YA

Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Series: Spindle Fire #1

spindle-fire-lexa-hillyerIt all started with the burning of the spindles.
No.
It all started with a curse…

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood–and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape . . . or the reason for her to stay.

Spindle Fire is the first book in a lush fantasy duology set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines.


4 Drink Me Potions


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

**Spindle Fire comes out April 11, 2017**

“Light too can be a curse. It can illuminate things no one should ever have to witness.”

Spindle Fire was more than just a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into the book as Sleeping Beauty wasn’t ever one of my favourite fairy tales, but I truly enjoyed the imaginative atmosphere that Lexa Hillyer weaved into this story.

The plot and the girls

Moving between POVs from our two main leads, Aurora and Isabelle, made the story seem faster paced. I don’t know, it may just be me on this, but whenever there are multiple POVs and things just seem to kind of hang at the end of one character’s plotline, I seem to hurriedly go through the next character’s so that I get back to the really intense moment we were left with earlier. So this is how I kind of flew through much of Spindle Fire.

That’s not to say that the story wasn’t mostly well-paced. It was slow at the beginning, mostly because we all know the elements of Sleeping Beauty’s story (ie. Aurora falling asleep) would have to occur at some point, but the beginning was captivating with the backstory laid out.

Isabelle is clearly my favourite of the two. She’s blind, with the excerpt above coming from her wise, WISE views on the world. (You will notice as you read that Hillyer’s prose is very descriptive in a “oh, that’s such a nice way of describing this deep concept”.) She doesn’t let her position in court bring her down. Who says the bastard child can’t be just as awesome (if not better) as the “royal” one?

Her love for her younger sister is astonishing. You would think being the legitimate and the bastard child of a king would set them against each other but there was never animosity between them. Only love. It may be easier for Aurora to love her (or pity her for her station in life), but to be the underprivileged one to likewise feel just as protective for the spoiled one, it’s difficult to imagine.

Then again, Aurora was the cliched smart, beautiful, kind and obedient princess that fairy tales kind of like to have (or at least the traditional Disney ones–NOT your scary Brothers Grimm ones). So yes, Aurora wasn’t as interesting of a character, but she too grew a lot throughout her demise (and oh boy is there a lot going on with her even in sleep) which made me like her a bit more.

Oh, and there’s also the interesting fact that fairies tithed away 2 of 5 senses (you’re running out of senses, poor girl) on permission by her royal parents (such parents!) to make her the cliched princess that she is. She can’t speak, but even more interestingly, she can’t touch. I suppose that means no physical feelings, but I never could figure out if that included emotional ones. Maybe they’re all tied up in one another sometimes.

So what I’ve described so far hasn’t really made you feel too excited, has it? Cliched spoiled princess and the underdog who may show her true colours as a hero. And of course, the Sleeping Beauty story arc, with the needle pricking Aurora and evil witches (can’t have a story without those evil witches, can we?).

And then things CHANGE.

Nothing is exactly as you’d think it would be once Aurora goes to sleep. A mad witch queen who may or may not be evil, a whole kingdom hidden from the real world, and….a narwhal hunting expedition??

If I had to use one word to describe this book that made it stand out, it’d be IMAGINATIVE.

The romance (’cause of course that’s an important point to make)

Each princess seems to have a particular boy she sets her sights on. For Aurora, she meets a hunter named Heath who is very difficult to read. Here’s a princess who dreams of finding true love, and a jaded young man who doesn’t want to hope in anything more than the world they’re trapped in. Oh, and doesn’t believe in love. What kind of match would that be?

Unfortunately, the romance part on this couple doesn’t get too far, in my opinion. A potential love triangle pops up here with another girl who’s pining away for Heath, but I don’t honestly think she poses much of a threat (yet).

Then there’s Prince William and Isbe, who insistently calls her by her full name. William isn’t too cliched. He’s not extraordinarily brave or the kind of man you’d see “riding in on a white steed”. He’s supposed to be the answer to all of Isabelle’s problems: her vulnerable kingdom and the fact that Aurora is stuck in some perpetual sleep.

BUT, I always love a good forbidden love story. Their journey together to get to Aurora was one of the things that most delighted me. Things progressed a bit more with this couple, but unfortunately, I can totally see a love triangle looming in the distance with another guy who secretly feels things for Isbe (and whom she liked before William).

