An Unexpected Adventure by Kandi J. Wyatt - Cover Reveal

An Unexpected Adventure by Kandi J. Wyatt

Protect their community or protect their discovery?

For eighth graders Chace, Harley, Will, and Cherise, that’s a life-changing question after they find a dragon’s egg while hunting for thundereggs on the beach. Toss in summer jobs, family struggles, and a National Security Agent, and their summer vacation just became complicated.

Can they find a solution that won’t leave their hearts broken or their community in flames?

Pre-order "An Unexpected Adventure" here!

Release date: Tuesday, Sept 25th

Blogger's note:

I have been sent an eARC of "An Unexpected Adventure" for review, but I have not read it yet. It looks like a very promising middle-grade novel, quoted to be a mashup of "E.T. meets How to Train Your Dragon". HTTYD is one of my favourite animated movies, and I can not wait to read this book!

Author Bio:

Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school, Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that's her own five or the hundreds of students she's been lucky to teach. When Kandi's not spinning words to create stories, she's using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.

Links:

Website: http://kandijwyatt.com/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/kandijwyatt/
Google: http://plus.google.com/u/0/+KandiWyatt/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/kandijwyatt
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/kandijwyatt
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13817774.Kandi_J_Wyatt
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kandi-J-Wyatt/e/B00ZTC4T10/

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Book review: Everless (Everless #1) by Sara Holland

Everless  

This year has been rather generous on new young adult fantasy series. One of the early 2018 debut novels is Everless by Sara Holland. I saw this book pop up a lot on BookTube, which, naturally, attracted me to it. Everless came out in January, but I only finished it in summer, even though it was readily available at my library.

 

Synopsis

 

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

 

Review

 

I read the first hundred pages or so of Everless almost in one go and then got stuck. The beginning was engaging and well written, however very quickly the book fell into the pit of tropes and cliches.

We have a female protagonist, Jules, who is repeatedly told not to go to the Gerlings’ estate by her father, but, naturally, it is the only way to help her father, and Jules goes against his wishes. Of course, there is more to the story: half-forgotten memories and old friendships. There is a crush that happens unexpectedly for Jules - but can be seen a mile away by the reader. There is an obvious love triangle, which includes a naive but well-wishing girl, a good boy, and an archetypical bad boy.

For some reason, the very beginning of Everless reminded me Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Perhaps, it was the idea of a girl with unknown powers going to the very place she should avoid at all costs and working as a servant. Even a love triangle was similar. But, naturally, the plot was different.

You can imagine that with that type of a setting, I was rolling my eyes a lot. But I have little patience for cliches. I must say, however, that for a debut novel Sara Holland did an excellent job with creating the world and her writing style is light enough that the book flows well. It is an easy read which helped me finish it eventually.

The magic system of this world, which is connected directly to the society and economic structure, is what makes Everless stand out from other young adult fantasy novels. I liked the idea of blood being tied directly to years of life that could be turned into a coin and used to pay for things. It is a fascinating concept. Unfortunately, everything else in Everless was cliched.

I guess about the betrayal long before it happened. I knew who would turn out to be a villain. I did enjoy the experience of reading this book, though, so I plan on continuing with the series. My favourite part was when Jules explored an abandoned town and the scene with the Queen.

I think that overall for me Everless was more about the world building than characters or plot. I want to see more of that world developed and explored. I feel that the author has the potential of making this story much better. Everless may not be the book I would want to own, but I am looking forward to the sequel.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Book Review: "The Savior's Champion" (The Savior's Series #1) by Jenna Moreci

The Savior's Champion  

I received an advance copy of The Savior’s Champion from the author in return for an honest review.

 

I have been following Jenna on YouTube for some time and heard good things about her first book, Eve: The Awakening, but I never had a chance to read her writing. Jenna is a fellow authortuber, and her writing advice videos are hilarious and on point. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to read an ARC of her new upcoming novel The Savior’s Champion.

 

Synopsis

 

Tobias Kaya doesn't care about The Savior. He doesn't care that She's the Ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn't care that She's of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.

 

Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting—and killing—for the chance to rule at The Savior's side. Instantly his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.

 

Review

 

I have a lot of thoughts about The Savior’s Champion - some of them are a bit contradictory, in fact. That’s why this review took me so long to put together. I think it is an excellent book, in certain aspects, but rather weak in the others. Most importantly though, it is a very memorable and exciting book. Something that I haven’t been able to say about a self-published book in a long while.

 

I often fall prey to intriguing summaries and premises but then get disappointed, quite often in fact, by the book itself. I was extremely relieved when I realized that The Savior’s Champion held my attention from the very start.

 

The prologue and first chapter serve as scene setters; they are engaging enough, but not too stunning, I am afraid to say. Which explains why some people after reading 1-3 chapters from Jenna’s website, ended up giving the whole book lower rating. In my opinion, even though the purpose of a prologue is clear once you get halfway through the book - or maybe even sooner, - it feels weak compared to later chapters.

 

I did not like Tobias from the very beginning, but I grew to like him way more in later chapters, once his morality and goodness of character began to shine. He did get a bit whiny, in my opinion, at the very end - but he went through a lot, so I guess it is understandable and realistic.

 

I loved all of the female characters in The Savior’s Champion, and I think Jenna did a great job creating a pleiad of strong women. Even secondary female characters were well developed and had their distinct storylines and purpose. I loved Leila from the start - her fierceness and strength, just like her name, reminded me of Princess Leia. Leila can stand up for herself and does not need rescuing (for the most part). In fact, she quite often rescued Tobias and others. That was so much fun to read.

 

All women in The Savior’s Champion were well-written, except for the two most important women in Tobias’ life: his mother and sister. And this is where I had a problem.

 

Tobias’ mother throughout the beginning of the book was only concerned about keeping Tobias away from the championship. For no reason. As for Naomi, her only purpose in the book seemed to be of an unfortunate “cripple” to provide Tobias with an excuse to enter the competition. Although it may sound like a legitimate and noble reason, the fact that we did not get to learn anything about Naomi or her relationship with Tobias - although he thought and talked about her during the tournament - sours it. It feels as if the disability and disfigurement were used as a plot device. I understand why, but I think it should have been handled better. (There is a connection between what happened to Naomi and Tobias’ mother’s comments and the plot line. However, I feel that it was not explained at the end of the novel. We were left hanging there.)

 

Same goes for LGBTQ+ representation. There is no real conversation in the book in regards to sexuality. There were characters who mentioned having sex with the members of their own gender, but it was either hidden or mentioned in an offhand way, which did not sit well with me. I fully understand that the purpose of the championship was for men to compete against each other for a woman - which is as heteronormative as it can be - but I was still hoping for better representation. And, most certainly, better handling of the topic. I am tired of reading about unhappy gay couples or promiscuity. Just saying. It was not something shocking given the plot of The Savior’s Champion, but I just hoped for better representation.

 

Now onto the things, that I really liked.

 

The action, oh goodness, the action! Once you get past those two or three chapters at the very beginning, you are constantly kept on your toes. The first death came as such a big shock; I had to do a double take. I just couldn’t believe it would happen this soon and that quickly. And let me tell you, Jenna seems to enjoy killing and torturing her characters. It took me some time to realize that I should stop caring for anyone beyond the main protagonists as everyone would get killed eventually.  

 

The Savior’s Champion reminded me of a weird mix of Royal Battle, Kill Bill, and The Gladiator. The book is full of action, blood, death, gore, more death, more gore, etc. I must give it to the author, as she created the most intricate and creative set of challenges (aka ways to kill off her characters). The Savior’s Campion is not a tiny book - I think it is probably about 90K words judging by the time it took me to read it - but the narrative keeps you hooked as you are often deceived into thinking there is a break in torture, but it is only an illusion.

 

I think this book has one of the best executions of action and fight scenes I have read in awhile! Some dialogues were brilliant too, very snarky and funny. There is, however, a lot of swearing and crudeness that almost put me off. But once again, it served very well for the setting and atmosphere of the book. Some tagged it as Young Adult on GoodReads, but I disagree. The characters are between 18-21 years old, plus there are older characters too, and considering mentions of sex, level of violence and swearing, it is more of a New Adult or even an Adult novel.

 

The world itself is reminiscent of Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. The society's structure and the tournament - just like that of a gladiators’ era. Even though it is a fantasy novel, the magic is only present in the powers of The Saviour, which takes the form of a blessing or a transfer of powers. The Saviour is treated like a goddess, although she is not referred to as one, and quite often characters exclaimed 'oh my God', which I found a bit confusing, as there was no depiction of religion in this world. All people seem to believe in is The Saviour’s powers - and that’s all.

