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Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

Series: Blythewood #1

blythewood -carol goodmanWelcome to Blythewood.

At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood.

But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.

Vivid and atmospheric, full of mystery and magic, this romantic page-turner by bestselling author Carol Goodman tells the story of a world on the brink of change and the girl who is the catalyst for it all.


3.5 Drink Me Potions

Blythewood has elements that I thoroughly enjoyed. A mysterious boarding school with secrets behind its closed doors, fascinating creatures creeping out from the darkness, and whimsical characters that separate themselves from the norm of YA books.

The beginning was a little slow. Ava was still with her mother and working low-paying jobs in a factory at a time where women were trying to gain more attention and the right for votes. It took the story a while to get rolling into the juicy bits, but eventually through devastating acts of terror by a mysterious man wearing a long coat following her around, Ava moves to Blythewood. It’s not just any normal school, and once she passed the initial entry exam, it becomes evident that they teach more than just history and science here.

Blythewood is a school prepping students for battle against the darkness.

The story covers themes like what makes someone good and bad, the light and the dark. Is it what one was born as? Or can it be from the decisions and actions that they make? It was an interesting read, but it also wasn’t heart-poundingly urgent to finish. I took my slow, sweet time with it (and not because I was reading this as my on-vacation book).

One thing that I normally hate is a love triangle, but with Blythewood, I was okay with it. It was barely even there, but it took a long time for our favourite “angel” bad boy, Raven, to be introduced to Ava. So there was normal, human Nathan waiting on the sidelines for a potential love interest, but it’s not like anything really happened. There were just hints that there was interest there.

Then again, it’s not like anything in the romance department really occurred during the book, even with Raven. It was slow and not quite insta-love, although she was definitely intrigued by him. Well, hello, I’m sure anyone would be intrigued by some winged boy who saves you time and again. It doesn’t help that he always comes around without a shirt on either.

As for the total story, the romance wasn’t even the biggest part, for which I’m glad. The background and history into which Blythewood was founded on, and the mission that these girls set out to achieve was imaginative and draws you in.

And at the heart of it, there was always the question as to who that strange man was that showed up around Ava, bringing chaos and fear. I do believe Blythewood is a lovely story that somehow slipped past the majority of YA readers. With intrigue, great bounds of imagination and ties into its historical period, this is one book that kept me reading even though there were plenty of other fun things I could’ve been doing while on vacation.

Overall Recommendation:
Blythewood is one of those stories that you wonder why it never blew up into something huge. It contains everything that I enjoy. The mystery of Ava’s mother’s death and the strange man following her around. A boarding school full of secrets that centre around fantastical creatures set out to destroy humankind. And, of course, fun characters and a hint of romance that didn’t make me wanna roll my eyes and skip the pages. What more could anyone ask for? Goodman’s first book in this trilogy is a promising start to crazier antics and more secrets to unfold as we follow Ava into the heart of darkness.

Review: Defiance by C. J. Redwine

Series: Defiance #1

defiance -cj redwineWithin the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses, host dinner parties, and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same boy who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

3 Drink Me Potions

I haven’t read a post-apocalyptic kinda book in a while, so I was excited to see more from C.J. Redwine, although I am a bit late to this series. Defiance was mostly what it claimed to be with the minor exception that the pacing was slow and the ending was a bit anti-climatic.

Rachel Adams is a fighter. There’s no doubt. Where other girls just hope for their Claiming day (basically where men in their small city-state can ask her father/male guardian for her to become their wife), Rachel would rather hunt and spar as her courier father had taught her. When her dad doesn’t come back, she was torn apart. In this story, family matters more than anything else. Where would you be without family in a world ravaged by some strange creature called the Cursed One? (which if you ask me, is a very, very odd name for a crazy fire-spewing monster)

Stuck as Rachel’s guardian or Protector upon her dad’s disappearance, Logan makes for a rugged love interest with a loyal heart. As an outcast and orphan, Logan loved Rachel’s family as his own. No matter the issues between them, once the story got rolling, these two were just an adorable pair to follow along. With alternating POVs, it was interesting to see how each of them mistook the other’s actions and feelings. I also loved that Logan planned things out, laying out the Best Case Scenario along with the numerable Worst Case Scenarios. They felt like the bit of humour necessary to dissipate the tension and dark feelings they were both feeling.

The main thing I had problems with was the very slow pace. Even the synopsis suggests that Rachel and Logan embark on a journey to the Wastelands to search for her father. That honestly doesn’t take place until the very middle of the book at least. Yes, it was nice to get to understand the land and what had occurred in this world that they now lived in. But it took forever for true danger and suspense to kick in.

I may have admired Rachel in the beginning, but as her character “developed” over the course of the story, she grew colder and more silent in order to keep from falling apart at the injustices that were dealt to her. I could understand that, but sometimes, I just wanted to shout at her to knock it off. She wasn’t being strong in that sense. She was being a coward for not facing reality, and taking it out on those around her.

