Tag Archive | family dysfunction

Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Series: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire #1

bright-smoke-cold-fire-rosamund-hodgeWhen the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .


2.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**Bright Smoke, Cold Fire comes out September 27, 2016**

Rating: 2.5 stars

Being familiar with Rosamund Hodge’s kinda work and unique plot twists to works that we’re used to, I came in with 2 expectations.

1) This novel would be all dark and twisted up as is her usual style and 2) the themed storyline would be Romeo & Juliet. Well, one of those expectations was met.

Was this really a Romeo & Juliet based story?

For a story that sounded like it was based on a star crossed romance that was absolutely forbidden between 2 clan members in a dying wasteland, oddly enough, Romeo and Juliet weren’t the main characters. Oh no. Their clan relatives were. Paris and Runajo.

Paris was definitely my fav of the 2. He’s the character with the loyal heart and a sense of honour in a city where it seems that kinda trait is running out. He didn’t expect much in life, yet when he landed the responsibility to protect the Juliet, he goes all in. Even after it goes awry and it’s now Romeo he needs to protect, he still doesn’t let him down no matter that they’re rival clans that don’t particularly like or understand each other.

Runajo on the other hand was hard for me to empathize with. A more complex character, her moral compass is a little skewed if you ask me. She’ll do whatever it is that seems right in her eyes but may be seen as wrong in the eyes of her clan or society. Basically, she’s pretty self-centred and being in her head sometimes sucks ’cause she has some really dark thoughts bouncing around in there. On the up side, she’s definitely bold and unafraid of outside opinions.

Now the characterization wasn’t all bad. That’s not why my rating isn’t as high as it could be. It’s the plot.

Why was everything so confusing?

Well, to hand it to Hodge, it was really complex. The world building I mean. There are the undead called revenants popping up, killing the live people, all caused by illegal necromancy occurring in the city by an unknown entity. This is amidst the chaotic information dump that is the ritual of making someone known as the Juliet in the Catresou clan (not including the whole why and religion of this clan for doing so). Not to mention, there’s some other factor known as the Sisterhood with a High Priestess who practices blood sacrifices to appease the gods and keep the city running albeit for only a short while longer.

That’s a whole lot of information that unfortunately doesn’t get dumped onto us in a way that made the reading easy. Jumping back and forth between what the boys are doing and what the girls are doing made it harder to keep track of what was going on in each other’s lives if you don’t read continuously in one sitting.

Oh, and how could I forget about the romance?? Well, that’s ’cause there really wasn’t much of any. Considering Romeo and Juliet weren’t physically together for like, almost the whole book, and Runajo was in the Sisterhood for goodness sakes, that just leaves Paris for romantic entertainment and I think I liked him as he was without being attached to some girl. So if you come romping over here for a nice (albeit dark) romance, you might wanna rethink that plan.

Overall I did enjoy the complexity and creativity put into it. Hodge easily makes a world that’s darkly intriguing, but the pacing was a little slow going. Fortunately, this gives us plenty of time to get to know our 2 – I mean, 4 – protagonists. The growth they each undergo through the events that eventually tie both their storylines together was nice to see, in particular for Runajo who was the hardest character for me to love. There’s plenty of questions left and with a cliffhanger ending like that, I wanna see what happens next to these characters.

Overall Recommendation:
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire was just as dark and complex as I had originally anticipated, especially if you’ve read some of Hodge’s other works. Although this dying world and the intricacies of each clan that’s survived so far was unique, the background history and terminology can get kind of confusing and altogether be too much at times. With a slower pacing than I’m used to in a high fantasy and a whole lot less romance than I would have thought for a Romeo & Juliet story, this novel was more of a mediocre start.

Review: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

V23 new typeface tagline.inddEverything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Julie Buxbaum mixes comedy and tragedy, love and loss, pain and elation, in her debut YA novel filled with characters who will come to feel like friends.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


(1) I just finished it and let me tell you. The ending was perfect. P-E-R-F-E-C-T. Others say it was a bit rushed and there could’ve been more, but I think it was the proper place and way to end it off because of the way Julie Buxbaum set it all up from the start.

