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.

Best of 2016

As the year draws nearer to an end, I wish to reflect back on some of the marvellous reads that were on my list this year. I try to mostly read new books when they come out, so this list includes fairly new titles that did indeed publish in 2016, but it is important to note that I read a variety of novels published from all years.

The top 5 books on my reading list:

5) By Your Side by Kasie West

by-your-side-kasie-westA standalone story about a girl with anxiety facing a weekend alone trapped in a library with the notorious bad boy, this contemporary novel is a wonderful read using the same formula that Kasie West dominates with in her stories! A little predictable but heartfelt through and through, I connected so well with the main character (which is more rare in contemporary fiction for me) and the delivery of the story was the perfect blend of seriousness, wit and humor. This is one book you should add onto your 2017 reading list when it comes out early in January 2017.

4) Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

truthwitch -susan dennard A new fantasy world built around all types of witches and 4 reluctant heroes, this was a story I was initially reluctant to love as well. But with the carefully crafted backstory of each of these protagonists and the exciting new world Susan Dennard created, I fell more and more in love with everything happening in this novel. Book 1 to the start of a 4 part series, this was definitely a must-read on many people’s 2016 list. Look out for its sequel, Windwitch, hitting stores in January 2017.

 

3) This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

this savage song -victoria schwab For a story about monsters and one without a romantic component, this seemed so far from the type of story that I would adore. But lo and behold, the monster with a bleeding heart for humans and the girl who wished she could be as cruel as a monster won over my heart. This is a story about darkness and light, about cruelty and love. It had such a great and deep message, that you make your own destiny and you can be more than who you were born to be. Its sequel, Our Dark Duet, comes out June 2017!

 

2) The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

the dark days club -alison goodman A historical fantasy that balances each component very well, this is the kind of dark story I was morbidly curious about upon reading its synopsis. Filled with action and hints of romance, and a protagonist who can WHIP ass, this novel has been on my recommendation list throughout the year (and it’s well worth that!). Once you enter this Regency era world that Alison Goodman’s made and you’ll never want to step out of it! Find the next novel in this series, The Dark Days Pact, also comes out late January 2017.

 

1) Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

gemina-amie-kaufman-jay-kristoff Not known to be a huge lover of sci-fi, this combined genius piece of art between 3 authors has absolutely blown my mind (and many other bloggers’ minds too, mind you). So it’s not a huge surprise that Gemina tops my Best list of 2016. From crazy twists of the plot and beautiful designs of spaceships and journal entries, this book has something for everyone and you’d have to look very hard to find someone who doesn’t love this. Who said a sequel can’t be as loved as the original? Look out for its 3rd book in Fall 2017.

 

It was very hard to choose just a couple of books that amazed me this year. So take this into account that these books must’ve made a huge impression on me, even if I had read them months in advance.

Okay, so my last list deals with the books on my to-read list that I had hoped to get to this year (but sadly could not). Maybe they’re great, maybe they’re not, but here are the hopeful ones I may read in the new year.


The top 5 books I WISH I had read:

5) The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

the-crowns-game-evelyn-skyeVika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

4) The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

the-unexpected-everything-morgan-matsonAndie had it all planned out. When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future. Important internship? Check. Amazing friends? Check. Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).

But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life. Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected. And where’s the fun in that?

 

 

3) Remembrance by Meg Cabot

remembrance -meg cabotYou can take the boy out of the darkness.
But you can’t take the darkness out of the boy.

All Susannah Simon wants is to make a good impression at her first job since graduating from college (and since becoming engaged to Dr. Jesse de Silva). But when she’s hired as a guidance counselor at her alma mater, she stumbles across a decade-old murder, and soon ancient history isn’t all that’s coming back to haunt her. Old ghosts as well as new ones are coming out of the woodwork, some to test her, some to vex her, and it isn’t only because she’s a mediator, gifted with second sight.

What happens when old ghosts come back to haunt you?
If you’re a mediator, you might have to kick a little ass.

From a sophomore haunted by the murderous specter of a child to ghosts of a very different kind—including Paul Slater, Suze’s ex, who shows up to make a bargain Suze is certain must have come from the Devil himself—Suze isn’t sure she’ll make it through the semester, let alone to her wedding night. Suze is used to striking first and asking questions later. But what happens when ghosts from her past—including one she found nearly impossible to resist—strike first?

2) The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder

the-museum-of-heartbreak-meg-leder

In this ode to all the things we gain and lose and gain again, seventeen-year-old Penelope Marx curates her own mini-museum to deal with all the heartbreaks of love, friendship, and growing up.

