4 star, YA

Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Series: Heart of Thorns #1

heart of thorns -bree bartonIn the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.


4 Drink Me Potions


**Heart of Thorns comes out July 31, 2018**

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

Hatred will only lead you astray. Sometimes love is the stronger choice.

Heart of Thorns took me by surprise. While it was predictable in some sense of where the plot was going, the overall story just worked for me.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Mia, our lovely protagonist, thinks of herself as a rational, logical scientist. She experiments and studies anatomy, a collector of knowledge, priding herself on not just knowing the subjects she chooses to understand but also mastering them. Have you read of protagonists such as these before? I mean, I sure have. Some worked (see Long May She Reign) whereas others feel like talking boxes of facts with no emotional depth.

I was very conflicted as to which side Mia landed for me initially. Especially when there are passages such as the following littered throughout the book.

Eight carpal bones in the wrist: the hamate, capitate, scaphoid, pisiform, lunate, triquetral, trapezoid, and trapezium.

OR

He brushed a curl from her cheek and her zygomatic bones thrummed in their sockets.


Like, what?? I’m the kinda girl who appreciates anatomical terms better than the average person, but even I couldn’t help but laugh a little reading these sentences. Especially the latter.

Then how could I possibly connect with a protagonist like Mia? And that was something I struggled with in the first say 30% of the book. But there was something that kept drawing me in and kept me entertained.

The plot wasn’t the fastest you’ve ever seen, but an adventure following a map to some unknown destination has always been a formula that I can’t help but continue down. After a disastrous wedding ceremony, Mia and her betrothed/fiance/technically husband Quin escape the kingdom with a map that unravels towards their destination as they move along.

The world building in this sense was better formed than other fantasies I’ve read recently. It felt more organic than just a load of information dumping upon our shoulders at the beginning of the book. As they travelled and the 4 kingdoms of this world came closer to Mia, things were explained in a relevant manner.

One thing that some people may not love is the little “screen time” (page time?) that most secondary characters have in this book. For the most part, this story centres around Mia and Quin as they run away from whatever danger they were exposed to. Other people do appear but I never felt like I really knew them very well just because they weren’t present all that often.

HOWEVER, this still in a way worked for me. With so much time given to these 2 characters, we really get to see how Quin and Mia struggled, changed and grew from their circumstances. Especially Mia. I mean, in a matter of a day, her whole life changed. Her whole perspective on who she was changed permanently.

This is why I found her an amenable protagonist. From this logically-driven girl who thought with her brain, she had to learn – and very much struggled through it at times – to think with her heart as well. Let the emotions and feelings guide her. Even when I didn’t connect with her initially, I understood her in the end. That human nature to subdue the overwhelming emotions we feel at times and just distance ourselves with our brains. But life is rarely ever lived fully without the heart.

So yes, there were things that I thought would totally ruin this book for me. But somehow, all together, it worked for this story. The plot wasn’t all that extensive or had too many developed characters, yet that wasn’t the point. These things were enough to drive home the themes of love, family, heart and mind.

And boy, Bree Barton could sometimes write in such a profound way. Like what was love.

FROM

What was love if not a rippling bunch of nerves and valves misfiring? An equation with no known variables? An incalculable contraction of the heart?

TO

Love was a feeling. Love was an action. Love was a partnership, a fiery union of body, mind, and soul.


And love wasn’t just purely romantic love with Quin. It covered familial love and other really strong emotions. Hate. Fear. Rage/anger.

So what if the other things weren’t amazing on its own? Knit together, Heart of Thorns was a beautiful story of learning to listen to the heart, and to choose love no matter how hard that choice may be at times. I believe that’s something everyone can connect with.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Thorns started off on a bit of a rocky note, but it landed in a dear spot in my heart. Following a scientific and logically-driven main character, Mia goes on an unintended adventure with Prince Quin as they escape danger and dive into the unknown world, with uncontrolled magic thrown in the mix. Dealing with themes of what it means to love, the ties of family, and listening to the heart, this novel may SEEM predictable but it packed a more lasting impact after the last pages were turned.

