Tag Archive | historical

Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Series: Lady Helen #2

the-dark-days-pact-alison-goodmanJune 1812.

Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club.

Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers.

However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip.

At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her.

The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


Mysterious, alluring, and filled with Gothic adventure in Alison Goodman’s latest Regency era novel, The Dark Days Pact was one of those books that actually lived up to the hype I built for it. Which is no small feat ’cause I’ve been waiting a year for this sequel to come out.

Oh, what an adventure

This beautiful sequel picked up quite soon where we left our protagonists previously in The Dark Days Club. Lady Helen’s got to train hard to become the Reclaimer she’s meant to be, a super-honed weapon against the Deceivers (aka monsters/demons of this world) that walk among them. The book may have felt a little slow in the beginning because it mainly focuses on her training (and lack of progress), but I swear, this only helped set the mood more for me.

The action really does pick up soon after when bureaucrat Mr. Pike sets upon our lovely band of heroes working with Lady Helen and gives her (and Mr. Hammond) a secret mission to embark on: to locate and negotiate for a mysterious journal that seems to have all the juiciest secrets about everyone, Deceiver and Reclaimer included.

Along for the ride is Lady Helen’s strange powers. She’s supposed to be an extra special Reclaimer, what with being a direct inheritor even though these powers don’t transmit genetically, but everyone’s always telling her that she’s nowhere near ready that she’s really starting to believe it too (I will get back on this point later). But you’d be glad to know that what transpires throughout the story isn’t some cliched moment where our girl suddenly comes into her own and becomes the strongest, fastest and least expendable person ever (okay, she’s still pretty important either way). As she fights to get her hands on this journal first before the Deceivers and others with less-than-noble motives, she starts to realize her powers are definitely MORE than what others have ever seen. And oh boy does that leave you with a surge of excitement in your mouth! It sure dose for me.

I personally didn’t think this book was very slow. It transitioned well between plot points with the overarching storyline centred around finding this journal. Oh, and of course, worrying about Lord Carlston’s descent into madness.

All the cool people, both historical or fictional, featured here

I loved Lady Helen. I probably mentioned that in my first review of The Dark Days Club. In 1812, a woman’s role was stuck to the household and doing mundane things such as walking around the park while daintily holding onto a friend’s hands. They were seen as weak and in need of protecting.

Helen beats all these stereotypes, while still working within the mold of 19th century Regency time in London. She had to dress like a man sometimes to go investigating (’cause of course poor little women couldn’t go off ANYWHERE on their own, even during broad daylight) and go around chasing bad guys (another taboo!) in public. Alison Goodman made her into someone to admire by her sacrificial actions. Lady Helen wasn’t some woman’s rights figure (a century too early) and she wasn’t hell bent on being different from other ladies. She still loved long hair and the occasional simplistic duties of a woman, so it wasn’t easy for her to give up some of these things. I loved Lady Helen because she knew she had a new duty to serve now and it was worth the sacrifice.

Alongside her is the amazing Lord Carlston. Okay, maybe not everyone loves him as much as I do, but I ship these two so hard. So beware that my excitement level for this book probably also comes from his presence here.

Lord William Carlston. Ah. Such a noble sounding name. Anyway, he wasn’t the stoic hero that was portrayed in book 1. At the climax events of the last novel, some bad things went down and he had absorbed too much Deceiver energy without letting it out. Such energy can lead to madness for Reclaimers if there’s enough collected within them. Throughout, he’s another major plot arc as the whole household has been left worrying about the state of his mind. There’s always this little piece of excitement about whether he’s truly sane at the moment or he’s just more lucid than at other times when the madness shows.

But as sweet as ever, you shippers of Lord Carlston will be glad to know that there are BEAUTIFUL moments with him and Lady Helen. Like, heartbreakingly touching because we know that he’s “technically still married” (recall that his wife disappeared many years ago and people called MURDER but without a body, there has to be some time in between to wait out before officially calling her dead). Even with potential madness looming on him (or maybe because of it), we see him let out his emotions a bit more and Lady Helen’s attraction to him makes it all the sweeter. I just can’t. I need the two of them together. Like now.