Welcome to the Museum of Heartbreak.

Well, actually, to Penelope Marx’s personal museum. The one she creates after coming face to face with the devastating, lonely-making butt-kicking phenomenon known as heartbreak.

Heartbreak comes in all forms: There’s Keats, the charmingly handsome new guy who couldn’t be more perfect for her. There’s possibly the worst person in the world, Cherisse, whose mission in life is to make Penelope miserable. There’s Penelope’s increasingly distant best friend Audrey. And then there’s Penelope’s other best friend, the equal-parts-infuriating-and-yet-somehow-amazing Eph, who has been all kinds of confusing lately.

But sometimes the biggest heartbreak of all is learning to let go of that wondrous time before you ever knew things could be broken.

1) Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerhill

ever-the-hunted-erin-summerhill

Seventeen 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.


I hope through the ups and downs of this year (and there were many downs in 2016) that the stories you lived through and your own personal ones combined to make some lovely memories that you can always look back to as you think of 2016.

Have a very happy New Year! Here’s to hoping that 2017 will only be better!

Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Series: The Illuminae Files #2

gemina-amie-kaufman-jay-kristoffMoving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The saga that began with Illuminae continues on board the space station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of BeiTech’s assault. Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter, Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum may be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival. The fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.


5 Drink Me Potions


I would think after the mindblowingly-awesomeness that was Illuminae, it would be a very hard act to follow. Fortunately for us, Gemina is equally as badass as its predecessor, if not even a smidge better in a few areas.

The events in Gemina are set literally minutes right after what transpired at the end of Illuminae, albeit in a different location on the Heimdall Jump Station where all our favourite cast of characters were racing towards in the previous book.

Both acting as a sequel and a companion novel, we follow a whole new cast of characters navigating a world that is about to turn UPSIDE DOWN and INSIDE OUT on its head.

We already know from Illuminae the level of pure genius that is a combination of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, but here is exactly why their genius-ness was NOT a one-off chance occurrence.

The new cast
I was a little worried at first that I wouldn’t love the new protagonists as much. After all, Kady and Ezra were pretty awesome in book 1, and their romance was just so SWOON-worthy. But worries can be laid to rest as Hanna and Nik have stolen my heart.

Hanna is honestly just as badass, if not MORE, than Kady. Being trained in multiple forms of martial arts by her Commander father – what a wonderful decision for father-daughter bonding, Commander – she had the skill set to help defend her station from the impending danger being wrought on them. Plus, it sure helps to have her courage and wit on top of that. She wasn’t the little spoiled rich girl that the other characters initially pegged her for, and I adored her for standing her ground and showing everyone what kinda heroine she could be when push came to shove.

These other said characters would include both Nik and his cousin Ella. Nik wasn’t the sweet kinda guy that Ezra Mason was (oh rest my beating heart), but he wasn’t exactly the bad-boy-criminal that I may have thought he was either. He didn’t want to be this way, but you can’t choose your family, can you? And for a hero, he was definitely the most surprising. Of all those onboard the Heimdall, I’m sure no one else would think he was hero material. I loved his POV as much as Hanna’s, and I’m glad that there was more of him in this story (whereas I’m still miffed that Ezra wasn’t as prominent in Illuminae as I had hoped).

Ella’s great too. She’s like that awkward third wheel of this ragtag resistance group against the invading mercs. She throws in those cringey moments when Nik and Hanna are getting too cozy, and make us laugh while everything else is coming to pieces and people are dying all around. She’s no innocent herself (gang family, remember??), but I love her heart and loyalty. She even seems to come around with her opinions of Hanna. Plus her particular skill set behind the scenes makes her the unsung heroine of this story.

The artistry of this book *insert glowing heart face*
You know, I didn’t think anything could be prettier than Illuminae and its dossier of special files. I loved everything about it, from the maps to the IMs and the hilarious Security Footage Summary with the censored swear words everywhere. I even adored AIDAN’s commentary and unintentionally deep and funny thoughts.

If you think you’re gonna be missing this, or that Gemina is just a replication of what has been done by these two authors already, then you’re in for a surprise. Yes, in a way, it’s the same as all these types of files are also found in this book (yay!), but no, it’s also different. How?

Author Marie Lu has also contributed to this work of art with journal drawings by Hanna. They’re absolutely gorgeous and it adds another layer to this wonderful dossier of files. Plus, there are certain new types of pages that I thought were hilarious. Likewise, sometimes the words and the directions they take represent the movements of the characters, or follow along with the drawing in the background.

