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Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Series: Spindle Fire #1

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

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

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

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

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

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


4 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

The plot and the girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then things CHANGE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hillyer’s prose

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

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

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

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

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

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

to grim thoughts.

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


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

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

Note: All quotes are subject to change when published

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: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #1

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

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


3 Drink Me Potions


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

But, there were ups and downs in my opinion.

Ups:

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

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

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

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

Downs:

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

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

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

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

Review: Beheld by Alex Flinn

Series: Kendra Chronicles #4

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

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

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

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


 

2.5 Drink Me Potions


Rating: 2.5 stars

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

**Beheld comes out January 10, 2017**

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

But these last few years?

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

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

Sounds good, right? Especially if you liked Kendra.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Series: Hunted #1

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

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

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


3 Drink Me Potions


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

**Hunted comes out March 14, 2017**

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

And honestly? It was. In a way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee

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

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

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


4 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: By Your Side by Kasie West

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

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

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

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


4.5 Drink Me Potions


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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

Autumn is that girl for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Wish Granter by C.J. Redwine

Series: Ravenspire #2

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

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

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

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

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


3 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

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

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

So why doesn’t this have a higher rating?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Rise of Fire by Sophie Jordan

Series: Reign of Shadows #2

rise-of-fire-sophie-jordanThe richly suspenseful sequel to Sophie Jordan’s romantic fantasy Reign of Shadows.

Luna and Fowler have escaped the kingdom of Relhok, but they haven’t escaped the darkness. When a battle against the dark dwellers mortally injures Fowler, Luna is faced with a choice: put their fate in the hands of mysterious strangers or risk losing Fowler forever.

Desperate to keep the one bright part of her life alive, Luna accepts the help of soldiers from a nearby kingdom. Lagonia’s castle offers reprieve from the dangerous outside world—until the king discovers both Fowler’s and Luna’s true ties to Relhok and their influence over the throne.

Now pawns in each kingdom’s political game, Luna and Fowler are more determined than ever to escape and build the life they’ve been dreaming of. But their own pasts have a tight hold on their hearts and their destinies. Luna must embrace the darkness and fire within her before she loses not only Fowler, but the power she was destined to inherit.


4 Drink Me Potions


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

**Rise of Fire comes out February 7, 2017**

“Do you feel my gaze on you? Do you feel my heart, Luna? It’s yours. It belongs to you. You know me.”

Even after a year I still remember where we left off in Reign of Shadows with our dear princess watching her loved one sacrificing himself to the dark creatures known as dwellers in order to save her.

And this is exactly where this novel picks up from. At that horrid cliffhanger. At least I’ve finally got my hands on what happens next.

Rise of Fire is even more enjoyable than its predecessor. With more essential characters coming into the story (finally!) and more of Fowler’s past catching up to him that we only had glimpses of previously, this was mostly satisfactory.

Another kingdom has taken them in and now they’ve escaped one darkness only to hop into a different kind. Being pawns of yet another maniacal king (can there only be evil kings in fantasy stories that you just yearn to overthrow?), there is plenty for Luna to overcome to reach her happily-ever-after.

She’s still the brave and beautiful girl I remember. Her blindness both makes her unique and memorable. She uses it as an advantage that doesn’t slow her down in any way. Thrown into a completely different – and civil – environment among the nobles at court, you’d think she’d be like a fish out of water after all this time in the Outside where it’s an eat-or-be-eaten world. But she holds her own as she tries to care for Fowler, and her POV was always very enjoyable to read.

The bench was pulled out so quickly I nearly fell. I’d almost forgotten the existence of the king’s guards. Sadists. Apparently they were never far.

With plenty of swoony scenes for those of us rooting for more romance, this book gives enough to make you smile to yourself. Fowler is the guy you want for your princess. Add to that the suspense of escaping from the clutches of their manipulators, I couldn’t stop myself from flipping through these pages rapidly.

The only point that made this book less-than-perfect was that I could’ve used so much more to their story. Being a duology instead of a trilogy, it didn’t have the middle book syndrome, but I felt the action could’ve peaked a lot higher, especially nearer to the end. The whole ending felt a little anti-climatic to me. It was wrapped up too simply in my opinion. Maybe I just expected it to go out with a bang that was a little more nitty-gritty and complex. Don’t get me wrong, it still was a nice ending. Not all the loosest ends were tied up (I was glad for that because it would’ve just been TOO much of a happily-ever-after moment that’s only seen in traditional fairy tales), but it was a positive note overall. I’m happy with it, at the end of the day, and I hope you would be too.

Overall Recommendation:
Rise of Fire gives a smacking punch to the story that started off in Reign of Shadows. With amped up suspense and romantic scenes worth swooning a little over, Fowler and Luna’s adventures get a little crazier as they set off to stop a mad king. Wrapping up this duology, this sequel delivered in ways that were more than satisfactory, with most loose ends tied up in a nice bow. I recommend it to all you fantasy lovers that like equal parts romance and suspenseful plots.

Note: all quotes taken from this novel are subject to change

Review: Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

long-may-she-reign-rhiannon-thomasThe Girl of Fire and Thorns meets The Queen of the Tearling in this thrilling fantasy standalone about one girl’s unexpected rise to power.