 

The romance was not too bad either - definitely a slow burn, which is excellent, as I am not a huge fan of romance-focused books and “instalove” as a trope should die already. There was a lot of teasing and sexy innuendo, once again only heteronormative, naturally, but it was well written.

 

The main plot twist was good, but I figured it out very soon into the book. However, I must say, I enjoyed the way Jenna weaved different hints and plot lines together in The Savior’s Champion from the very beginning. Considering how well put together all the plot lines are, I was a bit let down by the ending. The revelation scene was perfect, but what followed was not a real resolution, but more of an open ending. And I was a 100% sure that it was going to be a stand-alone.

 

Now I feel cheated, as I need a sequel because we were left hanging, but as far as I know, Jenna is currently writing a companion novel and not the sequel. I am not sure what to make of it. Surely, The Savior’s Champion ended well for certain characters, but for the kingdom - not so well. Plus, certain things were hinted at but never explained.

 

This is why I was torn for some time about what rating to give this book. The Savior’s Champion held my attention enough that I didn’t notice how fast I went through it, which is usually the sign of 4 star read. But the representation and small things that could have been improved disappointed me. My rating overall is the representation of that conflict. It is a solid start of a series if it is what it is, but I was also left disappointed in certain aspects.

 

Regardless of my conflicted thoughts, I decided to give this book a bit of a higher rating on GoodReads and Amazon, as it has a well-constructed plot, and it is very option something that lacks in the books of late. I am very grateful to Jenna for giving me an opportunity to read and review The Savior’s Champion, and I hope to read more of her books soon!

 

 

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

P.S. I feel, as if it is one of my longest reviews to date - oh boy!

 

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Book review: "Ibuki" by Kathryn Sommerlot

Ibuki  

I have requested a copy of “Ibuki” from NetGalley. It was marked as LGBTQIA and Fantasy read, which is one of my favourite genre combinations.

Description

 

Ibuki: the gift of healing through breath. Chiasa has possessed the ability since childhood and shares it with her father as they care for their Inuru community. Chiasa has never doubted the stability of her simple life. That is, until Namika, a water-gifted priestess, shows up outside the Ibuki shrine gates with information promising Chiasa’s doom.

 

With Namika’s help, Chiasa is determined to find the secrets behind the ritual that will claim her life, but her growing feelings toward the other woman reach beyond her control, adding to the confusion. Time is rapidly running out, and Chiasa can’t seem to sort out the lies woven through the magic of Inuru and its emperor.

 

Caught in a tangled web of immortality, betrayal, and desire, Chiasa must find the right people to trust if she hopes to stop the ritual—or she will pay the consequences.

 

Review

 

“Ibuki” is a novella long story set in a semi-alternative version of Imperial Japan. The magic in this world is elemental, and only few priests and priestess possess it. It reminded me a lot of various anime series that I watched years ago. The magic system is integrated seamlessly into the narrative and I liked the depictions of the life and everyday tasks that Chiasa had to do.

 

However, the story lacks depth, and the narrative is rather bland, once you look past trite metaphors and cliches. Even the big twist at the end of the story was obvious from ahead and made me only roll my eyes. There was almost no tension or suspense, and the ending didn’t surprise me at all.

 

“Ibuki” is a sweet story if you are okay with cliches and glaring plot holes. I did not find the relationship believable but it was not the worst I read in a short story.

 

I love Japanese culture and language and I studied it for some time years ago. It was lovely to read a story set in Japan, however, I did have issues with the writing.

 

In spite of my opinions on the writing, I am thankful to the publisher for giving me an opportunity to read and review “Ibuki”.

 

Rating: 2.75 stars

 

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Book review: "The Uncrossing" by Melissa Eastlake

The Uncrossing  

I received an e-ARC of "The Uncrossing" by Melissa Eastlake from Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review.

 

The moment I saw this book available for request, I immediately hit ‘send’ button. Gay boys, curses, and magic? Hell yeah!

However, when I started reading the book, my excitement dampened.

Let’s start with the plot.

 

Synopsis

 

Luke can uncross almost any curse—they unravel themselves for him like no one else. So working for the Kovrovs, one of the families controlling all the magic in New York, is exciting and dangerous, especially when he encounters the first curse he can't break. And it involves Jeremy, the beloved, sheltered prince of the Kovrov family—the one boy he absolutely shouldn't be falling for.

 

Jeremy's been in love with cocky, talented Luke since they were kids. But from their first kiss, something's missing. Jeremy's family keeps generations of deadly secrets, forcing him to choose between love and loyalty. As Luke fights to break the curse, a magical, citywide war starts crackling, and it's tied to Jeremy.

 

This might be the one curse Luke can't uncross. If true love's kiss fails, what's left for him and Jeremy?

 

Plot

 

The synopsis sounds more coherent and put together than the book itself. I loved the idea of an urban fantasy set in a modern New York City. I loved that it was all about old curses and family secrets. However, I found the execution of this plot as well as world building rather weak. Magic system seems to be connected to spells, blood, and voodoo-like curses, but the limitations of the magic, or how each character does what they do, is never really explained.

 

"The Uncrossing" lacks exposition to the point that I had to go back a page or two to visualize what is happening. It took me some time to get used to the narration. It is not a poorly written book, but it has holes that often left me floundering and second-guessing what I am reading.

 

Luke and Jeremy though. Ah, those two are absolutely adorable. I enjoyed all the characters in the book, although the attempts at creating morally ambiguous and grey characters, like Andrei and Sergei, with this sort of jumpy narration have largely failed, in my opinion. I liked them both, but some aspects just missed the mark for me.

 

Problematic aspects

 

Even though the book is great when it comes to diversity, the choice of cultural background for the characters left me slightly confused. The Kovrovs are Russian, while the Melnyk family is Ukrainian-Creole. I can not speak for the Creole culture, but I can speak for the Eastern European part.

 

The portrayal of a rich and influential Russian mafia family (because let’s be honest, this is what the Kovrov family is) is so stereotypical for western society to the point of being mildly offensive. The Ukrainians are portrayed as hardworking but poor.

 

Besides mentioning a prayer in Russian or some Russian or Ukrainian words, without actually mentioning them in the text, the cultural background of both families is shown only in their given names and the mention of borscht in the first chapter - which, let me be absolutely clear, nobody would ever serve to an important guest as a meal neither in Russia nor in Ukraine, unless we are speaking of a rural Russia in the feudal times.

 

There are reviewers who love to throw around complaints about “cultural appropriation”, but in spite of my feelings on the subject, "The Uncrossing" is hardly damaging. I would have, however, appreciated a more meaningful portrayal of both cultures. Both Russian and Ukrainian folklore have enough depth to provide inspiration for any fantasy setting or magic system.

 

I had problems with the world building and magic system, mild issues with some of the characters, but I adored the romance part in the book, although it is usually the least favourite plotline for me. I also felt that the ending of the book was better thought through than some middle parts. I found myself more engaged in the book after I hit 50-60%.

 

It is a debut novel, so I hope that Melissa would produce more fiction in the future. Hopefully, it would also be about queer boys and magic. It was overall a fun read, even though it took some time to get used to the style. Recommend for the fans of the YA LGBT books, otherwise, you might find it boring.

 

Personal rating: 3.5 stars

 

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Book review: Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1) by Leigh Bardugo

  As always I am late to the party. I mean, everyone has already read the Six of Crows duology a year ago which followed The Grisha trilogy, and here I am - finally reading the first book in the trilogy. But better late than never, huh?

Following my rather mixed feelings in regards of  “Crown’s Game” by Evelyn Skye (I was excited to read the book set in Imperial Russia but also found all language fumbles and misconceptions rather frustrating - neither of which prevented me from buying the book or its sequel, by the way), I became increasingly anxious over starting The Grisha trilogy. I heard good things, but not amazing things. People were praising Bardugo for setting her fantasy in Russia, but at the same time they were not calling it an amazing book. Even the title of the series made me feel apprehensive - who names the series a short version of the name Gregory which, by the way, is the name for magicians of that world.

 

Errr, what?

 

Not to mention, the types of the order - Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki - that make even less sense and only vaguely resemble Russian language. (Stapling ‘ki’ ending to an English word is not how you go about it. It just makes it sound derogatory.)

 

But at some point I was like - enough is enough, time to read the series! If I hate it, then I will hate it, but if I don’t - then I want to be able to say so.

