Book Review: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

34076952The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Leigh Bardugo & Sara Kipin (illustrator) 

4.42/5 stars

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Publisher:  Macmillan/Imprint

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

Review:

THE LANGUAGE OF THORNS by Leigh Bardugo is a gorgeous anthology of six fairytale-like illustrated stories set in the Grishaverse. Whether you’ve read every Bardugo book or the Grishaverse is entirely new to you, there will be a story to enchant and frighten you. The illustrations were stunning and truly made the stories.

The format of the book: the writing would be in the usual place, taking up most of the page with illustrations surrounding it.

I loved that as you turned the page, the illustration would be added to, as if you’ve been given another clue as to how the story will end. The more you read, the more hints you’re given. The pages that followed the end of the story would be a completely illustrated two-page spread. It just added so much to the anthology.

The only reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because sometimes I get annoyed with that common fairytale narrative “a couple had a daughter but she was boring/ugly/useless so they treated her more like a servant but the daughter became used to it so oh well” or “she was so beautiful everyone wanted to marry her but also very kind”. I know they’re central aspects of a fairytale but they still annoy me.

Here are my individual ratings and thoughts on each short story:

Ayama and the Thorn Wood – 4/5 stars – I liked this one and it was definitely the right story to start the anthology. Bardugo explains in the author’s note where her inspiration for this story came from, but I saw different fairytales and myths in this one.

The Too-Clever Fox – 5/5 stars – This is probably my third-favourite story in the collection. I loved Koja, the “too-clever fox” and I didn’t guess the plot twist until it was too late.

The Witch of Duva – 3.5/5 stars – I’ve read this one before so it didn’t entertain me as much as the first time but I still didn’t guess the ending until halfway through.

Little Knife – 5/5 stars – I absolutely loved this one! This is probably my favourite out of all of them, simply because the ending truly wowed me. I didn’t see it coming and now I’m imagining so many possibilities, of what happened after the ending. Just superb!

The Soldier Prince – 4/5 stars – I liked the last half more than the first. I really loved the way it ended. This one was set in Kerch and when I read Six of Crows (hopefully soon) I’ll be looking for hints of this story in the SoC duology.

When Water Sang Fire – 5/5 stars – This one would’ve been my favourite because mermaids! if the ending of Little Knife hadn’t wowed me so much. This story deserves a gold star or something for drawing the most emotion out of me. I felt joy, sadness, anger and a need for revenge!! The ending had closure and I can pretty much guess what a sequel would entail but I still need one.

SPOILERS BELOW

That being said, the more I think about the ending, the more angry I am. I would’ve taken a happy ending over a character who’s fate is basically to become an anti-hero or villain. I actually thought Ulla and Signy would end up throwing the prince away and rule together as queens. I don’t know, that’s what I got from the way they interacted with each other.

SPOILERS END

I would still 100% recommend this book.

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Book Review: The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

ghostbrideThe Ghost Bride

Yangsze Choo

4/5 stars

Release Date: August 5, 2014

Publisher:  William Morrow Paperbacks

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Yangsze Choo’s stunning debut, The Ghost Bride, is a startlingly original novel infused with Chinese folklore, romantic intrigue, and unexpected supernatural twists.

Li Lan, the daughter of a respectable Chinese family in colonial Malaysia, hopes for a favorable marriage, but her father has lost his fortune, and she has few suitors. Instead, the wealthy Lim family urges her to become a “ghost bride” for their son, who has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at what price?

Night after night, Li Lan is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, where she must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family.

Reminiscent of Lisa See’s Peony in Love and Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s DaughterThe Ghost Bride is a wondrous coming-of-age story and from a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Review:

I absolutely loved THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo. I ended up listening to the audiobook, read by the author. The writing is really lovely, I couldn’t stop reading/listening to the story and the author did a fantastic performance re: reading the book. Audiobooks are usually a hit or miss for me, but this was probably my best experience yet. Another great thing about the author reading the book, I got to hear how the characters sound to Yangsze, which was pretty cool.

