Archive | January 2017

Review: Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Series: Ghost Hunters #13

illusion-town-jayne-castleA new adventure begins on Harmony… 
 
With its opulent casinos and hotels, the desert city of Illusion Town is totally unique—and will take you on a thrill ride you’ll never forget.

Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…

With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.

But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…


4 Drink Me Potions


This was my first book by “Jayne Castle”, although I happened to have crossed her other contemporary AND historical books as well, under her names Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick respectively.

Illusion Town was a little disorienting at first as I quickly had a feeling that this wasn’t a simple standalone book that I had picked up from the library. There seemed to be alluded references to this whole land of Harmony that I did not know about as a completely new reader. And now looking at how vast this whole series is (with the intricate weavings even across Castle’s other genres), I’m quite impressed with the overall world building that’s been crafted here.

First of all (from what I gathered as an amateur reader in this world), this futuristic set of series written under Jayne Castle is on some alien planet colonists from Earth settled ages ago, but through some mishap, were disconnected from Earth quite permanently and the people here had to make do and thrive somehow.

Paranormal activity is like the new norm here, with people genetically passing on these talents and traits like it’s nothing. The kind of tech here also matches the futuristic theme, but also walks hand-in-hand with the paranormal abilities that people have, such as listening to energy with amber crystals.

Then there’s the land itself and how it’s laid out. 8 Zones split up around some epicentre where some unnatural activity caused some of it to be uninhabitable. It was well-written (albeit still a little confusing for a first reader like me), but I got enough of the idea to still be quite engaged with how this society organized itself.

And of course, there’s the creatures. In particular, the dust bunny.

When I first read about Virgil, the resident dust bunny in this story, I was quite astounded to be honest. Who is this thing and why does it have FOUR eyes? Fluffy yet quite ferocious. I loved it! Castle is very imaginative as she laid out even remote childhood fantasies of dust bunnies (such as I had when I was a kid) into a futuristic story where it becomes as simple as asking “why NOT have it featuring dust bunnies as characters?”. I was overall quite impressed with the setting I had randomly landed myself in.

Then there’s the ROMANCE. It wasn’t the centre of the story, though the intriguing plot line where Hannah and Elias found themselves married to each other was fun enough to draw me in. No, their relationship and budding love for each other was icing on top of the excitement (and dangers!) that were brewing all throughout the book.

From exploring the dangerous Rainforest and Underground areas where I gathered were leftover ruins from when Aliens inhabited this planet (surprise! even more intriguing things just THROWN in here) to finding a long-lost treasure and being chased by a gang of pirates on motorbikes. It was like a rollercoaster of heartfelt emotions and running around adrenaline.

For a novel I randomly decided to read on a lazy Saturday, I think it’s opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.

Overall Recommendation:
Illusion Town was brilliantly crafted in its imaginative setting on some futuristic planet where people had paranormal abilities and real live dust bunnies as companions. Although this is technically part of a long lineup of books in a series, it still stood out well enough as a standalone (as I had read it ’cause I sure as heck didn’t read any of the previous ones yet). There was enough sweet romance but the action in the plot had me excitedly flipping through the pages. It seems this book has almost everything. This is the kind of world that is unique and should be visited at least once. Be sure to read the previous books first (maybe).

Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1

ever-the-hunted-erin-summerhillSeventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.


3 Drink Me Potions


Ever the Hunted was a mix of every fantasy archetype that I could think of, which ultimately resulted in a less-than-amazing read for me.

First off, let me just say that I waited for this book to come for almost over a year. So yes, that might have played a huge role in building up my expectations of its awesomeness.

For a debut novel, I applaud Summerill for a fast-paced story that did its best in a promising adventure, a sweet romance and a world full of magic. Britta was the kinda protagonist I liked. Nothing too too special at the start of it all, one of those ordinary girls who was ignored or even shunned by others. Then of course, she finds out there’s something different about her. *gasp* Like that wasn’t something you were expecting…*insert sarcasm*

The world was built of 2 major kingdoms who were at the brink of war. Malam, where Britta lived, had banned and shunned Channelers, women with a magic of the elements that the laypeople here were superstitiously afraid of. So of course, enter the genocide of all Channelers and the closure of the border to the neighbouring magical kingdom of Shaerdania. That’s the tense atmosphere this book is set in. Beyond hearing a couple more tidbits relating to how all this trouble came to be, there’s not a whole lot more out there about this place.