 

Long story short: I did NOT hate it. But I was not instantly enamoured either.

 

Linguistic fumbles aside (and, yes, I did find mistakes in the language, which once again made me what to pull at my hair and yell at non-native speakers incorporating words in foreign languages to seek reliable native speaking translators), you can definitely tell that “Shadow and Bone” is Bardugo’s debut novel. It is not a necessarily bad novel, but it is cliched and raw in some parts, although I did enjoy the fact that it is a very fast paced book. You get thrown into the midst of action almost from the very beginning, which is great and saves you from paying too much attention to certain plot holes.

 

I liked all main characters, although the trope of “the chosen one” is getting pretty old. The Darkling is, probably, my most favourite character, in spite of how cliched of a dark brooding but incredibly attractive villain he is. I loved the depictions of the Shadow Fold and Unsee and volcra.

 

While reading the book, I felt compelled to stop treating this world as an actual historical depiction of Russian Empire in 1800s but treat it as a sort of resembling reality fantasy world. I am thankful that unlike Skye, Bardugo did not claim any historical prowess when it comes to world building. I would not have handled that well. The world of Ravka (another word that makes me cringe internally) is as historically accurate as the animated movie ‘Anastasia’ (which is a great movie but is also so Hollywood-like that it is almost offensive that it was so well received and is still loved by many, considering how far fetched it is from actual events). Since “Shadow and Bone” does not claim to be set in Russia, I am (almost) willing to overlook poorly constructed sentences in Russian (please, do not use Google Translate when you write books), misconception that kvas is a heavy alcoholic drink (it is lighter than beer and I can’t imagine anyone getting drunk on it!) or that everyone eats buckwheat and marinated herring for breakfast (the herring is delicious, by the way) or that the name of the main protagonist, Alina Starkov, sounds like an immigrant Russian name in USA (because since Alina is female, her last name should have been Starkova). As you understand, I can continue with this list.

 

I did enjoy reading the novel, when I was not cringing or rolling my eyes. It is better than some debut novels, I have read. It is not perfect - not even close, but it is book one in the trilogy, and I have heard from several people that Bardugo’s writing does get better in later books. Which gives me hope.

 

Overall, the book has a distinctive Hollywood flair to it. The alluring boys are too alluring, the stubborn main characters are too stubborn, and the creepy villains are too creepy. You know what I mean. But the pace of the narrative was enough to keep me hooked. I flew through the book that turned out to be shorter and a much quicker read than I expected. So, I have to give Leigh that. She managed to keep me entertained in spite of everything.

I can not wait to read the second novel. I hope it does get better.

 

Personal rating: 3 stars

 

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Shadow and Bone   

Book review: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1) by Victoria Schwab

 

Do you know that feeling when you open a book, read the first line and go like, ‘yup, this is my author, alright’. I got this feeling when I started reading “Vicious” - the first book by Victoria Schwab that I read. And I got the same feeling when I started reading ‘This Savage Song’. And it thrilled me to no end.

 

“This Savage Song” was doing a lot of rounds on BookTube last year, and the most mentioned thing about it was the fact that there is no romance in this book, which is incredibly rare and unusual for a young adult novel. What this book does have in abundance is monsters - both of human and supernatural variety.

 

The novel is set in a dystopian world, in the city which is divided by civil war. August Flynn and Kate Harker might seem like dystopian Romeo and Juliet but, thankfully, they are not star-crossed lovers, although there is an undeniable connection between them. There is enough gore and violence in this book to make it seem almost an adult novel. Almost but not enough. I would have loved this book to be more heavy (yes, more angsty and more intense), but I loved it for what it was worth.

 

“This Savage Song” seems like such a my book that it is surprising that it doesn’t have my name printed all over it. I couldn’t have asked for a better book (well, maybe a bit more angst and queerness) to read. I am surprised I have not written it myself, in a way. Just like when I was reading “Vicious”, I kept thinking that Victoria must be my brain twin as she created monsters that are more human than humans, and humans who are more monstrous than monsters - something that I aspire to do too.

 

I adored this book. I read it in less than two days because I just couldn’t put it down. I did, however, manage to predict who the real bad guys are, but it didn’t disappoint me in the least but rather made me more firm in my assumption that Victoria writes much in the same way as I think. Which is brilliant.

 

I don’t want to discuss plot for the fear of spoiling it, but I must say that I loved everything about this world: the monsters and their different powers; the fact that monsters are born from the vile crimes that people commit (which is something that I feel strongly about); the dystopian city divided by civil/turf war; chosen families; instant connections and unlikely friendships; being true to oneself, etc. There are so many things that I love about this book. I want to read it again. And again. And again.

 

The best thing about this book, though, is the fact that there is a sequel and I am already reading it.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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This Savage Song    

Book review: Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Have you ever been in a situation when you don’t know what to read and then randomly find a book and it is exactly what you have been craving but you just didn’t know that? Well, this is what I felt when I started reading “Peter Darling” by Austin Chant, after seeing it being recommended by Cece at ProblemsofABookNerd. I still mentally salivate when I think about it.

I did not read the synopsis of the book before reading it, and I encourage you to do the same. Not because it is really spoilery (it is but there is just no other way to summarize the books, I guess), but because it does not reflect the dark and surreal feeling that this book inspires. To put it shortly, it is an adult fantasy novel, a sequel to Peter Pan, which features a transgender main character. That’s all you need to know. Go and read it now!

It takes place 10 years after the events of “Peter Pan”. Peter Pan has grown up, but his life has not been easy with Darlings. His father keeps calling him Wendy and his brothers think he invented Peter Pan. Peter feels the pull to return to Neverland, and this time for ever. Once he is back, he has to face his old adversary, Captain Hook. Ten years is a long time, and Peter is not a boy anymore, and it is not only hatred that he feels towards Hook.

I love reading books by indie authors, however, I rarely stumble upon real gems, and this book is definitely one of them. The book is well written with the right amount of angst and action. And I am a big sucker for angst. Peter struggles to be true to himself while managing his relationship with his brothers and parents, who see him only as Wendy. It is striking and moving, and I couldn't help but root for Peter.

Peter, when he returns to Neverland, and Lost Boys are brutal and more savage, which reminded me of “Lord of the flies” in some ways. There is a certain twist in the novel, which I freaking loved, and wish I could rant about it in my review, but it is a big spoiler.

Relationship between Peter and Hook is very believable, and I appreciate the fact that it did not happen out of blue or developed at a warp speed. For those who are concerned with the age difference, remember that Peter is of legal age in this story.

I really, really liked this book. I wish I had a physical copy, but it is definitely joining my favourites collection on my Kindle. I liked this book so much that I immediately went on twitter to tweet at the author and ask if he plans to do more fairy tales retellings/sequels because this one was awesome.

So, if you like queer stories and retellings peppered with angst, go and read it!

Personal rating: 4 stars

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Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

A year ago when several lucky booktubers were hauling an advanced reader’s copy of “Heartless”, a new stand alone novel by Marissa Meyer, I was feeling rather jealous. The ARC looked stunning and the final version was beautiful too. I had not read a single book by the author, but I was extremely interested in reading “Heartless”.

 

“Heartless” is a retelling of a story about Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. Catherine might be a daughter of marques, but her dream is to become a baker and open her bakery. Her mother, however, dreams of her daughter to be wed to the King of Hearts. Catherine is struggling to find the balance between her parents’ wishes and her own dreams, until one day she meets Jest, a royal joker, and she is immediately attracted to him. But nothing is what it seems, and their secret courtship is overshadowed not only by the impending marriage to the king, but also the attacks by hideous and murderous monster named Jabberwock.

 

In spite of a great premise, I felt disappointed by the book. I read the first 100 pages and then got stuck, not because I hated the writing or was completely not interested in the plot, but rather because the story felt too slow-paced and too reflective for my taste. I felt almost bored when I was reading it, that is why I found myself picking up the book less and less, until I put it aside for a month or two. Frustrated, I decided to switch to an audiobook version, especially since I found out that it was narrated by Rebecca Soler, who voiced Nimona, and whom I rather liked.

 

So, I switched to an audiobook, started from the very beginning, and found that, although it was much easier to get through “Heartless” while colouring or doing something else, I was still getting annoyed by the fact that almost nothing was happening. Cath seemed too weak-willed to turn into a real Queen of Hearts. Her shiness and modesty didn’t match with the image of the queen yelling “Off with their heads!”. Jest was intriguing enough, but too good to be true, and I kept waiting for a big dirty secret to be revealed about his past and, unfortunately, was let down. I found some of the secondary characters more interesting than Cath herself.

