Book Review: The Glowing Knight by Jodi Meadows

22909806The Glowing Knight (The Orphan Queen, #0.2) – this is the second of four prequel novellas to the Orphan Queen series. Read my review of the first novella, The Hidden Prince here.

Jodi Meadows

5/5 Stars

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: Epic Reads Impulse (Harpercollins)

Purchase: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo | iBookstore

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Skyvale faces problems worse than anyone realizes. Secrets are building. Enemies are everywhere. Told from the perspective of Tobiah, the crown prince with a dangerous secret, and set two years before the heart-racing action of The Orphan Queen, this 100-page digital novella brings to life one of Jodi Meadows’s most beloved characters.

Tobiah Pierce is ready to break free of his princely role—he’s sick of the bodyguards that always trail him and is uncertain about the new girl at court, Meredith Corcoran, who his parents keep pushing toward him. When Tobiah’s beloved tutor seems to be embroiled in a dangerous situation deep within the city, Tobiah jumps on the opportunity to throw off the royal restrictions and chase after him. But what happens in the narrow alleys and shadowy corners proves he doesn’t know anything about the people he cares about—or the city he must one day rule.

The Glowing Knight is the second of four prequel novellas that offer existing fans a deeper insight into a favorite character and the complex city of Skyvale, while new readers will find a stunning introduction to this rich world and the heart-pounding fantasy of the Orphan Queen series.

Review:

The Glowing Knight by Jodi Meadows follows where it left off in The Hidden Prince and I must say, I loved this one even more! I was right into it from the beginning and got nostalgic feelings for The Orphan Queen. There’s action, mystery and of course those unexpected plot twists Meadows is known for (at least when it comes to TOQ).

It’s here Tobiah goes on his first ‘dangerous mission’ trying to catch a dangerous criminal who’s been using magic to threaten and hurt people. Tobiah’s professor is the most recent victim, making the need for justice even more important. Tobiah is 99.9% sure who’s responsible and feels annoyance at his father’s lack of trust in him. Even though this is his first adventure, it was interesting to see him noting mistakes and what to do/not to do on the next mission – already planning ahead when he hasn’t even caught his first bad guy! Tobiah is determined to solve the problems threatening Skyvale one by one.

Furthermore, we get on an even more personal level with Tobiah than in The Hidden Prince. Like THP, the reader is again feeling that frustration and betrayal but also humour and fear – terrifying fear at James not becoming his bodyguard and losing whatever freedom Tobiah might have afforded with him.

Lastly, I loved that the author added in a legend originating with Skyvale and the Indigo Kingdom. It made that insider’s look on the city even more amazing since this experience is slightly different from how we experience Skyvale in TOQ. I recommend this to anyone wanting a deeper insight on the Indigo Kingdom. You won’t regret picking it up!

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Book Review: The Hidden Prince by Jodi Meadows

22909758The Hidden Prince (The Orphan Queen, #0.1) – this is the first of four prequel novellas to the Orphan Queen series.

Jodi Meadows

4/5 Stars

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Publisher: Epic Reads Impulse (Harpercollins)

Purchase: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo | iBookstore

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The city of Skyvale is in trouble. Magic use is rampant. Crime is spreading. Told from the perspective of Tobiah, the crown prince with a dangerous secret, and set two years before the heart-racing action of The Orphan Queen, this 100-page digital novella brings to life one of Jodi Meadows’s most beloved characters.

Tobiah Pierce knows he is a spoiled, sheltered prince, and he’s tired of it. His only chance for freedom is if his cousin, James Rayner, passes the trials to be one of his bodyguards. But when Tobiah takes a rare opportunity to escape a courtly celebration and he witnesses a horrible—and magical—crime, he must make a momentous decision: return to the ignorance and comfort of the palace, or risk everything to discover the truth?

The Hidden Prince is the first of four prequel novellas that offer existing fans a deeper insight into a favorite character and the complex city of Skyvale, while new readers will find a stunning introduction to this rich world and the heart-pounding fantasy of the Orphan Queen series.

Review:

I really liked reading The Hidden Prince by Jodi Meadows because it brought me back to the great writing that had me falling in love with The Orphan Queen. The reader gets an in-depth look on Tobiah, James, Chey, and Meredith among other Skyvale nobility and citizens. To be honest, I didn’t like chapter one; it felt like opening a book to a random page and reading from there, but from chapter two onwards I was totally into it! Surprisingly, the ending felt like a conclusion though we still get that hint of what’s to come in the next three novellas.

One of the purposes of this novella is to give a better look on certain characters and this can definitely be checked off. I connected with Tobiah so much more here than I did in The Orphan Queen. I actually felt really bad for him because he’s not in control of his life, particularly when it comes to his education, bodyguards and friends. This novella is true to the title; the reader is inside the head of the Hidden Prince. I loved experiencing all these emotions and above all the frustration at his lack of control.

