Tag Archive | paranormal

Review: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Series: Lady Helen #2

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

4.5 Drink Me Potions


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

Oh, what an adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That non-existent love triangle though

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

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

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

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

So no middle book syndrome?

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

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

Review: 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: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire by Rosamund Hodge

Series: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire #1

bright-smoke-cold-fire-rosamund-hodgeWhen the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched.

The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .


2.5 Drink Me Potions


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

**Bright Smoke, Cold Fire comes out September 27, 2016**

Rating: 2.5 stars

Being familiar with Rosamund Hodge’s kinda work and unique plot twists to works that we’re used to, I came in with 2 expectations.

1) This novel would be all dark and twisted up as is her usual style and 2) the themed storyline would be Romeo & Juliet. Well, one of those expectations was met.

Was this really a Romeo & Juliet based story?

For a story that sounded like it was based on a star crossed romance that was absolutely forbidden between 2 clan members in a dying wasteland, oddly enough, Romeo and Juliet weren’t the main characters. Oh no. Their clan relatives were. Paris and Runajo.

Paris was definitely my fav of the 2. He’s the character with the loyal heart and a sense of honour in a city where it seems that kinda trait is running out. He didn’t expect much in life, yet when he landed the responsibility to protect the Juliet, he goes all in. Even after it goes awry and it’s now Romeo he needs to protect, he still doesn’t let him down no matter that they’re rival clans that don’t particularly like or understand each other.

Runajo on the other hand was hard for me to empathize with. A more complex character, her moral compass is a little skewed if you ask me. She’ll do whatever it is that seems right in her eyes but may be seen as wrong in the eyes of her clan or society. Basically, she’s pretty self-centred and being in her head sometimes sucks ’cause she has some really dark thoughts bouncing around in there. On the up side, she’s definitely bold and unafraid of outside opinions.

Now the characterization wasn’t all bad. That’s not why my rating isn’t as high as it could be. It’s the plot.

Why was everything so confusing?

Well, to hand it to Hodge, it was really complex. The world building I mean. There are the undead called revenants popping up, killing the live people, all caused by illegal necromancy occurring in the city by an unknown entity. This is amidst the chaotic information dump that is the ritual of making someone known as the Juliet in the Catresou clan (not including the whole why and religion of this clan for doing so). Not to mention, there’s some other factor known as the Sisterhood with a High Priestess who practices blood sacrifices to appease the gods and keep the city running albeit for only a short while longer.

That’s a whole lot of information that unfortunately doesn’t get dumped onto us in a way that made the reading easy. Jumping back and forth between what the boys are doing and what the girls are doing made it harder to keep track of what was going on in each other’s lives if you don’t read continuously in one sitting.

Oh, and how could I forget about the romance?? Well, that’s ’cause there really wasn’t much of any. Considering Romeo and Juliet weren’t physically together for like, almost the whole book, and Runajo was in the Sisterhood for goodness sakes, that just leaves Paris for romantic entertainment and I think I liked him as he was without being attached to some girl. So if you come romping over here for a nice (albeit dark) romance, you might wanna rethink that plan.

Overall I did enjoy the complexity and creativity put into it. Hodge easily makes a world that’s darkly intriguing, but the pacing was a little slow going. Fortunately, this gives us plenty of time to get to know our 2 – I mean, 4 – protagonists. The growth they each undergo through the events that eventually tie both their storylines together was nice to see, in particular for Runajo who was the hardest character for me to love. There’s plenty of questions left and with a cliffhanger ending like that, I wanna see what happens next to these characters.

Overall Recommendation:
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire was just as dark and complex as I had originally anticipated, especially if you’ve read some of Hodge’s other works. Although this dying world and the intricacies of each clan that’s survived so far was unique, the background history and terminology can get kind of confusing and altogether be too much at times. With a slower pacing than I’m used to in a high fantasy and a whole lot less romance than I would have thought for a Romeo & Juliet story, this novel was more of a mediocre start.

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Series: Starbound #1

these broken stars -amie kaufman & meagan spoonerIt’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


When author reviews called this book full of “dynamic characters”, they literally mean just the protagonists. ‘Cause honestly? This almost-400-page book only follows Tarver and Lilac in their journey of survival on some strange planet.

