Tag Archive | adventure

Review: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #2

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

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

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


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

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

Rating: 3.5 stars

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

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

The Plotline

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

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

And I thought this was a SHERLOCK based story.

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

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

The Sherlock Holmes-yness in the plot

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

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

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

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


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

The Romance…

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

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

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

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

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


That ending though….

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

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

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

NOTE: all quotes may be subject to change

Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1

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

However, it’s not so simple.

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


3 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

Or even the magic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: 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: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Series: Starbound #1

these broken stars -amie kaufman & meagan spoonerIt’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


When author reviews called this book full of “dynamic characters”, they literally mean just the protagonists. ‘Cause honestly? This almost-400-page book only follows Tarver and Lilac in their journey of survival on some strange planet.

These Broken Stars wasn’t quite like what I expected. Of course, it’s hard not to have higher expectations when this book has been raved about by many reviewers. I reckoned there’d be more fighting or action type scenes. I was strangely wrong, but I think I enjoyed it regardless of the lack of action (or interaction beyond our two characters).

The novel drops Tarver and Lilac into the situation we are anticipating for – that being their impending crash landing onto a foreign planet as the sole survivors – quite quickly, and the little bits before the accident actually occurs helped to get a taste of what the dynamics in their relationship would be like upon realizing they’re the last 2 people alive and stranded in this world (literally, not just some expression you say).

The events on the planet are fairly straightforward and not that unpredictable. Or at least, the travelling aspect of their journey. Find ship. Find hopefully help, or at least equipment that could send for help.

But anything else beyond that? It was mind-blowingly surprising. I hadn’t read the synopsis very thoroughly when I picked up this book so the introduction to what Lilac fondly called the “whispers” were extremely astonishing. I was like, there’s paranormal activity on this planet too??? It transformed this place from Unknown Territory to Downright Eerie Let’s-get-outta-here-quick. This mystery was an essential part of the plot that kept me going.

Okay, so the dynamics between Tarver and Lilac? Not so good there in the beginning. And frankly, I’m with Tarver on that. Lilac was a total stuck-up know-it-all. Or at least, she tried to give that vibe since she didn’t want to look “weak” in front of a mere soldier, who for all she knew, would tell the tabloids and press about her moments of weakness later. From reading her POVs, I knew she didn’t suck quite as much, but it didn’t make me like her much more. She was making life so much harder than it had to be. I may be a girl and I kinda get her standpoint, but sorry, Tarver most definitely gets my sympathies there. The fact that he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her behind, all helpless and possibly eaten by some scary, unknown creature, shows that he’s so much better of a character than I am.

So yes, their relationship wasn’t all that much fun to follow at first. They tolerated each other, at most. Star-crossed lovers? Yeah. Haven’t quite gotten to that stage yet. And what blew me away? Their love for each other kinda snuck up on me when it did eventually reach that point. Sure, being stranded as the only 2 people alive could spring up feelings, but I knew theirs wasn’t quite so simple. They contemplated even staying on this godforsaken place if it meant they didn’t have to face “reality” back in their own worlds, the lives they left behind across the universe. I just couldn’t pinpoint how, or the moment when, they finally realized what they felt for each other was love. I knew they would, but that’s not the same as feeling it with them when you’re caught up in their passion, in their story.

Ah well. Besides that minor contention, I enjoyed both their POVs quite a lot in the later half of the book. Their relationship was one that I think more YA novels should be like. They were equals, each giving their strengths into the relationship to support the other, while not hesitating to point the other’s weakness or flaws that need to be worked on.

I want to say more about the ending but that would only lead to accidentally giving away something, even the smallest thing, that would make it any less than what it was. What I can say is that it was heart-poundingly intense and haunting. The haunting part may have been enhanced by the fact that I was listening to a particular song at the time that gave me the chills, but I’m sure the novel had a huge hand in it too. Of course, you may already have guessed it, but it does have something to do with the mystery of the “whispers” I mentioned earlier. It was not quite what I expected, and a certain twist that I definitely did not foresee left me turning the pages faster and faster.

These Broken Stars may really have no supporting characters at all, but Lilac and Tarver’s personal growth as they challenged each other on this journey for survival was more than enough. This was a sci-fi novel with a beautifully crafted world (or should I say universe?) building and plenty of intrigue that most definitely wasn’t all answered yet. Gotta leave some things for the sequels, right?

But oh, how I was disappointed that my main question wasn’t answered by the end. Like honestly. What the heck brought down the Icarus onto this strange planet?

