Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2019 by Bloomsbury  

Pages: 496

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

I have to admit, this is one of those books I picked up because of the hype. I passed it time and time again in the bookshop and considered buying it, but changed my mind (that shiny spine on the paperback edition catches the eye!). I’m not a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so that wasn’t a particular selling point to me, although I do love retellings. Eventually, I bought it, and I’m glad I did.

Although it’s a romance, it also explores the people of Emberfall and the conflict with a neighbouring kingdom, so there was a good blend of romance and fantasy. The writing style is easy to read but also vivid and at the end of each chapter I was eager to turn the page and continue reading. It’s told in the alternating first person perspectives of Harper and Rhen. It often takes me a while to settle into this kind of style, but I didn’t have that problem with this book. The story gets going right from the start, with Harper being transported to Emberfall, so I was hooked from the off.

I immediately took to Harper, Rhen and Grey. I’m so glad that Brigid Kemmerer decided to include a main character with cerebral palsy. There needs to be more characters with disabilities and chronic health conditions in YA books. I loved that Harper’s cerebral palsy doesn’t hold her back. She’s thrown into this fantasy world from DC and quickly adapts, using her fearlessness to fight bad guys and stand up for others. Harper has to be one of my favourite YA heroines.

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Book Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: February 2020 by Feiwel and Friends, Fairyloot Edition

Pages: 326

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

The Shadows Between Us is a standalone fantasy novel and my first introduction to Tricia Levenseller’s writing. I wasn’t sure this book would be for me, but it came in February’s Fairyloot box in the most gorgeous edition, so of course I had to give it a go. It’s described as a Slytherin romance, and I’m very much a Hufflepuff, so that selling point didn’t speak to me personally. But I ended up loving it! It also makes a nice change to read a standalone fantasy, as this genre is so often long series.

Alessandra is such a determined character. Right from the start, we get a sense of her personality. She’s not afraid to be herself and she fights for what she wants. Her eyes are set on the throne, and she’s willing to kill the king to get it. Alessandra also designs and makes her own dresses and the descriptions are divine. She bends the rules of what women can do in this world, and uses her power to change things for the other women of the court too. She’s ambitious and scheming and she stands out from other young adult protagonists for that reason. From that perspective she’s quite an unusual protagonist really. This sort of character is often the antagonist, so I loved seeing a story told through the eyes of a different kind of character.

Kallius is an equally interesting character. He’s not a noble hero. We see him kill a guard for failing to keep watch. He wants to conquer more of the surrounding kingdoms. But since Alessandra isn’t your typical protagonist either, they are very well suited. They’re both ambitious and driven.   

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Book Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (eARC)

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

An epic tale of revenge and redemption in a world where a memory thief must fight against terrifying monarchs bent on the destruction of her people.

When the royal family of Puerto Leones sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, spy and memory-thief Renata seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, who plans to use a terrible new weapon to wipe out the magic of the Moria…

For fans who enjoyed the ferocity of Ember in the Ashes, INCENDIARY explores the double-edged sword of memory and the triumph of hope and love in the midst of fear and oppression.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGallery for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Incendiary is set in a fantasy world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain. The concept of having a character who can steal memories intrigued me. But while the world and concept were interesting, this book was in some ways disappointing.

The opening few chapters grabbed my attention, but there was a lot of new information for the reader, some of which could have been explained better. I did feel a bit lost at times with all the new words and concepts. It was never really explained why Ren is occasionally referred to as an Incendiary, and since that’s the title of the book, it’s a shame that doesn’t come across. I like that we were thrown right into the story, but that did mean I found it a bit difficult to get my head around the magic system. There is a lot of exposition which makes the pacing drag. The first section of the book is very exciting and the last section is also very gripping, but the middle was quite slow and didn’t keep me hooked.  

Ren is a good protagonist. While she’s shunned by society because of her magic, she’s also looked upon with mistrust by the Moria because her magic is rare and seen as dangerous. She has the ability to steal people’s memories, and if she steals too many she can leave a person as a Hollow. This creates some great conflict, as Ren doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and it also means she has a lot of internal conflict which is what drives a lot of the story. However, many of the reveals come from memories Ren has stolen. While she is an active rather than passive character, she doesn’t do much to work things out for herself at times, the reveals for the reader are kind of handed to her.

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February 2020 Wrap Up

This has been a bit of a tough month for me. There’s been a lot going on at home and so I’ve not been much in the frame of mind for writing blog posts. Hopefully things will work out but things probably won’t be great for a while.

Reading

There has been so much hype around Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin so I caved and read it. Although I wasn’t sure at first, the story and characters grew on me as I read. I didn’t really realise how much I loved this book until I’d finished it and realised how much I wanted to return to the story again. I can see myself rereading this book and am definitely excited for the sequel which is coming out this year.

I read an advanced copy of Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova – review coming soon! I’ve nearly finished reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you haven’t read a novel in verse before, I’d really recommend it, even if you don’t think poetry is your thing.

Book Haul

So I had planned on having a bit of a book buying ban this month, but then my life turned upside down. And I always end up buying books when I’m upset or down. It also doesn’t help that I can easily get to a book shop in my lunch break, making buying books easy and tempting… I ended up with Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin and Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson. Having loved Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, it was a bit of a no-brainer to get the sequels Gemina and Obsidio, and I also picked up their new book Aurora Rising.