Let me start from the beginning (in which it might make more sense with my ramblings that way).

(2) I initially didn’t like this book. At all. Was thinking it pushed 2 stars at most. It wasn’t necessarily ’cause Jessie’s all sad and lonely and nothing seems to be going right in her life with her familial situation. And not necessarily ’cause it was slow. It might just be a slow accumulation of all these things happening to her at the less-than-fast pace it was going. The only thing that kept me somewhat interested was the Somebody Nobody (otherwise known as SN, of course) angle which really kept me guessing (I’ll come back to this later).

Heck, around this time, I wished I was able to escape Jessie’s life as much as she did. I suppose that should account for something if the writing brought out such a strong emotion in me too.

It got to the point where I needed to take a week-long break from this novel at around the halfway mark. But when I came back to it, it was like opening my eyes to a whole new story. Yes, Jessie still was hurting from her change in environment and situation with her dad and steppeoples, but it didn’t feel like just whining anymore. She really was like a ninja, a kick-ass fighter who could maker he way through hard stuff alone even if at the time she didn’t realize she could be so strong.

Jessie grew a lot in the second half. And what made me inhale this part so fast was that she was relatable. No, I never lost a parent (and I don’t wish that to happen any time soon), but her insecurities and her with to be seen was all very real. The pain and loss she felt were also a huge part of who she was, and it may have been annoying at first when it was all that her character seemed to be, but I wouldn’t exchange this part of her now ’cause it helped her figure things out about herself and learn to take a step forward in moving on, little by little. She didn’t solve anything big about her grief for her mom, but the little things do matter. Like patching things up a bit with her remaining parent and learning to tolerate (may I even say “love” even?) her stepbrother and stepmom. Nothing is 100% wrapped up, but these things were a start to hopefully a realistic (but happy) story for Jessie.

(3) Now, my fav. part and what cemented this story together (in my honest opinion) was SN. And his identity. I thought I knew who he was from the start, yet Buxbaum made me guess and re-guess as she threw out red herrings and what not.

And I wanted to know because SN’s conversations with Jessie were absolutely amazing. Their little game of telling each other 3 things (where the title was obviously taken from) about themselves each day was fun yet also made opening themselves up to each other easier. Their honesty about what they feel was real. Their connection over loss and grief was potent, but they knew that the other understood. That even when they felt so alone in their every day life, they were still seen.

So the ending that seemed a little abrupt? I wholeheartedly disagree. It should end there, with SN’s identity. It’s one thing to connect and say all these well-edited words on a screen and not have the person staring back at you as you open up your heart of all that’s burdening you. Buxbaum even acknowledges that every time Jessie wondered whether her connection to SN was because she could so easily be someone different, someone better, on screen since she had the time to edit her words and change them if she didn’t like it. Real life is harder. There are no delete buttons and things pop out your mouth before you can filter them. So upon meeting the one person who kept Jessie grounded since she moved to Cali was very fitting. And knowing that their identity doesn’t necessarily change everything about their relationship.

Romance and grief aside (along with my not-so-humorous attempt to list 3 things this book was to me), this story also had its hand of strong supporting characters. Jessie had a pretty strong and distinct narrative voice, but still had that quality that made her someone I could connect with – a feat that is hard to create well. From her flamboyant, gay stepbrother to the wise and brave bestie she left back home in Chicago, this cast was well-developed, each with their own personalities and problems to overcome.

There were hints of a love triangle, even in the synopsis, but personally, it didn’t ever really feel that way. It can still be construed as one as you read it, but Jessie made it clear there was only one guy she was interested in that way from the start. So I’m not sure you can really count it as one. Ethan, her English partner, was totally a delicious character. His aloofness, hot-and-cold moodiness, plus being a rocker guitar player automatically lands him the bad boy status. But his sensitivity to poetry and smart comments about what matters in life beyond what rich kids at their school normally think are important made me wish I had an Ethan in my life too. He ranked pretty much as high as SN in this book for me.