And even better? Kady and even AIDAN are back in this novel, so if you’re thinking you’ll be missing them and their words, there will be pages on their involvement on the Hypatia. Don’t worry, the authors didn’t forget about them and their amazing survival to this point. Things will start to wonderfully tie in together.

Honestly? You may be someone who loves ebooks or audiobooks, but this is one series where you just HAVE TO get your hands on the physical copy to fully appreciate how beautiful it is. I can’t tell you how much more beautiful it is without a) ruining things, or b) inadequately describing how wonderful Gemina is even after the initial surprise has subsided with Illuminae. Just grab one and read it!

The twists and turns of the plot and the insane details
I remember clearly how crazy the plot twisted in Illuminae as it was so subtle but it just all made SENSE at the end of it. Here? There were certain points that didn’t initially make sense when I read them, but as the story unfolded and things unravelled in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined or guessed, it all clicked as well. I dunno how Kaufman and Kristoff do it, but they are absolutely BRILLIANT in how they weave together all the intricate ideas to make a great story told in a beautiful format.

Another sideline to this plot was the presence of alien creatures that are also problematic for the crew on board (as if having mercs onboard wasn’t bad enough, you know?). The detail put into their genus and species – there’s a whole wiki-type page for the creature that’s provided, and as a scientist, gotta appreciate that detailing! – as well as how it’s cultivated and everything was downright amazing. Like it’s just one little thing in this gigantic plot, but they don’t do anything halfway. I’m so impressed. It makes this whole dossier effect more real.

I can go on and on but…
I’m sure all the reviews can go on about the brilliance that’s this series. So you don’t need anything more from me. I will end by saying that Gemina is worth the buy (it was an automatic purchase for me too), and it’s just as good as its sequel which is a rare gem to find in YA these days. Full of action and hints of romance (unfortunately, not as much as it was with Ezra and Kady), it’s everything you can ask for.

No matter if you don’t like sci fi, or if you don’t like YA, or if you think it’s too long (honestly, 659 pages just fly by ), it’s ALL worth it. I’m just so glad that this book I’ve been waiting for a whole year for was just as great as I could hope and expect. I’m even more glad that I’m ending 2016 off with this as one of my last reads. It’s worth it, and I can’t wait to see what book 3 brings!

Overall Recommendation:
Honestly, there’s no way I can put all that I’ve praised in this glowing review of Gemina in a brief summary. I’ll try, but you should just read the whole darn thing. For a sequel, it’s just as amazing as book 1, and you won’t be disappointed. The new heroes are just as awesome as Kady and Ezra, there’s even more beauty in this new dossier of files collected from Jump Station Heimdall and unforeseen twists of the plot made this an unforgettable read. You NEED to get your hands on a hardcopy NOW of Gemina. Before the year ends, if you can. You won’t regret it. Promise.

Review: Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Series: Hunted #1

hunted-meagan-spoonerBeauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?


3 Drink Me Potions


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

**Hunted comes out March 14, 2017**

A Beauty that could hunt and take care of herself? That sounds a lot more interesting than Disney’s version.

And honestly? It was. In a way.

Yeva and her 2 sisters found themselves in a dire situation when their father’s business venture failed and they were left in ruin. Always at heart in the forest where her father taught her everything he knew about the hunt, Yeva was half-delighted to be returning to their only home left near the heart of the forest.

Of course, there’s a Beast loose out in the depths of this forest.

I thought it was an interesting premise, but the execution of the story was different from what I expected. It’s not to say it was bad, but it was just…different. I’ve never been a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast. I find it hard to fall in love with such a beastly figure that kept you prisoner. Meagan Spooner did her best to make sure this romance was more believable.

The story takes a while to unfold to where you know it’s heading: when Beauty meets the Beast and becomes his prisoner. I was rather impatient during the beginning 1/4 as these details just didn’t capture my heart as much.

And once we were introduced to the Beast properly (besides the little bits at the end of each chapter that were designated from the Beast’s POV), things did get more exciting. Combining elements from apparently a Russian folklore, this was a very unique twist on the fairy tale.

However, at the end of the day, it just….lacked something. The romance wasn’t as deep and loving as I expected for a fairy tale. There weren’t enough moments between Beauty and the Beast that let me understand how she went from hatred to sympathy to such love.

And that ending? It was so rushed. I was so confused at how things wrapped up, although it does end nicely (as all fairy tales should). I wished the book was a little longer if that’s what it took to let the last 10% flesh out better. It just wasn’t executed in the best way, in my opinion.

For a Beauty and the Beast story, it did its best and it was a good retelling that stood out amongst all the others.