Writing

Despite everything that’s been going on, I did manage to get some writing done. I’ve started editing my YA fantasy novel. I’ve edited ten chapters so far, so fairly happy with that. I’m planning to get lots more done in March.

Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2019, kindle edition, Harper Teen

Pages: 518

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle:
thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

I have heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. I was curious why it was being raved about so much. At first when I started reading, I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I might find Lou annoying, but the characters and story grew on me. Shelby Mahurin really pulled me into their story and I ended up being hooked. It was an addictive read and even though I only recently finished it, I know I’m going to want to read this book again.  

Enemies to lovers romance seems really popular right now. I hope we’re not going to get flooded with these types of stories like we did love triangles years back. The romance was gradual and not forced in anyway, their growing chemistry was written really well. I can see why enemies to lovers romance is appealing to readers, and I did enjoy the romance in this story, even though I don’t usually enjoy romance-focused stories as much as plot/action focused ones.

Lou and Reid really grew on me and I loved seeing how they changed over the course of the book. The supporting characters were great too, especially Ansel and Coco. Although Beau felt a bit randomly thrown into the group at the end and I wanted to know more about him and why he didn’t seem fazed by the magic. Maybe he’s just a rebellious prince. But I hope we know a bit more about him in the next book so his presence doesn’t seem so random.

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Book Review: Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction           

Publishing Info: April 2019 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 394

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Hunted and desperate.

Abel only has one mission left that matters: save the life of Noemi Vidal. To do that, he not only has to escape the Genesis authorities, he also must face the one person in the galaxy who still has the means to destroy him. Burton Mansfield’s consciousness lives on, desperate for a home, and Abel’s own body is his last bargaining chip.

Alone in the universe.

Brought back from the brink of death, Noemi Vidal finds Abel has not only saved her life, but he’s made her into something else, something more. Not quite mech, yet not quite human any longer, Noemi must find her place in a universe where she is utterly unique, all while trying to create a world where anyone–even a mech–can be free.

The final battle between Earth and the colony planets is here, and there’s no lengths to which Earth won’t go to preserve its domination over all humanity. But together, the universe’s most advanced mech and its first human-mech hybrid might have the power to change the galaxy for good.

Defy the Fates is the final book in the Constellation trilogy and while it’s a good conclusion, it could have been better. The last book in a series is always a tough one, since the author has to wrap everything up. And while Defy the Fates wraps up all the storylines introduced in the first two books, it didn’t have the same spark.  

In the first two books, the action sequences had me on the edge of my seat, but in Defy the Fates the action scenes just weren’t as thrilling. There was too much packed into the book and a lot of it felt rushed. The writing overall also wasn’t as good, which is some of the reason the action scenes weren’t as exciting. The suspense wasn’t built as well through the writing. It felt like the book needed a bit more editing. I have a feeling that perhaps this last book was rushed out by the publisher. If the author had been given more time it could have been better. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but that’s what it felt like when I was reading the book, given how much better the first book was.

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Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019, Illumicrate Edition, Harper Voyager  

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

You may or may not be aware that there was some controversy around this book prior to its publication. A Twitter backlash resulted in the author deciding not to publish the book initially, and later, having made some changes, going ahead with publishing it. There was a bit of a Twitter pile on by people who hadn’t even read the book, which seems completely ridiculous. If you’ve read the book you can form an opinion on it, but I don’t get it when people hadn’t even read the book. Besides, people shouldn’t be going round attacking authors on Twitter. I’m glad the author did decide to publish in the end. This post is going to be purely a review of the book. If you want to know more about what happened, a quick google will pull up a tonne of articles on the subject.  

Blood Heir hooked me from the start, with a tense and compelling opening few chapters. Ana’s Affinity means she can control blood. She can sense it in other people and use it to kill people. There is the potential for her to use it to heal too, but she’s never been taught how to do this. Since her Affinity revealed itself, she’s been viewed by others as a monster, meaning she also views herself as a monster. Ana’s internal conflict revolves around the view of herself as a monster, and trying to accept that it’s how she uses her ability that shows who she is, that she isn’t inherently bad because of her Affinity.

The world in which Ana lives – the Cyrilian empire – is one that misunderstands and mistreats Affinites. Those with abilities are used for their magic and are looked down upon by society. When her family learn she’s an Affinite, Ana is locked away and attempts are made to ‘cure’ her. Due to being kept hidden in the palace, it’s only when Ana is outside of its walls that she discovers her Empire isn’t as good as she had thought, but is actually very corrupt. Affinites are trafficked and the Empire’s own soldiers are complicit in it. Many Affinites come to Cyrilia looking for a better life, but are separated from their families and trapped in work contracts they can’t escape. The author has drawn on her own multicultural experiences in writing the book. She moved from China to the US when she was 18. Amelie has stated that Affinite indenturement in Blood Heir reflects the issues of human trafficking in Asia. As the reader uncovers the truth of what’s happening in Cyrilia alongside Ana, it’s an eye opening experience to the corruptness of the Empire’s system and the conditions the trafficked Affinites endure.     

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