Tag Archive | magic

Review: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer

Series: Spindle Fire #1

spindle-fire-lexa-hillyerIt all started with the burning of the spindles.
No.
It all started with a curse…

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood–and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape . . . or the reason for her to stay.

Spindle Fire is the first book in a lush fantasy duology set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines.


4 Drink Me Potions


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

**Spindle Fire comes out April 11, 2017**

“Light too can be a curse. It can illuminate things no one should ever have to witness.”

Spindle Fire was more than just a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into the book as Sleeping Beauty wasn’t ever one of my favourite fairy tales, but I truly enjoyed the imaginative atmosphere that Lexa Hillyer weaved into this story.

The plot and the girls

Moving between POVs from our two main leads, Aurora and Isabelle, made the story seem faster paced. I don’t know, it may just be me on this, but whenever there are multiple POVs and things just seem to kind of hang at the end of one character’s plotline, I seem to hurriedly go through the next character’s so that I get back to the really intense moment we were left with earlier. So this is how I kind of flew through much of Spindle Fire.

That’s not to say that the story wasn’t mostly well-paced. It was slow at the beginning, mostly because we all know the elements of Sleeping Beauty’s story (ie. Aurora falling asleep) would have to occur at some point, but the beginning was captivating with the backstory laid out.

Isabelle is clearly my favourite of the two. She’s blind, with the excerpt above coming from her wise, WISE views on the world. (You will notice as you read that Hillyer’s prose is very descriptive in a “oh, that’s such a nice way of describing this deep concept”.) She doesn’t let her position in court bring her down. Who says the bastard child can’t be just as awesome (if not better) as the “royal” one?

Her love for her younger sister is astonishing. You would think being the legitimate and the bastard child of a king would set them against each other but there was never animosity between them. Only love. It may be easier for Aurora to love her (or pity her for her station in life), but to be the underprivileged one to likewise feel just as protective for the spoiled one, it’s difficult to imagine.

Then again, Aurora was the cliched smart, beautiful, kind and obedient princess that fairy tales kind of like to have (or at least the traditional Disney ones–NOT your scary Brothers Grimm ones). So yes, Aurora wasn’t as interesting of a character, but she too grew a lot throughout her demise (and oh boy is there a lot going on with her even in sleep) which made me like her a bit more.

Oh, and there’s also the interesting fact that fairies tithed away 2 of 5 senses (you’re running out of senses, poor girl) on permission by her royal parents (such parents!) to make her the cliched princess that she is. She can’t speak, but even more interestingly, she can’t touch. I suppose that means no physical feelings, but I never could figure out if that included emotional ones. Maybe they’re all tied up in one another sometimes.

So what I’ve described so far hasn’t really made you feel too excited, has it? Cliched spoiled princess and the underdog who may show her true colours as a hero. And of course, the Sleeping Beauty story arc, with the needle pricking Aurora and evil witches (can’t have a story without those evil witches, can we?).

And then things CHANGE.

Nothing is exactly as you’d think it would be once Aurora goes to sleep. A mad witch queen who may or may not be evil, a whole kingdom hidden from the real world, and….a narwhal hunting expedition??

If I had to use one word to describe this book that made it stand out, it’d be IMAGINATIVE.

The romance (’cause of course that’s an important point to make)

Each princess seems to have a particular boy she sets her sights on. For Aurora, she meets a hunter named Heath who is very difficult to read. Here’s a princess who dreams of finding true love, and a jaded young man who doesn’t want to hope in anything more than the world they’re trapped in. Oh, and doesn’t believe in love. What kind of match would that be?

Unfortunately, the romance part on this couple doesn’t get too far, in my opinion. A potential love triangle pops up here with another girl who’s pining away for Heath, but I don’t honestly think she poses much of a threat (yet).

Then there’s Prince William and Isbe, who insistently calls her by her full name. William isn’t too cliched. He’s not extraordinarily brave or the kind of man you’d see “riding in on a white steed”. He’s supposed to be the answer to all of Isabelle’s problems: her vulnerable kingdom and the fact that Aurora is stuck in some perpetual sleep.

BUT, I always love a good forbidden love story. Their journey together to get to Aurora was one of the things that most delighted me. Things progressed a bit more with this couple, but unfortunately, I can totally see a love triangle looming in the distance with another guy who secretly feels things for Isbe (and whom she liked before William).

So Andge, would you say that this romance sets it up nicely for book 2?