All in all, Tell Me Three Things took me on a roller coaster ride that in hindsight I’m glad I continued all the way to the end. It may seem like just another romantic book on first love and dealing with loss, but Buxbaum crafted it realistically and beautifully.

Overall Recommendation:
A story full of emotion, Tell Me Three Things follows Jessie, a girl you may feel is quite familiar to you even if you haven’t experienced half of what she did, on her journey across the country to a brand new start she never wanted. From the excitement of conversing with an anonymous person dubbed Somebody Nobody and wondering at his identity, to dealing with the pain and loneliness of moving into her new stepfamily home, Jessie’s experiences moved from fun to heartwrenching in the next moment. Buxbaum makes the things Jessie’s going through realistic and the connections she makes with new friends in Cali are sometimes very deep and profound. After struggling for a good half of the novel, I will say that Tell Me Three Things thoroughly redeems itself, and by the end, left me sighing with an ending that was just right.

Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows

my lady jane -cynthia hand, brodi ashton, jodi meadowsThe comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss than considering who will inherit his crown…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy. With the fate of the kingdom at stake, our heroes will have to engage in some conspiring of their own. But can they pull off their plan before it’s off with their heads?


3.5 Drink Me Potions


I came across My Lady Jane quite by accident, but I’m quite glad that I did find it. My initial reaction was one of major surprise. I hadn’t expected it to be a comical, almost-but-not-really true story of the real Lady Jane Grey. But once I passed the initial surprise, I found myself amazed by the 3 main characters these 3 amazing ladies have created in this hilarious historical book.

First off, comedies in books aren’t really my thing. Half the time, unless the author rubs me the right way, I don’t find the writing particularly….funny. It’s like watching a comedy but missing the punchline over and over again. Like, you’re sitting there asking yourself “what the heck’s so funny? Did I miss something?” and end up shaking your head in dismissal and slight disappointment (if you’re honest with yourself). ‘Cause who wouldn’t want to get the joke?

I felt a little like that at first with this novel. Yes, I could tell the story was meant to be funny considering the real life events in British history wasn’t quite so entertaining. Plus, there’s random magic that turns people into animals. Honestly, animals!Who wouldn’t find that weirdly funny? I just wasn’t expecting it at first.

Enter our 3 heroes with their distinctive POVs. King Edward was a poor boy who didn’t know what it truly meant to rule a kingdom at his young age. He just wanted to know and experience what every teenage boy was going through. Of course, he couldn’t. How could he, when he was a king? I liked him. Yes, sometimes he acted a little naively, but I suppose it was understandable. I’m sure the real King Edward found himself as flabbergasted by his deteriorating health as well.

Lady Jane obviously stood out in this story. She was a loveable, book-ish kinda girl who tried to do her best at what life threw her way. Come on, it’s not every day that you suddenly find yourself at the head of the royal succession line, let alone the ruler . Her POV was funny in its own way, but not the dry humor that was everywhere in Edward’s. She was brutally honest in how she saw things, and especially her comical reliance on the books she’s read (and their long and detailed titles) to guide her in how to do new things that came her way. But I think the real star that tied everything wasn’t her.

G was probably my favourite of the 3. I know, right? Of all the 3 protagonists, he’s gotta be the least popular and well-known. Also, his real life name was Guildford (like, what horrid name is this? I would prefer G or Gifford too). But I did really like him, and I honestly think he tied the other storylines together.

He was a horse. That threw me the very first time I saw this horrendously, simple sentence. I was like, “What the heck do they mean that he’s a ‘horse’?” No, seriously. He’s actually a horse. It’s a simple as that. That’s what the authors mean. My fav. character turns out to be part-man, part-horse. That’s such an odd thing to say, but it makes it no less true.