Li Lan was a very interesting protagonist. Sometimes things would happen to her and she’d act totally calm or she’d go do things she probably shouldn’t. Half of it was probably bravery and if she didn’t do them the plot wouldn’t move along but the other half was like curiosity or something. So I’d be like “no don’t do that” but also “why are you doing this *very confused*”. So I liked the protagonist but I also had mixed feelings re: her actions. Li Lan doing certain things that were obviously a bad idea didn’t create suspense but confusion.

I’m torn between giving this a 4 or 4.5/5 stars. I would also categorize this book as historical fiction with fantastical elements. The story was very captivating and I didn’t want to stop listening to the audio. My favourite part was probably part 2 or 3, when the MC was exploring the afterlife. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the ending – it kind of ended on a cliffhanger. This may be an effect of listening to the audiobook so I plan to check out a physical copy; I might get a sense of closure that way.

The book does use the slur c*olie a few times and while technically accurate (the book is set in 19th century colonial Malaysia) I think the author should have acknowledged it’s a slur. I’m not 100% sure if it was necessary, considering the MC doesn’t think of those in a different class as below or less than her.

This book is also told from the POV of an upper class Chinese woman (I think she’s around 18?) living in colonial Malaysia. The family have fallen on hard times, so they aren’t exactly rich but have been able to (mostly) hide their debt and still have a good name. It should’ve probably been acknowledged the sort of privilege the MC has over other classes of people living in 19th century colonial Malaysia.

Book Review: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

tinaconnollySeriously Wicked

Tina Connolly

4/5 stars

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Publisher: Tor Teen

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The only thing worse than being a witch is living with one.

Camellia’s adopted mother wants Cam to grow up to be just like her. Problem is, Mom’s a seriously wicked witch.

Cam’s used to stopping the witch’s crazy schemes for world domination. But when the witch summons a demon, he gets loose—and into Devon, the cute new boy at school.

Now Cam’s suddenly got bigger problems than passing Algebra. Her friends are getting zombiefied. Their dragon is tired of hiding in the RV garage. For being a shy boy-band boy, Devon is sure kissing a bunch of girls. And a phoenix hidden in the school is going to explode on the night of the Halloween Dance.

To stop the demon before he destroys Devon’s soul, Cam might have to try a spell of her own. But if she’s willing to work spells like the witch…will that mean she’s wicked too?

Review:

Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly is such a fun and original take on magic and witches in the modern world – I loved this from start to finish! I can’t wait to read the next book, it’s a very entertaining and well-written series.

I loved Cam and immediately connected with her. Her sense of humour was perfect for this story and this book was so well-written! On the surface, there’s lots of humour and fun but at the same time, there’s some serious character development. I loved that the author was able to weave those two things together. The serious side of this book I wasn’t expecting (a pleasant surprise) and it’s one of the main reasons I’m continuing onto the next book.

I was also happy with the fact that no romance occurred between Cam and the demon living inside Devon’s body, which was something I half expected and was worried about. Considering the demon is trying to destroy Devon’s soul (so as to remain on earth permanently) it’d be a bit problematic. There was romance between Cam and Devon which I found super cute and awkward (first loves/crushes) – and I loved every moment of it.

I think teens who were adopted or are really conflicted/unsure about their place in their family will find solace in this book. Cam was adopted and ends up confronting her adopted mother, the “Wicked Witch”. Their relationship has so many cracks, especially when it concerns Cam’s adoption. Seriously Wicked is told in Cam’s POV and it ends up being a case of an unreliable narrator because even though Cam wholeheartedly believes she was adopted, the Wicked Witch says the opposite. This was one of the more serious aspects of the book and a very important thing for Cam and her mother to overcome.

This is great for contemporary readers who want a bit of magic in their lives and fantasy readers who are in the mood for something light and funny. I recommend this series for those wanting humour, heart and a diverse cast of characters.

Book Review: Nil Remembered by Lynne Matson

30827348Nil Remembered (Nil #0.5) – prequel novella to the Nil series

Lynne Matson

4/5 stars

Release Date: July 19, 2016

Publisher: Henry Holt & co.

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

Synopsis:

My name is Scott Bracken, and this is my journal.