Or even the magic.

Channelers harness energy, whether from land, air, water or fire. Sound familiar? ‘Cause I’m sure you’ve all seen some form of this type of “magic” somewhere if you’re a reader. Well, maybe even if you’re not a reader. And don’t get me wrong. It’s not a successful trope to fill in for the “magical ability” line you want to add to your documented work for nothing as it is a fun ability after all. But where is the originality in that? So I wasn’t the most pleased to know that there wasn’t a whole lot more to their magic than that.

Oh, and the surprise twist? *insert a short pause* Saw that coming a mile away. Probably from yet ANOTHER fantasy novel out there that you’ve come across.

I also normally despise slow-paced novels as it takes FOREVER to get to the known facts that were given to you even in the synopsis. But Ever the Hunted? Nope. Not a problem there. Everything happened so fast, like boom, boom, boom, that my head felt like it was spinning. I barely got used to Britta and the few people with her at the beginning of the story before it suddenly changed scenes again. So connection to the characters? Kinda hard to do when I felt like the interactions there were so quick and temporary.

This leads me to the relationship. This is one of my favourite parts of stories. And Cohen’s misunderstood history with Britta was brimming with bittersweet angst that is, oddly enough, right up my alley.

But like I said. Kinda hard to feel connected with ANYONE when things happen so quickly. I liked that Cohen and Britta are together for a large portion of the novel. It’s not one of those romances where the guy is halfway across the kingdom and you barely get to see the heroine interact with him (although they’re so-called in love with each other and I have to believe it just ’cause it says so right there on the pages). And for the most part, this aspect kept me somewhat satisfied throughout the story. I knew they’d patch through things somehow. But that ending? I smell a nasty potential love triangle popping in…and I’m not sure if I hate it or not.

Which is WEIRD. x10. I abhor love triangles so I should be jumping off my seat and bouncing around the room in frustration that this was thrown in and I’ve got to wait yet ANOTHER year to figure out how this will go.

But…I’m not. Which I guess means I enjoyed Cohen’s relationship with Britta but I didn’t build as great of a connection with the two of them as I thought either.

Anyway, this review’s kinda got off the tracks, but altogether, Ever the Hunted wasn’t what I expected. It tried to be sneaky, and it tried to be clever and fun and overall exciting. I can see that. But I just wish that I felt that too. I know I’m being generous with my rating ’cause I can see its potential, but somehow, it just slipped through my fingers and I’m left clutching thin air.

Overall Recommendation:
Ever the Hunted was a decent debut (if I’m being extra nice about it), but very predictable in its “twists”. From fast story pacing to almost nonexistent secondary character development and world building, this story just tried so hard to fit well with all those other fantasies we’ve got lining our shelves. The romance would’ve been the best part in my opinion but it too somehow felt a bit disconnected to me and I couldn’t form a huge love for Cohen and Britta either. I’d say it might just be me (and my VERY high expectations), so please give this book a shot as the potential for greatness is there but just may need to be honed a bit more.

Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #1

a-study-in-charlotte-brittany-cavallaroThe last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.


3 Drink Me Potions


I’ve been an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a child, having read all the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So for a Sherlock retelling in the YA genre, it was definitely peaking my interest.

But, there were ups and downs in my opinion.

Ups:

1. Charlotte Holmes is kickass
I didn’t know what to make of a female Holmes at first. Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be great and it’s not the first Sherlock retelling that’s flipped genders (there’s that TV show Elementary going on). So I knew I’d be okay with this element.
What excited me was that she was reminiscent of the Sherlock we know. Drug addiction, blunt attitude, awkward interpersonal relationships, and brilliant as heck.
But, I also enjoy a little something that the author puts in on their own. What’s the point of a retelling if it’s EXACTLY the same as the original? You might as well re-read it. I liked that Charlotte had her vulnerabilities, in part because she’s female, and knew how to play to her strengths (a damsel in distress work like a charm in certain situations). So it was more fun to get to reacquaint myself with someone who is familiar but at the same time, still new in some way.