Freya was never meant be queen. Twenty third in line to the throne, she never dreamed of a life in the palace, and would much rather research in her laboratory than participate in the intrigues of court. However, when an extravagant banquet turns deadly and the king and those closest to him are poisoned, Freya suddenly finds herself on the throne.

Freya may have escaped the massacre, but she is far from safe. The nobles don’t respect her, her councillors want to control her, and with the mystery of who killed the king still unsolved, Freya knows that a single mistake could cost her the kingdom – and her life.

Freya is determined to survive, and that means uncovering the murderers herself. Until then, she can’t trust anyone. Not her advisors. Not the king’s dashing and enigmatic illegitimate son. Not even her own father, who always wanted the best for her, but also wanted more power for himself.

As Freya’s enemies close in and her loyalties are tested, she must decide if she is ready to rule and, if so, how far she is willing to go to keep the crown. 


3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**Long May She Reign comes out February 21, 2017**

Rating: 3.5 stars

Long May She Reign was something familiar but at the same time, so very different from what I expected. From princesses to the scientific method, Freya was a girl after my own heart. There are many things to be praised about this book, and I shall endeavour to point those things out.

LOVED:
1. I’m a scientist. It’s not so surprising that a science-lover like myself would be overjoyed to find something so out of place like the scientific method in experimentation in a YA fantasy novel. So of course I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect. Freya was a chemist, tinkering with chemical reactions from different powders and metals. Her curiosity about the way the world around her worked was refreshing. She wasn’t pompous in her assumptions or her worldview because everything needed proof. That was the way science worked.

2. Freya herself was a wonderful protagonist.
She just wanted to be a scientist, to explore the world and create experiments. But when disaster occurred and turned her plans – let alone world – upside down, she left her plans behind to do her duty. To become queen, the last thing she wanted to be. She was afraid, who wouldn’t be? Such responsibility in the aftermath of such a tragic event in the kingdom. But her courage and belief that she could make a difference, make the kingdom better , was admirable.

I loved Scientist Freya, but Queen Freya was just as amazing. She remained down-to-earth throughout the novel, facing each hurdle while trying to remain true to herself even when others were trying to manipulate her to their own image. This leads me to the wonderful character development which is always important. From a frightened nobody to a more confident queen, we get the privilege of seeing Freya learn what was important in managing a kingdom and people who had never given her the time of day before.

3. At the heart of this book was a mystery. A simple who-dunnit kind of question. Who killed all those people at the banquet that put her on the throne? I love a good mystery. Long May She Reign was honestly more of a mystery story than a fantasy. The sole focus was hunting down proof, evidence!, that someone had plotted to kill the court and it wasn’t her (because it looked suspicious it’d be her since she ascended to power). I thought it was a well-done mystery, with red herrings being pointed towards by Thomas, and it wasn’t altogether too predictable due to the motive.

4. Last point of wonder was the few secondary characters placed around Freya. Her best friend Naomi and new friend Madeleine were great examples of strong female characters. Freya herself was too. They didn’t need the prince riding down on a horse to save them from all their problems. Freya proved herself smart and capable with her scientific knowledge and heart for the people. Naomi and Madeleine, likewise, were the strong advocates backing up their queen, giving her the strength and courage to face the troubles coming. I loved that about them.

Of course, there’s still a love interest. Ah, William Fitzroy. He was a fun character. A little clichéd with his injured pride and princely status, albeit an illegitimate one, but he had his vulnerable moments that made me really like him. For Freya, there was no one better (although, that may also be due to the fact that there WERE NO OTHER young men her age to potentially court her anyway).

NOT-SO-LOVED:
1. Of course, this is where I diverge in praise and head into the problems. Rhiannon Thomas is known for not giving her characters happily-ever-after in romantic bliss. Now I can kinda see why in this standalone novel. It’s not to say that Freya and Fitzroy don’t have a chance for the future, but she leaves it in a way that is very ambiguous. Like, yeah maybe they can get over their differences and form something someday. But for now, this is kinda where they stand. Yes, there’s hope, but it’s not the wonderful solid “yes they’re together!” that I love.

2. And the other thing I’d point out is the lack of world building and slow pacing. I love Freya. If I didn’t, this rating may have dropped a little. If you’re looking for something dark and bloody and ridiculously suspenseful, well, unfortunately this is not for you. Long May She Reign is nothing like the fights for the crown that you may expect from TV shows like Reign or from history, like the comical re-telling of Lady Jane Grey in My Lady Jane. Freya goes about things in a logical manner with that scientific mind of hers, and I wouldn’t say there’s even truly a “battle” scene in this story. So if action is a must-have on your list, this may be a problem. The world building wasn’t much beyond the divine beings this land worshipped that later plays a small role in the story, but for a true fantasy novel, it just didn’t really focus much on this aspect.

At the end of the day, this book was wonderful in many ways for me (it brought me back from a book hiatus after all), but it’s not for everyone.

Overall Recommendation:
Long May She Reign hosts a cast of wonderful characters, in particular the protagonist. Freya is a scientist, a girl that I could very well love. With deep character development, Freya navigates ascension to the throne with the help of her fierce girl friends. Add a funny love interest and it’s got the makings of a fantasy story, but personally, Freya ties it all together for me. It’s not a book for everyone as it lacks heavy action and suspense, plus romantics out there may also be disappointed in the outcome of the romance. Overall, it’s a beautiful mystery but it could be a hit or miss for some.