December 18, 2019

All I Want for Christmas 2019 Is... (4)

'Tis the season... for making book wish lists! And that means my "All I Want for Christmas" feature is going to get dusted off and used again. For any new followers to my blog, this is when I share the books that have made it onto my Christmas wishlist. I'll probably share one or two a week until Christmas. Feel free to link up your own book picks in the comments!

My picks for this post:

The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

"An evocative novel in the vein of Kate Morton and Daphne du Maurier, in which the thrill of first love clashes with the bonds of sisterhood, and all will be tested by the dark secret at the heart of Applecote Manor.

"An enthralling story of secrets, sisters, and an unsolved mystery."--Kate Morton, New York Times bestselling author of The Lake House 

Four sisters. A house with a past. One secret summer.

When fifteen-year-old Margot Wilde and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the arrival of two handsome neighbors divides the sisters' loyalties, Margot is drawn into the life Audrey left behind and the mystery of her vanishing. Fifty years later, Jessie is desperate to move her family out of their London home, and gorgeous Applecote Manor seems like the perfect solution. But once there, Jessie finds herself increasingly isolated, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor. Rich with heat and angst, in The Wildling Sisters the thrill of first love clashes with the bonds of sisterhood, taking readers on a breathless journey into the darkest secrets of the human heart."

I read Eve Chase's book Black Rabbit Hall this past year and ended up quite enjoying it. While it wasn't the Gothic thriller I was expecting, its quieter take on death and grief within a family was well done. I'm always up for historical family stories full of secrets and interpersonal tensions, so I'm hopeful I'll also enjoy The Wildling Sisters.

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

"Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.

Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents' house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That's when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.

When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she's started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.

This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever... or is it?"

This one just sounds like a cute, fun read perfect for the holiday season! I haven't read any YA for a while that really captures the warm fuzzy feeling of Christmas (a la Let It Snow), and I'm hoping this one might. 

What books are you hoping to unwrap this holiday season?

December 3, 2019

All I Want for Christmas 2019 Is... (3)

'Tis the season... for making book wish lists! And that means my "All I Want for Christmas" feature is going to get dusted off and used again. For any new followers to my blog, this is when I share the books that have made it onto my Christmas wishlist. I'll probably share one or two a week until Christmas. Feel free to link up your own book picks in the comments!

My pick for this post:

The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle L. Jensen

"What if you fell in love with the one person you'd sworn to destroy? 

Lara has only one thought for her husband on their wedding day: I will bring your kingdom to its knees. A princess trained from childhood to be a lethal spy, Lara knows that the Bridge Kingdom represents both legendary evil - and legendary promise. The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom controls all trade and travel between lands, allowing its ruler to enrich himself and deprive his enemies, including Lara's homeland. So when she is sent as a bride under the guise of fulfilling a treaty of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture the defenses of the impenetrable Bridge Kingdom. 

But as she infiltrates her new home - a lush paradise surrounded by tempest seas - and comes to know her new husband, Aren, Lara begins to question where the true evil resides. Around her, she sees a kingdom fighting for survival, and in Aren, a man fiercely protective of his people. As her mission drives her to deeper understanding of the fight to possess the bridge, Lara finds the simmering attraction between her and Aren impossible to ignore. 

Her goal nearly within reach, Lara will have to decide her own fate: Will she be the destroyer of a king or the savior of her people?"

How awesome does this premise sound? A princess who's a spy. A marriage of political convenience, between two enemy nations. A kingdom controlling all the trade and travel between different lands. This just hits so many of my favourite things in a story! 

What books are you hoping Santa brings this year?

November 27, 2019

Short & Sweet: Bright Ruin & A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Bright Ruin by Vic James

Okay, that ending leaves me with so many questions! Spoilers, highlight to read: so it really wasn't spelled out, but Silyen awoke again and broke out of the tomb, right? And came back for Luke? And then they both went back to Far Carr, through a doorway Silyen created? Also, whatever happens with Coira???

Anyway, I feel like this book's plot moved slower than the first two in the series. There was a lot of information-gathering (that deepened our knowledge of the world and characters), but there wasn't much exciting action until the last quarter. Then towards the end all of a sudden everything was happening! There also weren't as many unpredictable twists and turns as previous books have had, but everything was plotted very smartly. I liked the introduction of a new character, that connected to the backstory of another. 

I also grew fonder of Luke in this book, as I really enjoyed seeing his relationship with Silyen grow as they spent time together. Silyen's character, too, becomes a lot clearer in this final book. 

Overall, a very solid conclusion to the series!

