The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Winternight Trilogy #2

I’m so lucky to have gotten my hands on this book as soon as it released! I have been really bad when it comes to series; I almost always preorder the books, but when they arrive, I never read them. This is what has happened with the Queen of the Tearling series (I promise I will get to it soon!), but I was determined to not let it happen here! As soon as I received my copy, I put aside all of my other books. So now, here is my review:

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya has very few options: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both restrict her freedom and her chances of seeing the vast world. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

As usual, the author has delivered a stunning historical fantasy novel. I love how true the author stays to historical Russian events and Russian mythology throughout the story. It is so easy for the reader to imagine this vivid setting and fall into the story. There are loads of supernatural elements in the story but they are worked into this intricate political plot. I’m always surprised to see this combination work as well as it does, because it just seems so contradictory! I also love learning about Russian culture and mythology through this novel; it’s something I’ve always been fascinated by and the author really does an amazing job of making it come to life through Vasya’s adventure. This story takes place almost right where the first book left off. I found it interesting that the first perspective wasn’t Vasya’s but one of her siblings, instead. I thought that this novel had more action and adventure than the previous novel in the series. This kept my interest up, but I also wish that there had been more mystery, which is what I had loved about The Bear and the Nightingale. In all fairness, I think I preferred the first book to this one. The Bear and the Nightingale had this wonderful depth and development of character even though it lacked the fast pace of The Girl in the Tower. I almost wish that there had been a little less action and a little more focus on the character relationships (especially between Vasya and Morozko!) and the mythology. Overall, this was still a really great novel and I cannot wait for the third book in this trilogy! I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

Advertisements

The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan

I recently heard about this book through a newsletter: it was one of the top 10 fairytale retellings. I love fairy tales and any time I have a chance to read one in a new form, I will. This story is about mermaids – but it is quite unconventional. Here is my review:

On the remote Rollrock Island, men make their living from the sea. It is also the place where they fetch their wives. The Witch Misskaella knows how to find the girl at the heart of a seal. She’ll coax a beauty from the beast for any man – for a price. And what man wouldn’t want a sea-wife? But though he may tell himself that he is the master, one look in his new bride’s eyes will transform him just as much as it changes her. Both will be ensnared – and the witch will look on, laughing.

When I first started reading this book, I was unsure of whether I would like it or not. The first few chapters are a little unclear and not as nicely structured as I would have liked. However, the story soon picks up, and begins to flow beautifully. The story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters, and how they are all affected by these beautiful seal-women. Calling them mermaids would be a misnomer since they really aren’t like the legends – and they come from seals. Each of the perspectives had a unique voice and helped to really flesh out the story. The more you read the story, the more you feel drawn to it, and the more twisted it becomes. Let me make this clear: this is not a happy or funny story with tons of action. It is poignant, and sad, and beautiful, and dark. If that’s what you are looking for, then this story will work for you. Once I got through the first few chapters, I absolutely loved this novel. I’m giving this a 4.5/5 stars but I would cautiously recommend this to other fantasy lovers.

Happy reading ~

How to Hang A Witch by Adriana Mather

I’ve always been fascinated by the Salem Witch trials. It was a time when paranoia and hallucinations ran rampant, leading to the death of many innocent women. I remember reading quite a few nonfiction novels to try to understand how this mass hysteria came to be. I haven’t had a chance to read a fictional book about this topic, and thought this would be a good novel to start with. Here is my review:

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials. It is also Samantha Mather’s new home. When Sam and her stepmother move to Salem from New York City, they don’t exactly get a warm welcome. Sam is a descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for the Salem Witch trials. This automatically makes San the enemy of a group of girls who are descended from the witches that were hung by Cotton. If struggling to deal with these bullies wasn’t enough, Sam also finds herself face to face with a real ghost, one who wants Sam to leave the house she lives in. But soon, Sam discovers that she is at the center of a centuries old curse. Sam must now get help from the ghost and find a way to work with her enemies in order to stop the deadly cycle of the curse. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