The antagonist of the story was obvious from the beginning, but the final confrontation just didn’t hit me all that hard. It definitely provided more questions and potential material for the following books in the series, but in itself? It was hardly very exciting. I was a tad bit disappointed, to be honest. However, I am still looking forward to the rest of the series. Hopefully the bits that I didn’t enjoy as much would only get stronger and better from Redwine’s debut.

Overall Recommendation:
For a debut novel, Redwine’s Defiance was enjoyable, albeit lacking a little in excitement and pacing. Rachel and Logan were opposites when it came to their way of thinking. She was all brash and action, a strong fighter who didn’t spend all her days wondering about boys and content with a life of meek obedience to a husband. Logan was the brain and planner, an orphan hardened by the realities thrown at him from a young age. Together, they made a wonderful pair and even better couple. However, the momentum of the plot took ages to move into the teensiest bit of suspense, and the ending just rolled off of me like it was nothing. I hope the following books can minimize these issues, but otherwise, Defiance was a quick and enjoyable read.

Review: Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan

Series: Sword and Verse #1

sword and verse -kathy macmillanRaisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

4 Drink Me Potions

“One does not entreat the gods through shouted prayers or offerings, but through their greatest gift to us, writing.”

Sword and Verse was the unexpected read for me this year. A marevellous fantasy with layers of romance, this book focuses not on the expert swordsman as our heroine, but an expert writer.

Raisa is the daughter of a Learned One, part of the Arnath people who knew how to read the language of the gods. However, through extermination over the years by the Qilarites, there aren’t many Arnathim, let alone Learned Ones, that could still read and write this beautiful language. So becoming a Tutor for the future king, she forms an unlikely friendship (that turns into something more) with Prince Mati.

Okay, I will warn that this novel isn’t what you may expect of a high fantasy. Our lovely girl isn’t an assassin (like some YA books) or even wields some kind of power. Oh no, she’s as normal as can be.

Minus the fact that she holds the secret words her father gave her and the courage she has to learn the language of the gods even when it’s forbidden.

This book is entirely focused on the idea of language and how to learn its individual symbols. For that reason, if you’re someone who doesn’t really enjoy the intricate details of such knowledge, this may tire you a little in the middle.

But hold on tight! I swear, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. In this land, words and writings are just as powerful as any sword.

Beyond that very intriguing premise, the romance is packed from the start. It’s not exactly insta-love, but the thing is, Raisa forms a crush on Mati even before the story really gets rolling as the plot covers approximately a few years. Mati also somehow feels the same way but it all seems quite fast as we as readers don’t get to spend all that much time with them to truly understand the depths of their feelings before they start confessing their love for each other. That was one minor bump I had to get over initially.

You know my opinions on love triangles. I don’t have much patience for them, and so I’m glad to see their romance doesn’t throw in that obstacle. However, it’s not like nothing gets complicated for them. Things happen in the middle that’s understandable but makes me wanna smack Mati in the head. In this way, Raisa has some romantic issues to overcome as well.

With a large cast of characters, this adventurous story draws us into this land of racial and class prejudices, remarkably similar in feeling to The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. It explores the injustices the Arnath people face from the Qilarites, but it also takes a look at how the Qilarites are also trapped in their own roles and expectations just as much as Arnaths are slaves. I thought it covered these issues well, with Raisa being the perfect balance between the two groups. She’s Arnath, but she doesn’t group all the Qilarites into one anomalous blob that can’t be distinguished from each other. Mati helps her see that in each group there is good and bad. They are all human, after all.

The one thing that prevented me from giving it a 5 star rating is the huge secret that Raisa carries and the culminating acts that propels the story into its climax. I guess I was expecting a little more to the secret message, but overall, I’m still very satisfied with how MacMillan tied all the pieces together.

In the midst of Raisa’s story, at the beginning of every chapter, we see the beautiful story of the gods and goddesses of this world unfold and how they interacted with the mortals. The mythology crafted here was detailed and beautiful in its own way. Although they’re only small snippets per chapter, by the end of it, I wanted to weep with the gods as well for all they too had suffered and done wrong. It beautifully meshed in with Raisa’s story.

Overall, Sword and Verse showed that a heroine doesn’t have to be the best fighter or the strongest sorceress. She can be someone true of heart. A teacher. And a writer. As a writer myself and a lover of words, this message resonated with me. Words can be as sharp as a blade. And if you look carefully on the cover, the second symbol of Raisa’s name, Sa, is drawn onto the sword’s blade. Light of wisdom.

Overall Recommendation:
Sword and Verse is a beautiful story of the gods and goddesses of this world that created a rift between the mortal humans below. Raisa, an Arnath, has the privilege of being among the Qilarites in a capacity beyond a simple slave. She’s a Tutor. As the only Arnath to learn the language of the gods without being killed, she also holds a secret of her past. This book focuses on the gorgeous language completely imagined by MacMillan, including the different characters Raisa has to learn. If you’re not all that interested in literacy and languages, this may be a little tiring for you at times, but if you’re a lover of words like I am, it’s just perfect. Among her problems, her HOT but forbidden romance with Prince Mati leads to dire consequences that forces Raisa to be stronger than she ever had to be. Sword and Verse was a surprisingly endearing fantasy novel that crept into my heart. I duly recommend you give this a try.