The rest of Carlston and Helen’s aides and friends are familiar people you may recall. Both their Terrenes (aka strong sidekicks in my mind) feature largely here, but the brother/sister pair of Mr. Hammond and Lady Margaret were my favourite. Particularly Mr. Hammond who was developed greatly in this story, probably because of the secretive mission he embarked on with Lady Helen, I love that Goodman gives time for secondary characters as well so that the world feels more real and fleshed out instead of solely focusing on Helen and Lord Carlston. The almost 500 page length is used up very well in my opinion on plot pacing and character development for everyone. Even the newest characters, like little Sprat who works for the bawdy house, comes to your affection eventually.

I will also advise that you read the Author’s Note at the end explaining her inclusions of very real characters living in 1812 in London or Brighton (which this novel features greatly in). From a famous dipper who, as the name would describe, dipped people into the sea waters around Brighton for health purposes, to a famous couple who met a grisly end, I truly admire Goodman’s research into these people and places to create a fantasy world that really “could have been”. Like, if I lived in 1812, I could totally imagine going to Brighton and finding myself a spectacular lady who was like no other in her day.

That non-existent love triangle though

Speaking of characters, I left one person out. The Duke of Selburn. I don’t consider the Duke of Selburn (whose first name is Gerard…like, I could’ve gone through this whole series without having to find out his name was Gerard) any contender for Lady Helen’s heart. It may just be a HUGE bias, but let me explain that.

Here’s a man who’s very highly ranked (both Lady Helen’s family and Lord Carlston were earls) and likes to get his way. Okay, so the Duke isn’t a jerk who’s power hungry or abuses that power for his own selfish purposes. He’s not THAT bad. But in a world such as the Dark Days Club, he wouldn’t fit if he can’t take orders and abide by them for the safety of all involved. The Reclaimers have the say (except bureaucrats like Pike I suppose) as they’re the ones with the powers that can fulfill their plans so rank in society doesn’t REALLY matter. You can be a butcher’s son for all they care! So how would he ever be a good match for Lady Helen?

Then there’s that SUFFOCATING way that he likes to do EVERYTHING for Helen. He just wants to “protect” her from things, whether he understands who she really is or not, and ends up screwing plans up so badly because of it. He keeps spying on her because he hates Carlston and just wants to get her “away from that monster who allegedly killed his wife”. I honestly don’t like him, no matter how “noble” his motives are. I don’t understand why he keeps pursuing her even after she rejects him time and time again (bless you, Helen). Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s his way of making sure no one else falls to their doom with Carlston (backstory here from book 1), but either way, please step aside Selburn or else I’m gonna throw a brick at you in the next book.

Honestly, no love triangle here. Not really. I don’t believe Helen’s heart was ever tempted by him. Maybe a little flattered by his attentions, but her heart’s for Carlston. As it should be.

So no middle book syndrome?

Whew, that was a long rant/review. It’s not very often I rate a sequel higher than the first one, but they’re both so good. With the background setting already laid out so nicely from book 1 (hopefully you remember some of it before embarking on book 2), it gives this book time to explore the plot as it ramps up for the conclusion. Plenty of intrigue still happens here with a touch more romance than before. Honestly, it seems Alison Goodman can do no wrong in this series. So more Lady Helen, please!

Overall Recommendation:
The Dark Days Pact lives up to all expectations with an action-filled plot at the centre and well-developed characters leading the way. With beautiful descriptions of the historical setting in 1812 and good pacing throughout the book, this would surely keep you flipping through the pages as fast as you can. You won’t feel the length of this book as you live through the craziness that is Lady Helen’s life as she fights for her incoming powers and follows through with her sacrificial duties for God and country. Oh, and pinches of romance throughout will have you grasping for the next book ASAP.