His magical background, his eventual acceptance as Lady Jane’s husband and his love for her that grew out of the craziness thrown into her life made the story more appealing to me. There’s comedy (hello, do I have to repeat the fact that the authors made him a horse man?) but this aspect can only carry the story so far. The romance here wasn’t explicitly focused upon, but it grew in the shadows of all that conspired against Jane (and Edward, although in REAL history, he’d be dead by now).

Overall, I can’t really describe what this story did to me. It was funny, weird at times, and outright odd, but beyond the comical play on history, it was refreshingly endearing the way these characters flounder to find their place in life and the sacrifices they made for each other. It makes me kinda wish history was more like this than the particular tragedy it really was for these 3 characters. I suppose that’s the highest compliment I can give it. I wish history was more like My Lady Jane.

Overall Recommendation:
A comical take on real events in British history, My Lady Jane was an unexpected read for me. Not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I had no idea what it truly entailed until I had it in my hands. Following 3 real-life figures in their separate POVs (and with a hilarious twist of magic thrown into it), this story was both funny, amidst the amount of treason and deaths that occurred, and romantic. After being initially uncertain about it, I found myself drawn into this alternate version of history, to the point that I wished this was the happily-ever-after that really happened. I think for anyone who likes history (and doesn’t mind it being botched up in many, MANY places for comical fun), this is the historical novel you need to read this year.

Review: Her Accidental Husband by Ashlee Mallory

Series: The Sorensen Family #2

her accidental husband -ashlee malloryPayton Vaughn’s trip to Puerto Vallarta for her friend’s wedding was her big escape from her ridiculously overbearing mother–oh, and that little matter with her cheating fiancé. Now, her flight’s been cancelled, and she’s crammed into a tiny car with the gorgeous-but-irritating best man.

Viva la road trip from hell…

Cruz Sorensen doesn’t have time to babysit some spoiled socialite, even if she is the future daughter-in-law of the man who could change the fortune of his family’s company. He has no business getting to know her better—not even for all the tequila in Mexico…until they wake up with grande-sized hangovers as man and wife.

Now Payton and Cruz must decide if they’ve reached the end of their journey…or the beginning of a new adventure.


4 Drink Me Potions


Her Accidental Husband features two people who have made big appearances in the previous novel, Her Backup Boyfriend. I had seen these two as a potential match even then, and preferably, I enjoyed their story a little more.

Payton fits the stereotype of a rich, socialite girl who has everything yet feels restless. However, I totally sympathize with her as she’s got a dragon for a mother. Controlling, conniving and completely intolerable until you let her get her way. Payton’s better than that. She’s actually a brilliant girl who wanted to study law and chose her own friends, like Kate, not based on their trust funds and bloodlines.

Cruz is also another well-known member of the Sorensen family. He’s quiet and brooding, the typical guy to offset the more bubbly personality of his potential match. Although their characters were a little stereotypical, I still enjoyed who they were and how they interacted with each other. Stuck on a road trip through Mexico to reach a wedding that’s important to them both, they learn that there may be a very fine line between love and hate.

The one downside to it all is the completely unnecessary misunderstandings that pile up nearer to the end. Whether it be her fault one second or his fault the other, it felt like they just kept missing the other, not totally understanding what the other meant when they said or did something out of hurt or complete ignorance of the consequences. It dragged it out a little too much in my opinion. I felt that Mallory could’ve made the ending more sweet and less abrupt (like the epilogue she threw in) if she cut out one or two of the misunderstandings that kept the couple apart.

All in all, it was a sweet and adorable story about two people who couldn’t be more different but found they had more in common than they thought.

Overall Recommendation:
Her Accidental Husband was a sweet and amusing story following two familiar characters who thought they despised each other on a very long road trip through the beautiful backdrop of Mexico. The premise has been done before and the characters lean a little more into the stereotypical, but the way the story was conducted kept it fun and enjoyable as we watch them turn their less-than-happy feelings for each other into love. Minus the excessive misunderstandings between them that occur nearer the end of the book, this story makes for a lovely summer afternoon read.

