Book Review: Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: July 2019 by Alfred A. Knopf Books

Pages: 392

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Project Runway meets Mulan in this sweeping YA fantasy about a young girl who poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor and embarks on an impossible journey to sew three magic dresses, from the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Spin the Dawn is a magical YA fantasy novel that had me thoroughly enchanted. There’s something mystical about this story and Lim’s writing that just drew me in right from the first chapter.

From the description, the contest sounds like a large part of the story, but I was aware from reading other reviews that it actually only takes up a relatively small part of the book. I knew to expect more of a travelling/adventure narrative so wasn’t disappointed that the contest was short. My attention did waver a little in the middle when Maia and Edan are travelling through the desert, but it quickly picks up again and I was hooked in the latter half in particular.

I really enjoyed seeing a YA novel told from a perspective I’ve not seen before – that of a tailor. Protagonists in YA are often princesses, queens, rebels, thieves, assassins etc. Maia’s skill, and her dreams, lie in tailoring. The descriptions of her creations are stunning and it was wonderful to see the world through the eyes of a tailor. I also liked that family is important to her and how that is woven into the story. The relationships she has with her brothers is shown really well.  

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Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: KindleEdition, January 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

I was very conflicted over how to rate and review this book. I’ve had Caraval on my Kindle for a little while and was excited to finally get round to reading it. So many people love this series and the concept sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately I didn’t love it from the start. I didn’t enjoy the first half all that much, but things picked up in the second half and I found myself a lot more absorbed.

I can’t quite place my finger on why, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked from the opening few chapters. Even once Scarlett reached Caraval, I didn’t feel engaged. I was expected to be enchanted by this story, but in the first half I was actually a little bored. I found Scarlet to be an irritating protagonist at the start. Her thoughts were very repetitive and I just didn’t connect with her character. She didn’t want to be there. So I didn’t want to be there. I think if Scarlett had been more excited about the magic and wonder of Caraval, I would have been too.

Scarlett’s focus is on finding Tella and there is some jeopardy around that, but we don’t get to know Tella that well at the beginning of the book, so I wasn’t really invested in the goal of finding her. I liked that she isn’t the cliché sweet sister, but I didn’t find her particularly likeable from what little we see of her before she disappears, so I just wasn’t worried about her. Later we do get to see there is more to Tella, but for most of the book I didn’t like her character.

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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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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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Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2016 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Pages: 626

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people – nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

As I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much, I was very excited to read the sequel. Lots of new characters are introduced as Feyre enters the world of the Night Court. It didn’t take long for me to become invested in all of them. I loved meeting Mor, Amren, Cassian and Azriel, and I also enjoyed discovering other parts of Prythian as A Court of Thorns and Roses was focused on the Spring Court.

Maas does a such a good job with Feyre’s character, showing the impact the events from A Court of Thorns and Roses has on her. At the beginning of the book she’s haunted by what happened to her, and the lives she was forced to take to save Prythian. Feyre grows and develops over the course of this book, coming to terms with what happened Under the Mountain and gaining new perspective of her time with Tamlin. Speaking of Tamlin, I really don’t like his character. I didn’t like him in the first book and I didn’t like him in the sequel either. He’s a very boring character who just comes across as moody and lacking in personality. So I was glad he wasn’t a main character in this book!

Unfortunately I did feel it was longer than needed to be. If it had been a bit shorter, just trimmed in a few places, it would have had better pacing. However I appreciated the time taken for character development, as I felt I really got to know all the central characters, not just Feyre, which made me more invested in their fates. I also loved the slow development of the romance. It was predictable who would end up together, but there was no instalove here.

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Top 5 Wednesday: Books I Didn’t Get to in 2019

There are so many books I wanted to read in 2019 but didn’t end up getting to! I have so many books on my TBR. So here are a few books I wanted to read this year in particular but didn’t end up reading.

T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy – A King Arthur retelling set in space? I wanted to read this book as soon as I heard the concept for it. I also got my hands on the Illumicrate special edition. But I just didn’t get round to reading this one. It’ll be high up on my TBR for 2020.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – This book has been really hyped this year but I have a lot of fantasy books on my TBR and just didn’t end up having time to read this one. The second book is out already so this is another series I’m going to get behind on!

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Top 10 Tuesday: Series I Haven’t Finished Yet

This week’s Top 10 Tuesday is a freebie, and I’ve decided to list the top 10 series I really want to finish! I’m not very good at finishing series, even ones that I love. I don’t like reading books in a series one after another, and there will often be a year in between me reading each book. I do need to stop leaving such long gaps in between as I do forget what happened in the previous book!

Top 10 Tuesday was originally created by The Broke and the Bookish, but has now moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. If you’re interested in taking part click here.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – Where has this series been? Why didn’t I read it sooner? Daughter of Smoke and Bone is (so far) my only five star read of the year, so I’m excited to read the rest of the trilogy.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – Having devoured the first two books in this series last year, I haven’t ended picking up another one this year. I really need to rectify that next year, though it’s a long series so I don’t know when I’ll end up finishing this one!