So Andge, would you say that this romance sets it up nicely for book 2?

Well, I dunno. I don’t like love triangles, and it doesn’t seem too serious at the moment (nothing happens between the other potential people) but I guess the only thing to do is to wait for the next book to come out….oh, in approximately A YEAR.

Hillyer’s prose

I have to remark on this before I conclude this review (I know, I’ve gone on for far too long already). You can clearly see the author’s poetry background. Small pieces of poetry actually pops in here and there. There’s a little lullaby both the girls know by heart and a very creepy scene where a crazy girl is talking in rhymes. So who says poetry doesn’t have its place in YA literature?

However, it’s also evident everywhere else you look! If you love metaphors strewn all over the place to demonstrate significant “character moments” and deep thoughts, then this is for you (or it may annoy you…I can see that happening too).

From Aurora learning to decide for herself and just GROW a backbone,

[Aurora] is not just swimming toward safety now but away from her former, meeker self. She can almost hear the wail of the old Aurora, weak and scared, carried downstream, far away.

to Isbe pondering on the concept of true love, one she never accepted as much as her sister did,

[Isbe] always thought romance was a cloudy concept, like the steam over a pot of boiling stew–it smells of hearty ingredients, it warms the senses…but ultimately it dissolves.

to grim thoughts.

“You know, I used to love looking at the stars at night. I used to think they were put there to guide us. Now I know they are just watching and winking, mute observed, bemused by our failures and our loss.”


Out of ALL else, this was what sold me on Spindle Fire. It wasn’t ever too over-the-top. The metaphors are strategically placed throughout, and some are more subtle than others. I do hope you enjoy the book when it comes out. I look forward to reading more from Lexa Hillyer.

Overall Recommendation:
Spindle Fire is an imaginative re-telling of Sleeping Beauty with a whole bunch of wild other stuff thrown in there as well. Lexa Hillyer’s prose is both beautiful and poignant, really describing the turmoils of the inner heart of both her main characters. Like a fairy tale, there is both action (fighting evil witches, of course!) and romance in it, but ultimately, this is a story about the love shared between two sisters. I think this story is worthwhile to check out, if at least just to read prose and descriptions.

Note: All quotes are subject to change when published

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YA

Review: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #2

the-last-of-august-brittany-cavallaroIn the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie and Charlotte are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**The Last of August comes out February 14, 2017**

Rating: 3.5 stars

You know a story was tumultuous when you flip over that last page and realize you’ve hit the Acknowledgements section. The Last of August actually managed to surprise me in this manner. And that says a lot ’cause I wasn’t feeling it for this book for like, the first 75% of it. Can I just stop for a sec and say “O. M. G…what just happened in the last 10%?

I will try to break down my rather hard decision to rate this book at where I’ve placed it, especially compared to its prequel, A Study in Charlotte.

The Plotline

Unlike the prequel, this book was located in multiple locations in Europe. From London to Berlin to Prague, I rather enjoyed seeing our young descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson take on the “bigger” world and its mysteries, compared to the rather limited school campus-restricted affair we got to see earlier. Brittany Cavallaro did a good job, I think, of setting the scene and really showing us what was going on with art forgeries investigation.

However, what the prequel did WAY better was really rack up the suspense. I didn’t feel that Charlotte and Jamie were in danger most of the time, not like the first one did. Frankly, Holmes and Watson were barely talking sometimes because they were constantly fighting so it’s kinda hard to focus on the actual MYSTERY at hand. Honestly, it felt like some TV drama half the time because the mystery was swept off to the side as we focus on their relational problems.

And I thought this was a SHERLOCK based story.

Anyway, when dangers did seem to creep into the story, it wasn’t as exciting as it could’ve been because I was just SO CONFUSED. The foundation of the mystery was all over the place. Was it mostly the gang looking for the culprit behind the art forgeries? Was it trying to figure out where Charlotte’s uncle Leander disappeared too? Was it figuring out how the Moriartys tied into all of this? (After all, their little truce seem to be over between the Holmes and Moriarty families).

I can’t give you a definitive answer. I’d say it was probably a bit of everything. Which actually sucks for an answer. So it wasn’t very focused and half the time I felt like I was just waiting for the big reveal from Holmes in order to get my AHA moment. I was hoping a lightbulb would just click in my mind when I finally reached the ending. Didn’t quite happen like that.