 

However, no matter how many problems I had with the action and plot, I found the world wonderfully written. Marissa Meyer did an amazing job intertwining all the elements from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass world together into something that was very fascinating on its own. I would have loved another book set in this world, but not related to “Hearltess” in the plot.

 

Although Rebecca Soler does a great job voicing different characters, I found her British accent quite annoying and unnecessary. Her Cheshire and Hatter sounded too similar at times. Her King was extremely annoying (purposefully, I assume). Jest was lovely, but I could barely stand Cath or her friend Mary-Ann (not sure if it was because Rebecca is so good of a narrator of it is because I just disliked the characters).

 

I think the downfall of Heartless for me lies in the predictability of the ending. I mean, we all know what kind of character Queen of Hearts was in Lewis Carroll’s books, so it was never about the ending, but rather about the journey to that ending. ‘The journey’ failed to deliver and ‘the ending’ was just as expected, which turned this book, to my surprise, into a three star read.

 

I enjoyed the book, I liked the world and some characters a lot. I think that it was very well written. But the plot line made me want to grab the book and shake it until everything gets mixed inside and all the puzzle pieces finally fall into right places. I am still on the fence about how I feel about the book. I liked it, but I might have overhyped it to myself (I wanted to be so badly swept off my feet by it!), so it turned out to be a letdown. It is in no way as bad as some other retellings - it is well written! But it could have been so much better!

 

Therefore, I am splitting the ratings as follows, as I am not able to give just one rating to this book:

 

Plot: 3 stars

World/characters: 4.5 stars

Narration: 4 stars

 

Overall: 3.5 stars

 

If the author ever decides to write another book in this universe, that would have a completely original plot, I would totally down for it. Otherwise, I am glad that I only spent an Audible credit for an audiobook and didn’t succumb to the urge to buy a physical copy, no matter how pretty the cover is.

P.S. I am totally NOT OKAY with what Marissa Meyer did with Jest and Hatter at the very end. NOPE. That was just UNFAIR.

 

Affiliated links:

Heartless 

Book review: Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2) by Marissa Meyer (audiobook)

 

I started “Scarlet” audiobook immediately after finishing “Cinder”. Just like “Cinder”, it is a retelling of yet another children’s favourite story. This time of “Little Red Riding Hood”. I definitely like this fairytale better than Cinderella, but I was wary of how they would portray the big bad wolf.

 

Okay, I loved what they did with Scarlet and Wolf. I liked how the story developed and that we got glimpses into other parts of this world. What I was honestly surprised by is how seamlessly “Cinder” and “Scarlet” were connected. I expected to get a whole new set of characters and only episodic references to Cinder and what was happening to her, but on the contrary, two plot lines run in parallel and intertwine at the end. That pleasantly surprised me.

 

I felt that “Scarlet” was overall a better thought through book than “Cinder”, although not without its faults and number of cliched twists. My favourite part was, actually, Cinder’s escape and her meeting with Carswell Thorne and how self-absorbed and oblivious he was. Scarlet rocked the novel though. I liked the depiction of her home and all of those little references to her life and memories of the past. Scarlet’s father turned out to be an annoyingly predictable character. As well as Ran (whom I actually liked - no idea why). I liked the character of Wolf too, although at times it seemed as the author was trying too hard to make him into a typical “bad boy with a heart of gold” character.

 

The plotline with Princess Selene became even more obvious to the point that I wondered how I can sustain the interest in it till the end of the series. Thankfully, there were other things happening in this book.

 

All plot holes aside, “Scarlet” was a bit more engaging than “Cinder” and some of the fighting scenes were pretty cool. Also, it seems like Prince Kai has finally grown some backbone, which made him a bit more interesting in this book.

 

My biggest pet peeve with “Scarlet” was that the narrator Rebecca Soler gave Scarlet the most infuriating little French accent. Same as with British accents in “Heartless”, Rebecca couldn’t sustain it at 100% at all times and sometimes it just felt redundant and annoying. Not sure, if it is only me who thinks this or not.

 

I think, I can tell that Marissa is getting better, as “Scarlet” is more fast paced, in my opinion, but I am still annoyed with her overly romanticizing everything in her novels. I am quite okay with not listening for the millionth time about how fit Wolf is or how hard his muscles are. It gets tiresome after time.

 

I find “The Lunar Chronicles” series interesting but not wowing, which is disappointing.

 

Plot: 3.5 stars

Performance: 3 stars

Overall: 3.5 stars

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

 

Warning: might contain very minor spoilers

 

“Caraval” is a young adult fantasy novel about two sisters who live on a remote island with a tyrannous father. Scarlett, the elder sister, is willing to do anything to save both herself and her younger sister Donatella, including accepting the arranged marriage. She has a dream, though, of seeing a mysterious performance, Caraval, and one day she gets the invitation from the master Legend himself. When Scarlett is brought to the island to partake in the game, almost against her will, she is faced with the fact that Donatella is missing, and now Scarlett has to win the game to save her sister.

I was very excited to get my hands on Caraval, but since I had never heard about this author (and only later found out that it is a debut novel), I got it from the library. Unfortunately, I failed to read the book and had to return it. So, when I found out that Caraval was narrated by Rebecca Soler, I immediately went to Audible and got my copy of this audiobook.

 

I finished the book surprisingly quickly. I felt, however, very much let down by it. Very similar to my experience with “Heartless” by Marissa Meyer (but only worse in this case), the book left me feeling as the author had poured all efforts into creating visually appealing world and characters, but the plot was crafted from cliches and tropes. It was getting so ridiculously predictable at times, that I could even guess the lines in dialogues. Because I have already read all of those before, in multiple books.

 

Caraval, which is positioned as a fantasy novel, is surprisingly romance heavy. It has too many elements of romantic settings and all of those descriptions of ‘smooth, muscled backs’ and ‘chiseled features’ only made me roll my eyes repeatedly. It would have been okay if this book was meant to be a romance novel. In a fantasy setting, it seemed just a bit too much of sugar at inappropriate places.

 

The world of Caraval is crafted well enough, however, the ideas behind it are not new. A deadly game to save the loved one? We have all read a book or two about that. Falling for a bad boy? Yup. Dying but not actually dying? Err, what?

 

I had a big problem with the plot, which had more holes than a plot is allowed to have, but the biggest issue for me was with the ending. The dead should stay the dead unless their death wasn’t such a big deal. Because if it is, if it is supposed to be a hoax, do not let either readers or characters believe in it for so long. And especially, if it all turns out to be a trick - do not treat it so lightly. I personally found annoyed and cheated at the end.

 

I liked Scarlett fair enough, although I didn’t always agree with her actions. I liked Dante, probably, the best from all secondary characters. I liked both his and Julian’s backstories, however, everyone else verged at the edge of annoying. Especially, Tella. I am ready to say that she was the most annoying and least enjoyable character for me.

 

There is so much hype surrounding this book, which I don’t understand at all. The plot is weak, the romance is predictable, the characters are cliched. The idea was great, but it should have been executed and wrapped up in one book. But we, it seems, are getting a sequel.

 

Rebecca Soler does a good job with this book. I had some trouble distancing myself from my experience of “Heartless” at the very beginning, but overall I think “Caravel” characters sound more believable and alive. I am not sure if it was due to the fact that I started listening to “Caravel” right after “Heartless” or perhaps because both books are narrated by Rebecca, but I kept thinking that these two novels have a lot in common in the way certain things are romanticized and exaggerated. Of course, these two books are different, but I kept wondering if Stephanie Garber was somehow inspired by Marissa Meyer’s writing.

 

At the end of the audiobook, there was an interview with Stephanie Garber. Listening to her talk only solidified my opinion that this author is just not for me. Since we are getting the sequel that will focus on Tella, I am still on the fence with whether I would like to continue with duology (and I hope it is only going to be a duology), but I might give it a go if I have time and if I get it as an audiobook (preferably, from OverDrive). Because I am not spending a penny on the book that could have been so good, but turned out to be a hoax.

 

Plot: 2 stars

Performance: 4 stars

Overall rating: 3 stars

 

Affiliated links:

 

Caraval

Book Review: Of Beast and Beauty by Jay Stacey

 

“Of Beast and Beauty” was the book that I randomly picked from the library after having it recommended to me by BookOutlet based on my browsing and purchases. I knew nothing of this book and had never heard of the author, so I went into it with fairly low expectations. I did pick it up shortly after watching the new movie “Beauty and the Beast”, so I was rather in the mood for this type of retelling.