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: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Series: Kingdom on Fire #1

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-jessica-cluessHenrietta can burst into flames.

Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s named the first female sorcerer in hundreds of years and invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the prophesied one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta is not the chosen one.

As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in how A Shadow Bright and Burning turned out. It was a highlighted book of 2016 for me, but with high expectations come a greater fall when it doesn’t reach them.

Taking the “chosen one” archetype and apparently flipping it on its head, Cluess’ debut novel seemed to have the beautiful elements of magic, monsters and romance, all set in Victorian London. Each and every one of these components are things I absolutely love to find in a book. So how did it turn all so wrong?

Henrietta Howel didn’t expect to be brought to London, discovered as the first female sorcerer since Joan of Arc. I liked her. She didn’t let a house full of boys (with far more training than she ever had) or the old and well-respected sorcerers intimidate her. But with the opportunity for a greater life than she had ever dreamed of, she brought along her best friend Rook, an Unclean. One who has been touched by the Ancients (aka a monster that’s the stuff of nightmares). Her kindness for someone who society would not want to touch made me like her. She stood up for the poor who weren’t protected by the sorcerers’ magic. She gave her own opinion when she didn’t agree with how things were done. She made for a great protagonist.

The issues I did have problems with were the other elements of the story.

Magic:
The world building wasn’t very extensive. Beyond another tool, called a stave, that seemingly replaced the functions of a wand, and how it could be used with certain body movements to control the elements, it was frankly a little tiring to read about. I found my eyes were glazing over the parts when they were training because it was just a lot of info dumped in a way that wasn’t very exciting. It felt more like info that had to be unloaded rather than organically fitting in with the plot.

This story is also a historical fantasy. Honestly? Besides the fact that Queen Victoria popped up occasionally in the plot, it hardly felt like the time period really mattered. Sure, they were in London, but the historical aspects just weren’t important as it could’ve been modern-day London society. The way they lived, the tools they used, none of that really connected with that time period and it was a let-down. History requires more intensive research, but Cluess just didn’t put the effort to actually encompass it into her story, like how The Dark Days Club did in this same genre.

Monsters:
Likewise, the world building here wasn’t extensive enough. We’re still left with many questions by the end of the book. Like why did the responsible party who unleashed these monsters do it? or where are they from so the sorcerers stop them? . Unfortunately, it seems either these details were meant to be shared later in the series, or were unimportant. The way one of the monsters was dealt with in the climax of the novel felt too rushed and anticlimactic. For a “chosen one” archetype that’s supposed to be different, it sure felt like the cliched version of this formula. It’s like Howel is unstoppable. She may not be THE chosen one, but she’s still more important and powerful than other (and frankly, more well-trained) sorcerers in the Order.

Romance:
Where do I even BEGIN with this? I had a feeling a love triangle would go down in this book as there are like, almost no female characters and Howel is surrounded by a house of guys. I’m at least happy that one guy becomes more of a brotherly figure to her, so it’s like a love pentagon or whatever. I personally favour one guy over another (of course), but the romance honestly didn’t do much for me. Which is saying a lot.

Both guys have their problems, and both make honest mistakes that I didn’t really appreciate. There is no one who is better for her. And I’m glad that it’s not a story that focuses on this point like it’s more important than EVERYTHING else that’s happening. But at the same time, the romance was almost so subtle that I didn’t feel anything for the guys. She hardly spent any alone time with either so there weren’t many moments that made me melt and think “awww they’re so cute together”. I’d rather she didn’t fall for anyone then and just focus on kicking monster butt.

SO….
Maybe I hyped this up a little too much in my mind. I waited a long time to get my hands on this novel and I may have expected way too much. However, it still had its moments, like learning the history of other magical beings beyond sorcerers or the mysterious attention given to Howel by the Ancients.

It may not have been the best book, but it was decent at least.