Review: Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

heir to the sky -amanda sunAs heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.

3 Drink Me Potions

Where shall I even start?

I guess I had high expectations for Heir to the Sky. A whole community or continent flying in the sky? A gruesome and dangerous earth below? And a strange romance that’s built from the ashes of Kali’s demise?

However, none of what I had expected to love was executed as well as I would have liked.

First, the characters.
We get introduced to Kali and her best friend Elisha right from the beginning. I had so many problems with them both. Kali acts like a spoiled little princess who gets everything yet doesn’t want to shoulder the burden of responsibility for being the leader (or Eternal Flame) to her people . Instead, she likes to run off to hide in the stacks of dusty tomes in the library or to the outcrop, which is LITERALLY the edge of her floating continent. To do what? To hide. To dream of the mysterious land she can see below at her feet.

As for Elisha, I just can’t take her seriously. She giggles like HALF the time. Even when Kali came to her about something strange she overhears, what does Elisha do? She freaking giggles. And then goes to party in the festivities. Are they all really that naive? Don’t listen to their gut about something strange going on?

Anyway, back to our DEAR, dear princess. She’s also very arrogant.

I remember the feel of the grass as it slipped from beneath my fingers. All those times I spent on the edge of my outcrop, never imagining I could fall.
I almost can’t believe it.

To this point when I was reading it, I almost said, Well, that’s what you get for being such a smart-aleck. Maybe you deserve this. I almost said that. But she was just so annoying with that attitude of hers! Her recklessness, especially when she knew people were counting on her as the heir of Ashra.

She’s also pretty dumb or ignorant in thinking that because she’s the heir, people will automatically listen to her reasoning.

“I promise I won’t tell anyone you’re down here.” At least, I think, not until and unless I’m in a position to control Ashra’s reaction. And that won’t be hard, because the Monarch is my father, and he and the people will listen to their heir.

She makes a promise on earth but she doesn’t intend to keep it because she’s the HEIR . You can’t despise your position and believe in its advantages at the same time.

I think by the end of the story, she still hasn’t grown as much in her character. She finds a solution that helps delegate her responsibility for her people, a solution that Sun romanticizes by the way she writes it, but I still think it basically creates a situation in which Kali can do whatever she wants and finally “be free”.

Secondly, the world building was hard to take in at first.
The first 50 pages or so are really slow because you’re assaulted with endless information. How the people believed their little floating continent had come to be; the glorious godlike creature they revere, the Phoenix, and the spiritual worship they endow on her, the different organized communities that have separate roles on Ashra (all written in a way that reflects back on the Phoenix…somehow). The way the people say “Amen” but instead use the phrase “May we/she rise anew.” It was a lot to take in.

The pacing was also incredibly slow in places. It’s never good when you find yourself wondering how much longer until you finish this book. I literally was asking myself this question multiple times. It wasn’t until maybe the last 100 pages where the action really picked up.

I won’t say that this whole world sucked. The earth and the monsters that hunted down here were incredibly well-described. But you can’t survive on this alone to make a lovely novel.

The romance wasn’t very…..much of anything. It was kinda underwhelming. I didn’t feel much of their supposed attraction beyond the fact that they had to rely on each other to survive. Griffin was a nice enough guy, and even when we learn more about his background, it wasn’t fleshed out as much as it could be.

Actually, the whole last 100 pages where it got more epic? It could’ve been 200 pages instead and made for a more satisfactory read. Everything written there was too little. The conspiracy, the battle with the main antagonist, the conclusion in the aftermath, it was all too quick and condensed. This is where the book could’ve gotten a little better . I still give it a 3 stars because this last 1/3 was interesting but honestly, I’m just being generous.

Overall Recommendation:
There was a lot of potential for Heir to the Sky but the best way to describe it is underwhelming. Slow pacing throughout 2/3 of the book, ridiculous and annoying protagonist and rather quick conclusion, nothing really shouts out at you from this book. The monsters on earth were cool, the way this community in the sky was run was intriguing, and so was the conspiracy that could topple the very foundation of Ashra. I thought all these elements would’ve propelled the story to great heights, but Amanda Sun just didn’t execute it well in all the right places. With a very generous rating on my part, Heir to the Sky is a little disappointing because I can see all that it could’ve been.

Review: The Leveller by Julia Durango

Series: The Leveller #1

the leveller -julia durangoNixy Bauer is a self-made Leveller. Her job? Dragging kids out of virtual reality and back to their parents in the real world. It’s normally easy cash, but Nixy’s latest mission is fraught with real danger, intrigue, and romance.

Nixy Bauer is used to her classmates being very, very unhappy to see her. After all, she’s a bounty hunter in a virtual reality gaming world. Kids in the MEEP, as they call it, play entirely with their minds, while their bodies languish in a sleeplike state on the couch. Irritated parents, looking to wrench their kids back to reality, hire Nixy to jump into the game and retrieve them.

But when the game’s billionaire developer loses track of his own son in the MEEP, Nixy is in for the biggest challenge of her bounty-hunting career. Wyn Salvador isn’t some lazy kid looking to escape his homework: Wyn does not want to be found. And he’s left behind a suicide note. Nixy takes the job but quickly discovers that Wyn’s not hiding—he’s being held inside the game against his will. But who is holding him captive, and why?