One other thing did confuse me. James is not yet Tobiah’s bodyguard but that was the impression I got. I’m not sure if I just missed something at the beginning or maybe it’s because James is usually always around Tobiah – and would protect him regardless.

A storm’s on the horizon and while it won’t hit until the timeline of The Orphan Queen, we’ll still be encountering strong winds. I recommend this to readers avidly awaiting The Mirror King and needing something to tide them over. I’d say if you haven’t read The Orphan Queen, you can still read this and not be spoiled, but you’ll miss out on subtle hints referencing back to TOQ and TMK. Be sure to pick this up!

Book Review: In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

inthelanguageofmiraclesIn the Language of Miracles

Rajia Hassib

4.5/5 Stars

Release Date: August 11, 2015

Publisher: Viking (Penguin)

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

A mesmerizing debut novel of an Egyptian American family and the wrenching tragedy that tears their lives apart.

Samir and Nagla Al-Menshawy appear to have attained the American dream. After immigrating to the United States from Egypt, Samir successfully works his way through a residency and launches his own medical practice as Nagla tends to their firstborn, Hosaam, in the cramped quarters of a small apartment. Soon the growing family moves into a big house in the manicured New Jersey suburb of Summerset, where their three children eventually attend school with Natalie Bradstreet, the daughter of their neighbors and best friends. More than a decade later, the family’s seemingly stable life is suddenly upended when a devastating turn of events leaves Hosaam and Natalie dead and turns the Al-Menshawys into outcasts in their own town.

Narrated a year after Hosaam and Natalie’s deaths, Rajia Hassib’s heartfelt novel follows the Al-Menshawys during the five days leading up to the memorial service that the Bradstreets have organized to mark the one-year anniversary of their daughter’s death. While Nagla strives to understand her role in the tragedy and Samir desperately seeks reconciliation with the community, Khaled, their surviving son, finds himself living in the shadow of his troubled brother. Struggling under the guilt and pressure of being the good son, Khaled turns to the city in hopes of finding happiness away from the painful memories home conjures. Yet he is repeatedly pulled back home to his grandmother, Ehsan, who arrives from Egypt armed with incense, prayers, and an unyielding determination to stop the unraveling of her daughter’s family. In Ehsan, Khaled finds either a true hope of salvation or the embodiment of everything he must flee if he is ever to find himself.

Writing with unflinchingly honest prose, Rajia Hassib tells the story of one family pushed to the brink by tragedy and mental illness, trying to salvage the life they worked so hard to achieve. The graceful, elegiac voice of In the Language of Miracles paints tender portraits of a family’s struggle to move on in the wake of heartbreak, to stay true to its traditions, and above all else, to find acceptance and reconciliation.

Review:

With her debut novel, Rajia Hassib takes us on the journey of an Egyptian American family struggling to get over a family tragedy and how they’re confronting it one year later. I loved the format of a five day timeline because it allowed for the little details to be noticed. The characters were all interesting in how they dealt with their grief, and especially the sort of things they noticed a year later. This novel tells an important message: not all miracles require divine intervention and if the ending result is not what you expected, perhaps it was not what you needed.

The Al-Menshawy family’s eldest son, Hosaam and their neighbour’s daughter Natalie Bradstreet died one year before the novel begins and previous emotions are brought to the surface when their neighbours decide to hold a one-year memorial service for Natalie. As I said, the book is set up in a five day timeline, among flashbacks from the characters. The reader gets to enter the minds of Samir, Nagla and their younger son, Khaled and all three prove to be very different and complex characters.

For Samir, the American Dream is a very important goal because after all, he uproots his family in order to give them a better life in America. With this tragedy, the American Dream starts to crack and we see how that effects Samir on a very emotional level. He’s the type of person to care what others think of him and his family, and when his son suggests moving to a town that doesn’t ostracize them, he’s appalled. Samir considers this to be a cowardly thing and so he’s determined to fix the way the town views his family.

Nagla starts to ask herself all these ‘what if?’ questions. She thinks back on the year before the tragic event and for the first time notices things about her son that she originally brushed off. After graduating from high school and becoming distant from his friends, Hosaam had isolated himself in the attic, playing music all the time and not wanting the life his father set out for him. Nagla regrets her actions, or lack of and see’s her son for the first time in a new light. This is all brought on by coming up to the attic to go through her son’s things, which had remained untouched for the last year. With her mother’s encouragement, she begins that next step in overcoming grief because the fact is if we wait until we’re ready, we’d never take the next step.