Well, I dunno. I don’t like love triangles, and it doesn’t seem too serious at the moment (nothing happens between the other potential people) but I guess the only thing to do is to wait for the next book to come out….oh, in approximately A YEAR.

Hillyer’s prose

I have to remark on this before I conclude this review (I know, I’ve gone on for far too long already). You can clearly see the author’s poetry background. Small pieces of poetry actually pops in here and there. There’s a little lullaby both the girls know by heart and a very creepy scene where a crazy girl is talking in rhymes. So who says poetry doesn’t have its place in YA literature?

However, it’s also evident everywhere else you look! If you love metaphors strewn all over the place to demonstrate significant “character moments” and deep thoughts, then this is for you (or it may annoy you…I can see that happening too).

From Aurora learning to decide for herself and just GROW a backbone,

[Aurora] is not just swimming toward safety now but away from her former, meeker self. She can almost hear the wail of the old Aurora, weak and scared, carried downstream, far away.

to Isbe pondering on the concept of true love, one she never accepted as much as her sister did,

[Isbe] always thought romance was a cloudy concept, like the steam over a pot of boiling stew–it smells of hearty ingredients, it warms the senses…but ultimately it dissolves.

to grim thoughts.

“You know, I used to love looking at the stars at night. I used to think they were put there to guide us. Now I know they are just watching and winking, mute observed, bemused by our failures and our loss.”


Out of ALL else, this was what sold me on Spindle Fire. It wasn’t ever too over-the-top. The metaphors are strategically placed throughout, and some are more subtle than others. I do hope you enjoy the book when it comes out. I look forward to reading more from Lexa Hillyer.

Overall Recommendation:
Spindle Fire is an imaginative re-telling of Sleeping Beauty with a whole bunch of wild other stuff thrown in there as well. Lexa Hillyer’s prose is both beautiful and poignant, really describing the turmoils of the inner heart of both her main characters. Like a fairy tale, there is both action (fighting evil witches, of course!) and romance in it, but ultimately, this is a story about the love shared between two sisters. I think this story is worthwhile to check out, if at least just to read prose and descriptions.

Note: All quotes are subject to change when published

Review: Illusion Town by Jayne Castle

Series: Ghost Hunters #13

illusion-town-jayne-castleA new adventure begins on Harmony… 
 
With its opulent casinos and hotels, the desert city of Illusion Town is totally unique—and will take you on a thrill ride you’ll never forget.

Hannah West isn’t the first woman to wake up in Illusion Town married to a man she barely knows, but she has no memory of the ceremony at all. For that matter, neither does Elias Coppersmith, her new husband. All either can remember is that they were on the run…

With Hannah’s dubious background and shaky para-psych profile, she could have done much worse. The cooly competent mining heir arouses her curiosity—as well as other parts of her mind and body. And even her dust bunny likes him.

But a honeymoon spent retracing their footsteps leads Hannah and Elias into the twisting underground catacombs, where secrets from both their pasts will come to light—and where the energy of their clashing auras will grow hot enough to burn…


4 Drink Me Potions


This was my first book by “Jayne Castle”, although I happened to have crossed her other contemporary AND historical books as well, under her names Jayne Ann Krentz and Amanda Quick respectively.

Illusion Town was a little disorienting at first as I quickly had a feeling that this wasn’t a simple standalone book that I had picked up from the library. There seemed to be alluded references to this whole land of Harmony that I did not know about as a completely new reader. And now looking at how vast this whole series is (with the intricate weavings even across Castle’s other genres), I’m quite impressed with the overall world building that’s been crafted here.

First of all (from what I gathered as an amateur reader in this world), this futuristic set of series written under Jayne Castle is on some alien planet colonists from Earth settled ages ago, but through some mishap, were disconnected from Earth quite permanently and the people here had to make do and thrive somehow.

Paranormal activity is like the new norm here, with people genetically passing on these talents and traits like it’s nothing. The kind of tech here also matches the futuristic theme, but also walks hand-in-hand with the paranormal abilities that people have, such as listening to energy with amber crystals.

Then there’s the land itself and how it’s laid out. 8 Zones split up around some epicentre where some unnatural activity caused some of it to be uninhabitable. It was well-written (albeit still a little confusing for a first reader like me), but I got enough of the idea to still be quite engaged with how this society organized itself.

And of course, there’s the creatures. In particular, the dust bunny.