These Broken Stars wasn’t quite like what I expected. Of course, it’s hard not to have higher expectations when this book has been raved about by many reviewers. I reckoned there’d be more fighting or action type scenes. I was strangely wrong, but I think I enjoyed it regardless of the lack of action (or interaction beyond our two characters).

The novel drops Tarver and Lilac into the situation we are anticipating for – that being their impending crash landing onto a foreign planet as the sole survivors – quite quickly, and the little bits before the accident actually occurs helped to get a taste of what the dynamics in their relationship would be like upon realizing they’re the last 2 people alive and stranded in this world (literally, not just some expression you say).

The events on the planet are fairly straightforward and not that unpredictable. Or at least, the travelling aspect of their journey. Find ship. Find hopefully help, or at least equipment that could send for help.

But anything else beyond that? It was mind-blowingly surprising. I hadn’t read the synopsis very thoroughly when I picked up this book so the introduction to what Lilac fondly called the “whispers” were extremely astonishing. I was like, there’s paranormal activity on this planet too??? It transformed this place from Unknown Territory to Downright Eerie Let’s-get-outta-here-quick. This mystery was an essential part of the plot that kept me going.

Okay, so the dynamics between Tarver and Lilac? Not so good there in the beginning. And frankly, I’m with Tarver on that. Lilac was a total stuck-up know-it-all. Or at least, she tried to give that vibe since she didn’t want to look “weak” in front of a mere soldier, who for all she knew, would tell the tabloids and press about her moments of weakness later. From reading her POVs, I knew she didn’t suck quite as much, but it didn’t make me like her much more. She was making life so much harder than it had to be. I may be a girl and I kinda get her standpoint, but sorry, Tarver most definitely gets my sympathies there. The fact that he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her behind, all helpless and possibly eaten by some scary, unknown creature, shows that he’s so much better of a character than I am.

So yes, their relationship wasn’t all that much fun to follow at first. They tolerated each other, at most. Star-crossed lovers? Yeah. Haven’t quite gotten to that stage yet. And what blew me away? Their love for each other kinda snuck up on me when it did eventually reach that point. Sure, being stranded as the only 2 people alive could spring up feelings, but I knew theirs wasn’t quite so simple. They contemplated even staying on this godforsaken place if it meant they didn’t have to face “reality” back in their own worlds, the lives they left behind across the universe. I just couldn’t pinpoint how, or the moment when, they finally realized what they felt for each other was love. I knew they would, but that’s not the same as feeling it with them when you’re caught up in their passion, in their story.

Ah well. Besides that minor contention, I enjoyed both their POVs quite a lot in the later half of the book. Their relationship was one that I think more YA novels should be like. They were equals, each giving their strengths into the relationship to support the other, while not hesitating to point the other’s weakness or flaws that need to be worked on.

I want to say more about the ending but that would only lead to accidentally giving away something, even the smallest thing, that would make it any less than what it was. What I can say is that it was heart-poundingly intense and haunting. The haunting part may have been enhanced by the fact that I was listening to a particular song at the time that gave me the chills, but I’m sure the novel had a huge hand in it too. Of course, you may already have guessed it, but it does have something to do with the mystery of the “whispers” I mentioned earlier. It was not quite what I expected, and a certain twist that I definitely did not foresee left me turning the pages faster and faster.

These Broken Stars may really have no supporting characters at all, but Lilac and Tarver’s personal growth as they challenged each other on this journey for survival was more than enough. This was a sci-fi novel with a beautifully crafted world (or should I say universe?) building and plenty of intrigue that most definitely wasn’t all answered yet. Gotta leave some things for the sequels, right?

But oh, how I was disappointed that my main question wasn’t answered by the end. Like honestly. What the heck brought down the Icarus onto this strange planet?

Overall Recommendation:
With an explosive ending I did not see coming, These Broken Stars mostly met those high expectations that awaited it in my mind. Tarver and Lilac were characters you may have felt you knew from other books, but the way they grew during their awful predicament and with each other was wholly original. They were more than enough to carry this story with their interpersonal dynamics and blooming love. However, what cemented this for me was the mystery at the very heart of the novel. The haunting quality of what awaits you there left me breathless many times throughout. This is a novel that’s equal parts well-crafted sci-fi and warm romance. I can see why so many love this.

Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Series: Monsters of Verity #1

this savage song -victoria schwabThere’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters.

In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.


5 Drink Me Potions


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

**This Savage Song came out June 7, 2016**

Monsters, Monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.


