turn up again in ACOWAR and to be used in such unexpected yet epic ways.  I especially never expected to shed tears over the Suriel, so kudos to Maas because she totally got me on that one.

Redemption of Tamlin.  Tamlin remains one of the most complicated characters of the series, but if this is the last we see of him, I think overall I’m happy with his ending.  As angry and hurt and betrayed by Feyre as he felt for so much of the series, the idea that his love for her would overcome that in the end is a beautiful thing.  If we do see more of him, I hope that he’ll find his own happiness.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so…as much as I enjoyed ACOWAR overall, I still had some issues with it.  I honestly thought it was too long and that there were parts that could have been edited out without taking anything away from the overall story.  One of my issues with the length was that so much time was spent talking about what was going to happen in battle.  Yes, I get that they have to plan, strategize, form alliances with the other Courts, etc. as they prepare to battle Hybern, but after so much epic action in the prior books, I felt like I spent too much time with this book sitting around waiting for the excitement.  Once the battle finally began, it was incredible beyond compare, but I just expected more of the book to be devoted to it.

I’ll probably be in the minority on this, but I also thought too much time was spent on Feyre’s sisters.  Nesta was at least interesting, especially when it came to the tensions between her and Cassian and her training under Amren, who seemed to see somewhat of a kindred spirit in her, but nearly everything about Elain unfortunately just bored me.  There were so many other more fascinating characters introduced in this book that I would have rather seen more of, especially those from the other Courts.

Even though I enjoyed the ending overall, I think it would have been more powerful and more realistic if (please don’t hurt me!) SPOILER (mouse over to reveal) – one of the major characters had died.  Not that I wanted anyone to die because I love them all, but the Battle with Hybern was supposed to be the most epic battle ever, the war to end all wars, the possible end of life as they knew it, etc. and yet all of the major players came out okay in the end.  I would have been devastated of course, but I just think it would have packed more of an emotional and realistic punch if someone had made the ultimate sacrifice to save their world

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I have to admit I wanted more from A Court of Wings and Ruin, I still can’t deny that it was a pretty solid and satisfying end to Feyre’s journey.  I definitely see myself continuing with the series and I look forward to seeing who the next books will focus on.  Throwing my two cents’ worth in for books that focus on Lucien, Cassian, and/or Azriel!

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

three-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, released on September 6th, 2016.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

ARC Review: The Library of Fates

ARC Review:  The Library of FatesThe Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
three-half-stars
Published by Razorbill on July 18th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: First to Read
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW

 

Aditi Khorana’s The Library of Fates is a beautiful coming of age story that follows the journey of Princess Amrita of Shalingar as she sets out to save her kingdom from the grips of the power-hungry emperor Sikander who is looking to expand his Macedonian Empire by invading and conquering Shalingar.  Shalingar is a prized territory for Sikander because it is where the mystical Symballines are hidden.  The Symballines produce a rare and powerful substance called chamak that Sikander is dying to get his hands on.  Why?  Because when given to Oracles, chamak substantially increases their ability to predict the future.

When the novel opens, Amrita’s father and Sikander have worked out a tentative arrangement to appease Sikander and hopefully keep him from taking control of Shalingar.  Amrita is at the heart of this agreement because Sikander is determined to take her for his bride.  Amrita is not especially excited about this match because 1) who wants to marry a power hungry Emperor and 2) she is already in love with someone else, her childhood friend, Arjun. But she’s willing to make the sacrifice if it means her people are protected.

When Sikander arrives at Amrita’s palace, however, things do not go according to plan and Sikander’s men go on a rampage, killing or imprisoning anyone who gets in their way.  Amrita manages to escape from the palace, along with an Oracle named Thala that Sikander had been keeping as a prisoner but had offered up to Amrita as a wedding gift.  Together Amrita and Thala set off on a journey to find the Symballines and warn them that Sikander is coming for them.  At Thala’s suggestion, they also set out to find The Library of All Things, a library where according to legend, contains a book about every person.  Thala tells Amrita that if they can get to this Library, then they can locate their books and edit them to change their destinies.  Amrita can save her people, while Thala can go back and rewrite her history so that she was never imprisoned and taken away from her family as a young child.  While the journey starts out as a physical one, however, it becomes so much more.  It becomes a journey of self-discovery for Amrita as she begins to find clues that indicate she may not be who she thinks she is and that with her true identity, she possesses the power to change the course of history and save her people.