Nixy and Wyn attempt to fight their way out of a mind game unlike any they’ve encountered, and the battle brings them closer than either could have imagined. But when the whole world is virtual, how can Nixy possibly know if her feelings are real?


3.5 Drink Me Potions

The Leveller is a nice combination of gaming fun that doesn’t get too tech-y to annoy non-gamers but also revels in an imaginative gamer’s world. Its well-paced action and unique gaming checkpoints to complete was most definitely entertaining.

I myself am not much of a huge gamer. I play some but I’m definitely not hardcore by any means. So to enter a genre of science fiction dealing with gaming technology would be a hit or miss for me. The Leveller surprisingly bypassed my expectations of mediocrity.

The most surprising element (and probably the most enjoyable) was the varying levels of horror that our fierce protagonist, Nixy, had to face in order to reach Wyn in his custom world within the game. From fighting off giant centipedes to sharks underwater and anacondas, the suspense of getting through each level without dying and restarting had me on the edge of my seat. The unknown challenges she had to face was just as entertaining, although I wish the overall maze component of the story took up a bigger portion of the plot.

The characters were mostly fresh and original. Nixy, otherwise known as Phoenix, was spunky. She didn’t let others get her down for being a leveller. Her two best buds, Chang and Moose, also had character (if the interesting names they go by don’t already suggest that). Together, it was like watching a gaming trio do its magic on a gaming world they knew so well.

However, what stuck out even more was the gaming world building. It’s uncertain how far in the future this is set, but I’m assuming it’s to be reminiscent of the potential NEAR future. Durango really developed and described this gaming platform, the MEEP, to the minute details. It must be due to her experience as a gamer to go to such fine workings of this program. It’s interesting whether or not the idea of a virtual reality gaming experience is completely original or not. I appreciated the details because it gave me the sense of what was truly going on for Wyn and Nixy in this complex trap they found themselves in.

What could be improved for me was the abrupt ending and the romance. The twist was nice, although not necessarily unpredictable. It brought about more questions than answers which even the characters voiced out. I’m glad to see there’s a second book, but for such a short and easy read, it could’ve maybe left it at a nicer point.

As for the romance, I just didn’t feel it with Wyn and Nixy. 6 days trapped in the MEEP together can cause a lot of stressful bonding, but there just didn’t seem to be a lot connecting them. They’re attractive people? They’re under high stress? That doesn’t make it any less strange to see them kissing all of a sudden. I hope it gets a little better in the next one, but at least romance isn’t truly a strong contender in this novel.

For a book that I picked randomly to read, The Leveller overall surprised me in a good way and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Nixy and Wyn.

Overall Recommendation:
The Leveller is full of action and smartly written challenges for Nixy Bauer, our protagonist, to face as she tries to rescue some millionaire’s son. With checkpoint levels to pass in a virtual world holding Wyn captive, this story is both exciting and suspenseful as we race to get to the bottom of this crazy scheme and escape the MEEP. There’s not too much gamer-talk or references to annoy, but I’d say it would still satisfy those who enjoy this genre. Overall, it was a surprisingly easy read albeit ending abruptly with the most hideous cliffhanger. Romance lovers, this story isn’t for you, although I think you may still find some enjoyment from other areas.

Review: The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

Series: Ravenspire #1

the shadow queen -cj redwineLorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.


3.5 Drink Me Potions

Wrought with magical battles and characters full of heart, The Shadow Queen was a nice addition to the fairy tale re-telling genre, but it just seemed to lack that little extra umph to get my heart kicking.

C.J. Redwine honestly is an amazing author. The different kingdoms she’s created are uniquely her own and the problems her characters face are reminiscent of the Snow White story but it’s not solely following its predictable path (ie. no little dwarves, my dear fellow readers).

It’s true, the story never really lacked action and suspense. Princess Lorelai is constantly in danger from being found out by her evil stepmother, another magical mardushka who would kill her the instant she realizes the girl’s not dead. From one battle to another, magic against magic, family against family, The Shadow Queen is full of interesting battle sequences. It was enjoyable and the pacing was okay, albeit a little slow in some places between fights.

The characters were golden. GOLDEN. Lorelai is fierce as a warrior but a true queen. She loves with her whole heart, to the point that she’s unwilling to hurt people who’ve been bespelled to kill her because it’s not their fault they’re willing to do her harm. She doesn’t even care that it’s to her own expense that she’s sparing them. Like, if it were up to me, I’d be a little okay with torching a few innocents if it meant staying alive to save thousands more. Clearly she’d make a better queen than I would….

She may be a great potential queen, but she’s also a loving sister. Her little brother Leo is almost everything to her. Her best friend, her confidante and someone who could make her smile even in the most serious of times. I can attest to that feeling, being a big sis myself. I adored Leo’s personality and character too. Redwine really makes them jump out of the page at you, like you can see them talking to you and not just at you.