This Savage Song held high reviews from other early readers but the hype is really worth it. This novel was astounding. And I don’t say that lightly about most books.

Set in a world ravaged by crime and separated into little territories after decades of fights, this violent world has brought to life an evil that now breathes and destroys whatever is in its path. Monsters. Made of shadows and past crimes committed by humans, they’ve taken a form of their own. Or 3 forms, in fact. Corsai, Malchai and Sunai.

At first, the world and how it functioned was a little confusing, especially about the monsters and how they were created. But Schwab’s writing draws you in, wrapping you in this world that’s terrorized by creatures literally made of shadows and sins. Once you get past initial confusion, the details slowly fall into place and this world will amaze you at its simplicity – it’s like you know it so well by the end of it that you feel you lived there with them – and its imaginative detailing. Verity, or V-City, is one scary place to be in. And it’s been divided into 2.

Kate is the daughter of the man controlling the northern part of the city. I initially despised her. She’s human, yet she acts like a monster. She intentionally is cruel to others, willing to do whatever it took to please her very distant father and be worthy of their name. But over time with the horrid events thrown into her path in this book, she learns that there’s always a choice to be made, and maybe, just maybe, being her father’s daughter isn’t the most important thing to be in her life.

August works for the man who’s in charge of the southern half of the city, along with his brother and sister. They consider themselves one family, no matter if they’re not blood related. Because August is a monster. At first, I wasn’t even certain that he truly was. He’s gentle and hates what he is. It’s one huge part of his half of the story. Abhorring who he was, the very fabric of what keeps him alive, but he can only act human to a certain extent. His inner struggles were some of my favourite parts of This Savage Song. They were detailed and tug on your heartstrings for this poor boy who wished to be other than what he was.

 

It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he felt human only after doing something monstrous. Which made him wonder if that brief glimpse of humanity was really just an illusion, an echo of the life he’d taken. An imposter sensation.
Leo’s voice came to him, simple and steady. This is what you do. What you are.
Ilsa’s rose to meet it. Find the good in it.


I loved how much he developed as a character. Sometimes the decisions he made were necessary ones, and this story was so good at being unbiased about the white and the black, the light and the dark. Sometimes, there are just gray areas. Sometimes, you are just made of both light and darkness.

This Savage Song also didn’t have a huge array of characters. In fact, although there are a number of minor characters and a few more important supporting figures, this book really does only centre on Kate and August. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Their relationship was initially brought about intrigue. Like the two of them could understand each other, no matter how different they were. Maybe it’s because they both understood what the world truly was like that they lived in. They weren’t pretending that everything was okay, that monsters didn’t just walk among them. But they also weren’t just cowering in fear until the day they died. They both wanted to live. No matter what living really meant in a world like theirs.

 

Whatever he as made of – stardust or ash or life or death – would be gone.
Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
In with gunfire and out with smoke.
And August wasn’t ready to die.
Even if surviving wasn’t simple, or easy, or fair.
Even if he could never be human.
He wanted the chance to matter.
He wanted to LIVE.


With prose like this and more, it’s easy to see why I absolutely adored Schwab’s writing. The descriptions aren’t long and tedious, but it gets you thinking and exploring what’s on the minds of both Kate and August. It’s not all clouds and rainbows, if any. They understand the harshness of life.

As their relationship progressed, you may think “hey, maybe a beautiful forbidden romance would bloom between them”. Well, guess again.

Their relationship maintains platonic throughout and although I’m normally a huge lover of a cute romance between protagonists, this just felt right. A romance didn’t fit in with everything else that was going on here. It would’ve taken away from the development of their individual characters with the problems they were dealing with. They needed to do it on their own without being clouded by the other’s opinions if they were thinking of each other in that way. Maybe in the sequel it might take a different stance, but here, this was perfect. A friendship that depended on one another, a trust that was built on danger but tested and solidified through the fire. I adored them both equally, but I also loved them together the way they were.

 

….a single shadow screamed and toppled forward from the mass, white eyes winking out, teeth raining down on the damp floor like loose stones.
“Any time now,” snapped Kate as the Corsai rattled and hissed.
“Can’t rush art,” said August as he rested the bow on the strings.

At moments, their interactions and banter were even a little comical (in the dry sense, of course) to take off some of the tension building.