Overall Recommendation:
A Shadow Bright and Burning was a historical fantasy that barely focused on the historical aspect. Set in Victorian London, Henrietta found herself in a heap of lies as she figures she’s not the chosen one after all. With a world that wasn’t altogether explained very well, this novel tried to make itself fun and action-packed, but somehow missed the high bar it set. It had its good moments too, but all the elements I looked most forward to just weren’t put together as well as I had hoped it would. Plus, the romance just wasn’t so great, and that already puts me in a less than happy mood.

Review: Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #2

like-a-river-glorious-rae-carsonAfter a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

The second epic historical fantasy in the Gold Seer trilogy by Rae Carson, the acclaimed author of The Girl of Fire and Thorns.


3 Drink Me Potions


Like its predecessor, Walk on Earth a Stranger, the sequel is very similar in the fact that it is more of a historical fiction piece than historical fantasy.

Like a River Glorious did uphold the promise of more action and excitement. Lee Westfall, no longer hiding who she is and her special ability to sense gold in the depths of the earth, has found herself finally in California where she had hopes of starting a new life away from the troubles back home in Georgia. Alongside her is her best friend, Jefferson, with whom a relationship beyond mere friendship may be something on the horizon.

Once again, Rae Carson has done her homework because this novel was not easy to write accurately either. The unfair treatment of the indigenous people known simply as “Indians”, the African-American slaves that were seen as mere property, and the Chinese laborers that were coming over from China were awful. Words could not describe how awful the racism was in the frontiersmen settling California. Carson did a great job of depicting the horrors these people truly faced in the past, with “well-meaning, religious white men” thinking they knew what was best. That they were the best, and on top of the world.

The truly sickening descriptions that filled these pages kept me turning faster than the first book. It made me feel awful, but at the same time, it did the trick of showing how people aren’t all that much better nowadays. I’m glad Lee did not feel the same way or else I might not have been able to finish the story.

Like a River Glorious deals mostly with Lee’s uncle, the root of all her troubles and the reason for her escape out West. It also described the beauty of the untouched lands of California when it was still mostly trees, mountains and lakes. The journey may have been difficult, but it was only the beginning. Claiming land and settling down more permanently wasn’t all that much easier. I liked these parts of the story, as long as they didn’t take up the whole length of it and consumed all my patience.

All in all, it was a nicer sequel but it still lagged in the middle. The pacing wasn’t fast enough to get my blood pumping. There was a little more info about Lee’s special abilities and how they may not be as simple as she had originally thought they were all this time. Other than that, events in this story were far from “heartstoppingly exciting”.

Overall Recommendation:
Like a River Glorious gave me more feelings beyond apathy, getting my heart pumping with anger at the descriptions of unfair racial prejudices back in this time. Of course, the rest of the story was picking up the pace too. Lee was facing her problematic uncle head-to-head while trying to settle her band of friends in their new lands in California. With admiration for the evidence of strong historical research, Rae Carson has done her best to make this new trilogy accurate and fun. I can see the first, but the latter I’m still waiting for.

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy #1

walk-on-earth-a-stranger-rae-carsonGold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.


 

2.5 Drink Me Potions


Having read Rae Carson’s previous trilogy (including the novellas) all together and in one go, I had honestly thought her writing was well done and I enjoyed her voice that resonated through her stories. However, I find myself at a loss with Walk on Earth a Stranger.

First, the synopsis wasn’t so much fantasy sounding (as I was used to from her) as it was historical. Okay, I’m all right with that. Historical fantasies can be great too, right? Or even just regular historical fictions, if done right.

This, my friends, was not an example of historical fiction done right.

Leah “Lee” Westfall is magical. She can sense gold no matter where it’s hidden deep within the ground whenever she’s near it. It’s like it calls to her as soon as she catches the scent. Kind of like a vampire on the scent of blood, if you need an analogy. So of course, this seems more like a gift than a curse. It allows you to get pretty darn rich, right? Gold practically sings to you like a homing beacon guiding you to its location.