Prince Kol was an interesting character for the role of the huntsman. I liked his dedication to save his people and to live up to his honor even when it came at his own expense. He and Lorelai are a lot alike in that area. So it’s no surprise they kinda start falling for one another.

The main thing that maybe prevented my rating from skyrocketing is that I didn’t feel the chemistry between them all that strongly. Yes, they were friends and allies over time, and they admired each other for their strength of will. It helps that they each tried saving the other. But love? It was a little more difficult to grasp that underlying emotion. For a fairy tale, I’m pretty sure the love aspect of the story should be a strong component of it.

I wish I could say I loved this, but I will at least say that I enjoyed the adventure while it lasted. And I can’t wait to see what other stories Redwine is going to craft from the other kingdoms she’s briefly mentioned in this book. I do suggest you give it a try. My lower-than-expected rating may only be a “picky me” thing.

Overall Recommendation:
With lots of spunk and action galore, The Shadow Queen is a nice re-telling of Snow White with plenty of additional magical creativity and world building. The characters were fierce and brilliant, truly an original personality crafted from Redwine’s imagination. Lorelai in particular is a great protagonist with the heart of a good queen and the spirit of a warrior. I enjoyed her relationship with her younger brother and even with Kol. Their romantic chemistry was a bit lacking in my opinion, but overall, this is one story I would still recommend you read, especially for others like me who adore a good fairy tale re-telling.

Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3

the winner's kiss -marie rutkoskiSome kisses come at a price.

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?


3.5 Drink Me Potions

I honestly may have expected too much from this book. The Winner’s Kiss is the dramatic conclusion of the Winner’s Trilogy, filled with battles and Kestrel’s cunning wit to outsmart her homeland’s emperor and entire kingdom. Including her father, the general.

It picks up right where the previous book left off, thank goodness. What with all the incessant misunderstandings in the previous novel, I was starting to think that nothing could ever get rid of that underlying frustration I get whenever Arin and Kestrel are near each other.

So with abated breath, the story continues with Kestrel hauled off to the Middle of Nowhere as a prisoner of war. Shocker. Her father betrayed her.

I have always loved Rutkoski for her ability to still weave a great story without the unnecessary drama of a love triangle. Yes, the amount of misunderstandings was overwhelming but in a different way. However, the obstacle that keeps our two favourite people apart this time was unexpected and kind of brilliant in its own rights. I had wished that, as the title states, Kestrel better get that darn kiss she so deserves, and Rutkoski doesn’t disappoint in that either. I won’t ruin any of the romantic nuisances of it, but I think it can be satisfactory even for the harshest critics out there. It satisfied me, after all, and I most definitely criticized this.

Along with the much awaited reunion and final understanding between them, the story also spiked up in action. With allies from another kingdom come to help, they may actually stand a chance against the forces of Valoria. I wouldn’t say the book lacked in any suspense, but at times, it just felt a little slow to me when the army’s moving from this place to that while assessing the dangers from all fronts. Sure, that’s Kestrel’s thing, but it didn’t help pick up the pace any more.

What could have possibly added to this bit of slowness was the way Rutkoski writes. I do enjoy the way she can poetically describe a scene. It’s not all that colloquial or conversational. It’s great. To an extent. This kind of writing also makes me feel, as the reader, a little more detached emotionally from everything that’s going on. We move from what Kestrel’s feeling, and then to Arin, and back. All in a couple of sentences. My heart just wasn’t as invested into it as I could have been, I suppose. This may just be something up with me though.

All in all, this conclusion was satisfactory, in particular the ending. It ended off with a twist right up Kestrel’s alley and I was left hooting for joy at the way it all was splendidly handled.

Overall Recommendation:
Written in the beautifully poetic prose that’s come to be expected by Rutkoski, The Winner’s Kiss somewhat lives up to its name and provides a resounding conclusion both in battle and in love for our protagonists Kestrel and Arin. I wanted to love it more, but the occasional slowness to the plot and emotional detachment made it hard. Overall, the story provides everything that Rutkoski promised: retribution for the Herrani and an epic adventure that Kestrel and Arin lead us through.

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Series: Lady Helen #1

the dark days club -alison goodmanNew York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. Eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall is on the eve of her debut presentation at the royal court of George III. Her life should revolve around gowns, dancing and securing a suitable marriage. Instead, when one of her family’s maids disappears, she is drawn into the shadows of Regency London.

There she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few chosen to stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons that has infiltrated all levels of society. Carlston is not a man she should be anywhere near, especially with the taint of scandal that surrounds him. Yet he offers her help – and the possibility of finally discovering the truth about the mysterious deaths of her parents.

Soon the two of them are investigating a terrifying conspiracy that threatens to plunge the newly Enlightened world back into darkness. But can Helen trust a man whose own life is built on lies? And does she have the strength to face the dangers of this hidden world and learn the truth about her family’s legacy?

Set in the glittering social world of the Regency upper crust, The Dark Days Club is a supernatural adventure that introduces New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen Wrexhall – another heroine whom like Eona, readers can take to their hearts.

4 Drink Me Potions

The Dark Days Club reminds me of all the reasons why I adore historical fantasies. With the delicious and dark setting of the Regency era in London, we follow the perfect heroine in her journey into the paranormal world living right beside her.