Overall Recommendation:
With an explosive ending I did not see coming, These Broken Stars mostly met those high expectations that awaited it in my mind. Tarver and Lilac were characters you may have felt you knew from other books, but the way they grew during their awful predicament and with each other was wholly original. They were more than enough to carry this story with their interpersonal dynamics and blooming love. However, what cemented this for me was the mystery at the very heart of the novel. The haunting quality of what awaits you there left me breathless many times throughout. This is a novel that’s equal parts well-crafted sci-fi and warm romance. I can see why so many love this.

Review: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead

Series: The Glittering Court #1

the glittering court -richelle meadBig and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.

Both a school and a business venture, the Glittering Court is designed to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies who appear destined for powerful and wealthy marriages in the New World. Adelaide naturally excels in her training, and even makes a few friends: the fiery former laundress Tamsin and the beautiful Sirminican refugee Mira. She manages to keep her true identity hidden from all but one: the intriguing Cedric Thorn, son of the wealthy proprietor of the Glittering Court.

When Adelaide discovers that Cedric is hiding a dangerous secret of his own, together they hatch a scheme to make the best of Adelaide’s deception. Complications soon arise—first as they cross the treacherous seas from Osfrid to Adoria, and then when Adelaide catches the attention of a powerful governor.

But no complication will prove quite as daunting as the potent attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. An attraction that, if acted on, would scandalize the Glittering Court and make them both outcasts in wild, vastly uncharted lands…


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


The Glittering Court is unlike any fantasy novel you may have read or expected. Reminiscent to the historical times of colonial settlements and explorations of the New World, this book takes that sentiment and re-makes it into a fantasy world with nobility and Wild West adventures.

Living in Osfrid, our protagonist was the descendant of one of the founders of this land, which is very much similar to the feel of 17th century Europe. Women were meant to be married for wealth and maintenance of bloodlines. It was a men-dominated world.

At the same time, different lands were at unrest, either fighting amongst themselves in a civil war or potentially looking for trouble with other countries. This is where the feel of a regular fantasy world was strongest, although I will say that the world building wasn’t the strongest. There also was no map of all these different places. Names like Lorandy, Myrokosi, Adoria and Sirminica. Like, where the heck are all of them? I was very surprised that the hardcopy book didn’t include a sketch of any kind anywhere. That was one big disappointment, considering this was the biggest point that drove home the genre feel of fantasy .

Ok, back to the protagonist. She was a countess. She had everything she could ever want, right? But her family only had a title and they were trying to secure the wealthiest marriage connection for her. I gotta admire her. The choice to take her servant’s identity to embark on some crazy adventure to the New World (aka Adoria which is like real-life America if you’re still comparing it to the 17th century) was admirable. She was pampered so far in life, but she was brave enough to become an invisible commoner to earn a different kind of place and life. The funny thing that I noticed was peculiar is that you don’t really know what her REAL name is until a lot later in the book, practically near the end. But as Adelaide, the identity she’d taken for this adventure, whatever her heart set out to do, she persevered and did it to her very best ability.

Beyond the different lands in this fantasy world, there was also a rift in people’s religious beliefs. Mead did the most building on this point. Those who believed in 6 glorious angels, and those that believed in all 12 angels, including the 6 wayward ones who had fallen from grace. Liken to heretics in their different beliefs, there was persecution in the land for those who followed such faith.

So that is the world of The Glittering Court. Not quite what you may have expected when hearing “FANTASY“, is it? Well, if all this unsettles you already, this may not be the book for you.

But if you’re still intrigued, keep reading ’cause this is why I gobbled the whole book (which is rather long considering the font is tiny) in one sitting.

The idea of the Glittering Court, a school and business that teaches young girls of common blood to become ladies and brides for the men living in the New world, is familiar to those seen in The Selection and The Jewel. However, this book wasn’t as petty as The Selection as it’s not like each girl is fighting for the same guy. This was truly a benefit from everyone, albeit with a profit for those running the business. And this plotline was conducted WAY better than The Jewel could ever manage (for which I do NOT have a very good opinion of). With this idea being so central, it goes to say that romance was a key element.

Adelaide tried to hide her identity and knowledge as a lady but of course, one guy knew. The one guy who had originally recruited the real Adelaide. Cedric Thorn. Son of the owners of the Glittering Court. University student and overall charming guy. Sweet enough to choose a Sirminican girl to fill a position in their business, considering Osfridians didn’t all look too kindly on these people. And with a smart wit that always had a comeback to Adelaide’s comments.

Let’s take a short moment there to pause and admire Cedric’s traits.

Okay, now as suggested, the witty conversations between Adelaide and Cedric were so amusing and sweet at the same time. They clearly were good friends, but there was also something brewing underneath that even Adelaide didn’t really look too deeply into until they had gotten to know each other more. No insta-love here, guys. The only thing I did wish was that there were moments for their blooming love.