With the craziness that befalls her family at the beginning of this story, Lee heads West to follow the Gold Rush that’s starting up in California, where of course she’ll do pretty well for herself. Along with her is her bestie, Jefferson, a half-Cherokee who would probably fare better on his own in a new place full of strangers than the town back home who doesn’t treat him very well.

And so they journey, separately and together, across the vast country of America. And that’s basically the whole plot of this darn book.

I mean, the only magical part of this book was Lee’s abilities , which she doesn’t really utilize much except in the beginning, because they’re busy travelling and trying to stay ALIVE. Turns out, there’s plenty of dangerous people out there in the wilderness when travelling by wagon. Lee had to learn who was friend and foe, sometimes distinguishing the two a task that would risk her life.

Okay, so basically, Walk on Earth a Stranger was more a historical fiction novel than historical fantasy. But it was just SO boring . Even more so than some of the travelling parts I was used to in Carson’s other books. They literally walk, eat, run into danger (both from outside of their camp of people moving across America together, or even from people within their camp), fight off danger, face tragedy, and move on. It was just so tiring. It’s not wonder it took me forever to finish this book.

I have many complaints, but what prevented it from being downgraded even further was the cast of characters. Carson’s good at making them each different and special. There’s a lot of important secondary characters in this story, more than most books in the YA genre puts effort into creating. It was obviously done well enough that you can care for individuals instead of turning the page and asking yourself “Now, who was this again? And why do I care about their demise?”.

There was also a lot of good research put into this novel. It’s hard to write historical stories because you don’t wanna fudge up the facts too much. Creating your own world is so much easier because you set the rules for what did and should have happened without anyone the wiser challenging you on it. So it’s not an easy feat, and I do congratulate Rae Carson for taking this story on with such vigor and hard work that led to, what I think is, an accurate enough telling of life as an American willing to explore the new frontier.

Overall, this story was not an easy one to finish, nor was it the most rewarding upon completion, but the ending was a good one that gave hope, no matter the situation Lee and the others found themselves in. There’s not much romance in it, though I do believe there are hints of a potential romance blooming once all the danger was put behind them. I’m probably the most excited for that. It better happen, you hear, Rae Carson?

Overall Recommendation:
Walk on Earth a Stranger is no historical fantasy, but it doesn’t fare very well as just a plain historical fiction recounting the age of the Gold Rush in America. Lee has a magical ability to sense gold that makes her extra special in a setting like this. I admire the amount of effort put in to recreate a story that’s as factual as it can be, but the plot itself was just not exciting. It literally encompassed Lee’s travels from Georgia to California. That’s it. If that sounds way too boring for you, please don’t try it out. I still have hopes things are gonna get crazier once in California due to the circumstances leading to Lee’s departure, but it’s not a huge part of this novel at least.

Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Series: The Falconer #1

the-falconer-elizabeth-mayOne girl’s nightmare is this girl’s faery tale

She’s a stunner.
Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.

She’s a liar.
But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. she’s leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the sìthíchean—the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans—and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.

She’s a murderer.
Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons—from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols—ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.

She’s a Falconer.
The last in a line of female warriors born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother’s murder—but she’ll have to save the world first.

The first volume of a trilogy from an exciting new voice in young adult fantasy, this electrifying thriller combines romance and action, steampunk technology and Scottish lore in a deliciously addictive read.


3 Drink Me Potions


I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time and finally came around to it. To make put this short and sweet, The Falconer was like mixing the strong kickass heroine and bad guy fighting from The Dark Days Club and the world and allure of faeries in The Iron King series.