When I first read about Virgil, the resident dust bunny in this story, I was quite astounded to be honest. Who is this thing and why does it have FOUR eyes? Fluffy yet quite ferocious. I loved it! Castle is very imaginative as she laid out even remote childhood fantasies of dust bunnies (such as I had when I was a kid) into a futuristic story where it becomes as simple as asking “why NOT have it featuring dust bunnies as characters?”. I was overall quite impressed with the setting I had randomly landed myself in.

Then there’s the ROMANCE. It wasn’t the centre of the story, though the intriguing plot line where Hannah and Elias found themselves married to each other was fun enough to draw me in. No, their relationship and budding love for each other was icing on top of the excitement (and dangers!) that were brewing all throughout the book.

From exploring the dangerous Rainforest and Underground areas where I gathered were leftover ruins from when Aliens inhabited this planet (surprise! even more intriguing things just THROWN in here) to finding a long-lost treasure and being chased by a gang of pirates on motorbikes. It was like a rollercoaster of heartfelt emotions and running around adrenaline.

For a novel I randomly decided to read on a lazy Saturday, I think it’s opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities.

Overall Recommendation:
Illusion Town was brilliantly crafted in its imaginative setting on some futuristic planet where people had paranormal abilities and real live dust bunnies as companions. Although this is technically part of a long lineup of books in a series, it still stood out well enough as a standalone (as I had read it ’cause I sure as heck didn’t read any of the previous ones yet). There was enough sweet romance but the action in the plot had me excitedly flipping through the pages. It seems this book has almost everything. This is the kind of world that is unique and should be visited at least once. Be sure to read the previous books first (maybe).

Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Series: Clash of Kingdoms #1

ever-the-hunted-erin-summerhillSeventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.

However, it’s not so simple.

The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.


3 Drink Me Potions


Ever the Hunted was a mix of every fantasy archetype that I could think of, which ultimately resulted in a less-than-amazing read for me.

First off, let me just say that I waited for this book to come for almost over a year. So yes, that might have played a huge role in building up my expectations of its awesomeness.

For a debut novel, I applaud Summerill for a fast-paced story that did its best in a promising adventure, a sweet romance and a world full of magic. Britta was the kinda protagonist I liked. Nothing too too special at the start of it all, one of those ordinary girls who was ignored or even shunned by others. Then of course, she finds out there’s something different about her. *gasp* Like that wasn’t something you were expecting…*insert sarcasm*

The world was built of 2 major kingdoms who were at the brink of war. Malam, where Britta lived, had banned and shunned Channelers, women with a magic of the elements that the laypeople here were superstitiously afraid of. So of course, enter the genocide of all Channelers and the closure of the border to the neighbouring magical kingdom of Shaerdania. That’s the tense atmosphere this book is set in. Beyond hearing a couple more tidbits relating to how all this trouble came to be, there’s not a whole lot more out there about this place.

Or even the magic.

Channelers harness energy, whether from land, air, water or fire. Sound familiar? ‘Cause I’m sure you’ve all seen some form of this type of “magic” somewhere if you’re a reader. Well, maybe even if you’re not a reader. And don’t get me wrong. It’s not a successful trope to fill in for the “magical ability” line you want to add to your documented work for nothing as it is a fun ability after all. But where is the originality in that? So I wasn’t the most pleased to know that there wasn’t a whole lot more to their magic than that.

Oh, and the surprise twist? *insert a short pause* Saw that coming a mile away. Probably from yet ANOTHER fantasy novel out there that you’ve come across.

I also normally despise slow-paced novels as it takes FOREVER to get to the known facts that were given to you even in the synopsis. But Ever the Hunted? Nope. Not a problem there. Everything happened so fast, like boom, boom, boom, that my head felt like it was spinning. I barely got used to Britta and the few people with her at the beginning of the story before it suddenly changed scenes again. So connection to the characters? Kinda hard to do when I felt like the interactions there were so quick and temporary.

This leads me to the relationship. This is one of my favourite parts of stories. And Cohen’s misunderstood history with Britta was brimming with bittersweet angst that is, oddly enough, right up my alley.

But like I said. Kinda hard to feel connected with ANYONE when things happen so quickly. I liked that Cohen and Britta are together for a large portion of the novel. It’s not one of those romances where the guy is halfway across the kingdom and you barely get to see the heroine interact with him (although they’re so-called in love with each other and I have to believe it just ’cause it says so right there on the pages). And for the most part, this aspect kept me somewhat satisfied throughout the story. I knew they’d patch through things somehow. But that ending? I smell a nasty potential love triangle popping in…and I’m not sure if I hate it or not.