The story doesn’t just revolve around romance though. There was action and adventure, taking on the New World and the dangers presented there. The plot moved from one place to another that it never bored me. Adelaide wasn’t as outstanding of a protagonist as Mead’s other girls, Sydney and Rose, but her voice and narrative never got tiring.

I gotta say, The Glittering Court may not be what you have expected, but it definitely surpassed whatever expectations I had. It helps if you don’t mind a little historical kind of touch to the plot line as it’s hard to not make the connections to our own and very real history in North America. Richelle Mead has a talent for writing stories that draw you in until you just wanna see where she takes us. I’m left with impatience for the next two books as she leaves us with hints of what may be the stories of Adelaide’s two friends. Apparently they will take place within the same time frame but in their perspective. Mead has left a lot of mysterious hints that occur with Mira and Tamsin, both very unique girls, in this first novel that Adelaide noticed. I cannot wait to see what else The Glittering Court was like in the eyes of another strong protagonist.

Overall Recommendation:
The Glittering Court isn’t the kind of fantasy you may have in mind. It has certain world building elements similar to most in the fantasy genre, but it also has huge historical touches throughout the storyline. Adelaide is another fun and easy to like protagonist, and her chemistry with Cedric through their witty and flirty banter was tangible. With a pacing that moves at just the right speed, we follow Adelaide’s brave journey from everything she’s ever known (and all the luxuries she’s used to) to explore the New World of Adoria and possibly find her true self there. I will say that this book may not be everyone, especially if you came in thinking this was some high fantasy or something. It’s not. So if that’s not for you, that’s okay. But at the end of the day, I respect Richelle Mead’s ability to weave another story that’s different from what we’re used to from her, but at the heart of it, still contains characters who come alive and draw us in to journey with them.

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: 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.

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Study #4

shadow study -maria v. snyderOnce, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.


As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.


4 Drink Me Potions


Oh, Yelena, I didn’t think it was possible, but I had forgotten just how much I adore your adventures.

Shadow Study was the novel that fans like me have been waiting for since the conclusion of Fire Study several years ago. With the crazy antics Yelena and her friends just seem to be drawn into, this novel is both reminiscent of her old adventures as well as introduces some new ones.

First off, it’s not totally necessary to have read the previous Study books or Glass books by Maria. However, with the huge amount of characters from both those series showing up in all sorts of roles in this book, it’s definitely a bigger treat for you to read if you knew who they were. It still makes sense even without that context as Snyder worked hard to make it understandable for first time readers, so no worries if you don’t wanna read all of that in one go.

Written with 3 POVs (I know, what a treat, right?), the story quickly develops from all different angles. Yelena is just a magnet for trouble, which starts literally from the first page. Her adventures in Sitia are constantly threaded with suspense as some unknown danger is out stalking her (once again cause honestly, when is she NOT in danger?).

Her and Valek, oh dear Valek, are separated (that’s not a surprise there, either, huh?), but it doesn’t feel so bad as with Magic Study or Fire Study because we get to see what he’s up to in his own POV. Back in Ixia, something iffy is going on up there with the Commander. There are just subtle hints but you can totally tell something bad is brewing up in this country. Meanwhile, we finally get more than a glimpse into Valek’s backstory. Oh my, how he became an assassin and how’d he met Ambrose. Oh, and how’d he fulfilled his duty as the King Killer. Fangirling here.

With all this intensity from both those POVs, good ol’ Janco gets his own POV as well. I suppose out of the power twins, Janco is the funnier friend and so he makes for great comic relief. Snyder’s characteristic sarcastic humour was at its highest with him, although the others also had their own moments.

Favourite cameos and secondary characters pop up throughout. My personal favourites were Yelena’s brother Leif (he surprisingly has a very similar humour going for him as Janco) and the Sandseed Story Weavers. Those who loved the Glass series (unfortunately, not me) would appreciate the appearance of major characters like Opal and Devlen.

So with a fulfilling adventure in both Sitia and Ixia (back in Valek’s memories), as-expected crazy action scenes, loveable characters and a sense of nostalgia, Shadow Study provided a great start to a new line of danger Yelena the Soulfinder has to face. It’s no wonder I can’t help but use Maria V. Snyder’s works as my gold standard for fantasy adventures. They suck you in until you never quite want to leave it, and for good reason too. I’d say this made for a wonderful installment in the series, especially after so many years.

Overall Recommendation:
Shadow Study is the book that all you diehard Study fans are wishing for. It lives up to this claim, as even I, a long time fan, can’t help but relive the wonders of being in the land of Ixia and Sitia. Yelena’s adventures are just as crazy and dangerous, but good thing her good friends are always around to have her back. The characters still leap to life and the world building is familiar and well-developed. For first time fans, it’s not completely necessary to read other books before it, but it definitely amplifies the experience by a lot. I definitely recommend you read this, especially if you loved the first three Study books. It’s worth the wait after all these years.