2. Jamie Watson’s voice
No, I don’t mean his literal voice (I did not read an audiobook so I’m not sure how that would be like).
Writing from the perspective of Watson admiring Holmes’ work (just like the original), it could’ve been a little dry but I rather liked his tone and the way he saw the world he was in. Seeing this story in Holmes’ POV would’ve been a ton different and I’d much rather see it from Watson’s eyes. This might just be a personal opinion though.

3. The mystery
Once you get through almost 50% of the book, the mystery really starts to pick up. Who’s going around hurting students at their boarding school? Why are there links to Sherlock Holmes stories? Who’s out to get Holmes and Watson?
I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect. After all, what’s a Sherlock retelling if there’s no solid mystery at the heart of it for Holmes to deduce? I thought the story wasn’t completely predictable, although once the party involved was identified, it wasn’t as much fun just waiting for the info dump from Holmes to explain her deductions (not all of us are THAT smart, Holmes).

These helped me progress through the novel, but the following kept me away from finishing this novel for over a year.

Downs:

1. The pacing
OH my goodness. It was sooo slow at first. I stopped at 36% for over a year until I felt like finally continuing. A murder does happen fairly early on (ish), but their guesses were going around in circles and it just didn’t seem like the pair of young sleuths were progressing much at all. There was too much info on what they were doing in their daily lives at the boarding school that I just couldn’t seem to care about as much. I came here for a mystery, not for “how teens live in a boarding school” contemporary!
It did pick up after 50% but the pieces of the mystery fell too slowly. There was too much focus on Watson and Holmes, too.

2. Their relationship
Don’t get me wrong. I like Holmes and Watson. They’re an inseparable team. Watson balances out the neurotic behaviours of our favourite genius, while Holmes gets Watson out of ridiculously dangerous scrapes. You can’t have one without the other.
But….I just didn’t love them together. Yes, I knew that making one of them a girl may lead to a more romantic relationship possible, especially cuz it’s YA and what is a YA book without ROMANCE?
I just didn’t care about them dating. I’m not even excited for the potential of it. Maybe it’s cuz I’m rather traditional about it but their relationship always wrung true as platonic. Friendships are important too and it just saddens me a little that this has to change as well. It’s not like it’s impossible for a guy and girl to be good friends, but thus is the world of YA I suppose.

Well, A Study in Charlotte was sweet overall, and it made me nostalgic for certain Sherlock stories. I liked it enough, but there were certain hurdles that made it hard to continue for me personally.

Overall Recommendation:
For a Sherlock Holmes retelling, it had its good moments and bad. A Study in Charlotte, paying homage to a few elements from familiar Sherlock adventures, tried its best with the mystery but took its time upping the suspense factor. Throwing in the extra bit of unnecessary romance and I had to take a year-long break to finish. Altogether, it’s not a hard book to swallow, but it may not be for every Holmes’ fan.

Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2

the-heart-of-betrayal-mary-e-pearsonHeld captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages.

Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Rating: 3.5 stars

The Heart of Betrayal picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with our brave protagonist stuck in Venda, a kingdom rumoured for its barbaric ways and people.

I thought this book continued strong with Lia as our main character. She demonstrated great restraint in her plans and beautifully crafted lies that would hopefully lead to her eventual escape. She grew to love some of the Vendans, seeing beyond the stereotype she was always taught back in her own kingdom. Lia became the hope for these people that not even the evil ruler, the Komizar, could instill in them.

I was, however, less impressed by the world building. I was a little excited (and intimidated) to see what the notorious kingdom of Venda would be like now that all our main characters are up and personal in this land. It was a little bit of a letdown, to be honest.