Which is WEIRD. x10. I abhor love triangles so I should be jumping off my seat and bouncing around the room in frustration that this was thrown in and I’ve got to wait yet ANOTHER year to figure out how this will go.

But…I’m not. Which I guess means I enjoyed Cohen’s relationship with Britta but I didn’t build as great of a connection with the two of them as I thought either.

Anyway, this review’s kinda got off the tracks, but altogether, Ever the Hunted wasn’t what I expected. It tried to be sneaky, and it tried to be clever and fun and overall exciting. I can see that. But I just wish that I felt that too. I know I’m being generous with my rating ’cause I can see its potential, but somehow, it just slipped through my fingers and I’m left clutching thin air.

Overall Recommendation:
Ever the Hunted was a decent debut (if I’m being extra nice about it), but very predictable in its “twists”. From fast story pacing to almost nonexistent secondary character development and world building, this story just tried so hard to fit well with all those other fantasies we’ve got lining our shelves. The romance would’ve been the best part in my opinion but it too somehow felt a bit disconnected to me and I couldn’t form a huge love for Cohen and Britta either. I’d say it might just be me (and my VERY high expectations), so please give this book a shot as the potential for greatness is there but just may need to be honed a bit more.

Review: The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Series: The Remnant Chronicles #2

the-heart-of-betrayal-mary-e-pearsonHeld captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages.

Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Rating: 3.5 stars

The Heart of Betrayal picks up directly where its predecessor left off, with our brave protagonist stuck in Venda, a kingdom rumoured for its barbaric ways and people.

I thought this book continued strong with Lia as our main character. She demonstrated great restraint in her plans and beautifully crafted lies that would hopefully lead to her eventual escape. She grew to love some of the Vendans, seeing beyond the stereotype she was always taught back in her own kingdom. Lia became the hope for these people that not even the evil ruler, the Komizar, could instill in them.

I was, however, less impressed by the world building. I was a little excited (and intimidated) to see what the notorious kingdom of Venda would be like now that all our main characters are up and personal in this land. It was a little bit of a letdown, to be honest.

The Song of Venda – in short cut-down passages – was seen as glimpses between certain chapters back in The Kiss of Deception. Its mysterious story and how it related to Lia and company in the present day was intriguing, but seeing how some of this unravelled and became more clear didn’t excite me. It was one of the only things that made this world that they lived in different from any other vague fantasy world in the YA genre, although the plot trope of a mostly-devastated kingdom from a time of old when the gods walked the earth has also been seen several times in the last few years (one example would be Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns).

Everything in this book had a familiar feeling to it, like you’ve seen it before. Nothing stood out too greatly, and that’s why I can’t rate this any higher.

However, I did enjoy the romance a bit more and the plot moved faster as Lia and Rafe hatched an escape plan together. The romance can’t really be called a love triangle as it seems Lia explicitly declares she has feelings for Rafe (in the romantic sense) while only “caring” for Kaden. I felt sorry for him a little as we got to learn more about his backstory, this being his home land and all.

The suspense was heavier too as the Komizar played a dangerous game with Lia in a subtle fight for the stronger will and more clever wit. I enjoyed it, while also being immensely relieved that this wasn’t one of those stories where the girl gets taken advantage of (and has to deal with it) because she’s powerless from different things held over her head.

While The Heart of Betrayal wasn’t the best fantasy story I’ve read in the last while, it still has its merits and altogether, I still enjoyed it.

Overall Recommendation:
With an even feistier and stronger Lia than before, The Heart of Betrayal continues her adventures. While a fairly fast read and less emphasis on the darn love triangle (SO grateful), the world building left me less than impressed as we dive more into the stories of Venda and our favourite assassin, Kaden. It balanced out the bits of sweet romance with Rafe and the suspense as they fought for their escape against the tyranny of the Komizar, but there just wasn’t enough here to make me remember this world as altogether special from other fantasy worlds. Overall, a good sequel but may not be the best.

Review: The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

Series: The Remnant Chronicles #1

the-kiss-of-deception-mary-e-pearsonA princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


It took me a while to finish The Kiss of Deception. I’m not wholly sure why, but I had to pause for a time and set it aside before I could come back to it.

It may have something to do with the fact that this book is surrounded at its centre on a freaking love triangle .

But I did enjoy many aspects of the novel.