Scott Bracken has been home for 28 days, but nothing is the same. A month ago, he escaped from Nil, an island of wonder, beauty, and incredible danger. Now, back in his old life, no one believes Scott’s story. To deal with his present, Scott must relive his past—whether he wants to or not.

Introduced to readers in Nil Unlocked, here, for the first time, is Scott’s journal in its entirety. Delve deeper into the world of Nil—before Charley and Thad, before Skye and Rives—and discover the truth.

Review:

NIL REMEMBERED by Lynne Matson is a quick, enjoyable read. I loved the main character, Scott – his personality really stood out to me & his humour was great. I also loved that, after going through Nil, he still found ways to make jokes. It actually reminded me of the protagonist in THE MARTIAN.

This novella is written in a journal-type format, with a mix of drawings and entries. It was an interesting way of re-discovering Nil, at least for someone like me who’s read the first book in the series & already knows a bit about the island. Sometimes it got a bit boring which I think was due to the lack of dialogue.

At the end of almost every journal entry Scott would write, “my name is Scott Bracken, and this is the truth”. I think it made this journal-type format all the more authentic. When you’ve gone through such a traumatic experience and people are telling you it wasn’t real, it definitely seems like something you’d be constantly thinking about. Something that you’d have to write down.

There were only a few things I disliked about the book. One is really specific; here’s a quote from the book:

“Now she’d been sitting in front of the Wall of Names for the last twenty minutes, Indian-style, like she was silently singing the Clash song ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go.'”.

I don’t really like that term “Indian-style”, which I usually see describing someone sitting cross-legged. I only ever see it in books published in the US, so maybe it’s only me (a Canadian) but I feel like people should use words like “cross-legged” instead of “Indian-style”. I feel like it’s not referencing Indian as in India but Native American, so I always get a bad feeling when I see it.

Overall I thought this was a fun, interesting addition to the NIL series and I definitely recommend it. Even though it’s a prequel, I’d say read NIL first and then this, just so you have a better understanding of Nil going into it. Disclaimer: I downloaded the ebook from Kobo for free, this has in no way altered my honest opinion of the book.

Book Review: Steel Scars by Victoria Aveyard

25362018Steel Scars (Red Queen #0.2) – prequel novella to the Red Queen series

Read my review of Queen Song (Red Queen #0.1) here

Victoria Aveyard

4/5 stars

Release Date: January 5, 2016

Publisher: Harper Teen

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

In this digital prequel novella set in the Red Queen world, Captain Farley exchanges coded transmissions with the resistance as she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital. She was raised to be strong, but planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected—until she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation: Mare Barrow.

Review:

In this prequel novella to RED QUEEN, STEEL SCARS tells the story of Farley, a secondary character from RQ & a captain of the Scarlet Guard – a group rebelling against the Silvers in power. I absolutely loved this book! Farley is a fantastic character and I wouldn’t mind reading a full-length novel in her POV. I also wouldn’t have minded if RQ had been told in Farley’s POV instead of Mare’s. Obviously it wouldn’t have been called RQ, but it’d be way more entertaining (to me).

I think I like Farley a bit more than Mare because she isn’t a special snowflake. She’s worked very hard to get where she is and her strength is human. I don’t mind characters who end being a special snowflake – I mean, who doesn’t imagine themselves as heir to the throne or having magic powers or finally getting their Hogwarts letter. However, I don’t always like it when everything about the protagonist is self-made, human strength and then suddenly we find out they’re a special snowflake & everything that made them human is left in the dust. It’s easier to identify with a character if their strength seems somewhat realistic & obtainable to us.

I also loved the behind the scenes feel we got from this. Reading decoded messages sent to and from Farley was great (although sometimes hard to read). Overall, it was really exciting! We also saw a bit of Shade Barrow, Mare’s brother and I loved the chemistry between him and Farley. Another reason why a full-length novel in Farley’s POV would have been great.

Something I did dislike about the novella, it was one big book, no parts or chapters to separate it. It made it hard to decide when and where would be a good place to pause. Sure, I can bookmark it at the beginning of the page but it seemed like pausing in the middle of the action.