The Song of Venda – in short cut-down passages – was seen as glimpses between certain chapters back in The Kiss of Deception. Its mysterious story and how it related to Lia and company in the present day was intriguing, but seeing how some of this unravelled and became more clear didn’t excite me. It was one of the only things that made this world that they lived in different from any other vague fantasy world in the YA genre, although the plot trope of a mostly-devastated kingdom from a time of old when the gods walked the earth has also been seen several times in the last few years (one example would be Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns).

Everything in this book had a familiar feeling to it, like you’ve seen it before. Nothing stood out too greatly, and that’s why I can’t rate this any higher.

However, I did enjoy the romance a bit more and the plot moved faster as Lia and Rafe hatched an escape plan together. The romance can’t really be called a love triangle as it seems Lia explicitly declares she has feelings for Rafe (in the romantic sense) while only “caring” for Kaden. I felt sorry for him a little as we got to learn more about his backstory, this being his home land and all.

The suspense was heavier too as the Komizar played a dangerous game with Lia in a subtle fight for the stronger will and more clever wit. I enjoyed it, while also being immensely relieved that this wasn’t one of those stories where the girl gets taken advantage of (and has to deal with it) because she’s powerless from different things held over her head.

While The Heart of Betrayal wasn’t the best fantasy story I’ve read in the last while, it still has its merits and altogether, I still enjoyed it.

Overall Recommendation:
With an even feistier and stronger Lia than before, The Heart of Betrayal continues her adventures. While a fairly fast read and less emphasis on the darn love triangle (SO grateful), the world building left me less than impressed as we dive more into the stories of Venda and our favourite assassin, Kaden. It balanced out the bits of sweet romance with Rafe and the suspense as they fought for their escape against the tyranny of the Komizar, but there just wasn’t enough here to make me remember this world as altogether special from other fantasy worlds. Overall, a good sequel but may not be the best.

Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1

the-kiss-of-deception-mary-e-pearsonA princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


It took me a while to finish The Kiss of Deception. I’m not wholly sure why, but I had to pause for a time and set it aside before I could come back to it.

It may have something to do with the fact that this book is surrounded at its centre on a freaking love triangle .

But I did enjoy many aspects of the novel.

For one, Lia is a superb protagonist. She’s no spoiled little princess, the type of girl that assassin Kaden would easily hate. No, she’s willing to get down and do some work in the new place she settled in after fleeing her home. She’s willing to do what she must to spare another’s innocence. She’s willing to lie to protect those whom she loves.

I admire her ability to adapt to harsh conditions and to never back down against those who wish to crush her spirit. She had the patience to time her responses, even when it’s hard to bite back insults that would feel momentarily good. I totally understand and I am with her in those POVs. I wish I had a Lia in my life like that.

But, there are those parts that weren’t so great. Those parts split between Kaden and Rafe. I will get back to this.

I liked the world building. For most of this book, we get to explore the great kingdom of Morrighan, plus a few uncharted areas between kingdoms as Lia travelled. The backstory to how the world was devastated once and the Remnant that survived were charged to remember is still a little unclear to me and I’m not sure if it’s just me but I hope it’ll clear up with more things that Lia learns in the next book.

And lastly, there was plenty of excitement and things going on with Lia and crew that helped me through 3/4 of the book quite quickly. The pacing got a little slow around the 75% mark and I think this was one factor that made it hard for me to finish it completely.

But mostly, it was the love triangle. I always seem to side with one guy and it’s annoying when the girl just can’t seem to figure out who she likes more. Like, come on. Toying with two different guys isn’t fun. I can’t stand it.

Here, Lia isn’t so bad. Necessarily. It seems she prefers one guy more over the other (and come on, one’s an assassin – albeit a cool factor, but he wants to kill her, kinda – so why not choose the prince, hmm?) but sometimes these things throw me off when the author suddenly does a 180 and chooses the other guy. I’d hate to see Pearson do that to me, but I suppose I shall see.

It took me some time to get over how little time there was with Rafe, and that’s why I stopped. But here I am, all finished. Overall, it’s still a good story. The romance was just a little rushed and there’s the thing with a triangle, but hey, it works for some people.