 

“Of Beast and Beauty” is a young adult fantasy novel, it is a stand alone, and quite overlooked in my opinion. The setting is a cross between sci-fi/dystopian and fantasy world, and found it very peculiar that there allusions to the times when people came to this world in spaceships.

 

The main protagonist, Princess Isra, lives in isolation in a tower, protected and hidden from the world due to her blindness and ugliness. Her city, Yuan, is covered by the dome, which has to be protected and reinforced by certain sacrifice to the magic of the city. Outside Yuan there is only desert, in which outcast and beastly people, the Monstrous, live. A group of monstrous finds their way inside Yuan in the hopes of stealing one of the red roses from the garden as their magic was prophesied to save their people from starvation. Gem, one of the monstrous, is captured and becomes Isra’s prisoner. Unexpectedly, Gem and Isra discover that not all things that they both believed in are true.

 

I suggest that if you want to read this book, stay away from reading the summary either on the flap or GoodReads as it happens to give away quite a bit of book’s events (no idea why). I went into this book completely blind and I think that is why I enjoyed it so much.

 

It is a rather interesting story, a very easy read. Nothing is too overly complicated, however, the world is rather interestingly constructed and it is not as easy to pinpoint who of either characters is supposed to be Belle and who is The Beast. Both Isra and Gem go through character development, which is great. The book is told from three different points of view, which I rather enjoyed as it showed that none of the characters were flawless or black and white.

 

Could I predict the book ending? Well, yes, as it is a retelling after all.

 

Did I know how the things were going to play out? Nope. I found twists and turns quite interesting and there were quite a few things that I didn’t see coming.

 

It was not the perfectly written book. It had flaws, especially in some of the character’s actions. However, I did like the characters, and all of my favourite moments were to do with the roses and garden. I swear, I was completely hooked by the story the moment when the roses turned out to be magical (it is not really a spoiler). Will probably never be able to view them as harmless flowers.

Personal rating: 3.5 stars

Book Review: Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (audiobook)

 

Have you ever discovered a hidden gem in a place you never expected to find one? I got this feeling when I started listening to “Magonia” audiobook. This book was on my radar some time ago, about a year or so. I even purchased it on Kindle when it was on sale. I never read it though and quickly forgot about it. Recently, I have been on a huge audiobook buying spree. I am an avid Audible user, but I also get books from the library and I had more than one person repeatedly tell me that I should use OverDrive to get audiobooks. I decided to give the OverDrive app a try (since the interface wasn’t inspiring confidence and I am too addicted to Audible anyway) and “Magonia” was the book that I downloaded as it was readily available.

I am not new to audiobooks. I have been using Audible for over 10 years now (no kidding) and I listened to audiobooks before that too. Needless to say, I can be very picky when it comes to narrators. That is why I was so excited when “Magonia” exceeded my expectations. The audiobook is narrated by Therese Plummer and Michael Crouch, neither of whom I ever listened to before. Therese, obviously, steals the show as her narration dominates the audiobook but they both are really good, and I think if it weren’t for their acting, I would have not enjoyed the audiobook this much.

“Magonia” is a book one in a young adult fantasy duology. It is told mainly from the point of view of its main protagonist, Aza Ray, a teenaged girl with a mysterious disease. Aza is weak and sick, constantly in and out of hospitals, but her spirit is very strong and her awareness of the world around her is astounding. Her best friend is a nerdish and adventurous Jason. He, as well as Aza’s family, her mother, father and younger sister, all are trying to equally support Aza and get ready for her eventual demise. One day Aza starts hearing someone calling her name. Everyone thinks, she is hallucinating, but Jason believes her.

And when one day, it finally happens - Aza dies and opens her eyes on a trading ship, sailing in the sky - Jason is the only one who keeps believing into impossible.

“Magonia” is a lyrical and reflective in tone, so it works perfectly as an audiobook. Therese is especially fabulous as she gives voices to different characters. She chirps and groans and whispers, and it is fascinating to listen to. (I found out that Therese also narrated two other books that I really enjoyed - “This Savage Song” by Victoria Schwab and “Rook” by Sharon Cameron -  and I can’t wait to listen to them as well!)

I found the world and magic system of Magonia original and intriguing. Can’t say that the actual plot line of the book is anything terribly special - the romance triangle, for one, is totally predictable. However, it is a very character driven plot, and it compensates for somewhat predictable plot twists. I loved all the characters, even the bad ones, just because they were so well developed. It is obvious that the author put a lot of effort into fleshing out the characters. I think I loved Jason the most. He is brilliant and nerdy, suffers from anxiety and is obviously somewhere on the autism spectrum, and recites Pi to keep Aza alive. He has two loving mothers, who care about him a lot. Aza's family is delightful too. I am always happy when YA fiction has lots of well written side characters and when the family members of main protagonists aren't there only to serve as a washed-out background prop.

The ending left me wanting to start the second book right away (it is still on hold at the library), although it does not really end with a big cliffhanger, but I can’t wait to see how this all gets resolved. And I definitely, definitely recommend you listen to this audiobook as opposed to reading a book. It is wonderful!

Plot: 3 stars

Performance: 5 stars

Overall: 4 stars

Book review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (audiobook)

Remember the time, when this graphic novel was all over BookTube? I do. It was back in 2015, when everyone seems to be talking about. Naturally, I had to read it too and I am still so glad that I did. It was one of my most favourite reads of 2015, and definitely one of the most favourite graphic novels of all times. The art is corky, the humour is terrific, and the world is just pure fun.

If you somehow managed to miss out on the hype, here is the synopsis: it is a story about a snarky and impulsive shapeshifter girl named Nimona. She weasels her way into Lord Blackheart’s service. Lord Blackheart, a local villain, has a certain beef with Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics and one knight in particular, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Blackheart is convinced that both the Institute and Goldenloin aren’t that goody-goody as they appear. Nimona is willing to help (and cause some serious damage). But there is more than meets the eye to all of them.

I adored Blackheart in the graphic novel. His exasperation with Nimona and deadpan humour are simply the best. I enjoyed the novel a lot, all parts of it. It kept me glued to my couch until I was done with the last page (which made me go ‘awwwwww’, by the way).

Naturally, I had to get my own copy of this comic. And when I accidentally found out that it was made into an audiobook, I just had to have it right now! Moreso, when I learned that Blackheart is voiced by Jonathan Davis - I loved his narration of Catalyst (Star Wars novel) and was even more excited.

Jonathan Davis does an amazing job as Blackheart. I think I liked Blackheart even more (if it is even possible). He doesn’t sound like a villain at all. More like a really exasperated parent, when he is dealing with Nimona. Rebecca Soler really managed to convey both impatience and multifacetedness of Nimona’s character. She sounds like a true villain sidekick! Marc Thompson voices Sir Goldenloin and he is so snotty - he reminds me of posh kids at private schools, who think they are better than everybody else.

To put it shortly, it is a superb cast!

The audiobook also features various sound effects and original music. Understandably, not everything can be translated from a purely visual media to audio, but I think they did a great job. There was one tiny weeny thing that made me sad - and that is the very last frame in the graphic novel that gave me so much hope for those two characters’ relationship (not saying who as it is a spoiler), but it was not conveyed in audio. Implied, but not conveyed. And for me that last frame made all the difference, to be honest. It is a tiny thing, really, but it mattered to me.

Overall, an extremely enjoyable read and a very fun audiobook to listen to. Highly recommend to both graphic novels and audiobook lovers.

Graphic novel: 5 stars

Audiobook: 4.5 stars

Performance: 5 stars

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Book review: Blood of Wonderland (Queen of Hearts Saga, #2) by Colleen Oakes

Fairy tales retellings seem to still be on the rise these days. Initially, I was excited when I picked up “Queen of Hearts”, book one, last year. I saw it in a bookstore and it seemed fairly short, so I got a copy from the library.

This trilogy is a YA fantasy story about Dinah, the princess of Wonderland and the future Queen of Hearts. Everything that happens to her due to the cruelty of her father, King of Hearts, and other circumstances leads to her becoming the Queen of Hearts that we know from Alice in Wonderland. I was excited about the idea of the plot, but, unfortunately, I was left being hugely disappointed by the writing and narrative. The only saving grace of book one was that it was an incredibly easy read. So easy that, in fact, I kept thinking that it should have been made into a middle grade novel.