Review: Unfinished Business by Nora Roberts

unfinished business -nora robertsWhat was she doing here? Hyattown had changed very little in the years Vanessa Sexton had been away. In some ways her high school sweetheart, Brady Tucker, hadn’t changed much either—he was still lean, athletic, rugged…But the once reckless boy had become a solid, dependable man. He’d stood her up on the most important night of her life; could she ever trust him again?

So Vanessa had finally come home, Brady thought. She could still turn him inside out with one of her sultry looks. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t forgiven him for that night twelve years ago—but he’d had his reasons for not showing up. He’d let her leave town then—but he wasn’t going to let her get away this time…


4 Drink Me Potions


Unfinished Business is the perfect summer read with the sweet re-blossoming of love in two childhood sweethearts. I like Nora Robert’s mysteries, they can be quite entertaining, but her contemporary romance stories have just as much heart in it, in a different way.

In this novel, Vanessa has a lot of baggage that she’s bringing back with her to her hometown. Estranged from her mother for the last 12 years and stressed from her career as a concert pianist, hometown life seemed to be a good pace for her to rest. Of course, things get a little crazier than she imagined with the presence of her high school boyfriend there with unresolved issues left between them. I’m glad that the story doesn’t focus on that moment where Brady stood her up, but that the problems were more due to their current adult lifestyles and reconciling that things have changed in some ways after 12 years.

Vanessa had to discover who she was before she could really be what Brady may want from her. I liked the pacing. Things slowly built onto each other as she came face-to-face with the things she kept denying to herself, and the questions she couldn’t ask before. And at the heart of it all is a love story between two people that greatly cared for each other in their teens but have found a second chance for a more mature relationship.

Overall Recommendation:
Unfinished Business is as the title suggests, a story of two people separated by the years with unresolved issues. Vanessa definitely brought a lot of baggage back with her to her hometown, but slowly, she learned to rediscover who she was and not how external circumstances had molded her. This love story is sweet and filled with promise. It’s a different kind of story from Nora Robert’s mysteries, but it’s just as poignant and well done.

Review: The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3

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

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

At least, that’s what he thinks.

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

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

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


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2

the winner's crime -marie rutkoski

Book two of the dazzling Winner’s Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement… if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.


 

2.5 Drink Me Potions


Kestrel’s adventures continue with The Winner’s Crime. Unfortunately, this one didn’t sit as well with me.

As you might come to expect of our dear protagonist, Kestrel’s cunning and oh so very smart. Where we left off from the previous novel, she’s in a dire predicament and her love, Arin, has no idea of what she’s done for him and his people’s sakes. Oh how I wanted to tear down a building in my frustration at that.

Here they were. Just about to really figure out that they loved each other, or that they could believe in each others’ feelings, but things tore them apart and now there are just HEAPS of misunderstanding.

This whole NOVEL is based on misunderstandings galore . From one encounter to the next, it’s like realizing the potential and strength of their love for one another is just on the tip of one of their tongues but SOMETHING, oh my goodness there’s always something, keeps them from confessing it or explaining their noble actions.

I won’t say that The Winner’s Crime suffers from Middle Book Syndrome. It doesn’t. There’s plenty of under-the-table kind of suspense building as kingdoms teeter on the brink of war. Alliances are made and broken. Where Kestrel and Arin stand as their worlds are about to fall apart may determine the outcome of their survival and their love’s survival.

But none of that CLOSURE happens in here. It’s like, so near the end, and I thought, YES, they’ve finally come to their senses about each other , only to have that dream dashed on the rocks. Kestrel’s got things up her sleeves that only her brain can really truly understand, but Arin, in his hurt, may ruin them all. So the kind of action and suspense in this middle book isn’t all-out fighting like its predecessor, yet it was still fascinating to see the heart of Valoria and the dark plots being hatched there.