Overall Recommendation:
Hunted was a unique spin on the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, with a bit of Russian folklore. Yeva wasn’t just some damsel in distress, and the way Beauty and Beast balanced each other out without one being always the dominant one was interesting. However, the execution of the story, especially the ending, left a less than satisfactory feeling as it concluded too fast and the romance just couldn’t make me sigh with happiness like fairy tales do.

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Series: Kingdom on Fire #1

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-jessica-cluessHenrietta can burst into flames.

Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s named the first female sorcerer in hundreds of years and invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the prophesied one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta is not the chosen one.

As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in how A Shadow Bright and Burning turned out. It was a highlighted book of 2016 for me, but with high expectations come a greater fall when it doesn’t reach them.

Taking the “chosen one” archetype and apparently flipping it on its head, Cluess’ debut novel seemed to have the beautiful elements of magic, monsters and romance, all set in Victorian London. Each and every one of these components are things I absolutely love to find in a book. So how did it turn all so wrong?

Henrietta Howel didn’t expect to be brought to London, discovered as the first female sorcerer since Joan of Arc. I liked her. She didn’t let a house full of boys (with far more training than she ever had) or the old and well-respected sorcerers intimidate her. But with the opportunity for a greater life than she had ever dreamed of, she brought along her best friend Rook, an Unclean. One who has been touched by the Ancients (aka a monster that’s the stuff of nightmares). Her kindness for someone who society would not want to touch made me like her. She stood up for the poor who weren’t protected by the sorcerers’ magic. She gave her own opinion when she didn’t agree with how things were done. She made for a great protagonist.

The issues I did have problems with were the other elements of the story.

Magic:
The world building wasn’t very extensive. Beyond another tool, called a stave, that seemingly replaced the functions of a wand, and how it could be used with certain body movements to control the elements, it was frankly a little tiring to read about. I found my eyes were glazing over the parts when they were training because it was just a lot of info dumped in a way that wasn’t very exciting. It felt more like info that had to be unloaded rather than organically fitting in with the plot.

This story is also a historical fantasy. Honestly? Besides the fact that Queen Victoria popped up occasionally in the plot, it hardly felt like the time period really mattered. Sure, they were in London, but the historical aspects just weren’t important as it could’ve been modern-day London society. The way they lived, the tools they used, none of that really connected with that time period and it was a let-down. History requires more intensive research, but Cluess just didn’t put the effort to actually encompass it into her story, like how The Dark Days Club did in this same genre.

Monsters:
Likewise, the world building here wasn’t extensive enough. We’re still left with many questions by the end of the book. Like why did the responsible party who unleashed these monsters do it? or where are they from so the sorcerers stop them? . Unfortunately, it seems either these details were meant to be shared later in the series, or were unimportant. The way one of the monsters was dealt with in the climax of the novel felt too rushed and anticlimactic. For a “chosen one” archetype that’s supposed to be different, it sure felt like the cliched version of this formula. It’s like Howel is unstoppable. She may not be THE chosen one, but she’s still more important and powerful than other (and frankly, more well-trained) sorcerers in the Order.

Romance:
Where do I even BEGIN with this? I had a feeling a love triangle would go down in this book as there are like, almost no female characters and Howel is surrounded by a house of guys. I’m at least happy that one guy becomes more of a brotherly figure to her, so it’s like a love pentagon or whatever. I personally favour one guy over another (of course), but the romance honestly didn’t do much for me. Which is saying a lot.

Both guys have their problems, and both make honest mistakes that I didn’t really appreciate. There is no one who is better for her. And I’m glad that it’s not a story that focuses on this point like it’s more important than EVERYTHING else that’s happening. But at the same time, the romance was almost so subtle that I didn’t feel anything for the guys. She hardly spent any alone time with either so there weren’t many moments that made me melt and think “awww they’re so cute together”. I’d rather she didn’t fall for anyone then and just focus on kicking monster butt.

SO….
Maybe I hyped this up a little too much in my mind. I waited a long time to get my hands on this novel and I may have expected way too much. However, it still had its moments, like learning the history of other magical beings beyond sorcerers or the mysterious attention given to Howel by the Ancients.

It may not have been the best book, but it was decent at least.

Overall Recommendation:
A Shadow Bright and Burning was a historical fantasy that barely focused on the historical aspect. Set in Victorian London, Henrietta found herself in a heap of lies as she figures she’s not the chosen one after all. With a world that wasn’t altogether explained very well, this novel tried to make itself fun and action-packed, but somehow missed the high bar it set. It had its good moments too, but all the elements I looked most forward to just weren’t put together as well as I had hoped it would. Plus, the romance just wasn’t so great, and that already puts me in a less than happy mood.