4 shooting stars.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

I enjoyed this take on the Beauty & the Beast fairy tale -- I wasn't sure going into it if I would like the combination of modern and fantasy settings, but Brigid Kemmerer makes it work. Harper is a scrappy heroine who doesn't let anything get in the way of doing what she thinks is right, and Rhen, while at first coming off as a typically arrogant royal used to getting his own way, gradually allows himself to become more vulnerable with Harper as the story progresses. 

I also enjoyed seeing how elements of the original fairy tale were presented in this version. The enchantress who curses the prince plays a much more active role throughout, and the curse itself works differently (and I thought was quite clever). While the plot was fairly predictable (spoilers, highlight to read: I totally guessed that Grey was likely the mysterious "halfling" heir), and the writing itself was rather bland (I would have liked more description of the settings, to really feel like I was there with Harper), I'm interested to see where Kemmerer takes the story in the next book.

4 shooting stars.



Allegiant: A Rambling Review

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Okay, I finally read it. I don't even know how I managed to go this long without getting totally spoiled for the ending (spoilers, highlight to read: although the way people talked about it, I was pretty sure one of the two main characters was going to die... I kinda suspected it would be Four, though!

Anyway, my thoughts: for a final book in a trilogy, I found this strangely boring and uneventful. Like, it's 526 pages, and for about 400 of those, nothing much happens...? It was also less epic than I was expecting, like it felt surprisingly small-scale to me. Usually in the final book of a dystopian series everything gets dealt with on a larger-scale (I mean, look at the Hunger Games series). 

I was kind of annoyed about the Tris/Tobias drama that crops up in here (didn't we deal with that enough in book 2?), although it did provide some interesting glimpses into the psychology of their characters and relationship. But the tension between them felt rather manufactured, as though it was a substitute for the lack of tension in the rest of the story. I didn't feel like there was really a "big bad guy" in this book, an enemy to root against. The Bureau, I guess? But they just seemed sort of lacklustre and bland. 

And don't get me started on some of the plotholes here. I mean, for starters, the explanation for how the world became this way doesn't seem scientifically feasible in the slightest. Spoilers: genetic manipulation of huge numbers of adults? And then correcting them all? But not really correcting them, I guess, and then relying on behavioural modification to address this? Like...what??? How would that even work? It really didn't make sense. But even putting that aside, there are still basic plot points that seem very weak. More spoilers: like, um, if David is clever enough to figure out that Tris and the others are planning something, wouldn't he be clever enough to inoculate himself with the antidote to the memory serum ahead of time? Also, what is the expiry date on that stuff? Because it sounds like it wears off fairly quickly...? And also, why would the Bureau store the memory serum in such a way that a simple password and the press of a button would release it INTO THE BUREAU???? Like why is that even a possibility??? They would, one imagines, never want that to happen. Yet it sounded like it was built right into how the stuff was stored. I mean, the Bureau was seriously really bad at its job, because it was way too easy for Tris' group to rebel.

I liked some of the realizations that various characters in this book came to about life, as there were some kernels in there that felt authentic and true. But most of this book just ended up seeming pretty pointless. I know a lot of readers were upset by this final book (even more spoilers: I'm assuming because Tris dies? Honestly, I felt like that ending that was very true to Tris' character -- the sacrifice for her brother, anyway. The part about being shot to death by David, a man we barely got to know during this third book, did not lend it particular significance), but overall I just felt irritated by the execution of the majority of the storyline, especially given that it's the final book in the series. It feels like it went out not with a bang, but a whimper.

2.5 shooting stars.



The Flatshare: A Rambling Review (Adult)

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

This was a really cute read. The premise was fun (sharing a flat/bed while never meeting, and connecting through series of Post-It Notes? It screams 'adorable'!), and the execution provided the "warm fuzzies" you want in a rom-com. There was a heavier layer, though, in the storyline surrounding Tiffy's ex-boyfriend (spoilers, highlight to read: Total. Creep.).

I liked that it flipped back and forth between the girl's and guy's POV, and their voices were quite distinct. Beth O'Leary does well at portraying their personalities through the writing styles of each of their POVs -- Tiffy is quite detailed and bubbly, while Leon is succinct, as though he doesn't want to use any words unnecessarily. Despite the fact that I'm not remotely talented at crafts, and I don't have Tiffy's daring fashion sense, I connected with her. Leon's a little harder to get to know (as he doesn't share the same way that Tiffy does), but it's clear what a calm and grounded presence he is in Tiffy's life. 

And the Post-Its are seriously the most adorable thing ever. I really enjoyed reading that build-up to the moment they actually meet (which is, of course, a "meet-cute" situation). 

Basically, The Flatshare reads as if Meg Cabot's Boy series and Rainbow Rowell's Attachments had a baby. If you're a fan of either of those authors, you'll enjoy The Flatshare.