I went in knowing that this was a YA fiction novel. I think having this understanding is what allowed me to enjoy this story. I knew not to expect too much depth or intricate plot lines; I assumed it would have similar themes to most teen fiction stories (albeit with witches). This turned out to be true. However, I quite liked this story. Sam is a sarcastic yet shy/vulnerable character who has a hard time trusting people and opening up. This makes sense when you consider the things she has gone through in her childhood. In fact, I wish this was expounded upon more in the story. I liked the way the author brought in the history behind the Salem witch trials; in fact, I wish there had been more of it. I felt as if the author would bring up important facts or mysteries about this time period in history but then either let it drop or resolve it too quickly. I feel like this was an aspect that the author could have spent more time on. I will say that there was a definitive plot for this story and I really liked the way it moved; there was a lot more witchy elements than I had expected, which is always a nice surprise. The Descendants, the name for the group of students who are descended from the accused witches, were pretty much your stereotypical bully/popular girl clique but I expected that from the start. I will admit the writing wasn’t anything to admire and the love triangle was a bit awkward and cringe-y for my taste… but the overall story was interesting. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars, and I would recommend this to teens around the age of 13-15 who like stories about witches.

Happy reading ~

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst – Queens of Renthia #2

I loved the first book in this series Queen of Blood and I knew I had to get my hands on the second one. As soon as it came out, I went and bought it. But that’s where I made the mistake. You see, when I buy books, I get really excited to read them… but then they end up on my bookshelf and never get read. I get so overwhelmed by ARCs and books I’ve borrowed from the library so I prioritize those over books I’ve bought. I tell myself I’m going to get to it eventually … but I never do. This time, however, I tricked myself (sort-of!); I bought the book but also placed a library hold on it. When the library hold came through, I took the physical book from my bookshelf. I outsmarted myself …  I think! Either way, the book has been read so here is my review:

Just 6 months ago, Daleina used her strength and skills to survive the spirits and become Queen. Since then, she has worked hard at keeping the peace between the spirits and humans. However, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she dies before an heir is chosen, the spirits will take over her realm and kill everyone. Naelin is a woodswoman who could be the heir Daleina so desperately needs – but she doesn’t want to be Queen. Her world consists of her two children, her husband, and the remote village she lives in. But when Ven, the Queen’s champion, passes through, Naelin’s boastful husband can’t help but let slip of his wife’s abilities. For Ven, this is the best news; he can find someone to help Daleina through this difficult time. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.

I really loved this sequel, perhaps even more than the first book. This novel had everything I have ever wanted from a fantasy story: adventure, magic, strong characters, and lack of cliches. I loved how the story was more mature this time; the characters aren’t children anymore. They’re adults making difficult decisions about life, death, safety, and duty. Everything was perfectly balanced: the adventure, the romance, the tension, the mystery. I loved all of the new characters that were introduced and I loved how well they interacted and played their part in this story. As a reader, I love when you get characters that have depth to them, and this was the case here. I also found the story itself compelling, and I literally could not put this book down for a minute! I think that this is a real gem of a fantasy series that more people need to be aware of; it is fast-paced, well thought out, and it will leave you wanting more! 5/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan Mcguire

When I read Every Heart A Doorway, I have to tell you it was the most amazing experience ever. I loved the dark fantasy tale and I needed more. While this novel is part of the series, it can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone. I finally got around to reading it today, and I finished it in one sitting. So here is my review:

Jacqueline and Jillian were never given any choices on who they wanted to be. For their mother, Jacqueline was molded into the perfect daughter: polite, quiet, and always dressed like a princess. Jillian was her father’s perfect girl: adventurous, tomboy-ish, and always looking for the next thrill; it was the closest he could get to a son. By the time they were 12 years old, these identities had been fixed upon them and no matter how much they hated it, they had no choice but to act the way their parents expected. But one rainy day, the twins find an impossible staircase that took them to a different world altogether, one filled with dangerous beings and death and the ability to make decisions for themselves…

I absolutely loved this story. It’s just as dark and weird as Every Heart A Doorway. It was so easy to get caught up in the journey of Jacqueline and Jillian. I loved the Moors, the vampire, the mad scientist … it was so much craziness that shouldn’t have made sense but did. The author manages to take the most random and insane ideas and tie it together to create this fantastic story. I also loved how the girls changed and developed over time, and how their past influenced their future choices. It says a lot about the expectations others can have about you and how that can affect you. Seeing these twins pursue completely opposite destinies was just so interesting, and yet the author still manages to make them connect with each other. I remembered Jack and Jill from Every Heart a Doorway, but this story made them all the more real to me. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who likes weird and interesting fantasy and/or is a fan of Seanan Mcguire!