I will end with this. The Winner’s Kiss better have a TON of making up between Aren and Kestrel. ‘Cause I’ve just about HAD it with their endless misunderstandings. I guess it’s one way of keeping up the romantic suspense without adding in a love triangle. I will, grumbling aside, acknowledge my thanks to Rutkoski for that fact.

Overall Recommendation:
The Winner’s Crime began where the previous book left off with our favourite cunning Kestrel trying to manipulate things from the heart of Valoria. However, she’s playing a dangerous game and the suspense racks up as we see how the dominoes may tumble from her actions. Meanwhile, the romantic suspense is just about killing me as Arin is bitter and has no idea of what Kestrel’s done for him. Where there seems to be moments and chances for reconciliation between the two, it never quite reaches that point in this book, thereby dashing away a higher rating and making me wanna hit my head against a brick wall. I will say you gotta read this (or at least skim this) as there’s essential plot twists here, but otherwise, I would save my breath for the final conclusion.

Review: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Series: Seeker #1

seeker -arwen elys daytonThe night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor.

As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world.

And she’ll be with the boy she loves–who’s also her best friend. But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes.

Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought. And now it’s too late to walk away.


2 Drink Me Potions


Seeker was fantasy novel set in something akin to modern day Scotland and Hong Kong. It had huge potential to become something exciting and intriguing. Magical swords, secrets centuries old and a family heritage of honorable warriors. Sounds like a great synopsis doesn’t it?

Well, that’s where your hopes go south. Dayton turned a very interesting plot into a monotonous journey between 4 narratives. How did it go so very wrong? Why, let me list them out for you.

1) World building
It may be set in Scotland and then in Hong Kong, all very familiar land marks, but that’s no excuse for the vagueness in the Seeker’s history and uh, what exactly they are and do . All you get is that they’re “honourable” and “help to change the world” with their “life or death decisions”. Such power. Of course that would mean some would stray from the noble route to follow their selfish heart’s desires.

So what exactly are those “bad deeds” that Seekers now do instead? Such terrible things that it scarred Quin and Shinobu so much when they took their oath?

Uh, they became assassins? It doesn’t get graphic or anything, but the vagueness of it takes away from their GIGANTIC reaction after realizing they’ve become “monsters”. Quin is so mortified that she wishes to never remember any of it. Shinobu follows the path of self-destruction through drugs, booze and reckless actions like building jumping. These plot elements took up so much space and time in Seeker, you’d expect to be more understanding of their predicament.

And then there’s also the confusion regarding the Seeker’s abilities. It takes a while into the novel before things start becoming more clear. Just what the heck do they do? Why are they so special or powerful? But the long-winded way it took to reach those answers could’ve driven many people away from the book by then.

2) Plot pacing
It was so BORING in the middle. I was occasionally flipping ahead just to see whose narrative we’d get to follow next ’cause the one I was on just wasn’t cutting it for me. Nothing truly exciting happened. Bad men chase the “good guys”. They fight back or they’re too busy drowning in their own problems to even notice or want to get away from danger. More mysterious tidbits into the Seekers but nothing solid to lure your undivided attention in.

The last 10-15 chapters picked up a bit, and I kinda wished the novel was like this for the most of it. The sections in Scotland in the first part was the hardest to get through. I can totally understand why so many people just DNFed. It took way too long to get the action going.

3) Characters
In Seeker, everything is written in 3rd person but we switch between following 4 different people. Quin and Shinobu are your typical protagonist narratives. They weren’t so bad to follow, except when they both bugged me to no end.

Quin was torn after learning of her beloved John’s other side, the darker side he kept hidden from her. The side that sought revenge over anything else. I just wanted to shake her. Can’t she see he’s so broken that she can’t heal him? I know love makes people blind, but it took a while for her to stop letting his mere presence interfere with proper thinking.