The Sherlock Holmes-yness in the plot

So, where was the Sherlock factor into all of this? This is a retelling of sorts on the famous detective. And his brilliant descendants – like ALL of them. Boy, must be some heavy genetics they maintained in the family line.

Anyway, this was a tough one for me. If you can’t tell from the above rant, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to even develop the mystery. Holmes went off with her plans with Jamie always trying to catch up with her thoughts process (if that’s even possible). And since we see most everything through his eyes, we’re mostly left in the dark too.

I say mostly because we get the privilege of 2 WHOLE chapters from Charlotte’s POV. Here’s where the most “sherlock-y” it gets in this book. It’s still confusing, don’t get me wrong, ’cause we’re still not given all the details of what’s going on in that mind of hers, but at least it felt more reminiscent of what Sherlock would be saying and doing. It wasn’t solely focused on the romance. And Charlotte can be quite hilarious in an unintentional way.

“Honestly, I was pleased that [the boys] were for the moment gone. Democratic decision-making had failed us so far, as a team (was that what we were?). Things ran more smoothly when I was their benevolent dictator.”


This was probably where the book started going more uphill for me. The middle portion? Solid boredom. Even the beautiful scenery couldn’t shake my funk.

The Romance…

Anyone can see that I’m not a huge lover of the….more-than-platonic-but-not-quite-romantic tensions underlying Holmes and Watson’s relationship. I tolerated it in book 1, and tried not to grit my teeth through it here. Well, let me just say, if you ARE a fan of this “interesting” dynamic between the two, you will be more delighted that Cavallaro explores that side of their relationship more here.

While I am much more satisfied when they’re working alongside each other like best friends who occasionally fight (’cause that’s what friends do – doesn’t have to always be from other tensions causing it), I will say that I DID enjoy her writing prose in those scenes. For a Holmes, showing emotions isn’t easy – or even relevant for the most part – but it made the scene even more poignant because we know it was both Jamie and Charlotte meeting halfway for each other to even get to that point where civil conversation was possible (and some other steamier things).

There’s no love triangle, not even hints of one (much to my disappointment ’cause it would’ve juiced up the constant tension in this book), but maybe it was for the better this way.

I might not be on board for anything beyond platonic for the two (or this stasis point they’ve reached), but I do love how Jamie shapes Charlotte for the better. And Cavallaro describes it beautifully.

“If August was my counterpoint, my mirror, Jamie was the only escape from myself I’d ever found. When I was beside him, I understood who I was. I spoke to him, and I liked the words I said….If August reflected me, Jamie showed me myself made better.”


That ending though….

Without giving too much away, the first thought that popped into my head after it finally settled into my mind that I had indeed reached the last page – no, my ARC had not malfunctioned on me and cut me off from all the important details – was “crap is going down like, NOW.” I did not love this book. It was hard to get through at times, as mentioned above, but now it’s like, I HAVE to read the next one just to satisfy my curiosity at what occurred here. It’s not so much what a traditional cliffhanger may leave us with, but more like you know the big, exciting moments are just around the corner and you don’t want to miss out on the wreckage flying in front of your face (yes, we humans tend to like to stare when bad things happen to OTHER people).

The epilogue was touching in ways that I couldn’t imagine it would affect me in. After all, I was on cruise mode for the majority of this book. Apathy reign supreme. But for the last 10%, I am willing (and maybe even excited) for what may come.

Overall Recommendation:
The Last of August was not mystery heavy, with a plot that was strewn all over the place and had no focus. For lovers of a potential relationship between Charlotte and Jamie, this novel really explores, teases and strips that dynamic apart in a brilliant way, whether or not you’re shipping them. I would’ve loved to see more of Holmes’ special deductions in this one and understand more of what was happening WHILE I was reading it, but the ending explosively threw me a bone that I just cannot let go of. With both heavy pros and cons, this sequel was worth it for fans of book 1, but keep in mind that 80% was confusion and maybe 20% could get your heart pumping.

NOTE: all quotes may be subject to change

YA

Review: Powerless by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs

Series: The Hero Agenda #1

powerless-tera-lynn-childs-tracy-deebsKenna is tired of being “normal.” The only thing special about her is that she’s isn’t special at all. Which is frustrating when you’re constantly surrounded by superheroes. Her best friend, her ex-boyfriend, practically everyone she knows has some talent or power. Sure, Kenna’s smart and independent, but as an ordinary girl in an extraordinary world, it’s hard not to feel inferior.