It was Khaled’s voice that stood out the most. He feels the weight of his brother’s shadow and just wants to be anonymous. Khaled deletes his Facebook account, but later on creates a blog using only his initials K.A. It gets to the point where this blog is an important aspect of his life; with it he feels free and I really connected with that aspect. For me, blogging about books and being social in the book community is a really positive aspect of my life. I could understand Khaled’s feelings. It’s through this blog that Khaled meets Brittany and he’s absolutely terrified that she’ll find out about his brother. So much so, that for a time he won’t tell her what the K stands for. Later on, he relents and tells her because he decides there’s probably a lot of Khaled’s in New York – though he does consider giving her a different name. I could feel Khaled’s fear on a very in-depth level, and I think losing this new friend would also register on the same level as losing a loved one. Khaled is a very well-written character and above all my favourite!

There wasn’t as much dialogue as I expected, so I was slightly thrown off. I did recognize the format from The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker so it wasn’t a completely new thing, but I did like it better in The Golem and the Jinni than this book. However, this did leave lots of room for the characters to reflect and as a reader, I was fully and completely in their heads. This novel wants you to notice the details and I can agree this is an important device.

I loved that at the beginning of each chapter was an english quote and an equivalent translated from arabic. I’ve included my favourite ones below:

English: Birds of a feather flock together

Arabic: Birds fall upon those similar to them (chapter 5)

English: Rest in peace

Arabic: Death is rest (chapter 17)

English: If your house is made of glass, do not throw stones at others.

Arabic: He whose house is made of glass should not throw stones at others. (chapter 18)

As you can see, for some of these the message remains virtually the same while for others, one or two words are different and the message seems to change completely. I felt including these quotes seemed almost like a foreshadowing or indirect message about how the Al-Menshawy family grieves compared to the Bradstreets. Some practices remain the same while others are entirely different. This can also be applied to the individual family members of the Al-Menshawy household. All have experienced the same tragedy, but the way they deal with their grief is completely different as well as the way they intend to move forward.

When Nagla’s mother, Ehsan hears about the Bradstreets having a memorial service for Natalie, she encourages the family to do similar things for Hosaam. Through Ehsan, the reader learns about arabic funeral practices. My favourite would have to be the wailing woman, a woman – a complete stranger – is hired to attend a funeral and wail throughout the service! Then she has the family making shoreik, a pastry meant to bring mercy to the dead, which of course made me very hungry! I’d love for Ehsan to come to my house and bake all the delicious foods she makes in the novel because they all sounded amazing.

Surprisingly, the ending was not what I expected, but I agree with the way Hassib chose to end it. It fit better with the overall message. Hassib is an exceptional storyteller of complex characters and I’m excited for her next project! In the Language of Miracles is a narrative of human emotion and succeeds in giving a comprehensive account of a family trying to overcome grief.

Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

portfolio_vengeanceRoadCoverVengeance Road

Erin Bowman

4/5 Stars

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

When Kate Thompson’s father is killed by the notorious Rose Riders for a mysterious journal that reveals the secret location of a gold mine, the eighteen-year-old disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains looking for answers and justice. What she finds are devious strangers, dust storms, and a pair of brothers who refuse to quit riding in her shadow. But as Kate gets closer to the secrets about her family, she gets closer to the truth about herself and must decide if there’s room for love in a heart so full of hate.

In the spirit of True Grit, the cutthroat days of the Wild West come to life for a new generation.

Review:

What do you get when you combine the West with revenge? Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road. I don’t think I’ve read a better Western-themed novel in a long time. Her combination of fiction and fact to create this Western-set world is stunning and finishing it gave me that feel-good moment, like watching Old Yeller or reading Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls was one of my favourite authors growing up, so it was great connecting that with Vengeance Road. This novel has tough, gritty characters that are neither black or white, but grey and fast-paced writing that leaves you stunned at every turn of the page. Erin Bowman presents us with the memorable work that is Vengeance Road.

The main character, Kate Thompson has been shaped and formed by the world she lives in, giving us this rough character bent on revenge. Kate might even be considered the anti-protagonist, determined to kill the ones who killed her father in cold-blood, aka the Rose Riders. Yet, the reader is still rooting for Kate because her morals are better than the Rose Riders, who don’t care whether the people they hurt are innocent or not. Not only that but Kate grows to have a lot of regrets about her actions, so we see she doesn’t take things lightly. As the novel progresses, Kate reveals more of herself to her companions, Jesse and Will Colton and Liluye, and we see a softer side to this incredibly grey character. I think the most surprising part about her is her love for an edition of Little Women, given as a gift by her father, which ends up being her most treasured possession. Other characters in turn reveal things about themselves. We have Jesse who tells about how he watched his mother die, and how that effected his relationship with his father. Bowman’s characters carry themselves with this hard shell, necessary for surviving, but character development is huge and the cast learns a lot about each other and themselves.