 

“Listen to me,” he said, pulling off his coat. “You need to stay awake.”
She almost laughed, a shallow chuckle cut short by pain.
He tore the lining from the jacket. “What’s so funny?”
“You’re a really shitty monster, August Flynn.”


At the end of the day, This Savage Song explored what it meant to accept what you are but to also understand that you decide what you do with that. Your decisions are what warrant you a monster, whether you were born human or a monster. Victoria Schwab goes through this all by immersing you into the heart and minds of August and Kate, two people who became so real to me that I was sad to see their story ending for the moment. Until the sequel, then.

I shall end off this long review with another beautiful moment between Kate and August. Maybe you can start to see how I fell so in love with them both. Their ability to continue on even when it’s just so much easier to give up all hope.

 

The sky was on fire. He wondered if Ilsa had ever seen stars, which were so strange and perfect. One streaked across the sky, trailing light.
“I read somewhere,” said Kate, “that people are made of stardust.”
He dragged his eyes from the sky. “Really?”
“Maybe that’s what you’re made of. Just like us.”
And despite everything, August smiled.


Overall Recommendation:
There is so much that I can say about Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song but I’ll simply just say this. It’s a beautiful story depicting two teenagers who learn that there’s more to light and darkness than just what you’re born as or whose family you belong to. Finding hope in a violently torn apart world like theirs, Kate and August both grow in ways that make you hold your breath and silently root for them as they navigate decisions that are hard to make. I absolutely adored them both, and the mental journey they each took to the place they’ve reached at the end of the book. This goes to show that the YA genre doesn’t require a romance as a driving force for a good story. Their platonic friendship was beautiful in its own way and I cannot wait to see what else comes their way in the sequel. With plenty of action, imaginative creatures made of darkness and a world that sucks you in along with two very strong protagonists leading the way, this is one book you most definitely have to read.

*Note: All quotes taken from the ARC are subject to change

Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

Series: Blythewood #1

blythewood -carol goodmanWelcome to Blythewood.

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

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

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


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

heir to the sky -amanda sunAs heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family, by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman, and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.


3 Drink Me Potions


Where shall I even start?

I guess I had high expectations for Heir to the Sky. A whole community or continent flying in the sky? A gruesome and dangerous earth below? And a strange romance that’s built from the ashes of Kali’s demise?

However, none of what I had expected to love was executed as well as I would have liked.

First, the characters.
We get introduced to Kali and her best friend Elisha right from the beginning. I had so many problems with them both. Kali acts like a spoiled little princess who gets everything yet doesn’t want to shoulder the burden of responsibility for being the leader (or Eternal Flame) to her people . Instead, she likes to run off to hide in the stacks of dusty tomes in the library or to the outcrop, which is LITERALLY the edge of her floating continent. To do what? To hide. To dream of the mysterious land she can see below at her feet.

As for Elisha, I just can’t take her seriously. She giggles like HALF the time. Even when Kali came to her about something strange she overhears, what does Elisha do? She freaking giggles. And then goes to party in the festivities. Are they all really that naive? Don’t listen to their gut about something strange going on?

Anyway, back to our DEAR, dear princess. She’s also very arrogant.

I remember the feel of the grass as it slipped from beneath my fingers. All those times I spent on the edge of my outcrop, never imagining I could fall.
I almost can’t believe it.


To this point when I was reading it, I almost said, Well, that’s what you get for being such a smart-aleck. Maybe you deserve this. I almost said that. But she was just so annoying with that attitude of hers! Her recklessness, especially when she knew people were counting on her as the heir of Ashra.

She’s also pretty dumb or ignorant in thinking that because she’s the heir, people will automatically listen to her reasoning.

“I promise I won’t tell anyone you’re down here.” At least, I think, not until and unless I’m in a position to control Ashra’s reaction. And that won’t be hard, because the Monarch is my father, and he and the people will listen to their heir.


She makes a promise on earth but she doesn’t intend to keep it because she’s the HEIR . You can’t despise your position and believe in its advantages at the same time.

I think by the end of the story, she still hasn’t grown as much in her character. She finds a solution that helps delegate her responsibility for her people, a solution that Sun romanticizes by the way she writes it, but I still think it basically creates a situation in which Kali can do whatever she wants and finally “be free”.