Review: Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #2

like-a-river-glorious-rae-carsonAfter a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

The second epic historical fantasy in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson, the acclaimed author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.


3 Drink Me Potions


Like its predecessor, Walk on Earth a Stranger, the sequel is very similar in the fact that it is more of a historical fiction piece than historical fantasy.

Like a River Glorious did uphold the promise of more action and excitement. Lee Westfall, no longer hiding who she is and her special ability to sense gold in the depths of the earth, has found herself finally in California where she had hopes of starting a new life away from the troubles back home in Georgia. Alongside her is her best friend, Jefferson, with whom a relationship beyond mere friendship may be something on the horizon.

Once again, Rae Carson has done her homework because this novel was not easy to write accurately either. The unfair treatment of the indigenous people known simply as “Indians”, the African-American slaves that were seen as mere property, and the Chinese laborers that were coming over from China were awful. Words could not describe how awful the racism was in the frontiersmen settling California. Carson did a great job of depicting the horrors these people truly faced in the past, with “well-meaning, religious white men” thinking they knew what was best. That they were the best, and on top of the world.

The truly sickening descriptions that filled these pages kept me turning faster than the first book. It made me feel awful, but at the same time, it did the trick of showing how people aren’t all that much better nowadays. I’m glad Lee did not feel the same way or else I might not have been able to finish the story.

Like a River Glorious deals mostly with Lee’s uncle, the root of all her troubles and the reason for her escape out West. It also described the beauty of the untouched lands of California when it was still mostly trees, mountains and lakes. The journey may have been difficult, but it was only the beginning. Claiming land and settling down more permanently wasn’t all that much easier. I liked these parts of the story, as long as they didn’t take up the whole length of it and consumed all my patience.

All in all, it was a nicer sequel but it still lagged in the middle. The pacing wasn’t fast enough to get my blood pumping. There was a little more info about Lee’s special abilities and how they may not be as simple as she had originally thought they were all this time. Other than that, events in this story were far from “heartstoppingly exciting”.

Overall Recommendation:
Like a River Glorious gave me more feelings beyond apathy, getting my heart pumping with anger at the descriptions of unfair racial prejudices back in this time. Of course, the rest of the story was picking up the pace too. Lee was facing her problematic uncle head-to-head while trying to settle her band of friends in their new lands in California. With admiration for the evidence of strong historical research, Rae Carson has done her best to make this new trilogy accurate and fun. I can see the first, but the latter I’m still waiting for.

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1

walk-on-earth-a-stranger-rae-carsonGold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.


 

2.5 Drink Me Potions


Having read Rae Carson’s previous trilogy (including the novellas) all together and in one go, I had honestly thought her writing was well done and I enjoyed her voice that resonated through her stories. However, I find myself at a loss with Walk on Earth a Stranger.

First, the synopsis wasn’t so much fantasy sounding (as I was used to from her) as it was historical. Okay, I’m all right with that. Historical fantasies can be great too, right? Or even just regular historical fictions, if done right.

This, my friends, was not an example of historical fiction done right.

Leah “Lee” Westfall is magical. She can sense gold no matter where it’s hidden deep within the ground whenever she’s near it. It’s like it calls to her as soon as she catches the scent. Kind of like a vampire on the scent of blood, if you need an analogy. So of course, this seems more like a gift than a curse. It allows you to get pretty darn rich, right? Gold practically sings to you like a homing beacon guiding you to its location.

With the craziness that befalls her family at the beginning of this story, Lee heads West to follow the Gold Rush that’s starting up in California, where of course she’ll do pretty well for herself. Along with her is her bestie, Jefferson, a half-Cherokee who would probably fare better on his own in a new place full of strangers than the town back home who doesn’t treat him very well.

And so they journey, separately and together, across the vast country of America. And that’s basically the whole plot of this darn book.

I mean, the only magical part of this book was Lee’s abilities , which she doesn’t really utilize much except in the beginning, because they’re busy travelling and trying to stay ALIVE. Turns out, there’s plenty of dangerous people out there in the wilderness when travelling by wagon. Lee had to learn who was friend and foe, sometimes distinguishing the two a task that would risk her life.

Okay, so basically, Walk on Earth a Stranger was more a historical fiction novel than historical fantasy. But it was just SO boring . Even more so than some of the travelling parts I was used to in Carson’s other books. They literally walk, eat, run into danger (both from outside of their camp of people moving across America together, or even from people within their camp), fight off danger, face tragedy, and move on. It was just so tiring. It’s not wonder it took me forever to finish this book.

