26 October 2015

Review: Winterspell

Reviewer: Kelsey
Author: Claire Legrand
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 454
Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary (I'm under Goodreads spell): New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor's ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother's murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted--by beings distinctly nothuman. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they're to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets--and a need she can't define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won't leave Cane unscathed--if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The NutcrackerWinterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

What do I think?
I've never read a retelling for The Nutcracker before. I've never done much The Nutcracker before, except for a scary Barbie version. I kind of want to now.

I love that Clara was such a strong character. She was brave and physically strong too. She seemed so kick-ass in the beginning. But I'm also glad that she was sensible enough to be afraid of some things. It wasn't that she was without fear, it's that it was used to protect her family and to keep fighting. Okay, it pissed me off a little bit, but looking back it was fine.

Nicholas was great...until he was suddenly horrible and I had the worst time forgiving him. I don't think I would of but I'm not Clara so I guess she can make her own choices...

Anise was just bloody weird! Well, I could sort of understand how she could become attached to Clara but what Clara did around her was really the weird thing. Her reaction to being around Anise was aggravating to say the least and not at all what I expected. 

Actually, I didn't see much coming in this novel. It managed to create interesting twists and turns. It was a little younger than what I am reading lately but it kept surprises coming and it kept me interested. The characters didn't sit still for very long. I only wish that the ending would have gone a little more slowly so that I could more easily believe the resolution to Clara's problems. 

It was good but not the best. I wouldn't reread it but I don't regret this book.

21 October 2015

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn

Reviewer: Kristen
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Pages: 388
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Summary (Goodreads, you are the moon of my life): One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One NightsThe Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

My Thoughts: This is one of those books that when I was done reading, I just had to sit there and bask in the glory that is The Wrath and the Dawn. I was speechless, and it was the best kind of speechless there is. It was a breathtaking story, and easily one of my top 10 books of 2015. The characters are so real and vivid, and the fact that it was inspired by A Thousand and One Nights just makes it even more perfect. 

When Shazi gets the the castle, she thinks she understands what is happening, but as the story progresses, the reader sees that everything might not be as simple as it seems. The relationship between Shazi and the King is tenuous at best when the story begins, but as it progresses, feelings develop (not all good feelings, mind you), and a fantastic tale takes place. I honestly had no idea what I expected to happen, and I still don't know where the story is going to take us, but I'm so excited to find out. I read this book months ago, and I still can't wrap my head around it. You need to read it, because it's incredible. I cannot wait for the next one. 

Just read that description, how could you not immediately pick it up?

Final Thoughts: While I was confused at times, the writing of this novel can be described only as stunning. The world was incredibly immersive and the characters were stunningly brought to life. If you've listened to anything I've ever said, read this book, you won't regret it. 

19 October 2015

Review: The Descent (The Taker #3)

Reviewer: Kelsey
Author: Alma Katsu
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Rating: 5 out of 10

**Spoiler Alert: This is the third in a series. Check out The Taker or The Reckoning (The Taker #2) before reading this or its review**

Summary (From Goodreads): Lanore McIlvrae has been on the run from Adair for hundreds of years, dismayed by his mysterious powers and afraid of his temper. She betrayed Adair’s trust and imprisoned him behind a stone wall to save Jonathan, the love of her life. When Adair was freed 200 years later, she was sure that he would find her and make her existence a living hell. But things turned out far different than she’d imagined.

Four years later, Lanore has tracked Adair to his mystical island home, where he has been living in self-imposed exile, to ask for a favor. She wants Adair to send her to the hereafter so she may beg the Queen of the Underworld to release Jonathan, whom she has been keeping as her consort. Will Lanore honor her promise to Adair to return? Or is her intention to reunite with Jonathan at any cost?

Of all the forces of the universe, the most mysterious, confounding, and humbling is the power of love. The epic story of love and loss, magic and destiny that began with The Taker and sparked a chase around the world in The Reckoning comes to a surprising conclusion with The Descent.

My thoughts on this book: First off, I'm mad that this book started where it did because I felt like I was just thrown into this book. Sure, I got it right when it came out but I didn't read it for a long time and I felt terribly disconnected from what I remembered happening at the end of the last novel. There was a huge time jump but, even now, I'm not a 100% certain how long it was or why it happened. It just felt kind of off.