Getting to the writing and voice, this was probably one of the strongest parts of Vengeance Road. I was totally and completely inside Kate’s head. This was due to Bowman having the diction represent Kate’s voice and how she’d sound if you had the chance to speak with her – which would be awesome, unless of course you’re a Rose Rider! Kate was taught to read and write by her father so she’s not completely uneducated, but she never went to school (the school having been built when she was 12). Bowman create’s a balance of improper and proper grammar, fitting with the environment Kate’s grown up in. Furthermore, the action is fast-paced and there’s never a dull moment. The plot twists are real, ripping open both the characters’ heart and my own in ways we never saw coming. This heartache and despair is the sort of thing that makes a good Western book or movie – with it we know we’re living in the real world! There was one plot twist that took me by complete surprise, I was hoping the author would come in and say, “just kidding!’. Bowman’s writing captures both Kate and the West extraordinarily well.

There were a few things I disliked about Vengeance Road. In the beginning of the novel, after Kate sets out on her search for the Rose Riders, she’s in search of a man called Abe. I was originally confused with this because I thought he was a member of the gang, but it turned out he was a friend of Kate’s father, and if anything were to happen to him, Kate was to find Abe. Something else I’m conflicted about are the ghost stories surrounding the Superstition Mountains – where the gold the Rose Riders are seeking is said to be. My first impression was that we’d hear about it earlier on and more frequently. I did enjoy the way the author set it up, but I am a huge fan of myths and legends so I’m at odds.

As a whole, I loved Vengeance Road and hope to read the companion novel Erin Bowman is planning. Both the wonderful and the melancholy moments leave me wanting more from her world and its deeply, intriguing characters! I agree with the comparison to Blood Red Road; this is perfect for fans of Moira Young. There are aspects of both novels that share a similar feel to it, while still being different enough that you wouldn’t go into VR expecting things to occur in the same way as Blood Red Road. I recommend this to people wanting a feel-good, Western-themed novel and characters you can’t help loving, regardless of where their moral compass points. Be sure to check out this book!

I received a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Daughters of Shadow and Blood by J. Matthew Saunders

24810634Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin

J. Matthew Saunders

4/5 Stars

Release Date: May 3, 2015

Publisher: Saint George’s Press

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Buda, Ottoman Hungary, 1599: Yasamin, the naïve daughter of an Ottoman bureaucrat, finds herself trapped in an arranged marriage to the son of the powerful governor of Buda. She is unprepared for the gossip and scheming rampant in the palace but realizes she faces more than petty jealousies when someone tries to drown her in the baths on the day before her wedding. An unearthly menace lurks in the palace corridors, and the one person able to protect Yasamin is a soldier named Iskander, who seems to appear whenever she needs him. Charming and confident, he is nothing like her new husband, but trusting either of them could be a deadly mistake.

Berlin, Germany, 1999: Adam Mire, an American professor of history, discovers a worn, marked-up copy of Dracula. The clues within its pages send him on a journey across the stark landscape of Eastern Europe, searching for a medallion that once belonged to Dracula himself. But a killer hounds Adam’s footsteps, and each new clue he uncovers brings him closer to a beguiling, raven-haired woman named Yasamin Ashrafi, who might be the first of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

Adam has an agenda of his own, however, a quest more personal than anyone knows. One misstep, and his haunted past could lead to death from a blade in his back … or from Yasamin’s fatal embrace.

Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book I: Yasamin by J. Matthew Saunders. I’d recommend this title to fans of Bram Stoker because it pays homage to Dracula, but is still different enough that you can’t easily predict what’s going to happen. The novel is set up into three main timelines, among other minor ones in the form of letters, book passages and written accounts. The research is meticulous and the writing well-done, albeit sometimes lacking life in certain chapters. My first thought when starting this was “Dracula meets The Da Vinci Code”, which is interesting because after finishing I saw Darin Kennedy quoted it as this too! This novel is the first in a planned trilogy and I definitely plan to read book two.

As I mentioned, the novel is divided into three timelines: Buda Hungary 1599, occupied by the Ottoman Empire at the time, and is told in the perspective of Yasamin. Then we have early August 1999, Berlin Germany told in the POV of Adam Mire and lastly mid-August 1999, also in Adam’s POV. The differences between these last two POV’s are Anya and Yasamin Ashrafi, who appear in one of these two timelines respectfully. Furthermore, the reader experiences other minor timelines that all have a connection to Dracula, his medallion and his legendary brides’. My favourite POV was Yasamin because I felt she was the most developed character and I was the most involved with her. As well, it was great reading about the Ottoman empire in this context and I felt this made the novel different from other Dracula-inspired ones; it stood out more!