I have many complaints, but what prevented it from being downgraded even further was the cast of characters. Carson’s good at making them each different and special. There’s a lot of important secondary characters in this story, more than most books in the YA genre puts effort into creating. It was obviously done well enough that you can care for individuals instead of turning the page and asking yourself “Now, who was this again? And why do I care about their demise?”.

There was also a lot of good research put into this novel. It’s hard to write historical stories because you don’t wanna fudge up the facts too much. Creating your own world is so much easier because you set the rules for what did and should have happened without anyone the wiser challenging you on it. So it’s not an easy feat, and I do congratulate Rae Carson for taking this story on with such vigor and hard work that led to, what I think is, an accurate enough telling of life as an American willing to explore the new frontier.

Overall, this story was not an easy one to finish, nor was it the most rewarding upon completion, but the ending was a good one that gave hope, no matter the situation Lee and the others found themselves in. There’s not much romance in it, though I do believe there are hints of a potential romance blooming once all the danger was put behind them. I’m probably the most excited for that. It better happen, you hear, Rae Carson?

Overall Recommendation:
Walk on Earth a Stranger is no historical fantasy, but it doesn’t fare very well as just a plain historical fiction recounting the age of the Gold Rush in America. Lee has a magical ability to sense gold that makes her extra special in a setting like this. I admire the amount of effort put in to recreate a story that’s as factual as it can be, but the plot itself was just not exciting. It literally encompassed Lee’s travels from Georgia to California. That’s it. If that sounds way too boring for you, please don’t try it out. I still have hopes things are gonna get crazier once in California due to the circumstances leading to Lee’s departure, but it’s not a huge part of this novel at least.

Review: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

the-secret-of-a-heart-note-stacey-leeAn evocative novel about a teen aroma expert who uses her extrasensitive sense of smell to mix perfumes that help others fall in love while protecting her own heart at all costs

Sometimes love is right under your nose. As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of weeding, mixing love elixirs, and matchmaking—all while remaining incurably alone. For Mim, the rules are clear: falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of a normal high school experience with friends, sports practices, debate club, and even a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation, Mim quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice you can make.

At once hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s The Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that gives a fresh perspective on falling in love and finding one’s place in the world.


4 Drink Me Potions


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

**The Secret of a Heart Note comes out December 27, 2016**

If you want a story filled with a diverse cast of characters and a little bit of magic thrown into your every day lives, then The Secret of a Heart Note is the book for you.

Mimosa, or Mim as she liked to be called, was a very intriguing protagonist. She was different (obviously, what with her special nose that could scent practically as well as a bloodhound), but she still held those same desires of any teenage girl her age. I liked that she was relatable yet still so interesting to read about due to her unique abilities that run through her family.

The world building, including the history of aromateurs and their ways, was fascinating and I very thoroughly enjoyed the quotes from aromateurs past at the beginning of each chapter. Even though she lived in California, a very familiar location that should not come as a surprise to anyone for the setting of a contemporary novel, the whole world felt so different when described through Mim’s eyes (or should I say, through her nose?). Stacey Lee really went into detail about the different scents for different emotions, and the ingredients that go into the makings of their love potions. The in-depth details of how their concoctions even work, and the rigorous rules they must follow in their line of duty to their special olfactory abilities was fascinating. I was thoroughly pleased to gain such insight into how it looked like being in Mim’s life.

Because, after all, it wasn’t all so easy being her. ‘Cause apparently, an ancestor cursed them from falling in love at the risk of losing their noses.

Beyond the world building that was superb, I really enjoyed the diverse ethnicities and cultures that were represented in the characters. Mim’s best friend was Samoan, one of their main clients was African American, and a star soccer player was Asian. It was great. I have never seen such representation in the YA genre before in one book. I normally don’t mind so much, but being Asian myself, I’m very proud of Stacey Lee trying to be so inclusive in her writings. I look forward to reading some of her other works because they seem to follow this same pattern. If you like seeing diversity in your books, I’d definitely think this story (and author) is for you!

The only problem I had with the story was, oddly enough, the romance. I did not enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Frankly, I didn’t care much for the love interest, to the point that I’ve even forgotten his name. Sure, I felt bad for Mim when there were misunderstandings because high schoolers of course would not understand what it means to empathize with those who are different. When their relationship got rocky (’cause of course it would), I just felt really sad for her, but I couldn’t bring myself to care as much as I would if I had thoroughly enjoyed the two of them together. Don’t get me wrong, this book was lots of fun and portrayed themes that were important. The romance was obviously a huge glue in the story as it’s a story about falling in love, after all. I just wish the love interest had a bigger personality that didn’t bore me.