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #3

the bitter kingdom -rae carsonThe champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


The Bitter Kingdom marked the end of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy. It was another intriguing adventure, this time through the lands of the Invierno. With a few surprises and a conclusion to Elisa’s duty as the bearer of the Godstone that wasn’t necessarily predictable, this novel was fun while it lasted.

The story picks up right where its predecessor left off. Chasing after Hector into the unknown territory, Elisa and her band of unique friends ran into the kind of problems you’ve come to expect from Rae Carson’s writing. While he was kidnapped, our loveable Lord Commander Hector had his own short, oh so short, POV chapters. They detailed his journey with his kidnappers through his eyes that really gave this book a special taste as it was always just Elisa’s voice.

The world building continues in this book. I thought there was a lull in this aspect after the first book, what with the uniqueness of Elisa’s role in this world as a living Godstone bearer. However, now that they’re walking right into enemy territory for the first time, Carson continues to detail how these people live.

In short, these are the few things that I absolutely enjoyed in this book.

1) The wrap-up conclusion with the “act of service” we – or at least I – have been wondering about since the beginning that Elisa had to complete as a Godstone bearer.
It was such a central aspect throughout this trilogy, her being blessed with this unknown task willed by God, that answering it almost seemed like a letdown. BUT, in a sense, I liked how it was written at the same time. It wasn’t what I expected, or even remotely guessed, but like all bearers before her, this act may not directly benefit Elisa and her friends. With that sense of mystery to it, I’d say there was no better way of putting it out there.

2) The continual growth in Elisa.
She is nothing like she was when leaving her home kingdom of Orovalle. No longer timid, she was a strong heroine that would stop at nothing from protecting her loved ones and ensuring peace for the kingdom that she now ruled. But most importantly of all, she learned to love herself for who she was. She may never be as skinny or elegant as her sister, but she had traits no one else could even live up to. That kind of message in her continuous growth made her relateable and a great narrative voice to being reading all the way to this end.

3) Last, but definitely NOT least, Hector.
‘Cause, who can resist such a sweet and protective character like him? His love for her wasn’t because she was a queen now or that she successfully conquered their enemies once before. He loved her even before, and his love didn’t have to be returned for it to be there all the same. I had wished there were chapters with his POV, but what was there was still a pleasant surprise. Their sweet romance was absolutely my favourite thing to read.

These were definitely highlights, but of course, there were setbacks. For all the adventures, it still felt like it lacked something….epic. The big fight with all of Elisa’s enemies just seemed to happen too quickly. It barely took up many chapters. A lot of what goes on in those pages went into their treacherous travelling plans. I may just have high expectations when it comes to fantasy adventures, but overall, it didn’t have my heart pounding till the very last minute to find out what would happen to everyone I cared for. That is what separates the good from the great fantasy novels. And this just didn’t quite make the cut for greatness.

Overall Recommendation:
The Bitter Kingdom continued with the adventures of queen and sorcerer Elisa. As the last of the trilogy, it was able to tie up loose ends nicely, but epic it was not. The big and explosive action and adventure parts of the book didn’t take up much of it, whereas mundane things like travelling dangers seemed to have too much page space. With the occasional twist and surprise ending, Rae Carson’s finale was fun in the moment and true to her previous writings, albeit a bit lackluster and forgettable.

Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #2

the crown of embers -rae carsonShe does not know what awaits her at the enemy’s gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.


4 Drink Me Potions


Following a few months after the previous novel, The Crown of Embers was even more exciting. This sequel was just as steeped in the religious practices that Elisa and her people follow, but now it’s taken another mysterious turn. Realizing that her destiny wasn’t quite fulfilled by the actions of the previous book, there’s crazier things in store for her as the only bearer of a living Godstone.

Right from the beginning, danger continually creeps against her. Whether from the crazy blue fire-wielding Inviernos or rumblings of people contesting her rule of the kingdom, Elisa is far from safe. I admired her in the first book, but in this one? I plain adore the change in her. She has gone from someone who didn’t really believe in her worth to trusting that God was right in choosing her.

Whispers of a deep source of magic underneath the ground that powers her Godstone sets her off on a new adventure. Along with her comes a cast of interesting characters. Some of these are familiar faces from her previous adventures, although not as many of my favourite people return. Some are new ones that are just as cool with back stories and realistic personalities that Carson has creatively crafted. One such person is a traitor Invierno who doesn’t understand sarcasm and perpetually seems to be either displeased or downcast.
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