Shinobu’s walk into reckless self-destruction was so selfish. He thought he was only hurting himself, but he hurt those around him by being the way he was. They were so broken after becoming full-fledged Seekers and doing their “evil deeds”, but I wanted to poke at him to throw off the self-pity party already. He could still be the honourable hero he had always wanted to be. Drowning his sorrows like this didn’t make him any better of a person. However, I’m glad that it doesn’t end with him in his poor state, and for that it helped redeem his character as it showed a true depth to his growth and ability to find redemption for himself.

As for John, he’s like the book’s minor antagonist. There’s the big antagonist that is Quin’s awful Seeker father, but at least I could outright hate him. John? He was a different story. From his backstory that very slowly unfolded through his narrative, I couldn’t help but pity his descent into hatred and bitterness. It’s not simple to call him “evil” and be done with that. He cares for Quin (to my utmost chagrin, ’cause I don’t think he’s good enough for her), but he let his promise for retribution take over. His obsession for revenge drove everyone away. Maybe we’re supposed to feel bad for him, but all I can feel is tons of pity .

The last narrative is a girl named Maud. She’s something called a Dread, the youngest one in fact. Something else that belongs to Seeker history that we’re not so clearly explained for a long while. Actually, it’s still not fully explained by the end of it, but at least you learn a little bit more from her backstory. Her role is like to judge and monitor the actions of the Seekers, to prevent them from abusing such power. Ha! Where were they for the last few centuries? Although her narrative was the most confusing, she was the one person whom I didn’t want to strangle at some point through the novel. I’d say that’s a pretty good thing.

So that actually wasn’t all that short, but those were the things that annoyed me incessantly. Why the heck did I finish it? you may ask. Well, that’s a very good question. Sure, I was still a little bit curious about the Seekers. But mostly, it went down to the fact that a) I hate not finishing a book unless absolutely necessary, and b) I rushed through it to make sure Quin chose Shinobu. He was clearly the better candidate, and he understood her feelings perfectly. They were IN THE SAME BOAT. The sequel better have something nice going on for them, ’cause this book was NO ROMANCE. It would’ve spiced things up a little bit, especially when the plot action lacked so badly. It’s a shame it really didn’t go that way until the very end.

Oh, and you know what bothered me the most?

Wait for it.

The cheesy way Quin and Shinobu would always say “evildoers beware” over and over again. I think I just found a new pet peeve.

Overall Recommendation:
Seeker has many points against it, from slow pacing to annoying characters and very vague world building. This urban fantasy set in such beautiful settings like Scotland and Hong Kong could’ve made it truly adventurous and exciting, especially with a plot about secret powerful families. But it truly was missing the excitement factor, whether it be from learning more about Seekers or a forbidden romance. However, it literally read like a magical version of Revenge or something. All I can say is that there are not a lot of redeeming qualities to it, so here’s to hoping the sequel would be lots better from the low beginning.

Review: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Series: Cruel Beauty Universe #2

gilded ashes -rosamund hodgeA romantic and fantastical reimagining of the classic Cinderella tale, Gilded Ashes is a novella by Rosamund Hodge set in the same world as the author’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty.

Orphan Maia doesn’t see the point of love when it only brings pain: Her dying mother made a bargain with the evil, all-powerful ruler of their world that anyone who hurt her beloved daughter would be punished; her new stepmother went mad with grief when Maia’s father died; and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother’s approval, yet she always spurns them. And though her family has turned her into a despised servant, Maia must always pretend to be happy, or else they’ll all be struck dead by the curse.

Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn’t believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. What’s the point of pretending to fall in love with a girl just so she’ll pretend to fall in love with him back? But when his father invites all the suitable girls in the kingdom to a masked ball, Anax must finally give in and select a wife.

As fate would have it, the preparations for the masquerade bring him Maia, who was asked by her eldest stepsister to deliver letters to Anax. Despite a prickly first encounter, he is charmed and intrigued by this mysterious girl who doesn’t believe in love. Anax can’t help wishing to see her again—and when he does, he can’t help falling in love with her. Against her will, Maia starts to fall in love with him too. But how can she be with him when every moment his life is in danger from her mother’s deadly bargain?