Happy reading ~

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake – Three Dark Crowns #2

When I had read the first book in the series, I had not liked it. It had been too slow and I did not feel a connection with the characters. I wasn’t planning on reading the sequel … but I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

The Quickening was an unforgettable time that revealed many hidden secrets and plots revolving the three queens. Now that the Ascension Year is underway, all bets are off. Katherine, once the weakest sister and the least likely champion for the throne, is proving herself to be stronger than ever. Arsinoe, who has finally discovered the truth about her powers, must figure out how she can use this to her advantage while keeping it a secret. And Mirabella, once thought to be the certain Queen Crowned, is facing attacks that she cannot seem to fight against. Only one thing is guaranteed: this year will be the bloodiest yet.

When compared to Three Dark Crowns, I thought this novel was a LOT better. The story starts up right where it ended, and the scheming begins almost immediately. The author was kind enough to include a list of characters and their connections to each other at the beginning of the novel, which came in handy for me when I forgot someone’s name. If it’s been a while since you read Three Dark Crowns, I strongly urge you to read it before beginning this one or else you will find yourself confused for a good bit of the story. I felt like this time around the author made it easier to understand and identify with the sisters. At least, that’s how I felt! I liked reading about Arsinoe and Katharine the most. Arsinoe has a really great personality and I like how she is connected to Jules. However, I still feel that the naturalist aspects of the story were more about Jules than Arsinoe, and I would have preferred if that had been more balanced. Katharine’s character went through the greatest change (as was hinted through the description) and I really liked that because she got a whole lot more interesting! However, I wish the author had dug deeper into these changes, instead of just having it explained at the end of the novel; there was definitely room for some horror aspects in Katharine’s story but they were muted because they weren’t explored as much as I would have liked. Mirabella didn’t really spark my interest in this story but at least the terrible love triangle from before wasn’t taking front-and-center stage like last time! The romance elements that were included in the story were not too bad this time. Overall, I had a much more enjoyable experience with this novel than its predecessor. Does it still have room for improvement? Yes. Is it the best YA fantasy series I have read? No. But it has potential and it has me intrigued so I will probably keep myself aware of the release of the next book in the series and give it a shot.

Happy reading ~

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

I love fantasy fiction and when I heard that this is a brand new series coming out, I really wanted to get in on the action. It took me a while to get my hands on this book what with all the demand. But I finally did so here is my review:

At the Convent of Sweet Mercy, young girls are trained to be deadly killers. In some, there are signs of the old blood, giving these girls talents rarely seen since the tribes made their mark on Abeth. Sweet Mercy hones the skills of novices to deadly effect – it takes them 10 years to train a Red Sister in the ways of blade and fist. But no one truly understands what they are dealing with when 8-year-old Nona Grey is brought to their convent, bloodstained and accused of murder. While Nona has escaped from the noose, she has made powerful enemies. Despite the security of the convent, her secret and violent past will come back for her. Beneath a dying sun and a crumbling empire, Nona must come to terms with her demons and become a deadly assassin if she is to survive.

The very first page starts off with a bang, and it got me super excited. The next chapter came along and it was just as cool. The author really knows how to capture the reader’s attention! The author also invests a lot of energy and time into world-building, which is greatly appreciated. Every time something new was described, it made me excited to see how the author would use that to develop the story. And then we got to the middle of the book. And I didn’t like it. While I’m a HUGE fan of Harry Potter, I don’t always like Harry Potter-like fiction. And this story started to show signs of becoming that way. For 75% of the novel, we watch Nona and her friends go to classes and train and learn things…. just like in Harry Potter. Granted there are episodes of action that are awesome, and Nona is a very interesting main character that is not at all like Harry Potter …. but the similarities were just too much. It kind of felt like a mash up between Harry Potter and Queen of Blood, both which I loved – as separate entities. In fact, I think I liked Queen of Bloods more than I liked this one. However, the story picked up near the end and the intrigue was back. I think what really made me like this book and stick through the boring bits was the fact that there were moments where I was on the edge of my seat and the amazing writing skills of the author. While this was not my favorite fantasy novel, I definitely liked it enough to keep an eye out for the sequel when it gets released.