Everything about the 1599 timeline is five stars. The reader is given a deep understanding of Yasamin’s background as well as her current life in Buda. The dialogue felt natural to me, never awkward or rough as was sometimes the case with the other two timelines. Yasamin meets Iskander, a janissary (member of the Turkish infantry) and the romance between the two is natural, moving at a realistic pace. I was of course rooting for the two of them! The author paints a very visual, three-dimensional picture of the Ottoman Empire in Buda, which I absolutely loved! Another interesting point was the Jinn, mentioned as creatures of a smokeless and scorching fire by the characters of this timeline. Instead of using the term ‘vampire’ to explain the mysterious happenings, the characters would instead talk about the jinn and demons, so this alternate perspective was interesting to read. I think for me including both the Western/Gregorian calendar date and the Islamic calendar date iced the cake.

The suspense is fantastic! This is where I compared it to The Da Vinci Code; there was always lots of action happening. The plot revolves around Adam finding a journal with clues to the location of Dracula’s medallion and ends up simultaneously searching for one of Dracula’s bride’s. Of course, other secret organizations’ would love to get ahold of that medallion, so Adam finds himself in a lot of danger and ends up being saved by Anya. I would say the suspense is built up a lot in the beginning, dies down a bit in the middle, but then starts back up near the end. The last 20 percent of this book wowed me enough to give it a 4/5 versus 3.5/5 stars.

When comparing Adam, Anya and Yasamin together as characters, it’s clear Yasamin is the most expanded on. The reader learns a bit about Adam and some traumatic events in his past, but I wasn’t as involved with him and Anya as I was with Yasamin. With Anya, we only seem to learn what’s relevant to the plot – she has a connection with Yasamin Ashrafi, but it’s not made totally clear. As well, there’s some romance between Adam and Anya that I found unnecessary; they didn’t seem to know each other for long enough. I think this lack of development is due to the many POV’s filled in-between the three main ones, and so there’s not a lot of space to grow. I’d recommend for book two the author make absolutely certain all main characters have breathing room to grow before filling in minor POV’s. These minor POV’s were of course all important, but I value well-developed characters over plot.

Overall, Daughters of Shadow and Blood was really entertaining and I will definitely be continuing the series. The format and plot brought me back to my childhood love for Dracula by Bram Stoker, and being a fan of The Da Vinci Code, I loved the mystery! Now I think if you’re not a fan of Bram Stoker, the set-up of the novel might take some getting used to because there’s multiple POV’s and the author layers a lot of facts into the novel. I recommend this title for readers wanting a Dracula-inspired novel with intrigue, mystery and action-packed scenes!

I received a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch

tumblr_nq9dt92m0Y1sefywro1_400Snow Like Ashes

Sara Raasch

5/5 Stars

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

Review:

Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes was an unexpected gem for me. I was confident I’d enjoy it, but there were definitely some elements that bumped it up to a five star rating. To be honest, my first impression of kingdoms named after seasons felt cheesy, but after reading there’s absolutely nothing cheesy about it. Raasch has this skill to take wholly original ideas, add in incredible writing and create a novel I was hooked onto from the first page. I went into this knowing it was a series and Snow Like Ashes has fixed me onto it; there are a select few books that can do this! Make no mistake, if I enjoy book one, I’ll definitely continue with the series, but I’m not usually fully-engrossed until book two or three.

I loved the writing! Snow Like Ashes was a very fine example of 1st POV; the quality reminded me of Blood Red Road or The Hunger Games. I actually felt like I was in Meira’s head or even that Meira had a camera because everything she saw or experienced was described. I read an article by Rachel Starr Thompson called “How Writers Can Be Storyshowers instead of Storytellers”. To paraphrase, humans used to be storytellers so stories were told, with the majority summarized and action happening from a long-distance view. We really need to be storyshowers; writing in scenes and having our novel rely heavily on scene rather than summary (Thompson). Through talent and hard work, Raasch proves to be a storyshower.

World-building and plot. I felt having ‘winter’ as the protagonist and ‘summer’ the antagonist was an interesting twist. I generally find winter is associated with bleakness, cold and long nights, and in some fantasy worlds winter is not something you want; the protagonist may even be fighting against winter/a winter-themed villain. Raasch provided a refreshing twist on this archetype. Additionally, whenever I had a question about the fantasy world (ex. which kingdoms have female blood-heirs and which have male), it was immediately answered on the next page or chapter. Using the example above, I wasn’t sure whether the Season Kingdoms had all female blood-heirs (as I knew Winter did) and the Rhythm Kingdoms had all male blood-heirs (I knew Cordell did), but this was quickly answered.