I find you don’t need to read Queen Song to read this but you should read Red Queen beforehand – you’ll understand things a bit more.

Book Review (Spoilers): A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

This review will contain spoilers – they’re more about certain characters and their actions than plot spoilers but read at your own risk.


17927395A Court of Mist and Fury (sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses)

Sarah J. Maas

4/5 stars

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

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

Synopsis on Goodreads: 

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Review:

A Court of Mist and Fury was absolutely phenomenal! It has to be my favourite Maas book to date and one of my favourite books of 2016. The writing is just gorgeous and I’m amazed at how far Maas has come since Throne of Glass #1. I liked Throne of Glass enough to continue the series but I wasn’t into it until Heir of Fire. I’ve fallen in love with this series a lot faster and I think that’s a testament to how much Maas has grown when it comes to her writing. ACOMAF is huge and for good reason. There’s so much good character development! I’m also a huge fan of the Fae and faerie courts, so that was a plus.

Before I really get into my review there’s something I want to address – I’ve seen it mentioned in a lot of reviews, so I can’t not talk about it here. This book is New Adult. When the ACOTAR series was first announced, Maas said herself (somewhere) it is New Adult. She’s never tried to claim it as YA. Now, there’s something you need to understand about NA. There are varying opinions on this so I might get it wrong, but NA was born, and then died very quickly in traditional publishing. Most NA authors self-publish – and a lot of the time NA books will get sold as Adult Contemporary Romance. So there’s no specific section in a bookstore for NA – I’m sure a lot of people don’t even know what NA is. Maas is a big name in YA so I think this is why the series has been lumped in the YA section. If you’re uncomfortable with sexual content and coarse language and don’t want to read that, that’s totally fine. I’m not judging your likes/dislikes, but don’t take your anger out on Maas. If you need someone to complain to, talk to the bookstore or publisher for putting it in the YA section. I personally think the content is fine for YA readers – these are thinks I’ve heard teenagers say and experience. But for the love of God, don’t try to say this is erotica. If you want to know what erotica is there’s an entire book industry devoted to it. Again, I’m sorry if I got anything wrong when it comes to NA.

Anyways, back to my review.

This book is big and I love how in-depth we get with the characters – so much more than ACOTAR. The beginning I would say is very much “setting the scene”. Feyre has been traumatized by the events of the last book. She has PTSD, maybe even depression – she doesn’t have an appetite, she has nightmares and she’s not coping well. I love how Maas is able to bring us really close to Feyre’s character and understand why she is not alright. It feels a bit slow because as readers we’re usually used to getting thrown right into the action, but this is important. Tedious, but important. We also get to see how Tamlin’s been affected by those same events. I won’t lie, if you love Tamlin you might have a hard time with this book. These events and even the trauma of his parents deaths have had a very negative influence on him, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. It’s always hard seeing the good guy turn bad. Even though I believe that people can just snap, I think I’d have to reread ACOTAR and really analyze Tamlin’s character. I can believe that he could snap just from those events (Under the Mountain) alone, but again it’s really hard trying to decide if this was the right choice for his character.

Most of the book is set in the Night Court and there were some gorgeous, incredible scenes. When Feyre would explore the city with Rhys or by herself or with friends it was truly enchanting. It’s definitely a place I’d like to visit. Another great thing about this book, Maas decided to incorporate the Cauldron into the plot. The Cauldron is a creation myth so its significance is huge in Prythian. Feyre needs to find some artifacts hidden in both Prythian and the mortal realms, and destroy the Cauldron (which is in the King of Hybern’s possession). Feyre travels to different courts, among them the Summer Court which was beautiful! I imagine it looks like Greece or someplace around the Mediterranean. The world-building never fails to impress me.

