4.5 star, YA

Review: Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Series: Descendant of the Crane #1

descendant of the crane -joan heTyrants cut out hearts. Rulers sacrifice their own.

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by
death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?


4.5 Drink Me Potions


**Descendant of the Crane comes out April 2, 2019**

Thank you Netgalley and Indigo Books & Music for this copy in exchange for an honest review

What is truth? Scholars seek it. Poets write it. Good kings pay gold to hear it. But in trying times, truth is the first thing we betray.

Richly atmospheric, inspired by her Asian roots and heritage, Descendant of the Crane delivers a whomping story that cuts deep to my heart for Joan He’s debut novel.

In the aftermath where ancient kings oppressed the poor and used people with special powers, soothsayers, to help them stay in control, the new era has gone to war against anyone with this magic tied to their blood. Soothsayers are now the hunted.

But that’s not where our protagonist starts her story. Hesina is investigating the murder of her father, the king. And committing treason by seeking the visions and powers of a soothsayer.

From there, she opens up a can of worms that may have been best left closed.

What this story does best comes down to a few elements. I mean, if you look at the higher view of this book, there’s nothing extra special about the premise or the world. But it all works out ’cause of these few things.

1. Familial ties and complicated relationships

Hesina’s adopted siblings, twins Lilian and Caiyan, were polar opposites but were genuine and real. Found on the streets and somehow chosen to be taken into the royal family by the king’s benevolence, Lilian was spirited and loyal to the bone while Caiyan was solid, steadfast and the rock Hesina could turn to in any time of need.

On the other hand, her blood brother Sanjing was distant and their relationship was rife with tension from their past that’s not immediately understood.

While their interactions and characters were very well built, they’re also dynamic people! They don’t stay that way in the story. Gasp. I know. That’s so different for a YA fantasy isn’t it? And that’s even more interesting to see unfold.

2. Unexpected (or were they?) twists and additional layers to the world building

The central mystery is the murder of the king. And it’s not a simple whodunnit kind of thing as I had initially thought. There’s more to it that also relates to the world Joan’s crafted. As page kept on flipping, the more I was drawn into the people – with all their individual flaws and courage – and the history that made them into who they were.

The era of chaos from the ancients and the soothsayers.

I loved how they integrated beautifully and the layers that came from simply wanting to learn the truth of what happened to her father. He was king to the people, but he was the man who played with her, loved her and taught her his truths. Their relationship was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Even I wanted to know what befell him for her sake. That’s how much I fell into this world.

3. Beautiful prose and depthless creativity

Knowledge is truth, her father had said, yet all knowledge had done was unveil a world of lies.

Quotes from the leaders of the new era in their most scripted text, The Tenets, started every chapter. While the overall story flowed and had a certain grace to it, these individual quotes and words of wisdom were just beautiful and kind of hilarious. Each quoted individual had their own voice, and it felt three dimensional. The leader known as One was wise and solemn while Two sounded kind of snarky and more to the point without wanting to sound pretentious.

And as I mentioned. The world building. The soothsayers and the warring kingdoms were not necessarily original but it worked so well with everything else that was crafted here. I have so much respect for Joan for all that she’s built and I can’t wait for more. For a girl my age, I feel like I could do so much better with my life lol.

Anyway, I will conclude by saying that this debut will knock your socks off. I love the Asian heritage throughout and the relationships were central (including the mysterious Akira I haven’t mentioned much but you’ll just have to see how he fits into the story!) to the overall story that made it stick out above others in the genre. This is the debut you should read this year!

Overall Recommendation:

Descendant of the Crane astounded me with its beautiful rendition of an Asian inspired kingdom, real dynamic relationships between the characters and a mysterious murder at the heart of the story. Each element was more than first meets the eye. Written with elegant prose and the perfect flow between the major arcs, this debut novel is an achievement that I’ll be sure to continue to recommend. Joan He is someone to look out for!

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1.5 star, YA

Review: The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson

Hagenheim #9

the warrior maiden -melanie dickersonFrom New York Times bestselling author Melanie Dickerson comes a fresh reimagining of the classic Mulan tale.

Mulan isn’t afraid to pretend to be a son and assume her father’s soldier duties in war. But what happens when the handsome son of a duke discovers her secret?

Mulan is trying to resign herself to marrying the village butcher for the good of her family, but her adventurous spirit just can’t stand the thought. At the last minute, she pretends to be the son her father never had, assumes his duties as a soldier, and rides off to join the fight to protect the castle of her liege lord’s ally from the besieging Teutonic Knights.

Wolfgang and his brother Steffan leave Hagenheim with several other soldiers to help their father’s ally in Poland. When they arrive, Wolfgang is exasperated by the young soldier Mikolai who seems to either always be one step away from disaster . . . or showing Wolfgang up in embarrassing ways.

When Wolfgang discovers his former rival and reluctant friend Mikolai is actually a girl, he is determined to protect her. But battle is a dangerous place where anything can happen—and usually does.

When Mulan receives word that her mother has been accused of practicing witchcraft through her healing herbs and skills, Mulan’s only thought is of defending her. Will she be able to trust Wolfgang to help? Or will sacrificing her own life be the only way to save her mother?


1.5 Drink Me Potions


**The Warrior Maiden comes out February 5, 2019**

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

The Warrior Maiden reminds me why I stopped reading Melanie’s books for a while. Sometimes Christian fiction elements just don’t mix well with your typical fairy tale retelling.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it’s weird and strange to try. I loved some of the earlier Hagenheim books but I think there reaches a point where all the more popular fairy tales have been done and you’re left trying to weave just one more story out of a tale that should be left alone.