Onto our main character, Meira. There’s always something about the protagonist that makes them extraordinary, but a lot of the times it can feel like they were born with this “something”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I sometimes feel like the main character is a hero/heroine before the novel begins. Lineage-wise Meira is ordinary – her parents were peasants, which is about the only thing we know about them (at least in Meira’s POV) – and it’s amazing to observe her go from ordinary to extraordinary. The back of the copy I read described this book as, “a hero in the making” and as I read I could actually believe this. As Meira builds her own destiny, her actions make her extraordinary. Moving on, Meira is a very conflicted character. Her country was destroyed when she was an infant, so she doesn’t feel any emotional attachment to it. This in turn created guilt, and character development like such was just as important as freeing the Kingdom of Winter.

I really truly loved this debut! Tons of action, a conflicted but strong heroine, and great writing had me falling in love with Raasch’s fantasy world. There were some plot twists I did not expect – I’m usually pretty good at figuring out any/all foreshadowing – and there was one type of scene that had me pondering the dynamics/how it could be happening. I couldn’t decide if it was a dream, memory, or some kind of magic involved, but it stood out a lot to me! I’m extremely excited for the sequel, Ice Like Fire and what sort of challenges lie ahead for these characters!

Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

9859436Something Strange and Deadly

Susan Dennard

5/5 Stars

Release Date: July 24, 2012

Publisher: Harper Teen

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N

Synopsis:

There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

The year is 1876 and Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

Review:

When I first read Something Strange and Deadly, it acted as a re-introduction to the steampunk genre. Beforehand, I’d only read a few steampunk-themed books and it’d been a few years. I was not let down. The writing is entirely compelling, the majority of chapters ending on a cliffhanger (you can’t help but think, ‘one more chapter, just one more’) and our protagonist, Eleanor Fitt is brilliantly witty! In an alternate 1876 Philadelphia where the Dead have risen, deadly villains and strange heroes leave nothing but an entertaining debut novel.

Our main cast of characters are introduced in the first few chapters, though some are more of a foreshadowing (if you’re picking up on these breadcrumbs). We also get a very good look at the relationship between Eleanor and her mother, Abigail Fitt. SS&D is written in first POV, so the reader learns two sides of Eleanor. There’s the very outgoing side that couldn’t care less (or understand) about high society and the other which most people see, complying with her mother’s wishes. Eleanor’s mother on the other hand very much cares about fitting in and carrying on with the latest trends. She’s also set her mind on marrying Eleanor off to an eligible bachelor and in turn saving their family name and fortune.

This high society is all about wearing a mask. Eleanor tries to act like a lady, but sometimes her real self comes out (more so around Daniel). Her mother also wears a mask by trying to hide the misfortune of the Philadelphia Fitts. When this mask comes off, the reader experiences the raw emotion these characters are hiding. For example, two of Eleanor’s ‘friends’ Mercy and Patience remove their mask after seeing Eleanor with Clarence Wilcox, a very rich and eligible bachelor. That moment is pretty scary for her.

Then Eleanor meets the Spirit Hunters, Joseph-Alexandre Boyer, Daniel Sheridan and Jie. She’s able to break out of her shell and really grow as a character. It’s great being inside Eleanor’s head because while she’s a very likeable and humour-filled character, she does have her imperfections. Eleanor realizes along this adventure she’ll need to make a choice about who she wants to be.

While on the search for her missing brother Elijah, the necromancer is leaving a trail of dead bodies and Eleanor fears her brother is his next victim. To add, her mother let out an evil spirit during a séance gone wrong. Like a good mystery, Dennard leaves hints for her brave heroine, but also like a good mystery these clues can point in an entirely different direction.

Daniel Sheridan. Both attractive and infuriating, Eleanor and him can’t help arguing in their first encounter. As Eleanor allies with the Spirit Hunters, I found the two to make a great team (although they don’t realize it right away). Eleanor’s real self comes out around Daniel, and he himself reveals secrets of his own. It was also amusing watching Eleanor develop a crush on Daniel, but not necessarily be aware of it. She’d observe little details about him and then scold herself for such behaviour.

SS&D is full of plot twists! There’s a particular character who played their role very well, so well I didn’t see it coming. I won’t reveal their name as it might be a spoiler. What’s more, it was fascinating to read Dennard’s twist on other developments/events. For example, jingling bells are placed in a casket to warn the town against the risen Dead (pg 119). In the real world, measures like these were taken incase people were accidentally buried alive. I felt having little things like this really helped me connect with this alternate world and make it all the more real.

With murder and voodoo magic lining the pages, Something Strange and Deadly captivates readers through incredible characters and shocking revelations. Despite danger at every corner, I wouldn’t mind joining Eleanor and the Spirit Hunters! They have a lot of unimaginable adventures ahead of them.

*This review was originally posted in the Strange and Ever After Paperback Blog Tour.

Book Review: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

saint anything

Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen

5/5 Stars

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminatebos in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

The uber-popular Sarah Dessen explores her signature themes of family, self-discovery, and change in her twelfth novel, sure to delight her legions of fans.