Secondly, the world building was hard to take in at first.
The first 50 pages or so are really slow because you’re assaulted with endless information. How the people believed their little floating continent had come to be; the glorious godlike creature they revere, the Phoenix, and the spiritual worship they endow on her, the different organized communities that have separate roles on Ashra (all written in a way that reflects back on the Phoenix…somehow). The way the people say “Amen” but instead use the phrase “May we/she rise anew.” It was a lot to take in.

The pacing was also incredibly slow in places. It’s never good when you find yourself wondering how much longer until you finish this book. I literally was asking myself this question multiple times. It wasn’t until maybe the last 100 pages where the action really picked up.

I won’t say that this whole world sucked. The earth and the monsters that hunted down here were incredibly well-described. But you can’t survive on this alone to make a lovely novel.

The romance wasn’t very…..much of anything. It was kinda underwhelming. I didn’t feel much of their supposed attraction beyond the fact that they had to rely on each other to survive. Griffin was a nice enough guy, and even when we learn more about his background, it wasn’t fleshed out as much as it could be.

Actually, the whole last 100 pages where it got more epic? It could’ve been 200 pages instead and made for a more satisfactory read. Everything written there was too little. The conspiracy, the battle with the main antagonist, the conclusion in the aftermath, it was all too quick and condensed. This is where the book could’ve gotten a little better . I still give it a 3 stars because this last 1/3 was interesting but honestly, I’m just being generous.

Overall Recommendation:
There was a lot of potential for Heir to the Sky but the best way to describe it is underwhelming. Slow pacing throughout 2/3 of the book, ridiculous and annoying protagonist and rather quick conclusion, nothing really shouts out at you from this book. The monsters on earth were cool, the way this community in the sky was run was intriguing, and so was the conspiracy that could topple the very foundation of Ashra. I thought all these elements would’ve propelled the story to great heights, but Amanda Sun just didn’t execute it well in all the right places. With a very generous rating on my part, Heir to the Sky is a little disappointing because I can see all that it could’ve been.

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Series: Lady Helen #1

the dark days club -alison goodmanNew York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. Eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall is on the eve of her debut presentation at the royal court of George III. Her life should revolve around gowns, dancing and securing a suitable marriage. Instead, when one of her family’s maids disappears, she is drawn into the shadows of Regency London.

There she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few chosen to stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons that has infiltrated all levels of society. Carlston is not a man she should be anywhere near, especially with the taint of scandal that surrounds him. Yet he offers her help – and the possibility of finally discovering the truth about the mysterious deaths of her parents.

Soon the two of them are investigating a terrifying conspiracy that threatens to plunge the newly Enlightened world back into darkness. But can Helen trust a man whose own life is built on lies? And does she have the strength to face the dangers of this hidden world and learn the truth about her family’s legacy?

Set in the glittering social world of the Regency upper crust, The Dark Days Club is a supernatural adventure that introduces New York Times bestselling author Alison Goodman’s Lady Helen Wrexhall – another heroine whom like Eona, readers can take to their hearts.


4 Drink Me Potions


The Dark Days Club reminds me of all the reasons why I adore historical fantasies. With the delicious and dark setting of the Regency era in London, we follow the perfect heroine in her journey into the paranormal world living right beside her.

Lady Helen wasn’t immediately what you would expect of a heroine in a high fantasy novel. She wasn’t necessarily abhorrent to the life of a lady in 1812. Countless parties, mindless gossip among the peerage and entrance into the society as a woman, she was groomed for this. Not some evil-fighting secret club. So it’s no wonder that she wasn’t exactly all gung ho for the craziness that tends to follow hunting inhuman creatures known as Deceivers.

There wasn’t as much action as I would have expected for the length of the book, but where it lacked in exciting fights, the extreme detail of the time period was amazing and not as tedious as one may think. The descriptions into Lady Helen’s world really immersed you into this time period of London. I will admit, I’ve always loved a good book in historical London. Normally it’s Victorian London, but Regency London was absolutely perfect for the setting of the novel. Civil unrest was coming what with the illness of the King and the antics of the French with Napolean Bonaparte. This was perfect for an evilness creeping into the world that the Dark Days Club was hoping to avoid.

There is a whole lot of background setting for the series in this first novel. It gave a chance to understand the numerous characters that were introduced. Helen was very easy to like. Hung under the black cloud that was her mother’s traitorous reputation and her uncle’s very male-dominant views, it wasn’t easy to be a less-than-submissive woman. I loved her strong belief in her mother, and later, her hard decisions when it came to figuring out what she was. Her want and loyalty to treat others kindly, including those who were under her on the societal ladder like her maids, made me admire her more. She was a nice balance of learning independence without being overbearingly arrogant of herself but still being a team player requiring support from others at times.