Rhys. I loved Rhys! Maas showed us this deeply sensitive character, and how well a person can wear a mask. I was instantly intrigued by Rhys when we first met him in ACOTAR. I really liked this dark, trickster-like character, but I hadn’t been entirely sold on Rhys + Feyre. There were a couple moments in ACOTAR that I personally found abusive. Sorry, that’s my honest opinion. When Rhys and Feyre made that bargain, I got a Hades and Persephone vibe so I knew there’d be a lot of him in ACOMAF – and I was a little worried about how the romance would play out. This book is really good at selling you Rhys + Feyre. The romance between the two was well done. There’d be moments when Feyre could take the next step but she stops herself because she’s not ready or feels guilty, thinking it’s too soon – these are natural moments in dating. The development between the two was realistic and believable. As well, there are a couple scenes I’d been dying to read since starting the book and let me tell you, they live up to your expectations. In the beginning I was a little taken back at how charming Rhys was – a little too much compared to the character we met in ACOTAR. However, as I continued to read I really grew to like him – Maas is really good at unveiling his mask. I don’t have a problem when the MC finds or falls in love with a new guy/girl – I mean, that’s life. We fall in and out of love all the time. As well, Feyre and Tamlin didn’t know each other for that long – what they went through can bring a couple closer together, but it doesn’t stop the falling out of love part. I only wish Tamlin hadn’t been turned into the abusive villain, which helped this new romance seem like the better/only choice. Make Tamlin the villain, but not the abusive one. Again, this is one of those was-this-the-right-choice-for-this-character questions.

My dislikes are mostly general but there is a specific one. This is a quote from page 296:

“I had done everything-everything for that love. I had ripped myself to shreds, I had killed innocents and debased myself, and he had sat beside Amarantha on the throne. And he couldn’t do anything, hadn’t risked it-hadn’t risked being caught until there was one night left, and all he’d wanted to do wasn’t free me, but fuck me, and-
Again, again, again. One-two; one-two; one-two-
And when Amarantha had broken me, when she had snapped my bones and made my blood boil in its veins, he’d just knelt and begged her. He hadn’t tried to killed her, hadn’t crawled for me. Yes he’s fought for me-but I’d fought harder for him. ”

I don’t like the assumption that Tamlin’s actions equal he doesn’t really care or didn’t fight as hard. Everyone reacts differently to things – I’ve personally experienced this myself, where people thought I didn’t care about something because of how I reacted. I’m not debating whether or not Tamlin fought as hard as Feyre, but the assumption that he didn’t because of his reaction.

All in love I really loved this book and can’t wait for the third one. I hope Maas continues on the fantastic world-building and takes us to some of the other courts in the next book. I know there’ll be some great action scenes because of how ACOMAF ended.

Book Review: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

24790901The Abyss Surrounds Us

Emily Skrutskie

4/5 stars

Release Date: February 8, 2016

Publisher: Flux

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop.

Review:

I absolutely loved The Abyss Surrounds Us. It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean meets Pacific Rim. Skrutskie combines some of my favourite things to create this non-stop, action packed, female lead debut novel. I seriously couldn’t get enough of it!

The protagonist, Cassandra Leung has been around Reckoners – genetically modified sea monsters – her entire life. Cas is a really likeable character, I could relate to her almost immediately and once I started the novel I couldn’t stop. Cas is about to go on her first solo mission when the novel starts, so we as the reader get the behind-the-scenes look when it comes to creating and training Reckoners. Skrutskie is really great with character development, especially when it comes to Cas. She opens up to the reader, to Swift – another great character – and to herself.

Going into this, I thought it was fantasy but it delves more into sci-fi. This was a pleasant surprise because I love these types of books. Cas lives in a post-apocalyptic world, the borders of North America having changed. We don’t have an exact time period of how far off into the future this takes place, but there is some explanation into why countries became smaller – it’s better suited to handle and govern its people. In this day and age piracy has run rampant so governments and companies have created Reckoners, genetically engineered sea monsters, to protect important cargo and passenger ships.

Skrutskie is really good when it comes to world building – this world isn’t so different from ours in that we focus on the story and not the history behind it. I had questions – which are mostly answered – but it didn’t deter from the plot. Modern-day pirates and genetically engineered animals are things we can readily imagine – they’re familiar elements. I do feel the world building could have been expanded on a bit more. That’s my favourite element, so I always want more. For example, there are floating cities which are dependent on piracy. These cities literally float on the water and go wherever the ocean currents take them. I wished we could have seen more of that, they seem like a really interesting aspect.