4 shooting stars.  


November 26, 2019

The Kiss of Deception: A Rambling Review

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

This definitely fell prey to a lot of YA fantasy tropes, but hey, I don't mind a lot of tropes of the genre. I did like the clever device of concealing which man was the prince and which the assassin; I knew from reviews that this device was used, but nevertheless, it kept me guessing (and second-guessing) about their identities. 

However, I can't say I got totally sucked into this world or these characters; something about the writing felt flat, and the whole thing felt very "typical YA fantasy" to me. Lia was what you'd probably expect from a YA fantasy heroine -- gutsy, a tad impetuous at times, compassionate, independent... and dancing on the edge of being a "Mary Sue". Of course, both of the male leads fell for her (who didn't see that coming?) and a sort-of (but was it really?) love triangle ensued. The romance didn't do much for me, although this could be partly because of the whole uncertain-identities issue that kept me from really rooting for Lia to get together with either of the guys. 

I also wanted a lot more from the world building and mythology; it's doled out in dribs and drabs that didn't coalesce as a coherent whole for me. I'm still puzzled over what the "Remnant" are (and that word is in the name of the series, so...) Everything about the mythology was kept quite vague, and I do hope more specifics are provided in the sequel.

Points for including a map, though! That was actually helpful for me to refer to in following Lia's journey.

3.5 shooting stars. 


November 25, 2019

All I Want for Christmas 2019 Is... (2)

'Tis the season... for making book wish lists! And that means my "All I Want for Christmas" feature is going to get dusted off and used again. For any new followers to my blog, this is when I share the books that have made it onto my Christmas wishlist. I'll probably share one or two a week until Christmas. Feel free to link up your own book picks in the comments!

My pick for this post:

The Lady and the Highwayman by Sarah M. Eden

"Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a girls’ school and a well-respected author of “silver-fork” novels, stories written both for and about the upper-class ladies of Victorian society. But by night, she writes very different kinds of stories—the Penny Dreadfuls that are all the rage among the working-class men. Under the pseudonym Mr. King, Elizabeth has written about dashing heroes fighting supernatural threats and dangerous outlaws romancing helpless women. They contain all the adventure and mystery that her real life lacks.
Fletcher Walker began life as a street urchin, but is now the most successful author in the Penny Dreadful market, that is until Mr. King started taking all of his readers--and his profits. No one knows who King is, including Fletcher’s fellow members of the Dread Penny Society, a fraternity of authors dedicated to secretly fighting for the rights of the less-fortunate.
Determined to find the elusive Mr. King, Fletcher approaches Miss Black. As a fellow-author, she is well-known among the high-class writers; perhaps she could be persuaded to make some inquiries as to Mr. King’s whereabouts? Elizabeth agrees to help Fletcher, if only to insure her secret identity is never discovered. 
For the first time, Elizabeth experiences the thrill of a cat-and-mouse adventure reminiscent of one of her own novels as she tries to throw Fletcher off her scent. But the more time they spend together, the more she loses her heart. Its upper-class against working-class, author against author where readers, reputations, and romance are all on the line."

This book just sounds like so much fun! I do enjoy a good hidden-identity story, especially when there's a romance involved too. And of course, the Victorian society setting just makes it even better. 

What books are you hoping to find under the tree?

November 18, 2019

All I Want for Christmas 2019 Is... (1)

'Tis the season... for making book wish lists! And that means my "All I Want for Christmas" feature is going to get dusted off and used again. For any new followers to my blog, this is when I share the books that have made it onto my Christmas wishlist. I'll probably share one or two a week until Christmas. Feel free to link up your own book picks in the comments!

The first pick for this year is:

Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

"Zera is a Heartless – the immortal, unageing soldier of a witch. Bound to the witch Nightsinger ever since she saved her from the bandits who murdered her family, Zera longs for freedom from the woods they hide in. With her heart in a jar under Nightsinger’s control, she serves the witch unquestioningly.

Until Nightsinger asks Zera for a Prince’s heart in exchange for her own, with one addendum; if she’s discovered infiltrating the court, Nightsinger will destroy her heart rather than see her tortured by the witch-hating nobles.

Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane hates the royal court as much as it loves him – every tutor too afraid to correct him and every girl jockeying for a place at his darkly handsome side. No one can challenge him – until the arrival of Lady Zera. She’s inelegant, smart-mouthed, carefree, and out for his blood. The Prince’s honor has him quickly aiming for her throat.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between a girl with nothing to lose and a boy who has it all.

Winner takes the loser’s heart.