Overall Recommendation:
The Kiss of Deception was a fun book to start off a new series, albeit a little confusing with the world building. With a strong protagonist such as Lia who represents women who are cunning and flexible without having to be a skilled warrior, who could ask for a better story? Only having to hurtle through the obstacle of a love triangle taking up a large picture of the novel, this book probably would fare well with most people if you enjoy love triangles on top of your fantasy cravings.

Review: Beheld by Alex Flinn

Series: Kendra Chronicles #4

beheld-alex-flinn#1 New York Times bestselling YA author Alex Flinn is back with magical twists on four fairy-tale favorites, each featuring a little help from Kendra, the witch from Beastly, as she searches through cities and centuries for her lost love.

Being a powerful witch, Kendra has survived it all. Since she first beheld James over three hundred years ago, Kendra has tangled with witch hunters and wolves, helped a miller’s daughter spin straw into gold, cowered in London as German bombs fell, and lived through who knows how many shipwrecks. But her powers have limits, and immortality can be lonely. Kendra isn’t ready to stop searching for the warlock she had met centuries ago.

With the help of her magic mirror, Kendra will travel the world to reconnect with her lost love—and, of course, she can’t help but play a hand in a few more stories along the way.

Featuring retellings of favorite fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and The Ugly Duckling, Alex Flinn’s latest young adult novel, Beheld, is fresh fairy-tale fun from beginning to end.


 

2.5 Drink Me Potions


Rating: 2.5 stars

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**Beheld comes out January 10, 2017**

I read the first fairy tale retelling by Alex Flinn years ago, a title that had blew up to even be optioned as a film. Beastly. I really enjoyed it. Perfect balance of fairy tale, romance, and her own spin of things.

But these last few years?

I’ve been honestly a little disappointed. Oh, a number of fairy tale retellings since Beastly has come out, but none can really compare to Flinn’s best piece of work. Beheld is unfortunately no different.

Kendra is a fan favourite character since the time of Beastly. A teenage witch who accidentally causes mishaps when she tries to help out the humans around her. I was excited at the prospect of a story revolving around her, even when the synopsis said there’d be 4 fairy tales stuffed into this one story with Kendra being the glue holding all of them together as she journeyed through time in search for her lost love.

Sounds good, right? Especially if you liked Kendra.

It wasn’t as great as you may think. Only the first retelling on Little Red Riding Hood actually featured Kendra a lot. That’s where she met her love, James. Granted, it wasn’t even a good romance story. Totally insta-love. It’s like they had to fall for each other because they were the only wizard/witch they met in Salem at the time that were of about the same approximate age (although age can be deceiving when you’re born a witch).

Each story wasn’t even equal length. The 3rd story set in World War II era was short while the following story on the Ugly Duckling was extremely long. I was so irritated with the last one – it’s already near the end of the story and I’ve lasted this long – but Kendra’s not really there at all . She has no POV until like the very last chapter. She’s basically not present except for a scene or two. The others she interacted with the main character of those individual stories more, but even then, Beheld isn’t a story about Kendra.

No. Beheld is a 4-in-1 story of fairy retellings featuring Kendra in order to make sense of the connection between them. With each story as you go along, the less you get of Kendra and the more annoyed I get.

It’s not that I hated the retellings. They were okay, with some better than others. Short stories of love, friendships and going against all odds for a mostly happily ever after.

Due to their SHORT length, it also made it hard for me to connect and really feel for many of these characters either. Kendra would honestly be the only highlight. And she’s not the one you should be coming to these stories for.

If you loved Alex Flinn’s other retellings since Beastly, then you’d probably be okay with this book. It’s like another one of those stories. Otherwise? Don’t waste your time.

Overall Recommendation:
Beheld is an anthology of stories all connected by Kendra’s arc where she lost her love. However, it doesn’t do justice to its promise for more of Kendra with each individual story eclipsing her own. None of the characters really stuck with me for too long due to the short time we have with them so overall, this was a big letdown.