I loved characters like Santa Elena, a pirate queen with a badass story to tell. Each character has their own story, their own worth. However, I didn’t feel like we got enough time with secondary characters. The Abyss Surrounds Us is largely focused on Cas and Swift.

Santa Elena has gotten her hands on a Reckoner and tasks Cas with training him. Named Bao, he’s a terrapoid which is like this giant turtle with claws. Minus the scary I-could-eat-you parts, I wanted my own Bao – I just loved everything-Reckoner. Skrutskie really impressed me when it came to them.

If you love pirates, sea monsters and diverse characters, this is the book for you. I’m really impressed with Skrutskie’s debut and I cannot wait to read her next book. When it comes to writing fiction, Skrutskie is talented. We can expect outstanding work from her in the future.

March Wrap-Up Post

IMG_0002I started going into April thinking I’d only read three books, which made me a bit sad, but I actually read five so yay for that! It’s almost like randomly finding money you forgot you had. I’d ended up reading three books in February, so it’s progress. I’m aiming for ten books this month and I’m really confident about that because I’ll have a lot more free time.

Here are the books I read:

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Vampire Knight Vol. 4 by Matsuri Hino

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine

Vampire Knight Vol. 5 by Matsuri Hino

A Thousand Nights was my favourite March read; the author presents an interesting twist on the original story, A Thousand and One Nights. Albeit confusing at first, the lack of names gives a sense of mystery. The ending is absolutely beautiful and I would definitely recommend! You can read my full review of this and the other books I read using the above links.

ICYMI:

I had the chance to interview Kate (E.K.) Johnston this month on the blog

I also made art inspired by The Crown’s Game for the Tsar’s Guard Parade Blog Tour

My favourite March moment: meeting Alison Goodman, Sabaa Tahir, Rachel Hawkins, Alwyn Hamilton and April Genevieve Tucholke at the Penguin Teen Tour. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw they’d be stopping in Toronto. Meeting Alison, the author of one of my favourite series of all time, Eon was phenomenal! Alwyn is also super nice and I’m loving Rebel of the Sands so far.

How did everyone do with their reading goals? Will you be participating in ARC April?

Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

21524446A Thousand Nights

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: October 6, 2015

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Review:

A gorgeous, magical story! Johnston’s words are beautiful and powerful, and in that respect similar to her protagonist – her storytelling becomes her power. There were some lines that were so poetic, in that I could see so much in just one sentence.

Although confusing at first, I liked that the reader wasn’t privy to the majority of the characters’ names, except for Lo-Melkhiin and a couple secondary characters (though I think the reader was given their titles, not their actual names). It made me think of when legends and stories are passed down through generations, and told far and wide, the names change but the stories remain the same (just look up the similarities of Mesopotamian myths to biblical stories). Adding to that, this is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, and while Johnston keeps the essence of the story the same, she brings to life her own characters.

The lack of names also creates a sense of mystery – this could be our world but it could also be some other fantasy world, one that only Johnston knows and can share all of its mysteries and secrets. The reader is given a small glimpse of this world – we know there’s something beyond the horizon, but the possibilities are limitless.

There’s not a lot of romance, but I didn’t mind that. The protagonist marries the king to save her sister – and she’s really a prisoner, trying to find some power to defeat the demon that is the king. Adding romance to that wouldn’t work and I couldn’t see that being published in the YA section.

One of my only dislikes was that sometimes I would drift off and get bored. At times the plot moved too slow for me and had me wondering if the author had enough room to wrap everything up. Although enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what I’d imagined.

The ending was really beautiful and completely satisfying! I’ve heard there’s a companion novel to this book and am looking forward to reading that. Johnston is a talented writer and so far I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by her.