Aileana is everything you’d want in a fighter. Witnessing a horrific crime committed right in front of her eyes, the world of ballroom dancing and finding the perfect husband just wasn’t worth it anymore. In the span of a year, she transformed into monster hunter at night. She was brave, fearless and vengeful. The memories of her mother’s death haunted her. She epitomizes revenge. I thought sometimes the darkness inside of her drowned out a bit of the story. She had others who cared about her, or at least her best friend and later an old acquaintance. They could’ve made her whole if she chose to eliminate the darkness but she never quite manages to do so.

That’s not to say this story wasn’t fierce in its mix of beautiful olden day Scotland and the mysterious Kiaran. I’ve always had a soft spot for historical fantasies and The Falconer most definitely adds onto the list of books in this genre that was done right. There’s plenty of action and suspense as Aileana fights against the clock to prevent catastrophic doomsday from happening to her city of Edinburgh. With a touch of steampunk contraptions and inventions that Aileana uses to help her fight against her opponents, there seems to be a bit of something for most people. My rating mostly has to deal with the lack of romance progression with Kiaran and the slower pacing at times in the middle. I’m not saying the slow burn romance isn’t great, but it seems almost just an implied thing at times and that just drives me a little insane. But for the most part, this novel is exactly as I described it between those 2 series above, which basically means it’s pretty cool.

Oh, but darn that cliffhanger. Not a huge fan of such endings.

Overall Recommendation:
The Falconer gives a wonderful glimpse of historical Scotland while mixing it up with the dark beauty of the faerie and other such creatures. Aileana makes for a fierce protagonist with the fire of a fighter inside of her. Steeped with intrigue and excitement, her sole battle against the world of fae comes to a head in this first book of an interesting trilogy.

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: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

Series: Blythewood #1

blythewood -carol goodmanWelcome to Blythewood.

At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood.

But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.

Vivid and atmospheric, full of mystery and magic, this romantic page-turner by bestselling author Carol Goodman tells the story of a world on the brink of change and the girl who is the catalyst for it all.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Blythewood has elements that I thoroughly enjoyed. A mysterious boarding school with secrets behind its closed doors, fascinating creatures creeping out from the darkness, and whimsical characters that separate themselves from the norm of YA books.

The beginning was a little slow. Ava was still with her mother and working low-paying jobs in a factory at a time where women were trying to gain more attention and the right for votes. It took the story a while to get rolling into the juicy bits, but eventually through devastating acts of terror by a mysterious man wearing a long coat following her around, Ava moves to Blythewood. It’s not just any normal school, and once she passed the initial entry exam, it becomes evident that they teach more than just history and science here.

Blythewood is a school prepping students for battle against the darkness.

The story covers themes like what makes someone good and bad, the light and the dark. Is it what one was born as? Or can it be from the decisions and actions that they make? It was an interesting read, but it also wasn’t heart-poundingly urgent to finish. I took my slow, sweet time with it (and not because I was reading this as my on-vacation book).

One thing that I normally hate is a love triangle, but with Blythewood, I was okay with it. It was barely even there, but it took a long time for our favourite “angel” bad boy, Raven, to be introduced to Ava. So there was normal, human Nathan waiting on the sidelines for a potential love interest, but it’s not like anything really happened. There were just hints that there was interest there.

Then again, it’s not like anything in the romance department really occurred during the book, even with Raven. It was slow and not quite insta-love, although she was definitely intrigued by him. Well, hello, I’m sure anyone would be intrigued by some winged boy who saves you time and again. It doesn’t help that he always comes around without a shirt on either.

As for the total story, the romance wasn’t even the biggest part, for which I’m glad. The background and history into which Blythewood was founded on, and the mission that these girls set out to achieve was imaginative and draws you in.

And at the heart of it, there was always the question as to who that strange man was that showed up around Ava, bringing chaos and fear. I do believe Blythewood is a lovely story that somehow slipped past the majority of YA readers. With intrigue, great bounds of imagination and ties into its historical period, this is one book that kept me reading even though there were plenty of other fun things I could’ve been doing while on vacation.