As for the romance part of this story, unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot of it. Lord Carlston was, however, the perfect potential partner for her. He himself had a scandalous reputation to the rest of society, that wasn’t fully explained yet in The Dark Days Club. One can hope it’ll be fleshed out in the next one ’cause I’m very anxious to know the answer. He was a great mentor to Lady Helen, but the delicious undertones of other possibilities to their relationship made me very hopeful that there’d be TONS more to the two of them next time. (Here’s to hoping, at least. Please, Ms. Goodman?) In a way, I’m kind of glad romance wasn’t a huge part in this book. It may have taken away from the glorious introduction of the world of Deceivers and the people born to fight against them.

A historical fantasy novel may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hold that yawn for a second and give this a try. Goodman’s thorough research into the era and depictions of certain real life figures in that time period enhanced the setting while still making it her own unique creation. Lady Helen’s adventures will suck you in as she dives into a dark world of monsters living among men. There may have been the odd moment of slower pacing, but overall, The Dark Days Club is everything and more that it promised to be. Intrigue, a bit of murder mystery and hints of romance, this novel is purely a delightful read.

Overall Recommendation:
The Dark Days Club features a protagonist learning to be courageous in a world of evil that has just opened up to her. With both familiar historical figures and well-thought out characters, Goodman presents a beautifully realistic setting in Regency London. Well-paced and immersive, we follow Lady Helen’s adventurous introduction into inhuman creatures known as Deceivers, all the while mentored by the mysterious and handsome Lord Carlston who may also hold more than just friendly feelings. Although explicit romance was kept to a minimal, the dark intrigue and descriptive feel of the novel provides more than enough excitement to last the length of the novel. Here’s to hoping for more of Lady Helen’s adventures (and a bit more romance with Lord Carlston) in the coming sequel! A definite recommendation.

Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

the-accident-season-moira-fowley-doyleEvery October Cara and her family become inexplicably and unavoidably accident-prone. Some years it’s bad, like the season when her father died, and some years it’s just a lot of cuts and scrapes. This accident season—when Cara, her ex-stepbrother, Sam, and her best friend, Bea, are 17—is going to be a bad one. But not for the reasons they think.

Cara is about to learn that not all the scars left by the accident season are physical: There’s a long-hidden family secret underneath the bumps and bruises. This is the year Cara will finally fall desperately in love, when she’ll start discovering the painful truth about the adults in her life, and when she’ll uncover the dark origins of the accident season—whether she’s ready or not.


2.5 Drink Me Potions


This book is deliciously eerie. There’s no other way of describing it. And the chaos that occurs to this little family is erratic and a bit dark, like there’s something otherworldly following their accidents. The strange coincidences that happen every October. I don’t know how to describe it. It makes you wanna peel it back layer by layer, slowly unravelling the craziness.

The imagery portrayed in the ghostly figures Cara sees and the other strange things this one particular “girl” keeps leaving behind for her to find. It’s a mysterious story with a plot that sometimes confuses you and makes you wonder what the heck is going on.

Amidst the scarier intrigue, there’s a bit of a forbidden romance going on. I personally have nothing against Cara falling for her ex-stepbrother but it is a little weird if you focus hard enough on it. However, I find their little piece of romance like a small island to float in and bask in its blissfulness amidst the hushed tones of the rest of the novel. It’s like this story’s version of comic relief, except more cute.

The ending is also wonderfully ambiguous. In a good way. Whether or not you believe in magic, ghosts or mere coincidences, this does teach the idea that secrets kept hidden in closets all eventually find a way to explode itself out.

Overall Recommendation:
The Accident Season is unlike any book I’ve read. It stands out with its mysterious airs and strange happenings to this little family. With accidents that aren’t always just small mishaps, the intrigue and excitement ramps up when Cara thinks she’s seeing things, or people more like it. It’s an interesting read, albeit a bit strange for my general tastes, but I’d say it’s worth a flip through.

Review: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

Series: Cruel Beauty Universe #2

gilded ashes -rosamund hodgeA romantic and fantastical reimagining of the classic Cinderella tale, Gilded Ashes is a novella by Rosamund Hodge set in the same world as the author’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty.