Needless to say, I am very glad to have found this story. Lee is being added onto my list of authors to read more from, and I think you should give her a try too. Be sure to check this book out when it hits stores!

Overall Recommendation:
The Secret of a Heart Note was my first Stacey Lee book, and it’s opened my eyes to how a well-done story about falling in love, with a diverse cast and a hint of magic and fun, should look like. With every person holding a unique scent made up of many different scent notes, Mim and her family hold the unique ability to hone in on these to make potions to guide people to love. A very unique idea that was marvellously written with a witty and humorous voice, this novel is sure to entertain. If only the central romance had held more of my interest, this book would honestly have been one of the best of the year for me.

Review: By Your Side by Kasie West

by-your-side-kasie-westIn this irresistible story, Kasie West explores the timeless question of what to do when you fall for the person you least expect. Witty and romantic, this paperback original from a fan favorite is perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson.

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?


4.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**By Your Side comes out January 31, 2017**

Rating: 4.5 stars

You know a story is amazing when you zip through it so fast that you don’t even realize you’re almost to the end until you’re practically there. I thought By Your Side would take me longer to finish, but oh boy, was I in for a surprise! This is a contemporary novel that you should definitely pick up in the new year.

Autumn is the most relatable girl I’ve had the pleasure of reading about this year. Yes, I may love strong characters and those girls who do things I wish I could do as well as they do, but sometimes, you just need one of those girls who seem to understand you intrinsically.

Autumn is that girl for me.

She has anxiety attacks and that is really relatable to many young women, me included. But she is strong and tries her best to not let it deter her from living life. Being trapped in a library by herself that is barely staying warm over a long weekend, I’m sure most people would find it hard to remain calm too. (Of course, being that the building IS a library….it might be the best place to be in if I were to choose a building to be stuck in)

The boy she ends up being trapped with is a bit stereotypical. A hardened young man who is going through the foster system and a rough childhood, Dax is the picture of seriousness. But Autumn’s witty (and sometimes sarcastic) comments are like minor victories when they bring out a tiny smile or amused look on his face.

Their romance was beautiful. It was never rushed and totally done right. Kasie West is a genius when it comes to writing romances that make you wish the characters get together faster, but pull you in anyway as you anticipate nervously. This one was no exception. It was a glorious slow-burn process that had you hooked from the beginning. Their friendship was slow too, as Dax didn’t do commitments or attachments. He wanted freedom over anything else. He was just waiting for that time to come. Meanwhile, Autumn was hoping for a relationship to come about, although maybe with the wrong guy.

This story is beyond the simple plot of a girl and a boy being trapped in a library together and falling in love. It’s about falling for someone even when you least expected it. It’s about learning more about yourself, taking care of yourself sometimes even when others need you as well. It’s about courage in sharing our hardest secrets and hoping others will still look at you the same.

By Your Side is one story you don’t wanna miss in 2017. It’s the best yet of Kasie West’s stories. I can’t wait to see more.

Overall Recommendation:
I’m a huge fan of Kasie West’s works, but By Your Side blew me away. With a seemingly simplistic plot revolving around two very different teens stuck in a library together for a long weekend, this story is so much more than that. Autumn is such a relatable protagonist and her friendship (and later, romance) with Dax is honest and full of trust. This is what a relationship should look like in real life and in stories! How can you not root for these two through their journeys of self-reflection and love? You definitely must add this to your 2017 to-read list!

Review: The Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine

Series: Ravenspire #2

the-wish-granter-cj-redwineAn epic, romantic, and action-packed fantasy inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, about a bastard princess who must take on an evil fae to save her brother’s soul, from C. J. Redwine, the New York Times bestselling author of The Shadow Queen. Perfect for fans of Graceling and the Lunar Chronicles.

The world has turned upside down for Thad and Ari Glavan, the bastard twins of Súndraille’s king. Their mother was murdered. The royal family died mysteriously. And now Thad sits on the throne of a kingdom whose streets are suddenly overrun with violence he can’t stop.

Growing up ignored by the nobility, Ari never wanted to be a proper princess. And when Thad suddenly starts training Ari to take his place, she realizes that her brother’s ascension to the throne wasn’t fate. It was the work of a Wish Granter named Alistair Teague who tricked Thad into wishing away both the safety of his people and his soul in exchange for the crown.

