Tag Archive | life drama

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: By Your Side by Kasie West

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

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

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

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


4.5 Drink Me Potions


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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

Autumn is that girl for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

diplomatic-immunity-brodi-ashtonRaucous parties, privileged attitudes, underage drinking, and diplomatic immunity…it’s all part of student life on Embassy Row.

Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists—the Bennington scholarship—and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country.

Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program—and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington.

The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador—and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble—and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous—and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love?


3 Drink Me Potions


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

**Diplomatic Immunity comes out September 6, 2016**

I will admit, reading this book about wannabe journalists had my blood boiling at times. It might just be some odd bias, or it could have just been Piper’s callousness, but her desire to get whatever she wanted over what may happen as a result of her story just made me wanna poke her at times.

Let me start from the beginning.

Piper comes from a family that’s facing money problems so her only way of getting into college was obviously by way of a scholarship. Having won the chance to study at a prestigious school that happens to cater to a bunch of diplomatic families’ kids gave her the brilliant idea that her featured story would be some expose on the antics they throw without having to face the consequences. ‘Cause they’re rich. And ’cause they’re DI kids.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought the plot summary sounded fun because this is basically what was written there. But having to read through Piper’s thoughts as she kept persuading herself that she could do this, write something objectively on people she encountered day after day without feeling like this could all go so wrong, I couldn’t handle it.

And the subject of her attentions? Rafe was indeed something. He played up the antics, looking for danger and not seemingly too worried about the consequences of such actions. I didn’t particularly like him all that much in the beginning either. He was the clichéd bad boy who had a deeper sensitive side that would slowly open up to our protagonist.

Of course, that’s what happened. Okay, I sound kinda snippy and I guess I am a bit, but the last 30% of this book made up for the rating. There were very romantic moments set up by Rafe that made me wish I had a Rafael of my own. That’s why it bugged me that Piper could go and continually deceive him even though he could be rather sweet and vulnerable towards her.

Diplomatic Immunity follows a rather predictable storyline, a storyline that I normally would really enjoy, but at the end of the day, its execution could’ve been better. And maybe Piper could’ve been a tad less annoying.

Overall Recommendation:
Your typical girl meets boy kinda story, Diplomatic Immunity just adds a bit of extra flavour because it involves the kids on Embassy Row. Piper Baird was a little too aggressive in her means to attain her goals which made the story harder to swallow when you’re annoyed with the protagonist. It eventually gets a bit better as she finally grows a conscience – I mean, realizes her mistake – and that’s where the entertaining bit of the book comes in. Overall, it’s like any chick lit kinda novel, being mildly entertaining without sticking out a whole lot in its genre.

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: Shooter by Caroline Pignat

shooter -caroline pignatThe Breakfast Club meets We Need to Talk About Kevin

A lockdown catches five grade 12 students by surprise and throws them together in the only unlocked room on that empty third floor wing: the boys’ washroom. They sit in silence, judging each other by what they see, by the stories they’ve heard over the years. Stuck here with them–could anything be worse?

There’s Alice: an introverted writer, trapped in the role of big sister to her older autistic brother, Noah.

Isabelle: the popular, high-achieving, student council president, whose greatest performance is her everyday life.

Hogan: an ex-football player with a troubled past and a hopeless future.

Xander
: that socially awkward guy hiding behind the camera, whose candid pictures of school life, especially those of Isabelle, have brought him more trouble than answers.

Told in five unique voices through prose, poetry, text messages, journals, and homework assignments, each student reveals pieces of their true story as they wait for the drill to end. But this modern-day Breakfast Club takes a twist when Isabelle gets a text that changes everything: NOT A DRILL!! Shooter in the school!
Suddenly, the bathroom doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Especially when they learn that one of them knows more about the shooter than they realized…


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Shooter unites four (potentially 5) very unique narrative voices in a story that touches on loss, academic pressures and familial responsibilities. Initially, I thought this was going to be a scary, suspenseful mystery on the school shooter, and yes, it totally is that. But it was also so much more.

I at first came in thinking it would be a similar kinda read like Are You Still There which I read last year. In some ways, it definitely had that kinda vibe. However, there are so many more protagonists in Shooter and their own unique back stories that I’m not sure it’s fair to really compare the two to each other.

Each voice was very distinctive and true to that character. They weren’t simply cliched personalities I’ve read many times over in many other books. Alice can’t be simply narrowed down to “that book-ish Nerd Girl who can’t handle herself in the real world outside of her books”. Likewise, Hogan isn’t just the “jock with no brain and a tragic past to overcome”. Or Isabelle as the “popular It-Girl who cares about herself only” (although it sure seemed like she fit this portrayal very accurately at first).