I understand the character development that led her to return to Adair but that doesn't mean it isn't creepy and it sure doesn't make me think this was healthy. Actually, I'm very certain that this whole relationship is the least healthy thing in the world. (I still ship it, sadly.)

But this novel was too short. Everything happened all at once and then there was nothing and then suddenly something was happening and it was over. It wasn't balanced at all. It really bothered me because it made some parts of it drag. On top of that, there were plot pieces that didn't seem to fit and the ending was rushed. I think there could have been another hundred or so pages to better tie up parts of the plot and finish developing the characters. The ending needed more for it to get a better rating. There could have been SO MUCH MORE but the audience was left with only small bits of it. Then the book was over. After all the build up in the last novels (which I loved, especially the first) it was a really big disappointment. 

Don't let this review stop you from reading the series. I thought that The Taker was a great novel (horrible inappropriate for a younger audience, full of triggers, and with unhealthy relationships galore but that might just be the Tumblr side of me talking, if you know what I mean). I even recall enjoying The Reckoning, not that I didn't enjoy this one at all. I wish this novel had been more like the rest of the series. I wish that it had been more. I wish that it ended better. 

HOWEVER, the plot twist was a surprise. I mean, I knew something was going on with Adair but I didn't really see what was happening. 

I would read more from this author in a heartbeat. Check out The Taker, if you are reading this and still haven't read the book.

14 October 2015

Review: An Ember in the Ashes

Reviewer: Kristen
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Pages: 446
Format: Hardcover
My Rating: 9 out of 10

Summary (you rock, Goodreads): Laia is a slave. 

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

My Thoughts: You know, when a book is so popular that everyone is talking about it? And I mean everyone. Friends, bloggers, neighbours, parents... you know, the whole nine yards. Usually that means the book is better than good, better than great, and down right spectacular. And I am happy to report that An Ember in the Ashes lived up to all the hype it generated, and then some. 

I'm always worried when I start a popular book because I want to love it and talk about it and just rejoice because it is just that great. I have not shut up about Laia and Elias since I've read the story because they are just that fantastic. They come from two completely different worlds, one the conquered and one the conquerer. They could not have come from more different circumstances if they tried, yet they are both so similar. They are both desperate for a way out of the life they currently lead. Elias wants out of the military that is controlled by his openly psychotic mother, and all Laia wants is for her and her family to stay safe and healthy. They are both forced into unbelievable circumstances and have to fight for their survival. The alternating POV's work incredibly well in this novel. Though, I admit, sometimes I'd start looking forward to Elias' POV more than Laia's (this never happens for me, I usually always prefer the female POV because it seems more realistic to me, but Elias was just so great that it wasn't even an issue). 

The only thing that I really had a problem with was the worldbuilding. Sometimes I had trouble invisioning everything that was happening, and I think that if there was just a few more details it would have gone a long way. So, that's the only reason that I couldn't give this a 10 out of 10. But, with the fantastic characters, it's easily overlooked. 

I'm super excited that the sequel was announced because I have so many questions and I need answers to allllll of them! Like Chef, what's going on there? And Laia's brother? And Elias? And Helene? There's just so many questions! 

Final Thoughts: I understand the hype. I am the hype. You need to read this, yesterday.

12 October 2015

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Reviewer: Kelsey
Author: Ransom Riggs
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary (Goodreads knows that I'm peculiar): A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Thoughts: This book was cool. The pictures were really interesting, especially when you get to the back of the book and you see the collection information. The historical aspects of this book make it much more exciting than it would be any other way. I think the pictures being in the book where they are mentioned is perfect. They were the coolest thing. The pictures are why I picked up the book in the first place.

I found myself pulled into a world of murder and mystery and wild fantasy. This novel was one that had just about everything, even a little growing romance. It was quite an adventure for Jacob to go on and I felt bad for him in some ways. I could understand his curiosity but I would have had a mental breakdown. I also don't think that I would have wandered around by myself after seeing the things that he saw.

This novel has quite the cast. Each one is a character worth of their own book. Each is so unique. I wonder how the author came up with them all. Sadly, it was a little hard for me to follow who each one was. The author does a fairly good job of reminding the reader frequently and the second novel comes with a list (I already have it).