 

LIKES

 

Amrita.  I found Princess Amrita to be a very likeable character and one that was easy to sympathize with.  Her life up until this point has been very sheltered, so when she first escapes from the palace under siege, she really has no idea how to fend for herself.  In that sense we see tremendous growth from her throughout the course of the story.  She also didn’t really believe any of the stories about magic she had been told all her life.  In her mind, they were just that, stories.  So I enjoyed watching her make this journey and begin to understand and embrace the stories from her childhood and the magic they describe, and what they mean for her.  It’s a lot to take in, especially learning that you aren’t who you thought you were, but Amrita shows great maturity

My one disappointment with Amrita though was that I had hoped she’d be a bit feistier.  Reading the book’s synopsis and hearing that she spends most of the book on the run as a fugitive had me envisioning lots of kickass scenes where she keeps evading Sikander’s men, but her journey ended up being much more subdued than that. My fault for building it up in my own mind to be so epic, but it was a little disappointing.  She’s still a great character though and I especially enjoyed her growing friendship with Thala, especially considering how they are initially just thrown together by circumstance and forced to work together to get away from Sikander.

Varun.  I think Varun actually ended up being my favorite character in the story.  I can’t say much about him without giving away too many details about the overall storyline, but I will say he ends up being a very important character, way more important than he initially seems to be.  Amrita first meets Varun while she and Thala are on the first leg of their journey, a pilgrimage to a temple.  Varun pops up out of nowhere and self-appoints himself Amrita’s traveling companion as she hides among others who are making the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the goddess Maya.  Varun is a charming young man who keeps Amrita entertained with stories about Maya.  He seems pretty determined to educate her as much as possible and, in spite of herself, Amrita feels herself drawn to this boy.  Even though my brain was screaming “No insta-love!” and “What about your childhood love, Arjun?,” I could see why she felt an instant connection to Varun.  He’s immensely likeable and I loved his enthusiasm regarding the temple and the goddess and all of its history, especially once his connection to it all is made clear.

World Building and the Mythology.  Khorana does a beautiful job painting a vivid portrait of both Shalingar, the Macedonian Empire, and all points in between.  I also loved how she seamlessly wove in so many mythological elements to create a truly unique and incredible landscape for her characters to journey through.  I found the Symballines and their world fascinating, as well as that of the vetala spirits, and so much more.  It was like nothing I had ever read before so it made for such a magical reading experience.

Folklore.  One of my absolute favorite parts of The Library of Fates is the parable that prefaces the story.  It’s called the Parable of the Land of the Trees and it’s an enchanting story about self-sacrifice that features trees who used to be able to communicate with humans.  It caught my attention immediately and had me wanting to know how it related to the rest of the story.

 

DISLIKES

My main issue with The Library of Fates was that I felt like so much ground was covered in this one book that the author only scratched the surface on many areas that I would have loved to have read more about.  I would have loved to see more of the folklore and mythology since that was probably my favorite part of the book and I loved the way the author integrated it into the story so smoothly.  I also wanted more details in the various plots and subplots along the way because some of them could have used a little more detail to better elaborate what was happening and why.  And while I know the book was meant to focus on Amrita and her personal journey of self-discovery, I still wanted more exploration of Amrita and her relationships with all of the characters she interacts with.  As is, it was a lovely read but I was just left wanting so much more, either a longer book with all of these areas fleshed out more or maybe even a series.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Even though I had a few issues with it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Library of Fates to anyone who enjoys a coming of age story and who wants to learn more about Indian folklore and mythology.  I haven’t read The Star Touched Queen or The Wrath and the Dawn yet, but after reading this story and seeing that this book is recommended for fans of those, I’m more interested than ever in reading those as well.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

Thanks to Penguin First to Read, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

 

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn

 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

three-half-stars

About Aditi Khorana

Aditi Khorana spent part of her childhood in India, Denmark and New England. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including Fox, Paramount and Sony.

Mirror in the Sky (Razorbill/Penguin, 2016) was her first novel. The upcoming Library of Fates (July 2017) is feminist historical fantasy, set in ancient India, and tells the story of a louche, misogynistic dictator overthrowing an idyllic kingdom, and the women who fight to wrench it back from his hands.

Aditi lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. SchwabA Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #3
Published by Tor Books on February 21st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Also in this series: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?

Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

 

MY REVIEW

I can’t believe we’ve finally reached the end of this incredible series. What a ride it has been and I’m thrilled to say that as fantastic as the first two books were, A Conjuring of Light is just as good as, if not better than those two were.  I loved it so much that I feel like I’ve been flailing about it for days unable to come down from my book high long enough to share why I loved it so much.  I’ve had a week now to calm down though, so hopefully what I write here is coherent and will entice you to pick up this series if you haven’t read it yet.  I can’t express how much I’m going to miss Kell and his many-sided coat, Lila the pirate thief, and Alucard and Rhys, a couple so precious that they made me swoon even though I am not typically one who swoons.  Anyway, here we go…

LIKES

Oh gosh, where to even start?  Basically everything from the first page to the last, but I’ll try to focus on some of the main high points for me and keep my thoughts as spoiler free as I can for anyone who either hasn’t started the series yet or hasn’t made it this far.