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Book Review: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal            

Publishing Info: April 2019 by Titan Books

Pages: 400

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny-to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities—before the Gray devours them all.

The Devouring Gray really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. Christine Lynn Herman does an amazing job of creating a spooky and suspenseful atmosphere throughout the book. The opening drew me in and the book held my attention the whole way through. The writing has a good balance of description and I found her writing to be very evocative and engaging. I’ve seen The Devouring Gray repeatedly compared to Stranger Things, but I haven’t watched that show so can’t say if that’s an accurate comparison.   

The book switches between the perspectives of several different characters, but I found it easy to follow and didn’t get any characters mixed up. Violet’s grief for her lost sister and the difficult relationship she has with her mother is really well portrayed. She has been brought up away from Four Paths and doesn’t know anything about the Gray or her family’s role as founders. In books there is often a main character who is brought unknowingly into a magical world of some sort, but what I liked about this book is that we also see the perspectives of characters who already live in that ‘world’. This made a change from solely seeing the perspective of the ‘newcomer’. It was interesting to see how Violet learned about Four Paths, but also to see through the eyes of characters seeing a ‘newcomer’ arriving to their town and how that shifted things for them.

Each of the characters has their own story, conflict and secrets. I loved Harper’s character and her determination to overcome what’s happened to her in the past and the prejudice she now faces. Justin, despite from the outside appearing to be the perfect founder, is actually struggling with his own problems and secrets too. I felt a connection to all the central characters and enjoyed seeing how their individual plot strands came together.   

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Book Review: Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction           

Publishing Info: March 2018 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 394

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Noemi Vidal has returned to her planet, Genesis, as an outsider – ostracised for refusing to end the Liberty War by sacrificing Abel, the most advanced mechanical man ever made. She dreams of travelling through the stars again, and when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. The only soldier to have ever left her planet, it will be up to her to save its people. If only she wasn’t flying right into a trap.

Abel, now fully aware of his soul and captaining his own Vagabond ship, never dreamed he’d see Noemi again, not when the entire universe stands between them. But when his creator Burton Mansfield delivers news of Noemi’s entrapment, Abel knows he must save her, even if it means risking his own life.

Danger lurks in the dark corners of the galaxy, and Abel and Noemi will discover a secret that could save Genesis and Earth… or destroy them all.

In this thrilling and romantic sequel to Defy the Stars, bestselling author Claudia Gray asks us all to consider what drives us, and where we truly belong.

The first book in this trilogy, Defy the Stars, was absolutely gripping and thrilling to read. I liked that it also explored complex issues and topics such as what it means to be human. Defy the Worlds continues to do that. While it was a little slow at the start, the stakes are quickly ramped up. Claudia Gray is great at getting her characters in difficult situations and forcing them to think of ways to get out of them.

I love Noemi and Abel as characters, and their relationship with each other. Noemi is so headstrong and determined to defend her planet. Meanwhile Abel, as a mech, is still trying to work out his human side in many ways. They have a few differences in opinion, but there actually isn’t much character development for either of them in this book. In Defy the Stars, Noemi has to overcome her preconceived notions of mechs, and Abel has to fight an internal battle against Directive One (his programming). There seemed to be a lot more character development in the first book. However, saying that, the events of this book seem to lend themselves to greater character development in the final installment.

I like how this series questions what it means to be human. Despite how Noemi has come to see Abel as having a ‘soul’ despite being a mech, some other humans still treat him differently and as lesser. This is a really interesting concept to see played out. Even as the books progress, Abel’s own understanding of what and who he is changes as he learns more about his unique life state through his experiences. The book also explores elitism, poverty and biological warfare, so there is some pretty deep subject matter amongst the action.

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Book Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

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Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Publishing Info: August 2015 by Usbourne Publishing

Pages: 434

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

I met Holly Bourne a couple of years ago at a talk and got this book signed. She wrote ‘Normal = overrated’ and I am so thankful to her for that message. I have only just got round to reading this book. I’ve been catching up on all the books I didn’t have time to read during my degree, and I wish I’d read this one sooner. A few times I picked it up, read the first page, and put it back on the shelf because I wasn’t sure it would be for me. I don’t very often read contemporary books, I’m more of a fantasy person, and I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the writing style. But here we are, and I finally read it, and I’m so so glad I did.

The writing style is quite conversational, which is what put me off reading it, as I’m not always a fan of this style. However, I ended up very much enjoying the style of writing. Holly Bourne captures the voice of the main character brilliantly and the style works well for the book. At time the writing got a bit rambling but I didn’t mind too much.

What Bourne did so well is show Evie’s thought processes. Evie has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which has sadly been very stereotyped in our society and a lot of people have misconceptions about this condition. Bourne didn’t fall into clichés and it was clear she had done a lot of research. It was eye opening to see the thoughts that might go through the mind of someone with OCD, and also how that can spiral into relapse.

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