Overall Recommendation:
Blythewood is one of those stories that you wonder why it never blew up into something huge. It contains everything that I enjoy. The mystery of Ava’s mother’s death and the strange man following her around. A boarding school full of secrets that centre around fantastical creatures set out to destroy humankind. And, of course, fun characters and a hint of romance that didn’t make me wanna roll my eyes and skip the pages. What more could anyone ask for? Goodman’s first book in this trilogy is a promising start to crazier antics and more secrets to unfold as we follow Ava into the heart of darkness.

Review: A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

a mad, wicked folly -sharon biggs wallerWelcome to the world of the fabulously wealthy in London, 1909, where dresses and houses are overwhelmingly opulent, social class means everything, and women are taught to be nothing more than wives and mothers. Into this world comes seventeen-year-old Victoria Darling, who wants only to be an artist—a nearly impossible dream for a girl.

After Vicky poses nude for her illicit art class, she is expelled from her French finishing school. Shamed and scandalized, her parents try to marry her off to the wealthy Edmund Carrick-Humphrey. But Vicky has other things on her mind: her clandestine application to the Royal College of Art; her participation in the suffragette movement; and her growing attraction to a working-class boy who may be her muse—or may be the love of her life. As the world of debutante balls, corsets, and high society obligations closes in around her, Vicky must figure out: just how much is she willing to sacrifice to pursue her dreams?


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


A Mad, Wicked Folly has been on my to-read list for a long while, but I kept putting it off for who knows what reasons. So to my utter surprise, I realize I had set aside this long a book that spoke volumes to me. The historical YA genre has started picking up with better books lately, so if you like a dose of history (with clear evidence of research into the time period) along with a strong protagonist fighting for a cause, this is the book for you.

Set in the early 1900s, the women suffragist movement was picking up in both America and England. I always love a good novel set in London, and this Edwardian era novel is no exception. The times are changing and women are fighting for more freedom and equal opportunities as men. More education, getting their own wages and doing something more substantial than just hosting the next dinner party for their husbands. I never considered myself a huge feminist and just briefly studied the history of women’s rights. But this book really opened my eyes to the very realistic struggle that such women went through in order to make a better life for their daughters, their nieces and any woman who was radical enough to want something more for themselves for a change.

Vicky Darling was no exception as such a protagonist. She yearns to go to art school, to exhibit her work in galleries and get paid for it. She dreams more for herself than just being a docile wife to a man who thinks she has no brain or useful purpose beyond being an arm candy.

I loved Vicky. She was already bold for a girl in her social circle. Being an upper middle class young woman meant more pressures into being the traditional kind of lady. Marrying for title and for money. It was harder to break out of the mold. But she posed nude. For the sake of art! I’m not sure even I would be bold enough to do such a thing now, 100+ years after.

Not only was she courageous enough to do such a thing, she faced the resulting consequences with her head held high. She grew immensely through the events of the book. Sharon Biggs Waller did a great job of documenting the events of Vicky’s life after that single moment. Vicky initially didn’t align herself with the suffragettes but the focus of this book is mostly on their fight for equality.

Now, normally, I would think such a premise would make it kinda boring, right? And of course, there’s tons more to this story beyond the historical accuracies of the women rights movement for voting. However, this surprisingly (and I’m glad for it) took my breath away, at the emotion of the fight. It might connect more if you are also a woman, to understand that real women fought such things so that we could do things we take for granted now.

If that doesn’t satisfy you enough to want to pick up the book, A Mad, Wicked Folly also revolves around a love triangle of sorts. You know I abhor those, but this was more of a complicated situation. On one hand, Vicky needed to get out of her father’s control, and marriage to a suitable husband could provide that. Even if she didn’t love him.

On the other hand, you’ve got Police Constable William Fletcher. Ah, Will.

The blooming romance with him was amazing. And it mainly stems from how great (and hot) of a model he makes for Vicky’s drawings. Here is where the other great aspect of the book comes in. Wait for it? Is it the romance? Sure, it played a decent role in the plot and was very enjoyable, but what blew my mind? The art.