Lady Helen wasn’t immediately what you would expect of a heroine in a high fantasy novel. She wasn’t necessarily abhorrent to the life of a lady in 1812. Countless parties, mindless gossip among the peerage and entrance into the society as a woman, she was groomed for this. Not some evil-fighting secret club. So it’s no wonder that she wasn’t exactly all gung ho for the craziness that tends to follow hunting inhuman creatures known as Deceivers.

There wasn’t as much action as I would have expected for the length of the book, but where it lacked in exciting fights, the extreme detail of the time period was amazing and not as tedious as one may think. The descriptions into Lady Helen’s world really immersed you into this time period of London. I will admit, I’ve always loved a good book in historical London. Normally it’s Victorian London, but Regency London was absolutely perfect for the setting of the novel. Civil unrest was coming what with the illness of the King and the antics of the French with Napolean Bonaparte. This was perfect for an evilness creeping into the world that the Dark Days Club was hoping to avoid.

There is a whole lot of background setting for the series in this first novel. It gave a chance to understand the numerous characters that were introduced. Helen was very easy to like. Hung under the black cloud that was her mother’s traitorous reputation and her uncle’s very male-dominant views, it wasn’t easy to be a less-than-submissive woman. I loved her strong belief in her mother, and later, her hard decisions when it came to figuring out what she was. Her want and loyalty to treat others kindly, including those who were under her on the societal ladder like her maids, made me admire her more. She was a nice balance of learning independence without being overbearingly arrogant of herself but still being a team player requiring support from others at times.

As for the romance part of this story, unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot of it. Lord Carlston was, however, the perfect potential partner for her. He himself had a scandalous reputation to the rest of society, that wasn’t fully explained yet in The Dark Days Club. One can hope it’ll be fleshed out in the next one ’cause I’m very anxious to know the answer. He was a great mentor to Lady Helen, but the delicious undertones of other possibilities to their relationship made me very hopeful that there’d be TONS more to the two of them next time. (Here’s to hoping, at least. Please, Ms. Goodman?) In a way, I’m kind of glad romance wasn’t a huge part in this book. It may have taken away from the glorious introduction of the world of Deceivers and the people born to fight against them.

A historical fantasy novel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hold that yawn for a second and give this a try. Goodman’s thorough research into the era and depictions of certain real life figures in that time period enhanced the setting while still making it her own unique creation. Lady Helen’s adventures will suck you in as she dives into a dark world of monsters living among men. There may have been the odd moment of slower pacing, but overall, The Dark Days Club is everything and more that it promised to be. Intrigue, a bit of murder mystery and hints of romance, this novel is purely a delightful read.

Overall Recommendation:
The Dark Days Club features a protagonist learning to be courageous in a world of evil that has just opened up to her. With both familiar historical figures and well-thought out characters, Goodman presents a beautifully realistic setting in Regency London. Well-paced and immersive, we follow Lady Helen’s adventurous introduction into inhuman creatures known as Deceivers, all the while mentored by the mysterious and handsome Lord Carlston who may also hold more than just friendly feelings. Although explicit romance was kept to a minimal, the dark intrigue and descriptive feel of the novel provides more than enough excitement to last the length of the novel. Here’s to hoping for more of Lady Helen’s adventures (and a bit more romance with Lord Carlston) in the coming sequel! A definite recommendation.

Review: Fire and Thorn novellas by Rae Carson

This is a collection of reviews for 3 novellas in the Fire and Thorn series by Rae Carson.

Series: Fire and Thorn #0.5

the shadow cats -rae carsonOnce a century, one person is chosen for greatness. And it was not Alodia.

Alodia is the crown princess of the realm. The sister who knows how to rule, and the one who is constantly reminded that she has not been marked for a grand destiny. But Alodia has plans, and she will be the greatest queen her people have ever known. So she travels–with her hopeless, naïve, chosen sister–to a distant part of their land, to begin to secure her supporters. This region needs its princesses, for it is plagued with a curse. The crops don’t grow, the spring doesn’t arrive, and a fierce jaguar stalks the shadows, leaving only empty homes splashed with blood behind. If Alodia can save them, no one will be able to deny her strength and her sovereignty.

But what she discovers could change the fate of her kingdom, if not her world. And it will most certainly change her opinion of her younger sister.

3 Drink Me Potions

I was always intrigued by Alodia, the older sister of our dear princess Elisa. She came across as kind of cold and not-so-understanding of her younger sister’s situation. She was prettier, thinner, and groomed just right to be fitting for the title of Queen.

This novella didn’t help me LOVE her when it came to her mildly cold actions and not-so-sensitive attitude towards Elisa, but it did make me at least like her. She had a lot on her plate too that we readers wouldn’t have known without her perspective. Her attempts to help, goodhearted but reckless nonetheless and her bravery made the story tense enough to be cause of a sweet and easy read. Her unique narrative voice was similarly as enjoyable as the rest of the series.

Overall, The Shadow Cats made me admire her and wish a little that we could have a whole story about Alodia after the events of The Bitter Kingdom. I think she has her own kind of spunk that would be interesting to explore, especially since this world Carson has created still has so much potential for things to go awry.