Happy reading ~

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff – Nevernight Chronicles #2

I loved Nevernight so much so that I bought it. I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this novel and I had to wait FOREVER to get my hands on it. But I did. And I kid you not, I put every other book aside so that I could devote all of my time to this novel. I even skipped out on doing work (sorry not sorry) to finish it and savour this amazing sequel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here is my review:

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church don’t think she’s earned it just yet. As she successfully completes one mission after the other, she finds herself no closer in her quest to kill Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo. And after a deadly confrontation with an enemy, Mia starts to suspect the allegiance of the Red Church itself.  When she finds out that Scaeva and Duomo will be making an appearance in the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia hatches a plan. She defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium in the hopes of reaching the conclusion level of the games and finally getting the chance to seek her revenge. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

This was one of the best sequels I’ve ever read. Usually, I find that in a trilogy, the second book is just filler. NOT THE CASE WITH THIS GEM! The darkness, brutality, and violence that made this story so believable in the first book carried over here. If anything, it was more intense than before! Mia is an amazing character and I love how sneaky and cunning she can be with her friends – and the reader. I love how she grows and changes, and I love that this novel showed a different side to her world than what we had seen in Nevernight. The gladiator battles were amazing, and I liked the new characters that were introduced. The writing style was just the same (meaning BRILLIANT) and it was great to see how the author flitted between past and present in the first part of the story. I think what really makes this story work for me is that the author doesn’t cheat the reader out of the experience. This book promises gore and then it delivers it. It promises an evolving and fast-paced story and that’s exactly what the reader gets. And there are so many surprising events that occur, which the reader could never have guessed and they just add to the intrigue and make you want to know more! Suffice to say, it was worth making all of the sacrifices that I did (like skipping work, and not studying or reading anything else). Now, I just have to wait in agony for the next book to be released!

Happy reading ~

 

Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Thank you to Penguin Random House and First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for my honest review!

I love reading fantasy novels that have a different cultural influence. It adds a lot more intrigue and differnet perspectives for me to view the story in and it also gives me the opportunity to gain exposure to different cultural norms that are out there. I was super excited to get this ARC so here is my review:

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages use their magic to bring out the sin from a sinner in the form of beasts. These sin-beasts are then eaten by sin-eaters, otherwise known as aki. However, it is a difficult livelihood and comes at a price. For every sin-beast killed and consumed, a tattoo appears on the skin of the sin-eater while the guilt of committing the sin stays in the mind of the aki. Taj is the most talented of the aki but he suffers the most, as his tattoos never fade in time. He knows his fate: most aki are driven mad by the process… but Taj must survive in order to provide for his family. When Taj is sent to eat the sin of a member of the royal family, he finds himself thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy. Now Taj must fight to save the lives of those he loves – and his own.

This novel had such an interesting concept. However, it suffered quite a bit in its execution. Many people were not able to finish this novel, but I chugged through. I will say that this novel has a great deal of description and the author does a very good job fleshing out Taj’s character. You really get to know him and understand him. However, there isn’t much happening. There are loads of moments in the story where nothing is happening and it can get quite boring to go through it to get to the good stuff. While the beginning was intriguing enough to give the story momentum, it didn’t continue all the way until the end. This is probably the reason that a lot of people gave up on this novel. It finally ramped up speed near the end, but I wasn’t too happy with the way it was done. For one thing, it felt very rushed and had not been built up too well. The other problem was that it was quite predictable, which was a bit disappointing for me. I felt like I had invested a lot of time into this story, but I got the short end of the stick. So while this novel had an interesting premise, it really suffered in its plot development. For this reason, I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I first read the description of this book, it immediately reminded me of Nevernight by Jay Kristoff. Since the second book hasn’t been released yet, I decided to use this book as a substitute!

Sallot Leon is a thief, and good at it. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape life as a highway robber and get the opportunity to take revenge on the nobles who destroyed Sal’s home. When Sal sees a poster announcing auditions for the position of Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen’s personal assassins, Sal knows this is the chance of a lifetime. However, the audition is anything but easy; it is a fight to the death filled with people of all different walks of life – with various deadly skills. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to fulfill the ultimate goal: revenge.

This was really not at all like Nevernight and I must admit that I was quite disappointed with what I read. I really appreciated the author having a gender fluid protagonist; it was a great way to introduce diversity to the literary character world while also giving a new perspective to the story. However, it was not enough to redeem the story in my eyes. This book, while full of action, was quite boring. I have no idea how the author managed to accomplish this but it was probably due to the ridiculous amount of description and the plethora of training scenes that really did nothing to move the story forward. The plot is also very similar to a bunch of assassin YA novels that are currently out there and there really wasn’t anything unique about this one. The characters were also not very fleshed out and I had an especially hard time connecting with Sal; the personality changes were so swift that it was hard to establish anything solid about Sal that I could rely upon. Overall, this novel failed in its plot and execution, and I would give this a 1.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~