Review:

Sarah Dessen’s inspiration for Saint Anything are “invisible girls” and I don’t think there’s a book that better represents this. I felt it was an emotionally gripping, superb portrayal of the experience so many people have felt or continue to feel. It also extends to the things that make us visible, in ways we don’t want as well as those invisible beasts clawing at us daily. When I finished this book, I wanted to re-read it – but without knowing how it ended – so that I could relive this book constantly. If someone invents such a device, Saint Anything will be the first book I try it out on.

The main character, Sydney has always felt invisible and not only could I see myself in her, I could see the experiences of others in her as well. Dessen creates this flexible character, one who doesn’t just appeal to one type of reader, but several. Additionally, there are certain moments when Sydney and her mother are at conflict with one another and the after effects had me feeling very frustrated for Sydney [in terms of unfairness etc.]. I can say without any doubt, Sydney is a very real, very three-dimensional character to me.

Saint Anything is also about perspective, in that “grass is greener” type of way. Other characters have invisible fears of their own and the way they view others, compared to how Sydney see’s things, is very surprising for her. This is definitely a moment of character development. For example, we have Mac Chatham who provides a curious dynamic because he see’s Sydney – she thinks for the first time – and some fears of his own are revealed. Dessen has created a cast of characters embodying different types of invisible fears, and it’s with Sydney that this cast is able to grow astronomically (even Sydney herself).

The plot revolves around Sydney’s older brother, Peyton and how he’s always been the limelight of her family, particularly their mother. Peyton is currently serving time for a drunk-driving accident, one that caused someone to become permanently paralyzed, and Sydney is left with this huge guilt on her shoulders, feeling as if she’s the only one of her family to carry this burden. The plot is engaging, there’s nothing monotonous about Dessen’s storytelling. It’s with the author’s storytelling skill that a concept like “invisible girls” can be told so well. The more I read, the more I was drawn into the novel. And of course, the ending has that sense of conflict resolution; Saint Anything is entirely captivating!

There was one thing that bothered me. In chapter one, we’re introduced to Sydney, her father, mother, brother Peyton and Ames, a friend of Peyton’s. The scene starts with the reading of the jury’s verdict for Peyton’s trial. Ames is first mentioned on page 2, and I found his introduction to be confusing. Unlike the other above mentioned characters, it’s not made clear who he is to Sydney and her family [this is revealed mid-chapter 2]. I actually went back to page 1, thinking I’d missed something. A similar thing could have happened with Peyton, but Dessen uses a flashback to confirm that “brother” and “Peyton” are the same person. I feel this confusion could have been avoided by using a similar technique.

As a final point, Dessen’s writing is stunning, but this fine portrayal of invisibility is what truly stands out to me. This is an important read not only because of the various issues explored in the plot, but how the characters express them. Saint Anything is composed of a very relatable cast for the young adult audience. In my opinion, this is a near mirror image of what the reader might have, is or could experience and to see yourself in the characters is a feat. For this, I give Saint Anything five stars.

Book Review: Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

Hidden HuntressHidden Huntress (The Malediction Trilogy #2)

Danielle L. Jensen

This is the sequel to Stolen Songbird

4/5 Stars

Release Date: June 2, 2015

Publisher: Angry Robot

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Sometimes, one must accomplish the impossible.

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

Review:

Hidden Huntress is book two in the Malediction Trilogy, and I have to say I enjoyed it a lot more than book one. Although I loved Stolen Songbird for introducing these amazing characters and the world of Trollus, I could see a difference between the two from the start! The character development is hugely expanded on, and in my opinion the strongest aspect when compared to plot and world-building. With all kinds of magic and witchery, this book embodies the title of “Hidden Huntress”.

I first noticed the author is more comfortable with her fantasy world, and in turn the reader is drawn deeper into the characters. I loved that the POV’s were split between Tristan and Cecile! Usually I can’t stand this sort of thing, but it works really well for the book. The reader learns a lot more about what’s happening in Trollus as well as the human world – in particular Trianon. And a great deal of things are happening. Tristan is on the outs with his father & the half-bloods while his friends are being punished for his actions in Stolen Songbird. There’s no one Tristan can trust in accomplishing his goals. It was great being inside his head as Tristan combats these different issues plus we get a better understanding of Tristan as a character – more so than we did in Stolen Songbird.

Minor and briefly-mentioned characters of Stolen Songbird are expanded on! My favourite examples were Chris and Cecile’s mother, Genevieve. Chris proves himself to be a valuable friend and ally. Even when his life may be in danger, he continues getting involved in Cecile’s search for Anushka. With Genevieve, there’s a lot of tension between mother and daughter. This showed an interesting dynamic because after many years apart, the two are forced to come to terms with each other. Furthermore, this benefited the plot [by moving it along], as it turns out Anushka has a deeper connection to Cecile, and her mother, than she realized.