Note: all quotes are subject to change

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4 star, YA

Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Series: Dumplin’ #1

dumplin -julie murphySelf-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.

With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.


4 Drink Me Potions


[The song] is catchy and everyone knows the words, but to me, it’s this reminder that no matter who you are, there will always be someone prettier or smarter or thinner. Perfection is nothing more than a phantom shadow we’re all chasing.


Dumplin’ is that book about an atypical heroine you may think of based on the synopsis, but with way more heart and less cheese-y fluffiness than I had pegged it to be.

This book – and my thoughts on it – can be summarized in a few points.

1) Will’s voice as the protagonist was the perfect balance that didn’t overly make me want to sympathize with her yet also showed her vulnerabilities.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes reading stories about girls who are fat does neither of those things. They either lose weight and “get better” and we get to feel “happy” for them or they embrace themselves in such a way that I’m not sure is fully realistic either. This wasn’t the case here and that was surprising. I cheered her on when she was happy with her body and who she was, and was sad with her when she let her doubts get in the way of everything she could aspire to be.

2) The romance wasn’t the highlight.

Wait, what? That can’t be right. I’m saying I didn’t want the romance to be heavily laid on?
You betcha. I frankly didn’t really love Bo. He’s your average good looking guy who was a jerk (to someone else in the past) but now is all romantic and sweet ’cause he’s fallen hard – somehow, and no, we’re not given a reason why – for Will. He seemed too 2-dimensional for such a 3-dimensional girl. SO yeah, I’m quite happy that it wasn’t the focus, especially for the latter half of the book. (I’m sorry, romance fans!)

But don’t get me wrong. It was still sweet. For all of you who really look forward to this.

There’s some kind of peace that comes with knowing that for every person who is waiting to be found, there’s someone out there searching.


3) The ending was abrupt – but in a good way.

I know, how is that a good thing? Well, to me it left things a bit more ambiguous. Like how life is generally. It isn’t always tied up in a nice bow where all the family drama is solved immediately with a deep heart-to-heart talk or couples throwing themselves at each other in happiness after resolving the romantic tensions between them. (Yes, you can see that I’m feeling rather jaded at the moment towards love). I liked that it ended on a good note but without tying up all the loose threads completely.

4) Heartfelt messages for the win! Or life lessons, if that’s what you wanna call them

“Maybe Lucy wasn’t supposed to be your compass forever. Maybe she was there for you just long enough so you could learn how to be your own compass and find your own way.”


Losing her aunt Lucy was a major theme in this book as Will always felt closer to her due to their similar body size. But this isn’t one of those books where the death of a loved one is driving our protagonist crazy with grief or other kinds of pain. Yes, it’s present and it flares up on some days but it’s not just a plot device. It felt real with the lessons Will was able to draw from all the things she remembered and learned anew about her even after death.

5) Girl power!

This story is all about friendships. Will’s ups and downs with her bestie Ellen took a big chunk of this book. If you know what it feels to have someone you’ve just known and gone through so much crap with, this is how it should be portrayed. But aside from lifelong friends, the new ones Will gains in her journey to the pageant was great. I kinda wish there was less of Bo in these pages and more of these girls. They were atypical secondary characters. Not necessarily your characteristic beauties or smarties or sporties. Just…people who want to fit in but others have deemed them OTHER. I loved them, and I love Julie Murphy for creating a story where girls can support each other, even if it’s a bit unwilling at first.

Aside from these things, my only complaint was the slow pacing of the story in the beginning. You know she’s gonna enter a pageant and show everyone that just ’cause she’s fat doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be able to do this. I adore Will for this. But yeah, it was slow going at first, for at least the first half. I wouldn’t say I breezed through this book at all. Other than that, Dumplin’ holds a lot of good messages that warms my heart at the end of the day.