Trapped in the men’s washroom while on lockdown, these 5 characters got to know each other a little better, maybe in a way that no one ever took the time to know them in this way before, all because of a shooter let loose in school building. So for the first half of the story, it wasn’t so much focused on the mysterious person shooting up the school. It was on these people who really didn’t “know” each other at all, even after so many years of school together. It was learning about what made them tick, what uncertainties they were facing at the end of high school, and just how much they had in common with each other no matter how different they were on the outside.

Alice was probably my favourite voice. This may be due to the fact that I associate myself most with her. I’m not as introverted, but she was also not just a simple cliche. She may love her book facts (that no one else cared about) and could care less about social media or school spirit but she had courage when it came to protecting her autistic brother Noah.

The way the other characters saw each other made them seem more real, like we as readers get the full glimpse of who they were because we can see the subjective (and biased view) they have of themselves and also the objective one from the others as they’re practically strangers at the beginning of the story.

Xander, strangely enough, was also another POV I enjoyed immensely. The way he saw the world was very straightforward. He didn’t understand social cues very well. He just saw the world through his lens and tried to capture not the good and “positive” aspects of life, but also the negatives which make life all the more real. He captured the honest moments we have that sometimes are easier to deny than to deal with. The way the author described his photographed pictures of each of the characters trapped in the washroom with him truly captivated me, probably making it my favourite part of the whole story.

Through learning to understanding each other, these 5 protagonists captured my heart. I gobbled the story in one sitting. It was deep in certain ways. They all had something they were dealing with, something pressing on their hearts. Their lives weren’t perfect, weren’t simple. I couldn’t believe the supposed time span of the whole novel was only an hour. There was so much grit, so much heartfelt conversations that took place in that time period. They laid down their masks to show each other what was truly on the inside so that maybe, just maybe, true healing could take place.

And then the next half of the book came learning about who was attacking their school. It wasn’t as much of a mystery as I thought it would be. The name of the perp was literally given right in the middle, but it was learning who the person was and why they were doing this that made the story more exciting. Locked away in one of these characters’ minds and back stories was the key to figuring out how this day was going to end.

Continuing with the honest voices of each of these characters, Pignat made this novel more than just another bullying story that ended in violence. It was a story that really made these teenagers real and showed the brutal honesty of what high school life can be like. I am so glad that there is such a great Canadian author like her, and I can’t wait to see what else she may write in the future.

Overall Recommendation:
Told in 5 very unique and distinctive voices, Pignat made Shooter both a suspenseful story about a shooter let loose in a high school but also one that explored the lives of teenagers that were very different on the outside yet had so much in common once they learned more about each other. I enjoyed the different POVs, but most of all, I loved the way I got to see how such unique people lived with their day-to-day problems. It felt very real, like I could find an Alice or a Xander in my own life. At the end of the day, this novel brought out the honest moments of life as a teenager in high school, something I can still remember pretty clearly. This is one story I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

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: The Collector by Nora Roberts

the collector -nora robertsFrom #1 New York Times-bestselling author Nora Roberts comes a novel of a woman who needs nothing, a man who sees everything, and the web of deceit, greed, and danger that brings them together—and could tear them apart . . .

When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one. . . .

Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession. . . .


2 Drink Me Potions


Nora Robert’s The Collector was probably the worst mystery I’ve read from her so far. I might even be inclined to call it the worst book of hers that I’ve read as well.

I’m not sure why, but before I began this novel, I had this weird assumption that this would be another creepy serial killer kind of mystery. A Collector that collects people, by which I mean kills them because, of course, these killers have no empathy for people. However, even when I figured it wasn’t a serial crime, what this book really was about was so far below expectations.

First, writing itself was bland and boring.

Roberts describes the locations and settings in fine detail sometimes. That’s okay. It really sets the mood and pulls the reader into the story with the characters. This time? I just couldn’t stand the tedious effort of it all. I found myself skimming all the long paragraphs about what Ash was painting or Lila was writing. Sure, it was enjoyable to see what these characters so passionately loved to do, but was the ridiculous amount of detail really necessary to further the MAIN plot?

As for the main mystery, there was absolutely NO suspense at all.

The culprit that initially killed Ash’s brother was just given to us, name and all. We don’t even have to guess or wait anxiously for the who-dunnit. It’s literally right there on the pages for you and I to read . I was incredibly annoyed with this.

So then I had hoped there would be more of a mystery when confronting the hired assassin’s boss. Well, that turned out to be a bust too. No drama or flair when Ash and Lila figure out who was behind it all, or why. It made everything so boring.