4 Drink Me Potions


“I’m not mad,” I say. “I’m the only one who’s not, because I don’t want to be loved.”


Now, is that the kind of protagonist you would think of when you imagine Cinderella? I don’t think so. And it’s completely awesome .

Rosamund Hodge has done it again with another reimagining of a famous fairy tale. Except, it’s darker than you would have ever dreamed of, yet it still sounds remotely familiar with the age-old story.

Maia is cursed. Plain, old cursed by – of all people – her mother who unintentionally ruined her life what with demons “helping” and haunting her and anyone she loves. She can never be anything but happy or else Mother Dearest will get upset and cause a great deal of harm to those who are to blame for the littlest bit of Maia’s unhappiness.

Who knew being happy could be a curse?

Her romance with Lord Anax was a little too fast for my liking. It is a novella, so I can’t be truly that picky I suppose, but for its length, I will let it slide. Their chemistry, if given ample time as it would have in a normal-sized book, would have been absolutely charming. These two people who didn’t believe in love, Maia especially.

 

“Love is madness,” I say. “Doesn’t everyone agree that you’d do anything, endure anything, to be with the ones you love? So either you’re willing to let them use you with any sort of cruelty, so long as they keep you – which makes you a fool – or you’re willing to commit any cruelty, so long as you get to keep them – which makes you a monster. Either way, it’s madness.”

 

Anax was hurt by his childhood friend and didn’t think that love was worth more than honesty. And dear Maia has Mother -er, and the demons – to consider if she were to ever love someone else. But against all odds, their unexpected friendship and meetings forged something between them. And since this is a Cinderella re-telling, of course their romance is gonna be sweet, right? But what I loved about Gilded Ashes is that the romance is equal in parts with the darker aspects Hodge added to the classic tale. It’s not too dark for me to make me too squeamish to continue reading, although that’s subjective to the individual reader. I liked that it was different from the other re-tellings which are becoming quite popular.

Not only does this short novella contain some dark qualities and the romance of Cinderella, the family dynamics with the “evil” stepmother and “ugly” stepsisters played major roles in it too. Kore and Thea were not the typical easy to hate stepsisters. What with Maia’s fear of being responsible for her mother’s wrath on those around her, she holds herself at arm’s length from her stepfamily. If it weren’t for that and another problem that comes to light, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad between the three girls. Either way, these familial relationships were complex and also contributed to the overall plot.

All I can say is, Hodge is a genius with this novella. I do wish it was a full-length novel instead. It would’ve given the story more than what it is now, but I’m not complaining a bit about what has been written here at least. If you love the Cinderella tale, I do suggest you try out this darker version of the classical story. It may just surprise (and delightfully intrigue) you.

Overall Recommendation:
Gilded Ashes was a Cinderella re-telling that I have never imagined before. Plagued with demons and her ghost of a mother, Maia does not have it easy when it comes to protecting those who are around her. So it comes as no surprise that love is not something she wishes to have. It can only end in heartache. Through a chance meeting with Lord Anax, Maia may have to reconsider her opinions on love. Due to its short novella length, their romance was a little fast for my tastes but their chemistry was undeniable. As a fan of fairy tale re-tellings, Rosamund Hodge is a genius for crafting something that’s familiar at the heart of the story yet still creatively flourished with something that sets it apart from all the others. I suggest you give this darker Cinderella story a shot.

Review: Down with the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

down with the shine -kate karyus quinnThere’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**Down with the Shine comes out April 26, 2016**

This story had its dark moments but it never quite felt that way due to the whimsical manner in which it was written.

Or it could just be because wish-granting made it seem less serious since (hopefully!) you could wish the terrible things undone.

Down with the Shine was immediately not what I had originally expected. Lennie was named after her infamous father, a known robber and killer on the FBI’s Top Ten Watch list or something. This made her very unpopular among her peers, and hence, the understandably low self-esteem and “play it safe” look on life.

Oh, and also? Her best friend was murdered and chopped into individual pieces. Continue reading