My only real problem with this novel is that it felt more like a middle school novel because of how young the protagonist was. The vocabulary and writing were outstanding, so that sure wasn't the problem. I guess I just had a bit of a hard time connecting with Jacob.

If you like paranormal/fantasy novels or historical (but not at all accurate...because of the paranormal stuff) novels than this one is for you. I think that even if you are just into old photos you should at least flip through the book. It's interesting. Check it out.

7 October 2015

Review: The Heir (The Selection #4)

Reviewer: Kristen
Author: Kiera Cass
Pages: 342
Format: Paperback
My Rating: 6 out of 10

** SPOILER ALERT: This is the fourth in the series, and definitely will contain spoilers if you haven't read the first three**

Summary (Thank you dearly, Goodreads): Princess Eadlyn has grown up hearing endless stories about how her mother and father met. Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won the heart of Prince Maxon—and they lived happily ever after. Eadlyn has always found their fairy-tale story romantic, but she has no interest in trying to repeat it. If it were up to her, she'd put off marriage for as long as possible.

But a princess's life is never entirely her own, and Eadlyn can't escape her very own Selection—no matter how fervently she protests.

Eadlyn doesn't expect her story to end in romance. But as the competition begins, one entry may just capture Eadlyn's heart, showing her all the possibilities that lie in front of her . . . and proving that finding her own happily ever after isn't as impossible as she's always thought.

My Thoughts: I had read The One right when it came out, and I was so excited to see where the series was going to end and if the characters were going to get a satisfying ending. Apparently I didn't have to worry about it though, because shortly after (if I'm remembering correctly) the rest of the series was announced. And while I thought The One was almost unnecessary and that the series could have easily been a duology instead of a trilogy, this one definitely crossed into unnecessary and "I thought this story was over why am I still reading it" category. Which isn't to say it didn't entertain me, because it did. It was just not at all necessary to the story of America and Maxon. I think it would have been better as a spin-off and not a "continuation" (though, I use that term lightly). 

I hated Eadlyn. I thought she was completely awful to most of the people around her. I could not reconcile the America we got to know in the first three novels with the America that is presented in this book. (I don't think she'd ever force Eadlyn to go through with her own Selection, even if it would relieve stress off her father. Ugh.) The new characters that were introduced all felt like they were the male versions of the female characters in the first selection. I saw the plot twist coming from a mile away, even though that plot twist is the only reason I will finish the series. I was just disappointed, I guess. It felt like the same story, with the same political issues that Maxon was supposed to fix. 

That review seriously made it sound like I hated it. I didn't. It was entertaining enough, and the story was interesting enough for me to finish in one sitting. The writing was great again, I don't know how Kiera Cass does it, but she is a wonderful story teller. I'll finish off the series, I just don't know who I'm rooting for at this point. 

I have some serious cover lust, though.

Final Thoughts: While it was entertaining, it definitely didn't feel like it was necessary. If you liked the rest of the series, though, I would definitely suggest continuing on! 

Reviewer: Kelsey
Rating: 5 out of 10

My Thoughts: Mwahaha, I'm hijacking Kristen's post.
Anyway, I didn't really like this book. I hated Eadlyn. She was a whiney baby and a generally horrible person that was spoiled and didn't care about anyone but herself. I wanted to punch her in the face. I didn't find that she had any redeemable features. She was the stereotypical rich kid and I absolutely hated it.

I also was mad at her parents. This novel is practically the exact same as the rest of the series. The same problems are happening and the parents are making the same mistakes that they hated. That shouldn't have happened. They should not have made the choices they did. 

I also didn't like that the foreshadowing shoved us in one direction and the author chose the exact opposite. It was obviously done that way on purpose. There was no subtly at all. It was stupid.

The novel wasn't as bad as I made it sound. It wasn't too much of a time commitment. It did, however, make me exceedingly angry so that was a problem. If you really, really, really loved this series you might enjoy this novel.

5 October 2015

Blog Tour: Madly (Potion, #1) - The Recipe for Samantha Kemi

Reviewer: Kristen
Author: Amy Alward
Pages: 384
Format: ARC - available September 29, 2015! 
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10

* I received this from Simon & Schuster CA in exchange for a fair and honest review* 

Summary (I'm mad about you, Goodreads): When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi - an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam's family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they've fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. 

No big deal, then.