Then there’s also the fact that the characters weren’t all that easy to like or connect with. Lila lives a life as a house-sitter (which sounds kinda fun, if you ask me). She moves about and doesn’t set any roots down. A gypsy, as even Ash saw her as. But this definitely made her one of those prickly, “I can’t commit” kinda gals, which obviously led to romantic frustrations for Ash. It was all so tiring to see her go through her list of reasons for why she couldn’t go faster with the progression of their relationship, or to read her waiting for some kind of disaster to occur.

Ash was an okay male love interest, but he was nothing special. He deeply cared for his extremely large family, and he’s the one responsible for taking care of whatever problems befell them all. I liked that about him, but beyond a mild admiration, Roberts didn’t instill any great love for him. He was just another normal guy who fell into a bad situation.

Without the emotional attachment to them, I struggled several times to get through the extremely long length of this book. And I do mean, this book was extremely long. I swear half the book was filler material that didn’t really add much to the overall story.

The only thing I really enjoyed reading was the very beginning, with Lila looking through her binoculars and imagining the lives the people in those apartments were living. That’s what drew me into writing in the first place. The joy of picturing the endless possibilities of what was going on with other people. I didn’t mind those heavily described passages in this case.

With a huge, huge sigh, I’ve gotta say, The Collector was a huge disappointment to me. I hope more of Robert’s newer mysteries don’t all suck like this. I wish for stories similar to her older ones, like Sacred Sins.

Overall Recommendation:
The Collector doesn’t live up to some of Robert’s older and better mysteries, with absolutely no suspense and a plot that deviates into unnecessary details that just don’t overall matter. Lila, the protagonist, was hard to enjoy as she had commitment issues. The length of the book felt overdrawn with minute details on Lila’s work as an author and artwork that wasn’t essential to the mystery. If Roberts had spent more time on the main crime and mystery, without giving us the name of the killer like it was nothing, maybe there would’ve been hope for it. At this point, I’m surprised I even finished the book. The Collector lacked the chilling crimes and mysterious culprit that I had come to enjoy from Roberts. That in itself is a disappointment.

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: Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts

blue smoke -nora robertsReena Hale grew up with an intimate knowledge of the destructive power of fire. When she was a child, her family’s restaurant was burned to the ground, and the man responsible was sent to jail. The Hale family banded together to rebuild, and Reena found her life’s calling.She trained as a firefighter and then as a cop, always with the end goal in sight: to become an arson investigator.

Now, as part of the arson unit, she is called in on a series of suspicious fires that seem to be connected-not just to each other, but to her. And as danger ignites all around her, Reena must rely on experience and instinct to catch a dangerous madman who will not stop until everything she loves has gone up in smoke.


1 Drink Me Potion


DNF’d at ~25%

I was itching for a good mystery with a sprinkling of romance, and I thought, Hey I really adored some of Nora Robert’s mysteries before. Let’s give another one a try. Unfortunately, Blue Smoke may have sounded interesting in the synopsis but it’s really such a bore to get through.

The synopsis states in a concise manner how our protagonist Reena first encountered a fire and thus, set her on the path in becoming an arson investigator. But oh no! The prologue in this novel isn’t like, one chapter long like you may think. It stays in the good ol’ past for several chapters when Reena was 11. And then, when there’s finally a flash forward (thank heavens!), it only moves 7 years to when she’s 18 and in college and experimenting with things.

The pacing is way too slow in my opinion. Yes, the mystery and the fires revolving around her start in her past but I swear Roberts could have written it in a more concise manner. Descriptions of everything , from the food laid out (’cause they’re Italian so there’s gotta be a lot of food) to wedding decorations and planning, it just gets overwhelming. Not to mention, the names of different people coming in and out of the story in just the first several chapters.

Honestly, I think this plot had a lot going for it, but I just can’t make myself go through 20 more years of Reena’s life in this slow cadence of things. I hate giving up on books, but this one really deserves my DNF shelf.

And by the way, I could already tell who the culprit of all these mysterious fires was even from where I stopped.

Overall Recommendation:
With plenty of intrigue that has become one of Nora Roberts’ signatures, Blue Smoke seemed to have a lot of potential. However, with the slow progression in plot, moving in increments by the years through Reena’s life since she was a child, I just couldn’t make myself follow along with the intensity I wanted. It just became so boring, especially with the ridiculously in-depth descriptions of the tiniest details. I’m a little disappointed as I’ve loved some of her mysteries in the past, but if you’re okay with a slow pace and detailed paragraphs, then this might be an okay book for you. As for me? Hasta la vista.