Series: Fire and Thorns #0.6

the shattered mountain -rae carsonOn the outskirts of Joya d’Arena, small villages fight for survival against the onslaught of sorcerers and raiders. Mara’s village has been safe–so far–but Mara decides to escape anyway. Escape from her harsh, abusive father. Escape with her first love. But when their plans fall on the same day that the animagi burn the village to the ground, Mara faces losses that could destroy her. She’s a survivor, though. She is going to make it through the mountains, and she is going to protect the refugees following her. Because there’s a rumored safe haven . . . and some say they have found the Chosen One.

Told from Mara’s point-of-view, The Shattered Mountain is an alternate perspective of the beginning of the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

3 Drink Me Potions

I liked Mara in the Fire and Thorn series, so it was nice to get a little bit of her back story that occurs just a little bit before her first appearance.

The Shattered Mountains detailed her journey to the rebel camp, which would change her life forever. It was a sad story, and I hadn’t wanted to even really read this because of that known element, but I’m not sorry that I did. Her character always seemed so brave and strong, but seeing her in this in between state where she had to figure out what to do with all these people relying her was an interesting perspective. She had to learn to take care of not only herself, but to take charge of dependents.

Mara’s relationship with Julio was the sweetest element to this novella. Personally, I liked him over Belen as a romantic interest, so this was icing on top of the cake. Yes, she used to rely so much on him – his strength, his charm and easygoing attitude, his kindness and love. But, it made her stronger when she had to give him all that she had, and even more so when she learned to let go. This little story may be bittersweet, but it was a nice addition to the series, I will admit.

Series: Fire and Thorns #0.7

the king's guard -rae carson

At fifteen years old, Hector is the youngest squire in the most elite military force in the country. And his first day is disastrous. Everyone assumes the only reason he was recruited is his close personal association with King Alejandro, not because he’s really earned it.

But Alejandro needs Hector for a secret mission, one that gives him the chance to prove to everyone—including himself—that he is worthy to be a Royal Guard. Hector must break into the ancient Fortress of Wind to retrieve something so important that the kingdom’s future depends on it. What Hector finds in the fortress will stretch his bond of friendship with his king near to breaking.

And it will prepare him to become the fearsome warrior and lord commander Elisa will never let go.

4 Drink Me Potions

Hector’s own personal story would, of course, have to be epic.

But boy was I surprised to see him struggle with his temper and comments. I suppose that’s what made this novella even better. There was character development from the young teen that he was working in the Palace for Alejandro to the strong and able soldier that he became.

I initially thought this story would have some secret mission regarding magic and the bad guys, the Inviernos. I don’t know why I did, but this made everything all the more shocking at the end. From being humiliated while trying out for the King’s Royal guard, to being hunted on his secret mission, Hector’s story was a whirlwind of craziness that fit perfectly with your expectations from this series. The events that occurred here started molding him into the person that you and I have come to adore. Loyalty, bravery, leadership and quick thinking were forged from this seed, and I loved pretty much every moment of it. If you’re any fan of the Carson’s Fire and Thorn series, this novella should at least be read.

Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Series: The Witchlands #1

truthwitch -susan dennardIn a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

4 Drink Me Potions

I will be honest. When this book first came out in stores, my friend and I admittedly thought it sounded a bit cheesy. Upon seeing all the great ratings and reviews, I thought I would check it out for curiosity and amusement’s sake.

I’m never as happy to admitting that I was wrong as I am in this moment.

Truthwitch feels like the high fantasy story that I’ve been waiting for this year. It has all the components that make it a wonderfully entertaining journey. Immediate action right from the very start, hot and steamy flirtations, a world of intrigue and magic that’s wonderfully developed.

And at the heart of it, the perfect friendship between an unlikely pair that speaks of true loyalty.

Here are my pointers of what I absolutely adored about Truthwitch.

1) Beautifully complex characters
I’m gonna run through the 4 main characters of the book and what was so great about each and every one of them, individually AND together.

Safiya was initially hard to relate and connect to. She’s wildly impulsive, reckless in her actions and quick to temper. Her gone-awry plans led both her and Iseult into a ton of problems. But I loved that she had a huge heart for her Threadsister. She took the blame for things she caused and aimed to fix whatever she could. She’s not just simply defined by her recklessness. She tried to plan ahead, examine her surroundings and get to know her enemies as she and Iseult dived head into the beginnings of war.

I loved that out of everyone, she had the most personal growth. Sometimes she came off as very independent and selfish. She thought of others after it was too late and the consequences of her actions had caught up to them. It wasn’t that she meant to, though. It was just her impulsiveness to dive head into action before fully thinking it through. However, by the end of it, she truly did her best to put others first, to change the world as maybe only she had the power to do, what with her special witchery powers.