Orphan Maia doesn’t see the point of love when it only brings pain: Her dying mother made a bargain with the evil, all-powerful ruler of their world that anyone who hurt her beloved daughter would be punished; her new stepmother went mad with grief when Maia’s father died; and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother’s approval, yet she always spurns them. And though her family has turned her into a despised servant, Maia must always pretend to be happy, or else they’ll all be struck dead by the curse.

Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn’t believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. What’s the point of pretending to fall in love with a girl just so she’ll pretend to fall in love with him back? But when his father invites all the suitable girls in the kingdom to a masked ball, Anax must finally give in and select a wife.

As fate would have it, the preparations for the masquerade bring him Maia, who was asked by her eldest stepsister to deliver letters to Anax. Despite a prickly first encounter, he is charmed and intrigued by this mysterious girl who doesn’t believe in love. Anax can’t help wishing to see her again—and when he does, he can’t help falling in love with her. Against her will, Maia starts to fall in love with him too. But how can she be with him when every moment his life is in danger from her mother’s deadly bargain?


4 Drink Me Potions


“I’m not mad,” I say. “I’m the only one who’s not, because I don’t want to be loved.”


Now, is that the kind of protagonist you would think of when you imagine Cinderella? I don’t think so. And it’s completely awesome .

Rosamund Hodge has done it again with another reimagining of a famous fairy tale. Except, it’s darker than you would have ever dreamed of, yet it still sounds remotely familiar with the age-old story.

Maia is cursed. Plain, old cursed by – of all people – her mother who unintentionally ruined her life what with demons “helping” and haunting her and anyone she loves. She can never be anything but happy or else Mother Dearest will get upset and cause a great deal of harm to those who are to blame for the littlest bit of Maia’s unhappiness.

Who knew being happy could be a curse?

Her romance with Lord Anax was a little too fast for my liking. It is a novella, so I can’t be truly that picky I suppose, but for its length, I will let it slide. Their chemistry, if given ample time as it would have in a normal-sized book, would have been absolutely charming. These two people who didn’t believe in love, Maia especially.

 

“Love is madness,” I say. “Doesn’t everyone agree that you’d do anything, endure anything, to be with the ones you love? So either you’re willing to let them use you with any sort of cruelty, so long as they keep you – which makes you a fool – or you’re willing to commit any cruelty, so long as you get to keep them – which makes you a monster. Either way, it’s madness.”

 

Anax was hurt by his childhood friend and didn’t think that love was worth more than honesty. And dear Maia has Mother -er, and the demons – to consider if she were to ever love someone else. But against all odds, their unexpected friendship and meetings forged something between them. And since this is a Cinderella re-telling, of course their romance is gonna be sweet, right? But what I loved about Gilded Ashes is that the romance is equal in parts with the darker aspects Hodge added to the classic tale. It’s not too dark for me to make me too squeamish to continue reading, although that’s subjective to the individual reader. I liked that it was different from the other re-tellings which are becoming quite popular.

Not only does this short novella contain some dark qualities and the romance of Cinderella, the family dynamics with the “evil” stepmother and “ugly” stepsisters played major roles in it too. Kore and Thea were not the typical easy to hate stepsisters. What with Maia’s fear of being responsible for her mother’s wrath on those around her, she holds herself at arm’s length from her stepfamily. If it weren’t for that and another problem that comes to light, maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad between the three girls. Either way, these familial relationships were complex and also contributed to the overall plot.

All I can say is, Hodge is a genius with this novella. I do wish it was a full-length novel instead. It would’ve given the story more than what it is now, but I’m not complaining a bit about what has been written here at least. If you love the Cinderella tale, I do suggest you try out this darker version of the classical story. It may just surprise (and delightfully intrigue) you.

Overall Recommendation:
Gilded Ashes was a Cinderella re-telling that I have never imagined before. Plagued with demons and her ghost of a mother, Maia does not have it easy when it comes to protecting those who are around her. So it comes as no surprise that love is not something she wishes to have. It can only end in heartache. Through a chance meeting with Lord Anax, Maia may have to reconsider her opinions on love. Due to its short novella length, their romance was a little fast for my tastes but their chemistry was undeniable. As a fan of fairy tale re-tellings, Rosamund Hodge is a genius for crafting something that’s familiar at the heart of the story yet still creatively flourished with something that sets it apart from all the others. I suggest you give this darker Cinderella story a shot.