I was rather critical of book one in my video review. I gave the book only 2 stars on GoodReads, and even that was probably too generous. I, honestly, had no interest in continuing the series. But I still ended up picking book two from the library as it became available, because I wanted to see if I was right about Cheshire or not.

And I was right. Which both delighted and disappointed me - delighted because I was right and disappointed because I expected more complexity from the plot.

Overall, I think that book two is slightly better than book one. Perhaps, because the beginning of book one, in which we were basically explained nothing about King of Hearts or why he treated Dinah the way he did, had a very jerky narrative. Book two does give us more backstory for Dinah and her parents, but it was still weakly written and even big revelations miss the grandeur or plausibility. I think the weak plot and lack of character development is what really putting me off this series. Besides the author tends to jump forward in time only to recapture the past events through characters’ musings or thoughts a lot. I am sorry, but it is just pure laziness. Sometimes it can work pretty well as a stylistic device, but when one third of the book is devoted to meaningless wandering through woods and descriptions of flora and fauna, while the meaningful chunk of politics is dropped - that is just a bit not good.

After finishing book two, I think I would still be interested in reading the final novel, which is coming out later this year (the release dates of the novels got me thinking that the books were rushed and not edited properly, as book three is coming out the same year as book two), only to see if my ideas about the plot would be proven. Even the romance between Dinah and Wardley is pathetic. Moreso, the reason for their separation. I personally think that the only logical explanation (and I am sorry if it is a spoiler) of Wardley’s (choice of) words is that he is gay, and in this case Dinah is coming off as a slightly homophobic. Am I reading too much into it? Perhaps. But else am I left to do when the characters behave illogically, the author fails to show us things and the plot itself has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese!

My overall rating for book two is 2.5 stars. Giving the author half a star for at least trying to fix some gaps created by book one. Not surprised but still disappointed. I really wanted a good retelling set in Wonderland.

Personal rating: 2.5 stars

Book review: The King of Average by Gary Schwartz (audiobook)

The King of Average I have received a copy of this audiobook from Aurora Publicity in exchange of a free and honest review. I love audiobooks and jumped at this opportunity as I usually do not get to choose between an ebook and audiobook copy.

 

"The King of Average" is a middle grade fantasy adventure novel about an eleven year-old boy named James, who is so ordinary and average, that one day he decides to become the most average person ever. The moment he makes his decision, he is transported into a fantasy world, the Realm of Possibilities, where he makes friends and faces challenges on his road to become the King of Average.

I adored this book! It is incredibly well written and gripping for a debut novel. More so, it works perfectly well as an audiobook, as it is performed by Gary Schwartz himself, who is an actor, a voice artist and an impov coach. Mr. Schwartz created a variety of characters with very distinct voices - literarily and figuratively speaking - and the wordplay that he uses for the creation of his imaginary word is simply superb. I often couldn’t help laughing at the telling names of the places, like Eureka and Epiphany, or characters, like the professional pessimist Killjoy or the real scapegoat Mayor Culpa. I think it would prove to be quite educational for kids in terms of abstract concepts and wordplay.

 

It’s been awhile since I was this taken by a middle grade novel, as I often find them to be too simplistic and talking down to children. This is, fortunately, not the case with "The King of Average".

 

James faces some serious problems in his life. He is neglected by his mother, who seems not to care for his existence at all and inadvertently blames him for his father abandoning them. James longs to be important, to matter, he wants family love and friends, and he finds all of those in the Realm of Possibilities. As true to adventure stories, he also discovers things about himself and is given a glimpse into the reasons behind his mother’s antagonism.

 

I believe that any reader will be able to find a character they can relate to in this book. I liked many characters in this book but I think that Monsieur Roget is probably my favourite. (While listening to the audiobook, I kept envisioning him as a more friendly version of Suchet’s Poirot, which made me smile a lot.) This audiobook brought up the long forgotten feeling of a childhood story well-told - something that I often find missing in contemporary middle grade fiction. Loveable characters and curious adventures - what more can you ask for! I think that the fact that Gary is a professional voice actor, undoubtedly, adds to the story. His narration is so perfect, I kept forgetting that I was listening to one person doing all of those voices.

 

I did, however, had a bit of an issue with the tiny small thing at the end. Can’t really explain it explicitly without giving away the ending, but I felt that it should have been given more attention. Also the ending made me scream internally for the sequel. Because I want to know what will happen after the last chapter! But as far as I am aware, this is a standalone novel.

 

I can’t praise this book enough. It is a sweet and witty middle grade novel, that both kids and adults (hey, I am an adult!) would love, and I highly recommend you pick the audiobook version. Those six hours flew by very quickly.

 

I hope that Mr. Schwartz would write and voice more books, as I am already hooked.

 

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Plot: 4 stars

Performance: 5 stars

 

Sources:

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Book review: The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

Let me start this book review by saying that in spite of every fault that I found with this book, I still enjoyed it. It was a very quick and fun read. I did roll my eyes a lot while reading it. But it was also such an easy world to dive that I can easily see myself re-reading it (although I don't own a copy and got one from the library).

This review is mostly spoiler free. There might be some hints at things, but I am not explicitly stating anything.

This is a young adult fantasy novel set in imperial Russia, in 1825. There is a girl named Vika who is trained as an enchanter to potentially become an imperial enchanter for the tsar. However, it turns out that there is another enchanter, Nikolai, who is trained for the same purpose. Since according to the laws there can't be two enchanters, they have to enter the crown's game to proof their magic ability. It is fight to death as there can only be one enchanter alive.

I loved the premise of the book. It is a fast read told in third person (thank goodness) but the point of view switches to show us what is happening with different characters. Some of chapters are extremely short, which makes it feel as if you are flying through this 400 paged book.

I won't go much into detail about the plot itself. I think that the author did a good job describing the political situation of that time. Saint Petersburg is described very vividly as the life of common folk. I enjoyed that. I also liked the magic parts too. However, I did have a problem with the magic system itself.

When an author creates a fantasy world and a magic system, the worst mistake is to make your protagonists so powerful that their magic is basically limitless. I think this is what happened here. Both Vika and Nikolai can turn things into animals and birds, change shapes and colours of things, control elements, like water and fire, give magic qualities to inanimate objects, etc. They seem to be able to do everything with little impact on themselves. They don't use spells or spell books or wands. They only use energy and that's it.

Only by mid game, and the game takes pretty much 90% of the book, it becomes obvious that that sort of energy comes with payback. However, the fact that those boundaries were not established at any point of the novel and are sort of appearing out of blue in the middle of it was not good. (Also, at the beginning it was said that both enchanters were splitting the magic from the magic heart of their country. But later they are said to be using their own energy which made it confusing.)

When your characters are so powerful, and Vika and Nikolai were almost matched in power, it means that there can't be a winner. In this case the games become pointless as nobody can be called a winner, especially in a situation when both characters do not want to fight each other.

So, what do we get then? We get a villain! Finally a real villain, who is very angry, vengeful and powerful. But once again we do not no limits of power of this villain. Besides the appearance of this character was so "deus ex machina" that it felt very artificial and forced. This villain had a potential of becoming a real threat for the world, and of though there were some fundamental things that were done and caused big changes, it could have been way grander. I feel that it should have eclipsed the game, but it didn't.

Plus, this villain was dealt with so quickly - it really annoyed me. The villain existed for, perhaps, a third of the book and felt as if was forced in and out of narrative.

I really liked the characters in the book - all of them: Vika, Pasha, Nikolai. I think Nikolai might be my favourite, though. I did find the love triangle to be a bit of a tiring trope, and the ending had a very Romeo & Juliet feel about it (if you know what I mean). (And I also think that Nikolai would have been better off with Pasha, just saying *cough*) I did like the characters though. They seemed a bit immature at times and sometimes the fact that both Nikolai and Pasha sneaked into bars and taverns completely unrecognized seemed very unconvincing to me, but oh well.

I think the author liked the world and the characters she created so much that she didn't want to put them into a real danger, which is understandable (I did like the characters too as I mentioned!) but it is dangerous to do so as a writer, as you basically kill any plot in the book. If there is no danger or conflict - there is no point of telling a story.

In spite of plot holes and some shallowness and repetitiveness to the whole "the game is everything and I must kill my opponent because there can be only one of us but I don't want to do it but I have to" spiel, I found the book rather engaging. I am looking forward to reading book 2. Although I do hope it will fix everything that was wrong in book 1 from cultural perspective.

Here is the part 2 of my review in which I dissect everything the author got wrong when it comes to Russian culture, language, etc. I will try to avoid major spoilers.