For one, Lia is a superb protagonist. She’s no spoiled little princess, the type of girl that assassin Kaden would easily hate. No, she’s willing to get down and do some work in the new place she settled in after fleeing her home. She’s willing to do what she must to spare another’s innocence. She’s willing to lie to protect those whom she loves.

I admire her ability to adapt to harsh conditions and to never back down against those who wish to crush her spirit. She had the patience to time her responses, even when it’s hard to bite back insults that would feel momentarily good. I totally understand and I am with her in those POVs. I wish I had a Lia in my life like that.

But, there are those parts that weren’t so great. Those parts split between Kaden and Rafe. I will get back to this.

I liked the world building. For most of this book, we get to explore the great kingdom of Morrighan, plus a few uncharted areas between kingdoms as Lia travelled. The backstory to how the world was devastated once and the Remnant that survived were charged to remember is still a little unclear to me and I’m not sure if it’s just me but I hope it’ll clear up with more things that Lia learns in the next book.

And lastly, there was plenty of excitement and things going on with Lia and crew that helped me through 3/4 of the book quite quickly. The pacing got a little slow around the 75% mark and I think this was one factor that made it hard for me to finish it completely.

But mostly, it was the love triangle. I always seem to side with one guy and it’s annoying when the girl just can’t seem to figure out who she likes more. Like, come on. Toying with two different guys isn’t fun. I can’t stand it.

Here, Lia isn’t so bad. Necessarily. It seems she prefers one guy more over the other (and come on, one’s an assassin – albeit a cool factor, but he wants to kill her, kinda – so why not choose the prince, hmm?) but sometimes these things throw me off when the author suddenly does a 180 and chooses the other guy. I’d hate to see Pearson do that to me, but I suppose I shall see.

It took me some time to get over how little time there was with Rafe, and that’s why I stopped. But here I am, all finished. Overall, it’s still a good story. The romance was just a little rushed and there’s the thing with a triangle, but hey, it works for some people.

Overall Recommendation:
The Kiss of Deception was a fun book to start off a new series, albeit a little confusing with the world building. With a strong protagonist such as Lia who represents women who are cunning and flexible without having to be a skilled warrior, who could ask for a better story? Only having to hurtle through the obstacle of a love triangle taking up a large picture of the novel, this book probably would fare well with most people if you enjoy love triangles on top of your fantasy cravings.

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: Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Series: Hunted #1

hunted-meagan-spoonerBeauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?


3 Drink Me Potions


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

**Hunted comes out March 14, 2017**

A Beauty that could hunt and take care of herself? That sounds a lot more interesting than Disney’s version.

And honestly? It was. In a way.

Yeva and her 2 sisters found themselves in a dire situation when their father’s business venture failed and they were left in ruin. Always at heart in the forest where her father taught her everything he knew about the hunt, Yeva was half-delighted to be returning to their only home left near the heart of the forest.

Of course, there’s a Beast loose out in the depths of this forest.

I thought it was an interesting premise, but the execution of the story was different from what I expected. It’s not to say it was bad, but it was just…different. I’ve never been a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast. I find it hard to fall in love with such a beastly figure that kept you prisoner. Meagan Spooner did her best to make sure this romance was more believable.

The story takes a while to unfold to where you know it’s heading: when Beauty meets the Beast and becomes his prisoner. I was rather impatient during the beginning 1/4 as these details just didn’t capture my heart as much.

And once we were introduced to the Beast properly (besides the little bits at the end of each chapter that were designated from the Beast’s POV), things did get more exciting. Combining elements from apparently a Russian folklore, this was a very unique twist on the fairy tale.

However, at the end of the day, it just….lacked something. The romance wasn’t as deep and loving as I expected for a fairy tale. There weren’t enough moments between Beauty and the Beast that let me understand how she went from hatred to sympathy to such love.

And that ending? It was so rushed. I was so confused at how things wrapped up, although it does end nicely (as all fairy tales should). I wished the book was a little longer if that’s what it took to let the last 10% flesh out better. It just wasn’t executed in the best way, in my opinion.

For a Beauty and the Beast story, it did its best and it was a good retelling that stood out amongst all the others.

Overall Recommendation:
Hunted was a unique spin on the classic Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, with a bit of Russian folklore. Yeva wasn’t just some damsel in distress, and the way Beauty and Beast balanced each other out without one being always the dominant one was interesting. However, the execution of the story, especially the ending, left a less than satisfactory feeling as it concluded too fast and the romance just couldn’t make me sigh with happiness like fairy tales do.

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.