This is one of my most anticipated YA fantasy reads! I know it's gotten a lot of positive reviews -- I remember seeing Misty at The Book Rat rave about it -- and the premise sounds right up my alley. What with the whole secret-mission-to-steal-his-heart going on, and I'm guessing they eventually fall for each other...

What books are on your Christmas wishlist?

August 1, 2019

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: A Panoramic Review (Adult)

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

"In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic." (from Goodreads)

My reaction: For me, The Ten Thousand Doors of January was a book that is objectively quite well-written (especially for a debut), but did not suck me in and make it impossible for me to put it down. On the contrary, I read it in bits and pieces, a little at a time -- which ended up more or less working, as I was able to remember the big picture storyline, and I flipped back to previous sections when needed. For the first three-quarters or so, the book alternates between January's perspective and the story of Adelaide (a story-within-a-story format), and I found it a bit jarring at times to go back and forth between them. 

I liked both January and Adelaide as protagonists, and just generally I thought the characterization here was very well done. The characters were distinctively drawn, and it was nice to see a diverse cast. However, I never totally connected with January or Adelaide, and felt like I was held at a bit of a distance from them. 

The writing style really stood out to me as well. While it tended to the flowery and purple prose-y side of things, and therefore was not that accessible or page-turning in quality, there was something so very quotable about so many of the lines I came across. When I first started reading it, it felt a bit deja-vu-ish, in that it kept reminding me of books from my childhood. Harrow's writing has a quality that is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's; little pearls of wisdom and reflection are dropped throughout, and phrased in a beautiful and powerful way. 

Best aspect: the concept of the Doors leading to other worlds -- not that this is a fresh concept or anything (hey, it's been done in so many well-known fantasy novels), but I thought the way it was handled here was neat. There are doors to pretty much every kind of world imaginable, and  since stories are basically like doors to other realms, the whole thing is kinda meta. Most readers would be thrilled if they could have January's powers to open Doors! Definitely reader wish fulfillment territory. (However, I should note that most of the book does take place in our world, and that considering the premise, more page time could have been spent actually in some of the other worlds, rather than just hearing stories about them.)

I also really appreciated the touching and thought-provoking themes and ideas Harrow raises throughout the story, including family, loyalty, friendship, abandonment, independence, "otherness," and forgiveness. While the writing is not the most accessible, the themes threaded through this story most certainly are. While there is a touch of romance here, it is not central to the story arc; rather, the story revolves around January's journey to discovering her strength and values. 

If I could change something... as I said, the writing did tend to the overly descriptive, to the point where I was like, "Do you really need another metaphor here?" Metaphors can be used very effectively, but they also need to be used fairly sparingly in order to make the most impact. It's the kind of writing where you feel like a thesaurus may have been employed quite a lot, and unfortunately that can actually make things harder for a reader to visualize, and can impede the flow of reading. So I think that should have been addressed in editing, to ensure that the writing style didn't slow down the momentum of the story. 

I also found the plot very predictable. I think this is probably the weakest aspect of the book -- most of the "reveals" really didn't seem terribly surprising to me (or at least, I had guessed at them by the time January figures them out). Spoilers, highlight to read: I mean, I didn't guess that Yule Ian was her father when he was first introduced, but by the time January finds out that he is, I'd put the pieces together. And I wondered pretty early on if Mr. Locke was the fellow who had bought the land from Adelaide's aunts, and had burned the Door after January opened it.

If you haven't read it: and you enjoy books about self-discovery, friendship, adventure, and wanderlust, pick this one up. 

If you have read it: did you guess the "twists" ahead of time like I did?

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: found the notion that revolution and change occurs because things "leak" through the Doors an interesting one, and I wish it had been explored further. (Maybe in a future companion novel???)

Quote: Hard to pick just one! Here are a few I particularly liked:

That afternoon, sitting in that lonely field beside the Door that didn't lead anywhere, I wanted to write a different kind of story. A true kind of story, something I could crawl into if only I believed it hard enough.

Those of you who are more than casually familiar with books -- those of you who spend your free afternoons in fusty bookshops, who offer furtive, kindly strokes along the spines of familiar titles -- understand that page riffling is an essential element in the process of introducing oneself to a new book. It isn't about reading the words; it's about reading the smell, which wafts from the pages in a cloud of dust and wood pulp. It might smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-colour prints, or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco-smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, or literary weight or unsolved mysteries.

It is fashionable among intellectuals and sophisticates to scoff at true love -- to pretend it is nothing but a sweet fairy tale sold to children and young women, to be taken as seriously as magic wands or glass slippers. I feel nothing but pity for these learned persons, because they would not say such foolish things if they had ever experienced love for themselves.

May she wander but always return home, may all her words be written true, may every door lie open before her.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. 

Disclaimer: I received a copy for review from the publisher.

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