The story of Mulan fits that bill.

For medieval age Lithuania, I’m not sure this story fit well. For one, Melanie kept the protagonist’s name as Mulan. Sure, I like the authenticity and the allusion to the Chinese heritage (for which I’m extremely happy about ’cause we’ve all had enough of westerners changing an original Asian cast to a white version while fans keep their complaints quiet or their grumbles come to nothing), but it just seemed far fetched too me.

Then came the romance. The “prince”. Wolfgang. I didn’t feel it. It was love at first sight. She saw him when she joined the army to fight the Knights and like fell in love? Was it lust? I mean, she really liked how handsome he was and she felt something different about him. Some kind of stirring in her. Yes, she got to know him afterwards and her attraction grew, but it was so strong so fast and I just didn’t feel a thing.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the plot fell flat. At like half point, the “big” bad was kind of defeated and they were celebrating. I’m sitting there thinking, well what’s the next half of the book gonna be about if it’s almost happily ever after already? Of course, things “still” happen but I wouldn’t say that it was very exciting from that point since it seemed we hit our climax in some way already.

I really wanted to like this book. I like the story of Mulan. She’s a strong female character, not your typical princess, who still got an amazing happily ever after. There’s nothing wrong with princesses but sometimes you just want a warrior girl.

I think it’s amazing to try and combine fairy tales and Christian themes/morals but maybe it’s almost time to conclude this series. Kudos to Melanie for even attempting such a creative process but I don’t know if I can sit through another book where I felt nothing for anyone and the story just bores me to tears.

Overall Recommendation:

The Warrior Maiden tried to be a Mulan retelling that just fell flat from its ambitions. The story was slow and there was no real buildup to create anticipation and excitement. The storytelling and actual prose was too simple, making it hard to stay enthusiastic about anyone or anything that was happening. I wanted to love a Chinese girl in medieval age Lithuania but the story just didn’t work for me. Maybe this is goodbye to Hagenheim at last.

4 star, adult

Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Image result for the death of mrs. westaway Harriet Westaway – better known as Hal – makes ends meet as a tarot reader, but she doesn’t believe in the power of her trade. If she did, what would the cards say about the choice that lies ahead of her?

When Hal receives a mysterious and unexpected letter bequeather her a substantial inheritance, she knows that it wasn’t meant for her because Mrs. Westaway is not her grandmother. Struggling with crippling debt, Hal is presented with a difficult choice: ignore the letter, or use her cold-reading skills to potentially claim the money and change her life.

After a loan sharks pays Hal a threatening visit, she decides to attend Mrs. Westaway’s funeral. she meets the family at Trepassen House, the Westaways’ country estate. Once there, Hal discovers more secrets than she could have ever imagined. There is something very, very wrong with this family, and somehow Hal and the inheritance are at the centre of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.


4 Drink Me Potions


Never believe your own lies.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway begins as an almost innocent backdrop of a story. Classic rich grandmother leaving behind a massive fortune in a dramatic reading of her final will. However, the story (and mystery) is so much more than what can be seen on the surface. Behind layers of lies and deceit lies the story of a girl who has never known family, struggling to find her place in a world which seemingly has no place for her.

This mystery follows the life of our protagonist, Harriet (aka Hal), who was born into a poor life and tries to make ends meet providing tarot-reading services on a pier. This is important, as the tarot cards become the crux upon which the story moves along. It is completely fascinating and enthralling, as the whole mystery is almost like a lengthy tarot card reading on its own. As the suspense unfolds, each path is laid forward by the explanation of a different card, and this really gave the whole story a mystical element. Even if you don’t believe in such things, Ware really gives it life in this number.

One for sorrow, Two for joy.

Hal was raised by a single mother, who tragically passed away in an accident when she was eighteen, leaving her an orphan. Forced to take up her mother’s role in tarot reading with no family to turn to, her life takes a surprising turn when she receives a letter indicating she is a beneficiary in Mrs. Westaway’s will. As her crippling debt comes catching up to her, she is forced to go to Trepassen to find out what is in store for her in the Westaway family.

Preparing herself to attend her “grandmother’s” funeral, she does not realize what she steps into when she arrives. Behind every member of the family seems to be another door, with secrets of their past hidden. While every mystery may be like this, instead of a murder mystery, this story revolves more around the secret of Hal’s past – just how is she linked to the Westaway family? And will she be caught in her own lies as she tries to take a piece of the Westaway fortune with her to repay her debts?

The whole novel has a very ethereal quality and an air of mystique. It is impossible not to follow along the signs the cards give, and the omens given in the magpies as we follow Hal down the dark alley of her past. The overarching theme of mysticism and cold-reading are beautifully woven into the story, and spellbinding really is the word to describe this page-turner of a suspense. Definitely an enjoyable read – full of mystery even without revolving around a murder.

Overall Recommendation:
If you are into mysteries at all, and the suspenseful writing of a whodunnit novel, this book is definitely for you. This story features a young adult fighting her way through thick and thin, with only her tarot cards and cold-reading skills to guide her through. While understandably the whole art of tarot may be met with skepticism (admittedly for me as well), this book definitely paints it in a different light. Additionally, it really was well woven into story and really was the propelling force of the whole suspense. I definitely recommend this one!