Her other half, Iseult, was a wonderful complement to her reckless. Iseult was a Nomatsi girl, a tribe living outside of big populated cities that kept to themselves. I kinda pictured it akin to a gypsy-type of peoples, which made her more intriguing. It never quite said why people hated her kind so much, but it characterized her actions. She was easier to understand and relate to. As a Threadwitch, she saw the connections between people and the emotions of the world. And she could also see how much people didn’t want her around. All except for Safi and her close friends. Iseult felt too much emotion, things she was not supposed to feel with her witchery. She always had to live up to the failure of being less than what she could be with her power.

Things get crazy with her in the story. She, like Safi, was endlessly loyal to her Threadsister. They may be total opposites, but together they could face the world. A world that was coming close to the brink of major changes and war. Although she may have been the quieter main character, she was never eclipsed by Safi. Her narrative was just as enjoyable, the thoughts and worries flitting through her mind a beautiful glimpse into her unique character.

As for the men, there’s obviously a love interest you can totally root for. But Prince Merik wasn’t just simply a “love interest” to dangle like a pretty flower. He had depth too. He loved his dying country, but was thrown away as useless by his power-hungry family. He didn’t get along with Safi immediately, which made their angry banters such fun to read between the lines. He, too, was also quick-tempered, but no one could ever question his loyalties to crew and Thread family. Merik, altogether, was a wonderful male lead, but my heart wasn’t as intrigued by him as the other male protagonist.

Enter Aeduan, the Bloodwitch. I know, right? The synopsis made it sound like he was absolutely evil, the type of villain you’d easily hate and root for their horrible demise. Aeduan was nothing like that. He has secrets, yes, which slowly get hinted at and revealed bit by bit, but his choices into mercenary actions weren’t necessarily his fault. Where else would someone with Bloodwitchery be left alone and unharassed? In some ways, I think he and Iseult would really understand each other, what with being marginalized by society in the same way, just for being born different. I don’t think I’m reading too deeply into it, but I’m positive Dennard has something hot and steamy planned for the two of them. Iseult and Aeduan would make a very powerful couple, and I think they could learn and grow a lot from each other’s experiences. Here’s to hoping. *Fingers crossed*

2) Consistent action and well-paced plot
It never got boring or dragged. Right from the very first page, Safi’s got the two of them in deep crap. And from there, they individually get into more troubles as the world they know may just be falling apart at the seams.

Magic curses, mythical sea monsters arising, a new formidable foe who could raise the dead, and whole kingdoms chasing them around the world. Things couldn’t get any crazier. There were generous hints for plot arcs that would obviously continue into the next books, but oh how I wish I could read more about them now. Shows how thoroughly thought out Truthwitch was.

3) Incredible Worldbuilding
I know one reviewer mentioned the need for a glossary for all the types of witchery there are. I would agree. There are plenty.

Initially, when I first picked up this cover in early January, I thought the sound of a Truthwitch who could tell lies and truths apart sounded very cheesy and uncreative. However, there are so many more witcheries out there that I will happily eat those thoughts back. From Wordwitches being incredibly persuasive to Ironwitches who can control iron like it’s malleable putty and Bloodwitches taking hold of others’ blood and scent, the Witchlands seem to have more to offer than I had ever thought.

The downside to it was that the first 50 pages was like an information overload, with me flipping back and forth to the map and wondering what the heck some of these terms mean. If you can just roll through that part, it gets a TON easier to understand and more entertaining, I promise you.

4) Uh, romance anyone?
I said above that there were steamy romantic moments. Well, they were more like steamy flirtations with things that had to be read in between the lines. But I absolutely adored it. Things don’t have to get physical to be sweet, and for Threads of deep connection to be built and bound between people. Safi and Merik were a very fun couple to read about as they got to know each other, amidst the arguments and hot tempers. And if I have anything to say about it, Aeduan and Iseult’s small moments were already so lovely. I honestly ship those two together so hard. It better come true, Susan Dennard!

To conclude this longer than necessary review, I will give you a tidbit of such loveliness to dwell upon (and to urge you to read it for yourself if you want more of what’s here).

Then Merik reached across the map to tap at a snaking line of blue. His arm brushed hers.
It was a seemingly accidental touch, yet Safi knew – knew – from the way Merik moved, confident and determined, that it wasn’t accidental at all.
Frantic, she couldn’t seem to meet his stare. In fact, she stared at every part of his face but his eyes. He had stubble on his chin, on his jaw, around the curve of his lips…It was the hollow of Merik’s throat, though, that grabbed her attention – the pulse that she thought she saw fluttering there.
Finally, she risked flicking her gaze upward – and found Merik’s eyes roving across her face. To her lips. To her neck.
The door flew wide. Safi and Merik jerked apart.
Evrane strode in…then instantly reared back. “Am I….am I interrupting something?”
“No,” Safi and Merik intoned, stepping apart two paces. Then a third, for good measure.

Overall Recommendation:
Truthwitch was nothing that I had initially imagined. It’s anything but cheesy. From endless dangers, kingdoms chasing them around the world, dark curses, a potential enemy who could kill and raise the dead, and wonderful loads of different witcheries, this book has absolutely everything. The four main characters all are intriguingly complex, each adding something to the overall story. Their friendships and hinting buds of romance tie all the adrenaline-heavy action together into one book that you won’t easily forget after the last page’s been turned. I fully recommend it.