Review + Interview: The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston

16068956The Story of Owen

E.K. Johnston

4/5 stars

Release Date: March 1, 2014

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books

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

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Listen! For I sing of Owen Thorskard: valiant of heart, hopeless at algebra, last in a long line of legendary dragon slayers. Though he had few years and was not built for football, he stood between the town of Trondheim and creatures that threatened its survival. There have always been dragons. As far back as history is told, men and women have fought them, loyally defending their villages. Dragon slaying was a proud tradition. But dragons and humans have one thing in common: an insatiable appetite for fossil fuels. From the moment Henry Ford hired his first dragon slayer, no small town was safe. Dragon slayers flocked to cities, leaving more remote areas unprotected. Such was Trondheim’s fate until Owen Thorskard arrived. At sixteen, with dragons advancing and his grades plummeting, Owen faced impossible odds armed only with a sword, his legacy, and the classmate who agreed to be his bard. Listen! I am Siobhan McQuaid. I alone know the story of Owen, the story that changes everything. Listen!

interviewlogo

I was lucky enough to interview Kate (E.K.) Johnston about books, publishing, writing and more! The Story of Owen is one of ten books nominated for the 2016 White Pine Award, you can check out the other books here. Thank you Kate for joining me on the blog!

1. I think what I’m dying to know most is what inspired you to write about dragon slayers in modern-day Toronto/GTA? Where did that idea come from?

E.J: Well, most importantly it wasn’t Toronto/the GTA. What I really wanted to do was write a book in small-town Southwestern Ontario, and look at community and fame and family in that kind of setting. The Thorskards are from Hamilton (except Hannah, who is from Ohio), but they put a lot of effort into becoming locals of Trondheim, and I wanted to write that. I had this vision of Lottie on the Burlington Skyway, but I knew that all the important things happened after they moved away.

Okay, all that is entirely true, but it sounds overly serious, so here’s another answer: I really wanted to light a barn full of miniature ponies on fire. Miniature ponies are the worst.

2. When it comes to the world building, how did you know what to/not to include? Is it challenging working with an alternate timeline?

E.J: This is where having a very smart editor is handy! Originally there was very little world-building actually in the book (all of the “story of” chapters were missing, except the first and last one), and then my editor said “So, can you put in some more world-building?” and I was all “How much do you want, because I can tell you literally everything, and I assume no one really wants to know that”. He told me what he wanted (thematically), and then I wrote it. It was awesome.

Working with an alternate timeline was actually super easy in this case because I was ADDING things to history (I imagine that taking things away or changing them is where the difficulty begins). I basically took whatever I wanted out of history, lit it on fire, and sent it back in. Also, there’s quite a bit of dragon-lore in existence already, so making it literal fact was fairly straightforward. When the Suez Canal Crisis chapter came together early on, I knew I had it.

3. Looking at all your books, are there any characters you’re really similar to? Is there any one character that’s really fun to write?

E.J: Oh, boy. There are a lot of characters I wish I was more like (my narrator in A Thousand Nights, Hannah in OWEN, Polly in Exit, Pursued By A Bear), but I think if there’s anyone, it’s Courtney from Prairie Fire. She did something her family’s not totally cool with, even though she’s very good at it, she’s an excellent friend, and she is always packed.

The most fun character to write is someone you haven’t met yet. I’m really enjoying writing from her perspective. However, the most fun character I can talk about in public is probably Porter, from Prairie Fire. He is a jerk in all the best ways.

4. Can you tell me about your writing process? When it comes to plot, world building, dialogue, which is the easiest or most enjoyable?

E.J: For me, the easiest part of writing is drafting, because plot, world-building, character, setting, and dialogue are usually pretty connected in my brain, and when I reach for something to put it into the draft, it materializes for me. Then I have to fix it, which is less fun, but I’ve had really great editors thus far, so it’s not too much of a trial.

I am a fast drafter, and can usually produce a complete manuscript in about a month. I think about it a lot before then, though, and take scratchy notes in various notebooks. Once it comes time to write, I write pretty solidly for a month, and then I take a nap. Then I revise. It’s not a schedule that works for everyone (and as I spend more time on promo, I’ll have to change my process a little), but so far I have done well with it.

5. I’m really excited for your upcoming novel EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. Can you tell me about the inspiration behind that? What was it about Shakespeare and The Winter’s Tale that stood out to you?

E.J: The Winter’s Tale has always been my second favourite Shakespeare play (after The Tempest). I love Paulina’s loyalty. When I was little, I used to imagine all the time Paulina and Hermione must have spent together while Hermione was in hiding. Their friendship is so wonderful.