World-building. We get to learn about some of the politics of Trianon and how the rest of the Isle is structured leadership-wise. Cecile discovers the Regency – the reigning government of the Isle – has close ties with the trolls and Anushka. I absolutely loved all the plot twists Jensen had waiting for the reader, most were a complete surprise! However, I would have liked more world-building. It felt to me she only scratched the surface, and I had more questions for every answer provided.

Witchery, grimoires, magic – all these things were manifested in Cecile and came with serious character growth. The magical side that she only discovered in Stolen Songbird, is put to good use in Hidden Huntress – for better or worse. Cecile dives straight into the dark arts and animal sacrifice, her love for Tristan and their friends a huge motivator. It was a fascinating turn of events, as Tristan seemed to go a more moral route. Cecile’s self-less nature drives her to do whatever it takes to find Anushka and break the curse.

I did have some issues with the writing. There were times when I liked it, and times when I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I encountered this with Stolen Songbird, but definitely feel it has since improved. This could just be a style thing, but I’ve never been so conflicted about the writing in any book I’ve read. In addition, I found the first 30% of the book to be very long. It was almost a chore to get through. I find the author uses a lot of adjectives, so her writing is visually beautiful, but sometimes it’s too much and hard to understand what is going on. If a few less words were used I don’t think I’d have found it so long.

Overall, Hidden Huntress undeniably surpasses as a sequel to Stolen Songbird. Once again, SS was great for introducing this fantastical world of trolls & magic, but HH gives that bigger visual of the Isle, the world Cecile comes from and where she might have gone if the trolls hadn’t intervened. I was blown away by the ending and cannot wait for book 3 – which is even harder since I read book 2 before it was even released! Danielle L. Jensen has shaped an underground city of magical creatures into one of my most valued book worlds – and that makes me extremely excited for future works.

I received a free e-arc from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Angelfall by Susan Ee

AngelfallAngelfall

Susan Ee

5/5 Stars

Release Date: August 28, 2012

Publisher: Skyscape

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on NetGalley:

It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back. Anything, including making a deal with Raffe, an injured enemy angel. Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco, where Penryn will risk everything to rescue her sister and Raffe will put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Review:

Angelfall exceeded my expectations! The way Susan Ee took the story surprised me – and I loved every part of it. The world-building was phenomenal, and the writing exceptionally detailed. The protagonist’s journey allows the reader to experience this new, post-apocalyptic earth, and the difference between “World Before” and “World After” is really emphasized here. The author was not afraid of delving into the unknown or grotesque, and that was a huge hit for me!

The world-building was by far my favourite part. Every aspect was exceptionally detailed – I could imagine the empty buildings and the deafening silence. I saw Penryn wincing at the noise their family’s shopping cart makes along the abandoned streets. As well, the dialogue was on par. The novel starts some weeks after angels have descended onto Earth, so like Penryn, the reader is witness to how humans are adapting to this world of death, destruction and god-defying acts. I find it significant the author started not when earth is semi-peaceful, but after humans have gotten over that initial shock and are now returning to that primal urge for survival. This is more evident in the fact the author decides to begin the story when Penryn and her family are leaving their apartment – basically their life in the “World Before” – and starting anew.

I thought the plot was stable. Different points are made to the reader that Penryn would only venture into the Lion’s Den for her sister. At the time of her sister’s capture, their mother also disappears so the choice is seen here. Penryn loves both her mother and sister, but her decision is based on who needs who. Penryn’s relationship with her mother was deep and intriguing. The two’s interaction with each other provided a lot of insight on other characters, and made everything all the more dimensional.

Raffe is introduced in the beginning of the novel as an angel betrayed by his kind and saved by Penryn. Raffe then agrees to bring Penryn to where the angels are holding her sister. It’s clear these two are to be potential love interests, but romance is a secondary plot and moves at a realistic speed. Once they reach their destination it’s every person for him/herself – Raffe needs the angels for his detached wings and Penryn for her sister. Near the end, circumstances have Raffe grieving for Penryn, but the level of grief [which was high] I found unrealistic as the two had only 1-2 times visibly expressed their feelings for one another – although there was a lot of glances.

The author dived right into the more grotesque of subjects that are sometimes absent from YA novels. Particularly characters of physical and emotional flaws with a high chance of permanency. I found this made the world-building all the more solid – Susan Ee is creating a world that is new and cruel and only the strong can survive. The characters should represent this “World After”. The use of angels as a theme has been made truly original with the type of world Ee has constructed. I am excited to read the sequels, World After and End of Days. Susan Ee is a talented writer and I am eager to see what she plans to write about next.

I was provided a free ebook via Net Gallery in exchange for an honest review.