Overall Recommendation:
Dumplin’ features a cast of atypical girls at the heart of the story, and it’s like no other book I’ve read with fat girls in a starring role. While tugging at our heartstrings in sympathy, it doesn’t just stop there. This is a story of embracing who you are – no matter what size, shape or form – and the courage to be your true self and truly be comfortable with it. The girl friendships gained along the way were empowering. The romance was doable although I could’ve gone without it. Overall, a more remarkable book than I had initially boxed it in. And boy, am I glad for that.

4 star, YA

Review: More Than We Can Tell by Brigid Kemmerer

more than we can tell -brigid kemmererRev Fletcher is battling the demons of his past. But with loving adoptive parents by his side, he’s managed to keep them at bay…until he gets a letter from his abusive father and the trauma of his childhood comes hurtling back.

Emma Blue spends her time perfecting the computer game she built from scratch, rather than facing her parents’ crumbling marriage. She can solve any problem with the right code, but when an online troll’s harassment escalates, she’s truly afraid.

When Rev and Emma meet, they both long to lift the burden of their secrets and bond instantly over their shared turmoil. But when their situations turn dangerous, their trust in each other will be tested in ways they never expected. This must-read story will once again have readers falling for Brigid Kemmerer’s emotional storytelling.


4 Drink Me Potions


Heart-rendering in a way that pulls all my heartstrings, More Than We Can Tell is a poignant follow-up to its companion novel that centred on a unique character whose heart has won over many readers even before picking up this book.

Rev Fletcher was an interesting protagonist to see the world through. Many awful things had happened to him yet it didn’t turn him into a bad person with a jaded view on life and society. Instead, it gave him his heart of compassion and loyalty. But that didn’t mean the demons from his past experiences weren’t following him, and I was so very eager to see how (and who) would help him face these demons head-on.

Our love interest for Rev, Emma, was just as intriguing. Awkward yet lovable, this gamer girl who wanted to stay strong and true to herself was just right for Rev. With her own slew of problems that were no less as painful to go through, this book really focused on strength in the midst of a storm. And while it’s not as light of a contemporary read as others, I found myself particularly resonating with such tormented hearts. Life wasn’t easy and had given them each obstacles to overcome. What they each learned from them, and the process that led them there, was simple yet heartfelt. From the depths of familial love to the deep bonds of sacrificial friendship and trust, there were a lot of encouraging messages that resonated deeply.

While this was an enjoyable read, there was just…something missing from it for me. Maybe it was more that I saw Rev and Emma’s relationship as less romantic and more of a deep friendship? Maybe it’s just the emotional state I was in while reading this novel but I particularly loved seeing how their tentative trust in each other built as fate kept bringing them back in one another’s lives. I mean, wouldn’t you want to find someone like that? I’d love a Rev, honestly. Not so much for his jujitsu techniques and physique (although that’s a plus!), but his forthrightness, his integrity and solid trust in God and a greater meaning to his life.

And that is the other thing. I couldn’t wrap my head around whether or not Brigid saw religion and faith as a negative or a positive thing in Rev’s life. Maybe a bit of both. I don’t think it can be construed as offensive to anyone as the awful religious aspects were considered abnormal, but at the same time, I just don’t know.

Either way, it was interesting to see this kind of portrayal in YA contemporary and I felt like I could connect with Rev more because of it. Fast-paced and a great follow-up to an amazing book, More Than We Can Tell holds a lot for fans of Brigid Kemmerer’s past works.

Overall Recommendation:
More Than We Can Tell delivered a heavy message that was ultimately uplifting while also heartbreaking. Both Rev and Emma’s voices rang true with their individual struggles and as their stories crossed, Kemmerer continues to show how well she can weave a story of the hardships that shape us into the better people that we are. Call me a true fan now as I don’t think she can do wrong when it comes to her contemporaries!