So Ari recruits the help of Thad’s enigmatic new weapons master, Sebastian Vaughn, to teach her how to fight Teague. With secret ties to Teague’s criminal empire, Sebastian might just hold the key to discovering Alistair’s weaknesses, saving Ari’s brother—and herself.

But Teague is ruthless and more than ready to destroy anyone who dares stand in his way—and now he has his sights set on the princess. And if Ari can’t outwit him, she’ll lose Sebastian, her brother…and her soul.


3 Drink Me Potions


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

**The Wish Granter comes out February 14, 2017**

The premise of this story was a unique spin on a less common fairy tale that C.J. Redwine opted for, that being Rumpelstiltskin. Let me start off by saying that our protagonist, Ari, was a breath of fresh air. What do I mean by that?

Well, 1) she wasn’t a thin rod to start off with, where time and time again she was described as having “generous curves”. 2) She wasn’t a true princess by birth, but rather a bastard one. Like, how often do you have the main character as the bastard offspring? She and her brother Thad made the story more interesting with this angle of animosity against them by the kingdom they ended up leading. 3) She has this undying love for all things baked – pies, cakes, you name it. I dunno why this point had to be construed so many times to the reader, but I suppose it made Ari different too.

The choice of fairy tale was entertaining as it’s not as overdone as other ones, ahem *Snow White like in The Shadow Queen*. The Wish Granter and his (literally) bloody contracts threatened peace in the kingdom of Sundraille. After reading Redwine’s previous Ravenspire novel not so long ago, it was nice to get to know another kingdom in this world she had created. There was creativity put into spinning this tale in her own way, including Ari’s path of discovery to destroying The Wish Granter, Alistair Teague.

I enjoyed the tense emotions running seeing the ruthless underground network of Teague’s employees in the city of Kosim Thalas. I loved the excitement pumping when reading about the sneaky ways people were ensnared in Teague’s fine print contracts (because of course, I knew they’d be saved somehow – not a fairy tale for no reason). And I loved that there were guest appearances from other sources. For example, near the beginning of the book, some of you may be delighted to see the reference to Lorelai and her dragon prince. I sure was. But I almost fan-girled to see a badass version of Hansel and Gretel pop into the plot as well. I kinda wish there would be a separate story on these twins in the future. Maybe in the story for the fae kingdom of Llorenyae? *Here’s to hoping*.

So why doesn’t this have a higher rating?

Well, for starters, my heart just wasn’t into the romance. Gasp! I know, right? The romance is everything.

Here’s why. The chemistry between Ari and Sebastian was okay, at best. It didn’t light any fires in my heart. It didn’t make me rush through the pages in hopes that they’d get their happily ever after. No, I just felt…indifferent. I may have liked Ari’s fiery personality and quick thinking, but Sebastian felt too clichéd to me.

Now, don’t go hating on me but his broken family situation and physical abuse in childhood made him into a very quiet man with many issues to overcome. That’s to be expected. But sometimes reading from his POV, it just brought down any romantic mood. I liked him enough, I suppose, on his own. He tried to do his best by the princess he thought he didn’t deserve to be friends with, but he’s just a broken hero at the end of the day. Maybe in fairy tales a princess’ love can change a man and overcome any problem, but it just seemed to be a little clichéd. And I just didn’t feel true chemistry beyond falling for each other due to intense circumstances.

Although the plot of the story was unique, it also was a little predictable towards the end. The climax really picked up, but for the most part, it dragged. It took me a while to finish this book. Yes, I was busy, but if it was really exciting, I’d have set time to finish it no matter what. And the conclusion to the big question, how do you destroy the Wish Granter and his binding contracts?, just felt too simple. And predictable. And frankly confusing. I can’t give away any answers without ruining it, but honestly, her final plan in play (that related to the original tale) felt unnecessary in getting rid of Teague.

So I have good points and not-so-good points to make. At the end of the day, it was still an interesting enough read. Would I recommend it? Maybe not. Unless you really enjoyed book 1 in the Ravenspire series, The Wish Granter might just be a pleasant afternoon read that doesn’t quite stir your blood pressure.

Overall Recommendation:
The Wish Granter was a different take on the Rumpelstiltskin story with a leading character that had a fiery personality and might be more relatable to some readers. The story continues as a companion novel to the Ravenspire series by Redwine and it’s up to standard with her previous work. However, lack of true chemistry between the leads, slower pacing throughout and somewhat predictable ending after all that buildup left a bit of disappointment behind. I will probably only recommend it to those who loved The Shadow Queen and to those who aren’t expecting a grand spin on this fairy tale.