I made a video review of this book in which I got really emotional about certain cultural mistakes in this book. I might have made it seem as if I was really upset by it. And I was. And still am. However, I do understand that someone who knows nothing about Russian Empire or Russian culture as a whole, obviously, will still enjoy the book for what it is worth. Whatever inconsistencies that I found do not hinder the plot in any way. I just found it very annoying that even though the author claimed to have done the research (and Evelyn in fact majored in Slavic languages and literature), there were still so many tiny things that she got wrong.

All of this could have been avoided if the author had a Russian speaking proofreader. I, obviously, don't know how publishing world works and if authors have the luxury of sharing their unpublished works or pieces of it with people outside of publishing circle (I feel that the answer might be a no), but I am pretty sure it is possible to get at least someone to double check some details, if needed.

I don't want it to seem as if I am personally attacking the author - god forbid! It is the last thing on my mind. I just want to show that, once again, research is everything, and even when you think that you know enough - double check your facts!

If you are not a Russian speaker or know nothing about the culture, this part of the review might seem to you as if I am nitpicking. But if other cultures have the luxury of pointing out everything that is wrong when they are represented in the media, why can't I?

I hope you will enjoy this part of my review too. Perhaps, you will learn something ;)

1) It was the most glaringly obvious mistake. Or rather it is a typo that slipped past the editor and/or author in the final product and it got repeated over and over.

There is a certain magic place that is mentioned as a meeting point for the tsar and the potential enchanters and it is called in Russian "Bolshebnoie Duplo" (The Enchanted Hollow). The problem is that there is a typo in "bolshebnoie". It is supposed to be "Volshebnoie". The first letter is wrong. It made me both laugh hysterically and roll my eyes when I read it first. But that is the editorial mistake.

However, the choice of word "duplo" is most probably a mistake of the author.

You see, English word "hollow" can mean an empty space or a cavity within anything. OR it can mean a valley. "The Enchanted Hollow" as a title for a meeting place in the book is a perfect choice. But the Russian word "duplo" has only 2 meanings: one is a cavity in a tree and another is a cavity in a tooth. That's it. "Duplo" in no way has the same broad meaning as "hollow". The meeting place was actually within a mountain which made its name "volshebnoie duplo" freaking hilarious. if I had to pick a word, I'd call it something like "volshebny grot" (the enchanted cave), but not "duplo". Never a "duplo".

2) The author does a great work describing typical food and cuisine in her book. I was really impressed as usually westerners' knowledge does not go beyond a potato salad (which is not a Russian dish, by the way - it is German/Austrian) or a cabbage soup. Evelyn mentions a lot of different types of food and there is only one tiny mistake that made me raise an eyebrow.

One of the most famous types of Russian bread is a dark rye bread which is very well-known to any Russian speaker as "Borodinsky" bread. The title of the bread comes from the battle of Borodino, which happened during war with Napoleon in 1812. But the bread itself was officially named like this (or rather the recipe for this sort of very dark rye bread) only in Soviet times after 1917. I have always known that but I went online to double check myself - and, yes, the mentions of this bread as "Borodinsky" bread start only in 1930s. Which means that in 1825 there was no way it could have been called that as the October Revolution has not happened (yet).

I am bit on the fence about this one. On one hand, mentioning "Borodinsky" bread is a homage to Russian cuisine and any Russian speaker would know exactly what bread is mentioned when reading this book. On the other hand, I am annoyed that this goes against historical facts.

3) Names. Oh, the names. The choice of names is great in this book! Finally we get some diversity that goes beyond overused "Natasha"s and "Tatiana"s. Evelyn uses the names of real royal family members too. More so, she even goes for typical kazakh names and last names too, which is great.

However, the way she picks and choses who would get a short version of the name and who wouldn't. I think the reason for this might have been not to confuse poor westerners with crazy abbreviations and pet names and diminutives. But for a Russian speaker's ear it was a bit weird to have Pasha (which is a diminutive for Pavel) but to name Nikolai only by his full name and not a short version of Kolya. Seeing as diminutives are used by family and close friends, having Nikolai address a tsar's son as Pasha, but Pasha calling Nikolai only Nikolai and nothing else, made it seem as if Nikolai was addressed politely and Pasha was not. Those two are close as brothers and yet one of them chooses to call his friend by his full name.

If it was politeness, I'd expect Nikolai to address Pasha more formally. But no.

Same thing for Vika. She is consistently addressed to as Vika, even though Vika is short for Viktoria. There was a passage in a book when she gets a formal invitation but she is mentioned as V. Andreyeva, which is a bit funny as she is never mentioned with her patronymic, while her father is and members of royal family are mentioned with their full names too (E.g., Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov).

I would also assume that the servants would be addressing Nikolai and Galina using first name and patronymic, not just first name, as it is a polite way. (Master Nikolai also works, but it was mentioned only a couple of times.)

Sergei and Galina, in spite of being siblings, also address each other by their full names. In case you are wondering: Galya is short for Galina and Seryozha - for Sergei. I would assume that at least at some point they'd revert to those diminutives.

3) The Russian language grammar is one of the most difficult in the world. I kid you not. It is worse than German and Chinese together. I am very happy that the author correctly used almost all words and phrases in the book. Including "Tvoe zdarovye" as "cheers/to your health" (which gets the most butchered by English speakers who confuse it with "za zdravye" which is a different saying). But "Myevo zdarovye" doesn't make sense as "myevo" is an incorrect form. It should have been something that sounds like "mayo" (mah-yo). Besides nobody ever says, even jokingly, "to my health". It will always be "to your health", even if it is meant as sarcastic and the person is drinking alone.

4) "Tikho" Mountain sounds like a cool name. "Tikho" means quiet. But it is not an adjective but an adverb in this case. Or an imperative. Should have been "Tikhaya" Mountain. Otherwise it seems as if you are trying to shush the mountain. (Which I find incredibly funny.)

5) Why, out of blue, do they call the scroll as "Russe" Scroll? Huh? Just so that we know for a fact that it is a Russian scroll? As I assume that it is a French "Russe" because it is not a Russian word that I can recognize. I would have picked a Russian world for the scroll that has rules to a very traditional game which is very important for the country's magic. Would have made more sense, right?

6) And the last but definitely not the least - at some point there is a very quick scene in a church, and there are mentions of pews and books of psalms. I am sorry, but there are no pews in Russian Orthodox Church! You can google the interior images if you want. People are only allowed to stand or kneel and that's it. There have never been pews and never will be. They might be present in Greek Orthodox Church, but not in Russian. Sometimes there are chairs or benches at far corners of a church, but they are not there for people who come for the mass. I have never in my life seen rows of pews in a Russian church (like in other Christian churches) or any books of psalms or bibles. Never ever.

I might have missed something but this is pretty much it.

Everything else was quite on point, I think. I do understand that the majority of these mistakes would have been difficult to research but that is why I said that authors should always strive to get a good proofreader or a beta or a consultant.

I went into this book with low expectations as I never expect any westerners to get Russian culture and more so the language right. But Evelyn did pleasantly surprised me. A lot of things (the historical and political background, cuisine, relationships between tsar and his wife and children, etc.) were quite well researched and represented. I just wish this book didn't feel so much as a debut novel. It has a lot of potential but both those little language/culture blunders and holes in the plot made me wish the author would have spent extra time on this novel.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate what Evelyn has done - she created one of the most unique fantasy worlds that exists on the book market right now. And the fact that it is my culture that is in question - made me even more happy.

Will I continue with the series? Yes. Will I re-read the book? Quite possible. (Will I ever stop laughing over "Bolshebnoie Duplo"? Probably never.)

I gave the overall rating of 3 stars to this book. It was not bad, but could have been better.

(Thank you for reading this far! Now I am thinking of reading Grisha trilogy. I wonder if it is better or?...)

Personal rating: 3 stars

Books: November Wrap-Up & Reviews

I had an amazing reading month in November. I didn't have a set TBR list for November. I got a lot of books from the library and simply tried my best to read them all. And I read  A LOT of books. Mostly due to the fact that I was sick for the majority of the month, even taking a couple of days off work, that allowed me to read more. (Although reading while being sick really sucks, let me tell ya.)

I split my list of read books into sections. The reviews will be at the bottom. This is going to be one hell of a post.