So when three villains break into the lab where she interns, Kenna refuses to be a victim. She stands her ground. She’s not about to let criminals steal the research that will make her extraordinary too.

But in the heat of battle, secrets are spilled and one of the villains saves her life. Twice. Suddenly, everything Kenna thought she knew about good and evil, heroes and villains is upended. And to protect her life and those she loves, she must team up with her sworn enemies on a mission that will redefine what it means to be powerful and powerless…


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Powerless was a very entertaining story, the kind that gives you a couple of laughs and some cheap thrills as you watch the characters assemble from simple nobodies into who they’re meant to be: heroes.

Honestly, this isn’t the kind of book that’s dark and deeply moving or truly thought provoking. If you’re looking for that kind of grit to your stories, then this may not be your kinda of thing. Better turn around now.

No, Powerless was more of a predictable story about a girl without powers in a world where you’re either a superhero, villain or a simple nobody. Defenseless. Weak.

Of course, nothing is ever quite as simple as that, now is it?

Anyway, this whole world building was a little cliched, I will admit. Heroes vs. villains? Haven’t we heard about this like, in EVERY comic book that’s ever lived? So does this make Powerless Kenna’s origin story?? Hmm, something to think about.

I liked Kenna well enough. She didn’t let being powerless all her life prevent her from being brave and wanting to do the best she could for a world that overlooked people like her. Her attitude and personality was overall easily likeable, although not too memorable as I feel I’ve seen a version of Kenna in many other YA stories.

The plot was fun. There’s really no other word for it. Villains come crashing into your lab and your world turns upside d0wn, ’cause guess what? They’re not as scary or bad as you grew up hearing them as. And of course, it helps that they’re pretty darn hot looking too.

The story flow was at a good pace, never quite stalling in one area too long. Rebel, Kenna’s bestie, is one awesome sidekick type character (if this was actually like a comic book), and their opposite personalities balanced each other well. She also kept things more entertaining whenever there was a lull in villain problems.

As with the romance (’cause every good hero story should have a romance arc, right?), it was okay. I dunno, it wasn’t amazing or anything in my opinion. The plot and fun characters were what kept me happy and reading, but the romance with bad-boy Draven just…wasn’t ringing any chemistry bells in my head. He’s your typical “bad” boy who seems all tough and gruff on the outside but all gooey and sweet on the inside if you just dug deep enough and was able to strip away all that exterior aside (somehow). I didn’t see anything too special about him. Sure, he’s nice, but that doesn’t really stir any deep feelings, to be honest. And yeah, he had been on the run practically his whole life (kinda have to when the League of Superheroes puts you on the hit list of villains), but beyond feeling bad for him, I don’t love him.

Frankly, I don’t love any of these characters. The villains we’ve been introduced to, and the mash of heroes that surprisingly learn there’s another side to what they grew up hearing, make a good team together. But each one of them? There wasn’t a whole lot of character development. Their interactions are what kept things more exciting. If there was a dialogue scene between two characters for too long in the book, it just starts dying down a little.

There also wasn’t many female characters here either. I don’t know if that would piss some people off, but I felt a little uncomfortable that the only “powerful” girl was Rebel, while most of the time we’re surrounded by very unique powers from all the boys. Not a single one of them was powerless.

Lastly, the powers themselves were pretty awesome. I like the superhero genre and for that reason alone, I wasn’t too picky about Powerless. There isn’t a lot of YA novels out there filling this gap right now (as comics seem to do well enough on their own as it is), but overall, this novel was a fun read mixing the good elements of an origin story into a solid book. I am looking forward to seeing what comes next for Kenna and the ragtag team.

Overall Recommendation:
Powerless filled a gap in the YA genre for me, bringing forth a fun story about superheroes and villains thrown together as they realize the world isn’t quite what they all thought it was like. Kenna and her team of superpowered friends were a good mix, balancing each other out with their powers and their personalities. Together, they made the story interesting with a good mix of action thrown in as well as they battled to find out the truth and rescue those they love. Altogether, it wasn’t the most unique book ever written (frankly, it’s like a written comic book), but I wasn’t feeling picky and it satisfied well enough. If you’re looking for a lighter read with some super powers mixed in, I would suggest you give Powerless a try.