The Intensity.  I loved that this finale picked right up where the second book left off, started off with a bang and kept me on a roller coaster ride until the finale pages.  Sometimes the intensity was action related, as different people tried to step up and fight off the Shadow King, and sometimes the intensity was more emotional as everyone desperately tried to come up with a plan of action that could stop him or as they dealt with the fallout of each failed attempt to stop him.  I was fully engaged with the story from start to finish, either because so much was going on or because of what everyone was feeling.

Osaron the Shadow King. A.K.A. my new favorite character that I loved to hate.  I seriously hated everything about this character because OMG, how dare he threaten to ruin my precious and vibrant Red London!  That said, however, I absolutely adored the way Schwab crafted this character.  The shadows, the poisonous fog, and that oily blackness seeping everywhere were just so palpable.  I don’t know that I’ve ever found a villain so mesmerizing.

The Wicked Barbs and Endless Sass – I’m such a sucker for great banter, and Schwab is a master of writing it exactly the way I like it.  Even as these characters are frantically doing everything they can to save their city from dark magic, Lila, Kell, Rhys, Alucard, and Holland are still constantly engaged in these hilarious battles of wit.  They’re nonstop hurling insults at each other, teasing each other, and that constant exchange of wicked barbs and the endless sass is what makes me love these characters so much.  I also especially love the jealous exchanges between Kell and Alucard since Kell is clearly so protective of his brother.  All of that snark just gives me life!

My Ships – Okay, so everyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not usually big on romance, so it’s pretty amazing for me to have not just one, but two ships that I’ve been rooting for throughout this series.  But it’s true, I’ve been rooting for Lila and Kell to get together since they first met in the first book, and I’ve felt the same way about Alucard and Rhys ever since we first got wind that they have a history together.  I loved that as action-packed as this final book was, as my favorite characters fought to save Red London from the Shadow King, Schwab manages to strike what was for me, the perfect balance between action and romance.  We get to see progression in Kell and Lila’s relationship as they work together to try to save Red London, and it appears they could possibly have a future together – that is, if they can survive the onslaught of the Shadow King and the darkness he has unleashed.

The even more compelling ship though is Rhys and Alucard.  Schwab also takes us deeper into their shared history, showing us what exactly happened when Alucard abandoned Rhys before, and she paints such a sympathetic portrait of Alucard, that I think even if you didn’t ship them before, you’ll be shipping them by the time you hear the full story of what happened their last night together.  It was one of the many moments in this book where I shed a few tears when I learned the truth.

The Growth of Rhys – I feel like in so many ways this series was a coming of age story for Rhys.  When we first meet him in A Darker Shade of Magic, he’s this flirty, kind of bad boy prince who is in no way ready to become King.  Everything that he goes through in the series and especially the way he conducts himself in this finale shows that he has undergone a major transformation in terms of his maturity and his fundamental understanding of what it means to lead a kingdom.  I adored his character so much that I felt like I had a proud mom moment watching him and knowing he’s now ready to step up and lead his Kingdom.

The Redemption of Holland –For the first two books in the series, Holland was one of the main characters I loved to hate.  He always fascinated me because he was so different from Kell, even though they were both Antari, but I definitely never felt any sympathy for him.  Well, Schwab got me in this final book.  She gives Holland a rich backstory to explain who he was and how he ended up the way he was when we first meet him in A Darker Shade of Magic.  Not only did his backstory make me sympathetic toward Holland, I actually even shed a few tears for him.  Totally did not see that coming!  I also love that Schwab not only painted him as suddenly a more likeable character, but she also presents him with the opportunity to fully redeem himself to those he has betrayed since we first met him.

 

DISLIKES

Nothing at all to see here. Move along, people.  Seriously though, I have absolutely no complaints about this book.  When I first got my hands on the book and saw how enormous it is, I thought I might end up complaining about it being over 600 pages long.  Not the case though.  A Conjuring of Light is so damn good that I managed to finish all 600+ in about 2 days.  I’m pretty sure I’ve NEVER read such a lengthy book that fast before!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

As sad as I am to say goodbye to these amazing characters, I don’t think I could have asked for a more satisfying ending to this series.  And maybe it’s just me, but I really felt like it was left open enough at the end of this book for Schwab to continue this journey if she ever wanted to.  I’d totally be down for it too – even a spinoff with one or more of the characters would be fabulous.  But for now, I am okay with bidding “Anoshe” to Kell, Lila, Rhys, and Alucard. May we meet again someday.  ♥ (And yes, Anoshe made me cry too, haha!)

 

RATING:  5 STARS

five-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she has been known to say “tom-ah-toes,” “like,” and “y’all.”

She also tells stories.

She loves fairy tales, and folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.