My Thoughts: So, I wasn't a hundred percent sure what to expect with this novel. I mean I saw a tagline that said that Madly was The Princess Diaries and The Hunger Games mixed together and talk about intrigue. I'm generally a little scared of fantasy, just because it can go in so many different directions and I never know exactly what I'm going to get with it. But, if Madly is any indication of what to expect in the fantastic-y world, count me in! There was magic and mythical creatures and love and kickass characters (I mean, hello, Samantha Kemi? Can we be best friends please?). It took place in a modern setting - which, hello sorry for another interlude from yours truly, but how cool is that? I never ever read fantasy stories that take place now - and it never felt like it was trying to hard or it was reaching. It was refreshing to read about this kickass girl and these surreal and wonderful (and often, not so wonderful) experiences taking place in a world that I can clearly imagine, because it's my world. There was some romance, but I thought that it was adorable and added to the story. There wasn't any insta-love or anything like that. They genuinely cared about what would happen to the other people, and I was here for it. Basically, without spoiling anything, if you add alchemy, mix in some fantasy, stir in adventure, add a whole heck of a lot of humour, and add a pinch of romance, you've got yourself a recipe for Madly. Maybe that's actually the love potion recipe... 

However, I think that my absolute favourite part of the novel was how wonderfully written it was. All the sudden I was swept up into the world, and seriously devouring the book. Once I was in, I couldn't get out. And once I was in, I didn't want to get out. I'm eagerly awaiting the rest of the series to see what kind of trouble our characters are going to get into!

P.S. Serious cover lust. Hardcore cover lust. Lust that is moving into love territory kind of lust. 

Final Thoughts: This was a light, funny, and fun read. It was the perfect end of summer story, and I'll definitely be finishing off the series!


The Recipe for Samantha Kemi 

Making A Main Character by Amy Alward, author of Madly
Inspiration when creating your characters flows down from your everyday life and upbringing, from your old Aunt Mildred to that villain in your childhood novels. When creating my main character for Madly, I pulled and picked and flipped and twisted characteristics that stuck with me over the years, then finally pieced them together to create Samantha Kemi. In this specific book, my inspiration came from all the characters I’ve encountered in my reading. And I remember exactly the wizards and witches and all around kick-butt characters who inspired me:

1. Chrestomanci, from The World of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones

Chrestomanci is employed by the Parliament in The World of Chrestomanci and his job is to make sure magic isn’t being misused in the world. His character seeped into Samantha in the way that he can be random and unpredictable, but also honourable. Samantha’s main goal is to redeem her family’s name and save Princess Evelyn, two very honorable endeavors.

2. Ged from The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

Ged is the main protagonist in A Wizard of Earthsea and can be seen as a very serious and arrogant boy who then matures into an extremely powerful wizard. Now, I wouldn’t say Samantha is arrogant but she definitely has got some cheeky-ness to her! She doesn’t take any crap and is confident in her potion skills. The only person who can ruffle her feathers is Zain and that’s when her cheeky attitude really comes forward!

3. Indiana Jones from Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones is one of the cleverest and quick witted characters I’ve ever seen. But more importantly, he’s human. I wanted to create a supernatural world but with very relatable characters. Like Indy, Samantha makes mistakes and ends up in sticky situations and they both have fears like you and I (can’t forget Indy and the snakes!). Indy and Samantha are really only human at the end of the day.

4. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss is a kick-butt character that I absolutely love and there are qualities in her that I definitely mirrored when creating Sam. The most important characteristic about Katniss is her strive to create her own fate. Even before she volunteers as tribute she is always pushing the boundaries of her district. Samantha is very much like Katniss in this sense, she will not settle for the reputation that her family’s name has developed and will go to great lengths to prove herself and carve her own path.

5. Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

The characters in the Harry Potter series as a whole have definitely influenced my writing and inspired me as an author. But it is Hermione Granger that specifically inspired elements of Samantha while writing Madly. It is her desire for truth, her ability to learn, and her passion for what she is learning that I infused into Samantha. Just as Sam prefers natural potion ingredients as opposed to synthetic ones, Hermione also hates cutting corners (especially when it comes to studying!).
There you have it! I hope you enjoy reading about Sam as much as I enjoyed creating her and writing Madly! Let me know which characters inspire your writing @amy_alward.

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