Less wonderful is the tendency of male politicians to regulate female bodies. One such politician tried to re-open the abortion debate in 2012. He has since been ousted from his seat, but he was my MP, and I was furious. I wanted to write a book where a girl had an abortion, and wasn’t punished for it. To do that, she was going to need friends, like Paulina and Hermione, so that’s what brought me back to The Winter’s Tale.

Finally, Veronica Mars was a huge inspiration to me. Veronica has three really awesome girl-friends: Lily, Meg and Mac, but Lily and Meg both die. I wanted to write a story where Veronica got to keep all of her friends.

6. Do you have any writing or publishing advice to share with aspiring writers? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the publishing world?

E.J: My writing advice is to ignore all writing advice. Well, ignore most writing advice. You can listen politely to it, find what works for you, and just keep going on your way. The first 100 pages of David Eddings’ The Rivan Codex were useful to me, but they might not be to you.

My publishing advice is:

7. The Forest of Reading program is a great way of introducing new authors. Are there any books you’ve recently read and would recommend?

E.J: I really loved reading Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (spies and pilots in WWII!), Diana Peterfreund’s Across A Star-Swept Sea (post-apocalyptic Scarlet Pimpernel!), R.J. Anderson’s A Pocket Full of Murder (MURDER!), Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper (magic, art, and Brooklyn), Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules (more goats that I was expecting, but in the good way), anything by Tessa Gratton (but the Gods of New Asgard specifically), and Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff.

review

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston has a really interesting dynamic: dragons and dragon slayers in modern-day Ontario (Canada). I don’t think I originally read the summary quite right because I expected medieval times so it was fantastic being introduced to this alternate timeline. Johnston gets bonus points for setting her story in Ontario and somewhat near (give or take) to where I live. I found the main character, Siobhan very likeable and Johnston’s book has that feel-good ending to it.

The book for the most part takes place in a small town called Trondheim, and having grown up in a small town, it was really easy to imagine. I’d actually imagine Siobhan and Owen in my old high school, so Johnston’s book had that extra interactive element to it, at least for me. The first couple chapters mentioned Toronto, and how the city fit into the dragon slayer dynamic. I loved hearing about something I’m familiar with combined with dragons. My favourite part was reading about Lottie, Owen’s aunt, going to the top of the CN tower to watch for dragons. I also loved that the author didn’t info dump. Being an alternate timeline, the author mentions historical events and how they’ve been changed by dragons, but only when relevant to the plot.

I loved reading Siobhan’s commentary throughout the book. Her humour was one of the things I instantly liked about her, and I could also see her as a normal teenager – well, as normal as can be when there’s dragons involved. I connected with Siobhan a lot and felt we had very similar personalities. Sometimes I did drift off, but I think mainly because the voice is better suited for someone a couple years younger than me.

Owen was an intriguing character to get to know. His father and aunt are dragon slaying legacies and he has a lot of expectations from other people – will he become a dragon slayer, will he be good at it, etc. Moving to a small town and meeting Siobhan was exactly the thing he needed. I loved how the two grew together and it’s through each other they find things like friendship and confidence. I actually half-expected romance to happen between the two and was pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen. I wouldn’t have minded if romance had happened, but it was a surprise. Owen and Siobhan have a really endearing friendship; the two come together to break each other out of their shells and discover new things about themselves and the people around them. This was that feel-good ending – I was completely satisfied with the ending.

The Story of Owen is about Siobhan, a music lover, becoming Owen’s bard and telling his story as a dragon slayer – as well as going on dragon slaying adventures and figuring out a few mysteries. This book is the complete version of Owen’s tale and I loved that Siobhan is honest to the reader, letting him/her know how she originally started Owen’s tale and what parts she left out. This book has it all: friendship and bonds to last a lifetime, humour and heart, and most importantly, dragons – if you’re a fantasy lover like me. Johnston is talented and I recommend you pick up this book and others. I’m currently reading A Thousand Nights and am impatiently waiting for her next book Exit, Pursued by a Bear to be released.