Books:

  1. Alex Gino "George"
  2. Kelley York "Made of Stars"
  3. Melissa Landers "Invaded"
  4. Alex London "Proxy"
  5. Alex London "Guardian"
  6. I.W. Gregorio "None of the Above"
  7. Nicola Yoon "Everything, Everything"
  8. Rainbow Rowell "Fangirl"

E-books:

  1. R.G. Alexander "Curious"
  2. Bonnie Dee "The Tutor"
  3. Laura Harner "Continental Divide (Separate Ways, #1)"
  4. E.M. Lindsey "Time and Tide"

Graphic novels:

  1. East of West, Vol. 1: The Promise by Jonathan Hickman
  2. East of West, Vol. 2: We Are All One by Jonathan Hickman
  3. East of West, Vol. 3: There Is No Us by Jonathan Hickman
  4. Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
  5. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  6. Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy (Lumberjanes, #1-4) by Noelle Stevenson
  7. Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh
  8. The less than epic adventures of TJ and Amal vol. 1 Poor boys and pilgrims by E.K. Weaver
  9. Emily Carroll "Through the Woods"

Books re-read:

  1. Marie Sexton "Promises"
  2. Marie Sexton "Strawberries for Dessert"
  3. Sue Brown "Nothing Ever Happens"

So, if my math skills do not deceive me, in the month of November I read 24 books. Holy moly! That's definitely way more than I expected! Granted, a huge part of those were short ebooks and graphic novels, but still! I don't think I will ever be able to beat that.

Okay, onto reviews then. All of these are posted on my GoodReads page, so I am only going to post reviews of books and graphic novels and will skip ebooks and books I've read before.

Reviews:

"George" by Alex Gino

Personal rating: 4 stars

I read this book in one go. It has less than 200 pages with huge font and it a middle grade novel.

I liked it. I think it is great that the author touches upon a topic of gender identity in a middle grade novel. Reading it, I couldn't help by sympathize with George. I think that her voice was very prominent and well defined.

I am happy that such books exist nowadays.

"Made of Stars" by Kelley York

Personal rating: 5 stars

You know there are some books that you finish reading and then next day you still keep thinking about it? For me it was "Made of Stars". (Where has this book been before?? Why haven't I read it sooner??)

This is a contemporary/suspense YA novel, that tells the story of three friends (a boy and his half sister and their friend, whom they see once a year during summer). One summer they all meet again, and things change. And their feelings change too.

Hunter and Ashlin start noticing the lies Chance is telling them and things he is NOT telling them. They start questioning things he says and does.

And then a murder happens.

It is not exactly a murder mystery, but the book has a very strong suspense undercurrent. I don't want to say anything or I might spoil the ending, but let's just say that I spent the last 20% of the book dreading what was about to happen while knowing that it would probably happen. Basically, I was just sitting here and yelling "NO!" a lot.

I couldn't put it down.

The ending was like a sucker punch. Have you read Allegiant by Veronica Roth? Remember THAT? Well, THAT thing in Allegiant gave me the same feeling as this book. Remember, how at some point in Allegiant (just by the way the POV is switched) you could totally tell that THIS was going to happen? Same thing here.

I spent some time trying to think of what might happen next, if there is hope, if there is any way that it could not have ended in so much heartbreak.

But no, there was no other way.

I both heartbroken and in awe with what the author did to my poor heart. It was painful and amazing.

I want more. I am definitely putting Kelley York on my list of favourite authors.

"Invaded" by Melissa Landers

Personal rating: 3.75 stars

(SOME MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)

I read Alienated in September and was quite excited to get ahold of Invaded quite easily (I landed a copy from the library and it was a new copy which is a rarity at times).

I can't say I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Alienated. For one thing, I really liked Cara's blog, which was barely there in Invaded, as well as her sense of humour (overall the novel felt more serious in tone than Alienated). The romance between her and Aelyx still ran true but Melissa used pretty much the same trick as in Alienated: creating a rift between them, only to bring them back together followed by a dramatic event. It felt rather boring to read the same plot twist in the second novel.

I did like the intrigue that was happening in both worlds, as well as depiction of L'eihr and its traditions, but I felt as if the first part of the book dragged a bit.

There was one character whom I really liked and who died, which really annoyed me, because it could have been avoided (seeing as other major characters are always saved by deus ex machina). This death affected another character, who has already been through a lot. I feel as if this was done for the sake of drama and it felt a bit cheap to me.

I feel like there might be a third novel. Invaded does not end with an obvious cliffhanger than Alienated had, but still there are some things that were left unresolved. The problem is that I am not sure how Melissa can create the third novel without making it even more boring. Will I be reading it? Perhaps, but it won't be high on my list.

"Proxy" and "Guardian" by Alex London

Proxy

Personal rating: 3.75

I couldn't wait to pick up this book. I heard great things about it. I can't say that I was disappointed but I wish my expectations hadn't been set so high. It is a great dystopian YA novel, with a unique world, but at times it felt as if it lacked depth, and some of the characters' actions didn't make much sense. There was a lot of talk about feelings and decisions, but I think that the author described things instead of *showing* them.

I did like the characters and I love the fact that this book had a main gay character, who was essentially "the chosen one".

Some events in this book didn't make much sense, but the ending had a good twist. And it made me a bit sad too. You will know why. (I would have preferred a different punch line at the end, as it felt a bit weak, but over all it was ok.)

Guardian

Personal rating: 4 stars

I think that this book is stronger than "Proxy". It is better written and it has more plot twists. I did enjoy both the relationships (a budding romance) between the characters and the main intrigue. I also liked how it was shown how "the chosen one", ex-proxy, was dealing with his fame.

The resolution of the moral peril in which the characters found themselves felt a bit too "deus ex machina", but I did like the ending. One might say, it is too open, or even a cliffhanger, but I enjoyed it.

Can't say this book is going to be high on my "re-read list" but it was enjoyable. I would love to read more dystopian YA with main queer characters.

"None of the Above" by I.W. Gregorio

Personal rating: 3.75 stars

I enjoyed the book because it is rather different from all other YA which is readily available on the market. It is the first book with an intersex character that I have ever read. I liked the book. I didn't love it though. I feel that it was more educational than anything else, as the plot was rather predictable (discovering herself, friends turning enemies, bullying at school, therapy) and some twists made me feel rather sad.

I liked Kristin. I liked that she is an athlete, she is a runner. I liked how her struggle to come to terms with her diagnosis was described. What I didn't like was how predictable everything else was (her boyfriend, her friends' reaction, etc).

I still recommend this book. It has to be read at least for the educational purposes. I feel that it was a bit overhyped for me in terms of the plot though.

"Everything, Everything" by Nicola Yoon

personal rating: 4.5 stars

This book deserves all the love and hype surrounding it! It is a very cute story about a girl who is allergic to everything. One day, a new family moves into a nearby house and she befriends their son.

I liked everything about this book. The way it is written. The fact that it is interrupted by illustrations and notes written by Madeline. The fact that this book has some similarities to "The Fault In Our Stars" but only it is way better and lighter and happier. (And also, HAWAII!)

The characters are unique and have very distinctive voices. I loved both Madeline and Olly. I loved the setting of the book. I loved all the descriptions.

I also loved the twist and the way the story resolved itself, even though I did suspect something like this would happen. (It also quite unexpectedly resonated with my own experience, which was a bit surprising.)

Can't say more but this book gave me rather happy, warm and fuzzy feeling. Even though it mostly about illness. Nicola Yoon has achieved something that John Green failed to do for me.

Read it. You will love it.

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

Personal rating: 5 stars

I thought this book was overhyped on booktube. I thought I wouldn't like it. I thought it was something like "shopaholic" novels.

I was so wrong!

This book is fantastic. It is well written, it has amazing characters and a very sweet romance. I loved Cath. She is very relatable. Levi is a sweetheart (I was rooting for him the whole book!). Wren is something. Reagan is something else altogether.

And Cath's father, Art, is adorable. (I have a soft spot for him. Because I don't know how you can NOT. It is probably the first time ever I feel so strongly about a secondary character.)

I don't even know how to express how much I loved this book (which can be confirmed by the fact that I ordered my own copy online while being only 50 pages into the library copy). It is everything my life is and is not, but potentially can be. This book made me feel less embarrassed about being "a fangirl". It also gave me a strong urge to write.

This book was so good, and so well written, that I want to read it again.

Also I need "Carry On" like RIGHT NOW.


All of other reviews you can read on my GoodReads page, as I don't want to make this post longer than necessary. I do want to point out that Nimona, Lumberjanes, Adventures of TJ and Amal, and Through the Woods are my favourite graphic novels of the month, while Blue is the Warmest Colour is the least favourite.

Let me know what you think!