I don’t confess to know much about art, or have the greatest passion for it. I’m more of a writer, if this doesn’t already surprise you. But the details that went into describing Vicky’s work and seeing her world through an artist’s eye made it all the more breathtaking.

I think there’s a bit of everything all wrapped up in a beautiful novel set in Edwardian London. Don’t make the mistake I did to wait so long to read it. Sharon Biggs Waller writes in a manner that draws you into the time period and into the emotions of our protagonist and those surrounding her.

Overall Recommendation:
A Mad, Wicked Folly is another example of how amazing well-researched historical YA books can be. Vicky Darling is an artist, or at least she hopes to be if she could ever get the chance to learn more. But in Edwardian London, women aren’t allowed the same opportunities. Set in the time period of the women’s rights movement, it gives a wonderful picture of how hard real-life women in the past fought for things we may take advantage of now. Vicky’s journey and self-growth as she learns what it takes, what sacrifices she may need to make, in order to pursue her dream as a young woman in the early 20th century. Add a sweet romance with her model, I’m sure this book has something to draw just about anyone in. Who ever said history couldn’t be fun to read about?

Review: It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

it wasn't always like this -joy prebleIn 1916, Emma O’Neill is frozen in time. After sampling an experimental polio vaccine brewed on a remote island off St. Augustine, Florida, she and her family stop aging—as do the Ryans, her family’s business partners. In a way, this suits Emma fine because she’s in love with Charlie Ryan. Being seventeen forever with him is a dream. But soon a group of religious fanatics, the Church of Light, takes note. Drinking the elixir has made the O’Neills and Ryans impervious to aging, but not to murder—Emma and Charlie are the only ones who escape with their lives.

On the run, Emma is tragically separated from Charlie. For the next hundred years, she plays a cat-and-mouse game with the founding members of the Church of Light and their descendants. Over the years, a series of murders—whose victims all bear more than a passing resemblance to her—indicate that her enemies are closing in. Yet as the danger grows, so does Emma’s hope for finding the boy she’s certain is still out there . . .


1.5 Drink Me Potions


**It Wasn’t Always Like This comes out May 17, 2016**

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

DNF’d at 58%

I honestly thought I would enjoy this book. At first, I thought my discontent was from the writing style. This is my first book from Joy Preble, although I was very intrigued with her previous novel, Finding Paris. I laid that aside and just kept going.

I thought it’d be more romantic. Two protagonists who loved each other. No matter how long their separation was (like, seriously a 100 years?), they’d somehow find their way back to each other and try to get rid of the threat from some lunatic religious organization hell-bent on destroying them, unperturbed by killing other innocents whom they’d mistaken for her.

Unfortunately, it just fell flat. The boy never really makes an appearance in her life for the most of the story that I reached. Just the occasional flashback of what happened in their lives that changed everything (i.e. how they practically became immortal). He wasn’t physically present in her current and modern life. Kinda hard to appreciate that aspect of the story if he was all but just a fond memory.

I told myself to keep on reading. It’ll just get better, ya know? Right? But once I stopped for a break (at 58%), I just couldn’t continue and pick it up again. I was just so tired of the constant fear from some crazed church group who could be hiding in plain sight and re-branded from their original name. So with huge regret, I’m sorry to say that It Wasn’t Always Like This just didn’t end up working for me. I gave it my best shot.

I just hope that at the end of it, they find each other and get their second chance, after everything.

Overall Recommendation:
Well, I couldn’t really finish this book, stopping at 58%. However, it could’ve just been something that personally didn’t click with me. There was suspense from being chased by religious fanatics – who were also killers, by the way. The romance didn’t work for me because, well, they hadn’t seen each other in like 100 years. It’s not that I hated this novel, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finishing it, try as I may. Maybe it’d be a better read for others.